Inside Corporate America
There’s two people you ought to know: Greg O’Neill and Clinton Davis. They are exceptionally important because, according to Rana Kabbani, writing in my British sister paper The Guardian, they are “two symbols of American hegemony.” Technically, she was referring to the two towers of the World Trade Center. But it was not American hegemony which fell 50 floors into horrid, crushing oblivion. Nor was it just some architectural artifact which was instructed with the “painful lesson” about US foreign policy described by Kabbani with unapologetic glee.
For four years, I’ve brought you tales from Inside Corporate America – from pig swill price-fixing conspiracies ripping off Asia to Texas power pirates turning off the lights in Rio. And when the profit hunt turned from goofy to cruel, I’ve told you the names of victims from Argentina to Tanzania. Now the victims are inside America itself, from what US television hair-do Tom Brokaw, happy to play the emblem game, called, “The symbols of American capitalism.”
Davis worked in the basement of the Trade Center. O’Neill on Floor 52 of the South Tower. (And until I started spending too much time in London, my office was on the 50th floor of the North Tower.)
Here’s what O’Neill did in Suite 5200. When the Exxon Valdez grounded, he fought British Petroleum and Exxon to get compensation for the natives of Alaska. When he learned a power company had faked safety reports on a nuclear plant, O’Neill, a lawyer, hit them with a civil racketeering suit and ultimately helped put these creeps out of the nuclear business.
Davis worked in the cops’ division of the state’s Port Authority. Neither Davis nor O’Neill would be my first choice for a symbol of US imperial might, to target for retaliation for “terror by Jewish groups,” to use Kabbani’s bone-head words.
If anything, the Trade Center was a symbol of American socialism. These towers were built by New York state in the 1970s, when ‘government-owned’ became quite unfashionable in Britain. One tower, still owned by Davis’ employer, the Port Authority, generates the revenue which pays the bonds which keeps the city’s infrastructure — subways, tunnels, bridges, and more — out of the hands of the ever-circling privatizers. Convincing capitalists that publicly-owned operations are as good an investment bet as General Motors fell to government securities market-makers, Canter Fitzgerald (100th floor, 700 workers, no known survivors).
I have a request for Britain’s Left. Today, George W. Bush is beating the war drum against Osama Bin Laden, a killer created in our President’s very own Cold War Frankenstein factory. During the war in Vietnam, thousands filled jails (including me) to resist it – we may have to again. It would help those of us Americans ready to stop the killing machine if Europeans would stop the lecturing.
In a sickening but not unique commentary, The Guardian’s Seumus Milne wagged his finger at Americans still gathering corpses. “They can’t see why they are hated.” He demands, as do too many of my otherwise progressive colleagues, that Americans must ‘understand’ why O’Neill and Davis were the targets of blood-crazed killers. Hey, if your government backs Israel, well, just get used to it, baby.
(And what do you mean “they are hated,” Seamus? When did the developing world fall in love with the Imperial conquerors of Iraq, Palestine and the Khyber Pass?)
After London’s Canary Wharf was attacked, I don’t remember America’s Left suggesting this was a just revenge for the Queen’s occupation of Ireland; a time to cuddle up to the berserkers with bombs.
Commentators like Kabbani and Milne have a great advantage over me. While Bin Laden hasn’t returned my phone calls, they seem to know exactly the killers’ cause. We have to “understand” that the terrorists don’t like America’s foreign policy. Well, neither do I. But I also understand that the bombers are not too crazy about America’s freedom of religion nor equality of women under the law. And they’re none too happy about our reluctance, despite televangelists’ pleas, that we cut off the hands of homosexuals.
On my journalistic beat investigating corporate America, I’ve heard every excuse for brutality and mayhem: “We met all the government’s safety standards,” “We never asked for the military to use force on our behalf.” The excuses and bodies pile up.
Maybe I just have to accept that killing is in fashion again, for profit, for revolution, to protect American interests or to take vengeance on American interests.
Baroness Thatcher thinks we should understand Pinochet; the Bush family ran their own little jihad against Communism I was supposed to understand; now some Britons – sadly, the ones I like and respect most – want us to understand a new set of little Pinochets with beards.
Afghan-American Tamim Ansary suggests we understand victims, not victimizers. He wrote in a personal note from Texas, “The Taliban are ignorant psychotics. When you think Bin Laden, think Hitler.” But now we come to the question of bombing Afghanistan back to the Stone Age. Trouble is, says Amsary, “that’s been done. Level our houses? Done. Turn our schools into piles of rubble? Done.” Bombing would just stir the ruins and kill crippled orphans the Taliban will abandon in Kabul.
To prevent an unelected US President from ordering up this new atrocity, grieving Americans don’t need nasty admonitions about the causes, just or unjust, of our killers.
What’s missing is an alliance against the murder of civilians. Serbians themselves turned over Milosevic. Why not demand that the Muslim world turn over Bin Laden and his hounds, not as part of a give-him-up-or-we-blow-you-up ultimatum, but as a statement of our humanity and expectation of theirs.
That terrible Tuesday evening, I had to call O’Neill’s home. He answered the phone. “My god, you’re safe!”
O’Neill replied, “Not really.” I hope that doesn’t disappoint Ms Kabbani.
Davis was safe too, in the towers’ basement. But he chose to go up into the building to rescue others. Today, this symbol of American capitalist hegemony is listed as missing.