Posts Tagged With: democracy

CAPITALISM’S CONTORTIONS

The best example of unbridled capitalism here in the U.S., has occurred within the last 10  years in the oil and gas industry, through a process of hydraulic fracturing, or better known as fracking. This process, which uses millions of gallon of water, and a huge array of chemicals, allows energy companies to drill horizontally into shale rock in a manner that releases vast amounts of oil and gas, previously thought to be unreachable. It has supposedly been a huge economic boon to energy giants such as Exxon, as well as to local economies where this type of shale rock is located. For example, North Dakota, previously known only for its cold and snow, found that huge deposits of shale subject to fracking lay beneath its frozen tundra. Hence, energy companies have made a mammoth investment in fracking these ND deposits. Tens of thousands of new jobs were created, as the unemployment rate in that state became virtually non-existent. The same held true for Texas which already had developed an enormous oil and gas industry. Many other states similarly cashed in on the action. With new, huge oil deposits being brought to the surface, the U.S. was able to significantly cut back on importing oil, especially from the volatile Mid-East. Hundreds of thousands of new jobs were created across the country. The price of gas at the filling stations dropped significantly, helping middle-class consumers. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Well, not quite.

Due to the vagaries of the way capitalism functions, serious problems soon started afflicting the oil and gas industry. Because of all this new oil that began flooding the market, the price per barrel, which was over a hundred dollars about 2-3 years ago, has now dropped to less than $50. While this sounds great for car owners, it’s not so great for Exxon and other oil companies, as well as oil exporters such as Saudi Arabia, Iran and Russia. Who cares, as long as I can get cheap gas at the pump, might be your first reaction. Well you should care, because as a result of this world-wide oil glut, thousands of workers who thought they had secure, well-paying jobs in the fracking industry, have suddenly found themselves unemployed. The oil industry has had to significantly reduce its oil exploration and development, laying off a ton of people. And its not just energy companies. By reducing oil extraction and exploration, less orders for heavy rigs, drilling equipment and other huge and expensive machinery have also occurred, causing the producers of such heavy metal to also cutback their payrolls in order to stem the tide of red ink. Adverse reactions from cheap oil have reverberated throughout the entire U.S. and Canadian economies. Under a capitalistic system, what’s good for the goose is apparently not always good for the gander.

While the world has always experienced capitalism to some degree, this form of economic wealth distribution didn’t swing into high gear until the industrial revolution of the 19th century. Huge industrial developers  realized that vast fortunes were to be made by exploiting low and middle-class workers in the energy, railroad and other industries, as well as in the banking and securities trading markets. Most of you are familiar with the term “coolie wages” denoting minuscule amounts paid to low-income workers. But how many know that the term dates back to the middle of the 19th century when people from China and India were imported into the U.S. to perform back-breaking labor for little or no pay. Labor that most Americans didn’t want anything to do with.

Chinese workers were first imported into the U.S.during the 1849 California gold rush. These “coolies” were often victims of thugs and bigots, and were relegated into the most menial of jobs for little or no pay. They lived in the most dismal of shantytowns and ate scraps of food left over by others. Their life-expectency was obviously quite short. In 1865, more Chinese immigrants were imported to help build the Central Pacific Railroad, and were required to perform back-breaking work from dawn to dusk, while earning the most paltry of livings. Far less than what white workers earned while putting in much fewer hours. One could say that our continental, coast-to-coast railroad system was built on the backs of such coolie labor. One could also say that the very cornerstone of our capitalistic system is built on a foundation of exploitation.

Of course, over the past century and a half, the rough edges of U.S. and European capitalistic societies have been considerably smoothened by government welfare, retirement and health care programs. Although there is still significant worker exploitation, those that can’t compete (such as artists, musicians, writers, etc.) or are too old to function under a competitive, labor-intensive, meritocracy demanded by capitalism are often provided for by their government, at least to some extent. More so in Europe than the U.S., however. Those that advocate for capitalism point out that the alternative, i.e. socialism, has been a huge failure wherever its been tried. That’s true for the old USSR, Cuba, North Korea and a few other places. But the Scandinavian countries such as Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland have incorporated much socialism into their economic operations, and seem to thrive quite well. My own belief is that socialism requires people to work for the greater good; and that humans have not yet evolved to that point. They will work for themselves and their families, but not for the greater good. That will require about a few thousand more years of human evolution.

Winston Churchill once said that democracy is the worst form of government, except for every other that’s ever been tried. Substitute the word capitalism in place of democracy, and you’ve about hit the nail on the head.

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SELF-INFLICTED WOUNDS

A new HBO series started Sunday night called “The Newsroom.” It’s written by the same guy who wrote “The West Wing” so it has some very sharp and smart political give and take. During the broadcast, when the main character was in heated discussion with some of his staff, he made the comment that the country is more politically polarized now than at any time since the Civil War. And we all know how well that turned out. I have to agree that there is currently extreme polarization among the electorate, with the Obama haters going into full fury mode in an attempt to win the election for Mitt Romney. It’s a battle of the the billionaires, with most billionaires on Romney’s side, willing to contribute as much as it takes to buy the election for the Republicans. Two of those billionaires operate here in Las Vegas: Sheldon Adelson and Steve Wynn. They both own mega-resorts from whence their wealth is obtained. So if you come to Las Vegas and throw your money away on the stingy slot machines in their casinos, you’ll also be contributing toward buying the election for his Mittness. Which, if you’re a Republican, I guess is a good thing.

I’ve written before about the many failings of a democratic form of government. Democracy is based on the notion that a majority of voters who cast their ballots, will inevitably decide what is best for the nation. What nonsense. The truth is that most voters are total idiots when it comes to the important issues of the day. Their votes are usually predicated on which set of obnoxious, untruthful commercials they see on television, or irrational fears and paranoia of what will happen if the other guy succeeds. Then their are those that try to use underhanded methods to game the system. For example, the Governor of Florida, a Republican, is trying to “purge” the voter rolls of supposedly ineligible voters. Trouble is, almost all of these “ineligibles” are minorities that usually vote Democratic. Other Republican governors throughout the country have succeeded in passing voter ID laws, again directed at the poor or minorities who often lack drivers licenses or similar ID. If they can intimidate or otherwise prevent enough lower-class people from voting, the GOP then has a lock on all future elections.

Two illustrations readily come to mind about the folly of the democratic process. In the first, poll after poll during the past couple of years show that people have an extremely poor view of Congress. Congressional approval ratings have recently dropped to an all-time low of about 13 percent. Well who put these Congress men and women there in the first place , if not for us, we the people. Maybe the populace believes that beings from Pluto came down in spaceships and took over the halls of Congress. And they’re doing such a horrible job in retribution for the fact that, a couple of years back, we down-graded Pluto from being an official planet in in our solar system. And who could blame them. I mean, we had no call to down-grade Pluto just because it was smaller than the other planets. No wonder all those Plutonians that now occupy the House and Senate are so pissed off at us, and doing such a rotten job. It couldn’t possibly be because we, the voters, keep screwing up over and over.

On a more serious note, the democratic process in Egypt has just taken an ominous turn. Egypt had been ruled by fairly benign dictatorship for the past 30 years or more. It was a secular dictatorship, but people were given a stagnant economy and very little freedom. That dictatorship was overthrown last year, and after much turmoil and chaos, Egyptians finally got to vote for their president. So, in full democratic mode, the election was held last week and the winner was finally announced a couple of days ago. It was an extremely close election, but the winner turned out to be the candidate from the Moslem Brotherhood, which is a notoriously fundamentalist Islamic organization, with chapters throughout the Arab world. The military in Egypt still seeks to retain the dominant political power, but it is likely, inch-by-inch, that the Moslem Brotherhood will slowly turn Egypt from the secular state that currently exists, into a fundamentalist Islamic theocracy. Think of Iran to understand what that’s like. The people of Egypt have voluntarily, through the democratic process, voted to give up their secular freedoms for a new kind of religious dictatorship. By the time they realize their blunder, it will be too late to reverse course. And it’s not only bad news for Israel, but for the U.S. as well.

I believe that there is a large segment of the population in this country that would like to foist a Christian theocracy  throughout the land. I think of them as the Christian Taliban. They’re comprised of what we call evangelicals, as well as fundamentalist Baptist organizations, and other religious fanatics. The first thing to go under such a religious theocracy would be legalized abortion. They have already succeeded in ridding the state of Mississippi of even one single abortion provider. The next to go would be gay rights. Gays would have to get way back into the closet, if they wanted to function in such a society. Of course, there are Jewish religious fundamentalists too, who would seek the same objectives, but their numbers are too small to have any real impact. The point is, however, that through the democratic process, people often make really bad choices, that they later regret, when its too late to remedy the situation. Choices like voluntarily giving up freedoms that are too often taken for granted.

Years ago, there used to be a cartoon strip called “Pogo.” It was about an amusing group of swamp animals and all the antics they would get into. One great quote that came out of that strip went as follows: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Think about that when you go into the voting booth in November, to vote for the best candidate the billionaires can buy.

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