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The nature of democracy in our capitalist world: Satirized August 4, 2016

Posted by rogerhollander in Capitalism, Democracy, Humor, Political Commentary, Uncategorized, War.
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Roger’s note: what I have put together here is a little photo essay on the subject of democracy in our capitalist world.  

 

A

Many say that in a democracy you get what you deserve.  As if there were meaningful choice.

B

I had an emotional response when I saw this picture.  It is our children who will inherit a world permanently at war.  This symbolizes their basic nee for a world free of institutionalized violence.

bb

Those with a cynical outlook along with those who profit from our oligarchy would have us believe that there is nothing better.

L

The corporate reality.

M

As feudalism was based upon serf labor, capitalism relies on wage slavery.  In both cases those who create value do not share the wealth democratically.  Not only capitalists but many on the left refuse to recognize that there is a world beyond capitalism, a world of worker democracy.

P

The fetishism of elections in capitalist democracy.  

S

 

There are a few meaningful differences between the two major parties, but on the essentials of war and the economy they are virtually indistinguishable.

2016: The Year the Americans Found out Our Elections Are Rigged May 15, 2016

Posted by rogerhollander in 2016 election, bernie sanders, Democracy, donald trump, Hillary Clinton, Uncategorized.
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Roger’s note: this may be the year that Americans found out, but of course, in the sense of capital in the form of corporations and military limiting and controlling candidacies and choices, US elections have always been rigged.  The Trump and Sanders phenomena are somewhat unique challenges to the two-party oligarchy (Republicrats), with the difference being that the Republicans did not have the degree of entrenchment that the Democrats have in Hillary Clinton (although I admit that at first I was almost sure that Jeb Bush would in the nomination), thereby allowing the tide of populist support for Trump to sweep away the Republican establishment.  Probably only the indictment of Clinton for her blatant email security breaches would give Sanders a fighting chance to win the Democratic nomination in spite of his overwhelming grass roots popularity, the negatives about Clinton, garden variety misogyny, and polls hat show him dong better against Trump (I surf Instagram and find literally dozens of pro Bernie sites, a handful of right wingers, and absolutely not one Hillary Clinton supporter).

And by all means don’t miss George Carlin’s video at the end of this piece.  It is brilliant.

march_of_tyranny

“Now it’s just an oligarchy, with unlimited political bribery being the essence of getting the nominations for president or to elect the president. And the same thing applies to governors, and U.S. senators and congress members.” – Former President Jimmy Carter

By Nick Bernabe

Source: AntiMedia

The 2016 election has been a wild ride, with two insurgent grassroots campaigns literally giving the political establishment a run for its money. But as the events of this presidential primary season play out, it’s becoming clear the U.S. election — and even more so, the presidential race — is a big scam being perpetrated on the American people.

Events from the last week have exposed the system as an illusion of choice and a farce. They have reinforced at least one study showing the U.S. is an oligarchy rather than a democratic republic.

The Wyoming democratic caucus took place on Saturday, purportedly to allow voters to have their voices heard in the race between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Sanders lost the Wyoming caucus by winning it with a 12 percent margin.

Wait, what?

How does one lose by winning 56 percent of the votes? This happens when the political process is, according to the New York Post, “rigged” by superdelegates. The Postsummed up this “strange” phenomenon:

“[U]nder the Democratic Party’s oddball delegate system, Sanders’ winning streak — he has won seven out of the past eight contests — counts for little.

“In fact, despite his win, he splits Wyoming’s 14 pledged delegates 7 to 7 under the caucus calculus.

“Clinton, meanwhile, also gets the state’s four superdelegates — who had already pledged their allegiance to her in January. So despite ‘losing,’ she triumphs 11-7 in the delegate tally.”

Even media pundits on MSNBC openly called the process rigged:

The superdelegate process is complicated, as we’ve noted before, but they have one essential function: to prevent candidates like Bernie Sanders from winning the Democratic nomination.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a video of Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz explaining superdelegates:

Adding insult to injury, even when Sanders does win states (despite Hillary’s advantage in superdelegates), the media can be reliably counted on to discount Sanders’s wins asnothing more than prolonging the electoral process, which will inevitably elect the presumptive nominee, Hillary Clinton. This pervasive commentary continues despite the fact Sanders only trails her by several hundred pledged delegates.

Meanwhile, according to the same media, the non-establishment Trump campaign is threatened every time Ted Cruz beats him — even though Trump leads by a larger percentage of pledged delegates than Clinton does. When Clinton loses, it doesn’t matter because she already has the nomination locked up. When Trump loses, his campaign is in big trouble. Starting to see the problem with the media coverage?

When you examine these media narratives, a troubling pattern emerges that goes beyond the political establishment’s self-interest. You begin to see that American corporate media also functions as an arm of the political machine, protecting establishment candidates while attacking — or dismissing — candidates who seem non-establishment.

This brings us to the events that transpired during the Republican nomination process in Colorado on Saturday. The Republican Party of Colorado didn’t even bother letting people vote before using arcane rules to strip the democratic process of its democracy. According to the Denver Post:

“Colorado GOP leaders canceled the party’s presidential straw poll in August to avoid binding its delegates to a candidate who may not survive until the Republican National Convention in July.

“Instead, Republicans selected national delegates through the caucus process, a move that put the election of national delegates in the hands of party insiders and activists — leaving roughly 90 percent of the more than 1 million Republican voters on the sidelines.”

Unsurprisingly, Trump’s non-establishment campaign walked away with zero delegates. They were all “awarded” to Ted Cruz.

“How is it possible that the people of the great State of Colorado never got to vote in the Republican Primary? Great anger — totally unfair!” Trump said on Twitter. “The people of Colorado had their vote taken away from them by the phony politicians. Biggest story in politics. This will not be allowed!”

In an interview on Monday, Trump was even more frank. “The system is rigged, it’s crooked,” he said.

The Colorado GOP didn’t even bother hiding its intentions, tweeting — then quickly removing — what was possibly the most honest insight into the back-door dealing so far this election season:

colorado-gop

The Republican party chooses the nominee, not the voting public. Still in disbelief? Watch a Republican National Committee member explain it better than I can:

What we are witnessing — for the first time on a large scale — is the political establishment’s true role in selecting the president of the United States. The illusion of choice has become apparent. The establishment anoints their two picks for president, and the country proceeds to argue vehemently over the two candidates they are spoon-fed. This dynamic is reminiscent of a prophetic 1998 quote from philosopher Noam Chomsky:

“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.”

Ahh, the illusion of choice. Sure, in reality there are third party candidates who should be given a fair shake, but in our mainstream media-augmented reality, third parties do not exist. They aren’t mentioned. They aren’t even included in presidential debates. This is another way the media stifles healthy debate, stamps out dissenting opinions, and preserves the status-quo.

We The People don’t choose our presidents; they are hand-picked by a powerful group of political party insiders — parties that have long since sold out to the highest bidders. What we have on our hands in America is a rigged oligarchy, and that’s not a conspiracy theory — it’s fact. Now, however, millions of Americans are becoming aware of it thanks to the populist campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. America’s elections are controlled by a big club, but unfortunately, “you ain’t in it!”

Putin’ it to Putin: the Russian Oligarchy and the Primitive Accumulation of Capital May 1, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Capitalism, Economic Crisis, Labor, Marx and Marxism, Russia, Socialism.
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BjCHxNICMAAaVSj.jpg largeMeet the 11 Putin cronies and Ukrainian officials facing U.S. sanctions: http://t.co/0WOAuGtABa http://t.co/30T2yhxH4p

 

I don’t intend to go into the politics and economics of the situation in the Ukraine other than to point out the fact that the threats coming from the U.S. president against the Russian government seem to center on economic sanctions against the friends, associates, colleagues – well, let’s use the correct term: cronies – of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. In other words, the Russian Mafia/Oligarchy. The New York Times reports that Obama’s spies are hard at work to discover Putin’s own fortune. What this circus amounts to then is the government of the nation with the world’s largest collection of parasitic crony capitalists attacking its rival nation’s crony capitalists. Russian Billionaires, take cover!

What his begs, however, is a question that no one seems to be asking: to wit, how did these billionaires come to be billionaires in the first place in Russia’s transition from Soviet “Communism” to Reaganite “Capitalism?” Or, more importantly, what this implies theoretically and philosophically about the very nature of capitalism itself. It indeed takes us to the heart of the origins of capitalism, what is referred to as “primitive accumulation” of capital, which is what this article is all about.

First we have to backtrack with a short discussion of economics. I assert that, despite popular opinion, economics is indeed a science in the sense that its elements can be measured and independently verified. The problem with Economic’s bad reputation is that the vast majority of economists are of the same ilk as biological “Creationists” and atmospheric climate change deniers. What they fail to take into account are the very dynamics that make capitalism what it is (usually in the form of ignoring obvious class divisions or making a fetish of the market place instead of focusing on what is fundamental in any economy, i.e. production).

Definitions are important. A simple but scientifically accurate definition of capital: vast accumulations of wealth (value) that today come in various forms, real estate, industrial and other corporate wealth, high finance, etc. Capital ISM then is the system of producing goods and services based upon the relationship between those who own and manage capital and the rest of us, who do the work that is responsible for the increase in value in the first place; that is, the relationship between capital and labor. It is a relationship that is hierarchic and despotic; that is, inherently undemocratic. A simple, yet accurate definition of socialism (the antithesis to capitalism), then, would be not state ownership of the means of production (as we saw in the former Soviet Union), but economic democracy, that is, direct ownership and control by those who produce the value. Note: it was not Karl Marx, but rather Adam Smith who demonstrated that new value added to land and natural resources can only come from living human labor.

Anyone who has ever had a job knows that the boss is the boss (be it the actual owner or his/her designates). You do not get to vote on what you do. You do what you are told, or you are shown the door (only union organization has mitigated this phenomenon to a degree). There are others waiting to take your place if you don’t like it. You do not get to decide what is produced (be it goods or services), how it is produced, or under what conditions (e.g. safety). But most importantly, you are paid for your creative effort as little as your owner/boss can get away with, and the rest of the value you create goes into his or her pocket (the pockets of heirs, stock holders, bankers, etc., i.e. capitalism’s parasites). This is what Karl Marx called surplus value (and what capitalists call profit), and it is the reason for the reality that we have always been aware of but are coming to see in greater relief more and more every day: the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. One example: the geometric increase in the proportion of CEO salary in relation to worker salary (according to the Washington Post, “The ratio of CEO pay to average worker pay is 273-1, down from a high of 383-1 in 2000, but up from 20-1 in 1965.” http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/06/26/congrats-ceos-youre-making-273-times-the-pay-of-the-average-worker/). In other words, the average worker has to put in about six weeks of eight hour days to earn what your typical CEO earns in one hour.

 
Forget all the crap that has been that has been shoved down your throat since you came off your mother’s breast (or the bottle) about the wonders of capitalism: the miracle of free enterprise, the invisible hand that makes everything just, the value of competition, capitalists taking all the risk, capitalists creating jobs – as if without capitalists we would all stop working to produce what we need to survive and thrive. Forget about free markets: there haven’t been free markets since Jesus threw the money changers out of the Temple. The deck (the economy) is stacked in favor of capital; capital essentially owns government and uses it to maintain its strangle hold on the rest of us – economically and militarily. And this was true long before the US Supreme Court made corporations into people.

So now let’s go back to “primitive accumulation.” How did there come to be such huge fortunes, such accumulated wealth in the first place; in other words, how did the feudal economy become a capitalist economy?

Here are the contrasting explanations from Adam Smith and Karl Marx:

“In the midst of all the exactions of government, capital has been silently and gradually accumulated by the private frugality and good conduct of individuals, by their universal, continual, and uninterrupted effort to better their own condition. It is this effort, protected by law and allowed by liberty to exert itself in the manner that is most advantageous, which has maintained the progress of England towards opulence and improvement in almost all former times. …

“It is the highest impertinence and presumption, therefore, in kings and ministers, to pretend to watch over the economy of private people, and to restrain their expense. … They are themselves always, and without any exception, the greatest spendthrifts in the society. Let them look well after their own expense, and they may safely trust private people with theirs. If their own extravagance does not ruin the state, that of their subjects never will.”

Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations, Book II, Chapter II
(cited in Toronto Globe and Mail, April 5, 2008)

 
“The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signalled the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings are the chief moments of primitive accumulation. On their heels treads the commercial war of the European nations, with the globe for a theatre. It begins with the revolt of the Netherlands from Spain, assumes giant dimensions in England’s Anti-Jacobin War, and is still going on in the opium wars against China, &c. The different moments of primitive accumulation distribute themselves now, more or less in chronological order, particularly over Spain, Portugal, Holland, France, and England. In England at the end of the 17th century, they arrive in a systematic combination, embracing the colonies, the national debt, the modern mode of taxation, and the protectionist system. These methods depend in part on brute force, e.g., the colonial system. But they all employ the power of the State, the concentrated and organised force of society, to hasten, hot-house fashion, the process of transformation of the feudal mode of production into the capitalist mode, and to shorten the transition. Force is the midwife of every old society pregnant with the new one. It is itself an economic power.”

Karl Marx, Capital, Vol . I, Chapter 31

Karl Marx was a philosopher, whose primary concern was human freedom. In order to understand the un-freedom that was obvious to him in his age as well as it is to us in our own, he had to and did become a full-fledged historian and economist. He read, digested, analyzed and critiqued not only the famous economists like Adam Smith, Malthus and Ricardo, but the entire body of political economy of his day. Needless to say, with respect to the primitive accumulation of capital, he was aware and demonstrated how it was ongoing; and we see the unbelievably gigantic proportions it has taken in our own time.

The political economists like Adam Smith, showed us how only human labor can create value, then they proceeded to ignore human labor as they obsessed on the market placed and the distribution of goods and services. Karl Marx corrected the fundamental error by show us scientifically the inherent inequality and un-freedom of capitalist economy. It is ironic that Marxism is often criticized for ignoring the individual in favour of the community, whereas it was Marx who demonstrated how capitalist productive relationship created misery for individuals within their community. It was Marx, for example, who showed us that even if a nation’s economy may be thriving, suffering and injustice can abound for the majority of its citizens. It is the notion of the “economy” that is abstract and ignores the individual, not the notion of community. This is a fact that the vast majority of economists ignore completely.

And anyone who believes that “democratic” political institutions in the form of periodic elections can tame this insane and out of control Monster known as capitalism, is either naïve or uninformed (for which we can thank our bought and paid for mass media and institutions of higher learning).

Now we are ready to go back to Boris Yeltsin, Putin and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Under Stalin, the Soviet Union had become the opposite of its revolutionary class destroying origins. The Soviet State (brutally tyrannical under Stalin, then reformed and softened under Khrushchev) became the single owner of value, i.e. capital, in what is almost universally recognized theoretically as State Capitalism. With the collapse of the Soviet empire, which resulted from massive popular uprisings (aided and abetted by the democratic and progressive reforms of Gorbachev), things could have gone either one of two ways. All of Soviet capital, all that enormous wealth (value) could have been democratized, that is decentralized and put democratically into the hands of those who worked in the various industries (and who create the wealth in the first place). Any genuine Marxist left in Russia would have reminded the angry masses that the original soviets were democratic organizations made up respectively of industrial workers, peasant workers, and soldiers. With the theoretical and organizational backing of the Bolshevik Party, they were the impulse that overthrew the Tsar and established a union of soviets, which for a few years before the Stalin coup was striving for worker democracy at the same time as it was at war with the rest of the capitalist world, fighting for its very survival.

Alas, things didn’t go in that direction. They went instead in the direction of looting of the state’s enormous resources by those Adam Smith like industrious Communist apparatchiks cum Mafia. We see them everywhere today, as they have moved their newly gained capital around the world. We saw them at the Sochi Olympics and we see them as owners of American professional sports teams.

As with the Spanish Conquistadores and the slave traders of African skin, their wealth is stolen. That is what is meant by the slogan “property is theft.” Hegelian Marxism talks of continuing negations, ongoing revolution, if you will. The overthrow of the former Soviet Union was a first negation; the second one did not happen at the same time. We see the same phenomenon with the Ukraine’s “Orange Revolution,” Egypt’s “Arab Spring,” the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, etc.

But some day, if the capitalists do not destroy the earth first with nuclear or environmental catastrophe, it will happen. The capitalist way of creating and sharing wealth will come crumbling down simply because it is not sustainable. Capital will no longer exist, just working people producing and owning outright what they produce. When and how this will happen no one can say. But if it doesn’t, we are surely doomed.

One more theoretical point. It never ceases to amaze me how otherwise intelligent academics and pundits fail to understand the obvious contradiction between political democracy and capitalist economics. It is as if democratic institutions, however primitive, can somehow ensure freedom and justice, while at the same time working people are being systematically bilked by the capitalist Behemoth. Democracy, which is in fact the most highly advanced political notion, is just that, i.e. political. Capitalist economy is just that, i.e. economy. They are two entirely different animals, notwithstanding the fact that they are intimately entwined. Failing to understand this, leftists, progressives, liberals, etc., make a fetish out of the concept of democracy, ignore the economic implications of capital, and end up being entirely irrelevant. Note: capitalism cannot be reformed because it is inherently unjust and undemocratic.

For those who are interested in a truly scientific understanding of capitalist economic relations as outlined in Marx’s Capital, I recommend the first four chapters of Raya Dunayevskaya’s “Marxism and Freedom: from 1776 until Today,” Humanity Books, 2000. Of course, there is no substitute for reading Marx in the original, which I acknowledge is not an easy task. I recommend beginning with the so-called Early Writings or Economic Manuscripts.

 

Even More than Race, the South Is About Exploiting Workers March 16, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Labor.
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By Joseph B. Atkins, Progressive Populist. Posted March 13, 2009.

The heart of Southern conservatism is the preservation of a status quo that serves elite interests.

Cheap labor. Even more than race, it’s the thread that connects all of Southern history—from the ante-bellum South of John C. Calhoun and Jefferson Davis to Tennessee’s Bob Corker, Alabama’s Richard Shelby and the other anti-union Southerners in today’s U.S. Senate.

It’s at the epicenter of a sad class divide between a desperate, poorly educated workforce and a demagogic oligarchy, and it has been a demarcation line stronger than the Mason-Dixon in separating the region from the rest of the nation.

The recent spectacle of Corker, Shelby and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky leading the GOP attack on the proposed $14 billion loan to the domestic auto industry—with 11 other Southern senators marching dutifully behind—made it crystal clear. The heart of Southern conservatism is the preservation of a status quo that serves elite interests.

Expect these same senators and their colleagues in the US House to wage a similar war in the coming months against the proposed Employee Free Choice Act authorizing so-called “card check” union elections nationwide.

“Dinosaurs,” Shelby of Alabama called General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler as he maneuvered to bolster the nonunion Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai and other foreign-owned plants in his home state by sabotaging as many as three million jobs nationwide.

Corker, a multi-millionaire who won his seat in a mud-slinging, race-tinged election in 2006, was fairly transparent in his goal to expunge what he considers the real evil in the Big Three and US industry in general: unions. When the concession-weary United Auto Workers balked at GOP demands for a near-immediate reduction in worker wages and benefits, Corker urged President Bush to force-feed wage cuts to UAW workers in any White House-sponsored bailout.

If Shelby, Corker, and McConnell figured they were helping the Japanese, German and Korean-owned plants in their home states, they were seriously misguided. The failure of the domestic auto industry would inflict a deep wound on the same supplier-dealer network that the foreign plants use. The already existing woes of the foreign-owned industry were clearly demonstrated in December when Toyota announced its decision to put on indefinite hold the opening of its $1.3 billion plant near Blue Springs in northeast Mississippi.

The Southern Republicans are full of contradictions. Downright hypocrisy might be a better description. Shelby staunchly opposes universal health care—a major factor in the Big Three’s financial troubles since they operate company plans—yet the foreign automakers he defends benefit greatly from the government-run health care programs in their countries.

These same senators gave their blessing to hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies to the foreign automakers to open plants in their states, yet they were willing to let the US auto industry fall into bankruptcy.

In their zeal to destroy unions and their hard-fought wage-and-benefits packages, the Southern senators could not care less that workers in their home states are among the lowest paid in the nation. Ever wonder why the South remains the nation’s poorest region despite generations of seniority-laden senators and representatives in Congress?

Why weren’t these same senators protesting the high salaries in the financial sector when the Congress approved the $700 billion bailout of Wall Street? Why pick on blue-collar workers at the Big Three who last year agreed to huge concessions expected to save the companies an estimated $4 billion a year by 2010? These concessions have already helped lower union wages to non-union levels at some auto plants.

The idea of working people joining together to have a united voice across the table from management scares most Southern politicians to death. After all, they go to the same country clubs as management. When Mississippi Republican Roger Wicker warned of Democratic opponent Ronnie Musgrove’s ties to the “Big Labor Bosses” in this year’s US Senate race, he was protecting the “Big Corporate Bosses” who are his benefactors.

The South today may be more racially enlightened than ever in its history. However, it is still a society in which the ruling class—the chambers of commerce that have taken over from yesterday’s plantation owners and textile barons—uses politics to maintain control over a vast, jobs-hungry workforce. After the oligarchy lost its war for slavery—the cheapest labor of all—it secured the next best thing in Jim Crow and the indentured servitude known as sharecropping and tenant farming. It still sees cheap, pliable, docile labor as the linchpin of the Southern economy.

In 1948, when the so-called “Dixiecrats” rebelled against the national Democratic Party, Strom Thurmond of South Carolina declared war on “the radicals, subversives, and the Reds” who want to upset the Southern way of life.

Seven years later, Mississippi’s political godfather, the late US Sen. James O. Eastland, told other prominent Southern pols during a meeting at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis that the South will “fight the CIO” (Congress of Industrial Organizations) and unionism with just as much vehemence and determination as it fights racial integration.

Eastland, Thurmond and their friends lost the integration battle. Their successors are still fighting the other enemy.

 

Joseph B. Atkins is a veteran journalist, professor of journalism at the University of Mississippi and author of Covering for the Bosses: Labor and the Southern Press (University Press of Mississippi, 2008), a book that details the Southern labor movement and its treatment in the press. A version of this column appeared in the Hattiesburg (Miss.) American and the Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger.

The Idiots Who Rule America October 22, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis, U.S. Election 2008.
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Truthdig
Posted on Oct 20, 2008
AP photo / Henny Ray Abrams

By Chris Hedges

Our oligarchic class is incompetent at governing, managing the economy, coping with natural disasters, educating our young, handling foreign affairs, providing basic services like health care and safeguarding individual rights. That it is still in power, and will remain in power after this election, is a testament to our inability to separate illusion from reality. We still believe in “the experts.” They still believe in themselves. They are clustered like flies swarming around John McCain and Barack Obama. It is only when these elites are exposed as incompetent parasites and dethroned that we will have any hope of restoring social, economic and political order. 

“Their inability to see the human as anything more than interest driven made it impossible for them to imagine an actively organized pool of disinterest called the public good,” said the Canadian philosopher John Ralston Saul, whose books “The Unconscious Civilization” and “Voltaire’s Bastards” excoriates our oligarchic elites. “It is as if the Industrial Revolution had caused a severe mental trauma, one that still reaches out and extinguishes the memory of certain people. For them, modern history begins from a big explosion—the Industrial Revolution. This is a standard ideological approach: a star crosses the sky, a meteor explodes, and history begins anew.”

Our elites—the ones in Congress, the ones on Wall Street and the ones being produced at prestigious universities and business schools—do not have the capacity to fix our financial mess. Indeed, they will make it worse. They have no concept, thanks to the educations they have received, of the common good. They are stunted, timid and uncreative bureaucrats who are trained to carry out systems management. They see only piecemeal solutions which will satisfy the corporate structure. They are about numbers, profits and personal advancement. They are as able to deny gravely ill people medical coverage to increase company profits as they are able to use taxpayer dollars to peddle costly weapons systems to blood-soaked dictatorships. The human consequences never figure into their balance sheets. The democratic system, they think, is a secondary product of the free market. And they slavishly serve the market. 

Andrew Lahde, the Santa Monica, Calif., hedge fund manager who made an 870 percent gain last year by betting on the subprime mortgage collapse, has abruptly shut down his fund, citing the risk of trading with faltering banks. In his farewell letter to his investors he excoriated the elites who run our investment houses, banks and government.

“The low-hanging fruit, i.e. idiots whose parents paid for prep school, Yale, and then the Harvard MBA, was there for the taking,” he said of our oligarchic class. “These people who were (often) truly not worthy of the education they received (or supposedly received) rose to the top of companies such as AIG, Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers and all levels of our government. All of this behavior supporting the Aristocracy only ended up making it easier for me to find people stupid enough to take the other side of my trades. God bless America.”

“On the issue of the U.S. Government, I would like to make a modest proposal,” he went on. “First, I point out the obvious flaws, whereby legislation was repeatedly brought forth to Congress over the past eight years, which would have [reined] in the predatory lending practices of now mostly defunct institutions. These institutions regularly filled the coffers of both parties in return for voting down all of this legislation designed to protect the common citizen. This is an outrage, yet no one seems to know or care about it. Since Thomas Jefferson and Adam Smith passed, I would argue that there has been a dearth of worthy philosophers in this country, at least ones focused on improving government.”

Democracy is not an outgrowth of free markets. Democracy and capitalism are antagonistic entities. Democracy, like individualism, is not based on personal gain but on self-sacrifice. A functioning democracy must defy the economic interests of elites on behalf of citizens. This is not happening. The corporate managers and government officials trying to fix the economic meltdown are pouring money and resources into the financial sector because they only know how to manage and sustain established systems, not change them. Financial systems, however, are not pure scientific and numerical abstractions that exist independently from human beings.

“When the elite begin to think that money is real, the crash is coming,” Saul said in a telephone interview. “That is just a given in history. Because what they’ve done is pull themselves out of the possibility of looking in the mirror and thinking, this is inflation, speculation, this is fluff. They can’t do it. And when you say to them, gosh, this is not real. And they say, oh, you don’t understand, you’re so old-fashioned, you still think this is about manufacturing. And of course, it’s basic economics. And that’s what happens every single time.

“The difficulty is you have a collapse, you have a loss of face by the people who are there, and it’s not just George Bush, it’s very, very deep,” Saul said. “What we’re talking about is the need to rethink the departments of economics, of political science. Then you have to rethink the whole analytic method of the World Bank. If I’m the secretary of the treasury, and not a guy like [Henry] Paulson, but I mean a sort of normal secretary of the treasury or minister of finance, and I say, OK, we’ve got a real problem, let’s get the senior civil servants in here. Gentlemen, ladies, OK, clearly we have to go in another direction, give me some ideas. Well, those people don’t have any other ideas because at this point they’re about the fourth generation of what you might call neoconservative globalist managers, unfairly summarized. So they then go to the people who work for them, and you work down; there’s no one in there with an alternate approach. I mean they’ll have little alternatives, but no basic differences in opinion. And so it’s very difficult to turn anything around because they’ve eliminated all opposing ideas inside. I mean it’s the problem of the Soviet Union, right?”

Saul pointed out that the first three aims of the corporatist movement in Germany, Italy and France during the 1920s, those that went on to become part of the Fascist experience, were “to shift power directly to economic and social interest groups, to push entrepreneurial initiative in areas normally reserved for public bodies” and to “obliterate the boundaries between public and private interest—that is, challenge the idea of the public interest.”

Sound familiar?

“There are a handful of people who haven’t been published in mainstream journals, who haven’t been listened to, who have been marginalized in every way,” Saul said. “There are a couple of them and you could turn to them. But then who do you give the orders to? And the people you give the orders to, they are not going to understand the orders because it hasn’t been a part of their education. So it’s a real problem of a good general who suddenly finds that his junior generals and brigadiers and corporals, you want them to do irregular warfare and they only know how to do trenches. And so how the hell do you get them to do this thing which they’ve never been trained to do? And so you get this kind of disorder, confusion inside, and the danger of what rises up there is populism; we’ve already had populism in a way, but we could get more populism, more fear and anger.”

We may elect representatives to Congress to end the war in Iraq, but the war goes on. We may plead with these representatives to halt Bush’s illegal wiretapping but the telecommunications lobbyists make sure it remains in place. We may beg them not to pass the bailout but 850 billion taxpayer dollars are funneled upward to the elites on Wall Street. We may want single-payer, not-for-profit health care but it is not even discussed as a possibility in presidential debates. We, as individuals in this system, are irrelevant. 

“I’ve talked to several Supreme Court justices, several times in several countries,” Saul told me, “and I say, look, in your rulings, can you differentiate easily in cases between the social contract and the commercial contract, and to which the answer is, we can no longer differentiate. And that lies at the heart of the problem. You don’t have the concept of the other, and of obligation of the individual leading to individualism. You can’t have that if the whole legal system has slipped over the last, really, 50 years, increasingly, to a confusion between the social contract and the commercial contract. Because they are two completely different things. The social contract is about the public good, responsible individualism, imagining the other. The commercial contract is a commercial contract. They’re not supposed to be confused. They don’t actually fit together. The commercial contract only works properly when the social contract works in a democracy.”

The working class, which has desperately borrowed money to stay afloat as real wages have dropped, now face years, maybe decades, of stagnant or declining incomes without access to new credit. The national treasury meanwhile is being drained on behalf of speculative commercial interests. The government—the only institution citizens have that is big enough and powerful enough to protect their rights—is becoming weaker, more anemic and less able to help the mass of Americans who are embarking on a period of deprivation and suffering unseen in this country since the 1930s. Consumption, the profligate engine of the U.S. economy, is withering. September retail sales across the U.S. fell 1.2 percent. The decline was almost double the 0.7 percent drop analysts expected from consumers, whose spending represents two-thirds of U.S. economic activity. There were 160,000 jobs lost last month and three-quarters of a million jobs lost this year. The reverberations of the economic meltdown are only beginning.

I do not think George W. Bush or Barack Obama or John McCain or Henry Paulson are fascists. Rather, they are part of a cabal of naive, mediocre and self-deluded capitalists who are steadily weakening political and economic structures to a point where our democracy will become so impotent that it can be blown aside, probably with broad popular support. The only question is how this will happen. Will there be a steady and slow decline as in the late Roman Empire when the Senate ended as a farce? Will we see a powerful right-wing backlash from those outside the mainstream political system, as we did in Yugoslavia, and the rise of a militant Christian fascism? Will there be a national crisis that allows those in power to instantly sweep away all constitutional rights in the name of national security?

I do not know. But I do know that what is coming, as long as our oligarchy remains in charge, will not be good. We will either recover the concept of the public good, and this means a revolt against our bankrupt elite and the dynamiting of the corporatist structure, or we will extinguish our democracy.