Double-Truth

 

I know it’s hard to turn away from the ongoing dumpster fire that is the Trump administration but it’s imperative to understand how we got here.

Can you say neoliberalism?

The neoliberals first gathered at Mont Pelerin, circa 1947, in the aftermath of the Great Depression, and implementation of the New Deal. These right-wing economists, led by Friedrich Hayek, plotted to regain the the intellectual initiative after being relegated to the sidelines by  FDR, and the economic philosophies of John Maynard Keynes. After 70 years of dedicated work, employing a collection of affiliated think-tanks, neoliberal economic departments, astro-turf operations, and lavish amounts of funding, it’s clear that their efforts have won the day.

Trump is the latest indicator, even if he wasn’t the neoliberals first choice.

Indeed, it’s increasingly obvious that we’re under a bipartisan neoliberal regime: a marriage of governmental and corporate interests, pretending to be a democratic republic. In the process, neoliberalism has become ubiquitous, advancing into every aspect of our lives, economically, culturally, and politically. It’s like the air we breath.

To me it’s clear that the neoliberals have been successful largely because of their doctrine of double-truth, where there’s an esoteric truth for the neoliberal elite and an exoteric one for the rest of us, who are encouraged to be ignorant. Since this is America, where the neoliberals, along with their conservative allies, have waged a 40 year campaign against public education, this ignorance is baked in.

In Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste, economic/historian Philip Mirowski, says that double-truth allows the neoliberals to have their cake and eat it too. For example, the neoliberals preach that the market is the unforgiving arbiter of all political action; “but they absolve themselves from its rule.” They wax poetic about libertarian freedom but maintain a regimented hierarchy in their own political organizations. They endlessly sermonize about a spontaneous economic order, while seizing the state. And, now that they’ve taken over the state, they’ve elevated the sacred “market” as a site of truth for everyone except themselves.

A key component of double-truth is a tactic we’ve talked about before: agnotology. Agnotology is the deliberate sowing of doubt, confusion and ignorance. It’s the intentional manufacture of doubt and uncertainty in the general populace for specific political motives. Agnotology is very different from propaganda, where rather than emanating from  Big Brother, agnotology is a set of market based procedures. It situates the manufacture of doubt in the professions of advertising and public relations with help from think tanks and lobbying firms.

Think of the campaigns by the cigarette companies to cast uncertainty over the health effects of smoking, or the efforts by the Koch brothers to cloud the consensus over global warming.

This being America, where historical knowledge and perspective are in short supply, the agnotology efforts have been amazingly successful, as our recent history has convincingly demonstrated. Ask yourself why no one has been held accountable and there’s been no changes made to our neoliberal economic arrangement 10 years after the Wall Street Crash?

The 2008 economic meltdown was comparable to the stock market failure of 1929 that brought about FDR and the New Deal. After the 2008 crash, instead of the Pecora Commission, nationalization of banks, and prison time for the perpetrators, we got Barak Obama, the first bank president. In fact, Obama’s role was to prevent the changes that voters hoped to see, and indeed that the economy needed to recover: financial reform, debt writedowns to bring junk mortgages in line with fair market prices, and throwing crooked bankers in jail. Obama rescued the banks, not the economy, and turned over the Justice Department and regulatory agencies to his Wall Street campaign contributors.

Not only did Obama save the banks, but under the guidance of neoliberals like Tim Geithner and Ben Bernanke, the toxic mortgage-backed-securities of Wall Street that caused the crash were transferred onto the federal governments balance sheet burdening us with the debt while leaving the profits of the banks in private hands.

Since then we’ve had a chorus of voices, (think the Tea Party), denouncing government debt, and loudly calling for austerity, which has resulted in fire sales of government assets, firing unionized state employees and crude attempts to lower wages and renege on pensions.

You almost have to admire the sheer chutzpah of the neoliberals and their fellow travelers. With their strategic deployment of agnotology, coupled with Americans dim understanding of the events, the story turned out to have a familiar narrative–it’s all the fault of government. Even Obama, our progressive, community-organizer, president played along, lecturing us that the US government is just like a household and in response to the mountains of debt foisted upon us by Wall Street, we all needed to tighten our belts.

You can’t make this shit up.

Now I have to ask. Faced with the overwhelming power of neoliberalism, is resistance even possible? Is there really no alternative?

As I see it, if the neoliberals can use double-truth, then so can we. If they can treat laws as arbitrary then so can we. If their mantra is there is no society, only the market, then ours should be–Fuck-you! I won’t do what you tell me.

Of course there is a society. We just need to get busy building and fortifying it.

Here’s how.

 

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A Madness to the Method

 

A wise man said that the purpose of a nation is to build unity and deconstruct division.

That doesn’t describe our country, does it?

No, we’ve become a nation of the haves and have nots, riven by false partisan conflict. Team Red vs Team Blue.

Especially in the age of Trump. Since the election, liberals have lost their minds, depicting Trump as some sort of immaculate evil who came out of nowhere. However, Trump has simply tapped into the hatred that huge segments of the American public have for a political and economic system that has betrayed them.

Contrary to neoliberal propaganda we don’t have free markets, but we do have a billionaire-class that owns the government. What that means is that we have a capitalism without free markets that doesn’t provide the benefits of capitalism, and a democracy which has been captured by oligarchy which doesn’t provide the benefits of democracy.

Going further, the rewards showered upon society’s handful of winners have grown astronomically greater, while the rest of us are battered by austerity. The outcome is exactly what anyone would expect: people will do anything to be among the winners.

This poisonous morality has created a race to the bottom, where the billionaire-class argues that we can’t have fair financial markets, or worker safety, or clean air, or water, if we want to be rich. The only way that we can become wealthy is to get on board with their agenda, and subsume their values.

Examining the political parties and the interests they represent in this milieu is instructive.

The Republicans, if anything, are more honest. They make no bones about their unwavering support for the wealthy and corporations they own. They straight-up support plutocracy and yearn to return to the Lochner era of the early 20th century.

The Democrats pretend to support workers and claim to value diversity, but it’s all an act. They too support plutocracy. After all, they are neoliberals, where they believe that markets, rather than the demos is sacrosanct. And, since neoliberalism is predicated upon intervention to bring about the types of government and markets that the neoliberals believe are necessary for the success of capitalism, the Democrats have been busy. Rather than treating inequality as a bug, they believe that the plutocrats are the winners and urge the losers to up their game through education and re-training. We’re admonished to burnish our human-capital so that we can compete in the market.

To differentiate themselves from Republicans, the Democrats tout their commitment to identity politics. However, their support of identity politics sure seems insincere.  The Democrats care about identity politics–supporting more women, people of color and LGBT candidates–only when it doesn’t interfere with their embrace of neoliberalism and plutocracy, as the 2018 primary elections between progressives and establishment candidates bears out.

What’s so funny about the whole phony team red vs team blue partisanship is that it’s all kayfabe, where both parties support plutocracy, while dividing the electorate into rival camps, while their wealthy backers whistle all the way to the bank.

What’s not so funny is that the rhetoric is getting dangerously out of control, with partisans threatening violence.

However, this is a dangerous game.

It’s also a false read on our nations serious problems to put all of the blame on Trump and his supporters.

Genuine resistance is admitting and confronting our root problems which are deeply engrained and systemic. It means coming to terms with the fact that both parties support the plutocrats. It means accepting that Obama presided over George W. Bush’s third and forth terms and Trump is presiding over the fifth.

Obama’s terrible policies were deserving of intense criticism as are Trump’s, but thinking that merely switching out the  president is going to magically fix our problems is deranged.

 

 

 

 

 

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Mittens ‘R’ Us

 

I wrote a letter to the editor of the local newspaper expressing my surprise that they haven’t connected the bankruptcy of Toys ‘R’ Us with Mitt Romney, the man who’s poised to become our next senator. Mittens, as I like to call him, made his millions at Bain Capital, the private equity company at the heart of the Toys ‘R’ Us bankruptcy story

Don’t get me wrong, I fully comprehend the political economy of the mass media having read Manufacturing Consent, where Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman lay out a propaganda model of the corporate media. In light of their bias toward capital, it would be out of character for them to protest the “creative destruction” of a toy company. If anything, they would depict it as the unfortunate but inevitable risk of modern financial capitalism.

Still, it’s hard to believe that in a state that claims to value families and children the saga of a well known toy company that was driven into bankruptcy and who’s employees lost their pensions in the process would not be newsworthy. In other parts of the country the shocking and tragic bankruptcy has been noteworthy, while even congress has gotten involved. Perhaps the fact that Toy ‘R’ Us is stiffing workers on their severance, after petitioning the bankruptcy court in September to pay executives $20 million in incentive bonuses, was too obvious a case of looting to ignore.

A story in The Week,How vulture capitalists ate Toys ‘R’ Us,” recapped the slow strangulation under too much debt, after Bain, KKR, and Vornado bought the company in 2004 for $6 billion, with only $1.2 billion of that in equity:

“Whatever magic Bain, KKR, and Vornado were supposed to work never materialized. From the purchase in 2004 through 2016, the company’s sales never rose much above $11 billion. They actually fell from $13.5 billion in 2013 back to $11.5 billion in 2017.

On its own, that shouldn’t have been catastrophic. The problem was the massive financial albatross the leveraged buyout left around Toys ‘R’ Us’ neck…

In other words, if Bain, KKR, and Vornado had never come along, Toys ‘R’ Us wouldn’t be doing stellar, but it probably could’ve muddled through. As recently as last year, the company still accounted  for 20 percent of all U.S. toy sales.”

And, USA Today featured an op ed by Bill Pascrell, a New Jersey Congressman whose district included the company’s headquarters for 16 years: Amazon didn’t kill Toys R Us, greedy Wall Street profiteers did it.

Today Mittens won the Republican primary election, all but guaranteeing him a senate seat in red-state Utah come November. In his victory speech, Mittens lectured us about the evils of debt. “The country should live within its means.”

Ha, ha. That’s pretty rich coming from Mittens. Shameless doesn’t even come close to describing the vast hypocrisy. Rolling Stone’s gonzo journalist, Matt Taibbi, well describes how Mittens made his millions in an article that Utah journalists should be familiar with, but, of course, are not.

“And this is where we get to the hypocrisy at the heart of Mitt Romney. Everyone knows that he is fantastically rich, having scored great success, the legend goes, as a “turnaround specialist,” a shrewd financial operator who revived moribund companies as a high-priced consultant for a storied Wall Street private equity firm. But what most voters don’t know is the way Mitt Romney actually made his fortune: by borrowing vast sums of money that other people were forced to pay back. This is the plain, stark reality that has somehow eluded America’s top political journalists for two consecutive presidential campaigns: Mitt Romney is one of the greatest and most irresponsible debt creators of all time. In the past few decades, in fact, Romney has piled more debt onto more unsuspecting companies, written more gigantic checks that other people have to cover, than perhaps all but a handful of people on planet Earth.”

Americans are unaware of Mittens backstory because the corporate media maintains a discrete silence about this dark underbelly of our “new economy.” All the supposedly adversarial paper, The Salt Lake Tribune, was concerned with was what role Romney might play in regards to President Trump. Would he be, “a counterpoint or a cheerleader?” This follows a familiar pattern. They’ve been running a series of clueless articles wondering why Trump won the 2016 election, and why Utah’s continue to support him.

In my opinion, Trump won because elites like Mittens pretend to be moral counterpoints to the president, while in reality they’re both criminals who’ve looted the republic under the watchful eye of the corporate media. Trump also won because of the behavior of the so-called opposition party. Obama ran on a platform of Hope and Change but delivered neither. Instead he bailed out the bankers who destroyed the economy, while turfing millions of Americans out of their homes.

Many Americans may not comprehend all of the intricate details of the vast looting operation but they understand that their lives have gotten worse and the realize that the lives of their children will be worse still.

If we lived in a just society a con-man like Mittens would be in prison rather than poised to win a senate seat.

Is this a great country, or what?

 

 

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Look Around

 

The US has been at war since 9/11. First Bush, then Obama, now Trump, waging forever war.

With all the outrage directed at the Trump Administration’s actions at the border it’s like Americans have developed amnesia about our forever wars and the blowback that’s incurred.

Wake the fuck-up and look around. Bombing families and children with drones and murdering them with death squads is way more evil than separating them.

It’s time to be outraged at what our government is doing in Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Venezuala, and Honduras.

Yes, Honduras. Where do you think those refugees at the border are coming from? Our Nobel-Peace-Prize president, Barak Obama, with Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, green-lighted a coup in Honduras back in 2009, that brought  a vicious right-wing junta to power. The junta put an end to land reform and efforts to raise living standards, employing death-squads and criminal gangs to drive the process. All this was strongly encouraged by US corporations, who benefit from the low wage hell-hole that Honduras has returned to. The result has been an exodus of Hondurans who are desperately seeking a new life in the US.

So yeah, be outraged at what’s going on at our southern border, but put this outrage into some context.

Perversely, we should be thankful for our schizophrenic president. Under Trump’s watch the contradictions of late stage imperial capitalism, with the emphasis on constant war and financialization, are becoming both much more intense, and more obvious. And that’s scaring the hell out of our sociopathic elite.

Trump’s recent actions include: threatening to withdraw from NAFTA, potentially disrupting US multi-national supply chains; angering European allies with his withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and insistence on Russian inclusion in the G7 summit; overturning 70 years of US bellicose foreign policy towards North Korea, in the process trashing the whole neocon Axis of Evil formulation.

Trump’s surprise election threw the corporate media, the military-industrial complex, and the intelligence agencies into a panic as they confronted a crisis of legitimacy. Now firmly aligned with Hillary Clinton and the Democrats, their response was to pre-empt Trump’s threatened rapprochement with Russia with insinuations of treason. In the process they have further delegitimized virtually every U.S. institution, all the while blaming Vladimir Putin.

Furthermore, it’s like our whole country has gone crazy since Trump was elected. For example, we get tweets like this from former Republican Congressman Joe Walsh: “America is the brightest, most benevolent nation on earth. North Korea is the darkest, most horrific regime on Earth. We just gave them equal billing. We just sat at a table with them. There had better be something really, really good coming in return.”

Ha, ha. That’s funny. Ole Joe might believe that shit, but a lot of Americans are starting to ask questions.

For starters, why is America locked into forever war?

In my opinion, the forever war continues because it’s profitable for the the sociopathic elite and corporations that control our country. You know, the deep state, which should be thought of as the military/industrial/complex, the financial sector, Silicon Valley, and the corporate media.

Never forget that a mere 6 companies control 90% of the media in the U.S. Guess who runs these mega media corporations? That’s right. The same sociopathic elite who closely coordinate with government agencies like the NSA, CIA, Pentagon and DHS. Can you say Jeff Bezos?

Our reality is shaped by the corporate media narrative, but what the media presents is often determined by the complex reality of empire rather than by the factual evidence. In fact, there’s a systematic use of lies, plots and conspiracies to maintain our sociopathic elite power. For example: In Syria, the US accused Damascus of using poisonous gas against its own people in order to justify the US cruise missile attacks. In Libya, Obama and Hillary Clinton claimed President Gaddafi distributed Viagra to his armed forced to rape innocent civilians, precipitating the US-EU bombing of the country and rape and murder of President Gaddafi.

I suspect that many Americans have had this uneasy feeling for decades that despite their voting and petitioning governmental representatives, nothing seems to get better for non-rich people. Social services never get better. Wages never go up. Corporations do whatever they want. Criminals who are wealthy and connected never go to jail.

The wars go on and on.

So, yeah, look around and get mad. The only way to stop the madness is when Americans show up in the streets to demand an end to the forever wars.

 

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Is that all there is?

 

Gazing around our world it’s clear that neoliberalism has narrowed the possibilities.

Is that all there is?

Massive student debts, opioid addiction, homelessness and suicides. An economy based largely on scams and fraud, that leaves the vast majority of Americans poorer. Indeed, thanks to our pay-to-play political process, Wall Street was allowed to create an epidemic of mortgage backed security fraud that foreclosed the American-Dream for millions of our neighbors, while the bankers walked away with billions. In hindsight, it’s obvious that Barak Obama was elected precisely to not prosecute Wall Street.

Despite all the happy-talk by the corporate media about the surging economy, many American workers eke out a precarious existence. Just to make sure that there’s no confusion, CEO’s recently proclaimed that there will never be a raise again.

If you are fortunate to have a good, well paying job, your company could be taken over by Bain Capital and saddled with enormous amounts of debt so that the hedge fund guys can walk away with millions, while you’re kicked to the curb.

And if finding gainful employment with benefits wasn’t torturous enough, Silicon Valley wonder kids are promising a future of robots.

Jesus-fucking-Christ!

I believe that Trump won the 2016 election because of this narrowing of options for average Americans. He also won because of so-called free-trade deals that favor corporations and investors over workers. If you will recall Trump ran to the left of Clinton with his vociferous criticism of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and NAFTA. Now, to give the devil his due, he’s right to demand a sunset clause for NAFTA.

Right now the sociopathic elite that control our country are doubling down on the same neoliberal economic policies while stepping up their censorship of counter narratives. With the loss of their favored candidate–Hillary Clinton–and the general mood of rebellion, epitomized by the teachers strikes, they realize that internet censorship is necessary for their continues domination of American society.

Meanwhile, the political party that’s traditionally represented workers believes that it’s your own fault for not getting enough education or training, or having the right skill set, or maximizing your unique “human capital.”

You’d think that in this “marketplace of ideas,” a political party would arise to meet the demand for an economy that works for the rest of us.

In my opinion, the last two elections we’ve witnessed this demand. With Obama and now Trump, Americans are searching desperately for any alternative. However, instead what they get is more of the same.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

I do not see meaningful reform coming until the status quo in American party politics is repudiated and renewed again with a more democratic focus on people.

Our sociopathic elite will not go easily into the good night. The powerful, those who built and have been fabulously rewarded by the current system, will oppose any threat to their exorbitant privilege, which they see as perfectly justified and fully well-deserved by their education and hard work, never mind the sheer capriciousness of life.

Reading the business press, I’ve come to believe that the end game is autonomous robots, where the sociopathic elite can simply rule by force with no need for the messy manufacture of consent required.

We need to get busy. We don’t have much time.

 

 

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The limits of identity politics

 

I’m pretty sure this will not be a popular post, but I have to ask some uncomfortable questions.

Is US society better now that we have woman torturer as head of the CIA who also happens to be a lesbian?

Were we a more color-blind society when we had a black president who carried out more drone strikes than his white, frat-boy predecessor? Talk about affirmative action.

Are we a more moral society because my ski-client, a bank CEO who gained his millions ripping off Americans with sub-prime mortgages, happens to be openly gay?

What about our almost first female president who wants to blame her loss on everyone and everything, rather than looking in the mirror. Would we have been a better country with a woman president, who as Secretary of State, instigated coups and cackled at the gruesome death of Moamar Ghadafi?

Look, I love my gay friends and relatives and celebrate diversity, but these are the questions that keep me up at night.

As I’ve stated before, I could care less if you’re straight or gay, man or woman, all I care about are universal economic policies that benefit all Americans. I also care about the American empire and how much damage and suffering it causes both to our republic and neighbors.

Presently the policies pursued by our leaders benefit a small cohort of sociopathic elite to the detriment of the rest of us. Our political parties perpetuate this arrangement by dividing us along tribal fault lines.

The Democratic party, the center left, derives its authority from its values, centered on an identity politics version of human rights as a way to differentiate itself from the Republican party. Before the Democratic party was, in the New Deal tradition, much more populist and egalitarian, with a strong cohort of labor. Since the 70’s the Democrats have turned hard right on economic questions like labor, welfare, the regulatory state, anti-trust. A more conservative neoliberal orthodoxy has became the ideology.

Tellingly, the Democrats reject out of hand arguments that Trump’s victory signals a need to reconsider their neoliberal economic policies and continue to insist that redistributive social and economic policies are less meaningful to voters than cultural or racial group identities.

It’s become obvious that identity politics is another way in which our sociopathic elite divide and rule. As the last election demonstrated, Americans are being polarized at a rate rarely seen before, helped in no small measure by social-media algorithms that divide people along the lines of identity and tribe their underlying human connections rendered increasingly irrelevant. We’re being programmed and fed a narrative that keeps us fighting each other rather than the common enemy.

Going further, identity politics encourages us to celebrate diversity even as those diverse Americans promote policies that kill, torture or impoverish.

Diverse evil is still evil.

 

 

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Busy Little Termites

 

I find it perversely amusing that while doing good is so damn hard, doing evil is easy. Doing evil is especially easy in the service of wealth and power.

Take neoliberalism, a shape-shifting ideology so nefarious that its proponents dare not mention its name. Neoliberalism has succeeded as the ultimate evil precisely because it is the ideology that serves the wealthy. Indeed, the ideology of neoliberalism allowed the capitalist elite to overturn the New Deal, freeing them from a republic controlled by the unruly masses–we the people.

The way in which they accomplished their goal makes a fascinating story. It’s almost like there’s a neoliberal playbook, where neoliberals sabotage public policy then claim that government is the problem and the solution is markets. We can observe a familiar pattern of defunding, claiming crisis, then calling for privatization because the private sector is always more efficient than the government.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

To achieve their goals neoliberals will make any argument. This amorphousness of neoliberal ideology is on display with its claim that government fosters an out of control bureaucracy that impedes creativity. It turns out that neoliberals don’t have a problem with bureaucracy, per say, just who gets to control the bureaucracy. While in power, neoliberals may have subcontracted out parts of government, but that rarely makes a dent in bureaucracy. The coercive power of government inexorably grows. Only the neoliberal bureaucracy focuses on herding us into the market rather than solving problems in a democratic manner.

Hence, the stealth, shape-shifting ideology of neoliberalism. Neoliberals believe fervently that markets know best, but they also realize that most Americans don’t share this fervor and would resist having their political franchise restricted rather than broadened. Neoliberals understand that Americans would be enraged if their “freedom to chose” only entailed consumer choices rather than citizens rights.

This brings us the the authoritarian heart of neoliberalism. Neoliberal ideals would always be a hard sell, and the neoliberals realized that. After all, they can’t go around in public saying, “We must seize power and use all the tools of government to get the state to impose the ideal market on a recalcitrant populace.”

I’ve come to the realization that there’s no limit to the weapons in the neoliberal toolbox. As an example, take racism. Most of us would recognize the dark stain of slavery on our republic and be supportive of efforts to ameliorate its pernicious effects. Not neoliberals. Led by neoliberal gurus Milton Friedman and James Buchanan, they sabotaged school desegregation to enable the destruction of public education, all to bring about private charter schools.

“And I discovered that Milton Friedman, the Chicago school free market economist, had issued his first manifesto for such vouchers in 1955 in the full knowledge of how it could be used by the white segregationists of the South. And then I also stumbled onto a report by this James McGill Buchanan that we were discussing earlier, who essentially tried to pull the segregationist chestnuts out of the fire in early 1959, when a massive mobilization of moderate white parents had come together to try to save the schools from these school closures, and the bleeding of these tax monies out to private schools. And after the courts had ruled against school closures of schools that were planning to desegregate in Virginia.

The corporate media plays a special role in this situation. Neoliberal ideology spread through the corporate media from the 1980s, and they have continued to play a prominent role in its persistence through a decade of political and economic turmoil since the 2008 crash. In fact the corporate media plays such a large role in obfuscating what’s really going on that the American public remains clueless to these evil machinations.

We need to be vigilant and educate fellow Americans to the danger.

We must also create community across party lines. In this neoliberal milieu, creating and nourishing community is a revolutionary act.

 

 

 

 

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