Build Back Better

We’ve been instructed for 40 odd years that there’s no alternative to neoliberalism when it comes to how we organize our economy, but the attempt by the Biden administration to enact an infrastructure spending program looks to challenge this sentiment.

It’s not like an infrastructure spending program isn’t desperately needed after decades of neglect, it’s just that we’ve advanced the neoliberal project of hollowing out government to such a degree that it will be interesting to see how it all plays out.

For instance, how will the policy makers describe–intellectually–what they are trying to do?

It will be tempting to turn to US history with the New Deal and Great Society programs as a template. But any such gaze backwards will need to be tempered with a clear-eyed assessment of the shortcomings and historical anomalies of such programs. In other words, it’s not the 1930’s or even the 1960’s when the US was a much more rich, productive and blessed with an overabundance of natural resources.

We will also have to be cognizant of the actual political/economy of our present day country with its penchant for a permanent warfare state dominated by the military/industrial/complex and Wall Street. The notion that our government that’s waging nonstop disastrous wars and circling the planet with hundreds of military bases can spend money on “we the people” seems ludicrous.

We know, of course, where the Republicans stand on government after 40 odd years of describing it as the problem. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) told reporters that the $2.2 trillion plan that the White House unveiled Wednesday — which features major investments in infrastructure, climate measures and proposals to tackle inequality — “is not going to get support from our side.” He also reiterated his intention to oppose the broader Democratic agenda under Biden. “I’m going to fight them every step of the way because I think this is the wrong prescription for America.”

Republicans are also predictably opposed to the tax hikes on corporations and the wealthy that are included to pay for the plan. But, without the tax hikes to pay for the plan, the plan would likely be paid for by adding to the federal deficit, which Republicans have renewed their concerns about with Democrats in charge.

At this point it’s obvious that Republicans aren’t opposed to socialism per se but only socialism that benefits poor people and minoritiesSocialism for farmers and industrialists is just fine as far as they are concerned.

Sadly to say the Republican view has become the norm. Like I stated at the the beginning, we’ve been so far down the road of neoliberalism, with it’s penchant for privatization and financialization of infrastructure to even envision an alternative. Which sucks because the way in which government funded infrastructure before is what made America the envy of the world. It was a mode of economic development that represented the notion that any rent-yielding resource – banking, land, natural resources and natural infrastructure monopolies – should be in the public domain to provide basic needs to everybody – freely.

The impulse goes back to economists like Simon Patten who believe that to have a true free market the state needs to subsidize infrastructure to keep costs down, rather than having powerful monopolies enacting tollbooths at critical chokepoints. Patten said that public infrastructure is a fourth factor of production. But its role isn’t to make a profit. It’s to lower the cost of public services and basic inputs to lower the cost of living and lower the cost of doing business to make the economy more competitive.

The alternative way simply is to privatise these ‘public goods’ (as in the US), where they are provided at a financialized maximum cost – including interest rates, dividends, management fees, and corporate manipulations for financial gain. Presently our economy has become debt-driven, hyper-financialised, yet stagnant, making it hard to create a new business or spend money into the economy.

Debt eats us alive. Think about it: the biggest element in anyone’s budget today is housing at 40%, which simply reflects high house prices, based on a debt-fuelled market. Suppose too, you have low-cost public education. Well then, you are rid of education-led debt, and its interest cost. Suppose you have public healthcare, and low priced transport infrastructure. Then you would have the capacity to spend – It becomes a low-cost economy, and consequently it would grow.

Crazy talk, I know.

Going further, it’s been a long time since the U.S. was even a capitalist economy; it’s hardly even a market economy today. It has become, more and more, a rentier economy, dominated by financial interests controlled by the 1%.

Which brings us to the crux of the issue with the infrastructure proposal. Any such plan must be coordinated within an industrial policy that all advanced economies operate by. Critics of US economic policies lament that the country doesn’t have an industrial policy but they are missing the obvious. Every economy is planned it’s just that ours is planned by Wall Street, with its short term focus on next quarter’s bonuses.

Even if it was only up to the Democrat’s it appears that we are fucked. Because they’ve transitioned from a party that represented and wide panoply of American workers to one that represents the professional/managerial/class, there are serious problems with Biden’s infrastructure program, which ultimately doesn’t offer a realistic framework to upgrade America’s decaying infrastructure, revitalize U.S. manufacturing, and create the kinds of high-quality jobs that Biden promised to provide during his campaign. 

Instead, economist Marshall Aurerback, says that the new plan is a dog’s breakfast of neoliberalism and “woke” placebo reforms that avoid a lot of hard choices that might offend the party’s main constituencies. The historic, broadly based New Deal majoritarian coalition is no more. Today the Democratic Party exists to expand employment opportunities for college-educated, socially “woke” professionals, while adding new goodies for the personal needs of the professional managerial class. 

From the slogan that they have chosen it seems that Biden and the members of his team learned a valuable lesson from their time in the Obama administration. Don’t do better policy when you can do better PR.

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Oh, So Super

Have you wondered why US foreign policy never seems to change irrespective of which candidate or party resides in the White House? Or why it seems that the route to riches in America is through looting? Or why it seems that we’ve entered a new Gilded Age, with vast inequality, enormous monopolies, and our so-called public servants captured by the rich?

You’re in luck for in this weeks episode I’m going to connect these seemingly unrelated topics and see if we can’t make some sense of this crazy old world.

So much of our society is constructed from narratives. Freedom, democracy, ideology, religion, law, politics, government, language, money and economics. These are all made up conceptual constructs from the narratives we’ve decided are true and real.

Making sense of these narratives is crucial in regard to our economy, and especially to the creation of money. For example, we’ve become so disconnected from money and credit that we allow Wall Street to create it for us at an enormous cost.

To embark on a counter economic narrative it’s imperative to have a trusted guide. As far as heterodox economist’s go there’s no one better than Michael Hudson.

Michael Hudson is an American economist and professor of economics at the University of Missouri, Kansas City and a researcher at the Levi Economics Institute at Bard college. He’s a former Wall Street analyst, political consultant, commentator, and journalist.

Hudson is the author of J is for Junk EconomicsKilling the HostThe Bubble and Beyond, and Super Imperialism: the Economic Strategy of American Empire (He released an updated version in 2003).

Hudson first wrote Super Imperialism, about how America dominates the world financially, and gets a free ride, back in 1971. It was a small printing without a lot of buzz. The largest customers were the CIA and the Pentagon who viewed it as a sort of how-to manual.

At the time the US was trying to wind down the Vietnam war – which was responsible for the entire balance-of-payments deficit, and which forced the country to go off gold. And everybody at that time worried the dollar was going to go down. There’d be hyperinflation. But what happened was something entirely different.

Once there was no gold to settle U.S. balance-of-payments deficits, America’s strong armed its allies to invest in US Treasury bonds, because central banks don’t buy companies. They don’t buy raw materials. All they could buy is other government bonds. So, all of a sudden, the only thing that other countries could buy with all the dollars coming in were US Treasury securities. The securities they bought essentially were to finance yet more war making and the balance-of-payments deficit from war and the 800 military bases America has around the world.

The Super Imperialism Hudson describes is the basis of the US empire, one that we seized from Great Britain at the close of WWII. Reading it today clarifies why the Biden administration has continued to maintain cordial relation with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) despite their penchant for dismembering critics. It also explains why the US is bound and determined to accelerate a new Cold War with Russia and China.

Maintaining the dollar as the worlds reserve currency and preserving the US’s financial hegemony is paramount. US foreign policy flows from this crucial dynamic. The KSA, as the worlds largest producer of oil, is required to price its oil in dollars. Russia and China were supposed to follow the Washington Consensus, and allow crooked comprador’s, backed by US financial interests, to seize control of the commanding heights of their respective economies, rather than forge their own economic path. Especially galling to US planners is the attempt by both countries to create a alternative economic arrangement that eschews dollars.

Hudson also describes how Super Imperialism has wrecked havoc here at home. This is where Hudson is so invaluable in cutting through the deeply misleading and harmful narratives about money, credit and the economy. Hudson’s key insight is that our economy has devolved from a productive one to an extractive one. He reminds us that all economies are planned, but the US economy is planned by Wall Street, who is focused on looting our once productive economy and putting American citizens into debt.

For instance, the banks and hedge funds who created the 2008 Wall Street Crash continue to be the big winners, thanks to the Federal Reserve policy of Quantitative Easing. The losers are the working-class Americans who were encouraged to borrow recklessly, while being blamed for the crisis.

The problem is that our society, with its focus on hyper individualistic striving, creates and rewards manipulative sociopaths and psychopaths and promotes a system which rewards a lack of empathy. This focus, to no ones surprise, has produced an extractive economy with gross inequality and a political system captured by an unaccountable oligarchy of greedy sociopaths.

Thus we get a domestic economy dominated by finance, focused on extraction rather than production. It’s systemic, where the rewards are tilted with the looters lionized as “masters of the universe”. My own senator is emblematic of this dynamic. Even as he “earned” his fortune by buying companies, firing the workers and loading them up with debt, so that he and his partners could walk away with millions, he’s celebrated as a savvy businessman and statesman of integrity. Of course it didn’t hurt that he was a critic of Trump, but that’s another story.

By allowing finance to come to dominate our economy we get a situation that Hudson describes as neofeudalism. “What you’re having today is an attempt by the financial sector to take on the role that the landlord class had in Europe, from feudal times through the 19th century. It’s a kind of resurgence of feudalism.”

We also get an extremely dangerous foreign policy with its desperate attempt to maintain financial dominance even at the risk of world war.

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Do Good

The signs are everywhere. On cars, hats, even face masks, but what does this ubiquitous saying–“Do Good”–really tell us about our milieu?

I’m pretty sure that this saying, like pretty much everything else in our world, is public relations (PR)–bullshit.

Going further, I believe that the “Do Good” saying relates to the American empire, where our feral elite are desperately trying to recast the project with a liberal patina. This is the ultimate reason for the policing of language, cancel culture, and woke, even the faux environmentalism that liberal’s profess.

The reek of colonialism is being exorcised from the imperial project through the launch of war on ‘white supremacy’ and on racial and social injustice. The “Washington Consensus” has been recast as ‘saving the planet’ from climate change; saving all humanity from the pandemic; and safeguarding us all from a coming global financial crisis.

It’s called the Great Reset.

The current Great Reset is a process of metamorphosis – a change in Western values, and paradigm. It is the passage to a new kind of liberalism, one that sweeps gender and identity into fluidity. This latter aspect is not some anomaly–it is ‘something’ essentially embedded within in the logic of liberalism.

Unfortunately, as Trump’s election, Brexit and a host of other populist challenges have demonstrated, once control over the justifying myth of the American “liberal order” was lost, the mask was off. This is the foreign policy challenge the Biden administration faces as they desperately attempt to reestablish American hegemony. So far, as the Alaskan Summit with China where the tone deaf Secretary of State Blinken insulted the Chinese, followed by the disastrous interview where Biden called Russian President Putin a “killer”, it’s not going well.

The essential problem for the US is that nothing has really changed. It’s been 18 years since the invasion of Iraq–a monstrous war crime–and the same political and media class who supported it are still in power. The same corrupt, depraved power establishment which facilitated the Iraq war are still our leaders! And these are the same people who going to be in charge going forward with their fucking Reset, or whatever fucking makeover they foist on us.

Thus we arrive at the new, kinder and gentler empire. One with a smiley face and the proper pronouns.

With a perfect slogan–Do Good.

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Who is it good for?

My liberal friends and family are exited about the Biden administration’s domestic policies: the $1400 checks; the assistance to children; potential infrastructure spending; and progressive cabinet picks. The liberal corporate media, exemplified by the New York Times, probably has something to do with it. For example, the ridiculous accolades about the Biden administration’s pathetic, paltry relief package demonstrates how the corporate media is in the bag for the new administration after their horror at Trump.

There is little mention, however, of Biden’s foreign policies.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration appears to be moving towards war in a number of areas. Not war, where the US commits troops–silly. Those days are over thanks to the ham-fisted efforts of the Bush neocons: the gang that couldn’t shoot straight. Now the US wages war via proxy with some special-forces training super-sauce, covert weapons provision and support.

I’ve discussed it before but my method to make sense of our world is to watch the movements of money, resources, weapons, and ignore all the corporate media narrative.

Following that logic, it sure looks like the US is determined to continue a Cold War with Russia.

They’re hardly being shy about it.

new report from the US National Intelligence Council assesses that Russia attempted to meddle, once again, in our sacred elections. “We assess that Russian President Putin authorized, and a range of Russian government organizations conducted, influence operations aimed at denigrating President Biden’s candidacy and the Democratic Party, supporting former President Trump, undermining public confidence in the electoral process, and exacerbating sociopolitical divisions in the US,” the report informs us. “The Biden admin is expected to announce sanctions related to election interference as soon as next week,” sources say.

To no ones surprise, this completely unevidenced narrative is being used to justify support for increased “defense” spending, and new Cold War escalations. Going further, I believe that this report is a continuation of Russia-gate despite the failure of the three-year Mueller investigation to find a scrap of evidence. Also, to no ones surprise, the corporate media all rushed to treat it as gospel: no questioning of it, no skepticism, no demands to see evidence for it, not even any acknowledgement that no evidence was provided. They just instantly enshrined claims from US intelligence agencies as Truth

One of the features of this new and improved Cold War is to provoke multiple crisises in the former Soviet republics. From the Balkans to Georgia to Armenia to Belarus, well, you get the picture.

Yet nowhere is the potential for violence greater than in the Ukraine. Several Russia watchers – Patrick ArmstrongAndrei Martyanov and Andrei Raevsky–are warning of a renewed attack by the government of Ukraine on its eastern Donbass region. The Donbass separated in 2014 after the U.S. driven coup in Kiev installed an anti-Russian government which then waged a war on its ethnic Russian east.

To make sense of this it’s crucial to remember that Washington’s role in the ouster of the former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who was democratically elected, caused Russia to annex Crimea, rather than the oft repeated canard about the Russians “invading”. The US fully supported the opposition in Ukraine during demonstrations in 2013 and 2014, an opposition that even had a neo-nazi element. They were hardly shy about it. A few weeks before Yanukovych was forced out, a recording of a phone call between then-US Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt and Victoria Nuland, who was working in the State Department at the time, was leaked and released on YouTube.  In the now-infamous phone call, Nuland and Pyatt discussed who should replace the government of Yanukovych.

Like the ethnic Russians in Crimea, the ethnic Russians in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region vehemently rejected the post-coup government in Kyiv, sparking the war that has killed tens of thousands. The context of US involvement in the coup that sparked these events is crucial, especially when discussing US foreign policy in the years since the dissolution of the USSR with the maniacal focus on color revolutions and regime change. There’s an argument to be made that neither the annexation of Crimea nor the war in the Donbas would have happened the way it did if not for US intervention.

Since the coup, the Ukrainian military has received a great deal of assistance from the US, both in terms of equipment/money and in terms of training. And now, most ominously, there are clear signs that the Ukrainian military is moving heavy forces towards the line of contact in the Donbas.

What would happen if the Ukrainians restart the conflict and attack? I’ve come to believe that the real point of a Ukrainian attack on the Donbass would not be reconquer the region, but to force Russia to openly and, therefore, undeniably intervene. This is the Biden administration’s unspoken objective and has been a Neocon wet dream since 2014 and it is still their ultimate endgame. 

Thus nothing will happen on the frontline without the consent or even encouragement from Washington DC. The Biden administration is filled with the same delusional people who managed the 2014 coup in Kiev. They may believe that the NATO training the Ukrainian army received and the weapons the U.S. delivered are sufficient to defeat the separatist. But the state of the Ukrainian military is worse than one might think and the separatist will have Russia’s full backing. There is no question who would win in such a fight.

Perhaps updating Edwin Starr’s classic R&B hit to War (Who is it good for?) would help provide a clue as to why the US seems determined to accelerate a new Cold War that threatens to turn hot at any time. The Military/Industrial/Complex (MIC), with its interlocking nodes in every congressional district, spurred on by the financial aristocracy on Wall Street, is the ultimate beneficiary of any such conflict, with trillions of dollars at stake. While a continuation of the Cold War with Russia does nothing for the average American, for the MIC–war is good for them. Very good. As the saying goes–there’s gold-in-them-thar-hills.

The MIC depends on influential think-tanks for its ideological justification and legitimacy, and a great representation of the MIC’s ideology would be the Atlantic Council. The think tank receives contributions from the top US weapons makers, including Raytheon, General Atomics, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman. The Atlantic Council is also funded by NATO, an alliance that has an interest in keeping tensions high and presenting Russia’s annexation of Crimea as an unprovoked “invasion.”

Red and blue partisans are equally convinced that their team is on the side of the angels, while the other team is the devil incarnate. However, observing our bipartisan foreign policy suggests that the both have a passing familiarity with Satan.

How surprising.

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Invisible Government

Walter Lippmann, Edward Bernays and the other social scientists who made up the Creel Commission developed the techniques of advertising, public relations and propaganda. These men manipulated the American public into World War I at the behest of US and British bankers.

Wait. World War I wasn’t about freedom and democracy?

No.

US President Woodrow Wilson, who ran on a platform of neutrality, was desperate to fulfill his obligations to these bankers, who stood to lose everything if Germany should prevail, by putting the US into the war as they wished. But Wilson was having little success with public opinion at home as few Americans wanted to enter the European conflagration. In 1917 Wilson founded what was called The Committee on Public Information, or more commonly known as the Creel Commission after the name of the leader of the commission. They used every weapon available to spread their message to, as George Creel would later say, “turn the American people into one white-hot mass of hatred . . .”

It’s not too much to say that the Creel Commission shaped our modern world beyond our knowledge, creating a cluster of images and ideas so powerful that, in a sense, they colonized the American imagination. It is impossible to fundamentally grasp the social, political, economic and cultural developments of the past 100 years without some understanding of their legacy. Everything we have seen, read, or heard that demonized other nations, usually leading to military intervention or “color revolutions”, stems from their template.

The propaganda they developed drives the entirety of US foreign policy on the global stage today. No ordinary American benefits from the US having troops in Syria, sanctioning Venezuelans to death, supporting Saudi Arabia while it destroys Yemen, garrisoning the planet with military bases and working to subvert any nation which refuses to bow to its diktats.

The only way to get Americans to consent to any of these agendas is to propagandize them into doing so.

Until the First World War, these theories of creating an entirely false public opinion based on misinformation, then manipulating this for population control, were still only theories, but the astounding success of propaganda by Bernays and his group during the war laid bare the possibilities of perpetually controlling the public mind on all matters.

In his main work titled Propaganda, which he wrote in 1928, Bernays argued that the manipulation of public opinion was a necessary part of democracy in which individuals were inherently dangerous (to the elite control of America) but could be harnessed and channeled by these same elites for their economic benefit. “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.”

Bernays, who was Sigmund Freud’s nephew, was apparently stunned by the outstanding success of the Creel Commission in swaying public opinion in favor of war, and so immediately began to apply his model to peacetime enterprises. For example, he deployed the same techniques of manipulation to encourage cigarette smoking amongst woman, with his Torches of Freedom advertising campaign.

The propaganda developed by the Creel Commission is the single most overlooked and under-emphasized aspect of our society, bar none. It’s so pervasive that most of us don’t even notice it. It’s like that old joke about the two fish who are asked “How’s the water?” and then turn to each other and say “What’s water?”

Most American vehemently reject out of hand the notion that they are propagandized. They consider themselves “rugged individuals” who make up their own damn mind, without any pointy-headed, psychologists funny ideas, thank-you very much.

They would be wrong. Propaganda is as American as apple pie. This is what led CIA Director William Casey to state, “We’ll know our disinformation program is complete when everything the American public believes is false.” 

I’ve personally witnessed four propaganda campaigns designed to whip Americans into a war fever. The first Gulf War, where the conflict was sold to the American public by the Rendon Group. The invasion of Iraq, where the men who sold the war were so sure of the outcome that they could boast that “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.” Russia-gate, which I’ve written about exhaustedly; and now the, ongoing effort to demonize China.

The latest polling data on American’s attitudes towards Russia and China demonstrates just how powerful our all-American propaganda system is.

US military force is never, ever conducted with the American people’s informed consent. Literally never. Consent is always manufactured for US wars by lies and mass media propaganda, one hundred percent of the time, without exception. The bigger the military operation, the more egregious the deceit used to manufacture consent for it. 

Americans are subject to a nonstop deluge of distorted and outright false narratives about their military and the nations it targets for destruction. Every aspect of the US-centralized power alliance is propped up by a relentless deluge of mass-scale propaganda that was scientifically refined by Bernays and Lippmann.

It’s getting worse.

The increasing censorship on the internet and control over information is but one manifestation of elite fear of popular rage and desperation. So, too, is the related attempt by the corporate media to regain their monopoly over news and discourse by discrediting anyone in opposition to them. It’s why Julian Assange rots in a British prison.

Indeed, the increasingly despised corporate elite will seek to weaken that which most threatens their interests and power: a discourse and a democracy that they can no longer manipulate and control. After all, if you let people think for themselves, you lose the ability to control everything.

All our major problems are caused by a lack of awareness and can be alleviated by exposing the “invisible government” that manipulates our country. This is why fighting propaganda, opposing censorship, protecting press freedoms and exposing the truth of what’s really going on in our world is so important.

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On a path towards radicalization

I’ve always been fascinated by understanding how our world really works. Not the bedtime stories told by our parents, teachers and corporate media talking-heads but the real events that shape our world. It’s why I try to read everything I can get my hands on from a disparate variety of sources.

These bedtime stories, better known as propaganda, buttress the official narrative promulgated by our corporate deep-state. Unfortunately, the political, economic and media elite have come to believe this propaganda after decades of marinating in it.

Thus, no viable ideas or solutions to the current unfolding economic, social and cultural catastrophe can originate within this elite, who see the world only through a New York Times or Washington Post lens. 

Instead the elite are solely focused on maintaining their wealth, power and status as America disintegrates. And why wouldn’t they? Generations of bi-partisan economic policies have left the 1% not only in possession of massively increased wealth, but also political power. 

Time magazine’s article on this dynamic is remarkably direct: The Top 1% of Americans Have Taken $50 Trillion From the Bottom 90% — And That’s Made the U.S. Less Secure.

“The $50 trillion transfer of wealth the RAND report documents has occurred entirely within the American economy, not between it and its trading partners. No, this upward redistribution of income, wealth, and power wasn’t inevitable; it was a choice–a direct result of the trickle-down 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.”

For our corporate media the focus is not on the way in which our country has been looted but on how they as the gatekeepers are being disrespected. Seriously. You can’t make this shit up.

I think it’s a little too late for that nonsense. Most Americans have lost faith in the feral elite and their institutions. Going further, they’ve come to understand that traditional news outlets like the Times and Post have become tools of the very corporate and political interests they’re supposed to be overseeing. Indeed, the corporate media has become increasingly, arrogantly dysfunctional as traditional competition in the form of local newspapers and urban alt-weeklies has died out.

Americans increasingly sense the vast betrayal. In the middle of a pandemic they feel vulnerable and afraid. More than that they feel an inchoate rage at being abandoned by their putative leaders. People give different reasons for that unhappiness but the broad mass of America is getting pretty ready to rip the place apart. This rage is often expressed as hatred of foreigners or those who are different or vengeance against scapegoats, religious and ethnic chauvinism and nihilistic violence. It drives the tribal hatred that powers both sides of the corporate media, who monetizes this hate to sell ads. It drives Americans into the arms of rancid and insincere populists like Donald Trump.

The Biden administration, in the thrall of neoliberal Austerians, has reduced the promised checks from $2000 to $1400 that will be means-tested. The eviction and foreclosure bans, debt relief and enhanced unemployment insurance are all about to end, replaced with nothing. The gig economy appears to be the future of work, fueled by the recent California Proposition 22. Millions will lose healthcare.

And now, just in time, the liberal intelligentsia has proclaimed that the real villain is Dr. Seuss. 

Unfortunately it’s a dangerous time to be such a trenchant critic. The last 4 years of the Trump administration have demonstrated that any person criticizing America along similar lines, must therefore be a Russian agent or a traitor or, worst of all–on the path towards radicalization. For example, in America, you cannot be patriotic while condemning neoliberal capitalism or the frequent wars for empire, and it is distinctly unpatriotic to express a wish for a single-payer healthcare system or to protest against the banksters who caused much of the population to lose their homes in 2008. 

Yet, to fail to act, and to protest this state of affairs is a form of spiritual death. It means succumbing to nihilism, cynicism and ultimately numbness, robbing us of our humanity. It’s to be an accomplice.

To refuse to cooperate and protest is the path to maintaining our humanity, our personal autonomy and life itself. Rebellion is its own justification, especially against the theatre of cruelty our feral elite have constructed to oppress us. Rebellion helps keep alive the hope that there can be an alternative.

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Go Die

The Texas black-out debacle is providing as pure an expression of neoliberalism that I’ve seen. The two simple rules of neoliberalism are Rule #1: Because markets. Rule #2: Go die!

As Texas battles a severe snowstorm and mass power outages, Tim Boyd, the now-former Republican mayor of Colorado City, revealed his party’s plan for the deadly extreme temperatures linked to climate change. In a lengthy Facebook post that was deleted soon after it went viral, then-Mayor Boyd told his residents that they were entirely on their own as the brutal winter weather caused mayhem and deaths across the Lone Star state.

His outburst was revealing. “Sink or swim it’s your choice!” he wrote. “The City and County, along with power providers or any other service owes you NOTHING! Only the strong will survive and the weak will perish.” For such honesty to come from the elected leader of a city–a man literally chosen by his people to ensure that local government works for them–was shocking.

What was not shocking was that conservative ideologues immediately blamed communist windmills and non-existent Green-New-Deals for the loss of power. However, while the non-weatherized windmills went offline, they were a small part of the story. The real story is that millions of Texans have suffered the effects of a design, invented by economists, aided by a myth, that served the fossil fuel industry and the politicians it funds. One of these politicians, US Senator Ted Cruz, acted in perfect synchronicity with the system’s free-market logic by leaving for Cancún. Meanwhile, former Governor Rick Perry claims that Texans are prepared to sacrifice themselves to avoid the curse of socialism. 

How noble.

The conservative mindset can be counted on to prioritize private interests over public ones. In a Republican utopia, the rich are noble and deserving of basic necessities, comforts, and life itself. If they have rigged the system to benefit themselves, it means they are smart, not conniving. In the future that Republicans promise, “Only the strong will survive and the weak will perish,” as Boyd stated. Our lives are expendable, and if we die, it is because we deserve it and we were not smart enough to survive.

Meanwhile, Democrats, while not as callous, are also down with organizing our country according to the rules of neoliberalism. Take education, another public service that has been privatized through the use of tax credits and charter school funding. Both Republican, Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos and Democratic, Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan believe fervently in the magic of private charter schools with the only difference being that Arne knows to keep the sociopathy on the down-low while Betsy expresses it full-throatedly.

What this latest tragedy makes blindingly obvious is that the 2 rules of neoliberalism apply unevenly. The 1% and their economic and political allies are not held to the same market logic as the rest of us. No, it’s socialism and a vacation in Mexico for them, while the savagery of the “free market” is reserved for the rest of us. And, they certainly don’t go die. They and their malign offspring live forever.

What’s also become apparent is that what happened in Texas is not a bug but a feature. Neoliberalism is an ideology that prioritizes profits above people and maintains that the “market” is sacrosanct then describes its brutality as the workings of the “Invisible Hand”. All of this to keep you afraid of what could happen in case you lose your job or insurance or can’t make rent and end up living under a bridge. Death and suffering isn’t an accidental outcome or an oversight–it’s part of the plan.

What all this means is that if you reside in a neoliberal austerity country like the US, which has spent 40 years de-regulating and privatizing public infrastructure and downsizing the public service into incapability, you end up with a situation where you can’t count on the State for water, food, or power during emergencies.

In the meantime our elected leaders are literally hoping you go die.

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Of the erosion of international norms of war and the Western commitment to them

For the last five years we’ve been bombarded by story after story of Trump being a secret Russian agent directed personally by Vladimir Putin, while the Russians are portrayed as being particularly villainous.

Why, dear reader, do you think that is?

I believe that this propaganda campaign is in direct response to the maneuvers of the Russian military to stymie the US empire in the Ukraine and in Syria. But Russia, as a country free from the clutches of the American empire, would always be targeted. Going further, the deep state that manages US foreign policy, irrespective of parties or personal, attacked Trump with Russia-gate for his declaration to improve relations between the two nuclear armed super-powers.

I like to read. In so doing I try to follow the example of the legendary citizen journalist Izzy Stone. Stone didn’t bother trying to interview government officials or cultivate sources. He simply read official government documents and used his critical thinking to question the official “narrative”. I’m also partial to C. Wright Mills term “crackpot realism” that he used during the first Cold War as a way to describe the insanity of our leaders.

In 2019 a report from the Pentagon centric RAND think-tank, evaluated how to best ‘unbalance and overextend’ Russia. In the end it was clearly aimed at regime change in Russia, or if not otherwise possible, war.

Meanwhile, Gabriel Felbermayr, the president of the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, was asked by a German radio station about new sanctions the EU might impose on Russia. He is skeptic that those might work because: The aims we have towards Russia are very big. We do not want anything less but regime change in Russia, which is difficult to achieve by economic pressure.

President Biden’s new pick to be the Under-Secretary of the State Department was the author of a very interesting  final report that was presented to Congress in September 2019 by the Syria Study Group: “…The threats the conflict in Syria poses—of terrorism directed against the United States and its allies and partners; of an empowered Iran; of an aggrandized Russia; of large numbers of refugees, displaced persons, and other forms of humanitarian catastrophe; and of the erosion of international norms of war and the Western commitment to them—are sufficiently serious to merit a determined response from the United States. The United States underestimated Russia’s ability to use Syria as an arena for regional influence. Russia’s intervention, beginning in 2015, accomplished its proximate aim—the preservation of the regime in defiance of U.S. calls for Assad to ‘go’—at a relatively low cost. Russia has enhanced its profile and prestige more broadly in the Middle East.

What goes unmentioned in this report is that Russia intervened in both Syria and Crimea as a direct response to US regime change actions. The US, despite its commitment to the “international norms of war”, utilized al Qaeda terrorists in its campaign to oust Syria’s Assad, and neo-Nazi’s in the Ukrainian coup.

Despite this being an open secret, a DC Circuit has ruled that the CIA is under no obligation to comply with Freedom of Information Act requests pertaining to its involvement with insurgent militias in Syria, overturning a lower court’s previous ruling in favor of a Buzzfeed News reporter seeking such documents.

As Sputnik‘s Morgan Artyukhina clearly outlines, this ruling comes despite the fact that mainstream news outlets have been reporting on the CIA’s activities in Syria for years, and despite a US president having openly tweeted about those activities.

Indeed, it’s public knowledge that the CIA trained, armed and directed these violent jihadists as part of Timber Sycamore. It’s public knowledge that the CIA has a well-documented history of doing extremely evil things. And it’s public knowledge that the US government has long sought control over Syria.

The US empire deploys the military, intelligence agencies and regime-change NGO’s like the National Endowment for Democracy for three main reasons: (1) to forcibly open up countries to foreign investment, (2) to ensure the free flow of natural resources into the hands of multinational corporations, and (3) because war is profitable.

And now the Biden administration, as evidenced by its endless coterie of neocon picks to staff their foreign policy, is demonstrating that they are set to resume the very same evil policies that make a mockery of the their commitment to “international norms of war”.

What’s beyond insane is that this extraordinary contradiction can go unnoticed for years while Washington justifies bombing and dispossessing millions of people in eight countries as “bringing them democracy”.

We are so living in George Orwell’s 1984, where we’ve always been at war with East Asia, while Newspeak limits our ability to think and articulate subversive concepts such as those expressed on this blog.

Hope that doesn’t’t make me a “domestic terrorist”.

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Hedge Fund Nation

It has become apparent that we are ruled by economic sociopaths, more commonly known as hedge funds.

This dynamic has not gone unnoticed. A new survey suggests the GameStop saga has become a very real lightning rod for anti–Wall Street sentiment. In her introduction to the study, Morning Consult reporter Claire Williams was unequivocal: “One of the biggest takeaways of the GameStop Corp. market mayhem so far, according to new Morning Consult polling, is that Wall Street remains the public’s top villain.”

In an amazing new article Matt Taibbi finds that one Reddit investor saw GameStop as a way to send a message to this “villain”.

This is just a small sample but it speaks to a larger truth–Americans increasingly hate Wall Street and especially hedge funds. Millions of Americans have come to correctly recognize that Wall Street is antagonistic to their interests. Of course the pandemic has only poured fuel on this sentiment–the astonishing boom enjoyed by major corporations and financial firms amid widespread poverty and unemployment is highlighting yet again just how severed from the country the Wall Street prosperity really is.

The economic damage is literally incalculable–millions have been plunged into desperate poverty, countless independent businesses crushed, whole industries crippled, as billionaires amassed over $1 trillion in wealth and their vehicles for enrichment–hedge funds–consolidate their dominance over our country.

A recent headline in our local paper–Hedging Bets on Water’s Future–detailed the extent of our subservience to the new financial lords. “Hedge funds and other Wall Street interests want to rewrite the ‘Law of the River’ in the Colorado River Basin and use the free market to solve the problem of scarcity–while potentially raking in immense profits”

I’m sure that letting hedge funds get their hand on our water supply will work out swimmingly. (Pun intended). Perhaps the citizens of Flint Michigan can offer up a lesson or two on such folly?

The financial world we live in is the end result of neoliberalism – a financialized world order that intends to privatize all infrastructure and create monopoly rents for transportation, education, healthcare, and let banks and hedge funds control our economy. Presently our economy is based largely on debt and asset price bubbles.

Heterodox economist Michael Hudson says that, “in the United States the center of economic planning has been shifted from Washington to Wall Street financial institutions.” These financial parasites goal is “to take it over and turn public infrastructure – the education system, healthcare, transportation and communications – into rent extraction devices. The American economy is no longer a productive economy. It is a rent-seeking economy.

All of it was brought about by decisions to favor finance over the real economy, starting with the decision to offshore American manufacturing. Offshoring served the interests of corporate executives and shareholders. The lower labor costs raised profits and, thereby, executive bonuses and the prices of the stocks, resulting in capital gains for shareholders. These benefits accrued to a small percentage of the population. For everyone else these closely held benefits imposed huge external costs many times greater than the rise in profits.

The offshoring of high productivity, high value-added manufacturing jobs reduced American incomes, US aggregate domestic demand was impacted and economic growth fell. The Federal Reserve expanded credit and substituted an increase in consumer debt for the missing growth in consumer income, while the effective zero percent interest rates extended to Wall Street in the wake of the Crash of 2008 blew an enormous asset bubble inhaled by our ruling plutocracy.

As incomes fell for the bulk of the American population, incomes rose for the financial 1%. Income and wealth gains have been concentrated at the top resulting in the United States today having one of the most unequal distributions of income and wealth in the world.

This is the milieu we inhabit. A hedge fund nation, where the well-heeled perpetrators–the ones who crash our economy and invade and destroy countries–fail upwards, while the rest of us sink downwards.

Update: Chris Arnade, who writes of the devastation visited on our country by the economic sociopaths, predicts where this all goes.

“The lesson taken away by those losers, and everyone else not on Wall Street, is more important, insightful, and dangerous though. It will be that there isn’t a meritocracy, or at least a justified one. It will be that everyone is just playing games. Those at the top get to dress up their game, even though it is destructive to everyone else, as legitimate, call playing it a career, and get rewarded mightily for it. Others, like them, have to make it a hobby, and even though it is just harmless fun, get scolded for it.

This will harden a cynicism that already exists in large parts of America. A cynicism that will convince more and more people to play all of their life, recklessly. To do what is known in gaming circles, as Int-ing, or Intentionally dying. Running madly at the boss, unworried if they are going to lose, suffer, or die.

Because if you are not going to be allowed to win a rigged game, you might as well ruin it, and extract just a tiny moment of joy from that.”

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Friends and Family

There was a meme a few years back during the Obama administration where liberals were encouraged to relate how they had lost a family member to Fox News propaganda.

During the Trump administration the narrative managers flipped the script, with the New York Times taking on the role of Fox News.

While the Fox News watching cohort believed all of the rumors and innuendos about Obama’s citizenship, with the whole Birther thing, the friends and family reading the Times have come to believe all of the rumors and innuendos about Trump being a Russian agent and Putin specifically as some sort of super-villain who has personally soiled American democracy.

What’s been the most craziest thing is that these liberals have come to see the CIA as a Resistance hero against the dastardly Trump. They were aghast because the poor CIA had been maligned and disrespected by Trump, who (among other things) claimed it exaggerated the role played by Russia in the 2016 election.

Not long ago, the CIA was viewed with disgust by like-minded liberals. It was the government agency that overthrew foreign governments, deceived and misled people in distant lands and fought for dictatorship around the world. Its list of crimes against democracy was long and disturbing.

But over the last four years this picture changed completely. Now liberals love them some CIA.

The CIA. Crazy, I know.

If it wasn’t so disconcerting and frankly sad it would be quite funny. But I love my family and friends and struggle with how to confront them. Or not. A recent interaction with a dear friend has led me to write this in hope that readers can relate their own stories of Times reading liberals.

A huge problem is the fracturing of information sources which has basically broken a certain fundamental consensus about reality. Narrative and reality are becoming further and further apart.

I don’t think that’s an accident. Furthermore, I’ve come to view Russia-gate as instrumental to the process.

The basic element of the scandal was ‘collusion’: that Trump had in some way conspired with or been compromised by the Russian government as it tried to intervene in the 2016 election. Which was to say that Trump was not merely incompetent or crooked but he was the agent of a hostile foreign power.

This was the dominant news story day in and day out during the Trump years, and revelations of his guilt were always, just around the corner. But somehow never quite revealed. Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted several Republican officials for other offenses, but he prosecuted no one for coordination or conspiracy with the Russian government. His report concluded in March 2019: ‘Ultimately, the investigation did not establish that the campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election-interference activities’.

So the most heavily covered story of a monstrous Trump scandal turned out to not be true. Talk about journalism malfeasance. In the fervor to bring down a president they despised, the people of the press gave up any pretence of fairness or balance. They did not try to conceal this change, but bragged about it as some sort of moral choice made necessary by Trump’s constant lying.

A new article entitled–Slouching Towards Post-Journalism, helps make sense of the new face of liberal media. It describes how with the election of Trump the New York Times and other elite media outlets have openly embraced advocacy over reporting.

“During the 2016 presidential campaign, the Times stumbled onto a possible answer. It entailed a wrenching pivot from a journalism of fact to a “post-journalism” of opinion—a term coined, in his book of that title, by media scholar Andrey Mir. Rather than news, the paper began to sell what was, in effect, a creed, an agenda, to a congregation of like-minded souls. Post-journalism “mixes open ideological intentions with a hidden business necessity required for the media to survive,” Mir observes. The new business model required a new style of reporting. Its language aimed to commodify polarization and threat: journalists had to “scare the audience to make it donate.” At stake was survival in the digital storm.”

Hopefully, this will clear up a few mysteries about your own friends and family’s behavior during the last 4 years.

The corporate media exists for a reason and the surest way to get rich in this environment is to spread lies which serve the interests of the powerful. It’s becoming more and more like Orwell’s Ministry of Truth, with our establishment news regularly dishing out Two Minutes Hate pieces to us to demonize countries like Russia.

I believe that a true intellectual should spend his or her time criticizing their own country–its ruling ideologies, dominant culture, foreign and domestic policies–especially when their own country is the most powerful and destructive government on earth. Critiquing another country, especially one that the dominant hegemon has been trying to absorb into its empire makes one an accomplice in the dissemination of propaganda.

But, that’s just me.

Update: Now that I’ve lost my friends and family to the Gray Lady I wonder if I can get a discount on my online subscription?

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