January 7, 2012

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Leveraging Hal

Hal Crowther remains my favorite essayist, regardless of whether or not I agree with him. (And on some things I don’t.) Like Hunter S. Thompson, Hal’s writing is beyond enviable and his characterizations often over the top. Here’s some of his latest, addressed to the #Occupy movement:

“Go get a bath right after you get a job,” snarls Newt Gingrich, an influence-peddler who’s had no legitimate job for 15 years and exists only to give the word “hypocrisy” a human face.

My sympathies are obvious. What you in the tents can accomplish remains to be seen. But what I think I see, through the media fog of polarized America, is the return of the full-fledged idealists (as opposed to single-issue idealists) who seemed to go underground around 1980, possibly because the mass media abandoned them during the mudslide of self-celebration that began with Reaganism and culminated in Facebook.

I say God bless them, and God will if he still has any investment in the United States of America. The Goliath they challenge has crushed a thousand Davids. The good news is that “the kids” are right on target. Their diagnosis is bull’s-eye correct, and the patient is critical. For this country to survive, it must find saner ways to pursue and multiply wealth, and find them quickly. The cannibal capitalism that produced a Goldman Sachs and a Bernie Madoff is subhuman and obscene. There’s no form of government more inherently offensive than plutocracy—only theocracy comes close. When a citizen comes of age in a plutocracy, he has no moral choice but to slay Pluto or die trying.

The history of American plutocracy is shockingly simple. The Industrial Revolution fueled the metamorphosis of capitalism into a ravenous monster that devoured resources, landscapes and human beings on a scale no wars or natural disasters had ever approached. The wealth generated by this devastation created colossal corporations and financial operations far more powerful than elected governments; long ago the individuals who controlled these giants learned that it was cost-effective to buy up the politicians and turn governments into virtual subsidiaries. Along with the unprecedented wealth of the new ruling class came two protective myths, transparently false but widely accepted: one, that the feeble, compliant federal government was somehow the enemy of free enterprise; two, the outrageous trickle-down theory, which urged us to choke the rich with riches in the hope that they would disgorge a few crumbs for the peasants.

Investment banks and hedge funds were designed as perfect engines for multiplying the assets of the affluent. The Wall Street elite of the 20th century—Masters of the Universe, Tom Wolfe called them—flew so far above the laws of the land that they began to imagine themselves exempt from all laws, including economics, physics and averages. This magical thinking came to a head with a wave of death-defying speculation in mortgage-backed securities, and quite suddenly, in 2008, the walls came tumbling down, exposing a phantom economy based on nothing but arrogance and sleight of hand.

… In a recent German study that established a “social justice” index (poverty levels, education, health care, income equality) for countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States ranked 27th among 31 nations, outstripping only Greece, Turkey, Chile and Mexico. Meanwhile, also, Wall Street banks on taxpayer life support continued to pay out billions in bonuses, monstrously inflated CEO salaries showed no signs of shrinking and the Republican Party campaigned for more of the bloody same, and a stronger dose of it: no taxes, no regulations, no unions.

This is beyond unacceptable, much closer to unspeakable, like an economic survey comparing the French court at Versailles to the sans-culottes.

…a slate of demands from Occupy Chicago struck me as savvy and dead-on: repeal tax cuts and close loopholes for the rich, prosecute the Wall Street felons of 2008, separate commercial lending from investment banking, rein in lobbyists, eliminate corporate personhood and overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision of 2010.

This last demand is perhaps the most critical. The decision that defined campaign contributions as free speech, delivered by the court’s 5-4 Republican majority, removed the last legal obstacles to a wallet-based political system that leaves the 1 percent, or one-hundredth of 1 percent, in unchallenged control of our fortunes and our public lives. It opened the floodgates for a multibillion-dollar campaign to defeat President Obama, and any candidates who might resist corporate feudalism, in 2012.

In the words of the late Molly Ivins, “We either get the money out of politics or we lose the democracy.”

Molly’s gone, but Hal lives. I just wish he wrote more often. Here’s the archive.

Bonus links: