“Be prepared, then, for the
reduction of taxes for the wealthy, and for the corporations, and the
elimination of the social safety nets for everybody else, because
money spent on the poor means less money left for the corporations” – Keith Olbermann on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court ruling that U.S. politicians are for sale to the highest bidders.
Like a priest elevating a communion wafer, a man begging for change on St. Marks Place blesses me for giving him a quarter: NYC, near midnight, February or March 1967. The encounter remains vivid – poignant even – though curiously enough I had forgotten what equipment made the image. But adjacent frames on the negative strip – a fire survivor – indicate the lens was a 28mm, my shortest focal-length until I could afford a 21mm Zeiss Flektagon in 1969, so it had to be an f/2.8 Canon, surely wide open, on either a IIIG Leica or a Canon VT: rangefinder cameras allow fast accurate focus in extremely low light and can be hand-held without blur at shutter speeds below 1/30th of a second (I have a vague recollection this was at 1/15th). The 28mm lens required an auxiliary viewfinder attached to the body's accessory shoe; the Canon had integral framing only for 35mm and 50mm lenses; the Leica only for 50mm. The film is Tri-X (of course), probably exposed at 1200 ASA for development in Diafine. Photograph by Loren Bliss, copyright 1971, 1973, 2010.
*We live in as bad a time as I have ever known in a very different realm from the blessed nation into which I was born.
Deep Horizon, an offshore oil well with a name eerily suggestive of black holes, has blown its greed-enfeebled preventers and is poisoning the planet with a 200,000-gallon-per-day gusher of tyrannosauric putrescence a mile beneath the surface of the Gulf of Mexico.
Meanwhile the impending destruction of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid exposed by Jane Hamsher's superb investigative reporting confirms the post-Citizens United escalation of the class-war has already begun.
Hamsher's findings again bring into sharp focus the extent to which Barack Obama (and the DemocRats in general) are proving “change we can believe in” to have been the biggest of Big Lies – save of course for the Wall Streeters who are already radically enriched by the new administration's continuation and expansion of the looting begun decades ago by the GOPorkers.
Thus we learn “hope” is not the “audacity” Obama so deviously claimed it to be, but rather undeniable proof of our own gullibility.
Thus too we learn the reality of death panels: Obama's National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform – more appropriately known as the “let them eat cat-food commission” – will undoubtedly inflict death if it savages Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid as intended.
What these bitter lessons have in common is capitalism, the judicial doctrine of corporate personhood and the politics of moral imbecility that result.
From Freedoms For Everyone To Freedoms For The Highest Bidder
The transformation of the United States from constitutional democracy to capitalist despotism is vividly reflected in the differences between the texts of two broadcasts.
One is President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's “Four Freedoms” address – actually his State-of-the-Union speech – on 6 January 1941, aired by the national radio networks; the other is Keith Olbermann's MSNBC report of 22 January 2010 on the meaning of the Supreme Court decision entitled Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.
Roosevelt – by far our greatest president (and now obviously the greatest president this nation will ever produce) – summarized the essence of what came to be known as the American Dream:
“The basic things expected by our people of their political and economic systems are simple.”
“Equality of opportunity for youth and for others.
“Jobs for those who can work.
“Security for those who need it.
“The ending of special privilege for the few.
“The preservation of civil liberties for all.
“The enjoyment -- the enjoyment of the fruits of scientific progress in a wider and constantly rising standard of living.
“These are the simple, the basic things that must never be lost sight of in the turmoil and unbelievable complexity of our modern world. The inner and abiding strength of our economic and political systems is dependent upon the degree to which they fulfill these expectations.”
Then Roosevelt globalized the Dream:
“In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.”
“The first is freedom of speech and expression -- everywhere in the world.
“The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way -- everywhere in the world.
“The third is freedom from want, which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants -- everywhere in the world.
“The fourth is freedom from fear, which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor -- anywhere in the world.
“That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation.”
Though it was scarcely noticed, FDR thus implicitly declared the United States in competition with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics for the hearts and minds of humanity – capitalism versus communism; democratic process versus revolution; the state as arbiter of class interests versus the state as the vengeful fist of the newly liberated proletariat:
At first, via the American Dream, capitalism showed the world a seductively benign facade.
But 50 years later the collapse of the U.S.S.R. absolved the capitalists of any competitive need to disguise or restrain capitalism's intrinsic malignancy.
And 19 years after that, Citizens United gave the Supreme Court's endorsement to the political bribery by which government at every level of our nation is being redirected to the exclusive service of capitalism: absolute power and unlimited profit for the Ruling Class, total subjugation and bottomless poverty for all the rest of us.
So died the American Dream – murdered, actually – slain by the same Ruling Class that created it as a propaganda weapon against socialism.
And now there is not one remaining barrier against the unspeakable tyrannies implicit in the capitalist ethos of infinite greed as maximum virtue.
Capitalism's Death Warrant Against Constitutional Democracy
While Citizens United is clearly written and readily available (Google it, then click on ScotusWiki), it is also 183 pages long.
The associated legal commentaries tend to be turgid and passive-voiced – as if the authors were shamed to grammatical avoidance by the decision's function and had retreated into lawerly convolutions to avoid direct confrontation with its dreadful contents.
One exception was Olbermann's commentary, which I had watched when it was broadcast on 22 January. But I searched the Internet for about six hours before I found – thanks to Michael Moore's website – a public-domain video and transcript I could use here.
Olbermann speaks with an honesty and forthrightness almost unknown on today's Ruling Class Media:
“Right now, you can prostitute all of the politicians some of the time, and prostitute some of the politicians all the time, but you cannot prostitute all the politicians all the time. Thanks to Chief Justice Roberts this will change. Unless this mortal blow is somehow undone, within ten years, every politician in this country will be a prostitute...”
“Be prepared, then, for the reduction of taxes for the wealthy, and for the corporations, and the elimination of the social safety nets for everybody else, because money spent on the poor means less money left for the corporations...
“Be prepared, then, for wars sold as the 'new products'...for the ban on same-sex marriage, on abortion, on evolution...for racial and religious profiling, because you've got to blame somebody for all the reductions in domestic spending and civil liberties...
“And be prepared, then, for...President Palin, because if you need a friendly face of fascism, you might as well get one that can wink...
“Be prepared for the little changes, too. If there are any small towns left to take-over, Wal-Mart can now soften them up with carpet advertising for their Wal-Mart town council candidates, brought to you by Wal-Mart...
Citizens United truly is the death warrant for what little remains of our liberty.
To paraphrase an 18th Century Scots ballad: “Tyrants' steel we could disdain, but tyrants gold has been our bane: such a parcel of rogues rules the nation.”
Capitalism = Corporate Personhood = Moral Imbecility = Capitalism
If we evaluate capitalism as we should – by observation of its real-world behavior (precisely as we are allegedly taught to evaluate communism and socialism) – we see that capitalism truly is infinite greed elevated to maximum virtue.
It grants its tiny aristocracy unimaginable wealth and unrestrained power without regard for the consequences, whether human or more broadly environmental, and it rewards these aristocrats with the billion-dollar applause of soaring stock prices.
For the few so favored, this is surely the economic and political fulfillment of Ayn Rand's assertion that run-amok selfishness is the ultimate human good.
But wealth is an ever-more limited quantity, which means that the plutocrats' gains – again to the villainous relish of the stock market – increasingly condemn all the rest of us to the inescapable poverty of “Jobless Recovery”: investors scammed out of their life savings and irremediably ruined; lives destroyed by downsizing, outsourcing, foreclosure, homelessness and the corporate murder essential to suppress rebellion abroad and silence critics at home, the Litany of the Slain including Joe Hill, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Robert F. Kennedy, Fred Hampton, Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer, William Schroeder, Phillip Lafayette Gibbs, James Earl Green, Karen Silkwood, perhaps Paul Wellstone...
Such is Ayn Rand's virtue, its good further detailed by Bhopal, Exxon Valdez and the dying Gulf of Mexico; by Enron and Goldman Sachs; by Massey Energy, British Petroleum and Halliburton ad nauseum.
We would be oppressed enough if the greed-and-selfishness ethos of capitalism had remained exclusively the defining characteristic of the Ruling Class, as indeed it was in former times: the United States of the Industrial Workers of the World versus the Wall Street plutocrats and their goon squads, governmental and civilian; the Russian Empire of the Bolsheviki versus the Tsar, his Grand Dukes, their Okhrana, their cossacks and pogroms.
But the capitalists are not stupid – in fact U.S. capitalists are arguably the most brilliant tyrants in human history.
Long ago – first in the post-Civil-War South (and well before Rand put her class-war invective into words) – the capitalists recognized that when the greed-and-selfishness ethos is metastasized throughout society as the only valid basis of human relationships, it becomes the ultimate facilitator of “growth” – ensuring the capitalists their limitless profits even as it guarantees the endless subjugation of all the rest of us in the consumeroid rat-race.
The process is notably complete in the United States, where the Ruling Class has so thoroughly conditioned us to accept its credo of infinite greed as maximum virtue, our Working Class potential for solidarity has been obliterated forever – destroyed beyond any rational possibility of restoration.
In this context Citizens United merely guarantees the endless flow of political bribery essential to ensure our continued powerlessness.
Meanwhile – because corporations have long been the primary mechanism by which the Ruling Class wields power – it is no coincidence the U.S. judiciary has granted corporations the constitutional protections of personhood.
Noam Chomsky writes authoritatively on this subject in “The Corporate Takeover of U.S. Democracy”:
“In the early 20th century, legal theorists and courts (adopted and implemented) the...principle that (corporations) have the same rights as persons of flesh and blood...In later years these rights were expanded far beyond those of persons...Furthermore, the courts determined that these state-established 'natural entities' must restrict themselves to pursuit of profit and market share...”
In other words, corporations-as-persons are uniquely bound to seek maximum wealth and ultimate monopoly – hence (again) the capitalist credo of infinite greed as maximum virtue: not just desiderata but a specific response to mandates imposed by the U.S. judiciary.
Hence too the corporate “person” in action: Jobless Recovery, downsizing, outsourcing, foreclosure, homelessness and corporate murder; investors maliciously scammed out of their life savings and irremediably ruined; Bhopal, Exxon Valdez and the dying Gulf of Mexico; Enron and Goldman Sachs; Massey Energy, British Petroleum and Halliburton ad nauseum – all excused as “pursuit of profit and market share” – any considerations of conscience or humanitarian restraint implicitly excluded.
But what sort of real-world, flesh-and-blood person acts without conscience or humanitarian restraint?
Capitalism proclaims such a being “successful” whether “success” is achieved by individual or corporate personhood.
Clinical psychology labels such a person a sociopath – and notes how the same characteristically selfish lack of empathy that defined Ted Bundy also defines many of the most successful capitalists.
Martha Stout describes the syndrome vividly:
“Imagine - if you can - not having a conscience, none at all, no feelings of guilt or remorse no matter what you do, no limiting sense of concern of the well-being of strangers, friends, or even family members. Imagine no struggles with shame, not a single one in your whole life, no matter what kind of selfish, lazy, harmful, or immoral action you had taken.”
Indeed – and precisely as Stout implies – the only distinction between the behavior of some murderous fat-cat capitalist and Bundy is in the huge and hypocritical difference in how it is presented to us.
Woody Guthrie said it as well as anybody: “Some rob you with a sixgun, some rob you with a fountain pen.”
Whether the personhood of the perpetrator is corporate or criminal or both, a synonym for “sociopath” is “moral imbecile,” a term that originated in the 19th Century and had been dwindling into archaic obscurity until it was resurrected by journalists in response to the 20th Century's plague of serial murderers.
In the knife-edged words of Edgar Rice Burroughs, the moral imbecile is “as well able to differentiate between right and wrong as is any normal man — the difference between the two lies in the fact that the moral imbecile does not care what the results may be to others.”
Think of corporate personhood as Ted Bundy not only set free by judicial decree but ordered to run amok and exempted by the courts from any obligation or culpability save the mandate to brandish his trophies as proof of his success at generating profit.
Meanwhile – as the presidential cat-food commission schemes the death-panel looting of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid – Deep Horizon threatens to become the Event Horizon of our extinction.
Thus capitalism, which we once believed our savior, now reveals itself as the doomsday mechanism of terminal species failure.
I wonder which of its manifestations will kill us first: our poisoned environment or the extermination-by-abandonment implicit in “jobless recovery” and the destruction of the remainder of the social safety net.
LB/10-12 May 2010