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Posts Tagged ‘oligarchy’

It was a suicide.  The private plane was deliberately flown into the Internal Revenue Service building in Austin.  The pilot left a suicide note on the Internet – a note that the FBI is now desperately trying to remove. Why is the FBI removing the pilot’s last words from the Internet? So you can’t read them, of course.  It is a little too late for that though. Rick Sanchez has already read some of the note live on CNN.  It’s a little hard now to suppress what the man thought.

I’ve written about this before – suicide attacks that is.  I wrote about it in my article on 9/11, that other suicide attack on a building.  Why do people commit suicide? There is really only one reason – they are desperate and they see no other solution to their problems.  The man who flew his plane into the IRS building was desperate, and he wrote a six page letter telling of his long struggles with financial problems, of how he wrote to his Senators and Congressmen but was always ignored.  He wrote about his difficulties with the IRS and his perception that he was being treated wrongly.  He wrote about American business and how they always get preferential treatment from the government while the people are left to suffer.  He wrote about the current economic meltdown and how the banks were thrown a massive economic lifeline – even though they were the proximate cause of the meltdown – while he, also a victim of the economy, received not a dime of help.

It was anger; no – rage. It was frustration.  It was despair. It was an act of revenge. It was a statement.

So, what are we to make of this? Is this a one time oddity? Does this attack mean anything for us or should we just ignore it and have another cup of Starbuck’s?  Consider this: ever since President Obama was elected, Americans have been arming themselves to the teeth.  Sales at Smith and Wesson have soared.  We have a new political party – sort of – the Tea Party. They are the party of “just leave us alone”. They don’t want to pay taxes. They don’t want national health care. They don’t want the government to do anything for them or to them. They want the government to just go away. The most popular person in the Republican Party is a dimwit from Alaska. The sole role of the Republican Party, since W left the White House, has been to obstruct everything the Democratic President wants to do – everything. It is not a question of what is good for the country. It is all about power, and it is most certainly not about what is good for you.

The country’s government is in gridlock. The only thing our government is able to agree upon is war. Who shall we bomb next, and when shall bomb them?  It’s good business for the defense contractors of course, but it’s not clear that we have Osama bin Laden too worried.  Or, that we even know where he is, for that matter.  What we have is the ultimate proof that President Eisenhower was right about the “industrial-military complex”, but does anybody really care? Certainly not Congress.

We have become a polarized country, perhaps dangerously polarized. Half of us want nothing to do with government, and the other half wants government to solve all of our problems. The first half thinks the second half are a bunch of naive fools. The second half thinks  the first half are lunatics. Meanwhile the oligarchs who run this country are busy having laws written to help their businesses. Tax laws are being written to give a unique advantage to certain types of businesses but not others, and certainly not to individuals who really have no power in this country at all. That’s because we are a republic and not a democracy.

The suicide pilot was not an idiot.  He was not a fool. He was not insane – he was desperate and he was angry. Sounds a lot like half the country right now. It’s probably appropriate that this incident happened in Texas, that most Republican of states. The Governor of Texas has recently talked of secession from the Union. He’s had it with the United States of America.  So, while the FBI scrambles to cover up that which everybody already has seen, and the rest of the government will undoubtedly scramble to portray this as an isolated incident perpetrated by a nut case, the American people may well be pondering something else.

Is this the canary in the coal mine?

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Failure is very much in the eye of the beholder, because whenever there are winners there are also losers.  Winners always think that things are just great, but the losers often have a different opinion.  If there are lots more winners than losers we can usually say that something is a success, and when things don’t turn out so good and there are lots more losers than winners we can judge something to be a failure.  It seems that an awful lot of people in Europe think that American Capitalism is a failure these days, and they intend to express their opinions to President Obama when he visits London on Tuesday.

There is little doubt that the present worldwide economic catastrophe has brought grief to millions, if not billions of people, and there is little doubt that the blame for the meltdown of the world’s economy can be laid at the doorstep of no-rules, Capitalist America.  However, the question we should be asking is whether this current situation is a one-time thing or is it sort of like a chronic disease you have that remains silent for years and then, every once in a while, goes berserk and the your body is covered by oozing sores.  It’s a good question because, if we care to glance back in time for a moment we can see that we have had similar economic catastrophes in the past  – and all have been linked to no-rules capitalism.

It wasn’t for nothing that the richest men of the 19th century, like John D. Rockefeller, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jay Gould and many others were called “Robber Barons”.  All of these people built up huge fortunes because there were no regulations that could control their activities.  The robber barons built monopolies and squeezed out their competition and then charged whatever price they liked for their goods or services.  The country utterly depended on them – they were “too big to fail”, because the loss of any of these companies would spell ruin for America.  Sound familiar?

It might be helpful to step back for a minute and consider the words “American Capitalism”. The reason they need to be considered is because there are a lot of wealthy people out there, like John McCain, who use these two words as if they are interchangeable.  If you ask John McCain, or Rush Limbaugh for that matter, I would guess they would tell you that to be an American is to be a Capitalist.  Capitalism is the American way – it’s who we are.  Actually that isn’t exactly true.

If we look at the very first English settlers who came to America, the Pilgrims in Massachusetts and the colonists in Virginia they were far from being Capitalists.  These states, and others were called “commonwealths”, i.e. the governments existed to promote the common good. In New England the early towns all had areas of land called the town common where anyone could graze their animals – the land was owned in common. Not very Capitalistic is it?  The first battle of the American Revolution was fought on such a “Common”, Lexington Common, also called Lexington Green.  So, I have to ask John McCain and his buddies: were the Pilgrims actually un-American?  Weren’t they more like Socialists, and doesn’t that sort of make them equal to Communist Pinko Russians or something?

When did “no-rules Capitalism” take on the equivalence of the word “American”?  It’s certainly not part of the philosophy of the founders of our country.  It is only in the 19th Century, with the rise of the robber barons and the lack of governmental controls that no-rules Capitalism began to appear in America.  It seems that it rose not by design but by default – no one realized at the time that rules and regulations might be required for some industries because they could easily become monopolies.  No-rules Capitalism reared its head again shortly before the Great Depression when people were able to buy huge amounts of stock on margin without having the assets to cover a loss.  This no-rules environment led directly to the stock market crash and the following Great Depression.

When Ronald Reagan became president he set about dismantling the government in the belief that “government is the problem”. As I noted in an earlier blog, he completely deregulated the airline industry with the result that today our airlines are barely surviving, our commercial airplane industry is barely hanging on, and while the wealthy enjoy the luxury of their corporate jets, the average person detests flying because of the lack of legroom, food, blankets and any other creature comforts that in the past made transcontinental travel enjoyable.

Now we are embroiled in a monumental economic disaster of such magnitude that only the printing presses of the United States Treasury can save us or the world.  Of course the bill will come due for all this money – and guess who will pay? Not the 21st century robber barrons; no, it will be the taxpayers – the common people.  The common people of the commonwealths of America have been indoctrinated to believe that no-rules Capitalism is the definition of “American” and anyone who questions this ludicrous fallacy is un-American.  The truth is that no-rules Capitalism only serves the ultra-wealthy, the people who can manage to seize control of a valuable resource and build monolithic industries that exterminate their competition.  In the end, no-rules Capitalism morphs into a giant game of Monopoly – and that is not capitalism anymore – nor is it American.  It is a tyranny, a tyranny of oligarchs, by and for oligarchs, masquerading as freedom.

The message the people of Europe will soon be shouting to President Obama is this: the restoration of power to the ruling oligarchy is a mistake. No-rules capitalism has again and again been shown to be a dangerous and unsuccessful economic system.  If there is one guiding principle that defines the true American philosophy of the founders of this country it is not total Freedom, it is Liberty.

John McCain, Rush Limbaugh, and their wealthy Republican buddies, not to mention the oligarchs, should learn the difference.

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In 1933, Fred Zwicky, an astrophysicist at Cal Tech noticed an anomaly in his star data.  The measured motion of certain galaxies did not agree with what theory predicted.  He decided that there must be some unseen matter that affects the motion of these galaxies.  His work was noted and soon forgotten. It was not until forty years later that Vera Rubin,  a young astronomer at the Carnegie Institution of Washington noticed the same effect in the motion of stars within spiral galaxies, including our own Milky Way. Her measurements indicated that there had to be much more matter in these galaxies than we had thought – we just couldn’t see it.  Today, the existence of this undetectable matter, improbable as it seems, is accepted as a fact by the scientific community. It even has a name: Dark Matter.

I mention this because it illustrates an important point.  We all have our own view of the world and how things work.  However, sometimes we encounter events that don’t fit into our explanation of the world.  We are confronted with a set of data that, no matter how we look at it, turn it sideways or upside down, we just can’t make it fit into our neat little picture of the way things are.  It is at times like these that we have to consider whether our concept of the world is wrong in some way, and, if so, what is a truer picture of the world?  Just as Zwicky and Rubin found that they could not overlook some data that didn’t make sense, we are now confronted with an analogous situation in our society. Something doesn’t make sense about our country and its economy. Something just doesn’t seem to add up about the way our banks operate and how our government interacts with these wealthy institutions.  It make me wonder if there is perhaps some dark matter here too.

We are perhaps, all of us, already too familiar with the collapse of our economy.  Remember how the government helped rescue Bear Stearns but let Lehman Brothers fail? Remember how Secretary Paulson suddenly said the sky was falling and he had to give hundreds of billions to Goldman Sachs and the other big banks – but he wanted a piece of paper signed by someone in authority that said he could never be prosecuted for any part of his role in bailing out the banks?  Didn’t that seem a little strange, like maybe his orbit was a little eccentric?  Remember how a bill was rushed through Congress and John McCain called off his campaign (temporarily) so he could go back to D.C. and do nothing? Wasn’t that a little odd? Did that fit in with our idea of how things work in our government?  Remember how the banks took the handout of $300 billion or so from Congress and then refused to say how they spent it – all the while giving out multi-million dollar bonuses to their employees, even while the banks, like Merrill Lynch were disintegrating? Does that make sense?  Remember how the GM, Ford, and Chrysler execs flew to D.C. in their corporate jets and told Congress they were broke?  And then Citibank goes out and buys a $50 million corporate jet after they received $45 billion in bailout money.  Somehow this just doesn’t add up, does it?  There has to be some dark matter here, I think.

This all started to make sense when I saw Bill Moyers show on PBS a few days ago. His guest was Simon Johnson, a professor of economics at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. Simon contends that we don’t have a democracy in this country; instead we have an oligarchy – rule by an elite group of very powerful people.  Oligarchies were a problem in ancient Greece; so were plutocracies, i.e. rule by the wealthy. The problem with an oligarchy is that they often try to be invisible; indeed, that is partly how they maintain their control. They work behind the scenes in such a way we never see them moving, we only see the tracks they left behind.

Here is one of those tracks: when Secretary Geithner was testifying before the Senate Finance Committee last week, and he was asked by Senator Sanders the following question, “In 2006 and 2007, Lloyd Blankfein, the CEO of Goldman Sachs was the highest paid executive on Wall Street, making over $125 million in total compensation. Due to its risky investments, Goldman Sachs now has over $168 billion in total outstanding debt. It’s laid off over 10 percent of its workforce.  Late last year, the financial situation at Goldman was so dire that the taxpayers of this country provided Goldman Sachs with a $10 billion bailout. Very simple question that I think the American people want to know.  Yes or no, should Mr. Blankfein be fired from his job and new leadership be brought in?

Mr. Geithner replied, “Senator, that’s a judgment his board of directors have to make….”

What???? The CEO of Goldman Sachs drives the company so solidly into the ground that the government has to provide emergency funding or Goldman Sachs will vaporize, and Secretary Geithner can’t figure out whether the CEO should be replaced????

There’s dark matter here all right, and lots of it.  Its getting hard to know where Goldman Sachs and the other big banks on Wall Street end and our government begins.  I’m not so sure there is an end or a beginning.  Maybe its just one big, smooth, money-law continuum where the laws are not absolute, money can be created from laws and laws from money, and everything is, in general, relative.

The problem is that we’ll never know until someone shines some light on the dark matter – but who is going to do that?

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