Jason Clark, 2007
Follow-Up, December 2013 -- Can't think of much I'd change... except for the fathead picture of me (I've lost 50 lbs since then).
Rereading it six years later, I think most of what I said still applies: The USA is an empire of debt and corporate owned and controlled; this is what's happening now under the Hope and Change guy which makes his musings on inequality somewhat beside the point, wouldn't you say?
One thing I wasn't emphatic or prescient enough about in 2007 was just how cynical the government would act after the economy blew up (I knew the economy would blow up, but didn't know how it would remedy the situation). Well, we have a complete Potemkin village as far as the economy goes, with the Federal Reserve making the market with its trillions of dollars in asset and bond purchases and tens of trillions of loans (sort of makes Reagan's Plunge Protection Team seem like child's play). The rich gamblers have not been prosecuted, but bailed out on a massive scale and $ trillions have been printed, and there is no inflation yet because the bottom 80% of the population is still suffering depression conditions (a depression defined as a decline of > 10% lasting more than two years). Inequality has only worsened under Obama, and is now the worst in the developed world, fifth worst on wealth in the entire world, and Obama has the temerity to talk about how unfortunate it is, while he's colluded with the Republicans to perpetuate and augment the Bush tax cuts and bail out his corporate donors.
Bill Maher probably had the most accurate description of the Obama era: he said that Democrats had replaced the GOP as the party of Big Business, while Republicans had entered an insane asylum (or were ripe for the loony bin). To give Maher credit, he said this early in Obama's first term, in 2009, but then ended up donating a million to Obama's 2012 campaign, showing that, for a millionaire at least, class war was preferable to insanity and profound ignorance and race-baiting. I think this has been the default position of most of today's Democrats, the vast majority of whom aren't millionaires, or even doing particularly well (93% of the income gains from 2009-2010 went to the top 1%, while the bottom 80% -- most Democrats -- actually lost income). Then Snowden showed us how much we were being monitored -- how much a police state the US had become, for those who had been able to ignore the news about police brutality in everyday America.
I think if you did a synopsis of Cenk Uygur's shows on The Young Turks (the most popular internet news show) you'd have 95% of my values. Incidentally, he's been excellent reporting on the bank bailouts, NSA, and police state. We should remember it was a conservative who brought the case challenging the NSA, and a Dubya-appointed judge (!) who ruled on it -- against the NSA and for the Fourth Amendment... and now a Clinton-appointed judge who has just ruled in favor of the NSA (and against the Fourth Amendment). Conservatives are not always wrong, nor liberals always right. That is perhaps the only lesson of recent years -- in addition to the lesson that nearly everyone has blind spots or feet of clay.
Take the example of an early influence of mine, Nat Hentoff: an exponent of Jazz and progressive freedom in music and race relations in his early years, but a diehard supporter of Israel, anti-choice on abortion and voluntary euthanasia, and a supporter of Bush's Iraq invasion in his old age -- showing that even a stiff-necked Jewish atheist could falter. Hentoff could well be dismissed as a crank, especially writing for the obscure rightwing publications he can only find to publish his screeds nowadays, yet has opposed the security and police state and the drug war. Nat Hentoff is no John Bolton, at least. Or take another Jewish atheist, Clinton's labor secretary, Robert Reich: right on the class war, Iraq, choice, etc. but loath to criticize his 'friend'. With Robert Rubin, he disagrees about how to restore the economy and is by inference loath to criticize the machinations of the Federal Reserve, creating a simulacrum of this restoration. If Hentoff is too outspoken, Reich is too polite, failing to peel off the last layers of the onion to get to the rotten core of the American neofeudalism.
Reich says Americans need jobs (from the capitalists). This is like saying that women need to be more like men and minorities more like whites to succeed in the world (the rallying cry of 70's liberals). I say Americans need their self-respect. They need more than "jobs"; they need livable wages and some degree of control over what is produced in America. They also need to get out of debt (freedom implies responsibility), and they are more likely to achieve this if they turn off the tube and stop their mindless consumption (buying things they don't need with money they don't have, Carlin called it). But Reich has pushed the inequality issue, and I thank him for that. We're mostly on the same side.
Where I differ from the herd is in my (true) fiscal conservatism, my belief that deficits, debt, and inflation are bad. You could call me anti-Krugman here. So naturally I loathe the Rubin gang (Summers, Geithner) the Fed, and the whole Washington establishment. I feel that the Democrats have abandoned the high road of fiscal prudence since Clinton and are now outdoing the Republicans in fiscal profligacy. So I say a pox on both their houses.
And so it is that I mostly agree with principled conservatives on Affirmative Action and deficits (and disagree with most liberals and, incidentally corporate mainstream Republicans like Mitch McConnell or Boehner. These "conservatives" pretend to want to balance the budget, but we've known since Reagan's first term that they think 'deficits don't matter' (and now of course liberals like Krugman are echoing Dick Cheney* here). Deficits only matter when they are used as the rationale for cutting "entitlements" like Social Security, food stamps, and public education. Then they matter a lot.
* Cheney said, "Ronald Reagan proved that deficits don't matter."
Showing how much they are in thrall to the arguments of Republicans, liberals claim they don't want equality of results; they just want equality of opportunity, and this is why they favor giving a leg up to women and minorities. But I say say that inequality of results is already out of control (the rich own the country), and if people should be given preferences, it should be on the basis of class, not race or gender. So, Bubba might get a helping hand; maybe it would take away some of his hostility. Of course women still make less on average than men, but they live longer and thus get SS for more years. They also do less dangerous work than men do. Only uncompensated housework and child-rearing is against them, but should government really get involved here? Isn't it a matter between couples? I think women have largely caught up, and in some ways have it better than men. I've noticed that college campuses are mostly female (I must admit that female students usually have a better attitude than males, and are more attentive in class). I worry about a lot of the men, who seem lost in our brave new economy.
My values are the same as they were in the 60's. I was never a hippie, but I did share some of their values (independence of thought, contempt for "safe" conventional behaviors and money-grubbing (following 1950.s critiques of American suburban success like The Organization Man, The Man In the Grey Flannel Suit, and Death of a Salesman) interest in the East, aspiration to communal living and downplaying personal property, back to the land and environmental consciousness). All of these imply leftish economics with libertarian--or at least anti-authoritarian-- social values (lower-left, or Gandhian quadrant) and a degree of world-consciousness, of feeling not as an American or a patriot, but a citizen of the planet Earth. Them's my values.
Centralization (of wealth, production, political power)
Short-term thinking replacing sustainable living arrangements
Recapping, it appears to me that there are (at least) four things wrong with present-day America: (over)centralization, short-term thinking (myopia), political obfuscation (diversion or outright fraudulent disinformation/disinfotainment), and the so-called Conservative backlash (evident since the 70's). I consider over-centralization to be the biggest problem, as it includes my bete noire inequality, as well as our incipient fascism (or neofeudalism), the cartelization of the economy, and the arms race. But there is some overlap among the first three problems, and FIRE sector (Finance, Insurance, Real Estate) prominence reflects both political centralization and short-term (next quarterly) thinking. So do agribusiness, MacDonald's and other mass junk food purveyors. Consumerism seems to me to be both a product of myopia (raise my spirits now even if I'll pay later with bad health and finances) and diversion (political obfuscation): the old Panem et Circenses.
So the most insidious individual items are probably mono-culture (not only in agriculture) or conformity, consumerism, the ascendance of the FIRE sector, and all the diversion in American culture that keeps us from facing the real issues of who controls the economy. All these imperil not only the economy, but civilization, and even the future of mankind on this here planet (the downgrading of the citizen to a mere consumer is probably the most important; citizens have rights, consumers can be fed more HFCS and crappy entertainments -- our version of the Roman Bread and Circuses).
I've left out another biggie: overpopulation. Here religion is mostly at fault, though neo-conservative government and all kinds of neo-tribal thinking are also to blame.
Things Were Better in the 60's -- Jan. 2014
In the 60's we had J. Edgar Hoover; today we have the CIA and NSA.
In the 60's we had Vietnam; in the 00's Iraq and Afghanistan.
In the 60's we had racism (and started to ameliorate it); today we have the new Jim Crow and more blacks in prison than were slaves in 1860.
Only women and gays have made undiluted progress, but this is outweighed by the decimation of the middle class and the fact that the bottom 90% have lost ground--it now takes two breadwinners in a family to stay afloat where it only used to take one. Naturally the PTB had to give women more rights if they expected them to enter the workforce.
Kennedy beat Nixon in 1960 with the help of the mob--which most Americans were blissfully ignorant about; Obama beat McCain in 2008 with Bankers' (the new mob) money. Plus ca change...
The Summer of Love was not restricted to the "elite"; anybody who could hitch-hike out of Nebraska could find himself in the Haight Ashbury in a couple days. Anyway, the US in 1967 was pretty egalitarian (though minorities were still poor). You could just as well term Occupy "elite" (read: anybody who isn't a slave of a 9 to 5 job).
Women's Lib I do not particularly have fond memories about; it was a reaction to outdated and economically unviable sex roles as well as traditional sexism. It was purgative and confrontational. I don't dispute its necessity.
The Jazz breakthroughs were over by the mid-60's and I mostly missed out experiencing them first hand (did see Sun Ra in 1971, but wasn't that enamored). The golden age of Jazz was 1925-65.
Things have always been messed up, but the rich control the system as they haven't in over a century, and ours is the first generation to have to forget about retirement -- at least at a standard of living we are used to. Every generation since the 40's had it better than their parents until now. And the world faces unsurmountable environmental and population challenges with a most inadequate governmental response. There is no counterpart of the Apollo program or Johnson's moral equivalent of war on poverty. We have mostly given up on collective responses and turned to feathering our individual nests. Unions are a thing of the past and it's each man/women for him/herself.