On Good and Evil


Watching the news recently, I was struck by a stark contrast between pure good and sheer evil.  The pure good: hundreds of dedicated rescuers fighting desperately, foregoing sleep, and putting their own bodies at risk in a race against time to save as many people as possible trapped in rubble from a Mexico City earthquake.

The sheer evil: the efforts of numerous top United States Republicans in Congress yet again to erase Obamacare.  What is this, their third major Congressional effort to throw millions of “fellow Americans” off the health insurance rolls and into medical oblivion?

Activists and citizens rally again and again to protect the attempted elimination of the tangible gains Obama’s health insurance measure had for millions of poor and sick people: Medicaid expansion, marketplace subsidies, new consumer protections, and banning the exclusion of people with pre-existing conditions. GOP Senate and House honchos wait for the popular hubbub to die down and come back like homicidal Energizer Bunnies with yet another effort to destroy the gains.  Now, with the current proposed Republican Graham-Cassidy measure, they want to go beyond that by rolling back previous Medicaid (government health insurance for the very poor) benefits.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m no great fan of the not-so Affordable Care Act (ACA). What Barack Obama and his fellow mainstream corporate Democrats passed in 2009 was expanded neoliberal health insurance, with corporate profits and over-high premiums fully intact, millions still uninsured, health care and insurance still over-commodified, and tens of millions dependent on their employers (something full of authoritarian implication) for coverage. It is a far cry from the real social-democratic national health insurance – single-payer Medicare for All – that serious progressives and many liberals have long advocated. It was derived from the right-wing Heritage Foundation and test-run under Republican governor Mitt Romney in Massachusetts.  It was passed with single-payer advocates unjustifiably kicked to the curb, curiously enough given longstanding majority U.S. support for the Canadian model.

Single-payer is the clear and obvious social and democratic solution to the nation’s health insurance woes. It’s long past time for the “world’s richest nation” to join other leading industrialized states in granting people free and quality health care as a basic human right regardless of class, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, etc.

Still, it is foolish for leftists not to admit that the ACA included some very real and tangible benefits for a considerable disadvantaged segment of the U.S. populace.

The Republicans, of course, aren’t going after the ACA and pushing to roll back Medicaid because they want real national and social-democratic health insurance – single payer, that is.   They have targeted Obamacare (which their more ridiculous adherents absurdly call “socialized health care”) and are attacking Medicaid because, despite its deeply conservative and corporatist essence, the ACA joins Medicaid in giving too much to poor people for Republicans’ reactionary “free market” tastes. Beneath this malicious view lay a social-Darwinian racist and classist world view telling them that – in the properly acerbic words of left commentator Doug Henwood (describing how right-wing Republicans think) – “If you can’t pay your own way you’re a worthless piece of shit and you deserve to die. That’s about it.”

The current Republican repeal effort – the Graham-Cassidy bill – is the most radically reactionary Congressional effort yet to repeal Obamacare. As the New York Times reports:

“Now, in an 11th-hour effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the party has come up with a way to repackage the funding for the law it loathes into a trillion-dollar pot of state grants…The plan is at the core of the bill that Senate Republican leaders have vowed to bring to a vote next week. It was initially seen as a long-shot effort by Senators Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy. But for all its ad hoc, last-minute feel, it has evolved into the most far-reaching repeal proposal of all…It dismantles the Medicaid expansion and the system of subsidies to help people afford insurance. It gives the states the right to waive many of the consumer protections under President Obama’s landmark health law. And it removes the guaranteed safety net that has insured the country’s poorest citizens for more than half a century.”

“ ‘This is by far the most radical of any of the Republican health care bills that have been debated this year,’ said Larry Levitt, a senior vice president with the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. ‘And the reason for that is that this would be the biggest devolution of federal money and responsibility to the states for anything, ever.’ ”

A recent New York Magazine commentary  summarizes the four basic promises of the Graham-Cassidy will: “Gut Protections for People with Pre-Existing Conditions;” “Gut Federal Funding for Health Care;” “Cut Medicaid Even Further;” “Leave Millions Uninsured.”

No wonder the measure is opposed by every major health-care group (see this summary of statements at Vox) in the country.

The body count – the body count – of the Graham-Cassidy measure is incalculable but would certainly run into the tens of millions in coming years.

The bill is an act of attempted mass murder. The legislative pen can be every bit as mighty as the genocidal military sword when it comes to wiping human beings off the face of the planet.

The vicious classist-racist sadists atop the Republican Party won’t be happy until they’ve pushed the death rate for the poor and sick ever closer to 19th century levels.

In her recent widely read book Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America (New York: Viking, 2017), the Duke University historian Nancy MacLean relates a chilling reflection from the leading right-wing Republican U.S. “free market” economist James Buchanan.  Buchanan, MacLean shows, played a critical and widely neglected role in the development of the Koch Brother-led “libertarian” economic, political and policy agenda.  In 2005, MacLean notes, the Koch-funded Buchanan wrote that those who did not save adequate money for their future needs “are to be treated as subordinate members of the species, akin to…animals who are dependent.”

You read that correctly: “to be treated as subordinate members of the species, akin to…animals who are dependent.”  That’s a good example of capitalism crossing over into fascism, consistent with Buchanan’s history. Buchanan, MacLean shows, was a major adviser to the fascist Chilean coup government headed by the U.S.-sponsored dictator Augusto Pinochet in the early 1980s.  Buchanan went to Santiago, Chile to help the mass-murderous and arch-authoritarian right-wing Chilean regime devise policies meant to constitutionally safeguard capitalism and Big Business rule against popular and public interference.

Buchanan’s almost unimaginably vile statement was, of course, also deeply racist in the U.S. context.

MacLean writes also about Tyler Cowen, the vicious right-wing economist who succeeded Buchanan atop the Koch-funded right-wing’s “base camp” at George Mason University, where Cowen teaches “free market” economics and policy today:

“Cowen has explained [in 2013] that with the ‘rewriting of the social contract’ under way, people will be ‘expected to fend for themselves much more than they do now.’ While some will flourish, he says, ‘others will fall by the wayside.’ And because ‘worthy individuals’ will manage to climb their way out of poverty, ‘that will make it easier to ignore those who are left behind.’ Cowen foresees that ‘we will cut Medicaid for the poor.’ Also, ‘the fiscal shortfall will come out of real wages as various cost burdens are shifted to workers’ from employers and a government that does less. To ‘compensate,’ the chaired professor in the nation’s second-wealthiest county recommends, ‘people who have had their benefits cut or pared back’ should pack up and move to lower-cost states like Texas. Granted, he said, ‘Texas is skimpy on welfare benefits and Medicaid coverage,’ and nearly three in ten of its residents have no health insurance, but the state does have jobs and ‘very cheap housing’ to offset its ‘subpar public services.’ …Indeed, Cowen forecasts, ‘the United States as whole will end up looking more like Texas.’…When one reads his flip remarks on the fate now facing his fellow citizens with the knowledge that [Cowen] has been the leader of a team working in earnest with Charles Koch for two decades to bring about the society he is describing, the words assume a different weight.”

Yes, Tyler Cowen, maybe poor people should move to the Houston area, where the “free market” doctrine favored by the Koch Brothers and their ilk helped Hurricane Harvey wreak far more havoc than it should have. Houston was recklessly built up by and for elite financial and real interests and their governmental tools without the slightest concern for environmental sustainability and resilience.  As Susan Zakin notes at the Los Angeles Times:

“without a zoning code, [Houston] is a case study in urban sprawl. Houston was built on a dry (read: low-lying) lakebed that’s laced with bayous. The bayous are lined with concrete, steel and sheet metal, which is functional when it rains a little, but a contender for the luge event when it rains a lot, even in posh neighborhoods like River Oaks. Doing what it takes to prevent flooding, widening bayou channels, managing growth, putting in green space, might impede the only truly important flow: money. Houston’s city fathers have resisted any effort to plan for climate change, because, well, it doesn’t exist. As if that weren’t enough, parts of Houston are sinking, some as much as 2.2 inches a year.”

It’s an epitome of the deadly “free market” chaos favored by arch-capitalist political actors like the right-wing billionaire Charles Koch and his friends the “libertarian” U.S. Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ).  In his recently widely read book Conscience of a Conservative, Flake writes with fondness about the time he met the eminent neoliberal University of Chicago economist Milton Friedman:

“We picked him up at the airport, and while we were driving to a suburb of Phoenix we went through what could only be described as suburban sprawl.  Someone in the car with us, remarking on this landscape, said, ‘Man, it looks like there was no planning at all.’ Friedman just nodded his head and said, ‘Yes, isn’t it beautiful?’ …it wasn’t government coercion that had brought it into being.  It was the invisible hand of the free market.  Planning requires control, control empowers government, and empowered government = disempowered individuals.”

Houston is the “petro-metro,” a major capital of the petro-chemical industry and a home to numerous toxic waste sites.  As a result, the city’s floodwaters are loaded with hazardous materials.

How beautiful.

The “free market” madness – evil – rolls on. Like the melting polar ice, which opens up new business opportunities for oil drilling and ship travel even as it reduces Earth’s ability to reflect sunlight back into space, the devastation resulting from extreme weather is both a consequence of the rule of big corporations (the real masters of the “free market” since the early 20th  century in the U.S.) master and a perverse opportunity for quick corporate profits.

On August 15th, ten days before Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, Donald Trump, himself a global real estate baron, wiped out an Obama era executive order mandating that federal reconstruction grants take account of seal-level rise and related aspects of climate change.

Meanwhile, speaking of climate change, anthropogenic – really capitalogenic – global warming (AGW) threatens to turn the venerable popular struggle for a more equal distribution of wealth into a fight over the slicing up of a poisoned pie. The signs of climate catastrophe are unmistakable. Record-setting wildfires raged on the nation’s West coast and a devastating drought plagued much of the nation’s northern Great Plains as Houston was sunk in epic, chemically polluted flooding and Irma bore down on Florida. Like Hurricane Sandy (which filled New York City subway tunnels with storm surge on the eve of the 2012 elections), the Indian and Pakistani heat waves of 2015, Hurricane Katrina (2005), the Alberta wildfires of last year, and numerous other recent lethal meteorological episodes, this extreme weather is intensified by the spiking balminess of the planet.

The warming is fueled by capital-captive humanity’s excessive release of carbon dioxide resulting from the profit system’s rapacious extraction and burning of fossil fuels and its reliance on animal agriculture.  Carbon accumulates in the atmosphere, trapping heat, and melting the world’s glaciers and permafrost, which holds vast reserves of carbon-rich methane. As the ice caps retreat, less sunlight gets reflected back into space and more of it heats the planet towards a point where it becomes uninhabitable.

Extreme weather is just the tip of the (melting) iceberg. If not reversed, AGW will destroy the human species through famine, dehydration, over-heating, disease, and resource wars. It has us on the path to Hell.

Donald Trump has taken advantage of the nation’s plutocratic (“free market”) political dysfunction to become a kind of one-man ecological apocalypse. The fossil-fueled hurricanes, drought, and wildfires of 2017 have hit the U.S. at a time when the White House is occupied by an openly eco-cidal billionaire whose election rang an environmental “death knell for the species” (Noam Chomsky).  Donald Trump has pulled the United States out of the moderate Paris Climate Accords.  He has removed all references to climate change from federal Websites and headed the Environmental Protection Agency with a fellow petro-capitalist climate change-denier dedicated to crippling that department. Trump’s Secretary of State is the former longtime CEO of Exxon-Mobil, history’s most powerful fossil fuel corporation – a company that buried and then organized propaganda against its own scientists’ warnings on carbon’s impact on the climate.  Trump’s proposed budget calls for a 16% cut to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which monitors all things climate- and weather-related.

This is eco-cidal petro-capitalist madness on steroids. Three cheers for “the free market.”

Speaking of “free market” triumph, after Harvey nailed Houston and before Irma hit Florida, the great super-capitalist U.S. president Trump held a chilling eco-cidal rally in front of an oil refinery in North Dakota.  He boasted of how he exited the “job-killing” Paris Agreement (“it was so bad”) and approved the unmentionably planet- cooking and supposedly job-creating Dakota Access (DAPL) and the Keystone XL pipelines.

“I also did Keystone,” Trump said. “You know about Keystone.  Another other one, big one — big.  First couple of days in office, those two — 48,000 jobs. “

Trump said that the White House was going to make North Dakota’s current terrible drought vanish because “we’re working hard on it and it’ll disappear.  It will all go away.”

The president also asserted that the many tens of thousands of Americans who protested DAPL within and beyond the great Sioux Standing Rock camp last year had no idea why they were against it.

It may have been the orange-tinted beast’s most absurd speech yet.

“I also did Keystone,” said Trump. I guess we should give him and other top climate change-denying Republicans some credit here.  They aren’t content just to wipeout the poor and the sick.  They’ve got their mass-murderous sites on the entire human race.

Evil doesn’t seem like a strong enough word for it. The crime of Greenhouse-Gassing to death life on Earth makes the Nazis look like small time transgressors.

Meanwhile, Trump’s reckless and absurd nuclear rhetoric – replete with promises of “fire and fury” and “the total destruction of North Korea” – puts tens of millions of lives at grave risk on and beyond the Korean Peninsula.

The ultimate evil is of course systemic and richly bipartisan but certainly the United States’ currently reigning orange-tinted beast and the party to which he is nominally attached – a party that views the poor as “subordinate members of the species akin to animals” and that dismisses the biggest issue of our or any time (climate change) as “fake news” – are making clear the long overdue moral and existential necessity of a mass popular uprising in defense of basic human decency and the common  good.

Paul Street is a writer and author in Iowa City, Iowa.  His essays, commentaries, and interviews can be read and heard at Truthdig, Counteprunch, ZNet, Black Agenda Report, and his Web-site www.paulstreet.org

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