Saturday, December 31, 2016

THE CRASH OF 2016, prescient look ahead from 2013, first 2017 political topic review

THE CRASH OF 2016: The Plot to Destroy America—and What We Can Do to Stop It

$19.99 trade paper, available used

Rating: 4.5* of five

The Publisher Says: The United States is more vulnerable today than ever before-including during the Great Depression and the Civil War-because the pillars of democracy that once supported a booming middle class have been corrupted, and without them, America teeters on the verge of the next Great Crash.

The United States is in the midst of an economic implosion that could make the Great Depression look like child's play. In THE CRASH OF 2016, Thom Hartmann argues that the facade of our once-great United States will soon disintegrate to reveal the rotting core where corporate and billionaire power and greed have replaced democratic infrastructure and governance. Our once-enlightened political and economic systems have been manipulated to ensure the success of only a fraction of the population at the expense of the rest of us.

The result is a "for the rich, by the rich" scheme leading to policies that only benefit the highest bidders. Hartmann outlines the destructive forces-planted by Lewis Powell in 1971 and come to fruition with the "Reagan Revolution"-that have looted our nation over the past decade, and how their actions fit into a cycle of American history that lets such forces rise to power every four generations.

However, a backlash is now palpable against the "economic royalists"-a term coined by FDR to describe those hoarding power and wealth-including the banksters, oligarchs, and politicians who have plunged our nation into economic chaos and social instability.

Although we are in the midst of what could become the most catastrophic economic crash in American History, a way forward is emerging, just as it did in the previous great crashes of the 1760s, 1856, and 1929. The choices we make now will redefine American culture. Before us stands a genuine opportunity to embrace the moral motive over the profit motive-and to rebuild the American economic model that once yielded great success.

Thoroughly researched and passionately argued, THE CRASH OF 2016 is not just a roadmap to redemption in post-Crash America, but a critical wake-up call, challenging us to act. Only if the right reforms are enacted and the moral choices are made, can we avert disaster and make our nation whole again.

My Review: This is not Author Hartmann's first or last venture into alarmism and outrage: Screwed, What Would Jefferson Do?, Cracking the Code all till this same plot; these coupled with his alarmism over the Antropocene Extinction that's underway, eg The Last Hours of Humanity and The Prophet's Way, create a profile of the one-eyed man in the country of the blind.

His eye is relentlessly focused on the Overlords. And that's the half-star deduction from his perfectly-aligned-to-my-own-prejudices arguments. Yes indeed, a vast right-wing conspiracy exists, and most assuredly it is doing filth to the Great Unwashed Masses. This is so obvious that even idiots dimly perceive it, as witness the careers of apologists like Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter. But the sheeple consented to this nightmare's construction, even becoming complicit in its horrors and excesses. Labor unions are dying because their greed brought them to their knees and their venality led them to beg for scraps instead of finding the stout, well-watered tree that is their righteous principles and grabbing it, first to aid their new rise and then to wail on the fat, bloated faces of their genuine, factual oppressors. The supine, lazy, table-walking journalist class left its afflict the comfortable, comfort the afflicted principles well behind as the vast right-wing conspiracy's engines, the legal fiction of corporate persons, bought their outlets and fired them for singing Horst Wessel out of key, or worse yet for singing alternative words. Hey, they have families to support, kids to educate, mortgages!

And thus the dream died.

It's a sad fact that things change. Always and invariably, things change. Progress is never straightforward, has not ever been, and the side-paths and detours of history have a pattern and an inevitability only in hindsight. Weimar Germany and its legendary dissipation did not lead, inevitably and unstoppably, to the rise of the lunatic-fringe Nazis. It created a vacuum between the cultured and intelligent and the vast majority of humanity, the ignorant and credulous, in such a public and obvious way that the most prepared faction was able to use the resulting maelstrom to blow themselves into the position of being the stopper and ending the instability. Same was true of late Imperial Rome, same is true now. The educated elite of our time is off in a corner playing with itself over AI and cybernetics and quantum computing, arguing passionately over ethical concerns that have absolutely nothing to do with anything real or grounded: Getting Junior's teeth fixed, making sure all six of the Johnsons are not forced to make a meal out of a $2 can of beans, getting into the leased-never-owned $30,000 Toyota and praying that the airbag doesn't kill you instead of save you and that the repo man didn't look in the garage windows or your trip to minimum-wage, uninsured work (and with the missed day your fast-food-flipping job) will be canceled. (There are many ways in which that gross oversimplification is arguably incorrect, but it isn't in the scope of a paragraph to explore nuance.)

Why was the disavowable Trump elected? Because the calamitous collapse that's well underway needs a fall guy, and he's an easy one. His stupidity is on the level of Warren G. Harding and his telegenics equal to the Great Satan himself, Ronald Wilson Reagan, the first modern political dupe to walk the tables all the way to the big chair. Curse Nancy Davis and her vile father for creating this Frankentraitor, this Manchurian Candidate, the author of record though not in fact of all the woes and miseries afflicting the world of 2016.

But Hartmann's book didn't tell me these things. Hartmann's book lays out an analysis of history that, in its viewpoint and interpretations, illuminates the path that I walked to get to those conclusions. That's what good books do, they give you the light of good scholarship and sound analysis, they point the light at the solid ground of fact they trod on to get to a conclusion that will educate you and/or enlighten you.

The five stair-steps Hartmann has left for us to climb are:

The Economic Royalists and the Corporatist Conspiracy uses Franklin Delano Roosevelt's 1936 acceptance speech on being renominated for the Democratic Party's candidacy to the presidency as an organizing point and a rallying cry. The relevant part of FDR's 1936 acceptance speech and the organizing principle of the book as I see it, is:
For out of this modern civilization economic royalists carved new dynasties. New kingdoms were built upon concentration of control over material things. Through new uses of corporations, banks and securities, new machinery of industry and agriculture, of labor and capital—all undreamed of by the fathers—the whole structure of modern life was impressed into this royal service.

There was no place among this royalty for our many thousands of small business men and merchants who sought to make a worthy use of the American system of initiative and profit. They were no more free than the worker or the farmer. Even honest and progressive-minded men of wealth, aware of their obligation to their generation, could never know just where they fitted into this dynastic scheme of things.

It was natural and perhaps human that the privileged princes of these new economic dynasties, thirsting for power, reached out for control over Government itself. They created a new despotism and wrapped it in the robes of legal sanction. In its service new mercenaries sought to regiment the people, their labor, and their property.
Hartmann takes this lucid, concise statement of the roots of every single generation of humanity's major battle to have a share of the rewards their labor has made possible as a lens to view the state of the current economic and political situation. He reaches back to the United States' moment of genesis and shows the same conditions now prevailing were present then as well:
Many people today think that the Tea Act—which led to the Boston Tea Party—was simply an increase in the taxes on tea paid by the American colonists. That's where the whole "Taxation Without Representation" meme came from.

Instead, the purpose of the Tea Act was to give the East India Company full and unlimited access to the American tea trade and to exempt the company from having to pay taxes to Britain on tea exported to the American colonies. It even gave the company a tax refund on millions of pounds of tea that it was unable to sell and holding in inventory.

In other words, the Tea Act was the largest corporate tax break in the history of the world.
This cogent analysis of the flashpoint of the American Revolution minimizes one, in my opinion crucial, factor: the colonists, the Boston Braves whose "act of corporate vandalism" as Hartmann puts it ignited the shooting war, weren't scholars or lawyers or political mavens whose dislike of and disdain for royalists, those whose authority to grab money from their purses depended on access to Royal Authority, led to their principled action of heaving tea into Boston Harbor; they were tea-drinkers whose bill went up and who resented being plucked for the feathering of nests far, far away. Their issue was practical, not theoretical.

The new country set itself afloat on the ever-choppy seas of history without anything approaching consensus on many issues. That fact is why the country has thrown itself many a crisis, including a little shindig we call the Civil War. Economic crises have been frequent as well. Andrew Jackson, prior to our current president elect the most despised and reviled electee in US history, left the presidency in 1833...four years before the traumatic and appalling Panic of 1837...after destroying the Second Bank of the United States which, in conspiracy-theory terms, caused the monied interests in London to use a transparent and patently absurd excuse to hike their interest rates by 60% and thus squeeze US credit markets. Seven years of horrendous hard times ensued, the PR machine of the day made sure to reach back to Jackson's refusal to accept the banksters' demand for their vig to affix public blame, and on we lurched into Civil War made inevitable by a deepening financial divide between North and South.

After the Civil War's depredations, financed by President Lincoln's decision to follow Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase's plan to print a form of Federal paper money-cum-war debt, the banksters punished the still-reeling country with the Panic of 1873, known as the Great Depression until 1929's shivaree took that title away. Grover Cleveland, the only Democratic Party president to be elected between the Civil War and the Panic of 1907 whose aftermath gifted us with the Federal Reserve System, said in his 1888 State of the Union address to Congress:
As we view the achievements of aggregated capital, we discover the existence of trusts, combinations, and monopolies, while the citizen is struggling far in the rear or is trampled to death beneath an iron heel.

Corporations, which should be the carefully constrained creatures of the law and the servants of the people, are fast becoming the people's masters.
Bear in mind that Cleveland was elected in 1884, a bare four years after the Great Depression caused by the Panic of 1873 had eased in the US. Its lessons, of the titanic human cost of speculative bubbles and the inadvisability of government propping-up of "too big to fail" industries, were very fresh in his, and the nation's, consciousness. This roundly ignored reality was reinforced again and again, Teddy Roosevelt's trust-busting activities notwithstanding, and reached a head with the Great Crash of 1929.

Ancient history having been invoked and explained (albeit in no great detail), Hartmann proceeds to dig up the roots of the 2008 crisis.

Why We Crashed again uses, to my mind ironically, Grover Cleveland's 1888 State of the Union address as its foundation, to wit:
Communism is a hateful thing and a menace to peace and organized government, but the communism of combined wealth and capital, the outgrowth of overweening cupidity and selfishness, which insidiously undermines the justice and integrity of free institutions, is not less dangerous than the communism of oppressed poverty and toil, which, exasperated by injustice and discontent, attacks with wild disorder the citadel of rule.
Reagan's war on Communism and its attendant costs being the means by which he and his cronies destroyed the middle class, this seemed to me very amusing. In a dark sort of way.

But why destroy the middle class? What harm was done by the middle class such that its very existence must be snuffed out? Hartmann explains as follows:
As [President Thomas] Jefferson realized, with no government "interference" by setting the rules of the game of business and fair taxation, there could be no broad middle class—maybe a sliver of small businesses and artisans, but the vast majority of us would be the working poor under the yolk [sic] of elites.

The Economic Royalists know this, which gets to the root of why they set out to destroy government's involvement in the economy.

After all, in a middle-class economy, they may have to give up some of their power, and some of the higher end of their wealth may even be "redistributed"—horror of horrors—for schools, parks, libraries, and other things that support a healthy middle-class society but are not needed by the rich....

As Jefferson laid out in an 1816 letter...a totally "free" market, where corporations reign supreme just like the oppressive governments of old, could transform America 'until the bulk of the society is reduced to mere automatons of misery, to have no sensibilities left but for sinning and suffering. Then begins, indeed, the bellum omnium in omnia, which some philosophers observing to be so general in this world, have mistaken it for the natural, instead of the abusive state of man.'
(The Latin phrase is a restatement of one written by Thomas Hobbes, a famously chirpy and upbeat kinda guy.)

The nightmare of Economic Royalism got its clear statement of purpose and its roadmap to success via a man you've never heard of, Jude Wanniski. His 1976 article, "Taxes and a Two-Santa Theory," appeared in The National Review. In a nutshell, Wanniski characterized the Democratic Party's role as Santa Claus to the people, delivering goodies like a minimum wage, Medicare, the Voting Rights Act of 1964, all of which made people better off. The Republican Party screamed about the costs and insisted that the Federal Government balance its budget even at the cost of taking away the goodies given the Santacrats. This made them appear to be Scrooges to the voters, and the Republicans never controlled the House of Representatives...barring one brief, horrible interlude in 1946...from 1932 to 1995. What changed was that, after the Reagan Administration's stuff-of-nightmares tax cuts and the resulting recession, Congressional Republicans had a combination of an economically conservative and deeply politically naive Democrat as president. Clinton was unable to fend off their propaganda onslaught against his character, agreed with their economics, and thus the Republicans became emboldened to take the Santa hat for themselves. They enacted, in Wanniski's words, legislation that enshrined the "...Two-Santa Claus Theory [which] holds that Republicans should concentrate on tax reduction."

Added bonus: "If Republicans, playing Santa Claus on their own, successfully pass their tax cuts...without cutting spending, then the government will be starved of revenue until eventually it can't afford the Democratic Party's social services such as Social Security...and Medicare—all things that Republicans have labeled 'gifts,' yet are fundamental to the survival of a middle class." We're living through that particular issue's logical conclusion right now. As more and more services are cut, more and more people who have paid and paid and paid for them via payroll taxes and the most unfairly distributed tax burdens in the developed world are denied even the simplest, most basic help of all: access to food.

How do we know this is a deliberate act and not a regrettable side effect of well-intentioned politicians' actions?
The year Reagan was sworn into office, 1981, the United States was the largest importer of raw materials in the world and the world's largest exporter of finished, manufactured goods. ... Today, things are totally reversed: We are now the world's mining pit, the largest exporter of raw materials, and the world's largest importer of finished, manufactured goods.

This has resulted in an enormous trade imbalance, one that has grown from a modest $15 billion deficit in 1981 to an enormous $539 billion deficit by 2012.
Deliberate? How could it not be?
In the 1992 presidential debate, third-party candidate Ross Perot famously warned about a 'giant sucking sound' of American jobs going south of the border to low-wage nations once trade protections were dropped.

Perot was right, but no one in our government listened to him.

Tariffs were ditched, and then Bill Clinton moved into the White House...He continued Reagan's trade policies and committed the United States to so-called free-trade agreements such as GATT, NAFTA, and the WTO, thus removing all the protections that had kept our domestic manufacturing industries safe from foreign corporate predators for two centuries.
What kind of jobs are available when manufacturing moves out of an economy? Low-wage service-sector jobs. And when there aren't workers to manage, there is no need for managers...the middle class, in other words.

But along came the Economic Royalists' solution to every problem: A bubble! A lot of money got poured into the burgeoning technology sector of the economy, supposedly recession-proof as it didn't rely on metal-bashing or a large and unionized labor force. What happened? The Dot-Com Bubble that burst in 2000. Much suffering, much money held by struggling middle-class investors wiped out, no public awareness that the wildly unbalanced economy was primed for such an event by its very planned origin in a low-tax environment that favors, by definition, profit-taking over value investing. Then along came Bush with his insane tax cuts on top of tax cuts, his lunatic war in Iraq, and the Economic Royalists' next bout of profit-taking, the one that has directly led to the woes of today, the Housing Bubble.

Remember that? Bet you do. But that wasn't the last act of the comedy! Oh no no no!

"Oppression, Rebellion, Reformation" has as its organizing principle another quote from President Thomas Jefferson:
If this avenue [of periodic political revolution] be shut to the call of sufferance, it will make itself heard through that of force, and we shall go on, as other nations are doing, in the endless circle of oppression, rebellion, reformation; and oppression, rebellion, reformation, again; and so on forever.
Not for nothing is Jefferson revered as a Founding Father. The old man who had been a young revolutionary never lost his acumen. (And he owned slaves, so he wasn't perfect, now is everybody happy?)

Remember when Obama was elected and the bubble burst? Remember how nothing was happening in the Bush White House to cope with the crisis he and his policies had created? The policy initiatives came from something called "the Office of the President Elect," a completely unofficial and legally non-existent entity, and funnily enough no one cared. Something was being done, someone saw the need for action and was filling it, the need for some sort of leadership and vision and the merest whiff of an idea of a path that might maybe lead somewhere that wasn't an alligator-infested swamp. And mercy me, it was a black man was doing the leading! And the deplorables howled their rage, heard by the keen ears of the Economic Royalists whose very political survival was at stake. The Reagan Revolution that had butt-fucked the people, no kiss and no grease, for thirty years was in danger of ending and with it their untrammelled access to the Treasury and the wallets of the hoi polloi. There was even a hushed echo of the tumbrils that had come for the last Ancien Regime.

Clearly they survived. God damn them every single one. As the new President took office, the Economic Royalists hatched their evil conspiracy against the country that gave them their careers and their money: The scorched-earth insurgency that tried to repeal "Obamacare" fifty squazillion times, "investigated" some ridiculous non-scandals centered in Libya and a basement in Chappaqua, and did less than nothing to make life better for the people who elected them. Hartmann says it better than I can:
With the help of prominent media outlets, the Royalists, now a political minority, would engage in a scorched-earth strategy to defeat a coming Progressive Revolution, even if it meant crashing the United States as we know it. If they were going down, then the rest of the nation was going down with them.

Which is exactly what happened.
And the mechanism that these traitors used to destroy their country was particularly despicable. They resurrected the Boston Braves, the anti-corporate vandals whose 1773 Tea Party gave them their name.

As funded by the tobacco industry, the single largest serial killer of human beings on the planet after christianity, the Tea Party's denialism fit perfectly with the social, political, and environmental agenda of the Koch brothers, Charles and David. They have spent hundreds of millions of their own dollars funding economic and social "think tanks" like The Cato Institute and the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. These libertarian (fancy talk for "radical right wing") centers have offered advice, support, and intellectual cover and legitimacy for the Economic Royalists' agendas. The Tea Party movement was the political outgrowth of the generations of libertarian disinformation from the Kochs' various mouthpieces. One result of this massive outpouring of funds into justifications for bad thinking was the radical rightward lurch of the always-wrong Republican Party as a result of the damnable off-the-cuff utterance of a regressive and socially irresponsible former commodities trader and current (!) CNBC journalist named Rick Santelli, who claims to be proud of his role in creating the horror movie we're living through. He should rot in hell.

All of these horrors pale in comparison to Citizens United vs Federal Election Commission decision handed down by the Supreme Court. It enshrines the equation of money with speech in the law, and provides the firmest yet justification for the legal fiction of equal corporate personhood. The oceans of money that in large part resulted in the horrifying results of the 2016 elections came from corporate donors released from the generations-long muzzles preventing them from overtly buying elections for their preferred hench-rats. The equal protections clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America reads:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
A brilliant nineteenth-century orator named Delphin Delmas had argued before the Supreme Court in a property-tax case against a railroad that corporations are not natural people and are, therefore, not entitled to the protection of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Supreme Court decided the tax case but declined to tackle the issue of natural-versus-artificial beings. Damn them. They clearly agreed that natural people had superior rights to artificial people, based on their proceedings; had they simply said so life in these United States would be very different.

What should keep you up at night is the certainty of the president elect making the nomination that will fill the Supreme Court vacancy the traitorous Senate refused to allow the sitting president to make a nomination to fill.

The Great Crash details the horrors of a collapsed economy. Greece's austerity regime, enforced by the banksters, is a harsh warning of what is to come in the not-very-distant future, contends Author Hartmann. I am in full, horrified, agreement with this assessment.

Out of the Ashes is a fantasia of lovely hopes and pretty dreams that bears no resemblance to the rest of the book and thus, in my opinion, is most likely an artifact of the editorial process: "You can't make people feel like shit for 280 pages and give them no hope!" I don't believe any of the nice pictures he paints in these pages are likely to succeed. I doubt that he does, either. There's only one way to end the rule of the oligarchs: Violent revolution. It's 1959 and the US as a whole is Havana.


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