Two for Tuesday



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The Fall of the American Empire

By W.J. Astore

Source: Bracing Views

Why do empires fall?  Sometimes, it’s easy to identify a cause.  Whether led by the Kaiser or by Hitler, Germany’s Second and Third Empires were destroyed by world wars.  Germany’s ambition was simply too great, its militarism too dominant, its policies too harsh to win long-term converts, its leaders too blinded by the pursuit of power, its enemies too many to conquer or otherwise neutralize.

Other imperial falls are more complex.  What caused Rome’s fall?  (Leaving aside the eastern part of the empire, which persisted far longer as the Byzantine Empire.)  Barbarians and their invasions, say some.  The enervating message and spirit of Christianity, said the historian Edward Gibbon.  Rome’s own corruption and tyranny, say others.  Even lead in Roman water pipes has been suggested as a contributing cause to Rome’s decline and fall.  Taking a longer view, some point to the rise of Islam in the 7th century and its rapid expansion into previously Roman territories as the event that administered the final coup de grâce to a dying empire.

America’s empire, it is clear, is now in decline, and a key reason is imperial overstretch as manifested by endless wars and overspending on the military (with literally trillions of dollars being thrown away on fruitless wars).  An especially fine summary is Alfred McCoy’s article at  As McCoy notes:

In effect, the president and his team, distracted by visions of shimmering ships and shiny planes (with their predictable staggering future cost overruns), are ready to ditch the basics of global dominion: the relentless scientific research that has long been the cutting edge of U.S. military supremacy.  And by expanding the Pentagon while slashing the State Department, Trump is also destabilizing that delicate duality of U.S. power by skewing foreign policy ever more toward costly military solutions (that have proved anything but actual solutions) …

In just one extraordinary year, Trump has destabilized the delicate duality that has long been the foundation for U.S. foreign policy: favoring war over diplomacy, the Pentagon over the State Department, and narrow national interest over international leadership. But in a globalizing world interconnected by trade, the Internet, and the rapid proliferation of nuclear-armed missiles, walls won’t work. There can be no Fortress America.

In this passage, McCoy stresses the damage being done by the Trump administration.  But Trump is just the culmination of certain trends, e.g. favoring the Pentagon over the State Department is nothing new, as I wrote about here in 2010.  And America has been in love with shimmering ships and shiny planes for generations, with several administrations supporting the F-35 jet fighter, a program that may end up costing as much as $1.4 trillion.  Plenty of money for weapons that kill; not so much for medicines that cure: that’s imperial America in a nutshell.

I would stress that America’s strength overseas was (and is) always based on its strength at home in areas such as science, education, infrastructure, medicine, manufacturing, and exports.  But what we’ve witnessed over the last 40 years is an immense and wasteful “investment” in wars and weapons even as our country itself has hollowed out. Science is now marked by the denial of facts (such as global warming). Education is all about students as consumers, with an overall decline in standards and performance. Infrastructure is crumbling. Medicine is too expensive and America’s overall health and life expectancy are both in decline. Manufacturing and exports have withered (except for the production and export of weapons, naturally).

As a result of all this, America is running a national debt of roughly 20 trillion dollars.  The future is being sacrificed for the present, a tragic reality reflected in the latest Republican tax cut, which benefits the richest Americans the most, along with big corporations, and which will likely add another trillion to the national debt.

In short, America’s foreign decline is mirrored (and driven) by its domestic decline as reflected by its choices.  Looking at the USA today, you get the sense it’s the best of times for the richest few, and the worst of times for so many Americans struggling with health care debt, student loan debt, and the uncertainty of low-wage jobs that could be outsourced at any moment.  At the same time, the American political scene is driven by fear: of immigrants, of a nuclear war with North Korea, of Russian meddling (real or imagined), of growing Chinese power, and of the perpetually-hyped threat of terrorist attacks on “the Homeland.”

Empires can fall very quickly, as the “thousand-year” Third Reich did, or they can fall ever so slowly, as the Roman Empire did.  But fall they do.  What is in the cards for the United States?


Posted in Corporate Welfare, culture, elites, Empire, Geopolitics, History, imperialism, Militarization, military spending, Neocons, Social Control, society, State Crime, war, war on terror, wasted taxpayer dollars | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The most perilous time in world history got worse

By Stephen Lendman

Source: Intrepid Report

Events ongoing should terrify everyone—things likely heading for greater war than already.

Most Americans, Brits, and others in NATO countries are unaware of the danger posed by hardline Western extremists in charge of policymaking—notably in Washington, London and Israel, the Jewish state an alliance Mediterranean Dialogue member.

Businessman Trump was co-opted to be a warrior president—neocon generals in charge of geopolitical policies, their agenda hardened by Mike Pompeo replacing Rex Tillerson at State, along with torturer-in-chief Gina Haspel appointed new CIA director.

An unholy alliance of US extremist policymakers allied with likeminded ones in partner countries risks war winds reaching gale force, a terrifying prospect if confrontation with Russia, Iran or North Korea occurs—the possibility increased by recent events.

Earlier this week, US Defense Secretary Mattis and UN envoy Haley threatened Russia and Damascus.

Russia vowed to retaliate against US attacks on Syrian forces in East Ghouta or elsewhere endangering its personnel in the country.

Anti-Russia hysteria in Britain over the Sergey Skripal poisoning affair, most certainly Moscow had nothing to do with, soured bilateral relations more than already.

In response to British PM Theresa May demanding swift Russian answers to questions posed about the incident, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman (speaking for her government) replied sharply saying, “One does not give 24 hours notice to a nuclear power,” adding the “Skripal poisoning was not an incident but a colossal international provocation,” addin, not a “single international legal mechanism [exists] to probe the Skripal case.”

Russia’s embassy in London said “Moscow will not respond to London’s ultimatum until it receives samples of the chemical substance to which the UK investigators are referring.”

“Britain must comply with the Chemical Weapons Convention which stipulates joint investigation into the incident, for which Moscow is ready.”

“Without that, there can be no sense in any statements from London. The incident appears to be yet another crooked attempt by the UK authorities to discredit Russia.”

“Any threat to take ‘punitive’ measures against Russia will meet with a response. The British side should be aware of that.”

“Not only is Russia groundlessly and provocatively accused of the Salisbury incident, but apparently, plans are being developed in the UK to strike Russia with cyber weapons.”

“Judging by the statements of the prime minister, such a decision can be taken at tomorrow’s meeting of the National Security Council.”

Given the gravity of the situation, the above comments by Russian diplomats were uncharacteristically strong.

Sergey Lavrov warned Washington that “[i]f a new [US] strike . . . takes place [against Syrian forces], the consequences will be very serious,” adding, “I simply don’t have any normal terms left to describe all this.”

What’s coming remains to be seen. Hostile rhetoric from US and UK officials, along with hawkish extremists Pompeo in charge at State and Haspel appointed new CIA chief likely signal more war, not less.

What’s ongoing assures no possibility of improving dismal bilateral relations with Russia, China, Iran and other sovereign independent countries.

Talks with North Korea could either be scuttled or confrontational if they take place.

Given very disturbing ongoing events, the perilous state of world conditions reached a new low.

Be scared about what may follow—be very scared!


Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at His new book as editor and contributor is titled “Flashpoint in Ukraine: How the US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III.” Listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network.

Posted in anti-war, black ops, CIA, culture, Deep State, Dystopia, Empire, Geopolitics, imperialism, Neocons, propaganda, Psy-ops, Social Control, Social Engineering, society, State Crime, war | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

8 Signs of a Mind Infected by Political Malware

By Jordan Bates

Source: High Existence

Your mind is similar to a computer.

Your brain is the hardware, your worldview the software.

The operating system you’re running is heavily influenced by your culture, upbringing, education, and many other factors.

Arguably, a well-functioning mind is a mind that can update its operating system.

As new information comes in, a healthy mind will revise its previous conclusions about the world to account for the new data.

The smartest people in the world do this: They’re constantly reading, tinkering, experimenting, and in the process updating their understanding of the world.

After all, the more accurate your models are, the better decisions you’ll make, and the more success you’ll have.

This holds true in virtually every area of life. As the renowned economist John Maynard Keynes put it:

“When my information changes, I alter my conclusions. What do you do, sir?”

Dogma as Malware

Armed with this understanding, we can see that an unhealthy mind is a mind that does not or cannot update itself.

Instead of expanding and revising its models to reflect new information, it will warp and misshape the data to force-fit its existing models.

This problem is captured nicely by a favorite folk saying of the brilliant billionaire investor, Charlie Munger:

“To the man with only a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”

What causes a mind to misfire in this way?

In a word: dogma: Absolute belief of any kind.

When the mind is convinced that something is incontrovertibly true, it ceases to update its views on that area of reality.

Any dogmatic ideology, then, can be seen as a kind of malware, or virus, attempting to infiltrate our mental computers.

Dogmatic ideologies—religious, political, or otherwise—are essentially trying to convince your mind to freeze into a certain shape and remain that way for the rest of your life.

As previously discussed, to allow one’s mind to freeze is generally disastrous, as a mind incapable of updating itself will tend to adapt very poorly to a complex world.

Unfortunately, certainty feels comfortable to us. It makes us feel like we’re in control, like we’ve got it all figured out. As a result, many minds are frozen by dogmatic malware.

This is an unfortunate state of affairs, as we humans can’t really afford to be non-adaptive at this point in history. We’re facing dire challenges, and we need our collective intelligence and decision-making to be sharp as possible.

8 Symptoms of Political Malware

One way to avoid getting mind-pwnd by dogmatic malware is to learn to recognize the warning signs.

If you can notice other people’s malfunctioning operating systems, you’re much more likely to be able to debug your own.

To hopefully help you do this, I’m going to outline eight telltale symptoms of a brain that’s been compromised by dogmatic political malware.

Political malware is far from the only form of dogma-malware lurking in the world today, but it’s sufficiently common that it should be a useful case to focus on and learn to recognize. And, naturally, many of these points can be extended to other domains.

Here are eight common symptoms of a brain-computer infected by political malware:

1. Inability to explain the arguments or evidence that led to current conclusions.

High-functioning minds don’t just believe things because they feel good or because someone told them to. They require evidence and well-reasoned arguments to support their positions.

If a person is unable to explain the evidence and/or arguments that convinced them of a particular political conclusion, it’s highly likely that they hold that belief simply because their political tribe does.

2. Never says, “I don’t have an opinion on this because I haven’t done enough research and thinking on it.”

Dogmatic, non-adaptive minds tend to have an opinion on everything. Even if they haven’t thought about a given issue for themselves, they just default to whatever opinion is popular with their tribe.

Healthy minds, by contrast, are extremely humble. They realize the world is ridiculously complex and that it’s actually impossible to have an informed opinion on everything. They are honest about what they don’t know, and they realize they should be cautious about forming opinions because humans are so good at deluding themselves and jumping to premature conclusions.

As the genius physicist Richard Feynman put it:

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool.”

3. Treats affiliation like a badge of honor.

Whatever they happen to be—Republican or Democrat, radical or centrist, libertarian or fascist, conservative or liberal—you know it. Because they advertise it.

They’re proud to be a member of their particular team. But when a person is really proud to be part of something that requires them to hold certain beliefs, what are the chances that they’re going to be able to update those beliefs as they encounter new information? Slim to none. Sharp minds value truth over team and tend not to have strong political affiliations.

4. Views don’t change over time.

Ask a dogmatic person their thoughts on a certain political issue, then ask them again in five years. You’ll almost surely get the same answer. No added nuance, no “Well, I thought about this more and my take is a little bit different now.” Just the same old scripts, repeated ad nauseam.

5. Quickly becomes hostile in political conversations.

The thing about joining a political tribe and thus making your politics a really deep, important part of your identity is that it becomes extremely difficult to have a calm conversation about ideas. 

When you challenge a dogmatic political mind, you’re not just challenging their ideas. You’re challenging their tribe, their identity: the cornerstone of their sense of security in this universe. Naturally, this often doesn’t go over so well.

Healthy minds, by contrast, are interested in the truth, or the best solution, rather than preserving their sense of tribal pride. Therefore they can entertain multiple positions on a single issue without having their feathers ruffled. For them ideas are just ideasand they want to find as many good ideas as possible, let them do battle, and determine which are the best.

6. Absolute faith in the correctness of their own views.

There’s a reason Jordan Greenhall uses the terms “Blue Church” and “Red Religion” to describe the two major political monoliths vying for power in the West.

He’s not the first person to notice that for many people, politics has become a form of religion. With the secularization of the West in recent history, it’s not a surprise that people’s religious drives have been diverted into another dogmatic domain.

Adaptive minds, by contrast, expect to be wrong. The idea that they’ve somehow reached the Final Truth of reality seems ludicrous.

“You should take the approach that you’re wrong. Your goal is to be less wrong.”

― Elon Musk

7. Displays an “If you disagree with me, you must be my enemy” mentality.

For highly dogmatic minds, any disagreement is interpreted as an act of war. If you disagree with them, or even offer an alternate possibility, you must not be on their team, and if you’re not on their team, you must be on an opposing team—an enemy.

This black-and-white thinking is made all the worse when a country has just two major political parties, as in the case of the United States. In a well-functioning bipartisan system, the two parties should at least be able to cooperate, compromise, and realize everyone is ultimately seeking to improve the country, despite disagreeing about how best to do that. Unfortunately, in the profoundly divisive and polarized US political climate of 2018, bipartisan cooperation and understanding has become impossible for many people. This is a grim omen of things to come.

Adaptive minds realize that disagreement is healthy, and that talking through disagreements presents an opportunity to learn and refine one’s views. They furthermore understand that black-and-white thinking fails to account for the complexity of the world. They see that it is unwise to rigidly categorize someone as an enemy or as a member of a certain tribe based on a couple of their positions, considering there are potentially infinite positions one could take on any given issue.

8. All viewpoints are identical to those of a single political camp.

If you can guess a person’s positions on climate change, social welfare, immigration, and gun control, based on their position on some unrelated issue like abortion, you can be fairly certain that they’ve inherited tribal dogmas, rather than forming their own conclusions.

The appeal of subscribing to a dogmatic ideology is that there is an answer for everything. You just repeat the views that are popular with your tribe, and you never have to go to the trouble of analyzing individual issues for yourself.

Active minds, by contrast, hold complex, nuanced, unpredictable views, because they analyze each issue independently. They seek out the best arguments and evidence supporting different positions on the issue, and they form their own conclusions. Or often they’re agnostic on certain issues, because they’ve confronted the true complexity and don’t feel confident enough to favor one compelling view over another.

Conclusion: Activate Your Mind

A healthy mind is a mind that updates itself based on new arguments and evidence.

Cultivating this form of mental health will serve you well in all areas of life. It’s also arguably something that we need more people to do, if we hope to continue to flourish as a species and help other earthly species to flourish.

Humanity currently finds itself in the midst of unprecedented global changes. In such complex and unpredictable times, we surely need to be adaptable and open to good ideas, wherever they may come from. We are gaining the technological power of gods, but without the wisdom and care of gods to accompany this power, we are likely to wield it in disastrous ways.

Gaining the wisdom and care of gods begins with each of us: with our individual decisions to activate our minds—to actively pursue greater knowledge, wisdom, and understanding.

Hopefully this post has offered you some mind-activating inspiration and direction. The need for individuals to take their education and cognitive empowerment into their own hands extends far beyond politics. The degree to which we are collectively successful in this endeavor may well determine whether we create a utopia or an apocalypse in the coming decades and centuries.

All of this is to say that, your mind matters. Take good care of it. Best of luck.

Posted in conditioning, consciousness, culture, education, Philosophy, Psychology, Social Control, society, Sociology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Saturday Matinee: The Endless Night

‘The Endless Night: A Valentine to Film Noir’ an epic supercut of toxic masculinity and shady ladies

By Richard Metzger

Source: Dangerous Minds

Set to the tune of Massive Attack’s “Angel,” Serena Bramble’s 2009 remix project “The Endless Night: A Valentine to Film Noir” is a “video love letter that distills film noir movies into their atmospheric essence.”

Bramble, an editor and writer, had this to say about her work:


“After many long hours, this is my tribute to my favorite genre, to the dark shadows and the profound despair of the soul. I tried to include as many as I could get my hands on, though there are obviously some that I overlooked, some accidently (the absence of The Sweet Smell of Success and White Heat are the most obvious and shameful), some purposefully (save Sam Fuller’s 1964 pulp masterpiece The Naked Kiss, I decided to stay strictly within the 18-year period between 1940 and 1958, so absolutely no neo-noirs like Chinatown, and even more importantly, absolutely no colors).

“If this should be deleted for copyright infringement (this is for recreational use only, not for profit; all film clips and the music by Massive Attack belong to their respective copyright holders), I’ve had a hell of a time doing it. And just in case I glorified violence and smoking a bit too much, as a semi-pacifist, nonsmoking woman, I can only quote Samuel Fuller: “I hate violence. That has never prevented me from using it in my films.”

The films, dangerous ladies and toxic dudes seen during Bramble’s epic supercut are:

The Letter (1940, William Wyler. Bette Davis)
The Maltese Falcon (1941, John Huston. Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor)
Shadow Of A Doubt (1943, Alfred Hitchcock. Joseph Cotten)
Double Indemnity (1944, Billy Wilder. Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray)
Murder, My Sweet (1944, Edward Dmytryk. Dick Powell)
Scarlet Street (1945, Fritz Lang. Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett)
Laura (1945, Otto Preminger. Gene Tierney)
Detour (1945, Edgar G. Ulhmer. Ann Savage)
Notorious (1946, Alfred Hitchcock. Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman)
Gilda (1946, Charles Vidor. Rita Hayworth)
The Killers (1946, Robert Siodmak. Ava Gardner, Burt Lancaster)
The Big Sleep (1946, Howard Hawks. Humphrey Bogart)
The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946, Tay Garnett. John Garfield, Lana Turner)
The Lady From Shanghai (1947, Orson Welles. Rita Hayworth, Welles)
Out Of The Past (1947, Jacques Tourneur. Jane Greer, Robert Mitchum)
Brute Force (1947, Jules Dassin. Burt Lancaster)
Force Of Evil (1948, Abraham Polonsky. John Garfield, Marie Windsor)
The Set-Up (1949, Robert Wise. Robert Ryan)
The Third Man (1949, Carol Reed. Orson Welles)
Criss Cross (1949, Siodmak. Burt Lancaster, Yvonne De Carlo)
Gun Crazy (1950, Joseph H. Lewis. John Dall, Peggy Cummins)
In A Lonely Place (1950, Nicholas Ray. Humphrey Bogart, Gloria Grahame)
The Asphalt Jungle (1950, Huston. Sterling Hayden)
Night And The City (1950, Jules Dassin. Richard Widmark, Gene Tierney)
Sunset Blvd. (1950, Billy Wilder. Gloria Swanson, William Holden)
Ace In The Hole (1951, Billy Wilder. Kirk Douglas, Jan Sterling)
Angel Face (1952, Otto Preminger. Jean Simmons)
Pickup On South Street (1953, Samuel Fuller. Richard Widmark)
The Big Heat (1953, Fritz Lang. Gloria Grahame, Lee Marvin)
Kiss Me Deadly (1955, Robert Aldrich. Gaby Rodgers)
Night Of The Hunter (1955, Charles Laughton. Robert Mitchum, Lillian Gish)
The Killing (1956, Stanley Kubrick. Sterling Hayden)
Elevator To The Gallows (1958, Louis Malle. Jeanne Moreau, Maurice Ronet)
Touch Of Evil (1958, Orson Welles)
The Naked Kiss (1964, Samuel Fuller. Constance Towers)

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The Singular Pursuit of Comrade Bezos

By Malcolm Harris

Source: Medium

It was explicitly and deliberately a ratchet, designed to effect a one-way passage from scarcity to plenty by way of stepping up output each year, every year, year after year. Nothing else mattered: not profit, not the rate of industrial accidents, not the effect of the factories on the land or the air. The planned economy measured its success in terms of the amount of physical things it produced.

— Francis Spufford, Red Plenty

But isn’t a business’s goal to turn a profit? Not at Amazon, at least in the traditional sense. Jeff Bezos knows that operating cash flow gives the company the money it needs to invest in all the things that keep it ahead of its competitors, and recover from flops like the Fire Phone. Up and to the right.

— Recode, “Amazon’s Epic 20-Year Run as a Public Company, Explained in Five Charts

From a financial point of view, Amazon doesn’t behave much like a successful 21st-century company. Amazon has not bought back its own stock since 2012. Amazon has never offered its shareholders a dividend. Unlike its peers Google, Apple, and Facebook, Amazon does not hoard cash. It has only recently started to record small, predictable profits. Instead, whenever it has resources, Amazon invests in capacity, which results in growth at a ridiculous clip. When the company found itself with $13.8 billion lying around, it bought a grocery chain for $13.7 billion. As the Recode story referenced above summarizes in one of the graphs: “It took Amazon 18 years as a public company to catch Walmart in market cap, but only two more years to double it.” More than a profit-seeking corporation, Amazon is behaving like a planned economy.

If there is one story on Americans who grew up after the fall of the Berlin Wall know about planned economies, I’d wager it’s the one about Boris Yeltsin in a Texas supermarket.

In 1989, recently elected to the Supreme Soviet, Yeltsin came to America, in part to see Johnson Space Center in Houston. On an unscheduled jaunt, the Soviet delegation visited a local supermarket. Photos from the Houston Chronicle capture the day: Yeltsin, overcome by a display of Jell-O Pudding Pops; Yeltsin inspecting the onions; Yeltsin staring down a full display of shiny produce like a line of enemy soldiers. Planning could never master the countless variables that capitalism calculated using the tireless machine of self-interest. According to the story, the overflowing shelves filled Yeltsin with despair for the Soviet system, turned him into an economic reformer, and spelled the end for state socialism as a global force. We’re taught this lesson in public schools, along with Animal Farm: Planned economies do not work.

It’s almost 30 years later, but if Comrade Yeltsin had visited today’s most-advanced American grocery stores, he might not have felt so bad. Journalist Hayley Peterson summarized her findings in the title of her investigative piece, “‘Seeing Someone Cry at Work Is Becoming Normal’: Employees Say Whole Foods Is Using ‘Scorecards’ to Punish Them.” The scorecard in question measures compliance with the (Amazon subsidiary) Whole Foods OTS, or “on-the-shelf” inventory management. OTS is exhaustive, replacing a previously decentralized system with inch-by-inch centralized standards. Those standards include delivering food from trucks straight to the shelves, skipping the expense of stockrooms. This has resulted in produce displays that couldn’t bring down North Korea. Has Bezos stumbled into the problems with planning?

Although OTS was in play before Amazon purchased Whole Foods last August, stories about enforcement to tears fit with the Bezos ethos and reputation. Amazon is famous for pursuing growth and large-scale efficiencies, even when workers find the experiments torturous and when they don’t make a lot of sense to customers, either. If you receive a tiny item in a giant Amazon box, don’t worry. Your order is just one small piece in an efficiency jigsaw that’s too big and fast for any individual human to comprehend. If we view Amazon as a planned economy rather than just another market player, it all starts to make more sense: We’ll thank Jeff later, when the plan works. And indeed, with our dollars, we have.

In fact, to think of Amazon as a “market player” is a mischaracterization. The world’s biggest store doesn’t use suggested retail pricing; it sets its own. Book authors (to use a personal example) receive a distinctly lower royalty for Amazon sales because the site has the power to demand lower prices from publishers, who in turn pass on the tighter margins to writers. But for consumers, it works! Not only are books significantly cheaper on Amazon, the site also features a giant stock that can be shipped to you within two days, for free with Amazon Prime citizensh…er, membership. All 10 or so bookstores I frequented as a high school and college student have closed, yet our access to books has improved — at least as far as we seem to be able to measure. It’s hard to expect consumers to feel bad enough about that to change our behavior.

Although they attempt to grow in a single direction, planned economies always destroy as well as build. In the 1930s, the Soviet Union compelled the collectivization of kulaks, or prosperous peasants. Small farms were incorporated into a larger collective agricultural system. Depending on who you ask, dekulakization was literal genocide, comparable to the Holocaust, and/or it catapulted what had been a continent-sized expanse of peasants into a modern superpower. Amazon’s decimation of small businesses (bookstores in particular) is a similar sort of collectivization, purging small proprietors or driving them onto Amazon platforms. The process is decentralized and executed by the market rather than the state, but don’t get confused: Whether or not Bezos is banging on his desk, demanding the extermination of independent booksellers — though he probably is — these are top-down decisions to eliminate particular ways of life.

Now, with the purchase of Whole Foods, Bezos and Co. seem likely to apply the same pattern to food. Responding to reports that Amazon will begin offering free two-hour Whole Foods delivery for Prime customers, BuzzFeed’s Tom Gara tweeted, “Stuff like this suggests Amazon is going to remove every cent of profit from the grocery industry.” Free two-hour grocery delivery is ludicrously convenient, perhaps the most convenient thing Amazon has come up with yet. And why should we consumers pay for huge dividends to Kroger shareholders? Fuck ’em; if Bezos has the discipline to stick to the growth plan instead of stuffing shareholder pockets every quarter, then let him eat their lunch. Despite a business model based on eliminating competition, Amazon has avoided attention from antitrust authorities because prices are down. If consumers are better off, who cares if it’s a monopoly? American antitrust law doesn’t exist to protect kulaks, whether they’re selling books or groceries.

Amazon has succeeded in large part because of the company’s uncommon drive to invest in growth. And today, not only are other companies slow to spend, so are governments. Austerity politics and decades of privatization put Amazon in a place to take over state functions. If localities can’t or won’t invest in jobs, then Bezos can get them to forgo tax dollars (and dignity) to host HQ2. There’s no reason governments couldn’t offer on-demand cloud computing services as a public utility, but instead the feds pay Amazon Web Services to host their sites. And if the government outsources health care for its population to insurers who insist on making profits, well, stay tuned. There’s no near-term natural end to Amazon’s growth, and by next year the company’s annual revenue should surpass the GDP of Vietnam. I don’t see any reason why Amazon won’t start building its own cities in the near future.

America never had to find out whether capitalism could compete with the Soviets plus 21st-century technology. Regardless, the idea that market competition can better set prices than algorithms and planning is now passé. Our economists used to scoff at the Soviets’ market-distorting subsidies; now Uber subsidizes every ride. Compared to the capitalists who are making their money by stripping the copper wiring from the American economy, the Bezos plan is efficient. So, with the exception of small business owners and managers, why wouldn’t we want to turn an increasing amount of our life-world over to Amazon? I have little doubt the company could, from a consumer perspective, improve upon the current public-private mess that is Obamacare, for example. Between the patchwork quilt of public- and private-sector scammers that run America today and “up and to the right,” life in the Amazon with Lex Luthor doesn’t look so bad. At least he has a plan, unlike some people.

From the perspective of the average consumer, it’s hard to beat Amazon. The single-minded focus on efficiency and growth has worked, and delivery convenience is perhaps the one area of American life that has kept up with our past expectations for the future. However, we do not make the passage from cradle to grave as mere average consumers. Take a look at package delivery, for example: Amazon’s latest disruptive announcement is “Shipping with Amazon,” a challenge to the USPS, from which Amazon has been conniving preferential rates. As a government agency bound to serve everyone, the Postal Service has had to accept all sorts of inefficiencies, like free delivery for rural customers or subsidized media distribution to realize freedom of the press. Amazon, on the other hand, is a private company that doesn’t really have to do anything it doesn’t want to do. In aggregate, as average consumers, we should be cheering. Maybe we are. But as members of a national community, I hope we stop to ask if efficiency is all we want from our delivery infrastructure. Lowering costs as far as possible sounds good until you remember that one of those costs is labor. One of those costs is us.

Earlier this month, Amazon was awarded two patents for a wristband system that would track the movement of warehouse employees’ hands in real time. It’s easy to see how this is a gain in efficiency: If the company can optimize employee movements, everything can be done faster and cheaper. It’s also easy to see how, for those workers, this is a significant step down the path into a dystopian hellworld. Amazon is a notoriously brutal, draining place to work, even at the executive levels. The fear used to be that if Amazon could elbow out all its competitors with low prices, it would then jack them up, Martin Shkreli style. That’s not what happened. Instead, Amazon and other monopsonists have used their power to drive wages and the labor share of production down. If you follow the Bezos strategy all the way, it doesn’t end in fully automated luxury communism or even Wall-E. It ends in The Matrix, with workers swaddled in a pod of perfect convenience and perfect exploitation. Central planning in its capitalist form turns people into another cost to be reduced as low as possible.

Just because a plan is efficient doesn’t mean it’s good. Postal Service employees are unionized; they have higher wages, paths for advancement, job stability, negotiated grievance procedures, health benefits, vacation time, etc. Amazon delivery drivers are not and do not. That difference counts as efficiency when we measure by price, and that is, to my mind, a very good argument for not handing the world over to the king of efficiency. The question that remains is whether we have already been too far reduced, whether after being treated as consumers and costs, we might still have it in us to be more, because that’s what it will take to wrench society away from Bezos and from the people who have made him look like a reasonable alternative.

Posted in Consumerism, Corporate Crime, Corporate Welfare, culture, Dystopia, Economics, Labor, Social Control, Social Engineering, society, Sociology, Technology, Work | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“An Enthusiastic Corporate Citizen”: David Cronenberg and the Dawn of Neoliberalism

(Editor’s note: In commemoration of director David Cronenberg’s 75th birthday we present this compelling and socially relevant analysis of his filmography.)

By Michael Grasso

Source: We Are the Mutants

The cinematic corpus of David Cronenberg is probably best known for its expertly uncanny use of body horror, but looming almost as large in the writer-director’s various universes is the presence of faceless, all-powerful organizations. Like his rough contemporary Thomas Pynchon and the conspiracies that litter Pynchon’s early works—V. (1963), The Crying of Lot 49 (1966), and Gravity’s Rainbow (1973)—Cronenberg’s shadowy organizations offer fodder for paranoid conspiracy. These conspiracies operate under the cloak of beneficent academic institutes and, in his later work, corporations. The transition from institutes to corporations occurred during Cronenberg’s late ’70s and early ’80s output, specifically the trio of films The Brood (1979), Scanners (1981), and Videodrome (1983).

It is no coincidence that, at this particular time, international finance and prevailing political winds helped put the corporation in society’s driver’s seat. In Adam Curtis’s recent documentary film HyperNormalisation (2016), he notes how the default of the city of New York in 1975 opened the door for private investment and the finance industry to get their hands on municipal governance on a large scale for the first time, and how this creaked open the door for the Thatcher-Reagan privatization wave in the ’80s. These last few “hinge” years of the 1970s offered the last chance for a real alternative to the coming neoliberal revolution. Soon, all alternatives for governance in the name of the public good were destroyed. Corporatism tightened its grip on the Western polity.

Cronenberg’s early eerie organizations—the “Canadian Academy of Erotic Enquiry” from Stereo (1969) and the panoply of gruesome academic and cosmetic conspiracies in his Crimes of the Future (1970)—eventually yielded to corporations like Scanners‘ ConSec and Videodrome‘s Spectacular Optical. In these early works, Cronenberg’s mysterious organizations are headed by visionary (mad) geniuses. In 1975’s Shivers, experiments by a lone mad scientist infect an entire apartment building with parasites, which awaken dark impulses in the building’s residents and spread themselves through sexual violence. But as the decade went on, Cronenberg slowly backed away from utilizing the character of a singular scientific genius harboring a twisted vision of the future. Now, organizations sought to pull the strings from the shadows. The key transitional work in this chronology is the sometimes-underlooked The Brood from 1979.

In the film, Oliver Reed plays esteemed psychologist Dr. Hal Raglan, who has developed a method of exorcising deep-seated psychological issues using a technique called “psychoplasmics.” In intense one-on-one sessions reminiscent of psychodrama, Raglan is able to physically remove trauma from the human body in the form of ulcers, rashes, and, we eventually discover, cancer. In the ultimate reveal, it’s shown that Raglan has helped traumatized patient Nola Carveth (Samantha Eggar) to birth violent, deformed homunculi who go out into the world, psychically connected to her, in order to resolve her childhood abandonment issues and abuse with bloody murder. Raglan’s foundation, the Somafree Institute of Psychoplasmics (its name simultaneously evocative of Aldous Huxley’s perfect drug soma, and reminiscent of fringe psychological research like Wilhelm Reich’s orgone theory) inhabits a modernist chalet far outside the city of Toronto. Non-resident patients have to be bussed in. Raglan’s public reputation is that of an eccentric, but effective, therapist. At several points in the film we see the covers of Raglan’s presumably best-selling The Shape of Rage. (Curiously, a decade later, in 1990, a documentary titled Child of Rage would be released covering the controversial use of “attachment therapy.”)

As depicted in the film, Somafree is not a corporation. But the thematic threads surrounding Raglan and his Institute are based on real-life trends in the 1970s. In its practices and in the person of Raglan, Somafree resembles psycho-intensive institutes like Esalen, self-improvement organizations like Lifespring, and personalities like Werner Erhard. Erhard’s est movement used primal abuse to ostensibly create psychological breakthroughs, helping the “patient” become more assertive, more powerful, less prone to obeying impulses caused by their early traumas. There is also the real-life analogue to the psychological method that Raglan employs: psychodrama. In the 1970s, new methods of conflict resolution pioneered in places like Esalen were beginning to seep into the mainstream of North American society. These methods soon spread into the corporate world as a purported means of defusing tensions at work and making an office more productive. The “encounter group” soon became a punchline, but the principles behind the Age of Aquarius’s more touchy-feely psychodynamic methods soon became part of the warp and weft of corporate culture in the ’80s and well beyond.

Nola’s estranged husband Frank interviews a former Raglan patient, Jan Hartog, in an attempt to discredit Somafree so Frank can regain custody of his daughter. This patient bears the scars of Raglan’s work on him: a lymphatic cancer sprouting from his neck (an eerie foreshadowing of the coming of another mysterious lymphatic disorder that would soon break out all over North America). Hartog plans to sue; not to achieve victory in a courtroom, but to destroy Raglan’s reputation. It doesn’t matter if they win, Hartog says, because “They’ll just remember the slogan. Psychoplasmics can cause cancer.” The 1970s was full of an increased awareness of the carcinogens that surrounded us in the late-industrial West—cigarettes, sweeteners, food dyes, and pesticides—thanks in large part to the nascent environmental and consumer rights movements, which faced off against corporations using  weapons of negative publicity.

By the time we get to Scanners in 1981, we are fully invested in a world of shadowy corporate overlords. A huge multinational security firm, ConSec, tries to shepherd psychics called “scanners,” ostensibly to help them control their powers, but also to utilize and exploit their paranormal abilities. Protagonist Cameron Vale (Steven Lack) is apprehended off the streets, where, due to his psychic pain, he’s living as a derelict. We learn that scanners don’t “fit in” with society. When Vale is given the inhibitive drug ephemerol by ConSec’s head of scanner research, Dr. Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan), he is able to get himself together and is even given a new proto-yuppie wardrobe and mission by ConSec: eliminate rogue scanner Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside). But as Vale accepts his mission and new identity, he finds himself enlisted in ConSec’s private war against renegade scanners. When he runs into an emerging cell of scanners who are forming a powerful “group mind” in a New Age-like encounter session, assassins controlled by Revok murder most of the cell. “Everywhere you go, somebody dies,” one of the hive mind tells Vale, who is complicit with ConSec’s need to exert corporate control over scanners, including the use of violence as part of the corporate mission. Meanwhile, ConSec itself is riddled with moles working with Revok. Indeed, a chemical and pharmaceutical company called “Biocarbon Amalgamate,” founded by Dr. Ruth but now infiltrated by Revok, manufactures ephemerol in massive quantities. Scanners recontexualizes the Cold War espionage “wilderness of mirrors” in terms of corporate espionage for a new age of corporate domination. (It’s no coincidence that Cronenberg cast McGoohan, one of the Cold War’s most famous fictional spies, in the role of Dr. Ruth.)

ConSec’s corporate mission is revealed in a board meeting when the new head of security says, “We’re in the business of international security. We deal in weaponry and private armories.” This head of security also tells Dr. Ruth, “Let us leave the development of dolphins and freaks as weapons of espionage to others.” To the new breed of ConSec executive, fringe ’70s research is a thing of the past, despite its obvious power and relevance. The future is in fighting proxy wars, ensuring private security for the wealthy, and providing mercenary security forces. ConSec in this way is like many other private security firms that first emerged in the 1970s and ’80s. Begun as an outgrowth of post-colonial British military adventurism, the private military company soon became a way for ex-military officers to assure themselves a handsome post-service sinecure in a new era where hot wars were a thing of the past. “Brushfire wars” would continue to ensue, ensuring these companies an expanding portfolio, both in the waning years of the Cold War and in the 1990s and beyond. In fact, it’s interesting to note that many of the real-world military’s supposed psychic assets themselves got into private security after the U.S. Army shut down fringe science projects like Project STARGATE. Art imitates life imitates art.

Videodrome expands Cronenberg’s conspiratorial corporate, military, and espionage worldview into the rapidly exploding world of the media in the early ’80s. Leaps forward in technology, all of which are explicitly called out in Videodrome, litter the film’s visual landscape. Cable television, satellite transmissions (and the attendant hacking thereof), video cassette recorders, the rise of video pornography, virtual reality, postmodern media theory, and violence in entertainment all play essential roles in the film. Max Renn’s (James Woods) tiny Civic TV/Channel 83 (itself based on groundbreaking independent Toronto television station CityTV) is trying to survive as best it can in a world of massive international media players. Ever seeking the latest hit that will tap into the public’s unending hunger for sex and violence, his on-staff “satellite pirate” Harlan delivers the mysterious Videodrome transmission. Harlan is later revealed to be working with the Videodrome conspiracy, having intentionally exposed Max to the signal. In a memorable speech, Harlan nails Max’s amoral desire to sell sex and violence to his viewers: “This cesspool you call a television station, and your people who wallow around in it, and your viewers who watch you do it; you’re rotting us away from the inside.” When Renn is deep into his Videodrome-triggered hallucinations, he is offered corporate “help” much as Cameron Vale was. This time, his “savior” is Barry Convex, a representative of Spectacular Optical. In his video message to Max, he, like the ConSec executive before him, lays out Spectacular Optical’s corporate mission:

I’d like to invite you into the world of Spectacular Optical, an enthusiastic global corporate citizen. We make inexpensive glasses for the Third World… and missile guidance systems for NATO. We also make Videodrome, Max.

The final form of the military-industrial-entertainment complex is laid bare. Videodrome’s intent is to harden and make psychotic a North American television audience who’ve “become soft,” as Harlan puts it. Renn’s hallucinations are recorded, he is literally “reprogrammed” to kill Civic TV’s board (thanks to the memorable hallucinatory image of Convex sticking a VHS tape into Renn’s gut). Renn is then reprogrammed to retaliate and assassinate Convex by the much more ’70s-cult Cathode Ray Mission of “media prophet” Brian O’Blivion, whose postmodern, expressly McLuhanesque view of television’s place in the world allowed Videodrome to come into existence in the first place: “I had a brain tumor and I had visions. I believe the visions caused the tumor and not the reverse… when they removed the tumor, it was called Videodrome.” It’s also worth noting that O’Blivion tells us that Videodrome made him its first victim; postmodern criticism of the medium of television is no match for its violent, cancerous growth.

The deregulation of media in the U.S. in the Reagan years is common knowledge; rules around children’s television were especially eviscerated, which allowed for an explosion in violent, warlike cartoons based on popular toy lines, training a new generation for a lifetime of endless war. Combined with the aforementioned explosion of video technology, the laissez-faire environment shepherded by Reagan’s FCC allowed a new breed of cable television magnates to get rich and created a television and media landscape with a relatively friction-free relationship to government. By the time the first Gulf War broke out in 1991, war provided the cable news networks with surefire ratings and cable news provided the propaganda platform for the war effort, a mutually beneficial (and Cronenberg-esque) symbiosis that’s continued to metastasize through multiple subsequent wars in the Middle East. The world of Videodrome, the one Harlan evokes where America will no longer be soft in a world full of tough hombres, has finally come to fruition thanks in part to all of our enmeshment in the video arena—the video drome.

After Videodrome—in The Fly (1986), Dead Ringers (1988), and Crash (1996)—Cronenberg focuses less on sinister organizations and more on monomaniacal researchers, doctors, and fetishists who pursue their individual idiosyncratic agendas through the director’s trademark twisting mindscapes (and bodyscapes). With the exception of eXistenZ (1999), Cronenberg’s meditation on computer technology and gaming released amidst the first dot-com bubble, and his Occupy-influenced adaptation of Don DeLillo’s 2003 novel Cosmopolis (2012), he has retreated from a more overt suspicion of corporations and shadowy conspiracies. His warning about these invisible masters pulling the strings of society came during the time period when something could have been done about corporate hegemony. But now, the conspiracy operates in the open. We are now all of us the dumb, trusting Cronenberg protagonist, lulled into a false sense of security by a series of “enthusiastic corporate citizens.” Long live the new flesh.

Posted in Art, Conspiracy, Corporate Crime, culture, Dystopia, Film, media, Neoliberalism, Psychology, society, Technology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The political logic of the junk food revolution

By Jonathan Cook

Source: TruePublica

Here is an article on food whose political implications are really worth considering. We already know that people in western societies, particularly the US and UK, are eating far too much junk food, and that this leads to an epidemic of obesity, heart disease and cancer.

But the latest research not only reveals the extent that “ultra-processed” foods have come to dominate our diets in Europe – now comprising more than half of what Britons eat, for example – but raises the question of what effects the consumption of this much junk food will have on our behaviours.

The nutritionists here are reluctant to offer even well-informed speculation, which always seems to be the case with publicly funded scientists until things have moved beyond a critical point. Think of smoking and climate change: we usually learn much later that the corporations’ own pet-scientists had done the research decades earlier proving or predicting exactly what was coming.

But there are hints from the nutritionists to the Guardian of what might be going on:

“People are missing out not only on vitamins and minerals but also bioactive compounds found in natural foods such as phytoestrogens and fibre.

And then you get salt and starch and sugar and fat and all these additives. We are consuming every day an amount of new substances that are these flavours and colours and emulsifiers and we don’t have any idea as to what will be the problem of these items,” [Professor Carlos Monteiro from the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, who led the research team] said. …

Other cumulative effects of eating these industrially-made substances are not yet known. “The honest answer is we don’t know what is going on,” said Monteiro.’

Here is an educated guess, based in part on experience and in part on the economic and political logic of our current junk food revolution. (Those of us who eat these industrial substances rarely enough that they do not dominate our diets still have a sense of what happens to us on the occasions we do.)

These lab-created, nutritionally empty substances that our bodies have not evolved to digest not only make us physically sick, but emotionally and mentally sick too: addicted, depressed, lazy, sluggish, docile and anxious.

In fact, a mess of emotions that transforms us into the perfect consumers, buying more of this cheap, harmful “food”. That boosts both the profits of food and other corporations and the electoral fortunes of crowd-pleasing, money-grubbing, vacuous politicians who wish to serve those corporations.

That is how an advanced capitalist system – premised on a psychopathic drive by the strongest to maximise profits by exploiting the weakest – will naturally evolve. It needs to make us as dependent, as passive and docile, as possible.

Posted in Corporate Crime, culture, Economics, Health, Neoliberalism, Science, Social Control, society | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments