- Michael Parenti is an internationally known speaker and
award winning author of 20 books and hundreds of articles. He's also a
noted academic having taught at a number of colleges and universities in
the US and abroad.
- Parenti is also one of the nation's leading progressive
political analysts and social critics. He strongly opposes US imperialism,
the shredding of our civil liberties, decline of our social state, and
the Bush Doctrine of preventive wars on the world for predatory capitalism's
need for new markets, resources and cheap exploitable labor.
- Parenti's latest book, and subject of this review, is
the newly updated eight edition of one of his most noted and popular earlier
ones - Democracy For the Few. In it, he shows how democracy in the nation
really works. It dispels the fiction Americans are practically weaned
on from birth, taught in school to the highest levels, and get daily from
the dominant media.
- Parenti's view is quite different from the mainstream's
suppression of the "shadier sides of US political life." He
explains "proponents of the existing social order have tried to transform
practically every deficiency in the US political system into a strength."
They want us to believe "millions of nonvoters are content with present
social conditions, (and) the growing concentration of executive power is
a good thing because the president is democratically responsive to broad
national interests (ones affecting the public)." They tell us "exclusion
of third parties" makes our system work better, and all state vices
are, in fact, virtues. Those popularly presented views turn reality on
it head in a nation dedicated to wealth and power interests since inception.
It only ever yields a little (and grudgingly) when forced to by grassroots
activism or in periods of social crisis like The Great Depression to save
what elitists value most - the soul and substance corporate capitalist
- Parenti addresses the nature of American capitalism that's
the beating heart of our politico-economic system. He covers our political
institutions, the "foundations and historical development of American
political politics....Who governs....Who gets what, when, how and why."
Central to ask is cui bono? Who benefits and who doesn't is key to his
core theme showing how power, wealth and class dominate America and the
notion of real democracy is pure illusion. Today, America the beautiful
only exists for the privileged few and no one else. But it's always been
that way in a nation ruled by rich white, predominantly Christian elitist
men from birth. Parenti deconstructs our system, from its roots, in 19
incisive, thought provoking chapters, encyclopedic in depth, and up to
date to the current age of George Bush neocon rule.
- This review covers them all briefly to convey a full
flavor of his important book, all of which needs to be digested and understood.
It's must reading and should be kept as an essential reference guide for
future examination and reflection. Knowing its contents is key to arousing
enough public concern for change in our own self-interest. In the age
of George Bush's America, and his coterie of extremist rogues, the issue
is now survival at a time a reckless leadership threatens everyone with
potential nuclear or ecological Armageddon because of their lust for wealth,
power and empire.
- Without public awareness, angst and plain determination
not to take it any more, this agenda will continue with potential consequences
too disturbing to ignore. It doesn't have to happen if enough people know
the danger, collectively act to defuse it in self-defense, and decide to
make the country work for everyone. Parenti dedicates his book to them
- "To all those who struggle for peace, social justice, and real democracy.
May their numbers continue to grow."
- Partisan Politics Favoring the Privileged
- Privilege always counted most from the time the nation
was founded. The prevailing fiction then and now is an egalitarian country
"free from the extremes of want and wealth that characterized (18th
century) Europe" and most parts of the world today. It was as untrue
then as now with wealthy 18th century colonialists having vast disproportional
land holdings and control of banking, commerce and industry, such as it
was back then.
- These "wealthy and powerful 'gentlemen,' our founding
fathers," gathered in 1787 in the same Philadelphia State House where
the Declaration of Independence was signed 11 years earlier. They came
to draft a Constitution intended to last into "remote futurity"
for their interests alone. Democracy for the many was not on the table
- Yet, they nominally managed to include unimaginable freedoms,
up to that time, in the Bill of Rights ratified in 1791. They gave people
the rights of free expression, religion, peaceable assembly, protection
from illegal searches and seizures, due process and more even though it
only got done through compromise after these ideas were twice rejected
earlier. The delegates finally agreed out of necessity to get their document
ratified and avoid a second convention some states wanted. To do it, they
had to win over dissenting state representatives who wanted Bill of Rights
protections for their own propertied interests.
- They weren't added to the Constitution as a democratic
gesture to "the people" who were nowhere in sight then or henceforth.
As history later showed repeatedly, the entire Constitution was flawed
from the start as governments, then and later, freely and willfully ignored
and set aside these less than inviolate freedoms as Presidents Adams, Lincoln,
Wilson, Johnson, Nixon, George W. Bush, and many others easily were able
to do and often did.
- Overall, "the Constitution was consciously designed
as a conservative document" the way the framers wanted it to be. They
achieved their aims with provisions in it, or omitted by intent, to "resist
the pressure of popular tides" and protect "a rising bourgeoisie('s)"
freedom to "invest, speculate, trade, and accumulate wealth"
the way things work for capital interests today. It was to codify the
law to let the country be run the way politician, jurist and nation's first
Chief Supreme Court justice, John Jay, said it should be - for "The
people who own the country....to run it (for their benefit alone)."
- Benjamin Franklin was reportedly asked at the end of
the Constitutional Convention whether the 55 attending delegates created
a monarchy or republic. He responded "A republic, if you can keep
it" without acknowledging notions of an egalitarian nation were stillborn
at its birth. It was true then and now in spite of all the pretense contrived
to portray an idealized society, in fact, always out of reach for most
- This is Parenti's dominant theme - of a government, since
inception, serving the privileged few at the expense of the neglected or
exploited many. That's hardly a textbook definition of democracy, yet
it's the model one we're taught to believe we have serving everyone equally.
Parenti says his book is intended to show how vital it is for everyone
to critically examine our society as a step toward improving it. He stresses
a nation's greatness is measured by its freedom from "poverty, racism,
sexism, exploitation, imperialism....environmental devastation," and
a fundamental opposition to war and pursuit of peace everywhere. Benjamin
Franklin also said "There never was a good war or bad peace,"
a notion unimaginable to our leaders today.
- Wealth and Want in the United States Getting More Extreme
- Parenti distinguishes between society's owner and worker
classes with the latter paid much less than the value they create. He
calls corporations "organizational devices" to exploit labor
and accumulate capital with working people being society's real producers.
Publicly owned corporations are the dominant institution of our time existing
for one purpose only, mandated by law - to maximize the value of shareholders'
equity by increasing sales and profits, securing new markets, and continuing
to grow in size and dominance or be left behind. Their success is measured
by their concentrated, virtual-monopoly size today. Of the world's 100
largest economies, 51 are corporations, more US-based ones than from any
other country. Noam Chomsky calls them "private tyrannies."
- They're run by wealthy and powerful figures comprising,
along with other elites, the top 1% of the nation's affluent. Today they
own 40 - 50% of the country's wealth in the form of stocks, bonds, land,
natural resources, business assets and other investments. In contrast,
90% of American families have little or no net worth after mortgage and
other debt burdens are taken into account. Parenti stresses America has
the highest level of inequality of all developed nations, the country is
rigidly structured by class, and most people die in the same class they
were born into. It debunks the notion of "a land of opportunity"
- It's for CEOs who are practically deified in today's
business press. They're hugely over-paid powerful figures gaining wealth
at the expense of their rank and file. In 1965, they earned, on average,
24 times more than workers, in 1973 it was 45 times, in 1990 85 times,
and in 2004 an astonishing 431 times as the disparity in wealth continues
growing to levels economist Paul Krugman calls "unprecedented."
In the last generation, worker productivity grew, but wages didn't keep
up with inflation, and essential benefits declined and are disappearing.
Corporations rely on downsizing and offshoring manufacturing and other
high-paying jobs to cheap labor markets to reduce costs and raise profits.
They maintain lean labor forces, rely heavily on part-time workers, are
hostile to unions, and achieve the benefits of a huge reserve army of unemployed
or underemployed to contain wage pressures.
- Working people suffer the effects. Since 1999, consumer
debt grew at twice the rate of their income, millions live in poverty,
many more millions just above it, far more still have inadequate or no
health insurance or other safety net protections, and defenseless children
and single mothers (many black and other minorities) suffer most. Parenti
sums up America's dark side, unreported in the mainstream. Our nation "squanders
our national resources, exploits and underpays our labor, and creates privation
and desperate social needs serving the few" at the expense of the
many. It mocks the notion of a egalitarian democratic society serving
all its people and shames the nation for unjustifyably claiming it.
- Our Plutocratic Culture Defiles Our Nominal Democracy
- Parenti stresses America is a plutocracy, run predominantly
by hugely affluent business people in industry and commerce, the dominant
media as well as others in academia, entertainment, the clergy, and private
foundations and charities. They spread the false gospel that "capitalism
breeds democracy and prosperity" ignoring how democratic freedoms
are incompatible with acquisitive corporate free-enterprise thriving on
the exploitation of the majority everywhere.
- Parenti asks "What about (forgotten) values relating
to justice, health, occupational and consumer safety, regard for future
generations, and accountability in government" along with concern
for the environment, an educated and informed citizenry, affordable housing,
worker rights, and peace on earth and an end to wars and conflict. In
a "capitalist democracy," we're on our own, able to have anything
if we can pay for it. The result is an enormous growing disparity between
haves and have-nots and an uncaring government unwilling to help the ones
in greatest need. That's "The Other America" Michael Harrington
wrote about 45 years ago that aroused John Kennedy's concern in ways unimaginable
in today's age of greed and imperial arrogance.
- A Constitution for the Privileged Few Alone
- The origins of republican America were addressed above
- to create a nominally democratic government Adam Smith said should be
"instituted for the defense of the rich against the poor." The
nation's founders achieved mightily, handing down their legacy to succeeding
generations of leaders always mindful of who gave them power and who they
had to serve. At the nation's birth, only adult white male property owners
could vote; blacks were commodities, not people; and women were childbearing
and homemaking appendages of their husbands.
- Religious prerequisites existed until 1810, and all adult
white males couldn't vote until property and tax requirements were dropped
in 1850. States elected senators until the 17th amendment in 1913 gave
citizen voters that right, and Native Americans had no franchise in their
own land until the 1924 Indian Citizenship Act gave them back what no one
had the right to take away in the first place. Women's suffrage wasn't
achieved until the 19th Amendment passed in 1920 after nearly 100 years
of struggling for it.
- The 1865 13th Amendment freed black slaves, the 1870
15th Amendment gave them the right to vote, but it wasn't until passage
of the landmark Civil and Voting Rights Acts in the mid-1960s, abolishing
Southern Jim Crow laws, that blacks could vote, in fact, like the Constitution
said they could decades earlier. Today those rights are gravely weakened
for all through unfair laws still in force and a nation growing more repressive
and less responsive to the needs of ordinary working people and the nation's
least advantaged. The limited high-water mark of Lyndon Johnson's Great
Society has steadily eroded since in loss of civil liberties and essential
- Rise of the Corporate State that Rules Our Lives and
- Parenti explains how, contrary to popular view, the history
of America was marked by "violent class struggles, with the government"
siding with "big business." Native peoples were slaughtered
for their land and resources, large landowners and corporations exploited
slave labor, and limited labor rights were only won through pain and struggle.
Government always sided with business interests "gorg(ing) themselves
at the public trough, battening on such government handouts and protections
as tariffs, subsidies, land grants, and government contracts." Along
the way, the public got pathetically little.
- Governments also handed down friendly legislation and
court decisions favoring wealth and power over ordinary people consigned
to low wages, few or no benefits, unemployment, unsafe work conditions,
child labor, poverty, and few of the rights democratic states are supposed
to afford but don't in America. It hardly mattered who was president, Democrat
or Republican, Teddy Roosevelt or Woodrow Wilson, William Howard Taft or
Calvin Coolidge. "Silent Cal" belied his reticence proclaiming
what all presidents swear allegiance to - that "The business of America
is business," and government officials, chief executives and others
in high places better not forget it.
- They never did, even during Franklin Roosevelt's New
Deal, "an era commonly believed to have brought great transformations
on behalf of (what FDR called) 'the forgotten man.' " Roosevelt was
a patrician allied with business interests trying to save capitalism in
America from meeting the same fate as in Czarist Russia in 1917. That
was job one, and giving a little to save the system was a small price to
- It showed in the National Recovery Act (NRA) benefitting
corporations by restricting production and setting minimum price requirements.
"The federal housing program subsidized construction firms and loan
insurance for mortgage bankers." Price supports and production cutbacks
advantaged corporate agriculture. Only faced with mass unrest were relief
programs created to relieve human need. So some real democratic gains
were achieved, most notably essential social welfare legislation. Key
but short-lived was the passage of the landmark Wagner Act in 1935 establishing
the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). It gave labor the right to
bargain collectively on equal terms with management for the first time
ever, an achievement the repressive 1947 Taft-Hartley Act began undoing
that's now lost altogether.
- Parenti sums up the era as follows: "the New Deal
era hardly adds up to a great triumph for the common people" with
government mostly being responsive to the will and needs of corporate capitalism.
It was true then but far more so now through "subsidies, services
and protections that business could not provide for itself" and even
plenty of them they can but don't have to because government largess (with
our tax dollars) does it for them.
- Politics: Who Gets What? Who's Left Out?
- Parenti explains today we have a corporate state writ
large with government taxing the many (the public) to subsidize the few
(the privileged). This practice has been especially pernicious since WW
II when the US emerged as the only dominant nation left standing. "Moderate"
Republican Dwight Eisenhower gave private corporations the equivalent (in
today's dollars) of $300 billion worth of offshore oil reserves, public
lands and utilities, atomic installations and much more in what Parenti
and others call "socialism for the rich." The rest of us are
on our own, sink or swim, under free-market capitalism. It's heralded
as the American way.
- Today, corporate giants get multi-billions in all kinds
of handouts we pay for. They come in tax breaks, price supports, loan
guarantees (many never repaid), bailouts, marketing services, export subsidies,
R & D grants, free use of the public broadcasting spectrum, and huge
subsidies and other government-directed benefits proving "big government"
works great and business loves it. The system works by socializing costs
and privatizing profits "in an enormous upward redistribution of income
from the working populace to the corporate rich."
- Even the tax system works to corporate advantage with
corporations today paying, on average, a tiny 7.4% of their revenues compared
to 49% in the 1950s. No need asking who makes up the difference in revenue
lost, but it's even worse than that. Sixty percent of US corporations pay
no income taxes, and many profitable ones get rebates. That's reality
in today's America with government showering business with a tsunami of
benefits and ordinary working people paying for them in a huge upward distribution
of income now way exceeding one trillion dollars annually and rising.
- The US Global Military Empire Threatens Everyone
- The US emerged from WW II as the world's dominant superpower.
Today it's the only one, and it throws its weight around recklessly proving
it. First, it spends more on the military than all other nations combined.
It has many hundreds of military bases worldwide including many secret
ones that by some unofficial estimates number around 1000 large, medium
and smaller ones. In Iraq alone in May, 2005, the Pentagon acknowledged
having 106 bases including permanent super ones the size of small towns
with all their amenities included.
- Further, the US is recklessly embarked on new super-weapons
building programs, including nuclear ones, in defiance of arms control
and reduction and other treaties it renounces unilaterally. It's aim is
"full spectrum dominance" of all land, surface and sub-surface
sea, air, space, electromagnetic spectrum and information systems with
intent to fight preventive wars of aggression against any potential challengers
to its status as lord and master of the universe.
- Money is no object or restraint toward this aim with
the Pentagon unable to account for multi-billions annually from waste,
fraud and abuse no one in government cares about. After all, it's taxpayer
money payouts to corporate fraudsters in lieu of funding essential public
services and having regard for environmental protections. It's spent on
a reckless imperial agenda claimed for national security at home and to
spread democracy abroad to nations having none. In fact, it's what Parenti
calls "defending the capitalist world from social change" - even
the peaceful and democratic kind seen as a threat to corporate interests.
- Since WW II, it's been a US-led "global bloodletting"
through wars of aggression, CIA-instigated coups and political assassinations,
and supporting a rogue's gallery of S.O.B. tyrants as long as they're our
S.O.B.s. The list of them earlier and now is near-endless. They serve
the US empire well and its corporate giants hugely at the expense of ordinary
people everywhere. Parenti rightfully calls America "the greatest
imperialist power in world history." It's also the greatest of all
threats to humanity from possible nuclear or environmental Armageddon.
- Health and Human Services - Victims of Corporate Capitalism
- Parenti explains even plutocratic rulers have to make
concessions at times, but for the last generation hard won earlier gains
have eroded. He names some of them:
- -- the WIC program aiding women, infants and children;
- -- AFDC aid to needy families with dependent children
wiped out by Clinton's welfare reform;
- -- SSI supplemental income for the blind, disabled and
low income persons;
- -- food stamps; -- child nutrition help and school lunch
program; -- nursing home assistance for indigent elderly; -- legal services
for the poor; -- remedial education; -- maternal and child health care;
- student grants and other aid;
- -- drug treatment; -- Medicare and Medicaid reductions,
and much more. The result is "more hunger, isolation, unattended illness,"
homelessness, untreated illness and more "for those with the fewest
economic resources and the least political clout."
- The picture's even bleaker with states and private charities
unable to make up for what Washington eliminates, and rising costs of essential
services like health care means tens of millions unable to afford what
everyone must have. The plutocrats' solution: privatize everything including
the most successful government poverty-reducing program ever - Social Security.
For now, efforts to do it stalled, but the scheme won't go away. Wall
Street is drooling over the possibility of getting a huge cut out of what
seniors, "survivors," and the disabled badly need in retirement
and/or supplemental income. The plutocratic sharks will be back trying
again to steal what they haven't gotten so far.
- Parenti covers other areas where public need and welfare
are sacrificed to plutocratic greed - occupational safety, ergonomic standards,
untested chemicals and additives in foods, factory farms polluting ground
water, minimum wages kept low in spite of the recent inadequate increase
taking 10 years to get, disappearing low-cost housing, and education falling
victim to reduced funding and efforts to let private pirates teach our
kids wanting only to profit most by doing the least.
- Then, there's what Parenti calls "mess transit."
Mass transit rails efficiency and low fuel consumption got Big Oil and
Big Auto to doom the system, another victim of plutocratic greed. It got
us dirty air, global warming, 42,000 annual needless highway deaths and
huge numbers of accidents and injuries, clogged highways, congested inner-cities,
and an enormous expense to many car owners struggling to afford what many
wouldn't need if efficient mass transit served them. Parenti's conclusion
- "Once again public service was treated as something to be eliminated
rather than be improved." The public ends up the loser.
- The Last Environment Becoming the Lost One
- Parenti explains privilege and power give plutocrats
the right to "expropriate and use....whatever natural resources"
they want, "while passing off their diseconomies (or externalities)
onto others." He means maximizing profit and minimizing costs by
dumping huge amounts of deadly toxins on land, in water, and in the air.
Corporate giants are licensed to strip mine rapaciously, clear-cut forests,
turn rain forests in wastelands, harm natural species and wildlife, erode
topsoil by harmful chemical farming, sell unsafe and untested foods and
drugs, destroy the ozone layer, increase global warming, and threaten human
health and welfare, all for the sake of greater profits.
- For their crimes, "corporate polluters are more
often rewarded than punished" with lucrative contracts to clean up
the mess they made. They gain at public expense twice over. They're allowed
to foul the environment, then get us to pay the cost "for the private
sector's diseconomies." The alternate approach is obvious but untaken
because it's bad for business. So Parenti concludes "An infinitely
expanding capitalism and fragile, finite ecology are on a calamitous collision
course. Our very survival hangs in the balance." But for corporate
predators, that's someone else's problem after they're gone.
- Unequal before the Law Favoring Elites
- Crime in the suites prevails in America because the law
is usually written and enforced "to favor the very rich over the rest
of us." Put another way, the rule of law depends on who it's intended
for or aimed against. Corporate crime is far more costly in lives and
money than crimes on streets. Even worse, what's uncovered is the tip
of the iceberg, and the worst corporate crimes go unpunished - exploiting
people everywhere for profit, fouling the environment, and profiting hugely
from destructive wars. Then there's growing mass poverty from neoliberal
globalized trade; turning a blind eye to corporate complicity in drugs
trafficking; money laundering; underpaying employees; union busting; waste,
fraud and abuse on government contracts generally ignored; insider trading
rarely caught or prosecuted, and more and more.
- In contrast, steal a few tomatoes to feed your hungry
kids and face stiff prison terms, and do it three times in states like
California and many others and get life sentences. In an age of neocon
rule, it's hardly surprising the Supreme Court ruled 5 - 4 in March, 2003
such harsh sentences don't violate the Constitution's Eight Amendment prohibition
against cruel and unusual punishment. Parenti cites the cases of a Virginia
man sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for stealing 87 cents and a Houston
youth getting an incredible 50 years for robbing two people of a dollar.
- A nation treating its people this way is one gone mad
by its brazen defiance of democratic justice exposed as a pipe dream for
ordinary people and an impossible one for the least advantaged, people
of color and anyone happening to be Muslim in an age of the concocted "war
on terrorism." Then there's the other phony "war on drugs"
that's just an ugly scheme to fill prison cells, take restless minorities
off the streets so they don't get more restless, and build a huge criminal
justice system as another avenue for profit. Those homeland wars and the
long-standing one on the poor and least advantaged left the US with the
largest prison population in the world at 2.2 million that's rising by
1000 new inmates weekly.
- It's the shame of the nation and was the subtitle this
writer used in 2006 for an in-depth article called "The US Gulag Prison
System" referring to the one at home. Everyone pays for it including
taxpayers and the mothers and children left behind on their own to fend
for themselves. Not the families of corporate fraudsters, however, whose
offending members rarely serve time if caught, do it in country club prisons
if they do, and get short sentences and affordable fines made easier by
automatic early releases.
- Then there are government criminals caught, tried and
convicted. They just enter the presidential commutation and pardon queue
awaiting their turn, like I. Lewis Libby, that usually comes up before
they ever serve a day in soft-on-crime prisons. In America, it's called
justice. In this review, it's called outrageous.
- Political Repression and National Security Under Police
- Parenti puts it this way: "The corporate-dominated
state is more sincerely dedicated to fighting dissent than fighting organized
crime" including in the suites where the worst of it's committed.
So we have the FBI, CIA, NSA, IRS, Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
and NORTHCOM protecting the rich by coming down hard on the rest of us
if we have "dangerous thoughts" or support "peace and social
justice organizations." Corporations can fire employees with the "wrong
political opinions." Secret courts can order secret surveillances,
render secret decisions and keep no published records.
- We can be wiretapped; illegally searched; have our possessions
seized; and now declared an "enemy combatant," denied due process
and sacred habeas corpus rights, and "renditioned" to a torture-prison
hellholes for indefinite incarceration and trial by a military tribunal
with no right of appeal or legitimate access to proper legal help. That's
today's America where anyone disagreeing with George Bush can end up a
political prisoner in a nation claiming to have none. We've always had
them with shameful examples to prove it like Industrial Workers of the
World (IWW) leaders like Big Bill Haywood who had to leave the country
to avoid serving time, others in the IWW, socialist leader Eugene Debs,
and radicals Sacco and Vanzetti made to pay for crimes they never committed.
- Then there were WW II and Korean War resisters arrested
for their beliefs and 120,000 law-abiding Japanese Americans sent to US-based
concentration camps because of their ancestry in time of war with the country
most were never born in. There was repressive legislation going back to
John Adams' Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 criminalizing dissent in his
day. There was Woodrow Wilson's Espionage and Sedition Acts that were
just as punitive. There was the 1940 Smith Act making anti-capitalist
dissent a crime. There were jailings of African American leaders in the
civil rights struggles, and today there are mass witch-hunt roundups and
unlawful detentions of Muslims because of their faith and Latino immigrants
persecuted twice over. Destructive trade agreements like NAFTA destroyed
their livelihoods, forcing them here for work unavailable at home. Then,
once here, they're treated like criminals if caught or ruthlessly exploited
by employers as virtual serfs.
- There were Black Panther leaders murdered in their sleep
like Fred Hampton, Jr. in Chicago and others imprisoned on spurious charges
like Geronimo Pratt (now a free man after being held 20 years in jail unjustly).
There's Mumia Abu-Jamal framed for a murder he didn't commit, denied due
process, confined to prison on death row for the past 25 years still hoping
for a new trial to vindicate himself. There were American Indian Movement
leaders like Leonard Peltier also framed for a murder he didn't commit
and still incarcerated after 30 years. Add to these, Puerto Rican nationalists,
peace and environmental activists, and others still fighting for their
civil rights and right to dissent.
- In all the above instances, "unworthy" victims
paid for the crimes of their "worthy" victimizers. Parenti documents
these and other examples of a repressive state apparatus protecting the
rich from their exploited victims daring to resist. He sums it up saying
"under the guise of 'fighting communism, fighting terrorism, protecting
US interests, keeping us safe, or defending democracy, the purveyors of
state power have committed horrendous crimes against the (innocent) people
of this and other countries, violating human rights and the Constitution....to
make the world safe for profit, privilege, and pillage." It's called
- Who Governs? For Whom? Who Has No Say?
- Who else? Those controlling society's wealth "exercise
trusteeship over educational institutions, foundations, think tanks, publications,
(and) mass media" as well as having political and economic power over
the nation's business. The ruling class is comprised mainly of wealthy
white, Judeo-Christian corporate elites whose mission it is "to secure
the interests of the wealthy class."
- That means relations with labor are quite the opposite
and quite successful with union membership currently around 12% overall
and only 7.4% in the private sector. That's down from its post-war 1950s
peak of 34.7%. Today, organized labor is at its lowest ebb since the beginning
of the mass unionization struggles of the 1930s and in the private sector
in over 100 years. It's because of Democrat and Republican hostility to
organized labor as well as corporations threatening plant closures and
outsourcing forcing pay and benefit cuts and unions to lose out overall.
The situation is grim with wealth and power firmly in charge and ordinary
working people losing out. There's no mystery about how to fix the problem.
But it can only happen through mass collective action by organized people
confronting organized money. There's a lot more of us than them.
- It's not easy, however, in an age of glorified globalization
promoting the phony notion it lifts all boats. Ralph Nader explains the
rising tide only lifts all yachts at a time corporate giants' power is
immense. It exceeds the rights of all sovereign states they operate in
making them the ones that rule the world. They do it with one-sided unfair
"free trade" agreements like NAFTA and DR-CAFTA. They and the
World Trade Organization (WTO) super-state have power to "overrule
or dilute any laws of any nation deemed to burden" corporate capital.
WTO rules deny their sovereignty when it conflicts with corporate-mandated
trade rules written for them. No sovereign right is sacred and none can
interfere even in cases of harmful products and services member nations
aren't allowed to prohibit. Secret WTO panels alone have the final say
in trade disputes that always side with business because that's where
their ruling members come from.
- Meanwhile, the Constitution is null and void even though
its preamble nominally states power rests with the people, not a corporate-run
trade body making secret rulings putting its members above the law of the
land. Parenti calls this "a coup d'etat by international finance
capital....a logical extension of imperialism, a victory of empire over
republic (and) corporate capital over democracy" that our own government
does nothing to counteract because it supports these practices. It's not
supposed to be that way, or so we learned in school. But that's how it
is and won't change until we end "free trade" and replace it
with trade that's "fair" for "the interests of the many
rather than the greed of the few." We have miles to go and haven't
even begun the journey.
- The Shame of the Mass Media That's A Mess
- Corporate giants rule the nation, the world and the nation's
dominant means of communicating to the people through the mass media using
public airwaves and the large print publications they control. In that
capacity, they're the nation's thought control police gatekeepers filtering
in information they want reported and suppressing what's hostile to state
and corporate interests. Today, they're more able than ever to do it.
Since 1983, the number of corporations controlling most newspapers, magazines,
book publishers, movie studios, and electronic media shrunk from 50 to
six global media Goliaths - Time Warner, Disney, General Electric, Viacom,
Germany-based Bertelsmann, and Rupert Murdock's News Corporation. Add to
them cable giant Comcast and it's a not so "magnificent seven."
- Their owners decide what's aired and what isn't and news
reporters, commentators and so-called pundits know the rules. If someone
forgets, they'll end up in newspaper Siberia reporting obits or on TV off-camera
at best, not on it. Those playing by the rules aren't cheated, however,
even though they cheat us. On TV especially, many earn handsome salaries,
good benefits and lucrative speaking engagements and book deals. Lying
for the state and corporate bosses pays well. It's why the queue is long
with many in it awaiting their chance for a big payday. Those of conscience
and progressive leanings need not apply. Few get space in print or on-air
except as setup patsies matched against hoards of conservative ideologues
preaching wars are good and corporations free to pillage and plunder will
make the world safe for democracy. Their job is to spread the "proper"
message that excludes lots of ugliness harmful to ordinary people they
- There is hope, however, and it shows up in alternate
media spaces - on progressive web sites, like the one you're on now, and
on small and independent radio and some TV in cities throughout the country
where this writer airs a weekly "News and Information Hour" that
tells the truth in-depth with noted guests. They need support and space
to grow, and that's where the listening public comes in. They and we also
need to join the struggle to save the last frontier of press freedom -
to preserve Net Neutrality and keep this space out of predatory corporate
media hands that want to control. They can't be allowed to get it nor will
they if enough people-power unites to prevent it. At stake is what remains
of a free, open and independent media. We can't afford to lose it to corporate
giants wanting to take away what belongs to us.
- Our Corrupted Electoral Process
- It almost understates the problem saying our "electoral
process is in need of serious rescue and repair." In large measure,
it's on life-support barely hanging on and is now little more than theater
in a nominal democracy serving the privileged alone. They make the rules
in a dominant two-party duopoly, effectively keep out interloper alternative
choices. While differences between both sides exist, on one issue they're
united. They're both committed to waging imperial wars for predatory corporate
capital's right to exploit workers, gain new markets, control the world's
resources, and rule it without challenge. Unless that changes, whichever
party wins elections won't matter. Neither one will serve popular interests,
only privileged ones.
- Our electoral system is structured to make it near impossible
for both dominant parties to lose to a third party surprise. We have "winner
take all" elections artificially magnifying major parties' strengths.
Whichever party gets a plurality of votes (even if not a majority) wins
100% representation so parties on the short end getting lesser vote totals
in congressional districts get no representation for their supporters.
If we had a proportional representation system, it would be different
as party representation would match the percent of votes it won.
- Redistricting, as a function of decennial reapportionment,
rigs the system as well especially when its most extreme gerrymandering
method is used to maximize party strength in how district lines are drawn.
Then there's the issue of campaign funding and where most of it comes
from. It's not from the public supporting people-oriented candidates.
It's from powerful corporate donors for candidates supporting their interests,
and the amounts contributed are huge. They're in unrestricted soft money
amounts to parties and evasions of the $5000 limit per candidate by donating
in names of other family members, relatives, staff, the corner grocer or
anyone else for the multi-millions needed for federal and many state elections
today. All donations come with strings. We all know what they are and
what's expected of winning candidates.
- Then there's the issue of who gets to vote most people
thought was settled long ago, but tell that to adult citizens in poor black
and Latino districts and they'll say otherwise. Many are peremptorily
stricken from the rolls the way many black voters in Florida were cheated
in the 2000 elections. The same thing goes on in many states, it's illegal,
but it happens anyway, and if discovered ex post facto it's too late to
matter - case closed. In addition, 4.5 million Americans can't vote because
of past criminal records, or they're currently in prison.
- Then there's the issue of election theft in a nation
where foxes now guard the henhouse under a system of privatized elections
with more than 80% of 2004 votes cast and counted on corporate-owned electronic
voting machines. Three Republican-supporting large corporations own, program,
operate and count the votes using machines with no paper ballot receipts.
The process makes it impossible to verify vote totals through recounts
that will only produce the first total gotten, real or corrupted. It also
makes a mockery of free, fair and open elections.
- The process now is secretive and unreliable run by private
interests with everything to gain if their candidates win. Based on clear
evidence, that's exactly what's happening and will continue to until these
machines are banned and independent civil servants run elections free from
outside interference and do it with paper ballots counted by hand and saved.
The way elections are run now, it's easy rigging the outcomes threatening
to make our two-party monopoly "an even worse one-party tyranny"
the way it's been under George Bush Republican rule with Democrat complicity
- The Best Congress Money Can Buy with Its Members Having
Plenty of Their Own
- Parenti explains our founders created a system of checks
and balances by separating government into executive, legislative and judicial
branches, even though the idea sounded better than it actually was. Today
it's barely noticeable with two branches overtly supporting the chief executive's
right to do as he pleases with no effective check on his power or lawlessness.
One reason is because of who gets to Congress and the courts. They're
mostly plutocracy members in good standing there to take care of their
own. Half of Senate members are millionaires, and one critic believes
the lower body is more "a House of Lords" than a House of Representatives.
- They're connected in an incestuous relationship with
business and high-powered influence peddling lobbyists offering "succulent
campaign contributions, fat lecture fees, easy-term loans (sometimes forgotten),
pre-paid vacation jaunts, luxury resorts, four-star restaurants,"
choice seats at major sporting events and other monetary and other inducements
for easily corrupted officials quick to sell their votes and integrity
for the office they want to win and hold onto. It's all legal so long
as explicit promises aren't made in exchange for money or monetary favors.
Even when they are, few offenders are caught with exceptions like lobbyist
Jack Abramoff and Representative Duke Cunningham and others long forgotten
in the past. The scoundrels come from Congress, the administration, states,
police and one vice-president.....so far.
- Richard Nixon got off by resigning and getting Gerald
Ford to pardon him as part of a shameless deal likely struck in advance
with a willing seeker of the nation's highest office. So did Ronald Reagan
for the Iran-Contra scandal and his vice-president, GHW Bush. Future judgment
awaits the son for his crimes, far exceeding the father's that alone were
pretty egregious as part of the Bush crime family's way of operating and,
so far, getting off scott free.
- It makes it hard imagining legislators will hold him
or others accountable that's made no easier by the way Congress is structured.
It's in about 20 standing committees, numerous subcommittees and chairmen
of each with enough influence to make or block things from happening unless
they goes against congressional consensus. So deals like NAFTA, "welfare
reform," and the 1996 telecom giveaway were pretty much baked in the
cake, and no committee chairman dared try blocking them.
- Parenti explains how the "legislative labyrinth"
affects the work of Congress, how staggered Senate terms of office blunt
sweeping sentiment changes, and how the very structure of Congress keeps
it conservative and supportive of privilege, not the electorate. He notes
"legislative democracy (is) under siege," held virtual hostage
by "the entire corporate social order" with its control of the
nation's wealth, mass media, and whole network of powerful figures working
for its interests. Under Republican/Bush neocon rule, it's even worse
today from "reactionary forces within the legislature itself."
Secrecy prevails, public interest is discarded, the rule of law is what
the chief executive says it is, and free, open and fair elections are an
illusion under a system where wealth and power choose the candidates and
often determine who wins before voters go to the polls.
- Hail to the Chief Executive
- Along with his other roles as chief executive and commander
in chief, the president is also the lead "promoter and guardian of
global corporate capitalism," not democracy as we're made to believe.
In this capacity, he surrounds himself with a coterie of corporate leaders
and advisors from industry, Wall Street and other key areas of business
with a dog in the fight to keep the world safe for capital.
- Another key presidential role is being the nation's "chief
liar." It involves preaching restraint while supporting extremes,
saying tax cuts benefit ordinary people when they're earmarked for the
rich and corporate giants, professing to be a peacemaker while preparing
for war, and claiming to be an education president and friend of the earth
while slashing funding for both to give big handouts to corporate friends
who don't care about societal betterments.
- Parenti covers much more in this section including "a
loaded Electoral College" overriding the popular vote when the two
disagree and individual Electors free to vote against the candidate "to
whom they had been pledged." He also notes how presidents today are
"would-be kings." They usurp powers far beyond what the Constitution
allows like taking the nation to war when its Article I arrogates that
authority solely to Congress. He freely uses executive privilege as well
through executive orders, signing statements, emergency war powers and
more that for George Bush means claiming "unitary executive"
authority (unmentioned in the Constitution) to ignore the law and do as
- Parenti sums it up saying "executive power....advances
the process of 'free-market' capital accumulation." Whoever occupies
the White House, there won't "be much progressive change from the
top....unless there is also mass social unrest and mobilization for fundamental
reforms at the (grassroots) base. Until then, presidents will pursue their
prerogatives and their (imperial) wars."
- Bureaucracy in American Politics
- Bureaucracy exists in all parts of society, public and
private, but the government kind we're told is inefficient and should be
minimized. It's so private interests can run everything because they supposedly
do it better. Baloney. Unmentioned is private interests represent themselves,
not society. That's why we need government in place serving everyone in
ways private business won't because doing it hurts profits. The record
makes the case. HMOs and other health insurance providers love healthy
customers but discard the seriously ill; privatized, unregulated water
and other utilities gouge their customers as much as they can get away
with; and government-run Social Security is the most effective of all retirement
programs for most people compared to private pension plan promises made
and now abandoned by growing numbers of companies to save money.
- Government also does what private business can't or won't
like running the "much maligned post office" delivering first
class mail anywhere in the country for 41 cents an ounce. It used to run
a more efficient military until it privatized services in it, including
100,000 hugely overpaid paramilitary mercenaries, not the 30,000 phony
number told the public. The changes accomplish nothing besides running
up a big bill for taxpayers in a massively bloated and growing military
budget that includes tens of billions off the books and mostly out of sight.
- Much is done secretly with Congress helping administrations
wage illegal wars, practice malfeasance and get away with all of it untouched
because they're all in on the schemes. It ends up breeding a culture of
unaccountability, waste, corruption, lawlessness, and no one's the wiser
unless something important slips out by mistake. When it comes from whisleblowers,
they're condemned and threatened making coming forward honorably a risk
to their careers or worse in an atmosphere where dissent means supporting
- Parenti also explains how watchdog agencies like FDA,
FCC, EPA, OSHA and others protect the industries they're supposed to monitor
and regulate more than ever. So FCC supports further industry consolidation;
EPA ignores dirty air, polluted groundwater and global warming; and FDA
allows untested drugs and unsafe foods to be sold to consumers. These
and other watchdog agencies promote profits, not the public interest or
safety, and they're staffed by corporate foxes guarding our henhouse.
- Public authority is also placed in private hands with
federal lands, forests, water and other resources given to corporate interests.
Then there's the so-called Federal Reserve System created in 1913 by Congress
through one of their most outrageous and disastrous pieces of legislation
ever, robbing the public welfare to enrich greedy bankers.
- The System is a privately-owned for profit enterprise,
not a government-run one as most people falsely believe. It illegally
gave bankers authority Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution arrogates
soley to Congress - the power to create and control the nation's money
supply they use to charge government interest on its own money. In its
near-94 year existence, this banking cartel pulled off the largest ever
financial heist in world history by far. The Federal Reserve Act gave
private bankers power to transfer wealth from government to profiteers
with the public paying for it through taxes. In a 2006 article titled
"Dirty Secrets of the Temple," this writer explained how they
did it, how the system works, and the horrific consequences.
- In it was mentioned what Parenti covers as well about
Jack Kennedy's displeasure with the scheme that may have cost him his life.
He wanted to end the Federal Reserve System to eliminate the national
debt central bankers create by printing public money and loaning it to
the government. On June 4, 1963, he issued presidential order EO 11110
giving the president authority to issue currency and ordered the US Treasury
to print $4 billion worth of silver-backed "United States (Treasury)
Notes" notes for starters replacing Federal Reserve (banking cartel)
ones. Months later he was dead, and Lyndon Johnson rescinded his order.
- Abraham Lincoln met the same fate that may have resulted
from his getting Congress to pass the Legal Tender Act in 1862. It empowered
the US Treasury to issue paper money called "greenbacks" so the
government had it own money for the Civil War and didn't have to pay greedy
bankers 24 - 36% interest they demanded for loans Lincoln needed. Right
after the war ended, Lincoln was assassinated, the so-called Greenback
law was rescinded shortly thereafter, and a new national banking act was
passed making all money interest-bearing again.
- The US "Supremes"
- Parenti calls the Supreme Court an "aristocratic
branch" of government as its member are appointed, serve for life
and have great power for good or ill. They're also well paid and "enjoy
expensive gifts and lavish trips paid for by corporations and other affluent
interests" courting influence and getting it. High Court justices
most always side with corporate America, and their decisions show it.
Today, it's more obvious than ever with Court ideology conservative to
reactionary (no liberals among them) in support of business and authoritarian
government. But even well into the New Deal era in the 1930s, "the
Supreme Court was the activist bastion of laissez-faire capitalism"
that White House and public pressure finally changed by 1937 to get the
Court to accept New Deal legislation.
- Parenti explains how High Courts "opposed restrictions
on capitalist power (overall), but supported restrictions on the civil
liberties of persons who agitated against that power." In the past
and now, "the Court treated the allegedly pernicious quality of a
radical idea as evidence of its lethal efficacy and as justification for
its suppression." So it was possible to convict communists or socialists
under the Smith Act even though they only advocated a different economic
system, not the forcible overthrow of the government that would be a crime.
Dissenting ideas and beliefs are lawful under the First Amendment's right
of free expression, but often in the past and now people exercising their
constitutional right pay a stiff price, and Supreme and other courts go
- Parenti points out "the threat of revolution in
the United States has never been as real or harmful as the measures taken
to 'protect' us from revolutionary ideas.... The real danger comes from
those at the top who would insulate us from 'unacceptable' viewpoints.
No idea is as dangerous as the force that seeks to repress it." When
the nation's courts are part of that force, freedom is a nominally democratic
state is on shaky ground.
- Parenti explains the High Court reflects "the climate
of the times and....the political composition of the justices" although
most often the Court leans to the right supporting the corporate state
and conservative issues. It reflects its ideology in its decisions and
by the cases it chooses to hear or not hear.
- The Warren Court was an exception ruling for the first
time ever "repeatedly on behalf of the less affluent" on civil
liberties, reapportionment of legislative districts, and extending the
"economic rights of the poor." The Court ended state prohibitions
against interracial marriage and rendered its landmark Brown v. Board of
Education decision in 1954 ruling "separate educational facilities
are inherently unequal" that was a first step toward ending racially
separated schools it took until the 1960s to move forward on.
- Parenti continued saying post-Warren Courts reverted
to form leaning "mostly in a rightward direction" on a variety
of crucial issues he lists and discusses like:
- -- abortion and gender discrimination making positive
and negative rulings;
- -- affirmation action and civil rights making it harder
to prove discrimination;
- -- criminal justice weakening Miranda rights, giving
child abusers more rights than their victims, weakening unreasonable searches
and seizures and much more;
- -- the death penalty with the High Court reinstating
it in 1976 but "pruning" it down thereafter;
- -- economic inequality by upholding laws reducing welfare
aid and other rulings against the disadvantaged;
- -- the electoral system that was highlighted in Bush
v. Gore ruling against the candidate who won and awarding it (as it turned
out) to the loser;
- -- executive power, granting more of it to the president;
- -- labor and the corporate economy ruling often for business
and against working Americans;
- -- the separation of church and state with the Court
disregarding the First Amendment to rule for religious organizations' exemptions
to taxation and much more in violation of the Constitution at a time Christian
hard right extremists wield enormous influence over state policy.