The Number Of Billionaires In America Has Absolutely Exploded During The Pandemic

By Michael Snyder

Source: Investment Watch Blog

For the wealthy and the ultra-wealthy, happy days are here again.  Even though we have just been through one of the most difficult 12 months in our history, the number of billionaires has increased dramatically during this pandemic.  That seems rather odd, but there is no denying that the rich have gotten even richer during this crisis.  In fact, Forbes revealed this week that the number of billionaires has risen by about 30 percent over the past year…

The number of newly minted and reissued billionaires soared last year, Forbes reported Tuesday in its annual ranking, a staggering accumulation of personal wealth that stands in sharp contrast with the widespread economic struggles unleashed by the coronavirus pandemic.

The number of billionaires on Forbes’ 35th annual ranking swelled by 660 to 2,755 — a roughly 30 percent jump from a year ago — and 493 of them are first-timers. Seven of eight are richer than they were before the pandemic. Forbes calculates net worth by using stock prices and exchange rates from March 5.

Of course thanks to the reckless policies of our leaders, a billion dollars does not go nearly as far as it once did.

But still, a billion dollars is a whole lot of money.

Needless to say, the biggest reason why the number of billionaires has exploded is because we have been witnessing one of the greatest stock market rallies in history.

A year ago, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was sitting at about 23,000.

Today, it is above 33,000, and some analysts expect it to shoot quite a bit higher throughout the rest of 2021.

Stock prices have never been more detached from economic reality as they have been over the past 12 months, and they have only risen so high because of unprecedented intervention by the Federal Reserve and because of extremely wild spending by the federal government.

Many have warned that the party will inevitably come to a crashing end at some point, but it hasn’t happened yet.

So for now, the market optimists look like champions.

And now that Joe Biden is in the White House, the corporate media is telling us that we are on the verge of a grand new era of American prosperity.  The corporate media insists that the pandemic will soon be behind us thanks to the vaccines, and the talking heads on television envision a return to the good old days very quickly.

In fact, Barron’s is already declaring that the “U.S. economy might be stronger than it’s ever been”.

And CNN is trying to convince us that “America’s economy could be heading for a golden era of growth”.

Really?

If the U.S. economy is actually improving, then why are new claims for unemployment benefits going up?

The number of Americans filing first-time unemployment benefits unexpectedly rose last week, according to the Labor Department.

Data released Thursday showed 744,000 Americans filed first-time jobless claims in the week ended April 3. Analysts surveyed by Refinitiv were expecting 680,000 filings. The previous week’s total was revised higher by 9,000 to 728,000.

If economic conditions were getting better, that number should be going the other way.

Even I didn’t expect a number this bad.

Prior to 2020, the all-time record high for new unemployment claims in a single week was 695,000.  That record was established in October 1982, and it stood all the way until the COVID pandemic hit the U.S. early last year.

Sadly, we have been above 695,000 almost every single week since then.

The numbers compiled by the states tell us that nearly three-quarters of a million Americans filed new claims for unemployment benefits last week.  That is an absolutely catastrophic number.  Nobody should be talking about a “golden era of growth” or claiming that the “economy might be stronger than it’s ever been” until we get that number back down to pre-pandemic levels.

And right now, we are at a level that is about three times as high as pre-pandemic levels.

Look, the truth is that anyone that tells you that unemployment is low in the United States is lying to you.

According to John Williams of shadowstats.com, if honest numbers were being used the unemployment rate in the United States would be 25.7 percent right now.

That is the sort of number that we would expect to see during an economic depression, and the truth is that we are in an economic depression.

Over the past year, more than 70 million new claims for unemployment benefits have been filed, and approximately 4 million U.S. businesses have gone out of existence permanently.

But don’t worry, the stock market is hovering near all-time record highs and the corporate media is telling you that everything is going to be wonderful now that Joe Biden is in control.

Come on man!

You can’t really believe that stuff that they are shoveling.

With each passing day, more Americans are losing their jobs, more Americans are falling out of the middle class, and the cost of living just keeps going up even higher.

In fact, we just learned that global food prices have now gone up for 10 months in a row

The global food-price rally that’s stoking inflation worries and hitting consumers around the world shows little sign of slowing.

Even with grain prices taking a breather on good crop prospects, a United Nations gauge of global food costs rose for a 10th month in March to the highest since 2014. Last month’s advance was driven by a surge in vegetable oils amid stronger demand and tight inventories, according to Abdolreza Abbassian, a senior economist at the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

I am going to continue to watch global food prices very carefully, because I believe that it will be a very important trend in the months and years ahead.

But for now, the good news is that at least economic conditions are relatively stable.

Yes, things are not nearly as good as they were before the pandemic, but at least they are not getting a whole lot worse.

So even though things are not great, we should enjoy this period of relative stability while we still can, because it definitely will not last.

Posted in Corporate Crime, culture, Economics, elites, Financial Crisis, Inequality, Labor, Neoliberalism, Oligarchy, Social Control, Social Engineering, society, Sociology, Work | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jeff Bezos Embodies the Cruel Autocracy of Neoliberal Capitalism

Amazon CEO and richest-man-in-the-world Jeff Bezos wants you to work as much as he does—for one millionth of the pay

By Branko Marcetic

Source: In These Times

“Is Jeff Bezos a horrible boss and is that good?” That was the question posed by Forbes magazine in 2013, a sentiment that helps explain why Amazon’s founder and CEO is detested by the Left for his oligarchic ambitions, while simultaneously admired by America’s capitalist class for his business success. Ironically, Bezos is also loathed by former President Donald Trump, while celebrated by many liberals for so-called resistance.

But with Bezos and his $115 billion fortune laying claim to the title of richest man on Earth, and with Amazon playing an increasingly influential role in public life, it is worth asking: What does Jeff Bezos stand for?

A gifted child born to a teen mom, Bezos grew up not knowing his biological father, who was once one of the top-rated unicyclists in Albuquerque, N.M. Instead, Bezos was raised by the man his mother soon married: Miguel Bezos, who had fled Cuba and the Communist revolution, which had shuttered the elite private Jesuit school he attended, as well as his family’s lumberyard.

Journalists have speculated whether Bezos’ near-pathological competitiveness is a product of his early abandonment, similar to that of fellow tech overlord Steve Jobs. No doubt equally formative was Bezos’ adoptive father, who told Brad Stone, author of The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon, that their home life was ​“permeated” by complaints about totalitarian governments of both the Right and the Left.

Bezos envisioned the concept of an ​“everything store” while working for a Wall Street hedge fund in the 1990s. He opened Amazon in 1994 as an online bookshop, a pragmatic starting point. Bezos gave the company his own $10,000 cash injection, took out interest-free loans, and received $245,000 from his parents and family trust.

Many of Amazon’s controversial labor practices can be traced to these early years as a plucky start-up. Amazon’s small team ran on tireless ambition to live up to the company’s customer-focused promise — key to its eventual market domination. Stone reports that, to meet Bezos’ ​“get big fast” directive, employees devoted themselves completely, working long, unusual, frenzied hours. One early warehouse worker who biked to work simply forgot about his improperly parked car, eventually discovering it had been ticketed, towed and sold at auction.

Such a relentless pace is one thing for a small group of true believers but is quite another when applied to low-wage workers just making ends meet. By 2011, Amazon’s workplace culture became known through a series of headline-grabbing reports that have come to define its public image: badly paid, ceaselessly surveilled, overworked workers, struggling to maintain a breakneck pace.

Bezos created a culture in which everyone from the lowest peon to the highest-ranking executive is expected to match his own devotion, an approach that resulted in spectacular levels of staff turnover by the early 2000s. A declared enemy of ​“social cohesion,” Bezos pushed his underlings to reject compromise and instead fiercely debate and criticize colleagues when they disagreed. One former employee described it as ​“purposeful Darwinism.” Known for withering put-downs — ​“Are you lazy or just incompetent?” ​“Did I take my stupid pills today?”—Bezos also isn’t above pulling out his phone or, in some cases, simply leaving the room when an employee fails to impress.

The flipside of Bezos’ intellect is a cold, clinical approach to human relations. Bezos described himself as a ​“professional dater” during his Wall Street days, trying to improve what he called his ​“women flow” — a riff on the Wall Street term ​“deal flow.”

“He was not warm,” one person who knew Bezos during his Wall Street days told the East Bay Express in 2014. ​“It was like he could be a Martian for all I knew.”

Bezos’ pitiless leadership style bled out beyond the Amazon boardroom as he used the company’s growing market share to bully book publishers into his terms. The company launched the ​“Gazelle Project”—as in, go after publishers ​“the way a cheetah would pursue a sickly gazelle” — allowing Amazon to undercut its competition at the cost of little to no profit for smaller publishers.

As Amazon inched closer to Bezos’ original vision, it began lobbying efforts in 2000 and became more transparently political by 2011, spending millions to defeat an internet sales tax and playing hardball with state governments, threatening to shutter Amazon facilities if its wishes went unfulfilled. In 2013, Amazon began lobbying Congress to cut corporate taxes.

The same year, Bezos bought the Washington Post, invested in Business Insider and donated to the publisher of the libertarian magazine Reason. Though Bezos argues his purchase of the Post was motivated by ​“a love affair [with] the printed word” and a desire to support American democracy, others suspect Bezos’ interest in media is related to bad press following a scathing Lehman Brothers report in 2000, which sent Amazon’s stock price tumbling.

Leading up to the Post purchase, Bezos was increasingly displaying what early Amazon investor Nick Hanauer called his ​“libertarian politics.” In addition to spending $100,000 in 2010 on a campaign to defeat a proposed Washington state tax on high-income earners, Bezos put hundreds of thousands of dollars toward boosting charter schools and other neoliberal education reforms.

Bezos’ political involvement reached a new apogee in 2019 during the re-election bid of Seattle’s socialist city councilwoman, Kshama Sawant, who called Bezos ​“our enemy” and tried to pass a head tax to fund housing for those displaced by Amazon’s Seattle footprint. Amazon spent $1.5 million against Sawant and other progressive candidates, a record at the local level, with more than a dozen of the company’s executives contributing to Sawant’s opponent. (Sawant won re-election anyway.)

As for Bezos’ endgame? A Trekkie since childhood, he has long dreamed of funding space exploration, a mission pursued by other superrich moguls (such as Elon Musk) in the face of the climate emergency. Opening the doors of his secretive Blue Origin aerospace company to journalists for the first time in 2016, Bezos told the New York Times he envisioned a future of ​“millions of people living and working in space,” exploiting the natural resources of surrounding planets and rezoning Earth ​“as light industrial and residential.”

Ironically, as Bezos pours the wealth he wrung out of exhausted, low-wage Amazon workers into space exploration, Amazon is busy hastening the very planetary collapse Bezos claims he’s trying to prevent — by silencing workers who speak out against Amazon’s assistance to oil and gas companies.

Let’s imagine, however, that Bezos, who accumulates $9 million an hour, lived in a world with Bernie Sanders’ 8% wealth tax (just on fortunes over $10 billion). A single year would see $9 billion flow from Bezos’ treasure trove into government coffers, more than enough to cover the 10-year cost of Elizabeth Warren’s universal child care plan ($1.7 billion) and maintain safe drinking water under Sanders’ plan ($6 billion).

Bezos’ career is a testament to the cruel autocracy and senseless misallocation of resources that our neoliberal capitalist system enables. But his opulence also reveals that the wealth exists to build a fairer and more equitable society — if redistributed. Bezos may loathe social cohesion, but in a world organized around democracy rather than the whims of space-billionaires, it’s something we may well be able to achieve.

Posted in Corporate Crime, culture, Dystopia, Economics, elites, Environment, Financial Crisis, Inequality, Labor, Neoliberalism, Oligarchy, Social Control, Social Engineering, society, Sociology, Technocracy, Work | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Two for Tuesday

Elvis Perkins

Del Amitri

 

Posted in Art, culture, Music Video, Two for Tuesday, Video | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Even as a White Helmets boss admits ‘former’ militant links, Canadian national media talks ‘Russian disinfo’

By Eva K Bartlett

Source: In Gaza

Even when a high-ranking White Helmet admits that some of the ‘rescuers’ came from the ranks of Syrian militants, all he gets from Canada’s national broadcaster is unquestioning praise and concern about “Russian disinformation.”

On March 30, Carol Off, the host of As it Happens on Canada’s government-funded CBC, interviewed Montreal-based Farouq Habib, deputy general manager of the White Helmets, about the organization’s operatives and their family members evacuated to Jordan (via Israel, with Canada’s help) nearly three years ago.

At the time, Canada pledged to take in 50 White Helmets and 200 family members. Off’s focus was on 43 evacuees who still haven’t arrived in Canada.

So she asked Habib: “There are some suggestions that the Canadian security believes that these remaining White Helmet people have a connection to the insurgency, that they were militants in some way. Is there evidence of that?

Habib replied to the positive, “Regarding this particular issue, we don’t deny it at all. It’s declared and we are proud that many of the former fighters who were involved in the beginning in the war…They lay down their arms and they joined the rescue teams to rescue others...”

Militant-linked propaganda operation

The Western-funded White Helmets describe themselves as volunteer rescuers, and claim to have “saved more than 100,000 lives.” To prove – or rather, propagandize – their heroism, the group uses professionally-produced videos and social media content about their operations.

Western corporate media has been unblinkingly regurgitating their claims and content, while at the same time smearing journalists who actually went to Syria and interviewed civilians on the White Helmets. From far outside of Syria, it has instead been whitewashing the controversial, militant-linked group.

The White Helmets are not just propaganda, though. I wrote previously about their ties to terrorist and extremist groups. They have been filmed holding weapons alongside terrorists. They were seen at scenes of executions, standing over dead Syrian soldiers, and reportedly cleaning up after an execution in Daraa Governorate.

Journalists have taken testimonies of civilians who had lived under the rule of terrorists, who spoke of how the White Helmets worked alongside terrorists, numbered among them, and denied medical treatment to the people they were supposedly saving.

The White Helmets purport neutrality, but evidence – summarily dismissed by mainstream media as Russian and Syrian “disinformation” – shows they are in fact very partial – partial to militant factions.

Canada backs the White Helmets, giving at least $7.5 million and unquestioning media support.

Hence, CBC has a vested interest in reading the “hero” script on the White Helmets, instead of actually doing journalism.

No questions asked

With the above in mind, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Carol Off never veered from her script to at least doubt Habib’s claims that all of the militant-linked White Helmets have really “laid down” their weapons. Not to mention the numerous other questions a responsible journalist could have asked, like:

-How many White Helmets members formerly (cough) fought in armed groups?

-Which factions were they members of?

-Do any have blood on their hands?

-Do any currently carry weapons?

-How can you ensure that they have dropped their extremist ways and now are truly impartial and dedicated to helping all Syrian civilians?

Off could have asked any of these questions, or all of them. Instead, she went on:

Let’s remind people, the White Helmets are believed to have saved tens of thousands of lives. They were nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. But at the same time, we know that Russian and and Syrian agents have conducted a disinformation smear campaign against the White Helmets. There’s been a lot of propaganda suggesting that they’re not real saviours, that they’re militants. Do you think that the Canadian officials might have been exposed to that propaganda?

…as if she never heard the part where, just a moment earlier, Habib explicitly bragged that there are “former” militants among the White Helmets – a fact that, at the very least, should arouse suspicion with those responsible for letting them cross Canada’s border.

And just like that, no hard questions asked, the interviewer went on to trumpeting the White Helmets using their own propaganda about the “Russian/Syrian disinformation campaign.

‘A few’ bad apples?

As for Off’s guest, just how neutral is Farouq al-Habib?

He was a leader of the Homs uprising against the Syrian government and a founder member of the ‘Homs Revolutionary Council.’ When jihadist commander and footballer Abdul Baset al-Sarout died in June 2019, Habib mourned his passing, lamenting his “heroism” and “honour.” Sarout not only held extremist and sectarian views, but was in a terrorist faction and pledged allegiance to ISIS.

It’s not surprising that Off chose not to probe into Habib’s history, just as she chose to ignore his admission of White Helmets’ supposedly-former militant affiliations.

As my own and other journalists’ research on the ground in Syria indicates, many White Helmets members are partial to militant or terrorist factions. They even cheered alongside and for al-Qaeda in Syria. In the rare cases of acknowledging that, media have played it down as just “a few bad apples.”

That’s not the case. Most of the apples are fully rotten. And so is the mainstream reporting.

Posted in corporate news, culture, divide and conquer, Empire, Geopolitics, imperialism, news, NGOs, propaganda, Psy-ops, Social Control, Social Engineering, society, State Crime, war | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What’s Changed and What Hasn’t in a Tumultuous Year

By Charles Hugh Smith

Source: Of Two Minds

Inequality is America’s Monster Id, and we’re continuing to fuel its future rampage daily.

What’s changed and what hasn’t in the past year? What hasn’t changed is easy:

1. Wealth / income inequality is still increasing. (see chart #1 below)

2. Wages / labor’s share of the economy is still plummeting as financial speculation’s share has soared. (see chart #2 below)

What’s changed is also obvious:

1. Money velocity has cratered. (see chart #3 below)

2. Federal borrowing / spending has skyrocketed, pushing federal debt to unprecedented levels. (see chart #4 below)

3. Speculation has reached the society-wide mania level. This is evidenced by record margin debt levels, record levels of financial assets compared to GDP and many other indicators. (see chart #5 below)

Interestingly, every one of historian Peter Turchin’s 3-point Political Stress Index is now checked. Recall that these are core drivers of consequential social disorder, the kind that leads to empires collapsing, the overthrow of ruling elites, social revolutions, etc.

1. Stagnating real wages (i.e. adjusted for real-world inflation): check

2. Overproduction of parasitic elites: double-triple check

3. Deterioration of central state finances: check

But what about social changes? This is an interesting topic because social changes are less easily tracked (few even ask relevant questions and compile the data). Social trends are often more difficult to discern, as surveys may not track actual changes in behavior: people may give answers they reckon are expected or acceptable.

Here are four long-term trends that may have been accelerated by the pandemic:

1. The residents of overcrowded tourist destinations are sick of tourists and are demanding limits that protect increasingly fragile environments and resident quality of life.

Here’s a typical observation of a resident in Hawaii now that tourists are coming back:

Sunday I saw a group of 30 spring break tourists littering the beach with red cups and bottles of alcohol and trash. They had a table full of booze on the beach and were happily leaving their trash everywhere. No masks and no cares for Hawaii. When they left, instead of using the beach access they all climbed over the fence into someone’s yard because it saved them a minute of walking.

No I don’t miss tourists.

This is a global phenomenon. The absence of tourists has awakened a powerful sense that the profits (which flow into elite hands, not local economies) have taken precedence over the protection of what makes the destination worth visiting.

2. Work from home is here to stay. The benefits are too personal and powerful. Corporations demanding a return to long commutes and central offices will find their most productive employees are giving them “take this job and shove it” notices as they find positions with companies that understand that you can’t turn back the clock or ignore the benefits of flexible schedules.

3. Consumer behaviors have changed and are continuing to change. This is not just an expansion of home delivery; it’s a re-appraisal of big-ticket spending on concerts, entertainment, sports events and many other sectors that depend solely on free-spending consumers who ignore the recent doubling or tripling of prices.

4. Perceptions of the wealthy are changing. I touched on this topic in The Coming War on Wealth and the Wealthy (1/5/21) and The Coming Revolt of the Middle Class (1/27/21). Inequality is America’s Monster Id, and we’re continuing to fuel its future rampage daily.

Posted in Corporate Crime, Corruption, culture, Dystopia, Economics, Financial Crisis, Labor, Oligarchy, Social Control, Social Engineering, society, Sociology, State Crime, Work | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Where’s Dirk Gently When You Need Him?

By Erik Assadourian

Source: Resilience

Did you hear? A supersized cargo ship got wedged in the Suez Canal on March 23rd? If you didn’t, you must do pretty well at avoiding the news, social media, and late night TV. But the short of it is: the Ever Given somehow lost control (sandstorm strength winds have been blamed, as have human errors) and crashed into the bank of the canal and lodged itself in.

So what? Is this really news? Or just a sensational story to distract us from the pandemic, which, one might argue, is itself a distraction from the rapid unraveling of Earth’s systems and thus human civilization? Perhaps. But then again perhaps not. Here’s why this incident is worth understanding.

First, a ship single-bowedly disrupted global trade for six days. It was finally freed on March 29th. However, there is now a backlog of over 300 ships while many ships rerouted around the Cape of Good Hope. The Suez Canal is part of a trade route that carries more than 10 percent of global trade, including 7 percent of the world’s oil. Each day 30 percent of the world’s shipping container freight moves through the canal. Thus it created backlogs in shipping (including some 200,000 live animals who could have overheated or run out of food). It raised the price of oil briefly. It created shortages in factories—not just of parts but of shipping containers. And of course, it felt like a freak occurrence. Last year, of the 18,840 ships that moved through the canal, there were no incidents.

But the main reason is because this is an excellent metaphor on how fragile our entire globalized system has become.

It makes you wonder where Dirk Gently is to help straighten all this out. If you haven’t heard of Gently, he is a holistic detective, who uses “the fundamental interconnectedness of all things” to find missing persons (and cats) and solve mysteries. In fact, the novel Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency includes him trying to figure out how a sofa got “irrevocably stuck” halfway up a staircase.

Similar story here: the Ever Given was jammed in tight—though fortunately with the help of the full moon and tides, unstuck without resorting to time travel (which was needed to free the errant sofa). And while the supernatural wasn’t at the root cause of this mishap as with the couch, instead of focusing just on the bad luck of a sandstorm (which are not uncommon in Egypt) combined with bad piloting, we should still investigate the root causes at play. So let’s peel back the layers one at a time.

Bigger is better!

At the surface, we might simply say the problem stems from the fact that we keep making bigger container ships. The Ever Given is a quarter mile long (one lap around a track or the height of the Empire State Building). And it weighs 220,000 tons and holds 20,000 containers (each 20-40 feet long). High oil prices (especially 2005-8), combined with cheap debt after the 2008 crash led shipping companies to invest in bigger and bigger ships. The Ever Given holds four times the cargo a ship carried in 2000. In fact, these containers were stacked so high that they acted like a giant sail and caught the intense winds that drove the Ever Given into the banks. So, yes, there’s more risk involved, but it’s cheaper to add more containers. To get as much on there as possible. Sometimes that means losing a load of containers to a storm or other incident (about 1600 containers are lost on average each year). Not to mention the fluke canal accident—not that this was a widely recognized risk. (However, this OECD report from 2015 did raise the challenges of burgeoning cargo ship sizes). But now this threat will need to be considered, including terrorists doing this intentionally to disrupt trade.

Now more concentrated!

But of course, looking holistically, let’s ask why do we even need these big ships? So, peeling another layer, we see that we have concentrated our manufacturing to a few major locations and promoted the consumer culture worldwide so we need to get goods of all types to rich Europeans, we need to get oil to run cars and planes in every country, we need to get livestock to the Middle East to feed this affluent desert population. Our globalized system depends on big old cargo ships. Even this incident is a reflection of our extreme globalization: the ship is owned by a Japanese company; run by a Taiwanese company (Evergreen); piloted by Indians; operating under a Panamanian flag; navigating through an Egyptian waterway, shipping brand name goods from all over the globe, and rescued by a Dutch salvage company. That’s kind of neat—a global Kumbaya moment—or a revelation of just how deeply aligned nations are in converting Earth’s forests, lands, water, and life into the latest in consumer products.

But wait, there’s more!

Peeling another layer, we find that the movement of all these consumer goods is driven by a culture fixated on growth, profit, and consumerism. We move factories to exploit cheaper labor, lax environmental rules; we spend $763 billion a year on advertising to convince people they need a new iPhone or a new car or a trip to wherever; we convert landscapes wholesale into resources; and we panic if our economies don’t grow. We’re trapped in a pursuit of material happiness, manipulated by the admen and politicians, driven now by our addictions to sweets, tobacco, alcohol, drugs, social media, and entertainment, to the point we’re “amusing ourselves to death.” But worse, we’re so amused we hardly even notice the death part any longer.

Free disconnect with every purchase!

And arriving at the inner layers of the onion, we find this: that our disconnection from the Earth is so deep, so profound, so complete, that we no longer even consider the planet in our decisions to manufacture items or ship them or buy them. We think instead about expanding our economies, upsizing our homes, upgrading our cars and phones, even stockpiling toilet paper (which again became a thing in the Suez Canal story as wood pulp supplies were potentially delayed). Even as scientists warn of ecological collapse, of cities lost to flooding seas, of regions abandoned due to perpetual drought, to the inevitable violence that all this will cause, to the countless species lost—many of whom we depend on directly for our survival—we focus on making memes, writing essays (guilty), and trying to live slightly-greener-around-the-edges-consumer-lifestyles.

Dealing with this metaphorical couch

Perhaps that’s why the struggling bulldozer became the source of so many memes. Except the most important one: The bulldozer as the environmental movement and the ship as Consumer Capitalism. Ultimately, trying to free the ship, or even convert it to run on green fuels or the latest in sail technology is treating the superficial layers. Instead, we need to dig deeper (yuk yuk). We need to re-regionalize production; reduce production; degrow our economies, find ways to disincentivize and discourage a consumer lifestyle; or better yet, make it clear that this whole culture of consumerism is suicidal and worse, anti-life, and must go in order to prevent future ship jams or far worse global disruptions. And even deeper, we need to reconnect people to the living Earth to make them understand that every sin against the planet, against other creatures, and against other humans who we exploit, we do to ourselves. That if we fail to change paths, we will run head first into the proverbial canal wall. And there will be no one to dig us out.

Posted in Consumerism, culture, Economics, Environment, Oligarchy, Philosophy, society, Sociology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Saturday Matinee: Joe Versus the Volcano

My Year Of Flops Case File # 40 Joe Versus The Volcano

By Nathan Rabin

Source: AV Club

As my colleague Scott Tobias wrote in “Ten Notorious Flops Worth Seeing” John Patrick Shanley’s romantic fantasy Joe Versus The Volcano is about “nothing less than the joy of being alive.” It’s an incandescent trifle that nevertheless speaks to some of mankind’s most profound concerns. What does it mean to be alive? Is it a gift wasted on the living? Does impending death inherently give life more meaning?

That’s a lot for a first-time director to tackle, but Shanley was far from a neophyte. He’d established himself as a playwright, won an Academy Award for his very first screenplay (the swooningly romantic Moonstruck), and, for his directorial debut, roped in Steven Spielberg as Executive Producer and Tom Hanks, arguably our most beloved living movie star and the only apparent heir to James Stewart’s vacated title as America’s idealized everyman, as his star. Joe didn’t skimp on production values, either. It boasts the boundless invention and towering, gorgeous sets of a clever young prodigy who’d just been given the world’s largest toy box and was eager to make the most of it. It’s one of those rare movies where every element seems fussed over to perfection, where every molecule is perfectly in place. So if Joe Versus The Volcano was deemed a flop upon its initial release, that’s partially because expectations for it were so high.

Shanley immediately establishes a tricky fairy-tale tone with a scrawl that opens with “Once Upon a Time” before introducing us to our hapless hero, a miserable sad-sack (Hanks) who trudges drearily to work each day at a gothic factory straight out of Charles Addams or Edward Gorey’s morbid imagination. Hanks works for Dan Hedaya at a company that manufactures medical implements (“Home of the Rectal Probe!,” one woefully ineffective bit of bluster raves), but seems more intent on generating human misery for employees soul-sick from buzzing fluorescent lights and deadening routines.

At the office, Hanks lives a life that, to paraphrase Elvis Costello, is almost like suicide, so it’s pretty much a relief when he learns from doctor Robert Stack that he’s contracted a curious condition called a “Brain Cloud” and has less than a year to live. Hanks has been dying a long, slow, painful death since quitting the fire department years earlier and his impending exit from the land of the living liberates him from the grim concerns of day-to-day life, especially after manic pixie gazillionaire Lloyd Bridges offers to give Hanks a life of luxury on the condition that he eventually sail to a tropical island and jump into a volcano, thereby appeasing the native islanders so Bridges can score their precious, precious natural resources.

At each step in his journey, Hanks becomes involved with a different potential love interest played by Meg Ryan. Now normally the phrase “Meg Ryan in multiple roles” is enough to send shivers down the spine or suggest a fate worse than death. And while it pains me deeply to write this, Meg Ryan is adorable! In Joe Veruss The Volcano, at least. The film fully explores the actress’ remarkable range as she portrays everything from a mousy neurotic with a voice straight out of a ‘30s Warner Brothers melodrama to a flighty, neurotic, screwball L.A heiress to an unusually radiant variation on Ryan’s usual neurotic pixie persona.

Hanks encounters other memorable characters en route as well, especially Ossie Davis as a limo driver who views impeccable dressing as a matter of profound philosophical significance. Davis’ casually authoritative guide to the good life views luxury almost as a manner of life and death: this is poetically apt (Spoiler Alert!) in that when Hanks and Ryan are adrift in the ocean at the end of the film, it is literally Hanks’ choice to splurge on the decadently expensive luggage that saves their lives. Davis’ elegant mentor belongs to the strange cinema sub-strata of Magical Black Men, but the role is conceived and executed with such relaxed charm that he transcends stereotype.

As Hanks sheds his grim fatalism and embraces life, the film’s color palette morphs from cold grey drudgery to ripe, richly satiated jewel-box boldness. The East Coast sequences are a child’s giddy dream of New York while the island segments ooze infectious tropical sensuality. At the island, Hanks is met by Orange soda-loving Jewish Islanders led by the hilariously casual Abe Vigoda, who views Hanks less as a God-like hero than a mensch doing everyone a favor.

As Toys and Elizabethtown illustrate, whimsy is incredibly difficult to pull off. One man’s whimsical delight is another man’s cloying sugar headache. So when you’re trying to entice audiences to enter your magical little world of whimsy and delight, it helps immeasurably if your guide is Tom Hanks rather than, say, Robin Williams or Orlando Bloom.

Joe Versus The Volcano is an odd duck partially because it owes so much to Shanley’s theater background, from its extravagant, impressionist sets to its long takes to its stylized, beautifully wrought dialogue to its highly theatrical use of repetition, symbolism, and metaphor. Take Hedaya’s role for example. Hedaya essentially repeats endless minor variations on the same bit of dialogue for minutes on end. The effect is two-fold: the repetition develops a strangely hypnotic rhythm all its own and it indelibly conveys that Hedaya has probably been having this same maddeningly circular, essentially meaningless conversation for years, if not decades on end. He’s permanently locked in the poisonous, soul-crushing machine from which Hanks so joyfully extricates himself.

It didn’t make much of a splash at the time, but I can see the film’s storybook loveliness and bittersweet, child-like whimsy being a huge influence on Wes Anderson, especially The Life Aquatic, while the workplace absurdism and Bridges’ sprightly oddball turn anticipate Being John Malkovich and Orson Bean’s similarly twinkly performance as a genially warped old buzzard. But the loopy, child-like romanticism and winsome optimism at the heart of Joe belongs wholly and irrevocably to Shanley, who establishes himself as a true auteur here even as he draws extensively on the films of David Lynch, Tim Burton, and Spielberg. If nothing else, Joe Versus The Volcano should have announced the emergence of an audacious and a singular new directorial talent. Instead it was something of a cinematic dead end for a writer who went back to theater after gun-for hire work on We’re Back, Alive, and Congo, though he’s ostensibly directing a film adaptation of his Pulitzer Prize-winning play Doubt with Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Meryl Streep due out next year.

Most movies use the songs on their soundtrack like a bored teenager flipping through his iPod: a little hip-hop flava here, some punk rock aggression there, a little techno moodiness to top it off, and nothing meanders too long or makes much of an impression. But in Joe Versus The Volcano, the smartly selected songs play long enough to brood and sulk and develop a life of their own. Shanley lets Ray Charles’ transcendent take on “Ol’ Man River” linger long enough for its broken-down grace to shine through and implicate Hanks’ miserable existence in the process. Hanks’ evolution from suicidal despair to rapturous joy is reflected by a soundtrack that segues from the withering fatalism of “16 Tons” and “Ol Man River” to the infectious ebullience of “Good Loving.”

My father says Joe Versus The Volcano is held in high regard in the self-help community, which understandably embraces its narrative of a joyless sad-sack who discovers the tools to live out of his wildest fantasies. It’s a fizzy pop fable about the quirkiest possible route to self-actualization that’d probably have been better received by the public at large if it didn’t boast such a precious title or cutesy conceits like Orange-soda-loving, Volcano-fearing Jewish islanders. Which begs the question: Do movies like Ishtar, Gigli, Howard The Duck and Joe Versus The Volcano fail because they have terrible titles or are their titles only viewed as terrible because the films were such pronounced box-office failures? For this film, at least, I’d to think the second explanation holds true.

For such a strangely irresistible, life-affirming movie Joe proved awfully divisive. Shanley gave critics and haters plenty of ammunition (Meg Ryan in three mannered roles, all manner of twee cutesiness spilling around the edges), just as he gave the film’s growing cult plenty to fall in love with. Over and over again.

 

Watch Joe Versus the Volcano on Hoopla here: https://www.hoopladigital.com/title/13529408

Posted in Art, culture, Film, Humor, Saturday Matinee, Video | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The End of Days Is Coming Fast and It’s Ugly

By Phil Butler

Source: New Eastern Outlook

The average citizen of Earth is all tied up these days. Scarcely anyone has free time to take on one more task, to truly understand what goes on in the world, or glean any meaningful benefit from world affairs. Life goes on, albeit in a more chaotic sense, as it always has. The rich get richer, as they say, and the poor get poorer. There’s a simple reason to explain it all, but humanity is never allowed to come to terms with it. The solution to all our problems is patently simple. But the choice? Well, we’re conditioned to shun revolutions of thought and deed.

Now that I have opened a misty veil into the nebulous unknowing of world affairs, let me reveal once more, the dastardly cause of all our strife. The powers that be, whether, in the north, south, east, or west, want everything for themselves. You knew this since that first overheard conversation between old men, in Athens, Beirut, Charleston, or Dublin. And if you’ve dared to rear your head and lift your voice with the newfound freedom of digital means, beware, for they will soon smash you back down into the dark chamber of servitude, where you and I belong. Today’s case in point? The sister of billionaire Warren Buffett, Roberta Buffett Elliott, and an institution painted philanthropic, to cover a deceitful ghastliness. In this report, I have included Tweets from some of the panel that the Buffett Institute has assembled. The gist of these Tweets will further enlighten you.

In my email this morning there was a message from Annelise Riles, Executive Director of Northwestern University’s Roberta Buffett Institute for Global Affairs, a school I was not even familiar with before. The subject of the email was a Foreign Policy – Northwestern broadcast entitled “How to Stop Fake News” The tagline reads:

“Stopping fake news is the big problem we have to solve before we can more effectively address the global challenges facing humanity.”

The story of Roberta, Warren, and her fascinating husband David Elliott, is a subject worthy of a book, but for the sake of brevity, a $100 million dollar gift to create the Northwestern institute in 2015 was no charitable donation. The now-deceased husband David, was head of the largest Peace Corps operating in the world about the time J.F.K. was assassinated. Just to tweak the reader’s interest in how “agents” of liberal change are created.

Returning to the latest Buffett Institute initiative, it’s important to note that like every other supposed philanthropic gift by billionaires, there was a windfall beyond a tax writeoff. And now, with brother Warren and his elite colleagues pressing hard to dominate our world, the rebelliousness of independent thought must be squashed. The elite accomplishes our quietness via the same old methods. They not only own almost all the newspapers and TV stations, they also donate billions to cultivate journalists, scientists, politicians, bureaucrats, educators, and military leaders who will propagate their agendas.

Now, independent traditional and social media are a huge problem for those who want utter control. Now that the term “conspiracy theory” no longer has weight in light of exposed real conspiracies, the danger for the Warren Buffett or George Soros types of the world is acute. This “How to Stop Fake News” should be a wake-up call for every citizen of our world, a call to action to prevent the complete takeover of freedoms and elusive democracy. Make no mistake, the US President declaring war on Russia and Vladmir Putin in recent comments, the hardcore language aimed at Iran, China, and many other “perceived” threats to American hegemony, are the other warning signs.

This new initiative involves high-ranking members of the European Commission, Putin hater Olga Yurkova (Co-Founder, Stopfake.org), Marwan M. Kraidy (Dean and CEO, Northwestern University in Qatar), Justine Isola (Facebook), and others. One look into the backgrounds of these people will tell you the Roberta Buffett Institute is already presenting a narrative to students that is mightily skewed in favor of the liberal order. With Biden in charge now, and after Trump succeeding in destroying conservatism for good, Buffett and his fellows are ready for the push to subdue Russia or anything standing in the way. At least, this is my analysis.

Here in Greece, the Prime Minister just declared social media the “enemy of democracy” because the people are losing confidence in the government’s ability to immunize and protect citizens. This is not “fake news” Prime Minister Mitsotakis is on record saying this. For a few years now, institutions like Freedom House have been trumpeting the notion that social media is rotting democracy from within. The so-called “left’ has blamed this supposed decay on conservatives and the far-right. A Politico piece before the 2020 election suggested that Americans were becoming “superspreaders of misinformation.” At the other end of the spectrum, Annelise Riles, the lady in charge of the Buffett Institute, writes for Times Higher Education (THE); “Universities can help the US retake its seat at the global table.” Must I continue, or is the writing on the wall here? Riles was the recipient of a Marshall Scholarship herself, so what we are seeing is the most effects of replanting neo-colonialism, and the latest in the ongoing war for this world.

We must understand fully what former President Donald Trump’s role was in all this. Trump’s Tweets, the bombastic and often ridiculous content he spread, the sheer callousness and narcissism he foamed at us with, it set the stage for his colleagues to silence all moderators. Now, the liberal order Trump was supposed to expose, the Deep State and the Swamp he was sworn to unseat, has complete control (almost) of media, business, and even academia and medicine.

Currently, there is nothing whatsoever standing in the way of their turning us all into slaves. Putin and Russia represent a huge problem for them because the capitalistic systems they created will soon fail without new resources to leverage. Russia means growth for these people, and without the treasures of Russia, Iran, Venezuela, and other nations, the Warren Buffetts and Rothschilds of Earth cannot go forward. Their empires of Wall Street hot air will collapse within a decade. They must, you see, either command all the world’s mineral and human wealth or control us utterly and completely. The inevitable is unarguable. There is no bottomless vessel, from which to pour milk or honey endlessly. This liberal order that reshaped its power, will transform every freedom into a task that serves them. Much of our life is already dedicated to them, they take a piece of every move we make. It will only get worse. But humanity must be left standing. End of story.

By the way, this is not fake news, it is my real opinion based on decades of study, research, and inside information.

Phil Butler, is a policy investigator and analyst, a political scientist and expert on Eastern Europe, he’s an author of the recent bestseller “Putin’s Praetorians” and other books. He writes exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”

Posted in Authoritarianism, Corporate Crime, corporate news, culture, Deep State, Dystopia, elites, Empire, Geopolitics, imperialism, media, Neoliberalism, news, NGOs, Oligarchy, propaganda, Psy-ops, Social Control, Social Engineering, society, Sociology, State Crime | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment