Plutocratic Mirage of Self-Made Billionaires

I am very, very lucky. I’m lucky in so many ways. I won a lot of lotteries in life. I’m not just talking about Amazon, a certain financial lottery, for sure. I have won so many lotteries.

The man born Jeffrey Preston Jorgensen is commonly known as Jeff Bezos.

He got his middle name from his maternal grandfather, Lawrence Preston Gise. The family called him ‘Pop’ while others called him ‘Preston’.  Bezos spent influential years with his grandfather. It was this patriarch who got his grandson interested in all sorts of technology, including mechanical equipment but most of all computers. And this is who Bezos credits for his success, claiming to have learned his critical business skills while visiting his retired grandfather’s ranch every summer from age four to sixteen.

Keep the following in mind when hearing claims of Jeff Bezos being self-made. Who was Lawrence Preston Gise? Jeff’s grandfather was a major government official, apparently with significant wealth, influence, and connections. He was well respected.

“Some of the top brass in the Pentagon were charged with single-handedly picking top talent for ARPA, renamed DARPA in 1972 — the “D” for “Defense” (Christian Davenport, The Space Barons), “the research and development arm of the Department of Defense that is credited with designing a communications network that could still function even if a nuclear attack demolished conventional lines of communication, ARPAnet, was the foundation of what would eventually become the Internet” (Expose the Deep State, Jeff Bezos). “Wilfred McNeil, the Pentagon’s comptroller, helped recruit top talent to help run the agency. One of his top choices was Lawrence Preston Gise, a stolid and principled former navy lieutenant commander” (Davenport).

Besides Gise being a founding member of DARPA, later on “in 1964, Congress appointed him manager of the Atomic Energy Commission’s Albuquerque operations office, where he supervised 26,000 employees in the AEC’s western region, including the Sandia, Los Alamos, and Lawrence Livermore laboratories” (Chip Bayers, The Inner Bezos). But he had previously worked for the AEC and even earlier in the military: “Born in Texas, Gise had served during World War II, and service records show he was assigned to the USS Neunzer, a destroyer, and then to various administrative jobs. He also served as an assistant director at the Atomic Energy Commission, starting in 1949, and was promoted to assistant director in 1955” (Davenport).

Gise was a creature of government, specifically of the military-industrial complex. He also oversaw government work done with private contractors. In various capacities, he was involved in numerous projects, some of them covert. For example, he was a key member in secret meetings about the development of the hydrogen bomb. This guy had immense knowledge and experience about both technology and the workings of government. He was far beyond the standard bureaucrat, as his technical skill was not only theoretical but applied, with his career having been focused on space technology and missile defense systems. When he helped raise his grandson, Jeff Bezos received the full attention in being tutored and moulded for a life of privilege and ambition. Considering that, it’s not that Bezos as a corporate tycoon sold his soul to gain position and power in government, for he didn’t need to. He inherited the social connections, the access to private and public funding, and the open doors into government.

Like his grandfather, Bezos always was a creature of government. His corporatist worldview, presumably, always leaned toward corporatocracy. And Bezos is likely being honest in his moral claim of corporate patriotism, self-serving as it is, since he undoubtedly doesn’t see a difference between his own interests and those of government. As a member of the ruling elite, he takes it for granted that government is there to serve and represent those born into privilege. The Gise-Bezos family is a variant of the Bush family, in both cases wealth and power passed from one generation to the next and in both cases there was a grandfather as the original patriarch who ensured the family’s legacy.

Gise’s influence wouldn’t have been minor. Young Bezos would have heard his grandfather talk about government programs and government research and development. This would have given him an inside view along with some insider knowledge: “Pop doted, telling stories about missile defense systems and teaching him to lay pipe and castrate bulls” (Mark Liebovich, Child Prodigy, Online Pioneer). It’s unsurprising that Bezos developed a company like Amazon that has a shipping and information system of the kind one would expect from DARPA, as Bezos might have been modeling it on what he learned from listening to his grandfather. It’s even possible that with Gise’s connections, Bezos was able to hire former government workers and advisers who had experience in developing such systems. Either way, Bezos didn’t invent Amazon out of thin air. Amazon is a late product of the Cold War mindset, a distributed system built on the internet which itself was built on DARPA’s ARPANET.

“The Pentagon has been part of the Silicon Valley story all along. Defence contracts during and after World War II turned Silicon Valley from a somnolent landscape of fruit orchards into a hub of electronics production and innovations ranging from mainframes to microprocessors to the internet. The American tech economy rests on the foundations of the military-industrial complex. […]

“The military origins of modern tech gradually faded from view, but the business of war didn’t go away. The Pentagon remained the only place with the resources and the patience to fund blue-sky research that the market wasn’t quite ready for yet. Mr. Bezos knows this history well. His beloved grandfather Lawrence Preston Gise was one of the first employees of the Pentagon’s advanced research agency, Darpa. In the 1980s and 1990s, money from Darpa helped spur breakthroughs in high-speed networking, voice recognition and internet search. Today, it is funding research in artificial intelligence and machine learning, subterranean exploration and deep-space satellites, high-performance molecules and better GPS. Whether their employees realize it or not, today’s tech giants all contain some defense-industry DNA. The result is the conflicted identity we now see in Silicon Valley.” (Margaret O’Mara, Silicon Valley Can’t Escape the Business of War)

Bezo’s elite education began early. “His parents enrolled him in a pilot program for gifted students at Houston’s River Oaks Elementary School, 20 miles from their home. […] In 1978, Exxon transferred Miguel to Miami, where the family lived in a four-bedroom house with a pool in the affluent Palmetto district of Dade County. Jeff enrolled at Palmetto High, an incubator of high achievers. He gravitated to a group of about 10 kids from his honors classes.” (Mark Liebovich, Child Prodigy, Online Pioneer). In high school, he had the opportunity to work with the first generation of personal computers. Also at the time, he participated in the Student Science Training Program at the University of Florida and a space initiative at NASA’s Huntsville, Alabama, center. Not many high schoolers back in the 1970s had such good fortune. Bezos admitted this in an interview with Henry Blodget: “I am very, very lucky. I’m lucky in so many ways. I won a lot of lotteries in life. I’m not just talking about Amazon, a certain financial lottery, for sure. I have won so many lotteries. In life, we get a lot of rolls of the dice. One of the big rolls of the dice is who are your early role models.” One suspects Gise was more than a mere roe model. He likely played an active and maybe interventionist role in ensuring his grandson got the best opportunities and resources, quite likely sometimes pulling strings behind the scenes, by making introductions to important people, etc.

Those connections and that influence would have followed Bezos into adulthood, such as entering Princeton, “the only school he wanted to attend” (Mark Liebovich, Child Prodigy, Online Pioneer). While there, he “had first used the Internet in 1985, in a Princeton astrophysics class.” He “was a member of Phi Beta Kappa,” “was also elected to Tau Beta Pi and was the president of the Princeton chapter of the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space” (Wikipedia), picking up further social connections along the way. Graduating from Princeton then gave him numerous job opportunities with high level tech and financial businesses, his grandfather’s reputation surely having opened up some doors as well: “he was offered jobs at Intel, Bell Labs, and Andersen Consulting, among others.”

Come on, self-made man, really? “Jeff Bezos, now the richest man in modern history, began with a $US100,000 “investment” in 1995 from his parents after leaving “a cushy gig on Wall Street”, where he served as vice-president of D. E. Shaw & Co, to pursue Amazon,” as Roqayah Chamseddine points out. The Washington Post claims the amount his parents gave him was much higher: “The company was launched in 1994 with a $300,000 investment from his parents and loans from his own bank account,” along with raising “$1 million from 20 local investors” (Mark Liebovich, Child Prodigy, Online Pioneer). The background to Bezos success is explained well by that Liebovich article from the Washington Post written long before he bought the paper:

“Among the leaders of the New Economy, Bezos offers perhaps the starkest contrast with the up-from-nothing titans of the Industrial Age. Where many of his corporate forebears had firsthand experience with poverty, Bezos is the child of affluent, suburban comfort and a close-knit family. From within this world view, his competitive drive stems more from his joy in the test than from an appreciation of want or failure.

“Since super-achievers often cluster, Amazon, like many high-tech firms, tends to recruit managers from a New Economy version of the old boys’ network. Many of them graduated from the same schools and worked together at the same companies. Recent hire Jonathan Leblang graduated from Palmetto High with Bezos. Risher attended Princeton with Bezos and was a member of the same eating club, where he recalls Bezos was a ferocious player of beer pong. Risher, like several Amazon managers, came from Microsoft Corp., a company Bezos studies closely and admires for its rigorous hiring practices.”

It sure is a lot easier to bootstrap yourself into the success of billionaire status when you’re born on third base with a silver spoon securely shoved up your ass. That isn’t to say he didn’t work hard. It’s clear that he learned work ethic from his grandfather. But he also inherited immense privilege with opportunities and resources freely and abundantly given at every point in his life. When he almost bankrupted Amazon in its early years, while making no profit, he still was able to secure billions of dollars in bank loans to pull his business from the brink. It partly reminds one of Donald Trump’s business strategy of losing lots of money while always having access to more money. And like Trump, Bezos demonstrates how money leads to more money (as a side note, the explanation for their mutual disgust is that they are two of the most powerful plutocrats vying for American power). It would be nice to be born into such financial security and comforting luxury. No doubt that breeds a confidence of expectation and entitlement.

Bezos became the richest man in the world by running an oligopolistic transnational corporation that dominates and drives others out of business by needing to make no profit, by controlling the largest online market platform that most small-to-medium-sized competitors are forced to use, by years of evading payment of taxes, by being directly tied into the biggest spending parts of big government, and by having many of his employees on welfare: “If a money-losing government-backed organization is providing a service at a price below private competitors, this is the very definition of a subsidy” (James Freeman, Trump, Bezos and the Amazon Subsidy). Amazon isn’t being operated like a normal business and, one might speculate, it isn’t being operated as a business at all. Even after recently losing upwards of $14 billion dollars, a CNBC article stated that, “Still, the company expects to see growth for its high-margin cloud and advertising businesses.” That is to say that will continue making plenty of money selling their customer’s data and in doing business with the CIA, NSA, and DOD. It’s one of the wealthiest and most powerful organizations in the world serving powerful interests, not all of them necessarily out in the open.

As some have indicated, Amazon is more akin to the business model of social media giants such as Facebook. Amazon has never made much money through selling products to customers and instead through selling the information gathered on customers, initially sold to advertisers and other interested parties but one suspects that other buyers are now seeking access, assuming those others didn’t always have access. It would be easy for a single person, maybe Bezos himself, to put a back door into Amazon’s computer system. The government, as we know from leaks, already has back doors into diverse technology and has made use of that ability. As Amazon and government become further entangled, the results are so predictable as to be inevitable.

This is what was so worrisome about Bezos buying the Washington Post. And those worries were confirmed when that newspaper began using unnamed government sources, often to defend government views and promote government agendas, in particular that of the CIA. There is a long history behind such dealings, though:

“Amazon‘s decision is troubling. But would it suggest a real shift? Former Post publisher Katharine Graham gave a speech in 1988 at the CIA headquarters, where she reportedly said this: “We live in a dirty and dangerous world. There are some things that the general public does not need to know and shouldn’t. I believe democracy flourishes when the government can take legitimate steps to keep its secrets and when the press can decide whether to print what it knows.” ” (Peter Hart, Amazon, WikiLeaks, the Washington Post and the CIA)

The days are long gone when the Washington Post challenged corrupt power in publishing the Pentagon Papers. For many decades, it has been a propaganda rag. But that isn’t to downplay how Bezos has brought this corruption to a whole new level. He kicked Wikileaks off of Amazon servers apparently at the behest of the CIA or else to suck up to his prospective business partners in government. If the United States wasn’t yet quite fully a corporatocracy, it certainly is now. Amazon has essentially become an arm of the government with the WaPo as a committed propaganda operation.

By the way, the Washington Post doesn’t inform its readers of its connection to the CIA. No one bothered (or maybe was allowed) to mention this CIA background in the Wikipedia articles for Washington Post and Amazon. It’s not only the CIA, by the way. Bezos is doing business with numerous sectors of the government, from the NSA to the Department of Defense. These often no-bid contracts over the coming decade or so could easily add up in the hundreds of billions of dollars. The crony deal requiring the government to use Amazon as its primary source of online purchases alone will be, according to Vanity Fair, “some $53 billion every year.” That isn’t all profit, of course, as there are operating costs as well. Still, those are large sums of taxpayer money exchanging hands.

Bezos declared that he wouldn’t be ‘intimidated’ by critics. I take that as his saying he won’t be intimidated by free market values, democratic demands, public outrage, moral norms, and basic human decency. He has shown his opposition to even the most basic of democratic institutions such as public schools. Bezos is a neoliberal cast from the mould of the monopolistic Robber Barons and, as with the Golden Age, his big biz corporatism is tightly interwoven with big government corporatocracy, specifically the neocon military-industrial-complex. It’s ironic that President Dwight Eisenhower who warned of the military-industrial complex was the same man who helped build it. DARPA came out of Eisenhower’s administration and, as military men, Eisenhower and Gise probably knew each other.

For all of Eisenhower’s warnings, the military-industrial complex is now far worse. Earlier last century, there was no equivalent to transnational tech giants, although tech giants working with authoritarian governments (Amazon with Saudi Arabia, Google with China, etc) is perfectly in line with old school fascism (from the banana republics to the Bush family making their wealth from Nazis). It’s a new and improved more of the same. Bezos likes to feel superior in his despising mediocrity, considering himself a genius and flattering himself in surrounding himself with a supposed meritocratic intelligentsia. But what occurs to me is how mediocre is his vision of society and humanity. Heartless hyper-competitive tycoons like him have been dime a dozen for centuries and it always leads to the same sad results.

Ask yourself this. If Jeff Bezos was a government agent or spymaster used to recruit agents (as has been the case with professors in the kind of Ivy League schools that Bezos attended)… If the Amazon corporation was a front group for a United States intelligence agency… And, to take this further, if the CIA or NSA had become an independent and autonomous rogue transnational governing body with the United States merely acting as a headquarters or primary client state… If any of this or some similar nefarious conspiracies were true, how would you know? Simply put, you wouldn’t know. Everything would appear exactly the same. That is how all successful conspiracies operate and most conspiracies are never discovered, especially not in the short term. It wouldn’t require many people to even know of the conspiracy, maybe only being necessary to have a single key figure such as Bezos himself. Certainly, considering his company’s deal with the CIA, there is much about that deal that even his top management doesn’t know.

This is the very reason that the American founders, out of terror of imperial and corporate power, ensured not only division of power within government but division of power to separate government and business. They took seriously how conspiracies easily happen when cronyism and corruption is allowed free reign of oligarchic rule. This is also why many of the founders feared standing armies, as they no doubt would have feared even more the modern intelligence agency that, in acting in secret, is entirely lacking in transparency and accountability. They never intended that either the government or corporations would ever gain so much power. And about corporations in particular, they went to immense efforts to curtail their role in society, never having conflated a corporation with a private business, much less with legal personhood — a government corporate charter required an organization to serve the public good toward a narrow and short term purpose (building a bridge, establishing a hospital, etc) that lasted no longer than a single generation and that disallowed any involvement in politics.

A mega-corporation such as Amazon betrays everything the American Revolution was fought for, everything this country was founded upon. Well, not quite everything. Slavery or indentured servitude would fit well into neo-feudal neoliberalism. In fact, these transnationals are often dependent on quasi-slavery work conditions in places like China where employees are locked in guarded factories so that they can’t escape or kill themselves. This brave new world is what Jeff Bezos, more than anyone else, is bringing into reality. It’s the new American Dream. If you want to get a sense of what an authoritarian America would look like, all you have to do is watch the Amazon-produced show, The Man in the High Castle, that portrays an alternative history where the Nazis won. Considering the Nazi-funded Bush family helped so many Nazi war criminals into the country where for decades they worked for the government, who is to say that the Nazis in a broader sense didn’t win. The tech giant tycoons are just a new generation, a friendlier face of an old brutal force.

The rise of fascism once tore apart the world and it will do the same again.

* * *

Jeff Bezos
by Expose the Deep State

Bezos’s maternal grandfather, Lawrence Preston Gise was one of the founding members the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the research and development arm of the Department of Defense that is credited with designing a communications network that could still function even if a nuclear attack demolished conventional lines of communication, ARPAnet, was the foundation of what would eventually become the Internet. Gise later became regional director of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) in Albuquerque. As a child Jeff Bezos spent summers working at his grandfather’s ranch in Texas, which is where possible CIA Kid accusations come from.

The Inner Bezos
by Chip Bayers

Lawrence Preston “Pop” Gise had held jobs that a young boy couldn’t help but find cool. Gise worked on space technology and missile defense systems at Darpa in the late 1950s; in 1964, Congress appointed him manager of the Atomic Energy Commission’s Albuquerque operations office, where he supervised 26,000 employees in the AEC’s western region, including the Sandia, Los Alamos, and Lawrence Livermore laboratories. He retired to his southwest Texas spread in 1968, and he doted on Jeff from the time his grandson was an infant. “Mr. Gise was a towering figure in Jeff’s life,” says Weinstein.

Jeff Bezos
by Everipedia

Bezos’s maternal grandfather was Lawrence Preston Gise, a regional director of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) in Albuquerque. Before joining the AEC, Gise had worked for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the research and development arm of the Department of Defense that was created in 1958 as the first response by the US government to the Russian launching of Sputnik I, the first artificial Earth satellite in 1957. Intended to be the counterbalance to military thinking in research and development, DARPA was formed, according to its official mission statement, to assure that the US maintains a lead in applying technology for military capabilities and to prevent other technological surprises from her adversaries. In 1970, DARPA’s engineers created a model for a communications network for the military that could still function even if a nuclear attack demolished conventional lines of communication: ARPAnet, was the foundation of what would eventually become the Internet. Gise retired early to the ranch, where Bezos spent many summers as a youth, working with him.

The Space Barons
by Christian Davenport

Eisenhower’s answer to the reporter’s pointed question was, in essence, that the country was working on it. The real response to the Soviets would come a few months later, when during his 1958 State of the Union address, he talked about the creation of a new agency within the Defense Department that would have “single control in some of our most advanced development projects.” This agency would be in charge of “anti-missile and satellite technology” at a time when “some of the important new weapons which technology has produced do not fit into any existing service pattern.”

The Soviets’ launch of Sputnik opened a new frontier — space — one that “creates new difficulties, reminiscent of those attending the advent of the airplane a half century ago,” he said.

The new organization would be called the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). Born from what the secretive agency now calls the “traumatic experience of technological surprise,” ARPA would be a sort of elite special force within the Pentagon made of its best and brightest scientists and engineers. But because it would transcend the traditional services — the army, navy, air force — many in the defense establishment looked askance at it.

Eisenhower didn’t care. To keep up with the Soviets, the nation needed to move past “harmful service rivalries,” he said.

Some of the top brass in the Pentagon were charged with single-handedly picking top talent for ARPA, renamed DARPA in 1972 — the “D” for “Defense.” Successful candidates would have to not only be smart and efficient, but they’d also have to be morally strong and confident, able to stand up to generals and admirals that might resent their very presence and consider them outsiders.

They were encouraged to push boundaries, and create new, futuristic technologies that aimed at keeping the nation several steps ahead.

“In the 1960s you could do really any damn thing you wanted, as long as it wasn’t against the law or immoral,” Charles Herzfeld, who directed ARPA from 1965 to 1967, told the Los Angeles Times.

Wilfred McNeil, the Pentagon’s comptroller, helped recruit top talent to help run the agency. One of his top choices was Lawrence Preston Gise, a stolid and principled former navy lieutenant commander. Born in Texas, Gise had served during World War II, and service records show he was assigned to the USS Neunzer, a destroyer, and then to various administrative jobs. He also served as an assistant director at the Atomic Energy Commission, starting in 1949, and was promoted to assistant director in 1955.

By the height of the Cold War, Gise found himself in the middle of an agency that was developing the hydrogen bomb. As a young employee, he had participated in a secret meeting in 1950 to discuss the development of the bomb with some of the agency’s top officials, including then-chairman Gordon Dean.

Gise was intrigued by the possibilities of ARPA, and what it represented at the dawn of the Space Age. But he was also aware that political pressure was mounting against its formation. With a family to support, he hedged his bets, making sure he would have a landing spot, just in case this experimental agency didn’t work out.

“So the agency was controversial even before it was formed,” Gise said in a 1975 history of ARPA. “My deal with McNeil was I would come over and handle the admistrative side of the business with the assurance that if the agency went up in blue smoke that he would absorb me in his immediate office, and he had a job set up for that purpose. But it was that tenuous back in those days.”

Gise was well respected by the agency’s director, Roy Johnson, who had left a high-paying job as an executive at General Electric for the post at ARPA. His goal was to ensure the country caught up and passed the Soviets, focusing much of his energy on space.

“Johnson believed that he had personally been given unlimited authority by the Secretary to produce results,” according to the ARPA history. “He really thought that he was supposed to be the czar of the space program…. Johnson perceived that ARPA’s job was to put up satellites. The space program became his principal interest.”

After three years at ARPA, Gise was lured back to the Atomic Energy Commission, which offered him a job in top management. But he continued to work alongside the agency, collaborating on an endeavor known as the Vela Project, which was designed to detect nuclear explosions from space through a high-altitude satellite system. In a message to his colleagues, Gise reported that “ARPA is implementing on a very urgent basis a program to establish its capability for detection of Argus effects” — an apparent reference to Operation Argus, three high-altitude nuclear test explosions over the South Atlantic Ocean in 1958.

Gise would continue to serve at the Atomic Energy Commission until 1968, when he wanted to close a factory that politicians wanted to keep open. The politicians prevailed, and Gise retired to his ranch in South Texas.

He was young, just fifty-three years old. But he was looking forward to life on the ranch. Plus, he had a young grandson to tend to, a remarkable little boy with big ears and a wide smile, who shred his middle name:

Jeffrey Preston Bezos

Big Tech firms march to the beat of Pentagon, CIA despite dissension
by Tim Johnson

Silicon Valley’s corrupt nexus: War, censorship and inequality
by Andre Damon

Part One: Amazon cashes in on war crimes and mass surveillance
by Evan Blake

Part Two: Amazon, war propaganda, and the suppression of free speech
by Evan Blake

Amazon providing facial recognition technology to police agencies for mass surveillance
by Will Morrow

Amazon Pushes ICE to Buy Its Face Recognition Surveillance Tech
by Jake Laperruque & Andrea Peterson

Jeff Bezos is Using The Washington Post to Protect the CIA
by Josh Gay

The Dark Side of Amazon
by Eric Peters

Jeff Bezos, Amazon, Washington Post and the CIA
by Joseph Farah

Amazon’s frightening CIA partnership: Capitalism, corporations and our massive new surveillance state
by Charles Davis

How The Washington Post’s New Owner Aided the CIA, Blocked WikiLeaks & Decimated the Book Industry
by Democracy Now

How Jeff Bezos’s Washington Post Became the US Military-Industrial Complex’s Chief Propagandist
by Eric Zuesse

The Washington Post, Amazon, and the Intelligence Community
by Cliff Kincaid

Jeff Bezos Is Doing Huge Business with the CIA, While Keeping His Washington Post Readers in the Dark
by Norman Solomon

Amazon’s Marriage to the CIA
by Norman Solomon

Why Amazon’s Collaboration With the CIA Is So Ominous — and Vulnerable
by Norman Solomon

Is Orwell’s Big Brother Here? Bezos & Amazon Team up With Defense, CIA & ICE
by Yves Smith

“Everybody immediately knew that it was for Amazon”: Has Bezos Become More Powerful In D.C. Than Trump?
by May Jeong

Government Ethics Watchdogs Fear Amazon’s Web of Influence May have Tainted Pentagon’s $10 Billion JEDI Cloud Deal
by Andrew Kerr

America Should Send Amazon Packing
by Mo Lotman

The End of History is a Beginning

Francis Fukuyama’s ideological change, from neocon to neoliberal, signaled among the intellectual class a similar but dissimilar change that was happening in the broader population. The two are parallel tracks down which history like a train came barreling and rumbling, the end not in sight.

The difference between them is that the larger shift was ignored, until Donald Trump revealed the charade to be a charade, as it always was. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise, this populist moment. A new mood has been in the air that resonates with an old mood that some thought was lost in the past, the supposed end of history. It has been developing for a long while now. And when reform is denied, much worse comes along.

On that unhappy note, there is a reason why Trump used old school rhetoric of progressivism and fascism (with the underlying corporatism to both ideologies). Just as there is a reason Steve Bannon, while calling himself a Leninist, gave voice to his hope that the present would be as exciting as the 1930s. Back in the early aughts, Fukuyma gave a warning about the dark turn of events, imperialistic ambition turned to hubris. No doubt he hoped to prevent the worse. But not many in the ruling class cared to listen. So here we are.

Whatever you think of him and his views, you have to give Fukuyama credit for the simple capacity of changing his mind and, to some extent, admitting he was wrong. He is a technocratic elitist with anti-populist animosity and paternalistic aspirations. But at the very least his motivations are sincere. One journalist, Andrew O’Hehir, described him this way:

“He even renounced the neoconservative movement after the Iraq war turned into an unmitigated disaster — although he had initially been among its biggest intellectual cheerleaders — and morphed into something like a middle-road Obama-Clinton Democrat. Today we might call him a neoliberal, meaning that not as leftist hate speech but an accurate descriptor.”

Not exactly a compliment. Many neocons and former neocons, when faced with the changes of the Republican Party, found the Clinton Democrats more attractive. For most of them, this conversion only happened with Trump’s campaign. Fukuyama stands out for being one of the early trendsetters on the right in turning against Cold War neoconservatism before it was popular to do so (athough did Fukuyama really change or did he simply look to a softer form of neoconservatism).

For good or ill, the Clinton Democrats, in the mainstream mind, now stand for the sane center, the moderate middle. To those like Fukuyama fearing a populist uprising, Trump marks the far right and Sanders the far left. That leaves the battleground between them that of a milquetoast DNC establishment, holding onto power by its loosening fingertips. Fukuyama doesn’t necessarily offer us much in the way of grand insight or of practical use (here is a harsher critique). It’s still interesting to hear someone like him make such an about face, though — if only in political rhetoric and not in fundamental principles. And for whatever its worth, he so far has been right about Trump’s weakness as a strongman.

It’s also appreciated that those like Francis Fukuyama and Charles Murray bring attention to the dangers of inequality and the failures of capitalism, no matter that I oppose the ideological bent of their respective conclusions. So, even as they disagree with populism as a response, like Teddy Roosevelt, they do take seriously the gut-level assessment of what is being responded to. It’s all the more interesting that these are views coming from respectable figures who once represented the political right, much more stimulating rhetoric than anything coming out of the professional liberal class.

* * *

Donald Trump and the return of class: an interview with Francis Fukuyama

“What is happening in the politics of the US particularly, but also in other countries, is that identity in a form of nationality or ethnicity or race has become a proxy for class.”

Francis Fukuyama interview: “Socialism ought to come back”

Fukuyama, who studied political philosophy under Allan Bloom, the author of The Closing of the American Mind, at Cornell University, initially identified with the neoconservative movement: he was mentored by Paul Wolfowitz while a government official during the Reagan-Bush years. But by late 2003, Fukuyama had recanted his support for the Iraq war, which he now regards as a defining error alongside financial deregulation and the euro’s inept creation. “These are all elite-driven policies that turned out to be pretty disastrous, there’s some reason for ordinary people to be upset.”

The End of History was a rebuke to Marxists who regarded communism as humanity’s final ideological stage. How, I asked Fukuyama, did he view the resurgence of the socialist left in the UK and the US? “It all depends on what you mean by socialism. Ownership of the means of production – except in areas where it’s clearly called for, like public utilities – I don’t think that’s going to work.

“If you mean redistributive programmes that try to redress this big imbalance in both incomes and wealth that has emerged then, yes, I think not only can it come back, it ought to come back. This extended period, which started with Reagan and Thatcher, in which a certain set of ideas about the benefits of unregulated markets took hold, in many ways it’s had a disastrous effect.

“In social equality, it’s led to a weakening of labour unions, of the bargaining power of ordinary workers, the rise of an oligarchic class almost everywhere that then exerts undue political power. In terms of the role of finance, if there’s anything we learned from the financial crisis it’s that you’ve got to regulate the sector like hell because they’ll make everyone else pay. That whole ideology became very deeply embedded within the Eurozone, the austerity that Germany imposed on southern Europe has been disastrous.”

Fukuyama added, to my surprise: “At this juncture, it seems to me that certain things Karl Marx said are turning out to be true. He talked about the crisis of overproduction… that workers would be impoverished and there would be insufficient demand.”

Was Francis Fukuyama the first man to see Trump coming? – Paul Sagar | Aeon Essays

An Empire of Shame

America as an empire. This has long been a contentious issue, going back to the colonial era, first as a debate over whether Americans wanted to remain a part of the British Empire and later as a debate over whether Americans wanted to create a new empire. We initially chose against empire with the Declaration of Independence and Articles of Confederation. But then we chose for empire with the Constitution that allowed (pseudo-)Federalists to gain power and reshape the new government.

Some key Federalists openly talked about an American Empire. For the most part, though, American leaders have kept their imperial aspirations hidden behind rhetoric, even as our actions were obviously imperialistic. Heck, an Anti-Federalist like Thomas Jefferson took the imperialistic action of the Louisiana Purchase, a deal between one empire and another. Imperial expansionism continued through the 19th century and into the 20th century with numerous military interventions, from the Indian Wars to the Banana Wars. Not a year has gone by in American history when we weren’t involved in a war of aggression.

Yet it still is hard for Americans to admit that we are an empire. I’ve had numerous discussions with my conservative father on this topic. At times, he has surprisingly admitted we are an empire, but usually he is resistant. In our most recent debate, it occurred to me that the resistance is motivated by shame. We don’t want to admit we are an empire because we are ashamed of our government’s brutal use of power on our behalf. And shame is a powerful force. People will do and allow the most horrific actions out of shame.

Empires of the past tended to be projects built on pride and honor, of brazen rule through force. We Americans, instead, feel the need to hide our imperialism behind an image of benign and reluctant power. The difference is Americans, ever since we were colonists, have had an inferiority complex. It makes us both yearn for greatness and fear mockery. Our country is the young teenager that must prove himself, while not yet having the confidence to really believe in himself. So, we act slyly as an empire with implicit threats and backroom manipulations, proxy wars and covert operations, puppet governments and corporatist front groups. Then, when these morally depraved actions come to light, we rationalize why they were exceptions or why we were being forced to do so because of circumstances. It’s not our fault. We don’t want to hurt others, but we had no other choice. Besides, we were defending freedom and free markets, that is why we constantly intervene in other countries and endlessly kill innocents. It is for the greater good. We are willing to make this self-sacrifice on the behalf of others. We are the real victims.

I regularly come across quotes from American leaders who publicly or privately complained about our government, who spoke of failure and betrayal. This has included presidents and other political officials going back to the beginning of the country. Think of Jefferson and Adams in their later years worrying about the fate of the American experiment, that maybe we Americans didn’t have what it takes, that maybe we aren’t destined to be great. The sense of inferiority has haunted our collective imagination for so long that it is practically a defining feature. Despite our being the largest empire in world history, we don’t have the self-certain righteousness to declare ourselves an empire. That is why we get the false and weak bravado of someone like Donald Trump — sadly, he represents our country all too well. Then again, so did Hillary Clinton represent our country in her suppressing wages in Haiti so that U.S. companies would have cheap foreign labor (i.e., corporate wage slavery), the kind of actions the U.S. does all the time in secret in order to maintain control. We have talent for committing evil with a smiling face… or nervous laughter.

Rather than clear power asserted with pride and honor, the United States government acts like a bully on the world stage. We are constantly trying to prove ourselves. And our denial of imperialism is gaslighting, to make anyone feel crazy if they dare voice the truth of what we are. We tell others that we are the good guys. What we really are trying to do is to convince ourselves of our own bullshit. This causes a nervousness in the public mind, a fear that we might be found out. We are paralyzed by our shame and it gets tiring in our trying to keep up the pretense. The facade is crumbling. Our inner shame has become public such that now we are the shame of the world. That probably means our leaders will soon start a war to divert attention, and both main parties will be glad for the diversion.

There is a compelling argument made by James Gilligan in Preventing Violence. Among other things, he sees as a key cause to interpersonal violence is shame. And that there is something particularly shame-inducing about our society, especially for those on the bottom of society. He is attempting to explain violent crime. But what occurs to me is that our leaders are just as violent, if not more violent. It’s simply that those who make the laws determine which violence is legal and which violence illegal, their own violence being in the former category as it is implemented through the state or with the support of the state. Maybe it is shame that causes our government to be so violent toward foreign populations and toward the American population. And maybe shame is what causes American citizens to remain silent in their complicity, as the violent is done in their name.

Kavanaugh and the Authoritarians

I don’t care too much about the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, one way or another. There doesn’t appear to be any hope of salvation in our present quandary, not for anyone involved (or uninvolved), far beyond who ends up on the Supreme Court.

But from a detached perspective of depressive realism, the GOP is on a clear decline, to a far greater degree than the Democrats which is saying a lot. Back during the presidential campaign, I stated that neither main political party should want to win. That is because we are getting so close to serious problems in our society or rather getting closer to the results of those problems that have long been with us. Whichever party is in power will be blamed, not that I care either way considering both parties deserve blame.

Republicans don’t seem to be able to help themselves. They’ve been playing right into the narrative of their own decline. At the very moment they needed to appeal to minorities because of looming demographic changes, they doubled down on bigotry. Now, the same people who supported and voted for a president who admitted to grabbing women by the pussy (with multiple sexual allegations against him and multiple known cases of cheating on his wife) are defending Kavanaugh against allegations of sexual wrongdoing.

This is not exactly a surprise, as Trump brazenly and proudly declared that he could shoot a person for everyone to see and his supporters would be fine with it. And certainly his publicly declaring his authoritarianism in this manner didn’t faze many Republican voters and Republican politicians. He was elected and the GOP rallied behind him. Also, it didn’t bother Kavanaugh as his acceptance of the Republican nomination implies he also supports authoritarianism and, if possible, plans on enacting it on the Supreme Court. Whether or not true that Trump could get away with murder, it is an amazing statement to make in public and still get elected president for, in any functioning democracy, that would immediately disqualify a candidate.

It almost doesn’t matter what are the facts of the situation, guilt or innocence. Everyone knows that, even if Kavanaugh was a proven rapist, the same right-wing authoritarians who love Trump would defend Kavanaugh to the bitter end. Loyalty is everything to these people. Not so much for the political left in how individuals are more easily thrown under the bus (or like Al Franken who threw himself under the bus and for a rather minor accusation of an inappropriate joke, not even involving any inappropriate touching). Sexual allegations demoralize Democrats, consider the hard hit it took with Anthony Weiner, in a way that never happens with Republicans who always consider a sexual allegation to be a call to battle.

The official narrative now is that the GOP is the party of old school bigots and chauvinistic pigs. They always had that hanging over their heads. And in the past, they sometimes held it up high with pride as if it were a banner of their strength. But now they find themselves on the defense. It turns out that this narrative they embraced probably doesn’t have much of a future. Yet Republicans can’t find it in themselves to seek a new script. For some odd reason, they are heavily attached to being heartless assholes.

This is even true for many Republican women. My conservative mother who, having not voted for Trump, has been pulled back into partisanship with the present conflict and has explicitly told me that she doesn’t believe men held accountable for past sexual transgressions because that is just the way the world was back then. Some conservative women go even further, arguing that men can’t help themselves and that even now we shouldn’t hold them accountable — as Toyin Owoseje reported:

Groping women is “no big deal”, a Donald Trump supporting mother told her daughters on national television when asked about the sexual misconduct allegations levelled against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

Among Republicans, we’ve been hearing such immoral defenses for a long time. There is another variety of depravity to be found among Democrats, but they at least have the common sense to not openly embrace depravity in their talent for soft-pedalling their authoritarian tendencies. Yet as full-blown authoritarian extremists disconnected from the average American, Republicans don’t understand why the non-authoritarian majority of the population might find their morally debased views unappealing. To them, loyalty to group is everything, and the opinions of those outside the group don’t matter.

The possibility that Kavanaugh might have raped a woman, to right-wing authoritarians, simply makes him seem all the more of a strong male to be revered. It doesn’t matter what he did, at least not to his defenders. This doesn’t bode well for the Republican Party. With the decline they are on, the only hope they have is for Trump to start World War III and seize total control of the government. They’ve lost the competition of rhetoric. All that is left for them is force their way to the extent they can, which at the moment means trying to push Kavanaugh into the Supreme Court. Of course, they theoretically could simply pick a different conservative nominee without all the baggage, but they can’t back down now no matter what. Consequences be damned!

Just wait to see what they’ll be willing to do when the situation gets worse. Imagine what would happen with a Trump-caused constitutional crisis and Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court. However it ends, the trajectory is not pointing upward. The decline of the GOP might be the (further) decline of the United States.

End of Corporate Personhood and Citizenship

Awkward! The idea of ‘corporate personhood’ relies on the same Amendment that gives birthright citizenship
by Mark Ames
(from REAL Democracy History Calendar: August 27 – September 2)

“[M]ost of the GOP candidates want to change the 14th Amendment to deny birthright citizenship to children born here to foreign parents…

“But beyond the twisted racist dementia fueling this, there’s another problem for these GOP candidates: Section One of the 14th Amendment, granting birthright citizenship to anyone born in the US, is also the same section of the same amendment interpreted by our courts to grant corporations “personhood”…

“So to repeat: GOP candidates from Trump and Bush down the line to Silicon Valley’s boy-disrupter Rand Paul want to revoke citizenship to living humans born in the US to foreign parents; but they support granting citizenship rights and guarantees to artificial persons –corporations – which are really legal fictions granted by the states, allowing a pool of investors legal liability and tax advantages in order to profit more than they otherwise would as mere living humans”…

“And here we are today—where we have an Amendment meant to protect vulnerable and abused minorities now under attack from Lincoln’s party, who at the same time want to use the same section in the same amendment to protect fictitious artificial persons and allow them greater rights and powers than even those of us born here to American parents.”

Now That We’re Talking About Citizenship, Let’s Revoke Corporate Personhood
by C. Robert Gibson
(from REAL Democracy History Calendar: August 20 – 26)

“Thanks to Donald Trump and Jeb Bush, the media is now entertaining discussion on the idea of revoking citizenship for human beings, to the point where the media is calculating the cost of these insane and unconstitutional proposals. If Trump wants to revoke the citizenship of people who are using up all of our resources and not paying taxes, and if the media really wants to have the conversation, let’s start with multinational corporations…

“A constitutional amendment that explicitly states that corporations aren’t people, and that money is not speech would do the trick. The organization Move to Amend is doing just that, and have roughly 535 resolutions that have either been passed at the local/state level or are currently in progress. State legislatures in Delaware, Illinois, Minnesota, Montana, Vermont, and West Virginia have already passed such resolutions.

“Donald Trump has been able to shift the Overton Window of acceptable political discourse far to the right in just a matter of weeks, to where the media is now entertaining discussion on the idea of revoking citizenship for human beings. The left must be just as willing to push the discussion toward revoking corporate citizenship due to the harm they’ve caused to our political process, as well as our public programs that have been slashed to the bone due to corporations avoiding billions in taxes.”

Reactionary Neo-Imperialism

Neoliberals want a strong oppressive state to keep the masses controlled as cheap labor and consumers, not to mention as submissive imperial subjects that are occasionally useful as cannon fodder. But they more importantly want a hidden form of international neo-imperialism that controls nation-states like puppets on a string. This allows the capitalist class full freedom to do what they want by disallowing anyone else to have enough freedom to conflict with or challenge their interests.

The plutocracy have dual citizenships with bank accounts, real estate, factories, investments, etc in numerous countries. They can move about as they wish. They evade taxes and put their money in offshore accounts. And they move their business dealings wherever it is convenient at the moment with no sense of loyalty and patriotism, duty and pride, responsibility and prudence. But the average worker and middle class professional remains trapped within restrictive laws, regulations, and certifications. The unrestrained flow of the neoliberal market only applies to the filthy rich who do as they please.

This isn’t a new phenomenon exactly. Those in power have always sought freedom for themselves, including the freedom to deny the freedom of others. The only difference is that the corporation and its related institutional forms (lobbyist organizations, think tanks, corporatist trade organizations, along with various nefarious shadowy groups) operate as a new form of government that pretends it isn’t a government. Power in the past never had to remain hidden in this way. This indicates the fundamental weakness and instability of neoliberalism — the neoliberals like to play this off as a dynamic system, since they don’t care about foreboding collapse as long as they have an escape route and a well-stocked bunker.

Interestingly, even the neoliberal attempt to silence economic debate is nothing new. What made the Enlightenment so shocking, specifically during the revolutionary era, was that economic debate became mainstream. Before that, economics was privately dealt with in closed rooms and wasn’t a topic of politics and public debate. As such, neoliberalism is just another reactionary form longing to rebuild a rigid hierarchy like the ancien regime, not exactly the same for it needs to be improved to stop another revolutionary era from ever happening again.

This is why the godfather of neoliberalism, Friedrich Hayek, would defend the military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. As with many others, fascism specifically and authoritarianism in general was seen as useful, despite it contradicting everything that neoliberals claimed to believe. Neoliberalism is another one of those non-ideological ideologies, which is to say the true ideology is kept obscure, the Achilles’ Heel of the precarious social order (protected by symbolic conflation). The trick is to force this out into the open. Neoliberalism has no defense against the transparency and scrutiny of democracy, the reason that democracy is always the first target of neoliberal schemes.

As a concluding note, this is what makes the Democratic establishment so dangerous in its offering cover for the neoliberal attack on democracy (e.g., the pay-to-play of the Clinton Foundation) — this is made clear in Paul Krugman’s defense of the greatness of American Imperialism against the threat of President Trump’s undermining of neoliberal hegemony (see Liberalism and Empire by Nathan J. Robonson). The pseudo-liberal reactionaries of the liberal class are the useful idiots who take their marching orders from the corporatocratic party bosses and the corporatist media oligopoly. There would be no neoliberal order without them.

* * *

Neoliberalism’s World Order
by Adam Tooze

Faced with this shocking transformation, neoliberals set out not to demolish the state but to create an international order strong enough to contain the dangerous forces of democracy and encase the private economy in its own autonomous sphere. Before they gathered at Mont Pèlerin, von Mises hosted the original meetings of the neoliberals in the Vienna Chamber of Commerce, where he and his colleagues called for the rolling back of Austrian socialism. They did not think that fascism offered a long-term solution, but, given the threat of revolution, they welcomed Mussolini and the Blackshirts. As von Mises remarked in 1927, fascism “has, for the moment, saved European civilization.” Even in the late 1930s, Wilhelm Röpke, another leading neoliberal, would unabashedly declare that his desire for a strong state made him more “fascist” than many of his readers understood. We should not take this as a light-hearted quip.

The neoliberals were lobbyists for capital. But they were never only that. Working alongside von Mises, the young Friedrich Hayek and Gottfried Haberler were employed in empirical economic research. And it was the networks of interwar business-cycle research that drew key figures from Vienna to Geneva, then home to the League of Nations. The Swiss idyll is the site for much of the rest of Slobodian’s narrative, giving its name to the brand of globalist neoliberalism he labels the “Geneva school.” In the 1930s the League of Nations was a gathering place for economic expertise from across the world. But as Slobodian shows, what marked the Geneva school of neoliberalism was a collective intellectual crisis. In the face of the Great Depression, they not only came to doubt the predictive power of business-cycle research, they came to see the very act of enumerating and counting “the economy” as itself a threat to the order of private property. It was when you conceived of the economy as an object, whether for purposes of scientific investigation or policy intervention, that you opened the door to redistributive, democratic economic policy. Following their own edicts, after crushing the labor movement, the next line of defense of private property was therefore to declare the economy unknowable. For the Austrian neoliberals, this called for reinvention. They stopped doing economics and remade themselves as theorists of law and society. […]

It was in the 1980s that the neoliberals’ long march through the institutions of global economic governance finally carried the day. In this Slobodian agrees with the more familiar narrative. But rather than concentrating on national programs of monetarism, privatization, and union-busting, Slobodian focuses on the transnational dimension: the EU and the WTO. The protagonists of his story are people you have never heard of, second-generation students of the original Austro-German founders, trained as lawyers, not economists—men like Ernst-Joachim Mestmäker and Ernst-Ulrich Petersmann, who shaped the agenda in Brussels and helped to steer global trade policy.

It is a measure of the success of this fascinating, innovative history that it forces the question: after Slobodian’s reinterpretation, where does the critique of neoliberalism stand?

First and foremost, Slobodian has underlined the profound conservatism of the first generation of neoliberals and their fundamental hostility to democracy. What he has exposed, furthermore, is their deep commitment to empire as a restraint on the nation state. Notably, in the case of Wilhelm Röpke, this was reinforced by deep-seated anti-black racism. Throughout the 1960s Röpke was active on behalf of South Africa and Rhodesia in defense of what he saw as the last bastions of white civilization in the developing world. As late as the 1980s, members of the Mont Pèlerin Society argued that the white minority in South Africa could best be defended by weighting the voting system by the proportion of taxes paid. If this was liberalism it was not so much neo- as paleo-.

If racial hierarchy was one of the foundations of neoliberalism’s imagined global order, the other key constraint on the nation-state was the free flow of the factors of production. This is what made the restoration of capital mobility in the 1980s such a triumph. Following in the footsteps of the legal scholar and historian Samuel Moyn, one might remark that it was not by accident that the advent of radical capital mobility coincided with the advent of universal human rights. Both curtailed the sovereignty of nation states. Slobodian traces that intellectual and political association back to the 1940s, when Geneva school economists formulated the argument that an essential pillar of liberal freedom was the right of the wealthy to move their money across borders unimpeded by national government regulation. What they demanded, Slobodian quips, was the human right to capital flight. […]

The overwhelming stress on the priority of “the economy” and its imperatives leads many on the left to adopt a position that mirrors Hayek’s. Following thinkers like Karl Polanyi, they criticize the way that “the economy” has assumed an almost godlike authority. Nor is it by accident that the libertarian left shares Hayek’s distaste for top-down economic policy, what the political scientist James Scott has dubbed “seeing like a state.” As the neoliberals realized in the 1930s, the nation-state and the national economy are twins. If this remains somewhat veiled in the histories of countries like France and the United Kingdom, the conjoined emergence of state power and the developmental imperative was stamped on the face of the postcolonial world.

Such critiques can be radically illuminating by exposing the foundations of key concepts of modernity. But where do they lead? For Hayek this was not a question. The entire point was to silence policy debate. By focusing on broad questions of the economic constitution, rather than the details of economic processes, neoliberals sought to outlaw prying questions about how things actually worked. It was when you started asking for statistics and assembling spreadsheets that you took the first dangerous step toward politicizing “the economy.” In its critique of neoliberalism, the left has challenged this depoliticization. But by failing to enquire into the actual workings of the system, the left has accepted Hayek’s injunction that economic policy debate confine itself to the most abstract and general level. Indeed, the intellectual preoccupation with the critique of neoliberalism is itself symptomatic. We concentrate on elucidating the intellectual logic and history of ideologies and modes of government, rather than investigating processes of accumulation, production, and distribution. We are thus playing the neoliberals at their own game.

Berkeley Scholar Doesn’t Admit He Is A Corporate Shill

Climatology denialist Steven F. Hayward had a propaganda piece published in the The Wall Street Journal: Climate Change Has Run Its Course (see archived version). Immediately after it was published, the typical right-wing think tanks, astroturf websites, and corporatist media outlets began pushing the article. A common title in the web results was: Berkeley Scholar Admits “Climate Change Has Run Its Course”. In two days, a Google search showed “about 2,550 results” for the exact wording of that title alone.

It is a highly coordinated and well-funded operation. A single article like that might cost thousands of dollars to promote, which is nothing for plutocrats like the Koch and Mercer families who have so much money they don’t know what to do with it all. Numerous pieces like that are put out and promoted every year, as large numbers of hacks, pundits, trolls, etc are paid to write such pieces or bring the pieces up in their shows and blogs and websites, not to mention public relations and perception management companies that do their magic with bots, fake social media accounts, etc. Hayward himself plays multiple roles within this propaganda machine, not only a writer but also a major figure within multiple key organizations. For example, he is a director of Donors Capital Fund“a group that works with DonorsTrust to give hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations to numerous groups questioning mainstream climate science”, from one year alone.

The entire anti-climatology network costs at least millions of dollars a year (as for what could be documented with two specific funding sources, precisely $125 million went to US groups over a particular three year period during the Obama administration; one of the two funding sources was Hayward’s abovementioned Donors Capital Fund; and other research by Drexel University environmental sociologist Robert Brulle found that “In all, 140 foundations funneled $558 million to almost 100 climate denial organizations from 2003 to 2010.”). Most of it is dark money and, as Senator Sheldon Whitehouse said in a speech, “the story of dark money and the story of climate change denial are the same story: two sides of the same coin” — see Whitehouse’s book on the topic and see the investigative work of Jane Mayer, Naomi Oreskes, and Erik Conway. That doesn’t even count the general operational funding for all the organizations and individuals involved with related and overlapping agendas: staffing, lobbying efforts, political campaigns, legal forms of indirect bribery (e.g., donations to politicians’ favored groups), lucrative jobs for retired politicians, astroturf, corporate-friendly research, etc.

About overlapping agendas, Hayward has promoted many other issues besides climatology denialism. An example is his promoting anti-immigrant ideology and in rather extreme forms. In one piece at Power Line, he cited the popular right-wing novel Camp of Saints, a novel that portrays genocidal racism — and that inspired Steve Bannon along with many others on the alt-right. What Hayward predictably doesn’t note is that the refugee crisis is largely being caused by climate change, specifically droughts that turned one of civilization’s bread baskets into a desert. By the way, Power Line was made famous for the defense of Bush against attacks on his military record. And more interestingly, as Power Line is funded by Koch money, one of the Power Line bloggers is a lawyer whose law firm represents Koch Industries. It’s a tangled web of wealth and power. And as Hayward demonstrates, that tangled web is increasingly encroaching within academia as the Kochs have specifically targeted universities with donations tied to demands — “According to IRS tax filing data compiled by Greenpeace, Charles Koch has given over $68 million to over 300 universities from 2005 to 2013.[2] The Center for Public Integrity calculated that the Kochs spent $19.3 million on 163 colleges and universities in 2013 alone” (SourceWatch).

But such costs of millions of dollars are a fraction of a fraction of big energy profits, especially considering the public is giving big energy corporations billions of dollars a year in subsidies. The money spent is a wise investment, at least for the short-term profits of plutocrats. Meanwhile, these big energy corporations see the writing on the wall, as their own scientists had proven the existence and threat of man-made climate change going back to the 1970s. Even so, they will wring every last dollar out of old energy, until they are forced to change. It’s of no concern to their quarterly earnings what devastating catastrophes might happen in the decades to come. Many individuals within the system know the situation is dire, but the system itself doesn’t allow for this to be translated into action. It’s entirely outside of the dominant ideological worldview and its in-built system of incentives and disincentives, the carrot and stick that keeps everyone in line.

The point of all this isn’t public debate about science. Articles like this rarely escape the targeted audience within the echo chamber (the only reason I knew about it was because my conservative father, a regular WSJ reader, shared it with me). The political left has grown weary of the bullshit and rarely bothers to acknowledge the latest propaganda pieces, as it is an endless and thankless and ultimately impossible task to keep up with it all (but some take notice). As for mainstream liberals, they tend to take it all at face value and typically don’t question the immense corruption behind it all because only wacko conspiracy theorists think that way, which leaves the naive liberal class vulnerable to obfuscation and manipulation. And it goes without saying that the comments section below the WSJ article and elsewhere on the web is filled with right-wingers repeating the talking points they learned from previous propaganda pieces — this staged and coordinated groupthink is a big circle jerk, but one supported by immense wealth and power. Meanwhile, Steven Hayward continues to play the role of respectable public intellectual, and there are thousands more right-wing hacks, corporate shills, etc similar to him that pervade the alternative and mainstream media.

This game of rhetoric is subtle and, as with the political parties, it pulls the entire media system far to the right. Even public bastions of supposedly liberal media give more airtime to right-wing sources than left-wing sources (NPR turns to right-wing think tanks between two and four times as often as to liberal think tanks; as for left-wingers, they are either ignored, dismissed, criticized, or attacked). As I often note, the center of the majority opinion of the American public is far to the left of the entire establishment (‘progressivism’ and ‘socialism’ are more popular than the ‘Tea Party’ and, among multiple demographics, more popular than ‘capitalism’), including on many issues to the left of the so-called ‘liberal’ media and the Democratic Party (going by polling data on policy positions, even the average ‘conservative’ is often to the left of the average Democratic politician — let that sink in for a moment). The word ‘mainstream’, as with the word ‘centrist’, becomes rather meaningless; other than as a designation of the site of institutionalized power where plutocratic values are expressed and plutocratic interests represented, where gatekeepers operate and talking heads push their agendas, where the propaganda model is implemented and the public is indoctrinated.

This is a powerful ideological system. It extends into the government itself through placing plutocrats and corporatists into official positions, from stacking the courts to regulatory capture. What pathetic excuse we have for democratic process is so hobbled as to be helpless against this big money onslaught. As an example, Carly Cassella at Science Alert notes that “Lamar Smith, one of the most notorious climate deniers in Congress, is the current chairman of the” House Science, Space and Technology Committee. The official Twitter account tweeted Hayward’s recent WSJ opinion piece. Besides regularly tweeting other denialist propaganda: “All in all, the committee has shared approximately 36 WSJ articles on Twitter since September 2017. Over half of these articles spout climate denial in some form or other.” Talk about ideological religion (it’s similar to the tactics used by fundies in taking over local school boards to push their Creationist and anti-choice beliefs through educational curriculum and textbooks in order to indoctrinate children; and, of course, there has long been overlap between fundamentalism and anti-science ideology as found within numerous organizations and increasingly within government).

To return to the article itself, Hayward writes that: “Scientists who are genuinely worried about the potential for catastrophic climate change ought to be the most outraged at how the left politicized the issue and how the international policy community narrowed the range of acceptable responses. Treating climate change as a planet-scale problem that could be solved only by an international regulatory scheme transformed the issue into a political creed for committed believers. Causes that live by politics, die by politics.”

As one commenter (Susan Marano) responded, “Perhaps the left wouldn’t have “politicized” the issue, if the right, as apologists for, and funded by, the fossil-fuel industry, hadn’t politicized it in the first place – because it implied an existential threat to their businesses.” Of course, Hayward already knows that.

By definition, climate change is a planet-scale problem that requires a planet-scale response, if we are to avoid even worse catastrophes as weather patterns shift with flooding and desertification in new areas and as the number and intensity of severe weather worsens. The fact of the matter is that scientists who are genuinely worried aren’t corporate shills who use rhetoric to dismiss reality. Is this guy stupid or does he simply play a stupid person on right-wing media? Either way, he is insulting the intelligence of his readers, but then again maybe he knows all too well his target audience of Wall Street Journal readers — they apparently take having their intelligence insulted as a badge of honor in the fight against the intellectual elite. This puts the WSJ in an odd position, as it never before aspired to be an anti-elitist or anti-intellectual rag, but much changed when Rupert Murdoch bought the WSJ.

Who does Hayward think he is fooling with this bullshit? Is it merely preaching to the choir? I doubt many of the regular readers are fooled either, even as they enjoy the ideological signalling that confirms their identity politics. Such right-wing pieces are shameless propaganda. And it is well documented that the author is a paid propagandist of big biz. But I just don’t get it. What does anyone have to gain by pushing the biosphere and human civilization toward mass catastrophe? Even big biz will be harmed in the end. What kind of person is willing to destroy a planet and ensure the eventual harm and suffering of their own children and grandchildren in order to gain some temporary wealth for themselves? A sociopath, that is the simplest and scariest answer. In the end, we all live and die by politics, specifically in terms of vast environmental problems, even if externalized costs are not evenly spread across all populations (“About 40 percent of deaths worldwide are caused by water, air and soil pollution” which impacts “3.7 billion people”).

Explain to me how scientific experts who support scientific consensus are ‘cultists’ because “I’m rubber and you’re glue, what bounces off of me sticks to you”. Besides being inanely stupid, that is false equivalency between the two sides. Why shouldn’t we label as science denialists those who deny science? And how does that justify declaring that respectable climatologists are cultists for simply stating scientific facts? Calling a spade a spade in calling a denialist a denialist isn’t unfair name-calling, since it is a objective description. It reminds me of racists who complain about being called racists and demand they be treated as respectable equals. Why should we play their game?

Conservatives seeing everything in terms of religion is nothing new. To their mind, everything on the political left is a cult, as every other religion is a cult. Their complaint isn’t about religion but that there can only be one true religion to rule them all (religiosity as authoritarian dogmatism by way of Social Darwinism) and all else is cultism. It’s similar to how conservatives deny having an ideology for only people they disagree with have ideologies. The labels of ‘cult’ and ‘ideology’ mean the same thing in the conservative mind. It seems like a whole lot of projection considering how hard conservatives push their political and religious ideologies onto others, including their own preferred versions of political correctness. That is what this comes down to, political correctness in defense of right-wing ideology. The right-wing snowflakes have their feelings hurt by words. And since they can’t win on the facts, they will try to make it a fight over language policing.

All of this is in service of denial. And denial is simply the first stage of the grieving process. They deny global warming and climate change is real, although denial has been weakening such that they’ve shifted their position from “it’s not real” to “it’s not that bad”. The next stage is anger when they attack supporters of climatology for blaming humanity in pointing out that the evidence indicates it is anthropogenic. As the scientific evidence grows and the denialist position weakens, they have been moving into this second stage for a while.

Now we are entering the third stage, bargaining. They are increasingly admitting that the climatologists were right in that there is climate change and it is anthropogenic (“I guess we’re adding a new step to the old dance? “The planet isn’t getting warmer, the warming is natural and not man-made, it’ll be easier to adapt than address the human causes…..and if you liberals weren’t so annoying we’d be willing to work on it.” “). But as they continue to quibble and obfuscate the actual science in seeking to blame environmentalists and scientists as cultists, now they want to to negotiate about not being called mean names anymore so that they can save face in their sense of shame at having pushed harmful lies for so many decades. The fourth stage will be depression, followed by the fifth and final stage of acceptance.

We are getting closer to being able to have rational and moral public debate about climatology. The problem is that, even as a few ideological hacks and useful idiots and corporatist cucks for big energy have moved past outright denial, most of them are still peddling more slippery forms of denialism and big energy is still funding propaganda. It’s slow progress, considering big energy companies hid their own climatology research for almost a half century. At this rate, we might not get to full acceptance until later in this century or else until the issue becomes moot once it becomes obvious that we are beyond the point of no return.

In conclusion, here is a fun little disccusion at /r/Politics in response to Hayward’s WSJ propaganda piece:

10390: “They characterize climate change as a movement rather than a threat. They are not listening to the Department of Defense.”

GhostBearBestClanForeign: “What does the DOD know? It’s not like they invented satellite imaging or anything…”

the_geotus: “And it’s not like DOD has any interest to protect Americans …”

puroloco: “Can’t keep the military complex going if we are all dead”

* * *

Further Info:

Steven F. Hayward
DeSmogBlog

Hayward has ties to many conservative think tanks. He has been a senior fellow in environmental studies at at the Pacific Research Institute (PRI), and Weyerhaeuser Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). He is also a director of the Donors Capital Fund (DCF), a group that works with DonorsTrust to give hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations to numerous groups questioning mainstream climate science. Hayward is a board member of the Institute for Energy Research (IER). [2][3], [20]

The American Enterprise Institute and Pacific Research Institute are both heavily funded by oil billionaires Koch Industries, and Richard Mellon Scaife.

Steven F. Hayward
Source Watch

Steven F. Hayward is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (www.aei.org) in Washington, D.C., and a senior fellow at the Pacific Research Institute (www.pacific-research.org) in San Francisco.

Hayward writes frequently on a wide range of issues, including environmentalism, law, economics, and public policy, and has published dozens of articles in scholarly and popular journals. His work has appeared in National ReviewNew York TimesWall Street Journal, Reason, The Weekly StandardPolicy Review, and Chicago Tribune. He is a Weyerhauser Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, an adjunct fellow of the John Ashbrook Center and a former Bradley Fellow at the Heritage FoundationWeaver Fellow of the Intercollegiate Studies InstituteEarhart Fellow, and Olive Garvey Fellow of the Mont Pelerin Society.” — Pacific Research Institute

The American Enterprise Institute and Pacific Research Institute are both heavily funded by oil billionaires Koch Industries, and Richard Mellon Scaife (Gulf Oil).

Koch Bros Tribune Co? Climate change denial in Koch-friendly media
by Connor Gibson, Greenpeace

Steven Hayward, who is affiliated with numerous groups financed by the Kochs as well serving as treasurer and board member to Donors Capital Fund. DCF and sister group Donors Trust hide money from the Kochs and other corporate interests to groups like the Heartland Institute, the Franklin Center, CFACT, Americans for Prosperity, and many other groups connected to Haywardread more on Steven Hayward and the Donors Trust network. Steven Hayward frequently dismisses global warming in the Weekly Standard, the National Review, and Powerline Blog, run by attorney John Hinderaker, whose firm has represented Koch Industries.

Who are these guys? Yet more polluter-funded front groups hit the climate scene
by Pete Altman, NRDC

Just how far out there does the IER get in touting the energy industry line on climate change denial?  In recent weeks, the energy-financed IER has helped tell the, well, dirty lie that “clean energy is a ‘dirty lie.”

IER also did its part to spread around the lies contained in a widely debunked Spanish “study” that falsely suggests green jobs are somehow a bad thing.

Speaking of being out there on denial issues, one of IER’s directors is Steven Hayward with the American Enterprise InstituteHayward was exposed two years ago for offering to pay scientists with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change $10,000 for written critiques of the IPCC’s newest findings.

Factsheet: Steven F. Hayward
Exxon Secrets

5 July, 2006
Co-author of a July 2006 letter sent by AEI to an unknown number of scientists, looking for someone – at a rate of $10,000 for 10,000 words – whose review “thoughtfully explores the limitations of climate model outputs as they pertain to the development of climate policy.”
Source: DeSmogBlog.com (2006)

Meet The Climate Denial Machine
by Jill Fitzsimmons, Media Matters

In 2007, The Guardian reported that the conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI) was offering scientists and economists $10,000 each to write articles critical of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report on climate change. The Guardian noted that AEI has received substantial funding from ExxonMobil and that former Exxon CEO Lee Raymond — a vocal climate change skeptic — served as AEI’s Vice Chair. AEI criticized the story, saying they merely sought to subject the IPCC report to “serious scrutiny and criticism” but were not doubting the “existence of global warming.”

Nevertheless, AEI scholars have repeatedly downplayed the threat of climate change. Steven Hayward, who writes for National Review, has said that climate concerns are based on “propaganda” and that efforts to reduce emissions are “based on exaggerations and conjecture rather than science.” Former AEI president Christopher DeMuth acknowledged in 2001 that the earth has warmed but claimed “it’s not clear why this happened.” But some other AEI scholars have endorsed a carbon tax to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

15 Most Absurd Comments Right-Wing Media Said About Climate Change in 2015
by Kevin Kalhoefer, Eco Watch

National Review tweeted that a misleading temperature chart published by Powerline’s Steven Hayward was “[t]he only #climatechange chart you need to see.” Hayward wrote that his chart displayed average annual global temperature “with the axis starting not just from zero, but from the lower bound of the actual experienced temperature range of the earth,” and claimed, “[i]f this chart were published on the front page of newspapers the climate change crusaders would be out of business instantly.”

National Review’s tweet was roundly criticized for the chart’s obviously misleading scale (with an appropriately scaled y-axis, the chart shows a demonstrable increase in global temperatures), with Kevin Drum of Mother Jones writing that Hayward’s re-scaled chart was “so phenomenally stupid that I figured it had to be a joke of some kind.” Several Twitter users responded to National Review by jokingly posting examples of similarly misleading charts, including one that the Union of Concerned Scientists described as showing “comfort in the idea that nobody really reads the National Review online.”

ANALYSIS: How The Wall Street Journal Opinion Section Presents Climate Change
Climate Nexus

An analysis of 20 years of the Wall Street Journal’s opinion pages on climate shows a consistent pattern that overwhelmingly ignores the science, champions doubt and denial of both the science and effectiveness of action, and leaves readers misinformed about the consensus of science and of the risks of the threat. […]

Similarly, when the opinion page publishes op-eds by Steve Hayward of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), they failed to disclose his AEI affiliation in three of four op-eds. AEI is funded by the fossil fuel industry (and the tobacco industry) with major donations from the Kochs and ExxonMobil. Also undisclosed is the fact that Hayward is Treasurer for the Donors Capital Fund, one of a pair of groups described by The Guardian as “a secretive funding route to channel nearly $120m (£77m) to more than 100 groups casting doubt about the science behind climate change.” According to researcher Robert Brulle, Donors Capital Fund and its sister group Donors Trust are responsible for “about one-quarter of the funding of the climate countermovement.”

Remarkable Editorial Bias on Climate Science at the Wall Street Journal
by Peter Gleick, Forbes

The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board has long been understood to be not only antagonistic to the facts of climate science, but hostile. But in a remarkable example of their unabashed bias, on Friday they published an opinion piece that not only repeats many of the flawed and misleading arguments about climate science, but purports to be of special significance because it was signed by 16 “scientists.” […]

The National Academy of Sciences is the nation’s pre-eminent independent scientific organizations. Its members are among the most respected in the world in their fields. Yet the Journal wouldn’t publish this letter, from more than 15 times as many top scientists. Instead they chose to publish an error-filled and misleading piece on climate because some so-called experts aligned with their bias signed it. This may be good politics for them, but it is bad science and it is bad for the nation.

Science magazine – perhaps the nation’s most important journal on scientific issues – published the letter from the NAS members after the Journal turned it down.

Do you have an open mind? Read both, side by side. And understand that every national academy of sciences on the planet agrees with the reality and seriousness of human caused climate change.

The letter signed by 255 National Academy of Sciences members, from Science magazine.

The letter signed by 16 “scientists” in the Wall Street Journal.

How The Wall Street Journal’s Climate Coverage Fails Businesses
by Alexander C. Kaufman. Huffington Post

The Wall Street Journal may want to consider some editorial input from its advertisers.

Such a thing would be journalistic sacrilege. But the full-page that ran last week in the country’s biggest newspaper by circulation — a call from nearly 70 big-name companies for a strong deal to curb greenhouse gas emissions — seems more in touch with scientific reason than much of anything found on the editorial and opinion pages.

Economist Jeffrey Sachs wrote in a blog post that appeared in The Huffington Post on Monday that the job of business leaders is to look ahead and around corners, to see what is coming next.

“Taking The Wall Street Journal editorials as fact would cost the U.S. its global leadership in the era of the high-tech, low-carbon world economy,” he wrote. […]

Major corporate players from an array of sectors have pledged to convert their operations to use 100 percent renewable energy within the next two decades.

Therein lies the most significant change here — big business is behind the deal. That’s what made the 21st Conference of the Parties, or COP21, so different from similar global gatherings in Kyoto in 2001 or Copenhagen in 2009. Corporations realized that the extreme and increasingly unpredictable weather and climate changes that come of global warming were bad for business.

“Serious businesses need serious help with analysis because these are complicated issues,” Sachs, who teaches at Columbia University, told HuffPost by phone on Tuesday. “It has really done a disservice to businesses.” […]

The editorial board’s view sets it apart from just about every major intellectual institution with the exception of one: the Grand Old Party — the only major political party in the world that denies climate change outright or that it’s a problem that should be addressed, according to Eric Roston, the sustainability editor at Bloomberg.

Anarchists Not In Universities

By design and legacy, universities as formal social institutions easily end up closely conforming to, actively supporting, and strongly defending sociopolitical systems of power and authority, socioeconomic orders of hierarchy and inequality. In how higher education is typically structured and operates, degrees and tenure plays a gatekeeping role for the professional-managerial class and a bulwark against any challenges to the ruling elite. It filters out the non-conformists, iconoclasts, radicals, rabblerousers, and troublemakers. For those who don’t get the message, they might be kicked out or fired, silenced or blackballed.

Right-wingers have this bizarre fantasy of universities as bastions of left-wing politics. That is as far from the truth as one can get. Few universities have ever welcomed radicals, much less sought to promote activism. The only reason that campuses have been a site of political action is because they are a prime location of institutionalized power. It’s the same reason people protest on Wall Street and in front of the White House. The only way to directly challenge power is to meet it where it resides. And for college students, the power that most affects their lives and is closest within reach is university bureaucracy, which these days is typically run according to a profit model of business management and not Marxist working class control, communist revolt, or democratic self-governance.

There is a reason why, in the Cold War, the CIA hired professors as spymasters and recruited students as agents; and surely the CIA still operates this way (it’s the same reason why enemy states try to infiltrate each other’s universities, just as they do with each other’s governments). Universities have often been in that key middle position between state and citizenry, sometimes making them a useful tool of propaganda as American Studies served during the Cold War. And rarely have university staff, including tenured professors, dared to challenge this power structure. After all, if they were the type to do so, they wouldn’t likely lasted long enough to get a secure position within the hierarchy. Professors in most universities, at least in a country like the United States, quickly learn to keep their heads down. The same has been true in other countries drawn to authoritarianism, as Milton Mayer explained about how the Nazis slowly changed German society, step by step:

Suddenly it all comes down, all at once. You see what you are, what you have done, or, more accurately, what you haven’t done (for that was all that was required of most of us: that we do nothing). You remember those early meetings of your department in the university when, if one had stood, others would have stood, perhaps, but no one stood. A small matter, a matter of hiring this man or that, and you hired this one rather than that. You remember everything now, and your heart breaks. Too late. You are compromised beyond repair.

That is a good transition to what inspired this post. David Graeber is one of the more well known anarchists, at least in the English-speaking world. That is saying something considering how effectively mainstream media and politics excludes anarchists from public awareness and public debate. It is also the higher education system that excludes them, often a matter of them not being hired or getting tenure as was the case with Graeber. Minorities are probably more well represented than anarchists in positions of power and authority. Partly, that is because anarchists aren’t prone to seek positions of power and authority in the first place. But even when an anarchist tries to work within the system, most wouldn’t be very happy or likely last long. Graeber’s experience demonstrates this for not only was he an anarchist but also came from a lowly and disreputable background, from a family of working class and radicalism. Apparently, that makes him precisely what every American university wants to avoid like the plague.

Noam Chomsky, on the other hand, did have a successful career as an anarchist and academic but he did so by entirely separating the two and by compromising his principles in working on Pentagon-funded programs. I have a feeling that Graeber wouldn’t be willing to follow Chomsky’s example.

One has to be willing to admit how much Chomsky compromised, more than some are willing to do, as compromise over times becomes a mindset and a habit. The compromise is political, intellectual, and psychological. This can be seen in the positions Chomsky has taken, which don’t make sense from a position of principled anarchism, but it also can be seen in how on multiple occasions has acted as a sheepdog for the Democratic Party in telling people to vote for neocons and neoliberals because they are supposedly a lesser evil. Is Hillary Clinton a lesser evil in the way Chomsky’s friend John Deutch, academic turned Deputy Defense Secretary and later Director of the CIA, was supposedly a lesser evil according to Chomsky’s own rationalization? If they are genuinely lesser evil, why are they such key political actors in promoting greater and greater evil over time?

Chris Knight writes (When Chomsky Worked on Weapons Systems for the Pentagon):

Naturally, having argued that people like Rostow and Faurisson should be able to work in academia, Chomsky was in no position to be too hostile to any of his colleagues at MIT, no matter what they were up to. In the 1980s, for example, MIT’s most notorious academic was its Provost, John Deutch, who was particularly controversial due to his role in bringing biological warfare research to the university.[31] Deutch was also heavily involved in the Pentagon’s chemical weapons strategy, its deployment of MX nuclear missiles and its Nuclear Posture Review of 1994.[32] By this point, student and faculty opposition meant that Deutch had failed in one of his ambitions – to become President at MIT – but he had succeeded in becoming Deputy Defense Secretary. Then, in 1995, President Clinton made him Director of the CIA.

It was around this time that Chomsky was asked about his relationship with Deutch. He replied:

“We were actually friends and got along fine, although we disagreed on about as many things as two human beings can disagree about. I liked him. … I had no problem with him. I was one of the very few people on the faculty, I’m told, who was supporting his candidacy for the President of MIT.”[33]

In another interview, Chomsky was even more positive about his friend, remarking that Deutch “has more honesty and integrity than anyone I’ve ever met in academic life, or any other life. … If somebody’s got to be running the CIA, I’m glad it’s him.”[34]

One of Chomsky’s most controversial political positions concerned Pol Pot’s regime in Cambodia. Although he never denied that the regime committed atrocities, it is hard to read his early writings on this subject without getting the impression that he is understating what was going on in Cambodia under Pol Pot.[35] Chomsky’s right-wing detractors have implied that this was because he had some ideological sympathy with the Pol Pot regime. This was clearly not the case. A better explanation is that it pained Chomsky’s conscience to be too critical of any country that had been so brutally targeted by the Pentagon, i.e. by the same people who had so generously funded his own academic career.

If Chomsky didn’t tell you he was an anarchist, how would one know from his academic career? Well, you couldn’t. He has always argued that ideas are separate from politics, that academia is separate from the personal. No one who is even slightly psychologically self-aware and knowledgeable of the social sciences could make such an argument, but then again Chomsky conveniently dismisses social science out of hand. You can dissociate parts of your life and self, but they never actually exist separately. If anarchism doesn’t inform how you live every aspect of your life, what purpose does it serve in being sectioned off to where it doesn’t personally threaten your lifestyle? If Chomsky isn’t an anarchist in practice when it matters most such as when money and career is on the line, is he really an anarchist? He would rather not think about that because his entire career has depended on never answering that question or rather never acknowledging the default answer.

That isn’t to say that his political work is of no value, but one has to be honest in admitting how much he chose to sacrifice, especially considering how his anarchism so often brings him back to the DNC establishment. So, that compromise wasn’t limited to a brief period of academic work long ago for it has left a permanent mark on his life and politics with repercussions in the decades since. Graeber took a different path. He still ended up in academia, just not in the United States. There was nothing stopping Chomsky from working at a different university where he wouldn’t have compromised and been compromised. It would have been a sacrifice, but in the long term it might have been a much smaller sacrifice with greater gains. I guess we will never know.

Interestingly, Graeber’s troubles began at Yale, which like MIT is one of the last places in the world an anarchist would feel at home. It was at Yale that Norman Holmes Pearson was a student and who later, as a professor, acted as a World War II secret agent for the OSS (Office of Strategic Services), precursor of the CIA. Pearson was one of the major figures who established American Studies at Yale. He also went onto teach and train James Jesus Angleton who for 21 years became the CIA chief of counter-intelligence, one of the most respected and feared agents in the non-communist world. John Hartley said of him that, “His obsessive search for spies turned to domestic suspects during the Johnson and Nixon presidencies, among them the liberal and countercultural elite of American society, including Martin Luther King and Edward Kennedy.” Angleton wielded much power and, along with catching actual spies, destroyed the careers and lives of many innocent people. Under the Johnson and Nixon administrations, he was in charge of CIA domestic spying for Operation Chaos. That is what higher education in the United States is mixed up with.

Is it surprising that an anti-authoritarian activist would have a hard time getting tenure at Yale? Not really. So much for universities being a haven for left-wingers and hotbed of radicalism. This would also explain, as I’ve noticed, the scarcity of academic research on anarchism (not even an anarchist like Chomsky who gets into academia will dare to apply his anarchism to his academic work, much less make it a focus; or else he wouldn’t have had a long academic career). Meanwhile, there are many millions of pages of academic research obsessing over authoritarianism. Maybe there is a reason authoritarians find universities, especially the Ivy League colleges, to be a convenient place to promote their careers. There are more academics who will write and teach about authoritarianism than will actually stand up to abuses of power in the real world. This makes one wonder what is the real purpose for studying authoritarianism in an academic setting — to prevent it or promote it?

* * *

Unraveling the Politics of Silencing
by Laura Nader

A young David Graeber came from a blue collar family. His mother was a union organizer for New York garment workers and his father fought in the Spanish Civil War. Graeber went to the University of Chicago for graduate work. He carried out his first major fieldwork in Madagascar. After Chicago, he was an assistant professor of anthropology at Yale, from 1998- 2007, author of Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value (2001) and Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology in 2004. Although he was prolific and a clear writer, his contract was not renewed at Yale. He had during his Yale stay been doing fieldwork on anarchism in New York, participant observing, and eventually became one of the founders of the Occupy Wall Street Movement (Graeber 2013). He describes himself as a scholar in New Haven, an activist in New York. But after Yale, Graeber has not been able to get a job in the United States.

The Sounds of Anthropological Silence
by David Price

David Graeber’s work is exceptional. He is a rare scholar who is able to grapple with complex social theory in a very straightforward way, but it seems that it was his decision to not let theory simply be theory that lead to his leaving Yale. I am sure that had Professor Graeber been satisfied with only writing books and articles for other academics on the problems of pay inequities and globalization he could today be sipping a dry martini within the secure confines of the Yale Faculty Club. But moving beyond theory to action is seldom welcomed on university campuses when one is studying inequality.

I think that self-proclaimed anarchists can fit into an establishment university, so long as their anarchism is limited to the written and spoken word–universities can and do welcome people espousing all sorts of beliefs; it is just when professors and students behaviorally challenge power structures either off or on campus that trouble begins. It would seem that Professor Graeber’s activism both on and off campus is what put the kybosh on his tenure application. Another way of looking at this is to say that activism matters–matters so much in fact that those who engage in it must be marginalized.

It Wasn’t a Tenure Case – A Personal Testimony, with Reflections
by David Graeber

There are many mysteries of the academy which would be appropriate objects of ethnographic analysis. One question that never ceases to intrigue me is tenure. How could a system ostensibly designed to give scholars the security to be able to say dangerous things have been transformed into a system so harrowing and psychologically destructive that, by the time scholars find themselves in a secure position, 99% of them have forgotten what it would even mean to have a dangerous idea? How is the magic effected, systematically, on the most intelligent and creative people our societies produce? Shouldn’t they of all people know better? There is a reason the works of Michel Foucault are so popular in US academia. We largely do this to ourselves. But for this very reason such questions will never be researched. […]

It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of social class. I was told by one ally at Yale that my problem was that owing to my proletarian background and general comportment, I was considered “unclubbable.” That is, if one is not from a professional-managerial background, one can be accepted by one’s “betters,” but only if one makes it clear such acceptance is one’s highest life aspiration. Otherwise, ideas or actions that among the well-born would likely be treated as amusing peccadillos—such as an embrace of anti-authoritarian politics—will be considered to disqualify one from academic life entirely. […]

The (tacitly authoritarian) insistence on acting as if institutions could not possibly behave the way the anthropology department at Yale did in fact behave leads almost necessary to victim-blaming. As a result, bullying—which I have elsewhere defined as unprovoked attacks designed to produce a reaction which can be held out as retrospective justification for the attacks themselves—tends to be an effective strategy in academic contexts. Once my contract was not renewed, I was made aware that within the larger academic community, any objections I made to how I’d been treated would be themselves be held out as retroactive justification for the non-renewal of my contract. If I was accused of being a bad teacher or scholar, and I objected that my classes were popular and my work well regarded, this would show I was self-important, and hence a bad colleague, which would then be considered the likely real reason for my dismissal. If I suggested political or even personal bias on the part of any of those who opposed renewal of my contract, I would be seen as paranoid, and therefore as likely having been let go for that very reason… And so on.

The Coming Collapse

“I seriously believe this country deserves everything that’s going to happen to it. War, revolution, madness, the whole bag.”
~ Hunter S. Thompson, 1968

Authoritarian strains in American politics and economy have a long history. Major American figures, including President Jimmy Carter, have warned that the United States is now a banana republic. To put emphasis on the nonpartisan nature of this judgment, it was during the last Democratic administration that Carter stated in no uncertain terms that, “America does not at the moment have a functioning democracy.” That was before anyone knew of Donald Trump running for the presidency.

Plenty of data supports this assessment, such as American democracy recently being downgraded from a “full democracy” to a “flawed democracy”, according to the Democracy Index of the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). But even long before that, others had noted that in the past these rising rates of high inequality were always a key indicator that a country had become a banana republic.

One person noted that this was what they were taught in public school a half century ago back when the United States had low inequality, a large middle class, and high economic mobility. It was taught as a way of comparing how the American economy was superior in the egalitarian American Dream it claimed to represent. Few at the time thought the United States would follow the example of the authoritarian regimes and puppet states our government put into power. It should have been known, though, that what a citizenry allows their government do to others will eventually and inevitably be done to the citizenry, first targeting the disadvantaged but eventually targeting everyone (as Martin Niemöller famously explained about those in power finally coming for him).

It’s very much been a bipartisan failure of democracy or, if you prefer, a bipartisan success of cynical realpolitik. The ruling elite are doing great, for the moment. And the general public have been kept ignorant and distracted, resulting in a lack of urgency. But all of that is irrelevant, as far as it matters for the disempowered and disfranchised majority — that is irrelevant until the inevitable collapse or revolt. It is with such a dire threat looming on the horizon that the ruling elite further push disinformation and spectacle.

Most Americans have no idea how bad it is has gotten. For example, Americans think economic inequality is far lower than it actually is and yet the actual levels are far higher than what most Americans believe should be tolerable. As soon as Americans realize they’ve been lied to by their corporatocratic government and corporatist media, that will be the end of the charade and the ending will come quickly once it starts. On an intuitive level, Americans already grasp it doesn’t all add up. And this can be seen in every aspect of our society.

Propaganda, no matter how successful, can only deny reality for so long. High inequality, in creating rampant stress and anxiety, is a problem that solves itself by destabilizing the entire system. There is no example in history of a high inequality society that didn’t either destroy itself or else became more authoritarian in delaying collapse, but in either case it involves a sharp increase of public unrest and revolt along with violence and death. The Bernie Sanders’ campaign was a last ditch effort to avoid this fate. But now we are too far gone. We will be forced to ride this out to its bitter end.

To be clear, Sanders isn’t a socialist nor are most of his supporters. Sanders is a rather moderate social democrat who is to the right of the old school New Deal Democrats, not coming close to the large-scale reforms and high tax rates supported by presidents in both parties earlier last century. It isn’t only populists threatening the powerful. Even among the powerful, there are those who don’t see the situation as sustainable.

Nick Hanauer, a wealthy businessman and early investor in Amazon, has warned about the pitchforks coming for the plutocrats. He makes this warning because, as with Adam Smith, he knows inequality is bad for any hope of a free society and free economy. And Hanauer is talking not only to Trump-like Republicans but also to major Democratic political operators such as Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. “They’re super exploitive—just unacceptable,” Hanauer says. “What I can guarantee you is that Jeff Bezos is not going to change those things in the absence of somebody putting essentially a gun to his head and forcing him to do it.”

That is one plutocratic Democrat talking about another plutocratic Democrat. If there is that much harsh disagreement among the ruling elite in the once considered working class party, imagine the outrage from below that is coming when civil unrest boils over. Instead of listening to the likes of Hanauer and Sanders (and earlier Nader), we got the corruption of the Clinton Democrats whose power-mongering created the monster in power now, Donald Trump. Don’t forget that Trump who, before becoming a Republican president, was a Clinton Democrat and close friend and supporter of the Clinton family. All of these people represent the splintering of the Democratic Party, splintering along the lines of populism and plutocracy.

As a Silicon Valley pastor of a church in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the country, Gregory Stevens bluntly spoke of the wealthy elites of the liberal class who, I might add, heavily fund the Democratic Party. The tech industry has become the core support behind the Democratic neoliberalism of the Clinton Democrats, endlessly espousing empty rhetoric about social justice but never willing to confront the actual problems that they profit from. Here is what Stevens said, according to Sam Levin in a Guardian piece:

“I believe Palo Alto is a ghetto of wealth, power, and elitist liberalism by proxy, meaning that many community members claim to want to fight for social justice issues, but that desire doesn’t translate into action,” Stevens wrote, lamenting that it was impossible for low-income people to live in the city. “The insane wealth inequality and the ignorance toward actual social justice is absolutely terrifying.”

He later added: “The tech industry is motivated by endless profit, elite status, rampant greed, and the myth that their technologies are somehow always improving the world.”

Remind me again how societal decline is all the fault of Donald Trump and his co-conspirators. The only thing that makes Trump different from the Clintons is that he is more honest about his motivations.

Below are two views. The first was recently written under our present Trump administration. And the second was written under the Obama administration. The problems described have been continuously worsening under administrations from both parties going back decades. These kinds of warnings go even further back, as expressed in the predictions by the American Revolutionaries and Founders known as the Anti-Federalists. It’s long been known what kind of society this is and, unless it was changed, what kind of society it would become.

* * *

The Coming Collapse
by Chris Hedges

The Trump administration did not rise, prima facie, like Venus on a half shell from the sea. Donald Trump is the result of a long process of political, cultural and social decay. He is a product of our failed democracy. The longer we perpetuate the fiction that we live in a functioning democracy, that Trump and the political mutations around him are somehow an aberrant deviation that can be vanquished in the next election, the more we will hurtle toward tyranny. The problem is not Trump. It is a political system, dominated by corporate power and the mandarins of the two major political parties, in which we don’t count. We will wrest back political control by dismantling the corporate state, and this means massive and sustained civil disobedience, like that demonstrated by teachers around the country this year. If we do not stand up we will enter a new dark age.

The Democratic Party, which helped build our system of inverted totalitarianism, is once again held up by many on the left as the savior. Yet the party steadfastly refuses to address the social inequality that led to the election of Trump and the insurgency by Bernie Sanders. It is deaf, dumb and blind to the very real economic suffering that plagues over half the country. It will not fight to pay workers a living wage. It will not defy the pharmaceutical and insurance industries to provide Medicare for all. It will not curb the voracious appetite of the military that is disemboweling the country and promoting the prosecution of futile and costly foreign wars. It will not restore our lost civil liberties, including the right to privacy, freedom from government surveillance, and due process. It will not get corporate and dark money out of politics. It will not demilitarize our police and reform a prison system that has 25 percent of the world’s prisoners although the United States has only 5 percent of the world’s population. It plays to the margins, especially in election seasons, refusing to address substantive political and social problems and instead focusing on narrow cultural issues like gay rights, abortion and gun control in our peculiar species of anti-politics.

This is a doomed tactic, but one that is understandable. The leadership of the party, the Clintons, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Tom Perez, are creations of corporate America. In an open and democratic political process, one not dominated by party elites and corporate money, these people would not hold political power. They know this. They would rather implode the entire system than give up their positions of privilege. And that, I fear, is what will happen. The idea that the Democratic Party is in any way a bulwark against despotism defies the last three decades of its political activity. It is the guarantor of despotism. […]

But the warnings from the architects of our failed democracy against creeping fascism, Madeleine Albright among them, are risible. They show how disconnected the elites have become from the zeitgeist. None of these elites have credibility. They built the edifice of lies, deceit and corporate pillage that made Trump possible. And the more Trump demeans these elites, and the more they cry out like Cassandras, the more he salvages his disastrous presidency and enables the kleptocrats pillaging the country as it swiftly disintegrates.

The press is one of the principal pillars of Trump’s despotism. It chatters endlessly like 18th-century courtiers at the court of Versailles about the foibles of the monarch while the peasants lack bread. It drones on and on and on about empty topics such as Russian meddling and a payoff to a porn actress that have nothing to do with the daily hell that, for many, defines life in America. It refuses to critique or investigate the abuses by corporate power, which has destroyed our democracy and economy and orchestrated the largest transfer of wealth upward in American history. The corporate press is a decayed relic that, in exchange for money and access, committed cultural suicide. And when Trump attacks it over “fake news,” he expresses, once again, the deep hatred of all those the press ignores. The press worships the idol of Mammon as slavishly as Trump does. It loves the reality-show presidency. The press, especially the cable news shows, keeps the lights on and the cameras rolling so viewers will be glued to a 21st-century version of “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.” It is good for ratings. It is good for profits. But it accelerates the decline. […]

As a foreign correspondent I covered collapsed societies, including the former Yugoslavia. It is impossible for any doomed population to grasp how fragile the decayed financial, social and political system is on the eve of implosion. All the harbingers of collapse are visible: crumbling infrastructure; chronic underemployment and unemployment; the indiscriminate use of lethal force by police; political paralysis and stagnation; an economy built on the scaffolding of debt; nihilistic mass shootings in schools, universities, workplaces, malls, concert venues and movie theaters; opioid overdoses that kill some 64,000 people a year; an epidemic of suicides; unsustainable military expansion; gambling as a desperate tool of economic development and government revenue; the capture of power by a tiny, corrupt clique; censorship; the physical diminishing of public institutions ranging from schools and libraries to courts and medical facilities; the incessant bombardment by electronic hallucinations to divert us from the depressing sight that has become America and keep us trapped in illusions. We suffer the usual pathologies of impending death. I would be happy to be wrong. But I have seen this before. I know the warning signs. All I can say is get ready.

The Divide
by Matt Taibbi
Kindle Locations 67-160
(see more here)

The other thing here is an idea that being that poor means you should naturally give up any ideas you might have about privacy or dignity. The welfare applicant is less of a person for being financially dependent (and a generally unwelcome immigrant from a poor country to boot), so she naturally has fewer rights.

No matter how offensive the image is, it has a weird logic that’s irresistible to many if not most Americans. Even if we don’t agree with it, we all get it.

And that’s the interesting part, the part where we all get it. More and more often, we all make silent calculations about who is entitled to what rights, and who is not. It’s not as simple as saying everyone is the same under the law anymore. We all know there’s another layer to it now.

As a very young man, I studied the Russian language in Leningrad, in the waning days of the Soviet empire. One of the first things I noticed about that dysfunctional wreck of a lunatic country was that it had two sets of laws, one written and one unwritten. The written laws were meaningless, unless you violated one of the unwritten laws, at which point they became all-important.

So, for instance, possessing dollars or any kind of hard currency was technically forbidden, yet I never met a Soviet citizen who didn’t have them. The state just happened to be very selective about enforcing its anticommerce laws. So the teenage farsovshik (black market trader) who sold rabbit hats in exchange for blue jeans outside my dorm could be arrested for having three dollars in his pocket, but a city official could openly walk down Nevsky Avenue with a brand-new Savile Row suit on his back, and nothing would happen.

Everyone understood this hypocrisy implicitly, almost at a cellular level, far beneath thought. For a Russian in Soviet times, navigating every moment of citizenship involved countless silent calculations of this type. But the instant people were permitted to think about all this and question the unwritten rules out loud, it was like the whole country woke up from a dream , and the system fell apart in a matter of months . That happened before my eyes in 1990 and 1991, and I never forgot it.

Now I feel like I’m living that process in reverse, watching my own country fall into a delusion in the same way the Soviets once woke up from one. People are beginning to become disturbingly comfortable with a kind of official hypocrisy. Bizarrely, for instance, we’ve become numb to the idea that rights aren’t absolute but are enjoyed on a kind of sliding scale.

To be extreme about it, on the far end—like, say, in the villages of Pakistan or Afghanistan—we now view some people as having no rights at all. They can be assassinated or detained indefinitely outside any sort of legal framework, from the Geneva conventions on down.

Even here at home, that concept is growing. After the Boston marathon bombings, there was briefly a controversy where we wondered aloud whether the Chechen suspects would be read Miranda rights upon capture. No matter how angry you were about those bombings—and as a Boston native, I wanted whoever was responsible thrown in the deepest hole we have—it was a fascinating moment in our history. It was the first time when we actually weren’t sure if an American criminal suspect would get full access to due process of law. Even on television, the blow-dried talking heads didn’t know the answer. We had to think about it.

Of course, on the other end of the spectrum are the titans of business, the top executives at companies like Goldman and Chase and GlaxoSmithKline, men and women who essentially as a matter of policy now will never see the inside of a courtroom, almost no matter what crimes they may have committed in the course of their business. This is obviously an outrage, and the few Americans who paid close attention to news stories like the deferred prosecution of HSBC for laundering drug money, or the nonprosecution of the Swiss bank UBS for fixing interest rates, were beside themselves with anger over the unfairness of it all.

But the truly dark thing about those stories is that somewhere far beneath the intellect, on a gut level, those who were paying attention understood why those stories panned out the way they did. Just as we very quickly learned to accept the idea that America now tortures and assassinates certain foreigners (and perhaps the odd American or three) as a matter of routine, and have stopped marching on Washington to protest the fact that these things are done in our names, we’ve also learned to accept the implicit idea that some people have simply more rights than others. Some people go to jail, and others just don’t. And we all get it.

I was originally attracted to this subject because, having spent years covering white-collar corruption for Rolling Stone, I was interested in the phenomenon of high-powered white-collar criminals completely avoiding individual punishment for what appeared to be very serious crimes. It’s become a cliché by now, but since 2008, no high-ranking executive from any financial institution has gone to jail, not one, for any of the systemic crimes that wiped out 40 percent of the world’s wealth. Even now, after JPMorgan Chase agreed to a settlement north of $13 billion for a variety of offenses and the financial press threw itself up in arms over the government’s supposedly aggressive new approach to regulating Wall Street, the basic principle held true: Nobody went to jail. Not one person.

Why was that? I quickly realized that it was impossible to answer that question without simultaneously looking at the question of who does go to jail in this country, and why. This was especially true when the numbers were so stark, zero-to-a-few on one hand, millions on the other.

Finding the answer to some of this turns out to be easy, just simple math. Big companies have big lawyers, most street criminals do not, and prosecutors dread waging long wars against bottomless-pocketed megabanks when they can score win after easy win against common drug dealers, car thieves, and the like. After winning enough of these blowout victories, the justice bureaucracy starts drifting inexorably toward the no-sweat ten-second convictions and away from the expensive years-long battles of courtroom attrition.

Unquestionably, however, something else is at work, something that cuts deeper into the American psyche. We have a profound hatred of the weak and the poor, and a corresponding groveling terror before the rich and successful, and we’re building a bureaucracy to match those feelings.

Buried in our hatred of the dependent, in Mitt Romney’s lambasting of the 47 percent, in the water carrier’s contempt for the water drinker, is a huge national psychological imperative. Many of our national controversies are on some level debates about just exactly how much we should put up with from the “nonproducing” citizenry. Even the George Zimmerman trial devolved into a kind of national discussion over whether Trayvon Martin was the kind of person who had the right to walk down the street unmolested, or whether he was a member of a nuisance class, a few pegs down on that sliding scale of rights, who should have submitted to … well, whatever it was that happened.

The weird thing is that the common justification for the discrepancy in prison statistics—the glaring percentage of incarcerated people who are either poor, nonwhite, or both—is that the ghetto denizens are the people who commit the crimes, that their neighborhoods are where the crime is at.

And the common justification for the failure to prosecute executives in corrupt corporations for any crimes that they might commit is that their offenses aren’t really crimes per se but mere ethical violations, morally unfortunate acts not punishable by law. President Obama himself would hint at this in an infamous 60 Minutes interview.

But in practice, as I would find out in a years-long journey through the American justice system, things turn out to be completely different.

Yes, there’s a lot of violent crime in poor neighborhoods. And yes, that’s where most of your gun violence happens.

But for most of the poor people who are being sent away, whether it’s for a day or for ten years, their prison lives begin when they’re jailed for the most minor offenses imaginable. Can you imagine spending a night in jail for possessing a pink Hi-Liter marker? For rolling a tobacco cigarette? How about for going to the corner store to buy ketchup without bringing an ID?

They are sent away because they do the same things rich people do at some time in their lives, usually as teenagers—get drunk and fall down, use drugs, take a leak in an alley, take a shortcut through someone’s yard, fall asleep in a subway car, scream at a boyfriend or girlfriend, hop a fence. Only when they do these things, they’re surrounded by a thousand police, watching their every move.

Meanwhile the supposedly minor violations that aren’t worth throwing bankers in jail for—they turn out to be not so minor. When an employee at the aforementioned British banking giant HSBC—whose executives were ultimately handed a no-jail settlement for the biggest money-laundering case in the history of banking—started looking into how people on terrorist or criminal watch lists opened accounts at his company, he found something odd. In many cases, commas or periods were being surreptitiously added to names, so that they would elude the bank’s computer screening systems.

“That’s something that could only have been done on purpose, by a bank employee,” he said.

What deserves a bigger punishment—someone with a college education who knowingly helps a gangster or a terrorist open a bank account? Or a high school dropout who falls asleep on the F train?

The new America says it’s the latter. It’s come around to that point of view at the end of a long evolutionary process, in which the rule of law has slowly been replaced by giant idiosyncratic bureaucracies that are designed to criminalize failure, poverty, and weakness on the one hand, and to immunize strength, wealth, and success on the other.

We still have real jury trials, honest judges, and free elections, all the superficial characteristics of a functional, free democracy. But underneath that surface is a florid and malevolent bureaucracy that mostly (not absolutely, but mostly) keeps the rich and the poor separate through thousands of tiny, scarcely visible inequities.

For instance, while the trials may be free and fair, unfair calculations are clearly involved in who gets indicted for crimes, and who does not. Or: Which defendant gets put in jail, and which one gets away with a fine? Which offender ends up with a criminal record, and which one gets to settle with the state without admitting wrongdoing? Which thief will pay restitution out of his own pocket, and which one will be allowed to have the company he works for pay the tab? Which neighborhoods have thousands of police roaming the streets, and which ones don’t have any at all?

This is where the new despotism is hidden, in these thousands of arbitrary decisions that surround our otherwise transparent system of real jury trials and carefully enumerated suspects’ rights. This vast extrademocratic mechanism, it turns out, is made up of injustices big and small, from sweeping national concepts like Eric Holder’s Collateral Consequences plan, granting situational leniency to “systemically important” companies, to smaller, more localized outrages like New York City prosecutors subverting speedy trial rules in order to extract guilty pleas from poor defendants who can’t make bail.

Most people understand this on some level, but they don’t really know how bad it has gotten, because they live entirely on one side of the equation. If you grew up well off, you probably don’t know how easy it is for poor people to end up in jail, often for the same dumb things you yourself did as a kid.

And if you’re broke and have limited experience in the world, you probably have no idea of the sheer scale of the awesome criminal capers that the powerful and politically connected can get away with, right under the noses of the rich-people police.

This is a story that doesn’t need to be argued. You just need to see it, and it speaks for itself. Only we’ve arranged things so that the problem is basically invisible to most people, unless you go looking for it.

I went looking for it.

Most Americans Pleasantly Surprised System Hasn’t Collapsed Yet

“How well are things going in the country today: very well, fairly well, pretty badly or very badly?”

That is from a CNN poll. I enjoy looking at polling data. But I must admit a question like this perplexes me. What does this question even mean? What is it specifically asking about? What is being referred to by ‘things’? What was the context in which it was asked? Were there questions that preceded it and framed it?

Here is the breakdown of responses:
Very well 13%
Fairly well 45%
Pretty badly 28%
Very badly 12%

This question has been asked by CNN going back to 2005. When the options of “very well” and “fairly well” are combined, that is a majority of Americans who generally consider ‘things’ to be doing ‘well’. That percentage is higher than it has been in all those years of polling. Even before the 2008 Great Recession, it wasn’t quite that high.

Obviously, most people asked this question weren’t thinking of the president, congress, etc which get low favorable ratings in public opinion. These ratings are at historical lows. Other polling doesn’t make clear that it is about the economy either. The U.S. population is about evenly split over the economy being better now than a year ago. But even that is hard to interpret considering about half the population is unemployed or underemployed. A large part of the population is in poverty or close to it. This is probably how most people think about the economy, as personal experience and not abstract data.

Inequality continues to rise, housing and healthcare and education costs are higher than ever, wages continue to stagnate, few Americans have any retirement savings or even enough money to pay for a major emergency, job security is an endangered species, and good benefits are no longer included as part of the American Dream. Plus, personal and national debt keeps on growing, big banks that were too big to fail that they were bailed out to avoid financial collapse are now even bigger, new kinds of monopoly-like corporations are forming within multiple markets, and related to high inequality a number of serious thinkers including President Jimmy Carter have stated that the United States is now a banana republic.

It probably shouldn’t be interpreted as high praise that the economy is doing slightly less worse or maintaining expected levels of crappiness. In this context, doing well might simply mean that the situation is tolerable enough to not yet incite mass revolt and possibly revolution.

Furthermore, even though supported by many, most Americans don’t think Trump’s tax cut will personally benefit them. As for the future, the population is split three ways about the economy getting better, remaining the same, or getting worse (causing one to wonder, since some of those who support the tax cut apparently don’t believe it will improve the economy for either themselves or other people). The conclusion of things doing well is far from being a straightforward appraisal of confident hope or satisfied contentment.

To consider other areas, I can’t imagine that the majority of the polled believe that U.S. foreign policy is doing well. The war on terror drags on with growing conflict or worsening relations with Russia, Iran, Syria, and other countries. Nuclear threats abound and have received much media attention. And the specter of nuclear war and possibly world war looms in the background. The U.S. military is stuck in permanent occupation of numerous parts of the world. Worse still, the U.S. has never been this hated and mistrusted on the world stage in living memory. Many Americans are feeling embarrassed, ashamed, and defensive about their country’s standing in world opinion.

On a more direct level for Americans, it is clear to everyone that the country is more divided than ever, especially along class and generational lines. For multiple reasons, there are high levels of stress in our society that have been erupting in acts of mass violence and, more generally, has caused a spike in such things as mental illness. Also, there is an opioid epidemic and mortality rates are worsening for multiple demographics: the middle aged, rural whites, rural women, etc. Inequality is growing and everyone knows it, and it is slowly sinking in that inequality is and always was about far more than merely the economy. Big biz, especially big banks, gets about as low of ratings as seen in public polling as does big gov. The favorable ratings of capitalism are quickly dropping while the favorable ratings of socialism are on the rise.

Americans don’t seem particularly optimistic at the moment. Maybe public opinion has to be interpreted as a relative perception in any given moment. Asking people how well things are is asking them how well is it compared to how badly things have been. And maybe the only thing implied in the polling is that many Americans don’t believe or don’t want to believe that it is going to get even worse. It could be that it feels like we are finally bottoming out as a nation and that this is as bad as it can get. If nothing else, Donald Trump as president demonstrates that a complete idiot can be the leader without all of it entirely collapsing, at least not immediately.

I guess some people find it reassuring that the teetering ramshackle of a system somehow miraculously manages to hold together. Maybe, just maybe we will make it. Then again, most of those who state things are doing well could be older Americans who assume that the consequences and costs will be delayed long enough that they will never have to deal with them. It’s not their problem, even as they helped to cause it. Let the young clean up the mess.

Or it could more simply be standard denial without much if any clear thought about where it is all heading. As long as the social order more or less remains intact for the moment, the general mood is that we are doing as well as can be expected under present dire circumstances. Most Americans unlikely want to think beyond that. Whatever it takes to avoid paralyzing despair, that seems to be the prevailing mindset. It’s as good of an interpretation as any other.

* * *

Giving it one more thought, I realized the explanation could be even simpler than any of those above speculations. It could be so simple as to be boring. Let me share the most down-to-earth possibility.

It might come down to timing. The responses are snapshot at a particular moment. It might not even represent public opinion from earlier in the year or public opinion a short while later. All responses came between the second and fifth of this month, a three day period. Whatever happened to be in the news cycle at that moment might have influenced the answer chosen. So, what was going on at the beginning of this month? One of the biggest events widely reported in the news during the prior week and into the polling period was the peace declared between North Korea and South Korea. President Trump, of course, took all credit for it. And, only a few days before CNN did their polling, a crowd of his fans chanted ‘Nobel’ indicating that they thought he deserved the Nobel Peace Prize.

It was a somewhat random event in terms of when it happened. But, as I argued elsewhere, Trump did deserve some credit. He has been so unpredictably crazy that South Koreans, in their own public polling last year, admitted they feared the United States more than they feared North Korea. Whether or not most other Americans wanted to give Trump credit, it would be taken as a positive result to many Americans. For more than a half century, the corporate media as the propaganda wing of the U.S. government has never tired of fear-mongering about North Korea. Any lessening of that fear, even if only momentary, would feel like a relief to many Americans.

That is the one thing that comes to mind in what has been in the news lately. It does coincide perfectly when the question was asked. The only other big thing going on was the investigation into the Russians and the Trump administration. But that has been going on so long that most Americans are now ignoring it as so much hype and noise. Disregarding the investigation and instead considering the Korean peace talk, that would explain a lot. If the question had been asked weeks or months earlier or the Korean peace talk had happened later, it’s possible the poll results would have been skewed the other direction.

The only way such a poll question could be meaningful is if it was asked multiple times throughout the year and maybe averaged out across the entire year or across a president’s entire time in office. But I doubt CNN is all that interested in meaningful results. Such polls aren’t intended to be analyzed in depth. They are just interesting tidbits of data for a news company to throw out. Public polling, after all, offers corporate media a semblance of legitimacy while being a thousand times cheaper to do than investigative journalism. And poll results are easier to put into a short piece with a catchy title, such as in this case: “CNN Poll: Trump approval steady amid rising outlook for the country“. Anything that will attract viewers and advertising dollars.