Richard Clark: The American Road to Fascism


Richard Moore

July 29, 2009
The American Road to Fascism — a synopsis of 
Chris Hedges’ new book, Empire of Illusion
By Richard Clark
Empire of Illusion ~ Chris Hedges
The United Nations’ International Labor Organization estimates that some 50 million workers will lose their jobs worldwide in 2009. The collapse had already seen close to 4 million lost jobs in the United States by mid-2009. The International Monetary Fund’s prediction for global economic growth in 2009 is 0.5% — the worst since the Second World War. There were 2.3 million properties in the United States that received a default notice or were repossessed in 2008. And this number is set to rise, especially as vacant commercial real estate begins to be foreclosed. About 20,000 major global banks collapsed, were sold, or were nationalized in 2008. An estimated 62,000 U.S. companies are expected to shut down in 2009.
Meanwhile, our government is being wrecked by corporations, which now receive 40% of federal discretionary spending. More than 800,000 jobs, once handled by government employees, have been outsourced to corporations, a move that has not only further empowered our shadow/corporate government but also helped destroy federal workforce unions. Management of federal prisons, the management of regulatory and scientific reviews, the processing or denial of Freedom of Information requests, interrogating prisoners, and running the world’s largest mercenary army in Iraq — all this has become corporate. And these corporations, in a perverse arrangement, make their money directly off of the American citizen.
This devil’s deal is but an expansion of the corporate welfare enjoyed by the defense industry: Halliburton in 2003 was given a no-bid and non-compete $7 billion contract to repair Iraq’s oil fields as well as the power to oversee and control all of Iraq’s oil production. This has now become $130 billion in contract awards to Halliburton. And flush with taxpayer dollars, what has Halliburton done? It has made sure that only thirty-six of its 143 subsidiary companies are incorporated in the United States and that 107 of its subsidiaries (or 75%) are incorporated in thirty different countries. This arrangement allows Halliburton to lower its tax liability on foreign income by establishing “controlled foreign corporations,” i.e. subsidiaries, that are located inside low-tax, or no-tax, countries that are thereby used as tax havens. Thus the corporations take our money, squander it, and cleverly evade taxation “” all at our expense. And our corporately infiltrated and corporately controlled government not only funds them but protects them!
By this means and many others, the financial and political disparities between our oligarchy and the working class have created a new global serfdom that is now taking hold even in the United States. Credit Suisse analysts estimate that the number of subprime foreclosures in the United States by the end of 2012 will total 1,390,000. If that estimate is correct, 13% of all residential borrowers in the United States will be forced out of their homes.
The bailout for banks and financial firms, who feel no compunction to account for taxpayer funds, essentially pulled the plug on the New Deal. The Great Society is now gasping for air, mortally wounded, coughing up blood. Power no longer resides with the citizens of the United States, who, at ratios of 100 to 1, pleaded with their representatives in Washington not to loot the national treasury to bail out reckless Wall Street investment firms that engaged in a variety of schemes of highly questionable legality.
Political and economic power increasingly lies with corporations
These corporations, not we, pick who runs for president, for Congress, for judgeships, and for most state legislatures. You cannot, in most instances, be a viable candidate without their blessing and money. These corporations, including the Commission on Presidential Debates (a private and corporately controlled organization), determine who gets to speak and what issues candidates can or cannot challenge — from universal, not-for-profit, single-payer health care to Wall Street bailouts, to NAFTA. If you do not follow the corporate script, you will certainly become as marginal and invisible as Dennis Kucinich, Ralph Nader, or Cynthia McKinney.
This is why most Democrats opposed Pennsylvania Democratic House Representative John Murtha’s call for immediate withdrawal from Iraq — something that would dry up profits for companies like Halliburton — and instead supported continued funding for the war. It is why most voted to reauthorize the Patriot Act. It is why the party opposed an amendment that was part of a bankruptcy bill that would have capped credit card interest rates at 30%. It is why corporatist politicians opposed a bill that would have reformed the notorious Mining Law of 1872 which allows mineral companies to plunder federal land for profit. It is why they did not back the single-payer health-care bill House Resolution 676, sponsored by Representatives Kucinich and John Conyers and supported by three-quarters of the American people they supposedly represent. It is why so many politicians advocate nuclear power. It is why many backed the class-action “reform” bill — the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA) — that was part of a large lobbying effort by financial firms. CAFA would effectively shut down state courts as a venue to hear most class-action lawsuits. Workers, under CAFA, would no longer have redress in many of the courts where these cases have a chance of defying powerful corporations. CAFA moves these cases into corporate-friendly federal courts dominated by Republican judges.
The ever expanding war against American workers
The assault on the American working class is nearly complete. In the past three years, nearly one in five U.S. workers was laid off. Among workers laid off from full-time work, roughly one-fourth were earning less than $40,000 annually. Today most of them make significantly less. As a result of all the layoffs over the last decade, there are whole sections of the United States that now resemble the developing world. There has been a Weimarization of the American working class. And the assault on the middle class is now under way. Anything that can be put on software — from finance to architecture to engineering — can and is being outsourced to workers in countries such as India or China, who accept pay that is a fraction of what their Western counterparts receive, and without benefits. And make no mistake, both the Republican and Democratic parties, beholden to corporations for money and power, have allowed this to happen.
Over the past few decades, we have watched the rise of a powerful web of interlocking corporate entities create a network of arrangements to diminish and often abolish outside control and oversight. In their quest for ever more extraordinary profits and executive compensation, these corporations have neutralized national, state, and judicial authority. The corporate state, begun under Ronald Reagan and pushed forward by every president since, has destroyed the public and private institutions that protected workers and safeguarded citizens. Only 8% of workers in the private sector are now unionized. This is about the same percentage as in the early 1900s. The result? There are now 50 million Americans in real poverty and tens of millions of Americans in a category called “near poverty.”
Washington has become our Versailles
We are ruled, entertained, and informed by the new courtiers. Congressional Democrats, like the Republicans, are mostly courtiers. Our pundits and experts, at least those with prominent public platforms, are courtiers. We are captivated by the hollow stagecraft of political theater as we are ruthlessly and systematically stripped of power. It is smoke and mirrors, tricks and con games, and the purpose behind it is deception.
Television journalism is largely a farce. Celebrity reporters, masquerading as journalists, make millions a year and do little more than provide a platform for the powerful and the famous so they can spin, equivocate, and lie. Sitting in a studio, putting on makeup, and chatting with Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, or Lawrence Summers has little to do with real journalism. If you are a journalist, you should start to worry if you make $5 million a year. No real journalist has a comfortable, cozy relationship with the powerful. No real journalist believes that serving the powerful is a primary part of his or her calling. Those in power fear and dislike real journalists — and they should. Ask Amy Goodman, Seymour Hersh, Walter Pincus, Robert Scheer, or David Cay Johnston.
The comedian Jon Stewart, who hosts his popular “Daily Show’ on Comedy Central, has become one of the most visible and influential media figures in America. In an interview with Jim Cramer, who hosts a show called Mad Money on CNBC, Stewart asked his guest why, during all the years he advised viewers about investments, he never questioned the mendacious claims from CEOs and banks that unleashed the financial meltdown — or warned viewers about the shady tactics of short-term selling and massive debt leveraging used to make fortunes for CEOs out of the retirement and savings accounts of ordinary Americans.
Cramer, like most television and many print reporters, provides an uncritical forum to the powerful. At the same time they provide the forum, they pretend they have vetted and investigated the claims made by those in power. They play the role on television of journalists. It is a corrupt kind of quid pro quo: The media get access to the elite as long as the media courtiers faithfully report what the elite wants reported. Without that quid pro quo, reporters are cast into the wilderness and denied access.
The behavior of a Jim Cramer, as Glenn Greenwald pointed out in an article on, mirrors that of the “courtiers” who covered the lead-up to the war in Iraq. Day after day, news organizations as diverse as the New York Times, CNN, and the three major television networks amplified lies fed to them by the elite as if they were facts. While they pretended to serve the public, they actually served the power elite, just as Cramer and most of those on television do today.
In Bill Moyers’ 2007 PBS documentary Buying the War, Moyers asked Meet the Press host Tim Russert why he had passed on these lies without vetting them. Even more damaging, Moyers contrasted Russert’s work with that of Bob Simon of CBS, who had made a few phone calls and had quickly learned that the administration’s pro-war leaks, so crucial in fanning public and political support for going to war, were bogus. Moyers focused on a story, given to the New York Times by Vice President Dick Cheney’s office, that appeared on the front page of the paper the Sunday morning the vice president was also a guest on Meet the Press, where Cheney had the audacity to cite the Times article to substantiate what he was telling Tim Russert!
Walter Pincus of the Washington Post suggested that Russert’s journalistic failure, in allowing these lies to pass, unvetted, indicated a larger failure of many media figures: “More and more, in the media, become, I think, common carriers of administration statements, rather than critics of the administration. We’ve sort of given up being independent and on our own.”
Russert, like Cramer, when exposed as complicit in the dissemination of misinformation, attempted to portray himself as an innocent victim, as did New York Times reporter Judy Miller, who, along with her colleague Michael Gordon, worked largely as stenographers for the Bush White House during the propaganda campaign to invade Iraq. Once the administration claims justifying the war had been exposed as falsehoods, Miller quipped that she was “only as good as my sources.” This logic upends the traditional role of reporting, which should always begin with the assumption that those in power have an agenda and are rarely bound to the truth. All governments lie, as I. F. Stone pointed out, and it is the job of any real journalist to do the hard, tedious work necessary to expose these lies. On the other hand, it is the relatively easy and well paid job of courtiers to feed off the scraps and BS tossed to them by the powerful so that they can best serve the interests of the power elite that pays them so well.
Cramer, formerly of Goldman Sachs, continues to serve his elite masters by lashing out at government attempts to make the financial system accountable. He has repeatedly characterized President Obama and Democrats in Congress as Russian communists intent on “rampant wealth destruction.” He has referred to Obama as a “Bolshevik” who is “taking cues from Lenin.” He has also used terms such as “Marx,” “comrades,” “Soviet,” “WinterPalace,” and “Politburo” in reference to Democrats, and has asked whether House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is the “general secretary of the Communist Party.” On the March 3, 2009, edition of NBC’s Today, Cramer attacked Obama’s purported “radical agenda” and claimed that “this is the most, greatest wealth destruction I’ve seen by a president.” Statements like these from courtiers like Cramer will grow in intensity as our economic morass deepens and the government is forced to be increasingly interventionist, perhaps including the nationalization of many banks.
It is not just one or two reporters or television hosts who are corrupt. The media institutions themselves are corrupt. In the weeks before the occupation of Iraq, media workers were too busy posturing as red-blooded American patriots to report. They rarely challenged the steady assault by the Bush White House against our civil liberties and the trashing of our Constitution. The role of courtiers, after all, is to parrot official propaganda. Courtiers do not defy the elite or question the structure of the (corporate) state. The corporations, in return, use the power of television to make them into multimillionaire celebrities and allow them into their inner circle. Historically, no class of courtiers, from the eunuchs behind the Manchus in the nineteenth century to the Baghdad caliphs of the Abbasid caliphate, has ever transformed itself into a responsible and socially productive class. Mainly they are, and always have been, merely flaks, PR agents, propagandists and apologists for the rich and powerful. Very well paid and famous, yes “” but essentially corrupt.
In modern America, the rise of courtiers extends beyond the press
Elected officials govern under the pretense that they serve the public, while with a few exceptions they actually work on behalf of corporations. Example: In 2008, a Congress with a majority of Democrats passed the FISA bill, which provides immunity for the telecommunications companies that cooperated with the National Security Agency’s illegal surveillance over the previous six years. Such a bill endangers the work of journalists, human rights workers, crusading lawyers, and whistle-blowers who attempt to expose abuses the government seeks to hide. This bill means we will never know the extent of the Bush White House’s violation of our civil liberties. Worst of all, since the bill gives the U.S. government a license to eavesdrop on our phone calls and e-mails, it effectively demolishes our right to privacy. Even worse, these private communications can be stored indefinitely and sent to any government agency. In short, the bill will make it possible for those in power to identify and silence anyone who dares to make information public that defies official propaganda or exposes fraud or abuse of power. But the telecommunications corporations, which spent some $15 million in lobbying fees, wanted the bill passed, so their courtiers in Congress passed it.
Being a courtier requires agility and eloquence. The most talented of them should at least be credited as great actors. They entertain us. They make us feel good. They persuade us and pretend to be our friends. They are the smiley faces of a corporate state that has hijacked our government. When the corporations make their iron demands, these courtiers drop to their knees. They placate the telecommunications companies that want to be protected from well deserved lawsuits. They permit oil and gas companies to rake in obscene profits and keep in place the vast subsidies of corporate welfare doled out by the state which they increasingly control. They allow our profit-driven health-care system to leave the uninsured and underinsured to suffer and die without proper care. What the elite wants, it gets, thanks to the well compensated service of their loyal courtiers.
Stupidly we trust courtiers wearing face powder who deceive us in the name of journalism. We trust courtiers in our political parties who promise to fight for our interests even as they pass bill after bill to further corporate fraud and abuse. Quite mistakenly we assume that our courtiers are providing us with real information, facts, and knowledge. This is the danger of a culture awash in lies and pseudo-events: Truth becomes ever more elusive, ever less certain. And so it was that the Democratic Party was able to refuse to impeach Bush and Cheney. This collective hiding from the truth also allows our government to spy on us without warrants or cause, and funnel billions of our taxpayer dollars to the very investment firms that committed fraud against us. Meanwhile, quite incredibly, these well paid courtiers baldly tell us that our government and corporations treasure democracy and stand up for the protection of our civil rights. Their unending lies have become a form of collective abuse. And, as so often happens in the weird pathology of victim and victimizer, we keep coming back for more.
America’s transformation from a manufacturing economy to an economy of consumption
Our political and economic decline took place by way of a corporate drive for massive deregulation, the repeal of antitrust laws, and the country’s radical transformation from a manufacturing economy to an economy of consumption. Franklin Delano Roosevelt recognized the danger this posed. He sent a message to Congress as long ago as April 29,1938, titled “Recommendations to the Congress to Curb Monopolies and the Concentration of Economic Power.” In it he wrote:
Democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of (corporate) power to a point where it becomes stronger than the democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is Fascism — ownership of Government by a group or any controlling private power. Neither is Democracy safe if its business system cannot provide employment, and produce and distribute goods in such a way, as to sustain an acceptable standard of living.
The corporate state, the security state, and the imminent birth of fascism in America
As the pressure mounts, as this despair and impoverishment reach into larger and larger segments of the populace, the mechanisms of corporate and government control are being bolstered to deal with the coming civil unrest and instability. The emergence of the corporate state always means the emergence of the security state. This is why the Bush White House pushed through the Patriot Act (as well as its renewal), the suspension of habeas corpus, the practice of “extraordinary rendition,” the practice of warrantless wiretapping on American citizens, and the refusal to ensure free and fair elections with verifiable ballot-counting. It is all part of a package. It comes together. The real motive behind these measures is not to fight terrorism or to bolster national security. It is to be able, when and if the time is right, to seize and maintain a fascist-like control of our government and society.
Hints of our brave new world seeped out when the director of national intelligence, retired admiral Dennis Blair, testified in February and March 2009 before the Senate Intelligence Committee. He warned that the deepening economic crisis posed perhaps our gravest threat to stability and national security. It could trigger, he said, a return to the “violent extremism” of the 1920s and ’30s. “The primary near-term security concern of the United States is the global economic crisis and its geopolitical implications,” Blair told the Senate:
The crisis has been ongoing for over a year, and economists are divided over whether and when we could hit bottom. Some even fear that the recession could further deepen and reach the level of the Great Depression. Of course all of us recall the dramatic political consequences wrought by the economic turmoil of the 1920s and 1930s in Europe, the instability, and high levels of violent extremism.
The road ahead is grim
We have few tools left to dig our way out. The manufacturing sector in the United States has been dismantled by globalization. Consumers, thanks to credit card companies and easy lines of credit, are $14 trillion in debt. The government has spent, lent, or guaranteed $12.8 trillion toward the crisis, most of it borrowed or printed in the form of new money. It is borrowing heavily to fund our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. And yet no one states the obvious: We will never be able to pay these loans back.
We are supposed to spend our way out of the crisis and maintain our part of the grand imperial project . . on credit! We are supposed to bring back the illusion of wealth created by the bubble economy. Yet there is no coherent and realistic plan, one built around our severe limitations, to stanch the bleeding or ameliorate the mounting deprivations we will suffer as citizens. Contrast this with the national security state’s very carefully laid out preparations to crush potential civil unrest, and you get a glimpse of the future.
According to new laws that supersede not just old laws but the Constitution itself, the military can now be ordered by the president into any neighborhood, any town or suburb, to capture a citizen and hold him or her in prison without charge. The executive branch can do this under the Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed by Congress after 9/11, that gives the president the power to “use all necessary and appropriate force” against anyone (allegedly) involved in planning, aiding, or carrying out terror attacks. And if the president can declare American citizens living inside the United States to be enemy combatants and order them stripped of constitutional rights, which he effectively can, under this authorization, what does this mean for us? How long can we be held without charge, without lawyers, and without access to the outside world? It remains to be seen.
The specter of the coming social unrest was raised at the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S.ArmyWarCollege in November 2008, in a monograph by Nathan Freier titled Known Unknowns: Unconventional “Strategic Shocks” in Defense Strategy Development. The military must be prepared, Freier warned, for a “violent, strategic dislocation inside the United States” that could be provoked by “unforeseen economic collapse,” “purposeful domestic resistance,” “pervasive public health emergencies,” or “loss of functioning political and legal order.” The resulting “widespread civil violence,” the document said, “would force the defense establishment to reorient priorities in extremis, so as to defend basic domestic order and human security.””
“Under the most extreme circumstances, this might include use of military force against hostile groups inside the United States. Further, the Department of Defense would be, by necessity, an essential enabling hub for the continuity of political authority in a multistate or nationwide civil conflict or disturbance,” the document read.
In plain English, this translates into the imposition of martial law and a de facto government run and administered by the Department of Defense. They are actually considering this. And so should we.
“When growth rates go down, my gut tells me that there are going to be problems coming out of that, and we’re looking for that,” Freier continued. He then referred to “statistical modeling” showing that “economic crises increase the risk of regime-threatening instability if they persist over a one- to two-year period.”
Director of National Intelligence Blair articulates the newest narrative of fear
As the economic unraveling gets much worse, we will be told it is not the bearded Islamic extremists who threaten us most, although those in power will drag them out of the Halloween closet whenever they need to give us an exotic shock. Instead, the power elite will finally tell us it is the domestic riffraff, environmentalists, anarchists, unions, right-wing militias, and enraged members of our dispossessed working class who are now the enemy. Crime, as it always does in times of poverty and turmoil, will grow. And those who oppose the iron fist of the state security apparatus will be lumped together with the criminals in slick, corporate news reports (loyally delivered by the new courtiers) about the growing criminal underclass.
The destruction that the corporate state has wrought has been masked by lies
The consumer price index (CPI), used by the government to measure inflation, is meaningless. To keep the official inflation figures low, the government has been substituting basic products they once tracked to check for inflation with ones that do not rise very much in price. This trick has kept the cost-of-living increases tied to the CPI artificially low. The disconnect between what we are told and what is actually true is worthy of the deceit practiced in the old East Germany. The New York Times’ consumer reporter, W. P. Dunleavy, wrote that her groceries now cost $587 a month, up from $400 one year earlier. This is a 40% increase. California economist John Williams, who runs an organization called Shadow Statistics (, contends that if Washington still used the CPI measurements applied back in the 1970s, inflation would be about 10%.
The advantage of false statistics to the corporations is huge. An artificial inflation rate, one far lower than the real rate, keeps down equitable interest payments on bank accounts and certificates of deposit. It masks the deterioration of the American economy. The fabricated statistics allow corporations and the corporate state to walk away from obligations tied to real adjustments for inflation. These statistics mean that less is paid out in Social Security and pensions. These statistics also reduce the interest that has to be paid on our multitrillion-dollar national debt. Finally, corporations can escape having to pay real cost-of-living increases to their employees.
The lies employed to camouflage our economic decline have been in place for several decades. President Reagan included 1.5 million U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine service personnel with the civilian work force to magically reduce the nation’s unemployment rate by 2%. President Clinton decided that those who had given up looking for work, or those who wanted full-time jobs but could find only part-time employment, were no longer to be counted as unemployed. His trick “disappeared’ some 5 million unemployed from the official unemployment rolls. If you work more than twenty-one hours a week — most low-wage workers at places like Walmart average twenty-eight hours a week — you are counted as employed even though your real wages put you below the poverty line. Our actual unemployment rate, when you include those who have stopped looking for work and those who can find only very poorly paid part-time jobs, is not 8.5% but 15%. A sixth of the country was effectively unemployed in May of 2009. And we were shedding jobs at a faster rate than in the months after the 1929 crash.
Our elected officials base their decisions not on the public good but on the possibility of campaign contributions and lucrative employment on leaving office. Our corporate elite tell us government is part of the problem and the markets should regulate themselves — and then that same elite plunders the U.S. Treasury when they trash the economy. We insist we are a market economy, one based on the principles of capitalism and free trade, and yet the single largest sectors of international trade are the armaments and weapons systems of empire. There is a vast and growing disconnect between what we say we believe and what we do. We are blinded, enchanted, and finally enslaved by illusion.
Financial collapses have always led to political extremism
It was the economic meltdown of Yugoslavia that gave us Slobodan Milosevic. It was the collapse of the WeimarRepublic that vomited up Adolf Hitler. And it was the breakdown in czarist Russia that opened the door for Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks. The rage bubbling up from our impoverished and disenfranchised working class presages a looming and dangerous right-wing backlash. (See Hedges’ book, American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America)
In former manufacturing towns, the end of the world is no longer an abstraction. Most who live there have lost hope. Fear and instability have plunged the working classes into profound personal and economic despair, and, not surprisingly, into the arms of the demagogues and charlatans of the radical Christian Right who offer a belief in magic, miracles, and the fantasy of a utopian Christian nation. And unless we rapidly re-enfranchise our dispossessed workers into the economy, unless we give them hope, our democracy is doomed.
As the public begins to grasp the depth of the betrayal and abuse by our ruling class; as the Democratic and Republican parties expose themselves as craven tools of our corporate state; as savings accounts, college funds, and retirement plans become worthless; as unemployment skyrockets and home values go up in smoke, we must prepare for the political resurgence of reinvigorated right-wing radicals including those within the Christian Right. The engine of the Christian Right — as is true for all radical movements — is personal and economic despair. And despair, in an age of increasing shortages, poverty and hopelessness, will be one of our few surplus commodities.
Our collapse is more than an economic and political collapse
It is, at its core, a crisis of faith. The capitalist ideology of unlimited growth has failed us. It did not take into account the massive depletion of the world’s resources, from fossil fuels to clean water to fish stocks to soil erosion, as well as overpopulation, global warming, and climate change. It failed to understand that the huge, unregulated international flows of capital and its assault on American manufacturing would wreck the global financial system. An overvalued dollar (which could soon deflate); wild tech, stock, housing and financial bubbles; unchecked greed; the decimation of our manufacturing sector; the empowerment of an oligarchic class; the corruption of our political elite; the impoverishment of workers; a bloated military and defense budget; and unrestrained credit binges are essentially consequences of a failed ideology, and together combine to bring us down. Soon the financial crisis may very well become a currency crisis. And when it does, this second shock will threaten our country’s financial viability. We let the market rule. Now we are paying for it.
In his book The Great Transformation, written in 1944, Karl Polanyi laid out the devastating consequences — the depressions, wars, and totalitarianism — that grow out of a so-called self-regulated free market. He grasped that “fascism, like socialism, was rooted in a market society that refused to function.” He warned that a financial system always devolved, absent heavy government control, into a Mafia capitalism — and a Mafia political system — which is a good description of our current power elite.
Polanyi, who fled fascist Europe in 1933 and eventually taught at Columbia University, wrote that a self-regulating market turned human beings and the natural environment into commodities, a situation that ensures the destruction of both society and the natural environment. He decried the free market’s assumption that nature and human beings are objects whose worth is determined by the market. He reminded us that a society that no longer recognizes that nature and human life have a sacred dimension, an intrinsic worth beyond monetary value, ultimately commits collective suicide. Such societies cannibalize themselves until they die. Speculative excesses and growing inequality, he wrote, always destroy the foundation for a continued prosperity.
We face an environmental meltdown as well as an economic meltdown
Russia’s northern coastline has begun producing huge quantities of toxic methane gas. Scientists with the International Siberian Shelf Study describe what they saw along the coastline recently as “methane chimneys” reaching from the sea floor to the ocean’s surface. Methane, locked in the permafrost of Arctic landmasses, is being released at an alarming rate as average Arctic temperatures rise. Methane is a greenhouse gas twenty-five times more powerful than carbon dioxide. The release of millions of tons of it will rapidly increase the rate of global warming.
Those who run our corporate state have fought environmental regulation as tenaciously as they have fought financial regulation. They are responsible, as Polanyi predicted, for our personal impoverishment as well as the impoverishment of our ecosystem. We remain addicted (courtesy of the oil, gas, and automobile industries and a corporate-controlled government) to fossil fuels. Species are vanishing. And as temperatures continue to rise, huge parts of the globe will become uninhabitable. The continued release of large quantities of methane, some scientists have warned, could asphyxiate the human species.
1. NASA climate scientist James Hansen has demonstrated that any concentration of carbon dioxide greater than 350 parts per million in the atmosphere is not compatible with maintenance of the biosphere on the “planet on which civilization developed and to which life on earth is adapted.” (The Earth’s atmosphere now has an average concentration of 385 ppm.) To halt this self-immolation, Hansen has determined, the world must stop burning coal by 2030 — and the industrialized world must do it well before that — if we are to have any hope of ever getting the planet back down below that 350 number. But in the United States coal supplies half of our electricity! And China opens up a new coal-fired power plant every day
Democracy and capitalism are antagonistic entities
Democracy, like individualism, is based not on personal gain but on self-sacrifice. A functioning democracy must often defy the economic interests of elites on behalf of citizens. But this is no longer happening in America. The corporate managers and government officials trying to fix the economic meltdown are pouring money and resources into the financial sector because they are trained only to manage and sustain the established system, not change it, and the system has by this time evolved into a proto-fascist corpocracy.
For the reasons already cited, 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. Our (now corporate controlled) government — the only institution citizens have that is big enough and powerful enough to protect their rights “” is in that respect becoming weaker, more anemic, and increasingly unable to help the mass of Americans who are about to embark on a period of deprivation and suffering unseen in this country since the 1930s. Creative destruction, Joseph Schumpeter understood, is the essential fact about unfettered capitalism. But is our “democracy” any longer strong enough, real enough, and wise enough to ameliorate this destruction in such a way as to prevent incredible amounts of suffering in the lives of ordinary Americans?
“You are going to see the biggest waste, fraud, and abuse in American history,” Ralph Nader recently said about the bailouts. “Not only is it wrongly directed, not only does it benefit the perpetrators instead of the people who were victimized, but they don’t have a delivery system of any honesty and efficiency. The Justice Department is overwhelmed. It doesn’t have a tenth of the prosecutors, investigators, auditors, and attorneys needed even to deal with the previous corporate crime wave before the bailout started last September. It is especially unable to deal with the rapacious ravaging of this new money by these corporate recipients. Rather than lending it to businesses in need, the big banks have parked billions of the dollars loaned to them at the Fed, to collect interest on the money. They have also used some of it for acquisitions or to preserve their bonuses and their dividends. As long as they know they are not going to jail, and they don’t see many newspaper reports about their colleagues going to jail, they don’t care. If they quit, they quit with a golden parachute.”
There are a handful of former executives who have conceded that the bailouts are a waste. The former chairman of American International Group Inc. (AIG), Maurice R. Greenberg, told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that the effort to prop up the firm with $170 billion has “failed.” He said the company should be restructured. AIG, he said, would have been better off filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection instead of seeking government help.
Will a second stimulus package save us?
The terrible truth is that we will not be able to raise another $3 or $4 trillion (especially with our commitments now totaling more than $12 trillion) to fix this mess. It was not long ago that such profligate government spending was unthinkable. There was an $800 billion limit placed on the Federal Reserve. The economic stimulus and the bailouts will not bring back our casino capitalism. And as the meltdown shows no signs of abating, and the bailouts show no sign of working, both the recklessness and the desperation of our capitalist overlords have increased. Meanwhile the costs to the working and middle class is becoming unsustainable. The Fed reported that households lost $5.1 trillion, or 9%, of their wealth in the last three months of 2008, the most ever in a single quarter in the fifty-seven-year history of record-keeping by the central bank. For the full year, household wealth dropped $11.1 trillion, or about 18%. These figures did not record the decline of investments in the stock market, which has probably erased trillions more in the country’s collective net worth.
The bullet to our head, inevitable if we do not radically alter course, will be sudden
We have been borrowing at the rate of more than $2 billion a day over the last ten years, and at some point it has to stop. The moment China, the oil-rich states, and other international investors stop buying U.S. Treasury Bonds, the dollar will become junk. Inflation will rocket upward. We will become WeimarGermany. A furious and sustained backlash by a betrayed and angry populace, one unprepared intellectually and psychologically for collapse, will sweep aside the Democrats and most of the Republicans. A cabal of proto-fascist misfits, from Christian demagogues to simpletons like Sarah Palin to loudmouth talk-show hosts, whom we naively dismiss as buffoons, will find a following with promises of revenge and moral renewal. The elites, the ones with their HarvardBusinessSchool degrees and expensive vocabularies, will retreat into their sheltered enclaves of privilege and comfort. We will be left bereft, abandoned outside the gates, and at the mercy of the security state.
Lenin said that the best way to destroy the capitalist system was to debauch its currency. As our financial crisis unravels, and our currency becomes worthless, there will be a loss of confidence in the traditional mechanisms that regulate society. When money becomes worthless, so does government. All traditional standards and beliefs are shattered in a severe economic crisis. The moral order is turned upside down. The honest and industrious are wiped out while the gangsters, profiteers, and speculators walk away with millions.
There are powerful corporate entities, fearful of losing their influence and wealth, arrayed against us. They are waiting for the moment to strike, which will be a national crisis that will allow them, in the name of national security and moral renewal, to take complete control. The tools are in place. These antidemocratic forces, which will seek to make an alliance with the radical Christian Right and other extremists, will use fear, chaos, the hatred for the ruling elites, and the specter of left-wing dissent and terrorism to impose draconian controls to extinguish what remains of our democracy. And while they do it, they will be waving the American flag, chanting patriotic slogans, promising law and order, and clutching the Christian cross. By then, exhausted and broken, we may have lost the power to resist.
Mass culture is a Peter Pan culture
It tells us that if we close our eyes, if we visualize what we want, if we have faith in ourselves, if we tell God that we believe in miracles, if we tap into our inner strength, if we grasp that we are truly exceptional, if we focus on happiness, our lives will be harmonious and complete. This cultural retreat into illusion, whether peddled by “get happy” psychologists, Hollywood, or Christian preachers, is a form of magical thinking. It turns worthless mortgages and debt into wealth. It turns the destruction of our manufacturing base into an opportunity for growth. It turns alienation and anxiety into a cheerful conformity. It turns a nation that wages illegal wars and administers off-shore penal colonies, where it openly practices torture, into the greatest democracy on earth.
The world that awaits us will be painful and difficult. We will either be dragged back to realism, to the understanding that we cannot mold and shape reality according to human desires, or we will slide into despotism. We will either learn to adjust our lifestyles radically, to cope with diminished resources, environmental damage, and a contracting economy, as well as our decline as a military power, or we will die clinging to our illusions. These are the stark choices before us.
Author’s Website
Author’s Bio: Several years after receiving my M.A. in social science (interdisciplinary studies) I was an instructor at S.F. State University for a year, but then went back to designing automated machinery, and then tech writing, in Silicon Valley. I’ve always been more interested in political economics and what’s going on behind the scenes in politics, than in mechanical engineering, and because of that I’ve rarely worked more than 6 months a year, devoting much of the rest of the year to reading and writing about that which interests me most.