The Pathology of the Rich – Chris Hedges on Reality Asserts Itself

Paul Jay, Senior Editor, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore. And welcome to Reality Asserts Itself. A few weeks ago, we did a series of interviews with Chris Hedges, and one of the things we talked about was the weakness of the left, the weakness of the people’s movement, if you will. Well, we’re going to continue that discussion now. And Chris joins us again in the studio.

Chris, as everyone probably knows by now, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and a senior fellow at the Nation Institute. Along with Joe Sacco he wrote the New York Times bestseller Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt. And he writes a weekly column for Truthdig.

Thanks for joining us.

Chris Hedges, Journalist, Senior Fellow at the Nation Institute: Thank you.

Jay: So last time we talked a lot about something you had said in 2008 and you’ve written more recently about: one of the greatest weaknesses of the left was not creating a viable vision of what an alternative politics and economy looks like, a viable vision of a socialism. But you’ve written more recently about some other weaknesses, you could say, of the people’s movement, and here’s one. And I’ll read it back. This is a piece you wrote called “Let’s Get This Class War Started”, which I guess is a play on Pink’s song, is it? “Let’s Get This Party Started”. The quote is: “The inability to grasp the pathology of our oligarchic rulers is one of our gravest faults.” What are you talking about?

Hedges: Because we don’t understand the pathology of the rich. We’ve been saturated with cultural images and a kind of cultural deification of wealth and those who have wealth. We are being–you know, they present people of immense wealth as somehow leaders–oracles, even. And we don’t grasp internally what it is an oligarchic class is finally about or how venal and morally bankrupt they are. We need to recover the language of class warfare and grasp what is happening to us, and we need to shatter this self-delusion that somehow if, as Obama says, we work hard enough and study hard enough, we can be one of them. The fact is, the people who created the economic mess that we’re in were the best-educated people in the country–Larry Summers, a former president of Harvard, and others. The issue is not education. The issue is greed. And I, unfortunately, had the experience of being shipped off to a private boarding school at the age of ten as a scholarship student and live–I was one of 16 kids on scholarship, and I lived among the super-rich and I watched them. And I think much of my hatred of authority and my repugnance for the ruling elite comes from having been among them for so long.

Jay: Yeah. People don’t understand the elite schools, even at the high school level, that they get–the kids get excellent educations, but they learn the whole culture of hundreds or thousands of years of how to rule.

Hedges: Right.

Jay: And a deep, rich understanding of it.

Hedges: Not only that, but they–you know, and George Bush is a perfect example of that.

Jay: Well, not so much an example of deep, rich understanding, but–.

Hedges: No, but of how–you know, affirmative action for the rich. And I came–certainly my mother’s side of the family–from, you know, lower working class. I mean, people–one of my uncles lived in a trailer in Maine, and certainly people with no means. And I would juxtapose the world I was in with that world. And it was very clear that it wasn’t about intelligence or aptitude. The fact is, if you’re poor, you only get one chance. If you’re wealthy like Bush, you get chance after chance after chance after chance. So you’re a C student at Andover, and you go to Yale, and you go to Harvard Business School, and you’re AWOL from your National Guard unit, and you’re a cokehead, and it doesn’t really matter. You don’t even really have a job till you’re 40 and you become president of the United States. So that was what was particularly insidious, how those small, tight elite oligarchic circles perpetuated themselves and promoted mediocrity (because many of these people like Bush are very mediocre human beings) at the expense of the rest of us, and how with money they game the system. And, of course, now we live in an oligarchic state where we’ve been rendered utterly powerless, and the judiciary, the legislative, the executive branches all subservient to an oligarchic corporate elite. And the press is owned by an oligarchic corporate elite, which makes sure that any critique of them is never broadcast over the airwaves.

Jay: And it’s not some, like, inherent evilness or something, but you are brought up as a super-rich or very rich in a culture, in a school, in a milieu where everyone’s there to serve you. It’s your right to be served.

Hedges: Yeah. It’s very distasteful to see, because, you know, I would go to the homes of friends of mine and watch–and let’s remember they’re children, 11, 12 years old, ordering around adults–their servants, their nannies. And I begin that piece by talking about Fitzgerald, who came from the Midwest to Princeton and went through much of the experience that I went through, and that apocryphal exchange–which didn’t take place, but it does represent the difference between Hemingway and Fitzgerald–where Fitzgerald at one point had written–the story is that he said the rich aren’t like you and I, and Hemingway is supposed to have quipped, yes, they have more money. Well, Hemingway, like on many things, was wrong. The rich are different, because when you have that much money, then human beings become disposable. Even friends and family become disposable and are replaced. And when the rich take absolute power, then the citizens become disposable, which is in essence what’s happened. There is a very callous indifference. I mean, these people–and C.Wrights Mills wrote about this in The Power Elite–they’re utterly cut off. I mean, the only people they ever meet who are members of the working class are people who work for them–they’re gardeners or they’re chauffeurs. They live in self-encased bubbles. They have no real contact with reality. I mean, they don’t even fly on commercial airlines. And yet they have absolute power. Now, that becomes very dangerous politically because they’re so out of touch and they are able to retreat into their enclaves in the same way that you saw in France under Louis XVI, people retreating to Versailles, or the end of the Chinese dynasty when everybody went to the Forbidden City.

Jay: He said “Après moi, le déluge,” does he not?

Hedges: Yeah. And that’s, I think, you know, so that they will extract more and more and more, because they have no self-imposed limits, without understanding the economic, political, and social consequences of what they’re doing. So we have a popular uprising through the Occupy movement where people pour into public spaces to express legitimate grievances–student debt, the next bubble to go down, $1 trillion in debt, which we now saw, courtesy of our Congress, debt rates, you know, interest rates will actually go up in a couple of years, I mean, more than if they’d just taken it from a bank. It’s insane. And meanwhile the Federal Reserve is buying $85 billion a month worth of junk bonds and giving money at virtually zero percent interest to Goldman Sachs. I mean, it’s insane. The failure to address the mortgage and foreclosure crisis, the failure to address the chronic unemployment, underemployment, which–I mean, half of the country now lives in poverty, including the working poor, or near poverty. And what is the response? The response is to physically shut down the encampments, suspend unemployment benefits, cut food stamps, close things like Head Start. It’s crazy. And that’s what happens when you have an elite that is that unplugged, and which our elite is. So they will push and push and push myopically out of ignorance until something erupts. And that’s exactly where we’re headed.

Jay: It’s interesting. There are some children of the some of the super-rich–and I think Occupy had something to do with it–who kind of woken up a bit to the situation and don’t want to repeat the pattern of their parents, get some of the insanity of it.

Hedges: I don’t know if they’re children of the super-rich. I think that Occupy had a lot of children of the middle class.

Jay: No, no, I don’t mean the majority of Occupy.

Hedges: Oh.

Jay: But they’re actually know who some of these people are. And it’s interesting. They’re children of very, very wealthy people, and they have decided that, you know, there needs to be more to life than repeating this, living in this bubble.

Hedges: Well, they may be out there, but I don’t think they’re a majority.

Jay: They’re a very tiny minority.

Hedges: Most of them get sucked right into that cult of the self, which the super-rich managed to perpetuate at a rather nauseating level.

Jay: We were talking off-camera just before we started how we both knew Gore Vidal, and Vidal used to go on about the total amorality of the super-rich.

Hedges: Oh, he would know.

Jay: Well, he would know for a lot of reasons, one in terms of his own life, but also in terms of he knew many of these people.

Hedges: Well, so did I. I mean, and I think that’s what I’m getting at, exactly. I mean, you know, I wrote in that column about, you know, being at this boarding school and watching these fathers pull up in their limousines, fathers who had very little contact with their sons, with their personal photographers. And these were famous, wealthy men. And that picture of them playing with their son, which was total–you know, a fiction, would be disseminated through the press. Yeah, amorality, hedonism, selfishness, callousness.

Jay: And part of it is the total willingness to accept, for example, that ordinary people’s families should send their kids off to war to defend the American way of life, which means essentially their way of life, can die for these things. It’s almost a kind of racism. I mean, when the British enslaved the Irish–you don’t have to be black and of color to be thought of as less than human. And that seems to be what the super-rich think about most other people.

Hedges: Well, and not just the working class, I mean, the kind of disdain for the working class and also the middle class–I mean, in some way the way that they would speak about the middle class. And, you know, in essence, coming out of the middle class, this was something that struck home to me. Yeah, they inhabit another world, and they have very sophisticated mechanisms of public relations and well-publicized acts of philanthropy to hide their private faces. But how they act when the doors close and how they act in public is very different. And having, as Vidal was, as Fitzgerald was, having been behind those closed doors and seen the decadence of the ruling elite, it certainly marked me for the rest of my life and it defined for me at a very early age who my enemies were.

Jay: You quote in your article Karl Marx writing, “The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships,” Marx wrote, “the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas.” Why did that hit you?

Hedges: Well, because the whole notion of the free market–laissez-faire capitalism, globalization–is a very thin rationale for unmitigated greed by a tiny oligarchic elite. And they have made sure that that ideology is taught in universities across the country. And people, especially economists, who deviate from that ideology have been pushed aside, have become pariahs. And yet the driving ethos of that ideology is really to justify the hoarding of immense amounts of wealth by a very tiny percentage of, you know, the upper ruling class. That’s what it is. I mean, the whole lie of globalization, perpetuated by people who popularize it, like Tom Friedman, has already been exposed. I mean, the idea that it’s going to lift all of us up and create middle-class and, you know, well-compensated working-class families in the Third World, I mean, all of it’s been exposed.

Jay: And I think part of it, his point, is that this isn’t just some innate ideas that everyone is essentially greedy, these people just happen to be rich, and you’re not as lucky you’re as smart as they are; it’s that it comes from what he calls the material conditions, about, like, how stuff is owned, who has power as a result of concentration of ownership, how things are distributed. It’s not that–you know, it doesn’t have to be this way. It’s a product of how the society is organized.

Hedges: Right. And so in that sense the ideology serves the system, the intellectual class serves the system. Those economists whose voices are heard, who get tenure, serve the system; and those who don’t serve the system don’t have a job. And that’s what Marx was getting at. And I think that’s extremely true. I mean, we don’t live in a free-market society. We live in a society where corporations at will loot the U.S. Treasury and the Federal Reserve and are bailed out by the taxpayer. And yet that fact of kind of corporate socialism for corporations is ignored. And yet it is–and that’s dangerous, because there is an utter disconnect from the language that we use to describe our economic system and the reality of our economic system, which is essentially a system where corporations have become predators on government and taxpayer money. And we’re all going to pay for it, because most of this stuff, these bonds that they’re buying up, is garbage. You know, it is things like foreclosed homes that on the books are worth $600,000 but in reality, because the electricity has been turned off, the basement’s flooded, you’d have to spend money to raise it to put up anything of any kind of value. And that is going to blow right up in our face.

Jay: And this idea that you’re expressing, that the majority of professional paid intellectuals, professors and writers and pundits, the idea that the free market is the fundamental assumption and starting point, to suggest anything else might work is sacrilegious, and then some people say, well, that’s ’cause America’s always been like this. America’s this center-right country. But it’s not true. And, you know, pre-World War II in the 1930s and right after World War II there was a big public debate about what kind of economy, what kind of politics, and there was a real campaign waged to get rid of public intellectuals, get rid of union militants, get rid of actors and directors. Anyone that wanted to have this public discourse was hounded out of office

Hedges: Well, I write death of the liberal class is really that story, how all of these people were silenced, pushed to the margins, stripped of employment, including, like, even high school teachers. I mean, Ellen Schrecker, the historian, has done a good job on this.

Jay: Just quickly, for people who don’t know what we’re talking about, we’re talk about the House Un-American Activities, McCarthyism, and a real campaign to try to move anyone with a kind of progressive socialist idea out of anything.

Hedges: Right. And they were effective, I mean, in a way, far more effective than in Europe. I mean, in Europe, you’ll still have a residue. We’ve been robbed of language by which we can express the reality of what we’re undergoing. And that’s because, you know, our radical populist dissident movements, those who offered a critique of the power elite, have been banished or silenced.

Jay: Now, you write something here which, you know, if you–you would not be allowed to say on mainstream news anywhere. You write:”Class struggle defines most of human history. Marx got this right. The sooner we realize that we are locked in deadly warfare with our ruling, corporate elite, the sooner we will realize that these elites must be overthrown.”There’s a massive campaign not even to use the words class warfare. In fact, if you talk class, people accuse you of being essentially anti-American.

Hedges: I don’t think you can understand the nature of capitalism if you don’t understand the nature of class warfare. You know, if I was running a Wall Street firm, I’d only hire Marxian economists, because they understand that capitalism is about exploitation. Marx got that right. And that gets back to the nature of the ruling elite. I mean, we are the most illusioned society on the planet. The airwaves are awash in lies. You know, they very skillfully know how to humanize figures, I mean, even idiots like Donald Trump, to mask what it is they’re actually doing to the rest of us. And I think we have to begin to puncture the very effective mirages that have been created–and corporations, of course, spend billions of dollars to create these mirages–to understand our reality. I mean, look at BP. You’d think BP was Greenpeace, given the amount of commercials that they’re running about how much they care about the Gulf, when in fact they turned the waters of the Gulf into a dead zone and poisoned the shrimp and all the other which they’re selling us to eat. And yet we don’t have mechanisms by which–or certainly within the mainstream. What major network is going to go do a serious documentary on BP? You’re not going to confront those interests, because at this point, these interests, you know, they own or control the systems of information, as well as the systems of education.

Jay: So your article ends with: “The only route left to us, as Aristotle knew, is revolt.”

Hedges: Well, because the mechanisms of incremental and piecemeal reform don’t work. And you talked about the New Deal. The New Deal was the classic example of that kind of safety valve. And as Roosevelt said, I mean, his greatest achievement was that he saved capitalism. And in the stupidity of the corporate oligarchic elite, they destroyed the liberal class. I mean, we still have a self-identified liberal class, but they no longer do anything to defend the interests of those they claim to represent, whether that’s the working class, the middle class, labor, or anyone else. And by destroying that safety valve, by destroying that liberal class, those mechanisms that made piecemeal and incremental reform possible, you no longer can adjust the system. So you can’t ameliorate the suffering or the grievances of the underclass. And now we’re talking about half the country. Now, that means that if you want to resist, if you want to create change, you can’t do it through political parties, you can’t do it through the courts, you can’t do it through a corporatized media. You have to step outside the system and create popular mechanisms, mass movements that will begin to put pressure in a cruder way on the centers of power. That is the only hope we have left.

Jay: You say you can’t do incremental reform. The elite can’t even pass regulations that would serve their own interests, in terms of controlling financial speculation, for example, a simple change in terms of position limits at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, that anyone that wants some kind of functioning capitalist system would want to have this so that you don’t have another financial collapse as 2008. They can’t even pass that.

Hedges: But they don’t–the people who are running Wall Street don’t give a damn about–they know it’s going to collapse. And what they’re doing is stealing as fast, as much as they can on the way out the door. There’s a very deep cynicism

Jay: Well, they make money–they make money after the collapse as well, ’cause they know the state’s there to bail them out.

Hedges: Right. But, you know, this time around it’s going to be a little harder to pilfer state funds. I mean, they’ll certainly attempt to do that. But, you know, the goal is so self-centered. You have–I think the head of United Healthcare made $1 billion–I mean, it’s insane—last year. I think I have that right. But certainly hundreds of millions of dollars [incompr.] And it’s all about amassing little monuments to themselves, little empires to themselves. You know, I have relatives who work on Wall Street, and their critique is not any different from mine. The difference is they’re just grabbing is much as they can on the way out the door. And I think that is always symptomatic of a kind of dying civilization.

Jay: Yeah. Marx was asked once to describe the psychology of a capitalist, and it was what we talked about a little earlier: après moi, le déluge, after me, come the floods. I’ll get what I can today, and if the society is toast later, too bad.

Hedges: And I think they know it’s going to be toast. And I think they think that they’re going to retreat into their, you know, gated compounds and survive it. And they may survive it longer than the rest of us, but in the end, climate change alone is going to get us.

Jay: So it’s up to us. Don’t expect anything from the oligarchs.

Hedges: No. And not only that, they are creating systems in terms of exploitation not only of us but of the ecosystem that, if left unchecked, will ensure the extinction of the human species. It may already be too late, of course. But, you know, allowing the fossil fuel industry or these corporations to determine our relationship to the environment is a form of collective insanity at this point.

Jay: Thanks for joining us

Hedges: Thank you.

Jay: And thank you for joining us on Reality Asserts Itself on The Real News Network.

Chris Hedges, whose column is published Mondays on Truthdig , spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He has reported from more than 50 countries and has worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, for which he was a foreign correspondent for 15 years. He has written nine books, including Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle (2009), I Don’t Believe in Atheists (2008) and the best-selling American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America (2008). His book War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning (2003) was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction.

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We've been closely watching the Crypto Currency Market if you can call it that, with all the fake data, fraud, and related problems.  One thing stands out - it's not so different than FX, commodities, futures, or stocks.  Market dyn...

Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies flash-crashed Saturday night, one day after the US Commodity Future Trading Commission (CFTC) sent subpoenas four cryptocurrency exchanges in an ongoing probe into bitcoin manipulation that began in late July - following the launch of bitcoin futures on the CME, according to the Wall Street Journal
CME’s bitcoin futures derive their final value from prices at four bitcoin exchangesBitstamp, Coinbase, itBit and KrakenManipulative trading in those markets could skew the price of bitcoin futures that the government directly regulates.
In delay reaction, Bitcoin fell as much as $433 or 5.6% in Saturday night trading, with some noting that the flash crash happened shortly after a 90th ranked crypto exchange, Coinrail, had suffered a "cyber intrusion", and was likely the more relevant catalyst for the crypto price drop.
While major Cryptocurrencies were down from 4.5 - 5.5%, Bitcoin Cash dropped over 8.4%. 
The CTFC subpoenas were issued after several of the exchanges refused to voluntarily share trading data with the CME after being asked last December. Of note, the CFTC regulates the CTC. 
According to the WSJ, the CME, which launched bitcoin futures in December, asked the four exchanges to share reams of trading data after its first contract settled in January, people familiar with the matter said. But several of the exchanges declined to comply, arguing the request was intrusive. The exchanges ultimately provided some data, but only after CME limited its request to a few hours of activity, instead of a full day, and restricted to a few market participants, the people added.
What is curious, is that if there was indeed manipulation since the launch of bitcoin futures, it was to the downside, as the price of cryptos peaked around the time the crypto futures were launched, and are down well over 50% in the 6 months since.
Coinbase in particular has been under the watch government regulators. On February 23, Coinbase sent an official notice to around 13,000 customers to notify them they were legally required to turn over their information to the IRS
The IRS had initially asked Coinbase in July 2017 to hand over even more detailed information on every one of its then over 500,000 users in an attempt catch those cheating on their taxes. However, another court order in Nov. 2017 reduced this number to around 14,000 “high-transacting” users, which the platform now reports as 13,000, in what Coinbase calls a “partial, but still significant, victory for Coinbase and its customers.”
Coinbase told the around 13,000 affected customers that the company would be providing their taxpayer ID, name, birth date, address, and historical transaction records from 2013-2015 to the IRS within 21 days. Coinbase’s letter to these customers encourages them “to seek legal advice from an attorney promptly” if they have any questions. Their website also states that concerns may also be addressed on Coinbase’s Taxes FAQ. The ongoing legal battle between Coinbase and the US government dates back to November, 2016, when the IRS filed a “John Doe summons” in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California.
On Feb. 13, personal finance service Credit Karma released data showing that only 0.04 percent of their customers had reported cryptocurrencies on their federal tax returns. 
And in April, former New York Attorney General, Eric "we could rarely have sex without him beating me" Schneiderman, launched a probe of 13 major cryptocurrency exchanges according to the Wall Street Journal - claiming that investors dealing in the fast-growing markets often don’t have the basic facts needed to protect themselves.
Former AG Schneiderman’s office said the program, called Virtual Markets Integrity Initiative,  is part of its responsibility to protect consumers and ensure the integrity of financial markets, and its goal is to ensure that investors can have a better understanding of the risks and protections afforded them on these sites.
CFTC Commissioner: Crypto is a "modern miracle"
While the CFTC, IRS and New York Attorney General's office are all cracking down on cryptocurrency exchanges, it seems to all be part of the government's embrace of virtual currencies.  Last week CFTC Commissioner Rostin Benham called cryptocurrencies a "modern miracleat the Blockchain For Impact Summit held at the UN in New York last week. 
But virtual currencies may – will – become part of the economic practices of any country, anywhere.  Let me repeat that:  these currencies are not going away and they will proliferate to every economy and every part of the planet.  Some places, small economies, may become dependent on virtual assets for survival.  And, these currencies will be outside traditional monetary intermediaries, like government, banks, investors, ministries, or international organizations.
We are witnessing a technological revolution.  Perhaps we are witnessing a modern miracle. -Rostin Benham
Rostin hinted at the upcoming legal action against the exchanges during his speech:
Under the CEA and Commission regulations and related guidance, exchanges have the responsibility to ensure that their Bitcoin futures products and their cash-settlement process are not readily susceptible to manipulation and the entity has sufficient capital to protect itself.  The CFTC has the authority to ensure compliance. In addition, the CFTC has legal authority over virtual currency derivatives in support of anti-fraud and manipulation including enforcement authority in the underlying markets.

Meanwhile, the official Bitcoin website removed references to Coinbase, Blockchain.com and Bitpay, according to Crypto News - only one of which, Coinbase, was subpoenaed. 
http://Bitcoin.org  just removed/censored the 2 largest US Bitcoin companies (@BitPay Payment processing and @coinbase Bitcoin Exchange). It’s a good move: Bitcoin Core is obviously no longer Bitcoin, and should ideally be removed from both @BitPay and @coinbase too.

The CFTC officially recognized bitcoin as a commodity in September of 2015 when it went after Coinflip for operating a platform for trading bitcoin options without the proper authorization. Since the agency effectively asserted its dominance over the bitcoin market with that decision, this is the first time it has given its blessing to an bitcoin options trading platform. Expect a burst of institutional trading activity to follow - especially since they approved institutional options trading in July
This post sponsored by Total Cryptos @ www.totalcryptos.com  

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