Money in Politics

Solving this one problem will open the way to fixing the others

Friday, July 27

Chris Hedges on the rise of unfettered corporate power

Hedges documents the pockets of poverty found around the country and around the world in the book Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt. Excerpts of an interview of Chris Hedges by Bill Moyers:

CHRIS HEDGES: It's absolutely imperative that we begin to understand what unfettered, unregulated capitalism does. These are sacrifice zones, areas that have been destroyed for quarterly profit. And we're talking about environmentally destroyed, communities destroyed, human beings destroyed, families destroyed. And because there are no impediments left, these sacrifice zones are just going to spread outward. The system has broken down, whether it's Democrat or Republican. And because of that, we've all become commodities. Just as the natural world has become a commodity that is being exploited until it is exhausted, or it collapses.

BILL MOYERS: Explain what you mean by sacrifice zones.

CHRIS HEDGES: Well, the individuals who live within those areas have no power. The political system is bought off, the judicial system is bought off, the law enforcement system serves the interests of power, they have been rendered powerless. You see that in the coal fields of Southern West Virginia.

BILL MOYERS: You said something like, "While the laws are West Virginia are written by the coal companies, 95 percent of those coal companies are not based in West Virginia. . . What ties that all together?

CHRIS HEDGES: Greed. It's greed over human life. And it's the willingness on the part of people who seek personal enrichment to destroy other human beings. That's a common thread. We, in that biblical term, we forgot our neighbor. And because we forgot our neighbor in Pine Ridge, because we forgot our neighbor in Camden, in Southern West Virginia, in the produce fields, these forces have now turned on us. They went first, and we're next.

BILL MOYERS: We being—

CHRIS HEDGES: Two-thirds of this country. We are rapidly replicating that totalitarian vision of George Orwell in 1984. We have an inner sanctum, inner party of two percent or three percent, an outer party of corporate managers, of twelve percent, and the rest of us are proles.

BILL MOYERS: Proles being?

CHRIS HEDGES: Being an underclass that is hanging on by their fingertips. And this is already very far advanced. I mean, numbers, I mean, 47 million Americans depending on food stamps, six million exclusively on food stamps, one million people a year filing for personal bankruptcy because they can't pay their medical bills, six million people pushed out of their houses. Long-term unemployment or underemployment— you know, probably being 17 to 20 percent. This is an estimate by the L.A. Times rather than the official nine percent. I mean, the average worker at Walmart works 28 hours a week, but their wages put them below the poverty line. Which is why when you work at Walmart, they'll give you applications for food stamps, so we can help as a government subsidize the family fortune of the Walton family.

You know, these corporations know only one word, and that's more. And because the mechanisms of governance can no longer control them, there is nothing now within the formal mechanisms of power to stop them from creating, essentially, a corporate oligarchic state.

BILL MOYERS: And you say, though, we are accomplices in our own demise. Explain that paradox. That corporations are causing this, but we are cooperating with them.

CHRIS HEDGES: This sort of notion that the corporate value of greed is good. I mean, these deformed values have sort of seeped down within the society at large. And they’re corporate values, they’re not American values. I mean, American values were effectively destroyed by Madison Avenue when, after World War I, it began to instill consumption as a kind of inner compulsion. But old values of thrift or hard work were replaced with this cult of the “self”. In that sense we have become complicit, because we’ve accepted this as a kind of natural law. And the acceptance of this kind of behavior, and even the celebration of it is going to ultimately trigger our demise.

BILL MOYERS: . . . the conclusion that our planet's ecosystems are careening towards an imminent, irreversible collapse.

CHRIS HEDGES: . . . I mean, the amount of chemicals and pesticides that are used on the produce in Florida is just terrifying. . . And corporations have the kind of political clout that they can prevent any kind of investigation or control or regulation of this. And it's, again, it's all for short-term profit at long-term expense.

. . . Sheldon Wolin writes about this in Democracy Incorporated into what he calls inverted totalitarianism, whereby it's not classical totalitarianism, it doesn't find its expression through a demagogue or a charismatic leader, but through the anonymity of the corporate state that purports to pay fealty to electoral politics, the Constitution, the iconography and language of American patriotism, and yet internally have seized all of the levers of power. This is what it means when lobbyists write all of our legislation, or when they stack the Supreme Court with people who serve the interests of corporations. And it's to render the citizen impotent.

BILL MOYERS: And what is it, you think, led us to this point of this mind-boggling inequality, mind-boggling consumption, which obviously many of us like, or we wouldn't be participating? And the grip that money has on politics? What are the forces that got us to this?

CHRIS HEDGES: I think it began after World War I. You know, Dwight McDonald writes about how after World War I, American society became enveloped in what he called the psychosis of permanent war, where in the name of anti-Communism, we could effectively banish anyone within the society who questioned power in a serious kind of way. And of course, we destroyed populist and radical movements, which have always broadened democracy within American society, it's something Howard Zinn wrote quite powerfully about in A People's History of the United States. It has been a long struggle, whether it's the abolitionist movement that fought slavery, whether it's the suffragists for women's rights, the labor movement, or the civil rights movement. And these forces have the ability to essentially destroy those movements, including labor unions, which made the middle class possible in this country. And have rendered us powerless.

BILL MOYERS: The Book is Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt. Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco. Thank you very much, Chris, for being with me.

Thus Chris Hedges describes the downside of corporate influence. As I see it, government policy in every area seems to have been dictated by the lobbyists. States are letting renewable energy initiatives stall because Shell and Exxon don't want the competition. Health Care policy makers have abandoned the idea of single-payer health insurance, which would let everyone benefit from group rates independent of employers, because it would lower the amounts insurance companies can collect. Pharmaceuticals, tax policy, farm policy, regulation of the financial services industry - all these areas need policies that would benefit the general public.

Corporate dominance has gotten stronger with the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court. This decision took away most of the limits on corporate spending in elections.

Lawrence Lessig has laid out the specifics of a good public campaign finance policy addressing the way lobbyists unduly influence politicians without actually bribing them. From his website, I see: How do we clean up politics?

• Provide that public elections are publicly funded;
• Limit, and make transparent, independent political expenditures;
• Close the revolving door between Congress and K Street; and
• Reaffirm that when the Declaration of Independence spoke of entities “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” it was speaking of natural persons only.

Tax Policy

When the richest slice of the population can largely avoid paying their share, it puts the burden on everyone else to pay for government. This limits the amount of short-term stimulus the government can afford to effect. This limits the number of jobs government can afford to create. Therefore tax policy can effect the participation of the middle-class in our economy.
Warren Buffet has shown that it is possible for a multi-billionaire to come out in favor of fairer tax policy – suggesting that a billionaire pay a higher tax rate than his secretary, which would mean disallowing the current tax dodges: dummy entities set up as sheltered pass-throughs for income. The sort of thing that Mitt Romney doesn't want us to see on his tax returns.

As the bible says, it is easier to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to pass into the gates of heaven. I don't foresee enough of the plutocrats taking positions like Buffet that favor the general public to make a difference in the area of taxes.

Lawrence Lessig on UpWithChrisHayes: [speaking of a CEO from a financial services company] And the Senate is filled with a bunch of people who only want to make this guy happy, now why is that? It`s because they know this guy has the power to blackmail both the Republican and Democratic parties because if you don`t have some kind of support from Wall Street, you lose the election. So, it is the power he has in the political system that makes this so terrifying.

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