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Russian Oligarchs are a Problem, But Let’s Not Forget American Ones

Russian Oligarchs are a Problem, But Let’s Not Forget American Ones

Photo Source Matt Brown | CC BY 2.0

Oligarchs the world over have long been destabilizing economies and shaping governing bodies for their own benefit. For instance, if we turn to the supposed ‘birth of democracy’ in Ancient Athens, elites (called ‘citizens’) of the polis ruled over the mass populace (the common people of the hoi polloi). Plato had instilled in many Greeks at the time (and this is an idea seen in practice from fascist lies of white supremacy to false justifications for criminal wars) a faith in the supremacy of ruling class that the elites could justify lying to the hoi polloi,masking the truth the public was too ‘stupid’, too ‘ignorant’ to comprehend behind pathos and logos. The specific role of the noble lie, as presented by Plato’s Socrates is to have a good effect on the polity by clearly defining social classes and position within the social hierarchy for all. Never a supporter of democracy, in the Politicsand in De Anima, Plato’s student Aristotle presents a model of an oligarchic meritocracy (or in his preferred term for the rule of the few, an aristocracy), a social organization that depends upon those with ‘lesser’ souls (or those less noble, less filled with virtue than with vice), and those of the working classes especially had to be less concerned with the metaphysical and more concerned with their material labor. Over centuries of European and Anglo-American ‘democracies’, such positions on the deliberate maintenance of popular ignorance (typically coupled with or contributing to widespread compliance or complicity) through administrative means and misinformation have been re-articulated from Machiavelli to Mandeville to McCarthy, Robespierre to Rumsfeld, Burke to Bannon, ‘Socrates’ to Stalin.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Plutocracy Now!

Plutocracy Now!

The United States today qualifies as a plutocracy – on a number of grounds, and it is having a profound impact on the media, education and think tanks–indeed on the whole of society, says Michael Brenner.


Plutocracy literally means rule by the rich. “Rule” can have various shades of meaning: those who exercise the authority of public office are wealthy; their wealth explains why they hold that office; they exercise that authority in the interests of the rich; they have the primary influence over who holds those offices and the actions they take.

These aspects of “plutocracy” are not exclusive. Moreover, government of the rich and for the rich need not be run directly by the rich. Also, in some exceptional circumstances rich individuals who hold powerful positions may govern in the interests of the many, for example Franklin Roosevelt.

The United States today qualifies as a plutocracy – on a number of grounds. Let’s look at some striking bits of evidence. Gross income redistribution upwards in the hierarchy has been a feature of American society for the past decades. The familiar statistics tell us that nearly 80 percent of the national wealth generated since 1973 has gone to the upper 2 percent and 65 percent to the upper 1 per cent. Estimates for the rise in real income for salaried workers over the past 40 years range from 20 percent to 28 percent. In that period, real GDP has risen by 110 percent – it has more than doubled.

To put it somewhat differently, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the top earning 1 percent of households gained about 8 times more than those in the 60 percentile after federal taxes and income transfers between 1979 and 2007 and 10 times those in lower percentiles.

In short, the overwhelming fraction of all the wealth created over two generations has gone to those at the very top of the income pyramid.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Colonizing the Western Mind 

Colonizing the Western Mind 

Photo by Marco | CC BY 2.0

In Christopher Nolan’s captivating and visually dazzling film Inception, a practitioner of psychic corporate espionage must plant and idea inside a CEO’s head. The process is called inception, and it represents the frontier of corporate influence, in which mind spies no longer just “extract” ideas from the dreams of others, but seed useful ideas in a target’s subconscious. Inception is a well-crafted piece of futuristic sci-fi drama, but some of the ideas it imparts are already deeply embedded in the American subconscious. The notion of inception, of hatching an idea in the mind of a man or woman without his or her knowledge, is the kernel of propaganda, a black art practiced in the States since the First World War. Today we live beneath an invisible cultural hegemony, a set of ideas implanted in the mass mind by the U.S. state and its corporate media over decades. Invisibility seems to happen when something is either obscure or ubiquitous. In a propaganda system, an overarching objective is to render the messaging invisible by universalizing it within the culture. Difference is known by contrast. If there are no contrasting views in your field of vision, it’s easier to accept the ubiquitous explanation. The good news is that the ideology is well-known to some who have, for one lucky reason or another, found themselves outside the hegemonic field and are thus able to contrast the dominant worldview with alternative opinions. On the left, the ruling ideology might be described as neoliberalism, a particularly vicious form of imperial capitalism that, as would be expected, is camouflaged in the lineaments of humanitarian aid and succor.

Inception 1972

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How We’re Fighting to Save Democracy From Bribery and Gerrymandering, One State at a Time

In Pennsylvania, the democratic system isn’t broken. It’s dead.

Adam Eichen, Rabbi Michael Pollack, Emmie DiCicco speaking at a March on Harrisburg barnstorming event at the UU Fellowship of Erie, PA. February 19, 2018
Photo Credit: Rhys Baker

Political alienation plagues our nation, and most of us are correct in feeling that we have little to no impact on the decisions that govern our lives. Research shows that the average American has “near-zero” influence on public policy, while those with wealth have “significant influence.” Unfortunately, this conclusion is based on data from the 1980s and 1990s, and things have only gotten worse since then.

This problem is of increasing concern in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, in which campaign finance limits are non-existent and political district lines would be more fairly drawn by an energetic puppy with a sharpie taped to its tail. The state also has no limits on the value of gifts to state legislators. If you are feeling particularly generous—or self-interested—you can take a legislator to the Super Bowl or pay off the student debt of his or her child.

In Pennsylvania, the democratic system isn’t broken. It’s dead. And regardless of political affiliation, Pennsylvanians are correct in having lost faith in our government.

But here’s the deal: Recognizing this sober truth, as depressing and upsetting as it may be, does not preclude reason to hope that things can get better.

Anger and aimlessness lead to helplessness and apathy. But when solutions are coupled with a plan to achieve them, our emotions are transformed into positive, constructive political action. This plan of action is what Pennsylvanians need now.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Is the Buildup to World War I Being Repeated for WWIII?

Is the Buildup to World War I Being Repeated for WWIII?

Is the Buildup to World War I Being Repeated for WWIII?

The great scholar of Turkish history, Taner Akçam, has described today’s geopolitics — the alliances and hostilities toward possibly another World War — as being not ideologically based like WWII, but instead greed-based (empire-grabbing) like WWI:

These are wars of power, influence, and control over the use of Middle Eastern energy resources and the “security issues” related to it. It is quite obvious that the sides in this war are not “those who want democracy and human rights” versus “those in favor of evil dictatorships.”

The axes that are now starting to take shape are proof of this: Saudi Arabia and Israel – openly supported by the United States (and likely Egypt over time) – are forming one alliance; Russia, Iran, and Turkey are establishing another.

A tableau reminiscent of 1918 power blocs.

Today’s alliances are modernized versions of WWI.

World War I was a mess of alliances on each of its two sides, the Central Powers, versus the Entente PowersThe aristocracies that were on the side of the Central Powers included (among others) the following: Jabal Shammar (Saudi Arabia allied with Turkey); Germany; Austria (including Croatia & Bosnia); Ukraine; Poland; Lithuania; Georgia; Turkey; Italy.

The aristocracies that were on the side of the Entente Powers included: China; Japan; Czechoslovakia; Russia; Serbia; UK; Canada; US.

Today, we instead have the West: US; UK; Saudi Arabia (UK-allied ‘Arab Revolt’ that ended in 1925 with Ibn Saud’s victory); Israel; EU led by Germany; Ukraine; Japan; South Korea; versus the East: Russia; Iran; Turkey; China.

An odd-man-out is North Korea, which will be supported by China if it stops developing its nuclear program beyond what’s needed for its self-protection (protection against repeating what had happened to Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi), but which will be opposed by China if it develops an aggressive, conquest-oriented, imperialistic, nuclear capability (which would reduce security not only for Japan and South Korea, but also for China).

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

2016 Theme #2: the Hollow Shell of Democracy

2016 Theme #2: the Hollow Shell of Democracy

This week I am addressing themes I see playing out in 2016.

A number of systemic, structural forces are intersecting in 2016. One is the hollowing out of democracy globally.

Democracy has three distinct states of being: formal, in actual practice and informal. Nations that claim the mantle of democracy typically mix features of all three varieties.

Formal democracy is the machinery of legislation and elections. Actual practice is how the machinery functions in the real world. Informal democracy is advocacy via direct action–protests, local movements and spontaneous mass expressions of outrage/disavowal of the status quo.

Formal democracies are being hollowed out. Within the hollow shell of formal democracy, wealthy elites purchase influence and lobbyists so regulation and legislation either actively advance their interests or imposes limits that are easily bypassed or negated in actual practice

For example, the formal machinery of democracy generates tax statutes, but in actual practice, super-wealthy individuals and entities are laws unto themselves: The Oligarch Tax Bracket: How The Tax Rate For The Wealthiest 400 Americans Plunged From 27% To 17% (Zero Hedge)

For the Wealthiest, a Private Tax System That Saves Them Billions (New York Times)

With inequality at its highest levels in nearly a century and public debate rising over whether the government should respond to it through higher taxes on the wealthy, the very richest Americans have financed a sophisticated and astonishingly effective apparatus for shielding their fortunes. Some call it the “income defense industry,” consisting of a high-priced phalanx of lawyers, estate planners, lobbyists and anti-tax activists who exploit and defend a dizzying array of tax maneuvers, virtually none of them available to taxpayers of more modest means.

In recent years, this apparatus has become one of the most powerful avenues of influence for wealthy Americans of all political stripes

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
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