March 3, 2024

Murdoch and American oligarchy

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective
America’s Longest-Running Column Founded 1932
Musk, Murdoch, and America’s oligarchy
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift
          WASHINGTON – If you were one of the many millions who tuned into the Super Bowl, you witnessed Elon Musk and Rupert Murdoch seated together enjoying the game – two billionaires, one from South Africa, the other from Australia, who have enormous influence over U.S. policy and politics.
          President Biden didn’t mention either by name in his State-of-the-Union speech, but he called on Congress to raise taxes on the wealthy, and for corporations to pay their fair share, proposals that would significantly affect both men and their vast business interests.
          Musk and Murdoch fit the definition of modern-day robber barons, and Biden has them in mind when he rails about the unfairness of the U.S. tax code.
          Musk says he pays billions in federal taxes, but the company he founded – Tesla – pays zero to the government due to a loophole that allows U.S. losses to be leveraged against profits in foreign operations even though almost half of Tesla’s revenue was generated by U.S. sales.
          If that is not galling enough, Musk has taken steps to prevent Ukraine’s military from using his Starlink satellite Internet service to control drones and this in the midst of a major Russian offensive. A spokesperson for SpaceX says the company’s contract with Ukraine is for humanitarian communications, “and was never intended for offensive purposes.”
          Former astronaut Scott Kelly appealed to Musk in a tweet to “restore the full functionality” of the Internet service, but Musk disingenuously tweeted back that SpaceX “Will not enable escalation of conflict that may lead to WW3.”
          But is it the role of a billionaire CEO of multiple companies to be making such a weighty decision, a foreign policy decision? Kelly the former astronaut points out that Ukraine is fighting a defensive war and its sovereignty is on the line.
          The war is a year old, and drones are not new. It is as though Musk suddenly awoke and, like the famous scene from the movie, “Casablanca,” he is shocked – shocked – that gambling is going on, or in Musk’s case, that a war for a nation’s survival is going on.
          You can argue that Musk is providing a vital service which the U.S. government or NATO should be doing, but that is the point. He is better equipped to do the job, and that gives him enormous sway at a time when internal political divisions in our country threaten democracy itself.
        Musk’s political leanings are libertarian and to the Republican right. His erratic behavior makes him unpredictable, and his wealth makes him powerful. As the head of Twitter, his goal is to allow unfettered free speech which means anything goes. He has invited former President Trump back on the platform, and while Trump hasn’t yet availed himself of the opportunity, a competitive GOP primary for president will soon beckon.
          Meanwhile, Musk is the perfect foil for Murdoch, the elder stateman of conservative media, whose Fox News empire has spread more misinformation than any other major outlet. He may be tiring of Trump and gravitating toward Florida Governor DeSantis as someone with the same authoritarian impulses as Trump, but without the crude behavior.
          Murdoch is in his eighties and by adding The Wall Street Journal to his media properties he bought some credibility for his twilight years. We will see if he finds a way to derail Trump with a more electable Republican, one who will keep the same tax laws in place that fueled the rise of the modern robber barons (or oligarchs as they are now called) beginning with President Reagan’s lowering of the top tax rate to 28 percent. That rate has edged up to 37 percent since the ‘80s, but as President Biden noted, combined with various loopholes, it continues to remain at a grossly unfair level. It is a level that is creating more and more Musks and Murdochs who are exerting more and more influence here and abroad.
          Douglas Cohn’s latest books are World War 4: Nine Scenarios (endorsed by seven flag officers) and The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency.
          Twitter:  @douglas_cohn
          © 2023 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
          Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

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