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October 29, 2012
American History: Era of Greed and Destruction
By Bayard Waterbury
This article describes the forces presently at work in the American and world economies which are destroying the common man.
It is now 2012, and we are living in the first few years of a new era of American history. Assuming that this country still exists, or even if it doesn't in its present form, sometime in the future historians will be writing about this era as a specific era different in many respects from this country's past history. They will say that the nascent Era of Greed had its antecedents in the period following WWII, at a time when America was clearly becoming the greatest global power.
Looking back at the beginnings, they will say that the forces of today were beginning to take shape in Washington, New York and Chicago. In Washington, we were finally digesting the New Deal, and coming to terms with changes engendered by the post war economy.
The military industrial complex was getting its bearings, and had sponsored the first of many smaller "wars" in Korea. The power in the Pentagon was afraid of being relegated to a back seat, now that WWII had been won. They were still powerful, certainly powerful enough to have a second great general, beyond George Washington, elected President in 1952. Later, nearing the end of his second term of office, Eisenhower actually took the time to express his version of founding father patriotism by warning us about the power of the Military-Industrial Complex (at term which he actually coined in his farewell address in early 1961, see his warning here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VEbfVIuUtNE&feature=related ). Who would be in a better position to know about this than Ike? He had lived within its grasp for an entire career, and, as President he was the Commander in Chief with probably the greatest understanding of military political power of any President in our history.
Around the same time, the University of Chicago Economics Department was starting a run of prominence in American economic circles. Now under the domination of Milton Friedman, who joined its academic staff in 1946, and during the 1950's led the formulation, with Friedrich Hayek, an Austrian economist, developed a monetarist philosophy of economics which has served as the basis for the Neoconservative movement in economics and has formed the underpinnings of our economy in many ways from Reagan through George W. Bush's presidency and is alive and well in the present Congress. Friedman was Barry Goldwater's chief economic advisor, and in 1981 he was appointed as a member of Reagan's Economic Policy Board. He was the primary author of the "trickle-down" economic policies foisted upon us by President Reagan, and extended to the present by many key politicians, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan among them.
As an historical side note, the work of John Maynard Keynes, famed British economist whose theories form the basis for virtually all useful macroeconomic theory aside from Friedman's meme, was attacked in 1962 with the publication of a pamphlet called "Keynes at Harvard" which attempted to directly connect Keynesian economists with socialism and ultimately with social wastage and communism. Largely discredited, the pamphlet was circulated by many universities, as well as the John Birch Society. It makes for some interesting reading, and has been the topic of heated debate and debunking. You can find a modern, updated version here: http://www.keynesatharvard.org/book/index.html . There is a relatively recent movement in economic theory known as Modern Monetary Theory which has appeared only in the recent past. It could be the cornerstone of a foundation for real progress, and applies specifically to countries like the U.S. which have their own currency. I would commend you to reading http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chartalism and going to the website: http://neweconomicperspectives.org . It is a variant of Keynesianism which actually preceded it in theoretical development.
New York, from the earliest times in the country's history of commercial enterprise and entrepreneurship, has been the largest geographic bastion of banking and investment in the world. No other city even comes close. New York is where much of the "innovation" in financial markets has found its beginnings, and been taken to where it is today. In the 1950's, the city was getting its post WWII bearings. The New York Federal Reserve Bank, from its beginnings with passage of the Federal Reserve Act in 1913, has dominated as no other FED branch has. Even today, its Board of Governors is like the who's who of banking and finance in America.
Of course, this story could not be told without mentioning Alan Greenspan, former Chairman of the Federal Reserve and forerunner to Ben Bernanke, its present chairman, arch Friedman follower, an Ayn Rand toady, and financial power monger. Alan was made Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors by Gerald Ford in 1974, and in 1987, became the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, considered by many to be the most powerful position in finance and economics in the United States, following Paul Volcker in that position. I would recommend that anyone who is interested in Greenspan to read the Wikipedia article on him and his career ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Greenspan ). It is most informative.
With the appointment of Mr. Greenspan, the stage had finally been set for a full blown neoconservative agenda; although the full brunt of its theory has only recently taken complete shape. Interestingly, the libertarian side of the neoconservative philosophy took was formed at the end of the last century with the passage of financial deregulation passed in Gramm-Leach-Bliley, which established the ground work for the crash of 2007-08.
There has been much discussion lately in the media regarding the disparity between the wealthiest of Americans and the poor which has consistently grown over the past twenty years. I won't belabor the facts and figures, but suffice it to say that the separation between the very wealthiest and the those not so economically fortunate occurs within the first 1 to 2%, with the top .01% having truly incredible wealth. This is a direct result of the political economic theories of neo-conservatism. The country is now controlled by a plutocratic regime of government which is a nexus of the rich and powerful individuals, and the government controlled by their power and influence (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plutocracy ). With the recent ruling of the Supreme Court referred to as Citizens United, this stranglehold has been nearly perfected, although it was not truly necessary to assure the continuation of this relationship, but simply to make it even less assailable. Prior to Citizens United, corporate interests had never been viewed as having full standing under the First Amendment (freedom of speech) with individuals.
Interestingly, the major issue for America is the suppression of opposition by the oligarchies which control the American private economy (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oligarchy ). The major oligarchies in America are finance (banking, investment banking, insurance, etc.), energy (producers of petroleum products, natural gas, etc.), health care (hospitals, medical practitioners, pharmaceutical companies, health insurers, etc.), media (owners of publications, television, radio, mass media, news and entertainment, etc.), agribusiness (Monsanto, Cargill, Archer, Daniels, Midland, etc.), corporate retail (Amazon, Wal-Mart, JC Penney, Kroger, etc.), information/technology (Microsoft, Google, etc.), communications (Verizon, Comcast, AT&T, etc.), transportation (GM, Boeing, Delta, etc.), and the Military Industrial Complex (Lockheed Martin, Halliburton, McDonnell Douglas, et al). There are others, but most are fairly minor. The single feature of an oligarch is market control by whatever means necessary. Their power is made far easier to control for two reasons, control of the media (a member of the club), and control of legislation and elections through lobbies and political contributions.
There are many ways in which I could highlight the power of the plutocracy. The easiest way to look at it is by examining the Federal Budget for this year (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2012_United_States_federal_budget ). One immediately is struck by the fact that the Military Industrial Complex, in testimony to its unchallenged power, controls more than one half of every dollar spend by the government in the "discretionary" budget. This year it will consume more than $700 billion to execute its purposes. It is even more striking is the fact that the amount spent is more than 45% of all military spending by all the world's governments combined. The primary informed critics of the MIC are Chalmers Johnson, and Andrew Blacevich, both of whom have written extensively on the topic and whom I heartily commend the reader who wishes to be more fully informed.
Let's get back to the oligarchs. The cornerstone of the oligarchy is its control over major media. Only six corporate interests control over 90% of the media. Media is defined as book publishing, newspapers, movies, television, radio, magazines, and internet sites. The only one of these not under substantial control of the media is the internet, however the oligarchy has a major say in the regulations propounded by the FCC which has control of rules relating to the internet. To check the real story of the media, I suggest you look at http://stateofthemedia.org/ a site dedicated to telling the story behind ownership of news outlets, and http://www.businessinsider.com/these-6-corporations-control-90-of-the-media-in-america-2012-6 , which clearly shows the level of control of this part of American (and, incidentally, foreign in many cases) oligarchy. With this kind of grip on public information, it is nearly impossible for ordinary people to get real information. Oh, the media does report on everything, but focuses on sensational and lurid topics more than digging behind the scenes to get the real truth to the public. They virtually never tell the whole story of anything newsworthy, but rather craft their reporting to assure that little harm is done to the other oligarchs.
So, the American public, and even the global audiences, are mostly treated to unthreatening pabulum relating to the facts and truth behind our greatest threats and fears.
Frontline recently aired a show on the American security apparatus entitled Top Secret America, you can watch it online here: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/topsecretamerica/ which was based upon a book of the same name written by Dana Priest and William Arkin (Dana is a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter with the Washington Post). This expose' tells the story of the Bush doctrine developed immediately after 9/11, in conjunction with the CIA, and which has evolved into an effort led by the US government through 15 agencies, and which last year cost over $11 billion dollars, much of which was paid to contractors. The participants include the FBI, CIA, NSA, DNI, HAS, among others, mostly clustered around the nation's capital. Parts of the program have resulted in abridgment of our Constitutional rights, and led to legally mandated invasion of privacy and accumulation of secret data on the majority of American citizens. There is a massive database housed in Colorado which contains virtually all obtainable information on every person living in this country. NSA has the power to listen to every phone conversation occurring in the entire world every minute of every day. The "stop and frisk" law is a part of this evolving world of national security. The progress on the program to date is extremely frightening to citizens who are aware of it, and it is likely to become much more all encompassing in the future. The Obama White House is fully dedicated to the program, and anyone to be elected in the coming elections will sign on as well, regardless of office or relative power. We get regular information on this situation which results in further psychological repression of those who might be opposed to any part of this government program, and it works in close cooperation with the MIC oligarchs, as many of the same contractors who work on the program are veterans and current contractors for the Pentagon. It might as well be a part of the MIC because much of what the security apparatus does it does in conjunction with or in cooperation with the Pentagon.
The American plutocracy is also extremely concerned with climate change, but not in the way one might imagine. They are opposed to the entire movement that espouses a scientific rationale to support the fact of changing world climate being accounted for by human activities. Of course the oligarchs most concerned with the movement are involved in making huge profits in energy production. On October 23, Frontline aired a program called "Climate of Doubt" which describes the major attempts to discredit the movement and the huge majority of climatologically dedicated scientists around the globe. It is available here: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/climate-of-doubt/ , and is extremely informative and discouraging. I would urge everyone to watch this program and to review the Wikipedia article on global warming which includes the views of skeptics and doubters. It can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_warming . This is simply another indication of aggressive disinformation foisted upon us by the plutocracy in an effort to control public opinion.
The issue for all of us in the 99%, the average citizen, is how to get good information on which to base our actions, whether personal, to protect ourselves, or political, to attempt to change the system back to a democratic system where every voice counts, and truthful and factual information is made available to all of us within easy reach. The most important initiative that the public can take is to get involved in advocating for a change in the election process which would create fair elections and appropriate government to protect us from the immense harm that is being caused all of us by the predominance of the Plutocracy. This action must start with changing the election process itself. There have been many suggestions, but the most rational of those involve the creation of a Constitutional Amendment to change the process in several ways, and to eliminate the effects of money on the process, which is the critical factor in continuation of the plutocracy. At present every election, federal, state and local, almost down to Dog Catcher, is controlled by the support of candidacies by moneyed interests.
So, here we are steeped in the New Era of American Plutocracy, with both major parties fully invested in what is being wrought to control the public, its actions, opinions, knowledge, etc. It is only by a concerted action taken by all of us, essentially in unison, that will overcome what is being done. I see the greatest problem as one of motivating those who prefer to ignore the problem to just "get along" and struggle to find a comfortable place which doesn't require action or commitment. It is clear that apathy and ignorance are our greatest enemies. If we prefer to be ostriches and bury our heads in the sand, we will reap the whirlwind, something which many of us are doing. Don't be fooled into believing that the recent suits against the major banks are anything more than another passion play to make us believe that our interests are somehow being taken care of. In the context of the massive ways in which we will lose in the future through the plutocracy, these are essentially meaningless. If you have read what I have written, I recommend that you circulate it to family, friends, acquaintances, etc., so that they may become informed and involved. Their futures depend upon it.
Bayard Waterbury is a retired legal professional. He is an expert in the area of commercial real estate transactions. He is a respected lecturer and writer in his area of expertise. He is a former Governor of the American Land Title Association. He is a published author in that discipline. He is also an expert in political economics and government, as well as a published submitter to Huffington Post. He has his own blog, Progressive Rationalism. He is widely read. He has written large numbers of poems, but never published. He welcomes email contacts.