Updated: Oct 6, 2021
By Thomas Neuburger
“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 simply 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, the control of money, and the use of money 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 the 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 money that tells you, Not to worry, folks, we really do 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 as a group 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, they think, can always be kept at bay by disinformation and doomed-to-fail efforts 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 lose power absent being dragged away from it.
As I said above, there's always a choice, even if it's not one we'd prefer.
The Flood That Drowns Rich and Poor
What's going to be interesting to see, in the next five to twenty years, are the methods that must be used to keep that power. The coming chaos and revolutionary fervor that suffering masses, ultimately millions and billions of them, will bring to their side of the table will be world-historical in scope. What will the powerful do, the very few, to keep that power under those conditions?
Keep in mind, this revolutionary fervor will certainly not be orderly, and it 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 will 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, 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, 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. Alcibiades, a talented man, treated the chaos of his time as an opportunity or personal advancement and worked both for and against his fellow Athenians. At the end of the war that destroyed his city as a power, the Spartan army burned the last of the Athenian fleet down to the water line as the defeated watched, all thanks to the chaos that men like Alcibiades used to profit from.
Ronald 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-worshiping machine that will soon destroy us all, including itself, the engine that he helped build.
If we can't get off of fossil fuel in time — and it sure as hell looks like we won't because our rulers won't let us — the rich will suffer with the rest the destruction that the coming chaos, absent a new George Washington, will force upon us.
Just ask yourself this: In thirty years time, with climate riots in every major city and Alcibiades-like opportunists, truly evil men and women, helping to make bad things worse, do you see the U.S., all of it, ruled by one government? In that situation I personally see much of the "country" under no government at all.
All because our leaders won't contemplate anything that removes them from 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.