Shut up and Sing

The 20 year anniversary of 911 promises plenty of weepy testimonials and homages to the heroic first responders who died in the attacks.

What we won’t see is a reckoning on how 911 was used to fundamentally transform the United States. All of the wars, the trampling of American civil liberties under the USA Patriot Act, the unbelievably widespread acceptance of torture, and the creation of known and secret prisons and detention centers in various countries. Ultimately, the attacks ended up being channeled into a geopolitical revenge fantasy that happened to neatly overlap with the neocons long-standing foreign policy goals.

All that and more for a cool $21 trillion.

Yeah.

State of Insecurity: The Cost of Militarization Since 9/11newly published by the Institute for Policy Studies, details the breathtaking financial and human consequences of the war on terror. Using data drawn mainly from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), authors Lindsay Koshgarian, Ashik Siddique, and Lorah Steichen set out to calculate the overall cost of militarization since 2001. Their key finding–that “the United States has spent a stunning $21 trillion on foreign and domestic militarization over the past two decades.”

It’s an astonishing insight into the kind of society America might be if its elites abandoned their commitment to militarism and war. And this commitment brought about a radical transformation in American society, one visible with a pandemic raging. The attacks of 911 were used to further divide, tribalize and inflame American citizens. We were trained to view other viewpoints as treasonous. In the wake of the attacks, no effort was spared to shut up anyone who tried to explain the context of what had just happened. Such talk was dismissed as the disloyal ramblings of America-hating moral relativists. In 2003, the legendary television host Phil Donahue was fired from his prime-time MSNBC talk show during the run-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The problem was not Donahue’s ratings, but rather his views: An internal MSNBC memo warned Donahue was a “difficult public face for NBC in a time of war,” providing “a home for the liberal antiwar agenda at the same time that our competitors are waving the flag at every opportunity.” 

It only got worse. When Dixie Chicks singer Natalie Maines criticized George W. Bush before the invasion of Iraq American audiences responded by boycotting the Chicks’ shows, bulldozing their CDs, banning their songs from country radio and, in the most extreme cases, hate mail threatening to shoot Maines onstage. One letter drew such concern from both the FBI and the Texas Rangers that they advised the Chicks to cancel a concert in Dallas, Texas, and they were shown the original letter that specified a date, time, and location at which lead singer Natalie Maines would be shot dead, unless she “shut up and sang.”

Indeed, not only did the attacks drastically shaped the world history of the last two decades, greatly changing the daily lives and liberties of most ordinary America, but the widespread doubts about the reality of the official story provided by our government and almost universally promoted by our media has severely diminished popular faith in the credibility of crucial government and media institutions, with consequences that are still very apparent in today’s highest profile issues. Meanwhile, the events of 9/11 have been used by every administration since to justify every single aspect of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East since September 11.

And now the US is a power in steep decline. It has engaged in multiple military conflicts over the past 20 years that could not be described as anything but colossal failures. It has squandered trillions of dollars on these efforts, which range from full-scale invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, to protracted regime change operations in Syria to a proxy war against Yemen, to bombing attacks on Libya that brought about a mass emigration crises. Multiple presidents from both parties campaigned in opposition to these failed military adventures, but through a combination of bureaucratic capture, deliberate intra-governmental undermining, and lack of will, ended up perpetuating them.

The ongoing dissolution of empire is why US elites were driven totally apoplectic by the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. But, they can’t articulate that to the average American after 20 years of lies. No, the US isn’t an empire, simply a peace-loving leader of the free-world busy spreading democracy to the benighted third-world natives who are too backward and corrupt to appreciate it.

Unfortunately, we get the government we deserve, at some point of responsibility. Americans have thus far allowed themselves to be spoon-fed a steady diet of pro-war propaganda that keeps them content to wave flags with patriotic fervor and less inclined to look too closely at the mounting body counts, the ruined lives, the ravaged countries, the blowback arising from ill-advised targeted-drone killings and bombing campaigns in foreign lands, or the transformation of our own homeland into a warzone.

In retrospect it’s apparent that 911 ushered in the mother of all moral panics amongst Americans. And moral panics are always in fashion during authoritarian times when the public is effectively terrified of a new group every day and will acquiesce to all sorts of previously unthinkable changes, like for instance wide-scale censorship or sweeping new domestic surveillance programs people have been clamoring for in recent years. In the process our traditional civil liberties and constitutional protections have been drastically eroded, with our society having taken long steps toward becoming an outright police state. American citizens now passively accept unimaginable infringements on their personal freedoms, all originally begun under the guise of preventing terrorism.

911 also demonstrated the ease of stampeded a nation to war. Americans fancy themselves as free and brave and their country superior to other governmental arrangements, but as Herman Goering remarked while waiting trial at Nuremberg, “the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”

Update: There was another party, in addition to the military/industrial/complex, that massively benefitted from the attacks on 911. We’ll discuss this controversial subject next week.

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McKinsey-ified

Matt Stoller has coined the perfect description for the late-stage American empire. He says we’ve become McKinsey-ified.

“More fundamentally, the people who are in charge of the governing institutions in our society are simply divorced from the underlying logistics of what makes them work. Everything, from the Boeing 737 Max to the opioid epidemic to the waste inside most big corporations to war, has been McKinsey-ified. And it’s all covered up with moral outrage, partisanship and culture warring, public relations, and management wisdom bullshit.”

The chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan last week brought this reality into sharp focus. Afghanistan was the poster child of this new managerial approach to nation-building. This was to be a showcase for technical managerialism. It presumed that a properly technical, and scientific way of understanding war and nation-building would be able to mobilize reason and progress to accomplish what everyone else could not, and so create a post-modern society, out of a complex tribal one, with its own “free market” economy to boot.

What last week’s fall of the western instituted regime so clearly revealed is that today’s managerial class, consumed by the notion of technocracy as the only means of effecting functional rule birthed instead, something thoroughly rotten. Indeed, the Afghanistan disaster has underlined the limitations to technical managerialism in way that is impossible to miss. There is therefore, little mystery as to why the Taliban took over Kabul so quickly. Not only did the project lack legitimacy for Afghans, but that aura of claimed expertise, of technological inevitability that has protected the élite managerial class, has been exposed by the sheer dysfunctionality on display, as the West frantically flees Kabul. And it is precisely how it has ended that has really drawn back the curtain, and shown the world the rot festering beneath.

The failings of our feral elite has become so pronounced that even a corporate media wealth-humper like Ross Douthat can see it. “Our botched withdrawal is the punctuation mark on a general catastrophe, a failure so broad that it should demand purges in the Pentagon, the shamed retirement of innumerable hawkish talking heads, the razing of various NGOs and international-studies programs and the dissolution of countless consultancies and military contractors.”

Of course the rot has been festering for a while. In 1999, Mike Judge’s scathing comedy, Office Space, depicted the reliance on managerialism and MBA consultants all too presciently. Remember those essential TPS reports? And these two?

Image result from https://www.reddit.com/r/mildlyinteresting/comments/1kjnv8/both_of_the_bobs_in_office_space_are_wearing/

Some might suggest that the best thing to do about Afghanistan is to learn from it. Hold senior officials and officers responsible for the egregious errors in judgement that led to disaster.

But that’s not what the consultant class does. Because they have never been held accountable they move on to the next disaster.

The lack of accountability is partially due to the fact that the elite in charge have become fabulously wealthy from their fuck-ups while the people who suffered have been from the sort of fly-over regions in our country where the media rarely goes. But when failure is so absolute, avarice or incompetence alone doesn’t quite tell the whole story. There is an ideological method to the madness as well. The consultant class has really come to believe their own bullshit. Plus the top levels of the US government operate like a large social club where everyone protects everyone else. And accountability is for the little people. A Marine Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Scheller who has called for accountability at senior levels has already been relieved of his command and is leaving the service, a warning from above to others who might be similarly inclined to be outspoken.

So, with all that in mind, the best way to make Afghanistan go away is to begin preparations for the next war. And since Israel determines US foreign policy, to a large extent, and they believe that the fall of Afghanistan has actually made everything in that part of Asia more dangerous, meaning that the US and Israel should prepare to fight Iran when it seeks to take advantage of the situation. 

My read on this dynamic is that for Israel to drag the US into a war with Iran they will have to attack Lebanon first. The reason is simple. Hezbollah, part of the Shiite Axis of Resistance, remains poised to rain thousands of rockets down upon Israel in the event of an attack on Iran. Americans, with their shallow grasp of geography, are unaware of just how small the nation of Israel truly is. Hezbollah’s missiles, which are buried and disbursed in southern Lebanon, can blanket the whole country, putting at risk power grids, de-salinazation plants and even the Dimona nuclear complex, in addition to military targets. For that reason Israel will have to go big. Military analysts thinks the bunker buster ordinance the Israeli Air Force received from the Pentagon is for an attack on the underground Iranian nuclear program but I think that it’s slated for Lebanon.

If all of this sounds deranged, that’s because it is.

No matter.

The social research behind the condition of cognitive dissonance has determined that the patient, when confronted with evidence that their whole worldview is at odds with reality, doesn’t change their beliefs.

They double-down.

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Give War a Chance

The withdrawal from Afghanistan and run up to the 20 year anniversary of 911 is an appropriate time to continue our reflection on the religion of our ruling elite.

“The most important columnist in America today,” Thomas Friedman expressed this sentiment succinctly in the wake of the attacks on the Twin Towers. “A month into the war in Afghanistan the hand wringing has already begun over how long this might last. Let’s all take a deep breath and repeat after me: Give war a chance.

In the 20 years since the corporate media has, if anything, become more not less bellicose. While heaping all the blame for the upsetting images coming out of Afghanistan on Biden, and throwing around pejoratives like “embarrassment,” “disaster,” and “betrayal,” the corporate media has turned to the very same pro-war voices that were responsible for the entire catastrophe to start with, to proclaim their preferred message: that the pullout from Afghanistan shouldn’t have happened, and that the US presence there should continue indefinitely.

There’s a reason for this behavior. The US is a neoliberal empire that uses its military to smash socialist or non-client states and loot their economies while privatizing essential services and turning their financial system over to Wall Street. Neoliberalism and neoconservatism provide the intellectual justification. The corporate media and Hollywood dress it all up in the name of American exceptionalism, where US foreign policy is an angel-and-devil Disney production—starring the prototypical evil dictators killing and torturing their innocent citizens, until the US rides to the rescue.

However, it’s become clear that after 20 years of the war on terror, justified by the attacks on 9/11, the efforts of the corporate media and the entertainment industry are having diminishing returns, largely because of the malign effects on the homeland. This hints at a domestic political order that is so hollowed out that only its instruments of global empire remain standing – an outsized central bank and an outsized war machine seeking to prop up the global order. Indeed, successive US governments have spent a total of $2 trillion on the war effort in Afghanistan. And they have done so while infrastructure has crumbled and de-industrialisation accelerated at home.

We can see the results today in the homeland. Political life is decaying into oligarchic rule from above and fragmented identity politics from below. And we can see it on the periphery, in places like Afghanistan, where this decay has resulted in warlordism and ethnic strife. This is the globalisation of what the critical theorist Max Horkheimer termed ‘racket society’, in which a social order, underpinned by law and universal principles, disintegrates into various large hierarchies offering protection in return for domination, and devoid of any sense of common interest or general will. In the US this is apparent in an emerging oligarchic state and the various identity groups it sponsors; in the periphery, it is apparent in the predominance of warlords, drug dealers, NGOs, kleptocrats, smugglers, terror networks, UN agencies, peacekeepers and occupying armies. State failure is the result of globalised neoliberalism.

Neoconservative and liberal-interventionist “state-building” was developed as a counterpart to the neoliberalism of the 1990s. It was intended to facilitate the extension of the market into the developing world. Neoliberalism was expressly counterposed to the state and intended to curb, delegitimise and repress public power over the market. But, at the same time, neoliberalism was always dependent on state power to achieve these aims. As a result, neoliberalism succeeded in delegitimizing public power and authority, while also relying on the state to expand the rule of the market.

Afghanistan is just the latest and most tragic example of this malign process. The corporate media, in the coming weeks, will do their thing, bellowing about the betrayal of the troops, the Taliban’s abuse of the woman and children, the loss of American credibility, etc. At the left end of the dial they’ll describe it as a disaster and perhaps a war crime.

Amidst all the sound and fury you won’t hear the dirty little secret that Afghanistan wasn’t a failure but a magnificent success.

“Entrenching U.S. forces in Afghanistan was the military-industrial complex’s business plan for 20+ years,” declared the Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group Public Citizen. “Hawks and defense contractors co-opted the needs of the Afghan people in order to line their own pockets,” the group added. For instance, Lockheed Martin’s stocks got a return of 1,235.60% across the war on terror, which displaced 37 million people. In a Tuesday morning tweet, they highlighted returns on defense stocks over the past 20 years—as calculated in a “jaw-dropping” analysis by The Intercept—and asserted that “the military-industrial complex got exactly what it wanted out of this war.”

The magnificent success is why there has been no accountability for the national security types and corporate media, who have pushed for war at every opportunity.

Unfortunately, it’s also the reason that these policies will continue.

One would think that there’s some political angle to all of this but one also can dream eternal.

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Ism’s

I’m trying to quit ism’s but it’s proving more difficult than I imagined. The problem is that ism’s like socialism, capitalism, liberalism and Marxism have become so charged that one has to spend an inordinate amount of time unpacking the specific meaning intended.

That’s because ism’s are ever sensitive to ideology, our ever shifting belief system, which is largely socially constructed and largely imposed on us from outside. This ideology frames experiences for us, adding a hidden layer of interpretation that encourages us to make sense of the world in useful ways. The most liberating question one can ask, therefore, is: to whom is any particular ideology or ism useful?

But ideology and ism’s are not static. They are infinitely adaptive. Our assumptions, beliefs and values subtly change over time. And they change precisely as the needs of our ruling elite change. The most powerful among us are powerful because they create the dominant ideologies or ism’s–the thread of narrative that ties together what we imagine to be our personal understanding of why the world is as it is. That is why elites, whether the state or corporations, prioritise capturing the main channels of communication. They make sure to own and control the mass media so that they can control how we are indoctrinated.

Let’s examine socialism to illustrate how this works. Thanks to decades of pro-capital propaganda, Americans have been trained to view socialism as abhorrent. Not just that but US foreign policy was geared towards attacking any government that inhibited any signs of socialism during the Cold War and ever since. Afghanistan, where the Taliban are poised to resume control, is a pertinent and topical example.

Afghanistan in the 1970’s was a secular, moderate, yet vaguely socialist country before the US weaponized the Mujahideen as part of Operation Cyclone, designed to draw the Soviets into their own Vietnam. These weaponized Islamic fighters would go on to become the Taliban and the al Qaeda that attacked the Twin Towers. Don’t let the monsters who designed and implemented these policies obscure the crucial point that the US created the Taliban and al Qaeda as a way to destroy socialism in the Islamic world. Indeed, for US planners the alternative to socialism was Wahabi fanaticism, solidifying America’s alliance with Saudi Arabia. Mary Beth Shelly, the author of Frankenstein, would see the irony.

Socialism still remains a bugbear to the ruling class. For instance, the Democratic Socialists and Bernie Sanders only proposed a return to the New Deal, hardly socialism with its seizure of the means of production. Yet Bernie and the Democratic Socialists were resoundingly opposed by not only Republicans but by Democrats as well.

Then there’s liberalism. Traditionally it meant a Laissez-faire economic system in which transactions between private groups of people are free from economic interventionism such as regulation and subsidies. Today “liberal” means a bunch of woke PMC’s living on the Upper East Side, driving Volvo’s, drinking latte’s and voting for Hillary Clinton. Hardly the same thing.

As you can see, ism’s are supremely complicated and require endless explanation. However, through this exercise I’m realizing just how important ism’s are for making sense of our world.

This is nowhere more evident than with neoliberalism as it has become our economic and cultural operating system over the last 40 odd years. Neoliberalism is the ideological orthodoxy which holds that introducing market dynamics to sectors that were closed to global markets generates prosperity for all. Neoliberalism is a term often misunderstood and overused, but which remains the best shorthand for the policies that have shaped the global economy as we know it: privatization, tax cuts, inflation targeting and anti-trade union laws. Rather than being subject to democratic pressures – such as elections – these measures were portrayed as irreversible. Instead of democracy, under the regime of neoliberalism the world is governed by market forces. Going further, neoliberalism has become a religion, resulting in the mass acceptance of capitalist realism, the belief that there is no alternative to a market based system.

Even though neoliberalism has embedded itself in every corner of our lives it remains little understood, or even acknowledged. Indeed, the original neoliberal intellectuals went out of their way to muddy the waters, denying that there ever was such an ideological movement. Many modern economic and political writers help contribute to the vast misunderstanding, claiming that critics use the term simply as a pejorative. Luckily, economic historians like Phillip Mirowski have chronicled the history and ideological roots of neoliberalism while demonstrating its pernicious effects.

I think the key point to understand is that neoliberalism has ultimately been a vicious counter attack in the class war, allowing the wealthy to reassert control. That didn’t happen by accident, it happened because of concerted efforts to manipulate the system which gradually widened the wealth gap to what it is today. The deliberate advancement of agendas like deregulation, globalization, federal ops to sabotage leftist movements, union busting, and the methodical legalization of more and more money in politics were brought about by the concerted efforts of the neoliberals.

Recent events in Afghanistan have only reaffirmed that there’s an ism that’s equal or more powerful than neoliberalism for our ruling elite–militarism. If you watched any corporate media this last week you were treated to the spectacle of a parade of generals and national security types gravely opining on the tragedy of an American withdrawal from our longest running war. There demands for resignation and cries of “shame” are not being directed at the many failed architects of the campaign but instead at the officials who terminated an intervention that was intrinsically doomed.

What’s extremely illustrative is how the Beltway political class and corporate media talking heads treat war. If you will recall from the mists of time it was President Trump who negotiated a withdrawal arrangement with the Taliban. After enduring 5 years of Russia-gate I have no doubt that if Trump had followed through on his stated desire to finally end the war, the chaotic scenes emerging out of Kabul would’ve been portrayed as the secret plans of Vladimir Putin and the evil Russians. The media outrage would have been even more unhinged and conspiratorial. With brings us back to religion of militarism. The corporate media never criticizes a president for starting wars yet the minute they try to end one they arouse hyper-animosity. That’s how fucked-up US political and media culture is, and how distorted the incentives are. Remember when Trump bombed Syria, and for one wonderful night was no longer the new Hitler, but noble and “presidential”? And then when he announced his intention to withdraw troops from Syria–later aborted–the media had a near-fatal panic attack?

Like I said at the beginning, I’m trying to quit ism’s but I don’t think it will happen any time soon.

Maybe I’ll start a chapter of Isms Anonymous.

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Predatory Value Extraction

I’ve finally found the perfect description for our late-capitalist, neoliberal milieu–predatory value extraction.

At Naked Capitalism, Hubert Horan examines the business model of Uber and finds that it represents the larger US political economy, where everything has been subjugated by Wall Street. He also discusses how Didi, the Chinese equivalent, has been treated in a far different manner by the Chinese government. Because this article is quite pertinent to my ongoing series on neoliberalism and the financialization of the US economy I’m going to quote big steaming chunks.

Horan says that, “US macroeconomic policy prioritizes the ongoing appreciation of equity values and a number of other similar asset classes. This has crippled the ability of capital markets to evaluate and price risk and has broken the link between corporate values and the creation of economic welfare benefits. No one cares what causes stock prices to go up as long as stocks go up, and the higher up they go the better.

Since it is far easier to boost stock prices by eliminating competition and exploiting workers and consumers than by developing new technologies or management processes that improve efficiency and quality, innovation declines while predatory value extraction increases. The financial world becomes dominated by artificially manufactured narratives, a far easier way to pump stock prices than complicated analysis of economic fundamentals.

This focus on equity appreciation is also largely divorced from any industrial policy considerations. As long as the stock market keeps rising it does not matter if massive investment has been funneled into the production of cat videos or if an excessive focus on short-term stock prices have crippled the semiconductor and aircraft manufacturing industries.

Years of non-enforcement of routine laws and regulations under laissez-faire, and the ability of a handful of tech companies to achieve unprecedented sizes produced an outcome where both political parties strongly support the interests of the tech industry. This effectively blocks policies (e.g. tax rules, labor laws) that could materially hurt the tech industry. It also means that it is virtually impossible to address externalities created by these policies. These include things like the rapid growth of inequality, the destruction of traditional channels of political discourse and the rights of individuals to privacy and to control their personal data. It also includes the awful, widespread fallout that would result if (when?) the Everything Bubble created by these policies bursts.”

Horan says that China, under the Communist Party, is determined to take a far different course. “Beijing may have come to believe that a system where the Jeff Bezos’ Mark Zuckerbergs and Travis Kalanicks of the world were given unfettered freedom to flaunt any rules they didn’t like may not have been producing efficient outcomes for the rest of society. It is one thing to allow investors who have developed major product and efficiencies to become rich, but a quite different thing if those investors suddenly capture previously unimaginable levels of wealth without actually improving overall economic welfare.”

What’s funny, in a perverse way, is that we’re only having this discussion about predatory value extraction, indirectly, because the Chinese government hasn’t been captured by the financial and tech industries like ours has. Of course, the corporate media is blaming the evil Chinese Communist Party for reining in the predatory value extraction in their tech and financial sectors. The horror. They should be more like us. Freedom and democracy.

Instead, Horan relates, “the tech industry plays a much different role in the economy in China than in America. When US tech companies were boosting their wealth and power into the stratosphere they were following a path that finance and other industry had already laid out. In China the Communist Party retained strong control over banks and most other major industries. The tech industry represents the breakthrough case where private capital accumulators could achieve enough power to circumvent or thwart central government policies they didn’t like, and industry leaders clearly wanted to entrench a US-type approach. This was the point where Beijing had to decide whether to reestablish some type of meaningful control, or allow the tech industry to pursue increasing US-style laissez faire freedom.

As the manager of the Chinese economy, the CCP appears concerned that giving greater control of the tech industry to more independent, less accountable people could undermine its ability to manage other parts of the economy. Much of the power and growth of the “tech” industry stems from the Alibaba and Tencent financial payments companies. Beijing may be fearful that increased power and independence could limit Beijing’s ability to control its currency and trade policies, or to fix problems with its fragile shadow banking system or to funnel capital to industries (such as semiconductors or Belt and Road investments) deemed to be major development priorities.”

You want to know the funny thing? China is doing, vis a vis its tech sector, what America used to do, under Teddy Roosevelt. Back then it was the Rockefellers and Carnegies and Vanderbilts, the muckraking press described as Robber-barons, who were reined in, (somewhat), by anti-trust legislation. That that was then and this now is approximately how far we’ve come on the road to oligarchy. Imagine if we could reign in the Zuckerbergs and the Bezos and the Kalanicks who are looting our country, while we watch helplessly? People like that would help let their own country degrade into a medieval slum so long as they were fabulously wealthy and powerful. Imagine if we could have sent them to a re-education camp like the Chinese Communist Party did to their enemies during the Cultural Revolution?

Instead, the US has embarked on a new Cold War with China because they are not following the “rule based international order”. I know, at this point I wonder how they keep a straight face. That’s the cover story, anyway, but Horan’s account only confirms that the real reason is that–the US attacks or overthrows foreign governments because they won’t allow our predatory banks subvert their economy.

Horan also strongly implies that US policies toward the tech industry involve elite impunity. (I know, huge surprise). “When Travis Kalanick blew off every inconvenient law and regulation, he was completely in line with the laissez faire policies that that national elites wanted. Uber’s investors were not only single-mindedly focused on personal enrichment but were focused on achieving corporate valuations wildly beyond what anyone could have ever imagined for a taxi company. Instead of stopping and asking for evidence as to how this might be possible, those elites became fanatical supporters. The sole objective of business was to create massive equity values. No one cared whether some of those personal gains might come from suppressing driver wages or openly destroying competitive alternatives. No one cared whether capital has been misallocated from much better uses. Both political parties were in full agreement that Uber was a wonderful company.

Uber has continued to survive despite terrible economics because it was the poster child for the elite policies that demonized any government oversight of business and lionized the monomaniacal pursuit of capital accumulation. Membership in those elites required fully supporting those policies, just as membership in Chinese elites requires a full commitment to support the policies of the Communist Party. Despite $25 billion in losses, no one from those elites can admit that Uber might have massively reduced overall economic welfare, because that would require admitting that their overall worldview was badly flawed, and their status as elites might have been illegitimate.”

Critics claim that the US doesn’t have an industrial policy but they are missing the elephant in the room. Our government has been captured by Wall Street and our industrial policy is predatory value extraction.

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Advanced Accumulation

I’ve come to believe that the offshoring of American manufacturing jobs to China has a lot of similarities to the enclosure movement in Great Britain. The enclosure movement occurred in the 17th and 18th centuries when the aristocracy threw the peasants off the common land and reduced them to a vagabond underclass, all the better to create a desperate workforce to staff the factories of the Industrial Revolution.

Where there was primitive accumulation in feudal times there is now advanced accumulation. Since the advent of neoliberalism in the 1980’s, American corporations responded to shareholder demands for increased profits by downsizing or offshoring full-time employment and replacing it with a floating pool of part-time and freelance workers without benefits or job security. To grasp how we got to this point it’s imperative to understand some economic history. Since 1979 and the Volker Shock, the US has entered a post-Fordist economy where manufacturing has been surpassed by financialization. This was a deliberate policy made in large part to reassert capital’s power at the expense of workers. It has been a grand success from the point of view of America’s billionaire class.

Despite the endless praise for globalization at this point it’s obvious that the source of corporate America’s unprecedented explosion in profits in the 21st century is the offshoring of manufacturing to China. The chart below of corporate profits demonstrates the stunning rise. Globalism cheerleaders claimed that this dynamic would benefit all Americans but they lied.

Maximizing profit is all about reducing costs. China had coal fired power stations to provide cheap energy. China had lax regulations reducing environmental and health and safety costs. China had low taxes and a minimal welfare state. China had a low cost of living so employers could pay low wages. China had all the advantages in an open globalized world.
US corporations couldn’t wait to off-shore to low cost China, where they could make higher profits.

Now, the American economy is entirely dependent on manufacturing in China. America’s short-sighted obsession with increasing profits to fund buybacks and golden parachutes for corporate insiders and vast fortunes for financiers has led to a dangerous dependency that has handed China tremendous leverage, which China is now starting to make use of. Essential parts and feedstocks become unavailable for all sorts of flimsy excuses, prices double, triple, then double again, and since we’ve allowed our entire economy to become dependent on a handful of sources for these essentials because that dependency maximized profits, then there are no alternatives

As you can see this short term profit bonanza is starting to bite corporate America in the ass. Not to mention US national security.

Because of the new Cold War being waged against China, the stupidity of the out-sourcing of manufacturing to China is getting all the attention but I think it’s crucial to note the similarities between our milieu and what Karl Polanyi called the Great Transformation.

During feudalism peasants had the time and space to create a rich, vibrant society. Even under Fordism there was time and space for society, where weekends and leisure time were still relatively untouched. Today, however, capital seeks to exploit our sociality in all spheres of work. We are in a state of harassed busyness from which-we are promised-there will never be any relief. This is not an accidental side-effect of post-Fordist labor. It’s highly advantagous for capital for our time to be short and fragmented. The loss of our time helps explain our stultified and repetitious culture. Neoliberalism promised that the destruction of social security would have dynamic effect of on culture and the economy, liberating an entrepreneurial spirit that was inhibited by the bureaucratic social-democratic institutions of the New Deal. The reality, it turns out, is that innovation and creativity require a certain amount of stability. The disintegration of social-democracy has had stultifying rather than a dynamic effect on culture, arts and creativity, in addition to the massive loss of freedom.

Personally, I think that reestablishing class power and control was the whole point, but that’s just me.

We can see the results all around us if we care to look. Primitive accumulation drove the peasants off of the land, where they could be self-sufficient, into the maw of the Satanic Mills. Advanced accumulation has likewise destroyed American society by eliminating stable work and replacing it with a temporary, on-call, precarious workforce. The result is a bleak economic landscape with its decay and hopelessness, the deaths of despair, the opioid addictions, the abandoned Rust Belt cities, the mass shootings.

On the bright side, advanced accumulation has resulted in hundreds of newly minted billionaires, one of whom was recently able to flaunt his wealth by hurtling into space atop a giant penis rocket.

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Purple

There’s a fascinating online discussion going on that you’ve probably never heard of if you’re trapped in the liberal tribal media enclosure.

Author of the Mega-Viral Thread on MAGA Voters, Explains His Thinking. The writer, a podcast host whose real name is Darryl Cooper, set out to explain the mindset that has led so many Trump supporters to believe that the 2020 election was fraudulent and, more generally, to lose faith and trust in most U.S. institutions of authority. The writer especially calls out our corporate media, who he says are incapable of understanding let alone accurately describing the views of a group of people they view with little more than unmitigated contempt, condescension and scorn. He also believes it is imperative that people understand the actual reality of what is motivating so many Trump voters in their views, perceptions and beliefs — regardless of whether each particular belief is accurate or not.

I know what you’re thinking but you really need to understand this perspective if there’s any hope of reconciliation, or worst case scenario–avoiding a civil war.

What’s amazed me about all that has transpired since the election of Donald Trump is the way in which the narratives and actions of the political and media elite have transformed liberals into fervent Cold warriors, while conservatives have gone the reverse, becoming suspicious of American exceptionalism. What’s even more fascinating is that Russia-gate, which I have written so much about, seems to have been the galvanizing event.

Cooper claims that “many of them deny it now, but a lot of 2016 Trump voters were worried during the early stages of the Russia collusion investigation. True, the evidence seemed thin, and the very idea that the US and allied security apparatus would allow Trump to take office if they really thought he might be under Russian blackmail seemed a bit preposterous on its face. But to many conservatives in 2016 and early 2017, it seemed equally preposterous that the institutions they trusted, and even the ones they didn’t, would go all-in on a story if there wasn’t at least something to it. Imagine the consequences for these institutions if it turned out there was nothing to it”

After there was nothing to it conservatives, and yours truly, waited in vain for some sort of reckoning from our elite political and media. When everyone moved on like nothing untoward happened there was some serious soul searching by conservatives. As Cooper says, “this is where people whose political identities have for decades been largely defined by a naive belief in what they learned in civics class began to see the outline of a Regime that crossed not only partisan, but all institutional boundaries. They’d been taught that America didn’t have Regimes, but what else was this thing they’d seen step out from the shadows to unite against their interloper president?”

What’s darkly humorous is that the neoconservative foreign policy elite couldn’t have scripted a better ad campaign to convince liberals that the empire is A-OK. But in the process of attempting to depose Trump the deep state emerged from the shadows long enough for conservatives to grasp the danger of having an unaccountable, secret government.

Here’s where Cooper makes the connection. “It’s hard to describe to people on the Left, who are used to thinking of American government as a conspiracy and are weaned on stories about Watergate, COINTELPRO, and Saddam’s WMD, how shocking and disillusioning this was for people who encouraged their sons and daughters to go fight for their country when George W. Bush declared war on Iraq.”

Again, this whole thread is pretty amazing and I strongly urge liberals to read the whole thing. I’m no fan of the Donald or Republicans in general but what really got me was the reaction of liberals to the election of Trump. The shock and horror made them impervious to logic, historical perspective or common sense. They acted like Hillary was the personification of goodness while Trump was literally the devil. I mean, what the fuck! Were they unaware of US foreign policy while Clinton was Secretary of State? Was I the only one who saw the video of Hillary exulting–“We came, we saw, he died”–upon learning of Gaddafi being sodomized. Going further, were liberals completely oblivious to the conditions in America that enabled a hustler like Trump to even get within striking distance to the presidency? The late capitalist dystopia where untold thousands of people die every single year as a result of an exploitative status quo which makes them sick and impoverished, and is made possible solely because of a highly advanced propaganda campaign by the plutocratic class.

Yet the Democratic party spent zero time in rhetrospective, immediately pivoting to Russia-gate. And for liberals, it got downright embarrassing. Because it was Trump they immediately embraced the worst of the deep state actors–John Brennan of the CIA and James Clapper of the NSA. They built a fucking shrine for Robert Mueller of the FBI. The fucking FBI! The lack of historical reference boggled my mind. The FBI is the US’s political police, who’ve spent decades going after progressives, but bygones, now that they’re after Trump. Or something.

Ultimately Trump’s empire apostasy had zero effect. Conservatives, who see Trump as a deep state warrior need to admit that the deep state ran rings around him, perhaps because he appointed deep state swamp creatures into his administration. These creatures spent their time merrily sabotaging any and all efforts to end America’s wars and curtail its regime change shenanigans.

Not to give myself too much credit but I’m not as susceptible to the tribal dynamics because I’ve learned to tune out the tribal narratives and instead follow the money, the weapons and resources, and observe the actions of our feral elite. In the meantime my goal is to try to bridge the red/blue divide.

Call me purple.

The question I ask every day is how do we try to build the solidarities that we need to have, to change the society in the ways that make it better for everybody who lives in it when we live in this tribal hall of mirrors where partisan bickering is given more prominence than the reality of the American empire? An empire where Americans no longer possess political power and where corporate rule has replaced constitutional republicanism.

Here’s where Cooper says conservatives are after all of this. “I encourage people on the Left to recognize the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in front of them. You’re not going to agree with the conservatives on everything. But if in 2004 I had told you that the majority of the GOP voter base would soon be seeing the folly of the Iraq War, becoming skeptical of state surveillance, and beginning to see the need for action to help the poor and working classes, you’d have told me such a thing would transform the country. Take the opportunity. These people are not demons, and they are ready to listen in a way they haven’t in a long, long time.”

Perhaps history is starting again, which means nothing is fixed and there are no guarantees.

To save our republic we will need to work together. There can be no team red or team blue. We all need to be purple.

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Pattern Recognition

The American empire has not become kinder and gentler just because they are flying the rainbow or BLM flags at our embassy’s. Or because there is now a lesbian at the helm of the CIA directing drone strikes. Or because the CIA has a new ad touting its diversity.

Only NPR listening, New York Times reading liberals believe such nonsense. These same people also believe that the election of Joe Biden made the US a kinder and gentler country after the horror of Trump.

As I’ve been describing in my recent posts on neoliberalism, the US empire is based on financialization and that hasn’t changed. Moreover, the US, is effectively an oligarchy. In 2014, Princeton did a study which found that the opinion of anyone who is not part of the oligarchy has no effect on what the government does. Which means, as we’ve seen, that it doesn’t matter which party is in charge because the policies remain the same.

Maybe this has something to do with the neoliberal proclivity to seize the state for their own purposes not reduce it or destroy it? Hence neoliberals are inclined to explore new formats of techno-managerial governance that protect their ideal market from unwarranted political interference. Indeed, neoliberals preach that the “government, beyond its proper sphere ought not to have any power; within its sphere, it cannot have enough of it.”

If this sounds suspiciously like a definition of our illusionary deep state give yourself a cookie. If fact, I’ve come to believe that the advancement of neoliberalism and the US deep state are connected at the most elemental level. It’s the perfect governance for neoliberals with their double truth, where they get the appearance of a democratic republic as a cover story, while in reality the important decisions are made behind the scenes by a select group of elite to manage the worldwide empire that provides their wealth and power.

It’s crucial to note that neoliberalism and the modern deep state came together against the the threat of communism. This manifested itself in an embrace of fascism as a bulwark. The corruption of US foreign policy by the connection to fascism began in the interwar period. Historical records clearly show that the fascist powers–Germany and Italy–were funded by Wall Street, for ideological and monetary reasons. After WWII, in their fervor to combat communism and the Soviet Union, American planners supported fascist dictators and spirited thousands of Nazi’s out of postwar Europe, many to the US. Meanwhile, the neoliberals, led by Freidrich von Hayek, drew much of their inspiration for the construction of an ideal market society from Carl Schmitt, Hitler’s political philosopher.

Going further, I believe that the modern American deep state metastasized in response to the threat of communism but also to the the threat of the New Deal, or indeed, any alternative to predatory capitalism.

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Double Truth

Neoliberalism, as a political ideology focused intently on maximizing the power of “capital,” deploys a double truth to cover its inherent contradictions: 1) that an ideology dedicated to liberal values has to continuously resort to illiberal practices; 2) that an ideology that venerates spontaneous order has to resort to authoritarian regimentation and control; 3) and that an ideology that claims that a free and open “market” is the pinnacle of information processors engages in the promotion of ignorance.

As you can see, these contradictions pose a problem, one that has confounded neoliberals since their initial conclave at Mont Pèlerin. For instance, if their comprehension of an ideal society is correct, then why don’t the intellectuals and vast mass of the public simply get with the program?

Instead, there’s an esoteric truth for members of the inner circle, who act like a Leninist “vanguard of the proletariat, poised to infiltrate the government and immunize policy from the optimally stupid electorate,” who are to be content with an exoteric truth. Members of the inner circle, technocratic elites, maintain the veneer of democratic consent while reconfiguring government functions in a neoliberal direction.

The key objective of a double truth is to maintain power. Double truth world-views are what hold the empire together; the powerful spend so much energy propagandizing us because they need to in order to retain power. In case this wasn’t already abundantly clear, the neoliberal ruling classes have no intention of giving up control of the global capitalist pseudo-empire they’ve been working to establish these last sixty years. Freedom has nothing to do with democracy or speech or individual rights: for the neoliberal it is about the freedom of the market and the elites who control those markets. 

Double truth is not exactly propaganda, although there are some similarities. While official propagandists are definitely pleased if anyone actually believes whatever lies they are selling, deception is only part of it. The primary aim is to generate an ‘official narrative’ that can be mindlessly repeated by the ruling classes and those who support and identify with them. This official narrative does not have to make sense, or to stand up to any sort of serious scrutiny. Its factualness is not the point.

Instead, the whole concept of “fake news,” that’s been with us since the election of Donald Trump, should be thought of as the culmination of double truth. As the foremost neoliberal historian, Phillip Mirowski says, “The aim is not nihilism for the hell of it, but rather, represents the pursuit of two objectives dear to neoliberals: [1] The transformation of the endless befuddlement of the masses into a lucrative source of recurrent profit; and simultaneously, [2] the rendering of the populace more docile in the face of neoliberal takeover of the government.”

Unfortunately, double truth hasn’t been simply confined to economics and has become an integral part of our ruling elites skill set. We witnessed it in the run up to the invasion of Iraq when Bush chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr. blurted out, that from a marketing point of view you don’t introduce new products in August. We heard it from Karl Rove when he told Ron Suskind that “guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ […] ‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

Far from chastising our feral elite, the invasion of Iraq and disastrous aftermath seemed to signify a new phase of lawlessness and contempt for honesty. The Wall Street Crash, where the lies came fast and furious. The Syrian misadventure, where the US partnered with Al Qaeda to overthrow the government of Bashar Assad while simultaneously waging a “War on Terror” against Sunni extremists. The attempt to overthrow the Ukrainian government using Nazi’s while decrying anti-Semitism in Europe.

In fact, I’ve come to believe that the deep state that I’ve discussed ad infinitum is the perfect representation of double truth, where there’s an exoteric truth that the US is a noble if imperfect republic, while the esoteric truth is that the real decisions are made by shadowy intelligence agents, Wall Street bankers and Silicon Valley billionaires.

Thanks to the gallant efforts of the corporate media, with their partisan echo-chambers, it has never been easier for our putative leaders to deploy double truth. Hell, they could deploy a triple or quadruple truth in our hyper-partisan media environment and I doubt anyone would notice. Unfortunately, reality, as they say, has a liberal bias. And so the people who have spent their entire lives doing nothing but manipulating other people’s beliefs are incapable of dealing with Covid or climate change or all of the myriad of other problems that are barreling down the pike at us.

As it stands I don’t think they have any intention of saving us. I believe that the end game is clearly in view. If your plan is to allow the world to spiral towards mass death and destruction while you retreat to a bunker in New Zealand or some other isolated area to live out your days in comfort, protected by armed guards, you’re unlikely to win much in the way of public support. Better to keep the militarized bunker thing on the low-down and keep people thinking that “we’re all in this together” and if we just install solar panels, recycle more, ride their bikes to work and so on we’ll somehow turn it all around and march arm in arm towards a happy and sustainable future.

I think that if I learned anything with this little exercise it’s to know them by their deeds rather than their double truths. Ignore the narrative in your partisan news feed and follow the money, follow the resources and weapons, and follow what our feral elite are doing rather than saying.

PS: Bezos, Branson and Musk are rocketing into space.

I hope they don’t come back.

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Debt as a Weapon

Michael Hudson has a new post up discussing the future of the dollar as the world’s reserve currency. Here’s taste:

“Since Roman times, creditors have forced debtors who could not repay to forfeit their assets through foreclosure or forced sale. Though the medieval age recognised the ills of debt in its injunctions against usury, capitalism resurrected this aspect of Roman law. To be sure, the tyranny of creditors was sometimes vanquished by powerful debtors: Philip IV of France destroyed his creditors, the Knights Templar and Edward III of Britain defaulted against Italian banks, bankrupting them. Overall, however, the creditor interest has asserted itself repeatedly. In the post-Civil War US, it imposed a deflation that led to widespread farm bankruptcies, impoverishing farmers in an infamous monetary deflation. This was repeated in the Great Depression of the 1930s, by President Obama after 2009, as well as by the IMF and its Structural Adjustment Programmes in the developing world in the 1980s and 1990s.

Enforcing the legal fiction of debt as an exchange relation was the necessary condition for commodifying paper money. The sufficient condition involved capitalist states imposing on themselves a monetary self-abnegation when it came to issuing money. Government-created money never needs to be paid back, and does not expand the power of private creditors. So, when governments began limiting their own issuance of money and even borrowing form private creditors, they left the overwhelming amount of money creation as a source of profits for private creditors, banks and financial institutions and founded veritable creditocracies, by backing their financial interest with political power. Such arrangements were already being made in the earliest years of capitalism, when private creditors made their pacts with states hungry for funds to fight wars. Lenders ensured that states did not tax them but borrowed from them (Ingham, 1984, 48-9, 99-100) and states often settled war loans by giving creditors monopolies, such as the East and West India Companies, South Sea Company and the Bank of England.”

This is how capitalist states have used their power to create, preserve and extend that of their financial sectors, including over themselves. There is a cost to this. Leaving the issuance of the overwhelming amount of money in circulation to competing profit-seeking private creditors makes them touts and pushers of debt and their activities regularly lead to crises, followed by state bailouts and new financial regulation.”

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