Corporations are people too, my friend

Of course, they’re psychotic people with a death count in the millions and if there was any justice or accountability Senators like our little Mittens would have to wear jackets that showed the logos of the various corporations that sponsor them with a running death count.

The anger come from the realization that the Supreme Court has ruled that corporations are people, and corporations can buy control of the political process. And now, not only are they people but now they are the government too. If you didn’t believe it before, believe it now that human rights lawyer Steven Donziger has effectively been sentenced to six months in prison by Chevron itself.

On Friday Chevron puppet–U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska– sentenced human rights lawyer Steven Donziger to six months in prison—following more than two years of house arrest related to a lawsuit he filed decades ago against oil giant Chevron.

Donziger found that Texaco, since bought by Chevron, had poisoned a huge swath of the Ecuadorian Amazon during oil drilling in the 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s. What they saw were the results of a massive and man-made environmental disaster that poisoned the water, earth and food of tens of thousands of people. Worst of all, the evidence indicated it was done deliberately as part of an engineering plan to save $3 per barrel  in what came to be called the “Amazon Chernobyl” by locals and experts.

Ultimately, Steven led a team of lawyers in procuring a $9.5B judgement against Chevron that was affirmed by the Ecuadorian Supreme Court.

Chevron refused to pay. During the trial, it threatened the affected communities with a “lifetime of litigation.” Afterwards, Chevron engaged a team of 2,000 corporate lawyers from at least 60 firms to retaliate against Donziger and the lead plaintiffs in the case, filing a barrage of SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) and RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) suits, legal tools used—and abused—by large companies to punish people who take them to court.

In Donziger’s words, “The company’s goal is to silence my advocacy, bankrupt my family, and intimidate activists and environmental allies.”

The evidence for this persecution is all there: the denial of a jury trial, the unconstitutional order that Donziger turn over his cellular telephone and computer to Chevron during discovery, the assignment of a corrupt judge, the corrupt judge’s assignment of Chevron’s lawyers to prosecute the defendant in a case Chevron brought.

Chevron’s vile and cynical legal strategy–designed to avoid paying compensation to the Indigenous people whose lives it deliberately destroyed to earn an extra $5 billion over 20 years–could not succeed without a federal judiciary populated by corporate-friendly judges willing to bend the law to protect corporate profits. There is no precedent in US law allowing a private firm to assume the role of public prosecutor, yet thanks to that corporate coup I mentioned, Chevron has been able to make Donsiger’s life a living hell. This state of affairs is so egregious that the UN’s high commissioner for human rights condemned Donziger’s treatment shortly before he was sentenced.

The assault on Donziger has been a tag-team affair. In 2019, U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan of the Southern District of New York—a former corporate lawyer with investments in Chevron—held Donziger in contempt of court after he refused to disclose privileged information about his clients to the fossil fuel industry. Kaplan placed Donziger under house arrest, where he has remained under strict court monitoring for 787 days. In addition to Kaplan’s own connections to Chevron, the judge appointed private attorneys to prosecute the case, including one who had worked for a firm that represented the oil giant. Judge Preska, who found Donziger guilty of the contempt charges in July, is a leader of the right-wing Federalist Society, which counts Chevron among its financial backers.

Most Americans would not believe that here in the United States, a corporation could literally use an American court to criminally prosecute its critics. And yet that is exactly what has happened: a show trial that leaves an American environmental lawyer punished harshly and at risk of imprisonment, for the not-to-be-tolerated crime of standing up to Chevron.

So yes, my friend, corporations are people. Unfortunately, they are people like John Wayne Gacy, or Ted Bundy.

The reason Chevron can get away with such egregious behavior is the decades-long assault on workers and the public good by corporations, like Chevron. What we in the U.S. experience now is a consequence of this reality: a country ruled by corporate elites who have captured the machinery of government to enrich themselves at the expense on non-elites. The 50 year effort to transform the branches of our government into a bastion of right-wing ideology have paid amazing dividends. Especially for the judiciary where the Federalist Society has come to colonize legal minds through the economics and law movement. To whit, the individuals and think-tanks have transformed law and economics into an ultra ideological field dominated almost exclusively by passionate opponents of government “interference” in “free enterprise.” The targeting of the courts was one of the key goals of Lewis Powell, a corporate lawyer later elevated to the Supreme Court by President Nixon. In Powell’s 1971 memo to the Chamber of Commerce, a blueprint for the slow-motion corporate coup that has taken place, he called on business interests to pack the judiciary with corporate-friendly judges.

Ralph Nader, who graduated from Harvard Law School, has long decried the capture of the courts and law schools by corporate power, calling the nation’s attorneys and judges “lucrative cogs in the corporate wheel.” He notes that law school curriculums are “built around corporate law, and corporate power, and corporate perpetration, and corporate defense.”

This would be a problem with an obvious political resolution but for the fact that both the Republicans and the Democrats are cool with this state of affairs. Thanks to the tsunami of money that has thoroughly corrupted Congress both parties depend on corporate cash to get elected and stay elected. Meanwhile, both parties deploy cultural issues–abortion, guns and identity politics–to distract the American public from the corporate takeover. The end result of this corporate takeover is fascism.

Sorry, I mean “free enterprise.”

Fortunately, Americans are starting to recognize the dangers of concentrated corporate power and there seems to be an insurgency brewing in the workplace. Taken together with mass resignations, such worker strikes reveal a deep dissatisfaction with the nature of American work that has been decades in the making. Unsurprisingly, now that workers are rebelling corporate America is worried.

This is only the start.

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Fall Break

Taking some time off.

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Old Time Religion

We are endlessly lectured that there are no conspiracies but what was Russia-gate?

All the cool kids have moved on now that icky Trump is out of the White House and not embarrassing them and their corporate media play-things but the Durham Report is providing copious evidence of criminality. The verdict–“Russia-gate was a Democratic conspiracy.”

For example, the constantly piling-up evidence that Russia-gate was manufactured by lawyers working for Hillary Clinton – first and foremost Michael Sussmann. Have a look at authentic investigative reporter Aaron Mate’s latest: “With Clinton lawyer charged, the Russia-gate scam is now under indictment” of Sept. 20.

Mate’s takeaway–“With the Steele dossier now widely discredited and Sussmann’s indictment adding new details of a related deceptionthe Clinton campaign is now connected to yet one more documented scam in a sprawling effort to plant Trump-Russia conspiracy theories in the media and trigger federal investigative activity.”

This criminality was initiated and carried out by the Clinton campaign with voluminous help from the deep state, that mysterious entity that many Americans doubt exists. Symptomatic of this enforced myopia was the mainstream response to the grand Russia-gate conspiracy theory, a spectacle which to date has failed to produce any convictions for conspiracy or treason. What’s even more infuriating is that the critics of the Russia-gate conspiracy theory, like yours truly, have been denounced as “conspiracy theorists.” Thus, Russia-gate provided further proof that the term “conspiracy theory” is a pejorative, designed to stigmatize and dismiss critics of official pronouncements.

Trump’s crime was to discuss ending some of the overseas interventions that have been on cruise control ever since 911. For the deep state, accustomed to imperial rule, these were fighting words. No dove or even advocate for diplomacy, Trump nonetheless articulated an American-isolationist sentiment that resonated with Americans sick of the endless wars and sacrifice of sons and daughters.

Can’t have that now, can we?

Clinton and her allies in the deep state knew they could peddle the Russia-gate conspiracy to their corporate media cheerleaders and that they would do the rest. Indeed, the corporate media, led by the venerable New York Times, has embraced advocacy over neutrality, all the better to sell subscriptions. It worked due to the fact that their audience–liberal PMC’s–loathed Trump and were eager to believe anything about him that offered the hope of his downfall.

In an amazing new article, Matt Taibbi says that “The News is America’s New Religion, and We’re in a Religious War.” Basically, the media has gone from providing “news” to becoming more like religion, where they are peddling gospel. American increasingly pray at the red church or the blue church with no apostates allowed. “We have two denominations, both as fact-averse as real churches,” and this is the logical “result of narrative-driven coverage that focuses huge amounts of resources on the wrongness of the rival faith…Tales of each other’s stupidity are the new national religion, and especially among erstwhile liberals, we take them more seriously than any religion has been taken in the smart set in a long, long time.”

In this climate I wonder how the finale Durham Report, with its investigation into the origins of Russia-gate, coupled with criminal indictments, will be received by the faithful?

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This is why we can’t have nice things

The New York Times, with its insufferable class and elite bias, recently pondered economic policy–“How House Dems Plan to Raise $2.9 T”

Gee, I wonder how they will get the money? Maybe they can find some spare change under the cushions of the couch in the Oval Office? Perhaps Nancy Pelosi can hold a bake sale for her campaign contributors in Silicon Valley? Oh, I got it. Chuck Schumer can set up a lemonade stand on Wall Street where his patrons can kick in some jingle.

With Congress debating President Biden’s $3.5 trillion spending bill, we can see all of the rottenness that permeates our elite political and media institutions. A perfect encapsulation of Beltway consensus when it comes to spending money on anything besides tax cuts, Wall Street or the Pentagon is the Democratic Senator from West Virginia. In a widely circulated op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in early September, Senator Joe Manchin expressed his opposition to the budget bill, warning of excessive spending and inflation. He also argued how spending today could leave the country ill-positioned for some future crisis.

With Congress, it’s a given that they are thoroughly corrupt but even more scandalous is the corporate media. Our founders envisioned a Forth Estate that would hold elite policy holders accountable to the people rather than spew misleading propaganda.

And we really wonder why people don’t trust the corporate media?

The dishonesty is breathtaking. One of the tricks our policy makers play is to claim that the United States is like a household and is budgetary constrained when it comes to spending. And, of course the corporate media plays along. Thus we can see the class composition of the corporate media in their reporting on such topics.

For anyone who understands Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) this “conventional wisdom” is maddening. Repeat after me–Federal taxes don’t fund Federal spending. I never tire of asking people about the ongoing Wall Street Bail-Out: Where do the trillions of dollars come from that we continue to shower on the banks? Meanwhile, where did the $21 trillion come from that we lavished on the military/industrial/complex during that whole war on terror thingy?

The US’s response to Covid has definitely challenged the conventional wisdom on government spending to the point where even writers like Ezra Kline will honestly admit that the US is not budgetarily contained. “I think there’s a lot of fear that if it becomes known. If it becomes believed…that whatever we can do we can afford that that will be used irresponsibly…and create a lot of real problems like runaway inflation…The profession wants to say, ‘No, we knew all this,’ but in fact they haven’t been saying it because they’re a little bit afraid, in my view, of what people will do with these ideas if they get hold of them. If they’re sort of not protected by the responsible economists placing boundaries on what is and isn’t sober-minded policymaking.”

In other words, MMT reveals something that is simultaneously obvious within the economics profession but too dangerous to share with anyone on the outside. As a sovereign currency issuer the United States prints money into existence and how we spend the money are political choices. All of the rest of it is propaganda so that the little people don’t get any silly notions in their heads about a different world.

Even worse, Congress has invented arbitrary budgetary rules to artificially limit the amount of money they can spend on good things. Just because. For instance there’s PAYGO. PAYGO is deeply conservative and creates a structural and tactical advantage for Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats. Basically, the PAYGO rules require that any new outlay must be “paid for”—that is, it must not increase the projected deficit. In practice, this means that additional spending has to be offset, either by increased taxes or by cuts in other spending. PAYGO, in short, represents the discredited assumptions of the past restraining the expansive imperatives of the present and the future.

But this kind of thinking is madness. We should be investing in the human and physical potential of the economy, not obsessing over deficits. Keynes, said it best: “Anything we can actually do, we can afford.”

The money is always there to spend on whatever we want to spend it on. Just as a thought exercise, imagine that if in response to the pandemic we responded by pouring money into healthcare systems, or allowed Medicare to use its bulk purchasing power to negotiate lower prescription drug prices, or more radically, transferring wealth from the richest to the poorest by paying Americans to stay home, be safe and care for their families and neighbors?

How we spend money is the ultimate political choice, and if you’re playing at home, remember that your representative’s and senator’s vote reliably for war and Wall Street. Vote accordingly.

Update: Renegade economist Michael Hudson explains the calculation behind the spending bill.

“America doesn’t build infrastructure these days unless it’s monopolised. This is the political fight going on in the United States now. President Biden has a infrastructure plan that he’s scaled down from six and a half trillion to three and a half trillion. And essentially the bulk of the Democratic and Republican Party said if we can’t privatise infrastructure and make it a rent-extracting monopoly, we’re not going to do it, and we’re going to block the government from doing it. So in the United States, they’re going to have high priced infrastructure, high-priced health care and high-priced education while China is going to have low-priced transportation, low-cost infrastructure, free education, public health care. And you’re going to have a very high-cost United States unable to compete with the rest of the world. All it can do is make military threats or financial threats. If it tries to impose sanctions as it’s imposed on Russia, China and other countries, these are going to serve as protective tariffs for foreign countries.”

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Your problems are our problems

I always thought the official narrative of 911 was bullshit. The original story never made sense. There were just too many unanswered questions, too many suspicions, too many physical impossibilities. By September 2001 the Internet had been around for a while and I was an accomplished enough sleuth to quickly discover the many anomalies. The ones that still stand out are WTC-Building 7 and the dancing Israeli’s. Building 7, although not struck by planes, collapsed into its own footprint hours after the attacks. The dancing Israeli’s were a group of so-called “art students”, in white vans, who were seen filming the attacks and celebrating.

Even two decades after the fact, it is still deemed too controversial or unthinkable to question these oddities or ask whether the official story is an accurate portrayal of the events that transpired on and led to that day. Therefore, I’ve come to believe that in order to truly understand the War on Terror, the domestic surveillance state and our current reality, we must accept that we were lied to about 9/11. Going further–to come to terms with 911 it’s imperative to ask the ultimate question: Cui Bono?

Much of the alternative narrative has been assembled by the brilliant Ron Unz. He says, “Over the years, diligent researchers and courageous journalists have largely demolished the original narrative of those events, and have made a strong, perhaps even overwhelming case that the Israeli Mossad together with its American collaborators played the central role. The historical pattern of Israeli activity, especially with regard to false-flag attacks, is really quite remarkable. And even though it was played down, Israel has a history of attacking the US. In 1967, Israel launched a deliberate air and sea attack against the U.S.S. Liberty, intending to leave no survivors, killing or wounding over 200 American servicemen. This thoroughly documented history of major Israeli false-flag terrorist attacks, including those against American and other Western targets, should be carefully kept in mind when we consider the 9/11 attacks.”

The official US Government position on 9/11 is that any and all aspects of it are directly attributable to 19 named Arabs on 4 planes, conducting a terrorist operation planned and executed by Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda. Unz claims, “this position is at best incomplete, and at worst a complete fabrication engineered by those directly or indirectly responsible for what happened on 9/11, and the wars afterward. There is a mountain of physical, technical, analytical and circumstantial evidence, far more than any unprejudiced person needs to understand far beyond any reasonable doubt whatsoever, that (1) the USG case is fatally flawed, and (2) this was a Mossad-directed operation orchestrated at the highest levels of the Israeli government (because of the target) with local support within the US and elements of the US Government itself.”

“In a crime investigation it’s useful to examine motive. I find it difficult to think of any country in the world that clearly gained as a result of the 9/11 attacks and America’s military reaction, with one single, solitary exception. During 2000 and most of 2001, America was a peaceful prosperous country, but a certain small Middle Eastern nation had found itself in an increasingly desperate situation. Israel then seemed to be fighting for its life against the massive waves of domestic terrorism that constituted the Second Palestinian Intifada.”

The 9/11 attacks changed everything.

Suddenly the world’s sole superpower declared an endless war on terror against Arab and Muslim terrorist movements, especially those on Israel’s enemies list. Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon’s neocon political allies in America used the new “Pearl Harbor” as an opportunity to seize control of America’s foreign policy and national security apparatus. Unz says that during the period an NSA source claimed that “Israeli generals freely roamed the halls of the Pentagon without any security controls.” Meanwhile, the threat of domestic terrorism, exacerbated by the anthrax attacks, was used to implement the Patriot Act, that was used to harass or even shut down various anti-Zionist political organizations. One of the art students, who turned out to be an Israeli Mossad agent, arrested by the police in New York City as he and his fellows were celebrating the 9/11 attacks and producing a souvenir film of the burning World Trade Center towers told the officers that ‘We are Israelis…Your problems are our problems.'”

And so they immediately became.

General Wesley Clark reported that soon after the 9/11 attacks he was informed that a secret military plan had somehow come into being under which America would attack and destroy seven major Muslim countries over the next few years, including Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Libya, which coincidentally were all of Israel’s strongest regional adversaries and the leading supporters of the Palestinians. As America began to attack all of Israel’s enemies after 9/11, Israel itself no longer needed to do so. Partly as a consequence, almost no other nation in the world has so enormously improved its strategic and economic situation during the last 20 years. 

And, here we are. Not only has the US attacked the countries on Israel’s hit-list but our military as adopted the IDF method of warfare with its targeted assassinations, night raids, torture and drone strikes. As the shambolic withdrawal from Afghanistan and lightening fast Taliban victory have attested, all of this has been roaring success.

At this point any sane person would want to ask why Israel’s problems have become ours?

Here’s where it gets extremely complicated. Any criticism of Israel immediately gets one labeled an anti-Semite. Furthermore, the enormous dominance of Jewish and pro-Israel elements in the American corporate media and Hollywood has long ensured that even when the solid evidence of such attacks was discovered, very few ordinary Americans would ever hear those facts. As an example of this phenomenon, read the links above and ask yourself why you, dear reader, have never heard of any of this?

There’s so much more that points to an Israeli connection, but everyone inside the national security state, corporate media, or even alternative media understands the grim consequences of breathing a word about it. They saw what happened to Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden and Julian Assange. They are not stupid.

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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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