Put the Billionaires on a Rocket to Mars

Away with them. Like they tell us, it’s a chance to save Earth.

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Sky’s the limit! Just three billionaires, (from left) Warren Buffett, Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, now possess more wealth than the bottom half of US households. Illustration by Christopher Cheung. Jeff Bezos photo via Wikipedia, public domain; Bill Gates photo via WikipediaCC BY-SA 2.0; and Warren Buffett photo via WikipediaCC BY-SA 2.0.

The world has an intractable problem: in 1990, billionaires had amassed $118 billion in wealth.

Today, they hoard a treasure trove of more than $3 trillion.

Meanwhile, the number of billionaires has grown by nearly 40 per cent over the last five years.

Billionaires are not only proliferating faster than the coronavirus, but they are concentrating the globe’s money supply like there is no tomorrow.

The globe’s 2,153 billionaires, for example, now have more wealth than half the world’s population — that’s 4.6 billion ordinary Earth dwellers.

Just 22 male billionaires have more money than all the women living in Africa. That’s more than half a billion people.

At this rate, billionaires will own everything and everybody in a couple of years.

Billionaire oligarchs already dominate global affairs so totally that a Swiss financial firm publishes a yearly report on their escapades.

Every day, billionaires intervene in elections, fund political parties, run for office, dominate another continent or make more merchandise we don’t need.

When billionaires aren’t telling us how to live, they fly in their private jets to Davos where they pretend to fix the world’s problems.

Apparently only rich people with money and jets can fix things.

In Davos, billionaires, signalling virtue like a host of Vestal Virgins, utter a lot of rich clichés, like solemnly intoning that problems made by technology can be solved by technology — with the help of generous billionaires.

Meanwhile, a whole bunch of digital billionaires are trying to manage and manipulate us like rats in a lab with algorithms as addictive as Oxycontin.

At one time, you could depend on populists to rise up periodically to overthrow the rich and restore some balance to the world, but the billionaires have outflanked us.

They now lead and fund populist movements promising “to drain political swamps.” Talk about a “win-win” for billionaires.

Others rich guys like George Soros and David Koch think they can solve the world’s problems with money, which, incidentally, is pretty much how Judas thought about the world.

We could rise up against the world’s billionaire 0.000027 per cent the old-fashioned way with guillotines and pitchforks, but I have a more modest solution: let’s just send them to Mars.

Billionaires not only like rockets, but they are crazy about Mars and really want to go there in a bad way. I think many of them are also getting the heebie-jeebies here on Earth.

You can understand why. The damned plebs are anxious and awash in debt; the economy has lost its mojo; some populists actually want to tax the rich; and then there is that damnable thing called climate change.

Most of us can smell gunpowder in the air.

One hundred years ago, no rich person in their right mind would have ever thought of going to a Red State, let alone a Red Planet, but things have changed.

Every billionaire worth their salt is selling off their yacht or extending their longevity to buy a rocket.

That’s right: rockets have become the new yachts.

The billionaire President Donald Trump understands the new rocket frenzy.

He notes that “rich people like building rocket ships and sending them up,” and it’s OK with him.

And Trump wants the moon to serve as a launch pad for Mars. “I said, ‘Hey, we’ve done the moon. That’s not so exciting.’ So we’ll be doing the moon. But we’ll really be doing Mars.”

Do Mars, Trump. Do.

The billionaire Elon Musk figures that people, well really rich people, now have two choices.

They can stay on Earth and walk wide-eyed into “an inevitable extinction event” and lose their fortunes.

Or they can “become a spacefaring civilization, and a multi-planetary species.”

That’s how hopeful the billionaires are today. In any case, they really want to get off the planet.

Jeff Bezos, the chief of Amazon, wants not only to go Mars but “everywhere” in space in one of his shiny Blue Origin rockets.

He can afford to, because Amazon doesn’t pay any federal taxes.

He also thinks all “heavy industry will be moved off-planet” and that Earth should be zoned “residential” for non-billionaires.

Let’s send Captain Picard Bezos to Mars before the Earth runs out of merchandise to sell on Amazon.

Make it so.

Musk, who has already put a Tesla roadster into space because he could, plans to establish a colony on the Red Planet by 2050.

I say let him. But make it a colony for billionaires with electric cars only. I don’t care if he calls it Club Musk or Club Red.

Now here comes a really funny part: the Nazi rocketeer Wernher von Braun (who went on to lead the U.S space program) predicted in his book Project Mars, a “technical” case for going wrapped in a 1950s sci-fi novel, that the red planet would be governed by 10 technocrats and their leader would be called Elon.

I am not making this shit up.

Igor Ashurbeyli, a Russian billionaire and rocket scientist, wants to create his own nation in outer space called “Asgardia.”

It will have its own government, currency, calendar and something we don’t have on Earth anymore — a justice system.

Go Ashurbeyli. The Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, who founded the fashion retailer Zozo, hopes to make it to the moon on one of Musk’s SpaceX rockets.

Maezawa will probably look pretty fashionable on the journey wearing a Zozo body suit.

Bye, bye Maezawa.

Mark Zuckerberg, the whining billionaire who broke a lot of democratic things with Facebook, doesn’t want to go to outer space (at least not yet), but is sending spacecraft to its far reaches.

He wants to be the first to get aliens on Facebook.

So let’s send the violator of our privacies to the Red Planet. I’m sure he will find a lot of friends there.

Bon voyage, Zuckerberg!

Now let me declare my bias, because I obviously have one.

I don’t hate billionaires. I just don’t appreciate their abuse of power and their demonic obsession with money.

Jacques Ellul, a radical Christian that no self-respecting billionaire would ever read, thought money acted like a strange power that invaded the soul and enslaved the heart.

It replaced God’s spirit in every person with absurdities and cruelties.

He thought the only way to deal with the problem of money was by giving it away and treating it profanely.

Now get this: the scriptures identify “the rich” as people who think they don’t need God’s help. That probably explains why most billionaires act like gods and tweet like rock stars.

One more thing. I come from a long line of Norwegian and Ukrainian peasants.

A peasant defines wealth the old-fashioned way: it’s all about family and friends and a good piece of Earth. If you are loved and believe in the Tao or God, you are wealthy even if you have holes in your shoes.

One of my heroes is Emiliano Zapata, a rebel peasant leader from Morelos, Mexico. He refused to sit on the presidential throne in Mexico City in 1914, because that’s not why he fought for the poor. “We should burn that chair to end all ambitions,” he said. Nobody listened to Zapata.

A military man later betrayed Zapata for, you guessed it, money.

Now I know I am writing heresies here. I’ve read the propaganda on the rich: they worked hard at building their hedge funds and earned their money and we should worship them. Billionaires obviously have long-term vision and are determined risk takers while the rest of us are just no-good shirkers.

Without billionaires, goes the propaganda, we’d have no running toilets or high-tech gadgets to distract us from the proliferation of billionaires. Companies run by billionaires, of course, make more money than other companies. And blah, blah, blah.

The billionaire Bill Gates says banning billionaires would be a bad idea because “the amount you would gain would be much less than the amount you would lose.”

But I disagree. I lived well without Microsoft or a smart phone. A billionaire didn’t invent the flush toilet, or penicillin for that matter. In fact, I can’t really think of any problem a billionaire has really solved.

And no billionaire, no matter how much he or she celebrates themselves, will ever be as valuable as a man or woman who cares for a sick child, or a parent crippled by a stroke, or a friend beset by dementia.

So let’s send the world’s billionaires — all 2,153 of them — to Mars before we have a trillionaire problem.

Oh, did I forget to mention that the billionaires have to leave their wealth and their art collections behind?

It is really important to travel light on a flight to Mars.

To be serious for a moment, Wernher von Braun thought life on Mars would be hunky dory.

The colonists would live a subterranean existence and eat microscopic algae. Opportunities for “body repair and brain filling stations” would be readily available, and billionaires just love that kind of talk.

Nobody living on Mars would get nostalgic for Earth, wrote von Braun, thanks to “the standardization of all ideas and desires.”

And what more could a billionaire ask for?

The left must stand against capitalism. Now.

Andray Domise: People who hold left-leaning ideals have to quit kidding themselves by believing that capitalism exists as a benevolent or even neutral social arrangement

Time for the left to quit capitalism

Norms are so warped that being forced to live in an RV is an accepted consequence of rising city rents (Photograph by Jen Osborne)

Late last year, I got an unusual request. A person identifying themselves as an environmental activist sent me a direct message asking if I would recommend a few books, as the organization they worked with was having trouble connecting its protest movement with the working class, especially people of colour. They were specifically looking for books related to decolonization, and after a few recommendations, I suggested they consider reading through the Communist Manifesto to see if any passages regarding exploitation leaped out.

They thanked me for the suggestion, but as for that brief volume by Marx and Engels, the response was this: “I don’t want to scare them off.”

If a group of activists can be “scared off” by a nearly 200-year-old critique of capitalism, while the externalities of capitalism itself pollute oceans with plastic, fill the air with smog and accelerate climate change via carbon emissions, something is terribly wrong.

READ: Naomi Klein on ‘disaster capitalism’ in Puerto Rico

There’s no way around a simple reality for people who consider themselves to be on the left side of the political spectrum, the people who strive for widespread and radical, if not revolutionary, change—we’re getting our tails kicked. There’s no putting an end to that if people who hold left-leaning ideals cannot quit kidding themselves by believing that capitalism exists as a benevolent or even neutral social arrangement. If the left intends to win these fights, it must also stand in principled opposition to capitalism. 2020 is the year to do it.

“It is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism,” goes an observation by, depending on your sources, either Fredric Jameson or Slavoj Žižek. And the frightening thing is, not only does the world’s end become easier to imagine with each passing day, there is also a politically active bloc that intends to keep squeezing profits until the music stops.

Only a few months ago, Joe Oliver, once Canada’s minister of natural resources before assuming the federal finance portfolio, penned a column in the Financial Post extolling the possible benefits of climate change to Canadians. “Assuming a one-degree Celsius temperature rise,” Oliver wrote, “[bond rating agency] Moody’s calculates that our economy would be unaffected in 2048. A rise of 2.4 degrees would increase GDP by 0.1 per cent and four degrees would boost it by 0.3 per cent.” The benefit to farming, Oliver went on to say, is that the resultant permafrost retreat would—not could, but would—massively expand Canada’s arable land, and open up farming opportunities.

READ: The Left is constantly trying to out-woke itself. That’s a problem.

Not one word about the resultant cost to human life in countries hardest hit by climate change, nothing in the column about the massive outpouring of climate refugees in Oliver’s scenario. Just the profit motive.

Environmental policy is not the only one where norms have become warped to the point of immorality. In Toronto, where nearly half of renters are paying costs categorized by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation as “unaffordable,” it can take between two and 14 years to be placed into social housing. The situation is equally dire in Vancouver, where rising rents force tenants into recreational vehicles, and then the eventual possibility of being kicked out of RV camps en masse.

How does the federal government address any of this? By offering financial assistance and incentives to bolster people with tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of dollars stashed away to buy a home. Which of course helps the real estate industry, helps mortgage lenders, and does nothing for people pressed ever further into the reaches of poverty. Condo towers sprout up all along Toronto’s Gardiner Expressway and tent cities underneath it are bulldozed, while the earth continues to pirouette carelessly on its axis.

What has capitalism given us in return? An economic environment in which multinational enterprises, according to Statistics Canada, compose 0.8 per cent of Canadian companies yet own 67 per cent of all assets. And income inequality, according to the Institute for Research on Public Policy, has been increasing for the past 40 years. With near-limitless amounts of private capital aligned against the interests of working-class people, nothing short of an organized, large-scale resistance will put the brakes on these trends.

Our political, business and media class would like nothing more than to pretend that these are natural outcomes, that none of it is avoidable, and that the world is and always has been shaped according to the capricious whims of that unknowable free market.

But the truth of the matter is this: 58 per cent of Canadians have a favourable view of socialism, and 77 per cent of us believe the world is facing a climate emergency. Most Canadians find income inequality to be fundamentally un-Canadian, and there are, numerically, more of us than there are bankers, landlords, brokers and executives put together. The only way for the left to win this fight is for its political vision to expand beyond capitalism, and to capture the widespread desire to move on from its exploitative limits.

We’ve lived in that world for long enough. Time for it to end. SOURCE

 

Bill Gates, I Implore You to Connect Some Dots

Bloomberg, Dimon and Gates call liberal tax ideas unfair. But excessive wealth is the real threat.


Credit…CJ Gunther/EPA, via Shutterstock

The billionaire class has begun unloading on Elizabeth Warren. A few days ago, Jamie Dimon of J.P. Morgan Chase — at just $1.6 billion in net worth, a comparative piker — said Senator Warren “vilifies successful people.” Then Bill Gates ($107 billion), in an onstage interview with The Times’s Andrew Ross Sorkin, mused about what his tax bill might be in a Warren presidency and left the door open to voting for Donald Trump should Democrats nominate Ms. Warren. And then Michael Bloomberg ($52 billion), who had previously criticized Ms. Warren as anti-corporate, signaled his intention to jump into the race, obviously out of concern at her rise.

I’m not expert enough to judge the wisdom of Senator Warren’s proposed wealth tax. I know that there are questions about its constitutionality and that several European nations tried a similar approach and found it unworkable (though four countries still have it). I don’t get why the candidates aren’t simply proposing to increase marginal income tax rates on dollars earned above some very high figure. That seems a lot more straightforward to me.

So this column is not a brief for Ms. Warren’s wealth tax or for her candidacy — I don’t have a preferred candidate. Instead, I want to make a simple plea to the country’s billionaires: Multibillion-dollar fortunes are often called excessive and decadent. But here’s something they’re rarely called but ought to be: anti-democratic. These fortunes will destroy our democracy.

Why “anti-democratic”? Why would it matter to our democracy whether Jeff Bezos is worth $113 billion (his current figure) or $13 billion?

This is carnage, plain and simple. No democratic society can let that keep happening and expect to stay a democracy. It will produce a middle and working classes with no sense of security, and when people have no sense that the system is providing them with basic security, they’ll make some odd and desperate choices.

This is obviously not hypothetical. It’s happening. It’s what gave us Mr. Trump (well, that plus the campaign lies). It’s what made Britons vote Leave (well, that plus the campaign lies). It’s what has sparked protests from France to Chile to Lebanon, and it’s what is making the Chinese model — no democracy, but plenty of security — more attractive to a number of developing countries around the world than the American model. Our billionaires ought to ponder this.

I imagine that Mr. Gates is repulsed by Mr. Trump on some level, and at the end of the day probably couldn’t vote for him. But if I could meet Mr. Gates, I’d ask him: Sir, do you not see the link between your vast fortune and the ascendance of Donald Trump? If not, I implore you to connect some dots. Wealth has shifted to the top. It has been taken away from the middle class. That makes people anxious. Anxiety opens the door to demagogues. It’s not complicated.

We need changes in our laws and institutional structures that will alter what economists call pretax distribution. This is a point made by the economist Dean Baker — that income inequality is less a result of tax policy than laws and regulations that have made the rich richer before taxes are even imposed. These changes have to do with

And yes, we do need to tax rich people more. In my lifetime, the top marginal tax rate has gone (roughly speaking) from 91 percent to 77 percent to 50 percent to 35 percent to today’s 37 percent. That’s too low. I’m not with Bernie Sanders, who says there should be no billionaires. That’s too punitive. But I do think Mr. Bezos could get by on $15 billion or so.

Billionaires will protest that they’d rather give it away than trust the government with it. I applaud their generosity. But even someone as rich as Michael Dell, who went on a rather infamous riff along these lines at Davos, could not build a nationwide high-speed rail system, clean the country’s air and water (and keep them clean), create a network of free opioid clinics across the country or give towns that have been hollowed out by the global economy a second chance. Only government can do those things. MORE

This new calculator tells billionaires how much tax Elizabeth Warren would make them pay


[Photo: The New York Public Library]

For the billionaires out there who are confused about how much they’d pay in taxes under Elizabeth Warren’s Ultra-Millionaire tax plan, the Warren campaign has a new calculator to help. “Are you a billionaire?” it asks, and then prompts users to enter their net worth.

If you’re Bill Gates, for example, who criticized Warren’s plan yesterday—prompting Warren to reach out on Twitter and clarify how much he would actually pay—the calculator explains that you’d owe $6.379 billion next year:

WOW — YOU’VE GOT A LOT OF MONEY!
Your wealth puts you in the top 0.0002% of Americans.

Now you have the opportunity to invest some of it back into our society so everyone has a chance to succeed.

You’d pay $6.379 billion next year under Elizabeth’s wealth tax. This amount, which you likely won’t even feel, will help us invest in education from birth through college and help finance health care for everyone.

Good news – you’ll still be extraordinarily rich! And if history is any guide, if you do nothing other than invest your wealth in the stock market, it’s likely that your wealth will continue to grow.

For those of us who aren’t billionaires, the calculator offers links to examples of others, including Jeff Bezos (who would owe $6.697 billion next year under the plan, but who has a net worth of  $112,300,000,000) and Mark Zuckerberg (who would owe $4.249 billion but has a net worth of $71,500,000,000). SOURCE

 

Making the Green New Deal Real

THE GREEN NEW Deal resolution introduced into Congress by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey is a manifesto that has changed the terms of the debate over the country’s future. Cutting through the Trump administration’s denials about who is responsible for the extreme weather we already face, it unites the issues of climate change with that of eroding workers’ rights, racism and growing inequality. (At the end of March, the Senate voted against the GND in what has been called a ceremonial stunt.)

The resolution affirms the overwhelming scientific consensus that these are human caused. Further, since the United States is responsible for a disproportionate amount of greenhouse gas emissions, it demands that this society must take the lead in “reducing emissions through economic transformation.”

Noting that climate crisis is just one of many crises we face, it points to declining living standards, wage stagnation, a large racial divide and gender gap. It states that we now have the greatest income inequality since a century ago. It then proposes a 10-year national mobilization to tackle these issues comprehensively. But in offering a way forward, the details are nonetheless vague.

Corporate politicians ranging from centrist Democrats to the Republican establishment have commented that the proposal is too broad, too expensive, too utopian. Trump labelled it socialist and therefore “un-American.”

It’s clear that a broad political debate has opened. In fact, it is clear that politicians running for office in 2019 and 2020 will be forced to discuss what must be done to drastically reduce fossil fuels and at the same time reduce inequality.

This is a sea change from the 2016 election when Bernie Sanders raised climate change as the most important issue facing the country, the only “major party” candidate to do so. MORE

RELATED:

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez says her Green New Deal climate plan would cost at least $10 trillion

The federal NDP must stand tall in its commitment to a boldly progressive agenda

 

Image credit: Joshua Berson

In 2015, Libby Davies retired as deputy leader of the NDP and member of Parliament for Vancouver East, after four decades of work as a politician, community organizer and activist for progressive causes. Her recently published book, Outside In: A Political Memoir,recounts her career and the causes she has worked for, from the legalization of same-sex marriage to housing justice and access to safe injection sites on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. In the following excerpt, Davies diagnoses what went wrong for the NDP in the 2015 federal election and how the party can avoid the same pitfalls in the future.

Certainly, what happens in Parliament is enormously important. The terrible legislation passed by Harper’s government, his disregard for democracy, his secrecy, arrogance, and elitism, it was all part of a decade of darkness. Fighting the government in Parliament was our job, and we did it well.

But somewhere along the way we lost our bigger vision and connection with people, including some of our base, as we became focused on winning. We forgot how to be creative and bold outside of Parliament and bring people with us.

I know we face formidable double standards in the mainstream media. Regardless of how well we do, they would still find a way to trash or ignore us. On that I am cynical. All the more reason for us to be smarter than all of them, and find new ways to do politics with people who have a passion for social justice and a better world.

In these political times, the NDP is needed more than ever. The rise of right-wing populism even here in Canada and the underwhelming position of Trudeau’s Liberal government on crucial issues such as climate change, democratic electoral reform, income inequality, and more make it crucial for the federal NDP to stand tall and unwavering in its commitment to a boldly progressive agenda. We must embrace a post-fossil-fuel economy and lead the way on an economic and social transition to it, and demonstrate that retraining, good jobs, and social advances create a healthier economy and healthier society overall. MORE

Bill McKibben: Climate Change Is Scary—Not the Green New Deal

It’s very clear that conservatives have one plan for dealing with the popularity of the Green New Deal: scaring the hell out of people.

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U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey announce Green New Deal legislation in Washington on February 7, 2019. Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Myron Ebell of the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute, the man who led the drive to pull America out of the Paris climate accords, said the other day that the Green New Deal was a “back-to-the-dark-ages manifesto.” That’s language worth thinking about, coming from perhaps the Right’s most influential spokesman on climate change.

Ebell’s complaint (and that of the rest of the Right) is that the set of proposals to address climate change and economic inequality put forth last week by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey would do too much, and cost too much. Indeed, he describes the Green New Deal this way: “It calls for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in 10 years, ‘upgrading all existing buildings’, and replacing our vehicle fleet with electric cars and more mass transit. And turning our energy economy upside down must be accomplished while ending historic income inequities and oppression of disadvantaged groups.” All of which sounds good not just to me, but to most people: Polling for the Green New Deal is through the roof, especially among young people so ably organized by the Sunrise Movement.

But even if ending historic oppression doesn’t catch your fancy, it’s not a return to the Dark Ages. A return to the Dark Ages is what happened in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit: Survivors dying in the convention center of a modern American city, locals organizing a makeshift “navy” to try to pluck people from rooftops after levees collapsed. MORE