Saturday, May 9, 2015
Stumbling Towards Collapse
Back in 2011, I stumbled upon a chilling dystopian novel called What Came After written by JonClinch but working under the pen name of Sam Winston. Set fifty years in the future the United States of America has fallen and become a impoverished wasteland, but not because of some nuclear war, ravaging zombie hordes or evil alien invaders. No, what happened was that the American Republic was downsized and privatized to death by various corporate elites and the politicians they owned. A better way to describe this is situation is that Grover Norquist's dream came true in that the federal government was reduced in size to the point the Elites drowned it in the proverbial bathtub. While America's demise in the novel lacked the theatrical glamor normally associated with such stories the result was even more apocalyptic in that it had the uncomfortable feel of being based in a reality.
Don't get me wrong, for Ayn Rand, Norquist, and libertarian types What Came After, and its sequel Into The Silent World, is a joyous romp into the future where the “producers” or “job creators” have triumphed over their parasitic oppressors, everyone else. This is not meant to be a book review, I have already done that for both novels, but in short what remains of the American population since the “The Great Dying” lives under what I have come to call a cooperative corporate feudalism. The main players running the show are a monolithic banking corporation, another corporation that covers agriculture and food production, a pharmaceutical corporation, one for transportation, and then there is Black Rose, the ultimate in military contractors charged with the defense of the status quo.
For those who don't belong to the elite one-percent, or what is called the Ownership class in the books, you are either a second-tier caste called management or generics who closely resemble medieval European serfs. The managements types have it a little better than the generics but for everyone except the Ownership class life is brutal and most often extremely short.
The main question that shook me to my core was how in the hell could the United States could go out with such a pathetic whimper. Mr. Clinch gives a general synopsis but naturally does not give a detailed back story. That is where the documentary Park Avenue: Money, Power and the American Dream fills in the missing pieces so well that it could almost be a historical piece made especially for those characters cursed to find themselves living in the universe of Mr. Clinch's books.
The documentary centers itself on the fact that the Upper East side of Manhattan section of Park Avenue is the home to some of the richest people on the planet who have enjoyed an unprecedented amount of prosperity for the last thirty years. In fact these privileged residents are part of the an amazingly tiny group of four-hundred Americans that own more wealth than one-hundred fifty million other people in this country.
At the risk of being called a “class warrior” a concentration of that much wealth in the hands of so few runs totally counter to the basic democratic principles of the United States of America. These mega-wealthy are not content to just enjoy their dozens of mansions spread across planet nor to laze away the days sailing the oceans in yachts so big that they rival cruise ships. No they are rigging the American political system to secure even more wealth and power for themselves and their select group. The question was once raised in a movie, Wall Street I believe starring Charlie Sheen and Michael Douglas, was just how many homes could the rich own and yachts they could water ski behind before being satisfied. It turns out the question was rhetorical, no the uber-wealthy have long since turned their sights on controlling the United States.
For example, during the 2012 presidential race billionaire Foster Friess single-handedly kept former senator Pete Santorum's campaign afloat. Santorum, a religious and socially conservative extremist nutcase, by himself had absolutely no chance to win the Republican nomination in 2012 but a single financial donor provided enough funds to make him a serious contender. More disturbingly Santorum's very presence in the race helped pushed the republican party even further to the extreme right. I admit, none of his fellow contenders during that campaign were paragons of reason and logic but Santorum's continued presence among the field only reinforced the mutually assured craziness of the all. Even worse, his beliefs fed the worst fears of a portion of the American population whose grasp on reality is far from secure.
Another billionaire, this one named Sheldon Adelson, kept the overwhelmingly narcissistic and equally extreme Newt Gringrich in the 2012 presidential campaign far longer than sanity would have allowed. Any rational person should be gravely concerned when a small group, or even one individual, has the financial ability to make their favorite pet a serious contender for the highest office in the United States. Say a Santorum or Gingrich did become president, just who would they owe their allegiance to, the American people or their financial master? What I found darkly humorous was that both Santorum and Gingrich claim to be defenders of old fashioned morals and religious values. Okay, but Santorum's values are that of a radical religious theocracy while Gingrich has abandoned several wives at the drop of a hat.
Then there was Mitt Romney, to paraphrase what the late Ann Richards said about Bush Senior, this bastard was born on third base and even now still believes he hit a triple in life. Desperate to justify his existence, over the years Mittens has ran for several elected offices and with the exception of one term as governor of Massachusetts, lost everyone. No, what makes Mitt special is his belief that forty-seven percent of Americans are lazy bums looking for nothing but welfare from the government.
The thing that ties Pete “Frothy” Santorum, the ever faithful husband Gingrich, and the poor little rich boy Mitt is their belief that the rich deserve some sort of special status in America, a type of economic aristocracy that sets them apart from the teeming, unwashed masses.
In fact back in 2014 venture capitalist Tony Perkins is quoted as saying only taxpayers should vote, he continued on to remark that if you pay a million dollars in taxes you should get a million votes. This screams of aristocracy and makes me start looking up the history of the French Revolution and how to build a guillotine.
As much as the Taliban-like Christian bible thumpers might not want to believe these rich backers of irrational and extremist candidates have absolutely no interest in morals or old time family values. Santorum, Gringrich, Romney, and the new crop of clowns for the upcoming 2016 race, should any of them get elected, are just puppets that will allow the rich even greater control of government policies and practices.
The problem with the rich and powerful having an inordinate amount of influence over the government can be boiled down to the old saying that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Sure, some of the rich in America are very honorable, from my feeble observations it tends to be those who have actually built something, as opposed to the crowd like Mittens Romney that were born into wealth. But the general idea we started taking seriously in the late ninetieth century and continued to develop up to thirty years ago was that “all men are created equal.” Masculine pronoun not withstanding that had come to mean to many everyone irregardless of their gender, ethnic background, sexual orientation, religion, or more importantly wealth. You simple cannot parade around to the rest of the world cloaked in the finery of democracy and be taken seriously by the oppressed mass when in truth there is an aristocracy controlling the levers of government.
The rich and their sycophant followers have crafted a largely false message that if you work very hard anyone can get ahead in this country. At one time it was largely true, but economic conditions had deteriorated to the point that studies show the social class a child is born in will more than likely be the one he of she stays their entire lives. Back when there were jobs that paid decent wages a family could buy a house, enjoy life, and put their kids through college. While I am not opposed to globalization, or even capitalism for that matter, the United States has been in a race downward since the early 1980's in an effort to satisfy ever whim and whine of the business class. In an effort to entice these delicate orchids to create more jobs state governments have essentially written them blank checks absolving them of all responsibility to help pay for the required infrastructure so their business could operate in the first place. Because of that our schools, roads, bridges, hospitals, airports are crumbling. Throw in “right to work” laws that gut, if not make illegal, any worker effort to organize so they could meet their employers on an even playing field and you have the conditions that have utterly devastated social mobility in the United States.
Running and maintaining a healthy country is a difficult job in the best of times, There are always competing forces that if not monitored could cripple or even destroy the strongest nation. The people of the United States have never been the sharpest knives on the world stage, the combination of a largely untouched wilderness teeming with resources and simple dumb luck allowed us to become the world players we are today.
That day is over, if we as a nation even want to hope to stay a viable player and stay true to our values we will be forced to turn our energy inward to some degree and rebuild what through apathy and neglect we have allowed decay. That will require a degree of reason and intelligence I simply don't think we have anymore. Of course the alternative is to continue our current path and allow those with power and money to accumulate even more to protect their personal empires at the expense of us all. There is still an illusion of a middle class in this country but give the rich a few more decades of unchecked power and the books of Mr. Jon Clinch could turn out to be mild by comparison.