August 30, 2008 | Ronda Jambe

Obama – the great black hope

Visiting the US, one is everywhere reminded of the power this country has assembled, and the history it draws on. Last week I renewed my acquaintance with the treasures of the Frick Collection, established by a 19th century entrepreneur and connoisseur, who built a mansion on Fifth Avenue to display them:
NY aug 08 031.jpg
(Apologies if these pics are a bit big and slow to load, but this is a new computer and software, bla bla the usual excuses from the technologically challenged)
Frick was a fairly benign character, and had a falling out with the more ruthless Carnegie. But both were major donators to the cultural life and economic power of the US. New York still radiates this might, much of it very impressive:
NY reflections.jpg
But change is constant, and everywhere I see signs that in little ways (so far) the ground is shifting towards a new way of structuring society. Take for example, the appearance of bikes where I didn’t notice them on previous visits, here chained up on a subway entrance, next to the very sign that prohibits this practice. It leads me to the conclusion that on my next visit, there will be bike racks:
bikes NY.jpg
While it is hard not to gawp at fine buildings and great art, I am constantly reminded that I come from a more modest tradition of migrants and labor. My home town was founded after the European revolutions of 1848, which I know little about, except that a guy named Carl came and brought social attitudes that persisted in my childhood, in the form of a local beer hall (now the site of the town hall) and an annual parade for school kids that ended wth sugar cookies, pink lemonade and ham sandwiches. Free schools were part of this history:
carlsdtadt sign.jpg
Over the years, this European love of culture, music, and art has found expression in my mother’s life long membership in a German choir, and a perhaps less elevated appreciation of miniatures:
corner statues.jpg
And still in the neighborhood are people who grow some food, still connected to their migrant backgrounds:
nice garden.jpg
It is in this context that I watched the Spectacle of the Democratic Convention. It was as well engineered as the Pope’s recnt visit to Australia. While I was somewhat cynical about Obama, learning more about his background and that of his wife Michelle won me over. Both have worked for social issues in their careers, and she set up leadership programs in poor areas of Chicago. Both come from ‘battler’ type families, and his running mate, Joe Biden, while hawkish on Iraq, is reputedly one of the least wealthy Senators in Washington. That has to be good news.
Watching the Clintons, and the next day Al Gore, giving Obama their solid endorsements, one could believe in Obama’s potential to finally unite the country for change. The words are still rather tentative, for my liking, but in the US one doesn’t tread to far too quickly in the direction of reform. Gore was particularly good, and you can see him on You Tube. Obama promised to end the US dependency on overseas oil within 10 years. That in itself would lessen the sword-rattling. His support of nuclear energy was less impressive, but I doubt that nuclear will get a go, once the huge subsidies it requires are made more transparent. Besides, the world doesn’t have the time for that cumbersome and dangerous solution. Hopefully Obama will listen more closely to Gore.
The book by Paul Krugman, The Great Unravelling, which I am finishing this week, shows all too clearly how the media and particularly the Cheny-Bush alliance, has enacted crony capitalism that will not stop until the US has been reduced to the state of Zimbabwe. That might sound extreme, but democracy is an edifice that, like the Arctic ice, can become weakened to the point of no return.
The placement of compliant regulators in every area of government oversight: electricity, chemicals, energy, finance, you name it, has led to the crumbling of each.
The Clintons and Gore and Obama mentioned all of this, in light and soft ways, but we know that they know, and I believe Obama would act to turn back the tide of deregulation. (By the way, Australia now has a Dept of Finance and Deregulation, I’m not making this up.) Gore spoke of Bush’s ‘contempt for the Constitution’, and reminded us that McCain voted Bush’s way 90% of the time, not exactly the sign of an independent thinker, much less the ‘maverick’ the media likes to paint him as.
The McCain field can’t say similar things, all they can do is wave the flag. They don’t even mention the dreadful neglect of returned veterans, or the scandals of the Walter Reed Veterans hospital. The Dems did, and promised to fix it. Both Parties saw the need to trot out lines of returned veterans and generals on the stage, a chilling reminder of the importance of the military establishment in the US. Can you imagine Rudd or even Howard appearing on TV with a bunch of generals? I can’t, and don’t want to.
I will end with just a small indicator of how much things need changing in the field of medical insurance: 70 m Americans have medical debt or trouble financing medical care. My mother was recently hospitalised for 7 days, and had a medium serious level of surgery on her neck. The bill was $68,000, which fortunately she doesn’t have to pay, since she is covered by an older form of employer health insurance that is a legacy of my father’s union.
However, this excellent coverage, through a company that was Blue Cross Blue Schield, but is now called Horizon, is talking about privitisation. If Obama gets elected, hopefully such talk will stop. Even Bush had to back down on privitising Social Security, but not for lack of trying.
Please don’t think smugly ‘that couldn’t happen in Australia’, because already defined benefit superannuation schemes have been drastically cut back. Just ask anyone who has lost money from their ‘privitised’ super scheme this past year if they enjoy that risk.
And to those that wonder where the money could come from to fund public provision, maybe we need to revisit the more humble times before ‘socialism’ became a dirty word. The rich have been creaming it in the US for a long time, the corporations paying less and less tax as they are allowed to move into off shore tax havens. Follow the money, all the way Down Under.

Posted by Ronda Jambe at 10:48 am | Comments (1) |
Filed under: US Politics

1 Comment

  1. This is the way of the Globalised Planet Rhonda.Democracy is no longer revelant.Only the intelligent and well connected shall inherit the earth.
    China and India have proven to be a doubled edged sword,making us cheap consumerables and driving up the prices of basic necessities such as energy,resources and food.
    Don’t forget that the US people have the enormous cost of that military machine,and that keeps them in a lot of poverty.
    The planet is over populated and nothing will change the present trends.

    Comment by Arjay — September 2, 2008 @ 9:40 pm

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