"Skin in the Game": Inequality, Sacrifice, Obama, and the Fate of the Earth
Barack is here is to increase the abundance, but to spread it around a little more...
-- Billionaire Investor Warren Buffett at a country club fundraiser in Omaha, Nebraska, August 15, 2007
Our economy could fall $1 trillion short of its full capacity....Only government can break the vicious cycles ...where ...an inability to lend and borrow stops growth ...The true test of the policies we'll pursue won't be whether they ate Democratic or Republican ideas, but whether they create jobs, grow our economy, and put the American Dream within reach of the American people...
-- Barack Obama, Economics Speech, George Mason University, January 8, 2009.
To escape any reevaluation, the oligarchy keeps repeating the dominant ideology according to which the solution to the social crisis is production growth. This is supposedly the sole means of fighting poverty and unemployment...The pursuit of material growth is the only means of getting societies to accept extreme inequalities without questioning them.
-- Herve Kempf, How the Rich Are Destroying the Earth (2007)
"EVERYBODY IS GOING TO HAVE TO GIVE"
Last Sunday on ABC's "This Week," Barack Obama agreed with George Stephanopolous that his presidency's economic agenda will present the American people with a "grand bargain" in which "everybody in this country is going to have to sacrifice something, accept change for the greater good." Consistent with recent news reports, Obama responded in the affirmative to Stephanopolus' query as to whether so-called "entitlement reform" - cutbacks and/or deepening privatization of Social Security and Medicare, in essence - are on the table of his presidency.
"Everybody is going to have to give," Obama said, adding that "everybody is going to have some skin in the game" .
An interesting choice of words. I wonder how many viewers knew that "skin in the game" equated ordinary working and poor Americans with leading members of the business class. As Forbes' Financial Directory reports, the term was coined by the billionaire U.S. investor and Obama-friend and sponsor  Warren Buffett . It refers to a situation in which top company insiders use their own money to purchase stock in a corporation they are running. The idea behind having this situation is that executives' confidence in a company is enhanced when they put their money on the line along with outside investors .
The President-elect's use of this investor- and executive-class phrase to describe "everybody" is - along with his call for "everybody" to "sacrifice" - richly emblematic of the U.S. political class's official obliviousness to - and deep complicity in - the critical problem of class oppression .
At one level, the Stephanopolous-Obama "sacrifice" exchange could be reasonably welcomed by left progressives and others who care about a livable environment. Post-World War II America has long been dangerously addicted to more. Its ecologically toxic and spiritually empty habit of mass consumption has produced a rolling "crisis of profligacy" (Andrew Bacevich's term) that is intimately related to its foreign policy "elite's" deadly involvement in the oil-rich Middle East and to deepening environmental crises (global warming, rampant pollution, and drastically accelerated species extinction) at home and abroad.
As the conservative historian Andrew Bacevich reminds us in his new book The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism, President Jimmy Carter made a semi-valiant effort to warn America off the vapid path of wastefulness. "Too many of us," Carter observed in his famous 1979 "malaise" speech, "tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer identified by what one does, but by what one owns. But we've discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We've learned that piling up material goods that cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence of purpose" .
By Bacevich's interesting take, Carter rightly criticized America's "mistaken idea of freedom" for being "quantitative." That false notion, Bacevich writes, "centered on the never-ending quest for more white exalting narrow self interest." Carter's "conception of authentic freedom was qualitative: it meant living in accord with permanent values. At least by implication, it meant setting for less" .
Tellingly enough, Carter's speech killed his chances for re-election. "Optimistically" rejecting Carter's call to accept less material gratification and to elevate "permanent values" over narrow self interest, U.S. political culture moved on to the Reagan era's glorification of materialism and greed. An opportunity to tackle the energy and related incipient climate crises was squandered. Middle-class Americans were steered into a generation of fierce attachment to the credit card, gas-guzzling, and the shopping mall.
In the wake of the 9/11 jetliner attacks and the United States' proclamation of an all-or-nothing Global War on Terror pitting Western "freedom" (supposedly headquartered in and championed by the U.S.) against Islamist slavery, George W. Bush admonished Americans to shop. The American Way of Life was defined to mean endless mass consumption and personal enjoyment - "an ethic of self-gratification and excess" - while war-fighting and other forms of "service" and sacrifice were imposed on the small percentage of Americans enlisted in the All Volunteer Armed Forces. As Bacevich darkly reflects:
"Washington may have fancied itself to be at war; the nation most assuredly has not...While soldiers fought, people consumed. With the United States possessing less than 3 percent of the world's known oil reserves and Americans burning one out of every four barrels of petroleum produced worldwide, oil imports reached 60 percent of daily national requirements and kept rising. The personal savings rate...dropped below zero and remained there. Collectively, Americans were now spending more than they earned...."
"...In February 2006, a provocative argument in the New York Times Magazine posed the question ‘Is freedom just another word for many things to buy?' Through their actions after 9/11, as before, tens of millions of Americans answered in the affirmative" .
Meanwhile, the carbon- and consumption- generated climate catastrophe continued to deepen to the point where livable ecology is at profound risk for future generations. Climate change is accelerating rapidly, producing a potentially drastic reduction of planetary habitability. Biodiversity is declining like no time since the collapse of the dinosaurs. Chemical, radioactive, and electromagnetic contamination of air, water, land, food and bodies is epidemic and rising. Deforestation is outstripping the earth's capacity to re-grow trees. The planet is being stripped of key resources too quickly to recover as humanity's ecological footprint - nowhere bigger than in the United States - transcends the Earth's "bio-capacity." 
Americans would do well to revisit Carter's forgotten advice to settle for less. So would the rest of the "advanced" capitalist world. "Together," Herve Kempf notes, "North America, Europe, and Japan include a billion inhabitants or less than 20 percent of the [world's] population. And they consume about 81 percent of global wealth." In an age when that global wealth and consumption is drastically exceeding the biosphere's human-friendly carrying capacity, Kempf notes, "these billion people must reduce their personal consumption" .
WHO'S SKINNING WHO?
But part, at least a fourth, of this billion cannot be justifiably told to reduce. And the wealthy Few at the top of the corporate skin game must give up a very great deal indeed - a problem on which Obama and Stephanopolous (and Bacevich) are silent. Beyond its potentially positive environmental (and perhaps spiritual) potential, the Stephanopolous-Obama exchange failed to address the critical and interrelated problems of class inequality and ecological destructiveness in the U.S.
As one might expect from a President-elect who set new records for corporate funding, Obama eluded the single greatest problem of the current era: the wildly disproportionate, democracy-disabling, and ecology-assaulting wealth and power of the capitalist oligarchy.
Currently in the U.S., the top 1 percent owns 40 percent of the wealth and 57 percent of all claims on wealth. By the early 21st century, the U.S was home to nearly 2.5 million millionaires and American income inequality has reached what the Anglo-American capitalist weekly The Economist called "levels not seen since the 1880s." The average income of the nation's top 1 percent was more than 189 greater than that of the bottom 20 percent. These are natural outcomes of the so-called "free market capitalism" (heavily state-protected and state-subsidized) that Obama repeatedly embraced during the presidential campaign.
People at the highest echelons of the nation's steep wealth and income pyramids are known to purchase giant yachts worth $3 million. They consume fur coats purchased for $160,00, suits costing $7000, cars as expensive as $1.2 million (the Bentley 728)), and gym-club memberships worth $50,000 per year. Their homes are often valued in the tens of millions of dollars. They are known to own airplanes worth as much as $59 million and to vacation in hotels costing $5000 per day. Wrapped in their bubble of hyper-affluence, "the oligarchs," Kempf notes, "live separated from the plebes. They are unaware of how the poor and workers live; they don't know, and don't want to know" .
This astonishing opulence is granted to a tiny elite while more than 37 million Americans lived beneath the federal government's notoriously inadequate poverty level even before the onset of full-blown economic crisis 2007-09. A shocking 43 percent (equaling nearly 16 million) of those officially poor Americans lived in what researchers call "deep poverty," at less than half the federal government's notoriously inadequate poverty.
"Deep poverty" has been on the rise in the U.S. over recent years and decades, thanks in part to Bill Clinton and New Gingrich's elimination ("reform") of poor families' entitlement to federal family cash assistance - a policy move Obama has repeatedly praised. Currently at it highest rate since 1975, the "deep poverty" measure and other terrible socioeconomic indicators will only worsen as the U.S. heads further into its worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
Even without recessions or depressions, the U.S. is the industrialized world's most unequal and wealth-top-heavy society by far. One in four Americans receives less than half the median U.S. income, making them officially poor under France's socially relative definition of poverty.
Wealthy Americans have the benefit of the finest health care in history while 45 million Americans lacked health insurance even before the latest recession. Expect that number to hit 50 million any day if it hasn't already.
Meanwhile, "American" corporations and wealthy elites get regular public assistance (investment house bailouts and other forms of corporate socialism) that belies the privileged Few's ritual proclamations of faith in the mythical notion of "free market capitalism." They profit from numerous government protections and subsidies while U.S. social programs are minimal compared to those of Western Europe and Canada.
A genuinely "progressive" (as Obama has frequently described himself) President-elect would want to look closely at who's skinning who in the "game" of American capitalism.
SKIN COLOR IN THE GAME: NOTES FROM CHICAGO
Relating "skin in the game" to the question of skin color, the nation's first black President-elect might want to reflect on the fact that African-Americans are afflicted with a national median-household wealth-gap of seven black cents on the white dollar. Numerous interrelated forms of institutional racism continue to saddle black America with a heavily disproportionate burden of poverty, injury, sickness, homelessness, unemployment, incarceration and criminal marking even as the nation celebrates Obama's election as a symbol of its transcendence of racial bigotry. In Obama's own adopted home city of Chicago, a 2005 study  funded by his former part-time employer the Woods Fund of Chicago found that:
* Black median household income was just 58 percent of white median household income in the Chicago metropolitan area.
* Median annual black household income in Chicago was more than $6,000 less than the Economic Policy Institute's "basic family budget" - the no-frills cost of living (taking into account housing, food, child care, transportation, health care, and other necessities plus taxes)—for even a small family of one parent and two children ($35,307). (The median white household income in the city exceeded that basic family budget by more than that $11,300.)
* At the upper end, a fifth of Chicago metropolitan-area white households lived on $100,000 or more, compared to just 7.5 percent of the region's blacks. More than half (57 percent) of metropolitan-area white households lived at $50,000 or more, compared to less than a third (32.2 percent) of black households.
* A fourth of the Chicago metropolitan area's black households were officially poor, compared to just 5.6 percent white and 16 percent of Latin households.
* Sixteen percent of Chicago's blacks lived in "deep poverty"—at less than half of the federal government's notoriously low and inadequate poverty level.
* More than a third of the metropolitan area's black children lived in poverty, compared to just 5 percent of the region's white kids.
* Of Chicago's fifteen poorest neighborhoods, with poverty measures ranging from 32 to 56 percent, all but one was disproportionately black and eleven were at least 94 percent black.
* Of the city's top fifteen neighborhoods for child poverty, with rates ranging from 55 to 71 percent (!), ten were disproportionately black and none were disproportionately white, the rest being disproportionately Latino.
* All but one of the fifteen Chicago neighborhoods where more than 25 percent of the kids were growing up in deep poverty had a black population percentage considerably higher than the city average. All but three were at least 94 percent black. There were six predominantly black neighborhoods where more than 40 percent of the children were deeply poor.
* 93 percent of Chicago-area federal campaign contributions came from zip codes that were 50 percent or more white. Just 7.2 percent came from zip codes that were 50 percent or more comprised of people of color.
* Just 4.4 percent of officers and directors of large Chicago-area businesses were African American.
* Only 2.6 percent of corporate officers in large Chicago-area based corporations were African American and only 7 percent of corporate directors were African American.
* 75 percent of large Chicago-area corporations did not have a single African American corporate officer.
* 46 percent of large Chicago-area corporations did not have a single African American on their board of directors.
* African Americans were badly underrepresented among partners of major Chicago law firms. Only 0.7 percent of 2,950 partners in Chicago area law firms were African American.
These were interesting statistics - similar to race-disparities evident in other U.S. metropolitan areas and the nation as a whole - to keep in mind as Obama told a predominantly black audience in Selma, Alabama in March of 2007 that blacks had come "90 percent of the way" to equality in the U.S. 
THREE REASONS THE OLIGARCHY HAS TO GO
Given the nation's harsh economic and related racial disparities, it is offensive for the President-elect to blithely pronounce that "everyone is going to have to sacrifice."
There is no reasonable moral basis for telling America's many millions of disproportionately black poor families and individuals that they have to "sacrifice for the greater good." Those households are already trying to make due well below minimally adequate budgets.
Deadly Consumption Model
There is, however, a rich moral and environmental imperative for drastically reducing the income, wealth, consumption, and, above all, the power of the privileged Few. It's not just that the oligarchy's ostentatious opulence offends core democratic sensibilities and inflicts wildly disproportionate environmental costs. These are minor problems compared to the Few's broader impact on ecology and society.
A bigger and more urgent difficulty is that the super-rich tend to upwardly tilt the consumption model for the 500 million or so residents of the world capitalist core (Europe, North America, and Japan) who do in fact need to significantly reduce their consumption for the sake of a livable environment. It will be difficult if not impossible to convince more ordinary upper- and middle-class Americans to stand down from ecologically fatal over-consumption as long as the super-rich are permitted to take seemingly limitless pleasure in unimaginable luxury and conspicuous consumption .
Deadly Growth Ideology
A second and even bigger problem with the super-rich is that they underwrite dissemination of the core Western notion that Growth is the solution to social crises resulting from inequality, poverty and unemployment. A "rising tide lifts all boats," the standard Western maxim (carried over from the New Deal era into the neoliberal age) maintains, making "angry" comparisons between the Few's yachts and the Many's rowboats obsolete. "Expanding the pie," the conventional top-down economic wisdom still asserts, abolishes the supposedly irrelevant question of socioeconomic redistribution - of how the pie is shared out.
"To escape any reevaluation," Kempf notes, "the oligarchy keeps repeating the dominant ideology according to which the solution to the social crisis is production growth. This is supposedly the sole means of fighting poverty and unemployment."
Abundant data over the last three-and-a-half decades shows that economic growth does not in fact reliably undo those and other social evils. But so what? The notion that material growth is the answer lives on because it induces societies plagued by structurally imposed poverty and idleness "to accept extreme inequalities without questioning them."
Besides being demonstrably false on its own terms, moreover, the reigning doctrine ignores growth's giant negative impact on an increasingly fragile environment. The toxic ecological costs of increasing total consumption far outpace whatever gains are achieved in per-unit ecological efficiency within and beyond "advanced" economies 
Deadly Assault on Democracy
Last but not least, the Few wield disproportionate political influence to advance the ruinous growth model. They preside happily over a soft dictatorship or bastardized [post-] democracy wherein citizens are molded into a corporate-managed "electorate" and conditioned to "function" (in ways that Alexis de Tocqueville and Aldous Huxley warned about) as socially indifferent, ecologically oblivious, politically de-mobilized, and privatized seekers of narrowly defined personal and material "happiness" .
But the oligarchy is not content to rely on soft rule alone. It also embraces harder authoritarian strategies . These include the use of the terrorism threat to abolish civil liberties, the normalization of torture, the mass incarceration of the politically problematic and disproportionately non-white poor (carried to extremes in the world's leading prison state the U.S.), the criminalization of protest, the development of technologies designed to liquidate significant popular crowd action, and the sinister spread of "total surveillance" .
Along the way, the corporate media - controlled by an ever-shrinking share of the Few - censors, selectively reports, and otherwise distorts current events and their broader meaning in service to the state-capitalist death state, including its growth ideology and its related military-imperial apparatus. As Kempf notes, "not one accredited economist, political official, or dominant media outlet criticizes growth, which has become the great taboo, the blind spot of contemporary thought" .
Dominant media also feeds the populace a steady diet of ideologically loaded and diversionary "entertainment" culture that encourages the lowly "rabble" (the working class majority) to leave serious matters of politics and policy to supposedly benevolent corporate masters.
The military apparatus is most particularly aimed at the Middle East, home to the world's leading energy reserves, the control of which is critical to the maintenance of the wasteful over-consumption model on which the Few depend.
"TO INCREASE THE ABUNDANCE"
In a recent nationally televised economic speech at George Mason University, Obama called for "new" policies (including a large number of business tax-breaks) to "jumpstart" "long-term economic growth." He worried that "an inability to lend and borrow stops growth."
"Growth" was mentioned as his goal five times.
The speech included outwardly semi-progressive comments about the need to restore government's regulatory role and rollback "reckless greed and risk-taking." Obama spoke about the needs to mitigate "destructive cycles of bubble and bust;" to extend unemployment insurance and health-care coverage to the jobless; to "put the urgent needs of our nation above our own narrow interests;" to "get our fiscal house in order;" and to "deliver clean, alternative forms of energy to every corner of our nation" .
Consistent with his plutocratic campaign finance profile (just as heavily weighted towards large donors as George W. Bush's in 2004) and his "deeply conservative"  and power-accommodating nature, however, he said nothing about the inherently disastrous environmental consequences of the Western growth model or the role that the elite's growth ideology plays in evading and furthering critical and interrelated problems of ecological collapse, economic hyper-inequality, and military-imperial over-extension and waste. He said nothing, of course, about the wildly disproportionate resources, consumption, power, and influence of the Few, who have been shredding the skin and soul of democracy in accord with the cancerous and authoritarian game that is the Profits System, once aptly described by Karl Marx as "the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie."
Obama, as usual, left such dark reflections to those he and the rest of the "realistic" political class consign to the dangerous and dysfunctional realm of "ideology," where insufficiently pragmatic and practical "zealots" "point fingers" and drag society down instead of "reaching out "across partisan and cultural lines to "get things done" .
Radical-left "utopianism" and "anger" aside, the President-elect's economic speech evinced no merely Carter-esque sense of the current crisis as an opportunity to critically re-examine the growth-addicted and mass-consumerist American Way of Life.
The speech was richly consistent with uber-capitalist Warren Buffett's praise for Obama at a country club fundraiser during the presidential primary contest. "Barack," Buffett proclaimed, "is here to increase the abundance, but to spread it around a little more so that it is inclusive prosperity" .
KRUGMAN DECRIES THE "OUTPUT GAP" AND CALLS FOR MORE
But don't just blame Obama or Buffett. This is the reigning, ecologically fatal "rising tides lift all boats" doctrine that is widely accepted across the spectrum of elite opinion. Consistent with that doctrine and with Kempf's reflections on the "great taboo," the dominant U.S. media's leading liberal-left critic of Obama's bipartisan centrism, New York Times columnist and Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman disapproves of the President-elect stimulus plan not because it doesn't redistribute wealth and power but because it doesn't do enough to increase production. After approvingly quoting Obama's call for the government to take quick and aggressive action, Krugman notes that President-elect "prescription doesn't live up to his diagnosis." As he elaborates in a column titled "The Obama Gap":
"The economic plan he's offering isn't as strong as his language about the economic threat. In fact, it falls well short of what's needed."
"Bear in mind just how big the U.S. economy is. Given sufficient demand for its output, America would produce more than $30 trillion worth of goods and service over the next two years. But with both consumer spending and business investment plunging, a huge gap is opening up between that the American economy can produce and what it's able to sell."
"And the Obama plan is nowhere near big enough to fill this ‘output gap.'"
"...the Obama plan is unlikely to close more than half of the looming output gap, and could easily end up doing less than a third of the job." 
For Krugman, giving a textbook illustration of the growth ideology, the solution to social crisis is an aggregate more - quantitative expansion, not qualitative change along the lines of the redistribution of wealth and power to advance justice, democracy, and livable ecology.
GROWTH GAME OVER
He's right that Obama's economic stimulus proposal will leave many millions without work and that its fiscal moderation reflects the President-elect's desire to "win Republican votes in congress." The problem is that we are long past the point where it is anything but grossly irresponsible for "leaders" to be talking in terms of growing our way out of poverty and unemployment. It has never been acceptable for the bourgeoisie to use destruction of the biosphere as a mechanism for boosting profit profits rates and escaping the contradictions of class rule, but this timeworn capitalist practice now threatens the fate of a livable Earth to a degree that makes it suicidal to ignore. The frontier is closed. The environmental wall has been hit. Western system managers' metaphorical pursuit of rising economic tides has produced the material reality of rising ocean tides and related ecological dangers that are taking on a catastrophic character. The humanly habitable skin of the planet is being poisoned and peeled back at an accelerating pace by the rich and powerful, putting human survival at new peril. The time has come to replace the religion of abundance and growth with the practical, combined and interrelated goals of livable ecology, equality, peace, and democracy.
There's little room for the rich and indeed for capitalism in this new formula. The wealthy Few (even the comparatively liberal and open-minded Buffett) have to go.
We can't carry them anymore. It's time to tell them once and for all: "game over."
Of course, expecting an incoming titular CEO of U.S. "Democracy Incorporated" (Sheldon Wolin's chilling term) to speak such basic democratic truths is like hoping for an apple to taste like an orange. Putting these harsh realities on the table of history is the task of citizens, not politicians. "Except for the rare few," Howard Zinn has reminded us, "our representatives are politicians and will surrender their integrity, claiming to be ‘realistic'" .
"Our" corporate-sponsored elected officials and candidates have one kind of "skin in the game" of America's "dollar democracy." We the People and our fading biosphere have another.
For those democratic survivalists who cling to officially fantastic and impractical notions of democracy and justice, there is no longer any socially or ecologically responsible retreat from the duties of resistance and revolution.
Paul Street (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an author and writer in Iowa City, IA. His latest book is Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2008)
1. " ‘This Week' Transcript: Barack Obama," read at http://abcnews.go.com/ThisWeek/Economy/story?id=6618199&page=1. For one recent report on Obama willingness to take up "entitlement reform," see Jeff Zeleny and John Harwood, "Obama Promises Bid to Overhaul Retiree Spending," New York Times, January 8, 2009.
2. For some early details on the Obama-Buffett friendship and the financier's sponsorship of the politician, see John McCormick, "Buffett is Obama Meal Ticket," Chicago Tribune, August 16, 2007, read at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/politics/obama/chi-obama_thuaug16,0,7497919.story
3. "Skin in the Game," Investopedia, a Forbes Digital Company, accessed January 11, 2009 at http://www.investopedia.com/terms/s/skininthegame.asp
4. Another example of this obliviousness can be found in Barack Obama's oddly public letter to his daughters Maliah and Sasha, recently published in Parade Magazine. Telling his grade-school children why he ran for president, Obama writes that "I want us to push our own human boundaries to reach beyond the divides of race and region, gender and religion that keep us from seeing the best in each other." Nothing there about divisions of class and economic power. Barack Obama, "What I Want for You - and Every Child in America," PARADE Magazine (January 14, 2009), read at http://www.parade.com/export/sites/default/news/2009/01/barack-obama-letter-to-my-daughters.html
5. Quoted in Andrew Bacevich, The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism (New York: Metropolitan, 2008), p.33.
6. Bacevich, The Limits of Power, p. 34. Bacevich naturally fails to note the irony of Carter's captivity to the corporate system that elevated "quantitative" over "qualitative" values.
7. Bachevich, Limits of Power, pp. 62-63.
8. Herve Kempf, How the Rich Are Destroying the Earth (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green, 2007), pp. 1-15.
9. Kempf, How the Rich Are Destroying the Earth, p.74.
10. Kempf, How the Rich Are Destroying the Earth, pp. 52-57.
11. Paul Street, Still Separate, Unequal: Race, Place, Policy and the State of Black Chicago (Chicago, IL: Chicago Urban League, 2005).
12. Barack Obama, "Selma Voting Rights Commemoration," March 4, 2007, read at http://www.barackobama.com/2007/03/04/selma_voting_rights_march_comm.php
13. Kempf, How the Rich Are Destroying the Earth, 60-74.
14. Kempf, How the Rich Are Destroying the Earth, 70-72.
15. Sheldon Wolin, Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism (Princeton, NC, 2008); Kempf, How the Rich Are Destroying the Earth, pp. 75-77. Both Wolin and Kempf reproduce a haunting quote from Alexis de Tocqueville's reflections on the "despotic" potential of American capitalist "democracy" in the Antebellum era: "The kind of oppression that threatens democratic peoples does not in any way resemble what preceded it...I want to imagine what aspect despotism could take on in the world: I see an innumerable crowd of men, similar to one another and equal, who gyrate unceasingly in order to obtain small and vulgar pleasures for themselves with which they fill their souls. Each one of them, isolated at some remove from the others, is like a stranger to the destiny of the others: his children and his personal friends constitute the entire human species for him: as for the remainder of his fellow citizens, he is right next to them, but he doesn't see them; he touches them and doesn't feel them; he exists only within and for himself, and, although he still has a family, one may at the least say he no longer has a country. Above all these men arises an immense tutelary power that alone assures their enjoyment and watches over their fate. It is absolute, elaborate, regular, calculating, and mild. It would be like paternal power, if its goal was to prepare men for virile maturity; but, on the contrary, it seeks only to limits them irrevocably to childhood; it likes its citizens to be happy, as long as they dream of nothing other than being happy." See Wolin, p. 79; Kempf, pp. 76-77.
16. Paul Street, "Totalitarianism: It Can Happen Here," Dissident Voice (August 23, 2008), read at http://www.dissidentvoice.org/2008/08/totalitarianism-it-can-happen-here/
17. Kempf, How the Rich Are Destroying the Earth, pp. 77-88. On the chilling current development of "non-lethal" repression technologies loaded with lethal potential for peoples' right to public demonstration, see Mike Ferner, " ‘With Shot and Shell or ‘Modular Crowd Control Munitions,' " ZNet (December 15, 2008), read at http://www.zcommunications.org/znet/viewArticle/19953
18. Kemp, How the Rich Are Destroying the Earth, p. 73.
19. "Text of President-elect Obama Economic Speech at George Mason University, "January 8, 2009, read http://abcnews.go.com/print?id=6603716
20. I owe this description to Larissa MacFarquhar, "The Conciliator: Where is Barack Obama Coming From?" The New Yorker (May 7, 2007). According to MacFarquhar, "In his view of history, in his respect for tradition, in his skepticism that the world can be changed any way but very, very slowly, Obama is deeply conservative." For evidence in support of this take on Obama, see Paul Street, Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2008); Ryan Lizza, "Making It: How Chicago Shaped Obama," The New Yorker, (July 21, 2008); Ken Silverstein, "Barack Obama, Inc.: The Birth of a Washington Machine," Harper's (November 2006).
21. Paul Street, "Reflections on Obama's ‘Non-Ideological Pragmatism," Black Agenda Report (January 7, 2009), read at http://www.blackagendareport.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=968&Itemid=1; Paul Street, "David Brooks' Pragmatic Illusions and the New Administration," ZNet Sustainer Commentary (November 25, 2008), read at http://www.www.zcommunications.org/zspace/commentaries/3692
22. McCormick, "Buffett is Obama Meal Ticket."
23. Paul Krugman, "The Obama Gap," New York Times, January 9, 2009.
24. Howard Zinn 2007. "Are We Politicians or Citizens?" The Progressive (April 2007), reproduced on ZNet (March 27, 2007) at http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=51&ItemID=12413