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Arts and Culture

Chalmers Johnson on Our ‘Managed Democracy’

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Posted on May 15, 2008
book cover
press.princeton.edu

By Chalmers Johnson

It is not news that the United States is in great trouble. The pre-emptive war it launched against Iraq more than five years ago was and is a mistake of monumental proportions—one that most Americans still fail to acknowledge. Instead they are arguing about whether we should push on to “victory” when even our own generals tell us that a military victory is today inconceivable. Our economy has been hollowed out by excessive military spending over many decades while our competitors have devoted themselves to investments in lucrative new industries that serve civilian needs. Our political system of checks and balances has been virtually destroyed by rampant cronyism and corruption in Washington, D.C., and by a two-term president who goes around crowing “I am the decider,” a concept fundamentally hostile to our constitutional system. We have allowed our elections, the one nonnegotiable institution in a democracy, to be debased and hijacked—as was the 2000 presidential election in Florida—with scarcely any protest from the public or the self-proclaimed press guardians of the “Fourth Estate.” We now engage in torture of defenseless prisoners although it defames and demoralizes our armed forces and intelligence agencies.

 

book cover

 

Democracy Incorporated

 

By Sheldon S. Wolin

 

Princeton University Press, 376 pages

 

Buy the book

 

The problem is that there are too many things going wrong at the same time for anyone to have a broad understanding of the disaster that has overcome us and what, if anything, can be done to return our country to constitutional government and at least a degree of democracy. By now, there are hundreds of books on particular aspects of our situation—the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the bloated and unsupervised “defense” budgets, the imperial presidency and its contempt for our civil liberties, the widespread privatization of traditional governmental functions, and a political system in which no leader dares even to utter the words imperialism and militarism in public.

There are, however, a few attempts at more complex analyses of how we arrived at this sorry state. They include Naomi Klein, “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism,” on how “private” economic power now is almost coequal with legitimate political power; John W. Dean, “Broken Government: How Republican Rule Destroyed the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial Branches,” on the perversion of our main defenses against dictatorship and tyranny; Arianna Huffington, “Right Is Wrong: How the Lunatic Fringe Hijacked America, Shredded the Constitution, and Made Us All Less Safe,” on the manipulation of fear in our political life and the primary role played by the media; and Naomi Wolf, “The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot,” on “Ten Steps to Fascism” and where we currently stand on this staircase. My own book, “Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic,” on militarism as an inescapable accompaniment of imperialism, also belongs to this genre.

We now have a new, comprehensive diagnosis of our failings as a democratic polity by one of our most seasoned and respected political philosophers. For well over two generations, Sheldon Wolin taught the history of political philosophy from Plato to the present to Berkeley and Princeton graduate students (including me; I took his seminars at Berkeley in the late 1950s, thus influencing my approach to political science ever since). He is the author of the prize-winning classic “Politics and Vision” (1960; expanded edition, 2006) and “Tocqueville Between Two Worlds” (2001), among many other works.

His new book, “Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism,” is a devastating critique of the contemporary government of the United States—including what has happened to it in recent years and what must be done if it is not to disappear into history along with its classic totalitarian predecessors: Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany and Bolshevik Russia. The hour is very late and the possibility that the American people might pay attention to what is wrong and take the difficult steps to avoid a national Götterdämmerung are remote, but Wolin’s is the best analysis of why the presidential election of 2008 probably will not do anything to mitigate our fate. This book demonstrates why political science, properly practiced, is the master social science.

Wolin’s work is fully accessible. Understanding his argument does not depend on possessing any specialized knowledge, but it would still be wise to read him in short bursts and think about what he is saying before moving on. His analysis of the contemporary American crisis relies on a historical perspective going back to the original constitutional agreement of 1789 and includes particular attention to the advanced levels of social democracy attained during the New Deal and the contemporary mythology that the U.S., beginning during World War II, wields unprecedented world power.

Given this historical backdrop, Wolin introduces three new concepts to help analyze what we have lost as a nation. His master idea is “inverted totalitarianism,” which is reinforced by two subordinate notions that accompany and promote it—“managed democracy” and “Superpower,” the latter always capitalized and used without a direct article. Until the reader gets used to this particular literary tic, the term Superpower can be confusing. The author uses it as if it were an independent agent, comparable to Superman or Spiderman, and one that is inherently incompatible with constitutional government and democracy.

Wolin writes, “Our thesis ... is this: it is possible for a form of totalitarianism, different from the classical one, to evolve from a putatively ‘strong democracy’ instead of a ‘failed’ one.” His understanding of democracy is classical but also populist, anti-elitist and only slightly represented in the Constitution of the United States. “Democracy,” he writes, “is about the conditions that make it possible for ordinary people to better their lives by becoming political beings and by making power responsive to their hopes and needs.” It depends on the existence of a demos—“a politically engaged and empowered citizenry, one that voted, deliberated, and occupied all branches of public office.” Wolin argues that to the extent the United States on occasion came close to genuine democracy, it was because its citizens struggled against and momentarily defeated the elitism that was written into the Constitution.

“No working man or ordinary farmer or shopkeeper,” Wolin points out, “helped to write the Constitution.” He argues, “The American political system was not born a democracy, but born with a bias against democracy. It was constructed by those who were either skeptical about democracy or hostile to it. Democratic advance proved to be slow, uphill, forever incomplete. The republic existed for three-quarters of a century before formal slavery was ended; another hundred years before black Americans were assured of their voting rights. Only in the twentieth century were women guaranteed the vote and trade unions the right to bargain collectively. In none of these instances has victory been complete: women still lack full equality, racism persists, and the destruction of the remnants of trade unions remains a goal of corporate strategies. Far from being innate, democracy in America has gone against the grain, against the very forms by which the political and economic power of the country has been and continues to be ordered.” Wolin can easily control his enthusiasm for James Madison, the primary author of the Constitution, and he sees the New Deal as perhaps the only period of American history in which rule by a true demos prevailed.


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By Dr. Knowitall, PhD, PhD, May 18, 2008 at 4:51 am Link to this comment

Teddy R. said, “Walk softly and carry a big stick.”  George W, Bush’s modus operandi has been to preemptively hit ‘em hard before all hell breaks loose, even though it turned for him that he didn’t hit ‘em hard enough.

Perhaps working class Americans should take a lesson from these two guys. We’re being taught, by lecture and by example, that you act, or threaten to act; you don’t sit back and complain.

If we, as Rosenblatt suggests above, elect leaders thinking they will act on our behalf, we’re making a serious mistake.

Perhaps we need to set up regular meetings with Barack, maybe monthly, setting out what we expect from him and check up on the progress on a regular basis.  I know the mechanism is supposed to be there but it apparently doesn’t work. 

There’s a disconnect between them and us that we need to bridge.  What do they call that?  Accountability comes to mind.

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By Expat, May 18, 2008 at 4:33 am Link to this comment

^ then surely you don’t get it.  We are the one we’ve been waiting for.  We’ve always been the “one” we’re waiting for: But we haven’t showed up for the most important event of our lives!  You work with the thing you have.  You make the thing you have work!  Simple!  But you have to understand!

And, even though you posted to the wrong comment; 82 year old RICHARD D. ROSENBLATT gets it!

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By Michael Shaw, May 18, 2008 at 2:20 am Link to this comment

Non Credo, hope does springs eternal but blind faith is another story. For curiosity sake, how would you go about solving these problems we face? Who is your Messiah/fix all candidate? If not Obama, then McCain, Paul? Who? I see a lot of bashing aimed at the candidate with the best chance of winning this election. But I don’t see who you support and why or how they might handle this mess any better. Really what is your agenda? You already know where we pathetic hoping suckers stand.

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By cyrena, May 18, 2008 at 2:20 am Link to this comment

Part 1 of 2 analysis of troublesum’s crystal ball of excrement.

•  “1) Social Security will be handed over to Wall
Street.  (“Trust me” he will say)”

I honestly don’t know what he’ll do about Social Security, so I’m leaving my opinion out of this one, aside from suggesting that I have no idea how troublesum knows that he will say, “trust me” since he’s not said that before, or anything close to it.

•  “2) An inadequate national health care plan which
maintains corporate control of insurance will
be put in place.  (“Trust me, this just a
beginning” he will say.)”

This is the only thing on this list that comes anywhere close to reality, because we already KNOW this. Obama has already talked about this as not being a true ‘universal health care plan’ because we already KNOW, that totally wiping out the insurance industry in one fell swoop, will only put another bomb hole in the economy, particularly in the labor/employment sector. Until a health care system can actually incorporate ALL of those people who now perform ALL of this bureaucracy at the corporate level, (anything ‘insurance’ related) into the state of Federal level, (like a VA type operation before it too became outsourced) this isn’t going to be a miracle fix either. This system has been jacked up for DECADES, so no REASONABLE person, who has even an iota of business sense or the operation of ANYTHING, is going to expect that. I’ve actually listened to Obama on this topic, on more than a few occasions. What he’s NEVER said, is ‘trust me’. What he HAS admitted, is that ‘these insurance companies LIKE the way things are now” (and of COURSE they do) and there has to be a complete move away from ‘health care for profit’. If anyone thinks that means putting a socialist system (like Cuba’s) in place overnight, then they’re just stupid.

•  “3) The occupation of Iraq and Afganistan will
continue.”

It will for a while, since that too is pretty reality based. It won’t indefinitely, and since I’m not in charge of the plans, I can’t say for how long. If I WAS in charge of the plans, I could have both places ‘UNOCCUPIED” (at least by US forces) in under a year. So, when you say “will continue” without any sort of time frame, that’s just standard anti-Obama cynical propaganda.

•  “4) The Isreali occupation of Gaza and the West
Bank will continue because he will refuse to
negotiate with “terrorists”.

Same thing here. If that 60-year old occupation continues, (Barack Obama is 47) it won’t be because he will “refuse to negotiate with ‘terrorists’” which just makes this more bullshit propaganda, since he’s always held the opposite position.

•  “5) He will not ask for any “New Deal” type
programs to deal with the economic crisis
because “big government is not the answer”
except for big banks.

More bullshit, since he’ll obviously have to do SOMETHING like this, to follow up on what has been a constant in his platform. More jobs, more and better education, (particularly for the middle and lower classes who have long been disenfranchised from ANY of the standard tools needed to accomplish some socio-economic equality)

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By cyrena, May 18, 2008 at 2:18 am Link to this comment

Part 2 of 2 analysis of troublesome crystal ball of excrement

•  “6) He will continue the practice of extreme
rendition and the CIA’s use of torture will
continue while he denies it all.

THIS is probably your WORST piece of criminal lying propaganda troublesum, and pretty much just assigns you to the gutter with the rest of the trolls. You have absolutely NO BASIS for such an accusation, other than what is your increasingly perverted cynicism.

•  “7) He will continue to make international
trade agreements inspite of the cost to American
workers.

He WILL continue to make international trade agreements, to benefit the survival of the 300 million plus population of the US, seeing as how this is the 21st Century, and there is NO WAY to get around that; NOR would it be to our advantage.

He does NOT need to make these agreements in the same terms that they have been initiated under the neo-liberals of the past 2 decades, which have caused the huge losses to American workers. HE at least knows how to work this. How many international trade agreements have YOU put together troublesum? Do you even have a CLUE to what’s involved in terms of 21st Century global economies, or do you just like to spew venomous feces? Your ignorance is on clear display here.

•  “8) He will be in constant conflict with other Black
leaders in this country for not doing enough for
minorities.
9) He will maintain the Imperial Presidency in all
of its aspects.”

More hate mongering from a clueless hater. How long has it taken you to hone that crystal ball composed of excrement anyway?

•  “10) He will give good speeches, smile a lot and
continue to hang out with Oprah.

Yep, he is a great orator, and we’ll look forward to hearing from him, reminiscent of the old fireside chats, 21st Century style. As for Oprah, it’s hardly likely that he’ll ‘continue’ to hang out with her, since he’s not been so inclined to ‘hang out’ with her before.

Knock off the booze for a bit troublesum,(it’s actually a depressant, though many are unaware of that) and maybe check into some anti-depressants or something. And, maybe you should consider your claim that you seldom post more than a few lines. You’ve already spewed enough doom and gloom to take us through the next few years, as if we couldn’t find the reality of the same every place we look.

You’re overdrawn on your account of ‘short posts’. Matter of fact, you’re just plain overdrawn on everything.

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By RICHARD D. ROSENBLATT, May 18, 2008 at 12:26 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I am 82 years old, and I’ve experienced the great depression, enlisted in WWII, graduated WEST POINT,
was an AIR FORCE pilot, a counter intelligence officer, and was at national political conventions; and as head of many public companies, experienced all this great country has to offer. I agree with Chalmers Johnson as far as he goes.
But the burdon in a democracy is on the shoulder of each and every citizen. Don’t shirk your responsibility by being for or against somebody. Get out in the street and shout “I won’t take it anymore”. Write, talk, get public…ACT.
It’s up to you, and you, and you.
This country can have a rebirth if we all get out in front of the chief executive. The chief executive is usually a pushover when he or she reads the polls and listens to the shouting in the streets (you).
Finally: I have written, together with a Marine Corps Colonel, who is a West Point classmate, an expose of how the troop increases in Iraq took place.
The book flashes back to WWII, Korea, and Vietnam which is all prologue to the Iraq situation.
The novel has been a smash hit, and will probably be released as a movie in the near future.
Look for it under Amazon Black Gold Gray, Barnes & Noble Black Gold Gray, or Target Black Gold Gray.
And for God’s sake, don’t despair…DO SOMETHING.

Richard David Rosenblatt, author BLACK GOLD GRAY

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By samosamo, May 17, 2008 at 8:47 pm Link to this comment

Since the wish list thing has morphed into a ‘what obama will do…” list I guess I will end my wish listing but it is still good to list things that need to be done for democracy restoration. But to guess the future as to what will happen is more ludicrous. If we all knew that future then w & dick would have lost in a landslide.
And, I have not seen where obama has become the demo nominee. And, again, hillary will not stop until the fat lady has sung and with bill and hillary’s connections you might see the headlines in the paper declaring obama and turn around and see hillary accepting the nomination.
If obama is nominated, within 100 days(giving some leaway here) you will know if the corporations will be pulling his strings and how hard.
If that happens, pull up stakes and leave while burning everything behind you so the elites won’t have an easy time of taking the whole damn country for themselves.

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By Dr. Knowitall, PhD, PhD, May 17, 2008 at 5:41 pm Link to this comment

I’m sure you’re both aware of the long, long struggle Michael Newdow, the Sacramento Dr./Lawyer/preacher is waging to get “in god we trust” and “under god” off money and out of the pledge, respectively.  Not knowing much about suits, I wasn’t too successful in my research to find out where things stand except that the battle goes on.

BTW, Cyrena I appreciated your input on my recent comment.  Obama is fortunate to have a chance to be president in a pivotal time and in a time that could make him one of the greats—if he honors what will likely be a mandate.

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By troublesum, May 17, 2008 at 5:29 pm Link to this comment

Here is what will happen if Obama is elected:
  1) Social Security will be handed over to Wall
    Street.  (“Trust me” he will say)
  2) An inadequate national health care plan which
    maintains corporate control of insurance will
    be put in place.  (“Trust me, this just a
    beginning” he will say.)
  3) The occupation of Iraq and Afganistan will
    continue.
  4) The Isreali occupation of Gaza and the West
    Bank will continue because he will refuse to
    negotiate with “terrorists”. 
  5) He will not ask for any “New Deal” type
    programs to deal with the economic crisis
    because “big government is not the answer”
    except for big banks.
  6) He will continue the practice of extreme
    rendition and the CIA’s use of torture will
    continue while he denies it all.
  7) He will continue to make international
    trade agreements inspite of the cost to American
    workers.
  8) He will be in constant conflict with other Black
    leaders in this country for not doing enough for
    minorities.
  9) He will maintain the Imperial Presidency in all
    of its aspects.
10) He will give good speeches, smile a lot and
    continue to hang out with Oprah.

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By Michael Shaw, May 17, 2008 at 2:47 pm Link to this comment

Socalcde the first step in solving any problem is to realize you have one. Many do not, nor do they understand the magnitude or the stakes involved. If they read this article, they sure do now.

The way to fix these problems is simple. You oppose them and you stop them with any or every civil means at your disposal. A good start would include educating those without a clue by passing this article along.

As for liberals/progressives not having any kind of organized movement, you must be joking! For the last 8 years they have been the last great vestige of hope to the most diabolical tyranny in US history. Dare I say their cause has lived since Roosevelt and before. They are on the verge of a major political victory and their neocon opponents, though dastardly and loud (and seemingly holding all the cards), are defensively on the run.

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By Michael Shaw, May 17, 2008 at 1:59 pm Link to this comment

anyone who needs a lapel pin to advertise his fealty presents in serious question as to whether this fealty is real or perceived

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By samosamo, May 17, 2008 at 12:28 pm Link to this comment

Since jonas started this and cyreana wants in and I have put 4 out their here are a couple more:

Every congressperson must have read a bill to be voted on and demonstrate that he/she has knowledge of what is in it. And if a constitiuent calls or writes or emails his congressperson they should be able to discuss that bill and what how and why they may vote.

Any bill cannot have added clauses that do not pertain to the main idea of the bill. Eliminate any unwarranted spending, and NO last second additions at vote time.

An immediate and thorough investigation into 9/11. Personnally I am very curious about the evidence that would have help prosecute a bunch of white collar criminals that got to go free because of the destruction of the evidence, particiularly from wtc7 and possibly billions in gold bars and other forms of money.

Investigate all off shore accounts of all elected officals.

Any corporation or business that has moved off shore to prevent paying taxes, should be made to pay tariffs for doing business with and in the US.

Tax the corporations as much as the middle class is taxed.

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By Michael Shaw, May 17, 2008 at 12:21 pm Link to this comment

Well Doc, I believe it’s closing in on two scenarios, one is the voter rebellion you suggest leading to positive change(something I believe we all hope for), the other a real rebellion that will ultimately be brought on by this continuing and relentless onslaught!

The real answers lie in the hands of the very unscrupulous people you mention. How far are they willing to take this before they draw the logical conclusion that this unfettered corporate fascism they’ve created poses the greatest of all threats to capitalism? They made the right decision in 1932, as what Naomi Klein would call finding a “third way”(though they kicked and screamed the entire time).

I had a conversation with my landlord the other day. She’s conservative and is now a devout anti-Bush republican(though she will no doubt vote for McCain). As you know conservatives are always harping about socialism and communism. They fear the left in any form because they believe it will lead to totalitarianism and a loss of their status. They love to bring up Mao and Stalin to make their points and there is some justification to these points! But one thing it seems most of them do not understand, or they do not seem willing to understand is that socialism or communism are the direct result of totalitarianism coming from their side of the political spectrum. Like her I wish no parts in Stalinism or Maoism anymore than I would adhere to a Hitler state, but I have a meticulous understanding of history and I do not ignore it.

Regulated capitalism saved this nation. Unregulated capitalism will eventually destroy it.

For the conservatives and their neocon masters, a simple piece of advice, a little pain…(IE corporate regulation, fair trade-fair wages, an increase in social spending, fair taxation, an end to illegal war and unilateralism and a return to diplomacy, restoration of the Bill of Rights etc)...now will go a long way and no doubt give you yet more opportunity to create economic conundrum’s and rob the rest of us blind in the many years to come. It is up to you as to whether you wish to keep the proverbial ball rolling or allow it to grind to a violent, screeching halt!

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thebeerdoctor's avatar

By thebeerdoctor, May 17, 2008 at 11:18 am Link to this comment

Back at you cyrena, in regards to the pledge of allegiance, this was a mantra ritual thought up post Civil War, thus the phrase “one nation indivisible” really does have a rather profound meaning in light of the war between the states (as many a southerner has said, there was nothing civil about it). So putting “under God” actually divides the sectarian strength of “liberty and justice for all”. This deity inclusion was a part of the cold war, to supposedly distinguish the United States from the Soviet Union and their godless communism.
In light of our trade deficit with China (it used to be called Red China) this old school tactic seems a relic of an era that had its own kind of continual tensions, but is basically non sequitur now. But newspeak from the neoconservatives have revived this ritual to supposedly combat Islamofacism as they call it. So there is no surprise that flag lapel pins and whether your hand is over your heart, reciting the pledge, becomes a matter of ridiculous concern.

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By cyrena, May 17, 2008 at 11:11 am Link to this comment

Dr. Knowitall,

As ironic as it may seem, this is exactly what I believe has occured, and I’ve been thinking it (and saying it) for a very long time now.

I’m convinced that this would have come to what it has come to in this election cycle, if it were NOT because the American population, (and I hate to even say the ‘voters’ because far too many now, have never bothered with voting before) were not to desperately tramatized (tortured really) by the Dick Bush regime.

In all seriousness, while many may find this an agonizing election/campaign process, it is also historical. Just as a really quick so of a comparison, the numbers of people becoming involved in the process are historical, and higher than they’ve ever come anywhere close to, since Vietnam, when things were finally coming to a head in that protest against that horror.

And, if we looked at this as a ‘politics as usual’ thing, there would be no need for Barack Obama to be running (and WINNING) now, because he’s young. He could (if the times were not so urgent) easily wait around for another 8 years, without it being a ‘lost opportunity’ and I know with a certain amount of confidence, that it certainly was never HIS plan to run for this office at this time. And, if Dick Bush hadn’t screwed up worse than anybody has in my lifetime, I’m certain that he wouldn’t be.

So, my favorite bit of wisdom still holds true…lots of Americans are smarter than we look.

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By Michael Shaw, May 17, 2008 at 11:06 am Link to this comment

How about In God We Trust! Yet another addition. You are absolutely right! Without a basis in knowledge we are easily misled and this is exactly why we are in the position we find ourselves. Many people out there never heard of the Bill of Rights, let alone the Magna Carta. If you do not realize these things exist, you have no reason to miss them when they’re taken away.

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By Dr. Knowitall, PhD, PhD, May 17, 2008 at 10:24 am Link to this comment

Oh, absolutely, Michael, I agree with you. 

When greedy unscrupulous people and their corporations learn of the potential bonanza their government might represent to them, they go knocking. 

And, as you suggest, you can blame our reps on both sides of the aisle for being so eager to help them out. 

Now, where middle class people used to be willing to look the other way because things were tolerable for them, one thing, the gas price crisis, may at least change general attitudes.  This could be one of the things that gets Wolin’s “demos” a little more interested in their government.  Overall, as unbearable as this election campaign has been, people seem to be thinking and talking more about the stark political and philosophical differences in our country and about the things you mentioned above.  This is a good thing and maybe a beginning of voter rebellion. 

Maybe Bush’s legacy will be that he finally mobilized the American voters———————against everything he stood for.  What an irony if he turns out to be the catalyst by which the people get their government back.  I don’t think it’s too far-fetched. “BUSH, the FOLKSY LIBERATOR (HE BRINGS FREEDOM PIE IN THE BACK DOOR)”

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By Michael Shaw, May 17, 2008 at 9:51 am Link to this comment

Well Cyrena, the abuse of power or the quest to abuse it is not unique and even the ripoff is not unique, but the rapid and blatant hijack that has taken place after 9/11 is an animal all onto itself. One moment we were the active thriving members of a middle class in a republic with checks and balances, the next moment the proletariat subjects to a tyrant.

PS thanks for the mention!

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By Michael Shaw, May 17, 2008 at 9:15 am Link to this comment

troublesum I don’t see most people in here “holding” the philosophy that Obama will solve all of our problems when elected. I see them more as “hoping” he will at least try to address and solve these many problems(travesties) and return us to some semblance of sanity. There is no magic potion here and the pit is deep. No one has any idea who will do what when the time comes. All we have is hope and a notion to be heard.

I believe many in here do see Obama as our best chance in putting us back on the right track. Perhaps our last chance. To suggest he will do exactly what Bush has done and what McCain will continue to do as of yet has no evident foundation.

I can understand your skepticism believe me. We have found ourselves in what appears to be a hopeless situation. Clearly it is a terrible mess, the worst we have ever had to collectively face. But without hope there only comes capitulation and that is exactly what the neocons are after.

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By cyrena, May 17, 2008 at 9:06 am Link to this comment

Troublesum writes:

“...Most people who comment here hold that all of the nation’s ills started with Bush and that when we elect Obama everything will be beautiful again.  I don’t know how anyone who has lived through the last 25 years could hold such simple minded views.”..

And, of course I have ‘trouble’ with the suggestion that MOST people who post her believe this. Matter of fact, I don’t believe this to be the case at all.

Because you’re right, this would be an extremely simple minded view of the world, even for a person who’s world view is very narrow. So, I reject that MOST people think or otherwise believe this. I know that I certainly don’t, and I’ve yet to hear Barack Obama say anything of the sort either.

On this though…

“...Obama will put a nice, innocent face on rape and pillage.  People will stand and applaud.  Obama’s message is that a black man can run the empire as well as a white man.  He will continue to do everything Bush has been doing while giving better speeches…”

I think you’re either very, very, very, deeply cynical, (not without some reason) or you just haven’t been paying attention, or you’d have a serious problem with a black president yourself.

I do NOT believe, not even for a second, that Barack Obama would continue to do what Bush has done, or to put an ‘innocent face’ on rape and pillage. Matter of fact, that goes beyond cynicism, and makes me wonder if you might not be on Cheney’s secret staff.

What so many of us oldsters seem to be unwilling to realize or comprehend, (and I’m grateful that I don’t have this mentality myself, because then there really wouldn’t be a single point in even reading or writing here) is that the generations DO keep coming. There IS actually life after ours, or so we’d like to believe.

So, despite the fact (or maybe because of it) that we have allowed, (yes our own generations) the whole thing to go down the tubes, and particularly in the past 8 years as Michael Shaw has pointed out, doesn’t mean that there aren’t several million more American citizens who still want to have some chance at survival.

There IS a younger generation out there, (and I personally depend on them) that has decided NOT to ‘accept’ this dreadful demise of which you speak, so we’ll find out soon enough, BECAUSE OF THEM, whether or not Barack Obama will be the raper and pillager with a smile, as you suggest, because THEY have decided to do something that nobody else has, to assure a better future for themselves.

And, when we do find this out, I think you’ll be dead wrong, but I hope you’ll be able to appreciate the vast improvement, even if you choose not to involve yourself in helping it come about.

You’re obviously missed Obama’s message so far, so maybe you’ll understand it better at a later date.

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By cyrena, May 17, 2008 at 8:50 am Link to this comment

Hi BeerDoc,

Thanks for the excellent post. I wanted to raise my hand on this one:

•  “How many in this country are aware that the phrase “under God” was inserted into the pledge of allegiance in 1954?

ME! I knew it. BUT…I’ve ONLY known it for about 10 years, since I had the opportunity to escape the corporate slave plantation, and actually have time to read something other than escape literature. (because as long as I was working the corporate plantation, I really needed the ‘escape’ literature).

But ya know what actually got me to thinking more about that, was in part at least, the words that come directly after it, “…indivisible, with liberty and justice for ALL.” Funny how we say those words by rote, but it somehow doesn’t seem to me that anybody really pays much attention to what those words mean. And the ones that are so overwhelmingly ‘patriotic’ in their determination to make sure that this pledge is REQUIRED of every single person in the land, to PROVE their how ‘patriotic’ they are, seem to be the ones who understand these words the LEAST! I always think about that now, anytime the pledge is recited in a public gathering. I think to myself, somehow, I just don’t get the ‘feeling’ that these folks really do MEAN that they want ‘liberty and justice for ALL’ whether it’s under God or the Sun or anything else. If that was the case, the originating economy wouldn’t have been based on slavery, and it wouldn’t have lasted for over 100 years, with the remnants still in place today.

Now the other reason of course that I started pondering so hard on these words that I’ve been saying from memory since not all that long after the words ‘under God’ were inserted, was because it became another one of those inflaming issues, with everybody hollering and screaming about the REQUIREMEMT that this MUST be done in schools and other public forums. Yes…another distraction, and another division, because WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES IT MAKE, whether or not those words are in there? Does it change the purpose or the overall meaning of the thing? I don’t see how. But now that I’m old and have had a chance to study some other political apparatus, there IS something semi-troubling about the need to FORCE this on anybody. It brings to mind photos from the Nazi Movement, and the propaganda from the other Nationalist/Authoritarian regimes of history.

Meantime, here are a few stories that compliment the subject matter at hand. Or, at least continue along on the same wave of thought.

Moyers: ‘Democracy in America Is a Series of Narrow Escapes, and We May Be Running Out of Luck’
By Bill Moyers, Doubleday. Posted May 17, 2008.


For all of America’s shortcomings, we keep telling ourselves, “The system works.” Now all bets are off.
The following is an excerpt from Bill Moyers’ new book, “Moyers on Democracy” (Doubleday, 2008).

http://www.alternet.org/democracy/85521/


Howard Zinn: Anarchism Shouldn’t Be a Dirty Word
By Ziga Vodovnik, CounterPunch. Posted May 17, 2008.


In this interview, Zinn explains why anarchism is often ridiculed as violent and chaotic.

Howard Zinn, 85, is a Professor Emeritus of political science at Boston University. He was born in Brooklyn, NY, in 1922 to a poor immigrant family. He realized early in his youth that the promise of the “American Dream”, that will come true to all hard-working and diligent people, is just that—a promise and a dream.

http://www.alternet.org/democracy/85427/

(I’ve always had a crush on Howard Zinn…even if he is 30 years older than me) Age really is relative you know. smile

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By Michael Shaw, May 17, 2008 at 8:47 am Link to this comment

You make a lot of sense knowitall. I would point out one thing however, never in our history has the hijacking of America been so evident or so arrogant. The blatant abuse and misuse of power has never been more evident and the stripping of our civil liberties is unprecedented in comparison to any other administration, democrat or otherwise. Even worse is the robbing of the nation’s coffers, the economic travesty that’s been enabled and the blatant disregard of the consequences. Many democrats certainly have played a role in this and they too should/will go down in infamy, but by far it is the republicans who should receive the bulk of the blame and the shame.

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By Dr. Knowitall, PhD, PhD, May 17, 2008 at 7:11 am Link to this comment

Unless I misunderstand Johnson/Wolin, they’re saying just what you are. 

My only slight diasgreement with what you say troublesum is that it seems to me the democrats don’t seem to mind so much an imperial presidency with one NOT their own in office and therein lies a big part of the problem.  Their motive is not to right wrongs for the sake of democracy and the people, but to get in on the action.

I haven’t read Wolin, but from what I can glean here, he seems to be saying, in book form and pretty succinctly, what I interpret as the message many commenters have be writing here for a long time.

I’m not a history or politics student like many here, but I’m not surprised nor am I much enlightened about what Johnson say Wolin writes.  What is going on is pretty obvious, even to someone who just reads a little and watches, like me. 

I never bought into the “ignoring/repeating history” saying because humans will repeat history, no matter what, if they can profit from it—in the long-enough-for-them run—and so far, they have. 

Wolin apparently doesn’t have much faith that humans will rise above their nature and I agree.  As for the framers of our government, they were every bit as flawed as we and in no way could have anticipated the 21st century with its extremes.  The industrial revolution was 50+ years in their future and they were long gone before it became full-blown.

If a connection between capitalism and democracy has to be made, then we have to rethink both in 21st century terms.

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By thebeerdoctor, May 17, 2008 at 7:03 am Link to this comment

“But if the rich are too rich and the poor have nothing to support them in bad times, then how is liberty’s tree to be nourished?”
Gore Vidal, Point To Point Navigation, a memoir

That is the crux of the matter. The struggle for human rights is a continuous endeavor, from one person to another, from one generation to another. This is also why so much of history is suppressed: if you do not know what it was, you’ll never know what it has become. Distortions are in bountiful supply. For many American citizens certain assumptions seem written in stone. How many in this country are aware that the phrase “under God” was inserted into the pledge of allegiance in 1954? Hard to imagine that this country went through all of World War 2 without Divine providence placed on the rudder of this mighty ship of state. How many are aware that the National Security locked down state was created by Harry Truman, who also manufactured the cold war? Korea intervention anyone?
If you asked many in this country what is The Posse Comitatus Act, they are likely to mumble something about right wing militias. How many know that there were laws enacted to prevent exorbitant rates of interest? It seems unthinkable in a time when our government protects banks from their self produce economic follies.
True history is a dangerous force to the status quo. It is not surprising that a state such as Arizona, is seeking to make into law SB1108, which would withdraw funding from any school that “denigrates American values and the teachings of Western civilization” and also bars teaching practices that “overtly encourage dissent”.
Is there any place for Chalmers Johnson in that curriculum?

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By mike roloff, May 17, 2008 at 6:59 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

thus let us have the lion of waziristan who’ll really get stuck in the fabled northwest territories and who wont be out of eerak for a hundred years when it will be surrounded by a chinese built wall and full of chinese who will be indistinguishable from the sand… and the rare ancient native will be displayed on freedom square..

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By jackpine savage, May 17, 2008 at 6:22 am Link to this comment

Good points, MS, and i was a little disingenuous with that comment because it can be troublesome to apply modern connotations to late, 18th Century word choice.  When the founders talked about Empire, they were almost certainly envisioning “sea to shining sea”...not 800+ international military installations.

Though almost as soon as the Constitution was ratified, our brand new navy was off fighting wars on the N. African coast to defend American trade interests.

They knew full well that their new union was far from perfect.  Madison initially found the shared sovereignty issue to be the document’s greatest weakness, but then decided that it was the greatest strength.

“More perfect” is a good example of the connotation/denotation issue i started with.  We generally consider “perfect” to mean, “without blemish”.  But that’s hardly the only definition.  They might well have been using a more grammatical definition, which would change the overall meaning to “a more completed union”.  Considering the looseness of the Articles of Confederation (in terms of “union”), that definition makes some sense.

And of course, the operative word is “more”.  They didn’t claim to have figured everything out and chiseled it in stone.  They knew that issues like enfranchisement, slavery, and women’s rights would arise…they were all implicit in the Revolutionary ideals.  But they recognized what they could do and what would be left for others to finish…to further complete as it were.

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By troublesum, May 17, 2008 at 6:04 am Link to this comment

Ramble?  I seldomly post comments of more than a few lines.  Most people who comment here hold that all of the nation’s ills started with Bush and that when we elect Obama everything will be beautiful again.  I don’t know how anyone who has lived through the last 25 years could hold such simple minded views.
Obama will put a nice, innocent face on rape and pillage.  People will stand and applaud.  Obama’s message is that a black man can run the empire as well as a white man.  He will continue to do everything Bush has been doing while giving better speeches.  Bush has decimated the Bill of Rights and history shows that once rights are taken away they are not granted again from the powers that be without a fight.  Democrats will love the imperial presidency with one of their own in office.

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By Expat, May 17, 2008 at 5:10 am Link to this comment

troublesum, I find your post troublesome.  For one thing you lack focus and ramble about.  Obama has nothing to do with our predicament; like him or not it doesn’t matter.  My questions to you are simply; just who should take the blame for the last 7 years?  Aren’t we, the citizens of this “democracy”, the guardians of our democracy, such as it is?  Aren’t we supposed to control our “elected” representatives?  Yes, Wolin is rightfully blaming “us” because we haven’t taken care of “us”.  We, because of fear, have given this administration unprecedented powers and now we whine because we fear to act.  And here we are………..

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By cyrena, May 17, 2008 at 4:54 am Link to this comment

Actually socalce, I think you’ve answered at least a few of your own questions here, if you go back to the last part of the piece. (I haven’t received the book yet). There is an entire list toward the end of the article, that makes a number of suggestions, and most of them don’t require a re-making of the wheel, so to speak.

In short, some immediate results can be accomplished just by rolling back so much of the destruction that has been done to the Constitution. The MCA, the attack on FISA, and surely the tax structure that has been creating obscene wealth for the already wealthy, and making all of the rest of us that much poorer in the process.

NOBODY expects Barack Obama to wave a magic wand. However, if you don’t see the movement that has been accomplished under his plan to bring us into the 21st Century, then you aren’t paying attention as you claim that you are.

I won’t sit here and claim that Barack Obama has not taken ANY money from ANY corporations, because I know for a fact that my own former employer of 27 years has been donating to political campaigns for as long as I can remember. (They generally donate to both parties).

However, I can ALSO tell you that this is NOT where the majority of Obama’s funds have come from. In fact, I mentioned earlier, something that a long term politician, (Willie Brown of California) mentioned in a lecture the other night. First of all, the numbers are phenomenal in terms of how many constituents the Obama Movement has brought into the system. Next, these people…nearly ALL working class people, and many of them now very poor working class people, don’t really HAVE $25.00 to donate to a political campaign. And yet, THEY HAVE!! And, as the former Mayor pointed out, not just ONCE, but they have managed to send along $25.00 each month, now for 3, 4 or 5 of them.

The old American constituency for whatever the reasons, doesn’t seem to understand this. They can’t ‘see it’ possibly because they aren’t looking, and possibly because it’s not something they’ve ever seen before, and also because…well, some of them don’t really want to.

I mean, if we really want to be honest about it, most of the status quo didn’t pay much attention to Barack Obama, because he was an unknown nobody that nobody had ever heard of before, and besides…he was black. It was simply a ‘given’ that he wasn’t gonna get anywhere, and so the old school just sort of blew him off, even among the lower and middle class constituency.

The elite among the political class did the same thing. I mean, Hillary was convinced that she would be the nominee, so she didn’t plan for a campaign beyond February. Whoops! Surprise, surprise. That ‘movement’ just sneaked up on you guys, eh? So poor Hillary was out of money, and all of HER corporate and Wall Street backers had already given her the max, so she had to dig into her own pocket.

Seems like a whole bunch of folks, (like you) underestimated your fellow citizens, who actually HAVE been paying attention.

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By cyrena, May 17, 2008 at 4:36 am Link to this comment

I didn’t get this from the article at all troublesum, other than the fact that our citizenry obviously needs to be more informed, if we are to take a more active and participatory effort in our own governing.

I certainly didn’t get it as a BLAME US type thing, because it’s an intellectual work that explains basically how we came to be highjacked by a totalitarian regime. Needless to say, while that has been in the making for some decades, the coup d’etat was accomplished by the Dick Bush regime.

At the same time, I didn’t see any suggestion that having a new president was going to instantaneously make all of the difference in the world, because it won’t. It will only BEGIN the process of trying to get back to something closer to a democracy, and one that can be accomplished by more of the population, rather than the small band of gangster thieves that have taken us over. So, if you’re looking for a president to change it, you’ll pissing in the wind, because what we need is a full cleaning of the house, and a new ideology based on the principles of democracy, and the global vision of the authoritarian regime, which is global hegemony via militarism, that also includes the evaporation of all civil rights and liberties here at home, and the destruction of our economy, just to mention a few.

So, I think you missed it, and you’ve missed the biggest thing in the room based on your take of Obama, because at this point, he’s the ONLY candidate standing that not only CAN accomplish the turn around, but has already begun to do that, just by the movement that he has amassed. 

Obviously, the huge numbers of the population that his movement has incorporated into the system…those that have NEVER voted, or those who have been the most ‘apathetic’ among us, believing that nothing we could done would ever change the power structure, are exactly what Chalmers is addressing here, regarding what’s required for a change.  So maybe you’re unaware of these phenomenal numbers, which would indicate that the average voter these days, isn’t seeing, hearing or feeling the same ‘condensation’ that you claim you get from Obama. And yes, the numbers ARE phenomenal, which is why he’ll be the next president.

Besides that, Barack Obama has not set himself up as some sort of parent who’s going to tell everyone how to behave, but rather ….THE OPPOSITE. His message is so consistent on that, and the fact that he can only be expected to help the rest of us figure out what WE want, (he rarely even uses ‘I’ in terms of anything, but rather ‘WE’) and how we can manage to accomplish it.

So, something makes me think that you’re interpreting this piece from a very narrow and biased personal judgment, that is more emotional than it is anything else. That’s too bad, because this is an excellent piece that does far more than BLAME anybody, but rather explains HOW these totalitarian systems work, how the come about, and what is required to try and get back to something close to the original blueprint, even though IT is not any perfect model of ‘democracy’ either.

And, if memory serves me, I don’t think the article even mentions Barack Obama.

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By troublesum, May 17, 2008 at 4:10 am Link to this comment

It is interesting that while the focus of Wolin’s book is on what happens when you have an apathetic citizenry, most people have responded here with more attacks on Bush and Cheney.  Wolin isn’t blaming Bush for anything.  If I understand him, he’s blaming us.  I don’t see Obama as the answer.  He is so condescending in his approach to voters.  It’s like he’s talking to a group of children on a playground.  We must all be nice; we must all get along.  Parental government is part of the problem, not the solution.

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By socalcde, May 17, 2008 at 12:45 am Link to this comment

“Unfortunately, this is more a guide of what’s gone wrong than a statement of how to fix it”. So who has written a statement on how to fix it?  I’m willing to put out some effort, but I need a guide.  I write to my legislators and often get discouraging replies, I attend rallies with my children that often seem to be attended by mostly extremists, and I go out of my way to be informed, but I really don’t feel that I’m affecting anything.  A book such as this is informative, but is it helpful for anything but history?
And I have to say that I think people are depending too much on Barrack Obama.  He is only one man, and one who has taken money from corporations.  Bush is part of an organized movement, and I don’t feel that the liberals have any kind of organized movement.

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By cyrena, May 16, 2008 at 11:24 pm Link to this comment

Samosamo, I’m gonna get to my list here eventually..there’s just so much. But, don’t let that stop you, and don’t be worried about putting your foot in your mouth. For the most part, you and the majority of us couldn’t even begin to come as close to that as our elected officials have managed over the past several years, and continue to do.

I would FAR prefer to hear from you or any other poster here -ANY DAY- than any of them.

The only problem with them I guess, is that they don’t keep their feet in their mouths once they’ve been inserted. If GW had done that, we could have avoided the pain of hearing anything more from him for the past 8 years.

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By Michael Shaw, May 16, 2008 at 10:10 pm Link to this comment

Another thing that comes to mind was the staged pulling down of Saddam’s statue shown over and over and over. That and the clips of him firing his rifle. It was meant of course to show us we overthrew a crazed tyrant and we were welcomed by the Iraqi’s as liberators. What they didn’t show us was the reality, the simple replacement of an old tyrant with a new one, the latter being far more determined and ruthless than its predecessor.

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By Michael Shaw, May 16, 2008 at 9:58 pm Link to this comment

Well true, especially if you believe Niall Ferguson, but he’s a guy who embraces the idea of American Empire.

We shouldn’t forget that America was the first time a determined people were successful in defeating the most powerful empire ever known. What we established in it’s place was radically new. I know that Washington was once said to have mentioned the United States will one day weigh in with major empires and was also said to have referred to us an an infant empire or a nascent empire. But he also refused to be crowned a king and led the way to the new constitution, waving the articles of confederation which if adapted, would have essentially left us poor and helpless. We were surrounded by empire, Britain, France and Spain. Those initial actions taken by the forefathers were acts in desperation. It meant literally our survival.

Another anecdote that comes to mind is that Jefferson told Madison no constitution was ever before as well calculated as ours for extending extensive empire and self government. If we take this statement on its face value we simply see an aspect, but it doesn’t mention that Jefferson(and Madison) were not entirely happy with the new constitution and even proposed an 11th Amendment that would limit corporate power.

From Common Dreams:

“Jefferson and Madison proposed an 11th Amendment to the Constitution that would “ban monopolies in commerce,” making it illegal for corporations to own other corporations, banning them from giving money to politicians or trying to influence elections in any way, restricting corporations to a single business purpose, limiting the lifetime of a corporation to something roughly similar to that of productive humans (20 to 40 years back then), and requiring that the first purpose for which all corporations were created be “to serve the public good.” 

http://www.commondreams.org/views03/0101-07.htm

As for the non use of the word empire, I believe the author meant “empire” is not being mentioned in the present. It’s obvious why the neocons aren’t talking about it, not so clear cut with the democrats. Perhaps fear is their motivation, a need to maintain their personal status in shaky times. Either that or the fact that they, just as their republican counterparts rely so dependently on corporate finance to fund their campaigns. Whatever the case, it is certainly clear to many we are an empire and we certainly act like one. The cat is already out of the bag. The only thing missing is the fessing up.

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By Fadel Abdallah, May 16, 2008 at 9:39 pm Link to this comment

“Masters of this world are masters of images and their manipulation. Wolin reminds us that the image of Adolf Hitler flying to Nuremberg in 1934 that opens Leni Riefenstahl’s classic film “Triumph of the Will” was repeated on May 1, 2003, with President George Bush’s apparent landing of a Navy warplane on the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln to proclaim “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq.”
==========================
The above quoted passage from Johnson’s review of Wolin’s is the most interesting part of this wonderful review . Both Wolin and Chalmers Johnson will certainly go down in history as two very unique intellectuals and observers who were fully awake and aware while the overwhelming majority of Americans were having that proverbial “Sleepers of the Cave’s” deep slumber while democracy was evolving into totalitarianism.

The idea of democracy evolving into totalitarianism is not uniquely new however. It was discussed by Plato in his Republic.

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By Amon Drool, May 16, 2008 at 8:57 pm Link to this comment

well, make your “target” a positive one instead of a negative one.  tell your non-intellectual friends to shoot for a social democracy.  if they’re still puzzled, tell ‘em our present liberal democracy condones excessive individual greed over the social (societal) good.  if they’re not aware enuf to see this, well screw ‘em

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By samosamo, May 16, 2008 at 8:13 pm Link to this comment

What in the world is wrong with this web site? I am getting more of a good share of web page time outs and losing everything I comment on. What gives?
I do plan on buying this book, in paper back so I may have to wait a while.

How’s this:

Fire all the general’s supporting w & dick’s imperialistic causes.

Emergency order to break up the media monopolies and reinstate the Fainess Doctorine.

ASAP criminalize lobbying of any elected offical. And holding places in line so the public cannot get into committee hearings.

Set term limits for congress.

This just a small list from me just as cyrena has a huge list, so do I. And I would like for the others to be more on the informative side before I put my foot in my mouth.
Once again and for a look into the not too distant past on empires and imperialism, partictularly the British, READ Mike Davis’ “Late Victorian Holocausts”.  I am well into the book and it is devastatingly appropo to our empire and imperialistic out reach.
And to get a grip on the msm, get Robert Kane Pappas’ dvd “Orwell Rolls in His Grave”. Get it from the web site with the same name as it is a more functional dvd than what I got from amazon.com. If we don’t at the least solve the media issues then we are doomed because we cannot hope to educate the numbbies with current msm.

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By Michael Shaw, May 16, 2008 at 8:05 pm Link to this comment

Yep! That’s about it! Freedom for the corporations to literally get away with murder. Here at home they call it compassionate conservatism.

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By Michael Shaw, May 16, 2008 at 8:00 pm Link to this comment

How about “Rich Bad Guys”?

Also Thomas Jefferson was a strong believer in liberty who wanted to regulate corporations or outright ban them. He also hated pure democracy and felt it doomed to failure. So too did many of his contemporaries, thus the forming of a democratic republic rather than a pure democracy. So how is that shooting off one’s rage prematurely?

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By cyrena, May 16, 2008 at 6:16 pm Link to this comment

Felicity,

Thanks so much for asking this question. I was about to answer, because I had the same question until about a year ago, and it took me a whole lot longer to figure it out, and a lot more work and enery. I should have just posted it here, and saved myself a whole bunch of time.

But, these replies mean I don’t have to, and I couldn’t have done a better job anyway. Besides, they helped refine my own understanding of it.
This forum has become an extremely valuable resource for free education, and I for one, and particularly appreciative.

Thanks to ALL of you geniuses out there! (you know who you are).

Next time, I’m just gonna post my queries here…this is a supreme example of community education. I love it!

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By cyrena, May 16, 2008 at 6:04 pm Link to this comment

Bubba, I had the same analysis of these same comments from the piece. There is a contradiction here.

And, what he suggests there is that ‘remains to be seen’, is already in play.

The numbers of voters that are joining the system are in fact historical. I don’t have them all, but this continues to be more than a ‘re-awakening’ in my own estimation, simply because the infusion of democratic energy into the system, (and as a result of the Obama movement) is phenomenal.

The movement has incorporated 21st Century technology, specifically in terms of communication, and the apathy is being infused with the energy and participation required for what has only been some stuff ‘on paper’ for far too long.

Willie Brown made this point really well in a talk earlier this week. One example, (though there are many) is the amount of campaign contributions that have been amassed by the Obama campaign. He noted that people who didn’t HAVE $25.00 to contribute, found a way to contribute $25.00. AND, NOT JUST ONCE, but every month, 2, 3 or 4 times! And, that’s just one example.

I’ve noticed over and over again, that many have employed the epitomes of cynicism and denial, in trying to ‘explain this away’ because it IS such a remarkable change and turn-about. Still, it has been GAINING in momentum, and it’s all good.

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By cyrena, May 16, 2008 at 5:42 pm Link to this comment

Jonas,

I have an entire list, (too long for the moment) but I’m onboard with the two that you’ve suggested here, and in my own opinion, these are doable immediately.

ALL of these ‘rules’ are can be wiped right off the books.

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By cyrena, May 16, 2008 at 5:35 pm Link to this comment

Reason101..

You’re absolutely correct here, except for one thing…

This is NOT UNIQUE!. It is the very definition of authoritarianism, and the ideology is ALWAYS a part of any totalitarian operation, and it’s always as you describe here; self-referencing, self-contained, without regard for facts, evidence, logic or argument. There IS NO ARGUMENT or even consideration of these things, because that’s what defines such a movement or operation.

But again, that is very, very, standard. It’s no different than the Nazi Totalitarianism, or the Stalin version, or any of the others. It’s an internal vision of the world, and how it should operate, based on what has been already determined by those who seek to enforce it.

In the case of the US, it was originally conceived by the PNAC. It’s a global vision of US hegemony enforced by militarism. And, while it may be true that it cannot be ‘changed’ in respect to this administration, it CAN be eradicated, by removing the administration, and all traces of the regime. In other words, other groups/nations/civilizations HAVE recovered from the effects of these experiences, and rebuilt democratic societies.

So if ‘change’ can be envisioned in terms of ridding our own system of those who have perpetrated it, then yes, it CAN be changed. I prefer to take it further, and simply say that it must be eradicated entirely. And yes, we need a 21st Century exercise of the Nuremburg Tribunals, in order to make the eradication complete. I don’t suggest that it can happen overnight, but it seems obvious that a change in the regime would be the first step.

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By AnnMullins, May 16, 2008 at 4:33 pm Link to this comment

Understanding public policy takes time, sometimes a lot of time. People can’t make smart decisions if they don’t do their homework.

The framers knew this. Thus a representative democracy. All a citizen had to do was chose somebody whose life and abilities they were familiar with to study and evolve policy for their benefit.

It actually works fairly well in some European countries.

When you call the electorate infantile, or say that the founding fathers hated democracy, you’re shooting your rage off prematurely.
Hiding the true target is one of the strategies of “Managed Democracy”. Don’t fall for it.

That said, what is a good simple anglo saxon name for the real target?  “Congressional-military-industrial complex” is accurate but not pithy.
“Managed Democracy”, is accurate but it sounds too benign.
“Evil” might work but its taken.

Seriously. Something my non-intellectual friends could use without blushing.

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By jackpine savage, May 16, 2008 at 4:11 pm Link to this comment

Indeed, “authoritarian” is probably a better word than totalitarianism.  That gets to the heart of the matter and avoids different historical manifestations of the philosophical root.

As well, National Socialism was not nearly the same thing as Marxist-Leninism.  But the key point to remember is that what we conceptualize as Soviet socialism was not even Marxist-Leninism.  It was Stalinism. 

Marx/Lenin envisioned the people owning the means of production.  Under Stalinism, the government owned the means of production; the people and the government didn’t really interact in any sort of positive way.  The people basically worked for the government (company) whether they wanted to or not.

Caveat: Lenin may well have gone the same way, he was quite willing to use terror to produce authority.  But his adoption of the NEP (and his reasons) suggest a flexibility that Stalin never matched. (except a little bit when his back was against the wall in 41/42)

So the long story short.  I agree with Jaded Prole about Nazi/USSR comparisons; however, Stalin was a fascist…he was probably a better fascist than Hitler because he completely wedded corporation and state.  But then again, Hitler called himself a socialist.

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By jackpine savage, May 16, 2008 at 3:56 pm Link to this comment

Or the fact that most of the founders regularly used the word “empire” when discussing America?

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By felicity, May 16, 2008 at 3:36 pm Link to this comment

Thanks all who answered my questions.  If I’ve got it right those who intended to rape the land, pillage the people, confiscate the natural resources of a foreign country came up with the word neoliberalism to give some class to what amounts to criminal behavior.  (I never did like Milton F.)

And afterall, liberal has to do with freedom and what could be better than being free to do whatever struck your fancy with someone else’s property and someone else’s life.  Really sickening.

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By Eric Barth, May 16, 2008 at 3:11 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This book sounds like an updating of an obscure book called FRIENDLY FASCISM (1980) by Bertram Gross, which was republished a few years ago in paperback. Sounds like another sobering read. While despair is not an option, this sounds like a thorough analysis of what we’re up against.

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By Michael Shaw, May 16, 2008 at 3:01 pm Link to this comment

I’d like to add that neo-liberalism can be readily seen in government actions right after the 9/11 attacks. Instead of the government saying, “there is nothing to fear but fear itself,” or it’s time to pick ourselves up, they instead told us to be afraid, be very afraid. It was fear both manufactured and otherwise they used to so easily roll back our constitutional rights and give massive tax breaks to the rich in war time while they cut social spending and gave us unfettered capitalism. We were already shocked by the attacks. Then we were further shocked by our own government who was/is spying on us, setting up these so called free speech zones, privatizing our national security system, collecting our DNA for a permanent data file, etc. etc. etc. Now we are further being shocked by their economic “ineptitudes’ and have yet to realize the potentially disastrous outcome. The dept we have, combined with all of these things spells disaster. For them it means a continuation of the military state and no doubt an ultimate end to social security and other safety nets once we have been completely bankrupted.

When right after this 9/11 tragedy occurred, we collectively asked our president, “What can we do to help?” He said, “Don’t worry about it!” “We’ll take care of it!” “Go shopping!” Well, here we are, only this time it isn’t Chile!

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By Michael Shaw, May 16, 2008 at 1:55 pm Link to this comment

Whoops! Ditto! But I would argue the reason Clinton pushed NAFTA through was a direct result of his wanting a second term. NAFTA was a congressional invention coming from the republican majority. The fact that he did sign it into law after being warned apparently tells us much. Was it a selfish act to fulfill his political ambition, or was it a chance, at least in his own mind that somehow he could manage to correct this nonsense once he was reelected? Well we all know he was and he didn’t. We also know and as Gore Vidal pointed out, Clinton wasn’t a very good overseer concerning the Bill of Rights either. We all remember Janet Reno, WACO and the Dividian’s, when the military became the judge, jury and executioner of men, women and children. It didn’t do him much good though did it! Probably hurt Hillary’s chances too!

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By Michael Shaw, May 16, 2008 at 1:37 pm Link to this comment

Well Felicity I understand your being perplexed, especially since liberalism, at least in the political sense, has nothing whatsoever to do with neo-liberalism. To sum it up simply, when deliberate economic undermining by major US corporations happens to nation’s abroad, it’s called neo-liberalism. When it happens here at home it’s neoconservatism. The same boys play in both leagues, the only difference is it depends on whether they’re playing at home or for the away team.

The basis of neo-liberalism began with Milton Friedman and his Chicago boys in Pinochet’s Chile. First our economic hit men were sent in when Allende was president. When they failed to coerce him, then the real hit men came in and took him out, replacing him with a more cooperative and in this case, fascist government. It is a combination of military and economic oppression that shocks the victim masses into adhering to a system they neither want or benefit by.

Read Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine and her analysis of what today has become known as disaster capitalism. The key is disaster, either natural or manufactured, that enables wealthy opportunists to basically profit on human misery. This same kind of neo-liberalism can be seen clearly in the recent Katrina disaster and the resulting emergency response by our neocon president. It can also be seen with the war in Iraq, a nation we attacked on the pretense that they were responsible for 9/11, then because they had weapons of mass destruction. What happened there was the economic hit men failed and the real hit men couldn’t get near Saddam. The only other option was to invade, then create a new economic system from the ground on up that was supposed to deliver a perfect model to unfettered corporate capitalism. No regulations, no taxes on corporations, basically corporate feudalism, a state whereby corporations have the only rights and the average citizen is regulated.

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By Reason101, May 16, 2008 at 1:30 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

You can’t try to change the administration’s course by appealing to facts and argument: they’ve rejected facts and argument, on principle… Most people seem not to understand that when we deal with the Bush administration, we are dealing with something unique, and uniquely dangerous: an administration which is fully committed to an ideology—an ideology that is entirely self-contained and completely self-referencing. It is not concerned with facts, evidence, logic and argument. It is concerned only with its own internal vision of the world, and how that world should be constructed and how it should operate.

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By Michael Shaw, May 16, 2008 at 12:44 pm Link to this comment

Well Bob that may change once NAFTA gains a stronger foothold and your social and health care systems are eventually derailed.

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By thebeerdoctor, May 16, 2008 at 12:39 pm Link to this comment

felicity, neo-liberalism, or neoliberalism, is revival of so-called free market principles (or lack thereof) to a corporate global stage. A good example of this is the misuse of labor when global “strategic” partners are allowed into a country to create economic conditions that become burdensome, if not impossible, for local economies to maintain their existence. This neo or new liberalism is not interested in social development or community based values, but instead sees investment as a way to lift all boats. Thus many indigenous agricultures have been driven from the land, unable to afford the petrochemical fertilizers required to do business in a big way. This has lead to tragedy for farmers from India to Mexico.
Neo-conservatism or neoconservatism, is the fist without the “pragmatic” liberal glove. This is a viewpoint that embraces military force to open up resources and markets, regardless of local wishes. The occupation of Iraq is a prime example.
Neoliberalism is a word rarely used in the United States, but the rest of the world understands the term. Instead of the Army, it is companies like Walmart or Nike coming into set up deals with local officials. Shell Oil in Nigeria is a prime example.
So whether its new conservative, or new liberal, the results are the same. The Haves receive more, the Have Nots receive even less.
By the way, the North America Free Trade Agreement or NAFTA is probably the most strenuous example of neoliberalism in this hemisphere. Ross Perot, the late Sir James Goldsmith, and conscious members of congress tried to warn them of this folly. But “new” democrats, Bill Clinton and Al Gore pushed the treaty through.

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By Jonas South, May 16, 2008 at 12:25 pm Link to this comment

Re: Thank God Obama Will Change All This?

Many here are understandably leery about any president selected by our system of politics, Obama included. Nevertheless, he represents the only game in town for us progressives, for now.

The question for us is, how do we step up to the plate, and sweep it clean of Bush’s dirt? There is so much dirt! In thinking about this, I realize that many of the people he brings into his administration may be new to politics (thank goodness!) and can use some help. How can we, as mere voters and citizens, be helpful? Policies will have been debated, and adopted at the macro level by wiser heads. Is there something that we, as ‘micros’, can do at the individual, micro level? I believe that there is.

Many of us watched helplessly as Bush and company eviscerated our country, and out of sheer frustration, memorialized some awful practices. These may not rise to the level that a newly minted Obama staff might think important, but we do. Here are a couple of mine:

(1) Cheney, in a little noticed move, ordered the installation of a red phone network, with which he can conference call any number of Fortune 500 executives at a drop. For obvious reasons, I’d like that intranet dismantled in an Obama administration.

(2) In July of 2001, a set of new rules was adopted that can be interpreted to mean that our airmen cannot intercept a commercial plane unless the Secretary of Defense concur. For our air safety, this rule should be undone.

C’mon, you have some pet peeves of your own. Let’s hear them. If nothing else, it will make you feel better.

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By wardad, May 16, 2008 at 12:20 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

So not voting is to be cxomplicit in “IT” and to vote is to be a tool of managed democracy?

Someone ‘splain this to me.

Peace.

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By Michael Shaw, May 16, 2008 at 11:59 am Link to this comment

Well what it means is people want to see it turn around. I think we’re seeing an awful lot of that. It also means they wish to get rid of the neocons and restore some semblance of the USA they remember. But whether the election successfully accomplishes this and whether Obama is the guy to do it remains a question mark. He’s got my vote for several reasons. 1. It’s time for a black president. 2. He is the best available candidate and 3. If for no other reason, hope springs eternal!

As things look, he could very well be the last opportunity to right the many wrongs and put us back on track. The last vestige of sanity, I’d say. I think he has the ability to do this. He is more than capable. But will he be able to do this once the boys club in Washington gets a hold of him? That is the major question. Will he fold like so many in the past and become a willing participant, or will he take from the courage of Doctor King and Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt? He has the chance here to be the best president in US history.

If he realizes this office and attempts to carry out that which needs to be done, there is no doubt he will be attacked for it along the way. Hell they even attacked Fallah, Roosevelt’s dog, but it didn’t stop him from being elected to four unprecedented terms. It did not thwart the love, respect and admiration the bulk of our population had for him either.

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By felicity, May 16, 2008 at 11:37 am Link to this comment

What’s neo-liberalism?  What’s neo-conservatism?  I’m not being facetious.  The definitions I’ve read so far don’t satisfy.

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By Michael Shaw, May 16, 2008 at 11:25 am Link to this comment

IE “the global social movement” You are right! Not everyone out there are idiots though of course many are.

As for your neo-liberal/neoconservative comments you are correct though I feel it important to point out that neoliberalism and neoconservatism are in fact one and the same. It all amounts to disaster capitalism.

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By Michael Shaw, May 16, 2008 at 11:05 am Link to this comment

This above post was meant for the beer doctor and his broken republic commentary on the Gore Vidal interview.

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By Bubba, May 16, 2008 at 10:58 am Link to this comment

The following two statements are contradictory.

“It remains to be seen whether an Obama candidacy can reawaken these apathetic voters, but I suspect that Wolin would predict a barrage of corporate media character assassination that would end this possibility.”

“Many analysts, myself included, would conclude that Wolin has made a close to airtight case that the American republic’s days are numbered, but Wolin himself does not agree.”

If Wolin, himself, does not agree that the republic’s days are numbered, why would he “predict a barrage of corporate media character assassination that would end this possibility”?

I bring this up to point out that while all, or nearly all, of those who’ve commented thus far appear to agree with Chalmers (America is in the shitcan and things will only get worse), Wolin, who’s analysis Chalmers is reviewing, comes to another conclusion. 

I haven’t read the book but I side with Wolin. 

Chalmers, with whom I rarely disagree, writes that it “remains to be seen whether an Obama candidacy can reawaken these apathetic voters.”  I don’t know how many of these apathetic voters Chalmers would like to see reawaken before he’d be satisfied that a reawakening phenomenon is in fact taking place, but we have the first, major indications of it already in Obama’s campaign, and the Obama-DNC voter drive which kicked off a couple of days ago will undoubtedly add significantly to it. 

In other words, and to end, while America is indeed in the shits, and has been for decades, it might just be that things are beginning, finally, to turn around.

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By Michael Shaw, May 16, 2008 at 10:51 am Link to this comment

That was an excellent interview. I also heard it. I then shared it with a friend who noted a tinge of H.L. Mencken in there as well. The dum-dum president who couldn’t be a freshman at Swarthmore comes to mind. Also his reference to a two term Bush being an insult to the intellect of the American people.

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By Michael Shaw, May 16, 2008 at 10:34 am Link to this comment

Good points Scott but the bottom line is if someone does not eventually address these many problems we have, the power elite will have no other choice but to bring in those death and labor camps. The social unrest will continue to grow and make no mistake there is already a whole lot of social unrest out there whether they are carrying picket signs or not. One needs only to look at the faces of the people around them. There is no garden party atmosphere on the streets.

We have a choice here I believe. We’ve come to a crossroad. We can either follow in Hitler’s folly as it appears we are doing or we can address these many problems and save the republic, save democracy and save capitalism, just as we did in 1932.

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By bozhidar bob balkas, May 16, 2008 at 10:24 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

folks,
it’s not much different in canada. we do have a two-party system but on federal level the second party, the NDP (new dem’c party is socialist) get’s only ab. 20% of the votes.
i guess we have too many rich people in canada and that may be the reason for NDP’s poor showing.
we could say that there is nowhere an adequate democracy altho swiss system seems to be the best. thank u

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By thebeerdoctor, May 16, 2008 at 10:22 am Link to this comment

There is something called the global social movement that is basically out of sight, out of mind for most of the media. But it does exist. There are people who question the mythological assumptions of the so-called free market system, whether it is neoliberal or neoconservative. These are people who question the motives of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, who question the validity of corporate control of the food supply, and stand in opposition to the privatization of water. This is happening all over the globe.

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By Michael Shaw, May 16, 2008 at 10:16 am Link to this comment

I would point out that sometimes apathy can be a sign of a far more ailing situation, though in this case scenario, apathy is manifested by the power elite and used as a tool to either silence or pacify the masses.

When populist apathy becomes a majority, it can sometimes be steered in this direction but it has historically also led to other less preferable places as well, like rebellion, when a large disgruntled portion of the population is neglected. Media brainwashing can only last for so long. There eventually comes a point when hunger and overall wellbeing takes precedent over Entertainment tonight.

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By felicity, May 16, 2008 at 9:47 am Link to this comment

Expat:  With me it’s become my almost daily question to myself - What the hell is going on.

From my childhood during the Depression to today living under governments of all stripes, promises, slogans - New Deal, Fair Deal, No Deal (Eisenhower), Great Society, City Shining on a Hill…and now, Change - for the last 70 some odd years I’ve watched them come and go while I’ve watched this country go steadily down hill.

Government(s) obviously isn’t the answer. You said it, we are.

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By Michael Shaw, May 16, 2008 at 9:45 am Link to this comment

US politicians have in the past mentioned imperialism, lest we forget George Herbert Walker Bush’s speech about the Imperial Presidency. In fact the open use of the term “imperial presidency” even goes back to Reagan and perhaps even Nixon if my memory serves me. But that aside, this analogy by Wolin as presented by Chalmers Johnson is in my mind no doubt the most brilliant and realistic analysis I’ve ever heard. It is also the most frightening.

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By nrobi, May 16, 2008 at 9:24 am Link to this comment

Now comes the fun part:  We all get to see the results of the elitist and privileged sets, cause celebre.
We are now facing the truth, there is no American democracy and this country is truly Amerikka!  Without doubt, the people have lost the control of their servants, the Legislative, Executive and Judicial branches of the government and we are now the governed, so much for the will of the people.  It is now the shrub and his cohorts who are the deciders, no one person in the country, besides those in the know can honestly say that they have influenced the governments position on a given subject.  How strange that De Tocqueville, foresaw the fall of the democracy, he stated (my paraphrase), that without the peoples participation in all decisions, we as a nation would devolve into fascism and authoritarianism.  No longer would the people have the right of redress for their grievances, but the decisions would be made somewhere else and implemented by either a strong military or a police force that would have the rights of on the spot execution for minor infractions of their laws. 
The harbinger of the coming authoritarian regime can be seen in House Resolution 1955, if anyone cares to read the text of that most egregious bill, they will see the end of the world as we know and see the future staring them right in the face. The future is now, we don’t have any time left, and I see within the commentary of Chalmers Johnson on this tome, the coming revolution of thought and action. For we are now so wrapped up in the lives of celebrities and the lies of the shrub that we cannot think for ourselves, but rather we listen to and watch the talking heads of Washington and the country, for our thought patterns and viewpoints on any given subject.  Throw away your televisions and read, go outside and ponder the wonder that is this great country while you can, for soon you will need travel permits to go anywhere within the continental US and will have to justify to a government official that your travel is necessary and without offense.  You will also have to prove that you have no intentions of protest and no thoughts of trying to persuade the people or government to change a policy already in place.  I am appalled that the House of Representatives, which is a Democratic Majority, passed this abomination of a bill by a margin of 404-6. This means that those of you who thought that we could count on the Democrats to stem the tide of totalitarianism in this country are sadly mistaken and have their heads in the sand in regards to the intentions of those elected officials who are now eagerly awaiting passage of the bill that will strip the Amerikkan people of the very basic rights that were enshrined in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.  My how far we have come since the days of Sen. Joseph McCarthy, yet we haven’t come far enough.  This bill HR 1955, is the total antithesis of everything that we have taken for granted, as the rights of the Amerikkan citizen disappear, look for the people to say and do nothing. More people voted for the American Idol winner than voted in the 2006 election, and sadly, than the 2004 presidential election.  As a nation are we doomed to surrender our rights? Not if we pay attention and take to the streets and protest the loss of our basic civil liberties, yet if HR 1955 passes, you will not be allowed to travel and participate in that kind of activity, it is outlawed in that bill.  G-d, help us, we are a nation about to fall, and fall we will because of the way that we have settled for the status quo and not raised our voices to protest the shrinking and disappearance of our civil liberties.

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By MICHAEL ROLOFF, May 16, 2008 at 9:23 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

a lot of wolin’s analysis [via chalmers j. review] repeats nim chimsky’s accurate assessments; a lot of it resembles Herbert Marcuse’s   idea of “repressive tolerance” ; there’s also a bit of Lenin, surprisingly little of the various Marx Brothers. “Shopping and Fucking” is already the name of a play. One thing that keeps nagging me is Casteneda’s [the Mexican political commentator]observation. in his biography of Guevara that the reason that the then Bolivian campezinos did not support him was that the the dictatorship had just given them a teenzy tax rebate: i.e. how little it takes [or took then] to appease the demos. what seems to not be analyzed are the roots of patriotism: the transference of men’s profound homosexual bond to their father’s on to the state; and the root o the exploitation of young men’s love to fight… whoever… thus: to be “unpatriotic” presents the greatest danger to any nation state that has the military as its basis.

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By cyrena, May 16, 2008 at 9:20 am Link to this comment

Ditto to this Jackpine. I said the same in my own review of this piece, (which is much too long for a post).

But, it’s worth mentioning that the thing I pounced on from the beginning was almost verbatim to what you say here, about searching for a term to describe this, and I notice that Expat has said the same. That’s why I found this so very helpful.

Actually, for nearly a year, I’ve been working the contrast/compare mode, looking at several other occasions of this, in Hitler’s Nazism, and Stalin’s Communism, and the terror regimes of so many of the Latin American countries that are also Authoritarian States. (or have been) It’s difficult, because at the base of any totalitarian operation, is an ideology. Figuring that out, (at least for me) has been the most difficult part of it. (at least in reference to the operations here and now).

I also noted that Jaded Prole has an issue with this as well.

“...Though I detest the American intellectual habit of continually and wrongly lumping Fascism and Soviet Socialism (for all its flaws) in the same category or “Totalitarianism,” this is a very good analysis of our present situation in the US…”

And, I’m glad that Jaded Prole brought this up, because it forces me to work through this a bit more, and get back to the broader category for ALL of these forms that fall within.

For that purpose, it might be easier to first understand them all as various forms of AUTHORITARIANISM.

Here’s a short intro to a course description that clears my mind on this again. (because it IS confusing, for the reasons that Jaded Prole cited)

“Authoritarianism demands obedience without reciprocity for those subject to such power, and exercises (or asserts) an exclusive right to determine the means, objectives and standards of order and ‘the good.” Authoritarian states can take many forms, including monarchical, despotic, dictatorial, colonial, racist, theocratic, fascist, totalitarian or military regimes. Despite diversity, they inevitably institutionalize rigid social and political control, manipulate law to boost state power, enforce obedience and control with violence and repression to punish dissent or opposition. Authoritarian states tend to produce or maintain highly hierarchical relations (e.g., by race, ethnicity, religion, class and so on). Modern authoritarian states depend on illiberal ideologies and Manichean ‘us against them’ rhetoric to rationalize their power and politics.”..*

Another course that covers the first part of this excellent article from Mr. Johnson is one from the same field of study. That one is “Law and Race,” which provides a comprehensive look at the history of the Constitution in reference to the built-in racism that is at the foundation of what is allegedly a blue print for ‘democracy’. (go figure).

So, there we have it. We can at least understand how we have become victims of this “totalitarian’ form of authoritarianism, if we can understand the differences and similarities between this and all of the other forms.

Or, at least it helps me figure this stuff out…because I HAVE struggled with trying to put the current US situation into the relative context of what we’ve become under this regime, which IS an Authoritarian state.


  *(Dr. L. Hajjar, Professor of Law and Society) Posted from the course/reader introduction for “Law and Authoritarian States” offered in the UC course curriculum for 2008.

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By cyrena, May 16, 2008 at 9:17 am Link to this comment

Ditto to this Jackpine. I said the same in my own review of this piece, (which is much too long for a post).

But, it’s worth mentioning that the thing I pounced on from the beginning was almost verbatim to what you say here, about searching for a term to describe this, and I notice that Expat has said the same. That’s why I found this so very helpful.

Actually, for nearly 4 years now, I’ve been working the contrast/compare mode, looking at several other occasions of this, in Hitler’s Nazism, and Stalin’s Communism, and the terror regimes of so many of the Latin American countries that are also Authoritarian States. (or have been) It’s difficult, because at the base of any totalitarian operation, is an ideology. Figuring that out, (at least for me) has been the most difficult part of it. (at least in reference to the operations here and now).

I also noted that Jaded Prole has an issue with this as well.

“...Though I detest the American intellectual habit of continually and wrongly lumping Fascism and Soviet Socialism (for all its flaws) in the same category or “Totalitarianism,” this is a very good analysis of our present situation in the US…”

And, I’m glad that Jaded Prole brought this up, because it forces me to work through this a bit more, and get back to the broader category for ALL of these forms that fall within.

For that purpose, it might be easier to first understand them all as various forms of AUTHORITARIANISM.

Here’s a short intro to a course description that clears my mind on this again. (because it IS confusing, for the reasons that Jaded Prole cited)

“Authoritarianism demands obedience without reciprocity for those subject to such power, and exercises (or asserts) an exclusive right to determine the means, objectives and standards of order and “the good.” Authoritarian states can take many forms, including monarchical, despotic, dictatorial, colonial, racist, theocratic, fascist, totalitarian or military regimes. Despite diversity, they inevitably institutionalize rigid social and political control, manipulate law to boost state power, enforce obedience and control with violence and repression to punish dissent or opposition. Authoritarian states tend to produce or maintain highly hierarchical relations (e.g., by race, ethnicity, religion, class and so on). Modern authoritarian states depend on illiberal ideologies and Manichean ‘us against them’ rhetoric to rationalize their power and politics.”*

Another course that covers the first part of this excellent article from Mr. Johnson is one from the same field of study. That one is “Law and Race,” which provides a comprehensive look at the history of the Constitution in reference to the built-in racism that is at the foundation of what is allegedly a blue print for ‘democracy’. (go figure).

So, there we have it. We can at least understand how we have become victims of this “totalitarian’ form of authoritarianism, if we can understand the differences and similarities between this and all of the other forms.

Or, at least it helps me figure this stuff out…because I HAVE struggled with trying to put the current US situation into the relative context of what we’ve become under this regime, which IS an Authoritarian state.


  *(Dr. L. Hajjar, Professor of Law and Society) Posted from the course/reader introduction for “Law and Authoritarian States” offered in the UC course curriculum for 2008.

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By DagnyT, May 16, 2008 at 9:06 am Link to this comment

(apologies for the double post)

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By DagnyT, May 16, 2008 at 9:04 am Link to this comment

Thoughts on an overall excellent review:

“...hence it is not surprising that the subject of empire is taboo in electoral debates. No major politician or party has so much as publicly remarked on the existence of an American empire.”

Correction: One of those running for the nomination DOES (courageously, repeatedly, and without hesitation) refer to US world involvement as “EMPIRE”: Dr. Ron Paul

“Toward the end of his study he (Wolin) produces a wish list of things that should be done to ward off the disaster of inverted totalitarianism: “rolling back the empire, rolling back the practices of managed democracy; returning to the idea and practices of international cooperation rather than the dogmas of globalization and preemptive strikes; restoring and strengthening environmental protections; reinvigorating populist politics; undoing the damage to our system of individual rights; restoring the institutions of an independent judiciary, separation of powers, and checks and balances; reinstating the integrity of the independent regulatory agencies and of scientific advisory processes; reviving representative systems responsive to popular needs for health care, education, guaranteed pensions, and an honorable minimum wage; restoring governmental regulatory authority over the economy; and rolling back the distortions of a tax code that toadies to the wealthy and corporate power.”

NOTE: Every one of Wolfin’s recommendations which are Constitutional (ie: in line with the Framers intentions to severely limit national government) have in fact been spoken of, and written about, with a “straight talk” McCain could never imagine! His name? Dr. Ron Paul

Read “The Revolution: A Manifesto,” Ron Paul, 2008 #1 bestseller. He has written many excellent books however this one has earned him his place in history. The Revolution: A Manifesto is being compared to Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense,” which helped lay the groundwork for a free and independent America.

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By felicity, May 16, 2008 at 9:02 am Link to this comment

I agree - not surprising that the Framers went practically over-night from a monarchy to a republic that they would create a presidential system of government, which of course is a republic with an all too powerful head of state.

Not mentioned in the article is, I believe, the need to throw out the Constitution, find the best parlimentary system currently in place, tweak it to fit us and draw up a new document.  (Even Jefferson gave the Constitution only about 30 years before serious revision, even dumping it altogether, would be necessary.)

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By DagnyT, May 16, 2008 at 8:57 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Thoughts on an overall excellent review:


“...hence it is not surprising that the subject of empire is taboo in electoral debates. No major politician or party has so much as publicly remarked on the existence of an American empire.”

Correction: One of those running for the nomination DOES (courageously, repeatedly, and without hesitation) refer to US world involvement as “EMPIRE”: Dr. Ron Paul


“Toward the end of his study he (Wolin) produces a wish list of things that should be done to ward off the disaster of inverted totalitarianism: “rolling back the empire, rolling back the practices of managed democracy; returning to the idea and practices of international cooperation rather than the dogmas of globalization and preemptive strikes; restoring and strengthening environmental protections; reinvigorating populist politics; undoing the damage to our system of individual rights; restoring the institutions of an independent judiciary, separation of powers, and checks and balances; reinstating the integrity of the independent regulatory agencies and of scientific advisory processes; reviving representative systems responsive to popular needs for health care, education, guaranteed pensions, and an honorable minimum wage; restoring governmental regulatory authority over the economy; and rolling back the distortions of a tax code that toadies to the wealthy and corporate power.”

NOTE: Every one of Wolfin’s recommendations which are Constitutional (ie: in line with the Framers intentions to severely limit national government) have in fact been spoken of, and written about, with a “straight talk” McCain could never imagine! His name? Dr. Ron Paul

Read “The Revolution: A Manifesto,” Ron Paul, 2008 #1 bestseller. He has written many excellent books however this one has earned him his place in history. The Revolution: A Manifesto is being compared to Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense,” which helped lay the groundwork for a free and independent America.

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By thebeerdoctor, May 16, 2008 at 7:46 am Link to this comment

A recent appearance by Gore Vidal on Democracy Now!, is where I heard the phrase: the republic is broken. Mr. Vidal pointed out that not only has the Constitution been abandoned, but also the document which it was based upon, the Magna Carta.
Chalmers Johnson’s brilliant book review of Sheldon Wolin’s work, attempts to develop a language that can describe what has happened. Of course the vast majority of the American people are unaware of the implications. They only notice that fuel gets higher and money, or the lack thereof, has become a tyrant of almost unspeakable dimension. The cruelty of the so-called “market driven forces” has caused people facing insurmountable debt to take their own lives.
A faux, consumerist culture of distraction has become the order of the day. This helps explain television celebrities who cry over their pets, but refuse to register outrage at the atrocity that is the occupational war in Iraq. But the studio audience does not mind because they get to take home some free goodies. Oprah Winfrey’s car give away was a supreme example.
The corporate branding of human life has become the greatest form of social control in the history of the world. Corporate branding has become, for so many, their only means of identity. Advanced marketing assures that this surrender of individuality is achieved voluntarily.

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By AS, May 16, 2008 at 7:23 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It seems to me that the following paragraph summarizes the best prescription as to how our system of “democracy” gradually converts otherwise well-informed and highly engaged voters into “apathetic citizens:”  “...two-thirds of qualified voters have recently failed to vote, thus making the management of the active electorate far easier. Wolin comments, “Every apathetic citizen is a silent enlistee in the cause of inverted totalitarianism.” It remains to be seen whether an Obama candidacy can reawaken these apathetic voters, but I suspect that Wolin would predict a barrage of corporate media character assassination that would end this possibility…”

As an Obama supporter, I will most definitely become one of those “apathetic citizens,” should the ongoing “character assassination” of Obama prove successful! I could never vote for the so called “democrat,” such as Senator Clinton, who had casually supported the most unnecessary, tragic and unaffordable (in blood and treasure) war in our history; than, instead of learning from her mortal mistake, she equally casually issues a public threat to “obliterate” yet another Middle Eastern country for no apparently valid reason (other than her dire need for huge money donations?)!

In my opinion, and I know that I am not alone, a choice between Senator Clinton-D and Senator McCain-R, is not a choice! AS

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By aquaman, May 16, 2008 at 6:42 am Link to this comment
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Sounds like a great book! Thanks for the review. I wonder though WHY it is that all of these subtle yet coercive tactics are so successful. The review of this book doesn’t seem to suggest that it takes into account the possibility that this is a nation with many citizens that WANT totalitarianism. I see this to be the case on both the right and the left of the political spectrum. Obama and Bush have nothing in common in terms of integrity, intelligence, and ethics, but Obama’s supporters have coalesced around a vague and undefined notion of “change.” “Change” has become an Orewellian word, one which supporters of Obama repeat again and again and again without ever actually telling us the nature and scope of proposed “changes” or how they will be undertaken (or in whose interest). As a result, we talk about feeling good rather than actual policy issues. The emptiness of the term is a hallmark of fascist rhetoric, a completely empty concept around which people coalesce with enflamed passion. If this is coming from the left of the political spectrum from supporters of a reasonable presidential candidate, what hope can there be for the country? While their goals might be noble, many Obama supporters are developing a habit of mind that is totalitarian, a habit that may be hard to break.

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By KISS, May 16, 2008 at 6:23 am Link to this comment

Being a republic is the antitheses of democracy, and that is exactly what the founders wanted. Only the Bill of rights was instilled to quell the general public and veterans of the revolution. Had Hamilton had his way Fascism would have been the way. What little we have is due to George Mason. So the real name for our so-called democracy should be: ” The Fascist Republic of Amerika”. A simple truth.“You haul Sixteen Tons, whadaya get?
Another day older and deeper in debt”

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By Purple Girl, May 16, 2008 at 6:21 am Link to this comment

One must find acommon guiding thread to understand why this situtation now has this country on it’s knees. No amount of mistakes could have led US to this time in history. Certainly mistakes would have been rectified- But they have not. All possible Stop gaps have been Removed, all attempts at reversal ahve been block or silenced. This is not a result of Unforeseen consequences. this has been a well thought out and executed Stratedgy.
First string- to truly control the worlds economy and it’s labor force, the US must be systematically economically crippled to the point the citizens are desperate an dwilling to accept any Crumb.
Mental & physical insecurities must be provoked to appear that these crumbs are ‘gifts’ and all actions are by those who are acting as ‘Champions’, in our best behalf.focusing our fears and blame on external sources will ‘gather the troops’while diverting our attentionaway from the ‘Shadow workings’. A doctrine will develope which will show the way to truimph and reagin of power/control over even just our daily lives. There wil be a ‘goal’ to attain to work towards, perticularly defeating the ‘facade cause’.The string to this lies in Theology- A ultimate rewarded as set down by a Divine Plan. motivation to move towards the reward. Suffering will be seen as a necessary sacrific, oppression considered a show of devotion and committment.
One need only Look to the ‘Preachings’ Stratedgy of Hagee, Parsley et al to see why there is no concern about how this will effect the future. Their doctrine Proclaims there will be NONE.‘through Chaos comes Order’ by provoking a limit on resources, by invoking fear & hatred the ground will be set for a Battle of Mankind (Armegeddon) thus making way for the ‘Reward’ the Big Cookie for all their work..‘The Rapture’
Religion does play a signifcant role in our gov’t - it can obsure the way things are handled in respect to the Future.The Means to an End(The End).Such Arrogance, such Delusions of Granduer have plagued mankind since the beginning- what makes this different NOW is the ability to make it happen. We are now all interdependent,possessors of weapons that are capable of reaching around the Global and destroying it.And there is a pervasive sociolgical trend towards ‘Being Special’ or ‘getting yours before they get theirs’-Call it the ‘spoiled rotten Brat’ syndrome (My Mom’s anaylsis- I’m 45 )of the Boomer genreation, who have proven they not only don’t care about their peers, but their Parents nor even their children.The last genertion to do better than their parents. They crowned themselves the ‘anointed ’ ones for Decades, and this inbred personl identity feeds right into the ‘Rapture’ of the ‘Chosen’ genreation.they are not content to give credence to anyone or anything-look at their track record in the financial arena, resources, conspicuous consumption.While the elderly are warehoused and children are unable to get the same education, health care or opportunities they were afforded. I have No doubt Hagee & Parsley’s Mega churches are filled, and I need not even venture to guess their demographics.
Motivation comes from innate views of ones self and where you see yourself in the big scheme of things.
I am a mere Steward, a member of the species which has been give not only a ‘gift’ but a monumental Responsiblity to my other stewards and all we must manage. Mine is merely a link in the chain connecting past with future, My meaning of life is to be the Steward until the next genertion comes to take over the Duties required of Us by ‘God’ or Nature. I do not proport to understand how it all begin, nor how it will end- It is irrelvant and counterproductive, and such pondering only work to divert my attention from the matters at hand. To deny Stewardship is Heretical, a sin against God/nature, our ancestors and our descendants.

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By Expat, May 16, 2008 at 5:14 am Link to this comment

^  Like so many of us here at TD, I’ve long known, deep in my bones, that something is very, very wrong with America.  As with jackpine savage, I was searching for terms, terms for the things I instinctively knew to be, but couldn’t quite put a finger on; “inverted totalitarianism” was one of the terms; there are others.  But there’s more; and as has always been true, the “more” is us!  We are the key to this whole whirlwind thrown at us.  We’ve been played and are being played every day by this administration.  I wish I knew, the still secret formula, that would wake us up to the constant, petty distractions (well orchestrated propaganda) that keeps us from focusing on what is really our best interest.  This is why we don’t have health insurance, this is why we don’t have secure pensions, this is why we are losing our houses, this is why credit card companies are screwing us and it goes on and on.  While our lives are played and manipulated, the corporatists march to total control.  Because we don’t test our limits we don’t know how limited our existence really is.  Our remaining time is shorter than even I realized and it probably is already too late, but maybe not, huh?

Kudos to Chalmers Johnson and Mr. Wolin for this masterful thread.

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By A. Fourati, May 16, 2008 at 5:03 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The results of today’s situation; democracy, war, peace, economy, strategies, export of jobs, social security and abuse of power….are the results of Elites how have free passes to the demogratic (political) establishments (WH and Congress).  They can be identified by their political, ideological or economic affiliations; and are the facade of think tanks, media, companies CEO or occupaying key startegic position as political or war planners.
We need to have wider public debate on how to gain back the power and have the elected people to be accountable to the people who elects them.

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By Jaded Prole, May 16, 2008 at 5:02 am Link to this comment

Though I detest the American intellectual habit of continually and wrongly lumping Fascism and Soviet Socialism (for all its flaws) in the same category or “Totalitarianism,” this is a very good analysis of our present situation in the US. The growth of this kind of inverted Totalitarianism is an inevitable product of the barely bridled style of corrupt corporate capitalism that has grown steadily in the 20th century and as Johnson points out, especially post WWII. 

As our economy’s dependence on militarism fails and the effects of global warming wreak havoc, I believe the inverted “friendly Fascism” that we are used to will give way to a more brutal, direct form of police state. That phase is already all but written into law and ready to implement should the population become restive and the demos awake as it did during the depression of the 1930’s.

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By Expat, May 16, 2008 at 4:24 am Link to this comment

Thanks cyrena, but it’s specifically this thread I’m pondering.  Wolin via Chalmers, put terms to my own thoughts and perceptions.

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By jackpine savage, May 16, 2008 at 4:24 am Link to this comment

I’ve long been searching for a phrase that captures the similarities i see between the modern US and totalitarian regimes of history. (Particularly Stalin’s USSR; i’ve always thought we tend more towards Stalin in white gloves than Hitler.)

Inverted totalitarianism is the phrase i’ve been looking for.

The danger i see is not so much the end of the Republic (that’s long gone already), but the possibility of an easy transition to outright totalitarianism.  When things head south here in the land of pleasant living, how will react?

After generations of conditioning to inverted totalitarianism, i’d wager that we’ll opt for outright totalitarianism…the easy answer. 

As bert points out, our educational system is too often propaganda indoctrination (ok, she didn’t use those words).  The outright totalitarian need only appeal to our collective myths at a visceral level: the flag and the cross.  Vast swaths of the Public, shorn of perceived wealth and strength will cling bitterly to those myths.  They’ll be fruit ripe on the political vine.

At this point, i only hope that our national implosion doesn’t trigger a nuclear lashing out to produce a global explosion.

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By cyrena, May 16, 2008 at 4:05 am Link to this comment

This article absolutely made my day/night/whatever.

Seriously…the timing was like manna from heaven, if one believes in that sort of thing. I actually managed to complete a long overdue assignment thanks to this piece, and I’ve ordered the book as well, just because it is in EXACT alignment with my on-going work, and I’d really been stuck on narrowing down the ideology of the current regime, and that’s been the basis for the entire paper. All totalitarian regimes have this ideology, and it’s always something so far from reality, (and bizarre) that it can be difficult to pin down, from a rational viewpoint. Like, how many of us have ever actually tried to figure out what Hitler or Stalin actually GOT out of their ideologies of Nazism or any of the rest of it? I mean, what’s the point in killing off millions of people? What was the goal? And WHY?

Same with the communist ideology espoused by the Stalin regime. I mean they targeted not only anybody that represented any sort of individuality, like land owners or any other individual commercial enterprise, but they wiped out old people, the mentally ill, homosexuals, kulaks, just about ANYBODY. There was never any ‘efficiency’ to it, because it was all insane. Yet, there is always that ideology at the foundation of any totalitarian movement.

But, it’s ALWAYS ‘global’ and ‘national security’ is always a primary element, and as a general rule, they never provide for ‘successors’. And of course it’s always accomplished by TERROR. Terror becomes the law.

Hot damn! I’m still celebrating! Thank you truthdig, thank you Chalmers Johnson, and thank you Mr Wolin.

The references are much appreciated as well, like Naomi Wolf’s work on the Ten Steps to Fascism. I remember reading a piece by her on these Ten Steps to Fascism, and it’s been a really helpful reference. (I highly recommend it, and I think it’s in the archives at Salon) but I’ve never read ““The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot,” so I was delighted to get that reference, among several others that he includes here.

Yep, this has provided for a very productive day. Lit the appropriate fire under my butt to get this stuff done.

Expat, if you still want to ponder it some more, I’ve got some other links that I’ve found really helpful. I can dig them up later in the day when I assemble the final project.

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By Expat, May 16, 2008 at 2:42 am Link to this comment

^ one more thing we agree on.  Nicely stated.  I’m still pondering this excellent thread by Chalmers Johnson.  Lots of brain food here.

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By Bert, May 16, 2008 at 12:52 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I think our dearly beloved K12 system is at least partly to thank/blame here, along with carefully pre-filtered textbooks and equally carefully pre-filtered teachers whose main object in life is next month’s paycheck. I think we’ve gravitated over to becoming The United States Of Television, a DEVO nation that sits in their dens, and slips in their cassettes, in other words, we done been hip-no-tized.
Well, I say, ‘shake it off, and head for the public library’. Not only will that do you some immediate good by getting you OUT of the house, but you go down to the li-berry, and you just might learn something, there. No telling what that might lead to, but certainly a public institution such as your local public library helps forestall the early onset of totalitarianism, which is the incapacity for independent reference. When people accept what comes over the airwaves as the inarguable gospel truth according to George etc., and don’t bother to stop and ask questions, when it’s all one-way stuff by TV or radio, and no one says ‘peep’ or asks A Question(gasp), well, then the sheeple mindset is pretty well established, there, and even without a Dick(cheney)tator, we’ll happily amble off the nearest cliff without so much as a mewling sound in protest.
I’m of a different mindset, I think a body should seek to thrash their way through a newspaper at least twice a week, and hopefully absorb a new book once a month, and maybe, maybe even seek to write one. Ya never know. All that intellectual exercise, might hurt ya, might help ya, might learn something, and that’s the road to hell right there…LOL

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