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Henry Giroux on the Rise of Neoliberalism






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The Occupy Movement and the Politics of Educated Hope

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Posted on May 22, 2012
Glyn Lowe Photoworks (CC BY-ND 2.0)

By Henry A. Giroux, Truthout

(Page 3)

It is an old game reinforced by an authoritarian politics that is unapologetic about its abuses and ongoing production of violence and human misery. It is a politics that owes more to the older fascist regimes of Germany, Italy and Chile than to any notion of democracy. And it is precisely in the reclaiming of politics, one that challenges the current structures of power and ideology, that the Occupy movement offers its greatest promise. What is particularly important in this movement is the growing recognition that moral condemnations of greed, corruption, consumerism and injustice provide only “the minimal positive program for socio-political change,” which further demands addressing the more crucial need for systemic transformations in American society.(18)

We live at a time when the crisis of politics is inextricably connected to the crisis of education and agency. Any viable politics or political culture can only emerge in a determined effort to provide the economic conditions, public spaces, pedagogical practices and social relations in which individuals have the time, motivation and knowledge to engage in acts of translation that reject the privatization of the public sphere, the lure of ethno-racial or religious purity, the emptying of democratic traditions, the crumbling of the language of commonality and the decoupling of critical education from the unfinished demands of a global democracy. As the Occupy movement increasingly addresses what it means politically and pedagogically to confront the impoverishment of public discourse, the collapse of democratic values, the erosion of its public spheres and the corporate colonizing of the American society, it puts in place a language for developing public spheres where critical thought, dialogue, exchange and collective action can take place. At work here is the attempt to develop a new political language for rescuing modes of critical agency and social grievances that have been abandoned or orphaned to the dictates of global neoliberalism, a punishing state and a systemic militarization of public life. Against such hard times for the promise of democracy, the Occupy movement offers an incisive language of analysis and hope, a renewed sense of political commitment, different democratic visions and a politics of possibility.

Political exhaustion and impoverished intellectual visions are fed by the widely popular assumption that there are no alternatives to the present state of affairs. Within the increasing corporatization of everyday life, market value replaces social values and people with the education and means appear more and more willing to retreat into the safe, privatized enclaves of family, religion and consumption. In this case, hope is privatized and foreclosed, just as the conditions disappear in which certain kinds of democratic politics are possible. Those without the luxury of combining individual, political and social rights that make choice meaningful pay a terrible price in the form of material suffering and the emotional hardship and political disempowerment that are its constant companions. Even those who live in the relative comfort of the middle classes must struggle with a poverty of time in an era in which the majority must work more than they ever have to make ends meet.

Mainstream theorists, intellectuals and talk-show pundits revere the thought that politics as a site of contestation, critical exchange and engagement is in a state of terminal arrest or has simply come to an end. The only politics that matters for this diverse group of extremists is a politics that benefits corporations, the rich and the servants of finance capital. However, the Occupy movement argues in diverse and often complex ways that too little attention is paid to what it means to think through the realm of the political, particularly how the struggle over radical democracy is inextricably linked to creating and sustaining public spheres where individuals can be engaged as political agents equipped with the skills, capacities and knowledge they need not only as autonomous political agents, but also to believe that such struggles are worth taking up. The growing cynicism in American society may say less about the reputed apathy of the populace than about the bankruptcy of the old political languages and the need for a new language and vision for clarifying intellectual, ethical, economic and political projects, especially as they work to reframe questions of agency, ethics and meaning for a substantive democracy.

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For the Occupy movement, there is a pressing need to get beyond the discourse of negation in order to imagine another world, a future that does not simply reproduce the present. Hope, in this instance, is the precondition for individual and social struggle, involving the ongoing practice of critical education in a wide variety of sites and the renewal of civic courage among citizens, residents, and others who wish to address pressing social problems.(19) Hope says “no” to the totalizing discourse of the neoliberal present; it contains an activating presence that opens current political structures to critical scrutiny, affirms dissent and pluralizes the possibilities of different futures. In this sense, hope is a subversive force.

In opposition to those who seek to turn hope into a new slogan or to punish and dismiss efforts to look beyond the horizon of the given, the promise of the Occupy movement lies in its ability to develop the spaces and places for a democratic formative culture, language of collective struggle, one that embodies and becomes both a project and a pedagogical condition for providing a sense of opposition and engaged struggle. As a project, Andrew Benjamin insists, hope must be viewed as “a structural condition of the present rather than as the promise of a future, the continual promise of a future that will always have to have been better.”(20) At the same time, as Alain Touraine points out, “Opposition to domination is not enough to create a movement; a movement must put forward demands in the name of a positive attribute.”(21) Clearly, hope in this instance is not an individual proclivity or a simple act of outrage, but rather a crucial part of a broader politics that acknowledges those social, economic, spiritual and cultural conditions in the present that make certain kinds of agency and democratic politics possible.

Hence, hope is more than a politics—it is also a pedagogical and performative practice that provides the foundation for enabling human beings to learn about their potential as moral and civic agents. Hope is the outcome of those pedagogical practices and struggles that tap into memory and lived experiences, while at the same time linking individual responsibility with a progressive sense of social change. As a form of utopian longing, educated hope opens up horizons of comparison by evoking not just different histories, but also different futures; at the same time, it substantiates the importance of ambivalence while problematizing certainty. In the words of Paul Ricoeur, it serves as “a major resource as the weapon against closure.”(22) Critical hope is a subversive force when it pluralizes politics by opening up a space for dissent, making authority accountable and becoming an activating presence in promoting social transformation.


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JDmysticDJ's avatar

By JDmysticDJ, May 23, 2012 at 3:16 pm Link to this comment

RE: Shenonymous, May 23 at 8:55 am

I think that what people are complaining about is that it’s necessary to:

“…take each of his 25 paragraphs and examine them to see if anything he says has any real bearing on our society.”

Report this

By diamond, May 23, 2012 at 2:28 pm Link to this comment

“It appears the “AHEM” author did a Google search of the word “pedagogy” then started pasting sentences together.  I doubt if 100 words are his own”.

What a precious, irrelevant little argument. How about addressing the substance of the article and the arguments put forward in it? Or would that require intellect you simply don’t have? Anyone can carp and belittle - that requires no intellect and no knowledge. The article should not be above the ability of an intelligent teenager to comprehend- at least in Europe. You don’t just want the facts, you want them in Disneyspeak. There’s more than enough Disneyspeak to go around already, it’s nice to see an article written for those who have managed to evolve further than that. There aren’t enough of those being written and since the mainstream media has collapsed into the dumbing down formula of cliches, spin and propaganda, such articles are very necessary.

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By gerard, May 23, 2012 at 12:50 pm Link to this comment

Ozark Michael:  One thing:  I hope you don’t judge the quality of our coming dictators by the length of their sentences .... er .... what I mean is ...

Seriously, I probably owe Mr. Giroux an apology for starting this string off on an all-too-easy-to-follow negative tone. Actually, I think everything Mr. Giroux says is well worth the broadest possible understanding and consideration.  His mind is packed with accurate observations and good advice. It’s just that his thoughts roll out so fast, one piled on top of the previous one before the next one has a chance to breathe ...
  Here’s just a piece of one which expresses the very “heart of human darkness” that deserves pondering:
  “...a form of economic Darwinism “that authorizes
  the lives of some while disallowing the lives of
  others.”
Urgent questions that demand serious answers:
1.What is the evidence for “economic Darwinism.”
2.Why is it “authorized”.What does “authorized"mean?
3.How does that “authorization” disavow other authorities?
4.Why does the use of that word bother many people?
5.Whose lives are “disallowed”? How many? What age groups suffer most under “social Darwinisms”? What ethnic groups? Why?
6.What does experience indicate is the result of
allowing “social Darwinism to persist?
7.What steps can wisely be taken to moderate “social Darwinism?  To eliminate it?
  There’s about a week’s deep discussion required
  to deal seriously with just this piece of one
  sentence—and it’s well worth it. Will we do it?
  Of course not! Why not? Because we aren’t serious?
  Or because we aren’t serious enough?
And the most important question of all:  If we aren’t
“serious enough” in times like these, what then?

Report this

By gerard, May 23, 2012 at 12:47 pm Link to this comment

Ozark Michael:  One thing:  I hope you don’t judge the quality of our coming dictators by the length of their sentences .... er .... what I mean is ...

Seriously, I probably owe Mr. Giroux an apology for starting this string off on an all-too-easy-to-follow negative tone. Actually, I think everything Mr. Giroux says is well worth the broadest possible understanding and consideration.  His mind is packed with accurate observations and good advice. It’s just that his thoughts roll out so fast, one piled on top of the previous one before the next one has a chance to breathe ...
  Here’s just a piece of one which expresses the very “heart of human darkness” that deserves pondering:
  “...a form of economic Darwinism “that authorizes
  the lives of some while disallowing the lives of
  others.”
Urgent questions that demand serious answers:
1.What is the evidence for “economic Darwinism.”
2.Why is it “authorized”.What does “authorized"mean?
3.How does that “authorization” disavow other authorities?
4.Why does the use of that word bother many people?
5.Whose lives are “disallowed”? How many? What age groups suffer most under “social Darwinisms”? What ethnic groups? Why?
6.What does experience indicate is the result of
allowing “social Darwinism to persist?
7.What steps can wisely be taken to moderate “social Darwinism?  To eliminate it?
  There’s about a week’s deep discussion required
  to deal seriously with just this piece of one
  sentence—and it’s well worth it. Will we do it?
  Of course not! Why not? Because we aren’t serious?
  Or because we aren’t serious enough?

Report this
Shenonymous's avatar

By Shenonymous, May 23, 2012 at 9:55 am Link to this comment

Back on topic…
The complaint about paragraph 5 of Giroux’s essay is not well taken. 
It is not foggy at all and I would claim the complainer is rather groggy
headed. Giroux is absolutely precise in making the excellent point that
it is in the province of the intellectuals the Occupier’s “challenge to
capitalism front and center among its concerns and passions [and] to
make economic injustice for the 99 percent and the ruling economic
system central, defining issues.”  If one has higher reading skills, the
very next paragraph, paragraph 6, gives much weight to the previous
one. 

At issue here is that the protesters seek to rescue the
political possibilities of ambivalence from the powerful,
break open the sordid appeal to common sense, unmask
casino capitalism’s most pernicious myths (especially the
alleged belief that capitalism and democracy are the same),
struggle to restage power in productive ways, enact social
agency from those places where it has been denied and
work to provide an accurate historical accounting of the
racial state and racial power. What has emerged in the
Occupy movement is the refusal on the part of protesters
to accept the dominant scripts of official authority and the
limitations they impose upon individual and social agency,
thus using spaces of critique, dissent, dialogue and collective
resistance as starting points from which to build unfamiliar,
potential worlds. In the process of thinking seriously about
structures of power, state formation, militarism, capitalist
formations, class and pedagogy, the protesters have refused
to substitute moral indignation for the hard work of contribu-
ting to critical education and enabling people to expand the
horizons of their own sense of agency in order to collectively
challenge established structures of financial and cultural power.

His first eloquent point in paragraph 1 is what he perceives as a loss
of democracy.  This might be important, especially to those who gripe
about it all the time.  Because one does not agree with Giroux 100%, it
does not mean his writing is to be deemed inferior!  It most certainly is
not.  And I disagree with him right off the bat.  Well,... I have a difference
of opinion.  He says democracy in America is lost.  I would qualify that
and say it is “in the process of being lost.” Americans, we Americans
are losing democracy because we are not taking steps to not.  We are
allowing those who would grate the edges of the kind education that
would build the skills to really criticize in an articulate way what is
causing the loss of democracy.  But I would say this inaction is a result
of the mass conditioning that has been going on, as Giroux theorizes,
for decades by the corporate/conservative/wealthy class fascistic doc-
trines that are being forced on the public through fraudulent media and
obscene money-backed campaigns to anesthetize the public into uncon-
sciousness about the reality of what is happening, being disfranchised
out of everything that means a decent life.  Also, regarding Giroux, we
have to be very clear what he means by democracy.  Reading the entire
essay, he does not say explicitly what he means by the word democracy? 
It is implied but it should be expressed explicitly since it is the major
theme of his essay that it is missing.  I would agree that he does rely on
implications but not all the time.  He does give examples. 

My plan is to take each of his 25 paragraphs and examine them to see if
anything he says has any real bearing on our society.

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Shenonymous's avatar

By Shenonymous, May 23, 2012 at 9:43 am Link to this comment

I came abrowsing my favorite TD writer, Giroux, and found a bevy
of whining sniveling literary roaches streaming out of the electronic
woodwork!  My gawd!  The absurdity of the criticism against Giroux’s
style of writing is appalling. JC!  Mon dieu!  If they hadn’t been writing
on the forums for years and just happened upon the article serendipi-
tously, one could think they had fallen into a well of ignoramuses.  If the
article is too hard to fathom, it is a simple matter.  Just don’t read it and
pass on to the primary level written articles that are accessible to your
level of reading. But then the obvious, egotists think they just have to
strut out a slick criticism, I guess trying to impress who?  Truthdippers? 
What a hoot!

While he might enjoy a shot or two of tequila, Giroux is not a pablum
writer that is for sure.  Why everyone who authors articles must write as
if third graders are reading Truthdig articles is hilarity.  The kind of
burlesque criticisms leveled here are perfect examples of the low level
literacy that permeates American society.  I have a theory but at the
moment I will only say Mamma Mia!Given the insipid intellectual fare
that too frequently attempts to make glib hit and run comments, one must,
I guess, suffer the bland uncultivated articulation that is to be expected
when the caliber of writers such as Giroux hits the site.

Thank goodness the editors of Truthdig have enough savoir-faire and more
word “sense” to occasionally publish those writers who have the craft of our
rich language who can write beyond the 9-year old level of comprehension.

One doesn’t have to make a verbal castigating criticizing bowel movement
on a forum all in plain site, myself excepted, of course!  Let’s see, though, if
you can really understand what I’m saying!  It is really a shame if you cannot
intellectually negotiate a superb writer such as Giroux.  Perhaps you just are
not used to reading at the elementary or higher level. An Entry Level Reading
course then more Advanced Reading exercises when there are deficits in
critical thinking might be helpful.  Basic thinking skills that usually start at
a very tender age, but without being trained in self-awareness of one’s
deficiency of higher thinking skills and self-discipline leads to difficulty of
getting beyond rote memory and can last into late adult life.  An inability to
distinguish fact from opinion is most symptomatic and individuals who are
made aware of this deficit might be motivated to do something about it.
This is where my six high horses and I have come riding in to save you!  LOL
Suggested reading:
http://www.cdl.org/resource-library/articles/HOT.php?type=subject&id=18
How to increase higher order thinking. 

Speaking of cultivation, I would bet my lovely garden that this group could
not understand many of the writers quoted in Giroux’s article:  Andrew
Benjamin, Alain Touraine, Paul Ricoeur, et al.  Let the defensive quips roll on
in.  laugh laugh not nervously, but derisively.

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katsteevns's avatar

By katsteevns, May 23, 2012 at 8:45 am Link to this comment

Moral indignation is a prerequisite to action, and there just aint enough of the former to go
around. The hope here appears to be misplaced.

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By balkas, May 23, 2012 at 5:18 am Link to this comment

i don’t know whether the leaderless movement we know as the Occupy, not being a political party, will
have to eventually become leaderfull in order to obtain whatever it wants to obtain.
for once you elect to congress own people, from that point of time you are lead; thus have a leadership.
ideally, of course, a leadership shld lead and be lead. present leadership in congress does not lead—-it
appears totally lead by the basic U.S ideology; from which arise laws, constitution, bill of rights, etc; and,
of course, the ONEPERCENT or monetary power.
so, the lesson seems to be clear: establish a THOUGHT and then you run everything on it.
that’s what u.s runs on. strip away all the verbal brilliance, vacuities, vagueness, other
generalizations/rationalization from bill of rights, constitution, etc., and you arrive at the base of all
things in u.s; crudely and crushingly said: right of a person to control another person.
the Onepercent does not just happen; it is manufactured and i may add with deliberation and purpose:
forever to lead the ‘nation’ and never ever to be lead by vast numbers of americans.

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By Wikileaks for Nobel, May 22, 2012 at 7:33 pm Link to this comment

Pretty good, albeit written in an unnecessarily paper-for-college style.  It’s crucial that Occupy *not* reduce itself to any of the business-as-usual forms and actions desired by those outside our ranks.  Naomi Wolf, the photogenic woman unsurprisingly selected by the UK daily newspaper, The Guardian, to be the voice (and body) of Occupy, wants us to get involved in electoral activity.  RIP.  We all know where that goes—has gone—and pace Ms. Wolf, we aren’t interested in being enablers to the 1%.  Some of us will vote, and some will even participate in campaigns for office…but that will never, ever, characterize Occupy.

I use that only as an example.  The key point is that Occupation won’t be reduced to *any* specific action.  That is its genius: it is a dimension through which possibility gestates, processes, and projects.  It is a “meta” that makes possible innumerable things, including Ms. Wolf’s desire for electoral acts—while never being restricted or equivalent to that or any other line of action. 

At the cost of a fair amount of derision, I suggested at Adbusters that Occupation’s strategic mode is akin to that of water, and quoted the Tao Te Ching to that effect: 

The highest good is like water.
Water gives life to the ten thousand things and does not strive.
It flows in places men reject and so is like the Tao.

The “meta” of Occupation is clear in its leaderlessness and decentralized “flow.”  This is why it is accessible at all times everywhere, to anyone who wishes to take up Occupation.  There is no *leader you must wait for*, as it is a dimension of self-less action.  We act for and with each other, in defending foreclosed homes, demanding help for homeless veterans, at all times exposing the organized theft of our lives by the profligate war-making culture of Wall Street…and yet, no one of these is the equivalent, the be-all/end-all to Occupation.  If it were, we would already be defeated.

Occupation means to make possible—that is its essential nature.  That is how and why we flow as people who seek alternative ways through the barriers, the tomb that has been constructed around our lives.  There is no “line” or “vanguard” that must be followed; our faith is that of democracy and the importance of leadership distinct from leaders.  “Leaders” are media celebrities, empty totemic substitutes for real power and deep change, offering mere entertainment and symbolic freedom.  We are not satisfied with symbols, and care nothing for celebrity.

The 99% will Occupy exactly as they see fit, when and as it appears urgent and sensible for them to do so.  Others busy themselves in electing the next errand-runner for war and Wall Street, deploying police, dispersing encampments of the homeless poor.  We Occupy.  We are the future.  Expect us.

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OzarkMichael's avatar

By OzarkMichael, May 22, 2012 at 7:17 pm Link to this comment

Worth noting is that the Occupy protesters believe that intellectuals (those willing to exercise critical thought) come from a broad range of jobs, fields and institutions and should inhabit the realm of politics, be willing to cross intellectual and physical boundaries, connect questions of understanding and power and unite passion, commitment and conscience in new ways in order to reflect on and engage with the larger society.

The article is packed with meandering sentences like the one above. It is verbose and foggy. His weekly five page articles say less than the 1 or 2 pagers that other Truthdig authors put up. I regret to inform Mr Giroux that quality and precision are not attained by quantity of words.

His articles dont really make a point so much, they just stack one platitude upon another, building into an overwhelming snooze-inducing tangle.

His articles are quite partisan(like Hedges) but unlike Hedges they are so foggy that I am not moved to agree or disagree. I couldnt be bothered to quote a line in order to disprove it. I couldnt even be bothered to inquire how he determined the validity of the sentence that I did quote just now. What is lost or gained? Who cares? Thus Giroux makes his subject matter seem unimportant. Hedges, on the other hand, makes it seem that existance hangs in the balance of whatever he is writing about, and his asertions rise to that vital level where one must support or attack what he says. One is forced to ponder. Thats a good thing.

Geez, this Giroux is so bad it is making me appreciate Chris Hedges!

I would have gone further about this Giroux. I would have accused everyone of supporting this author merely because the drift of it all appeals to your prejudices, however… a few of you commented on his style already and thus you knocked that weapon out of my hand.

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By balkas, May 22, 2012 at 4:27 pm Link to this comment

on p. 4, HAG speaks, i think, of a necessity to get away from the tendency to remain a
dependency or ruggedley inidvidualistic and turn to an interdependent way of living.
don’t depend on anyone—be interdepedent with everyone.
this means one shld be a job [work] giver and job taker, one shld listen to and obey
others and others shld listen and obey her/him.
s/he shld respect everone and hisher basic rights and everyone shld respect her/his
rights and him/her.
all competition and sport for money and grading people and kids shld be made illegal.
for that is a form of servitude or patronization. we shld once for all ban the use of word
stupid when meant for kids or people.

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By gerard, May 22, 2012 at 3:52 pm Link to this comment

“Creativity and Science with happy enthusiasm should soften if not convince the “conservative” to loosen their grip.” And the moon is also made of green cheese.

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By balkas, May 22, 2012 at 3:52 pm Link to this comment

“as the govt deregulates, privatizes and outsources key aspect of governance…..”
i think u.s govts merely do what the governance or the system of rule, constitution, bill of rights,
commands them to do.
or to be even more accurate, govts do what the payers of the govt and of both party members tell them
to do, or else! 
i don’t think it is as complicated as pundits tell us. as i see it, it is very crude and simple: do as i say or
i’ll get s’mone else to do it.
the payers see that america is getting poorer. they want to keep their wealth; so, fewer crumbs for most
people.
however, u.s governance or system of rule has always been owned by a minority of people. that’s not
changing.
and if it does not change, what’s gonna change?

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By balkas, May 22, 2012 at 3:24 pm Link to this comment

talking about politics, can one have or do good politics if one has no education;
does not obtain healthcare, accurate/adequate information, etc?
no, of course, one cannot do politics well just as one cannot play golf, bridge,
football well w.o some education and training.
and that is what is denied most american males and more so females.
i am married man and i know how much my wife knows about politics, her duty to
know-excersice it.
btw, at one time, i, too, was completely ignorant about life itself let alone its aspect
we call politics.

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By balkas, May 22, 2012 at 3:04 pm Link to this comment

true, capitalism and democracy are not the same;
however, one influences, shapes, reshapes the other and
reverse is also true.
however, democracy w.o. timocracy and/or pantisocracy
or some degree of it, may behave as some of the worst
totalitarianisms ever to have befallen us.
in fact, as i have noted in one of my previous comments,
in the powers to wage wars, deceive, rob, such powers
appear near absolute. if bailouts do not prove it, what
wld i wonder?
of course, the greater degree of timocracy-pantisocracy
in a democracy the more it shapes and reshapes
capitalism; hopefully to please also lower classes.

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By balkas, May 22, 2012 at 1:27 pm Link to this comment

HAG shld have explained what economic justice means.
does it entail ownership of the banks, minerals, forests, governance,
etc., by each american in equal measure?
in other words, if u don’t own ur share of america, u don’t get ur share
of information, education, healthcare, complaining freely, good food,
justice, etc.
and u never had that in u.s and u may not ever except by armed
rebellion and/or getting highly political.
or is it too late to obtain that solely via education or protests?
time will tell if education-protests wld fail or not.

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By BrilliantBill, May 22, 2012 at 1:23 pm Link to this comment

Gerard is spot on. This guy may be a towering intellect, but he needs to learn to write for general consumption. Otherwise he has a big future in the non-prescription sleep drug business.

I did three paragraphs before nodding off.

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By balkas, May 22, 2012 at 12:57 pm Link to this comment

i do think that the Republicans or Tea Party members hate govt, let alone the governance;
ie, fathers of the confederation, constitution, basic u.s laws.
but, yes, they are simply mistaken in concluding that Democrats love less all that than the
tea party members and Republican politicians, clergy, bankers, et al. 
they’d love the right govt: one totally privatized or totally controlled by the 1%.
right now that is not the case, as far as i can tell, but it may be in not that far in future.

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By balkas, May 22, 2012 at 12:39 pm Link to this comment

“merging of corporate and political power”???
i do not think that political power was ever separated from monetary [corporate-company], educational,
informational, military, religious, judiciary, and police powers.
each of these powers was and still is an integral part of a whole.
and, i suggest, founders of u.s knew that u.s wld function like that for an eternity.
indeed, in whatever country and at whatever point of time that’s what is happening.
u.s was meant to function like a diktatorship; in some aspects of its policies, more so than others.
in warmaking, it functions totally diktatorially; most people have no say whatever in this one aspect of u.s
system of rule.
and the truth is always witheld from them.
talk about totalitarianism; no greater exists than the one in u.s.

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By gerard, May 22, 2012 at 12:27 pm Link to this comment

It is a crying shame that Giroux cannot write in a style simple enough for ordinary people to understand because he has vitally important things to say.  His complexity is self-defeating, and I sincerely hope that someone behind the scenes is carefully retranslating what he writes, dividing it up into palatable “bites” and issuing it all as paperback handbooks of “required reading” for all social-studies classes at high school and college level. Every single phrase is vital to literally “take in” and “put into practice”, not just skim over and pass on. Will somebody please tell him?

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