Decorum

I’ve decided that what really bothers liberals about Trump is his lack of decorum. They claim that oh, no, it’s his policies that they object to but I’m certain that if Biden is elected and continues the very same policies but with better public-relation, it will be crickets. There is a precedent. Liberals were up in arms during George W. Bush’s tenure but as soon as Obama was the one ordering drone strikes it was all good.

Trump’s lack of decorum is only part of the problem. There’s also the wholesale distrust of the elite institutions that form the vaunted liberal order portrayed by shows like The West Wing.

However, our feral elite would have us believe that this distrust is beyond the pale and that only a fool or a “deplorable” would believe in “conspiracy theories.”

I believe that those of us portrayed as “conspiracy theorists” have made a calculated decision that in a world where corporate and government elites engage in immoral and illegal actions daily believing in conspiracies is simply to acknowledge reality. We’ve lost faith in science and experts; we’ve lost faith in our political institutions; we’ve lost faith in the American dream; and we’ve lost faith in our Republic itself.

Why? Because many of the feral elite that rule our country have disconnected themselves from the rest of the country. Their culture and values are hostile to the beliefs of their non-elite countrymen. They suck money and power out of the rest of the country and use them solely for their own benefit. And they care about only one thing: remaining the elite.

Meanwhile, their behaviors are generating a growing crisis of legitimacy for the United States irregardless of which party is managing its affairs.

Electing Joe Biden won’t end our oligarchic empire but his administration will be sure to use racially sensitive language while they go about the business of dominating the planet.

Remember–Black Lives Matter.

Update: For those of you who don’t get satire, I do believe Black Lives Matter. I also believe that the best way to ensure they do is to pass Medicare For All and declare a debt jubilee.

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Narrative Management

The last four years of Russia-gate, the fairy-tale collection of made up connections between Donald Trump and Russia, has been one long process of narrative management.

All the “cool kids” (meaning the elite-corporate media stenographers) settled on a narrative that the Russians colluded with Donald Trump to steal the election from the rightful winner, and internalized the fable that their critical reporting on Hillary Clinton’s e-mails, among other scandals, contributed to her loss. In a crazy, fun-house mirror of McCarthyism, liberals, with their maniacal Russia hysteria, eagerly embraced the CIA and FBI and other deep state actors that engineered a new Cold War against Russia using Russia-gate.

And now the corporate media and elite liberals are determined to manage any story that helps Trump as their reaction to the latest expose of Hunter Biden’s Ukrainian connections demonstrates.

To no ones surprise, the New York Post expose of Hunter Biden’s laptop is being portrayed as another Russian plot to tarnish the nobility of our electoral process. At this point, I’m pretty sure that the Russians are responsible for all of America’s problems. From wildfires in California to the hurricanes in the Gulf to the long voting lines in Georgia. It was the Russians.

Meanwhile, it certainly is convenient for our feral elite that America’s precious democracy keeps getting attacked by states like Russia that they want to absorb into their “liberal world order”, and always in ways that are completely opaque to the American people while the evidence for the attacks is always highly classified.

As I’ve stated before, in America we do our censorship and propaganda through private corporations so our officials can claim with a straight face that we don’t have a government system of control. As Facebook and Twitter are private companies, they can legally do whatever they want, but when the two most powerful social media companies insist on censoring a expose about a presidential candidate’s possibly corrupt son less than three weeks before the election it suggests a more sinister motive.

The New York Times has just straight admitted that they create a narrative that their writers are required to work towards with their reporting. Instead of requiring well checked facts the editors are instead asking for confirmation of preconceived stories.

It’s not like this is a new thing. For those of us keeping score at home, this all sounds a lot like what the corporate media did in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq where they scripted their stories around the narrative they had settled on. Paging Judith Miller? Oh, right, she’s not at the Times anymore. She’s working at FOX NEWS now.

Even in 2002 this was not a new thing. The concept goes back to the early days of the Cold War, when CIA director Allen Dulles was determined to counter Soviet propaganda by controlling the (wait for it) narrative. In order to combat the threat of Soviet propaganda entering the U.S. and seducing Americans, Operation Mockingbird was created as a form of control over information dissemination during the period of McCarthyism. Operation Mockingbird was a CIA program that was started in the early 1950s in order to control the narrative of the news. The CIA was complicit in actually detailing the specific narrative that they wanted disseminated, and often going so far as to write the narrative and have a “credible” reporter’s name stamped on it.

Russia-gate and the the latest actions of the corporate media suggest that Operation Mockingbird never ended, although the narrative management has certainly become more sophisticated. In The Grand Chessboard, written in the late 1990’s, Zbigniew Brzezinski warned his fellow ruling class cohorts that the onset of the information age would require disinformation strategies to mitigate any potential threat from an increasingly politically-aware population.

For the corporate media it appears that anything goes if implicating Russia solves a political problem for the Democrats and keeps the war machine going for the Pentagon and the national security state.

It also defers the moment when the press is exposed for its radically stupid over investment in the Russia-gate fiction. At this point the only way they could win back the full trust of their readers is to admit that virtually every aspect of their reportage over the past four years was inherently false or manipulated by their “sources” who helped manage the narrative.

Think about a New York Times, CNN, New Yorker, Wall Street Journal, Mother Jones, Yahoo News or Washington Post journalist having to write an article deconstructing a foundation of four-years worth of lies they participated in creating.

The essential problem is that there are virtually zero standards when our corporate media want to sell the world on a narrative which benefits the power-elite that owns said media. News stories will be confirmed on an assertion by some anonymous government operative if they are harmful to Russia, Iran, China or any other US-targeted nation.

They lie overtly and by omission because the corporate mass-media within the US-centralized empire functions as the propaganda department for the empire.

The elite managers of our all-American empire understand that whoever controls the narrative controls the world, so they ensure that all points of narrative influence are tightly managed by them.

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Missed Opportunity

What’s fucked is that after the Wall Street crash of 2008, (an event that should have discredited our all-American brand of financial capitalism for a generation), the bi-partisan Washington Consensus sabotaged any effort to re-leash our financial oligarchy.

The obscene inequality that plagues our country is a political problem as well as an economic one. Having a class of billionaire plutocrats comes with a heavy cost because policies that benefit us are antithetical to them. Since Aristotle the great thinkers have been concerned with how concentrated wealth deforms politics. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis warned: “We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”

Our class of oligarchs has spent decades burnishing their reputation through massive propaganda and public relations efforts, portraying themselves as “job creators” and “masters of the universe.” Unfortunately, after the 2008 crash all their effort was in tatters.

If only there had been an intrepid, newly elected president who could utilize an investigative committee, (like maybe a Pecora Commission? ), to uncover the causes of the financial collapse, expose the criminal actions of leading financiers and galvanize broad public revulsion at Wall Street.

Alas, newly elected President Barack Obama proved to be no FDR, who famously welcomed the hatred of the oligarchs. The Crash of 1929 discredited Wall Street, and capitalism more generally and FDR was able to take advantage, while Obama, because of his closeness to the financial oligarchs, did not.

The New Deal, FDR’s response to the Great Depression, ushered in 50 years of prosperity for the lower and middle-classes. Moreover, the New Deal strengthened socialistic characteristics of the capitalist economy, and of course, Wall Street despises this because they think any strengthening of those characteristics points to the advantages of it, which means people may say, well, we don’t just want public health care, we maybe we should have public banking too.

The horror.

As I’ve stated before, the ultimate political question is who gets to plan the economy. There is no such thing as “free market.” It’s a propaganda construct. Every economy is planned, the crucial part is who gets to do the planning, the government that represents we the people, or Wall Street?

Personally I believe that there needs to be a balance. Markets work great for some things but other aspects of the economy, like utilities and infrastructure requires public ownership.

But these are political questions that need to be decided through our representative democratic process. And with a dominant oligarchy, this has proved impossible, as we have witnessed.

This quote by Thomas Jefferson well describes the essential conflict. “If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around them will deprive the people of all property until their children wake up homeless on the continent their Fathers conquered…

I’ve come to believe that we weren’t able to bring the oligarchs to heel after the 2008 Wall Street Crash because they’ve spent every waking minute since the New Deal lobbying, rigging elections, making campaign contributions, compromising research and public discourse, while laundering their reputation with philanthropy and public relations. They’ve also proved more than adapt at manufacturing discontent. Stoked for decades by an extremist capitalist oligarchy which has slowly and methodically disabled the levers of democracy to achieve its interests by pitting American against American to divide and rule.

Historically, the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and onset of the Great Depression provided space for progressive, democratic reforms. It was a close thing, however. Instead of the New Deal, many American industrialists wanted to install a system of fascism, similar to the ones in Italy and Germany, as the response to the economic collapse. After FDR was inaugurated they even went so far as to organize a coup against him. Luckily, because of FDR’s fortitude and superlative political skills, the “malefactors of great wealth” were defeated and the New Deal reforms ensured a 50 year period of prosperity.

Unfortunately for us, the missed opportunity in 2008 has ensured a rolling series of catastrophes, culminating in our botched response to Covid-19. Think how much better we could have handled the health crisis if we had used the 2008 crash to create space for progressive reforms, such as a single-payer health care system rather than the corporate boondoggle that is Obama-Care?

If you’ll remember from the way back machine, privately, Obama told Wall Street executives that he would protect them instead of demonizing or prosecuting them. On 27 March 2009, Obama assembled the top executives of the bailed-out financial firms in a secret meeting at the White House and he assured them that he would cover their backs; he promised “My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks”. Meanwhile, the outrage Americans felt towards Wall Street was channeled by the Tea Party, stymieing any chance of progressive reforms.

I started blogging in the aftermath of this debacle, outraged at the duplicity of our bi-partisan elite and determined to probe the dark underbelly of the American political/economy. The knowledge I’ve gained is why I was hardly surprised at Trump’s election.

Like so much else, it all comes back to this missed opportunity.

Update: It is a misnomer to call our speculative financial system “capitalism.” It should be seen as a cancer. It exists inside of our economic system, but it destroys capital, just as cancer feeds off of the body but ultimately destroys the body.

This is the extractive system that dominates our political/economy. It takes money and resources from the productive economy and destroys it by investing in paper (nothing). This is how it thrives. All governments, laws, academia, social mores, mass media, culture and, of course, economics and finance are shaped by this system. It cannot change.

Unless we force it to.

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Lies on top of lies

For the last 40 years we’ve been told lies on top of lies and we can’t process them anymore without losing our minds. Indeed, what we witnessed the other night at the presidential debate is evidence that America is suffering a nervous breakdown.

Speaking of which. With the “most important election in our lifetimes” approaching we are endlessly exhorted to vote, vote, vote!

If your sole goal is to replace Trump then yes voting matters. But if you are interested in changing the policies of our country, you’re shit out of luck.

For instance, while they may strongly disagree on cultural or social issues when it comes to economic policies both Democrats and Republicans are in lockstep. Both parties loudly insist that they are capitalists and promote a system where incentives, economic imperatives and shareholder value promote a race to the bottom. While maybe they don’t set out to be evil that’s the end result because “evilness”–the psychopathic pursuit of profit above all other values–is the business model for the corporations that control our country.

Following this insane logic both parties agree that income and wealth inequality should persist in the US and that the plutocrats should continue to rule America. They do, however, differ on which plutocrats get to call the shots. Pick your poison–Koch or Soros?

Meanwhile, everything is commodified according to the logic of the market. A sort of short-term thinking based on the religion of profit at all costs. As if somehow, magically, each corporation acting in its selfish interest is going to produce a utopia. This thinking is contagious. Most of our political and business class have imbibed this corporate culture as a sanity survival strategy, as way to placate the cognitive dissonance that would overwhelm them if they did not. For the rest of us, I believe that the mental illness that plagues so many Americans is caused by the temporary, precarious nature of jobs and work. We’ve become aware that we’ve been commodified too and are ultimately superfluous.

Foreign policy offers a similar dynamic. Both political parties agree that the US government should remain the dominant global hegemon and that there should be a massive US military presence around the world to garrison this empire, but they angrily argue over the details of how that empire should be organized. Should we confront China as the Republicans desire or Russia as the Democrats insist? Or both? And while maybe our foreign policy officials, intelligence and elite military units (of which I was a member) don’t set out to be evil that’s the end result of managing and policing the empire.

The problem with all this elite agreement while pretending to be in utter disagreement is that the lies have piled up to such a degree that they have lost the plot, as we witnessed with the crazy debates between Trump and Biden and now Pence and Harris.

The dirty little secret is that on economic and foreign policy issues the Democrats and Republicans are in emphatic agreement. They just manufacture lot of sound and fury into the cultural and social policies wherein they have some disagreement. The Republicans rile up their base with abortion, gun control and immigrants while the Democrats are down with Identity Politics.

This lie of omission is why partisan politics feels so hollow. Team red insists that all our problems are caused by team blue and vice versa, when in reality it’s a tag team project. The real debate in US politics is not between the Democrats and Republicans. Instead, the debate should be between the oligarchs and their political sock-puppets and the rest of us.

If politics were real in America, this would be the debate we are having. Not the fake one between two sociopaths about who hates socialism more, but between the side which opposes the oligarchic empire and the side which promotes and protects it.

In the meantime the lies continue to pile up.

Update: Here’s all you need to know about our vicious partisanship.

First…the elite wing of the Republican Party is being folded into the Democratic Party — not just in theory, but in practice, in dollars, as well. It’s clear that the Chamber and those who give it their money have made the calculation, at least for this presidential cycle, that their interests will be genuinely served by a Biden White House and a unified Democratic Congress.

In other words, they want a united government controlled by the Democratic Party. They know Trump is going to lose (Trump was scheduled to lose even before the recent Covid incident), and they’re working to both maintain a Democratic House majority and to sabotage the current Republican Senate majority.

Second, as stated above, the Chamber of Congress and the big-league donors who support it know that a Biden White House and Democratic Congress will further their interest far more than a Trump-led divided or Republican government.”

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Discontents

Rick Perlstein’s new book Reaganland chronicles the cultural discontents roiling America during the tumultuous administration of Jimmy Carter (1977 to 1981) that led to the election of Ronald Reagan and the end of the New Deal consensus.

Perlstein describes the “New Right” that swept Reagan into office–a network of evangelical Christians, neocons, tax revolters and corporate lobbyists–that used these discontents to radically transform American politics. He makes clear that the “New Right”, a movement that he’s written so much about, (Before the Storm, Nixonland and The Invisible Bridge), was consolidated on cultural fronts as much as political ones.

One of the biggest challenges for Reagan’s was that most Americans didn’t actually agree with his views on policy. Reagan’s political genius was putting a genial face on the radical, right-wing policies of Senator Barry Goldwater even though Reagan touted many of the same policy beliefs that had led Goldwater to be dismissed as a crank both before and after his 1964 election drubbing.

Conventional political wisdom had Reagan too far out of the mainstream with his devotion to antiquated economic theories, John Birch-anti-communism, and his wholesale rejection of the New Deal economic and political consensus.

Reagan’s amazing timing allowed him to take full advantage of cultural discontents that included race, religion, abortion, gay rights and the ERA. These cultural discontents were piggybacked on by discontents against government regulations by savvy “New-Right” strategists (Perlstein describes them as “boardroom Jacobins”) who super-charged corporate power during this pivotal period.

It’s in the battle over religious private-schools that we get a glimpse of the ferocity of this new political movement: the “get government off our back” efforts of the corporate lobbyists coalescing with the culture war grievances of evangelical Christians, all energized by dog-whistle racism. Reagan and the “New Right” proved masterful in harnessing Americans social-atomization–individualism, selfishness and consumerism–in their quest for a political revolution.

One of the main reasons these cultural discontents had such power is that the nominal “left party” in the US stopped promoting universal economic policies and moved to the right economically, following the ‘neoliberal’ counter-revolution of the late 1970’s. Moreover, it’s fair to say that Carter was the first neoliberal president.

Perlstein relates how Carter’s administration was racked by one crisis after another leading to his crafting his controversial malaise speech, where he spoke about resetting American values and calling for universal sacrifice. However, the sacrifice was confined to American workers who were devastated by Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker actions to combat inflation. Carter had previously nominated Volcker. Carter also didn’t follow his aides advice to stress that, “national revival was impossible until corporate power was checked”.

This set a pattern. Democrats who came after could have depicted the Reagan Administration as a radical project that violated every American principle of government to benefit “we the people.” Instead they turned it into a bipartisan project.

I’m looking at you Mrs Clinton and Obama.

We chose to allow corporations to gut America’s industrial and manufacturing infrastructure and off-shore millions of high-paying jobs. We chose to cut taxes on billionaires and to deregulate the financial industry. We chose to permit giant corporations to control monopolies astride choke points in our economy. We chose to punish the workers who still had jobs by making work temporary and precarious. Moreover, we chose to get government out of the way of the “free market.”

Getting government out of the way has made the rich a lot richer. Indeed, a cynic might conclude that the “New Right” was an ideological conspiracy by a tiny and ever more fabulously wealth elite to further enrich themselves and to maintain their power, their dominance, at all costs. Indeed, the wealthy and corporate backers of the “New Right” have to be extremely pleased with their efforts to mine the cultural discontents in the decades since the election of Ronald Reagan.

Reviews of Reaganland don’t go there but I believe there to be a direct correlation between the efforts of the “New Right” and the remarkable RAND report that documents the $50 trillion in earnings that’s been transferred to our feral elite from the bottom 90% of American households in the past 45 years.

Going further, it’s apparent that Make America Great Again is the new version of Reaganland. MAGA supporters voted against abortion and got cuts in capital gains. They voted against transsexuals using women’s bathrooms and got lower corporate taxes. They voted for a wall to keep Mexicans out then watched as US corporations fled across the border to avoid safety and environmental regulations and screw American workers.

Maybe Reaganland is a state of mind where–“You can check out any time you like. But you can never leave.”

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Enclosure

 

Capitalism requires the enclosure of the commons.

The reasons are twofold. The first is straightforward primitive accumulation, whereby the commons (land, and natural resources) are seized through force. This process is essential to the creation of capitalist surplus, or profit because capitalism always needs an outside, external to itself, from which it can draw uncompensated value.

But there is also something even more important. The enormous productive capacity that defines capitalism depended in the first instance on subjecting humans to artificial scarcity. Scarcity and the threat of hunger, driven by enclosure of the commons, creates the surplus value of labor that’s essential to capitalism

To understand this relationship it helps to synthesize the basic economic equation. Less public wealth means more private wealth and vice versa. Examining the history of capitalism reveals that growth has always depended on enclosure, or taking the public wealth and making it private. In fact capitalism owes it’s beginning to the primitive accumulation made possible by the enclosure movement in England, during which wealthy elites–“empowered by the Statute of Merton of 1235–fenced off commons and systematically forced peasants off the land in a violent, centuries-long campaign of dispossession.”

The enclosure of the commons led to scarcity and hunger which made people willing to labor in the “Satanic mills” of the early industrial revolution. The historical record is full of commentary by British landowners and elites celebrating enclosure as a tool for enhancing the “industry” of peasants whose access to abundant commons rendered them given to leisure and “insolence”. The agriculturalist Arthur Young (1771) noted that “everyone but an idiot knows that the lower classes must be kept poor, or they will never be industrious”.

The Photographs of Lewis Hine: The Industrial Revolution and Child Laborers  [Photo Gallery] | EHS Today

I’ve come to believe that the New Deal and progressive reforms culminating in the Great Society programs of Medicare and Medicaid was the attempt to create a government established “commons” and to promote the general Welfare of the American people. Neoliberalism has thus been the capitalist counterattack to enclose this new commons.

Remember, less public wealth means more private wealth. 

Coincidentally there’s a new study out that shows the dollar amount of the modern day enclosure. A remarkable report has been released that documents the $50 trillion in earnings that’s been transferred to our feral elite from the bottom 90% of American households in the past 45 years. The RAND report makes clear that this upward redistribution of income, wealth, and power wasn’t inevitable; it was a choice–a direct result of the policies we chose to implement since 1975.

We chose to cut taxes on billionaires and to deregulate the financial industry. We chose to allow CEOs to manipulate share prices through stock buybacks, and to lavishly reward themselves with the proceeds. We chose to permit giant corporations, through mergers and acquisitions, to accumulate the vast monopoly power necessary to dictate both prices charged and wages paid. We chose to erode the minimum wage and the overtime threshold and the bargaining power of labor. For four decades, we chose to elect political leaders who put the material interests of the rich and powerful above those of the American people.

Moreover we chose to re-enclose the commons.

We can observe this process with the endless waves of privatization that have been unleashed all over the world since 1980, of education, healthcare, transportation, libraries, parks, swimming pools, water, even social security. Indeed, the push to privatize the public space is part of a larger ideological project to erode faith in the commons.

In the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic people continue to feel the force of scarcity in the constant threat of unemployment. Workers must become ever-more disciplined and productive at work or else lose their jobs to someone who will be more productive still –usually someone poorer and more desperate. Meanwhile, Congress fails to provide aid to states, counties and cities ravaged by the economic downturn.

But, of course, there’s plenty of money to shower Wall Street with cash.

What does that say about the power relations in this country? And, if this isn’t a political question, no, the ultimate political question, I don’t know what is. Politics, after all is about who get what and who pays the costs, or to take it further, who owns what and who should control our commonwealth.

 

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A low and dishonest century

 

9/11 ushered in a low and dishonest century.

And because we have a low and dishonest corporate media we get shit like this from Paul Krugman: “Overall, Americans took 9/11 pretty calmly. Notably, there wasn’t a mass outbreak of anti-Muslim sentiment and violence, which could all too easily have happened. And while GW Bush was a terrible president, to his credit he tried to calm prejudice, not feed it.”

It’s hard to know where to begin.

Let’s start with the obvious rejoinder. America didn’t take 9/11 calmly. We lost our mind and went bat-shit crazy. Freedom fries, anyone? We’re still dealing with the consequences of our descent into madness.

9/11 was used to turn the US into a police state thru the Patriot Act. America went on to openly torture, invade a country which had nothing to do with 9/11 and set up a worldwide assassination program. Congress also signed over essentially all of their war powers, so that any President could declare war any time for any reason. Since then we’ve invaded numerous countries in the Middle-East, following the blueprint laid out by The Project for the New American Century. Indeed, for the neocons 9/11 was the new Pearl Harbor they had dreamed about.

The vile consequences of the US’ response to 9/11 also include the financial burden on future generations. The “war on terror” conflicts are estimated to have cost $6 trillion for the US alone. That is, nearly a quarter of that nation’s total and unsustainable national debt has been saddled from the trail of destruction. The long-term detrimental impact on social development is inestimable.

For the American military-industrial complex, it has been a period of rich pickings. As historian Daniel Bessner writes: “9/11 was a godsend for an increasingly adrift American Empire.”

As we approach what could be the most contentious election since 1968 it’s crucial to acknowledge that our reaction to 9/11 made President Donald Trump possible.

It’s also important to note that we’re in this place because we have two low and dishonest political parties working together with our low and dishonest corporate media. Remember how the Republican party, led by snarling Dick Cheney, ripped the Democrats for coddling terrorists in the aftermath of 9/11. In fact, since the early years of the Cold War the GOP has attacked the Democrats as weak on defense as a way to tarnish the New Deal. Thanks to the dishonesty of our corporate press, who goes happily along with charade, this tactic is highly successful as evidenced by the continuation of the same aggressive war policies by the Obama administration.

Trump’s presidential campaign threw a monkey wrench into this tag-team affair of war and empire with his criticisms. Remember when Trump lambasted the invasion of Iraq? “Obviously, the war in Iraq was a big, fat mistake,” Trump said. “George Bush made a mistake. We can make mistakes. But that one was a beauty. We should have never been in Iraq. We have destabilized the Middle East.”

The corporate press and Beltway pundits were aghast, proclaiming in unison that Trump had sunk his presidential hopes with this foreign policy apostasy. Of course they were completely wrong. Going further, Trump won the presidency in 2016 in no small part because a considerable number of Americans had lost confidence in establishment policies that left the United States mired in what he and other critics of a militarized U.S. policy called “endless wars.” 

Since then, the tag-team effort has been switched. Now the Democrats portray the Republicans, under Trump, as weak on defense, suggesting that Trump is even a Russian secret agent under the malign influence of Vladimir Putin. The upshot is that the US political system is hard-wired for endless war to maintain the American empire. 9/11 was used to super-charge this Pax-America following the neocons blueprint for martial re-invigoration following the end of the Cold War. Anyone or party who suggests otherwise will be attacked unmercifully. After all, war is the health of the state.

For those liberals who pray for Trump to be defeated so that we can return to a more sane and peaceful world, I have to say you’ve not been paying attention. 9/11 made the Democratic Party bat-shit crazy too. There’s good reason to expect that a Biden administration would be more bellicose than a Trump one. Even though Biden has occasionally suggested we should end the “forever wars”, overall he’s been campaigning for his first term far closer to the militaristic end of the spectrum than any president in recent memory.

America’s reaction to 9/11 made all of this not just possible but inevitable. Going further, America under Trump is like a patient who needs to be dragged kicking and screaming into therapy.

Look in the mirror–this is you.

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Neither New nor Liberal

Thomas Frank’s The People, No, is an amazing guide to our political milieu, tracing the history of populism from the 1890’s to the era of Trump. Frank examines not only the history of populism but that of anti-populism, especially as it transforms from an ideology of wealthy conservatives to that of elite liberals. However, I feel that he could have made the more obvious connection to the ideology of neoliberalism and how it strengthens this modern anti-populism bent.

The stock market crash of October 1929 and the onset of the Great Depression destroyed much of the wealth of the top one percent and discredited capitalism for generations. In the financial crisis of 2008-2009, by contrast, the Bush and Obama administrations, and the Federal Reserve, pulled out all the stops to prevent Wall Street and financial interests from losing, by pouring $29 trillion in the banking and financial systems.

In the 1930’s FDR epitomized the populist sentiment of trusting the people while rejecting the expertise of economic orthodoxy, famously condemning the malefactors of great wealth and welcoming the hatred of Wall Street. Barack Obama did the opposite, proclaiming that Jaimie Dimon and his Wall Street cohort were the smartest guys in the room.

From 1933 to 1971, global capitalism was centrally managed and planned under different versions of the New Deal, that included the War Economy and the Bretton Woods system. Following the demise of Bretton Woods in the early 1970s, capitalism returned to a version of the 1920s: Under the ideological guise of neoliberalism the bankers and financial interests again took over the role of planning the economy.

Neoliberalism represents the power of the capitalist class with their “free market” ideological cheerleaders. Indeed, the return to a “new-liberal” capitalism was an intellectual endeavor. Businesses-owners and the wealthy conducted a very successful class war against workers, particularly organized labor whose negotiations provided an anchor for both other blue collar and white collar wages and working conditions.

In a Mont Pelerin Society tract dated 1949, Friedrich Hayek, funded by the Foundation for Economic Freedom among others, wrote, “the question of how the powers of the trade-unions can be appropriately delimited by law as well as in fact is one of the most important of all the questions which we must give our attention.” Corey Robin has revealed how Hayek and his collaborator, Ludwig von Mises, both shared and were shaped by, Friedrich Nietzsche’s contempt for Europe’s workers, and enchantment with European aristocrats, in whose image they molded the mythical hero of the capitalist “entrepreneur.”

In the process of this new turn towards capital, the Democratic party went from representing workers to coddling Wall Street. These “New Democrats” respected education and credentials, internalizing Margaret Thatchers admonishment that “there is no society”, only individuals striving to maximize their human capital. The ultimate value system should be the market–one that inevitably is dominated by financial fortunes, banks and property owners.

And now, with the aid of the intellectually smitten “New Democrats” these interests have regained control of economies, opposing public regulation by waving the flag of free-market individualism. Idealizing greed without concern for how this affects the public good, these financial interests have hollowed out our economy through looting. The economy is seen as a market to grab as much as you want by whatever means required, not as a social system regulating property, credit and debt to prioritize social stability and rising living standards.

Going further, this is the result of deliberate choices and policies, justified by a neoliberal intellectual edifice.

In The People, No, Frank does make abundantly clear the political costs of the Democrat’s neoliberal turn towards rule by a credentialed elite. The American people, rightfully, see this elite not as the “smartest guys in the room” but as colossal fuck-ups, who looted the country and destroyed their livelihoods.

On that note, I’ll let Mr. Frank have the last word.

“Most non-elite Americans, however, because they have, at this point in our history, endured over two generations of breathtakingly spectacular meritocratic failures — including the unending trillion-dollar wars that the elites never fight in and never win, including the elites’ financialized ransacking of the once-industrial American heartland, including the elites’ perversion of medical care and higher education into grotesque unaffordable rackets — would, if asked, give a more precise answer to the intriguing question of class nomenclature — Liberal Class? Creative Class? Learning Class? — by describing the ascendant meritocracy as our gleefully parasitic Fuck-Up Class.”

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It Was Always Bullshit

The recent Democratic Convention was missing something.

Oh, I know what it was–Russia-gate.

The 4 year investigation of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, which Democrats once thought could topple Trump for obstruction of justice, went unmentioned, even as it was a defining feature of Trump’s nearly four years in office.

Of course, for those of us who were paying attention, Russia-gate was always bullshit.

Instead, Russia-gate flowed from the same impulse as the great anti-populist crusade that our feral elite have waged since the moment Trump was elected. “Populism,” became a synonym for plague or menace. Trump and Bernie Sanders both were depicted as xenophobic, bigoted, emotion-laden, resistant to modernity, susceptible to foreign influence, and captured by “unrealistic” ideas they lacked the expertise to implement.

It was all about finding a scapegoat for the 40 odd years of elite failure, culminating in Hillary Clinton’s disastrous presidential campaign. Trump may not be the “very stable genius,” he claims but he was smart enough to take advantage of the gigantic opportunity that Democrats like Clinton and her husband created by abandoning working-class voters. These voters now sense that economic justice is permanently out of reach. The class war is over and the rich won. Even worse, these working-class voters haven’t forgotten that the Democrats exported their jobs then turned around and labeled them “deplorable”.

And that is indeed why the Democrats saw no need to mention it at their own four-day convention despite dominating news cycles with it for years. Russia-gate was never the “scandal” that the Democrats and the corporate media made it out to be. It wasn’t even actually about getting rid of Trump. Russia-gate was extremely useful in accelerating a new Cold War with Russia, something that the deep state with it’s military/industrial/complex, intelligence and Wall Street actors desperately wanted. Russia-gate was sustained by a deep-state establishment of think-tank planners, the military-industrial complex, security-intelligence careerists, lobbyists and the corporate nexus of Wall Street and big business.

I also know that the original Russia-gate narrative was completely dismantled from the very beginning by journalists like the late Robert Parry. In 2017 Parry documented how the original assessment that Russia meddled in the US election in the first place was put forward without proof by just a couple dozen officers from three intelligence agencies hand-picked by the notoriously Russo-phobic then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Parry also noted how if there had been any solid evidence to find that the Kremlin was blackmailing Trump, or that his campaign had conspired with the Russian government to steal the 2016 election, the US intelligence community would have found some of it and leaked it to The Washington Post long before Trump took office. At this point a new Cold War was already ramping up under the Obama Administration and with Hillary Clinton assumed to be the heir apparent it was assumed to be a foregone conclusion.

Then what happened?

Somehow a novice politician/real estate developer who’d been talking about making nice with Russia got in instead. Trump campaigned promising to reduce the military’s presence abroad, end our wars of adventure, withdraw from NATO, and negotiate with Russia to ameliorate the unnecessary hostilities Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, his Secretary of State, left behind. These positions won him votes perhaps the election.

Can’t have that now can we?

Since then the Empire has struck back, in fact I think the main reason the Democrats didn’t feel the need to mention Russia-gate is that it’s been wildly successful in stymieing any change to US foreign policy, uniting Democrats with neoconservative Republicans in an iron-clad Beltway consensus for continued American primacy and Cold War with Russia and China. It’s the same thing with the war on populism now that the Democrats have beaten back the Sanders insurgency with the nomination of Joe Biden, who gave the game away when he assured his donors that “nothing will change”.

We’ll see.

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Year of the Comet

2020 has been a real bitch, and we still have an election that promises to be the most divisive in history to look forward to.

Speaking of which, in my travels I saw exactly one Biden sign but hundreds of Trump flags and hand scrawled signs of support.

Most of my liberal friends remain baffled by this phenomenon but I have been giving it a lot of thought since Trump’s surprise victory in 2016.

I’ve come to believe that the reason for Trump’s support out in “flyover country” is that these are the citizens who have felt the brunt of our 40 year abandonment of any shared commitment in America. These Trump supporters think they are getting screwed-over by an unfair system. They think “free trade” only benefits the rich, they think the government is unresponsive to their needs, they think the system is rigged, and they’re really, really mad. Trump won due to Clinton’s support for free trade and immigration policies that cost jobs and imposed unwelcome demographic changes on the working people of these places. Critical battleground states tilted in Trump’s favor because Democratic policies had decimated their communities and eviscerated their standard of living.

Going further, I believe that the grievances expressed by these “flyover” Americans are the same ones discussed in Thomas Frank’s new book–The People, No. Frank traces the history of mass democratic movements through the social upheaval of the last century, revealing a force for enlightenment and liberation–the essence of democracy itself. More importantly, Frank details the elite groups–today’s Professional Managerial Class (PMC’s)–that have and still oppose populism and denounce it. He also shows how this anti-populism has morphed from being a policy of wealthy conservatives in the 1890’s to the faith of liberal elite PMC’s today.

Of course liberals don’t want to hear this analysis. It’s far easier for them to imagine all Trump supporters as “white nationalists” and “racists”. That these liberals have largely been on the winning side of the great free-trade transformation of this country is conveniently ignored. I’ve got mine, jack. Learn how to code.

There’s a history to our populist moment. Going back to Reagan, wealthy and middle-class Americans were happy to trade tax cuts for a good and decent country. This abandonment provided the justification for eliminating well-paying jobs that didn’t require a college degree and shipping them to China to profit from much lower labor costs, and the refusal to invest in infrastructure while privatizing essential services. Even worse has been the callous disregard shown by wealthy liberal elites to the opioid epidemic and deaths of despair that are destroying families and communities all across the country.

There are numerous explanations but I think it’s largely that we don’t do socialism in America–full stop. Americans are trained from birth to “look out for yourself” and not expect help from others. But the fact is that nobody can actually look out for themselves. Interdependence is simply a fact of life in any complex economy. We all depend on state-created laws, regulations, subsides, and policies. Average Americans used to understand these things as part of their political education, but no longer. One hundred years of increasingly sophisticated propaganda will do that. The media’s success in bringing about subservience to their propaganda, public relations and advertising represents a huge incentive for more of the same to come.

Our two party system of governance also abets our disregard for fellow Americans, specifically where one political party moves dramatically to the right while the other follows along while pretending to provide an alternative. In reality both parties use their supporters as props. White nationalists and Black Lives Matter to the extent global capital deems absolutely necessary. Moreover, it’s apparent that both parties need each other. The increasing lunacy of the GOP that keeps frightened liberal voters satisfied with the meager crumbs of progress promised and unevenly delivered by the Democrats. The Democratic Party’s abandonment of the New Deal and embrace of shallow corporate liberalism keeps white working-class voters flocking to a GOP that only uses and abuses them.

The challenge for us with a deadly virus that’s shut down much of our country, destructive fires smoking out the west and hurricanes punishing the Gulf is that we are going to need to rediscover how to work together as Americans.

Unfortunately, as we head into fall, mass despair and this division into two opposing camps is just waiting for a spark to blow into a conflagration of rage. The result could easily spin out of anyone’s control.

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