Wednesday, July 30, 2014

(Oh, Oh - The Shame) No Shame:  How Stupid Do They Think We Are? Don't Hold Your Breath Wondering! (Who Are These Secretive People Who Rule US? Let's Ask Billy Graham's Groupies) Oh, Where Did All the WWII Fascists Go? Long Time Passin' . . .

If you were wondering where all that data in Utah will end up . . . to make my point most succinctly, I only have to quote one of the readers of the article below who had this comment (and I'm sure they'll be sweeping up plenty of al-Qaeda there too):

"# Jim Rocket 2014/07/30 11:03 - It would be interesting for someone to investigate how people like Alexander got their positions. There's good reason to believe that honest and ethical people in these organizations refused to implement un-democratic and illegal policies. They either resign on principle or are forced out leaving the toadies like Alexander and James Clapper to serve their dark masters."

The rest is silence.
- Hamlet

Gen. Keith B. Alexander, former director of the National Security Agency, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington on June 12, 2013. (photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Gen. Keith B. Alexander, former director of the National Security Agency, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington on June 12, 2013. (photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Keith Alexander: Why I'm Worth $1 Million a Month to Wall Street

By Max Ocean, Common Dreams

30 July 14

Critics say Keith Alexander's rapid move to the private sector is cause for concern
ormer NSA Director Keith Alexander says his services warrant a fee of up to a million dollars, due to a cyber-surveillance technique he and his partners at his new security firm IronNet Cybersecurity have developed, Foreign Policy reported on Tuesday. The claim follows reporting earlier this month that Alexander is slated to head a 'cyber-war council' backed by Wall Street.
Alexander claims that the new technology is different from anything the NSA has done as it uses "behavioral models" to predict hackers' actions ahead of time.
In his article, "The NSA's Cyber-King Goes Corporate," Foreign Policy journalist Shane Harris says that Alexander stated that IronNet has already signed contracts with three separate companies, although Alexander declined to name them. He plans on filing at least nine patents for the technology and finishing the testing phase of it by the end of September.
While it's not uncommon for former government employees to be granted patents for their inventions, Alexander is thought to be the first ex-NSA director to apply for patents "directly related to the job he had in government," said Harris.
"Alexander is on firm legal ground so long as he can demonstrate that his invention is original and sufficiently distinct from any other patented technologies," according to Harris. Therefore when he files the patents, if he can prove that he "invented the technology on his own time and separate from his core duties, he might have a stronger argument to retain the exclusive rights to the patent."
According to critics, Alexander's very experience as the NSA director has informed his move to the corporate sector — whether or not he developed the technology independently — and that in itself is cause for alarm and a possible investigation.
"Alexander stands to profit directly off of his taxpayer-funded experience, and may do so with a competitive advantage over other competing private firms," Carl Franzen pointed out at "The Verge."
"Is it ethical for an NSA chief to pursue patents on technologies directly related to their work running the agency?" wrote Xeni Jardin of "BoingBoing." "Will the Justice Department investigate? Don't hold your breath."
Journalist Dan Froomkin of "The Intercept" weighed in on Twitter:

As independent journalist Marcy Wheeler pointed out on her blog, there are a multitude of questions still remaining concerning the legality of Alexander's services, that are unrelated to the issue of patent legality. Among those she poses this:

with Alexander out of his NSA, where will he and his profitable partners get the data they need to model threats? How much of this model will depend on the Cyber Information sharing plan that Alexander has demanded for years? How much will Alexander’s privatized solutions to the problem he couldn’t solve at NSA depend on access to all the information the government has, along with immunity?

To what degree is CISA about making Keith Alexander rich?
The NSA's own actions under Alexander seem to have laid the groundwork for the exact cyber-defense market the retired general is now looking to exploit.
When Alexander first addressed Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association shortly after his retirement in March, company executives were apparently most interested in learning about destructive programs such as Wiper, which the U.S. government has claimed was used in cyber-attacks originating in North Korea and Iran.
Harris says the singling out of programs like Wiper is "a supreme irony" in the eyes of many computer security experts, who say that it is nothing more than "a cousin of the notorious Stuxnet virus, which was built by the NSA — while Alexander was in charge — in cooperation with Israeli intelligence."

Our rulers don't even try to hide their financial backers anymore.

One might say that the moment has passed for worrying about the public perception of power (in DC power circles anyway).

As the Obamas close their escrow on a palatial mansion in Las Vegas (not far from Gerald Ford's place) and start packing for "retirement," it may finally be time to start figuring out who they were and how they fit in so well with our other secretive "rulers" - and how they've used their power. (Not that they aren't totally nice folks, but aren't they all?)

In 2008, MSNBC had the gall to expose the membership in a very secret religious society (The Family) run by a man (Doug Coe*), who is not an ordained minister, who claims a special relationship with God (based on his understanding of Hitler, Himmler, Goebbels, and Mao - all admired for their strength of leadership and determination not to fail at any cost), where you find every "leader" from George W. Bush, Ronnie Reagan and John McCain to Bill and Hillary Clinton. This group mainly comprises ultra-conservative Republicans like Sam Brownback, Mike Enzi, Mark Pryor and Bill Nelson, James Inhoff, Tom Coburn, Joe Pitts, Bart Stupak (as well as Diaper David Vitter, John Ensign,  and Wide-Stance Larry Craig). (Don't bother to click on the link because it has been removed from MSNBC's site although the article is still available at the internet archive link. It was co-written by Andrea Mitchell - Mrs. Alan Greenspan - of NBC News.)

Political Ties To a Secretive Religious Group

2008-04-03, MSNBC News

For more than 50 years, the National Prayer Breakfast has been a Washington institution. Every president has attended the breakfast since Eisenhower. Besides the presidents ... the one constant presence at the National Prayer Breakfast has been Douglas Coe. Although he’s not an ordained minister, the 79-year-old Coe is the most important religious leader you've never seen or heard. Scores of senators in both parties ... go to small weekly Senate prayer groups that Coe attends, [including] senators John McCain, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Observers who have investigated Coe’s group, called The Fellowship Foundation, a secretive organization. Coe repeatedly urges a personal commitment to Jesus Christ. It’s a commitment Coe compares to the blind devotion that Adolph Hitler demanded. "Hitler, Goebbels and Himmler. Think of the immense power these three men had.”

Coe also quoted Jesus and said: “One of the things [Jesus] said is 'If any man comes to me and does not hate his father, mother, brother, sister, his own life, he can't be a disciple.’"

Writer Jeff Sharlet ... lived among Coe's followers six years ago, and came out troubled by their secrecy and rhetoric. “We were being taught the leadership lessons of Hitler, Lenin and Mao. Hitler’s genocide wasn’t really an issue for them. It was the strength that he emulated,” said Sharlet, who ... has now written about The Fellowship, also known to insiders as The Family, in [a] book called The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power.

(Note: This article strangely has been removed from the MSNBC website, though you can still access it using the Internet Archive. Watch the incredible four-minute NBC video clip showing Coe praising a communist Red Guard member for cutting the head off his mother at this link. For more on Coe's powerful links to Congress and corruption, see the MSNBC article available here. And for powerful inside information from a mind programmer who claims to have escaped from "The Family," and another who says he is from a very high level there, click here and here. To develop an understanding of the bigger picture behind all of this, click here. )
*So who is Doug Coe? He shuns almost all interview requests, including ours. But in hours of audiotape and videotape recordings obtained exclusively by NBC News, he frequently preaches the gospel of Jesus to followers and supporters. In one videotaped sermon from 1989, Coe provides this account of the atrocities committed under Chairman Mao in Communist China: "I've seen pictures of the young men in the Red Guard … they would bring in this young man’s mother … he would take an axe and cut her head off. They have to put the purposes of the Red Guard ahead of father, mother, brother sister and their own life. That was a covenant, a pledge. That's what Jesus said."
In his preaching, Coe repeatedly urges a personal commitment to Jesus Christ. It’s a commitment Coe compares to the blind devotion that Adolph Hitler demanded from his followers -- a rhetorical technique that now is drawing sharp criticism.
"Hitler, Goebbels and Himmler were three men. Think of the immense power these three men had, these nobodies from nowhere,” Coe said.
Later in the sermon, Coe said: "Jesus said, ‘You have to put me before other people. And you have to put me before yourself.' Hitler, that was the demand to be in the Nazi party. You have to put the Nazi party and its objectives ahead of your own life and ahead of other people."
Coe also quoted Jesus and said: “One of the things [Jesus] said is 'If any man comes to me and does not hate his father, mother, brother, sister, his own life, he can't be a disciple.’ So I don't care what other qualifications you have, if you don't do that you can't be a disciple of Christ."
The sermons are little surprise to writer Jeff Sharlet. He lived among Coe's followers six years ago, and came out troubled by their secrecy and rhetoric.
“We were being taught the leadership lessons of Hitler, Lenin and Mao. And I would say, ‘Isn’t there a problem with that?’ And they seemed perplexed by the question. Hitler’s genocide wasn’t really an issue for them. It was the strength that he emulated,” said Sharlet, who is a Contributing Editor at Rolling Stone and is an Associate Research Scholar at the NYU Center for Religion and Media in New York.
. . . “They’re notoriously secretive,” Sharlet said. “In fact, they jokingly call themselves the Christian Mafia. Which becomes less of a joke when you realize that they really are dedicated to being what they call an invisible organization.”

Federal tax records for Coe's non-profit group shows it funds charitable programs around the world - but that it is also a family business.
The 990 tax forms for 2005, the last tax year available, show that both of Coe’s sons were on the payroll, at $110,000 a year each. The organization also paid his wife, his daughter and his daughters-in-law.
So how do Coe's admirers explain his unusual sermons? David Kuo, a former Bush Administration aide and religious-outreach official at the White House, says The Fellowship is a peaceful, faith-based group that does good works internationally. Kuo says Doug Coe wasn’t lauding Hitler's actions.
“What Doug is saying, it’s a metaphor. He is using Hitler as a metaphor. Jesus used that,” Kuo said. A metaphor for what? “Commitment,” Kuo answered.

Funny how religion emanating from political figures always has a political as well as a monetary payoff, isn't it?

Not to mention the military.

One final source should be consulted on the genesis of the elusive Mr. Doug Coe with some notes on other prominent political leaders' ties:

The sec­ond side of the broad­cast excerpts an inter­view of Jeff Sharlet, author of The Fam­ily. A protes­tant fun­da­men­tal­ist orga­ni­za­tion founded in the 1930’s by a Nor­we­gian immi­grant named Abram Vereide, the Fam­ily incor­po­rates and prop­a­gates fas­cist ideas and has worked with fas­cists of both the above-ground and under­ground vari­ety over the years.
Informed observers have noted sim­i­lar­i­ties between the Fam­ily and Opus Dei, the Catholic order that has accu­mu­lated tremen­dous power within the Vat­i­can in recent decades.
Work­ing with and idol­iz­ing indus­tri­al­ists and financiers who backed fas­cism (such as Henry Ford), the Fam­ily wields deci­sive power within U.S. polit­i­cal and eco­nomic cir­cles. The sem­i­nal force behind the cre­ation of the National Prayer Break­fast, Billy Graham’s cru­sade and the Cam­pus Cru­sade for Christ, the Fam­ily was deeply involved with the reha­bil­i­ta­tion of Third Reich alumni, many of them war crim­i­nals, for ser­vice to the post­war Ger­man gov­ern­ment and U.S. intelligence.
Among the bet­ter known of these Nazi alumni was Her­man Josef Abs, the most impor­tant of the Third Reich’s bankers and a foun­da­tional ele­ment of the post­war Ger­man eco­nomic “mir­a­cle” and the Bor­mann cap­i­tal net­work. FTR #697 fea­tures addi­tional dis­cus­sion of The Fam­ily, the Third Reich and the Bor­mann organization.

Stephen Crit­ten­den: A dra­matic moment from the movie ‘There will be Blood’ based on a novel by Upton Sin­clair, which won an Oscar last year for the glow­er­ing Daniel Day Lewis.
If you’ve seen the movie you’ll know it’s an alle­gory depict­ing the clash between two very dif­fer­ent sides of Amer­i­can soci­ety, the reli­gious and the cap­i­tal­ist. If they seem to mix all too com­fort­ably together these days, ‘There Will Be Blood’ is a reminder that it wasn’t always so.
Today’s pro­gram is really the story of how those two sides came together. It’s the story of a shad­owy reli­gious organ­i­sa­tion known as The Fel­low­ship, or The Fam­ily, founded in the 1930s by a Nor­we­gian immi­grant to the United States named Abra­ham Vereide. He believed that the best way to change the world was to min­is­ter to busi­ness and polit­i­cal lead­ers, pow­er­ful men like Henry Ford, who weren’t much inter­ested in the churches.
A bit like (a) Protes­tant ver­sion of Opus Dei, The Fel­low­ship is basi­cally theo­cratic in impulse and deeply hos­tile to democ­racy, and over decades it has man­aged to pen­e­trate to the very cen­tre of Amer­i­can polit­i­cal power by preach­ing a gospel of Amer­i­can power. In the 1950s The Fel­low­ship estab­lished the National Prayer Break­fast, and now every week in Wash­ing­ton, busi­ness lead­ers and politi­cians from all sides sit down to read the Bible and pray together.
The cur­rent leader of The Fam­ily is the reclu­sive Doug Coe. Described by Hillary Clin­ton as ‘A gen­uinely lov­ing spir­i­tual men­tor and guide to any­one, regard­less of party or faith, who wants to deepen his or her rela­tion­ship with God’, as we’ll hear, he’s also an admirer of Hitler, Lenin and Mao.
Jeff Sharlet is a con­tribut­ing edi­tor for Harper’s and Rolling Stone, an asso­ci­a­tion research scholar in the Cen­tre for Reli­gion and Media at New York Uni­ver­sity, and he’s the author of an new book about The Fel­low­ship enti­tled ‘The Fam­ily:  Pol­i­tics, Power and Fundamentalism’s Shadow Elite’. It’s based on research he did on doc­u­ments kept at the Billy Gra­ham Cen­tre Archives, and it’s one of the most absorb­ing books I’ve read all year.
Jeff Sharlet says that when we think of Amer­i­can Chris­t­ian fun­da­men­tal­ism, we tend to think of the pop­ulist, Bible-thumping TV evan­ge­lists. But the Fel­low­ship is about a dif­fer­ent kind of fun­da­men­tal­ism, elite fun­da­men­tal­ism. More upper class, more sophis­ti­cated, it doesn’t need the media, doing its work behind the scenes.
Jeff Sharlet:   Elite fun­da­men­tal­ism and espe­cially the elite fun­da­men­tals in The Fam­ily, is not so much inter­ested in hold­ing mass ral­lies, or sav­ing everybody’s souls, rather it grows out of this belief that took hold in the 1930s that God works through a few spe­cially cho­sen indi­vid­u­als.
They call them key men, the sort of anointed. And there’s the real con­cerns, well, not social issues but eco­nomic, some­thing that they came to call ‘Bib­li­cal cap­i­tal­ism’, a sort of laissez-fair cap­i­tal­ism, and espe­cially for­eign affairs, and I think that comes as a sur­prise to a lot of folks here in the United States, but also over­seas, but they’re the kind of Chris­t­ian fun­da­men­tal­ism in Amer­ica that has always taken as its main con­cern the role of Amer­i­can power in the world, and the expan­sion of that kind of power.
Stephen Crit­ten­den:   Now the book is basi­cally about a shad­owy organ­i­sa­tion called The Fam­ily, or The Fel­low­ship that was founded by a guy called Abra­ham Vereide, a Nor­we­gian immi­grant to the United States in the 1930s. Tell us about him and the foun­da­tion of this organisation.
Jeff Sharlet:   Vereide is a fas­ci­nat­ing char­ac­ter. This guy who comes to Amer­ica from Nor­way, because he sees America (a)s the land of the Bible unchained. Even from a boy he’s given to what he thinks are prophetic visions. He believes that God comes to him and talks to him in very lit­eral words.
He comes to Amer­ica and he makes quite a name for him­self, becomes a preacher and starts preach­ing to guys like Henry Ford and titans of the steel indus­try and so on, and then has this Epiphany, this real­i­sa­tion in the mid­dle of our Great Depres­sion in the 1930s.
He decides that the Great Depres­sion is actu­ally a pun­ish­ment from God for dis­obey­ing God’s law, and how are we dis­obey­ing God’s law? Well it’s because we are try­ing to reg­u­late the econ­omy, we are try­ing to take mat­ters into our own hands. Well, we just have to com­pletely trust God, and those he chooses, men like Henry Ford and the CEO of US Steel and so on.
Stephen Crit­ten­den:   Yes, it’s a mus­cu­lar Chris­tian­ity. You’d almost say he had a min­istry to bring that indus­trial class back into religion.
Jeff Sharlet:   Absolutely. This must be a Chris­tian­ity on steroids. They were build­ing on this tra­di­tion of this kind of macho Christ, and tak­ing it to these busi­ness­men who didn’t really care about church or the Bible or any­thing like that.
What they cared about was organ­ised labour, and in fact par­tic­u­larly in Aus­tralia, men and Harry Bridges was a major, major labour leader here in the United States. And they just saw him the Devil Incar­nate, and began to organ­ise against him. And that’s what this group has become — and are to this day. They still see God’s inter­ests as those of the absolutely unreg­u­lated free mar­kets — a very sort of macho, mus­cu­lar Chris­tian­ity that tends to serve the inter­ests of those involved.
Stephen Crit­ten­den:   As I was read­ing the book, I was con­stantly reminded of the Catholic elite fun­da­men­tal­ist organ­i­sa­tion, Opus Dei, which was founded just a cou­ple of years before The Fam­ily, and clearly had a polit­i­cal pro­gram. There seem to be very inter­est­ing sim­i­lar­i­ties between them.
Jeff Sharlet:   There are really strik­ing sim­i­lar­i­ties between Opus Dei and The Fam­ily, they were actu­ally both founded at this moment, when con­ser­v­a­tive Catholics in the case of Opus Dei, and con­ser­v­a­tive Protes­tants in the case of The Fam­ily, con­clude that democ­racy is done, that it’s spent, that it can’t com­pete with these incred­i­bly vig­or­ous forces of com­mu­nism and fas­cism.
And there’s a mis­taken idea that the Opus Dei, and also The Fam­ily, wanted to be just fas­cist. No, they didn’t want to be fas­cist, they saw a lot to admire in fas­cism, but they wanted to cre­ate their own reli­gious way, where fas­cism sort of idolised the char­ac­ter like Hitler and Mus­solini, they said No, we want that same kind of cult of per­son­al­ity, that same kind of mus­cu­lar pol­i­tics and reli­gion, but we want it to be cen­tred around Jesus.
Well of course who’s Jesus? And that’s when you run into the real reli­gious hor­ror story of this book, which is that they read the same Bible that most of the rest of us do, but they take a very dif­fer­ent mes­sage, one that’s not about mercy or jus­tice or love or for­give­ness, but rather is about power. And very lit­er­ally, when I look through The Family’s papers, 600 boxes of doc­u­ments, that’s what they saw in the New Tes­ta­ment as the bot­tom line, was this mes­sage of power, and it’s strik­ing I think, and unset­tling to even most con­ser­v­a­tive Christians.
Stephen Crit­ten­den:   So much to talk about in what you’ve just said to unpack. Let’s talk about the the­o­log­i­cal ques­tion about Jesus first. You speak about a the­ol­ogy which you say is totally mal­leable, and you talk about a the­ol­ogy of Jesus plus noth­ing. It’s almost like a home-grown Amer­i­can reli­gion that pur­ports to be about Jesus, pur­ports to be Chris­t­ian, but it’s had all the con­tent drained out of it.
Jeff Sharlet:   Yes, that’s really exactly it. I begin the book, and I begin the story with a month I spent liv­ing in one of The Family’s houses where they sort of groom younger men for lead­er­ship by sign­ing you up for men­tor­ing with a Con­gress­man and so on.
And I remem­ber being struck at the time when a US Sen­ate Aide was telling us about for­mer Vice-President, Dan Quayle, who had vol­un­teered to lead a Bible Study for polit­i­cal men, for The Fam­ily, but he needed some help, he needed some­one to come over and give him just a quick crash course, ‘Because’, he said, ‘well, he hadn’t actu­ally ever read the Bible.’
So he was quite cer­tain he knew what the Bible said, he was quite cer­tain it sup­ported his polit­i­cal pro­gram. He felt con­fi­dent in scold­ing oth­ers for not liv­ing up to the Bible, but he had never actu­ally read the Bible. And that’s what you really see when you look at this elite fun­da­men­tal­ism.
It’s a reli­gion of the sta­tus quo, it’s a reli­gion of things as they are. It’s not the sort of sci­ence fic­tion vision of what the world will look like when the fun­da­men­tal­ists have taken over. These guys are very con­tent with the world as it is, and they top up the Bible as some­thing that is sup­port­ing them­selves and power.
Doug Coe, the leader of the group says ‘We work with power where we can, build new power where we can’t.’ And that’s a very sta­tus quo religion.
Stephen Crit­ten­den:   The next big ques­tion is to unpack where the reli­gious pro­gram ends and the polit­i­cal pro­gram begins.
Jeff Sharlet:   You know, I like to think of it as sort of a mobi(us) Strip, you know, that pop­u­lar opti­cal illu­sion of a rib­bon that’s sort of twist­ing, and you can never fig­ure out which side you’re on. There is no clear line where the reli­gion ends and the pol­i­tics begin. They don’t draw the dis­tinc­tion. I’ll give you an exam­ple of the project they did recently, some­thing called The Silk Road Act.
This is a piece of Amer­i­can leg­is­la­tion passed in 1999 by our Sen­a­tor Sam Brown­back and Con­gress­man Joe Pitts, both mem­bers of The Fam­ily. The Silk Road Act directed US funds to the dic­ta­tor­ships of the Cen­tral Asian region, and as Sen­a­tor Brown­back explained to me, his role was to essen­tially buy these coun­tries off, to open them up to free mar­kets by giv­ing them a lot of money, a sort of an odd con­cept of free mar­kets. And the rea­son he wanted to do that is . . . Well we have free mar­kets where cap­i­tal­ism goes (and) the gospel fol­lows. And so there you have eco­nom­ics, you have pol­i­tics, and you have reli­gion, and they’re all caught in this loop.
Stephen Crit­ten­den:   Jeff, let’s go back to the early his­tory of The Fam­ily and look in more detail at its polit­i­cal pro­gram dur­ing the 1930s and ‘40s which seems to focus pri­mar­ily on destroy­ing trade union­ism in the United States, and in that, they com­pletely succeeded.
Jeff Sharlet:   Yes, they really did. I mean I think that again takes me back to this ques­tion, peo­ple always ask what the fun­da­men­tal­ists want to do? I think the more rel­e­vant ques­tion is what have fun­da­men­tal­ists done.
And you look in the United States and say Why do we alone in the devel­oped world, not have a seri­ous organ­ised labour move­ment? Our organ­ised labour move­ment is nowhere near as pow­er­ful and influ­en­tial as yours in Aus­tralia. I think we really have to look to groups like The Fam­ily and elite fun­da­men­tal­ism.
They came into being to opposed organ­ised labour, worked steadily at that, and counted as one of their first big vic­to­ries a law that was passed here in 1947 which essen­tially rolled back many of the rights to organ­ise and to form unions, that had been won under Franklin Roo­sevelt.
They counted that as their first vic­tory, and then they just sort of went for­ward from there and played this role of dri­ving the cen­tre to the right, they were very involved in the Cold War, very involved in the eco­nom­ics of glob­al­i­sa­tion. These are their projects, but they see them as reli­gious ends.
Stephen Crit­ten­den:   You men­tion that in these years The Fam­ily was attracted by Fas­cist and even Nazi ideas, and you say that in the imme­di­ate after­math of World War II, they were involved in reha­bil­i­tat­ing key Nazi indus­tri­al­ists and bankers, help­ing them out or even bring­ing them to the United States.
Jeff Sharlet:   That was their first big step over­seas. That’s when they became inter­na­tional dur­ing World War II. Abra­ham Vereide, the founder, actu­ally trav­elled to the allied pris­ons in Ger­many where we were hold­ing the pris­on­ers of war, with a man­date from the United States State Depart­ment to go among these Nazis and sort of inter­view them and decide which ones could be used for rebuild­ing Ger­many.
And brought in quite a few scary char­ac­ters, per­haps the most notable of whom was Her­mann Josef Abs who after Vereide and The Fam­ily had vouched for him, rose to become the chief finan­cial wiz­ard behind West Germany’s rise, enjoyed a very suc­cess­ful career into the 1970s until the Simon Wiesen­thal Cen­tre dis­cov­ered that before he had been known as Germany’s banker, he’d been known as Hitler’s banker, that he had helped spirit uncounted sums of money off to the Nazis who escaped to Latin Amer­ica.
He was a bad guy, he was dri­ven out of pol­i­tics. But that was the role that The Fam­ily was play­ing, was white­wash­ing these guys and get­ting these guys back into power because they wanted them for the Cold War.
Stephen Crit­ten­den:   Jeff, I guess the most pub­lic face of The Fam­ily, or The Fel­low­ship, in the last 30, 40, 50 years, has been the fact that it cre­ated the National Prayer Break­fast, and you tell the story of how Pres­i­dent Eisen­hower really offi­ci­ates at the first National Prayer Break­fast a bit reluc­tantly. He’s a bit like a John McCain fig­ure, not very com­fort­able with overt dis­plays of religion.
Jeff Sharlet:   Yes, exactly. 1953 they inau­gu­rated the National Prayer Break­fast which has been held in Wash­ing­ton ever since. The United States Pres­i­dent always attends, Con­gress attends, and they set these up around the world. You even have one there in Aus­tralia.
And they’ve been sort of very delib­er­ately banal events, very bland, but they refer to within the group and in their doc­u­ments as recruit­ing devices to iden­tify and bring peo­ple into closer involve­ment. And The Fam­ily had wanted to do this for many years but the pre­vi­ous US Pres­i­dents wouldn’t do it.
Eisen­hower didn’t want to do it, he said it’s ‘a vio­la­tion of sep­a­ra­tion of Church and State which is a fun­da­men­tal part of our con­sti­tu­tion here’. But Billy Gra­ham and a Sen­a­tor who was involved in The Fam­ily, Frank Carl­son, had organ­ised an evan­gel­i­cal Chris­t­ian vote for him, and they wanted pay­back, so Eisen­hower went, con­cerned that this was going to become a tra­di­tion, and indeed it did, and now it doesn’t mat­ter who’s elected, here in Novem­ber, whether it’s McCain or Obama, come Feb­ru­ary they’re going to the National Prayer Break­fast, and what that does is it gives The Fam­ily that kind of power and that draw.
It doesn’t mean that every Pres­i­dent signs off on their beliefs, but they’re able to go around and say ‘Look at this, we’re able to bring the Pres­i­dent of the United States to one of our events, don’t you want to be asso­ci­ated with that?’
Stephen Crit­ten­den:   And is the National Prayer Break­fast then the key instru­ment of The Family’s power?
Jeff Sharlet: I think the key instru­ment is this really incred­i­ble net­work of politi­cians that they built up over the years. I mean you look back across Amer­i­can his­tory and you find guys like Chief Jus­tice William Ren­quist who’s one of the most influ­en­tial con­ser­v­a­tive Chief Jus­tices of our Supreme Court.
The old leg­endary Dixiecrat named Strom Thur­man, was a long-time right-winger. Even now I can give you a long list of Amer­i­can politi­cians and there have been Aus­tralian politi­cians involved as well, and folks around the world, they’re able to build this net­work so that if you want to get some­thing done, it’s help­ful to work through The Family.
Stephen Crit­ten­den:   You’ve got to tell us who the Aus­tralians are.
Jeff Sharlet:   Well the Aus­tralians are going back in his­tory. The first guy to get involved was man named Nor­man Makin who was actu­ally not con­sid­ered a right-winger, he was a long-time Ambas­sador to the United States, but was an early Cold war­rior and saw The Fam­ily as a use­ful vehi­cle for work­ing with the Con­ser­v­a­tive side of Amer­i­can pol­i­tics dur­ing the Cold War. More recently, I would just bump into — in the doc­u­ments –minor Aus­tralian politi­cians, Bruce Baird, a fel­low named Ross Cameron, and I sup­pose Peter Costello has been involved, and I don’t know how involved and I just, that’s not some­thing I fol­lowed up on.
. . . Stephen Crit­ten­den:   NBC News report­ing on the reclu­sive leader of The Fam­ily, Pas­tor Doug Coe. Jeff, you say that The Fam­ily has pen­e­trated Amer­i­can pol­i­tics so thor­oughly that even some­one like Hillary Clin­ton has to be part of these prayer break­fasts. It doesn’t really mat­ter what side of pol­i­tics you’re on, The Fam­ily isn’t inter­ested in that.
Jeff Sharlet:   Yes, I write in the book about Hillary Clinton’s involve­ment which is actu­ally fairly long-standing. She’s upfront about it in her auto­bi­og­ra­phy, ‘Liv­ing His­tory’. She writes in 1993 of com­ing to Wash­ing­ton and hav­ing a seg­re­gated women’s prayer group organ­ised for her of the wives of very con­ser­v­a­tive polit­i­cal bro­kers, and this was not just prayer busi­ness. Clearly pol­i­tics.
NBC one of our net­work news sta­tions here did a lit­tle seg­ment on that aspect of the book and they noted that both John McCain and Barak Obama had also attended the weekly Sen­ate prayer break­fasts, there’s the Annual National Break­fast and then there’s a weekly break­fast also run by The Fam­ily.
And what that really shows is not that John McCain or Barak Obama are part of it. It shows that it’s become this almost nec­es­sary piety pit stop, that to run for national office in the United States, you have to show your reli­gios­ity, which is for­bid­den by our Con­sti­tu­tion.
We say there’s no reli­gious test, anyone’s allowed to run. But it’s become this de facto test, and what that does is it also opens the door for a kind of con­ser­v­a­tive pol­i­tics that peo­ple don’t notice.
Here we have some­thing called faith-based ini­tia­tives, intro­duced by Pres­i­dent Bush, and what this amounted to was a mas­sive pri­vati­sa­tion of gov­ern­ment resources, turn­ing over social wel­fare to reli­gious orga­ni­za­tions; chang­ing the law so those reli­gious organ­i­sa­tions are free to dis­crim­i­nate against who they want, and one of the most dis­may­ing things I think about our cam­paign right now is that both John McCain and Barak Obama have pledged to not just con­tinue this pro­gram, but to expand it.
And the rea­son is, they have to do that because The Fam­ily, pop­ulist fun­da­men­tal­ism, and elite fun­da­men­tal­ism work­ing together have so set the terms of reli­gios­ity in Amer­i­can life, that we don’t have a whole lot of room for gen­uine reli­gious dis­cus­sions, gen­uine dis­cus­sion of reli­gious ideas, which are always wel­come. We have only room for these kinds of pub­lic procla­ma­tions of piety.
Stephen Crit­ten­den:   You men­tioned the Rev­erend Billy Gra­ham ear­lier. He’s a very inter­est­ing char­ac­ter in this story, he only appears once or twice, but he’s obvi­ously piv­otal at the begin­ning of set­ting up the National Prayer Break­fast, as you men­tioned. He shoe­horns Pres­i­dent Eisen­hower into sort of turn­ing up and play­ing along. What is Billy Graham’s role in all of this? He always strikes me as a much more com­plex and ambigu­ous char­ac­ter than he some­times seems on the surface.
Jeff Sharlet:   He really is. He really is a com­pli­cated char­ac­ter, which is inter­est­ing, because he was not a com­pli­cated man, but I’m sorry, ‘was not’, put it in the past tense. Still alive, still with us, but mostly his pub­lic career is over. He was a sim­ple man who found him­self at the nexus of a lot of power, and was a lit­tle bit proud of that.
You know, I mean I was able to put together the account of his role in the National Prayer Break­fast, not just through these doc­u­ments which are in the archives, but through his own biog­ra­phy in which he really comes right out and boasts about bul­ly­ing Pres­i­dent Eisen­hower into this role. He was a guy who came from a very right-wing fun­da­men­tal­ist place, a very anti-Semitic place which he never really quite over­come, and moved into the main­stream of Amer­i­can life and was instru­men­tal for instance, in giv­ing reli­gious cover to Pres­i­dent Nixon. And also played this very impor­tant role for The Family. . . .
“Elite Fundamentalism–The Fellowship’s Gospel of Cap­i­tal­ist Power” [Stephen Crittenden’s inter­view of Jeff Sharlet]; The Reli­gion Report [Aus­tralian Broad­cast­ing Co.]; 9/3/2008.

And fantastic mythical religious cover for the conversion of our nation's sweetheart Georgie Porgie Puddin' and Pie.

There's talk throughout this essay about this type of necessary (required) religiosity subverting the freedom of association guaranteed in the Bill of Rights.

I don't know. It doesn't seem to be an overwhelming concern at the present time. My guess is that all this recurring national talk of religious impetus is just a clever ruse to take the focus off of the economic policies they insist are sacrosanct.

Sounds much more like using it as an excuse for safeguarding the money of the elite from the hoi polloi to me.

Labor unions now equal Communism in the public (MSM-nurtured) mind.

I know. I know.

What minds?

The Blueberry Amigos ring the bell at the local farmers' market.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

As $15 Trillion Slated To Be Dumped in Laps of Wealthy Offspring, You Need To Make Your Plans On How You'll Live (The Children of the Porn?)

So, after all the lights, action(!), and frenzied shouting, it's agreed that Thomas Piketty was just publishing another dull recitation of what everyone respectfully accepts as the current (and likely to continue indefinitely) economic conditions, which we at the bottom of such must deal with to our vast financial delegitimization.

What’s so interesting about this Kabuki dance is just how few commentators at the time bothered to note that Piketty’s findings were never particularly controversial or groundbreaking.

Piketty’s book became such a sensation on the left precisely because it gave weight to what anyone with a pair of eyes in the real world (i.e., not Lower Manhattan, the Washington Beltway, or Silicon Valley) can already plainly see:   Wealth inequality grows each and every day, while the middle class keeps getting pummeled by this Glorious Free Enterprise System.

What used to be good, stable jobs are converted into temp positions or contract work — automated, downsized or simply eliminated entirely, they’re replaced in the labor market by the worst-paying, most utterly dehumanizing low-wage gigs that our much ballyhooed “job creators” can imagine and implement.
The consequences for our democracy and our economy are perilous and unlikely to be easily remedied.
Whether or not one is generally convinced by Piketty’s thesis that r > g (or more plainly, that capital tends to grow at a faster rate than income without some form of outside intervention), it should be plain that in our system, the stage has been uniquely well-set for the unbridled expansion of wealth that his book describes.

When the effective tax rates are lower for capital gains than for the incomes of the less affluent; when political processes are legally corrupted and circumvented for a price; when regulatory agencies are gutted, stalled, or simply staffed with careerists eager to make their way through the revolving door — this is not a political or economic system likely to become less unequal over time.
Will this trend toward inequality continue? According to “U.S. Trust Insights on Wealth and Worth,” a recent survey of wealthy Americans that aims to “[shed] light on the direction and purpose of the more than $15 trillion that will be passed across generations in high-net-worth families over the next two decades,” it seems increasingly likely.

Bad enough, huh?

Worse to come it seems, and I'm going light here. Too bad education will have very little to do with future well being other than for the few who will be around to fix the ruling gadgets (the new "plumbers").

Those of us who worked so hard to make the following a reality, are now thinking we might have improved on our original thought processes. (But they swore it would mean more free time and better lives for everyone. Bastards.)

Our silicon age, which sees no glory in maintenance, but only in transformation and disruption, makes it extremely difficult for us to imagine how, in past eras, those who would change the world were viewed with suspicion and dread. If you loved the world; if you considered it your mortal home; if you were aware of how much effort and foresight it had cost your forebears to secure its foundations, build its institutions, and shape its culture; if you saw the world as the place of your secular afterlife, then you had good reasons to impute sinister tendencies to those who would tamper with its configuration or render it alien to you.

Referring to all that happened during the “dark times” of the first half of the twentieth century, “with its political catastrophes, its moral disasters, and its astonishing development of the arts and sciences,” Hannah Arendt summarized the human cost of endless disruption:

The world becomes inhuman, inhospitable to human needs — which are the needs of mortals — when it is violently wrenched into a movement in which there is no longer any sort of permanence.
The twenty-first century has only aggravated the political, moral, social, and environmental concussions of the twentieth. There would be reason to applaud the would-be world-changers and start-up companies of Silicon Valley if they made it their business to resist or reverse this process of planetary upheaval, the way environmentalists seek to do with the wounds we have afflicted on nature.

Sadly they have no such militancy in their souls, nor much thoughtfulness. With a few exceptions, our new tech armies rarely take the time to think through what they are doing. Or if they do, they tend to think in ways that only add to the turmoil and agitation.
Silicon Valley, and everything it stands for metonymically in our culture, has indeed affected billions of people around the planet. The innovations have come fast and furious, turning the past four decades into a series of “before and after” divides: before and after personal computers, before and after Google, before and after Facebook, iPhones, Twitter, and so forth. In the silicon age, “changing the world” means at bottom finding new and more ingenious ways to turn my computer or smart phone into my primary — and eventually my only — access to “reality.”
In truth Silicon Valley does not change the world as much as it changes my way of being in it, or better, of not being in it. It changes the way I think, the way I emote, and the way I interact with others. It corrodes the worldly core of my humanity, leaving me increasingly worldless. (I do not consider the Internet’s Borg collective, with its endless drone of voices, a world, any more than I consider social media a human society; those who do not see the difference have already been assimilated.)

Thoreau wrote: “Be it life or death, we crave only reality.” If only that were unconditionally true.

Alas, Silicon Valley has enriched its coffers thanks largely to a contrary craving in us — the craving to trade in reality for the miniature screen of the cell phone.

The children of the porn?

The Children of Silicon Valley

Robert Pogue Harrison

A scene from Mike Judge’s HBO series "Silicon Valley"

In the new HBO comedy "Silicon Valley," almost every new start-up representative at a high-tech conference ends his presentation with the programmatic words, “and this will make the world a better place.” When Steve Jobs sought to persuade John Sculley, the chief executive of Pepsi, to join Apple in 1983, he succeeded with an irresistible pitch: “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water, or do you want a chance to change the world?”

The day I sat down to write this article, a full-page ad for Blackberry in The New York Times featured a smiling Arianna Huffington with an oversize caption in quotes:
“Don’t just take your place at the top of the world. Change the world.”
A day earlier, I heard Bill Gates urge the Stanford graduating class to “change the world” through optimism and empathy. The mantra is so hackneyed by now that it’s hard to believe it still gets chanted regularly.
. . . In “Change the World,” a splendid New Yorker article published in 2013, George Packer mentions an employee at a high-tech firm who refused to take time away from work to hear what President Obama, who was visiting the campus, had to say. “I’m making more of a difference than anybody in government could possibly make,” the employee reportedly told a colleague.

There are not many places in the world — maybe only one — where an employee can expect an absurd utterance like that to be taken seriously, and where children, metaphorically speaking, believe that adults need their guidance and tutelage. Speaking of the pastoral campuses of companies like Google and Facebook, Packer writes:

A polychrome Google bike can be picked up anywhere on campus, and left anywhere, so that another employee can use it. Electric cars, kept at a charging station, allow employees to run errands.… At Facebook, employees can eat sushi or burritos, lift weights, get a haircut, have their clothes dry-cleaned, and see a dentist, all without leaving work. Apple, meanwhile, plans to spend nearly five billion dollars to build a giant, impenetrable ringed headquarters in the middle of a park that is technically part of Cupertino.
These inward-looking places keep tech workers from having even accidental contact with the surrounding community.
These heterotopias, with their teenage dress codes, situate themselves neither inside nor outside the public sphere. The companies that create such “frictionless” environments for their employees expect them to have an unlimited devotion to their jobs.

Almost everyone who works for one of these companies in fact overworks in optimal working conditions, at the expense of their private, social, and public lives. Villiers de L’Isle-Adam’s famous remark — “As for living, our servants will do that for us” — would make an appropriate motto for many of them.
The high-tech campus is the setting of Dave Eggers’s The Circle, which aspires to be the great dystopian novel of Silicon Valley and its dream of total connectivity. Reading this book makes one wonder whether "Silicon Valley" could ever inspire a good novel.

It can inspire good comedy, as in Mike Judge’s HBO series "Silicon Valley," whose caricatures are highly effective. People who work in Silicon Valley tend to love this show precisely because its over-the-top portrayals of the most infantile and socially dysfunctional aspects of the tech start-up culture are eerily on the mark. "Silicon Valley" captures a truth that masquerades as farce, yet farce and truth in this case are almost indistinguishable.
Eggers’s transpicuous allegories in The Circle have no such cutting edge. As one perceptive employee at Google remarked to me, it is hard to tell whether the novel wants to parody Silicon Valley or the clichés of its critics. Eggers is otherwise an excellent writer, which makes one wonder why this particular novel is so flat. 
From a literary point of view it seems colonized by the totalitarianism of transparency that its fictional high-tech company, with its presumptions of a higher moral mission, seeks to impose on its workers, and on the world at large, which of course it wants to change. Eggers’s story suffers from a similar syndrome as its protagonist, Mae Holland, a young college graduate who lands a desirable job at The Circle. 
She believes that her life is full of excitement, yet in truth the more engrossed she is in her work the more vapid she gets. When Mae’s childhood friend Mercer chides her at a family gathering for not being able to tear herself away from her cell phone, he infuriates her by pointing out something she refuses to believe: “Mae, do you realize how incredibly boring you’ve become?”  
It’s not Mae’s fault. Becoming a boring human being is the fate of most people who keep the tech economy’s lights burning deep into the night. These industries may be among the most vibrant and dynamic in the world, yet those inside the hive are among the most tedious people in the room, endlessly plugging into their prosthetic devices. The bad news is that their employers excel at finding ways to make those devices, in their continuously updating versions, universally available. 
You shall know them by their fruits, Jesus says in Matthew 7:16. From the point of view of the world we share in common, the fruits in question are altogether tasteless. I have seen young teenagers who just yesterday were ebullient, verbal, interactive, and full of personality turn into aphasic zombies within three months of getting a smart phone or an iPad. The new wine is dying on the vine, and Dionysos, the telluric god of ecstasy, is nowhere in sight. It is unlikely that the next big digital innovation will lure him back.

At this stage of our "development," I'm thinking Zeus not Dionysos.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Third-World USA USA USA Strikes!!! Austerity Zombie Still Mild-Mannered Response from Rich to Poor:  Name Is Being Changed To Protect the Malevolent (Are the Authoritarians Winning?)

Actually, the third world came to the USA USA USA just about the same time that chant did.

Remember after 9/11 when the America-first (and not-guilty) propagandists went into overdrive?

Remember this story every time you read about political representatives voting to get rid of environmental protections (and workers' rights).

It's back to feudalism time, baby!

Last year, at age 36, I started having bad coughing spells at night. I don’t smoke, and there wasn’t any obvious reason why I should be sick.
Then one evening after work, I came home from picking up my two little boys from my sister’s house and suddenly felt like I couldn’t breathe. I rushed outside for fresh air but that didn’t help, so I told the boys to get in the car and went to urgent care at the hospital, where they kept me for two days.
Doctors told me I have asthma — and I’m not the only one who has it at the auto parts factory in Selma, Alabama, where I work. On the production line where we make foam seat cushions for Hyundai cars, one of the chemicals we work with is TDI, which causes breathing problems and can even cause cancer. And as a recent investigation shows, it is making many of us sick. 
When I came back to work, the company refused to admit that they needed to do something to keep people from having to breathe that TDI. Instead, they charged me discipline points for being in the hospital. If you get too many points taken off, you get fired. They also made me take vacation days if I wanted to get paid for the time. 
Now I take two inhalers and a nasal spray to the plant. Like many of the other people who work there, these are part of the tools we need just to do the job. I even bought paper masks with my own money to try to keep from breathing TDI – though that’s not the kind of real respirator that would make much difference.

I have two small boys to support, so I have to protect my health, but I also have to keep doing the work. There aren’t a lot of other jobs available in Selma, and I don’t want to go back to working at a gas station for minimum wage like I was before I got this job at the plant. 
We’re working six or seven days a week, and every other day my shift is 12 hours long. That means we’re breathing even more of the TDI that is making us sick. The company could hire more people so we wouldn’t have to work such long hours, but they aren’t willing to do that. In fact, if you say you won’t work the extra time, you get points taken off for that too. And at only $11.33 an hour, my family needs the money. 
Most people think that auto manufacturing jobs are good jobs. But that’s not the case anymore. Three out of every four auto workers now work in parts plants, where the jobs are closer to those in McDonald’s and Wal-Mart than to those that helped build America’s middle class.  
Hyundai can do better. The Korean company, which made $8.8 billion in profits last year, came to Alabama promising to create good jobs. I know the company could get rid of the TDI in the air if it wanted to.

The Koch Brothers and others of their dishonorable tribe (ilk) have invested milllions so far to eviscerate the environmental protection laws in this country (their businesses in energy and resource plundering profiting immeasureably).

Still hating on the mere existence of "Obamacare" and not because of the fact that your side has defeated the part of it that was intended to give much-needed health care to the desperate at the bottom of that beckoning wealth pyramid in states where neoconning Governors have refused to expand Medicaid to help care for their poor?

Tuesday’s Halbig ruling, in which a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court employed suspect legal reasoning to invalidate some of the Affordable Care Act’s health care subsidies, hasn’t had a tangible impact on health care policy. The subsidies are still going out to people who need them, and the White House has said it will petition for a review before the full D.C. Circuit Court, which observers tend to believe will shake out in the administration’s favor. So for all the apocalyptic and over-the-top rhetoric hinting at Obamacare’s coming demise, the law is no less whole than it was last week.

But Republicans and conservatives are no less jubilant, and they’ve spent much of the past few days popping corks and telling anyone who will listen that Halbig is the magic bullet that will finally, after years of frustration, kill Obamacare once and for all. “ObamaCare in death spiral after federal appeals court strikes down some subsidies,” blared a Fox News Op-Ed by longtime ACA fabulist Betsy McCaughey.
The unseemly side to all this celebrating is the fact that these conservatives are, in effect, throwing a party over a judicial ruling that would strip millions of people of their health coverage. “The next time Republicans are wondering why so many people think their party is cruel and uncaring and will gladly crush the lives of ordinary people if it means gaining some momentary partisan advantage, they might think back to this case,” wrote Paul Waldman in the American Prospect.

As usual, Sardonicky socks it to them.

And then some.

For US.

July 23, 2014

Gene Sperling's Advice to the Wealth-Lorn

 Or: "How the zombie idea of privatizing Social Security can be reanimated by a concern-trolling Wall Street Democrat."

Former Clinton-Obama economic adviser Gene Sperling, who brought you such populist hits as the repeal of Glass-Steagall and the Sequester, has now written an op-ed in the New York Times, purporting to give advice to the struggling masses in this Age of Inequality:

Share Our Wealth! Invest in 401(k)s! We'll do all the paperwork!

Sperling, a former Goldman Sachs consultant who allegedly left the Obama administration this spring, is now affiliated with the Milken Institute, a think tank in Santa Monica, California. You may remember founder Michael Milken as the "junk bond king" who went to prison in the 90s, back when prosecutors actually prosecuted crooked financiers.

Milken has since recouped his billions and has gained respectability in Democratic centrist circles as a political fund-raiser, fixer and philanthropist. And why not? The Age of Inequality is also the Age of Legalized Corruption. Banksters don't go to jail. They simply make deals with prosecutors to stay out of jail and continue victimizing the working stiffs of America.

But I digress. In his Times op-ed, Sperling cynically and ham-handedly bemoans the fact that poor people get less return on their savings than rich people. So what they should do is, hand over all their loose change to Wall Street. He doesn't actually come right out and call for privatizing Social Security, of course, but that's what he's ultimately suggesting within his double-talking verbiage:

A government-funded universal 401(k) would give lower- and moderate-income Americans a dollar-for-dollar matching credit for up to $4,000 saved annually per household. Upper-middle-class Americans could get at least a 60 percent match — doubling the incentive they get today.

The match would be open to workers even if their employers were already matching, which would encourage employers to keep contributing to savings. The match would also be available through I.R.A. contributions for those who were self-employed or who wanted to keep saving even while they were temporarily not working.
Employers would have to provide automatic payroll deductions for their employees (while allowing those who still wanted to opt out to do so). Setting the default at “opting in” would ensure that workers did not miss out on the match provided by a universal 401(k). The government could set requirements for low fees, transparency and safety to allow for vigorous competition in the private sector while allowing individual savers access to a version of the plan that members of Congress use for their own retirement savings.
This proposal is very similar, if not identical to, President Obama's own cynical "MyRA" scam that he rolled out to thundering silence at his State of the Union address this year. So it appears that the name is being changed to protect the malevolent. Sperling lumbers on for awhile before finally cutting to the chase:

Costs need not be a roadblock. Among many ways to do it, moderate reforms to the estate tax could allow married couples to leave up to $7 million to their heirs tax-free (instead of the current $10.7 million) while generating over $200 billion in resources over the next decade, which could be used to help tens of millions of savers build their own estates.

Even if a universal 401(k) ended up costing the government more than expected, it would still increase national savings overall if the public incentives led to additional private savings.
The Reagan zombie is resurrected. It's all trickle-down, all the time. Why didn't Sperling just say so in the first place?  My published comment (which, in retrospect, was more polite than this charlatan deserves):

Since Gene Sperling was touting cuts to Social Security as part of a deficit reduction deal with the GOP as recently as last fall, his universal 401(K) proposal sounds suspiciously like a Wall Street gateway drug to the privatization of FDR's great social insurance program.
Given that 75% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck and don't have any savings simply because there's no money left after they eat, heat and barely survive, this op-ed is a tad disingenuous. And that's putting it kindly.
The part about lowering the cap on the estate tax to $7 million to help the savers of the future is a dead giveaway that this advice column is not meant for the average working stiff or unemployed person - who's lucky to have two nickels to rub together after robbing Peter to pay Paul every month.
Sperling does not explain how the $200 billion generated by estate tax reform would help anybody but the trust fund kids.
Here's a thought. How about sending a stimulus check to every man, woman and child in America to spend or save as they see fit? It would provide an immediate boost to the economy. How about raising or scrapping the cap on FICA contributions to ensure the solvency of the trust fund into perpetuity?
How about letting students borrow at the same low rates as banks? How about a guaranteed national income or living wage law?
Enough of these Very Serious and immodest proposals from economists who pretend to care about wealth inequality in an election year.
Speaking of the Krugmanism "very serious people," I suspect that Sperling's op-ed is just part of the vast muffled, orchestrated cry of the wealthy who are being unfairly ignored in this election year.... because politicians don't dare talk about cutting entitlements and immiserating the poor when their own political hides also are contingent upon pretending to care for the voters. The sadism has to be euphemized. Or in this case, Sperlingized. They won't rob you with a six-gun. They'll do it under cover of darkness....  with a Fulgor Nocturnis.

Sperling was among the plutocratic culprits sounding the false alarm over the debt and deficit crisis, debunked soundly in Paul Krugman's last column. So they have to come up with ever newer ways of saying the exact same thing. The latest way is smarmy concern-trolling as a means of stealing from the public and getting even more for themselves.

As I wrote in my comment to the Krugman piece,

If the debt crisis is such a crock, why are we still saddled with austerity? Correction: why are we still saddled with austerity that exempts the bloated war machine, the surveillance state, and corporate welfare for the super-rich?
It's been estimated that the $398 billion wasted on the F-35 fighter alone could buy each of the 600,000 homeless Americans a $600,000 home. And the GOP is having meltdowns over a paltry $10.10 minimum wage? They'll only fix our roads if employers can delay paying into pension plans?
Deficit hysteria might currently be on "mute," but signs of its undeadness are still out there. Surviving at the White House website is a braggy blurb about the trillions already achieved in deficit reduction, but how "we" still have a ways to go toward "living within our means." Chained CPI for Social Security might be officially gone this election year, but then-Press Sec. Jay Carney assured us that it's still on the table should the GOP ever choose to join the feasting on the old, the sick, and the poor.
Paul Ryan is merely resting his hysterical voice, reclining on his elite hammock of dependency during his Ayn Rand summer reading break.
Meanwhile, even the progressive caucus's proposed "Better Off Budget" devotes $1 trillion more to deficit reduction than it does to investments over the next decade
The austerity cult refuses to die. Could it be because the only people who care about the debt and the deficit are the fat cat plutocrats running the place?
Sperling (left) Joins Obama At the Feast

Are the Authoritarians Winning?

Michael Ignatieff

In the 1930s travelers returned from Mussolini’s Italy, Stalin’s Russia, and Hitler’s Germany praising the hearty sense of common purpose they saw there, compared to which their own democracies seemed weak, inefficient, and pusillanimous.
Democracies today are in the middle of a similar period of envy and despondency. Authoritarian competitors are aglow with arrogant confidence. In the 1930s, Westerners went to Russia to admire Stalin’s Moscow subway stations; today they go to China to take the bullet train from Beijing to Shanghai, and just as in the 1930s, they return wondering why autocracies can build high-speed railroad lines seemingly overnight, while democracies can take forty years to decide they cannot even begin. The Francis Fukuyama moment — when in 1989 Westerners were told that liberal democracy was the final form toward which all political striving was directed — now looks like a quaint artifact of a vanished unipolar moment.
For the first time since the end of the cold war, the advance of democratic constitutionalism has stopped. The army has staged a coup in Thailand and it’s unclear whether the generals will allow democracy to take root in Burma. For every African state, like Ghana, where democratic institutions seem secure, there is a Mali, a Côte d’Ivoire, and a Zimbabwe, where democracy is in trouble.

In Latin America, democracy has sunk solid roots in Chile, but in Mexico and Colombia it is threatened by violence, while in Argentina it struggles to shake off the dead weight of Peronism. In Brazil, the millions who took to the streets last June to protest corruption seem to have had no impact on the cronyism in Brasília. In the Middle East, democracy has a foothold in Tunisia, but in Syria there is chaos; in Egypt, plebiscitary authoritarianism rules; and in the monarchies, absolutism is ascendant.
In Europe, the policy elites keep insisting that the remedy for their continent’s woes is “more Europe” while a third of their electorate is saying they want less of it. From Hungary to Holland, including in France and the UK, the anti-European right gains ground by opposing the European Union generally and immigration in particular. In Russia the democratic moment of the 1990s now seems as distant as the brief constitutional interlude between 1905 and 1914 under the tsar.
The recent handshake between Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping celebrated something more than a big gas deal. It heralded the emergence of an alliance of authoritarian states with a combined population of 1.6 billion in the vast Eurasian space that stretches from the Polish border to the Pacific, from the Arctic Circle to the Afghan frontier.
This zone includes recalcitrant client states like North Korea and patriarchal despotisms like the Muslim republics of the former Soviet Union. It also includes less willing subjects, states like Georgia, Armenia, and Moldova, whose publics aspire to democratic independence but are being told by their authoritarian leaders—partly through the lesson being inflicted on Ukraine—to put their dreams aside.
Ukraine is where the battle for influence has been joined between the demoralized democracies of the West and the rising authoritarian archipelago of the East. If Ukraine is not allowed to choose its own democratic path, some of the states that border Russia, and especially those with Russian-speaking minorities, will also be prevented from doing so.
The conflict between authoritarianism and democracy is not a new cold war, we are told, because the new authoritarians lack an expansionary ideology like communism. This is not true. Communism may be over as an economic system, but as a model of state domination it is very much alive in the People’s Republic of China and in Putin’s police state.
Nor does this new authoritarianism lack an economic strategy. Its goal is a familiar form of modernization that secures the benefits of global integration without sacrificing political and ideological control over its populations. Its economic model is price-fixing state capitalism and its legal system is rule by (often corrupt) fiat in place of the rule of law.

Its ethics rejects moral universalism in favor of a claim that the Chinese and Russian civilizations are self-contained moral worlds. Persecution of gays, therefore, is not some passing excess, but is intrinsic to their vision of themselves as bulwarks against Western individualism.

Russia’s and China’s strategic visions may draw on different historical experiences, but the messages they take from their histories are similar. Both dwell on the humiliations they have received at the hands of the West. Both explicitly refuse to accept liberal democracy as a model. Both insist that their twentieth-century experience of revolution and civil war necessitates centralized rule with an iron fist.
The Chinese and Russian variants of authoritarian modernization draw upon different resources, and they remain geostrategic competitors, one rising, the other trying to halt its decline, but both see good reasons to align their interests for the medium term. This commonality of interest is striking — they vote together on the Security Council, persecute their own dissidents, and jointly stick up for exterminatory dictatorship in Syria. In their shared resentment toward the American world order, they have spoken as one since the day the Americans bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999.
The new authoritarians offer the elites of Africa and Eurasia an alternate route to modern development: growth without democracy and progress without freedom. This is the siren song some African, Latin American, and Asian political elites, especially the kleptocrats, want to hear.
Faced with these resurgent authoritarians, America sets a dismaying example to its allies and friends. For two centuries, its constitutional machinery was widely admired. Now, in the hands of polarizing politicians in Washington and in the two parties, it generates paralysis.

America’s admirers overseas accept that money talks in Washington politics, since money talks in everybody’s politics. It is the energetic ideological justification of the dollar’s power in Washington that seems perverse. To citizens of other liberal democracies, the Supreme Court doctrine that money in politics deserves the protections accorded speech seems like doctrinal insanity. For other Western democrats money is plainly power, not speech, and needs to be regulated if citizens are to stay free.
It’s difficult to defend liberal democracy with much enthusiasm abroad if it works so poorly at home. This thought leads Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, to argue in Foreign Policy Begins at Home that the US needs to put its own house in order before it promotes its values and institutions abroad.

His commonsense agenda at home — getting public finances under control, reforming campaign and electoral laws, investing in education — is meant to be a call to action, but getting these basics done seems a remote possibility in the current climate of party enmity. Democracy can only work if politics is conducted between adversaries. Right now, America’s Constitution is stymied by a politics of enemies.
For Barry Posen, a distinguished political scientist at MIT, the American problem is not democratic dysfunction at home, but overreach overseas. In pursuit of the chimera of “Liberal Hegemony,” he argues in his new book, Restraint, America has recklessly plunged into wars it should not have waged and promoted goals like human rights, democracy, and nation-building that it could not achieve. In outspending friends and rivals alike on defense, it has allowed free riding by European allies and “reckless driving” (mostly settlement-building) by Israel.
Were the US to cut its defense spending back from 4.5 to 2.5 percent of GDP, he argues, America could force its allies to defend themselves and set free $75 billion a year to spend on rebuilding America at home.

This is a surprising recommendation coming from a conservative realist, but it indicates just how much the critique of bloated military spending and hubris overseas now unites conservatives and progressives alike. Both ends of the political spectrum, it seems, are converging on “restraint” as the right organizing principle for American strategy.
Restraint means triage. It means rationing the use of American military force to protect vital national interests; staying out of other people’s civil wars or humanitarian disasters, no matter how strongly these may stir the conscience; refusing to promote democracy or human rights in places where they are unlikely to take root anyway; forcing allies like Japan, Israel, and the Europeans to shoulder more of the burden of their own defense; and giving up grand hopes of shaping global public goods and global public order.
President Obama’s recent address at West Point suggests that he is listening to a new doctrine of restraint. He still gives notional credence to the promotion of human rights and democracy abroad, but the real focus of his foreign policy is to get the troops home, reduce foreign entanglements, and concentrate on nation-building at home. Whether this emerging consensus around restraint is sober realism or just isolationism that dares not speak its name, as a mood it captures a sense, among conservatives and progressives alike, that America no longer has the power to shape the international order as it once did. In particular, it no longer can imagine itself as the vanguard democracy of an advancing global order of democracies.
This is the gloomy setting in which the editor in chief of The Economist, John Micklethwait, and its managing editor, Adrian Wooldridge, have brought out The Fourth Revolution, an account of the rise of the state over five centuries and the current struggle of democracy with its authoritarian competitors. They take aim, primarily, at the sheer incompetence of the modern state:

The modern overloaded state is a threat to democracy: the more responsibilities Leviathan assumes, the worse it performs them and the angrier people get — which only makes them demand still more help.
The only way for liberal democracy to respond to the authoritarian challenge from without and rising discontent from within, they argue, is for the state to slim down, to do less but do it better.
As one might expect, The Fourth Revolution has all the virtues — and some of the vices — of The Economist itself. Its virtues are an insatiable curiosity and an enthusiasm for reform. Its vice is breathless haste. In barely fifty pages, the authors rush the reader through three revolutions in the history of the modern state: the absolutist one, created in 1650 with Thomas Hobbes as its chief ideologue; the liberal constitutional version with John Stuart Mill as its characteristic spokesman; and the modern welfare state, created, so they argue, by Beatrice and Sydney Webb, the British Fabian socialists.
Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher came to power promising a fourth revolution to tame Leviathan, but they failed to dismantle the welfare state. The state’s size, whether measured by the number of bureaucrats or by the percentage of national income it absorbs, continued to rise throughout their period in power.

The conservative counterrevolutionaries discovered that the expectations and entitlements modern states serve are incorrigibly resistant to change. Many Tea Party Republicans would abandon their libertarian nostrums in a second if these led to cuts in their own Medicare or Social Security.

Sean Hemmerle/Contact Press Images Detroit’s once-grand Michigan Theatre, which opened in 1926 and is now a parking lot
Are contemporary politicians, on either side of the aisle, actually taking action to make the state more just and more efficient? The editors of The Economist do find some democratic heroes, here and there, mostly big-city mayors trying to make government more effective, but by and large they paint a scathing picture of democratic dysfunction at the national level.

When conservatives win elections, corporate interests often take control. When progressives win back power, they only succeed in making the state more domineering. When conservatives are restored to office, they cut back. And so it goes, a continuing dynamic of political alternation that leaves the state unreformed and, worst of all, ever more intrusive.

Both sides of modern democratic politics say they want to protect the freedom of citizens, and both end up increasing the state’s powers of surveillance.
Battered by this ever more futile political alternation, the liberal state is ever less liberal and ever less capable of controlling the interests it is supposed to regulate. Its tax and benefit systems are so distorted by special interests that it has lost the capacity to redistribute.

Far from reducing inequality, the modern state is making the problem worse. As Micklethwait and Wooldridge observe, “If you put spending and taxes together, including all the deductions, the government lavishes more dollars overall on the top fifth of the income distribution than the bottom fifth.”
For all their critique of Leviathan, the authors have no patience with libertarian fantasies of dismantling it. The powerful state turned out to be the West’s critical invention. Imperial China had a Leviathan state too, but it created order while suffocating invention. The Western state was unique in that it provided coercive order without stifling individual creativity.

The West’s signal achievement, the one that made every other success possible, was governance constrained by individuals’ rights, in which power was held in check by an independent judiciary, a free press, parliaments, and the rule of law.
In their search for ways to revive the liberal state, the editors of The Economist urge Western democrats to learn from their authoritarian competitors. So they dash to Singapore to learn how Lee Kuan Yew’s people have cut entitlements and lowered taxes, but managed to keep the poor from falling through the safety net. Instead of going to the Harvard Kennedy School or the École Nationale d’Administration, they fly out to the Chinese Executive Leadership Academy in Pudong to learn how the Communist Party has adapted the imperial mandarin tradition in order to create an efficient and meritocratic bureaucracy.
The fact that Singapore and Shanghai are better governed than Detroit or Los Angeles is hardly news. The issue is whether authoritarian governance is sustainable in the face of demands by the middle class to be treated like citizens, and whether such governance is capable of dealing with radical shocks like a long-term economic slowdown of the kind currently predicted for China.
The authoritarian archipelago is arrogant but it is brittle: it must control everything, or soon it controls nothing. The saving grace of democracy is its adaptability. It depends for its vitality on discontent. Discontent leads to peaceful regime change, and as regimes change, free societies can discard failed alternatives.
Democracy’s adaptability will be tested, especially in India, where Narendra Modi has just been given a huge popular mandate to reform the corrupted Gandhian state. At stake is the central question of whether democracy can compete with the authoritarian modernization of China. Xi Jinping has an anticorruption campaign underway in China, together with an attempt to reduce the weight of state control over the economy. Will he or Modi prove the more successful?
Micklethwait and Wooldridge resist the hard luster of authoritarian modernization, but like the free-market liberals who founded the original Economist in the 1840s, they call for a Fourth Revolution that returns to the limited government of the Victorian era.

They want democracies everywhere to simplify their tax systems, eliminate loopholes, and reduce the burden of taxation; the same democracies should make families and charitable networks stronger so that there is less dependence on the welfare state. They want to liberate the market from vexatious and paternalistic regulation so that it can get on with its work of creative destruction. But they also want to regulate capitalism so that the power of money is kept in check. The details are vague but the direction is clear.
William Ewart Gladstone, four-time Liberal prime minister, is their hero: by “saving candle-ends and cheese-parings,” Gladstone was able to lower taxation and stimulate rapid growth. His “lean government liberalism” was a partnership, adversarial but productive, between private enterprise and a reforming state. Private enterprise built the great cathedrals of Victorian life — the railway stations — while the state provided the frugal public order — sanitary reform to raise up the working class, franchise reform to include them in politics, and the bobby on the beat to keep them in line.
How can one resist Gladstone’s frugality, his love of invention and reform, and his noble-hearted internationalism? It’s not obvious, however, that Gladstone offers a relevant guide for modern states today. They are locked into demands for health care, employment insurance, and retirement pensions that Gladstone could not have imagined, still less endorsed; nor did he face such long-range problems as climate change.
It is not at all apparent that “governance innovation,” a bauble Micklethwait and Wooldridge chase across three continents, watching innovators at work making government more efficient in Chicago, Sacramento, Singapore, and Stockholm, will do the trick. The problem of the liberal state is not that it lacks modern management technique, good software, or different schemes to improve the “interface” between the bureaucrats and the public.

By focusing on government innovation, Micklethwait and Wooldridge assume that the problem is improving the efficiency of government. But what is required is both more radical and more traditional:  a return to constitutional democracy itself, to courts and regulatory bodies that are freed from the power of money and the influence of the powerful; to legislatures that cease to be circuses and return to holding the executive branch to public account while cooperating on measures for which there is a broad consensus; to elected chief executives who understand that they are not entertainers but leaders.
The Economist editors want to put the liberal state on a starvation diet. Theirs is a diagnosis that identifies symptoms, but if applied as policy medicine might just kill the patient. The problem needs to be understood differently.

The modern state may be too large in some areas, like the US military, because legacy commitments have not been examined in the light of emerging strategic requirements; or because, in a few countries, still powerful public sector unions retain a hammerlock on human resource budgets; or in others because predatory elected elites are siphoning revenues into their own pockets. But in other liberal states, honest and well-administered governments are staggering along without the resources to provide citizens with valuable and needed services.
The Economist editors offer us no real analysis of the resource problems of the modern state — the fiscal crisis that results when states meet rising demand for services with declining or stagnant revenue. A polemical but persuasive analysis of this problem is to be found in the Nobel Prize–winning economist Joseph Stiglitz’s new white paper for the Roosevelt Institute.

Stiglitz argues that the fiscal crisis of the liberal state is to be attributed squarely to three interrelated phenomena:  rising income inequality, money power in politics, and systemic tax avoidance by the superrich and globalized corporations.
As inequality rises, Stiglitz argues, it suppresses effective demand. Unequal societies hoard wealth at the upper end instead of spreading consumption and investment through a broad middle class. When inequality holds back demand, corporations sit on large cash hoards, unwilling to invest or consume. As the rich become ever more ingenious in avoiding taxes, the cost of carrying the liberal state falls on a middle class forced to shoulder the burden alone.

It is hyperinequality that is choking off demand and starving the liberal state.
Stiglitz’s solution is comprehensive. He proposes a 40 percent income tax rate for those who control the top 25 percent of national income; followed by a 20 percent rate on those who hold the next 25 percent, with tax reductions for everyone in the bottom 50 percent.

That tax structure would take care of the national debt problem. He also proposes “a combination of tax rates and investment incentives” that would impose a tax of 15 percent on corporate incomes, and a value-added tax on consumption of 5 percent. Finally, an unspecified carbon tax would move American society toward clean energy innovation and lower-carbon lifestyles.
This new tax structure raises the state’s take of the national income to 26 percent. These measures, he calculates, would solve the liberal state’s fiscal crisis, moderate inequality, and stimulate growth, since the state would spend wealth now locked away in corporate cash accounts — some overseas — and private savings.
Stiglitz’s remedy will strike some as confiscatory, while others may suspect he wants the tax system to accomplish more than it ever can, but his analysis does identify the problem of the modern state more clearly than the editors of The Economist.

The liberal state is in crisis, basically, because its regulatory, legal, and political institutions have either been captured, or have been laid siege to, by the economic interests they were created to control. While the liberal state was never intended to enforce distributive equality, it was always supposed to keep the power of big money from suffocating competition and corrupting the political system. This is the task it struggles to perform today and must recover fully if it is to regain the confidence and support of the broad mass of its citizens.

There is nothing new about this challenge. Inequalities of wealth have recurrently threatened to overwhelm the rough and ready political equality without which a liberal state cannot function fairly. Recurrently, defenders of the liberal state, in the Progressive era, the Roosevelt New Deal, and the dawn of the European welfare state responded to the challenge and restored the state as the guarantor of the order and freedom of market society.

Where Micklethwait and Wooldridge are surely right is that the genius of the West lay in its invention of rights respecting limited government, grounded in the revocable trust of ordinary people. It was this set of robust and enduring institutions that made us what we once were and what, if we restore their constitutional vigor, we can be once again.

My first tomato - hope the deer don't eat it!