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Political Journal, Feb. 14-16

A Quiet Weekend of Authoritarianism

by NORMAN POLLACK

America tilts ever-Rightward, the quotidian political reality, no breaks or surprises. My journal entries are New York Times Comments, observations (jumping-off places for triggering wider discussion) which punctuate and record the concreteness of systemic descent, the non-sensational preferred as indicators of societal direction. Thus, on the 14th, we find Comcast attempting the takeover of Time Warner Cable, seemingly the nitty-gritty suited to the financial page when actually, beyond signifying trends toward further economic concentration per se (the foundation of national power in all its forms), substantially magnifies the social-control dimensions of the business system, itself allied to the National Security State, both of which are essential to the advanced stage of capitalism. Size alone seems the focus of attention, when, increasingly, American ideology is becoming more rigid, and American thought more constrained and narrow, readily subject to external manipulation and the management of news content.

Critical thinking and awareness recede, fed on a steady diet of intellectual pap so necessary to sustaining global intervention, market-and-investment penetration, a dedication to permanent war, in the context of equally permanent counterrevolution. Here Comcast may not be the enemy at the gates, merely the messenger of an unrestrained capitalist structural process for ensuring acquiescence in all things having corporate profit as societal priority number one. In addition, cable television as a political sedative isn’t to be taken lightly. The Great Homogenizer of ideas, the diversion from meaningless striving, it supports a culture which is bereft of moral-social obligation and enforces a collective self-castration, especially of and by working people, ensuring an intact class system.

Throughout the negotiations, we see, as usual, a feckless FCC, illustrating not only deregulation at the core of government policy-making, but also the shrinkage of the sources of dissemination, and thereby strengthening the hold of business on the American mind. Antitrust is deader than the dodo. The Obama administration likes it that way, each of the cabinet departments fairly tripping over themselves in conferring favors on the Vested Interests. Think, for example, Interior granting oil leases on public lands, State, running interference for Trans-Canada on the Keystone XL project, and of course DOD for enriching defense contractors at every turn. To forbid the Comcast takeover would be like burning the American Flag. Next to war, monopolization is the highest Good. My NYT Comment on the editorial, “If a Cable Grant Becomes Bigger,” also the 14th, follows:

The Comcast acquisition of Time Warner Cable fits perfectly the US pattern of increasing monopolization wherever one turns, regulation per se a farce and in this case doubly so, given how close Cohen and Roberts are to the Obama administration. The revolving door, clearly operant in the careers of the FCC “regulators,” negates regulation. FCC is par for the course, intended to protect consolidation from public/consumer opposition, which itself is becoming nonexistent. We sat on our hands when Clinton-Rubin-Summers savaged Glass-Steagall, but even there one could trace back nearly a century wherein antitrust was dead in all but rhetoric.

Americans are habituated to acquiesce in all m & a activities, the bigger the better, and the same holds for government favoritism to major vested interests, as in the bank bailouts; so here again the charade, as the deal works to completion. Roberts and his golfing partner Obama, Cohen and his visits to the White House–all chummy, as the wheels within wheels grind on, to the detriment, even within capitalism, of textbook competition and the merit of the product. Comcast happens to be in the limelight, but in reality it represents the entire business system, with other firms in other sectors waiting in the wings to foster the process of wealth concentration and its corollary, the widening class-differentiation in the social structure of wealth, income, and power.

Economic democracy, anyone?

Parallel to the deregulation and monopolization of business, we have a disparagement and degradation of labor. Paul Krugman, “Inequality, Dignity and Freedom,” (Feb. 14), ostensibly rushing to the support of labor in the face of Republican charges (esp. Cantor, Ryan) that workers will work fewer hours or just loaf under the Affordable Care Act, assured of health benefits for less than full-time employment, makes matters worse by accepting the status quo of existing gross income disparities when defending the Act and the American worker. With friends like Krugman, working people do not need enemies! Paul Ryan charges that not to work full-time undermines the dignity of labor; Krugman counters that the dignity of labor can best be served with the social safety net, but then freezes it within a framework which makes a mockery of working people’s dignity itself through a highly unequal structure of power which includes wealth-concentration as perhaps greater than in any period of US history, along with a hostile climate for labor organization and a safety net ever diminishing in effectiveness, as in the case of ACA, which is a disgrace to comprehensive health care).

Labor dignity stands in contradiction to the existing structure of wealth and power; because Republicans are so punitive does not excuse Democrats from pursuing societal democratization, an impossible goal when the party leadership helps to emasculate the safety net through delivering on the huge budgetary allocation to the military. Krugman sees only Republican obstructionism, never Democratic affinity for the mammoth defense budget, deregulation, intervention, nuclear modernization, acceptance of NSA, CIA, and JSOC missions which each in turn signifies militarism trumping democracy—more than affinity a heart-and-soul pressing for the National Security State that solidifies class-differences and denies the dignity of labor and of the laborer, both treated as commodities directly or indirectly contributing to the war machine. My NYT Comment on Krugman’s article, same date, follows:

A true liberal analysis, societal myopia at its best. Krugman queries: “So what would give working Americans more dignity in their lives, despite huge income disparities?” No matter what entitlements are forthcoming, “huge income disparities” wholly invalidate democracy. Krugman keeps the fundamental framework of class-differentiation in wealth, income, and power INTACT, and then, within that framework, introduces the dignity of labor. Wealth consolidation at the top, but be nice to working Americans, unlike Cantor, Ryan, and those nasty Republicans.

In truth, Obama, a Democrat, is presiding over the largest wealth inequality in American history, and as for Krugman’s defense of ACA, how even begin to square it with the dignity of labor? Democrats share equal responsibility with Republicans in creating a society where “dignity of labor” is a public-relations obfuscation for perpetuating hardship, unemployment, foreclosure, even signs of widespread homelessness–as meanwhile the wealth-concentration process continues unabated (and with Obama’s approval).

Then, too, we see surveillance, interconnected with monopolization and the disparagement of labor, not simply because of the simultaneous occurrence of all three, but because America’s ruling groups, which now includes a significant military presence in their composition and sense of purpose, is tightening the reins in the conservation of their power. Surveillance to this extent has not been seen before in America and implies the fear of losing political-economic-social-ideological ground within the polity, as well as the possible decline of capitalism as a world system and US dominance within and the power to define what remains. Surveillance smacks of fascism, however you cut it, but also the psychopathology of desperation in holding back social forces of change.

One facet of surveillance is its global reach, in particular the eavesdropping on Merkel of Germany has brought American-German relations to a new postwar low. Roger Cohen’s article in The Times, “An Ally Offended,” Feb. 14th, describes their deterioration, floundering on the rock of mistrust in light of the US assault on the privacy right, which, for Merkel, raises still larger questions about America’s hegemonic claims. In sum, this practice exposes the US’s drive toward global stabilization to its own advantage and on its own terms. Germany is not playing ball, sending Obama into controlled anger because he cannot have his way. Merkel’s denial of his appearance at the Brandenburg Gate (calling the speech an act of hubris) epitomizes the wakening of those pushed around by American military and trade policy. My NYT Comment on Cohen’s article, same date, follows:

When Merkel can say she misses George W., you know the current situation is bad. Obama is a disaster for international comity, more interventionist, destabilizing, heavy-handed than all of his predecessors (including Reagan) in the postwar world. Surveillance, stupid as well as unconscionable. Pacific-first, as well as acrimony with Putin and Russia, suggests the advent of a New Cold War, this time enlarged to include China as well as Russia. And Nuland’s use of the “f” word is so typical of US foreign policy, ranging over the world with drone assassinations, CIA-JSOC paramilitary operations, and now, the falling out with Karzai. I wish the Nobel Committee would rescind the Peace Prize, or at least apologize to the world for its flagrant error.

Unlike much of EU policy-making, Germany is showing the courage to question US policies, including that of tilting Ukraine to Europe. The word “hubristic” was mentioned; actually, harsher terms are in order, beginning with ego-maniacal, characterizing both Obama and America’s strident concept and application of Exceptionalism. Merkel is doing what Hollande should be doing, standing up to a bully.

And two days later, Feb. 16th, we learn, based on Snowden’s revelations, that NSA’s foreign spying is also a cover for economic espionage, counterterrorism a front for advancing the interests of US capitalism–here collaborating with its Australian counterpart on surveillance of Indonesian economic competition. How low can NSA stoop, dragging patriotism into the mud of market activities, in this case, the export of clove cigarettes and shrimp to our shores! This is surely opera bouffe, were it not so serious in showing the lengths to which USG will go in protecting business and the rank opportunism of NSA, enlisting other intelligence agencies in the service of capitalist profits. James Risen and Laura Poitras broke the story in their Times article, “Spying by Ally of N.S.A. Entangled a U.S. Law Firm,” in which a prestigious law firm representing Indonesian interests finds that its lawyer-client privileged communications were blasted open—perhaps finally alerting the legal community that it too can be the victim of the abrogation of civil liberties.

The Australian Signals Directorate initiated the spying on trade disputes involving these products, which meant monitoring the conversations at Mayer Brown as well as the Indonesian government, and sharing fully the information gathered with NSA, whose Office of the General Counsel gave the arrangement his blessings. Any formal prohibition about spying on Americans is conveniently nullified by having partners do the surveillance—part of the rampant cynicism informing these activities. Even the sacred character of business is no longer sacred, surveillance becoming a law unto itself. My NYT Comment on the Risen-Poitras article, same date, follows:

Clove cigarettes and shrimp, terrorist monsters threatening to destroy the American Way of Life! In sum, NSA hiding behind the skirts of Counterterrorism is up to its pelvis in economic espionage. Despicable, and worse, an obvious negation of a democratic society. CIA is bad enough, but USG under Obama is becoming a Rogue State, capable of tearing apart the fabric of international relations. Peace Prize, HA. On all fronts the US is veering sharply to the Right, but NSA truly takes the cake, a categorical despoiler of civil liberties.

To what end? Can America afford to show its face in the world when a govt. agency verges toward fascism? Little things are revealing, here the smashing of lawyer-client privileged communication. That violation is merely the frosting on the cake of massive surveillance here and abroad.

NSA embodies precisely the cynicism and disrespect for the law that one ALSO finds in POTUS’s personal authorization of targeted assassination: Tuesday night hit-list murder, off the Situation Room.

This need not be, indeed, is not, a radical issue. Within capitalism, we see the US refusing to play by the rules of the game. We frown on insider trading, this surveillance of trade and business activities is worse still.

Instead of pleading with Obama to stop NSA practices, it is time to say, the emperor wears no clothes, is himself hand-and-glove sharing in the illegalities and the despisement of the law. Nixon looks like Pope Francis compared with him.

Finally, on the 16th, we see the attempt to rehabilitate the historical reputation of Lyndon Baines Johnson, which means, ignore, trivialize, or outright deny the existence of the Vietnam War and his role in the events. This is myth-making at its crudest, and suggests a society that cannot face the truth about itself. American cruelty was perhaps never greater, nor its whitewash more deliberate and complete. Yet festivities in Austin are cranking up for a whopping fiftieth anniversary celebration, in microcosm, a paean to American Exceptionalism in its splendid military glory. LBJ on Mt. Rushmore, if only there were more room. The argument that he was in a state of anguish and could not end the conflict does not add up. Programs of the Great Society will be trotted out to erase the memory of Vietnam (just as Bush 2 and Obama will benefit from the same memory lapse when it comes to Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as global-wide counterrevolutionary adventures), so great the powers of denial in a society geared to the doctrine and practice of permanent war. We want our heroes larger than life, even when—or perhaps especially when—they snuff out the life of others. My NYT Comment on Adam Nagourney’s flattering article on LBJ, “Rescuing a Vietnam Casualty: Johnson’s Legacy,” same date, follows:

Reconsideration? Selective interpretation is the work of apologists–historical reality cannot be compartmentalized. Vietnam vitiates the whole record and must not be excused. LBJ knowingly presided over a scorched-earth policy, villages decimated, children napalmed; worse, he used the conflict to envelop his presidency in super-patriotism, so that the domestic legislation could go through. Murder afield, reform at home. What does this say about the quality of the reform in the first place?

I was standing on the steps of Brown’s Church in Selma when the Civil Rights Act was passed. The week before the celebrity march; Jim Reeb murdered on the streets of Selma. News of the Act, among the civil-rights activists, was greeted in silence and jeering–they knew their man. How have confidence in one who presided over heinous war crimes? War liberals, JFK and LBJ alike, criss-crossed the amoral political landscape, cynically knowing that what they allegedly gained at home was directly on the backs of those they destroyed abroad, a nation’s egocentric mind-set that puts Exceptionalism in its proper light: the dynamic interconnection of murder abroad, reform at home.

On with the rehabilitation of historical reputation. Instead of “All the Way,” we should have a revival of “McBird,” although that, too, would be too generous–the domestic record is tarnished, and because of its poor start has little sustained vitality today. Not Medicare for all, just ACA and Big Pharma.

Norman Pollack has written on Populism.  His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism.