Imagine you were a pig.
As a pig, you would care about nothing besides getting fat.
If you could get fat by eating the food shares of other animals, you would readily do so.
If you could get fat by eating up your own little piglet children’s future, you would do so.
If you could get fat by eating your whole farm into ruin, you’d munch right through it without another thought.
Indeed, if you could get fat by scarfing up so much food that you literally imperiled the entire planet, you would not only do so, but you would criticize and mock those who had the temerity merely to point out the consequences of your actions and thereby interfere with the conquering of your global comestible empire.
For those of you, like me, who too often find themselves aghast at the state of our nation, jaws dropped to the floor in wonder at the astonishing capacity for American self-destruction, befuddled by the acquiescence of the victims of this pillaging, there’s your answer: If you can imagine what it would be like to be an amoral, sociopathic, singularly focused, devoted consumption machine – that is, to be a pig – then you get it. And then you get our America, too.
I can’t tell you how it pains me to write these words.
It pains me in two senses, in fact. First, as a matter of personal character and conduct. I think it’s fair to say that the people who know me would report that I am a fairly gentle soul. I don’t prefer conflict, I almost never seek it out, and I will even sometimes avoid it when it’s stuck in my face – at least under certain conditions and in the short term. I’m not, that is, the kind of person who feels at all comfortable referring to other people as pigs.
But I do so because I believe emphatically that it needs to be done. I do so because of the second sense of how I am pained – for my country and for the world. I do so, with regret for having to, and yet with even more regret that we all aren’t doing the same thing, and doing it with a fierce urgency. For, is there any question of what has become of us? Is there any question that the pigs now rule?
No, there is not. Indeed, the only serious question is why we are so severely detached from reality that this society is really not even conscious of what has happened in any serious respect. But happened it has.
The top one percent in this country used to, before the regressive onslaught that began with the Reagan election thirty years ago, account for twelve percent of all national income. Today, they pull down more than twice that, 25 percent. They used to control a third of all national wealth. Today they control forty percent. That’s just one percent of us, one person out of one hundred.
How could this have happened? Is it possible, for example, that the wealthiest amongst us are working twice as hard as they used to? Is it possible that all the rest of us have grown vastly lazier over the course of this past generation? Yeah, it’s possible. Just like it’s possible that Newt Gingrich is not a sick sociopath, or that Sarah Palin speaks for Jesus. It’s possible, in the technical sense of the term, it’s just – how can one say this gently? – um, not real, real probable.
What is far more likely – and, indeed, what is precisely the case – is that the rich bought off lawmakers to make laws that favored their interests. At precisely the same time that the rich got infinitely richer and the rest of us got steadily poorer, darned if a whole boatload of regressive-backed public policies didn’t change in exactly the way that would lead to just that outcome. Tax burdens have been shifted from rich to poor. Services provided by the government have been slashed. Trade policies that undermine the bargaining power of American workers have been adopted. Labor relations policies have decimated unions, such that where a third of workers used to be represented by organized labor, now about seven percent are. Privatization has given away publicly-owned assets. The well-connected have written into law gigantic subsidies, creating corporate welfare on a massive scale. Wars based on lies have enriched the few while saddling the rest of us with trillions of dollars in debt. Deregulation followed by taxpayer-financed bailouts have allowed any plugged-in economic actor to do just about anything, including crash the global economy in the raw pursuit of unfathomable greed, and never pay a penalty for their actions.
If you were asked to predict, thirty years ago, just what the adoption of such policies would produce, the American political economy of 2011 is exactly what you would have predicted. It’s a complete no-brainer. Anyone could guess the effect from this cause. Throw a rock at a window. Toss a match on gasoline. Adopt these policies. You know what will happen.
People can think, if they want, that it’s all a random coincidence that all these policy changes just happened to happen at exactly the same time the rich were growing vastly richer and the rest of us have been struggling. I’m sure many do think that way, and that is precisely why so many fools also play their state lottos. But that don’t make it so.
Incomes for the top one percent have risen 18 percent over the last decade, while for all the rest of us, they’ve been falling. The United States today has a Gini coefficient – the standard measure of national income inequality, where zero is perfectly equal and 100 is perfectly unequal – clocking in at 40.8. That means we’re tied with Turkmenistan and Ghana when it comes to the inequality of the distribution of wealth in America. I’m not shitting you about this. These are real numbers. The good news is that we came in (just slightly) ahead of Senegal and Cambodia. Whew! There’s a relief! We wouldn’t want to be like some sort of banana republic or anything, would we? The bad news? There is less income inequality today in Mali, Malawi and Burkina Faso than in the good old US of A. Oh, and about 70 other countries in the world (out of about 195 or so, total), too. How’s that for your American exceptionalism, eh pal?!
I don’t know if the rich are working twice as much as than they used to (just a wild hunch, but I suspect not), but what I do know is that the non-rich are working a lot more than they used to. It takes two incomes today to support a middle class family that could be supported by one back when “Leave It To Beaver” was on the air. And many people are working more than forty hours a week – indeed, a lot of people, working a lot more hours – in an increasingly desperate attempt to stay one step ahead of their creditors, one step ahead of medical insolvency, one step ahead of (the new, draconian) bankruptcy laws, one step ahead of foreclosure, one step ahead of eviction, one step ahead of living out of their cars, presuming they’re lucky enough to be one step ahead of repossession, and one step ahead of all the damage these horrible strains do to marriages and families.
In short, there is a massive, protracted, patent crime taking place, right before our eyes. It’s the crime of the millennium, a crime that literally produces death and destruction on a grand scale, a crime with victims beyond count.
And no one in our political class is talking about it.
Certainly not the worst offenders on the right. We’d be shocked were that otherwise. Indeed, almost all of what defines them as the worst offenders on the right is precisely this issue. Don’t kid yourself, brother. John Boehner doesn’t give a shit about aborted fetuses. Dick “Dick” Cheney couldn’t care less about WMD. George W. Bush is no more a genuine Christian than I am, and I assure you that’s the last thing I am. No. It’s all about the freakin’ money, man.
But neither are the so-called liberals of the Democratic Party talking about this issue, nor our socialist president, who, according to Rush “Dick” Limbauchery and Glenn “Dick” Pecker, et al., is reportedly seeking to sneak up on poor unsuspecting America, in a foreigner sort of way, and drive it into the ruin that has befallen Western Europe. (Don’t worry that you can’t actually see that ruin in actual Western European places like Germany or France or Sweden. Our friends on the right are glad to assure us that it’s there – it’s just cleverly hiding under the peace, prosperity, extended longevity, world-class healthcare, and humane standards of living people have long enjoyed in these countries.)
No one in our political class is saying these things. You almost literally have to resort to comics like Bill Maher and Jon Stewart to hear this most urgent and fundamental critique. And, really, how screwed is your country when only the comedians tell the truth?
I am willing to use ugly words and to name names, not because I want to – far from it – but because I am sickened by the fact and the scale of this crime. The wonder is not that jerks like me are throwing around inflammatory terms. The wonder is that lots more people aren’t doing so. But the real wonder is that we’ve stood by, and continue to do so – watching this crime unfold, watching it crush our friends, family and neighbors, watching it harm us and our children personally, watching it produce the first generation of Americans to be worse off than their parents. And there we are just staring in silence.
Silence is far too generous a label of contempt to apply to the Democratic Party. We are well past the point of acknowledging their complete complicity in the crime. Hardly anyone noticed in the 1990s, when New Democrats (a euphemism for old Republicans) stopped talking about the plight of the poor, even before Bill Clinton finished the job by killing welfare, reaching into the mouths of America’s impoverished and removing the food that was once there, all for purposes of guaranteeing his second term as president (and, boy wasn’t it worth it, too – look at all he achieved!). If you weren’t alive in the 1960s and 70s, you might never have realized that there was once a party in America that was rather seriously devoted to fighting a war against poverty. By the 1990s the poor became an embarrassment, and among slick New Democrats in Washington only gauche political retreads continued to remind us of their existence and plight, becoming every bit as welcome among the elites as Grandpa’s incessant flatulence at a formal dinner party.
Ah, but that was the golden age, when only the poor were forgotten about. And who cares about them, anyhow? Nowadays we’re not noticing as ‘the party of the people’ gives the same treatment to the middle class as well. I’m sorry, have I fallen through the looking glass, or are we not in the middle of an economic crisis of vast proportions? And where is the Democratic Party’s program for creating jobs? It would too generous to say that it is nowhere. More accurately, it just isn’t. The reason that you don’t know what the president’s plan to create jobs in America is, isn’t because you’re ignorant. It’s because he doesn’t have one. And no one seems to care or notice.
Instead, as usual, as is the case in all political ‘debates’ these days, the question is not will Republicans win on this issue, but rather merely by how much. Even that is not really the question, however, since that formulation presumes that Democrats are actually fighting Republicans, and since it conveniently omits mention of the fact that all such ‘debates’ always happen on Republican (more accurately, Republican/Democratic) turf. Our whores in Washington are not, for example, fighting right now over whether we should spend money to create jobs, versus slashing spending to reduce the deficit. No, rather, they are simply disagreeing over how much social spending should be slashed. The real ideological war over policy was lost before it was ever even engaged, because that’s precisely what Democrats do nowadays.
Since 1980 (or perhaps 1972), they retreat, they deceive, and they sell out their constituents. That is the case in almost every policy domain, from Middle East foreign policy to global warming to civil liberties to health care. If that latter claim sounds ridiculous, remember that Barack Obama’s much derided health care plan was essentially the same one proposed by Bob Dole in 1996, and virtually the same one implemented by Ken Doll “Dick” Romney in Massachusetts just a few years back. And remember that the president began the process by cutting a secret deal behind closed doors with the insurance and pharmaceutical industries. And remember that that deal called for them to profit massively, for the president to renounce single payer, and for him to lie outright (as was documented by his pal, Tom Daschle) to his liberal base, pretending to favor a public option while actually scuttling it from the get-go.
And so our political class today is comprised of two types: vicious predatory marionettes, on the one hand, and vicious predatory marionettes who smile a bit more than the first batch, on the other. Really, increasingly, you can hardly tell the difference. New York is one of the bluest states to be found in the country. It has a Democratic governor. He is the son of a former Democratic governor, a man who could well have been president had he run, and one of the outstanding liberal figures of the twentieth century. And yet this governor is running a program that might make Ronald Reagan blush, for all its ugly draconian regressivism. The state has a fiscal problem. He is solving it by slashing funding to education and health care, and laying off state employees. He refuses to raise taxes. The wealthy in New York will actually be getting a tax cut next year under the terms of Governor Cuomo’s new budget.
Then there’s Barack Obama, the man hated by the right for his evil socialist policies. Newsweek magazine – not exactly widely known for its Trotskyist political commitments, is currently running an article entitled thusly: “Obama’s War on Schools: The No Child Left Behind Act has been deadly to public education. So why has the president embraced it?” I dunno, Newsweek. Because Bush was a socialist too, maybe?
You could ask the same question, however, about Afghanistan, Iraq, defense spending, Guantánamo and civil liberties, tax policy, health care (yes, health care), global warming, government spending, Wall Street bailouts, and really just about anything government does. Like just about every other Democrat running around these days, Obama is almost entirely as regressive as the monsters of the Republican Party. There’s the answer to your question, Newsweek. It’s about time that you figured out what the rest of us have learned the hard way over the last two years: that, policy-wise, Barack Obama is George W. Bush.
The reduction of the American voter’s choices down to two options – catastrophic or catastrophic with nice words – has very real consequences. This game is played for keeps. People are not making it anymore. The middle class has been shrinking for three decades. Foreclosures are off the charts. People are literally dying from lack of health care. Children are literally dying from lack of health care. And every day, we in the richest polity that ever existed on the planet not only fail to address those crimes, we exacerbate them with the actions of the Walkers and Christies and Cuomos and Obamas of this country. It’s no longer a question of whether we’ll adopt the destructive policies of the regressive oligarchy, merely a question of how fast we do it.
A recent report entitled “The Basic Economic Security Tables for the United States” finds, according to the New York Times, that a single worker (no partner, no dependents) “needs an income of $30,012 a year – or just above $14 an hour – to cover basic expenses and save for retirement and emergencies. That is close to three times the 2010 national poverty level of $10,830 for a single person, and nearly twice the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. … [But] The most recent data from the Census Bureau found that 14.3 percent of Americans were living below the poverty line in 2009.” Imagine how many were living below the real minimum threshold three times higher than the official poverty level.
Fortunately, however, there is still some good news out there. The number of billionaires in the world grew by 199 in the past year, according to Forbes magazine’s annual survey. Now there are 1,210 of them. And they possess a combined wealth of $4.5 trillion. Awesome, dude! The even better news is that that figure is up from $3.6 trillion – a mere 25 percent growth – in just one year’s time. And what a year, too! Who says there’s a massive, devastating, killer recession going on? Sounds to me like it’s nothing more than a boatload of whining from a bunch of lazy, low-achiever, can’t-cut-it, non-billionaires!
What amazes me the most about this disaster is that it is the biggest single political story of our era, and simultaneously the tiniest. Of course, that’s not a coincidence either. You hardly want the media or social critics covering you when you’re in the midst of committing the crime of the millennium. We have witnessed what is undoubtedly the greatest redistribution of wealth in all of human history. As importantly, the public face taken for the process facilitating this mass rape has been a lie. Oligarchs didn’t tell us they were buying our politicians in order to take our money. They told us instead that “free” trade is good, but that unions, queers and Middle Eastern bogeymen are bad. Very bad. They told us they were lowering our taxes, when in fact they were simply transferring their tax burden onto us and onto our children. They’re telling us now that it is fiscally irresponsible to properly fund public education, health care and pensions, yet humongous corporate subsidies and a military the size of the entire rest of the world combined are completely necessary.
You don’t dare call them out on it, either. If you mention any of this, you get accused of engaging in class warfare. Even though, as Warren Buffett has pointed out, that war is already over, and his side won. And even though such an accusation is tantamount to accusing Martin Luther King of having engaged in race warfare for pointing out the perfectly obvious moral crimes that whites had long been committing against blacks, with the full blessing of the law, no less.
Telling the truth is the worst crime you can commit, as an incident in New Hampshire this week well proves. The Catholic church has, by all appearances, been little short of a rape factory for decades if not centuries now, and yet conservatives can hardly run fast enough to defend it against the slightest attempt by its victims to gain some meager measure of justice in compensation for the damage done to them. They’ll defend it, that is, unless anyone in the church should make the foolish mistake of speaking truthfully about the effects of regressive policymaking upon the poor and downtrodden. Bishop John McCormack did just that with respect to draconian Republican-proposed state budget cuts in New Hampshire. That caused D.J. Bettencourt, the House Majority Leader there, to call the good bishop a “pedophile pimp”.
Which is probably precisely what he is, but just the same – wow. In case you were wondering what’s really sacred amongst regressives, now you know, pal. Ca-ching, ca-ching.
We must face it. These are the pigs in our society, and they are doing what pigs do. They grow fatter each day, and they do so by nothing less than removing food from the mouths of babes and stuffing it into their own, even though it can hardly fit there anymore, so overflowingly full have those orifices and bellies become.
This is a crime against humanity, and it will not end.
Until we end it.