Monday, April 30, 2012


Fast & Furious Gun Scandal: Is This the Obama Administration's Greatest Cover-Up?

Published on Apr 26, 2012 by Pajamasmedia

Author and journalist Katie Pavlich talks to Glenn Reynolds about the Fast and Furious firearms scandal that resulted in the murder of a Border Patrol agent. Pavlich's research shows that the ATF put guns in the hands of criminals, but never planned to track these weapons. Was the Obama Administration using Fast and Furious to undermine the Second Amendment? Find out.


AlterNet / By Mela Heestand

UC Davis Students and Faculty Face Prison Time for Peaceful Protest Against Bank

The pepper spraying of UC Davis students shocked the nation, but the persecution that the Davis Dozen protesters face is far worse.

April 27, 2012 | The pepper-spraying of University of California Davis protesters on November 18, 2011 promised to be a galvanizing moment for the student movement after University Police Lieutenant John Pike used military grade pepper spray at point blank range on seated protesters who had peacefully assembled to demonstrate against tuition hikes at UC Davis.  The world took notice. Not only did the Lieutenant Pike pepper-spray “meme” spread like wildfire on Facebook and Twitter, major news outlets gave the event coverage, to varying degrees of depth and understanding.

But it seems that the University administration has successfully evaded scrutiny of the role it played in a series of events that began in January at UC Davis when 12 protesters, some of whom had been pepper-sprayed in November, staged another peaceful sit-in at the campus branch of US Bank.  The sit-in was an important political action in defense of public funding of the University and against the replacement of that funding by private contracts with corporations.  The protestors won an enormous victory when US Bank closed it University branch on February 28, possibly breaking its agreement with UC Davis.

Banks have no place on University campuses for many reasons. Part of the function of the contract UC Davis had with US Bank allowed the administration’s continued shift of funding of the University from public to private sources. This is particularly problematic when the private source of funding is a corporate bank, because banks make money from rising tuition costs, in the form of interest from student loans.  In other words: university contracts with banks encourage tuition hikes, because banks stand to profit directly from rising tuition, while the administration comes to rely on funding from bank contracts.

This is a part of a vicious cycle that is destroying the public character of the UC system — and costing thousands of dollars to students in increased tuition and long-term debt every year.  Just six years ago, tuition at the University of California was $5,357. Tuition is currently $12,192. According to current proposals, it will be $22,068 by 2015-2016, amounting to a 312% increase in just 10 years. These tuition hikes increasingly force more and more students out of higher education altogether and put untenable financial burdens on those who must take out crippling loans and work extra jobs for an education that is now public in name only.

The protestors’ success in this fight against the privatization agenda of the University should be cause for celebration; however, on March 29, nearly a month after the bank pulled out of UC Davis, the 11 students and 1 professor involved in the sit-in received orders to appear at Yolo County Superior Court.  At the request of the UC Davis administration, District Attorney Jeff Reisig is charging the so-called Davis Dozen with 20 counts each of obstructing movement in a public place, and one count of conspiracy.  If convicted, the protesters could each face up to 11 years each in prison, and $1 million in damages.  The UC Davis administration is sending a clear message to protesters: dissent will not be tolerated.  And those who do protest will face a violence much more pernicious than pepper-spraying at the hands of Lieutenant Pike. 

Unfortunately, this time around there is no graphic youtube video that could potentially go viral and capture the psychological and financial stress the protesters are under as they face the possibility of having to leave school and, even worse, say goodbye to friends, family, partners and children as they go off to serve time in the California penal system.  There is no video to elicit gasps of horror at the threat of a lifetime of financial ruin that the protesters face.  There is no video to show the unremitting repression of their democratic right to freedom of assembly and political protest.  

There is no video to capture the machinations of the UC Davis administration, under the direction of Chancellor Linda Katehi, who appears to be seeking retribution for the pending ACLU lawsuit against the university for the pepper spray incident.  Whereas no charges were filed against the protestors after the pepper spray incident, the District Attorney is now quite willing to prosecute the 12 demonstrators charged with “obstructing movement in a public place”.

Obstructing movement in a public place? That sounds a whole lot like an ad hoc law designed to silence dissent. And what better time for the UC Davis Administration to subject protesters to an absurd version of the law than when nobody is watching?  If the world were watching, surely we would ask why these peaceful protesters could be sentenced to 11 years in prison, which, for the sake of comparison, is the maximum penalty for voluntary manslaughter in the state of California.  It bears repeating: students and faculty who put their educations, careers, families as well as their own bodies on the line to defend the accessibility of public education for all, now stand to serve the same sentence as a felon who has killed another human being.  

The pepper spraying of UC Davis students shocked the nation, but the persecution that the Davis Dozen protesters face is far worse.  It is life-altering for them.

 We cannot allow the story of the Davis Dozen to fall through the cracks, even though it might not strike a chord as immediately visceral as the now infamous video of Lieutenant Pike attacking students with a chemical agent. Let us reflect on the tragic irony that the state funding that should be allocated to aiding the intellectual growth and development of the 11 students involved in the sit-in might be funneled towards their incarceration. The modest salary that is paid to a professor, committed enough to advocate for public education might be replaced by state money to keep this highly gifted professional locked up.

And indeed, if we look at where the state money paid by the people of California for services to foster the common good, we can plainly see that this scenario is a sinister microcosm.  In 2011, the UC and CSU systems account for $5.6 billion of state funding, while the prisons are receiving $9.6 billion dollars from the state.  The state spends about $50,000 per inmate each year.  We cannot look the other way and allow the boot of the penal system to fall on these protesters, while corrupt University administrators secure the way to enrich the 1% on California’s dime with impunity and at the expense of public education.  We must immediately demand that all charges be dropped against the Davis Dozen.

Their petition:

How to Help on Davis Dozen website:

Mela Heestand is a graduate student in Comparative Literature at University of California Davis. She is currently living in the Boston area where she is involved in grass-roots organizing.

Sunday, April 29, 2012



"Politics Is at the Root of the Problem"

About the Author 

Joseph Stiglitz won the Nobel Prize in economics in 2001 for his work on information asymmetry in financial markets. Stiglitz served as senior economist at the World Bank and, from 1993 until 1997, as economic adviser to President Clinton. In 2009, he co-founded the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET). He teaches at Columbia University.

Friday, April 27, 2012


THURSDAY, APRIL 26, 2012                                                                                       Permalink

CISPA Critics Warn Cybersecurity Bill Will Increase Domestic Surveillance and Violate Privacy Rights

As it heads toward a House vote, critics say the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) would allow private internet companies like Google, Facebook and Microsoft to hand over troves of confidential customer records and communications to the National Security Agency, FBI and Department of Homeland Security, effectively legalizing a secret domestic surveillance program already run by the NSA. Backers say the measure is needed to help private firms crackdown on foreign entities — including the Chinese and Russian governments — committing online economic espionage. The bill has faced widespread opposition from online privacy advocates and even the Obama administration, which has threatened a veto. "CISPA … will create an exception to all existing privacy laws so that companies can share very sensitive and personal information directly with the government, including military agencies like the National Security Agency," says Michelle Richardson, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. "Once the government has it, they can repurpose it and use it for a number of things, including an undefined national security use." [ORIGINAL includes rush transcript] 


Michelle Richardson, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. 

Targeted Hacker Jacob Appelbaum on CISPA, Surveillance and the "Militarization of Cyberspace"

Computer security researcher Jacob Appelbaum argues the measures included in the proposed Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) would essentially legalize military surveillance of U.S. citizens. "When they want to dramatically expand their ability to do these things in a so-called legal manner, it’s important to note what they’re trying to do is to legalize what they have already been doing," Appelbaum says. He is a developer and advocate for the Tor Project, a network enabling its users to communicate anonymously on the internet, and has volunteered with WikiLeaks. [ORIGINAL includes rush transcript]


Jacob Appelbaum, computer security researcher who has volunteered with WikiLeaks. He is a developer and advocate for the Tor Project, a system enabling its users to communicate anonymously on the internet. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012


Trials Without Crimes Or Evidence

April 25, 2012 | Original here

A fish rots from the head

Andy Worthington is a superb reporter who has specialized in providing the facts of the US government’s illegal abuse of “detainees,” against whom no evidence exists. ( ) In an effort to create evidence, the US government has illegally resorted to torture. Torture produces false confessions, plea bargains, and false testimony against others in order to escape further torture.

For these reasons, in Anglo-American law self-incrimination secured through torture has been impermissible evidence for centuries. So also has been secret evidence withheld from the accused and his attorney. Secret evidence cannot be confronted. Secret evidence is distrusted as made-up in order to convict the innocent. The evidence is secret because it cannot stand the light of day.

The US government relies on secret evidence in its cases against alleged terrorists, claiming that national security would be threatened if the evidence were revealed. This is abject nonsense. It is an absurd claim that presenting evidence against a terrorist jeopardizes the national security of the United States.

To the contrary, not presenting evidence jeopardizes the security of each and every one of us. Once the government can convict defendants on the basis of secret evidence, even the concept of a fair trial will disappear. Fair trials are already history, but the concept lingers.

Secret evidence murders the concept of a fair trial. It murders justice and the rule of law. Secret evidence means anyone can be convicted of anything. As in Kafka’s The Trial,
people will cease to know the crimes for which they are being tried and convicted.

This extraordinary development in Anglo-American law, a development demanded by the unaccountable Bush/Obama Regime, has not resulted in impeachment proceedings; nor has it caused an uproar from Congress, the federal courts, the presstitute media, law schools, constitutional scholars, and bar associations.

Having bought the government’s 9/11 conspiracy theory, Americans just want someone to pay. They don’t care who as long as someone pays. To accommodate this desire, the government has produced some “high value detainees” with Arab or Muslim names.

But instead of bringing these alleged malefactors to trial and presenting evidence against them, the government has kept them in torture dungeons for years trying to create through the application of pain and psychological breakdown guilt by self-incrimination in order to create a case against them.

The government has been unsuccessful and has nothing that it can bring to a real court. So the Bush/Obama Regime created and recreated “military tribunals” to lend “national security” credence to the absolute need that non-existent evidence be kept secret.

Andy Worthington in his numerous reports does a good job in providing the history of the detainees and their treatment. He deserves our commendation and support. But what I want to do is to ask some questions, not of Worthington, but about the idea that the US is under terrorist threat.

By this September, 9/11 will be eleven years ago. Yet despite the War on Terror, the loss of Americans’ privacy and civil liberties, an expenditure of trillions of dollars on numerous wars, violations of US and international laws against torture, and so forth, no one has been held accountable. Neither the perpetrators nor those whom the perpetrators outwitted, assuming that they are different people, have been held accountable. Going on 11 years and no trials of villains or chastisement of negligent public officials. This is remarkable.

The government’s account of 9/11 implies massive failure of all US security and intelligence agencies along with those of our NATO puppets and Israel’s Mossad.

The government’s official line also implies the failure of the National Security Council, NORAD and the US Air Force, Air Traffic Control, Airport Security four times in one hour on the same morning. It implies the failure of the President, the Vice President, the National Security Adviser, the Secretary of Defense.

Many on the left and also libertarians find this apparent failure of the centralized and oppressive government so hopeful that they cling to the official “government failure” explanation of 9/11. However, such massive failure is simply unbelievable. How in the world could the US have survived the cold war with the Soviets if the US government were so totally incompetent?

If we attribute superhero powers to the 19 alleged hijackers, powers in excess of V’s in V for Vendetta or James Bond’s or Captain Marvel’s, and assume that these young terrorists, primarily Saudi Arabians, outwitted Dick Cheney, Condi Rice, The Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Tony Blair, along with the CIA, FBI, MI5 and MI6, Mossad, etc., one would have expected for the President, Congress, and the media to call for heads to roll. No more humiliating affront has ever been suffered by a major power than the US suffered on 9/11. Yet, absolutely no one, not even some lowly traffic controller, was scapegoated and held accountable for what is considered to be the most extraordinarily successful terrorist attack in human history, an attack so successful that it implies total negligence across the totality of the US government and that of all its allies.

This just doesn’t smell right. Total failure and no accountability. The most expensively funded security apparatus the world has ever known defeated by a handful of Saudi Arabians. How can anyone in the CIA, FBI, NSA, NORAD, and National Security Council hold up their heads? What a disgraced bunch of jerks and incompetents.

What do we need them for?

Consider the alleged hijackers. Despite allegedly being caught off guard by the 9/11 attacks, the FBI was soon able to identify the 19 hijackers despite the fact that apparently none of the alleged hijackers’ names are on the passenger lists of the airliners that they allegedly hijacked.

How did 19 passengers get on airplanes in the US without being on the passenger lists?
I do not personally know if the alleged hijackers were on the four airliners. Moreover, defenders of the official 9/11 story claim that the passenger lists released to the public were “victims lists,” not passenger lists, because the names of the hijackers were withheld and only released some four years later after 9/11 researchers had had years in which to confuse victims lists with passenger lists. This seems an odd explanation. Why encourage public misinformation for years by withholding the passenger lists and issuing victims lists in their place? It cannot have been to keep the hijackers’ names a secret as the FBI released a list of the hijackers several days after 9/11. Even more puzzling, if the hijackers’ names were on the airline passenger lists, why did it take the FBI several days to confirm the names and numbers of hijackers?

Researchers have found contradictions in the FBI’s accounts of the passenger lists with the FBI adding and subtracting names from its various lists and some names being misspelled, indicating possibly that the FBI doesn’t really know who the person is. The authenticity of the passenger lists that were finally released in 2005 is contested, and the list apparently was not presented as evidence by the FBI in the Moussaoui trial in 2006. David Ray Griffin has extensively researched the 9/11 story. In one of his books, 9/11 Ten Years Later, Griffin writes: “Although the FBI claimed that it had received flight manifests from the airlines by the morning of 9/11, the ‘manifests’ that appeared in 2005 had names that were not known to the FBI until a day or more after 9/11. These 2005 ‘manifests,’ therefore, could not have been the original manifests for the four 9/11 flights.”

The airlines themselves have not been forthcoming. We are left with the mystery of why simple and straightforward evidence, such as a list of passengers, was withheld for years and mired in secrecy and controversy.

We have the additional problem that the BBC and subsequently other news organizations established that 6 or 7 of the alleged hijackers on the FBI’s list are alive and well and have never been part of any terrorist plot.

These points are not even a beginning of the voluminous reasons that the government’s 9/11 story looks very thin.

But the American public, being throughly plugged into the Matrix, are not suspicious of the government’s thin story. Instead, they are suspicious of the facts and of those experts who are suspicious of the government’s story. Architects, engineers, scientists, first responders, pilots, and former public officials who raise objections to the official story are written off as conspiracy theorists. Why does an ignorant American public think it knows more than experts? Why do Americans believe a government that told them the intentional lie that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction despite the fact that the weapons inspectors reported to President Bush that Hussein had no such weapons? And now we see the same thing all over again with the alleged, but non-existent, Iranian nukes.

As Frantz Fanon wrote, the power of cognitive dissonance is extreme. It keeps people comfortable and safe from threatening information. Most Americans find the government’s lies preferable to the truth. They don’t want to be unplugged from the Matrix. The truth is too uncomfortable for emotionally and mentally weak Americans.

Worthington focuses on the harm being done to detainees. They have been abused for much of their lives. Their innocence or guilt cannot be established because the evidence is compromised by torture, self-incrimination, and coerced testimony against others. They stand convicted by the government’s accusation alone. These are real wrongs, and Worthington is correct to emphasize them.

In contrast, my focus is on the harm to America, on the harm to truth and truth’s power, on the harm to the rule of law and accountability to the people of the government and its agencies, on the harm to the moral fabric of the US government and to liberty in the United States.

As the adage goes, a fish rots from the head. As the government rots, so does the United States of America. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


1 in 2 new graduates are jobless or underemployed

Published: Monday, Apr. 23, 2012 - 1:24 am

The college class of 2012 is in for a rude welcome to the world of work.
A weak labor market already has left half of young college graduates either jobless or underemployed in positions that don't fully use their skills and knowledge.

Young adults with bachelor's degrees are increasingly scraping by in lower-wage jobs - waiter or waitress, bartender, retail clerk or receptionist, for example - and that's confounding their hopes a degree would pay off despite higher tuition and mounting student loans.

An analysis of government data conducted for The Associated Press lays bare the highly uneven prospects for holders of bachelor's degrees.
Opportunities for college graduates vary widely.

While there's strong demand in science, education and health fields, arts and humanities flounder. Median wages for those with bachelor's degrees are down from 2000, hit by technological changes that are eliminating midlevel jobs such as bank tellers. Most future job openings are projected to be in lower-skilled positions such as home health aides, who can provide personalized attention as the U.S. population ages.

Taking underemployment into consideration, the job prospects for bachelor's degree holders fell last year to the lowest level in more than a decade.

"I don't even know what I'm looking for," says Michael Bledsoe, who described months of fruitless job searches as he served customers at a Seattle coffeehouse. The 23-year-old graduated in 2010 with a creative writing degree.

Initially hopeful that his college education would create opportunities, Bledsoe languished for three months before finally taking a job as a barista, a position he has held for the last two years. In the beginning he sent three or four resumes day. But, Bledsoe said, employers questioned his lack of experience or the practical worth of his major. Now he sends a resume once every two weeks or so.

Bledsoe, currently making just above minimum wage, says he got financial help from his parents to help pay off student loans. He is now mulling whether to go to graduate school, seeing few other options to advance his career. "There is not much out there, it seems," he said.

His situation highlights a widening but little-discussed labor problem. Perhaps more than ever, the choices that young adults make earlier in life - level of schooling, academic field and training, where to attend college, how to pay for it - are having long-lasting financial impact.

"You can make more money on average if you go to college, but it's not true for everybody," says Harvard economist Richard Freeman, noting the growing risk of a debt bubble with total U.S. student loan debt surpassing $1 trillion. "If you're not sure what you're going to be doing, it probably bodes well to take some job, if you can get one, and get a sense first of what you want from college."

Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University who analyzed the numbers, said many people with a bachelor's degree face a double whammy of rising tuition and poor job outcomes. "Simply put, we're failing kids coming out of college," he said, emphasizing that when it comes to jobs, a college major can make all the difference. "We're going to need a lot better job growth and connections to the labor market, otherwise college debt will grow."

By region, the Mountain West was most likely to have young college graduates jobless or underemployed - roughly 3 in 5. It was followed by the more rural southeastern U.S., including Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee. The Pacific region, including Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington, also was high on the list.

On the other end of the scale, the southern U.S., anchored by Texas, was most likely to have young college graduates in higher-skill jobs.

The figures are based on an analysis of 2011 Current Population Survey data by Northeastern University researchers and supplemented with material from Paul Harrington, an economist at Drexel University, and the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington think tank. They rely on Labor Department assessments of the level of education required to do the job in 900-plus U.S. occupations, which were used to calculate the shares of young adults with bachelor's degrees who were "underemployed."

About 1.5 million, or 53.6 percent, of bachelor's degree-holders under the age of 25 last year were jobless or underemployed, the highest share in at least 11 years. In 2000, the share was at a low of 41 percent, before the dot-com bust erased job gains for college graduates in the telecommunications and IT fields.

Out of the 1.5 million who languished in the job market, about half were underemployed, an increase from the previous year.

Broken down by occupation, young college graduates were heavily represented in jobs that require a high school diploma or less.

In the last year, they were more likely to be employed as waiters, waitresses, bartenders and food-service helpers than as engineers, physicists, chemists and mathematicians combined (100,000 versus 90,000). There were more working in office-related jobs such as receptionist or payroll clerk than in all computer professional jobs (163,000 versus 100,000). More also were employed as cashiers, retail clerks and customer representatives than engineers (125,000 versus 80,000).

According to government projections released last month, only three of the 30 occupations with the largest projected number of job openings by 2020 will require a bachelor's degree or higher to fill the position - teachers, college professors and accountants. Most job openings are in professions such as retail sales, fast food and truck driving, jobs which aren't easily replaced by computers.

College graduates who majored in zoology, anthropology, philosophy, art history and humanities were among the least likely to find jobs appropriate to their education level; those with nursing, teaching, accounting or computer science degrees were among the most likely.

In Nevada, where unemployment is the highest in the nation, Class of 2012 college seniors recently expressed feelings ranging from anxiety and fear to cautious optimism about what lies ahead.

With the state's economy languishing in an extended housing bust, a lot of young graduates have shown up at job placement centers in tears. Many have been squeezed out of jobs by more experienced workers, job counselors said, and are now having to explain to prospective employers the time gaps in their resumes.

"It's kind of scary," said Cameron Bawden, 22, who is graduating from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas in December with a business degree. His family has warned him for years about the job market, so he has been building his resume by working part time on the Las Vegas Strip as a food runner and doing a marketing internship with a local airline.

Bawden said his friends who have graduated are either unemployed or working along the Vegas Strip in service jobs that don't require degrees. "There are so few jobs and it's a small city," he said. "It's all about who you know."

Any job gains are going mostly to workers at the top and bottom of the wage scale, at the expense of middle-income jobs commonly held by bachelor's degree holders. By some studies, up to 95 percent of positions lost during the economic recovery occurred in middle-income occupations such as bank tellers, the type of job not expected to return in a more high-tech age.

David Neumark, an economist at the University of California-Irvine, said a bachelor's degree can have benefits that aren't fully reflected in the government's labor data. He said even for lower-skilled jobs such as waitress or cashier, employers tend to value bachelor's degree-holders more highly than high-school graduates, paying them more for the same work and offering promotions.

In addition, U.S. workers increasingly may need to consider their position in a global economy, where they must compete with educated foreign-born residents for jobs. Longer-term government projections also may fail to consider "degree inflation," a growing ubiquity of bachelor's degrees that could make them more commonplace in lower-wage jobs but inadequate for higher-wage ones.

That future may be now for Kelman Edwards Jr., 24, of Murfreesboro, Tenn., who is waiting to see the returns on his college education.

After earning a biology degree last May, the only job he could find was as a construction worker for five months before he quit to focus on finding a job in his academic field. He applied for positions in laboratories but was told they were looking for people with specialized certifications.

"I thought that me having a biology degree was a gold ticket for me getting into places, but every other job wants you to have previous history in the field," he said. Edwards, who has about $5,500 in student debt, recently met with a career counselor at Middle Tennessee State University. The counselor's main advice: Pursue further education.

"Everyone is always telling you, 'Go to college,'" Edwards said. "But when you graduate, it's kind of an empty cliff." 

Read more here:

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


 theREALnews                                                                               Permalink

April 18, 2012

Inequality and Instability 

James K. Galbraith presents his study of the world economy just before the great crisis

More at The Real News

April 19, 2012

Inequality and Instability - Part 2 

James K. Galbraith: The Bush years - Growth demanded new markets among debtors who previously had not qualified for mortgages

More at The Real News

April 20, 2012

Inequality and Instability - Part 3 

James K. Galbraith on link between inequality and instability: Societies that are more egalitarian are more stable

More at The Real News

April 22, 2012

Inequality and Instability - Part 4 

James K. Galbraith on his study of the world economy just before the great crisis

More at The Real News


James K. Galbraith teaches economics at the University of Texas where he is a Senior Scholar of the Levy Economics Institute and the Chair of the Board of Economists for Peace and Security. The son of renowned economist, the late, John Kenneth Galbraith, he writes a column called "Econoclast" for Mother Jones, and occasional commentary in many other publications, including The Texas Observer, The American Prospect, and The Nation. He is an occasional commentator for Public Radio International's Marketplace.He directs the University of Texas Inequality Project, an informal research group based at the LBJ School.

How Liberty Was Lost

When did things begin going wrong in America?

“From the beginning,” answer some. English colonists, themselves under the thumb of a king, exterminated American Indians and stole their lands, as did late 18th and 19th century Americans. Over the course of three centuries the native inhabitants of America were dispossessed, just as Israelis have been driving Palestinians off their lands since 1948.

Demonization always plays a role. The Indians were savages and the Palestinians are terrorists. Any country that can control the explanation can get away with evil.

I agree that there is a lot of evil in every country and civilization. In the struggle between good and evil, religion has at times been on the side of evil. However, the notion of moral progress cannot so easily be thrown out.

Consider, for example, slavery. In the 1800s, slavery still existed in countries that proclaimed equal rights. Even free women did not have equal rights. Today no Western country would openly tolerate the ownership of humans or the transfer of a woman’s property upon her marriage to her husband.

It is true that Western governments have ownership rights in the labor of their citizens through the income tax. This remains as a mitigated form of serfdom. So far, however, no government has claimed the right of ownership over the person himself.

Sometimes I hear from readers that my efforts are pointless, that elites are always dominant and that the only solution is to find one’s way into the small, connected clique of elites either through marriage or service to their interests.

This might sound like cynical advice, but it is not devoid of some truth. Indeed, it is the way Washington and New York work, and increasingly the way the entire country operates.

Washington serves powerful private interests, not the public interest. University faculties in their research increasingly serve private interests and decreasingly serve truth. In the US the media is no longer a voice and protection for the people. It is becoming increasingly impossible in America to get a good job without being connected to the system that serves the elites.

The problem I have with this “give up” attitude is that over the course of my life, and more broadly over the course of the 20th century, many positive changes occurred through reforms. It is impossible to have reforms without good will, so even the elites who accepted reforms that limited their powers were part of the moral progress.

Labor unions became a countervailing power to corporate management and Wall Street.
Working conditions were reformed. Civil rights were extended. People excluded by the system were brought into it. Anyone who grew up in the 20th century can add his own examples.

Progress was slow–unduly so from a reformer’s standpoint–and mistakes were made. Nevertheless, whether done properly or improperly there was a commitment to the expansion of civil liberty.

This commitment ended suddenly on September 11, 2001. In eleven years the Bush/Obama Regime repealed 800 years of human achievements that established law as a shield of the people and, instead, converted law into a weapon in the hands of the government. Today Americans and citizens of other countries can, on the will of the US executive branch alone, be confined to torture dungeons for the duration of their lives with no due process or evidence presented to any court, or they can be shot down in the streets or exterminated by drone missiles.

The power that the US government asserts over its subjects and also over the citizens of other countries is unlimited. Lenin described unlimited power as power “resting directly on force, not limited by anything, not restricted by any laws, nor any absolute rules.”

Washington claims that it is the indispensable government representing the exceptional people and thereby has the right to impose its will and “justice” on the rest of the world and that resistance to Washington constitutes terrorism to be exterminated by any possible means.

Thus, the American neoconservatives speak of nuking Iran for insisting on its independence from American hegemony and exercising its rights to nuclear energy under the non-proliferation treaty to which Iran is a signatory.

In other words, Washington’s will prevails over international treaties that have the force of law, treaties which Washington itself imposed on the world. According to the neoconservatives and Washington, Iran is not protected by the legal contract that Iran made with Washington when Iran signed the non-proliferation treaty.

Iran finds itself as just another 17th or 18th century American Indian tribe to be deprived of its rights and to be exterminated by the forces of evil that dominate Washington, D.C.

The vast majority of “superpower” americans plugged into the Matrix, where they are happy with the disinformation pumped into their brains by Washington and its presstitute media, would demur rather than face my facts.

This raises the question: how does one become unplugged and unplug others from the Matrix? Readers have asked, and I do not have a complete answer.

It seems to happen in a number of ways. Being fired and forced to train your H-1B foreign replacement who works for lower pay, being convicted of a crime that you did not commit, having your children stolen from you by Child Protective Services because bruises from sports activities were alleged to be signs of child abuse, your home stolen from you because a mortgage based on fraud was given the force of law, laid off by “free market capitalism” as your age advanced and the premium of your employer-provided medical insurance increased, being harassed by Homeland Security on your re-entry to the US because you are a non-embedded journalist who reports truthfully on US behavior abroad. There are many instances of Americans being jolted into reality by the “freedom and democracy” scales falling away from their eyes.

It is possible that becoming unplugged from the Matrix is a gradual lifelong experience for the few who pay attention. The longer they live, the more they notice that reality contradicts the government’s and media’s explanations. The few who can remember important stuff after watching reality shows and their favorite sports teams and fantasy movies gradually realize that there is no “new economy” to take the place of the manufacturing economy that was given away to foreign countries. Once unemployed from their “dirty fingernail jobs,” they learn that there is no “new economy” to employ them.

Still seething from the loss of the Vietnam War and anger at war protesters, some flag-waving patriots are slowly realizing the consequences of criminalizing dissent and the exercise of First Amendment rights. “You are with us or against us” is taking on threatening instead of reassuring connotations, implying that anyone who opens his or her mouth in any dissent is thereby transformed into an “enemy of the state.”

More Americans, but far from enough, are coming to the realization that the extermination of the Branch Davidians at Waco in 1993 was a test run to confirm that the public and Congress would accept the murder of civilians who had been demonized with false charges of child abuse and gun-running.

The next test was the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995. Whose explanation would prevail: the government’s or that of experts? Air Force General Partin, a top expert on explosives, proved conclusively in a heavily documented report given to every member of Congress that the Murruh Federal Office Building blew up from the inside out, not from the outside in from the fertilizer car bomb. But General Partin’s facts lost out to the government’s propaganda and to Congress’ avoidance of cognitive dissonance.

Once the “national security” government learned that its pronouncements and those of the presstitute media carried more weight than the facts presented by experts, conspiracies such as Operation Northwoods could be put into play. A 9/11 became possible.

The Pentagon, CIA, and military/security complex were desperate for a new enemy to replace the “Soviet threat,” which had ceased to exist. The military/security complex and its servants in Congress were determined to replace the profits made from the cold war and to preserve and increase the powers accumulated in the Pentagon and CIA. The only possible replacement for the Soviet threat was “Muslim terrorists.” Thus, the creation of the “al Qaeda threat” and the conflation of this new threat with secular Arab governments, such as Iraq’s and Syria’s, which were the real targets of Islamists.

Despite the evidence provided by experts that secular Arab governments, such as Saddam Hussein’s, were allies against Islamic extremism, the US government used propaganda to link the secular Iraq government with Iraq’s enemies among Islamic revolutionaries.

Once Washington confirmed that the American public was both too ignorant and too inattentive to pay any attention to events that would alter their lives and jeopardize their existence, every thing else followed: the PATRIOT Act, the suspension of the Constitution and destruction of civil liberty, Homeland Security which has quickly extended its gestapo reach from airports to train stations, bus terminals and highway road blocks, the criminalization of dissent, the equating of critics of the government with supporters of terrorism, the home invasions of antiwar protesters and their arraignment before a grand jury, the prosecution of whistleblowers who reveal government crimes, the equating of journalism organizations such as WikiLeaks with spies. The list goes on.

The collapse of truth in the US and in its puppet states is a major challenge to my view that truth and good will are powers that can prevail over evil. It is possible that my perception that moral progress has occurred in various periods of Western civilization reflects a progressive unplugging from the Matrix. What I remember as reforms might be events experienced through the rose colored glasses of the Matrix.

But I think not. Reason is an important part of human existence. Some are capable of it. Imagination and creativity can escape chains. Good can withstand evil. The extraordinary film, The Matrix, affirmed that people could be unplugged. I believe that even americans can be unplugged. If I give up this belief, I will cease writing.

Sunday, April 22, 2012


Blogger's Note: It might seem ironic that a liberal like me could find such information in a magazine called The American Conservative. Indeed, it was very unlikely that I would have stumbled on this essay were it not for Republican Paul Craig Roberts urging the readers of his April 19th blog post to read the original article by Ron Unz, from which he had culled much of his material (I re-posted PCR's article to my blog on April 20th) . The common denominator is that PCR, Ron Unz, and I are scholars who regard that knowledge of the objective truth is the key to making sound policy decisions (where disagreements between traditional liberals and conservatives are small potatoes by comparison with what's happening now). George Orwell best summarized what we all are currently faced with: “In a time of universal deceit - telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

Which superpower is more threatened by its “extractive elites”?  

By Ron Unz | April 18, 2012

The rise of China surely ranks among the most important world developments of the last 100 years. With America still trapped in its fifth year of economic hardship, and the Chinese economy poised to surpass our own before the end of this decade, China looms very large on the horizon. We are living in the early years of what journalists once dubbed “The Pacific Century,” yet there are worrisome signs it may instead become known as “The Chinese Century.”

But does the Chinese giant have feet of clay? In a recently published book, Why Nations Fail, economists Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson characterize China’s ruling elites as “extractive”—parasitic and corrupt—and predict that Chinese economic growth will soon falter and decline, while America’s “inclusive” governing institutions have taken us from strength to strength. They argue that a country governed as a one-party state, without the free media or checks and balances of our own democratic system, cannot long prosper in the modern world. The glowing tributes this book has received from a vast array of America’s most prominent public intellectuals, including six Nobel laureates in economics, testifies to the widespread popularity of this optimistic message.

Yet do the facts about China and America really warrant this conclusion?

China Shakes the World

By the late 1970s, three decades of Communist central planning had managed to increase China’s production at a respectable rate, but with tremendous fits and starts, and often at a terrible cost: 35 million or more Chinese had starved to death during the disastrous 1959–1961 famine caused by Mao’s forced industrialization policy of the Great Leap Forward.

China’s population had also grown very rapidly during this period, so the typical standard of living had improved only slightly, perhaps 2 percent per year between 1958 and 1978, and this from an extremely low base. Adjusted for purchasing power, most Chinese in 1980 had an income 60–70 percent below that of the citizens in other major Third World countries such as Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Kenya, none of which were considered great economic success stories. In those days, even Haitians were far wealthier than Chinese.

All this began to change very rapidly once Deng Xiaoping initiated his free-market reforms in 1978, first throughout the countryside and eventually in the smaller industrial enterprises of the coastal provinces. By 1985, The Economist ran a cover story praising China’s 700,000,000 peasants for having doubled their agricultural production in just seven years, an achievement almost unprecedented in world history. Meanwhile, China’s newly adopted one-child policy, despite its considerable unpopularity, had sharply reduced population growth rates in a country possessing relatively little arable land.

A combination of slowing population growth and rapidly accelerating economic output has obvious implications for national prosperity. During the three decades to 2010, China achieved perhaps the most rapid sustained rate of economic development in the history of the human species, with its real economy growing almost 40-fold between 1978 and 2010. In 1978, America’s economy was 15 times larger, but according to most international estimates, China is now set to surpass America’s total economic output within just another few years.

Furthermore, the vast majority of China’s newly created economic wealth has flowed to ordinary Chinese workers, who have moved from oxen and bicycles to the verge of automobiles in just a single generation. While median American incomes have been stagnant for almost forty years, those in China have nearly doubled every decade, with the real wages of workers outside the farm-sector rising about 150 percent over the last ten years alone. The Chinese of 1980 were desperately poor compared to Pakistanis, Nigerians, or Kenyans; but today, they are several times wealthier, representing more than a tenfold shift in relative income.

A World Bank report recently highlighted the huge drop in global poverty rates from 1980 to 2008, but critics noted that over 100 percent of that decline came from China alone: the number of Chinese living in dire poverty fell by a remarkable 662 million, while the impoverished population in the rest of the world actually rose by 13 million. And although India is often paired with China in the Western media, a large fraction of Indians have actually grown poorer over time. The bottom half of India’s still rapidly growing population has seen its daily caloric intake steadily decline for the last 30 years, with half of all children under five now being malnourished.

China’s economic progress is especially impressive when matched against historical parallels. Between 1870 and 1900, America enjoyed unprecedented industrial expansion, such that even Karl Marx and his followers began to doubt that a Communist revolution would be necessary or even possible in a country whose people were achieving such widely shared prosperity through capitalistic expansion. During those 30 years America’s real per capita income grew by 100 percent. But over the last 30 years, real per capita income in China has grown by more than 1,300 percent.

Over the last decade alone, China quadrupled its industrial output, which is now comparable to that of the U.S. In the crucial sector of automobiles, China raised its production ninefold, from 2 million cars in 2000 to 18 million in 2010, a figure now greater than the combined totals for America and Japan. China accounted for fully 85 percent of the total world increase in auto manufacturing during that decade.

It is true that many of China’s highest-tech exports are more apparent than real. Nearly all Apple’s iPhones and iPads come from China, but this is largely due to the use of cheap Chinese labor for final assembly, with just 4 percent of the value added in those world-leading items being Chinese. This distorts Chinese trade statistics, leading to unnecessary friction. However, some high-tech China exports are indeed fully Chinese, notably those of Huawei, which now ranks alongside Sweden’s Ericsson as one of the world’s two leading telecommunications manufacturers, while once powerful North American competitors such Lucent-Alcatel and Nortel have fallen into steep decline or even bankruptcy. And although America originally pioneered the Human Genome Project, the Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI) today probably stands as the world leader in that enormously important emerging scientific field.

China’s recent rise should hardly surprise us. For most of the last 3,000 years, China together with the Mediterranean world and its adjoining European peninsula have constituted the two greatest world centers of technological and economic progress. During the 13th century, Marco Polo traveled from his native Venice to the Chinese Empire and described the latter as vastly wealthier and more advanced than any European country. As late as the 18th century, many leading European philosophers such as Voltaire often looked to Chinese society as an intellectual exemplar, while both the British and the Prussians used the Chinese mandarinate as their model for establishing a meritocratic civil service based on competitive examinations.

Even a century ago, near the nadir of China’s later weakness and decay, some of America’s foremost public intellectuals, such as Edward A. Ross and Lothrop Stoddard, boldly predicted the forthcoming restoration of the Chinese nation to global influence, the former with equanimity and the latter with serious concern. Indeed, Stoddard argued that only three major inventions effectively separated the world of classical antiquity from that of 18th-century Europe—gunpowder, the mariner’s compass, and the printing press. All three seem to have first appeared in China, though for various social, political, and ideological reasons, none were properly implemented.

Does China’s rise necessarily imply America’s decline? Not at all: human economic progress is not a zero-sum game. Under the right circumstances, the rapid development of one large country should tend to improve living standards for the rest of the world.

This is most obvious for those nations whose economic strengths directly complement those of a growing China. Massive industrial expansion clearly requires a similar increase in raw-material consumption, and China is now the world’s largest producer and user of electricity, concrete, steel, and many other basic materials, with its iron-ore imports surging by a factor of ten between 2000 and 2011. This has driven huge increases in the costs of most commodities; for example, copper’s world price rose more than eightfold during the last decade. As a direct consequence, these years have generally been very good ones for the economies of countries that heavily rely upon the export of natural resources—Australia, Russia, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, and parts of Africa.

Meanwhile, as China’s growth gradually doubles total world industrial production, the resulting “China price” reduces the cost of manufactured goods, making them much more easily affordable to everyone, and thereby greatly increases the global standard of living. While this process may negatively impact those particular industries and countries directly competing with China, it provides enormous opportunities as well, not merely to the aforementioned raw-material suppliers but also to countries like Germany, whose advanced equipment and machine tools have found a huge Chinese market, thereby helping to reduce German unemployment to the lowest level in 20 years.

And as ordinary Chinese grow wealthier, they provide a larger market as well for the goods and services of leading Western companies, ranging from fast-food chains to consumer products to luxury goods. Chinese workers not only assemble Apple’s iPhones and iPads, but are also very eager to purchase them, and China has now become that company’s second largest market, with nearly all of the extravagant profit margins flowing back to its American owners and employees. In 2011 General Motors sold more cars in China than in the U.S., and that rapidly growing market became a crucial factor in the survival of an iconic American corporation. China has become the third largest market in the world for McDonald’s, and the main driver of global profits for the American parent company of Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and KFC.

Social Costs of a Rapid Rise

Transforming a country in little more than a single generation from a land of nearly a billion peasants to one of nearly a billion city-dwellers is no easy task, and such a breakneck pace of industrial and economic development inevitably leads to substantial social costs. Chinese urban pollution is among the worst in the world, and traffic is rapidly heading toward that same point. China now contains the second largest number of billionaires after America, together with more than a million dollar-millionaires, and although many of these individuals came by their fortunes honestly, many others did not. Official corruption is a leading source of popular resentment against the various levels of Chinese government, ranging from local village councils to the highest officials in Beijing.

But we must maintain a proper sense of proportion. As someone who grew up in Los Angeles when it still had the most notorious smog in America, I recognize that such trends can be reversed with time and money, and indeed the Chinese government has expressed intense interest in the emerging technology of non-polluting electric cars. Rapidly growing national wealth can be deployed to solve many problems.

Similarly, plutocrats who grow rich through friends in high places or even outright corruption are easier to tolerate when a rising tide is rapidly lifting all boats. Ordinary Chinese workers have increased their real income by well over 1,000 percent in recent decades, while the corresponding figure for most American workers has been close to zero. If typical American wages were doubling every decade, there would be far less anger in our own society directed against the “One Percent.” Indeed, under the standard GINI index used to measure wealth inequality, China’s score is not particularly high, being roughly the same as that of the United States, though certainly indicating greater inequality than most of the social democracies of Western Europe.

Many American pundits and politicians still focus their attention on the tragic Tiananmen Square incident of 1989, during which hundreds of determined Chinese protesters were massacred by government troops. But although that event loomed very large at the time, in hindsight it generated merely a blip in the upward trajectory of China’s development and today seems virtually forgotten among ordinary Chinese, whose real incomes have increased several-fold in the quarter century since then.

Much of the Tiananmen protest had been driven by popular outrage at government corruption, and certainly there have been additional major scandals in recent years, often heavily splashed across the pages of America’s leading newspapers. But a closer examination paints a more nuanced picture, especially when contrasted with America’s own situation.

For example, over the last few years one of the most ambitious Chinese projects has been a plan to create the world’s largest and most advanced network of high-speed rail transport, an effort that absorbed a remarkable $200 billion of government investment. The result was the construction of over 6,000 miles of track, a total probably now greater than that of all the world’s other nations combined. Unfortunately, this project also involved considerable corruption, as was widely reported in the world media, which estimated that hundreds of millions of dollars had been misappropriated through bribery and graft. This scandal eventually led to the arrest or removal of numerous government officials, notably including China’s powerful Railways Minister.

Obviously such serious corruption would seem horrifying in a country with the pristine standards of a Sweden or a Norway. But based on the published accounts, it appears that the funds diverted amounted to perhaps as little as 0.2 percent of the total, with the remaining 99.8 percent generally spent as intended. So serious corruption notwithstanding, the project succeeded and China does indeed now possess the world’s largest and most advanced network of high-speed rail, constructed almost entirely in the last five or six years.

Meanwhile, America has no high-speed rail whatsoever, despite decades of debate and vast amounts of time and money spent on lobbying, hearings, political campaigns, planning efforts, and environmental-impact reports. China’s high-speed rail system may be far from perfect, but it actually exists, while America’s does not. Annual Chinese ridership now totals over 25 million trips per year, and although an occasional disaster—such as the 2011 crash in Weizhou, which killed 40 passengers—is tragic, it is hardly unexpected. After all, America’s aging low-speed trains are not exempt from similar calamities, as we saw in the 2008 Chatsworth crash that killed 25 in California.

For many years Western journalists regularly reported that the dismantling of China’s old Maoist system of government-guaranteed healthcare had led to serious social stresses, forcing ordinary workers to save an unreasonable fraction of their salaries to pay for medical treatment if they or their families became ill. But over the last couple of years, the government has taken major steps to reduce this problem by establishing a national healthcare insurance system whose coverage now extends to 95 percent or so of the total population, a far better ratio than is found in wealthy America and at a tiny fraction of the cost. Once again, competent leaders with access to growing national wealth can effectively solve these sorts of major social problems.

Although Chinese cities have negligible crime and are almost entirely free of the horrible slums found in many rapidly urbanizing Third World countries, housing for ordinary workers is often quite inadequate. But national concerns over rising unemployment due to the global recession gave the government a perfect opportunity late last year to announce a bold plan to construct over 35 million modern new government apartments, which would then be provided to ordinary workers on a subsidized basis.

All of this follows the pattern of Lee Kwan Yew’s mixed-development model, combining state socialism and free enterprise, which raised Singapore’s people from the desperate, abject poverty of 1945 to a standard of living now considerably higher than that of most Europeans or Americans, including a per capita GDP almost $12,000 above that of the United States. Obviously, implementing such a program for the world’s largest population and on a continental scale is far more challenging than doing so in a tiny city-state with a population of a few million and inherited British colonial institutions, but so far China has done very well in confounding its skeptics.

America’s Economic Decline

These facts do not provide much evidence for the thesis in Why Nations Fail that China’s leaders constitute a self-serving and venal “extractive” elite. Unfortunately, such indications seem far more apparent when we direct our gaze inward, toward the recent economic and social trajectory of our own country

Against the backdrop of remarkable Chinese progress, America mostly presents a very gloomy picture. Certainly America’s top engineers and entrepreneurs have created many of the world’s most important technologies, sometimes becoming enormously wealthy in the process. But these economic successes are not typical nor have their benefits been widely distributed. Over the last 40 years, a large majority of American workers have seen their real incomes stagnate or decline.

Meanwhile, the rapid concentration of American wealth continues apace: the richest 1 percent of America’s population now holds as much net wealth as the bottom 90–95 percent, and these trend may even be accelerating. A recent study revealed that during our supposed recovery of the last couple of years, 93 percent of the total increase in national income went to the top 1 percent, with an astonishing 37 percent being captured by just the wealthiest 0.01 percent of the population, 15,000 households in a nation of well over 300 million people.

Evidence for the long-term decline in our economic circumstances is most apparent when we consider the situation of younger Americans. The national media endlessly trumpets the tiny number of youthful Facebook millionaires, but the prospects for most of their contemporaries are actually quite grim. According to research from the Pew Center, barely half of 18- to 24-year-old Americans are currently employed, the lowest level since 1948, a time long before most women had joined the labor force. Nearly one-fifth of young men age 25–34 are still living with their parents, while the wealth of all households headed by those younger than 35 is 68 percent lower today than it was in 1984.

The total outstanding amount of non-dischargeable student-loan debt has crossed the trillion-dollar mark, now surpassing the combined total of credit-card and auto-loan debt—and with a quarter of all student-loan payers now delinquent, there are worrisome indicators that much of it will remain a permanent burden, reducing many millions to long-term debt peonage. A huge swath of America’s younger generation seems completely impoverished, and likely to remain so.

International trade statistics, meanwhile, demonstrate that although Apple and Google are doing quite well, our overall economy is not. For many years now our largest goods export has been government IOUs, whose dollar value has sometimes been greater than that of the next ten categories combined. At some point, perhaps sooner than we think, the rest of the world will lose its appetite for this non-functional product, and our currency will collapse, together with our standard of living. Similar Cassandra-like warnings were issued for years about the housing bubble or the profligacy of the Greek government, and were proven false year after year until one day they suddenly became true.

Ironically enough, there is actually one major category in which American expansion still easily tops that of China, both today and for the indefinite future: population growth. The rate of America’s demographic increase passed that of China over 20 years ago and has been greater every year since, sometimes by as much as a factor of two. According to standard projections, China’s population in 2050 will be almost exactly what it was in 2000, with the country having achieved the population stability typical of advanced, prosperous societies. But during that same half-century, the number of America’s inhabitants will have grown by almost 50 percent, a rate totally unprecedented in the developed world and actually greater than that found in numerous Third World countries such as Colombia, Algeria, Thailand, Mexico, or Indonesia. A combination of very rapid population growth and doubtful prospects for equally rapid economic growth does not bode well for the likely quality of the 2050 American Dream.

China rises while America falls, but are there major causal connections between these two concurrent trends now reshaping the future of our world? Not that I can see. American politicians and pundits are naturally fearful of taking on the fierce special interest groups that dominate their political universe, so they often seek an external scapegoat to explicate the misery of their constituents, sometimes choosing to focus on China. But this is merely political theater for the ignorant and the gullible.

Various studies have suggested that China’s currency may be substantially undervalued, but even if the frequent demands of Paul Krugman and others were met and the yuan rapidly appreciated another 15 or 20 percent, few industrial jobs would return to American shores, while working-class Americans might pay much more for their basic necessities. And if China opened wide its borders to more American movies or financial services, the multimillionaires of Hollywood and Wall Street might grow even richer, but ordinary Americans would see little benefit. It is always easier for a nation to point an accusing finger at foreigners rather than honestly admit that almost all its terrible problems are essentially self-inflicted.

Decay of Constitutional Democracy

The central theme of Why Nations Fail is that political institutions and the behavior of ruling elites largely determine the economic success or failure of countries. If most Americans have experienced virtually no economic gains for decades, perhaps we should cast our gaze at these factors in our own society.

Our elites boast about the greatness of our constitutional democracy, the wondrous human rights we enjoy, the freedom and rule of law that have long made America a light unto the nations of the world and a spiritual draw for oppressed peoples everywhere, including China itself. But are these claims actually correct? They often stack up very strangely when they appear in the opinion pages of our major newspapers, coming just after the news reporting, whose facts tell a very different story.

Just last year, the Obama administration initiated a massive months-long bombing campaign against the duly recognized government of Libya on “humanitarian” grounds, then argued with a straight face that a military effort comprising hundreds of bombing sorties and over a billion dollars in combat costs did not actually constitute “warfare,” and hence was completely exempt from the established provisions of the Congressional War Powers Act. A few months later, Congress overwhelmingly passed and President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act, granting the president power to permanently imprison without trial or charges any American whom he classifies as a national-security threat based on his own judgment and secret evidence. When we consider that American society has experienced virtually no domestic terrorism during the past decade, we must wonder how long our remaining constitutional liberties would survive if we were facing frequent real-life attacks by an actual terrorist underground, such as had been the case for many years with the IRA in Britain, ETA in Spain, or the Red Brigades in Italy.

Most recently, President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have claimed the inherent right of an American president to summarily execute anyone anywhere in the world, American citizen or not, whom White House advisors have privately decided was a “bad person.” While it is certainly true that major world governments have occasionally assassinated their political enemies abroad, I have never before heard these dark deeds publicly proclaimed as legitimate and aboveboard. Certainly if the governments of Russia or China, let alone Iran, declared their inherent right to kill anyone anywhere in the world whom they didn’t like, our media pundits would immediately blast these statements as proof of their total criminal insanity.

These are very strange notions of the “rule of law” for the administration of a president who had once served as top editor of the Harvard Law Review and who was routinely flattered in his political campaigns by being described as a “constitutional scholar.”

Many of these negative ideological trends have been absorbed and accepted by the popular culture and much of the American public. Over the last decade one of the highest-rated shows on American television was “24”, created by Joel Surnow and chronicling Kiefer Sutherland as a patriotic but ruthless Secret Service agent, with each episode constituting a single hour of his desperate efforts to thwart terrorist plots and safeguard our national security. Numerous episodes featured our hero torturing suspected evildoers in order to extract the information necessary to save innocent lives, with the entire series representing a popular weekly glorification of graphic government torture on behalf of the greater good.

Now soft-headed protestations to the contrary, most governments around the world have at least occasionally practiced torture, especially when combating popular insurgencies, and some of the more brutal regimes, including Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany, even professionalized the process. But such dark deeds done in secret were always vigorously denied in public, and the popular films and other media of Stalin’s Soviet Union invariably featured pure-hearted workers and peasants bravely doing their honorable and patriotic duty for the Motherland, rather than the terrible torments being daily inflicted in the cellars of the Lubyanka prison. Throughout all of modern history, I am not aware of a single even semi-civilized country that publicly celebrated the activities of its professional government torturers in the popular media. Certainly such sentiments would have been totally abhorrent and unthinkable in the “conservative Hollywood” of the Cold War 1950s.

And since we live in a entertainment-dominated society, sentiments affirmed on the screen often have direct real-world consequences. At one point, senior American military and counter-terrorism officials felt the need to travel to Hollywood and urge its screenwriters to stop glorifying American torture, since their shows were encouraging U.S. soldiers to torture Muslim captives even when their commanding officers repeatedly ordered them not to do so.

Given these facts, we should hardly be surprised that international surveys over the past decade have regularly ranked America as the world’s most hated major nation, a remarkable achievement given the dominant global role of American media and entertainment and also the enormous international sympathy that initially flowed to our country following the 9/11 attacks.

An Emerging One-Party State

So far at least, these extra-constitutional and often brutal methods have not been directed toward controlling America’s own political system; we remain a democracy rather than a dictatorship. But does our current system actually possess the central feature of a true democracy, namely a high degree of popular influence over major government policies? Here the evidence seems more ambiguous.

Consider the pattern of the last decade. With two ruinous wars and a financial collapse to his record, George W. Bush was widely regarded as one of the most disastrous presidents in American history, and at times his public approval numbers sank to the lowest levels ever measured. The sweeping victory of his successor, Barack Obama, represented more a repudiation of Bush and his policies than anything else, and leading political activists, left and right alike, characterized Obama as Bush’s absolute antithesis, both in background and in ideology. This sentiment was certainly shared abroad, with Obama being selected for the Nobel Peace Prize just months after entering office, based on the widespread assumption that he was certain to reverse most of the policies of his detested predecessor and restore America to sanity.

Yet almost none of these reversals took place. Instead, the continuity of administration policy has been so complete and so obvious that many critics now routinely speak of the Bush/Obama administration.

The harsh violations of constitutional principles and civil liberties which Bush pioneered following the 9/11 attacks have only further intensified under Obama, the heralded Harvard constitutional scholar and ardent civil libertarian, and this has occurred without the excuse of any major new terrorist attacks. During his Democratic primary campaign, Obama promised that he would move to end Bush’s futile Iraq War immediately upon taking office, but instead large American forces remained in place for years until heavy pressure from the Iraqi government finally forced their removal; meanwhile, America’s occupation army in Afghanistan actually tripled in size. The government bailout of the hated financial manipulators of Wall Street, begun under Bush, continued apace under Obama, with no serious attempts at either government prosecution or drastic reform. Americans are still mostly suffering through the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, but Wall Street profits and multimillion-dollar bonuses soon returned to record levels.

In particular, the continuity of top officials has been remarkable. As Bush’s second defense secretary, Robert Gates had been responsible for the ongoing management of America’s foreign wars and military occupations since 2006; Obama kept him on, and he continued to play the same role in the new administration. Similarly, Timothy Geithner had been one of Bush’s most senior financial appointments, playing a crucial role in the widely unpopular financial bailout of Wall Street; Obama promoted him to Treasury secretary and authorized continuation of those same policies. Ben Bernanke had been appointed chairman of the Federal Reserve by Bush and was reappointed by Obama. Bush wars and bailouts became Obama wars and bailouts. The American public voted for an anti-Bush, but got Bush’s third term instead.

During the Cold War, Soviet propagandists routinely characterized our democracy as a sham, with the American public merely selecting which of the two intertwined branches of their single political party should alternate in office, while the actual underlying policies remained essentially unchanged, being decided and implemented by the same corrupt ruling class. This accusation may have been mostly false at the time it was made but seems disturbingly accurate today.

When times are hard and government policies are widely unpopular, but voters are only offered a choice between the rival slick marketing campaigns of Coke and Pepsi, cynicism can reach extreme proportions. Over the last year, surveys have shown that the public non-approval of Congress—representing Washington’s political establishment—has ranged as high as 90–95 percent, which is completely unprecedented.

But if our government policies are so broadly unpopular, why are we unable to change them through the sacred power of the vote? The answer is that America’s system of government has increasingly morphed from being a representative democracy to becoming something closer to a mixture of plutocracy and mediacracy, with elections almost entirely determined by money and media, not necessarily in that order. Political leaders are made or broken depending on whether they receive the cash and visibility needed to win office.

National campaigns increasingly seem sordid reality shows for second-rate political celebrities, while our country continues along its path toward multiple looming calamities. Candidates who depart from the script or deviate from the elite D.C. consensus regarding wars or bailouts—notably a principled ideologue such as Ron Paul—are routinely stigmatized in the media as dangerous extremists or even entirely airbrushed out of campaign news coverage, as has been humorously highlighted by comedian Jon Stewart.

We know from the collapsed communist states of Eastern Europe that control over the media may determine public perceptions of reality, but it does not change the underlying reality itself, and reality usually has the last laugh. Economics Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz and his colleagues have conservatively estimated the total long-term cost of our disastrous Iraq War at $3 trillion, representing over one-fifth of our entire accumulated national debt, or almost $30,000 per American household. And even now the direct ongoing costs of our Afghanistan War still run $120 billion per year, many times the size of Afghanistan’s total GDP. Meanwhile, during these same years the international price of oil has risen from $25 to $125 per barrel—partly as a consequence of these past military disruptions and growing fears of future ones—thereby imposing gigantic economic costs upon our society.

And we suffer other costs as well. A recent New York Times story described the morale-building visit of Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to our forces in Afghanistan and noted that all American troops had been required to surrender their weapons before attending his speech and none were allowed to remain armed in his vicinity. Such a command decision seems almost unprecedented in American history and does not reflect well upon the perceived state of our military morale.

Future historians may eventually regard these two failed wars, fought for entirely irrational reasons, as the proximate cause of America’s financial and political collapse, representing the historical bookend to our World War II victory, which originally established American global dominance.

Our Extractive Elites 

When parasitic elites govern a society along “extractive” lines, a central feature is the massive upward flow of extracted wealth, regardless of any contrary laws or regulations. Certainly America has experienced an enormous growth of officially tolerated corruption as our political system has increasingly consolidated into a one-party state controlled by a unified media-plutocracy.

Consider the late 2011 collapse of MF Global, a midsize but highly reputable brokerage firm. Although this debacle was far smaller than the Lehman bankruptcy or the Enron fraud, it effectively illustrates the incestuous activities of America’s overlapping elites. Just a year earlier, Jon Corzine had been installed as CEO, following his terms as Democratic governor and U.S. senator from New Jersey and his previous career as CEO of Goldman Sachs. Perhaps no other American had such a combination of stellar political and financial credentials on his resume. Soon after taking the reins, Corzine decided to boost his company’s profits by betting its entire capital and more against the possibility that any European countries might default on their national debts. When he lost that bet, his multi-billion-dollar firm tumbled into bankruptcy.

At this point, the story moves from a commonplace tale of Wall Street arrogance and greed into something out of the Twilight Zone, or perhaps Monty Python. The major newspapers began reporting that customer funds, eventually said to total $1.6 billion, had mysteriously disappeared during the collapse, and no one could determine what had become of them, a very strange claim in our age of massively computerized financial records. Weeks and eventually months passed, tens of millions of dollars were spent on armies of investigators and forensic accountants, but all those customer funds stayed “missing,” while the elite media covered this bizarre situation in the most gingerly possible fashion. As an example, a front page Wall Street Journal story on February 23, 2012 suggested that after so many months, there seemed little likelihood that the disappeared customer funds might ever reappear, but also emphasized that absolutely no one was being accused of any wrongdoing. Presumably the journalists were suggesting that the $1.6 billion dollars of customer money had simply walked out the door on its own two feet.

Stories like this give the lie to the endless boasts of our politicians and business pundits that America’s financial system is the most transparent and least corrupt in today’s world. Certainly America is not unique in the existence of long-term corporate fraud, as was recently shown in the fall of Japan’s Olympus Corporation following the discovery of more than a billion dollars in long-hidden investment losses. But when we consider the largest corporate collapses of the last decade that were substantially due to fraud, nearly all the names are American: WorldCom, Enron, Tyco, Global Crossing, and Adelphia. And this list leaves out all the American financial institutions destroyed by the financial meltdown—such as Lehman, Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, Washington Mutual, and Wachovia—and the many trillions of dollars in American homeowner equity and top-rated MBS securities which evaporated during that process. Meanwhile, the largest and longest Ponzi Scheme in world history, that of Bernie Madoff, had survived for decades under the very nose of the SEC, despite a long series of detailed warnings and complaints. The second largest such fraud, that of Allen R. Stanford, also bears the label “Made in the USA.”

Some of the sources of Chinese success and American decay are not entirely mysterious. As it happens, the typical professional background of a member of China’s political elite is engineering; they were taught to build things. Meanwhile, a remarkable fraction of America’s political leadership class attended law school, where they were trained to argue effectively and to manipulate. Thus, we should not be greatly surprised that while China’s leaders tend to build, America’s leaders seem to prefer endless manipulation, whether of words, money, or people.
How corrupt is the American society fashioned by our current ruling elites? That question is perhaps more ambiguous than it might seem. According to the standard world rankings produced by Transparency International, the United States is a reasonably clean country, with corruption being considerably higher than in the nations of Northern Europe or elsewhere in the Anglosphere, but much lower than in most of the rest of the world, including China.

But I suspect that this one-dimensional metric fails to capture some of the central anomalies of America’s current social dilemma. Unlike the situation in many Third World countries, American teachers and tax inspectors very rarely solicit bribes, and there is little overlap in personnel between our local police and the criminals whom they pursue. Most ordinary Americans are generally honest. So by these basic measures of day-to-day corruption, America is quite clean, not too different from Germany or Japan.

By contrast, local village authorities in China have a notorious tendency to seize public land and sell it to real estate developers for huge personal profits. This sort of daily misbehavior has produced an annual Chinese total of up to 90,000 so-called “mass incidents”—public strikes, protests, or riots—usually directed against corrupt local officials or businessmen.

However, although American micro-corruption is rare, we seem to suffer from appalling levels of macro-corruption, situations in which our various ruling elites squander or misappropriate tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars of our national wealth, sometimes doing so just barely on one side of technical legality and sometimes on the other.

Sweden is among the cleanest societies in Europe, while Sicily is perhaps the most corrupt. But suppose a large clan of ruthless Sicilian Mafiosi moved to Sweden and somehow managed to gain control of its government. On a day-to-day basis, little would change, with Swedish traffic policemen and building inspectors performing their duties with the same sort of incorruptible efficiency as before, and I suspect that Sweden’s Transparency International rankings would scarcely decline. But meanwhile, a large fraction of Sweden’s accumulated national wealth might gradually be stolen and transferred to secret Cayman Islands bank accounts, or invested in Latin American drug cartels, and eventually the entire plundered economy would collapse.

Ordinary Americans who work hard and seek to earn an honest living for themselves and their families appear to be suffering the ill effects of exactly this same sort of elite-driven economic pillage. The roots of our national decline will be found at the very top of our society, among the One Percent, or more likely the 0.1 percent.

Thus, the ideas presented in Why Nations Fail seem both true and false. The claim that harmful political institutions and corrupt elites can inflict huge economic damage upon a society seems absolutely correct. But while the authors turn a harsh eye toward elite misbehavior across time and space—from ancient Rome to Czarist Russia to rising China—their vision seems to turn rosy-tinted when they consider present-day America, the society in which they themselves live and whose ruling elites lavishly fund the academic institutions with which they are affiliated. Given the American realities of the last dozen years, it is quite remarkable that the scholars who wrote a book entitled Why Nations Fail never glanced outside their own office windows.

A similar dangerous reticence may afflict most of our media, which appears much more eager to focus on self-inflicted disasters in foreign countries than on those here at home. Presented below is a companion case-study, “Chinese Melamine and American Vioxx: A Comparison,” in which I point out that while the American media a few years ago joined its Chinese counterparts in devoting enormous coverage to the deaths of a few Chinese children from tainted infant formula, it paid relatively little attention to a somewhat similar domestic public-health disaster that killed many tens or even hundreds of thousands of Americans.

A society’s media and academic organs constitute the sensory apparatus and central nervous system of its body politic, and if the information these provide is seriously misleading, looming dangers may fester and grow. A media and academy that are highly corrupt or dishonest constitute a deadly national peril. And although the political leadership of undemocratic China might dearly wish to hide all its major mistakes, its crude propaganda machinery often fails at this self-destructive task. But America’s own societal information system is vastly more skilled and experienced in shaping reality to meet the needs of business and government leaders, and this very success does tremendous damage to our country.

Perhaps Americans really do prefer that their broadcasters provide Happy News and that their political campaigns constitute amusing reality shows. Certainly the cheering coliseum crowds of the Roman Empire favored their bread and circuses over the difficult and dangerous tasks that their ancestors had undertaken during Rome’s rise to world greatness. And so long as we can continue to trade bits of printed paper carrying presidential portraits for flat-screen TVs from Chinese factories, perhaps all is well and no one need be too concerned about the apparent course of our national trajectory, least of all our political leadership class.

But if so, then we must admit that Richard Lynn, a prominent British scholar, has been correct in predicting for a decade or longer that the global dominance of the European-derived peoples is rapidly drawing to its end and within the foreseeable future the torch of human progress and world leadership will inevitably pass into Chinese hands.

Ron Unz is publisher of The American Conservative and founder of

Shanghai image: Cuiphoto/Shutterstock