Friday, September 8, 2017

Inequality's Not Only Unfair; It's Unhealthy

I’ve just been reading in a fascinating book, Behave, by neurologist Robert Sapolsky, and some of the conclusions he cites about how inequality negatively affects health struck me as critical to publicize right now, in our increasingly unequal society.
            Begin with this: It’s not so much being poor that predicts poor health. It’s feeling poor. That is, how you feel, financially, when you compare yourself with other people, is the key.
            Now here are some explanations for how this works. First, a psychosocial explanation: lower social capital (the collective quantity of resources such as trust, reciprocity, and cooperation available; in brief, being able to count on your society and other people for support) means higher psychological stress. That is, the less you can count on your society and other people, the more you’ll be stressed. And upping the stress response negatively affects health in a wide variety of ways. Briefly, stress causes the adrenal glands to release glucocorticoids (the ‘fight or flight’ response), which in turn quickly mobilize energy from throughout your body, increase heart rate and blood pressure to deliver energy to muscles needed for a physical challenge. The problem is that we humans often activate a mental component—an anticipatory stress response, ahead of a real challenge; which is fine if a real challenge comes. But if one is constantly convinced a challenge is coming when it isn’t, then one can become anxious, neurotic, paranoid or hostile: e.g. psychologically stressed. And such chronic psychological stress leads to serious metabolic problems: high blood pressure, diabetes, and suppression of the immune system leading to vulnerability to all kinds of ailments.
            Second, what’s called a neomaterialist explanation comes from Robert Evans of the University of British Columbia and George Kaplan of the University of Michigan. This is the one that intrigues me. The idea is that “if you want to improve health and quality of life for the average person, you spend money on public goods—better public transit, safer streets, cleaner water, better public schools, universal health care”; in short, on social capital, such as they have in Denmark, say. But the more unequal a society is (which is to say, the greater the income gap between wealthy and average citizens), the less benefit the wealthy feel from policies that improve public goods. ‘What good does public transit, or childcare, or clean water, or public parks do me?’ is the idea. So then, what do the wealthy benefit from? Why from dodging or lowering taxes to keep more for themselves, and then spending their money on goods and services that benefit old number one—luxury cars with a chauffeur, private golf courses, gated communities that keep out the riffraff, bottled water that evades the public system, private schools for their kids, private luxury health plans. Evans puts it this way:
            “The more unequal are incomes in a society, the more pronounced will be the disadvantages to its better-off members from public expenditure, and the more resources will those members have to mount effective political opposition” (e.g., lobbying by corporations and the wealthy to reduce public spending on social capital).
Evans actually calls this the “secession of the wealthy” (comparisons to the secession of the South to bring on the Civil War are clear), and shows how it promotes “private affluence and public squalor.” Luxury for the haves, squalor for the have-nots, in short.
But this isn’t all. Increased inequality also tends to increase crime and violence. Why? It’s related to that initial notion: it’s not how poor you are, but how poor you feel. That is, poverty amid a culture of conspicuous consumption is a big predictor of crime—as studies show all across America, and indeed throughout industrialized nations. But why? Both because of the psychosocial element: inequality means less social capital, less trust, cooperation, and people watching out for each other. And also because of the neomaterialist element: with inequality comes more secession of the wealthy from contributing to the public good (states with more income inequality spend proportionately less money on that key tool against crime, education). Both together lead to more crime.
And finally, another kicker. As has been shown with experimental animals, if you shock a rat electrically, his stress response shoots up. But if that rat can quickly bite another rat (i.e. taking his stress out on a lower-ranking rat), his stress response is far less. It’s the kick-the-dog syndrome. And it has been shown experimentally with baboons as well: one of the best ways to reduce glucocorticoid secretion is for a high-ranking baboon to displace his aggression onto a lower-ranking baboon: a male loses a fight and then chases a lower-ranking male, who promptly bites a female, who then lunges at an infant. In human societies, displaced aggression is as common as dirt: one study measuring effects with football showed that if the local football team unexpectedly lost, violence by men against their wives or partners increased by 10%, and even more (13%) when the losing team was in a playoff. This operates in poor areas even more graphically: instead of the poor rising up to attack the wealthy who cause their problems, most often they prey on their poor neighbors nearby. And crime in poor neighborhoods is one of the pervasive problems leading to anxiety, poor health, and more.
Starting to sound familiar? Starting to sound like a society you’re familiar with? It’s as if the current U.S. government, especially the Republican sector now controlling whole chunks of it, has taken this whole section and memorized it, and set out to engineer as much of the “secession” of the wealthy as they possibly can. This is why their mantra is always, cut government spending (i.e. cut those social capital programs that help the majority—good schools, healthcare, safe neighborhoods, clean water) and privatize everything from schools to roads to water to power. This is exactly what the Trump Administration is trying to do, mainly through the cabinet heads they’ve appointed to reduce and dismantle government programs and regulations. And by their upcoming push to take an axe to taxes on corporations and the wealthy. And by crippling Obamacare. And by starving schools of necessary funds so they can be privatized. And on and on.
And until the rest of us finally wake up and start to reverse the deadly slide of the United States of America into banana-republic status, we’re all (those of us who aren’t wealthy, that is) going to keep getting unhealthier by the minute.

Lawrence DiStasi

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Who's 'Begging for War?'

As North Korea ups the ante once again, this time with a massive nuclear blast that some observers (and the North Koreans themselves) are calling a hydrogen bomb, the rhetoric coming out of the Trump administration gets more belligerent by the minute. As I noted in a previous blog, the two adolescent leaders—Kim Jong Un of North Korea and Donald Trump of the U.S. (how it hurts to write that)—are engaged in a pissing contest. ‘My dick is bigger than yours; look how far my piss goes.’ Only it’s not piss that’s being compared; it’s weapons of such massive destructive power that most rational humans shudder to even contemplate their use. But not the Donald. “What’s a nuke for, if we can’t use it?” he once said. Most recently, Nikki Haley (who, before becoming our UN Ambassador, seemed semi-rational) has been uttering nutter phrases like “We have kicked the can down the road enough. There is no more road left…” No more road for diplomacy, is what she seems to mean, especially considering that she also said Kim Jong Un is “begging for war.” The President himself tweeted much the same thing, berating the South Koreans for their “talk of appeasement with North Korea,” which will “not work, they only understand one thing.” That is, violence of the nuclear variety.
            And as we all look on in horror as nuclear armageddon looms ever closer, we have to ask: Just who is it that’s begging for war? Can the world really believe that North Korea, a nation of 24 million people whose economy seems permanently hobbled, and whose military, while large, would be no match for that of the United States and South Korea combined (the South itself may have nukes in its huge military arsenal supplied by the United States), actually wants a war? Or is it rather Donald Trump—he whose administration has lurched from one failure to another without a single legislative victory, with an approval rating that’s the lowest of any president in modern history—who is really searching for a ‘wag-the-dog’ solution to distract us all from his mounting problems?
            To really probe this question, especially the one concerning what exactly Kim Jong Un thinks he’s doing with his rockets and nukes, we need to know a bit about history (which most Americans, especially their idiot president, do not). My source is an article that appeared on last week: “How History Explains the Korean Crisis,” by distinguished historian William R. Polk. In it, Polk makes sense of North Korean belligerence by detailing the long history of invasions Koreans have suffered, starting in 1592 when Japan invaded and controlled the country for a decade or so. The Japanese invaded again in 1894, and this time set up a ‘friendly government,’ thereby ruling Korea for the next thirty-five years. It was in this period that many Koreans fled the country, including Syngman Rhee (the first president of the South) who fled to America, and Kim Il Sung (the first leader of the North) who fled to Russia-influenced Manchuria, where he joined the Communist party. By WWII Japan had reduced many Koreans to virtual slaves (thousands of Korean women became “comfort women” or concubines for the Japanese Army). But what’s fascinating to me is what happened to some of those Koreans who became rulers in the post-WWII period. Syngman Rhee, long resident in the United States and ‘Americanized’ (not to say ‘Christianized’), was set up as the first president of the new South Korea (North and South were vaguely established by the UN in 1945, but Rhee officially became the South’s ‘president’ with American help in August of 1948). He ruled basically as a U.S. puppet, with the United States military assuring his continuance by sending thousands of U.S. troops to support him, and American industry assuring the economic rise of his part of the country. According to William Polk, “Syngman Rhee’s government imposed martial law, altered the constitution, rigged elections, opened fire on demonstrators and even executed leaders of the opposing party.” His successor (via a military coup in 1961), Park Chung Hee, spent the war in Korea, but by collaborating with the Japanese occupiers (he apparently even changed his name to a Japanese one). His rule as President was so vicious that he, too, was overthrown (assassinated by his intelligence chief, 1979) and replaced first by Choi Kuy-hah, who was then deposed in a military coup by Gen. Chun Doo-hwan, who himself immediately imposed martial law that closed universities, banned political activities and throttled the press. A book I’ve read recently, Human Acts by renowned Korean novelist Han Kang, dramatizes the university and high school protests of 1980 in Gwangju that were savagely put down by Chun Doo-hwan, who ordered soldiers to coldly shoot over 600 young protesters and bury them in mass graves.
            By contrast, Kim Il Sung, who was to become the leader of North Korea after WWII for no less than fifty years, spent the war years as a guerilla fighter influenced by the Russians, where he led the resistance to the Japanese occupiers. His status as a hero was established there, and he soon became the first Prime Minister of the North, which he declared as a state in 1948, with ambitions to reunite North and South (Syngman Rhee had announced the same intention, as ‘reunification’). But when Rhee declared that the South was a fully independent state, Kim Il Sung saw it as an act of war, and (once China had agreed to take responsibility for the outcome) ordered his army to invade the South. Far better equipped and motivated than the southerners, Sung’s army took possession of Seoul, the South’s capital city, within three days, on June 28, 1950. By this time, the U.S. had persuaded the UN Security Council to protect the South, and organized 21 countries to send troops (though Americans made up the bulk of the forces). Still, Sung’s military drove the southern army all the way south to the city of Pusan, where, by August, the southern army “held only a tenth of what had been the Republic of Korea.”
Here the situation was saved for the South only by the brilliant counterattack led by General Douglas MacArthur, who made a storied landing at Inchon, where, behind enemy lines, the Americans were able to cut off the Northern army from its bases. That led to a further attack by the South, which retook Seoul, and then moved across the 38th parallel (the dividing line between North and South) and drove nearly to the Chinese frontier. This brought China into the conflict, and, with what it called a 300,000 man “Volunteer Army,” overwhelmed the South Koreans and drove the Americans out of the North. At this point, General MacArthur urged President Truman to use fifty nuclear weapons to stop the Chinese, but Truman instead replaced MacArthur and continued the more or less conventional war. Except that it was not at all conventional for the North. U.S. carpet-bombing devastated the North with more tonnage (including chemical weapons) than had been used against the Japanese in all of WWII. Analysts today estimate that the North lost 33% of its population through this bombing—one of every three North Koreans perished. As Polk puts it, Korea proportionally suffered roughly 30 times as many people killed in 37 months of American carpet-bombing as these other countries (Britain, France, China and the U.S.) lost in all the years of the Second World War.” This may help explain why North Koreans generally favor their government’s stance to repel invaders at all costs: most have experienced the utter devastation of war firsthand.
            Finally, the North agreed to negotiate a cease-fire to end the stalemate (the state of war between North and South still exists), with the country divided at its 38th parallel by a demilitarized zone to keep the armies separate and to keep ‘new’ (i.e. nuclear) weapons out of the peninsula. Unfortunately, the United States, in 1957, violated article 13(d) of the agreement:

In June 1957, the U.S. informed the North Koreans that it would no longer abide by Paragraph 13(d) of the armistice agreement that forbade the introduction of new weapons. A few months later, in January 1958, it set up nuclear-tipped missiles capable of reaching Moscow and Peking. The U.S. kept them there until 1991. It wanted to reintroduce them in 2013 but the then South Korean Prime Minister Chung Hong-won refused (Polk op. cit.).

Thus we see that it was the United States that decided to introduce nuclear weapons to the Korean conflict. But what about the North Koreans and their nukes? Even here, Polk points out, both the South and North had agreed to abide by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation agreement (1975 and 1985 respectively), but both violated the agreement (South Korea covertly from 1982 to 2000; North Korea in 1993, withdrawing totally in 2003.) Polk also adds that the precipitating event for the North’s withdrawal and its underground testing begun in 2006, was George W. Bush’s January 2002

Axis of Evil speech, in which he demonized North Korea. Thereafter, North Korea withdrew from the 1992 agreement with the South to ban nuclear weapons and announced that it had enough weapons-grade plutonium to make about 5 or 6 nuclear weapons (Polk op. cit.).

            This brings us to today. As noted in a recent article (Mel Gurtov, “Echoes of Reagan: Another Nuclear Buildup,” 9.3.2017), the United States currently has about 6,800 nuclear weapons (roughly 1,400 strategic weapons deployed, the rest stockpiled or retired). Among these, the 920 missile-launched nuclear warheads deployed on 230 invulnerable submarines, are alone “enough to destroy an entire country and bring on nuclear winter.” By comparison, North Korea may have about a dozen nuclear weapons (some analysts say they could have as many as 60), most of them about the size of the ‘paltry’ nukes that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It also has the still fairly rudimentary missiles it has been launching with frequency this year, very few with the ability to strike the United States or anywhere near it. So what is this business about the North “begging for war?” It is an absurdity. What the North is really after is simple: survival; a resolution of the South-North war, which has been ongoing since the armistice in July 1953; and, related to that, an end to the huge and provocative war games that have been carried on for the last three weeks. These ‘games’ go on twice a year, and are clearly designed to threaten the North by simulating an invasion of North Korea and a “decapitation” operation to remove Kim Jong Un. What would the United States do if Russia were to carry on war games from Cuba or Mexico? We already know the answer to that. Yet despite the continuing pleas of the North to the U.S. and South Korea to cease these provocative military exercises, the U.S. and its protégé have persisted and even expanded them ever since the end of active fighting. In addition to these regular war games, recently the United States has sent groups of F-35B fighters, F-15 fighters and B-1B bombers on military operations over a training range near Seoul, where they dropped their dummy bombs to simulate a nuclear strike. According to Mike Whitney (, 9.4.2017, “What the Media isn’t telling you about North Korea’s Missile Tests”),
The show of force was intended to send a message to Pyongyang that Washington is unhappy with the North’s ballistic missile testing project and is prepared to use nuclear weapons against the North if it fails to heed Washington’s diktats.

That’s it exactly. For this is the way the world according to American empire works: we can hold threatening war games, we can surround you with nukes from submarines and bombers and missile launchers, we can insult you and threaten you and starve you and humiliate you and refuse to end our war against you, but if you dare to stand up to our bullying, we will destroy you. And it’s your own fault for defying our ‘rule of law.’
            But of course, the North sees through this. Kim Jong Un may be a clown in a funny haircut who’s trying to prove he’s a big boy now, but he’s no dummy. His nuclear response to the threats from the United States, when considering his people’s history, and his knowledge of recent history, is perfectly rational. As Mike Whitney points out, “Kim has no choice but to stand firm. If he shows any sign of weakness, he knows he’s going to end up like Saddam and Gaddafi.” To remind you, Muammar Gaddafi of Libya finally decided to take the West at its word, and give up his nuclear plans. He was thereafter the victim of an invasion by western powers and ended up publicly violated in a gruesome death, mocked by American leaders like Hillary Clinton: “We came, we saw, he died.” Ditto Saddam Hussein of Iraq, whose country is in ruins. Kim Jong Un would clearly like to avoid that fate. He and his people would like to avoid being bombed back into the Stone Age, again. And so they are gambling that the blustering primate in Washington will either run true to his cowardly form, or be persuaded by calmer and more rational minds to see if there might not be an opening for negotiations. In fact, we all have to hope that this is the case. China and Russia also hope that this is the case, proposing once again (as they did in March and often before that) that in exchange for a halt to the military exercises by American and South Korean forces, North Korea could be persuaded to freeze its nuclear and missile programs. Surely, there is the germ for a diplomatic agreement here. Even South Korea’s new president, Moon Jae-in has just reiterated his offer to hold peace talks with North Korea (, 9.5.17) in what he has called his “Sunshine Policy.”
The only real question is whether the United States, and especially its wacky president, will ever agree to stop the war games. Because, after all, we are the Americans, the big dogs, who don’t back down, who don’t negotiate unless it’s totally on our terms. Which in this case, means: do what we say not what we do, give up your nukes, and we can discuss the terms of your unconditional surrender. Anything short of that is “begging for war.”

Lawrence DiStasi

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Crippling Democracy

Even as I write this, violence has broken out in Charlottesville, Virginia between so-called “alt-right” demonstrators (read Nazis, Fascists & KKK-ers), and counter-demonstrators over Virginia’s attempt to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a public park. What’s interesting about Charlottesville is that it is the home of the University of Virginia, founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819, which itself was the founding home of James McGill Buchanan’s Thomas Jefferson Center for Studies in Political Economy and Social Philosophy (what an insult to Jefferson’s thought). This confluence of right-wing street thugs with the center founded by the man, Buchanan, who, almost singlehandedly, charted the course for the libertarian right, is almost uncanny. But given the passions engendered by both Buchanan’s books and his work toward a right-wing “revolution” in American government, perhaps it should have been expected—especially with an incendiary like Donald Trump now tweeting violent rhetoric from his presidential post almost daily (and notably refraining from condemning the terrorists who openly carried guns, one of whom drove a car deliberately into a crowd, killing at least one person).
            All this is by way of saying that the most impressive and infuriating book I’ve read in a while features this same James McGill Buchanan at its core: history Professor Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America (Viking: 2017). MacLean announces her theme early on as an analysis of “the attempt by the billionaire-backed radical right to undo democratic governance” (xv). She goes on to describe the root idea from James Buchanan: i.e., that “taxation to advance social justice or the common good was nothing more than a modern version of mob attempts to take by force what the takers had no moral right to: the fruits of another person’s efforts…a legally sanctioned form of gangsterism” (xxii). This is the nub of the whole effort of the radical right and Buchanan’s “public choice” theory (for which he won a Nobel Prize): to prove that democratic Government, through graduated income taxes, was illegally stealing from the wealthy (“makers”) and giving to the poor (“takers”) and calling it ‘social justice’ or the common good. Further, that government bureaucrats and lawmakers were able to do this because the majority were allowed to vote to keep in place such New Deal “thefts” as social security and medicare and unemployment, and even public schooling. Buchanan called this the government’s “bad faith,” because “activists, voters, and officials alike used talk of the public interest to mask the pursuit of their own personal self-interest at others’ expense.” Therefore, “Manacles, as it were, must be put on their grasping hands” (xxx). To be absolutely clear, what Buchanan and his followers planned was nothing less than a revolutionary change in the United States Constitution to keep government from using taxation and regulation to prevent capitalists from doing whatever the hell they wanted to do with their profits (this is what radical rightists sanctify as “liberty”). Nancy MacLean bluntly calls this “a return to oligarchy, to a world in which both economic and effective political power are to be concentrated in the hands of a few” (xxxii).
            MacLean then gets to specifics, and they are horrifying, not just because of what they reveal about the complete lack of ethics on the part of the radical right (both thinkers and activist “intellectuals” in such “think tanks” as the Cato Institute, and the entirety of George Mason [so-called] University), but also because of what the specifics reveal about how much these intellectual prostitutes have already accomplished. Concerning the former, consider how Buchanan thinks of human nature: in his book, the Limits of Liberty, he writes, “Each person seeks mastery over a world of slaves” (150). This may be an unintended echo of Buchanan’s hero, the slave-owning Sen. John C. Calhoun, who worked mightily to shape government to allow and extend slavery. Be that as it may, everyone, in Buchanan’s view, wants not only maximum freedom for himself, but also strict controls “on the behavior of others [slaves] so as to force adherence to his own desires” (150). In a piece he called “The Samaritan’s Dilemma,” Buchanan opined that Jesus was actually mistaken in his story about the Good Samaritan because modern man had lost the courage to keep the market (and people) in order. So, what might seem ethical and Christian—to help someone in need—was really the opposite. Why? Because helping a needy person only encouraged this “taker” to exploit the “giver” (the Samaritan) rather than solving his own problems. Like naughty children, parasites such as the needy required “spanking” to keep them from “exploiting” society’s producers. The only problem was how those in the know, like Buchanan and his corporate backers, could put shackles on the Samaritan—i.e., democratic government.
            When it comes to what these stealth bombers have already accomplished, I’ll limit myself to two examples. First, Chile under Gen. Pinochet. It turns out that James Buchanan was invited to Chile in May 1980 to help the right-wing thugs there make their government coup permanent. That is, Pinochet wasn’t content with killing most of the leftists whom he ousted when he overthrew the Allende government. No, he wanted to make sure that Chileans could never again institute what he called ‘socialism,’ no matter what the people wanted. The solution was to rewrite the Chilean constitution “to forever insulate the interests of the propertied class they represented from the reach of a classic democratic majority” (155). And it was Buchanan who guided the Pinochet government in binding democracy with “locks and bolts.” So Pinochet’s government first instituted seven modernizations, including banning labor unions, privatizing social security (eliminating the company’s contribution), privatizing health care, forcing public universities to become “self-financing,” at the same time edging out humanities and liberal arts departments to minimize student questioning. Buchanan then arrived to help with rewriting the 1980 “Constitution of Liberty” to cast in stone such ‘improvements,’ a move that was so successful that even when Pinochet resigned and was formally disgraced, successive governments have been unable to undo the damage to Chile’s once-democratic procedures. That’s because the new constitution gave “the president unprecedented powers, hobble(d) the Congress, and enable(d) unelected military officials to serve as a power brake on the elected members of Congress,” while the new electoral system “would permanently over-represent the right-wing minority party to ensure a ‘system frozen by elite interests’” (160). It also prohibited all references to “class conflict” or “attacking the family.” The result, according to MacLean, was that even Michelle Bachelet’s presidency was crippled in its attempt to promote needed reforms.
            The second example has to do with Social Security. MacLean points out how David Stockman, Ronald Reagan’s economics chief, had to admit by 1982 that changing Social Security was impossible. The program was too deeply entrenched and was relied upon by too many Americans. So Buchanan and his minions (unlike George W. Bush, who openly advocated privatizing social security in an attempt that failed miserably) decided they had to use stealth, or misdirection, i.e. lies they called a “crab walk.” Buchanan advocated two basic steps in the strategy. First, the far-right had to change the thinking of its beneficiaries that Social Security was sustainable, so that abandoning the system would look reasonable. Second, the right had to employ the classic strategy of “divide and conquer.” With  respect to this latter step, Buchanan advised separating beneficiaries into three groups. Group 1 were those already receiving benefits (or close to it). They were to be assured that their benefits would NOT be cut. Buchanan called this “paying off” existing claims, to remove from the fight those who would resist most fiercely. (If any of this begins to sound familiar, that’s because much of this strategy has already been employed in recent years, and it’s working.) Group 2 were those with high income. In a totally dishonest ploy, proponents would say that these high earners were going to have to pay taxes at higher rates to get their benefits. This would have the effect of dirtying the already dirty image of Social Security, and get the wealthy to see it as a “means-tested” program like the ones they already hated. Group 3 were younger workers. The ploy here was to remind them again and again that the FICA deductions from their salaries were, in essence, a “welfare subsidy” for old people. And to add to the discontent of almost everyone, those in power should propose “increas(ing) the retirement age and payroll taxes” to “irritate recipients at all income levels” (180). Again, sound familiar?
            The point was simple: to split apart the groups who had always counted on Social Security as a mainstay of support in one’s old age so they would begin to fight one another. Clever bastards, aren’t they? But there was more. Legislation should be pushed to make private retirement saving easier—as in IRAs—by providing tax deductions for them. Where most people thought this was just a welcome hedge against indigence in old age, the far right saw the Individual Retirement Account as “a powerful vehicle for introducing a private Social Security system” (180). Remember Chile? One of the first things Pinochet did was to privatize social security. Why? Because of three benefits: 1) it would sever the average citizen’s connection to government; 2) it would weaken the appeal of the collectivity (one of the betes noires of Buchanan’s thought has always been the dreaded ‘collective’ will of the people) by fracturing groups that were once united; 3) it would put vast sums of money into the hands of the financiers, thus making them eager to donate huge sums to right wing groups leading this charge.
            The frightening thing about all of this, as noted at the outset, is that it is working. Social Security Privatization, once a laughable proposal, has now become a central part of policy debates in government and media circles. Legions of people, particularly young ones, have been convinced by propaganda that Social Security will not be there for them when they retire, and that it is already forcing them to unfairly subsidize an older generation’s retirement. Almost everyone takes part in the IRA programs, thus paving the way for “self-sufficient retirement.” All this while Social Security is constantly said to be “out of money” when, in fact, it has surpluses of trillions (especially if unscrupulous leaders like George W. Bush did not “borrow” from the trust fund to support tax cuts for the wealthy and war spending.) But that is only on the surface. What Social Security Privatization really involves is the first step, the key step, in promoting the final revolution envisaged by James Buchanan and implemented by the Koch Brothers and their right-wing organizations. And that is the revision of the Constitution. Remember Chile? It was Buchanan who advised the Pinochet government on how to disguise that revision to make it seem like a bolstering of freedom, of liberty. That is precisely what he and, even more deceitfully, the Koch-funded operations, had, and still have in mind for the United States. Here is how Nancy MacLean puts it:

What was needed was a way to amend the Constitution so that public officials would be legally constrained from offering new social programs to the public or in engaging in regulation on their [i.e. citizens’] behalf even when vast constituencies were demanding them…The project must aim toward the practical “removal of the sacrosanct status assigned to majority rule” (184).  

Look at that again. “Removal of the sacrosanct status assigned to majority rule!” What these right-wing zealots intend is not just to win elections (change the rulers), but to alter the very basis of government (change the rules, like rule of the majority). The Constitution itself, the very core of democratic government, with its provisions for majority rule and the rights of the people to gather and petition their government to respond to their grievances—that is seen by the right as a constraint on freedom. A constraint on wealthy capitalists to do whatever they want to do. Indeed, as one of the chief barriers to economic freedom, Buchanan has identified excessive “governmental regulation of business,” with “the biggest threat…coming from the environmental movement” on a “quest for control over industry” (195). When you add in the impediments (to these zealots) of “government-backed health and welfare” and the education industry as manifested in government-run public schools and public universities that nurture “community values, many inimical to a free society,” and then throw in feminism, seen as “socialistic for no apparent reason,” you get a rather complete picture of the range of government programs and ideas and people now targeted for extinction. 
            This is serious, America. These hatchet men are well on their way to destroying the very rights and values that makes the United States of America what it is. Chief among them majority rule. And why is that? Because they know that their toxic ideas make them a permanent minority. Indeed, they exult in being a minority—the ones with the money; with the desire to be “free,” which to them means free to do whatever they want, no matter who or what gets hurt. The desire to keep all that they have earned, regardless of how much government-funded infrastructure or research or police protection or military adventurism is necessary to that earning. No matter how much that earning requires the enslavement of others to increase their almighty profit. No matter how much that profit requires the wholesale destruction of the very earth and its beings who supply the material basis and energy for their profiting in the first place. No matter. They want it all. Free. For themselves. And no one else. And will do whatever they must, engage in whatever lies and subterfuge they have to engage in, to get it. To steal it.
            And it is time that the people of this country—those who care about rights and justice and the earth and all it means—wake up to what has been going on, what is still going on, and unite in the way that drives these assholes crazy. As a majority. To stop the damage and expel or eliminate from power those perpetrating it. Before the damage is too extensive, and it’s too late.

Lawrence DiStasi