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Hedges: Stop Pretending US Is A Functioning Democracy

Hedges: Stop Pretending US Is A Functioning Democracy

Authored by Chris Hedges via Scherpost.com,

There are no institutions, including the…

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Hedges: Stop Pretending US Is A Functioning Democracy

Authored by Chris Hedges via Scherpost.com,

There are no institutions, including the press, an electoral system, the imperial presidency, the courts or the penal system, that can be defined as democratic. Only the fiction of democracy remains.

End Game. (Mr. Fish)

There is a fatal disconnect between a political system that promises democratic equality and freedom while carrying out socioeconomic injustices that result in grotesque income inequality and political stagnation.

Decades in the making, this disconnect has extinguished American democracy. The steady stripping away of economic and political power was ignored by a hyperventilating press that thundered against the barbarians at the gate — Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, the Taliban, ISIS, Vladimir Putin — while ignoring the barbarians in our midst.

The slow-motion coup is over. Corporations and the billionaire class have won. There are no institutions, including the press, an electoral system that is little more than legalized bribery, the imperial presidency, the courts or the penal system, that can be defined as democratic. Only the fiction of democracy remains.

The political philosopher Sheldon Wolin in Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism calls the U.S. system “inverted totalitarianism.” The façade of democratic institutions and the rhetoric, symbols and iconography of state power have not changed. The Constitution remains a sacred document.

Collective Self-Delusion

July 4, 2019, Washington, D.C. (Joe Lauria)

The U.S. continues to posit itself as a champion of opportunity, freedom, human rights and civil liberties, even as half the country struggles at subsistence level, militarized police gun down and imprison the poor with impunity, and the primary business of the state is war. 

This collective self-delusion masks what America has become — a nation where the citizenry has been stripped of economic and political power and where the brutal militarism practiced overseas is practiced at home.

In classical totalitarian regimes, such as Nazi Germany or Stalin’s Soviet Union, economics was subordinate to politics. But under inverted totalitarianism, the reverse is true. There is no attempt, unlike fascism and state socialism, to address the needs of the poor. Rather, the poorer and more vulnerable you are, the more you are exploited, thrust into a hellish debt peonage from which there is no escape.

Social services, from education to health care, are anemic, nonexistent or privatized to gouge the impoverished. Further ravaged by 8.5 percent inflation, wages have decelerated sharply since 1979. Jobs often do not offer benefits or security.

[You can watch an interview I conducted in 2014 with Sheldon Wolin here.]

In my book America: The Farewell Tour, I examined the social indicators of a nation in serious trouble. Life expectancy in the U.S. fell in 2021, for the second year in a row. There have been over 300 mass shootings this year. Close to a million people have died from drug overdoses since 1999. There are an average of 132 suicides every day. Nearly 42 percent of  the country is classified as obese, with one in 11 adults considered severely obese.

These diseases of despair are rooted in the disconnect between a society’s expectations of a better future and the reality of a system that does not provide a meaningful place for its citizens. Loss of a sustainable income and social stagnation causes more than financial distress.

Diseased Society

Evicted from their homes, Seattle. (Joe Lauria)

As Émile Durkheim points out in The Division of Labor in Society, it severs the social bonds that give us meaning. A decline in status and power, an inability to advance, a lack of education and adequate health care, and a loss of hope result in crippling forms of humiliation. This humiliation fuels loneliness, frustration, anger and feelings of worthlessness. 

In Hitler and the Germans, the political philosopher Eric Voegelin dismisses the idea that Hitler — gifted in oratory and political opportunism but poorly educated and vulgar — mesmerized and seduced the German people. The Germans, he writes, supported Hitler and the “grotesque, marginal figures” surrounding him because he embodied the pathologies of a diseased society, one beset by economic collapse and hopelessness.

Voegelin defines stupidity as a “loss of reality.” The loss of reality means a “stupid” person cannot “rightly orient his action in the world, in which he lives.” The demagogue, who is always an idiote, is not a freak or social mutation. The demagogue expresses the society’s zeitgeist.

The acceleration of deindustrialization by the 1970s, as I write in America, The Farewell Tour, created a crisis that forced the ruling elites to devise a new political paradigm, as Stuart Hall explains in Policing the Crisis. Trumpeted by a compliant media, this paradigm shifted its focus from the common good to race, crime and law and order.  It told those undergoing profound economic and political change that their suffering stemmed not from rampant militarism and corporate greed but from a threat to national integrity.

The old consensus that buttressed New Deal programs and the welfare state was attacked as enabling criminal Black youth, “welfare queens” and other alleged social parasites. This opened the door to a faux populism, begun by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, which supposedly championed family values, traditional morality, individual autonomy, law and order, the Christian faith and the return to a mythical past, at least for white Americans.

The Democratic Party, especially under Bill Clinton, moved steadily to the right until it became largely indistinguishable from the establishment Republican Party to which it is now allied. Donald Trump, and the 74 million people who voted for him in 2020, were the result.

Political Theater

Biden speaks in Philadelphia. (White House Photo)

It will do no good, as Biden did on Thursday in Philadelphia, to demonize Trump and his supporters in the way they demonize Biden and the Democrats. Biden, raising clenched fists, backlit by Stygian red lights and flanked by two U.S. Marines in dress uniforms, announced from his Dantesque stage set that “Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our Republic.” 

Trump called the speech the most “vicious, hateful and divisive speech ever delivered by an American president” and attacked Biden as “an enemy of the state.” 

Biden’s frontal assault widens the divide. It solidifies a system where voters do not vote for what they want, since neither side delivers anything of substance, but against what they despise. Biden did not address our socioeconomic crisis or offer solutions. It was political theater.

Anti-politics masquerades as politics. No sooner does one money-drenched election cycle end, the next one begins, perpetuating what Wolin calls “politics without politics.” These elections do not permit citizens to participate in power.

The public is allowed to voice opinions to scripted questions, which are repackaged by publicists, pollsters, political consultants and advertisers and fed back to them. Few races, including only 14 percent of congres­sional districts, are considered competitive. Politicians do not campaign on substantial issues but on skillfully manufactured political personalities and emotionally charged culture wars. 

Omnipotence 

The Pentagon. (Joe Lauria)

The militarists, who have created a state within a state and who plunge us into one military debacle after another, consuming half of all discretionary spending, are omnipotent. The corporations and billionaires, which orchestrated a virtual tax boycott and gutted regulation and oversight, are omnipotent.

The industrialists who wrote trade deals to profit from unemployment and underemployment of U.S. workers and sweatshop labor overseas are omnipotent. The insurance and pharmaceutical industries that run the healthcare system, whose primary concern is profit not health and who are responsible for 16 percent of the worldwide reported deaths from COVID-19 although we are less than 5 percent of the global population, are omnipotent.

The intelligence agencies that carry out wholesale surveillance of the public are omnipotent.

The courts that reinterpret laws to strip them of their original meaning to ensure corporate control and excuse corporate crimes, are omnipotent. The courts gave us Citizens United, for example, which permits unlimited corporate financing of elections by claiming it upholds the right to petition the government and is a form of free speech.

Spectacle

July 4, 2019, parade in Washington, D.C. (Joe Lauria)

Politics is spectacle, a tawdry carnival act where the constant jockeying for power by the ruling class dominates the news cycles, as if politics were a race to the Super Bowl. The real business of ruling is hidden, carried out by corporate lobbyists who write the legislation, banks that loot the Treasury, the war industry and an oligarchy that determines who gets elected and who does not. It is impossible to vote against the interests of Goldman Sachs, the fossil fuel industry or Raytheon, no matter which party is in office.

The moment any segment of the population, left or right, refuses to participate in this illusion, the face of inverted totalitarianism resembles the face of classical totalitarianism, as Julian Assange is experiencing.

Our corporate overlords and militarists prefer the decorum of George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Joe Biden. But they worked closely with Trump and are willing to do so again.

What they will not allow are reformers such as Bernie Sanders, who might challenge, however tepidly, their obscene accumulation of wealth and power. This inability to reform, to restore democratic participation and address social inequality, means the inevitable death of the republic.

Biden and the Democrats rail against the cultish Republican Party and their threat to democracy, but they too are the problem.

*  *  *

Author’s Note to Readers: There is now no way left for me to continue to write a weekly column for ScheerPost and produce my weekly television show without your help. The walls are closing in, with startling rapidity, on independent journalism, with the elites, including the Democratic Party elites, clamoring for more and more censorship. Bob Scheer, who runs ScheerPost on a shoestring budget, and I will not waiver in our commitment to independent and honest journalism, and we will never put ScheerPost behind a paywall, charge a subscription for it, sell your data or accept advertising. Please, if you can, sign up at chrishedges.substack.com so I can continue to post my Monday column on ScheerPost and produce my weekly television show, “The Chris Hedges Report.”

This column is from Scheerpostfor which Chris Hedges writes a regular columnClick here to sign up for email alerts.

Tyler Durden Wed, 09/07/2022 - 22:05

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Global Wages Take A Hit As Inflation Eats Into Paychecks

Global Wages Take A Hit As Inflation Eats Into Paychecks

The global inflation crisis paired with lackluster economic growth and an outlook…

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Global Wages Take A Hit As Inflation Eats Into Paychecks

The global inflation crisis paired with lackluster economic growth and an outlook clouded by uncertainties have led to a decline in real wages around the world, a new report published by the International Labour Organization (ILO) has found.

As Statista's Felix Richter reports, according to the 2022-23 Global Wage Report, global real monthly wages fell 0.9 percent this year on average, marking the first decline in real earnings at a global scale in the 21st century.

You will find more infographics at Statista

The multiple global crises we are facing have led to a decline in real wages.

"It has placed tens of millions of workers in a dire situation as they face increasing uncertainties,” ILO Director-General Gilbert F. Houngbo said in a statement, adding that “income inequality and poverty will rise if the purchasing power of the lowest paid is not maintained.”

While inflation rose faster in high-income countries, leading to above-average real wage declines in North America (minus 3.2 percent) and the European Union (minus 2.4 percent), the ILO finds that low-income earners are disproportionately affected by rising inflation. As lower-wage earners spend a larger share of their disposable income on essential goods and services, which generally see greater price increases than non-essential items, those who can least afford it suffer the biggest cost-of-living impact of rising prices.

“We must place particular attention to workers at the middle and lower end of the pay scale,” Rosalia Vazquez-Alvarez, one of the report’s authors said.

“Fighting against the deterioration of real wages can help maintain economic growth, which in turn can help to recover the employment levels observed before the pandemic. This can be an effective way to lessen the probability or depth of recessions in all countries and regions,” she said.

Tyler Durden Mon, 12/05/2022 - 20:00

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Unprecedented Liquidations Lead To Historic Collapse In Investors’ Oil Exposure

Unprecedented Liquidations Lead To Historic Collapse In Investors’ Oil Exposure

By John Kemp, senior market analyst

Portfolio investors sold…

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Unprecedented Liquidations Lead To Historic Collapse In Investors' Oil Exposure

By John Kemp, senior market analyst

Portfolio investors sold petroleum heavily for the third week running as fears about disruption to crude oil flows from the price cap on Russia’s exports receded.

Hedge funds and other money managers sold the equivalent of 42 million barrels in the six most important oil-related futures and options contracts over the seven days ending on Nov. 29.

Sales over the three most recent weeks totalled 190 million barrels, more than reversing the 169 million barrels purchased over the previous six weeks in October and early November. As Bloomberg adds, money managers have trimmed positioning in Nymex crude for three weeks in a row. A breakdown of the data show the drop in positions is mostly from money managers cutting long exposure, rather than an abrupt short-covering.

In the latest week, sales were again concentrated in crude (-40 million barrels), especially Brent (-39 million), with only insignificant changes in other contracts.

Brent is the contract with the most direct exposure to the crude exports from Russia subject to the price cap announced by the United States, the European Union and their allies on Dec. 2.

Fund managers cut their net position in Brent to just 99 million barrels (6th percentile for all weeks since 2013) last week from 238 million barrels (50th percentile) on Nov. 8.

Bullish long positions outnumbered bearish short ones in Brent by a ratio of just 2.17:1 (11th percentile), down from 6.74:1 in late October (76th percentile).

The long-short ratio is the lowest for two years since November 2020, before the first successful coronavirus vaccines were announced a few weeks later.

Fears the price cap would reduce global crude supplies appear to have prompted a wave of buying in both physical and paper markets throughout late September and early October.

Precautionary buying drove front-month Brent futures up to a high of almost $99 per barrel on Nov. 4 from just $84 on Sept. 26. It also helped keep the futures market in a steep six-month backwardation.

But as it became clear the cap would be set at a relatively high level, with a relaxed approach to enforcement, this buying has reversed, causing prices and spreads to fall sharply.

With the risk from the price cap removed, for now investors’ attention has returned to the weak outlook for the economy and oil consumption in 2023.

Tyler Durden Mon, 12/05/2022 - 14:21

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The Gall Of Lockdowners Who Support China’s Anti-Lockdown Protests

The Gall Of Lockdowners Who Support China’s Anti-Lockdown Protests

Authored by Michael Senger via ‘The New Normal’ Substack,

If the intent…

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The Gall Of Lockdowners Who Support China's Anti-Lockdown Protests

Authored by Michael Senger via 'The New Normal' Substack,

If the intent was to get western elites to simultaneously support totalitarianism in their own countries while pretending to oppose it in China, then Xi Jinping has certainly made his point...

Across the political spectrum, voices have risen up in support of the Chinese people who’ve launched protests of unprecedented scale against the Chinese Communist Party’s indefinite Covid lockdown measures.

As well they should. Even by Chinese standards, the lockdowns that Xi Jinping pioneered with the onset of Covid are horrific in terms of their scale, their duration, their depravity, and the new totalitarian surveillance measures to which they’ve led. Anyone who participates in a protest in China runs a risk of being subject to cruel and arbitrary punishment. For ordinary Chinese people to brave that risk in defiance of this new form of inhuman medical tyranny is an act of courage worthy of admiration.

There are notable exceptions to the otherwise widespread support the protesters have received. Apple has been silent about the protests, and had the gall to limit the protesters’ use of a communication service called AirDrop in compliance with the CCP’s demands, even as it threatens to remove Twitter from its app store over Elon Musk’s free speech policy. This comes even after Apple has long ignored requests by FCC officials to remove the Chinese-owned app TikTok from its app store over unprecedented national security concerns. So Apple complies with requests by the Chinese government, but not the United States government. Let that sink in…

Apple is, unfortunately, far from alone in its CCP apologism. Anthony Fauci told CNN that China’s totalitarian lockdowns would be fully justified so long as the purpose was to “get all the people vaccinated.”

This kind of apologism for the CCP’s grisly bastardization of “public health” is horrific, especially coming from the man most widely seen as the leader of America’s response to Covid.

But what may be even more galling than this apologism is the widespread support China’s anti-lockdown protesters have received even among those who demonized anti-lockdown protesters in their home countries and wished their lockdowns were more like China’s.

In 2020, the New York Times denounced anti-lockdown protesters as “Anti-Vaxxers, Anticapitalists, Neo-Nazis” and urged the United States to be more like China.

But in 2022, the New York Times admired the bravery of China’s anti-lockdown protesters fighting Xi Jinping’s “unbending approach to the pandemic” that has “hurt businesses and strangled growth.”

In 2020, CNN published an open letter from “over 1,000 health professionals” denouncing anti-lockdown protests as “rooted in white nationalism” while admiring “China’s Covid success compared to Europe.”

But in 2022, CNN admired China’s anti-lockdown protesters as “young people” who “cry for freedom”

In 2020, the Washington Post denounced anti-lockdown protesters as “angry” populists who “deeply distrust elites,” and wished the United States was more like China.

But in 2022, the Washington Post celebrated global “demonstrations of solidarity” with China’s anti-lockdown protests.

In 2020, the New Yorker denounced anti-lockdown protesters as “militias against masks” while marveling at how “China controlled the coronavirus.”

But in 2022, the New Yorker admired the protesters standing up to Xi Jinping.

Earlier this year, Amnesty International issued a statement of concern about Canada’s anti-lockdown Freedom Convoy protests being affiliated with “overtly racist, white supremacist groups,” even as Justin Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act to crush the protests.

But now, Amnesty International has issued a statement urging the Chinese government not to detain peaceful protesters.

These headlines are, of course, in addition to the hundreds of other commentators, influencers, and health officials, such as NYT journalist Zeynep Tufekci, who used their platforms in 2020 to urge for lockdowns that were even stricter than those their governments imposed, but now join in support for those in China protesting the same policies they were urging their own countries to emulate.

Etymologically, Zeynep’s latter comment makes no sense. Lockdowns had no history in western public health policy and weren’t part of any democratic country’s pandemic plan prior to Xi Jinping’s lockdown of Wuhan in 2020. Though some countries, such as Italy, imposed lockdowns shortly before the United States, their officials too had simply taken the policy from China. Thus, because no other precedent existed, any call for a “real lockdown” or a “full lockdown” in spring 2020 was inherently a call for a Chinese-style lockdown.

Though by “full lockdown” Zeynep may have intended somewhere in between the strictness of lockdowns in the United States and China, there was no way for any reader to know what that medium was; it existed only in her own head. Thus, the reader is left only with a call for a “full lockdown,” and the only example of a “successful” “full lockdown” that then existed was a full Chinese lockdown.

Zeynep’s latter comment further illustrates the efficacy of what was arguably some of the CCP’s most effective lockdown propaganda in early 2020: The ridiculous viral videos of CCP cadres “welding doors shut” so poor Wuhan residents couldn’t escape.

CCP apologists have argued that these videos prove the CCP was not trying to influence the international response to Covid, because they make the CCP look so bad. But on the contrary, the over-the-top inhumanity of the idea of welding residents’ doors shut was precisely the purpose of this propaganda campaign. The idea had to be so absurd that no decent government would ever actually try it. It thus gave the CCP and its apologists an infinite excuse for why lockdowns “worked” in China and nowhere else—because only China had ever had a “real lockdown” in which residents were welded into their homes.

When those with a decent knowledge of geopolitics or a bit of common sense see a graph like this, which looks nothing like that of any other country in the world, from a regime with a long history of faking its data on virtually every topic, the conclusion is obvious: China’s results are fraudulent. But to simple minds, a weld is a strong, durable bond capable of incredible feats, from supporting skyscrapers to spaceships. Surely, if a weld can do all that, then it must be able to stop a ubiquitous respiratory virus?

The entire concept is, of course, utterly asinine. You cannot stop a respiratory virus by indefinitely suspending everyone’s rights. But this idea that lockdowns had worked in China because the CCP had gone so far as to weld people into their homes was invoked over and over again during Covid, creating a limitless “No-True-Scotsman” out for lockdown apologists as to why lockdowns weren’t “working” anywhere except China. Whether COVID-19 cases went up, down, or sideways, the solution would always be the same: “Be more like China.”

The use of this darkly humorous propaganda campaign of welding residents into their homes speaks to two key points as to how Xi Jinping and CCP hawks like him view China’s relationship with the west. The first is that westerners will never respect the CCP; thus, you can make westerners believe anything so long as it confirms westerners’ prior belief that the CCP is barbaric.

Second, Xi Jinping sees the concepts of democracy and human rights as mere propaganda that western elites use to further their own self-interest. So long as they approve of a policy, then it’s not a human rights violation, but if they oppose it, then it is. It remains to be seen whether the response to Covid will, in the long run, ultimately advance Xi’s goal of making the world China. But insofar as the intent was to get western elites to simultaneously support totalitarianism in their own countries while pretending to oppose it in China, then he’s certainly made his point.

*  *  *

Michael P Senger is an attorney and author of Snake Oil: How Xi Jinping Shut Down the World. Want to support my work? Get the book

Tyler Durden Mon, 12/05/2022 - 15:53

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