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Why We Keep Having to Settle For “Small Cosmetic Gestures”

November 1, 2010

Johann Hari, a journalist for the London Independent, has an outstanding article that was reposted recently on the Huffington Post.  I haven’t learned how to post a link correctly, so to read the complete article (only 3 pages) go to and do a search for Johann Hari. The article is entitled “The Real Reason Obama Has Disappointed and Endangered Us–And How to Turn it Around”.

I strongly recommend it. It’s the most succinct summary I’ve read in a long time , one that gest to the heartless heart of the matter. I’m tempted to write at length about it but Mr. Hari said it better than I could and I’d just look like I was plagiarizing his work–and maybe I would be.  Go read the original.  Here are some key excerpts from the article:

“In 2006 he [Barack Obama] said that taking money from the rich is “the original sin of anyone wo’s ever  run for office” in the US, and it ensures that “Washington is only open to those with the most cash.” There is a term for this: legalized bribery. It is so naked that corporations routinely give money to both sides in an election….”  to guarantee whoever wins will be indebted to them.

Hari notes that once in office,  Obama appointed an economics team headed by the people who caused the crash. They ensured that any re-regulation to prevent another crash was gutted, while the bankers’ bonuses continued to flow.  These corporations get to veto any law that doesn’t benefit them.

This short  paragraph, though, is the key to understanding:

“The fact that corporations have this power over what the US government can  do means Obama–or any other president–is unable to approach a problem by asking: How do I fix this? Instead he has to ask:  How can we get corporations to consent to a small cosmetic gesture that will, for a while, appease public anxiety and anger about this problem?”   [emphasis added]

My old professor of International Relations once told the class, “No bill gets enacted that doesn’t benefit the rich more than the poor.” In other words, yes, legislation to help the poor and needy can get passed–but only if its provisions simultaneously benefit the rich even more. It seems he was right.  We are continually being told by Serious People that we must accept that the needs and expressed demands of three hundred million human beings must be “balanced” against the interests of a handful of giant, super-rich corporations that act like rogue states  (One dollar, one vote? Is that how it’s supposed to wrk?) This is reminiscent of pre-revolutionary France where, in summoning the Estates, the aristocracy had, collectively, one vote, the higher clergy, one vote, and the people, one vote. One class, one vote, so to speak. 

Remember, there has been no Great Recession for the rich.  They are richer than ever.

There is as much or more total wealth in America as there was 2, 3, 4, or 5 years ago.

It has simply been redistributed the last 2 or 3 years, redistributed upward. Billionaires saw their income go up an average of 27% last year. Did your income go up 27% last year?

20% of the US population holds 84% of the wealth, a more skewed distribution than in some Third World countries or some Medieval European kingdoms.

We have almost beocme accustomed to this, as if it has always been this way and must be this way. That is why real reform is so very hard to achieve, and why, even in times of desperate and dire crises, we keep having to settle for  “small cosmetic gestures.”



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