Hey Everyone! 😊
With the inauguration of yet another corrupt, neoliberal, corporatist happening next week, I thought this would be a good time to remind everyone exactly how our government works. And also remind us all about what happened under the last neoliberal Democrat who held that office. Peace!
"How about here?"
I looked the exhibit over again. It was set up like a giant diorama with the background being an office setting on one side and a forest on the other, with a divider in between the two sides. In the office, there were two men wearing business suits. One was sitting behind a fairly standard wooden office desk and the other was sitting in front of it. On top of the desk was a briefcase with the lid open. Inside, there were stacks of money and the man in front of the desk was pushing it towards the other man.
It was pretty clear what the exhibit was trying to portray even without the narration that was playing in the background, especially when combined with what was going on in the forest scene. Part of the forest had already been razed and giant earth-moving machines were digging up the ground with large pipes being laid in the troughs that were created. The rest of the forest was being cut down and the trees loaded onto large, smoke-billowing trucks. A little farther down, where the pipes had already been buried, black sludge was pouring out of the end of one and into a river.
It was all so real I thought I could smell the water and the chemicals polluting it. "How do you make it look so realistic?" I gestured towards where the river seemed to simply disappear into a wall.
"It is a hologram with supplemental environmental control equipment to complete the experience."
"So, I really am smelling the river? I thought it was just my imagination because the image was so real."
"Yes. Scent stimuli are incorporated into the exhibit so that the effect is complete. Some species rely more on their sense of smell than they do on sight or hearing."
"That makes sense." I gestured at the office scene. "So that's supposed to be a politician taking a bribe from the company that is causing this destruction?"
"Correct. We thought that displaying the two scenes side-by-side would help make the connection between them obvious."
"Well, the end result is what happens, but it's not quite as obvious as just shoving a bunch of cash at someone. Usually, the closest most politicians come to taking cash for favors is if they own a business and someone¾generally a corporate lobbying group or a rich individual who wants a favor¾chooses to patronize the politician’s business, which results in them giving the politician money. But it’s under the guise of being a customer and receiving a product or service for their money. Though, under those circumstances, it’s fairly common for the price of the product or service to be quite a bit higher than comparable products or services from other vendors, conveniently enough. Then the politician might look favorably on legislation that might benefit their valued customer or unfavorably on legislation that would be detrimental to them. But even that's not the most common way people bribe politicians. There are other ways that are even less likely to come under legal scrutiny."
"What do you mean?"
I pointed at the office scene. "There are laws prohibiting that kind of thing, and even the type of laundered bribery I just told you about is iffy. Some politicians might break those laws, but there are ways around them that don't carry the risk of going to prison, so that's usually what they do."
"Can you elaborate?"
"Well, the most common way for people to legally bribe politicians is to make campaign contributions to them. They give them money the politicians can use to help them get elected again. But there are laws limiting how much money people can give directly to politicians so, a lot of the time, corporations and rich donors who want favors from politicians will give money to PACs¾Political Action Committees¾that work to help get politicians elected. Technically, politicians aren't allowed to be directly involved with PACs or to coordinate election strategy with them, but they can usually get around that because it's hard to track. Not that anyone tries all that hard."
"So wealthy people give money to these PACs and then politicians allow them to pollute your planet? And why does no one attempt to investigate if a politician is not following the laws regarding these PACs?" asked Squid-boy.
"Mostly no one investigates because the investigations would be done by either law enforcement or the media. Law enforcement works for, and is controlled by, politicians. And almost all politicians skirt those laws, so they don't want to encourage investigations of that kind. Large corporations that sometimes want to be able to legally bribe politicians own the media; at least, they own the media that has the largest audience. So, they don't allow their employees to pursue investigations into violations of those laws, either. Or, more often, they just don't hire people who would be interested in doing those kinds of investigations."
"As for your first question, it's not quite that direct, either. It's not so much that politicians allow certain companies to just pollute, usually. That can happen, but it's not how it's usually handled. What they do is either repeal or refuse to pass legislation that would regulate manufacturing practices, limits on emissions, and waste disposal. So, since there's no law against dumping chemicals in rivers, and it's cheaper to just dump the chemicals in the river than to dispose of them safely, corporations end up polluting. Because from their perspective, there's no reason not to."
"But don't your people wonder why their representatives allow such a lack of regulation when it results in danger to your populace and damage to your planet? How do they justify not having those laws?" asked Yax.
"Well, that's kind of complicated, too."
He gave me his Devil's grin again. "We have time."
"It's a lot of things that combine to allow the status quo to continue. First, people are pretty busy just trying to make a living. It's hard for most people to take the time to really look into what's going on and untangle it all. Especially since, as I said, the mainstream media doesn't do much to enlighten the public because the companies that own them are often involved in the corruption.
"Since people are so busy, they're mostly dependent on what they hear on the news. And, generally speaking, the news just reports what politicians say. It's rare that they do any fact-checking or challenge the assertions politicians make. So a lot of people just think that what the politicians say is true.
"But it often isn't true. A lot of them pretend that there's no scientific evidence showing that the pollution damages the planet or that the changes in the climate aren't caused by human activity. They lie and claim that contaminated water doesn't make people ill, that there's some other reason for people who live in areas where the water is polluted to be sick. Or they lie and say the water isn't contaminated at all and try to prevent anyone from testing it, or if it is tested they try to prevent the test results from becoming public."
"That's incredible!" cried Yax. "How can anyone believe them?"
"Some people believe them because they don't understand the science and they don't want to believe the government would lie to them. Most people don't believe them, but they're too busy to think about it much if it doesn't affect them directly. And, again, the mainstream media doesn't do much to bring it to their attention. Anyone who does try to bring public awareness to these problems is discredited as hysterical or unreliable or biased against business. Corporations spend a lot of money ensuring that politicians won't regulate them and they don't want public outcry to override their bribes, so they work pretty hard to make sure that people don't pay attention to what they're doing."
"But I do not understand, how do they hide it? The effects of their actions are being felt by your entire planet," interjected Squid-boy, waving his tentacles around his head.
I shrugged. "The effects of climate change are just starting to be felt by most people. And it's not as if what is happening is new; it's just more intense and happening more often. Storms like hurricanes and tornadoes, droughts, floods, wildfires¾these are all things that have always happened. It's easy for politicians to lie and say that just because the storms are larger and more frequent, or the wildfires happen more often and in more places, it isn't evidence of climate change. Or, if it is, that it isn't caused by anything humans are doing."
Squid-boy made a gurgling sound. "But that is patently absurd! Even your own scientists are in agreement; the evidence is overwhelming that the pollutants your species have been dumping into the environment for more than a century are a direct cause of the changes in your planetary climate. No rational dispute of these facts can exist!"
I snorted. "And what ever gave you the idea that human beings are rational, sugar? A lot of people don't want to believe it because their political opponents say it's true. And the politicians they like say it isn't true. And the media they listen to either says it isn't true or doesn't talk about it at all."
"So they disregard evidence and deny facts? That's nonsensical!" exclaimed Yax.
I gave him a wry smile. "Welcome to America."
Squid-boy looked at Yax. "I'm not certain how to modify the exhibit to reflect this additional information. The exchange of money for political favors is straightforward and common throughout many civilizations, though the fact that it is not a violation of their laws is rather bizarre. But the contortions and convolutions these people go through just so that they can continue to deceive themselves and deny reality is difficult to conceptualize."
I laughed. "Oh, sugar, it can get much more complicated than that."
"It can?" Squid-boy stared at me with wide, round eyes. "How?"
"Well, another way politicians might pay back the legal bribes a company gives them would be to give them 'incentives' to locate new additions to their business in the politician's jurisdiction. They sometimes use tax money to build, or help build, the facility the company needs. Or they waive regulations and allow the company to ignore laws that protect the public from unsafe construction and environmental damage. Sometimes they allow the company to not pay taxes, or to pay almost no taxes, for a period of time. If unions are strong in the area, the politician might try to pass legislation to weaken the unions or help keep the employees of the corporation from joining a union."
"And what possible justification can they give to their constituents for such things?" demanded Yax.
I shrugged. "Jobs, usually. They promise people the company will give them jobs. And since there are a lot of people who don't have jobs, or who have jobs that don't pay enough to live on, they agree to it."
"But if the politicians and the corporations are working to thwart organized labor, those jobs can't pay all that well."
I smiled at the handsome alien. "Yeah, well, somehow that little detail never seems to get discussed."
"And if the corporation doesn't pay taxes, that means the financial burden would have to be transferred to the people. Is that not correct?"
"Yep, Squid-boy, that's right. People pay taxes because we all know we need certain things like roads, police, and firefighters, and then the politicians give that money to private corporations so they can build private buildings that the public can't use. Then, those companies get to come in and hire desperate people at starvation wages. And for that privilege we get to pay their taxes for them, too. A nice, tidy little racket, wouldn't you say?"
"And your people allow this because they are desperate?" asked Yax.
"Some are desperate. Our government has done a terrible job of forcing corporations to pay their employees fairly, so a lot of people have to work two or three jobs just to survive. Also, all the same things that allow corporations to legally bribe politicians to let them destroy the environment apply to this as well. People are busy just living their lives and don't have extra time to think about these things. Or they don't know enough about what's going on because the media doesn't do much to educate them. Also, even when people do know what's going on, they often just don't know what to do about it."
I pointed at an exhibit that was just beyond the one we were discussing. "Not everyone has the energy or determination to do something like that. And those who do often face terrible consequences for trying to fight the corruption."
Yax looked where I was pointing and waved me over. "You know what this represents even without the voice-over commentary?"
"Yes. Though, again, it's not quite right. But I can tell what you were trying to show, here."
Yax nodded, looking at the exhibit thoughtfully. "Can you tell us what parts aren't accurate and what you think needs to be changed or added?"
I followed his gaze. "Well, this, right here, isn't quite true." I pointed at a robot that was holding a sign while doing a fair representation of a tree pose. "This says 'Destroy pipelines!' but that's not what this political action was about at all." I reached for the sign, but my arm wasn't long enough and I bumped into the robot's knee. Shaking my head, I told the robot, "Put your leg down, sugar, and hand me that sign."
It just stood there and looked at me. Putting my hands on my hips, I turned to Yax and raised my eyebrows. That devil, he just grinned at me and gave the robot an order in a language I didn't understand. The robot put its foot back on the floor and brought the sign down where I could reach it. I took it and handed it to Squid-boy. "Look…"
I broke off as the robot took advantage of the fact that its hands were free to shift into a bridge pose. But something must have been wrong with its motion controllers because, once it was in position, it kept thrusting its hips up into the air. It was way too human-looking for that to be anything but obscene.
I looked at my two escorts. Squid-boy seemed not to have noticed, but Yax was almost vibrating with his effort not to laugh. I raised my eyebrows. "This your doin'?"
At that he did laugh. "No. I'm sorry to disappoint you, but that's just a glitch in the 'droid's movement subroutines. It's the reason we have them go through these exercises; so we can find and fix these problems before the exhibits go live."
Squid-boy had caught up by that point and gave me one of his nod/bows.
I just looked at the two of them. "Riiight." Shaking my head, I turned my back on the distracting robot. "Well, that," I pointed at the sign Yax was now holding, "isn't what this," I gestured at the exhibit full of gesticulating robots behind me, "was all about."
"Then what was it about?" asked Squid-boy.
"It had nothing to do with wanting to destroy pipelines. It was about protecting water sources and the rights native peoples have on their own land."
"What do you mean by 'native peoples'?" asked Yax, staring at the exhibit with a thoughtful expression on his face.
I sighed. "It has to do with the way my country was formed. Do you know our history?"
Yax and Squid-boy both shook their heads.
I grimaced. "Well, it's a really long story and a lot of stuff happened. But, briefly, people from several different European countries invaded the continent I live on a few hundred years ago and, over time, killed most of the people who had already been living there."
Squid-boy blinked at me. "Why?"
I closed my eyes and massaged my temples.
"Are you feeling ill?" asked Yax.
"Huh?" I looked up. "Oh, no, thanks for asking. I'm okay. It's just this isn't a fun topic to talk about. Human beings can be pretty brutal, sometimes."
The tall alien nodded. "I knew that from the stories of what happened when some of my kind chose to engage your people over the centuries."
I snorted and shook my head, marveling again at how closely he resembled every classical rendering of Satan. "I can only imagine."
"But why did some of your people kill so many others, young human?" interjected Squid-boy.
I cocked an eyebrow at him. "One-track mind there, huh, Squid-boy?" He opened his mouth to respond, but I waved it away. "No, you're right. Back to business. Why did the Europeans go to the Americas or why did they slaughter the natives?" I shrugged. "Either way, the answer is a variety of reasons."
Squid-boy opened his beak and then closed it with a snap. Gesturing with his tentacles he made a gargling sound and said, "I don't understand."
Sighing, I said, "I could give you the official explanations that they teach us all in school¾God, Gold, and Glory, and all that¾but honestly it all just boils down to greed. The Europeans wanted what the indigenous people had and they were willing to do whatever was necessary to take it. There were also some people from Europe who were fleeing persecution, and who were just trying to find somewhere safe to live the way they wanted to live. But that didn't stop them from trying to impose their beliefs on the natives in the same way those they ran from had tried to do to them. And some of the slaughter was accidental; there were diseases that the Europeans brought with them.
“The Europeans had some immunity to these diseases, but the people who were native to the Americas hadn't been exposed to them previously and so had no resistance to them at all. They died by the millions. Of course, over time, even disease was turned into a weapon. There were several instances where the Europeans deliberately infected the indigenous people.
"But mostly the killing was done on purpose. It wasn't all at once; it happened over a couple of hundred years, but eventually the native peoples had been pushed back to small areas of land that the Europeans found undesirable for different reasons. Then, as things progressed, the people who had taken over started coveting what little the native peoples had left. By that time, a government had been established in the US and there were some legal contortions that those who wanted to steal from the indigenous people had to go through, but it was all still just dressed-up thievery.
"One of the last examples of this eventually led to what happened here." I gestured at the exhibit again. "The government decided it wanted the land that had been granted to a tribe of indigenous people by a treaty and offered them money to buy the land. The leaders of the tribe rejected the deal and refused the money. They wanted to keep their land. So the government put the money in a trust for the tribe, where it sits to this day, and took the land anyway. But the tribe never accepted the money, so by treaty the land still belongs to them.
"Then, the government gave a private corporation permission to build an oil pipeline on the land that belongs to the tribe. The pipeline runs underneath the river that the tribe uses as their water source. Oil pipelines are notorious for leaking, which poisons the land and the water around them, and the tribe never gave permission for the corporation to build on their land. So they organized to try to protect their land and water. It kind of snowballed when it became a symbol of people standing up for their rights and the environment against government corruption and corporate greed."
"Our records indicate there were some violent conflicts surrounding this incident," said Squid-boy.
I nodded. "There were. But the violence came from the government and from the corporation. The people protecting the water were largely peaceful in their tactics."
"If they weren't violent, what did they do?" asked Yax.
"Well, they formed a large camp near where the pipeline was being built and thousands of people congregated there." I pointed at the exhibit. "That's what you seem to be trying to portray here, but the people in the camp were there to protect the water and the rights of the native people. Not to destroy anything."
"So they just built temporary housing near where the pipeline was being built? Why would your government react violently to that?"
I snorted. "The government tends to react violently anytime anyone points out that what they're doing is wrong. But, no, they didn't just camp near the pipeline. They took action to try to stop construction. Some of them chained themselves to equipment so it couldn't be used. Some of them stood in groups, blocking the way of the construction. There were also marches to try to draw attention to what was going on. Also, after the corporation destroyed the tribe's ancestral burial ground, there was a prayer march."
"Your government allowed this corporation to disturb these people's dead? That's heartless!" cried Squid-boy.
"Why did the corporation object to prayer?" asked Yax.
"They objected to anything that brought attention to what they were doing," I answered. "And considering what the government has done to indigenous people in the past, does it really surprise you that it has no respect when it comes to native cemeteries?"
"But common decency…" objected Squid-boy.
"Isn't something corrupt politicians or greedy corporate officials concern themselves with too often," I interrupted.
He made a buzzing sound in the back of his throat but didn't reply.
"And all this is the result of the corruption you told us about?" asked Yax.
I nodded. "Probably. The governor and both senators of the state the native reservation is in have taken a lot of money from the oil and gas industry." I shrugged again. "'One hand washes the other', as they say."
"And this happens often?" asked Squid-boy.
Grimacing, I answered. "It used to happen all the time, then the laws got stricter and the protections against corporate abuse got stronger. But lately the laws have been going back in the other direction." I gestured at the exhibit again. "What happened here with private corporate security working hand in glove with the police reminds me a lot of what the Pinkerton Gang used to get away with. These fossil fuel companies are pretty aggressive when it comes to fighting dirty to get what they want from land that belongs to other people. Heck, the fracking boys have even been after me and my land."
"After you? They're trying to take your property?" asked Yax.
"What is this 'Pinkerton Gang'?" asked Squid-boy.
"They're trying to force me to give them permission to put a pipeline under my land. I don't want to, but they're pretty persistent."
"Will they win?"
I looked at Yax and shrugged. "Dunno. I like to think I can protect what's mine, but it's hard to fight people who have billions of dollars and the government behind them. I guess it'll depend on if the people in my country are able to take back control of our government or if we fold and just let the corporations run everything."
"Which do you think will happen?"
I shrugged again. "The jury's still out." I jerked my chin towards the exhibit that had already been shifted to better show how a group of regular citizens had joined together in peace to stand up against those who wanted to take their rights from them. "Things like this will answer that question."
I turned to Squid-boy who was gazing at the exhibit with a strange expression on his face. When he realized I was looking at him, he turned his eyes to meet mine. "Your species is at an interesting crossroads. You are a complex people, capable of both astonishing selflessness and devastating selfishness. I hope, for your sake, that the better parts of your nature prevail."
I reached down to pat him on his back. "Me too, Squid-boy. Me too." I took a last look at the representation of some of my fellow citizens' stand against tyranny and turned away. Taking a deep breath, I shook my head and said, "The Pinkerton Gang, to answer your question, was a private security firm that was active in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They were infamous for union-busting, strikebreaking, and intimidating workers into submission. There were several violent conflicts between them and union laborers that resulted in deaths on more than one occasion. Though, they also did other kinds of security work, tracking criminals, and such. They sort of morphed and merged over the years, not being as involved in conflicts with organized labor as the laws changed to protect unions and workers' rights. Eventually, they were bought by a different security company and aren't really called the 'Pinkertons' anymore."
I jerked my head back towards the exhibit. "The mercenaries here were deployed by the company building the pipeline. That company bribed the police by offering to pay for the costs incurred by the police department during this protest, if the police agreed to collaborate with the company’s mercenaries; the company wanted them to share information and collude to create a strategy for how the police would respond to the people trying to protect the water. That kind of shady, cozy relationship between law enforcement and private, corporately-owned armies reminds me of the stories about how the unions used to have to fight with 'the Pinks'."
"At least, no one was killed this time," observed Yax.
I shook my head. "No. No one was killed. But the company did attack the people protecting the water with dogs. And the police used tear gas and water cannons against peaceful marchers, even though the weather was cold enough to make hypothermia likely when their clothes got wet. A woman was permanently blinded in one of her eyes from tear gas and another woman's arm was badly damaged when a tear gas canister hit her. So there was violence, though not by the people protecting the water.
"Also, even though the corporate media ignored what happened, there were several independent journalists who covered it. If they hadn't been there, recording what was happening, the violence from the corporation and the police might have been even worse. Knowing that what they did would end up on the Internet and result in calls to DC might have moderated their behavior, a bit."
The big alien frowned and shook his head. I'd never seen a devil look sad before.
"I still can't believe your government allows private interests to get away with such abuses. Or to influence their own police forces so blatantly," said Squid-boy.
I shrugged. "Like I said before, the corruption in our government is an open secret. The corporations have a lot of money. As the saying goes, 'money talks' and our politicians' hearing is quite good when it comes to that money. Not so much when it comes to everyone else, though."
"But, surely, at some point, the people who elect these politicians must get frustrated and refuse to elect them again," exclaimed Squid-boy, his beak snapping.
I rubbed the back of my neck and winced. "Yeah, that's how we got our current Disaster In Chief. People were fed up with the same old, same old and decided anything would be better, even a monster."
"That doesn't seem like the correct solution to the problem," Squid-boy pointed out.
"Well, now, sugar, I agree with you. Unfortunately, enough people didn't see any alternative that it happened anyway."
"The failures of your current leader aside, though I'd be interested to hear more on that topic later, that still doesn't explain why your politicians would be willing to alienate their supporters for short-term gains. What happens when they can't get elected anymore and they lose their jobs?" asked Yax.
"Oh, that's all tied up nice and tight for them. It's the other part of the bribes they get. Like I said before, the bribery that happens in our political system isn't usually just a bag of cash shoved at someone. When the politicians who have allowed the corporations to legally bribe them leave public office, the corporations hire them."
Squid-boy blinked at me. "Hire them to do what?"
I shrugged. "Anything. Nothing. It doesn’t matter. It isn't about them doing an actual job; it's about paying them back for the job they've already done."
"And this is legal?" gasped Squid-boy.
Want to see what else Alyce has to say about our world? Grab your copy at the link below. Happy reading! 😊