* The War on Terror
* The Surge and Decline of Oil Prices
* The Bailout
* Election 2008
US democracy and free market capitalism are nothing more than myths. These myths were drilled into us in public school, and are constantly reinforced by the mass media. Yet events in the past year make it plain these are myths. If we would be willing to take off our blinders and look around us with our own eyes, we would see quite plainly what a cruel deception we suffer under.
Everything the public believes about this country is at best a myth that long ago diverged from reality. At worst it is a malicious hoax, perpetrated to keep the public from understanding what is really happening. The lies we live with have less real value than the credit bubble and derivatives.
We live in a democracy. The US stands for freedom. The US constitution. Trickle down economics. Free market capitalism. The war on terror. Walmart is a great place to shop.
It is tempting to say the system we live in is broken and needs fixing. But it is not broken. It is working just as intended. The writers of our constitution did not want a working democracy; that is why they gave us a republic. And that is why the public resisted accepting this bill of goods.
The resistance continued right up into the middle of the last century. Recently, while listening to some old ’78s recorded in the 1920s and 30s, I noted a strong antigovernment theme. These were recordings of old time music, fiddle tunes and string bands — the forerunners of bluegrass. Some of these tracks contained dialog, and without exception, the participants had a strong dislike for government and big business, and only a mild tolerance for organized religion. These recordings emulated the distrust of the general population.
Somehow, between the 1930s and the present day, this distrust was converted into blind patriotism. It is interesting that the 1930s marked the true rise of the mass media, with the advent of talking movies and the spread of the radio. By this time, public relations had become an important industry, exceeding the expectations of Edward L. Bernays. One of the major goals of public relations was to transform the US public from informed citizens to hungry consumers. In this it has been wildly successful.
As Neal Stephenson says in his book Snow Crash, in the majority we have become an oral culture. We obtain our information from oral sources, television and movies, recorded music and video games. If you are reading this little essay, then you are among a minority of US citizens that actively reads, and reads for more than simple pleasure.
Every so often, events betray the myths we accept as reality, demonstrating just how false they are. The past year seems to be rife with such events. Yet the mass media has excelled in promoting denial. When the media cannot maintain their willful denial any longer, then they hammer together a very quick analysis, being careful to frame it in such a way that our fundamental myths are not seriously questioned. And then it is on to a commercial break and the next entertaining bit of informational overload.
So let us take a moment to look at just a couple of the events during this past year that put the lie to our most cherished myths. But first a brief word about the War on Terror, which is itself one of the ugliest myths.
The War on Terror
The myth is that we are engaged in a war with terror. When our decision makers discuss this war, their only disagreement concerns how it is conducted. None of them question the basic rationale for a war. So it is up to those of us who see the false premises behind this war to speak up at every chance.
Terrorism cannot be solved by war. War is State terror. War only begets more terrorism. Whenever a military power takes the offensive and invades other lands, it is always pursuing a war of conquest and imperialism. That is the purpose of warfare. There are no exceptions. When one military power invades a foreign country in response to the incursion of another military power, the two powers are engaged in a contest of imperialism. Nothing more.
Waging war on terrorists only exacerbates the problem of terrorism, leading to the birth of more terrorists. In this sense, waging a war on terror is self-perpetuating. We have entered the Orwellian era of war without end. War will never solve the problem of terrorism. Elevating terrorism to a cause for war merely gives the terrorists the platform they desire.
Terrorists are criminals, not soldiers. Even our military and our President understand that, with their refusal to grant detainees prisoner of war status. Terrorists should be captured and prosecuted in courts of law.
Beyond this we need to resolve the root cause of terrorism, which is oppression. Terrorists and suicide bombers may be deluded by religious extremism, but their basic motivation is desperation. People embrace terrorism because they have been oppressed to the extremity and they see no other way to strike back.
To end terrorism, we need to end repression. We need to go into the areas where terrorists are recruited and resolve the oppression from which the local population despairs. Yet this will never happen because the system we live under thrives on the oppression of other people. So to end terrorism, we must reform our system. Or, since I do not believe we can reform a system which is functioning as intended, we must scrap this system and replace it with something more just and egalitarian.
Instead of solving terrorism, it has been used as an excuse to strengthen global imperialism — ostensibly US imperialism, but in actuality corporate imperialism. The big winners in the war on terror are the defense industries, the corporations that are privatizing the logistics of war (Halliburton), and the oil companies. The War on Terror has served as a vehicle for transferring the wealth of this country to the military-industrial complex, when this wealth could have been used to heal the root causes of terrorism and build a more just and egalitarian system for all.
So much for the myth of the War on Terror.
The Surge and Decline of Oil Prices
All year I have been saying the surge in oil prices was not the result of peak oil. It was the result of market speculation. As such, it is a phenomenon of our economic system. As the real estate bubble burst, investors pulled their money out of real estate backed securities and pumped it into commodities. As a result, the price of oil surged to record highs, along with the price of gold, rice, grain and other commodities.
In late summer, we reached a point where investors felt commodity prices could not sustain their skyrocketing values much longer. Consumption was declining and the economy was falling into a recession. At the same time, the market crash promised that once powerful market entities would soon be available for pennies on the dollar. So investors sold off commodities and banked their profits in bonds while they waited for likely victims.
For consumers, we see a market that is gyrating wildly. By midsummer, the public was having trouble making ends meet as skyrocketing gasoline and diesel prices drove everything else up. In some cases, people could not even afford to go to work.
Now gasoline prices have tumbled to half of what they were only a few months ago. Yet there has been no major change in oil production. There is a lot of talk about price gouging among the oil companies and gas stations. And no doubt some gouging has occurred. The oil majors are reporting the biggest profits ever — profit margins have climbed into the stratosphere. But the major factor that doubled oil prices over the summer and that is now causing prices to deflate is market speculation.
This is the way the market works. And as such it betrays a basic myth of the market. Economists, investors and businesspeople like to think the market will provide for everyone. It will not. The market is a mindless machination driven by greed and gluttony. By its very nature, it will enrich a few by impoverishing the multitudes. In this year, the market has mugged the public to transfer the wealth of this country into the hands of the elite. In time, the middle class will find they no longer exist as such.
The problem here is that the market is working just as intended. And if nothing is done about it, then this summer will only be a dress rehearsal for what will happen in a few years, as oil production begins an irreversible decline. Instead of investing in relocalization and mass transportation, money will go to enrich market speculators and oil executives while everyone else suffers.
The rise and fall of oil prices in the past several months have betrayed the myth of market capitalism as the most equitable economic system for all.
The bailout was a give away and a coup. The remaining wealth of the US is being given to a handful of financiers with no strings attached. Instead of using this wealth to help rebuild the economy, these financiers will use it to consolidate their position by buying out smaller banks. The United States government has become an oligarchy, governed by the rich, and the public is being burdened with insurmountable debt.
What I want to focus on here is how the bailout was enacted. But first let me pose a question I have been unable to answer so far. If the federal government will use this bailout to assume the bad debts of our banking system, will the collection of these debts become a federal responsibility? If so, this bailout could constitute an end run around the bankruptcy laws, which do not apply to federal debt. I have been unable to clarify this point in my own research, nor has anyone else been able to answer this question for me: will mortgages and credit cards become federal debts, exempt from bankruptcy?
If anyone can clarify this for me, I would appreciate it.
Anyway, on to the subject at hand. The bailout package was proposed by Treasury Secretary Paulson and was passed by Congress after being padded with a lot of pork. The bailout grants Paulson unquestionable powers to take taxpayer funds and pass them out to his rich banking cronies. It constitutes an economic coup, and an open invitation to rob the remaining — and future — wealth of this country.
The public was overwhelmingly against this bailout. The House of Representatives, which held the first vote on this package, was deluged with calls from angry voters. Fearing a backlash in the upcoming election, the Representatives buckled under the outcry and voted down the bailout by a small margin.
The package was then modified before being voted on by the Senate. The basics of the bailout were not changed much. Instead a number of pork barrel projects were tacked onto the bill to provide incentives for Representatives to change their vote. Ignoring the public outcry, the Senate passed the bill and sent it back to the House. Having made a token stand for their constituents, the House changed their vote and passed the measure.
Many view this as a failure of democracy. In actuality, our government functioned just as the framers of the constitution intended. In so doing, it pointed out the lie behind the myth of US democracy.
The framers of the constitution were worried about the voice of the people. They wanted to ensure the elite would be served above all others. And so they designed the famous checks and balances of the US constitution. The checks were largely placed upon the will of the public, while the balance favored the designs of the elite.
The House of Representatives is the branch of federal government in which the general public has the greatest voice. It is also intentionally the weakest branch of government. Representatives must be reelected every two years. Likewise, the number of Representatives allowed to each state is based upon the state’s population. Thus, when the public speaks, the House is more likely to listen.
Unfortunately, the House is weak and generally follows the lead of the Senate — as intended by the framers of the constitution. Senators are well insulated from the voting public; more so even than the President. There are only two Senators for each state, meaning that Senators answer to a larger population base, which gives each of their constituents a smaller voice. Furthermore, Senators serve six year terms, and these terms are staggered so that no more than a third of the Senate is ever up for reelection. Even if there was a popular movement in an election year to replace all incumbents, it would only change a minority of the Senate. And by the time those new faces came up for reelection, they will have been largely inculcated into the system.
This is how the framing fathers insulated our government from the populace. And since that time, our elected officials have become even more insular. Now their primary constituency is the lobbyists, foremost of which is the banking industry, weapons manufacturers, insurance and drug companies, and Aipac, the Israeli lobby.
The United States has never been a functioning democracy. Our government operates just as the framing fathers intended. The voice of the people is restrained, while the voice of the elite is amplified.
We should not be shocked by the passage of the bail out. Instead we should use it as a lesson on the myth of US democracy.
We are having a one party election this year. We have two main candidates, but on most of the major issues they have the same position. Both of them support the War on Terror. Both of them support the bailout. Both of them mouth platitudes about energy independence without seeing any need for regulating the energy market, conservation, or relocalization.
Whichever candidate is elected, our country will continue along the same course. The wealth we could use to build a sustainable, egalitarian and just society, stimulating the economy and solving the problems of terrorism, war, pollution, resource depletion, starvation and poverty, will instead be given to the elite while the rest of us are further burdened with debt.
The upcoming election will resolve none of this. Instead it will serve to perpetuate the myth of US democracy and free market capitalism, while robbing us of any chance to solve these problems and build a real democracy, and bequeathing to us an impoverished future.
That is why I refuse to vote for either of the major candidates. If I vote, I will write in Nader for President, knowing that it is only a protest vote. And that is why I encourage direct action to tear this system down and replace it with something saner.