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Posted on Feb 22, 2010
By Chris Hedges
Dean Henderson’s career with FedEx ended abruptly when a reckless driver plowed into his company truck and mangled his leg. His doctor will decide this week if it needs to be amputated. No longer able to drive, stripped of value in our commodity culture, he was tossed aside by the company. He became human refuse. He spends most of his days, because of the swelling and the pain, with his leg raised on a recliner in the tiny apartment in Fairfax, Va., he shares with his stepsister. He struggles without an income and medical insurance, and he fears his future.
Henderson is not alone. Workers in our corporate state earn little when they work—Henderson made $18 an hour—and they are abandoned when they can no longer contribute to corporate profits. It is the ethic of the free market. It is the cost of unfettered capitalism. And it is plunging tens of millions of discarded workers into a collective misery and rage that is beginning to manifest itself in a dangerous right-wing backlash.
“This happened while I was wearing their uniform and driving one of their company vehicles,” Henderson, a 40-year-old military veteran, told me. “My foot is destroyed. I have a fused ankle. I have had over a dozen surgeries. It hurts to wear a sock. I was limping pretty badly, but in the spring of 2008 FedEx said I had to come back to work and sit in a chair. It saved them money on workers’ compensation payments. I worked a call center job and answered telephones. I did that for three months. I had my ankle fused in January 2009, and then FedEx fired me. I was discarded. They washed their hands of me and none of this was my fault.”
Our destitute working class is beginning to grasp that Barack Obama and other elected officials in Washington, who speak in a cloying feel-your-pain language, are liars. They are not attempting to prevent wages from sinking, unemployment from mounting, foreclosures from ripping apart communities, banks from looting the U.S. Treasury or jobs from being exported. The gap between our stark reality and the happy illusions peddled by smarmy television news personalities and fatuous academic and financial experts, as well as oily bureaucrats and politicians, is becoming too wide to ignore. Those cast aside are reaching out to anyone, no matter how buffoonish or ignorant, who promises that the parasites and courtiers who serve the corporate state will disappear. Right-wing rage is being fused with right-wing populism. And once this takes hold, a protofascism will sweep across our blighted landscape fueled by a mounting personal and economic despair. Take a look at Sinclair Lewis’ “It Can’t Happen Here.” It is a good window into what awaits us.
“One thing that is very likely to happen is that the gains made in the past forty years by black and brown Americans, and by homosexuals, will be wiped out,” the philosopher Richard Rorty warns in his book “Achieving Our Country.” “Jocular contempt for women will come back into fashion. The words ‘nigger’ and ‘kike’ will once again be heard in the workplace. All the sadism which the academic Left has tried to make unacceptable to its students will come flooding back. All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet.”
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Obama, entranced with power and prestige, is more interested in courting the elite than saving the disenfranchised. The president, when asked to name a business executive he admires, cited Frederick Smith of FedEx, although Smith is a union-busting Republican. Smith, who was a member of Yale’s secret Skull & Bones Society along with George W. Bush, served as John McCain’s finance chair. I guess Obama is hoping for some cash. And Smith has a lot of it. He founded FedEx in 1971, and the company had more than $35 billion in revenue in the fiscal year that ended in May. Smith is rich and powerful, but there is no ethical system, religious or secular, that would hold him up as a man worthy of emulation. Those who make vast profits at the expense of workers and the common good are not moral. They are not worthy of adulation. They build fortunes and little monuments to themselves off the pain and suffering of people like Henderson. Jesus called them “vipers.”
“He’s an example of somebody who is thinking long term,” the president said of Smith in an interview with Bloomberg BusinessWeek, adding that he “really enjoyed talking” with him at a Feb. 4 White House luncheon.
Smith does think in the long term. His company lavished money on members of Congress in 1996 so they would vote for an ad hoc change in the law banning the Teamsters Union from organizing workers at Federal Express. A few stalwarts in the Senate, including Edward Kennedy (in a speech reprinted in the Congressional Record on Oct. 1, 1996) and his then-colleague Paul Simon, denounced the obvious. The company had bought its legislative exemption. Most members of Congress, then as now, had become corporate employees.
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