Tag Archives: power

The Dance of Death

The ruling corporate elites no longer seek to build. They seek to destroy. They are agents of death. They crave the unimpeded power to cannibalize the country and pollute and degrade the ecosystem to feed an insatiable lust for wealth, power and hedonism. Wars and military “virtues” are celebrated. Intelligence, empathy and the common good are banished. Culture is degraded to patriotic kitsch. Education is designed only to instill technical proficiency to serve the poisonous engine of corporate capitalism. Historical amnesia shuts us off from the past, the present and the future. Those branded as unproductive or redundant are discarded and left to struggle in poverty or locked away in cages. State repression is indiscriminate and brutal. And, presiding over the tawdry Grand Guignol is a deranged ringmaster tweeting absurdities from the White House.

The graveyard of world empires—Sumerian, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Mayan, Khmer, Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian—followed the same trajectory of moral and physical collapse. Those who rule at the end of empire are psychopaths, imbeciles, narcissists and deviants, the equivalents of the depraved Roman emperors Caligula, Nero, Tiberius and Commodus. The ecosystem that sustains the empire is degraded and exhausted. Economic growth, concentrated in the hands of corrupt elites, is dependent on a crippling debt peonage imposed on the population. The bloated ruling class of oligarchs, priests, courtiers, mandarins, eunuchs, professional warriors, financial speculators and corporate managers sucks the marrow out of society.

The elites’ myopic response to the looming collapse of the natural world and the civilization is to make subservient populations work harder for less, squander capital in grandiose projects such as pyramids, palaces, border walls and fracking, and wage war. President Trump’s decision to increase military spending by $54 billion and take the needed funds out of the flesh of domestic programs typifies the behavior of terminally ill civilizations. When the Roman Empire fell, it was trying to sustain an army of half a million soldiers that had become a parasitic drain on state resources.

The complex bureaucratic mechanisms that are created by all civilizations ultimately doom them. The difference now, as Joseph Tainter points out in “The Collapse of Complex Societies,” is that “collapse, if and when it comes again, will this time be global. No longer can any individual nation collapse. World civilization will disintegrate as a whole.”

Civilizations in decline, despite the palpable signs of decay around them, remain fixated on restoring their “greatness.” Their illusions condemn them. They cannot see that the forces that gave rise to modern civilization, namely technology, industrial violence and fossil fuels, are the same forces that are extinguishing it. Their leaders are trained only to serve the system, slavishly worshipping the old gods long after these gods begin to demand millions of sacrificial victims.

“Hope drives us to invent new fixes for old messes, which in turn create even more dangerous messes,” Ronald Wright writes in “A Short History of Progress.” “Hope elects the politician with the biggest empty promise; and as any stockbroker or lottery seller knows, most of us will take a slim hope over prudent and predictable frugality. Hope, like greed, fuels the engine of capitalism.”

The Trump appointees—Steve Bannon, Jeff Sessions, Rex Tillerson, Steve Mnuchin, Betsy DeVos, Wilbur Ross, Rick Perry, Alex Acosta and others—do not advocate innovation or reform. They are Pavlovian dogs that salivate before piles of money. They are hard-wired to steal from the poor and loot federal budgets. Their single-minded obsession with personal enrichment drives them to dismantle any institution or abolish any law or regulation that gets in the way of their greed. Capitalism, Karl Marx wrote, is “a machine for demolishing limits.” There is no internal sense of proportion or scale. Once all external impediments are lifted, global capitalism ruthlessly commodifies human beings and the natural world to extract profit until exhaustion or collapse. And when the last moments of a civilization arrive, the degenerate edifices of power appear to crumble overnight.

Sigmund Freud wrote that societies, along with individuals, are driven by two primary instincts. One is the instinct for life, Eros, the quest to love, nurture, protect and preserve. The second is the death instinct. The death instinct, called Thanatos by post-Freudians, is driven by fear, hatred and violence. It seeks the dissolution of all living things, including our own beings. One of these two forces, Freud wrote, is always ascendant. Societies in decline enthusiastically embrace the death instinct, as Freud observed in “Civilization and Its Discontents,” written on the eve of the rise of European fascism and World War II.

“It is in sadism, where the death instinct twists the erotic aim in its own sense and yet at the same time fully satisfies the erotic urge, that we succeed in obtaining the clearest insight into its nature and its relation to Eros,” Freud wrote. “But even where it emerges without any sexual purpose, in the blindest fury of destructiveness, we cannot fail to recognize that the satisfaction of the instinct is accompanied by an extraordinary high degree of narcissistic enjoyment, owing to its presenting the ego with a fulfillment of the latter’s old wishes for omnipotence.”

The lust for death, as Freud understood, is not, at first, morbid. It is exciting and seductive. I saw this in the wars I covered. A god-like power and adrenaline-driven fury, even euphoria, sweep over armed units and ethnic or religious groups given the license to destroy anything and anyone around them. Ernst Juenger captured this “monstrous desire for annihilation” in his World War I memoir, “Storm of Steel.”

A population alienated and beset by despair and hopelessness finds empowerment and pleasure in an orgy of annihilation that soon morphs into self-annihilation. It has no interest in nurturing a world that has betrayed it and thwarted its dreams. It seeks to eradicate this world and replace it with a mythical landscape. It turns against institutions, as well as ethnic and religious groups, that are scapegoated for its misery. It plunders diminishing natural resources with abandon. It is seduced by the fantastic promises of demagogues and the magical solutions characteristic of the Christian right or what anthropologists call “crisis cults.”

Norman Cohn, in “The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Messianism in Medieval and Reformation Europe and Its Bearing on Modern Totalitarian Movements,” draws a link between that turbulent period and our own. Millennial movements are a peculiar, collective psychological response to profound societal despair. They recur throughout human history. We are not immune.

“These movements have varied in tone from the most violent aggressiveness to the mildest pacifism and in aim from the most ethereal spirituality to the most earth-bound materialism; there is no counting the possible ways of imagining the Millennium and the route to it,” Cohen wrote. “But similarities can present themselves as well as differences; and the more carefully one compares the outbreaks of militant social chiliasm during the later Middle Ages with modern totalitarian movements the more remarkable the similarities appear. The old symbols and the old slogans have indeed disappeared, to be replaced by new ones; but the structure of the basic phantasies seems to have changed scarcely at all.”

These movements, Cohen wrote, offered “a coherent social myth which was capable of taking entire possession of those who believed in it. It explained their suffering, it promised them recompense, it held their anxieties at bay, it gave them an illusion of security—even while it drove them, held together by a common enthusiasm, on a quest which was always vain and often suicidal.

“So it came about that multitudes of people acted out with fierce energy a shared phantasy which though delusional yet brought them such intense emotional relief that they could live only through it and were perfectly willing to die for it. It is a phenomenon which was to recur many times between the eleventh century and the sixteenth century, now in one area, now in another, and which, despite the obvious differences in cultural context and in scale, is not irrelevant to the growth of totalitarian movements, with their messianic leaders, their millennial mirages and their demon-scapegoats, in the present century.”

The severance of a society from reality, as ours has been severed from collective recognition of the severity of climate change and the fatal consequences of empire and deindustrialization, leaves it without the intellectual and institutional mechanisms to confront its impending mortality. It exists in a state of self-induced hypnosis and self-delusion. It seeks momentary euphoria and meaning in tawdry entertainment and acts of violence and destruction, including against people who are demonized and blamed for society’s demise. It hastens its self-immolation while holding up the supposed inevitability of a glorious national resurgence. Idiots and charlatans, the handmaidens of death, lure us into the abyss.

By Chris Hedges/Truthdig

Posted by The NON-Conformist

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Time to Change the Democratic Party: How Not to Spend $1 Billion, Lose More Than 1,000 Elections and Have the Least Power in 75 Years

The race for Democratic National Committee chair is not just about who has the glamour and skills to turn around a party that spent more than $1 billion last year, lost more than 1,000 statewide and congressional seats during Obama’s presidency, and has the least power in 75 years. It’s about how that turnaround will be done.

What’s emerging at candidate forums en route to a late February vote among 447 DNC members is a revealing conversation into the nuts and bolts of campaigns and elections—and not what has been portrayed in mainstream media. The biggest splits aren’t between Berniecrats and more tenured Democrats, who comprise most members as state officials, party leaders and key allies. Nor is it clear whether one candidate, due to race or gender, is the obvious standard-bearer, because all of the candidates are diverse and committed to progressive values.

The issue is whether there’s one candidate who is compelling and capable of changing what’s broken about the DNC—not just naming it in public forums, which many of the candidates have done in eyebrow-raising fashion. So far, at least among longtime party activists, no one stands out as the perfect choice.

“Not one of these candidates gives you everything—not one,” said Debra Kozikowski, vice chair of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, senior vice president of the Association of State Democratic Chairs and a critic of recent DNC leadership under ex-chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz. “The last time the Democratic Party nationally had a leader who was the everything ‘it’ guy was Howard Dean. He was a governor who ran for president and got his butt beat, but he knew how to do it, and he also cared about state parties.”

Democrats face a “multi-layered complicated problem that includes small-d democracy, big D Democrats, inspiration and perspiration—the whole package,” Kozikowski said, adding that no one among the leading or best-qualified candidates is presenting that complete picture. Instead, what’s seen at the candidate forums are striking critiques from candidates with front-row views who are pulling back the curtain on some of the party’s most loathsome habits that translate into losing elections.

One stunning example concerns how the party was able to spend more than $1 billion and lose so badly in 2016. DNC members know that Hillary Clinton’s campaign paid for TV ads in Wisconsin and Michigan, but wouldn’t give those states’ parties money for a grassroots presence despite their pleadings. That’s partly because, as Ray Buckley, the New Hampshire state party chair and candidate said, the DNC brass has an incestuous relationship with Washington-based media-buyers who repeatedly have made multi-millions on TV ads and mailings, no matter who wins or loses, and siphoned money away from field operations.

“You look at the polls, the American people support our agenda. They just didn’t hear it, because we were too busy running TV and sending mail that ended up in the trash,” said Buckley, a five-term state chair and president of the national Association of State Democratic Chairs, at an Arizona forum. “The reality is we just take a small percentage of that money and invest it in every single state, in every single county, in every single neighborhood, and we will start winning offices up and down the ballot throughout this country and we will reject Donald Trump… Our message is hope and opportunity, but we stopped giving people hope and opportunity because we weren’t able to get real people talking to other real people.”

Buckley, who is white, gay and arguably has the most experience beating Republicans than anyone else in the race for DNC chair, admits he doesn’t have the backing of the DNC’s Washington establishment. That candidate, as seen by endorsements from former Vice President Joe Biden, and longtime Bill Clinton fundraiser—now Virginia’s governor—Terry McAuliffe, is Tom Perez, the ex-Secretary of Labor under Obama and Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights before that.

Perez, for his part, has been emphasizing a different ugly feature of the DNC’s national leadership: how it can be patronizing, dismissive of state parties and grassroots activists, and takes constituencies for granted.

“The thing I hear the most from DNC members is you want to be part of a team,” Perez told the forum. “You don’t want to be spoken to. You don’t want to have a command and control structure. You want to be part of the decision-making. We can enhance everything we do by doing just that… I have had experience changing cultures of institutions. It takes work. It doesn’t happen overnight. But when you get there, as we were able to do at the Department of Labor. It’s because good leaders are good listeners.”

Pointed remarks like these, and similar ones from other contenders, such as Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison—who has been endorsed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and former vice-president Walter Mondale—are what you’d expect from someone seeking to lead a party out of a wilderness. What’s striking about Ellison’s remarks is his take-it-to-the-streets attitude, which resonates with Sanders’ base and younger Democrats, although he tones it down when selling himself to the party’s insiders at candidate forums.

“I love your enthusiasm. We’re going to need it,” Ellison told the Arizona audience. “All over the country, what we see are Democrats [who] are not in the majority and Republicans are passing policies that are hurting our people. And so, I am running for the chair of the DNC because I have demonstrated an ability to see Democrats get elected. There are no statewide Republicans in Minnesota. The reason why is I have turned up the vote and the turnout in the Fifth Congressional District. I used to have the lowest turnout in the state of Minnesota. Now my congressional district has the highest. And because we have the highest, we have put in [Senator] Al Franken, and [Governor] Mark Dayton, and Democrats all over the state. We win elections and that is how we get the majority back.”

There are striking critiques from other candidates, such as Jaime Harrison, South Carolina state party chair. When asked how to best respond to Donald Trump, he gave the audience a small lecture to stop focusing on what to say and start focusing on creating a trusted way to communicate to voters.

“The vehicle in which the message is delivered are state parties, and my friends, state parties are broken,” he said. “Now that ain’t sexy. It ain’t what most people want to hear about. But let me tell you the reality of the situation. In 2008, we had complete control. We had the majority of the governorships in this country, the majority of the statehouses in this country. We controlled Congress. We were even able to get up to 60 votes in the U.S. Senate. And in almost 10 years, we have lost it all. Republicans control 69 out of 99 statehouses [chambers]. Republicans control 33 governorships. And they now have complete control over the federal government.”

“So the vehicle by which we get out message out to our voters, on the grassroots level, is the state parties,” Harrison continued. “But you have state parties at this moment that barely have $50,000 cash on hand, and have to cut their staff. And in 2018 they either have a governorship race that they have to run in a coordinated campaign, or one of the 25 Democratic U.S. senators are up for grabs, and 10 of them are in Trump [majority] states… So until we fix that basic foundation of our party, we can have the best message in the world, but it ain’t going anywhere other than in our email boxes.”

Harrison made the same point as Buckley—the only other state party chair in the race—by slamming the DNC power brokers for wasting millions on messaging that most voters just tuned out. “The TV ads?” he said, indignant. “We spend hundreds of millions on TV ads. How many of you watch those TV ads? None of you! The mail, where does it go? File 13. You don’t even look at it, but we spend millions and millions of dollars on that….We need to be a community organization, going into the communities on a grassroots level, helping people solve the issues important to them.”

What becomes of these open criticisms is anybody’s guess. Kozikowski, who has been in Democratic Party circles for decades, also runs a non-partisan non-profit that helps all eligible voters get a ballot that will be counted. She said all of the candidates are coming up short with specifics when pressed, such as describing where organizations like hers fit into the professed desire to be more supportive of party grassroots.

It is a truism that campaigns are about the poetry of running for office and governing is about the detailed prose of making things work. But the jobs of DNC chair and vice chair are arguably more about how the party operates, the prose, than the magnetism of who leads it—even though leadership charisma still matters. The Republican Party, for example, generally promotes state party chairs to RNC chair, such as Wisconsin’s Reince Priebus, suggesting the GOP sees the post as more of a performance-oriented job.

Right now, if the DNC’s two top contenders are indeed Perez and Ellison (the party is not doing any polling), then neither quite fit that mold. Perez is seen by the grassroots, especially Sanders’ base, as too connected to DC insiders associated with Clinton’s campaign and that political apparatus. Ellison is seen as too combative by officials who want a leader who can pull the party back together.

“They are looking for the best person and we don’t have a best person,” Kozikowski said, when asked what fellow DNC members are looking for. “We have the best we’ve got. My estimation at this point, and that can change, is that Tom Perez has the inside track. And I don’t mean that in any negative way.”

Meanwhile, outside DNC circles, people who were active in the 2016 campaign are paying close attention—especially those who worked with Bernie Sanders to reform the Democratic Party.

“People have definitely not written this race off,” said Saikat Chakrabarti, co-founder of Brand New Congress, which grew out of Sanders’ campaign and is organizing a national strategy for the 2018 midterm elections. “Almost everyone I’m talking to is waiting with baited breath to see what happens. People are ready to write the party off, but if Keith [Ellison] gets the chair, it shows a glimmer of hope that we can rebuild this party to be a party that works for people again.”

“At this moment in time, it is probably the most important decision coming up for the Democratic Party,” he added. “If, after everything that happened in the last year, the Democrats still pick Perez, it is really going to signal to everyone that this party is beyond repair.’

But just as Kozikowski said there was no candidate who checks all the boxes to rebuild the party from the inside out, Chakrabarti said that those watching on the outside have a different set of doubts about whether the Democrats really understand their failures.

“I see it as a battle right now between one camp that recognizes that there are big, systemic problems in the American economy and in our democracy and wants to put forth a vision for fixing it, vs. a camp that believes the Democratic Party (and America) is basically okay and all the Democrats need to do is fix their messaging problem,” Chakrabarti said, adding that Democrats risk losing young supporters if they don’t make evolutionary changes. “I think this correlates heavily with youth vs. old because a lot of the problems facing this country are affecting youth—young people are buried in debt, see this giant problem of climate change ruining their future, and see the bleakness of a corrupt and broken democracy that is completely incapable of addressing these problems.”

The DNC convenes in Atlanta on February 23 for its winter meeting. Between now and then, you can be sure the criticisms inside and outside party circles will only become more pointed. The stakes are nothing less than the party’s future, into renewed relevance or obsolescence.

By Steven Rosenfeld / AlterNet

Posted by The NON-Conformist

The cynical, undemocratic and outrageous spectacle in Raleigh

Image: NC Policy Watch

Early in the special legislative session Wednesday called by Gov. Pat McCrory for disaster relief, House Rules Chair David Lewis responded on the House floor to a question about the rules governing the session by saying House leaders were trying to be “as transparent as they can.”

That was, simply put, a lie.

Two days before—on Monday—Lewis, House Speaker Tim Moore, Senate President Phil Berger, and other Republican lawmakers signed a letter to call another special session when the disaster relief session adjourned to ram through legislation to take power away from the new Democratic governor and to remake the structure of state government on the fly.

They never bothered to tell the Democrats, the media, or the public about their scheme.

More from NC Policy Watch

Posted by Libergirl

Duke Energy CEO: Customers will foot bill to clean up toxic coal lagoons

Image: Reuters/Chris Keane

Duke Energy faces a $1 billion price tag to clean its coal ash waste pits in North Carolina after the company leaked around 35 million gallons of toxic coal slurry into the Dan River last month. Who will pay the bill? Customers, says Duke’s CEO.

Duke, the largest supplier of electricity in the United States, was ordered by a judge late last week to address groundwater contamination at its 33 coal ash storage lagoons at 14 sites across North Carolina. The decision came about one month after as much as 35 million gallons of coal ash and arsenic-contaminated water spilled into the Dan River due to a ruptured pipe at a Duke Energy power plant in Eden, North Carolina.

Based on a similar effort in South Carolina – in which Santee Cooper utility needed $250 million to clear 11 million tons of ash – Duke’s expenses to empty its ash sites could hit $1 billion, according to the state Utilities Commission. Duke has around 106 million total tons of coal ash waste in the state, 84 million of which were dumped into simple ponds, likely resulting in ground contamination.

Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good said the company will carry costs for cleaning the Dan River, around 70 miles of which is now caked with toxic coal waste. But as for the cleaning of the remaining sites, Good says it’s part of normal consumer costs.

“Because that ash was created over decades for the generation of electricity, we do believe that ash-pond disposal costs are ultimately part of our cost structure,” Good told the Charlotte Observer on Friday. “But the determination of payment will be up to the North Carolina Utilities Commission and how they handle that, so I think that’s something that will unfold over time.”

More from Russia Today

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Anthropologist Jane Goodall: China is pillaging Africa like an old colonial power

China is exploiting Africa’s resources just like European colonisers did, with disastrous effects for the environment, acclaimed primatologist Jane Goodall has told AFP.

Image: wikipedia

On the eve of her 80th birthday, the fiery British wildlife crusader is whizzing across the world giving a series of lectures on the threats to our planet.

And the rising world power’s involvement on the continent especially raises alarms when it comes to her beloved chimpanzees and wildlife habitats.

During the last decade China has been investing heavily in African natural resources, developing mines, oil wells and running related construction companies.

Activists accuse Chinese firms of paying little attention to the environmental impact of their race for resources.

“In Africa, China is merely doing what the colonialist did. They want raw materials for their economic growth, just as the colonialists were going into Africa and taking the natural resources, leaving people poorer,” she told AFP in an interview in Johannesburg.

More from The Raw Story

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Japan extends the Fukushima clean-up deadline to 2017

Plans to decontaminate six towns and villages close to Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant have to be delayed by up to three more years, officials say.

Tanks of radiation-contaminated water are seen at the Tokyo Electric Power Co's (Tepco) tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima prefecture in this file photo released by Kyodo on 1 March 2013
Image: Reuters

The clean-up of the exclusion zone around the crippled plant was initially due to be completed by next March.

More than 90,000 people remain unable to return home.

Fukushima has been hit by a series of toxic water leaks in recent months. The latest contamination was reported on Sunday after unexpectedly heavy rain.

Water with high levels of the toxic isotope Strontium-90 overflowed containment barriers around water tanks, operator Tepco said.

The tanks are being used to store contaminated cooling water from reactors damaged by the earthquake and tsunami of March 2011.

Cooling systems for reactors were knocked out, causing meltdowns at three of them.

More from BBC News Asia

 Posted by Libergirl

Solar Power & Wind Power Now Cheaper Than Coal Power In US

Solar Power & Wind Power Now Cheaper Than Coal Power In US (via Clean Technica)

Originally published on the NRDC website (image added). WASHINGTON — It’s less costly to get electricity from wind turbines and solar panels than coal-fired power plants when climate change costs and other health impacts are factored in, according…

More from The Raw Story via Clean Technica

Posted by The NON-Conformist