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Issue #1583      February 27, 2013

Culture & Life

Two costly fiascos

We all know that there are plenty of intelligent, well-educated young people in the USA. We also know that they are taught, constantly and relentlessly, that they live in the greatest country in the world, that the whole world envies them their way of life, their freedoms, their riches. That when there are outbreaks of anti-US sentiment, anywhere in the world, they are caused by jealousy (and Communists). For, as lots of bewildered Americans said after 9/11, “Why do they hate us?”

Ronald Reagan’s hideously expensive Star Wars fiasco – a scientifically unworkable planetary “defence” system, captured the imagination of an actor posing as a political leader.

However, we also know that – taken as a whole – the American people are probably the least knowledgeable, the most credulous and the least sophisticated grouping of people on the planet. That is not their fault: it is the way they have been educated, not just by their education system, but by their culture and their mass media.

They are more superstitious than your average poverty-stricken illiterate Sicilian villager, more church-ridden than your average Polish peasant, more likely to confuse reality with comic strip fantasy than your average Australian or Canadian primary-school child.

Remember Ronald Reagan’s hideously expensive Star Wars fiasco? A scientifically unworkable planetary “defence” system derived from fanciful ideas in the script of a popular sci-fi epic, it captured the imagination of an actor posing as a political leader. Unfortunately, thanks to some of the above characteristics, he actually was elected the US President. (It’s worth remembering that only about a quarter of the electorate actually voted for him, such is the nature of the USA’s much vaunted democracy.)

Whether Star Wars is workable or not is irrelevant to the US military-industrial complex. What is important is not whether pursuit of such policies will bankrupt the country and leave its people impoverished, but whether the main armaments corporations will get the contracts to try to build the beast. There will be unimaginable profits to be made from developing and launching space-based weapons platforms. And whoever puts such a system in place will be in a position to dictate terms to the rest of the world, and the Pentagon is determined that that privilege and power rightfully belongs to Uncle Sam.

But surely it was shown some years ago that Star Wars was too expensive, too dangerous and too ridiculous to actually still be thought a viable proposition, even for the Pentagon? You would think so, wouldn’t you? But apparently not. Some of the best Pentagon brains seem to spend a fair bit of their time clutching at straws, and dreaming of what they would do if they only had some fantastic weapons at their disposal.

They also dream of other routes to world domination, such as gaining control of the world’s energy resources, beginning with its oil supplies. They then construct computer models of how they could gain control of the world’s fresh water supplies, and after that world food production. There is nothing new in this: Rockefeller knew the value of gaining a monopoly in some vital commodity. What is new is the scope of their schemes, which have become the stuff of megalomania.

But why bring all this Star Wars stuff up now? Because the White House, currently occupied by a man the Republicans identify as a “Muslim Commie”, has recently been obliged to reject a petition calling for the construction of a “Death Star”.

The petition was launched by someone identified as “John D” from Colorado, and signed by thousands of US citizens apparently as silly as himself. The petition called for the immediate building of a “Death Star” – a “moon-sized space-station and interstellar weapon” – like the one in the film Star Wars.

A White House spokesman said the US government “does not support blowing up planets”, which is comforting although one would like some reassurance that they include the Earth in that embargo. The spokesman also said that the proposed “Death Star” would cost over $850 quadrillion. Undeterred, John D gave the classic response: “It would improve national security and create jobs.” If any project is not in the interest of the people, we are always told that it will “create jobs”.

Can you imagine how many jobs could be created by spending $850 quadrillion on peaceful job creation projects here on Earth?

Australia doesn’t have many state-run enterprises or services left. We used to have lots. Now almost the only things still operating are government buses and passenger trains. Even post offices are being franchised out to private operators. I went into one the other day and found part of the counter space taken up by an American Express currency exchange.

When privatisation is in the wind, the point is regularly made that private is supposedly more efficient and (despite being run for profit) is somehow also cheaper. On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the legislation that opened up Britain’s national rail system to privatisation (under the government of the justifiably forgotten John Major), British rail union RMT has produced a report noting that “it is estimated that privatisation costs the equivalent of £1.2 billion a year more compared to public ownership.

“The cost of running the railway has more than doubled since privatisation, from £2.4 billion to around £5.4 billion per annum. Since 1995 the average ticket price has increased by 22 percent in real terms.

“Other European countries have better railways and lower fares because on the whole their services are in the public sector.”

But publicly owned railways are under threat. EU directives will soon come into effect that will force countries to break up their rail services and put them out to tender.

Then they will all be able to enjoy the “benefits” of privatisation.  

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