The Widdershins

Archive for the ‘The Oligarchy’ Category

The caption reads: History Repeats Itself – The Robber Barons Of the Middle Ages And The Robber Barons of Today

And there is a bigger copy of the image here

** so said Gordon Gekko in Wall Street

 

Good Tuesday Widdershins!

So have you ever heard that phrase or one similar that goes something like “I know a friend of a friend of…the police chief, the Mayor…” or someone else that implies the person knows the high muckety-mucks and that relationship can help…you.  That’s a pretty good description of an event that was held at the Ritz Carlton in Beijing this past weekend. The event was sponsored by the Kushner crime uh family.

The shindig was an “investment opportunity” for wealthy Chinese citizens to plunk a cool half million dollars into a Kushner luxury apartment complex in Jersey.  And it has the additional sweetener that by plunking down said $500k you can also apply for what’s known as an investor visa.   That program is called the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Process.  I might refer to it as “grease the skids on getting entrance to the U.S.”.

And of course it was all on the up and up.  Of course.  And we know it was on the up and up because it included Nicole Kushner Meyer, Jared’s sister.  And of course she was introduced just that way, as Jared’s sister.  And these people knew exactly who Jared Kushner is; the son-in-law of the President of the United States.

The tagline on a brochure for the event: “Invest $500,000 and immigrate to the United States.”

Over several hours of slide shows and presentations, representatives from the Kushner family business urged Chinese citizens gathered at a Ritz-Carlton hotel to consider investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in a New Jersey luxury apartment complex that would help them secure what’s known as an investor visa.

The potential investors were advised to invest sooner rather than later in case visa rules change under the Trump administration. “Invest early, and you will invest under the old rules,” one speaker said.  [me – I wonder if they ran that line past Col. Cornpone and Steve Bannon?  Those two might now want any of these yellow people getting into ‘Merica.]

Gawd, do these people, any of them, have any shame or is it all about the almighty dollar, regardless of what it looks like.

The event underscores the extent to which Kushner’s private business interests have the potential to collide with his powerful role as a top official in his father-in-law’s White House, particularly when it comes to China, where Kushner has become a crucial diplomatic channel between Beijing and the new administration.

While Kushner has reported divesting from elements of the family business, including the specific project that his sister pitched in Beijing, the session Saturday demonstrated that the company is perceived as enjoying close ties to the Trump administration. Ethics laws prohibit government officials from profiting personally from their public-sector work.

Divest, my backside.  The family will be holding Jared’s share for after he leaves government, ya know…after the impeachment.

Still, it’s the image of what this implies.

Watchdogs and ethics experts on Saturday criticized the Beijing event as an attempt to cash in on Kushner’s newfound proximity to power.

“It’s incredibly stupid and highly inappropriate,” said Richard Painter, the former chief White House ethics lawyer in President George W. Bush’s administration, who has become a vocal critic of the Trump administration. “They clearly imply that the Kushners are going to make sure you get your visa. . . . They’re [Chinese applicants] not going to take a chance. Of course they’re going to want to invest.”

And this particular type of visa has become very popular with the Chinese, especially as a way to get their money out of China.

Also, it has become a source of getting dubious investment dollars without really following through on what it was designed for.

The program was launched with the goal of securing investment and creating jobs. But instead, in recent years, many real estate developers have used the program as a source of cheap financing by using foreign investors, especially from China, for flashy projects in Manhattan and other city centers.

A Government Accountability Office report in 2015 found the EB-5 program carried a high risk of fraud, was rife with counterfeit documentation and had “no reliable method to verify the source of the funds of petitioners.”

In other words, a way to finance Trump and Kushner investments and real estate.

 

There’s much more at the link, so check it out when you can.

Lastly, real life issues came up with Prolix so I took today’s post.  I apologize for such an un-Prolix type of post.  It will make us appreciate all the more, the real deal when he has time to post again.  Of course this is an open thread.

 

 

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Let’s face it, it’s not as if The Media has ever really been entirely a responsible being. Yellow Journalism has always existed and often some of it has been controlled by the rotten likes of William Randolph Hearst. But today’s public trust of The Media (“Lamestream!” and otherwise) is down to 32%. This is down from its highest rating of 72% in 1976. Frankly, I’m surprised the current number is as high as 32%. We have watched The Media descend into a bloody feeding frenzy of click-bait headlines (BREAKING: AP analysis: More than half those who met Clinton as Cabinet secretary gave money to Clinton Foundation) and ratings-grabbing reality TV style programming. Everything on CNN is BREAKING NEWS! All the time!!!!!! Even when all they’re showing is a bear that broke into some lady’s fridge and ate all her fish or a Trump rally without any editing or commentary. BREAKING NEWS! I suppose it’s possible that at any moment the bear will start singing “Hallelujah!” and Trump will say something reasonable, which would indeed be Breaking News!  Alas, the headlines often turn out to be false (no, half of those Clinton met did not give money to Clinton Foundation) and the coverage lacking in integrity (Trump never did say anything reasonable), and all we have is a broken news media to show for it.

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While HRC’s relationship with the media is known to be controversial, it’s Trump’s relationship with the media that they should have been worried about. They allowed themselves get locked up in pens at Trump’s rallies, listened to Trump taunt them from the stage, especially female reporters (NBC’s Katy Tur received multiple public shellackings and at one point needed Secret Service to escort her to her car from a rally because she no longer felt safe from Trump’s supporters,) got physically assaulted at Trump rallies and heard Trump’s constant threats that he will sue one media outlet or another for coverage he doesn’t like by expanding libel laws. But all they worried about were Hillary Clinton’s press conferences. This was big big news for weeks, yuuuge news.  Even though Clinton always travelled with the full press pool and spoke to them daily and gave individual interviews, they were really worried about press conferences.  It was Breaking News for weeks! Well, fast forward and Trump hasn’t held a press conference since July. And he dodges the press pool altogether as President-Elect (vomit) when he wants to because, well, why wouldn’t he! The Media is annoyed now. Maybe Trump doesn’t like them as much as they thought? SAD!

Trump’s two years worth of attacks on the press and their integrity should have given them a clue that perhaps Trump was not their friend. But they only seem to have gotten a clue when the President-Elect (barf) invited them to an off-the-record meeting at Isengard Trump Tower. The brightest stars of TV news came out. George Stephanopoulos and Wolf Blitzer were there, and there’s David Muir and Charlie Rose! And look, it’s Chuck Todd and Lester Holt! And head of CNN Jeff Zucker, the man who was head of NBC when Trump started firing people for ratings. They ran to this thing like it was an orgy.  And then it turned into an execution. “It was like a fucking firing squad!” was how one person inside characterized it.  (There’s shooting at both orgies and executions, so I can see how everybody got their signals mixed.)

wolf-blitzer-trump-article-header

Does my suit match the gold decor?

Trump apparently said: “’We’re in a room of liars, the deceitful dishonest media who got it all wrong,’” This is all allegedly because the meeting was off-the-record. So The Media isn’t commenting. But you can bet your pattootie Trump’s people were the ones who leaked this to the NY Post within minutes. The headlines from Breitbart and Drudge were appropriately gleeful. “Baghdad Kellyanne” Conway, everybody’s favorite contrarian, argued things weren’t as intense as all that. “… no he did not explode in anger. He’s the president-elect. He won … winning solves a lot of problems. Winning makes a lot of statements.” (Yes, yes it does Baghdad Kellyanne. Lots of statements have been made, though I wonder what Baghdad Kellyanne thinks the statements are when HRC is winning the popular vote by 2,000,000 and counting. What statement does that make Baghdad Kellyanne? Kellyanne? Bueller?)

conway-lewandowski

Just 3 best buds hanging out, nothing to see here, ok bye!

I wonder what the hallowed names of TV news like Rose, Blitzer and Holt think when the President-Elect (vomit) of the United States calls them liars to their face when they’ve tried to use every word except “liar” when covering Drumpf’s lies.When Trump tells Zucker in person “I hate your network. Everyone at CNN is a liar, and you should be ashamed.” What does Zucker, who employed journalist-assaulting Corey Lewandowski as a commentator while Lewandowski remained on Trump’s payroll, what does Zucker think? (He doesn’t think anything of it, actually). Did Zucker know Lewandowski and Kellyanne Conway were still working together throughout the campaign? Conway tweeted a photo of herself, Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks and Lewandowski, 4 days before the election with the tag: “Team Work.” Hmm…. Jeffrey, Jeffrey, Jeffrey. What does Jeffrey think? I think we have two options. Either Zucker is an idiot or he knows exactly what is happening and is ok with it because CNN is making big boatloads of money off their Trump coverage. About a billion dollars worth. CBS head honcho Les Moonves said: “”It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS…The money’s rolling in and this is fun.”  I hope everybody is having as much fun as Zucker and Moonves!

zucker-trump

Donny Drumpf and CNN’s Jeff Zucker, just a coupla buds LOLing

So with our illustrious TV news anchors and executives executed neutered by the President-Elect (vomit) – what do we have left? I’d say we can expect nothing from the boob tube, it has truly been boobified beyond repair, Lamestream to infinity. I’m afraid print journalism is our only hope. The NY Times, so flawed in so many ways (it’s hard to like a newspaper that continued to employ Rita Skeeter Maureen Dowd… though they also still employ Paul Krugman.) Anyway, the Times also met with Drumpf, but they insisted that the meeting be on-the-record. Drumpf, still fresh off the TV Media massacre of 2016, attacked the “failing NY Times” on Twitter, cancelled the meeting, then re-scheduled it again. All in a matter of hours. Classic Trump! (Does anyone else think he’ll order the launch of a nuke, then change his mind? Will he change it quickly enough to cancel the nuke? Can a nuke be cancelled after it’s been launched? Stay tuned, it will be covered on Breaking News!) Then when Drumpf finally met with the failing NY Times, he said: “I just appreciate the meeting and I have great respect for The New York Times. Tremendous respect. It’s very special. Always has been very special.” He then called them “a jewel.” (Charles Blow was having none of it.  He refused to attend the meeting with Drumpf and then wrote in an op-ed: “You are a fraud and a charlatan. Yes, you will be president, but you will not get any breaks just because one branch of your forked tongue is silver.”  Anybody care to guess what Rita Skeeter Maureen Dowd thinks?) I wonder if the Times meeting being recorded had anything to do with Drumpf’s fawning tone vs. the off-the-record TV luminaries meeting where he told them all to just go ahead and die? All I know is Drumpf is already up to #7 of this handy “Despots and the Media” Guide. He’s already making his own videos, bypassing the media altogether. Kind of like those videos Osama bin Laden used to make. In the meantime I can’t wait for Trump’s next Tweet about the failing NY Times. It will be tremendous.

media

# 1 – 7:  Done

Christiane Amanpour, accepting the Burton Benjamin Memorial Award at the Committee To Protect Journalists ceremony, delivered a blistering speech directed at fellow journalists. She had a lot of great things to say about The Media, its failures in the 2016 election, and what it must do to redeem itself.

So I feel that right now we face an existential crisis. A real threat to the very relevance and usefulness of our profession. Now, more than ever, I genuinely believe that we need to recommit to real reporting across a real nation and a real world in which journalism and democracy are in mortal peril….

Never equate victim and aggressor. Never create a false moral or factual equivalence. Because then, if you do, particularly in situations like that, you are party and accomplice to the most unspeakable crimes and consequences.

So I believe in being truthful, not neutral. And I believe we must stop banalizing the truth. We have to be prepared to fight, especially hard, right now, for the truth, because this is a world where the Oxford English dictionary just last week announced its word for 2016, and that is, ‘post-truth’.

What’s on your mind Widdershins?  Do you love The Media as much as it loves you?  This is an open thread.

Good Monday, Widdershins. I hope everyone had a relaxing weekend and enjoyed all the football, both college and pro.

I came across an article this weekend that caught my eye. Despite all the happy talk about the improving economy, the sense that we never recovered from the 2008 crash has always been with me, and with many readers of this blog as well. This feeling was not only reflected in my own experience, but also by some of the more truthful stories and posts about the effects of long-term unemployment, and the changing of the job market to a much more part-time/no-benefits model.

Per the linked article, it seems that these feelings have a basis in reality.

The number of long-term unemployed in the world’s major economies has increased by 85% since the financial crash, according to the latest employment monitor by the Organisation of Economic Cooperation & Development (OECD).

More than 16 million people have been out of work for at least a year in the first quarter of 2014, up from 8.7 million before the crisis, or more than one in three of all unemployed across the OECD‘s 34 member countries, the report said.

The Paris-based forum gave a stark warning to countries such as Spain, Portugal and Greece, which recorded the biggest increases in unemployment after the 2008 crash. It said there is growing evidence that part of what was originally a cyclical increase in unemployment has become structural and “will thus be more difficult to reverse during the economic recovery”.

It said: “Therefore, tackling unemployment where it remains high and driving down long-term unemployment remain key policy priorities.”

Paul Krugman warned that this would happen. Does he ever get tired of being completely right, and having no one pay attention? From an April 21, 2013 NY Times post entitled “The Jobless Trap:”

… Five years after the crisis, unemployment remains elevated, with almost 12 million Americans out of work. But what’s really striking is the huge number of long-term unemployed, with 4.6 million unemployed more than six months and more than three million who have been jobless for a year or more. Oh, and these numbers don’t count those who have given up looking for work because there are no jobs to be found.

It goes without saying that the explosion of long-term unemployment is a tragedy for the unemployed themselves. But it may also be a broader economic disaster.

The Krug’s bleeding liberal heart feels for the long-term unemployed, and he writes from their perspective. The article in the Guardian takes a wider view, and focuses more on how the members of the EOCD should fix the structural issue of long-term unemployment from a policy perspective. To me, the recommendations are a little confusing.

The main message from the report is that governments need to work harder to equip workers with the skills needed to cope with a fast-changing economic landscape.

Um, huh? I like the idea of investing in job training, but I remember hearing this trope from both GWB and Obama and not buying it then. How difficult is it to learn to say “Welcome to Wal-Mart, how may I help you?”

Read the rest of this entry »

Happy Memorial Day, Widdershins. We always remember our veterans here, so once again, today and every day, thank you for your service. I hope today finds you happy and healthy, especially with the state of VA health care in this country. (Shamefully, although the Republicans seem to suddenly have discovered the issue now that they see it as a way to attack Obama, the VA has been backed up, overloaded and underfunded for many years now. If the Repubs had acted like a political party hired by the American people to accomplish things, instead of a campaign organization bent on sweeping that scandal under the rug, we might be much farther down the road to fixing this problem.)

It is said that World War II was the “last good war.” War is never good, of course, but Americans were able to fully emotionally support the country’s painful and horrible military efforts to remove the cancer of Hitler’s Germany (and its allies) from the world. It was a virtuous war because: 1) Japan declared war on us before we entered the fray; 2) the mission was clear;  3) the enemy was pure evil; and 4) the sacrifices were deemed worthy. As we’ve discussed many times here, none of the current wars we are fighting (Iraq, Afghanistan) fall into that category. (Sorry guys, until there is not one American soldier in either country, I won’t say those wars are over.)

However, just as there are now non-traditional enemies which are not heads of state like Hitler and Hirohito, (i.e., non-state actors like Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups), could there now be non-traditional wars, and by extension, non-traditional good wars?

Read the rest of this entry »

2014-05-05_7-24-30Good morning all. Last week was an especially thought-provoking one, with posts about the death penalty and the oligarchy. I see both as symptoms of a larger illness – the patriarchy.

As far as we know, in recorded history, the post-agrarian world has always been run by men. As we grew from a society where people stayed in the Fertile Crescent and (possibly) worshiped Mother Earth, into one where territorial expansion through conquering of native populations became the norm, we began our embrace of the way of life dubbed “the Blade” by Riane Eisler in The Chalice and the Blade. Here at TW, we often call it the oligarchy, the patriarchy, the plutocracy, or some combination of these.

According to Eisler, the Blade way of life is overbalanced towards aggression. Blade societies do not respect nature and the earth, are concerned mainly with dominance and control, and embrace survival as the prime moral value. Women are blocked from any significant power other than sex and reproduction, and even that power is diminished by lack of protection against unwanted intercourse or pregnancy.

Does this sound familiar to anyone?

If we really think about it from a larger perspective, the small advances we have made towards gender equality and balance, have not made much of a dent in the quality of women’s (and men’s) lives. Sure, we have some women in positions of power throughout the world, but the main story of the day is always war. War in Ukraine, war in Egypt, war in Syria, war in Israel, war in Afghanistan, etc. etc. etc. As a general rule, you won’t see female presidents making these decisions; you won’t see female generals leading soldiers into war; you won’t see female CEOs embracing policies like Walmart’s, where female employees were paid less than men as a matter of course; and you won’t see women committing acts of sexual violence against other women and girls. Thanks to the lack of balance between the values of the Chalice (nurturing, preserving, protecting and empowering the weak), and the Blade, as described above, we have a society that is sick, and doesn’t seem to be getting better.

This is why, in my opinion, we have things like the death penalty, “stand your ground,” “our oil and minerals under their sand,” “women are objects,” and “give to the rich, steal from the poor.” There is a “might makes right” attitude that permeates throughout our government and corporate culture, which as Fredster rightly pointed out, is basically one entity at this point.

Throughout history, when we have wanted to make a change in our culture and government, we have had a revolution. In America, we haven’t done this in a while, and we usually vote to make a change. It has become clear that our ability to vote in change by switching parties has become diluted almost to the point of uselessness. So what do we do to break the patriarchal cycle?

I don’t have much faith in revolution, as what normally happens is you replace one patriarchy with another, and eventually they corrupt into just what they were trying to overthrow. (This was the message of Orwell’s Animal Farm – in order to truly change our government and culture, we must change ourselves.) I truly believe, still, that the best thing we can do is to empower women and create balance between the Chalice and the Blade in our world. With the prevalence of corporations in our daily lives, we have to attack this both on the business and governmental fronts. Hence, my support for Sheryl Sandberg’s organizationas well as Kirsten Gillibrand’s Offthesidelines.org.

What am I personally going to do about breaking the cycle of patriarchy? I am formulating a long-term plan, first focused on changing my small corner of the corporate culture, then potentially moving into non-profit and/or the political sector. Rest assured that I am as passionate about this as I ever have been, and I haven’t given up the hope that our sons and daughters will inherit a better, more balanced world than the one we’re living in now.

This is an open thread.

oligarchy

Oldsmobile, er country.  And I think you know it and I know it.  But in case you needed to have that sneaky feeling confirmed, two researchers at Princeton Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page  pretty much confirmed that our democracy doesn’t really exist anymore.  Welcome to the oligarchy.  And if you are unfamiliar with the term, let me give you a definition of it.

noun, plural ol·i·gar·chies.

1.

a form of government in which all power is vested in a few persons or in a dominant class or clique; government by the few.

2.

a state or organization so ruled.

3.

the persons or class so ruling.
We all pretty well know who those folks are:  the Kock Bros. for instance, definitely the oil companies, Big Pharma, Big Insurance companies and the like.
Asking “[w]ho really rules?” researchers Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page argue that over the past few decades America’s political system has slowly transformed from a democracy into an oligarchy, where wealthy elites wield most power.
Further, when you look at the over 1800 “policy initiatives” they looked at, and when you look at their starting point, you start to see it all coming together.
Using data drawn from over 1,800 different policy initiatives from 1981 to 2002, the two conclude that rich, well-connected individuals on the political scene now steer the direction of the country, regardless of or even against the will of the majority of voters.
Let’s see here:  When did Ronnie Raygun get elected to office?  Oh yes.
Ronald Wilson Reagan (/ˈrɒnəld ˈwɪlsən ˈrɡən/; February 6, 1911 – June 5, 2004) was the 40th President of the United States (1981–1989).
So are any of us really surprised that the dismantling of our government started when Raygun went in?  Of course I’m not.  As the two write:
“The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy,” they write, “while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.”
(bolding mine)
And here’s another little eye-opening (for some) tidbit that they found:
As one illustration, Gilens and Page compare the political preferences of Americans at the 50th income percentile to preferences of Americans at the 90th percentile as well as major lobbying or business groups. They find that the government—whether Republican or Democratic—more often follows the preferences of the latter group rather than the first.
Gilens and Page say this is nothing new that could possibly be attributable to the recent decisions by the Supremes in Citizens United and McCutcheon.

As the data stretching back to the 1980s suggests, this has been a long term trend, and is therefore harder for most people to perceive, let alone reverse.  (B&I mine)

“Ordinary citizens,” they write, “might often be observed to ‘win’ (that is, to get their preferred policy outcomes) even if they had no independent effect whatsoever on policy making, if elites (with whom they often agree) actually prevail.”

 

So you know all of the online petitions we get in our email and are asked to sign so they can then be presented to some congress critter?  Now you know how much of an impression they really make.

I’m not going to badmouth signing online petitions because there is a feeling of satisfaction in doing so, but just don’t hold your breath that anything will change unless somehow the “elites” somehow agree with the thing being petitioned.

There was a 2nd article at TPM

Where Sahil Kapur spoke to Martin Gilens about the study he participated in.  I’m going to paste in part of the interview here for us.

TPM: Let’s talk about the study. If you had 30 seconds to sum up the main conclusion of your study for the average person, how would you do so?

Gilens: I’d say that contrary to what decades of political science research might lead you to believe, ordinary citizens have virtually no influence over what their government does in the United States. And economic elites and interest groups, especially those representing business, have a substantial degree of influence. Government policy-making over the last few decades reflects the preferences of those groups — of economic elites and of organized interests.

TPM: You say the United States is more like a system of “Economic Elite Domination” and “Biased Pluralism” as opposed to a majoritarian democracy. What do those terms mean? Is that not just a scholarly way of saying it’s closer to oligarchy than democracy if not literally an oligarchy?

Gilens: People mean different things by the term oligarchy. One reason why I shy away from it is it brings to mind this image of a very small number of very wealthy people who are pulling strings behind the scenes to determine what government does. And I think it’s more complicated than that. It’s not only Sheldon Adelson or the Koch brothers or Bill Gates or George Soros who are shaping government policy-making. So that’s my concern with what at least many people would understand oligarchy to mean. What “Economic Elite Domination” and “Biased Pluralism” mean is that rather than average citizens of moderate means having an important role in determining policy, ability to shape outcomes is restricted to people at the top of the income distribution and to organized groups that represent primarily — although not exclusively — business.  

And this was my favorite of the interview:

 

TPM: How does a system like this perpetuate itself when after all it’s ordinary voters who cast their ballots and elect their leaders. Theoretically they can change it in a heartbeat. Why don’t they?

Gilens: That’s a very good question. I don’t have a complete answer for you. Part of it clearly is that while politicians need votes while in office, they need money to obtain and retain office. So they need to balance the activities that will benefit them in terms of money with the activities that’ll benefit them in terms of votes. Voters are not particularly effective at holding politicians accountable for the policies they adopt. Voters also have a limited choice set when going into an election. We find that policies adopted during presidential election years in particular are more consistent with public preferences than policies adopted in other years of the electoral cycle.  (again bolding and italics mine)

The entire interview is really an eye-opener and I strongly suggest you go to TPM and read it. Gilens does hand the rich and elite a few smackdowns but is somewhat gloomy about what any different outcomes might be or how they might come about.  I have downloaded the report of the study that these two conducted and I’ll try to upload it and find a place for it on the blog.

Gilens and Page only had documents and info on “policy initiatives” going back to the Ronnie Raygun era, but I’ll bet it has been going on longer than that.  Paddy Chayefsky may have had an inkling about it when he wrote Network.

 

This is an open thread but do check out the two linked articles at TPM.

 

Addendum:  I did get the study uploaded.  It’s on the right side under Activism.  Look for Gilens and Page…
It is in pdf format and should open separately.

 

 

 


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