Curtain Raiser

Our World Is for Sale, Colltalers

The recent push by the world’s richest 1% to consolidate its power, despite already owning half of all global resources, is not only scary and morally despicable. It also poises a serious challenge to the rest of us: have we got what it takes to push it back or it’s really game over for us?
For it’s a global game, alright. It’s not just the U.S. Republicans’ recent tax overhaul, one of the greatest transfers of wealth in modern times, but it’s also elites in Brazil, Honduras, France, Germany, and elsewhere, that are saying, hey, we’re entitled to more and we’re taking it.
That the mega rich could count on congressional enablers to do their bidding has been always a given. But it’s puzzling that they’ve chosen the cover of the night, like robbers, to pass a measure which is certain to enrich not just them, but an administration already fully engaged in helping its own cause. The bewilderment is, of course, rhetorical; the end result is that those at the top believe they won’t be challenged.
Are they right? Is the American people sufficiently aware of what just happened on Capitol Hill, and prepared to put up a fight against it? The plan seems tilted toward corporations and the wealthy, according to estimates by Congress’ own bipartisan Join Committee on Taxation, with token concessions to middle and low income, already set to expire in a few years? So, neither get too discouraged nor hold your breath.
A note on the few assumptions implied above: most of the text of the bill was kept under wraps, and undemocratically prevented from being discussed publicly. But a few points did get scrutinize by reputed economists, such as Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz, scholar institutions, and others. And three of them do prove the overall assumptions: the plan favors top earners, guts Medicare, and explodes the federal budget.
It’ll raise taxes in families earning $10,000 to $75,000 over a decade, according to the JCT. It’ll cut $25 billion from Medicare in fiscal 2018, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. And it adds $1 trillion to the budget over a decade, NYTimes economists found.
But as mentioned, it’s a global drive by the super rich, and it’s been enforced across the board, and borders, by governments and enablers. Take Brazil, for instance, where unelected, and unpopular leader, Michel Temer is pushing for an outrageous social security and labor laws reform, with little opposition, while ducking a number of attempts to hold him accountable for embezzlement and abuse of power.
The reform, with its radical reduction of benefits

and labor rights, speeds up an already ongoing process of dismantling efforts to ease access to education and social protections by traditionally disenfranchised Brazilians: the country’s poor black and mixed race majority, women, LGBT minorities, indigenous and native peoples living in the Amazon forest, even the now quasi-significant number of immigrants.
Temer has managed to remain unscathed, even when some allies have been jailed and respond to scandalous suits, because he’s supported by a powerful coalition of politicians and corporate chiefs. That includes rich right-wing religious organizations, media corporations led by Globo, big landowners, and a conservative upper middle-class, united by privilege and hatred of former president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
Even as his Workers’ Party (PT) no longer enjoys the reach and power it had from the end of the military dictatorship in 1985, through three and a half terms at the higher office, that ended with the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff, Lula remains Brazil’s most popular politician. He’s a presidential front-runner for next year’s election, but whether his candidacy will survive his current trials, is still uncertain.
Electoral politics in Latin America remains a contentious, and far from predictable, exercise, however, more so than anything the out-of-control money in U.S. campaigns has allowed anyone to foresee. The latest example is Honduras, where U.S.-backed president Juan Orlando Hernández has apparently lost his reelection bid to Salvador Nasralla, according to independent observers, but refuses to accept the outcome.
As a result, since last week’s vote, the country is once again under curfew and immersed in total chaos and violence, not unlike a similar situation in 2009, when Manuel Zelaya was deposed on questionable grounds, and a new, pro-U.S. president ran and won the presidency.
Porfirio Lobo Sosa one-term in office was disastrous, and helped a power grab by drug gangs and violent land owners, who de facto ruled the country. Hernández succeeded him and did little to prevent the assassinations of environmental activists, such as Berta Cáceres, and exodus of thousands of mostly children fleeing the violence. Those who survived Guatemala and Mexico, wound up in U.S. border detention centers.
As for France, when President Emmanuel Macron signed by decree an overreaching labor reform, restricting unions and workers’ benefits, he only reinforced fears some had about his allegiances. Perhaps unwittingly, he also may’ve opened gates for yet another right turn to Europe.
In no other country the fallout is more evident than modern, unionized-workforce Germany, where big corporations would love to regain the upper hand. A potential turn to the right would be disastrous to the country’s surprisingly thriving immigrant population and general social stability. That, even as many can’t believe their only hope to prevent a renewed assault of ultra-right forces is Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The fact is, if she loses her long-time political coalition support, experts say, we’re off to the races. A number of considerably more radically conservative candidates are already jockeying for her position. Worse: few of the living even remember the last time Germany turned right.
There are other signs elsewhere, in Europe and South America, that the so-called market forces, i.e., the rule of those who own things over those who have close to nothing, would love a Trump-like sewage-stinking wave to wash their own shores. Some are already betting on it.
They can’t do it without public support, however, and that’s something hard to purchase. Specially if the difference between what it’s a fact and what’s unvarnished lies is clear. So you see why we may be having our own ‘moment of doubt and pain,’ to quote that keen observer of human relations, Mick Jagger. Besides the staggering large income gap, what should concern us the most is the global scale of this quagmire.
In the streets of America, of Brazil, Europe, Australia, you may find hordes of angry people, blasting about a system that seems to have got in gear without their help, but may be set to deny them re-entry. Young and middle aged, they regard current leaders and politicians as greedy and corrupt, and wouldn’t trust them with a quarter. They righteously remain unmoved, skeptical about promises and critical of the status quo.
But when offered a chance of adding their own input and sweat to the building a new dawn, most recoil. Repeating old cliches about politics being dirty, they’d gladly write fervent social media commentary but delegate all action to exactly those enablers they claim to hate so much.
We know, we’re guilty too. But as we constantly make choices, big and small, about our time, employment, and relationships, we should all know that they’re political choices. Not to insult anyone’s intelligence, but we’ve got to be aware about what it means to eat at McDonald’s, follow big sport franchises, or reply to another vitriolic post, while others support independent papers and volunteer at their communities.
The most baffling thing about the world’s top 1% is that they care about collecting every buck, even if it’s from a retired teacher’ pocket, but do not when it comes to their own carbon imprint, or moral obligation to give at least some to the community that allowed them to get rich.
So, if they’re not concerned, we are. If not all of them cares, we do. If the ultra wealthy shuts down their conscience, and are fine about their useless jet-setting kin burning their money, we should also be fine electing leaders with the guts to tax their spendable income as needed.
For no matter how may flights they may afford to take, out of the polluted air of their home offices; it’s the same one that poisons their lungs, and makes their potable water so expensive. Having money doesn’t make anyone smarter, and the biggest proof lives in the White House.
We need a new social contract, and it’s unfair to let children inherit this mess of a world just because we can’t be bothered. The purity ship has sailed on, and whoever is left would better start pulling their weight. By the way, Net Neutrality rallies everywhere next Thursday. Be there. WC

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