Oligarchy Blues

Yves here. This article by Michael Ventura, on the degeneration of representative process in the US and the rise of oligarchy, calls for new terminology and frameworks in order to describe our current political and economic conditions accurately, which Ventura contends is a necessary condition for action. I imagine many NC readers will agree with him on that, since many of you engage in precisely this sort of debate in the comments section daily. This piece is a quick sketch, but nevertheless hits some key issues. (Readers might also protest that Ventura isn’t as hard on the Democrats as he ought to be, but they still get some serious whacks in his piece).

Yet one could cynically argue that what Ventura describes is more the path to how we got where we are than our current location. He describes the power of oligarchy, but focuses almost entirely on the political part of the equation. Yet as Tom Ferguson has described in his work on elections, such as his classic book, The Golden Rule, American politics has long been money driven. So the key questions might be: how did a system that has always favored the wealthy and corporate interests nevertheless come to deliver decent outcomes for ordinary citizens for a protracted period?

My view is that Americans, particularly younger ones, keep forgetting the power of the Communist threat, and how a radical left, which existed in various forms over time, led politicians to offer enough in the way of economic justice and social safety nets to keep those forces at bay. But each successive wave was brought into the tent and neutralized: first the labor movement, which wielded more power when it was outside the party structure, then disadvantaged groups (most notably blacks, who insisted on an end to discrimination in the workplace and denial of the right to vote, but the anti-poverty programs of the 1960s were aimed at helping the poor broadly, including the white rural poor, but also women who saw reproductive rights and equal pay for equal work as critical rights to be won). Gays, who are welcome as a voting bloc only in the Democratic party, nevertheless operated as if they were outsiders, and made it clear they would withhold their vote unless their demands were heard. So it is still possible for well-disciplined groups to have a significant impact on policy.

But as many commentators regularly point out, there’s much less solidarity on economic issues. The powers that be have done a great job of stoking jealousies among the fallen middle class and the poor, as well as encouraging voters to focus on hot button issues at the expense of their financial welfare. Activists say that in our prolonged post-crisis continued crushing of workers, that more and more groups are starting to collaborate on issues of economic justice, but we need more of this sort of thinking and organizing to exert pressure on our aspiring overlords.

By Michael Ventura. Originally published at the Austin Chronicle

The Left: does not exist in the United States – not as a meaningful force. To state the stunningly obvious: Without a serious critique of capitalism, you’re not to the left of anything. If what’s left of your leftness is an earnest wish for reform, you are that most maligned of political entities: a liberal. Liberals of today are nice. They do some good. But liberals of old had lefty visions that changed society’s structure – FDR’s New Deal, Harry Truman’s GI Bill, and LBJ’s War on Poverty. Liberals today believe in social access for all, and beyond that, what? The status quo. No structural political vision. As Proverbs teaches: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”

Political Commentators: Conservative and liberal, highbrow and lowdown, political commentators huff and puff on cue. Excited by each new issue, crisis, and outrage, they parrot the spectrum of views they (or their employers) have staked out. How often do they surprise you? Almost never? Shrill with opinions but bereft of ideas, they mistake political theatre for a political process. Not one in a hundred has seriously asked: What is power?

Congress: Oligarchy has defeated the very idea of a legislative process. The Republican Party is the blunt tool of Oligarchy in the United States, Oligarchy’s hammer, but not for the purpose of achieving Republican goals. Oligarchy’s goal is to deadlock federal lawmaking bodies into permanent dysfunction and create a power vacuum that only Oligarchy can fill. Its method has proved foolproof: Bankroll the GOP’s extremists and ignoramuses; count on them to freeze the political process. Also, count on Democrats and the media to obsess about the so-called issues and ignore the fundamental shift in the power structure that Oligarchy has, in large part, achieved. Absent a surge of public participation (not likely, but not impossible), the collapse of our national legislative process has probably reached the point of no return: the point at which our national problems can no longer be redressed through traditional politics.

Gerrymandering: Election coverage concentrates on personalities, hot-button issues, and polls, but the basic electoral fact today is gerrymandering. Gerrymandered extremists now hogtie the House. Ruthless gerrymandering in Republican states makes fair, county-level elections nearly impossible, decimating health care, education, women’s rights, and the right to vote. In return for funding extremists on issues that Oligarchy couldn’t care less about, Oligarchy buys state legislatures, and its lobbyists write their commerce laws. A gerrymandered election is a rigged election. News outlets have failed to put gerrymandering front and center and keep it there.

Education: In states controlled through gerrymandering, Oligarchy’s Republicans defund schools and dumb down education for one reason: People who cannot communicate beyond their class and ethnicity cannot fight back. (And a fight it is: Here in Lubbock, Texas, a highly successful charter school had its budget slashed 20% this year. No reason given. Its success seems to have displeased those who fail to grasp a central human fact: All the children are our children.)

Obamacare: Health care should be free for all; Obamacare goes a distance toward that. But there’s a price liberals ignore, and it may prove exorbitant: Obamacare makes the insurance industry indispensable to the federal government, vastly increasing Wall Street’s leverage. That was the goal all along, when Oligarchy’s Heritage Foundation first proposed this health care system. Also, the Affordable Care Act is an insurance bill, not a health bill. For instance, it does not address the 440,000 yearly deaths caused by preventable hospital error (Forbes.com, Sept. 23, 2013). That’s right: 440,000 a year. (And you’re more worried about terrorists?)

Guns: In the eyes of the world, senseless slaughters have become a signature of America (as they are a signature of Central Africa). The argument for guns is that they protect us from an overbearing government. Proponents of that argument apply 18th century tactics to 21st century reality. Wear your camouflage, speechify, amass arsenals – if you’re ever seen as a genuine threat, drones the size of hummingbirds will watch your every move until a drone that you won’t see or hear launches the missile that kills you in midsentence. No messy publicity. Just – boom. They can call it a gas explosion or a faulty something. But they don’t have to call it anything.

Because now a president can legally condemn you without trial and order your execution without oversight, even if you are a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil – and the lawyer who wrote that legal brief is now a federal judge appointed by a Democratic president and anointed by a Democratic Senate.

Meanwhile, ranting on all sides of the gun issue serves Oligarchy because it distracts the mouthy and furthers legislative dysfunction.

Police: However, gun adherents do have a point. “During the Obama administration, according to Pentagon data, police departments have received tens of thousands of machine guns; nearly 200,000 ammunition magazines; thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment; and hundreds of silencers, armored cars, and aircraft” (The New York Times, June 8). It isn’t paranoia to wonder, “What the fuck?”

Nonviolent “terrorists”?: “Pentagon preparing for mass civil breakdown,” headlined The Guardian on June 12. “The project explicitly sets out to study non-violent activists.” As the Southern Christian Leadership Conference proved a half-century ago, nonviolent activism gets radical results. So now the Pentagon calls nonviolence “political violence,” a verbal trick that puts nonviolence squarely in the sights of the Patriot Act.

The 1%: “Since 2009, 95 percent of U.S. economic gains have gone to the wealthiest 1 percent of the population” (The Week, Feb. 7).

Defense: Defense of what? America’s massive military outlay bosses trade routes, bosses far-off resources, and bosses the dollar’s rule. (Think the dollar could be the world’s currency otherwise?) This arrangement pleased Americans immensely while it benefited them personally. But now the 1% gobbles 95% of the benefits of our “defense,” while the rest of us pay taxes to support it. That, fellow citizens, is the essence of Oligarchy.

The 1% revisited: Once more with feeling: “Since 2009, 95 percent of U.S. economic gains have gone to the wealthiest 1 percent of the population.” The second-biggest question: Are there liberal or conservative proposals that: a) address this fact and b) have a chance of enactment through our present political process? If the answer is yes, show me. If the answer is no, Oligarchy is not coming, Oligarchy has come and won.

So what comes next?

Question of the Era: Are you trapped in your vocabulary?: You don’t know how to speak of the United States in any way other than what you’ve been taught? So you speak of the present as though it is the past and your answers are as antique as your questions.

Thomas Pynchon: “If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about the answers.”

Hold this truth to be self-evident: Without fair elections and a viable legislative process at federal and state levels, the republic no longer exists.

Votes for Democrats or Republicans may serve your ends in the short run, and good for you, good for you – but are your ends enough? Are you free?

Oh, let’s suppose you’re free, just so long as you stay in the little box you’ve created for yourself – but what do you bequeath if you can’t or won’t recognize or admit what has happened to you as a citizen of the republic that no longer exists?

Want to be free? I don’t know the second step, but I know the first:

Stop speaking in terms that describe a previous generation’s country.

If you want to change what is, speak of what is.

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  1. MikeNY

    Excellent piece. Democracy is dead in America. We live under oligarchy. A necessary first step is to speak that truth.

    I’ve long thought that we’d need social / political instability before we even consider real reform. I read that Eleanor Roosevelt didn’t believe the union could be saved when FDR came into office; she thought some kind of revolution was inevitable.

    It wouldn’t solve every problem, but I fantasize about breaking up the USA into smaller units and starting over, if that could be done peacefully. Of course, that’s a huge ‘if’. But this militaristic monstrosity we live under is a danger to itself and the whole world.

    1. Benedict@Large

      Peaceful revolution is a liberal fantasy. Power is not accumulated accidentally, and it is not defended with arms only to be ceded when someone nicely says please. The left died because they forgot you have to FIGHT for change.

      1. Clive

        The problem is, like it not, people similar to me who are variously in turn outraged, appalled and guilt ridden about the risible state which we find our societies have degenerated into but are nevertheless at our present point in time not sufficiently inconvenienced by it to risk highly uncertain outcomes both personally and wider in taking more draconian steps to change them. You do have to hand it to our emerging overlords — they have learned that oppressing absolutely everyone all the time is a long-term losing stratagem. All you have to do is oppress the lowest 10-20% via soft interventions (poverty in relative but probably not in historical terms, incarceration for relatively trivial transgressions, the denial of opportunity as punishment for unconventional thinking and so on).

        Yes, I know, “at first they came for the Jews but I did nothing because I was not a Jew…” and so on. But that’s just the point isn’t it — things have to get very very bad indeed before anything like you would call a “popular uprising” becomes even a possibility.

        Okay, it could all end next week. Or next year. Or not in my lifetime. Depressing ? Possibly. I’m just trying to be realistic here. British readers (of a certain age) will react with a wry smile if I were to say “The Tooting Popular Front” — but we do have to be careful to not end up like that.

        1. MtnLife

          Not only are people still too comfortable but the knowledge base of how and ability to fend for yourself has been nearly removed from general society, its value diminished and dismissed as something poor country folk do, not something for your “temporarily embarrassed millionaire” avg American. For most people, attacking the system is biting the hand that feeds them. What percentage of the population knows how to properly field dress an animal? Forage for wild edibles? Make fire without matches/lighter? Defend themselves? The conservatives have some validity with their complaint about making people dependent. I’m afraid to see how far things have to be pushed to get push back.

          1. MtnLife

            I meant to add one horrific example of this is our “lawn care” industry. The number of chemicals that are now in most people’s soil in the name of a perfect, green lawn have made it far too toxic to even think about growing your own food there. The Romans salted the fields of their enemy after conquest to prevent the production of food. Americans were duped into not only doing it for them, but paying for the privilege.

            1. Carla

              MtnLife, I’m happy to report that people in my neighborhood are, for the most part, letting the weeds grow, and mowing them now and then. My own “lawn” has been taken over by clover, which makes the resident rabbits and bees quite happy. I really hate it in the early spring when the rabbits nibble and the deer chomp on my hostas, making them ragged and deformed for the whole season. But if bunnies and bees want the clover, I’m happy to watch them munch away. And munch they do. Meanwhile, having not used chemicals on my lawn for the last 20 years, I do try to grow some tomatoes and a few other edibles. Have to say, it’s easier said than done.

          2. LifelongLib

            Well, when conservatives talk about dependency, they mean any government effort to help “average” (non-wealthy) people. They’re perfectly OK with dependency on the supermarket, real estate agent, car dealership, etc.If the government offered everyone free classes on field dressing animals, fire-making, and self-defense, conservatives would find a way to call those dependency too.

        2. jonboinAR

          Yep, as of this time, few of us, at least in the US, are truly mistreated by historical standards, although it might be getting kind of close to that. I have to admit that I, too, am too comfortable so far to be a committed revolutionary.

      2. amateur socialist

        Well now that ” the Pentagon calls nonviolence “political violence,” a verbal trick that puts nonviolence squarely in the sights of the Patriot Act.” as the author noted above, they sort of dictated the terms didn’t they?

        Anybody paying close attention to the coordinated national response to OWS has to be aware of that policy. Now that we’ve invented this new thing called political violence even the most passive resistance is quite a bit riskier. Will my reading of naked capitalism complicate my return to the US with my electronic devices intact next month? How could I know?

        Now if we could only invent political malpractice you might have a case to indict most of the functional rulers of the country if not all of them. Good luck getting a legislator to vote for that one though.

        1. Ulysses

          We know that Big Brother is watching, yet we can’t allow that knowledge to paralyze us into meekly remaining in the veal pen. Look at the brave folks of tiny Dryden, NY who went up against Big Oil and won!! They have been watched and intimidated every step of the way, with many advising them that resistance was futile. Resistance is never futile!! The resistance of the Gracchi brothers ended in disaster for them personally, but still inspires many more than two millennia later.

          We urgently need to get together, and to use whatever freedom we have left to speak truth and demand change. There truly is power in solidarity. As Ben Franklin taught us:
          “We must, indeed, all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately!!”

          1. amateur socialist

            Well for what it’s worth, we agree I think. I’m not going to let fear stop me from leaving the country. Or taking my cell phone. We’ll see if I get to keep it.

            Which is sort of my point. None of us knows what level of engagement might attract unwanted attention by the enforcers against political violence

      3. jonboinAR

        I ascribe also to the theory that identity politics has contributed much to the Left’s general ineffectuality. Whole bunch of little splinter groups each with its own narrow agenda that it drives as though crucial to mankind’s next evolutionary leap. Meanwhile they all have in common economic class interests which they basically ignore. The biggest subgroup, the white underclass appears to hate and fear all the others which, in turn, heartily make it the scapegoat for everything that remains primitive and bestial. The “Oligarchy”, politically decently focused, concentrates on passing trade laws by which governments voluntarily surrender sovereignty to them. Occasionally they look over and smile with one side of their mouths. Divide and conquer, baby!

        1. jonboinAR

          IOW, maybe the Left’s natural membership has been too busy fighting a cultural civil war to pay attention to the economic one in which the 1% has all of the recent victories.

        2. Carla

          Great comments, JonboinAR. It’s so nice to see and read you here, after we “met” several years ago in the comment section of another blog!

    2. diptherio

      I believe that a useful second step is to STOP financially supporting the oligarchy–i.e. stop paying federal taxes. Stop filing altogether. Yes, the IRS will come for you eventually, but in all the years of tax resistance, only two people (that I know of) have ever even gone to jail, and neither for all that long. We must stop being cowards and allowing the threat of a little personal unpleasantness keep us from acting ethically (assuming that your ethics, like mine, require that I do not provide assistance to criminals). Oh, and don’t forget, the IRS has declared that they have the right to read your emails without a warrant! If that’s not reason enough to stop playing nicey-nicey with those a-holes, I don’t know what is.

      At what point do we have an obligation as citizens to refuse to bend to corrupt leaders? At what point to we bear an obligation to our forebears and our posterity to defend our society against the Gresham’s dynamic that has taken control of our leadership? How long will we continue to be dupes, attending peace protests and anti-bankster rallies, only to go return home afterwards and continue to fund War and Corruption?

      We need a mass, and not even that big of one, to just have the gonads (either type) to stand up and say, “NO. The game is rigged–I know it, you know it, we all know it–and I refuse to play along. Threaten me all you like, do what you will, but I will not stand idly by while criminals take over our society, and I sure as hell ain’t gonna fund their schemes. I’d rather be dragged before the magistrate and imprisoned for my conscious than continue to pay for the destruction of my own country.”

      1. MikeNY

        Very Thoreau, Dip.

        I have tremendous respect for your passion and for anyone who acts on the principles you enunciate. I will confess, a bit ashamedly, that my personal circumstances (and perhaps my own blurry conscience) impede me, along the lines of what Clive wrote. I’m too comfortable to be a revolutionary.

    3. Oregoncharles

      “Oh, let’s suppose you’re free, just so long as you stay in the little box you’ve created for yourself – but what do you bequeath if you can’t or won’t recognize or admit what has happened to you as a citizen of the republic that no longer exists?”
      Yeah, that’s good. But it goes nowhere. The last sentence is a ridiculous copout.

    4. Jim Shannon

      The truth is for there if you care! The cause of our current situation is reversible, but only if we stop the corruption of government at ALL levels by the CentaMillionaire$ and Billionaire$, something no one wants to talk about!
      The TAX CODE is the absolute decider of true power, something the Ultra High Net Worth individuals know to be a FACT governing the Republic and proven by Observed Reality!

  2. David Lentini

    A very good piece. But with nearly 250,000 words in the Oxford English Dictionary, I suggest that we have plenty of word to describe our situation; we don’t need a new vocabulary. What we do need however, is the courage to speak and act on the truth. We’re the only ones who can save ourselves now.

    1. Jim Haygood

      As Bernays foresaw, having the Mainstream Media wield the words enables managed democracy, in which all that is done allegedly received our democratic concurrence. Having voted for all this, we have no complaint.

      Gigantism is just as bad in media as in sovereign states. Bust it all into little smithereens.

    2. Jim Shannon

      Capilalism or Greedism, one a Religion to Wealth, the other not even in the dictionary!
      Willful blindness accurately describes the last 100 years!
      Government – of the Rich, by the Rich, for the Rich!
      We serve at their liesure!

  3. DakotabornKansan

    In Pity the Billionaire, Thomas Frank describes the perpetrators of the 2008 Crash astonishingly calling for yet a purer version of the supremacy of the “free market” and even more astonishingly, millions of its previous victims buying this latest version of utopian capitalism.

    Why would anyone consider voting for the same lying bastards that ran our country into the ground? Are our memories so short that we would vote these bastards back into office?

    How in our political system built on the ideal of political equality, in which middle class voters are supposed to have such tremendous say, did our democracy end up being an oligarchy? Where rising income inequality is the highest amongst the industrial world? Where the few rule over the many and the public good is trashed by the wealthy, powerful, and elite?

    Thomas Franks observes in “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” that it was as though the French Revolution occurred in reverse, with the people running through the streets demanding that the nobility be given even more money and privileges!

    Why did Kansas voters choose self-destruction? According to Frank, “liberalism ceased to be relevant to huge portions of its traditional constituency, and we can say that liberalism lost places like Shawnee and Wichita with as much accuracy as we can point out that conservatism won them over.”

    Understanding what “the wrecking crew” has done is a necessary first step. But the veal pen media does nothing to expose the above or enhance the public’s understanding. The economic and political inequality of our wrecked society is a botch that keeps on working.

    A Kansas lesson for the Democrat Party and their historical decision to remake themselves as the other pro-business party: “By all rights the people should today be flocking to the party of Roosevelt, not deserting it. Culturally speaking, however, that option is simply not available to them anymore. Democrats no longer speak to the people on the losing end of a free-market system that is becoming more brutal and arrogant by the day. Things that liberalism once stood for – equality and economic security – have been abandoned completely. Abandoned at the historical moment when we need them most.”

    Beware “the gospel of backlash.” Frank writes, “This movement speaks to those at society’s bottom, addresses them on a daily basis. From the left they hear nothing, but from the Cons they get an explanation for it all. Even better, they get a plan of action, a scheme for world conquest with a wedge issue. And why shouldn’t they get to dream their lurid dreams of politics-as-manipulation: They’ve had it done to them enough in reality.”

    “An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.” – Plutarch

    1. Banger

      Good to bring up Frank here his insights have always been pretty good.

      I was hanging around the radical left during the late sixties and early seventies and witnessed some powerful dynamics that people have lost sight of. First, I saw the development of “black nationalism” as we called it–that was when black students and activists began to stop cooperating with white and jewish leftists who were critical in the Civil Rights movement earlier in the decade. People who had risked their lives and their futures were summarily dismissed by most black radicals. Similarly, a little later on, feminism infected the movement not as an add-on but as a separate movement that, in the end, IMHO, was about moving women up the professional ladder and had nothing whatever to do with class-struggle (I favored the basic goals of feminism, btw). The idea that, once women get into power, that they would be more empathic, more generous and compassionate is utter BS of the worst kind. Look at who the warmongers are in the current Administration–Samantha Power, Susan Rice, Victoria Nuland and, for awhile, Hilary Clinton. We have black man in the WH and one as head of the Justice Department–how’s that working for ya? Richard Nixon and John Mitchell would be to the left of those guys. They have no interest in anything we could call “left” or even social democracy-lite–they are all captured by the corporate world which was, in large part, the real goal of most (definitely not all) feminists and the black bourgeosie.

      We blame the Democratic Party today for being corrupt and for being merely a weird combination of special interest groups which tries to please everyone and pleases no one. It has no intellectual core, no emotional core, no values (other than a marvelous set of platitudes) and, in the end, is as corrupt as the nakedly and more honestly corrupt GOP. And even those that see themselves as more radical are similarly corrupt as they defend their synecures in academia and the world of NGOs and, some, their alliances with the Stasi.

      Ralph Nader is, as usual, pointing the way–towards an alliance with the libertarian right–where can we agree and agree to disagree–this is the ONLY way out of our powerlessness. The current system is hopeless and only radical shake up–almost doesn’t matter from what direction can move us off of this radical movement of the status-quo–everything is stuck and we need some explosions and the radical right is the only thing that is happening and we are fortunate, that aspects of this radical right are anti-authoritarian and while their policies might encourage chaos–we need some social chaos, we really do and maybe then we can wake the f-ck up! We had our chance to be the focus when Occupy was in full swing and the Ron Paul types were definitely working for us–but we completely failed and Occupy was our Waterloo; after that we were done and many have refused to go back to the drawing board but believe in some miracle that people will spontaneously rise up and sing the Internationale so to speak–won’t happen people and you know it.

      1. Doug Terpstra

        Very illuminating, Banger, on the devolution/division of the left. While reading this post, I thought it was right up your alley.

        But you’re a little too defeatist here, IMO. I believe the time is just not quite ripe, (as Chavez said of his first failed attempt at revolution, “the wood is too wet to catch fire.”) but that time is coming soon. We are one big crisis away from a mass awakening to the epic failure of supply-side casino capitalism. The next great insolvency event is coming soon, and it will be a doozy because all of the causes of the last crash have been doubled by the very same felons who perpetrated the last crisis … thanks to Obama.

        1. Jackrabbit

          This is the way I see it too. There is much discontent (9% approval of Congress? sub-40% for Obama?) – reflective of the corruption and deceit.

      2. Klassy

        That is painting the feminist movement with some broad brushstrokes. That is the strand of feminism that gets played up in the pages of the NYT and publications of that ilk. It devalues the work that has traditionally been done by women. Frank had an interview with Dave Graeber in Salon recently which is well worth reading. One point Graeber made is that when we talk about blue collar workers, we still cling to the image of the factory worker, or perhaps with our fetishization of “makers”, skilled tradespeoples and craftsmen. But really, a good deal of the jobs that we will continue to need are the jobs that have traditionally been held by females.
        I also believe that there was a lost opportunity there– along with women entering the paid workforce in larger numbers, it would have been great to have had a corresponding movement where men demanded the right to be caregivers and leave the paid workforce. Perhaps this might have led to a push for more paid family leave? This might have been one way to capture gains in productivity.

        1. Banger

          My own experience showed, early on, that early radical feminists simply dropped out of the broader coalitions they were a part of–I saw it in the radical cell I was a part of in the late sixties. There were many feminists that did seek alliances and a broader perspective but the general trend was as I described it at least in radical circles.

          BTW, I support the larger feminist movement that encourages qualities that are traditionally ascribed as “feminine” in both men and women like compassion, nurturing, and reconcilliation as opposed to aggression.

      3. cwaltz

        And I guess when you say the “Ron Paul types were working for us” you mean the average white guy because you certainly don’t mean women, LBGTs or AAs.

        Ron Paul was as much a libertarian as I am- and I’m not. Quite frankly I’m just as likely to join the tea partiers as I am to join a movement that says a bunch of white guys should be free to discriminate against the rest of us and that women’s uteruses need more regulation than corporate America.

        I hate to break this to you but the Ron Paul types are the problem, not the solution. The last thing corporate America needs is more freedom to screw over people.

        1. Banger

          It is a question of proportion. For me, Victoria Nuland and her ilk are far worse than Ron Paul who is anti-war. In Iraq, since the first Gulf War the war-mongers in both parties (not Ron Paul) have been responsible for millions of deaths and unspeakable horrors, gulags, and the destruction of the Bill of Rights–that’s fine with you as long as a woman’s right to abort a fetus is allowed. Sorry, doesn’t work for me and that is precisely the problem with the left–no sense of proportion at all. Of course, I favor the right of people not to be compelled to give birth–but that isn’t as serious as, say, climate change of imperialism.

          1. cwaltz

            Of course, I favor the right of people not to be compelled to give birth–but that isn’t as serious as, say, climate change of imperialism

            It isn’t as serious -to you. I can die in compelled childbirth just as easily as I can die when the planet finally decides it has had enough. It’s more likely that MY DAUGHTER will die in compelled childbirth before having to worry about climate change.

            I’m sorry I’m not one of those nice little girls who thinks my rights as a human should get second class status to the rights of everyone else. Typical libertarian behavior- You get to cherry pick what is and isn’t important in terms of human rights and if a few women involuntarily have to die for the bigger picture- no biggie.

            As far as imperialism goes, it goes hand and hand with corporatization – and THAT is on Ron Paul’s head. Businesses are going to do what they’re going to do to maximize profit and if that means spending taxpayer funds to increase market share and bring down the costs- so be it. Imperialism is libertarian policy run amok. It’s positively stupid to not acknowledge that we went to the ME for oil- and that has an awful lot to do with oil companies and their ability to buy off and create policy. Meanwhile in libertarian fantasyland- giving these companies more power and exercising less control is going to create less of this? That’s almost as dumb as Paul’s acknowledgement that the Civil Rights Act created an environment where AAs had a chance to move ahead but should have never been passed because – free markets! It’s counter to reality.

            The funny thing is the cult of Paul had a better libertarian candidate- Gary Johnson. Instead of rallying around someone who at least was consistent in terms of less regulation, you guys took the guy who cherry picked regulatory behavior and wanted to regulate individual behaviors (like who you can marry and when you should be forced to give birth) and completely leave companies like Halliburton alone.

          2. El Guapo

            Of course it isn’t as serious since YOU aren’t one who is going to be compelled to give birth. Moral leprosy at it’s finest.

            1. hunkerdown

              Who needs the Dominionist right to identify women as uteri when they can be made to do it to themselves?

              Seriously, why are you praying to the legal system for the ability to have an abortion? What else do they reliably guarantee that makes you think falling in line with the Democratic party line will save you from anything? The very second your uterus is needed to make corporate America rich, eminent domain WILL touch you deeply, and the blue people will wring their hands (they’re not regretful, just sore from all that money-counting) and play the appropriate tapes.

              So you’re declining solidarity, even though having passed through the AIDS era, the supplies are readily available to make the kitchen-table abortion quite possibly as safe as a surgical one post-Roe. I’m long papayas and 3-D printers, myself. (And if you don’t know what papayas have to do with this, pull your head out of the mainstream narrative and stop thinking that not being able to buy something at the store means it’s unavailable for any love or money. A doomer mindset is advantageous when you’re getting ready to upset power.)

              El Guapo, that’s a cheap shot (and a proud cry of neoliberal allegiance, I might add). Men already suffer plenty of indignities for women. Would you like to talk about male circumcision in the context of a culture of rape (not rape culture; that’s a species of the genus)? It’s all of a piece, really.

              1. El Guapo

                “Men already suffer plenty of indignities for women.”

                What indignities do we suffer for women? What in the world are you talking about?

      4. Oregoncharles

        I understand Nader’s point, and Greens do indeed sometimes ally with Libertarians – some are surprising left – but he’s still pointing into a dead end, for a simple reason:
        If the Green Party platform was on the ballot, a majority would vote for it. Issue polls, over and over, show huge majorities favoring the whole laundry list of progressive policies – lately even including dope legalization and marriage equality. Those people simply aren’t represented in the current political system. Even a lot of Republicans are to the left of the DEMOCRATS on most issues – they just don’t realize it.
        In other words: the Libs are actually a tiny minority with not that much to offer a coalition. The Left is the side with the popular support – if we can ever get people to vote on issues instead of personalities and party loyalty. Which, by the way, is fading fast: “independents,” including minor parties, are now over 40% of the electorate; that’s a very solid plurality – about what Clinton got the first time. Once that number passes 50%, as it will soon, we won’t have major parties any more.

        When will people start VOTING that way? Wish I knew. I’ve been an outsider so long I really don’t understand them.

        1. hunkerdown

          Independent is an overstatement, I think. So far, they’re still betting on a two-horse race moreso than voting. How can electorates vote for issues when they still believe they need a daddy in government to avoid becoming axe murderers or indolent? (I’m certainly not going to endorse cwaltz’s willingness to let the government reevaluate the fate of her daughter’s uterus every two years in exchange for so little benefit, so much drama, and so much screwing over everyone else.)

          I get the sense Americans mostly want the lash at their back, and I think the lust for suffering (preferably someone else’s) is a strong cultural imperative.

      5. ExtraT

        “…Democratic Party today is as corrupt as the more honestly corrupt GOP.”
        Well said!

      6. El Guapo

        “Ralph Nader is, as usual, pointing the way–towards an alliance with the libertarian right–where can we agree and agree to disagree–this is the ONLY way out of our powerlessness.”

        This is, without question, the most idiotic thing I have ever read. The Libertarians are the foot soldiers of the Oligarchy. They are the last people on earth anyone interested in positive structural change would ally with.

        1. hunkerdown

          Libertarian socialism is a thing. It’s just possible those at the local level who aren’t toadies for the oligarchs might join in splitting the difference. It remains to be tested because cooties, and obviously the socialist side needs to get things in writing from the other side (sanctity of contract, don’tcha know) and start from pure socialism without pre-compromise.

      7. Greg T

        Good analysis. I concur with Doug Terpstra. While the situation appears grim, events can change quickly. In the 1920s, there was very little union representation in the American workforce. A decade later, labor was organizing aggressively, using militant tactics like strikes, sit-ins, sabotage. I agree with Yves, elite fear of communism helped pave the way for the New Deal, but labor militancy was the key driving force, in my opinion.
        Absent large scale social movements, very little will change. It’s foolish to expect salvation from a badly corrupted Democratic Party. As for the Occupy movement, it merely fired a warning shot to the oligarchy. In itself, Occupy was not big or organized enough to pose a serious threat to the ruling order, but it presages bigger, more concerted efforts in the future. I say this not out of idealism, but like Doug, I believe the seeds of a crisis much bigger than 2008 have been sown. Survival will require popular organization and control on a scale greater than is presently conceivable.

        1. Glenn Condell

          ‘In the 1920s, there was very little union representation in the American workforce. A decade later, labor was organizing aggressively, using militant tactics like strikes, sit-ins, sabotage’

          Yes, but I get the feeling it wasn’t the militancy per se that (a) swayed the workers and (b) scared the owners. To me the crucial factor was how attractive, how socially acceptable, even how sexy such an apparently radical position was back then, how much easier it was in those days for fairness and progressive ideals to live and breathe and prosper inside the Big Tent. Labour people back then often inspired or entertained while spreading their gospel, people like Joe Hill and Harry McClintock, and were not just respected but loved by a great many people who while looking up to them imagined them as equals. Who do we have today… only the name Trumka comes to mind, but then I am a long way from that action and may be romanticising a bit.

          ‘I agree with Yves, elite fear of communism helped pave the way for the New Deal, but labor militancy was the key driving force, in my opinion.’

          I guess, but I do feel that the dangerous allure of a Wobbly-style politics of fairness – which admittedly could have greased the wheels of the sort of militancy you speak of – was key in helping to drive the managed consent we all marinate in today. Zeitgeist management was in its infancy back then and while the sheer human appeal of a communitarian approach to governance might have wrong-footed it initially, it has won virtually every point since.

          Which is why any contemporary reprise of that appeal is likely to fall on ground too stony for it to take root; ie, ridicule or silence.

      8. Carla

        Banger, Occupy was destroyed by a combination of coordinated FBI infiltration, conspiracy among the mayors of every city with an Occupy movement, and the completely militarized police forces of every such city (fusion centers, etc.). Occupy did not fail. Occupy was fundamentally (except in the few places where it was infiltrated and corrupted) peaceful and non-violent. As such, it represented a threat to the state and was crushed under the heel of Fascism, directed by the White House, the NSA, the Congress, the Justice Department and the National Conference of Mayors.

    2. amateur socialist

      I like Thomas Frank too but the simplistic characterization that “liberalism… lost Wichita” misses a key point I think. I grew up there in the 60s and like a lot of cities its size, Wichita lost a lot of good paying middle class jobs over those years. Pizza Hut corporate HQ left, the aircraft plants all downsized, Coleman got sold off etc.

      Wichita has become more and more a Company Town. And that company is Koch Industries.

    3. Doug Terpstra

      Great analysis, Kansan, especially the perfidy of the Democratic Party, which has teached its peak (or trough) under Barack Obama, the great author of confusion. He’s the perfect plant for the divisive identity politics that Banger chronicles.

      1. Oregoncharles

        Oh, they can go much, much lower. When we have an open Fascist dictatorship, complete with jackbooted thugs, it’ll but under a Democratic president. In some ways, we already do.

        1. ExtraT

          “…When we have an open Fascist dictatorship, complete with jackbooted thugs…”.
          We are already there. The jackbooted thugs are dispatched to Afghanistan, Irak, Siria, but it is only a matter of time before they come back to the good old usa.

        2. Doug Terpstra

          Yeah, imagine Hillary in combat boots (dodging shrapnel :), proving to the world she’s as macho as or mas macho que qualquier hombre even McCain. Our first female president will be compelled to play imperial warmonger, and libruls better fall in line or be pegged as misogynist wimps. Iron Maggie will pale by comparison. It’ll be a windfall for the diabolical merchants of death to annoint Hillary as Obama’s successor.

  4. JL Furtif

    The other day I finished Upton Sinclair’s 1927 novel ‘Petrol’. It describes the USA then as it still is today: businessmen buying politicians, universities pretending to educate, people being beaten up and put in prison for holding the wrong opinion, and people in general being enamored more by pop stars than their condition.
    But what surprised me the most, was that the US government went to war against the commies in 1918-1919 (which Wikipedia confirms). Sinclair states it was because JP Morgan was p*ed off because all his bonds went bust, but that I cannot confirm.
    So Oligarchy has won the USA already a long time ago.

    1. Banger

      Yes, oligarchies of one kind or another tend to dominate all societies and they did in the days of Upton Sinclair. However, there existed then, despite repression, a viable and activist “left” in America at the time and, this may be just as important, a ruling elite that had at least a minimal interest in the welfare of the country as a whole. Mind you, it may have been a minority of these elites but they weren’t totally alienated from the average person. Also there was diversity–communities differed quite a lot in terms of the balance of power between classes and economic conditions and it depended a lot on personalities and not just institutions.

      1. Katniss Everdeen

        There also used to be a sense, acknowledged or not, that there was plenty for everybody.

        It’s a whole lot easier to be “charitable” when one is convinced that he’ll always have all he wants.

        Not so any more. Pickins’ is gettin’ pretty slim in this petri dish.

        1. psychohistorian

          Our petri dish needs a frontier like it used to have.

          Space could be that frontier but our form of social organization can’t deliver and the oligarchs have brainwashed enough that have us locked in self destruct mode.

          I keep repeating my Gordian knot solution of to the form of Western civilization as neutering inheritance to end the Gawd of Mammon “Glass Bead Game”. Ending accumulating ownership of stuff/power would be an effective game changer for humanity and then maybe our true capabilities as a species could be realized.

        2. jonboinAR

          Good point. The future seemed brighter then, consumer-wise, most likely. Probably easier for a proto-billionaire to feel generous and for the less lucky to feel solidarity with one another. Going off to fight a “righteous” war together helped, too.

      2. neo-realist

        You also did not have the advanced police state apparatus capable of infiltrating, exposing activities to the authorities, destroying from within, and shooting and beating down with efficiency from without.

        FDR probably had to cut the New Deal to cool out the street action they couldn’t contain back in those days.

        1. LucyLulu

          Just before FDR’s election, the military was used to drive tens of thousands of WWI veterans and their families out of DC, with gunshots exchanged, and the deaths of two veterans. The veterans, unable to find jobs, wanted to cash their war certificates in several years early. Hoover refused. There was a smaller protest during FDR’s first year. FDR was more tolerant of the vets and helped them find employment. Still, later in his first term, he veto’d a bill to pay the vets early (but his veto was overridden).

          Even without drones and NSA spying and militarized police who looks as if they’ve stepped off the set of a Hollywood sci-fi movie, crowd control had been established.

    2. griffen

      I’ve not read that novel, but in recent years read something called The Tycoons. Let your imagination run, but the Vanderbilt family, Rockefeller family, and Carnegie all featured prominently.

      The biggest differential +/- 90 years later – we aren’t beholden to a Rockefeller for all the oil and gas lighting that we need. Nor beholden to a Carnegie owned monolith for rolled or finished steel product.

      CEO’s need to be reminded that, while capitalism can build great wealth – but when you’re wrong that wealth can be decimated in a quick fashion. Leading lights and executives no longer appear burdened by failure to execute a 5-year plan or expand an empire. And that’s just a wrong message.

    3. Vatch

      The U.S. (and most countries) has always been an oligarchy. I hope this can be cured in the future, but major change is difficult, to say the least.

      The post WWI Red Scare is when J. Edgar Hoover got his start in government.

    4. hunkerdown

      The Treaty of Paris was signed only a dozen years after Arthur Young’s infamous comment about keeping the working class poor. And the only thing that made the US not seem like an oligarchy was, as in Athens, the free labor from slaves, then various immigrants, then hydrocarbons, then the identity politics wheel started spinning and now there’s a new fashionable scapegoat for every season to accessorize cracker white.

      It’s a particularly Westphalian disease, I think. The end of that Peace might be a nasty, nasty thing, but wars — by which I mean hot, conscript wars against a matched adversary, not this taking candy from babies like the resource piracy of late — do tend to correct the inequality problem for those fortunate enough to remain.

  5. EoinW

    Why did the elites fear revolution in the 1930s but do not fear it today? Two points: First, if the general public has lived incredibly spoiled lives, as I have, then can you imagine how much more spoiled the children of the 1% have been? And if the general public can be in denial when it comes to what’s going on and desperately clinging to normalcy bias then can’t the 1% not be of the same attitude? Keep in mind that the elites of the 1930s may have been rich but they were still more in touch with real living than anyone in the 21st century West. Even they couldn’t get anything they wanted by just pushing a button.

    Second, for many years modern elites have witnessed the “Shock Doctrine” in action throughout the developing world. Many countries were virtually destroyed yet in each case the 1% in those countries came away richer and more powerful than ever. Why not impose a shock doctrine on the West now? We’ve been witnessing it in action in the PIIGS countries and, again, there’s no reason for the 1% to believe this blueprint won’t give them exactly what they want.

    1. wbgonne

      I agree with your points. To this query: “Why did the elites fear revolution in the 1930s but do not fear it today? ” I will add one. When applied socialism/communism (such as it was) collapsed with the Soviet Union’s fall, there was no longer any viable alternative to capitalism. And the capitalists have run wild ever since, placing a stranglehold on the American political system by bolstering their control over the GOP by adding economic libertarianism as a philosophical justification, meanwhile installing neoliberalism as the Democratic Party’s lodestar, and forcing this vicious capitalism on the rest of the world (and now back home, as you suggest). What we need for a start is serious critique of capitalism, which has appeared in its nascent stage. But what we ultimately need is the revivication of socialism/communism as a serious challenger to capitalist orthodoxy. As Yves says above, that was what kept capitalism under control. The problem is that, with AGW, time is not on our side.

      1. Carolinian

        I do think this point, and Yves’ in the intro, get to the nub. As I wrote the other day in comments, the Cold War was also a war of ideas and not just superpowers. Both parties may have poorly embodied the ideal expression of their particular economic systems, but they were nevertheless deathly opposed to the alternative represented by the other country.

        In fact I’d go even further and say that much of the 20th cent may have been a reaction to the Russian Revolution. Few know, for example, that Hitler was motivated as much by anti-communism as by nationalism and crazy racism. This is what got him the essential support of the German industrialists and what led to his fatal mistake of invading the Soviet Union.

        In any case that’s all over now and it’s hard to see the Internationale making a comeback (although I am a fan of http://www.wsws.org/ ) In America a populist revival may be possible but probably not under the Democrats. However the house of cards does seem about to collapse and somebody will have to pick up the pieces. As Max Keiser–not too well liked around here I’m getting–says, we have jumped off the cliff, said to ourselves during the fall “that’s not so bad,” are about two feet from the ground.

  6. LucyLulu

    “Obamacare makes the insurance industry indispensable to the federal government, vastly increasing Wall Street’s leverage.”

    Perhaps this is true temporarily, that the insurance industry is indispensable.

    The city/county where I live is one of the ten accountable care organizations operating as trial balloons. We did not accept Medicaid expansion in my state due to the politics of our governor and legislature, but local docs had banded together to refuse to accept Medicaid reimbursement rates. Our ACO specifically is marketed to beneficiaries of regular Medicare and Medicare Advantage plans underwritten by United Health and Aetna (but not BCBS Medicare Advantage), though there isn’t any reason an ACO must be limited to Medicare. The federal government has agreed to split any savings with the ACO. All physicians and hospitals in the county participate in the ACO, making it the largest or “widest” network of any plan of any type. Last year the ACO split 4% with the federal government. I see potential problems with this incentive, but it’s reducing costs around the edges. My physician, whom I saw yesterday, says the ACO sees the insurance industry as soon becoming unnecessary outside doing claims management, thus insurers will either be forced to accept small administrative fees or leave the market.

    I asked my doctor about the response thus far to the ACA Exchanges. He said generally his patients have been happy. They can get insurance after being either un-insurable previously at any price or being quoted outrageous premiums. I thought the premiums were high for the coverage provided here, compared to the combined employee/employer portion of premium of employer-sponsored plans, but if I didn’t have Medicare, I’d be relieved to no longer be a serious accident or illness away from living under a bridge. His complaints come from younger patients who’ve seen their premiums rise, though vanishing employer-provided insurance is priced even more inequitably, with the same rate charged for all employees irrespective of risk, versus three or more rates). It isn’t universal single-payer but its moving in that direction. We’ll get there in another 10-20 years, which isn’t that long given how much sweat and how many years it’s taken to get any type of healthcare program for the non-poor and non-elderly. Us radicals were fighting for “socialized medicine” at least as far back as when I was in school back in the 70’s being treated as if I was a commie (at the time I was otherwise very conservative), and rumors of horrific care and wait times several months long circulated about the “socialized medicine” in the UK and Canada.

    As an aside, my daughter, recently graduated, has begun working as a float pharmacist for Walgreen’s in a tri-city area. She has a lot of student debt. They guaranteed her 32 hours. She says none of the pharmacists are getting 32 hours (and almost all young ones have similar debt, minimum 3yrs undergrad and 4 yrs professional school). But Walgreen’s is going to merge with Swiss pharmacy retailer European Boot, in anticipation of $4B tax savings over 5 years. Do you think they will then give everyone more hours? She already says she works with half the number of techs they used at the grocery chain pharmacy she worked at while in school.

    1. Katniss Everdeen

      “Do you think they will then give everyone more hours?”

      No. But I think they will cut their pay.

    2. mellon

      >“It isn’t universal single-payer but its moving in that direction. We’ll get there in another 10-20 years, which isn’t that long given how much sweat and how many years it’s taken to get any type of healthcare program for the non-poor and non-elderly.”

      No it won’t. The push to “regulatory convergence” is making the US and EU into one market, and the US is making sure that that market is brought down to the US level, not brought up to the EU level. Permanently.
      The concepts that we need to understand to understand what is going on are that the trade pacts – which supersede local/national/state “supreme” courts, are private, so they are unaccountable. people, not being multinational corporations or nations, don’t have standing to argue on anything. The public interest means nothing to this power mad structure, which has been designed to dismember public services around the world and replace them with a corporate-owned monoculture.

      Since the inappropriately named “free trade agreements” we push all have standstill clauses, that means that no national changes could “adversely effect” the interests of any corporate investor. The level of “trade liberalisation” (privatization and always has to increase. (that means elimination of public services for privatization.) Basically a one way street to privatization with no exits. This is an compelling video about TISA Here is another well explained short video about GATS and TISA here is a recent – well done video about TTIP and a paper specifically about GATS and health care. You should also read the decision in the recent Slovakia cases.

      Us radicals were fighting for “socialized medicine” at least as far back as when I was in school back in the 70′s being treated as if I was a commie (at the time I was otherwise very conservative), and rumors of horrific care and wait times several months long circulated about the “socialized medicine” in the UK and Canada.

      As an aside, my daughter, recently graduated, has begun working as a float pharmacist for Walgreen’s in a tri-city area. She has a lot of student debt. They guaranteed her 32 hours. She says none of the pharmacists are getting 32 hours (and almost all young ones have similar debt, minimum 3yrs undergrad and 4 yrs professional school). But Walgreen’s is going to merge with Swiss pharmacy retailer European Boot, in anticipation of $4B tax savings over 5 years. Do you think they will then give everyone more hours? She already says she works with half the number of techs they used at the grocery chain pharmacy she worked at while in school.

      1. mellon

        I’m very sorry, i meant to quote the last two of LucyLulu’s paragraphs, not include them unaltered., my mistake..

        Lucy, I think we all should prepare for a future with a lot less remunerative human labor in it.

  7. Michael Fiorillo

    The author bemoans the atrophying of democracy and the rise of oligarchs, and then uses the closing of a charter school in Texas as evidence? Well, this fellow obviously has absolutely no idea what’s happening in the public schools, where charters are the vehicle for the Overclass’ hostile takeover of public education, and whose expansion is premised on the erosion of local democratic control of schools.

    Sorry, Yves, but if this one’s a loser.

    1. Michael Fiorillo

      Sorry for the poor proofreading. Please delete the “if” in the last sentence.

    2. bmeisen

      agree that a charter school losing funding is difficult for me, someone opposed in principle to charter schooling, to mourn. but i may be out of touch with the facts, which might be that in places like texas the argument has advanced. it may be irrational today to argue for education as the terrible swift sword of a democratic God. maybe the reality in texas is a fight between oligarchs and their orc-like servants who want to relieve the state and the taxpayer of responsibility for education (especially the dirty work of grammar schools) and a rump polity defending a fragment of the “run spot run” social contract. reality may be charter schools and whether some can in some way provide education to enough of the poor to postpone social collapse.

      1. LucyLulu

        The problem with education doesn’t lie within the schools. Those who attack our educational system invariably cite the US’s poor performance on standardized tests compared to other OECD nations. If one throws out the test scores from inner city schools and rural areas like Appalachia, the US performs very well. The problem is our high incidence of poverty. Unsurprisingly, living with hunger, lack of sleep, and stress impairs learning no matter the setting, charter or otherwise. I’ve spent time in both suburban and inner city classrooms. The difference in behavior and ability to focus is stark. Inner city teachers are so consumed with addressing behavior, little time is available for lessons…..though suburban teachers complain they are increasingly facing similar issues.

        Reducing poverty would alleviate most of the problems within primary education. Occasionally one will find a teacher so talented and inspirational they can overcome these challenges, but they are few and far between, as in any profession. Nor are teachers valued in our society, either financially or socially. In fact, more recently they’ve faced ostracism. When teachers had become public enemy #1 during the protests in Wisconsin, it should have been obvious to everyone that the American people had lost the battle. Teachers and their pensions. Ironically, in Wisconsin, pensions were on very sound footing, benefits have a floor (conservative level) but are paid based on the funds’ actual earnings. Wisconsin’s plan is touted as a model all pension plans could well use. Despite rhetoric about retirees earning high dollar pensions, the average benefit was $23,000 (2010?) per the Wisconsin state pension website. Teachers’ starting salaries were in the $30’s. How pathetic that this level of compensation was being successfully marketed as grossly overpaid and needing haircuts, while there was no outrage over CEO’s who fraudulently, even illegally, raked in 7 figures.

    3. westernciv

      I agree with you completely. One of the worst things that many people in the Democratic Party, including some who consider themselves leftists, are doing today is collaborating in the destruction of public education, one of the last institutions remaining in the hands of the general population (although not for much longer). Charter schools are nothing more than instruments for siphoning taxpayer dollars away from public education into the hands of the oligarchs, establishing top-down control over what our children are taught, and denying an education altogether to those now deemed “useless eaters” by most of our political leadership, including Obama. It’s unfortunate that the author did not probe further into this issue. There’s plenty of information out there about what Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch, the Waltons, and an odious assortment of private equity and hedge funds have been up to in this realm, and absolutely none of it is any good. The author, and others who may be interested in pursuing this further, should check out Diane Ravitch’s excellent blog.

    4. mellon

      Yes, TISA intends to “radically liberalise” education and health care in the developed countries.. I think. They want to be able to trade those millions of skilled, high value teaching and nursing jobs for trade concessions in the developing world, so TISA is targeting public services in a big way. Americans should speak up and let them know that these secret deals are a betrayal of the country and that public education and the right to choose public healthcare cannot be traded away without consequences for any legislators who enable these many massive thefts from the worlds people.

  8. Katniss Everdeen

    “….. the collapse of our national legislative process has probably reached the point of no return: the point at which our national problems can no longer be redressed through traditional politics.”

    This, aided and abetted by the absurdly transparent cementation of dysfunction through “gerrymandering,” would seem to be the key.

    Yet as this legislative dysfunction is engineered and exploited by the oligarchy, we are force fed the one thing that is quintessentially American–the right to “self-determination” through elections. Even the lowest information citizen understands that America MUST still be America if one has the right to VOTE.

    Campaigns and “elections” have become endless. The 2016 presidential campaign began the day after Obama’s election in 2012, and this country is currently consumed with the ridiculous electoral derivative of whether or not this or that person will even RUN.

    It would appear that the less effective the American, “democratic” legislative process becomes, the more relentlessly it is pounded into your head as the only solution. I’d say this is what’s known as “having a person by the balls.”

    1. hunkerdown

      Have you also noticed that the franchise has gotten weaker as the white male 21+ landowner share in it has shrunk? Institutions generally achieve the outcomes they’re built to achieve, which is wholly separate from intent.

  9. Carl

    Excellent! I’ve been following Michael Ventura’s writing in the Chronicle for years. It’s nice to see him get some more exposure. BTW, you guys’ curating skills are awesome!

    1. tim s

      I used to read Michael in the Austin Chronicle regularly years ago, but have not in quite a while. It is very good to see that he (and the Chronicle) FINALLY has an article with some teeth after years of . Austin, for all of it’s reputation of being progressive and “wierd”, has been for a long time been politically little more than the hollow left that is so rightly disparaged on the blog, although with all of the tech there, I suppose that even that’s just a facade conveniently maintained.

      1. Klassy

        Isn’t Stratfor there? Ah well, I’m sure at least a few of their employees are big supporters of the indie music scene.

        1. Klassy

          OTOH, most alternative weeklies have been stripped entirely of politics and the editorial content has been turned over entirely to the food, drink, entertainment venues, and retailers that advertise. So, at least you have that.

  10. Banger

    Good stuff–it’s clear that those of us who identify as “left” need to rethink everything because I think a careful analysis of what happened since 1968 (which was the high water mark for the cultural and political left) would be a good thing to focus on. In my view there are two things: 1) the growth of narrow interests (black power, feminism and so on); and 2) a lack of critique of the culture of narcissism and the growth of amorality–the left is primarily and ethical movement and thus ethics should trump self-indulgence, pleasure and personal gain.

    The left is moribund, as I addressed in a comment upstream, and the only hope now is to follow Nader’s lead and begin to work with and engage in creative dialogue with the libertarian right since that is where the life is.

    1. Christopher Dale Rogers

      Whilst many differences exist between what allegedly constitutes the “left” in the USA and the “left” in Europe, I’m reminded by watching the BBC 4 Open University programme today: The Men Who Made us Spend, certainly not as incisive as Adam Curtiss, but all the same a reminder.
      That reminder being that we had a oil crisis in the early 70s, that this resulted in stagflation and coincided with the growth of neoliberal orthodoxy epitomised by Reagan and Thatcher.

      it seems to me that this epoch of neoliberalism ushered in by the events of the 70s is now suffering its own crisis, that we now have the wagons being circled by the ruling elites, power grabs by the ruling elite, and yes a move to fascism and oligarch, epitomised by draconian spying rules in both the US and UK.

      But, it also seems, despite all the power in the world, all the great minds supporting them in economics and the media, we are still in crisis, we have essentially reached and exceeded “peak consumerism”, never mind peak oil, which would mean essentially its all down hill from here on in for all of us. The elite cannot change their spots, they are ignorant to the social and environmental damage they cause, and yet, like each and all of us, they cannot avoid the consequences of global warming and the exhaustion of our planets finite resources.

      With the above, are we actually worrying too much, its inevitable that the present system will implode and another system emerge, what type of system this is, well thats the actual question. As eluded too often on these boards, it could be a reversion back to serfdom, or it could be the emergence of a better global society.

      Now, being ever the dystopian, I’m sure what’s now in place will lead to further insults heaped upon us poor 99.9 percenters, but sooner or later the worm will turn, as it did in France in 1789, and that by the way was triggered by a natural calamity on the other side of the world that caused crop failures – for all their dastardly brilliance, greed and crass stupidity, the elite cannot control the environment and it will be the environment that eventually deposes them from their gilded cages, and no doubt this will be violent – but we are getting there, for the greedy buggers in their pursuit of absolute wealth are making folks stave, which means its only a matter of time before it all blows up – I just hope I’m around to witness it. And yes, the Left should be cooperating with Libertarians, for they have more in common than each camp lets on, namely; survival.

    2. Jackrabbit

      Banger, I used to think the same way. In the 2012 election I pushed for the 3rd Parties joining forces. I thought such a coalition of principled parties would get media attention and earn them a seat at national debates.

      But after thinking more upon the Libertarian Agenda, and with people now more discontent than ever, such an alliance doesn’t seem to make sense anymore. I think ‘the left’ – meaning the progressive left as opposed to the ‘captured’ institutional left – has a lot of latent power. That is why ‘the left’ is constantly attacked by Republicans and Democratic Party leaders and operatives.

      Also: I agree that identity politics have been used to divide people and lock in a two party system. Its almost impossible to break that vice-grip until there is a major reversal. Neolibcons double-down after Iraq and the Global Financial Crisis. The political risk that they have taken with the deceit and corruption is enormous and is reflected in the abysmally low approval ratings for government at ll levels. At this point, any major neolibcon initiative that becomes unglued could bring down the whole house of cards.

      H O P

      1. Carla

        I agree. We have to get rid of the whole right/left crap. It’s irrelevant anymore. Because corporate personhood.

    3. wbgonne

      “a lack of critique of the culture of narcissism and the growth of amorality–the left is primarily and ethical movement and thus ethics should trump self-indulgence, pleasure and personal gain”

      Exactly. The Right has taken 60s self-indulgence and self-gratification and recast them as the pillars for economic libertarianism. Freedom!

    4. El Guapo

      There is no creative dialogue possible with the libertarian right – not for people interested in fighting against the Oligarchy.

  11. amateur socialist

    A great article and nice shoutout to the only remaining source of useful journalism in Austin. The free Chronicle often has much better political and even news coverage than the useless American-Statesman.

  12. Dino Reno

    Here we are and there is Norway, the wealthiest, healthiest, happiest and most egalitarian country on the face of the earth.
    I submit that their society is the ideal that most of here would subscribe to. It is a living example of what is possible in today’s world. Now consider how far we are from ever realizing even the smallest progress toward that goal. The cultural gulf between us is so vast, even though we share many common Western values, that you must agree we might as well be on another planet. Trying to change , even in the smallest way, this ship of state to reflect those values we most admire is a fool’s errand. It is a hopeless endeavor that will never be achieved in any of our lifetimes.
    Now many of you may point to the former Soviet Union as a huge, seemingly invincible power that fell overnight with barely a whimper as an example of what is possible once conditions sufficiently deteriorate Or consider the high court of Louis XVI. Here to today, gone tomorrow. Is that possible here? Yeah, sure, but highly unlikely. The Culture here has Broke Bad. Real dissent is almost nonexistent. Any real dissent will be ruthlessly crushed. More importantly, by and large, people here have been persuaded that we’ve got it good compared to the rest of the world. I hate to say it, but it comes down to exploit it or leave it.
    Better, as an individual, just to pack your bags while you still can and migrate to Norway, or a couple of lesser shining examples like New Zealand, and live your life among like minded souls rather that beat your head against an implacable wall.

    1. amateur socialist

      I dunno Garrison Keillor tried that but he came back.

      Why give them the satisfaction?

      1. Carolinian

        I believe you’re thinking of Denmark–birthplace of his second wife– and not to be confused with Norwegian Bachelor Farmers.


        As for Norway, it’s awash in oil money and is like a socialist Saudi Arabia. Therefore it might make a poor comparison to the situation in the USA.

        Just to put in my two cents worth re Ventura: the time for the left to fight back was probably 20 years ago. Now may be too late. But Nader’s ideas are worth exploring as always.

    2. Vatch

      Regarding Norway: there’s an interesting chart on page 280 of Oligarchy, by Jeffrey Winters, which shows that the Scandinavian countries might be more oligarchic than their Gini coefficients would suggest. There are billionaires in Scandinavia.

      Unfortunately, I don’t have the book in front of me right now, so I can’t provide more details at this time. I’ll try to do so later today, unless someone else does it for us. (I think the chart is on page 280 because Google books displays part of the book’s text, including the list of figures and tables. Page 280 is not shown, though.)

      1. Vatch

        As promised, here’s the information about Scandinavian oligarchs from the table on page 280. For comparison, Germany and the United States are also included in the table. The conclusion is that all of these countries have oligarchs, and that highly equal Sweden has almost the same proportion of oligarchs as the relatively unequal United States.

        For each country, it is followed by its Gini index, the number of Billionaires/Million Citizens, and the number of Citizens/Millionaire. Although the U.S. has the most unequal Gini index by far, Sweden has almost as many billionaires per million citizens (1.00) as the U.S. (1.18). Denmark has the fewest billionaires per million citizens. Norway has the fewest citizens per millionaire (46), and Finland has the most citizens per millionaire (126).

        United States: 45 1.18 103
        Finland: 30 0.70 126
        Denmark: 29 0.56 97
        Norway: 29 0.87 46
        Germany: 27 0.64 100
        Sweden: 23 1.00 112

        The number of billionaires is from Forbes, 2010, and the number of millionaires is from MDRC (formerly the Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation), 2008. Calculations by Jeffrey Winter.

        1. Vatch

          Oh my. It looks like MDRC is actually Market Dynamics Research & Consulting, Ltd. Too many acronyms. Whatever the acronym is, though, doesn’t change the value of the data.

    3. Carla

      “Better, as an individual, just to pack your bags while you still can and migrate to Norway, or a couple of lesser shining examples like New Zealand, and live your life among like minded souls rather that beat your head against an implacable wall.”

      I don’t know if you’ve actually looked into this, but I have, in the cases of New Zealand and Canada. Unless you’re quite young (certainly under 50 in New Zealand) and have highly marketable skills, they ain’t gonna take you. In Canada, if you are REALLY wealthy, and you’ll park a big chunk of your wealth at no interest with the Canadian government for several years, they’ll let you in. The older you are, the more money you have to park. Just a reality check.

  13. Vatch

    I have found Oligarchy, by Jeffrey Winters, to be extremely useful. He provides a way to categorize different types of oligarchies, and then he gives historical examples of each kind.

    1. Warring oligarchies. Examples are medieval European kingdoms and dukedoms following the breakup of the Carolingian empire.

    2. Ruling oligarchies. Ancient Athens and Rome.

    3. Sultanistic oligarchies. Suharto’s Indonesia is the primary example used by Winters, who is an expert on this topic. The Marcos regime in the Philippines is another example. I suspect that contemporary Russia might fit into this category, although Winters doesn’t explicitly say this.

    4. Civil oligarchies. The United States, of course.

    He gives other examples of each of the 4 types of oligarchies, as well.

    Winters believes that wealth protection is a primary characteristic of oligarchies. If the wealth of oligarchs is secure, then they tend to be willing to allow a certain amount of democracy to exist, as in the Civil oligarchies. But if their wealth is seriously threatened, then the oligarchy will likely degenerate to one of the other forms, in which the oligarchs take a more active hands on role in ruling.

    The author distinguishes between oligarchs, who retain their power whether or not they have an official position in business or government, and members of the power elite, whose power is dependent on the possession of an influential official position.

    Have any other NC folks read or partially read this book? I have read sizeable chunks of it. After reading the first chapter, which introduces the four types of oligarchies, I have been skipping around in the sections with historical examples.

    1. bmeisen

      thanks for the reference. democracy i.e. the rejection of political and religious absolutism is central to the american identity. this belief in democratic virtue and processes is arguably the one feature shared by all americans, even the ruling elite, the oligarchists, for example warren buffett. the failure to harmonize political reality with this cultural premium was only possible within the vast natural wealth of north america. as the frontiers shrank media control allowed the civic oligarchy (many thanks for the term) to perpetuate the dysfunction. the perfect storm of nixon and watergate like the depression almost allowed for a fundamental reform of the political system. the electorate was first stunned by the oil crisis (bush jr and sr went to war for less), and subsequently were bought off by individual housing and mobility at artficially low prices.

      1. hunkerdown

        Oh, so the “democracy” the USA is talking about is just the ability to buy anything you can afford. You can’t eat virtue.

    2. Vatch

      I usually avoid posting Amazon links, because I disapprove of much that Amazon does, but I’ll make an exception. Here are the Amazon customer reviews for Oligarchy:


      Two of the reviews go into great detail, and all give the book 5 stars. If you’re not sure whether or not to buy the book, that’s fine. Ask your public library to get you a copy via inter-library loan.

  14. John B

    I think Yves is correct that oligarchy has always been with us, but was tempered by the existence of a seemingly powerful leftist alternative. I’d like to add that globalization is now giving us a single, unified, global oligarchy, at least on financial issues. Before, regional oligarchies within the US and in different countries would at least compete with each other. Now they no longer have to. Even China is becoming part of the unified, multinational oligarchy – witness the number of retired US politicians in both parties who make huge sums in speaking fees in China or at multinationals with Chinese connections, and on the other side the number of Chinese leaders with billions stashed in US and EU banks and real estate. Among powerful nations only Russia’s elite seem still to be outsiders, but Russia is a shadow of what it once was, and no longer leftist. So today’s oligarchy is not only unafraid of leftist influence, it is also more unified and powerful than ever.

    One can argue that the unification of our overlords at least gives the peasantry security from nuclear warfare among them, but there would have been other, better ways to do that. This oligarchy appears too greedy even to prevent climate change. Can we stop oligarchy at this point, or just try to make it slightly more benevolent?

    1. Vatch

      Yes, oligarchy has always been with us. Here’s an interesting quote from page 7 of The Roman Revolution, by Ronald Syme (first published in 1939):

      In all ages, whatever the form and name of government, be it monarchy, republic, or democracy, an oligarchy lurks behind the facade; . . .

      I learned about this book from Oligarchy, by Winters.

  15. wbgonne

    “globalization is now giving us a single, unified, global oligarchy, at least on financial issues. Before, regional oligarchies within the US and in different countries would at least compete with each other. Now they no longer have to.”

    Excellent point. The consolidation of economic power is the the root of the problem. For instance, look at the American mass media. When media companies were just media companies they had some divergent interests from at least some of the other oligarchs. But now the media companies are part of the unified oligarchy. Now the media conglomerates promote the oligarchy. Just look at the cheerleading in the press coverage of the state of the economy. So much for the Fourth Estate being a check to power and a service to the people.

  16. flora

    Always a good idea to question how words are used, by whom, and for what effect or purpose.
    Take the work “free” as in free markets. The common underlying assumption is that “free” is good so free markets are good. One of “free’s” synonyms is “unrestrained”. Are unrestrained markets good? Is “unrestrained” a better description of current market conditions than the word “free” ? Another synonym for “free” is “uncontrolled”. etc.

    1. Oregoncharles

      Markets are never free; they’re utterly dependent on rules (let’s ask Yves – what do you think, having worked in them for many years?). The real question is who makes the rules and who benefits.

  17. Uahsenaa

    Despite being still relatively young for an academic (mid 30s), I’ve worked in the ivory tower long enough to see that there is a problem, despite the laser acuity of this piece, only rarely touched upon in any media: identification with one’s oppressors. It amazes me how many burgeoning scholars and intellectuals of various casts, despite reams of evidence to the contrary, believe that the people mentoring and instructing them (in this case, tenured faculty) have their best interests at heart. Nearly everyone believes they will be one of the 10-ish percent to escape the adjunct drudgery that awaits them and so do very little to challenge the status quo. It seems to be the scourge of white collar labor in toto. In the tech sector, for instance, far too many engineers and designers consider themselves unrealized Zuckerbergs, when, in reality, the actualized Zuckerbergs are actively colluding with each other to make certain that the “far too many” remain (admittedly, well remunerated) wage slaves in perpetuity.
    The rhetorical issue–i.e. how to get people to talk about and thus understand their condition correctly–is, indeed, a trenchant one. It doesn’t help that the more loudly one protests (c.f. Greenwald) the greater the likelihood you are to be dismissed as unreasonable or “shrill.”

  18. TedWa

    I blame Obama for putting the banksters above the law, making them demigods and handing over our democracy to them. Corporations are tyrannical within their walls and now their powers have been expanded far beyond their corporate walls. The man is easily detestable IMHO.
    They knew it had to be a democrat that would do it for them, because if a Republican tried these same things the democrats never would have stood for it. For that he should be impeached and yet he is being praised with “saving” our economy (!!??). Bailing out the banks with absolutely no strings attached is all his.
    All his words sounding like he was like FDR and would save our democracy got me voting for him in 2008. Within weeks it was obvious that it was all lies as he started appointment the ones that caused the meltdown to fix it. The sociopaths that caused the meltdown are morally and psychologically incapable of fixing it to benefit anyone but themselves.

    1. Vatch

      Only Nixon could go to China, and only a Democrat could bail out the banks with no strings or penalties attached.

    2. LucyLulu

      The $700B TARP, the loan for the purchase of Bear Stearns by JPMorgan, the government infusion of funds into AIG in exchange for majority equity, and the government conservatorship of Fannie and Freddie, all happened during 2008, when Bush Jr was president. TARP received bipartisan support, albeit somewhat more support from Democrats who’d been told the bailout would help both banks and ordinary people, and was passed in September 2008, 4 months before Obama’s inauguration. The Savings and Loan bailout occurred while Bush, Sr was president. There was no pushback from Democrats.


      The original TARP did specify that the $700B be used to buy distressed mortgages and then used for modifications to mortgages which could be prevented from foreclosure. By October, clearly Paulson and Bernanke had ignored this part of the bill. According to Matt Taibbi, Congressional members from both parties were so angry they sponsored a bill in Jan ’09 to cancel the second half of TARP. Larry Summers managed to persuade Congress that with Obama soon in charge, things would be different and ordinary folks would be helped. That wasn’t true either but it was effective.

      The bailouts weren’t passed under Obama’s reign. The failure to ensure homeowners saw effective relief and that criminal bankers were prosecuted did happen during his tenure.


    3. Carla

      Not to defend Obama at all, because I completely agree with you. But really, world domination by the financial sector has been underway for a long time. And let us never, ever forget that Clinton presided over the repeal of Glass-Steagall. Yesterday was the first time I saw a “Michelle Obama – Hillary Clinton 2016” bumper sticker on somebody’s car for the first time. SHUDDER.

  19. TedWa

    “Democracy, national sovereignty and global economic integration are mutually incompatible. It’s possible to have any 2 but not all 3. It’s the inescapable trilemma of a world economy” – Dani Rodrik He is the among the 100 most influential economists in the world according to IDEAS/RePEc

    I know which 2 I would choose.

    1. Oregoncharles

      No, he isn’t, or our lords and masters wouldn’t be working so hard on having all 3 – or are they actually trying to get rid of democracy? OK, maybe you’re right, after all, but not quite the way Rodrik may have intended.

  20. DJG

    I think that the introductory comment by Yves is more profound that Ventura’s definitions, none of which are news to anyone who has followed U.S. politics recently. What Yves asks is this: Will capitalists reform only out of self-defense from real threats? If we are to have non-violent change, which is what we all desire in this gun-ridden and rather nihilistic country, how do we get the capitalist moral compass to work absent the Baader-Meinhoff Gang? A related issue is the moral collapse and absurd self-assertion of American liberals: Yes, the Democratic Party serves a diverse platter of makimono at its events, and we all like a nice buffet, but sorry, Mr. and Ms. Liberal, but you didn’t invent the weekend and your “brand” has been thoroughly ruined by the Clintons and Barack Milhous Obama.

    1. Carolinian

      In fairness the Dems have been trying to sell out since at least Jimmy Carter and his deregulator Alfred Kahn. Later Dukakis was a business liberal who held off that evil populist Jesse Jackson.

      And yes you are going to have to get the ruling class to take the left seriously and that will take more than moral suasion. As world class cynic Stalin said, “How many divisions does the Pope have?” So violence would get their attention but sheer numbers would be better. Perhaps a march on D.C….not a million person march but a ten million. Clearly it will take something dramatic to get the media to break out of their torpor.

      1. Oregoncharles

        With that many, you bring the government to a halt and seize the Capitol. 10,000,000 is a revolution, not a demonstration.
        I wonder what the casualty count would be?

    2. Ulysses

      Excellent comment!! We need to have the discipline and courage to actually disrupt the kleptocrats’ wealth extraction activities. Boycotts, wildcat strikes, non-payment, any and all non-violent means necessary to monkeywrench the machine!!

    3. psychohistorian

      It is like watching the coming global financial market collapse. We all know it is unsustainable but when the folks who own it all control markets on a whim and play countries economies off against each other, we wonder if they believe themselves vulnerable to the potential backlash.

      If the global oligarchs felt themselves at risk they would be marching us down a different path than the one we are on. The compass heading will not change without more bloodshed than is currently rendered trying to prop up the existing societal anachronism. How close to extinction will this process take us? Do the elite really think that the world that remains after we go through the next 50 years would be one worth maintaining the class system at all costs for? Evidently they do.

      1. Oregoncharles

        You imply that they’re smarter and more fore-thinking than they are. With a few, so far unimportant exceptions, they show every sign of not thinking past the next big check.

        This reminds me of something, at least a decade ago: a friend of my father’s, a very successful businessman (the friend, not my father, though he did OK), was going around giving speeches to business gatherings saying, in effect, that with the rise of high technology, THEY WERE GOING TO GET CAUGHT – everyone would know how badly they were being ripped off (not his words, of course.) At the time, this was prophetic, and not well received, I gather. I read his speech, and had some serious reservations about it, but he really was way ahead of his time.

        1. hunkerdown

          They don’t have to. That’s why the rentiers own legislators, think tanks, Stratfor subscriptions (which, even if made of 100% whole cloth, still serves as a synchronizing and coordinating principle), and the hearts and minds of the creative class. Previous authoritarian systems have not had a virtual Gendarmerie to tail and observe the vast majority of their citizens at all times, nor the ability to compile, cross-reference, and psychoanalyze (courtesy of Big Data) all those reports in seconds to find the most likely discontents and toy with or end their lives like sociopathic imps.

          With that degree of omniscience and very few effective legal or popular barriers to their designs, it is very well possible that it *could* in fact be different this time, if they can just lock in their preferred relations to the means of production before the hydrocarbon music stops (38000 slave-days equivalent per gallon of petrol). They’re playing for keeps. If they don’t, they lose at least one generation, possibly permanently (until next time), and it’s just possible some of these “bloodlines of Christ” might follow the House of Hapsburg into extinction. A populace which is cynical, over-educated as far as they’re concerned, and entitled and/or hungry isn’t going to be much interested in working to feed the mouths that bite them, though the entitled and at least some of the hungry might be actively interviewing for the savior position.

          1. Quantum Future

            Hunkerdown – I remember speculating on Seeking Alpha the mule of labor will wander off and also to your point people will follow the path of Bhudda so to speak. It is a barbell economy and I believe it will remain this way for quite some time. Probably until the Boomers are gone (I don’t blame them it is generational dynamics).

            Communal efforts could be as simple as a dozen people getting together, finding unmet demand and starting a business. Such could still do well but once a certain size it would have to render to Ceasar in political contributions.

            In any event I do see wealthy individuals decrying the situation very recently. This is not out of goodness of heart per se it is about growth coming to a close. Nothing but RE to invest in…

      2. Glenn Condell

        ‘If the global oligarchs felt themselves at risk they would be marching us down a different path than the one we are on’

        That seems to infer that they are marching us down the path we’re on. I guess they are but subconsciously; I see them as being slaves to the rhythm every bit as much as we are. Was it John Mack who said while the music plays you gotta dance? Pavlov’s dogs and Milgram’s students react to stimulus in different ways but within a predictable range of potentialities.

        That they seem to act in concert, well, the fact that they DO act in concert, is down to this dynamic rather than their (a) colluding at Bilderberg or wherever, or (b) individually, simultaneously, all having the same evil thoughts about our ‘path’.

        It would be great to think that maybe we can get them to all think differently at once but as Charles Mackay said ‘Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, one by one’

  21. L.M. Dorsey

    “The United States of Amnesia” came to town a week or so ago, and then was gone. Which is too bad. It was good doco, and Gore Vidal was a delightfully, ebulliantly mordant critic of America’s self-mystifying bullshit, domestic and imperial. “Democracy”? “The Left”? “Reform”? Pffft. Seriously. “Our only political party has two right wings.”

    Anyway, catch it if you can.

  22. jonboinAR

    Yves, also WW2. It brought the country together a fair bit in an equality sense. At least white America it did. (Unfortunately, it seems whites were the only ones who counted at that time. No one seemed to question much in those days the accepted truth that they WERE America.) The average white American, then, gained in status within the entire American community because he had helped to save the world (perceived reality, again). Within the time of the “Greatest Generation” it wasn’t questioned that they had the right to a nice, middle-class living.

    Note that I mean this as additional to the influence of the Leftist movement, not as replacement.

    1. hunkerdown

      Ah, after WWII US citizens were extremely suspicious of capitalism. Had the Koch family not cobbled together the John Birch Society, it’s not impossible we could have been living in a social-democratic welfare state all this time.

  23. Jim

    Yves stated in her introduction to Ventura above that:

    “…each successive wave was brought into the tent and neutralized, first the labor movement, which wielded far more power when it was outside the party structure, then disadvantaged groups (most notably blacks), who insisted on an end to discrimination in the work place and denial of the right to vote but the antipoverty programs of the 1960s were aimed at helping the poor broadly, including white rural poor but also women who saw reproductive rights and equal pay for equal work as crucial rights to be won…”

    This statement points to one of the primary reasons why I believe the left has collapsed— because of its largely uncritical attitude toward the maneuverings of Big State.

    For example, from my reading of the above comment Yves seems to obliquely understand that (“each successive wave was brought into the tent and neutralized”) I interpret the “ tent” as Big State with the neutralization of labor occurring as it (along with key portions of Big Capital) gradually accepted federally mandated collective bargaining.. Beginning with the NRA and its section 7A, the American labor movement was slowly integrated into a Big State/Big Capital regime to assure that labor militancy would not short-circuit industrial recovery. The Norris-LaGuardia Act, the National Industrial Recovery Act, the Wagner Act and the Fair Labor Standards act all contributed to the attempt to neutralize and then manage administratively (through the State) labor militancy.

    Another important reason why the Left has collapsed is that it have no political theory of the State.

    A key question becomes how, in fact, ought the State to operate?

    The answer to this question might begin to be uncovered through a careful historical investigation of theories of genuine federalism and confederation– which might then just lead to a political vision which could bring together portions of the Right with non-Big State portions of the Left.

    It just may be that our best opportunity is to help build a post-left populist movement in the United States—a movement which is contra-Big Capital as well as contra-Big State.

    1. wbgonne

      I read this comment and another recent comment of yours decrying the “Big State.” While I certainly agree that the American state is ill, I don’t agree that dismantling it is the solution. We should repair it instead because the state — government — is how people act collectively for their common good. That is the very purpose of civil society. Government is the vehicle through which the people exercise power. Reforming the state by removing the corporatists from power and putting the people back in control is essential. But further weakening the state will only lead to ever-more corporate control because, in a capitalist nation, government is the only realistic counterweight to concentrated capital. The American state has been captured by the corporatists. That is the problem.

      Are you calling for a new American confederation al la the Articles of Confederation? If so, I think you are mistaken. A strong central government is even more necessary today than it was in 1789. The world has shrunk and resources have been depleted, and are being depleted at an accelerating rate. There is the overarching problem of anthropogenic global warming that looms over us like a darkening doom-cloud. Here is my question for you: In the absence of national control that will prevent states from engaging in ever more race-to-the-botom behavior ?

      Anyway, I appreciate your thoughts and I do agree that major government reform is needed in the United States. I just don’t see weakening the central government as being helpful to the people. But I am willing to listen.

      1. Jim

        Wbgonne I think it is crucially important that an in-depth debate on the left between traditional Big Nation- State supporters and those political groupings that tend to favor a more decentralized structure of Federal power (for myself, some type of genuine federal populism with strong local cultures that are critical of both Big Capital and Big State) begins to take place.

        Wbgonne also asked: “In the absence of national control what will prevent states from engaging in ever more race to the bottom behavior?’

        From my perspective “in the absence of national control” raises the key importance of not ignoring the crucial cultural dimensions of political change which might ultimately shift some the responsibility for control back to local/regional communities and the individuals within them.

        Indeed, I would argue that most initiatives for ecological protection or economic relief come from some concrete local site

        It might be worthwhile, for example, to discuss the consequences of infusing the vertical (think of some of the religious concerns of American transcendentalists like Emerson, Thoreau and William James) into the more traditional horizontal economic analysis of the Left.

        In fact, another possible reason for the collapse of the Left is its failure to recognize. support, or even consider seriously this type of vertical cultural dimension in politics– which, if instituted, might ultimately alleviate fear of not having national control.

        1. hunkerdown

          the crucial cultural dimensions of political change which might ultimately shift some the responsibility for control back to local/regional communities and the individuals within them.

          “Responsibility” has for some time now been code for externalizing risk onto “deserving” Others. We’re already getting your cultural change, and I’m finding it wanting.

          Are you using “vertical” as a euphemism for “hierarchical”? If so, you’ve already lost. Those endowed with power WILL abuse it as long as they can get away with it, and representative democracy is extremely well plumbed to let them get away with it and never have to face any sort of consequences for it if they don’t want to.

          Power is the ability to achieve planned outcomes. Allen Dulles, the father of the CIA, emphasized that they act for purpose, not for show, and part of that was using weapons for the sole purpose of rendering their objective unable to perform an undesired action. If there is going to be a representative government, citizens MUST have a strong right of recall, in which the mere fact of a supermajority (say, 80%) of no-confidence votes having been cast *constitutes* the ORDER that summarily, immediately and very publicly strips the malfeasor’s rank and drums them out.

          Betting on a multicultural nation with widely diverse values acting in accordance with your Holy Bourgeois principles just because you have the Holy Bourgeois Right Answer? Good luck with that.

  24. Oregoncharles

    ” lefty visions that changed society’s structure”:

    Saying that there is no left in this country is a lie. It’s part of a sustained program, primarily by Democrats, to pretend that the Green Party does not exist. This piece was published in California, where the Green Party is in fact quite strong – certainly as strong as the Socialists ever were.

    The real issue may be that the Green Party is very much an electoral party. Although closely allied with other groups, like Occupy, that go in for street action, it is not a threat to social order, as the 60’s movement was, and as the Communist Party was. (The only Communists I know are now Greens, elderly but still committed. The same goes for Socialists, not quite as old.) I fear that a threat to social order is what it takes. Torches and pitchforks may be the ONLY thing the plutocracy fears, and the thing they’re getting ready for, with a Democratic administration as their main tool.

    Still, there has to be a vision and an electoral party, or the only alternative is chaos and violence. That’s what the Green Party is, and the reason writers like the above (I don’t mean Yves) pretend we don’t exist.

    1. L.M. Dorsey

      “We aim to maximize our quality of life with a minimum of consumption.”
      Doesn’t everybody? (Seriously, this is the punchline of every quarterly earnings forecast I’ve ever seen.)

      The stress throughout on the necessity (and the implicit virtue) of moving power from the federal to the “local” also seems pretty familiar, doesn’t it? My suspicion is that that is the thread to pull on… fwiw.

    2. Carolinian

      I don’t think anyone around here is pretending the Green party doesn’t exist. In fact i voted Green last two elections even though it was mostly a matter of ABO (anyone but Obama).

      Indeed I’d say what really scares our politicians–other than mass demonstrations–is probably serious electoral opposition. The rub is the word “serious.” May need to raise your profile.

      But the Tea Party, real or fake, is having an effect on the Repubs. A genuine left party could do the same for the Dems despite the cries of betrayal from the likes of Eric Alterman. And of course in an ideal world the Dems would be replaced altogether.

      1. hunkerdown

        AccidentsIntentionals have a funny way of happening to real threats to status quo power, and the Pentagon is certainly looking into contingency planning at scale, tellingly not to protect the Constitution, but to protect the status quo power structure, which is a bit threatening. I don’t think there are enough busybodies on the ground yet to make such attempts too costly to try.

  25. MtnLife

    “The argument for guns is that they protect us from an overbearing government. Proponents of that argument apply 18th century tactics to 21st century reality.”

    I take slight issue with his view the people couldn’t fight back. The reality is, in a case of widespread social unrest and barring a preventive invasion by NATO or some other oligarchical militia, that we will be back in the 18th century pronto (look at everywhere that has exploded in violence lately for recent examples, you are not going to be picking up a latte dodging bullets). Our military “might” is entirely predicated upon mainline access to petroleum and electricity, something the 18th century wasn’t big on. How long can they sustain a war without constant massive fuel inputs? Drones can only carry so many weapons and what are the chances our missile supply chain as thin as everything else in our economy? As evidenced in other conflicts, there are usually a number of high level military defections as the conflict spreads (people don’t want to shoot their neighbors, well, not all of them anyways) which nullifies a good deal of the military power. So, yes, the first bit would be disproportionately in favor of TPTB but that margin would quickly be reversed.

    However, gun adherents do have a point. “During the Obama administration, according to Pentagon data, police departments have received tens of thousands of machine guns; nearly 200,000 ammunition magazines; thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment; and hundreds of silencers, armored cars, and aircraft” (The New York Times, June 8). It isn’t paranoia to wonder, “What the fuck?”

    Sounds like he has issues with his view too but can’t fully connect the dots. If that is what was turned in, imagine what is still out there. True, some most of it is owned by raving lunatics with small genitalia who would love to enforce some version of an Aryan nation on the country for their right to be free to persecute whomever they like. This is why I encourage more progressive minded people to not be so afraid of guns lest the country (or whatever is left of it) be ruled solely by those with them. If you believe that the NRA is the mouthpiece of the MIC than you should take note of when the NRA was most in favor of more restrictive gun laws – when the Black Panthers had them. Do you think TPTB would take notice if every card carrying supposedly left pacifist armed themselves? As amatuer socialist noted above, when non-violence is declared violence, the terms have been set. If we can’t get anywhere (except thrown in jail) by asking politely, what’s left?

    1. Oregoncharles

      Last paragraph is based on a misunderstanding: those are the arms supplied to the police by the military – they’ve become a dumping ground for military surplus. Our best hope is that they’re just as Keystone Kops with those as they usually are.

      1. MtnLife

        You’re right, my bad. I totally interpreted that as the gun buy back programs. I think that just cuts to the chase about another group of raving lunatics with small genitalia bent on oppression. :-)

  26. L.M. Dorsey

    “It isn’t paranoia to wonder, ‘What the fuck?'” Verily. But, as the saying goes, never ascribe to malevolence what can be explained by simple incompetence (and greed).

    During that cinematic manhunt following the Boston Marathon bombings, you may remember the sight of a brand-new, black, armored personnel carrier on the streets of Watertown, MA., “Boston Police Department” stenciled across the turret. (With a pot-bellied, kevlar-clad copper atop looking ever so butch, just like a Pillsbury Doughboy trickertreating as Darth Vader.) I do remember thinking to myself, “When did the BPL start picking up armor?” I had stopped scanning America’s Most Wanted for proofs of policeforce militarization decades before. I could see the writing on the walls.

    But one wonders where local police departments are going to be able to find sufficient “talent” to deploy all that manly pork (Freedom!) effectively — unless being on TV is all the effectiveness that is being aimed at. I’d expect retired olonels with the skills to go off to do some independent contracting in some capacity ancillary to CENTCOM or AFRICOM, not sign on with the wanabees down at the local PD.)

    Anyway, it’s not the law-enforcement specialists in kevlar jockstraps that gives me pause. Well, actually it does, but not so much as the development of tactical nukes. Just the right size for taking out a part of a city, or the rural retreat, or whatever. I seem to remember the Philadephia Police bombing the Black Panthers one fine day, withot a great deal of concern about the collateral damage.

    Too, I’m reminded, that even when the differential in weaponery was not as great as today (Shay’s Rebellion, the Whiskey Rebellion, the Slaveholders’ Insurrection) the fates tended not to favor those scrappy outlaw bands. Especially when faced with a force that could enfilade and defiliade improvised positions practically in their sleep. They don’t call it the art of warfare for absolutely no reason.

    Insurrection is really not an option, comrade. At least, not until the Dorritos run out.

    1. MtnLife

      I agree with your last statement which is why my prediction is based on widespread disruption. They will put out small fires quickly, no doubt. A flash over is another thing entirely but that depends on calamitous events like widespread natural disaster, disease, or national food or water riots. Based on an increasing world and finite resources hitting this wall is not an if question, but when? And at what pace is climate change going to accelerate it?

  27. juliania

    “The powers that be have done a great job of stoking jealousies among the fallen middle class and the poor…”

    Stoking jealousies?!!

    I don’t want your billions, mister
    I don’t want your diamond ring;
    All I want
    Is the right to live, mister,

    Last I heard in her rookie year at msnbc, Chelsea Clinton earned $600,000 (from Politico).


  28. Abigail Caplovitz Field

    Thanks for this.

    Yves I agree with you that crucial to forcing a social contract that has broad benefits is the existence of a vocal and organized leftist critique of the status quo system–the communist threat, the labor threat–a critique that’s not about reform, which can be managed and mitigated by the powerful, but a deep commitment to an alternative version of reality. That’s what ended Jim Crow; that’s what got labor laws and the end of the Lochner era; that’s what kept the unrepetently greedy in check. One reason the extreme right wing of the Kochs et al. have been so successful in shifting the “center” to the right is that they are precisely that radical. Several years ago I read Krugman’s preface to an otherwise anodyne collection of his columns in which he described exactly how radical this right wing was and how vulnerable everyone was to them because we dismissed their language as rhetoric when really they meant every word. Ironically he got his framing from kissinger. Anyway he was right.

    I think that in today’s climate, making the fight be between capital and labor, or between communism and capitalism, misses the point.

    This time around the oligarchs have power, not simply because they have money, not simply because their companies are massive and systemically important, but most crucially because their companies have been endowed with rights. That legal status thwarts effective legislative response.

    As a result of the personification of capital, we have a sovereignty crisis unlike any our country has faced. Frankly, as a result of the scale of capital hording that has been allowed and the transnational nature of the accumulating companies and executives, we have a global sovereignty crisis. (of which tax avoidance is one basic but potent manifestation.)

    This time
    most radical act I can imagine–the core of a threatening left–is a potent movement to pass a constitutional amendment to de-personify corporations, denying them rights under our or any constitution, and making them the creature of statute that they inherently are. A win would cut off the oligarchs’ power at the knee; getting close would force potent concessions. (Though radicals like me would argue that no deal is acceptable; that the amendment must pass, because the counterparty to a deal can’t be trusted.)

    1. jonboinAR

      This time
      most radical act I can imagine–the core of a threatening left–is a potent movement to pass a constitutional amendment to de-personify corporations, denying them rights under our or any constitution, and making them the creature of statute that they inherently are. A win would cut off the oligarchs’ power at the knee; getting close would force potent concessions. (Though radicals like me would argue that no deal is acceptable; that the amendment must pass, because the counterparty to a deal can’t be trusted.)
      Hear, hear!!

  29. masterslave

    clive : “” All you have to do is oppress the lowest 10-20% via soft interventions …””

    Brave New World author Aldous Huxley told UC Berkeley students in 1962 that the State was learning how to use mass media and drugs to pacify and enslave the masses . Today , Berkeley County is required to provide free drugs to the poor . Next , the poor will get free euthanasia services . Finally , they will get free human flesh hotdogs before they are eventually euthanized – for free .

    1. mellon

      It will be hidden in the “offer” to put people in suspended animation until they can afford adequate health insurance, but like the nationwide tragedy of storage lockers being lost because the owners fall behind in their rents, the deep freeze bills will need to be paid or the plugs will be pulled and the hapless person becomes just another chunk of stale meat.

  30. masterslave

    DakotaBornKansan : “” How in our political system built on the ideal of political equality, in which middle class voters are supposed to have such tremendous say, did our democracy end up being an oligarchy?””

    Firstly , there can be no political equality when the total tax take as a percentage of income varies from one taxpayer to the next with the * rich * usually having a substantially better return-on-investment in government than the middle income classes ( where the ROI is equivalent to after-tax [ all taxes combined including sales tax ] income ).

    Secondly , the more than 100 year old * Iron Law of Oligarchy * says that typical democracies eventually become oligarchies . The wikipedia article leaves out the single biggest reason for that transformation which is [ there is nothing to stop all wealth and thus all commensurate political power from accumulating at the top of the hierarchy of rulership via government expenditures . In other words , there is no legal limitation on taxation of 50% ( the break even point ) of your income ]. Maybe it is time to set a limit .

  31. masterslave

    mellon : “” these secret deals are a betrayal of the country “”

    The constitution has been rendered moot , the southern border is not , democracy is near dead , an unelected plutocracy ultimately rules , families are disintegrating , Christianity is going down , Islam is rising up , the economy is anemic , the financial system is corrupted , the political system is broken , law and order is disintegrating and so on ….. what country ?

  32. Rust Belt Cynic

    Great piece. Unfortunately, the author is completely correct on the non-existence of a left-wing or meaningful political debate. If we had either a left or an intellectually curious press, we would be debating things like German style co-determination corporate governance laws (which have likely been instrumental in enabling the German export boom), prosecuting corporate criminals on Wall Street and Silicon Valley, anti-trust laws preventing companies from getting too big to fail, a ban on legacy admissions at universities, a financial transaction tax, a federal ban on hydro-fracking, free higher education and child care, a new trade policy, and a reform of some of the more egregious aspects of our intellectual property regime. (such as the taxpayer abusing Bayh-Dole Act and the free speech nullifying Copyright Term Extension Act). But, alas, none of those things can be discussed in mainstream political discourse.

  33. masterslave

    Dino Reno : “” Norway, the wealthiest, healthiest, happiest and most egalitarian country on the face of the earth.””

    When their great oil wealth is gone their currently vibrant culture will also pass away .

    1. Glenn Condell

      ‘When their great oil wealth is gone their currently vibrant culture will also pass away’

      Cynical but probably true.

      I’ve been going back to ancient Greece as my daughter is doing it in school and have been struck by the fact that unearned wealth seemed to underwrite so much of what we now see as foundational for our civilisation. The Athenians found silver in them thar hills at Laurium just a couple years prior to the invasion of Darius, and this funded the new navy and the protective walls. Then, with the Persians done and dusted and playing ‘the Little City that Could’ Athens persuaded many of the Greek city/states to join their Delian League as a protective measure.. soon though they were standover men who hogged the treasury, demanding that each little statelet pay fealty to them, like the mafia. This income was used by Athens to beautify as well as fortify the city, to bolster the architecture of their democracy by paying citizens to sit on juries and in councils, and even to foster the patronage required by an Aeschylus or an Aristophanes to function.

      So from being the light on the local hill they very quickly became the pox in everyone’s house, but in the process what a culture they produced; to be honest it’s not Norway that comes immediately to mind as a present day analogue…

  34. masterslave

    Oregon Charles : “” The real question is who makes the rules and who benefits.””

    Exactly ; and the real issue is * distribution of wealth *. Therefore , the rules and benefits should be designed so that we get a Standard Normal Distribution of wealth . How much longer is the world going to ignore the obvious solution ?

  35. masterslave

    The distribution of wealth is meant in particular the distribution of * income *. I would not be concerned with large personal non-monetary assets which would be normalized in due process by normalizing income alone .

  36. Ray Phenicie

    “But liberals of old had lefty visions that changed society’s structure – FDR’s New Deal, Harry Truman’s GI Bill, and LBJ’s War on Poverty.”
    I had to stop reading right there; Harry Truman and LBJ were both warmongering politicians. Truman started the cold war with bellicose rhetoric aimed at driving a stake of fear into the heart of the Russian leaders and he succeeded. They then in return escalated the rhetoric and doomsday machines were created. The Marshall plant excluded Russia because of building fears and so yes indeedy an iron curtain went down which Truman and his cronies helped construct. I realize I’m painting with a large brush.
    Much the same could be said of LBJ where several puppets were set up in Vietnam and then summarily murdered when they no longer served the troubled foils of the Oval Office. Meanwhile, Napalm, machine guns and helicopters waged terror on the South Vietnam country side while our troops suffered foot rot and died from poison darts.
    The whole idea that a war on anything would be useful is an exercise in futility especially when starting with the New Deal Congress learned how to unconstitutionally delegate away its authority for lawmaking. Rather than do their homework Congress folk are fond of saying ‘Here’s a problem and there’s an administrative arm that will now proceed to haphazardly write or not write the law pertaining to this. We will from time to time step in and further muck up the process. Oh, and by the way, if anyone needs a particular IRS line written into the code, we’re experts at that if you ante up the cash.’
    Full Stop

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