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13 Oct, 2011 06:53

Putting a price on US democracy

Investing in politics has proved to be good business in America. Just a few million dollars in contributions and a spot o f lobbying can bring a company billions in bailouts, loan guarantees, tax refunds and other perks.

In the end, though, the expenses of both government and business land in the lap of the average American taxpayer. Little wonder then, given that the White House and Congress are so heavily influenced by unpopular and powerful corporations, that public distrust of the US government is growing fast.According to the latest polls, more than two thirds of Americans now say they are unhappy with Washington.“It’s both in the election system and in the ongoing lobbying and influence industry. These are very powerful businesses. Their whole business model is around using influence to rig the rules of the game in their favor,” explains Chuck Collins from the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington DC.

So far, US corporations have been successful in ensuring that the laws introduced to regulate Wall Street after the financial meltdown of 2008 do not function. Those measures were effectively scuppered by US lawmakers. The corporations were also successful in keeping their tax cuts intact and finding loopholes for getting billions of dollars in refunds.“It’s a government of the one percent, for the one percent by the one percent,” Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz reveals. “It perpetuates itself, it passes rules that allow the banks to get deregulated, it restricts our democracy.”Three years after Washington gave almost a trillion dollars of taxpayers’ money to bail out corporate giants, unemployment in the country is over nine per cent, the national debt is well past the tipping point and the Congress is looking to cut essential social programs.Thousands of Americans took to the streets to ask, where is their bailout?“How can I live in a country that arrests hundreds of non-violent people and does not arrest a single one of these bankers or the people who caused the collapse? This just boggles the mind,” asked filmmaker Michael Moore in a speech to Occupy Wall Street protesters.In the meantime, Goldman Sachs, one of the main architects of the current crisis, is richer than ever. It has announced $ US17 billion in bonuses for its staff alone. When asked about the impunity enjoyed by the corporations, President Obama said, “A lot of that stuff wasn’t necessarily illegal, it was just immoral."And many agree it is pretty much staying that way.But not only are the lawmakers coming under fire for accepting generous contributions from corporations and then acting to return the favor, but the president himself was accused of bias and cronyism on a number of occasions.One of the most recent scandals involved a solar energy company, Solyndra, which went bankrupt and cost taxpayers almost $ US600 million. That is the amount that the government approved in loan guarantees despite receiving persistent warnings about the company’s financial stability.   The deal was pushed through by a foundation which in turn was a major donor to President Obama’s election campaign.Since last year, corporations have been allowed to funnel as much money as they want into political campaigns. Now they do not even have to disclose the amounts they spend. “They are trying to buy elections – it’s very serious,” Congresswoman Barbara Lee says.The new law effectively gives the corporations even more influence in Washington, leaving many Americans in fear that their voice might no longer count.What drew all the protesting people onto the streets of Washington and other cities in the US is the understanding that their government and their legislators represent the interests of the top one percent, as they call them – the very wealthy corporations that can afford influence in Washington to skew the system in their favor.

Ann Wright, a retired US army colonel and an Occupy DC activist, says protesters are speaking out because politicians do not really care about the average American. “What we are facing here in the United States is a critical situation, a dangerous situation, where corporations are truly running the country – they are buying off, very blatantly, our politicians,” Wright declared. “That’s why we are out in the streets all over America to say no to this corruption and graft.”According to Wright, Americans are enraged by the fact that “immoral, greedy pigs at the top just keep sucking up more and more billions of dollars, just for their pockets.”