The machine gun of capitalism
By Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist
Dead soldiers, peak oil and mind-boggling profits; praise Jesus, the machine’s still working
06/02/08 “SFGate” — – Surprisingly moving Barack Obama music videos? The potential end of the writer’s strike? Cute young deer being saved by helicopters? No no no no no. Here are your most deeply inspiring news stories of the month:
A flurry of pink slips fluttered over the job sector as corporate payrolls were sliced like sour pie. Foreclosures are skyrocketing and new home sales across the nation are plummeting faster than Britney Spears’ serotonin levels. A nasty recession is either creeping or flooding in, depending on your perspective and how recently you purchased your home and/or tried to dump your Google stock.
Meanwhile, the largest corporation in the world, the one which has consistently raked in the largest and most appalling profits of any organization on Earth, a company so powerful and deeply influential to the machinations of our own nation, our government, the globe, so ingrained and unstoppable that no president, no administration, no nuclear warhead to its CEO’s home planet stands a chance of slowing it down or altering its behavior in any significant way because there is simply far, far too much money involved in its nefarious endeavors, has recently posted the largest profit of any company in American history.
Yes, the Exxon Mobil corporation sucked in a staggering $11.7 billion in a single quarter (more than $40 billion for the year, a new record for an American company) thanks largely to record-breaking prices for a barrel of oil, which are of course only record-breaking because, well, the Bush administration has essentially engineered the economy and launched a bogus war and desiccated the American idea exactly so they would be.
Oh yes, two more trifling stories, buried beneath the nauseating Exxon headlines and the tales of looming economic struggle: More U.S. soldiers are dead in Iraq as a result of Bush’s failed war, U.S. military spending in 2009 will reach its highest levels since WWII ($515 billion), insurgents have taken to strapping suicide bombs to mentally retarded women and nearly 100 more civilians are dead in another bombing in Baghdad because the U.S. troop surge is working so well. Oh wait.
Do you feel the righteousness? The inspiration? Can you sense the deep connection between these stories? Because the truth is, they merely add up to the heartwarming conclusion that, without a doubt, American capitalism is still firing on all cylinders. Praise!
Yes, the system is working just exactly as those in control of the nation right now wish it to be working, with the most dominant, ruthless corporations in the world (Exxon joined by Shell, Chevron, BP, ConocoPhilips et al) still making the most money in the most destabilizing and environmentally devastating manner possible, while poor uneducated kids die like chattel in unwinnable wars trying to secure a tiny bit more of the source of their profit.
And somewhere in between, the nation’s overall health and well-being are sacrificed like dazed lambs to an ignorant god, with our government offering up only the most meager, desultory efforts to keep it functional so as to not induce all-out fire-and-pitchfork revolt.
Is that too simplistic? Too reductive? Not even close. Hell, you can distill it down even further. For if you understand, as most sentient creatures on the planet now do, that this “war” is merely a particularly bloody chunk of a particularly brutal, fraudulent national energy policy spearheaded by Dick Cheney and beloved by Saudi Arabia and Halliburton and most of Texas, then it is no stretch at all to say that we are sending American kids to their deaths exactly so Exxon can continue to make $3 billion in a single month (or: $100 million per day, $4 million per hour, or more than $1,000 every. Single. Second).
Or how about this for dark math: $40 billion for the year, 4,000 dead U.S. soldiers … that’s a cool $10 million in pure profit for every American soldier BushCo has thrown to the wolves of petroleum, just for 2007 alone. Even if you factor in the 20,000 wounded, paralyzed and brain damaged U.S. soldiers — not to mention the record number of military suicides — on a body-by-body basis, you’ve still got yourself one hell of a sweet profit margin. See Dick Cheney’s vile, crooked little grin? Now you know where it comes from.
This, you might argue, is perhaps the bleakest way to look at American capitalism, as an instrument of war and death and gluttony that serves only the most cretinous corporate masters at the expense of, well, everyone else. This is the capitalism of the hard right, a particularly ruthless type that happily sacrifices quite literally everything — the environment, health, human life, God, national identity, the stability of future generations — for the sake of immediate and unchecked profit.
It is the kind of system, furthermore, that brings with it a huge, nauseating sense of shame for how we have approached the world, pouring a vague disgust over the nation like a cancerous sludge. This is perhaps BushCo’s cruelest gift of all: tragically convincing us that this strain of capitalism, a furious weapon of greed and disgrace, inviting all manner of corruption and destruction as it brings out the absolute worst in the human animal, is the only flavor there really is.
But then again, no. Maybe there’s something else, a flipside we’ve forgotten amid the insane oil profits and dead bodies and global mistrust. It’s the awkward truism that American capitalism is potentially capable, despite its dark core of profit, despite its frequently poisoned heart, of tremendous creative opportunity and ingenuity. Like porn, like God, like wisdom and plutonium and very, very dark rum, it’s all in how you use it.
Here, then, is perhaps the most dominant question surrounding the upcoming big transition, as the nation prepares over the next year to finally rid itself of the cancer of Bush: Are we still capable of reshaping the capitalist demon, injecting it, on a national scale, with something like conscience and compassion and responsibility, sans the need to sell your mother, rape Alaska, or bomb ancient cities and kill pathetic foreign dictators in a pitiable attempt to vindicate your dad? Is such a turnaround even possible anymore?
Because this nasty truth remains: Bush or no, Exxon and its nefarious, insanely powerful ilk are ramming full speed ahead, undertaking more incredibly brutal, land-raping techniques as you read these very words to get at the Earth’s remaining supply of oil, sucking up tar sand and coal and anything else possible to maintain profit and power. They are, and will continue to be, utterly relentless and, at least for a number of years to come, quite unstoppable.
There is no eliminating the dark side of capitalism, the gluttony and the greed and the violent underbelly. There is only minimizing, shifting the emphasis, changing the pitch and angle of approach, trying to take what is, at its very heart, a flawed and self-destructive system, and making it into something proud and interesting and vibrant, something actually worth defending.
Can it be done? Is it still possible? No matter how many poetic Barack Obama speeches, no matter how many pragmatic Hillary Clinton promises, it’s a question that seems far bigger than both of them. And the truth is, it’s really the only question that matters.
Mark Morford’s Notes & Errata column appears every Wednesday and Friday on SFGate and in the Datebook section of the San Francisco Chronicle.