You can't get much better personal information than this, can you?
I'd love to see JC back on the trail of world peace.
And on a personal note, I feel like we all should alert every cancer survivor we know.
I know I have.
By Robert Parry, Consortium News
06 December 15
[Inside Official Washington’s bubble, the Important People believe their “group think” is the envy of the world, but the truth is that their credibility has collapsed to such a degree that their propaganda can’t even match up with the head-chopping videos of the Islamic State crazies.]
ike the old story of the little boy who cried wolf, the U.S. government is finding out that – just when its credibility is most needed – it doesn’t have any. With all its “soft power” schemes of “perception management,” funding “citizen bloggers” and sticking with “narratives” long after they’ve been discredited, the U.S. government is losing the propaganda battle against ISIS.
That was the conclusion of outside experts who examined the State Department’s online campaigns to undercut ISIS, according to an article by "The Washington Post" ’s Greg Miller who wrote that the review “cast new doubt on the U.S. government’s ability to serve as a credible voice against the terrorist group’s propaganda.”
In other words, even when the U.S. government competes with the creepy head-choppers of ISIS, the U.S. government comes in second. Of course, the State Department remains in denial about its collapse of credibility – and typically won’t release the details of the critical study.
Instead, Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy Richard Stengel insisted that the State Department’s messaging operation “is trending upward,” although acknowledging that his team is facing a tough adversary in ISIS and must “be equally creative and innovative.” [For more on Stengel’s falsehoods, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Who’s the Propagandist: US or RT?”]
But the U.S. government’s problem is much deeper than its inability to counter ISIS propaganda. Increasingly, almost no one outside Official Washington believes what senior U.S. officials say about nearly anything – and that loss of trust is exacerbating a wide range of dangers, from demagogy on the 2016 campaign trail to terrorism recruitment in the Middle East and in the West.
President Barack Obama seems to want so desperately to be one of the elite inhabitants of Official Washington’s bubble that he keeps pushing narratives that he knows aren’t true, all the better to demonstrate that he belongs in the in-crowd. It has reached the point that he speaks out so many sides of his mouth that no one can tell what his words actually mean.
Indeed, Obama arguably suffers from the worst “credibility gap” among the American people since Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon on the Vietnam War or at least since George W. Bush on the Iraq War. As eloquent as he can be, average folk in the U.S. and around the world tune him out.
So, on the domestic side, when the President tells Americans that another trade deal – this one with Asia – is going to be good for them, does anyone outside the opinion pages of the elite newspapers and the big-shot think tanks believe him?
America now has a swelling underclass of formerly middle-class whites who know that they’ve been sold out as they face declining living standards and an unprecedented surge in dying rates. Yet, because they don’t trust Obama, these whites are easily convinced by demagogues that their plight stems from government programs designed to help blacks and other minorities.
This white rage has fueled the race-baiting and anti-immigrant campaigns of billionaire Donald Trump and other political outsiders in the Republican Party. Trump has soared to the top of the GOP presidential field because he says a few things that are true – that rich people have bought up the political process and that trade deals have screwed the middle class – giving him an aura of “authenticity” that then extends to his uglier comments.
Americans are so starving for a taste of honesty – which they’re not getting from Obama or other members of the elite – that they will believe a megalomaniacal huckster like Trump. After all, they know that what they get from Obama and his clique is manipulative spin, treating them like dummies to be tricked, not citizens of a Republic to be respected.
The hard truth is that the Great American Middle Class indeed has been sold out, often by fast-talking neo-liberals like President Bill Clinton who – with the help of many centrists and conservatives – pushed through trade deals and banking “reforms” that gussied up Wall Street while boarding up Main Street. The neo-liberals, working with Republicans, also promoted trade deals with Mexico and other low-wage countries that sent millions of U.S. jobs overseas.
From this experience, many Americans see “guv-mint” to blame for their plight, enticing them down the right-wing path that seeks to negate government power. What these Americans don’t grasp is that this Tea Party ideology is further selling them out to the corporatists and the speculators who will be put in an ever stronger position to gouge what’s left of the Middle Class.
In other words, at a time when Americans need their government to collectively represent their interests – to provide for “the general Welfare” as the U.S. Constitution mandated – they have no faith that the government is theirs or will protect their interests.
The Propaganda Imperative
A similar realization holds true with foreign policy. The U.S. government has so thoroughly bought into the concept of “perception management” and “strategic communications” – blending psy-ops, propaganda and P.R. – that the government has decoupled from facts. Information is just there to be exploited for geopolitical gain, usually to pin some offense on the latest “designated villain.”
We saw this in 2003 with the disinformation campaign about Iraq’s WMD, but it didn’t stop there. The U.S. government has used its control of important media levers to demonize a variety of world leaders who have gotten in the way of Official Washington’s desires. Meanwhile, equal or worse abuses by “our guys” are downplayed or ignored.
For instance, Libya’s secular dictator Muammar Gaddafi was mocked when he warned of Islamist terrorists rampaging in eastern Libya. Indeed, Gaddafi’s vow to fight them became the pretext used for a “regime change” operation under the “human rights” banner, “responsibility to protect.”
That operation – promoted by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who gloated over Gaddafi’s murder (“We came, we saw, he died”) – has transformed Libya into a land of anarchy with the Islamic State and other terror groups seizing ground and chopping off heads. But Clinton, like other architects of this disaster, won’t admit to a mistake.
Similarly, the Obama administration and the compliant mainstream U.S. media pushed a propaganda campaign against Syria’s secular leader Bashar al-Assad, blaming him for virtually all the violence that engulfed Syria despite the awareness of senior U.S. officials, including Vice President Joe Biden, about the key role played by Sunni jihadists and terror groups with the backing of Sunni-ruled Gulf states and Turkey.
So, when a lethal sarin gas attack struck a suburb of Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013, the Obama administration and key “human rights” groups blamed Assad’s forces although some U.S. intelligence analysts and independent observers quickly smelled a rat, the likelihood of a provocation sponsored by Al Qaeda operatives – possibly aided by Turkish intelligence – trying to induce the U.S. military to destroy Assad’s army and clear the way for a terrorist victory.
Though that “false flag” scenario became increasingly likely – as the case against Assad’s forces essentially collapsed – Obama and his administration have never corrected the record. They just left what now appears to be a false narrative on the record, so it can still be cited by neocon opinion leaders or “human rights” advocates and thus be used to mislead the American public.
Some people defend Obama for not admitting a mistake because to do so would undermine U.S. credibility, but I think the opposite holds true, that a frank admission that there was a misguided rush to judgment would be refreshing for Americans who are sick and tired of spin.
Similarly, there’s the case of the July 17, 2014 shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine, which the Obama administration pinned on ethnic Russian rebels and indirectly on Russian President Vladimir Putin. The case whipped up a frenzy of Russia-bashing across the West and thus became a valuable propaganda club.
But again, as U.S. intelligence analysts shifted through the evidence, some moved off in a different direction, blaming a rogue element of the Ukrainian government, according to a source briefed on these findings.
Yet, instead of either correcting the record or presenting evidence to buttress the initial judgment, the Obama administration has gone silent, refusing to make public any evidence that it possesses about the killing of 298 people. That has allowed the West’s mainstream media and some supposedly “independent” bloggers to continue to push the Russia-did-it line.
More recently, the Obama administration has reacted to overwhelming evidence that some of its Mideast “allies” have been aiding and abetting the Islamic State, Al Qaeda and other violent jihadists by trying to shift the blame to the Syrian government and Russia.
In other words, we’re told not to blame the Saudis and the Qataris for funding and arming these jihadists (despite admissions from Vice President Biden, former Secretary of State Clinton and the Defense Intelligence Agency). Nor should we notice that the Islamic State has been shipping its illicit oil into Turkey in large truck convoys through Turkish border crossings which also allow jihadist fighters to go back and forth.
The evidentiary record of Turkey’s covert support for these radical jihadists is a long one, including many admissions from Turkish officials and reports from major Turkish media outlets. But we’re told to ignore all that evidence and trust that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is doing all he can to seal off his border and stop the terrorists.
Instead, though the Syrian and Russian governments have been delivering heavy blows to the jihadists, including Russia shaming the Obama administration into belatedly joining in the bombing of those ISIS oil convoys, we’re supposed to believe that Damascus and Moscow are actually in cahoots with ISIS. This storyline amounts to the U.S. government’s own crazy conspiracy theory.
We’re also supposed to believe that the Saudis, the Qataris and the Turks are seriously engaged in the grand U.S. “coalition” – Obama has boasted of its 65 members – to fight ISIS, Al Qaeda and other terrorists. But these “allies” are mostly just going through the motions.
The overall impact of the U.S. government’s years and even decades of public manipulation has been to “trifurcate” the American people into three groups: those who still believe the official line, those who are open to real evidence that goes against the official line, and those who believe in fact-free conspiracy theories positing that nothing from any official source can be true.
To say that such a division is not healthy for a democratic Republic is to state the obvious. Indeed, a democratic Republic cannot long survive if government officials insist on managing the people’s perceptions through propaganda and disinformation. Nor can it long survive if a significant part of the population believes the craziest of conspiracy theories.
Yet, it seems that President Obama and other senior officials simply can’t resist taking the easy route of deception to reach a compliant consensus, rather than engaging in the hard work of presenting clear evidence and engaging the American people in serious debate.
Or, perhaps Obama and his advisers are too deep into the lies and thus fear the consequences of admitting that many of their claims were false or misleading. That would be like Toto pulling the curtain away from the Wizard of Oz and the wizard immediately confessing. The instinct is to tell the populace to ignore that man behind the curtain.
The Impossible Speech
I have long advocated that Obama should go on television in the style of President Dwight Eisenhower’s farewell address in 1961, sitting in the Oval Office, hands-folded, none of Obama’s glitzy stage-craft, and simply level with the American people.
Before the speech, Obama could release the 28 pages from the congressional 9/11 report about Saudi support for the hijackers. He also could release other U.S. intelligence analyses on the role of the Saudis, Qataris and Turks in supporting Al Qaeda and ISIS. He could toss in what U.S. intelligence analysts have concluded about the 2013 sarin gas attack in Syria and about the 2014 shoot-down of MH-17 in Ukraine.
To the degree that the U.S. government had misled the American people, the President could fess up. He could explain how he and other government officials were seduced by the siren song of the propagandists who promised to line up public opinion behind a policy with no muss or fuss. He could admit that such manipulation of U.S. citizens by the U.S. government is simply wrong.
Obama could explain that he now realizes that elitism in the pursuit of the people’s subservience is incompatible with the principles of a Republic in which the citizens are the sovereigns of the nation. He could ask our forgiveness and recommit himself to the government transparency that he promised during the 2008 election. (While at it, he could pardon and apologize to the whistleblowers whom he has prosecuted and imprisoned.)
Having reestablished a foundation of trust – and repudiating the past decades of deception – he could explain what has to be done in Syria. Most significantly he could demand that Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and other countries helping ISIS and Al Qaeda shut down that assistance immediately or face severe financial and other consequences, “allies” or not.
Then, he could promise that – after reasonable stability is restored to Syria – the people of Syria would be allowed to decide who they want as their leaders. Right now, the key obstacle to a new power-sharing government in Syria is the West’s insistence that Assad can’t compete in future democratic elections. Yet, if President Obama is so sure that most Syrians hate Assad, nothing could demonstrate that better than Assad’s resounding defeat at the polls. Why avoid that?
But it’s become painfully obvious that Obama does not have it in him to give that speech or take such actions. It would require defying Official Washington’s neocon-dominated insider community and “allies,” such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Israel. To appease those forces, he will continue to play word games and to spin propaganda narratives. He is too much of an elitist to inform and empower the American people.
Thus, the Obama administration’s credibility gap won’t be closed. Indeed, it will widen into a chasm, with Official Washington sitting on one side and the vast majority of humanity on the other. The undeserving winners will include the terrorists of ISIS and Al Qaeda. There will be many losers who deserve better.
December 4, 2015
This year marks the fortieth anniversary of the Vietnamese victory over the United States, in the war that ravaged Vietnam, and caused untold suffering and division in the U.S. It was said, after the people of Vietnam were able to resist the most powerful military machine in the world, that the U.S. needed to rethink its war-mongering and military aggression, and, perhaps, turn to diplomacy before resorting to bombs. The lessons of Vietnam, it was proclaimed, must be remembered.
It doesn’t take a historian to see that any lessons from that disastrous war were all quickly forgotten. Not only has this been manifested by the U.S.’s almost constant war-making since its defeat in Vietnam, but now the government is also ‘commemorating’ that deadly, imperial disaster. To this end, it has launched a 13-year Commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. This farce began in 2012, and the country will be subjected to it, in one form or another, until 2025.
Looking at the commemoration’s website, there are five (5) stated objectives. Each is more puzzling than the last. We will look at each one in some detail.
“To thank and honor veterans of the Vietnam War, including personnel who were held as prisoners of war (POW), or listed as missing in action (MIA), for their service and sacrifice on behalf of the United States and to thank and honor the families of these veterans.”
The U.S. has an odd way of thanking veterans, if it believes that an occasional parade will do the trick. Veterans, including large numbers of those who ‘served’ (more on that ridiculous term later) in Vietnam, have an above-average rate of depression, suicide, homelessness, drug-addiction and domestic violence. Victims of Agent Orange, the chemical defoliant used widely in Vietnam, which cause untold physical problems for veterans and their children, fought for years to have their illnesses recognized by the government as having been caused by those chemicals. Veterans’ hospitals have been shown to have long waiting lists, and deplorable conditions.
“To highlight the service of the Armed Forces during the Vietnam War and the contributions of Federal agencies and governmental and non-governmental organizations that served with, or in support of, the Armed Forces.”
One wonders why anyone wants to highlight the activities of organizations that made the killing of innocent men, women and children easier and more effective.
“To pay tribute to the contributions made on the home front by the people of the United States during the Vietnam War.”
It would seem to anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of life in the U.S. during the Vietnam-War era that the nation should pay tribute to the contributions made by those who opposed the war. Tens of thousands of young men fled the country, rather than be victimized by the U.S. slave trade known as conscription. Countless others who went to Vietnam returned home and actively opposed the war.
Numerous others were jailed when their conscientious-objector applications were denied, or when they publically burned their draft cards. Eventually, even the corporate-owned media, and many politicians, saw the validity and honor of their actions. But during this endless commemoration, all this will be ignored.
“To highlight the advances in technology, science, and medicine related to military research conducted during the Vietnam War.”
Now, perhaps, we are getting to the heart of the matter. Such ‘advances’ mainly serve to advance the bottom line of the fat-cats who profit from war. And any golden calf is always worth worshipping in the United States. And if so many advances in technology, science and medicine resulted from the Vietnam War, well then, why not have another war, and see what additional advances can be made?
“To recognize the contributions and sacrifices made by the allies of the United States during the Vietnam War.”
It would not be unreasonable to think that these allies would just as soon forget the whole thing.
All any reminders of their involvement in the U.S.’s Vietnam folly can do is bring to mind any repeat of those mistakes when the U.S., with equal justification (read: none) invaded Iraq. So this commemorative frolic may not be something the allies will embrace.
And now let us take a moment to consider the term ‘military service’, an oxymoron if ever there was one. Militarism, as has been amply demonstrated by the U.S. for over two centuries, brings death, poverty, oppression, denial of human rights, and the untold and unspeakable suffering of innocent men, women and children. This has been true from the War of 1812 right up through today, as the U.S. and its allies bomb Syria, and spread suffering there, while causing increased hatred towards the United States. The killing of the innocent might be called ‘collateral damage’, but more of the innocent suffer and die than any of the U.S.’s self-identified ‘enemies’.
What does any of this have to do with service? That word, except when perverted by being affixed to the word ‘military’, implies selfless assistance, the acts of helping people who are suffering, or are somehow less fortunate than those performing the service. Volunteers in homeless shelters, at food banks, school programs and other facilities where people are assisted can be said to serve.
Educators who devote their lives to teaching, despite low salaries, serve. But soldiers who invade independent countries and kill their citizens are not serving; there is a word for killing people, and it is not ‘service’.
But today, and for the next several years, apparently, the president and various other politicians will proclaim the greatness of the cause that led to the Vietnam War, looking at it through the 40-year-old tint of rose-colored glasses, and praise it as an example of U.S. greatness. There will be no mention of the anger on university campuses that often resulted in extreme police violence against students. The young men who left the country in order to avoid forced participation in the immorality of war will be ignored. And the citizen-lemmings will forget the scenes of U.S. personnel desperately fleeing Saigon as the Vietcong entered victoriously, and will place hand on heart, pledge allegiance to the flag, and sit back as the U.S. continues to operate the most effective killing machine on the planet.
(Robert Fantina’s latest book is Empire, Racism and Genocide: a History of US Foreign Policy (Red Pill Press).)
More articles by: Robert Fantina
December 4, 2015
Deciphering the meaning of Neo-liberalism as a historical force and societal form requires the energies and know-how of a sagacious sleuth like Hercule Poirot. Wendy Brown, a philosophy professor at UCLA (Berkeley) and author of Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution, has a Poirot intellectual sensibility and acuity that sees what most of us cannot.
Those of us who have written on neo-conservative politics and neo-liberalism as an economic form have illuminated many dimensions of “something new” that has emerged out of the collapse of welfare state liberal democracy in the West over the last five decades.
But putting all the pieces of this intricate puzzle together and detecting not only particular patterns but also the logic underlying neo-liberalism is a complex task.
What is the connection between the US Empire’s contempt for law and truth-telling and neo-liberalism?
And how is it that citizens can be so passive in the face of evident government prevarication, endless spinning of false narratives, the evisceration of democratic morality and countless corporate and government scandals?
Most of us know that neo-liberalism as an economic form repudiates Keynesian welfare state economics and was propounded by ideologues like Milton Friedman at the University of Chicago and in an earlier day, by the dubious intellectual propagandist Friedrich von Hayek.
In popular usage, neo-liberalism conjures up a cluster of ideas adumbrated by Brown: a radically free market, maximized competition and free trade achieved through economic de-regulation, elimination of tariffs, a range of monetary and social policies favourable to business and indifferent toward poverty, social deracination, cultural decimation and long-term resource depletion and environmental destruction.
Something new and darker is at stake
But something new and darker seems to be at stake. The crux of Brown’s sophisticated argument is that the left fails to see the “political rationality that both organizes these policies and reaches beyond the market” (“Neo-liberalism and the end of liberal democracy” ). The left analyses do not capture the “neo” of neo-liberalism because they “obscure the specifically political register of neo-liberalism in the First World, that is, its powerful erosion of liberal democratic institutions and practices in places like the US.”
In other words, neo-liberalism agents systematically aim to radically de-democratize their societies. The supreme triumph of corporate power in the world requires that liberal democracy be undermined. This means that political autonomy is jettisoned. Formal rights, private property and voting are retained, but civil liberties are re-cast as useful only for the enjoyment of private autonomy.
Social problems are de-politicized and converted into therapeutic, individualistic solutions (mostly through consuming a special commodity). The political rationality of neo-liberalism interpellates the governed self of the citizenry. Separated from the collectivity, this self is then absorbed into a world of choice and need-satisfaction through consumption that is mistaken for freedom.
Aware that the mere restoration of some ragtag social welfare state spiced with a pinch of climate change rhetoric is a dangerous delusion, Brown slices through the bramble bush of esoteric terminology to enable us to see that “neo-liberalism carries a social analysis which, when deployed as a form of governmentality, reaches from the soul of the citizen-subject to education policy to practices of empire.” Neo-liberal rationality “involves extending and disseminating market values to all institutions and social actors, even as the market itself remains a distinctive player.”
Neo-liberalism ruthlessly sets out to subvert democracy
Neo-liberalism is a project requiring ruthless construction: plotting, planning and execution of the animating vision — in every domain of life. Donald Gutstein’s detailed study of Harperism: How Stephen Harper and His Thank Tank Colleagues Have Transformed Canada (2014) hit me between the teeth.
Good god! This guy moved stealthily and incrementally according to a “master plan”: to dismantle Canadian democracy and free the society for total corporate domination without citizen recourse. It was systematic! It was devilish! He did it behind closed doors and in the twilight under our noses! Voter ignorance permits these bastards to blast the world back into the medieval era of serfdom and anti-enlightenment beliefs and degrading practices.
This intention to subvert liberal democracy has not been fully grasped by those on the left. That’s Brown’s wake-up call. And it is a salient one. It may provide us clues to understanding puzzling elements of the contemporary world such as lying without consequences, total absence of moral principle underpinning actions, abject inconsistency, utter hard-heartedness towards the vulnerable and contempt for democratic deliberation and international diplomacy.
Specific characteristics of the neo-liberal political rationality
To help us sort these things out, Brown identifies the specific characteristics of this rationality. Plunging in, Brown first points out that neo-liberal rationality configures human beings as homo oeconomicus. All dimensions of human life are cast in terms of a market rationality. Actions and policies are reduced to the bare question of profitability and the social production of “rational entrepreneurial action.” Our schools are re-figured to pump out little brown-shirted entrepreneurs who know only calculation and competition.
Second, Brown states that neo-liberalism pedagogics intends to develop, disseminate, and institutionalize such a rationality. “Far from flourishing when left alone,” Brown asserts, “the economy must be directed, buttressed, and protected by law and policy as well as by the dissemination of social norms designed to facilitate competition, free trade, and rational economic action on the part of every member and institution of society.”
Neo-liberals only want to get the state out of providing for the security and well-being of its citizens. They use the state apparatus to enable corporations to serve only their profit-making without fear of legal regulation or moral demands. This means, then, that the market organizes and regulates the state and society. Therefore:
(a) By openly responding to the needs of the market (through immigration policy or monetary and fiscal policy), the state is released from the burden of a legitimation crisis (European critical theorists like Claus Offe and Jurgen Habermas had raised this concern in the 1970s). The new form of legitimation is simply economic success (it is also, I might add, the new, post-liberal democratic morality). The old norms of crime and morality are expunged from the cultural ethos of neo-liberalism.
(b) Under neo-liberal conditions, the state itself must think and behave like a market actor. The languages of cost-benefit analysis and calculation sweep in and consume public service and governmental practices. Under the Harper dictatorship’s thumb, gags were stuffed in the public service mouth.
(c) The health and growth of the economy is the “basis of state legitimacy both because the state is forthrightly responsible for the health of the economy and because of the economic rationality to which state practices have been submitted.” The watchword of neo-liberalism is: “It’s the economy, stupid.”
The third characteristic, then, of this depraved neo-liberal rationality (which wrenches itself free of the constraints of the old liberal democratic paradigm) has to do with the “extension of economic rationality to formerly non-economic domains and institutions extends to individual conduct, or more precisely, prescribes citizen-subject conduct in a neo-liberal order.” Famously, Habermas termed this the “colonization of the lifeworld.”
There is something disturbingly monstrous now before us. The classical liberal thinker Adam Smith set out the necessity of tension between individual moral and economic actions. This crucial distinction collapses, Brown maintains, because neo-liberalism has figured us as rational, calculating machines. Thus, to be “morally autonomous” means that we take care of our own needs and fund our own self-projects.
Pedagogics (in schools and everyday life) orients its students to consider the costs, benefits, and consequences of individual action. But this “responsibility for the self” gets carried to new heights as support for the vulnerable and needy is withdrawn. They are on their own. Didn’t Thatcher say: “There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families”?
Grim news for the last defenders of deliberative democracy
For diehard defenders of active citizenship and liberal democracy, Brown’s analysis is grim news. Political citizenship is radically reduced within the neo-liberal frame to an “unprecedented degree of passivity and political complacency.”
In “American Nightmare: Neo-liberalism, Neo-conservatism, and De-democratization,” Political Theory, 34 (6), December 2006),” Brown bemoans the “hollowing out of a democratic political culture and the production of the undemocratic citizen. This is the citizen who loves and wants neither freedom nor equality, even if of a liberal sort; the citizen who expects neither truth nor accountability in governance and state action; the citizen who is not distressed by exorbitant concentrations of political and economic power, routine abrogation of the rule of law, or distinctly undemocratic formulations of national purpose at home and abroad.” Bravo Ms. Brown!
Brown’s most innovative analysis is the way she links neo-conservative religious thought and neo-liberal economic and political rationality. She addresses the evident contradiction. “How does a project that empties the world of meaning, that cheapens and deracinates life and openly exploits desire, intersect with one centred on fixing and enforcing meanings, conserving certain ways of life, and repressing and regulating desire?”
Neo-liberal political rationality and neo-conservative fundamentalist Christianity may diverge on the level of ideas. But American Christianity (in its fundamentalist form) and neo-liberal rationality, Brown contends, converge in the domain of political subjectivity. American fundamentalism contours the spiritual sensibility of its adherents to submit to Divine Authority and a declarative form of truth.
She states: “The combination of submissiveness toward a declared truth, legitimate inequality, and fealty that seeps from religious and political rationality transforms the conditions of legitimacy for political power; it produces subjects whose submission toward authority and loyalty are constitutive of the theological configuration of state power sketched in Schmitt’s juristic thought.”
In post 9/11 America panicked and fearful citizens easily fall prey—so it sadly seems—to sacralising the existing Neo-liberal regime. The founding myth of America as New Israel tips fundamentalists (and others, too) toward fusing the US’s malevolent actions in the world with America as instrument of God’s eternal purposes — “holy violence” to usher in the New Millennial Order.
Thus, apolitical preferences rule the day and citizens consume and idolize their families. Political participation is not necessary; and political scientists write articles about “voter ignorance” and weep. Critics of Habermas chide him for harbouring the illusion that voters know enough to deliberate with each other. But this submission to the Natural Order (now God’s order) of neo-liberal capitalism is to bow down before the Golden Calf.
We appear to have entered Weber’s “polar night of icy darkness” without morality, faith, heroism and meaning. But for Brown both Weber and Marx’s analyses are too teleological. Neither captures the “discursive and practical integration” of formerly differentiated moral, economic and political rationalities.
This perspective certainly is controversial and debateable stuff. But there is no denying that neo-liberalism erodes “oppositional political, moral or subjective claims located outside capitalist rationality but inside liberal democratic society, that is, the erosion of institutions, resources, and values organized by non-market rationalities in democracies.”
There is much at stake: the Left from Marx’s day to ours assumed that liberal democratic societies at least contained the formal principles of equality and freedom. This ethical gap between the norms and social reality could elicit oppositional action to close the division and permit a form of “immanent critique.” Now Brown suggests provocatively, “Liberal democracy cannot be submitted to neo-liberal political governmentality and survive.” Indeed, “liberal democracy is going under in the present moment, even as the flag of American ‘democracy’ is being placed everywhere it finds or creates soft ground.”
The Left humanist project for post-liberal democracy times
Thus, the Left Humanist movement world-wide confronts—if Brown’s argument holds—a neo-liberal rationality that in the post 9/11 period uses the idiom of liberal democracy while undermining it in practice. The infamous cry from Paul Bremer in Iraq that it was “open for business” clearly signalled that democratic institutions were secondary to “privatizing large portions of the economy and outsourcing the business of policing a society in rubble, chaos, and terror occasioned by the combination of organizing military skirmishes and armed local groups.”
The only way we might fathom the post 9/11 American world of governmental deceit and a raw market approach to political problem solving is to assume that moral principle has been banished because the only criteria for action is whether the ends of success and profitability have been achieved.
That’s all. That’s it. And since morality is the foundation of legal systems, adhering to law is abandoned as well.
There is, then, plenty of evidence for the argument of the assault on democracy. Civil liberties have been undermined in the USA in the Homeland Security Act (and in Canada under the Harper regime), aggressive imperial wars ventured into, the welfare state dismantled and progressive tax schemes abolished and public education defunded.
Brown is reluctant to name this miserable concoction fascism (or neo-fascism). “Together these phenomena suggest a transformation of American liberal democracy into a political and societal form for which we do not yet have a name, a form organized by a combination of neo-liberal governmentality and imperial world politics, contoured by the short run by conditions of global economics and global security crisis.”
Nonetheless, regardless of how we name this new world, the conditions we find ourselves inhabiting at the moment must acknowledge that the “substance of many of the significant features of constitutional and representative democracy have been gutted, jettisoned, or end-run, even as they continue to be promulgated ideologically, serving as a foil and shield for their undoing and doing of death elsewhere.”
Bitterly, Brown admits that this unprecedented nature of our time is that “basic principles and institutions of democracy are becoming anything other than ideological shells for their opposite as well as the extent to which these principles and institutions are being abandoned even as values by large parts of the American people.”
Thus, in order to avoid descent into acute melancholia on the part of the Left, Brown urges us to reject the idea that we are in the “throes of a right-wing or conservative positioning with liberal democracy but rather at the threshold of a different political formation, one that conducts and legitimizes itself on different grounds from liberal democracy even as it does not immediately divest itself of the name.”
She maintains strongly that the Left must face the implications of losing democracy. We ought not to run around in a frenzy raging into the polar night. We will have to dig in for the long haul and offer an intelligent left counter-vision to the neo-liberal political and economic formation. This will be an integral project of the reconstitution of the global left in post-liberal democracy times.
Dr. Michael Welton is a professor at the University of Athabasca. He is the author of Designing the Just Learning Society: a Critical Inquiry.
Inequality of wealth is inequality of power. A study just released finds that «America’s 20 wealthiest people – a group that could fit comfortably in one single Gulfstream G650 luxury jet – now own more wealth than the bottom half of the American population combined, a total of 152 million people in 57 million households». How much political power do the people who would be inside that jet – and their friends – actually have?
The first-ever thorough scientific and academic study of whether the US is a democracy was published in 2014, and it finds, as an overwhelming statistically established fact now, that the US definitely is not a democracy. This landmark study, by Gilens and Page, finds that, «When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy».
Conservatives tried to deny the very meaning of this study by saying such things as that «America is a republic, not a democracy», but they were just trying to distract from the findings, which are: the US is a dictatorship, not a democracy. A republic is simply another word for a «democracy». Every democratic nation functions by means of elected representatives. So what? The «republic» matter is raised only to distract away from the reality, not in order to understand the reality.
No matter how much the conservatives try to cheat or lie their way out of the reality, America is a dictatorship. There is simply no getting around the fact: America is a dictatorship, by and for the richest. The landmark Gilens-and-Page study found the elected representatives in America don’t actually represent the public nearly so much as they represent the people who finance the political campaigns that sucker the voters to vote for the aristocracy’s preferred candidates. America’s reality is rule by the richest, rule by the people who finance those TV commercials and political operatives who make a political winner a political winner in this republic of the richest, this government of the people, by the super-rich, for the super-rich, who make the actual decisions about which candidates will have a chance to win, and which won’t.
Just the way that the Grand Ayatollah in Iran chooses which candidates there will have a chance to win the Presidency, etc., America’s few super-rich here choose which candidates will have a chance to win the Presidency etc., and which won’t. In Iran, the Grand Ayatollah is chosen by, and serves, the mullahs; and, in America, the Party chiefs etc., are chosen by, and serve, the super-rich.
In America, the aristocracy wanted Saddam Hussein removed and replaced in Iraq, «regime change in Iraq»; so, it was done – the public were suckered into supporting an invasion (and then into re-‘electing’ the man who did it).
There is no accountability for the aristocracy’s agents (such as President Bush, or President Obama). None were prosecuted for the tortures and murders and destruction that were done to Iraq, and for the trillions of US taxpayer dollars that were spent by us to perpetrate that destruction of Iraq.
America’s aristocrats and their agents call America ‘the opportunity society.’ (Read all about it there, from Obama, and also from self-acknowledged Republicans. But, of course, Obama is playing the ‘good cop,’ to their «bad». The man who was Obama’s chief economist, Larry Summers, does the same. Their propaganda-line sounds as if it comes from central headquarters.) As if equality of opportunity can actually rise while inequality of wealth is rising. It can’t really happen. The PR line is only for fools. The aristocracy enjoys playing the public for suckers. How else could the aristocracy continue to exploit the public? How much longer can it continue?
Ron Fournier headlined in "National Journal" on Thursday December 2nd, «The Fish Rots From the Head in Chicago», and he opened:
«President Obama needs to mail Rahm Emanuel a dead fish in a box. Hillary Clinton should deliver it. For the integrity of the party that represents a vast majority of black voters, Democratic leaders everywhere need to send the Chicago mayor a message: You’re dead to us.
A longtime lieutenant for the Clinton family and former chief of staff in the Obama White House, Emanuel never hesitated to muscle weak or disloyal Democrats out of power. It’s time to flip the script on the enforcer nicknamed «Rahmbo».
Emanuel once sent a pollster who was late delivering a survey result a dead fish in a box. The night Bill Clinton won the 1992 presidential election, his aides were celebrating around a picnic table when Emanuel picked up a knife and shouted the names of politicians who had «f****ed us». After each name, Emanuel declared, «Dead man!»
I’ve got nothing against Emanuel. I’ve known him since 1992 and benefited from his strategic leaks in the Clinton White House. And I know this: Emanuel epitomizes a brand of politics that puts loyalty and electoral success above all else. He was educated in the school of Clinton, where the ends justify the means, and ruled the Obama White House when it capitulated to the culture of Washington that his boss had vowed to fight».
Then, Fournier summarized the lengths that the Emanuel Administration went to cover up their murder of this Black – for which cover-up they charged Chicago’s taxpayers $5 million.
Obama himself has been the biggest cover-upper of American corruption. He refused to prosecute Bush, Cheney, the banksters, the torturers, etc. He lied by saying «we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards», and the UN called him on it. (Aristocrats don’t mind that; the UN has no teeth; and aristocrats own the ‘news’ media, so America’s public won’t know anyway.) This is how the aristocracy works. It is non-partisan. Most aristocrats are right-wing, but some are left-wing; and, yet, when it’s the aristocracy versus the public, the aristocracy are united – and the public get conned worse than ever. For example, the US aristocracy were united not only on seizing Ukraine, but in slaughtering Ukrainians who rejected the seizure. America’s elite Brookings Institution even urged the US government to step up the slaughter.
The US line was that the victims there were simply ‘terrorists,’ or ‘pro-Russians.’ They were actually the residents of the areas that had voted overwhelmingly for the democratically elected Ukrainian President whom the US aristocracy overthrew. The American aristocracy said he was «corrupt». So were all other recent Ukrainian Presidents – but the US ‘news’ media politely avoided mentioning that fact. And Ukraine now is more corrupt than ever – and a lot more in debt: bankrupt.
When the American government is prosecuting a blue-collar crook, it doesn’t «look forward as opposed to looking backwards», but, when prosecuting a white-collar crook, especially if that’s an aristocrat, then, for some mysterious reason, it does. «Looking backward» is only for blue-collar crimes – the type of crimes that the aristocracy want to be prosecuted, because that type isn’t the aristocracy’s specialty (which is generally fraud). What ‘justice’ is this? It’s ‘justice’ to fool suckers.
The Fish Rots from the Head, in Washington.
No matter, Republican or Democrat, the American public’s Commander-in-Chief is the American aristocracy's Commander-in-Cheat. He or she is the head, in Washington, and it smells much the same, either way: like rotten fish.Said one American Judge, in issuing his verdict:«Today’s reality is that the voices of «we the people» are too often drowned out by the few who have great resources. And when the fundraising cycle slows (it never stops), lobbyists take over in a continuing attempt to gain influence over and access to elected officials.
This is not a left or right, liberal or conservative analysis, but all the points on the political spectrum are increasingly involved in shaping this country’s political agenda. In today’s neverending cycle of campaigning and lobbying; lobbying and campaigning, elected officials know where their money is coming from and that it must keep coming if they are to stay in office. Ordinary citizens recognize this; they know what is going on; they know they are not being included…
The Court is bound, however, to follow the Supreme Court and Second Circuit's clear guidance. Accordingly, the Court holds that the limitations contained in New York Election Laws §§ 14-114(8) and 14-126, as applied to independent expenditure-only organizations, cannot prevent quid pro quo corruption».
Of course, those higher-court ‘Justices’ had themselves been appointed by corrupt federal officials, including US Presidents. The US aristocracy holds iron control.
And, so, the fish keeps stinking, and the aristocracy keep lying and pretending that America is a ‘democracy.’ And the public are told that the only problem is inequality of opportunity, not inequality of wealth – no matter how enormous that inequality of wealth is. After all, there’s a self-sustaining aspect to any aristocracy. Their children even get «legacy admissions» into the elite’s colleges. So: the more extreme the wealth-concentration is, the more-extreme it will be in the future. But, no matter: «America is the land of the self-made man».
And the suckers keep on believing it. People just get accustomed to the smell. The preachers tell them that it’s somehow ‘the will of God,’ and so must be ultimately good. The preachers and teachers know where their money is coming from, too. And, if it’s not coming from the right people, there won’t be much of that sweet smell to cover over the fish-stench. So: worshipping The Almighty is taught – even though it actually means ‘Might makes right’ (which everyone knows to be wrong).
So: everybody does what he must do to «go along to get along» – with «the right people», of course.
And this is called ‘the free market,’ and ‘democracy,’ though it’s neither. It is, instead, as bad as it smells, even if its direct victims, such as Iraq and Ukraine (just to mention two nations that America’s aristocracy destroyed), smell even worse.
If you want to know how bad and how scary it really is, see the documentary on the Edward Snowden case, "Citizen 4"; but, even that documentary pulled its punch by limiting to only a single enigmatic sentence its bare reference to the international aristocracy behind it all, whose agents are stealing the public’s freedoms, in order to expand those aristocrats’ now-unprecedentedly sophisticated network of control over the publics throughout the world. It’s no longer just government, and the press, and the ‘intelligence’ agencies, and the military and the police. This is no longer science fiction – it is control over the mass-public, the termination of democracy, in all but name. It is already, and frighteningly, science-fact. This is why the last American President before our new system started to become instituted, Jimmy Carter, recently despaired in public, that America has become a dictatorship. And this is an increasingly global dictatorship. It’s where the global fish-head stinks the worst.
Not to expose it is to hide it – to become part of what promotes the stench, not part of what would reverse the rot that causes it.
(Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010 (link), and of CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity (link)