A Nation Brought to the Verge of Ruin

Published on ZNet, by Paul Street, October 17, 2013.

Recently on his syndicated talk show, the power-worshipping interviewer of influential elites Charlie Rose worried that Washington’s latest fiscal crisis sends the world the message that “democracy doesn’t work as well as we thought it did.” [1]

What American “democracy” was Charlie Rose talking about? As John Bellamy Foster and Robert W. McChesney noted four years ago, explaining why there would be no New Deal under Barack Obama, “The United States, despite its formally democratic character, is firmly in the hands of a moneyed oligarchy, probably the most powerful ruling class in history.” [2]  

By Noam Chomsky’s account two years later, writing in the wake of the first elite-manufactured debt-ceiling crisis that nauseated the nation and mystified the world, “Corporate power, by now largely financial capital has reached the point that both political organizations, which now barely resemble traditional parties, are far to the right of the population on the major issues under debate.”[3]

Evidence in support of these statements is voluminous. On issue after issue, public opinion is irrelevant (or very close to it) in the realm of serious politics and policy, controlled by the nation’s “unelected dictatorship of money (Edward Herman and David Peterson’s phrase). Take health care coverage. Most Americans have long favored a single-payer national health insurance plan on the Canadian model. Their preference for such substantive, seriously social-democratic health reform has found no representation among the corporate- and Wall Street-captive lobbyists and politicians who pushed for big business-friendly versions of “health insurance reform. The version that finally passed in 2009, the so-called Affordable Health Care Act, is a monument to corporate and financial plutocracy. The business right wing FOX News and talk radio propaganda machine calls “Obamacare” socialism. It did not inform those it eggs into dread that the president’s measure is based on corporate-friendly prescriptions developed by the right wing Heritage Foundation in the 1990s and that his notion of “change” leaves giant insurance and drug companies free to extract massive profits that drive the nation’s health care costs to the breaking point.

The U.S. could eliminate its much-bemoaned fiscal deficit by replacing the nation’s highly dysfunctional privatized and largely employment-based health insurance system with a universal public model similar to what exists in other industrial nations – with a system that would cut health costs in half and yet deliver superior outcomes. But that’s irrelevant under the rules imposed by the reigning “plutonomy,” wherein “the financial institutions and Big Pharma are far too powerful for such options even to be considered.”[4]

“The deficit” is itself another case in point. The populace tells pollsters that government’s main priority ought to be job creation, not deficit reduction. As Demos magazine noted last December, 2011 and 2012 polls found that “the public remained focused on jobs and the economy over the deficit by two-to-one margins or more.” Surveys undertaken after Obama’s reelection last November found that “49 percent thought the election was a mandate for job creation while only 22 percent said that the President’s mandate was for deficit reduction.” NBC’s exit poll showed that “only 15 percent of voters thought the deficit was the biggest problem facing the country” A majority supported “spending money to invest in infrastructure/public sector hiring, like teachers and firemen, versus cutting to reduce the deficit.”

So what? Who cares? As Demos writer J. Mijin Cha explained, “The ‘donor class’ – the segment of the population that donates to political campaigns – is disproportionately comprised of affluent Americans.” This “donor class” (predominantly from households in the top income quintile) “does not prioritize policies to create jobs and economic growth.” It is “twice as likely to name the budget deficit as the most important issue in deciding how they would vote than middle- or lower-income respondents.” It strikingly and overwhelmingly rejects federal government action to help create jobs. Just 19% of the nation’s affluent households think the government in Washington should “see to it that everyone who wants to work can find a job” – a statement favored by 68 percent in the public. A tiny 8 percent of the wealthy think that government “should provide jobs for everyone able and willing to work cannot find a job in private employment” – something a majority (53%) of Americans support … //

… Sound familiar? “Wall Street owns the country.” Encouraged by the original well-orchestrated first debt-ceiling dance in the summer of 2011, that was the lesson drawn and disseminated with no small initially favorable public response by OWS and its many hundreds of imitators across the country two years ago. That left-led populist movement (or moment) was crushed by predominantly Democratic mayors and city councils with no small help from a coordinated federal (Obama administration) campaign of repression. It is long past time for a popular grassroots re-occupation seeking among other things to bring about a semblance of actual popular sovereignty to an ever more authoritarian and Orwellian, state-capitalist America.

P.S.: As I write this, the “last minute” deal in the “well-orchestrated dance” is being cut.

(full text).

(Paul Street’s next book is They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy, Ed. Paradigm, January 2014 … this title has not yet been released).


Collective Excess: Forty Years of Berlin Nightlife, on Spiegel Online International, by Thomas Hüetlin, October 18, 2013  (Photo Gallery): In four decades, Berlin’s nightlife has grown from a small scene of West German misfits into a global party mecca. By cultivating its underground mythos, the German capital achieved one of its greatest and strangest success stories — but not without paying a price …;

Ingenue in Exile: Iranian Actress a Star Everywhere But at Home, on Spiegel Online International, by Martin Wolf, October 17, 2013
(Photo Gallery): Actress Golshifteh Farahani is well on her way to global fame as a Hollywood star. But her work has forced her into exile from her home country of Iran, where she believes she will never live again …;

(see also: Welcome to our new blog: politics for the 99%).

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