ie rule of super rich privileged
Former Secretary of Labor; Professor at Berkeley; Author, ‘Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future‘
Posted: October 18, 2010 08:36 PM
It’s a perfect storm. And I’m not talking about the impending dangers facing Democrats. I’m talking about the dangers facing our democracy.
First, income in America is now more concentrated in fewer hands than it’s been in 80 years. Almost a quarter of total income generated in the United States is going to the top 1 percent of Americans.
The top one-tenth of one percent of Americans now earn as much as the bottom 120 million of us.
Who are these people? With the exception of a few entrepreneurs like Bill Gates, they’re top executives of big corporations and Wall Street, hedge fund managers, and private equity managers. They include the Koch brothers, whose wealth increased by billions last year, and who are now funding tea party candidates across the nation.
Which gets us to the second part of the perfect storm. A relatively few Americans are buying our democracy as never before. And they’re doing it completely in secret.
Hundreds of millions of dollars are pouring into advertisements for and against candidates — without a trace of where the dollars are coming from. They’re laundered through a handful of groups. Fred Maleck, whom you may remember as deputy director of Richard Nixon’s notorious Committee to Reelect the President (dubbed Creep in the Watergate scandal), is running one of them. Republican operative Karl Rove runs another. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a third.
The Supreme Court’s Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission made it possible. The Federal Election Commission says only 32 percent of groups paying for election ads are disclosing the names of their donors. By comparison, in the 2006 midterm, 97 percent disclosed; in 2008, almost half disclosed.
We’re back to the late 19th century when the lackeys of robber barons literally deposited sacks of cash on the desks of friendly legislators. The public never knew who was bribing whom.
Just before it recessed the House passed a bill that would require that the names of all such donors be publicly disclosed. But it couldn’t get through the Senate. Every Republican voted against it. (To see how far the GOP has come, nearly ten years ago campaign disclosure was supported by 48 of 54 Republican senators.)
Here’s the third part of the perfect storm. Most Americans are in trouble. Their jobs, incomes, savings, and even homes are on the line. They need a government that’s working for them, not for the privileged and the powerful.
Yet their state and local taxes are rising. And their services are being cut. Teachers and firefighters are being laid off. The roads and bridges they count on are crumbling, pipelines are leaking, schools are dilapidated, and public libraries are being shut.
There’s no jobs bill to speak of. No WPA to hire those who can’t find jobs in the private sector. Unemployment insurance doesn’t reach half of the unemployed.
Washington says nothing can be done. There’s no money left.
No money? The marginal income tax rate on the very rich is the lowest it’s been in more than 80 years. Under President Dwight Eisenhower (who no one would have accused of being a radical) it was 91 percent. Now it’s 36 percent. Congress is even fighting over whether to end the temporary Bush tax cut for the rich and return them to the Clinton top tax of 39 percent.
Much of the income of the highest earners is treated as capital gains, anyway — subject to a 15 percent tax. The typical hedge-fund and private-equity manager paid only 17 percent last year. Their earnings were not exactly modest. The top 15 hedge-fund managers earned an average of $1 billion.
Congress won’t even return to the estate tax in place during the Clinton administration – which applied only to those in the top 2 percent of incomes.
It won’t limit the tax deductions of the very rich, which include interest payments on multimillion dollar mortgages. (Yet Wall Street refuses to allow homeowners who can’t meet mortgage payments to include their primary residence in personal bankruptcy.)
There’s plenty of money to help stranded Americans, just not the political will to raise it. And at the rate secret money is flooding our political system, even less political will in the future.
The perfect storm: An unprecedented concentration of income and wealth at the top; a record amount of secret money flooding our democracy; and a public becoming increasingly angry and cynical about a government that’s raising its taxes, reducing its services, and unable to get it back to work.
We’re losing our democracy to a different system. It’s called plutocracy.
A review :
Greg Palast won’t shut up. He won’t shut up about how Jeb Bush and his lieutenant stole the election from Gore through a vicious manipulation of the voter rolls. He won’t shut up about how cheaply Tony Blair’s government can be bought. He won’t shut up about how mainstream journalism is in thrall to the prevailing free market corporate ethos. He won’t shut up about the Big Lie perpertreated by Milton Friedman and his gang that markets promote democracy, that markets are engines of viture. He shows with unshakable research that instead that instead of breeding virture and freedom, markets breed corruption, inequality, and through a politically moribund media, moral complacency.
The opening chapter on the high-tech mechanism that the Bush camp in Florida put in place before the elections in 2000 to expunge African-Americans from voter rolls is worth the price of the book. Palast tells us how Jeb’s gang reinstated Jim Crow laws in the New South by hiring a database firm with strong ties to the Texas Republican party to compare lists of voters with lists of felons and purge names from the rolls that “matched” in only the most tenous ways. Roughly 60,000 voters, most of them Black (because the prison archipelago in the United States imprisons mostly Blacks) were stripped of the fundamental right of voting. Why take blacks off the rolls? Because, as Palast notes, better than 9 in 10 Blacks vote for Democrats. He personalizes these facts in the person of a Black minister who had met and broken bread with Jeb Bush on numerous occasions. The minister showed up to vote at his local precinct where he had been voting for over 20 years and discovered that his name had vanished from rolls. Palast goes into stunning detail on how the scam was perpertrated and shows conclusively that the Bush camp stacked the deck well before the election. Further, he proves even under these circumstances that Gore actually won in Florida.
Palast reported this high-tech lynching of Black voters rights in the Guardian (funded by public monies) before the actual election. No mainstream American media picked up on the story. When the Washington Post finally reported it, they did so months later under the cover of the Federal Election Commisions investigation into the manipulation of the election. Slate, to its credit, picked up on the story and helped with hard work of investigating the chicanery in Florida in the immediate aftermath of the elections, but as Palast notes, Slate is not the New York Times, or the Washington Post. He shows in lurid detail how the Republican power structure, including of course, the Supreme Court, swung into action under the guidance of James Baker and ended the counting on the basis of the flimsiest of legalistic doctrine. He depicts the almost comical ineptitude of a Democratic Party as it tries to take on the Repulicans. While the Democrats play by the Marquess of Queensbury rules, the Republicans play to win. Anti-nausea medicine is strongly recommended for this chapter.
Palast as a young activist attended lectures by Milton Friedman at the University of Chicago to better understand this radical restatement of Adam Smith’s 18th century economic laws. In this regard Palast undoubtedly agrees with media historian Robert McChesney’s analysis of Milton Friedman’s faulty understand of democracy: “As Milton Friedman puts it in his seminal “Capitalism and Freedom,” because profit-making is the essence of democracy (!), any government that puruses antimarket policies is being anit-democratic, no matter how much informed popular support they might enjoy. [Under this logic] Therefore it is best to restrict governments to the job of protecting private property and enforcing contracts, and to limit polictical debate to minor issues.”
Palast is particularly angry at his peers in the media. At the same time he understands that they have very little freedom to report on anything that would pose a challenge to the values of the marketplace. He notes that it is only because the Guardian and the BBC is publicly funded can he explore venality and corruption in government and business. And by the way, he takes on the left as well as the right. His chapter on Tony Blair’s government and how cheaply it can be bought demonstrates that the influence of corporate money has become so pervasive that even so-called Liberals must feed at the trough in order to fund their expensive media campaigns. The Clintonites hated him, too.
But Palast’s work is invigorating, not demobilizing. The news he reports doesn’t invite fatalistic acceptance of a corrupt system, rather it invites activism. This is probably why he is feared on both sides of the aisle. Someday, he just might get people mad enough to do more than just stand up and say I’m not going to take it anymore, but to take the next step and take back their governments from the cynical oligarchy which equates speech with money, which believes that suffrage should be defined as one dollar, one vote instead of one person, one vote.
Another review :
Remember all those great things you were taught to believe about America when you went to school? Well, until you’re prepared to have your illusions blown away, stay away from this book.
I was not one to be blinded by propaganda and lies, or at least so I thought. I thought the Supreme Court was a bastion of rationality and reason, an impartial body of law. I thought that we had a representative democracy. Well, only the events of sElection 2000 could’ve prepared my mind to read this book. And even still, the documented facts and evidence that Greg Palast presents in “Best Democracy Money Can Buy” kept me up at night.
This book is not about left or right, conservative or liberal. It’s about who really runs things on this planet, about who has the power and who does not. In chapter after chapter, media myth after government lie is laid bare before the reader, and it’s a wonder that Mr. Palast is still among the living. For anyone who wants true freedom, truly free markets, and a safe world for his or her children, you better read this book. Or turn on the TV and stay comfortably sedated.
The beginning of the book is a bit clunky, but once Palast gets in his groove – look out! The scales will fall from your eyes.