Dark times: Savage capitalism unleashed

The stories in the two newspapers I get on Sunday—The New York Times (NYT) and The Miami Herald (MH)—provide, in a single day, a broad panorama of the society the United States has become in the last three decades.

It is a portrait of a thoroughly corporate-controlled society characterized by breathtaking inequality in which cruelty is standard operating procedure, a systemic feature and not just the product of the misdeeds of bad people. Racism has again crawled out of the closet.

The Trump presidency is the epitome of this reality, but it predates and transcends his presidency, although Trump’s cruelty is extreme even within this general dog-eat-dog climate.

The headlines, sub-headlines, and key paragraphs tell a disturbing story, but sometimes not the whole story. Thus, I have added my comments in brackets.

Conor Doughterty, New York Times

“Losing the Right to a New Job”

“The growth of non-compete agreements is part of a broad shift in which companies assert ownership over work experience as well as work.”

“…[T]he (non-compete contracts) have long been routine among senior executives…but they are rapidly spreading to…the kind of blue collar work that President Trump has promised to create more of.”

[According to Karl Marx, capitalists steal part of workers’ labor power—surplus labor—but even Marx never imagined that capitalists would claim ownership of a worker’s skills after they no longer employed them. This is one element of capitalism that is even more savage than in the age of Marx and Dickens.]

Leonard Pitts. Jr., Miami Herald

“There’s none so blind as those who won’t see racism”

…a new study by the Public Religion Research Institute and The Atlantic…says that white people who described their finances as fair or poor were nearly twice as likely to vote for Hillary Clinton than those who were better off…

“On the other hand, nearly 80 percent of white working-class people who see the American way of life as under siege from foreign influences and who agree that ‘things have changed so much that I often feel as a stranger in my own country’ supported Trump.”

Gretchen Mortenson, NYT

“Higher Fees, Deeper Hole”

“I was reading a new report detailing how outsize money management fees are crippling the nation’s public pensions.”

[Under savage capitalism, anything with the word “public” is in trouble.]

Ronda Kaysen, NYT

“Condo Tower to Rise on Site for Muslim Center”

Robert Frank, NYT

“In Washington, the Wealthiest Settle in”

“Sales of upscale homes and goods are rising with the Trump Administration in Town”

Matthew Desmond, NYT

“Homeownership was once the cornerstone of the American Dream. Thanks, in part, to the federal tax code, it’s now the cornerstone of American inequality. The average homeowner boasts a net worth ($195,400) that is 36 times that of the average renter ($5,400).”

[A net worth of almost $200,000 seems impressive in comparison with one of about $5,000. But both sums are peanuts compared with the net worth of the truly rich, such as Bill Gates, whose net worth is around $50 billion. That’s 25,000 times the net worth of the average homeowner. The distance between the middle and the summit has become Himalayan. As a group, homeowners are much better off than renters, but the real economic chasm is between average people who work for their money and those like Bill Gates whose money works for them. And, homeownership is not the most important source of inequality enabled by the tax code.]

Natasha Singer, NYT

“How Google Conquered the American Classroom

Schools Transformed by Tech Giant May be Giving More than They’re Getting”

Alex Harris, MH

“Protesters to Trump: Don’t Send Haitians ‘back to nothing’”

Glenn Garvin, MH

“Trump’s visa plan could hurt Miami’s high-tech industries”

Noam Scheiber, NYT

“Uber Has a Union, Sort Of”

“Drivers can join a guild to raise concerns like fair wages. The guild funder? Uber”

Associated Press, MH

“Gunman at Ohio nursing home had violent history”

“Nurse Marlina Medrano, 46, nurse’s aide Cindy Krantz, 36, and Kirkersville Police Chief Steven Eric Disario, 36, were killed in the Friday attack…The suspect, Thomas Hartless, was found dead inside Kirk Park Care Center…State prison records show he served eight months in 2010 for the 2009 abduction of another woman.”

[Homicide rates have been going down for decades. But they would have plummeted further had not “gun rights” been elevated to a whole new level thanks to a rightist Supreme Court and politicians terrified by the NRA, a deadly Leviathan combining the power of a business lobby and a political movement. Their result? There are more and deadlier guns than ever out there. Felons like Hartless and all sorts of nut cases, from seriously disturbed people to avowed racists, can get them easily and kill a large number of people and destroy the lives of many other family members in a flash.]

Reported by multiple media sources

“FBI Director James Comey learned the news the President had fired him on television.”

[Savage capitalism is an inherently cruel system, but Donald Trump takes special pleasure in the biggest cruelties, like the indignity of the manner of the Comey firing, and the most puerile ones, like saying “You’re Fired” to the opportunist fools who played his apprentices on Trump’s reality television show.]

End of stories. And all that was just one day that capped an amazing week of Trumpfoolery.

To me clear-eyed lucidity is preferable to false optimism or blind patriotism. These are indeed dark times. But it is also true that this country still has solid institutions like the judiciary and the press—both under assault by this administration—that prevent aspiring tyrants from succeeding. And there are many honest, kind and altruistic people, including a few real heroes.

This week I was especially moved by the courage and simple goodness of a young white man who, in a bar in the heartland, intervened when a raging white man hurled racist slurs at two engineers from India he took for Arabs. The racist was ejected but came back with a gun, intent on killing the “Arabs.” He killed one of them but the young white hero intervened again and ended up taking a bullet intended for the second “Arab.”  He barely survived but probably saved the life of the second Indian.

As long as there are people like him, our president may be an ass, an oaf, a lout, a liar, an uncouth, cruel man—he is all those things and more—honor is still alive in this nation.

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