Category "Politics In America"

Donald Trump: The Vince McMahon of American Politics, Blowing The Curtain Off The Fraud

August 8th, 2015 by Andy in Politics In America

Donald Trump is like a Vince McMahon of American politics. The owners are supposed to buy and sell the players, not become one themselves.

McMahon made news when he stepped out from his privileged place as the owner of the World Wrestling Federation, and decided to join the fray, becoming a wrestling star himself. A creative example of total horizontal and vertical integration of one’s power over the sport, in not only owning the game, but making one’s bid to stand atop it as a performing champion, as well.

Trump and his fellow plutocrats have spent decades buying and selling those who play the political game, but now he’s blowing apart the status quo of the game by interjecting himself directly onto the playing field itself. Where this will go, and what its longer term impact may be, well… it could be creatively destructive of the ossified oligarchic domination of the processes. Or, more likely, it could very well be a harbinger for the ascendency of the total dominance of the military-industrial-surveillance-incarceration-entertainment complex (i.e. modern corporate fascism) over our society.

The man is a demagogue, and one who we laugh at at our own risk, as William Astore warns of in his posting on Donald Trump and American Fascism at The Contrary Perspective

Before he got his grip on power, many in Germany thought that Hitler was a joke: bad haircut, ill-fitting clothes, vulgar accent. Hitler was known as the “Bohemian Corporal,” a euphemism which in colloquial American English translates to “Hillbilly Grunt.”  As a result, “good” Germans just couldn’t take Hitler that seriously.  They underestimated him — and when they tried to move against him, it was far too late.

Of course, I’m not saying that Trump is some kind of Hitler.  The circumstances have some very important differences, in particular the lack of a large, organized left, particularly in the shape of a Communist Party vying for power, nor the levels of economic destitution that afflicted Weimar at the time. What I am saying is that popular demagogues are easy to make fun of — easy, that is, until they gain power.

And Twitter blogger Billmon makes some quite salient points with some recent postings on “The Donald”…

“One of Trump’s secret weapons is his ability to bring every argument down to kindergarten level — the same emotional level as his supporters.

“For Trump, it’s always about him, his opponents are always motivated by personal jealousy or resentment of his greatness.

“The Trump crowd just eats this shit up: The swaggering, blustering, egotistical guy who personalizes every issue. A vicarious thrill ride, as his followers live through him, as he says & does things they could never actually say & do themselves. He rescues them from their impotence.”

“Trump is shallow, vain, petty, emotionally stunted? “So what!” his audience roars. “So are we!

“The emotional bond between Trump and his mob is something the elites will never get — their minions are his loyalists.”

All of that said, there is a reason that Trump resonates with so many. Like with the original rise of the Tea Party (before its rapid co-option by the interests of corporate capital), it spreads onto the scene because it taps into a deep and legitimate grievance. In this case, a fundamental understanding by the great majority of the electorate that the system is thoroughly rigged and fatally flawed, serving as simply a purchased commodity of the rich to do their bidding.

And as Bill Astore referenced, the use of the Hitler analogy, regardless of any criticisms of having invoked Godwin’s Law, has some applicability to this situation. For the Nazis *did* generate sympathy and support in spite of their often politically vulgar approach, and the use of what were often dismissed as clownish characteristics. This was because they were the only ones to tap directly into the nature of the suffering that the German people were experiencing at the time, and some of truths regarding the injustice of it. Trump is doing the same in regards to people’s disgust with the American political system, and it is why the elite interests who currently own and control governance in the U.S., are determined to derail him, for making explicit what they have fed off of implicitly for so long.

Mike Whitney highlights in Counterpunch on how Trump’s triumph is in how this bloating billionaire exposes our fake political system.

How often does a fatcat billionaire-insider appear on TV and announce that the whole system is a big-fat scam run by crooks and patsies?

Never, that’s when. But that’s what Trump did last night. And that’s why the clatter of ruthless miscreants who run the system behind the smokescreen of fake politicians are sharpening their knives right now before Manhattan’s rogue elephant does even more damage to their precious system.

Just think about what the man said. He not only explained that the whole system is rigged (Baier: “And when you give, they do whatever the hell you want them to do.”…TRUMP: “You’d better believe it.”), he also said that the politicians will do whatever they’re told to do.  (TRUMP: Well, …with Hillary Clinton, I said be at my wedding and she came to my wedding. You know why? She didn’t have a choice because I gave.”)

Doesn’t that confirm your darkest suspicions about the way the system really works, that money talks and that elections are just a way to get the sheeple to rubber-stamp a corrupt, fraudulent system?

Of course, it does.

So, let’s summarize: Moneybags capitalist loudmouth explains to 80 million dumbfounded Americans watching prime time TV, that the system is a total fraud, that the big money runs everything, and that even he thinks the system is broken.

Pointing out the obvious in a way that may meaningful enlighten people, and to do so with impunity, is not something the elites of power can nor will afford. Trump is dangerous; to some because he tells the truth they don’t want told, while others will be threatened by his ability to hijack these truths, not to enlighten and liberate people, but to attain dominance over them. The only person Donald Trump is interested in liberating is himself, from all constraints over his capacity to wield power.

Trump both blows the curtain off the fraud, while simultaneously and flagrantly exploiting that very same fraud. Brilliant really. Or perhaps simply sociopathic in its execution.

Regardless, we may laugh at antics, but in the end the joke is on us.

POST NOTE: We should be on the look out for elite power, the guardians of the neoliberal order, to more and more attempt to conflate right wing populist nationalism with left wing social democratic initiatives, in order to discredit both for the threats they pose to established power. We’re seeing it in examples like This and This.

Forget a Sanders or Clinton Candidacy - It’s Jim Webb For The Democrats

July 12th, 2015 by Andy in Politics In America

This is not a bad analysis of the prognosis for who will end up being the Democratic nominee for the presidency next year. There are of course so many factors involved that come into play that who really knows. However, what can be stated is that whatever change is made in that office will have little to do with the changes needed and necessary. Whether those needed structural changes begin to truly manifest remains to be seen. What we do know is that whoever ends up as the poster boy or girl figurehead for executive authority in this country will be a reflection of those changes, not an agent of them.

It’s looking to me like Jim Webb is going to be the democrat’s nominee, and I’ll tell you why. I’ve been living on another planet if this country is going to elect an avowed socialist. It’s not only the corporate sponsored fear pandering that will be employed, though have no doubt, they have the power to make almost anything convincing against any sanity and reason (just look at the Republican slate for a ready example). Hillary is toast without progressive support, and I just can’t see that support. And no self respecting Republican, in spite of her record, could bring themselves to vote for her.

Now look at Webb. He’s an ex-Republican with all the quirky, 20th century idealism that I’m pretty sure any pundit will recognize as transcending party lines, and the oligarchs know it. He is the only candidate with tattoos, which will deliver the throngs of intellectually impaired libertarians into his camp, as they find someone they can identify with. Progressives will be marginalized into an insignificant bloc, masturbating in the shadows to “the Bern.” Webb reportedly once kicked Ollie North’s ass in a Marine Corps boxing match. This will ignite liberals and conservatives alike; liberals because North was a prototypical Nixon-style example of chauvinistic patriotism, and conservatives because he smeared Reagan’s regime. Webb’s also got some deep military credentials, and if I recall correctly he left the Senate because he was fed up. People will like that. He also holds southern values in high regard. He’ll be seen as the perfect guy for this country.

By the way, in regard to Trump’s surging poll numbers, there is a significant minority among us who subscribe to the notion that presidential leadership requires corporate skills, and they like his candor in all the racist pandering. I’m seeing a Rubio/Webb contest, and I’m pretty sure in that context Webb will kick ass. We will get what we deserve I guess. Just be grateful I don’t know what I’m talking about.

- Denny Zappin

Perhaps Denny has a better grasp on what he is talking about here than he gives himself credit for. At least in regards to the cultural context within which such elections are constructed and directed towards.

We have yet to see the political pandering machines go into overdrive regarding the candidates, particularly against Sanders (though its coming). As USTV Media co-producer Ed Lacy has pointed out, Hillary Clinton will likely attempt to co-opt the Bernie Sanders constituency into their campaign if he isn’t nominated (Clinton has already started by launching her campaign from the memorial to the most progressive American president in the last 150 years, Franklin Roosevelt). If they try, “I think they have a big surprise in store.” HRC is a DLC fraud, and Lacy and many others are increasingly vocal about how they “would never trust her or vote for her no matter what she says now. If she or Jim Webb or any of the rest of that New Labour/New Democrat/Goldman Sachs crowd think that they can just pivot Bernie Sanders constituency if he isn’t nominated, I think they have a big surprise in store.”

Social Democracy Is 100% American

July 4th, 2015 by Andy in Politics In America

My friend, the author and scholar Harvey J. Kaye, delivers this missive on BillMoyers.comfor the 4th of July, reminding us that social democratic principles are, contrary to right wing rhetoric, not “leftist extremism,” but at the very heart of the creation and evolution of America’s political purpose.

Social democracy is 100 percent American. We may be latecomers to recognizing a universal right to health care (indeed, we are not quite there yet). But we were first in creating a universal right to public education, in endowing ourselves with ownership of national parks, and, for that matter, in conferring voting rights on males without property and abolishing religious tests for holding national office.

But there’s even more to the story. It was the American Revolution’s patriot and pamphleteer, Thomas Paine, a hero today to folks left and right, including tea partiers, who launched the social-democratic tradition in the 1790s. In his pamphlets, Rights of Man and Agrarian Justice, Paine outlined plans for combating poverty that would become what we today call Social Security.

As Paine put it in the latter work, since God has provided the earth and the land upon it as a collective endowment for humanity, those who have come to possess the land as private property owe the dispossessed an annual rent for it. Specifically, Paine delineated a limited redistribution of income by way of a tax on landed wealth and property. The funds collected were to provide both grants for young people to get started in life and pensions for the elderly.


The social-democratic tradition was nurtured by Americans both immigrant and native-born, by the so-called “sewer socialist” German Americans who helped to build the Midwest and, inspired by the likes of Eugene Debs and Victor Berger, radically improved urban life by winning battles for municipal ownership of public utilities. By the Jewish and Italian workers who toiled and suffered in the sweatshops of New York and Chicago but then, led by David Dubinsky and Sidney Hillman, created great labor unions such as the International Ladies Garment Workers Union and the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. By the farmers and laborers who rallied to the grand encampments on the prairies organized by populists and socialists across the southwest to hear how, working together in alliances, they could break the grip of Wall Street and create a Cooperative Commonwealth. By African-Americans who came north in the Great Migration to build new lives for themselves and, led by figures such as the socialist, labor leader and civil rights activist A. Philip Randolph, energized the civil rights movement in the 1930s.

And beyond simply the struggle for civil and labor rights, the very premise of the efforts of the so-called “Greatest Generation” reiterated

Moreover, those we celebrate as the Greatest Generation, the men and women who confronted the Great Depression and went on to defeat fascism, fought for the decidedly social-democratic Four Freedoms, freedom of speech and religion, freedom from want and fear, and the chance of realizing them at war’s end.

Polls conducted in 1943 showed that 94 percent of Americans endorsed old-age pensions; 84 percent, job insurance; 83 percent, universal national health insurance; and 79 percent, aid for students, leading FDR in his 1944 State of the Union message to propose a Second Bill of Rights that would guarantee those very things to all Americans. All of which would be blocked by a conservative coalition of pro-corporate Republicans and white supremacist southern Democrats. And yet, with the aid of the otherwise conservative American Legion, FDR did secure one of the greatest social-democratic programs in American history: the G.I. Bill that enabled 12,000,000 returning veterans to progressively transform themselves and the nation for the better.

I do take issue with Harvey on this rather overly generous inquiry regarding the perspectives and intentions of Hillary Clinton…

Though she never did actually pronounce the words of FDR’s Four Freedoms, her speech revealed some awareness of a reviving - dare we say it? - social-democratic spirit? Whether simply tactical or genuine on her part is an important question that remains to be answered.

I think that question has been clearly and thoroughly answered by a lifetime of policy decision making by this woman, whose politics are aggressively neoliberal in content and militaristic in application. Her latest political feint’s in this direction are simply designed to fend off the surging wave of support for Bernie Sanders, and to corral the insurrectionary spirit surging up among the American electorate back into the dead end of the Democratic Party.

So on this 4th of July, here’s to reinvigorating that revolutionary spirit within the trajectory of the American political scene. The very creation of UnCommon Sense TV Media was predicated upon awareness of that need, one seemingly required more than ever today by the circumstances of our time.

For the political revolution of 1776 was in many ways a fundamentally radical act (though the English Civil War of a century earlier helped set the precedent). If the American Revolution was about anything, it was about challenging the notion of government being a tool to confer privilege on insiders, on power being wielded by the few in order to benefit the few at the expense of the many; an age old dilemma we continue to confront generation after generation. Though highly imperfect in what it defined as the “many,” and the “people,” it was a major step in a progressively expansive direction, a notable act towards increased justice on that “long arc of history” that Martin Luther King, Jr. once spoke of. Long live the Revolution.

MLK vs. Malcolm X

February 23rd, 2015 by Andy in Politics In America

King was right about people. Malcolm X was right about systems. And systems have their own way of sublimating people, regardless of their individual nature or intentions. Its why you can’t look to change systems by appealing simply to people’s individual conscience. They are part of the social ecosystem for sure, but its like trying to combat climate change through changing light bulbs and recycling.

Chris Hedges lays out a provocative analysis about the comparative importance of both figures, yet leaving little doubt as to which one he believes should be considered more relevant to our situation today…

Malcolm X , unlike Martin Luther King Jr., did not believe America had a conscience. For him there was no great tension between the lofty ideals of the nation—which he said were a sham—and the failure to deliver justice to blacks. He, perhaps better than King, understood the inner workings of empire. He had no hope that those who managed empire would ever get in touch with their better selves to build a country free of exploitation and injustice. He argued that from the arrival of the first slave ship to the appearance of our vast archipelago of prisons and our squalid, urban internal colonies where the poor are trapped and abused, the American empire was unrelentingly hostile to those Frantz Fanon called “the wretched of the earth.” This, Malcolm knew, would not change until the empire was destroyed.


King was able to achieve a legal victory through the civil rights movement, portrayed in the new film “Selma.” But he failed to bring about economic justice and thwart the rapacious appetite of the war machine that he was acutely aware was responsible for empire’s abuse of the oppressed at home and abroad. And 50 years after Malcolm X was assassinated in the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem by hit men from the Nation of Islam, it is clear that he, not King, was right. We are the nation Malcolm knew us to be. Human beings can be redeemed. Empires cannot. Our refusal to face the truth about empire, our refusal to defy the multitudinous crimes and atrocities of empire, has brought about the nightmare Malcolm predicted. And as the Digital Age and our post-literate society implant a terrifying historical amnesia, these crimes are erased as swiftly as they are committed.


“Martin [Luther King Jr.] doesn’t have the revolutionary fire that Malcolm had until the very end of his life,” Cornel West says in his book with Christa Buschendorf, “Black Prophetic Fire.” “And by revolutionary fire I mean understanding the system under which we live, the capitalist system, the imperial tentacles, the American empire, the disregard for life, the willingness to violate law, be it international law or domestic law. Malcolm understood that from very early on, and it hit Martin so hard that he does become a revolutionary in his own moral way later in his short life, whereas Malcolm had the revolutionary fire so early in his life.”

Read The Full Essay

Martin Luther King Jr. on the Three Evils of Society

January 27th, 2015 by Andy in Politics In America

I would vote for this perhaps being Martin Luther King’s greatest, most radical speech he ever gave. It certainly resonates all-too-well with the tenor of current times, unfortunately. Addressing the “three evils” of modern American society - war, racism, poverty - MLK directly takes on the moral vacuity of material consumerism, the politics of diversion and distraction, and the spiritual illegitimacy of war.

This speech is at times almost a cavalcade of greatest hits when it comes to some of his most well known, and radical, points that became more well known through their inclusion in various other addresses of his over the years. If you want to know about what King was really about, if you doubt the radicalism of his politics, and wonder why the government resorted to backing his murder, this speech may help begin to explain it.

Many thanks to Pacifica Radio for having covered this and preserving it in their archives.

FDR and the Fight for the Four Freedoms

April 14th, 2014 by Andy in Politics In America, Video

A friend of mine, historian Harvey J. Kaye, has a new book out on FDR and the Fight For The Four Freedoms, and the need for reinvigorating the fight for them today. This is a project he’s been working on for many years, and it strikes me as more relevant and needed today than ever.

Our society loves to celebrate the “greatest generation” and the heroes of World War II and all. Harvey sheds some essential light upon what exactly they were fighting for, and the type of society that most Americans were setting out to protect and advance through the sacrifices made in that war (principles that have been sold out from under us by our recent generation of neo-liberal market fundamentalists).

Here, Harvey talks to Bill Moyers in an enlightening and inspiring discussion, worth the few minutes of viewing time.

You can also watch Harvey talk about FDR, as well as the legacy of Thomas Paine, in an hour-long interview with Thom Hartmann. Kaye also makes this short appearance on another of Hartmann’s programs in to talk about the fight for the Four Freedoms.

What We Must Do: How To Enable A Movement For Real Change

November 10th, 2013 by Andy in Politics In America, Video

This is a great talk by Gar Alperovitz, Professor of Political Economy at the University of Maryland, and co-founder of The Democracy Collaborative. Referencing his work What Then Must We Do? Straight Talk About the Next American Revolution, Alperovitz provides some excellent insights and advice about how we can most effectively go from here in addressing the profoundly challenging issues of our time.

Alperovitz challenges our “vested interest in pessimism,” which forgives apathy and inaction, for if one “believes nothing serious can be done, you don’t have to do anything.” Transformation rarely happens overnight. It’s all about every action we take, step by step. What can seem like a futile action in one sense, is actually part of the building blocks, laying the seed for further action, until a tipping point is reached. Alperovitz puts a healthy emphasis on what we do locally, for if we can’t change our own communities, we aren’t (and can’t) change anything. Also, some good descriptions on why the problems we face are fundamentally systemic, and how and why politics as usual is a dead end. It’s all good, but starts to dig in even deeper about 12-14 minutes in.

Communication and Information Rights as a Key To Political Campaign Reform

October 21st, 2013 by Andy in Politics In America, Video

An informative discussion with Yale Law School professor Heather Gerken, regarding the corroding effects of unregulated political campaign financing, and how an increasingly wooden adherence to one fundamental American value, “freedom,” is undermining another of the major tenets upon which American society was originally founded: equality.

Of particular note is the insightful acknowledgement contained within her argument that it is not so much the presence of money in politics that is the problem; you’re always going to have money as a necessary fuel for helping to enable the processes involved in social and political action. The real issue needing to be addressed is one of transparency. Gerken is implicitly touching upon a primordially important point here in regards to communication rights (and their accompanying brethren, the right to information). It is once again demonstrative of why communication rights can be defined as “the hole in the death star,” in that if we change the parameters of what information can and should be accessible, and provide the communicative systems in which it can be made effectively available, then many of the other problematic symptoms of our troubled society will be much easier to deal with.

“We are today in an environment in which any lie or falsehood can be peddled by major power factions, and where no traceable accountability can be assigned for those doing the speaking, or who is enabling the speech.”

BILL MOYERS: Everyday people, the polls show they realize, 70, 75 percent realize that there’s too much money in politics. And they just say, they throw up their hands and turn away. Is that your experience?

HEATHER GERKEN: I think the better way to think about it is there’s always going to be money in politics. But it matters where the money goes and how it gets there. So just to give you an example, even with independent spending which has been really terrible in the last few years, if we could trace where the money came from, that would make a big difference. If when you see one of these ads run by Americans for America and it seems really wonderful and it tells you how great coal is, I think if people — and people hear Americans for America and they think it’s just an ad. I think if people heard at the end of that ad, this was paid for by the coal industry, they’d think differently about the ad. When we, you were talking about, you know, this all goes back to voters. If we just give voters the tools they need to see what’s actually happening to realize where money is in the system, it might give them the weapon they need to fight back.

BILL MOYERS: Well, in his majority opinion written for the court at the time for Citizens United, Justice Kennedy said disclosure is perfectly acceptable here, if we’re going to make the system work. But when the disclosure provision was put before the Senate, Mitch McConnell and Republicans filibustered it in effect, they throttled it, they did not let the Senate vote on disclosure.

HEATHER GERKEN: Well, this is another example of what you would call chutzpah. Because when McCain-Feingold was being passed, what Republicans like Mitch McConnell would say over and over again is, we don’t need to cap anything. We don’t need to shut down the money, we can just have disclosure and transparency, and that’s all we need. Now, a few years later, it’s not just that they’re refusing to pass basic disclosure and disclaimer rules, but it even gets worse than that. The lawyers are now arguing that corporations are intimidated if their money was disclosed. So you see lawyers in court and outside in the public arguing that giant companies like Walmart or Target or Exxon are scared to give money into politics because they’re feeling so intimidated by threats. Now and this is just where it goes beyond the level of absurd. They invoke precedent from the Supreme Court from the battle days in the, when the NAACP membership was being threatened with lynching. So it’s one thing to say that, you know, in the 1940s and 1950s people might get lynched for expressing their political viewpoints on race in the south and that there’s reasons to protect that. But it’s quite another thing to say that we should worry about Walmart and Exxon when they’re giving money in politics. That is not a first amendment concern.

BILL MOYERS: If in fact the Supreme Court says disclosure is fine as the court said in the Citizens United decision, yes, we should know and it’s okay to know and it’s legal to know, why are Senator Mitch McConnell and others in Congress preventing disclosure from happening, from passing it, from approving it, from saying, yes, let’s disclose the source of this money?

HEATHER GERKEN: Because the people who support Senator McConnell and the Republican party would prefer to give this money anonymously, secretly through shell corporations. An example, the insurance companies put a lot of money into the Chamber of Commerce. And it was the Chamber of Commerce that was saying things about the Obamacare, not the insurance industry. It looked clean, right? It looked like it was just the business interests being expressed by the chamber of commerce. But it was really insurance money funding that. That’s a problem. That’s a problem because you can’t evaluate the message if you don’t know who the messenger is.

Read The Full Interview Transcript

America’s Gilded Capital of Corruption and the Triumph of Plutocracy

September 4th, 2013 by Andy in Politics In America, Video

This is one of those interviews that you can’t recommend enough. Bill Moyers talks with author and New York Times journalist Mark Leibovich about his latest book, This Town, in which he writes that money rules D.C., and status is determined by who you know and what they can do for you.

This program really should be required viewing in upper level high school and college political science classes, to say nothing of the homes of every tax-paying American citizen. The abject duplicity and complicity inherent in our political system today; the rank class divides, the plutocratic patronage processes at work, the blatant disconnect and disregard by the political elites for practically every demographic of American other than those who pay for their attention, etc… is all spelled out with the stark facts. Sometimes it really makes you wonder if it is going to take a revolution to change the course of this level of corruption within the system?

The Politics of Debt in America

February 12th, 2013 by Andy in Politics In America

Writer and historian Steve Fraser delivers this must-read overview on the nature of debt, its manipulation, and resistance to it, throughout American history; and why this story is so relevant to understanding today. The history of debtors prisons in America is especially revealing.

Debt remains, as it long has been, the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of capitalism.  For a small minority, it’s a blessing; for others a curse.  For some the moral burden of carrying debt is a heavy one, and no one lets them forget it.  For privileged others, debt bears no moral baggage at all, presents itself as an opportunity to prosper, and if things go wrong can be dumped without a qualm.

Those who view debt with a smiley face as the royal road to wealth accumulation and tend to be forgiven if their default is large enough almost invariably come from the top rungs of the economic hierarchy.  Then there are the rest of us, who get scolded for our impecunious ways, foreclosed upon and dispossessed, leaving behind scars that never fade away and wounds that disable our futures. 

Think of this upstairs-downstairs class calculus as the politics of debt.  British economist John Maynard Keynes put it like this: “If I owe you a pound, I have a problem; but if I owe you a million, the problem is yours.”

After months of an impending “debtpocalypse,” the dreaded “debt ceiling,” and the “fiscal cliff,” Americans remain preoccupied with debt, public and private.  Austerity is what we’re promised for our sins. Millions are drowning, or have already drowned, in a sea of debt — mortgages gone bad, student loans that may never be paid off, spiraling credit card bills, car loans, payday loans, and a menagerie of new-fangled financial mechanisms cooked up by the country’s “financial engineers” to milk what’s left of the American standard of living.   

The world economy almost came apart in 2007-2008, and still may do so under the whale-sized carcass of debt left behind by financial plunderers who found in debt the leverage to get ever richer.  Most of them still live in their mansions and McMansions, while other debtors live outdoors, or in cars or shelters, or doubled-up with relatives and friends — or even in debtor’s prison. Believe it or not, a version of debtor’s prison, that relic of early American commercial barbarism, is back. 


Debt would continue to play a vital role in national and local political affairs throughout the nineteenth century, functioning as a form of capital accumulation in the financial sector, and often sinking pre-capitalist forms of life in the process. 

Before and during the time that capitalists were fully assuming the prerogatives of running the production process in field and factory, finance was building up its own resources from the outside.  Meanwhile, the mechanisms of public and private debt made the lives of farmers, craftsmen, shopkeepers, and others increasingly insupportable.

This parasitic economic metabolism helped account for the riotous nature of Gilded Age politics. Much of the high drama of late nineteenth-century political life circled around “greenbacks,” “free silver,” and “the gold standard.”  These issues may strike us as arcane today, but they were incendiary then, threatening what some called a “second Civil War.”  In one way or another, they were centrally about debt, especially a system of indebtedness that was driving the independent farmer to extinction.


From one presidential election to the next and in state contests throughout the South and West, irate grain and cotton growers demanded that the government expand the paper currency supply, those “greenbacks,” also known as “the people’s money,” or that it monetize silver, again to enlarge the money supply, or that it set up public institutions to finance farmers during the growing season.  With a passion hard for us to imagine, they railed against the “gold standard” which, in Democratic Party presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan’s famous cry, should no longer be allowed to “crucify mankind on a cross of gold.”

Should that cross of gold stay fixed in place, one Alabama physician prophesied, it would “reduce the American yeomanry to menials and paupers, to be driven by monopolies like cattle and swine.”  As Election Day approached, populist editors and speakers warned of an approaching war with “the money power,” and they meant it.  “The fight will come and let it come!”


But the age of primitive accumulation in which debt and the financial sector had played such a strategic role was drawing to a close. 

Today, we have entered a new phase.  What might be called capitalist underdevelopment and once again debt has emerged as both the central mode of capital accumulation and a principal mechanism of servitude.  Warren Buffett (of all people) has predicted that, in the coming decades, the United States is more likely to turn into a “sharecropper society” than an “ownership society.”

In our time, the financial sector has enriched itself by devouring the productive wherewithal of industrial America through debt, starving the public sector of resources, and saddling ordinary working people with every conceivable form of consumer debt.

Household debt, which in 1952 was at 36% of total personal income, had by 2006 hit 127%.  Even financing poverty became a lucrative enterprise.  Taking advantage of the low credit ratings of poor people and their need for cash to pay monthly bills or simply feed themselves, some check-cashing outlets, payday lenders, tax preparers, and others levy interest of 200% to 300% and more.  As recently as the 1970s, a good part of this would have been considered illegal under usury laws that no longer exist.  And these poverty creditors are often tied to the largest financiers, including Citibank, Bank of America, and American Express.

Credit has come to function as a “plastic safety net” in a world of job insecurity, declining state support, and slow-motion economic growth, especially among the elderly, young adults, and low-income families.  More than half the pre-tax income of these three groups goes to servicing debt.  Nowadays, however, the “company store” is headquartered on Wall Street.

Debt is driving this system of auto-cannibalism which, by every measure of social wellbeing, is relentlessly turning a developed country into an underdeveloped one.  

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are back.  Is a political resistance to debt servitude once again imaginable?

Read the full article Here.

Beware the hollow calls for “austerity” and “debt reduction,” without first understanding the meaning of “debt” and the motives of those making for such calls.

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