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Nederlog

April 5, 2015
Crisis: The 1 percent, Democratic Divide, 2015 UK Elections, Favorite Authors
  "They who can give up essential 
   liberty to obtain a little temporary
   safety, deserve neither liberty
   nor safety."
 
   -- Benjamin Franklin
   "All governments lie and nothing
   they say should be believed.
"
   -- I.F. Stone
   "Power tends to corrupt, and   
   absolute power corrupts
   absolutely. Great men are        
   almost always bad men."
   -- Lord Acton















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Sections
Introduction

1. How the 1 percent always wins
2. A Deepening Democratic Party Divide
3. Why the 2015 UK election is an irritating noise, nothing
     more
 
4.
A Book in the Darkness


Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Sunday, April 5, 2015.

This is a crisis blog. There are 4 items with 4 dotted links: Item 1 is about the question why the 1 percent always wins and is sensible; item 2 is about a deepening divide in the American Democratic Party that does seem real to me; item 3 is about the British elections (and seems in part mistaken to me); and item 4 is about a brief book review, that made clear to me why I like the writer (he quotes some of my favorite writers and philosophers).

1. How the 1 percent always wins: “We live in a faux democracy, which is why everyone’s so cynical and nobody votes”

The first item is an article by Scott Timberg on Salon:

This has the following subtitle (bolding in the original):

The rich get richer, the middle class gets hollowed out. We all stay quiet. Steve Fraser explains why we allow it

Well, not "all" but otherwise I agree this is a serious and important problem, that is also very well illustrated by the following graphic, that I also showed two days ago but then could not upload properly to my Danish site (it worked all quite unproblematically on the Dutch site, just as it did today on the Danish site).

This is reproduced because it shows the problem is really serious - and note the large differences between the three ideas most Americans have about the distribution of wealth in the U.S.:


In fact, the article starts as fiollows:

Why aren’t we getting angry about the steady shifting of treasure from the middle class to the very richest? Why haven’t the few who are vocal and visibly frustrated coalesced into a real movement? Has there ever been a time when Americans made noise about this kind of thing? These questions are at the heart of “The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power” (Little, Brown), a new book by labor historian Steve Fraser.

Alternately hilarious, lucid and disturbing in its documenting of contemporary complacency, the book looks at the intense opposition to capital in the original Gilded Age and contrasts it with the silence today.

This article also is for the most part an interview with Steve Fraser. Before turning to that I want to make one inference based on the above graphic (that was well researched):

1. The large difference between what most think about the distribution of wealth in the U.S. (in the middle row in the graphic) and the actual facts (in the top row) strongly suggests that the American - main media - press neither discusses nor names the real facts (except perhaps briefly in backpages, or else to deny them).

That is my own conclusion. Now I turn to the interview. I am mainly interested in arguments that support the subtitle ("The rich get richer, the middle class gets hollowed out. We all stay quiet"), which means that the numbers I start with are my own. First there is this:

2. The unions that were formed in the nineteenth century, and of course culminating during the New Deal during the 1930s, are a pale shadow of what they once were. They used to provide a defense mechanism. Without them, it’s harder, it’s dangerous, it’s very risky.

Yes, that must be correct. Besides, there is another effect related to the shifts in work, for these day poor people do mostly not become workers - welders, painters, carpenters, etc. - but they become office-people who "transmit information".

I am convinced this made a major change:

3. The proletarian class, who knew they were being exploited; who knew that only a small percentage would and could escape from being proletarian; and who opposed their exploitation through trade unions are now replaced by an equally poor or poorer class of usually badly educated, solidly misled and heavily propagandized believers in the fiction that they themselves - at least - will emancipate to a much better income if only they behave themselves.

A very similar thing happened in Europe.

Next, there is the counter-culture, that in fact was mostly active in its original form (in many distinct ways) from 1965-1975 or 1980 at the latest, and that was completely taken over by the corporations, from 1975 onwards. Fraser formulates it as follows:

4. And the whole counter-culture, which began to talk about personal liberation, some of which defied the kind of repressiveness and inhibition that had characterized life up until then, came into the hands of corporate America as a way of mining that psyche through the avenues of consumer culture.

Yes. I have seen this in Europe as well, and while there are several reasons for this, the most important one is that as soon as it got clear there was a quite solid profit to be made from something sold as "the counter-culture" (which it originally also was) the original leaders were replaced by managerial types (with long hair and alternative language, originally) who quickly destroyed whatever was deviant in it, and made it all market-based and profit-oriented.

Next, we get something like a partial mistake, though I will count it as a point (i.e. a reason for apathy):

5. All corporate America cares about — they’re amoral, I don’t mean anti-moral, just amoral — all that matters is the bottom line.

I think this really is a mistake, because at least the main American bank managers, who also are an example to many other managerial types, who "earn" ten or twenty million dollars a year, are not "a-moral" (although I agree that is how they often like to see themselves) but are simply anti-moral in demanding far too much for themselves and their industries. That is: I say they are stealing their millions, indeed mostly by deceptions, and they know it. (But profit is the only thing that motivates people, in their perspective, and those who profit most are best, again in their perspective.)

Next, we get to the influence of propaganda and "public relations" (which produce most of the things ordinary people - non-academics - read: advertisements):

6. Under Reagan, we begin to buy into the notion that freedom and the free market are the same thing, and that the way to unleash that freedom is to deregulate the whole economic arena, which gave license to… we began to worship the big financiers, the titans of finance, the Michael Milkens, the Carl Icahns, the Ivan Boeskys, the “greed is good” world, because they became the paragons. They became the pioneers of a new kind of market freedom.

I look a bit differently on this: That "freedom" and "the free market" are the same; that "profit is a noble and good motive"; that "what one is, is a consumer" (especially of brands) much rather than anything else (such as a human being, with rights and duties beyond profiting); that "greed is good" and "selfishness is moral"; and that "everyone may fairly expect to become rich" - are all lies and deceptions that have been carefully nurtured by advertisements, and are both totally false and widely believed.

Finally, here is one outcome (although this is formulated too sharply):

7. We live in a kind of faux democracy right now, which is why everyone’s so cynical and nobody votes. We’re only interested in politics as a form of personal gossip, because the system seems to be immune to popular sentiment about a variety of things.

I do not think "everyone" is cynical nor that "nobody votes", but as I have said several times before in Nederlog: If lies as listed under "6." above are widely accepted by the half of the population whose IQs do not exceed 100, the few who manufacture these lies on a large scale - the "public relations" firms that are paid by the big corporations - have already "democratically won".

In any case, the present item may be thought of as an extension of my article of over two years ago "
Why are so many so apathetic?".

I'll end this by giving the 7 points again, in a somewhat edited form:

Here are 7 reasons why ordinary people (in the U.S.) are mostly apathic these days:

1. The American - main media - press neither discusses nor names the real facts (except perhaps briefly in backpages or to deny them).
2. The American unions are mostly dead.
3.
The proletarian class is now replaced by an equally poor or poorer class of usually badly educated, solidly misled and heavily propagandized believers in the fiction that they themselves - at least - will emancipate to a much better income if only they behave themselves.
4. The counter-culture (once it had shown itself profitable) has been completely taken over by corporate managers out for profit by
deception.
5. Corporate America is a-moral or anti-moral: They only care for profits for themselves, and judge everything by its profitability (to them).
6. From Reagan onwards, the public relations firms propagandized especially these lies: that "freedom" and "
the free market" are the same; that "profit is a noble and good motive"; that "what one is, is a consumer" (especially of brands) much rather than anything else (such as a human being, with rights and duties beyond profiting); that "greed is good" and "selfishness is moral"; and that "everyone may fairly expect to become rich" - which were and are all lies and deceptions that have been carefully nurtured by advertisements, and are now widely believed.
7. The non-democratic "democracy" that is the present U.S. exists because the "public relations" firms have
propagandized the half of the American population whose IQs are at most 100 to support the rich 1%, also if that is - as usual - completely against their real interests.

This seems a decent list.

2.  A Deepening Democratic Party Divide 

The next item is an article by David Sirota on Truth-dig:

This starts as follows:

For those pining for a Democratic Party that tries to represent more than the whims of the rich and powerful, these are, to say the least, confusing times.

On the presidential campaign trail, Hillary Clinton has been promoting standard pro-middle class rhetoric, yet also has been raking in speaking fees from financial firms. One of her potential primary challengers, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, has been sounding anti-Wall Street themes, but only after finishing up two terms in office that saw his state plow more public pension money into Wall Street firms, costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in financial fees.

Similarly, in Washington, the anti-Wall Street fervor of those such as Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren sometimes seems as if it is on the ascent—that is, until big money comes calling.

Yes, indeed. There is considerably more in the article, but fundamentally the divide comes to this (and it is quite real):

Either the Democrats listen to their electorate (that seems in the majority to care most about income inequalities, in which they are right) or else the Democrats listen to their rich backers (who hardly care for income inequalities), who will pay most of the advertisements that may get them re-elected.

And I think that is a real problem for the Democrats - and I fear that in the end most will listen to their rich backers.


3. Why the 2015 UK election is an irritating noise, nothing more. 
The next item is an article by John Ward on The Slog:

This starts as follows:

All major political, economic and scientific advances change society, and almost all are a mixed blessing. But at the time, they usually have so much apparently to offer – victory in war, an easier life, a health cure, personal independence, greater efficiency, and of course vastly increased profits for those engaged in marketing them – they are assumed to be ‘progress’.

For what we still call ‘the working class’ – those doomed to be selling their labour to all-powerful capital – most of the changes brought about by business-lobbied political decisions in the last 30-35 years in the West have meant not progress, but a disaster of shattered living standards and self-esteem for 80+% of those “who work” as employees…ie, most of us.

I agree with that, although "80+%" seems to me too high: many are still mostly deceived by the propaganda they read every day (but: I may be mistaken).

Then there is this:

The ‘reforms’ brought in by Reagan and Thatcher (and then left alone by Clinton and Blair) had seven main results for the vast majority of those with a job: shorter hours, lower wages, less job satisfaction, vastly increased wealth inequality, housing booms in which they were left behind, the deregulation of wealth accrual further up the social scale, and last but far from least, the destruction of communities such as those found around the centres of the coal mining, iron trades, and food manufacturing industries.

Yes, that seems a good survey. And now we get to the title:

So in fact, all the election on May 7th really represents is a massive distraction from The Big Issue: the enormous shift of political and financial power away from labour towards capital, and the gigantic global debt that has created.

Well... I haven't voted since 1971 and I am Dutch. But the present argument seems a mistake to me, for two reasons.

First, "The Big Issue" seems either not relevant for whether or not you vote in the English elections of May 7, or else seems a reason for people who are progressive to vote progressive (and for those who are rich Tories to vote Tory). And second, if I were English I probably would vote, this time, and that for two reasons: 1. I very much dislike Cameron, Osborne, May and their government; 2. while I don't like Labour there is a real choice, and especially for poor people: You will certainly not be helped by another Tory government; you may be helped by a Labour government (which, in case it arrives, will change rather a lot).

There are other arguments I could give (which would include that Miliband is less of a hypocrite than Blair), and I certainly would not expect much from any present English politician, but yes: You know what the Conservatives brought, which was much more misery and poverty for anyone who is not rich, and given that, you now can support or oppose this, and I think anyone who is not rich should oppose this (but without expecting any miracle).

There is considerably more in the article, which is interesting (and I will return to The Slog to see what I think about it: This is a first time for me).

4.  A Book in the Darkness

The last item for today is an article by Charles Simic (<- Wikipedia) on The New York Review of Books:
I like Charles Simic, which follows from the fact that I have reviewed some article of his at least 9 times in Nederlog. I didn't know, and I just found out, and yes: He is not a crisis author, and he normally writes about literature, as he does this time.

It starts as follows:

One of the compensations of being an insomniac in a snowbound house full of books is that I can always find something to read and distract myself from whatever mood I’m in. When it gets real bad, I roam the dark house with a flashlight like Hamlet’s father’s ghost, pull books off the shelves, open them at random or thumb the pages until I find something of interest, and after reading it, either go back to bed happy or grope for another book.

I read only a passage or two, and at the most a page, because if I read more than that, I’m in danger of staying up half a night. All I require, to use a culinary term, is an amuse-bouche that leaves a pleasant aftertaste.
It is similar for me: I do live in a "house full of books", and I also find it often quite difficult to fall asleep (what with pain, which I still have most of the time in the evenings) and indeed I normally try to read if I can't sleep.

Anyway, this is a short piece, but I found two reasons in it why I like Simic. First, a reference + quotation of a favorite writer of mine:
“That of all days is the most completely wasted in which one did not once laugh.”
-- Chamfort

And second a reference + quotation of a favorite philosopher of mine, David Hume (whose "Treatise of Human Nature" I am currently annotating: Part I of three parts is nearly done):
Should a traveler, returning from a far country, bring us an account of men wholly different from any with whom we were ever acquainted, men who were entirely divested of avarice, ambition, or revenge, who knew no pleasure but friendship, generosity, and public spirit, we should immediately, from these circumstances, detect the falsehood and prove him a liar with the same certainty as if he had stuffed his narration with stories of centaurs and dragons, miracles and prodigies.
-- David Hume

Quite so - and Simic also has the right thoughts about this, which you can find yourselves if interested. Here I will make another observation: You can apply the same lessen to any of your politicians. Being a politician = being a liar (with extremely few exceptions).
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