For 40 years the corporatocracy has been subtly unraveling democratic processes until today, we are dangerously close to the end of even our current sad form of democracy. The media, the courts, and monopolies are tightening their grip. This is not remotely normal, but it is all connected and threatens to snuff out any and all chance for resistance. Today, we connect some dots.
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This Is NOT Normal, None of It. But Somehow We Have Become Accustomed to Accepting the Outrageous
There is so much that is NOT normal, but that we accept as just part of the political process or as part of “how the system works” and while the orange mop does his daily theatrics, the real work is being done behind the curtain, dismantling our schools, our healthcare system, our regulation of banks and energy. And while Trump can be outrageous, his henchmen unravel our government piece by piece while the news covers his latest Tweet or absurd idea. But while Trump is an extreme example of misguided, misinformed policy development, it is important to understand that this work began more than 40 years ago. We are not suddenly in the hands of a mad man, but have slowly allowed one more erosion of whatever democratic process we have ever had, one more additional lever of power ceded to the powers that be, one more bill stacking the deck against us and enriching them. And none of it is normal, it is just that, like the oft cited frog in the cauldron with slowly increasing heat, we’ve become accustomed to one redefinition of the new normal after another. But none of this is normal. And while we may not fully realize it, the water has reached a boil.
Let’s examine the path we’ve been on and the consequences we now live with.
- Privatization. In the early sixties, Milton Friedman created the concept of privatization and called for the elimination of Social Security, the minimum wage, public housing and all national parks. He didn’t succeed, but he established privatization as a viable public policy. According to Friedman whole swathes of government activity should not be part of its purview. The private sector was better equipped to tend to the needs of our people and our nation. But let’s examine the various manifestations and logical extensions of this word, privatization.
- Trickle down. In 1981, advisors to Reagan created “supply side economics,” a long debunked theory that if you cut taxes on corporations and the rich, their benefit will trickle down. It is hard to believe that conservatives were able to convince the majority of Americans that the concept of giving rich people more money so that some small part of that might actually ‘trickle down’ to benefit the poor made sense. Aside from being insulting, it didn’t work. While the corporate and 1% largess didn’t trickle down, it did starve government of revenue needed to provide a social safety net, invest in infrastructure, and provide for the common good. As government was starved of resources, the public perception of the efficacy of government diminished.
- Small Government as logical next step to privatization. With Reagan shrinking government, the private sector launched efforts to take over vast sectors of what had been organized by government. Small government worked its way into political lexicon as a desirable goal. Small government was always characterized as encouraging efficiency, removing barriers, or eliminating ‘waste.’
- Neoliberalism grew in popularity in the 70s and 80s and brought with it a whole host of pernicious concepts including globalization, free-trade, austerity, free market, and deregulation, all policy tools explained to us as “promoting economic growth,” creating jobs,” or preserving our “way of life.” Let’s break this down a bit: globalization has concentrated power into the hands of a very small number of mega banks and businesses who can dictate terms to countries and their workers. Free trade allows these corporations to limit a country from imposing taxes or tariffs. In a free trade environment, governments were largely helpless in trying to protect its interests, its resources and the interests of its people. Deregulation, imposed throughout the world further erodes the capacity of a country or a county to establish rules to govern work conditions, use of land and water, or production of goods and services. Taken together, government has agreed to cede its power to the private sector and the free market. We are no longer allowed to determine what we need to produce or how we will produce it. This is not normal
- War on Drugs. After decades of racist fear mongering stoked by a breathless media that reported crimes while rarely examining the root causes of crime and drug use, Bill Clinton launched a war on drugs that was really a war on the poor, as it turned low-level drug offenses into felonies and when combined with such criminal justice policies as “three strikes,” “mandatory minimums” and “truth in sentencing, the latter a polite term for “no more parole,” incarcerated millions of brown and black Americans, consigning millions of families to poverty, and tearing apart those families and the communities in which they lived. Needless to say, white middle class drug use was treated much differently.
- Right to Work. Another euphemism that sounds great, but was really designed to weaken unions, eliminate collective bargaining and strip workers of any ability to organize for better wages or working conditions.
- Citizens United. The coup de grace, as with Citizen’s United, the 1% doesn’t need to use their money to influence legislators, they can just buy the elections and hand-select those legislators.
- Reform. Conservatives tag “reform” onto anything that they want to package with a bow that tells us: this is good. After all, by definition “reform” is to make better or improve. But the reforms that have been foisted on us whether tax reform, regulatory reform, election reform, or welfare reform universally have improved conditions for those in power at the expense of those not in power.
- Tax Reform, a policy initiated by President Reagan, ostensibly to ‘simplify’ the tax system. What it really did was create a far lower tax rate for the 1% while creating tax “reforms” AKA tax loopholes and windfalls for the mega businesses. Today, it is estimated that US corporations have stashed trillions of dollars overseas to avoid paying any share, let alone a fair share. This is not normal.
- Welfare Reform, created by Bill Clinton in the 80’s by adopting the “welfare mom” myth promoted by Reagan, essentially gutting the social safety net for millions of Americans, mostly brown or black which when combined with Clinton’s War on Drugs eviscerated urban America and put millions of mostly black and mostly male individuals in jail for ‘crimes’ that were overlooked if committed by middle class whites. This is not normal.
- Election Reform, Under the banner of election reform we have seen: gerrymandering that has created so many uncompetitive legislative districts that there is no voter leverage to pressure elected representatives; voter suppression to protect us against non-existent voter fraud while challenging the voting rights of low-income, mostly brown and black voters who if unchallenged would have voted against the interests of the 1%; Citizen’s United so that corporations who already have all the power on earth can now purchase elections to ensure they retain that power, all in the name of reform. This is not normal.
- Regulatory Reform efforts were justified as a means o eliminating red tape, or reducing bureaucracies, and facilitating business development without those businesses being required to comply with regulations that slowed their work. Cutting red tape sounds great until you realize that in case after case regulations had been created to protect the public and the earth against corporatists who otherwise would build unsafe cars, invest our savings foolishly, pollute our air and water, or force workers to toil in unsafe conditions. In each instance, these regulations are designed protect us against them because there is abundant evidence that without those protections we would be subject to endless exploitation.
And what do we reap in a deregulated, neoliberal, privatized world. We reap whatever corporations sow. And here we see another history of one ‘normal’ business practice after another that are anything but normal.
- In the 50s the auto industry told us the smog in LA was an anomaly caused by the unique configuration of the mountains abutted to the sea. Smog had nothing to do with auto emissions. It wasn’t until 1974 that legislation was passed to force the auto industry to install catalytic converters. Meanwhile millions choked on toxic fumes.
- In the 60s the tobacco industry told us that medical researchers were wrong about nicotene and millions died.
- In the 70s Nestle continued to market baby formula to third-world countries despite reports that the cost of formula was so high families were diluting the formula 2-3 times and slowly starving their babies. Nestle continued to market the formula as a way to become just like modern Americans, shaming them for breast feeding, and 1 million babies died every year.
- In the 70s and continuing to this day the fossil fuel industry, now aided by Fox, Trump and a slew of other politicos, continue to challenge established science and continue to “drill baby drill,” and now untold millions are climate refugees and all of humanity is in peril.
- Just yesterday, the President announced that he was considering a $1B tax break for the fossil fuel industry, so rather than imposing additional taxes like a carbon tax that would force the industry to incorporate the costs to the environment into the cost of its precious coal, it will relieve of costs. This is not normal. It is suicidal.
And there are oh so many other corporate offenses, from pharma and thalidomide, clothing and fire-retardant baby clothing, auto industry and the exploding Pinto, soft drinks and sweeteners, Roundup and GMOs. With time I could fill this page with one exploitation after another. In each instance, industry lobbyists paid for their own studies, hired their own talking head scientists and deluged the media with their reassurances.They also characterized as “liberals,” “extremists,” “leftists, or “socialists” any activists who challenged the corporatists’ willful disregard for the public good in search of increasingly obscene levels of private profit. Whoever took up a banner opposing their objectives was labelled naïve, un-American or worse.
In each instance, science-based remedies were dismissed as alarmist, job-costing, economy-sapping, liberal whining, nonsense. Except in each instance science was correct, liberals were correct for believing science, and lobbyists, their corporations and the CEOs made millions, even billions, while mankind suffered. Ironically, liberals also suffered because now the liberal ‘brand” is viewed as some kind of marginalized bubble that exists in Berkeley, Madison, and Santa Fe. Not to overplay a recurring Retake theme, but all of this is pure capitalism, and you can try to regulate it, but the power brokers have their hands on all the levers and they have sufficient money to manipulate the media and pay off our politicians so that the corporate barons can make their profits while we suffer the consequences.
With their billions of accumulated wealth, the corporate barons have created non-profit research organizations to conduct dissembling research with cooked findings about the impacts of their dirty work, paying scientists handsomely to create faux research to dissuade the public, planting these purchased parrots on one talk show after another to present “another side” to an issue that is so complex and “easily misunderstood.” Beginning in 1992, Fox News was launched and became a tool of the 1% offering up propaganda and fake news 24-7 creating a core group of Americans who have been brainwashed to believe that the American Dream is threatened by science, truth, compassion, and free speech. The Koch Brothers sponsor Nature and Nova on PBS. Think about it. That is not normal and one wonders what kind of programming influence they exert. But even if they have little to no influence on programming, for whatever millions they contribute, the Koch brothers are seen as sponsors of science and nature programming. How bad can they be? Not normal.
One last incongruent reality we have grown to accept: 99% of us do all the work while the 1% percent reap the profits of our labor and manage and pay us as they choose. Then we turn around and consume what we have just produced with 90% of what we were just paid, only to do it all over again. The ten percent dictate what work there will be, what we will produce, what we will be paid and what we must pay in order to buy back what we produced. They also use the media to feed our desire for the shiny objects that they have us produce. The entire enterprise system is not organized around what we, as a community need, but around what they as the 1% can profit from and they are fine with putting off for another day paying the environmental costs of whatever is produced. And that is somehow thought to be normal.
And so that is the capitalist cauldron in which we are slowly, incrementally stewing, an apt metaphor as the warming cauldron mirrors the warming earth with our political options evaporating just as our chances of survival evaporate. So what do the “woke” do? For many, perhaps most of you, you’d long ago connected these dots and understood the implications. We’ve tried protests, we’ve supported candidates; we’ve boycotted products; we’ve petitioned and we’ve marched. And the cauldron continues to simmer.
While devoting some time and resources to activism, most of us continue to live life the way we always have…because we can. Most have not yet encountered real, tangible, immediate impacts on our life that are the result of the capitalist system. Indeed, many of us have done handsomely from it. And climate change, racial justice, economic hardship, all are concepts that at least for now threaten others. Perhaps once “we” are the “other” that is being victimized, perhaps then we will move beyond singing songs and carrying signs. But what does that beyond look like?
Question of the Day: In the face of all of the above, what do we do? None of the above is normal, but it is the reality in which we try to function. Is there a chink in their armor? What political or social movement strategy could expose and upend the powers that be? I welcome your comments below.
Paul & Roxanne