America Is Ruled by Billionaires, and They Are Coming After the Last Shreds of Our Democracy
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Here, too, boards of regents are led by business men or women. The abortive coup at the University of Virginia was instigated by the Rector who is a real estate developer in Virginia Beach. The Chairman of the Board of Regents at the University of Texas system where tensions are at a combustible level is a real estate developer. The Chairman at the University of California is CEO of two private equity firms – and the husband of Senator Diane Feinstein. His pet project was to have the moneys of the California teacher’s pension fund placed in the custody of private financial houses. Two former directors of the fund currently are under criminal investigation for taking very large kick-backs from other private equity firms to whom they directed monies – and which later employed them as ‘placers.’ That’s plutocracy at work.
The ultimate achievement of a plutocracy is to legitimize itself by fixing in the minds of society the idea that money is the measure of all things. It represents achievement, it is the sine qua non for giving people the material things they want. It is the gauge of an individual’s worth. It is the mark of status in a status anxious culture. That way of seeing the world describes the outlook of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. It is Obama who, at the height of the financial meltdown, lauded Jaime Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein as “savvy and successful businessmen.” It is Obama who eagerly became Dimon’s golfing buddy – an Obama who twice in his career took jobs with corporate law firms. It was Bill Clinton who has been flying the world in corporate jets for the past twelve years. It is the two of them who promoted Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles to press for the crippling of Social Security. That’s plutocracy pervading the leadership ranks in both parties of what used to be the American republic.
Perhaps the most extraordinary achievement of the plutocracy’s financial wing has been to win acceptance from the country’s entire political class that its largely speculative activities are normal. Indeed, they are credited with being the economy’s principal engine of growth. It follows that their well-being is crucial to the well-being of the national economy and, therefore, they should be given privileged treatment.
The American version of plutocracy is noteworthy for its crassness. Subtlety, discretion and restraint are foreign to it. It has a buccaneering quality. That style has roots in the country’s history and culture. Much of the behavior is impulsive, grasping. Individuals are greedy for vivid displays that they are top dog, of what they can get away with, as well as the riches themselves. There is little interest in building anything that might endure – no ‘new order,’ no new party, no new institutions. Not even physical monuments to themselves. Why bother when the existing set-up works so well to your advantage, to that of your like-minded and like-interested associates – when you can turn ideas, policies and money in your direction with ease. And while the public is blind to how they are being deluded and abused. After all, the more things appear to stay the same, the more they can change in a country whose civic ideology imbues everyone with the firm belief that its principles and institutions embody a unique virtue. To challenge any of that would be to run the risk of raising consciousness – which is the last thing that the plutocrats want.
There are exceptions. The most stunning is Wall Street’s biggest players’ audacity in coopting a part of the NYC Police Department in setting up a semi-autonomous unit to monitor the financial district. Funded by Goldman Sachs et al, managed by private ban employees in key administrative positions, and with an explicit mandate to prevent, as well as to deal with any activity that threatens them, it operates with the latest high tech equipment out of a dedicated facility provided by its sponsors. The facility for years was kept “under the counter” so as not to tempt inquisitive parties to expose it. This is the unit that coordinated the squelching of theOccupy movement’s Manhattan demonstrations. It represents the appropriation of a public agency to serve and to serve under private interests. The post-9/11 hyper-anxiety provided political and ideological cover for a deal devised by Mayor Mike Bloomberg (himself a Wall Street billionaire who has gone down the line to defend it against all charges of financial abuse) in collusion with his former associates. Is this simply Bloomberg registering NYC’s fiscal dependency on financial sector jobs? Well, this is the same Bloomberg who killed a widely supported initiative to set a minimum decent wage of $10 an hour with health insurance ($11.50 without) on development projects that receive more than $1 million in taxpayer subsidies. He stigmatized the measure as “a throwback to the era when government viewed the private sector as a cash cow to be milked…. The last time we really had a big managed economy was the USSR and that didn’t work out so well.” That’s as plutocratic as it gets – and in liberal New York.