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I was researching a bit on the Cyprus meltdown and found the usual exaggerated talk of Russian “black money” and the spendthrift Cypriots, but cutting through the noise are two articles on this subject of the Cyprus debt crisis. The first is by theoretical physicist Mano Singham:

What the Cyprus crisis reveals about oligarchic control

“…Ordinary Cypriots, like ordinary citizens in the Netherlands and Germany and anywhere else, had little or no say in how their governments and banks operate. They just go about their lives, working and putting some money away in savings. But governments and big banks set policies that favor the global financial oligarchy and enable them to send vast amounts of money rapidly around the globe in order to get high returns, by lending to governments through the banks.

But when things go sour and governments cannot repay, what they do is pit ordinary people of the donor countries against the ordinary people of the recipient countries in their efforts to make sure that the oligarchy in untouched. By causing people to think that ‘hardworking’ Dutch and Germans are subsidizing ‘lazy’ Greeks and Spaniards and Cypriots, and throwing in ‘greedy’ Russians into the mix, they manage to obscure the fact that they are all getting exploited because the allegiance of all their governments is to the big banks, and that the global oligarchy is really calling the shots through its puppets in the IMF and the ECB.

One sees this over and over again in other contexts. In the US we see how the oligarchy pits Chinese or Mexican workers against American workers, making them see each other as the enemy and fight with each other, when the real winners, all the time, are the global oligarchy, while the real losers, all the time, are the workers in each country…

As we well know, when you[the Oligarch class] own the media, then you can spin reality anyway you want it and have the plebs fighting amongst themselves. This is why the informed person will never win with brain-washed people quoting Bill O’Reilly and other such talking heads of the corporate-owned media. Just smile and roll your eyes.

The other article is by Yves Smith at naked capitalism which goes more into detail on the American Oligarchy and dispels much of the myths surrounding Cyprus.

Why Does No One Speak of America’s Oligarchs?

…Now notice how much space I’ve devoted to showing that major parts of the conventional narrative about Cyprus are not all that they are cracked up to be. But see another implicit part of the story: that Russia’s oligarchs and “dirty money” are a distinctive national creation. Do you ever hear Carlos Slim or Rupert Murdoch or the Koch Brothers described as oligarchs? To dial the clock back a bit, how about Harold Geneen of ITT, which was widely known to conduct assassinations in Latin America if it couldn’t get its way by less thuggish means? (This is not mere rumor, I’ve had it confirmed by a former ITT executive)…

…there’s been a peculiar sanctimonious reluctance to apply the word oligarch to the members of America’s ruling class. Some of that is that we Americans idolize our rich, and the richer the better. No one looks too hard at the fact many of our billionaires started out with a leg up, parlaying a moderate family fortune (for instance, in the case of Donald Trump) into a bigger one, or having one’s success depend on other forms of family help (Bill Gates’ mother having the connection to an IBM executive that enabled Gates to license MS-DOS to them).

But the fact that some people have advantages and are able to make the most of them, isn’t the reason to pin the “o” word on America’s top wealthy. It’s that, like Simon’s prototypical emerging market magnates, they increasingly dominate our society and are running it strictly for own self interest and devil take the rest of us. And the results on important metrics are worse than in Russia. The Gini coefficient is a widely-used measure of income inequality. The Gini coefficient is worse (higher) for the US than for Russia…

…Top executives have operated in a manner that is less obviously thuggish than the violent ways of some of Russia’s richest, but the hollowing out of labor and shortened job tenures have come with high costs across broad swathes of society. And the oligarchs that Johnson singled out, the elite that control the biggest financial firms, have become singularly, systematically predatory. We discussed long from in ECONNED the scale and nature of the looting that produced the global financial crisis.

And let us not forget that people are dying thanks to bank-related abuses, even though it’s not as direct or obvious as by assassinations. On the mortgage front alone, we’ve discussed for three years how many foreclosures are simply unwarranted, some created by servicers for their own profit, many of the others unjustified because it would have been better for everyone, the borrower, the mortgage investors, the broader community, for the borrower to get a modification, but the servicer put its own bottom line first and foreclosed. There have been cases of suicides on the eve of foreclosures, and even a courtroom death that was attributed to the stress of fighting a dubious foreclosure. But in addition to these clear cases of death by bank, there are many more cases where the financial distress of a foreclosure leads to a later suicide, or the curtailment of spending on health measures that shorten lifespans. The major servicers have blood on their hands as much, likely much more, than the demonized Russian oligarchs, but everyone here is too polite to say so out loud.

Confucius said that the beginning of wisdom was learning to call things by their proper names. The time is long past to kid ourselves about the nature of the ruling class in America and start describing it accurately, as an oligarchy…

The colonization of the language by the corporate media is a large part of the way the masses can be controlled without firing a bullet, as illustrated by a commenter to the above article:

It’s absurd to call the crooks who have robbed or attempted to rob the Russian people of their wealth “oligarchs”, but then to turn around and call the cut-throat corporate vultures of Wall Street elite stewards of capitalism or “philanthropists” or merely “wealthy”.

The Western press has masterfully perpetuated this hypocritical view of the wealth accumulated in the West vs. Russia and vs. China as well. Notice that the press doesn’t dare call the Chinese billionaires in the communist party “oligarchs”.

It’s interesting how these terms get latched on to certain nations and cultures in pop-foreign-affairs discussions. It’s entirely originated by Western journalists pushing a corporate narrative of Americana that excludes the harsh reality of both the inequality and injustice of our modern system.

I’ll add that oligarchy as a term and a topic of political discussion goes back to Aristotle and the Greek philosophers.

You can’t sustain a democracy in an oligarchic state. The writers on Athenian democracy understood that 2000 years ago,”

– Chris Hedges, “The World As It Is: Dispatches on the Myth of Human Progress

The rich in the US are controlling policy. Since the 80′s they’ve been rigging the tax and regulatory framework to redistribute wealth upward.

The reality is that conservatives have been quite actively using the power of the government to shape market outcomes in ways that redistribute income upward. However, conservatives have been clever enough to not own up to their role in this process, pretending all along that everything is just the natural working of the market. And, progressives have been foolish enough to go along with this view.”

– Dean Baker, “The Conservative Nanny State

It started with Reagan, got worse in Clinton, and was maintained and finalized with the W. Bush tax cuts and benign neglect which Obama has continued (the exception are cases like Enron and Madoff, where rich people got hurt).

Oligarchy in its most basic definition is one where the ruling class protect and grow their wealth in their rule of a nation or society. Is there any doubt that, given the trends since the 80′s in both market deregulation, tax expenditures for the wealthy, and the growth in inequality and destruction of the middle class, that we have been in an oligarchal rule under the bankster corporate overlords and the military industrial complex, which includes all the moguls of Wall Street in energies, insurance, and banking.

It’s worth noting that Simon Johnson, someone who has demonstrated his competence in academia and policy at the IMF, and who has also tirelessly attempted to inform the public of the misdeeds of the powerful money changers, has focused specifically on the American oligarchs in the finance industry, as early as 2009:


In times of crisis, if the government doesn’t stand up for the people and use taxation and spending to fix the gross inequality that comes about from forms of unfettered capitalism, then the result is a massive wealth grab…

I think that sums up the situation quite nicely, and in a world of depleting resources we’ll see more of this greedy scramble for the last few slices of the economic pie as it shrinks. Get ready to pitch a tent in an American shanty town coming near you.