Friday, September 13, 2013

Diverting the Bewildered Herd

Let's see....

Income inequality in America has officially reached its highest level since the Great Depression. Conservative estimates now have a third of us living at or below the poverty line, but in real life, fully 50% of the population is teetering on the brink of financial catastrophe. Compared to the rest of the civilized world, only the recent dictator- devastated Romania ranks lower than we do on the child poverty scale. These stats are a feature -- not a bug -- of what happens when plutocrats take charge, and government for the commonweal falls down the memory hole.

And adding insult to the injury of a financial oligarchy run amok, it turns out that a parallel criminal surveillance state has been operating in plain sight for years, both within and without our "borders" -- and it's getting bigger and nastier and more intrusive and less accountable all the time.

The natives have been getting restless. McWorkers are starting to walk off their jobs, clamoring for a living wage. The vast majority of Americans have reported themselves to be upset about government spying, and Edward Snowden is reaping higher approval ratings than Barack Obama. Erstwhile complicit Congress Critters were even threatening to hold hearings in order to hold the burglars of the NSA to account.

So, dutiful placeholders of neo-feudalism and neo-fascism that they are, the revolving-door leadership of the Military-Industrial-Media-Spy Complex has sprung into action. They've deflected attention away from their own dastardly deeds and created a brand new villain for our outraged pleasure.

Quickly advancing from merely being the Butcher of Damascus to exploding on the scene as the Hitler of the 21st Century,  Syrian President Anwar al-Assad, mass exterminator of children, is the perfect villain. Add to the mix Vlad the Bad, suppressor of LGBT rights in Russia, and you've got yourself the perfect scenario for what Noam Chomsky has called "diverting the bewildered herd."

Every so often, in our long slog to the bottom, our leaders have to create a new monster to deflect attention away from their own monstrosity. Communism filled that role from the Fabulous Fifties, as the destruction of the New Deal and unions began, right up to the Fall of the Wall. Then, conveniently enough, came 9/11 and the open-ended, treasure and life-depleting Middle Eastern wars, security state-bloating war on terror, the whole globe becoming one big  battlefield and corporate-friendly free trade zone. Next, thanks to financial deregulation, the economy crashed and burned.  And for a couple of years, the marketing campaign miracle known as Barack Obama kept the restive herd temporarily penned in, chewing the cud of his delicious words.

Then along came Occupy (for the moment, anyway, suppressed.) Then along came Snowden, and polls began to show that people are refusing, any longer, to be terrorized. So, the Powers That Be started beating the war drums once again. Only this time, the people (and the whole world) were refusing to be tamed. They were saying No To War. So the president saved face by pretending to democratically punt over to Congress, which in turn, suddenly forgot all about the rogues of the NSA, in their haste to go on TV to posture For War, Against War, or Not Sure.

 The consumers of America are riveted. The blogosphere (myself included) ignores Snowden, the endless depression, the political graft, and the fact that not one banker is in jail as the five year statute of limitation on financial fraud of epic proportions draws to its convenient close.

Meanwhile, we the protesters of America are cheering because our People Power stopped the war in its tracks. We are celebrating Putin for Peace, and his ad agency-written New York Times op-ed. But wait. Right in plain sight, war is very much being waged, conducted in the usual manner: secretly, and proxified. That "no boots on the ground" mantra? It is absolutely meaningless when you consider that the true prosecutors, their own tender feet probably cleverly ensconced in thousand-dollar CJ Cleverley Bespokes, were only talking about GI grunt-brand bootsAmerican weapons and personnel are absolutely on the groundon Syrian soil, in the form of a secretly and grossly overfunded CIA, SEALs, Special Ops, and who knows who and what else. Of course, as official White House plumbers have leaked in their announcements to the corporate media, the American secret forces and associated clients only entered Syria after the Sarin attacks. Uh-huh.

Congressional approval for war is just a nicety to keep the herd diverted and believing that, despite what President Jimmy Carter recently said, we still have a functioning democracy. MoveOn, that mass herder of progressive veal, has suddenly stopped its email blasts begging for money in the name of anti-war. Critics, accused of being Nazi collaborators for speaking out against Syrian airstrikes to kill more children to avenge dead children, are being muted. We are nobly giving peace a chance at the same time we are languishing in our own domestic misery. We are back to rooting for Democrats vs Republicans, Barack vs Vlad, instead of noticing or caring that the Class War continues apace, and that we are on the losing end.

Meanwhile, to make us feel empowered in this, our time of mass joblessness and hunger, First Lady Michelle Obama has gone on her own offensive. Nancy Reagan once pompously advised us to Just Say No to Drugs, but Michelle is urging us to Just Drink Water (carefully not touting either the dubious health benefits or even the dangers of drinking too much of it.)

 Long forgotten are the days of the last Great Depression, when Eleanor Roosevelt actually visited poor people where they lived, listened to them verbalize their own needs. The poor have always been more than capable of knowing what they need: food, shelter, a decent income, medicine, child care, jobs. Where are the jobs, and where are the leaders who care?

But this is now, the times of the New Normal and government by technocrat and ad campaign. To make her latest initiative every bit as effective as partnering with national wage-slavemaster Walmart to shill for fresh food, our current FLOTUS is partnering with the lucrative bottled water industry to encourage us to buy our water as well as drink it. Evian and Poland Spring and the rest of the privatized water cartel will start carrying  Michelle's "Let's Drink Up!" logo on their products, the better to entice you in the grocery store aisles, your meager SNAP benefit card in hand. Because, as we all know, keeping the kids' bellies bloated with water temporarily staves off hunger. We have been taught by TV commercials that bottled water that you purchase is "better" and more upwardly mobile than free water from your kitchen tap. (Even though there is absolutely no difference in taste or quality, and the still-unbanned BPA in plastic bottles is actually quite harmful to your health) By purchasing water, you are good patriotic citizens helping to support a handful of low paying non-union jobs in bottling plants. You will also be boosting the tax-exempt Petroleum Industry, whose raw materials make up the plastic bottles. So drink for yourself, drink for America, and drink for Exxon-Mobil.

A water-logged herd is so much easier to divert. Away from the flood, and right over the cliff.


Noodge said...

Sorry to wander off topic, but...

For reasons that are obvious to anyone who reads the comments here, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the nature of bigotry.

I grew up through the 60’s and saw quite a bit of the civil rights struggle. I was raised never to judge anyone by anything other than their actions, and never by any factors like race or religion. I took that lesson to heart. One day, when I was about nine or ten, I announced proudly to my mother that I was a superior being; I was not prejudiced. My mother chuckled, then told me something I have always remembered: “Nonsense,” she said. “Everyone is prejudiced. You can’t escape being prejudiced in one way or another. It’s the mark of an intelligent person that he learns to recognize his own prejudices, and that he works hard to overcome them.”

I didn’t realize then that learning to recognize my own prejudices would prove to be the hard part. I was raised in a small college town in Connecticut, a very insular community. We told ourselves that, as the children of highly educated parents, we were too intelligent to fall prey to bigotry. Of course, because we were so isolated culturally, it was impossible not to develop prejudices born of ignorance. It was easy for me to see the bigotry directed at me - I was called “Christ killer” and “kike” more times than I can remember – but it never occurred to me that there might be a reason why the new kid in the neighborhood (who happened to be black) might not feel comfortable congregating with the rest of the kids at the school bus stop. It wasn't until years later that I found out his parents had been presented with a petition from the neighbors telling them to move out (my parents were the only ones on the block who refused to sign).

When many years later I went to work with a young man who had moved to the United States from Bethlehem, I discovered a prejudice I didn’t realize I held. I was genuinely surprised to learn that this man was a Christian, having assumed all Palestinians were Moslems. I was genuinely surprised to learn of the privations his family had suffered because of first, the European powers, and second, the Israelis. It never occurred to me that someone might reasonably believe that the crimes of some third party – no matter how heinous – did not justify their being dispossessed for the benefit of the victims. It never occurred to me that there were Palestinians who did not countenance terrorism as a tactic. I never thought there might be things going on in Palestine that might drive an otherwise reasonable person to the extreme of terrorism.

But thanks to the powers of reasonable discussion (and, I must admit, more than a few bottles of wine), I learned all these things. Until I met this man, who has been a true friend for over thirty years now, I thought every one of my prejudices regarding Palestinians was a reasonable, rational viewpoint. I never labored to overcome that particular prejudice because I never realized I held it. I’ve discovered a few more since then and I'm certain I will discover more as I progress through the latter stages of my life.

But I don’t think the fact that I continue to find I hold irrational prejudices makes me a bad person. What it makes me is an incomplete person; one who is still learning. I’m not a bigot, even though I find occasionally that I still harbor some bigoted views. Which is my very long-winded way of saying that I don’t believe anyone on these pages is a bigot, either, and my apologies go out to anyone who thinks my comments were directed at them personally. We can disagree on whether any of our remarks, including my own, were rooted in (unintentional) prejudice, but I know we all hope that our conduct and our attitudes are as free from prejudice as we can make them, and that we all strive to arrive at whatever conclusions we draw as the result of a rational thought process and not blind emotion.

Noodge said...

Oh yeah. This is also, by the way, one of the very best things you've ever written, Karen. Incredible.

Karen Garcia said...

Thanks for the compliment, Noodge. I also appreciate your well-reasoned ideas on prejudice, which is mostly learned. There is a huge difference between all-too-human prejudice and outright bigotry. We feel what we feel, but try to remember how our expressed feelings might affect others. This is not to say that I ascribe to political correctness by any stretch, however. Walking on eggshells for fear of possibly offending somebody is not healthy, either.

I have lived so many places in my life that I am fairly comfortable with all kinds of people, their ethnicities, etc. I spent my very earliest childhood in Alabama and can remember at age three "noticing" without much fuss that some people had darker skin than me, and wondering why they had to sit in the back of the bus. Luckily my parents were Chicago transplants and I never "learned" to hate. I spent part of my later childhood in Connecticut. 100% lily white town. When I went to college in Tulsa in the 70s, the very socially acceptable racism and xenophobia (much worse off-campus) were pretty shocking. This year, however, the city just got around to dis-honoring a KKK member who one of their main drags ("Brady") was named after, not by renaming the street itself, but by picking someone else with the same last name (Civil War photog Mathew Brady) and declaring that from now on, the good Brady will be associated with the street. (If that makes any sense to you.) I think they have taken a teensy leap forward in the past 100-odd years of Okla. statehood. The verbal tradition of bigotry, handed down through consecutive generations, must die hard.

Pearl said...

We have to also remember to separate our prejudices against specific people (Muslims, Christians, Jews, Arabs, atheists, et al) from the rhetoric of the leaders of the countries they live in. We may hate the kind of dictatorships
of various countries but should not allow our reactions to lump the people of that country into that hatred.

For example, the hatred against Arabs by so many Israelis, even those having citizenship in the country which was something that bothered us greatly when we lived there.
Or hating Jews because they hate the policies of Israel, and all these
prejudices back and forth make it impossible to have rational discussions of peace. Too many people in the world live in countries where dissension and fighting goes on within them (like Syria, Iraq, Egypt and on and on) often it is religious differences that are involved or different physical characteristics such as white against African-Americans in the U.S.

So the ordinary people are taught prejudices in order to go to war and the hatreds continue. I remember during WW 11, when innocent Japanese Americans were herded into the equivalent of concentration camps in the U.S. (per FDR's order as recommended by the military), losing their homes, farms and belongings and being insulted by their fellow Americans. No one was ever found guilty of any treasonable acts, and they formed an infantry to fight
for the U.S. during the War. The same for black Americans who fought in a
special highly decorated military division.

As Karen always points out, average people become the dupes of those in
power and wealth and it seems to hold true in practically every nation on
earth. If only we could break through and unite people of the world and help each other live better lives. But this will not happen until we break the yoke of those in power who will not relinquish their perceived entitlements and place themselves above the herd.

I think something of great importance has happened in our country. They are

Jay - Ottawa said...

Tolerance can be a vice as well as a virtue. The opposite of tolerance is not necessarily bigotry and prejudice. Tolerating differences in others is one thing; tolerating injustice suffered by others is a betrayal of the other.

Facing the state of affairs Karen just described calls for more than a nod. Millions of people continue to suffer from war, theft by elites, joblessness engineered by big corporations and the many shades of political oppression. Oppression on this scale calls for unrelenting resistance. However, the noise of confrontation might disrupt the pleasant iTunes coming through millions of ear buds. Political tolerance is an acceptable mask to hide cowardice. Too many lucky people WANT to be distracted and diverted from the injustice suffered by the millions who are not so lucky.

Resistance doesn’t come cheap. Ask Snowden. Most of us will stay quiet and comfortable as long as we can despite our knowing down deep that, even if we escape the expanding economic and political disasters, down the line Mother Nature won’t be deterred no matter how many of us stick our heads in the sand.

Politeness without end in the face of vast and entrenched systems of injustice amounts to collaboration with the elites who maintain those systems. If Marx were writing today, he’d say that amoral tolerance (not religion) is the opiate of the masses.

James F Traynor said...

Jay, you've got something there in that last sentence. I don't know what Marx would say. I'd say going with the flow is dangerous, especially if that sound you're hearing is from class V rapids or worse.

Pearl said...

I am perplexed by an apparent turn around from commenters about the
negotiations between Kerry and his Russian counterpart for an agreement on how to go ahead with handling the chemicals stored in Syria. The top
comments, meaning the ones most recommended which I read a number of in response to the NYTimes article "U.S. and Russia reach deal to Destroy Syria's Chemical Arms"
all denounced Russia for its part in helping create the situation in Syria,
lying about the facts, etc. and all giving high praise as to how
eloquently Obama handled the whole situation and what an amazing president he is. If they hadn't threatened war,this would not have happened, and further making Putin and others out as gangsters, etc. What happened? Has amnesia set in of how badly handled the whole situation became after Obama's mysterious plans which many Congresspeople strongly criticized? Are there any other points of view as to how things really developed and went along as so many Americans spoke up
so eloquently about past wars and criticized Obama or did I dream it all? and so far there are still no proofs of who and what were involved with chemical warfare attacks. I seem to be still in the Twilight Zone. Help me.

Two recent articles I have read in counterpunch, report the events before this deal with Russia emphasizing the lousy way Obama has handled things and with more respect for the attempts by the Russians to work with the U.S. mentioning how they rescued Obama from an embarrassing situation he got
himself one in the comments I referred to in the NYtimes mentioned
anything along these lines or seemed to remember what had happened !

Karen Garcia said...


It's because we Americans must have our good guy vs. bad guy narrative, even though, when you think about it, this is all about two bosses having a territorial mob war over who controls a peripheral renegade thug. We root for Obama like we used to root for Tony Soprano. We gloss over the crimes and misdeeds of our designated good guy. Now that the Republicans have joined Putin in trashing Obama, we are being all the more easily directed by the establishment onto the required "side."

The New York Times commentariat, a cross section, I suppose, of the whole population, are a fickle bunch. Unless their designated hero does something truly outrageous, they will always champion him against a greater evil. Every single time. One day they'll demand impeachment, the next day they'll defend him. It worked with Romney, it's worked with the GOP House, now Putin is in the mix only because the young Prince is under unfair attack as a "wimp." That cannot be tolerated. This whole mess is just a spectator sport for desperate people. The End.

Fred Drumlevitch said...

First of all, I want to thank readers of and commenters to my piece cross-posted at Sardonicky this past Wednesday. Late yesterday I appended a thanks and more detailed comment there, but I want to express my thanks again here, since many readers may not see my tardy comment to a post two posts back.

Fred Drumlevitch said...

Now to this current post of yours, Karen. It hits the nail on the head. And @Pearl, I too did notice the sea change in comments at the New York Times. Here's my take on all this:

There are several types of distractions that the powers-that-be seek to keep operational in order for them to maintain their control over the people, the government, the economy, and the society.

1) The first is distraction as to what are important specific issues, both short and longer term.

2) The second is distraction as to the narrative for how society should operate, or how it currently fails to do so — that is, the higher-level philosophies, principles, and moralities — of economics, politics, social justice, international relations, science, environmentalism, and earth stewardship.

3) The third is distraction with regard to the power — or at least the potential power — of the people. This third one is perhaps the most important, but at the same time particularly insidious. Plutocratic control can be maintained by a) making the people feel discouraged and without power (standard operating procedure for traditional dictatorships, but also substantially operative nowadays even in the so-called democracies) — but it can also be accomplished by b) fooling the people into believing that they have wielded power, and that such power is being respected by a society's institutions, when in fact the populace is being manipulated and the people are being played for fools. (That's the democratic "choice" between the two major political parties that we see played out every two years). And yet another way for the powers-that-be to remain in power is c) for them to see to it that the populace doesn't even think about a power dynamic. (That's the Roman circuses, and its more modern incarnation, the three hundred cable channels piping pablum into so many homes).

The powers-that-be would like to guarantee their privileged positions by keeping operational all three (of the top-level) distractions, but in a pinch just one will do.

The thought of yet another war was so outrageous that, for a brief moment recently, the people of this country began to stir. Point 3 especially, but to a lesser extent, points 1 and 2 as well, suddenly began to move in a progressive direction. If the people could begin to think that they had the power to avert an unnecessary war, who knows what might come next?! They might begin to believe more generally, that the bloated military forces and international overreach of this country should be reduced to saner levels; that the militarized police and "security"-surveillance apparatus of our nation should be drastically reduced forthwith, before it destroys our supposed Constitutionally-guaranteed liberties; that our society should operate with a significant degree of social and economic justice; that the speculating banksters who crashed the economy through imprudent speculation, and in some cases, outright fraud, should be sent to prison; that the minimum wage should be a living one; that taxes should be more progressive and adequate for the national rebuilding that is so desperately needed; that politicians should serve the people and the nation, rather than themselves and their corporate donors.

Mustn't have any of that, the plutocracy realized! So their goal was/is to quickly put the populace back to sleep, before it fully wakes. Obama's quick pivot and agreement with the Russians to avert war was an urgent (from the standpoint of plutocratic interests) move to get the populace to go back to sleep. What we see in the recent comments at the New York Times is, at once, both part of the process of as well as also the result of the administration of anesthesia.

Adequately and durably raising public consciousness is not easy. But it remains essential.

Fred Drumlevitch said...

Speaking of militarized police, be sure to check out the latest outrage, where New York City police thugs, shooting at an apparently disturbed person (already outrageous enough of a policy), compounded that fascistic behavior by wounding two bystanders!!!

Note from the article, and the picture, that this poor woman previously needed a walker! What will she now need? For many months, and perhaps the remainder of her life, probably a wheelchair.

The New York Times reports: "One of the women, 54, was wounded in the leg, fracturing her tibia and fibula, [Police Commissioner Raymond W.] Kelly said."

As usual, more than a bit disingenuous of a statement from the ever-disingenuous Commissioner Kelly.

"Fracturing"? Let's consider what a (probably) 40-caliber bullet that strikes bone is likely to do. "Fracture" isn't an adequately descriptive word. "Shattering" of those two aforementioned bones is overwhelmingly more likely. I can't even begin to think of how much reconstruction this poor woman will require. If processed cadaver bone is used, she will be at risk for infection from some serious diseases including hepatitis, HIV, and degenerative neurological diseases (medical assurances notwithstanding, for we know from past instances how poorly-regulated is the body-parts market). Even bone reconstruction (or metal replacement) will be inadequate for restoration to functionality, if the bullet severed or damaged a major nerve. And if any major blood vessel was damaged, her circulation will be permanently impaired, and she will forever be at greater risk for an embolism that could not only affect leg circulation, but could dislodge and travel to her heart, lungs, or brain, with debilitating or fatal results.

She may never walk again, and she will almost certainly never be free of significant pain.

When will the fascistic behavior of this nation's ever-more-militarized and arrogant police forces end? Time for some criminal charges to be levied against police who act that way, and for some massive civil judgments against both individual officers and police departments. Time for any police with too much readiness to shoot and/or inadequate shooting competence to be disarmed. And more generally, time for a decrease in the both the magazine capacity and caliber of the weapons that police are allowed to wield in the name of the law.

Fascism in a democratic state doesn't always creep in on cat feet (though it certainly can arrive that way). Sometimes it comes with loud bangs — the unnecessary firing of police weapons.

Pearl said...

Thank you for your insightful replies to my concerns about the
continuing veneration of Obama regardless of his failures. I think the American people came out clearly against any more wars but unfortunately were unable to take the next step to stop supporting their leaders who feel they cannot function without the back up of their Military Daddy, fists clenched in the background. This attitude may make it difficult for other countries to work with them on the plans to get rid of the lethal chemicals in Syria. There was an interview with a former arms inspector who warned that in order to
accomplish the plans for Syria, it cannot work if the U.S. involves itself militarily or politically in the affairs of the country especially during a civil war. I think this is the message the Russians are trying to get across about the U.S. continuing to keep the military threat alive in the background. And as you have pointed out there are plenty of intelligence
boots on the ground there now and probably have been for some time. So we will have to chew our nails for awhile yet.

The next order of business should be to force Israel to officially register their vast missile collection which is a constant threat to surrounding countries.