A spreading movement to defend and expand democracy by citizens willing to face down repressive, militarized police in the streets is now being led by the people of Brazil and Turkey but represents the aspirations of people everywhere who are concerned about civil liberties and elite abuse of power. Unfortunately, the lack of both national and international organization in support of democracy activists has left citizens marginalized–not just in Turkey and Brazil but also the U.S.— while putting the initiative in the hands of an abusive political/corporate elite. Continue reading
The citizens of the U.S. are shortchanging themselves by allowing the super-rich to define taboos in order to prevent society from considering fundamental reforms that might preserve our democracy, enhance our security, and improve our lives…at the expense of constraining the ability of the super-rich to amass more wealth. Continue reading
Romney has accused Obama of campaigning on “hatred.” Now that he has brought up that particular topic… Continue reading
The super-rich have launched a class war against the people of the U.S., a war that, for most of our politically naive population, was revealed only with the Financial Crisis of 2008, yet the super-rich continue to gain ground. An extraordinarily clear statement describing how this class war against America is being fought was given in testimony before Congress on July 10, 2012 by Dennis Kelleher, President and CEO of Better Markets, Inc. His statement is invaluable in outlining concisely what occurred and forecasting in detail the likely consequences of a continued failure of Washington to start representing the interests of, not corporations and the super-rich, but the American people. Every word is worth reading. What follows is just the outline.
Customers, credit and credit markets, job creators, businesses, investors and
consumers – all of Main Street and much of America, for that matter – have been devastated by a terrible economy that is a direct the result of the financial collapse and economic crisis that began in 2007, reached a peak in 2008-2009 and continues to this day. Indeed, it was the worst financial collapse since the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and it is the worst economy since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
While many played a role in the recent collapse and crisis, Wall Street is at the top of the list of those responsible because it caused that collapse and crisis by the reckless and irresponsible creation and distribution of toxic and often worthless securities, among their many other actions.
Unfortunately, Wall Street, many of the major financial industry participants, and their trade groups and other allies deny or minimize their role in the financial collapse and the economic crisis. Moreover, they are trying to obscure and conceal the cost of the collapse and crisis. Perhaps most importantly, they are also engaged in a comprehensive misinformation campaign that attempts to refocus the public debate away from the crisis and Wall Street’s role in creating it to the new financial reform law and the rules being put in place to prevent
another crisis and protect the American people, taxpayers, Treasury and economy.
Thus, before the “impact” of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law–more properly
understood as the Wall Street re-regulation law – on customers, credit and job creators can be properly considered, a thorough discussion of the Wall Street-created financial collapse and economic crisis that gave rise to that law must come first. After all, it would be impossible to evaluate the impact of a law without the context and an understanding of why the law exists, what the law was intended to do and how it was designed to do it.
Wall Street was able to cause the collapse and crisis largely because it used its
economic power to gain political, academic, media and other power that enabled it to tear down the many laws, rules and regulations put in place during the Great Depression of the 1930s to protect the American people from Wall Street’s recklessness and greed. It must be remembered that, after those laws, rules and regulations were put in place, our country did not have a financial or economic crisis on that scale for more than 70 years.
It must also be remembered that, even with all those many laws, rules and regulations– a truly unprecedented degree of government regulation of Wall Street and the U.S. capital markets – our country prospered; we built the largest and most broad-based middle class in the history of the world; and Wall Street, our financial industry, our nonfinancial businesses and our economy all thrived.
By 2000, virtually all of those protections were torn down and Wall Street was not just de-regulated, but almost entirely un-regulated. The results are clear: after 70 years of regulation that protected the American people, our financial system and our economy, it took just 7 years for Wall Street’s unregulated investment, trading and other activities to cause what almost became a second Great Depression.
Those actions by Wall Street required the U.S. government to spend, lend, guarantee, pledge, assume, or otherwise use trillions of dollars to save Wall Street from itself and to prevent the crisis from becoming even worse. While they may deny it, every single major bank and all of the other too big to fail financial institutions would have collapsed into bankruptcy but for the actions of the U.S. government and the taxpayer dollars used to bail them out and put them back on the road to profitability. Thus, JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, Bank of America, AIG, Citigroup and the others are only
in business today because they were all bailed out by the U.S. government and the American taxpayer.
But, those bailouts were only part of the costs of that crisis. The economic wreckage caused by Wall Street’s actions has touched every corner of our country: high and persistent unemployment and under-employment, historically high foreclosures and underwater homeowners, slow-to-no economic growth, business failures, untold wealth destruction, widespread and growing poverty, and so many other costs continue to mount, including, increasingly, a loss of belief in the American Dream.
Just one measure of these costs reveals how deep and overwhelming the crisis has been and continues to be on our country: the Federal Reserve Board recently released a study that shows that the net worth of the median family declined 38.8% in just three years, from 2007-2010, wiping out more than $7 trillion in wealth – almost two decades of crisis. [Dennis Kelleher in testimony before Congress.]
That is what class war in America looks like.
When the rich get richer while the rest all get poorer and the rich campaign to increase their privileges, it amounts to class war.
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Democracy Now [6/6/12] pointedly describes the current state of the American Dream:
Several months before Occupy Wall Street, the Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz wrote “Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%,” an article for Vanity Fair. He returns to the subject in his new book looking at how inequality is now greater in the United States than any other industrialized nation. He notes that the six heirs of the Wal-Mart fortune command wealth equivalent to the entire bottom 30 percent of American society. “It’s a comment both on how well off the top are and how poor the bottom are,” Stiglitz says. “It’s really emblematic of the divide that has gotten much worse in our society.” On Tuesday, Bloomberg News reported that pay for the top CEOs on Wall Street increased by more than 20 percent last year. Meanwhile, census data shows nearly one in two Americans, or 150 million people, have fallen into poverty or could be classified as low-income. “United States is the country in the world with the highest level of inequality [of the advanced industrial countries], and it’s getting worse,” Stiglitz says. “What’s even more disturbing is we’ve [also] become the country with the least equality of opportunity.”
The “rich enriching themselves by stealing from the poor” is not just a slogan; this is what it looks like. When the U.S. has the highest level of inequality among industrial countries and the least equality of opportunity, and the elite of the business world protected by top politicians in both major parties continue to demand more government welfare (e.g., low capital gains taxes) and less regulation, that adds up to class war.
The Wisconsin election was not about union power; it was about democracy, and the voters dealt democracy a major defeat, This is what class war by the rich looks like in a land of the shortsighted.
Two major battles in the developing class war in the U.S. have occurred in the past five years:
- the decision to provide Wall St. with a bailout without compensating public control over the negligent and/or criminal financial institutions that got the corporate welfare;
- the victory of Wisconsin Governor Walker in his recall election campaign funded by outside corporate millions.
Real News summarizes the Walker victory:
In Wisconsin, Scott Walker has won the recall election. He remains the governor. Millions of dollars poured into Wisconsin, something like $45 million for Scott Walker, most of which came from outside the state. He outspent his Democratic rival, who spent somewhere close to $10 million—apparently, most of that money came from within the state.
The wise people of Wisconsin have determined that their enemies are those who protect their homes from burglars, those who risk their lives to quench fires, and those who teach their children. Such public workers do not deserve a chance to organize; the government should have the right to break its contracts with them as convenient. Will a Wisconsin policeman now think twice before risking his life to protect a victim? Will a Wisconsin fireman now think twice before entering a burning home to save the owner? And as for Wisconsin teachers, no doubt if they stop teaching altogether, the wise voters of Wisconsin will not even notice.
These two back-to-back elite victories over society may spark the awakening of the naive, short-sighted, and near comatose U.S. public, but at present they signal the nearly complete control over U.S. “democracy” by the super-rich. “Democracy” the U.S. remains in the sense that the voters did in fact have the power to win this one, had they only the wisdom to see their own common self-interest. Alas, “common self-interest” is a concept evidently too subtle for most, in that it is evidently self-contradictory over the short run, so corporate millions “bought” the election not through fraud (as far as I am aware) but through propaganda – convincing a big chunk of Wisconsin’s workers to support the rich rather than maintain solidarity with their own. Time will tell what happens to wage levels and working conditions in Wisconsin now that the rich have clear…and legal control.
It seemed, back in the long, viciously cold winter of 2011, that the clarity of the struggle in Wisconsin between outside corporate greed trying to break the post-New Deal social contract with employees and the public–represented by police, firemen, and teachers–was so incontrovertible that even the most apolitical wage-earner could not help but understand his long-term interest. The tens of thousands who risked frostbite to defend their legal rights to organize so as to defend themselves against corporate organizations offered powerful evidence that Americans were finally awakening from their delusion that Washington politicians were serving them rather than their super-rich corporate patrons. Finally, it appeared, the neo-con/neo-liberal scam against America–so clearly exposed by the highly profitable “war on terror” along with the bailout of Wall St. and refusal of Washington to force corporate leaders to defend themselves in court–would be terminated by an awakened American public.
Unfortunately, the generation-long covert class war of the super-rich has been fought with enough skill that even such evidence as the profitable (for CEOs) war on terror and a corporate self-enrichment scheme that wrecked the U.S. economy has not convinced Americans that they need to fight back.
There is, however, much more to Walker’s victory than simply the self-delusion and shortsightedness of the American voter. One other critical facet is that this one-sided class war has now achieved so many victories that the whole structure of government is aligned on the side of the rich. Black Agenda Report editor Bruce Dixon itemizes some of the legal weapons the rich have put into place to overthrow the New Deal compromise [6/6/12]:
…it was union leaders who damped down the calls for, and explicitly repudiated talk of a general strike. To be fair, under present federal and state laws, a union official who even calls for, let alone is part of pulling off a general strike is probably guilty of multiple felonies and conspiracies to commit, perhaps even RICO and terrorist prosecutions if judges and district attorneys are feeling ambitious. Such an official also risks confiscation of union funds and assets, either outright in a hurry or after prolonged expensive litigation. But that’s what people involved in movements do — they take individual and collective risks and they violate laws for the cause, whatever that happens to be.
It seems that it is perfectly OK for a couple of billionaire CEOs to organize with a handful of their buddies to buy an election, but for workers to organize to defend American society is now a crime. It is no coincidence that the U.S. increasingly looks today like the U.S. of 1929. When the rich control government officials and manage to slant the legal system in their private defense, where can the public go? You young folks better get off the Internet and read Steinbeck before it is too late.
Update: Romney on Wisconsin
“[Obama] says we need more firemen, more policemen, more teachers. Did he not get the message of Wisconsin? The American people did. It’s time for us to cut back on government and help the American people.” [Democracy Now 6/11/12.]
It is hard to think of anything more fundamental to civil society than good education and security for citizens in their homes and on the streets. Romney has made the attitude of the new Republican Party toward the American people all too clear.
Class war makes everything different: instead of agreement on the rules serving as the foundation for common success, society is split in two camps, with at least one trying to ruin the future of the other. If you happen to be part of the “other,” you need to know that you are under attack.
Previously, I asserted that the American people are in the midst of, and—in great part because they do not know they are in the midst of it—losing a class war. This is an extreme assertion that no doubt shocks most readers, though one may imagine it does not at all shock the several million who have recently dropped out of the hopeless job market. In any case, the assertion needs to be defended, so let’s look a little deeper.
Governor Kasich, yeah, and he was intimately involved with selling — getting the state of Ohio’s pension fund to invest in Lehman Brothers and buy mortgage-backed securities. And of course they lost all that money. And this, broadly, was really what the mortgage bubble and the financial crisis was all about. It was essentially a gigantic criminal fraud scheme where all the banks were taking mismarked mortgage-backed securities, very, very dangerous, toxic subprime loans, they were chopping them up and then packaging them as AAA-rated investments, and then selling them to state pension funds, to insurance companies, to Chinese banks and Dutch banks and Icelandic banks. And, of course, these things were blowing up, and all those funds were going broke. But what they’re doing now is they’re blaming the people who were collecting these pensions — they’re blaming the workers, they’re blaming the firemen, they’re blaming the policemen — whereas, in reality, they were actually the victims of this fraud scheme. And the only reason that people aren’t angrier about this, I think, is because they don’t really understand what happened. If these were car companies that had sold a trillion dollars’ worth of defective cars to the citizens of the United States, there would be riots right now. But these were mortgage-backed securities, it’s complicated, people don’t understand it, and they’re only now, I think, beginning to realize that they were defrauded. [Democracy Now 2/22/2011.]
“Radical” is defined as anything that threatens the privileges of the rich. “Violence” is applied only to violence by the poor, never to violence by the rich. As for moderation, that would be an approach designed to preserve the livelihood that our society is accustomed to, would it not? Is it not self-evident that policies supporting the lives of all are moderate, while policies that steal from society for the benefit of some small group are…extremist?
Once our definitions are made logical, we can begin defending our values. How? Send Jamie Dimon to Hollywood to play the bad guy in a cops-and-robbers flic. Consummate actor that he is, he’d be a star. Then, appoint Elizabeth Warren to dismantle that great casino called J.P. Morgan and replace it with a thousand small-town banks that…do banking.
The rich conservative elite is right – a class war is igniting. The tinder was rising economic inequality caused by a generation of elite piracy undermining the hard-won progress of the whole 20th century, which was a century of war between extremists (fascists, communists, and the somewhat more subtle neo-liberals) and those who cared about society.
The spark was the conservative elite’s rapacity. That is ironic because in the aftermath of the great victory over the fascist and communist extremists, most of the people in the West were quite willing to allow the elite to have its millions in unearned income as long as everyone else could get a few crumbs off the table. But when neo-liberal piracy (from Pinochet to Mozillo) began destroying whole societies one by one, not just limiting the 99% to what trickled down but forcing the 99% into outright impoverishment, sending them back to where they had been before the Great Depression, people began to wake up: the appetites of the super-rich know no limits. This class rejects the historic compromise of the New Deal and is plotting to return the world to the days of upper class rule, even if it takes class war to get there. The global class war that Marxists failed to ignite may in the end be provoked by the super-rich, precisely those people who have the most to lose!
Class war today looks very different than in the past. Protection of rich financial criminals, bailouts of fraudulent corporations, planetary environmental poisoning (e.g., the Gulf of Mexico) with no one found guilty, the intentional promotion of bubbles (housing bubbles, oil price bubbles), and the exploitation of natural disasters (from stealing the valuable beachfront property of Sri Lankan fishermen after the tsuname to running the poor out of New Orleans after Katrina) constitute the 21st century weapons of choice for class warfare.
The double electoral victories of French and Greek socialists suddenly gives hope that Western societies are awakening to the new reality. The stock market, which reflects the opinions of the super-rich, is of course down, and the fawning media are of course filled with foreboding warnings of doom. Watch out! These new regimes may actually support…”change!” Welfare may actually start to be transferred from millionaires to the poor! Who knows? The criminal rich may even start to feel the gentle touch of regulation and to be held responsible for their crimes.
The first challenge of the new socially conscious leaders will be to craft economic policies based on providing for the welfare of the 99% rather than cuddling billionaires at the expense of the 99%. Hollande is referring to shifting from “austerity” (for the poor) to “growth;” what he really needs is to have the courage to shift policy from “austerity” to “egalitarianism:” making the rich (both people and corporations) start paying for their privileges. Given the power of bankers over mere state governments, that will be difficult enough, but as Hollande for one already appears to understand, foreign policy is the other side of the coin.
Implicitly making the connection between a foreign policy based on violence and a domestic policy based on the exploitation of the average person for the benefit of the elite that U.S. neo-cons so carefully avoided admitting, Hollande is already talking about speeding up France’s withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.
After a decade of Western imperial adventure and domestic financial piracy, French and Greek socially conscious leaders will need to find allies rapidly to avoid defeat. May these new leaders remember carefully the real meaning of “socialism:” taking care of society. And may they never forget the difference between handouts and the creation of a society in which those who work hard can do well.