Late capitalism in the United States is a process whereby more and more of the national income is going every month to a smaller number of people at the top, while the average wage of the average worker has been virtually static in real terms since 1970. All the extra money the US has made in the past 40 years, in other words, has gone and is going straight to the 1%. (Actually, the top 1/10 of one percent has experienced even more gains). From 1979 to 2007, the top 1 percent experienced income growth of 275 percent. In contrast, 90 percent of us saw a raise of $59 in our annual incomes from 1969 to 2011. This new, extreme income inequality is becoming entrenched and the US now has less opportunity for upward mobility for its young people than many countries in Europe.
Why people put up with this gouging is a great mystery. But hope is the great social stabilizer. Corporate media in the US constantly send the message to people that they are around the corner from getting rich. Failing that, just buying a new pair of jeans can raise your status among your peers. Most people don’t compare themselves to those in higher income groups. They make their friends, typically, among those who earn roughly what they do. So apparently if you’re up $61 from 1966 you’re happy enough to be two dollars ahead of the average of $59.
One of the social control mechanisms deployed in a plutocracy to keep people quiet while their pockets are being picked is the lottery. It is a scam. Not only are you more likely to be hit by lightning than to win one, but the institution itself is regressive. If you started at 20 and put $5 a week into the stock market, you’d likely get 12% return on your money, so when you were 70 it would be a very substantial amount of money ( try it here). Put the same 5 dollars a week into a lottery, and you likely get nothing at all. So the lottery punishes the poor, both absolutely and in terms of opportunity costs, and its main social function is to create false hope that the billionaires will let you join them.
What makes people happy is still somewhat mysterious. But a circle of supportive relatives and friends seems to be important to most people. Then, rewarding work helps, especially work where you get to choose your own projects and be in control. Having projects in life that are creative in nature and which you yourself shape is the ultimate high. (Orchestra conductors and college professors are among the happier people for this reason). Getting better off financially is not in itself bad, but has limited returns. In the US, once you reach $75,000 a year (admittedly only a minority do), going on up from there doesn’t seem to add substantially to your happiness. My guess is that at that income level, about twice the national average, you are avoiding the depression that comes with straitened circumstances, meeting bills, etc., and are then freed to pursue the things that make you happy– hobbies, art, etc. More money won’t make you more creative after that point and won’t relieve by then minor economic anxieties, so it becomes irrelevant to happiness for most people. (Of course $75,000 a year doesn’t go very far in some parts of the country, and is a fortune in others, but we’re talking averages)>
The first thing that happens when you win the lottery is that you typically lose all your friends. Some of them resent your good fortune. Some have unrealistic expectations in sharing it. Some are embarrassed to hang around with people who dress so much better than they. Some have nothing in common with someone who doesn’t have to struggle. Then, there is the temptation to quit your job and become essentially idle, which produces depression. For an entrepreneur or film maker, maybe the extra money could be put to good use, but for most people the $75,000 limit on happiness is operative, and having $200,000 a year wouldn’t make them three times as happy; probably it wouldn’t make them happier at all. Not to mention the traps of not managing the money well, or developing expensive addictions that waste it all, or being targeted by criminals. All the social science research suggests that winning the lottery just doesn’t make most people happier, and in many cases makes them miserable.
So the whole lotto phenomenon is a huge social scam. Good public policy would strive to give everyone in the US that $75,000 basic level of well-being, if what we wanted was more happy people. Instead, we are hollowing out the middle class, limiting upward social mobility, keeping the poor poor, adopting tax and other policies that make the rich richer, and then throwing the sop to the hoi polloi of an occasional lotto exemplar allegedly made happy by the opportunities of the system, but who will actually likely end up depressed and friendless.
Not an endorsement, but this cover by secular leftists of Gloria Gaynor’s 1978 “I will Survive,” with satirical Arabic lyrics (translated in subtitles) about the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis in Egypt since the fall of dictator Hosni Mubarak gives a window into the grievances and disappointments of the youth who made the January 25, 2011 revolution.
John Aravosis at AmericaBlog has been all over the Republican congressmen who forged versions of alleged White House emails on Benghazi and falsified them to the news networks, trying to make it look like there had been a cover-up. Extraordinarily, Bob Schieffer of CBS News called them out, naming the party but not the individuals engaged in the forgery.
But this forgery of emails is only the tip of the iceberg. What I have never understood is why no one in the FBI has looked into the possible links of elements of the Republican Party to the Islamophobic film that provoked violence against US embassies in summer of 2012. The “film” was clearly a get-up job. It was shot under false pretenses with a different script, then dubbed to turn it into an attack on the Prophet Muhammad. The people behind it were criminals. (Yes). it was never shown as a real theatrical release. An excerpt of it was put on the web, and then the Coptic Christian sleazeballs who made it did their best to draw attention to the obscure clip among Salafi circles in Egypt, who eventually fell for the ruse and put it on one of their television channels. Then there was the rage and the demonstrations in front of US embassies.
This entire operation was a criminal political conspiracy and given its timing it was almost certainly aimed at intervening in the US presidential election by making Barack Obama look like a Jimmy Carter (Carter had become a ‘prisoner in the Rose Garden’ when US diplomatic personnel were taken hostage in Iran).
Thus far I am not speculating. But then the big question is how far up the conspiracy went. Was anybody in GOP Islamophobic circles connected to it?
Isn’t it a little suspicious that a prominent GOP talking point right from that summer was that Obama is like Carter on foreign policy?
If, and I can only say if, any GOP supporters were connected to the false flag film, then the whole thing backfired on them when the anti-Americanism they were trying to provoke resulted in the death of the US ambassador in Libya. You can’t make hay with the death of an ambassador the way you can with crowds outside embassies burning US flags. The whole thing turned deadly serious, and Obama came out of it looking presidential.
Then, the people trying to deploy the film and the angry crowds for political purposes had to pivot. They decided to make the charge not that Obama was a helpless Jimmy Carter but rather that there was a cover-up of what really happened in Benghazi, that Obama is Richard M. Nixon.
Since Obama is not in fact like either, the whole narrative line never got any traction among circles beyond the Tea Party, but it was all the GOP had and they kept forging ahead with it (a pun, yes).
And in the end, it all crashed. The false flag film caused trouble, but nothing that impugned Obama’s leadership. The administration’s response to the Benghazi crisis was cautious and professional. Romney couldn’t use it effectively, and when he brought it up in debate, Obama shot him down. John McCain and Lindsey Graham kept flogging it, but since they had been cheerleaders for US intervention in Libya, they didn’t have much credibility as critics of its aftermath.
And now, the nadir. The GOP tried to put lipstick on this pig of a so-called ‘scandal’ by forging texts and sending them out to the media. Luckily for us all, CBS actually does fact-checking, and the culprits were caught with their pants down. Their credibility with the reporters is mud from here on out.
They are having a solar plant built on tribal lands, which will allow them meet their own needs and to sell electricity to Los Angeles. Best of all, they can envision the closing of the dirty coal plant that has given them respiratory diseases.
“Southern Nevada’s Moapa Band of Paiutes are calling for the closure of the Reid Gardner coal plant and a transition to clean renewable energy future for Nevada. On Earth Day 2013, they organized a 16-mile “Walk from Coal to Clean Energy”. The walk celebrated the tribe’s efforts to retire the polluting Reid Gardner coal plant that adjoins their tribal lands, and also their success in developing the largest solar project on tribal lands in the nation, which will begin construction later this year. The walk began at the coal plant and ended at the solar site – a powerful symbol of change for Nevada and the nation.”
Billionaires with an axe to grind, now is your time. Not since the days before a bumbling crew of would-be break-in artists set into motion the fabled Watergate scandal, leading to the first far-reaching restrictions on money in American politics, have you been so free to meddle. There is no limit to the amount of money you can give to elect your friends and allies to political office, to defeat those with whom you disagree, to shape or stunt or kill policy, and above all to influence the tone and content of political discussion in this country.
Today, politics is a rich man’s game. Look no further than the 2012 elections and that season’s biggest donor, 79-year-old casino mogul Sheldon Adelson. He and his wife, Miriam, shocked the political class by first giving $16.5 million in an effort to make Newt Gingrich the Republican presidential nominee. Once Gingrich exited the race, the Adelsons invested more than $30 million in electing Mitt Romney. They donated millions more to support GOP candidates running for the House and Senate, to block a pro-union measure in Michigan, and to bankroll the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other conservative stalwarts (which waged their own campaigns mostly to helpRepublican candidates for Congress). All told, the Adelsons donated $94 million during the 2012 cycle — nearly four times the previous record set by liberal financier George Soros. And that’s only the money we know about. When you add in so-called dark money, one estimate puts their total giving at closer to $150 million.
It was not one of Adelson’s better bets. Romney went down in flames; the Republicans failed to retake the Senate and conceded seats in the House; and the majority of candidates backed by Adelson-funded groups lost, too. But Adelson, who oozes chutzpah as only a gambling tycoon worth $26.5 billion could, is undeterred. Politics, he told the Wall Street Journal in his first post-election interview, is like poker: “I don’t cry when I lose. There’s always a new hand coming up.” He said he could double his 2012 giving in future elections. “I’ll spend that much and more,” he said. “Let’s cut any ambiguity.”
But simply tallying Adelson’s wins and losses — or the Koch brothers’, or George Soros’s, or any other mega-donors’ — misses the bigger point. What matters is that these wealthy funders were able to give so much money in the first place.
With the advent of super PACs and a growing reliance on secretly funded nonprofits, the very wealthy can pour their money into the political system with an ease that didn’t exist as recently as this moment in Barack Obama’s first term in office. For now at least, Sheldon Adelson is an extreme example, but he portends a future in which 1-percenters can flood the system with money in ways beyond the dreams of ordinary Americans. In the meantime, the traditional political parties, barred from taking all that limitless cash, seem to be sliding toward irrelevance. They are losing their grip on the political process, political observers say, leaving motivated millionaires and billionaires to handpick the candidates and the issues.“It’ll be wealthy people getting together and picking horses and riding those horses through a primary process and maybe upending the consensus of the party,” a Democratic strategist recently told me. “We’re in a whole new world.”
The Rise of the Super PAC
She needed something sexy, memorable. In all fairness, anything was an improvement on “independent expenditure-only political action committee.” Eliza Newlin Carney, one of D.C.’s trustiest scribes on the campaign money beat, didn’t want to type out that clunker day after day. She knew this was big news — the name mattered. Then it came to her:
The Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision is often blamed — or hailed — for creating super PACs. In fact, it was a lesser-known case, SpeechNow.org vs. Federal Election Commission, decided by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals two months later, that did the trick. At the heart of SpeechNow was the central tension in all campaign money fights: the balance between stopping corruption or the appearance of corruption, and protecting the right to free speech. In this instance, the D.C. appeals court, influenced by the Citizens United decision, landed on the side of free speech, ruling that limits to giving and spending when it came to any group — and here’s the kicker — acting independently of candidates and campaigns violated the First Amendment.
The Reagan administration gave Hikmatyar billions in the 1980s because he was effective in fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan, but in 2001 the old guerrilla switched sides and allied with the Taliban in an effort to get the US back out of his country.
For background, look at Ben Anderson’s documentary:
“with each year that followed, casualties and deaths rose as steadily as the local opium crop. Thousands more British troops were deployed, then tens of thousands of US troops, at the request of General Stanley McChrystal, following a six-month review of the war after President Obama took office. Still, the carnage and confusion continued unabated. Suicide bombings increased sevenfold. Every step you took might reveal yet another IED.
In February 2013, on his last day at the helm of NATO forces in Afghanistan, General John R. Allen described what he thought the war’s legacy will be: ‘‘Afghan forces defending Afghan people and enabling the government of this country to serve its citizens. This is victory, this is what winning looks like, and we should not shrink from using these words.’’
The US and British forces are preparing to leave Afghanistan for good (officially, by the end of 2014), and my time in the country over the last six years has convinced me that our legacy will be the exact opposite of what Allen posits—not a stable Afghanistan, but one at war with itself yet again. Here are a few encapsulated snapshots of what I’ve seen and what we’re leaving behind. “