from "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy" by Greg
the World Trade Center hit the ground, Tom Brokaw,
the empty hair-do of US television news, announced
that the Twin Towers had been attacked because
they are Symbols of American Capitalism. As we
watched humans jump to their deaths from burning
windows, Tom had already appropriated them as
martyrs to a rising stock market and the enterprising
spirit of his advertisers.
wasn't alone. Much of the European Left agreed
with him. In the Guardian, Rana Kabbani wrote
with ill-disguised glee that this mass murder
was aimed at "two symbols of American hegemony."
Well, Tom and Rana, let me introduce you to two
of your symbols of American capitalist imperialism
- Greg O'Neill and Clinton Davis. Of course I
realize that Brokaw the red-white-and-blue big-business
booster, and Kabbani, were referring to the two
towers of the Trade Center; but it wasn't an architectural
artifact that was crushed on September 11.
worked in the basement of the Trade Center; O'Neill
on the fifty-second floor of the South Tower.
(Until I started spending too much time in London,
my office was on the fiftieth floor of the North
what O'Neill did on Floor 52. When the Exxon Valdez
grounded, he fought the oil company to get compensation
for the natives of Alaska; previously he sued
the American oil giant Amoco for fouling Britain's
beaches. And when he learned a power company had
faked safety reports on a nuclear plant, O'Neill
hit them with a civil racketeering suit and ultimately
helped put the creeps out of business. Davis worked
in the cops' division of the state's Port Authority.
Neither Davis nor O'Neill would be my first choice
as a symbol of U.S. imperial might. They certainly
were not prime targets for retaliation for "terror
by Jewish groups" and the "painful lesson Americans
have to learn" (to use Kabbani's boneheaded words).
may disappoint both Kabbani and Brokaw to learn
that, if the World Trade towers symbolized anything,
they stood for American socialism. They were built
by New York state in the 1970s, when "government-owned"
became quite unfashionable in Britain. Still owned
by Davis' employer, New York State's Port Authority,
they generated the revenue which pays the bonds
that keep the city's infrastructure- subways,
tunnels, bridges, and more- out of the hands
of the ever-circling privatizers. The task of
convincing capitalists to buy those government
bonds, which requires an argument that publicly
owned operations are as good an investment bet
as General Motors, fell to government securities
market makers Canter Fitzgerald (100th floor,
658 workers, no known survivors).
a statistic for you: The capitalization of corporations
owned by the U.S. federal government exceeds $2.85
trillion. Add to that the state- and local-owned
operations, like water systems, and the total
invested in public enterprises eclipses the investment
in the New York Stock Exchange, making the U.S.
one of the most socialized nations left on this
sad planet. If you're not American, you wouldn't
know that. And if you are, you probably wouldn't
know that either.
night of September 11, I finally called O'Neill's
home. He answered the phone. "My God, you're safe,"
replied, "not really."
was safe too, in the basement of the Twin Towers.
But he chose to go up into the building to rescue
others. Today, this symbol of American capitalist
hegemony is listed as "missing."
September 11, 2003