Monday, March 4, 2013

Weapon of Mass Distraction

Greg Palast

Greg Palast is a New York Times bestselling author and fearless investigative journalist whose reports appear on BBC Television Newsnight and in The Guardian. Palast eats the rich and spits them out. Catch his reports and films at, where you can also securely send him your documents marked, "confidential".

This is the second of Palast's weekly columns for VICE – beginning with a bang: a four-part series on Alex Jones, guns, Piers Morgan and Palast's penis.

George Bush told America he’d keep us safe from terrorists by having us take off our shoes at the airport.

Yesterday, Barack Obama again took the Oath of Office. And this Obama 2.0 is also going to save America from insane killers – by limiting ammo clips to ten bullets instead of 30.

At a television press conference about the Newtown school massacre last Wednesday, a tearful President called this, “meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this”.

It won’t.

But, once again, we get to pretend that our presidents protect us and save us from what is murdering us and destroying us.

But The Great Assault Rifle Debate, like the War on Terror, is just another Weapon of Mass Distraction.

In all fairness to Obama, he also called – as Bush did – for a massive increase in the number of FBI files kept on Americans. I feel safer already, don’t you?

Here’s the facts, ma’am: There are about 4.5 million assault rifles in American civilian hands. That’s around the same number as in tiny Switzerland (population: eight million). Tens of thousands of Swiss keep a 9mm Sig Sauer, like the one used by the Newtown killer. But we don’t see the Swiss sweeping dead kids out of their schoolyards.

The weapon of America’s deadliest mass killer, Timmy McVeigh, was fertiliser. Maybe we should ban bullshit, but that would shut down Washington and all five major TV networks.

At his assault-gun dog-and-pony show on Wednesday, Obama shed tears for the murdered victims, as well he should. But where are his tears for the victims of the MACT?

Let me explain. Last month, Obama bullied his own Environmental Protection Agency into watering down the “MACT” standards – the limits on industrial boiler pollution.

Under this loosened “MACT” rule, industry will get to triple the hydrogen chloride and triple the particulate filth they may dump into the air. The White House crows that Obama’s bending over on this rule will save corporate polluters $1.5 billion (£945 million) a year. Yippee!

The EPA’s well-hidden data also shows that Obama’s back-down will mean that 9,000 more Americans a year will die – most of them asthmatics, like me. (Don’t send flowers.)

The number of kids among the 9,000 dead represent too many Newtowns for me to bear to calculate. Obama’s giving death a big head start: By his EPA chief’s own estimate, the higher crud limits will cause 60,000 new cases of childhood asthma each and every year.

If children die from gunfire, Obama has tears for TV. But if your child suffocates in industrial goo, neither Obama nor the news give a flying fart if your kid chokes or croaks.

So, rather than take away assault rifles, we’d save far more children by taking away the President’s easy access to executive orders.

And the Republicans? Obama killing 9,000 more asthmatics annually is just not enough for them. So, to placate these GOP industry stooges, Obama threw them the severed head of his EPA chief, Sheila Jackson, pushing her to resign.

Here’s a real life-saving proposal: Rather than spy on gun buyers, the FBI should do background checks on Congressmen – and if they have a history of taking donations from polluters, ban them from voting on life-and-death laws.

According to Senator Dianne Feinstein, assault weapons kill 43 people a year. That works out to a rate of 0.9 per 100,000 weapons. By comparison, there are 3.5 per 100,000 on-the-job deaths. In other words, having a job is four times more deadly than having a machine gun.

The National Rifle Association likes to use statistics like these cynically. (“Hey, bullets are safer than golf balls.”)

But I calculated these stats for another reason: Why AREN’T we talking about workers killed by their jobs? It’s a rolling massacre; Newtown times 2,000. In other words, why isn’t our media – why isn’t our President – talking about what’s really killing us and WHO is killing us?

On January 2, 2006, an explosion at the Sago Mine in West Virginia killed 12 miners. The communications lines required by law that might have saved them were missing. The mine is owned by International Coal Group. ICG is controlled by a hedge fund, which, in turn, is controlled by billionaire Wilbur Ross. I’ve worked with Wilbur. Nice guy. His wives are nicer. At least, every time I open Hampton’s Magazine, the latest one always looks blonder and younger.

Wilbur felt just terrible about his dead miners, so he went on TV and asked the American public to send donations to help their families. He didn’t say whether to send your money to his beach home in the Hamptons, to the one in Palm Beach or to his condo in Manhattan.

When we talk about guns control, we are talking about Them and Us. The point of gun laws is to protect the Newtowns and the Wilbur Rosses from what I’d call the renegade Armed Wing of the lower classes.

But what is there to protect the working class from the Wilbur Rosses? Maybe we could reduce the massacres caused by profit maximisation by issuing billionaires and corporations a strictly limited number of employee hunting licenses.

If some berserker is caught putting lead bullets in his pistol, he gets jail time; a corporation dumps lead poison into your water supply and gets a tax break.

If we really want to save the lives of the innocent, let’s skip the distracting chit-chat about ammo clips and grenade launchers. Rather than gun control, I think it’s time to talk about the entire American death-machine -- from desert wars to class wars; a death machine owned and operated by an elite that is out of control.

Alex Jones is the radio host who flamed Piers Morgan on prime-time TV over gun laws and the Bill of Rights. To Jones and his audience in the American heartland, arming themselves is their defensive reaction to a system that brutalises and tyrannises them. Obama got close when he said that the victims of systemic, unending unemployment, “get bitter, [and so] they cling to guns”.

But rather than bring back their jobs, the President has chosen to grab their guns.

Just this month, the Pope of Hope joined hands with Republicans to raise the regressive Social Security payroll tax by 50 percent, costing a typical working family $1,000 (£630) a year. The sum is devastating in most homes, and an assault on the economy, an “anti-stimulus” that economists agree will cost 400,000 jobs.

The power elite has dumped America (and most of Europe) into an economic Guantanamo and told us to fill out job applications with an eraser.

So Alex Jones says don’t “cling” to your guns, get them ready. With our jobs and freedoms swindled and swiped, he says, only the weapon in our hand saves us from naked tyranny. (At least Alex doesn’t peddle the NRA baloney that assault weapons are for “sport”.)

Certainly, Hitler paused rather than take on the weaponised Swiss in the Alps. And in Venezuela, after a group of oil company executives and media barons literally kidnapped the President, an armed citizenry rose up and restored their elected leader. Oddly, Jones said that Chavez took away the public’s guns. In fact, Alex, Chavez handed out thousands of rifles to “well-organised militias”, which guarantee Venezuela’s democracy against another violent corporate coup d’état. (See my film: The Assassination of Hugo Chavez.)

But America isn’t Switzerland and it sure as hell isn’t Venezuela. Because here in the US, as in Europe, the war against economic aristocrats and autocrats has already been lost. The occupation of Main Street by Wall Street is complete.

After all, Alex, in 2000, it was you who brought to America my BBC report that George W Bush had stolen the presidential election. Yet, no one picked up a gun to fight Bush’s corporate junta when they ransacked our treasuries and erased our Bill of Rights. Instead, Americans took up arms to march, at Bush’s command, into Iraq.

And that’s why, in the end, they’re not going to kick in your door and take your guns. They don’t need them. You’ve already surrendered your jobs to Mexico, your Social Security to the finance sharks and your Bill of Rights to the War on Terror, all without firing a shot.

So they’ll let you keep your rifle, your toy, your little rattle. You’re no threat to these guys. They know it and you know it.


We take heed of the words of John F Kennedy that, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible, make violent revolution inevitable.”

Want to end the slaughter? Let’s not debate gun control.

Let’s talk about a revolution.

Follow Greg on Twitter: @Greg_Palast

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