Der amerikanische Autor und Edgar-Gewinner Thomas Adcock berichtet exklusiv für CULTurMAG in seiner wöchentlichen Kolumne von dem täglichen Wahnsinn des US-Wahlkampfs. Heute: Die Plutokratie der 1 Prozent.
The business pages of the New York Times—also known as the crime blotter, due to the photographic abundance of manacled small-fry tycoons en route to courtroom show trials for the benefit of the Manhattan district attorney’s re-election campaigns—are occasionally augmented by specially focused sections deemed by the publisher as a fine revenue bonus courtesy of advertisements aimed at subscribers who worship in the tabernacles of greed.
Such was the case with the October 17th edition of the Times, which featured a department entitled WEALTH.
Readers of unglamorous means might well have ignored the additional ten pages of last Wednesday’s number. That is unfortunate, for it is in the interest of survival that we non-millionaires of the United States understand WEALTH to be an indicator, right below our noses, of the crime that dare not speak its name: “Financial coup d’ètat,” as the economist Catherine Austin Fitts puts it.
No radical left-winger she, Ms. Fitts is a former board director of the Wall Street counting house Dillon, Read & Company. She served as well in the cabinet of former President George W. Bush, a conservative Republican.
Ms. Fitts and fellow eminences of the economist fraternity—along with entertainers the likes of Bruce Springsteen, some journalists, and even some politicians—are shouting from the rooftops of late about a calculated assault on the nation by one percent of the American population: those of staggering riches and historically dominant political control, those accused of picking the pockets of all the rest of us.
But their shouts are not the serious stuff of “debates” between presidential candidates this time—Barack Obama, incumbent from the Democratic Party, and Republican Party challenger Willard Mitt Romney.
Professor Michael Hudson of the University of Missouri, and a lecturer at the Berlin School of Economics, fears that all this heralds “a kind of neo-feudalism” for America, hastened by federal bailouts to failing Wall Street banks in early 2009—the very banks that perpetrated swindles on individual and institutional customers at home and abroad; overplayed their investment wagers and falsified documents in pursuit of cheap, overnight profit; and plunged the working- and middle-classes into insecurity and loss unseen since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Never mind. The banks were bailed out by a newly inaugurated president, Mr. Obama, with a consensus created by the corporate press and political establishment. The bankers’ opulent lifestyles were preserved. Legislative reform efforts were largely blocked by politicians who suckle at the teats of Wall Street lawyers the banks’ payrolls. The Congress initiated no meaningful investigations of wrongdoing. And nobody of consequence went to prison for nearly destroying the American economy—as well as the world’s.
The nation’s third president and principal author of the U.S. Constitution, Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) gave us early warning: “I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies.” Today, and despite the still-smoking wreckage of Wall Street-instigated recession, Mr. Jefferson’s sentiment would be described as crackpot.
Last May in a concert staged at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium, packed to the rafters with fifty-eight thousand German fans, Mr. Springsteen, the populist troubadour from a working-class city of New Jersey, summoned a strident brand of Jeffersonian spirit in his songs. In “Easy Money,” he ripped into “fat cats” who “just think it’s funny…when your whole world comes tumbling down.” In “Death to my Hometown,” he assailed the “greedy thieves and robber barons” who destroyed our families and factories and took our homes.”
In this election year of 2012, Mr. Obama, savior of Wall Street and the one percent, is opposed by a Republican multi-millionaire whose campaign coffers overflow with Wall Street money, due to suspicions in the counting houses that the president might affect a tepid strain of actual economic reform if given a second term. Both men claim to champions of “the middle class,” by which Americans measure a very broad swath of the populace.
Mr. Hudson—like Ms. Fitts, no radical; his pre-professorial employers were Chase Manhattan Bank and Arthur Andersen, the global accounting firm disgraced in 2010 for its role in the collapse of Enron—shares with Mr. Springsteen and the late President Jefferson a discontent for the direction of America’s economy, and thus the nation’s democracy. In his presentation to the Modern Monetary Theory Summit, convened last February in Italy, he said:
“The post-2008 bailouts have vested a new rentier elite to lord it over the twenty-first century, thanks to the fact that most gains since 1980 have gone to the one percent—mainly the financial sector not to the ninety-nine percent.”
As sign-off to a lively economics discussion last Sunday evening during his distinguished television broadcast, two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Bill Moyers—press secretary to former President Lyndon Johnson—gazed sternly into the camera, and said, “Welcome to plutocracy.”
As spectacle, the demise of ninety-nine percent of America is not without certain light-hearted moments. Tucked amongst the expensive full-color ads in WEALTH—for private golf clubs, investment banks, insurance companies, and Wall Street firms dealing in “wealth management”—was a service piece, as such articles are known in newspaper parlance. The headline: “Just the Thing for Those Who Have it All.” Herewith, a sampling of tchotchkes recommended for the low-class loaded:
• Gold-plated lamb skull, as objet d’art, $5.500 (€4.222)
• Loewe crocodile-skin Amazona handbag (dyed in either orange or pink), $29.650 (€22.765)
• Bespoke fragrances, available online from firstname.lastname@example.org, up to $56.800 (€43.611)
• Duck press (in pure brass!) from surlatable.com, $1.995 (€1.531)
• Reproductions of the Leica M9-P camera, Edition Hermès, up to $50.000 (€38.390)
Most Americans, myself included, are occupied with other consumer matters. Such as buying groceries, providing for our children’s needs, being able to pay the household utilities, and coming up with next month’s rent. (Messrs. Romney and Obama assure us they understand.) Many of us cannot remember when last we dined at a sit-down restaurant, or treated the whole family to an evening at the movies, or had sufficient funds for a summer vacation, or purchased clothing from a shop with mannequins in attractive display windows.
Ordinary stuff is the new dream of ordinary Americans. That is a far cry from merely two generations ago, or even from 2008 when the Great Recession hit us full bore.
“In light of the enormous productivity gains since the end of World War II, and especially since 1980, why isn’t everyone rich and enjoying the leisure economy that was promised?”
Such was Mr. Hudson’s rhetorical question at the summit in Italy.
“What [has been] applauded as a post-industrial economy has turned into a financialized economy,” he explained. “The reason you have to work so much harder than before, even when wages rise, is to carry your debt overhead. You’re unable to buy the goods you produce because you need to pay your bankers. And the only way that you can barely maintain your living standards is to borrow even more.”
He concluded, “That is the Eurozone plan in a nutshell…It is a financial plan that is replacing industrial capitalism with finance capitalism.”
Simply put, industrial capitalism of decades past was based on manufacturers of tangible products using profits to build more factories, buy more machinery, hire more (union) labor, and expand markets. Thus was created a national commonwealth that begat the great bulwark of post-World War II American democracy: namely, a broad middle class—with infrastructures of educational and economic policies that gave opportunity for many to rise to middle-class security. Today, there are pitifully few beneficiaries of finance capitalism. Banks have replaced factories.
“Banks lend out their receipt of interest, fees and penalties—which now yield credit card companies as much as interest—in new loans,” Mr. Hudson said during the summit. “[I]ncome used to pay debts cannot simultaneously be used to buy the goods and services that labor produces.”
Gains in interest dividends—to “legitimate” bankers, predatory lenders, and purveyors of unregulated Wall Street scams such as derivatives and collateralized debt obligations—produce greater and greater profits to wealthy investors, who grow ever more wealthy as ever more Americans rely on debt to keep their place in the middle class.
“The gains have been siphoned off by finance,” Mr. Hudson said. “And the financial dynamic ends up in austerity.”
All the while, wages and salaries have not kept pace with the onrush of the two-tiered U.S. plutocracy—the old money caste, whose family fortunes may not have been born of virgin birth; and the nouveau riche, personified by real estate vulgarian Donald Trump, whose contributions to society are casino gambling, serial bankruptcy, personal braggadocio, political pronunciamentoes, atrocious architecture, and something covering his head that appears to be made of bleached weasel hides.
If middle-income growth had matched the stratospheric rise in cash and property held by one percent of Americans, according to Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman in an April essay for the Times, “incomes of typical workers would be thirty to forty percent higher than they are.”
Bottom-line: the rich are stealing us blind; they have engaged the political establishment in their ongoing plunder; their appetite for increased riches is insatiable.
Now comes Willard Mitt Romney, a shyster millionaire with secret bank accounts in offshore tax havens who presumes himself fit for the presidency. Mr. Romney owns a more tasteful hair-do than Mr. Trump, a fellow Republican and frequently self-mentioned presidential prospect, but he is equally off-kilter in believing that personal wealth connotes ability to head the federal government.
The company Mr. Romney founded, Bain Capital Partners of Boston, owns Sensata Technologies, an auto parts manufacturing plant in Freeport, Illinois. Last year, Sensata reported the biggest annual profit since its creation in 2006. This despite the Great Recession, and despite the automobile industry’s faltering years.
Today, Sensata is in the process of shuttering its gates in Freeport—in preparation for a grand re-opening in China, where cheaper wages are certain to boost profits—more and more and more profits. Some two hundred American workers have been pink-slipped, and will soon begin the usual tailspin of economic and psychic damage.
But as I write, these American workers, whose annual wages average $32.240 (€24.752), are still reporting for duty today in Freeport. For the indeterminate time their jobs will last, they are assigned the tasks of training their replacements flown in from China—workers who will be paid a fraction of what their trainers earn.
Through what he calls a “blind trust” investment portfolio—a candidate for the common folk must not appear to be actively engaged in savaging same—Mr. Romney is due a brisk share of the increased profits resulting from yet another American factory closure, yet another outsourcing of middle-class jobs. A portion of this windfall, if not all of it, will likely go to numbered accounts at banks in Switzerland, or Luxembourg, or Bermuda, or the Cayman Islands.
Mr. Romney has persuaded an unknown number of his corporate brethren to bully employees into voting Republican for president, and appearing at Republican campaign events:
• Last August, a coal mine in Beallsville, Ohio, was shut down for reasons of “safety and security” when Mr. Romney swept into town one day to speak to local television news crews. Consequently, the workers at Century Mine were docked a day’s pay. Nevertheless, they were ordered to appear with Mr. Romney as a backdrop; cheering throngs of regular folks make a nice picture for a politician. In a radio interview with station WWVA, the mine company’s chief financial officer, Rob Moore, offered an ironic explanation: “[Managers] communicated to our workforce that the attendance at the Romney event was mandatory, but no one was forced to attend.”
• During the first week of this month, the chief executive officer of the Orlando, Florida, real estate firm West Gate Resorts sent an e-mail to employees to inform them, “I will have no choice but to reduce the size of [this] company” should Mr. Obama win re-election. David Siegel, who acknowledged to reporters that his company posted record profits during the first two quarters of this year, rejected any notion that the e-mail was intimidating. He told Businessweek magazine that because at West Gate, “We’re like a family. They’re like my children, and I’m the Jewish mother telling them to eat their spinach and vote for Romney.”
• Arthur Allen, chief of ASG Software Solutions of Naples, Florida, also issued an October e-mail threat to his workers should they fail to vote Republican. The memo was slipped to a reporter at MSNBC Television. “If we fail as a nation to make the right choice on November 6th, and lose our independence as a company,” Mr. Allen wrote, “I don’t want to hear any complaints regarding the fallout that will most likely come.”
Tidbits & Boldface Names from the Campaign Trail
An unidentified Caucasian man of muscular build, sporting a skinhead-style cranium, was admitted to an indoor Republican Party rally in Lancaster, Ohio. He wore a tight-fitting T-shirt emblazoned with the Mitt Romney/Paul Ryan campaign logo and block letters spelling out a message apparently meant to note the African heritage of the incumbent president. A photographer for Getty Images captured the T-shirt message for shameful posterity: PUT THE WHITE BACK IN THE WHITE HOUSE.
Billboards popped up last week in three cities with large populations of the sort of dark-skinned voters the Republican Party has targeted for intimidation, believing, correctly, that they will vote overwhelmingly for President Barack Obama. The billboards were erected in the dark of night—on framework owned by Clear Channel Communications, a company owned by Bain Capital Partners, founded by Mitt Romney—in predominantly African American neighborhoods of Cleveland and Cincinnati, both in Ohio, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. On the billboard is the image of a courtroom judge’s gavel striking a block, beneath the legend “Voter Fraud is a Felony!” The subject line says conviction may result in imprisonment and a fine of $10.000 (€7.668). In no state where Republicans have launched voter suppression drives has a single incident of in-person voter fraud been documented by election officials.
Former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson, currently his state’s Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, was forced to issue a statement of parental regret in the matter of a crude remark made by his son, Jason Thompson, during a Republican fundraising brunch.
In speaking of Barack Obama, the first African American to reside in the White House, Thompson fils referenced a pejorative widely admired by bigots and ignoramuses courted by Mitt Romney, the Republican challenger in next month’s election: “We have the opportunity to send President Obama back to Chicago—or Kenya.” (Mr. Obama was born in the state of Hawaii to an American mother and a Kenyan father, whom he never knew. Birth in the United States automatically confers citizenship.)
The remark is not in dispute, neither on grounds of accuracy or contest. It was captured on camera, and widely viewed via Internet.
“The governor has addressed this with his son, just like any father would do,” according to a written statement given to reporters by the campaign organization of Thompson, père. “Jason Thompson said something he should not have, and he apologizes.”
But not directly, nor entirely.
Jason Thompson, a 38-year-old attorney employed by a prominent Wisconsin law firm, has said nothing himself, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper.
Newly aboard the Mitt Romney campaign jet as a member of the Republican presidential candidate’s traveling press corps is one Jerome Corsi, author of a book alleging that President Barack Obama’s Hawaiian birth certificate is a forgery and that he is, in reality, a Kenyan-born Muslim. Mr. Corsi is also a senior staff reporter for World Net Daily, a political website popular with the non compos mentis element of the American electorate.
The September 11th edition of World Net includes an article in which Mr. Corsi quotes the unsubstantiated claims of a Chicago gossip columnist and “prominent member” of the city’s “homosexual community” that Mr. Obama was a “well known” patron of gay bathhouses while a member of the Illinois State Legislature from 1997-2004. In earlier exposés, Mr. Corsi has suggested that the president’s college roommate was among Mr. Obama’s several gay lovers, on the down-low, and that Chicago men of such proclivity are terrified of being murdered if their secrets are ever fully revealed.
Recently, Mr. Corsi has written that the president’s gold wedding ring is stamped with the Islamic declaration of faith: “There is no god except Allah.”
At one time or another, all other credentialed reporters aboard the candidate’s jet have described Mr. Corsi as homophobic, racist, anti-Muslim, anti-Jewish, and anti-Catholic. Accordingly they asked Mr. Romney’s press secretary, Andrea Saul, why on earth such a man is now given credence by the Republican campaign. Ms. Saul declined comment.
The ultra-conservative Tea Party, a political movement funded by corporations and right-wing billionaires, is in the midst of sending its most paranoid minions throughout the land to warn of an international plot that threatens America.
The alleged sinister plot was hatched in 1992 by nearly two hundred presidents and prime ministers gathered for the “Earth Summit” in Rio de Janeiro. The United Nations hosted the event as a means of generating ideas for sustainable development in the face of a rapidly growing global population. World leaders in attendance, including then-President George H.W. Bush, signed a non-binding U.N. resolution called “Agenda 21,” which endorsed a variety of measures meant to protect the planet’s environment.
Slowly but surely, whispers of an “elusive enemy that floats in and chokes you gradually” have made the rounds of this year’s Republican Party presidential and congressional campaign events from coast to coast—thanks to Tea Party activists like Judd Saul of Iowa, who last year failed in his attempt to win a seat on the Cedar Falls City Council.
Mr. Saul was first to wow Tea Party confreres around the country with the “elusive enemy” line. In an interview with Nick Carey of the Reuters News Service of Britain, Mr. Saul admitted that the line made him “sound a bit unhinged.”
Others of Mr. Saul’s outlook—who may or may not have actually read the text of Agenda 21—claim the U.N. resolution is no less than an attack on their existence, and “part of a grand conspiracy to take away their gun rights, destroy suburbia, and turn America into a modern-day Soviet state,” according to Mr. Carey’s dispatch.
Delegates to the Republican national convention in Florida last August adopted a resolution condemning the Agenda 21 resolution of twenty years ago.
Lies are the familiar elements expected in political campaigns of both Democratic and Republican candidates, for posts ranging from village dog-catcher to the presidency. But seldom in U.S. history, if ever, have lies been so abundant as in this year’s crop of Republicans in quest of federal office. Republican lies are so shamelessly repetitive that media, and Democratic opponents, have become dulled to near total silence by a constant chorus of calumniation.
The latest permutation came with a publicity stunt two weeks ago by Paul Ryan, who seeks the vice-presidency as Mitt Romney’s running mate.
Following a campaign rally in Youngstown, Ohio, Mr. Ryan was en route to the city’s airport when he spied a roadside soup kitchen run by the St. Vincent De Paul Society, a Roman Catholic charity. Wishing to demonstrate his benignant concern for the hungry and destitute, the candidate ordered the driver of his bullet-proof limousine to pull up to the curb, whereupon Mr. Ryan dashed inside to volunteer fifteen minutes worth of humble service as dishwasher and earnest scrubber of pots and pans.
Television camera crews obligingly tagged along for the impromptu photo opportunity.
But as politicians often discover, unscripted moments have risks. In the soup kitchen episode, poor folks who might have collectively serve as a useful backdrop to Mr. Ryan’s display of compassion had cleared out after their meal. Not only that, the scullery had long since been cleaned: dishes, cooking vessels, and utensils sterilized in accordance with local sanitation code.
Undaunted, the Republican candidate—himself of Irish-Catholic heritage, recently accused by bishops of his church for advocating “immoral” proposals in federal budget cuts in programs of support to the hungry and destitute—donned a white apron and commenced to washing and scrubbing what clearly had no need of washing and/or scrubbing. (In fact, Mr. Ryan’s ministrations required a second sterilization phase, post photo-op, per sanitation code.)
The head of local Vincentian society, Brian J. Antal, told the Youngstown Vindicator newspaper that Mr. Ryan and the television crews “ramrodded their way” into the soup kitchen without permission. Juanita Sherba, a soup kitchen volunteer, spoke of her pungent objection on being ordered to stand aside for ramrodders at the gate. She told the newspaper, “It was the phoniest piece of baloney I’ve ever been associated with.”
The terms “baloney” and “malarkey” are synonyms for dishonesty, and both have been used to describe Mr. Ryan’s antics. The terms were coined by Mr. Ryan’s prominent fellow Irish-Catholics—the late New York Governor Alfred E. Smith and the late showbiz journalist Jack Conway, respectively. A week prior to Mr. Ryan’s soup kitchen baloney, he was repeatedly called out for malarkey during a televised debate with his Democratic opponent for the vice-presidency, the incumbent Joe Biden, likewise Irish-Catholic.
Copyright © 2012 by Thomas Adcock
THOMAS ADCOCK is a novelist and journalist based in New York City. Winner of the prestigious Edgar Allan Poe Award, given by Mystery Writers of America, his books and articles have been published worldwide. Writing as Tom Dey, he is currently completing a new novel titled “Lovers & Corpses.” Mehr zu Thomas Adcock hier und hier.