Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Reading Notes: A People's History, Part V

The fifth and final section, covering the late 70s to the present (or at least to 2003 when this edition was published).

In covering the Carter-Reagan-Bush years, Zinn made one thing clear: he HATES Reagan and Bush. He's not too impressed with Carter, either, but I get the feeling he DESPISES Reagan and Bush. Zinn describes the 80s and 90s as an era when corporations were taking control of politics and the President was losing power, despite his decisions aiming to reassert his own power rather than the represent the will of the people. The nation was also frustrated and around half the population didn't even bother to vote in elections by 1976.

So these are some of the horrible things Zinn accuses the Reagan/Bush administrations of in this section:
  • Abolishing the "fairness doctrine" of the FCC, which required air time for dissenting views.
  • Preventing doctors in federally supported family planning clinics from giving women information on abortions
  • Ignoring environmental hazards in favor of economic gains
  • Eliminating free school lunches for more than one million poor children
  • Lowering the tax rate on the very rich from 70% to 28%
  • Unnecessarily involving America in foreign affairs and lying to the public about it (Iran-contra affair)
Plus, billions of dollars were still being spent on the military, justified by the "Soviet threat." But when the Soviet Union collapsed and the US had the opportunity to reallocate funds to be used for constructive projects instead of arming a military against a nonexistent threat, it did not do that. Instead, it decided to start a war in the Middle East over oil, because has history has proven, combat leads people to forget their day-to-day problems...temporarily. And Bush needed this to boost his support.

Some good quotes I underlined:

"The U.S. can destroy Iraq's highways, but not build its own; create the conditions for epidemic in Iraw, but not offer health care to millions of Americans. It can excoriate Iraqi treatment of the Kurdish minority, but not deal with domestic race relations; create homelessness abroad but not solve it here; keep a half million troops drug free as part of a war, but refuse to fund the treatment of millions of drug addicts at home..."
"One percent of the nation owns a third of the wealth. The rest of the wealth is distributed in such a way as to turn those in the 99 percent against one another: small property owners against the propertyless, black against white, native-born against foreign-born, intellectuals and professionals against the uneducated and unskilled. These groups have resented one another and warred against one another with such vehemence and violence as to obscure their common position as sharers of leftovers in a very wealthy country."
Student speaker re: Saddam Hussein, "When he was gassing the Kurds, he was gassing them using chemical weapons that were manufactured in Rochester, New York. And when he was fighting a long and protracted war with Iran, where one million people died, it was the CIA that was funding him. It was U.S. policy that built this dictator. When they didn't need him, they started imposing sanctions on his people. Sanctions should be directed at people's governments, not at the people."

Did you know: in 1990 the average of pf the CEOs of the 500 largest corporations was 84 times that of the average worker. But by 1999, it was 475 times the average worker's pay. Blows my mind.

Chapter 23 is a good summary of Zinn's points. I think it must've been the original conclusion to the book before he added sections on Clinton and Bush Jr.

Zinn's point in these last few chapters is that its not one party's fault or the other's...the American political system is broken. Corporations have too much control over politics. Short-term economic gain is given more precedence than the long term effect it could have. The President serves more as a pawn in big-league politiks than as a representative of the people of this country. 

If I could sum this book up in three short points, it would be these:
  1. All wars are economic.
  2. The elite exploit the poor for their own gain.
  3. Change is never made through the ballot but through action. 

Overall, I enjoyed reading this book. For the majority of my life, I've been completely apathetic about politics and current events, mostly because I feel I don't know enough information to form a solid opinion. As I mentioned in my very first post about this book, history is tricky because any one historical occurrence was inevitably seen and experienced by several different perspectives. To try and write a solid historical account that includes all the various points of views would certainly not be brief enough to fit in a single textbook. And while Zinn writes his history book from only one perspective (and yes, he does acknowledge this fact), it's one more that can be added to my own thought processes as I try to digest American history.

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