FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

All the Populism Money Can Buy

by ALEXANDER COCKBURN

Across the country, last weekend there were anti-war demonstrations, modest in turnout, but hopefully a warning to Obama that war without end or reason in Afghanistan, plus 40,000 more troops to Kabul, is not why people voted for him.

I spoke at our own little rally in my local town of Eureka, California. My neighbor Ellen Taylor decided to spice up the proceedings by having a guillotine on the platform, right beside the Eureka Courthouse steps. It’s in the genes. Her father was Telford Taylor, chief U.S. prosecutor at Nuremberg.

When she told me about the plan for the guillotine, I wasn’t sure it was a good idea. But Ellen said she wanted to reach out to new constituencies beyond the committed left, and what better siren call than the swoosh of the Avenging Blade? A hundred years ago, people liked to stress the similarities of the American and French revolutions. Mark Twain composed the most passionate defense of the Terror  ever written in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court . But then, after 1917, the French Revolution was seen as the harbinger of Bolshevik excess and it grew less popular.

Up on the platform, I took the guillotine issue head on. In the  Terror, only 666 aristocrats had been topped in Paris in what is now the Place de la Concorde; 1,543 throughout France. The reward: a decisive smack on the snout of the land-holding aristocracy; durable popular power for peasants, workers and the petit bourgeois: M. le patron and M. le proprietaire stepped into history.

Here, in America, the corporate class is now entirely out of control, lawless and beyond the sanction of prosecutor, juror or ballot box. If corporate lawbreakers felt that somewhere along the line the retribution of the guillotine might await them, it would concentrate their minds marvelously, and cow them into lawfulness.

I got some cheers, and a charming young hippy, Brooklyn, mother of three, told me she wanted to move to France forthwith. Ellen asked the executioner, Michael Evenson, to put the contraption through its paces. She invited the crowd to call out designated victims – CEOs of the major banks, billionaires of note. Michael hitched the blade up six feet, and down it came with quite a satisfactory thwock.

Three days earlier, Goldman Sachs announced $3.1 billion in third-quarter profits, and set aside $5.3 billion for bonuses. Since G-Sachs is only still in business because of public bailout money, the bonus payments really make people mad. On the whole, Americans aren’t keen on axe blades, preferring the lynch mob’s rope, but if the target had been the board members of Goldman Sachs, I’m sure they’d make a generous exception, particularly after Lord Griffith’s remarks were widely quoted on this side of the Atlantic. Griffiths, vice chairman of Sachs International, told an audience at St. Paul’s Cathedral last Tuesday that the  public should “tolerate the inequality as a way to achieve greater prosperity for all. I believe that we should be thinking about the medium-term common good, not the short-term common good …”

Left and liberal commentators have talked yearningly about a new populist fever raging in the American body politic, prompted by the spectacle of bailouts for bankers but foreclosures and the dole for everyone else. I can’t say there’s much sign of populism in any energetic form. Look at movies from the Thirties, like Capra’s Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, and there’s a real edge to the anger of that time Capra felt it artistically important to convey. These days, the anger is formulaic. Over the weekend, the liberal opinion makers at the New York Times – Bob Herbert and Frank Rich – chewed out Goldman Sachs. Growled Herbert:

“Even as tens of millions of working Americans are struggling to hang onto their jobs and keep a roof over their families’ heads, the wise guys on Wall Street are licking their fat-cat chops over yet another round of obscene multibillion-dollar bonuses – this time thanks to the bailout billions that were sent their way by Uncle Sam, with very little in the way of strings attached.”

The Obama administration promptly rushed to cover its left flank by announcing it’s planning to impose cuts in executive pay at seven companies with substantial bailout funds. The U.S. senate’s parlor populist, Bernie Sanders, dutifully proclaimed that the Obama administration deserve praise for “taking an important step forward in trying to control the obscene compensation packages of the top executives on Wall Street.”

Note the meek qualifier, “trying.” The truth of the matter is that the Obama team has managed the tricky shot of giving more bailout money to the banks than the cumulative dispensations of all previous U.S. governments, while at the same time NOT giving any significant debt relief to ruined homeowners, a huge slice of whom is poor, black and Hispanic. Obama is not seeking to reform the financial system, and it would be beyond miraculous if he did, since the contrivers of the present mess – Lawrence Summers, et al – were given a welcoming clap on the back by the new president, as he stepped into the White House and told them to get on with the job. This amazing bailout for the existing corrupt system – as if Lenin had used the October revolution to restore the Romanovs – has been engineered without significant opposition from organized labor or the left-ßliberal end of Obama’s own party.

Of course, people curse the bankers and their political flunkeys as they watch their 10Ks atomize, their homes go, and their jobs disappear to China. They smolder as they watch the parade of Murdoch’s demagogues on Fox, flirting and toying with the theme of Obama’s assassination. The Obama administration dares to go to war with Glen Beck, apparently the only enemy it feels capable of confronting, at least at the time of writing. The gossip site Gawker calls on its readers to turn in all discreditable information about Goldman Sachs executives. The liberal talk host Olberman calls on his audience to rat out Beck. Neither invitation has thus far yielded any significant harvest.

Alas, American populism needs the octane of cash. During the Clinton scandal, Hustler supremo Larry Flynt wanted his audience to rat out high-ranking Republican sinners. He offered $100,000 cash rewards, and the dirt rolled in. Populism has to be cash-based these days. Maybe that was Ralph Nader’s point. His first work of fiction, 700 pages long, is titled Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us.

Kevin Gray, Mark Rudd, Bruce Franklin…The Gang’s All Here!

Ten months into Obama-time, the plight of black Americans is terrible. Yet overwhelmingly they rally behind the president. In a powerful report from South Carolina Kevin Alexander Gray asks the question: what should the black political agenda be?

New to CounterPunch, Mark Rudd contributes an important piece on movement-building – task number one for the left today. He counterposes “organizing” with “activism” and describes what it will take to build a movement.  H. Bruce Franklin gives a chronology of the march into Afghanistan.

Subscribe today!

ALEXANDER COCKBURN can be reached at alexandercockburn@asis.com

Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

February 11, 2016
Bruce Lesnick
Flint: A Tale of Two Cities
Ajamu Baraka
Beyonce and the Politics of Cultural Dominance
Shamus Cooke
Can the Establishment Fix Its Bernie Sanders Problem?
John Hazard
The Pope in Mexico: More Harm Than Good?
Joyce Nelson
Trudeau & the Saudi Arms Deal
Zarefah Baroud
The Ever-Dangerous Mantra “Drill, Baby Drill”
Anthony DiMaggio
Illinois’ Manufactured Budget Crisis
Colin Todhunter
Indian Food and Agriculture Under Attack
Binoy Kampmark
Warring Against Sanders: Totalitarian Thinking, Feminism and the Clintons
Robert Koehler
Presidential Politics and the American Soul
Thomas Knapp
Election 2016: The Banality of Evil on Steroids
Cesar Chelala
Is Microcephaly in Children Caused by the Zika Virus or by Pesticides?
February 10, 2016
Eoin Higgins
Clinton and the Democratic Establishment: the Ties That Bind
Fred Nagel
The Role of Legitimacy in Social Change
Jeffrey St. Clair
Why Bernie Still Won’t Win
Mike Whitney
Putin’s Aleppo Gamble Pays Off
Chris Martenson
The Return of Crisis: Everywhere Banks are in Deep Trouble
Ramzy Baroud
Next Onslaught in Gaza: Why the Status Quo Is a Precursor for War
Sheldon Richman
End, Don’t Extend, Draft Registration
Benjamin Willis
Obama in Havana
Jack Smith
Obama Intensifies Wars and Threats of War
Rob Hager
How Hillary Clinton Co-opted the Term “Progressive”
Mark Boothroyd
Syria: Peace Talks Collapse, Aleppo Encircled, Disaster Looms
Lawrence Ware
If You Hate Cam Newton, It’s Probably Because He’s Black
Jesse Jackson
Starving Government Creates Disasters Like Flint
Bill Laurance
A Last Chance for the World’s Forests?
Gary Corseri
ABC’s of the US Empire
Frances Madeson
The Pain of the Earth: an Interview With Duane “Chili” Yazzie
Binoy Kampmark
The New Hampshire Distortion: The Primaries Begin
Andrew Raposa
Portugal: Europe’s Weak Link?
Wahid Azal
Dugin’s Occult Fascism and the Hijacking of Left Anti-Imperialism and Muslim Anti-Salafism
February 09, 2016
Andrew Levine
Hillary Says the Darndest Things
Paul Street
Kill King Capital
Ben Burgis
Lesser Evil Voting and Hillary Clinton’s War on the Poor
Paul Craig Roberts
Are the Payroll Jobs Reports Merely Propaganda Statements?
Fran Quigley
How Corporations Killed Medicine
Ted Rall
How Bernie Can Pay for His Agenda: Slash the Military
Neve Gordon
Israeli Labor Party Adopts the Apartheid Mantra
Kristin Kolb
The “Great” Bear Rainforest Agreement? A Love Affair, Deferred
Joseph Natoli
Politics and Techno-Consciousness
Hrishikesh Joshi
Selective Attention to Diversity: the Case of Cruz and Rubio
Stavros Mavroudeas
Why Syriza is Sinking in Greece
David Macaray
Attention Peyton Manning: Leave Football and Concentrate on Pizza
Arvin Paranjpe
Opening Your Heart
Kathleen Wallace
Boys, Hell, and the Politics of Vagina Voting
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail