It’s with an extremely heavy heart that I sit down to write today’s post. Although widespread civil unrest was easy to predict, it doesn’t make the situation any less sad and dangerous. We’re in the thick of it now, and how we respond will likely determine the direction of the country for decades to come.
If the combination of peaceful protesting, looting and violence witnessed across American cities over the past few days completely caught you off guard, you’re likely to come to the worst possible conclusion about what to do next. The knee-jerk response I’m already seeing from many is to crush the dissent by all means necessary, but that’s exactly how you give the imperial state and oligarchy more power. Power it will never relinquish.
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There’s a passage in Teddy Roosevelt’s famous 1910 “Citizenship in a Republic” speech I want to share with you today:
If a man’s efficiency is not guided and regulated by a moral sense, then the more efficient he is the worse he is, the more dangerous to the body politic. Courage, intellect, all the masterful qualities, serve but to make a man more evil if they are merely used for that man’s own advancement, with brutal indifference to the rights of others. It speaks ill for the community if the community worships those qualities and treats their possessors as heroes regardless of whether the qualities are used rightly or wrongly. It makes no difference as to the precise way in which this sinister efficiency is shown. It makes no difference whether such a man’s force and ability betray themselves in a career of money-maker or politician, soldier or orator, journalist or popular leader. If the man works for evil, then the more successful he is the more he should be despised and condemned by all upright and far-seeing men. To judge a man merely by success is an abhorrent wrong; and if the people at large habitually so judge men, if they grow to condone wickedness because the wicked man triumphs, they show their inability to understand that in the last analysis free institutions rest upon the character of citizenship, and that by such admiration of evil they prove themselves unfit for liberty.
The above words strike me as a perfect description of the deep hole we find ourselves in presently throughout these United States of America. It takes a whole nation to screw things up as badly as we have, and boy have we ever.
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And at the dead center of it all is Eric Schmidt. Well before Americans understood the threat of Covid-19, Schmidt had been on an aggressive lobbying and public relations campaign pushing precisely the “Black Mirror” vision of society that Cuomo has just empowered him to build. At the heart of this vision is seamless integration of government with a handful of Silicon Valley giants — with public schools, hospitals, doctor’s offices, police, and military all outsourcing (at a high cost) many of their core functions to private tech companies.
– The Intercept: Screen New Deal
Each crisis in the 21st century has been aggressively and ruthlessly wielded into a massive wealth and power grab by the American oligarchy and national security state. The big power grab following 9/11 centered around whittling away constitutional rights via mass surveillance in the name of “keeping us safe”, while the money grab after last decade’s financial crisis concentrated wealth and assets into fewer hands while entrenching financial feudalism and making the Federal Reserve and mega banks even more powerful.
Despite the success of this diabolical and intentional concentration of money and power, there’s still too much privacy, freedom and independent wealth around for the imperial oligarchy to feel comfortable. As such, the current pandemic is being used to put the finishing touches on whatever little political and economic freedom remains in these United States.
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I’ve become convinced the next major event that’ll be used to further centralize power and escalate domestic authoritarianism will center around U.S.-China tensions. We haven’t witnessed this “event” yet, but there’s a good chance it’ll occur within the next year or two. Currently, the front runner appears to be a major aggressive move by China into Hong Kong, but it could be anything really. Taiwan, the South China Sea, currency, economic or cyber warfare; the flash points are numerous and growing by the day. Something is going to snap and when it does we better be prepared to not act like mindless imbeciles for the fourth time this century.
When that day arrives, and it’s likely not too far off, certain factions will try to sell you on the monstrous idea that we must become more like China to defeat China. We’ll be told we need more centralization, more authoritarianism, and less freedom and civil liberties or China will win. Such talk is nonsense and the wise way to respond is to reject the worst aspects of the Chinese system and head the other way.
– From my 2019 piece: Two Paths Forward with China – The Good and The Bad
As the clownish farce that is Russiagate slinks back into the psyop dumpster from which it emerged, an even more destructive narrative has metastasized following the U.S. government’s incompetent response to covid-19.
It was clear to me from the start that Russiagate was a nonsensical narrative wildly embraced by a variety of powerful people in the wake of Trump’s election merely to serve their own ends. For establishment Democrats, it was a way to pretend Hillary Clinton didn’t actually lose because she was a wretched status quo candidate with a destructive track record, but she lost due to “foreign meddling.” This allowed those involved in her campaign to deflect blame, but it also short-circuited any discussion of the merits of populism and widespread voter dissatisfaction (within both parties) percolating throughout the land. It was a fairytale invented by people intentionally putting their heads in the sand in order to avoid confrontation with political reality and to keep their cushy gravy-train of entrenched corruption going.
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We find ourselves at a moment where the financial and political systems that have dominated for decades are failing in a spectacular and irredeemable fashion. Those who pull the levers are (as usual) attempting to take advantage of the situation by rapaciously snatching and consolidating more wealth and power, while leaving the general public to rot. When faced with such a historic moment, one should assume a certain degree of responsibility to make sure the next paradigm ends up better than the one we’re leaving. If we fail to think deeply about an improved vision and framework for the future, someone else will do it for us.
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Tucked into the recent recovery bill was a provision granting the Federal Reserve the right to set up a $450 billion bailout plan without following key provisions of the federal open meetings law, including announcing its meetings or keeping most records about them, according to a POLITICO review of the legislation.
The provision further calls into question the transparency and oversight for the biggest bailout law ever passed by Congress. President Donald Trump has indicated he does not plan to comply with another part of the new law intended to boost Congress’ oversight powers of the bailout funds. And earlier this week, Trump dismissed the government official chosen as the chief watchdog for the stimulus package.
The changes at the central bank – which appear to have been inserted into the 880-page bill by sympathetic senators during the scramble to get it approved — would address a complaint that the Fed faced during the 2008 financial crisis, when board members couldn’t easily hold group conversations to address the fast-moving economic turmoil.
The provision dispenses with a longstanding accountability rule that the board has to give at least one day’s notice before holding a meeting. Experts say the change could lead to key information about the $450 billion bailout fund, such as which firms might benefit from the program, remaining inaccessible long after the bailout is over.
The new law would absolve the board of the requirement to keep minutes to closed-door meetings as it deliberates on how to set up the $450 billion loan program. That would severely limit the amount of information potentially available to the public on what influenced the board’s decision-making. The board would only have to keep a record of its votes, though they wouldn’t have to be made public during the coronavirus crisis.
A Fed spokesperson did not comment on the changes in the law or whether the Fed would continue keeping records of its meetings.
– Politico: Recovery Law Allows Fed to Rope off Public as It Spends Billions
An era can be said to end when its basic illusions are exhausted.
– Arthur Miller
Before going any further, I want to share a graphic that accurately summarizes my position on the current pandemic affecting the world.
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Crises, like pandemics, don’t break things in and of themselves; they show you what’s already broken.
– Patrick Wyman
Big macro crises in any form are scary, massively disruptive, and in some cases, literally deadly. This is why governments and entrenched institutions always see such events as opportunities to further consolidate wealth and power.
The current global pandemic is no exception, as I detailed in last week’s piece: Power Grab. While it’s necessary to be aware of this reality — and to push back against it wherever possible — it’s equally important to recognize there’s a silver lining to all of this.
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I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away
– Percy Shelley, Ozymandias
It didn’t take long for the most opportunistic, nefarious and corrupt actors in the U.S. to turn a pandemic crisis into another massive power grab attempt. We’ve seen it before; after 9/11 and also throughout the response to the financial crisis a decade ago. The irredeemable sociopaths who always make the big, important decisions used those crises to consolidate wealth and power. They’re going for it again.
There are many examples, but let me list a few:
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And it was in the midst of shouts rolling against the terrace wall in massive waves that waxed in volume and duration, while cataracts of colored fire fell thicker through the darkness, that Dr. Rieux resolved to compile this chronicle, so that he should not be one of those who hold their peace but should bear witness in favor of those plague-stricken people; so that some memorial of the injustice ad outrage done them might endure; and to state quite simply what we learn in times of pestilence: that there are more things to admire in men than to despise.
– Albert Camus, The Plague
It’s likely the past few weeks have been some of the most surreal you’ve ever experienced; I know it’s been the case for me. The largest cities in the U.S. are essentially on lockdown, the stock market is in free fall and grocery stores are being stripped bare. It feels like a very dark moment, but in such darkness I see the light of a new beginning. A new beginning that starts with each and every one of us.
One of the things that helped me navigate the last couple of months in a state of relative calm is a longstanding understanding that something of this sort was inevitable. Not a pandemic necessarily, but something was bound to come along and slam us unexpectedly, and that when it did, the impact would be shockingly disruptive given how completely brittle and phony our economies and societies have become.
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And so castles made of sand fall in the sea, eventually.
– Jimi Hendrix
There’s a widespread belief out there that the U.S. and the global economy in general is on much sounder footing ever since the financial crisis of a decade ago. Unfortunately, this false assumption has resulted in widespread complacency and elevated levels of systemic risk as we enter the early part of the 2020s.
All it takes is a cursory amount of research to discover nothing was “reset” or fixed by the government and central bank response to that crisis. Rather, the entire response was just a gigantic coverup of the crimes and irresponsible behavior that occurred, coupled with a bailout designed to enrich and empower those who needed and deserved it least.
Everything was papered over in order to resuscitate a failed paradigm without reforming anything. Since it was all about pretending nothing was structurally wrong with the system, the response was to build more castles of sand on top of old ones that had unceremoniously crumbled. The whole event was a huge warning sign and opportunity to change course, but it was completely ignored. Enter novel coronavirus.
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