Sunday, March 06, 2011

Sunday reading - "We're all doomed!" edition

New York Times photo
Counting down the days before the New York Times disappears behind a pay wall that the paper refuses to share as a news story with its own readers, we have another account of how a diseased capitalism is turning us all into its robots.  Gardiner Harris writes about Donald Levin, a psychiatrist whom America's vaunted private health care system has converted into a shill for the big drug companies, seeing a roster of 1,200 patients in 15 minute-or-under sessions that are just long enough for him to scribble out a prescription for whatever pill of the moment he's betting will make them whole.  He longer really knows anything about his patients as individuals, or place a face with a name.  They're just a number in his express checkout line.  But hey, it's efficient: he's making enough money for a comfortable retirement.  The drug companies are making money.  The insurance companies are making money.  What's not to like?

New York Times photo
Then there's a story of resistance to proposed California legislation that would ban the sale or possession of shark fins.  For centuries a rare delicacy, the infallible free market has made Shark Fin's Soup a mass market commodity.  The fins are ripped from the bodies of live sharks, which are then dumped back into the ocean to die as they sink to the bottom.  The result?  Scientists estimate up to 90% of the shark population has disappeared.  One comments, “The whole food web becomes bollixed when you take out the top-level predator.”  But who cares?  The article quotes a restaurant owner: "Eliminating shark’s fin soup, he said, would cost waiters tips and cost the restaurant profits."  This is the brave new Koch Brothers world that is engulfing us all.  Who cares that our air and groundwater are poisoned, and that we're decimating global ecosystems?  Consequences?  To hell with 'em. We're man, the all-powerful.  We take what we want, and do what we want.   Party on!

New York Times photo
You can see our future in an Ayn Randed-America in the story of the richest man in France, Bernard Arnault.  Forget Henry Ford, Bill Gates or even Sam Walton.  Arnault has built his fortune on selling ultra-luxury brands such as Dior and Moët to the super rich.  Right now, he has his eyes on the house of Hermès, the family-run empire of high fashion.  It's a sign of the times when the underdog in reporter Liz Alderman's New York Times report, Off the Catwalk, the Battle for Hermès, is a multi-billion dollar purveyor of stuff most of us can't afford, but that's where we've come.

The story is also being followed closely by the Financial Times, which also offers up an account of the Koch Brothers, the royalists who are hiding behind numerous front organization and spending millions to return America to an economic feudalism in which, again in the style of Ayn Rand, the worthless masses exist only to serve a monied elite.  The Koch Brothers' bottomless pit of cash buys a phalanx of obsequious minions, including Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who chatted merrily for 20 minutes with someone he thought was David Koch about his crusade to destroy unionism in his state.  This is the standard GOP bait-and-switch: run on deficits, jobs and freedom, and then do the bidding of the Koch Brothers and their compatriots.  It's no improvisation.  John B. Judis in The New Republic reports that as early as last December, a prominent Republican K Street lobbyist tipped him off as to what was really at the top of the GOP's list of priorities - "Public employee unions are going to get hosed."

The Koch Brothers, of course, portray themselves as champions of "freedom", but the freedom they seek is that of Anatole France's quip, "The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread."  It is a freedom to pollute, destroy and subjugate.  Their "freedom" is our slavery.
Financial Times photo

If we want to a glimpse of their perfect world - and our potential future - check out another major Financial Times story by Geof Dyer, Who will be China's next leaders?, in which a closed, in-bred leadership elite decides who will be the country's next top leaders.  It includes fascinating profiles of the two leading contenders, Xi Jinping, "a self-confessed fan of American movies with a daughter enrolled in Harvard . . . married to a popular folk singer" - a conservative loyalist, but one whose family suffered greatly during Mao's Cultural Revolution, and Li Keqiang, who is reported to be consolidating his position among China's Old Guard.  It's a lot more complicated than that, of course, and Dyer's article provides a good introduction to the issues at stake.

I'm going to go take some happy pills now.

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