“Perpetual motion keeps the dream in place.”

ImageKarl Marx: “The reform of consciousness consists in making the world aware of its own consciousness, in awakening it out of its dream about itself”

Chuang-Tzu: Dreams he’s a butterfly. Wakes up, finds he’s a man, & asks: “But who is dreaming who? Is the butterfly now dreaming me?”

Now replace Chuang-Tzu’s butterfly with capital.

We dreamt capital into being, it was a function of our imaginations, our social vision, our direction.

But at some point, the figure and ground flipped. Capital become the dreamer, and we, functions of its vision and (paltry) imagination.

This is one way I read Marx: we dreamt up capital (and thankfully so, it’s a necessary component to the dialectic of progress).

But then we fell inside our own creation, engulfed, and now live perpetually inside capital, confusing the means for the end.

The ‘reform of consciousness’ is a collective remembrance, a collective ‘waking up’ from the nap we’ve taken inside what was only ever meant to be a transitional phase.

But for Marx, this isn’t realized as some big ideological shift.

Rather, reforming the material environment is the precondition for reforming the collective consciousness.

This is why he takes shortening the working week as the prerequisite for “the true realm of freedom”. Perpetual motion keeps the dream in place.

 ~ Oshan Jarow, Twitter thread

A Culture of Propaganda

“Contrary to previous readings by historians of the 20th century, which typically described propaganda films as glaringly biased and crude, contemporary historians have argued that filmmakers in propaganda’s coming of age were already educated in the power of subtle suggestion.”
~Christopher Maiytt, A Just Estimate of a Lie

“During the Cold War, it was commonplace to draw the distinction between “totalitarian” and “free” societies by noting that only in the free ones could groups self-organize independently of the state. But many of the groups that made that argument — including the magazines on this left — were often covertly-sponsored instruments of state power, at least in part.”
~Patrick Iber, Literary Magazines for Socialists Funded by the CIA, Ranked

“[Bernd] Scherer said he found fault with the CIA’s cultural programme for the way in which it “functionalised and thus corrupted the term ‘freedom’”, pointing out the paradoxes of an intelligence agency funnelling money to anti-apartheid organisations abroad while helping to sabotage the Black Panther movement at home.”
~Philip Oltermann, Berlin exhibition questions CIA’s influence on global art scene

The subjects of the American Empire are among the most propagandized in the world. And there is a long history of it. Propaganda during World War II was brought back home to be used in the United States, as were counterinsurgency techniques from Southeast Asian wars and covert operations. But few recognize it for what it is, as it filters our entire sense of reality, seeping into every crack and crevice of culture. It’s not merely disinformation. It’s a master narrative that rules our mind as the structures of power rule our lives.

There is a basic truth. In order to maintain the appearance of democracy in a banana republic, it requires maintaining basic levels of comfort so that people don’t question the world around them. This is why a minimal welfare state is necessary, to keep the population barely treading water and so keeping them from outright revolution. It’s the first part of carrot and stick, bread and circus.

Propaganda, as a vast circus, is all the more important to smooth over the bumps and divides. In a democratic society, Jacques Ellul argues in Propaganda, “as the government cannot follow opinion, opinion must follow the government. One must convince this present, ponderous, impassioned mass that the government’s decisions are legitimate and good and that its foreign policy is correct.”

A more blatantly authoritarian society is less reliant on propaganda since violent force maintains control and order. For example, the North Korean regime has little use for extensive and sophisticated methods of mind control and public perception management, since anyone who doesn’t conform and follow orders is simply imprisoned, tortured, or killed. But even in a banana republic such as the United States, violence always is a real threat, the stick for when the carrot fails.

There is a reason the American Empire has the largest military and prison system in history, a reason that it is the only country that has dropped atomic bombs on a human population, a reason it regularly supports terrorist groups and authoritarian regimes while overthrowing democracies. The authoritarian threat is not theoretical but quite real and carried out in punishing vast numbers of people every day, making them into examples — comply or else. Ask the large numbers of Americans who are locked away or ask the populations targeted by the military-industrial complex.

The trick is to turn public attention away from the brutality of raw power. Propaganda offers a story, a pleasant form of indoctrination. All Americans, on some level, know we are ruled by violent authoritarians and homicidal psychopaths. A good story makes us feel better about why we don’t revolt, why we stand by in complicity as millions suffer and die at the hands of the ruling elite, why we allow the theft of hundreds of trillions of dollars and the poisoning of the earth, leaving a horrific inheritance to our children and grandchildren.

Propaganda comes in many forms such as the daily mindless experience of the propaganda model of news or the invasive nature of corporate astroturf. But it has often been implemented as straightforward political rhetoric, propaganda campaigns, and psyops — see COINTELPRO and Operation Mockingbird. And look at the involvement of the CIA and Pentagon in education, art, literature, movies, video games, music, magazines, journals, and much else; even or especially philosophy and literary criticism — see the CIA obsession with postmodernism (CIA and the Cultural Cold War). Not to mention the CIA and FBI infiltration of organized labor, student groups, church organizations, and much else.

Also, one has to wonder about scientific fields as well, the social sciences most of all. Take anthropology (David H. Price, Anthropological Intelligence), such as with the career of Claude Lévi-Strauss. Or think of the less clear example of how the linguist Noam Chomsky criticized the military-industrial complex while essentially being on the payroll of the Pentagon (The Chomsky Problem); this is explored in Chris Knight’s book Decoding Chomsky. Be patient for a moment while we go off on a tangent.

* * *

One interesting detail is how consistent Chomsky has been in denying “conspiracy theories”, despite the fact that much of his own writing could only accurately be described as conspiracy theory, in that he analyzes the history of those who have conspired with various agendas and to various ends. Like many academics today, he seeks to be respectable. But how did alternative thinking become disreputable, even among alternative thinkers?

Although the term “conspiracy theorist” has been around since the 1800s, it was rarely used in the past. This changed following a 1967 CIA memo, in response to the Warren Commission Report, that conspired to control the narrative and manipulate public perception about the John F. Kennedy assassination: “The aim of this dispatch is to provide material for countering and discrediting the claims of the conspiracy theorists” (declassified CIA memo# 1035-960, “Countering Criticism of the Warren Report“; for more detailed info, read the book Conspiracy Theory in America by Prof. Lance deHaven-Smith).

In overtly advocating for the government to conspire against the public, the memo’s anonymous author directs CIA operatives to, “employ propaganda assets to answer and refute the attacks of the critics. Book reviews and feature articles are particularly appropriate for this purpose.” Who were these propaganda assets? And why was there such confidence in their power to carry out this conspiracy? Let’s put this in context.

That same year, in 1967, a Ramparts article exposed the CIA funding of the National Student Association. The following decade would lead to the revelations, in the Congressional investigations and reports, that the CIA was working with journalists in the mainstream media, along with connections to civic groups. At around the same time, the CIA Family Jewels report was compiled and, upon its declassification in 2007, it was shown that the CIA had a propaganda program called Operation Mockingbird that involved the media with operations going at least back to the 1960s. This was an extensive covert operation (AKA conspiracy), linked to major news outlets and influential journalists and editors in both the foreign and domestic media — from the Wikipedia article on Operation Mockingbird:

In a 1977 Rolling Stone magazine article, “The CIA and the Media,” reporter Carl Bernstein wrote that by 1953, CIA Director Allen Dulles oversaw the media network, which had major influence over 25 newspapers and wire agencies.[2] Its usual modus operandi was to place reports, developed from CIA-provided intelligence, with cooperating or unwitting reporters. Those reports would be repeated or cited by the recipient reporters and would then, in turn, be cited throughout the media wire services. These networks were run by people with well-known liberal but pro-American-big-business and anti-Soviet views, such as William S. Paley (CBS), Henry Luce (Time and Life), Arthur Hays Sulzberger (The New York Times), Alfred Friendly (managing editor of The Washington Post), Jerry O’Leary (The Washington Star), Hal Hendrix (Miami News), Barry Bingham, Sr. (Louisville Courier-Journal), James S. Copley (Copley News Services) and Joseph Harrison (The Christian Science Monitor).

This was admitted the year before, in 1976, by the Church Committee’s final report. About foreign media, it stated that, “The CIA currently maintains a network of several hundred foreign individuals around the world who provide intelligence for the CIA and at times attempt to influence opinion through the use of covert propaganda. These individuals provide the CIA with direct access to a large number of newspapers and periodicals, scores of press services and news agencies, radio and television stations, commercial book publishers, and other foreign media outlets” (Church Committee Final Report, Vol 1: Foreign and Military Intelligence, p. 455).

In our cynicism and passive complicity, we Americans expect that the CIA would be tangled up in all kinds of foreign organizations and many of us support these covert operations, maybe even feeling some pride in the greatness of American imperialism. But the shocking part is that the CIA would do the same in the United States and, sadly, most Americans have been intentionally kept ignorant of this fact (i.e., not typically taught about it as part of American history classes nor often mentioned in the news media and political debates). Read the following and let it sink in.

“Approximately 50 of the [CIA] assets are individual American journalists or employees of U.S. media organizations. Of these, fewer than half are “accredited” by U.S. media organizations … The remaining individuals are non-accredited freelance contributors and media representatives abroad … More than a dozen United States news organizations and commercial publishing houses formerly provided cover for CIA agents abroad. A few of these organizations were unaware that they provided this cover.”

Let’s get back to the CIA pushing the slur of “conspiracy theorists” through these assets. Just because a conspiracy is proven beyond a mere theory, that doesn’t mean it was effective and successful. So, what were the measurable results that followed? Kevin R. Ryan lays out the facts in showing how pivotal was that CIA memo in shifting the media framing — from Do we need another 9/11 conspiracy theory?:

“In the 45 years before the CIA memo came out, the phrase “conspiracy theory” appeared in the Washington Post and New York Times only 50 times, or about once per year. In the 45 years after the CIA memo, the phrase appeared 2,630 times, or about once per week.

“Before the CIA memo came out, the Washington Post and New York Times had never used the phrase “conspiracy theorist.” After the CIA memo came out, these two newspapers have used that phrase 1,118 times. Of course, in these uses the phrase is always delivered in a context in which “conspiracy theorists” were made to seem less intelligent and less rationale than people who uncritically accept official explanations for major events.”

Here is the sad irony. The CIA was always talented at playing two sides against each other. So, as they were using propaganda to weaponize “conspiracy theory” as an attack on critics of authoritarian statism and military imperialism, they were also using propaganda elsewhere to actively push false conspiracy theories to muddy the water. Kathryn S. Olmstead, a history professor at UC Davis, concluded that (Real Enemies, pp. 239-240, 2011),

“Citizens of a democracy must be wary of official and alternative conspiracists alike, demanding proof for the theories. Yet Americans should be most skeptical of official theorists, because the most dangerous conspiracies and conspiracy theories flow from the center of American government, not from the margins of society.

“Since the First World War, officials of the U.S. government have encouraged conspiracy theories, sometimes inadvertently, sometimes intentionally. They have engaged in conspiracies and used the cloak of national security to hide their actions from the American people. With cool calculation, they have promoted official conspiracy theories, sometimes demonstrably false ones, for their own purposes. They have assaulted civil liberties by spying on their domestic enemies. If antigovernment conspiracy theorists get the details wrong—and they often do—they get the basic issue right: it is the secret actions of the government that are the real enemies of democracy.”

[See my post Skepticism and Conspiracy.]

In respect to Chomsky, it was asked how alternative thinking became disreputable. This was not always the case. Chomsky is the most well-known left-winger in the world, but he often plays the role of guarding the boundaries of thought and shepherding loose sheep back into the fold, such as in recent elections repeatedly telling Americans to vote for corporatist Democrats. What in the hell is a supposed anarchist doing promoting corporatism? And why is he repeating a CIA talking point in dismissing conspiracy theories and acting condescending toward those he labels as conspiracy theorists?

One insightful answer is suggested by Chris Knight in Decoding Chomsky and it is highly recommended. The argument isn’t about claiming Chomsky is a CIA asset, but let’s remain focused on the point at hand. Left-wingers, earlier last century, were far less concerned about respectability, that is to say they were far more radical. “Around the time of the Second World War,” writes Ron Unz, “an important shift in political theory caused a huge decline in the respectability of any “conspiratorial” explanation of historical events” (American Pravda: How the CIA Invented “Conspiracy Theories”). He goes on to say that,

“For decades prior to that conflict, one of our most prominent scholars and public intellectuals had been historian Charles Beard, whose influential writings had heavily focused on the harmful role of various elite conspiracies in shaping American policy for the benefit of the few at the expense of the many, with his examples ranging from the earliest history of the United States down to the nation’s entry into WWI. Obviously, researchers never claimed that all major historical events had hidden causes, but it was widely accepted that some of them did, and attempting to investigate those possibilities was deemed a perfectly acceptable academic enterprise.”

Following Charles Beard, a new generation of intellectuals and scholars felt the walls closing in. They either quickly learned to submit and conform to the hidden demands of power or else find themselves shut out from polite society or even out of a job. It was the beginning of the era of respectability politics. In controlling the terms of debate, the CIA and other covert interests controlled public debate and hence public perception. The American ruling elite won the Cold War culture war, not only against the Soviet commies but also against the American people.

* * *

“It’s hard to fight an enemy who has outposts in your head.”
~Sally Kempton, Ben Price’s None Dare Call It Propaganda

“Power is the ability to rule the imagination.”
~Jacques Necker, from Guillaume de Sardes’ Against the hegemony of American art

Pseudo-radicals were allowed to go through the motions of freedom, as long as they toed the line, as long as they demonstrated a properly indoctrinated mind. Then they could be successful and, more importantly, respectable. They simply had to make the Devil’s Bargain of never taking radical action.  Other than that, they could talk all they wanted while remaining safely within the system of the status quo, such as Chomsky regularly appearing on corporate media — he has admitted that the system maintains control of what he is allowed to communicate.

“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient,” Chomsky fully understood, “is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum — even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.” This how a system of propaganda becomes internalized with barriers erected in the mind. “With the help of propaganda,” Jacques Ellul writes,

“one can do almost anything, but certainly not create the behavior of a free man or, to a lesser degree, a democratic man. A man who lives in a democratic society and who is subjected to propaganda is being drained of the democratic content itself – of the style of democratic life, understanding of others, respect for minorities, re-examination of his own opinions, absence of dogmatism. The means employed to spread democratic ideas make the citizen, psychologically, a totalitarian man. The only difference between him and a Nazi is that he is a ‘totalitarian man with democratic convictions,’ but those convictions do not change his behavior in the least. Such contradiction is in no way felt by the individual for whom democracy has become a myth and a set of democratic imperatives, merely stimuli that activate conditioned reflexes. The word democracy, having become a simple incitation, no longer has anything to do with democratic behavior. And the citizen can repeat indefinitely ‘the sacred formulas of democracy’ while acting like a storm trooper.”

So, there was a closing of the American mind and a silencing of radical thought during the early Cold War. That is no surprise, but what is surprising is how leading radicals were not eliminated so much as neutered and house-trained. The conspiracy theory is that this was an intentional outcome, what the CIA was hoping to achieve. So, was that 1967 CIA memo part of a propaganda campaign? It would be hard to absolutely prove in terms of what specific actions were taken, even as the memo itself seems to admit to it and even as we know the CIA was using every dirty trick in the book. We will never fully and exactly know what were all those CIA assets doing within the world of media and culture.

Besides, it’s not always clear what is or is not propaganda, as the deep state has its hands in almost every aspect of society with its influences being pervasive if often subtle. But what can’t be denied is that, both when intentional or as a side effect, this has a propagandastic-like effect in shaping thought in the public mind and among intellectuals, writers, and artists. We are talking about immense amounts of money (and other resources) sloshing about determining which research gets funding, which articles get into journals, which books get published, which movies get made.

This is subterfuge at the highest level. One has to wonder about entirely other areas. Consider plutocratic and corporatist philanthropy, often combined with greenwashing and control of food systems, overlapping with big ag, big oil, and, of course, big food. Think about why the government and corporations have been so interested in manipulating the American diet since the world war era, coinciding with agricultural subsidies to artificially create cheap agricultural products (refined flour, corn syrup, etc) to be used as ingredients in mass-produced and industrially-processed foods.

Then look to something recent like the propagandistic EAT-Lancet report that argues for the need of authoritarian measures to control the global diet for reasons of ‘environment’ and ‘health’; and when one looks to the backers of this agenda, one finds transnational corporations, not only big farm and big food but other industries as well. It is a corporate narratizing to co-opt the environmentalist left, but it is being done through a respectable and powerful scientific institution, The Lancet Journal, that informs government policies.

In the American Empire, this has been a shared project of business and government. Ever since the early modern revolutionary era, the reactionaries — not only right-wing authoritarians and conservatives but also right-wing bourgeois liberals — have incessantly co-opted left-wing rhetoric, tactics, and cultural image (The Many Stolen Labels of the Reactionary Mind; & Reactionary Revolutionaries, Faceless Men, and God in the Gutter). They simultaneously co-opt the left as they attack the left, essentially playing both sides and determining the field of play so as to control the game; and hence controlling the outcome, choosing the winners.

This has particularly been true of reactionaries in power. For an obvious example, think of president Donald Trump speaking the progressive language of the New Deal and so co-opting the public outrage of economic populism. Or worse still, look back to Joseph Stalin who, as a right-wing ultra-nationalist, co-opted the communist movement in Russia and used it to rebuild the Russian Empire; and in the process silenced radical leftists (unionsts, syndicalists, Trotskyists, Marxists, feminists, etc) by imprisonment, banishment, and death.

The American Imperialists didn’t necessarily oppose Stalin because of ideology, as they opposed those same radical leftists, but because the Soviet Union was seen as a competing global superpower. As for Stalin, he had no aspirations to attack the West and, instead, hoped to become trading partners with his wartime allies (Cold War Ideology and Self-Fulfilling Prophecies). The problem is, with the Nazis gone, the American Imperialists needed a new boogeyman for purposes of domestic social control, as authoritarian oppression at home always needs an externalized rationalization, a group to be scapegoated or an enemy to be fought — then again, many American oligarchs were pro-Nazi before the war and remained so afterwards. The Cold War right from the start was a propaganda campaign, albeit one that got out of control and nearly turned into a nuclear holocaust.

As one person put it, “It took a lot of mental gymnastics to transform the Soviet Union from an anti-fascist ally into an enemy, and CIA was created in part to do a lot of the heavy lifting” (comment by rararoadrunner). To create and maintain political power and social control requires narrative dominance combined with mass spectacle. The Cold War was better than a real war, in that it could be drawn out for decades. It helped to politically justify the immense money going into the deep state. The first purpose of propaganda is to persuade the public that the propagandists are necessary.

Most propaganda, though, has been so successful because it remains hidden in plain sight, influencing us without our awareness — framing and precluding what we think, and so not overtly appearing to tell us what to think. Sure, there was plenty of silencing going on during the Cold War witch hunts, from McCarthyism to corporate blackballing, but the CIA played the long game of instead making certain voices louder, to drown out all else. Controlling and co-opting the political left has turned out to be a much more effective strategy in castrating opposition and replacing it with a controlled opposition. It was ideological warfare as cannibalism, taking on the power of one’s enemies by consuming them.

The radical became tainted by this masquerade of con men manipulating and posing as what they are not. Combined with outright infiltration and sabotage on American soil (e.g., COINTELPRO), not to mention assassinations (e.g., Fred Hampton), this multi-pronged approach to social control and perception management has had a devastating effect. Reactionary forces and mindsets successfully infiltrated the political left and have maintained their hold, creating conflict and division with the left turned against itself. This took the punch out of leftist critique and organizing — the demoralization has lingered ever since. From The CIA Reads French Theory, Gabriel Rockhill writes:

“Even theoreticians who were not as opposed to Marxism as these intellectual reactionaries have made a significant contribution to an environment of disillusionment with transformative egalitarianism, detachment from social mobilization and “critical inquiry” devoid of radical politics. This is extremely important for understanding the CIA’s overall strategy in its broad and profound attempts to dismantle the cultural left in Europe and elsewhere. In recognizing it was unlikely that it could abolish it entirely, the world’s most powerful spy organization has sought to move leftist culture away from resolute anti-capitalist and transformative politics toward center-left reformist positions that are less overtly critical of US foreign and domestic policies. In fact, as Saunders has demonstrated in detail, the Agency went behind the back of the McCarthy-driven Congress in the postwar era in order to directly support and promote leftist projects that steered cultural producers and consumers away from the resolutely egalitarian left. In severing and discrediting the latter, it also aspired to fragment the left in general, leaving what remained of the center left with only minimal power and public support (as well as being potentially discredited due to its complicity with right-wing power politics, an issue that continues to plague contemporary institutionalized parties on the left).”

Then again, this is a positive sign of potential power. The OSS before and the CIA later on would not have spent so many resources for something that was not of an ultimate threat. The ideals and principles of leftist radicalism is inherently anti-authoritarian and the the intelligence agencies are inherently authoritarian; those are the terms of the fight. Even as the political left appears weak and has lost confidence, it remains a potent danger to authoritarian regimes like the American Empire. The culture war continues, the war over hearts and minds.

* * *

In this concluding section, let’s look further into the (socio-)cultural aspect of the propagandistic culture wars. We’ll start with a personal or rather familial example and an interesting historical note.

Our father grew up in Alexandria, Indiana. It’s a small farm community that once was a small bustling factory town. There used to be many towns like it. That is why it was chosen to be designated, “Small Town USA“. This was part of a propaganda program set up by the OSS, the predecessor of the CIA. Pamphlets were made of life in Alexandria as the utopian ideal of American-style capitalism. During the Second World War, these pamphlets were distributed throughout Europe. So, the so-called Cultural Cold War had begun before the Cold War itself.

By the way, Alexandria has remained true to being representative of the United States. It has declined into poverty and unemployment, having gone from a labor union town that was a Democratic stronghold to more recently supporting Donald Trump in his 2016 presidential victory. The sense of pride once elicited by that propaganda campaign became a point of shame that Trump was then able to take advantage of with his own rhetoric, Make American Great Again. The myth of the American Dream, even if a fantasy and often a nightmare, remains powerful capitalist propaganda in how it echoes across the generations. The Cold War lives on.

Much of the Cold War propaganda was about branding. And it’s interesting to note that the rhetoric used by the United States and the Soviet Union were often so similar, in both presenting an image of freedom. The Soviets loved to point out that the poor and minorities in America experienced very much the opposite of freedom, especially in the early Cold War when there were still lynchings, sundown towns, redlining, and Jim Crow. And much of that prejudice targeted not only blacks but also Jews, Catholics, and ethnic Americans (e.g., along with Japanese-Americans, innocent Italian-Americans and German-Americans were likewise rounded up into internment camps).

Think about what propaganda is in terms of branding. Sure, the American ruling elite were attempting to gain cultural influence, especially in Western Europe. That was important, but more important was creating a new American identity and to uphold an ideal of American culture. That was the problem since prior to the world war era the United States was not seen as having its own distinct culture. This is why American Studies was created in colleges involving professors who worked for the CIA, sometimes as spymasters (Early Cold War Liberalism), largely to indoctrinate American students, if also to spy on foreign students and to do other work such as textual analysis.

We tend to think of branding, in the corporate world, as targeting customers and prospective customers. But Nick Westergaard, in Brand Now, argues that only represents the outer layer of targeted influence. First and foremost, branding needs to become an identity that employees internalize, from entry-level workers to upper management. Our father worked in factory management and later became a professor in the same. He did some consulting work in later years, as did an associate of his. This associate told him that this was the primary purpose of the 1980s Ford advertising campaign, “Quality is Job #1” in that it was primarily intended to inculcate an image of employee identity. It’s about corporate culture, essentially no different than the patriotism of nationalistic culture that is promoted by government propaganda. The point is to make people into true believers who will defend and embody the official dogma, whether to be good workers or good citizens.

It’s only after creating a culture as a self-contained and self-reinforcing worldview that those in power can then extend their influence beyond it. But here is the thing. Those in power are the greatest targets of propaganda, as they are the influencers of society (Hillsdale’s Imprimis: Neocon Propaganda). If you can get them to truly believe the ruling ideology or else to mindlessly repeat the talking points for personal gain, those propaganda messages and memes will spread like a contagious disease. And they get others to believe them by acting as if they believe — the con man first has to con himself, as Jack Black (the early 20th century author, not the actor) observed in his memoir You Can’t Win. C. J. Hopkins writes (Why Ridiculous Official Propaganda Still Works):

“Chief among the common misconceptions about the way official propaganda works is the notion that its goal is to deceive the public into believing things that are not “the truth” (that Trump is a Russian agent, for example, or that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, or that the terrorists hate us for our freedom, et cetera). However, while official propagandists are definitely pleased if anyone actually believes whatever lies they are selling, deception is not their primary aim.

“The primary aim of official propaganda is to generate an “official narrative” that can be mindlessly repeated by the ruling classes and those who support and identify with them. This official narrative does not have to make sense, or to stand up to any sort of serious scrutiny. Its factualness is not the point. The point is to draw a Maginot line, a defensive ideological boundary, between “the truth” as defined by the ruling classes and any other “truth” that contradicts their narrative.”

It’s a similar methodology for why corporations spend so much money on astroturf and lobbying, especially in influencing doctors, health experts, government officials, academic researchers, etc (Sharyl Attkisson, Astroturf and manipulation of media messages). A lot of corporate funding goes to scientific journals, scientific conventions, and further education for professionals. Even more money gets thrown around to pay for fake news articles, fake positive reviews, fake social media accounts, etc. All of this to create an image and then to discredit anyone who challenges this image. Between the private and public sectors, this is an all-out propaganda onslaught from hundreds, if not thousands, of government agencies, corporations, lobbyist organizations, special interest groups, think tanks, and on and on.

“I am an intellectual thug who has slowly been accumulating a private arsenal with every intention of using it. In a mindless age, every insight takes on the character of a lethal weapon.”‬

‪Marshall McLuhan to Ezra Pound,‬ ‪letter, June 22, 1951‬.

* * *

Let me give an example of private censorship by powerful corporations, as a type of negative propaganda where public perception is shaped not only by what Americans were allowed to see but by what was omitted and eliminated from view. It’s often forgotten that most of the oppressive actions during the Cold War were taken by big biz, not big gov, including but not limited to blackballing. In the documentary Red Hollywood, there is discussion of the 1954 independent film Salt of the Earth. It was written, directed, and produced by three men on the Hollywood blacklist in being alleged Communists. The narrator of the documentary described its groundbreaking significance:

“But only after the blacklist had forced them outside the studio system could Hollywood Communists make a film in which working-class women stood up and demanded equality. No Hollywood film had ever shown a strike from the workers’ point of view. No Hollywood film had ever portrayed a strike as just and rational. No Hollywood film had ever given Chicanos the leading parts and put Anglos in subordinate roles. No Hollywood film had ever shown women courageously and effectively taking over the work of men. Salt of the Earth broke all these taboos, but it never reached its intended public.”

Then the documentary cuts to an interview with Paul Jarrico, the producer of Salt of the Earth. He explained that,

“After the opening in New York where the picture was well-received, not only by an audience who packed the theater for nine weeks, I think, or 10, but by good reviews in the New York Times, and Time magazine, and other journals. And a number of exhibitors said they wanted to play the picture, and then one by one they were pressured by the majors: ‘You play that picture and you’ll never get another RKO picture.’ ‘You play that picture, you’ll never get another MGM picture.’ And one by one, they backed out. The original intent when we formed the company was to make a number of films using the talents of blacklisted people. But we lost our shirts on Salt of the Earth and that was the end of that noble experiment. In a way, it’s the grandfather of independent filmmaking in the United States. I mean, there’ve been a lot of independent films since, but we didn’t make them.”

This is how alternative voices were silenced, again and again. In their place, films that toed the line were promoted. Through control of the film industry and backing by government, the major film companies were able to have near total control of the indoctrination of American citizens. That is but one example among many.

* * *

Hearts, Minds, and Dollars
by David Kaplan

A Lost Opportunity to Learn Lessons from the Cultural Cold War
by Steve Slick

How the CIA Really Won Hearts and Minds Naïve
by J.P. O’Malley

The CIA and the Cultural Cold War Revisited
by James Petras

The CIA and the Media
by Carl Bernstein

A Propaganda Model
by Edward Herman & Noam Chomsky

The CIA and the Press: When the Washington Post Ran the CIA’s Propaganda Network
by Jeffrey St. Clair

Murdoch, Scaife and CIA Propaganda
by Robert Parry

Modern art was CIA ‘weapon’
by Frances Stonor Saunders

The CIA as Art Patron
by Lenni Brenner

Washington DC’s role behind the scenes in Hollywood goes deeper than you think
by Matthew Alford

Hollywood and the Pentagon
by Jacobin Editors

EXCLUSIVE: Documents expose how Hollywood promotes war on behalf of the Pentagon, CIA and NSA
by Tom Secker

ROI: Does the Pentagon Fund Movies?
from Spy Culture

How Many Movies has the Pentagon Prevented from Being Made?
from Spy Culture

CIA helped shape ‘Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan’ series into bigoted Venezuela regime change fantasy
by Max Blumenthal

How the Pentagon and CIA push Venezuela regime-change propaganda in video games
by Max Blumenthal and Ben Norton

“Invading Your Hearts and Minds”: Call of Duty® and the (Re)Writing of Militarism in U.S. Digital Games and Popular Culture
Frédérick Gagnon

Arts Armament: How the CIA Secretly Shaped The Arts in America
by Theodore Carter

The CIA-Soviet Culture Wars That Shaped American Art
by Juliana Spahr

Was modern art a weapon of the CIA?
by Alastair Sooke

Modern art was CIA ‘weapon’
by Frances Stonor Saunders

Modern art is a sham
by Arthur B. Alexi

The Occult War of Art
from Cult Of Frogs

The battle for Picasso’s mind
by Matthew Holman

Picasso and the CIA
by Susan Adler

How Jackson Pollock and the CIA Teamed Up to Win The Cold War
by Michael R. McBride

Postmodern philosopher Judith Butler repeatedly donated to ‘top cop’ Kamala Harris
by Ben Norton

The CIA Assesses the Power of French Post-Modern Philosophers: Read a Newly Declassified CIA Report from 1985
by Josh Jones

Why the CIA Cares About Marxism
by Michael Barker

Why the CIA Loved French New Left Philosophy, and Why They Were Wrong
from Spy Culture

Is Literature ‘the Most Important Weapon of Propaganda’?
by Nick Romeo

Literary Magazines for Socialists Funded by the CIA, Ranked
by Patrick Iber

The CIA Helped Build the Content Farm That Churns Out American Literature
by Brian Merchant

How Iowa Flattened Literature
by Eric Bennett

Hijack: The CIA and Literary Culture
by Antony Loewenstein

How the CIA Infiltrated the World’s Literature
by Mary von Aue

How the CIA Helped Shape the Creative Writing Scene in America
by Josh Jones

‘Workshops of Empire,’ by Eric Bennett
by Timothy Aubry

Silent Coup: How the CIA is Welcoming Itself Back Onto American University Campuses
by David Price

The science of spying: how the CIA secretly recruits academics
by Daniel Golden

Propaganda and Disinformation: How the CIA Manufactures History
by Victor Marchetti

The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America – Part 1 & Part 2
by Nancy Hanover

These are the propaganda ad campaigns that made socialism seem un-American
by Oana Godeanu-Kenworth

FBI Uses “Cute” Propaganda Campaign to Justify Civil Asset Forfeiture
by Jose Nino

Red Flag of Twin Studies

Consider this a public service announcement. The moment someone turns to twin studies as reliable and meaningful evidence, it’s a dead give away about the kind of person they are. And when someone uses this research in the belief they are proving genetic causes, it demonstrates a number of things.

First and foremost, it shows they don’t understand what is heritability. It is about population level factors and can tell us nothing about individuals, much less disentangle genetics from epigenetics and environment. Heritability does not mean genetic inheritance, although even some scientists who know better sometimes talk as if they are the same thing. The fact of the matter is, beyond basic shared traits (e.g., two eyes, instead of one or three), there is little research proving direct genetic causation, typically only seen in a few rare diseases. All that heritability can do is point to the possibility of genetic causes, but all that allows is the articulation of a hypothesis to be tested by actual genetic research which is rarely done.

And second, this gives away the ideological game being played. Either the person ideologically identifies as a eugenicist, racist, etc or has unconsciously assimilated eugenicist, racist, etc ideology without realizing it. In either case, there is next to zero chance that any worthwhile discussion will follow from it. It doesn’t matter what is the individual’s motivations or if they are even aware of them. It’s probably best to just walk away. You don’t need to call them out, much less call them a racist or whatever. You know all that you need to know at that point. Just walk away. And if you don’t walk away, go into the situation with your eyes wide open for you are entering a battlefield of ideological rhetoric.

So, keep this in mind. Twin studies are some of the worst research around, opposite of how they get portrayed by ideologues as being strong evidence. Treat them as you would the low quality epidemiological research in nutrition studies (such as the disproven Seven Countries Study and China Study). They are evidence, at best, to be considered in a larger context of information but not to be taken alone as significant and meaningful. Besides, the twin studies are so poorly designed and so sparse in number that not much can be said about them. If anything, all they are evidence for is how to do science badly. That isn’t to say that, theoretically, twin studies couldn’t be designed well, but as far as I know it hasn’t happened yet. It’s not easy research to do for obvious reasons, as humans are complex creatures part of complex conditions.

For someone to even mention twin studies, other than to criticize them, is a red flag. Scrutinize carefully anything such a person says. Or better yet, when possible, simply ignore them. The problem with weak evidence that is repeated as if true is that it never really is about the evidence in the first place. Twin studies is one of those things that, like dog whistle politics, stands in for something else. It is what I call a symbolic conflation, a distraction tactic to point away from the real issue. Few people talking about twin studies actually care about either twins or science. You aren’t going to convince a believer that their beliefs are false. If anything, they will become even more vehement in their beliefs and you’ll end up frustrated.

* * *

What Genetics Does And Doesn’t Tell Us
Heritability & Inheritance, Genetics & Epigenetics, Etc
Unseen Influences: Race, Gender, and Twins
Weak Evidence, Weak Argument: Race, IQ, Adoption
Identically Different: A Scientist Changes His Mind

Exploding the “Separated-at-Birth” Twin Study Myth
by Jay Joseph, PsyD

“The reader whose knowledge of separated twin studies comes only from the secondary accounts provided by textbooks can have little idea of what, in the eyes of the original investigators, constitutes a pair of ‘separated’ twins”—Evolutionary geneticist Richard Lewontin, neurobiologist Steven Rose, and psychologist Leon Kamin in Not in Our Genes, 19841

“The Myth of the Separated Identical Twins”—Chapter title in sociologist Howard Taylor’s The IQ Game, 19802

Supporters of the nature (genetic) side of the “nature versus nurture” debate often cite studies of “reared-apart” or “separated” MZ twin pairs (identical, monozygotic) in support of their positions.3 In this article I present evidence that, in fact, most studied pairs of this type do not qualify as reared-apart or separated twins.

Other than several single-case and small multiple-case reports that have appeared since the 1920s, there have been only six published “twins reared apart” (TRA) studies. (The IQ TRA study by British psychologist Cyril Burt was discredited in the late 1970s on suspicions of fraud, and is no longer part of the TRA study literature.) The authors of these six studies assessed twin resemblance and calculated correlations for “intelligence” (IQ), “personality,” and other aspects of human behavior. In the first three studies—by Horatio Newman and colleagues in 1937 (United States, 29 MZ pairs), James Shields in 1962 (Great Britain, 44 MZ pairs), and Niels Juel-Nielsen in 1965 (Denmark, 12 MZ pairs)—the authors provided over 500 pages of detailed case-history information for the combined 75 MZ pairs they studied.

The three subsequent TRA studies were published in the 1980s and 1990s, and included Thomas J. Bouchard, Jr. and colleagues’ widely cited “Minnesota Study of Twins Reared Apart” (MISTRA), and studies performed in Sweden and Finland. In the Swedish study, the researchers defined twin pairs as “reared apart” if they had been “separated by the age of 11.”4 In the Finnish study, the average age at separation was 4.3 years, and 12 of the 30 “reared-apart” MZ pairs were separated between the ages of 6 and 10.5 In contrast to the original three studies, the authors of these more recent studies did not provide case-history information for the pairs they investigated. (The MISTRA researchers did publish a few selected case histories, some of which, like the famous “Three Identical Strangers” triplets, had already been publicized in the media.)

The Newman et al. and Shields studies were based on twins who had volunteered to participate after responding to media or researcher appeals to do so in the interest of scientific research. As Leon Kamin and other analysts pointed out long ago, however, TRA studies based on volunteer twins are plagued by similarity biases, in part because twins had to have known of each other’s existence to be able to participate in the study. Like the famous MISTRA “Firefighter Pair,” some twins discovered each other because of their behavioral similarities. The MISTRA researchers arrived at their conclusions in favor of genetics on the basis of a similarity-biased volunteer twin sample. […]

Contrary to the common contemporary claim that twin pairs found in TRA studies were “separated at birth”—which should mean that twins did not know each other or interact with each other between their near-birth separation and the time they were reunited for the study—the information provided by the original researchers shows that few if any MZ pairs fit this description. This is even more obvious in the 1962 Shields study. As seen in the tables below and in the case descriptions:

  • Some pairs were separated well after birth
  • Some pairs grew up nearby to each other and attended school together
  • Most pairs grew up in similar cultural and socioeconomic environments
  • Many pairs were raised by different members of the same family
  • Most pairs had varying degrees of contact while growing up
  • Some pairs had a close relationship as adults
  • Some pairs were reunited and lived together for periods of time

In other words, in addition to sharing a common prenatal environment and many similar postnatal environmental influences (described here), twin pairs found in volunteer-based TRA study samples were not “separated at birth” in the way that most people understand this term. The best way to describe this sample is to say that it consisted of partially reared-apart MZ twin pairs.

The Minnesota researchers have always denied access to independent researchers who wanted to inspect the unpublished MISTRA raw data and case history information, and we can safely assume that the volunteer MISTRA MZ twin pairs were no more “reared apart” than were the MZ pairs

The Large and Growing Caste of Permanent Underclass

The United States economy is in bad condition for much of the population, but you wouldn’t necessarily know that by watching the news or listening to the president, especially if you live in the comforable economic segregation of a college town, a tech hub, a suburb, or a gentrified neighborhood. As the middle class shrinks, many fall into the working class and many others into poverty. The majority of Americans are some combination of unemployed, underemployed, and underpaid (Alt-Facts of Unemployment) — with almost half the population being low wage workers and 40 million below the poverty line. No one knows the full unemployment rate, as the permanently unemployed are excluded from the data along with teens (Teen Unemployment). As for the numbers of homeless, there is no reliable data at all, but we do know that 6,300 Americans are evicted every day.

Most of these people barely can afford to pay their bills or else end up on welfare or in debt or, worse still, entirely fall through the cracks. For the worst off, those who don’t end up homeless often find themselves in prison or caught up in the legal system. This is because the desperately poor often turn to illegal means to gain money: prostitution, selling drugs, petty theft, etc; or even minor criminal acts (remember that Eric Garner was killed by police for illegally selling cigarettes on a sidewalk); whatever it takes to get by in the hope of avoiding the harshest fate. Even for the homeless to sleep in public or beg or rummage through the trash is a crime in many cities and, if not a crime, it could lead to constant harassment by police, as if life isn’t already hard enough for them.

Unsurprisingly, economic data is also not kept about the prison and jail population, as they are removed from society and made invisible (Invisible Problems of Invisible People). In some communities, the majority of men and many of the women are locked up or were at one time. When in prison, as with the permanently unemployed, they can be eliminated from the economic accounting of these communities and the nation. Imprison enough people and the official unemployment rate will go down, especially as it then creates employment in the need to hire prison guards and the various companies that serve prisons. But for those out on parole who can’t find work or housing, knowing that at least they are being recorded in the data is little comfort. Still others, sometimes entirely innocent, get tangled up in the legal system through police officers targeting minorities and the poor.  Forcing people to give false confessions out of threat is a further problem and, unlike in the movies, the poor rarely get legal representation.

Once the poor and homeless are in the legal system, it can be hard to escape for there are all kinds of fees, fines, and penalties that they can’t afford. In various ways, the criminal system, in punishing the victims of our oppressive society, harms not only individuals but breaks apart families and cripples entire communities. The war on drugs, in particular, has been a war on minorities and the poor. Rich white people have high rates of drug use, but no where near an equivalent rate of being stopped and frisked, arrested and convicted for drug crimes. A punitive society is about maintaining class hierarchy and privilege while keeping the poor in their place. As Mother Jones put it, a child who picked up loose coal on the side of railroad tracks or a hobo who stole shoes would be arrested, but steal a whole railroad and you’ll become a United States Senator or be “heralded as a Napoleon of finance” (Size Matters).

A large part of the American population lives paycheck to paycheck, many of them in debt they will never be able to pay off, often from healthcare crises since stress and poverty — especially a poverty diet — worsens health even further. But those who are lucky enough to avoid debt are constantly threatened by one misstep or accident. Imagine getting sick or injured when your employment gives you no sick days and you have a family to house and feed. Keep in mind that most people on welfare are also working and only on it temporarily (On Welfare: Poverty, Unemployment, Health, Etc). Meanwhile, the biggest employers of the impoverished (Walmart, Amazon, etc) are the biggest beneficiaries of the welfare that is spent at their stores.

So, poverty is good for business, in maintaining both cheap labor subsidized by the government and consumerism likewise subsidized by the government. To the capitalist class, none of this is a problem but an opportunity for profit. That is, profit on top of the trillions of dollars given each year to individual industries, from oil industry to military-industrial complex, that comes from direct and indirect subsidies and much of it hidden — that is to say, corporate welfare and socialism for the rich (Trillions Upon Trillions of Dollars, Investing in Violence and Death). These are vast sums of public wealth and public resources that, in a just society and functioning social democracy, would support the public good. That is not only money stolen from the general public, including stolen from the poor, but opportunities lost for social improvement and economic reform.

Worse still, it isn’t only theft from living generations for the greater costs are externalized onto the future that will be inherited by the children growing up now and those not yet born. The United Nations is not an anti-capitalist organization in the slightest, but a recent UN report came to a strong conclusion: “The report found that when you took the externalized costs into effect, essentially NONE of the industries was actually making a profit. The huge profit margins being made by the world’s most profitable industries (oil, meat, tobacco, mining, electronics) is being paid for against the future: we are trading long term sustainability for the benefit of shareholders. Sometimes the environmental costs vastly outweighed revenue, meaning that these industries would be constantly losing money had they actually been paying for the ecological damage and strain they were causing.” Large sectors of the global economy are a net loss to society. Their private profits and social benefit are a mirage. It is theft hidden behind false pretenses of a supposedly free market that in reality is not free, in any sense of the word.

As a brief side note, let’s make clear the immensity of this theft that extends to global proportions. Big biz and big gov are so closely aligned as to essentially be the same entity, and which controls which is not always clear, be it fascism or inverted totalitarianism. When the Western governments destroyed Iraq and Libya, it was done to steal their wealth and resources, oil in the case of one and gold for the other, and it cost the lives of millions of innocent people. When Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State intervened in Haiti to suppress wages to maintain cheap labor for American corporations, that was not only theft but authoritarian oppression in a country that once started a revolution to overthrow the colonial oppressors that had enslaved them.

These are but a few examples of endless acts of theft, not always violent but often so. All combined, we are talking about possibly thousands of trillions of dollars stolen from the world-wide population every year. And it is not a new phenomenon, as it goes back to the 1800s with the violent theft of land from Native Americans and Mexicans. General Smedley Butler wrote scathingly about these imperial wars and “Dollar Diplomacy” on behalf of “Big Business, for Wall Street, and for the Bankers” (Danny Sjursen, Where Have You Gone, Smedley Butler?). Poverty doesn’t happen naturally. It is created and enforced, and the ruling elite responsible are homicidal psychopaths. Such acts are a crime against humanity; more than that, they are pure evil.

Work is supposedly the definition of worth in our society and yet the richer one is the less one works. Meanwhile, the poor are working as much as they are able when they can find work, often working themselves to the point of exhaustion and sickness and early death. Even among the homeless, many of them are working or were recently employed, a surprising number of them low-paid professionals such as public school teachers, Uber drivers, and gig workers who can’t afford housing in high-priced urban areas where the jobs are to be found. Somehow merely not being unemployed is supposed to be a great boon, but working in a state of utter fear of getting by day to day is not exactly a happy situation. Unlike in generations past, a job isn’t a guarantee of a good life, much less the so-called American Dream. Gone are days the days when a single income from an entry level factory job could support a family with several kids, a nice house, a new car, regular vacations, cheap healthcare, and a comfortable nest egg.

As this shows, it’s far from limited to the poorest. These days most college students, the fortunate few to have higher education (less than a quarter of Americans), are struggling to find work at all (Jordan Weissman, 53% of Recent College Grads Are Jobless or Underemployed—How?). Yet those without a college degree are facing far greater hardship. And it’s easy to forget that the United States citizenry remains largely uneducated because few can afford college with tuition going up. Even most college students come out with massive debt and they are the lucky ones. What once was a privilege has become a burden for many. A college education doesn’t guarantee a good job as it did in the past, but chances for employment are even worse without a degree — so, damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

It’s not only that wages have stagnated for most and, relative to inflation, dropped for many others. Costs of livings (housing, food, etc) have simultaneously gone up, not to mention the disappearance of job security and good benefits. Disparities in general have become vaster — disparities in wealth, healthcare, education, opportunities, resources, and political representation. The growing masses at the bottom of society are part of the permanent underclass, which is to say they are the American caste of untouchables or rather unspeakables (Barbara Ehrenreich: Poverty, Homelesness). The mainstream mention them only when they seem a threat, such as fears about them dragging down the economy or in scapegoating them for the election of Donald Trump as president or whatever other distraction of the moment. Simple human concern for the least among us, however, rarely comes up as a priority.

Anyway, why are we still idealizing a fully employed workforce (Bullshit Jobs) and so demonizing the unemployed (Worthless Non-Workers) at a time when many forms of work are becoming increasingly meaningless and unnecessary, coming close to obsolete? Such demonization doesn’t bode well for the future (Our Bleak Future: Robots and Mass Incarceration). It never really was about work but about social control. If the people are kept busy, tired and stressed, they won’t have the time and energy for community organizing and labor organizing, democratic participation and political campaigning, protesting and rioting or even maybe revolution.  But it doesn’t have to be this way. If we ever harnessed a fraction of the human potential that is wasted and thrown away, if we used public wealth and public resources to invest in the citizenry and promote the public good, we could transform society over night. What are we waiting for? Why do we tolerate and allow this moral wrongdoing to continue?

* * *

A commenter below shared a documentary (How poor people survive in the USA) from the DW, a German public brodcaster. It is strange to watch foreign news reporting on the United States as if it were about a developing country that was in the middle of a crisis. Maybe that is because the United States is a developing country in the middle of a crisis. Many parts of this country have poverty, disease, and mortality rates that are as high or higher than what s seen in many countries that were once called third world. And inequality, once considered absolute proof of a banana republic, is now higher here than it ever was in the original banana republics. In fact, inequality — that is to say concentrated wealth and power — has never been this radically extreme in any society in all of history.

It’s not about a few poor people in various places but about the moral failure and democratic failure of an entire dysfunctional and corrupt system. And it’s not limited to the obvious forms of poverty and inequality for the consequences to the victims are harsh, from parasite load to toxic exposure that causes physical sickness and mental illness, stunts neurocognitive development and lowers IQ, increases premature puberty and behavioral problems, and generally destroys lives. We’ve known about this information for decades. It even occasionally, if only briefly and superficially, shows up in corporate media reporting. We can’t honestly claim ignorance as a defense of our apathy and indifference, of our collective failure.

Poverty isn’t a lack of character. It’s a lack of cash
by Rutger Bregman

On Conflict and Stupidity
Inequality in the Anthropocene
Parasites Among the Poor and the Plutocrats
Stress and Shittiness
The Desperate Acting Desperately
Stress Is Real, As Are The Symptoms
Social Conditions of an Individual’s Condition
Social Disorder, Mental Disorder
Urban Weirdness
Lead Toxicity is a Hyperobject
Connecting the Dots of Violence
Trauma, Enbodied and Extended
An Invisible Debt Made Visible
Public Health, Public Good

Childhood adversity linked to early puberty, premature brain development and mental illness
from Science Daily

Poor kids hit puberty sooner and risk a lifetime of health problems
by Ying Sun

* * *

Low-Wage Jobs are the New American Normal
by Dawn Allen

It’s clear that the existence of the middle class was a historic anomaly. In 2017, MIT economist Peter Temin argued that we’re splitting into a two-class system. There’s a small upper class, about 20% of Americans, predominantly white, degree holders, working largely in the technology and finance sectors, that holds the lion’s share of wealth and political power in the country. Then, there’s a much larger precariat below them, “minority-heavy” but still mostly white, with little power and low-wage, if any, jobs. Escaping lower-class poverty depends upon navigating two flawless, problem-free decades, starting in early childhood, ending with a valuable college degree. The chances of this happening for many are slim, while implementing it stresses kids out and even makes them meaner. Fail, and you risk “shit-life syndrome” and a homeless retirement.

Underemployment Is the New Unemployment
Western countries are celebrating low joblessness, but much of the new work is precarious and part-time.
by Leonid Bershidsky

Some major Western economies are close to full employment, but only in comparison to their official unemployment rate. Relying on that benchmark alone is a mistake: Since the global financial crisis, underemployment has become the new unemployment.

In a recent paper, David Bell and David Blanchflower singled out underemployment as a reason why wages in the U.S. and Europe are growing slower than they did before the global financial crisis, despite unemployment levels that are close to historic lows. In some economies with lax labor market regulation — the U.K. and the Netherlands, for example — more people are on precarious part-time contracts than out of work. That could allow politicians to use just the headline unemployment number without going into details about the quality of the jobs people manage to hold down.

Measuring underemployment is difficult everywhere. To obtain more or less accurate data, those working part-time should probably be asked how many hours they’d like to put in, and those reporting a large number of hours they wish they could add should be recorded as underemployed. But most statistical agencies make do with the number of part-timers who say they’d like a full-time job. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t provide an official underemployment number, and existing semi-official measures, according to Bell and Blanchflower, could seriously underestimate the real situation.

The need for governments to show improvement on jobs since the global crisis has led to an absurd situation. Generous standards for measuring unemployment produce numbers that don’t agree with most people’s personal experience and the anecdotal evidence from friends and family. A lot of people are barely working, and wages are going up too slowly to fit a full employment picture. At the same time, underemployment, which, according to Bell and Blanchflower, has “replaced unemployment as the main indicator of labor market slack,” is rarely discussed and unreliably measured.

Governments should provide a clearer picture of how many people are not working as much as they’d like to — and of how many hours they’d like to add. Labor market flexibility is a nice tool in a crisis, but during an economic expansion, the focus should be on improving employment quality, not just reducing the number of people who draw an unemployment check. An increasing number of better jobs, and as a consequence wage growth, becomes the most important measure of policy success.

The War on Work — and How to End It
by Edward L. Glaeser

In 1967, 95 percent of “prime-age” men between the ages of 25 and 54 worked. During the Great Recession, though, the share of jobless prime-age males rose above 20 percent. Even today, long after the recession officially ended, more than 15 percent of such men aren’t working. And in some locations, like Kentucky, the numbers are even higher: Fewer than 70 percent of men lacking any college education go to work every day in that state. […]

From 1945 to 1968, only 5 percent of men between the ages of 25 and 54 — prime-age males — were out of work. But during the 1970s, something changed. The mild recession of 1969–70 produced a drop in the employment rate of this group, from 95 percent to 92.5 percent, and there was no rebound. The 1973–74 downturn dragged the employment rate below 90 percent, and, after the 1979–82 slump, it would stay there throughout most of the 1980s. The recessions at the beginning and end of the 1990s caused further deterioration in the rate. Economic recovery failed to restore the earlier employment ratio in both instances.

The greatest fall, though, occurred in the Great Recession. In 2011, more than one in five prime-age men were out of work, a figure comparable to the Great Depression. But while employment came back after the Depression, it hasn’t today. The unemployment rate may be low, but many people have quit the labor force entirely and don’t show up in that number. As of December 2016, 15.2 percent of prime-age men were jobless — a figure worse than at any point between World War II and the Great Recession, except during the depths of the early 1980s recession.

The trend in the female employment ratio is more complicated because of the postwar rise in the number of women in the formal labor market. In 1955, 37 percent of prime-age women worked. By 2000, that number had increased to 75 percent — a historical high. Since then, the number has come down: It stood at 71.7 percent at the end of 2016. Interpreting these figures is tricky, since more women than men voluntarily leave the labor force, often finding meaningful work in the home. The American Time Survey found that non-employed women spend more than six hours a day doing housework and caring for others. Non-employed men spend less than three hours doing such tasks.

Joblessness is disproportionately a condition of the poorly educated. While 72 percent of college graduates over age 25 have jobs, only 41 percent of high-school dropouts are working. The employment-rate gap between the most and least educated groups has widened from about 6 percent in 1977 to almost 15 percent today. The regional variation is also enormous. Kentucky’s 23 percent male jobless rate leads the nation; in Iowa, the rate is under 10 percent. […]

The rise of joblessness among the young has been a particularly pernicious effect of the Great Recession. Job loss was extensive among 25–34-year-old men and 35–44-year-old men between 2007 and 2009. The 25–34-year-olds have substantially gone back to work, but the number of employed 35–44-year-olds, which dropped by 2 million at the start of the Great Recession, hasn’t recovered. The dislocated workers in this group seem to have left the labor force permanently.

Lost in Recession, Toll on Underemployed and Underpaid
by Michael Cooper

These are anxious days for American workers. Many, like Ms. Woods, are underemployed. Others find pay that is simply not keeping up with their expenses: adjusted for inflation, the median hourly wage was lower in 2011 than it was a decade earlier, according to data from a forthcoming book by the Economic Policy Institute, “The State of Working America, 12th Edition.” Good benefits are harder to come by, and people are staying longer in jobs that they want to leave, afraid that they will not be able to find something better. Only 2.1 million people quit their jobs in March, down from the 2.9 million people who quit in December 2007, the first month of the recession.

“Unfortunately, the wage problems brought on by the recession pile on top of a three-decade stagnation of wages for low- and middle-wage workers,” said Lawrence Mishel, the president of the Economic Policy Institute, a research group in Washington that studies the labor market. “In the aftermath of the financial crisis, there has been persistent high unemployment as households reduced debt and scaled back purchases. The consequence for wages has been substantially slower growth across the board, including white-collar and college-educated workers.”

Now, with the economy shaping up as the central issue of the presidential election, both President Obama and Mitt Romney have been relentlessly trying to make the case that their policies would bring prosperity back. The unease of voters is striking: in a New York Times/CBS News poll in April, half of the respondents said they thought the next generation of Americans would be worse off, while only about a quarter said it would have a better future.

And household wealth is dropping. The Federal Reserve reported last week that the economic crisis left the median American family in 2010 with no more wealth than in the early 1990s, wiping away two decades of gains. With stocks too risky for many small investors and savings accounts paying little interest, building up a nest egg is a challenge even for those who can afford to sock away some of their money.

Expenses like putting a child through college — where tuition has been rising faster than inflation or wages — can be a daunting task. […]

Things are much worse for people without college degrees, though. The real entry-level hourly wage for men who recently graduated from high school fell to $11.68 last year, from $15.64 in 1979, according to data from the Economic Policy Institute. And the percentage of those jobs that offer health insurance has plummeted to 22.8 percent, from 63.3 percent in 1979.

Though inflation has stayed relatively low in recent years, it has remained high for some of the most important things: college, health care and even, recently, food. The price of food in the home rose by 4.8 percent last year, one of the biggest jumps in the last two decades.

Meet the low-wage workforce
by Martha Ross and Nicole Bateman

Low-wage workers comprise a substantial share of the workforce. More than 53 million people, or 44% of all workers ages 18 to 64 in the United States, earn low hourly wages. More than half (56%) are in their prime working years of 25-50, and this age group is also the most likely to be raising children (43%). They are concentrated in a relatively small number of occupations, and many face economic hardship and difficult roads to higher-paying jobs. Slightly more than half are the sole earners in their families or make major contributions to family income. Nearly one-third live below 150% of the federal poverty line (about $36,000 for a family of four), and almost half have a high school diploma or less.

Women and Black workers, two groups for whom there is ample evidence of labor market discrimination, are overrepresented among low-wage workers.

To lift the American economy, we need to understand the workers at the bottom of it
by Martha Ross and Nicole Bateman

These low-wage workers are a racially diverse group, and disproportionately female. Fifty-two percent are white, 25% are Latino or Hispanic, 15% are Black, and 5% are Asian American. Females account for 54% of low-wage workers, higher than their total share of the entire workforce (48%).

Fifty-seven percent of low-wage workers work full time year-round, considerably lower than mid/high-wage workers (81%). Among those working less than full time year-round, the data don’t specify if this is voluntary or involuntary, and it is probably a mix.

Two-thirds of low-wage workers are in their prime working years of 25-54, and nearly half of this group (40%) are raising children. Given the links between education and earnings, it is not surprising that low-wage workers have lower levels of education than mid/high-wage workers. Fourteen percent of low-wage workers have a bachelor’s degree, compared to 44% among mid/high-wage workers, and nearly half (49%) have a high school diploma or less, compared to 24% among mid/high-wage workers. […]

The largest cluster consists of prime-age adults with a high school diploma or less

The largest cluster, accounting for 15 million people (28% of low-wage workers) consists of workers ages 25 to 50 with no more than a high school diploma. It is one of two clusters that are majority male (54%) and it is the most racially and ethnically diverse of all groups, with the lowest share of white workers (40%) and highest share of Latino or Hispanic workers (39%). Many in this cluster also experience economic hardship, with high shares living below 150% of the federal poverty line (39%), receiving safety net assistance (35%), and relying solely on their wages to support their families (31%). This cluster is also the most likely to have children (44%).

Low-wage work is more pervasive than you think, and there aren’t enough “good jobs” to go around
by Martha Ross and Nicole Bateman

Even as the U.S. economy hums along at a favorable pace, there is a vast segment of workers today earning wages low enough to leave their livelihood and families extremely vulnerable. That’s one of the main takeaways from our new analysis, in which we found that 53 million Americans between the ages of 18 to 64—accounting for 44% of all workers—qualify as “low-wage.” Their median hourly wages are $10.22, and median annual earnings are about $18,000. (See the methods section of our paper to learn about how we identify low-wage workers.)

The existence of low-wage work is hardly a surprise, but most people—except, perhaps, low-wage workers themselves—underestimate how prevalent it is. Many also misunderstand who these workers are. They are not only students, people at the beginning of their careers, or people who need extra spending money. A majority are adults in their prime working years, and low-wage work is the primary way they support themselves and their families.

Low-wage work is a source of economic vulnerability

There are two central questions when considering the prospects of low-wage workers:

  1. Is the job a springboard or a dead end?
  2. Does the job provide supplemental, “nice to have” income, or is it critical to covering basic living expenses?

We didn’t analyze the first question directly, but other research is not encouraging, finding that while some workers move on from low-wage work to higher-paying jobs, many do not. Women, people of color, and those with low levels of education are the most likely to stay in low-wage jobs. In our analysis, over half of low-wage workers have levels of education suggesting they will stay low-wage workers. This includes 20 million workers ages 25-64 with a high school diploma or less, and another seven million young adults 18-24 who are not in school and do not have a college degree.

As to the second question, a few data points show that for millions of workers, low-wage work is a primary source of financial support—which leaves these families economically vulnerable.

  • Measured by poverty status: 30% of low-wage workers (16 million people) live in families earning below 150% of the poverty line. These workers get by on very low incomes: about $30,000 for a family of three and $36,000 for a family of four.
  • Measured by the presence or absence of other earners: 26% of low-wage workers (14 million people) are the only earners in their families, getting by on median annual earnings of about $20,000. Another 25% (13 million people) live in families in which all workers earn low wages, with median family earnings of about $42,000. These 27 million low-wage workers rely on their earnings to provide for themselves and their families, as they are either the family’s primary earner or a substantial contributor to total earnings. Their earnings are unlikely to represent “nice to have” supplemental income.

The low-wage workforce is part of every regional economy

We analyzed data for nearly 400 metropolitan areas, and the share of workers in a particular place earning low wages ranges from a low of 30% to a high of 62%. The relative size of the low-wage population in a given place relates to broader labor market conditions such as the strength of the regional labor market and industry composition.

Low-wage workers make up the highest share of the workforce in smaller places in the southern and western parts of the United States, including Las Cruces, N.M. and Jacksonville, N.C. (both 62%); Visalia, Calif. (58%); Yuma, Ariz. (57%); and McAllen, Texas (56%). These and other metro areas where low-wage workers account for high shares of the workforce are places with lower employment rates that concentrate in agriculture, real estate, and hospitality.

Post-Work: The Radical Idea of a World Without Jobs
by Andy Beckett

As a source of subsistence, let alone prosperity, work is now insufficient for whole social classes. In the UK, almost two-thirds of those in poverty – around 8 million people – are in working households. In the US, the average wage has stagnated for half a century.

As a source of social mobility and self-worth, work increasingly fails even the most educated people – supposedly the system’s winners. In 2017, half of recent UK graduates were officially classified as “working in a non-graduate role”. In the US, “belief in work is crumbling among people in their 20s and 30s”, says Benjamin Hunnicutt, a leading historian of work. “They are not looking to their job for satisfaction or social advancement.” (You can sense this every time a graduate with a faraway look makes you a latte.)

Work is increasingly precarious: more zero-hours or short-term contracts; more self-employed people with erratic incomes; more corporate “restructurings” for those still with actual jobs. As a source of sustainable consumer booms and mass home-ownership – for much of the 20th century, the main successes of mainstream western economic policy – work is discredited daily by our ongoing debt and housing crises. For many people, not just the very wealthy, work has become less important financially than inheriting money or owning a home.

Whether you look at a screen all day, or sell other underpaid people goods they can’t afford, more and more work feels pointless or even socially damaging – what the American anthropologist David Graeber called “bullshit jobs” in a famous 2013 article. Among others, Graeber condemned “private equity CEOs, lobbyists, PR researchers … telemarketers, bailiffs”, and the “ancillary industries (dog-washers, all-night pizza delivery) that only exist because everyone is spending so much of their time working”.

The argument seemed subjective and crude, but economic data increasingly supports it. The growth of productivity, or the value of what is produced per hour worked, is slowing across the rich world – despite the constant measurement of employee performance and intensification of work routines that makes more and more jobs barely tolerable.

Unsurprisingly, work is increasingly regarded as bad for your health: “Stress … an overwhelming ‘to-do’ list … [and] long hours sitting at a desk,” the Cass Business School professor Peter Fleming notes in his book, The Death of Homo Economicus, are beginning to be seen by medical authorities as akin to smoking.

Work is badly distributed. People have too much, or too little, or both in the same month. And away from our unpredictable, all-consuming workplaces, vital human activities are increasingly neglected. Workers lack the time or energy to raise children attentively, or to look after elderly relations. “The crisis of work is also a crisis of home,” declared the social theorists Helen Hester and Nick Srnicek in a 2017 paper. This neglect will only get worse as the population grows and ages.

And finally, beyond all these dysfunctions, loom the most-discussed, most existential threats to work as we know it: automation, and the state of the environment. Some recent estimates suggest that between a third and a half of all jobs could be taken over by artificial intelligence in the next two decades. Other forecasters doubt whether work can be sustained in its current, toxic form on a warming planet. […]

And yet, as Frayne points out, “in some ways, we’re already in a post-work society. But it’s a dystopic one.” Office employees constantly interrupting their long days with online distractions; gig-economy workers whose labour plays no part in their sense of identity; and all the people in depressed, post-industrial places who have quietly given up trying to earn – the spectre of post-work runs through the hard, shiny culture of modern work like hidden rust.

Last October, research by Sheffield Hallam University revealed that UK unemployment is three times higher than the official count of those claiming the dole, thanks to people who come under the broader definition of unemployment used by the Labour Force Survey, or are receiving incapacity benefits. When Frayne is not talking and writing about post-work, or doing his latest temporary academic job, he sometimes makes a living collecting social data for the Welsh government in former mining towns. “There is lots of worklessness,” he says, “but with no social policies to dignify it.”

Creating a more benign post-work world will be more difficult now than it would have been in the 70s. In today’s lower-wage economy, suggesting people do less work for less pay is a hard sell. As with free-market capitalism in general, the worse work gets, the harder it is to imagine actually escaping it, so enormous are the steps required.

We should all be working a four-day week. Here’s whyWe should all be working a four-day week. Here’s why
by Owen Jones

Many Britons work too much. It’s not just the 37.5 hours a week clocked up on average by full-time workers; it’s the unpaid overtime too. According to the TUC, workers put in 2.1bn unpaid hours last year – that’s an astonishing £33.6bn of free labour.

That overwork causes significant damage. Last year, 12.5m work days were lost because of work-related stress, depression or anxiety. The biggest single cause by a long way – in some 44% of cases – was workload. Stress can heighten the risk of all manner of health problems, from high blood pressure to strokes. Research even suggests that working long hours increases the risk of excessive drinking. And then there’s the economic cost: over £5bn a year, according to the Health and Safety Executive. No wonder the public health expert John Ashton is among those suggesting a four-day week could improve the nation’s health. […]

This is no economy-wrecking suggestion either. German and Dutch employees work less than we do but their economies are stronger than ours. It could boost productivity: the evidence suggests if you work fewer hours, you are more productive, hour for hour – and less stress means less time off work. Indeed, a recent experiment with a six-hour working day at a Swedish nursing home produced promising results: higher productivity and fewer sick days. If those productivity gains are passed on to staff, working fewer hours doesn’t necessarily entail a pay cut.

Do you work more than 39 hours a week? Your job could be killing you
by Peter Fleming

The costs of overwork can no longer be ignored. Long-term stress, anxiety and prolonged inactivity have been exposed as potential killers.

Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center recently used activity trackers to monitor 8,000 workers over the age of 45. The findings were striking. The average period of inactivity during each waking day was 12.3 hours. Employees who were sedentary for more than 13 hours a day were twice as likely to die prematurely as those who were inactive for 11.5 hours. The authors concluded that sitting in an office for long periods has a similar effect to smoking and ought to come with a health warning.

When researchers at University College London looked at 85,000 workers, mainly middle-aged men and women, they found a correlation between overwork and cardiovascular problems, especially an irregular heart beat or atrial fibrillation, which increases the chances of a stroke five-fold.

Labour unions are increasingly raising concerns about excessive work, too, especially its impact on relationships and physical and mental health. Take the case of the IG Metall union in Germany. Last week, 15,000 workers (who manufacture car parts for firms such as Porsche) called a strike, demanding a 28-hour work week with unchanged pay and conditions. It’s not about indolence, they say, but self-protection: they don’t want to die before their time. Science is on their side: research from the Australian National University recently found that working anything over 39 hours a week is a risk to wellbeing.

Is there a healthy and acceptable level of work? According to US researcher Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, most modern employees are productive for about four hours a day: the rest is padding and huge amounts of worry. Pang argues that the workday could easily be scaled back without undermining standards of living or prosperity. […]

Other studies back up this observation. The Swedish government, for example, funded an experiment where retirement home nurses worked six-hour days and still received an eight-hour salary. The result? Less sick leave, less stress, and a jump in productivity.

All this is encouraging as far as it goes. But almost all of these studies focus on the problem from a numerical point of view – the amount of time spent working each day, year-in and year-out. We need to go further and begin to look at the conditions of paid employment. If a job is wretched and overly stressful, even a few hours of it can be an existential nightmare. Someone who relishes working on their car at the weekend, for example, might find the same thing intolerable in a large factory, even for a short period. All the freedom, creativity and craft are sucked out of the activity. It becomes an externally imposed chore rather than a moment of release.

Why is this important?

Because there is a danger that merely reducing working hours will not change much, when it comes to health, if jobs are intrinsically disenfranchising. In order to make jobs more conducive to our mental and physiological welfare, much less work is definitely essential. So too are jobs of a better kind, where hierarchies are less authoritarian and tasks are more varied and meaningful.

Capitalism doesn’t have a great track record for creating jobs such as these, unfortunately. More than a third of British workers think their jobs are meaningless, according to a survey by YouGov. And if morale is that low, it doesn’t matter how many gym vouchers, mindfulness programmes and baskets of organic fruit employers throw at them. Even the most committed employee will feel that something is fundamentally missing. A life.

Generational Cycle of Crisis and Power

It’s an interesting situation right now with the Democrats and Republicans. I’m not talking about the impeachment trial and the earlier Mueller investigation or anything else along those lines. That is all spectacle to distract and rile up the masses. The elite in both parties have been playing a long game that isn’t obvious to most people. It has to do with the presidency, but not in the way one might think. It’s not about any given election. Let us begin by talking about Steve Bannon, the mastermind behind Donald Trump’s campaign.

Bannon wanted to frame Trump as the next Franklin Delano Roosevelt, someone who would rebuild America, quite literally (Old School Progressivism). To Bannon, “Make America Great Again” was not merely an empty campaign slogan. He thought that Trump would be a figurehead, a puppet he could control. It turns out he was wrong, although no more wrong than other Republicans who thought they could manage Trump. Still, as a Machiavellian, Bannon’s general strategy was brilliant, even as his timing was off. It turns out that he was too clever by half. This requires some explaining.

“Darkness is good,” explained Bannon with almost refreshing honesty. “Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That’s power” Then speaking of the Democrats, he stated that, “It only helps us when they get it wrong. When they’re blind to who we are and what we’re doing.” That is what he needed Trump for, as a demagogue who he described as “greatest orator since William Jennings Bryan” (Bryan was the most powerful leader during the Populist era). Follow that up with something else he said about what he hoped to achieve, a right-wing ultra-nationalism and pseudo-progressive economic populism:

“Like [Andrew] Jackson’s populism, we’re going to build an entirely new political movement. It’s everything related to jobs. The conservatives are going to go crazy. I’m the guy pushing a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan. With negative interest rates throughout the world, it’s the greatest opportunity to rebuild everything. Shipyards, ironworks, get them all jacked up. We’re just going to throw it up against the wall and see if it sticks. It will be as exciting as the 1930s, greater than the Reagan revolution — conservatives, plus populists, in an economic nationalist movement.”

If one doesn’t recall the 1930s, it is primarily remembered as the era of the Great Depression. It was a tumultuous era of stark poverty, mass unemployment, labor revolt, class war, racial violence, and top-down government response. That decade saw the threat of the Business Plot, a planned fascist coup by American corporate leaders with the intent to forcefully overthrow the US government with military. On the other end of the spectrum, the federal government so feared a populist uprising that they violently attacked the bonus army of veterans which was non-violently protesting because they hadn’t received the money they were promised.

Bannon wanted to bring America back to that era of crisis, desperation, and moral panic. He thought, if he could gin up fear and anxiety, he could use it for his own dreams of a different kind of government takeover. As a businessman who had worked on Wall Street and in Hollywood, his dream essentially was a fascism for the 21st century. And he hoped to be part of the new ruling elite that would ruthlessly rebuild America in their own image. It hasn’t exactly been a success and Bannon lost grip of power, but the destruction is still in progress. He still might be victorious in bringing us back to the excitement of the 1930s. If one believes darkness is good, we might be heading toward very ‘good’ times.

That is only one half of the equation. These events were also orchestrated by the Democrats, specifically the Clinton dynasty. Last election, as with this election, Bernie Sanders is the most popular candidate in either party and has received more small donations than any candidate ever before. That is contrasted with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the two least popular candidates since data has been kept. The Clinton Democrats rightfully feared Sanders more than Trump. They purposely rigged the nomination to steal it from Sanders, even though they knew this would mean giving the election to Trump.

As I said, they were playing a long game, even if a different long game than Bannon, as all they had to was bide their time by keeping the progressives and left-wingers out of power, just to keep punching left as they keep pushing right. They had the luxury of being patient, a luxury Republicans did not have. The GOP was in a do or die situation — long term control required, so it seemed to the elite, that they take the presidency and use it for all its worth. Yet they also knew they needed to reposition themselves toward the young and minorities. Bannon tried to do that by saying that, if his plans worked, it would benefit all Americans. He didn’t factor in the explosive nature of Trump who, as a narcissistic attention whore, discovered that racist rhetoric got him lots of media reporting, social media buzz, and loud praise from a small but loyal following.

This is leading the GOP down a dead-end street. Old white people are not the future of the country. Sanders won not only young white males (what Clinton dismissed as “Bernie Bros”) but also young females and young  minorities, while likewise winning the working class. Trump didn’t win the working class, which is seen in how his strongest base in his campaign came from the middle class (Alienated Middle Class Whites). And Clinton couldn’t even win middle class white women, the exact demographic she was when she first reached voting age, instead doing best among the well-educated upper classes. Even so, the Clinton Democrats turned out to be better Machiavellian social dominators, in that they were essentially right that the only way for them to win (i.e., maintain power) was by losing, that is to say by giving away the election.

The same scenario is still playing out as we speak. This is another election that the Clinton Democrats would be wise to lose, from the perspective of manipulating over the long term. Once again, that requires keeping Sanders out of the nomination, as he still is the only candidate with strong chances against Trump. That is what few don’t understand. There is nothing for the Clinton Democrats to gain by winning this election. They have the Republicans exactly where they want them. This is where they out-smarted Bannon. Some background is necessary.

Bannon wasn’t simply being ambitious. He was basing his strategy on a long study of the generation theory of William Strauss and Neil Howe. Those two thinkers, in first having written back in the 1991, have been proven right in many of their predictions (e.g., increasing security in schools). But there was one specific prediction that Bannon honed in on. The basic idea is that, as a country, we have been heading into a crisis, what is called the Fourth Turning. This was something they were saying before Trump’s election, before the 2008 Great Recession, and before the 2001 terrorist attack. They based this conclusion on how the generational cycle had happened in the past, following an approximate 80 year period of four generations.

It wasn’t only that they predicted the crisis we’re now in for it was a particular detail that caught Bannon’s attention. Whichever political party was in power when the crisis hit would be out of power for a generation. And in a two-party system like in the United States, that means the only other viable party would rule with total dominance. That is how FDR was able to implement the New Deal and overhaul society. It is all about timing. Bannon assumed that 2008 was the point of crisis and that, since Obama was president following its beginning, the Democrats would get scapegoated. But with some fancy footwork, the Democrats moderated the crisis they inherited from the Bush administration and so delayed its effects. The problem is that they merely propped the economy up for a bit longer. The longer the crisis is delayed the worse it will be when it finally comes crashing down.

That is what Bannon didn’t plan on. Trump has further propped up the economy with tariffs and whatnot, but we are now coming to the point where no further jerry-rigging is going to matter. There is a high probability that an economic crash will happen in the near future, possibly the next four years. That will be the real crisis that fits the generational model. If the Clinton Democrats can keep Sanders out of the nomination and guarantee Trump wins again, they can create a melodrama that will send the Republicans into a burning conflagration. All they have to do, then, would be to cause continuous problems and bungle up the works, forcing the crisis to go out of control. After that, they could swoop in as self-styled saviors and thus fulfill Strauss and Howe’s prediction, stealing the glory from Bannon’s vision.

Of course, the Clinton Democrats have no meaningful solutions. As long as they keep out the progressives and left-wingers, they will continue to fuck it up and their great opportunity will go to waste. But that is to be worried about later. The point is that the Clinton Democrats would have found a way to stay in power, to maintain control, and remain relevant. Maybe Chelsea Clinton would be promoted into power. Or else various Clinton Cronies would carry on the legacy. One way or another, they would keep the status quo going for another generation. As for the Republicans, it appears they are doomed. In Trump winning last election, the old GOP elite was ousted from power. So, now this election is almost irrelevant, win or lose. Trump has so severely destroyed any respectability and coherency that the only thing loyal Republicans can hope for at this point is a right-wing fascist or theocratic takeover of the government, which I wouldn’t discount. It’s still a dangerous situation. Clinton Democrats, for all their success, will underestimate what they are facing and they won’t be up for the task of the coming crisis.

All in all, even as Bannon got the timing wrong about the predicted crisis, he was right that the crisis was coming and it would decide who was in power. But what few in power, other than military officials, are seeing clearly is that this crisis might boil over into world war and environmental catastrophe. It might be of an immensity never before seen. At the end of the destruction, it could be that neither party will still be in power or maybe even exist. The United States itself might lose its grip as a global superpower and the threat of civil war could threaten or else a balkanization as happened with the fall of the Soviet Union. This Game of Thrones is high stakes and we the public will bear the brunt of the elites’ corrupt machinations. No matter which party wins this election or which global superpower might win the future, average people in America and around the world are almost guaranteed to lose.

[I should give credit to the inspiration of this post. I had been following Bannon for many years now, going back to his career as a documentary producer long before the Trump campaign. But I was reminded again of Bannon with a post by a blogger I follow, Scott Preston at The Chrysalis blog. The post in question is Faustian Man and the Mephistophelean Spirit.]

Alienated Middle Class Whites

I’ve been reading Timothy Carney’s book Alienated America that came out this past year (and already posted about it). Like so many others, it’s about what brought us to a Trump presidency. But this particular piece of journalism stands out from the crowd, albeit not a difficult achievement. I’m giving the author extra credit points because he is somewhat balanced. For a conservative (paleo-libertarian?) henchman of the American Enterprise Institute living in Washington, D.C., he surprisingly brings up a number of points a left-winger could at least partly agree with.

Looking through the book, I kept expecting to be more critical. The political right bias was there, but Carney also drew upon the views of the political left, if not to the degree and depth I’d have preferred. He discusses the history of racism, gender bias, privilege, etc. Then he puts this in context of the problems of conservative nostalgia and revanchism. He takes some pointed jabs at the right, although he plays to the frame of ‘moderation’ in believing the truth is somewhere to be found in a hypothetical ‘centrism’, such as his critique of both individualism and collectivism or his critique of both big gov and big biz.

In giving the political left credit, he admits the importance of economic factors, such as rising inequality and he also brings up the problems of segregation and mistrust. But he is completely unaware that diversity only leads to loss of trust when combined with segregation (Eric Uslaner, Segregation and Mistrust). Nor does he appreciate how far reaching are the effects of inequality (Keith Payne, The Broken Ladder; Richard Wilkinson & Kate Pickett, The Inner Level). His view is not superficial or lacking in nuance, even as he remains trapped in capitalist realism. But he is coming from a more or less conventional worldview, no matter how far he stretches the boundaries a bit, although admittedly he does bring some good points to the table (The Right’s Lena Dunham Fallacy).

Here is the basic limitation. He constantly associates one positive factor with another in the assumption that the link is causal and goes in the direction that fits his beliefs, but he rarely if ever goes beyond correlation and he doesn’t acknowledge all the immense data and examples that contradict his assumptions and conclusions. Consider Scandinavians who show better results on numerous measures: poverty, unemployment, inequality, small business ownership, patents per capita, education, health, etc. They do this with highly conformist and collectivist societies with centralized welfare states and without the kind of civic participation seen in the US; for example, schools are operated professionally by highly trained and heavily unionized teachers, and parents don’t belong to an equivalent of a PTA or typically volunteer at their children’s schools. Yet it can be argued they somehow have a stronger and healthier form of individualism (Anu Partanen, The Nordic Theory of Everything). Such examples show that Edmund Burke’s “small platoons” can be as large and centralized as a highly advanced modern nation-state. It is true they are smaller nation-states, but large enough to have ambassadors, international policy, maintain militaries, and be allies with global superpowers.

Carney barely discusses anything outside of the United States. As I recall, he mentions Scandinavia once or twice and even then only in passing. Scandinavia undermines every aspect of his conclusions. That is the problem. He covers a lot of material and, for a mainstream writer, it is reasonably comprehensive as non-academic popular writing. But he never quite brings it together and he offers no meaningful solutions. What could have been a more worthy book stopped short of challenging the paradigm itself and pushing to an entirely different perspective and level of insight. Instead, he offers an obsession with social conservatism, if slightly more interesting than the standard approach. He makes a decent argument for what it is, maybe one of the better mainstream conservative arguments I’ve come across. He actually engages with diverse info. If nothing else, it will serve the purpose of introducing conservatives and right-wingers to a wealth of info and ideas they otherwise would never see.

I’m not sure I can hold the limitations against the author. Even if it fails in the end, it doesn’t fail to a greater degree than is expected. The analysis is adequate and, within the chosen framework, it was inevitable that it couldn’t really go anywhere beyond known territory. Even so, I really did appreciate how much space he gave to a topic like inequality. An example of where it comes short is not even touching on the saddest of inequalities, that of environment and health. It’s not merely that the poor don’t have access to green spaces and nice schools. The poor are literally being poisoned by lead in old pipes and toxic dumps located in poor communities. The oppressed poor aren’t accidental victims for their communities were intentionally destroyed by design, in the kind of capitalism we have that makes profit by devouring ‘social capital’. Still, it’s amazing how much he is willing to speak of, considering who employs him and who is his likely audience, but it ends up feeling like a wad of loose threads. The edges of his argument are as frayed as the social fabric he details. There is no larger context to hold it together, which is to be expected as the author is part of the very same problematic mainstream social order he is attempting to understand… and doing so on the same level the problem was created.

Though going far beyond where most on the political right dare to tread, he never fully takes seriously the ideals of basic human rights and moral righteousness nor the democratic values of fairness and justice as being of penultimate importance. The entire history of corporatocratic and plutocratic capitalism is that of violence, oppression, and theft. The kind of analysis in Alienated America, no matter how fair-minded and reasonable in intention (if we give the author the benefit of the doubt), doesn’t confront the bloody corpse of the elephant in the room, the reality that capitalism only applies to the poor while the rich get socialism (Trillions Upon Trillions of Dollars). Neither church attendance nor marriage rates could come close to undoing the moral harm. Forget the social fabric. We need to worry about the moral foundation of modern civilization.

As someone harshly put it, “Just a rehash of the same old “Trickle Down Economics” and “Thousand Points of Light” BS. Shrink government down till you can drown it in the bathtub destroying the social safety net while cutting taxes on the wealthy and corporations and miraculously private local organizations will jump in to take care of everything. At least try and come up with a more plausible explanation for the disaster to divert us from the truth that the gangster capitalism the Republican Party has been pushing on America since Reagan” (comment to Andy Smarick’s Where civic life crumbled, Donald Trump arose). I might be slightly more forgiving as I came to it with low expectations, but basically this comment is correct.

Carney’s argument is intellectually reasonable as far as mainstream arguments go, but it lacks a gut-level punch. He remains within the range of respectability, not getting too close to anything that might be mistaken as radical. Envisioning a slightly more friendly capitalism is not exactly a new proposition or overly inspiring. Nonetheless, his refusal to scapegoat individuals and his refusal to think of communities in isolation is refreshing. His focus on alienation is key, even as I personally find Joahann Hari (Chasing the Scream & Lost Connections) to be much more probing in getting to the heart of the matter, but that ultimately is just to complain that Carney isn’t a left-winger, not that Hari is extremely radical either.

Where his take offered clarity of light to see by was his dissection of Trump supporters and voters. He does a wonderful takedown of the mainstream narrative that it was the highly religious who were behind Trump’s election. Opposite of this narrative, the facts show that, as church attendance went up in a community, Trump’s voter count went down in that location. His ‘religious’ followers were mostly the unchurched and, interestingly, those lacking in an ethnic identity, as contrasted with traditioanlly religious and community-minded populations such as Dutch-American Calvinists (Terry Mattingly, Journalists don’t understand religious fault lines in ‘alienated’ America). Yet those unchurched Trump supporters claimed that religion was important to them, apparently as a symbolic issue among those who have otherwise lost meaning in their lives, which seems to be Carney’s takeaway. It reminds me of how school shooters are also concentrated in similar communities and, even when non-religious, the assailants often express religious-like concern for meaning (12 Rules for Potential School Shooters).

He busted another myth in pointing out that core support for Trump, although coming from economically struggling populations, did not specifically come from the poor but rather the wealthier in those communities (yet strangely he kept reinvoking the very myth he disproved and dismantled, in returning his focus to poor whites). This economic class of the relatively comfortable apparently have a troubled relationship with their impoverished ‘neighbors’, either in a fear of them or in a fear of becoming like them, which is to say class anxiety in one way or another. It’s understandable as the middle class has been shrinking and surely the middle class is shrinking the most in those economically distressed communities. And that would be hitting white males most of all in how, as many other demographics (women, minorities, and immigrants) have had improving economic outcomes over the past half century, white males are now making less than in the past.

On the other hand, the wealthier in wealthier communities are more protected from these problems and so felt no attraction to Trump’s demagoguery; their local economies are less stressed and divided. It indicates that, though Carney didn’t explain it this way, the real problem is inequality, where it was immediately felt and not. The more well off communities could either ignore inequality altogether as if it didn’t exist or else treat it as a problem of other people elsewhere. To the economically-segregated elites, inequality is an abstraction that isn’t viscerally real in their immediate experience and so, in the mind of the privileged, it is not personally relevant or morally compelling. But such dissociation can only last for so long as society crumbles all around their walled enclaves — as Keith Payne makes clear, even the rich are stressed, suffer, and become sick under conditions of high inequality. Ultimately, there is no escape from a society gone mad, especially when that society is the leading global superpower.

Where Carney really gets things right is about isolation and alienation. And it doesn’t happen in the way most would expect. Why is this particular middle class white demographic so anxiety-ridden and not other populations? In dealing with everyday needs and problems, Carney writes that, “Trump voters—as compared with Ted Cruz voters, or Bernie or Hillary supporters—answered, “I just rely on myself” the most.” That is quite telling. Sanders won the largest proportion of the poor and working class, far more than Trump. So, similar to how the wealthy in wealthy communities feel greater trust and connection toward their neighbors, so do many of the poor.

Stephen Steinberg writes that, “In her 1973 study All Our Kin, Carol Stack showed how poor single mothers develop a domestic network consisting of that indispensable grandmother, grandfathers, uncles, aunts, cousins, and a patchwork of neighbors and friends who provide mutual assistance with childrearing and the other exigencies of life. By comparison , the prototypical nuclear family, sequestered in a suburban house, surrounded by hedges and cut off from neighbors, removed from the pulsating vitality of poor urban neighborhoods, looks rather bleak. As a black friend once commented , “I didn’t know that blacks had weak families until I got to college.”” (Poor Reason; see Black Families: “Broken” and “Weak”).

So that is what Carney gets wrong. He goes from Trump’s core supporters from the middle class being isolated and alienated to shifting the frame back to the mainstream narrative of it somehow being about the declining white working class, in stating that, “In general, poorer people “tend to be socially isolated,” Putnam found, “even from their neighbors.” That probably is true to some extent, but the point is that it isn’t nearly true to the degree as found among the anxious middle class. The poorest of the poor, unlike the upwardly aspiring middle class, are those the least likely to move to seek a job and so are the most likely to remain living near lifelong connections of family, friends, and neighbors.

Yes, poverty has a way of isolating people such as being constantly busy with working multiple jobs while unable to afford childcare. Nonetheless, even when they don’t have the time to spend with those important social ties, they know that their social network is always there to fall back on in times of dire need. Sure, the rural poor are increasingly isolated quite literally in a geographic sense, as the rural areas empty out with the young moving to the cities. But in spite of the media loving to obsess over these loneliest of the desperate and aging poor, the reality is the vast majority of the poor, specifically poor whites, have lived in urban areas for over a century now. That isn’t to say it isn’t also shitty to be among the urban poor. But the basic point comes down to something odd going on here. The poorest Americans, contrary to expectation, are not the most anxious and are not those turning most to reactionary politics of nostalgia and strong man leadership. Instead, those on the bottom of society tend to be apolitial and disenfranchised, that is to say they usually don’t vote.

How different that is from Trump’s America. Trump was not speaking to those facing the worst economic hardship but those a few rungs above them. Something happened to the middle class to cause them to feel precarious, as if they had been cheated out of a more comfortable and secure lifestyle that they deserved. Maybe they had sacrificed extended family and community in climbing the economic ladder and pursuing their careers, and it turned out the rewards did not match the costs. So, they were left hanging somewhere in between. “Trump voters were significantly less socially connected,” Carney writes. “There’s plenty more data like this, charting the loneliness and social disconnection in Trump’s early core support.” For certain, something is making middle class whites go crazy and not merely those gripping the lowest edge of it (Fractures of a Society Coming Apart). Look at the breakdown of Trump voters, from my post Right-Wing Politics of the Middle Class, and notice it doesn’t fit the narrative spun in the corporate media:

“Trump voters seemed to include many average Americans, although Trump voters were slightly above the national average on wealth. With incomes below $50,000, 52% for Clinton and 41% for Trump. With incomes more than $50,000, 49% for Trump and 47% for Clinton. A large part of Trump’s votes came from the income range of +50 to -100 thousand range, i.e., the middle class. The only income level bracket that Trump lost to Clinton was those who make $49,999 and under. Trump’s victory came from the combined force of the middle-to-upper classes. Trump did get strong support from those without a college degree (i.e., some college or less), but then again the vast majority of Americans lack a college degree. It’s easy to forget that even many in the middle class lack college degrees. Factory jobs and construction jobs often pay more than certain professional careers such as teachers and tax accountants. I’m sure a fair number low level managers and office workers lack college degrees.

“Among white voters alone, though, Trump won more college-educated than did Clinton. The white middle class went to Trump, including white women with college degrees. Only 1 in 6 Trump voters were non-college-educated whites earning less than $50,000. Ignoring the racial breakdown, Trump overall won 52% of those with some college/associate degree, 45% of college graduates, and 37% with postgraduate study. That is a fairly broad swath. A basic point I’d make is that the majority of Trump voters without a college education work in white collar or middle skill jobs, representing the anxious and precarious lower middle class, but it has been argued that the sense of financial insecurity is more perceived than real. The working class, especially the poor, were far from being Trump’s strongest and most important support, despite their greater financial insecurity. Rather, the Trump voters who played the biggest role were those who fear downward economic mobility, whether or not one deems this fear rational (I tend to see it as being rational, considering a single accident or health condition could easily send into debt many in the lower middle class).”

Of course, Carney is making a more targeted point. He is speaking about Trump’s core support in specifying those who were supporting him from the very beginning of his campaign, prior to the GOP nomination. That core support wasn’t the comfortable upper middle class, but still they were solidly middle class above the common rabble. As he further emphasizes, “recall that Trump’s core supporters weren’t necessarily poorer than other voters. But they lived in places that were worse off, culturally and economically, than other places.” That cuts straight to one of Keith Payne’s main points, the way high inequality can feel like poverty even to those who aren’t poor. Economic stress comes in many forms, not limited to outright economic desperation. Inequality, when pushed to extremes, makes everyone feel shitty. And if the sense of conflict lasts long enough, people begin acting crazy, even crazy enough to vote for demagogues, social dominators, and authoritarians.

If we are to seek the cause of this problem, we should look elsewhere to those concentrations of segregated wealth. “Inequality in the United States is growing,” says Carney in pointing out the obvious. “Economic mobility is low. These facts alone suggest that our elites aren’t sharing the wealth.” That is an interesting conclusion coming from the political right, even to suggest they should share the wealth. Now if the right could only admit that most of that wealth was stolen and so needs to be returned, not merely shared, but such breathtaking honesty is far too much to ask for. We have to take what meager honesty we can get, even if it only gives us a glimpse: “This social inequality, as earlier chapters laid out, was far less in the 1960s (racial and gender inequality were far worse, of course). Between the upper class and the working class, there was a far smaller gap in marriage, in divorce, and in out-of-wedlock births. At the root of it all: In 1960, there was a narrower gap in social connectedness, including church attendance. Today, family life and strong community are increasingly a luxury good. And here we can blame the elites.”

If only social conservatives would take seriously what it means to have made the public good a luxury unaffordable to most of the public. But all we are left with is a diatribe of paternalistic moralizing. We don’t need to get rid of this modern aristocracy, so goes the lament, for the moral failure is that they’ve forgotten their noblesse oblige. They need to return to the founding ideal, as embodied by George Washington, of an enlightened aristocracy. Carney preaches that the economic elite need to once again embrace their role as ruling elite, to return plutocracy back to its aristocratic roots of theocratic patriarchy. The “more pernicious problem” is an “ideoogical commitment to egalitarianism among elites that prevents them from seeing themselves as elites.” Yeah, that is where we went wrong. The elites aren’t elitist enough and so they aren’t taking seriously their moral responsibility to compassionately rule over their local populations of neo-feudal serfs, instead locking themselves away in the modern equivalent of a castle keep. I’m glad we got that cleared up. That should set the world right again.

* * *

Alienated America
by Timothy P. Carney

A quick reminder, though, as we discuss election results and “Trump Country”: By the general election in 2016, a vast majority of Republicans had come around to Donald Trump. Many would choose anyone but Hillary. Others had grown fond of the man. By the end of Trump’s first couple of years in office, after two Supreme Court picks and a tax cut, many other right-leaning Americans embraced him.

This book isn’t about those later adopters, though. This book has mostly studied the results of the early primaries to sort out who was Trump’s early core support . When we have looked at general election results, we have been most interested in the voters or places that shifted from Democrat to Republican—the voters who would have stayed home or voted Democrat had Trump not been the nominee.

So on this question—who was Trump’s early core support ?—different studies found wildly differing results. You may recall those who said “economic anxiety” was the cause, and those who said they could prove that there was no economic anxiety, just racism at the heart of Trump’s earliest support.

What distinguished these two classes of studies? The studies that found no or little connection between economic woe and Trump support were polls of individuals. Those finding that economic woe predicted Trump support were studies of places.

As a Washington Post headline aptly put it: PLACES THAT BACKED TRUMP SKEWED POOR; VOTERS WHO BACKED TRUMP SKEWED WEALTHIER. 3

This is one reason we couldn’t tell the story of Trump without discussing community. The story of how we got Trump is the story of the collapse of community, which is also the story behind our opioid plague, our labor-force dropouts, our retreat from marriage, and our growing inequality.

The core Trump voters weren’t the people dying, obviously. They weren’t even necessarily the unhealthy ones. They weren’t necessarily the people drawing disability payments or dropping out of the workforce. Trump’s core voters were these people’s neighbors.

Trump’s win—specifically his wins in the early primaries and his outperformance of Mitt Romney—is best explained by his support in places where communities are in disarray. Many traits characterized Trump’s early core supporters. This chapter will explore them, and we will see how closely they are all tied to alienation.

How Trump Voters Are Giving the Right Qualms About Capitalism
by Park MacDougald

Yet if Carney offers a convincingly bleak view of social collapse in working-class America, his explanation for this collapse — and his suggestions for what to do about it — are somewhat less satisfying. Carney channels, to a limited degree, some of the new right-wing market skepticism: He offers a soft criticism of big business for stamping out local variation in the name of standardization and efficiency; he laments the rise of “Taylorism” and its dehumanization of work; he attacks the “gig economy” for not providing workers with stability; he disapproves of suburbanization and the isolation that stems from it; he even quotes Deneen to the effect that capitalism breeds an individualistic mind-set that makes relationships contingent and easily broken. But in explaining the troubles of working-class America, Carney tends to fall back on the collapse of church and community, which he largely attributes to traditional Republican bogeymen such as the welfare state, the sexual revolution, the rise of expressive individualism, and secularization. These explanations are not wrong per se, but they are so large and fuzzily cultural that they resist solutions beyond the local and individual. Carney offers a few policy fixes he thinks might help — reforming the mortgage interest deduction, decentralizing control over public schools — but he admits in his closing chapter that the “solution is mostly: You should go to church. Also, You should start a T-ball team.

Generally speaking, it probably is a good idea to start a T-ball team. And Carney’s willingness to critique aspects of American capitalism, mild as they may be, represents a marked shift from where the mainstream right was during the Obama years and where some of its leading lights still are. But at the same time, by delivering an account of a country facing full-blown social collapse and then retreating into calls for local, voluntary solutions, Carney ends up restating the basic premises of an old conservative consensus — it’s not the government’s job to fix your problems — that, as a political philosophy, has contributed to the alienation Carney so convincingly describes. It may be true, for instance, that the state is ill equipped to re-create devastated communities, but it is also true that state policy has enabled or even accelerated their devastation, and not merely in the sense that overregulation has hurt small businesses or that the welfare state has crowded out private charity.

Rising international economic competition, for instance, was always going to hurt the American working class. But as critics on both the left and the right have pointed out, globalization has been systematically tilted in favor of the mobile and highly educated. The critic Michael Lind, for instance, notes that the international harmonization of economic rules has focused on tariffs, financial liberalization, and intellectual property while avoiding areas that would benefit the Western working classes, such as wages, labor standards, and tax laws. Even some of the more diffuse cultural shifts lamented by conservatives have been midwifed by the state. As Harvard Law professors Jacob Gersen and Jeannie Suk Gersen have argued in their study of the evolution of Title IX, civil-rights laws designed to protect women’s equal access to education have created, through bureaucratic drift and activist institutional capture, a vast federal regulatory apparatus that treats socialization into “traditional” gender roles as a public-health risk and attempts, under the guise of fighting sexual assault, to inculcate among college students a progressive view of gender and sexuality.

The point here is not to chastise Carney for not adopting a more dirigiste political philosophy than the one he presumably holds. It is to say that, even on the right, intellectuals are concluding that the problems Carney identifies are so alarming that localist, laissez-faire solutions simply aren’t going to cut it. In a recent essay in American Affairs, Gladden Pappin issued a broadside against fusionist conservatives who, in his view, waste their energies calling for the resurrection of vanished civil-society traditions “that worked only as culturally embedded practices dependent on the traditions of aristocratic centuries.” Instead, Pappin demands conservatives ask themselves, “What can we do with the reins of power, that is, the state, to ensure the common good of our citizens?”

It remains to be seen whether anyone will take up Pappin’s call and, if they do, whether such a conservatism of the state would be effective or popular. But if Middle America’s condition really is as dire as people like Carney make it out to be, it’s hard to imagine that “go to church” will turn out to be a political winner. Carney ably describes the sort of malaise that led Republicans to flock to Trump, but if there’s one thing we learned from the 2016 election, it’s that desperate people want a leader who promises to try something different, however flawed his solutions might be.

God’s Bailout: A Review of Timothy P. Carney’s “Alienated America”
by Tyler Austin Harper

It is here that Alienated America is very insightful: Carney has a genuine knack for parsing the data, drawing out counterintuitive but rigorously defended observations, and resisting simple narratives about complex states of affairs. His central claim that the 2016 election was a referendum on whether the American dream is alive or dead is not novel, but it is both convincing and better supported than similar efforts. Additionally, although his defense of the salutary nature of cultural practices like religious observance, child-rearing, and marriage are unapologetically conservative in nature, his message remains comparatively broad in scope: unlike other conservative Catholic critics of Trump (most notably, Patrick Deneen), Carney predicates his argument on the form, rather than the content, of these practices. In the pages of Alienated America, you will find no diatribe on the superiority of heterosexual marriage or the Catholic faith — he notes repeatedly, for example, that observant Muslim Americans are among the groups most likely to report optimism about America and faith in the American dream, even after Donald Trump’s election and attempted Muslim ban. Rather, Carney’s message is practical and universalist in nature: people are better off among other people, when they have something, anything whatsoever, that they belong to and that unites them in a network of mutual responsibility.

It is this aspect of Carney’s argument that I find most appealing, and most useful for progressives like myself. Namely, the author eschews the common tendency — on the right and the left — to posit a linear relationship between wealth and well-being. More specifically, his work persuasively suggests that financial security and emotional security go hand in hand not because some kind of mechanical relationship exists between the two, but because, in contrast to the working class, the wealthy tend to have the resources to live in and contribute to places that provide opportunities for meaningful lives lived in common. As he succinctly puts it: “The erosion of community […] is unequally distributed, it is concentrated in the working class, and it is geographically discrete to the point that we can see it on a map.”

While those of us on the left are generally quick (and correct!) to highlight the importance of addressing widening income inequality and an increasingly precarious labor market, for example, it often seems that we are comparatively less likely to talk about questions of community, as though we assume that fixing the former will necessarily achieve the latter. Furthermore, when we do talk about community, we often use the term to refer to people who share common interests and experiences (for example, “communities of color”) but not necessarily geographical proximity or concrete spaces of interaction. If we are willing to take Carney’s assessment seriously, then, two questions seem obvious: What are the barriers to community, understood in the sense of mutual, meaningful networks of local support? And how might these barriers be removed?

Not surprisingly, it is here that Carney’s analysis breaks down, where his professed desire for strong communities is predictably thwarted by his inability to recognize unfettered capitalism, rather than government centralization and regulation, as the primary threat to the robust civic life he vaunts. Although Carney approvingly cites Orwell’s maxim “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs constant struggle,” he consistently fails to see that at the heart of every flyover town, closed plant, and shuttered church whose death he laments, there is a place where unregulated capital — not some big government boogeyman — has reared its ugly head.

Unlike his meticulously researched and tightly argued defense of the prosocial virtues of marriage and religious observance, for example, Carney’s tepid but persistent support of free-market capitalism and his assaults on liberal governance are fast and loose, often relying on anecdotal evidence, sparse data, and obscure cases of bureaucratic malfeasance to make his points. Oftentimes, his arguments are absurd — such as his claim that massive companies like Walmart, Amazon, or Starbucks crowd out small businesses because of too much, rather than too little, regulation. Other times, they’re comical — once in the 1980s, Mayor Bernie Sanders apparently professed not to believe in charities. This decades-old remark is spun by Carney into a sweeping indictment of the contemporary left’s widespread desire to have neighborly goodwill replaced by the Nanny State.

In fairness, Carney isn’t entirely oblivious to the problems caused by our neoliberal economic order — he frequently cites cases of Chinese manufacturing undermining manufacturing-centric US communities, for example. However, like many modern conservatives, he assuages his doubts by acknowledging that free-market capitalism has a few minor kinks, before swiftly pivoting to the supposedly graver dangers posed by governmental overreach, centralization, and regulation. As a direct consequence of this reaffirmation of the legitimacy of unfettered capital, Carney is thus forced to retreat into the untenable position that religion is the best and most readily available means to redress our present crisis of community. We can’t all be affluent, his argument goes, and thus we can’t all have access to the kind of secular communal life enjoyed by the wealthy. Yet, even the dirt poor can enjoy the social bonds provided by religious life.

To reiterate, I have no problem with Carney’s high estimation of organized religion. As with marriage, I know plenty of people for whom religion has been nightmarish, a source of trauma, insecurity, and even violence. I also know plenty of people, like Jim the bookish engineer, for whom religious affiliation has been a bulwark against the loneliness endemic to modern life. The problem is not religion itself, as one means among many for achieving the communal ties that foster well-being. The problem is Carney’s reliance on God to bail out capitalism. Unlike Robert Nisbet, the conservative sociologist whose classic work — The Quest for Community (1953) — he returns to frequently, Carney’s own work persistently downplays the connection between social alienation and the flow of unregulated capital that is the principal engine of that same alienation.

Although he signals kinship with an earlier tradition of postwar conservatives who were also preoccupied with the question of community — people like Nisbet, Russell Kirk, and Peter Viereck, who highlighted the corrosive and antisocial effects of the cult of free enterprise — Carney cannot ultimately bring himself to shed the laissez-faire, libertarian economics that dominate the Republican Party. The result is a book that puts its finger on the right problem, but whose author is too besotted by economic fatalism to imagine a variety of contentment that would be otherwise than religious, positioning secular forms of community as the unique provenance of the elite. While Carney’s insistence that we must reintegrate the classes, combating the geographical isolation of wealth and its resources, is laudable, his calls to privatize the safety net are as predictable as they are puerile.

Rather than buy into a zero-sum game that forces a choice between government as a tentacular monster and government as a minimalist “reinsurance” program (“a safety net for safety nets,” to use Carney’s term) is it not possible to imagine a government that supports community institutions by — and hear me out on this — actually funding and defending them? If you want a thriving book club scene, for example, why not fix the public schools? Try pumping money into education and paying teachers a salary that will make such work a feasible option for the best and the brightest. After all, lifelong learners, the kind who read for pleasure, do not grow on trees. Likewise, if you want heightened church attendance, mightn’t an increased minimum wage — allowing prospective attendees to forsake that second job, spending Sundays in the pews rather than driving for Uber — be a good start? If college graduates are far more likely to build robust communities, as Carney repeatedly claims, shouldn’t we work toward making a college education more affordable for the alienated, working poor whose cause he champions? These are the kind of questions that Carney dismisses out of hand as “centralizing” and “utopian,” preferring instead his own brand of theocratic utopianism in which a minimalist state would be kept afloat by little platoons of the charitable religious.

St. George Tucker On Secession

“And since the seceding states, by establishing a new constitution and form of federal government among themselves, without the consent of the rest, have shown that they consider the right to do so whenever the occasion may, in their opinion require it, we may infer that the right has not been diminished by any new compact which they may since have entered into, since none could be more solemn or explicit than the first, nor more binding upon the contracting partie.”
~St. George Tucker *

Secession from the Articles of Confederation, the first Constitution, set a legal and moral precedent. The Constitutional Convention was initiated with the limited mandate of improving, not replacing, the first Constitution. Not all the states were present at the Constitutional Convention and the the second Constitution was initially ratified and enacted prior to the agreement and consent of all states, which was directly and explicitly unconstitutional according to the first Constitution (The Vague and Ambiguous US Constitution). The first Constitution originated in unanimous agreement and required unanimous agreement to make any changes to it, but the second Constitution was an act of fiat and so a non-violent coup.

Or was it non-violent? The American Revolution continued on with numerous rebellions by the veterans of the Revolutionary War. These rebellions were violently put down by the federal government (e.g., Shays’ Rebellion). This was the very thing that the Anti-Federalists feared and warned about. They sensed the imperialist and authoritarian aspirations of some of the leading pseudo-Federalists. Once a large centralized government controlled both taxation and military, the ruling elite would have total control and a free society would be doomed (Dickinson’s Purse and Sword). It turns out the Anti-Federalists were right

Since the second Constitution was an entirely new constitutional order enforced through coercion, there is no reason a third (or fourth or fifth) Constitution could be blocked on constitutional grounds. A third Constitution would not require legitimacy based on the second Constitution any more than the second Constitution required legitimacy based on the first Constitution. Unless there is consensus, as was the case with the first Constitution, any further Constitutions would be acts of secession, as was the case with the second Constitution. The fact that we, nonetheless, accept the second Constitution as legitimate explicitly gives legitimacy to secession itself.

Neither of the constitutional orders were formed without violence. And as the second Constitution was a secession from the Articles of Confederation, the first Constitution was likewise a secession from the British Empire. There is a strong precedence of secession in American history. The Southern states weren’t wrong in affirming this right of secession. The initiation of the Civil War wasn’t done to stop secession. The federal government would not have had public support for attacking the Confederacy, if Southern rebels had not first attacked the federal government in shooting cannons at Fort Sumter. Without that initial act of violence, the South probably would have successfully seceded and so would have set a new precedent for peaceful secession.

Secession had long been part of American thought. Leaders in the Northern states had earlier discussed secession as well. That was one of the original rights of the Articles of Confederation, that the union was an agreement freely joined according to consensus of all states. The states were considered independent. That is why they were called states, in the sense of being nation-states in a union. Democracy was assumed to operate within the separate (nation-)states, as the federal government was intentionally constrained. The federal government served the states, as the states served their citizenry, not the other way around.

Ultimate authority exist within the public mandate of each local citizenry. A state seceding from the United States, as such, is no different than secession of the UK from the European Union. This is what it means to be part of a free society where citizens are free to choose their own government.

* * *

* Quoted in a comment at the Civil War Talk forum.

St. George Tucker was an American Revolution veteran, slave emancipation advocate, law professor, respected legal scholar, and federal judge. He wrote View of the Constitution, the first detailed commentary on the U.S. Constitution after its ratification, and Commentaries that became the most important text on early American law.

He was an Anti-Federalist (i.e., true Federalist) and a strong believer in Natural Rights. His defense of the Second Amendment was not in favor of individual rights but states rights, that is to say he saw the purpose of the public owning a gun not as a justification for vigilantism but as a way for citizens to protect their freedom against authoritarianism (Saul Cornell, St. George Tucker and the Second Amendment: original understandings and modern misunderstandings).

Americans Can’t Afford Kleptocracy

“While countries have shown aspirations to reduce emissions, the reality is far more bleak and complicated. The global economy is currently hardwired to run on fossil fuels. As incumbents, the multibillion corporations that extract gas and petroleum have a huge built in advantage over upstart renewable companies. In addition, fossil fuels enjoy $5 trillion in direct and indirect subsidies, and there’s ample infrastructure to extract and burn them. As a result, the levers of policies are pulled largely in favor of preserving this status quo despite the existential risk it poses.”

That is part of a damning critique by Brian Kahn over at Gizmodo (Building All the Fossil Fuel Projects Already in the Pipeline Would Wreck the Climate). The argument he is making there is about why it is hard to make rational changes everyone knows we have to make when there are so many vested interests. It’s an entire system of wealth and power, as always. That is the point I made in looking at California’s environmentally-unsustainable economy (Is California a Canary in the Coal Mine?). But that isn’t why I decided to quote the above.

What disturbs me is that the US ruling elite throw around trillions of dollars as if it were chump change. That is trillions of dollars every year (quite possibly an undercount at that, as not only is wealth given away but resources, opportunities, and access are given away before they are measured as wealth in any accounting, all of it defended and enforced by a military empire that is costly beyond imagination, costly also in terms of lives and human potential callously sacrificed). And we are talking about only one industry. They also waste trillions of dollars in selling other natural resources below market prices, in no-bid contracts for the defense industry, in all that goes into big ag, and much else. A few trillion here, a few trillion year, and on and on, in every sector of the economy every year, repeat ad nauseum for decades and generations on end. Yet we are told we don’t have enough money for basic needs of survival for Americans, that we can’t afford even to raise minimum wage for those who don’t earn enough to pay the bills, despite working multiple jobs. There are millions of Americans without affordable healthcare, sometimes without homes even, and going without food on a regular basis. But we can’t afford to ensure the public good. Well, I’m pretty sure those trillions upon trillions multiplied over a lifetime or longer could have gone a long way in investing in housing for all, universal healthcare, good schools even for the poor, clean water that is free of lead, and on and on.

Compare that to another country rich in natural resources, Iceland. They used a public company to sell their oil on the market and they sold it at market prices. The oil is still part of the same environmental problems, but at least the profits went to create a massive national surplus in preparing for the future. That surplus equates to millions of dollars per citizen and it can only be used for the public good, such as funding their large social safety net. That is what a functioning democracy looks like. Instead, what we Americans have is kleptocracy. What is going on is outright theft of the commons. The fact that such theft is part and parcel of the destruction of the world makes it all the worse. But even ignoring that, I want back the millions of dollars that were stolen from me. How about you? Do you want what was wrongfully taken from you? Or would you rather remain a slave?

What we’re talking about is reparations, not only for African-Americans descended from slaves and Native Americans whose ancestors survived genocide. This would be reparations for all Americans who have had wealth, resources, and opportunities stolen from them. Think about those who died young because of a lack of healthcare. Those are years of life stolen, loved ones taken from us too soon. How does one repay that? There is no amount of money that can undo the harm caused by the evil from generations of theft, corruption, and injustice. Even if we took all the wealth from the rich, it still couldn’t offset the harm caused to individuals and to society. The plutocrats have already wasted most of that wealth and so it’s gone. That is what psychopaths and authoritarians tend to do with other people’s money. They waste it. Yet they still have some of the wealth they sole from us Americans. Getting recompense for a fraction of what they stole is better than nothing. We only want what is rightfully ours. The kleptocrats took it from us and we want it back.

The ruling elite say we can’t steal from the rich because they only have so much money. I don’t want to steal from them. I want back at least some of the wealth they stole from me and my fellow Americans (easily hundreds of trillions of dollars over the past generation alone), not to mention what they stole from foreign populations. It should be given back because it is the right thing to do. It’s that simple. How do the police retrieve stolen property? Well, there is a well established protocol for enforcing justice in cases of theft. It’s done by the police pointing a gun at the robber, arresting them, placing them in jail, and then putting them on trial. All we Americans are asking for is justice, that our our free society be defended and our rights protected. Why aren’t the police doing their job? That is their job, right? If not, maybe others should do the job for them. Fear of violent oppression can only maintain the social order for so long.

Why do we accept this, allow this? As the American founders made clear, it has always been in our hands to choose our own government, our own constitution, and it has always been our right and responsibility to demand it by any means necessary, even revolution as our country was founded*. In dealing with this existential crisis humanity is facing, we are going to need all of our wealth to re-invest in a better society. We never should have tolerated kleptocracy, corporate welfare, and socialism for the rich. We can’t afford it.

* * *

*Whether revolution will be non-violent or violent would depend on the response of the government and ruling elite. If they choose violence, it will be violent. But I’m sure the American people would prefer a peaceful transition, if that is allowed by the powers that be. That is what Bernie Sanders is asking for when he speaks of revolution. And there is historical precedence for this, such as Portugal’s Carnation Revolution.

Either way, know this. Revolution will happen. It cannot be stopped. That is because the system is unsustainable. As I said, it’s simply unaffordable. The costs are too high. Shifting those costs onto the poor and future generations, shifting the costs onto foreign populations and the environment… that doesn’t solve the problem. It only delays it for a while. Now we are at the end point. No further delays are possible. The bill has come due. We can do this the easy way or the hard way.

As Ralph Nader put it, “there’s always a party before the party’s over.”

* * *

Cookie Cutter corporate media hack trying to defend plutocracy:

“Do you then ultimately believe that the most ultra-wealthy of us should give back in this way by being taxed in this way? I know you wrote a book Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! Do you really believe that that’s their duty and they should do it through a wealth tax of this sorts?

Ralph Nader:

“Well, definitely Warren Buffett and Lawrence Fink of Blackstone and Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia and others have talked about a reset in terms of corporate response and in response to the wealthy. But look. After years of political campaign cash and sending their candidates into high office, the super-rich have got huge tax escapes; they have huge subsidies, bailouts, giveaways, Wall Street, General Motors; they have huge antitrust protection, monopolistic prices; they’ve stalled or frozen wages.

“These are trillions and trillions of dollars that come from people who work hard every day, but have not received what they should have received given their earned effort. So this is like a restoration of fair play. And let me tell you. You’ve heard the old saying, there’s always a party before the party’s over. And some good guys in Wall Street and some of the more responsible corporate executives know they’re pushing that envelope too far in the face of the American people. And that’s why they’re huge polls supporting a lot of Sanders and Warren’s measures and they include quite a few conservative voters. You can’t have 65, 70, 75 percent vote for cracking down on corporate abuses, for a living wage, for universal health care unless you have quite a bit of conservative voters as well, right?”

Is California a Canary in the Coal Mine?

About present ecological problems in the Sunshine State, Patrice Aymes presented her own take on what is going on (Burn California, Burn… The Price of Hypocrisy?). Her perspective is from that of being a Californian, apparently from the specific location of Central Valley in Northern California. She argues that the main problem is urban sprawl. Based on that working hypothesis, she speculates the situation could be remedied by simply enforcing more dense urbanization and so disincentivizing large houses in areas that are difficult to protect against fire. Besides that, she also thinks better resource management would help. Let’s look at the data to get a sense of the challenge, data that to my mind is shocking. The Californian population is immense and growing, which problematizes any attempt at resource management. And climate change makes everything worse.

My take on the situation is, in some ways, simpler than the suggestion of reforming the system and restructuring housing. No matter how you dice it, the population is plain too large for the ecological constrains of California. It’s a variation on, if maybe less extreme version of, the Dust Bowl. There was a wetter period that attracted people to California. Also, as in earlier times, the Federal government encouraged people to move West. But the wet period inevitably didn’t last and the weather patterns returned to their historical norm. This was exacerbated in California. Franklin Delano Roosevelt implemented federal farm subsidies in California before they were ever used anywhere else in the country. Along with diverting water in from other states, this created a big ag that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible. Yet there is too much profit and too many powerful lobbyist groups invested in maintaining the status quo that, in the long term, cannot be maintained.

The purpose of artificially constructing this big ag was partly to feed the growing population (further promoted by the Nixon administration guided by the corporatist vision of Earl Butz). And a large reason for that was because the Federal government needed a massive workforce to be employed in the defense industry so that the United States military could have a presence on the West Coast. This defense industry also funded decades of the tech industry. Much (most?) of the Californian economy is, directly or indirectly, connected to and dependent on the military-industrial complex. This has brought immense wealth into the state and so created a wealthy class demanding luxury. They live beyond their means through taxpayer money and externalized costs. California, as it is presently structured, would not exist if not for the intervening alliance of big gov and big biz.

Even if urban sprawl was eliminated and housing concentrated, the same basic ecological problems would remain without solution. It’s likely to get worse. As with large areas of Australia, there probably will be a mass exodus from California until the declining population reaches a sustainable size. But the motivation for that change will require mass crisis and catastrophe. That is my sense of things, anyway. These are just my thoughts. I can defend parts of my argument. I’ve written about the emergence of big ag in California and it’s interesting history. The military-industrial complex, in California as elsewhere is not only interesting but concerning. (See: Fascism, Corporatism, and Big Ag, From Progressivism to Neoconservatism, Vicious Cycle: The Pentagon Creates Tech Giants and Then Buys their Services, & Plutocratic Mirage of Self-Made Billionaires.) All of that, from what I can tell, is pretty much straightforward facts that are well-established and agreed upon.

As an example of hard-hitting data: “About 60 percent of all precipitation evaporates or is transpired by trees and vegetation” (Water Education Foundation, California Water 101); still, California receives a fair amount of precipitation… but: “There’s a catch. While parts of Northern California receive 100 inches or more of precipitation per year, the state’s southern, drier areas receive less precipitation – and just a few inches of rain annually in the desert regions. That means 75 percent of California’s available water is in the northern third of the state (north of Sacramento), while 80 percent of the urban and agricultural water demands are in the southern two-thirds of the state.” Consider that 80% of California’s surface water is used by the agricultural industry, whereas the average water usage for urban areas is only 10%. Besides draining aquifers, the state has lost “as much as 90 percent of the original wetlands acreage—a greater percentage of loss than any other state in the nation” (Water Education Foundation, Wetlands).

As for water appropriated from the Colorado River, there is competition for it from many other states with their own agricultural needs and growing populations. The part about how much population could be supported through the local environmental resources is more speculative. A strong case against sustainability, though, can be and has been made. Many others have written about it. If you do a web search, you can find numerous scientific papers and news reporting on the relationship of water shortage and overpopulation in California, including comparisons to the Dust Bowl. (See: Water Use in California by Jeffrey Mount & Ellen Hanak, The California Water Crisis: More Than Just Another Drought from Calsense, & California faces ‘Dust Bowl’-like conditions amid drought, says climate tracker by Chris Megerian.)

My comments have been about all of California, not limited to one region. A fairly small proportion of the Californian population lives north of the Bay Area. Maybe that area has a sustainable population. The greatest population concentration in Northern California is the Bay Area. But even if you look at all of Northern California including the Bay Area, that is only 15 million compared to the 25 million in Southern California. So, Northern California is far less than half of the population of the state and the Bay Area alone is half the population of Northern California. Northern California minus the Bay area is less than 18% of the total population. When I traveled across California, what stood out to me was not only that the Southern half had a larger population but also more densely populated, although I don’t know in terms of urban concentration (specifically in comparison to the Bay Area and Central Valley). Northern California seemed relatively empty, as large swaths of it wasn’t inhabited. My observations are cursory, though. Besides the Bay Area, the urban areas I saw were smaller.

All of Central Valley that includes multiple cities is only 6.5 million, but as a comparison even that is larger than 39 other states and territories in the US (much larger than many farm states, and about 12 times that of the least populated state). There are only 16 states, excluding California itself, that have more population than Central Valley and Central Valley is one of the least populated areas of California. That is in the context of California being the most populated state in the country. To really emphasize the massive population we’re talking about, Central Valley is larger than 124 countries in the world, Northern California is larger than 160 countries, and all of California is larger than 197 countries. Only 35 countries in the world have more inhabitants than California. Such an immense number of people crammed together in such a small area, with or without urban sprawl, is hard to imagine and comprehend, specifically in terms of the implications and effects. Data can be barely convey the immensity of the ecological challenge.

That brings us to carrying capacity. California is one of the dryer places in the United States (in top 10 of states of low precipitation with 5 out of 9 the largest American cities with less than 20 inches as yearly average). There are many other states that have far more water than California, even though no state has more residents. This is why California is dependent on taking water from other states, specifically the Colorado River, and even then California is also draining its own aquifers faster than they can be refilled. Sure, using resources more wisely would help, but that can only go so far. It’s unclear what the carrying capacity is for the entire planet and some argue we’ve already overshot maximum population load, an argument I’ve found persuasive or at least a point of serious concern. The larger complication involves the repercussions of going beyond the carrying capacity, in that the full externalized costs wouldn’t show up for decades or even generations later. As such, if we’ve already traipsed past this breaking point sometime these past decades, we might not be forced to acknowledge this stark reality until later in the century when the bill finally comes due.

It’s all rather speculative, as I said. But we do know that climate change is irreversible at this point. The melting of ice is a half century ahead of schedule, according to many predictions. It’s happening far more quickly than expected. Large parts of the world are experiencing droughts and are draining their aquifers, which exacerbates desertification. Even the 100th Meridian is moving eastward and drying out what used to be some of the most productive farmland in the world, the region that has been the breadbasket of the world. My own attitude is that of the precautionary principle. I see no advantage to seeing how close we can get to the carrying capacity of any particularly area or for the whole planet before going too far. But ignoring that, it’s possible that the carrying capacity could be extended a bit more, if we find more sustainable ways of living. Maybe or maybe not. As always, time will tell.

* * *

As a related issue, maybe one should consider the importance of trees and the dire situation of their loss as related to climate change, in California and elsewhere:

Creeping toward Permanent Drought
by Kate Marvel

An American tragedy: why are millions of trees dying across the country?
by Oliver Milman & Alan Yuhas

California’s Trees Are Dying At A Catastrophic Rate
by Laura Geiser & Mette Lampcov

18 Million Trees Died in California in 2018, Forest Service Study Finds
by Ron Brackett

California’s Drought Killed Almost 150 Million Trees
by Jason Daley

150 million trees died in California’s drought, and worse is to come
by Nathanael Johnson

California has 149 million dead trees ready to ignite like a matchbook
by Umair Irfan

The hard truth about being a 21st century tree in California
by Mark Kaufman

Can the Los Angeles We Know Survive the Death of Its Trees?
by Brandon R. Reynolds

Scientists: Future of oldest tree species on Earth in peril
by Scott Smith

Earth’s Oldest Trees in Climate-Induced Race up the Tree Line
by Kat Kerlin

John Podesta, Clinton Democrats, and Ukraine

With the Russian and Ukranian situation back in American news with the revelations of Joe Biden’s son Hunter, I was reminded of the name of John Podesta. I had forgotten about him, although I had been trying to remember his name for a while now. He was a major player in these events, often acting as an intermediary and orchestrator. But after earlier having seen his name in the Mueller investigation, the part he played quickly disappeared from view. That made me suspicious since, to my mind, he demonstrated the most damning link in the chain of oligarchy. He was right in the middle of so many different scandals and had long been a powerful figure among the Clinton Democrats.

Robert Mueller gave immunity to Tony Podesta, the brother of John Podesta, who in his capacity as the head of the Podesta group shared guilt with Paul Manafort. Criminal charges against Tony Podesta might have linked the Russian and Ukrainian scandal directly to top DNC leaders, specifically the Clinton and Biden families but maybe also Barack Obama. Yet the focus has been almost entirely on Manafort who only ever gets referred to in his former and rather brief role as Donald Trump’s campaign manager. That is odd in that Trump in 2014, of course, was not president nor yet a presidential candidate; heck, he was not even a Republican or maybe involved with Manafort in any way when Manafort in 2014 was engaged in this illegal activity as an undisclosed foreign agent. Then again, the two were part of the same social circle and crony network such as how, back in 1980, Trump hired Manafort’s Republican firm (he was their first client) and so maybe there is an old crony connection there (indeed Trump is a creature of the swamp), although supposedly Manafort had to reintroduce himself when he sought to become Trump’s campaign manager; as a side note, the Reagan campaign was another early client of this firm.

Nonetheless, during the 2014 Ukranian dealings, Trump presumably was still a Clinton Democrat, having not yet dreamed of a GOP coup and presidential power, whether or not he was ever complicit in any way with what was going on with the Clintonian Podesta Group. Certainly, Manafort was tied up with the Clinton Democrats at the time, since he personally hired the Podesta Group and directly worked with them, specifically Tony Podesta. Yes, it’s true that the two families, Trumps and Clintons, were tight; they attended each other’s social events, including weddings, and their daughters were bosom buddies. Trump had been supporting and funding the Clinton Democrats in the previous decades and, as far as I know, remained a Democrat until he decided to run as a Republican candidate and go against Hillary Clinton’s own political aspirations. Whatever was Trump’s involvement or not, it’s interesting that the Republican Manafort who was tied into the Clinton Democrat’s machinations decided to become the campaign manager of the former Clinton Democrat Trump, and so Manafort like the Podesta brothers offers a point of connection for all parties in this orbit of power games.

That still leaves open the motivations and agenda behind it all. Why was Manafort hiring what was essentially a Democratic firm started by the Podesta brothers with one of the brothers being in the top rank of Clinton Democrats? Manafort, along with Roger Stone, is a major Republican insider going back to the Reagan administration: “Other men key to the 1994 landslide’s strategy were fellow “Reagan boys” and lobbyists Paul Manafort and Roger Stone. Those men would years later be key to getting Donald Trump elected president. He [Trump] was one of their firm Black, Manafort and Stone’s first clients thanks to infamous and later disbarred attorney Roy Cohn” (Donna Ladd & Nick Judin, Mississippi Lobbyists, Associates in Thick of Trump’s Ukraine-Russia Web); that firm would later add Democratic Peter Kelly as a named partner and so “It has often been said that the addition made the new firm — Black, Manafort, Stone & Kelly — the first bipartisan lobbying shop in town” (Manuel Roig-Franzia, The Swamp Builders).

Manafort would appear as solidly Republican as they come, to the extent that he grew up as a Young Republican leader and his father, Paul Manafort Sr., was a Republican politician. On the other, hand he was known to lack any principles in his willingness to play both sides of the field, sometimes working simultaneously with competing candidates. Still, his ideological bent was clear. He was not a typical old school Republican but already at a young age was “trying to steer the party to the right” (Roig-Franzia) — maybe, in his transpartisan scheming, he was a force behind what also pushed the Democrats so far right, assuming the Clintons didn’t go willingly. It does get one wondering. Why else was he so deep into Clinton territory of a powerful Democratic lobbyist firm? Who exactly was working for whom and for what purpose and to what end? Why this bipartisan interest in Ukraine that made possible a strange form of bipartisan cooperation? The Podesta brothers, Clinton insiders possibly acting on behalf of the Clintons themselves, were choosing to work with Manafort, one of the worst Republican swamp creatures to ever haunt the halls of Washington power.

What is this seeming alliance between top RNC insiders and top DNC insiders in meddling in what is essentially the covert foreign policy operations of an extra-governmental deep state and international ruling elite? Both parties are deep in this scandal and one can imagine the skeletons in closets of dozens, if not hundreds, of other powermongers and plutocrats. What exactly is going on here? Maybe it has nothing to do with party politics at all. These conspirators were acting as mercenaries and sociopaths, not loyal partisans. All of these corrupt figures simply followed the money and in resource-rich Ukraine wealth overflows: “Like the inhabitants of all borderlands throughout history, many Ukrainians have learned to play one side against the other in securing money and power for themselves. Lavishing money on an American consultant with deep ties to the Republican establishment (like Manafort) or to the Democratic one (like Hunter Biden or Devine) can go a long way in securing influence in Washington and, hopefully, still more money in the form of American aid. The same can be done to secure the flow of Russian funds” (Julia Ioffe, Here’s Why Ukraine Pops Up in So Many U.S. Scandals).

In that case, the connection between the Trumps and the Clintons, between Manafort and Podesta, etc is simply what connects all plutocrats. In the end, they are a singular plutocracy and hence are part of a global oligarchy. Republican or Democrat, it doesn’t matter. As for Trump, it’s not clear that he is directly involved in any of this particular scandal. Just because he is a sleazy corporatist and crude narcissist who maybe should be impeached or even imprisoned for many other reasons it doesn’t mean he is guilty of every allegation against him. If anything, the Clintons seem more implicated in it all, even if they are more experienced and capable in maintaining plausible deniability. Keep an eye on John Podesta and see if his name comes up. He might be the key to it all. Or else he might represent a loose thread that, if pulled, could begin unraveling the web of control and silence.

It’s amusing for me to see these conspiracies discussed on the ‘mainstream’ corporate media. It is even getting mixed up in the campaign rhetoric of major candidates. In decades past, no matter how much evidence there was in support, such talk would have been dismissed as conspiracy theory. The only place where it used to be taken seriously was on the talk shows of those like Art Bell and Alex Jones. How much the world has changed. We are no longer arguing about the conspiracies being real but now the debate is over who is guilty or rather who is most guilty. No one is left who still doubts that our world is ruled by conspirators who wish to do us harm. We just need to figure out and agree upon who are these dangerous people and how to deal with them.

The problem is the government officials leading the investigations are often also creatures of the swamp. Asking someone like Robert Mueller or Nancy Pelosi to drain the swamp would be as meaningful as expecting Trump to fulfill this promise. Other than a populist uprising and revolt, the only thing that could have an impact is if and when the ruling elite turn on each other and the dark secrets begin spilling out.

* * *

Democratic Failure of the Democratic Party

Intriguingly, the Wikileaks dump showed that the email she wrote for this purpose was sent to John Podesta and Jennifer Palmieri. I had forgotten about the details and, reading it again, it now stood out to me.

Podesta, along with his brother, is a high level DNC operative and powerful lobbyist. To show how much of an insider he is, consider the email (released by Wikileaks) he sent to George Soros and other plutocrats about a meeting they had on Democratic strategy to “Control the political discourse,” in which he wrote: “Create a robust echo chamber with progressive messaging that spans from the opposition campaigns to outside groups, academic experts, and bloggers.” More recently, Podesta has been in the news because of his connection to the fiasco of Donald Trump’s cronies and the special counsel’s Russia investigation, by way of Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, and Vin Weber. Podesta became a focus of the investigation because of his direct involvement in meddling with Ukranian politics, the reason Manafort and Gates are being charged for acting as unregistered foreign agents. In this activity, Podesta had meetings with Weber who is a former GOP congressman and also a powerful lobbyist.

The corruption connects corporate media to the party establishment and it crosses party lines. These kinds of well-connected figures, powerful and influential, are mercenaries deep within the party establishment and political structure. That is shown by how the two main party nominees, Clinton and Trump, were old family friends and political allies. But in politics as spectacle, all that matters is that they put on a good show so that the big biz media could play it 24/7 to increase their profits. Meanwhile, the real action happens behind the scene, which in this case was Clintonites controlling the DNC and sabotaging Sanders’ campaign.

Triangulating Manafort — Obama, Clinton and Ukraine
by Andrew McCarthy

In 2014, NABU alerted the bureau to a ledger said to have belonged to Yanukovych, bête noire of the new Ukrainian government. The ledger purports to show $12.7 million in cash payments to Manafort. The FBI used the information to interview Manafort, but the authenticity of the ledger has not been established. Manafort dismisses it as fake, contending that the Party of Regions paid him by wire transfer, not cash. Ukrainian officials have conceded that they cannot prove the payments reflected in the ledger were made. The case was thus reportedly closed with no charges. (Perhaps not coincidental to the Obama Justice Department’s decision not to pursue the case: Manafort had brought influential Democrats into his Ukrainian work, such as former Obama White House Counsel Greg Craig and the consulting firm started by Obama and Clinton adviser John Podesta — a firm that is still run by Podesta’s brother.)

But then came 2016, and sudden renewed interest in the Manafort- Ukraine investigation … just as the U.S. presidential campaign kicked into high gear.

13 reasons why the Russia probes must be expanded
by J. Michael Waller

4. John Podesta and $35 million from a Russian industrial espionage firm. While advising Hillary Clinton in 2011, John Podesta joined the board of a small energy company in Massachusetts that, two months later, received $35 million from Rusnano, a Russian investment firm. Putin created Rusnano by decree for the purpose of committing industrial espionage. Rusnano CEO Anatoly Chubais, was a major figure in the creation of the Russian gangster-state in 1990s and was close to the Bill Clinton administration, whose White House Chief of Staff was John Podesta. Podesta subsequently joined the Obama White House as senior counselor in 2014, but did not declare his Rusnano business connection. That same year, the FBI issued an “extraordinary warning” about Rusnano. Podesta went on to become Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign manager.

5. Tony Podesta lobbied for criminal Russian bank. John’s brother, lobbyist Tony Podesta, John’s, took $170,000 over six months in payments from a sanctioned Russian bank, Sberbank (and offshore subsidiaries). The money was for lobbying the U.S. to lift sanctions on Sberbank in 2016, while John Podesta ran Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

6. Podesta Group lobbied for same pro-Kremlin Ukrainians as Manafort. The Podesta Group, founded by John and Tony and headed by Tony, took $900,000 in payments from what Politico calls “pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians who also employed former Donald Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.” The purpose was to conduct influence operations against Congress and federal agencies on behalf of the pro-Putin figures. The Trump campaign’s liaison to the RNC in 2016, Rick Gates, connected the Podesta Group with the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine, a non-profit whose board originally contained Ukrainian members of parliament from the pro-Russian party.” The lobbying ended in 2014 when Ukraine’s pro-Putin president, Viktor Yanukovych, fled to Moscow.

7. Uranium One: Sale of 20% of US Uranium Production to Russia. Uranium One was owned by Frank Giustra, a close friend and business partner of former President Bill Clinton. Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton approved the company’s sale to the Russian nuclear agency, Rosatom, giving Putin’s nuclear weapons monopoly ownership of 20% of US annual uranium production. Sberbank, which hired lobbyist Tony Podesta, was the lead financial institution involved in the transaction. Tony Podesta’s firm also represented Uranium One before the State Department in 2012 and 2015. Giustra and others tied to the sale donated $145 million to the Clinton Foundation.

Is power lobbyist Tony Podesta next? Hillary campaign chairman’s brother quits firm they set up together after Mueller looked at his dealings
by Geoff Earle

Top Democratic lobbyist Tony Podesta told staff he was leaving the eponymous firm he founded with his powerful brother – on a day two Trump campaign operatives were indicted and a third pled guilty to lying.

Podesta founded the Podesta Group in 1988 along with his brother John, who went on to become Bill Clinton’s and Barack Obama‘s chief of staff, as well as Hillary Clinton‘s campaign chair.

The hacking of his personal emails is one of the key factors in the investigation of Russian meddling in the U.S. elections, which makes his brother Tony’s role all the more striking.

Tony Podesta told staff he is stepping down from his firm, after an investigation of former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort’s finances revealed lobbying work that the firm got paid to do in order to burnish Ukraine‘s image in the west. […]

According to the indictment, Gates wrote Company A that it would be ‘representing the Government of Ukraine in [Washington] D.C’ Manafort repeatedly communicated with Victor Yanukovych, who led the Party of Regions and served as president of Ukraine before being ousted.

Such lobbying requires disclosure with the Justice Department under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.  Both Manafort’s firm and the Podesta Group only filed amended forms acknowledging the work after it got reported in the media.

The firms got paid not by their ‘nominal client, the Centre,’ but through off-shore accounts associated with Manafort and Gates headquartered in Cyprus and the Grenadines.

They got more than $2 million in payments between 2012 and 2014. […]

In his heyday, Podesta was one of D.C.’s power lobbyists, with an unusual professional partnership with his wife, Heather Podesta, who was also a fixture on the city’s party circuit. […]

In a sign of how plugged-in Podesta remains, he was spotted at a surprise 70th birthday party for Hillary Clinton over the weekend. Also present were former Clinton advisors John Podesta, Huma Abedin, and Sidney Blumenthal, Politico reported.