All posts by Jason Hirthler

The Contradictions of Being Pro-Capitalist and Anti-War

In his lesser known novel, A Small Town in Germany, John Le Carré skewers the diplomatic class in the old West German capital of Bonn. An investigator sent to the drizzly town on the banks of the Rhine discovers a fog of misdirection as he tries to track down a fled spy. At one point, comfortably resigned to his frustration, a glib diplomat tells the investigator, himself at wit’s end, unable to capitalize on an array of clues, “There’s always something; there’s never enough.” This is largely the story of the socialist “opportunists” that the Russian Bolsheviks themselves skewered in the revolutionary and blood-scented atmosphere of World War One Europe. As Vladimir Lenin argues in Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, the socialist opportunists argue for something: a few tepid reforms that may provide a transitory respite in the plight of the poor. But they never go far enough: challenging a system of predatory appropriation for which minor reforms are nothing but an extended sentence. They offered a map to nowhere on a path whose starting and end points are the same.

It is likewise the story of today’s bourgeois liberal class, a hollow parody of progressivism allied with the ruling class establishment. Not only are today’s Democrats purveyors of media misdirection with Russiagate, but their policies are likewise the stuff of fake news and forgotten promises. The liberal class, including its current champion, Bernie Sanders, has yet to face the incompatibility of corporate capitalism, particularly in its monopoly stage, and military imperialism. They are flip sides of the same fascist coin. The early Soviets knew this all too well.

In his memorable screed on onetime socialist Karl Kautsky’s slide into opportunism, Lenin lays out the contradiction between being anti-imperialism and pro-capitalism. After all, if imperialism, as Lenin argues, is the highest stage of capitalism itself, how could one deplore the former and approve the latter? You can’t, not without falling into a set of contradictions that render one’s entire position farcical. Lenin shows, with meticulous documentation, how capital tends to concentrate, creating monopolies and generating demand for new markets and new revenue streams.

An Iron Law of Capitalism

Through a meticulous review of European and North American data, Lenin writes that the “transformation of competition into monopoly is one of the most important–if not most important –phenomena of modern capitalist economy.” He notes how entire supply chains, or verticals, tend to combine for more fluid and efficient production. He notes, “…for example, the smelting of iron ore into pig-iron, the conversion of pig-iron into steel, and then, perhaps, the manufacture of steel…” and quotes one of the leading economists in the Weimar Republic, Rudolf Hilferding, writing, “Combination levels out the fluctuations of trade and therefore assures to the combine enterprises a more stable rate of profit.” It isn’t hard to recognize the empirical proofs of this claim, living as we do in an era of mergers and acquisitions, in which a mind-numbing $2.5 trillion in M&A were launched in just the first half of 2018.

Just consider the mediascape, in which a handful of elephantine conglomerates control some 90 percent of American media. They continue to gobble up smaller local media venues, guaranteeing the phenomenon cleverly spelled out in an 2011 infographic, which notes that 223 executives controlled the “information diet” of some 227 million Americans. While the mergers may indeed happen for reasons of capital, an epiphenomenon is the consolidation of opinion in a few ideologically sanguine hands. Example after example, cover the 1860s through the early 1900s, bring Lenin to the conclusion that “…the rise of monopolies, as the result of the concentration of production, is a general fundamental law of the present stage of the development of capitalism.” It is all done, of course, to stimulate super-profits. Not surprisingly, “the social means of production remain the private property of a few.”

When monopolies don’t get what they want, they take aggressive action against intransigent market entities. Lenin notes several tactics, including shutting down supplies of raw materials, foreclosing avenues of labor supply, quitting deliveries, blocking trade outlets, forming exclusive trade agreements, price cutting, and other vicious economic attacks.  Likewise, the control of capital itself, in the forms of credits and interest rates, is another signal feature of monopolist aggression. (Think of the Volcker Shock.) The monopolists are “…throttling those who do not submit to them…” It is interesting that these tactics are particularly evident in American foreign policy. Washington itself acts like a cartel enforcer for elite capital. These tactics, often in the form of sanctions, have been variously applied to China, Russia, Venezuela, Iran, Syria, North Korea, and other nations that refuse to adopt the yoke of American economic imperialism.

But where does all this economic infighting lead? First to monopoly, then to imperialism. Not only must access to cheap raw materials be fitted into the verticalized supply chain, owned and operated by the monopolist subsidiaries, but new markets must forever be annexed in order to stem a falling rate of profit. Lenin’s argument suggests that World War One was a bloody dividing of the world into separate camps, for the redistribution of colonial possessions, and so on. Another consistent feature of capitalist imperialism we’ve seen in recent years in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and Libya, all of which had underlying economic conflicts that drove military conflict.

The Buried Narrative

Lenin adds that monopolists leverage propaganda through media in the form of “false rumours” and “anonymous warnings” in the papers. Sound familiar? The media propaganda foisted on the public is a critical chapter of this story. The story that Lenin lays out, on the growth of competitive capitalism into monopoly and monopoly into imperialism, is a seminal link in the chain that yokes capitalism to war. And yet it has been largely scrubbed from the western record. And the absence of that knowledge is what permits imperialists like the Democratic Party to masquerade as paladins of peace and prosperity through capitalism, all cloaked beneath a feel-your-pain rhetoric aimed squarely at the working class.

Lenin opens a pivotal chapter in Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, “Critique of Imperialism” with a comment that defines the corporate media and the professional class from which it comes, “’General’ enthusiasm over the prospects of imperialism, furious defence of it and painting it in the brightest colours—such are the signs of the times.” As he says, “’Social-Democratic’ Party of Germany are justly called “social-imperialists”, that is, socialists in words and imperialists in deeds.” Bourgeois scholars and publicists usually come out in defence of imperialism in a somewhat veiled form…do their very best to distract attention from essentials by means of absolutely ridiculous schemes for “reform”, such as police supervision of the trusts or banks, etc.”

He notes that most bourgeois arguments from nations seeking to shrug off the colonial shackles fail to recognize that imperialism is “inseparably bound up with capitalism,” and that requests to remove imperialism without removing capitalism are stillborn petitions, “strangled in the crib”, as Churchill might say, by their internal contradictions. Lenin points to the “anti-imperialists” in America that opposed the American trampling of the Philippines fell into the same trap of foreclosed imagination. While they railed against the “jingo treachery” of American false promises, Lenin said their criticisms would amount to little if they failed to recognize “the inseverable bond between imperialism and the trusts, and, therefore between imperialism and the foundations of capitalism…” His perspective on the Philippines protest almost, step for step, mirrors the reality of today’s “#resistance”, a farcical amalgam of costume parades and tweet storms that seeks to unseat anyone that uses politically incorrect language or wants displays their sexist or racist chevrons in public.

Discrediting sexism and racism is obviously good, if it is legitimately done. But Lenin lamented the “socialists in words and imperialists in deeds” that hounded the socialist landscape of his day. Today’s Democratic Party is progressive in words and neoliberal in deeds. The corporate liberal class has finally reached the stage where it can run a minority to do its dirty deeds. The population numbers foreseen in the Sixties have finally arrived. Barack Obama preached inclusivity from the political pulpit, but promoted exclusivity from the policy bench. It is no surprise: he is a member of a very exclusive club—an adoptee of the one percent.

Lenin attacks Kautsky and other bourgeois pundits, who argue for leveraging the engines of capitalism to increase “’the consuming capacity’” of the populace. Lenin points out that “it is in their interest to pretend to be so naïve and to talk “seriously” about peace under imperialism.” Another familiar tactic. Anyone familiar with the modern Democrats would recognize it. Like Obama, who won a Nobel Peace Prize from a demented clan of flour-haired Scandinavians. In one of the books he penned before he was elected, Obama confirmed that he was “a free market guy”. No one in the mainstream liberal press was willing to recognize or capable of recognizing that in confirming his capitalist bona fides, he was simultaneously signaling his allegiance to empire.

Lenin’s contemporaries like Kautsky believed that the imperial monopolies of capitalism could be disbanded and returned to a state of free competition in which the oracular market would appease the warring instincts of states, and a market-led peace would ensue. Kautsky called it “ultra-imperialism”. Lenin called it a “reformist swindle”. He notes that monopolies arose out of competition, and that to uncouple the monopolies would only return the relevant entities to a state of fierce competition, in which inequities would arise, leading to new monopolies. It was akin to dialing back determinism and expecting a new outcome. Lenin notes how any pacific alliances between competing imperialists would be at best temporary as the balance of power would inevitably shift in one direction or the other, instigating new confrontations, conflagrations, and war.

Lenin also noted the great value of imperial conquest to capital. Ever in search of new avenues of investment, ever threatened by the scourge of overproduction, new colonies could be forced open to accept “commodity dumping” from developed nations that would undercut local industry. Usurious loans to these colonial dependents would provide the funds with which to buy the first-world commodities. He even points to a German loan to Romania that facilitated the purchase of German railway materials. How could anyone fail to recognize in this dynamic the European Union’s behavior toward its fragile periphery of Portugal, Ireland, and Greece, particularly the latter? Were not German loans made to Greece to purchase German goods, inflating the latter’s monopoly profits while inflating the former’s debt peonage? Lenin calls this “skinning the ox twice”. After all, the bank makes compound interest off the loan; then the loan is used to buy products from the bank’s clients. Then, once the debtor nation flounders under debt deflation, having less and less to fund its economy since so much of its income was redirected to interest payments on exorbitant loans, it will be forced, like Greece, to begin selling off its national assets at bargain prices to the lender nation, as the vultures gather round the carrion.

History’s Rerun

Lenin concludes that peace in capitalist geographies is merely a respite between conflicts. Little more than “the banal philistine fantasies of English parsons”. In effect, Kautsky and the “opportunist” elements of the middle class were doing little more than attempting to unhitch capitalism from imperialism in order to save the system of their own enrichment. A failed project, to be sure, as passage after passage of Lenin’s polemic reads like a lucid profile of the Democratic Party. The Bolshevik leader concludes that, “imperialism is the epoch of finance capital and of monopolies, which introduce everywhere the striving for domination, not for freedom.” Later he adds that, “…capital can maintain its domination only by continually increasing its military force.” Could there be a better description of our modern dilemma of financial exploitation and military conquest? The 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is tens of billions larger than last year’s and supports nearly 900 military installations around the world.

Finally, Lenin remarks that there’s no hope for unity with “the opportunists in the epoch of imperialism.” He points to the bourgeois denunciations of imperial annexations by various powers. Immediately the theatrical denunciations of Russia in Crimea and Syria in its own territory come to mind. Lenin sensibly argues that the author of such condemnations can be, “sincere and politically honest only if he fights against the annexation[s]” his own country makes. Naturally, the beltway liberals are silent on our de facto annexation of parts of Syria, our clandestine coup d’état in Ukraine, our savage use of Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay, not to mention a dozen other base camps we’ve established like a necklace of crimes across the planet. As a nation, what we condemn in others, often falsely, we do ourselves. And on a slightly smaller scale, what the Democrats condemn across the aisle, they often do themselves behind a patina of progressive rhetoric. Sophistry and sops from the banquet table of the rich; this is today’s Democratic Party writ large.

The Party Is Dead; Long Live the Party

One quarter of American workers get no vacation time a year. None. Nada. A vast 63 percent don’t have $500 saved for an emergency, let alone anything so exotic as a vacation. Ten percent never leave their state. Ever. Not even to the fair Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, where they might have faintly approximated the glories of Venice, that cradle of Italian statehood. See that luminous city of lit gondolas erected on a swampland as a last resort against the uncultivated hordes. No, they’ve not even got enough money to afford a simulacrum of a real wonder.

The Paladin of Proles

I look at battlers like Bernie Sanders. Sanders is the kind of principled politician who will reel off such statistics with real relish and stump with tireless feeling for the disadvantaged. He’s done more to advance the cause of sanity and decency than any of us, shy of a handful of humans you can count on your fingers: one dissident living in a cloistered embassy in London, one buried in exile deep in the Russian hinterlands, and a third not too long ago released from solitary madness at Leavenworth. Add to that Vladimir Putin and Bashar Al-Assad for their willingness to face down the imperium itself. There are likewise a phalanx of Latin American conquistadors too numerous to name. But their likes are doubtless known to you.

Aside from these humble heroes, Sanders ranks near the top of the table of our generational epoch. He recently wrote to me. How I thrilled to his every word until I realized it was a spam email blast to a bought list of consumer-citizens. And yet–it resonated. It was about how Jeff Bezos, in a mere ten seconds, earned more than the average Amazon employee. You know, those anonymous box packers from the sordid sea of underpaid, underfed, undernourished, and underappreciated workers who rely on food stamps, public housing, and Medicaid to make ends meet? Bernie was railing on about how we pay for Bezos’ neglect. Not only does he pay a pittance, but he pays nothing in taxes. Literally. We generously foot the bill for Bezos indifference to his employees’ well-being. All so that balding knave can slink into Langley and court favor with the intelligence mandarins with their security clearance badges swinging from their ammunition belts. A disgrace, croons the Bern. Indeed.

And did you notice the one dishonest word in the last paragraph? I put it there on purpose. The untruth is the word earned. “Earned” is the ultimate euphemism of the rich. How easily humans convince themselves they deserve what they have. How easily the human mind is cozened by fantasies of personal nobility, of preternatural genius. We think we have earned, by dint of our unconquerable will, what has fallen to us more by virtue of fortune than by virtue itself. We are clearly not evolved to be soothsayers. We are evolved to lie, mostly to ourselves, but a lot to others, too. Just ask Robert Trivers, who investigated the selection pressures for self-delusion. Bezos earned nothing of that money. His abject crews in hot factories and steamy trucks did the labor. He tabulated the profits. Or rather his accountants did.

Ever notice how the bourgeoisie, if you stand in their midst, say, during a backyard barbecue, will attribute to themselves all manner of labor? For instance, one might hear, amid the general bonhomie of men with silk palms and thick mouths, “Yeah, I just built a new driveway made of pebbles. Really beautiful. Set my house apart from the neighbors. Everyone else just slaps down a concrete driveway. No imagination, these people.” Unfortunately, the ensuing questions will not include, “My God, man, that must have been back-breaking labor? How the devil did you accomplish it, given your day job?” No, the questions will rather include, “How much did it cost? You pay a contractor or just hire cheap Mexican labor?” There are million conversations like this. And somehow, thanks to the rentier theology spawned some time back in the Adam Smith epoch, men (mostly men) have largely convinced themselves that the bounty that accrues from their initial capital investment ought to be theirs and theirs alone. Mind you, a small percentage may be permitted to trickle down to the proles, lest they distribute pitchforks and come for us in the night.

Hoisted By His Own Petard

And so it is with the kingpins that sit atop the gross pile of tangled humanity. Like Bezos. So I look at men like Bernie and am reminded of a couple of images. One is some Victorian derivation of Don Quixote riding forth from La Mancha, standard in hand, ready to charge at windmills along the bleak horizon. A man chasing a cause long lost. A man battling a foe long crowned. Another is from the latest Bond flick, Spectre. Bond’s old nemesis, the grizzly Mr. White, poisoned by thallium and near death, tells Bond that his efforts to stop Spectre are risible. He gazes at 007 with a kind of incredulity, and in an ominous wheeze, he declaims, “You’re a kite dancing in a hurricane, Mr. Bond,” before offing himself with Bond’s own handgun. Lovely scene. But this sadly seems to be what Sanders is, a kite of blind hope dancing in a hurricane of malfeasance. To think one can pacify the greed or stanch the corruption from within the hurricane is mere madness.

The liberal class has died and become a front for the zombie banks that care nothing for the working class. The narcotic of financialization has rent Wall Street from Main Street, setting the latter adrift, rudderless in the sea of indifferent politicians. Witnesses to the machinations of capital have been calling for reform since Vladimir Lenin broke with Karl Kautsky and his desire for “vulgar bourgeois reformism.” The Democratic Party cannot and should not and will not be saved or ressurrected or reborn. Martin Luther King, Jr. understood as much when he said, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” He was persona non grata among Democrats for such opinions. Quetzal Cáceres nicely covers the abyssal depths of the Democratic Party and why switching it up is not a creditable platform.

Does the desire to effect such death-defying miracles stem from a faith in the system one so expertly critiques? Perhaps. There are true believers among us. Or does it spring from a need to stay near the herd, to never stray far from its creature comforts and the embrace of kind-eyed peers. Certainly never to stray so far as to stumble into the label of a revolutionary. No, no, no. The jungles are hot. Che ended up with a bullet in the back, gasping his last breath in the wretched shadow of beltway-backed thugs. Better to be an intrepid reformer. Lard your rhetoric with the classic bromides, spice with the odd rebel call. Happy to retain the system (that engine of inequality). We just want to tinker along the edges, friend. Tamper with the tapestry a bit. Perhaps add a new fringe here, a fresh trim there. Nothing serious, you understand.

Nothing that will upend the vast reservoirs of liquid wealth gathered up by the elites. How stealthily they lifted it from the pockets of the working class. Capitalist exploitation is the greatest pickpocket that ever lived. Never been caught. Never been cuffed. Thieve away, fair Capital. Your beat cop is frumpy chalk-haired man in spectacles brandishing a sheaf of damning documents, calling on a dead legislature to conjure living democracy from a blind oligarchy. Spare the demos the false hope, Bernie. There are worse fates than winding up in exile like Ralph Nader, the man you are at great pains not to be. (You may recall the story of author and journalist Chris Hedges asking Sanders before his rise, should he lose the Democratic nomination, whether he’d run as an independent or with a third party. The hand-wringing Vermonter confided that he didn’t want to end up like poor Ralph, a pariah exiled from the fellowship of hypocrites.)

The irony of the reformist clamor is that, as dissenting opinions proliferate on the left bank of the political spectrum, they are just as swiftly foreclosed by a political establishment coercing social media megaliths to suppress the visibility of such dissent. This recrudescent McCarthyism and its New Cold War stimulant, rolled together in the giant hypnotic spleef of Russiagate, are the happy work of the Democratic Party itself. A peremptory device of the establishment to ward off what could perhaps have been a stake-through-the-heart indictment of duopoly politics. Point being, the Democratic Party will no more climb from its grave than Jesus did. Of course, too many believe Jesus did just that. Is the chronic faith in political reform a product of religious faith in resurrection? Credo ergo reformacione? An interesting possibility. A Marxist athiest might agree.

Crib Notes on Late Capitalism

Gordon Gekko, the fictitious corporate raider so memorably personified by Michael Douglas in Wall Street, lectured an assemblage of investors and flaccid board members with this eye-opening burst of insight:

The point is, ladies and gentlemen, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms, greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge, has marked the upward surge of mankind and greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA.

Gekko cut to the core of capitalism. He unclothed its essence, he upvoted its pseudo-scientific rationale, and he recognized its dominion over America. We should know by now, all these years and a Great Recession later, that sociopathic late capitalism reduces all morality to a single ethic: increase profits. At any cost. By any means necessary. And always as at a faster pace with fewer hands involved in the assembly, one day to be as seamlessly automated as it is amoral. Even when a throng of angry workers rise up and startle the bourgeoisie from its dogmatic slumber, the subsequent concessions are often piecemeal and temporary. As soon as they are implemented, the animated masses slip back into their consumer coma, and a cadre of capitalist purists, furiously underlining quotes in their laissez faire bibles, begin a massively financed rollback. Without round-the-clock vigilance by a perpetually agitated electorate, the restoration of unchecked plunder seems inevitable. Today that process of unchecked plunder is in full swing. It feels like late capitalism, an exhausted time when the rhetorical salves that once hid the gruesome core of exploitation, have lost their power, revealed as empty platitudes. Late capitalism is perhaps an era unfettered by regulatory regimes or unified labor, in which manufacturing has fled abroad, financialization is pre-eminent, bureaucracies enable blame-shifting and abdication of responsibility at the highest levels, where personal finances are credit-fueled, debt deflation cannibalizes income, and there is no sacred ground that is not ripe for commodification. And crucially, an era in which brutal economic and military aggression has become normalized. Wars are no longer historically bookended epochs, but quotidian realities for millions that live in the crosshairs of imperial greed. A few notes on our present reality and the ways in which we cloak it behind comforting facades:

Acceptable Casualties: What are the consequences of that rollback? Brutal corporate raiding, to be sure, of the Gekko variety. And strip-mining private equity firms like Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital. And supercharged offshoring kingpins like General Electric. But also extrajudicial murder. Assassinations. Indefinite detention. Saturation bombing. Backing coup d’états birthed at midnight on a distant Maidan. Funding jihadi terrorists in faux uprisings in drought-stricken border towns. Green-lighting neo-Nazi fascists in jackboots with Bandera flags held aloft. Stationing a fleet of drones above the clouds over Yemen, their 24-hour buzz reminding powerless villagers below that their futures and funerals are separated by a hair’s breadth. Launching Tomahawk missiles and flying sorties to destroy legitimate government forces as al-Qaeda terrorists advance toward Tripoli. Enabling a longtime leader’s death by rape in a featureless dune outside of Sirte. Parading tanks and Humvees down the roads of Eastern Europe, shadowing the frontiers of Russia with the clustered muzzles of their long artillery. And, of course, rolling out all the domestic austerities that they pretend must be cut to pay for our protection. And don’t forget jerry-rigging pensions to implode thanks to naive derivative bets placed by deluded municipalities. All to make a quick buck, protect a currency regime, or pulverize resistance to western dominion over MENA energy resources. But that’s just at the national level. On the individual level, the profits system is protected and reinforced and expanded using torture, including simulated drowning and anal rape (Abu Ghraib), slaughtering villagers (Vietnam, Nicaragua), shameless genocide (see history of Native Americans), rampant slavery (see history of African Americans), sending armed terrorists into sovereign nations with the intention of total ruin (Syria, Libya, Nicaragua), and numberless other particularized forms of cruelty against men and women. One of our former arbiters of torture is now assuming command of the CIA, her suburban soccer mom pose pacifying the tired assemblage of corporate supplicants in Congress.

The Pall of Good Intentions: All of this to secure profits (variously euphemized as power, wealth, resources, influence, liquidity, reserve currency, etc.). Of course, these acceptable consequences are acceptable because they can be written off as bad judgment or mistakes. Lapses in foresight. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. As national mythologist Ken Burns’ sagacious narrator purred in The Vietnam War, “It was begun in good faith by decent people out of fateful misunderstandings.” This rancid preface is enveloped in the amniotic afterbirth of every act of imperial violence, a postscript rationalization. One can imagine the wizened faces of imperial stormtroopers asking with incredulous naiveté, “What happened?” The Burns documentary is artfully presented, with a master’s touch, and dropped deep into the fog of war from which we can comfortably resolve, “…in war, there is no single truth.” Thus the resolution is no resolution at all. Judgment is judiciously reserved. What cannot be swept under the carpet or plausibly denied, can be amplified into total confusion, confounding even the most discerning observer. In the final analysis, there is no one to blame.

It’s the System! When ill-conceived choices don’t suffice, the blame can be offloaded onto the system itself. As automation in warfare improves, expect more of the moral blame to be shifted to technological malfunctions rather than human error. AI may play in war the same role bureaucracy plays in consumer capitalism, the abdication of responsibility. Remember the middle manager mantra: “Sorry, but that decision is above my pay grade.” This is the requisite assumption of bureaucratic capitalism and the reason why the abdication of responsibility and subterfuge of false historical narratives are so important to the capitalist system. It cannot be conceded that profitability is valued above human life. When such charges are leveled at imperial capital, blame for such inhumane values must be placed on the system, while individuals are set scot free. No major bankers were jailed for the bank-generated mortgage meltdown. No major government figures were jailed for their role in sanctioning torture and war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a consequence, a torturer now runs the CIA and banks have leveraged their derivative bets beyond 2008 levels. Obama launched the largest covert CIA operation since Afghanistan in Syria, ultimately generating the cauldron that displaced half the country and killed half a million. But his staunchest defenders will swiftly lift the accusations from their paladin’s slim shoulders, dust off his lapels, and deposit the blame squarely on the monolithic system itself. No one is powerful enough, therefore no one bears responsibility. Given the casuistry of capital, it any wonder then that the wages of capitalism are so often death?

Capital Fight, Capital Flight: Most of us don’t think of wars as capitalist wars. But what else are they? The United States has established bases inside of Syria’s predominantly oil-rich Kurdish region. That war itself began, conspicuously, not long after Bashar Al-Assad opted to back a gas line built with Russia and Iran over one involving Qatar and Turkey. Wars against Iraq and Libya were both conspicuously ramped up not long after those nations floated the idea of abandoning the US petro-dollar. And you know how temporary installations morph into permanent occupations. Baghdad’s Green Zone didn’t start out as a Bellagio-on-the-Tigris, but soon became a permanent encampment, even if it is now euphemistically named, “the international zone.” Military contractors still have a considerable presence there (surely cheered by the citizenry) and the American wrecking crew has whittled its official footprint to world’s largest ‘embassy’ cum occupation zone. Iraq, too, was a resource war, and yet is not generally grasped as a distinctively capitalist conflict. But the only apparent alternative to foreign exploitation in a rent-seeking system is capital flight.

Savagery as Security: The evidence of bloody exploitation is all around us, but most of it beyond our borders and across abyssal seas most of us have never crossed. Hence the worthlessness of this system of plunder for the majority is better grasped by people living outside the walls of our doctrinal system. People living in the 57 countries we’ve attempted to overthrow since WWII. People living in occupied territories, alongside the 800 military bases we’ve flung like a net across the planet. People living beneath the drone arsenals that float in the sky, or those in nations that suffered the 51,000 bombs President Obama let drop in the final two years of his presidency. These acts are all, suffice it to say, forms of aggression defined as defensive measures. Obama was thus the perfect avatar of imperial conquest, a man who neither seemed capable of anger or interested in expansion. Unlike snarling Dick Cheney and more akin to soothing Bill Clinton, Obama provided the necessary update on Jesse Jackson’s candidacy in 1984 and 1988, tweaking the persona from that of an impassioned African-American decidedly on the side of the working class to one of a cross-class unifier who healed divisions with a kind of amiable centrism. And so Obama and the Democratic Party merely inhabited the emptied husks of progressivism, while embodying in practice the regressive rollback of worker advances.

Domestic Digs: Evidence may be bloodier abroad, but the wages of capitalist globalization have also been coming home to roost for some time. The millions of middle class jobs exported abroad to line the coffers of rich shareholders and impoverish the sad ledgers of working men and women. If there is a definition of the word ‘sellout,’ it ought to sit astride the logos of companies like GE, Walmart, Nike, JP Morgan, Lockheed Martin, and Halliburton. Hundreds of thousands of Indian farmers have committed suicide thanks to the ‘liberalization’ of markets, permitting western multinationals to savagely undercut subsistence farmers in nations like India, and deliberately drives them into urban slums to fortify the surplus army of cheap labor available to faceless capital. Now New York taxi drivers are killing themselves, unable to continue working 16 hour days for ever-declining wages while mobile sweatshops like Uber and Lyft lobby for deregulation, undercut the wages of the entire industry, and hire a multicultural new CEO with a kindly face who softly promises helpful innovation for all. Capitalists fear a falling rate of profit, but care nothing for the falling rate of wages. As Marxist geographer David Harvey said, capitalism will cannibalize the source of its own wealth–something no PR campaign can cure. Every revenue stream will be bled dry. Harvey also said capitalism’s current form, a viciously anti-state neoliberalism, is a conscious project of class restoration, a war on workers by elite shareholders looking to restore their class privilege, despite their role as a parasitic rentier class that induces debt deflation in the larger economy. If labor mis-attributes its travails to personal inadequacies, it likewise misses the fact that it is under attack. Labor is kept afloat through credit, with student, credit card, mortgage, and auto debts all swelling past the trillion-dollar threshold in the U.S. With that increase in debt come obvious corollaries: the one percent grabbed 95 percent of the overhyped recovery in America, while the overlapping global one percent will own two-thirds of all wealth by 2030.

Class Blinders: In practice, capitalism is primarily about the freedom of the rich to exploit the poor. That’s what Barack Obama signaled to elite constituencies when he campaigned for president, a willingness to either look the other way or facilitate exploitation. Even if he believed the lofty rhetoric he ventriloquized through his Ivy League education. Donald Trump may perhaps be a bit more aware that capitalism is red in tooth and claw. But like Gekko, he merely recites the tiresome credos of Social Darwinism, the naturalistic fallacy that conservatives and ambitious financiers never stop falling for. It may be the only method of rationalizing their success as the product of their intrinsic talents, rather than a stroke of fortune delivered by a confection of birth, breeding, temperament, and natural ambition. Marx was right when he proposed a materialist conception of history. Our circumstances do shape our consciousness. The rich have been taught to take credit for their successes and externalize responsibility for their failures. A tireless work ethic provides the moral backdrop to every Fortune 500 profile, but for every bankruptcy, regulation and taxation are reviled. On the flip side, the elite media never tires of conditioning the poor to do the reverse: self-indict for their failures and thank affirmative action and America for their successes. Read Adam Johnson on “perseverance porn,” the celebration of disenfranchised peasants who endure intolerable conditions. As such, too often the exploited blame themselves for their exploitation, and the exploiters blame the system for their failures (the system they rely upon in times of crises).

Money Never Sleeps: No matter, Gordon Gekko had it right. Greed is good–for the one percent. After all, they seem to be the only ones benefiting from institutionalized cupidity of imperial capitalism, for which all are blameless but from which only a handful may benefit. That its unchecked bacchanalia came to a juddering halt in Mesopotamia has bedeviled the plutocrats at the helm of the global capitalism. Their loyal serfs in the military-financial complex have demonstrated alarming judgment since the Syrian conflict began. The plutocrats surely fear their unipolar moment is being threatened by a poker-faced piker in the Kremlin and his infuriatingly refined ally in Damascus. The nervous frenzy in the western media only reflects the disturbed priorities of the corporate state. Perhaps the only question left appears to be whether Washington will make good on its implicit wish to use small nukes to salvage its hegemony, or strategize a more successful use of criminal sanctions, proxy forces and soft coups to redraw the balance of power to their liking. Either choice will entail not only decimation abroad but vacuuming more taxes from social need into metastasizing budgets that fuel military aggression and police a restive homeland. Peace and prosperity are not in the cards. As the infamous Margaret Thatcher said of capital’s creed: “There is no alternative.”

Colonizing the Western Mind

Photo by Marco | CC BY 2.0

In Christopher Nolan’s captivating and visually dazzling film Inception, a practitioner of psychic corporate espionage must plant and idea inside a CEO’s head. The process is called inception, and it represents the frontier of corporate influence, in which mind spies no longer just “extract” ideas from the dreams of others, but seed useful ideas in a target’s subconscious. Inception is a well-crafted piece of futuristic sci-fi drama, but some of the ideas it imparts are already deeply embedded in the American subconscious. The notion of inception, of hatching an idea in the mind of a man or woman without his or her knowledge, is the kernel of propaganda, a black art practiced in the States since the First World War. Today we live beneath an invisible cultural hegemony, a set of ideas implanted in the mass mind by the U.S. state and its corporate media over decades. Invisibility seems to happen when something is either obscure or ubiquitous. In a propaganda system, an overarching objective is to render the messaging invisible by universalizing it within the culture. Difference is known by contrast. If there are no contrasting views in your field of vision, it’s easier to accept the ubiquitous explanation. The good news is that the ideology is well-known to some who have, for one lucky reason or another, found themselves outside the hegemonic field and are thus able to contrast the dominant worldview with alternative opinions. On the left, the ruling ideology might be described as neoliberalism, a particularly vicious form of imperial capitalism that, as would be expected, is camouflaged in the lineaments of humanitarian aid and succor.

Inception 1972

In a short span of time in the 1970s, dozens of think tanks were established across the western world and billions of dollars were spent proselytizing the tenets of the Powell Memo in 1972, which galvanized a counter-revolution to the liberal upswing of the Sixties. The neoliberal economic model of deregulation, downsizing, and privatization was preached by the Reagan-Thatcher junta, liberalized by the Clinton regime, temporarily given a bad name by the unhinged Bush administration, and saved by telegenic restoration of the Obama years. The ideology that underlay the model saturated academia, notably at the University of Chicago, and the mainstream media, principally at The New York Times. Since then it has trickled down to the general populace, to whom it now feels second nature. Today think tanks like the Heritage Foundation, the Brookings Institute, Stratfor, Cato Institute, American Enterprise Institute, Council on Foreign Relations, Carnegie Endowment, the Open Society Foundation, and the Atlantic Council, among many others, funnel millions of dollars in donations into cementing neoliberal attitudes in the American mind.

The ideological assumptions, which serve to justify what you could call neocolonial tactics, are relatively clear: the rights of the individual to be free of overreach from monolithic institutions like the state. Activist governments are inherently inefficient and lead directly to totalitarianism. Markets must be free and individuals must be free to act in those markets. People must be free to choose, both politically and commercially, in the voting booth and at the cash register. This conception of markets and individuals is most often formulated as “free-market democracy,” a misleading conceit that conflates individual freedom with the economic freedom of capital to exploit labor. So when it comes to foreign relations, American and western aid would only be given on the condition that the borrowers accepted the tenets of an (highly manipulable) electoral system and vowed to establish the institutions and legal structures required to fully realize a western market economy. These demands were supplemented with notions of the individual right to be free of oppression, some fine rhetoric about women and minorities, and somewhat more quietly, a judicial understanding that corporations were people, too. Together, an unshackled economy and an unfettered populace, newly equipped with individual rights, would produce the same flourishing and nourishing demos of mid-century America that had been the envy of humanity.

A False Promise

This ‘Washington Consensus’ is the false promise promoted by the West. The reality is quite different. The crux of neoliberalism is to eliminate democratic government by downsizing, privatizing, and deregulating it. Proponents of neoliberalism recognize that the state is the last bulwark of protection for the common people against the predations of capital. Remove the state and they’ll be left defenseless. Think about it. Deregulation eliminates the laws. Downsizing eliminates departments and their funding. Privatizing eliminates the very purpose of the state by having the private sector take over its traditional responsibilities. Ultimately, nation-states would dissolve except perhaps for armies and tax systems. A large, open-border global free market would be left, not subject to popular control but managed by a globally dispersed, transnational one percent. And the whole process of making this happen would be camouflaged beneath the altruistic stylings of a benign humanitarianism.

Globalists, as neoliberal capitalists are often called, also understood that democracy, defined by a smattering of individual rights and a voting booth, was the ideal vehicle to usher neoliberalism into the emerging world. Namely because democracy, as commonly practiced, makes no demands in the economic sphere. Socialism does. Communism does. These models directly address ownership of the means of production. Not so democratic capitalism. This permits the globalists to continue to own the means of production while proclaiming human rights triumphant in nations where interventions are staged. The enduring lie is that there is no democracy without economic democracy.

What matters to the one percent and the media conglomerates that disseminate their worldview is that the official definitions are accepted by the masses. The real effects need never be known. The neoliberal ideology (theory) thus conceals the neoliberal reality (practice). And for the masses to accept it, it must be mass produced. Then it becomes more or less invisible by virtue of its universality.

A Pretext for Pillage

Thanks to this artful disguise, the West can stage interventions in nations reluctant to adopt its platform of exploitation, knowing that on top of the depredations of an exploitative economic model, they will be asked to call it progress and celebrate it.

Washington, the metropolitan heart of neoliberal hegemony, has numerous methods of convincing reluctant developing nations to accept its neighborly advice. To be sure, the goal of modern colonialism is to find a pretext to intervene in a country, to restore by other means the extractive relations that first brought wealth to the colonial north. The most common pretexts for intervention depict the target nation in three distinct fashions.

First, as an economic basket case, a condition often engineered by the West in what is sometimes called, “creating facts on the ground.” By sanctioning the target economy, Washington can “make the economy scream,” to using war criminal Henry Kissinger’s elegant phrasing. Iran, Syria, and Venezuela are relevant examples here. Second, the West funds violent opposition to the government, producing unrest, often violent riots of the kind witnessed in Dara, Kiev, and Caracas. The goal is either to capsize a tottering administration or provoke a violent crackdown, at which point western embassies and institutions will send up simultaneously cries of tyranny and brutality and insist the leader step aside. Libya, Syria, and Venezuela are instructive in this regard. Third, the country will be pressured to accept some sort of military fettering thanks to either a false flag or manufactured hysteria over some domestic program, such as the WMD restrictions on Iraq, chemical weapons restrictions on Syria, or the civilian nuclear energy restrictions on Iran. Given that the U.S. traffics in WMDs, bioweapons, and nuclear energy itself, insisting others forsake all of these is perhaps little more than racially motivated despotry. But significant fear mongering in the international media will provide sufficient moral momentum to ram through sanctions, resolutions, and inspection regimes with little fanfare.

Schooling the Savages

Once the pretext is established, the appropriate intervention is made. There’s no lack of latent racism embedded in each intervention. Something of Edward Said’s Orientalism is surely at play here; the West is often responding to a crude caricature rather than a living people. One writer, Robert Dale Parker, described western views of Asia as little more than, “a sink of despotism on the margins of the world.” Iran is incessantly lensed through a fearful distrust of the ‘other’, those abyssal Persians. Likewise, North Korea is mythologized as a kingdom of miniature madmen, possessed of a curious psychosis that surely bears no relation to the genocidal cleansing of 20 percent of its population in the Fifties, itself an imperial coda to the madness of Hiroshima.

The interventions, then, are little different than the missionary work of early colonizers, who sought to entrap the minds of men in order to ensnare the soul. Salvation is the order of the day. The mission worker felt the same sense of superiority and exceptionalism that inhabits the mind of the neoliberal. Two zealots of the age peddling different editions of a common book. One must carry the gospel of the invisible hand to the unlettered minions. But the gifts of the enlightened interloper are consistently dubious.

It might be the loan package that effectively transfers economic control out of the hands of political officials and into the hands of loan officers, those mealy-mouthed creditors referred to earlier. It may be the sanctions that prevent the country from engaging in dollar transactions and trade with numberless nations on which it depends for goods and services. Or it might be that controversial UNSC resolution that leads to a comprehensive agreement to ban certain weapons from a country. Stipulations of the agreement will often include a byzantine inspections regime full of consciously-inserted trip wires designed to catch the country out of compliance and leverage that miscue to intensify confrontational rhetoric and implement even more far-reaching inspections.

Cracking the Shell

The benign-sounding structural adjustments of the West have fairly predictable results: cultural and economic chaos, rapid impoverishment, resource extraction with its attendant ecological ruin, transfer of ownership from local hands to foreign entities, and death from a thousand causes. We are currently sanctioning around 30 nations in some fashion; dozens of countries have fallen into ‘protracted arrears’ with western creditors; and entire continents are witnessing huge outflows of capital–on the order of $100B annually–to the global north as debt service. The profiteering colonialists of the West make out like bandits. The usual suspects include Washington and its loyal lapdogs, the IMF, World Bank, EU, NATO, and other international institutions, and the energy and defense multinationals whose shareholders and executive class effectively run the show.

So why aren’t Americans more aware of this complicated web of neocolonial domination? Italian communist Antonio Gramsci, who pioneered the concept of cultural hegemony, suggested that the ruling ideologies of the bourgeoisie were so deeply embedded in popular consciousness that the working classes often supported leaders and ideas that were antithetical to their own interests. Today, that cultural hegemony is neoliberalism. Few can slip its grasp long enough to see the world from an uncolored vantage point. You’ll very rarely encounter arguments like this leafing through the Times or related broadsheets. They don’t fit the ruling dogma, the Weltanschauung (worldview) that keeps the public mind in its sleepy repose.

But French-Algerian philosopher Louis Althusser, following Gramsci, believed that, unlike the militarized state, the ideologies of the ruling class were penetrable. He felt that the comparatively fluid zones of Ideological State Apparatuses (ISAs) were contexts of class struggle. Within them, groups might attain a kind of ‘relative autonomy’, by which they could step outside of the monolithic cultural ideology. The scales would fall. Then, equipped with new knowledge, people might stage an inception of their own, cracking open the cultural hegemony and reshaping its mythos in a more humane direction. This seems like an imperative for modern American culture, buried as it is beneath the hegemonic heft of the neoliberal credo. These articles of false faith, this ideology of deceit, ought to be replaced with new declarations of independence, of the mind if not the mainstream.

Consensus and Complicity

There’s nothing less democratic than bipartisanship. The term itself is a ruse that falsely indicates universal consensus where there is really only a minority consensus among elites — and their sniffling lemmings in the bourgeois press. The bipartisan consensus is a tireless ogre that roams the demotic plain, kneecapping democratic debate wherever it presents itself. It crushes fledgling dialogue, suppresses the flash of dialectical insight. And that is precisely what the bipartisan consensus is meant to do, because the one percent knows full well that, like Chairman Mao once limned, “A single spark can start a prairie fire.” Best keep the potboiler of debate under vice grip.

Another phrase to describe subjects on which there is no debate on Capitol Hill is “nonpartisan issues,” a term coined by notorious Cold War enthusiast Dean Acheson. But nonpartisan topics are simply policies agreed upon by the one percent, whose unanimity renders all further discussion superfluous. Yet they are almost always policies about which the global public is deeply divided: healthcare, war, military budgets, social programs, education. Even in the U.S., where the inescapable reach of propaganda artificially biases millions in favor of elite opinion (which is nearly always against their own interests), even then, these policies rip communities apart. The 2014 Israeli attack on Gaza astonished the world with its brutality. For the first time in a long time, the nets of Zionist propaganda shredded and the issue exploded into public consciousness. But this is what the universal agreement in the halls of Congress want so desperately to dodge.

Case in point. A couple of weeks ago on CNN a report surfaced of some Arab legislators in the Knesset protesting the appearance of Vice President Mike Pence, who was on hand to confirm President Trump’s declaration that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and to announce that he’d be moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to the ancient city sometime next year. The report laid out the bare facts of the matter, that the Arab bloc in the Knesset was furious about Pence’s appearance and was forcibly removed by security. One watched as the angry Arabs were pulled and pushed and finally shoved out of the body politic by a phalanx of Jewish legislators. The next clip showed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a handful of other smug elites vigorously applauding the ejection of the unruly protesters. Rather than detail what the Arab parliamentary Balad party was protesting, the reporter merely hastened to add that Netanyahu and his thuggish coterie were not clapping for the protest, but rather for its suppression. Not that any viewer with a pulse would have thought otherwise, but it’s always best to make sure. To that same end, or rather to a different one, the White House video feed was abruptly cut off as soon as the ruckus began.

The article that supported the video report naturally repeated Pence’s miserly blather about a two-state solution, a concept that the administration had just cruelly undermined with its needless publicity about Jerusalem and the embassy. (Evidently, the president felt it was time for another spineless genuflection at the throne of Zionism.) But this is a textbook example of bipartisanship at work in the media, which habitually parrots the blandishments of the state about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which itself is a diaphanous euphemism with no tether to reality. Any journalist with a trifle of historical awareness would note that American leaders have been rehearsing the tired tropes of diplomacy for decades, while the vice grip on Gaza and the appropriation of land in the West Bank continues apace. Don’t for a minute assume that there’s not an inverse relationship between calls for accord and clandestine aggression. The former enables the latter in a vicious cycle of lie and illegality.

The Arab Knesset members were protesting a policy that proposes to annex Jerusalem entirely for Israel. This means denying it as the capital of a future Palestinian state. Always note the denial implicit in the assertion. This policy then buries the prospects for real peace beneath a mountain of insult and prejudice that renders laughable the idea that Washington is an ‘impartial mediator.’ The Knesset contingent were condemning both land theft and mass impoverishment. In the last decade, Israel has launched three brutal assaults on Gaza, producing more captive refugees, debilitating infrastructure so that Gazans only have a few hours of electricity a day and polluted drinking water all day as their economy predictably shrinks under the siege.

Despite these increasingly visible cruelties and deprivations, the bipartisan consensus on Israel is one of the more visible areas of accord in Washington. Barack Obama, frequently profiled for his contentious relations with Netanyahu, happily signed over a record four billion dollars a year to Tel Aviv in military aid, in addition to keeping silent about Israeli abuses. Trump has only extended this largesse and added his indelible rhetorical flourishes just to leave no doubt that he thinks less than nothing of Israel’s Arab prisoners, which include the detention of hundreds of children like Ahed Tamimi, guilty of the crime of resisting the crime of occupation (something stipulated as the legal right of the occupied in the Geneva Conventions).

Not An Isolated Phenomenon

The rhetorical emphasis of peace to disguise violence is not confined to the battle over Jerusalem. Newsweek had a headline last fall that read, “U.S. sends troops to Russian border, officials say they want ‘peace, not war’ with Russia.” Can the mainstream press corps not make an independent judgment on NATO actions without having to parrot a press release from the DOD? Newsweek did exactly the latter, serving as a media pass-through for the transparent lies of the state. This is, in both the CNN and Newsweek examples, an abdication of the fourth estate. The role of journalism is to challenge power, hold it to account, afflicting the comfortable while comforting the afflicted. The kind of faux journalism practiced by these mainstream outlets is plain stenography, a kind of pathological ventriloquism that reifies the dictates of the powerful, and patronizingly peddles them to the powerless.

The platitudes repeated by Pence are by any historical measure entirely worthless, but the CNN journalist is incapable of concluding this, given the sycophancy he has internalized perhaps as a career-saving measure. So, too, the absence of historical knowledge, scrubbed from the tabula by relentless disinformation, allows a droid journalist to transmit falsity without the slightest pang of conscience. In a historical vacuum, there is no cognitive dissonance.

In a similar vein, a 2015 article by The New York Times reviews a Pew Research poll. The article takes as its starting point the legitimacy of potential Russian attack on a NATO nation. Of course, the poll asks European citizens if their countries should defend a NATO ally if attacked by Russia, thereby using Russian aggression as a pretext for the research. The article fails to critique the idea that Russia would attack a NATO country. Rather it uses Russian soldiers in Ukraine as a support for the pretext of an expansionist Kremlin, naturally leaving out the defensive nature Russian assistance in a conflict that began with a U.S.-sponsored coup in Kiev and a fascist attack on ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine. The western consensus needn’t be challenged.

People sometimes ask how it is that we’ve come to be so anti-intellectual as a culture. Societies built on violence often repress the reality of their origins behind a veneer of noble intentions. Our national narrative tells us we were founded on the proposition that all men are created equal. On paper, perhaps, but what of the actuality? After all, the country was built on unbelievable violence, first the slaughter of the natives, second the enslavement of Africans. Honest reflection was a psychologically costly luxury that most founders couldn’t afford as they forged a nation from the bones of fellow humans.

Our Complicity

By creating the perception of a false consensus, bipartisanship works like a narcotic on the body politic. It lulls us into acquiescence. In the face of disturbing evidence, we rely on leaders from ‘both sides of the aisle’ to supply us with calming rhetoric, with pledges of impartiality, and appropriate gestures of solemnity by which we can distill their pure intentions. Surely, they want what’s best, but the political realities of the situation reduce us to incremental gains. Thus we make token reform the enemy of radical change. It isn’t a “radical reconstruction of society” that we seek, though we desperately need it, but rather a comforting lexicon of vows to pursue a negotiated settlement. A promissory note of future amity. We no longer demand action, just feeling. Just the rehearsed magniloquence and pacifying oratory of the political stalemate. So long as you mouth a desire for a two-state solution, anything else can be plausibly denied behind the fog of politics.

A peace candidate is no longer someone that wants actual peace. Rather he is someone that wants a less costly war than his opponent. The nonpartisan, that is to say bipartisan, agreement that conflict is our lifeblood is a non-issue, as it were. John Kerry and Barack Obama were considered peace candidates when they criticized the management of the Iraq War. Kerry quibbled that we ought to get Interpol involved and Obama thought we should point our biggest guns at Afghanistan instead. Kerry thought we were mismanaging the war, Obama that we were hitting the wrong targets. The latter won a Nobel Peace Prize for shading to the left of a right-wing extremist president, after which he had the effrontery to dazzle the assembled greybeards in Oslo with a pro-war speech. The prize should have been revoked and the entire committee shuttered until further notice, but alas, there’s nothing a corporate liberal likes better than a black man with a message of peace. (Still waiting for our national Malcolm X holiday.)

Christopher Hitchens once pithily described this superficial bipartisanship as, “a consensus a hundred miles wide and a millimeter deep.” So true. Elites confer, agree, and execute. The unwashed demos is never consulted, even though men like Pence deliver messages in the Knesset that supposedly come “from the hearts of the American people.” Wouldn’t it be nice to let the Zionists in Tel Aviv know what the American people really think about dumping billions of dollars a year into Israel’s arsenal of repression? Into their apartheid panopticon? Their ethnically exclusive democracy?

French sociologist Jacques Ellul thought propaganda was a binary construct that was assembled cooperatively between publisher and reader. Ellul said propaganda sustains the western citizen. In a secular world, it replaces religion as his raison d’etre. The reader’s assent is required. We go to the Times to have our values affirmed. If there’s already nonpartisan consensus around an issue, so much the better. It satisfies our wish to opt out of citizenship, get back to polishing our selfies, and piling up consumer debt.

Is all this the sign of a desiccated society that has lost its capacity to resist? Pacified by the drug of consumerism, sated by creature comforts, anesthetized by ubiquitous misinformation. If so, it would only capitalize on our desire to believe. As novelist James Ellroy once wrote in another context, “You carry the seed of belief within you already.” How easy to water the seed with the elaborate conflict-avoidance strategy of unanimity. How easy to settle into received opinion after a weary day at work. Just the thought of a “radical reconstruction of society itself,” to use King’s phrase, exhausts the sleep-deprived mind. More manageable to focus on smaller goals, like supporting stronger safeguards on drone attacks. Unpacking the use of drones themselves — really, is now the right time for that discussion? Like King wrote from a Birmingham jail cell, the real threat is the pacified liberal, the one who offers rhetorical support for your radical program, but counsels patience and advises you that now may not be the best time for your ‘reconstruction.’ Surely some future date will provide ample room for honest democratic dialogue. Just not now.

We the Sheeple: the Blind Reading the Blind

Shortly after the fall of Communism in the Soviet Union, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Colin Powell, made a candid confession to the Army Times, “I’m running out of demons, I’m running out of villains. I’m down to Castro and Kim Il Sung.” Amid the general bonhomie of the military interview, Powell nicely encapsulated a central truth of empire: it doesn’t want peace. Never did. Imperialism, the monopoly stage of capitalism, is based on conquest. Peace is little more than an aftermath in the imperialist vision. It is the dusty rubble-strewn silence that descends on Aleppo when the jihadists have been bussed out. It is the silent pollution of the Danube when the NATO jets have flown. It is the quiet that settles on the Libyan square once the slave auction has concluded. Peace is an interlude between the birth of avarice and the advent of aggression. Little else.

If Powell confessed empire’s disinterest in peace, he also expressed the need of the imperials state for a steady supply of new enemies. Conflict is the lifeblood of imperial capitalism. It is how the ruling class further enriches itself. It is how the global elite expand their dominion over the planet. Those who will not pay tribute under threat of menace, must ultimately face the menace. But this truth, that the imperial state is the carmine tip of elite expropriation, must not be aired among the hoi polloi. It is the unseemly underbelly of power and if it were widely understood it would hack away the legitimacy of the state, which is only justified by its nominal commitment to the welfare of the nation. That claim only appears legitimate in the face of some grim and ghastly threat. Powell understood that with the nasty specter of the evil empire crumbling to ash on an Asian plain, a spine-chilling new antagonist would have to be invented to replace it.

Enter the specter of Islamic terror. Islamic terrorism is largely the product of American terror. It is wittingly conjured into being through our wanton destruction of Muslim societies. We did not attack Muslim nations in order to produce a new enemy. We attacked them to extend our control of natural resources, shape the trade routes of the future, and expand the reach of global capital. But the epiphenomenon of terrorism was both predictable and embraced as a casus belli. It is the hobgoblin used by ruling class media to frighten western populations into acquiescence with the west’s warlike vision for global hegemony.

But western populations have of late grown weary of the terrorist scourge and the endless storylines of restive migrants doing the dirty work of mysterious jihadists on the Disneyfied streets of western capitals. Jets into skyscrapers. Cars into crowds. Backpacks in corners of concert halls. High-rise shotgunners spraying bullets into public squares. Terror fatigue is spreading across a western world that could only sustain permanent stress levels for so long. Thankfully, for the managers of empire and its media flacks, a reborn Russian state, rising from the ashes of a capitalist looting spree, has provided a second narrative front in the war for the mind of the west. A different visage emerges. Not the bearded votary narrating a death wish to a shaky cam. But a Muscovite in a bespoke suit with a supercilious grin on his sly poker face. The optics are different, but in a media environment of constant overexposure, that is a good thing.

Both terrorism and a revanchist Russia represent figments of horror in the minds of western citizens. They are the bête noire with which we can shape our worldview and pepper our cocktail conversations. We do not realize that Islamic terror is largely a product of American terror. We do not see that American aggression provokes Russian self-defense. As such, these orientalist caricatures represent the hypocrisy of imperial neoliberalism, which is forever flying the false flag of economic justice and democratic freedom over its just-conquered capitals. Inhabitants of those broken cities know better, as their standard of living plummets and their dictators are replaced by juntas. They know the west is like Joseph Conrad’s sepulchral city, where an alabaster exterior hides a crypt of rotting flesh. That is the real vision that western media works so feverishly to disguise, one no sane person could stomach. That’s why the media must craft fresh Frankensteins at such a feverish pace. Fairy tales of secular missionaries bringing the gift of free-market democracy to the benighted tribes of the east.

Globalization and Its Discontents

The terminology of that fairy tale is telling. The term ‘globalization’ has been used as a portmanteau containing all of the sly nuance of neoliberalism. Globalization is the rush of capital into every conceivable crevice of the planet in search of profitable new ventures. Unfortunately, markets must be pried open with war when rhetorical picklocks don’t suffice. The term ‘humanitarian’ is the masque we now affix to the gruesome face of war whenever we must attack some recalcitrant socialist backwater. What we used to call a ‘civilising mission’ in Africa, we now call a ‘humanitarian intervention’ in the Middle East. Historians call that ‘progress.’

The effect of this noble-minded fustian is to pacify a population and to marginalize anyone who attempts to reveal the true character of imperial action. Who would oppose a globalizing force of open markets that promise to bring ‘developing’ and ‘emerging’ nations online and on par with our post-industrial west? Those who do can hardly explain the extractive nature of neoliberal globalization or its deindustrializing effect on developing economies before they are skewered by the flagbearers of humanitarianism. Who would deny the righteous cause of intervening to halt imminent genocide? One has barely called into question whether genocide is actually imminent before being fleeced by the rhetorical guardians of the west’s civilizing mission. The righteous R2P. One has hardly breathed a word of how the ‘war on terror’ is largely generated by the state terror we inflict on other nations before being rubber-stamped a traitor and told to leave the country (if you don’t like it).

The fable must be accepted. We are spreading freedom and equality. Simple as that. End of story. Say that the United States is the greatest counter-revolutionary force in the world, and be branded a traitor–by the counter-revolutionaries. Wherever democratic freedom rears its ugly head, you can be sure that U.S. media flacks, as well as special forces, drones, proxy terrorists, and battalions are on hand to crush what they claim to defend.

Softening the Blow

The fairy tales are told by the mainstream media, shamelessly so. The Wolf Blitzers of the world devote themselves to the slavish production of fresh threats. The liberal MSM is represented today by outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, CNN, MSNBC, and NPR. These ciphers take the crude evasions of the White House, State Department, Pentagon, and intelligence agencies, and camouflage them. They dress them in muted tones that dampen the drama of blast craters. They massage the story to elide the facts that might produce introspection or taint the purity of our self-image. Self-criticism is inappropriate, but the righteous condemnation of other nations is a moral mandate. Print everything in classic fonts, with well-designed column widths, and add in world-class photography that turns ruination into artistic representation. This is the manna consumed by the acolytes of exceptionalism.

Nothing better embodies the empty ruse of liberalism than the bulky deadwood of the Times. There is of course the elitist coverage of mini-breaks in distant villas, where war-torn peasant societies repair their communities round a communal table. There are the heady profiles of the latest restaurant trends, where the bearded Brooklyn chef with neck tats touts his vegan currywurst to the gentrified hood. There is the fastidious theater review and the effusive real estate forecast. Filler aside, readers will be reminded that war is necessary when America wages it; globalization is inevitable when it means free markets, and free markets mean individual freedom; multiculturalism and mass immigration are desirable to all, irreversible, and a moral imperative; and inscrutable new alien threats are profiled with an Orientalist’s hopeful but ultimately worrisome and mystified gaze. Little mention is made of the fact that our conflicts are provably imperial resource wars; that in nearly every port of call our country wages counter-revolutionary battles that stifle liberation and independence; that globalization has wrecked the American standard of living through labor arbitrage and offshoring; that immigration ought not to be coupled with austerity unless the objective is race wars; that the lives of women, LGBTQ, and people of color are collateral damage in the crosshairs of empire; or that American capitalism has no interest in delivering jobs, living wages, or upward mobility to its extant population, let alone its newest members.

When these mostly taboo subjects are noted, they are presented as a perplexing side effects of a noble project of laissez faire globalization. They are unfortunate but must not be rashly addressed. Better to endlessly maintain the status quo as one wrestles with the philosophic implications of global capitalism. This was Obama’s favorite tactic. Open a dialogue, but don’t change anything important. This dissembling attitude was beautifully expressed in a recent Twitter thread which detailed seventy years of Times articles proclaiming a dizzying succession of reform-minded princes in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where the patriarchy’s misogynist grip on power is as firm as ever, as is Washington’s backing. The last post in that thread noted Thomas Friedman’s sycophantic paean to the new idol of Saudi imperialism, Mohammed Bin Salman, or ‘MBS’ to his fawning admirers. Friedman’s article was printed last week.

When not absorbing the high culture of the Times literary supplement, one finds the corporate liberal Democrat happily digesting bite-sized reports from the National Public Radio (NPR). Here the adherence to the state view is no less vigilant than in print. Thus when NPR interviews a CIA psychologist who tells us that whistleblowers are either psychopaths, narcissists, or lingering in some irresponsible adolescence, the “national security correspondent” fails to challenge these claims. And when Australian broadcasting interviews Hillary Clinton, it allows the venal egotist to smear WikiLeaks as a Kremlin tool and call Julian Assange a narcissistic opportunist without the slightest resistance. Questions about the shady dealings of the Clinton Foundation are feebly set aside at the merest sign of discomfort by Madame Secretary. And Times op-ed writers like Friedman can happily call for support of al Qaeda, destroying target societies, and cheerlead more global wage leveling by chastising workers for not falling in lockstep with the elitist program.

These are the signs of a dead discipline. The mainstream media is no longer adversarial. It takes the official story at face value. It has abdicated its proper role in a democratic society, which is partly why we are no longer a democratic society. As Princeton University has explained, we are effectively a plutocracy. Thanks to the MSM, though, most of us continue to believe the rhetorical platitudes of our corrupt leaders. Media is one of our numberless emasculated institutions, which are now authoritarian and warlike. (See liberal faith in the Mueller investigation, led by a neoliberal imperialist who fought to crush Vietnamese socialism and led the FBI, one of the most regressive and criminal organizations in the world.) Like readers who still place a naive faith in the government, MSM writers continue to believe they are doing independent journalism in the service of truth (“Democracy dies in darkness,” the Post implores us). But real journalism accepts nothing at face value. It is the Socratic voice that unsettles the consensus.

Bot Bylines

Instead of incisive journalism that digs, defies, and holds power to account, we get self-censoring media automatons pampering oligarchs and pretending that all good-thinking people care deeply about the state of the state. Listen to the soothing language of the New York Times on the supposedly earth-shaking Russian influence campaign on social media. It hits all the right notes without seriously challenging the narrative. Note how it bleeds concern. This kind of journalism is a palliative for the conscience of a liberal. Ah, the “thorny debates” inside Facebook, no doubt had “in good faith,” and subject to “fateful misunderstandings,” if Ken Burns were documenting it. “Executives worry” and there is considerable “hand-wringing” afoot in good faith efforts to wipe out “fake news.”

Even the protagonists of the story are usefully quoted. Facebook lawyers, commenting on the miniscule purchase of ads over a two-year period from accounts with even the most tenuous Russian connection, much of it after the election, much of it not even mentioning presidential candidates, and the creation of bots to grow click farms, recoiled in horror and called the knowledge “deeply disturbing” and “an insidious attempt to drive people apart.” This is theater for the masses. Cue the organ grinder.

The goal of this domestic conditioning is to remove the democracy from democracy. The objective is to create a hollow shell of a democratic society, representative on the outside, plutocratic on the inside. The marble tomb inhabited by necrosis. This is deliberate. Read Alex Carey’s Taking the Risk Out of Democracy for a nice overview of how America’s collective conscience has been shaped by corporate forces. Why? Because we are the enemy. The enemy is our freedom of thought and speech, because that is what inevitably leads to democratic, socialist, or communist change that benefit the people as a whole, not just the vanishingly small margin of corporate elites who promote and profit from war, conquest, and rule. The problem with democracy is that it isn’t very profitable for capital. Socialist countries tend to emphasize social services. It is extremely hard to make money delivering quality social services to the poor. Really, the only way to make money off of social services is to deliver inadequate social services to the middle class for extravagant fees. See Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act for a master class in this technique. Monopoly capitalism is incompatible with actual democracy. To the degree that a truly democratic society can have free markets, they must be strictly regulated, prevented from reaching monopoly status, and completely walled off from public institutions. Otherwise, they will cannibalize those institutions, reshaping them as rubberstamp organs of elite profit.

As it is, democracy is merely the mask that disguises the engines of imperialism. It is useful in this regard because, unlike socialism, democracy makes no serious claims on the means of production. It depoliticizes the most political issue of all: economics. Thus the manufacture of enemies, job one for the ruling class media, always targets socialist-leaning nations that sense the need for economic justice alongside social justice. Even if they are mixed economies that provide space for open markets, like Venezuela. It makes no difference. We mustn’t tolerate the slightest majoritarian impulse in the economic arena. All such beliefs must be terminated. We must be refashioned as foot soldiers of exploitation. To this end, western propaganda outlets have made psychologist Erich Fromm’s warning sound less like prophecy than predestination, “The danger of the past was that men became slaves. The danger of the future is that men may become robots.”

James Clapper Wants Us to Trust Him: So Does Politico

In a recent piece published on Politico, former director of national intelligence James Clapper, that “crusty ex-cargo pilot,” makes us privy to another of his unnerving assessments of the world-at-large, “The Russians have succeeded beyond their wildest expectations.” The last time Mr. Clapper assured us of something, it was that the intel community wasn’t spying on us. We saw how that turned out. But that was under oath before Congress. This is an interview with a leading political website. Much higher stakes. Clapper has settled comfortably into his civilian role as the lead legitimizer of January’s farcical Intelligence Community Assessment (ICA), and sees Russian influence, and the tantalizing prospect of presidential treason, as a weighty black cloud hanging over the country, a semaphore of apocalypse.

Clapper is effectively a PR flack of the Democratic Party and the military-industrial-finance complex. The former is the Clinton wing of the DNC. The latter includes defense industries, the Pentagon, Fortune 500 manufacturing multinationals, and a handful of the world’s largest banks. These two entities have a common interest: demonizing the Russian Federation. The Democrats want it to deflect attention from the landfill of venality, graft, and other corruptions revealed by WikiLeaks, a rogue DNC insider, and now Donna Brazile. The ruling class community wants it to force President Trump to continue the hostile policies of George Bush and Barack Obama in the global arena, notably toward Russia. So, immediate Democratic interests dovetailed with permanent establishment interests. Hence Russia was employed to hide Democratic corruption and justify active measures against it. In other words, the establishment is working hard to preserve the status quo, against popular pressure to change the status quo. It was ever thus.

The Art of the Sell

If you are going to peddle a lie like Russia-gate, you need to establish two critical components: credibility and consensus. On the credibility side, major institutions and respected influencers must be enjoined to sell the right narrative to give the story a patina of legitimacy. This is Clapper’s job, and that of the intelligence agencies. On the visibility side, mainstream news channels must flood the airwaves with this story. This will provide crucial visibility for the story and, even more importantly, create a perception of consensus. This is the corporate media’s job. To simultaneously accomplish both, Clapper works with media companies like Politico  to broadly disseminate the anti-Russia tale in the voice of a credible servant of the state.

Clapper says Russia-gate is worse than Watergate. He darkly murmurs his innuendo to Politico international affairs correspondent Susan Glasser, another rapt reporter dutifully recording the wizened words of a man once privy to the inner chambers of American intelligence. The tone is suitably reverential. For the proven perjurer Clapper, Russia-gate is unprecedented because it shows “…a foreign adversary actively and aggressively and directly engaging in our political processes to interfere with them and to undermine our system, whereas in Watergate you were dealing with a two-bit petty burglary, domestic only.”

Clapper then says he fears that the extent of nefarious Russian actions go even deeper than he thought. One shudders to think. He talks flatly about Russian use of social media. Politico goes out of its way to claim that the social media non-story about a speculative Moscow-directed “influence” campaign is “extensive and sophisticated” and calls bots and trolls “false-front groups.” Any rhetorical formation that sounds more menacing than “fake” will work.

Glasser, a starry-eyed apostle of Russia-gate, “asked whether Russian President Vladimir Putin now believes he is winning in his campaign against the United States.” Mind you, no evidence has yet been produced to demonstrate Vladimir Putin ever launched a “campaign against the United States.” It’s fairly obvious from his foreign policy positions, offers, and statements that he’d rather cooperate with Washington than fight it, though Moscow surely preferred Trump to Clinton in the general election.

Clapper replies that, “Their first objective in the election was to sow discontent, discord and disruption in our political life, and they have succeeded…They have accelerated, amplified the polarization and the divisiveness in this country, and they’ve undermined our democratic system. They wanted to create doubt in the minds of the public about our government and about our system, and they succeeded…”

Incredible Claims

The Russia-gate narrative began as an accusation that Russia had hacked the DNC to destroy Hillary Clinton. Then it changed to an accusation of Russian influence to destroy Hillary Clinton. Then it changed to an accusation of Russian influence to sow division among American voters. All along, it has also charged that Donald Trump colluded with Russia to destroy Hillary Clinton. No such evidence has been produced.

The DNC hacking claim has been debunked. The claim about WikiLeaks as an agent of Russia is false, given it has released hundreds of thousands of documents critical of Russia itself. The claim Russia hacked into U.S. voting systems was fake news. The disgusting dossier is another fiction ginned up by the Clinton camp to smear Trump. Evidence is lacking that Trump himself is some kind of Russian puppet. Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller has merely found what most would expect: business contacts in Russia, plus some corrupt associates. Perhaps the most useful claim the Russia-gate promoters have is that Russia, in some capacity, tried to influence voters. Seems true to some extent. Most countries with money do this. The KGB did it for decades. But nothing unearthed by the New McCarthyites suggest that this was an extensive and sophisticated campaign. But Clapper attributes it all to the Kremlin and its insidious ruler Vladimir Putin.

Facebook found a total of $100,000 dollars had been spent by a huge variety of Russian accounts over a two-year period generated by the Internet Research Agency, which appears to be troll farm, funded by a Russian oligarch who is friends with Putin. Most of the ads didn’t even promote a candidate, which was the original claim—that Russia wanted to elect Donald Trump. This sounds suspiciously like a bot farm trying to scare up likes and traffic in order to sell those audiences to advertisers. Recall that Facebook got a billion in advertising revenue from last year’s presidential campaign alone. One hundred thousand dollars is a drop in the ad-spend ocean. Brands regularly burn through 100k in a few weeks, often with hazy results. It is difficult to know the origin of murky leak fronts like DCLeaks, Guccifer 2.0, and Fancy Bear. We know the CIA developed technology in order to falsely attribute hacks. Even so, Clapper and others of his ilk desperately want us to believe that this is all Putin-directed Russian advertising activity, that it amounted to a huge influence campaign, and that it sowed immense discord in American society and gravely undermined our democracy. Clapper’s is a case of special pleading, when one conjures a desired interpretation of reality and then hastily assembles ‘facts’ to prove it is so.

This is disingenuous on so many levels. First, one imagines some Russian money was spent to sway American opinion, and probably to support Donald Trump, who sounded a lot friendlier to Moscow during his campaign than the neoconservative warmonger Hillary Clinton. But buying ads to promote a different view is normal behavior. Nothing particularly wrong with it. To see what illegal and unethical efforts to destabilize countries looks like, you’d have to look at U.S. overt and covert action in Eastern Europe, Russia, and elsewhere. Russia in the mid-Nineties is an instructive example. We installed Boris Yeltsin in the presidency in 1996 and backed his anti-democratic authoritarian attacks on his own people. Clapper knows the extent of our shameless interference abroad. He knows he is inflating, for political purposes, a dubious and at any rate minor effort by Russia. He knows the disparity between Washington’s interventions abroad and a loose array of uncoordinated ads floating around on unread Facebook feeds. But he has buried this cognitive dissonance deep in his mind.

Next, Clapper and the MSM’s assertion that these Russia-linked ads sowed discord, particularly of a racial nature, in American society, is itself a deeply insulting claim. As Ajuma Baraka wrote, we don’t need foreign powers to produce racial conflict in America. We already do that perfectly well on our own. The implication that without foreign interference we would live in some kind of racial harmony is absurd on its face. Did the Kremlin produce Ferguson? Did Moscow fire the pistols of racist cops? Did Putin stir up this month’s uprising in St. Louis?

Lastly, Clapper knows we don’t live in a democracy. We live in an obvious oligarchy that serves the interests of elite plutocrats that own the military-industrial-finance complex of multinational corporations. Our society is almost wholly subservient to their money power. What was revealed about the Clintons and the DNC actually reinforced this reality. Instead of fearing that ‘our democracy’ has been undermined, Clapper instead wants to drop a bag over the truth of our plutocracy. That is what intelligence officials do.

Unreliable Sources

As John Kiriakou points out, the CIA has lied to us relentlessly. They said there was no torture program. Lie. They said there was no program of extraordinary renditions. Lie. They said there was no “archipelago” of foreign secret prisons. Lie. They said they were not hacking into Senate Intelligence Committee computers. Lie. Clapper told Congress when he said the NSA was not spying on American citizens. Lie. The National Intelligence Agencies collectively produced and supported the claim that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and was trying to gain materials for a nuclear bomb. Lie.

Why would anyone in their right mind trust James Clapper or any of the intelligence agencies that now control the presidency? Moreover, why would any sane person trust the mainstream media outlets that peddled the intelligence lies noted above? The only answers I can come up with are ignorance, stupidity, or willful blindness. Sources and publisher must be believed. They are the twin scaffolding on which the credibility of the narrative hangs.

Halos for Heretics

To that end, the rest of the article devolves into a kind of hagiography. Not only does Clapper superficially possess the requisite CV of a reliable source, but he must also be made to look personally ethical. Casting someone in a noble light requires a few characteristic moves: he must have pure motives, relatable values, and must be bravely battling a demonic enemy. These are the ingredients of myth-making.

First one must paint the person’s motives as pure, ideally contrasted with a phalanx of ill-starred narcissists only out for themselves. Jesus among the Pharisees and money-changers is a workable template. Glasser is a trusted hand at this kind of thing. In order to depict the intel veteran as a chaste and honorable fellow, she begins by telling us that, “…this is no limelight-seeking politician trashing the man in the White House for a quick cable-TV adrenaline rush.”

Next you need to spotlight the person’s values, make them commensurate with those of your audience. You’ll also have to demonstrate that whatever the person is doing, he or she is doing against his better instincts, at risk to himself, under duress, at the cost of his own comfort.

Glasser rolls these two prerequisites into a couple of paragraphs. She says repeatedly that Clapper is not cut out for this role, but fills it out of some sense of duty to his country. Read uncompromising patriot. He “still carries the bearing of his three decades in the Air Force.” Gravitas. Decorum. Sagacity. You get the picture. Yet he finds being in the public eye, “unsettling” and “painful.” He “reveres” the office of the president and doesn’t like being seen as a critic of the president. Clapper reached out to Trump on the phone, but alas, he finally had to take his paranoia public. This is all self-serving and unprovable supposition.

But as a man who has training in shaping a narrative, Clapper soon winds his way back to the prize: the evil empire. This is, of course, the other critical element of any consecration, the relentless demonization of the enemy. Heroes must fight worthy causes, or they aren’t really heroes. On cue, Clapper finds it “worrisome” and “bothersome” that Russia is modernizing its nuclear forces. He makes no mention of the fact that Moscow recognizes it is being surrounded and harassed by a hostile, angry, aggressive superpower sensing the waning of its political power. Why wouldn’t it modernize its nuclear capacity? After all, that dove Barack Obama earmarked a trillion dollars to modernize American nukes.

No matter, the bad guy here is the Russian Federation. Oh, and also North Korea. Clapper doesn’t mention that the United States inflicted a genocidal scar on the Korean conscience during the Korean War. He doesn’t mention how that war has shaped Pyongyang’s attitude toward the imperial west. He simply criticizes the president, quite fairly, for his blustery exchanges with Kim Jong Un. He correctly sees this rhetorical sword fight increasing the odds of a “cataclysmic” exchange. But Clapper fails to see, as he did with Russia, that North Korea is actively trying to defend itself against a malicious empire that wants to literally overthrow its government and replace it with technocrats who will sanction the looting of Korean wealth. Instead, Clapper derides Jong Un as little more than a dictator, “surrounded by medal-bedecked sycophants, who dutifully follow him around like puppy dogs with their notebooks open, ascribing his every utterance…”

Glasser’s work is deftly done. It certainly helps that the current inhabitant of the White House is an enfant terrible who deserves plenty of derision. Nobody on the Democratic side of the spectrum trusts Donald Trump, and thus are particularly vulnerable to conspiracies about him committing treason. The best propaganda has a measure of truth in it; i.e., Trump is not an unscrupulous mogul. Begin with a kernel of fact and spin a factious yarn out of it.

It’s a question of time and money. The money end of it is bottomless. The media companies actually make money out of spinning incredible stories. The time side is thankfully out of the hands of the plutocrats. Readers have short attention spans, and sooner or later their interest will wane and subscriptions and page views will decline. Voters will become disillusioned. Diehard patriots will ask questions. Democratic funds will fall (as they already have). And the Democrats will have to gin up some fresh threat to enthrall a war-weary public.

Honor Among Thieves?

There is perhaps still some honor among thieves. The thieves of your private communications and the inveterate leakers that have taken over the White House using leaks were supposedly all in agreement that Russia ‘hacked our democracy.’ All 17 of them. That’s what the New York Times told us for months. Turns out that was a lie. It was only four agencies that agreed with that assessment, and all of their leaders were hand-picked to conclude just that. Could it be that those 13 other agencies declined to support an obvious fabrication?

Still, it is no surprise the Times made this claim for so long before whispering a retraction. Their doctrinal role is to legitimate wars of aggression. They have backed every American war in the last 30 years, never once asking whether these might be imperial capitalist wars foisted on us by a savage plutocracy that runs the country–and pays their bloated salaries.

Let’s be honest. You won’t get truth from our intelligence agencies and you won’t get it from mainstream media. The latter serves the former. The former serves the ruling class community of which it is a central part. They are beholden to the same ideology. They share the same motivations. If you want the real story, read non-corporate news media. If you want facts, find sources outside the state. If you want democracy, spread the inconvenient truth.

Censorship in the Digital Age

Photo by Bernard Goldbach | CC by 2.0

The grand experiment with western democracy, badly listing thanks to broadsides from profiteering oligarchs, may finally run ashore on the rocks of thought crime. In the uneven Steven Spielberg project Minority Report, starring excitable scientologist Tom Cruise, Cruise plays a futuristic policeman who investigates pre-crimes and stops them before they happen. The police owe their ability to see the criminal plots developing to characters called pre-cognitives, or pre-cogs, kind of autistic prophets who see the future and lie sleeping in sterile pools of water inside the police department. Of course, it turns out that precogs can pre-visualize different futures, a hastily hidden flaw that threatens to jeopardize the profits of the pre-crime project. Here is the crux of the story: thought control is driven by a profit motive at bottom. As it turns out, just like real life.

Now, the British government has decided to prosecute pre-crime but has done away with the clunky plot device of the pre-cogs, opting rather to rely on a hazy sense of higher probability to justify surveilling, nabbing, convicting, and imprisoning British citizens. The crime? Looking at radical content on the Internet. What is considered radical will naturally be defined by the state police who will doubtless be personally incentivized by pre-crime quotas, and institutionally shaped to criminalize trains of thought that threaten to destabilize a criminal status quo. You know, the unregulated monopoly capitalist regime that cuts wages, costs, and all other forms of overhead with psychopathic glee. Even a Grenfell Towers disaster is regarded more as a question of how to remove the story from public consciousness than rectify its wrongs.

The Triple Evils

Martin Luther King, Jr. famously, or infamously, depending on whether you are a penthouse mandarin or garden-variety prole, linked the triple evils of poverty, racism, and militarism. These evils are as yet unaddressed in our society, as we are daily shown on the media mouthpieces of imperial capitalism. Wars must be waged. Victims of social injustice must be incarcerated. Society itself must be made poor to ensure higher profits.

Yet there is another set of evils that are primarily used to mask the original trifecta outlined by King. In fact, the connection between propaganda, surveillance, and censorship is clear and inseparable. Take as your initial premise that imperial capitalists want to control the world. Not an unjustified claim. As an imperial capitalist, you are part of a privileged minority whose objective is to further exploit the disenfranchised whose only recourse is the resources you are pillaging. War, be it with bombs or sanctions or special forces or proxies, is immensely profitable to the capitalists. Arms makers make money. Chemical companies make money. Energy companies make money. Media companies make money. Presidents not only make money, they also make history. But the workers, the poor, and the downtrodden pay the price. That’s why they won’t be happy to hear of your plans. Therefore, they must be lied to, lied to so convincingly and comprehensively that they accept, without a second thought, the plans you have laid out before them.

This convincing requires three decisive actions: propaganda, surveillance, and censorship. The first is the official lie you craft to convince them to believe you. The second is the dragnet of digital observation by which you assess whether or not they do believe you. The third is the coercive methods by which you punish those that don’t believe you (justified by the imperial tale you first wove).

The official interpretation of reality is already in place: western civilization is beset on all sides by maniacs that want to take away our freedoms. The surveillance is already in place through programs like the Five Eyes alliance and ECHELON, PRISM, Boundless Informant, FISA, Stellar Wind, and many others. What remains is to tighten the noose of censorship around the neck of our open western societies.

Idiots Abroad

To that end, British Home Secretary Amber Rudd recently announced that citizens that view too much extremist material online could face up to 15 years in jail. Rudd related,

“I want to make sure those who view despicable terrorist content online, including jihadi websites, far-right propaganda and bomb-making instructions, face the full force of the law.”

This flaxen cipher of totalitarian control opened by tabulating some 67,000 tweets by ISIS, along with 44,000 links to ISIS propaganda, had been generated in the last year. Already, Section 58 of the Terrorist Act 2000 criminalized the possession of information that might be useful to a terrorist. But this is not enough for 10 Downing Street. Rudd is taking that law of possession and expanding it into a law of perception. It is now enough to simply watch extremist content. You needn’t download it, distribute it, or otherwise act on it. You need only see it more than once. At that point, by Rudd’s surely flawlessly calculated probabilities, you have become an existential threat to the state, or rather, to national security. You are more likely to commit acts of terror than those who have not seen the extremist content. Pre-crime without the pre-cogs.

But Rudd’s was another step in a long line of encroachments peddled by fascist-minded western governments. Theresa May, the reviled Thatcherite epigone, wants to play a paternal role in preventing citizens from even having the chance to view extremist content. The Tory manifesto tells us, “Some people say that it is not for government to regulate when it comes to technology and the internet. We disagree.” Britain plans, quite proudly it seems, to become the “global leader” in the regulation of the Internet. Just before these announcements were made, Britain had passed the Investigatory Powers Act, which lets the government sweep up user browsing histories. So the surveillance data authorities would use to implement Rudd’s plan is already there. Want to read that eloquent jeremiad against the Tories? Sorry, that was just labeled hate speech. Want to visit your favorite leftist forum? Apologies, mate, but that was deemed a “safe space” for extremist speech and shut down. Want to watch some attractive young people copulate? No problem. Just submit a request to your local minister outlining your precise reasons for wanting access to such nominally proscribed content. Otherwise, forget it.

The Germans aren’t far behind. The so-called Network Enforcement Act is said to create a framework for managing Internet activity, particularly in social media. The act is part of the country’s fake fight against fake news and hate speech, or rather its quite real fight against progressive, leftist, or communist thought and expression. This law demands, on pain of a fifty million euro penalty, that companies with two million or more web visitors must, on receipt of complaint, remove “unlawful content” from their sites. Facebook has opened a new data center in Germany to deal with removal requests, sure to be flooding in from the Bundestag. As the World Socialist Web Site makes clear, if your fake news promotes war (Iraq 2003), mischaracterizes coup d’états (Ukraine 2014), or spreads anti-immigrant hysteria (Cologne 2015), then you’ve got nothing to fear. Of course, it falls to the government itself to decide what is and what isn’t extremist content, no doubt a comforting thought for myriad Der Spiegel loyalists. And, of course, the erstwhile European Commission, destroyer of Greece and perpetrator of other ills, has published guidelines to help member states remove “illegal” content. Even the Russians have joined in, promoting legislation designed to curtail digital freedoms.

Stateside Schlemiels

None of this would be news to Barack Obama, whose own legacy of crumpled writs of habeas corpus, worthless privacy platitudes, and high-altitude wetwork, sits like a canker on the body politic. On his way out the door, through the turnstile of public weal into private gain, he provided the deep state with millions of dollars when he added the Countering Disinformation and Propaganda Act to the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which consecrates black budgets, cost overruns, price gouging, and all other manner of insecurity practiced by the Pentagon and its parasitic defense contractor community. The CDPA, if that’s how it will eventually be known, will effectively pay people to generate officially sanctioned narratives. The U.S. government is fighting fact by calling it propaganda and then producing its own propaganda and calling it fact.

Thanks in part to pressure from Congressional Senate Intelligence Committee that, and the indefatigable efforts of Democratic Senators Adam Schiff and Mark Warner, major brands have been hopping on the clanging tumbrel of Russiagate, as it wheels unsteadily through the digital space, collecting the corpses of freethinkers. Facebook is now blocking “fake news” from its ads. YouTube has begun to fetter content producers with a more restrictive ad network and murky review policies. Google has tweaked its algorithm to keep “fake news” from surfacing high in Search Engine Results Pages, or SERPS. What precisely constitutes fake news is evidently up to the Zuckerbergs and Schmidts of the world. For Google, it has decidedly meant suppressing progressive and left-wing content, as plummeting traffic numbers have indicated. Of course, it won’t mean suppressing the fake news produced by the CIA or Mi5 or the standard state-fluffing smorgasbord of lies, deceits and hit jobs offered up by the so-called mainstream media.

The always sharp Glen Ford at Black Agenda Report writes that the FBI has created a fresh construct to deal with African-American unrest, called, “Black Identity Extremism,” already truncated into another mind-murdering acronym, BIE. (As though an acronym adds just the note of tenability required to pass off a fatuity on a mal-educated populace.) Foreign Policy, in an otherwise surprisingly liberal-minded story, suggests the construct risks reviving the racism the agency has worked so hard to overcome. Ford drily notes the overlooked matter of J. Edgar Hoover targeting blacks since the 1920s, not to mention COINTELPRO and attacks on the Black Panthers. Regardless, in the eyes of the FBI, blacks angry about police abuses, persistent economic inequalities, and the New Jim Crow, are little more than “identity extremists,” a danger to national security, notably the security of the white plutocracy which it serves.

(Fore) Closing Thoughts

Remember that much of this apparatus of thought control has been applied beneath the banner of the fake Russia hacking story. That story, created by the Clinton camp to distract from the DNC email revelations provided by WikiLeaks, at first blamed Russia for hacking into “our democracy”, then suggested Donald Trump had colluded with Russia to swing the election, and then emphasized that Russia had launched an “influence campaign” designed to swing the election, with the focus subtly shifting from hacking to collusion to influence. At each turn, the evidence proves paltry, the claims absurd, and the virtue signaling nauseating. The bar is being progressively lowered until it meets a threshold of credibility by which the Senate Intel Committee can prosecute Donald Trump or justify some sort of punitive measures against Russia.

The story is so transparently false, from the technical detail to the geopolitical motive, that it is only sustained by the permanent—or deep state—elements of the foreign policy community that need a means by which to control and direct the Trump administration. Russia collusion served as an ideal pretext to force Trump away from campaign-trail odes to conciliation and toward a continuation of the hostile foreign policies glibly enabled and advanced by Barack Obama. The comedy of it all is that Facebook found ‘incriminating’ ads that amounted to less than one percent of the Facebook total ad buys. Congress would like to ban RT, which has ratings that are 0.3 percent of Judge Judy’s. And the infamous hack has been shown to be a leak. What are we left with? A grandiose deceit based on a need to sustain a brutal ideology of oppression, austerity, and war.

But this is how the imperialists do it. They organize globally to oppress locally. That’s why they’ve been rightly rebranded as ‘the globalists’. The workers always trail behind, left to cope with recently discovered alliances of institutional powers collaborating to fence in the prospects for economic equality, social justice, and the fair distribution of a nation’s wealth. We find ourselves beneath the a pregnant cloud of metastasizing repression, conceived and constructed beneath our own gaze. In his recent novel Purity, one of author Jonathan Franzen’s characters, a famous East German exile and whistleblower extraordinaire (a more charismatic Assange), finds himself a global celebrity, the subject of countless interviews wherein,

“…he’d taken to dropping the word totalitarian. Younger interviewers, to whom the word meant total surveillance, total mind control, gray armies in parade with medium-range missiles, had understood him to be saying something unfair about the Internet. In fact, he simply meant a system that was impossible to opt out of.”

Whether it is too late for a world of working class people and the ubiquitous poor to opt out of the globalized imperium dreamed up by our post-war planners, is hard to say. But if you think there’s still time, be extremely careful, since the pre-crime police are nearly omnipresent, and they might overhear you quoting Marx or see you scrawling ideas about redistribution on the walls of some abandoned underpass. Just imagine some future advertisement for the pre-crime program, a glistening LCD ad floating between skyscrapers, a smiling family at play, a nation secure, and an omniscient narrator softly reminding you, “Don’t forget—it’s the thought that counts.”

Kaepernick, Patriotism, and the Perversion of Protest

Art by Evan McCarthy | CC BY 2.0

In the opening pages of his Symbolic Uses of Politics, sociologist Murray Edelman writes, “Political forms thus come to symbolize what large masses of men need to believe about the state to reassure themselves.” Edelman argues that political forms and the symbols that represent them are infused with different meanings by different observers, and those meanings often disguise “…wide gulfs between our solemnly taught, common sense assumptions about what political institutions do and what they actually do.” These political symbols thus sustain people in their belief systems, shielding us from more tenebrous truths we’d rather not face.

For example, the plurality of citizens appear to believe we live in a democratic society, a view undermined by the enduring political power of money, and more recently by the deliberate marginalization of progressive candidates, the concession by the DNC that it need not observe voter choice and the handcuffing of third-party candidates to chairs in hidden basements during televised presidential debates. But the symbols of democracy—the donkeys and elephants, the mesmerizing digital counters, the brightly hued electoral maps, , the rigid stars and floating confetti, and decorous rhetoric by winners and losers alike—all sustain the myth of self-determination, a mass delusion of great value to the minority of elites that effectively determine the destiny of the masses.

And so, on crisp, luminous afternoons in the fall, in parks across the country, football fans rise to their feet for a ritual that blends supposedly masculine virtues of patriotic courage with the warrior codes of professional football in a symphony of valor. Since 9/11, these two principles have become nearly indistinguishable, and it is partly why the Pentagon pays the NFL and other leagues millions of dollars to produce the pre-game spectacles we’re so familiar with. The scintillating air force flyovers, a full-throated national anthem, bright flags held aloft by the dazzling color guard, and our armored heroes standing at attention along the sidelines, giants with grim faces, peering across a gridiron at their enemies–all of it cohering in a singular expression of faith. A kind of secular religion, infused in flags and shields, sanctified by the group dynamic. Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt has argued that such symbols are the talismans that “bind individuals into moral communities”.

Taking One for the Team

This is also the religious ritual that former San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick protested. An African-American, he stood up, by kneeling, for black Americans being abused by police. It was a brave gesture. He leveraged one of the most visible stages in the country to protest the often invisible practice of institutional racism. He instantly became a target of abuse. He has been pilloried and rendered jobless as a result of his actions, mostly by furious whites for whom this virtue-signaling ritual is sacrosanct. Mostly because he dared defy a ceremony that, for his community, felt all-too hollow. What did Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens say? “Ceremony was but first devised to set a gloss on faint deeds.” (1.2.17)

Kaepernick was confronting the faint deeds of a government that talks results, but usually just delivers more talk. But that fact, the systemic brutality against African-Americans and the woeful state of blacks in relation to their white peers, is to be set aside by disgruntled minorities when they are summoned to stand for the national anthem and face the flag. We are meant to stand, shoulder to shoulder, and affirm the essential goodness of America. It was this call that Kaepernick refused. Coming from a black community that has suffered first slavery, then Jim Crow, and now the New Jim Crow, it is no surprise that it was an African-American that finally stood up for justice, while the rest of us bowed our heads in supplication before a flag that is for many blacks a blood-drenched symbol of white supremacy. And it isn’t simply a sign of affliction for African-Americans. There are many other groups, within our borders and especially without, that have seen that flag fly over the wreckage of their lives, an exclamation point to punctuate their subjection to an imperial state. Why, then, didn’t we kneel for those causes? Why didn’t we protest those brutalities? Largely because we weren’t members of the devastated community.

Americans didn’t kneel when we slaughtered a million people in Iraq. Americans didn’t link arms when liberal idol Barack Obama maintained simultaneous wars in seven countries. American didn’t kneel when Obama launched the largest terrorist assassination program in the world–conducted by faceless robots. Americans didn’t sit when we armed al-Qaeda and tried to destroy a stable socialist republic in Syria. Americans didn’t kneel when we annihilated the state of Libya, wrecking the lives of millions and enabling racist purges, rape, murder, and terror. Did we kneel to question the offshoring of millions of blue-collar jobs just to prime the white-collar stock market? Did we kneel to recognize the genocide of Native Americans? Did we kneel to recognize that the country was built on the backs of African slaves? (As historian Eric Foner says, America’s official stance regarding slavery is amnesia.) No, we didn’t. We stood, and still stand, entranced by the spectacle, a mass mind gazing at a waving semaphore while our lips rehearse a familiar lyric.

Stand and Deliver

It is undoubtedly true that for some the flag represents one or more of the positive achievements of the American people: the breaking of the shackles of British monarchy, the enshrinement of free speech and individual liberties in the Bill of Rights, the abolition of formal slavery, the war to defeat the specter of the Third Reich, the Civil Rights Movement, the New Deal, the creation of the national parks system, the GI Bill and the Long Boom of prosperity that bettered the lives of millions, and the Great Society initiatives, among other accomplishments.

But as Edelman surmised, symbols mean different things to different people. It is especially ironic that for many the sight of the flag is a reminder of a fallen relative, shipped home in a body bag, interred with the flag folded by servicemen and handed to a grieving spouse. These people have a particularly personal relationship to the flag. For them, the personally relevant events outweigh the mass effect of the others—for one a brother or sister KIA, for another a legacy of chains. Others see in the flag the balance of the country’s actions, so that for some, the war in which that relative died represents not a personal tragedy but a bloody imperialist conquest, of a nation in which slavery, genocide, and imperialism outweigh the rest of its behavior. Those who see a larger indictment of American history seem particularly invested in the personal tragedies of others, upon whom the curse of colonial aggression was visited without the slightest justification.

By Haidt’s logic, Kaepernick openly divested himself from one moral community, that of the nation, and declared himself for another, an oppressed black community. Or at least declared one higher in his personal hierarchy than the other. People should not be punished for such expressions of freethinking. Those who rail at Kaepernick are often insisting we all see the stars and stripes the same way. Demanding uniformity of perception is to demand uniformity of thought, a negation of the very freedom on which the Bill of Rights stands.

For most, judging from the reaction to Kaepernick, the flag and anthem are still symbols of freedom and exceptionalism. But it those who proclaim their patriotism the loudest that like to shout that the United States is the greatest nation on earth, and in fact the greatest in history. They revile anyone who says otherwise. This kind of phenomenally obtuse hyper-patriotism must grate on young blacks. Especially when, even now, if a black man kneels in protest, he is exiled from his profession by 32 white billionaire owners, who then appropriate his protest to kneel themselves in sham solidarity. It is a bromide of history that the establishment will kill the rebel and then sanctify his rebellion, once it has been safely absorbed into the machinery of exploitation. Think of how little real danger one senses when looking at a portrait of Martin Luther King, Jr. The radical spirit of the man has been anesthetized and amputated from the body politic. We are left with the kindly demeanor of the saint, whose nonviolent path to civic justice is palatable and benign. Where’s the fire? It seems as though the great man is becoming another black face whitewashed by a racist culture. Yet when King was called an extremist, he wrote that, “..the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be.”

By Any Means Necessary (But Not Really)

The same thing that happened to King is now happening in real-time to Kaepernick’s protest. Now Kaepernick’s extreme courage has been co-opted by anti-Trump liberals, whose obsession with this crude incarnation of heedless greed eclipses all other issues within the American system. Where Kaepernick aimed his protest at a state, the anti-Trumpists aim theirs at a person. And that singular and myopic fury will be the failure of their “resistance.” On top of that distortion, NFL teams have now attempted to shift the protest from a declaration of division into a vacuous show of unity. We are unified how? In denying genocide? In mindlessly support imperial slaughter? In protesting police brutality? How? It’s as facile a notion as “support the troops” is.

As long as this amplified protest becomes more about signaling empty unity or protesting the noxious taunts of Donald Trump than it is about protesting racist police brutality, it will have little lasting effect. As long as players and owners link arms in banality, and protesters march with clever slogans against Trump’s coddling of white supremacists, but neither stand against the larger white supremacy of the American state, it will come to naught. Until they see Barack Obama as little more than a politically correct version of Trump himself, their anger will soon be defused.

Why? Because protesters continue to launder their dissent through the binary lens of the two-party system, from which it emerges fresh and clean, posing no threat to the profits system. Why? Because it is forever Democrats versus Republicans, even though these two imposters exchange barbs onstage and golf clubs on weekends. Why? Because come 2020 all those principled protesters will enthusiastically stump for the next Democratic candidate, likely female or a person of color, who will coolly assure them that all Americans are equal and that every variety of human expression should be respected. A few measured platitudes should suffice. Then those once-determined protestors will cheer and vote him or her into office without a second thought, before a raft of rainbow flags and diversity placards. And as long as that candidate continues to profess the precepts of identitarian liberals, he will be free to continue to eviscerate social welfare, increase corporate welfare, launch capitalist wars of aggression that maim and murder millions, enact sanctions that ruin foreign economies, and—most ironically—to nourish the class war that creates enormous social and economic disparities between minorities and whites, and between elite capital and the forgotten 99 percent of society. He will be free to do all this without comment or critique.

Without addressing the underlying pathology, the larger dynamics of class division will unfold in media silence. The professional class will be bought off by the ruling class, while too large a portion of the working class will continue to recede into a shell of misplaced resentments, looking for answers from a fake democracy and a system of economic exploitation that long ago commoditized the human spirit. A system both pitiless and inhumane. It extorts what it can from human commodities, then discards them into the rubbish heap of unprofitable investments to be written off come tax time. In much the same way that slaves were once discarded when unproductive. Make no mistake, that’s how capitalism, which leads directly to imperialism, views us all. But we will go on penning clever slogans on poster board, hoping our hashtags go viral, tweeting hot takes, writing mic-drop poetry on The Daily Beast, virtue-signaling on Facebook, and signing digital petitions that chastise senators for serving their true masters. None of this will have the desired effect of radical change until we awaken to the radical reality that our economic system itself thrives upon violence, upon conquest, upon racism, and upon the commoditization of the self. For things to change, we will have to wake up, however uncomfortably, to the fact that the triple evils of racism, poverty, and militarism are inseparably yoked to the system of capitalism itself, and it is this meta-construct that must be comprehensively defied if any of its constituent parts are to be effectively met.

American Propagandist Warns of Russian Propaganda

After President Donald Trump’s detestable performance at the United Nations General Assembly last week, the New York Times had an opportunity to counter the president’s heedless belligerence with a message of diplomacy and dialogue. What it did instead was publish an op-ed from discredited former ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, Obama’s unforgivable appointment and one of the principal arm-twisters that convinced an irresolute president to get behind an invasion of a sovereign state (Libya) on the basis of manufactured lies too incredulous to believe. This unrepentant jackanape had the temerity to pen an article calling on Americans to heed George Washington’s ancient warning to be “constantly awake” to the specter of foreign influence, a prelude to the establishment goal of outlawing foreign media and exerting a stronger grip on the information flow in the digital space.

With any Power essay, her smart media handlers make sure that her photo is always a central element of her pose. She perpetually appears in a posture of earnestness, her face displaying a kind of inveterate sadness born of too much knowledge of humanity’s dark side. Her somewhat emaciated cheeks, particularly in black and white photographs, lend her the self-abnegating glow of an ascetic or religious eremite. Having absorbed the image of this saintly spirit, readers then move to her missive.

Shuttering Dissent

Power, whose presence in the UN was a carmine monument to hypocrisy, quickly summons the hysterical phantom of Russian election interference as her theme. As any good paid propagandist would do, Power tells us we can focus on the technical details of the hacking, influencing, meddling, and manipulating, but we shouldn’t overlook other vile means by which foreign powers ruin our democracy by “aiming falsehoods at ripe subsets of our population–and not only during elections.”

Here Power reveals her multiple goals. First, she aims to shift the narrative away from the collapsing scenery of the Russian hacking allegation, since the technical facts now show that DNC emails were leaked by an insider, not hacked by a foreign agent. This is what the mainstream press has been slowly doing for months now, moving the debate from the phantom hack itself to the influence of so-called propaganda platforms funded by Russian government, namely RT and Sputnik, and several thousands bots of unknown provenance on social media. In truth, the majority of the intelligence community’s report on the hacking was forced to point fingers at RT and other sources, which proved nothing but adequately deflected attention from the false claims of hacking. The narrative thus moves from hacking to influencing, a softer accusation but one that will be enthusiastically peddled by the likes of Power.

The influence narrative is also easier to sustain, since it is quite possible that RT influenced some voters, though its impact on the outcome itself was likely benign given the extraordinary weight of domestic propaganda that overwhelmed the American mediascape through the electoral season. But RT provides a much-needed counterpoint to Washington media, which all peddle the same caricatures of the world at large, in which America is a shining city on a hill, the envy of nations, noble in intent, a just arbiter of disputes, ever hopeful, yet ever disappointed by the chronic recidivism of ‘developing’ nations.

Second, Power seems to support the false dichotomy that some of us are vulnerable and others are not. Those in power have the full knowledge required to separate the wheat from the chaff, while average citizens haven’t got the requisite toolset to the do the job themselves. Not only is this false, as progressive independent media outlets demonstrate daily, but it is deeply elitist. It is also the foreground of her third and ultimate aim: to outlaw foreign news media in the United States that doesn’t parrot the State Department’s shapeshifting of reality.

Demonizing the Ruskies

Power provides some tasty bits about former USSR leader Yuri Andropov’s ‘active measures’ (as opposed to static measures) in the Eighties. Had Andropov, a smart Soviet who lasted only 15 months in power due to illness, survived in power, the Soviet Union might still stand. But he was up against the tidal force of Ronald Reagan, a vicious anti-communist who declared the USSR an “evil empire” (points for phrasing if nothing else), launched a Star Wars initiative, and explored first-strike options as Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) dissolved in the cold past.

Having dutifully dissed the Soviets, she assumes that Russia information aimed at American audiences is de facto propaganda because she assumes that Russia is an adversary. She sadly relates that citizens get their news from social media more than ever, and concludes that they probably can’t decipher real from fake news without the assistance of “umpires” that, ostensibly, would not teach them to separate fact from fiction, but would simply elide what they judged factitious from the news stream altogether.

Power then seconds the Facebook claim that Russia may have spent $50-100,000 in paid media to spread anti-Clinton stories, although the social network offered no evidence. She makes similar claims about Russian activity in Europe. “Russia “appears” to be using the same tactics abroad and is “believed” to have committed cyber attacks and has been “accused” of fabricating stories.

The Bane of Partyism

The former ambassador, who once rightly called Hillary Clinton “a monster”, comically laments the loss of “mainstream consensus” of the sort that existed during the McCarthy era, when groupthink had its firmest grip on the American conscience. She blames “partyism”, apparently an inelegant replacement for “partisanship” as another cause of our fractured corporate narrative. (Note that ‘partisanship’ is consistently derided and is a pejorative term in the corporate press. Lockstep is preferred.) One can see Power’s fingers trembling as she hammers out the incredulous news that Republican voters’ esteem of Vladimir Putin rose 20 percent in the last two years. (Perhaps here she hurled her wireless Apple keyboard at the wall of her well-appointed DC loft). She finds it “worrisome” that a majority of citizens now question the veracity of corporate-sponsored mainstream news.

To her credit, Ms. Power does call out the fact that, in their brief and scurrilous prime, ISIS produced 38 pieces of media a day. All governments and would-be governments will produce pro-government propaganda, Russia included. But they will also report facts. Michael Parenti, in his book Blackshirts & Reds, has a chapter detailing the terrible collapse of social supports in Eastern Europe that immediately followed the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the happy introduction of cutthroat free-market capitalism. Nearly every source he uses comes from American mainstream media. The question is how the facts are spun, what facts are omitted, and what falsehoods are introduced. For much of the mainstream media, the collapse of social infrastructure and the violent suppression of communist organizations after the fall of the Wall were presented as forms of “democratization” by the west.

A look at RT will quickly demonstrate that it is comprised primarily of principled Americans exposing the lies of their own corporate media, and providing much-needed facts and insight into the actions of the U.S. government. This is necessary and useful counter-check on the false narrative constructs of the corporate-owned media, which citizens rightly distrust. The channel may be funded by the Russian government, but that doesn’t mean all of its content is propaganda. It should be cautiously approached, just as a corporate-owned venue like the Washington Post should be cautiously approached. But each claim should be received on its merits. The New York Times and Washington Post have truthful articles all the time, but they also produce enormously influential propaganda. We have to take an evidentiary approach to what we read, noting its source, its sponsors, and its context. This is the essence of democratic ideal–people deciding for themselves. But Power thinks we need umpires to make these decisions for us.

The Virtue of Skepticism

Unsurprisingly, Power proposes what social philosopher John Stuart Mill warned us to question. He said the freethinking mind should be characterized by, “…an extreme skepticism about the right of any authority to determine which opinions are noxious or abhorrent.” We have lacked this skepticism for decades, but it is finally on the rise. Still, we are still often guilty of placing our complacent, lazy faith in the op-eds of mainstream publishers, largely because we think they are independent. The Russian-created RT, formerly Russia Today, is considered to be an alarming propagandist front for Kremlin mischief mainly because it is openly funded by the Russian state, an undisguised concession to the likely slant of its coverage. But all our corporate media need do is peddle its dogmatic rubbish under some private masthead for the masses to buy in. This is the astonishingly low bar one needs to cross to convince the public of one’s autonomy. But nominal independence from the state does not mean genuine independence from capital. It is the corporate sector that controls the narrative in the United States.

Power calls out the “bipartisan” nature of the new Alliance for Securing Democracy, a thought-cleansing front established as an unconvincing nonpartisan defender of democracy. The Intercept calls it a well-funded national security advocacy group” that further concretizes the Democratic Party’s alliance with “extreme and discredited neocons” from the Bush era. The group is led by Clinton and Rubio advisors Laura Rosenberger and Jamie Fly, respectively, and sulphurous spin doctors like Bill Kristol and establishment hawks like Michael Morrell, Michael Chertoff, and the noxious Mike Rogers. This formation is a good indication of how corporate parties react when pushed from the left: they try to discredit the left-wing and secure right-wing support.

In sum, the former ambassador’s perspective distills to this: social media and partyism have created narrative gaps through which foreign media may slip. This is bad. We need umpires to decide what we read in order to re-establish mainstream consensus. It is bad when people lose faith in the corporate news. We must all be vigilant against foreign powers practicing “the arts of seduction.” This sounds like a lot like censorship and a subtle effort to undermine the first amendment, which few, if any, people in positions of power truly support, Rand Paul excepted.

Obama, who oversaw spying on the Republican presidential campaign, prosecuted whistleblowers with a vengeance, sanctioned mass surveillance of Americans and outsourced it when it violated standing laws, was perhaps the most anti-free speech president of the last 100 years. In fact, this alliance is a natural outgrowth of the dissembling Countering Disinformation and Propaganda Act built into the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and signed by President Obama. Power is a vestige of this regime of control and, ironically for a supposed feminist, shares its paternalistic ideology. She ought to be laughed off the op-ed page. Unfortunately, the papers she writes for are peddling the very imperial falsehoods she pretends to care about.