Monthly Archives: August 2020

The Big Lie Part 4: Cancel Plutocracy

One of the malevolent subsidiaries of the Big Lie is that “there’s nothing we can do about it anyway.” It is true that you can’t just ‘vote’ your way out of an oligarchy, but a variety of alternative tactics will be required to rebuild democracy. Some may march in the street with symbolic pitchforks and be mauled by militarized police, but that spectacle may not be necessary just yet. There are still ways to get the job done without risking tear gas & rubber bullets. Hope is not dead, but this window of opportunity is shrinking fast.

There are several grassroots initiatives undermining the oligarchy/plutocracy and the smartest ones frame our common enemy as “corruption” instead of “capitalism” or “billionaires” because neither the liberals nor conservatives can win this battle without help and trying to restore democratic power only for “my side” is obviously a non-starter. The only way to restore power to all the people from whom it was stolen is to strive for unity in a non-partisan anti-corruption movement.

Expect the plutocrats to fight this every step of the way. Edward Snowden and the subsequent Cambridge Analytica scandal revealed the underhanded information warfare tactics  already used successfully to divide & rule us. The billionaires’ lackeys will drive wedges into any  anti-corruption movement along as many fault lines as possible. Divide & rule has always been the plutocracy’s strongest defence and it is clear how they have weaponized identity politics to this end.

Those of us who have the patience and tact to use “mental ju-jitsu” skills to de-escalate polarized conversations might train others how to do it. We need to get in touch with the fundamental humanity of people who are literally being framed as our enemies. Setting up our fellow citizens to be attacked by others is criminal and the deep state and/or private contractors engaged in psychological and information warfare ought to be held accountable.

Although corruption is often framed as a monster, huge beyond our reach, there are many ways to hack tentacles off this beast. Some suggest overturning Citizens United would require a constitutional convention, but the Koch network have clear intentions to hijack such an event for their own benefit. Grassroots groups all over the country have already used initiatives in state & local races to enact anti-corruption laws. When enough states clean up their own backyards, we’ll hit a tipping point and the American Anti-Corruption Act can be implemented at the federal level.

Once that happens, parties and candidates not beholden to the wealthy will be easier to elect and it when they reach a critical mass in both houses, it will be possible to mend shredded infrastructure and the social safety net. Eventually, deeper forms of corruption can be addressed, like regulatory capture. It’s time for the trust-busting that finally cut the  robber barons down to size to make a comeback. Perhaps one day robust independent oversight of the alphabet agencies can be developed to protect civil and privacy rights and bring the military-industrial-complex to heel.

Opinions differ on which of the many crises we face is the worst one but logic keeps leading back to a singular, fundamental truth. Undermining the plutocracy must come first – chronologically – because voters can’t solve any other problems until they have the power to do so. The Big Lie of “democracy” deliberately blinds voters to the fundamental problem that needs to be solved before all others, so let’s hold the corporate media accountable for malpractice and get to work on solving the core problem.

This post is part of a 4-part series.

The Big Lie Part 1: “Democracy”                    (The U.S. is not a republic)

Part 2: Duopoly = Oligarchy = Plutocracy     (How they get away with it)

Part 3: Plutocrats = Looters                              (Why we need to fix this)

Part 4: Cancel Plutocracy                                  (How to solve the problem)

The Big Lie Part 3: Plutocrats = Looters

The first two essays in this series laid out the Big Lie of “U.S. democracy” and why it is so hard for the truth about oligarchy/plutocracy to get any traction in the media.

Corporate plutocracy in the U.S.. deprives people of their democratic power, but it does not exist to seek power alone. Incomprehensible volumes of wealth and income have been sucked from the pockets of the poor and working class by the ultra-rich, and this cash vacuum has been turbocharged by the pandemic response.

About a month before the Gilens & Page study was published, billionaire venture capitalist Nick Hanauer gave a TEDtalk in which he warned his peers:

“I have a message for my fellow plutocrats and zillionaires and for anyone who lives in a gated bubble world: Wake up. Wake up. It cannot last. Because if we do not do something to fix the glaring economic inequities in our society, the pitchforks will come for us, for no free and open society can long sustain this kind of rising economic inequality. It has never happened. There are no examples. You show me a highly unequal society, and I will show you a police state or an uprising. The pitchforks will come for us if we do not address this. It’s not a matter of if, it’s when.”

The apparent response of the ruling class has been something akin to “Alrighty then, a police state it is!” Whether the uprising Hanauer warned of can be avoided or merely delayed remains to be seen. Anyone who has read history ought to know it’s a bad idea to create a massive demographic of angry people who have literally nothing to lose. The corporate Democrats seem as oblivious as the French aristocracy before their heads began to roll.

One might expect the plutocrats to throw us a bone like Medicare for all out of consideration for their own self interest, if not the suffering poor, but despite the massive financial hardship caused by the pandemic, very little is being done to alleviate the acute suffering of tens of millions of people. With massive ongoing protests in many cities and calls for a General Strike, this callous disregard for human suffering may seem remarkably shortsighted, but the oligarchs see things from a higher perch than the rest of us.

The plutocracy stays on top by the effective use of Divide & Rule tactics. They hide in the shadows while encouraging voters on the left and right to see one another as enemies. They play a Polarization Game of their own design in which they are the only possible victors. None of us can “win” such a game by taking sides. On the contrary the only way the rest of us can beat the plutocrats at their own game is to refuse to be played. We win when we recognize those who vote differently as people and acknowledge our shared humanity.

Instead of getting stoked against the enemies we’re told it’s OK to hate, we all need to burst our Orwellian filter bubbles and develop our awareness of the way propaganda is being used to dehumanize us all. We need to recognize that the horrors we’ve been told will be visited upon us if ‘the other side’ wins are falsehoods that pale in comparison to what dystopian nightmares our lives may become if the current corporate technocracy is not brought under human and  humane, democratic control, and soon.

Continued in Part 4

This post is part of a 4-part series.

The Big Lie Part 1: “Democracy”                    (The U.S. is not a republic)

Part 2: Duopoly = Oligarchy = Plutocracy     (How they get away with it)

Part 3: Plutocrats = Looters                              (Why we need to fix this)

Part 4: Cancel Plutocracy                                  (How to solve the problem)

The Big Lie Part 2: Duopoly = Oligarchy = Plutocracy

Oligarchy means rule by the few, but Plutocracy, which means rule by the wealthy, may be a more accurate term to describe U.S. governance. However, plutocracy and oligarchy can be used interchangeably not just because the few who rule also happen to be rich, but because of the other feature both systems have in common: the average citizen has no say in public policy, so the ruling class does not have the consent of the governed.

The Big Lie that the U.S. is a “democracy” has been stubbornly persistent for a number of reasons, including cultural saturation and cognitive dissonance, but there’s another factor that may contribute to maintaining the illusion of choice. The Gilens & Page study (2014) that exposed the U.S. Oligarchy notes that the probability of a law passing is about 30% no matter what percentage of average voters approve of it. This figure may have a unique significance with respect the way our brains are wired. Adolescent rats love to wrestle, and Panksepp discovered that if one rat is at least 10% bigger than another, it will trounce the smaller rat every time. However, if the big rat doesn’t let the little rat win 30% of the time, the little rat won’t play. If the little rat doesn’t play, the big rat can’t have fun.

Of course, correlation is not causation, but perhaps this is the reason the average voter’s influence on public policy flatlines at 30% rather than 25%, or ten. Perhaps the big rats – the oligarchs – let voters win 30% of the time so we’ll continue to cling to the illusion of democracy, even though the little rats only ever win when the big rats let them. Perhaps the only reason voters get even 30% of what they want is to prevent them from building guillotines.

It is also instructive to consider the specific policies which have caused the most severe economic harm to the poor and working class, like NAFTA. In Canada, another pseudo-democracy, nobody has replicated Gilens & Page yet and I don’t think any political science student who wants to do so should expect encouragement from the academic establishment because I am certain the same results would emerge.

A typical Canadian election involves turfing out a party who failed to deliver on their promises. In Canada’s 1988 single-issue federal election, a majority of the electorate voted for parties that promised to reject the North American Free Trade Agreement, but their jobs were sent to Mexico anyway and did not return even after the “false majority” government responsible was kicked to the curb in the next election. Canada’s new Finance Minister, Chrystia Freeland called out the Plutocrats in 2013, and was offered a seat at their table for her trouble, so now she’s too busy to say anything more on the topic.

Although the victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez could be trotted out as rare example of the people actually getting who, if not what, they voted for, there is no certainty voters will ever see her platform come to fruition because the vast majority of both houses is beholden to the oligarchy. AOC was never expected to win her primary against an establishment incumbent, and may not have succeeded if the Democratic Party had recognized the threat she posed to their power before it was too late.

In Democratic primaries, candidates can legally be selected in ‘smoke-filled rooms‘ rather than elected. The judge who dismissed the DNC cheating lawsuit in 2017 said that while it was clear the DNC rigged the primary to deprive Bernie Sanders of the nomination, cheating his supporters out of the millions of dollars they had donated wasn’t illegal. Many of the same signs of cheating discovered in the 2016 Democratic primaries have been repeated in the current race, not that Republicans are above similar shady tactics.

There is abundant evidence, for those who trouble themselves to seek it out, that Noam Chomsky’s assessment of the duopoly was correct:

“In the US, there is basically one party – the Business Party. It has two factions, called Democrats and Republicans, which are somewhat different but carry out variations on the same policies. By and large, I am opposed to those policies, as is most of the population.”

George Carlin illuminated this as well, and we laughed, but now when we read his rants it’s clear he was more than just a comedian and his brilliant work pointed to a hard truth. Instead of trotting out a Carlin quote here, I’ll give the last word to the late Bill Hicks:

I’ll show you politics in America, here it is:

“I think the puppet on the right shares my beliefs”

“I think the puppet on the left is more to my liking”

“Hey, wait a minute, there’s one guy holding both puppets.”

Continued in Part 3

This post is part of a 4-part series.

The Big Lie Part 1: “Democracy”                        (The U.S. is not a republic)

Part 2: Duopoly = Oligarchy = Plutocracy         (How they get away with it)

Part 3: Plutocrats = Looters                                  (Why we need to fix this)

Part 4: Cancel Plutocracy                                     (How to solve the problem)

The Big Lie Part 1: “Democracy”


It’s time to stop calling the U.S. a democracy not only because there is insufficient evidence for it but also because failure to challenge the Big Lie perpetuates the core problem it seeks to obscure. There is abundant evidence the U.S. is an oligarchy or, perhaps more accurately, a plutocracy.

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.” — Joseph Goebbels

School teachers who told us about Hitler also taught us that the U.S.A. was a “democracy” and perhaps in 1975 it was still true, but any reporter who continues to refer to the U.S. as a democracy today, without qualifying the term, is committing journalistic malpractice. Sadly, the Big Lie is buried among so many others it tends to go unnoticed.

According to the Economist Intelligence Unit democracy index 2020, the U.S. is a “flawed democracy” but it would be more accurate to call it a “pseudo-democracy” or a “former democracy” particularly at the federal level, because there are serious weaknesses in the way this index is measured. The methodology is not transparent, relies largely on “experts’ assessments” and the survey used ignores the crucial question of whether the average voters’ preferences are actually reflected in public policy.

Our own experience tells us that no matter what the majority of us vote for, what we invariably get is what the economic elite want or are willing to allow. In 2014 an academic paper by Gilens & Page confirmed what the average voter already suspected, based on data from 1981 to 2002. In a nutshell:

“When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.”

I don’t have concrete evidence upon which to draw conclusions about the health of democracy prior to 1981, but we do know Reagan’s election marked neoliberalism’s  shift into high gear. The efforts of the Chamber of Commerce, outlined in the infamous Powell Memo, culminated in what Chris Hedges called a corporate coup d’état turning a once-proud Republic into a covert plutocracy.

Naturally, the corporate media propagates the Big Lie that the U.S. is a democracy or constitutional republic for self-serving reasons. Those who do speak the truth have gone unheeded, although this now appears to be shifting as the consequences of plutocracy become harder to hide. The process of Manufacturing Consent is breaking down because the mainstream media is losing it’s grip on the public mind and social media censorship hasn’t replaced it… yet.

Most mainstream media outlets ignored ‘the Princeton study‘ and its disturbing conclusions. MSNBC did a segment on the findings, and another outlet attacked it, but few even mentioned it before the story disappeared from public view. Critics of Gilens & Page argued over the extent to which the wishes of voters aligned with those of the economic elite without taking into account the extent to which public opinion is shaped by the media. One criticism of the study – I kid you not – is that governance is so darned complicated that we’re better off leaving it to the “experts.” Events since 1980 make it clear we are not ruled by benign philosopher kings, but looters making off with everything that isn’t nailed down.

Setting the truth before the public, though, is not sufficient for them to accept it.  Because we took in the Big Lie at an early age, it is harder to dislodge than more recently acquired knowledge. The psychological phenomenon of “cognitive dissonance” makes it very difficult to convince people that U.S. Democracy is, in fact, a lie. Like a red pill covered in barbed spikes, it does not go down easily, not even for me.

The widely held misconception that we can make the world a better place by “voting” blinds voters to the reality that other methods will be needed to overturn oligarchy. If we hope to rebuild representative democracy we must first admit that we’ve lost it. We all need to open our eyes now, even if it hurts, and insist on honesty about oligarchy/plutocracy while there is still hope to overturn it.

Continued in Part 2

Note: Prior to 2020/08/21, this piece was much longer, but it has now been split it into a 4-part series.

The Big Lie Part 1: “Democracy”                    (The U.S. is not a republic)

Part 2: Duopoly = Oligarchy = Plutocracy     (How they get away with it)

Part 3: Plutocrats = Looters                              (Why we need to fix this)

Part 4: Cancel Plutocracy                                  (How to solve the problem)