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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 2/3/21

Hedges: Papering Over the Rot

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From Scheer Post

The staggering concentration of wealth at the top has deformed our governing institutions -- new window dressing will not end oligarchy.


(Image by Mr. Fish/Scheer Post)   Details   DMCA

The death spiral of the American Empire will not be halted with civility. It will not be halted with the 42 executive orders signed by Joe Biden, however welcome many are, especially since they can, with a new chief executive, be immediately revoked. It will not be halted by removing Donald Trump, and the crackpot conspiracy theorists, Christian fascists and racists who support him, from social media. It will not be halted by locking up the Proud Boys and the clueless protestors who stormed the Congress on January 6 and took selfies in Mike Pence's Senate chair. It will not be halted by restoring the frayed alliances with our European allies or rejoining the World Health Organization or the Paris Climate Agreement. All of these measures are window dressing, masking the root cause of the demise of America -- unchecked oligarchic power and greed. The longer wealth is funneled upwards into the hands of a tiny, oligarchic cabal, who put Biden into office and whose interests he assiduously serves, we are doomed.

Once an oligarchy seizes power, deforming governing institutions to exclusively serve their narrow interests and turning the citizenry into serfs, there are only two options, as Aristotle pointed out -- tyranny or revolution. The staggering concentration of wealth and obscene avarice of the very rich now dwarfs the hedonism and excesses of the world's most heinous despots and wealthiest capitalists of the past. In 2015, shortly before he died, Forbes estimated David Rockefeller's net worth was $3 billion. The Shah of Iran looted an estimated $1 billion from his country. Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos amassed between $5 and $10 billion. And the former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe was worth about a billion. Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk are each at $180 billion.

The new wealth comes from a cartel capitalism far more concentrated and far more criminal than any of the cartels built by the old robber barons of the 19th century. It was made possible by Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton who, in exchange for corporate money to fund their campaigns and later Clinton's foundation and post-presidency opulent lifestyle, abolished the regulations that once protected the citizenry from the worst forms of monopoly exploitation. The demolishing of regulations made possible the largest upwards transference of wealth in American history. Whatever you say about Trump, he at least initiated moves to break up Facebook, Google, Amazon and the other Silicon Valley monopolists, none of which will happen under Biden, whose campaign these corporations bankrolled. And that has to be one of the reasons these digital platforms disappeared Trump from social media.

The new robber barons peddle the classless identity politics of the Democratic Party to deflect attention from their stranglehold on wealth and power, as well as their exploitation of workers, especially those that make their products overseas. Corporations such as Walmart have 80 percent of their suppliers in China. These corporations are full partners in China's state-controlled capitalism and suppression of basic labor rights and wages, where most Chinese workers make less than $350 a month and toil in Dickensian conditions.

There is no political will among the ruling elites to defend the rights of Amazon workers who are aggressively blocked by the company, the country's second largest employer, from forming unions, work all night in drafty, COVID-19-infested warehouses or deliver packages for $15 an hour, which leaves thousands of Amazon workers dependent on food stamps. Likewise, this is no political will among the elites to defend the rights of workers in China, often forced to work 100 hours of overtime a month in sweatshops for as little as $2 or $3 an hour.

History has repeatedly illustrated the dire consequences of extreme social inequality. It foments revolutionary ferment, which can come from the left or the right. Either a leftwing populism that smashes oligarchic power takes control or its counterfeit, a rightwing populism, built on the poisoned solidarity of hate, racism, vengeance and violence and bankrolled by the hated oligarchs that use it as a front to solidify tyranny. We are barreling towards the latter.

The soaring levels of social inequality are laid out in stark statistics that are reflected back to us in the pain, despair and suffering afflicting perhaps 70 percent of the US public. The wealth of US billionaires has increased to over $1.1 trillion since mid-March 2020, when the pandemic began to ravage the country, a nearly 40 percent leap during the past 10 months. The total wealth of America's 660 billionaires, $4.1 trillion, is two-thirds higher than the $2.4 trillion in total wealth held by the bottom half of the population, 165 million Americans. An additional eight million Americans were recently classified as "newly poor" as the poverty rate increased 2.4 percentage points from June to December 2020. It is now at 11.8 percent, although many economists argue that the official poverty rate of $26,500 for a family of four masks the fact that perhaps half the country lives in real poverty.

The official poverty rate for Blacks has climbed 5.4 percent to 23.6 percent just between June and December, but again is probably at least twice that number. Blacks, along with Hispanic and Native American people, are also dying from COVID-19 at almost three times the rate of white people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But, despite the fact that many Blacks work in the health care industry they are being inoculated at percentages far below those of whites. In Maryland, for example, Black people make up 30 percent of the population and 40 percent of the health care industry, yet account for just 16 percent of those who have been vaccinated.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, landlords have filed more than 227,000 evictions in just the 27 cities in five states that the Princeton Eviction Lab tracks and that is with a national eviction moratorium. Twelve million renters, who owe an average of $5,600 in back rent and utilitie s, now face being thrown out of their homes. By the end of 2020 there were an estimated 50 million food-insecure Americans, up from 35 million in 2019. One in four households with children, according to a report from Feeding America, experienced food insecurity in 2020.

The response by the ruling oligarchs is the equivalent of tossing coins from their gilded carriages to the despised masses. The Democrats have proposed raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15, but not until 2025. Biden has actually called for reducing the proposed third stimulus check a $1,200 check for eligible adults was issued last spring and a $600 per person check was issued earlier this month from $2,000 to $1,400. The oligarchs have bristled at even these meager responses. Larry Summers, Clinton's treasury secretary who orchestrated the Wall Street bailout in 2008, called the $2,000 checks crumbs compared to the trillions handed to Wall Street speculators - a "serious mistake." Elon Musk, now one of the two richest humans, said that a second "government stimulus package is not in the best interests of the people."

The responses by a morally bankrupt ruling class are symbolic, given that we are enduring the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and an estimated one-third of all Americans are struggling to pay their bills. It illustrates how woefully disconnected the elites are from the lives of those they dominate.

Unless families receive regular monthly payments of at least $2,000 until the pandemic ends; unless the country has access to universal health care, especially during a national health crisis; unless the nation radically pivots from fossil fuels to halt the looming ecocide; unless the crippling debts that are draining the bank accounts of American families are reduced or forgiven; unless there is an unassailable moratorium on evictions and foreclosures; and unless manufacturers at home and overseas are forced through stringent trade agreements and labor laws to pay decent wages, abide by strict labor regulations and permit independent unions, the oligarchs will only accelerate their pillage.

The class warfare is global. Not until workers in sweatshops in China, Mexico, Cambodia, Vietnam, India and Bangladesh are lifted out of poverty will the American working class be lifted out of poverty. This class war is the real fight, which corporate-owned media platforms and bankrupt liberals refuse to discuss.

"In a real sense all life is inter-related," Martin Luther King wrote in his Letter from Birmingham Jail. "All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be."

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Chris Hedges spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He has reported from more than 50 countries and has worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, for which he was a foreign correspondent for 15 years.

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