8.01.2016 In Depth Look

http://www.ianwelsh.net/the-uncertain-future-and-the-american-election/ –  From the ever insightful and incisive blogger with brains and thinker with heart, Ian Welsh, an unfiltered–and hence likely to induce gulps among many scrappy scribes and stalwart citizens–and very persuasive analysis of the likely meaning and upshot of an election in which Hillary Clinton has squared off against Donald Trump, to wit that either a populist will prevail, possibly reactionary, possibly more or less socialist, or an ‘insider’ like Clinton will come out on top, in which case dystopia will reign supreme, a summation that fits perfectly with several popular focal points just now–

The Trouble With the Democratic Wing of the ReDemoPubliCratiCan Phalanx
For example, the conceptualization that Democrats have ‘let us down,’ or that the party has gone astray from its ‘core values’ and such optimistic tropes that are worthy of notice even if as analysis they rank barely above drivel, a thorough and pertinent exemplar of which comes from L.A. Progressive as an examination of “Hillary’s Hawks;” another instance of which, replete with plentiful false-flag conspiracy theory in the videos, comes from Twenty-First Century Wire and provides a clear focus  on the apparent payment of fifty bucks to out-of-work actors to pretend that they were enthusiastic Dems in Philly; a third interlude of which occurs in the form of a very brief briefing that, though nostalgic, does present the powerful contention that militaristic ferocity represents the central element of the Democratic Party; and a final one of which, from New Geography, embodies the longstanding Democrat’s rueful complaint that someone has ‘hijacked my party’…

When Third-Party ‘Fantasies’ Look More & More Attractive
Or, for instance, the assessment that is causing established plutocrats such anguish just now, that a relatively rare–for the United States–third party moment may have arrived, what CounterPunch characterizes as ‘the time is now;’ what Salon damns with faint praise in portraying  Jill Stein as in pursuit of the ‘third party rainbow;’ what The Atlantic characterizes simply as a natural, if Trumpishly dangerous, result of Bernie Sanders’ having evoked such a passionate response among his supporters; what TruthDig‘s profferal of Chris Hedges weekly program on RT, On Contact, suggests is simply a final maturing and shouldering of the mantle of responsibility in endorsing and sticking with Jill Stein’s Green Party; what a four year old London School of Economics blog contextualizes  as the inanity of the received wisdom that Duverger’s Law of the relentless supremacy of two-party-systems in winner-take-all elections is immutable, since the empirical reality is actually vastly different…

Longer Views of the Whole Shebang
In a third set of approaches, a typically brilliant delineation  from Evonomics of what the implacable reign of neoliberal policies and ideology has yielded, which is to say of hypercompetitive, overmedicated, infuriated societies that are on the verge of explosion or collapse, or perhaps both; as well as a modest offering   from Aeon that insists on the objectively incontrovertible conclusion that the vaunted ‘Western democracies’ are anything but equal to the likes of China in guaranteeing access and voice and inclusion to the majority that is the key component in majority-rule; and in addition a forward looking essay  from Information Clearinghouse that permits Yanis Varafaikis to expound on possible parameters of ‘building progressive power;’ along with, also from Information Clearinghouse, a warning that mediated warmongering and protofascist chauvinism are on track to deliver a culling, or perhaps an elimination, of the human herd; and, from Hollywood Progressive, a lyrical, haunting, evocative, and poignant prose poem  that illustrates both our dystopic sense of dislocation and decline, on the one hand, and some of the causal inputs that are driving this ‘race to the bottom,’ as it were…

An Historical Perspective & an Establishment Crossing of Fingers
Finally, for now, a marvelous piece  from New Yorker about what Jean Jacques Rousseau can communicate to us about inequality, injustice, and the ‘rise’ of Donald Trump; a decidedly real take on things that the editors at the Harvard Gazette would have the reader believe doesn’t have to be the case, in a pep talk that takes the form of a set of dialogues that feature Crimson faculty as interlocutors of the notion that things just aren’t as bad as all that…

The aggregate of all of which, for any scrappy scribes or stalwart citizens with enough historical memory to recall the 1930’s, is redolent of what Hoover and Roosevelt and Ford and Mussolini & Churchill & Keynes’ and other denizens of that tortured time were saying to each other and to themselves as they tried to convince each other, and themselves, that capitalism didn’t need really fundamentally to change, but that a little tweaking, a positive attitude, and enough determination would fix things right up, since, of course, they weren’t as bad as all that, till the blinding light of Hiroshima and then Nagasaki made everyone pause for a moment and ponder what might come down the pike next time:

Paramilitary - Chuck Coker Flickr
Paramilitary – Chuck Coker Flickr

“With Clinton, you know pretty much what you’re going to get.  She has a track record: She’s a neoliberal, neo-conservative.  She’ll throw the left some bones, especially on identity politics issues, but basically she’s the status quo candidate.  Slightly to the left of Obama on domestic issues, but well within the neoliberal consensus, significantly to his right on foreign policy issues.
Trump has issues he keeps hitting again and again.  Trade and immigration are the big ones.  Generally, Trump looks at most issues as profit-loss statements.  ‘Is America winning from this trade deal?  Is America spending more on NATO than it is worth?’  But Trump’s said a lot of things, and his track record from private business says less about how he’ll run things than one might like, especially as his long term strategy is to ‘hire the best people,’ and who knows who those will be?rect3336 space
Nassim Taleb, author of The Black Swan, has pointed out that people at the bottom or people who are heading there under the status quo and have little cushion, need volatility.  If you’re at the bottom or near, and you can’t stand the status quo (aka, things getting slowly worse for you), then taking a flier on someone like Trump is a rational decision.

This is the calculus behind Trump.  It will be the calculus behind the next nativist populist if Trump fails or fails to deliver.  The more people there are whose lives are trash, or who see themselves in inevitable decline, the more people there are who are willing to take a flier on something–anything–which will upset the current way of doing things.  This is much of why Sanders, a Socialist, did so well.  It is why Brexit.  It is why Jeremy Corbyn in England.  It’s why so many Scots want to leave the UK, or Catalonians, Spain.  People whose lives suck, or whose lives are facing near-to-certain decline, will take a flier on anyone who seems genuinely committed to changing the status quo.

This is only the beginning.  I am amused by just how worked up people are over Trump, because the sequence of events made inevitable by 40+ years of neoliberal policy is only beginning to unfold.  You can have your cyberpunk dystopia, you can have your right-wing populist, or you can have someone like Corbyn or Sanders.  There aren’t any other options, yet, on the table.”—IanWelsh

trump election politics
         “The clear signals of Clinton’s readiness to go to war appears to be aimed at influencing the course of the war in Syria as well as U.S. policy over the remaining six months of the Obama administration.  (She also may be hoping to corral the votes of Republican neoconservatives concerned about Donald Trump’s “America First” foreign policy.)  Last month, the think tank run by Michele Flournoy, the former Defense Department official considered to be most likely to be Clinton’s choice to be Secretary of Defense, explicitly called for ‘limited military strikes’ against the Assad regime.

(Along with Leon Panetta, whose perspective is much the same, this cofounder of the protofascist Campaign for a New American Century represents the ‘leadership’ that Ms. Clinton’s administration promises to bring to the fore).  Last month, CNAS published a report of a ‘Study Group’ on military policy in Syria on the eve of the organization’s annual conference.  Ostensibly focused on how to defeat the Islamic State, the report recommends new U.S. military actions against the Assad regime.  Flournoy chaired the task force, along with CNAS president Richard Fontaine, and publicly embraced its main policy recommendation in remarks at the conference.

(These ‘leaders’ are openly recommending acts of war against both a sovereign State, Syria, and against invited forces of that sovereign power, the Russians, all under the rubric of a ‘no-bombing-zone).  The proposal for a ‘no bombing zone’ has clearly replaced the ‘no fly zone,’ which Clinton has repeatedly supported in the past as the slogan to cover a much broader U.S. military role in Syria.  Panetta served as Defense Secretary and CIA Director in the Obama administration when Clinton was Secretary of State, and was Clinton’s ally on Syria policy.  On July 17, he gave an interview toCBS News in which he called for steps that partly complemented and partly paralleled the recommendations in the CNAS paper.  ‘I think the likelihood is that the next president is gonna have to consider adding additional special forces on the ground,’ Panetta said, ‘to try to assist those moderate forces that are taking on ISIS and that are taking on Assad’s forces.’

(This ‘deliberate conflation’ of matters–the ‘moderates’ are not anti-Assad–suggests at best risky business dead ahead).  Neither the Kurds nor the opposition groups the Special Forces are supporting are fighting against the Assad regime.  What Panetta presented as a need only for additional personnel is in fact a completely new U.S. mission for Special Forces of putting military pressure on the Assad regime.  He also called for increasing ‘strikes’ in order to ‘put increasing pressure on ISIS but also on Assad.’  That wording, which jibes with the Flournoy-CNAS recommendation, again conflates two entirely different strategic programs as a single program.

It is highly unusual, if not unprecedented, for figures known to be close to a presidential candidate to make public recommendations for new and broader war abroad.  The fact that such explicit plans for military strikes against the Assad regime were aired so openly soon after Clinton had clinched the Democratic nomination suggests that Clinton had encouraged Flournoy and Panetta to do so. …The news of Clinton’s advisers calling openly for military measures signals to those critics in the administration to continue to push for a more aggressive policy on the premise that she will do just that as president. …(which is especially alarming given that immediately prior to the recent coup abortion, Turkey had put out feelers to make a deal with both Russia and Assad).”—Los Angeles Progressive

Erdogan v. Putin
Erdogan v. Putin
         “(T)he United States (has long past the time) to join the rest of the nations that purport to have some semblance of democracy (the fact that the U.S. simply doesn’t is a topic for another essay), and expand to more than two parties.  The Libertarian Party traditionally wins the most votes, after the Republicans and Democrats.  But with dozens of third parties fielding candidates for president, why on earth would any thinking person vote for either Mrs. Clinton, the epitome of elitism, corruption, arrogance and entitlement, or the Republican candidate, Donald Trump, a loud-mouthed windbag who appeals to the basest instincts of the most ignorant citizens?  Why would anyone in the 99% vote for either of these charter members of the 1%?

(Among areas of concern), (t)he average debt for a student who graduated in 2016 is $37,000.  Seventy-one percent of students graduate with some debt, and the total student debt owed in the U.S. today exceeds $1 trillion.  This cash cow for the government will continue under a Trump or Clinton presidency.  However, the platform of the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL), headed this year by Gloria La Riva, calls for the cancelling of all student debt.  The Green Party, with Jill Stein as its presidential nominee, also calls for abolishing student debt.

(Similarly rational and essential reforms typify PSL and Green platforms in other arenas). This information provides the reader with a view of alternative candidates; in this case, two women of integrity and common sense.  The platform of the Green Party, in the context of the Republicans and Democrats, is radical, but in terms of being reasonable, it is a moderate, workable plan.  The PSL, on the other hand, goes farther in demanding basic rights for all people, at home and abroad, in smashing the failed capitalistic model, and replacing it with one in which all people can prosper, possibly at different levels, but without the stark extremes that the U.S. now experiences, with the extremely, obscenely rich on one end, and the destitute poor on the other.

(A)third-party candidate will be (unlikely to be) elected president this year, although with both candidates highly disliked, and new embarrassments being forever revealed, anything is possible.  But even lacking that, when faced with two awful candidates, and one shrinks in horror to consider candidates more awful that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, voting for a candidate who cares about people makes perfect sense.vote voting election Ballot - Woman's Hand
Although this writer’s ballot will probably not be counted … he will vote for Ms. La Riva.  Much as he likes and respects Dr. Stein and the platform of the Green Party, he supports greater change than even the substantial change that they offer.  And while he encourages the reader to vote for Ms. La Riva, he implores everyone to find a third party candidate, and vote accordingly.  A vote for either Mr. Trump or Mrs. Clinton will only bring more suffering around the world, more poverty, and more riches into the foreign bank accounts of the already super-rich.  Third-party votes represent the voices of those who oppose the continuation of the repressive status-quo.  It is high time we make our voices heard.”—CounterPunch
         “So pervasive has neoliberalism become that we seldom even recognise it as an ideology.  We appear to accept the proposition that this utopian, millenarian faith describes a neutral force; a kind of biological law, like Darwin’s theory of evolution.  But the philosophy arose as a conscious attempt to reshape human life and shift the locus of power.  Neoliberalism sees competition as the defining characteristic of human relations.  It redefines citizens as consumers, whose democratic choices are best exercised by buying and selling, a process that rewards merit and punishes inefficiency.  It maintains that ‘the market’ delivers benefits that could never be achieved by planning.darwin
Attempts to limit competition are treated as inimical to liberty.  Tax and regulation should be minimised, public services should be privatised.  The organisation of labour and collective bargaining by trade unions are portrayed as market distortions that impede the formation of a natural hierarchy of winners and losers.  Inequality is recast as virtuous: a reward for utility and a generator of wealth, which trickles down to enrich everyone.  Efforts to create a more equal society are both counterproductive and morally corrosive.  The market ensures that everyone gets what they deserve.rect3336 space
We internalise and reproduce its creeds.  The rich persuade themselves that they acquired their wealth through merit, ignoring the advantages – such as education, inheritance and class – that may have helped to secure it.  The poor begin to blame themselves for their failures, even when they can do little to change their circumstances. …(‘Never mind’ the depredations, victims are always to blame).  Among the results, as Paul Verhaeghe documents in his book What About Me? are epidemics of self-harm, eating disorders, depression, loneliness, performance anxiety and social phobia.  Perhaps it’s unsurprising that Britain, in which neoliberal ideology has been most rigorously applied, is the loneliness capital of Europe.  We are all neoliberals now.

CC BY-SA by joelogon
CC BY-SA by joelogon

The term neoliberalism was coined at a meeting in Paris in 1938.  Among the delegates were two men who came to define the ideology, Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek.  Both exiles from Austria, they saw social democracy, exemplified by Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and the gradual development of Britain’s welfare state, as manifestations of a collectivism that occupied the same spectrum as nazism and communism.

When, in 1947, Hayek founded the first organisation that would spread the doctrine of neoliberalism – the Mont Pelerin Society – it was supported financially by millionaires and their foundations.  With their help, he began to create what Daniel Stedman Jones describes in Masters of the Universe as ‘a kind of neoliberal international:’ a transatlantic network of academics, businessmen, journalists and activists.  The movement’s rich backers funded a series of think tanks which would refine and promote the ideology.  Among them were the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, the Institute of Economic Affairs, the Centre for Policy Studies and the Adam Smith Institute.  They also financed academic positions and departments, particularly at the universities of Chicago and Virginia.rect3336 space
As it evolved, neoliberalism became more strident.  Hayek’s view that governments should regulate competition to prevent monopolies from forming gave way – among American apostles such as Milton Friedman– to the belief that monopoly power could be seen as a reward for efficiency. …(The Neoliberals lay low after 1945, when Keynesian ideas continued to hold sway, and actually seemed to work).  (I)n the 1970s, when Keynesian policies began to fall apart and economic crises struck on both sides of the Atlantic, neoliberal ideas began to enter the mainstream.  As Friedman remarked, ‘when the time came that you had to change … there was an alternative ready there to be picked up.’  With the help of sympathetic journalists and political advisers, elements of neoliberalism, especially its prescriptions for monetary policy, were adopted by Jimmy Carter’s administration in the US and Jim Callaghan’s government in Britain.rect3336 space
After Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan took power, the rest of the package soon followed: massive tax cuts for the rich, the crushing of trade unions, deregulation, privatisation, outsourcing and competition in public services.  Through the IMF, the World Bank, the Maastricht treaty and the World Trade Organisation, neoliberal policies were imposed – often without democratic consent – on much of the world.  Most remarkable was its adoption among parties that once belonged to the left: Labour and the Democrats, for example.  As Stedman Jones notes, ‘it is hard to think of another utopia to have been as fully realised.'”—Evonomicsworld space planet The_Earth_seen_from_Apollo_17
         “(One can place Jean Jacques Rousseau near the center of most critiques of contemporary society.  He came from the 99% of his time.  His life was rough and lucky simultaneously, allowing his natural ability room to grow).  By the time he arrived in Paris, he had already worked in various subordinate capacities throughout Europe: as an apprentice engraver in Geneva, a footman in Turin, a tutor in Lyons, a secretary in Venice.  These experiences, (Leo) Damrosch writes (in Restless Genius), ‘gave him the authority to analyze inequality as he did.’  Soon after his move to Paris, he took up with a near-illiterate laundress, who bore him five children, and made his first tentative forays into salon society.  One of his earliest acquaintances there was Denis Diderot, a fellow-provincial who was committed to making the most of that decade’s relatively free intellectual climate. In 1751, Diderot launched his Encyclopédie, which synthesized key insights of the French Enlightenment, such as those of Buffon’s Natural History (1749) and Montesquieu’s hugely influential The Spirit of the Laws(1748).  The encyclopedia cemented the movement’s main claim: that knowledge of the human world, and the identification of its fundamental principles, would pave the path of progress. A s a prolific contributor to the Encyclopédie, publishing nearly four hundred articles, many of them on politics and music, Rousseau appeared to have joined in a collective endeavor to establish the primacy of reason and, as Diderot wrote, to ‘give back to the arts and the sciences the liberty that is so precious to them.’

(Rousseau soon embarked down a different path, however, entering an ‘essay contest’ on the topic of whether advances in arts and sciences on balance benefited regular people).  (H)is prize-winning entry in the contest, published in 1750 as his first philosophical work, “A Discourse on the Moral Effects of the Arts and Sciences,” abounded in dramatic claims.  The arts and sciences, he wrote, were ‘garlands of flowers over the chains which weigh [men] down,’ and ‘our minds have been corrupted in proportion’ as human knowledge has increased.  By the mid-eighteenth century, Paris’s intellectuals had erected a standard of civilization for others to follow.  In Rousseau’s view, the newly emergent intellectual and technocratic class did little more than provide literary and moral cover for the powerful and the unjust.

"Family-bible" by David Ball - Original work.  -
“Family-bible” by David Ball – Original work. –

Most of his peers saw science and culture as liberating humankind from Christianity, Judaism, and other vestiges of what they saw as barbarous superstition.  They commended the emerging bourgeois class, and placed much stock in its instincts for self-preservation and self-interest, and in its scientific, meritocratic spirit.  Adam Smith envisaged an open global system of trade powered by envy and admiration of the rich along with mimetic desires for their power and privileges.  Smith argued that the human instinct for emulation of others could be turned into a positive moral and social force.  Montesquieu thought that commerce, which renders ‘superfluous things useful and useful ones necessary,’ would ‘cure destructive prejudices’ and promote ‘communication among peoples.’

Against this moral and intellectual revolution, which came after centuries of submission before throne and altar, Rousseau launched a counterrevolution.  The word ‘finance,’ he said, is ‘a slave’s word,’ and the secret workings of financial systems are a ‘means of making pilferers and traitors, and of putting freedom and the public good upon the auction block.’  Anticipating today’s Brexiters, he claimed that despite England’s political and economic might, the country offered its citizens only a bogus liberty: ‘The English people thinks it is free.  It greatly deceives itself; it is free only during the election of members of Parliament.  As soon as they are elected, the people are enslaved and count for nothing.’

Rousseau refused to believe that the interplay of individual interests, meant to advance the new civilization, could produce any natural harmony.  The obstacle, as he defined it, existed in the souls of sociable men or wannabe bourgeois: it was the insatiable craving to secure recognition for one’s person from others, which leads ‘each individual to make more of himself than of any other.’  The ‘thirst’ to improve ‘their respective fortunes, not so much from real want as from the desire to surpass others,’ would lead people to try to subordinate others.  Even the lucky few at the top of the new hierarchy would remain insecure, exposed to the envy and malice of those below, albeit hidden behind a show of deference and civility.  In a society in which ‘everyone pretends to be working for the other’s profit or reputation, while only seeking to raise his own above them and at their expense,’ violence, deceit, and betrayal become inevitable.  In Rousseau’s bleak world view, ‘sincere friendship, real esteem and perfect confidence are banished from among men.  Jealousy, suspicion, fear, coldness, reserve, hate, and fraud lie constantly concealed.’  This pathological inner life was a devastating ‘contradiction’ at the heart of modern society.

The triumphs of capitalist imperialism in the nineteenth century, and of economic globalization after the Cold War, fulfilled on a grand scale the Enlightenment dream of a worldwide materialist civilization knit together by rational self-interest.  Voltaire proved to be, as Nietzsche presciently wrote, the ‘representative of the victorious, ruling classes and their valuations,’ while Rousseau looked like a sore loser.  Against today’s backdrop of political rage, however, Rousseau seems to have grasped, and embodied, better than anyone the incendiary appeal of victimhood in societies built around the pursuit of wealth and power.money funds
Rousseau was the first to make politics intensely personal.  He could never feel secure, despite his great success, in the existing social pyramid, and his abraded sensibility registered keenly the appeal of a political ideal of equally empowered and virtuous citizens.  Tocqueville pointed out that the passion for equality can swell to ‘the height of fury’ and help boost authoritarian figures and movements to power.  But it was the socially maladjusted Genevan, whose writings Tocqueville claimed to read every day, who first attacked modernity for the unjust way in which power accrues to a networked élite.  The recent explosions of ressentiment against writers and journalists as well as against politicians, technocrats, businessmen, and bankers reveal how Rousseau’s history of the human heart is still playing itself out among the disaffected.”—New Yorker