By MARC MCDONALD
George W. Bush has labeled as "absurd" an Amnesty International report which recently described the Guantanamo detention camp as a "gulag of our times."
However, many of us feel that the America itself has turned into one great big gulag under Bush.
This is hardly an exaggeration. Millions of us have watched in dismay over the past five years as the Bush Cartel has transformed America into an oppressive, miserable place to live. We've watched as the Bush team has steadily chipped away at our freedoms since 9/11, via the Patriot Act and other measures that have increasingly imposed a police state in this country.
All of this might be more tolerable if we felt that the Bush team had come to power, fair and square, via the ballot. But millions of Americans harbor serious doubts as to whether the elections of 2000 and 2004 were legitimate at all.
Gulags, of course, are notable for the fact that their residents are compelled to toil long hours. And although the erosion of worker's rights in this country pre-dates Bush, it's a fact that the past five years have seen an unprecedented assault of the rights of working people. Americans are working longer hours for less pay than at any time since the notorious Gilded Age in the 19th century. In fact, today, Americans work by far the longest hours in the industrialized world.
Unions are under assault and decent jobs are increasingly scarce. Workers are having to juggle two and three jobs, simply to put food on the table. And average wages have declined under Bush (although CEO pay has soared).
Gulags are typically characterized by an all-encompassing sense of fear. And Bush's America is a place where fear is widespread. Workers, for one, are fearful that they'll lose their jobs. And workers who're fearful can be counted on to not try to form unions or demand improved wages and benefits.
One recent eye-opening poll revealed that 70 percent of workers who're non-unionized would join a union if they were able to. When the poll asked participants their main reason for not joining a union, workers responded that they were fearful of losing their jobs.
The Bush Cartel, of course, has shamelessly instilled a sense of fear in the country since 9/11. And fear is a powerful tool of control. In fact, it could be argued that fear is a principal lever of Bush's power. When people are fearful, they are compliant and less likely to question authority. The Patriot Act, a bill that shreds the U.S. Constitution, would likely have faced more opposition during its passage had the American people not been so consumed with fear.
Gulags have been traditionally used as a mechanism for repressing political opposition. The Bush team has, of course, succeeded brilliantly in brutally stifling its political opponents. Part of this is due to today's spineless Democrats. But the main factor that has enabled Bush's reign of terror has been a compliant media.
During our darkest hours of the past five years, when we needed a strong, questioning, independent media, we're really been let down by a gutless press that has refused to stand up to this administration and tell the people the truth.
Of course, gulags are mainly characterized by the incarceration of people. Once again, this pretty much sums up today's America: a country that has the highest prison population in the history of the world. In fact, prisons are big business these days in the U.S. It's an industry that's being increasingly privatized and becoming a cash cow for corporate America. Prison labor, too, is on the rise in the U.S., a phenomenon that's gotten zero coverage in the mainstream media (although our press never tires of blasting China for using prison labor).
An astonishing two million people are now behind bars in this country. To put that into perspective, consider that Japan (a nation with half our population) has less than 70,000 people behind bars.
Through America's mismanaged trade policies and U.S. corporations' profits-before-people philosophy, this nation has lost tens of millions of good-paying jobs over the past two decades. The once-mighty American middle class is all but extinct and we're seeing the rise of a large, increasingly desperate and hopeless underclass in this nation. It's clear that America's exploding prison population is directly tied to the polarization of U.S. society and the growing gulf between rich and poor.
Is it accurate to say that America is becoming a gulag under Bush? Here's one final sobering statistic I'd like to mention. If the exploding U.S. prison population continues to increase at the same rate it has over the past quarter century, then every single American will be either in prison, or working in the prison system, by the year 2150. Then, the U.S. really will be one gigantic gulag.