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A Brutal Capitalist Regime–The Key Problem of Our Times

June 4, 2013 2 comments
The Money Problem

The Money Problem

If you are old enough you will remember that during the Cold War, we in the USA were told tales of the “brutal communist regime” in the Soviet Union and China. Actually, anywhere that professed to be Communist. I cannot pretend to know all of the facts regarding actual conditions in these countries, then or now.

But, one day a while ago, as I was riding the bus into the city it occurred to me-we live in a brutal CAPITALIST regime here in the America of the 21st century. And–we have exported this regime across the globe at the point of a rifle (or a drone). This means that however good- hearted you may be, or how much you may hate the system and the entities that enforce the system–you will participate or die.

But let me unpack this statement,word by word. First of all let us look at the term “capitalist”. By this I mean the peculiar strain of large C capitalism that has sprung up in the United States in the late twentieth century. This includes share-holder primacy, corporate personhood, and the colonization of the people’s government by big business.

Then, let us look at brutality. We live in a place where the extremely poor are allowed to die in the street, and the slightly better off die from lack of medical care. Where public works are being attacked as frivolous by politicians in the pockets of shadowy figures who pay no taxes but reap the rewards of citizenship. Where government is handing over our wealth (and its responsibilities) to private companies who take the money and destroy the services without accountability. Where food is allowed to rot with-in the sight of the starving if they can’t pay.Where a few sleep between thousand dollar sheets and control enough wealth to start their own counties  while the many huddle in project housing and work two jobs without earning enough to feed themselves. Where poverty is created by the elite, and then criminalized. Where  big money comes before the safety and welfare of our children. Two examples are the failure of the government to pass gun laws that protect school-children and the failure to control banks from preying on our college kids. Where big banks and their shareholders robbed us all, stole our pensions, and took our houses, and got away with it.

And it is brutal in other ways as well. The human condition demands that we struggle with our own worst qualities. People in any system can be greedy, power-hungry, and selfish. But only capitalism demands these qualities as a condition of survival. It forces us all to place the dollar ahead of all other things. If you don’t have money and you are too weak, old, young, or foolish to get it, you will live in misery and die painfully. Under these conditions “getting mine” trumps all else. This is as true for me as it is for all of you.

If this crushes the spirits of those in the middle and bottom, it does something just as bad to the rich. It gives those already prone to bad behavior the ugly justification and hubris of neo-Calvinism. Great wealth brings a propensity for social blindness, loss of introspection, and intense pressure to do wrong. Those born into wealth are conditioned from birth to believe a very distorted view of reality. Those who acquire great wealth may start out with a clear view, but in the absence of a powerful inborn moral compass the natural tendency to privilege one’s own self interest wins in the end, and the distortion takes hold.

In the brutal capitalist regime, no one is allowed to become fully human. And very few ever reach their full potential. Excellence is unnecessary when mediocrity sells, and under corporate rule both education and advertising are controlled by those doing the selling.

Now all we have left to un-pack is the word “regime”. The dictionary defines this as the government in power. In the United States we are told that this is either the Democratic Party, or the Republican Party. But this is a lie. We actually live under corporate fascism with a regular democratic charade. For example, a long list of our public servants have also worked at the Monsanto Corporation. Monsanto has ruthlessly fought against even labeling modified products intended to be eaten. I can’t bring myself to call these products food. Knowing what we are eating seems to be a reasonable request. But, instead of passing laws protecting citizens by making Monsanto label their products, congress, all full of once and future Monsanto employees, instead pass the Monsanto Protection Act, forbidding us citizens from complaining. And that is just one instance.

In the brutal communist regime, the people were afraid to speak and afraid to act. In the brutal capitalist regime, you can say anything you want if you still have the energy after breaking your back to earn your bread, and you can do almost anything you want, as long as you don’t interfere with the property rights of the rich. But just don’t expect anything to change, and don’t stop buying stuff.

I have not discussed the global reach of the regime and this post is getting long. So stay tuned, I’m back!

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How Shame Keeps the Poor in Line

September 1, 2011 4 comments

Home Sweet Home

While I was in Detroit earlier this summer I had a conversation with a wonderful old woman who had been just at the bottom of the middle class all her life. She had gotten by working two, sometimes three hard and under-appreciated food service jobs, making just enough to get by. Now 62 and suffering from several ailments, including diabetes, she was waiting patiently for her unemployment to kick in, so she could stop standing on her feet sixteen hours a day. She had acquired a tiny bit of debt along the way, not enough to amount to lunch money for a rich person, but for her it was like an insurmountable mountain.

As the story goes, she had been almost starving in order to pay those bills, until a good friend convinced her to buy food first, and tell the companies that she was indebted to that they would just have to wait. Like many of the poor and almost poor, she was conscientious to a fault, and had to be convinced to take care of her own basic needs. Never mind that the interest rates she was paying were usurious. Never mind that there are whole industries in the business of exploiting people like her. It had never even occurred to her to miss a payment or negotiate a better deal.

This is just one of the ways that the poor are kept stuck. I have been traveling the country writing about the economic collapse of 2008 and the depression that has followed. It is amazing to me the number of people who have been harmed by these events, or even had their lives destroyed that will not speak out about it. The overwhelming emotion is shame. Shame in the face of a groaning table full of riches meant for others that they will never partake in.

And why are they ashamed, when the abominable condition they find themselves in in clearly not their fault? I believe it comes from an ugly strain of neo-Calvinism that the rich use to justify behavior that no true Christian would tolerate in themselves, and which the poor internalize. The result is massive shame instead of the appropriate emotion-galvanizing rage!

My Adventure in the “Rich World”

July 20, 2011 5 comments

It’s been awhile since I posted, and here is why: The first stop on my latest journey was New York City’s Upper East Side, where I visited certain people who are close to me and whom I will not mention by name. It was a difficult trip, but an enlightening one. The Upper East Side is like a little village where nothing much ever happens, the atmosphere is sterile, and most of the human interaction is between the very rich and their servants.

My hosts live on the thirty forth floor of a building that overlooks the east river. Because many diplomats live in the building all residents must be vetted before they move in. Dry-cleaning is picked up and delivered. The building has it’s own water system and security force. In case of “civil unrest” it will become a fortress.

We sat at one of the many small, luxuries, and entirely predictable little bistros that dot the neighborhood. Over a lovely salmon and a glass of Pinot my hosts confessed their dismay at the thought that I advocate wealth and income redistribution, an economic policy usually associated with the communist revolution. What I wanted to say, but didn’t, is that I too am against the redistribution of wealth as it has actually occurred. Since the “Reagan Revolution” of the 1980s the redistribution of wealth UPWARDS has been extreme and unrelenting, and we (the middle class) would like our money back.

The conversation turned to taxes, particularly the theory behind taxing or failing to tax the uber-rich at an appropriate rate. My host asked me what income level I thought of as being “rich”. As in, rich enough to pay more. I replied that most people in this country, all of the millions that make around twenty thousand a year, if they are “lucky” enough to still be working, would like say that $250,000 a year is the cut. But, I said, I understand that a person of this income feels themselves to be only comfortably middle class. I understand that people in this demographic have big expenses, that they feel inferior to the “truly rich” whose shadow they live under. So, could we agree that a person making ONE MILLION a year was rich enough to pay a larger share in a system of progressive taxation? I got no real answer as the conversation trailed off in the stifling summer air.

I then tackled share holder primacy and the fact that Wall Street doesn’t actually produce any wealth after the first offering of stock, but is rather a large liquid pool of wealth that allows the “owners” to skim the cream from the top in the form of profits, profits gained by stepping on the backs of all other people, other species, and the health of the earth itself. That dog didn’t hunt either, not in that company.

I put off writing about this for months. Publishing it will not increase my popularity in my family. Finally I decided that if I am going to go forth with this project, which I believe in more ever day as I watch the depression deepen around me, I just have to stand in my truth. I didn’t make this world, I just write about it with as much clarity as I can find. So, dear reader, expect the rest of the story soon, now that the log jam in my mind has been broken.

Good Bye to San Francisco-For Now

Great Poverty Exists

San Francisco has had a large income gap for a long time. For as long as I can remember, shapely high heels would step over the prone, nearly lifeless bodies of the homeless to get to their meals of Filet Mignon and Chocolate Decadence. It is a good thing I am coming back here in a few weeks because I was not able to meet with even one of the people I had

Side by Side with Great Wealth

hoped to. On my last day here, Wednesday, I made it to the Food Cart Wednesday under the Chronicle Overpass at 5th and Minna. I sat with a large crowd of the neighborhoods workers at lunch and listened to music in the sun.

At midnight my friend gave me a ride to the Greyhound station on Folsom and I started out towards Madison by way of Salt Lake City and Denver. The Greyhound station is new. It used to be a very scary place, dangerous even in daylight, situated in one of the city’s

At the Greyhound Station in San Francisco

worst areas. Now it is in an industrial area, and is under guard. You can’t come in to the lobby without a ticket.

The bus itself is cleaner than I remember from another long ago trip east. There are no rowdy drunken men in the back of the bus. But, it no longer stops at stations with diners. Instead it stops at Chevron Mini-Marts. I am very hungry

Salt Lake City View from the Bus Station

right now because I could not find one thing I consider to be edible in any of these stores.

Now I am enduring a three hour lay-over in Salt Lake City. I was lucky to find a plug. There is no food here either. By dawn I will be in Denver.

 

More Frodo than Joan de Arc

February 22, 2011 Leave a comment

The View from my Window

Here I am, a month off course, and ready to finally take the big leap. It has been a hard winter for many, myself included. I have been ready to roll for weeks, but not with bronchitis and not without any cash at all. Today I am breathing deeply and my little paycheck will be in my hands within days. Enough to make it all work.

Another consideration has been the weather. This winter has been a very hard one all across the country, even the Deep South. My plan was to go there first and avoid the deep freeze in the north, but then the snow and freezing weather went south before I did. But, freezing or not I will be heading out.

There is a certain excitement in the traveling, even for the purpose in which I am engaged. I have my maps, a guide book or two. I will be going by bus, so I must travel light. I have to carry my equipment-camera, computer, recorder, phone, and whatnot, plus food and water, in one carry-on bag. The other bag will have everything else. On the bus, you never know when you will have to schlep.

I am more like Frodo than Joan de Arc. I would gladly spend my days busying myself around the little piece of the world I call home, studying all the things that are fascinating and enjoying the passing days. But, I see the world (both my little corner and everyplace else) sinking into ever greater darkness. I often think that if I had been lived in France during the World War II, I would have been compelled to be part of the resistance no matter what my temperament.

Packing Up

Today, the uber-rich have been waging a vicious class war on the rest of us for a good many years, and we have not, for the most part, offered any resistance. This is finally changing.  The events in Wisconsin over the last few days should act as a clarion call to the rest of us. The uber-rich have caused a depression for the rest of us while they rake in record profits on our backs. They have used the corrupt doctrine of corporate personhood to purchase the federal government, and therefore delegitimize it. And now they want to all but dismantle that government, except for the military of course.

This is evil. Plain and simple. Wage slavery and economic colonization is just as evil as the old kind of slavery and the old kind of colonization. Ownership of one person by another is always wrong, no matter how it is framed. I am concentrating on America because I am an American, but this war, waged by the rich on people and planet is and has been a global affair. In fact, American citizens are the last victims, not the first.

I am not saying that every uber-rich person, as an individual, is evil. But, as a class, the uber-rich are destructive, anti-democratic, and wicked. They hide behind the un-workable ideology of laissez-faire capitalism, making the Orwellian claim that free markets = free people, when the opposite is clearly true. Having purchased Washington, they have caused the anti-trust laws to be all but forgotten, thereby allowing them to buy the mass media and ruin the free press in the United States. All of these things make the uber-rich a wicked class. It also make them traitors to their country, sanctimonious flag waving notwithstanding.

When faced with evil it is necessary to act, however powerless one feels. So, off I go on my odyssey into the wide world. My gift is that of the wordsmith. I can’t feed the victims of this depression, nor give them shelter, but I can at least give them a voice.

What is the American Middle Class Anyhow, and Why Should We Care?

January 14, 2011 2 comments

The American Dream

First, a little history: In Feudal times, there were three classes, or estates. They were the aristocracy, the clergy, and the peasants.  These classes were conferred at birth and the amount of social mobility was nil. As the market economy began to emerge in Europe and the New World this began to change. For the first time a moneyed merchant class rose up from the peasant class. These merchants came, for the first time, not from the landed aristocracy but from the common people. As their buying power increased so did their influence on the affairs of the day.

But, even at that, there were still large income inequalities. These inequalities lasted through the gilded age and continued into the 1920s.The American middle class as we know it today rose up as a result of the economic policies of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal. This is the origin of the American Dream, which consists of home ownership, a decent education, and a job with a future and a large enough salary to enjoy the good life. The social safety net created by the New Deal made this dream possible for millions of people.

Though poverty was still endemic in certain areas the overall condition of the people was lifted up. The middle class also provided something to aspire to if you weren’t there yet. Every year there were newly minted graduates of universities that could say “I am the first in my family to finish college.” And the implied promise of the social contract was fulfilled-as graduation rates went up, so did incomes. The professions, formerly the bastion of rich white males, were forced to open there doors to everyone else.

They bounty was not confined to white collar workers. Through strong unions and a powerful manufacturing base the working class too joined into the American Dream. As did small business owners of all kinds. This new middle class were able, due to increases in standard of living, to pay more taxes, which built up cities, counties, and states. It also funded the safety net to protect those who were still behind in the game from real destitution. Neither hunger nor homelessness were big problems in those days. In fact, they were almost non-existent.

It would seem that having a large powerful middle class forming the glue of society would be considered a good thing all the way around. But there were those that thought differently. I am not going to discuss reasonable criticisms of the American Middle Class in this post, for instance the criticism of American over-consumption and waste, though I will discuss these in future posts. In this instance I am speaking of the elite class, defeated (in their own minds at least) by the New Deal policies that allowed the middle class to rise up to begin with.

The class war actually began around 1980, with the election of Ronald Reagan. It was slow and quiet at first, and always surreptitious. Slowly the market was deregulated, the jobs outsourced, the safety net eaten away. The apotheosis of the “free market” created a new body of “common knowledge”. The mental institutions shut down and the inmates were ‘set free’ to freeze and starve on America’s streets. And the price of education shot through the roof, as did the cost of medical care. As a new, now global, class of corporate elites formed, the luster of the American middle class began to fade.

The coup de grâce came in 2007 with the completely avoidable sub-prime crisis and the collapse of the economy, at least for us ordinary folk. The stock market itself came back very quickly, as did the million dollar bonuses. But not the jobs or the tax base. Now the rest of the safety net is in great peril, both from attacks by the elite and from being overwhelmed by millions of new ‘customers’. The middle class, once the greatest source of funds for services to the poor are now in need of such services themselves. And the elite class is not willing to foot the bill. They believe, along with Marie Antoinette, that we should “eat cake”

Here are some informative links:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5kwA-CwFK5A Paul Krugman discusses the origins of the American Middle Class

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=akVL7QY0S8A Elizabeth Warren on the coming collapse of the middle class

http://www.alternet.org/economy/41192/ Thom Hartmann on the war against the middle class