This is an extensive and wide ranging interview between journalist Chris Hedges and the insightfully astute political philosopher Sheldon Wolin. Though long, it is well worth the time for anyone and everyone interested in better understanding historical basis for our current political order, and the forces we are up against in regards to what it takes to change and advance it.
Wolin, a noted biographer of Tocqueville, has particularly good insights on the nature of democracy. Here he goes into some detail on how it requires continuous opposition and vigilance by the citizenry to keep it alive and functioning, and that the greatest threat to it is centralized power. Such centralization leads to uniformity, which is a key to exercising such power in a way that can change (and control) an entire society. Individual differences, tolerated, even encouraged within a liberal society, must be suppressed within these forms of control.
And today, because of the scientific and technological developments of the modern mass technological era - such concentration of power “has assumed a quality of menace that it simply didn’t have before.” It used to be just the ability of consolidated power to wield itself through raw oppression and coercion, but today it has “the ability to shape and direct society in much more of a lockstep manner than was ever conceived by Tocqueville.” Or I might add, Orwell or Ellul, whose works on mass persuasion are essential texts, and align themselves thoroughly with the ideas of Wolin.
As July 14th came rolling around and Bastille Day was once again the subject of commemoration (a date which is also, appropriately enough, Woody Guthrie’s birthday), it got me thinking again about the piece published in Politico back in 2014 by Nick Hanauer, the extremely wealthy entrepreneur, on how The Pitchforks are Coming For Us Plutocrats. That piece went viral and became a hot topic of conversation, especially among the social media sphere.
However, there seemed to be a lot of accusations leveled at those who joined in the critique on the growing and dramatic imbalance of wealth in this world, as if such critiques were somehow examples of people “hating” on the rich, or being driven by some kind of “class envy.”
This argument is a red herring, one designed to distract from the legitimate and required discussions regarding the underlying causality of the current situation, and the solutions that may be required to help solve it. It is an argument that serves only to personalize the issues at hand, which is the very chum that the corporate entertainment complex feeds off of.
The nature of the problem should no longer be in question. It has been cogently described by everyone from Thomas Piketty to Tom Petty, who pointed out the problem isn’t about people wanting to make money. It’s about people who want to make all the money.
After all, one can obviously make money doing very constructive, contributive things to society, which is a great (and to a certain degree necessary) thing. What should be rejected are those who enrich themselves by gaming the system, manipulating processes that are destructive to people’s lives and well-being, as opposed to supporting and benefiting those lives.
There can be no respect for those who acquire vast wealth through playing games by, say, getting clever with the books in the selling of financial derivatives through a form of control fraud or mortgage backed securities and other forms of market rigging and price fixing, of which the Libor scandal is the most grotesque example.
The corrosion is also manifested in the corporate health insurance scams, where profit is amassed not by providing care to people, but by denying it. It is embodied in the work of the vulture hedge fund capitalists who buy businesses and tear them up, selling off the parts for profit, but leaving the workers and the communities they live in decimated. Operations like these are the poster boy for all of the clichés regarding capitalism at its very worst.
Yet when the fact is pointed out that the typical household income is now worth a third less than even just a decade ago, and that this state of affairs should be considered fundamentally wrong, out come all kinds of defensive and accusatory responses. The fact that critical analysis of the systemic flaws and injustices in our current system can be so readily dismissed as the rantings of class warring “Marxist-loving leftists” who “hate the rich” is testament to the kind of BS that our well-heeled, Frank Luntz-infused propaganda system has managed to frame such criticism as.
Take a term like “job creators.” It’s an attractive enough, yet simultaneously distractive phrase. It is designed to spin perceptions regarding many of the near sociopathic figures responsible for this current state of affairs, from being that of oligarchs to ones of altruists. For these “job creators” to actually realize the kind of world they propagate, they would actually need an environment conducive to the creation of the needed consumer demand necessary to support those jobs. For it is the willingness and ability of the people to purchase those goods and services who are the real “job creators.” For it is a fact that business owners don’t hire in order to support the workers. They hire them only when there is the necessary demand that needs to be filled, and when they need the support and infrastructure of an additional and enabled workforce to be able to fulfill that demand.
Our corporate-backed media provides a more than an ample share of defenders of the current systemic status quo. This even includes platforms like NPR, with its Marketplace program, and their report on the supposed commonality of people’s ability for making it to the 1 percent. This feature has so many things to take issue with one wouldn’t even know where to start. This story reiterates why this may be my least favorite program on public radio, as here it serves to provide an effective advertisement for an ideological framework which is seriously and fundamentally flawed. For one, using the slogan of “the 1%” as a specific metric for measuring the degree of wealth inequality itself misses the mark. The most shockingly dramatic disparity of wealth is found among the .001%, the ramifications of which was disturbingly laid out in a recent Oxfam report on global wealth inequality. Additionally, it is stories such as the Marketplace feature (in this case about someone writing a song and acquiring a lot of money for it, which is an outlier of an experience for the vast majority of musicians and songwriters in this country), which have little to nothing at all to do with the point of a society becoming an oligarchic plutocracy. Or much more dangerously, it serves to advance the conflation of ideas that to oppose oligarchy means to oppose someone’s ability to financially succeed.
A listener’s comment on the Marketplace website left a related, and probably more effectively thorough response in regards to these issues, and in pointing out a couple of the glaring deficiencies of the story (and I would say that entire program)…
“I’m surprised that Marketplace reported on this research so uncritically, as if it somehow blunted the very real issue of income inequality raised by the Occupy movement. The protesters were not shouting themselves hoarse about a songwriter or an app designer lucky enough to make a few hundred thousand one year. They were talking about the investment bankers and corporate tycoons whose wealth gives them access to political power the vast majority of Americans will never have–the people whose unbridled greed and hubris brought the economy to the brink of collapse with almost complete impunity. This is in fact NOT a group that millions of Americans move in and out of each year. If the Occupiers got something wrong it was their math–rather than “the 1%,” it’s probably more like the .01% or maybe even the .0001%. But then again, “We are the 99.999%” doesn’t quote have the same ring….”
“Two things about this report: First, it seems that the more relevant “1%” is not income but wealth. I doubt that that population fluctuates nearly as much as income. Second, if Rank and Hirschl were actually interested in a fair discussion of government policy, they would also discuss what portion of the population spends time in the bottom 10% or 20% of the income scale. This report is silent in that regard, even though Rank and Hirschl probably have access to that data….”
We cannot provide even a brief addressing of this topic without noting what is possibly one of the most disgraceful aspects of mass wealth inequality, that of how Inequality Affects Health. As friend and colleague Dr. Karen Korn once pointed out, “Inequality damages us all. Human health. Environmental health. Political health. It’s unhealthy for any society to have great disparity of income, and even more unhealthy to have a great disparity of wealth. This is clearly demonstrated in history. Why do we even want to question this ‘fact’ unless if it is to attempt to create some sort of collective cognitive dissonance?”
Good question. And speaking of inequality and health, there’s the always relevant Yves Smith, who posted a piece featuring David Llewellyn-Smith on how ebola is an economic black swan, highlighting some of the dramatic consequences which transpire when we default our response to collective problems to “individual incentives” and traditional “market forces.” This specific case is regarding the economic causalities behind the ebola outbreak, but it could very well be about any number such health crisis caused by such related neoliberal economic policies. For in the end, we all pay when this kind of inequality becomes systemic throughout the very processes that our society functions upon, and the kinds of problems it responds to.
Unfortunately, many of the evangelists of neoliberal ideology seem no closer to understanding that “the market” may not be the most efficient and effective arbiter for solving many of the social problems and civic challenges we face. These zombie policies of “trickle down” economics seem to continue to be paraded through the corridors power and the media outlets that serve it, no matter how much damage they do and suffering they demonstrably inflict.
What might be most disingenuous about these efforts is the rather effective propaganda campaign waged in its defense, as if any alternatives are somehow a kind of un-American, leftist commie undermining of our free society, no matter how many times they have been effectively implemented throughout the nation’s history (worker’s rights, social security, public education including state-supported higher education, the public highway system, the list goes on).
Perhaps most ironically, many of these self-perceived patriots would never dare to question the efforts or intentions of America’s so-called “Greatest Generation,” who were fighting explicitly for many of these very things now dismissed as “socialist welfare statism” (see Harvey Kaye’s work on FDR and The Fight for the Four Freedoms). Not only that, but the Second World War itself was won not by letting the “market” solve it, but through the implementation of a form of command economy. It was one that worked by tapping into entrepreneurial business, but on the terms and objectives set by the government. (One would think there resides some historical lessons here regarding approaches to tackling the problems of climate change).
It took the implementation of such a system to win that war, just as it is going to take an increased level of shared effort to address the rapidly growing economic problems being inflicted upon the dwindling middle classes (to say nothing of the already suffering poor), ones caused by the ever-expanding wealth gap. This is a gap which has been politically engineered over the previous decades, particularly since the rise of Reagan and Thatcher. The political re-engineering of such a system, one which increasingly works only for a small minority, is way overdue. And it is becoming not simply about providing needed relief to those in need, but for many, including one could argue for the nation itself, is now a matter of survival.
And one doesn’t have to ‘hate rich people’ to understand that.
This is an extremely important piece of television documentary work on a vital
communication rights (i.e. human rights) issue - that of mass suspicion-less surveillance and its sweeping ramifications on the future of the internet and all that entails for the future of society and all of us living in it.
This film touches on a host of issues, including the role data collection holds over political and economic power, its use in advertising, and its impact upon our ability to live our lives in freedom.
As Bruce Schneier, a leading internet security expert points out, “As you are being surveilled 24/7, you are more under control. You are less free. You are less autonomous.”
It delves into the vital effects that encryption can have on these issues, for good and bad, and the history and purpose of these technologies, especially that of the Tor system.
David Chaum explains, whose groundbreaking work was the foundation for the Tor project, its use was designed to provide protection against a world in which our communications could be analyzed and potentially used against us.
You may not realise it, but every time you open up your laptop or switch on your phone, you are at the heart of one of the greatest battles now taking place in our midst - what shape will the internet take in the future, and what role will anonymity play in deciding it?
“The power of that data to predict and analyse what we’re going to do is very, very high,” says Dr Joss Wright of the Oxford Internet Institute. “And giving that power to somebody else, regardless of the original or stated intentions, is very worrying.”
What Dr Wright is talking about is “traffic analysis”, which allows the prediction of the behaviours of individuals, not by looking at the contents of their emails, but by looking at the patterns of communication.
It’s become ever more possible as we spend more of our lives online. However, what few may realise is that scientists at the dawn of the information age predicted such issues would eventually become matters of public concern and interest.
And when you’re done watching this, you can Sign The Petition promoted by Fight For The Future as part of an organizing effort to pressure U.S. legislators to drop key portions of the so-called PATRIOT ACT which are set to expire this Spring. If enough effort can be mobilized via the web to make sure they do, it will strike a blow to the government’s implementation of some of the most abusive of these programs. Success here will help promote online privacy and beat back the NSA’s attacks upon the fundamental freedoms and rights we should all be provided within the digital realm.
With all of the stories and events taking place this week commemorating the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, it got me thinking once again about about these reports I remember reading and watching many years ago, and which I had always intended to post something about.
It concerns this rather interesting segment from the film “The Corporation” on the history of American corporate collusion with enemy nations during the Second World War in order to keep the profits going. This includes how IBM’s proprietary punch card system was used to help manage the Holocaust in Europe. Unfortunately, this information rarely, if ever, gets discussed in history classes. Or, more importantly, in business schools.
International investigative author Edwin Black (who is featured in the video), has done extensive work on this subject, and published more updated information on IBM’s role in the Holocaust earlier this year on The Huffington Post.
And if one thinks this story is an anomaly, a deviation from the norm of how global corporate capital functions all-too-often in the world, this report from The Washington Post serves as a sorry and disturbing reminder of what constitutes “business as usual,” one of the important elements of American history airbrushed out of the mainstream narrative. Yesterday it was places like Nazi Germany, later to manifest itself in places like Chile and Guatemala, today China…the quest for profit at any cost (usually to be incurred by someone else, of course) never ceases.
How many times will Americans keep falling for uncorroborated government claims? Propaganda and jingoistic fear mongering is like feeding candy to babies. As I was noting as soon as this meme started spreading, none of this was adding up.
And yet, as if on cue, so many people started using social media to pile on with vituperative rhetoric about “striking back” at Korea, or some such knee jerk reactionary responses. Really, what does it take for people to begin to stop buying face value the claims of the government, particularly after a long, sordid and bloody history of disasters that have resulted from such mindless incredulity? You’d think people would eventually learn. But then, Hitler, Hearst, Lenin, Bernays, Atwater, Rove, Goebbels, Ailes, and all the successful propagandists of their place and time continue to be proven right again and again. Sad. No, not just sad. Pathetic.
Marc Rogers at The Daily Beast was one of the early ones to write critically about the claims being made.
Here, Tim Shorrock, investigative journalist and author whose been following Korean issues for over 30 years, lays on some insightful critiques on a recent edition of Democracy Now!
Well, first of all, the person she just mentioned, Bruce Bennett, who was a consultant on this film, works for the RAND Corporation, which is a think tank for the U.S. military and has been for decades. And it so happens that the Sony CEO happens to sit on the board of directors of the RAND Corporation. It has—Sony has extensive ties with the U.S. national security system. Its CIO used to work for the secretary of defense, in terms of their—guarding their internal security. That’s one point.
But, you know, second, I think that—you know, that this attack began in late November, early December. At that time, this cyber-attack was run by this group that you mentioned, this GOP, Guardians of Peace. They made no mention whatsoever of the film. It was all about Sony and its internal racism and that kind of thing. I have seen no indication whatsoever that there was any similarity—some real similarity of this attack to anything that North Korea has been accused of before. And, you know, many cyber experts, from Kim Zetter of Wired to Marc Rogers and others, have raised real questions about the FBI evidence.
And so, I think it’s appalling that President Obama goes on a national stage, a global stage, on Friday and basically declares cyberwar, and then, a couple days later, ratchets it back to some kind of like cybernuisance, you know, cybervandalism. And of course North Korea is going to respond to basically a declaration of war by the president of the United States.
And, you know, we have a massive build-up going on in Asia, military build-up. And I think, you know, we need to keep North Korea as the enemy, as the armed enemy that’s going to attack us at any moment, so we can defend these bases in Japan, particularly in Okinawa, which are the focus of a massive public protest. You may have noticed—Americans didn’t notice, but Okinawans and Japanese voted to pull these bases out in recent elections. They want the U.S. forward bases removed.
So, I think there’s a lot of political, you know, situation going on here, a lot of politics going on that’s completely unnoticed. And I think it’s shameful of The New York Times, once again, to be in the leadership of spinning out these claims, dubious claims, and, you know, possibly instigating another war, another confrontation.
William BootHere at The Daily Beast reveals some of the State Department’s involvement with this cinematic project.
The Daily Beast has unearthed several emails that reveal at least two U.S. government officials screened a rough cut of the Kim Jong-Un assassination comedy The Interview in late June and gave the film—including a final scene that sees the dictator’s head explode—their blessing.
The claim that the State Department played an active role in the decision to include the film’s gruesome death scene is likely to cause fury in Pyongyang. Emails between the Sony Entertainment CEO and a security consultant even appear to suggest the U.S. government may support the notion that The Interview would be useful propaganda against the North Korean regime.
Gregory Elich provides some diagnosis Here as to who was behind the Sony hack at Counterpunch…
The cyberattack on Sony Pictures unleashed a torrent of alarmist media reports, evoking the image of North Korean perfidy. Within a month, the FBI issued a statement declaring the North Korean government “responsible for these actions.”
Amid the media frenzy, several senators and congresspersons called for tough action. Arizona Senator John McCain blustered, “It’s a new form of warfare that we’re involved in, and we need to react and react vigorously.” President Barack Obama announced his administration planned to review the possibility of placing North Korea on the list of states sponsoring terrorism, a move that would further tighten the already harsh sanctions on North Korea. “They caused a lot of damage, and we will respond,” Obama warned darkly. “We will respond proportionally, and we’ll respond in a place and time and manner that we choose.”
In the rush to judgment, few were asking for evidence, and none was provided. Computer security analysts, however, were vocal in their skepticism.
And the regurgitation of uncorroborated government claims by the nation’s elite press is something Glenn Greenwald has amply dismantled and deconstructed over the years, and again does his usual acidlcally thorough job in detailing this whole affair, as well. Worth the read Here
Notice how the issue over the past couple of weeks has been dropped by much of the media, as the government, when confronted with all of this countervailing evidence, has seemed to have become less vocal about its accusations. Whether we’ll really get to the bottom of this nor not remains to be seen. I wouldn’t hold my breath, however, considering the volume of historical events, including wars and assassinations that have gone unaccounted for over this nation’s history.
How fitting. General David Petraeus giving a “Freedom Award” to his “hero,” the “honorable” Henry A. Kissinger (in a ceremony as tacky as it is absurd). He even kisses ol’ Henry, just to reiterate the depth of his subservient affection for one of history’s most amoral manipulators of power. Kissinger then blows off a man who personally confronts him with questions, calling the questioner a “self-serving coward.” In the standard parlance of psychology, this is called “projection.”
I hope the words “you know this is a lie” ring over and over in his ears on his deathbed. Perhaps there will be a moment of existential dread as he takes his final breath, in realization of what a monster he has been in this world, and the literally millions of people who have suffered due to him and his actions.
And watch this for some background on just how free the ‘Freedom Awards’ are. This gives you a pretty good idea of the type of hermetic, insular, and extensively protected bubble that power exists within.
And as for David Petraeus? That Golden Boy of American war and clandestine services (both the ones he managed, as well as those personally rendered), has, as Tom Engelhardt reported, taken the next spin through the revolving door of “rehabilitation.” The general “who never had a victory and yet never stopped rising” has now reemerged on, yep, you guessed it…Wall Street.
According to Gawker, “David Petraeus’ road to redemption has reached its gilded destination. As we first reported in April, the disgraced former CIA director will join Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, the private equity giant best known for ‘large debt-fueled corporate takeovers’.”
And for more insight on the depth of the criminogenic duplicity of one Henry A. Kissinger, there are few places better to start than Christopher Hitchen’s detailed expose’, The Case Against Henry Kissinger. For those of you who may not have time for the literary edition, you can watch the movie version, as well.
A friend of mine, historian Harvey J. Kaye, has a new book out on FDR and the Fight For The Four Freedoms, and the need for reinvigorating the fight for them today. This is a project he’s been working on for many years, and it strikes me as more relevant and needed today than ever.
Our society loves to celebrate the “greatest generation” and the heroes of World War II and all. Harvey sheds some essential light upon what exactly they were fighting for, and the type of society that most Americans were setting out to protect and advance through the sacrifices made in that war (principles that have been sold out from under us by our recent generation of neo-liberal market fundamentalists).
Here, Harvey talks to Bill Moyers in an enlightening and inspiring discussion, worth the few minutes of viewing time.
Formed in September 2009, Move To Amend is a coalition of hundreds of organizations and hundreds of thousands of individuals committed to social and economic justice, ending corporate rule, and building a vibrant democracy that is genuinely accountable to the people, not corporate interests.
We are calling for an amendment to the US Constitution to unequivocally state that inalienable rights belong to human beings only, and that money is not a form of protected free speech under the First Amendment and can be regulated in political campaigns.
Legalize Democracy is a documentary film by Dennis Trainor, Jr. about the movement to amend — why it is needed, and how you can get involved.
Help spread the word by hosting a house party to support Move To Amend and show the film. Details about hosting a party are Here