Billionaire libertarians, Empirical free Economics and Ideologically driven Law attempt to destroy Democracy

September 17th, 2022

Democracy in Chains; The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, Nancy,MacLean, 2017

Started immediately after the end of WWII with the founding of the “think tank” the Mont Pelerin Society in Switzerland in 1947 and the influence of the Austrian school of economics via Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek on the economics department at the University of Chicago, a radical right movement that is best known as “neoliberalism” rose in America. Neoliberalism seeks to privatize all government run programs to reduce the state’s influence on capitalism by eliminating price controls, deregulating capital markets, and lowering trade barriers.

The most influential economists of this movement are the well known Milton Friedman and the little known James Buchanan both Chicago school of Economics trained and both of whom won Nobel prizes for their work. To best appreciate the dangers to democracy of their fact free, empirical free ideologies one need only look at the experience of Chile after the CIA assisted overthrow of the democratically elected government in 1973, the death of President Allende and the long disastrous Pinochet dictatorship. Friedman advised the coup government on the privatization of public government programs including the national retirement program. Friedman’s reputation was badly tarnished by these efforts. Buchanan’s influence was most felt in the creation of a new democracy free constitution for Chile which has yet to be replaced. Buchanan’s reputation was largely unaffected by his work in Chile.

“…for Buchanan, the end justified the means. Chile emerged with a set of rules closer to his ideal than any in existence, Built to repel future popular pressure for change. It was “a virtually unamendable charter,” in that co constitutional amendment could be added without endorsement by super majorities in two successive sessions of the National Congress, a body radically skewed by the over representation of the wealthy, the military, and the less popular political parties associated with them. Buchanan had long called for binding rules to protect economic liberty and constrain majority power, and Chile’s 1980 Constitution of Liberty guaranteed these as never before.

From its founding, some in the the US have been obsessed with protecting the rights of minorities – slave owners til the Civil War and the 19th Century robber barons thereafter. Central to all these efforts is the advocacy of states rights. The confederation of states failed because the central government was too weak. In negotiating the new Constitution, Madison fought hard with slave owning southerners. The result is the current division of powers between the executive, the legislative, and the judiciary. The senate was created with 2 senators per state serving 6 year terms. This equality of all states regardless of population was an attempt to protect the smaller southern states from the political influence of the larger. Slave owners also negotiated that the millions of slaves should have 3/5 vote each (to be exercised by the owners). Then whenever civil rights issues came before the senate, the filibuster was invented and built into the system to assure that a minority of senators could stop any legislation. Not satisfied, the minority continues effort to disenfranchise voters to protect their power.

<> <> Harry Flood Byrd Sr. <>John C Calhoun

Maclean spends some time recounting the history and influence of slavery defender John C. Calhoun, 1782-1850, who can justifiable be considered the father of the radical right in America. Calhoun forged the filibuster as a senate tool in 1841. The supreme court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 that all schools must be racially integrated. Senator Harry Flood Byrd of Virginia who politically ran Virginia was determined that Virginia’s schools would never be integrated. To get around the Federal ruling. Byrd offered a plan that all public schools in Virginia would be sold to private owners who would continue to operate then as segregated schools and that the state would offer vouchers to parents to pay for the new private schools. When parents, business owners, and other Virginia residents realized the potential impact of this plan on Virginia’s future they rose up to defeat the plan. Byrd reign as power broker for Virginia ended with this debacle. Buchanan arrived to head the economics department of the U of V in 1956, while this battle was ongoing. Buchanan favored the failed private school plan.

Enter billionaire Charles Koch:

The sense of intellectual and even ethical superiority to others may help explain why Charles Koch bypassed Milton Friedman to make common cause with the more uncompromising James Buchanan. Koch referred to Friedman and the rest of the post-Hayek Chicago school of economics he led, as well as to Alan Greenspan, as “sellouts to the system”. Why? Because they sought to “make government work more efficiently when the true libertarian should be tearing it out at the root.” They actually tried to help government deliver better results, which could only prolong the disease. Koch believed that only in its “radical, pure form,” without compromise, would the ideas “appeal to the brightest, most enthusiastic, most capable people.”

The Koch focus introduced heavily deceptive practices such as the crab walk to confuse, dividing constituencies to target groups that might be more open to deceptive tactics like pretending changes are needed to preserve a program when the goal is actually to eliminate the program altogether – social security, medicare, etc. Lying is now acceptable behavior if it advances your goals.

We just need to look at Citizen’s United – corporate spending on elections is free speech, Voting Rights Act of 1965 – Section 4 is unconstitutional – Section 5 requires re authorization, repeal of Roe V Wade – States rules apply to see that the focus on appointing ideological judges to federal courts is paying big dividends to the radical right. One former judge says recent pro corporate decisions amounts to a “privatization of the Justice System“.

Winston Churchill – In His Own Words

September 2nd, 2022

Winston Churchill: His Times, His Crimes, Tariq Ali 2022

This well researched history is too dense and comprehensive to summarize. Tariq Ali read so many books and sources in preparation that he only presents a Select Bibliography at the end. Winston Churchill was born an aristocrat in 1874 and died in 1965 at age 90. The book is as much a history of British aristocratic rule and imperialism as it is a biography of the man. The ambitious Winston made certain he was present at most of the critical events affecting imperialism and labor relations during the course of his long life. He never took personal responsibility for his many failures during his long life. The life of Winston Churchill makes an interesting contrast to American marine general Smedley Butler who was born middle class in 1881 and died in 1940 at age 58. Like Winston, Smedley seems to have been present at almost every significant event in extending and securing American imperialism. Unlike Winston, his military exploits were largely successful, even if they primarily benefited American exploitative capitalists. The British military officer that most matches the exploits of American Smedley Butler, is Sir Charles Wickham, whose exploits include Ireland, the Boer War, Russia supporting the White army fighting the Bolsheviks in the civil war, Greece, and Palestine.

Know thy enemy:
he does not care what colour you are
provided you work for him
and yet you do!
he does not care how much you earn
provided you earn more for him
and yet you do!
he does not care who lives in the room at the top
provided he owns the building
and yet you strive!
he will let you write against him
and yet you write!
he sings the praises of humanity
but knows machines cost more than men.
Bargain with him, he laughs and beats you at it;
challenge him, and he kills.
sooner than lose the things he owns
he will destroy the world.

Christopher Logue, poster poem, Black Dwarf (June 1968)

Iris Chang

Iris Chang published The Rape of Nanking in 1997, focusing worldwide attention on Japan’s “orgy of cruelty” where as many as 350,000 civilians are estimated to have died. 1000 women were raped every day. The assault on Nanjing was led by Hirohito’s fifty-year old uncle, Prince Asaka, the senior most officer present. To this day influential Japanese leaders, journalists, and academics deny that the Nanjing events happened. Historian Herbert Bix quotes from standing Japanese orders to military units that specified the killing of all prisoners, civilian and military, and the burning of houses. After Nanjing fell the soldiers went on an unplanned rampage of arson, pillage, murder, and rape. Herbert Bix published Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan in 2000 establishing the direct responsibility of Hirohito for all major military actions including Manchuria, Nanjing, Pearl Harbor, Singapore, and so on. Hirohito was left in place after Japan’s defeat and was never tried for war crimes, unlike Tojo who was tried for war crimes and executed.

From 1942 to 1944 the British rulers, under Churchill, diverted all available rice and other grains from Bengal to feed American and British soldiers. Fearing a Japanese invasion of Bengal they also confiscated and destroyed privately owned boats needed to transport food and other products throughout Bengal. The result was that an estimated 5 million Bengalis died of starvation. This genocidal war crime was only discovered after the war ended. Satyajit Ray made the film Distant Thunder in 1973 based on a novel describing this genocide. The film was panned by American reviewers. This war crime, near the level of the Jewish holocaust, is not even mentioned in the Oxford History of the Twentieth Century 1998. More proof that history is written by the victors.

A 1948 U.S. State Department Assessment:

We have about 50% of the world’s wealth, but only 6.5% of its population…Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security…We should cease to talk about vague and unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of living standards, and democratization…We should concentrate our policy on seeing to it that key areas remain in hands which we can control or rely on.

Sun Yat-sen, Lenin and China’s long term plans for sole global hegemony

July 31st, 2022

The Long Game; China’s Grand Strategy to Displace American Order, Rush Doshi, 2021

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László Ladányi was a Hungarian Jesuit who lived in China from 1936 until his expulsion by the Communists in 1949. He moved to Hong Kong where he published China News Analysis from 1953 til 1982 when he retired to write books. China News Analysis was the only English language coverage of events from a closed China and based on published speeches and other high level official sources. He covered Mao’s paranoid machinations from the Great Leap Forward where Ladányi predicted 50 million Chinese deaths from starvation to the Cultural Revolution.

Rush Doshi adopted much of the research methodology of Ladányi in preparing this book which is a study of Chinese foreign policy (political, economic and military) from Deng Xiaoping to the present. Doshi notes that China inherited its nationalism from Sun Yat-sen and the Chinese century of humiliation at the hands of the west and the desire to return China to its historic role as the Central Kingdom surrounded by tribute bearing smaller states, and its political structure, the Chinese Communist CCP from Lenin.

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<> <> <> <> <> Zhou Enlai
In 1973 Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai visited Washington in preparation for Nixon’s visit to China. Zhou asked a young American member of the delegation “Do you think China will ever become an aggressive or expansionist power?” The American answered “No.” and Zhou said “Don’t count on that. It is possible. But if China were to embark on such a path, you must oppose it…And you must tell those Chinese that Zhou Enlai told you to do it.”

The book highlights significant events that caused Chinese leaders to reevaluate their policy focus. The first was a trifecta of events from 1989 to 1991, The Tiananmen Square Massacre, overseen by Deng and widely criticized by the United States and the West; The Gulf War to expel Iraq from Kuwait, which shocked China with the technical superiority of the Americans and the speed with which the war concluded; and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Following the collapse and the end of the cold war, China focused much more on the United States and after Tiananmen started to be more sensitive to human rights concerns of the liberal West even though these concerns dated at least as early as the Chinese annexation of Tibet. China also acquired a new respect for the military technical superiority of the US as demonstrated in the Gulf War.

When Deng Xiaoping became Premier, he followed the example of Singapore as a model of a democracy free capitalist economic system open to western investment and engagement under an authoritarian rule pioneered by Singapore prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.
The era from China opening to the United States and the West for investment and trade was given a central policy directive from Deng “Tao Guang Yang Hui” or “hide capabilities and bide time”, applying to political, economic, and military policy as directed by the CCP. During the US Kosovo war a Chinese military leader reiterated:

“what the PLA should do” in response to “the rise of military intervention” by the United States was to remember that “our approach is Tao Guang Yang Hui” He elaborated, “As a military, this means…vigorously developing ‘shashoujian’ equipment, [and following the principle of],’whatever the enemy is most afraid of, we develop that’.”

Second, at the political level, the trifecta and China’s strategic adjustment led Beijing to reverse its position on joining regional institutions. Memoirs of Chinese ambassadors are explicit on China’s need to join institutions to blunt American power in three ways: (1)stalling the institutions so they couldn’t become functional; (2) using them to constrain US freedom of maneuver; and (3) using them to reassure neighbors so they wouldn’t join a US-led balancing coalition…Even s, these efforts were taken consistent with Tau Guang Yang Hui’s principle of avoiding claims of leadership, which meant China refrained from launching new institutions; moreover, Deng himself had said that China’s diplomatic voice would grow loader once Tao Guang Yang Hui was retired.

Finally, the trifecta also shaped Chinese international economic policy…China raised new concerns in Beijing about its vulnerability to US leverage, and blunting these became the focus of Chinese efforts. China not only focused breaking economic sanctions, it also sought to secure MFN (most-favored-nation) status on a permanent basis, or permanent normal trading relations (PNTR). The goal was not to limit China’s dependence on the United States but to reduce the discretionary exercise of US economic power…It also pushed for WTO membership, hoping it would further tie Washington’s hands.

China limited its military expansion during this time to the development of mines, missiles, and conventional silent submarines. Their largest fleet in the world of silent submarines could surface right next to a US aircraft carrier without detection. In 1973, 75 year old Zhou Enlie was suffering from bladder cancer which Mao had ordered Zhou’s doctors to not reveal or treat, when he lamented that China had not yet acquired an aircraft carrier.

In 1992, after the Soviet Union collapse, a PLA delegation visited a new Soviet carrier, the Varyag, then under final construction in Ukraine on the Black Sea. China chose not to acquire it. Then five years later China’s top leaders changed their minds and launched a plan to acquire the Varyag that is worthy of a movie.

Xu Zengping joined the PLA in 1971 and left in 1980 to found a trading company that he claimed made him wealthy. Xu’s wife was a basketball player on China’s national team that played alongside Yao Ming’s mother. PLAN Vice Admiral He Pengfei recruited Xu to serve as the military’s intermediary in the Varyag purchase.

Consistent with Tao Guang Yang Hui, Xu knew he needed to deceive the world about his wealth, intentions, and government connections. Xu created the persona of an outlandish tycoon who wanted to use the carrier as a floating casino in Macao. Xu set up a shell company and spent $1 million to acquire licenses to operate the casino in Macao. Xu then bought one of the most expensive villas in Hong Kong for $30 million.

In October 1997, Xu went to Kiev to negotiate with the Ukrainian owners of the Varyag. The private owners acquired the Varyag during the massive neoliberal privatization of Soviet public assets after the collapse in 1991. After months of parties and millions in bribes, the owners finally agreed to sell the Varyag to Xu for $20 million. But Xu also needed the blueprints and the engines which were beyond Chinese capabilities to build at the time. The engines had already been installed but Xu got fake documents showing that the engines had been removed. Xu received 45 tons of blueprints and documents and the engines and then set out on the arduous process of moving the ship to Dalian China.

In all the government of China spend $120 million and in March 2002, the Varyag arrived in Dalian where it was rust protected and left in December 2005. Even the original Soviet name and markings were left on the carrier.

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Then, in response to the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, which Chinese leaders took as a clear indication of the weakening of the US and the West, Chinese foreign policy entered a new more aggressive direction. The top level decision to build a carrier fleet was made in 2009. The Varyag was completed, renamed Liaoning , and commissioned on 25 September 2012.

After the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, China began to emphasize building regional order. It no longer felt the need to constrain itself fowir fear of rattling Washington or the wider region. The capabilities that carriers were know for were now fully in line with China’s own strategic objectives, which leaned increasingly toward enforcing maritime sovereignty and cultivating the ability to intervene regionally. And so, China entered the ranks of carrier-fielding great powers.

…the 2008 Global Financial Crisis caused a much bigger shift. China’s assessment of the relative power gap with the United States fell significantly and President Hu then officially revised Tao Guang Yang Hu by stressing “Actively Accomplishing Something” in his 2009 address.

In 2012 Wang Jisi, dean of Peking University’s School of International Relations wrote:

“Unlike East Asia, there is no U.S. led regional military alliance among the countries to the west, and there is no possibility that one will arise”…Instead, China had abondant resources and a continental vacuum in that direction, as well as the surplus capacity and dollar reserves to fill it with pipelines, railways, highways, and even overland Internet infrastructure that would reduce China’s dependence on the sea and bind the region tighter to China.

In 2013 Xi would launch the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)

Mao’s Cultural Revolution began in 1966 and ended with Mao’s death in 1976. It impacted virtually all Chinese leaders from Deng to the present. Two stories of auto-didactic education are featured in this book:

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<> <> <> <> <> The Silver Fox Wang Yi

On March 16, 2013, Chinese diplomat Wang Yi was formally promoted to minister of foreign affairs. The urbane but fierce defender of Chinese interests was sometimes known as a “silver fox” for both his “looks and his diplomatic wiles.” but he was also brilliant and diligent. After graduating high school during the Cultureal Revolution, Wang Li was sent to labor on a farm in northeast China for eight long years. A former classmate of his recalls that Want Li “did not waste his time” but engrossed himself in literature and history entirely on his own direction. When the Cultural Revolution ended , Wang Li’s diligence paid off, and he earned a spot at Bejing International Studies University, where he dedicated himself to Japanese language studies.

Wang Li married the daughter of Quian Jaidong an underling of Zhou Enlai and member of China’s first overseas delegations to the Geneva conference in the 1950s. Quian Jaidong became China’s UN ambassador in 1980.

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<> <> <> <> <> Lin Liqun

On January 16,2016, The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) was declared “open for business” and a grey haired enthusiast for English literature, Jin Liqun was elected its first president…Jin grew up in an educated but poor family with what was then an unusual passion for English literature. When he was sent to labor in the countryside for a decade during the Cultural Revolution, he spend three quarters of his meager annual salary and what little time he had after a day’s work in the fields continuing that pursuit. “I was outfitted with a worn out Remington typewriter and a copy of Webster”, he said later, as well as a radio he kept tuned to the BBC that gave his English a trace of the “standard BBC accent of the 1970s.” When the Cultural Revolution abated, the twenty nine year old autodidact won a seat at the Beijing Institute of Foreign Languages, excelled in graduate work, and was offered a faculty position…It was not to be. That same year, China joined the World Bank, and English speakers were needed to staff its new office in Washington…He spent a dozen years at the World Bank and then the Asian Development Bank, rising to become its first Chinese vice president, and developed a resume and Rolodex in multilateral finance no other Chinese official could match. When China decided to build its own development bank, Jin was the logical choice.

Another remarkable story about a misfit coming out the Cultural Revolution was previously blogged.

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On October 18. 2017, General Secetary Xi Jinping, in a 3 1/2 hour 30,000 word speech announced the next great change in Chinese foreign policy.

The speech announced a “new era”, put forward timetables for China’s rejuvenation in 2049, promised greater Chinese activism in global governance, called for a “world-class” military, committed China to becoming a “global leader in innovation,” and declared that China would “become a leading country in comprehensive national strength and international influence.”
Like other changes in China’s grand strategy, this shift toward greater global ambition was driven by what Beijing saw as the West’s irreversible decay and decline. In 2016…the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, and Donald Trump was elected president of the United States. From China’s perspective–which is highly sensitive to changes in perception of American power–these to events were shocking. The world’s most powerful democracies were withdrawing from the international order they had helped erect, creating what China’s leadership and foreign policy elite has called a “period of historic opportunity” to expand the country’s strategic focus from Asia to the wider globe and its governance systems.

The New Deal, FDR, Truman, LBJ, can Biden reclaim the legacy?

July 19th, 2022

Going Big, FDR’s Legacy, Biden’s New Deal, and the Struggle to Save Democracy, Robert Kuttner, 2022


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Economics Nobel Laureate Joseph E Stiglitz wrote the forward

The (Great) Depression should have taught us that markets are not stable and efficient–high levels of unemployment could persist for a very long time. We should not have to have had the Great Recession (2008) to relearn the lesson…We should not have had to watch the anemic recovery from the Great Recession, the result of too little fiscal policy and too much reliance on monetary policy, to have relearned that lesson.

The simplistic neoliberal ideology, which triumphed in both parties…held that downsizing government, including deregulation, privatization, and outsourcing government activities to the private sector, would lead to greater prosperity, (and)…all would benefit. Some half century later, we should declare this neoliberal experiment has been a failure, with lower growth and the benefits of that limited growth going overwhelmingly to those at the top.

Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama each embraced neoliberal ideology to devastating effect. Biden is the first president since 1984, including Republicans that has not appointed Robert Rubin (of Goldman Sachs and Citigroup) or a protege of Rubin, like Larry Summers, to the inner circle of power.

Bill Clinton and Barack Obama took the Democratic Party deeper into the neoliberal wilderness, obsessing about budget balance, making alliances with Wall Street, and driving working-class voters into the arms of the Tea Parties and then Trump.

Stunningly, Biden jettisoned the entire set of neoliberal orthodoxies that had hobbled Democratic presidents since Jimmy Carter. Gone was the idea that deficits necessarily caused high interest rates and inflation. Gone was any illusion that we needed tax breaks for the rich in order to promote private investment. Public investment was needed at a large scale precisely because private investment had failed to serve the real economy and had enriched mainly manipulators, traders, and monopolists…It fell to Biden and his economic team to revise the globalist ideology in favor of coherent policies to rebuild American leadership in industry, technology, and supply chains, sacrificing free trade norms where necessary.

There is immense latent public support for the use of activist government to better the situation of ordinary people. Foreign policy adventures, such as Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, can serve as distractions from domestics issues that play to Democratic strength, and can wreck the unity of the coalition needed to pursue domestic progressivism. So, obviously, can racism and continuing legacy of slavery and segregation. But the big challenge is political economy.

Biden needs to go beyond what even FDR achieved in containing a corrupted capitalist system, because that system today is the wellspring of so much policy failure, and so much political and economic inequality, as well as the corruption of too many Democratic leaders, all of which kindles support for Trumpism.

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In the standard Roosevelt narrative, FDR restores hope. And he then goes about restoring the economy, using powers of government to put people back to work, and devising new public entities to accomplish what the private sector had bungled. He increases the prestige of the public sector and public solutions. He uses public deficits to restore purchasing power. He virtually invents a national system of social insurance with the Social Security Act. He puts government on the side of worker’s right to organize with the Wagner Act, and then regulates wages and hours directly with the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act.

Ordinarily, the Treasury Department is the home of the most conservative officials of an administration. Democratic presidents, seeking to reassure financial markets typically place Wall Street veterans at the Treasury. This was the practice of Johnson, Carter, Clinton, and Obama. But the Roosevelt Treasury was the home of radicals. The most radical was Harry Dexter White, the top U.S. government architect of the postwar global financial system. White was a close collaborator of the the chairman of Bretton Woods conference, John Maynard Keynes.

The Democratic defensive unease on national security policy combined with the unfinished business of racial justice to destroy Johnson’s presidency. The Vietnam debacle also shattered the New Deal coalition and the hopes of progressive Democrats for half a century.

As the Obama administration and the Fed did the bidding of the biggest banks, (Elizabeth) Warren and the oversight panel would become one of two sources of loyal opposition, calling for a far more radical, Rooseveltian approach. The other was the FDIC, which was the last regulatory hawk in laissez-faire Washington, because its trust fund had to be tapped to pay depositors when an insured bank failed. The chair of the FDIC was a tough and savvy regulator named Sheila Bair…The financial collapse should have set up Obama to orchestrate a resurrection the the New Deal–the containment of the toxic tendencies of private finance, the expansion of government to do what markets could not, and the use of the crisis as an object lesson…Most of what he did propped up the banking system rather than cleaning it out or seriously re-regulating finance. Obama’s obsession with deficit reduction made the recovery far too slow.

The serial forms of deregulation that finally crashed the economy in September 2008 had been building and accumulating for several decades. Three earlier crashes, harbinger of the general collapse of 2008, had been contained because the degree of leverage, opacity, conflicts of interest, deregulation, non-supervision, and above all interpenetration had not quit reached the level of the early 2000s. But each was a clear warning that went unheeded.

The 1990s S&L collapse saw the conviction of more than a thousand executives. The Crash of hedge fund Long Term Capital Management in 1998 led to no reforms. The dot-com and energy crash of 2000 also led to no reform.

Kuttner spends some time on the explosion of private equity and the toxic effect on nursing homes, newspapers creating “news desserts” throughout the country, and retail.

Kuttner also talks about the the collateralized loan obligation CLO that have replaced the discredited CDO behind the 2008 crash The US market for CLOs excedes $850 billion in 2022.

If the New Deal proposition is that government can be effective in solving problems and helping ordinary people, climate change makes that harder to pull off, because worsened climate events are baked in for years to come. Even if Biden does everything right, the everyday experience of extreme climate events will intensify.

Kuttner concludes with a discussion of the importance of the upcoming 2022 midterm elections. Only three Presidents over the last 100 years have seen their party increase its control of both houses of congress in the midterm elections; Roosevelt in 1934 because of the popularity of his programs; Clinton in 1998 because the Republicans overreached in trying to impeach him; and George W. Bush in 2002 because of the shock of the 9/11 attacks. Can Bidden become the fourth in 2022?

Tech can regenerate Rural Heartland America’s Economy

April 22nd, 2022

Dignity in a Digital Age; Making Tech Work for all of Us, Ro Khanna, 2022

(Frederick) Douglass’s vision informs this book, which, at its heart is an attempt to imagine how technology can advance democratic patriotism, which is predicated on respecting the dignity of every American. The book shares Douglass’s faith that we can be a composite nation– that we can embrace a holistic, resplendent American identity that is more than just a formal contract among citizens. It offers a blueprint for structuring the technology revolution to empower left-behind Americans, regardless of their background, so they have a stronger voice in our economic and political life, building thriving communities, and are on more equal footing to participate in the dynamic process of developing our national culture.

We have looked thus far at how to respect dignity in a digital age domestically by focusing on distributing jobs, empowering workers, cultivating our freedoms, protecting online rights, creating deliberative forums, and including a multiplicity of voices in science policy.

This era calls for an Essential Workers Bill of Rights…The framework would promise livable wages, benefits, and bargaining rights for workers. It envisions giving employees a voice in shaping automation and pushing back against intrusive surveillance and abusive supervisors–a particular challenge in a remote and distributed workplace, which makes organizing difficult. Until all workers reap the benefits of their hard word and are treated with dignity, the promise of the digital age remains unfulfilled.

but nearly 80 percent of venture capital funding goes to only three states, California, New York, and Massachusetts. While California had nearly 4,000 VC deals and New York 1,400 in 2019, the state of West Virginia had only one.

A policy of creating new tech hubs should begin with the most promising locations and then gradually expand…Each hub would specialize in a few technologies based on their regional assets and expertise. The cutting edge fields would include quantum computing, data science, clean energy, cybersecurity, robotics, electronics manufacturing, and synthetic biology.

According to a Harlem Capital report, as of 2019, three are only two hundred startups led by Black or Brown founders that received more than $1 million in funding, and the total investment in these Black or Brown led start-ups is just $6 billions over nearly a decade. (Total VC funds deployed are $130 billion annually) The capital wealth gap is not just based on legacy assets but on a current, ongoing racial wealth generation gap.

The moral case for prioritizing workers is that they’ve been denied the gains they’ve helped create, and dignity that they’ve deserved, for multiple decades now. But the dollars and cents economic rationale is straightforward as well. While paying workers more may not maximize short-term shareholder value, in the way that stock buybacks or dividend payments do, it will lead to more consumer spending.

What they (Silicon Valley techies) may see as mundane and easily automated tasks actually are skilled ones, requiring dexterity, balance, judgment, practice, patience, precision, mapping, and a specific attention to detail.

Joel Rogers, a law professor at University of Wisconsin famously laid out the “high road” strategy, arguing that firms that foster worker participation and develop worker talent will generate more wealth compared to firms that use a top-down, command model to get the most out of their workers at the cheapest wage. Rogers argued that “shared prosperity”, “environmental sustainability”, and workplace democracy were “necessary complements, not tragic tradeoffs”, in maximizing revenue growth.

He (Gary Backer) said that the fuel for modern economic growth are investments in on-the-job training, health, information, and research and development. In fact, Becker argued that human capital, which is the “knowledge, information, ideas, skills, and health of individuals”, is “over 70 percent of the total capital in the United States.”

The ultimate design of Apple and Google’s Covid app is consistent with many of my Internet Bill of Rights principles, and it is an example of technology designed to meet these standards. The app requires a use to consent before any data is collected, and it offers an easy-to-understand explanation of how the data will be used. There is no centralized database, negating the major risk of data theft in a breach or the need for deletion. If someone is Covid positive, then they receive a digital code from their local health department to enter into their phone, which sends an anonymous exposure alert to every user in contact with them while they are infectious. Apple and Google both prioritized the need for interoperability so the app can work across platforms on any smartphone in the world. They made a concerted effort to minimize the data collected and committed not to have access to the data.

If tech companies are serious about promoting constructive dialogue, they should work with behavioral scientists, political theorists, psychologists, and mental health professionals to experiment with new designs. Software engineers should not only optimize for attention with like and share buttons, but to also prioritize for engagement with a wide range of perspectives. They could construct platforms for instance, that incentive users to participate in diverse online communities. Pushing opposing material to users can motivate them to become even stronger proponents of their ideologies…The key is to foster open-communications, and not simply self-affirmation.

The best we may be able to hope for in an imperfect democracy is a plurality of online forums for political conversations that (a) demonstrate a threshold respect for our agency as participants by not engaging in data extraction, (b) are transparent in terms of both their speech standards and the priorities of their algorithms, and (c) comply with legitimate restrictions on unlawful speech consistent with our First Amendment jurisprudence.

An Indiana University study that analyzed millions of tweets during the 2016 presidential election concluded that bots are a large contribute to the spread of misinformation and conspiracies. They share fabricated stories, make salacious content trend, and overwhelm investigatory teams with volume that makes it hard to find the offending postes. Most shockingly, the presence of fake accounts helps explains why “over 86% of shares and 75% of comments on German political Facebook from October 2018 to May 2019 were Alterative fur Deutschland content” even though the far-right party never “exceeded 15% of public support in polls during this time period”.

Defund the Pentagon – From War to Defense to National Security to Irrelevance

April 7th, 2022

After the Apocalypse; America’s Role in a World Transformed, Andrew Bacevich, 2021

Created near the end of the Vietnam War, the All-Volunteer Force has since entrenched itself as a permanent feature of American life…it belongs to the category of arrangements that citizens and elected officials alike tacitly treat as sacrosanct. Yet as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq demonstrated, the All-Volunteer Force is out of sync with U.S. global ambitions. Even so, as if enshrined in the Constitution, the post-Vietnam military system remains fixed in place. As a consequence, the problem of too much war and too few soldiers eludes serious scrutiny. Expectations of technology bridging that gap provide an excuse to avoid asking the fundamental question: Does the United States possess the military wherewithal to oblige adversaries to endorse its claim of being history’s indispensable nation? And if the answer is no. as the post 9/11 wars in Afghanistan and Iraq suggest, wouldn’t it make sense for Washington to temper its ambitions accordingly?

As national security supplanted national defense, protecting the American people was demoted to the status of a lessor concern. When it came to designing and deploying U.S. forces, other priorities took precedence. The perceived imperatives of national security during the Cold War provided a rational for raising up immense nuclear forces, permanently garrisoning Western Europe with large troop contingents, and fighting costly wars in Korea and Vietnam. Mere national defense would never have sufficed to justify the many billions expended on each of these undertakings. Each was sold as contribution to a broader purpose.

“Forward Presence” and “Crisis Response” comprised the cornerstones of this new (post Cold War) strategy. Keeping U.S. forces “deployed throughout the world” would demonstrate “commitment, lend credibility to our alliances, enhance regional stability, and provide a crisis response capability.” Forward presence and crisis response went hand in glove. Taken together, they would enable the United States to deal with any problems that might crop up anywhere on the planet, keeping Americans safe and enabling them to enjoy freedom. While the disappearance of the Soviet Empire made it difficult to identify those threats with any specificity, the NMS (National Military Strategy) pointed to “the intensification of intractable conflicts between historic enemies” as a concern, along with nuclear proliferation, drug trafficking, and the “continuing struggle to improve the human conditions throughout the world”. “The real threat we now face is the threat of the unknown, the uncertain.” In sum, as it ventured into that uncertain future, the U.S. military would surely have plenty of work to do.
The 1992 NMS did not mention the possibility of nature itself posing a problem. In the Pentagon, Dr. Hansen’s warning went unheeded, as it did again in the 1995 NMS, that document made passing mention of disease, but without proposing a plan of action. Climate per se went unmentioned, as it would in the subsequent editions of the National Military Strategy published in 1997, 2004, and 2015.

On occasion,the United States has found itself face-to-face with threats that did not conform to the profile of Pentagon-preferred adversaries. On each such occasion, with the American people gripped with fear, the existing national security paradigm was found wanting.
The first occasion was the Cuban Missile Crisis, the second 9/11, and the third the coronavirus pandemic of 2020. Seemingly unrelated, these three episodes lay bare the inadequacies of the prevailing national security paradigm.

Coronavirus Puts the USS Theodore Roosevelt out of action

It remained for COVID-19 once and for all to truly drive home the shortcomings of the existing national security paradigm. In 2020, pursuant to that paradigm, the United States was spending approximately a trillion dollars per year. As the coronavirus pandemic ravaged the nation, that lavish expenditure of resources was all but irrelevant to the problem at hand.

The Federal Reserve – An Unaccountable Central Bank for Wealthy Risktakers Only – Waiting for the Global Meltdown

March 30th, 2022

The Lords of Easy Money; How the Federal Reserve Broke the American Economy Christopher Leonard, 2022

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Life at the zero bound pushes banks way down the yield curve. What does a bank have to lose? A risky bet beats nothing. And this is not just a side effect of keeping rates at zero, “That’s the whole point.” Hoenig (Tom Hoenig was the long time president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City) explained many years later. “The point was to get people willing to take greater risk, to get the economy started. But it also allocated resources. It allocates where that money goes.”…When cash is pushed out onto the yield curve, it leads to the second big problem that Hoenig warned about in 2010: something called an asset bubble. The housing market that collapsed in 2008 was an asset bubble. The dot-com stock market crash of 2000 was the bursting of an asset bubble.

One of his (Ben Bernanke) central ideas was that the Fed hadn’t acted boldly enough back in the 1930’s. The central bank had actually worsened the Depression by tightening the money supply, The solution, Bernanke believed, was to to be as aggressive as possible after a crash. He had spent many years thinking up new ways that the Fed could boost economic growth even after pushing interest rates to zero. He didn’t see the zero bound as an inviolable limit, but just another data point.

To execute quantitative easing, a trader at the New York Fed would call up one of the primary dealers, like JP Morgan Chase, and offer the buy $8 billion worth of Treasury bonds from the bank. JP Morgan would sell the Treasury bonds to the Fed trader. Then the Fed trader would hit a few keys and tell the Morgan banker to look inside their reserve account. Voila, the Fed had instantly created $8 billion out of thin air, in the reserve account, to complete the purchase. Morgan could, in turn, use this money to buy assets in the wider marketplace.

Starting in November (2010), the Fed traders did this transaction over and over again until they had created several hundred billion dollars inside the Wall Street reserve accounts…The primary dealers were not just selling the Treasury bills and mortgage bonds that they happened to have on hand…Instead the Fed set up a conveyor belt of sorts, which used the primary dealers as middlemen. The conveyor belt began outside the Fed, with hedge funds that were not primary dealers. These hedge funds could borrow money from a big bank, buy a Treasury bill, and then have a primary dealer sell that Treasury bill to the Fed for a profit. Once the conveyor belt was up and running, it began magically transforming bonds into cash. The cash didn’t stay safe and sound inside the reserve accounts of primary dealers. It started flowing out into the banking system, looking for a place to live.

He (Hoenig at the FOMC meeting in Sept. 2010) pointed out that the deep malaise in American economic life wasn’t caused by a a lack of lending from banks. The banks already had plenty of money to lend. The real problem lay outside the banking system, in the real economy where the deep problems were festering, problems that the Fed had no power to fix. Keeping interest rates at zero, and then pumping $600 billion of new money into the banking system–money that had nowhere to go but out into risky loans or financial speculation–wasn’t going to help solve the fundamental dysfunction of the American Economy.

During the 1980’s, Hoenig and his colleagues in Kansas City were left to sort out the long-term problems the Fed’s short-term thinking created during the 1970s. The biggest mess they cleaned up was the failure of Penn Square, a bank in Oklahoma that had extended a chain of risky energy loans during the 1970s. When Penn Square failed, it almost took down the entire U.S. banking system with it. It also illuminated a second important pattern that would harden in the coming years. The Fed didn’t just stoke asset bubbles. It found itself on the hook to bail out the very lenders who profited most off a bubble as it rose. Some banks, the Fed was about to discover, had grown too large and too interconnected to fail.

Around 2014 or 2015, (Vicki) Bryan (corporate analyst) noticed that she could bring new revelations (about corporate misbehavior) to the market, but it didn’t seem to matter anymore. “It’s been a result of what the Fed stated to do in 2010, and continued to do later,” she said. “You’ve got an artificial bottom, and the higher part of that bottom is set by the Fed. So you can’t lose in this market. And if you can’t lose, it’s not really a market,” Bryan said.

In 2008, the market imploded thanks to an exotic debt product called the collateralized debt obligation, or CDO. The CDO was a package of home loans (or derivatives contracts based on home loans) stacked together and sold to investors. The CDO made the housing crash possible by creating a seamless assembly line that allowed mortgage brokers to create risky subprime home loans that were quickly packaged and sold to investors, which in turn allowed the mortgage brokers to extend yet more new loans. At that time, the lowly CLO (collateralized loan obligation) was the undernoticed stepchild of the debt markets. There were only about $300 billion worth of CLOs during the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, while in 2006 alone about $1.1 trillion of new CDOs were issued. But the important thing about CLOs was that they didn’t suffer nearly the losses that CDOs suffered.

The pension funds had been settling on a low return from safe corporate bonds, because those bonds were standardized…The bonds were regulated by the SEC and traded on exchanges…The CLO solved this problem. It would standardize leverage loans in ways that make the pension funds feel safe…This meant that a pension could order CLO chunks,…picking between the AAA, mezzanine, and equity slices of the package.

Financial engineering was key to Rexnord’s strategy. Rexnord, like any corporation, responded to the environment in which it operated. And that environment, starting in 2012, was dominated by the influence of ZIRP (zero-interest-rate-policy)…The management team’s biggest maneuvers had to do with leveraged loans and rising stock prices rather than conveyor belts or ball bearings…He (Rexnord employee John Feltner) believed,…that a job at Rexnord might provide him a narrow pathway to a stable middle-class life. All the financial engineering encourage by ZIRP was supposed to make that belief come true. The company owed $1.9 billion and it paid $88 million on interest costs in 2015, which was more than the $84 million it earned in profits…in 2015 Rexnord’s board of directors authorized Adams and his team to buy back $200 million in stock. In 2016, the company bought back $40 million of its own stock. In 2020, the company …bought back another $81 million…In 2016, he (Adams) was paid $1.5 million but the following year he was paid $12 million, mostly in stock awards, and in 2018 he would earn $6 million.

But Rexnord’s stock buybacks were seen by the Fed, as a means to an end. It was OK if CEOs used debt to help engineer multimillion-dollar paydays, as long as the prosperity was eventually dispersed through the “wealth effect” (Cosmic Lie) to neighborhoods like the Feltners’…Rexnord had decided to close the ball-bearing factory and move its production to Monterrey, Mexico. (Feltner lost his job.)

By the end of 2018, the U.S. market for CLOs was about $600 billion double the level a decade earlier…The value of the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose by 77 percent between 2010 and 2016. One hedge-fund trader…described the frothy stock market of 2016 as being like the crowded deck of the the Titanic as it sank…It was getting crowded because people had nowhere better to go.

This money flowed out into the system, and it pushed all the major financial institutions to search for yield. Many wall street traders saw clearly what was happening, and they developed a nickname for it: “the everything bubble.”

By 2016, they (negative interest bonds) accounted for 29 percent of all global debt. About $7 trillion worth of bonds carried negative rates…Bond investors were so desperate to find a safe haven for their cash that they willing to pay a fee to governments like those of German and Denmark to safeguard it.

Hoenig said “You had seven years of basically zero-interest rates. Now what happens in an economic system over seven years. The entire market system develops a new equilibrium–around a zero rate. An entire economic system. Around a zero rate. Not only in the U.S. but globally. It’s massive. Now think of the adjustment process to a new equilibrium at a higher rate. Do you think it’s costless? Do you think no one will suffer? Do you think there won’t be winners and losers?”

Excess bank reserves were about 135,000 percent higher than they had been in 2008. The Fed’s balance sheet was about $4.5 trillion, about five times its level in 2007. Interest rates had been pinned at zero for nearly seven years.

In response to the 2020 Covid epidemic, congress passed the CARES act worth $2 trillion in relief funds:

People who owned businesses were given tax breaks worth $135 billion, meaning that about 43,000 people who earned more than $1 million a year each got a benefit worth $1.6 million. By and large, these billions of dollars were quietly absorbed into corporate treasuries and personal bank accounts around the county. The wildly unequal distribution of money was not made public until months later, after The Washington Post won an open-records lawsuit that made the information public.

The market hit its low point in mid-March, when the Treasury market collapsed. But between that day and middle of June–in just three months–the market’s value surged by 35 percent. By then, stocks were trading at the same value they had when restaurants, movie theaters, hotels, and cruise ships were operating at full capacity. The average monthly returns on leveraged loans were restored as early as April. By August, so many new investment-grade bonds were issued that the previous record, set in 2017, was broken.

The bailout of 2020–the largest expenditure of American public resources since WWII–solidified and entrenched an economic regime that had been quietly and steadily constructed, largely by the Federal Reserve, during the previous decade. The resources from this bailout went largely to the entities that were strengthened by the policies of ZIRP and QE. It went to large corporations that used borrowed money to buy out their competitors. It went to the very richest of Americans who owned the vast majority of assets; it went to the riskiest of financial speculators on Wall Street, who used borrowed money to build fragile positions in global markets; and it went to the very largest U.S. banks, whose bigness and inability to fail was now an article of faith.

And all of this happened at a moment when Americans were more distracted, more beleaguered, and more financially distressed than at any moment in modern history. It was difficult to even comprehend the impact of what had happened. But the impact would make itself visible in the months, years, and likely decades to come.

By the end of 2020, companies issued more than $1.9 trillion in new corporate debt, beating the previous record that was set in 2017…A zombie company was a firm that carried so much debt that its profits weren’t enough to cover its loan costs. The only thing that kept zombie companies out of bankruptcy was the ability to roll their debt perpetually. During 2020, nearly two hundred major publicly traded companies entered the ranks of the zombie army…These weren’t just marginal or risky firms, but included well-known firms like Boeing, ExxonMobil, Macy’s, and Delta Airlines.

In many important ways, the financial crash of 2008 had never ended. It was a long crash that crippled the economy for years. The problems that caused it went almost entirely unsolved. And this financial crash was compounded by a long crash in the strength of America’s democratic institutions. When America relied on the Federal Reserve to address its economic problems, it relied on a deeply flawed tool. All the Fed’s money only widened the distance between America’s winners and losers and laid the foundation for more instability. This fragile financial system was wrecked by the pandemic and in response the Fed created yet more new money, amplifying earlier distortions. The long crash of 2008 had evolved into the long crash of 2020. The bills had yet to be paid.

Christopher Leonard is also the author of Kochland

Davos – Billionaire Bubble and how to whitewash deadly greed

March 23rd, 2022

Davos Man; How the Billionaires Devoured the World, Peter S. Goodman, 2022

The Robber Barons of the late nineteenth century — industrialists like Andrew Carnegie, and financiers like J.P, Morgan — were by and large satisfied with their wealth as an end in itself. Davos Man’s appetite for affirmation operates on a different level. He is not content with owning homes the way that most people own socks. He pretends that his interests are the same as everyone else’s. He seeks gratitude for his exploits, validation as the product of a just system in which he is a guardian of the public interest, even as he devours all the sources of sustenance. He argues that his own prosperity is a precondition for broader progress, the key to vibrancy and innovation.

We will track five key specimens — Bezos, Dimon, Benioff, Schwarzman, and Fink…

They had benefited from public goods financed by taxpayers — the schools that educated their employees, the internet, developed by publicly funded research; the roads, the bridges, and the rest of modern infrastructure, which enabled commerce — and then deployed their lobbyists, accountants, and lawyers to master legal forms of tax evasion that starved the system.
They had transferred wealth from the public to themselves by rewriting the tax code in their favor, leaving government too weak to protect the population from the pandemic. And now they were deploying their resulting resources in the service of charity while demanding adulation.

In 2014, its first year on the market, Sovaldi racked up sales of $10.3 billion. But its price was so high that state governments — which covered much of the bill for Medicaid patients — were prescribing it only for the most serious cases. Roughly seven hundred thousand Medicaid patients suffered from hepatitis C, but less than 3 percent were able to obtain the drug.
The next year, Gilead sold nearly $14 billion worth of another hepatitis C drug, Harvoni, which had a price tag of $94,500, for a twelve week course.
These two blockbusters largely explained how Gilead was able to direct more than $26 billion into buying back its own shares between 2014 and 2016, just as needy patients were being priced out of affording its medicines. Gilead was exploiting tax loopholes to stash its lucre overseas, neatly avoiding taxes on nearly $10 billion in profits.
In January 2017, Gilead’s then CEO, John Milligan flew to Switzerland for the World Economic Forum, where he participated in a panel discussion entitled “Rebuilding Trust in the Healthcare Industry”…This setup adhered to the central Davos masquerade, in which each participant gets to pose as a concerned citizen. Rather than critically questioning people who have profited from a system that treated patients like suckers, Eisen invited her panel of pharmaceutical executives to offer counsel as those dedicated to improving the State of the World.
Mulligan, whose compensation that year exceeded $15 million, was asked about controversy over Gilead’s pricing of hepatitis drugs. He acknowledged trouble, but cast it as a messaging problem — not the result of an exploitative business model. “We didn’t deal with it well, he said. “We didn’t talk about it enough.”
This was a classic Davos Man maneuver, minimizing his role in human suffering by confessing to communications mishaps, or a misunderstanding…accepting blame for the lessor crime of poor word choices, while diverting attention from the far more serious issues of patients dying for a lack of affordable medicines.

Between 2006 and 2015, eighteen large American pharmaceutical companies distributed 99 percent of their profits to shareholders via dividends and purchases of their own shares. The $516 billion they collectively lavished on shareholders exceeded the $465 billion they dedicated to research and development.

Same as ever, Davos man was dictating the course of policy in the service of Davos Man. The result was a humanitarian tragedy in poor countries — a wave of unremitting death — along with the potential prolonging of the pandemic everywhere. So long as some countries lacked vaccines, the coronavirus was supplied a chance to yield variants that would require additional immunization. The protection of Davos Man’s profits took precedence over the saving of lives.

Reagan had begun the push to dismantle government and distribute the savings via tax cuts, turning trickle-down into the central principle of economic policy. Successive administrations representing both parties had denigrated social welfare spending and catered to the shareholder class while tolerating inequality as a by-product of prosperity. Clinton had celebrated the restorative powers of cutting budget deficits, while affirming the logic that innovation required unlimited rewards.He and Obama had centered their economic designs on finance and technology, allowing Davos Man to add zeros to his net worth. They had relegated antitrust law to the history books. George W. Bush had sacrificed government on the altar of the tax-cutting gods, further gutting social programs.
Davos man had not been some accidental beneficiary of this ideological shift. He was the driver, financing campaigns, deploying lobbyists and lawyers who promoted the Cosmic Lie (trickle-down), while demonstrating his supposed benevolence via philanthropy and pledges for stakeholder capitalism.
Trump had simply gone further than his predecessors, distributing an even larger bonanza of tax cuts that favored the billionaire class, while placing the state itself in the control of corporate interests…In words and deeds, Biden signaled that he was no threat to Davos Man, and his dominant hold on American governance.

And when the resulting anger built to cataclysmic proportions, threatening the liberal democratic order and globalization — the underpinnings of their affluence — they had conjured up novel ways to pretend to make amends, to placate the aggrieved without sacrificing anything of great value. They had erected philanthropic foundations to broadcast their benevolence. They had concocted stakeholder capitalism to display their empathy. They had adopted the language of change without yielding power to labor movements, regulators, activist shareholders, or other groups that actually had a stake in what transpired.

Davos Man would have us believe in the false binary choice at the heart of his grift — that we either accept globalization as we have known it for decades, or we throw in our lot with the Luddites operating in the thrall of backward ideas. This frame is not only false but dangerous. It invites those who have not shared in the benefits of globalization to demand its opposite — nationalism, nativism, parochialism, and ignorance. If globalization run by Davos Man gives way to the destruction of globalization, and the pursuit of tribal interests, the world will be poorer, more violent, and less able to summon the cooperation needed to solve the most complex problems, from pandemics to climate change.

The Living Planet Earth – Gaia and Solaris

February 18th, 2022

The Nutmeg’s Curse; Parables for a Planet in Crisis, Amitav Ghosh, 2021

Out of these processes of subduing and muting was born the idea of “nature” as an inert entity,a conception that would in time become a basic tenet of what might be called “official modernity”. This metaphysic, fundamentally an ideology of conquest, would eventually become hegemonic in the West, and it it now shared by the entire global elite: within its parameters the idea that a volcano can produce meaning; or that a nutmeg can be a protagonist in history, can never be anything other than a delusion or a “primitive superstition”. To envision the world in this way was a crucial step toward making an inert Nature a reality. As Ben Ehrenreich observes; “Only once we imagined the world as dead could we dedicate ourselves to making it so.”

Standing Rock Protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline – Camp became a prayer camp because its lands are a site of ancestral knowledge

Now, as humanity faces the possibility of a future in which living will indeed have turned into a battle for survival, it is becoming increasingly clear that Indigenous understandings of terraforming were, in fact, far more sophisticated than those of today’s techno-futurists.

Exhaustion is a metaphor that occurs often in science fiction stories about terraforming. Swarms of aliens go off to conquer another planet because their own is “exhausted”. It is the same presumption that impels billionaires to plan the conquest of Mars, now that the Earth is “exhausted”…what the Earth is really exhausted of is not its resources, what it has lost is meaning.

He (Tennyson) sees the ascent of his “crowning race” as coming about by the severing of every kind of earthly tie, through the overcoming of everything that links humanity to other creatures and animals. He even proposes what we might call an “end of history” or an “end of the world”…This is man’s final ascent, when all creation ends and he is united with God.

As we watch the environmental and biological disasters that are now unfolding across the Earth, it is becoming ever harder to hold onto the belief that the planet is an inert body that exists merely to provide humans with resources. Instead, the Earth’s responses are increasingly reminiscent of the imaginary planet after which the Polish science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem named his brilliant novel, Solaris: when provoked by humans, Solaris begins to strike back in utterly unexpected and uncanny ways.

James Lovelock; “Long ago the Greeks…gave to the Earth the name Gaia or, for short, Ge. In those days science and technology were one and science although less precise, had soul. As time passed this warm relationship faded and was replaced by the frigidity of schoolmen. The life sciences, no longer concerned with life, fell to classifying dead things and even to vivisection…Now at least there are signs of a change. Science becomes holistic again and rediscovers soul, and theology, moved by ecumenical forces, begins to realize that Gaia is not to be subdivided for academic convenience and that Ge is much more than a prefix.”

Other-than-human beings, forces, and entities, both manmade and earthly, could be pursuing their own ends, of which humans know nothing. Gaia, at once bountiful and monstrous, has now assumed a new avatar: Solaris.

It is this compressed time frame (the last 30 years) that has made sure that non humans too are no longer as mute as they once were. Other beings and forces–bacteria, viruses, glaciers, forests, the jet stream– have also unmuted themselves and are now thrusting themselves so urgently on our attention that they can no longer be ignored or treated as elements of an inert Earth.

So the true question then is not whether non humans can communicate and make meaning; rather we must ask: When and how did a small group of humans come to believe that other beings, including the majority of their own species, were incapable of articulation and agency? How were they able to establish the idea that non humans are mute, and without minds, as the dominant wisdom of the time?

The reason why coal powered mills began to edge out their water-powered competitors in the early nineteenth-century was not that coal was cheaper or more efficient. Water powered mills were just as productive, and far cheaper to operate than coal-fired mills. It was for social rather than technical reasons that steam-powered machines prevailed: because, for example, coal-mills allowed mill owners to locate their factories in densely crowded cities, where cheap labor was easily available. “The steam engine” writes Malm,”was a superior medium for extracting surplus wealth from the working class, because, unlike the waterwheel, it could be put virtually anywhere”…In short, steam, and thus coal won out over water precisely because it empowered the dominant classes and was better suited to their favored regime of property.

The role that fossil fuels play in war making is another, monstrously vital, aspect of their enmeshment with structures of power and forms of violence…Today the Pentagon is the single largest consumer of energy in the United States–and probably in the world…A single non-nuclear aircraft carrier consumes 5,621 gallons of fuel per hour; in other words, these vessels burn up as much fuel in one day as a small midwestern town might use in a year…In the 1990s the three branches of the US military consumed approximately 25 billion tons of fuel per year. This was more than a fifth of the country’s total consumption, and “more than the total commercial energy consumption of nearly two thirds of the world’s countries.”…Indeed, the predicament of the US Department of Defense is a refraction of the quandary that now confronts the world’s status quo powers: how do you reduce your dependence on the very “resources” on which your geopolitical power is founded?

Viewed from this perspective, climate change is but one aspect of a much broader planetary crisis: it is not the prime, cause of dislocation, but rather a cognate phenomenon. In this sense climate change, mass dislocations, pollution, environmental degradation, political breakdown, and the Covid-19 pandemic are all cognate effects of the ever increasing acceleration of the last three decades. Not only are all these crises interlinked–they are all deeply routed in history, and they are all ultimately driven by the dynamics of global power.

Just as the Lakota, repeatedly displaced by wars and the rising of dammed waters, were herded into ever shrinking reservations, so too are the refugees of today’s geopolitical wars being forced into zones of containment in North Africa, the Sahara, Mexico, Central America, and islands like Nauru. They too are casualties in a conflict that is not recognizable as war, in the sense defined by Western legal theorists. Yet the parallels with the biopolitical wars of the past are perfectly clear to many indigenous peoples–thus the title of Nick Este’s powerful account of the environmental struggles of the Lakota and their kin Our History is the Future.

Since the adoption in 1989 of the Washington Consensus, the ideologies and practices of settler colonialism have been actively promoted, in their neoliberal guise, by the world’s most powerful countries, and have come to be almost universally adopted by national and global elites. It is those settler-colonial practices that are now being implemented by China, in Xinjiang; by Indonesia in Papua; and by India,in Kashmir and in many of its foreign regions.

And surely it is no accident that today there exists a technology of last resort that many believe will ultimately work in favor of the neo-Europes: geo-engineering. As novel as it may seem, geoengineering is nothing other than terraforming carried literally into the stratosphere; it should by rights be called “strato-forming”. Today some of the richest and most powerful people, and institutions, in the West are openly promoting geo-engineering. Their enthusiasm makes it impossible to forget that “from the mid-eighteenth century onward, modern science explicitly supported empire, defining strategies for colonization.”

This is the great burden that now rests upon the writers, artists, filmmakers, and everyone else who is involved in the telling of stories: to us falls the task of imaginatively restoring agency and voice to non humans. As with all the most important artistic endeavors in human history, this is a task that is at once aesthetic and political–and because of the magnitude of the crisis that besets the planet, it is now freighted with the most pressing moral urgency.

Pope Francis; “A true ecological approach always becomes a social approach, it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.”

Shattering the Mythical basis of Anthropology and Archeology – Imagining Alternate Futures and Recovering our Freedom

February 8th, 2022

The Dawn of Everything; A New History of Humanity, David Graeber & David Wengrow, 2021

Father Lallemant:”From the beginning of the world to the coming of the French, the Savages have never known what it was so solemnly to forbid anything to their people, under any penalty, however slight. They are free people, each of whom considers himself of as much consequence as the others; and they submit to their chiefs only in as far as it pleases them.”

The democratic governance of the Wendat and Five Nations of the Haudenosaunee, which so impressed later European readers, was an expression of the same principal; if no compulsion was allowed, then obviously such social coherence as did exist had to be created through reasoned debate, persuasive arguments, and the establishment of social consensus.

An impoverished French aristocrat known as Lahonstan recorded his conversions with a Wendat statesman named Kandiaronk; “In short, they neither quarrel, nor fight, nor slander one another…They brand us for slaves, and call us miserable souls, whose life is not worth having, alleging that we degrade ourselves in subjecting ourselves to one man [the king] who possesses all the power, and is bound by no law but his own will.”

If human beings, through most of our history, have moved back and forth fluidly between different social arrangements, assembling and dismantling hierarchies on a regular basis, maybe the real question should be ‘how did we get stuck?’. How did we end up on one single mode? How did we lose that political self-consciousness, once so typical of our species? How did we come to treat eminence and subservience not as temporary expedients, or even the pomp and circumstance of some kind of grand seasonal theatre, but as inescapable elements of the human condition? If we started out just playing games, at what point did we forget that we were playing?

As indigenous legal scholars have been pointing out for years, the ‘Agriculture Argument’ makes no sense, even on its own terms. There are many ways, other than European style farming, in which to care for and improve the productivity of land. What to a settler’s eye seemed savage, untouched wilderness usually turns out to be landscapes actively managed by indigenous populations for thousands of years through controlled burning, weeding, coppicing, fertilizing and pruning, terracing estuarine plots to extend the habitat of particular wild flora, building clam gardens in intertidal zones to enhance the reproduction of shellfish, creating weirs to catch salmon, bass, and sturgeon, and so on. Such procedures were often labour intensive, and regulated by indigenous laws governing who could access groves, swamps, root beds, grasslands and fishing grounds, and who was entitled to exploit what species at any given time of year.

In fact land ownership illustrates perfectly what Rudolf von Ihering called the state’s monopoly of violence within a territory — just within a much smaller territory than a nation state.

Just as access to violence, information, and charisma defines the very possibilities of social domination, so the modern state is defined as a combination of sovereignty, bureaucracy and a competitive political field.

…in all parts of the world small communities formed civilizations in that true sense of extended moral communities. Without permanent kings, bureaucrats or standing armies they fostered the growth of mathematical and calendrical knowledge. In some regions they pioneered metallurgy, the cultivation of olives, vines and date palms, or the invention of leavened bread and wheat beer; in others they domesticated maize and learned to extract poisons, medicines and mind-altering substances from plants. Civilization, in this true sense, developed the major textile technologies applied to fabrics and basketry, the potter’s wheel, stone industries and beadwork, the sail and maritime navigation, and so on. A moments reflection shows that women, their work, their concerns and innovations are at the core of this more accurate understanding of civilization.

It was precisely this combination of such conflicting ideological possibilities — and of course, the Iroquoian penchant for prolonged political argument — that lay behind what we have called the indigenous critique of European society. It would be impossible to understand the origins of its particular emphasis on individual liberty, for instance, outside that context. Those ideas about liberty had a profound impact on the world. In other words, not only did indigenous North Americans manage almost entirely to sidestep the evolutionary trap that we assume must always lead, eventually, from agriculture to the rise of some all-powerful state or empire; but in doing so they developed political sensibilities that were ultimately to have a deep influence on Enlightenment thinkers and, through them, are still with us today.

We started out by observing that to inquire after the origins of inequality necessarily means creating a myth, a fall from grace, a technological transposition of the first chapters of the Book of Genesis — which, in most contemporary versions, takes the form of a mythical narrative stripped of any prospect of redemption. In these accounts, the best we humans can hope for is some modest tinkering with our inherently squalid condition — and hopefully, dramatic action to prevent any looming, absolute disaster. The only other theory on offer to date has been to assume that there were no origins of inequality, because humans are naturally somewhat thuggish creatures and our beginnings were a miserable, violent affair; in which case ‘progress’ or ‘civilization’ — driven forward largely, by our own selfish and competitive nature — was itself redemptive. This view is extremely popular among billionaires but holds little appeal to any else, including scientists, who are keenly aware that it isn’t in accord with the facts…The more rosy, optimistic narrative — whereby the progress of Western civilization inevitably makes everyone happier, wealthier and more secure — has at least one obvious disadvantage. It fails to explain why that civilization did not simply spread of its own accord; that is, why European powers should have been obliged to spend the last 500 or so years aiming guns at people’s heads in order to force them to adopt it.

…innovation in Neolithic societies was based on a collective body of knowledge accumulated over centuries, largely by women, in an endless series of apparently humble but in fact enormously significant discoveries. Many of those Neolithic discoveries had the cumulative effect of reshaping everyday life every bit as profoundly as the automatic loom or lightbulb.

Over the course of these chapters we have instead talked about the basic forms of social liberty which one might actually put into practice; (1) the freedom to move away or relocate from one’s surroundings; (2) the freedom to ignore or disobey commands issued by others; and (3) the freedom to shape entirely new social realities, or shift back and forth between different ones…It is clear that something about human societies really has changed here, and quite profoundly. These three basic freedoms have gradually receded, to the point where a majority of people living today can hardly comprehend what it might be like to live in a social order based on them.

There is nothing particularly primordial about such arrangements (murder of entire populations); certainly there is no reason to believe they are in any sense hardwired into the human psyche. On the contrary, it’s almost invariably necessary to employ some combination of ritual, drugs and psychological techniques to convince people, even adolescent males, to kill and injure each other in such systematic yet indiscriminate ways.

Time and again we found ourselves confronted with writing which simply assumes that the larger and more densely populated the social group, the more complex the system needed to keep it organized. Complexity in turn, is still often used as a euphemism for chains of command, which means that as soon as large numbers of people decided to live in one place or join a common project they must necessarily abandon the second freedom — to refuse orders–and replace it with legal mechanisms for, say, beating or locking up those who don’t do as they’re told. As we’ve seen, none of these assumptions are theoretically essential, and history tends not to bear them out…complex systems don’t have to be organized top-down, either in the natural world or in the social world.

What is the purpose of all this new knowledge, if not to reshape our conceptions of who we are and what we might become? if not, in other words, to rediscover the meaning of our third basic freedom: the freedom to create new and different forms of social reality?…We know, now, that we are in the presence of myths.