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In Praise of Hayek’s Masterwork

IN PRAISE OF HAYEK’S MASTERWORK

Friedrich von Hayek first published The Road to Serfdom in 1944. His book was subsequently popularised by a condensed version in The Reader’s Digest. This article re-examines Hayek’s theme in the context of today’s economics and politics to see what lessons we can learn from it, and whether personal freedom can survive.

Why personal freedom is important and the treat to it

Destroy personal freedom, and ultimately the state destroys itself. No state succeeds in the long run by taking away freedom from individuals, other than those strictly necessary for guaranteeing individualism. And unless the state recognises this established fact its destruction will be both certain and brutal. Alternatively, a state that steps back from the edge of collectivism and reinstates individual freedoms will survive. This is the theoretical advantage offered by democracy, when the people can peacefully rebel against the state, compared with dictatorships when they cannot.

Nevertheless, democracies are rarely free from the drift into collectivism. They socialise our efforts by taxing profits excessively and limiting free market competition, which is the driving force behind the creation and accumulation of personal wealth and the advancement of the human condition. At least democracies periodically offer the electorate an opportunity to throw out a government sliding into socialism. A Reagan or Thatcher can then materialise to save the nation by reversing or at least stemming the tide of collectivism.

Dictatorships are different, often ending in revolution, the condition in which chaos thrives. If the governed are lucky, out of chaos emerges freedom; much more likely they face more intense suppression and even civil war. We remember dictatorships through a figurehead, a Hitler or Mussolini. But these are just the leaders in a party of like-minded statists.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

America, You Are Fired!

America, You Are Fired!

Some ironies are just too precious to pass by. The 2016 US presidential elections gave us Donald Trump, a reality TV star whose famous tag line from his show “The Apprentice” was “You are fired!” Focus on this tag line; it is all that is important to this story. Some Trump Derangement Disorder sufferers might disagree. This is because they are laboring under certain misapprehensions: that the US is a democracy; or that it matters who is president. It isn’t and it doesn’t. By this point, the choice of president matters as much as the choice of conductor for the band that plays aboard a ship as it vanishes beneath the waves.

I have made these points continuously since before Trump got into office. Whether or not you think that Trump was actually elected, he did get in somehow, and there are reasons to believe that this had something to do with his wonderfully refreshing “You are fired!” tag line. It’s a fair guess that what motivated people to vote for him was their ardent wish that somebody would come along and fire all of the miscreants that infest Washington, DC and surrounding areas. Alas, that he couldn’t do. Figurehead leaders are never granted the authority to dismantle the political establishments that install them. But that is not to say that it can’t be done at all.

What happened instead was that the political establishment spent two years thrashing about in search of a reason to say “You are fired!” to Trump but has been unable to find one, and so Trump remains in office, although to say that he “remains in power” would be to invite sardonic laughter from anyone who knows what real political power smells like.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

D Is for a Dictatorship Disguised as a Democracy

D Is for a Dictatorship Disguised as a Democracy

“When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; a culture-death is a clear possibility.” — Professor Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Discourse in the Age of Show Business

What characterizes American government today is not so much dysfunctional politics as it is ruthlessly contrived governance carried out behind the entertaining, distracting and disingenuous curtain of political theater. And what political theater it is, diabolically Shakespearean at times, full of sound and fury, yet in the end, signifying nothing.

Played out on the national stage and eagerly broadcast to a captive audience by media sponsors, this farcical exercise in political theater can, at times, seem riveting, life-changing and suspenseful, even for those who know better.

Week after week, the script changes (Donald Trump’s Tweets, Congress’ hearings on Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, the military’s endless war drums, the ever-widening field of candidates for the 2020 presidential race, etc.) with each new script following on the heels of the last, never any let-up, never any relief from the constant melodrama.

The players come and go, the protagonists and antagonists trade places, and the audience members are quick to forget past mistakes and move on to the next spectacle.

All the while, a different kind of drama is unfolding in the dark backstage, hidden from view by the heavy curtain, the elaborate stage sets, colored lights and parading actors.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Beware the ‘Weaponized’ Web, Says Guy Who Helped Elect Trump

Beware the ‘Weaponized’ Web, Says Guy Who Helped Elect Trump

Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie on Facebook, democracy and hope.

ChristopherWylie.jpg
‘This is what people really have to understand: most people socialize and get their information now on a set of American-owned tech platforms that have no rules.’ Photo from Web Summit, Creative Commons licensed.

Christopher Wylie, of highlighter hair and Cambridge Analytica fame, was in Vancouver this week to talk about “Confronting the Disinformation Age.” 

In 2018, Wylie blew the whistle on Facebook and consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica, cofounded by Trump campaign strategist Steve Bannon, for collecting data without users’ consent. 

The extensive and personal data sets, Wylie said, were used to target people with political messaging that appealed to their specific psychologies. 

“Fashion data was used to build AI models to help Steve Bannon build his insurgency and build the alt-right. And the alt-right is an insurgency,” he said in a presentation last November. “We used weaponized algorithms, we used weaponized cultural narratives to undermine people and undermine their perception of reality.” 

He said the success of the targeting led to Donald Trump’s election win and the Brexit vote.

The Democracy Project wanted to know what the Victoria native had to say about democracy in Canada, and it shared this interview with The Tyee. Our interview was edited for clarity and length.

Zoë Ducklow: Who does democracy work for, and who is left out of the democratic process?

Christopher Wylie: Historically, democracy has worked for people who hold the power of information versus people who become recipients of information. Whether it’s elections or monarchs, the control of what’s allowed to be said or not said in the press has been the central aspect of power.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Empire Versus Democracy and Freedom. Will The Espionage Act Displace the US Constitution?

5Empire Versus Democracy and Freedom. Will The Espionage Act Displace the US Constitution?

The public interest, and democratic political economies, both domestic and internationally, are poison to Empire. But this must be hidden from view, hence war propaganda/fake news is protected by legislation, while Constitutionally-protected, evidence-based real journalism, a dying phenomenon, continues to be attacked.

The First Amendment of the US Constitution, adopted on December 15, 1791,

“prevents the government from making laws which respect an establishment of religion, prohibit the free exercise of religion, or abridge the freedom of speech, the freedom of the press, the right to peaceably assemble, or the right to petition the government for redress of grievances.” [1]

However, the Constitution is under constant assault by US oligarch[2] ruling classes.

Freedom of the press has been negated by ruling class monopoly ownership and pervasive propaganda. Criminal propaganda is protected while “freedoms of speech” are under constant assault.

The fakery of the news stories is protected by (unconstitutional) laws embedded in the National Defense Authorization Act which blur the lines between reality and spectacle. In an earlier article I wrote,

According to an amendment to the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the House Bill H.R 5736 (now law), the federal government of the United States can now legally propagandize the domestic public.

Arguably, this makes staged theatrical presentations, featuring crisis-actors, and purporting to be ‘reality’, legal.

And, as if that isn’t enough, Don North writes in “US/NATO Embrace Psy-ops and Info-War” that,

“As reflected in a recent NATO conference in Latvia and in the Pentagon’s new ‘Law of War’ manual, the U.S. government has come to view the control and manipulation of information as a ‘soft power’ weapon, merging psychological operations, propaganda and public affairs under the catch phrase ‘strategic communications.’ “[3]

The Espionage Act[4] also contradicts the US Constitution, but it is being invoked with regard to the indictment against Julian Assange.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Beneath the Surface of Brexit

Beneath the Surface of Brexit

Geography matters, the balance of power matters, and democracy–it’s not yet clear if democracy matters or not.

I’ve been asked to comment on Brexit. I’m happy to do so, but not by promoting a position yes or no, or by attempting to unravel the political machinations, as I have neither the knowledge nor the interest to do so.

What I can do is propose two beneath the surface contexts which might be useful in understanding what’s really going on. These are the impressions and opinions of a distant observer, someone who is neither an expert nor a resident of the United Kingdom / Great Britain.

It seems to me that geography is still salient. As an island sea power, England is close enough to the continental land-based powers of Europe to fear invasion or continental hegemony but independent enough to not rely too completely on continental European powers.

This is not just a consequence of its temperate weather (thanks to the Gulf Stream) or being an island; the historical reliance on sea power places it in the same general category as the other historic blue-water sea-power-based European nations: The Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Denmark and Sweden.

These sea-power nations projected power and secured trading rights and colonies by controlling the seas and access points to interior lands, the so-called Rimlands

Continental powers such as Russia, France and Germany have at various times made formidable attempts to create rival blue-water navies, but in each case the British or American fleets eventually limited these claims to dual power bases (both land and sea-based power).

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Demise of Democracy

The Demise of Democracy

Leonardo da Vinci Vitruvian man c1510

Leonardo wrote: “Vitruvius, architect, writes in his work on architecture that the measurements of man are distributed in this manner”:

The length of the outspread arms is equal to the height of a man.
From the hairline to the bottom of the chin is one-tenth of the height of a man.
From below the chin to the top of the head is one-eighth of the height of a man.
From above the chest to the top of the head is one-sixth of the height of a man.
From above the chest to the hairline is one-seventh of the height of a man.
The maximum width of the shoulders is a quarter of the height of a man.
From the breasts to the top of the head is a quarter of the height of a man.
From the elbow to the tip of the hand is a quarter of the height of a man.
From the elbow to the armpit is one-eighth of the height of a man.
The length of the hand is one-tenth of the height of a man.
The root of the penis [Il membro virile] is at half the height of a man.
The foot is one-seventh of the height of a man.

It’s almost silly to write anything on Brexit right now, because at right now+1 everything may have changed again. But almost silly is not the same as completely silly. At this point, whatever the outcome will be, it will serve to ridicule the idea and image of the UK as a functioning democracy. Something that ironically all participants in the Kabuki theater claim to be intent on preventing.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Electoral College: Why We Must Decentralize Democracy

Electoral College: Why We Must Decentralize Democracy

Although it was long assumed that the electoral college favored Democrats — and this assumption continued right up to election night 2016 — Democrats in the United States have now decided the electoral college is a bad thing. Thus, we continue to see legislative efforts to do away with the electoral college, accompanied by claims that it’s undemocratic.

Not All Democracy Is Created Equal

In fact, the electoral college is neither more nor less democratic than the electoral college system. It’s unclear by what standard winning the presidency through 50 separate state-level elections is “less democratic” than winning one large national election.

What makes the electoral college different, however, is that it was born out of recognition that the interests, concerns, and values of voters can differ greatly from place to place. Moreover, the system anticipated the phenomenon in which people in large densely populated areas would have different political values from people in other areas. The electoral college was designed to make it less likely that voters from a single region — or small number of regions — could impose their will across the entire nation.

In contrast, one large national election — as envisioned by the critics of the electoral college system — could hand national rule over to a small number of cities and regions.

But even the electoral college system is too much slanted in favor of national politics and large majorities. Far better strategies for governance can be found Swiss democracy. Thanks to the presence of a multi-lingual, culturally diverse population, the creators of the Swiss confederation sought to ensure that no single linguistic, religious, or cultural group could impose its will nationwide. Thus, Swiss democracy includes a number of provisions requiring a “double majority.” That is, not only must an overall majority of Swiss voters approve certain measures, a majority of the voters in the majority of Swiss cantons must also approve.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

“Toto, I Don’t Think We’re in Kansas Anymore”

“Toto, I Don’t Think We’re in Kansas Anymore”

Recently, an American colleague commented to me, “We no longer live in a democracy but a dictatorship disguised as a democracy.”

Is he correct? Well, a dictatorship may be defined as “a form of government in which absolute authority is exercised by a dictator.”

The US today is not be ruled by dictatorship (although, to some, it may well feel that way.)

But, if that’s the case, what form of rule does exist in the US?

At its formation, the founding fathers argued over whether the United States should be a republic or a democracy. Those founders who later formed the Federalist Party felt that it should be a democracy – rule by representatives elected by the people. Thomas Jefferson, who created the Democratic Republican Party, argued that it should be a republic – a state in which the method of governance is democracy, but the principle of governance is that the rights of the individual are paramount.

He argued that, “Democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty one percent can vote away the rights of the other forty nine.”

At that time, Benjamin Franklin has been credited as saying, “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for dinner.”

Very well stated.

As Americans still legally vote, and it may well be that the voting is not altogether rigged, the US could be regarded as a democracy. Of course, to be accurate, it could also be defined as a bureaucracy – rule by officialdom, and/or a plutocracy – rule by the very rich. Both of these descriptions are undeniably accurate.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Chapter 6: American, Won and Lost

CHAPTER 6: AMERICA, WON AND LOST.

After the United States gained its independence from Britain, it became powerful in the world in two very different ways: as an idea, and as a reality.

‘America the idea’ is a land of freedom and democracy, equality and opportunity, promoting these aspirations and values across the world.

‘America the reality’ is an international power. It was built on genocide and slavery. Today, a carefully managed monetary system allots wealth to those who do no productive work. In the wider world, America destabilizes popular governments, promotes tyrannies, creates dollars to purchase foreign resources for corporate exploitation and sponsors foreign wars to establish new bases of military and financial power.

For a long time ‘American the idea’ successfully camouflaged the activities of ‘America the reality’. Today the camouflage is wearing very thin indeed.

‘America the reality’ became stronger than ‘America the idea’ as the powers of money and corporate industry won out over the idealism and the good intentions of many of its ‘founding fathers’[1] and of countless others. Central to this development was the adoption of British banking as a way of creating money.

The adoption of British banking by America has an interesting history. After Independence, the American elite opted for the method favoured by their old colonial masters and rejected homegrown approaches to money-creation, some of which had been both just and efficient (see below).

The new elite liked British banking for the same reason it was loved by the British parliament – because it favoured government power and private wealth. The collusion of finance and government power, via circulating credit, is a very resilient form of concentrated power, because although everyone can see the bad effects, few people understand how it works. Governments across the world have since adopted the method for the same reasons: to augment their own power, and to make it easy for their supporters to increase their own wealth.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Revolution Has No Hollywood Ending

The Revolution Has No Hollywood Ending

After struggling against our own self-destructive tendencies throughout the entirety of recorded history, humanity is now at a point where that struggle is probably going to be resolved, one way or another, within the lifetime of most people reading this.

The movie about this struggle has been written with one of two possible endings. In the first, we are unable to overcome our self-destructive tendencies, and the last of our species dies by radiation poisoning or choking on the dust of an uninhabitable planet. In the second, we evolve beyond our self-destructive tendencies and move into a healthy relationship with our minds, our ecosystem, and each other.

Neither of these two endings would work in a Hollywood blockbuster. In the first, humanity dies off not with a bang but with a whimper as a result of nuclear fallout or climate collapse. In the second, conflict and drama as we know it will cease to exist as we pull up and away from the self-destructive patterns which brought us to this point. We’ll either keep along this same destructive trajectory and meet its inevitable end very soon, or we’ll deviate from that trajectory into something wildly different. In either case, there is no kissing the girl while the credits roll, no coolly striding away from the explosion, and no spin-kicking the bad guy off a cliff into lava after uttering a short, memorable line.

I say this because it seems like a lot of people are kind of hoping for a Hollywood ending in some way. People are hoping that Donald Trump gets arrested for conspiring with Russia and dragged off in chains and everything goes back to normal.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

10 reasons the Gilets Jaunes are the real deal

10 reasons the Gilets Jaunes are the real deal

Image soiurce here.

We live in a world where democracy is a threat and freedom is a punishment, where you can’t tell a turd from a diamond, where 5G is trumpeted even as it threatens to kill us, where the prevailing ethos is buyer-beware and where anyone against warmongering and eternal war is smeared and painted as a monster.

Who do you believe? All the things you felt certain about Democracy, liberty, the right to free speech, television news, all these things are not only being undermined, in reality, they are being thrown in your face. Democracy in the Nazi-controlled Ukraine, moderate jihadi rebels, no democracy in Russia or Venezuela, despite the fingerprint tests on voters and the voting booth cameras, and this voice saying they’re fair elections and a dozen saying what about France isn’t that democracy and twenty other voices say they’re not and right-wing groups going off in the streets and chemicals in your food and forgetting to turn your wi-fi laden house on before you rush to another meeting or charge your phone, and, and…well…I got lost just writing it.

Keeping you busy, that’s what Neo-Liberalist empire does, and amidst it all, you’re meant to be an active citizen stuffed with social capital, capable of an opinion on any topic at the drop of the hat.

Ontological security, everybody needs it, but right now it’s in short supply especially in big metropolitan cities. No wonder people are confused and afraid, walking backwards into the future, stuck knee-deep in mud dreaming that somehow, through some miracle, everything will, “Please!”, return to normal.

So amidst this Tower of Babble, let’s resolve one conundrum for you.

Here are ten reasons the Gilets Jaunes (unlike US sponsored colour revolutions) are the real deal, by which I mean the direct expression of the people of France.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

People Who Care About Democracy Don’t Plot Coups Abroad

People Who Care About Democracy Don’t Plot Coups Abroad

Illustration by Nathaniel St. Clair

For some months now, Venezuela’s socialist government has lurched through a series of escalating crises — hyperinflation, mass protests, political violence — while both the government and its opposition have flirted with authoritarianism.

It isn’t pretty — and to hear the right wing tell it, it’s the future the U.S. left wants for our own country. As if to prevent that, the Trump administration is now fomenting a coup in Venezuela.

They’ve publicly recognized an unelected opposition leader as president, discussed coup plans with Venezuela’s military, and sanctioned oil revenues the country needs to resolve its economic crisis. They’re even threatening to send U.S. troops.

They’ll tell you this about restoring “democracy” and “human rights” in the South American country. But one look at the administration officials driving the putsch perishes the thought.

Take Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who recently spoke at the United Nations calling on countries to stand “with the forces of freedom” against “the mayhem” of Venezuela’s government.

This fall, the same Pompeo shared a photo of himself beaming and shaking hands with Saudi Arabia’s crown prince — just as the prince’s order to kill and dismember a U.S. resident journalist was coming to light. The same prince is carrying on a U.S.-backed war in Yemen, where millions are starving.

Does this sound like a man who gives one fig for democracy, or against mayhem?

Or take Pompeo’s point man on Venezuela, the dreaded Elliott Abrams. Pompeo said Abrams was appointed for his “passion for the rights and liberties of all peoples.” More likely, it was Abrams’ history as Reagan’s “Secretary of Dirty Wars” (yes, that’s a real thing people called him).

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Flash-Balls, Pitchforks And A Backstop

Flash-Balls, Pitchforks And A Backstop

Jan van Eyck  Madonna and Child at the Fountain 1439 (height: 7.4“, 19 cm)

It’s educational and even somewhat entertaining to observe the role of the western press in the ongoing erosion and demise of democracy in Europe. But while it’s entertaining, it also means their readers and viewers don’t get informed on what is actually happening. The media paints a picture that pleases the political world. And it it doesn’t please politicians to lift a veil here and there, too bad for the public. 

The Shakespearian comedy that was performed last night in the UK House of Commons is a lovely case in point. Basically, MPs voted whether or not to allow PM Theresa May to change the Brexit deal she had told them about a hundred times couldn’t possibly be changed. Brexit has turned full-blown Groucho by now: “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others.”

It was exactly two weeks ago last night that lawmakers voted by a historic 432 to 202 count to reject May’s Brexit deal. And now they voted to a) let her change it and b) go talk to the EU about changing it though Brussels has said as often as May herself that it cannot be changed. Remember: the UK is set to leave the EU 59 days from now, and counting.

It’s like in a game of chess that has long turned into a stalemate or threefold repetitionsituation: you stop playing. No such luck in British politics. The only way the parliament could find ‘unity’ (in a narrow vote) was to agree to ditch the Irish backstop that is an integral part of why the EU accepted May’s deal to begin with.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

We Don’t Need A New Deal: We Need A Whole New Deck

We Don’t Need A New Deal: We Need A Whole New Deck

The gap between the earth’s wardens of wealth and the nearly eight billion humans under their control has grown wider and more dangerous but is beginning to be understood by some as a systemic problem and not simply a matter of evil leaders and villainous followers. When people see and feel their futures ranging from problematic at best to non-existent at worst, we get the resultant turmoil and changes taking place in nations moving in many directions at once but all of them against established power over things as they are.

Whether votes are cast in elections labeled democratic though still under minority control, or issues are subject to mob rule of one extreme or another, they are producing governments at least rhetorically dedicated to change even if often dangerously confused or in merely cosmetic form. Nevertheless, those demanding change beyond simply continuing the rule of market forces under minority control are starting to move up and into more commanding roles in governments. Unfortunately, and especially in America, many still operate as though political change amounts to the candidates skin tone, religion or sex, neglecting the philosophy between their ears by concentrating more on the genitals between their thighs.

Thus we have working people going to the polls and electing representatives of wealth operating against their interest but rhetorically speaking of change, which may mean reverting to earlier forms of capital private profit which still leave the public good in poor condition, or worse, sinking into megalomaniacal rule under populists (?) promising to dump even more wrath on those at or near the bottom.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
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