Wanna Buy a Country?

     When I lived in Sonora, Mexico, there was a guy two doors down who had all these long long extension cords going into his back door from other houses on the block – half a dozen or more of them.
     He worked for the national electric company.
     The government couldn’t or wouldn’t pay its electricity workers more than starvation wages, so to keep them from, for instance, picking up guns, it gave all the electric workers free electricity.
     So my neighbor was earning his living the only way he could.
     Mexico was beginning to “privatize” its industries, as we say if we hang with high-level crooks who are so high-level that what they do is not illegal anymore.
     The first step in privatizing Mexico’s electricity was to increase everyone’s electric bill by 1,000 percent or so. This is true. The new electric bills, if people bothered to pay them, would have consumed 100 percent of the annual income of millions of people.
     It was so bad that the Archbishop of Hermosillo wrote an open letter to the newspapers to protest that his electricity bill had rocketed to $7,500 a month.
     For this, the archbishop could have been thrown into prison, because it was illegal then for religious folks to speak publicly about government policy.
     Mexico didn’t throw the archbishop into prison, of course, because it would have looked bad. It just ignored the law that said archbishops had to shut up, and moved on to the next crisis.
     Mexico is a wonderful country, and I love it. I have many friends there.
     Mexico’s people hold their government in contempt, and there is good reason for this. Except for the all-too brief reigns of Presidents Benito Juárez and Lázaro Cárdenas, Mexico has never had a good government, a government that was not self-seeking, and run by thieves, and permeated by corruption from top to bottom. So, as I said, Mexicans have every reason to hold their government in contempt.
     The reason I bring this up is that the U.S. government, bad as it is, is not quite that bad. Yet. But politicians today, above all in the Republican Party, have made careers out of insisting that the U.S. government deserves contempt.
     Why these people would want to run for office in a contemptible government is a question that bears looking into.
     Their object, of course, is to turn over the functions of government to corporations that will pay these complaisant lawmakers lots more money when they leave office – or even before they do.
     This has already happened. The Republican Party and the cowardly Democrats who follow them have privatized war, privatized prisons, tried to privatize Social Security and public schools. They vilify judges who rule against them, and have all but abandoned regulation of dangerous and polluting industries such as mining, air traffic, chemicals – and banks.
     And anyone who tries to control these inherently dangerous activities is vilified as a “socialist.”
     At every turn, Republicans and their corporate sponsors have held government up to contempt. Private industry could do it all so much better, they say.
     They have made it difficult or impossible for government to perform the functions that we all want it to do: to keep our water drinkable, our air breathable, our courts functioning, our airplanes from falling out of the sky, our streets safe, to keep bankers from walking out of banks with our money in their pockets.
     Now, as a guy who came of age in the 1960s, I am hardly the one to say that government does not deserve our contempt from time to time. In my day, I wanted to cripple the government, insofar as it was sending people like me to die in a war against people who never had offended us. But I did not want the government to stop enforcing the pitifully few environmental laws we had, to rob public schools of billions of dollars by allowing giant, polluting corporations to duck taxes by declaring themselves citizens of the Cayman Islands.
     Republicans have made political hay for decades by damning the incursion of Mexican people across our borders: people who come here to commit the despicable crime of working for a living.
     The truth is that for decades the United States has become progressively more like Mexico. Politicians commit crime openly and are not held to account. They rig elections and are not held to account. They pocket millions of dollars in broad daylight and are not held to account.
     The people with most contempt for the laws today are not the poor people in prisons; it’s Congress itself, and the corporations that put them there.
     But it’s hip today to hold government in contempt. Ask young people. Then ask them a few more questions and try to determine how deep their knowledge goes.
     Where will it all end? I’m not sure. But check the last few years of death statistics from Ciudad Juárez.

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