'This Is a Battle Between What People Need & What Money Wants.' How's That Going to End?
What happens if the rich don't stand down and the people don't stand up?
“The news media are not independent; they are a sort of bulletin board and public relations firm for the ruling class—the people who run things. Those who decide what news you will or will not hear are paid by, and tolerated purely at the whim of, those who hold economic power. If the parent corporation doesn’t want you to know something, it won’t be on the news. Period. Or, at the very least, it will be slanted to suit them, and then rarely followed up.”
— George Carlin, quoted here
I want to put three ideas together and see if they synergize for you.
The Pandora Papers — How the Rich Stay Rich
The first is the latest tale of how the rich have organized the world so that only they are guaranteed success in it:
The Pandora Papers is a leak of almost 12 million documents that reveals hidden wealth, tax avoidance and, in some cases, money laundering by some of the world's rich and powerful.
More than 600 journalists in 117 countries have been trawling through the files from 14 sources for months, finding stories that are being published this week.
The data was obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) in Washington DC, which has been working with more than 140 media organisations on its biggest ever global investigation.
BBC Panorama and the Guardian have led the investigation in the UK....
The Pandora Papers leak includes 6.4 million documents, almost three million images, more than a million emails and almost half-a-million spreadsheets.
Stories revealed so far include:
• the prominent Tory donor who was involved in one of Europe's biggest corruption scandals
• the King of Jordan's £70m spending spree on properties in the UK and US through secretly-owned companies
• Azerbaijan's leading family's hidden involvement in property deals in the UK worth more than £400m
• the Czech prime minister's failure to declare an offshore investment company used to purchase two French villas for £12m
• how the family of Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta's secretly owned a network of offshore companies for decades
The files expose how some of the most powerful people in the world - including more than 330 politicians from 90 countries - use secret offshore companies to hide their wealth.
They all do it. They all help each other do it. And no one intends to stop doing it because that's simply how they live. Things will work this way forever unless an outside force, like the French or Russian revolution, confiscates their property and redistributes it, making them live differently because they have no other choice.
I don't think this is a rant. I think these are simply facts.
'Just Make Sure to Serve the Donor Class' — How the Rich Control the Government
The second is this fine catch by David Sirota on the reporting around the $3.5 trillion dollar Reconciliation package now before Congress:
Everything he says here is right, but the bottom line comes near the start. When corporate reporters explain this story, money and the use of it to corrupt is written entirely out of it. According to them, for example, the vulture capital industry doesn't buy Josh Gotheimer. At most, it "influences" him.
Yet the fact is obvious: "[The reconciliation bill] is a battle between what people need and what money wants." And this fact is also obvious: "Money is written out of the story."
If all you watch is corporate media, the corruption of money will never be part of the tale. Which leads to this more general observation.
'A Public Relations Firm for the Ruling Class' — How Corporate Media Controls the People
I'm taking this point from the great George Carlin, though he's not the first to make it. I've quoted him at the top, but let's repeat it here:
The news media are ... a sort of bulletin board and public relations firm for the ruling class—the people who run things. Those who decide what news you will or will not hear are paid by, and tolerated purely at the whim of, those who hold economic power. If the parent corporation doesn’t want you to know something, it won’t be on the news. Period. Or, at the very least, it will be slanted to suit them, and then rarely followed up.
In this media age, the professional and scientific manipulation of mass opinion through advertising and PR is, with a single possible exception, the greatest evil visited on the world in the whole of the Twentieth Century.
These manipulations work. Has Volkswagen's systemically engineered cheating on emissions tests changed their bottom line? Not by one dollar, as near as I can tell. Has Ford's decision to maim and kill people for dollars taken that company to its death bed? Not in the least. Ford, unlike its victims, has thrived.
No ill consequences will befall any corporation until the money that tells you they're evil overwhelms the advertising dollars that tell you, Not to worry, folks, we really love you after all.
Back to Easter Island
I used to talk about an "Easter Island solution" to the coming climate crisis. It goes like this:
You're a villager on Easter Island. People are cutting down trees right and left, and many are getting worried. At some point, the number of worried villagers reaches critical mass, and they go to the island chief and say, "Look, we have to stop cutting down trees, like now."
The chief, who's CEO of a wood products company, checks his bottom line and orders the cutting to continue.
Do the villagers walk away? Or do they depose the chief?
There's always a choice...
Without a revolutionary approach, one that clean-slates the leaders of whoever holds power in government, there will be no meaningful change.
There will be change, and it will be meaningful in the margins, like better mileage standards for gas-burning cars, and meaningful for some or many groups, like DREAMers, perhaps, or working families in need of child care.
But there will be no meaningful change, change that solves the unsolvable for everyone. We will never get off the carbon economy, for example, because the masses, our rulers think, can always be kept at bay by advertising disinformation, constant PR to the contrary, and doomed-to-fail efforts to pretend to try. All because the rich, who rule us so completely that their control of government is virtually unchallengeable by normal electoral means, will never leave power absent being dragged from it.
As I said above, there's always a choice, even if it's not the one we'd rather have. We just haven’t taken it yet.
The Flood That Drowns Rich and Poor
It's going to be interesting to see, in the next five to fifteen years, the methods the rich must use to keep their power when the climate crisis hits with full and majestic force. The coming chaos and revolutionary fervor that suffering millions and billions will bring to the table will each be world-historical in scope. What under those conditions will the powerful do, the very very few, to keep the very many from taking control? Whatever the result, none of our governments will survive in their current form.
Keep in mind, revolutions are not orderly, and this one almost certainly won't be well led. Yes, from time to time, the world kicks out a George Washington, fit for the challenge of his time, a man who willing to fortify the republic he helped to build rather than just profit from it.
And yes, from time to time the world kicks out a Napoleon or Vespasian, a man fit to rule his time well, at least for the most part, even if that rule is decidedly autocratic.
But most of the time the world kicks out masters of chaos, egomaniacal destroyers and opportunists, people like Alcibiades of Athens, or Ronald Reagan, people who gain power in disgruntled times, and through their actions make the world worse for everyone. Reagan took a struggling country, the proto-neoliberal nation of the Carter years, a nation steeped in stagflation, and set in fatal motion the wealth machine that will soon destroy us all, including the machine itself.
If we don't get off of fossil fuel in time, the rich will suffer with the rest of us the destruction they will cause. Our leaders won't contemplate any measure that reduces their power, and we won't contemplate forcing them to leave. Under those constraints, the problem has no solution.
The rich won't stand down. Will the people stand up? On that one question hangs all of the rest of this tale.