Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Wages of Capitalism



Winston Churchill once famously said of Democracy, "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others." Oddly, he also said, "The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries."

I say "oddly," because of Naomi Klein and her new book, This Changes Everything.

In it, Klein points out the inherent contradiction that capitalism will somehow solve a problem that capitalism created and that the ultimate solution to climate change will only come when a critical mass of people around the globe realize that the problem with capitalism is, well, it's capitalism. It's an economic system that relies on the basest of human urges to fuel it, thus guaranteeing its success at destroying civilization.

I suspect that there are going to be a series of books by Klein exploring this aspect of capitalism in other areas, but let me outline some of them for you.

1) Capitalism versus religion and morality -- This should pretty much be self-explanatory, of course. Religion is about the masses, and by definition, the masses tend to be poor. In a self-styled Christian society in particular, capitalism is going to be anathema to the message of religion.

But there are aspects of this conflict that need to be addressed. Like democracy, greed warps religion. Just look at Sunday television in any backwater flyover area. Watch the megachurches that care less about the soul of the viewer or audience and more about the pocketbook of the preacher. Capitalism has realized there's money to be made in religion, money that flows to the corporatocracy.

After all, those Sunday church shows, you don't think they're on because they generate ratings for the cable company, do you? They pay for air time, and pay a lot of money. Pastors like Joel Osteen and John Hagee have to instill fear (or desperate hope in Osteen's case) in their parishioners in order to get donations to afford those fees that ratchet up with each new contract. They are infomercials for God and the reason you see so many of them on so many channels is they make a lot of money for the television provider, and no other reason.

This is also why so many churches -- and not just megachurches but your local parish, too -- have abandoned all pretext of a separation of church and state and gone straight for the gut of Barack Obama: they need fear to get donations so they can afford to stay in business.

This isn't religion: this is capitalism turning religion into professional wrestling.

There's a built in army of sheep ready to devour this on their way to the slaughterhouse, too. In one respect, Marx was right that religion is the opiate of the people. It does make things a bit easier to accept your lot in life here when you have the carrot of everlasting happiness dangling in front of you while the mass beats your mule-ass with the stick of eternal damnation.

It makes it easy to scare people when they're already terrified. Just ask FOX News.

But even if you're an atheist, capitalism is anathema to a polite society. It encourages crime. It's right there in the speech that Gordon Gecko gives in Wall Street: "Greed...is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind."

2) Capitalism versus liberty -- I found it really ironic that a roar and cry went up when it was revealed that the US government was engaged in domestic spying on potentially all its citizens.

After all, we have already been paying for the privilege of that spying for decades now, but to a capitalist construct of a private corporation. Internet cookies are the prime example. but your credit card info has been recorded, data churned and analyzed so that marketers have gotten really good at not only guessing what you'd be interested in buying, but how and where you plan on using it.

Now, you can opt out of that spying, to a limited degree: don't shop online, don't use a credit card, don't join Facebook or Twitter, don't use an EZPass or a Metrocard, but you can't erase your image from all the private security cameras set up around the nation. You can't stop facial recognition software from identifying you when you're at a register, about to hand over a few bucks to buy a CD (remember, you can't download off iTunes).

You can't prevent your emails from being sifted (Gmail is notorious for that) for data and information. You can block cookies, but you can't stop your computer from sending out information to software and hardware providers for diagnostics.

All this is data and information that someone will pay a lot of money for in order to market to you. You're not free. You've never been free. It's all an illusion.

3) Capitalism versus democracy -- let's get right to the nub of Churchill's dichotomy. Democracy is a great form of government in that it's not the absolute worst. It has some very deep flaws that are systemic, mostly centering around the fact that the majority decides things.

That's fair, of course, in a society where information is perfect and cannot be bought and sold -- and there's your hint.

The Founders tried in their quaint little 18th Century manner to prevent that from happening, building checks and balances into the Constitution that preserved the rights of the minority to live in peace when most of their fellow Americans disagreed with them.

The Founders could never have foreseen a rapacious plutocracy that has greater devotion to their bank accounts than to the nation as a whole -- remember, this is a group of plutocrats who vowed their lives and fortunes to this new nation. They assumed anyone who came after would likewise feel the same sense of patriotism, or at least deep gratitude towards the nation that allowed them to "build that."

After all, if I can move billions of dollars oversees with the tap of an Enter key for a greater return than I can get at home, why would I care if that keystroke denies people outside my gates food or education or safety? Why would I bother even fixing the problems here since they don't affect me at all? My money, safely in China where people have it even worse off, is making more money there than it can here, and I can spend some of it to inoculate myself from the troubles outside my gate.

And that inoculation doesn't end with a higher fence or more security guards. It demands that I be pro-active and start expanding my buffers from society at large, because I sense the resentment around me. So maybe I buy a school board first, in order to make sure my children and grandchildren get the kind of schooling they should. And since I pay taxes, I should have a greater say in that education (buh bye democracy!) Next, there's the city council, since they maintain my water and sewer pipes, and in exchange I pay a high property tax. I ought to get a bigger say in how those taxes are spent (usually on education, but also on services like trash pickup and social services for people less fortunate than I. You know, "takers")

It used to be "one man, one vote" -- and even that was predicated on both gender and race, as well as property ownership (one of the great flaws of the Founders was limiting democracy at all).

It has gone from "one man, one vote," to "one dollar, one vote." And that is because of capitalism and its inherent pandering to the greed of people.

There's another quote in Wall Street that I'll end with. Also by Gordon Gecko. Keep in mind this takes place in the late 80s when you read it: "The richest one percent of this country owns half our country's wealth, five trillion dollars. One third of that comes from hard work, two thirds comes from inheritance, interest on interest accumulating to widows and idiot sons and what I do, stock and real estate speculation. It's bullshit. You got ninety percent of the American public out there with little or no net worth. I create nothing. I own. We make the rules, pal. The news, war, peace, famine, upheaval, the price per paper clip. We pick that rabbit out of the hat while everybody sits out there wondering how the hell we did it. Now you're not naive enough to think we're living in a democracy, are you buddy?"

And now keep in mind that movie is at the top of the hundred best list for nearly every stockbroker over the past thirty years. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

I, Too, Have Often Tried to Fuck Trees

I ran across this item at Addicting Info today:
A community made up of American ex-pats deep in the South American hills of Chile – far away from America’s annoying taxes, healthcare mandate, and legal abortions — was supposed to be a libertarian paradise of rugged individualism. Instead it cost many of the people who bought into it almost everything, and now is buried under lawsuits — a reminder that everything that glitters is not inflation-proof, Ron Paul-backed gold. 
It seems pretty obvious that basing one’s society on a single work of (poorly written) fiction is folly, but for many adherents of Ayn Rand and her seminal book of Objectivist allegorical grandstanding, Atlas Shrugged isn’t just any book. It’s about as close to the Bible that many libertarians have — apart from the Bible, of course. It’s influenced an astounding number of conservative public figures — from Ron Paul to Rand Paul to Ronald Reagan. Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney’s Rand-loving running mate and probable 2016 presidential contender, said it was his favorite book growing up.
I don't think I have to analyze the immediate idiocy involved, do I? You didn't build that means that, well, you couldn't build it.

But let me personalize the tale of woe for you:
GGC is an environmentally protected area and it would take the political movement of heaven and earth to allow a community based on small lots to be officially approved. I had the opportunity to ask a question of the salesman who showed my husband and me “our property.” I claimed it because I fell head over heels for the most beautiful tree I’ve ever seen. I felt an instant connection as though the two of us were old souls who had found each other. I could believe it, I could see it… waking up each morning and having coffee under that tree, telling it about my plans for the day.
Never mind the splinters implied, focus on that first sentence. Galt's Gulch Chile advertised lots as small as 1.5 acres (for $48,500. Remember, this is Chile, not California) but were prevented from selling them because...government regulation. In Chile.

And did that stop the shysters at GGC? Nope. They knowingly sold 1.5 acre lots on a piece of land zoned for nothing smaller than 10 acre subdivisions.

And now, your moment of Zen:
 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Nobody Asked Me, But...

1) Imagine if ITN or The Guardian were to write an article, "Why is Alabama breeding so many racists?" and you'll understand why this is just a stupid article for NBC to publish. Bad form, chaps. Bad form.
2) So far, I've ducked this whole ice bucket challenge thing, but here's my idea: I'm going to write a check on camera to the ALS charity of my choice, then issue my challenge to three people to post check-writing videos. While ALS is a worthy cause (my dad was diagnosed with it along with about a million other conditions before he finally died of what they called "multi system atrophy," which essentially means "We don't know what the fuck he had but it was serious!") it's sucking the air out of the charitable universe and really, and for a genetic disorder that might affect as few as 30,000 Americans. I'd rather see this kind of effort made for breast cancer or gun control.
In fact, come to think of it, I'll write my check to the Brady folks.
3) The reason Ferguson has such a powerful hold over our attention span boils down to this: Ferguson is a micro-laboratory representative of what is happening nationwide, I think. Despite a significant minority population, blacks and Hispanics don't have a real say in anything that governs them. For a nation built upon "No taxation without representation," this sticks mightily in our craw.
4) On that note:


5) Damn. I picked Florida as the "Last State Standing"...
6) Now, you might think this is good news for global warming but in fact, it's terrible news. At the bottom of the Atlantic lies a layer of ice with vast quantities of methane trapped within. That warms up, the methane bubbles up and it's goodbye Greenland!
7) Reefs talk to fish? Who knew!
8) It's not just legal weed that has the West getting higher.
9) Florida, ladies and gentlemen.
10) Oh my.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Disconnect

According to a study released Monday by Feeding America, 1 in 7 households in the United States now rely on food banks.
Ridge is typical of millions of Americans who rely on food banks to survive: She is in poor health and lives on disability payments as she undergoes chemotherapy treatments for ovarian cancer. But as a nationwide study released Monday by the nonprofit group Feeding America makes clear, the number of people who rely on food pantries, soup kitchens, school lunch programs, senior citizens' Meals on Wheels deliveries, or other food initiatives to supplement their daily diet is a complex and growing mosaic that cuts across the nation's demographic lines. 
About one in seven Americans—more than 46 million people—rely on such programs to get by, according to the study, which involved confidential surveys of more than 60,000 recipients of food aid from groups affiliated with Feeding America, a network of 200 food banks that distribute donated food to programs in all 50 states. 
The ranks of the hungry include 12 million children and 7 million seniors, plus millions more among the working poor, military families, the unemployed, and young college graduates. Those in each group said their reliance on food aid stemmed from a daily struggle to put healthy and nutritious food on the table when all that many can afford is inexpensive processed food that fuels a cycle of chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and obesity.
14% of Americans. 40% of those the most vulnerable citizens in the country: the young and the elderly. And mind you, these are food banks, which people rely on to fill in the gaps in their public assistance. Here's a mind-boggling statistic: 86% of people on "food stamps" exhaust their monthly stipend within the first three weeks of the month.

Eighty. Six. Percent. So we're not talking about an abuse problem. We're talking about a starvation problem. In America. In the 21st Century.

We're talking about people dropping dead in the streets and on the roads of America. We're talking about a hidden Great Depression that the media has managed to avoid really covering because the stock market is doing so well.

We're talking about working class people, mostly employed, trying to get by and eat enough so they don't lose their jobs to health issues.

In 2008, in response to an alarming rise of 24% in people who were suffering the euphemistic "food insecurity," Congress passed emergency legislation to supplement the food assistance programs.

Last year, Republicans repealed that act of "kindness". This year, 46 million people are starving.

Conservatives suck.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Greetings from Bonaire!

Sorry for the silence lately, but these little fellows have been keeping me busy.