Tag Archives: Michael Parenti

The 85 — Too Few to Have So Much When Too Many Have So Little

Michael Parenti

The world’s 85 richest individuals possess as much wealth as the 3.5 billion souls who compose the poorer half of the world’s population, or so it was announced in a report by Oxfam International. The assertion sounds implausible to me.  I think the 85 richest individuals, who together are worth many hundreds of billions of dollars, must have far more wealth than the poorest half of our global population.

How could these two cohorts, the 85 richest and 3.5 billion poorest, have the same amount of wealth? The great majority of the 3.5 billion have no net wealth at all. Hundreds of millions of them have jobs that hardly pay enough to feed their families. Millions of them rely on supplements from private charity and public assistance when they can. Hundreds of millions are undernourished, suffer food insecurity, or go hungry each month, including many among the very poorest in the United States.

“The number of people living in poverty is growing at a faster rate than the world’s population. So poverty is spreading even as wealth accumulates. It is not enough to bemoan this enormous inequality, we must also explain why it is happening.”

Most of the 3.5 billion earn an average of $2.50 a day. The poorest 40 percent of the world population accounts for just 5 percent of all global income. About 80 percent of all humanity live on less than $10 a day. And the poorest 50 percent  maintain only 7.2 percent of the world’s private consumption. How exactly could they have accumulated an amount of surplus wealth comparable to the 85 filthy richest?

Hundreds of millions live in debt even in “affluent” countries like the United States. They face health care debts, credit card debts, college tuition debts, and so on. Many, probably most who own homes—and don’t live in shacks or under bridges or in old vans—are still straddled with mortgages. This means their net family wealth is negative, minus-zero. They have no  propertied wealth; they live in debt.

Millions among the poorest 50 percent in the world may have cars but most of them also have car payments. They are driving in debt.  In countries like Indonesia, for the millions without private vehicles, there are the overloaded, battered buses, poorly maintained vehicles that specialize in breakdowns and ravine plunges. Among the lowest rungs of the 50 percent are the many who pick thru garbage dumps and send their kids off to work in grim, soul-destroying sweatshops.

The 85 richest in the world probably include the four members of the Walton family (owners of Wal-Mart, among the top ten superrich in the USA) who together are worth over $100 billion. Rich families like the DuPonts have controlling interests in giant corporations like General Motors, Coca-Cola, and United Brands. They own about forty manorial estates and private museums in Delaware alone and have set up 31 tax-exempt foundations. The superrich in America and in many other countries find ways, legal and illegal, to shelter much of their wealth in secret accounts. We don’t really know how very rich the very rich really are.

Regarding the poorest portion of the world population—whom I would call the valiant, struggling “better half”—what mass configuration of wealth could we possibly be talking about? The aggregate wealth possessed by the 85 super-richest  individuals, and the aggregate wealth owned by the world’s 3.5 billion poorest, are of different dimensions and different natures. Can we really compare private jets, mansions, landed estates, super luxury vacation retreats, luxury apartments, luxury condos, and luxury cars, not to mention hundreds of billions of dollars in equities, bonds, commercial properties, art works, antiques, etc.—can we really compare all that enormous wealth against some millions of used cars, used furniture, and used television sets, many of which are ready to break down?  Of what resale value if any, are such minor durable-use commodities, especially in communities of high unemployment, dismal health and housing conditions, no running water, no decent sanitation facilities, etc? We don’t really know how poor the very poor really are.

Millions of children who number in the lower 50 percent never see the inside of a school. Instead they labor in mills, mines and on farms, under conditions of peonage.  Nearly a billion people are unable to read or write. The number of people living in poverty is growing at a faster rate than the world’s population. So poverty is spreading even as wealth accumulates. It is not enough to bemoan this enormous inequality, we must also explain why it is happening.

But for now, let me repeat: the world’s richest 85 individuals do not have the same amount of accumulated wealth as the world’s poorest 50 percent. They have vastly more. The multitude on the lower rungs—even taken as a totality—have next to nothing.

Michael Parenti is an author of note who is known for the classic text on political science and American government “Democracy for the Few”. His work can be found at http://www.michaelparenti.org. This post was first published at COMMON DREAMS and distributed by PORTSIDE (See Links below)

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Michael Parenti on the Media, Healthcare & Iran

Abstract of an interview with Michael Parenti and the Fars News Agency

Corporate Media in the U.S.

The mainstream media in the United States is owned and controlled by a few corporate conglomerates. This pattern of ownership and its resulting control leaves very little room for critical and challenging journalism of the kind that exposes the hypocrisies and duplicities of the ruling moneyed interests. These moneyed interests claim to bring us prosperity when in fact they bring us poverty. They claim a dedication to democracy when in fact they propagate oligarchic dominance in this country and in many others. They profess a dedication to peace while bombing and invading various countries that dare to step out of line.

They talk about a “family of nations” while pursuing a policy of global imperialism. This constant disparity between what reality at home and abroad is like and what the corporate media claim it to be is one of the great propaganda achievements of modern history.

Healthcare

The medical industry in the USA is not [made of] government programs. They consist of private hospitals, private insurance companies, private health maintenance organizations (HMOs), and private pharmaceutical companies—all of which are madly profit-driven. Their concern is not to save lives and care for people’s health but to make as much money as possible. Yes, people in poverty often cannot afford the costly tests and services that are needed for health care. So many of them do without and end up dying. The government Medicaid program that is intended to serve the poor is grossly insufficient in its provisions.

Iran & Nuclear Power

Iran has signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty which gives it the right to develop enriched uranium for peaceful use of nuclear power. The USA and Israel are not signatories of the treaty. Both of them have enormous arsenals of nuclear missiles arsenals. Thus they stand in violation of the international law on nuclear proliferation while presuming—with outrageous audacity–that they have the right to police Iran’s peaceful use of nuclear power. It is the kind of arrogance that imperialists always manifest.

 

The Assassination of JFK

We touched upon Michael Parenti’s reworking of the history of the assassination of Julius Caesar yesterday. When checking the citation for Parenti’s book, we came across an article of his regarding another assassination, that of President John F Kennedy. This year being the 50th anniversary of that assassination it is appropriate to recall the mythos foisted upon us regarding that event. Just a “lone nut” who was a Communist to boot, yeah, that’s the ticket.

The following excerpt from Parenti’s article, “The JFK Assassination: Defending the Gangster State” revives several facts useful for an understanding of that pivotal event in American history. The full article may be read at http://www.michaelparenti.org/JFKAssassination.html

Let us focus on just a small part of the immense brief that has been assembled by investigators. Consider the background of Lee Harvey Oswald. During the week of the thirtieth anniversary of the JFK assassination, one repeatedly heard on television that Oswald was an incompetent “loner” and not very bright. Gerald Posner, transforming himself into an instant psychiatric expert, announced that Oswald “had a very disturbed childhood, and he was a passive-aggressive.” A passive-aggressive assassin? He was also repeatedly labeled a “loner” and a “leftist.” The truth is something else.

Lee Harvey Oswald spent most of his adult life not as a lone drifter but directly linked to the U.S. intelligence community. All of his IQ tests show that he was above average in intelligence and a quick learner. At the age of eighteen in the U.S. Marines he had secret security clearance and was working at Marine Air Control in Atsugi Air Force Base in Japan, a top secret location from which the CIA launched U2 flights and performed other kinds of covert operations in China. The next year he was assigned to El Toro Air Station in California with security clearance to work radar.

Strange things began to happen. While at El Toro, Oswald emerged as a babbling Russophile and a “communist.” He started playing Russian language records at blast level in his barracks and addressing his fellow Marines in Russian, calling them “comrade.” He read Russian books and hailed Soviet Communism as “the best system in the world.” If Oswald was a Soviet or a Cuban spy, as some people now claim, he certainly had a novel way of building a cover. Philip Melanson, author of Spy Saga, a book about Oswald’s links to intelligence, reminds us that the U.S. Marine Corps in 1958 was not exactly a bastion of liberal tolerance and freethinking. But in this instance, for some strange reason, Oswald’s Marine commanders did not seem to mind having a ranting commie sympathizer in their midst. He kept his security clearance and retained access to a wealth of sensitive radar information and classified data from secret facilities.

Other odd things happened. In February 1959, he failed the Marine Corps proficiency test in Russian. Six months later he had developed some fluency in that language. In 1974, a document classified by the Warren Commission–and dislodged mostly by Harold Weisberg’s legal efforts–revealed that Oswald had attended the U.S. Army’s School of Languages at Monterey. Monterey is not open to anyone who just happens to have a language hobby. One is sent by the government, for training in a specific language pertaining to a specific assignment. Oswald learned Russian at Monterey.

Another curious thing: Oswald applied for an early dependency discharge from the Marines because his mother had injured her foot–the accident had occurred a year earlier. He was released one week after putting in his request, a decision so swift as to astonish his fellow Marines.

Oswald then “defected” to the USSR, but how? Melanson notes that such a trip would have cost at least $1,500 in those days, but Oswald’s bank account showed a balance of $203. And how did he get from London to Helsinki on October 11, 1959, when no available commercial flight could have made it in one day? He must have had some kind of private transportation to Helsinki.

Once in Russia, he went to the U.S. embassy and openly renounced his U.S. citizenship, declaring that he was going to give military secrets to the Soviets. Embassy officials made no effort to detain him. As the KGB files opened in 1991 show, the Soviets kept him under constant surveillance. KGB defector Yuri Nosenko, who had been responsible for investigating every contact Oswald made in the USSR, reported that the young American had never been associated with Soviet intelligence and that the KGB suspected he was connected with U.S. intelligence.

While in Russia Oswald belonged to a gun club at the factory in which he worked, though he showed no interest in guns. He reportedly used to join in rabbit shoots but could never score a hit. Someone would have to stand behind him and shoot the rabbit while he was firing. His performance became something of a joke among his co-workers. His marksmanship in the U.S. Marines had been no better.

U.S. intelligence mysteriously departed from normal procedure and made no damage assessment of Oswald’s “defection,” or so they claimed. Another odd thing: after two-and-a-half years, Oswald’s sudden request to return to the United States was immediately granted by U.S. officials–all this after he had threatened to give away state secrets to the Soviets. Instead of being arrested for treason, Oswald was accepted with open arms by U.S. authorities.

The CIA claimed it had no record of debriefing him and was never near him. Their explanation before the Warren Commission was that there were so many tourists coming in and out and there was nothing particularly unusual about Oswald that would have caught their attention. One might wonder what was needed to catch the CIA’s attention.

Yet, CIA officials claimed they had suspected all along that he was a Soviet spy–which makes it even more curious that they did not debrief him. In fact, they did debrief him in Holland. But being so eager to cover up any association with Oswald, they could not recognize how in this instance the truth would have been a less suspicious cover than the improbable lie they told about never noticing his return.

State Department officials also behaved strangely. They paid all travel and moving expenses back to the United States for Oswald and his wife. Without a moment’s delay they gave him back his passport with full rights to travel anywhere in the world. Another curious thing: his wife was exempted from the usual immigration quotas and granted immediate entry. Years before she had belonged to the Soviet Komsomol, the Communist youth organization, which automatically would have barred her from the United States. Yet in violation of U.S. immigration laws, she was allowed into the country.

In Dallas, Lee Harvey Oswald settled under the wing of White Russian emigré and former cavalry officer George de Mohrenschildt, an associate of oil millionaires H. L. Hunt and Clint Murchinson and other Dallas economic elites. In de Mohrenschildt’s telephone book was found the name of George “Pappy” Bush. A correspondence existed between Bush and de Mohrenschildt indicating that they were personal acquaintances.

De Mohrenschildt and his wife Jeanne were identified by the Warren Commission as the people closest to Oswald just before the assassination. An investigator for the House Select Committee, Gaeton Fonzi, noted, “Given his background, it seemed strange that de Mohrenschildt would have spontaneously befriended someone with the look of a working-class drifter like Lee Harvey Oswald.” That was not the only strange thing about de Mohrenschildt. He also was part of a network of ex-Nazis contracted by the CIA.

A CIA memorandum written not long after Oswald returned from Russia advised de Mohrenschildt on how to handle the young “defector.” De Mohrenschildt also had a close friendship with J. Walter Moore, who was an agent of the CIA’s Domestic Contacts Division. As de Mohrenschildt told one investigator just before his sudden death, it was Moore who encouraged him to see Oswald. Investigator Jim Marrs observes in his book Crossfire: “The CIA memos, Moore’s closeness, and de Mohrenschildt’s own testimony all confirm that a certain relationship existed between the CIA and the man closest to Oswald in early 1963. While this does not necessarily involve the Agency in a plot to kill Kennedy, it raises questions about what Agency officials might have known regarding such a plot.”

Oswald embarked on a series of short-lived public forays as a “leftist.” He started a one-person Fair Play for Cuba chapter in New Orleans, without ever bothering to recruit another member. He never met with a single member of the Communist Party or any other left organization, although he wrote friendly letters to the Communist Party and to the Socialist Workers Party–two groups that were not even talking to each other–supposedly asking for instructions. Again, all this was a novel way for a Soviet agent and would-be assassin to act.

He blazed a highly visible trail as a “leftist” agitator: managing to get exposure on local T.V. in New Orleans after getting involved in some fistfights while leafleting. One of the leaflets he distributed showed that his organization was on Camp Street in the very same building that a former FBI bureau chief, Guy Banister, had his office. Banister retained close working relations with emigré Cuban right-wing groups and with Lee Harvey Oswald.

When he wasn’t playing the communist agitator, Oswald spent most of his time with rabid anti-communists, including emigré Cubans and CIA operatives. Besides Banister and de Mohrenschildt, there was David Ferrie. (In his book First Hand Knowledge, Robert Morrow, a conservative businessman and CIA operative, tells how he served as a pilot on CIA missions with Ferrie.) Oswald also knew businessman Clay Shaw who was CIA, as later confirmed by the agency’s director Richard Helms. These were hardly the sort of friends we would expect for a loudmouthed “Marxist revolutionary” just returned from giving away classified secrets in the USSR.

The attorney general of Texas, Waggoner Carr, told the Warren Commission that Oswald was an FBI informant or contract agent, with assigned number S-172 or S-179. For his services, Oswald was paid two hundred dollars a month by the FBI. Orest Pena, a Cuban emigré and FBI informant, told Mark Lane that Oswald worked for the FBI and met with FBI personnel from time to time.

If not paid by security agencies, how did Oswald support himself during his forays into New Orleans and Dallas? He was employed for a brief time in 1962 by a printing company in Dallas that specialized in highly classified government work, including the making of secret maps of the Soviet Union for U.S. Army Intelligence–again hardly the sort of job to assign an openly Russophilic communist agitator. Oswald’s overall employment record and income sources remain something of a mystery. To this day, the government refuses to release his tax returns, with no explanation as to what issue of national security is at stake.

We are asked to believe that Oswald just happened to get a job at the Texas School Book Depository five weeks before the assassination, when it had not yet been publicized that Kennedy’s limousine was going to pass in front of that building. In fact, George de Morenschildt got him the job.

We are asked to believe that Oswald, who could not hit the side of a barn, chose a Mannlicher-Carcano to kill the president, a cheap, poor performance Italian rifle that the Italians said never killed anyone on purpose and caused them to lose World War II. Dallas District Attorney Henry Wade initially announced that the murder weapon was a German Mauser. Later informed that Oswald owned a Manlincher-Carcano, Wade declared that the murder weapon was an “Italian carbine.”

We are asked to believe that Oswald would forgo shooting President Kennedy when he had a perfect target of him as he rode right down Houston Street directly toward the Texas School Book Depository. Instead he supposedly waited until the car had turned down Elm Street and was a half-block away. With the President’s head and shoulders barely visible through a tree, Oswald supposedly fired rapidly, getting off three shots in record time, one missing the limousine by twenty-five feet and the other two hitting their target with devastating accuracy and record rapid succession, a feat the best marksmen in the country found impossible to emulate even after much practice and after the sights on the Mannlicher-Carcano were properly reset in a laboratory.

We are asked to believe that Oswald then left his rifle at the window, complete with a perfect palm print and, they now say, his fingerprints (but no fingerprints on the clip or handloaded cartridges), along with three spent shells placed on the floor neatly in a row, in a manner no spent shells would fall.

We are asked to believe that a bullet would go through John Kennedy, pause in mid-air, change direction, and wound Governor Connally in several places–something Connally never believed–and reappear perfectly intact wedged into the flap of a stretcher in Parkland Hospital, supposedly having fallen out of Connally’s body but obviously pushed into the flap by hand.

We are asked to believe that only three shots were fired when in fact six bullets were noted: one that entered the president’s throat and remained in his body; the second extracted from Governor Connally’s thigh; a third discovered on the stretcher; a fourth found in fragments in the limousine; a fifth that missed the president’s car by a wide margin, hitting the curb according to several witnesses, and wounding onlooker James Thomas Tague on his face; a sixth found in the grass by Dallas police directly across from where the president’s vehicle had passed.

The Secret Service took possession of the presidential limousine, ignored reports in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (12/1/63) that there was a bullet hole in the windshield, and rejected all requests to inspect the vehicle. We are asked to believe that the inside of limousine, a trove of physical evidence, was then quickly torn out and rebuilt, with no thought of covering up anything.

We are asked to believe that Kennedy’s autopsy was innocently botched and his brain just accidentally disappeared. The X-ray purporting to be Kennedy’s head now shows a rear entry wound, different from the rear exit wound all the pathologists saw. Someone cropped the jaw out of the picture, so there is no opportunity to determine by dental identification if the X-ray really is the president’s.

We are asked by people like Max Holland, writing in the Nation, to believe that the “infamous picture of Oswald posing with rifle in hand” is not a forgery. Actually there are two pictures, both proven composites, with bodies of different sizes but with the identical head that matches neither body, and with shadows going in incongruous directions. Who fabricated these photos?

“The lone leftist assassin” Oswald was a friend of Jack Ruby, a gangster with links to Cuban exiles and the FBI. Ruby once worked for Congressman Richard Nixon and the House Un-American Activities Committee in Chicago when his name was still Jack Rubenstein. He also worked for the FBI in Dallas during the years before the JFK assassination. Ruby claimed he was just an ordinary private citizen, moved to kill Oswald in order to avenge the suffering Oswald had inflicted upon the Kennedy family.

While in prison Ruby pleaded with the Warren Commission to be taken to Washington where he could tell the whole story. He feared for his life and claimed “they are killing me here.” Indeed, he died in jail, supposedly of natural causes.

We are asked to believe that when twenty-four persons who had information related to the case met violent deaths, this was a colossal coincidence. In 1978, after the House Select Committee investigation got underway, Anthony Summers records that another sixteen connected to the case died violently. This too supposedly was just a coincidence. This latter group included George de Mohrenschildt, killed by a gun blast to the head three hours after a House Assassinations Committee Investigator had tried to contact him. De Mohrenschildt had been worried that he would be murdered. His daughter Kressy Keardon believes it “impossible” that he shot himself. The sheriff’s office in Palm County, Florida, found the shooting “very strange.” But it was ruled a suicide. Generally, people who voice fears that they might be killed do not then kill themselves.

William Sullivan, number three man in the FBI, was secretly on the CIA payroll, according to CIA operative Robert Morrow. He was scheduled to appear before the House Select Committee but before he could do so, he was shot outside his home by a man who claimed to have mistaken him for a deer. The killer was charged with a misdemeanor and released in custody of his father, a state policeman.

While under government protection, mobster Sam Giancana was shot dead one day before he was to testify before the House Select Committee about mob and CIA connections. One of the things that emerges from this whole story is the widespread linkages between the CIA and organized crime, between the gangster state and the gangsters.

When the House committee was putting its staff together, it was heavily pressured to employ only persons acceptable to the CIA, the very agency it was supposed to investigate. In his book Plausible Denial, Mark Lane reports that when Bernard Fensterwald, an independent minded Washington lawyer, was offered the job of general counsel, a CIA representative called on him and said that the Agency would hand him “his head on a platter” if he took the assignment. Fensterwald turned it down.

Is the Kennedy assassination conspiracy just a lot of hoopla kicked up by “conspiracy buffs”? Most of the independent investigators I have met seem to be serious politically literate people. Their struggle to arrive at the truth is not impelled by a love of conspiracies but by a concern for the political and historic importance of the case. They seek the truth no matter how dirty it might be. That process of confronting the machinations of the national security state is not a conspiracy hobby. It is an essential part of the struggle for democracy.

Ides of March

“Beware of the Ides of March,”  as the soothsayer warned Julius Caesar of his doom planned for the 15th of March.

History, of course, is the agreed-upon myth circulated by the winners of today’s politics. We’ve long been told that Julius Caesar sought to overturn the Roman Republic to claim a kingship of sorts. The historians who have told us that however were the Conservatives of classical Rome and they have been endorsed by the Conservatives of following centuries.

Michael Parenti has offered an alternative to contemporary readers and history buffs. His The Assassination of Julius Caesar published in 2004 recounts a Caesar who was more Bobby Kennedy than Dick Nixon, a leader of the populist party who sought a redistribution of wealth and an inclusion of the People in the government. A marvelous, intriguing reworking of Roman history, Parenti provides a reasonable case for a progressive myth of Rome wherein the reactionary forces conspired to kill the People’s champion.

It prompts us to wonder indeed with the death of Hugo Chavez, the well-paid mainstream media will inevitably harp on the “dictator” image to distort Chavez’s legacy, and they will be followed by the court historians (jesters?) who will erect a foundation on current lies. Thus is history made.

Michael Parenti, The Assassination of Julius Caesar: A People’s History of Ancient Rome. New Press, 2004.

True Stories

Michael Parenti wrote an article entitled FREE MARKET MEDICINE to which many readers responded with their own stories.

Here is a sampling:

“In the mid-90s I had an attack of sciatica while visiting my wife’s daughter in the Bay Area. I went to Alta Bates Emergency. After I waited three hours, a doctor stopped by, saw me for two minutes, gave me a pain prescription & sent me home.

Total bill was over $1,000.”

“I had a kidney stone which was causing me great pain. I drove myself to the emergency ward where I was told the kidney stone was so large that it had to be ‘shattered.’ I spent one night in the hospital. The operation was performed early the next morning. My family had to come pick me up which they did by noon that same day. I wasn’t even in the hospital for 24 hours. Imagine my shock when the bill came. It was $57,000, not including the doctor’s bill! I actually thought it was a typo. I thought they had put the comma in the wrong place.

“Blue Cross paid it, except for $2,500 which I had to pay. Then Blue Cross promptly dumped me.”

“Medicare cannot negotiate drug prices, which means that the one Rx I take costs over $700 every three months, of which I pay $90 until I reach the ‘doughnut hole,’ which happens with just this one drug. When I first started on this medication, the cost was about $350, so it has doubled in just three years. No improvements, it’s the same exact drug and there are no generics. The only change is the higher price!

“Speaking of higher prices, I just renewed my prescription and the three month cost has increased again, from $718 to $781. My doctor at Kaiser said that should I get into the ‘doughnut hole’ she would give me a prescription I can use at a Canadian pharmacy. It’s crazy that even with a drug coverage plan, I’ll eventually have to buy from a Canadian pharmacy!”

“Every day we ‘house’ 500-700 homeless Atlantans [Georgia], who are men, mostly. We distribute mail daily as well, and the bulk of the mail is hospital bills from our former ‘charity’ hospital which is now a private hospital. Homeless men who owe that hospital for treatment are often denied jobs and housing because of their credit problems. We are in the process of fighting those bills. All too often, our friends don’t even seek treatment because they know they cannot pay. The prescriptions at that same hospital cost $10 each, and so people who take more than one medication often go without, as in the case of one man who has heart failure [and needed] life-saving medication.”

This is what characterizes what we are told is the BEST healthcare system in the world. It may be Number ONE in cost, and in profits made, and in waste but it is NOT Number One in quality of care. It will not be made better by spending more money nor will it be made better by spending public money instead of private money. It will be made better only by removing the Profit Incentive from the system. Healthcare should be a service to which we are entitled and from which no one derives a profit.

This does not mean that no one would be paid for services rendered or for products produced. We pay for public schools, public libraries and public parks but they are provided as a service. Healthcare should be such a public service.

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Michael Parenti, “Free Market Medicine: A Personal Account”, http://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/01/27-0