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

Posts Tagged ‘Oligarchy’

There’s a Violent World War Going On, With Millions of Casualties – Oligarchs vs. Everyone Else

In Uncategorized on January 23, 2013 at 5:12 pm

https://i1.wp.com/img.photobucket.com/albums/v238/iamnotanobject/structuralviolencediagramJames.jpgOldspeak: “We have become, in the United States, and increasingly all over the world, a society with only two classes: Those who own, and those who owe.” –Thom Hartmann When one generally thinks of world wars, the most easily identifiable examples that come to mind are World War I, World War II, and “The Cold War”. These wars were characterized by physical violence perpetrated by various nations armies engaging in armed combat. The World War being currently waged is also characterized by physical violence perpetrated by nations armies in armed combat, via more numerous small wars and regional wars. But what’s different about this war, is nations are gradually seceding their sovereignty to the transnational corporate network via various “trade agreements”, treaties, privatization and “austerity” measures.  Also different, vitally important, less apparent, vastly increased & near completely globalized is structural violence.

Johan Galtung originally framed the term “structural violence” to mean any constraint on human potential caused by economic and political structures (1969). Unequal accesses to resources, to political power, to education, to health care, or to legal standing, are forms of structural violence.  

It refers to a form of violence based on the systematic ways in which a given social structure or social institution “kills people” by preventing them from meeting their basic needs. Institutionalized elitism, ethnocentrism, classism, racism, sexism, adultism, nationalism, heterosexism and ageism are just some examples of structural violence. Life spans are reduced when people are socially dominated, politically oppressed, or economically exploited. Structural violence and direct violence are highly interdependent. Structural violence inevitably produces conflict and often direct violence, including family violence, racial violence, hate crimes, terrorism, genocide, and war.

Structural violence, however, is almost always invisible, embedded in ubiquitous social structures, normalized by stable institutions and regular experience. Structural violence occurs whenever people are disadvantaged by political, legal, economic, or cultural traditions. But structural violence produces suffering and death as often as direct violence does, though damage is slower, more subtle, more common, and more difficult to repair. Structural violence is problematic in and of itself, but it is also dangerous because frequently leads to direct violence. The chronically oppressed are often, for logical the world is easily traced to structured inequalities.

Galtung’s general definition of violence forms the foundation of his typology of violence. He identifies three ‘types’ of violence — direct, structural and cultural. These concepts clarify ‘violence’ by broadening its definition, and creating categories that help us to study violence more systematically and deeply. The basic distinction between direct and structural violence is that direct violence involves an identifiable actor causing intentional harm, while structural violence does not structural violence is an indirect and, arguably, unintentional violence. In reference to structural violence, Galtung states that ‘violence is built into structures and shows up as unequal power and consequently as unequal life chances’. Structural violence is both an accompanier to and underlying cause of direct violence.  Structural violence is found in most, if not all, structures in society — social, political and economic. It is not an accident, but rather the outcome of human action which generates these systems in the first instance.  Structural violence is present as exploitation, poverty, misery, denial of basic needs and marginalisation  all are types of inequality. In other words, inequality can be seen as structural violence.” –Dr.N.V.S.SURYANARAYANA

Structural violence is pervasive in all aspects our civilization at present. Oligarchy, Plutocracy, Polyarchy, Inverted Totalitarian Kleptocracy, all these systems around which we’ve organized our civilizations are built on structural violence. Global capitalism cannot exist without it. While wars of the past were called world wars, they were really only large regional conflicts. It’s sort of how Americans declare themselves “World Champions” in sports having only played teams in America. The whole world is not involved, just as the whole world was not at war. This current war, though it may not seem like it, is the only true World War. Casualties are global and cross untold species of life. The entire biosphere is under assault. Its weapons are far more devastating than bullets and bombs. Chemicals, Patents, Bribery, Corruption, Money, Laws, Knowledge Sequestration, Money, Politics, Influence peddling, Growth, Development are the weapons of choice in this war. With these weapons, the Transnational Corporate Network has extracted untold trillions from the earth and most of her inhabitants, destroying life, air, land and sea all along the way. Eradication of structural violence requires fundamental change in our civilizations.  Gandhi’s “Constructive Programme” would be a great template on which to build. Society civilization based on truth and non-violence. Cooperational governance  instead of corporate governance. Giving selflessly instead of gratuitous greed. Unity instead of competition. Actualization instead of illusion… What a wonderful world that would be. The change must begin within us.

By Thom Hartmann @ Alter Net:

History is littered with the corpses of those who thought they could conquer the world, or at least the “known” or “important” world, through force of arms.  Many come immediately to mind: Alexander the Great; Caesar; Hitler; the Celts, Ottomans, and Catholics; various European, Asian, and American empires from the 17th Century Dutch to the 18th Century French, to the 19th Century British and the 20th Century Soviets and Americans.  Others, like the Aztecs, are less well known to westerners, Europeans, and Asians, but no less ambitious.

All used some variation on war, the force of military power, to accomplish their goal. All won, over the short-term, and then collapsed over the long term (making the relatively safe assumption that the American Empire is in the process of collapse right now).

So, who’s next?

While the rising economies of the world, like the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) nations, all have the potential, particularly the Chinese, all also are pretty focused on regionalism.  But there is one group that has declared war on us – all of us, all over the world – and already won some significant victories.  And that’s the creditor class, what economist Henry George called the “rentiers,” and we generally today refer to as “the billionaires.”

The top story on the Sunday, January 6 2013 online edition of the Financial Times, [3] was headlined, “Banks win more flexible Basel rules” by Brooke Masters.  The lead paragraph noted that “International banks received a new year fillip” or gift, when the new regulations out of the Basel bank regulators meeting “announced that the first ever global liquidity standards would be less onerous than expected and not be fully enforced until 2019, four years later than expected.”  Perhaps the single most relevant sentence in the article started: “The results are largely good news for bank profits…”

We have become, in the United States, and increasingly all over the world, a society with only two classes: Those who own, and those who owe.

The owners (or “Takers”) own vast wealth, and loan it out at interest to everybody from students to governments.  They’re continually receiving that interest back in ways that are either tax-free or taxed at very low levels.  (Here in the US we call it “capital gains,” “Interest,” “dividends,” and “carried interest.”  While a working person will pay as much as 39% in federal income taxes, the federal income tax to the Mitt Romneys, Paris Hiltons, and Lloyd Blankfeins of the world is now capped at 20%.  As Leona Helmsley famously said, “Only little people pay taxes.”)

The owe-ers – the indebted – find themselves trapped on a lifelong treadmill paying interest and fees to the Takers.  The owe-ers are also mostly the workers, the people who make things (from manufactured goods to hamburgers), and so are rightly called the “Makers.”

For a brief period of American history, the rapaciousness and greed of the Takers  was kept in check by the Makers – mostly through the actions of their unions and elected officials like FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and Carter.  Glass-Steagal prevented banksters from gambling with your savings account or pension.  The Sherman Anti-Trust Act and its heirs prevented the big fish from swallowing all the medium-sized and smaller fish, so cities and malls were filled with locally-owned businesses.  Social and economic mobility were higher in the United States than in most other countries of the world.

But with the election of Ronald Reagan, the Takers – whose favorite way of taking is through putting the Makers into debt – won a huge victory.  They killed or weakened democratic institutions, like unions and politicians not dependent on them.  They moved the Middle Class from prosperity into, first, credit card debt, then into second-mortgage debt, and finally into student loan debt.  And then, in the final Coup de grâce, they made the formerly democratic governments of Western Europe and the United States indebted to them.

They knew from the beginning it was war.  But a softer and more silent form of war than the world was used to.  Not since the ascendency of the British East India Company in the 1700s had the world seen an economic, rather than sovereign, force so dominate the world.

And now they’re in the final stages of their war.  Having taken most all the resources of the West’s Middle Classes and thrown them and their children into debt bondage, they’ve moved onto taking over entire nations.

This is what Republicans mean when they talk about “making government smaller” here in the United States, or “the austerity agenda” in Europe, Canada, and Australia.  It’s all the same thing – transfer even more wealth and political power from those in debt (be they individuals, cities, states, or nations) to those who made the loans.  From the middle-class Makers to the billionaire Takers.

And God forbid a politician should stand up to the Takers.  From Republicans refusing to raise taxes on billionaires, to international banking institutions leading the charge, via their captive governments, on “renegade” states [4] like Bolivia.

Longer work weeks in France.  Indexing the Inheritance Tax to inflation in the United States, but not the minimum wage.  Cutting Greeks off their national health-care system after a year of unemployment.  Slashing government support to schools, police, and health-care in Canada.  Banks committing crimes and getting slap-on-the-wrist fines.  Fossil Fuel corporations, the world’s most profitable, not only getting taxpayer subsidies but never, ever paying for the cancers, pollution, and global warming they cause.  The list goes on and on.

It’s war.  Rob, plunder, and pillage.  Take what little is left from those with a little, and give it all to those who have a lot.  Turn the Makers into slaves, while the Takers get an Inheritance Tax cut so their great-grandchildren can live the lives of the landed gentry.

When Ronald Reagan came into office, America was one of the most socially- and economically- mobile nations in the developed world.  Today it is among the least.

Democracy is being replaced by plutocracy.  Modern oligarchs are richer than the kings of old.  And, still not content, they’re amping up the war with a coming July 4th attempt to amend the US Constitution so the wealthy need never again fear tax increases.  It’s being led by the Goldwater Institute [5] with its “Compact For America.”

Look out.  We’re moving from trench warfare to aerial bombardment.  And when they’re done, Western Democracies will look far more like Italy in the 1930s…

When Democracy Is Trumped By The Excesses Of Private Capitalism

In Uncategorized on January 16, 2013 at 1:03 pm

https://i2.wp.com/lawrencerspencer.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Pyramid_of_Capitalist_System.pngOldspeak:”Modern capitalism has undermined democracy, replacing it with a plutocracy. All the props of a democracy remain intact – elections, legislatures, media – but they predominantly function at the service of the oligarchy.” When you choose to look beyond the gauzy veil of inverted totalitarian kleptocracy, you begin to see the real world, and it ain’t pretty. You begin to see that our society is one gigantic ponsi scheme.  All workers work, while a select few owners benefit most. You’ll see how Corprocratic media is used by oligarchs  to shape how and what you think.  99% of everything you see, hear, and read is designed to serve a small segment of the populations purposes.  conspicuous consumption is paramount, as are ever-increasing profits and “growth”. The needs of the vast majority are given lip service and largely ignored.  The political class falls over itself to legislate for the benefit of their corprocratic controllers, participating in sham elections and legislative theater to give the people the impression they’re still living in a representative democracy. Corprocrats continue to consolidate their control over the education system, strictly controlling the range of acceptable thought, what it researched and discussed.  Critical thinking is discouraged in academia.  There is no questioning of the capitalist system that zealously rewards aberrant and amoral behavior, while discouraging and disparaging humanistic behavior.  If there is questioning, it is largely ignored, and those who question are labeled “crazy”,  “misguided” or “conspiracy theorist”.  There are a few brave souls remaining who choose to question the official narrative, and explore possibilities and solutions that fall out side the narrow corporate-approved range of thought.  Professor Wolff is one of them. His words resonate so deeply with me. Enjoy!”

By Richard D. Wolff @ Truthout:

The problems of capitalism flow in part from who directs productive enterprises and how they direct them. In capitalism, the directors are the capitalists; workers are excluded from direction.

Driven by competition and other aspects of the system, capitalists direct the what, how, and where of production and the distribution of the surpluses they appropriate in their enterprises in very particular ways. Capitalists define goals such as maximizing profits and achieving high rates of growth or larger market shares, and then direct their enterprises accordingly. Capitalists routinely pursue those goals, often at the expense of their workers. For example, they fire workers and replace them with machines, or they impose a technology that exposes workers to health and environmental risks but increases profits, or they relocate production out of the country to exploit cheaper labor. However, if enterprises were organized differently—if workers collectively directed enterprises (and thus excluded capitalists)—the problems of enterprises would be solved in different ways, with different social consequences.

In societies where the private capitalist organization of production prevails, the workers – the vast majority of the people – must live with the results of capitalists’ decisions in directing enterprises. However, they are allowed no general participation in those decisions. Sometimes, workers, alone or allied with others, can influence capitalists’ allocations of an enterprise’s surplus. If, for example, workers threaten job actions while consumers threaten to boycott an enterprise’s products, their alliance might achieve changed surplus allocations to meet their respective demands. These might include, for example, job-site daycare facilities for workers’ children, medical insurance for workers and their families, and even pay supplements beyond basic wages. Capitalists recognize, in such cases, that the reproduction of their enterprises requires allocating some surplus to such usages.

Generally, the appropriation and distribution of enterprise surpluses is the exclusive right and responsibility of the capitalists, not the workers. Thus the problems of modern capitalism – for example, environmental degradation, extremely unequal distributions of income and wealth, and recurring, socially costly business cycles – result in significant ways from how capitalists direct their enterprises. Derivative problems—for example, the undermining of democracy as corporations and the rich protect their disproportionate wealth and power by corrupting politics – also result, to a significant degree, from how capitalists direct their enterprises.

Modern markets confront each capitalist enterprise with the competitive threat that another enterprise will be able to offer an alternative product of higher quality, lower price, or both. The uncertainties of changing tastes and preferences, changing interest rates for loans, changing prices for necessary inputs, and so on confront enterprises with a vast array of threats to their survival. Political shifts in the larger society mean that the taxes they have to pay, regulations they have to endure, and subsidies they may lose can also threaten their survival.

The typical capitalist enterprise’s response is to seek more profits, increase the size of the company, or gain a bigger share of the market. Different enterprises stress one or another of these goals, depending on which is more important or available for its survival. Achieving these goals strengthens the capacity of the enterprise to prevent or lessen or absorb the endless array of threats it faces. Likewise, achieving these goals improves the enterprise’s capacity to take advantage of any opportunity that arises. Thus, for example, greater profits enable an enterprise to make the investments needed to tap a new market; faster growth attracts capital and good press reports; and a larger market share can secure lower prices for larger quantities of purchased inputs.

In short, what capitalists do is governed by the system that unites the enterprises directed by capitalists, the markets in which they buy and sell, and the larger society and government for which they provide the bulk of goods and services. Capitalists respond to the signals they receive from the markets, the media, the government, and so on. The goals they pursue – profits, growth, and market share – are their rational responses to those signals. That pursuit is how the capitalist system defines their tasks or jobs. How well capitalists achieve these goals plays a major role in determining their remuneration, their social prestige, and their self-esteem.

Indeed, some capitalists come to internalize the system’s rules and imperatives. They define themselves and mold their personalities in conformity with the behaviors imposed on them as capitalists. So it may seem and be said – even by capitalists themselves – that they are greedy or have other character flaws. However, when capitalists, for example, try to squeeze more work out of employees while trying to pay them less, replace workers with machines, relocate production to low-wage areas, risk their workers’ health with cheap but toxic inputs, and so on – those are behaviors prompted in them by the realities of the system within which they work and for which they are rewarded and praised. Many capitalists do these things without being greedy or evil. When capitalists do display greed or other character flaws, those flaws are less causes than results of a system that requires certain actions by capitalists who want to survive and prosper.

The many different problems and failures of the capitalist system we have been discussing pertain to private capitalism, whether they are more or less regulated. These problems and failures follow in large part from the internal organization of capitalist enterprises. Their directors often respond to the threats and opportunities facing the enterprise in ways that damage the interests of their workers, the workers’ families, and the larger communities. That is how the system works and generates its particular and often serious economic problems.

What happens if we shift our focus from economics to politics? Politics in the United States has become utterly dependent on and corrupted by financial contributions to candidates, political parties, lobbyists, think tanks, and special committees, recently further enabled by the Citizens United Supreme Court decision. The disparity of interests between capitalists and workers and the disparity of the concentrated resources they can and do devote to supporting their favored positions, politicians, and parties undermine a democratic politics.

In fact, we must question the very possibility of genuine democracy in a society in which capitalism is the basic economic system. A functioning democracy would require that all people be provided with the time, information, counsel, and other supports needed to participate effectively in decision-making in the workplace and at the local, regional, and national levels of their residential communities. The economic realities of capitalism preclude that for the overwhelming majority of workers, in stark contrast to corporate directors, top managers, their professional staff, and all those with significant incomes from property (above all, their property in shares of capitalist enterprises). Such persons also have concentrated wealth in the forms of their enterprises’ surpluses and/or their personal property that they can donate to their preferred representatives among the society’s major institutions, parties, and candidates. The political leadership created through such networks in turn advances these groups’ interests in a capitalist system that rewards them richly. Only a highly mobilized and coordinated organization of the workers could hope to secure the financial resources that might begin seriously to contest the political power of capitalists’ money by combining very small contributions from a very large number of donors. This possibility has sufficiently concerned capitalist interests that they have devoted enormous resources to sustaining opposition to workers’ organizations. That opposition helped to produce the last fifty years’ decline in US labor union membership as a percentage of workers and of political parties seeking to represent workers’ interests against those of capitalists.

It is important to note that combinations and coalitions of corporate directors, top managers, large shareholders, and their various professional staffs have often used their financial resources in struggles among themselves.

These groups have and pursue some conflicting interests. However, their struggles do not blind them to common interests in securing the political conditions of the capitalist economic system. Thus they worked together to secure the massive US government intervention to overcome the capitalist crisis that hit in 2007, even though the bailouts went more to some firms and industries than to others. Similarly, they nearly all endorsed the refusal of the Bush and Obama administrations to undertake a federal hiring program to slash unemployment, even though firms and industries would be differently affected by such a program.

In the decades since the 1970s, stagnant real wages, rising hours of paid labor performed per person and per household, and rising levels of household debt all combined to leave working families with less time and energy to devote to politics – or indeed to social activities and organizations in general. Working-class participation in politics, already limited before the 1970s, shrank very significantly during the neoliberal period. At the same time, the soaring profits of US business and personal wealth of the richest Americans increasingly poured into US politics. In the first place, they had quickly growing resources that allowed them to influence politics to a greater extent than ever before.

In the second place, they had greater incentives to do so than ever before. The inequalities of individual wealth and income in the United States were growing. The profitability of business, and especially of the largest corporations, was likewise growing. This posed a challenge. Rising economic inequalities are always issues of concern to those at the top because of the risks of envy, resentment, and opposition. There is always the possibility that the economically disadvantaged will seek to use political means to recoup their losses in the economy. The 99 percent might turn to politics to negate the economic gains of the 1 percent. Thus it became – and remains – more important than ever for the 1 percent to use their money to shape and control politics.

The last three decades of US politics did not see a change of political opinion from more left to more right. Rather, what happened was a relative withdrawal from politics of those social groups that favored social-welfare and income-redistribution policies (the New Deal “legacy”) and a relative increase in the participation of business and the rich, who used their money to shift the tone and content of US politics.

The result of this political shift has compounded the social costs and negative impacts of the economic crisis since 2007. Our dysfunctional economic system has suffered the added burden of a dysfunctional political system. Political parties and politicians stumble over one another in pandering to corporations and the rich.

Thus the TARP program of 2008 provided money to bail out banks and other corporations while also claiming to help the millions facing foreclosure. While the bailouts were accomplished, foreclosure assistance was trivial and far below even what little had been promised. If this was trickle-down economics, workers saw only a very slight trickle. Bush and then Obama have insisted on limiting government programs to reduce unemployment to those that “provide incentives and encouragement to the private sector” to hire more people. The political establishments in both parties refuse to discuss federal programs to hire the millions of workers who are unemployed. Instead, the crisis since 2007 has prompted all levels of government to cut many programs and payrolls, imposing “austerity” budgets just when the mass of people need exactly the opposite. A virtual political taboo precludes public discussion of how the costs for more government spending and larger government payrolls could be defrayed by taxing corporations and the rich. That would be an anti-crisis “trickle-up” government economic policy that does not entail deficits or raise the national debt.

What prevents another New Deal-type trickle-up economic policy from being adopted now is a political system compromised by its dependence on money drawn predominantly from certain social groups. Not surprisingly, those groups insist on trickle-down economics. The government helps them first, foremost, and overwhelmingly. The rest of the economy and society then wait to see what, if anything, actually trickles down.

Meanwhile, the total losses for the US economy for the years since 2007 far exceed what could have been spent to keep the economy going. Since 2007, many millions of newly unemployed and around 20 percent of our productive capacity have been sitting idle. Those people want to work; our economy wants and needs the wealth they could create to solve many of our nation’s and the world’s problems. However, our private capitalist economic system cannot bring together the unemployed with the idle tools, equipment, and raw materials to produce that wealth. And a dysfunctional political system does nothing about that.

The development of US capitalism, especially since the 1970s, has produced extreme economic inequality, the second major crisis in the last seventy-five years, and a political system in which money trumps democracy. To change this requires a cure for capitalism that targets both its economic and political problems directly and effectively.

Moscow Election Fraud Protest Draws More Than 100,000 Anti-Putin Marchers

In Uncategorized on December 24, 2011 at 5:55 pm

Oldspeak:” ‘More than 100,000 people took to the streets Saturday in the biggest show of protest in Russia’s capital since the breakup of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s‘ Wow. That’s fucking awesome. OCCUPY EVERYWHERE! Russians are rising up to resist corruption and oligarchy. BRAVO! Take heed Americans. Your time to act against corruption and oligarchy in America is coming. We’ve already let at least one fraudulent election pass with nominal resistance, and we’re seeing where that got us. Can’t allow the oligarchs to again accelerate their planned demolition and co-opting of America.”

By The Washington Post:

More than 100,000 people took to the streets Saturday in the biggest show of protest in Russia’s capital since the breakup of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.

“Russia without Putin!” the crowd chanted as it protested alleged election fraud during the recent parliamentary vote that saw Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party garner nearly 50% of the vote.

Many in the crowd said they were fed up with Putin, who served as president for eight years beginning in 2000 and is now seeking a return to the presidency in an election scheduled for March.

PHOTOS: Thousands protest in Moscow

“In 2012, we will clear the Kremlin of swindlers and thieves.” said opposition leader Garry Kasparov, a former world chess champion.

The rally was held in one of Moscow’s widest downtown streets, Sakharov Avenue, named for dissident nuclear scientist Andrei Sakharov. Along the length of the street, organizers placed huge screens that displayed speeches from the platform.

Thousands of people also protested in cities and towns across Russia.

“This movement shows us that the country has changed,” said Vladimir Lukin, a presidential envoy on human rights who came to the Moscow rally as an observer. “The authorities at last realized how many people want changes.”

Local Governments, Churches, Community Groups, Prominent Business Men And Others Are All Divesting From Big, Corrupt Banks

In Uncategorized on November 5, 2011 at 3:53 pm

Oldspeak: “End your support for the International Banking Cartels today, tomorrow, the next day or that day after that. “They take your deposits and use them to buy politicians to de-regulate, give them immunity, interest-free loans and bailouts. Then they turn around and charge you fees to make them even richer. Take your money to a credit union or a community bank that will use your money in your community and not to pervert the rule of law and fill their own pockets.”  “Strength Through Unity”

By Washington’s Blog:

Local Governments, Churches, Community Groups, Prominent Business Men And Others Are Divesting From Big, Corrupt Banks … Why Aren’t You?

CNN Money reports:

Customers are dumping their banks in droves ahead of the nationwide “Move Your Money” and “Bank Transfer Day” movements this Saturday.

***

At least 650,000 consumers have already joined credit unions since Sept. 29 … to a nationwide survey of credit unions by the Credit Union National Association. [Here’s the report.] That amounts to $4.5 billion in new savings accounts, CUNA said.

***

Meanwhile, the Independent Community Bankers of America said a poll of its 5,000 members conducted on Oct. 17 found that nearly 60% of community banks are gaining customers who are sick and tired of the big financial institutions. The association’s community bank locator has seen more than 5,000 inquiries in the last few weeks — an increase of nearly 500%.

By the end of this weekend, accounts at these credit unions and community banks could grow by tens of thousands more.

***

“They take your deposits and use them to buy politicians to de-regulate, give them immunity, interest-free loans and bailouts. Then they turn around and charge you fees to make them even richer,” said one “Move Your Money” flyer posted on a Facebook page dedicated to the initiative (which has 43,679 “likes”). “Take your money to a credit union or a community bank that will use your money in your community and not to pervert the rule of law and fill their own pockets.”

Occupy Wall Street has formed a separate united front, called “Dump Your Bank Day,” which will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 8.

I’ve supported the Move Your Money campaign for years because:

1. The only way to save the economy is to break up the giant, insolvent banks

2. The bought-and-paid-for politicians refuse to do so (because … drumroll, please … they’re bought and paid for by the big banks)

3. So we’ll have to do it ourselves

No wonder churcheslocal governments, community groupsprominent business men and others are divesting from the big corrupt banks.

You can use Move Your Money project’s community bank and credit union finder tool to find out how and where to move your money.

Postscript: Ending the Fed and reining in Wall Street are two sides of the same coin. While even top-drawer economists say we must end the Fed, and many libertarians argue that ending the Fed would “change everything”, the Fed is the big banks and the giant banks are the Fed.

It will be impossible to pressure Congress to end the Fed as long as the giant banks have purchased Congress lock, stock and barrel. The dinosaur banks will pressure their water-carriers in Congress to not only keep the Fed alive, but to give it more and more powers.

So all those who want to end the Fed should also support the Move Your Money movement and divest their funds from the giant banks, because only then will it be possible to end the take away the Fed’s main supporters: the giant banks.

Indeed, the big banks are not engaging in capitalism … rather, they are engaging in socialism, fascism, looting, kleptocracyoligarchy or banana republic behavior(depending on your preference of wording).

On the other hand, smaller banks are engaging in capitalism – and are actually allocating capital to entrepreneurs (what banks are supposed to do).

If we downsize the giant, socialist banks, the small banks will thrive,  thus reinvigorating the entire economy … saving capitalism in the process.

As Charles Hugh Smith noted recently:

There are only three things–and only these three–that will cripple Wall Street’s democracy-killing concentration of wealth and power:

1. Transfer the 99%’s money out of Wall Street and the Too Big To Fail Banks

2. Remove campaign contributions from our democracy in a way that the corporate legalist lackeys in the Supreme Court cannot overturn, i.e. entirely publicly financed elections

3. Abolish Wall Street’s dealer, pusher and protector, the Federal Reserve.

My reasoning is very simple:

Everything else people want to see happen cannot happen if:

1) Wall Street and the SDI (systemically dangerous institutions) a.k.a. too big to fail banks, control most Americans’ financial assets and debts

2) The Federal Reserve exists to enable and protect the SDI’s wealth and power via Primary Dealers, the discount window and other pusher/dealer mechanisms

3) Wall Street and the other SDIs can use the billions of dollars they skim from our accounts, IRAs, 401Ks and pensions to buy political influence and protection from regulation and competition.

Therefore these are the necessary foundations of any real change.

As long as Wall Street and the other SDIs control much of the nation’s financial markets, assets and debts, and the Federal Reserve exists to protect and enable their predation and parasitic skimming, they will have the means to reap billions in profits which can then be funneled into our cash-corrupted political system of for-sale toadies and apparatchiks.

If we don’t end the Fed, it will keep propping up the Wall Street con artists.

If we don’t downsize the giant banks, they will keep propping up the Fed.

Get it?

Secretive Corporate-Legislative Group ALEC Holds Annual Meeting To Rewrite State Laws Favoring Corporations

In Uncategorized on August 5, 2011 at 5:51 pm

Oldspeak: Ever heard of ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council)? Probably not. This clandestine corpocratic cabal of overwhelmingly conservative Republicans has brought you such legislative gems as SB 1070 (Arizona’s “Papers Please?” Law) mandatory minimums for non-violent drug offenders, “three strikes” laws, Prison Industries Act (Prison Labor), drafed bills to change tax laws, attack worker rights, roll back environmental regulations, privatize education, deregulate major industries, and pass voter ID laws. And the bills ALEC task forces usually favor the corporations and industries they’re meant to regulate and affect. “It is in fact the case that politicians and corporations are voting as equals on “model legislation” through ALEC task forces, and corporations have the right to veto, through this process, legislation that even a majority or—a majority of politicians within those meetings would approve. Those meetings cover every area of law, including the rights of Americans killed or injured by corporations, as well as healthcare, pensions—you name it, basically it’s covered.” –Lisa Graves “More than 98% of ALEC’s revenues come  corporations, corporate trade groups, and corporate foundations. Each corporate member pays an annual fee of between $7,000 and $25,000 a year, and if a corporation participates in any of the nine task forces, additional fees apply, from $2,500 to $10,000 each year. ALEC also receives direct grants from corporations, such as $1.4 million from ExxonMobil from 1998-2009. It has also received grants from some of the biggest foundations funded by corporate CEOs in the country, such as: the Koch family Charles G. Koch Foundation, the Koch-managed Claude R. Lambe Foundation, the Scaife familyAllegheny Foundation, the Coors family Castle Rock Foundation, to name a few.” –Center for Media and Democracy So basically, as was grotesquely demonstrated by the passage of the wildly unpopular “debt deal” by the U.S. Congress, corporations’ votes count more than the elected officials who supposedly represent you, and introduce them as legislation to be made law. Some the results of this legislative alchemy? An explosion in the prison population and by extension a vastly expanded prison-industrial complex (U.S. accounts for 4% of world population and 25% of world prison population), an explosion in prison labor (to the detriment of unionized, and public sector workers) which constitutes unfair competition with corporations and small businesses who don’t use slave -er… prison labor. deregulation, reduced safety, reduced taxes on the richest americans & corporations, failed school privatization policies…. etc etc etc. More concrete evidence that the U.S. Government, has been captured by the Corprotocracy. It is obvious to any one paying attention that your government no longer works for we the people. Oligarchy In Action.”

Related Links:

The Hidden History of ALEC and Prison Labor

 

New Exposé Tracks ALEC-Private Prison Industry Effort to Replace Unionized Workers with Prison Labor

Alec Exposed

 

Center for Media and Democracy 

By Amy Goodman @ Democracy Now:

AMY GOODMAN: Hundreds of state legislators from all 50 states have gathered in New Orleans, Louisiana, for the 38th annual meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council, also known as ALEC. The meeting’s top donor? BP, followed by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco and Takeda Pharmaceutical Company. Critics say the Washington-based group has played a key role in helping corporations secretly draft model pro-business legislation that’s been used by state lawmakers across the country.

Unlike many other organizations, ALEC’s membership includes both state lawmakers and corporate executives. At its meetings, the corporations and politicians gather behind closed doors to discuss and vote on model legislation. Before the bills are publicly introduced in state legislatures, they’re cleansed of any reference to who actually wrote them. However, the chair of ALEC, Noble Ellington, insisted in an interview with NPR’s Terry Gross that he works for the tax-paying public. Ellington is a Republican member of the Louisiana State Legislature.

REP. NOBLE ELLINGTON: We represent the public, and we are the ones who decide. So the tax-paying public is represented there at the table, because I’m there.

TERRY GROSS: I understand that, but you’re there at the table with corporations. But at the table—

REP. NOBLE ELLINGTON: Can I interrupt you again?

TERRY GROSS: Yes.

REP. NOBLE ELLINGTON: It’s not just corporations. I’m there, and members of ALEC is the Americans for Tax Reform, the National Taxpayers Union, National Federation of Independent Businesses. Those are people that we represent, as well, and those are people who are members.

TERRY GROSS: But those are—those are all pro-business, anti-tax groups. People not represented at the table include workers, union members, teachers, students—

REP. NOBLE ELLINGTON: No, ma’am. No, ma’am. You are—

TERRY GROSS: —patients, patients who can’t pay medical bills.

REP. NOBLE ELLINGTON: You are completely wrong.

AMY GOODMAN: That was, an exchange between NPR’s Terry Gross and ALEC chairman Noble Ellington.

In recent months, ALEC has come under increasing scrutiny for its role in drafting bills to attack worker rights, roll back environmental regulations, privatize education, deregulate major industries, and pass voter ID laws. Nonetheless, this year’s annual ALEC meeting boasts the largest attendance in five years, with nearly 2,000 people in attendance. The conference features speakers like, oh, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise, Wall Street Journal contributor Steve Moore, and the president of the American Enterprise Institute, Arthur Brooks.

Now, a new exposé in The Nation magazine called “The Hidden History of ALEC and Prison Labor” details ALEC’s instrumental role in the explosion of the U.S. prison population in the past few decades. According to the article, ALEC pioneered some of the toughest sentencing laws on the books today and paved the way for states and corporations to replace unionized workers with prison labor.

We’re joined now by the one of the reporters who wrote the article, Mike Elk, contributing editor to The Nation magazine. We’re also joined by Lisa Graves. She’s in New Orleans right now, where the ALEC conference is taking place. She’s executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy. Last month, the Center for Media and Democracy released 800 model bills approved by companies and lawmakers at recent ALEC meetings. We invited a member of ALEC to join us, but they denied our request.

Mike Elk, Lisa Graves, welcome to Democracy Now! Lisa, talk about what’s happening right now in New Orleans. Are you getting into this conference? What are you seeing? What are the seminars, these sessions about?

LISA GRAVES: Well, the Center for Media and Democracy was denied access to the convention with one of our cub reporters, and he was required to leave the convention hotel, the Marriott. But we have received reports, from behind closed doors, from those meetings, at which corporations and politicians are voting on model legislation. And one of the reports we received yesterday from insiders is that corporations vetoed model legislation that politicians had voted for. And so, it is in fact the case that politicians and corporations are voting as equals on model legislation through ALEC task forces, and corporations have the right to veto, through this process, legislation that even a majority or—a majority of politicians within those meetings would approve.

Those meetings cover every area of law, including tax, environment, workers’ rights, the rights of Americans killed or injured by corporations, as well as healthcare, pensions—you name it, basically it’s covered. And we’ve even seen coverage from inside about sessions with ALEC, in which they had one session called “Warming Up to Climate Change: How Increased CO2 Can Benefit You.”

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to Terry Gross of NPR speaking with the national chair of ALEC, Noble Ellington, the Republican member of the Louisiana State Legislature. Terry Gross asked Ellington why ALEC gives corporations such a big say in drafting legislation. This is an excerpt of their exchange.

TERRY GROSS: Why give corporations such a big say in drafting legislation?

REP. NOBLE ELLINGTON: Well, partly because they are one of the ones who will be affected by it. And you say “a big say,” but as I expressed to you earlier, and I think it needs to be made perfectly clear, that they have—they do not have the final say about model legislation. It is done with work with task forces, which is both public and private sector working together. But before it ever becomes model legislation or ALEC policy, it has to go through the public sector board, not the private sector. So only the public sector had the final say as to whether or not something becomes model legislation.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s the ALEC chair, Noble Ellington. Lisa Graves, your response?

LISA GRAVES: Well, it’s interesting, because what we saw and what we heard from inside yesterday is that, quite clearly, corporations can veto things before the public board that Noble Ellington sits on have a chance to approve it. So, in essence, if the corporations disagree on proposed legislation at the task force level, it never makes it to the board that Senator Ellington sits on.

The fact is that corporations exert extraordinary influence and control over this process. They can veto legislation through the task forces. They are the bankrollers of ALEC. Over 98 percent of the money that funds ALEC’s operations come from everything except for legislative dues, which are 50 bucks a year. Some legislators are so cheap, they don’t even pay it themselves; they have the taxpayer pay it for them. Meanwhile, corporations can pay $7,500 or $25,000 a year for membership, and then some corporations, like BP, a year after the disaster in the Gulf, is now the headline corporation underwriting this convention. They’re the top corporation listed in the President’s Circle for ALEC’s convention this year.

AMY GOODMAN: Taking place, of course, there in New Orleans. What has the debt deal negotiations and this whole crisis that has happened in Washington meant for this conference and for ALEC? What are they saying about it?

LISA GRAVES: Well, they haven’t—they haven’t mentioned a lot about it directly, at least in the sessions that we’ve heard reports from. However, we do know that Governor Jindal spoke sort of extensively about the power of being stubborn, the importance of being stubborn and the power of that, which I think was a direct reference to the debt negotiations. The fact is that ALEC alums include Congressman John Boehner, who’s the speaker of the House, as well as Congressman Eric Cantor, who’s the Republican leader of the House. ALEC legislation parallels legislation that has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives to cap spending by government, to reduce taxes on the richest of Americans and the richest corporations, and so that agenda is moving both through Congress and through the states, and it’s an agenda whose ideas are made concrete through model legislation that ALEC produces every year. These politicians who sit on the board with Senator Ellington and others, they have approved over 850 pieces of legislation or resolutions, that we’ve made available to the public and have analyzed, and that the public is joining us, along with reporters, in analyzing. And so, we know what this agenda looks like. It looks like the same sort of deal that was pushed through in Congress this week.

AMY GOODMAN: Lisa Graves, the significance of holding this conference in post-Katrina New Orleans? I mean, you’ve talked about BP sponsoring it—of course, the huge BP oil spill. But also, all the teachers fired in New Orleans. It’s known as a Petri dish for policy in this country, and not as many people may be aware—as aware of that.

LISA GRAVES: Well, that’s right. Well, on the one hand, we certainly are happy to see money coming into the New Orleans—the New Orleans economy, even from a convention like ALEC’s, where these corporations and politicians are engaged in this sort of unprecedented joint voting.

The fact is that we had a press conference earlier this week with local school board representatives, including a Republican on the school board, as well as local teachers, who have talked about the failure of policies that basically privatize public education in New Orleans to push money out of the public school system into not-well-regulated charter schools, charter schools that have had severe problems, and how those policies have failed at the ground-floor level here in New Orleans. People who were part of that conference said they wondered where the push was coming for these proposals to just massively change the school system. It turns out these proposals are echoed in ALEClegislation that’s being pushed across the country. It’s a one-size-fits-all, McBill sort of factory within ALEC, and it serves the interests of ALEC corporations, including the ALECEducation Task Force, which is co-chaired by an online school company, a for-profit company.

AMY GOODMAN: Is there anything else you think is critical to understand about this organization that not that many people know about by name, ALEC, but may know about by laws that are passed in their states, with them not knowing where they are coming from?

LISA GRAVES: Well, we think that fellow reporters and citizens can make a lot of use of our website, alecexposed.org. We have lists of politicians. We’ve added over a thousand politicians over the past few weeks since the site was launched. We have profiles and links to profiles on some of the corporations that are the leading players withinALEC, including Koch Industries. And we also are discovering new corporations every day. For example, today, Dick Armey, who is the leader of FreedomWorks, who basically is one of the leaders of the Tea Party effort, is speaking at a luncheon, and that is sponsored by Visa. I say to Visa: “Not priceless.” The fact is that what we’re seeing here is an extraordinary influence of corporations on our policy. And we do know—and I would say, with respect to your next segment, we understand from other reporters that ALEC is denying that the Corrections Corporation of America is a member or leader of ALEC, but we have proof that Corrections Corporation of America, which has been involved in pushing this prison privatization agenda, was a member of ALEC as of at least last month.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for being with us. “The Hidden History of ALEC and Prison Labor” is our next segment. Lisa Graves, of the Center for Media and Democracy, in New Orleans.

 

 

 

“They’re Going To Try To Panic The Population Into Acquiescing In A Democratic Party Sellout By Cutting Back Payments To The People, While Making Sure They Pay The Pentagon, Foreign Aid, And Wall Street”

In Uncategorized on July 16, 2011 at 2:19 pm

Bought and Paid For: Laughing all the way to the Bankers.

 

Oldspeak:”Only a crisis, real or perceived produces real change” –Milton Friedman.The rancorous debate over the debt belies a fundamental truth of our economy — that it is run for the few at the expense of the many, that our entire government has been turned into a machine which takes the wealth of a mass of Americans and accelerates it into the hands of the few.” –Dennis Kusinnich. What you are seeing is textbook disaster capitalism, which is the practice (by a government, regime etc) of taking advantage of a major disaster to adopt neo-liberal economic policies that the population would be less likely to accept under normal circumstances. We’ve seen this movie most recently after 9/11, when the country was gripped with fear of terrorism, the Bush Administration and U.S. Congress passed the U.S.A. Patriot Act, depriving Americans of their rights not to be spied on, searched and seized or  indefinitely detained without charge, and created the Department Of Homeland Security, which has morphed into a gargantuan surveillance and ‘security’ apparatus. Now they’re using fear of financial catastrophe ram through draconian cuts to social programs. All while continuing to enrich the wealthy, finance client states, and the military-industrial complex on the backs of the other 99% If anything, these budget talks make it clear to anyone paying attention, who U.S. Politicians’ most important constituents are, and they sure ain’t the American people. Sadly in Washington money talks, and Change You Can Believe In walks.

Debt Ceiling Charade A Move To The Right

By Washington’s Blog:
pointed out last year that Ronald Reagan’s budget director said that the tax cuts for the wealthy were “the biggest fiscal mistake in history”.

noted yesterday:

Plugging the major holes in our economy is more important than either cutting spending or raising taxes.

And stopping bailouts and giveaways for the top .1% of the richest elite (which weaken rather than strengthen the economy, as shown herehere and here) and slashing spending on unnecessary imperial wars (which reduce rather than increase our national security, as demonstrated here and here) is what the budgetreally needs.

As I wrote last year:

Why aren’t our government “leaders” talking about slashing the military-industrial complex, which is ruining our economy with unnecessary imperial adventures?

And why aren’t any of our leaders talking about stopping the permanent bailouts for the financial giants who got us into this mess? And see this.

And why aren’t they taking away the power to create credit from the private banking giants – which is costing our economy trillions of dollars (and is leading to a decrease in loans to the little guy) – and give it back to the states?

If we did these things, we wouldn’t have to raise taxes or cut core services to the American people.

pointed out the next month:

If there’s any shortfall, all we have to do is claw back the ill-gotten gains from the fraudsters working for the too big to fails whose unlawful actions got us into this mess in the first place. See thisthisthisthis and this.

Dennis Kucinich wrote in a post entitled “Debt Political Theater Diverts Attention While Americans’ Wealth is Stolen”:

The rancorous debate over the debt belies a fundamental truth of our economy — that it is run for the few at the expense of the many, that our entire government has been turned into a machine which takes the wealth of a mass of Americans and accelerates it into the hands of the few.

***

We have to realize what this country’s economy has become. Our monetary policy, through the Federal Reserve Act of 1913, privatized the money supply, gathers the wealth, puts it in the hands of the few while the Federal Reserve can create money out of nothing, give it to banks to park at the Fed while our small businesses are starving for capital.

Mark my words — Wall Street cashes in whether we have a default or not. And the same type of thinking that created billions in bailouts for Wall Street and more than $1 trillion in giveaways by the Federal Reserve today leaves 26 million Americans either underemployed or unemployed. And nine out of ten Americans over the age of 65 are facing cuts in their Social Security in order to pay for a debt which grew from tax cuts for the rich and for endless wars.

There is a massive transfer of wealth from the American people to the hands of a few and it’s going on right now as America’s eyes are misdirected to the political theater of these histrionic debt negotiations, threats to shut down the government, and willingness to make the most Americans pay dearly for debts they did not create.

These are symptoms of a government which has lost its way, and they are a challenge to the legitimacy of the two-party system.

And Michael Hudson – who is as far from a knee-jerk conservative as possible – hits the same theme with both barrels blazing:

[Interviewer]: So, what do you think? Good versus evil. We’re playing out the debt struggle and the debt ceiling issue. And if we don’t raise the debt ceiling, we’ll be in the apocalypse. What do you make of it all?

HUDSON: I think it’s evil working with evil…. If you have to choose between paying Social Security and Wall Street, pay our clients, Wall Street.

***

What’s inefficient? Paying for people on Medicaid. Got to cut it. What’s inefficient? Medicare. Got to cut it. What’s inefficient? Paying Social Security. What is efficient? Giving $13 trillion to Wall Street for a bailout. Now, how on earth can the administration say, in the last three years we have given $13 trillion to Wall Street, but then, in between 2040 and 2075, we may lose $1 trillion, no money for the people?

***

It’s not about the debt ceiling. It’s about making an agreement now under an emergency conditions. You remember what Obama’s staff aide Rahm Emanuel said. He said a crisis is too important to waste. They’re using this crisis as a chance to ram through a financial policy, an anti-Medicare, anti-Medicaid, anti—selling out Social Security that they could never do under the normal course of things.***

They’re not going to cut back the war in Libya.

***

They’re going to have to decide what to cut back. So they’re going to cut back the bone and they’re going to keep the fat, basically. They’re going to say–they’re going to try to panic the population into acquiescing in a Democratic Party sellout by cutting back payments to the people–Social Security, Medicare–while making sure that they pay the Pentagon, they pay the foreign aid, they pay Wall Street.

[Interviewer]: Yeah. But what–I hear you. But what I’m–I’m saying, what could be an alternative policy? For example, don’t raise the debt ceiling. Number two, raise taxes on the wealthy. Number three, cut back military spending. I mean, there are ways to do this without having to borrow more money, aren’t there?

HUDSON: Of course.

***

Of course they could cut back the fat. Of course what they should do is change the tax system. Of course they should get rid of the Bush tax cuts. And the one good thing in President Obama’s speech two days ago was he used the term spending on tax cuts. So that’s not the same thing as raising taxes. He said just cut spending by cutting spending on tax cuts for the financial sector, for the speculators who count all of their income that they get, billions of income, as capital gains, taxed at 15 percent instead of normal income at 35 percent. Let’s get rid of the tax loopholes that favor Wall Street.

***

Mr. Obama has always known who has been contributing primarily to his political campaigns. We know where his loyalties lie now. And, basically, he promised change because that’s what people would vote for, and he delivered the change constituency to the campaign contributors…

Nearly $2 Trillion Purloined From U.S. Workers in 2009

In Uncategorized on July 12, 2011 at 5:54 pm

Oldspeak:”The U.S. ranks 39th in the world in income inequality, behind such Economic Juggernauts as Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Kenya, Armenia, Vietnam and Yemen. Understand that this massive transfer of wealth from workers to managers and owners via ‘bonuses, bloated salaries, elephantine stock options, padded consulting fees, outsized compensation to boards of directors, sumptuous conferences, palatial offices complete with original artwork, retinues of superfluous “support” staff, hunting lodges, private corporate dining rooms, regal retirement agreements, and so on—defy exact categorization.’ And has been happening steadily over the past 30 years. It has directly contributed to the withering of the middle class and the extreme concentration of wealth in the hands of the top  .01% of the population at levels not seen since the great depression/glided age. The signs are all there, the danger is clearly ahead. We’ve seen what happens under these extreme economic conditions, yet our elected officials have lead feet on the accelerator, plunging the U.S. Economy toward the cliff. Why? How can so many supposedly educated people lack such basic common sense and appreciation of past history? Makes you wonder if they all know something we don’t.”

Richard D. Wolf: When Capitalism Hits The Fan:

By James M. Cypher @ Dollars and Sense:

In 2009, stock owners, bankers, brokers, hedge-fund wizards, highly paid corporate executives, corporations, and mid-ranking managers pocketed—as either income, benefits, or perks such as corporate jets—an estimated $1.91 trillion that 40 years ago would have collectively gone to non-supervisory and production workers in the form of higher wages and benefits. These are the 88 million workers in the private sector who are closely tied to production processes and/or are not responsible for the supervision, planning, or direction of other workers.

From the end of World War II until the early 1970s, the benefits of economic growth were broadly shared by those in all income categories: workers received increases in compensation (wages plus benefits) that essentially matched the rise in their productivity. Neoclassical economist John Bates Clark (1847-1938) first formulated what he termed the “natural law” of income distribution which “assigns to everyone what he has specifically created.” That is, if markets are not “obstructed,” pay levels should be “equal [to] that part of the product of industry which is traceable to labor itself.” As productivity increased, Clark argued, wages would rise at an equal rate.

The idea that compensation increases should equal increases in average labor productivity per worker as a matter of national wage policy, or a wage norm, is traceable to the President’s Council of Economic Advisors under the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations. This macroeconomic approach was anchored in the fact that if compensation rises in step with productivity growth, then both unit labor costs and capital’s versus labor’s share of national income will remain constant. This “Keynesian Consensus” never questioned the fairness of the initial capital/labor split, but it at least offered workers a share of the fruits of future economic growth.

As the figure below shows, both Clark’s idea of a “natural law” of distribution and Keynesian national wage policy have ceased to function since the onset of the neoliberal/supply-side era beginning in the early 1970s. From 1972 through 2009, “usable” productivity—that part of productivity growth that is available for raising wages and living standards—increased by 55.5%. Meanwhile, real average hourly pay fell by almost 10% (excluding benefits). As a group, workers responded by increasing their labor-force participation rate. To make the calculation consistent over time, employment is adjusted to a constant participation rate set at the 1972 level. Had compensation matched “usable” productivity growth, the (adjusted) 84 million non-supervisory and production workers in 2009 would have received roughly $1.91 trillion more in wages and benefits. That is, 13.5% of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product in 2009 was transferred from non-supervisory workers to capitalists (and managers) via the gap of 44.4% that had opened up between compensation and “usable”productivity since 1972.

As expected, neoclassical (or mainstream) economists offer tortured justifications for the new status quo. The erstwhile dauphin of neoclassical economics, Harvard economist Gregory Mankiw agrees with Clark’s formulation. But he says that even though “productivity has accelerated, workers have become accustomed to the slow rate of wage growth since the 1970s.” Why “accustomed”? Well, believe it or not, neoclassical economists claim that today’s workers suffer from “low wage aspirations.” Mankiw equates the wage that workers aspire to with the wage they consider fair. So, according to this very strange formulation, workers consider that they are getting a fair shake today, even though their compensation increases lag behind their productivity increases. Yet a few decades earlier, they considered it fair (as did Clark and Mankiw) for compensation growth to keep up with productivity increases.

Some economists simply deny that any change has occurred. Noted neoclassical conjurer Martin Feldstein believes that the “productivity-compensation gap” is merely a matter of bad measurement: by dropping the Consumer Price Index as the appropriate yardstick, Feldstein alchemically transforms the way wages are adjusted for inflation. His soothing Panglossian recalibration raises workers’ “real” income; et voilà!—the productivity-compensation gap all but disappears.

Leaving aside such statistical prestidigitation, a vast upward transfer of income is evident. That transfer is directly related to the rupture of the so-called “Treaty of Detroit”—an understanding between capital and labor, pounded out during the Truman administration, wherein employers accepted the idea that compensation could grow at the rate that productivity increased. In 1953 union strength was at its high point; 32.5% of the US labor force was unionized. With the profit squeeze of the early 1970s and the onset of Reaganism, unionization rates began to fall—to 27% in 1979, then to 19% in 1984. By 2010 the rate was down to 11.9% (and only 6.9% in the private sector). Off-shoring, outsourcing, vigorous (and often illegal) corporate tactics to stop unionization drives, and an overall political climate of hostility to free and fair union elections have deprived workers of the countervailing power they once held. The result is that without unions struggling to divide the economic pie, non-supervisory and production workers (78% of the private-sector workforce) have been deprived of a minimal level of economic distributive justice.

The upward redistribution has remained as hidden as possible. The forms it has taken—as bonuses, bloated salaries, elephantine stock options, padded consulting fees, outsized compensation to boards of directors, sumptuous conferences, palatial offices complete with original artwork, retinues of superfluous “support” staff, hunting lodges, private corporate dining rooms, regal retirement agreements, and so on—defy exact categorization. Some would appear as profit, some as interest, some as dividends, realized capital gains, gigantic pension programs, retained earnings, or owners’ income, with the remainder deeply buried as “costs of doing business.”

In the final analysis, the $1.91 trillion figure is only an approximation, designed to make more concrete a concept that has lacked an important quantitative dimension. Of course, had compensation increases matched “usable” productivity increases, workers would have paid taxes on the wage portion of their compensation, leaving them with much less than the $1.91 trillion in their pockets. Meanwhile, as these funds are shifted over to capital (and management salaries), federal, state, and local taxes are paid on the portion which appears as declared income. This results in a considerable drop in the net after-tax transfer amount actually pocketed by capital through their appropriation of the productivity increases of non-supervisory workers. Even so, their haul remains a staggering—even astonishing—sum.

The Lies That Sold Obama’s Escalation in Afghanistan War

In Uncategorized on July 5, 2011 at 10:48 pm

Oldspeak:”Lies and deceptions that affected the family of Caylee Anthony draw more ire and outrage than the lies and deceptions that affect everyone in the U.S. via it’s manufactured wars of aggression in which it finances all sides and innocent children die every day. “The story of the lies that took the Obama administration into a bigger war in Afghanistan shows that those lies have structural, systemic roots. The political dynamics surrounding the making of war policies are so completely dominated by the vested interests of the heads of the Pentagon, the military, and other national security bureaucracies that the outcome of the process must be based on a systematic body of lies. Only by depriving those institutions of their power can Americans have a military policy based on the truth.”-Gareth Porter The U.S. Government has been captured by corporate military, financial, energy, and media interests, whose objective is to perpetually sell citizens products (wars, debt, oil, content) that are unsustainable, destructive, and unneeded, whose sales primarily benefit them. Children are dying needlessly DAILY from a myriad of correctable social and economic problems, global debt is spiraling out of control, deadly dependence on dirty energy sources are destroying us and the planet which sustains us. The death of one young american girl is indeed tragic, but it’s in no way deserving of the wall to wall coverage it’s been given, when one considers the existential threats we face as a species. But alas the words of Edward Bernays have proven prescient “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never seen” – Edward Bernays, ‘Propaganda’ 1936. In this world the enormous, generationally impactful, life threatening crimes are shrugged at (illegal war, environmental destruction, financial malfeasance) while sensationalized singular crimes are highlighted and dissected with grotesque voyeuristic morbid fascination. “Ignorance is Strength”

By Gareth Porter @ Truthout:

A few days after Barack Obama’s December 2009 announcement of 33,000 more troops being sent to Afghanistan, in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary Robert Gates advanced the official justification for escalation: the Afghan Taliban would not abandon its ties with al-Qaeda unless forced to do so by US military force and the realization that “they’re likely to lose.”

Gates claimed to see an “unholy alliance” of the Afghan Taliban, al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban emerging during 2009. Unless the United States succeeded in weakening the Taliban in Afghanistan, al-Qaeda would have safe haven in Afghanistan, just as they had before the 9/11 attacks, according to Gates.

Even in comparison with the usual lies that justify wars, this one was a whopper. Gates was deliberately ignoring the serious political split that had become apparent in 2008 between Mullah Omar, the spiritual and political leader of the Taliban, and the leadership of al-Qaeda over fundamental issues of strategy and ideology.

After the July 2007 Pakistani military assault on the militants occupying the Red Mosque in Islamabad, al-Qaeda had openly backed Pakistani militants in their declaration of war against the Pakistani military and the Pervez Musharraf regime. Omar, who needed Pakistani support against the US-NATO forces, began urging Pakistani militants to shun violence against the Pakistani security apparatus, but the newly established militant organization Tehrik-e-Taliban paid no attention to him, as recounted by the recently murdered [4] Pakistani journalist Sayed Saleem Shahzad in a book published just days before his death [5].

Shahzad’s book reveals, In fact, that one of al-Qaeda’s aims in setting up the new organization was to try to draw Afghan Taliban away from Omar’s influence. Soon after that al-Qaeda move, he sent a trusted adviser, Tayyeb Agha, to a meeting in Saudi Arabia with a delegation of Afghan parliamentarians convened by Saudi King Abdullah in September 2008 [6]. That meeting alarmed al-Qaeda leaders, who did not want any move toward peace in Afghanistan, according to Shahzad’s account based on many interviews with al-Qaeda strategists over the past several years.

The ideological-strategic conflict between Omar and al-Qaeda was well known within US intelligence and counterterrorism circles. Two days after Gates made his argument about the Taliban and al-Qaeda, in an interview with me [7], Arturo Munoz, who had been supervising operations officer at the CIA’s Counter-Terrorism Center from 2001 to 2009 and had extensive experience in Afghanistan, referred to the differences between the Taliban and al-Qaeda over al-Qaeda’s war against the Pakistani military. “The Taliban is a homespun Pashtun locally-based revolutionary movement with a set of goals that are not necessarily those of al-Qaeda,” said Munoz.

In fact, Omar himself had issued a message on September 19, 2009, which had explicitly characterized the Taliban as a “nationalist movement” – an obvious rebuff to the al-Qaeda position that nationalism is the enemy of the global jihad, as jihadist scholar Vahid Brown pointed out [8]  at the time.

Plumping Up the War Rationale

The Obama administration has relied heavily, of course, on the widespread impression that the Taliban regime was somehow mixed up with Osama bin Laden’s plotting the 9/11 attacks. But as opposition to the war has mounted, Bruce Riedel, the former CIA official and National Security Council staffer brought in by Obama to lead the administration’s policy review of Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2009, has sought to reinforce that message.

In his new book, “Deadly Embrace [9],” Riedel refers to “the remarkable alliance, even friendship,” between Omar and Bin Laden, which “seems to have remained intact to this day.” In a remarkable passage about the period from Bin Laden’s arrival in Afghanistan in 1996 to the overthrow of the Taliban regime in 2001, Riedel writes:

The Taliban promised Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to “control” their “guest,” but he continued to issue statements and no real effort was made to rein him in. Bin Laden moved to Kandahar to be close to Mullah Omar, proclaimed his loyalty to the “commander of the faithful” (Omar’s self-proclaimed title) and married one of Omar’s daughters to further cement their bond.

Riedel goes on to suggest that Omar became an enthusiastic convert to Bin Laden’s global jihadist cause. “Omar found in Osama and al-Qaeda,” he writes, “an ideology that transcended Afghanistan, played to his ego and validated his role as commander of the faithful.”

The problem with this dramatic portrayal of a close relationship between Omar and Bin Laden, however, is that every single assertion in it is demonstrably false. Riedel’s version of the relationship could not be any further from the actual record of interactions between the two men during Bin Laden’s stay in Afghanistan, available from multiple primary sources.

Brown, a research fellow at West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center, reported [10] last year that the memoirs of one of Bin Laden’s close collaborators in Afghanistan, the Egyptian jihadist known as Abu’l-Walid al-Masri, had provided new insights into the relationship between Bin Laden and Omar. Al-Masri recalled that Omar had informed Bin Laden from the beginning of his stay that he was forbidden from issuing statements to the media without the prior consent of the Taliban regime and from doing anything to directly antagonize the United States.

Bin Laden repeatedly violated the injunction against speaking to news media in 1996 and 1997 and Omar reacted strongly to his defiance. In “The Looming Tower [11],”  Lawrence Wright recounts the story told by Bin Laden’s personal guard Khalid al-Hammadi of what happened after Bin Laden gave an interview to CNN in March 1997. Omar ordered Bin Laden brought by helicopter from Jalalabad to Kandahar airport for a meeting, according to the guard’s account. There, Omar told Bin Laden that he was being moved immediately to Kandahar, citing as the reason a plot by tribal mercenaries to kidnap him. The real reason for the move, of course, was to exercise tighter control over his guest. The order to move was accompanied by a sharp warning to Bin Laden: the contacts with the foreign press had to stop.

Nevertheless, Bin Laden defied Omar a second time. In late May 1998, he arranged to meet with Pakistani journalists and with another US television crew – this time from ABC – in Jalalabad. He declared in those interviews that his aim was to expel US forces and even “Jews and Christians” from the Arabian Peninsula.

An enraged Omar personally called Rahimullah Yusufzai, one of the Pakistani journalists who had reported on the meeting with Bin Laden in Jalalabad and said, “There is only one ruler. Is it me or Osama?” according to Yusufzai [12]. Yusufzai, who has met and interviewed Omar on ten occasions over the years and also knew Bin Laden, says the relationship between the two men was “very tense” and “never cordial [13].”

In June 1998, Omar told Prince Turki al Faisal, the head of Saudi Arabia’s intelligence agency, that he was willing to expel Bin Laden, but he wanted a joint committee of Islamic scholars to issue a fatwa that would absolve him of his responsibility to protect his Muslim guest, according to Turki’s account to journalist Steve Coll [14]. A month later, a Taliban envoy was sent to Saudi Arabia to reaffirm the deal.

What appears to have turned Omar against the planned expulsion of Bin Laden was the US cruise missile strikes against Bin Laden’s training camps in Afghanistan in retaliation for the August 1998 bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. When Prince Turki returned to see Omar less than a month after the US missile attack, Omar’s attitude had “changed 180 degrees [12].”

Omar gave the Saudi intelligence chief no explanation for his change of heart. But he was more forthcoming with the Director General of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), Ziauddin Butt, who met him a few weeks after the missile attacks. The Taliban leader complained that Bin Laden was “like a bone stuck in my throat. I can’t swallow it, nor can I get it out!” The problem, he explained, was that Bin Laden had become such a hero in the eyes of the Taliban rank and file – apparently because of the US missile strikes against his training camps – that “My people will lynch me if I hand him over.”

Although reluctant at first to get rid of the troublesome Bin Laden, Omar agreed to the Pakistani’s suggestion that Bin Laden be tried for the embassy bombings by judges from four Islamic countries, including Afghanistan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, as the ISI chief later told historian Shuja Nawaz, author of “Crossed Swords [15].”

In 1999, the Taliban regime actually ordered the closure of several training camps being used by al-Qaeda’s Arab recruits, according to jihadist sources cited by Brown [10]. And an email from two leading Arab jihadists in Afghanistan to Bin Laden in July 1999, found on a laptop that had once belonged to al-Qaeda and later purchased by a strange quirk of fate by a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, referred to “problems between you and the Leader of the Faithful” as a “crisis.” The email even suggested that the Taliban regime might go so far as to “kick them out” of Afghanistan [16].

Bin Laden’s Phony Pledge of Allegiance

The real story of Bin Laden’s pledge of loyalty to Omar, which Riedel touts as evidence of their chumminess, shows that it was exactly the opposite of that. According to Egyptian jihadist al-Masri’s account, reported in detail by Brown [10],  relations between Bin Laden and Omar became so tense after the Embassy bombings that some in Bin Laden’s entourage urged him to consider an oath of allegiance (bay’a) to Omar simply to avoid a complete rupture between the two.

But Bin Laden resisted the idea, according to al-Masri, initially arguing that such a pledge of allegiance could only be undertaken by Afghans. And after agreeing, on al-Masri’s urging, to give Omar such a pledge in person in late November 1998, Bin Laden failed to show up for the meeting. Al-Masri told Bin Laden that his no-show would confirm Omar’s impression of him as arrogant and full of himself. Nevertheless, in the end, Bin Laden refused to go to Omar himself to give his pledge, sending al-Masri instead, evidently because he wanted to be able to deny later on that he had personally sworn allegiance to Omar. Al-Masri concluded that the whole exercise was an “outright deception” by Bin Laden of a man with whom he was fundamentally at odds.

Riedel’s claim that Bin Laden married one of Omar’s daughters would certainly represent evidence of a bond between the two men, if true. Unfortunately for the point man for Obama’s policy review, it is another easily provable lie. A recent report [17] on the wives who survived the killing of Bin Laden shows that three of Bin Laden’s five wives were Saudis, one was Syrian and one was Yemeni. None were of Afghan descent.

Riedel cites a 2005 book ” href=”http://www.amazon.com/Revolution-Unending-Afghanistan-Comparative-International/dp/02%3E”>http://www.amazon.com/Revolution-Unending-Afghanistan-Comparative-Intern… [18] by French specialist on Afghanistan Gilles Dorronsoro. But Dorronsoro told this writer he realized after the book was published that the story was not true and that it may have well been circulated deliberately by Omar’s enemies in the Northern Alliance to discredit him.

Riedel tops off his grotesquely distorted description of Omar’s relationship with Bin Laden by suggesting that the Taliban leader knew that an al-Qaeda attack on the US homeland was coming, citing Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf as the source. But Musharraf says nothing of the sort. He affirms in memoirs [19] what al-Qaeda insider Fazul Abdullah Muhmmad has written in his own memoirs – that Bin Laden kept the plan secret even from his closest al-Qaeda collaborators, except for Mohammed and Abu Hafs al-Masri, until the end of August 2001. Musharraf merely passes on speculation by unnamed intelligence sources that Omar may have guessed that something big against the United States was in the works.

What Riedel fails to inform his readers is that the main planner of the 9/11 operation, Khalid Shaykh Muhammad, told his interrogators that Bin Laden had complained to his intimates late that summer about Omar’s unwillingness to allow any attack on the United States – thus implying very clearly that he could not be brought into their confidence, according to the 9/11 Commission Report.

This writer sent an email to Riedel asking why he had ignored the sources cited in this article, which provide a very different view of the Omar-Bin Laden relationship from the one he describes in his book. “Because the facts were to the contrary,” he responded. “The Taliban did nothing to rein in AQ but they were eager to have their apologists paint a happy picture.”

When I asked him in a second email if he was saying that al-Masri, Bin Laden’s personal guard and all the other sources who have since provided a different picture were “apologists” for Omar, Riedel did not respond.

Riedel probably never bothered to consult these sources. Someone so deeply imbedded in the interests of powerful institutions has no incentive to look beyond the superficial and distorted reading of the evidence that clearly serves those interests. His disinterest in finding facts that would get in the way of the necessary official rationale for war provides a perfect illustration of the way lying to the public is inherent in the nature of national security policymaking.

The story of the lies that took the Obama administration into a bigger war in Afghanistan shows that those lies have structural, systemic roots. The political dynamics surrounding the making of war policies are so completely dominated by the vested interests of the heads of the Pentagon, the military, and other national security bureaucracies that the outcome of the process must be based on a systematic body of lies. Only by depriving those institutions of their power can Americans have a military policy based on the truth.

Zombie Politics, Democracy, And The Threat of Authoritarianism

In Uncategorized on June 10, 2011 at 11:59 am

Oldspeak:”In the minds of the American public, the dominant media, and the accommodating pundits and intellectuals, there is no sense of how authoritarianism in its soft and hard forms can manifest itself as anything other than horrible images of concentration camps, goose-stepping storm troopers, rigid modes of censorship, and chilling spectacles of extremist government repression and violence. That is, there is little understanding of how new modes of authoritarian ideology, policy, values, and social relations might manifest themselves in degrees and gradations so as to create the conditions for a distinctly undemocratic and increasingly cruel and oppressive social order. As the late Susan Sontag suggested in another context, there is a willful ignorance of how emerging registers of power and governance “dissolve politics into pathology.”[10] It is generally believed that in a constitutional democracy, power is in the hands of the people, and that the long legacy of democratic ideals in America, however imperfect, is enough to prevent democracy from being subverted or lost. And yet the lessons of history provide clear examples of how the emergence of reactionary politics, the increasing power of the military, and the power of big business subverted democracy in Argentina, Chile, Germany, and Italy. In spite of these histories, there is no room in the public imagination to entertain what has become the unthinkable—that such an order in its contemporary form might be more nuanced, less theatrical, more cunning, less concerned with repressive modes of control than with manipulative modes of consent—what one might call a mode of authoritarianism with a distinctly American character.” – Henry A. Giroux

By Henry A. Giroux @ Truthout:

Introduction (Part I)

Education is the point at which we decide whether we love the world enough to assume responsibility for it and by the same token save it from ruin which, except for renewal, except for the coming of the new and young, would be inevitable. And education, too, is where we decide whether we love our children enough not to expel them from our world and leave them to their own devices, nor to strike from their hands their chance of undertaking something new, something unforeseen by us, but to prepare them in advance for the task of renewing a common world. -Hannah Arendt [1]

The Rise of Zombie Politics

In the world of popular culture, zombies seem to be everywhere, as evidenced by the relentless slew of books, movies, video games, and comics. From the haunting Night of the Living Dead to the comic movie Zombieland, the figure of the zombie has captured and touched something unique in the contemporary imagination. But the dark and terrifying image of the zombie with missing body parts, oozing body fluids, and an appetite for fresh, living, human brains does more than feed the mass-marketing machines that prey on the spectacle of the violent, grotesque, and ethically comatose. There is more at work in this wave of fascination with the grotesquely walking hyper-dead than a Hollywood appropriation of the dark recesses and unrestrained urges of the human mind. The zombie phenomenon is now on display nightly on television alongside endless examples of destruction unfolding in real-time. Such a cultural fascination with proliferating images of the living hyper-dead and unrelenting human catastrophes that extend from a global economic meltdown to the earthquake in Haiti to the ecological disaster caused by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico signals a shift away from the hope that accompanies the living to a politics of cynicism and despair. The macabre double movement between “the dead that walk”[2] and those who are alive but are dying and suffering cannot be understood outside of the casino capitalism that now shapes every aspect of society in its own image. A casino capitalist zombie politics views competition as a form of social combat, celebrates war as an extension of politics, and legitimates a ruthless Social Darwinism in which particular individuals and groups are considered simply redundant, disposable—nothing more than human waste left to stew in their own misfortune—easy prey for the zombies who have a ravenous appetite for chaos and revel in apocalyptic visions filled with destruction, decay, abandoned houses, burned-out cars, gutted landscapes, and trashed gas stations.

The twenty-first-century zombies no longer emerge from the grave; they now inhabit the rich environs of Wall Street and roam the halls of the gilded monuments of greed such as Goldman Sachs. As an editorial in The New York Times points out, the new zombies of free-market fundamentalism turned “the financial system into a casino. Like gambling, the transactions mostly just shifted paper money around the globe. Unlike gambling, they packed an enormous capacity for collective and economic destruction—hobbling banks that made bad bets, freezing credit and economic activity. Society—not the bankers—bore the cost.”[3] In this way, the zombie— the immoral, sub-Nietzschean, id-driven “other” who is “hyper-dead” but still alive as an avatar of death and cruelty—provides an apt metaphor for a new kind of authoritarianism that has a grip on contemporary politics in the United States.[4] This is an authoritarianism in which mindless self-gratification becomes the sanctioned norm and public issues collapse into the realm of privatized anger and rage. The rule of the market offers the hyper-dead an opportunity to exercise unprecedented power in American society, reconstructing civic and political culture almost entirely in the service of a politics that fuels the friend/enemy divide, even as democracy becomes the scandal of casino capitalism—its ultimate humiliation.

Click below to listen to The Critical Lede’s audio interview with Dr. Henry Giroux.

Press play to listen to the interview:

But the new zombies are not only wandering around in the banks, investment houses, and death chambers of high finance, they have an ever-increasing presence in the highest reaches of government and in the forefront of mainstream media. The growing numbers of zombies in the mainstream media have huge financial backing from the corporate elite and represent the new face of the culture of cruelty and hatred in the second Gilded Age. Any mention of the social state, putting limits on casino capitalism, and regulating corporate zombies puts Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck,
Rush Limbaugh, and other talking heads into a state of high rage. They disparage any discourse that embraces social justice, social responsibility, and human rights. Appealing to “real” American values such as family, God, and Guns, they are in the forefront of a zombie politics that opposes any legislation or policy designed to lessen human suffering and promote economic and social progress. As Arun Gupta points out, they are insistent in their opposition to “civil rights, school desegregation, women’s rights, labor organizing, the minimum wage, Social Security, LGBT rights, welfare, immigrant rights, public education, reproductive rights, Medicare, [and] Medicaid.”[5] The walking hyper-dead even oppose providing the extension of unemployment benefits to millions of Americans who are out of work, food, and hope. They spectacularize hatred and trade in lies and misinformation. They make populist appeals to the people while legitimating the power of the rich. They appeal to common sense as a way of devaluing a culture of questioning and critical exchange. Unrelenting in their role as archetypes of the hyper-dead, they are misanthropes trading in fear, hatred, and hyper-nationalism.

The human suffering produced by the walking hyper-dead can also be seen in the nativist apoplexy resulting in the racist anti-immigration laws passed in Arizona, the attempts to ban ethnic studies in public schools, the rise of the punishing state, the social dumping of millions of people of color into prisons, and the attempts of Tea Party fanatics and politicians who want to “take back America” from President Barack Obama—described in the new lexicon of right-wing political illiteracy as both an alleged socialist and the new Hitler. Newt Gingrich joins Glenn Beck and other members of the elite squad of the hyper-dead in arguing that Obama is just another version of Joseph Stalin. For Gingrich and the rest of the zombie ideologues, any discourse that advocates for social protections, easing human suffering, or imagining a better future is dismissed by being compared to the horrors of the Nazi holocaust. Dystopian discourse and End Times morbidity rule the collective consciousness of this group.

The “death panels” envisaged by Sarah Palin are not going to emerge from Obama’s health care reform plan but from the toolkits the zombie politicians and talking heads open up every time they are given the opportunity to speak. The death threats, vandalism, and crowds shouting homophobic slurs at openly gay U.S. House Representative Barney Frank already speak to a fixation with images of death, violence, and war that now grips the country. Sarah Palin’s infamous call to a gathering of her followers to “reload” in opposition to President Obama’s policies—soon followed in a nationally televised press conference with a request for the American people to embrace Arizona’s new xenophobic laws—makes her one of the most prominent of the political zombies. Not only has she made less-than-vague endorsements of violence in many of her public speeches, she has cheerfully embraced the new face of white supremacy in her recent unapologetic endorsement of racial profiling, stating in a widely reported speech that “It’s time for Americans across this great country to stand up and say, ‘We’re all Arizonians now.’”[6] The current descent into racism, ignorance, corruption, and mob idiocy makes clear the degree to which politics has become a sport for zombies rather than engaged and thoughtful citizens.[7]

The hyper-dead celebrate talk radio haters such as Rush Limbaugh, whose fanaticism appears to pass without criticism in the mainstream media. Limbaugh echoes the fanatics who whipped up racial hatred in Weimar Germany, the ideological zombies who dissolved the line between reason and distortion-laden propaganda. How else to explain his claim “that environmentalist terrorists might have caused the ecological disaster in the gulf”?[8] The ethically frozen zombies that dominate screen culture believe that only an appeal to self-interest motivates people—a convenient counterpart to a culture of cruelty that rebukes, if not disdains, any appeal to the virtues of a moral and just society. They smile at their audiences while collapsing the distinction between opinions and reasoned arguments. They report on Tea Party rallies while feeding the misplaced ideological frenzy that motivates such gatherings but then refuse to comment on rallies all over the country that do not trade in violence or spectacle. They report uncritically on Islam bashers, such as the radical right-wing radio host Michael Savage, as if his ultra-extremist racist views are a legitimate part of the American mainstream. In the age of zombie politics, there is too little public outrage or informed public anger over the pushing of millions of people out of their homes and jobs, the defunding of schools, and the rising tide of homeless families and destitute communities. Instead of organized, massive protests against casino capitalism, the American public is treated to an endless and arrogant display of wealth, greed, and power. Armies of zombies tune in to gossip-laden entertainment, game, and reality TV shows, transfixed by the empty lure of celebrity culture.

The roaming hordes of celebrity zombie intellectuals work hard to fuel a sense of misguided fear and indignation toward democratic politics, the social state, and immigrants—all of which is spewed out in bitter words and comes terribly close to inciting violence. Zombies love death-dealing institutions, which accounts for why they rarely criticize the bloated military budget and the rise of the punishing state and its expanding prison system. They smile with patriotic glee, anxious to further the demands of empire as automated drones kill innocent civilians—conveniently dismissed as collateral damage—and the torture state rolls inexorably along in Afghanistan, Iraq, and in other hidden and unknown sites. The slaughter that inevitably follows catastrophe is not new, but the current politics of death has reached new heights and threatens to transform a weak democracy into a full-fledged authoritarian state.

A Turn to the Dark Side of Politics

The American media, large segments of the public, and many educators widely believe that authoritarianism is alien to the political landscape of American society. Authoritarianism is generally associated with tyranny and governments that exercise power in violation of the rule of law. A commonly held perception of the American public is that authoritarianism is always elsewhere. It can be found in other allegedly “less developed/civilized countries,” such as contemporary China or Iran, or it belongs to a fixed moment in modern history, often associated with the rise of twentieth-century totalitarianism in its different forms in Germany, Italy, and the Soviet Union under Stalin. Even as the United States became more disposed to modes of tyrannical power under the second Bush administration—demonstrated, for example, by the existence of secret CIA prisons, warrantless spying on Americans, and state-sanctioned kidnaping—mainstream liberals, intellectuals, journalists, and media pundits argued that any suggestion that the United States was becoming an authoritarian society was simply preposterous. For instance, the journalist James Traub repeated the dominant view that whatever problems the United States faced under the Bush administration had nothing to do with a growing authoritarianism or its more extreme form, totalitarianism.[9] On the contrary, according to this position, America was simply beholden to a temporary seizure of power by some extremists, who represented a form of political exceptionalism and an annoying growth on the body politic. In other words, as repugnant as many of Bush’s domestic and foreign policies might have been, they neither threatened nor compromised in any substantial way America’s claim to being a democratic society.

Against the notion that the Bush administration had pushed the United States close to the brink of authoritarianism, some pundits have argued that this dark moment in America’s history, while uncharacteristic of a substantive democracy, had to be understood as temporary perversion of American law and democratic ideals that would end when George W. Bush concluded his second term in the White House. In this view, the regime of George W. Bush and its demonstrated contempt for democracy was explained away as the outgrowth of a random act of politics— a corrupt election and the bad-faith act of a conservative court in 2000 or a poorly run election campaign in 2004 by an uncinematic and boring Democratic candidate. According to this narrative, the Bush-Cheney regime exhibited such extreme modes of governance in its embrace of an imperial presidency, its violation of domestic and international laws, and its disdain for human rights and democratic values that it was hard to view such antidemocratic policies as part of a pervasive shift toward a hidden order of authoritarian politics, which historically has existed at the margins of American society. It would be difficult to label such a government other than as shockingly and uniquely extremist, given a political legacy that included the rise of the security and torture state; the creation of legal illegalities in which civil liberties were trampled; the launching of an unjust war in Iraq legitimated through official lies; the passing of legislative policies that drained the federal surplus by giving away more than a trillion dollars in tax cuts to the rich; the enactment of a shameful policy of preemptive war; the endorsement of an inflated military budget at the expense of much-needed social programs; the selling off of as many government functions as possible to corporate interests; the resurrection of an imperial presidency; an incessant attack against unions; support for a muzzled and increasingly corporate-controlled media; the government production of fake news reports to gain consent for regressive policies; the use of an Orwellian vocabulary for disguising monstrous acts such as torture (“enhanced interrogation techniques”); the furtherance of a racist campaign of legal harassment and incarceration of Arabs, Muslims, and immigrants; the advancement of a prison binge through a repressive policy of criminalization; the establishment of an unregulated and ultimately devastating form of casino capitalism; the arrogant celebration and support for the interests and values of big business at the expense of citizens and the common good; and the dismantling of social services and social safety nets as part of a larger campaign of ushering in the corporate state and the reign of finance capital?

Authoritarianism With a Friendly Face

In the minds of the American public, the dominant media, and the accommodating pundits and intellectuals, there is no sense of how authoritarianism in its soft and hard forms can manifest itself as anything other than horrible images of concentration camps, goose-stepping storm troopers, rigid modes of censorship, and chilling spectacles of extremist government repression and violence. That is, there is little understanding of how new modes of authoritarian ideology, policy, values, and social relations might manifest themselves in degrees and gradations so as to create the conditions for a distinctly undemocratic and increasingly cruel and oppressive social order. As the late Susan Sontag suggested in another context, there is a willful ignorance of how emerging registers of power and governance “dissolve politics into pathology.”[10] It is generally believed that in a constitutional democracy, power is in the hands of the people, and that the long legacy of democratic ideals in America, however imperfect, is enough to prevent democracy from being subverted or lost. And yet the lessons of history provide clear examples of how the emergence of reactionary politics, the increasing power of the military, and the power of big business subverted democracy in Argentina, Chile, Germany, and Italy. In
spite of these histories, there is no room in the public imagination to entertain what has become the unthinkable—that such an order in its contemporary form might be more nuanced, less theatrical, more cunning, less concerned with repressive modes of control than with manipulative modes of consent—what one might call a mode of authoritarianism with a distinctly American character. [11]

Historical conjunctures produce different forms of authoritarianism, though they all share a hatred for democracy, dissent, and civil liberties. It is too easy to believe in a simplistic binary logic that strictly categorizes a country as either authoritarian or democratic, which leaves no room for entertaining the possibility of a mixture of both systems. American politics today suggests a more updated if not a different form of authoritarianism. In this context, it is worth remembering what Huey Long said in response to the question of whether America could ever become fascist: “Yes, but we will call it anti-fascist.”[12] Long’s reply suggests that fascism is not an ideological apparatus frozen in a particular historical period but a complex and often shifting theoretical and political register for understanding how democracy can be subverted, if not destroyed, from within. This notion of soft or friendly fascism was articulated in 1985 in Bertram Gross’s book Friendly Fascism, in which he argued that if fascism came to the United States it would not embody the same characteristics associated with fascist forms in the historical past. There would be no Nuremberg rallies, doctrines of racial superiority, government-sanctioned book burnings, death camps, genocidal purges, or the abrogation of the U.S. Constitution. In short, fascism would not take the form of an ideological grid from the past simply downloaded onto another country under different historical conditions. Gross believed that fascism was an ongoing danger and had the ability to become relevant under new conditions, taking on familiar forms of thought that resonate with nativist traditions, experiences, and political relations.[13] Similarly, in his Anatomy of Fascism, Robert O. Paxton argued that the texture of American fascism would not mimic traditional European forms but would be rooted in the language, symbols, and culture of everyday life. He writes: “No swastikas in an American fascism, but Stars and Stripes (or Stars and Bars) and Christian crosses. No fascist salute, but mass recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance. These symbols contain no whiff of fascism in themselves, of course, but an American fascism would transform them into obligatory litmus tests for detecting the internal enemy.”[14] It is worth noting that Umberto Eco, in his discussion of “eternal fascism,” also argued that any updated version of fascism would not openly assume the mantle of historical fascism; rather, new forms of authoritarianism would appropriate some of its elements, making it virtually unrecognizable from its traditional forms. Like Gross and Paxton, Eco contended that fascism, if it comes to America, will have a different guise, although it will be no less destructive of democracy. He wrote:

Ur-Fascism [Eternal Fascism] is still around us, sometimes in plainclothes. It would be much easier for us if there appeared on the world scene somebody saying, “I want to reopen Auschwitz, I want the Blackshirts to parade again in the Italian squares.” Life is not that simple. Ur-Fascism can come back under the most innocent of disguises. Our duty is to uncover it and to point our finger at any of its new instances—every day, in every part of the world.[15]

The renowned political theorist Sheldon Wolin, in Democracy Incorporated, updates these views and argues persuasively that the United States has produced its own unique form of authoritarianism, which he calls “inverted totalitarianism.”[16] Wolin claims that under traditional forms of totalitarianism, there are usually founding texts such as Mein Kampf, rule by a personal demagogue such as Adolf Hitler, political change enacted by a revolutionary movement such as the Bolsheviks, the constitution rewritten or discarded, the political state’s firm control over corporate interests, and an idealized and all-encompassing ideology used to create a unified and totalizing understanding of society. At the same time, the government uses all the power of its cultural and repressive state apparatuses to fashion followers in its own ideological image and collective identity.

In the United States, Wolin argues that an emerging authoritarianism appears to take on a very different form.[17] Instead of a charismatic leader, the government is now governed through the anonymous and largely remote hand of corporate power and finance capital. Political sovereignty is largely replaced by economic sovereignty as corporate power takes over the reins of governance. The dire consequence, as David Harvey points out, is that “raw money power wielded by the few undermines all semblances of democratic governance. The pharmaceutical companies, health insurance and hospital lobbies, for example, spent more than $133 million in the first three months of 2009 to make sure they got their way on health care reform in the United States.”[18] The more money influences politics the more corrupt the political culture becomes. Under such circumstances, holding office is largely dependent on having huge amounts of capital at one’s disposal, while laws and policies at all levels of government are mostly fashioned by lobbyists representing big business corporations and commanding financial institutions. Moreover, as the politics of health care reform indicate, such lobbying, as corrupt and unethical as it may be, is not carried out in the open and displayed by insurance and drug companies as a badge of honor—a kind of open testimonial to the disrespect for democratic governance and a celebration of their power. The subversion of democratic governance in the United States by corporate interests is captured succinctly by Chris Hedges in his observation that

Corporations have 35,000 lobbyists in Washington and thousands more in state capitals that dole out corporate money to shape and write legislation. They use their political action committees to solicit employees and shareholders for donations to fund pliable candidates. The financial sector, for example, spent more than $5 billion on political campaigns, influenc[e] peddling and lobbying during the past decade, which resulted in sweeping deregulation, the gouging of consumers, our global financial meltdown and the subsequent looting of the U.S. Treasury. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America spent $26 million last year and drug companies such as Pfizer, Amgen and Eli Lilly kicked in tens of millions more to buy off the two parties. These corporations have made sure our so-called health reform bill will force us to buy their predatory and defective products. The oil and gas industry, the coal industry, defense contractors and telecommunications companies have thwarted the drive for sustainable energy and orchestrated the steady erosion of civil liberties. Politicians do corporate bidding and stage hollow acts of political theater to keep the fiction of the democratic state alive.[19]

Rather than being forced to adhere to a particular state ideology, the general public in the United States is largely depoliticized through the influence of corporations over schools, higher education, and other cultural apparatuses. The deadening of public values, civic consciousness, and critical citizenship is also the result of the work of anti-public intellectuals representing right-wing ideological and financial interests,[20] dominant media that are largely center-right, and a market-driven public pedagogy that reduces the obligations of citizenship to the endless consumption and discarding of commodities. In addition, a pedagogy of social and political amnesia works through celebrity culture and its counterpart in corporate-driven news, television, radio, and entertainment to produce a culture of stupidity, censorship, and diversionary spectacles.

Depoliticizing Freedom and Agency

Agency is now defined by a neoliberal concept of freedom, a notion that is largely organized according to the narrow notions of individual self-interest and limited to the freedom from constraints. Central to this concept is the freedom to pursue one’s self-interests independently of larger social concerns. For individuals in a consumer society, this often means the freedom to shop, own guns, and define rights without regard to the consequences for others or the larger social order. When applied to economic institutions, this notion of freedom often translates into a call for removing government regulation over the market and economic institutions. This notion of a deregulated and privatized freedom is decoupled from the common good and any understanding of individual and social responsibility. It is an unlimited notion of freedom that both refuses to recognize the importance of social costs and social consequences and has no language for an ethic that calls us beyond ourselves, that engages our responsibility to others. Within this discourse of hyper-individualized freedom, individuals are not only “liberated from the constraints imposed by the dense network of social bonds,” but are also “stripped of the protection which had been matter-of-factly offered in the past by that dense network of social bonds.” [21]

Freedom exclusively tied to personal and political rights without also enabling access to economic resources becomes morally empty and politically dysfunctional. The much-heralded notion of choice associated with personal and political freedom is hardly assured when individuals lack the economic resources, knowledge, and social supports to make such choices and freedoms operative and meaningful. As Zygmunt Bauman points out, “The right to vote (and so, obliquely and at least in theory, the right to influence the composition of the ruler and the shape of the rules that bind the ruled) could be meaningfully exercised only by those ‘who possess sufficient economic and cultural resources’ to be ‘safe from the voluntary or involuntary servitude that cuts off any possible autonomy of choice (and/or its delegation) at the root….[Choice] stripped of economic resources and political power hardly assure[s] personal freedoms to the dispossessed, who have no claim on the resources without which personal freedom can neither be won nor in practice enjoyed.”[22] Paul Bigioni has argued that this flawed notion of freedom played a central role in the emerging fascist dictatorships of the early twentieth century. He writes:

It was the liberals of that era who clamored for unfettered personal and economic freedom, no matter what the cost to society. Such untrammeled freedom is not suitable to civilized humans. It is the freedom of the jungle. In other words, the strong have more of it than the weak. It is a notion of freedom that is inherently violent, because it is enjoyed at the expense of others. Such a notion of freedom legitimizes each and every increase in the wealth and power of those who are already powerful, regardless of the misery that will be suffered by others as a result. The use of the state to limit such “freedom” was denounced by the laissez-faire liberals of the early 20th century. The use of the state to protect such “freedom” was fascism. Just as monopoly is the ruin of the free market, fascism is the ultimate degradation of liberal capitalism.[23]

This stripped-down notion of market-based freedom that now dominates American society cancels out any viable notion of individual and social agency. This market-driven notion of freedom emphasizes choice as an economic function defined largely as the right to buy things while at the same time cancelling out any active understanding of freedom and choice as the right to make rational choices concerning the very structure of power and governance in a society. In embracing a passive attitude toward freedom in which power is viewed as a necessary evil, a conservative notion of freedom reduces politics to the empty ritual of voting and is incapable of understanding freedom as a form of collective, productive power that enables “a notion of political agency and freedom that affirms the equal opportunity of all to exercise political power in order to participate in shaping the most important decisions affecting their lives.”[24] This merging of the market-based understanding of freedom as the freedom to consume and the conservative-based view of freedom as a restriction from all constraints refuses to recognize that the conditions for substantive freedom do not lie in personal and political rights alone; on the contrary, real choices and freedom include the individual and collective ability to actively intervene in and shape both the nature of politics and the myriad forces bearing down on everyday life—a notion of freedom that can only be viable when social rights and economic resources are available to individuals. Of course, this notion of freedom and choice is often dismissed either as a vestige of socialism or simply drowned out in a culture that collapses all social considerations and notions of solidarity into the often cruel and swindle-based discourse of instant gratification and individual gain. Under such conditions, democracy is managed through the empty ritual of elections; citizens are largely rendered passive observers as a result of giving undue influence to corporate power in shaping all of the essential elements of political governance and decision making; and manufactured appeals to fear and personal safety legitimate both the suspension of civil liberties and the expanding powers of an imperial presidency and the policing functions of a militaristic state.

Busy schedule? Click here to keep up with Truthout with free email updates. [5]

I believe that the formative culture necessary to create modes of education, thought, dialogue, critique, and critical agency—the necessary conditions of any aspiring democracy—is largely destroyed through the pacification of intellectuals and the elimination of public spheres capable of creating such a culture. Elements of a depoliticizing and commodifying culture become clear in the shameless propaganda produced by the so-called “embedded” journalists, while a corporate-dominated popular culture largely operates through multiple technologies, screen cultures, and video games that trade endlessly in images of violence, spectacles of consumption, and stultifying modes of (il)literacy. Funded by right-wing ideological, corporate, and militaristic interests, an army of anti-public intellectuals groomed in right-wing think tanks and foundations, such as the American Enterprise Institute and Manhattan Institute, dominate the traditional media, police the universities for any vestige of critical thought and dissent, and endlessly spread their message of privatization, deregulation, and commercialization, exercising a powerful influence in the dismantling of all public spheres not dominated by private and commodifying interests. These “experts in legitimation,” to use Antonio Gramsci’s prescient phrase, peddle civic ignorance just as they renounce any vestige of public accountability for big business, giant media conglomerates, and financial mega corporations. How else to explain that nearly twenty percent of the American people believe incorrectly that Obama is a Muslim!

Under the new authoritarianism, the corporate state and the punishing state merge as economics drives politics, and repression is increasingly used to contain all those individuals and groups caught in an expanding web of destabilizing inequality and powerlessness that touches everything from the need for basic health care, food, and shelter to the promise of a decent education. As the social state is hollowed out under pressure from free-market advocates, right-wing politicians, and conservative ideologues, the United States has increasingly turned its back on any semblance of social justice, civic responsibility, and democracy itself. This might explain the influential journalist Thomas Friedman’s shameless endorsement of military adventurism in the New York Times article in which he argues that “The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist—McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the U.S. Air Force F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies to flourish is called the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.”[25] Freedom in this discourse is inextricably wedded to state and military violence and is a far cry from any semblance of a claim to democracy.

Zombie Politicas and the Culture of Cruelty

Another characteristic of an emerging authoritarianism in the United States is the correlation between the growing atomization of the individual and the rise of a culture of cruelty, a type of zombie politics in which the living dead engage in forms of rapacious behavior that destroy almost every facet of a substantive democratic polity. There is a mode of terror rooted in a neoliberal market-driven society that numbs many people just as it wipes out the creative faculties of imagination, memory, and critical thought. Under a regime of privatized utopias, hyper-individualism, and ego-centered values, human beings slip into a kind of ethical somnolence, indifferent to the plight and suffering of others. Though writing in a different context, the late Frankfurt School theorist Leo Lowenthal captured this mode of terror in his comments on the deeply sedimented elements of authoritarianism rooted in modern civilization. He wrote:

In a system that reduces life to a chain of disconnected reactions to shock, personal communication tends to lose all meaning….The individual under terrorist conditions is never alone and always alone. He becomes numb and rigid not only in relation to his neighbor but also in relation to himself; fear robs him of the power of spontaneous emotional or mental reaction. Thinking becomes a stupid crime; it endangers his life. The inevitable consequence is that stupidity spreads as a contagious disease among the terrorized population. Human beings live in a state of stupor, in a moral coma.[26]

Implicit in Lowenthal’s commentary is the assumption that as democracy becomes a fiction, the moral mechanisms of language, meaning, and ethics collapse, and a cruel indifference takes over diverse modes of communication and exchange, often as a register of the current paucity of democratic values, identities, and social relations. Surely, this is obvious today as all vestiges of the social compact, social responsibility, and modes of solidarity give way to a form of Social Darwinism with its emphasis on ruthlessness, cruelty, war, violence, hyper modes of masculinity, and a disdain for those considered weak, dependent, alien, or economically unproductive. A poverty of civic ideals is matched not only by a poverty of critical agency but also by the disappearance among the public of the importance of moral and social responsibilities. As public life is commercialized and commodified, the pathology of individual entitlement and narcissism erodes those public spaces in which the conditions for conscience, decency, self-respect, and dignity take root. The delusion of endless growth coupled with an “obsession with wealth creation, the cult of privatization [and] uncritical admiration for unfettered markets, and disdain for the public sector” has produced a culture that seems “consumed by locusts” in “an age of pygmies.”[27]

This culture of cruelty is especially evident in the hardships and deprivations now visited upon many young people in the United States. We have 13.3 million homeless children; one child in five lives in poverty; too many are now under the supervision of the criminal justice system, and many more young adults are unemployed and lack any hope for the future.[28] Moreover, we are subjecting more and more children to psychiatric drugs as a way of controlling their alleged unruly behavior while providing huge profits for drug companies. As Evelyn Pringle points out, “in 2006 more money was spent on treating mental disorders in children aged 0 to 17 than for any other medical condition, with a total of $8.9 billion.”[29] Needless to say, the drugging of American children is less about treating genuine mental disorders than it is about punishing so-called unruly children, largely children of the poor, while creating “lifelong patients and repeat customers for Pharma!”[30] Stories abound about poor young people being raped, beaten, and dying in juvenile detention centers, needlessly trafficked into the criminal justice system as part of a profit-making scheme cooked up by corrupt judges and private correction facilities administrators, and being given powerful antipsychotic medicines in schools and other state facilities.[31] Unfortunately, this regression to sheer Economic Darwinism is not only evident in increasing violence against young people, cutthroat reality TV shows, hate radio, and the Internet, it is also on full display in the discourse of government officials and politicians and serves as a register of the prominence of both a kind of political infantilism and a culture of cruelty. For instance, the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, recently stated in an interview in February 2010 that “the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina.”[32] Duncan’s point, beyond the incredible inhumanity reflected in such a comment, was that it took a disaster that uprooted thousands of individuals and families and caused enormous amounts of suffering to enable the Obama administration to implement a massive educational system pushing charter schools based on market-driven principles that disdain public values, if not public schooling itself. This is the language of cruelty and zombie politicians, a language indifferent to the ways in which people who suffer great tragedies are expelled from their histories, narratives, and right to be human. Horrible tragedies caused in part by government indifference are now covered up in the discourse and ideals inspired by the logic of the market. This mean and merciless streak was also on display recently when Lieutenant Governor Andre Bauer, who is running for the Republican nomination for governor in South Carolina, stated that giving people government assistance was comparable to “feeding stray animals.” The utterly derogatory and implicitly racist nature of his remark became obvious in the statement that followed: “You know why? Because they breed. You’re facilitating the problem if you give an animal or a person ample food supply. They will reproduce, especially ones that don’t think too much further than that. And so what you’ve got to do is you’ve got to curtail that type of behavior. They don’t know any better.”[33]

Lowenthal’s argument that in an authoritarian society “stupidity spreads as a contagious disease” is evident in a statement made by Michele Bachmann, a Republican congresswoman, who recently argued that “Americans should purchase [health] insurance with their own tax-free money.”[34] That 43 million Americans are without health insurance because they cannot afford it seems lost on Bachmann, whose comments suggest that these uninsured individuals, families, unemployed workers, and children are not simply a disposable surplus but actually invisible and therefore unworthy of any acknowledgment.

The regressive politics and moral stupidity are also evident in the emergence of right-wing extremists now taking over the Republican Party. This new and aggressive political formation calls for decoupling market-driven financial institutions from any vestige of political and governmental constraint, celebrates emotion over reason, treats critical intelligence as a toxin possessed largely by elites, wraps its sophomoric misrepresentations in an air of beyond-interrogation “we’re just folks” insularity, and calls for the restoration of a traditional, white, Christian, male-dominated America.[35] Such calls embody elements of a racial panic that are evident in all authoritarian movements and have increasingly become a defining feature of a Republican Party that has sided with far-right-wing thugs and goon squads intent on disrupting any vestige of the democratic process. This emerging authoritarian element in American political culture is embodied in the wildly popular media presence of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck—right-wing extremists who share a contempt for reason and believe in organizing politics on the model of war, unconditional surrender, personal insults, hyper-masculine spectacles, and the complete destruction of one’s opponent.

The culture of cruelty, violence, and slander was on full display as the Obama administration successfully passed a weak version of health care reform in 2010. Stoked by a Republican Party that has either looked away or in some cases supported the coded language of racism and violence, it was no surprise that there was barely a peep out of Republican Party leaders when racial and homophobic slurs were hurled by Tea Party demonstrators at civil rights legend Jon Lewis and openly gay Barney Frank, both firm supporters of the Obama health policies. Even worse is the nod to trigger-happy right-wing advocates of violence that conservatives such as Sarah Palin have suggested in their response to the passage of the health care bill. For instance, Frank Rich argues that

this bill that inspired G.O.P. congressmen on the House floor to egg on disruptive protesters even as they were being evicted from the gallery by the Capitol Police last Sunday. It’s this bill that prompted a congressman to shout “baby killer” at Bart Stupak, a staunch anti- abortion Democrat. It’s this bill that drove a demonstrator to spit on Emanuel Cleaver, a black representative from Missouri. And it’s this “middle-of-the-road” bill, as Obama accurately calls it, that has incited an unglued firestorm of homicidal rhetoric, from “Kill the bill!” to Sarah Palin’s cry for her followers to “reload.” At least four of the House members hit with death threats or vandalism are among the 20 political targets Palin marks with rifle crosshairs on a map on her Facebook page.[36]

There is more at work here than the usual right-wing promotion of bigotry and ignorance; there is the use of violent rhetoric and imagery that mimics the discourse of terrorism reminiscent of Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh, dangerous right-wing militia groups, and other American-style fascists. As Chris Hedges insists, “The language of violence always presages violence”[37] and fuels an authoritarianism that feeds on such excesses and the moral coma that accompanies the inability of a society to both question itself and imagine an alternative democratic order. How else can one read the “homicidal rhetoric” that is growing in America as anything other than an obituary for dialogue, democratic values, and civic courage? What does it mean for a democracy when the general public either supports or is silent in the face of widely publicized events such as black and gay members of Congress being subjected to racist and homophobic taunts, a black congressman being spit on, and the throwing of bricks through the office windows of some legislators who supported the health care bill? What does it mean for a democracy when there is little collective outrage when Sarah Palin, a leading voice in the Republican Party, mimics the tactics of vigilantes by posting a map with crosshairs on the districts of Democrats and urges her supporters on with the shameful slogan “Don’t Retreat. Instead—RELOAD!” Under such circumstances, the brandishing of assault weapons at right-wing political rallies, the posters and signs comparing Obama to Hitler, and the ever-increasing chants to “Take Our Country Back” echoes what Frank Rich calls a “small-scale mimicry of Kristallnacht.”[38] Violence and aggression are now openly tolerated and in some cases promoted. The chants, insults, violence, and mob hysteria all portend a dark period in American history—an historical conjuncture in the death knell for democracy is being written as the media turn such events into spectacles rather than treat them as morally and politically repugnant acts more akin to the legacy of fascism than the ideals of an aspiring democracy. All the while the public yawns or, more troubling, engages fantasies of reloading.

Unfortunately, the problems now facing the United States are legion and further the erosion of a civic and democratic culture. Some of the most glaring issues are massive unemployment; a rotting infrastructure; the erosion of vital public services; the dismantling of the social safety net; expanding levels of poverty, especially for children; and an imprisonment binge largely affecting poor minorities of color. But such a list barely scratches the surface. In addition, we have witnessed in the last thirty years the restructuring of public education as either a source of profit for corporations or an updated version of control modeled after prison culture coupled with an increasing culture of lying, cruelty, and corruption, all of which belie a democratic vision of America that now seems imaginable only as a nostalgic rendering of the founding ideals of democracy.

NOTES

1. Hannah Arendt, Between Past and Future (1968; New York: Penguin Books, 1993), p. 196.

2. I have taken this term from Stephen Jones,ed.,The Dead That Walk (Berkeley,CA: Ulysses Press, 2010).

3. Editorial, “Wall Street Casino [6],” The New York Times (April 28, 2010), p. A24.

4. Some of the ideas come from Richard Greene and K. Silem Mohammad, eds., Zombies, Vampires, and Philosophy: New Life for the Undead (Chicago: Open Court, 2010).

5. Arun Gupta, “Party of No: How Republicans and the Right Have Tried to Thwart All Social Progress [7],” Truthout.org (May 21, 2010).

6. Jonathan J. Cooper, “We’re All Arizonians Now [8],” Huffington Post (May 15, 2010).

7. See the excellent commentary on this issue by Frank Rich, “The Rage Is Not About Health Care,” The New York Times (March 28, 2010), p. WK10. See also Justine Sharrock, “The Oath Keepers: The Militant and Armed Side of the Tea Party Movement [9],” AlterNet (March 6, 2010); and Mark Potok, “Rage on the Right: The Year in Hate and Extremism [10],” Southern Poverty Law Center Intelligence Report 137 (Spring 2010).

8. Paul Krugman, “Going to Extreme,” The New York Times (May 16, 2010), p. A23.

9. James Traub, “The Way We Live Now: Weimar Whiners [11],” The New York Times Magazine ( June 1, 2003). For a commentary on such intellectuals, see Tony Judt, “Bush’s Useful Idiots [12],” The London Review of Books 28:18 (September 21, 2006).

10. Cited in Carol Becker, “The Art of Testimony,” Sculpture (March 1997), p. 28.

11. This case for an American version of authoritarianism was updated and made more visible in a number of interesting books and articles. See, for instance, Chris Hedges, American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America (New York: Free Press, 2006); Henry A. Giroux, Against the Terror of Neoliberalism: Politics Beyond the Age of Greed (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2008); and Sheldon S. Wolin, Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008).

12. Cited in Paul Bigioni, “Fascism Then, Fascism Now [13],” Toronto Star (November 27, 2005).

13. See Bertram Gross, Friendly Fascism: The New Face of Power in America (Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1985).

14. Robert O. Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004), p. 202.

15. Umberto Eco, “Eternal Fascism: Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt,” New York Review of Books (November–December 1995), p. 15.

16. Wolin, Democracy Incorporated.

17. Along similar theoretical lines, see Stephen Lendman, “A Look Back and Ahead: Police State in America [14],” CounterPunch (December 17, 2007). For an excellent analysis that points to the creeping power of the nation- al security state on American universities, see David Price, “Silent Coup: How the CIA Is Welcoming Itself Back onto American University Campuses,” CounterPunch 17:3 (January 13–31, 2010), pp. 1–5.

18. David Harvey,“Organizing for the Anti-Capitalist Transition [15],” Monthly Review (December15, 2009).

19. Chris Hedges, “Democracy in America Is a Useful Fiction [16],” TruthDig (January 24, 2010).

20. See Janine R. Wedel, Shadow Elite: How the World’s New Power Brokers Undermine Democracy, Government, and the Free Market (New York: Basic Books, 2010).

21. Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Times: Living in an Age of Uncertainty (London: Polity Press, 2007), pp. 57–58.

22. Ibid., p. 64.

23. Bigioni, “Fascism Then, Fascism Now.”

24. Cornelius Castoriadis, “The Nature and Value of Equity,” Philosophy, Politics, Autonomy: Essays in Political Philosophy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), pp. 124–142.

25. ThomasL.Friedman,“A Manifesto for the Fast World [17],”The New York Times Magazine (March 28, 1999).

26. Leo Lowenthal, “Atomization of Man,” False Prophets: Studies in Authoritarianism (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books, 1987), pp. 182–183.

27. Tony Judt, Ill Fares the Land (New York: Penguin Press, 2010), pp. 2–3.

28. I have taken up this issue in my Youth in a Suspect Society: Democracy or Disposability? (New York: Palgrave, 2009). For a series of brilliant commentaries on youth in America, see the work of Tolu Olorunda in The Black Commentator, Truthout, and other online journals.

29. Evelyn Pringle, “Why Are We Drugging Our Kids?,” Truthout (December 14, 2009), http://www.alternet.org/story/144538 [18].

30. Ibid.

31. See Nicholas Confessore, “New York Finds Extreme Crisis in Youth Prisons,” The New York Times (December 14, 2009), p. A1; Duff Wilson, “Poor Children Likelier to Get Antipsychotics,” The New York Times (December 12, 2009), p. A1; and Amy Goodman, “Jailing Kids for Cash [19],” Truthout (February 17, 2009).

32. Jake Tapper, “Political Punch: Power, Pop, and Probings from ABC News Senior White House Correspondent—Duncan: Katrina Was the ‘Best Thing’ for New Orleans School System [20],” ABC News.com ( January 29, 2010).

33. Nathaniel Cary, “GOP Hopeful: People on Public Assistance ‘Like Stray Animals [21],’” Truthout ( January 23, 2010).

34.Cited in Frank Rich, “The State of Union Is Comatose, ”The New York Times (January 31 ,2010).

35. See, for example, Patrick J. Buchanan, “Traditional Americans Are Losing Their Nation [22],” WorldNetDaily (January 24, 2010).

36. Frank Rich, “The Rage Is Not About Health Care,” The New York Times (March 28, 2010), p. WK10.

37. Chris Hedges, “Is America ‘Yearning for Fascism’? [23],” TruthDig (March 29, 2010).

38. Rich, “The State of the Union Is Comatose,” p. WK10.

For Sale: The Desperate States Of America

In Uncategorized on June 3, 2011 at 11:35 am

Oldspeak:” The U.S. economy is being restructured in a way that will largely benefit wealthy elites and be detrimental to the rest. Everything public: Government, Schools, Prisons, Energy, Services, Parks, Lands, Housing Health Care, etc. if the free-market ideologues in government have their way, is to be privatized. The usual result of  privatization: significant increases in costs to customers; reduction in quality of and access to service. When dealing with organizations whose prime directives are to Internalize and maximize ever-increasing profit while externalizing and minimizing as much cost as possible this is the only logical outcome. We’ve seen it played out time and time again in the gutting of America. “The core tenets of free market fundamentalism —  privatization, deregulation, and cuts to government services — has laid the foundation for the economic breakdown we are witnessing today.  And this recession-induced breakdown is being used by professional disaster capitalists to warrant more privatization, deregulation, and cuts to government services until there is nothing left.  It is clear that the continued auctioning off of pieces of the state to large corporations will result in a total loss of democratic control to the disaster capitalists who are profiting immensely from their orchestrated crisis.” –Rania Khalek.  Meanwhile, the “Defense” budget continues to grow. Why is our “civilization” predicated on “owning” everything, hoarding “wealth” and “power”? Why are a few deranged people, Bohemian Grove Members willing to sacrifice our entire planet for their own personal gain?

By Rania Khalek @ Common Dreams

While we have been frantically playing defense against relentless assaults on multiple fronts, from anti-union legislation to draconian anti-choice laws to the attempted privatization of Medicare, the selling off of public assets to the private sector has received little attention.

As states face a budget shortfall of $125 billion dollars for fiscal year 2012, leaders are searching for creative ways to fill budget gaps, while refusing to consider the one legitimate solution: forcing tax-dodging corporations and the rich to pay their fair share in taxes.  Rather than upset the moneyed interests who bought their seats in office, politicians of all stripes prefer to cut pensions, close schools, slash child nutrition programs, and most importantly privatize, privatize, privatize!

In 2008, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley auctioned off the city’s 36,000 parking meters to a Morgan-Stanley lead partnership, for a lump sum of $1.15 billion.  According to Bloomberg, Chicago drivers will pay Morgan Stanley at least $11.6 billion to park at city meters over the next 75 years, 10 times what the system was sold for.  The Mayor used millions from the deal to help balance the budget, but since then, Morgan Stanley has raised parking fees 42%.  It now plans on stuffing more cars into fewer metered spaces by getting rid of marking lines, raising the number of metered slots and expanding the hours that require fees.  Chicago gave up billions of dollars in revenue for a short-term fix and now, if the city faces another fiscal crisis, it will be left with an asset that generates revenue for Morgan Stanley.  Despite the controversy in Chicago, the Associated Press reports that New York is exploring private options for its parking spaces as well.

Meanwhile, Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL), a member of the Tea Party Caucus, has suggested that one way to help close the nation’s budget deficit is to “start liquidating” public lands in Utah by privatizing large parts of the state, 70 percent of which is owned by the federal government.  Soon after, Utah Governor Gary Herbert hopped on board, agreeing that Ross’s idea was “worth exploring.”  He even went so far as to claim that the land would be better in private hands because private owners maintained Indian artifacts and burial grounds better.  Apparently his position is quite popular, since it has been embraced by Senators Mike Lee (R-UT) and John McCain (R-AZ), who proposed a bill which would sell off land in Utah and other western states.

The most insidious privatization scheme so far this year was in Wisconsin, the center of the state budget battles.  A provision in Republican Governor Scott Walker’s budget repair bill would have empowered politicians to sell any state-owned heating, cooling, or power plant, including those located in prisons and the University of Wisconsin campuses, to anyone for any price at any time, without public approval or a call for bids.  Although the provision was ultimately removed from the budget bill just before it passed, it is expected to be taken up again later this year.

In an effort to offset an $8 billion budget deficit, Ohio Republican Governor John Kasich has proposed privatizing five prisons, a sale expected to bring in an estimated $200 million.  Florida’s GOP-controlled Legislature is set to require the state to privatize prisons in South Florida, home to one-fifth of the statewide inmate population of 101,000.  Louisiana Republican Governor Bobby Jindal plans to sell three state prisons to private operators.  Similar bills have sprung up in other states, nevermind that evidence showing that private prisons actually save any money is seriously lacking.

In more desperate and bizarre attempts to fill in budget gaps the City Council in Naperville, IL is considering giving corporations exclusive rights to plaster their logos on city property.  One proposed municipal sponsorship deal would allow Kentucky Fried Chicken to repair potholes in exchange for stamping the fresh asphalt with the chicken chain’s logo.

It would be foolish to assume that the push for privatization is isolated to the GOP or the states.  The “liberal” Obama administration has proposed legislation that would establish a presidentially appointed, seven-member Civilian Property Realignment Board, tasked with evaluating excess federal properties.  The surplus includes 12,000 buildings, pieces of land and other property nationwide that the federal government wants to get rid of.

According to McClatchy, the White House claims it would see savings of as much as $15 billion by no longer having to maintain or pay for utilities at some of the underused or unused facilities.  The government in 2009 reported spending $134 million to maintain buildings that have been declared excess.  It costs an estimated $1.3 billion a year to maintain federal buildings that aren’t yet declared surplus but that go underused.  However, it remains unclear if and how this strategy would result in a significant enough amount of savings to make a dent in a trillion dollar deficit.

Ironically, the list includes land where the dorms in Daniel Boone National Forest are located, which once served as a camp for workers from the Civilian Conservation Corps, a Great Depression work program.  Rather than invest in jobs programs to put the unemployed back to work like FDR did during the Great Depression — an idea that the Obama administration has all but abandoned — the President has instead chosen the path of austerity and privatization, tactics that have historically been detrimental to society.

It’s no secret that corporate behemoths, backed by their free-market think tanks and foundations have long dreamed of privatizing everything public.  Thus far, they have been largely successful in hollowing out the defense department by outsourcing computer, intelligence, and even combat operations to for-profit companies like Lockheed Martin, Halliburton, and Blackwater, to name a few.  We now know that this was done intentionally, strategically planned by the likes of Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, who profited magnificently as a result.  The terrorist attacks on 9-11 presented the Bush administration with the opportunity to accelerate the outsourcing of war.

In the Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein thoroughly documents how wealthy elites often use times of crisis and chaos to impose unpopular policies that restructure economies and political systems to further advance their interests.  She calls these orchestrated raids on the public sphere in the wake of catastrophic events, combined with the treatment of disasters as exciting market opportunities, “disaster capitalism.”

While catastrophic events, such as natural disasters or terrorist attacks, are difficult to predict, economic disasters are not.  With this in mind, it’s difficult to deny that the economic crisis has been somewhat manufactured to serve as a pretext for draconian cuts into social programs that the corporate state has long been eyeing.  On it’s face, this theory seems conspiratorial, however a brief review of recent history demonstrates a trend of intentional crisis generation.

Paul Krugman understood this concept in 2003, during the implementation of the Bush era tax cuts for the wealthy, when he wrote the following:

“the gimmicks used to make an $800-billion-plus tax cut carry an official price tag of only $320 billion are a joke, yet the cost without the gimmicks is so large that the nation can’t possibly afford it while keeping its other promises.

But then maybe that’s the point. The Financial Times suggests that ”more extreme Republicans” actually want a fiscal train wreck: ”Proposing to slash federal spending, particularly on social programs, is a tricky electoral proposition, but a fiscal crisis offers the tantalizing prospect of forcing such cuts through the back door.”

It’s no secret that right-wing ideologues want to abolish programs Americans take for granted. But not long ago, to suggest that the Bush administration’s policies might actually be driven by those ideologues — that the administration was deliberately setting the country up for a fiscal crisis in which popular social programs could be sharply cut — was to be accused of spouting conspiracy theories.”

As the free-market ideologues in government continue to neglect America’s aging infrastructure while making deep cuts into education funding and borrowing upwards of a trillion dollars for two failed wars, they reaffirm the perception that the government is inefficient and incapable of providing what they believe private enterprise can do better.

The fact of the matter is that those now shrieking about big government debts and deficits have spent the last decade maximizing government spending with unaffordable wars, financial deregulation, and tax cuts for the wealthy, which they knew would cost trillions of dollars.  Today, the consequences of their actions, which they were warned about, are the ploy these very same people are using to justifythe accelerated demise of welfare programs, and the incremental destruction of the meager social safety net that guarantees Americans won’t starve in their old age.

The core tenets of free market fundamentalism —  privatization, deregulation, and cuts to government services — has laid the foundation for the economic breakdown we are witnessing today.  And this recession-induced breakdown is being used by professional disaster capitalists to warrant more privatization, deregulation, and cuts to government services until there is nothing left.  It is clear that the continued auctioning off of pieces of the state to large corporations will result in a total loss of democratic control to the disaster capitalists who are profiting immensely from their orchestrated crisis.

Rania Khalek is a young, progressive activist with a passionate dedication to social justice. Check out her blog Missing Pieces or follow her on twitter @Rania_ak. You can contact her at raniakhalek@gmail.com.