"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

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Engineering Empire: An Introduction To The Intellectuals & Institutions Of American Imperialism

In Uncategorized on May 31, 2013 at 12:58 pm

Oldspeak: “The ‘discourse’ of foreign affairs and international relations failing to adequately deal with the subject of empire is based upon a deeply flawed perception: that one cannot have an empire without imperialists, and the United States does not have imperialists, it has strategists, experts, and policy-oriented intellectuals. Does the United States, then, have an empire without imperialists? In the whole history of imperialism, that would be a unique situation. Empires do not happen by chance. Nations do not simply trip and stumble and fall into a state of imperialism. Empires are planned and directed, maintained and expanded. This report aimed to provide some introductory insight into the institutions and individuals who direct the American imperial system. The information – while dense – is far from comprehensive or complete; it is a sample of the complex network of imperialism that exists in present-day United States. Regardless of which president or political party is in office, this highly integrated network remains in power.” -Andrew Gavin Marshall.

A brilliant analysis of the rarely discussed incestuously in-bred class of corporocrats who rule the American Empire. Only 2 degrees generally separate the key and enduing members who bounce from  organization to organization while they assiduously create and implement decades long policies objectives. Values and morality are irrelevant. Political parties and their diffrences are an illusion.  Policy that “advances American interests” at whatever cost is paramount. Enthusiastic support for policies employing death squads, genocide, terrorism, displacement, ruthless anti-democratic strongmen/dictators, assassination programs, destabilization campaigns, coup de etats, are all part of the “coercive tool kit” used to achieve American objectives: unquestioned control of  globally integrated “market-oriented” economic, political, education and social systems in which domination and exploitation of others is key. This is all done clandestinely. Hidden behind Orwellian doublespeak and coded language known only to members of the ruling class. Propagated by the think tanks, foundations, educational institutions, corporations, and government agencies they control. This is the status quo in American Empire. But as Carl Jung said “We cannot change anything until we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses.” We must accept that America is not a representative democracy. Its laws, actions, and policies represent the interests of the corporocrats who control it, not the people, who toil their whole lives, managed, herded and sheared to support its imperial lunacy. This has been so for much of its existence, as is typical of all empires. We must not internalize the worldviews of our oppressors. We must not allow ourselves to be fashioned into gatekeeping secondary sociopaths. We must resist with, knowledge, reason, truth, justice, compassion, openness, cooperation, and unconditional love. Our Soul Force. View the little known documentary below “The American Ruling Class” by  Lewis H. Lapham a former corporocratic insider who’s seen the light and has chosen to expose the inner workings of the American ruling class.

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Related Video:
The American Ruling Class

By Andrew Gavin Marshall @ The Hampton Institute:

Educating yourself about empire can be a challenging endeavor, especially since so much of the educational system is dedicated to avoiding the topic or justifying the actions of imperialism in the modern era. If one studies political science or economics, the subject might be discussed in a historical context, but rarely as a modern reality; media and government voices rarely speak on the subject, and even more rarely speak of it with direct and honest language. Instead, we exist in a society where institutions and individuals of power speak in coded language, using deceptive rhetoric with abstract meaning. We hear about ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’ and ‘security,’ but so rarely about imperialism, domination, and exploitation.

The objective of this report is to provide an introduction to the institutional and social structure of American imperialism. The material is detailed, but should not be considered complete or even comprehensive; its purpose is to function as a resource or reference for those seeking to educate themselves about the modern imperial system. It’s not an analysis of state policies or the effects of those policies, but rather, it is an examination of the institutions and individuals who advocate and implement imperial policies. What is revealed is a highly integrated and interconnected network of institutions and individuals – the foreign policy establishment – consisting of academics (so-called “experts” and “policy-oriented intellectuals”) and prominent think tanks.

Think tanks bring together prominent academics, former top government officials, corporate executives, bankers, media representatives, foundation officials and other elites in an effort to establish consensus on issues of policy and strategy, to produce reports and recommendations for policy-makers, functioning as recruitment centers for those who are selected to key government positions where they have the ability to implement policies. Thus, think tanks function as the intellectual engines of empire: they establish consensus among elites, provide policy prescriptions, strategic recommendations, and the personnel required to implement imperial policies through government agencies.

Among the most prominent American and international think tanks are the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), the Bilderberg meetings, the Trilateral Commission, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), the Brookings Institution, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and the Atlantic Council. These institutions tend to rely upon funding from major foundations (such as Rockefeller, Ford, Carnegie, etc.) as well as corporations and financial institutions, and even various government agencies. There is an extensive crossover in leadership and membership between these institutions, and between them and their funders.

Roughly focusing on the period from the early 1970s until today, what emerges from this research is a highly integrated network of foreign policy elites, with individuals like Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Brent Scowcroft, and Joseph Nye figuring prominently in sitting at the center of the American imperial establishment over the course of decades, with powerful corporate and financial patrons such as the Rockefeller family existing in the background of American power structures.

Meet the Engineers of Empire

Within the U.S. government, the National Security Council (NSC) functions as the main planning group, devising strategy and policies for the operation of American power in the world. The NSC coordinates multiple other government agencies, bringing together the secretaries of the State and Defense Departments, the CIA, NSA, Joint Chiefs of Staff, and various other government bodies, with meetings directed by the National Security Adviser, who is generally one of the president’s most trusted and influential advisers. In several administrations, the National Security Adviser became the most influential voice and policy-maker to do with foreign policy, such as during the Nixon administration (with Henry Kissinger) and the Carter administration (with Zbigniew Brzezinski).

While both of these individuals were top government officials in the 1970s, their influence has not declined in the decades since they held such positions. In fact, it could be argued that both of their influence (along with several other foreign policy elites) has increased with their time outside of government. In fact, in a January 2013 interview with The Hill, Brzezinski stated: “To be perfectly frank – and you may not believe me – I really wasn’t at all conscious of the fact that the defeat of the Carter administration [in 1980] somehow or another affected significantly my own standing… I just kept doing my thing minus the Office of the National Security Adviser in the White House.” [1]

David Rothkopf has written the official history of the National Security Council (NSC) in his book, Running the World: The Inside Story of the National Security Council and the Architects of American Power, published in 2005. Rothkopf writes from an insiders perspective, being a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment, he was Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade Policy and Development in the Clinton administration, and is currently president and CEO of Garten Rothkopf, an international advisory firm, CEO of Foreign Policy magazine, previously CEO of Intellibridge Corporation, and was also a managing director at Kissinger Associates, an international advisory firm founded and run by Henry Kissinger. In his book on the NSC, Rothkopf noted that, “[e]very single national security advisor since Kissinger is, in fact, within two degrees of Kissinger,” referring to the fact that they have all “worked with him as aides, on his staff, or directly with him in some capacity,” or worked for someone in those categories (hence, within “two degrees”).[2]

For example, General Brent Scowcroft, who was National Security Advisor (NSA) under Presidents Ford and George H.W. Bush, was Kissinger’s Deputy National Security Advisor in the Nixon administration; Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter’s NSA, served on the faculty of Harvard with Kissinger, also served with Kissinger on the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board during the Reagan administration, both of them are also members (and were at times, board members) of the Council on Foreign Relations, as well as members of the Trilateral Commission, and they are both currently trustees of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Other NSA’s with connections to Kissinger include: Richard Allen, NSA under Reagan, who worked for Kissinger in the Nixon administration; William P. Clark, NSA under Reagan, who worked for Kissinger’s former aide, Alexander Haig at the State Department; Robert McFarlane, also NSA under Reagan, worked with Kissinger in the Nixon administration; John Poindexter, also NSA for Reagan, was McFarlane’s deputy; Frank Carlucci, also NSA in the Reagan administration, worked for Kissinger in the Nixon administration; Colin Powell, NSA for Reagan (and Secretary of State for George W. Bush), worked for Carlucci as his deputy; Anthony Lake, Clinton’s NSA, worked directly for Kissinger; Samuel Berger, also NSA for Clinton, was Lake’s deputy; Condoleezza Rice, NSA for George W. Bush, worked on Scowcroft’s NSC staff; and Stephen Hadley also worked for Kissinger directly.[3]

The foreign policy establishment consists of the top officials of the key government agencies concerned with managing foreign policy (State Department, Pentagon, CIA, NSC), drawing upon officials from within the think tank community, where they become well acquainted with corporate and financial elites, and thus, become familiar with the interests of this group of people. Upon leaving high office, these officials often return to leadership positions within the think tank community, join corporate boards, and/or establish their own international advisory firms where they charge hefty fees to provide corporations and banks with strategic advice and use of their international political contacts (which they acquired through their time in office). Further, these individuals also regularly appear in the media to provide commentary on international affairs as ‘independent experts’ and are routinely recruited to serve as ‘outside’ advisors to presidents and other high-level officials.

No less significant in assessing influence within the foreign policy establishment is the relative proximity – and relationships – individuals have with deeply entrenched power structures, notably financial and corporate dynasties. Arguably, both Kissinger and Brzezinski are two of the most influential individuals within the foreign policy elite networks. Certainly of no detriment to their careers was the fact that both cultivated close working and personal relationships with what can be said to be America’s most powerful dynasty, the Rockefeller family.

Dynastic Influence on Foreign Policy

At first glance, this may appear to be a rather obscure addition to this report, but dynastic power in modern state-capitalist societies is largely overlooked, misunderstood, or denied altogether, much like the concept of ‘empire’ itself. The lack of discourse on this subject – or the relegation of it to fringe ‘conspiratorial’ views – is not reason enough to ignore it. Far from assigning a conspiratorial or ‘omnipotent’ view of power to dynastic elements, it is important to place them within a social and institutional analysis, to understand the complexities and functions of dynastic influence within modern society.

Dynastic power relies upon a complex network of relationships and interactions between institutions, individuals, and ideologies. Through most of human history – in most places in the world – power was wielded by relatively few people, and often concentrated among dynastic family structures, whether ancient Egypt, imperial Rome, ancient China, the Ottoman Empire or the European monarchs spreading their empires across the globe. With the rise of state-capitalist society, dynastic power shifted from the overtly political to the financial and economic spheres. Today’s main dynasties are born of corporate or banking power, maintained through family lines and extended through family ties to individuals, institutions, and policy-makers. The Rockefellers are arguably the most influential dynasty in the United States, but comparable to the Rothschilds in France and the UK, the Wallenbergs in Sweden, the Agnellis in Italy, or the Desmarais family in Canada. These families are themselves connected through institutions such as the Bilderberg Group and the Trilateral Commission, among others. The power of a corporate-financial dynasty is not a given: it must be maintained, nurtured, and strengthened, otherwise it will be overcome or made obsolete.

The Rockefeller family has existed at the center of American power for over a century. Originating with the late 19th century ‘Robber Baron’ industrialists, the Rockefellers established an oil empire, and subsequently a banking empire. John D. Rockefeller, who had a personal fortune surpassing $1 billion in the first decade of the 20th century, also founded the University of Chicago, and through the creation and activities of the Rockefeller Foundation (founded in 1913), helped engineer higher education and the social sciences. The Rockefeller family – largely acting through various family foundations – were also pivotal in the founding and funding of several prominent think tanks, notably the Council on Foreign Relations, the Asia Society, Trilateral Commission, the Group of Thirty, and the Bilderberg Group, among many others.

The patriarch of the Rockefeller family today is David Rockefeller, now in his late 90s. To understand the influence wielded by unelected bankers and billionaires like Rockefeller, it would be useful to simply examine the positions he has held throughout his life. From 1969 until 1980, he was the chairman and CEO of Chase Manhattan Bank and from 1981 to 1999 he was the chairman of the International Advisory Committee of Chase Manhattan, at which time it merged with another big bank to become JPMorgan Chase, of Rockefeller served as a member of the International Advisory Council from 2000 to 2005. David Rockefeller was a founding member of the Bilderberg Group in 1954, at which he remains on the Steering Committee; he is the former chairman of Rockefeller Group, Inc. (from 1981-1995), Rockefeller Center Properties (1996-2001), and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, at which he remains as an advisory trustee. He is chairman emeritus and life trustee of the Museum of Modern Art, and the founder of the David Rockefeller Fund and the International Executive Service Corps.

David Rockefeller was also the chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations from 1970 to 1985, of which he remains to this day as honorary chairman; is chairman emeritus of the board of trustees of the University of Chicago; honorary chairman, life trustee and chairman emeritus of the Rockefeller University Council, and is the former president of the Harvard Board of Overseers. He was co-founder of the Global Philanthropists Circle, is honorary chairman of the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP), and is an honorary director of the Peterson Institute for International Economics. David Rockefeller was also the co-founder (with Zbigniew Brzezinski) of the Trilateral Commission in 1973, where he served as North American Chairman until 1991, and has since remained as honorary chairman. He is also the founder and honorary chairman of the Americas Society and the Council of the Americas.

It should not come as a surprise, then, that upon David Rockefeller’s 90th birthday celebration (held at the Council on Foreign Relations) in 2005, then-president of the World Bank, James Wolfensohn delivered a speech in which he stated that, “the person who had perhaps the greatest influence on my life professionally in this country, and I’m very happy to say personally there afterwards, is David Rockefeller, who first met me at the Harvard Business School in 1957 or ’58.” He went on to explain that in the early 20th century United States, “as we looked at the world, a family, the Rockefeller family, decided that the issues were not just national for the United States, were not just related to the rich countries. And where, extraordinarily and amazingly, David’s grandfather set up the Rockefeller Foundation, the purpose of which was to take a global view.” Wolfensohn continued:

So the Rockefeller family, in this last 100 years, has contributed in a way that is quite extraordinary to the development in that period and has given ample focus to the issues of development with which I have been associated. In fact, it’s fair to say that there has been no other single family influence greater than the Rockefeller’s in the whole issue of globalization and in the whole issue of addressing the questions which, in some ways, are still before us today. And for that David, we’re deeply grateful to you and for your own contribution in carrying these forward in the way that you did. [4]

Wolfensohn of course would be in a position to know something about the influence of the Rockefeller family. Serving as president of the World Bank from 1995 to 2005, he has since founded his own private firm, Wolfensohn & Company, LLC., was been a longtime member of the Steering Committee of the Bilderberg Group, an honorary trustee of the Brookings Institution, a trustee of the Rockefeller Foundation, and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Wolfensohn’s father, Hyman, was employed by James Armand de Rothschild of the Rothschild banking dynasty (after whom James was named), and taught the young Wolfensohn how to “cultivate mentors, friends and contacts of influence.”[5] In his autobiography of 2002, Memoirs, David Rockefeller himself wrote:

For more than a century ideological extremists at either end of the political spectrum have seized upon well-publicized incidents such as my encounter with Castro to attack the Rockefeller family for the inordinate influence they claim we wield over American political and economic institutions. Some even believe we are part of a secret cabal working against the best interests of the United States, characterizing my family and me as ‘internationalists’ and of conspiring with others around the world to build a more integrated global political and economic structure–one world, if you will. If that’s the charge, I stand guilty, and I am proud of it. [6]

In the United States, the Rockefeller family has maintained a network of influence through financial, corporate, educational, cultural, and political spheres. It serves as a logical extension of dynastic influence to cultivate relationships among the foreign policy elite of the U.S., notably the likes of Kissinger and Brzezinski.

Intellectuals, ‘Experts,’ and Imperialists Par Excellence: Kissinger and Brzezinski

Both Kissinger and Brzezinski served as professors at Harvard in the early 1950s, as well as both joining the Council on Foreign Relations around the same time, and both also attended meetings of the Bilderberg Group (two organizations which had Rockefellers in leadership positions). Kissinger was a director at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund from 1956 until 1958, and thereafter became an advisor to Nelson Rockefeller. Kissinger was even briefly brought into the Kennedy administration as an advisor to the State Department, while Brzezinski was an advisor to the Kennedy campaign, and was a member of President Johnson’s Policy Planning Council in the State Department from 1966 to 1968. When Nixon became president in 1969, Kissinger became his National Security Advisor, and eventually also took over the role of Secretary of State.

In 1966, prior to entering the Nixon administration, Henry Kissinger wrote an article for the journal Daedalus in which he proclaimed the modern era as “the age of the expert,” and went on to explain: “The expert has his constituency – those who have a vested interest in commonly held opinions; elaborating and defining its consensus at a high level has, after all, made him an expert.” [7] In other words, the “expert” serves entrenched and established power structures and elites (“those who have a vested interest in commonly held opinions”), and the role of such an expert is to define and elaborate the “consensus” of elite interests. Thus, experts, as Henry Kissinger defines them, serve established elites.

In 1970, Brzezinski wrote a highly influential book, Between Two Ages: America’s Role in the Technetronic Era, which attracted the interest of Chase Manhattan Chairman (and Chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations) David Rockefeller. The two men then worked together to create the Trilateral Commission, of which Kissinger became a member. Kissinger remained as National Security Advisor for President Ford, and when Jimmy Carter became President (after Brzezinski invited him into the Trilateral Commission), Brzezinski became his National Security Advisor, also bringing along dozens of other members of the Trilateral Commission into the administration’s cabinet.

In a study published in the journal Polity in 1982, researchers described what amounted to modern Machiavellis who “whisper in the ears of princes,” notably, prominent academic-turned policy-makers like Walt Rostow, Henry Kissinger, and Zbigniew Brzezinski. The researchers constructed a ‘survey’ in 1980 which was distributed to a sample of officials in the State Department, CIA, Department of Defense and the National Security Council (the four government agencies primarily tasked with managing foreign policy), designed to assess the views of those who implement foreign policy related to how they measure influence held by academics. They compared their results with a similar survey conducted in 1971, and found that in both surveys, academics such as George Kennan, Hans Morgenthau, Henry Kissinger, and Zbigniew Brzezinski were listed as among the members of the academic community who most influenced the thinking of those who took the survey. In the 1971 survey, George Kennan was listed as the most influential, followed by Hans Morgenthau, John K. Galbraith, Henry Kissinger, E.O. Reischauer and Zbigniew Brzezinski; in the 1980 survey, Henry Kissinger was listed as the most influential, followed by Hans Morgenthau, George Kennan, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Stanley Hoffmann. [8]

Of the fifteen most influential scholars in the 1980 survey, eleven received their highest degree from a major East Coast university, eight held a doctorate from Harvard, twelve were associated with major East Coast universities, while seven of them had previously taught at Harvard. More than half of the top fifteen scholars had previously held prominent government positions, eight were members of the Council on Foreign Relations, ten belonged to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and eight belonged to the American Political Science Association. Influence tended to sway according to which of the four government agencies surveyed was being assessed, though for Kissinger, Morgenthau and Brzezinski, they “were equally influential with each of the agencies surveyed.” The two most influential academic journals cited by survey responses were Foreign Affairs (run by the Council on Foreign Relations), read by more than two-thirds of those who replied to the survey, and Foreign Policy, which was read by more than half of respondents. [9]

In a 1975 report by the Trilateral Commission on The Crisis of Democracy, co-authored by Samuel Huntington, a close associate and friend of Zbigniew Brzezinski, the role of intellectuals came into question, noting that with the plethora of social movements and protests that had emerged from the 1960s onwards, intellectuals were asserting their “disgust with the corruption, materialism, and inefficiency of democracy and with the subservience of democratic government to ‘monopoly capitalism’.” Thus, noted the report: “the advanced industrial societies have spawned a stratum of value-oriented intellectuals who often devote themselves to the derogation of leadership, the challenging of authority, and the unmasking and delegitimation of established institutions, their behavior contrasting with that of the also increasing numbers of technocratic policy-oriented intellectuals.”[10] In other words, intellectuals were increasingly failing to serve as “experts” (as Henry Kissinger defined it), and were increasingly challenging authority and institutionalized power structures instead of serving them, unlike “technocratic and policy-oriented intellectuals.”

The influence of “experts” and “technocratic policy-oriented intellectuals” like Kissinger and Brzezinski was not to dissipate going into the 1980s. Kissinger then joined the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), taught at Georgetown University, and in 1982, founded his own consulting firm, Kissinger Associates, co-founded and run with General Brent Scowcroft, who was the National Security Advisor for President Ford, after being Kissinger’s deputy in the Nixon administration. Scowcroft is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission, CSIS, and The Atlantic Council of the United States, which also includes Kissinger and Brzezinski among its leadership boards. Scowcroft also founded his own international advisory firm, the Scowcroft Group, and also served as National Security Advisor to President George H.W. Bush.

Kissinger Associates, which included not only Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft, but also Lawrence Eagleburger, Kissinger’s former aide in the Nixon administration, and Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs in the Reagan administration, and briefly as Deputy Secretary of State in the George H.W. Bush administration. These three men, who led Kissinger Associates in the 1980s, made a great deal of money advising some of the world’s leading corporations, including ITT, American Express, Coca-Cola, Volvo, Fiat, and Midland Bank, among others. Kissinger Associates charges corporate clients at least $200,000 for “offering geopolitical insight” and “advice,” utilizing “their close relationships with foreign governments and their extensive knowledge of foreign affairs.”[11]

While he was Chairman of Kissinger Associates, advising corporate clients, Henry Kissinger was also appointed to chair the National Bipartisan Commission on Central America by President Reagan from 1983 to 1985, commonly known as the Kissinger Commission, which provided the strategic framework for Reagan’s terror war on Central America. As Kissinger himself noted in 1983, “If we cannot manage Central America… it will be impossible to convince threatened nations in the Persian Gulf and in other places that we know how to manage the global equilibrium.” [12] In other words, if the United States could not control a small region south of its border, how can it be expected to run the world?

Between 1984 and 1990, Henry Kissinger was also appointed to Reagan’s (and subsequently Bush Sr.’s) Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, an organization that provides “advice” to the President on intelligence issues, which Brzezinski joined between 1987 and 1989. Brzezinski also served as a member of Reagan’s Chemical Warfare Commission, and from 1987 to 1988, worked with Reagan’s U.S. National Security Council-Defense Department Commission on Integrated Long-Term Strategy, alongside Henry Kissinger. The Commission’s report, Discriminate Deterrence, issued in 1988, noted that the United States would have to establish new capabilities to deal with threats, particularly in the ‘Third World,’ noting that while conflicts in the ‘Third World’ “are obviously less threatening than any Soviet-American war would be,” they still “have had and will have an adverse cumulative effect on U.S. access to critical regions,” and if these effects cannot be managed, “it will gradually undermine America’s ability to defend its interest in the most vital regions, such as the Persian Gulf, the Mediterranean and the Western Pacific.”[13]

Over the following decade, the report noted, “the United States will need to be better prepared to deal with conflicts in the Third World” which would “require new kinds of planning.” If the United States could not effectively counter the threats to U.S. interests and allies, notably, “if the warfare is of low intensity and protracted, and if they use guerrilla forces, paramilitary terrorist organizations, or armed subversives,” or, in other words, revolutionary movements, then “we will surely lose the support of many Third World countries that want to believe the United States can protect its friends, not to mention its own interests.” Most ‘Third World’ conflicts are termed “low intensity conflict,” referring to “insurgencies, organized terrorism, [and] paramilitary crime,” and therefore the United States would need to take these conflicts more seriously, noting that within such circumstances, “the enemy” is essentially “omnipresent,” meaning that the enemy is the population itself, “and unlikely ever to surrender.”[14]

From Cold War to New World Order: ‘Containment’ to ‘Enlargement’

At the end of the Cold War, the American imperial community of intellectuals and think tanks engaged in a process that continues to the present day in attempting to outline a geostrategic vision for America’s domination of the world. The Cold War had previously provided the cover for the American extension of hegemony around the world, under the premise of ‘containing’ the Soviet Union and the spread of ‘Communism.’ With the end of the Cold War came the end of the ‘containment’ policy of foreign policy. It was the task of ‘experts’ and ‘policy-oriented intellectuals’ to assess the present circumstances of American power in the world and to construct new strategic concepts for the extension and preservation of that power.

In 1990, George H.W. Bush’s administration released the National Security Strategy of the United States in which the Cold War was officially acknowledged as little more than a rhetorical deception. The document referenced U.S. interventions in the Middle East, which were for decades justified on the basis of ‘containing’ the perceived threat of ‘communism’ and the Soviet Union. The report noted that, “even as East-West tensions diminish, American strategic concerns remain.” Threats to America’s “interests” in the region, such as “the security of Israel and moderate Arab states” – otherwise known as ruthless dictatorships – “as well as the free flow of oil – come from a variety of sources.” Citing previous military interventions in the region, the report stated that they “were in response to threats to U.S. interests that could not be laid at the Kremlin’s door.” In other words, all the rhetoric of protecting the world from communism and the Soviet Union was little more than deception. As the National Security Strategy noted: “The necessity to defend our interests will continue.” [15]

When Bush became president in 1989, he ordered his national security team – headed by Brent Scowcroft – to review national security policy. Bush and Scowcroft had long discussed – even before the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait – the notion that the U.S. will have to make its priority dealing with “Third World bullies” (a euphemism referring to U.S. puppet dictators who stop following orders). At the end of the Cold War, George Bush declared a ‘new world order,’ a term which was suggested to Bush by Brent Scowcroft during a discussion “about future foreign-policy crises.” [16]

Separate from the official National Security Strategy, the internal assessment of national security policy commissioned by Bush was partly leaked to and reported in the media in 1991. As the Los Angeles Times commented, the review dispensed with “sentimental nonsense about democracy.” [17] The New York Times quoted the review: “In cases where the U.S. confronts much weaker enemies, our challenge will be not simply to defeat them, but to defeat them decisively and rapidly… For small countries hostile to us, bleeding our forces in protracted or indecisive conflict or embarrassing us by inflicting damage on some conspicuous element of our forces may be victory enough, and could undercut political support for U.S. efforts against them.” [18] In other words, the capacity to justify and undertake large-scale wars and ground invasions had deteriorated substantially, so it would be necessary to “decisively and rapidly” destroy “much weaker enemies.”

Zbigniew Brzezinski was quite blunt in his assessment of the Cold War – of which he was a major strategic icon – when he wrote in a 1992 article for Foreign Affairs, the journal of the Council on Foreign Relations, that the U.S. strategic discourse of the Cold War as a battle between Communist totalitarianism and Western democracy was little more than rhetoric. In Brzezinski’s own words: “The policy of liberation was a strategic sham, designed to a significant degree for domestic political reasons… the policy was basically rhetorical, at most tactical.” [19] In other words, it was all a lie, carefully constructed to deceive the American population into accepting the actions of a powerful state in its attempts to dominate the world.

In 1992, the New York Times leaked a classified document compiled by top Pentagon officials (including Paul Wolfowitz and Dick Cheney) devising a strategy for America in the post-Cold War world. As the Times summarized, the Defense Policy Guidance document “asserts that America’s political and military mission in the post-cold-war era will be to ensure that no rival superpower is allowed to emerge in Western Europe, Asia or the territories of the former Soviet Union.” The document “makes the case for a world dominated by one superpower whose position can be perpetuated by constructive behavior and sufficient military might to deter any nation or group of nations from challenging American primacy.” [20]

In the Clinton administration, prominent “policy-oriented intellectuals” filled key foreign policy positions, notably Madeleine Albright, first as ambassador to the UN and then as Secretary of State, and Anthony Lake as National Security Advisor. Anthony Lake was a staffer in Kissinger’s National Security Council during the Nixon administration (though he resigned in protest following the ‘secret’ bombing of Cambodia). Lake was subsequently recruited into the Trilateral Commission, and was then appointed as policy planning director in Jimmy Carter’s State Department under Secretary of State (and Trilateral Commission/Council on Foreign Relations member) Cyrus Vance. Richard Holbrooke and Warren Christopher were also brought into the Trilateral Commission, then to the Carter administration, and resurfaced in the Clinton administration. Holbrooke and Lake had even been college roommates for a time. Madeleine Albright had studied at Columbia University under Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was her dissertation advisor. When Brzezinski became National Security Adviser in the Carter administration, he brought in Albright as a special assistant. [21]

Anthony Lake was responsible for outlining the ‘Clinton Doctrine,’ which he elucidated in a 1993 speech at Johns Hopkins University, where he stated: “The successor to a doctrine of containment must be a strategy of enlargement – enlargement of the world’s free community of market democracies.” This strategy “must combine our broad goals of fostering democracy and markets with our more traditional geostrategic interests,” noting that, “[o]ther American interests at times will require us to befriend and even defend non-democratic states for mutually beneficial reasons.” [22] In other words, nothing has changed, save the rhetoric: the interest of American power is in “enlarging” America’s economic and political domination of the world.

In 1997, Brzezinski published a book outlining his strategic vision for America’s role in the world, entitled The Grand Chessboard. He wrote that “the chief geopolitical prize” for America was ‘Eurasia,’ referring to the connected landmass of Asia and Europe: “how America ‘manages’ Eurasia is critical. Eurasia is the globe’s largest continent and is geopolitically axial. A power that dominates Eurasia would control two of the world’s three most advanced and economically productive regions. A mere glance at the map also suggests that control over Eurasia would almost automatically entail African subordination.”[23] The “twin interests” of the United States, wrote Brzezinski, were, “in the short-term preservation of its unique global power and in the long-run transformation of it into increasingly institutionalized global cooperation.” Brzezinski then wrote:

To put it in a terminology that hearkens back to the more brutal age of ancient empires, the three grand imperatives of imperial geostrategy are to prevent collusion and maintain security dependence among the vassals, to keep tributaries pliant and protected, and to keep the barbarians from coming together.[24]

The officials from the George H.W. Bush administration who drafted the 1992 Defense Policy Guidance report spent the Clinton years in neoconservative think tanks, such as the Project for the New American Century (PNAC). Essentially using the 1992 document as a blueprint, the PNAC published a report in 2000 entitled Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategy, Forces, and Resources for a New Century. In contrast to previous observations from strategists like Brzezinski and Scowcroft, the neocons were not opposed to implementing large-scale wars, declaring that, “the United States must retain sufficient forces able to rapidly deploy and win multiple simultaneous large-scale wars.” The report stated that there was a “need to retain sufficient combat forces to fight and win, multiple, nearly simultaneous major theatre wars” and that “the Pentagon needs to begin to calculate the force necessary to protect, independently, US interests in Europe, East Asia and the Gulf at all times.”[25]

Drafted by many of the neocons who would later lead the United States into the Iraq war (including Paul Wolfowitz), the report recommended that the United States establish a strong military presence in the Middle East: “the United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.”[26]

When the Bush administration came to power in 2001, it brought in a host of neoconservatives to key foreign policy positions, including Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney. As one study noted, “among the 24 Bush appointees who have been most closely identified as neocons or as close to them, there are 27 links with conservative think tanks, 19 with their liberal counterparts and 20 with ‘neocon’ think tanks,” as well as 11 connections with the Council on Foreign Relations.[27]

The 2002 U.S. National Security Strategy announced by the Bush administration, thereafter referred to as the “Bush doctrine,” which included the usual rhetoric about democracy and freedom, and then established the principle of “preemptive war” and unilateral intervention for America’s War of Terror, noting: “the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively. The United States will not use force in all cases to preempt emerging threats, nor should nations use preemption as a pretext for aggression. Yet in an age where the enemies of civilization openly and actively seek the world’s most destructive technologies, the United States cannot remain idle while dangers gather.”[28] The doctrine announced that the U.S. “will constantly strive to enlist the support of the international community, [but] we will not hesitate to act alone, if necessary, to exercise our right of self-defense by acting preemptively against terrorists.”[29]

A fusion of neoconservative and traditional liberal internationalist “policy-oriented intellectuals” was facilitated in 2006 with the release of a report by the Princeton Project on National Security (PPNS), Forging a World of Liberty Under Law: U.S. National Security in the 21st Century, co-directed by G. John Ikenberry and Anne-Marie Slaughter. Ikenberry was a professor at Princeton and the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. He had previously served in the State Department Policy Planning staff in the administration of George H.W. Bush, was a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Anne-Marie Slaughter was Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, has served on the board of the Council on Foreign Relations, the New America Foundation, the National Endowment for Democracy, New American Security, the Truman Project, and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), and has also served on the boards of McDonald’s and Citigroup, as well as often being a State Department adviser.

While the Bush administration and the neoconservatives within it had articulated a single vision of a ‘global war on terror,’ the objective of the Princeton Project’s report was to encourage the strategic acknowledgement of multiple, conflicting and complex threats to American power. Essentially, it was a project formed by prominent intellectual elites in reaction to the myopic and dangerous vision and actions projected by the Bush administration; a way to re-align strategic objectives based upon a more coherent analysis and articulation of the interests of power. One of its main critiques was against the notion of “unilateralism” advocated in the Bush Doctrine and enacted with the Iraq War. The aim of the report, in its own words, was to “set forth agreed premises or foundational principles to guide the development of specific national security strategies by successive administrations in coming decades.”[30]

The Honourary Co-Chairs of the Project report were Anthony Lake, Clinton’s former National Security Adviser, and George P. Shultz, former U.S. Secretary of Labor and Secretary of the Treasury in the Nixon administration, U.S. Secretary of State in the Reagan administration, president of Bechtel Corporation, and was on the International Advisory Council of JP Morgan Chase, a director of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, a member of the Hoover Institution, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and was on the boards of a number of corporations.

Among the co-sponsors of the project (apart from Princeton) were: the Brookings Institution, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the Centre for International Governance Innovation, Oxford, Stanford, the German Marshall Fund, and the Hoover Institution, among others. Most financing for the Project came from the Woodrow Wilson School/Princeton, the Ford Foundation, and David M. Rubenstein, one of the world’s richest billionaires, co-founder of the global private equity firm the Carlyle Group, on the boards of Duke University, the Brookings Institution, the Council on Foreign Relations, President of the Economic Club of Washington, and the International Business Council of the World Economic Forum. [31]

Among the “experts” who participated in the Project were: Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Eliot Cohen, Francis Fukuyama, Leslie Gelb, Richard Haas, Robert Kagan, Jessica Tuchman Matthews, Joseph S. Nye, James Steinberg, and Strobe Talbott, among many others. Among the participating institutions were: Princeton, Harvard, Yale, CSIS, the Brookings Institution, Council on Foreign Relations, Carnegie Endowment, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, World Bank, the State Department, National Security Council, Citigroup, Ford Foundation, German Marshall Fund, Kissinger Associates, the Scowcroft Group, Cato Institute, Morgan Stanley, Carlyle Group. Among the participants in the Project were no less than 18 members of the Council on Foreign Relations, 10 members of the Brookings Institution, 6 members of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and several representatives from foreign governments, including Canada, Australia, and Japan.[32]

The Road to “Hope” and “Change”

After leaving the Clinton administration, Madeleine Albright founded her own consulting firm in 2001, The Albright Group, since re-named the Albright Stonebridge Group, co-chaired by Albright and Clinton’s second National Security Adviser Samuel Berger, advising multinational corporations around the world. Albright is also chair of Albright Capital Management LLC, an investment firm which focuses on ‘emerging markets.’ Albright is also on the board of directors of the Council on Foreign Relations, is a professor at Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, chairs the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, the Pew Global Attitudes Project, and is president of the Truman Scholarship Foundation. She is also on the board of trustees of the Aspen Institute, a member of the Atlantic Council, and in 2009 was recruited by NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen to chair the ‘group of experts’ tasked with drafting NATO’s New Strategic Concept for the world.

Kissinger, Scowcroft, and Albright are not the only prominent “former” statespersons to have established consulting firms for large multinational conglomerates, as the far less known Brzezinski Group is also a relevant player, “a consulting firm that provides strategic insight and advice to commercial and government clients,” headed by Zbig’s son, Ian Brzezinski. Ian is a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council and also sits on its Strategic Advisors Group, having previously served as a principal at Booz Allen Hamilton, a major global consulting firm. Prior to that, Ian Brzezinski was Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Europe and NATO Policy in the Bush administration, from 2001 to 2005, and had previously served for many years on Capitol Hill as a senior staff member in the Senate. Zbigniew Brzezinski’s other son, Mark Brzezinski, is currently the U.S. Ambassador to Sweden, having previously been a corporate and securities associate at Hogan & Hartson LLP, after which he served in Bill Clinton’s National Security Council from 1999 to 2001. Mark Brzezinski was also an advisor to Barack Obama during his first presidential campaign starting in 2007. Among other notable advisors to Obama during his presidential campaign were Susan Rice, a former Clinton administration State Department official (and protégé to Madeleine Albright), as well as Clinton’s former National Security Advisor Anthony Lake. [33]

No less significant was the fact that Zbigniew Brzezinski himself was tapped as a foreign policy advisor to Obama during the presidential campaign. In August of 2007, Brzezinski publically endorsed Obama for president, stating that Obama “recognizes that the challenge is a new face, a new sense of direction, a new definition of America’s role in the world.” He added: “Obama is clearly more effective and has the upper hand. He has a sense of what is historically relevant and what is needed from the United States in relationship to the world.”[34] Brzezinski was quickly tapped as a top foreign policy advisor to Obama, who delivered a speech on Iraq in which he referred to Brzezinski as “one of our most outstanding thinkers.”[35] According to an Obama campaign spokesperson, Brzezinski was primarily brought on to advise Obama on matters related to Iraq. [36]

Thus, it would appear that Brzezinski may not have been exaggerating too much when he told the Congressional publication, The Hill, in January of 2013 that, “I really wasn’t at all conscious of the fact that the defeat of the Carter administration somehow or another affected significantly my own standing… I just kept doing my thing minus the Office of the National Security Adviser in the White House.” While Brzezinski had advised subsequent presidents Reagan and Bush Sr., and had close ties with key officials in the Clinton administration (notably his former student and NSC aide Madeleine Albright), he was “shut out of the George W. Bush White House” when it was dominated by the neoconservatives, whom he was heavily critical of, most especially in response to the Iraq War. [37]

In the first four years of the Obama administration, Brzezinski was much sought out for advice from Democrats and Republicans alike. On this, he stated: “It’s more a case of being asked than pounding on the doors… But if I have something to say, I know enough people that I can get in touch with to put [my thoughts] into circulation.” When Afghan President Hamid Karzai visited Washington, D.C. in early 2013, Brzezinski was invited to a special dinner hosted by the Afghan puppet leader, of which he noted: “I have a standard joke that I am on the No. 2 or No. 3 must-visit list in this city… That is to say, if a foreign minister or an ambassador or some other senior dignitary doesn’t get to see the President, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, the National Security Adviser, then I’m somewhere on that other list as a fallback.”[38]

Today, Zbigniew Brzezinski is no small player on the global scene. Not only is he an occasional and unofficial adviser to politicians, but he remains in some of the main centers of strategic planning and power in the United States. Brzezinski’s background is fairly well established, not least of all due to his role as National Security Adviser and his part in the creation of the Trilateral Commission with David Rockefeller in 1973. Brzezinski was also (and remains) a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and was a director of the CFR from 1972 to 1977. Today, he is a member of the CFR with his son Mark Brzezinski and his daughter Mika Brzezinski, a media personality on CNBC. Brzezinski is a Counselor and Trustee of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), and he is also co-Chair (with Carla A. Hills) of the Advisory Board of CSIS, composed of international and US business leaders and current and former government officials, including: Paul Desmarais Jr. (Power Corporation of Canada), Kenneth Duberstein (Duberstein Group), Dianne Feinstein (U.S. Senator), Timothy Keating (Boeing), Senator John McCain, Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, and top officials from Chevron, Procter & Gamble, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Exxon Mobil, Toyota, and United Technologies.[39]

And now we make our way to the Obama administration, the promised era of “hope” and “change;” or something like that. Under Obama, the two National Security Advisors thus far have been General James L. Jones and Tom Donilon. General Jones, who was Obama’s NSA from 2009 to 2010, previously and is now once again a trustee with the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Just prior to becoming National Security Advisor, Jones was president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy, after a career rising to 32nd commandant of the Marine Corps and commander of U.S. European Command. He was also on the boards of directors of Chevron and Boeing, resigning one month prior to taking up his post in the Obama administration.

Shortly after Jones first became National Security Advisor, he was speaking at a conference in February of 2009 at which he stated (with tongue-in-cheek), “As the most recent National Security Advisor of the United States, I take my daily orders from Dr. Kissinger, filtered down through General Brent Scowcroft and Sandy Berger… We have a chain of command in the National Security Council that exists today.”[40] Although said in jest, there is a certain truth to this notion. Yet, Jones only served in the Obama administration from January 2009 to October of 2010, after which he returned to more familiar pastures.

Apart from returning as a trustee to CSIS, Jones is currently the chairman of the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security and is on the board and executive committee of the Atlantic Council (he was previously chairman of the board of directors from 2007 to 2009). Jones is also on the board of the East-West Institute, and in 2011 served on the board of directors of the military contractor, General Dynamics. General Jones is also the president of his own international consulting firm, Jones Group International. The Group’s website boasts “a unique and unrivaled experience with numerous foreign governments, advanced international relationships, and an understanding of the national security process to develop strategic plans to help clients succeed in challenging environments.” A testimonial of Jones’ skill was provided by Thomas Donohue, the president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce: “Few leaders possess the wisdom, depth of experience, and knowledge of global and domestic economic and military affairs as General Jones.”[41]

Obama’s current NSA, Thomas E. Donilon, was previously deputy to General James Jones, and worked as former Assistant Secretary of State and chief of staff to Secretary of State Warren Christopher in Clinton’s administration. From 1999 to 2005, he was a lobbyist exclusively for the housing mortgage company Fannie Mae (which helped create and pop the housing bubble and destroy the economy). Donilon’s brother, Michael C. Donilon, is a counselor to Vice President Joseph Biden. Donilon’s wife, Cathy Russell, is chief of staff to Biden’s wife, Jill Biden. [42] Prior to joining the Obama administration, Thomas Donilon also served as a legal advisor to banks like Goldman Sachs and Citigroup. [43]

CSIS: The ‘Brain’ of the Obama Administration

While serving as national security advisor, Thomas Donilon spoke at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in November of 2012. He began his speech by stating that for roughly half a century, CSIS has been “the intellectual capital that has informed so many of our national security policies, including during the Obama administration… We’ve shared ideas and we’ve shared staff.”[44]

Indeed, CSIS has been an exceptionally influential presence within the Obama administration. CSIS launched a Commission on ‘Smart Power’ in 2006, co-chaired by Joseph S. Nye, Jr. and Richard Armitage, with the final report delivered in 2008, designed to influence the next president of the United States on implementing “a smart power strategy.” Joseph Nye is known for – among other things – developing the concept of what he calls “soft power” to describe gaining support through “attraction” rather than force. In the lead-up to the 2008 presidential elections, Nye stated that if Obama became president, it “would do more for America’s soft power around the world than anything else we could do.”[45]

Joseph Nye is the former Dean of the Kennedy School, former senior official in the Defense and State Departments, former Chair of the National Intelligence Council, and a highly influential political scientist who was rated in a 2008 poll of international relations scholars as “the most influential scholar in the field on American foreign policy,” and was also named as one of the top 100 global thinkers in a 2011 Foreign Policy report. Nye is also Chairman of the North American Group of the Trilateral Commission, is on the board of directors of the Council on Foreign Relations, a member of the board of trustees of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), and a former director of the Institute for East-West Security Studies, the International Institute of Strategic Studies, and a former member of the advisory committee of the Institute of International Economics.

Richard Armitage, the other co-chair of the CSIS Commission on Smart Power, is the President of Armitage International, a global consulting firm, and was Deputy Secretary of State from 2001-2005 in the George W. Bush administration, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs in the Reagan administration, and is on the boards of ConocoPhillips, a major oil company, as well as ManTech International and Transcu Group, and of course, a trustee at CSIS.

In the Commission’s final report, A Smarter, More Secure America, the term ‘smart power’ was defined as “complementing U.S. military and economic might with greater investments in soft power,” recommending that the United States “reinvigorate the alliances, partnerships, and institutions that serve our interests,” as well as increasing the role of “development in U.S. foreign policy” which would allow the United States to “align its own interests with the aspirations of people around the world.” Another major area of concern was that of “[b]ringing foreign populations to our side,” which depended upon “building long-term, people-to-people relationships, particularly among youth.” Further, the report noted that “the benefits of free trade must be expanded” and that it was America’s responsibility to “establish global consensus and develop innovative solutions” for issues such as energy security and climate change. [46]

The forward to the report was authored by CSIS president and CEO, John Hamre, who wrote: “We have all seen the poll numbers and know that much of the world today is not happy with American leadership,” with even “traditional allies” beginning to question “American values and interests, wondering whether they are compatible with their own.” Hamre spoke for the American imperial establishment: “We do not have to be loved, but we will never be able to accomplish our goals and keep Americans safe without mutual respect.” What was needed, then, was to utilize their “moment of opportunity” in order “to strike off on a big idea that balances a wiser internationalism with the desire for protection at home.” In world affairs, the center of gravity, wrote Hamre, “is shifting to Asia.” Thus, “[a]s the only global superpower, we must manage multiple crises simultaneously while regional competitors can focus their attention and efforts.” What is required is to strengthen “capable states, alliances, partnerships, and institutions.” Military might, noted Hamre, while “typically the bedrock of a nation’s power,” remains “an inadequate basis for sustaining American power over time.”[47]

In their summary of the report, Nye and Armitage wrote that the ultimate “goal of U.S. foreign policy should be to prolong and preserve American preeminence as an agent for good.” The goal, of course, was to ‘prolong and preserve American preeminence,’ whereas the notion of being ‘an agent for good’ was little more than a rhetorical add-on, since for policy-oriented intellectuals like those at CSIS, American preeminence is inherently a ‘good’ thing, and therefore preserving American hegemony is – it is presumed – by definition, being ‘an agent for good.’ Nye and Armitage suggested that the U.S. “should have higher ambitions than being popular,” though acknowledging, “foreign opinion matters to U.S. decision-making,” so long as it aligns with U.S. decisions, presumably. A “good reputation,” they suggested, “brings acceptance for unpopular ventures.” This was not to mark a turn away from using military force, as was explicitly acknowledged: “We will always have our enemies, and we cannot abandon our coercive tools.” Using “soft power,” however, was simply to add to America’s arsenal of military and economic imperialism: “bolstering soft power makes America stronger.”[48]

Power, they wrote, “is the ability to influence the behavior of others to get a desired outcome,” noting the necessity of “hard power” – military and economic strength – but, while “[t]here is no other global power… American hard power does not always translate into influence.” While technological advances “have made weapons more precise, they have also become more destructive, thereby increasing the political and social costs of using military force.” Modern communications, they noted, “diminished the fog of war,” which is to say that they have facilitated more effective communication and management in war-time, “but also heightened the atomized political consciousness,” which is to say that it has allowed populations all over the world to gain access to information and communication outside the selectivity of traditional institutions of power.[49]

These trends “have made power less tangible and coercion less effective.” The report noted: “Machiavelli said it was safer to be feared than to be loved. Today, in the global information age, it is better to be both.” Thus, “soft power… is the ability to attract people to our side without coercion,” making “legitimacy” the central concept of soft power. As such, if nations and people believe “American objectives to be legitimate, we are more likely to persuade them to follow our lead without using threats and bribes.” Noting that America’s “enemies” in the world are largely non-state actors and groups who “control no territory, hold few assets, and sprout new leaders for each one that is killed,” victory becomes problematic: “Militaries are well suited to defeating states, but they are often poor instruments to fight ideas.” Thus, victory in the modern world “depends on attracting foreign populations to our side,” of which ‘soft power’ is a necessity. [50]

Despite various “military adventures in the Western hemisphere and in the Philippines” in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, “the U.S. military has not been put in the service of building a colonial empire in the manner of European militaries,” the report read, acknowledging quite plainly that while not a formal colonial empire, the United States was an imperial power nonetheless. Since World War II, “America has sought to promote rules and order in a world in which life continues to be nasty, brutish, and short for the majority of inhabitants.” While “the appeal of Hollywood and American products can play a role in inspiring the dreams and desires of others,” soft power is not merely cultural, but also promotes “political values” and “our somewhat reluctant participation and leadership in institutions that help shape the global agenda.” However, a more “interconnected and tolerant world” is not something everyone is looking forward to, noted the authors: “ideas can be threatening to those who consider their way of life to be under siege by the West,” which is to say, the rest of the world. Smart power, then, “is neither hard nor soft – it is the skillful combination of both,” and “means developing an integrated strategy, resource base, and tool kit to achieve American objectives, drawing on both hard and soft power.” [51]

Other members of the CSIS Commission on Smart Power included: Nancy Kassebaum Baker, former US Senator and member of the advisory board of the Partnership for a Secure America; General Charles G. Boyd, former president and CEO of the Business Executives for National Security, former director of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR); as well as Maurice Greenberg, Thomas Pickering, David Rubenstein and Obama’s newest Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel.

It’s quite apparent that members of the CSIS Commission and CSIS itself would be able to wield significant influence upon the Obama administration. Joseph Nye has even advised Hillary Clinton while she served as Secretary of State. [52] Perhaps then, we should not be surprised that at her Senate confirmation hearing in January of 2009, Clinton declared the era of “rigid ideology” in diplomacy to be at an end, and the foreign policy of “smart power” to be exercised, that she would make decisions based “on facts and evidence, not emotions or prejudice.”[53]

Before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Clinton declared: “We must use what has been called smart power, the full range of tools at our disposal – diplomatic, economic, military, political, legal, and cultural – picking the right tool, or combination of tools, for each situation.” She quoted the ancient Roman poet Terence, “in every endeavor, the seemly course for wise men is to try persuasion first,” then added: “The same truth binds wise women as well.”[54]

While Joseph Nye had coined the term “soft power” in the 1990s, Suzanne Nossel coined the term “smart power.” Nossel was the chief operating officer of Human Rights Watch, former executive at media conglomerate Bertelsmann, and was a former deputy to UN Ambassador Richard Holbrooke in the Clinton administration. She coined the term “smart power” in a 2004 issue of Foreign Affairs, the journal of the Council on Foreign Relations, after which time Joseph Nye began using it, leading to the CSIS Commission on Smart Power. At the Senate hearing, Senator Jim Webb stated, “the phrase of the week is ‘smart power’.” Nossel commented on Clinton’s Senate hearing: “Hillary was impressive… She didn’t gloss over the difficulties, but at the same time she was fundamentally optimistic. She’s saying that, by using all the tools of power in concert, the trajectory of American decline can be reversed. She’ll make smart power cool.”[55]

Following the first six months of the Obama administration, Hillary Clinton was to deliver a major foreign policy speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, where she would articulate “her own policy agenda,” focusing on the strengthening of “smart power.” One official involved in the speech planning process noted that it would include discussion on “U.S. relations with [and] management of the great powers in a way that gets more comprehensive.” The speech was long in the making, and was being overseen by the director of the State Department’s Policy Planning Council, Anne-Marie Slaughter. [56]

Slaughter was director of Policy Planning in the State Department from 2009 to 2011, where she was chief architect of the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, designed to better integrate development into U.S. foreign policy, with the first report having been released in 2010. She is also a professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton, was co-Chair of the Princeton Project on National Security, former Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, served on the boards of the Council on Foreign Relations (2003-2009), the New America Foundation, the National Endowment for Democracy, New American Security, the Truman Project, and formerly with CSIS, also having been on the boards of McDonald’s and Citigroup. Slaughter is currently a member of the Aspen Strategy Group, the CFR, a member of the board of directors of the Atlantic Council, and has been named on Foreign Policy‘s Top 100 Global Thinkers for the years 2009-2012.

In preparation for her speech at the Council on Foreign Relations, according to the Washington Post blog, Plum Line, Clinton “consulted” with a “surprisingly diverse” group of people, including: Henry Kissinger, George Schultz, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Paul Farmer, Joseph Nye, Francis Fukuyama, Brent Scowcroft, Strobe Talbott (president of the Brookings Institution), John Podesta, and Richard Lugar, as well as Defense Secretary Robert Gates, then-National Security Advisor General James Jones, and President Obama himself.[57]

When Clinton began speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C., she stated: “I am delighted to be here in these new headquarters. I have been often to, I guess, the mother ship in New York City, but it’s good to have an outpost of the Council right here down the street from the State Department. We get a lot of advice form the Council, and so this will mean I won’t have as far to go to be told what we should be doing and how we should think about the future.” Many in the world do not trust America to lead, explained Clinton, “they view America as an unaccountable power, too quick to impose its will at the expense of their interests and our principles,” but, Clinton was sure to note: “they are wrong.” The question, of course, was “not whether our nation can or should lead, but how it will lead in the 21st century,” in which “[r]igid ideologies and old formulas don’t apply.” Clinton claimed that “[l]iberty, democracy, justice and opportunity underlie our priorities,” even though others “accuse us of using these ideals to justify actions that contradict their very meaning,” suggesting that “we are too often condescending and imperialistic, seeking only to expand our power at the expense of others.”[58]

These perceptions, explained Clinton, “have fed anti-Americanism, but they do not reflect who we are.” America’s strategy “must reflect the world as it is, not as it used to be,” and therefore, “[i]t does not make sense to adapt a 19th century concert of powers, or a 20th century balance of power strategy.” Clinton explained that the strategy would seek to tilt “the balance away from a multi-polar world and toward a multi-partner world,” in which “our partnerships can become power coalitions to constrain and deter [the] negative actions” of those who do not share “our values and interests” and “actively seek to undermine our efforts.” In order to construct “the architecture of global cooperation,” Clinton recommended “smart power” as “the intelligent use of all means at our disposal, including our ability to convene and connect… our economic and military strength,” as well as “the application of old-fashioned common sense in policymaking… a blend of principle and pragmatism.” Noting that, “our global and regional institutions were built for a world that has been transformed,” Clinton stated that “they too must be transformed and reformed,” referencing the UN, World Bank, IMF, G20, OAS, ASEAN, and APEC, among others. This “global architecture of cooperation,” said Clinton, “is the architecture of progress for America and all nations.”[59]

Just in case you were thinking that the relationship between CSIS and the Obama administration was not strong enough, apparently both of them thought so too. CSIS wields notable influence within the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board, which is chaired by the president and CEO of CSIS, John Hamre. A former Deputy Defense Secretary in the Clinton administration, Hamre is a member of the Aspen Strategy Group, sits on the board of defense contractors such as ITT, SAIC, and the Oshkosh Corporation, as well as MITRE, a “not-for-profit” corporation which “manages federally funded research and development centers.” The Defense Policy Board provides the Secretary of Defense, as well as the Deputy Secretary and Undersecretary of Defense “with independent, informed advice and opinion on matters of defense policy;” from outside ‘experts’ of course. [60]

Also on the board is Sam Nunn, the chairman of CSIS, co-chair and CEO of the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), former U.S. Senator from 1972-1996, member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and currently on the boards of General Electric, the Coca-Cola Company, Hess Corporation, and was recently on the boards of Dell and Chevron. Other CSIS trustees and advisors who sit on the Defense Policy Board are Harold Brown, Henry Kissinger, James Schlesinger, Brent Scowcroft, General Jack Keane, and Chuck Hagel. [61]

Harold Brown was the Secretary of Defense in the Carter administration, honorary director of the Atlantic Council, member of the boards of Evergreen Oil and Philip Morris International, former partner at Warburg Pincus, director of the Altria Group, Trustee of RAND Corporation, and member of the Trilateral Commission and the Council on Foreign Relations. James Schlesinger was the former Defense Secretary in the Nixon and Ford administrations, Secretary of Energy in the Carter administration, was briefly director of the CIA, a senior advisor to Lehman Brothers, Kuhn, Loeb Inc., and was on George W. Bush’s Homeland Security Advisory Council. He is currently chairman of the MITRE Corporation, a director of the Sandia National Corporation, a trustee of the Atlantic Council and is a board member of the Henry M. Jackson Foundation.

Brent Scowcroft, apart from being Kissinger’s deputy in the Nixon administration, and the National Security Advisor in the Ford and Bush Sr. administrations (as well as co-founder of Kissinger), is currently a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission, the Atlantic Council, and founded his own international advisory firm, the Scowcroft Group. General Jack Keane, a senior advisor to CSIS, is the former Vice Chief of Staff of the US Army, current Chairman of the board for the Institute for the Study of War; Frank Miller, former Defense Department official in the Reagan, Bush Sr., and Clinton administrations, served on the National Security Council in the George W. Bush administration, joined the Cohen Group in 2005, currently a Principal at the Scowcroft Group, and serves on the U.S.-European Command Advisory Group, is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a Director of the Atlantic Council, and he serves on the board of EADS-North America (one of the world’s leading defense contract corporations).

Kissinger’s record has been well-established up until present day, though he has been a member of the Defense Policy Board since 2001, thus serving in an advisory capacity to the Pentagon for both the Bush and Obama administrations, continues to serve on the steering committee of the Bilderberg meetings, is a member of the Trilateral Commission and he is currently an advisor to the board of directors of American Express, on the advisory board of the RAND Center for Global Risk and Security, honorary chairman of the China-United States Exchange Foundation, the board of the International Rescue Committee, and is on the International Council of JPMorgan Chase.

Another member of the Policy Board who was a trustee of CSIS was Chuck Hagel, who is now Obama’s Secretary of Defense. Prior to his new appointment, Hagel was a US Senator from 1997 to 2009, after which he was Chairman of the Atlantic Council, on the boards of Chevron, Zurich’s Holding Company of America, Corsair Capital, Deutsche Bank America, MIC Industries, was an advisor to Gallup, member of the board of PBS, member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and was a member of the CSIS Commission on Smart Power. Hagel also served on Obama’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, an outside group of ‘experts’ providing strategic advice to the president on intelligence matters.

Other members of the Defense Policy Board (who are not affiliated with CSIS) are: J.D. Crouch, Deputy National Security Advisor in the George W. Bush administration, and is on the board of advisors of the Center for Security Policy; Richard Danzig, Secretary of the Navy in the Clinton administration, a campaign advisor to Obama, and is the current Chairman of the Center for a New American Security; Rudy de Leon, former Defense Department official in the Clinton administration, a Senior Vice President at the Center for American Progress, and is a former vice president at Boeing Corporation; John Nagl, president of the Center for a New American Security, and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations; William Perry, former Secretary of Defense in the Clinton administration, who now sits on a number of corporate boards, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, on the board of the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), and has served on the Carnegie Endowment; Sarah Sewall, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Peacekeeping and Humanitarian Assistance in the Clinton administration, on the board of Oxfam America, and was a foreign policy advisor to Obama’s election campaign; and Larry Welch, former Chief of Staff of the US Air Force in the Reagan administration. More recently added to the Defense Policy Board was none other than Madeleine Albright.

Imperialism without Imperialists?

The ‘discourse’ of foreign affairs and international relations failing to adequately deal with the subject of empire is based upon a deeply flawed perception: that one cannot have an empire without imperialists, and the United States does not have imperialists, it has strategists, experts, and policy-oriented intellectuals. Does the United States, then, have an empire without imperialists? In the whole history of imperialism, that would be a unique situation.

Empires do not happen by chance. Nations do not simply trip and stumble and fall into a state of imperialism. Empires are planned and directed, maintained and expanded. This report aimed to provide some introductory insight into the institutions and individuals who direct the American imperial system. The information – while dense – is far from comprehensive or complete; it is a sample of the complex network of imperialism that exists in present-day United States. Regardless of which president or political party is in office, this highly integrated network remains in power.

This report, produced exclusively for the Hampton Institute, is to serve as a reference point for future discussion and analysis of ‘geopolitics’ and foreign policy issues. As an introduction to the institutions and individuals of empire, it can provide a framework for people to interpret foreign policy differently, to question those quoted and interviewed in the media as ‘experts,’ to integrate their understanding of think tanks into contemporary politics and society, and to bring to the surface the names, organizations and ideas of society’s ruling class.

It is time for more of what the Trilateral Commission dismissively referred to as “value-oriented intellectuals” – those who question and oppose authority – instead of more policy-oriented imperialists. The Geopolitics Division of the Hampton Institute aims to do just that: to provide an intellectual understanding and basis for opposing empire in the modern world.

Empires don’t just happen; they are constructed. They can also be deconstructed and dismantled, but that doesn’t just happen either. Opposing empire is not a passive act: it requires dedication and information, action and reaction. As relatively privileged individuals in western state-capitalist societies, we have both the opportunity and the responsibility to understand and oppose what our governments do abroad, how they treat the people of the world, how they engage with the world. It is our responsibility to do something, precisely because we have the opportunity to do so, unlike the majority of the world’s population who live in abject poverty, under ruthless dictators that we arm and maintain, in countries we bomb and regions we dominate. We exist in the epicenter of empire, and thus: we are the only ones capable of ending empire.

Notes

[1] Julian Pecquet, “Brzezinski: Professor in the halls of power,” The Hill’s Global Affairs, 22 January 2013:

http://thehill.com/blogs/global-affairs/americas/278401-professor-in-the-halls-of-power

[2] David Rothkopf, Running the World: The Inside Story of the National Security Council and the Architects of American Power (Public Affairs, New York: 2005), page 19.

[3] David Rothkopf, Running the World: The Inside Story of the National Security Council and the Architects of American Power (Public Affairs, New York: 2005), pages 19-20.

[4] James D. Wolfensohn, Council on Foreign Relations Special Symposium in honor of David Rockefeller’s 90th Birthday, The Council on Foreign Relations, 23 May 2005: http://www.cfr.org/world/council-foreign-relations-special-symposium-honor-david-rockefellers-90th-birthday/p8133

[5] Michael Stutchbury, The man who inherited the Rothschild legend, The Australian, 30 October 2010: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/features/the-man-who-inherited-the-rothschild-legend/story-e6frg6z6-1225945329773

[6] David Rockefeller, Memoirs (Random House, New York: 2002), pages 404 – 405.

[7] Henry A. Kissinger, “Domestic Structure and Foreign Policy,” Daedalus (Vol. 95, No. 2, Conditions of World Order, Spring 1966), page 514.

[8] Sallie M. Hicks, Theodore A. Couloumbis and Eloise M. Forgette, “Influencing the Prince: A Role for Academicians?” Polity (Vol. 15, No. 2, Winter 1982), pages 288-289.

[9] Sallie M. Hicks, Theodore A. Couloumbis and Eloise M. Forgette, “Influencing the Prince: A Role for Academicians?” Polity (Vol. 15, No. 2, Winter 1982), pages 289-291.

[10] Michel J. Crozier, Samuel P. Huntington and Joji Watanuki, The Crisis of Democracy: Report on the Governability of Democracies to the Trilateral Commission (New York University Press, 1975), pages 6-7.

[11] Jeff Gerth and Sarah Bartlett, “Kissinger and Friends and Revolving Doors,” The New York Times, 30 April 1989:

http://www.nytimes.com/1989/04/30/us/kissinger-and-friends-and-revolving-doors.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm

[12] Edward Cuddy, “America’s Cuban Obsession: A Case Study in Diplomacy and Psycho-History,” The Americas (Vol. 43, No. 2, October 1986), page 192.

[13] Fred Iklé and Albert Wohlstetter, Discriminate Deterrence (Report of the Commission on Integrated Long-Term Strategy), January 1988, page 13.

[14] Fred Iklé and Albert Wohlstetter, Discriminate Deterrence (Report of the Commission on Integrated Long-Term Strategy), January 1988, page 14.

[15] National Security Strategy of the United States (The White House, March 1990), page 13.

[16] The Daily Beast, “This Will Not Stand,” Newsweek, 28 February 1991:

http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/1991/02/28/this-will-not-stand.html

[17] George Black, “Forget Ideals; Just Give Us a Punching Bag: This time, fronting for oil princes, we couldn’t invoke the old defense of democracy; fighting ‘evil’ sufficed,” The Los Angeles Times, 3 March 1991:

http://articles.latimes.com/1991-03-03/opinion/op-338_1_cold-war

[18] Maureen Dowd, “WAR IN THE GULF: White House Memo; Bush Moves to Control War’s Endgame,” The New York Times, 23 February 1991:

http://www.nytimes.com/1991/02/23/world/war-in-the-gulf-white-house-memo-bush-moves-to-control-war-s-endgame.html?src=pm

[19] Zbigniew Brzezinski, “The Cold War and its Aftermath,” Foreign Affairs (Vol. 71, No. 4, Fall 1992), page 37.

[20] Tyler, Patrick E. U.S. Strategy Plan Calls for Insuring No Rivals Develop: A One Superpower World. The New York Times: March 8, 1992. http://work.colum.edu/~amiller/wolfowitz1992.htm

[21] David Rothkopf, Running the World: The Inside Story of the National Security Council and the Architects of American Power (Public Affairs, New York: 2005), pages 17-18, 162, 172-175.

[22] Anthony Lake, “From Containment to Enlargement,” Remarks of Anthony Lake at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, Washington, D.C., 21 September 1993:http://www.fas.org/news/usa/1993/usa-930921.htm

[23] Zbigniew Brzezinski, The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and its Geostrategic Imperatives (Basic Books, 1997), pages 30-31.

[24] Zbigniew Brzezinski, The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and its Geostrategic Imperatives (Basic Books, 1997), page 40.

[25] Rebuilding America’s Defenses (Project for the New American Century: September 2000), pages 6-8: http://www.newamericancentury.org/publicationsreports.htm

[26] Rebuilding America’s Defenses (Project for the New American Century: September 2000), page 25: http://www.newamericancentury.org/publicationsreports.htm

[27] Inderjeet Parmar, “Foreign Policy Fusion: Liberal interventionists, conservative nationalists and neoconservatives – the new alliance dominating the US foreign policy establishment,” International Politics (Vol. 46, No. 2/3, 2009), pages 178-179.

[28] U.S. NSS, “The National Security Strategy of the United States of America,” The White House, September 2002, page 15.

[29] U.S. NSS, “The National Security Strategy of the United States of America,” The White House, September 2002, page 6.

[30] Inderjeet Parmar, “Foreign Policy Fusion: Liberal Interventionists, Conservative Nationalists and Neoconservatives – the New alliance Dominating the US Foreign Policy Establishment,” International Politics (Vol. 46, No. 2/3, 2009), pages 181-183.

[31] G. John Ikenberry and Anne-Marie Slaughter, Forging a World of Liberty Under Law: U.S. National Security in the 21st Century – Final Report of the Princeton Project on National Security (The Princeton project on National Security, The Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University, 27 September 2006), pages 79-90.

[32] G. John Ikenberry and Anne-Marie Slaughter, Forging a World of Liberty Under Law: U.S. National Security in the 21st Century – Final Report of the Princeton Project on National Security (The Princeton project on National Security, The Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University, 27 September 2006), pages 79-90.

[33] The Daily Beast, “The Talent Primary,” Newsweek, 15 September 2007:

http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2007/09/15/the-talent-primary.html

[34] “Brzezinski Backs Obama,” The Washington Post, 25 August 2007:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/08/24/AR2007082402127.html

[35] Russell Berman, “Despite Criticism, Obama Stands By Adviser Brzezinski,” The New York Sun, 13 September 2007:

http://www.nysun.com/national/despite-criticism-obama-stands-by-adviser/62534/

[36] Eli Lake, “Obama Adviser Leads Delegation to Damascus,” The New York Sun, 12 February 2008:

http://www.nysun.com/foreign/obama-adviser-leads-delegation-to-damascus/71123/

[37] Julian Pecquet, “Brzezinski: Professor in the halls of power,” The Hill’s Global Affairs, 22 January 2013:

http://thehill.com/blogs/global-affairs/americas/278401-professor-in-the-halls-of-power

[38] Julian Pecquet, “Brzezinski: Professor in the halls of power,” The Hill’s Global Affairs, 22 January 2013:

http://thehill.com/blogs/global-affairs/americas/278401-professor-in-the-halls-of-power

[39] Annual Report 2011, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Strategic Insights and Bipartisan Policy Solutions, page 8.

[40] General James L. Jones, “Remarks by National Security Adviser Jones at 45th Munich Conference on Security Policy,” The Council on Foreign Relations, 8 February 2009:

http://www.cfr.org/defensehomeland-security/remarks-national-security-adviser-jones-45th-munich-conference-security-policy/p18515

[41] Company Profile, Jones Group International website, accessed 9 May 2013:

http://www.jonesgroupinternational.com/company_profile.php

[42] WhoRunsGov, “Thomas Donilon,” The Washington Post:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/thomas-donilon/gIQAEZrv6O_topic.html

[43] Matthew Mosk, “Tom Donilon’s Revolving Door,” ABC News – The Blotter, 10 October 2010: http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/national-security-advisor-tom-donilon/story?id=11836229#.UYsp6IJU1Ox

[44] Tom Donlinon, “Remarks by National Security Advisor Tom Donilon — As Prepared for Delivery,” White House Office of the Press Secretary, 15 November 2012:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2012/11/15/remarks-national-security-advisor-tom-donilon-prepared-delivery

[45] James Traub, “Is (His) Biography (Our) Destiny?,” The New York Times, 4 November 2007: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/04/magazine/04obama-t.html?pagewanted=all

[46] Richard Armitage and Joseph Nye, Jr., “CSIS Commission on Smart Power: A Smarter, More Secure America,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2007: page 1.

[47] Richard Armitage and Joseph Nye, Jr., “CSIS Commission on Smart Power: A Smarter, More Secure America,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2007: pages 3-4.

[48] Richard Armitage and Joseph Nye, Jr., “CSIS Commission on Smart Power: A Smarter, More Secure America,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2007: pages 5-6.

[49] Richard Armitage and Joseph Nye, Jr., “CSIS Commission on Smart Power: A Smarter, More Secure America,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2007: page 6.

[50] Richard Armitage and Joseph Nye, Jr., “CSIS Commission on Smart Power: A Smarter, More Secure America,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2007: page 6.

[51] Richard Armitage and Joseph Nye, Jr., “CSIS Commission on Smart Power: A Smarter, More Secure America,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2007: page 7.

[52] Thanassis Cambanis, “Meet the new power players,” The Boston Globe, 4 September 2011:

http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2011/09/04/meet_the_new_world_players/?page=full

[53] David Usborne, “Clinton announces dawn of ‘smart power’,” The Independent, 14 January 2009:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/clinton-announces-dawn-of-smart-power-1334256.html

[54] Hendrik Hetzberg, “Tool Kit: Smart Power,” The New Yorker, 26 January 2009:

http://www.newyorker.com/talk/2009/01/26/090126ta_talk_hertzberg

[55] Hendrik Hetzberg, “Tool Kit: Smart Power,” The New Yorker, 26 January 2009:

http://www.newyorker.com/talk/2009/01/26/090126ta_talk_hertzberg

[56] Ben Smith, “Hillary Clinton plans to reassert herself with high-profile speech,” Politico, 14 July 2009:

http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0709/24893.html

[57] Originally posted at Slum Line, “Hillary Consulted Republicans, Neocons, And Liberals For Big Foreign Policy Speech,” Future Majority, 14 July 2009:

http://www.futuremajority.com/node/8143

[58] Hillary Clinton, “Foreign Policy Address at the Council on Foreign Relations,” U.S. Department of State, 15 July 2009:

http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2009a/july/126071.htm

[59] Hillary Clinton, “Foreign Policy Address at the Council on Foreign Relations,” U.S. Department of State, 15 July 2009:

http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2009a/july/126071.htm

[60] Marcus Weisgerber, “U.S. Defense Policy Board Gets New Members,” Defense News, 4 October 2011:

http://www.defensenews.com/article/20111004/DEFSECT04/110040304/U-S-Defense-Policy-Board-Gets-New-Members

[61] Marcus Weisgerber, “U.S. Defense Policy Board Gets New Members,” Defense News, 4 October 2011:

http://www.defensenews.com/article/20111004/DEFSECT04/110040304/U-S-Defense-Policy-Board-Gets-New-Members

The Universal Pre-K Diversion: Why Isn’t Closing 129 Chicago Public Schools National News?

In Uncategorized on March 2, 2013 at 7:36 pm

Oldspeak:“President Obama waxed poetic at his state of the union speech; tours the country crowing about providing universal pre-k education and increasing access to college education, and receives thunderous applause. One has to wonder why then, he has been silent about the decimation of public school systems nationwide? Even though most of the school closings and privatizations are occurring in socioeconomically disadvantaged minority-majority communities where he presumably did his much ballyhooed community organizing. Why no discussion of the increasing corporatization and militarization of public schools that has no measurable benefits for students?  Probably because he appointed as his education secretary Arne Duncan, a non-educator & former CEO of Chicago Public Schools who was instrumental in implementing the CPS’s “Renaisance 2010″ school privatization scheme. Yes, Mr. Duncan oversaw the conversion of  over 100 public schools to charter schools during his tenure in Chicago. What about others in the political class, red and blue? Why the silence on this? Bruce A. Dixon has an interesting take.

Related Stories:

Educators Push Back Against Obama’s “Business Model” for School Reforms

“Who’s Killing Philly Public Schools?”: Daniel Denvir on Plan for School Closings, Privatization

A Look at Arne Duncan’s VIP List of Requests at Chicago Schools and the Effects of his Expansion of Charter Schools in Chicago

Zombie Politics, Democracy, And The Threat of Authoritarianism

By Bruce A. Dixon @ Black Agenda Report:

It’s an obvious question, with an easy answer. Our nation’s bipartisan political elite have decided to privatize public education. They know the only way they can execute this deeply unpopular policy is to do it on the down-low, with a minimum of coverage, and no mention of the p-word, especially of growing civic resistance to it.

If you don’t live in Chicago you might not know that the CEO and the dozens of other six figure a year mayoral cronies who run the Chicago Public Schools want to close 129 public schools this year, more than a third of the city’s total. It’s not national news for the same reason that closing 40 public schools in Philadelphia last year wasn’t national news, and massive school closings in the poorer neighborhoods of cities across the country is not news either.

It’s not news because school closings and school privatization, the end game of the bipartisan policies the Obama administration, Wall Street, the US Chamber of Commerce, a host of right wing foundations and deep pockets and hordes of politicians in both parties from the president down are pushing down the throats of communities across the country, are deeply unpopular. The American people, and especially the parents, teachers, grandparents, and other residents of poorer neighborhoods where closings and privatization are happening emphatically don’t want these things.

Even the word describing their policy, “privatization” is so vastly unpopular that they’ve taken it out of circulation altogether. The best way, our leaders imagine, to contain and curtail resistance to their deeply unpopular policies is to avoid naming them for what they are, to keep them on the down low, to not report on their implementation, and certainly to not cover any civic resistance to them.

Local elites in each city and school district concoct real or imaginary “crises” to which the solution is always firing more experienced teachers, hiring more temps in their place, instituting more high-stakes testing, closing more public schools and substituting more unaccountable (and often profitable) charter schools, frequently in the same buildings that once housed public schools. In Chicago the “crisis” is precipitated every year when the CPS (that’s Chicago Public Schools – Chicago’s never had an elected school board, they’re all mayoral appointees) honchos announce the schools are in a billion dollar hole. The Chicago Teachers Union of course, took a look over the same books and revealed that despite the host of top $100,000 a year officials whose jobs never seem to be cut, the system was nine figures in the black, not ten in the red. Naturally, local and national media didn’t report that either.

Chicago’s teachers have done what those in New York, Houston, Dallas, L.A. and others have not, and spent their union dues funding outreach and collaboration with parents across the city, so neighborhood hearings on the school closings are packed to overflowing with outraged parents, indignant local business people, angry teachers and concerned students. If CNN, MSNBC, or Fox News gave the school closings and privatization story a fraction of the coverage they gave deceptive and dishonest pro-privatization movies like Waiting For Superman and Won’t Back Down, the outrage against the move to privatize education would be unstoppable. The most coverage the wave of school closings have received lately was a misleading segment on Melissa Harris-Perry’s weekly TV show on whether school closings were “racist” or not, with no examination of the how or why they happen or the growing resistance to them.

Oceans of ink and hot air have been expended claiming that “social media” would somehow take up the slack created by the disappearance of local news gathering organizations, and how these things can somehow fuel and sustain a wave of public outrage that can topple unjust authority and make the will of the people felt. But when it comes to the war of our elite waged to privatize public education, we haven’t seen it yet.

For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Bruce Dixon. Find us on the web at www.blackagendareport.com.

Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report. A longtime Chicagoan, he now lives in exile near Marietta GA, where he is a state committee member of the Georgia Green party and a partner in a tech firm. Contact him via this site’s contact page, or at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.

“Meducation” In America: Poor, Otherwise Healthy Children Given Powerful Antipsychotic & Psychotropic Stimulants To “Improve” Behavior, Academic Performance

In Uncategorized on October 12, 2012 at 5:19 pm

Oldspeak:”“There will be, in the next generation or so, a pharmacological method of making people love their servitude, and producing dictatorship without tears, so to speak, producing a kind of painless concentration camp for entire societies, so that people will in fact have their liberties taken away from them, but will rather enjoy it, because they will be distracted from any desire to rebel by propaganda or brainwashing, or brainwashing enhanced by pharmacological methods. And this seems to be the final revolution.”Aldous Huxley And just like that, with little or no fanfare, doctors and parents clamoring for it, we have arrived as a society at Huxley’s “A Brave New World”.  9 year olds on psychiatric medication.  We are medicating our children with powerful, addictive, antipsychotic and psychotropic medications to modify their behavior.  Designing our children’s behavior.  Making children more docile, “manageable”, “better able to concentrate” to  “increase academic performance”.  Replacing parenting, counseling, teaching, social and emotional development with pharmacological drugs.  Making no significant efforts to address inequality, poverty, scarce resources, austerity measures or most importantly: DIET. No examination or acknowledgement of the numerous documented deleterious effects of the many poisons children, particularly poor children consume.  Cheap, Genetically modified, highly processed, nutrient deficient, chemical additive, sugar & pesticide laden frankenfood.  These children’s brains are literally malfunctioning from exposure to the poisons, and rather than cleaning out & optimizing their systems with real, whole foods, doctors are suggesting introducing more toxins, more poisons, that induce frighting and dangerous possible side effects. Tics, hearing voices that aren’t there,  suicidal ideation, and sudden death are the most serious ones. In this punitive and inherently unfair funds for resources public education system lately known as “race to the top”, grades and performance on the standardized tests funds are tied to are more important than children’s health and well being. This disturbing trend represents a windfall for pharmaceutical corporations, exposing children to their highly addictive and toxic products, makes for life-long non-critically thinking, chemically dependent customers. Children’s freedom to be, well, children, scatterbrained, hyper, excitable, energetic, inquisitive, unique, expressive, creative, angry, depressed, etc etc; is being medicated away. As are children’s ability to deal effectively with challenges, hardships & emotions. All this, with no concrete idea of the long term effects these drugs  will have on children’s brains, they are basically participating in yet another giant uncontrolled experiment. Behold the fruits of austerity era education in America! “Ignorance Is Strength”

By Alan Schwartz @ The New York Times:

The pills boost focus and impulse control in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Although A.D.H.D is the diagnosis Dr. Anderson makes, he calls the disorder “made up” and “an excuse” to prescribe the pills to treat what he considers the children’s true ill — poor academic performance in inadequate schools.

“I don’t have a whole lot of choice,” said Dr. Anderson, a pediatrician for many poor families in Cherokee County, north of Atlanta. “We’ve decided as a society that it’s too expensive to modify the kid’s environment. So we have to modify the kid.”

Dr. Anderson is one of the more outspoken proponents of an idea that is gaining interest among some physicians. They are prescribing stimulants to struggling students in schools starved of extra money — not to treat A.D.H.D., necessarily, but to boost their academic performance.

It is not yet clear whether Dr. Anderson is representative of a widening trend. But some experts note that as wealthy students abuse stimulants to raise already-good grades in colleges and high schools, the medications are being used on low-income elementary school children with faltering grades and parents eager to see them succeed.

“We as a society have been unwilling to invest in very effective nonpharmaceutical interventions for these children and their families,” said Dr. Ramesh Raghavan, a child mental-health services researcher at Washington University in St. Louis and an expert in prescription drug use among low-income children. “We are effectively forcing local community psychiatrists to use the only tool at their disposal, which is psychotropic medications.”

Dr. Nancy Rappaport, a child psychiatrist in Cambridge, Mass., who works primarily with lower-income children and their schools, added: “We are seeing this more and more. We are using a chemical straitjacket instead of doing things that are just as important to also do, sometimes more.”

Dr. Anderson’s instinct, he said, is that of a “social justice thinker” who is “evening the scales a little bit.” He said that the children he sees with academic problems are essentially “mismatched with their environment” — square pegs chafing the round holes of public education. Because their families can rarely afford behavior-based therapies like tutoring and family counseling, he said, medication becomes the most reliable and pragmatic way to redirect the student toward success.

“People who are getting A’s and B’s, I won’t give it to them,” he said. For some parents the pills provide great relief. Jacqueline Williams said she can’t thank Dr. Anderson enough for diagnosing A.D.H.D. in her children — Eric, 15; Chekiara, 14; and Shamya, 11 — and prescribing Concerta, a long-acting stimulant, for them all. She said each was having trouble listening to instructions and concentrating on schoolwork.

“My kids don’t want to take it, but I told them, ‘These are your grades when you’re taking it, this is when you don’t,’ and they understood,” Ms. Williams said, noting that Medicaid covers almost every penny of her doctor and prescription costs.

Some experts see little harm in a responsible physician using A.D.H.D. medications to help a struggling student. Others — even among the many like Dr. Rappaport who praise the use of stimulants as treatment for classic A.D.H.D. — fear that doctors are exposing children to unwarranted physical and psychological risks. Reported side effects of the drugs have included growth suppression, increased blood pressure and, in rare cases, psychotic episodes.

The disorder, which is characterized by severe inattention and impulsivity, is an increasingly common psychiatric diagnosis among American youth: about 9.5 percent of Americans ages 4 to 17 were judged to have it in 2007, or about 5.4 million children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The reported prevalence of the disorder has risen steadily for more than a decade, with some doctors gratified by its widening recognition but others fearful that the diagnosis, and the drugs to treat it, are handed out too loosely and at the exclusion of nonpharmaceutical therapies.

The Drug Enforcement Administration classifies these medications as Schedule II Controlled Substances because they are particularly addictive. Long-term effects of extended use are not well understood, said many medical experts. Some of them worry that children can become dependent on the medication well into adulthood, long after any A.D.H.D. symptoms can dissipate.

According to guidelines published last year by the American Academy of Pediatrics, physicians should use one of several behavior rating scales, some of which feature dozens of categories, to make sure that a child not only fits criteria for A.D.H.D., but also has no related condition like dyslexia or oppositional defiant disorder, in which intense anger is directed toward authority figures. However, a 2010 study in the Journal of Attention Disorders suggested that at least 20 percent of doctors said they did not follow this protocol when making their A.D.H.D. diagnoses, with many of them following personal instinct.

On the Rocafort family’s kitchen shelf in Ball Ground, Ga., next to the peanut butter and chicken broth, sits a wire basket brimming with bottles of the children’s medications, prescribed by Dr. Anderson: Adderall for Alexis, 12; and Ethan, 9; Risperdal (an antipsychotic for mood stabilization) for Quintn and Perry, both 11; and Clonidine (a sleep aid to counteract the other medications) for all four, taken nightly.

Quintn began taking Adderall for A.D.H.D. about five years ago, when his disruptive school behavior led to calls home and in-school suspensions. He immediately settled down and became a more earnest, attentive student — a little bit more like Perry, who also took Adderall for his A.D.H.D.

When puberty’s chemical maelstrom began at about 10, though, Quintn got into fights at school because, he said, other children were insulting his mother. The problem was, they were not; Quintn was seeing people and hearing voices that were not there, a rare but recognized side effect of Adderall. After Quintn admitted to being suicidal, Dr. Anderson prescribed a week in a local psychiatric hospital, and a switch to Risperdal.

While telling this story, the Rocaforts called Quintn into the kitchen and asked him to describe why he had been given Adderall.

“To help me focus on my school work, my homework, listening to Mom and Dad, and not doing what I used to do to my teachers, to make them mad,” he said. He described the week in the hospital and the effects of Risperdal: “If I don’t take my medicine I’d be having attitudes. I’d be disrespecting my parents. I wouldn’t be like this.”

Despite Quintn’s experience with Adderall, the Rocaforts decided to use it with their 12-year-old daughter, Alexis, and 9-year-old son, Ethan. These children don’t have A.D.H.D., their parents said. The Adderall is merely to help their grades, and because Alexis was, in her father’s words, “a little blah.”

”We’ve seen both sides of the spectrum: we’ve seen positive, we’ve seen negative,” the father, Rocky Rocafort, said. Acknowledging that Alexis’s use of Adderall is “cosmetic,” he added, “If they’re feeling positive, happy, socializing more, and it’s helping them, why wouldn’t you? Why not?”

Dr. William Graf, a pediatrician and child neurologist who serves many poor families in New Haven, said that a family should be able to choose for itself whether Adderall can benefit its non-A.D.H.D. child, and that a physician can ethically prescribe a trial as long as side effects are closely monitored. He expressed concern, however, that the rising use of stimulants in this manner can threaten what he called “the authenticity of development.”

“These children are still in the developmental phase, and we still don’t know how these drugs biologically affect the developing brain,” he said. “There’s an obligation for parents, doctors and teachers to respect the authenticity issue, and I’m not sure that’s always happening.”

Dr. Anderson said that every child he treats with A.D.H.D. medication has met qualifications. But he also railed against those criteria, saying they were codified only to “make something completely subjective look objective.” He added that teacher reports almost invariably come back as citing the behaviors that would warrant a diagnosis, a decision he called more economic than medical.

“The school said if they had other ideas they would,” Dr. Anderson said. “But the other ideas cost money and resources compared to meds.”

Dr. Anderson cited William G. Hasty Elementary School here in Canton as one school he deals with often. Izell McGruder, the school’s principal, did not respond to several messages seeking comment.

Several educators contacted for this article considered the subject of A.D.H.D. so controversial — the diagnosis was misused at times, they said, but for many children it is a serious learning disability — that they declined to comment. The superintendent of one major school district in California, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, noted that diagnosis rates of A.D.H.D. have risen as sharply as school funding has declined.

“It’s scary to think that this is what we’ve come to; how not funding public education to meet the needs of all kids has led to this,” said the superintendent, referring to the use of stimulants in children without classic A.D.H.D. “I don’t know, but it could be happening right here. Maybe not as knowingly, but it could be a consequence of a doctor who sees a kid failing in overcrowded classes with 42 other kids and the frustrated parents asking what they can do. The doctor says, ‘Maybe it’s A.D.H.D., let’s give this a try.’ ”

When told that the Rocaforts insist that their two children on Adderall do not have A.D.H.D. and never did, Dr. Anderson said he was surprised. He consulted their charts and found the parent questionnaire. Every category, which assessed the severity of behaviors associated with A.D.H.D., received a five out of five except one, which was a four.

“This is my whole angst about the thing,” Dr. Anderson said. “We put a label on something that isn’t binary — you have it or you don’t. We won’t just say that there is a student who has problems in school, problems at home, and probably, according to the doctor with agreement of the parents, will try medical treatment.”

He added, “We might not know the long-term effects, but we do know the short-term costs of school failure, which are real. I am looking to the individual person and where they are right now. I am the doctor for the patient, not for society.”

Turning A Blind Eye To Catastrophic Truths In The Age Of Unreality

In Uncategorized on July 11, 2012 at 7:31 pm

(Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)

Oldspeak:Fearful people are more dependent, more easily manipulated and controlled, more susceptible to deceptively simple, strong, tough measures and hard-line postures . . . they may accept and even welcome repression if it promises to relieve their insecurities. George Gerbner  Fear. It is a powerful motivator. It is a powerful captor.  It drives us to greatness & calamity.  It captivates us with ubiquitous illusions of safety, stability & sanity. It plays an essential and ironically unseen part in our refusal to see truths like those imparted by Osho – ‎”Do not search. That which is, is. Stop and see.” We’ve been socially engineered to not see that which is. To not think, just react. To avoid all that is real. This engineering has one fatal flaw. It has not taken into account the unavoidability of reality and the natural world we are a part of.  It it only a matter of time before we are no longer able to turn blind eyes to catastrophic truths.” “”Ignorance Is Strength”

By Chris Hedges @ Truthdig:

Cultures that endure carve out a protected space for those who question and challenge national myths. Artists, writers, poets, activists, journalists, philosophers, dancers, musicians, actors, directors and renegades must be tolerated if a culture is to be pulled back from disaster. Members of this intellectual and artistic class, who are usually not welcome in the stultifying halls of academia where mediocrity is triumphant, serve as prophets. They are dismissed, or labeled by the power elites as subversive, because they do not embrace collective self-worship. They force us to confront unexamined assumptions, ones that, if not challenged, lead to destruction. They expose the ruling elites as hollow and corrupt. They articulate the senselessness of a system built on the ideology of endless growth, ceaseless exploitation and constant expansion. They warn us about the poison of careerism and the futility of the search for happiness in the accumulation of wealth. They make us face ourselves, from the bitter reality of slavery and Jim Crow to the genocidal slaughter of Native Americans to the repression of working-class movements to the atrocities carried out in imperial wars to the assault on the ecosystem. They make us unsure of our virtue. They challenge the easy clichés we use to describe the nation—the land of the free, the greatest country on earth, the beacon of liberty—to expose our darkness, crimes and ignorance. They offer the possibility of a life of meaning and the capacity for transformation.

Human societies see what they want to see. They create national myths of identity out of a composite of historical events and fantasy. They ignore unpleasant facts that intrude on self-glorification. They trust naively in the notion of linear progress and in assured national dominance. This is what nationalism is about—lies. And if a culture loses its ability for thought and expression, if it effectively silences dissident voices, if it retreats into what Sigmund Freud called “screen memories,” those reassuring mixtures of fact and fiction, it dies. It surrenders its internal mechanism for puncturing self-delusion. It makes war on beauty and truth. It abolishes the sacred. It turns education into vocational training. It leaves us blind. And this is what has occurred. We are lost at sea in a great tempest. We do not know where we are. We do not know where we are going. And we do not know what is about to happen to us.

The psychoanalyst John Steiner calls this phenomenon “turning a blind eye.” He notes that often we have access to adequate knowledge but because it is unpleasant and disconcerting we choose unconsciously, and sometimes consciously, to ignore it. He uses the Oedipus story to make his point. He argued that Oedipus, Jocasta, Creon and the “blind” Tiresias grasped the truth, that Oedipus had killed his father and married his mother as prophesized, but they colluded to ignore it. We too, Steiner wrote, turn a blind eye to the dangers that confront us, despite the plethora of evidence that if we do not radically reconfigure our relationships to each other and the natural world, catastrophe is assured. Steiner describes a psychological truth that is deeply frightening.

I saw this collective capacity for self-delusion among the urban elites in Sarajevo and later Pristina during the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo. These educated elites steadfastly refused to believe that war was possible although acts of violence by competing armed bands had already begun to tear at the social fabric. At night you could hear gunfire. But they were the last to “know.” And we are equally self-deluded. The physical evidence of national decay—the crumbling infrastructures, the abandoned factories and other workplaces, the rows of gutted warehouses, the closure of libraries, schools, fire stations and post offices—that we physically see, is, in fact, unseen. The rapid and terrifying deterioration of the ecosystem, evidenced in soaring temperatures, droughts, floods, crop destruction, freak storms, melting ice caps and rising sea levels, are met blankly with Steiner’s “blind eye.”

Oedipus, at the end of Sophocles’ play, cuts out his eyes and with his daughter Antigone as a guide wanders the countryside. Once king, he becomes a stranger in a strange country. He dies, in Antigone’s words, “in a foreign land, but one he yearned for.”

William Shakespeare in “King Lear” plays on the same theme of sight and sightlessness. Those with eyes in “King Lear” are unable to see. Gloucester, whose eyes are gouged out, finds in his blindness a revealed truth. “I have no way, and therefore want no eyes,” Gloucester says after he is blinded. “I stumbled when I saw.” When Lear banishes his only loyal daughter, Cordelia, whom he accuses of not loving him enough, he shouts: “Out of my sight!” To which Kent replies:

See better, Lear, and let me still remain
The true blank of thine eye.

The story of Lear, like the story of Oedipus, is about the attainment of this inner vision. It is about morality and intellect that are blinded by empiricism and sight. It is about understanding that the human imagination is, as William Blake saw, our manifestation of Eternity. “Love without imagination is eternal death.”

The Shakespearean scholar Harold Goddard wrote: “The imagination is not a faculty for the creation of illusion; it is the faculty by which alone man apprehends reality. The ‘illusion’ turns out to be truth.” “Let faith oust fact,” Starbuck says in “Moby-Dick.”

“It is only our absurd ‘scientific’ prejudice that reality must be physical and rational that blinds us to the truth,” Goddard warned. There are, as Shakespeare wrote, “things invisible to mortal sight.” But these things are not vocational or factual or empirical. They are not found in national myths of glory and power. They are not attained by force. They do not come through cognition or logical reasoning. They are intangible. They are the realities of beauty, grief, love, the search for meaning, the struggle to face our own mortality and the ability to face truth. And cultures that disregard these forces of imagination commit suicide. They cannot see.

“How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,” Shakespeare wrote, “Whose action is no stronger than a flower?” Human imagination, the capacity to have vision, to build a life of meaning rather than utilitarianism, is as delicate as a flower. And if it is crushed, if a Shakespeare or a Sophocles is no longer deemed useful in the empirical world of business, careerism and corporate power, if universities think a Milton Friedman or a Friedrich Hayek is more important to its students than a Virginia Woolf or an Anton Chekhov, then we become barbarians. We assure our own extinction. Students who are denied the wisdom of the great oracles of human civilization—visionaries who urge us not to worship ourselves, not to kneel before the base human emotion of greed—cannot be educated. They cannot think.

To think, we must, as Epicurus understood, “live in hiding.” We must build walls to keep out the cant and noise of the crowd. We must retreat into a print-based culture where ideas are not deformed into sound bites and thought-terminating clichés. Thinking is, as Hannah Arendt wrote, “a soundless dialogue between me and myself.” But thinking, she wrote, always presupposes the human condition of plurality. It has no utilitarian function. It is not an end or an aim outside of itself. It is different from logical reasoning, which is focused on a finite and identifiable goal. Logical reason, acts of cognition, serve the efficiency of a system, including corporate power, which is usually morally neutral at best, and often evil. The inability to think, Arendt wrote, “is not a failing of the many who lack brain power but an ever-present possibility for everybody—scientists, scholars, and other specialists in mental enterprises not excluded.”

Our corporate culture has effectively severed us from human imagination. Our electronic devices intrude deeper and deeper into spaces that were once reserved for solitude, reflection and privacy. Our airwaves are filled with the tawdry and the absurd. Our systems of education and communication scorn the disciplines that allow us to see. We celebrate prosaic vocational skills and the ridiculous requirements of standardized tests. We have tossed those who think, including many teachers of the humanities, into a wilderness where they cannot find employment, remuneration or a voice. We follow the blind over the cliff. We make war on ourselves.

The vital importance of thought, Arendt wrote, is apparent only “in times of transition when men no longer rely on the stability of the world and their role in it, and when the question concerning the general conditions of human life, which as such are properly coeval with the appearance of man on earth, gain an uncommon poignancy.” We never need our thinkers and artists more than in times of crisis, as Arendt reminds us, for they provide the subversive narratives that allow us to chart a new course, one that can assure our survival.

“What must I do to win salvation?” Dimitri asks Starov in “The Brothers Karamazov,” to which Starov answers: “Above all else, never lie to yourself.”

And here is the dilemma we face as a civilization. We march collectively toward self-annihilation. Corporate capitalism, if left unchecked, will kill us. Yet we refuse, because we cannot think and no longer listen to those who do think, to see what is about to happen to us. We have created entertaining mechanisms to obscure and silence the harsh truths, from climate change to the collapse of globalization to our enslavement to corporate power, that will mean our self-destruction. If we can do nothing else we must, even as individuals, nurture the private dialogue and the solitude that make thought possible. It is better to be an outcast, a stranger in one’s own country, than an outcast from one’s self. It is better to see what is about to befall us and to resist than to retreat into the fantasies embraced by a nation of the blind.

Chris Hedges

Chris Hedges spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He has reported from more than 50 countries and has worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, for which he was a foreign correspondent for 15 years.

70% Of Ground Beef Contains Ammonia-Soaked “Pink Slime”; USDA Bought 7 Million Pounds For School Lunches

In Uncategorized on March 13, 2012 at 7:30 pm

Oldspeak:“So the stuff that the Ghostbusters struggled to contain is in ground beef, that’s being served to kids in copious amounts, despite the fact that there are no significant cost savings from adding it to meat. Why? Big Agra has so thoroughly corrupted and captured its toothless regulatory agency that the agency is buying demonstrably dangerous food additives that  facilitate Big Agra’s dangerous and toxic industrial scale food production methods.”There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” -Nelson Mandela

Is Red Meat – Or FAKE Meat – Killing Us?

Safety of Beef Processing Method Is Questioned

By Washington’s Blog:

ABC news notes:

“Pink slime,” a cheap meat filler, is in 70 percent of the ground beef sold at supermarkets and up to 25 percent of each American hamburger patty, by some estimates.

The USDA just bought 7 million pounds of pink slime to add to school lunches (up from 5.5 million pounds in 2009).

Jamie Oliver gave a must-watch demonstration on the subject a year ago:

But at least we know where the real meat part of ground beef comes from … right?

Nope … the World Trade Organization struck down American laws requiring labeling of beef to disclose the country of origin:

But at least beef is being tested for horrible diseases like mad cow disease, right?

Negatory: the government does very little testing … and prohibits private citizens such as ranchers or meat packers from testing it themselves.

What Should We Do?

So what’s the answer?

You could buy a pot roast or another cut of meat and grind it yourself. That way, you’ll be sure there’s nothing but real meat. (Talk to the butcher in your grocery store’s meat department; he’ll help you buy the right cut.)

Or you could buy grass-fed beef. Organic, grass-fed usually contains no pink slime.

And all grass-fed beef – organic or not – has a much lower risk for mad cow than other types of beef.

Why?

Because mad cow disease is most commonly caused by feeding animal products to cows. For example, Wikipedia notes:

A British inquiry into BSE [the scientific abbreviation for mad cow] concluded that the [disease] was caused by cattle, who are normally herbivores, being fed the remains of other cattle in the form of meat and bone meal (MBM), which caused the infectious agent to spread.

If they are fed grass – their natural food – they are much less likely to get sick.

Stores like Trader Joe’s label grass fed, so it is easy to find.

Grass-fed beef also contains more Omega 3s than beef from cows fed corn, meat or other “modern” feeds. See this and this.

Why is this important? Because eating Omega 3 rich foods can increase gray matter in adults and boost neurological development in children. Conversely, low dietary levels of Omega 3s in mothers can reduce their kids’ IQ. (This is not entirely surprising, given that (1) our brains are about 60% fat, and (2) leading nutritionists say that humans evolved to consume alot of Omega 3 fatty acids in the wild game and fish which they ate (more), and that a low Omega 3 diet is a very new trend within the last 100 years or so).

And if you think that asking for organic beef is a counterculture hippy thing, note that Ronald Reagan insisted on organic meat.

Partners In Slime: Feds Keep Buying Ammonia-Treated Ground Beef For School Lunches

By David Knowles:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s continued purchase of so-called pink slime for school lunches makes no sense, according to two former microbiologists at the Food Safety Inspection Service.

“I have a 2-year-old son,” microbiologist Gerald Zirnstein told The Daily. “And you better believe I don’t want him eating pink slime when he starts going to school.”

It was Zirnstein who first coined the term “pink slime” after touring a Beef Products Inc. production facility in 2002 as part of an investigation into salmonella contamination in packaged ground beef. In an email to his colleagues shortly after the visit, Zirnstein said he did not “consider the stuff to be ground beef.”

Made by grinding together connective tissue and beef scraps normally destined for dog food and rendering, BPI’s Lean Beef Trimmings are then treated with ammonia hydroxide, a process that kills pathogens such as salmonella and E. coli.

The resulting pinkish substance is later blended into traditional ground beef and hamburger patties.

For retired microbiologist Carl Custer, a 35-year veteran of the Food Safety Inspection Service, the idea of mixing in BPI’s Lean Beef Trimmings into more nutritious, pure ground beef was itself problematic.

“We originally called it soylent pink,” Custer told The Daily. “We looked at the product and we objected to it because it used connective tissues instead of muscle. It was simply not nutritionally equivalent [to ground beef]. My main objection was that it was not meat.”

Custer said he first encountered the product — which gained fame recently as “pink slime” in part due to the efforts of celebrity chef Jamie Oliver — back in the late 1990s. Despite voicing his concerns to other officials at the food inspection service, however, the USDA ruled that Lean Beef Trimmings were safe. “The word in the office was that undersecretary JoAnn Smith pushed it through, and that was that,” Custer said.

Appointed by President George H.W. Bush in 1989, Smith had deep ties with the beef industry, serving as president of both the Florida Cattlemen’s Association and the of the National Cattlemen’s Association.

“Scientists in D.C. were pressured to approve this stuff with minimal safety approval,” Zirnstein said.

A baseline study conducted by Zirstein and Custer classified the trimmings as a “high risk product.” Zirnstein says the food inspection service ignored their findings, and commissioned a separate study to assess the safety of BPI’s meat.

The USDA, which plans to buy 7 million pounds of Lean Beef Trimmings from BPI in the coming months for the national school lunch program, said in a statement that all of its ground beef purchases “meet the highest standard for food safety.” USDA officials also noted that the sole role of the food inspection service is to determine the overall safety of the nation’s food supply, not to make judgments on a product’s relative merits.

But Zirnstein and Custer say that the USDA now finds itself in the odd position of purchasing a product that has recently been dropped by fast-food giants McDonald’s, Burger King and Taco Bell.

“My objection with having it in the schools is that it’s not meat,” Custer said.

In 2005, the USDA limited the amount of ammonia-treated Lean Beef Trimmings in a serving of ground beef to 15 percent, but lax labeling requirements mean that it is virtually impossible as a consumer — and for parents of children at a schools where “pink slime” is a part of lunch — to know whether a given package of ground beef or hamburger patty contains it.

“The USDA-AMS [Agricultural Marketing Service] does allow for the inclusion of BPI Boneless Lean Beef in the ground beef they procure for all their federal food programs and, according to federal labeling requirements, it is not a raw material that is uniquely labeled,” Amy Bell, spokeswoman for the California Department of Education Food Distribution Program, told The Daily in an email. “Accordingly, there is no way to tell from simply looking at a package of finished product if BPI Boneless Lean Beef is in the product mix.”

Last year, the USDA said that 6.5 percent of the beef it purchased for the national school lunch program came from BPI.

In part, it’s the lack of clear labeling that rankles both Zirnstein and Custer.

“It’s more like Jell-O than hamburger, plus it’s treated with ammonia, an additive that is not declared anywhere,” Custer said.

“They’ve taken a processed product, without labeling it, and added it to raw ground beef,” Zirnstein said. “Science is the truth, and pink slime at this point in time is a fraudulent lie.”

Neither BPI, nor Smith, who now serves on the board of directors at Tyson Foods, responded to The Daily’s request for comment on this story.

David.Knowles@thedaily.com

 

 

Dangerous Pedagogy In The Age Of Casino Capitalism & Religious Fundamentalism

In Uncategorized on March 1, 2012 at 5:35 pm

Oldspeak:The greatest threat to our children does not come from lowered standards, the absence of privatized choice schemes or the lack of rigid testing measures… it comes from a society that refuses to view children as a social investment, that consigns 16.3 million children to live in poverty, reduces critical learning to massive testing programs, promotes policies that eliminate most crucial health and public services, and defines masculinity through the degrading celebration of a gun culture, extreme sports and the spectacles of violence that permeate corporate-controlled media industries. Students are not at risk because of the absence of market incentives in the schools; they are at risk because, as a country, we support an iniquitous class-based system of funding education and, more recently, are intent on completely destroying it precisely because it is public. Children and young adults are under siege in both public and higher education because far too many of these institutions have become breeding grounds for commercialism, racism, social intolerance, sexism, homophobia and consumerism, spurred on by the right-wing discourse of the Republican Party, corporations, conservative think tanks and a weak mainstream media. We live in a society in which a culture of punishment and intolerance has replaced a culture of social responsibility and compassion. Within such a climate of harsh discipline and disdain, it is easier for states such as California to set aside more financial resources to build prisons that to support higher education.” -Henry A. Giroux   When education is utterly commodified and privatized, democracy dies; corporatocracy rules. “Ignorance Is Strength.” “Freedom Is Slavery.”Profit Is Paramount.”

By Henry A. Giroux @ Truthout:

All over the world, the forces of neoliberalism are on the march, dismantling the historically guaranteed social provisions provided by the welfare state, defining profit-making and market freedoms as the essence of democracy while diminishing civil liberties as part of the alleged “war” against terrorism. Secure in its dystopian vision that there are no alternatives to a market society, free-market fundamentalism eliminates issues of contingency, struggle and social agency by celebrating the inevitability of economic laws in which the ethical ideal of intervening in the world gives way to the idea that we “have no choice but to adapt both our hopes and our abilities to the new global market.”[1] Coupled with an ever-expanding culture of fear, market freedoms seem securely grounded in a defense of national security and the institutions of finance capital. Under such circumstances, a neoliberal model now bears down on American society, threatening to turn it into an authoritarian state. The script is now familiar: there is no such thing as the common good; market values become the template for shaping all aspects of society; the free, possessive individual has no obligations to anything other than his or her self-interest; profit-making is the essence of democracy; the government, and particularly the welfare state, is the arch-enemy of freedom; private interests trump public values; consumerism is the essence of citizenship; privatization is the essence of freedom; law and order is the new language for mobilizing shared fears rather than shared responsibilities;  war is the new organizing principle for organizing society and the economy; theocracy now becomes the legitimating code for punishing women, young people, the elderly, and those groups marginalized by class, race and ethnicity when religious moralism is needed to shore up the war against all social order.[2]

Given this current crisis, educators need a new political and pedagogical language for addressing the changing contexts and issues facing a world in which capital draws upon an unprecedented convergence of resources – financial, cultural, political, economic, scientific, military and technological – to exercise powerful and diverse forms of control. If educators and others are to counter global capitalism’s increased ability to separate the traditional nation-state-based space of politics from the transnational reach of power, it is crucial to develop educational approaches that reject a collapse of the distinction between market liberties and civil liberties, a market economy and a market society. This suggests developing forms of critical pedagogy capable of challenging neoliberalism and other anti-democratic traditions, such as the emerging religious fundamentalism in the United States, while resurrecting a radical democratic project that provides the basis for imagining a life beyond the “dream world” of capitalism.  Under such circumstances, education becomes more than testing, an obsession with accountability schemes, zero-tolerance policies and a site for simply training students for the workforce. At stake here is recognizing the power of education in creating the formative culture necessary to both challenge the various threats being mobilized against the very idea of justice and democracy while also fighting for those public spheres and formative cultures that offer alternative modes of identity, social relations and politics.

The search for a new politics and a new critical language that crosses a range of theoretical divides must reinvigorate the relationship between democracy, ethics, and political agency by expanding the meaning of the pedagogical as a political practice while at the same time making the political more pedagogical. In the first instance, it is crucial to recognize that pedagogy has less to do with the language of technique and methodology than it does with issues of politics and power. Pedagogy is a moral and political practice that is always implicated in power relations and must be understood as a cultural politics that offers both a particular version and vision of civic life, the future, and how we might construct representations of ourselves, others, and our physical and social environment. As Roger Simon observes:

As an introduction to, preparation for, and legitimation of particular forms of social life, education always presupposes a vision of the future. In this respect a curriculum and its supporting pedagogy are a version of our own dreams for ourselves, our children, and our communities. But such dreams are never neutral; they are always someone’s dreams and to the degree that they are implicated in organizing the future for others they always have a moral and political dimension. It is in this respect that any discussion of pedagogy must begin with a discussion of educational practice as a form of cultural politics, as a particular way in which a sense of identity, place, worth, and above all value is – informed by practices which organize knowledge and meaning.[3]

An oppositional cultural politics can take many forms, but given the current assault by neoliberalism on all aspects of democratic public life, it seems imperative that educators revitalize the struggles to create conditions in which learning would be linked to social change in a wide variety of social sites, and pedagogy would take on the task of regenerating both a renewed sense of social and political agency and a critical subversion of dominant power itself. Making the political more pedagogical rests on the assumption that education takes place a variety of sites outside of the school. Under such circumstances, agency becomes the site through which power is not transcended but reworked, replayed and restaged in productive ways. Central to my argument is the assumption that politics is not only about power, but also, as Cornelius Castoriadis points out, “has to do with political judgements and value choices,”[4] indicating that questions of civic education and critical pedagogy (learning how to become a skilled citizen) are central to the struggle over political agency and democracy. In this instance, critical pedagogy emphasizes critical reflexivity, bridging the gap between learning and everyday life, understanding the connection between power and knowledge, and extending democratic rights and identities by using the resources of history. However, among many educators and social theorists, there is a widespread refusal to recognize that this form of education is not only the foundation for expanding and enabling political agency, but also that it takes place across a wide variety of public spheres mediated through the very force of culture itself.

One of the central tasks of any viable critical pedagogy would be to make visible alternative models of radical democratic relations in a wide variety of sites. These spaces can make the pedagogical more political by raising fundamental questions such as: what is the relationship between social justice and the distribution of public resources and goods? What are the conditions, knowledge and skills that are a prerequisite for civic literacy, political agency and social change? What kinds of identities, desires and social relations are being produced and legitimated in diverse sites of teaching and learning? How might the latter prepare or undermine the ability of students to be self-reflective, exercise judgment, engage in critical dialogues, and assume some responsibility for addressing the challenges to democracy at a national and global level? At the very least, such a project involves understanding and critically engaging dominant public transcripts and values within a broader set of historical and institutional contexts. Making the political more pedagogical in this instance suggests producing modes of knowledge and social practices in a variety of sites that not only affirm oppositional thinking, dissent and cultural work, but also offer opportunities to mobilize instances of collective outrage and collective action. Such mobilization opposes glaring material inequities and the growing cynical belief that today’s culture of investment and finance makes it impossible to address many of the major social problems facing both the United States and the larger world. Most importantly, such work points to the link between civic education, critical pedagogy and modes of oppositional political agency that are pivotal to creating a politics that promotes democratic values, relations,  autonomy and social change. Hints of such a politics is already evident in the various approaches the Occupy movement has taken in reclaiming the discourse of democracy and in collectively challenging the values and practices of finance capital. Borrowing a line from Rachel Donadio, the Occupy movement protesters are raising questions about “what happens to democracy when banks become more powerful than political institutions?”[5] What kind of education does it take, both in and out of schools, to recognize the dissolution of democracy and the emergence of an authoritarian state?

In taking up these questions and the challenges they pose, critical pedagogy proposes that education is a form of political intervention in the world and is capable of creating the possibilities for social transformation. Rather than viewing teaching as technical practice, pedagogy, in the broadest critical sense, is premised on the assumption that learning is not about processing received knowledge, but actually transforming knowledge as part of a more expansive struggle for individual rights and social justice. This implies that any viable notion of pedagogy and resistance should illustrate how knowledge, values, desire and social relations are always implicated in relations of power, and how such an understanding can be used pedagogically and politically by students to further expand and deepen the imperatives of economic and political democracy. The fundamental challenge facing educators within the current age of neoliberalism, militarism and religious fundamentalism is to provide the conditions for students to address how knowledge is related to the power of both self-definition and social agency. In part, this means providing students with the skills, knowledge and authority they need to inquire and act upon what it means to live in a substantive democracy, to recognize anti-democratic forms of power, and to fight deeply rooted injustices in a society and world founded on systemic economic, racial and gendered inequalities.

The Responsibility of Teachers as Public Intellectuals

In the age of irresponsible privatization, it is difficult to recognize that educators and other cultural workers bear an enormous responsibility in opposing the current threat to the planet and everyday life by bringing democratic political culture back to life. While liberal democracy offers an important discourse around issues of “rights, freedoms, participation, self-rule, and citizenship,” it has been mediated historically through the “damaged and burdened tradition” of racial and gender exclusions, economic injustice and a formalistic, ritualized democracy, which substituted the swindle for the promise of democratic participation.[6] At the same time, liberal and republican traditions of Western democratic thought have given rise to forms of social and political criticism that at least contained a “referent” for addressing the deep gap between the promise of a radical democracy and the existing reality. With the rise of neoliberalism, referents for imagining even a weak democracy, or, for that matter, for understanding the tensions between capitalism and democracy, which animated political discourse for the first half of the 20th century, appear to be overwhelmed by market discourses, identities and practices, on the one hand, or a corrosive cynicism on the other. And, of course, at the present moment a kind of political lunacy that testifies to the rise of extremism in America. Democracy has now been reduced to a metaphor for the alleged “free” market and, in some cases, to the image of a theocratic state. It is not that a genuine democratic public space once existed in some ideal form and has now been corrupted by the values of the market, but that these democratic public spheres, even in limited forms, seem to no longer be animating concepts for making visible the contradiction and tension between the reality of existing democracy and the promise of a more fully realized, substantive democracy. Part of the challenge of linking critical pedagogy with the process of democratization suggests constructing new locations of struggle, vocabularies and subject positions that allow people in a wide variety of public spheres to become more than they are now, to question what it is they have become within existing institutional and social formations, and to give some thought to what it might mean to transform existing relations of subordination and oppression.

Critical Pedagogy as a Project of Intervention

If educators are to revitalize the language of civic education as part of a broader discourse of political agency and critical citizenship in a global world, they will have to consider grounding such a pedagogy in a defense of what I have called in the past, “educated hope.”[7] Such hope is built upon recognizing pedagogy as part of a broader attempt to revitalize the conditions for individual and social agency while simultaneously addressing critical pedagogy as a project informed by a democratic political vision while conscious of the diverse ways such a vision gets mediated in different contexts. Such a project also suggests recasting the relationship between the pedagogical and political as a project that is indeterminate, open to constant revision and constantly in dialogue with its own assumptions. The concept of the project in this sense speaks to the directive nature of pedagogy, the recognition that any pedagogical practice presupposes some notion of the future, prioritizes some forms of identification over others and upholds selective modes of social relations. At the same time, the normative nature of such a pedagogy does not offer guarantees as much as it recognizes that its own position is grounded in modes of authority, values and ethical considerations that must be constantly debated for the ways in which they both open up and close down democratic relations, values and identities. Central to both keeping any notion of critical pedagogy alive is the recognition that it must address real social needs, be imbued with a passion for democracy and provide the conditions for expanding democratic forms of political and social agency.

Critical Pedagogy as a Matter of Context, Ethics and Politics

In opposition to the increasingly dominant views of education and cultural politics, I want to argue for a transformative pedagogy rooted in the project of resurgent democracy, one that relentlessly questions the kinds of labor, practices and forms of production that are enacted in public and higher education. Such an analysis should be relational and contextual, as well as self-reflective and theoretically rigorous. By relational, I mean that the current crisis of schooling must be understood in relation to the broader assault that is being waged against all aspects of democratic public life. As Jeffrey Williams has recently pointed out, “the current restructuring of higher education is only one facet of the restructuring of civic life in the US whereby previously assured public entitlements such as healthcare, welfare, and social security have evaporated or been ‘privatized,’ so no solution can be separated from a larger vision of what it means to enfranchise citizens or our republic.”[8] But as important as such articulations are in understanding the challenges that public and higher education face in the current historical conjuncture, they do not go far enough. Any critical comprehension of those wider forces that shape public and higher education must also be supplemented by an attentiveness to the conditional nature of pedagogy itself. This suggests that pedagogy can never be treated as a fixed set of principles and practices that can be applied indiscriminately across a variety of pedagogical sites. Pedagogy is not some recipe that can be imposed on all classrooms. On the contrary, it must always be contextually defined, allowing it to respond specifically to the conditions, formations and problems that arise in various sites in which education takes place. Schools differ in their financing, quality of teachers, resources, histories and cultural capital. Recognizing this, educators can both address the meaning and purpose that schools might play in their relationship to the demands of the broader society while simultaneously being sensitive to the distinctive nature of the issues educators address within the shifting contexts in which they interact with a diverse body of students, texts and institutional formations.

Ethically, critical pedagogy requires an ongoing indictment “of those forms of truth-seeking which imagined themselves to be eternally and placelessly valid.” [9] Simply put, educators need to cast a critical eye on those forms of knowledge and social relations that define themselves through a conceptual purity and political innocence that not only clouds how they come into being, but also ignores that the alleged neutrality on which they stand is already grounded in ethico-political choices. Neutral, objective education is an oxymoron. It does not exist outside of relations of power, values and politics. Thomas Keenan rightly argues that ethics on the pedagogical front demands an openness to the other, a willingness to engage a “politics of possibility” through a continual critical engagement with texts, images events, and other registers of meaning as they are transformed into public pedagogies.[10] One consequence of linking pedagogy to the specificity of place is that it foregrounds the need for educators to rethink the cultural and political baggage they bring to each educational encounter; it also highlights the necessity of making educators ethically and politically accountable for the stories they produce, the claims they make upon public memory and the images of the future they deem legitimate. Pedagogy is never innocent, and if it is to be understood and problematized as a form of academic labor, educators must not only critically question and register their own subjective involvement in how and what they teach, they must also resist all calls to depoliticize pedagogy through appeals to either scientific objectivity or ideological dogmatism. Far from being disinterested or ideologically frozen, critical pedagogy is concerned about the articulation of knowledge to social effects and succeeds to the degree in which educators encourage critical reflection and moral and civic agency, rather than simply mold it. Crucial to the latter position is the necessity for critical educators to be attentive to the ethical dimensions of their own practice.

Critical Pedagogy and the Promise of Democratization

But as an act of intervention, critical pedagogy needs to be grounded in a project that not only problematizes its own location, mechanisms of transmission and effects, but also functions as part of a larger project to contest various forms of domination and to help students think more critically about how existing social, political and economic arrangements might be better suited to address the promise of a radical democracy as an anticipatory rather than messianic goal. The late Jacques Derrida suggested that the social function of intellectuals, as well as any viable notion of education, should be grounded in a vibrant politics which makes the promise of democracy a matter of concrete urgency. For Derrida, making visible a “democracy” which is to come, as opposed to that which presents itself in its name, provides a referent for both criticizing everywhere what parades as democracy – “the current state of all so-called democracy” – and for critically assessing the conditions and possibilities for democratic transformation.[11] Derrida sees the promise of democracy as the proper articulation of a political ethics and by implication suggests that when higher education is engaged and articulated through the project of democratic social transformation, it can function as a vital public sphere for critical learning, ethical deliberation and civic engagement. Moreover, the utopian dimension of pedagogy articulated through the project of radical democracy offers the possibility of resistance to the increasing depoliticization of the citizenry, provides a language to challenge the politics of accommodation that connects education to the logic of privatization, commodification, religious dogma, and instrumental knowledge. Such a pedagogy refuses to define the citizen as simply a consuming subject and actively opposes the view of teaching as market-driven practice and learning as a form of training. Utopianism in this sense is not an antidote to politics, a nostalgic yearning for a better time, or for some “inconceivably alternative future.” But, by contrast, it is an “attempt to find a bridge between the present and future in those forces within the present which are potentially able to transform it.”[12]

In opposition to dominant forms of education and pedagogy that simply reinvent the future in the interest of a present in which ethical principles are scorned and the essence of democracy is reduced to the imperatives of the bottom line, critical pedagogy must address the challenge of providing students with the competencies they need to cultivate the capacity for critical judgment, thoughtfully connect politics to social responsibility, and expand their own sense of agency in order to curb the excesses of dominant power, revitalize a sense of public commitment, and expand democratic relations. Animated by a sense of critique and possibility, critical pedagogy at its best attempts to provoke students to deliberate, resist and cultivate a range of capacities that enable them to move beyond the world they already know without insisting on a fixed set of meanings.

Against the current onslaught to privatize public schools and corporatize higher education, educators need to defend public and higher education as a resource vital to the democratic and civic life of the nation. Central to such a task is the challenge of academics, young people, the Occupy movement and labor unions to find ways to join together in broad-based social movements and oppose the transformation of the public schools and higher education into commercial spheres, to resist what Bill Readings has called a consumer-oriented corporation more concerned about accounting than accountability.[13] The crisis of public schooling and higher education – while having  different registers – needs to be analyzed in terms of wider configurations of economic, political and social forces that exacerbate tensions between those who value such institutions as public goods and those advocates of neoliberalism who see market culture as a master design for all human affairs. The threat corporate power poses can be seen in the ongoing attempts by neoliberals and other hypercapitalists to subject all forms of public life, including public and higher education, to the dictates of the market while simultaneously working to empty democracy itself of any vestige of ethical, political and social considerations. What educators must challenge is the attempt on the part of neoliberals to either define democracy exclusively as a liability, or to enervate its substantive ideals by reducing it to the imperatives and freedoms of the marketplace. This requires that educators consider the political and pedagogical importance of struggling over the meaning and definition of democracy and situate such a debate within an expansive notion of human rights, social provisions, civil liberties, equity and economic justice. What must be challenged at all costs is the increasingly dominant view, propagated by neoliberal gurus such as Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman, that selfishness is the supreme value in shaping human agency, profit-making is the most important practice in a democracy and accumulating material goods the essence of the good life.

Defending public and higher education as vital democratic spheres is necessary to develop and nourish the proper balance between public values and commercial power, between identities founded on democratic principles and identities steeped in forms of competitive, self-interested individualism that celebrate selfishness, profit-making and greed. Educators also must reconsider the critical roles they might take up within public and higher education so as to enable them to oppose those approaches to schooling that corporatize, privatize and bureaucratize the teaching process. A critical pedagogy should, in part, be premised on the assumption that educators vigorously resist any attempt on the part of liberals and conservatives to reduce their role in schools to either that of technicians or corporate pawns. Instead, educators might redefine their roles as engaged public intellectuals capable of teaching students the language of critique and possibility as a precondition for social agency. Such a redefinition of purpose, meaning and politics suggests that educators critically interrogate the fundamental link between knowledge and power, pedagogical practices and social consequences, and authority and civic responsibility. It also means eliminating those modes of corporate governance in the public schools and higher education that reduce teachers to the status of clerks, technicians, and, with respect to higher education, to a subaltern class of part-time workers, with little power, few benefits and excessive teaching loads.

By redefining the purpose and meaning of schooling as part of a broader attempt to struggle for a radical democratic social order, educators can begin to vigorously challenge a number of dominant assumptions and policies currently structuring public and higher education, including but not limited to: ongoing attempts by corporate culture to define educators as multinational operatives; escalating efforts by colleges and universities to deny students the loans, resources and public support they need to have access to a quality education; the mounting influence of corporate interests in pressuring universities to reward forms of scholarship that generate corporate profits; increasing attempts to deny women and students of color access to higher education through the reversal of affirmative action policies, the raising of tuition costs, and a growing emphasis on classroom pedagogies designed to create marketable products and active consumers. Rather than providing students with an opportunity to learn how to shape and govern public life, education is increasingly being vocationalized, reduced to a commodity that provides privileges for a few students  and low-skill industrial training for the rest, especially those who are marginalized by reason of their class and race. Republican Party presidential candidate Rick Santorum has recently argued that public education is a form of government intrusion and that higher education is simply irrelevant because it is doing the work of Satan by allowing leftist educators to indoctrinate students.[14] That such ideological and political idiocy passes as a legitimate discourse in a presidential race tells us something about the devalued state of public and higher education, not to mention how vulnerable it is to the most extreme authoritarian pressures and policies.

What has become clear in this current climate of religious fundamentalism and casino capitalism is that the corporatization of education functions so as to cancel out the democratic values,  impulses and practices of a civil society by either devaluing or absorbing them within the logic of the market. Educators need a critical language to address these challenges to public and higher education. But they also need to join with other groups outside of the spheres of public and higher education in order to create a national movement that links the defense of noncommodified education with a broader struggle to deepen the imperatives of democratic public life. The quality of educational reform can, in part, be gauged by the caliber of public discourse concerning the role that education plays in furthering not the market-driven agenda of corporate interests, but the imperatives of critical agency, social justice and an operational democracy. In this capacity, educators need to develop a language of possibility for raising critical questions about the aim of schooling and about the purpose and meaning of what and how educators teach. In doing so, pedagogy draws attention to engaging classroom practice as a moral and political consideration animated by a fierce sense of commitment to expanding the range of individual capacities that enable students to become critical agents capable of linking knowledge, responsibility and democratic social transformation.

Approaching pedagogy as a critical and political practice suggests that educators refuse all attempts to reduce classroom teaching exclusively to matters of technique and method. In opposition to such approaches, educators can highlight the performative character of education as an act of intervention in the world – focusing on the work that pedagogy does as a deliberate attempt to influence how and what knowledge and experiences are produced within particular sets of classroom relations. Within this perspective, critical pedagogy foregrounds the diverse conditions under which authority, knowledge, values and subject positions are produced and interact within unequal relations of power; it also problematizes the ideologically laden and often contradictory roles and social functions that educators assume within the classroom. Pedagogy in this view can also be reclaimed as a form of academic labor that bridges the gap between individual considerations and public concerns, affirms bonds of sociality and reciprocity, and interrogates the relationship between individual freedom and privatized notions of the good life and the social obligations and collective structures necessary to support a vibrant democracy.

Classroom Authority and Pedagogy as the Outcome of Struggles

The question of what educators teach is inseparable from what it means to locate oneself in public discourses and invest in public commitments. Implicit in this argument is the assumption that the responsibility of critical educators cannot be separated from the consequences of the subject positions they have been assigned, the knowledge they produce, the social relations they legitimate and the ideologies they disseminate to students. Educational work at its best represents a response to questions and issues posed by the tensions and contradictions of the broader society; it is an attempt to understand and intervene in specific problems that emanate from those sites that people concretely inhabit and actually live out in their lives and everyday existence. Teaching in this sense becomes performative and contextual, and it highlights considerations of power, politics and ethics fundamental to any form of teacher-student-text interaction.

It is crucial to reiterate that any pedagogy that is alive to its own democratic implications is always cautious of its need to resist totalizing certainties and answers. Refusing the pull of dogmatism, ideological purity and imperious authority, educators must at the same time grasp the complexity and contradictions that inform the conditions under which they produce and disseminate knowledge. Recognizing that pedagogy is the outgrowth of struggles that are historically specific, as are the problems that govern the questions and issues that guide what and how we teach, should not suggest that educators renounce their authority. On the contrary, it is precisely by recognizing that teaching is always an act of intervention inextricably mediated through particular forms of authority that teachers can offer students a variety of analytic tools, diverse historical traditions, and a wide-ranging knowledge of dominant and subaltern cultures and how they influence each other – for whatever use students wish to make of these tools and knowledge.  This is a far cry from suggesting that critical pedagogy define itself either within the grip of a self-righteous mode of authority or completely remove itself from any sense of commitment whatsoever. On the contrary, at stake here is the need to insist on modes of authority that are directive but not imperious, linking knowledge to power in the service of self-production, and encouraging students to go beyond the world they already know to expand their range of human possibilities.

Academics must deliberate, make decisions, and take positions, and, in doing so, recognize that authority “is the very condition for intellectual work” and pedagogical interventions.[15] Authority in this perspective in not simply on the side of oppression, but is used to intervene and shape the space of teaching and learning to provide students with a range of possibilities for challenging a society’s commonsense assumptions, and for analyzing the interface between its members’ own everyday lives and those broader social formations that bear down on them. Authority, at best, becomes both a referent for legitimating a commitment to a particular vision of pedagogy and a critical referent for a kind of auto-critique. It demands consideration of how authority functions within specific relations of power regarding its own promise to provide students with a public space where they can learn, debate and engage critical traditions in order to imagine otherwise and develop discourses that are crucial  for defending vital social institutions as a public good.

While pedagogy can be understood performatively as an event where many things can happen in the service of learning, it is crucial to stress the importance of democratic classroom relations that encourage dialogue, deliberation and the power of students to raise questions. Moreover, such relations don’t signal a retreat from teacher authority as much as they suggest using authority reflexively to provide the conditions for students to exercise intellectual rigor, theoretical competence and informed judgments. Thus, students can think critically about the knowledge they gain and what it means to act on such knowledge in order to expand their sense of agency as part of a broader project of increasing both “the scope of their freedoms” and “the operations of democracy.”[16] What students learn and how they learn should amplify what it means to experience democracy from a position of possibility, affirmation and critical engagement. In part, this suggests that educators develop pedagogical practices that open up the terrain of the political while simultaneously encouraging students to “think better about how arrangements might be otherwise.”[17]

At its best, critical pedagogy must be interdisciplinary,  contextual, engage the complex relationships between power and knowledge, critically address the institutional constraints under which teaching takes place, and focus on how students can engage the imperatives of critical social citizenship. Education is not simply about the transmission of knowledge; it is about the producing of subjects, identities and desires – no small matter when recognizing what such a struggle suggests about preparing students for the future. Once again, critical pedagogy must be self-reflexive about its aims and practices, conscious of its ongoing project of democratic transformation, but openly committed to a politics that does not offer any guarantees. But refusing dogmatism does not suggest that educators descend into a laissez-faire pluralism or an appeal to methodologies designed to “teach the conflicts.” On the contrary, it suggests that, in order to make the pedagogical more political, educators afford students with diverse opportunities to understand and experience how politics, power, commitment and responsibility work on and through them both within and outside of schools. This, in turn, enables students to locate themselves, within an interrelated confluence of ideological and material forces, as critical agents who can both influence such forces and simultaneously be held responsible for their own views and actions. Within this perspective, relations between institutional forms and pedagogical practices are acknowledged as complex, open and contradictory – though always situated within unequal relations of power.[18]

To read more article by Henry A. Giroux and other writers in the Public Intellectual Project, click here.

Making the Pedagogical More Meaningful

Any analysis of critical pedagogy must stress the importance of addressing the role that affect and emotion play in the formation of individual identity and social agency. Any viable approach to critical pedagogy suggests taking seriously those maps of meaning, affective investments and sedimented desires that enable students to connect their own lives and everyday experiences to what they learn. Pedagogy in this sense becomes more than a mere transfer of received knowledge, an inscription of a unified and static identity, or a rigid methodology; it presupposes that students are moved by their passions and motivated, in part, by the affective investments they bring to the learning process. This suggests, as Paulo Freire points out, the need for a theory of pedagogy willing to develop a “critical comprehension of the value of sentiments, emotions, and desire as part of the learning process.”[19] Not only do students need to understand the ideological, economic and political interests that shape the nature of their educational experiences, they must also address the strong emotional investments they may bring to such beliefs. For Emory University professor Shoshana Felman, this suggests that educators take seriously the role of desire in both ignorance and learning. “Teaching,” she explains, “has to deal not so much with lack of knowledge as with resistances to knowledge. Ignorance, suggests Jacques Lacan, is a ‘passion.’ Inasmuch as traditional pedagogy postulated a desire for knowledge, an analytically informed pedagogy has to reckon with the passion for ignorance.”[20] Felman elaborates further on the productive nature of ignorance, arguing. “Ignorance is nothing other than a desire to ignore: its nature is less cognitive than performative … it is not a simple lack of information but the incapacity – or the refusal – to acknowledge one’s own implication in the information.”[21] If students are to move beyond the issue of understanding to an engagement with the deeper affective investments that make them complicitous with oppressive ideologies, they must be positioned to address and formulate strategies of transformation through which their individualized beliefs and affective investments can be articulated with broader public discourses that extend the imperatives of democratic public life. An unsettling pedagogy in this instance would engage student identities and resistances from unexpected vantage points and articulate how they connect to existing material relations of power. At stake here is not only a pedagogical practice that recalls how knowledge, identifications, and subject positions are produced, unfolded and remembered, but also how they become part of an ongoing process, more strategic, so to speak, of mediating and challenging existing relations of power.

Conclusion

In the current historical conjuncture, the concept of the social and the common good is being refigured and displaced as a constitutive category for making democracy operational and political agency the condition for social transformation. The notions of the social and the public are not being erased as much as they are being reconstructed under circumstances in which public forums for serious debate, including public education, are being eroded. Within the ongoing logic of neoliberalism, teaching and learning are removed from the discourse of democracy and civic culture – defined as a purely private affair. How else to explain Rick Santorum’s rants against higher education, the elites, and that old phantom, the liberal media.   Divorced from the imperatives of a democratic society, pedagogy is reduced to a matter of taste, individual choice, home schooling and job training. Pedagogy as a mode of witnessing, a public engagement in which students learn to be attentive and responsible to the memories and narratives of others, disappears within a corporate-driven notion of learning in which the logic of market devalues the opportunity for students to make connections with others through social relations which foster a mix of compassion, ethics and hope. The crisis of the social is further amplified by the withdrawal of the state as a guardian of the public trust and its growing lack of investment in those sectors of social life that promote the public good. With the Supreme Court ruling that now makes vouchers constitutional, a deeply conservative government once again will be given full reign to renege on the responsibility of government to provide every child with an education that affirms public life, embraces the need for critical citizens and supports the truism that political agency is central to the possibility of democratic life.

The greatest threat to our children does not come from lowered standards, the absence of privatized choice schemes or the lack of rigid testing measures. On the contrary, it comes from a society that refuses to view children as a social investment, that consigns 16.3 million children to live in poverty, reduces critical learning to massive testing programs, promotes policies that eliminate most crucial health and public services, and defines masculinity through the degrading celebration of a gun culture, extreme sports and the spectacles of violence that permeate corporate-controlled media industries. Students are not at risk because of the absence of market incentives in the schools; they are at risk because, as a country, we support an iniquitous class-based system of funding education and, more recently, are intent on completely destroying it precisely because it is public. Children and young adults are under siege in both public and higher education because far too many of these institutions have become breeding grounds for commercialism, racism, social intolerance, sexism, homophobia and consumerism, spurred on by the right-wing discourse of the Republican Party, corporations, conservative think tanks and a weak mainstream media. We live in a society in which a culture of punishment and intolerance has replaced a culture of social responsibility and compassion. Within such a climate of harsh discipline and disdain, it is easier for states such as California to set aside more financial resources to build prisons that to support higher education. Within this context, the project(s) of critical pedagogy need to be taken up both within and outside of public and higher education. Pedagogy is not a practice that only takes place in schools; it is also a public mode of teaching, that is, a public pedagogical practice largely defined within a range of cultural apparatuses extending from television networks to print media to the Internet. As a central element of a broad-based cultural politics, critical pedagogy, in its various forms, when linked to the ongoing project of democratization, can provide opportunities for educators and other cultural workers to redefine and transform the connections among language, desire, meaning, everyday life, and material relations of power as part of a broader social movement to reclaim the promise and possibilities of a democratic public life. Pedagogy is dangerous not only because it provides the intellectual capacities and ethical norms for students to fight against poverty, ecological destruction and the dismantling of the social state, but also because it holds the potential for instilling in students a profound desire for a “real democracy based on relationships of equality and freedom.”[22] Given the current economic crisis, the growing authoritarian populism, the rise of religious dogmatism, the emergence of a failed state, and a politics largely controlled by the bankers and corporations, critical pedagogy becomes symptomatic of not only something precious that has been lost under a regime of casino capitalism, but also of a project and practice that needs to be reclaimed, reconfigured and made foundational to any viable notion of politics.

 

Endnotes
1. Stanley Aronowitz, “Introduction,” in Paulo Freire, “Pedagogy of Freedom” (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 1998), p. 7
2.   For an excellent analysis of contemporary forms of neoliberalism, see Stuart Hall, “The Neo-Liberal Revolution,” Cultural Studies, Vol. 25, No. 6, (November 2011, pp. 705-728; see also David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005); Henry A. Giroux, “Against the Terror of Neoliberalism” (Boulder: Paradigm Publishers, 2008).
3. Roger Simon, “Empowerment as a Pedagogy of Possibility,” Language Arts 64:4 (April 1987), p. 372.
4. Cornelius Castoriadis, “Institutions and Autonomy.” In Peter Osborne(Ed). “A Critical Sense” (New York: Routledge, 1996), p. 8.
5.  Rachel Donadio, “The Failing State of Greece,” New York Times (February 26, 2012), p. 8.
6.  John Brenkman, “Extreme Criticism,” in Judith Butler, John Guillary, and Kendal Thomas, eds. “What’s Left of Theory” (New York: Routledge, 2000), p. 123.
7. Henry A. Giroux, “Public Spaces, Private Lives: Democracy Beyond 9/11″ (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2003).
8. Jeffrey Williams, “Brave New University,” College English 61:6 (1999), p. 749.
9. Paul Gilroy, “Against Race” (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000), p. 69.
10. For a brilliant discussion of the ethics and politics of deconstruction, see Thomas Keenan, “Fables of Responsibility: Aberrations and Predicaments in Ethics and Politics” (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997), p. 2.
11. Jacques Derrida, “Intellectual Courage: An Interview,” Trans. Peter Krapp, “Culture Machine” Vol. 2 (2000), p. 9.
12. Terry Eagleton, “The Idea of Culture” (Malden, MA: Basil Blackwell, 2000), p.22.
13. Bill Readings, “The University in Ruins” (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press,     pp, 11, 18.
14.  Scott Jaschik, “Santorum’s Attack on Higher Education,” Inside Higher Education (February 27, 2012).
15. This expression comes from John Michael, “Anxious Intellects: Academic Professionals, Public Intellectuals, and Enlightenment Values” (Durham: Duke University Press, 2000), p. 2.
16.  Cornel West, “The New Cultural Politics of Difference,” in Russell Fergusen, Martha Geever, Trinh T. Minh-ha, and Cornel West, eds. “Out There” (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1991), p. 35.
17. Jodi Dean, “The interface of Political Theory and Cultural Studies,” in Jodi Dean, ed. “Cultural Studies and Political Theory” (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2000), p. 3.
18. Alan O’Shea, “A Special Relationship? Cultural Studies, Academia and Pedagogy,” Cultural Studies 12(4) 1998, pp. 513-527.
19. Paulo Freire, “Pedagogy of Freedom” (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 1999), p. 48.
20. Shoshana Felman, “Jacques Lacan and the Adventure of Insight: Psychoanalysis in Contemporary Culture” (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987), p. 79. For an extensive analysis of the relationship between schooling, literacy, and desire, see Ursula A. Kelly, “Schooling Desire: Literacy, Cultural Politics, and Pedagogy” (New York: Routledge, 1997); Sharon Todd, “Learning Desire: Perspectives on Pedagogy, Culture, and the Unsaid,” (New York: Routledge, 1997).
21. Shoshana Felman, “Jacques Lacan and the Adventure of Insight: Psychoanalysis in Contemporary Culture” (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987), p. 79.
22. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, “Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire,” (New York, NY: The Penguin Press, 2004),  p. 67

How Private For-Profit Online Learning Corporations, Wall Street & “Education Philanthropists” Bought America’s Pubic Schools

In Uncategorized on January 12, 2012 at 1:13 pm

Oldspeak:” The hostile take over of Public Education is full swing. Your kids education is the next “bubble”. Children’s education is being viewed as a cash cow to be milked dry by wall street investment bankers and computer magnates via their “Educational Philanthropies”.  America’s Public School system is being outsourced to private profit-driven “education” corporations, with the financial backing of wall street titans like Goldman Sachs & Merrill Lynch, and computer titans Microsoft & Dell. In a trend that is great for business and terrible for children, teachers are being replaced with computers.  And in this age of austerity, with dwindling educations budgets,  less money to pay high-quality and well-trained flesh and blood teachers, teacher  are being fired and ‘e-learning’ is being held up as a viable option for the existential task of  effectively educating our children. Nevermind the fact that the “education” provided by cyberschool companies is nowhere near as effective as that provided in traditional schools with people. And much like what was done during the sub-prime morgage lending bubble, poor people and communities are being exploited. Subsidies slated for free public education are being diverted to private, for-profit “education”. High-powered lobbyists are being employed to push “education reform” legislation that is in benfits everyone but children. Left unasked are other important questions – Where will children learn their social skills? Their respect for elders and authority figures? How to work and play well with others?  Social Atomization is being institutionalized. Divide and conquer has gone digital.. “Profit Is Paramount” “Ignorance Is Strength”

Related Story:

Why Is Public Education Being Outsourced to Online Charter Schools?

By Lee Fang @ The Nation:

If the national movement to “reform” public education through vouchers, charters and privatization has a laboratory, it is Florida. It was one of the first states to undertake a program of “virtual schools”—charters operated online, with teachers instructing students over the Internet—as well as one of the first to use vouchers to channel taxpayer money to charter schools run by for-profits.

But as recently as last year, the radical change envisioned by school reformers still seemed far off, even there. With some of the movement’s cherished ideas on the table, Florida Republicans, once known for championing extreme education laws, seemed to recoil from the fight. SB 2262, a bill to allow the creation of private virtual charters, vastly expanding the Florida Virtual School program, languished and died in committee. Charlie Crist, then the Republican governor, vetoed a bill to eliminate teacher tenure. The move, seen as a political offering to the teachers unions, disheartened privatization reform advocates. At one point, the GOP’s budget proposal even suggested a cut for state aid going to virtual school programs.

Lamenting this series of defeats, Patricia Levesque, a top adviser to former Governor Jeb Bush, spoke to fellow reformers at a retreat in October 2010. Levesque noted that reform efforts had failed because the opposition had time to organize. Next year, Levesque advised, reformers should “spread” the unions thin “by playing offense” with decoy legislation. Levesque said she planned to sponsor a series of statewide reforms, like allowing taxpayer dollars to go to religious schools by overturning the so-called Blaine Amendment, “even if it doesn’t pass…to keep them busy on that front.” She also advised paycheck protection, a unionbusting scheme, as well as a state-provided insurance program to encourage teachers to leave the union and a transparency law to force teachers unions to show additional information to the public. Needling the labor unions with all these bills, Levesque said, allows certain charter bills to fly “under the radar.”

If Levesque’s blunt advice sounds like that of a veteran lobbyist, that’s because she is one. Levesque runs a Tallahassee-based firm called Meridian Strategies LLC, which lobbies on behalf of a number of education-technology companies. She is a leader of a coalition of government officials, academics and virtual school sector companies pushing new education laws that could benefit them.

But Levesque wasn’t delivering her hardball advice to her lobbying clients. She was giving it to a group of education philanthropists at a conference sponsored by notable charities like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation. Indeed, Levesque serves at the helm of two education charities, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, a national organization, and the Foundation for Florida’s Future, a state-specific nonprofit, both of which are chaired by Jeb Bush. A press release from her national group says that it fights to “advance policies that will create a high quality digital learning environment.”

Despite the clear conflict of interest between her lobbying clients and her philanthropic goals, Levesque and her team have led a quiet but astonishing national transformation. Lobbyists like Levesque have made 2011 the year of virtual education reform, at last achieving sweeping legislative success by combining the financial firepower of their corporate clients with the seeming legitimacy of privatization-minded school-reform think tanks and foundations. Thanks to this synergistic pairing, policies designed to boost the bottom lines of education-technology companies are cast as mere attempts to improve education through technological enhancements, prompting little public debate or opposition. In addition to Florida, twelve states have expanded virtual school programs or online course requirements this year. This legislative juggernaut has coincided with a gold rush of investors clamoring to get a piece of the K-12 education market. It’s big business, and getting bigger: One study estimated that revenues from the K-12 online learning industry will grow by 43 percent between 2010 and 2015, with revenues reaching $24.4 billion.

In Florida, only fourteen months after Crist handed a major victory to teachers unions, a new governor, Rick Scott, signed a radical bill that could have the effect of replacing hundreds of teachers with computer avatars. Scott, a favorite of the Tea Party, appointed Levesque as one of his education advisers. His education law expanded the Florida Virtual School to grades K-5, authorized the spending of public funds on new for-profit virtual schools and created a requirement that all high school students take at least one online course before graduation.

“I’ve never seen it like this in ten years,” remarked Ron Packard, CEO of virtual education powerhouse K12 Inc., on a conference call in February. “It’s almost like someone flipped a switch overnight and so many states now are considering either allowing us to open private virtual schools” or lifting the cap on the number of students who can use vouchers to attend K12 Inc.’s schools. Listening to a K12 Inc. investor call, one could mistake it for a presidential campaign strategy session, as excited analysts read down a list of states and predict future victories.

Good for Business; Kids Not So Much

While most education reform advocates cloak their goals in the rhetoric of “putting children first,” the conceit was less evident at a conference in Scottsdale, Arizona, earlier this year.

Standing at the lectern of Arizona State University’s SkySong conference center in April, investment banker Michael Moe exuded confidence as he kicked off his second annual confab of education startup companies and venture capitalists. A press packet cited reports that rapid changes in education could unlock “immense potential for entrepreneurs.” “This education issue,” Moe declared, “there’s not a bigger problem or bigger opportunity in my estimation.”

Moe has worked for almost fifteen years at converting the K-12 education system into a cash cow for Wall Street. A veteran of Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch, he now leads an investment group that specializes in raising money for businesses looking to tap into more than $1 trillion in taxpayer money spent annually on primary education. His consortium of wealth management and consulting firms, called Global Silicon Valley Partners, helped K12 Inc. go public and has advised a number of other education companies in finding capital.

Moe’s conference marked a watershed moment in school privatization. His first “Education Innovation Summit,” held last year, attracted about 370 people and fifty-five presenting companies. This year, his conference hosted more than 560 people and 100 companies, and featured luminaries like former DC Mayor Adrian Fenty and former New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein, now an education executive at News Corporation, a recent high-powered entrant into the for-profit education field. Klein is just one of many former school officials to cash out. Fenty now consults for Rosetta Stone, a language company seeking to expand into the growing K-12 market.

As Moe ticked through the various reasons education is the next big “undercapitalized” sector of the economy, like healthcare in the 1990s, he also read through a list of notable venture investment firms that recently completed deals relating to the education-technology sector, including Sequoia and Benchmark Capital. Kleiner Perkins, a major venture capital firm and one of the first to back Amazon.com and Google, is now investing in education technology, Moe noted.

The press release for Moe’s education summit promised attendees a chance to meet a set of experts who have “cracked the code” in overcoming “systemic resistance to change.” Fenty, still recovering from his loss in the DC Democratic primary, urged attendees to stand up to the teachers union “bully.” Jonathan Hage, CEO of Charter Schools USA, likened the conflict to war, according to a summary posted on the conference website. “There’s an air game,” said Hage, “but there’s also a ground game going on.” “Investors are going to have to support” candidates and “push back against the pushback.” Carlos Watson, a former cable news host now working as an investment banker for Goldman Sachs specializing in for-profit education, guided a conversation dedicated simply to the politics of reform.

Sponsors of the event ranged from various education reform groups funded by hedge-fund managers, like the nonprofit Education Reform Now, to ABS Capital, a private equity firm with a stake in education-technology companies like Teachscape. At smaller breakout sessions, education enterprises made their pitches to potential investors.

Another sponsor, a group called School Choice Week, was launched last year as a public relations gimmick to take advantage of the opportunity for rapid education reforms. Although it is billed as a network of students and parents, School Choice Week is one of the many corporate-funded tactics to press virtual school reforms. The first School Choice Week campaign push earlier this year featured highly produced press packets, sample letters to the editor, a sign in Times Square and rallies for virtual and charter schools organized with help from the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity. The blitz got positive press coverage, providing “grassroots” cover for newly elected politicians who made school privatization their first priority.

A combination of factors has made this year what Moe calls an “inflection point” in the march toward public school privatization. For one thing, recession-induced fiscal crises and austerity have pressured states to cut spending. In some cases, as in Florida, where educating students at the Florida Virtual School costs nearly $2,500 less than at traditional schools, such reform has been sold as a budget fix. At the same time, the privatization push has gone hand in hand with the ratcheting up of attacks on teachers unions by partisan groups, like Karl Rove’s American Crossroads and Americans for Prosperity, seeking to weaken the union-backed Democrats in the 2012 election. All of this has set the stage for education industry lobbyists to achieve an unprecedented expansion in for-profit elementary through high school education.

From Idaho to Indiana to Florida, recently passed laws will radically reshape the face of education in America, shifting the responsibility of teaching generations of Americans to online education businesses, many of which have poor or nonexistent track records. The rush to privatize education will also turn tens of thousands of students into guinea pigs in a national experiment in virtual learning—a relatively new idea that allows for-profit companies to administer public schools completely online, with no brick-and-mortar classrooms or traditional teachers.

* * *

Like many “education entrepreneurs,” Moe remains a player in the education reform movement, pushing policies that have the potential to benefit his clients. In addition to advising prominent politicians like Senator John McCain, Moe is a board member of the Center for Education Reform, a pro-privatization think tank that issues policy papers and ads to influence the debate. Earlier this year, the group dropped $70,000 on an ad campaign in Pennsylvania comparing those who oppose a new measure to expand vouchers to segregationist Alabama Governor George Wallace, who blocked African-American children from entering white schools.

Moe isn’t the only member of the Center for Education Reform with a profound conflict of interest. CER president Jeanne Allen doubles as the head of TAC Public Affairs, a government relations firm that has represented several top education for-profits. Allen, whose clients have included Kaplan Education and Charter Schools USA, served as transition adviser to Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett on education reform.

Corbett, a Republican who rode the Tea Party election wave in 2010, supports a major voucher expansion that is working its way through the state legislature. The expansion would be a windfall for companies like K12 Inc., which currently operates one Pennsylvania school under the limited charter law on the books. According to disclosures reported in Business Week, Pennsylvania’s Agora Cyber Charter School—K12 Inc.’s online school, which allows students to take all their courses at home using a computer—generated $31.6 million for K12 Inc. in the past academic year.

Thirteen other states have enacted laws to expand or initiate so-called school choice programs this year. Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels has pushed the hardest, enacting a law that removes the cap on the number of charter schools in his state, authorizes all universities to register charters and expands an existing voucher program in the state for students to attend private and charter schools (in some cases managed by for-profit companies). Critics note that Daniels’s law allows public money to flow to religious institutions as well. Twenty-seven other states, in addition to Pennsylvania, have voucher expansion laws pending. And states like Florida are embracing tech-friendly education reform to require that students take online courses to graduate. In Idaho this November, the state board of education approved a controversial plan to require at least two online courses for graduation.

“We think that’s so important because every student, regardless of what they do after high school, they’ll be learning online,” said Tom Vander Ark, a prominent online education advocate, on a recently distributed video urging the adoption of online course requirements. Vander Ark, a former executive director of education at the influential Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, now lobbies all over the country for the online course requirement. Like Moe, he keeps one foot in the philanthropic world and another in business. He sits on the board of advisors of Democrats for Education Reform and is partner to an education-tech venture capital company, Learn Capital. Learn Capital counts AdvancePath Academics, which offers online coursework for students at risk of dropping out, as part of its investment portfolio. When Vander Ark touts online course requirements, it is difficult to discern whether he is selling a product that could benefit his investments or genuinely believes in the virtue of the idea.

To be sure, some online programs have potential and are necessary in areas where traditional resources aren’t available. For instance, online AP classes serve rural communities without access to qualified teachers, and there are promising efforts to create programs that adapt to the needs of students with special learning requirements. But by and large, there is no evidence that these technological innovations merit the public resources flowing their way. Indeed, many such programs appear to be failing the students they serve.

A recent study of virtual schools in Pennsylvania conducted by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University revealed that students in online schools performed significantly worse than their traditional counterparts. Another study, from the University of Colorado in December 2010, found that only 30 percent of virtual schools run by for-profit organizations met the minimum progress standards outlined by No Child Left Behind, compared with 54.9 percent of brick-and-mortar schools. For White Hat Management, the politically connected Ohio for-profit operating both traditional and virtual charter schools, the success rate under NCLB was a mere 2 percent, while for schools run by K12 Inc., it was 25 percent. A major review by the Education Department found that policy reforms embracing online courses “lack scientific evidence” of their effectiveness.

“Why are our legislators rushing to jump off the cliff of cyber charter schools when the best available evidence produced by independent analysts show that such schools will be unsuccessful?” asked Ed Fuller, an education researcher at Pennsylvania State University, on his blog.

The frenzy to privatize America’s K-12 education system, under the banner of high-tech progress and cost-saving efficiency, speaks to the stunning success of a public relations and lobbying campaign by industry, particularly tech companies. Because of their campaign spending, education-tech interests are major players in elections. In 2010, K12 Inc. spent lavishly in key races across the country, including a last-minute donation of $25,000 to Idahoans for Choice in Education, a political action committee supporting Tom Luna, a self-styled Tea Party school superintendent running for re-election. Since 2004, K12 Inc. alone has spent nearly $500,000 in state-level direct campaign contributions, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics. David Brennan, Chairman of White Hat Management, became the second-biggest Ohio GOP donor, with more than $4.2 million in contributions in the past decade.

The Alliance for School Choice, a national education reform group, set up PACs in several states to elect state lawmakers. According to Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, American Federation for Children spent $500,000 in media in the lead-up to Wisconsin’s recall elections. AFC shares leaders, donors, and a street address with ASC. Bill Oberndorf, one of the main donors to the group, had been associated with Voyager Learning, an online education company, for years. A few months ago, Cambium Learning, the parent company of Voyager, paid Oberndorf’s investment firm $4.9 million to buy back Oberndorf’s stock. Cambium currently offers a fleet of supplemental education tools for school districts. With the recent acquisition of Class.com, a smaller online learning business, the company announced its entry into the virtual charter school and online course market.

Allies of the Right

Lobbyists for virtual school companies have also embedded themselves in the conservative infrastructure. The International Association for Online Learning (iNACOL), the trade association for EdisonLearning, Connections Academy, K12 Inc., American Virtual Academy, Apex Learning and other leading virtual education companies, is a case in point. A former Bush appointee at the Education Department, iNACOL president Susan Patrick traverses right-leaning think tanks spreading the gospel of virtual schools. In the past year, she has addressed the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, a group dedicated to setting up laissez-faire nonprofits all over the world, as well as the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.

Two pivotal conservative organizations have helped Patrick in her campaigns for virtual schools: the American Legislative Exchange Council and the State Policy Network. SPN nurtures and establishes state-based policy and communication nonprofits with a right-wing bent. ALEC, the thirty-eight-year-old conservative nonprofit, similarly coordinates a fifty-state strategy for right-wing policy. Special task forces composed of corporate lobbyists and state lawmakers write “template” legislation [see John Nichols, “ALEC Exposed,” August 1/8]. Since 2005, ALEC has offered a template law called “The Virtual Public Schools Act” to introduce online education. Mickey Revenaugh, an executive at virtual-school powerhouse Connections Learning, co-chairs the education policy–writing department of ALEC.

At SPN’s annual conference in Cleveland last year, held two months before the midterm elections, the think tank network adopted a new push for education reform, specifically embracing online technology and expanding vouchers. Patrick opened the event and led a session about virtual schools with Anthony Kim, president of the virtual-school business Education Elements.

SPN has faced accusations before that it is little more than a coin-operated front for corporations. For instance, SPN and its affiliates receive money from polluters, including infamous petrochemical giant Koch Industries, allegedly in exchange for aggressive promotion of climate denial theories. But SPN’s conference had less to do with policy than with tactics. Kyle Olson, a Republican operative infamous in Michigan and other states for his confrontational attacks on unionized teachers, gave a presentation on labor reform in K-12 education. Stanford Swim, heir to a Utah-based investment fortune and head of a traditional-values foundation, ran a workshop at the conference on creating viral videos to advance the cause. He said policy papers wouldn’t work. Tell your scholars, “Sorry, this isn’t a white paper,” Swim advised. “You gotta go there,” he continued, “and it’s because that’s where the audience is.” “If it’s vulgar, so what?” he added.

Since the conference, SPN’s state affiliates have taken a lead role in pushing virtual schools. Several of its state-based affiliates, like the Buckeye Institute in Ohio, set up websites claiming that unions—the only real opposition to ending collective bargaining and the expansion of charter school reforms—led to overpaid teachers and budget deficits. In Wisconsin, the MacIver Institute’s “news crew” laid the groundwork for Governor Walker’s assault on collective bargaining by creating news reports denouncing protesters and promoting the governor. In March, while busting the teachers unions in his state, Walker lifted the cap on virtual schools and removed the program’s income requirements.

State Representative Robin Vos, the Wisconsin state chair for ALEC, sponsored the bill codifying Walker’s radical expansion of online, for-profit schools. Vos’s bill not only lifts the cap but also makes new, for-profit virtual charters easier to establish. As the Center for Media and Democracy, a Madison-based liberal watchdog, notes, the bill closely resembles legislative templates put forward by ALEC.

Although SPN’s unique contribution to the debate has been clever web videos and online smear sites, the group’s affiliates have also continued the traditional approach of policy papers. In Washington State, the Freedom Foundation published “Online Learning 101: A Guide to Virtual Public Education in Washington”; Nebraska’s Platte Institute released “The Vital Need for Virtual Schools in Nebraska”; and the Sutherland Institute, a Utah-based SPN affiliate, equipped lawmakers with a guide called “Thinking Outside the Building: Online Education.” SPN think tanks in Maine, Maryland and other states have pressed virtual school reforms. Patrick visited SPN state groups and gave pep talks about how to sell the issue to lawmakers.

Meanwhile, ALEC has continued to slip laws written by education-tech lobbyists onto the books. In Tennessee, Republican State Representative Harry Brooks didn’t even bother changing the name of ALEC’s Virtual Public Schools Act before introducing it as his own legislation. Asked by the Knoxville News Sentinel’s Tom Humphrey where he got the idea for the bill, Brooks readily admitted that a K12 Inc. lobbyist helped him draft it. Governor Bill Haslam signed Brooks’s bill into law in May. The statute allows parents to apply nearly every dollar the state typically spends per pupil, almost $6,000 in most areas, to virtual charter schools, as long as they are authorized by the state.

SPN’s fall 2010 conference featured the man perhaps happiest with the explosion in virtual education: Jeb Bush. “I have a confession to make,” he said with grin. “I am a real policy geek, and this is like the epicenter of geekdom.” Bush shared his experiences initiating some of the nation’s first for-profit and virtual charter school reforms as the governor of Florida, acknowledging his policy ideas came from some in the room. (The local SPN affiliate in Tallahassee is the James Madison Institute.)

Bush: Man Behind the Virtual Curtain

Jeb Bush campaigned vigorously in 2010 to expand such reforms, with tremendous success. About a month after the election, he unveiled his road map for implementing a far-reaching ten-point agenda for virtual schools and online coursework. Former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise, a Democrat, has barnstormed the country to encourage lawmakers to adopt Bush’s plan, which calls for the permanent financing of education-technology reforms, among other changes. In one promotional video, Wise says it is “not only about the content” of the online courses but the “process” of students becoming acquainted with learning on the Internet.

The key pillar of Bush’s plan is to make sure virtual education isn’t just a new option for taxpayer money but a requirement. And several states, like Florida, have already adopted online course requirements. As Idaho Republicans faced a public referendum on their online course requirement rule last summer, Bush arrived in the state to show his support. “Implemented right, you’re going to see rising student achievement,” said Bush, praising Idaho Governor Butch Otter and school superintendent Tom Luna, who was elected with campaign donations from the online-education industry. Bush also claimed that making high school students take online classes would “put Idaho on the map” as a “digital revolution takes hold.” Bush was in Michigan in June to testify for Governor Rick Snyder’s suite of education reform ideas, which include uncapped expansion of virtual schools, and he was back in the state in July to continue to press for reforms.

In August, at ALEC’s annual conference in New Orleans, the education task force officially adopted Bush’s ten elements agenda. Mickey Revenaugh, the virtual school executive overseeing the committee, presided over the vote endorsing the measure. But when does Bush’s advocacy, typically reported in the press as the work of a former governor with education experience advising the new crop of Republicans, cross the threshold into corporate lobbying?

The nonprofit behind this digital push, Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, is funded by online learning companies: K12 Inc., Pearson (which recently bought Connections Education), Apex Learning (a for-profit online education company launched by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen), Microsoft and McGraw-Hill Education among others. The advisory board for Bush’s ten digital elements agenda reads like a Who’s Who of education-technology executives, reformers, bureaucrats and lobbyists, including Michael Stanton, senior vice president for corporate affairs at Blackboard; Karen Cator, director of technology for the Education Department; Jaime Casap, a Google executive in charge of business development for the company’s K-12 division; Shafeen Charania, who until recently served as marketing director of Microsoft’s education products department; and Bob Moore, a Dell executive in charge of “facilitating growth” of the computer company’s K-12 education practice.

Like other digital reform advocates, the Bush nonprofit is also supported by Microsoft founder Bill Gates’s foundation. The fact that a nonprofit that receives funding from both the Gates Foundation and Microsoft pressures states to adopt for-profit education reforms may raise red flags with some in the philanthropy community, as Microsoft, too, has moved into the education field. The company has tapped into the K-12 privatization expansion by supplying a range of products, from traditional Windows programs to servers and online coursework platforms. It also contracts with Florida Virtual School to provide cloud computer solutions. Similarly, Dell is seeking new opportunities in the K-12 market for its range of desktop products, while the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, the charitable nonprofit founded by Dell’s CEO, promotes neoliberal education reforms.

Through Bush, education-technology companies have found a shortcut to encourage states to adopt e-learning reforms. Take his yearly National Summit on Education Reform, sponsored by the Foundation for Excellence in Education.

At the most recent summit, held in San Francisco in mid-October, a group of more than 200 state legislators and state education department officials huddled in a ballroom over education-technology strategy. Rich Crandall, a state senator from Arizona, said to hearty applause that he had developed a local think tank to support the virtual school reforms he helped usher into law. Toward the end of the discussion, Vander Ark, acting as an emcee, walked around the room acknowledging lawmakers who had recently passed pro–education tech laws this year. He handed the microphone to Kelli Stargel, a state representative from Florida, who stood up and boasted of creating “virtual charter schools, so we can have innovation in our state.”

Throughout the day, lawmakers mingled with education-technology lobbyists from leading firms, like Apex Learning and K12 Inc. Some of the distance learning reforms were taught in breakout sessions, like one called “Don’t Let a Financial Crisis Go to Waste,” an hourlong event that encouraged lawmakers to use virtual schools as a budget-cutting measure. Mandy Clark, a staffer with Bush’s foundation, walked around handing out business cards, offering to e-mail sample legislation to legislators.

The lobbying was evident to anyone there. But for some of those present, Bush didn’t go far enough. David Byer, a senior manager with Apple in charge of developing education business for the company, groaned and leaned over to another attendee sitting at the edge of the room after a lunch session. “You have this many people together, why can’t you say, ‘Here are the ten elements, here are some sample bills’?” said Byer to David Stevenson, who nodded in agreement. Stevenson is a vice president of News Corporation’s education subsidiary, Wireless Generation, an education-technology firm that specializes in assessment tools. It was just a year ago that News Corp. announced its intention to enter the for-profit K-12 education industry, which Rupert Murdoch called “a $500 billion sector in the US alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed.”

As attendees stood up to leave the hall, the phalanx of lobbyists surrounding the room converged, buttonholing legislators and school officials. On a floor above the main hall, an expo center had been set up, with companies like McGraw-Hill, Connections Academy, K12 Inc., proud sponsors of the event, providing information on how to work with politicians to make education technology a reality.

Patricia Levesque, a Bush staffer speaking at the summit and the former governor’s right hand when it comes to education reform, does not draw a direct salary from Bush’s nonprofit despite the fact that she is listed as its executive director, and tax disclosures show that she spends about fifty hours a week at the organization. Instead, her lobbying firm, Meridian Strategies, supplies her income. The Foundation for Florida’s Future, another Bush nonprofit, contracts with Meridian, as do online technology companies like IQ-ity Innovation, which paid her up to $20,000 for lobbying services at the beginning of this year. The unorthodox arrangement allows donors to Bush’s group to avoid registering actual lobbyists while using operatives like Levesque to influence legislators and governors on education technology.

Levesque’s contract with IQ-ity raises questions about Bush’s foundation work. As Mother Jones recently reported, the founder of IQ-ity, William Lager, also founded an education company with a poor track record. Lager’s other education firm, Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, is the largest provider of virtual schools in Ohio. ECOT schools have consistently underperformed; though the company serves more than 10,000 children, its graduation rate has never broken 40 percent. The company was fined for billing the state to serve more than 2,000 students in one month, when only seven children logged on during the same time period. Nevertheless, after Levesque spent at least two years as a registered lobbyist for Lager’s firm, Bush traveled to Ohio to give the commencement speech for ECOT. “ECOT proves a glimpse into what’s possible,” Bush said with pride, “by harnessing the power of technology.”

* * *

Levesque is no ordinary lobbyist. She is credited with encouraging the type of bare-knuckle politics now common in the wider education-reform movement. In an audio file obtained by The Nation, she and infamous anti-union consultant Richard Berman outlined a strategy in October 2010 for sweeping the nation with education reforms. The two spoke at the Philanthropy Roundtable, a get-together of major right-wing foundations. Lori Fey, a representative of the Michael Dell Foundation, moderated the panel discussion.

Rather than “intellectualize ourselves into the [education reform] debate…is there a way that we can get into it at an emotional level?” Berman asked. “Emotions will stay with people longer than concepts.” He then answered his own question: “We need to hit on fear and anger. Because fear and anger stays with people longer. And how you get the fear and anger is by reframing the problem.” Berman’s glossy ads, which have run in Washington, DC, and New Jersey, portray teachers unions as schoolyard bullies. One spot even seems to compare teachers to child abusers. Although Berman does not reveal his donors, he made clear in his talk that the foundations in the room were supporting his campaign.

Levesque ended the strategy discussion with a larger strategic question. She pointed to the example of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg donating $100 million to Newark schools. She then asked the crowd to imagine instead raising $100 million for political races where we “could sway a couple of seats to have more education reform.” “Just shifting a little bit of your focus,” she added, noting that new politicians could have a greater impact.

Levesque’s ask has become reality. According to author Steven Brill, ex–DC school chancellor Michelle Rhee’s new group, StudentsFirst, raised $100 million within a few months of Levesque’s remarks. Rhee’s donors include Rupert Murdoch, philanthropist Eli Broad and Home Depot founder Ken Langone. Rhee’s group has pledged to spend more than $1 billion to bring for-profit schools, including virtual education, to the entire country by electing reform-friendly candidates and hiring top-notch state lobbyists.

A day before he opened his education reform conference to the media recently, Bush hosted another education meeting. This event, a private affair in the Palace Hotel, was a reconvening of investors and strategists to plan the next leg of the privatization campaign. Michael Moe, Susan Patrick, Tom Vander Ark and other major players were invited. I waited outside the event, trying to get what information I could. I asked Mayor Fenty how I could get in. “Just crash in, come on in,” he laughed, adding, “so what company are you with?” When he learned that I was a reporter, he shook his head. “Oh, nah, you’re not welcome, then.”

An invitation had billed the exclusive gathering as a chance for “philanthropists and venture capitalists” to figure out how to “leverage each other’s strengths”—a concise way to describe how for-profit virtual school companies are using philanthropy as a Trojan horse.

A Failed Social Model: Providing Basic Goods Via Crushing Consumer Debt

In Uncategorized on November 22, 2011 at 4:15 pm

Oldspeak:” Something to think about days before the annual hedonistic consumption orgy that is “Black Friday” when crushing consumer debt will likely increase. “We have been living in a society where debts, rather than rights, have been the major means for accessing basic social goods like housing, education, and health care. That social model was built around the assumption that while real incomes stagnated and the state did not directly provide many basic goods through universal entitlements, cheap credit would do the trick instead. High finance was inextricably intertwined with the privileges of citizenship.” -Alex Gourevitch When High finance is linked to a system, you can pretty much guarantee it will be accompanied by exploitation, corruption, fraud, greed and disenfranchisement. We are beginning to see the devastating effects of attaching debt commitments to basic needs combined with decades long wage stagnation for most workers and concentration of wealth among owners. A collapsed housing market and unprecedented rates of foreclosure. 1 in 5 Americans on food stamps. 1 in 3 children living in poverty. Widespread medical bankruptcies and less and less access to preventative health care.  Exploding student loan debt and creation of artificially constricted choice of profession and shortages of manpower in vital and low-paid ‘public interest’ jobs. All while the banksters have grown richer and more brazen in their casino capitalistic practices. Providing basic social goods for all has very few negative consequences. However it doesn’t adhere to basic corporcratic ethos “Internalize profits, externalize costs”, thus universal rights and freedoms will continue to be at worst denied, and at best a monetarily  based privilege. “Profit Is Paramount”

By Alex Gourevitch @ New Deal 2.0:

Some things — education, health, housing — should be rights, not financed through taking on more and more debt.

Occupiers have joined anti-foreclosure advocates to occupy home auctions and abandoned buildings and block foreclosures. A few state attorneys general have begun resisting the Obama administration’s awful mortgage fraud settlement and started investigating banks and servicers. Even shareholders are in revolt, filing class action suits against their companies. By one measure, student loans are one of the biggest concerns amongst supporters of Occupy Wall Street. There is now an OccupyStudentDebt. A petition to forgive student loans has gathered 300,000 signatures and was included as part of a general debt forgiveness bill on the floor of the House of Representatives. Congress has even begun to touch on medical debt issues.

Taken together, we can say that these and other actions are the sign of growing resistance to key aspects of the social model of the past 30 to 40 years. We have been living in a society where debts, rather than rights, have been the major means for accessing basic social goods like housing, education, and health care. That social model was built around the assumption that while real incomes stagnated and the state did not directly provide many basic goods through universal entitlements, cheap credit would do the trick instead. High finance was inextricably intertwined with the privileges of citizenship. This was not a very good social model. With any luck, and a serious amount of political action, current resistance could lead to alternative ways of thinking about how we make these goods available to all.

After all, while the previous decade has been represented as a debt-financed spending binge when consumers lived well beyond their means, it turns a complex story into a morality play. A major part of the credit ‘binge’ was about necessities, not luxuries. Sub-prime mortgages (especially with the decline of affordable housing) were the only way for many to become homeowners. Similarly, student loans were the only way for many to gain access to higher education and thus participate as equals in the radically unequal distribution of opportunity in the United States. The total value of student loans has surpassed total credit card debt, and is projected to top $1 trillion later this year. Mike Konczal posted the following graph at Rortybomb showing the dramatic rise of student debt. In a decade, student loans have gone from a third of consumer loans to far more than half.

alex1

We find a similar story in health care. Two major national studies of medical indebtedness by a group of scholars, including Elizabeth Warren, have shown that illness and medical costs are a major cause of household bankruptcy. They noted that by 2001 “illness or medical bills contributed to about half of bankruptcies.” Notably, in their 2001 study, they found that 75.7 percent of medical debtorshad insurance at the onset of illness. Underinsurance, as much as lack of insurance, was a major financial burden. So too was loss of income due to illness (by their estimate, income loss is 40 percent of medical-related indebtedness). Worse yet, their follow up 2007 study of medical indebtedness notes that the “number of un- and underinsured Americans has grown; health costs have increased; and Congress tightened the bankruptcy laws.” That has led to a 50 percent increase in the proportion of bankruptcies attributable to medical problems. These bankruptcies, moreover, occurred in families only marginally worse than the median income and occupational class of American citizens. Once again, indebtedness is the product of the 99% trying to meet the costs of a basic good — health care.

If there is a reasonable expectation that debtors can meet their interest payments then in theory debt is not a particularly bad way to finance access to certain goods. It is on the individual borrower to make a judgment about what constitutes a reasonable debt burden.

There are, however, two problems with this theoretical view. First, there might be very good social reasons to not want to yoke access to certain social goods to debt. Education is a prime example. Taking on debt means accepting a kind of discipline. One must make all future calculations about, say, educational and career choices with the need to meet future interest payments in mind. In conscious and unconscious ways this narrows horizons and produces a more instrumental relationship to education. In college I saw concerns about debt shape decisions about which classes to take and what to major in. I also saw many of my college classmates make more conservative professional choices (corporate law, consulting, finance, medical specialist) than they might otherwise have made (public service, teaching, science, public interest law) in order to ensure their ability to pay back loans. This appears to have been a pattern. A study of educational and career choices in the early 2000s by Princeton economists has found that “debt causes graduates to choose substantially higher-salary jobs and reduces the probability that students choose low-paid ‘public interest’ jobs.”

It is frequently observed that the growth of finance sucked up the math and physics geniuses, who might have contributed something lasting to society, into hedge funds and investment banks to ruinous effect. But the alteration of professional choices is much wider than that. The number crunchers at the top were, one suspects, lured away by lucrative pay. The much more widespread, and difficult to measure, shift in career choices due to the discipline of debt burdens is probably the more important, and still ongoing, consequence of high student loans.

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If access to higher education were on the order of something like a right — a publicly financed good, provided at little or no cost, to ensure real equality of opportunity — then one can imagine a much different set of results. While conservatives like to talk about ‘freedom,’ this is a place where the left ought to have the upper hand in connecting economic practices to real freedoms. Providing necessary social goods, especially education, as a right rather than through debt not only reduces the disciplining effects of the latter. It also is a way of publicly recognizing and democratically defending the real freedoms of all citizens.

To be clear, this is not a moralistic criticism of debt as evil or irresponsible. But there are very good reasons why society would not want to impose certain kinds of discipline on (most of) its citizens. Firstly, from a social point of view, people’s talents might be much more productively used in some other area than those that promise the most immediate monetary returns. There is no shortage of aspiring bankers and traders, but there is a primary care doctor shortage. Primary care doctors can graduate medical school with as much as $200,000 in debt.

A second reason is that practice does not resemble theory. Again, the theory is that so long as each individual makes a reasonable calculation about his or her ability to meet debt payments, there is nothing wrong with financing access to basic social goods through credit. Putting systematic fraud aside (but remembering it is unlikely that credit can sink that far into housing and educational markets without it), there is a deep historical reason for thinking that practice was the opposite of theory. The rise of debt-financed household consumption generally was the product of stagnating wages. Consider, for instance, this research by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco comparing the growth of debt, wealth, and income:

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Or compare the above growth of household debt with the stagnation of wages and benefits during that same period (from State of Working America):

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Debt-financed consumption was, in other words, a response to the declining ability of most households to afford existing rates of consumption, not an increasing ability or trust in future ability to pay back that debt.

The entire social model, then, was built on a lie. The separation of consumption (financed by future promises to pay) from production (based on limiting present ability to earn) was a mirage. The problem has been that the underlying right to maintain a certain standard of living, or even to access to certain basic social goods like housing, health, and education, was just that: implicit. Every so often, of course, it was made somewhat public — for instance when Clinton or Bush would say something about providing housing to the poor and minorities who could not otherwise afford it (mainly by changing market incentives and promoting sub-prime borrowing, as it turned out). But this promise was always implicit and had to stay that way because it was mediated through the credit system. Access to these basic social goods was never a fully publicclaim each individual had against society. Instead, access to these social goods was a matter of a complex series of private, individualized claims against other private institutions like banks and employers, with the public role submerged in the form of altered market incentives. That is the difference between debt and right, and it is clear that the debt-based social model has failed.

There are certainly some situations where debt-financed consumption is a perfectly good option. For instance, the current call for more fiscal austerity at the federal level is ideological claptrap. Moreover, any economy always has to take a bet on the future if it is going to innovate, especially since innovation always comes with the risk of failure. But there are certain kinds of basic goods that are better provided as a matter of universal right, both for the sake of the freedom of the persons who need those goods and as a matter of economic efficiency and productivity. We can have risk-averse graduates and a chronically ill workforce chained to underwater mortgages, or we can have healthy, well-educated citizens with enough security, and thus freedom, to take real risks in their lives.

Alex Gourevitch a Post-Doctoral Research Associate at the Political Theory Project at Brown University. He also runs a blog calledThe Current Moment.

Chomsky: Public Education Under Massive Corporate Assault — What’s Next?

In Uncategorized on August 8, 2011 at 1:06 pm

Oldspeak: “Converting schools and universities into facilities that produce commodities for the job market, privatizing them, slashing their budgets — do we really want this future? People who are in a debt trap have very few options. That is true of social control generally. In a corporate-run culture, the traditional ideal of free and independent thought may be given lip service, but other values tend to rank higher. Defending authentic (academic) institutional freedom is no small task. However, it is not hopeless by any means.” -Noam Chomsky Unfortunately  “The era of affordable four-year public universities heavily subsidized by the state may be over.” When access to free, high quality, education is eliminated and is replaced with pay for the privilege corporate controlled education democracy dies. “Ignorance is Strength”

By Noam Chomsky @ Alter Net:

The following is a partial transcript of a recent speech delivered by Noam Chomsky at the University of Toronto at Scarborough on the rapid privatization process of public higher education in the United States.

A couple of months ago, I went to Mexico to give talks at the National University in Mexico, UNAM. It’s quite an impressive university — hundreds of thousands of students, high-quality and engaged students, excellent faculty. It’s free. And the city — Mexico City — actually, the government ten years ago did try to add a little tuition, but there was a national student strike, and the government backed off. And, in fact, there’s still an administrative building on campus that is still occupied by students and used as a center for activism throughout the city. There’s also, in the city itself, another university, which is not only free but has open admissions. It has compensatory options for those who need them. I was there, too; it’s also quite an impressive level, students, faculty, and so on. That’s Mexico, a poor country.

Right after that I happened to go to California, maybe the richest place in the world. I was giving talks at the universities there. In California, the main universities — Berkeley and UCLA — they’re essentially Ivy League private universities — colossal tuition, tens of thousands of dollars, huge endowment. General assumption is they are pretty soon going to be privatized, and the rest of the system will be, which was a very good system — best public system in the world — that’s probably going to be reduced to technical training or something like that. The privatization, of course, means privatization for the rich [and a] lower level of mostly technical training for the rest. And that is happening across the country. Next year, for the first time ever, the California system, which was a really great system, best anywhere, is getting more funding from tuition than from the state of California. And that is happening across the country. In most states, tuition covers more than half of the college budget. It’s also most of the public research universities. Pretty soon only the community colleges — you know, the lowest level of the system — will be state-financed in any serious sense. And even they’re under attack. And analysts generally agree, I’m quoting, “The era of affordable four-year public universities heavily subsidized by the state may be over.”

Now that’s one important way to implement the policy of indoctrination of the young. People who are in a debt trap have very few options. Now that is true of social control generally; that is also a regular feature of international policy — those of you who study the IMF and the World Bank and others are well aware. As the Mexico-California example illustrates, the reasons for conscious destruction of the greatest public education system in the world are not economic. Economist Doug Henwood points out that it would be quite easy to make higher education completely free. In the U.S., it accounts for less than 2 percent of gross domestic product. The personal share of about 1 percent of gross domestic product is a third of the income of the richest 10,000 households. That’s the same as three months of Pentagon spending. It’s less than four months of wasted administrative costs of the privatized healthcare system, which is an international scandal.

It’s about twice the per capita cost of comparable countries, has some of the worst outcomes, and in fact it’s the basis for the famous deficit. If the U.S. had the same kind of healthcare system as other industrial countries, not only would there be no deficit, but there would be a surplus. However, to introduce these facts into an electoral campaign would be suicidally insane, Henwood points out. Now he’s correct. In a democracy where elections are essentially bought by concentrations of private capital, it doesn’t matter what the public wants. The public has actually been in favor of that for a long of time, but they are irrelevant in a properly run democracy.

We should recall that the great growth period in the economy — the U.S. economy — was in the several decades after WWII, commonly called the “Golden Age” by economists. It was substantially fueled by affordable public education and by university research. Affordable public education includes the GI Bill, which provided free education for veterans — and remember, that was a much poorer country than today. Extremely low tuition was found even at private colleges. Actually, I went to an Ivy League college, and it cost $100 a year; that’s more now, but it’s not that high, it’s not 30 or 40,000, you know?

What about university-based research? Well, as I mentioned, that is the core of the modern high-tech economy. That includes computers, the Internet — in fact, the whole IT revolution — and a whole lot more. The dismantling of this system since the 1970s is among the many moves toward a very sharply two-tiered society, a very narrow concentration of wealth and stagnation for most everyone else. It also has direct economic consequences. Take, say, California. What they are doing to the public education system is going to undermine the economy that relies on a skilled work force and creative innovation, Silicon Valley and so on. Well, apart from the enormous human cost of depriving most people of decent educational opportunities, these policies undermine the U.S. competitive capacity. That’s very harmful to the mass of the population, but it doesn’t matter to the tiny percent of concentrated wealth and power. In fact, in the years since the Pell Memorandum, we’ve entered into a new stage in state capitalism in which the future just doesn’t amount to much. Profit comes increasingly from financial manipulations. The corporate policies are geared toward the short-term profit, and that reduces the concern for loyalty to a firm over a longer stretch. We’ll talk about this more tomorrow, but right now let me talk about the consequences for education, which are quite significant.

Suppose, as is increasingly happening not only in the United States, incidentally, that universities are not funded by the state, meaning the general community. So how are the universities going to survive? Universities are parasitic institutions; they don’t produce commodities for profit, thankfully. They may one of these days. The funding issue raises many troubling questions, which would not arise if fostering independent thought and inquiry were regarded as a public good, having intrinsic value. That’s the traditional ideal of the universities, although there are major efforts to change that. Take Britain. According to the British press, the Arts and Humanities Research Council was just ordered to spend a significant amount of funding on the prime minister’s vision for the country. His so-called “Big Society,” which means big corporate profits, and the rest look out for themselves. The government produced what they call a clarification of the famous Haldane Principle. That’s the century-old principle that barred such government intrusion into academic research. If this stands, which I think is kind of hard to believe, but if it stands, the hand of Big Brother will rest quite heavily on inquiry and innovation in the arts and humanities as the masters of mankind follow the advice of the Pell Memorandum. Of course, defending academic freedom in ways that would receive nods of approval from Those-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, borrowing my grandchildren’s rhetoric. Cameron’s Britain is seeking to take the lead on the assault on public education. The rest of the Western world is not very far behind. In some ways the U.S. is ahead.

More generally, in a corporate-run culture, the traditional ideal of free and independent thought may be given lip service, but other values tend to rank higher. Defending authentic institutional freedom is no small task. However, it is not hopeless by any means. I’ll talk about the case I know best, at my own university. It is a very striking case, because of the nature of its funding. Technically, it’s a private university, but it has vast state funding, overwhelming, particularly since the Second World War. When I adjoined the faculty over 55 years ago, there were military labs. Since then, they’ve been technically severed. The academic programs, too, at that time, the 1950s, were almost entirely funded by the Pentagon. Under student pressure in the time of troubles, the 1960s, there were protests about this and calls for investigation. A faculty-student commission was formed in 1969 to investigate the matter. I was a member, thanks to student pressure. The commission was interesting. It found that despite the funding source, the Pentagon, almost the entire academic program, there was no military-related work on campus, except in the sense that virtually anything can have some military application. Actually, there was an exception to this, the political science department, [which] was deeply engaged in the Vietnam War under the guise of peace research. Since that time, Pentagon funding has been declining, and funding from health-related state institutions — National Institute of Health and so on — that’s been increasing. There’s a reason for that. It’s reflecting changes in the economy.

In the 1950s and 1960s the cutting edge of the economy was electronics-based. The Pentagon was a natural way to steal money from the taxpayers, making them think they’re being protected from the Russians or somebody, and to direct it to eventual corporate profits. That was done very effectively. It includes computers, the Internet, the IT revolution. In fact most of the modern economy comes from that. In more recent years, the economy is becoming more biology based. Therefore state funding is shifting. Fifty years ago, if you looked around MIT, you found small electronics startups from the faculty. They were drawing on Pentagon funding for research, and if they were successful, they were bought up by major corporations. Those of you who know something about the high-tech economy will know that that’s the famous Route 128. That was 50 years ago. Now, if you go around the campus, the startups are biology based, and the same process continues. The genetic engineering, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals and the big buildings going up are Novartis and so on. That’s the way the so-called free enterprise economy works. There’s also been a shift to more short-term applied work. The Pentagon and the National Institutes of Health are concerned with the long-term future of the advanced economy. In contrast to a business firm, it typically wants something that it can use — it can use and not its competitors, and tomorrow. I don’t actually know of a careful study, but it seems pretty clear that the shift toward corporate funding is leading towards more short-term applied research and less exploration of what might turn out to be interesting and important down the road.

Another consequence of corporate funding is more secrecy. This surprises a lot of people, but during the period of Pentagon funding, there was no secrecy. There was also no security on campus. You may remember this. You walk into the Pentagon-funded labs 24 hours a day, and no cards to stick into things and so on. No secrecy; it was all entirely open. There is secrecy today. A corporation can’t compel secrecy, but they can make it very clear that you’re not going to get your contract renewed if your work leaks to others. That has happened. In fact, it’s lead to some scandals, some big enough to appear on the front page of the Wall Street Journal.

Outside funding has other effects on the university, unless it’s free and unconstrained, observing the Haldane Principle. Indeed, it has been true to a significant degree by funding from the Pentagon and the other national institutions. However, any kind of outside funding [has effects], even keeping to the Haldane Principle, supposing it establishes a teaching or research facility. That kind of automatically shifts the balance of academic activity, and that can threaten the independence and integrity of the institution. And in the case of corporate funding, quite severely.

Corporatization can have considerable influence in other ways. Corporate managers have a duty. They have to focus on profit making and seeking to convert as much of life as possible into commodities. It’s not because they’re bad people; it’s their task. Under Anglo-American law, it’s their legal obligation as well. There’s a lot to say about this topic, but one element of it concerns the universities and much else. One particular consequence is the focus on what’s called efficiency. It’s an interesting concept. It’s not strictly an economic concept. It has crucial ideological dimensions. If a business reduces personnel, it might become more efficient by standard measures with lower costs. Typically, that shifts the burden to the public, a very familiar phenomenon we see all the time. Costs to the public are not counted, and they’re colossal. That’s a choice that’s not based on economic theory. That’s based on an ideological decision, which applies directly to the “business models,” as they’re called, of the universities. Increasing class-size or employing cheap temporary labor, say graduate students instead of full-time faculty, may look good on a university budget, but there are significant costs. They’re transferred and not measured. They’re transferred to students and to the society generally as the quality of education, the quality of instruction is lowered.

There’s, furthermore, no way to measure the human and social costs of converting schools and universities into facilities that produce commodities for the job market, abandoning the traditional ideal of the universities. Creating creative and independent thought and inquiry, challenging perceived beliefs, exploring new horizons and forgetting external constraints. That’s an ideal that’s no doubt been flawed in practice, but to the extent that it’s realized is a good measure of the level of civilization achieved.

That idea is being challenged very openly by Adam Smith’s Principal Architects of Policy in the State Corporate Complex, the direct attack on the Haldane Principle in Britain. That’s an extreme case; in fact so extreme I assume it may be beaten back. There are less blatant examples. Many of them are just inherent in the reliance on outside funding, state or private. These are two sources that are not easy to distinguish given the control of the state by private interest. So what’s the right reaction to outside funding that threatens the ideal of a free university? Well one choice is just to reject it in principle, in which case the university would go down the tubes. It’s a parasitic institution. Another choice is just to recognize it as a fact of life that when I’m at work, I have to walk past the Lockheed Martin Lecture Hall, and I have to look out my office window at the Koch building, which is named after the multibillionaires who are the major funders of the Tea Party and a leading force in ongoing campaigns to wipe out the remnants of the labor movement and to institute a kind-of corporate tyranny.

Now, if that outside funding seeks to [influence] teaching, research and other activities, then there’s a strong argument that it should simply be resisted or rejected outright no matter what the costs. Such influences are not inevitable, and that’s worth bearing in mind.

Paving The Road To A Hungrier, Unhealthier, And Less-Educated Nation

In Uncategorized on June 23, 2011 at 11:35 am

Oldspeak:” More Change I Can’t Believe In. ‘Austerity Meaures’ ” have come home too roost. The same harsh and counter-productive cuts to education, social programs, public sector institutions/services/workers/jobs, we’ve seen undertaken in foreign countries via “Structural Adjustment Programs” implemented by U.S. backed “lending institutions” like the IMF, The World Bank, and USAID, that usually hit the poorest and most vulnerable the hardest, are being proposed by politricians right here in the U.S. of A. When President Obama starts proposing cuts to community organizing in poor neighborhoods, it tells you all you need to know. The rich matter most, the poor and everyone in between matter least. Witness the sad fact that income inequality in America is at Great Depression Era levels. The number children living in poverty is at an all time high. if it’s true that “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” , America’s greatness doesn’t amount to very much atal. Meanwhile, the financial-military-industrial complex is doing just GRAND!

By Deborah Weinstein @ Other Words:

The number of poor children had already grown by 2.1 million in 2009 over pre-recession levels, with continuing high joblessness among parents raising concerns that poverty will continue to worsen for some time. Since kids who spend more than half their childhood in poverty earn on average 39 percent less than median income as adults, we can expect lasting costs that will hurt the nation’s future economic growth.

And yet, a majority of House lawmakers want to narrow the deficit by making things worse for today’s kids.

If House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s proposal takes effect, or the even more extreme House Republican Study Committee’s budget plan prevails, the nation’s economic future will inevitably get bleaker. Those proposals would reduce the food assistance, medical care, and education available to poor children. When children don’t get adequate nutrition, research shows that they are more likely to suffer illnesses and hospitalizations. Poor health can trigger developmental problems that take a toll on school performance.

The House passed Ryan’s proposal in April along party lines. Not one Democrat supported it and all but four Republicans voted in favor of it. In the Senate, five Republicans joined every member of the chamber’s Democratic majority in rejecting it.

The House budget, best known for Ryan’s proposal to radically change and mostly privatize Medicare, would also reduce spending on food stamps by 20 percent over the next decade. If such a deep cut were implemented through caseload reductions, it would mean 8 million fewer people receiving food stamps, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. If instead the cuts took effect by reducing the amount of assistance each family receives, a family of four would lose $147 a month.

Since about half of food stamp recipients are children, such cuts would hurt the chances that those kids will graduate from high school or college, increasing the likelihood of lifelong poverty. The Republican Study Committee’s cuts are far deeper. They would cut food stamps in half over 10 years.

These proposals would have similarly harsh impacts on medical care. The House budget cuts, if implemented solely by reducing eligibility, would deny Medicaid to nearly half the people who rely on it now, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. More likely, there would be some combination of denying people altogether and reducing the care or increasing the costs for those who remain eligible. Either way, the impact would be severe. Again, the Republican Study Committee proposal would inflict even deeper cuts. That proposal calls for halving Medicaid spending by 2021.

How would these plans handle education spending? They’d cut it. We know that the House budget would cut education by nearly one-fifth next year and by a quarter by the end of the decade, with 1.7 million fewer low-income college students qualifying for Pell Grant scholarships. U.S. military spending, which nearly totals the combined military expenditures of every other nation on earth, wouldn’t be cut at all. The Republican Study Committee doesn’t spell out most of its education cuts, but it would cut all appropriations except for military spending by about 70 percent by 2021. Education funding would be slashed from preschool through college.

The GOP deficit reduction plans rely solely on massive domestic spending cuts that would heap more trouble on the recession generation’s already grim prospects. That’s counterproductive. Slower economic growth will cut tax revenue and make it harder to nix the government’s persistent budget deficit problem. Balanced-budget amendments and other proposals to place drastic limits on total federal spending would result in cuts at least as deep as the Ryan and Republican Study Committee budget plans.

There’s a better way. We can take a more responsible and effective approach that would gradually narrow the deficit and spare the programs that low-income Americans rely on through a combination of fair revenue increases and spending cuts that don’t exempt the military. Otherwise, we’ll wind up denying opportunities for a middle-class life to millions of our children.

Deborah Weinstein is the executive director of the Coalition on Human Needs, an alliance of national organizations working together to promote public policies that address the needs of low-income and other vulnerable populations. www.chn.org

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