Priorities: Oklahoma definitely has some.

 

 

Just the other day, Oklahoma officials ordered a $235 million cut to state agencies in the wake of their second epic revenue failure. Apparently, Governor Mary Fallin and her merry band of conservative shitweasels in the state legislature passed into law a bunch of exemptions and tax cuts for Oklahoma’s richest people, thereby blowing a billion dollar hole in the budget. Now, of course, it’s time to replace those funds by (a) increasing taxes on middle- and lower-income people, and (by) defunding essential services, especially poor and rural communities. Always remember people, that whenever conservative policies fail (i.e. always), that can only mean one thing: we need more of them. THAT’S HOW LOGIC WORKS.

How bad is it? Well,

“Our schoolchildren are the ones who will pay the steepest price,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister. She said the cuts will force many school districts in rural areas to go to a four-day school week and consider “heartbreaking decisions” that will affect students in the classroom.

Also:

Already the Republican-controlled Legislature has diverted millions of dollars previously earmarked for new textbooks and other educational materials to school operating expenses; as a result, many schools are using tattered textbooks that are as much as 10 years old and held intact with tape. In addition, class sizes have increased dramatically because of a chronic teacher shortage in Oklahoma while enrollment has grown by 51,000 students over the past eight years, and schools have been burdened with myriad mandates, [House Minority Leader Scott] Inman related.

To make the education funding crisis even worse, the governor endorsed education vouchers, which would “siphon off” public funds from public schools and reroute it to private schools.

In addition to her voucher plan, the governor suggested closure of more than 100 of Oklahoma’s rural schools…

What about health care?

The Oklahoma Health Care Authority [OHCA], for example, has had its budget cut by $446 million in the past five years and has reduced provider rates. These cuts have a ripple effect across the state “as they impact providers, especially in areas where the majority of the population is Medicaid-eligible, and they jeopardize rural hospitals that are at risk of bankruptcy,” Inman said.

The OHCA administers health care programs for more than 800,000 Oklahomans, including more than half a million children.

Rep. Earl Sears, chairman of the powerful House Appropriations and Budget Committee said “We’re just all going to have to weather that storm.” Some people more than others.

Meanwhile, just yesterday:

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) —Any physician who performs an abortion would be unable to obtain a license to practice medicine in Oklahoma under a measure the state Senate approved overwhelmingly Tuesday over the objection of some Democrats who insisted the measure is unconstitutional.

The bill directs Oklahoma medical licensure officials not to renew or grant a license to any physician who performs an abortion. It also provides that any doctor who has performed an abortion can be prohibited from obtaining a medical license.

Senate Democratic Leader John Sparks said of SB 1552, “It will be defeated in the courts at a cost to Oklahoma, and it will have no impact, other than political.” Of course its impact is strictly political, Senator Sparks—that’s the entire point of the exercise. Sparks was able to amend the bill to require disclosure of the cost of defending a blatantly unconstitutional law in court. And it won’t be the first time Oklahoma lawmakers have racked up that taxpayer tab:

A New York abortion rights group has filed seven legal challenges in the last five years to various anti-abortion laws passed by the Oklahoma Legislature, and most of those laws have been overturned by the courts. Some legal challenges are still pending.

GO NEW YORK! Also: behold fiscally responsible conservatives!

Sounds like the scene at the Oklahoma Senate was quite a spectacle, too. Some Forced Birther named John Reasnor was urging the senators to make it a felony to perform an abortion, which he defended by saying “I think it’s a Christian obligation to seek out mercy for the least of us.”

He seems nice. And very concerned about women, too, whose lives surely do not merit anywhere near as much mercy as “the least of us.” A Christian and a gentleman!

The sponsor of SB 1552, Republican Sen. Nathan Dahm, was applauded by all the Forced Birthers packing the gallery when he said the intent of the bill was to “protect the life of the unborn,” and that “I think this is one of the core functions of government.”

But not education or healthcare, obviously. Those need to be privatized, because Jeezus. Or something.

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Please welcome to the Abattoir 40 Oklahoma state senators. We have unlicensed physicians on hand to perform all of their involuntary organ extractions. Or they can opt to DIY instead, with whatever’s at hand. Allow us to suggest a coat hanger, senators.

coathanger

Caleb Maupin at the Trade Union Center of Brazil. UPDATED [video].

UPDATE: The video is now available.

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I had been working on something to post today when I received an email from my colleague Jeff Brown at The Greanville Post, forwarding the text of this recent speech by Caleb Maupin in Brazil. It’s long, but well worth the read.

Caleb Maupin is a USian journalist and activist living in New York, whose work focuses on police brutality, mass incarceration, imperialist war and global capitalism.

A couple things came to mind as I read this. First is the fact that the US taxpayer subsidizes the fossil fuel industry to the tune of $700 billion a year. That figure, by the way, comes from those notorious lefty pinkos over at the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Second is the fact that the US military is the single largest consumer of fuel in the world.

Third is this recent article: The Clinton-Backed Honduran Regime Is Picking Off Indigenous Leaders, remarkable only because it appears prominently in The Nation. That publication, which fancies itself super savvy and uber-liberal but is in reality a predictably banal tool of the neoliberal status quo—has endorsed Bernie Sanders for president, so the anti-Clinton framing isn’t surprising. (I guess this makes them revolutionaries now? Whatever.) No, what’s remarkable about it appearing in The Nation is that an attempt to construct a hit piece on Clinton actually reveals how our government operates, has always operated, would have operated whether or not Hillary Clinton was the Secretary of State at the time and—barring some extraordinarily unlikely turns of events—will continue to operate no matter who wins the next presidential election(s). It’s actually kind of hilarious.

Last, Loyal Readers™ know I am not exactly a fan of conspiracy theories; I believe human behavior, culture and politics can almost always be better explained by emergent properties of various systems and environments, much more akin to the unguided processes of biological evolution than to events specifically directed by nefarious villains and Sooper Secret evil cabals. For one thing, no one thinks themselves a terrible person acting strictly out of greed or malice. Not even Hitler th0ught that. But sometimes, what we might call conspiracies, perhaps for lack of a better word, really are operating in plain sight. And regardless of how they came into being (emergent properties goddammit!) it would be foolish if not impossible to deny their existence.

The question, then, naturally becomes what can be done about them. In my view, virtually the only thing that can diminish a dominant system of power in the modern world is another dominant system of power, whose interests happen to be in conflict (usually temporarily). For a recent example, consider the ramifications of Apple’s battle against the FBI and the National Security State. Amassing such power for the presently powerless becomes a necessary first step, and Caleb Maupin offers some insights and suggestions as to how to accomplish that. It would, however, be foolish to forget what those dominant systems of power are perfectly willing and capable of doing to be sure that it never, ever happens. See, e.g., that Nation article linked above.

When the video of his speech becomes available, I will update this post.

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Oil Price Manipulation and the Global Capitalist Crisis


calebmaupin

Presentation given by Caleb Maupin at the Second Congress of the Trade Union Center of Brazil, February 25, 2016 in Brasilia.

It such a deep honor to be here in Brazil, at a conference of labor leaders.

I’ve always had the utmost respect and admiration for organized labor.

I know that I’m looking out into an audience of brilliant minds, experts, people who are very skilled, and who have carefully refined the art of organizing the working people of Brazil to fight for justice.

I’m invited here today, from what I understand, because of my expertise in the field of economics and politics. I’m going to speak about the global economy, the price of oil, and what can be done. I thank you for the invitation.

I want people to sit back in your seat, relax, and get comfortable. Take a few deep breaths. I’m going to hit you with a lot of information in the next hour and a half, but I think it will clarify a lot of things.

I know there are a lot of things going on in Brazilian politics which are directly linked to oil. I’m not going to directly comment on these things. I’m going to talk about the global economy, and put everything in context.

Oil Bankers: The Richest People in the World

Who is the richest person in the world? The international media often tries to answer that question for us. Names get floated around like Bill Gates, Carlos Slim, Warren Buffet — sometimes they’ll mention an Arab sultan or prince. Forbes magazine publishes a list of the richest people in the world.

All of this utter nonsense.

Bill Gates, Carlos Slim, Warren Buffet, the king of Saudi Arabia, all of these people are poor men compared to the ones who have real power. These people are listed as the richest people in the world, because they are so poor, that they have all of their money listed in their own name.

Those who are really rich, those with the most wealth, power and influence, have astronomical amounts of wealth, often so much money that their total net worth cannot even be calculated.

The richest people in the world can be described in two words: oil bankers.

The House of Rockefeller, the House of Morgan, the Carnegies, the Rothschilds, the Mellons, the Du Ponts — these oil and banking dynasties sit at the center of a small network of deeply entrenched power and influence, dominating the economies of the United States and western Europe, and most of the rest of the planet.

Let’s take the most powerful family of oil bankers, the Rockefellers, as a case study.

When Nelson Rockefeller, one of the many heirs of John D. Rockefeller and the Standard Oil cartel of the 1880s, was being questioned by the US Congress in 1974, some of the most brilliant investigative reporters, journalists, and economists assembled to cover the hearing.

Among them, none of them could determine exactly how much money Nelson Rockefeller really had.

In his own name, Mr. Rockefeller personally had a few billion dollars. The rest of his money was tied up in an elaborate network — thousands of trusts, small corporations, and foundations he controlled.

When testifying before Congress, Nelson Rockefeller was asked about his control of Chase Manhattan Bank. He testified, honestly, “I don’t own a single share of Chase Manhattan Bank.” He was telling the truth. He personally did not have a single cent invested in Chase. However, one of the trusts he controlled owned well over 325,000 shares of stock in Chase Manhattan Bank.

That was back in the 1970s. Today the wealth and influence of one of two most powerful oil-banking cliques is combined. The House of Rockefeller holds control of the largest super-major oil company, Exxon-Mobil, as its personal property. In addition, this powerful family jointly controls an entity called JP Morgan-Chase with the Morgans, another powerful family in the United States. JP Morgan Chase is the largest banking entity in the entire world.

The Morgans, now partnered with the Rockefellers, are descendants of an infamous Wall Street legend named JP Morgan. Not only do the Rockefellers and Morgans control JP Morgan Chase, they also control a company called General Electric, the sixth-largest firm in the United States.

There is no key aspect of the global economy that the oil bankers haven’t put their stamp on, and tried very hard to craft in their own interest. General Electric ranks 21st among corporations contracted by the US military. This entity controlled by the Rockefellers and Morgans has over 6,674 contracts with the Pentagon, bringing in over $2 billion a year in US military projects alone. You can be sure that the US military brass is very concerned about making sure that the Rockefellers and the Morgans are happy with whatever decision they make.

Furthermore, the global media conglomerate called NBC Universal, which includes MSNBC and Comcast, is openly controlled by General Electric.

Universal Studios, one of the “big six” in Hollywood, is also their property as well.

Most art museums in the United States are directly linked to Rockefeller foundations, if not directly controlled by them — like the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Without the direct approval of the Rockefellers, we may never have known the names Andy Warhol or Jackson Pollock.

Almost every major college and university in the United States depends on money from Rockefeller-controlled foundations, a relationship that puts academia under the direct control of the oil bankers.

More interestingly, the US Central Intelligence Agency crafts its policies and conducts its research with a private foundation called the Council on Foreign Relations. Exxon-Mobil and variety of Rockefeller Foundations, along with the Ford Foundation, completely bankroll this powerful institution of academics and former US elected officials.

The Council on Foreign Relations, controlled by oil bankers, is essentially the brain of the CIA. The smartest minds in the United States are paid six-figure salaries to carefully make proposals and calculations about how the United States should wield its influence around the world. Put simply, the Council on Foreign Relations thinks it up, but the CIA does it.

And even the manner in which the CIA operates around the world is directly accountable to the Rockefeller, Morgan, and Ford dynasties. The CIA does very little work on its own. CIA agents aren’t generally the ones getting their hands dirty, conducting military coups, kidnapping people, torturing people, etc.

The CIA generally has the job of finding dupes and allies in the country of interest, instructing them, advising them, and letting them carry out the tasks that serve US foreign policy interest. The key way for the CIA to help those doing its dirty work around the world is connecting them to Wall Street-controlled non-governmental organizations and foundations.

The CIA goes into a country. It finds people to carry out its mission, and then the network of wealthy families that control Exxon-Mobil, Chevron, British Petroleum, and Royal Dutch Shell pay them for it.

The National Endowment for Democracy, the Open Society Institute — the whole network of activist groups controlled by George Soros — fund the activities of the CIA’s allies, dupes, and collaborators in almost every corner of the globe.

You can find the money of the wealthy oil banking families in the United States all over the world, and often on multiple sides of different political issues. The oil banking dynasties, working with the CIA and the Pentagon, use their funding and money like an expert sports gambler. If you put money on both teams, you are guaranteed to win almost every game.

Every country in the world has money from the oil bankers somehow manipulating its political process. Organizations that say they advocate “democracy,” “human rights,” “economic freedom,” and “social justice” are getting money from the big oil bankers and getting instructions from the CIA.

If you want to find the people who run the world, the quietly powerful global elite, you don’t have to look for the Illuminati, the Freemasons, or some secret society. Look at the major oil companies and banks in the United States and Western Europe and the families whose money is historically tied up in them.

The four major oil corporations in the United States, the “super-majors” as they are called — Chevron, British Petroleum, the Rothschilds’ Royal Dutch Shell, and the Rockefellers’ Exxon-Mobile — don’t really compete with each other. They function as much like a trust or cartel as is legally possible in the United States. They set the prices of gasoline together. They discuss increases and drops in production among each other.

A number of smaller corporations, which are indirectly owned by the same people that own the Big Four, follow right behind them. An oil company called Marathon is technically an independent company, but it’s really just a subdivision of Exxon-Mobil, another descendant of Standard Oil. It’s technically a competitor with the Big Four, but this only true on paper.

US foreign policy cannot be separated from the power of oil corporations. This should be obvious from a distance. What countries have been the biggest enemies and military opponents of the United States in the last three decades? Iraq, Libya, Venezuela, Russia, Iran. All of these countries are major oil exporters.

And who pays for the Council on Foreign Relations? Who does business with the Pentagon? Who owns the banks at the center of the European Union? Who funds both the Democratic and Republican Parties in the United States? Who funds the Labour Party, the Conservative Party, and the Liberal Democratic Party in Britain?

The very ground on which the United Nations Headquarters in Manhattan was constructed was a personal donation from the Rockefeller family.

Henry Kissinger, one of the leading influential figures in setting US foreign policy, is a complete creation of the oil bankers. He worked for the Rockefellers before he worked in Washington.

If you look at the think tanks where decisions are made by powerful leaders, you’ll see that roughly the same people work at them and the same people fund them. The Asia Society, the Brookings Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, the Hoover Institution, the Heritage Foundation;  it’s not hard to find out where all of these policy-setting institutions get their money. You can always trace it back to oil bankers.

So with that in mind, I am going to answer the following questions:

So, why did the oil-price drop in 2014? Why does it remain below $30 per barrel? What is the relationship between oil and development? Why is the global economy facing a crisis?

The Fruits of High Oil

Let’s go back to the first year of the 21st century. Following 2001, the policies crafted by the Council on Foreign Relations and carried out by US president Bush and Tony Blair in Britain had one obvious impact: they drove oil prices up.

When Iraq was invaded on March 19th, 2003, the US military destroyed the country’s infrastructure with a cruise missile torrent known as “shock and awe.” Iraq was one of the leading oil producers in the world. It was removed from the world market. Millions of Iraqis died.

The price of oil went up.

Almost immediately after Iraq was destroyed, the US, Britain, and Israel began to escalate an international campaign against one of Iraq’s neighbors and one of Saddam Hussein’s biggest enemies: the Islamic Republic of Iran. A barrage of media propaganda insinuated that Iran was trying to build nuclear weapons, and the international community was rallied to put sanctions on Iran. The sanctions restricted Iran’s ability to export.

The price of oil got even higher.

In 2008, the US-aligned regime in Georgia attacked the Russian-aligned territories of South Ossetia. Georgia is a country that is completely aligned with the United States. It purchases military hardware exclusively from the United States. US-NATO troops are stationed in the country.

Georgia attacked South Ossetia, which Russia was obligated to protect. In response, Russia and Georgia had a war.

In response, sanctions were placed on Russia, restricting its right to export oil on the international markets.

As Bush left office in January 2009, the oil prices had reached the highest levels in world history: over $110 per barrel.

The four super-majors were making record profits.

The Council on Foreign Relations, the Pentagon, the CIA, all directly linked and accountable to the four super-major oil companies, had carried out a series of policies that resulted in astronomically high profits for the four super-major oil companies.

This cannot be dismissed as merely a coincidence.

However, in the process of engineering US foreign policy toward making astronomical profits, the four super-majors created major problems on the international markets.

In Venezuela, Chavez took office in 1999, and enacted a new constitution. He beat back the 2002 coup d’état against him, due to his popularity with rank-and-file soldiers.

In 2003, as oil prices were rising, Chavez drastically altered the nature of the Venezuelan nationalized oil resources. He reoriented Venezuela’s oil so that the proceeds would go almost entirely into the domestic budget.

Chavez became amazingly popular as he provided free healthcare, free education, and other services to the population in Venezuela. Chavez and the United Socialist Party set up an oil-funded apparatus of activists. Venezuela became an opponent of the United States on the global stage, as the Venezuelan state got stronger due to the high oil prices.

Russia got stronger also. During the 1990s, in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia was an economic disaster. Massive unemployment, massive crime. The country depopulated as people fled in order to survive.

But with the oil boom, Vladimir Putin was able to restart the Russian economy. The Putin government was able to put Russia back into order by exporting oil and natural gas, and funding a strong state apparatus in the process.

The booming oil prices enabled Putin to launch his National Priorities Project, vastly improving the state-run health service, subsidizing housing for low-income Russians, and creating an anti-imperialist media.

With state-controlled petroleum and natural gas, the industrial output increased by 125%. The rate of industrial expansion was 70%. The wages of Russian workers tripled during the first eight years of the Putin Administration. Between 2007 and 2014, the Russian gross domestic product increased from $764 billion to $2,096.8 billion.

The Russian state became a force to be reckoned with once again.

Summer camps for academically high-achieving youth were created, as part of the youth organization called “Nashi.” At the summer camps, the youth of Russia who are deemed to have the most potential are urged to use their skills to advance the Russian nation, not to get rich.

The Russian state aligned with the Russian Orthodox Church to forge a new ideology, a kind of anti-capitalist Christian Russian nationalism. The Russian state apparatus is influenced by the legacy of the Soviet Union, and takes pride in the defeat of Adolph Hitler. People around the world call this the “New Russian Patriotism.” The slogan that Putin rallied his supporters around in 2008 was “Together We Win.” He urged Russians to reject the western concepts of individualism and selfishness, and be part of a collective effort to build a strong country.

In the Islamic Republic of Iran, the high oil prices strengthened the figures in Iranian politics who call themselves “Principalists,” though they are derogatorily called “hardliners” in western media. The hostility from the United States, who dubbed Iran part of the “axis of evil,” combined with the high oil prices to give a huge boost to the ideological organizations that serve as the backbone of the Islamic Republic.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Basigue, the Islamic University system, the forces that emphasize the anti-capitalist goals of the 1979 revolution, all found themselves with lots of money. Ahmadinejad implemented a number of domestic reforms that built up the Iranian countryside, funded public works projects for Iranian workers, and strengthened Iranian labor unions.

While Chevron, British Petroleum, Royal Dutch Shell, and Exxon-Mobil were making record profits, their hired analysts were warning them that the world was slipping out of their fingers. In the post-Cold War era, suddenly a new opposition was on the scene.

Beyond Russia, Venezuela, and Iran, the Islamic socialist government of Libya grew more powerful due to the oil-price increase. Colonel Muammar Gaddafi was elected President of the African Union.

Ecuador saw significant economic growth, recovering from the horrors of neoliberalism in the 1990s.

Here in Brazil, your government-controlled oil company Petrobas became the third-largest corporation in the hemisphere. Petrobas, an oil company that is not controlled by the Big Four oil corporations, with the majority of the shares owned by your popularly elected government, was larger than BP, larger than Exxon-Mobile, even larger than Microsoft.

In the parts of the world where oil is not controlled by Wall Street bankers, but controlled by popular governments, the high oil prices, inflated by US foreign policy, gave a huge boost to the living conditions of the people. People in Brazil, Russia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Iran, and Libya saw their lives getting better.

The Koch-Fracker Insurgency

And not only on the global stage did a new slew of opponents and competitors arise. Within the United States, suddenly you had a surge of financial power flowing into the hands of independent oil and natural gas companies. The Big Four oil companies can be called “big oil,” but the high oil prices and breakthroughs in technological development empowered “little oil” to be stronger than ever.

Hydraulic fracking became legal and widespread. Fracking is a practice in which boiling steam is used to extract subterranean oil and natural gas. Fracking opened up deposits of petroleum and natural gas found in the shale, the rock layer that is below the soil. Because of this technological innovation, a whole slew of tiny, unknown oil corporations suddenly emerged to challenge the monopoly of the Big Four.

Because of fracking, the United States is now the top oil and natural gas producer in the world. The 1973 oil-export ban, imposed because of the OPEC boycott, has been lifted. US oil companies can now export on the international markets.

A number of small energy corporations, who previously had almost been irrelevant, suddenly made billions of dollars. Devon Energy, a tiny energy firm based in Oklahoma, was suddenly rising up to power on the stock market. Cenovus Energy, a Canadian energy producer, pops up and starts extracting from Canada’s tar sands.

Throughout the first decade of the 21st century, US domestic oil production is rising, and with it astronomically high energy prices. Not only are the Big Four making record profits, but these “little oil men,” a crowd of swamp speculators and low-level capitalists, also made billions of dollars.

Exxon-Mobil, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the entrenched, old-money oil bankers began to move into the Democratic Party by 2007 and 2008. This is a rational decision for anyone who closely follows US politics. The demographics of US society are shifting.

The white middle class elderly FOX news viewers, the traditional base of social conservatism, is dying off. A much larger percentage of the US public is Black or Latino. Young whites also vote for Democrats and have liberal views, especially on social issues. The Republican base of white, conservative, nationalistic middle class Christians — the backbone of Nixon, Reagan, and Bush — is dying off. The propaganda style crafted by the neoconservatives is not effective any longer.

As Big Oil moved out of the Republicans, the frackers and new oil opposition moved in.

Big Oil is sophisticated in its politics. It has huge think tanks, studying trends in global economics and politics, figuring out carefully how to secure its power for the long term.

But “little oil” isn’t so sophisticated. Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska, who had long been a champion of the little oil men, was nominated as the vice presidential candidate for the Republican Party in 2008. Her base is “little oil.” One of her campaign slogans was “Drill, baby, drill!”

What she was really saying was, “Open up Alaska to the small oil corporations.” She brags that she fought against “Big Oil” as governor of Alaska, and there’s a little bit of truth in it. Palin’s husband wasn’t even a registered Republican for many years. For a long time he was aligned with the Alaskan State Independence Party, the John Birch Society, and the Constitution Party.

The politics overtaking the Republican Party in the aftermath of the Bush Administration is not the pragmatic neoconservatism crafted carefully by Exxon-Mobil in the 70s and 80s. It is ideological right-wing paleo-conservatism. These are individuals who think the United States is run by a secret conspiracy of communists. These are individuals who think the public educational system is a plot to wipe out Christianity. These are the forces who were driven out of the Republican Party in the early 1960s, after they said that Dwight D. Eisenhower was a communist. These are the individuals who say Abraham Lincoln was a dictator, and that the slave-owners of the US south were justified in taking up arms against the republic.

The new oil money has turned the weakened and isolated Republican Party into a platform to fight against the Big Four oil corporations and their near monopoly on US oil profits. Unlike the Rockefellers, who have learned to use the government to secure their power, they call for “laissez faire,” “hands-off” economics. They believe if everything were privatized, everyone could be rich like them.

The billionaires of new oil money see themselves caught between two great chasms. On the one hand, they are opposing the big oil bankers who want to drive them off the market. However, they are just as threatened, if not more threatened, by the global anti-capitalist movements. The labor unions, the Occupy Wall Street protests, the mass movements for social justice — all represent the threat that their wealth could be redistributed.

They see the rising social movements against capitalism as a heartless mob, people they deem to be inferior assembling to crush them. They see in the Big Oil capitalists a group of monopolists who want to smash their independence and absorb them into the collective.

The only place they can look for consolation is the past. They call for a “new 1776.” They dream of “restoring the republic” with some kind of bloody purge.

Some people call these politics emanating from new money in the Republican Party fascism. I don’t know if this is accurate.

The Democratic Party hates two men in particular who have become the symbolic leaders of the fracking new oil insurgency. These two oil billionaires, Charles and David Koch, the inheritors of an oil company called “Koch Industries,” have become the target of scorn by the voices of the Democratic Party and its allies.

Let me pause for a moment, and tell the story of how the Koch Industries was born, how the Koch family made their billions and became the leading insurgents against the oil monopolies within the domestic United States. This story contains many lessons about the role of oil in the world economy.

Oil and the Rise of Russia

The father of the infamous Koch brothers was chemical engineer Fred Koch. In 1927 he invented a new method of thermal cracking, transforming crude oil into gasoline. The big oil bankers tried to put him out of business. They took him to court 44 different times. In one instance they were proven to have actually bribed the judge to rule against him.

Fred Koch was nearly ruined in the United States. The big oil men were not going to let him in on the business. But this was 1927, and there was another place for oil innovators to turn. Koch found himself invited to the Soviet Union.

Prior to the Bolshevik revolution, the Russian Empire had been one of the leading oil-exporting countries. 150 different oil companies were invested in the Baku oil fields in Azerbaijan, part of the Czarist empire. The foreign oil companies easily overpowered and controlled the local oil barons. Very few Russians made money from the empire’s oil fields.

The biggest owners in the Baku oil fields were the Nobels, a Swedish family that owned an oil company. The French wing of the Rothschild banking dynasty had their own oil corporation, and they also owned a large amount of Baku oil. Both Nobel and the Rothschild oil corporations eventually merged into the megacorporation currently called Royal Dutch Shell.

Starting in 1898, the Baku petroleum output was larger than the entire domestic output of the United States. Half of the oil in the entire world was being produced in areas controlled by Russia.

As a result of its important role in the world economy, Baku was one of the few areas within the Russian Empire to have electricity. However, 95% of electricity was used for industrial purposes. The working peoples of Baku, half of them Turkish Muslims, the other half Christian Armenians, lived in shacks. They made poverty wages.

The peoples of the entire Russian Empire were living in extreme poverty. Russia was supplying the entire world, especially the mighty British Empire, with oil. Britain’s victory in the First World War was won with tanks, airplanes, and military trucks powered by Russia’s petroleum.

But the Russians, the Ukrainians, the Moldovans, the Azeris — they didn’t get any wealthier. Russia and the surrounding countries had backward agrarian economies. Mass starvation and malnutrition was routine.

A famous incident occurred in 1901. The Rothschilds banking family owned an oil refinery, located in Georgia, in the city of Batumi. The oil workers at this refinery went on strike demanding better conditions. The leaders of the oil workers union were arrested and taken to jail. So, in 1901, a crowd of thousands of Batumi oil workers, with guns blazing, ripped down the walls of the prison and freed their comrades. It made headlines all over the world.

The leader of the crowd that broke open the jails and freed the oil workers was a 23-year-old seminary school dropout. At the time he went by the nickname Koba. He would eventually be known to the world by the name Joseph Stalin.

Yes, the peoples of Russia and the surrounding countries knew it. They knew it in their bones that they were supplying the modern industrial economy of the 20th century with oil, making a lot of bankers rich, while they themselves were poor.

In the aftermath of the Russian Revolution of 1917, the British armed forces seized the oil fields of Baku. But over the course of the civil war, the Bolsheviks took them back. Lots and lots of blood was spilled in Baku and the rest of Azerbaijan. It was a hotly contested territory.

In the 1920s, most of the oil wells had been destroyed during the fighting. The Soviet government desperately needed oil production to get going again. Lots of foreign technicians and experts were brought in to help industrialize. Fred Koch came to Russia in 1929 to train Soviet oil technicians.

Fred Koch, an American oil chemist, watched as an agrarian, Third World country become a world industrial power in a few short years. Between 1928 and 1936 the Soviet Union became the biggest producer of steel in the entire world. The Soviet Union also produced more tractors than any other country in the world. Of course, oil production went through the roof. The entire country was lit up with electricity.

The huts of rural villages where Soviet peasants lived were replaced with modern apartment buildings. Running water was provided for the entire country as well. Illiteracy was wiped out.

This was the 1930s. The rest of planet was having a Great Depression. But with a planned economy, the Soviet Union was booming. It built skyscrapers, and the beautiful Moscow subways. The newly constructed university system trained the children of illiterate peasants to grow up and become the scientists who first conquered outer space.

No, the Soviet Union did not become the worker’s paradise many of the global Marxist and communists expected it to be. It was not heaven on earth. It was a society that had many big problems, which eventually played a role in its destruction.

But what the Soviet Union did between 1928 and 1936 was go from being an impoverished country, controlled by Britain and France as almost a semicolony, to gaining the status of a superpower. This is what happens when a society takes control of its resources and its economy. This is what happens when nations and peoples pull together to resist economic domination, and begin to chart their own course.

It doesn’t require Marxism-Leninism. It doesn’t require Soviet-style command economies. It requires economic independence. It requires mobilization of people. It requires leadership that loves the homeland, not the international bankers and billionaires.

Fred Koch was horrified by what he saw. Today, Fred Koch’s two children sit at the center of a coalition of low-level American capitalists, billionaires who feel they’ve been excluded from the club. Fred Koch’s two sons certainly hate communism, socialism, cooperation, and solidarity with every bone in their body, despite the fact that the work of Fred Koch as a chemist was essential in building the Soviet Union.

Saudi Oil Suicide and the CIA

In 2014, the high oil prices that had been engineered by US foreign policy came to a sharp and sudden end. Suddenly, without any warning or real market justification, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia began putting oil on the international markets. Saudi Arabia started putting tens of millions of barrels of oil onto the market every day.

This huge influx of oil caused demand to decrease, and the price to drop. But the Saudi Kingdom did not stop. The Saudis continued putting petroleum onto the international markets, and expanding their oil production apparatus.

Even though they cannot afford it, the Saudis take out loans, and continue building an even bigger oil production apparatus. Saudi Arabia is losing money, going nearly bankrupt, but it keeps putting oil onto the markets.

The crown prince, the son of King Salman, announces that Saudi Arabia is transitioning away from oil.

A policy of shifting away from oil might make sense in Venezuela or Russia, but not in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is a giant desert. The country has two things: sand and oil.

Since 2014 the oil price has been dropping. It’s gotten below $30 per barrel.

Saudi Arabia is having huge internal problems. On January 1 of 2016, 47 people were beheaded. Many of them were dissidents, including the leading Shia Cleric Ayatollah Al-Nimr. Riots are going on. Oil workers are unemployed, starving, and rioting.

Why is this happening? Why would the Saudis bankrupt themselves? Why would they slit their own wrists?

You have to look deeper.

Since the 1940s, when US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt established relations with the House of Saud, the oil has never really belonged to the Saudis.

Aramco, the Saudi oil company, has always just been a middle man. Saudi oil is controlled exclusively by the Big Four. The US oil trust – BP, Shell, Chevron, and Exxon-Mobil — have always dictated exactly what the Saudis do with their oil.

The Saudis now have the fourth-largest military budget of any country in the world, and they purchase their weapons exclusively from the United States.

The Saudis are not independent. Saudi Arabia is just an extension of the big oil bankers who run Wall Street.

Saudi Arabia is dropping the price of oil intentionally because their bosses are commanding them to do so. This is a strategy that was cooked up inside the Council on Foreign Relations.

The goal is to put Iran, Russia, and Venezuela out of business. It’s to beat back the wave of independence around the world that was spawned by the high oil policies of the Bush years. The goal is also to put the Koch brothers, Sarah Palin, and their crew of new oil billionaires out of business.

The goal is to restore the monopoly of the oil bankers.

I was in Caracas during the December election, and I saw firsthand what the CIA, their Saudi puppets, and their Rockefeller overlords are doing to that country. I saw lines around the block for ATMS, for toilet paper, and for other supplies.

The victory of the Venezuelan opposition at the polls was a direct result of a relentless effort to cash-starve Bolivarian socialism.

Russia has been forced to cut its domestic budget by 10%. The state-owned oil money that stabilized Russia is being cut back. The hope is to weaken Putin.

The oil-price drop brought Iran to the negotiating table. It put Iran in a situation where it was willing to make huge concessions, and give up its peaceful nuclear energy program.

Meanwhile, the fracking billionaires in Oklahoma and Texas are hurting. Energy stocks are dropping lower than ever. BP has already bought up a few of the fracking firms.

Don’t doubt for a moment that the oil-price drop is part of US foreign policy strategy. We even have a confession of sorts from the son of Ronald Reagan. Michael Reagan said:

“Since selling oil was the source of the Kremlin’s wealth, my father got the Saudis to flood the market with cheap oil.

“Lower oil prices devalued the ruble, causing the USSR to go bankrupt, which led to perestroika and Mikhail Gorbachev and the collapse of the Soviet Empire.”

Obama is now doing the same thing, according to Michael Reagan.

The oil-price drop of the 1980s also served political purposes, and it was also carried out by Saudi Arabia.

In the 1980s, the Soviet Union was reorienting its economy toward selling oil. France, West Germany, and other European countries announced that they were more open to purchasing Soviet oil.

The Soviet government launched a project to build the Urengoy pipeline, an oil pipeline also called the Trans-Siberian pipeline. This was a gigantic oil pipeline that connected the Siberian oil fields with Western Europe. The Soviet government invested billions of dollars in this project, expecting that in the 1980s they would be able to use this pipeline to sell oil to Europe.

After billions and billions of dollars had been spent by the Soviet government, the Saudis dropped the oil prices, the same way they are doing now. The pipeline was completed in 1984. Because of the oil-price drop, it never even paid for itself.

This was a large factor in the economic problems facing the Soviet Union in the 1980s, which led to perestroika and eventually the end of the Soviet government.

The Wal-Mart Computer Crash

Price manipulation, the artificial dropping and raising of commodity prices — this is how John D. Rockefeller created Standard Oil, the corporation that is the direct ancestor of today’s super-major called Exxon-Mobil. John D. Rockefeller became the master of what Americans now know very well as a Wal-Mart scheme.

The store called Wal-Mart in the United States has ruined the economies of thousands and thousands of cities and municipalities by setting up shop and lowering its prices. Wal-Mart starts selling TVs, radios and kitchen supplies at the lowest prices imaginable. That is, until all the other stores go out of business. Then, it raises the prices higher than ever, because it has a monopoly.

But the oil Wal-Mart scheme is getting out of control. The price of natural gas always follows right behind oil, and it’s cheaper than ever. The price of copper and steel is dropping lower than ever also. Gold is low. Silver is low.

All the key commodities are losing value. Following right behind the oil drop, prices are dropping in almost every sector.

Meanwhile, Wal-Mart, the retail store that is biggest employer in the United States, is laying off people in droves. Stores are closing, because Americans cannot afford to keep buying the way they once did.

During the 1990s, Alan Greenspan legalized all kinds of predatory lending practices, allowing people to get ripoff credit card and housing loans. As the spending power of the US public decreased, the idea was to keep the economy going. They created an economy of rabid consumerism. They taught the people of the United States — who had seen their standard of living rapidly decrease; who had lost their good-paying industrial jobs; who were paying tens of thousands of dollars just to go to college — to spend money that they do not have, and temporarily prop up a decaying economy.

But Wal-Mart capitalism is failing. The American middle class is dead. The American dream, the house with the white picket fence has been foreclosed.

The oil-price drop has made gasoline cheaper than ever. But go to any gas station in the Midwest on any given day, and I can promise you will see a car pull up. It will have a mother in it, and one or maybe two children in the backseat.

She will pull up to the gas station, and she will reach very carefully for the gas pump, and she will very carefully stick it into her gas tank, and put $4 gas into her car.

Just two dollars of gas! Why? Because that’s all she can afford. One dollar of gas can get her kids to school the next day. It can get her to work after that. It’s just enough to keep going.

For a long time in the United States, the white workers and the billionaires had an understanding. It went like this: The billionaires got to go all over the world and slaughter people and murder people. They had coups in Latin America. They dropped bombs in Vietnam and Korea. They built a huge nuclear arsenal. They beat down, exploited and oppressed the African Americans and Latinos.

The deal was that, as long as the white workers went along with this, and didn’t get in the way, and kept waving the flag and cheering for empire, they would get TV sets, cars, houses — the so-called “American Dream.” A high standard of living.

But this agreement was terminated. In the 1980s it started to gradually erode, and in 2016 it is completely gone. The white American middle class is suffering, civil liberties are disappearing, and the country is in an economic meltdown. Youth from the South and Midwest are fleeing to the coastal areas — California, Manhattan, and New England — because life has become unlivable in the once-prosperous industrial heartland.

The problem in the oil markets is just a reflection of a bigger problem. The computer revolution of the 1990s has made production so efficient. Decades ago they had book binderies. Hundreds and sometimes thousands of people would be employed in factories binding books. Today they have a machine that can be operated by a single person. Files are uploaded, a single button is pushed, and books come out.

The computer revolution has resulted in mass poverty for millions of people. Millions of people are starving, fleeing their homes, becoming migrants, because they no longer have a place at the assembly line. The global apparatus of production has become so efficient, that millions of people are not needed any longer. They no longer have a place at the assembly line.

Because they aren’t being hired any longer, the millions of people cast out of production are not spending money. They are not purchasing the billions and billions of dollars worth of goods that are being so efficiently churned out.

A glut of overproduction is threatening the planet.

Millions of people in Africa and the Middle East, who are no longer profitable to the billionaires and capitalists, are packing themselves onto ships and fleeing to Europe. People in Southeast Asia, Indonesia, and the Philippines are spreading out all over the world. People in Mexico and Guatemala are fleeing to the United States in order to survive.

Everywhere there is a huge abundance of resources and products, but a shortage of jobs and livelihoods for the people.

“Accumulation through Destruction”

As my friend the brilliant economist Bill Dores has explained, capitalism has moved into a mode called “accumulation through destruction.”

How did the United States become the unrivaled center of the world economy anyhow? After the Second World War, the rest of the world was destroyed.

The US economy is centered around war. It’s a vulgar kind of Keynesianism. US corporations keep their profits rolling in by building bombs, tanks, drones, and other military hardware to kill people around the world.

The USA has a system of prisons for profit. Private corporations are paid to lock away people who break the law in prison. There is an economic incentive for high crime rates and for people to be locked in jail. The United States has the largest prison population in the entire world, because imprisoning people is a way to make money.

One of the biggest myths purported by the capitalists is this idea that markets create and unleash innovation. If you think the free market creates innovation, tell me: why does Hollywood make the same movie over and over and over again?

Yes, capitalists take risks, but they would prefer not to. They want the most secure investment possible. They want to maximize profits; they don’t have any other purpose.

Where did the computer revolution in technology come from? Many trace it back to the decoding machines constructed during the Second World War. This wasn’t the innovation of private capitalists and the market.

During the war, Roosevelt sat down with the capitalists, and said, “We are going to defeat the Nazis.” He said, “In order to defeat fascism, you must give up your economic freedom. You must function as a part of a team. You must obey the democratic government and world for the good of the country.”

The United States, the Soviet Union, Britain, and France did not defeat the Nazis by allowing corporations to make endless profits. NO!

During the war, even in the capitalist west, the corporations went under complete government management. They obeyed the president and the military. They coordinated everything for the defense of democracy. Some of the first computers were designed by smart people, hired by the government, and unleashed to invent and develop new methods for winning the war.

China has Broken Free

The media coming from the western world does not acknowledge the problem of capitalist over-production. No, western media commentators and economic analysts have a single, one-word answer about what is causing the problems of the global economy: China.

They don’t explain how, or why, but somehow China is to blame. They say “China did it.” They call it the “Chinese slowdown.”

It’s very important that we talk about what’s actually going on in the Chinese economy, because it actually points to the way out of this insanity.

Back in the 1920s and 30s China was called the “sick man of Asia.” A very large percentage of the population were drug addicts. The British had actually forced China to accept heroin and opium imports. The drugs allowed China to be economically crippled and enslaved.

Parks in major Chinese cities were reserved for white Europeans. They famously had signs that said “No dogs or Chinese allowed.” Imagine what it must have been like for Chinese people, a people with such a proud, beautiful history, to see signs like that put up within their homeland.

The western capitalists have completely re-written history. They tell us that Asia, and Africa, and Latin America, and the Middle East have always been poor. But this is a lie!

While my ancestors in Ireland and France were living in caves, people on this continent had vibrant civilizations, the Incas, the Aztecs, the Maya.

The Middle East was the cradle of civilization with Hammurabi, Mesopotamia, and Persepolis.

The African continent had Timbuktu and the Pyramids of Giza.

The western colonizers are not “civilizing” the peoples they have conquered. They are not “developing.”

When the British Empire went to India, they saw the vast textile industry. They did not invest in it and develop it. They burned down the textile mills! They forced the people of India to buy their cloth from Britain.

In Mexico today, the farmers have been tossed off their land. They once grew their own food, but now they purchase it from US food corporations.

The imperialists don’t want producers. They don’t want nations and peoples to develop. They want captive consumers. They want to conquer markets, destroy production, and force everyone to purchase from them.

Long before 1949, the imperialists had been “investing” in China. They had been doing business there, but the Chinese people were poorer than they had ever been.

In 1949, this changed. A new government came into power. China had never had any steel production, but with assistance from the Soviet Union, China launched its steel industry in the 1950s.

China began to produce its own cotton, its own clothing. China built power plants and hospitals.

In 1961, the Soviet Union cut off its aid to China. China could not depend on Soviet assistance any longer. Briefly it attempted to be more egalitarian than the Soviet Union. During the Cultural Revolution, Mao Zedong, Lin Biao and the Gang of Four tried to move closer to a kind of utopian vision of communism.

In 1978, the policies shifted. Deng Xiaoping said, “To get rich is glorious.” Many people see this statement as embracing capitalism. But it was the opposite. He said, “Poverty is anti-communist, but to get rich is glorious.”

He said that China could not become a prosperous nation by redistributing poverty. Deng Xiaoping’s vision of “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics” was based on raising the level of productive forces.

As China stepped back from the command economy, it started importing all kinds of western products, and allowing western capitalists to do business. Wall Street started making lots of money from China.

But at the same time that western corporations were investing in China, and selling Chinese products, the Chinese Communist Party was keeping a firm hand on things. Corporations had no freedom.

No other society in history has executed billionaires. But every Chinese business owner knows that if he gets on the wrong side of the Communist Party, he could be dead.

Recently, the owners of a McDonald’s meat distributor in China, a US-based corporation called OSI, were caught distributing rotten meat to the public. The Communist Party leaders in Shanghai dragged them out of their offices in handcuffs. Executives from this wealthy US corporation have been put into prison.

So what is this Chinese slowdown? What does it have to do with the world economy?

China has stood up. What started in the mountains with Mao Zedong and the Eight Route Army has resulted in an entirely new situation for the whole country. China had no steel mills in 1949. Today, 50% of the world’s steel is produced by China’s government-owned and -controlled steel industry.

China makes its own cars, its own cell phones, its own satellites. The Chinese slowdown is the result of the fact that China is no longer buying things from the colonizers and imperialists. The Wall Street bankers cannot depend on making money from China, because China has stood up. It has its own independent economy.

Yes, there is a slowdown on the Chinese stock market, the vehicle created for western investment. But Chinese society is doing very well. The wages of the average Chinese worker have tripled since the dawn of the 21st century. In 2012, the wages of Chinese industrial workers increased by 14%.

Even CNN admits that almost every day another Chinese person becomes a millionaire. The world tourism industry is having a boom because there is now a wave of Chinese tourists. Chinese people whose grandparents were illiterate and lived as peasants serving landlords almost as property are going on vacations to Paris, the United States, and the tropical islands.

China has risen up out of centuries of degradation and poverty. Millions and millions and millions of Chinese people now have a lifestyle that many people in Africa, Asia, and Latin America can only imagine.

How did they do it? They did it by taking control of their economy.

Capitalism = Profits in Command

There’s a lot of confusion about capitalism and socialism these days. Some people say China is capitalist, because it clearly doesn’t have an economy like what existed in the Soviet Union.

Meanwhile, in the United States, Bernie Sanders is running for president saying he believes in socialism. When asked what socialism is, he says its means “a government that works for everyone.” If this is all that socialism means, then every candidate should be called a “socialist.” No candidate admits they want the government to function exclusively for an elite.

There is so much confusion.

What is capitalism? The best definition of capitalism I can find comes from Friedrich Engels, the close collaborator of Karl Marx. He explained what capitalism was by saying, “Under capitalism, the means of production only function as preliminary transformation into capital.”

Capitalism is a system where houses don’t get built because people need shelter. Under capitalism, houses are built so landlords and bankers can make money from selling and renting them.

Under capitalism, food isn’t produced so that people can eat it. Food is produced so that capitalists can make money selling it.

Capitalism is a system where money gives the orders, and the rest of society follows behind the insanity of the market.

What is the alternative? You can call it “socialism,” you can call it “people’s power,” you can call it “central planning” — you can call it whatever you want.

The alternative is when rational human beings run the economy, and force it to function for the good of society.

In the world today, there is another kind of government that is emerging. It’s a kind of government that derives its strength from community organizations, labor unions, and a mass involvement on the part of ordinary people in public affairs.

My friends here in Brazil, I tell you this carefully — and I don’t tell you this as an American, I tell you this as someone looking at the world and trying to make sense of it:

Don’t give up Petrobas! Don’t let Rockefeller, Carnegie, Du Pont, and Rothschild come into Brazil! Preserve your independence! Preserve your republic and domestic control of your natural resources!

If you want a strong prosperous country, you cannot hand over your economy to the Wall Street bankers. They function to destroy economies.

The brilliant man, a longtime activist in New York City who has travelled all over the world, and dedicated his life to fight for justice — I mentioned him before, Bill Dores — the man who taught me to think beyond politics to economics, if he has taught me anything, it is that Wall Street does not bring development. It does not seek to play fair on the world market. It wants to destroy any people or nation that rise up and start building themselves up. It wants people divided, poor, desperate, and dependent.

Fighting For a Better World

The forces of evil behind modern international capitalism have no loyalty of any kind. These capitalists aren’t patriotic. They aren’t religious. They don’t worship any God but money. They blindly and fanatically worship their own profits, and they obediently follow wherever the crazed, irrational, invisible hand described by Adam Smith directs them to go.

I believe there is a deeper truth in the universe. I believe that right and wrong do exist. I believe that there is a higher purpose to life than simply a mad pursuit of money.

The only alternative to the insane greed that has seized the western world is popular power. The people must be in motion. They must be demanding justice and equality. They must stand arm in arm to fight for their rights. They must take control of the economies, and force them to function for public good.

The work that all of you are doing as labor leaders is essential.

I was particularly touched to be invited to a conference of labor leaders. When I was ten years old, living in rural Ohio, I was not thinking about politics. But my mother was a librarian.

Some of the librarians in her system were being harassed on the job. They wanted security. They met with the bosses and the bosses refused to provide it. So, as part of the Service Employees International Union, they went on strike.

As a ten-year-old child, I walked the picket lines, and learned the importance of class struggle. I learned never to cross a picket line, and that when working people stand together, great things can happen.

The particular library that my mother worked at was safe. They did not need security. But this did not matter to her and her co-workers. If their sisters walked out, they walked out with them. An injury to one is an injury to all!

This is worker’s solidarity. This is the hope for the future of humanity.

Long live worker’s solidarity! Long live the CSB (Trade Union Center of Brazil)! Long Live People’s Power!

The unvarnished truth.

This is an extraordinarily powerful and moving TEDx talk given by Mallence Bart-Williams in Berlin in January. She speaks truths about our world that we will never, ever hear via Western corporate media. And even if by some fluke we do and our eyes are opened, such rare and minimal exposure cannot possibly overcome our indoctrination since birth into White Supremacy and parasitic imperialism.

There is beauty in truth and power in knowing it, even—especially?—when it is difficult for us to process, accept and adapt accordingly. Please watch and share.

 

Iris has a terrible headache from drugs.

Here we have a promoted story from The Washington Post highlighting a recent “scandal,” whereby some douchebro Martin Shkreli, CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, raised the price of an off-patent AIDS drug by like 5,000 percent or something, and now the entire Internet hates him. Even all the other drug companies hate him! The Post reports:

The major pharmaceutical and biotech industry groups have portrayed Shkreli’s actions as totally repugnant and the work of just one company, acting alone, with a flippant young chief executive who doesn’t reflect the broader values, practices, or trends of other companies.

Hahaha. Sure. The Post article proceeds to demonstrate that this is rank bullshit:

For example, tetracycline, an antibiotic discovered in 1948, cost 5 cents for a 500 milligram capsule back in November of 2013…Nearly two years later, it’s coming in at $11 a pill — a nearly 2,200 percent increase. Clomipramine, an antidepressant developed in the 1960s used to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder, cost 22 cents per pill in November 2012. Now, it’s $8.17 — a 3,600 percent increase.

In 2010, Amedra Pharmaceuticals bought the rights to abendazole, an off-patent drug used to treat intestinal parasites. At the time, the average wholesale price of the drug was $6 a day. By 2013, it was $120 — a nearly 2,000 percent increase.

These are hardly the only egregious examples the Post could have mentioned: this nifty interactive infographic from Bloomberg charts 74 top-selling drugs for which the cost increased in the US between 2007 and 2014 by at least 75 percent, and sometimes many multiples of that. Why, one might be inclined to wonder what’s going on here with all these skyrocketing drug prices. Alas, the Post only offers: “The trouble is this: right now, we can’t tell why prices are high, or even if they are high.”

IT’S TRULY MYSTIFYING. *shrug*

Oh wait, no. No, it’s not. See, drug prices are not this high everywhere else, or even anywhere else: USians pay from two to six times more than the rest of the world for pharmaceuticals. Why?

Well, the short answer is that US taxpayers and consumers massively subsidize the world’s pharmaceutical research costs. For a more comprehensive answer, anyone (presumably including the bewildered author of the Post piece) can read an in-depth article at Medscape Medical News entitled, appropriately enough, Why Are Drug Costs So High in the United States?

But that is not our forte at the Palace. Here, we will just want to highlight a few perverse and corrupt policies that impact US drug pricing, and what is responsible for them. SPOILER ALERT: it’s conservatism.

Econ 101: desperation vs. demand. 

In the mythical world of the Free Market™, buyers and sellers will come to a compromise on the price for goods and services: too high, no one will buy; too low, and sellers will not have viable businesses. This is the storied principle of supply and demand, blah blah blah. But when it comes to health care, the “demand” side of the equation is driven by factors very different from those that drive demand for ordinary consumer goods. We are talking about human suffering, often profound, and sometimes the kind where life and death hangs in the balance. When that suffering human is you—or your child, or indeed anyone you love—you will pay anything for medicine and appropriate care, even if it means you lose everything.

Even post-ACA, health care is still the number one cause of personal bankruptcy in the US:

A recent Harvard University study showed that medical expenses account for approximately 62 percent of personal bankruptcies in the US. Interestingly, the study also showed that 72 percent of those who filed for bankruptcy due to medical expenses had some type of health insurance.

That said, the ACA is having a positive effect on some cost-related trends. For example, in 2012, 80 million people “didn’t visit a doctor or clinic for a medical problem, didn’t fill a prescription, skipped a follow-up, treatment or test, or did not get needed specialist care” because of the cost. Two years later, only 66 million people reported the same. That trend is encouraging, and so is the fact that in 2014 almost 9 million more people had health insurance coverage than in 2013, bringing the total share of uninsured down to 10.4 percent.

Now I really hate to be a Debbie Downer here, but I would be remiss if I did not point out that (a) bankruptcy and poverty are terrible fucking outcomes, (b) 33 million of us still remain uninsured, and (c) the 66 million of us who delayed or denied ourselves health care because we could not afford it is greater than the total population of the UK, where no citizen faces any of these problems for accessing health care. Ever. Nor do all 35,749,600 Canadians.

The ACA is based on a for-profit (read: conservative) health care reform model, one that Mitt Romney rolled out statewide as governor of Massachusetts. It did not slow medical bankruptcies there.

Price negotiation.

Elsewhere, single-payer and nationalized systems like the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) negotiate a single price with drug manufacturers for the entire country’s supply. By contrast, the US “system,” if one can even call it that, is mainly comprised of multiple for-profit insurance companies and hospital systems, all running countless different programs and plans, each of which negotiates pricing separately. In this scenario the sole supplier of any drug, patented or generic, has the upper hand. But where there are only a few large payers—or only one—drug companies are forced to come to the table and offer a reasonable price if they want access to that market.

And here’s the kicker: government-run Medicare, one of the largest payers for prescription drugs, is prohibited by law from negotiating drug pricing. You read that right. This was already true before the ACA, which only cemented it. That is because pharmaceutical companies got what they wanted with the ACA: “We got a good deal,” wrote Bryant Hall of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), one of the largest, most influential lobbying groups in Washington.

One need look no further for proof of the power of negotiation than the government-run Veterans Administration, which is not barred from negotiating drug prices: costs run 25% to 50% lower than Medicare.

In 1992, federal Medicare spending on drugs was $400 million. By 1999 it was $7 billion. By 2013, $50 billion. Gosh, I wonder what it’ll be in a decade? EXCITING.

Reimportation.

The ACA also banned reimportation: US patients cannot legally purchase less expensive drugs from another country like Canada. While the ACA was being cooked up by lobbyists and the Democratic president behind closed doors, PhRMA lobbyist Bryant Hall wrote that “WH [the White House] is working on some very explicit language on importation to kill it in health care reform.” Neat, huh?

But don’t you feel left out, my Canadian friends! PhRMA is coming for you, too:

“America’s big drug companies are intensifying their lobbying efforts to ‘change the Canadian health-care system’ and eliminate subsidized prescription drug prices enjoyed by Canadians” … “A prescription drug industry spokesman in Washington confirmed to CanWest News Service that information contained in confidential industry documents is accurate and that $1 million US is being added to the already heavily funded drug lobby against the Canadian system.” PhRMA was the leading drug industry trade group behind the increased lobbying and PR campaign. PhRMA was also independently spending $450,000 to target the booming Canadian Internet pharmacy industry, which has been providing Americans with prescription drugs at lower prices than in the United States.

And the UK’s NHS is barreling down the same road.

But fret not. This is only happening because Free Market™ health care is SUPER AWESOME! Once people wake up and smell the freedom, they will never want to pay reasonable prices for drugs again.

Comparative drug review.

Other countries compare drugs to determine whether a new, higher-cost treatment is any more effective than existing alternatives. These investigations can inform price negotiation, or determine whether a drug gets approval at all. In the US, our FDA has no legal authority to consider pricing, or to compare medications to one another. Even if it did have the authority, FDA does not even have the resources to confirm that data supplied by drug companies is accurate and complete—or, you know, not. Conservatives, chronically infected with deregulatory fever, will never task a federal agency with assessing the value of a new drug. After all, that might interfere with the Free Market™ gouging US patients on drug pricing. NO ONE WANTS THAT.

But what about research and development huh what about R&D?

The pharmaceutical industry defends its US pricing more or less thusly: it costs over a billion dollars to bring a new drug to market, and furthermore, more drugs fail to make it than succeed. We want to incentivize new and better drugs, don’t we?

YES! And that is why US taxpayers fund 85% of the basic research. No wonder US companies generate most new drug discoveries! GO USA! We also helpfully elect corrupt politicians who let the industry’s lobbyists write our nation’s health care laws. Yet strangely, we get nothing in return for any of this, while other countries reap the benefits. Consider the new hepatitis C drug, sofosbuvir. US patients will pay $80,000 to $160,000 for a course of treatment, while in Egypt and India the manufacturer has agreed to charge $900 per patient. And it’s still enormously profitable: a course of sofosbuvir costs only $138 to produce.

Nobody disputes that it’s a risky and expensive proposition to develop a new drug. But they do dispute the numbers. An oft-cited analysis by the Tufts Center pegs the development cost for a new drug at about $1.3 billion. Hagop M. Kantarjian, MD, professor and chair at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, begs to differ. In a 2013 paper he co-authored on cancer drug costs, Dr. Kantarjian and his colleagues suggest the actual figure might be as low as 10% of that:

“The figure may be inflated, because it includes ancillary expenses, salaries, bonuses, and other indirect costs not related to research or development, as well as an 11% compounded discount rate over 10 years based on stock market returns on capital investment,” they write. “Other independent estimates of cost of drug development put the figure as low as 4% to 25% of this estimate.”

Moreover, “R&D” for some new drugs apparently means “buying a smaller company that already did the R&D.” Gilead’s sofosbuvir, the hepatitis C wonder drug, is once again illustrative. When Gilead bought Pharmasset, Inc. in 2012 for $11.2 billion, Pharmasset reported $62 million in R&D costs over the three years to develop sofosbuvir (out of $177 million spent on R&D company wide over the same period). Before the Gilead buyout, Pharmasset was planning to make a reasonable profit selling sofosbuvir at $36,000 for a course of treatment; Gilead is now charging $80,000 to $160,000. Unless you live in Egypt or India, of course—then it’s only 900 bucks. FREE MARKET™ HEALTH CARE, everyone.

Another analysis published in the BMJ estimates the typical R&D cost at between $60 million and $90 million. But even if the $1.2 billion figure is accurate, there is no justification for US taxpayers and patients disproportionately footing the bill. Especially when we pay dearly in other ways, too: with people bankrupted for accessing life-saving medication, or going without it altogether.

There is a solution: Medicare For All, where “all” includes congresscritters. Just for starters, you would see drug prices negotiated so fast it would make your head spin, and we’d all find just how far they can fall. We really could have a less corrupt and more equitable system, in which corporate greed is not the driver of pharmaceutical innovation or pricing—human health is. But it’s just not going to happen unless and until we find the cure for conservatism. And it sure as shit isn’t in the interests of the pharmaceutical industry to cure that.

And listen. Lest you think I’m just a lefty kook talking out of my ass with no skin in this game: I am alive today only because of pharmaceutical innovations and the privilege to access them affordably. I’m a Type 1 diabetic, and I inject two different bio-engineered insulin analogs daily. I also take several oral medications to mitigate or prevent complications of the disease. I am grateful for this every fucking day. My grandmother’s generation had few alternatives to pig-derived insulin, which could be suddenly and violently rejected at any time by the body’s immune system (sometimes causing premature death), and rendering it useless as an intervention such that the disease would take its natural course (always causing premature death). In fact, as a young adult my grandmother’s sister died from complications of Type 1 diabetes.

I am not arguing for abolishing profits and nationalizing the drug companies. (Not yet, anyway. But if they keep this shit up I just might.) Again, I am arguing for a less corrupt and more equitable paradigm, wherein corporate greed is not the primary driver of pharmaceutical innovation or pricing—human health is.

medicare4all

Last month in mockery.

I was just going to plunk this into a link roundup, but upon re-reading it I like it so much I really want to highlight it. It has everything Loyal Readers™ crave: the appalling truth about how our government and media actually operate, witty snark, and a cudgel with which to clobber conservatives, all of it expressed by someone who clearly relishes the opportunity and/or understands the necessity of doing so.

A few weeks ago, a blogger at Daily Kos who goes by mtosner posted The Biggest Scandal in US History That We’re Still Not Talking About, based on this truly excellent 3-part work of investigative journalism by Scot J. Paltrow and Kelly Carr for Reuters from July.

That would be July of 2013.

Take it away mtosner:

Pentagon_Money_lost

The above is roughly what 8.5 Trillion dollars would look like… and those are $100 bills. Take another look and let that sink in for a bit…   I find it absolutely astonishing that the pentagon could lose track of this much money and for there to be no MSM coverage of this scandalous amount of mismanagement and fraud. Where is the demand for accountability? Why is the first question to ANY candidate for president not “What would you do about the massive fraud and waste at the Pentagon?”  Where are the hearings, nay indictments, that are warranted when a sum equal to 1/2 of our national debt can be sent to the pentagon to never be accounted for.

In an update, the author also notes the fact that since 1996, the Pentagon has been required by law to be “audit ready.” In the nearly 20 years that have passed since then, no real accounting systems have been implemented, much less actual audits. I have been traveling the last day or so through the part of our country I refer to as Pennsyltucky, with brief stops in Latrobe, PA, Lexington, KY and Memphis, TN (don’t ask), and I can attest that every television screen in sight is broadcasting Republican warmongers whinging about the Iran deal, and no one appears the slightest bit concerned with the mysteriously missing EIGHT AND A HALF TRILLION DOLLARS. Why just this morning, I caught my BFF George Pataki yammering on CNN about how the U.S. got “nothing” from the Iran deal. And here I thought “not going to war with Iran” would be less expensive in terms of blood and treasure than, you know, actually going to war with Iran. Silly me. I mean at this point, what’s a few more trillion dollars down the rabbit hole, plus thousands more dead and maimed soldiers, millions of dead, maimed and displaced Iranians, and yet another politically unstable country in the Middle East? “Nothing,” that’s what.

Of course $8.5 trillion worth of Pentagon corruption and/or incompetence (with no end in sight) affects virtually everyone across the nation, but soldiers and veterans suffer the worst of it by far. Just read the first part of the Reuters series to see what “supporting the troops” looks like in practice.

With all of that as backdrop, mtosner urges us to get our game on and work that $8.5 trillion into every political conversation we have, especially with conservatives*. To wit:

“What’s that? Body cameras for all cops will be too expensive? How bout we find 1/10,000th of the money we sent to the pentagon.”

“Oh really? There’s 500 million in provable food stamp fraud going to poor people how bout the 8.5 TRILLION the pentagon can’t account for?”

“Oh really? You think Obama care is going to cost us almost a trillion dollars over 15  years? How about the 8.5 Trillion that just disappeared into the ether at the pentagon? What’s you’re take on that?”

“Oh really, you’re concerned about deficit spending and the debt? Fully 1/3 of the national debt it is money we sent the Pentagon and they can’t tell us where it went. It’s just gone.”

“College for everyone will cost too much? You must be really pissed at the 8.5 Trillion, with a ‘t’, dollars the pentagon’s spent and can’t tell us where it went.”

Yes indeed.

Moreover mtosner is correct that the corporate media’s silence on this issue (among others) ought to require the modification of the oft-used term Military-Industrial-Complex to Military-Industrial-Media-Complex. Then again, when defense contractor GE owns NBC—including MSNBC, beloved by liberals who think Rachel Maddow is as leftist as it gets—perhaps it’s redundant. As mtosnter points out, “It seems for few hundred million in ‘be all you can be’ ad buys the MSM will keep it’s mouth shut.”

I do have a few nits to pick with mtosner, though, who suggests that this exercise exposes conservatives’ hypocrisy. This is true as far as it goes, but conservatives are notoriously impervious to charges of hypocrisy no matter how blatant (just think of all the sexual shenanigans by the Traditional Marriage™ types). But my bigger disagreement with mtosner is the characterization of any of this as “scandalous,” as if it represented some kind of aberration in the way things ordinarily operate. It isn’t. It only appears that way if you buy into the illusion that we are living in anything resembling a constitutional democracy.

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*Unless you are simply enjoying sharpening your fangs, I don’t generally recommend having conversations with conservatives, ever, unless there is an audience. In that case it’s your goddamn patriotic duty to mock them mercilessly and thereby, perhaps, enlighten your fellow citizens. It’s not like the corporate media is going to do the job for us, people.

nonprofitdefense

Drones vs. anti-drone laser cannons for fun and profit. UPDATED. UPDATE 2.

UPDATED BELOW.

Loyal Readers™, prepare to be dazzled—if unsurprised—by my astonishing prescience.

Early last week I was dining with My Amazing Lover™, and of course the topic of drones naturally came up. We were discussing the article by The Washington Post’s Craig Whitlock that I had linked in one of my Recent Reads roundups; thanks to a whistleblower at FAA, we now know about the 700 near-collisions between planes and drones this year (so far).

“But don’t worry about it!” I scoffed. “Drone manufacturers will surely come up with a perfect solution to the very drone menace they created! Then our tax dollars will not only pay for drones themselves, we’ll also happily pay America’s Owners for the technology to neutralize them! WIN-WIN!”

We ordered another bottle of rosé. It was half-price bottle night! But let’s face it, we would have ordered another one anyway.

And then lo and behold, on Wednesday morning Boeing debuted its new compact drone-blasting laser cannon!

dronelasercannonImage: Jordan Golson/WIRED

Isn’t it cute? It looks like the infant spawn of R2D2 and the girl robot from WALL-E!

ever2d2^These two are working for Boeing now, OBVIOUSLY.

The adorable little laser weapon is designed specifically for turning drones into flaming piles of wreckage. The device is controlled with a standard Xbox 360 controller, and no, I did not just make that up. (“If it breaks, just head to the barracks to get a replacement!”).

In the demo, Boeing used the laser to burn holes in a stationary, composite UAV shell, to show how quickly it can compromise an aircraft. Two seconds at full power and the target was aflame…the compact system is small enough to fit in four suitcase-sized boxes and can be set up by a pair of soldiers or technicians in just a few minutes.

Front_View_2kW_Session_1GIF: Boeing.

What could possibly go wrong shooting high power laser beams at drones buzzing around commercial aircraft? FLAMING WRECKAGE FTW.

And what a business opportunity! The market is huuuuge, and I’m not just talking about every single airport in the U.S. (and beyond), or even the military. Last month, drones chased away firefighting helicopters from burning cars on a California highway, which means that every municipal fire department requires a laser cannon, too. There has been a rash of drones dropping all sorts of contraband—weed, weapons, heroin, porn—into prison yards in Ohio, Maryland, South Carolina and probably other places where they went undetected. Boeing blasters on top of every guard tower, anyone? Hundreds of stadiums need laser beam drone exploders, amid growing concerns about all those drones flying overhead. Better to have flaming drone wreckage falling on football fans and players than take a chance on nefarious jihadi plots involving unmanned aerial vehicles, amirite? It would certainly make watching the games much more interesting, that’s for sure. Oh and remember last year when I told you about that 400 pound military drone that crashed landed at a Pennsylvania elementary school? There are a hundred thousand or so public schools in the U.S., and all of them now require an advanced laser weapon. And a working Xbox controller.

And why stop there? The Second Amendment surely guarantees that anyone in the market for a drone blasting laser cannon should be able to get one from Boeing. I’ll certainly need a few of these babies myself, stationed atop the Palace turrets. I’ll be a goddamned one-woman well-regulated militia, necessary to the security of a free state! Whoo-hoo!

Now I ask you: besides Your Humble Monarch™, WHO ELSE COULD HAVE POSSIBLY PREDICTED BOEING’S DRONE-KILLING LASER CANNON?*

__________

Now that you are utterly in awe of my psychic prediction powers, here are some super fun facts about The Boeing Company:

droneattackBoeing’s Unmanned Little Bird H-6U drone under laser attack by Boeing’s new Compact Laser Weapon System.
(Artist’s rendering.)

  • Boeing paid no federal taxes from 2008 to 2010, instead receiving $178 million in tax rebates on profits of $9.7 billion. It spent $52.29 million on lobbying during the same period, when the Democratic Party controlled both houses of Congress and the White House.
  • In the 2008 presidential election, Barack Obama “was by far the biggest recipient of campaign contributions from Boeing employees and executives, hauling in $197,000 – five times as much as John McCain, and more than the top eight Republicans combined.”
  • Since 2008, Boeing has laid off 14,862 workers. In 2010 it increased pay for its top five executives to $41.9 million—a 31% raise.

Have a nice day.

palacehappyface__________
*Okay, anyone with even a minimal understanding of how U.S. capitalism and government work would have predicted precisely this development. But My Amazing Lover™ sure seemed quite impressed with me as I jumped around the Palace animatedly, shrieking “Didn’t I JUST SAY this would happen?! Huh? Weren’t we JUST TALKING about this?!” All right, so maybe “impressed” isn’t exactly accurate. But it’s what I’m going with, people.

nonprofitdefenseUPDATE:

Two things pinged my radar after posting yesterday:

Just a little reminder, from the Palace Library archives:

A study conducted by a US military adviser has found that drone strikes in Afghanistan during a year of the protracted conflict caused 10 times more civilian casualties than strikes by manned fighter aircraft.

UPDATE 2:

It turns out you don’t need a Boeing laser cannon to take down a drone after all: chimpanzees with sticks can get the job done quite nicely.

Plus, you have to admit it would be so awesome having a bunch of chimps hanging around all our airports, prisons, schools and stadiums.

IMAGE 5Boeing’s Unmanned Little Bird H-6U drone under attack by chimpanzees with sticks
(Author’s rendering.)

Anybody know whether the chimps have a lobbyist yet? Asking for a friend…

Trickle Down Economics: FIFY.

Last night I shared on Facebook this graphic from United Humanists*:

trickledownIt’s pretty good as far as it goes. But by this morning, my astute FB comrades had correctly pointed out that the final frame is missing: you know, the one with MOAR wine and money pouring in to the big glass on top, such that all of the smaller glasses have shattered under its weight. I needed to fix it, obviously. If not me, people, then who?

winecapitalI just love the smell of anti-capitalist collaboration in the morning.

[h/t Llewellyn & Tony. ]

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*As Loyal Readers™ well know, I am not a humanist. I despise the human species WAY too much for that, especially Homo sapiens conservatus Americanus. Don’t be alarmed: I ain’t going soft or anything.

Introducing The Palace Pool.

scaliamantearsOn the happy occasion of the US Supreme Court’s same sex marriage decision, I noted that Antonin Scalia’s tears were the most delicious I had ever tasted. My cup runneth over, and I imbibed deeply.

*burp*

Excuse moi.

But then came more conservative tears—lots and lots more tears. Of course we had Justice Samuel Alito, Scalia’s #1 comrade in the War on Fucking, crying that the Obergefell v. Hodges case will be “used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy.” This heretofore unheard of “new orthodoxy” being, you know, the foundational (if elusive) principle of the United States and its constitution: equality. And for those who are unwilling to assent to equality, I can only say: yay for vilification! I AM ON BOARD, VILIFIERS. And Scalia’s BFF, Justice Clarence Thomas, wailed about “potentially ruinous consequences for religious liberty.” Hahaha. FYI doucheweasel: your religious liberty stops where human rights begin. Mmmkay?

*slurp*

Concerned Women for [sic] America bewailed the end of democracy. THE END OF DEMOCRACY, PEOPLE!!!!11!! Conservatives hate democracy at least as much as they hate Teh Ghey Sechs™, but it is kind of adorable when they bawl like babies about the end of the oligarchy under which we all presently live—one that conservatives are pretty much single-handedly responsible for bringing about.

We also learned that human shitsack and Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum is whimpering about “a national standard for marriage.” He said, and I quote: “I don’t think we can have a standard from one state to another on what marriage is.” I am actually worried about him. Does this poor man understand what Supreme Court decisions are? Hint: they can indeed ensure that we do not have a different standard from one state to another. And here’s the real kicker: Santorum wants a constitutional amendment “to define marriage the way it was defined for 4,000 years of human history.” Here comes polygamy! Women as chattel! And—my personal favorite—that biblical classic: marriage-by-rape + 50 shekels!

*slurp slurp*

Then there’s a d00d named Phillip Bethancourt, executive vice president of some outfit called the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, which claims an affiliation with the Southern Baptist Convention—

BEEEEEEEP! BEEEEEEEP! BEEEEEEEP! WE INTERRUPT THIS PROGRAMMING IN ORDER TO DELIVER THE CUSTOMARY PALACE “FUCK YOU” TO BAPTISTS, WHENEVER AND WHEREVER WE ENCOUNTER THEM, INCLUDING BRINGING THEM UP ON OUR OWN BLOG:

palacefuckyouOfficial Palace FUCK YOU.

WE NOW RETURN TO YOUR REGULARLY SCHEDULED CONSERVATIVE MOCKING.

Anyway, this Bethancourt character blubbered on and on about conservative Christians having become a “moral [sic] minority” living in a “post-Bible belt” America that discriminates against them. Let that sink in: America discriminates against Christians. Why, it’s almost as if they’re suggesting that discrimination would be wrong somehow. ?

Of course there are also legions of keening nobodies, like this one wondering what if ‘Murrikkka had as many Real Christians™ as gay activists what about that huh?

“What if a mere 3% of Americans were consecrated by the grace of God to the propagation of His Kingdom through loving obedience to His crystal clear command to take every thought captive and make obedient disciples of all nations (including – and starting with – our own)?”

We all know that 75% of US citizens identify as Christians, so maybe the word they meant to use was “Christo-fascists”? Or perhaps submissives? NOT THAT THERE’S ANYTHING WRONG WITH THAT. (The submissives, not the Christo-fascists. There is plenty wrong with them.)

Then came the confederate flag sobbers. One precious manbaby called the police when he and like a hundred other douches had a confederate flag parade through Petersburg, Virginia—which is three-quarters black—and their Manly Man Trucks™ were pelted with water bottles.

manbabyflagtears“Waaaaaaaaaah!”

But that wasn’t the worst part for Chris Oliver, oh no. “The racial slurs are really what hurt me,” he said. “You know, it’s uncalled for. There’s no need for that in today’s society.”

O. M. F. G.

Brandy Burgess said she was crying even before the flag on the South Carolina capital grounds came down:

“It started coming down and I felt like part of my heart broke,” she said. “And when it did, everyone that was chanting ‘USA’ and all that, it felt like they were slapping me in the face. Me and my whole family.”

conservativetears“Boo-hooo! BOOHOOOOHOOOOOO!!!!”

Excellent work, people!

And this Saturday, the South Carolina KKK is having themselves a big snivel-fest over the confederate flag.

I gotta tell you, there doesn’t seem to be any shortage of conservative tears in sight, at least in the near future. And when I realized I could no longer obtain the dozens of additional large (stylish) vessels I would need to contain them all, I did what any Humble Monarch™ worth her diamond-studded tiara would do: I put in a fabulous pool.

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palacepoolThe Palace pool.

As astute readers may note, the exquisite design of our new 25-meter pool is, um…an “homage to a similar one nearby. Palace staff and guests are welcome to enjoy the facility 24/7/365 (while supplies of conservative tears last). Well, with the exception of our notorious fuck parties, which are strictly invitation only.

John Boehner notwithstanding, delicious conservative tears have been a rarity during my lifetime. For one thing, right-wing types generally evince spittle-flecked rage in lieu of sadness whenever the moral progress of modern civilization threatens their sense of entitlement and Special Snowflakiness. More critically, the country has drifted ever further rightward over recent decades. Take “privatization,” that cornerstone of conservative economic dogma: prisons, health care, education, the military and even the most essential human requirement of water access are now run as profit centers instead of public resources and services. This has quite predictably created all sorts of fucked-up incentives, inefficiencies and evil effects. Even war profiteering, once universally reviled, is now The American Way®. The tragic results of conservative social and economic policies are all too obvious, and speak for themselves. And without sustained, significant pushback from an organized left—which has been all but nonexistent—a deadly right-wing feedback loop is an inevitable emergent property of the capitalist state.

What troubles me is that these recent fonts of abundant conservative waterworks are in all likelihood an aberration, rather than a portent of great social progress to come. Sure, there have always been and probably always will be bright spots, and those are worth fighting for and celebrating. But I happen to agree with Ta-Nehisi Coates, and James Baldwin before him, that there is no good reason to believe that the long arc of the moral universe bends toward justice. Human apes are inevitably doomed by natural causes of course, but due to our unbridled greed, arrogance, ignorance, irrationality and propensity for ingenious and systematic violence (i.e. conservatism), our extinction will come much, much sooner than necessary, and at our own hands. That would not be an entirely bad thing, except that our crowning achievement, our most significant legacy, will be taking with us most (if not all) of Earth’s other inhabitants when we go. So while humanism may very well suit my moral instincts and temperament on a day-to-day basis over the tiny timescale of my lifetime, it simply finds no purchase with me intellectually. None. Readers may find this view bleak and pessimistic, and that may be true. But I do think the case is strong that it is realistic. It is also spectacularly freeing—not from the struggle that justice and joy demand from every one of us every single day—but from the foolish tyranny of apocryphal hope. Yes we can’t.

:D

So in the grand tradition of the Palace Abattoir we will simply replenish our salty liquid reservoirs as more conservatives have teary tantrums. And if the Abattoir is any indication, we will not be running low any time soon.

TL;dr: Dive right on in. The water’s nice and warm. Enjoy the Palace pool, filled to overflowing with hot conservative tears, for however fleeting a time it lasts.

Ask Iris: How can that happen?

I’ve been conversing in the comments on my seminal post on Conservative Personality Disorder with reader jim davis, who asks: “Why don’t progressives use facts and statistics to make their case?” He then provides irrefutable evidence—in the form of facts and statistics—that the (conservative) economic policies enacted over the past decades have utterly failed the American public and systematically devastated the middle and lower classes.

I responded that the utility—or futility—of deploying facts as a method of political persuasion depends on one’s target audience, and that unfortunately, for many of our fellow citizens facts are not only irrelevant, but exposure to facts can actually backfire. <—That article summarizes the research demonstrating that conservatives are especially prone to this effect, whereas liberals are more likely to change their minds when presented with new evidence and sound reasoning (i.e. reality-based).

jim davis responded:

How can that happen? Iris, I just read exposure to facts can actually backfire. I don’t buy it because all we have to do is change a very small percentage of peoples minds to tip the scales.
MLK, and a small group of activist did it in the 60’s and we can do it now, and we better begin before it’s too late.

I started answering in the comments, but instead I thought I would share my response here.

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How can that happen?

The short answer is that humans are not particularly rational creatures—although some are, or at least potentially can be, more rational than others. Unconscious biases and our physical and social environments motivate our actions and reasoning to a far greater extent than we generally like to admit. But for now, we don’t need to know how the backfire effect happens to observe that it clearly does. (See also reactance.)

Behold just some people you would like to persuade with facts and statistics:

Almost half of Americans believe that a god created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years, and, except in the relatively rare case of extremist homeschoolers, it isn’t because they’ve never heard the facts about the age of the earth and evolutionary biology. We recently learned that the Governor of Texas ordered the state guard to monitor military training exercises based on widespread fears that President Obama is planning to invade Texas and declare martial law. Influential American Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke—a ranking member in perhaps the most patriarchal institution on Earth—blames the Catholic Church’s pedophile priest scandals on…feminists. Abstinence-only sex education is an unrivaled policy failure, and yet its proponents only double-down in the face of indisputable facts:

Officials with the Crane Independent School District are meeting to discuss their sex education program after nearly two dozen cases of Chlamydia were reported among the high school student body.

The school district’s superintendent, Jim T. Rumage, stands by his chlamydia-friendly strategy of telling kids to wait until marriage. “If kids are not having any sexual activity, they can’t get this disease,” he told the Express-News in a phone interview.

I recently wrote about conservatives in the Colorado legislature ending funding for a program that saves the state many multiples of its cost by providing long-term contraception to low-income women. Under that initiative teen birth rates plummeted, and abortions fell 42 percent among women aged 15 to 19. The legislators’ “reasoning,” if we can call it that, for ending the program is the (false) belief that IUDs cause abortions. In other words, in order to curb the horrifying scourge of fictional abortions, actual abortions are now going to rise—to the tune of about 42%. And I can guarantee you that these same legislators will insist without even blinking that they are fiscally conservative and fiercely anti-abortion. And they believe it.

So. For whatever reason(s)*, our society continues to generate a critical mass of highly illogical, willfully ignorant, stunningly selfish, aggressively petty, historically naive, self-righteous, shallow-thinking and empathy-deficient (when not actively violent) apes—i.e., conservatives. And I would argue that precisely to the extent one is conservative, one is an arealist at best, and anti-reality at worst. (Yes, I just coined that word “arealist.” Like amoral, or atheist. You’re welcome, people!)

And let us not forget for one single second that the power center of the Democratic Party—which includes Barack Obama—is economically conservative (“neoliberal”). That makes them arealist, too. (See?! It’s come in handy already!)

I just read exposure to facts can actually backfire. I don’t buy it because all we have to do is change a very small percentage of peoples minds to tip the scales.

I don’t understand your disbelief in the fact-backfire effect. As I noted in my first reply, whether facts can be persuasive depends on (among other things) one’s target audience. For conservatives, that approach is particularly counterproductive. The effect is real, and that article I linked does a decent job of reporting the solid research that backs this up.

Your contention that “all we have to do is change a very small percentage of peoples minds to tip the scales” is also a bit confusing to me, as I am not entirely sure what claim you are making. By “tip the scales,” do you mean “get people who are uninformed, misinformed, unmotivated non-voters to consistently turn out to vote for liberal candidates and support liberal policies”? Because that is a very different order than “get a small percentage of conservatives to vote for liberal candidates and support liberal policies.” The former is exceedingly difficult; the latter, nigh impossible.

There is a key axiom that underlies all conservative ideology, namely: conservatism can never fail, it can only be failed. In other words, when conservative policies fail (and fail, fail, fail, fail, fail, fail, fail, fail…), well, this only proves that we obviously need more of it. It’s a cognitive cousin to narcissism: since they can never, ever be wrong about anything, it therefore follows that anything that contradicts their beliefs simply cannot be true. QED. This is why they cannot help but spin bizarre rationalizations, believe wacky conspiracy theories, and accept all manner of conveniently confirming bullshit as “fact.”

Relevant to the facts and statistics you presented in your comments, virtually all conservatives, all libertarians and an unconscionable number of Democrats have bought into the Just World Fallacy of the Free Market™ as a moral arbiter, i.e. that based on the inherent moral character and work ethic of the individual, the poor and the rich “deserve” their respective lots in life. Now obviously if this myth were even remotely true, Mexican day laborers would all be millionaires and the idle rich would be living on the streets. I mean, it doesn’t even hold up to the slightest empirical scrutiny. Nevertheless, the belief makes those who hold it readily susceptible to messages that we should further punish the poor until they get their goddamn bootstrappin’ shit together, and enact more tax cuts for all those wonderful wealthy job creators. The fact that the American Dream is now an empty promise for nearly everyone is either outright denied, or—contrary to all available evidence—blamed on liberals.

Likewise, if the middle and lower classes have had their income and wealth decimated for decades—and as you document, they certainly have—conservative economic policies simply cannot be responsible. Thus people are eagerly gullible dupes for messages that claim the source of our economic woes are our (inadequate) social safety net programs like Medicaid or food stamps that benefit Those Other Undeserving People at the expense of me and my own, and oppressively high taxes on rapacious corporations and wealthy individuals—and not, say, our absurd “defense” budget, or deregulating the banksters. It is simply a fact that over the past three decades 100 percent of income growth has gone to the wealthiest ten percent of Americans, and that this is the direct result of conservative economic policies. (And no, neither Bill Clinton nor Barack Obama are liberals on economic policy: they are neoliberal True Believers™). But good luck convincing the American people of that: conservative economic dogma so dominates our political discourse to such an extent that even people who are not particularly conservative by nature adopt conservative economic beliefs unquestioningly.

You will never, ever reason conservatives out of their wrong ideas. It is not just what people believe, but how they think that makes the task so daunting. That too, my friend, is just a fact. When it comes to the forces driving the economic status quo, Americans are among the most propagandized populations in the world, and the overwhelming majority cannot or will not interrogate the myths they have been force-fed since childhood. They have absolutely no fucking idea what their government is up to, or who it serves. And I am not convinced that even if they did, a sufficient number would be any more rational, compassionate, or motivated to do anything effective about it. There is something going on here that makes us uniquely irrational among Western nations.

Last, I would be remiss if I did not address this:

MLK, and a small group of activists did it in the 60’s and we can do it now, and we better begin before it’s too late.

Again, I’m not exactly sure what you are trying to say here, but facts and statistics did not drive the civil rights movement any more than reasoned argument got women the right to vote. As the brutal state violence visited upon peaceful protestors (including whites) was splashed across the nation’s TV screens, black activist leaders seized the moment and maneuvered politically to force the federal government to intervene. The FBI wanted Dr. King dead, and I am 100% certain that if a leader with the potential to upend the status quo arose today, the same would be true. More to the point, for all practical purposes blacks are still segregated in housing and education, legally lynched and discriminated against in ways large and small. Whatever gains the civil rights movement made, the backlash was swift, severe and continues to this day. Do you think Dr. King, if he were alive today, would declare victory for civil rights?

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*I have my pet theories on the causes of Conservative Personality Disorder. Religiosity is a likely vector: faith is antithetical to critical thinking and a reality-based worldview; it is no accident that the least religious countries are the most socially advanced. A permanent war footing is another: War on Drugs, War on Terror, War on Whatever Bogeyman is Coming Next, war, war, and more war. Presently, we are bombing at least seven Muslim countries; meanwhile we are bombarded with images of Islamic terrorism (not our terrorism, silly) that serve up easy justifications for our counterproductive state violence abroad and worse-than-useless mass surveillance domestically. Militarization invariably degrades the humanity and empathy of any citizenry, and that trend is only increasing in the US. Economic insecurity also spawns conservatism, and as your examples demonstrate there is certainly plenty of that to go around. And perhaps the greatest impediment to meaningful change is that this state of affairs suits some very, very powerful interests very, very well.

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I hope this edition of Ask Iris has been helpful. And I would like to thank jim davis very much for his comments and question.

Reads.

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10 Situations Where Christian Bakers Should Refuse To Bake Wedding Cakes. Corey, B.L., Patheos (Mar. 2015). (“we need to have the courage to radically expand our discrimination as we apply the Bible to everyone but ourselves.”) [No cake for you! Or you! You either! –Ed.]

CIA Torture Whistleblower: Wake Up America, You’re Next. Abby Martin interview of John Kiriakou, Media Roots (Mar. 2015). (VIDEO)

Costa Rica is now running completely on renewable energy. Epstein, A., Quartz (Mar. 2015). [Yes we can’t! -Ed.]

Starbuck’s CEO Just Made A Shocking Announcement That Has Christians Standing Up For Their Faith. Rachel, Q Political (Mar. 2015). [Shocking. LOL –Ed.]

Forget terrorists — be terrified of Harperites. Siddiqui, H., The Star (Mar. 2015). (“Stephen Harper’s government wants us to be terrified of terrorists, niqabis, criminals, thieves, etc. But it’s the Conservatives we should be scared of.)

Women on 20s. (“It’s our mission to generate an overwhelming people’s mandate for a new $20 bill, to be issued in time for the 100th anniversary in 2020 of the Constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote.”) [What are you doing lounging around the Palace? Go vote! -Ed.]

“You Grow Up Wanting to be Luke Skywalker, Then Realize You’ve Become a Stormtrooper for the Empire”. Crimmins, D. via Garret, Upriser (undated). [An amazing piece of writing from an Iraq veteran. -Ed.]

Scientists have discovered a simple way to cook rice that dramatically cuts the calories. Ferdman, R.A., The Washington Post (Mar. 2015).

France decrees new rooftops must be covered in plants or solar panelAgence France-Presse via The Guardian (Mar. 2015).

If Motivational Posters Were For People Who Hate People. Bailey, L., BuzzFeed (Feb. 2015). [I hate people, and I can attest that these posters are totally for me! -Ed.]

everyoneistheworstEven in nursing, no equal pay for women. Rapaport, L., Reuters (Mar. 2015).

Virtual reality is coming to sex, sports and Facebook. della Cava, M., USA Today (Mar. 2015). [h/t SJ]

Big Bank’s Analyst Worries That Iran Deal Could Depress Weapons Sales. Fang, L., The Intercept (Mar. 2015). [OH NOEZ!!! –Ed.]

Amazon’s trees removed nearly a third less carbon in last decade – study. Mathiesen, K., The Guardian (Mar. 2015). (“Fall in amount of carbon absorbed by rainforest means even greater cuts to manmade emissions are needed to combat climate change, warn scientists.”) [Today in We Are So Fucked. –Ed.]

Mother-Daughter Duo’s Photo Project Features 5-Year-Old as Iconic Black Women. Gilchrist, T., For Harriet (Mar. 2015). [Amazing and adorable. -Ed.]

If Purvi Patel delivered in hospital she could have declined neonatal care, but she delivered at home so faces jail. Gunter, J., Dr. Jen Gunter (Mar. 2015). (“So to be clear, had Ms. Patel delivered in a hospital she could have declined neonatal care had her baby been born alive. But because she delivered at home she is a criminal. Now tell me this wasn’t a reproductive witch hunt designed to both test the limits of Indiana law in curtailing reproductive rights and score points with pro-life donors and voters.”)

This Woman Says She Had A Miscarriage. Now She Could Face 70 Years In Prison. Culp-Ressler, T., Think Progress (Mar. 2015). (“Critics say there are a lot of issues with the way Patel’s case has unfolded over the past two years. For instance, Patel was first questioned in her hospital bed without a lawyer present. Expert witnesses could not come to consensus about the gestational age of her fetus. The prosecution relied on a highly unscientific method to try to determine whether her fetus was born dead or alive.”) [UPDATE: Purvi Patel was just sentenced to 30 years, with 10 suspended. -Ed.]

Two Cops Arrested for Beating 3-Month-Old Into Vegetative State; Baby Not Expected to Recover. Fairbanks, C., The Free Thought Project (Mar. 2015). [h/t Tony] [I can’t even. –Ed.]

Black Woman Locked In Psych Ward For 8 Days Because Cops Couldn’t Believe She’s A Businesswoman. Kerry-Anne, Addicting Info (Mar. 2015). [I. CAN’T. EVEN. –Ed.]

One Model Tried On 10 Different Pairs Of Size 16 Jeans And This Is What They Looked Like. Ospina, M.S., BuzzFeed (Jan. 2015).

This Photo Was Removed By Instagram. The Owner Writes A Powerful Open Letter In Response. Rupi Kaur via Chaudhary, S., Scoop Whoop (Mar. 2015).

Trillion Dollar Fraudsters. Krugman, P., The New York Times (Mar. 2015).

Shakespearean Insulter. [“Thou clouted fly-bitten boar-pig!” Hahaha. -Ed.]

Stunning Photos Reveal Beauty in Medicine. Live Science (Mar. 2015).

She’s back! Arizona legislator suggests church attendance should be mandatory. Mother Mags, Daily Kos (Mar. 2015). [Okay, player. –Ed.]

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For the Quote Collection:

I think America has the best assholes in the world. I defy the Belgians or the Japanese to produce something like a Donald Trump. –Matt Taibbi

Women have always been an equal part of the past. They just haven’t been part of history. –Gloria Steinem

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PLZ NOTE: Acquisition of links and/or bon mots for the Palace Library does not imply the Palace’s 100% agreement with or endorsement of any content, organization or individual.