February 14, 2008

Is the US a Failed State?

Is the US a failed state? The thought came to my mind three times in one day, so it is begging for a response.

First, the issue of "failed states" was raised by Alan Narin, journalist and long-time human rights activist on behalf of the people of East Timor. In response to a question about the recent assassination attempt against the Timorese president, Narin said[3]:

Some are saying Timor is a failed state, that here the international community has been pouring all this money into Timor, and all they get out of it is chaos. I think those comments distort the situation.

He goes on to define a failed state:

I think a serious definition of a failed state would involve two basic responsibilities of any state. I mean, one is, they have to obey their own murder laws, so they shouldn’t be killing civilians or backing the killings of civilians overseas. And, two, they shouldn’t be letting people die preventably. People die of hunger, disease, that could be easily prevented.

Then Narin turns the lens on the United States:

But if you’re going to judge other states by that standard, you would have to say that, say, Australia or Indonesia or the US are much more of a failed state than Timor is, because those are countries that have been killing civilians overseas.

And the evidence on the second point is glaring. The US government failed dramatically in preparing for and responding to Hurricane Katrina. Years after Katrina, New Orleans remains a disaster area, due in great part to failures of the state.

Playwright Eve Ensler[1] has been active in New Orleans since Katrina hit. The disaster is man made, and outgrowth of corporate capitalism run amok, much like the on-going financial sector crisis:

People don’t know that the mental health rates and the suicide rates are out of control. People don’t know that people who lived in houses [with rents] that were once $400/month are now $1,200. People don’t know that people are being charged for fuel adjustment, this new term, and they don’t even have a meter, you know, the gas meter in their house. I mean, it’s a bizarre, I think really immoral and profound statement about where the US is. [a failed state].

You know, we did a brunch there recently for the women in the Gulf South, Mississippi, Alabama, grassroots activists, fabulous women who have just been working twenty-four hours a day, and we just gave them a brunch. Women were standing up and weeping, you know, talking about the fact that no one had ever given them a brunch. I thought, a brunch? This is what we’re grateful for? A brunch?

It is pitiful, in the sense you would expect from the most desperate people living in an undeveloped nation, not the United States.

Throw in the FEMA trailers with toxic levels of formaldehyde, provided by the unassailable "private sector," and the failure is palpable. This is now well documented by the Center for Disease Conrol (CDC), as is FEMA's attempt to cover up the evidence. Remember Narin's definintion: 1) don't murder civilians and 2) don't allow them to die if preventable. True, formaldehyde works slowly, but here's a case in which the US government gets a two-fer as a failed state; the US is simultaneously killing civilians and allowing preventable deaths.

Finally, the third reference to "failed state," was an article that didn't use the term, but effectively made the case. I include a reference to that article in my "Sources" below.[2] It was the thing that ultimately triggered this blog entry.

A "failed state" or perhaps simply a "corporate state"? Perhaps the more appropriate question is whether this "failed state" status is intentional. We hear people, beginning with Ronald Reagan, say, "We want less government." They are usually people who want more undemocratic corporate power. People like radical tax reformer, and Bush administration insider Grover Norquist, who says he wants to shrink government, "to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub." They say they want to make government small and ineffective. So is it "conspiracy theory" to take them at their word?


[1] Democracy Now, On Tenth Anniversary of V-Day, Vagina Monologues Playwright Eve Ensler Focuses on Violence Against Women in New Orleans and Gulf South, February 15, 2008. Eve Ensler, Award-winning playwright and creator of The Vagina Monologues, which has been translated into over forty-five languages and is running in theaters all over the world. She is the creator of V-Day, a global movement to stop violence against women and girls.

[2] For an extensive piece on related topics See: Race, Poverty, and the Neoliberal Agenda in the United States: Lessons from Katrina and Rita, Kenneth E. Bauzon on Crimes and Corruption blog.

[3] DemocracyNow, East Timor Braces for Potential Crisis Following Assassination Attempt on President Jose Ramos-Horta, February 15, 2008.


Dusty said...

Excellent post! I really have nothing to add except NOLA and its inhabitants are mostly the wrong color for our current administration to actually give a shit about them..all they do is take advantage of them..which is dispicable in my pov.

I hope there is a special place in hell for every corporate thug that is getting richer off the human tragedy that is NOLA.

GDAEman said...

yea. The feeling of powerlessness is palpable as the monied class accumulate more, sucking every last drop from the poor.

Prosecution for their crimes is essential. I hope John Edwards becomes Attorney General.