Friday, January 11, 2013

The Incestuous-Industrial Complex

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.


Anonymous said...

CFR publishes "Foreign Affairs."

"Foreign Policy" is published by the Washington Post Co.

Anonymous said...

CFR publishes "Foreign Affairs."

"Foreign Policy" is published by the Washington Post Co.

Karen Garcia said...

thanks, anonymous. I got rid of that whole paragraph!

Denis Neville said...

Looking at the demented incestuous-industrial ferris wheel, I noticed the name of someone I remember from my home town in South Dakota.

Tom Brokaw was bought by the plutocracy a long time ago. Brokaw, a classic one percenter, had a Muckety score of 99, meaning that he has more connections and influence than 99 percent of the others in Muckety’s listings of the most influential people in America. Naturally, he was one of the elites attending Pete Peterson’s fiscal summit last year. Dutifully, Brokaw has complained that the "Greatest Generation" has to sacrifice by reducing their Social Security benefits. His net worth is reported to be $76 million.

My mother used to say that today’s “new rich” were very different from yesterday’s “old rich.” They were less connected to the country that had granted them opportunity and to those who were less fortunate.

Mike Lofgren, “How Democracies Die,” writes about the creeping rot beneath the façade of greatness of the French Third Republic (1870-1940):

“A compelling counterexample to this "wisdom" about how the rabble with its boundless sense of entitlement supposedly destroys democracy is furnished by the French Third Republic. In that country, the native plutocracy, and the corrupt reactionary politicians who did its bidding, refused to act as citizens bound in patriotic duty to give as well as take. They meanly betrayed the majority of their countrymen and left the nation - once the world's inspiration as the cradle of the rights of man - a squalid dictatorship.”

Following up on Lofgren’s recommendation of William L. Shirer's magisterial "The Collapse of the Third Republic: An Inquiry into the Fall of France in 1940," I stumbled upon the following introspection by Shirer:

"It’s rather difficult in these noisy, confusing, nerve-racking days to achieve the peace of mind in which to pause for a moment to reflect on what you believe in.
There’s so little time and opportunity to give it much thought—though it is the thing we live by; and without it, without beliefs, human existence today would hardly be bearable.

Living in a totalitarian land taught me to value highly—and fiercely—the very things the dictators denied: tolerance, respect for others and, above all, the freedom of the human spirit.

There are many days in this age of anxiety when a human being feels awfully low and discouraged. I myself find consolation at such moments by two means: trying to develop a sense of history, and renewing the quest for inner life.

I find that most true happiness comes from one’s inner life; from the disposition of the mind and soul. Admittedly, a good inner life is difficult to achieve, especially in these trying times. It takes reflection and contemplation. And self-discipline. One must be honest with oneself, and that’s not easy. You have to have patience and understanding. “ - William L. Shirer, A Reporter Quotes His Sources, This I Believe

Stev-o said...

thanks for the David Brooks' reference. I DO SO love the man.

Pearl said...


"The war tore apart the entire nation as a "Silent Majority" of Americans --
men and women much like Brokaw himself -- with "other priorities" than actively opposing the war in Vietnam, became furious at being regarded as immoral by people whom they saw as arrogant, self-righteous, filthy, narcissistic, anti-American and violent.

How Brokaw could write an entire book devoted to the '60s and ignore what
was most toxic about the country's aggression against Vietnam and the many ways our involvement in Indochina more generally deformed and shaped our political culture -- not to mention Vietnam's -- is bewildering, to say the least."

From ForeignPolicy Truthdig /
By Fred Branfman

Brokaw's Blind Spot on Vietnam

James F Traynor said...

The Greatest Generation. What a fraud. I knew a few of these guys in my late teens and early twenties. Most from flying pigeons on tenement roofs, some from my enlisted days. The fraud lies in the name given them, not in what they did and how they endured. I thought, at the time, what a jerk Brocaw was. Still do.

When the Korean War started they counseled me in what to do and painted pictures for me from their experiences, usually one to one, and with a deadly seriousness unusual to them in our every day conversation, which was good natured and often profane. But you knew it when they were serious. They were not heroes. They were brave, terrified, sad, scared and would have laughed at Brocaw's definition. To a man they hated war and all the media bullshit that went with it. I personally owe them a lot.