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Two Symbols of American Capitalist Hegemony
by Greg Palast
September 11, 2003

Taken from "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy" by Greg Palast

Before 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.

He 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.

Davis 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 Tower.)

Here's 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).

It 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).

Here's 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.

The night of September 11, I finally called O'Neill's home. He answered the phone. "My God, you're safe," I said.

O'Neill replied, "not really."

Davis 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."

www.gregpalast.com

©2003 Topplebush.com
September 11, 2003

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