Written by Chris Floyd
Tuesday, 21 July 2009 11:27
In a new piece for Salon.com, Jeff Sharlet has more on the domestic side of the militarist-fundamentalist drive to devour the state, which we wrote about here yesterday. Sharlet writes of "The Family" -- the self-described "Christian Mafia" centered on the "C Street House" in Washington -- which for decades has spread its invisible, insidious influence throughout the U.S. government, while supporting mass-murdering dictators, rapacious crony capitalism -- and providing convenient cover and absolution for the high crimes and sexual misdemeanors of its members.
Sharlet has written of The Family for years, in articles for Harper's and in his book, The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power. He has described in great detail -- and from the inside -- a disturbing, decades-old network of big-time power players guided by cranks who push Pol Pot, Osama bin Laden, and Stalin as worthy role models in the pursuit of the Family's ultimate goal: a militarized, unfettered "totalitarianism of God." You would think that Sharlet's earlier revelations would have brought intensive, horrified scrutiny to bear on this nest of democracy-hating accomplices of atrocity and corruption -- but the stories never gained much traction in the corporate media. Who cares about all that boring stuff?
But now that several of The Family's members and associates have found themselves caught in good old juicy sex scandals, suddenly the media has "re-discovered" the C Street House, and shined at least a little more light on that dark corner. Because as we all know, the only offense that an American politician must ever pay for is a sexual indiscretion. When it comes to murder, torture, oppression, war crimes, military aggression, tyranny, etc -- well, it's always best to "move on" from such unseemly doings, and stay "focused on the future, not the past."
Although truth to tell, even sexual indiscretions are increasingly unpaid for by our coddled, unaccountable elites. Look at Bill Clinton, swanning around the world like a rock star, swimming in his millions. And of course, all rightwing pols caught with their pants down can always play the "fallen sinner redeemed by God" card, and start all over again. Clinton also played this card for all it was worth, of course; recall his hilarious "counseling sessions" with various high-profile religious leaders, who, we are to believe, sat down with the President of the United States and gave him earnest, prayerful counsel on how to keep his pecker in his pants.
Even so, messing around in the sexual cellarage still causes a politician more of a spot of bother than, say, authorizing a drone strike (i.e., "targeted assassination," i.e., "extrajudicial assassination," i.e., "act of mass murder") that kills dozens of innocent people. The irony, of course, as Magnificent Valor points out, is that these sexual indiscretions are often the only interesting and vaguely human thing these time-serving, box-ticking, elitist automatons have ever done.
In any case, the wanton willy-waggling of Mark Sanford, John Ensign, Chip Pickering and other "Family" stalwarts has provided us with yet another glimpse at the truly strange and deranged power structure that governs our lives. You should read Sharlet's piece in full, but here are a few choice bits:
The Family likes to call itself a "Christian Mafia," but it began 74 years ago as an anti-New Deal coalition of businessmen convinced that organized labor was under the sway of Satan. The Great Depression, they believed, was a punishment from God for what they viewed as FDR's socialism. The Family's goal was the "consecration" of America to God, first through the repeal of New Deal reforms, then through the aggressive expansion of American power during the Cold War...
Historically, the Family has been strongly Republican [Sharlet includes a copious list of current power-players in the Family ranks], but it includes Democrats, too. There's Mike McIntyre of North Carolina, for instance, a vocal defender of putting the Ten Commandments in public places, and Sen. Mark Pryor, the pro-war Arkansas Democrat responsible for scuttling Obama's labor agenda. Sen. Pryor explained to me the meaning of bipartisanship he'd learned through the Family: "Jesus didn't come to take sides. He came to take over." And by Jesus, the Family means the Family.
Family leaders consider their political network to be Christ's avant garde, an elite that transcends not just conventional morality but also earthly laws regulating lobbying. ... Founder Abraham Vereide decided that the group could be more effective by working personally with politicians. "The more invisible you can make your organization," Vereide's successor, current leader Doug Coe preaches, "the more influence you can have."
...I met [David Coe, Doug Coe's son and heir apparent], when I lived for several weeks as a member of the Family... Attempting to explain what it means to be chosen for leadership like King David was -- or Mark Sanford, according to his own estimate -- he asked a young man who'd put himself, body and soul, under the Family's authority, "Let's say I hear you raped three little girls. What would I think of you?" The man guessed that Coe would probably think that he was a monster. "No," answered Coe, "I wouldn't." Why? Because, as a member of the Family, he's among what Family leaders refer to as the "new chosen." If you're chosen, the normal rules don't apply.
If that doesn't tell you all you need to know about our nation's rulers, then I don't know what will. And of course, this "three rapes--so what?" philosophy of unaccountability is not confined to members of "The Family": it permeates the entire power structure.
And as we noted yesterday, this drive toward "Christian totalitarianism" seeks to use the military as one of its primary vehicles of subversion:
Christian right leader -- and Watergate felon -- Chuck Colson, converted through the efforts of the Family, has boasted of it as a "veritable underground of Christ's men all through government." What do they do? Rep. Zach Wamp, one of Ensign's fellow C Streeters who's been in the news for defending the Family's secrecy, has teamed up with Family-linked Reps. Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla., and John R. Carter, R-Texas, on an obscure appropriations committee to help greenlight tens of millions in federal funds for new megachurch-style chapels on military bases around the country.
But of course, one of the main thrusts of The Family's business has been succoring murderous dictators around the world:
One needn't be a Marxist to find fault with the Family's mash-up of New Testament and unfettered capitalism -- Adam Smith himself would have recognized that theology as a disingenuous form of self-interest by proxy. Such interests have led the Family into some strange alliances over the years. Seduced by the Indonesian dictator Suharto's militant anti-communism, they described the murder of hundreds of thousands that brought him to power as a "spiritual revolution," and sent delegations of congressmen and oil executives to pray to Jesus with the Muslim leader. In Africa, they anointed the Somali killer Siad Barre as God's man and sent Sen. Grassley and a defense contractor as emissaries. Barre described himself as a "Koranic Marxist," but he agreed to pray to Grassley's American Christ in return for American military aid, which he then used to wreak a biblical terror on his nation. It has not yet recovered.
Needless to say, while this group of gilded sectarians leave mounds of corpses in their political gaming around the world, their main business is -- what else? -- business:
[In their Family-paid junkets, members are] representing "Jesus plus nothing," as Doug Coe puts it, the "totalitarianism of God," in the words of an early Family leader, a vision that encompasses not just social issues but also the kind of free-market fundamentalism that is the real object of devotion for Ensign, Coburn, Pickering, Wamp and Sanford, along with Family insiders such as Sens. DeMint, Sam Brownback and Chuck Grassley. At the heart of the Family's spiritual advice for its proxies in Congress is the conviction that the market's invisible hand represents the guidance of God, and that God wants his "new chosen" to look out for one another.
As we all know, one of the most dangerous creatures on earth is the bullshitter who believes his own bullshit. There is absolutely no doubt that Adolf Hitler went to his death thinking he was a swell guy, a worthy, righteous man more sinned against than sinning. The self-absolution -- and self-hypnosis -- of fanatical certitude is a deadly toxin; not just for the individual, but for the world. We see the fruits of Family-style fundamentalism all around us today, in the blood-soaked ruin of the Terror Wars, in the collapse of communities, families, individuals -- and the world economy -- from the rapine of "godly" market extremism, even down to the rise in teen pregnancies and sexual disease, which are, of course, most prevalent and growing in the very areas dominated by the Dominationists' wilfully ignorant, sexually obsessed sectarianism, as the Guardian reports. These are real lives, of real people, blighted -- or blotted out -- by the divinely-robed barbarism of their leaders.
What the elites reserve for themselves -- security, assistance, wealth, power, personal license -- they deny to others. Indeed, this denial is essential to their identity as the "chosen;" if others have what they have, how can they be exalted, set apart, special? Thus they must be implacable enemies of the very idea of the common good -- at home, abroad, at every level of life. It is, at its heart, a sinister vision of life -- yet it has become the unspoken, unquestioned ruling assumption underlying our society today.
Written by Chris Floyd
Monday, 20 July 2009 16:33
A remarkable story in Haaretz (via Antiwar.com) reveals that Orthodox Jewish extremists in the United States have, with the help of radical sectarians in Israel, distributed booklets to Israeli soldiers and officers claiming that the Vatican is organizing "tours of Auschwitz for Hezbollah members to teach them how to wipe out Jews."
As Haaretz notes, the booklets -- published by the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America -- has been given to Israeli soldiers "for months." The booklet is purportedly written by a former Hezbollah insider who converted to Judaism. He writes of Pope Benedict XVI's personal direction of a wide-ranging program among "European elites" to train Hezbollah cadres in genocide, while also paying huge fees to journalists, academics and politicians who are critical of Israeli policies. What's more, the booklet asserts that Israeli critics of government policy are also funded by the Vatican-led effort to exterminate Jews. "Every real Arab, deep inside, is kind of a fan of the Nazis," the purported author declares.
The American extremists used the chief rabbi of Safed, Rabbi Shmuel Eliahu, to distribute the tracts to Israeli soldiers. Eliahu's spokesman, David Menahemov, defended the booklet -- which in its deranged orgasm of paranoid fear and racial hatred rivals the infamous "Protocols of the Elders of Zion," the Tsarist police concoction (taken from a 1864 satirical novel about French tyrant Louis Napoleon) about a Jewish conspiracy to rule the world. The Protocols were given worldwide prominence in the 20th century by Henry Ford and Adolf Hitler, then got a new boost in the 21st century by America's staunch allies (and Israel's silent partner in Middle East power-gaming), the Saudi royals, who produced a 30-part TV miniseries based on the Protocols in 2001.
[Iranian TV, of course, recently produced a wildly popular TV mini-series depicting an Iranian diplomat in Paris trying to save Jews from the Holocaust. But it is the Iranians who are depicted as maniacal, monolithic anti-Semites, not the Saudis. One might also note here that the West's new favorite Palestinian, Mahmoud Abbas -- the sort-of president of the Palestinian Authority whose term expired months ago but who still somehow remains in office with America and Israel's full backing -- wrote a doctoral thesis declaring that the Holocaust was "a Zionist fantasy," a "fantastic lie", and that the "few hundred thousand" Jews who did die at Nazi hands were only killed because "Zionist" fanatics provoked the Germans: "The Zionist movement led a broad campaign of incitement against the Jews living under Nazi rule to arouse the government's hatred of them." But Abbas is a useful tool of Israeli domination, so his genuinely horrific revisionism is whitewashed, while outrageous falsehoods -- like a Vatican-Hezbollah genocide plan -- are used to stoke the hatred of soldiers sent to wage war on civilians in Gaza. Funny old world, ain't it?]
Like the defenders of the repeatedly and thoroughly debunked Protocols, Menahemov declared every word of the new hate booklet was true, and that the author is a real person. "I know the guy personally," he told Haaretz. "He's an Arab, who even though he converted still acts like an Arab." Still "acts like an Arab," does he? What, he swings from trees, grubs for roots, crawls on his belly like a reptile? No racism there then.
Israeli military brass say that although they had distributed the booklet "in good faith," they have since been "alerted to the sensitivity" of the document and stopped passing it out to their soldiers. (Didn't anyone read it before approving its distribution?) But of course the tract is still out there -- and the damage has already been done. As Haaretz notes:
"The book is distributed regularly and everyone reads it and believes it," said one soldier. "It's filled with made-up details but is presented as a true story. A whole company of soldiers, adults, told me: 'Read this and you'll understand who the Arabs are.'"
The savagery of the Israeli assault on Gaza becomes clearer all the time. The American-made booklet was just one part of a wide campaign among radical extremists to incite implacable hatred among the attacking forces -- much like American soldiers going into Iraq in 2003 were encouraged to believe that the act of aggression was "payback for 9/11" against those "who attacked our country."
The Orthodox Union's new 'Protocols of the Elders of Palestine' is also part and parcel of a more widespread phenomenon: the attempted takeover of secular military forces by religious extremists. Like the general rise of militant, wilfully ignorant fundamentalism that swept several world religions -- Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism -- over the past few decades, the "holy warrior" movement crosses sectarian boundaries. It is not only rife in Israel, but is growing more and more powerful in the American military as well. This is outlined in stark and disturbing detail in Jeff Sharlet's report in Harper's earlier this year, "Jesus Kills Mohammed" -- taken from a logo painted on the front of a Bradley Fighting Vehicle by a group of Christian soldiers who, gung-ho with viewings of Mel Gibson's torture-porn, "The Passion," conducted scattershot armed raids through civilian areas in Baghdad. As Sharlet reports on the "small but powerful movement of Christian soldiers concentrated in the officer corps":
What men such as these have fomented is a quiet coup within the armed forces: not of generals encroaching on civilian rule but of religious authority displacing the military’s once staunchly secular code. Not a conspiracy but a cultural transformation, achieved gradually through promotions and prayer meetings, with personal faith replacing protocol according to the best intentions of commanders who conflate God with country. They see themselves not as subversives but as spiritual warriors—“ambassadors for Christ in uniform,” according to Officers’ Christian Fellowship; “government paid missionaries,” according to Campus Crusade’s Military Ministry.
...Within the fundamentalist front in the officer corps, the best organized group is Officers’ Christian Fellowship, with 15,000 members active at 80 percent of military bases... [An] OCF Bible study, “Mission Accomplished,” warns that victory abroad does not mean the war is won at home. “If Satan cannot succeed with threats from the outside, he will seek to destroy from within,” asserts the study, a reference to “fellow countrymen” both in biblical times and today who practice “spiritual adultery.” “Mission Accomplished” takes as its text Nehemiah 1–6, the story of the “wallbuilder” who rebuilt the fortifications around Jerusalem. An outsider might misinterpret the wall metaphor as a sign of respect for separation of church and state, but in contemporary fundamentalist thinking the story stands for just the opposite: a wall within which church and state are one. “With the wall completed the people could live an integrated life,” the study argues. “God was to be Lord of all or not Lord at all.” So it is today, “Mission Accomplished” continues, proposing that before military Christians can complete their wall, they must bring this “Lord of all” to the entire armed forces. “We will need to press ahead obediently,” the study concludes, “not allowing the opposition, all of which is spearheaded by Satan, to keep us from the mission of reclaiming territory for Christ in the military.”
Sharlet notes that the works of Rick Warren, the beefy, suburban Christianist whom Obama picked to bless his inauguration, is featured heavily by the military sectarians. For example:
In March 2008, a chaplain at Lakenheath, a U.S. Air Force–operated base in England, used a mandatory suicide-prevention assembly under Lieutenant General Rod Bishop as an opportunity to promote the principles of The Purpose-Driven Life to roughly 1,000 airmen. In a PowerPoint diagram depicting two family trees, the chaplain contrasted the likely future of a non-religious family, characterized by “Hopelessness” and “Death,” and that of a religious one. The secular family will, according to the diagram, spawn 300 convicts, 190 prostitutes, and 680 alcoholics. Purpose-driven breeding, meanwhile, will result in at least 430 ministers, seven congressmen, and one vice-president.
Sharlet ends with a chilling vignette of the fundamentalist (Christian, Jewish, Muslim) mindset in action -- a conversation he had with an Air Force cadet:
What if he was ordered to bomb a building in which terrorists were hiding, even though there were civilians in the way?
He shook his head. “Who are you to question why God builds up nations just to destroy them, so that those who are in grace can see that they’re in grace?” A smile lit up half his face, an expression that might be taken for sarcastic if Hrabak wasn’t a man committed to being in earnest at all times. What he’d just said—a paraphrase from Romans—might be something like a Word of Knowledge, a gift of wisdom from God. It blew his mind so much he had to repeat it, his voice picking up a speed and enthusiasm that bordered on joy. “He”—the Lord—“builds up an entire nation”—Iraq or Vietnam, Afghanistan or Pakistan, who are you to question why?—“just to destroy them! To show somebody else”—America, a young man guided to college by God, distrustful of his own choices—“that they’re in grace.”
In this, the cadet was echoing one of his comrades quoted earlier:
“How,” he asked, “in the midst of pulling a trigger and watching somebody die, in that instant are you going to be confident that that’s something God told you to do?” His answer was stark. “In this world, there are forces of good and evil. There’s angels and there’s demons, you know? And Satan hates what’s holy.”
The armies of the world are being filled up with soldiers -- and even more so, with officers -- on fire with the deranged certitudes of violent fundamentalism. Their enemies -- both heathenish foreigners and the "spiritual terrorists" among their own ranks, their own families and fellow citizens -- are agents of absolute evil. And there is no such thing as "collateral damage," no killing of innocents in their holy war -- for God Himself has targeted them for destruction, just to prove how righteous His warriors are.
Of course, militarism is itself a virulent cult; without any need for divine sanction, a vast war machine will seek to follow the logic of its construction and do what it was created for: make war. It takes a tremendous -- and ever-failing -- effort to restrain the machine even under the best circumstances. Stoking it with religious extremists committed to blind obedience and violence in the name of God is an unbelievably dangerous and stupid thing to do; yet, as Sharlet and others make clear, the Pentagon's top brass -- including the generals appointed or "continued" by Obama, such as David Petraeus, are deliberately choosing this course, giving their implicit -- and sometimes explicit -- approval to the growth of fanaticism in the ranks. Why not? It's easier to fight wars of imperial domination with soldiers who, in their slavish, unthinking submission, identify their superiors' agenda with God's will.
But our cynical generals are meddling with a volatile material that they cannot control in the long run -- just as they and our security apparatchiks did in cultivating violent Islamic extremists to fight the West's secular agenda in Afghanistan. The "blowback" from the unholy marriage of militarism and militant fundamentalism is certain to bring forth monstrous fruit.
Written by Chris Floyd
Sunday, 05 January 2014 00:53
* Below is my most recent column for CounterPunch Magazine.
Last month, 500 famous authors signed a petition protesting the encroachments of the all-pervasive, techno-surveillance culture that is covering the earth with hidden eyes and ears, like a metastasized Stasi run amok. We’re talking heavy literary lumber here: Nobel Prize-winners, critic list-toppers, best-sellers – big names calling on the UN to create “an international bill of digital rights.”
The authors state the indisputable truth: the "fundamental human right" of personal privacy "has been rendered null and void through abuse of technological developments by states and corporations.” They rightly declare that “a person under surveillance is no longer free; a society under surveillance is no longer a democracy. To maintain any validity, our democratic rights must apply in virtual as in real space."
Of course, one might like to see those “democratic rights in real space” applied a bit more vigorously in these days of airport x-rays, mandatory drug tests, “indefinite detention,” “extrajudicial execution,” “free speech zones,” etc. The accelerating degradation of “real space” liberties hardly inspires hope for preserving freedom in the virtual realm. Still, no sensible person would dispute the very worthy goals espoused in the petition.
And yet, a cankerous old worm of skepticism keeps creeping in. Especially when the petitioners declare that this assemblage of Tolstoyan speakers of truth to power is not actually “against government.” Good gracious no! As Danish writer Janne Teller told the Guardian: "This initiative must be seen as helping governments, who like to preserve democracy in the western world."
Now, you rubes out there probably think that “governments” are actually prime culprits in the mass evisceration of privacy. But no; it seems our good-hearted, democracy-preserving leaders are victims: helpless babes manipulated by their sinister intelligence services, who, Teller tells us, "abuse power.” (Power that has been given to them by, er, governments.) Not to worry, though: a nice UN resolution -- and the stinging moral censure of petitioners like Iraq War supporter Ian McEwan, ethnic profiling enthusiast Martin Amis, and William Boyd, author of the latest “literary” sequel to the saga of James Bond, state assassin extraordinaire -- will doubtless bring these rogue services to heel. Then our noble rulers will be free at last to pursue their tragically frustrated dreams of peace, prosperity, equality and justice.
But wait; what about the literary luminaries' warning against "technological developments … by corporations" which suck up private data for profit? Oddly enough, the petition was coupled, as part of a one-two punch, with an "open letter" written by civic-minded corporate citizens such as Apple, Google, Microsoft and Facebook, demanding "sweeping changes in surveillance laws" to "restore confidence" in companies like, well, Apple, Google, Microsoft and Facebook, whose sole reason for existence is to mine private data for corporate profit.
Here our earnest authors come up against a very 21st-century conundrum: the ever-widening notion that the fate of our liberties should be taken out of the hands of governments and given to … corporations and oligarchs. This is the logic behind the move by Glenn Greenwald and other dissident superstars to “partner” with hi-tech oligarch Pierre Omidyar, “leveraging” Greenwald’s control of Edward Snowden’s NSA documents to create a profitable new media venture. This would be the same Omidyar whose PayPal cut Wikileaks off at the financial knees in its hour of greatest peril, whose “microfinancing initiatives” have led to mass suicides among the debt-ridden poor in India and who now appears driven to monetize dissent in the same way he’s monetized poverty relief. It’s unlikely that hard-hitting exposes of hi-tech corporate chicanery will feature overmuch at Pierre’s new plaything.
But even the exposure of government misdeeds is to be kept within discreet limits by our new-style, media-savvy dissidents, who, like Greenwald, constantly assert they would never publish secrets that might “harm national security” or interfere with the “legitimate operations” of our neo-Stasis. Guardian editor and dissident hero Alan Rusbridger made that clear in his recent appearance before a Parliamentary committee investigating the Snowden revelations. As Arthur Silber, one of the most insightful political writers of our day, notes, the many press plaudits for Rusbridger's “bold” testimony overlooked the editor’s shocking admission that the Guardian has only published "one percent" of the Snowden material, while dutifully consulting "the FBI, the GCHQ, the White House and the Cabinet Office on more than 100 occasions before the publication of stories." Rusbridger also assured MPs that his paper will soon stop publishing stories from the Snowden cache.
Greenwald promises that his upcoming book on Snowden will provide a few more all-important revelations that the public absolutely must know (but which he must unfortunately withhold from us until the sale date). Yet as Silber points out, even with a few extra dollops of data here and there, it’s now obvious that only a tiny percentage of the massive Snowden archive of spy-state malfeasance will ever be revealed.
As always, our betters – in this case, not government apparatchiks but knee-capping oligarchs and government-consulting journalists – will let us know whatever modicum of truth they deem fit for our limited understanding. Or as another, long-dead literary luminary once said: four legs good, two legs better.
Written by Chris Floyd
Friday, 03 January 2014 13:37
At CounterPunch, Jason Hirthler identifies one of the most important dynamics in the modern political world: "For every social advance, an economic price paid."
Hirthler examines the real-life aftermath of the social breakthroughs and advances represented by the social justice campaigns of Martin Luther King, the ending of apartheid under the aegis of Nelson Mandela, and racial symbolism in the election of the first black American president, Barack Obama. In every case, Hirthler notes, genuine social achievements were followed by a brutal and ruthless expansion and entrenchment of 'neoliberal' economics -- that is, the aggrandisement of elite power and privilege.
One of the most glaring examples detailed by Hirthler is what happened after the genuinely astonishing and significant triumph of Mandela and the ANC: the share of South Africa's wealth owned by whites has actually increased since the ending of the apartheid, thanks to the ANC's betrayal of its own economic principles and its capitulation to the existing economic power structure.
This is the pattern that has been followed for decades: some social advances are accepted by the power structure -- as long as the economic dominance of the ruling elite is not challenged. In Obama's case, of course, this was a prerequisite, not a consequence, of his election. He would not have been allowed to be in the position of being elected president had he not clearly and continually signalled to the elite that he was in no way a threat to their power; in fact, as Hirthler notes, he went much further, and made it clear that he would be a more efficient and effective promoter of economic elite than cack-handed Republicans like George W. Bush, John McCain and Sarah Palin. And so it has proved. The nation's oligarchs, corporations and financial sectors have devoured ever greater proportions of the nation's wealth under Obama's rule, while chronic unemployment and underemployment grinds on, the nation's infrastructure rots, and the quality of life (and hopes for the future) of ordinary people continues to be degraded.
The case of King is somewhat different. Unlike Mandela, who acquiesced in the ANC sell-out to the elites (no doubt as a tactical decision; social freedom would be more likely to come sooner, and with less violence, than economic justice, which could remain a future goal), and Obama, who was a signed-up sell-out from the beginning, King was actually growing more radical as time went on, broadening his critique from racial oppression to the underlying, all-pervasive evils of militarism and elitist greed that shaped American foreign policy and its economic system. He was killed for this, of course, having already become increasingly marginalized by "serious" and "respectable" political opinion -- precisely because of his increasing radicalism.
This dynamic is not confined to Hirthler's three examples. It was also played out in the breakdown of the Soviet Union, where Mikhail Gorbachev's attempts at broad social reforms (and mild economic and political reforms) were met first with the backlash of an attempted coup by Soviet hardliners, and then, after the dissolution of the Union and the rise of Boris Yeltsin, by the imposition of "Shock Doctrine" economics. Here was the very apotheosis of neoliberalism -- unrestrained, unopposed, relentless. The result, as we know, was the beggaring of the nation, an unprecedented plunge in life expectancy, the collapse of society and the ascendancy of a rapacious elite. (Plus the loss of many of the political and social freedoms that had been genuine gains from the otherwise traumatic regime change.)
And so on it goes. In our day, social progress is a tool used deliberately by our leaders to extract more gains for the elite at the expense of the general public. Vast amounts of energy and attention, especially potentially dangerous progressive and/or populist energy, is expended on social gains -- on winning them, opposing them, maintaining them, trying to reverse them, etc. -- while the overall system of domination rolls on unopposed. Obama benefits from this on the left, where his cynical nods to social progress -- without actually doing anything very concrete about it with all the power he holds -- mutes 'progressive' criticism of his truly abominable foreign and economic policies, which include state murder, Stasi-like surveillance, the exaltation of the rich and the degradation of everyone else. In the same way, George W. Bush gave lip service to the opposition to social progress, on abortion, for example, while never really doing anything about it, which fired up his own political base even as he, like Obama, advanced economic and foreign policies that degraded the lives of ordinary people -- including his own fired-up followers. (Ironically, anti-abortion forces have made much greater strides during Obama's tenure, as the NY Times reported on Friday.)
None of this is to gainsay the great worth of those social freedoms we have managed to advance over the past decades. It is a great thing, a wonderful thing, that American and South African blacks have more political freedom than they once had. It is a great thing, a wonder, that people who love people of the same sex are no longer subjected to quite so many of the legal restrictions and cultural calumny that they have long endured.
But the dynamic -- social freedoms being 'allowed' or accepted only if the ever-increasing power of the economic elite is not threatened -- still holds. Hirthler's piece provides a good analysis of this phenomenon. Below are a few excerpts:
Almost as an antidote the onset of holiday cheer, the 2014 budget deal was released in December as a sort of deflationary tactic—lest the masses get their hopes too high … The 2014 budget strips away unemployment benefits, food stamp assistance, while doing nothing to shutter tax loopholes for the wealthy, all while proposed military cuts are essentially restored with some fantastic sleight of hand. This represents a continuation of the neoliberal austerity program implemented by bi-partisan consensus after the meltdown of 2008. And how nicely timed it was to follow on the heels of the global outpouring of feeling for the dearly departed Nelson Mandela.
…Alive, King was a provocation, and at the time of his assassination seemed to be turning toward racism’s companion grievances of poverty and war. How fortunate for the shadowy redoubts of wealth and militarism that he was slain. In death, his economic and foreign policy challenges were interred with his casket, and he was posthumously pedestaled for his commitments to civil rights alone—a cause that no right-thinking human could deny. Those companion causes, however, were bold and contentious critiques of power itself, and its capacities for self-enrichment. As such, the tidy janitors of historical revisionism swept them from sight.
How interesting that King died in 1968—just as he was shifting course, attacking the Vietnam War and the economics of poverty—and Lewis Powel’s rallying cry to the American Chamber of Commerce appeared in 1971, effectively launching the politicization of neoliberalism as a form of class war by elites against the disenfranchised, prioritizing the very evils—war and disenfranchisement—against which King fought.
…How curious that Barack Obama ascended to the throne of American power in 2008, just as the African-American populace found itself on the wrong end of one of the greatest transfer of wealth from one group to another—over half their wealth, mostly in the form of real estate, largely from black hands to white hands, from vulnerable families to faceless real estate trusts. One would think, by listening to the glistering orations of Mr. Obama, that he would have acted to instantly restore the wealth of an abused minority. But, of course, Obama would never have been handed the scepter of American power had he not first paid fealty to the embedded wealth of American society. Had he not assured real estate, finance, and insurance sectors he was “a free market guy”, capable of enabling corporatism like the best of Republicans. And that he could in fact do it better than his predecessor. Simply swap out the labels to suit the changing economic climate. Deregulation would be reconfigured as toothless regulation (with its overweening regard for the market). Privatization would be swabbed off as energy independence (using the American obsession with independence to undermine ecological mandates). Federal downsizing would be recast as deficit reduction (falsely conflating declining growth with social spending). But as he shouldered his way through the living rooms of silent power, he assured the assembled doyens of industry that it all came to the same. Thus, the downward spiral of blacks was simply accelerated, their claims denied, their houses foreclosed upon, their creditors enriched.
…How instructive that Nelson Mandela precipitated and oversaw the dismantling of the racist apartheid regime in South Africa, but his ascendancy to power corresponded with a fatal shift in the economic fortunes of black South Africans, who would watch manufacturing, employment, and wages all decline during Mandela’s prime (see Patrick Bond’s expert summary). Even as whites watched their share of South African wealth rise, as white-held corporations evacuated their money from the newly free state, and as all the best land, mines, manufacturing, and finance remained in the hands of white power.
…What can we surmise from these three paradoxes of justice? Namely, that social gains seem to happen only when they don’t threaten established wealth, which is ensured by a clandestine decoupling of social issues from economics. As society steps forward socially, it steps backward economically.
…In each instance—following King’s assassination, and Obama and Mandela’s election—the social gains made by the majestic courage of millions were balanced by a backdoor betrayal of their economic interests. … All of this is disguised by the clever machinations of the budget office, which is able to artificially create the impression of general growth and prosperity by masking the negative metrics with astonishing stock market growth. Rather than investing in more productive fixed assets in the real economy, from which it is harder to extract one’s capital, investors prefer the easy mobility of financial speculation. Preferably through the creation of a derivatives-based real estate bubble (see Japan, the U.S., and Ireland for instructive examples in this regard). The numbers from this stupendous growth for the few are conflated with the figures of stupefying decline for the majority to produce a perverted per capita profile—one that characterizes a nation in free fall as one in flight.
And that process leaves us with a picture that oddly resembles modern South Africa. Enfranchised blacks in dire straits, with no political party representing their interests. A well-tanned imperial elite doing fabulously well. The government doing little to help the poor, but plenty to enable the rich. And when the complicit politicians and court journalists get a free minute, they step forward with poetic odes to another fallen champion of the underclass—even as they quietly celebrate the renewal of mass delusion and the injustice of the status quo.