ce399 | research archive: (anti)fascism

Towards a 21st Century Fascism with Markos “Daily Kos” Zúñiga and Aldous Huxley (mp3 files)

Posted in Uncategorized by ce399 on 23/02/2011

Huxley: The Ultimate Revolution 1962 Lecture at UC Berkeley

Markos Moulitsas Zúñiga at the Common Wealth Club SF

(TRT approx 10mins)


Interview with Alyson M. Cole on The Cult of True Victimhood (mp3 file)

Posted in Uncategorized by ce399 on 18/02/2011

Google-led “Revolution” in Egypt? (NYT 11/2/11)

Posted in Uncategorized by ce399 on 16/02/2011

“Egypt is going to be a fully democratic state,” said Wael Ghonim, the Google executive who helped organize the youth-led protests and became one of the movement’s most prominent spokesmen. “You will be impressed.”

Use Scroogle, Not Google!


The Cult of True Victimhood: From the War on Welfare to the War on Terror (Alyson M. Cole 2006)

Posted in Uncategorized by ce399 on 16/02/2011

Condemnations of “victim politics” are a familiar feature of American public life. Politicians and journalists across the ideological spectrum eagerly denounce “victimism.” Accusations of “playing the victim” have become a convenient way to ridicule or condemn. President George W. Bush even blamed an Islamic “culture of victimization” for 9/11. The Cult of True Victimhood shows how the panic about domestic and foreign victims has transformed American politics, warping the language we use to talk about suffering and collective responsibility.

With forceful and lively prose, Alyson Cole investigates the ideological underpinnings, cultural manifestations, and political consequences of anti-victimism in an array of contexts, including race relations, the feminist movement, conservative punditry, and the U.S. legal system. Being a victim, she contends, is no longer a matter of injuries or injustices endured, but a stigmatizing judgment of individual character. Those who claim victim status are cast as shamefully passive or cynically manipulative. Even the brutalized Central Park jogger came forth to insist that she is not a victim, but a survivor.

Offering a fresh perspective on major themes in American politics, Cole demonstrates how this new use of “victim” to derogate underlies seemingly disparate social and political debates from the welfare state, criminal justice, and abortion to the war on terror.


Editorial Reviews


“Cole presents an acute analysis… proves that the rise of antivictim discourse has fueled antiliberal politics… Cole chooses breadth and variety over in-depth analysis of any one aspect of the language of victimhood. In doing so, she convinces the reader of the pervasiveness of antivictimist discourse and its power to shape American politics. In addition, Cole’s book is filled with original and often unexpected interpretations. And she achieves a rare feat for a book that draws so heavily on philosophy, political theory, and discourse analysis: she writes a page-turner, a book in which wit and irony accompany acute analysis.”—Signs

“In The Cult of True Victimhood, political theorist Alyson M. Cole explores what she depicts as a coherent ideological and political campaign against victims, which is related to the contemporary backlash against affirmative action, multiculturalism, and the welfare state… The Cult of True Victimhood is a well written and stimulating book that social scientists interested in issues ranging from criminology to feminism and ethnic relations could find interesting. Moreover, this solid piece of scholarship offers an original take on contemporary U.S. society that has no equivalent in the existing social science literature.”—Canadian Journal of Sociology Online

“Alyson M. Cole provides a remarkably original analysis of a profound transformation in the cultural values informing public discourse in the United States. By tracing the underlying logic of the ‘anti-victim campaign’ over several decades, she illuminates dimensions of privatization that operate well beyond explicit neoliberal arguments to roll back the state. Most importantly, Cole deftly demonstrates how this new version of individualism effectively curtails the possibility for social justice.”—Mary Hawkesworth, Rutgers University, Editor of Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society

“In the 1960s, ‘victim’ signified political awakening and a call to arms, a mandate to confront structures of inequalities that divided people along lines of race, gender, class, sexuality, and disability. After several decades of rightwing attack and liberal backsliding, ‘victim’ has been turned into an epithet and a badge of shame. With vibrant and incisive prose, Alyson M. Cole traces and dissects the discourses that have relentlessly stripped away the ideological underpinnings of feminism, anti-racism, and the emancipatory politics spawned by the movements of the 1960s. The Cult of True Victimhood is a wake-up call that the Left is losing the ideological war that it began.”—Stephen Steinberg, author of The Ethnic Myth: Race, Ethnicity, and Class in America and Turning Back: The Retreat from Racial Justice in American Thought and Policy

“An engaging and provocative book, historically grounded, theoretically engaged, and pertinent to an understanding of today’s American political culture. Cole argues persuasively that we live in an era of ‘anti-victim’ politics, in which the campaign against victims has had a profound impact in re-orienting our political and social life, making it harder than ever to address injustice and inequality. This book will surely command widespread interest and generate the best kind of debate.”—Austin Sarat, Amherst College, Editor of Law, Culture and the Humanities, Editor of Studies in Law,

Politics, and Society

Product Description

Condemnations of “victim politics” are a familiar feature of American public life. Politicians and journalists across the ideological spectrum eagerly denounce “victimism.” Accusations of “playing the victim” have become a convenient way to ridicule or condemn. President George W. Bush even blamed an Islamic “culture of victimization” for 9/11. The Cult of True Victimhood shows how the panic about domestic and foreign victims has transformed American politics, warping the language we use to talk about suffering and collective responsibility.

With forceful and lively prose, Alyson Cole investigates the ideological underpinnings, cultural manifestations, and political consequences of anti-victimism in an array of contexts, including race relations, the feminist movement, conservative punditry, and the U.S. legal system. Being a victim, she contends, is no longer a matter of injuries or injustices endured, but a stigmatizing judgment of individual character. Those who claim victim status are cast as shamefully passive or cynically manipulative. Even the brutalized Central Park jogger came forth to insist that she is not a victim, but a survivor.

Offering a fresh perspective on major themes in American politics, Cole demonstrates how this new use of “victim” to derogate underlies seemingly disparate social and political debates from the welfare state, criminal justice, and abortion to the war on terror.

From the Inside Flap

Condemnations of “victim politics” are a familiar feature of American public life. Politicians and journalists across the ideological spectrum eagerly denounce “victimism.” Accusations of “playing the victim” have become a convenient way to ridicule or condemn. President George W. Bush even blamed an Islamic “culture of victimization” for 9/11. The Cult of True Victimhood shows how the panic about domestic and foreign victims has transformed American politics, warping the language we use to talk about suffering and collective responsibility.

With forceful and lively prose, Alyson Cole investigates the ideological underpinnings, cultural manifestations, and political consequences of anti-victimism in an array of contexts, including race relations, the feminist movement, conservative punditry, and the U.S. legal system. Being a victim, she contends, is no longer a matter of injuries or injustices endured, but a stigmatizing judgment of individual character. Those who claim victim status are cast as shamefully passive or cynically manipulative. Even the brutalized Central Park jogger came forth to insist that she is not a victim, but a survivor.

Offering a fresh perspective on major themes in American politics, Cole demonstrates how this new use of “victim” to derogate underlies seemingly disparate social and political debates from the welfare state, criminal justice, and abortion to the war on terror.

From the Back Cover

“Alyson M. Cole provides a remarkably original analysis of a profound transformation in the cultural values informing public discourse in the United States. By tracing the underlying logic of the ‘anti-victim campaign’ over several decades, she illuminates dimensions of privatization that operate well beyond explicit neoliberal arguments to roll back the state. Most importantly, Cole deftly demonstrates how this new version of individualism effectively curtails the possibility for social justice.”—Mary Hawkesworth, Rutgers University, Editor of Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and


“In the 1960s, ‘victim’ signified political awakening and a call to arms, a mandate to confront structures of inequalities that divided people along lines of race, gender, class, sexuality, and disability. After several decades of rightwing attack and liberal backsliding, ‘victim’ has been turned into an epithet and a badge of shame. With vibrant and incisive prose, Alyson M. Cole traces and dissects the discourses that have relentlessly stripped away the ideological underpinnings of feminism, anti-racism, and the emancipatory politics spawned by the movements of the 1960s. The Cult of True Victimhood is a wake-up call that the Left is losing the ideological war that it began.”—Stephen Steinberg, author of The Ethnic Myth: Race, Ethnicity, and Class in America and Turning Back: The Retreat from Racial Justice in American Thought and Policy

About the Author

Alyson M. Cole is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Queens College, City University of New York. Her articles have appeared in American Studies, Feminist Studies, the Michigan Law Review, and the National Women’s Studies Association Journal.

Chris Hedges “The Death of the Liberal Class” Audio Archive (3 audio files)

Posted in Uncategorized by ce399 on 12/02/2011

Why Obama ♥ Reagan (Time 7/2/11)

Posted in Uncategorized by ce399 on 09/02/2011

The CIA and The Muslim Brotherhood: How the CIA Set The Stage for September 11 (Martin A. Lee – Razor Magazine 2004)

Posted in Uncategorized by ce399 on 09/02/2011

The CIA and The Muslim Brotherhood: How the CIA Set The Stage for September 11

Reverend Franklin Graham, the pugnacious preacher who delivered the prayer at President George W. Bush’s 2001 inauguration, might have a bone to pick with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). When Franklin branded Islam “a very evil and wicked religion” after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, he had no idea that American spies were once eager to promote a Muslim leader in the Middle East modeled after his own father, the famous evangelist Billy Graham.

The CIA often works in mysterious ways – and so it was with this little-known cloak-and-dagger caper that set the stage for extensive collaboration between US intelligence and Islamic extremists. The genesis of this ill-starred alliance dates back to Egypt in the mid-1950s, when the CIA made discrete overtures to the Muslim Brotherhood, the influential Sunni fundamentalist movement that fostered Islamic militancy throughout the Middle East. What started as a quiet American flirtation with political Islam became a Cold War love affair on the sly – an affair that would turn out disastrously for the United States. Nearly all of today’s radical Islamic groups, including al-Qaeda, trace their lineage to the Brotherhood.

“The Muslim Brothers are at the root of a lot of our troubles,” says Col. W. Patrick Lang, one of several US intelligence veterans interviewed for this article . Formerly a high-ranking Middle East expert at the Defense Intelligence Agency Lang considers al-Qaeda to be “a descendent of the Brotherhood.

For many years, the American espionage establishment had operated on the assumption that Islam was inherently anti-communist and there fore could be harnessed to facilitate US objectives. American officials viewed the Muslim Brotherhood as “a secret weapon” in the shadow war against the Soviet Union and it’s Arab allies, according to Robert Baer, a retired CIA case officer who was right in the thick of things in the Middle East and Central Asia during his 21 year career as a spy. In Sleeping with the Devil, a book he wrote after quitting the CIA Baer explains how the United States “made common cause with the Brothers” and used them “to do our dirty work in Yemen, Afghanistan and plenty of other places”. This covert relationship; unraveled when the Cold War ended, whereupon an Islamic Frankenstein named Osama bin Laden lurched into existence.

Described by ex-CIA analyst Graham Fuller as “the preeminent international Islamist organization,” the Muslim Brotherhood currently has a huge following with autonomous branches, all in close contact, spread across the Arab world.

But it is banned in several countries, including Egypt, it’s birthplace, for being an alleged front for terrorists – a claim its supporters adamantly deny even though bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders had close personal ties to the Brotherhood prior to September 11, 2001

To understand what happened on that fateful day when terrorist strikes leveled the World Trade Center and damaged the Pentagon, one must revisit the turbulent changes that took place a half century earlier in the land of the sphinx. After seizing power in a 1952 military coup Egyptian Col. Gamal Abdul Nasser quickly threw prominent Communists in jail. This raised eyebrows among US cloak-and-dagger operatives who were eager to oblige when Nasser requested help in upgrading Egypt’s ineffectual secret service. But the US government “found it highly impolitic to help him directly,” the late CIA agent Miles Copeland acknowledged in his memoirs, The Game of Nations , so the CIA subcontracted more than a hundred German Third Reich vets, who specialized in Nazi security and interrogation techniques, to do the job.

Before long, however, US officials grew wary of Nasser, who seemed like a loose cannon on the deck of Middle Eastern politics. A fervent pan-Arab nationalist, he rebuffed American appeals to join a neutralist coalition of Third World nations that favored an independent stance during the Cold War. Non-alignment in the East-West conflict was an abomination to CIA director Allen Dulles and he bristled at Nasser’s growing stature as a charismatic leader who could galvanize Arabs and Muslims far beyond Egypt, “If that colonel of yours pushes us too far, we will break him in half,” Dulles admonished Copeland, the CIA’s man-on-the-spot in Cairo.

Copeland pondered ways to knock the pesky Nasser off his pedestal. One scheme called for slipping the Egyptian president a surreptitious dose of LSD to induce bizarre public behavior that would discredit him and tarnish his heroic image. But this wasn’t feasible. Instead of an acid hit, American spies opted for pushing “the opiate of the masses,” as Karl Marx sp famously described religion.

There were notable precedents for marshaling religious sentiment to advance America” Cold War agenda . In 1948, the fledging CIA enlisted the cooperation of the Vatican and Catholic Action, the largest Catholic lay organization in Italy, in a successful campaign to deliver the vote and vanquish left-wing parties in a hotly contested Italian election. Although Muslims have no pope or authoritative religious hierarchy, CIA strategists figured they could win over Arab hearts and minds by manipulating Islamic piety. Copeland recounts in The Game of Nations how the CIA engaged in black propaganda operations in Egypt that sought to demonstrate “Soviet ungodliness” by circulating anti-Islamic literature – including books with titles like Against the Veil and Mohammed Never Existed – while attributing its distribution to the Soviet embassy.

But cutting Nasser down to size was a much taller order than making the Soviets look like atheists. What the CIA really needed, according to Copeland was a “religious spellbinder” to alter Arab opinion and “divert the growing stream of anti-American hostility” . As Copeland recalled, “I wanted to find and groom a messiah who would start out in Egypt, and then spread his word to Africans and perhaps other Third World peoples. Our Chosen One would immunize them against false prophets,” I.e., Nasser and other non-aligned nationalist leaders.

Miles knew “from what was happening in America that a religious movement didn’t have to make sense in order to attract adherents,” as he put it. He was referring to Billy Graham’s sick gospel and salvation road show, which drew huge crowds across the USA in the early 1950’s. The meteoric transformation of this dime-a-dozen, Protestant Bible-thumper into a big time celebrity evangelist evidently made quite an impression on Copeland, who came up with the bright idea to sponsor “a Moslem Billy Graham.

Copeland was off and running. He visited several Egyptian mosques in search of an Islamic preacher who could sway the Arab masses in a manner most congenial to US interests. Although Copeland never found the CIA’s messiah, his furtive machinations were not without impact. While on the prowl for a Muslim Billy Graham, Copeland reached out to leaders of the religious revival movement known as the Ikhwan, or Muslim Brotherhood, which sought to build an Islamic society from the bottom up. The seeds of a clandestine relationship between the CIA and the Ikhwan were planted by Copeland, who surmised that the Muslim Brothers, by virtue of their strong antipathy to Arab nationalism as well as Communism, might be a viable counterweight to Nasser in the years ahead, US intelligence would become a defacto partner of the Brotherhood as it evolved from a mass-based social reform organization into the wellspring of Islamic terrorism.

“Any contact Miles had with the Muslim Brotherhood was not official policy,” insists retired CIA officer Raymond Close, a colleague of Copeland in the Middle East. “It was strictly solo work on his part. There were an awful lot of things that Miles did that were totally off the board.”

Whether Copeland’s efforts were “off the board” or otherwise, the Muslim Brotherhood was certainly a force to be reckoned with. Since its inception in 1928, the Society of the Muslim Brothers sought to restore Islamic law and values in the face of growing Western influence. Launched as a social welfare association, it became a focal point of resistance to British colonial rule. The Special Order Group, a secret paramilitary wing set up by the Brotherhood, carried out guerrilla raids in Egypt during the 1940’s, bombing British installations and killing British soldiers and civilians. By the time Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna was assassinated in 1949, the fast-growing Ikhwan, with its distinctive green flag crossed with white swords and a red Koran, had a half million Egyptian members and affiliates in several other countries.

When a group of young Egyptian army officers led by Col. Nasser toppled the pro-British monarchy, the Muslim Brotherhood gave them full support. But the Brothers soon had a falling out with Nasser when it became apparent that he did not intend to establish an Islamic state. Egypt’s secular strongman cracked down hard on the Muslim Brethren, which comprised the largest organized popular force in the country and the last obstacle to his autocratic leadership. Nasser’s aim was not to banish religious expression from the political domain, but to prohibit any religious expression that was not government controlled.

In the wake of failed assassination attempt against Nasser in October 1954, Egyptian authorities outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood, jailed and tortured thousands of its members and killed several of its leaders. Some went underground or fled the country to escape successive waves of brutal repression aimed at smashing the Brethren.

Saudi Arabia became a magnet for many persecuted Islamist refugees not only from Egypt but also from Syria, Iraq, Libya and other Arab states where the Muslim Brothers were perceived as a threat to the secular, nationalist order. Ikgwani expatriates were welcomed by the oil-rich Saudi monarchy, which became the principal patron of the Brotherhood on the Arabian Peninsula and elsewhere. A strategic US ally, the Saudi royal family was so hostile to godless Communism that it did not even maintain diplomatic relations with Moscow.

American intelligence formed a three-way tryst with the Saudis and the Muslim Brothers, according to Robert Baer, the former case officer in the CIA’s Directorate of Operations, With the CIA’s implicit approval, the Saudi royals channeled funds to the Brothers, who joined a US-backed anti-Nasser insurgency in Yemen in 1962. “Like any other truly effective covert action, this one was strictly off the books,” explains Baer “There was no CIA finding, no memorandum of notification to Congress. Not a penny came out of the Treasury to fund it. All the White House had to do was give a wink and a nod to countries harboring the Brothers”

Yemen was just a warm up. To give a boost to Islamic proselytizing the Saudis with CIA encouragement, founded the Muslim World League in 1962. Underwritten initially by several donors including the Saudi-based Aramco oil consortium (then a CIA collaboration, the League established a formidable international presence with representatives in 120 countries. Members of the Muslim Brotherhood occupied key staff positions at the League while it disseminated anti-communist religious propaganda and sponsored the construction of mosques and Islamic center’s around the world.

Exiled Ikhwani were also employed as teachers and imams in Saudi mosques, schools and government agencies, where they promoted the extremist doctrine of Sayyid Qutb, the Brotherhood’s leading scribe and theorist. Executed in 1966 after 10 years of confinement in Egyptian torture chambers, Qutb is arguably the most influential religious scholar in modern Islam. He fashioned a lethal variant of political Islam that provided a Koranic justification for violence as the only way to rid the Muslim world of corrupting Western influences. Qutb’s hostility toward the West, in general, and the United States, in particular, was born during two years of study at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley in the late 1940’s. He returned to Egypt mortified by decadent, sex-crazed America, which he likened to a brothel.

The Muslim Brotherhood underwent a significant shift with the radicalization of Qutb in prison. What had been essentially a reformist organization in its formative phase veered off in a dangerous new direction. In addition to intro ducting a harsh anti-American perspective to the Brethren, Qutb called for the formation of a revolutionary Islamic vanguard to spearhead the violent overthrow of secular Arab regimes. Qutb’s martyrdom bestowed instant credibility upon his message, which posthumously filled the ideological void left by the huge Arab defeat in the 1967 Six Day War with Israel, a defeat that shamed Nasser and discredited the Arab nationalist cause.

Qutb’s inflammatory writings would decisively influence a generation of young militants, including the future spear-carriers of al-Qaeda. Osama bin Laden, the tall, handsome scion of a wealthy Persian Gulf family, was first exposed to Qutb’s nostrums while attending King Abdul-Aziz University in Jeddah. One of bin Laden’s instructors in religious studies was Egyptian Professor Muhammed Qutb, the exiled brother of Sayyid Qutb, who taught classes on the imperatives and nuances of Islamic jhad.

After Nasser died in 1970, the Muslim Brethren, buoyed by Saudi petrodollars, resurfaced in Egypt. The newly emboldened Ikhwani were wooed by President Anwaar Sadat, Nasser’s successor, who freed Islamic activists from jail, lifted some restrictions on the Brothers, and turned them loose against the Nasserite die-hards and leftist student groups who disapproved of Sadat’s decision to make amends with the United States. Sadat’s courtship of the Brotherhood elicited more winks and nods from US intelligence. Right under the CIA’s nose, the officially-banned by semi-tolerated Muslim Brotherhood was going through a momentous transformation in its country of origin.

French scholar Gilles Kepel, the author of Jhad: The Trail of Political Islam, describes how Qutb’s theories found a receptive audience at Egyptian university campuses, giving rise to a potent radical wing with in the Islamist movement. When the older leaders of the Ikhwan, chastened by years of repression, repudiated armed confrontation in favor of gradual efforts to reform the system, renegade Brothers created several violent splinter groups and vowed to wage holy war against an authoritarian Egyptian regime, which they saw as corrupt, anti-Islamic, and a US puppet. The heads of two Brotherhood breakaway factions – the Egyptian Islamic Jhad of Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri and the Islamic Group of Sheik Omar Abdei Rahman – were among those implicated in the 1981 assassination of President Sadat.

Today Rahman, a blind Egyptian cleric, is serving a life sentence in the United States for plotting to blow up the United Nations, Manhattan’s FBI building, the George Washington Bridge and other New York City landmarks, while Dr. al-Zawahiri, a squat, bespectacled zealot with a round head and owlish face, appears in post-9/11 video footage sitting on the right-hand side of Osama bin Laden. Dubbed “the brains behind al-Qaeda,” al-Zawahiri became bin Laden’s top deputy after the Egyptian physician had matriculated through the ranks of the Muslim Brothers.

Muslim Brotherhood veterans have played a prominent role during every phase of bin Laden’s terrorist odyssey. As a college student he was mentored by Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian Brother, who convinced the young Saudi to join the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan, a cause embraced by Islamists worldwide, moderates and radicals alike, after the Red Army invaded in 1979. That same year, Islamists Shiite revolutionaries led by the Ayatollah Khomeini overthrew America’s longtime partner, the Shah of Iran. These tumultuous events underscored the geopolitical importance of the Saudi connection to unnerved US officials. Henceforth, Saudi Arabia would serve as a Sunni Muslim bulwark against Shiite extremism, while also matching the United States dollar for dollar in support of the Afghan mujahedin guerillas who were fighting against the Soviets.

In 1984, Azzam and bin Laden jointly set up the Service Bureay, based in Peshawar, which played a pivotal role in organizing Islamic militants from 43 countries, including the United States, who flocked to Pakistan’s North-West Frontier territory to join the anti-communist jihad. With contacts spread across North Africa and the Middle East the Muslim Brotherhood was instrumental in recruiting many of these foreign Islamic volunteers. Jane’s Defence Weekly estimates that 14,000 of the so-called “Afghan Arabs” (though none were Afghans and many were not Arabs) trained in guerrilla camps, where paramilitary drills were infused with radical Islamic teachings. Some of these outside agitators fought along side CIA-backed mujahedin units during clashes with the Red Army.

Once again, an off-the-shelf approach to nation-tampering was deemed preferable by US intelligence as the Afghanistan operation grew by leaps and bounds during the 1980’s. It became the largest covert intervention in the CIA’s history, with Washington’s funneling more than $3 billion worth of aid and military equipment to the mujahedin through Pakistan military intelligence, which served as a conduit for American and Saudi largesse. In Ghost Wars, a compelling narrative history of the CIA’s Afghan imbroglio Steve Coll discusses how this cut-out arrangement provided US intelligence with a layer of deniability while its Pakistan proxy pushed aside traditional Afghan mujahedin organizations lacking the requitsite fundamentalist ardor and boosted the four mujahedin groups led by militants aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood. The CIA, according to Cole, never pressed Pakistan to back the more moderate, nationalist-oriented mujahedin rebels instead of the radical Islamic Afghan leaders who touted the writings of Sayyid Qutb, which were translated into local Afghan dialects.

A well-known figure among the Muslim Brotherhood-linked Afghan factions, bin Laden also collaborated with top Saudi and Pakistani espionage officers. Although bin Laden had no official contact with the CIA, his efforts to create an Islamic foreign legion were generally looked upon with favor by US intelligence. The more anti-communist forces in the fray the better, they figured. The going assumption was that these bearded extremists could be revved up and covertly deployed when Washington needed “a cheap no-American-casualties way to fight the Soviet Union,” as Baer put it.

Some of Baer’s colleagues at the CIA thought the foreign legion contingent should be formally endorsed and expanded. “The CIA examined ways to increase their participation… but nothing came of it,” then-CIA deputy director Robert Gates said of the Islamic volunteers, who, if nothing else, were useful from a public relations perspective. The burgeoning international brigade was touted as proof that the entire Muslim world stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the Afghan mujahedin against the Evil Empire. No one at the CIA reckoned that the foreign legionnaires had their own agenda.

Even before the Red Army withdrew the last of its regiments from Afghanistan in 1989, bin Laden was already hatching ambitious plans to wage a worldwide jihad. The Soviet pull out prompted a wholesale scattering of foreign volunteers, who retruned to their respective countries imbued witht eh spirit of Islamic revolution and ready to carry on the struggle. About 1000 militants remained in Afghanistan, many of these men could not go home because they were wanted for crimes against the state. This self-selecting stay-behind network formed the core of al-Qaeda, which became even leaner and meaner when bin Laden transferred his base of operations to the Sudan in 1991.

For the next five years, bin Laden and his inner circle were holed up in Khartoum courtesy of Sheikh Hassan al-Turabi, the Sorbonne-educated head of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Sudanese branch. Dubbed the “black pope”, Turabi came to power on the heels of a military coup and immediately announced that Islamic law would be strictly enforced in his country. He was hin Laden’s protector during this crucial period of exile, together they hosted strategic powwow’s with representatives from several Islamic terrorist organizations, including Hamas, a Palestinian offshoot of the Brotherhood. There was considerable debate among jihadists over whether to target the “near enemy” (apostate regimes in the Muslim world or the “far enemy ,” (the Western powers thwarting the implementation of Islamic rule.) More militants parted ways with al-Qaeda when it’s leadership dominated by Egyptian veterans of the Muslim Brotherhood , decided to go after “the head of the snake, “ which is how they described the United States.

By a process of elimination, only the hardest of the hardcore stayed with bin Laden when he and 150 border-hopping Islamic radicals and their families moved back to Afghanistan in 1996. Shortly thereafter, according to the official September 11 Commission, Khalid Shekh Mohammed, a tubby young engineer, approached bin Laden and pitched an outlandish idea to hijack jets and fly them into buildings in New York and Washington. This was the origin of the collective muder-suicide assaults that killed nearly 3000 people on September 11, 2001. Mohammed, the self-described mastermind of the 9/11 operation who had cut his teeth with the Kuwaiti chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood, is now in US custody.

The emergence of anti-American terrorist cadres from the bowels of the CIA’s proxy war in Afghanistan took US spymasters by surprise. It was blunder as colossal as the CIA’s inability to predict the collapse of Soviet Bloc Communism. ”Conceptually we failed,” admits Baer, “ We didn’t consider Sunni Islam to be a threat to the West…We didn’t want to see it.” While CIA operatives fixated on Shiite Iran as the fount of religiously motivated terrorism, a stateless network of Muslim Brotherhood-inspired zealots morphed into a worldwide insurgency. “The militant wing of the Muslim Brotherhood is essentially what we’re facing today.” asserts Baer.

Perhaps Col. W. Patrick Lang, formerly with the Defense Intelligence Agency, summed it up best by nothing the similarities between the Brotherhood and the Irish Republican Army (IRA). “There is the main IRA, whick=h eschews violence, and the “Provisional IRA, the armed wing. And there’s also the ‘Real IRA’, a more extreme spin-off from the Provisionals …These groups tend to fracture as they develop almost theological – and in the xcase of the Muslim Brothers actual theological – differences. They find each other’s projected courses of action to be insufficiently zealous or earnest or pure enough. And in Islam, of course, there’s no hierarchy to settle ideological disputes.

And so it continues as al-Qaeda chieftains criticize the Muslim Brotherhood for its accommodating stance toward secular rulers in Egypt and Jordan, where several Ikhwani sit in parliament. At the same time, moderate Brotherhood leaders – the Islamist movement’s elder establishment – have condemned terrorist attacks by bin Laden as “a grave sin,” Pursuant to their long-term strategy of using peaceful means to turn Egypt into an Islamic republic, the Muslim Brotherhood have taken over numerous trade unions and professional associations, while operating banks, businesses, health clinics, schools, and legal services that often outperform shabby government institutions. With more than two million members divided into several thousand semi-clandestine cells throughout the country, the Brothers are still subjected to episodic police raids, incarceration and torture. But these measures have failed to stifle popular support for a mainstream movement that, for a better or worse, expresses the concerns, aspirations and legitimate grievances of Muslims from all social strata.

America’s invasion of Iraq – “an avaricious, premeditated unprovoked was against a foe who posed no immediate threat,” as one CIA agent scathingly put it – has energized the entire spectrum of Islamist groups. While they give voice to anti-US passions and pervasive feelings of the injustice in Muslim communities, moderate Islamist also risk losing followers to fanatical jihad cults spawned by the Brotherhood. (The opiate of the masses turns out to be a gateway drug, as well.) According to a recent report by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, Iraq is now a fertile breeding ground for new recruits that have swelled al-Qaeda’s ranks to more than 18,000 potential terrorists.

In response to a plethora of social and economic ills that bedevil the Muslim world, the answer from every Brotherhood chapter and affiliate has always been the same: Islam is the solution,” Ironically, US spymasters also once saw Islam as the solution to America’s problems in the Middle East. Fifty years ago, a CIA cad dreamed of an Arab messiah, “a Moslem Billy Graham,” who would plunk for US priorities in Egypt and beyond. That’s how it all began. And now, ironically, it’s onward Christian soldiers with Rev. Franklin Graham, Billy’s prodigal son, denigrating Islam and trumpeting the clash of civilizations as he dispatches American missionaries to save souls in US-occupied Iraq. Aself-fulfilling prophet, Franklin carries on like God’s gift to bin Laden, who must be laughing somewhere in his cave or his grave.

Martin A.Lee
RAZOR Magazine
September 2004

War Criminal Bush Cancels Switzerland Trip (DN! 7/2/11)

Posted in Uncategorized by ce399 on 07/02/2011

Facing Possible Torture Probe, Bush Cancels Swiss Trip

Former U.S. President George W. Bush has been forced to cancel a planned trip to Switzerland after human rights attorneys threatened to take legal action against him for sanctioning the use of torture. The trip to Geneva was supposed to be Bush’s first to Europe since leaving office. He was scheduled to speak next Saturday at a dinner in honor of United Israel Appeal. The Center for Constitutional Rights said they had planned to bring a complaint against Bush under the Convention Against Torture on behalf of two men who were tortured by U.S. interrogators and held at the military base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. In addition, Amnesty International said it had sent a detailed analysis to Swiss prosecutors, claiming there was sufficient information to open a criminal investigation against Bush.

Matthew Pollard, attorney with Amnesty International: “Well, what we’re specifically bringing to the attention of the Swiss authorities are statements that Mr. Bush himself made in early November 2010, both on broadcast television in the United States and also in print in his memoirs that were published also at the end of2010, in which he, without any apology, admits that he authorized specifically the waterboarding of several identified individuals in particular cases.”


The Rise of the New Global Elite ( The Atlantic Jan/Feb 2011)

Posted in Uncategorized by ce399 on 05/02/2011

The Rise of the New Global Elite

By Chrystia Freeland


IF YOU HAPPENED to be watching NBC on the first Sunday morning in August last summer, you would have seen something curious. There, on the set of Meet the Press, the host, David Gregory, was interviewing a guest who made a forceful case that the U.S. economy had become “very distorted.” In the wake of the recession, this guest explained, high-income individuals, large banks, and major corporations had experienced a “significant recovery”; the rest of the economy, by contrast—including small businesses and “a very significant amount of the labor force”—was stuck and still struggling. What we were seeing, he argued, was not a single economy at all, but rather “fundamentally two separate types of economy,” increasingly distinct and divergent.

This diagnosis, though alarming, was hardly unique: drawing attention to the divide between the wealthy and everyone else has long been standard fare on the left. (The idea of “two Americas” was a central theme of John Edwards’s 2004 and 2008 presidential runs.) What made the argument striking in this instance was that it was being offered by none other than the former five-term Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan: iconic libertarian, preeminent defender of the free market, and (at least until recently) the nation’s foremost devotee of Ayn Rand. When the high priest of capitalism himself is declaring the growth in economic inequality a national crisis, something has gone very, very wrong.

This widening gap between the rich and non-rich has been evident for years. In a 2005 report to investors, for instance, three analysts at Citigroup advised that “the World is dividing into two blocs—the Plutonomy and the rest”:

In a plutonomy there is no such animal as “the U.S. consumer” or “the UK consumer”, or indeed the “Russian consumer”. There are rich consumers, few in number, but disproportionate in the gigantic slice of income and consumption they take. There are the rest, the “non-rich”, the multitudinous many, but only accounting for surprisingly small bites of the national pie.

Before the recession, it was relatively easy to ignore this concentration of wealth among an elite few. The wondrous inventions of the modern economy—Google, Amazon, the iPhone—broadly improved the lives of middle-class consumers, even as they made a tiny subset of entrepreneurs hugely wealthy. And the less-wondrous inventions—particularly the explosion of subprime credit—helped mask the rise of income inequality for many of those whose earnings were stagnant.

But the financial crisis and its long, dismal aftermath have changed all that. A multibillion-dollar bailout and Wall Street’s swift, subsequent reinstatement of gargantuan bonuses have inspired a narrative of parasitic bankers and other elites rigging the game for their own benefit. And this, in turn, has led to wider—and not unreasonable—fears that we are living in not merely a plutonomy, but a plutocracy, in which the rich display outsize political influence, narrowly self-interested motives, and a casual indifference to anyone outside their own rarefied economic bubble.

Through my work as a business journalist, I’ve spent the better part of the past decade shadowing the new super-rich: attending the same exclusive conferences in Europe; conducting interviews over cappuccinos on Martha’s Vineyard or in Silicon Valley meeting rooms; observing high-powered dinner parties in Manhattan. Some of what I’ve learned is entirely predictable: the rich are, as F. Scott Fitzgerald famously noted, different from you and me.

What is more relevant to our times, though, is that the rich of today are also different from the rich of yesterday. Our light-speed, globally connected economy has led to the rise of a new super-elite that consists, to a notable degree, of first- and second-generation wealth. Its members are hardworking, highly educated, jet-setting meritocrats who feel they are the deserving winners of a tough, worldwide economic competition—and many of them, as a result, have an ambivalent attitude toward those of us who didn’t succeed so spectacularly. Perhaps most noteworthy, they are becoming a transglobal community of peers who have more in common with one another than with their countrymen back home. Whether they maintain primary residences in New York or Hong Kong, Moscow or Mumbai, today’s super-rich are increasingly a nation unto themselves.

The Winner-Take-Most Economy

The rise of the new plutocracy is inextricably connected to two phenomena: the revolution in information technology and the liberalization of global trade. Individual nations have offered their own contributions to income inequality—financial deregulation and upper-bracket tax cuts in the United States; insider privatization in Russia; rent-seeking in regulated industries in India and Mexico. But the shared narrative is that, thanks to globalization and technological innovation, people, money, and ideas travel more freely today than ever before.

Peter Lindert is an economist at the University of California at Davis and one of the leaders of the “deep history” school of economics, a movement devoted to thinking about the world economy over the long term—that is to say, in the context of the entire sweep of human civilization. Yet he argues that the economic changes we are witnessing today are unprecedented. “Britain’s classic industrial revolution was far less impressive than what has been going on in the past 30 years,” he told me. The current productivity gains are larger, he explained, and the waves of disruptive innovation much, much faster.

From a global perspective, the impact of these developments has been overwhelmingly positive, particularly in the poorer parts of the world. Take India and China, for example: between 1820 and 1950, nearly a century and a half, per capita income in those two countries was basically flat. Between 1950 and 1973, it increased by 68 percent. Then, between 1973 and 2002, it grew by 245 percent, and continues to grow strongly despite the global financial crisis.

But within nations, the fruits of this global transformation have been shared unevenly. Though China’s middle class has grown exponentially and tens of millions have been lifted out of poverty, the super-elite in Shanghai and other east-coast cities have steadily pulled away. Income inequality has also increased in developing markets such as India and Russia, and across much of the industrialized West, from the relatively laissez-faire United States to the comfy social democracies of Canada and Scandinavia. Thomas Friedman is right that in many ways the world has become flatter; but in others it has grown spikier.

One reason for the spikes is that the global market and its associated technologies have enabled the creation of a class of international business megastars. As companies become bigger, the global environment more competitive, and the rate of disruptive technological innovation ever faster, the value to shareholders of attracting the best possible CEO increases correspondingly. Executive pay has skyrocketed for many reasons—including the prevalence of overly cozy boards and changing cultural norms about pay—but increasing scale, competition, and innovation have all played major roles.

Many corporations have profited from this economic upheaval. Expanded global access to labor (skilled and unskilled alike), customers, and capital has lowered traditional barriers to entry and increased the value of an ahead-of-the-curve insight or innovation. Facebook, whose founder, Mark Zuckerberg, dropped out of college just six years ago, is already challenging Google, itself hardly an old-school corporation. But the biggest winners have been individuals, not institutions. The hedge-fund manager John Paulson, for instance, single-handedly profited almost as much from the crisis of 2008 as Goldman Sachs did.

Meanwhile, the vast majority of U.S. workers, however devoted and skilled at their jobs, have missed out on the windfalls of this winner-take-most economy—or worse, found their savings, employers, or professions ravaged by the same forces that have enriched the plutocratic elite. The result of these divergent trends is a jaw-dropping surge in U.S. income inequality. According to the economists Emmanuel Saez of Berkeley and Thomas Piketty of the Paris School of Economics, between 2002 and 2007, 65 percent of all income growth in the United States went to the top 1 percent of the population. The financial crisis interrupted this trend temporarily, as incomes for the top 1 percent fell more than those of the rest of the population in 2008. But recent evidence suggests that, in the wake of the crisis, incomes at the summit are rebounding more quickly than those below. One example: after a down year in 2008, the top 25 hedge-fund managers were paid, on average, more than $1 billion each in 2009, quickly eclipsing the record they had set in pre-recession 2007.

Plutocracy Now
If you are looking for the date when America’s plutocracy had its coming-out party, you could do worse than choose June 21, 2007. On that day, the private-equity behemoth Blackstone priced the largest initial public offering in the United States since 2002, raising $4 billion and creating a publicly held company worth $31 billion at the time. Stephen Schwarzman, one of the firm’s two co-founders, came away with a personal stake worth almost $8 billion, along with $677 million in cash; the other, Peter Peterson, cashed a check for $1.88 billion and retired.

In the sort of coincidence that delights historians, conspiracy theorists, and book publishers, June 21 also happened to be the day Peterson threw a party—at Manhattan’s Four Seasons restaurant, of course—to launch The Manny, the debut novel of his daughter, Holly, who lightly satirizes the lives and loves of financiers and their wives on the Upper East Side. The best seller fits neatly into the genre of modern “mommy lit”—USA Today advised readers to take it to the beach—but the author told me that she was inspired to write it in part by her belief that “people have no clue about how much money there is in this town.”

Holly Peterson and I spoke several times about how the super-affluence of recent years has changed the meaning of wealth. “There’s so much money on the Upper East Side right now,” she said. “If you look at the original movie Wall Street, it was a phenomenon where there were men in their 30s and 40s making $2 and $3 million a year, and that was disgusting. But then you had the Internet age, and then globalization, and you had people in their 30s, through hedge funds and Goldman Sachs partner jobs, who were making $20, $30, $40 million a year. And there were a lot of them doing it. I think people making $5 million to $10 million definitely don’t think they are making enough money.”

As an example, she described a conversation with a couple at a Manhattan dinner party: “They started saying, ‘If you’re going to buy all this stuff, life starts getting really expensive. If you’re going to do the NetJet thing’”—this is a service offering “fractional aircraft ownership” for those who do not wish to buy outright—“‘and if you’re going to have four houses, and you’re going to run the four houses, it’s like you start spending some money.’”

The clincher, Peterson says, came from the wife: “She turns to me and she goes, ‘You know, the thing about 20’”—by this, she meant $20 million a year—“‘is 20 is only 10 after taxes.’ And everyone at the table is nodding.”

As with the aristocracies of bygone days, such vast wealth has created a gulf between the plutocrats and other people, one reinforced by their withdrawal into gated estates, exclusive academies, and private planes. We are mesmerized by such extravagances as Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s 414-foot yacht, the Octopus, which is home to two helicopters, a submarine, and a swimming pool.

But while their excesses seem familiar, even archaic, today’s plutocrats represent a new phenomenon. The wealthy of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s era were shaped, he wrote, by the fact that they had been “born rich.” They knew what it was to “possess and enjoy early.”

That’s not the case for much of today’s super-elite. “Fat cats who owe it to their grandfathers are not getting all of the gains,” Peter Lindert told me. “A lot of it is going to innovators this time around. There is more meritocracy in Bill Gates being at the top than the Duke of Bedford.” Even Emmanuel Saez, who is deeply worried about the social and political consequences of rising income inequality, concurs that a defining quality of the current crop of plutocrats is that they are the “working rich.” He has found that in 1916, the richest 1 percent of Americans received only one-fifth of their income from paid work; in 2004, that figure had risen threefold, to 60 percent.

Peter Peterson, for example, is the son of a Greek immigrant who arrived in America at age 17 and worked his way up to owning a diner in Nebraska; his Blackstone co-founder, Stephen Schwarzman, is the son of a Philadelphia retailer. And they are hardly the exceptions. Of the top 10 figures on the 2010 Forbes list of the wealthiest Americans, four are self-made, two (Charles and David Koch) expanded a medium-size family oil business into a billion-dollar industrial conglomerate, and the remaining four are all heirs of the self-made billionaire Sam Walton. Similarly, of the top 10 foreign billionaires, six are self-made, and the remaining four are vigorously growing their patrimony, rather than merely living off it. It’s true that few of today’s plutocrats were born into the sort of abject poverty that can close off opportunity altogether— a strong early education is pretty much a precondition—but the bulk of their wealth is generally the fruit of hustle and intelligence (with, presumably, some luck thrown in). They are not aristocrats, by and large, but rather economic meritocrats, preoccupied not merely with consuming wealth but with creating it.

The Road to Davos
To grasp the difference between today’s plutocrats and the hereditary elite, who (to use John Stuart Mill’s memorable phrase) “grow rich in their sleep,” one need merely glance at the events that now fill high-end social calendars. The debutante balls and hunts and regattas of yesteryear may not be quite obsolete, but they are headed in that direction. The real community life of the 21st-century plutocracy occurs on the international conference circuit.

The best-known of these events is the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, invitation to which marks an aspiring plutocrat’s arrival on the international scene. The Bilderberg Group, which meets annually at locations in Europe and North America, is more exclusive still—and more secretive—though it is more focused on geopolitics and less on global business and philanthropy. The Boao Forum for Asia, convened on China’s Hainan Island each spring, offers evidence of that nation’s growing economic importance and its understanding of the plutocratic culture. Bill Clinton is pushing hard to win his Clinton Global Initiative a regular place on the circuit. The TED conferences (the acronym stands for “Technology, Entertainment, Design”) are an important stop for the digerati; Herb Allen’s* Sun Valley gathering, for the media moguls; and the Aspen Institute’s Ideas Festival (co-sponsored by this magazine), for the more policy-minded.

Recognizing the value of such global conclaves, some corporations have begun hosting their own. Among these is Google’s Zeitgeist conference, where I have moderated discussions for several years. One of the most recent gatherings was held last May at the Grove Hotel, a former provincial estate in the English countryside, whose 300-acre grounds have been transformed into a golf course and whose high-ceilinged rooms are now decorated with a mixture of antique and contemporary furniture. (Mock Louis XIV chairs—made, with a wink, from high-end plastic—are much in evidence.) Last year, Cirque du Soleil offered the 500 guests a private performance in an enormous tent erected on the grounds; in 2007, to celebrate its acquisition of YouTube, Google flew in overnight Internet sensations from around the world.

Yet for all its luxury, the mood of the Zeitgeist conference is hardly sybaritic. Rather, it has the intense, earnest atmosphere of a gathering of college summa cum laudes. This is not a group that plays hooky: the conference room is full from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and during coffee breaks the lawns are crowded with executives checking their BlackBerrys and iPads.

Last year’s lineup of Zeitgeist speakers included such notables as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, London Mayor Boris Johnson, and Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz (not to mention, of course, Google’s own CEO, Eric Schmidt). But the most potent currency at this and comparable gatherings is neither fame nor money. Rather, it’s what author Michael Lewis has dubbed “the new new thing”—the insight or algorithm or technology with the potential to change the world, however briefly. Hence the presence last year of three Nobel laureates, including Daniel Kahneman, a pioneer in behavioral economics. One of the business stars in attendance was the 36-year-old entrepreneur Tony Hsieh, who had sold his Zappos online shoe retailer to Amazon for more than $1 billion the previous summer. And the most popular session of all was the one in which Google showcased some of its new inventions, including the Nexus phone.

This geeky enthusiasm for innovation and ideas is evident at more-intimate gatherings of the global elite as well. Take the elegant Manhattan dinner parties hosted by Marie-Josée Kravis, the economist wife of the private-equity billionaire Henry, in their elegant Upper East Side apartment. Though the china is Sèvres and the paintings are museum quality (Marie-Josée is, after all, president of the Museum of Modern Art’s board), the dinner-table conversation would not be out of place in a graduate seminar. Mrs. Kravis takes pride in bringing together not only plutocrats such as her husband and Michael Bloomberg, but also thinkers and policy makers such as Richard Holbrooke, Robert Zoellick, and Financial Times columnist Martin Wolf, and leading them in discussion of matters ranging from global financial imbalances to the war in Afghanistan.

Indeed, in this age of elites who delight in such phrases as outside the box and killer app, arguably the most coveted status symbol isn’t a yacht, a racehorse, or a knighthood; it’s a philanthropic foundation—and, more than that, one actively managed in ways that show its sponsor has big ideas for reshaping the world.

George Soros, who turned 80 last summer, is a pioneer and role model for the socially engaged billionaire. Arguably the most successful investor of the post-war era, he is nonetheless proudest of his Open Society Foundations, through which he has spent billions of dollars on issues as diverse as marijuana legalization, civil society in central and eastern Europe, and rethinking economic assumptions in the wake of the financial crisis.

Inspired and advised by the liberal Soros, Peter Peterson—himself a Republican and former member of Nixon’s Cabinet—has spent $1 billion of his Blackstone windfall on a foundation dedicated to bringing down America’s deficit and entitlement spending. Bill Gates, likewise, devotes most of his energy and intellect today to his foundation’s work on causes ranging from supporting charter schools to combating disease in Africa. Facebook’s Zuckerberg has yet to reach his 30th birthday, but last fall he donated $100 million to improving the public schools of Newark, New Jersey. Insurance and real-estate magnate Eli Broad has become an influential funder of stem-cell research; Jim Balsillie, a co-founder of BlackBerry creator Research in Motion, has established his own international-affairs think tank; and on and on. It is no coincidence that Bill Clinton has devoted his post-presidency to the construction of a global philanthropic “brand.”

The super-wealthy have long recognized that philanthropy, in addition to its moral rewards, can also serve as a pathway to social acceptance and even immortality: Andrew “The Man Who Dies Rich Dies Disgraced” Carnegie transformed himself from robber baron to secular saint with his hospitals, concert halls, libraries, and university; Alfred Nobel ensured that he would be remembered for something other than the invention of dynamite. What is notable about today’s plutocrats is that they tend to bestow their fortunes in much the same way they made them: entrepreneurially. Rather than merely donate to worthy charities or endow existing institutions (though they of course do this as well), they are using their wealth to test new ways to solve big problems. The journalists Matthew Bishop and Michael Green have dubbed the approach “philanthrocapitalism” in their book of the same name. “There is a connection between their ways of thinking as businesspeople and their ways of giving,” Bishop told me. “They are used to operating on a grand scale, and so they operate on a grand scale in their philanthropy as well. And they are doing it at a much earlier age.”

A measure of the importance of public engagement for today’s super-rich is the zeal with which even emerging-market plutocrats are developing their own foundations and think tanks. When the oligarchs of the former Soviet Union first burst out beyond their own borders, they were Marxist caricatures of the nouveau riche, purchasing yachts and sports teams, and surrounding themselves with couture-clad supermodels. Fifteen years later, they are exploring how to buy their way into the world of ideas.

One of the most determined is the Ukrainian entrepreneur Victor Pinchuk, whose business empire ranges from pipe manufacturing to TV stations. With a net worth of $3 billion, Pinchuk is no longer content merely to acquire modern art: in 2009, he began a global competition for young artists, run by his art center in Kiev and conceived as a way of bringing Ukraine into the international cultural mainstream. Pinchuk hosts a regular lunch on the fringes of Davos and has launched his own annual “ideas forum,” a gathering devoted to geopolitics that is held, with suitable modesty, in the same Crimean villa where Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill attended the Yalta Conference. Last September’s meeting, where I served as a moderator, included Bill Clinton, International Monetary Fund head Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski, and Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexei Kudrin.

As an entrée into the global super-elite, Pinchuk’s efforts seem to be working: on a visit to the U.S. last spring, the oligarch met with David Axelrod, President Obama’s top political adviser, in Washington and schmoozed with Charlie Rose at a New York book party for Time magazine editor Rick Stengel. On a previous trip, he’d dined with Caroline Kennedy at the Upper East Side townhouse of HBO’s Richard Plepler. Back home, he has entertained his fellow art enthusiast Eli Broad at his palatial estate (which features its own nine-hole golf course) outside Kiev, and has partnered with Soros to finance Ukrainian civil-society projects.

A Nation Apart
Pinchuk’s growing international Rolodex illustrates another defining characteristic of today’s plutocrats: they are forming a global community, and their ties to one another are increasingly closer than their ties to hoi polloi back home. As Glenn Hutchins, co-founder of the private-equity firm Silver Lake, puts it, “A person in Africa who runs a big African bank and went to Harvard might have more in common with me than he does with his neighbors, and I could well share more overlapping concerns and experiences with him than with my neighbors.” The circles we move in, Hutchins explains, are defined by “interests” and “activities” rather than “geography”: “Beijing has a lot in common with New York, London, or Mumbai. You see the same people, you eat in the same restaurants, you stay in the same hotels. But most important, we are engaged as global citizens in crosscutting commercial, political, and social matters of common concern. We are much less place-based than we used to be.”

In a similar vein, the wife of one of America’s most successful hedge-fund managers offered me the small but telling observation that her husband is better able to navigate the streets of Davos than those of his native Manhattan. When he’s at home, she explained, he is ferried around town by a car and driver; the snowy Swiss hamlet, which is too small and awkward for limos, is the only place where he actually walks. An American media executive living in London put it more succinctly still: “We are the people who know airline flight attendants better than we know our own wives.”

America’s business elite is something of a latecomer to this transnational community. In a study of British and American CEOs, for example, Elisabeth Marx, of the headhunting firm Heidrick & Struggles, found that almost a third of the former were foreign nationals, compared with just 10 percent of the latter. Similarly, more than two-thirds of the Brits had worked abroad for at least a year, whereas just a third of the Americans had done so.

But despite the slow start, American business is catching up: the younger generation of chief executives has significantly more international experience than the older generation, and the number of foreign and foreign-born CEOs, while still relatively small, is rising. The shift is particularly evident on Wall Street: in 2006, each of America’s eight biggest banks was run by a native-born CEO; today, five of those banks remain, and two of the survivors—Citigroup and Morgan Stanley—are led by men who were born abroad.

Mohamed ElErian, the CEO of Pimco, the world’s largest bond manager, is typical of the internationalists gradually rising to the top echelons of U.S. business. The son of an Egyptian father and a French mother, ElErian had a peripatetic childhood, shuttling between Egypt, France, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland. He was educated at Cambridge and Oxford and now leads a U.S.-based company that is owned by the German financial conglomerate Allianz SE.

Though ElErian lives in Laguna Beach, California, near where Pimco is headquartered, he says that he can’t name a single country as his own. “I have had the privilege of living in many countries,” ElErian told me on a recent visit to New York. “One consequence is that I am a sort of global nomad, open to many perspectives.” As he talked, we walked through Midtown, which ElErian remembered fondly from his childhood, when he’d take the crosstown bus each day to the United Nations International School. That evening, ElErian was catching a flight to London. Later in the week, he was due in St. Petersburg.

Indeed, there is a growing sense that American businesses that don’t internationalize aggressively risk being left behind. For all its global reach, Pimco is still based in the United States. But the flows of goods and capital upon which the super-elite surf are bypassing America more often than they used to. Take, for example, Stephen Jennings, the 50-year-old New Zealander who co-founded the investment bank Renaissance Capital. Renaissance’s roots are in Moscow, where Jennings maintains his primary residence, and his business strategy involves positioning the firm to capture the investment flows between the emerging markets, particularly Russia, Africa, and Asia. For his purposes, New York is increasingly irrelevant. In a 2009 speech in Wellington, New Zealand, he offered his vision of this post-unipolar business reality: “The largest metals group in the world is Indian. The largest aluminum group in the world is Russian … The fastest-growing and largest banks in China, Russia, and Nigeria are all domestic.”

As it happens, a fellow tenant in Jennings’s high-tech, high-rise Moscow office building recently put together a deal that exemplifies just this kind of intra-emerging-market trade. Last year, Digital Sky Technologies, Russia’s largest technology investment firm, entered into a partnership with the South African media corporation Naspers and the Chinese technology company Tencent. All three are fast-growing firms with global vision—last fall, a DST spin-off called Mail.ru went public and immediately became Europe’s most highly valued Internet company—yet none is primarily focused on the United States. A similar harbinger of the intra-emerging-market economy was the acquisition by Bharti Enterprises, the Indian telecom giant, of the African properties of the Kuwait-based telecom firm Zain. A California technology executive explained to me that a company like Bharti has a competitive advantage in what he believes will be the exploding African market: “They know how to provide mobile phones so much more cheaply than we do. In a place like Africa, how can Western firms compete?”

The good news—and the bad news—for America is that the nation’s own super-elite is rapidly adjusting to this more global perspective. The U.S.-based CEO of one of the world’s largest hedge funds told me that his firm’s investment committee often discusses the question of who wins and who loses in today’s economy. In a recent internal debate, he said, one of his senior colleagues had argued that the hollowing-out of the American middle class didn’t really matter. “His point was that if the transformation of the world economy lifts four people in China and India out of poverty and into the middle class, and meanwhile means one American drops out of the middle class, that’s not such a bad trade,” the CEO recalled.

I heard a similar sentiment from the Taiwanese-born, 30-something CFO of a U.S. Internet company. A gentle, unpretentious man who went from public school to Harvard, he’s nonetheless not terribly sympathetic to the complaints of the American middle class. “We demand a higher paycheck than the rest of the world,” he told me. “So if you’re going to demand 10 times the paycheck, you need to deliver 10 times the value. It sounds harsh, but maybe people in the middle class need to decide to take a pay cut.”

At last summer’s Aspen Ideas Festival, Michael Splinter, CEO of the Silicon Valley green-tech firm Applied Materials, said that if he were starting from scratch, only 20 percent of his workforce would be domestic. “This year, almost 90 percent of our sales will be outside the U.S.,” he explained. “The pull to be close to the customers—most of them in Asia—is enormous.” Speaking at the same conference, Thomas Wilson, CEO of Allstate, also lamented this global reality: “I can get [workers] anywhere in the world. It is a problem for America, but it is not necessarily a problem for American business … American businesses will adapt.”

Revolt of the Elites
Wilson’s distinction helps explain why many of America’s other business elites appear so removed from the continuing travails of the U.S. workforce and economy: the global “nation” in which they increasingly live and work is doing fine—indeed, it’s thriving. As a consequence of this disconnect, when business titans talk about the economy and their role in it, the notes they strike are often discordant: for example, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein waving away public outrage in 2009 by saying he was “doing God’s work”; or the insistence by several top bankers after the immediate threat of the financial crisis receded that their institutions could have survived without TARP funding and that they had accepted it only because they had been strong-armed by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. Nor does this aloof disposition end at the water’s edge: think of BP CEO Tony Hayward, who complained of wanting to get his life back after the Gulf oil spill and then proceeded to do so by watching his yacht compete in a race off the Isle of Wight.

It is perhaps telling that Blankfein is the son of a Brooklyn postal worker and that Hayward—despite his U.S. caricature as an upper-class English twit—got his start at BP as a rig geologist in the North Sea. They are both, in other words, working-class boys made good. And while you might imagine that such backgrounds would make plutocrats especially sympathetic to those who are struggling, the opposite is often true. For the super-elite, a sense of meritocratic achievement can inspire high self-regard, and that self-regard—especially when compounded by their isolation among like-minded peers—can lead to obliviousness and indifference to the suffering of others.

Unsurprisingly, Russian oligarchs have been among the most fearless in expressing this attitude. A little more than a decade ago, for instance, I spoke to Mikhail Khodorkovsky, at that moment the richest man in Russia. “If a man is not an oligarch, something is not right with him,” Khodorkovsky told me. “Everyone had the same starting conditions, everyone could have done it.” (Khodorkovsky’s subsequent political travails—his oil company was appropriated by the state in 2004 and he is currently in prison—have tempered this Darwinian outlook: in a jail-cell correspondence last year, he admitted that he had “treated business exclusively as a game” and “did not care much about social responsibility.”)

Though typically more guarded in their choice of words, many American plutocrats suggest, as Khodorkovsky did, that the trials faced by the working and middle classes are generally their own fault. When I asked one of Wall Street’s most successful investment-bank CEOs if he felt guilty for his firm’s role in creating the financial crisis, he told me with evident sincerity that he did not. The real culprit, he explained, was his feckless cousin, who owned three cars and a home he could not afford. One of America’s top hedge-fund managers made a near-identical case to me—though this time the offenders were his in-laws and their subprime mortgage. And a private-equity baron who divides his time between New York and Palm Beach pinned blame for the collapse on a favorite golf caddy in Arizona, who had bought three condos as investment properties at the height of the bubble.

It is this not-our-fault mentality that accounts for the plutocrats’ profound sense of victimization in the Obama era. You might expect that American elites—and particularly those in the financial sector—would be feeling pretty good, and more than a little grateful, right now. Thanks to a $700 billion TARP bailout and hundreds of billions of dollars lent nearly free of charge by the Federal Reserve (a policy Soros himself told me was a “hidden gift” to the banks), Wall Street has surged back to pre-crisis levels of compensation even as Main Street continues to struggle. Yet many of America’s financial giants consider themselves under siege from the Obama administration—in some cases almost literally. Last summer, for example, Blackstone’s Schwarzman caused an uproar when he said an Obama proposal to raise taxes on private-equity-firm compensation—by treating “carried interest” as ordinary income—was “like when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939.”

However histrionic his imagery, Schwarzman (who subsequently apologized for the remark) is a Republican, so his antipathy toward the current administration is no surprise. What is more striking is the degree to which even former Obama supporters in the financial industry have turned against the president and his party. A Wall Street investor who is a passionate Democrat recounted to me his bitter exchange with a Democratic leader in Congress who is involved in the tax-reform effort. “Screw you,” he told the lawmaker. “Even if you change the legislation, the government won’t get a single penny more from me in taxes. I’ll put my money into my foundation and spend it on good causes. My money isn’t going to be wasted in your deficit sinkhole.”

He is not alone in his fury. In a much-quoted newsletter to investors last summer, the hedge-fund manager—and 2008 Obama fund-raiser—Dan Loeb fumed, “So long as our leaders tell us that we must trust them to regulate and redistribute our way back to prosperity, we will not break out of this economic quagmire.” Two other former Obama backers on Wall Street—both claim to have been on Rahm Emanuel’s speed-dial list—told me that the president is “anti-business”; one went so far as to worry that Obama is “a socialist.”

Much of this pique stems from simple self-interest: in addition to the proposed tax hikes, the financial reforms that Obama signed into law last summer have made regulations on American finance more stringent. But as the Democratic investor’s angry references to his philanthropic work suggest, the rage in the C-suites is driven not merely by greed but by a perceived affront to the plutocrats’ amour propre, a wounded incredulity that anyone could think of them as villains rather than heroes. Aren’t they, after all, the ones whose financial and technological innovations represent the future of the American economy? Aren’t they “doing God’s work”?

You might say that the American plutocracy is experiencing its John Galt moment. Libertarians (and run-of-the-mill high-school nerds) will recall that Galt is the plutocratic hero of Ayn Rand’s 1957 novel, Atlas Shrugged. Tired of being dragged down by the parasitic, envious, and less talented lower classes, Galt and his fellow capitalists revolted, retreating to “Galt’s Gulch,” a refuge in the Rocky Mountains. There, they passed their days in secluded natural splendor, while the rest of the world, bereft of their genius and hard work, collapsed. (G. K. Chesterton suggested a similar idea, though more gently, in his novel The Man Who Was Thursday: “The poor man really has a stake in the country. The rich man hasn’t; he can go away to New Guinea in a yacht.”)

This plutocratic fantasy is, of course, just that: no matter how smart and innovative and industrious the super-elite may be, they can’t exist without the wider community. Even setting aside the financial bailouts recently supplied by the governments of the world, the rich need the rest of us as workers, clients, and consumers. Yet, as a metaphor, Galt’s Gulch has an ominous ring at a time when the business elite view themselves increasingly as a global community, distinguished by their unique talents and above such parochial concerns as national identity, or devoting “their” taxes to paying down “our” budget deficit. They may not be isolating themselves geographically, as Rand fantasized. But they appear to be isolating themselves ideologically, which in the end may be of greater consequence.

The Backlash
The cultural ties that bind the super-rich to everyone else are fraying from both ends at once. Since World War II, the United States in particular has had an ethos of aspirational capitalism. As Soros told me, “It is easier to be rich in America than in Europe, because Europeans envy the billionaire, but Americans hope to emulate him.” But as the wealth gap has grown wider, and the rich have appeared to benefit disproportionately from government bailouts, that admiration has begun to sour.

One measure of the pricklier mood is how risky it has become for politicians to champion Big Business publicly. Defending Big Oil and railing against government interference used to be part of the job description of Texas Republicans. But when Congressman Joe Barton tried to take the White House to task for its post-spill “shakedown” of BP, he was immediately silenced by party elders. New York’s Charles Schumer is sometimes described as “the senator from Wall Street.” Yet when the financial-reform bill came to the Senate last spring—a political tussle in which each side furiously accused the other of carrying water for the banks—on Wall Street, Schumer was called the “invisible man” for his uncharacteristic silence on the issue.

In June, when I asked Larry Summers, then the president’s chief economic adviser, about hedge funds’ objections to the carried-interest tax reform, he was quick to disassociate himself from Wall Street’s concerns. “If that’s been the largest public-policy issue you’ve encountered,” he told me, “you’ve been traveling in different circles than I have been over the last several months.” I reminded him that he had in fact worked for a hedge fund, D. E. Shaw, as recently as 2008, and he emphasized his use of the qualifier over the last several months.

Critiques of the super-elite are becoming more common even at gatherings of the super-elite. At a Wall Street Journal conference in December 2009, Paul Volcker, the legendary former head of the Federal Reserve, argued that Wall Street’s claims of wealth creation were without any real basis. “I wish someone,” he said, “would give me one shred of neutral evidence that financial innovation has led to economic growth—one shred of evidence.”

At Google’s May Zeitgeist gathering, Desmond Tutu, the opening speaker, took direct aim at executive compensation. “I do have a very real concern about capitalism,” he lectured the gathered executives. “The Goldman Sachs thing. I read that one of the directors general—whatever they are called, CEO—took away one year as his salary $64 million. Sixty-four million dollars.” He sputtered to a stop, momentarily stunned by this sum (though, by the standards of Wall Street and Silicon Valley compensation, it’s not actually that much money). In an op-ed in TheWall Street Journal last year, even the economist Klaus Schwab—founder of the World Economic Forum and its iconic Davos meeting—warned that “the entrepreneurial system is being perverted,” and businesses that “fall back into old habits and excesses” could “undermin[e] social peace.”

Bridging the Divide
Not all plutocrats, of course, are created equal. Apple’s visionary Steve Jobs is neither the moral nor the economic equivalent of the Russian oligarchs who made their fortunes by brazenly seizing their country’s natural resources. And while the benefits of the past decade’s financial “innovations” are, as Volcker noted, very much in question, many plutocratic fortunes—especially in the technology sector—have been built on advances that have broadly benefited the nation and the world. That is why, even as the TARP-recipient bankers have become objects of widespread anger, figures such as Jobs, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett remain heroes.

And, ultimately, that is the dilemma: America really does need many of its plutocrats. We benefit from the goods they produce and the jobs they create. And even if a growing portion of those jobs are overseas, it is better to be the home of these innovators—native and immigrant alike—than not. In today’s hypercompetitive global environment, we need a creative, dynamic super-elite more than ever.

There is also the simple fact that someone will have to pay for the improved public education and social safety net the American middle class will need in order to navigate the wrenching transformations of the global economy. (That’s not to mention the small matter of the budget deficit.) Inevitably, a lot of that money will have to come from the wealthy—after all, as the bank robbers say, that’s where the money is.

It is not much of a surprise that the plutocrats themselves oppose such analysis and consider themselves singled out, unfairly maligned, or even punished for their success. Self-interest, after all, is the mother of rationalization, and—as we have seen—many of the plutocracy’s rationalizations have more than a bit of truth to them: as a class, they are generally more hardworking and meritocratic than their forebears; their philanthropic efforts are innovative and important; and the recent losses of the American middle class have in many cases entailed gains for the rest of the world.

But if the plutocrats’ opposition to increases in their taxes and tighter regulation of their economic activities is understandable, it is also a mistake. The real threat facing the super-elite, at home and abroad, isn’t modestly higher taxes, but rather the possibility that inchoate public rage could cohere into a more concrete populist agenda—that, for instance, middle-class Americans could conclude that the world economy isn’t working for them and decide that protectionism or truly punitive taxation is preferable to incremental measures such as the eventual repeal of the upper-bracket Bush tax cuts.

Mohamed El-Erian, the Pimco CEO, is a model member of the super-elite. But he is also a man whose father grew up in rural Egypt, and he has studied nations where the gaps between the rich and the poor have had violent resolutions. “For successful people to say the challenges faced by the lower end of the income distribution aren’t relevant to them is shortsighted,” he told me. Noting that “global labor and capital are doing better than their strictly national counterparts” in most Western industrialized nations, ElErian added, “I think this will lead to increasingly inward-looking social and political conditions. I worry that we risk ending up with very insular policies that will not do well in a global world. One of the big surprises of 2010 is that the protectionist dog didn’t bark. But that will come under pressure.”

The lesson of history is that, in the long run, super-elites have two ways to survive: by suppressing dissent or by sharing their wealth. It is obvious which of these would be the better outcome for America, and the world. Let us hope the plutocrats aren’t already too isolated to recognize this. Because, in the end, there can never be a place like Galt’s Gulch.

*Originally, the article mistakenly referred to the sponsor of the Sun Valley conference as Paul Allen. We regret the error.

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Inverted Totalitarianism: A New Way of Understanding How the U.S. Is Controlled (Chalmers Johnson 19/5/2008)

Posted in Uncategorized by ce399 on 04/02/2011

Inverted Totalitarianism: A New Way of Understanding How the U.S. Is Controlled
Review of Democracy Incorporated by Sheldon S. Wolin
by Chalmers Johnson
Global Research, May 19, 2008

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It is not news that the United States is in great trouble. The pre-emptive war it launched against Iraq more than five years ago was and is a mistake of monumental proportions — one that most Americans still fail to acknowledge. Instead they are arguing about whether we should push on to “victory” when even our own generals tell us that a military victory is today inconceivable. Our economy has been hollowed out by excessive military spending over many decades while our competitors have devoted themselves to investments in lucrative new industries that serve civilian needs. Our political system of checks and balances has been virtually destroyed by rampant cronyism and corruption in Washington, D.C., and by a two-term president who goes around crowing “I am the decider,” a concept fundamentally hostile to our constitutional system. We have allowed our elections, the one nonnegotiable institution in a democracy, to be debased and hijacked — as was the 2000 presidential election in Florida — with scarcely any protest from the public or the self-proclaimed press guardians of the “Fourth Estate.” We now engage in torture of defenseless prisoners although it defames and demoralizes our armed forces and intelligence agencies.

The problem is that there are too many things going wrong at the same time for anyone to have a broad understanding of the disaster that has overcome us and what, if anything, can be done to return our country to constitutional government and at least a degree of democracy. By now, there are hundreds of books on particular aspects of our situation — the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the bloated and unsupervised “defense” budgets, the imperial presidency and its contempt for our civil liberties, the widespread privatization of traditional governmental functions, and a political system in which no leader dares even to utter the words imperialism and militarism in public.

There are, however, a few attempts at more complex analyses of how we arrived at this sorry state. They include Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, on how “private” economic power now is almost coequal with legitimate political power; John W. Dean, Broken Government: How Republican Rule Destroyed the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial Branches, on the perversion of our main defenses against dictatorship and tyranny; Arianna Huffington, Right Is Wrong: How the Lunatic Fringe Hijacked America, Shredded the Constitution, and Made Us All Less Safe, on the manipulation of fear in our political life and the primary role played by the media; and Naomi Wolf, The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot, on Ten Steps to Fascism and where we currently stand on this staircase. My own book, Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic, on militarism as an inescapable accompaniment of imperialism, also belongs to this genre.

We now have a new, comprehensive diagnosis of our failings as a democratic polity by one of our most seasoned and respected political philosophers. For well over two generations, Sheldon Wolin taught the history of political philosophy from Plato to the present to Berkeley and Princeton graduate students (including me; I took his seminars at Berkeley in the late 1950s, thus influencing my approach to political science ever since). He is the author of the prize-winning classic Politics and Vision (1960; expanded edition, 2006) and Tocqueville Between Two Worlds (2001), among many other works.

His new book, Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism, is a devastating critique of the contemporary government of the United States — including what has happened to it in recent years and what must be done if it is not to disappear into history along with its classic totalitarian predecessors: Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany and Bolshevik Russia. The hour is very late and the possibility that the American people might pay attention to what is wrong and take the difficult steps to avoid a national Gtterdmmerung are remote, but Wolin’s is the best analysis of why the presidential election of 2008 probably will not do anything to mitigate our fate. This book demonstrates why political science, properly practiced, is the master social science.

Wolin’s work is fully accessible. Understanding his argument does not depend on possessing any specialized knowledge, but it would still be wise to read him in short bursts and think about what he is saying before moving on. His analysis of the contemporary American crisis relies on a historical perspective going back to the original constitutional agreement of 1789 and includes particular attention to the advanced levels of social democracy attained during the New Deal and the contemporary mythology that the U.S., beginning during World War II, wields unprecedented world power.

Given this historical backdrop, Wolin introduces three new concepts to help analyze what we have lost as a nation. His master idea is “inverted totalitarianism,” which is reinforced by two subordinate notions that accompany and promote it — “managed democracy” and “Superpower,” the latter always capitalized and used without a direct article. Until the reader gets used to this particular literary tic, the term Superpower can be confusing. The author uses it as if it were an independent agent, comparable to Superman or Spiderman, and one that is inherently incompatible with constitutional government and democracy.

Wolin writes, “Our thesis is this: it is possible for a form of totalitarianism, different from the classical one, to evolve from a putatively ‘strong democracy’ instead of a ‘failed’ one.” His understanding of democracy is classical but also populist, anti-elitist and only slightly represented in the Constitution of the United States. “Democracy,” he writes, “is about the conditions that make it possible for ordinary people to better their lives by becoming political beings and by making power responsive to their hopes and needs.” It depends on the existence of a demos — “a politically engaged and empowered citizenry, one that voted, deliberated, and occupied all branches of public office.” Wolin argues that to the extent the United States on occasion came close to genuine democracy, it was because its citizens struggled against and momentarily defeated the elitism that was written into the Constitution.

“No working man or ordinary farmer or shopkeeper,” Wolin points out, “helped to write the Constitution.” He argues, “The American political system was not born a democracy, but born with a bias against democracy. It was constructed by those who were either skeptical about democracy or hostile to it. Democratic advance proved to be slow, uphill, forever incomplete. The republic existed for three-quarters of a century before formal slavery was ended; another hundred years before black Americans were assured of their voting rights. Only in the twentieth century were women guaranteed the vote and trade unions the right to bargain collectively. In none of these instances has victory been complete: women still lack full equality, racism persists, and the destruction of the remnants of trade unions remains a goal of corporate strategies. Far from being innate, democracy in America has gone against the grain, against the very forms by which the political and economic power of the country has been and continues to be ordered.” Wolin can easily control his enthusiasm for James Madison, the primary author of the Constitution, and he sees the New Deal as perhaps the only period of American history in which rule by a true demos prevailed.

To reduce a complex argument to its bare bones, since the Depression, the twin forces of managed democracy and Superpower have opened the way for something new under the sun: “inverted totalitarianism,” a form every bit as totalistic as the classical version but one based on internalized co-optation, the appearance of freedom, political disengagement rather than mass mobilization, and relying more on “private media” than on public agencies to disseminate propaganda that reinforces the official version of events. It is inverted because it does not require the use of coercion, police power and a messianic ideology as in the Nazi, Fascist and Stalinist versions (although note that the United States has the highest percentage of its citizens in prison — 751 per 100,000 people — of any nation on Earth). According to Wolin, inverted totalitarianism has “emerged imperceptibly, unpremeditatedly, and in seeming unbroken continuity with the nation’s political traditions.”

The genius of our inverted totalitarian system “lies in wielding total power without appearing to, without establishing concentration camps, or enforcing ideological uniformity, or forcibly suppressing dissident elements so long as they remain ineffectual. A demotion in the status and stature of the ‘sovereign people’ to patient subjects is symptomatic of systemic change, from democracy as a method of ‘popularizing’ power to democracy as a brand name for a product marketable at home and marketable abroad. The new system, inverted totalitarianism, is one that professes the opposite of what, in fact, it is. The United States has become the showcase of how democracy can be managed without appearing to be suppressed.”

Among the factors that have promoted inverted totalitarianism are the practice and psychology of advertising and the rule of “market forces” in many other contexts than markets, continuous technological advances that encourage elaborate fantasies (computer games, virtual avatars, space travel), the penetration of mass media communication and propaganda into every household in the country, and the total co-optation of the universities. Among the commonplace fables of our society are hero worship and tales of individual prowess, eternal youthfulness, beauty through surgery, action measured in nanoseconds, and a dream-laden culture of ever-expanding control and possibility, whose adepts are prone to fantasies because the vast majority have imagination but little scientific knowledge. Masters of this world are masters of images and their manipulation. Wolin reminds us that the image of Adolf Hitler flying to Nuremberg in 1934 that opens Leni Riefenstahl’s classic film “Triumph of the Will” was repeated on May 1, 2003, with President George Bush’s apparent landing of a Navy warplane on the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln to proclaim “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq.

On inverted totalitarianism’s “self-pacifying” university campuses compared with the usual intellectual turmoil surrounding independent centers of learning, Wolin writes, “Through a combination of governmental contracts, corporate and foundation funds, joint projects involving university and corporate researchers, and wealthy individual donors, universities (especially so-called research universities), intellectuals, scholars, and researchers have been seamlessly integrated into the system. No books burned, no refugee Einsteins. For the first time in the history of American higher education top professors are made wealthy by the system, commanding salaries and perks that a budding CEO might envy.”

The main social sectors promoting and reinforcing this modern Shangri-La are corporate power, which is in charge of managed democracy, and the military-industrial complex, which is in charge of Superpower. The main objectives of managed democracy are to increase the profits of large corporations, dismantle the institutions of social democracy (Social Security, unions, welfare, public health services, public housing and so forth), and roll back the social and political ideals of the New Deal. Its primary tool is privatization. Managed democracy aims at the “selective abdication of governmental responsibility for the well-being of the citizenry” under cover of improving “efficiency” and cost-cutting.

Wolin argues, “The privatization of public services and functions manifests the steady evolution of corporate power into a political form, into an integral, even dominant partner with the state. It marks the transformation of American politics and its political culture from a system in which democratic practices and values were, if not defining, at least major contributing elements, to one where the remaining democratic elements of the state and its populist programs are being systematically dismantled.” This campaign has largely succeeded. “Democracy represented a challenge to the status quo, today it has become adjusted to the status quo.”

One other subordinate task of managed democracy is to keep the citizenry preoccupied with peripheral and/or private conditions of human life so that they fail to focus on the widespread corruption and betrayal of the public trust. In Wolin’s words, “The point about disputes on such topics as the value of sexual abstinence, the role of religious charities in state-funded activities, the question of gay marriage, and the like, is that they are not framed to be resolved. Their political function is to divide the citizenry while obscuring class differences and diverting the voters’ attention from the social and economic concerns of the general populace.” Prominent examples of the elite use of such incidents to divide and inflame the public are the Terri Schiavo case of 2005, in which a brain-dead woman was kept artificially alive, and the 2008 case of women and children living in a polygamous commune in Texas who were allegedly sexually mistreated.

Another elite tactic of managed democracy is to bore the electorate to such an extent that it gradually fails to pay any attention to politics. Wolin perceives, “One method of assuring control is to make electioneering continuous, year-round, saturated with party propaganda, punctuated with the wisdom of kept pundits, bringing a result boring rather than energizing, the kind of civic lassitude on which managed democracy thrives.” The classic example is certainly the nominating contests of the two main American political parties during 2007 and 2008, but the dynastic “competition” between the Bush and Clinton families from 1988 to 2008 is equally relevant. It should be noted that between a half and two-thirds of qualified voters have recently failed to vote, thus making the management of the active electorate far easier. Wolin comments, “Every apathetic citizen is a silent enlistee in the cause of inverted totalitarianism.” It remains to be seen whether an Obama candidacy can reawaken these apathetic voters, but I suspect that Wolin would predict a barrage of corporate media character assassination that would end this possibility.

Managed democracy is a powerful solvent for any vestiges of democracy left in the American political system, but its powers are weak in comparison with those of Superpower. Superpower is the sponsor, defender and manager of American imperialism and militarism, aspects of American government that have always been dominated by elites, enveloped in executive-branch secrecy, and allegedly beyond the ken of ordinary citizens to understand or oversee. Superpower is preoccupied with weapons of mass destruction, clandestine manipulation of foreign policy (sometimes domestic policy, too), military operations, and the fantastic sums of money demanded from the public by the military-industrial complex. (The U.S. military spends more than all other militaries on Earth combined. The official U.S. defense budget for fiscal year 2008 is $623 billion; the next closest national military budget is China’s at $65 billion, according to the Central Intelligence Agency.)

Foreign military operations literally force democracy to change its nature: “In order to cope with the imperial contingencies of foreign war and occupation,” according to Wolin, “democracy will alter its character, not only by assuming new behaviors abroad (e.g., ruthlessness, indifference to suffering, disregard of local norms, the inequalities in ruling a subject population) but also by operating on revised, power-expansive assumptions at home. It will, more often than not, try to manipulate the public rather than engage its members in deliberation. It will demand greater powers and broader discretion in their use (‘state secrets’), a tighter control over society’s resources, more summary methods of justice, and less patience for legalities, opposition, and clamor for socioeconomic reforms.”

Imperialism and democracy are, in Wolin’s terms, literally incompatible, and the ever greater resources devoted to imperialism mean that democracy will inevitably wither and die. He writes, “Imperial politics represents the conquest of domestic politics and the latter’s conversion into a crucial element of inverted totalitarianism. It makes no sense to ask how the democratic citizen could ‘participate’ substantively in imperial politics; hence it is not surprising that the subject of empire is taboo in electoral debates. No major politician or party has so much as publicly remarked on the existence of an American empire.”

From the time of the United States’ founding, its citizens have had a long history of being complicit in the country’s imperial ventures, including its transcontinental expansion at the expense of native Americans, Mexicans and Spanish imperialists. Theodore Roosevelt often commented that Americans were deeply opposed to imperialism because of their successful escape from the British empire but that “expansionism” was in their blood. Over the years, American political analysis has carefully tried to separate the military from imperialism, even though militarism is imperialism’s inescapable accompaniment. The military creates the empire in the first place and is indispensable to its defense, policing and expansion. Wolin observes, “That the patriotic citizen unswervingly supports the military and its huge budgets means that conservatives have succeeded in persuading the public that the military is distinct from the government. Thus the most substantial element of state power is removed from public debate.”

It has taken a long time, but under George W. Bush’s administration the United States has finally achieved an official ideology of imperial expansion comparable to those of Nazi and Soviet totalitarianisms. In accordance with the National Security Strategy of the United States (allegedly drafted by Condoleezza Rice and proclaimed on Sept. 9, 2002), the United States is now committed to what it calls “preemptive war.” Wolin explains: “Preemptive war entails the projection of power abroad, usually against a far weaker country, comparable say, to the Nazi invasion of Belgium and Holland in 1940. It declares that the United States is justified in striking at another country because of a perceived threat that U.S. power will be weakened, severely damaged, unless it reacts to eliminate the danger before it materializes. Preemptive war is Lebensraum [Hitler’s claim that his imperialism was justified by Germany’s need for “living room”] for the age of terrorism.” This was, of course, the official excuse for the American aggression against Iraq that began in 2003.

Many analysts, myself included, would conclude that Wolin has made a close to airtight case that the American republic’s days are numbered, but Wolin himself does not agree. Toward the end of his study he produces a wish list of things that should be done to ward off the disaster of inverted totalitarianism: “rolling back the empire, rolling back the practices of managed democracy; returning to the idea and practices of international cooperation rather than the dogmas of globalization and preemptive strikes; restoring and strengthening environmental protections; reinvigorating populist politics; undoing the damage to our system of individual rights; restoring the institutions of an independent judiciary, separation of powers, and checks and balances; reinstating the integrity of the independent regulatory agencies and of scientific advisory processes; reviving representative systems responsive to popular needs for health care, education, guaranteed pensions, and an honorable minimum wage; restoring governmental regulatory authority over the economy; and rolling back the distortions of a tax code that toadies to the wealthy and corporate power.”

Unfortunately, this is more a guide to what has gone wrong than a statement of how to fix it, particularly since Wolin believes that our political system is “shot through with corruption and awash in contributions primarily from wealthy and corporate donors.” It is extremely unlikely that our party apparatus will work to bring the military-industrial complex and the 16 secret intelligence agencies under democratic control. Nonetheless, once the United States has followed the classical totalitarianisms into the dustbin of history, Wolin’s analysis will stand as one of the best discourses on where we went wrong.

Chalmers Johnson’s latest book is Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic (Metropolitan Books, 2008), now available in a Holt Paperback. It is the third volume of his Blowback Trilogy.