Yesterday as I was taking a walk up and down Warren St. here in Hudson I realized that I had become actively angry about the state of the US and the world.
I walked past hotels where a single room would set you back $400 for a night or you could go for the suite that is a mere $1300. This in a country where 32% of the people can’t pay an unexpected $400 bill.1 You would be served by people who are struggling to even find and afford housing. This in a tiny city of 6,000 people with a 24% poverty rate. Twice the average for the nation. For the second time in my life, gentrification has made my hometown unaffordable to me. Fourteen years ago I could afford to buy a house here. Today I would not even have Hudson on a distant list of possible hometowns. The same thing happened in Cambridge, where I lived from 1969 to 2009. The house that we bought for $37,000 in 1977 is now marketed at $2,050,000.
Then my mind flipped to the facts of how the rich and corporations continue to pillage our society. “As of Monday, November 21, there are 728 billionaires with a combined wealth of $4.48 trillion, an increase of $1.5 trillion compared to mid-March 2020….”2.
Just last week we saw Southwest Airlines cancel thousands of flights for days on end, stranding people and marooning their luggage. This is the very same corporation that used $5.6 billion of profits over the past 3 years to buy back company stock to enrich shareholders and corporate chieftains. Yet, part of their explanation for this meltdown is antiquated computer systems. They were too busy enriching themselves to invest in the business.
Then my mind flipped over to the fact that most of the inequities and injustices we see around us every day are not some act of nature. They are, in fact, the product of decisions by the rich and corporations. The multiple forms of precarity, persistent insecurity, that plague most of the population is a function of these decisions. They are the direct and intentional results of the ideology of the rich and corporations.
To bring some brevity to my rant, let me just list the rest of my angers:
- The political system is owned by the rich and corporations – both the Republicans and Democrats are beholden to $billions in public and dark money from the rich and corporations. These folks spend additional $billions, and retain an army of lobbyists, to write laws and the regulations that implement the laws, to suit their needs.3 There are nearly 20 lobbyists in Washington assigned to each of the 635 members of Congress and the Senate
- Defense budget – Republicans and Democrats came together over one topic they share virtual unanimity. They passed a gigantic defense budget ($858 billion) to keep the American Empire fully armed. Ready to spread democracy by propping up autocrats, keeping the world safe for global capitalism. We continue to have over 750 military bases on every continent. Tens of thousands of troops, hundreds, probably thousands of ships, and numerous aircraft and drones are enforcing our will everywhere. Extra-judicial killing at a President’s order is now SOP.
- America has been at war, engaging in secret military actions, or subverting foreign governments it doesn’t like for my entire 75 years. It would take a thousand pages just to outline all of these actions. We have never seen a war we couldn’t afford. Childcare, universal healthcare, decent housing, free public education, oh, we can’t afford these. But just to point out recent post 9/11 campaigns we have spent and will incur costs of over $8 trillion in Iraq and Afghanistan along with the vast expansion of the Dept of Homeland Security.4 Most of this is debt spending. And yes there are the human deaths that accompanied all of this spending. Estimated to be between 897,000 and 929,000.5
- The Republican Party and organized religion succeeded in tearing away women’s right to control their own bodies.
- We live in a country where the maternal death rate during childbirth and early death of babies would typify those in underdeveloped poor countries. With sad predictability, black women suffer at a rate twice that for the balance of the population.
- Homelessness – over half a million people in the US, including many families with children, are homeless. 104,000 students in New York City experienced homelessness during the 2021-22 school year.6
- Trump is not in jail:
- He failed to act to protect people from COVID, causing hundreds of thousands of needless deaths. The US has experienced 16% of global COVID deaths with a population that is only 4.3% of the world’s total. This fits the definition of involuntary manslaughter. “Involuntary manslaughter is defined as an unintentional killing that results either from recklessness or criminal negligence…. Involuntary manslaughter is distinguished from other forms of homicide because it does not require deliberation or premeditation, or even intent.” 7
- He tried to overturn an election and overthrow the US government. We saw the culmination of this conspiracy live on TV with Trump haranguing the mob.
- Why has it taken the authorities more than two years to bring him to trial for crimes committed in public before all of our eyes?
- Then there is the allegiance of the Republican Party and many others to a person who everyone could observe on a daily basis for the four years of his presidency. This is a person who if you were to meet in a bar or at a social gathering you would immediately identify as a completely self-centered character. A person who can barely get one sentence out of his mouth without bringing the conversation back to himself. This is a person who would strike you very shortly later as knowing almost nothing about the world. You would be amazed that 74 million people voted for him after listening to his 30,573 false or misleading statements during his term.8
- Jails are our primary housing for the mentally ill.
- Percent of people in state prisons who have been diagnosed with a mental disorder: 43%+
- In locally-run jails: 44% +
- Number of people experiencing “serious psychological distress” in jails: 1 in 4 +
- Percent of people in federal prisons who reported not receiving any mental health care while incarcerated: 66% +
- In state prisons: 74% +
- Percent of police shootings in 2015 that involved a mental health crisis: 27% +
- Portion of people jailed 3+ times within a year who report having a moderate or serious mental illness: 27% +
- Lasting effects of incarceration: post-traumatic stress, anxiety, impaired decision-making, and more +“9
- White nationalism, racism, and homophobia – rampant and supported by the Republican Party as well as organized religion.
- Organized religions continue to plague our species. Look at Afghanistan and its treatment of women. See how the Russian Orthodox Church supports a war of aggression against Ukraine. In the US, Christian churches have carried out a multi-decade campaign to deprive women of their bodily autonomy and right to control their own reproductive lives. In India, there is an ongoing campaign by Hindus to oppress Muslims. You can add more to this list. Then there is the fact that all organized religions are run by men, oppress women, and foment violence against non-believers. I challenge you to find a significant (in numbers, not theology) organized religion that doesn’t display these characteristics.
- Financial sector: Matt Taibbi once described the investment bank Goldman Sachs as “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.”10. This is a good description for much of this sector. For example, look at private equity firms (known in the ’80s and early’90s as LBOs – leveraged buyouts) and housing. Building on the chronic housing shortage in the US, private equity firms are buying up huge swaths of single-family houses, then jacking up the rents to maximize their profits. The hospice industry is also a target. Private equity firms have been buying up companies, mostly non-profits, that provide hospice services for the dying. With the usual well-honed approach they load up the companies with debt, cut back on services, and in many cases provide services that are below those required by Medicare standards.11
- Higher education is an outrage of excessive administration costs, bloated building budgets, combined with cost-cutting through the adjunctification (adjunct professors in part-time, non-permanent positions at very low pay) of the faculty. What other industry could raise its prices far beyond any explanations of productivity or inflation for more than three decades? Government subsidies through student loans fund this outrage while producing several generations of students burdened with a lifetime of debt. There is the interesting parallel phenomena of ever-rising income from students matched up with falling labor costs of teaching these students . The ratio between full-time permanent faculty and part-time adjunct faculty has widened consistently for several decades. This means there is a very large pile of cash being spent on something else. Unlike the for-profit sector, where profits are simply used to buy back stock and pay corporate chieftains stupendous bonuses, non-profits are not allowed to use profits for those forms of pocket stuffing. Maybe the growth of administrative staff is consuming all this excess cash? Maybe it is the construction of huge buildings to succeed in the arms race for the plushest student activity centers? Perhaps I will make it a small project for 2023 to research this question. BTW – yes, non-profits can and do generate profits. The distinction with the for-profit world is how they can use the profits.
- High tech sector driven by money, manipulation, and uncontrolled unethical software, sucking up untold millions of hours of human attention to derive advertising revenue and profits. Google and others hire “attention engineers” to further perfect this malevolent industry’s hold over our minds. In the doing, they aid and abet all sorts of attacks on people.Campaigns of lies, fantasies, hate, and more. All to swell their profits.
- The healthcare system is grotesquely expensive, twice as costly as other developed countries, while producing third-world health outcomes. US longevity has dropped for three years in a row.
- The fraud of the legal system – over 90% of Federal and state criminal cases are settled by plea agreements between people who can’t afford lawyers and the justice system that is rewarded for being “tough on crime”. The civil justice system is simply a tool of the rich and corporations. They regularly bully people by threatening civil action or bringing actual civil court actions. Lady Justice is laughably not blind, just indifferent, excepting to those who can afford a $600/hour lawyer.
- Environment – what is there to say? We have an economic system based on continuous growth using more and more of a finite planet. This system is also based on “external costs” – that is the pollution spewed out and the violence done to workers without regard or compensation. Meanwhile the world’s political systems remain incapable of taking decisive action. There may be some notion of the level of CO2 that we need to achieve but no sustainable strategy.
Well, enough. As the grandchildren have been know to say, “TMI, Grandpa, TMI!
- see the empirical study Martin Gilens, Affluence and Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America (Princeton, N.J; New York: Princeton University Press ; Russell Sage Foundation, 2012).
- https://khn.org/news/article/hospices-private-equity-firms-end-of-life-care/ and https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2022/12/05/how-hospice-became-a-for-profit-hustle
As usual, succinct, evidence-based, written with the model of cut-to-the-chase. A pleasure.
You cover it all, Mark. Thanks for the work collecting the threads and weaving them into a coherent rant. I encounter and react to the same issues, but I haven’t put those reactions into clear arguments.
I hesitate to say I enjoy knowing what you are presenting but I still prefer unpalatable truths to denial