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Capitalism for Dummies

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Capitalism for Dummies
Patricia Goldsmith

Last week I caught a glimpse of a local TV news promo warning that the FDA is poised to OK a new drug for diabetes that also sharply increases the risk of “heart problems, strokes and death.” It was the night’s big scare story, very reminiscent of the scandals over Vioxx, Celebrex and Bextra. You’ll remember that the FDA allowed Vioxx back on the market, even though studies show it may be responsible for as many as 55,000 deaths. It looks like the diabetes drug will win approval too.

But rest assured, there’s no danger of easy access to the Plan B morning-after contraceptive. In fact, there’s actually been a crackdown on medical doctors’ latitude in prescribing narcotics for pain relief. The use of medical marijuana, in states that have voted to allow it, is avidly prosecuted, SWAT teams and all.

Behold, life in the post-New Deal, neocon era, with one spectacular regulatory failure after another—accompanied by one intrusive, fearmongering initiative after another to make sure we don’t ever connect the dots or see the big picture. Big picture? Even with the unprecedented level of corruption, lawlessness, and moral depravity we see all around us, we have to keep coming back to the economics.

The scandals at the FDA highlight the success the Bushitters have had in dismantling the New Deal system of regulated capitalism. Ironically, it was that system of regulations that saved capitalism in the thirties and allowed our mixed economy to thrive over most of the last fifty years. New Deal/Progressive Era regulations kept the system in balance, with workers earning enough to be consumers. It kept the market’s playing field somewhat level. Above all, it allowed for constitutional democracy, which was placed at a higher value than mere economics.

But all that has changed. The New Deal is dead. Wealthy transnational economic interests are firmly in control. The New Deal has given way to neo-liberal globalization.

Benito Mussolini said, “Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power.” If that is true—and Mussolini ought to know—then globalization is nothing less than fascism on a planetary scale.

Consider the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), which passed at the end of July, in spite of strong public opposition. Lori Wallach, of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch explained what the vote meant:

. . . for people in Central America, this is devastating. Right? I mean, the provisions are very clear: People with HIV and AIDS who need medicine, who use generic drugs will die now, because they will not get generic drugs, because this agreement takes away the ability to produce generic drugs. People in Central America who rely on essential public services, their drinking water, electricity, education, or for instance in Costa Rica, the whole telecommunications system, government guaranteed access, has to be privatized and deregulated under this agreement. People’s difficult lives will be made much hard, or as Oxfam and the World Bank reported, millions of Central American campesinos, small farmers, who are hanging on by their fingernails as it is, are going to get flattened by this agreement, and there are going to be millions of displaced and hungry people. Talk about instability. I mean, if it takes military killing people to get the thing passed, and you know the results are going to be devastating, destabilizing, economically and socially, as a national security matter, but as a human, moral matter, what this is going to do to Central America is godawful.

And now it’s happening here. In fact, we’re well into the process.

A new book, Off Center: The Republican Revolution and the Erosion of American Democracy, details some of the strong-arm strategies we see at work, including enacting laws that deliberately ignore or exacerbate problems in order to create crises that justify drastic solutions. That one’s called a time-bomb. I would say the time-bomb technique is, in fact, the essence of the Bushitters’ approach to governance.

Hurricane Katrina is a good example. By ignoring the problem and then making it as bad as possible, the White House group running the disaster operation insured a huge reconstruction operation to benefit corporate cronies. At the same time, they claim that the money required is causing a budget crisis. The budget crisis, in turn, justifies the creation of a so-called Gulf Coast Opportunity Zone.

In spite—or perhaps because—of increasing public opposition, recent weeks have seen a staggering succession of corporate sweetheart deals passed through Congress, bills that not only give away billions of dollars but shield companies from legal obligations. One law, subsidizing the building of domestic oil refineries, in spite of historic oil company profits, actually calls for citizens who sue oil companies to pay the companies’ legal fees, win or lose—virtually placing oil companies outside the reach of tort law. These are the items that have been on corporations’ Christmas lists for many, many years; Santa has finally arrived.

I look at Tom DeLay’s grinning (s)mug shot and I see the fatuous contempt of a Mussolini. He proves that evil is not only banal, it’s literally an exterminator: DeLay developed a passion for politics when tree-hugging laws put limits on the kinds of poisons he could use in his cockroach business. Personally, I think he’s on the insects’ payroll; they’re the ones who really stand to benefit from his leadership.

With the phenomenon of peak oil, we are at a point where survival demands planning and prioritizing with the needs of the common good in mind. If we don’t allocate and protect demonstrably dwindling resources, given our society’s total dependence on oil-based products and technology, we are headed for certain destruction. Burning all the remaining fossil fuel on the planet would also jeopardize our survival. Unregulated capitalism, or fascism, is totally unable to defend us against these dangers, because it is the source of the problem.

In that regard, Bush’s recent statements concerning the possibility of an avian flu pandemic are extremely disturbing. For an administration dedicated only to making money for its clients, a flu pandemic is a mouth-watering opportunity. Bush’s focus on military-enforced quarantines is hardly an appetizing prospect, post-Katrina.

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Patricia Goldsmith is a member of Long Island Media Watch, a grassroots free media and democracy watchdog group. She can be reached at
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