Thursday, May 17, 2018



          Christ threw the money changers out of the temple, and while I'm not a religious person and don't buy the myths, I can certainly understand the impulse. Right now we're caught--we being the American people--in a giant cage, forced to watch as businessmen take their natural rapacity and apply it, unrestrained by regulations, to American resources, to the media they own, to sports, to just about anything they can find that will make them money, and damn the consequences. A ripe example is in front of us now. My son is a reporter for a newspaper in Pennsylvania that actually makes money. It is owned by a hedge fund whose headquarters are in New York but whose home office is in Denver. This hedge fund has been systematically stripping staff from every newspaper it owns, most of them local, in order to increase their profits, which they plow back into a failing pharmaceutical company they also own. The Denver Post is its most recent, and most visible victim. The tragedy is that newspapers are essential to a democracy. Jefferson said that faced with a choice, he would rather have newspapers than government. Unless the public is informed, it is essentially helpless. You can't keep them informed without reporters. Th hatred of the media fostered by Trump and his fellow oligarchs is designed to keep us uninformed. Trump lives by lies. It is a newspaper, the Washington Post, that keeps track of them. More than 3,000, according to the Post, since his inauguration. The hedge fund that owns the paper my son works for will drain it dry and walk away. Newspapers were once run by families, like the Ochs family in New York, that saw reporting as not just a way to make money but as a community resource, a way of serving the public. But families die out, the tradition dies out with them, the papers are sold.Businessmen who think the truth is irrelevant take them over.

          It's an old old story in this country. Streetcars, for example. We once had a viable system of streetcars, running on tracks for the most part with overhead wires supplying power. We had such a line in my home town, Westfield, New Jersey, and when my mother was as young as twelve she used to take it to Jersey City, by herself, fifteen or twenty miles away, to take piano lessons with one of her aunts. What happened to streetcars? They were an efficient and cheap way to get around; why did they fail? They didn't. Alfred P. Sloan, head of General Motors, maker of automobiles and the mogul behind planned obsolesence--the idea that the best way to sell new cars was to make sure the old ones went out of style or out of use--used his companies' profits to buy up the streetcar companies and shut them down.

          We must not, as a people, forget these things as we watch businessmen, who hate the regulations that have forced them to pay at least token attention to the public interest, now take over the very agencies they once conspired against and tear regulations to shreds. Dump mine waste in rivers and poison the waters? Of course. Why not? Dump carbon dioxide and particulates into the atmostphere? What the hell. It's cheaper. "The business of America is business," said Calvin Coolidge most of a century ago. Trump gives special consideration to a Chinese telephone company, eliminating a tariff on its behalf. Shortly thereafter, the Chinese invest half a billion into one of his enterprises. He, personally, will reap millions out of this deal. Huge tax breaks for the rich, and only the rich. Coolidge presided over the last great decade of unbridled greed in America, the 1920s, the decade that led directly to the Great Depression and 20% of the population unemployed. That in turn led to the beginning of serious regulation of business in the country under Franklin Roosevelt; it led to the Food and Drug Administration, the FCC, the FAA, and countless other government agencies whose purpose was to control the carelessness and criminality of businessmen, and now women.

          People, we need to disabuse ourselves of the idea that America is a special place, a version of utopia, innocent at heart. It is not. Slavery was at the heart of America at its founding--the first slaves came ashore in Virginia in 1609--and racism still thrives here. Greed was here, too, and still is, in abundance. It was greed that wiped out the Indians, greed for land, hatred for their otherness. William Bradford complained soon after the Pilgrims settled Plymouth that colonists were leaving the community to move west for better land. Indian land. Most of the English colonies in North America were founded by wealthy aristocrats who instructed the colonists not to settle and farm and build towns, but to look first for gold. American history is a cesspool, a nightmare of moral corruption, and our current president is a symbol of it. Early on, if you paid any attention at all, you could easily see what he was, a con artist, a sociopath, with no civic conscience whatsoever, nor any civic understanding. Any number of his own staff have branded him an idiot. It isn't just that he has faults. It's that he's empty of any semblance of the civic virtue necessary to serve a nation. He's all about himself. Trapped in our cage, we can only pay the price of the ignorance, the naivete, the outright stupidity that put him and his kind in office.

          And more than half of us don't bother to vote.