Back in 2014, a study by Princeton University Prof Martin Gilens and Northwestern University Prof Benjamin I Page concluded that America was no longer a democracy, it was an oligarchy. The government, they claimed, had been hijacked by the very wealthy and corporate interests through lobbying and funding of political candidates. (1)
No less of an authority than former President Jimmy Carter, when asked by Thom Hartmann about the role of money in politics in a 2015 interview, said, “It violates the essence of what made America a great country in its political system. Now it’s just an oligarchy, with unlimited political bribery being the essence of getting the nominations for president or to elect the president. And the same thing applies to governors and U.S. senators and congress members. So now we’ve just seen a complete subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors, who want and expect and sometimes get favors for themselves after the election’s over. … The incumbents, Democrats and Republicans, look upon this unlimited money as a great benefit to themselves. Somebody’s who’s already in Congress has a lot more to sell to an avid contributor than somebody who’s just a challenger.” (2)
It will surprise no one who has been following politics and government over the past decade that these statements describe the reality of the American situation.
We have now reached a watermark in American history, however. The era where the rich and powerful can bribe and lobby their way into furthering their profits has served its ultimate purpose and can be disposed of as no longer necessary.
With the swearing-in of Donald Trump and the ongoing confirmation of his cabinet, we begin phase two of the American oligarchy. The corporate elite no longer need to buy legislators and lobby in order to influence the government. With the advent of the Trump presidency, they are the government. America is now run completely by corporate interests, at least in the executive branch, and congress has already been bought and paid for.
Lest all of this seem like tired old rhetoric from the left, let me try to put it in perspective.
American capitalism is based on one thing and one thing only: profit for investors and shareholders. We tend to ignore this fact. We struggle to find exceptions and hold them up as the norm. A corporation does not exist to provide jobs for the American people and never has. It exists to make profits for those who invest in it. Not the people who work for it, the people who invest in it. No matter how many times politicians tell you otherwise, that is the “bottom line,” and they let that slip continually.
If a corporation decides that it doesn’t want to spend money on safety equipment for employees and people regularly die as a result, unless someone or something forces them to provide that equipment, they have no reason to do so. It cuts into profits. Unrestrained capitalism relies on each individual corporation to do “the right thing” over profit, and from the point of view of the corporation, that’s simply not good business. Raising wages cuts into profits – not good business if your top priority is profit. Providing health coverage cuts into profits – not good business if your top priority is profit.
Most corporations will charge what they can get away with unless they are forced to do otherwise. Because that’s why they exist: to make money.
Unions arose because corporations could not be counted on to “do the right thing.” Corporations were willing to provide unsafe working conditions, long hours, no breaks, no vacations, etc. until unions forced them to do otherwise. And that cut into the company’s profits (they claimed).
If what you do as a corporation is make the proverbial widget, that’s one thing. If you are providing for your workers, either because a union has forced you to or because you are one of those few places that is “doing the right thing” for your employees, you are an exception.
If what you do as a corporation is to provide pharmaceutical products for sick and dying people; it’s another thing altogether.
The CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, Martin Shkreli, got famous fast when he raised the price of a newly-acquired drug by 5000% a pill. He also made the statement that his company was not alone in acquiring drugs so they could raise the price and make money for investors. Michael Pearson, CEO of Valeant Pharmaceuticals came right out and said that pharma companies were not in the business of helping the sick. They were in the business of making money for investors.
Just recently a company in Virginia named Kaleo raised the price on the antidote to opiate overdoses (a rising problem in this country) from $690 to $4500. (3)
Pharmaceutical companies are not the only industry where the profit motive directly contradicts what we might think is the purpose of the endeavor. Health insurance, hospitals, and doctors groups fall into the same category.
What keeps corporations from sucking every last dollar out of the economy and risking the health and lives of countless workers in the pursuit of profit is government regulation and the few unions that are left. That regulation is enforced by agencies like OSHA, the FDA, and the EPA. And those who run America’s large corporations would love to see all those regulations go away because then they could make more money for themselves and their investors.
Enter Donald Trump and the New American Oligarchy.
At a recent meeting with the leaders of American business Trump said, “We think we can cut regulations by 75 percent. Maybe more, but by 75 percent.” (4) That’s 75% of the protections you now enjoy under the EPA, the FDA, and OSHA to name a few. The protections for the air you breathe and the water you drink. The protections for our public lands and our nuclear waste dumps. Three quarters of those… gone… so that the richest people in the world can become richer.
The thing Donald Trump admires most is rich people and their ability to make money. He is a business man whose whole life has been devoted to making money and showing the world that he has made plenty of it, whether he actually has or not. His entire life has been spent in that world. You can argue about his personality disorders, but you cannot argue about his background.
Bill Gates is supposed to be worth about $86 billion dollars. Forbes ranks him as the richest man in the world. In February, 2015, Bill Browder, formerly Russia’s largest foreign investor told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria that he believes Vladimir Putin’s net worth is $200 billion. (5) No wonder Trump admires him.
So, how does an ex-KGB agent become more than twice as rich as Bill Gates?
Well, you take a country’s resources and you privatize them, skimming a bit for yourself in the process. When the Soviet Union fell and private industry took over the oil and mineral interests, ownership of the land, and the banks, there was money to be made everywhere and Putin reportedly was in thick of it, secretly, of course. He and a few others became the Russian oligarchy almost overnight, and they continue to make huge profits off of what they got so cheaply when the government had to divest itself of so much so fast. They work in concert with each other to continue that process.
Putin got rich because he was able to manipulate the Russian government’s sale of property and rights and kept his fingers surreptitiously in the pie the whole time.
Donald Trump admires most people who can make money easiest. And now, like Vladimir Putin, he is the president of a very wealthy country. He is all about making money, not governing a country for the benefit of the population. Corporations are in business to make money for their investors and Donald Trump is in business to make money for Donald Trump. And he IS in business. He has not divested himself of his holdings, choosing instead to turn over the day-to-day operation of them to his children. Don’t be so gullible as to think he doesn’t know exactly what is happening there.
Trump promised to surround himself with “the best people.” And he is. He has put people around him who are very good at the thing he admires most. He is surrounding himself with the people best at making money. His will be the richest cabinet ever assembled, and the most connected to the corporate world: the corporate world that will benefit greatly if regulations and regulatory industries disappear; the corporate world that will benefit greatly if land and mineral rights are sold off at bargain prices; the corporate world that will benefit greatly if unions are further suppressed, because then they can make more profits for themselves and their investors.
Trump has nominated people for his cabinet that are eager to dismantle the protections America has struggled to achieve over the years and eager to increase their own wealth and that of those around them.
Scott Pruitt has fought the EPA for years and still has law suits pending against it. He would not name a single EPA standard he agrees with when questioned in the senate confirmation hearing. That committee just confirmed him as the EPA Director after suspending the rules that defined a quorum and voting without the democrats in the room. Every time Pruitt manages to scrap an EPA protection, the New American Oligarchy makes money.
Betsy DeVos, Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education, has never attended a public school and thinks the future of education is to privatize it. She champions charter schools and vouchers. Charter schools are one of the fastest growing and most lucrative industries in the country right now. Betsy DeVos’s husband, Richard Marvin “Dick” DeVos Jr., is a multi-billionaire heir to the Amway fortune (one of the greatest almost-pyramid schemes in American business history). Her brother, Erik Prince was the founder of Blackwater USA.
In response to questions about her family’s donations to Republicans over the years she said this, “I have decided to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence,” she wrote. “Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect something in return. We expect to foster a conservative governing philosophy consisting of limited government and respect for traditional American virtues. We expect a return on our investment.” (6)
It’s all business. It’s all about the money.
Rex Tillerson was the CEO of Exxon Mobil and has just been sworn in as Secretary of State. He has also been the head of a Russian-American oil company and has ties to Vladimir Putin. He received 2 million shares of Exxon stock when he left the company. Those shares have supposedly been put in a trust for him by Exxon so long as he is Secretary of State.
In 2011, Tillerson signed an agreement with Russia on behalf of Exxon for drilling in the Arctic that could be valued up to $300 billion. Exxon purchased drilling rights to over 600 million acres in Russia. That drilling was halted when President Obama placed sanctions on Russia for encroachment on the Ukraine. If those sanctions are lifted, Tillerson’s stock will increase in value, Exxon’s profits will increase, and Russia will have a new oil source close at hand. You can be sure that those sanctions will soon be lifted.
As Secretary of State you can expect Tillerson to promote closer ties with the Russian oligarchs at the expense of countries threatened by Russia’s expansion desires.
After complaining about Hillary Clinton’s supposed ties to Goldman Sachs, Trump has placed alumni of that organization all around him. Gary Cohn, now the Director of the White House Economic Council, was the CEO of Goldman Sachs until recently when he took a $285 million severance package to join the Trump team. He was president and Co-Chief Operating Officer at Goldman in 2008 when the mortgage crises exploded.
Goldman Sachs was a major player in the financial disaster of 2008. The company has paid over $9 billion in fines to the government since the crash because of that. The current record highs for the stock market come in large part from the increase in Goldman Sachs stock since the election. In 2007, Goldman Sachs stock was at $215 a share. After the crash in 2008 it was down to $84.39. Today it sits at $240.87.
Trump’s pick for Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin, a 17 year veteran of Goldman, bought a failed mortgage lender, IndyMac, from the government after the housing crash at rock bottom prices, and spun it off as OneWest just five years later for a huge profit. Putin would be proud. Obviously, Trump was impressed. There’s money to be made when you buy low from governments.
The House recently passed a bill that would make all transfers of public land “budget neutral.” That means our land has zero value so far as the government is concerned. If that land is transferred to the states – as many are pushing for – the states would sell it dirt cheap to private interests because they couldn’t afford to maintain it. Lots of money to be made.
The New American Oligarchy is all about the money.
Steve Bannon, the controversial Chief Strategist to the President, is a Goldman alum. He has (rather infamously) said, “I’m a Leninist. Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal, too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.” (7) That’s chaos and anarchy. People can become very, very rich amidst chaos and anarchy. That happened when the Soviet Union fell. Bannon is the chaos whisperer, and he has the president’s ear. The president appointed Bannon to the Principals Committee of the National Security Council. He eliminated Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from that committee as permanent members at the same time.
Make America Great Again was a slogan for the masses and about as important to Trump himself as the chants of “lock her up.”
The next four years will be about removing American protections, selling off American land and mineral rights, and allowing the corporate elite to run roughshod over the population whenever possible, while making as much money as possible for those in charge. If it is possible to privatize something, someone will make money. Privatize Medicare and Medicaid and they will make lots of money. Privatize Social Security and the sky’s the limit.
It gets worse. What people seem to be ignoring completely, particularly Trump supporters, is that there is a world-wide oligarchy arising as we watch. All of that talk you heard about how “The New World Order” had to be stopped and how the UN was trying to take over the world was off-base. The real new world order is the New World Oligarchy. American Oligarchs and Russian Oligarchs and Chinese Oligarchs, etc., will manipulate the world’s economy as they see fit.
It has nothing to do with national borders. National borders mean nothing to the Oligarchy other than a way to keep the masses distracted. Money is international. Let them wave their flags and beat their chests. Wars are fine because wars are great for making money. For the oligarchs of the world that’s all distraction… the pretty girl in the skimpy costume who keeps bending over so you can see a bit more cleavage while the magician picks your pocket.
Now you see me…
Your Humble Servant,
Roger A. Shipley, The Willowbrook Curmudgeon
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