Wednesday, December 08, 2010

The best friends that money can buy

Oligarchy? Corporatocracy? Or soon to be banana republic? What do you call the sad specter of the US of A as the first decade of the 21st century limps to an end. As we slip lower and lower in the ranks of global "best" lists, whether it be quality of life, or educational quality (while leading the pack for delusional thinking), I can't help but reflect on the words of the late Howard Zinn:

"The American system is the most ingenious system of control in world history. With a country so rich in natural resources, talent and labor power the system ca
n afford to distribute just enough wealth to just enough people to limit discontent to a troublesome minority. It is a country so powerful, so big, so pleasing to so many of its' citizens that it can afford to give freedom of dissent to the small number who are not pleased. There is no system of control with more openings, apertures, flexibilities, rewards for the chosen. There is none that disperses its control more complexly through the voting system, the work situation, the church, the family, the school, the mass media - none more successful in mollifying opposition with reforms, isolating people from one another, creating patriotic loyalty."-- from 'A People's History of the United States, first published 1981.

This Saturday, the local Tea Party zealots were waving the flag at a corner in my neck of the woods. I recognized one of them from a picture in our local newspaper, which seems to find this minority group always newsworthy (to the exclusion of real news), along with their doyenne, Ms. Palin. A burly, 50-something guy with a big handlebar mustache and paunch, his sign said "Honk If You Love Freedom." Someone else's said "End Tyranny." Sadly, their view of tyranny is cutting off their nose to spite their face. Ask any one of them who George Soros is, and I am sure you will find at least 50% ready to recite the vaguely anti-semitic rhetoric of Glenn Beck regarding that sinister "Hungarian Jew" who is the "puppet master" behind that Muslim, foreign-born socialist Barack Obama. But ask them who David and Charles Koch are, and I am willing to wager a significant number of draft Yuenglings that you'd get a blank look from this crowd.

I don't have a large reservoir of optimism for the future of our nation. While I believe in my heart that a small majority of Americans actually support progressive values, far too many of them prefer not to fight for them, while the minority who gladly offer themselves up as tools of the corporate right are not only willing to draw blood, but are also well-armed. Had Barack Obama been the leader many of us hoped he would be (and I do not diminish some of the advances that his administration has made), might the so-called "enthusiasm gap" never have become a mainstream media chorus line?

And then there is that one component of our peril that no one on either side of the aisle wants to speak about, at least outside of a few voices like Dennis Kucinich and Bernie Sanders: namely, the sheer magnitude of our military presence around the world (nearly 800 bases), our waging of two irrational war fronts in a sector of the world where the enemy has no problem about blowing themselves up for their cause (two wars, I might add, whose true cost is kept outside the Federal budget arithmetic), and the unspeakably bloated defense budget we support with our tax dollars. To this we might add, that in an economy woefully short of manufacturing, the one sector we still do quite well is, of course, weapons.

And now even our Supreme Court, no small thanks to George W. Bush, as classical a son of the patriarchal class as any, even the highest court of the land is now held in the majority by the forces of American aristocracy. By upholding and extending an earlier interpretative fallacy that granted corporations the rights of citizens, the justices have paved the way for the further erosion of our democracy.

We have been warned through history by men and women by-and large smarter than most of us of the perils of power and money conjoined against the forces of democracy. A few examples:

"I hope we shall... crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and to bid defiance to the laws of our country." ~ Thomas Jefferson, letter to George Logan. November 12, 1816

“America cannot have an empire abroad and a Republic at home.” ~Mark Twain

"In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. ~Pres. Dwight D. Eisenhower

"We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both." ~ Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis (1856-1941)

"The real truth of the matter is, as you and I know, that a financial element in the large centers has owned the government of the U.S. since the days of Andrew Jackson." ~ Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt

“The two greatest obstacles to democracy in the United States are, first, the widespread delusion among the poor that we have a democracy, and second, the chronic terror among the rich, lest we get it.” ~ Edward Dowling (1941)

"When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross." ~ Sinclair Lewis (1935)

"The convention which framed the Constitution of the United States was composed of fifty-five members. A majority were lawyers-not one farmer, mechanic or laborer. Forty owned Revolutionary Scrip. Fourteen were land speculators. Twenty-four were money-lenders. Eleven were merchants. Fifteen were slave-holders. They made a Constitution to protect the rights of property and not the rights of man." ~ Senator Richard Pettigrew, Triumphant Plutocracy (1922)

"A Society that is in its higher circles and middle levels widely believed to be a network of smart rackets does not produce men with an inner moral sense; a society that is merely expedient does not produce men of conscience. A society that narrows the meaning of "success" to the big money and in its terms condemns failure as the chief vice, raising money to the plane of absolute value, will produce the sharp operator and the shady deal. Blessed are the cynical, for only they have what it takes to succeed." ~ C. Wright Mills, The Power Elite

"The principal power in Washington is no longer the government or the people it represents. It is the Money Power. Under the deceptive cloak of campaign contributions, access and influence, votes and amendments are bought and sold. Money established priorities of action, holds down federal revenues, revises federal legislation, shifts income from the middle class to the very rich. Money restrains the enforcement of laws written to protect the country from abuses of wealth--laws that mandate environmental protection, antitrust laws, laws to protect the consumer against fraud, laws that safeguard the securities markets, and many more." ~ Richard N. Goodwin, speechwriter for John F. Kennedy

"Big money and big business, corporations and commerce, are again the undisputed overlords of politics and government. The White House, the Congress and, increasingly, the judiciary, reflect their interests. We appear to have a government run by remote control from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and the American Petroleum Institute. To hell with everyone else." ~Bill Moyers, PBS Commentator

"The government, which was designed for the people, has got into the hands of the bosses and their employers, the special interests. An invisible empire has been set up above the forms of democracy."
~ Woodrow T. Wilson, 28th President of the United States

"Wars are seldom caused by spontaneous hatreds between people, for peoples in general are too ignorant of one another to have grievances and too indifferent to what goes on beyond their borders to plan conquests. They must be urged to the slaughter by politicians who know how to alarm them." ~ H.L. Mencken

"An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics." ~ Plutarch (Mestrius Plutarchus, c. 46 AD- 127 AD)

“They call it the 'American Dream' because you have to be asleep to believe it.” ~ George Carlin

There's an ill wind blowing in the land, and I don't know where it is going to lead us.

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