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The Eradication of Trust

Posted on Apr 19, 2010

By Eugene Robinson

Trust might as well be a four-letter word. American public opinion seems to have become an unguided Weapon of Mass Suspicion, and it’s not hard to understand why. But those who would exploit distrust, dissatisfaction and anger for political gain had better worry about collateral damage.

The overhyped tea party phenomenon is more about symbolism and screaming than anything else. A “movement” that encompasses gun nuts, tax protesters, devotees of the gold standard, Sarah Palin, insurance company lobbyists, “constitutionalists” who have not read the Constitution, Medicare recipients who oppose government-run health care, crazy “birthers” who claim President Obama was born in another country, a contingent of outright racists (come on, people, let’s be real) and a bunch of fat-cat professional politicians pretending to be “outsiders” is not a coherent intellectual or political force.

But even people who wouldn’t be caught dead at a tea party rally have lost trust in powerful institutions that are supposed to be working in the public’s interest—with considerable reason. Just look at the headlines.

There’s obviously no reason to trust Wall Street. Theoretically, the only reason for the financial system to exist is to service the economy—and the American people—by channeling capital to its highest and best use. The charges filed last week against Goldman Sachs illustrate the extent to which capitalism’s precepts have been turned on their head by financiers who believe the economy exists to service them. 

The allegation, basically, is that John Paulson, a hedge fund mogul who wanted to place a billion-dollar bet that the housing market would deflate, convinced Goldman to round up patsies who would bet the other way. Then the transaction was allegedly rigged so that Paulson would almost surely win his wager, which he did. Goldman denies the allegations of fraud and says that, in any event, it lost money on the deal.


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Leave aside for the moment whether Goldman’s action fell just inside or just outside the line demarcating what was legal. What possible socially redeeming value did the transaction have? How did the concoction of a “synthetic collateralized debt obligation” benefit anyone except the lavishly compensated traders at Goldman and the outrageously compensated John Paulson? Is this a system the rest of us could possibly trust?

Another story that won’t go away is the pedophilia scandal in the Roman Catholic Church. On Sunday, during a visit to Malta, Pope Benedict XVI prayed with eight adult victims of childhood sexual abuse by priests and reportedly expressed his “shame and sorrow.” But practically every day, there are new revelations of pedophile priests having been transferred to other parishes rather than being defrocked and reported to authorities.

A CNN poll showed that 56 percent of U.S Catholics disapprove of how Benedict has dealt with the crisis. Even the judgment of the Vicar of Christ is being questioned.

Perhaps most striking of all is a new Pew Research Center poll showing that the public’s trust in the federal government has plummeted. Just 22 percent of Americans say they can trust the government all or most of the time, Pew found. Only 19 percent of respondents say they are “basically content” with the government, while 56 percent are “frustrated” and another 21 percent describe themselves as “angry.”

According to the Pew survey, Americans have negative views of many large institutions—banks and financial firms, Congress, large corporations, the national news media, federal agencies, the entertainment industry, labor unions. The nation still has a positive view of colleges and universities, churches, small businesses and technology companies. Respondents were evenly divided on the Obama administration, with 45 percent being positive and 45 percent negative. Given the current climate, the president might be tempted to claim a moral victory.

There are some contradictions in Pew’s findings. Americans strongly believe that “more government control over the economy” is a bad idea. But by a much bigger margin, they believe that “stricter regulation of financial companies” is a good idea. This is the needle that Congress—with an all-time-low 25 percent approval rating—is now trying to thread.

Republicans have been actively encouraging this groundswell of distrust on the theory that it’s bad for incumbents, meaning Democrats. Indeed, the approval rating for the Democratic Party has plunged to 38 percent. The problem is that approval of the Republican Party has also fallen—to 37 percent. 

The moral here, for giddy GOP strategists, is the one about people who live in glass houses.
Eugene Robinson’s e-mail address is eugenerobinson(at)
© 2010, Washington Post Writers Group

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Anarcissie's avatar

By Anarcissie, April 22, 2010 at 11:59 am Link to this comment

Trust in government and other central authorities (for which there was no good reason in the first place) has probably fallen because of the rise of the Internet.  The Internet allows views differing from those of the established order to be widely published, and skeptics, heretics and infidels can find one another to get reassurance and new audiences without having to get cozy with rich people or mandarins.  It’s the biggest change since Gutenberg and its effects have only begun to take hold.

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By Tony Wicher, April 22, 2010 at 9:35 am Link to this comment

Why does nobody trust the government, from left to right? Because 9/11 was an inside job that has been covered up for nine years, that’s why.

Tony Wicher

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By thenine9, April 21, 2010 at 2:16 pm Link to this comment

This isn’t enlightenment about ideas or issues, that are disagreed on by Republicans or Democrats, which is healthy for our democracy.  There is no discussion this is about a small group of Tea Party folks, that are grass roots being touted as speaking for Americans. We need to use free speech and speak out and say,they don’t speak for Republicans and/or Democrats. Who has everything to gain from misinformation and lies spread by a few easily manipulated people who think they are doing something important for ‘God” their and religious views, their Country and speak like fanatics from a third world country.  The electorate Republican and Democrats are being distracted by diversions and manipulations by a small group of people over blown by our media, that are fronting for other more powerful interests and they are not even aware of it. Tea Party Folks aren’t discussing anything just complaining about Anti government issues. Now whether you are a Republican or Democrat, who do you think gains from convincing us the the problem is “Big Government” during these times and that “Smaller Government” will solve our problems and that’s is good thing? We need some balance, we always have that why we have elections but not either or is a better form of government.  The repercussions of one excess in thinking or the other never has been useful, we need balance. But Tea Party folks say “Big Corporations are good for the U.S. and our economy” ..  “we don’t want any changes we like Corporations controlling without accountability or responsibility for actions of their business interests.”  “Big Government is bad they control too many things in our lives they tax us for services and programs”... but we want the services and programs we have and don’t want to give up anything.” So Tea Party doesn’t want to give up anything but they want their taxes reduced when their taxes are less under the present administration. Who is gaining and who’s self interests are served ,from a few Tea Party folks grass roots spreading misinformation and lying with the pretense that they are voicing and advocating for us all? This small group the Tea Party will tell you they don’t like Republicans or Democrats. They are angry that the Republicans are trying to hijacking them, I hope the Republicans come to their senses and set this group free to self destruct sooner.  The Tea Party folks want us to become constitutional republic, not a democracy and they state that they believe we are a Christian nation not a Secular democracy. Sign me up as an very Outraged citizen, I’m joining my Republican and Democrat friends, using free speech to say I’ve heard enough from this pitiful group called the Tea Party grass roots groups that are in the end ‘much ado about nothing” and make it clear they do not speak for all Americans, Republican or Democrat on any issue.  Republicans and Democrats need to march and speak out for something and against these manipulated Tea Party mobs lying and misinformation,seeking media attention to share views shared by very few not the majority of either party. Glad it’s a free country aren’t you, guess we are going to have to work at it to keep it that way.

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By LocalHero, April 21, 2010 at 2:16 pm Link to this comment

There are STILL people that trust churches? Where the hell have THEY been?

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By ofersince72, April 21, 2010 at 12:43 pm Link to this comment

He will do exactly the same thing next time, thats his
job, apologist for the Democrat Party.

As Norman Solomon recently pointed out,  the Democrat
Progressive Caucas has circled their wagons around an
incumbent (Jane Harmon) who professed to be more of a
republican than a republican,  supporting her in the
primaries over a progressive challenger.

Partners in crime stick together like glue.
The progressive caucas in Congress is,  and always has
been a laugh and a bad joke.

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By - bill, April 21, 2010 at 12:01 pm Link to this comment

Hmmm - no Pulitzer for this one, Robinson:  it sounds as if you got your information from a combination of Faux News and MSNBC (the latter of which at least used to have some credibility, but not nearly as much since their pandering to the massive progressive cave-in on health-care ‘reform’).

When you describe what the Tea Party movement ‘encompasses’ you omit the outraged Left, which may not be likely to show up at the kind of rallies that the above news(?) organizations cover but is very much on the same page in many areas and thus getting increasingly involved with Tea Partying.  Your apparent inability to wrap your head around the fact that “(less) government control over the economy” and “stricter regulation of financial companies” are in no way mutually exclusive goals suggests that you didn’t put much thought into what you wrote.  And your abject failure to call out the Democratic party for attempting to white-wash over the growing level of distrust for precisely the same selfish reasons that the Republicans have for fanning it is just plain biased (you know - that thing that real journalists are supposed to avoid like the plague:  no wonder ‘the national news media’ made the ‘negative’ list).

Not ideal material for a venue named truthdig.  Please try to do better next time.

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By Achess, April 21, 2010 at 10:25 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

How is it that the filthy rich, and still incredibly greedy perpetrators who ruined the economy and untold numbers of our citizens can even show their faces without being vilified or otherwise attacked?  They should be horse-whipped and publicly hanged. It disgusts me that out sense of justice has eroded to this sorry state.

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By thenine9, April 21, 2010 at 9:57 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Your article “The Eradication of Trust”, resonates with me and is concerning. People are frightened, are angry and fear everything because they are fed more fear and it is fueled beyond rational thinking during these times of stress.  Lack of trust in our government, or mindless anti government statements is not healthy for Americans nor is it solving real problems we have in our society. We can work and solve problems as a country with a rational approach using a process that is available to us all. We do have free speech, but free speech used to fuel fear fed by confusion, misinformation, misused words,partial truths does erode trust in everything. When you trust no one or nothing you are lost and led into paranoid insanity and chaos. Rational thinking would suggest that we give the government elected time to work on the issues. There is progress being made by our government on many issues and more progress to be made. Using free speech to lie, disrespect and act uncivil is not okay but it’s peoples right in a Democracy. But to counter this undermining of trust, we need to speak out and use our free speech to support the government elected when they are making progress and speak out on issues where we don’t like what our government does. But the lies, disrespect and uncivil acts that infringe on our individual and societal rights and undermine trust is not acceptable and solves nothing. Should we make a stand and use our free speech,by marching and shouting we’ve all had enough of misinformation, lies, anti-government and blind fear that’s being fueled by this mob mentality that solves nothing and is being led by a few politicians looking for any means to an end to get elected.  Thanks, Gene for this article.

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By tropicgirl, April 21, 2010 at 7:25 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Once again, Gene is hopelessly lost in finding new ways to spin.

One of the reasons that people are trustless, is YOU Gene and your pandering
articles. Where is YOUR apology?

And, people are trustless because of continued statements like this, and the
crap that followed:

““The overhyped tea party phenomenon is more about symbolism and
screaming than anything else.”” (in your wet dreams Gene).

Gene, the person who hates generalizing on basis of race, will get all of the
bashing-back he deserves from those he continually seeks to marginalize and
generalize. What a sad statement for a person claiming to be about equality.
And African-American (assumed) as well.

And he will never get back the votes he just lost for his party, by this article,
today, again. Brain-child he is not. Rock on.

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By ProfBob, April 21, 2010 at 5:05 am Link to this comment

how can we not trust the government by lobbyists?

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By ofersince72, April 20, 2010 at 10:52 pm Link to this comment

I have long lost the trust of mainstream journalism
  Eugene !!!!!!!!!

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By amunaor, April 20, 2010 at 10:10 pm Link to this comment

Eradication of trust!

Now isn’t that a real comedy of errors? What about the murder and slaughter that continues to be perpetrated under the guise of a pseudo-war; a really BIG lie that even Joseph Goebbels himself would be proud of?

Check this story out—Financial lawlessness trumps murder!

Blackwater Indictments Are Like Al Capone Going Down for Tax Evasion:

WikiLeaks—Collateral Murder:

Just look at the pile of dead bastard piling up over there!

It’s time to laugh! I’m too tired of weeping!

Peace, Best Wishes and Hope

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By Maani, April 20, 2010 at 7:51 pm Link to this comment

Dave: “Which administration, Bush II or Obama has given more bailout money to Wall Street?”


It was Bush’s “Troubled Assets Relief Program” (TARP) that bailed out Wall Street (AIG et al) to the tune of $700 billion.  Obama’s “American Recovery and Reinvestment Act” (the “stimulus bill”), was $787 billion.  And although provided a little bit more money for Wall Street, over $250 million went to tax cuts (the ones which allowed 47% of Americans to pay no federal income tax), and most of the rest went for job creation.

Nice try.

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By Dave Thomas, April 20, 2010 at 4:54 pm Link to this comment

Obviously Felicity doesn’t understand what a plutocrat is either. Here is a quick question. Which administration, Bush II or Obama has given more bailout money to Wall Street.

Face it folks, the only people Obama or Bush bailed out were corporations and the UAW.

You and I, well maybe not you if you didn’t pay taxes last week, are stuck with the bill because of plutocrats. Party labels don’t matter one iota on this one.

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By rico, suave, April 20, 2010 at 3:50 pm Link to this comment

“incarcerate hundreds of thousands of so called dead beat dads”

Where the FUCK did you get that number???

Come back when you’re serious.

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By ohiolibgal, April 20, 2010 at 2:13 pm Link to this comment

The republican party is now a wholly owned subsidiary of big business and have been working since Reagan to shift funds from the middle class and below to the rich. Just like turning a piggy bank upside down.

Meanwhile the democratic party has filled the vacuum, and is now the new republicans - at it’s core, there are real democrats left, just not enough.

Washington is a cesspool, lobbying, which is bribery and a crime outside of politics, runs the show.

The Supreme Court just made corporations people and that means they can spend to elect wing nuts to their hearts desire.

Tea baggers cry socialism and I say if only. CEOs use to make 30-50 times what workers make, not that long ago. They now make hundreds what workers make. Let them eat cake, 2010 edition.

There is a problem in Washington, and it’s lobbying aka bribing and unregulated business and finance running wild while screwing regular folks. Capitalism gone wild!

Finally all this has been enabled by millions of enablers who consistently vote against their very own self interests and most of them don’t understand that fact.

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By Clash, April 20, 2010 at 12:49 pm Link to this comment

The blow back of empire does not always come from out side of the empire, the republic was struck by fatal blows when its leaders assumed the purple at the collapse of the British empire 65 years ago. No longer citizens but subjects to be controlled by a mythology propagated by those who no longer and maybe never have believed in it. So go back to sleep and your bread and shoes will be delivered to your door step, circus at 6 after your nap.

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By dove, April 20, 2010 at 12:38 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“democracy” means setting the truth to the side and presenting a different idea (diaries of John Beeson) and other settlers in Oregon; it means force the people to pay more more more; (this is the AID weaponry given to other countries); it means “dictatorship” as shown when the gov of the USA set it up in China; “set up a congress, write the laws the people want, they will be HAPPY the laws are on the books; have all the $ you want for you, family & friends, do whatever you want whenever you want and never be brought to justice”;
It means target & harm for personal profit & gain; it means purposely poisoning the population in every area & arena of their lives; it means giving false reports, false information, and deliberately hiding the truth from the people by the misuse of the main media.
it means a judicial system with Judges more criminal than any before them; check out what the TRUTH is re “war on drugs”; and which Pres was named “poppy” as he is in control of the heroin trade in the world.
  Day of deceit: this Gov arranged for the attack on Pearl Harbor; and the “facist” party under Hitler was VISIBLE what THIS nation was secretly doing pretending to be “of the people, by the people, for the people”;
The “we are a force for good” Don Rumsfeld, is so committed to causing misery for the PEOPLE of the nation & globally he bought a home: Mt Misery;
It means politicians blowing over $100m a month, living large & being in charge; while country men are denied medical supplies; shall I go on?

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By BrucesPoint, April 20, 2010 at 12:37 pm Link to this comment

We are All, in the process, of Losing everything that Allowed US, To become what We are, Getting Distracted from the BASICS, that Allow us to Be who we are, is going to keep this “Thing” on its way to the Trash Heap.
Enjoy the ride, or Speak Up.

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By BrucesPoint, April 20, 2010 at 12:10 pm Link to this comment

Again, a Must Read, Did anyone watch, the artfully edited tale of
Timmy on the idiot box Monday Night? I grew up in nearly the same
milieu, Patriotism Jammed down Young Throat’s, History lessons in
school Crafted, to Emphasize the “Official” picture of Life&Fairness;. Not
All BullShit, but Carefully Omitting or casting dispersion’s on Any
Questioning. Read Up on the Rest of History that You Might have
  Timmy made some Bad Connection’s, But Acted True to His Belief.
Unfortunately, He DID, get off his Ass, in Response to a Grievous
  NOT the Outlet&Action;‘s We, or I Want to Witness. Any Young Man,
worth his Salt, would Willingly give His All&His; Life. To Protect His Tribe
when it Get’s Personal. WorldWide. Some Never Lose That. I Do
Understand&Empathize;, with the Folk round the World Our
“Representative” Government has Inflicted itself on. Time to Stop being
So Damned Selfish, and Consider the Rights, of the Rest of the World to
a Peaceful Existment, and it Wouldn’t Hurt, to Let Them Know, that
“Hope”, isn’t Dead Yet. It Was for Timmy.

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By felicity, April 20, 2010 at 11:29 am Link to this comment

We need to be reminded of what Lincoln said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand,” because that is the situation into which America has devolved.

Dave Thomas - it’s not so much that Eugene is exonerating Dems while blaming Reps, he is acknowledging that Reps see nothing wrong with the practices of today’s Street - in fact the ‘practices’ of unfettered capitalism (read free-market) - while Dems at least purport to question whether in the end they benefit all of us rather than just the 1% of us who hold the bulk of the nation’s wealth.

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By Paul_GA, April 20, 2010 at 10:06 am Link to this comment

I doubt the System can save itself from destruction, Gerard, because as I see it, everyone within the Syatem tends to think inside the box and believe that the Status Quo is the only way to go. As Solzhenitsyn once said, “This debilitating dream of a Status Quo is the symptom of a society that has come to the end of its development.”

The times they are a-changin’, whether we wish them to or not; one could even make a case that the times they are a-changin’ even more radically than when Bob Dylan released that song 46 years ago.

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By gerard, April 20, 2010 at 9:09 am Link to this comment

Robinson brings up the words “collateral damage” in connection with our growing distrust of the people who run things in this country.

The greater “collateral damage” is of course the sad and destructive results of this national mismanatement—people without jobs, without homes, without access to their government or their economic and communication systems, people who lack necessary information and are instead fed fear of “terrorism” from abroad. 

This widespreading “collateral damage” is what can, in the end,  kill democracy if it is not recognized as such, and the “system” rescued from self-destruction.

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By Paul_GA, April 20, 2010 at 8:34 am Link to this comment

Mr. Robinson, I hope you read this:

“There is one common bulwark, with which men of prudence are naturally provided, the guard and security of all people, particularly of free states, against the assault of tyrants. What is this? Distrust. Of this be mindful: to this adhere: preserve this carefully, and no calamity can affect you.” ~ Demosthenes (384 – 322 BC), Greek statesman and orator

Americans, I believe, have been way too trusting in the past; such a course, I hope, is being corrected now.

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By GW=MCHammered, April 20, 2010 at 8:08 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Want trust?
How about this…
End Lobbyist rule and restore Democracy

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By Jim Yell, April 20, 2010 at 7:41 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I agree with the above article, but wonder why he left out the examples of the military also lying, misleading the public. I think they deserve a portion of why the public is suspicious of all government.

We are constantly told that a new strategy is winning the multiple wars we have been involved in by lying politicians and lying top brass and boosted by a militant militarist minority. We more or less promptly are informed that the strategy was wrong or out right lie. We are told that someone else is to blame and then find out all the time they knew it was themselves that were lying.

Obama needs to be more focused and less committed to trying to find a bipartisan effort that simply doesn’t exist. It is not a stretch to ask why does the right wind hate Democracy and the American People? Their policies are actually treason if treason is actively trying to destroy the country.

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By Dave Thomas, April 20, 2010 at 7:20 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Eugene lost me as soon as he made the illogical connection between Goldman and Republicans when Democrats are just as immersed in Goldman.

The word Eugene is missing is plutocrat and both parties are full of them. These plutocrats enabled Goldman and bailed out Goldman, and Eugene is throwing up smoke screens off chasing a red herring trying to put a partisan label on anything and everything he can.

As usual Eugene you wasted my time, but I will keep giving you a chance.

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By balkas, April 20, 2010 at 7:02 am Link to this comment

Wealthy people pass own laws.Wealthy people have ruled us for 8kyrs.

To lessen or eliminate dictatorship of the wealthy americans,the vast majority must have representation in judiciary, congress, WH, cia, fbi, and army.

In countries in which majority of people are represented in parliaments by their own party,wealthy people do not govern as much as in US.

Of course, no msm collumnist dare say this. So, they pick on one or two maladies to dwell on but not ever on causes for them.

So, poverty, stupidity, foreclosures, joblessness, shit just happen; they are not caused and especially not by the upper classes!
This cld go on for another 8 k yrs. If there is any changes, it wld be changes for worse for the majority!  tnx

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By Vic Anderson, April 20, 2010 at 6:29 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Indeed, how about those “liberals” among US who Are OUTRAGED?

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By G.Anderson, April 20, 2010 at 6:02 am Link to this comment

When the government, uses it’s authority to incarcerate hundreds of thousands of so called dead beat dads without a conviction of any crime, confiscating their incomes, their property, denying them legal redress, this is tyranny.

When it uses it’s power to support the plutocracy protecting the profits of pharmaceutical companies by ignoring the deaths of millions of Americans through the consumption of unsafe drugs, such as Avandia, Viox, etc. When it knows full well of these deaths, and the lethality of these drugs then this is tyranny.

When pharmaceutical companies are allowed to turn vitamins like Vitamin B6 into a drug, because of the request of a pharmaceutical company who wants to use it to make lots of money, then this is tyranny. Next up vitamin B5.

When the government allows chicken feces to be used as cattle feed, then this is tyranny.

When the news media fail to report millions of deaths via lung failure from GMO food, when plant viruses begin infecting humans this is tyranny.

When the government illegally wire taps, and collects information on it’s citizens without court order, this is tyranny.

When the government allows the plutocracy to default on pensions, or to import large numbers of foreign workers on visas during high unemployment this is tyranny.

I could go on and on, but what’s the point. The government and the plutocracy are deeply intermeshed, and they no longer listen to the people, instead they use their power and authority for oppression and exploitation.

Distrust of the government, or the plutocracy? It’s much worse than that.

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By Go Right Young Man, April 20, 2010 at 4:30 am Link to this comment

Indeed Mr. Robinson. Your comments are simply natural coefficients of a basic presumption of the progressive attitude, namely, the conviction that the left-liberal view of reality is not a political view but merely the view that any enlightened, reasonable person would have. It is only dissent from that view that is political, warped by self-interest, unimaginable, stupid etc.

If only everyone were sufficiently enlightened, everyone would (so this fairytale goes) have essentially the same ideas about all contentious issues. Which is to say, there would in the end be no contentious issues, for to dissent from the progressive narrative would be evidence of (depending on the nature of the regime/cabal) heresy, treason, or stupidity. Ultimately, contention would not only be stigmatized as counterproductive, it would be proscribed as criminal or insane.


I can sell you a clue Eugene. Call me.

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