An even more unflattering view of Robber Barons comes from Edmund Optiz, “So far were they from wanting a genuinely free market economy that they bought up senators and paid off judges in order to stifle competition. They did not want a government that would let them alone; they wanted a government they could use.”
Today’s most visible titans are not of industry but of information. Just as the Robber Barons transformed America from rural to industrial, the “silicon sultans,” as The Economist calls them, transformed America from industrial to digital. Mouse clicks can help you complete your GED or your doctoral thesis, find a job, acquaint you with all the paintings of Vermeer, or help you win an election (just ask Trump) – a revolution as significant as any the barons of old could devise. “Both relied on the relentless logic of economies of scale,” says The Economist, and the result “in both cases, is an unparalleled concentration of power. A century ago the barons had a lock on transportation and energy. Today Google and Apple between them provide 90% of smartphone operating systems.”
However, that is where the similarities end, since today holding sway requires no more than using the information channels created by the very same silicon sultans. No need for any nefarious behavior. The Economist article mentions the prospectus of fwd.us, a group founded by silicon sultans that believes the tech industry will become “one of the most powerful political forces..”..”we control massive distribution channels, both as companies and as individuals.”
The good news is silicon sultans made many distribution channels available to anyone. If you agree with a proposal, great! If you are skeptical, fact check. If you do not agree at all, start an easy off-the-shelf website, a Facebook Page, a Twitter account, a Reddit account, and post every chance you get. The playing field is not as lumpy as some might whine about. The democracy is not as helpless.
Picture: The Robber Barons by Mark Zug. Google N.C. Wyeth “Carpetbaggers” to enjoy this illustration even more. Informative Internet browsing courtesy of today’s Robber Barons.
However, the presidential candidates are not of main concern, since it matters not who is President. In Assange’s view what matters is the environment around any particular President. Is the press able and capable to investigate and report malfeasance? Are there individuals and groups paying attention to what is going on, and crying foul when things do not seem right? Is the economy healthy?
The ability of individuals and groups to hold government power in check depends on how much information circulates freely and unaltered. That is why Assange said he considers the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to be the key to all the other Amendments. We need to know in order to act. Thus, unholy alliances between government and corporate giants are today of special concern, since today’s behemoths are our means of communication.
Communication is essential in exposing secrecy, untruths, influence peddling, as well as malfeasance and criminality. Equally essential are individuals willing to risk life, limb, and freedom to provide unaltered information. Assange mentioned with affection his many information contributors. He had special words on behalf of Chelsea Manning, whose only act was to “communicate truthful information to the public.”
As elsewhere, here in San Francisco hundreds of programs obliviously forge ahead, clash with one another, and contribute to the City’s eye-popping $9.6 billion budget. We offer some observations which you might find of interest:
o Back in January 2016, Major Ed Lee ordered all City departments to cut spending by 1.5% because a $100 million budget deficit was looming. In May Mayor Lee announced that the budget grew by $700 million to $9.6 billion with no cuts, thanks to growing property values (and property taxes) and a sales tax increase of .75% in the November 2016 ballot – yes, the budget is balanced with revenues that may or may not materialize.
o “Venture capitalists tightening their purse strings, startups shedding jobs and the continuing dearth of IPOs could be taking their toll on the Bay Area's housing market. By almost any measure, the Bay Area's roaring economy is cooling. The region's housing market is fueled by wealth creation and new jobs that have been hallmarks of the regional economy.” So says The San Francisco Business Times. No, we do not expect any programs to go away or any cuts to the City's mega budget that relies on growing property values. Luxury Housing Market Cools as Economy Slows.
o Screening of "Class Dismissed" with filmmaker Jeremy Stuart Saturday, July 16, 2016, 11:00 am Michele Brown's House, 2060 36th Ave, Oakland, CA 94601. This is an event presented by Full Circle Family, a new homeschooling group that's getting organized in Oakland. The film opens eyes to the need to find the right fit in education for our children. Event is free. RSVP is required. http://www.meetup.com/FullCircleOakland/
o A meeting with Dr. Helen Caldicott to discuss the question “Can Nuclear Weapons be Abolished?” August 13, 2016, 2:00 pm Koret Auditorium, San Francisco Main Library, 100 Larkin Street, San Francisco, CA 94102.
The event was organized and is presented by members of the War and Law League, to call attention to the dangers of U.S.’s undeclared wars. Event is free. RSVP appreciated. https://www.facebook.com/WarandLaw/
o The growth of regionalism in the Bay Area, whereby planning and taxing decisions are made by regional agencies, has energized some Bay Area residents to organize and proselytize! Members are attending public meetings, writing about the issue on their websites and Facebook pages, and meeting as a group to strategize. Events might be coming up in the near future. http://nine-county-coalition.squarespace.com/
o San Francisco’s Westside residents are tired of having their cars broken into. “They figuratively shook their fists and let it be known they’re ‘mad as hell and not going to take it anymore;’” that according to Joel Engardio in his S.F. Examiner Op-ED of July 10. So, Westsiders formed the Criminal Justice Accountability Coalition. Read about it, http://www.sfexaminer.com/accountability-in-criminal-justice-sought-on-the-westside/
o Ordinary people, who go to work every day, take care of their kids, and generally mind their own business at times do get “mad as hell,” and good things can come out of that.
For fun, here are some quotes from our Founding Fathers and from the people interviewed in Brexit:
"That these united colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states." Richard Henry Lee
"We’re being asked to give up the right to govern ourselves. What are we being offered in return that could possibly be worth it?" Narrator of Brexit
"I am well aware of the toil and blood and treasure it will cost us to maintain this declaration, and support and defend these states." John Adams
"If I were told I would be stewing grass to feed my family because we left the E.U., I would still do it." Simon Heffer
"The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them." Patrick Henry
"Democracy only works if you know who your representatives are." Narrator of Brexit
"There is something very unnatural and odious in a government a thousand leagues off. John Adams
"You should have the power to remove the people who govern you." Claire Fox
"Taxation without representation is tyranny." James Otis
"If I am to pay taxes, I want to be told where the money goes and who spends it, so that if he spends it stupidly, I can throw him out of office." Simon Heffer
Good Independence Day quotes from both sides of the Pond.