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Posts Tagged ‘SPARTACUS’

ANCIENT ROME COMES TO AMERICAN POLITICS

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on September 5, 2022 at 12:10 am

The 1960 Kirk Douglas epic, Spartacus, has proven to be more than great entertainment. It has turned out to be a prophecy of the end of the American Republic.

In the movie, Spartacus (Douglas), a Roman slave, entertains Marcus Crassus (Laurence Oliver) the richest man in Rome. He does so by fighting to the death as a gladiator.

Poster for Spartacus

While Spartacus and his fellow gladiator/friend, Draba (Woody Strode), slash and stab at each other in the arena, Crassus idly chats with his crony, Marcus Glabrus (Jon Dall).

Crassus has just secured Glabrus’ appointment as commander of the garrison of Rome. Glabrus is grateful, but curious as to how he did it.

After all, Gaius Gracchus (Charles Laughton), the leader of the Roman Senate, hates Crassus, and vigorously opposes his every move.

“I fought fire with oil,” says Crassus. “I purchased the Senate behind his back.”  

Just as Crassus bought the Roman Senate in Spartacus, billionaires similarly bought the 2016 Presidential election.

In 2016, Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House of Representatives, ran as the pet candidate of casino billionaire Sheldon G. Adelson.

Since 2007, Adelson had spent millions in support of Gingrich and his causes.

Newt Gingrich

Adelson put up seed money and, ultimately, $7.7 million between 2006 and 2010 for a nonprofit group that served as a precursor to Gingrich’s presidential campaign.

Related image

Sheldon Adelson

Such a contribution is beyond the means of the average American. But Adelson is listed by Forbes as the eighth-wealthiest American, with a net worth of $21.5 billion.

Adelson denied any selfish motives for giving millions to a candidate for the most powerful office in the world:

“My motivation for helping Newt is simple and should not be mistaken for anything other than the fact that my wife Miriam and I hold our friendship with him very dear and are doing what we can as private citizens to support his candidacy.”

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney also relied heavily on a small group of millionaires and billionaires for support.

By February, 2012, a quarter of the money amassed by Romney’s campaign came from just 41 people. Each contributor gave more than $100,000, according to a Washington Post analysis of disclosure data. Nearly a dozen of the donors had contributed $1 million or more.

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Some of Romney’s biggest supporters included executives at Bain Capital, his former firm; bankers at Goldman Sachs; and a hedge fund mogul who made billions betting on the housing crash.

Four years later, in May, 2016, Adelson met privately with Republican Presidential nominee-in-waiting Donald Trump. 

Adelson promised to contribute more to secure Trump’s election than he had contributed to any previous campaign—up to and exceeding $100 million.  

Meanwhile, Trump bragged that he was “not beholden” to any “special interests” because “I’m really rich.”  This falsehood proved a main reason for his popularity as a candidate.

Related image

Donald Trump

Fast forward another three years—and a December 4, 2019 story in Fortune: “2020 Presidential Campaign Fundraising (and Spending) Are on Track to Smash Records.”

By then, Trump had raised $165.3 million.

But Democrats altogether had outstripped him with $475.6 million raised.

Among the largest Democratic money-raisers (in millions):

  • Bernie Sanders: $74.5
  • Elizabeth Warren: $60.3
  • Pete Buttigieg: $51.5
  • Tom Steyer: $49.6
  • Joe Biden: $37.8 

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg entered the race on November 24, 2019. Within a week he paid $57 million for TV ads.

His fellow billionaire Tom Steyer spent over $60 million since July, 2019.

The 2020 Presidential election proved the most expensive in American history—so far.

Joe Biden raised $1.06 billion. Donald Trump raised $0.80 billion.

All of this can be directly traced to the 2010 “Citizens United” decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that ended limits in corporate contributions to political campaigns. The decision is so named for the group that successfully sued over federal campaign finance laws.

The 5-4 decision led to the rise of Super PACs—outside groups affiliated with candidates that can take in unlimited contributions as long as they don’t directly coordinate with the candidate. The overwhelming majority of this money goes for negative ads—that slander opponents without saying anything about what a candidate proposes to do.

Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia brushed aside criticism of the corrupting role money played in politics: Change the channel or turn off the TV.

“I don’t care who is doing the speech—the more the merrier,” Scalia said. “People are not stupid. If they don’t like it, they’ll shut it off.”

On the contrary: A fundamental principle of propaganda holds that most people are stupid—or can be made to behave stupidly. If they are ceaselessly bombarded with mind-numbing lies, they will eventually substitute these for reality.  

During the early 1960s a series of movies about the Roman Empire—like Spartacus and Cleopatra—hit the big screen. In these, rich criminals like Marcus Crassus openly bought the favors of ambitious politicians like Julius Caesar.

No doubt millions of moviegoers thought, “Boy, I’m glad that couldn’t happen here.”

But it has happened here—and it’s happening right now.

THE CORRUPTIONS OF THE RICH: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on April 29, 2022 at 12:11 am

The gap between rich and poor in the United States has never been greater.

A May 1, 2018 article in Forbes—which bills itself as “The Capitalist Tool”—vividly documents this truth.

“In the 1950s, a typical CEO made 20 times the salary of his or her average worker. Last year, [2017] CEO pay at an S&P 500 Index firm soared to an average of 361 times more than the average rank-and-file worker, or pay of $13,940,000 a year, according to an AFL-CIO’s Executive Paywatch news release today.”

The average CEO pay climbed six percent in 2017—while the average production worker earned just $38,613, according to Executive Paywatch.

The average wage—adjusted for inflation—has stagnated for more than 50 years. Meanwhile, CEOs’ average pay since the 1950s has risen by 1000%.

This would not have been news to Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of modern political science. In his masterwork, The Discourses, he observed the human condition as that of constant struggle: 

Portrait of Niccolò Machiavelli by Santi di Tito.jpg

Niccolo Machiavelli

“It was a saying of ancient writers, that men afflict themselves in evil, and become weary of the good, and that both these dispositions produce the same effects. 

“For when men are no longer obliged to fight from necessity, they fight from ambition, which passion is so powerful in the hearts of men that it never leaves them, no matter to what height they may rise. 

“The reason for this is that nature has created men so that they desire everything, but are unable to attain it. Desire being thus always greater than the faculty of acquiring, discontent with what they have and dissatisfaction with themselves result from it. 

“This causes the changes in their fortunes—for as some men desire to have more, while others fear to lose what they have, enmities and war are the consequences. And this brings about the ruin of one province and the elevation of another.”

Author Walter Scheidel, Dickason Professor in the Humanities, Professor of Classics and History at Stanford University, has also given this subject a great deal of thought. And, like Machiavelli, he has reached some highly disturbing conclusions.

Walter Scheidel - Annual Meeting of the New Champions 2012.jpg

Walter Scheidel

World Economic Forum [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D

Scheidel gave voice to these in his 2017 book, The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Century. His thesis: Only violence and catastrophes have consistently reduced inequality throughout history

According to the book’s jacket blurb: Are mass violence and catastrophes the only forces that can seriously decrease economic inequality? To judge by thousands of years of history, the answer is yes.

“Tracing the global history of inequality from the Stone Age to today, Walter Scheidel shows that inequality never dies peacefully. Inequality declines when carnage and disaster strike and increases when peace and stability return.

Related image

“The Great Leveler is the first book to chart the crucial role of violent shocks in reducing inequality over the full sweep of human history around the world.

“Ever since humans began to farm, herd livestock, and pass on their assets to future generations, economic inequality has been a defining feature of civilization. Over thousands of years, only violent events have significantly lessened inequality.

“The ‘Four Horsemen’ of leveling—mass-mobilization warfare, transformative revolutions, state collapse, and catastrophic plagues—have repeatedly destroyed the fortunes of the rich….

“Today, the violence that reduced inequality in the past seems to have diminished, and that is a good thing. But it casts serious doubt on the prospects for a more equal future.”

Revolutionaries have known the truth of Scheidel’s findings from the gladiators’ revolt of Spartacus (73 – 71 B.C.) to the French Revolution (1789 – 1799) to the overthrow of the Czarist Romanov dynasty (1917).

But American politicians serenely ignore that truth. They depend on the mega-rich for millions of dollars in “campaign contributions”—which pay for self-glorifying ads on TV.

Thus, in 2016, American voters had a “choice” between two “love-the-rich” Presidential candidates: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. The result was that millions stayed home or voted in protest for third-party candidates who had no chance of winning.

In his 1975 book, The Corrupt Society: From Ancient Greece to Modern-day America, British historian Robert Payne warned that the predatory rich would not change their behavior: “Nor is there any likelihood that the rich will plow back their money into services to ensure the general good.

“They have rarely demonstrated social responsibility, and they are much more likely to hold on to their wealth at all costs than to renounce any part of it.

“Like the tyrant who lives in a world wholly remote from the world of the people, shielded and protected from all possible influences, the rich are usually the last to observe the social pressures rising from below, and when these social pressures reach flashpoint, it is too late to call in the police or the army.

“The tyrant dies; the police and the army go over to the revolutionaries; and the new government dispossesses the rich by decree. A single authoritative sentence suffices to expunge all private wealth and restore it to the service of the nation.”

For millions of struggling, impoverished Americans, that day cannot come soon enough.

THE CORRUPTIONS OF THE RICH: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on April 28, 2022 at 12:31 am

Americans are used to Presidential candidates telling lies (euphemistically known as “campaign promises”) to get elected.

But when a candidate actually (and usually accidentally) tells the truth, the results can be electrifying. And sometimes devastating for the candidate.

On June 18, 2019, Democratic Presidential candidate (and momentary front-runner) Joseph Biden addressed a roomful of donors in New York. 

The former Vice President believed that his message would comfort his well-heeled audience of billionaires: Don’t worry, if I’m elected, your standard of living won’t change.

Addressing the 100 or so guests at a fundraiser at the Carlyle Hotel in New York City, Biden said that he had taken heat from “some of the people on my team, on the Democratic side” because he had said that rich people were “just as patriotic as poor people.

Joe Biden presidential portrait.jpg

Joe Biden

“The truth of the matter is, you all, you all know, you all know in your gut what has to be done. We can disagree in the margins but the truth of the matter is it’s all within our wheelhouse and nobody has to be punished. No one’s standard of living will change, nothing would fundamentally change,” he said. 

And he added: “I mean, we may not want to demonize anybody who has made money.

Related image

“When we have income inequality as large as we have in the United States today, it brews and ferments political discord and basic revolution. Not a joke. Not a joke … It allows demagogues to step in and say the reason where we are is because of the ‘other’….

“You’re not the other. I need you very badly. I hope if I win this nomination, I won’t let you down. I promise you. I have a bad reputation, I always say what I mean. The problem is I sometimes say all that I mean.”

Biden had talked about decreasing income inequality and promoting workers’ rights. But he had also taken a moderate stance when it came to taxation.

United States Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT), on the other hand, has attacked the ultra-rich as responsible for the ever-widening gap between themselves and the poor.

“I love Bernie, but I’m not Bernie Sanders. I don’t think 500 billionaires are the reason why we’re in trouble,” Biden said in March, 2019.

Instead, he proposed expanding tax credits for the poor and middle class, and making the tax code less friendly to rich investors. 

Robert Payne, the distinguished British historian, took a different—and darker—view of the rich.

Payne authored more than 110 books. Among his subjects were Adolf Hitler, Ivan the Terrible, Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin, Vladimir Lenin, William Shakespeare and Leon Trotsky.

In 1975, he published The Corrupt Society: From Ancient Greece to Present-Day America. It proved a summary of many of his previous works.Related image

Among the epochs it covered: The civilizations of ancient Greece, Rome and China; Nazi Germany; the Soviet Union; and Watergate-era America. And the massive corruption each of those epochs had spawned.

Amazon.com: Robert Payne: Books, Biography, Blog, Audiobooks, Kindle

Robert Payne

In his chapter, “A View of the Uncorrupted Society,” Payne warned: Power and wealth are the main sources of corruption.

“The rich, simply by being rich, are infected with corruption. Their overwhelming desire is to grow richer, but they can do this only at the expense of those who are poorer than themselves.

”Their interests conflict with those of the overall society. They live sheltered from the constant anxieties of the poor, and thus cannot understand them.  Nor do they try to.”

They see the poor as alien from themselves, and thus come to fear and despise them. And their wealth and influence enables them to buy politicians—who, in turn, write legislation that protects the rich from the poor.

But Payne foresaw an even greater danger from the rich and powerful than their mere isolation from the rest of society: “The mere presence of the rich is corrupting. Their habits, their moral codes, their delight in conspicuous consumption are permanent affronts to the rest of humanity. Vast inequalities of wealth are intolerable in any decent society.”

Writing in 1975, Payne noted that a third of the private wealth was possessed by less than five percent of the population—while about a fifth of the populace lived at the poverty level. By 2000, he predicted, about five percent of the population would possess two-thirds of America’s wealth. And more than half the population would be near or below the starvation level. 

The result could only be catastrophe. The only way to halt this this increasing concentration of wealth by fewer people would be through law or violent revolution.

Payne has proven to be an uncanny prophet.

On December 8, 2017, the Seattle Times noted that the wealthiest one percent of Americans owned 40% of the country’s wealth. They owned more wealth than the bottom 90% combined. 

From 2013, the share of wealth owned by the one percent increased by nearly three percentage points. Wealth owned by the bottom 90%, meanwhile, fell over the same period.

But this situation need not remain permanent.

THE CORRUPTIONS OF THE RICH: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on December 21, 2021 at 12:11 am

The gap between rich and poor in the United States has never been greater.

A May 1, 2018 article in Forbes—which bills itself as “The Capitalist Tool”—vividly documents this truth.

“In the 1950s, a typical CEO made 20 times the salary of his or her average worker. Last year, [2017] CEO pay at an S&P 500 Index firm soared to an average of 361 times more than the average rank-and-file worker, or pay of $13,940,000 a year, according to an AFL-CIO’s Executive Paywatch news release today.”

The average CEO pay climbed six percent in 2017—while the average production worker earned just $38,613, according to Executive Paywatch.

The average wage—adjusted for inflation—has stagnated for more than 50 years. Meanwhile, CEOs’ average pay since the 1950s has risen by 1000%.

This would not have been news to Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of modern political science. In his masterwork, The Discourses, he observed the human condition as that of constant struggle: 

Portrait of Niccolò Machiavelli by Santi di Tito.jpg

Niccolo Machiavelli

“It was a saying of ancient writers, that men afflict themselves in evil, and become weary of the good, and that both these dispositions produce the same effects. 

“For when men are no longer obliged to fight from necessity, they fight from ambition, which passion is so powerful in the hearts of men that it never leaves them, no matter to what height they may rise.    

“The reason for this is that nature has created men so that they desire everything, but are unable to attain it. Desire being thus always greater than the faculty of acquiring, discontent with what they have and dissatisfaction with themselves result from it. 

“This causes the changes in their fortunes—for as some men desire to have more, while others fear to lose what they have, enmities and war are the consequences. And this brings about the ruin of one province and the elevation of another.”

Author Walter Scheidel, Dickason Professor in the Humanities, Professor of Classics and History at Stanford University, has also given this subject a great deal of thought. And, like Machiavelli, he has reached some highly disturbing conclusions.

Walter Scheidel - Annual Meeting of the New Champions 2012.jpg

Walter Scheidel

World Economic Forum [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D

Scheidel gave voice to these in his 2017 book, The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Century. His thesis: Only violence and catastrophes have consistently reduced inequality throughout history

According to the book’s jacket blurb: “Are mass violence and catastrophes the only forces that can seriously decrease economic inequality? To judge by thousands of years of history, the answer is yes.

“Tracing the global history of inequality from the Stone Age to today, Walter Scheidel shows that inequality never dies peacefully. Inequality declines when carnage and disaster strike and increases when peace and stability return.

Related image

“The Great Leveler is the first book to chart the crucial role of violent shocks in reducing inequality over the full sweep of human history around the world.

“Ever since humans began to farm, herd livestock, and pass on their assets to future generations, economic inequality has been a defining feature of civilization. Over thousands of years, only violent events have significantly lessened inequality.

“The ‘Four Horsemen’ of leveling—mass-mobilization warfare, transformative revolutions, state collapse, and catastrophic plagues—have repeatedly destroyed the fortunes of the rich….

“Today, the violence that reduced inequality in the past seems to have diminished, and that is a good thing. But it casts serious doubt on the prospects for a more equal future.”

Revolutionaries have known the truth of Scheidel’s findings from the gladiators’ revolt of Spartacus (73 – 71 B.C.) to the French Revolution (1789 – 1799) to the overthrow of the Czarist Romanov dynasty (1917).

But American politicians serenely ignore that truth. They depend on the mega-rich for millions of dollars in “campaign contributions”—which pay for self-glorifying ads on TV.

Thus, in 2016, American voters had a “choice” between two “love-the-rich” Presidential candidates: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. The result was that millions stayed home or voted in protest for third-party candidates who had no chance of winning.

In his 1975 book, The Corrupt Society: From Ancient Greece to Modern-day America, British historian Robert Payne warned that the predatory rich would not change their behavior: “Nor is there any likelihood that the rich will plow back their money into services to ensure the general good.

“They have rarely demonstrated social responsibility, and they are much more likely to hold on to their wealth at all costs than to renounce any part of it.

“Like the tyrant who lives in a world wholly remote from the world of the people, shielded and protected from all possible influences, the rich are usually the last to observe the social pressures rising from below, and when these social pressures reach flashpoint, it is too late to call in the police or the army.

“The tyrant dies; the police and the army go over to the revolutionaries; and the new government dispossesses the rich by decree. A single authoritative sentence suffices to expunge all private wealth and restore it to the service of the nation.”

For millions of struggling, impoverished Americans, that day cannot come soon enough.

THE CORRUPTIONS OF THE RICH: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on December 20, 2021 at 12:19 am

Americans are used to Presidential candidates telling lies (euphemistically known as “campaign promises”) to get elected.

But when a candidate actually (and usually accidentally) tells the truth, the results can be electrifying. 

On June 18, 2019, Democratic Presidential candidate (and momentary front-runner) Joseph Biden addressed a roomful of donors in New York. 

The former Vice President believed that his message would comfort his well-heeled audience of billionaires: Don’t worry, if I’m elected, your standard of living won’t change.

Addressing the 100 or so guests at a fundraiser at the Carlyle Hotel in New York City, Biden said that he had taken heat from “some of the people on my team, on the Democratic side” because he had said that rich people were “just as patriotic as poor people.

Joe Biden presidential portrait.jpg

Joe Biden

“The truth of the matter is, you all, you all know, you all know in your gut what has to be done. We can disagree in the margins but the truth of the matter is it’s all within our wheelhouse and nobody has to be punished. No one’s standard of living will change, nothing would fundamentally change,” he said. 

And he added: “I mean, we may not want to demonize anybody who has made money.

Related image

“When we have income inequality as large as we have in the United States today, it brews and ferments political discord and basic revolution. Not a joke. Not a joke … It allows demagogues to step in and say the reason where we are is because of the ‘other’….

“You’re not the other. I need you very badly. I hope if I win this nomination, I won’t let you down. I promise you. I have a bad reputation, I always say what I mean. The problem is I sometimes say all that I mean.”

Biden has talked about decreasing income inequality and promoting workers’ rights. But he’s taken a moderate stance when it comes to taxation.

United States Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT), on the other hand, has attacked the ultra-rich as responsible for the ever-widening gap between themselves and the poor.

“I love Bernie, but I’m not Bernie Sanders. I don’t think 500 billionaires are the reason why we’re in trouble,” Biden said in March, 2019.

Instead, he proposes expanding tax credits for the poor and middle class, and making the tax code less friendly to rich investors. 

Robert Payne, the distinguished British historian, took a different—and darker—view of the rich.

Payne authored more than 110 books. Among his subjects were Adolf Hitler, Ivan the Terrible, Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin, Vladimir Lenin, William Shakespeare and Leon Trotsky.

In 1975, he published The Corrupt Society: From Ancient Greece to Present-Day America. It proved a summary of many of his previous works.Related image

Among the epochs it covered: The civilizations of ancient Greece, Rome and China; Nazi Germany; the Soviet Union; and Watergate-era America. And the massive corruption each of those epochs had spawned.

Amazon.com: Robert Payne: Books, Biography, Blog, Audiobooks, Kindle

Robert Payne

In his chapter, “A View of the Uncorrupted Society,” Payne warned: Power and wealth are the main sources of corruption.

“The rich, simply by being rich, are infected with corruption. Their overwhelming desire is to grow richer, but they can do this only at the expense of those who are poorer than themselves.

”Their interests conflict with those of the overall society. They live sheltered from the constant anxieties of the poor, and thus cannot understand them.  Nor do they try to.

They see the poor as alien from themselves, and thus come to fear and despise them. And their wealth and influence enables them to buy politicians—who, in turn, write legislation that protects the rich from the poor.

But Payne foresaw an even greater danger from the rich and powerful than their mere isolation from the rest of society: “The mere presence of the rich is corrupting. Their habits, their moral codes, their delight in conspicuous consumption are permanent affronts to the rest of humanity. Vast inequalities of wealth are intolerable in any decent society.”

Writing in 1975, Payne noted that a third of the private wealth was possessed by less than five percent of the population—while about a fifth of the populace lived at the poverty level. By 2000, he predicted, about five percent of the population would possess two-thirds of America’s wealth. And more than half the population would be near or below the starvation level. 

The result could only be catastrophe. The only way to halt this this increasing concentration of wealth by fewer people would be through law or violent revolution.

Payne has proven to be an uncanny prophet.

On December 8, 2017, the Seattle Times noted that the wealthiest one percent of Americans owned 40% of the country’s wealth. They owned more wealth than the bottom 90% combined. 

From 2013, the share of wealth owned by the one percent increased by nearly three percentage points. Wealth owned by the bottom 90%, meanwhile, fell over the same period.

But this situation need not remain permanent.

THE RICH (LIKE THE PLAGUE) ARE WITH YOU ALWAYS: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on February 21, 2020 at 12:07 am

The gap between rich and poor in the United States has never been greater.

A May 1, 2018 article in Forbes—which bills itself as “The Capitalist Tool”—vividly documents this truth.

“In the 1950s, a typical CEO made 20 times the salary of his or her average worker. Last year, [2017] CEO pay at an S&P 500 Index firm soared to an average of 361 times more than the average rank-and-file worker, or pay of $13,940,000 a year, according to an AFL-CIO’s Executive Paywatch news release today.”

The average CEO pay climbed six percent in 2017—while the average production worker earned just $38,613, according to Executive Paywatch.

The average wage—adjusted for inflation—has stagnated for more than 50 years. Meanwhile, CEOs’ average pay since the 1950s has risen by 1000%.

This would not have been news to Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of modern political science. In his masterwork, The Discourses, he observed the human condition as that of constant struggle: 

Portrait of Niccolò Machiavelli by Santi di Tito.jpg

Niccolo Machiavelli

“It was a saying of ancient writers, that men afflict themselves in evil, and become weary of the good, and that both these dispositions produce the same effects. 

“For when men are no longer obliged to fight from necessity, they fight from ambition, which passion is so powerful in the hearts of men that it never leaves them, no matter to what height they may rise.    

“The reason for this is that nature has created men so that they desire everything, but are unable to attain it. Desire being thus always greater than the faculty of acquiring, discontent with what they have and dissatisfaction with themselves result from it. 

“This causes the changes in their fortunes—for as some men desire to have more, while others fear to lose what they have, enmities and war are the consequences. And this brings about the ruin of one province and the elevation of another.”

Author Walter Scheidel, Dickason Professor in the Humanities, Professor of Classics and History at Stanford University, has also given this subject a great deal of thought. And, like Machiavelli, he has reached some highly disturbing conclusions.

Walter Scheidel - Annual Meeting of the New Champions 2012.jpg

Walter Scheidel

World Economic Forum [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D

Scheidel gave voice to these in his 2017 book, The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Century. His thesis: Only violence and catastrophes have consistently reduced inequality throughout history

According to the book’s jacket blurb: “Are mass violence and catastrophes the only forces that can seriously decrease economic inequality? To judge by thousands of years of history, the answer is yes.

“Tracing the global history of inequality from the Stone Age to today, Walter Scheidel shows that inequality never dies peacefully. Inequality declines when carnage and disaster strike and increases when peace and stability return.

Related image

“The Great Leveler is the first book to chart the crucial role of violent shocks in reducing inequality over the full sweep of human history around the world.

“Ever since humans began to farm, herd livestock, and pass on their assets to future generations, economic inequality has been a defining feature of civilization. Over thousands of years, only violent events have significantly lessened inequality.

“The ‘Four Horsemen’ of leveling—mass-mobilization warfare, transformative revolutions, state collapse, and catastrophic plagues—have repeatedly destroyed the fortunes of the rich….

“Today, the violence that reduced inequality in the past seems to have diminished, and that is a good thing. But it casts serious doubt on the prospects for a more equal future.”

Revolutionaries have known the truth of Scheidel’s findings from the gladiators’ revolt of Spartacus (73 – 71 B.C.) to the French Revolution (1789 – 1799) to the overthrow of the Czarist Romanov dynasty (1917).

But American politicians serenely ignore that truth. They depend on the mega-rich for millions of dollars in “campaign contributions”—which pay for self-glorifying ads on TV.

Thus, in 2016, American voters had a “choice” between two “love-the-rich” Presidential candidates: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. The result was that millions stayed home or voted in protest for third-party candidates who had no chance of winning.

In his 1975 book, The Corrupt Society: From Ancient Greece to Modern-day America, British historian Robert Payne warned that the predatory rich would not change their behavior: “Nor is there any likelihood that the rich will plow back their money into services to ensure the general good.

“They have rarely demonstrated social responsibility, and they are much more likely to hold on to their wealth at all costs than to renounce any part of it.

“Like the tyrant who lives in a world wholly remote from the world of the people, shielded and protected from all possible influences, the rich are usually the last to observe the social pressures rising from below, and when these social pressures reach flashpoint, it is too late to call in the police or the army.

“The tyrant dies; the police and the army go over to the revolutionaries; and the new government dispossesses the rich by decree. A single authoritative sentence suffices to expunge all private wealth and restore it to the service of the nation.”

For millions of struggling, impoverished Americans, that day cannot come soon enough.

THE RICH (LIKE THE PLAGUE) ARE WITH YOU ALWAYS: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Politics, Social commentary on February 20, 2020 at 12:10 am

Americans are used to Presidential candidates telling lies (euphemistically known as “campaign promises”) to get elected.

But when a candidate actually (and usually accidentally) tells the truth, the results can be electrifying. 

On June 18, 2019, Democratic Presidential candidate (and momentary front-runner) Joseph Biden addressed a roomful of donors in New York. 

The former Vice President believed that his message would comfort his well-heeled audience of billionaires: Don’t worry, if I’m elected, your standard of living won’t change.

Addressing the 100 or so guests at a fundraiser at the Carlyle Hotel in New York City, Biden said that he had taken heat from “some of the people on my team, on the Democratic side” because he had said that rich people were “just as patriotic as poor people.

Joe Biden presidential portrait.jpg

Joe Biden

“The truth of the matter is, you all, you all know, you all know in your gut what has to be done. We can disagree in the margins but the truth of the matter is it’s all within our wheelhouse and nobody has to be punished. No one’s standard of living will change, nothing would fundamentally change,” he said. 

And he added: “I mean, we may not want to demonize anybody who has made money.

Related image

“When we have income inequality as large as we have in the United States today, it brews and ferments political discord and basic revolution. Not a joke. Not a joke … It allows demagogues to step in and say the reason where we are is because of the ‘other’….

“You’re not the other. I need you very badly. I hope if I win this nomination, I won’t let you down. I promise you. I have a bad reputation, I always say what I mean. The problem is I sometimes say all that I mean.”

Biden has talked about decreasing income inequality and promoting workers’ rights. But he’s taken a moderate stance when it comes to taxation.

United States Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT), on the other hand, has attacked the ultra-rich as responsible for the ever-widening gap between themselves and the poor.

“I love Bernie, but I’m not Bernie Sanders. I don’t think 500 billionaires are the reason why we’re in trouble,” Biden said in March, 2019.

Instead, he proposes expanding tax credits for the poor and middle class, and making the tax code less friendly to rich investors. 

Robert Payne, the distinguished British historian, took a different—and darker—view of the rich.

Payne authored more than 110 books. Among his subjects were Adolf Hitler, Ivan the Terrible, Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin, Vladimir Lenin, William Shakespeare and Leon Trotsky.

In 1975, he published The Corrupt Society: From Ancient Greece to Present-Day America. It proved a summary of many of his previous works.

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Among the epochs it covered: The civilizations of ancient Greece, Rome and China; Nazi Germany; the Soviet Union; and Watergate-era America. And the massive corruption each of those epochs had spawned.

In his chapter, “A View of the Uncorrupted Society,” Payne warned: Power and wealth are the main sources of corruption.

“The rich, simply by being rich, are infected with corruption. Their overwhelming desire is to grow richer, but they can do this only at the expense of those who are poorer than themselves.

”Their interests conflict with those of the overall society. They live sheltered from the constant anxieties of the poor, and thus cannot understand them.  Nor do they try to.

They see the poor as alien from themselves, and thus come to fear and despise them. And their wealth and influence enables them to buy politicians—who, in turn, write legislation that protects the rich from the poor.

But Payne foresaw an even greater danger from the rich and powerful than their mere isolation from the rest of society: “The mere presence of the rich is corrupting. Their habits, their moral codes, their delight in conspicuous consumption are permanent affronts to the rest of humanity. Vast inequalities of wealth are intolerable in any decent society.”

Writing in 1975, Payne noted that a third of the private wealth was possessed by less than five percent of the population—while about a fifth of the populace lived at the poverty level. By 2000, he predicted, about five percent of the population would possess two-thirds of America’s wealth. And more than half the population would be near or below the starvation level. 

The result could only be catastrophe. The only way to halt this this increasing concentration of wealth by fewer people would be through law or violent revolution.

Payne has proven to be an uncanny prophet.

On December 8, 2017, the Seattle Times noted that the wealthiest one percent of Americans owned 40% of the country’s wealth. They owned more wealth than the bottom 90% combined. 

From 2013, the share of wealth owned by the one percent increased by nearly three percentage points. Wealth owned by the bottom 90%, meanwhile, fell over the same period.

But this situation need not remain permanent.

ANCIENT ROME COMES TO AMERICAN POLITICS

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on December 10, 2019 at 12:08 am

The 1960 Kirk Douglas epic, Spartacus, has proven to be more than great entertainment. It has turned out to be a prophecy of the end of the American Republic.

In the movie, Spartacus (Douglas), a Roman slave, entertains Marcus Crassus (Laurence Oliver) the richest man in Rome. He does so by fighting to the death as a gladiator.

Poster for Spartacus

While Spartacus and his fellow gladiator/friend, Draba (Woody Strode), slash and stab at each other in the arena, Crassus idly chats with his crony, Marcus Glabrus (Jon Dall).

Crassus has just secured Glabrus’ appointment as commander of the garrison of Rome. Glabrus is grateful, but curious as to how he did it.

After all, Gaius Gracchus (Charles Laughton), the leader of the Roman Senate, hates Crassus, and vigorously opposes his every move.

“I fought fire with oil,” says Crassus. “I purchased the Senate behind his back.”  

Just as Crassus bought the Roman Senate in Spartacus, billionaires similarly bought the 2016 Presidential election.

In 2016, Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House of Representatives, ran as the pet candidate of casino billionaire Sheldon G. Adelson. Since 2007, Adelson had spent millions in support of Gingrich and his causes.

Newt Gingrich

Adelson put up seed money and, ultimately, $7.7 million between 2006 and 2010 for a nonprofit group that served as a precursor to Gingrich’s presidential campaign.

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Sheldon Adelson

Such a contribution is beyond the means of the average American. But Adelson is listed by Forbes as the eighth-wealthiest American, with a net worth of $21.5 billion.

Adelson denied any selfish motives for giving millions to a candidate for the most powerful office in the world:

“My motivation for helping Newt is simple and should not be mistaken for anything other than the fact that my wife Miriam and I hold our friendship with him very dear and are doing what we can as private citizens to support his candidacy.”

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney also relied heavily on a small group of millionaires and billionaires for support.

By February, 2012, a quarter of the money amassed by Romney’s campaign came from just 41 people. Each contributor gave more than $100,000, according to a Washington Post analysis of disclosure data. Nearly a dozen of the donors had contributed $1 million or more.

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Some of Romney’s biggest supporters included executives at Bain Capital, his former firm; bankers at Goldman Sachs; and a hedge fund mogul who made billions betting on the housing crash.

Four years later, in May, 2016, Adelson met privately with Republican Presidential nominee-in-waiting Donald Trump. 

Adelson promised to contribute more to secure Trump’s election than he had contributed to any previous campaign—up to and exceeding $100 million.  

Meanwhile, Trump bragged that he was “not beholden” to any “special interests” because “I’m really rich.”  This falsehood proved a main reason for his popularity as a candidate.

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Donald Trump

Fast forward another three years—and a December 4, 2019 story in Fortune: “2020 Presidential Campaign Fundraising (and Spending) Are on Track to Smash Records.”

Trump, as President, has so far raised $165.3 million.

But Democrats altogether have far outstripped him with $475.6 million raised.

Among the largest Democratic money-raisers (in millions):

  • Bernie Sanders: $74.5
  • Elizabeth Warren: $60.3
  • Pete Buttigieg: $51.5
  • Tom Steyer: $49.6
  • Joe Biden: $37.8 

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg entered the race on November 24. Within a week he paid $57 million for TV ads.

His fellow billionaire Tom Steyer has spent over $60 million since July,

All of this can be directly traced to the 2010 “Citizens United” decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that ended limits in corporate contributions to political campaigns. The decision is so named for the group that successfully sued over federal campaign finance laws.

The 5-4 decision led to the rise of Super PACs—outside groups affiliated with candidates that can take in unlimited contributions as long as they don’t directly coordinate with the candidate. The overwhelming majority of this money goes for negative ads—that slander opponents without saying anything about what a candidate proposes to do.

Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia brushed aside criticism of the corrupting role money played in politics: Change the channel or turn off the TV.

“I don’t care who is doing the speech—the more the merrier,” Scalia said. “People are not stupid. If they don’t like it, they’ll shut it off.”

On the contrary: A fundamental principle of propaganda holds that most people are stupid—or can be made to behave stupidly. If they are ceaselessly bombarded with mind-numbing lies, they will eventually substitute these for reality.  

In Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler laid out his formula for successful propaganda: “All effective propaganda must be confined to a few bare essentials.  

“These must be expressed as far as possible in stereotypical formulas. These slogans should be persistently repeated until the very last individual has come to grasp the idea that has been put forward.”

During the early 1960s a series of movies about the Roman Empire—like Spartacus and Cleopatra—hit the big screen. In these, rich criminals like Marcus Crassus openly bought the favors of ambitious politicians like Julius Caesar.

No doubt millions of moviegoers thought, “Boy, I’m glad that couldn’t happen here.”

But it has happened here—and it’s happening right now.

LOVE THE RICH, IGNORE THE REST: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on June 25, 2019 at 12:15 am

The gap between rich and poor in the United States has never been greater.

A May 1, 2018 article in Forbes—which bills itself as “The Capitalist Tool”—vividly documents this truth.

“In the 1950s, a typical CEO made 20 times the salary of his or her average worker. Last year, [2017] CEO pay at an S&P 500 Index firm soared to an average of 361 times more than the average rank-and-file worker, or pay of $13,940,000 a year, according to an AFL-CIO’s Executive Paywatch news release today.”

The average CEO pay climbed six percent in 2017—while the average production worker earned just $38,613, according to Executive Paywatch.

The average wage—adjusted for inflation—has stagnated for more than 50 years. Meanwhile, CEOs’ average pay since the 1950s has risen by 1000%.

This would not have been news to Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of modern political science. In his masterwork, The Discourses, he observed the human condition as that of constant struggle: 

Portrait of Niccolò Machiavelli by Santi di Tito.jpg

Niccolo Machiavelli

It was a saying of ancient writers, that men afflict themselves in evil, and become weary of the good, and that both these dispositions produce the same effects. 

For when men are no longer obliged to fight from necessity, they fight from ambition, which passion is so powerful in the hearts of men that it never leaves them, no matter to what height they may rise.    

The reason for this is that nature has created men so that they desire everything, but are unable to attain it. Desire being thus always greater than the faculty of acquiring, discontent with what they have and dissatisfaction with themselves result from it. 

This causes the changes in their fortunes—for as some men desire to have more, while others fear to lose what they have, enmities and war are the consequences. And this brings about the ruin of one province and the elevation of another.

Author Walter Scheidel, Dickason Professor in the Humanities, Professor of Classics and History at Stanford University, has also given this subject a great deal of thought. And, like Machiavelli, he has reached some highly disturbing conclusions.

Walter Scheidel - Annual Meeting of the New Champions 2012.jpg

Walter Scheidel

World Economic Forum [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D

He gave voice to these in his 2017 book, The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Century. His thesis: Only violence and catastrophes have consistently reduced inequality throughout history

According to the book’s jacket blurb: “Are mass violence and catastrophes the only forces that can seriously decrease economic inequality? To judge by thousands of years of history, the answer is yes.

“Tracing the global history of inequality from the Stone Age to today, Walter Scheidel shows that inequality never dies peacefully. Inequality declines when carnage and disaster strike and increases when peace and stability return.

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“The Great Leveler is the first book to chart the crucial role of violent shocks in reducing inequality over the full sweep of human history around the world.

“Ever since humans began to farm, herd livestock, and pass on their assets to future generations, economic inequality has been a defining feature of civilization. Over thousands of years, only violent events have significantly lessened inequality.

“The ‘Four Horsemen’ of leveling–mass-mobilization warfare, transformative revolutions, state collapse, and catastrophic plagues—have repeatedly destroyed the fortunes of the rich.

“Scheidel identifies and examines these processes, from the crises of the earliest civilizations to the cataclysmic world wars and communist revolutions of the twentieth century.

“Today, the violence that reduced inequality in the past seems to have diminished, and that is a good thing. But it casts serious doubt on the prospects for a more equal future.”

Revolutionaries have known the truth of Scheidel’s findings from the gladiators’ revolt of Spartacus (73-71 B.C.) to the French Revolution (1789 – 1799) to the overthrow of the Czarist Romanov dynasty (1917).

But American politicians serenely ignore that truth. They depend on the mega-rich for millions of dollars in “campaign contributions”—which pay for self-glorifying ads on TV.

Thus, in 2016, American voters had a “choice” between two “love-the-rich” Presidential candidates: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. The result was that millions stayed home or voted in protest for third-party candidates who had no chance of winning.

In his 1975 book, The Corrupt Society: From Ancient Greece to Modern-day America, British historian Robert Payne warned that the predatory rich would not change their behavior: “Nor is there any likelihood that the rich will plow back their money into services to ensure the general good.

“They have rarely demonstrated social responsibility, and they are much more likely to hold on to their wealth at all costs than to renounce any part of it.

“Like the tyrant who lives in a world wholly remote from the world of the people, shielded and protected from all possible influences, the rich are usually the last to observe the social pressures rising from below, and when these social pressures reach flashpoint, it is too late to call in the police or the army.

“The tyrant dies; the police and the army go over to the revolutionaries; and the new government dispossesses the rich by decree. A single authoritative sentence suffices to expunge all private wealth and restore it to the service of the nation.”

ANCIENT ROME IS AMERICA’S PRESENT–AND FUTURE

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Military, Politics, Social commentary on November 17, 2017 at 12:07 am

The 1960 Kirk Douglas epic, Spartacus may soon prove to be more than great entertainment. It may also turn out to be a prophecy of the end of the American Republic.

In the movie, Spartacus (Douglas), a Roman slave, entertains Marcus Crassus (Laurence Oliver) the richest man in Rome. He does so by fighting to the death as a gladiator.

Poster for Spartacus

While Spartacus and his fellow gladiator/friend, Draba, slash and stab at each other in the arena, Crassus idly chats with his crony, Marcus Glabrus.

Crassus has just secured Glabrus’ appointment as commander of the garrison of Rome.  Glabrus is grateful, but curious as to how he did it.

After all, Gaius Gracchus, the leader of the Roman Senate, hates Crassus, and stands ever ready to oppose his every move.

“I fought fire with oil,” says Crassus. “I purchased the Senate behind his back.”  

Draba defeats Spartacus in their gladiatorial bout, but refuses to kill him. Instead, he throws his spear at Crassus—and is immediately slaughtered by Roman guards.  

Soon afterward, Spartacus leads 70 other gladiators  against their Roman masters, forms an army of freed slaves, and marches against Rome.

Just as Crassus bought the Roman Senate in Spartacus, billionaires similarly bought the 2016 Presidential election.

In 2016, Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House of Representatives, ran as the pet candidate of casino billionaire Sheldon G. Adelson. Since 2007, Adelson had spent millions in support of Gingrich and his causes.

Newt Gingrich

Adelson put up seed money and, ultimately, $7.7 million between 2006 and 2010 for a nonprofit group that served as a precursor to Gingrich’s presidential campaign.

Related image

Sheldon Adelson

Such a contribution is no small amount to the average American. But Adelson is listed by Forbes as the eighth-wealthiest American, with a net worth of $21.5 billion.

Naturally, Adelson denied he had any selfish motives for shelling out so much money to a candidate for the most powerful office in the world:

“My motivation for helping Newt is simple and should not be mistaken for anything other than the fact that my wife Miriam and I hold our friendship with him very dear and are doing what we can as private citizens to support his candidacy.”

Unfortunately, Gingrich was not the only candidate of the rich, by the rich and for the rich seeking the Presidency.

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney relied heavily on a small group of millionaires and billionaires for support.

By February, 2012, a quarter of the money amassed by Romney’s campaign came from just 41 people. Each contributor gave more than $100,000, according to a Washington Post analysis of disclosure data. Nearly a dozen of the donors had contributed $1 million or more.

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Some of Romney’s biggest supporters included executives at Bain Capital, his former firm; bankers at Goldman Sachs; and a hedge fund mogul who made billions betting on the housing crash.

Like Adelson, Bain has directly profited from the losses of others.  

Fast forward to 2016:

In early May, Adelson met privately with Republican Presidential nominee-in-waiting Donald Trump. Nevertheless, at least this much has leaked: 

Adelson promised to contribute more to secure Trump’s election than he had contributed to any previous campaign—up to and exceeding $100 million.  

Meanwhile, Trump bragged that he was “not beholden” to any “special interests” because “I’m really rich.”  This myth proved a main reason for his popularity as a candidate.

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Donald Trump

All of this can be directly traced to the 2010 “Citizens United” decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that ended limits in corporate contributions to political campaigns. The decision is so named for the group that successfully sued over federal campaign finance laws.

The 5-4 decision led to the rise of Super PACs—outside groups affiliated with candidates that can take in unlimited contributions as long as they don’t directly coordinate with the candidate. The overwhelming majority of this money goes for negative ads—that slander opponents without saying anything about what a candidate proposes to do.

Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia brushed aside criticism of the corrupting role money played in politics: Change the channel or turn off the TV.

“I don’t care who is doing the speech—the more the merrier,” Scalia said. “People are not stupid. If they don’t like it, they’ll shut it off.”

On the contrary: A fundamental principle of propaganda holds that most people are stupid—or can be made to behave stupidly. If they are ceaselessly bombarded with mind-numbing lies, they will eventually substitute these for reality.  

In Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler laid out his formula for successful propaganda: “All effective propaganda must be confined to a few bare essentials.  

“These must be expressed as far as possible in stereotypical formulas.  These slogans should be persistently repeated until the very last individual has come to grasp the idea that has been put forward.”

During the early 1960s a series of movies about the Roman Empire—like Spartacus and Cleopatra—hit the big screen. In these, rich criminals like Marcus Crassus openly bought the favors of ambitious politicians like Julius Caesar.

No doubt millions of moviegoers thought, “Boy, I’m glad that couldn’t happen here.”

But it has happened here—and it’s happening right now.

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