By Sheldon Greaves, Ph.D.
Reposted from UnexpectedLeisure.com
"Whenever the legislators endeavor to take away and destroy the property of the people, or to reduce them to slavery under arbitrary power, they put themselves into a state of war with the people who are thereupon absolved from any further obedience."
Occupy Wall Street's defining outrage was the statement it made by where it took place. OWS stated implicitly and explicitly that Washington, DC though full of sound and fury, signifies nothing. The nation's true political center of gravity is no longer Washington, but Wall Street. The implications are frightening; an unelected, hyper-powerful oligarchy now wields vast unimpeachable power, with no accountability or even any expectation or obligation to govern. Instead, they rule for power's sake, serving only their own unenlightened self-interests, expanding their power even further and deeper into our lives.
Financial corporations hardly even make a pretense of their intended purpose, which is to facilitate activity in the rest of the economy. They are now the end rather than the means. They can rake in vast profits even when the rest of the economy literally crashes. Wall Street is above the law, as the recent testimony of Jamie Dimon proved as he preened in front of sycophantic members of Congress when he should be facing at least a criminal investigation. "Innovations" such as High Frequency Trading (HFT) are now the norm, responsible for between 50% and 70% of the activity seen on markets today. These microsecond-long trades are just one of many factors that changed the financial markets into a rigged casino that can ruin small investors, or entire nations. And yet this risky behavior has no negative consequences for its perpetrators, who know that there is no disaster they can cause that will rebound to impact them in any way; their servants in government are there to bail them out and deflect calls for accountability.
As Elizabeth Warren pointed out recently, the game is rigged and everyone knows it. The Big Boys on Wall Street are calling the shots. Rules are for suckers.
There is a pattern to the outrages heaped upon us by the 1% and their enablers. Whether it is voter suppression, dismantling the social safety net, degrading the education system, union-busting, seeking to constrain the internet, pilfering pensions, incarceration for profit, rampant foreclosure fraud, propaganda masquerading as news, an increasingly oppressive security regime, compromising our food supply and the environment, or just about any other act that raises the blood pressure of those paying attention, there is a common thread.
Each of these indignations has the effect of destroying the very idea of the social. They divide the larger population, isolating us or, worse, pitting us against each other. The loss of accountability to society is part of this; Phil Tetlock explained the role of accountability as:
""[the] explicit expectation that one will be called upon to justify one's beliefs, feelings, or actions to others," coupled with an expectation that people will reward or punish us based on how well we justify ourselves. When nobody is answerable to anybody, when slackers and cheaters go unpunished, everything falls apart."
Democracy cannot survive if we cannot be accountable to each other for what we do, and now we see that the very concept of justice is under sustained attack as some of history's most profligate criminals stand zero chance of seeing the inside of a courtroom. Instead, they are all but deified.
Why is this happening? Part of the reason is increasingly willful ignorance on the part of the 99%. Far, far too many of us remain wrapped in complacency, soothed by advertising and moralizing of a culture that exists to keep us in our place. We are mollified by the assurances of future "growth" or the anodyne of relative affluence. Big business has succeeded in inverting people and property. As a commenter to a blog post on the Citizens United decision put it, "Justice Taney declared that Dred Scott, a person, is property. Justice Roberts declared that corporations, property, are persons. If a decision requires denial of reality, it's wrong." If people can be made to believe that corporations are people, they can be made to believe anything.
Another cause of behind the crisis is the shamelessness by which the ultra-rich have begun to flex their muscle, aided and abetted by the politicians and judges they have bought. As the corrosive influence of corporate excess grows, the political establishment remains gridlocked or focused on non-issues hoping to distract and divide those still paying attention, posturing (they hope) their way toward re-election. But the political establishment can no longer encompass the problems set before it, particularly those that stem directly from the seizure of power by corporate interests.
Some of us can start to see with increasing, terrible clarity, the kind of society that would replace the one they are dismantling around us. It is one in which the needs of Wall Street and the War on Terror have replaced the Constitution as the model and metaphor for governance. Leaked details of the super-secret Trans Pacific Partnership "trade deal" propose essentially a global corporate government, where national sovereignty and laws are subordinate to corporate interests and rule, thanks to its own, wholly owned and controlled court system.
It comes to this: money is the medium, and the message is power.
Where has this taken us? It is now impossible to afford a two-bedroom apartment anywhere in the US on a 40-hour, minimum wage job. 15% of Americans live in poverty, but if you include those who are just one financial shock away from poverty, the number soars to 50%. More and more people cannot afford their own living space. From 2007 to 2010, the number of shared households rose by 11.4%, while the total number of households rose by 1.3%. A record number of Americans now need Food Stamps just to eat. Some 50 million are without health insurance, with tens of thousands still dying each year from curable illnesses because they can't afford health care. Far more descend into bankruptcy due to unpaid medical bills. Long-term unemployment is at unprecedented levels, particularly for young people, who can expect to see their future earnings reduced significantly for years afterwards. Upward mobility, the lifeline of hope to so many of America's poor, has all but ceased to exist. The numbers now show that if you start out poor, you will stay poor, or grow poorer.
What to Do?
The traditional response to such excess was to enact regimes of regulation and controls to hold the rich and powerful in check. But those interests have found ways to outflank the regulations and tame the agencies meant to regulate them. Most people who know anything at all about Washington understand that the bankers basically own that town.
Worse, as stated, the problems are now too big, too pervasive for traditional politics to comprehend. The political system is largely compromised by the massive flow of money, media, and a weak, feckless centrist party masquerading as the opposition. An important lesson of the failed Wisconsin recall election is that while we must continue to be politically engaged, we do so at a distinct disadvantage so long as we employ traditional political channels, where we must play the game on the plutocracy's terms.
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