It looks like a demented ferris wheel from hell. But what it really depicts is the tangled corporate media web emanating from that exclusive, yet bloated, think tank known as the Council on Foreign Relations. For even more detailed CFR intertwinements, be sure to visit the Muckety site, which is running a series of special reports on the dizzying incestuousness that exists within the Beltway and beyond. The Hollywood bone's connected to the Wall Street bone, the Wall Street bone's connected to the government bone, the government bone's connected to the pharmaceutical bone, the pharmaceutical bone's connected to the defense contractor bone, and on and on, ad infinitum. It all adds up to one big metastatic blob of public-private cells, occasionally throwing off their toxic by-products for consumption by we, the peoples.
Even though such scions of the corporate media as the New York Times' Thomas Friedman and CNN's Fareed Zakaria are CFR members in good standing, what happens in the Council stays in the Council. The government can trust them implicitly with its top secrets, says this think tank, because the revolving doors of influence peddling swing wide and swing fast and swing both ways. In the Council's own words:
There sometimes lurks among experts in high office a sense that they need not respect the opinions of those lacking access to the detailed information available within the “classified” preserves of government. The Council has never offered itself as a repository of classified diplomatic or military files. But those on bureaucratic staffs who base their actions on information that cannot be shared (in some form) with the public have learned over the years that they do so only at the peril of their policy goals. Discussions at the Harold Pratt House remain confidential—not because they deal with secret information, but largely because members and invited guests often use the occasions to test tentative opinions they have not yet fully thought through and developed.According to the CFR, you have to be an insider to even get in their door. "With nearly 4,700 members and term members, CFR's roster includes top government officials, renowned scholars, business leaders, acclaimed journalists, prominent lawyers, and distinguished nonprofit professionals" their web page gushes. They forgot to mention they also include movie stars, such as Michael Douglas and George Clooney, and unindicted banksters such as Lloyd Blankfein. And if you're a discredited ex-New York Times reporter named Judith Miller -- well, they won't kick you out for a little old transgression like lying about WMDs in Iraq.
Would you be surprised to learn that Wall Street billionaire Pete Peterson, he of the centrist Third Way anti-FDR cult and the austerity-mongering Fix the Debt Campaign, is also Chairman Emeritus and board member of the Council on Foreign Relations? Follow the tentacles: the ongoing propaganda campaign designed to soften up the public for New Deal safety net cuts by fomenting deficit hysteria has Pete Peterson written all over it. Every centrist Tom Friedman column you'll ever read was no doubt hatched over cocktails with some poobah from the Council on Foreign Relations. That explains a typical muddled Friedman column, because as the Council itself admits, their members' "tentative opinions are not fully thought through". It's the influence that counts -- and whether it's half-baked, spoiled, or stunted matters not in the grand scheme of things. The scheme is power-brokering for the sake of lucrative power-brokering.
Fareed "Plagiarism Schmagiarism" Zakaria, meanwhile, uses Petersonian deficit scold talking points in a piece eerily called "Can America Be Fixed?" that is now running in Foreign Affairs, the official magazine of the Council on Foreign Relations.* Can't guess one of the ways Zakaria will "fix" America? Here's a clue:
The continued growth in entitlements is set to crowd out all other government spending, including on defense and the investments needed to help spur the next wave of economic growth. In 1960, entitlement programs amounted to well under one-third of the federal budget, with all the other functions of government taking up the remaining two-thirds. By 2010, things had flipped, with entitlement programs accounting for two-thirds of the budget and everything else crammed into one-third.
Reform and investment would be difficult in the best of times, but the continuation of current global trends will make these tasks ever tougher and more urgent. Technology and globalization have made it possible to do simple manufacturing anywhere, and Americans will not be able to compete for jobs against workers in China and India who are being paid a tenth of the wages that they are. That means that the United States has no choice but to move up the value chain, relying on a highly skilled work force, superb infrastructure, massive job-training programs, and cutting-edge science and technology -- all of which will not materialize without substantial investment.
The U.S. government currently spends $4 on citizens over 65 for every $1 it spends on those under 18. At some level, that is a brutal reflection of democratic power politics: seniors vote; minors do not. But it is also a statement that the country values the present more than the future.Doesn't that sound eerily like a typical gerontophobic David Brooks column? Well, maybe it is a David Brooks column, for all I know. They all get their talking points and marching orders from the same sources, no? There are only so many creative ways to say we have to kill off all the brutal old people in order to afford more endless wars, more gifts to rich people, more freedom to scam people via "cutting-edge investments" for private profit at public expense. The worker bees have to be beaten into the same submission currently enjoyed by Chinese factory workers and Bangladeshis slaving away in Walmart fire traps in order for America to stay competitive.
But do check out the Muckety series. You'll feel right at home, meandering through the sticky spiders' webs, alternating between outrage and laughter. If you're not up for a virtual parody of Who's Who at the Zoo, though, you'd better just skip it.
* In an earlier version of this post, I mistakenly referred to another publication as being affiliated with the CFR. Thanks to an anonymous tip, I corrected the error.