JR'S Free Thought Pages
Democracy - RIP
The Death of Democracy and the Meritocracy Myth
by Johnny Reb
“Ten men in our country could buy the whole world and ten million can’t buy enough to eat.” - Will Rogers, 1931
Nothing much has changed since the American philosopher of the working man, Will Rogers, made the above comment. As Will Rogers likely knew only too well, you can have huge disparities of wealth or you can have democracy, but you can’t have both. From 1998 to 2006 over two-thirds of US Corporations, most of which made huge profits, paid no income tax. And Warren Buffet, a man who made billions shuffling paper in a game called the stock market, recently stated that he is mortified to admit that his maid is in a higher tax bracket than he. Capital gains, the manner in which most of the wealthy in the United States make their money, are presently taxed at the rate of 12.5%. Throughout history vast concentrations of wealth have inevitably translated into concentrations of political power, thus having a corrosive effect on democracy. What we are witnessing today is this phenomenon writ large.
“Every state has been an instrument by which a privileged few have wielded power over the immense majority. And every church has been a loyal ally of the state in the subjugation of mankind.” - Michael Bakunin
“They debated NAFTA for a long time: should we sign it or not? Either way the working people get fucked. Trade always exists for the traders. Anytime you hear businessmen debating “which policy is better for America,” - don’t bend over” – George Carlin (double click the link)
Despite their rhetoric to the contrary, history has demonstrated that Conservatives, like Communists, have invariably been the proponents and guardians of Big Government. Conservatives revel in moralizing about fiscal responsibility within a minimalist government but over the past 30 years they have consistently been the architects of big government and big government deficits starting with imposters like Ronald Reagan who tripled the national debt during his two terms as president of the United States. For both Communists and Conservatives, the two most avid proponents of big government, it’s simply a matter of emphasis and a question of whose interests within a given socio-economic system the state will sustain and eventually benefit. Witness the ongoing massive bailouts of the larcenous financial corporations that are bankrupting the US government at taxpayer expense. The current bailouts of the corporations who created the economic catastrophe are grand theft of the public treasury on a scale never seen before in recorded history, a striking reminder of the dominance of a tiny financial elite and the increasingly negligible pretense of democracy that exists in North America.
Conservatives continually sermonize about fiscal responsibility, the value of unfettered free markets, the “invisible hand of the marketplace” and the social Darwinian dictum of “flourish or die” free from government interference. But these spurious pomposities are a smoke screen for something far more ominous. Their propaganda campaigns aided and abetted by the conservative controlled lap dog media and well-financed “think tanks”, conservatives have been effective in concealing their love affair with big government while at the same time engaging the state to fill the pockets of their benefactors by distributing income upward to corporations, higher-paid managerial and executives types, business owners, passive investors and financial elites and they have formulated and legislated laws and mechanisms to facilitate this outcome. Conservatives throughout history have always had contempt for genuine democracy and disdain for the rabble underclass, considering it axiomatic that society exists to serve the economy and their own special status within the economic order, and not the other way around. After all, you don’t need to roll back the pages of history too far to discover who conservatives were in the past? They were oppressive monarchs, wealthy feudal land barons, warlords, popes and clerics – today some of the names and key players have just been changed but their goals were the same. And, as they did in the past, many conservatives still appeal to “the will of God” to validate the status quo with them comfortably perched at the top of the economic pyramid. The social psychology and physiognomy of the today’s financial elite, with its wealth, special privileges, legalized entitlements and control over the machinery of public opinion and politics, resembles nothing more than a modern oligarchy. The staggering wealth accumulated in the top one or two percent of American society over the past 30 years is directly linked to the erosion of democracy, massive handouts and tax incentives to the wealthy, deterioration of the economy, the impoverishment of the working and middle classes and almost total control over the information highways. The internet remains the last bastion of free speech and dissent but that is being threatened by the corporate world as well. The subordination of the whole society to the financial aristocracy is most vividly expressed in the current colossal endgame of multi-trillion dollar bailouts of avaricious Wall Street villains on the backs of taxpayers and their future generations.
Free Enterprise as Snake Oil
The entire state run capitalist system, what we euphemistically call “free enterprise”, is a sham and façade to anyone with a brain stem – it’s a farce and a bad joke at the expense of the hoi polloi, a cover for a taxpayer supported floatation device that bears no resemblance to democracy or the so-called "invisible hand of the marketplace” envisioned by Adam Smith, but is rather a welfare system for the big corporations and the wealthy investor class. This has always been the case with the capitalist system and it ought to be more appropriately renamed “crapitalism.” As of 2001, this organism of redistribution of wealth upward has resulted in the top 1 percent of wealth holders owning more than twice as much as the bottom 80 percent of the population in both the United States and Canada. After eight years of the Bush wrecking crew it’s far worse. The top 1 percent of American households now has more wealth than the bottom 95 percent combined. Bloomberg reports that, according to recently released IRS data, the average tax rate paid by the richest 400 Americans fell by a third to 17.2 percent through the first six years of the Bush administration and their average income doubled to $264 million while the wage earning classes saw steady declines in both income and net worth in spite of a 40% increase in worker productivity during the period 1980-2005. Over 60% of their income came from capital gains resulting from the huge tax cuts for the wealthy from Reagan onwards to the even more cataclysmic Bush II era. The statistics speak for themselves.
By the way, the huge government deficits run up by these conservative con men is no accident. It provides them with an excuse to sell off as many government assets as possible to their cronies in the private sector – usually at fire sale prices. Privatize everything is their mantra – and if an entity doesn’t generate a profit to someone, it is of no value to humanity. We witnessed this swindle when the Soviet Union collapsed in the early 1990s in which communist commissars were transformed into wealthy capitalists overnight after public assets and natural resources of the country were sold off at 1 cent on the dollar, thus creating an instant plutocratic mafia. Our own neo-conservative ideologue Premier Gordon Campbell, resident alcoholic in Victoria, has sold off a valuable profitable public asset, BC Rail, to Canadian National Railways in a scandal plagued transaction that is still languishing in the courts and more than five years.* The man even wanted to privatize our highway systems. Campbell is the same working class hating neo-conservative who shortly after his election to his first term invoked the union bashing and vicious attack on the working class called Bill 29. This fascist legislation was challenged by the unions and spent years in the Supreme Court of Canada costing Canadian taxpayers over $350 million, only to be declared a violation of the Canadian Bill of Rights. Not surprisingly our right wing corporate newspapers were silent on this outcome, a result that ought to have demanded Premier Campbell’s immediate resignation. The victims of the legislation, most who lost their careers, totaled $85 million.
All this theft of the public purse, privatizing profit while socializing losses, is tenderly referred to as “free enterprise”.
*The RCMP hand in the BC Rail Scandal is so macabre the force seems more and more like a personal bodyguard force for Premier Gordon Campbell, chief orchestrator of the corrupt sale of the profitable public company BC Rail and of the proposed sale to private corporations of all B.C. publicly-owned assets. Lawyer for the Campbell cabinet just reported that all e-mails exchanged by all relevant cabinet members and offices between 2001 and 2004 - relating to the BC Rail Scandal - have disappeared, are “not recoverable”. This has occurred despite laws demanding retention of materials for at least seven years, and more. That claim is based upon two affidavits signed by civil servant information control officers. Defense counsel expressed shock at the information. This is clearly a ruse by the Gordon Campbell forces to derail the disclosure process before it entangles them in revelations of serious, criminal wrong-doing. The announcement should have galvanized the court into action. But Madam Justice Elizabeth Bennett didn’t show the slightest alarm. She didn’t express shock or even surprise. She didn’t order the appearance of the two civil servants and their minister to face examination by Defense, Prosecution, and herself. With unalarmed casualness, she suggested the matter be handed on from pre-trial hearings to the trial judge. In any real democracy her abdication of responsibility would be repulsive and undeniably unacceptable. As it was for Campbell’s fascist Bill 29 (the adjudication for this hate crime against working people was moved to the Supreme Court of Canada), it reveals, perhaps, that any attempt to achieve democratic accountability of private corporate controlled government in the courts of British Columbia will be met with a judicial stone wall.
Democracy is dead – long live Plutocracy
These days when people reluctantly go to the polls every four years or so, granted the privilege of casting their vote for the restricted selection of right wing conservative candidates by placing an “X” beside the one that will inflict upon them the least harm, most hold their nose.* Let’s face reality: If voting really changed anything to disrupt the status quo of power and privilege, it would be declared illegal. Democracy has been in the intensive care unit for several decades now. I am personally declaring it deceased – a rotting corpse. Some have convincingly argued that democracy has always been a fraud, a farce right from the time that the US constitution was drafted by a group of privileged ultra-conservative wealthy white slave owners. It was a document written by the rich, of the rich and for the rich. Their objective in writing the US constitution was to protect their sanctified privileges at the top of the economic order and their rendering of Big Government would fill that role. In North America today we call them “bailouts,” but throughout history they were handouts, socialism for the rich if you will. Although they pale in comparison to the pillage of public funds we are witnessing today, some were very generous - and invariably for the privileged, rarely for the public interest or greater societal good. Any justice for the working classes we had to fight and often die for. Whenever concessions were made for the common good or for the benefit of the wage earner or small business class, it was not without a battle. The long, bitter and frequently violent history of the Labor movement, women’s rights and Civil Rights movements are a testament to this. Thousands who tried to better the appalling working conditions and starvation wages were brutalized and killed by corporate thugs, police and the military protecting the rights of the wealthy elites. Whenever it came down to a choice of who to protect, the police and military sided with the corporate conservative bosses and wealthy conservative oligarchs who owned and controlled them.
*In the recent British Columbia election the turnout was the lowest in history – a mere 47%, demonstrating that people have essentially given up on the system, realizing that casting a ballot is an exercise in futility. The NDP, formerly the CCF, was once a working class party in Canada under the inspirational dynamo Tommy Douglas as was the Labor Party in Britain under Clement Atlee. These parties have long since sold out to the corporate world and are nothing more than compromising conservative clones with no clear vision for the future. Rather than developing and presenting a progressive vision, assuming it is still capable of conceiving of it, one that addresses people’s need for a broader meaning and paradigm, it reduces that vision to an uninspiring package of disconnected minor reforms and tinkering of the pre-existing culture of greed that doesn’t offend the corporate media power brokers. Even the NDP attempts to criticize the militarism of neo-conservative ideologue Stephen Harper and our involvement in a futile war in Afghanistan is lame. On the $200 billion of taxpayer funds that Prime Minister Harper handed out to Canadian banks to offload their toxic assets and his $50 billion pillage of the Employment Insurance fund to underwrite tax concessions to big corporations, there was little or no response from the so-called opposition of sycophantic Liberals and New Democrats. The Conservatives remain shameless agents of militarism, wealth, privilege and monopoly capitalist interests in Canada. Stephen Harper’s Conservatives - taking the lead from Bush and Obama presidencies in United States and most other conservative corporate welfare states in North America and Europe - have begun to implement one of the largest transfers of wealth in Canadian history to private interests. The recent federal budget and other policies are channeling untold amounts of public funds into the coffers of the banks and other monopoly interests. Several accounts suggest the total bailout is closer to $275 billion. The massive deficit as accounted for in the overall financial requirements in the 2009 Federal Budget is not directed at ‘stimulus spending’ to create jobs for unemployed workers in the ‘real’ productive economy, invest in public infrastructure to renew decaying and underfunded public services, or increase accessibility to pillaged Employment Insurance Fund and welfare benefits. Instead, it is restoring the balance sheets of the financial sector during the credit crisis and helping fund future international expansion of Canadian banks and financial companies who continue to report obscene profits. There are always ample funds for imperialistic wars or for handouts and bailouts to financial elites but when money is needed to buttress the National Health Care system or to help the underprivileged, unemployed and those about to lose their homes, the piggy bank is always declared empty. The entire political and corporate system is being exposed as a totally corrupt parasitic plutocracy, morally bankrupt at its very core. If Tommy Douglas were alive and leader of the NDP today he would be launching a full frontal attack on these scandals.
Capitalism: A history of slavery and genocide
But these recent events are nothing new in the history of the Americas and I’m not alluding to the feel good ethnocentric fairy tales we were taught in our sanitized high school history courses. Rather, it’s a history of land theft, deceit, lies, broken promises, slavery and genocide of Native Americans starting with the arrival of the rapacious barbarian Christopher Columbus and his successors who managed to enslave and ultimately slaughter the entire population of 8,000,000 Arawak Indians in Hispaniola within a matter of a few decades. And that was just the beginning, not only for the brutal Spaniards, but the other voracious Christian European hordes that followed, particularly the insatiable English, like the Spaniards, who routinely invoked their deity with every Indian they robbed, tortured and slaughtered. Yes, it was all justified quite naturally by their Christian doctrines and when Native Indians died by the hundreds of thousands from white European diseases for which they had no immunity, this was attributable to God’s will and His gift to rid the land they coveted of savages and vermin. It’s a 500 year holocaust littered with enforced slavery, wars, broken treaties, enforced removal to concentration camps on sterile barren land they called “reservations”; all amounting to genocide. Historians now estimate that at least 100 million natives in the Americas perished at the hands of the Christian white man from 1492 to the onset of the twentieth century. They threw the Indians that were left alive onto land they thought was useless – until of course they found gold, oil and other valuable natural resources on it, and then they were killed off or moved elsewhere. It is also a history of slavery not only for indigenous peoples, but for Africans whose labor built much of our country for their elite masters. Slavery was in fact the driving force of early capitalism and once there were insufficient native Indian slaves, they looked elsewhere. Once the Spaniards, for example, had decimated the West Indies of native slaves, they were brought in from Africa. It’s a nasty sordid history - one of pitting African against Native American and poor whites, and poor whites against each wave of immigrants; German, Irish, Jews, Slavs, Italians, Poles, Ukranians, Chinese and so on - and now more recently Mexicans and people from the Middle East, referred to collectively as “wetbacks”, “sand niggers” or “camel jockeys.” It’s a history of innumerable wars of aggression with Mexico, Spain, Philippines, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. It is one of CIA coups in Cuba, Nicaragua, Chile, Greece, Haiti, Venezuela, Iran and Iraq. It is one of torture against non-white peoples: Native Americans, Africans, Nicaraguans, Haitians, Filipinos, Vietnamese, Afghans and Iraqis. These are the ugly truths about the real savages, the Christian white man, that have been concealed by the “sounds of silence” in our whitewashed and sanitized history courses. Although moral progress has been made from the secular influences of the Enlightenment, there is very little about which we can be proud.
The American Revolution fought under the banner “all men are created equal” did nothing more than replace British colonial rule with a similar rule by the white propertied colonial class. Excluded from participation in the new government were the vast majority of inhabitants; women, blacks, indigenous Americans, and the majority of whites who did not own property. But they were not excluded from participating in the back breaking labor of slave plantations, sweatshops and factories of the propertied class. America being the land of opportunity, children were also invited to participate in the drudgery of dawn to dusk labor in a stifling or freezing factory for pennies a day. This is the American dream our ancestors had. And when they tried to organize against the oppressive conditions, they were lynched, beaten, clubbed and shot in the streets. “Divide and conquer” was the mantra of Rome and the American elite did the Roman Empire proud. They maneuvered the poor white working class against the slaves and later the dirt poor black tenant farmers. Of course, women were always in this mix and always worked at a lesser wage than men – they still do. The capitalist robber barons laughed on their way to the bank that they also owned as each successive wave of immigrants was thrown against the workers already here with wages cut and hours increased.
The Two Party oligarchies
“Fascism should rightly be called Corporatism, as it is the merger of corporate and government power.” - Benito Mussolini
The American and Canadian two-party electoral system is really a masterful piece of guile and deception on the part of our elite masters. They control both parties with their funding and once elected the corporate lobbies insure that nothing changes. Woe to any one of the politicos who might actually take a stand against his corporate masters, then the threat of funding a challenger to his next campaign emerges. They didn’t have to write the two-party system into the Constitution and they didn’t have to legislate it. When it appeared our elite superiors were astute enough to realize that two-party politics controlled by them was the perfect ruse and antidote to democracy. So what we have in the United States, and to a slightly lesser extent in Canada, is really a one party system whereby voters are granted the privilege of choosing between two conservative parties that represent the interests of the wealthy and the corporate world. This state of affairs has been exacerbated in the past three decades with the neo-conservative onslaught that has its genesis in the Reagan/Thatcher era. Let’s please be honest at least to ourselves, free enterprise has always been a charade. In constitutional democracies throughout their short history a small parasitic oligarchy has always preyed on the masses, just sustaining and enticing them sufficiently to keep them docile, unthinking and uninformed by “manufacturing consent” with “necessary illusions” and “weapons of mass distraction” inculcated by the complicit corporate controlled media, but always with one boot on the neck to exercise near total control, verging on destitution. Two other effective mechanisms of coercion and control have been faith and fear, with organized religion often being pressed into service. Howard Zinn, the great American historian of the people, recently wrote:
"Let's face a historical truth: we have never had a ‘free market,' we have always had government intervention in the economy, and indeed that intervention has been welcomed by the captains of finance and industry. These titans of wealth hypocritically warned against 'big government' but only when (it) threatened to regulate their activities, or when it contemplated passing some of the nation's wealth on to the neediest people."
"They had no quarrel with 'big government' when it served their needs, (and it) started way back" in 1787 when the Constitution was drafted. The year before farmers from Western Massachusetts and elsewhere rebelled to protect their properties from being seized for nonpayment of taxes. The Founders took note and "created 'big government' powerful enough" to deter them in future incidents - to return runaway slaves to their owners, and to massacre Indians to make way for new settlers. Zinn notes how in the 19th century government subsidized canals, the merchant marine, and before and during the Civil War gave about 100 million free acres of land to the railroad barons "along with considerable loans to keep them in business.” It was the largest ever giveaway until the Bush administrations Henry Paulson-engineered Wall Street giveaway, a plunder of the national treasury that has continued unabated with the Obama administration. As I have mentioned earlier, Democrats and Republicans look after the ones who got them elected, Wall Street and the wealthy investor classes. Democrats even more so than Republicans backed the larcenous bailouts of criminal financial corporations who were the ones who thrust the country into the economic debacle in the first place. In Canada the neo-conservative ideologue Prime Minister Harper has handed Canadian banks $200 billion of taxpayer money to offload their toxic waste investments. Now the Canadian public owns this useless rubbish. Not surprisingly it received little or no coverage from our right wing media; its budgetary implications were not analyzed. In the meantime he has plundered the over $50 billion surplus in the Employment Insurance fund to grant tax breaks to profitable oil companies such as Suncor which is destroying the environment in the pristine Athabaska Valley of Northern Alberta with its Tar Sands Project. Now that we have hundreds of thousands unemployed Harper is perplexed over what to do with the “EI problem”, created by both his own government and the predecessor Liberal regime under Paul Martin. Duh! From the Liberals, the silence is deafening – they have no independent opinions or solutions on the exercise in futility called Afghanistan, the economy, rampant unemployment, health care or the environment - nada. Everything about the neo-conservative approach to capitalism defies solution. These ideologues do not retrench, re-think, pull-back, find ways to simplify consumption, think at all about social responsibility, and consider the idea of producing for need not for a stupid, wasteful, and gratuitous market. As huge corporations control governments as in the U.S.A, Russia, China, Canada and most European counties hope fades for a just world. In Canada Stephen Harper is the corporatist commissar. Michael Ignatieff, leader of the Liberal opposition and apologist for the War in Iraq and torture, is empty of policy and empty of solutions, empty as is the NDP leader Jack Layton. Ignatieff spoke in Calgary recently, declaring Canadian Tar Sands a major global polluter as representative of the eternal hope and wonder of Canada. Both Ignatieff and Harper have nothing but contempt for both working people and real democracy. They have no idea. They are cosmopolitan world citizens; true patriot love for both Harper and Ignatieff reside in fulfilling the rapacious desires of big business with a bankrupt moral vision of profit before people and the wishes of power, privilege and corporate North America.
Like the Republicans and Democrats in the United States, neither the Conservatives nor Liberals have ever willingly done anything for the working classes of Canada. Some mention the “New Deal” of Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR was an only child of an extremely wealthy family) but, like the bailouts we see today, he was, in an act of desperation, frantically trying to stem the tide of the growing popularity of leftist political groups, including the Communist Party which was very prominent during the Great Depression in both Canada and the United States. In short he was trying to rescue capitalism from the socialist hordes.
Another example of a long-standing tradition from the Republic's beginning, as Zinn again noted, was the Democrat Grover Cleveland vetoing "a bill to give a paltry $100,000 to Texas farmers to help them buy seed grain during a drought, saying, dismissively: 'Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character.' "However, in the same year he gave wealthy bondholders $5 million by pricing them $28 above market value. Rugged individualism" he called it. But rugged individualism and the discipline of the marketplace is intended for the struggling and suffering working class, not big business.
After the Second World War, when the Bretton Woods agreement of 1944 by Western capitalist countries declared that the Keynesianism economic model would prevail, there followed three decades of record GDPs and economic growth, coexistent with strong unions and wage increases. It’s during this period that the middle class was essentially created despite the fact that the positive economic residue that filtered down into the working classes was not the primary objective of the oligarchic world movers who met at Bretton Woods. It never has been. Described as "negotiations about economic stability", the Bretton Woods Conference marked America's domination of most of the world. What the American elite demanded, wrote Frederic F Clairmont in The Rise and Fall of Economic Liberalism, was not allies but sycophantic and malleable client states. What Bretton Woods bequeathed to the world was a lethal totalitarian blueprint for the carving up and allotment of world markets. The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the Asian Development Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank and the African Development Bank were established in effect as arms of the US Treasury and corporate America that would plan and police the new world order. The US military and its clients would guard the doorways to these "international" institutions, and an "invisible government" of media propaganda would secure the myths, said Edward Bernays.
Bernays, often described as the father of the mass media age, was the nephew of Sigmund Freud. "Propaganda," he wrote, "got to be a bad word because of the Germans . . . so what I did was to try and find other words [such as] Public Relations." Bernays employed Freud's theories about control of the subconscious to promote a "mass culture" designed to promote fear of official enemies and servility to consumerism and their conservative masters. It was Bernays who, on behalf of the tobacco industry, campaigned for American women to take up smoking as an act of feminist liberation, calling cigarettes "torches of freedom"; and it was his strategy of media disinformation and purposeful omission that was deployed in overthrowing governments, such as Guatemala's democracy in 1954. Above all, the goal was to distract, atomize and deter the social democratic impulses of working people. Bernays, wrote of and practiced the "necessary manipulation of the mass public mind"; all to divert us from "the howling wolf at the door." Big business was elevated from its public reputation as a kind of mafia to that of a patriotic force. "Free enterprise" became a divinity. "By the early 1950s," wrote Noam Chomsky, "20 million people a week were watching business-sponsored films. The entertainment industry was enlisted to the cause, portraying unions as the enemy, the outsider disrupting the ‘harmony' of the ‘American way of life' . . . Every aspect of social life was targeted and permeated schools and universities, churches, even recreational programs. By 1954, business propaganda in public schools reached half the amount spent on textbooks." An oath of loyalty to all things American became an ideological commitment to the leviathan of business: from the loathsome business of armaments and war (which consumes 42% of all tax dollar today) to the business of food, known as "agri-business" which receives $157 billion a year in government subsidies.
So the corporate sector thrived during this post-war period and certainly not just on the basis of strong economic growth. Aircraft and other defense industries had to be saved and another economic depression avoided. The oil industry got its depletion allowance, Chrysler was resurrected from the dead and Continental Illinois Bank was taken over until sold to Bank of America. Business was shored up overall by the 1971 Emergency Loan Guarantee Act. Post-9/11, the Air Transportation Safety and Stabilization Act was for the airlines. Today it's rescuing Wall Street and major banks, Fannie, Freddie, AIG, the auto giants, and any other "too big to fail" company . All this falls on the backs of taxpayers - generous government corporate welfare to save American casino capitalism and Wall Street crooks. But during this glorious post war boom it became clear to the owners of the country that the middle classes were getting too much of the economic pie, unions had become too powerful and there was “too much democracy.” This resulted from the efforts of previously marginalized sectors of the population to organize and press their demands, thereby creating an overload that prevents the “real” democratic process from functioning properly. In earlier times, "Truman had been able to govern the country with the cooperation of a relatively small number of Wall Street lawyers and bankers," so the American conservative pundit, Samuel Huntington of Harvard University, reflected. This is the classic corporatist “managed” pseudo-democracy and today we are finding people are not even bothering to show up to vote in elections. They have been anaesthetized by the realization that democracy is finished and their vote is an irrelevancy. Subsequent responses may not be so numb.
So the neo-conservative movement, in part ignited by Richard Nixon’s rescinding of Bretton Woods where the gold standard was removed and currencies began trading like penny stocks as the casino-type world economy took hold; this in addition to a concomitant upward movement of wealth from the lower and middle classes to those who already had most of it as the leftovers and residue from the wealthy investor class then trickled down to the working classes. Soon the “trickle down” Voodoo economics of Reagan and Thatcher, described by Robin Williams as “someone pissing on you”, went into full swing. Thus began the decline and demise of our fledgling middle class. Productivity rose 40 percent from 1980-2005, yet workers real wages declined and the number of billionaires increased from 13 in 1980 to 449 in 2008. Our corporations were encouraged to go global and move their manufacturing jobs overseas. NAFTA allowed corporations to sue governments for compromised profit margins due to jurisdictional environmental standards or labor regulations. It allowed American capital to enter Mexico and buy up their agricultural land, thus putting their poor local farmers out of work and heading for the US border to resettle the former Mexican provinces the United States stole from them in the Mexican War during the 1840s. Thus, neo-conservative capitalists received the benefits of near slave labor in factories overseas and, in the “homeland,” wages were depressed with the increase of both legal and illegal immigrants.
Meanwhile the wars, genocide, slavery, labor struggles and human rights struggles were granted a brief passing mention in our history classes; the emphasis was always on spinning the narrative of the feel good “we’re number one” ethnocentric American mythology. Rather than real issues that concern the masses such as health care, social security and US imperialistic wars our corporate media divert people into issues that are really of little importance to most, a simple minded populism that focuses on marginal questions such as gay marriage, abortion and opaque non-issues like “family values.”
The Meritocracy Myth
Ignored by conservatives and many liberals today is the notion that social justice is the acknowledgment that society has an obligation to strive for the equitable sharing of both its burdens and rewards and that injustice for any one person or group anywhere is injustice for all. Growing up in the fifties I, like so many others who had it drummed into their heads, believed in the North American meritocracy myth. According to this ideology, you get out of the system what you put into it and that everyone in the end gets his just desserts. Inculcated by our parents, the church and the schools is the notion that getting ahead is based on individual merit, which is generally viewed as a combination of factors including innate abilities such as intelligence, hard work and having the right attitude, moral character and integrity. Most people in North America not only tend to think this is how the system ought to work, but they also think that is how the system actually does work. But I would contend there is a huge gap between this perception and how things actually do work. The American dream is actually more akin to a nightmare, or as George Carlin appropriately put it, “it’s called the American dream because you have to be asleep to believe it.”
It’s primarily an article of faith, the mystical idea that resources are distributed in concert with one’s positive attributes and the effort one puts in. Consider inventions or intellectual breakthroughs that justify legal notions like “intellectual property”. The reality is that these come not from individual strokes of genius, but as the predictable upshot of expanding, collective knowledge and are parasitic on the forerunners in any area of human endeavor. If it had not been Einstein who came up with General Relativity, it would have been someone else soon enough. The incredible almost simultaneous discovery of the Calculus in the 17th Century by both Rene Descartes and Isaac Newton, two mathematicians working independently in different countries is one of a countless examples. These major scientific and mathematical discoveries challenge the conservative think-tank canard that all intellectual innovation/invention is not contingent on prior intellectual progress and discovery. There’s also the contention that an increase in equality of outcomes impairs economic growth. It quite clearly does not since several statistical studies show that there is no meaningful correlation between changes in equality and changes in growth rates. One case in point is post World War II America, where an economic boom accompanied a decrease in wealth disparity. Throughout history however this phenomenon has been rare.
I suggest these arguments can be equally applied to Art, Writing and Music. Highly successful individuals who look down from their lofty perch and say, “I did this all by myself” are hardly being honest. They are the product of history and community, of opportunity and legacy. Their success is not exceptional, mysterious or a function of pure genius and they owe a huge debt to others who paved the way for them. It is grounded in a web of advantages and inheritances, some deserved, some not, some earned, some just plain lucky. Does anyone think any one person, say a CEO, is so unique, so special, so highly intelligent and skilled that he deserves a salary of tens of millions of dollars when quite clearly dozens of equally qualified and perhaps better qualified candidates for the job are waiting in the wings willing to work for a fraction of what he is paid?
One’s socio-economic background, race, gender, physical appearance, family dynamic, environmental considerations and the contingency of time and place are rendered irrelevant by the meritocracy thesis. Conservative elites and the silver spoon crowd thus validate the fact that 1% of Americans own more than the bottom 90% by playing the meritocracy card. Consider the work ethic. Since the Industrial Revolution millions of people literally worked themselves to death and died in poverty, many perishing in abysmal conditions in the workplace. But the people who actually made loads of money, the litmus test for success in our culture, were not the workers, but the bosses and owners of these generally harsh workplaces.
So is material success merely a function of superior intelligence or guile? Surely no one believes that anymore. People who read and take to heart the pabulum served up by the plethora of self-help books such as The Secret believe it’s just a matter of developing a positive attitude; that you can think yourself to material success by literally constructing your own reality. Don’t fret about the fact that you have to violate fundamental laws of physics to accomplish this metaphysical feat. There’s a common perception that poor people are free riders with a negative attitude who are anti-work, anti-family, anti-education and anti-success. There’s also a belief among some Christian fundamentalists who mollify their conscience by asserting that “the poor will always be with us” and that its “God’s will working in mysterious ways”, perhaps His divine lesson in humility for the less fortunate. One of the primary forces working against the meritocracy is the effect of our contingency of birth (being born in the right place, at the right time to the right parents that will enable you to meet the right people) and especially social class and inheritance, broadly defined as the effects of initial class placement at birth on future life chances. Inheritance is not just hefty estates that are transferred upon the death of parents. Inheritance refers more broadly to unequal starting points in the race to get ahead. The race to get ahead is like a “relay race of life” in which we inherit an initial starting point from parents and are immediately put in contact with people in high places. For a while, we run alongside our parents as the baton is passed, and then we take off on our own. In this relay race those born into great wealth start far ahead of those born to poor parents and who have a huge deficit to overcome if they are to catch up. Indeed, of all the factors that we might consider, where we start out in life has by far the greatest effect on where we end up. In the race to get ahead, the effects of inheritance come first and merit a distant second at best, not the other way around. Moreover, inheritance insulates one against downward mobility that may be caused by personal inadequacies, illness or just plain bad luck.
The law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal their bread. – Anatole France
Conservatives and free marketers tell us that socialism doesn’t work because there’s no free lunch and anyway, humans are naturally greedy envious beasts and of course it’s not possible to change this innate nature. Socialism doesn’t work for whom I might ask and who came up with the adage “there’s no free lunch” as axiomatic - and what justification or relevance does it have in the real world? But why would anyone be convinced about what it is that constitutes our true nature? The verdict is still out on human nature; and surely we can, with proper nurturing and moral tutoring, bring our children up to be something better than rabidly competitive sociopaths. What about the “free lunch” some of us receive as a gift at birth, born with the silver spoon or all the racial, social, intellectual and physical prerequisites for success in an ultra-competitive capitalist culture? What about the free lunch of corporate bailouts? Why should the free lunch hypothesis be only strictly applied to the underclass in society and not the privileged? Being born into a wealthy family and privileged environment puts us at the very least into the first leg of the relay race of life while others are at still at the starting gate. Has an anyone ever considered what a man such as George W Bush with his limited intellect and inept social skills would have done with his life had he been born into a ghetto with drug alcoholic parents rather than into a family of wealthy elites with intimate political connections?
The late Harvard political and moral philosopher John Rawls in his magnum opus A Theory of Justice (1971) argued that all social primary goods - liberty and opportunity, income and wealth, and the bases of self-respect – ought to be distributed equally unless an unequal distribution of any or all of these goods leads to the improvement of the least advantaged. Rawls specifies that the parties in the “original position” are concerned only with a citizens' share of what he calls primary social goods, which include basic rights as well as economic and social advantages. Rawls also argues that the representatives in the original position would adopt the maximum rule as their principle for evaluating the choices before them. Borrowed from game theory, maximum stands for maximizing the minimum that implies making the choice that produces the highest payoff for the least advantaged position. Thus, maximum in the original position represents a formulation of social equality. Rawls proposal could be aptly described as a reverse plutocracy, the very opposite of what the underprivileged have endured throughout history. In other words, if a government is in any manner concerned with fairness and social justice then any decision that affects its citizens must as a primary consideration take into account how it will impact its worst off. Rawls employed an interesting thought experiment to make his point. He referred to it as the “original position” or “veil of ignorance”, a state of affairs in which no one in a given group are aware of their status within the socio-economic order. Rawls claims that rational people will unanimously adopt his principles of justice if their reasoning is based on general considerations, without knowing anything about their own personal situation. If someone had such personal knowledge it might tempt them to select principles of justice that gave them unfair advantage – fixing or controlling the rules of the game. Here is how Steven Pinker, Professor of Cognitive Sciences at Harvard, summed it up:
“Can one really reconcile biological differences with a concept of social justice? Absolutely. In his famous theory of justice, the philosopher John Rawls asks us to imagine a social contract drawn up by self-interested agents negotiating under a veil of ignorance, unaware of the talents or status they will inherit at birth - ghosts ignorant of the machines they will haunt. He argues that a just society is one that these disembodied souls would agree to be born into, knowing that they might be dealt a lousy social or genetic hand. If you agree that this is a reasonable conception of justice, and that the agents would insist on a broad social safety net and redistributive taxation (short of eliminating incentives that make everyone better off), then you can justify compensatory social policies even if you think differences in social status are 100 percent genetic.
Indeed, the existence of innate differences in ability makes Rawls's theory of social justice especially acute and eternally relevant. If we were blank slates, and if a society ever did eliminate discrimination, the poorest could be said to deserve their station because they must have chosen to do less with their standard-issue talents. But if people differ in talents, people might find themselves in poverty in a non-prejudiced society even if they applied themselves to the fullest. That is an injustice, a follower of Rawls would argue, that ought to be rectified, and it would be overlooked if we didn't recognize that people differ in their abilities. Conservatives throughout history have generally been those who desire the status quo, with them traditionally at the pinnacle of the social and economic strata. It’s no surprise that those who promote the virtues of the “bootstrap thesis” or “self-made man” entailing the virtues of hard work are also those who have inherited the family fortune? This theory however is not applicable to themselves, but rather generally intended for the underlings in their employ.
Morality and Meritocracy
The idea that moral character and integrity are important contributors to economic success is another cultural fabrication that is intended for the working classes, but not entrepreneurs, corporations and other members of the wealthy capitalist class. Although the adages “honesty pays” and “honesty is the best policy” in terms of how one should conduct oneself in relations with others, there is little evidence that the economically successful are more honest than the less successful. Someone with a deep sense of cynicism once said that in business “honesty is the best policy because there’s less competition.” The long history of corporate ethical scandals, the more recent of which have been at such corporations as Enron, WorldCom, Arthur Andersen, Adelphia, Global Crossing as well as recent allegations of misconduct and malfeasance in the vast hedge fund and mutual funds industry reveal how corporate executives often enrich themselves through less than honest means. White-collar crime in the form of insider trading, embezzlement, tax fraud, insurance fraud and the like is hardly evidence of honesty and virtue in practice. And neither is the extensive and sometimes highly lucrative so-called “underground” or “under the table” economy - much of it related to vice in the form of drug trafficking, gambling, pornography, loan sharking, offshore accounts, offshore registrations of corporations to avoid tax or smuggling and simple cash payments for work done to avoid income taxes. And is it necessary to mention predators like Bernie Madoff and the massive taxpayer bailouts of criminal financial corporations that have plunged us into the worst economic meltdown since the depression?
Clearly, wealth is not in any way a reflection of moral superiority. To get ahead in America, it no doubt helps immeasurably to be born into the wealthy social strata, to make the right social connections, be able to afford the best education, be bright, shrewd, to work hard, and to have the right combination of attitudes that maximize success within given fields of endeavor. Playing by the rules, however, probably works to suppress prospects for economic success since those who play by the rules are more restricted in their opportunities to attain wealth and income than those who choose to ignore the rules. In addition the punishments for so-called “white collar crime” have been so negligible that the risks are often very much worth taking. Even when white collar sociopaths are convicted of their crimes, they end up with paltry sentences and in prisons that are virtual country clubs, complete with golf course.
It is generally acknowledged that a pure meritocracy is very likely impossible to achieve. What is less generally acknowledged is that such a system may not even be entirely desirable. The limits and dangers of a system operating purely on the basis of merit were dramatically portrayed in The Rise of the Meritocracy (1961), a book by British sociologist Michael Young. Young envisioned a society in which those at the top of the system ruled autocratically with a sense of righteous entitlement while those at the bottom of the system were incapable of protecting themselves against the abuses leveled against them from the “meritorious elite” above. Instead of a fair and enlightened society, the meritocracy became maliciously unfair, oppressive and ruthless. While meritocracy may be neither possible nor desirable, I would argue that the myth of meritocracy is itself harmful because by discounting the most important causes of inequality, it leads to both unwarranted exaltation of the rich and unwarranted condemnation of the poor.
American business has always been defined by privatization of profit and socialization of costs. This has accelerated in the past three decades of neo-conservative wrecking crews, and especially today, with trillions in taxpayer handouts to huge corporations who were instrumental in causing the economic debacle.
Here is a short list of corporate welfare:
-- subsidies and other direct grants;
-- tax breaks, reductions, deductions, exclusions, write-offs, exemptions, credits, loopholes, shelters, and rebates even for profitable companies; the bigger they are, the more they get;
-- letting corporations be headquartered off-shore and pay no federal income taxes; allowed to repatriate foreign earnings on the same basis; export jobs and erode the nation's industrial base; financialize the economy; make it a casino, and loot the Treasury to cover their bad bets;
-- large government contracts of every imaginable kind; some on a cost-plus basis with every incentive to cheat and get more;
-- discounted user fees or subsidized use of public resources;
-- free government-funded R & D;
-- various other government direct payments; every cabinet department as a conduit for government funding to private business; every program from the Department of Commerce, Agriculture and others underwrites it; the FDA for Big Pharma; the FCC for media and telecommunications firms; the FAA for the airlines, the Treasury and Fed for Wall Street, and so forth; the most active "peoples" agency is the IRS;
-- other subsidies like accelerated depreciation; the cost of advertising; direct aid for companies that advertise abroad; and much more with Democrats as pro-business as Republicans while at the same time curtailing essential social benefits;
-- individual tax breaks for the rich; winking and nodding about billions offshored to tax havens; letting corporate fraud and abuse become the national pastime;
-- privatizing more of what government should do and/or does best - schools, highways, bridges, airports, prisons, public lands, utilities, the running of elections, foreign policy, parts of the military, war through the use of mercenaries, outer space, and thus far a failed attempt to take away the most important poverty reduction program for seniors and the disabled - Social Security;
-- privatizing wealth and socializing debt;
-- abolishing welfare and other social benefits; rendering organized labor impotent in a "Walmartized" society; ruling by the doctrine of rewarding the privileged at the expense of beneficial social change, the greater good, government for the people, human need, and the democratic ideal that government should serve all its people and not just its preferential few.
--offshore tax havens for the wealthy and the registering of corporate charters offshore to places like the Cayman Islands and Bahamas to avoid paying local taxes in the countries where they earned their profits.
When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross. – Sinclair Lewis
“Rugged individualism" and “market discipline” are pure myth for the wealthy investor and entrepreneurial class – they are specifically intended for the wage earners and small businessman – the working classes – or “little people” as multi-millionaire slumlord Leona Hemsley called them. But, rugged or otherwise, it's the consigned fate for the rest of us - sink or swim at a time a lot of us are drowning. Perhaps our so-called democratic governments that have now robbed us blind to bail out the corporate criminals are now preparing for martial law - they know the system is so horrendously flawed, unjust and elitist that a cataclysm may be inevitable. The future is anyone’s guess but don’t rule out a fascist police state, a state of affairs of which we are closing in on by simply witnessed the last eight years of George W. Bush. Many would claim that referring to the United States as either a fascist or potentially a fascist police state is outrageous. But when one considers the definition of “fascism” in the American Heritage Dictionary as “A system of government that exercises a dictatorship of the extreme right, typically through the merging of state and business leadership, together with belligerent nationalism”, it’s not very far-fetched.* American Vice President Henry A. Wallace in a 1944 interview was asked by the New York Times about his views on fascism. He called it a “worldwide disease” that would manifest itself in the United States after the War and become a serious threat to what he perceived as a vulnerable US democracy. He added that fascists “claim to be super-patriots, but they would destroy every liberty guaranteed by the Constitution. They demand free enterprise, but are the spokesmen for monopoly and vested interest. Their final objective toward which all their deceit is directed is to capture political power so that, using the power of the state and the power of the market simultaneously, they may keep the common man in eternal subjection."
Finally, Wallace said, "The myth of fascist efficiency has deluded many people. ... Democracy, to crush fascism internally, must...develop the ability to keep people fully employed and at the same time balance the budget. It must put human beings first and dollars second. It must appeal to reason and decency and not to violence and deceit. We must not tolerate oppressive government or industrial oligarchy in the form of monopolies and cartels." We have reached such levels of outlandish absurdity whereby corporations are deemed as not only having the same rights as persons, but have now become so powerful that they are able to override the rights not only of real live people, but the sovereignty of governments as well. When the power of corporations is combined with the power of obscenely wealthy individuals such as Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and the Walton family, the ability of the average citizen to have any input is all but impossible and democracy is thereby reduced to an exercise in futility.
In 2003, Free Inquiry, magazine of The Council for Secular Humanism,
published an article entitled “Fascism Anyone?” by Laurence W. Britt, author of
June 2004, a novel which depicts a future America dominated by right-wing
extremists. In the article, Britt identifies these 14 characteristics of a
It’s my contention that when one person has power over another, whether it’s one’s boss at work or a political leader, we can most reliably test that person’s moral sensibilities. Power, regardless of context, assumes a zero-sum game in which individuals or groups are in continuous competition for that power - someone dominates and someone submits. In such a world, one can use this kind of power with varying degrees of responsibility to others, but in such a world it is inevitable that power routinely will be used unjustly. History and personal experience have taught us that power rarely does not corrupt and this is likely attributable to the fact that those who have power are those who desire it – and they are the last who ought to wield it. Over the past 150 years this has been the point made by great anarchist philosophers such as Michael Bakunin and why it is forcefully argued that anarchism provides for the only genuine democracy. Because there is always the threat that some other person or group can overthrow the existing power structure, these kinds of systems will encourage a perpetual feedback loop whereby people who have power forever seek more. This is readily evident, for example, in the emergence of the United States as the dominant power after World War II. Even though it was clear the United States could have lived relatively secure in the world with its considerable wealth, military strength and extensive resources, that status was instead a source of anxiety in a power hungry world. That’s the logic of those who seek and ultimately hold power: One either dominates or eventually is dominated. The potential of a challenge from the subjugated and oppressed from below implies that no amount of power is sufficient; more always must be accumulated to fend off threats. Along the way, people pursuing these goals tend to justify the concentration of power as in the best interests of all; the enlightened ones with the power tell us that they will use it benevolently in the interests not just of themselves but also those less fortunate. All of human history and the cogent arguments of anarchist thinkers have weighed heavily against having any faith in this power-seeking, with its accompanying hubris and self-delusion. But history is conveniently ignored by the powerful as they congratulate themselves on their vision and fortitude, while at the same time they work feverishly to propagandize, mythologize and oppress the powerless, lest those below see the shell game for what it is and resist.
Some find solace from oppression and power in organized religion, but religion is just another even more insidious hierarchical authoritarian power structure. History has taught us this – when religion ruled it was called by historians the Dark Ages. When it has not held absolute power over its adherents, organized religion aligned itself with the prevailing sovereign power. The Christian church itself, where we might assume we could find that “something else,” is mired in a domination/subordination dynamic. Much Christian theology with its malevolent doctrine of “original sin” and extreme guilt is rooted in the idea that people are so inherently evil and depraved that we must subordinate ourselves to God, and then - convenient for church bureaucrats - to a calcified dogma and doctrine propagated by the church and its rigid anachronistic sacred book. It shouldn’t be surprising that this conception of Christianity coexists comfortably with the power exercised by the contemporary nation state and corporation. These groups of elites - political, economic and religious - take for themselves the right to dominate in their domain, eyeing the other elites apprehensively, knowing they must collaborate with each other but always aware they also are in uneasy competition in the struggle for hegemony. Such is the nature of life, even for the ultra-privileged, in a power driven world.
Is Democracy Possible?
There could be a humane, reasonable way out of this mess - but it would require an entirely different social and ethical outlook, one gauged not on authoritarianism, greed, envy, individualism and acquisitiveness, but on sustainability, caring, anti-consumerism, genuine sharing through co-operatives (such as food, banking, even shelter for hard cases), and land use that accentuates health and sustenance instead of unmitigated profit and environmental degradation. Perhaps we need to look at the ethos of quasi-anarchistic Native American cultures for a suitable model. From its nineteenth-century beginnings on, anarchism has always held out a set of ethical notions that it contends best approximates a free and just society. In the parlance of his period, Italian anarchist Errico Malatesta (1853-1932) described anarchism as "a form of social life in which men live as brothers, where nobody is in a position to oppress or exploit anyone else, and in which all the means to achieve maximum moral and material development are available to everyone." This succinct definition still captures anarchism's overarching aims. Nevertheless, this libertarian form of socialism may well have been ahead of its day in advocating a world of transnational and multifarious identities, in struggling for a qualitative humanism based on cooperation and unity amidst diversity.
Instead of top-down hierarchical social organizations, anarchists championed various types of horizontal models that could prefigure the just society in the present. That is, anarchists maintained that people could attempt to build the new world in the shell of the old through self-organization rather than passively waiting for some post-revolutionary period - hence anarchism's emphasis on a pragmatic approach. Anarchist alternatives such as the experiments during the Spanish Civil War and those traditional tribal communities of Native North Americans were grounded in such key concepts as voluntary association, personal and social freedom, tolerance, gender equality, confederated yet decentralized communities, egalitarianism, human solidarity and spontaneity. These are characteristics that are the very antithesis of the Judeo-Christian and Capitalist world view. A Native American writer once said belonging is the most important thing for Native Indians while belongings are the most important thing for Christian whites. Propaganda and indoctrination notwithstanding and the fact that most people could not even describe what it entails as a socio-economic theory, it’s not at all surprising that white Christian America hates communism. The root word is commune, suggesting community, sharing and a dependence on others for mutual support. Forget the bullshit that was pounded into your head as a youngster and open your mind. A communist is not the devil incarnate, but someone who is expected to share, a notion anathema to our atomized world of capitalism. Is it at all surprising that the defining document of the United States is called the declaration of “independence?” Even intellectuals are described as living in an ‘ivory tower,” signifying isolation. Corporations have been elevated to “legal individuals” despite the fact it is a legally sanctioned abstraction representing and promoting the interests of shareholders, an abstraction that now often has more power than real live people and sovereign states. We must continually remind ourselves that that all socio-economic theories, whether capitalism or communism are merely human constructs - inventions that have both merit and their dark side. Democracy means muddling through, trying to find and glean from the best in all that humans have thought and proposed for a civilized society.
As the European innovation known as anarchism traveled via intellectual and dissenting circuits to everywhere from the United States and China to Latin America and Africa, anarchists experimented with everything from communal living, federations, and free schools to workers' councils, local currencies, and mutual aid societies. The ability to accept such a vision requires a positive take on human nature and an emphasis of the ability to nurture our children in a communal atmosphere, to bring them up with the positive attributes of sharing, love, and compassion that Christians talk about but rarely practice, especially in today’s rabidly competitive culture of greed and global capitalism. Even if we could get people to accept the anarchist’s suspicion and skepticism of all power as a primary overriding political temperament, it would have huge benefits in promoting real democracy. What we need is not faith in our government, but a demand for accountability to the majority and not just to the small wealthy elite that presently controls all the political parties. Insofar as Barack Obama is a vast improvement over the incompetent buffoon George W Bush, those who pin their hopes on him leading us to the Promised Land are delusional and only prolong the agony of a violent self-centered power driven world of greed, war and exploitation.
Barack Obama is the embodiment of Americanism, meaning Capitalism. From his early political days, Obama's unerring theme has been not "change", the slogan of his presidential campaign, but America's right to rule and order the world as they see fit. Of the United States, he says, "we lead the world in battling immediate evils and promoting the ultimate good . . . We must lead by building a 21st-century military to ensure the security of our people and advance the security of all people." And: "At moments of great peril in the past century our leaders ensured that America, by deed and by example, led and lifted the world, that we stood and fought for the freedoms sought by billions of people beyond their borders." Sound familiar? Since 1945, by deed and by example, the US has overthrown 50 governments, including democracies, crushed some 30 liberation movements and supported tyrannies from Egypt to Guatemala. Bombing is American apple pie. Having stacked his government with warmongers, wealthy plutocrats, Wall Street goons and corporate polluters from the Bush and Clinton eras, the 45th president is merely upholding the great American tradition. He is very shrewdly using rhetorical flourishes to disguise the continuation of the same toxic domestic and foreign policy depredations of every previous U.S. President, to the detriment of all Americans and the rest of the world.
In his acceptance speech for the 2005 Nobel Prize for Literature, Harold Pinter noted that "everyone knew that terrible crimes had been committed by the Soviet Union in the postwar period, but "US crimes in the same period have been only superficially recorded, let alone documented, let alone acknowledged, let alone recognized as crimes at all". It is as if "It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening, it wasn't happening . . . You have to hand it to America . . . masquerading as a force for universal good. It's a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis." As Obama, since January of this year, has sent missiles from drone attacks that have killed hundreds of civilians in Pakistan, distinguished liberals have rejoiced that America is once again a "nation of moral ideals", as Paul Krugman recently wrote in the New York Times.