(This was also posted in the group "Left Wing Atheists")
I have come a long way in three years. I was so naive. I couldn't wait to vote the Republicans out of office, so I registered myself as a Democrat and woke up at 5am to go stand proudly in line to vote for Obama. Like many of us since then, I now realize what a sucker I was. I had high hopes that Obama was going to nationalize the banks when he took office and start loosening the hold the bankers have around our throats. Well, that didn't happen, and instead he went after health care. We all know what he has and has not done since, with the latter more than overwhelming the former. So I got frustrated, as most of us have, that nothing changed with Obama. I got determined to educate myself and find out what the real problems are, and what the real solutions are.
I started watching a lot of MSNBC. At first, I stuck with Hardball with Chris Matthews. While that kept me informed as to what the two political parties were up to, I was far from satisfied. Then one day I tuned in a little early and caught a little of Dylan Ratigan. His personality turned me off a little at first, but the next time I saw his show I was mesmerized. Hooked. Here was a guy who was finally speaking about the real issues, the fundamental structural problems underlying the mess we are in. If you know the show, much of what I am about to say will sound like repetition, but these are what I think the real problems in America are.
There are 6 industries which own the US government, the military-industrial complex (e.g. Lockheed Martin), health care (Big Pharma, health insurance), banking, energy (oil, Halliburton), agribusiness (think Monsanto), and telecommunications (e.g. the phone companies that rip us off). The heads of these industries use their spectacular wealth to buy politicians. In fact, 94% of our elections are now won by the candidate who raises the most money. Obama was no exception. Yes, he raised more money from small donations than anyone had before, but he also raised more money from LARGE donations than ever before. Goldman Sachs was his single biggest campaign contributor in 2008. We all know that if a candidate tries to go against any of these industries, they use their fabulous wealth to take out attack ads so that they don't stand a chance (think swiftboating). As long as our two political parties play by the rules, they can divide up the country in any other, meaningless way they want.
They have a very cozy relationship, these plutocrats. The politicians look the other way while the rich engage in insider trading. They even call up their friends on Wall St. and give them insider information as to policy changes which have financial ramifications (and then engage in a healthy amount of insider trading themselves). Then the rich spend huge amounts of money in lobbying efforts to convince the politicians as to how the laws should be written. They have managed to rig, to their vast benefit, the tax code, trade policies, and banking regulations to siphon money from the American people and into their pockets. They pay lower taxes (or none at all) than average American individuals and businesses. They trade with countries like China which can make products far cheaper than we can make it here, eliminating American jobs while flooding the markets with cheap goods (think Walmart). But the banking "industry" seems to have benefited to even more egregious levels.
Our US government has allowed a $700 trillion, completely invisible and unregulated swaps market to exist without requiring all of these transactions to take place on a visible (and regulatable) exchange. There are no capital requirements, which means they can trade without having anything of value to put up as collateral. And when their bets go bad, the Fed just sends them a check to the tune of $29.6 trillion of our tax-payer money so far since the crisis began. And I thought we had a deficit! Where are we getting all of this money from? Are we just printing it?
Meanwhile 1 in 15 Americans now live in poverty. 18% of us are unemployed (that's the "real" unemployment figures), and that's not even counting the underemployed. Incomes are falling, debt is mounting. People are left homeless while foreclosed homes sit empty. Income and wealth inequality are at their highest levels since the Great Depression. Meanwhile our elections are being put up for auction and neither political party will stand up to these powerful ruling interests. If this isn't a state of unjust affairs, then I don't know what is. These are issues that shouldn't even be restricted to the left, we are all being oppressed. But while we on the left are waking up, those on the right are drifting towards a libertarian philosophy which plays right into the hands of the rich. With no government around, who could possibly stand up to the rich?
We need to retake our government, not break it down into uselessness. And we need large-scale structural solutions to address these mounting problems. We need systematic and system-wide changes to our democracy and our government. We need to weed out waste and abuse of power at all levels. We need to eliminate subsidies for oil companies and stop sending money without strings attached to the bankers. We need to break up the banking cartels so that never again will an institution be "too big to fail". We need real regulations on the banking industry, and that begins with having capital requirements and putting the swaps market on a visible exchange. If we change the way Wall St. does business, they will make money honestly and contribute real value to America rather than being fueled by the need to create more and more debt. We need to restructure debt to help out students and homeowners. And to that end I would suggest literally bailing out the American people. If we are going to print money, why not give it directly to Americans so that they can use it to pay off their debts to the banks?
We need to eliminate superpacs and overturn the Citizens United ruling by the Supreme Court that makes corporations people and money into protected free speech so that the rich can't talk more loudly than everyone else. We need a real energy plan, and we need to improve our energy efficiency so that we can approach a % in the 90's like other modern industrialized nations have rather than the 34% efficiency we are now sitting at. We need real environmental regulations, and we need to completely restructure our educational system so that we can keep up with the rest of the world. And we need to end privatized profit but socialized risk for the wealthy, and incentivize investment in America and it's people.
The political discussion has been framed by our politicians as being about ballooning debt. While certainly this is a huge problem, I am quite certain that if we address the real problems in America, our national debt problem will also be solved. If we stop war-mongering and being the arms-dealers to the world, we won't have huge costly wars to pay off. With an economy that puts people to work, our social programs will have plenty of funding to continue operations, keeping Americans healthy and financially supported throughout old age.
We are really running out of time. The changing environment is going to make all humanity come together, one way or another. We can come together now and make the necessary changes to our lifestyle and our society so that we can all live on this earth in peace, or the catastrophe to come will be marked by the most violence, starvation, and suffering the world has ever known. And the US needs to lead the way. When the catastrophe comes, humanity will largely blame Americans for it, and rightly so. There will be enough blame to go around, but the American people can do something about it now, while we still have time. If we do not raise our heads up out of the herd and take our country back from the oligarchs who hold us as slaves and hostages, the lion's share of the moral responsibility for the future of humanity will be ours to bear.
My point is that you said that we haven't had a major social movement in over 100 years, but we had about as major a movement as one could imagine only 40 or so years ago. Can you imagine a movement more basic to human rights and having a coherent society than one that grants equal rights to all people regardless of the color of their skin? So my next point would be, how many earth-shattering social movements do you expect every half a century? One or two sounds like a normal, regular pace. You seem to be dissatisfied because we haven't had a modern enlightenment - well, me too! But give this one some time.
First, I tend to look at things from a global perspective instead of a strictly regional one. The time frame between revolutionary changes in social structures are decreasing.
Yes, we had the civil rights movement in the United States in the 60's-70's. However, the actual changes of the Civil Rights movement took years to accomplish and still isn't complete. There were a lot of major events in a 10 year time period which drew attention to the problem, but decades have been spent in implementation. However, even the Civil Rights movement is merely an extension of the changes caused by the 13th Amendment and the Civil War. A process which started in 1865 and is still being implemented. Small scale changes implemented over large scales of time with occasional evolutionary jumps. Learning to treat people of African descent like human beings is a social process which has taken over 140 years and still isn't complete. We still have higher percentages of people of African descent living in poverty, being in prison and similar conditions.
Abolitionist (1787)>>slow changes >> Civil War/13th Amendment (1865) >>slow changes >> Civil Rights Movement (1960) >> slow changes >>
The same analysis can be seen in Women's Rights and other social movements.
Suffragists (1850)>> small changes >> 19th Amendment (1919)>> small changes >> World War 2 (40-45)>> slow changes >> ERA (which failed 1972) >> slow changes
I am not saying that social change is impossible. I am saying that the idea of sudden social change is very often an illusion. We remember the significant points and think they are sudden changes. They are not. It is why the OWS movement with their idea of sudden change pretty much failed. However, they did not fail on the larger timeline because they brought attention to the issues and motivated people for the smaller changes which need to be made.
As a side note: This is why the revolutions in the Soviet Union were eventually doomed to failure and eventually led to their own destruction. They tried to change things suddenly without the slower changes in social evolution. It is why they ended up with a Lenin and a Stalin in charge. China did the same thing, but were fortunate to realize the error and make adjustments.
Very good point Dee. I agree completely that at this point a large scale social movement is a dream. I mostly have a doomsday mindset at this point, and am on a self centered or family centered quest to prepare my own family for whatever disaster is going to strike to bring this country to its knees. I have just moved back to rural WV, and plan to gradually become as self sufficient as possible. Self sufficiency is pretty much a lost art in this day and age, and I plan to learn all that I can from the people left in this area with these skills, so that if/when disaster strikes, I will have the knowledge and resources that everyone else will be scrambling to learn. When I was in college taking ancient history, it really opened my eyes to the fact that history repeats itself, unfailingly, when a country gets too big for its britches..all of the signs are here! The monster is too big at this point to change, speaking in terms of the system and the population. Don't get me wrong, I will continue to advocate for the issues, but I am going to make sure that myself and my family are taken care of, because that is what I have the power to change for sure.
> I mostly have a doomsday mindset at this point,
Mariana, I have some back issues of The Mother Earth News from the 1970's that say exactly what you said. I was in high school then, and we had the same problems - high unemployment, rising fuel prices, bad government. We had a weak Democratic president who told people to wear sweaters if they felt chilly, and a Greek chorus of Republicans denouncing him. It seemed like everything was out of control. There were even Arab terrorists in the wings.
My family and I made the same choice you made, for the same reasons, and have not regretted it. There is a lot more driving than we expected, but we have a clean environment, the kids went to peaceful schools, and the woods provide me with all the exercise I can handle.
The thing is, it's been 30+ years and the world has not ended. We seem to have gotten through the big crash that everyone was worried about without a descent into fascism or revolution. Life goes on.
Call me Dr. Pangloss, but I think our system is in pretty good shape.
Well, if nothing happens, great! Maybe I sound like a baptist preacher ranting about the rapture lol. Choosing to live my life this way is not only about a doomsday attitude, it is also a personal choice of how I want to live. I am just happy that if anything does ever happen, I think I may be in better shape than others : )
I can agree with that! I'm also more than a bit on the doomsayer side, I am terrified of the effects of global warming (our winter in NJ so far has been anything but, excepting a freak snowstorm that destroyed all the trees in September!), and sometimes I wonder what the government knows but isn't telling us. And there are so many other problems to worry about that it seems like one of them is bound to happen soon. But I would like to live a more self-sufficient life regardless, just to make me feel happier. Exercising in the woods sounds great!
When a species won't limit its own population and its waste production the environment will. I would prefer not to see a couple of billion people die of from environmental changes, but I think it is going to happen.
Economists have already disowned this Malthusian concept and modern economists like Amartya Sen also disapprove this. This is a little pessimistic approach and if you see how the countries, like India, are trying to cope with this, you also may shed your pessimism. It is possible that we may see a small relocation of resources that will help improve the overall situation.
I tend not to rely very heavily on economists. They tend to ignore the scientific realities in favor to support their social visions even when those social visions are directly contradicted by scientific research.
I also noticed that most of Amartya Sen's economic work is from the early 90's. He either wasn't aware, or didn't take into account the immense drainage of the Aquifers in the area which is now reaching incredibly dangerous levels.
No, we haven't managed to escape. We have managed to delay the disasters by purchasing them at the cost of the future. In fact, hidden from the view of a lot of people, things have gotten even more dire. Despite the lies of the energy companies the fossil fuel situation is getting very bad, the aquifers are being drained, the oceans are depleted and becoming acidic, arable land is on the decrease and then we have global warming which we aren't doing anything to stop. As I said we are just hiding behind an illusion of safety.
When the combination of decreased petroleum supplies, lack of water for agriculture and global warming hit it is going to be very bad. So many people don't seem to realize just how our ability to feed large amounts of people depends on petroleum products and draining aquifers.
How much water do you think is being pumped daily to support agriculture in the United States every day. 50,000,000,000 gallons. Faster than the aquifers can replenish themselves and it is going to stop.
Sorry, I know that the grand illusion is that such predictions were wrong because they got the dates off, but that doesn't make it so. However, I don't expect it to stop because I learned my lesson.
Dee, I think you have a point here. This is something I am really scared of. I have been talking about population pressures for a long time, and I have only gotten more worried over the years as I have learned more. We are using up our resources, not just oil but water and land and destroying so much in the process. Eventually it will catch up with us. There will be a reckoning, sooner or later. I have been completely taken aback by the weather this winter. it started off with a freak snowstorm here in NJ in October (I mistakenly said September b4), but since then it has been ridiculously warm. Every other winter it is cold cold cold, but this winter it has been really unseasonably warm. In December is one thing, but it is the middle of January and it was 60 out yesterday. I went out dressed in my usual sweatshirt and the light jacket I switched to a few weeks ago, and I had to take the jacket OFF. People are walking around in shorts. I have yet had a need for my hat or gloves. And still no snow since October. We should all know the changes the world is going through. This century is going to be one marked by drastic global changes, some will be in my lifetime but my children will grow up in a world unlike the one I grew up in. They are already unfamiliar with cold NJ winters.
Hi, Dee, I've highly enjoyed reading your posts, and am relieved that this discussion has moved past technical economics. Just a quibble:
> The problem is population.
How would global population influence local political movements? On a global scale, all our USA political issues are local affairs. I can see low population as an enabling factor in Abolition, Labor and Suffrage. But the country had 200 million people during the Civil Rights and Feminism years, and only 300 million now.