Every day and every week we hear another shocking story about how our billionaires have cooked up an even sicker scheme to shake down Americans and plunder the national wealth, as if the last scheme was too easy and boring. They don’t even bother hiding it anymore: take the story about the “Death Bonds” I wrote about last month, first reported (however blandly) in the New York Times: the very same Wall Street bankers who conned $23 trillion out of America’s wealth is now going to use some of that play money to place bets on when we Americans will die—and the sooner we die, the more billions in E-Z profits Wall Street will earn.
It’s as if America is some kind of despised abstraction to our ruling class: a faraway colony to plunder, a mass of humanity to use and exploit as it sees fit. In fact, there’s a pretty clear pattern developing of just how much they despise Americans and how little they value our lives and our humanity.
It’s painful to admit this, but the way our 21st century American ruling class treats the rest of us is eerily reminiscent of the great Russian novel Dead Souls, about the 19th century Russian ruling class’s beastly treatment of its serfs (also called “souls”), back when most Russians were essentially slaves, legal property of the ruling class. Dead Souls features one of the most grotesque shysters in any novel: he comes up with a get-rich-quick scheme that’s eerily similar to today’s Wall Street’s latest schemes: the shyster goes from village to village, buying up “dead souls” (or “dead serfs”) who are still on the census rolls of the local landowners. The dead serfs are of no use to their owners anymore, so the landowners are happy to make one last ruble off their dead serfs by selling ownership rights over them to the shyster. The shyster’s plan: to acquire so many “dead souls” that he can package them into valuable collateral, and take out a huge loan against his “dead souls” which will finally make him rich. Wealth spun out of nothing but human misery, so that the shyster can waste huge amounts of money impressing others from the serf-owning class.
In other words: Dead Souls Loans.
Fast-forward to America in 2009, and now we’re the dead souls. Top American corporations are taking out “dead peasant insurance” on their workers without the workers even knowing it—and cashing in hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars on their employees, even though often times they don’t even offer those same employees decent health insurance coverage to allow them to survive illnesses. To top it off, these “dead peasant insurance” payouts are tax-free for the corporation that cashes in. It was a revelation so revolting that even ABC’s News’ mannequins admitted they were “stunned.”
In fact, as I said, they shouldn’t be stunned. It’s part of an ongoing pattern for our ruling class and their view of America and Americans. It’s time we faced up to this grim fact. Too many of them are against us and against this country, weakening America to the point where it threatens to be permanently crippled, much like how the communists deformed Russia for decades. They had their bolsheviks; we have our billionaire-bolsheviks. The effect of these two rapacious ruling elites is the same: the state and the people serve the tiny ruling class; and when we’re not serving them, we can fuck off and die. Literally. Because that serves them too.
For practical purposes, here is a small handy list of 8 Reasons To Hate Our Billionaire Bolsheviks [or “The H8 8”]:
1. According to Harvard Medical Researchers, 45,000 Americans die each year due to lack of health insurance. That’s one American dying every 12 minutes; it also means that our fucked up health care system kills as many Americans every month as Al Qaeda managed on September 11th, with another 9,000 American dead thrown in for good measure. Doesn’t this count as corporate terrorism? Doesn’t this mean we should go to war against our murderers, to protect ourselves?
2. Those hundreds of thousands of American corpses enriched a handful of American health care CEOs like William McGuire of UnitedHealth: he earned hundreds of millions in annual bonuses in the mid-2000s ($125 million in 2004, more in 2005) along with as much as $1.8 billion in stock options (some of which was clawed back by the SEC), and a $5 million annual pension guaranteed for life; at one point, $1 out of every $700 Americans paid in health care went directly to McGuire’s obscene billion-dollar payout.
3. “Dead Peasants Insurance”: Companies paid out $8 billion in premiums on millions of their employees, and expect to earn $9 billion in the next 5 years when these employees die. To make sure that the life insurance companies can pay out the winnings on our deaths, $22 billion in TARP money–our money– was set aside this spring for insurance companies.
4. Herbert Perone, spokesman for the American Council of Life Insurers, told the San Francisco Chronicle: “Nobody gets upset when a company insures its plant or its fleet of cars or land or any other business asset. To think that your labor force is not a business asset is extremely shortsighted.”
5. The gap between wealthiest 10 percent and the rest of America is worse than at any time on record. Two-thirds of all income gains from 2002-7 went to the top 1 percent. The Walton family alone is worth more than the bottom 100 million Americans combined. Wal-Mart is a major player in the “dead peasants insurance” game; it’s alleged that dead peasant insurance payouts are used for executive bonuses.
6. Bank of America chief Ken Lewis will earn a $125 million retirement package after soaking US taxpayers for $45 billion in bailout funds and $118 billion in guarnatees. Meanwhile, banks like BofA earned $24 billion in overdraft fees in 2008, charging some 51 million Americans an average of $470 each in highly dubious circumstances. It’s thought that banks will pocket even more this year.
7. Mortgages: financial institutions get taxpayers to subsidize losses via $700 billion TARP program, $1.25 trillion mortgage-backed securities buyback program, hundreds of billions in “toxic assets” guarantees, at least $400 billion shoring up Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, $30 billion for PPIP, etc.
8. Mortgages: homeowners. Two headlines tell the story: “Mortgage-relief program helps relatively few troubled homeowner” [McClatchy, Sept 10.] and “Firms are getting billions, but homeowners still in trouble” [McClatchy, Oct 4.] The latter article details how even the meager funds earmarked for homeowner relief winds up getting looted by the mortgage servicers who created the problems in the first place.
And on, and on…
It’s one of the more grotesque yet inevitable examples of just how badly the super-wealthy have warped America so that it’s become little more than a rigged game in which we the people always lose, just like Mr. Lebowski said we would.
In 1965, Ronald Reagan said in a speech: “A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover they can vote themselves largesse out of the public treasury. From that moment on the majority…always vote[s] for the candidate promising the most benefits from the treasury with the result that democracy always collapses over a loose fiscal policy, always to be followed by dictatorship.” [Quoted in David Cay Johnston’s book Free Lunch.]
The great irony of course is that it wasn’t the voters who plundered the public treasury, but rather, the super-wealthy who plundered the public and subverted democracy. But this is worse than mere irony; Reagan was the billionaire’s Trojan Horse to power. They rode on his drooling senile smile into power, on the worst assumptions about the American people and how we’d use our democratic power to take their wealth; so the minute they got the reigns, they plundered us first, before we could get to them. This is what I mean by America’s billionaire class as an alien, colonial overlord class: they hate us, quite simply, and the more they plunder America, the more they both loathe us and fear us, or what we might do to them–or should do.
As for the dictatorship that Reagan speaks of, it’s already here, thanks in no small part to Reagan himself. But it’s not the crude, old-fashioned dictatorship, the kind with cool uniforms and parades. That wouldn’t last a week, because we’ve all been trained to look out for it and spot the crude old saber-toothed dictators. Instead, today we have a kind of highly-evolved dictatorship concealing itself as a functioning democracy. But in all the important issues, where billions or trillions are at stake, where their yachts and private jets are pitted against Americans’ lives or the national interest, you can spot the dictatorship’s horrific Predator-beast head rising from the swamp… such as when the vote on the public option was put to the Democratic supermajority-run Senate committee, and it got crushed by the same margin as if the Senate was split, or run by a Republican supermajority.
Which brings me back to Dead Souls: despite the title, the book is actually one of the greatest comic novels of all time, a kind of comic poem, “laughter through tears” as the author, Gogol, put it. But I’m not sure Gogol would find our 2009 version of Dead Souls very comical. And Hollywood would never buy it. There’s nothing redeeming, no characters an audience can possibly identify with. Our American Dead Souls is just too…depressing.
Mark Ames is the author of Going Postal: Rage, Murder and Rebellion from Reagan’s Workplaces to Clinton’s Columbine. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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