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Political labels such as ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ are increasingly misleading. Twisted out of shape to serve as badges of honour and/or terms of abuse, they have become ‘thinking traps’ rather than useful distinctions. Our political discourse has become so blinkered that these terms are now a mockery of what they were originally intended to convey - sometimes even their essential opposite.
For example, there are an increasing number of ‘liberals’ who appear to have completely lost touch with the meaning of ‘liberty’; to the point where all forms of diversity are promoted except the diversity of ideas – ‘we will not tolerate intolerance’. On the other hand, we have politicians such as the increasingly insane John McCain, who calls himself a ‘conservative’, when it is abundantly clear that he wants to set fire to the world in order to ‘save’ it. These labels give an unwarranted credibility to the muddled and often bankrupt intellects that wear them – they mask the ignorance.
If I may segue into truculence for a moment…if you imagine that people who disagree with your political views are wicked fascists who should bow to your idea of social justice – you are not a ‘liberal’…you’re an ‘idiot’. If you hallucinate that other sovereign states need to be re-educated and brought into line with traditional western values – you’re an ‘idiot’…not a ‘conservative’. There you go…you've finally found something in common…
Human beings are mammals. We need to get around in order to survive, so we have to figure out what’s what. When we are very young, we spend most of our time mapping out what’s what – we call it ‘play’. As we grow in confidence in these maps we gradually switch to telling the rest of the world what’s what. Some of us do this earlier than others, some with greater conviction, and some become so enamoured of ‘telling’ that they make a career of lecturing others on what’s what even in the course of a conversation. These are the biggest idiots of all…but let’s leave Larry Summers out of it…
Instead of telling the rest of the world ‘This is who we are, this is the way it should be’, maybe we could ask ourselves some questions: ‘What does the world think of us?’ ‘What are we up to here…really?’ Asking ourselves questions instead of pretending we already know everything might provide maps with richer distinctions than liberal/conservative, good/bad, and left/right.
I’m going to take a look at two questions that may shed some light:
Q1. HOW ARE WE INTERACTING WITH EACH OTHER AND THE REST OF THE WORLD?
For this I've looked at data from the Global Peace Index (GPI), a report that is produced annually by The Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) - a think tank based in Sydney, Australia. The full report is available here:
Some feedback from the GPI 2017:
a) The ten most peaceful nations, in descending order, were: Iceland, New Zealand, Portugal, Austria, Denmark, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Canada, Switzerland, Ireland/Japan
b) The ten least peaceful nations, in descending order (numbers 154-163), were: Ukraine, Central Africa Republic, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, South Sudan, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria
c) Others included: Australia at 12, Germany at 16, Spain at 23, Italy at 38, UK at 41, France at 51, United States at 114, China at 116, Russia at 151
d) The global economic impact of violence was $14.3 trillion PPP in 2016, equivalent to 12.6 per cent of global GDP, or $1,953 per person
e) The least peaceful countries in the world disproportionately suffer economically from the levels of violence they experience. The average cost of violence was equivalent to 37 per cent of GDP in the ten least peaceful countries, compared to only three per cent in the ten most peaceful. The three least peaceful - Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan incurred the largest cost of violence as a percentage of their GDP at 67, 58 and 52 per cent of GDP, respectively
f) The largest regional deteriorations in the score were in North America, followed by sub-Saharan Africa and MENA (Middle East North Africa). North America deteriorated due to the US’s score worsening in intensity of organised internal conflict and level of perceived criminality in society
g) In Low-Peace environments, the factors that matter the most are related to Well-Functioning Government, Low Levels of Corruption, Acceptance of the Rights of Others and Good Relations with Neighbours. In these settings, security and rule of law are the most important factors within the Well-Functioning Government Pillar
h) Low Levels of Corruption is the only Pillar that is strongly significant across all three levels of peacefulness. This suggests it is an important transformational factor at all stages of nations’ development
i) Four of the eight Pillars of Peace deteriorated in Europe over the past ten years. In order of average deterioration these Pillars are Free Flow of Information, Low Levels of Corruption, Acceptance of the Rights of Others and Well-Functioning Government
j) The largest deterioration was in the Free Flow of Information Pillar, which reflected the deteriorations in freedom of the press. Greece, Turkey and Hungary deteriorated the most on this indicator. The rest of the world in fact improved on Free Flow of Information while 23 European countries went backwards
Some personal observations on the GPI 2017 data:
1. The most peaceful places in the world have non-interventionist foreign policies
2. Of the ten least peaceful countries, 4 have seen recent military intervention from my country, the UK, in alliance with the US. Of these, Afghanistan is now the longest war in US history. Iraq and Libya have been successful targets of regime change. Syria is currently under attack from the west and its Jihadi proxies, and would have fallen but for the intervention of Russia, itself no stranger to foreign intervention. A fifth country, Yemen is currently undergoing an extended bombing campaign, and an attempt to starve its population into submission by our long-standing ally Saudi Arabia, a state which gets its arms primarily from the US and the UK. A sixth country, Ukraine, was previously the target of a successful effort by the CIA and US NGOs to destabilise and remove an elected head of state sympathetic to Russia
3. In Europe, the two most aggressive military states, the UK and France can only manage to reach numbers 41 and 51 respectively, whilst our non interventionist neighbour Germany reaches number 16
4. In North America the contrast is even more stark with the US at 114, living next door to Canada at 7
5. Ergo, it seems abundantly clear that there is a correlation between violence at home and military intervention overseas
6. The global cost of violence in 2016 was $14.3 trillion. In May 2017, the combined balance sheets of the Fed, the ECB, BOJ, and PBOC were $18.5 trillion:
Whilst some would perhaps dispute any notion of causation or even correlation, personally I think only someone who qualifies as an ‘intuition free zone’ would fail to sense the existence of a vicious cycle: the more indebted the world becomes, the more violent the world becomes, the more resources the violence eats up, the more indebted the world becomes…
7. The military interventions that have occurred in the Middle East over the past 15 years have been launched by the ‘conservative’ administrations of George Bush and David Cameron, and the ‘liberal’ administrations of Barack Obama and Tony Blair. Whether the governing philosophy happens to be ‘neoconservative’ or ‘liberal interventionist’, the effects are the same…as are the banking, defence and energy corporations who reap the benefits of state sponsored violence
8. The most common factors across peaceful societies: Well-Functioning Government, Low Levels of Corruption, Acceptance of the Rights of Others and Good Relations with Neighbours were deteriorating in states that have experienced what the media calls ‘the rise of populism’…. prior to the rise of populism. Unsurprisingly, populist movements in the US, UK, France and elsewhere have focused on the themes of governmental corruption, infringement of citizens rights, and the state’s relationship with its neighbours as key planks in their campaigns and their rhetoric. However, neither the established elites, nor the mainstream media appear to have heard the penny or the cent drop in this regard
Q2. HOW MUCH TRUST DO WE HAVE IN OUR OWN INSTITUTIONS?
Firstly - data from a Gallup survey on attitudes towards different economic sectors, carried out in August 2016:
Participants were asked the following question in relation to 25 sectors of the US economy, including the Federal government:
“For each of the following business sectors in the United States, please say whether your overall view of it is very positive, somewhat positive, neutral, somewhat negative, or very negative?”
a) The three most trusted sectors were the restaurant industry with a net score of 59%, the computer industry with 53%, and the grocery industry with 36%
b) The lowest positive score was Banking with 2%
c) Advertising/PR scored neutral
d) There were five negative scores. In descending order (from 21 to 25) these were: Oil and gas -7%, Legal -8%, Healthcare -20%, Pharmaceutical -23%, The Federal Government -27%
Secondly – from a Gallup study in September 2015, focussed specifically upon attitudes towards Congress:
e) 52% of respondents said that most members of Congress are corrupt
f) 69% said that most are focused on the needs of special interests rather than the needs of their constituents
g) 79% said that most members of Congress are generally ‘out of touch with average Americans’
h) Summary: “Majorities of Americans view most members of Congress as corrupt, beholden to special interests and out of touch. This is not new and perhaps not even surprising, given the low esteem in which Americans hold the institution. But this cynicism is beginning to influence Americans' views of their own federal representatives, not just the national legislature. Record or near-record numbers of U.S. adults say their local representative is out of touch and focused on serving special interests rather than their constituents”
Thirdly, from an article entitled ‘Americans want more than just budget cuts’ by Frank Newport, Gallup Editor in Chief, published on June 7th 2017:
“When we delve into it, we see that Americans are extraordinarily negative about one specific aspect of the federal government: their elected representatives in Congress. This echoes across a wide variety of measures, and the more Americans know about Congress, the more negative they are. The people just don't think the legislative system is working well. Americans think that Congress is corrupt and not focused on the interests of the people. They want their representatives to compromise rather than rigidly stick to principles.
Americans would clearly support efforts to reform or reinvent Congress and the way it works more than - or as much as - they might support big cuts in governmental departments and agencies…
…There are not only the deep traditional divisions between Republicans and Democrats in Congress, but there are also fissures within the ranks of the Republicans themselves - so entrenched that one former Republican Senate committee staff director called them ‘almost theological’.
But the current budget situation, in theory, can actually provide an unusually positive opportunity for Congress to attempt to resurrect its image. If Congress can debate and discuss the budget in a rational and non-confrontational way, it could help repair its tarnished and extraordinarily negative image. And, in the process, Congress could shed light on - and provide informed insight into - one of the most important and unresolved elements of American public opinion today: the appropriate role of government in Americans' daily lives”.
SUMMARY OF MY PERSONAL OBSERVATIONS:
1. Political: It is clear that the old dividing lines of ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ are not addressing the conflicts that are surfacing in western democracies. In the US there are growing fissures between rich & poor, old & young, rural & urban, coastal & central, all accompanied by a progressive diminution of the middle class. The old labels, the old politics, particularly in the new ‘Frankensteinian’ versions I described earlier, are part of the problem itself.
The divisions in Europe have been exacerbated by the influx of millions of refugees and economic migrants displaced by US, UK and French wars in the Middle East. The response of the political class to the electoral backlash of 'populism' has been to double down and close ranks. The strategy of trying to demonise 'populism' rather than understand its causes is fuelling divisions not healing them.
In the US a growing number of people are disgusted with the behaviour and performance of their politicians, but the political class itself seems incapable of self-reflection - there are no mirrors on Capitol Hill
2. Economic: The fall out from the financial crisis of 2007/08 is still working its way through the system. The manner in which it was dealt with: providing bailouts to the perpetrators and beneficiaries, presenting the bill to the taxpayer…is still festering. The subsequent monetary ‘medicine’ provided to the financial system in the form of QE and ZIRP has made the ‘disease’ worse, and set up a syndrome not dissimilar to alcoholism or drug dependency – the patient must have another dose to prevent the onset of withdrawal symptoms, yet each new dose makes the problem worse. This ‘financialisation’ of the economy has eroded the free market mechanism of capital allocation, which in turn has accelerated the decline of the real economy: people ‘making and doing stuff’
In short, and despite manicured statistics to the contrary – the west is undergoing a second great depression. As defined by JM Keynes in the General Theory: “a chronic condition of subnormal activity for a considerable period without any marked tendency towards recovery or towards complete collapse”. The difference in the 21st Century is that soup lines have been replaced by food stamps.
3. The combination of political and economic: The corruption at the heart of both systems is helping to fuel civil unrest, manifesting on the surface as a clash between 'conservatives' and 'liberals' - the ‘fascists’ and the ‘resistance’. The most tawdry members of the political class are fanning the flames, including Trump himself along with the modern day Marie Antoinette known as Hillary Clinton. The longer term and deeper causes will continue to be overlooked and/or denied by many observers. Why? In a complex system, causation is not necessarily apparent to the mechanistic thinkers predominant in economics, and though some of the financial & political insiders have a better idea of what is unfolding…they would rather not be held accountable…what a shocker…
4. Military: The havoc that we have sown in the Middle East is coming home to roost - exacerbating the domestic fissures already described. This is manifesting in the form of Islamic Jihadism, funded and exported from the Gulf States, primarily the ‘marriage of convenience’ between the ruling family oil business and Wahhabi religious cult, which is known as Saudi Arabia. The military-industrial-intelligence complex (MIIC) sometimes referred to as ‘the deep state’ has chosen its side in the ancient conflicts being played out in the Middle East. Our interventions have little to do with the humanitarian narrative we hear from the politicians. This is about ‘power’ and ‘control’. It appears to be shaping up as an alliance of the US/UK, Israel and Saudi Arabia, acting substantially through Jihadist proxies, on one side of the board…Russia, Iran, Syria & the Shi’ite militant group Hezbollah on the other.
The overwhelmingly hypocritical noises coming out of the Trump administration in casting the Saudis as ‘allies against terror’ whilst labelling the Iranians as the ‘main source of international terrorism’ is leading us closer to a major war. He knows full well, as they all do, that 9-11 and the terrorist atrocities in Europe and the US, have been carried out by Sunni Jihadists, either from or with strong connections to Saudi Arabia. The Shi'ite Hezbollah is at war with the Israelis; they are not the ones travelling to Europe and the US in order to massacre the ‘crusaders’.
Personally I don’t think the impetus against Russia and Iran is coming from Trump himself, but since he has chosen to pander to the MIIC by putting a bunch of Russian hating generals in charge, and since they are just about the only people not trying to impeach him right now, the orange adolescent in the White House has retreated to his room to play Twitter, whilst the big swinging dickheads carry on running the show. Whatever, Putin will not stand by whilst we replace a friendly Syrian regime which hosts Russia’s only Mediterranean naval base…with warring jihadi groups in a re-run of Libya.
For anyone who finds it almost impossible to believe that the US would be so utterly deranged as to attack Iran, or directly confront Russia…please take a look at the following article by Adrienne Mahsa Varkiani entitled “Tillerson Calls For Regime Change In Iran”. It contains a short embedded video of Rex Tillerson on C-SPAN confirming the point made in the title of the article - in answer to a question from Congressman Ted Poe in the House Foreign Affairs Committee:
“That’s another fine mess you’ve gotten me into” - Oliver Hardy to his companion Stan Laurel
There are no straightforward fixes for the fine mess that we’ve gotten ourselves into:
1. If you change one thing in a complex system of this magnitude and instability, depending on its state at that moment, very little can happen, or all hell can break loose
2. Describing an ideal outcome is one thing, but then there is the slight problem of ‘getting there’, made all the more tricky by the uncertainty inherent in point 1
3. Any solution that does not involve the involvement and consent of ‘we the people’ will not address the core issue: the shots are being called by gangs of corrupt, self-serving and largely unelected people that we have no control over
4. The gangs mentioned at point three will not go quietly...
However, sitting on our hands would put us in the same league as the idiots in Washington, London and Brussels...so...if you define the problem as being the existence of a corrupt system, controlled by unelected 'gangs' of special interests... as I do… and if you assess that this system is heading for a collapse due to:
a) A corrupt monetary system
b) A corrupt governmental system
c) Disastrous foreign policy interventions
…as I do…then there are certain things that need to be addressed:
a) Monetary Reform
1. Reset and reform the global monetary system. A new global reserve is inevitable - the question is when? I.E. Before or after a collapse. There are options that include a reset using gold, or a basket of currencies and/or commodities. The process should be overseen by a new ‘fair witness’ chosen by the G20 - it should not be the IMF, which is a highly political organisation with a track record of shady deals and ‘looking the other way’
2. Reinstate Glass-Steagall - put a wall between deposits and all forms of investment banking and 'casino' type activities
3. Break up the TB2F banks – if you are too big to fail, you are too big to exist. Complete the job that creative destruction started before Bernanke and Paulson panicked and threw Main Street under the bus in order to save Wall Street
4. Scrap the micro-management regulations, such as Dodd Frank, which were created in an attempt to replace ‘consequences’ with ‘policing’. If you get the consequential framework right (AKA 'the rule of law'), you do not need the control-freakery. The deal needs to be: “If you go down, you go down. If you break the law, you go to jail. No more bailouts, no more moral hazard, no more bribes (AKA 'fines')"
5. Abolish the Federal Reserve. Replace it with an organisation that reflects the Fed’s original mandate – a lender of last resort to commercial banks only - against sound commercial paper, at rates marked to market, not marked to fantasy. No more back-door monetisation of sovereign debt. The new organisation should be ‘owned’ by the people, and should be answerable to a reformed Congress (see below) – not the banks
b) Governmental Reform
6. Introduce Congressional term limits – abolish jobs for life
7. Reform gerrymandered boundaries
8. Clean up campaign finance and the cess pit on K Street
9. Bring the resolution of financial crime out from the ‘boys club’ fines it has descended into, and place it back where it belongs – in the criminal justice system. In that respect the Justice Secretary and the Attorney General need to clean up the court system in New York, which is rotten to the core - it rarely, if ever, rules against the banks
10. Close the revolving doors that exist between the government regulators, the ratings agencies and the banks (do the same with the Pentagon and the ‘defence’ industry)
c) Foreign Policy Reform
11. Commence an immediate rapprochement with Russia. Commence a joint approach to Islamic Jihadism. Reinstate the nuclear treaties and full trading arrangements. Cease NATO expansion towards Russian borders and refocus NATO on the extant threat - Jihadi terrorism
12. Create a much closer and co-operative relationship with China, new Asian and BRICS trading arrangements, and take an active role in the development of the new silk road
13. Get out of the regime change business, and stop selling arms to states that fund terrorism
14. Review and reduce the hundreds of US military bases scattered across the globe. Some 25% of the existing bases perform no function whatsoever, as admitted by the Defence Department. Even Mad Dog McCain says ‘we should look at it’:
The most difficult item on this list, and the most dangerous to embark upon, is one I have left to last:
15. Clean up the Pentagon and the 17 so called ‘intelligence’ agencies that are responsible for egregious activities on US soil and abroad, in contravention of the Bill of Rights and International Law.
The truth is, I don’t know how to clean up an organisation like the CIA...that lies for a living, kills without recourse to the justice system, has the skinny on everyone that breathes, has veto over large proportions of the media, has the software to place 'false flags', and can break a reputation without breaking a sweat. Here's what I do know:
Donald Trump is a bloody-minded alpha, who arrived in Washington on a promise to 'drain the swamp', talk to Russia and get out of the regime change business; a guy who acknowledged what anyone paying attention already knew - Saudi Arabia funds terrorism. Less than 100 days later he's bombing Syria and a few weeks after that he's gazing into a glowing orb and posing for a photo with Saruman. You may find this difficult to believe but Trump is not that stupid - he is however, extremely vulnerable. I suspect he's been persuaded.
But...if we had an honest, incorruptible human in the White House...where would they find an person able to take on and reform the most formidable 'gang' in the US? Someone who knows how the game works but is not compromised by relationships with skunks like Cheney. Maybe some tough old marine with a rebellious streak like General Darlington Smedley-Butler was 80 years ago? The US has a history of old soldiers who warned about the tyranny of the 'deep state'. I have quoted Eisenhower on a number of occasions, as I have Smedley-Butler.
If you have any thoughts on this, please send them to me.
I’ll leave you with the words of another cantankerous old bird - a contemporary of Eisenhower who didn't shirk from giving President Truman a hard time - General Douglas MacArthur. The following two comments are as true today as they were when he uttered them over half a century ago:
"Our government has kept us in a perpetual state of fear - kept us in a continuous stampede of patriotic fervour - with the cry of grave national emergency. Always there has been some terrible evil at home or some monstrous foreign power that was going to gobble us up if we did not blindly rally behind it by furnishing the exorbitant funds demanded"
“Talk of imminent threat to our national security through the application of external force is pure nonsense. Our threat is from the insidious forces working from within which have already so drastically altered the character of our free institutions - those institutions we proudly called the American way of life”
I have been asked by a number of people if it’s OK to provide links to my blog, or forward a piece on to others. I am delighted if people choose to pass things on. So, yes - share stuff as and when you see fit. Thanks.
Best wishes, MarkGB