The Extinction Rebellion Group offered food for thought at this year’s The Superyacht Forum event after turning up on the final day to protest against the existence of the industry. The group arrived at roughly 9:30am on Wednesday morning with a megaphone and banners to peacefully protest against the complicit behaviour of stakeholders in yachting – they also made it clear they would not be using superglue or tins of tomato soup. We invited the group on stage to speak candidly to the nucleus of the industry about their reasoning and motivations.
The following shows breakdowns of the wealth-quintiles — percentages of the wealth held by the nation’s households, all the way from the top fifth to the bottom fifth — in the “US$ Trillions” for each fifth — during the latter quarter (the “2021:Q2”), as is shown on that web-page:
Top 5th =Top 20% total $94.68T ($36.23T for top 1% + $58.45T for all of the next 19%)
So: the top 1% (the wealthiest 5% of the wealthiest 20%) held 38.3% of all the top fifth’s $94.68T.
Top 1% = 27% of all wealth.
(Bottom 1% wasn’t shown.)
Bottom 20% = 2.8% of all wealth.
Bottom 40% = 6.8%
Bottom 60% = 14.0%
Bottom 80% = 29.4%
Virtually all people who have the discretionary cash to be able to donate significantly to the politicians they favor are in the top fifth — the people who have 70.6% of all wealth. They dominate the nation’s political money. Almost all of the virtually bribes that fill political campaign-chests in America come from the richest 20% of Americans — and the top 1% contain all of the ‘king-makers.” And if you’re in the bottom 80% of wealth-holders in the U.S., you’re not represented, at all, in the U.S. Government.
The top 1% have vastly more, than rest of the top 20%, available to them to donate to their favored politicians, because these people — the top-one-percenters — hold the corporate board seats, and select the corporate executives who hire the congressional lobbyists to entertain and reward and hire the crucial congress-members so as to serve their corporations, and serve those top one-percenters who control all of those corporations. Included in these corporations are the ones that control all of the major, and most of the minor, news-media and that thereby shape the ‘knowledge’ and thus the views that most of the voters (in each Party) hold.
America has around a thousand billionaires, and they have control over so much discretionary cash as to be able to get Congress to not pass any bill that these super-rich oppose, and to pass many of the legislative bills that those super-rich want to become law. So, almost all of the thousand-or-so individuals who control the U.S. Government are billionaires. They especially control international corporations. Those few people dominate both Parties.
But they do it very much behind-the-scenes. In previous centuries, aristocrats were publicly known, by formal titles; but in today’s ‘democracies’, they are, instead, as hidden as they can be. They don’t want the public to know that the Government represents only them, because, otherwise, the Government’s saying that this or that foreign ‘dictatorship’ that poses no real threat to the national security of one’s own country, should be regime-changed, would have the citizens wonder, instead, “Isn’t it our nation’s regime that should be regime-changed first?” Any look at the ‘news’-media will make clear that they DON’T want THAT question to be in anybody’s mind. The message is instead always to regime-change the foreign leaders whom one’s own nation’s billionaires WANT to be regime-changed. That’s the way to get the public to be willing to fund (via their own taxes) the ‘Defense’ Department. Isn’t it un-‘patriotic’ to want to slash the spending on ‘defense’? Where did THAT idea come from?
Over images typical of fossil fuel company ads that have been accused of “greenwashing” their practices, a new viral video explains that oil giant Chevron is “actively murdering” people across the globe as it continues to extract fossil fuels despite warnings from climate and energy experts alike.
“We at Chevron believe there is nothing more precious than life,” the voiceover says over footage of a newborn baby and mother. “And the most precious life of all is the dead kind, that has been compressed for hundreds of millions of years under massive rocks until it magically becomes oil.”
The parody ad, which was released Thursday, goes on to show a wind power farm, a child’s birthday party, marine life, and a picturesque image of an oil rig at sunset as the narration explains that the oil it refines and sells as gasoline makes it possible for “a cool-ass tank” to “crush a clay hut” and an airplane to “take a businessman 3,000 miles to have dinner with someone, or whatever, all the while releasing greenhouse gases that are transforming the planet right this second.”
While the images displayed continue to show an idealized image of families, pets, and nature, viewers are assured that “we at Chevron straight-up don’t give a single fuck about you, your weird children, or your stupid, ratty-ass dog.”
The company also has “billions and billions of dollars,” the narrator says, “to pay for this commercial time, this cheesy footage, and this bullshit music, all so you’ll be lulled into a catatonic state that makes you forget one singular fact: Chevron is actively murdering you every day.”
The fake ad was released weeks after the U.K.-based group InfluenceMap revealed that the five largest fossil fuel companies—Chevron, BP, ExxonMobil, Shell, and TotalEnergies—spend a cumulative $750 million per year on public relations campaigns to make the corporations seem committed to climate action, while spending just 12% of their capital expenditures on low-carbon activities.
The parody, which was produced by film director Adam McKay, amounted to a “surprisingly honest” advertisement for Chevron, said the Climate Ad Project.
“Normally I’m anti-fossil fuel advertising, but this one should be watched by everyone on the planet,” said Jamie Henn, director of Fossil Free Media, which supports the movement to end fossil fuels by pushing back against industry propaganda.
Along with the video, McKay, who directed the climate crisis-themed satire Don’t Look Up last year, posted several doctored images of news coverage of Hurricane Ian, which killed at least 21 people when it devastated parts of Florida this week.
The images showed news outlets labeling the storm Hurricane Chevron, Hurricane Exxon, and Hurricane Shell, referring to scientists’ warnings that the continued extraction of fossil fuel is intensifying extreme weather events.
Republished. Common Dreams‘ work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
The Labour leader, Keir Starmer, is under pressure from campaigners, unions and his own MPs to set out plans for “wealth taxes” on the richest in society in order to support public services and help the poorest through the cost of living crisis.
As the government prepares to cut spending to fill an estimated £35bn black hole in the nation’s finances, calls are growing for higher taxes on the super-rich, many of whom have seen their fortunes soar during the pandemic.
Richard Burgon, the Labour MP for Leeds East, said: “While living standards are plummeting for most people, it’s been boom time for the super-rich, whose wealth has soared to record highs in recent years.”
Starmer, who is trying to position his party in the centre ground, has avoided committing to higher taxes on private incomes as Labour seeks to woo the City and businesspeople angry at the damage caused by the Conservatives’ mini-budget. But that approach is causing concern on his backbenches and more widely, with the Greens calling Labour “timid” on wealth.
Molly Scott Cato, the Green party’s spokesperson on finance, said: “The Tories have created a big hole the public finances but there is an obvious place to look to fill it: taxing the super-rich. Not only do they have the broadest shoulders but they also increased their wealth during the pandemic because of enforced savings.
“What is more surprising is to find Labour being so timid on wealth taxes. Their proposal to abolish non-dom status will only bring in a few billion while a proper wealth tax could yield tens of billions. We’ve now got two weeks for Labour to remember their egalitarian roots and support loud and growing calls for a wealth tax. Otherwise they will be colluding in the devastating cuts to public services that are being cooked up by the millionaires in Nos 10 and 11 Downing Street.”
You are welcome to disagree with any point although I contend that it is clear.
The climate is fekked. We’ve witnessed extreme weather events on every continent. The climate is fekked because governments worldwide refused to act and instead facilitated rich people – as corporate entities or individuals – fekking it.
Big oil has known for decades that it was fekking the planet and continued regardless.
Thousand of people have already died due to the climate getting destroyed by rich people and governments and thousands more will die. Governments are still failing to accept reality and address the climate crisis. Some have started to in small measure.
People should be held to account for their actions and inactions. People are likely to get killed over it whether legally i.e through a legally sanctioned death penalty, or not.
The US has historically had and the UK repeatedly has and continues to elect political leaders who are incompetent through imbecility.
We are going to suffer extreme food shortages due to the climate being fekked.
Everything is blamed on Russia. Ukraine is not the only place that grows food. Harvests throughout Europe have / will fail.
We should try to make sure that politicians responsible for fekking the climate and planet are not re-elected.
I’m sorry to say that it’s clearly going to get worse.
The richest 1% of the world’s people (those earning more than $172,000 a year) produce 15% of the world’s carbon emissions: twice the combined impact of the poorest 50%. On average, they emit over 70 tonnes of carbon dioxide per person every year, 30 times more than we can each afford to release if we’re not to exceed 1.5C of global heating. While the emissions of the world’s middle classes are expected to fall sharply over the next decade, thanks to the general decarbonisation of our economies, the amount produced by the richest will scarcely decline at all: in other words, they’ll be responsible for an even greater share of total CO2. Becoming good global citizens would mean cutting their carbon consumption by an average of 97%.
There’s an oft-quoted axiom, whose authorship is obscure: it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. Part of the reason is that capitalism itself is difficult to imagine. Most people struggle to define it, and its champions have generally succeeded in disguising its true nature. So let’s begin by imagining something that’s easier to comprehend: the end of concentrated wealth. Our survival depends on it.
I’ve come to believe that the most important of all environmental measures are wealth taxes. Preventing systemic environmental collapse means driving extreme wealth to extinction. It is not humanity as a whole that the planet cannot afford. It’s the ultra-rich.
Something to watch on the eve of huge energy price increases driving the cost of living crisis in UK
As the effects of the climate crisis are seen in global heatwaves and droughts, oil firms are booming
The last time prices rose this fast was 41 years ago. The last time the UK got through prime ministers this fast was the mid-1970s. The last time there was open war between major European powers was in 1945. The last time the Northern Hemisphere was this hot was probably 125,000 years ago.
Yet the FTSE 100 is worth more than ever, corporate profits are higher than ever, there are more British billionaires than ever. And oil companies are richer than ever.
If we took climate change seriously, the petroleum industry would be bankrupt. These firms borrow billions against the future value of reserves they are yet to drill, but atmospheric physics demands we can’t burn that carbon if we wish civilisation to survive.
If our modern societies are to continue to exist in recognisable form, oil companies’ assets are worthless. And if we aren’t, they are still worthless.
But in reality, fossil fuel giants are doing better than ever. Last week, Shell said it expected to revise upwards the value of oil and gas assets it had previously written down, causing its share prices to leap for joy.
In May, oil exporter Saudi Aramco overtook Apple as the most valuable company in the world – the most valuable in human history. This week, just months after pretending to take the climate emergency seriously at COP26, Joe Biden has gone to fist bump Saudi’s narco-in-chief and beg him to pump more death into capitalism’s veins.
Meanwhile, as temperatures across England rise above levels with which human homeostasis can cope, the climate crisis collides with the health crisis.
Crushed by a dozen years of Tory austerity and the government’s incompetent response to COVID, NHS waiting lists are already at an all-time high. Accident and Emergency units are “on the fringe of collapse”, with ambulances queueing up outside hospitals, unable to hand over their patients. This means that over the next few days – when experts predict we will see up to ten thousand excess deaths as a result of the heatwave – vast numbers of people will likely spend time cooking in ambulances.
And with world food supplies already shaken by the war in Ukraine, the heatwave also means worsening global hunger.
Food and agriculture billionaires, on the other hand, raised their collective wealth by 45% over the past two years, while global food giant Cargill posted a 63% increase in its profits for last year, the best haul in its nearly 160-year history.
With politics in crisis, people are increasingly realising that they are going to have to fight for the future.
As the world moves out of pandemic mode (if not actually out of the pandemic), we’re entering a new phase of global capitalism.
For big businesses and billionaires, the ‘omnicrisis’ presents a perfect opportunity for disaster capitalism: use the overwhelming sense that everything is on fire to plunder: wrack up prices while keeping wages down, extract, extract, extract, extract.
But this isn’t the inevitable future. The faint echo of promises to ‘build back better’ may have disappeared, and, with politics in crisis, people are increasingly realising that they are going to have to fight for that future.
In Britain, more and more unions are voting to strike against the plunder. As concern about the climate crisis grows, so will action against those driving it. Distrust of our broken politics has deepened, creating a deep volatility.
A vast political fight over what comes next has arrived, just as the Labour Party has abandoned the field and, in the coming months, we can expect something else to rush into that space.
Rich as fekk, privately educated at ridiculously expensive public schools, owns many properties worldwide, cut benefits, helped cause the 2008 financial crisis, has a hedge-fund company called Theleme ! registered in the Caymen Islands, unknown business dealings, his missus Murty is richer than the Queen, has strong links to right-wing think-tanks, employs slick PR.
Last week, in a largely unreported decision, Rishi Sunak quietly announced that private equity owned companies would now be eligible for government bailout loans.
This means that fabulously rich private investors like Blackstone, CVC Capital Partners, Apax Partners, Permira Adviors, and Bridgepoint will have access to government business support schemes such as the coronavirus business interruption loan scheme (CBILS) and coronavirus large business interruption loan scheme (CLBILS).
In many ways, this aligns with the government’s broader strategy towards COVID support schemes: they are primarily designed to support ‘business’. And this means that although some jobs may or may not be saved, this is incidental. The main aim is to preserve the corporate economy.
Overall the Budget seems designed to fuel a two-tier recovery, where the winners from the pandemic prosper at the expense of everyone else. Ultimately, the effect is to shift the cost of the pandemic onto those who can afford it least. In practice this is disproportionately the young, women and ethnic minorities.
Jeremy Corbyn, the former Labour leader, has teamed up with direct action campaigners to form a new “red/green” climate and social justice movement which aims to stage a “major wave of popular mass action” later this year.
Corbyn’s Peace and Justice Project, which he set up in 2021, is joining forces with Just Stop Oil campaigners who have staged a series of disruptive climate actions over the past six months.
The new movement – which also includes trade unionists, civil society organisations and leftwing activists – argues that the current “destructive economic model” is the root cause of the cost of living crisis as well as the climate crisis.
Lawrence Leather, 22 a spokesperson for Just Stop Oil, said:
“It’s been over a year since Sir David King, the former UK chief scientific adviser warned the ‘next three to four years will determine the future of humanity”. But still the government refuses to do anything.
“As the climate breaks down, the cost of everything will rise. That’s why we want to bring together the broadest coalition we can, including the trade unions, Britain’s biggest social movement, around concrete demands that decarbonise and put money back in people’s pockets.
“We are encouraging everyone to step up now and join the movement. The politicians won’t save us. It’s on us to change history. Their time is up. Our time is now.”
Jeremy Corbyn, the founder of the Peace and Justice Project, said:
“Movements are the motor of change in history. When we come together, we can transform the world. And we must because those in power – the fossil fuel giants, the billionaires and the governments they own – are picking our pockets and stealing our future.
“That’s the crisis. You can’t separate out the cost of living and climate crises. The whole system, which creates billionaires and starves hundreds of millions, is the crisis. It can’t be resolved, it must be overcome and transformed.”
What can we do about our oligarchy in the United States? President Biden’s blueprint for ones in Russia is a good place to start.
Republished from Common Dreams under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0) licence. Note by dizzy: There’s a photo of Jeff Bezo’s superyacht at the original article. He’s got a new one now of course requiring an historic bridge to be dismantled in Rotterdam.
12/3/22 ed: I’ve emphasized one paragraph in red typeface. That part is particularly important showing that we do not live in democracy. 13/3/22 The West is imposing it’s model of oligarchs on Russia by imposing sanctions. Western oligarchs control and dictate to Western governments but that’s not the case in Russia.
Tonight I say to the Russian oligarchs and corrupt leaders who have bilked billions of dollars off this violent regime: no more.
The U.S. Department of Justice is assembling a dedicated task force to go after the crimes of Russian oligarchs.
We are joining with our European allies to find and seize your yachts, your luxury apartments, your private jets. We are coming for your ill-begotten gains.
With these words, the president unintentionally laid out a blueprint for responding to the American oligarchs, superpredators who dwarf their Russian counterpoints in wealth and political power.
America’s oligarchs, like their Russian counterparts, have bilked billions—no, make that trillions—from their own regime.
Oligarchs in a Violent Regime
About that “violent regime” business: It’s possible to condemn the violence perpetrated by Russia’s government while at the same time recognizing and condemning of our own. Our direct attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan, among other countries, have been matched by the proxy violence we have funded in nations like Palestine and Syria. Our sanctions have taken countless lives around the world, a form of bloodshed we pretend isn’t warfare.
America’s oligarchs, like their Russian counterparts, have bilked billions—no, make that trillions—from their own regime. Some of their bilking comes directly from its violence, in the form of “defense” contracts to entities like Halliburton, Lockheed Martin, and the Carlyle Group.
A 2014 Princeton political science study showed that government actions nearly always conform to the wishes of wealthy and powerful US elites. “Our central finding was this: Economic elites and interest groups can shape U.S. government policy — but Americans who are less well off have essentially no influence over what their government does,” wrote co-authors Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page.
America’s oligarchical influence extends from healthcare and fossil fuels to the industry of war itself. American companies account for more than half of all arms sales worldwide. The Center for Responsive Politics reports that “in the past two decades, (the arms industry’s) extensive network of lobbyists and donors have directed $285 million in campaign contributions and $2.5 billion in lobbying spending to influence defense policy.”
Arms manufacturers (more commonly known by the Orwellian appellation, “defense industry”) shrewdly concentrate on hiring ex-government officials to advance their agenda and pump up their “ill-begotten gains.” This ensures that their interests are represented by people who know the officials they’re lobbying. Even more importantly, it puts those officials on notice that there is a lucrative future in store for them if they play along. Arms oligarchs have hired more than 200 lobbyists who, in the report’s words, “have worked in the same government that regulates and decides funding for the industry.”
Arms manufacturers played a dominant role under Trump, but are also well-represented in the Biden Administration:
While Biden has touted strict ethics rules that attempt to thwart the influence of lobbyists on the administration, several of his earliest appointees, including Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken consulted for a private equity firmthat emphasized its “access, network and expertise” in the defense industry. Austin also had a seat on the United Technologies and Raytheon board, earning more than $250,000 from the now merged companies.
It’s not just the arms industry, of course. Other oligarchs have bilked the people of the United States in more creative ways. Jeff Bezos built his Amazon empire off his ability to sell products online without charging sales tax. This government-granted loophole made him an oligarch, a position he has used to further cement his power and influence. He has purchased the most influential paper in the nation’s capital—an oligarch’s move if there ever was one—while constantly extending his monopolistic power into new markets.
Despite the fact that he already possessed great wealth, Elon Musk has received billions in subsidies and contracts for his automobile and space ventures. Bill Gates parlayed a government contract and some aggressive patent strategies into his own oligarchical status. Insurance executives have bilked billions from the violence of our privatized healthcare system, which takes an estimated 45,000 lives per year.
Money, of course, is only part of an oligarch’s wealth. President Biden also mentioned the property that belongs to Russian oligarchs: “your yachts, your luxury apartments, your private jets. We are coming for your ill-begotten gains.” (He meant “ill-gotten,” but I suppose you could call such malapropisms part of Biden’s charm.)
If a “supertax” were levied against America’s oligarchs by the federal government, it would produce as much as $755 billion in revenue.
Russians own an estimated 7-10 percent of the world’s superyachts, leaving plenty for their American counterparts. Luxury apartments? Check out “New York Condo Sells for Close to $190 Million; Hedge-Fund Billionaire Doubles His Money.” Private jets? Jeffrey Immelt, job outsourcer and financial predator at GE, used to taketwo jetswhen he traveled so that he’d have a spare—and charged it back to GE’s shareholders.
Little Oligarchs, Big Oligarchs
We’re told that the Russians whose yachts have been seized include Alisher Usmanov, whose net worth is $20 billion, and Alexei Mordashov, whose wealth is described as “nearly” $30 billion. Compare that with Elon Musk, who’s worth nearly $300 billion, or Jeff Bezos at $202 billion. These guys are pikers.
Globally, in the US-led world financial order, billionaires have gained $5 trillion in wealth since the pandemic began. Think of our economic leadership as a “global endowment for oligarchy.” Oxfam reports that the ten richest men in the world (yes, they’re all men) own more wealth than the bottom 3.1 billion people (“six times more, in fact”). Oxfam also notes that “if the 10 richest men”—nine of whom live in the US—”lost 99.999% of their combined wealth, they would still be richer than 99% of the world.”
Now that’s oligarchy.
Making a Killing
No industry has taken more advantage of government-granted patent monopolies than Big Pharma. Even when its oligarchs misled the country into an opioid epidemic—one of the largest mass-casualty events in American history—they are able to escape criminal culpability for their actions.
Then came Covid-19. As Forbes reported in January, US billionaires held an estimated $3.5 trillion before the pandemic struck, a figure that reached nearly $5.3 trillion two years later. That’s $1.8 trillion in gains, divided among only twenty oligarchs. Musk led the pack, with Bezos in second place. The billionaires’ list is a cavalcade of monopolists and speculators whose wealth has been fueled by their government’s benign view of their predatory business practices.
Once the pandemic hit, Big Pharma’s oligarchs were able to parlay their political power into exclusive patent rights for Covid-19 vaccines. Moderna made $17.7 billion from its vaccine in 2021 and anticipates making $22 billion this year, from a formula developed with $2.5 billion in funding commitments from the US government. The money from these government-granted profits could vaccinate the entire world, but they’ve been used to enrich shareholders instead. That’s oligarchy.
Restoring the Balance
What can Americans do about their oligarchy? President Biden’s blueprint is a good place to start. A “dedicated task force to go after the crimes of American oligarchs” is an excellent place to start. It could address questions such as:
1. Why have nine American billionaires acquired more than $755 billion during the Covid pandemic, while so many other people struggled?
2. What role did government and central bank policy play in this enrichment?
3. What unethical or illegal actions, if any, were undertaken in amassing this wealth?
4. What effect will these levels of economic inequality have on social justice, political power, social mobility, and the rights of consumers and workers?
5. Is there any reason why this money should not be taxed at 99 or 100 percent?
Item #4 would not be unprecedented. It would revive a proposal from President Franklin D. Roosevelt for a “100 percent war supertax” on extremely high incomes and would echo the 94 percent top tax rate passed during World War II. (The top marginal tax rate stayed above 90 percent for the next two decades.)
We certainly face a World War-level emergency. Oxfam observes that “a 99% windfall tax on the COVID-19 wealth gains of the 10 richest men could pay for enough vaccines to vaccinate the entire world and fill financing gaps in climate measures, universal health and social protection, and efforts to address gender-based violence in over 80 countries, while still leaving these men $8bn better off than they were before the pandemic.”
I don’t hate these oligarchs. I see them.
If a “supertax” were levied against America’s oligarchs by the federal government, it would produce as much as $755 billion in revenue. That’s enough to pay for the original, ten-year “Build Back Better” proposal—twice.
To See, and to Act
It’s striking that the current debate about American democracy ignores its biggest antagonist: the oligarchs who have undermined the political process and drained the nation of its wealth. Restraining the oligarchs would help build true democracy. It would be good politics, too.
“We know from polling that (anti-oligarchical) policies and rhetoric like these are wildly popular,” writes Eleanor Eagan of the Revolving Door Project. “In our deeply divided country, anger at elite impunity and a desire to see it end are among the rare uniting forces that we have left.”
Not that we can expect an anti-oligarchical agenda from this government any time soon. Politicians know that America’s oligarchs, unlike Russia’s, have the ability to crush their careers at any time. But the rest of us are free to speak out and demand an end to oligarchical rule anywhere in the world. Our condemnation of other country’s oligarchs will ring hollow until we do.
Someone once asked me, “Why do you hate billionaires?” The answer is, I don’t. I’ve met a few, and they were always sociable enough (unless you worked for them). I don’t hate these oligarchs. I see them. As we build the anti-oligarchical movement here in the US, Noah Liebman’s handy browser add-on (for Firefox only) helps everyone see them. It replaces the word “billionaire” with “oligarch” on every web page, producing headlines like “Bloomberg’s Oligarch Index,” “Forbes’ Oligarchs 2021,” “Inside the Financial Holdings of Oligarch Betsy DeVos” … you get the idea.
Another headline now reads, “Oligarch investor Bill Ackman says Russia’s attack on Ukraine means World War III has ‘likely already started.'” Maybe it has, or maybe it will start soon. The best way to prevent it is by eliminating all oligarchies, foreign or domestic, and replacing them with genuine democracy.
Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Richard (RJ) Eskow is a freelance writer. Much of his work can be found on eskow.substack.com. His weekly program, The Zero Hour, can be found on cable television, radio, Spotify, and podcast media. He is a senior advisor with Social Security Works.