Why Donald Trump Could Be the Next President of the United States

Posted on Jul 22, 2016

By Alan Minsky

  Donald Trump called the GOP convention in Cleveland “a tremendous success.” (Dennis Van Tine / STAR MAX / IPx)

This is madness. Fully predictable madness. One archetype of the American experience is now realized. We’ve always had our carnival hucksters and itinerant preachers and snake oil thieves. P.T. Barnum put on a good show. All sought wealth and power.

But never before has one risen so high as Donald J. Trump, with so vast an audience of willing dupes and sleepwalking accomplices—the balance of the liberal establishment included.

The 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland was ground zero to witness this disaster. But before introducing you to its parade of zombies and daemons—lest I be accused of malignant nihilism—here are three things we can’t lose sight of about Trump’s winning the Republican nomination:

1. This is all happening because of rampant disgust with the members of the American political establishment. While their clients (aka donors) grow richer, the middle class is sinking. Simply put, the contemporary “neoliberal” American economy does not allow for the majority of the population to lead comfortable lives. In fact, the opposite is true: More people are falling out of the middle class and into seemingly inescapable debt traps. Trump acknowledges this reality more than the establishment Republicans and promises a different economic path, albeit without providing details. America will remain in a political crisis until this reality changes.

2. No one should have any illusions: The election of Donald Trump would generate a real sense of empowerment for the most reactionary white supremacist forces in our society. Stating this fact does not amount to an endorsement of Hillary Clinton, who has much to answer for herself as a neoliberal at the center of power for decades; but Trump’s ascendancy has revealed how vibrant these terrifying forces remain in American society. No decent people should have any illusions about the real danger a Trump presidency would represent.

3. Donald Trump would be an unmitigated disaster for “Brand America.” This is not a concern of mine politically, but it is certainly important to an American political and economic establishment that operates in, and to a great extent oversees, a globalized world. Trump is the personification of the “ugly American,” and that’s not helpful for the maintenance of the United States’ military empire, or for U.S.-based global corporations. If for no other reason, the political establishment would be expected to rally to Trump’s opponent over these concerns. But in 2016, support from the political establishment can be a kiss of death.

On this point, let’s return to this week’s vertiginous convention. We’ve all been told that Mr. Trump is the candidate of the anti-establishment, and yet if you came to Cleveland expecting to find the Quicken Loans Center overrun with the Duck Dynasty/NASCAR set, you’d be disappointed. In contrast, the delegates on the floor look almost like the same crowd who nominated Mitt Romney in 2012: a preponderance of blue blazers, Laura Ashley summer dresses and a notable lack of Army fatigues. In fact, the most conspicuous alt-culture present was the 10-gallon-hat-wearing, pro-Ted Cruz Texas tribe.

I asked Michael Steele, former Republican National Committee chairman, about this anomaly. Was King Donald’s coronation occurring at a court not of his choosing? Could it be that the makeup of the delegates was a result of Trump’s lack of organization at the state level, and thus those committed to voting for him were the standard longtime Republican Party set?

Steele explained: “Yes, partly. But most of the delegates voting for Trump were hand-selected by the campaign. Still, it’s true that the pool of Trump delegates are diluted because of his lack of organization at the state level. So what you have are a mix of people on the floor, all bound to vote for Trump—some very enthusiastically, some less so.”

On the one hand, the mass media representation of Trump supporters as overwhelmingly semiliterate, white poor and working-class lynch-mob racists is either: a) exaggerated, or b) this group has changed its attire to include Sperry Top-Siders. While one can never overstate the mindlessness of this well-bathed, suburban caste, it is striking to see them endorse a candidate who so frequently expresses contempt for an establishment they so clearly have been born into.

That they would so willingly embrace a candidate whose victory would so badly tarnish the American brand around the world (undoubtedly a bedrock of their own prosperity) is proof of two things about our GOP brethren: 1) America’s prosperous suburban country-club set loves a winner, and 2) as John Nichols, political correspondent for The Nation, pointed out as we stared out together onto the convention floor, “This is an authoritarian party. Its rank and file is expected to fall into line.”

Indeed, Trump’s bluster and erratic (yet always authoritarian) manner perfectly fits linguist George Lakoff’s conception of the Republican brand as hyperpatriarchal, a worldview grounded in “strict father morality.” Not only does Trump parade his well-rehearsed and terrifyingly attractive family at every opportunity, we cannot forget that Trump’s business empire is not publicly traded. It’s a top-down, family-owned fiefdom with The Donald as king. And like any pre-fallen Macbeth or Tennessee Williams’ patriarchal phantasm, the lord of these garish manors is erratic, contradictory and teetering toward a destructive madness—even as the ghosts of his earlier exploits remain well hidden (though expect some to slip into view with the publication of David Cay Johnston’s excellent “The Making of Donald Trump” on Aug. 2).

So as the crowds who attended Trump’s rallies watch their hero call out the betrayal of the white working class from their Velveeta-stained couches, the suburban set populating the convention floor in Cleveland falls in lockstep behind its newer, more patriarchal patriarch because it’s the only thing they know how to do.

Joining them in their sleepwalk are the mainstream media. Upon arrival at the convention, nothing was more striking than the contempt in store for the Fourth Estate. Housed in a parking lot across from the Q Center, media row was janky and claustrophobic. The hospitality resembled that afforded to movie extras. The floor of their parking lot home was uneven, and the makeshift booths of particleboard and Styrofoam all strangely askew. Author Thomas Frank quipped, “This is as phantasmagoric as any German expressionist set.”

While it’s true that the mainstream media burps up undigested objections to the Trump phenomenon, their utter lack of depth provides The Donald sanctuary in their preferred infotainment narrative: Trump as The Star on another reality show. And herein may lie one source of Trump’s success. On balance, reality shows reveal a tawdry world of desperate Americans willing always to walk over each other, stabbing any semblance of solidarity in the back. In this, Trump’s world is much closer to the lives led by the masses of contemporary Americans, whose middle-class aspirations are in free fall, than is the celebrated upward mobility of Hillary’s professional class.

Bernie Sanders, in contrast, not only exposed America’s class imbalances, he also presented policy proposals to rectify them. Unfortunately but predictably (as it’s too early in this era of newly engaged class struggle for the economic powers-that-be to sign onto Sanders’ radical reforms), it was only the nonsense-spewing narcissist tycoon who was able to eviscerate his party’s establishment. After all, Trump has yet to outline his policy proposals in any detail (including in 75 minutes of Mussolini-esque preening on Thursday night). I’m sure the folks at the American Legislative Exchange Council are confident Donald will rely on them when and if the time comes. And they certainly understand that they will continue to control Congress if Trump wins and, thus, be able to stanch any program of economic populism Trump might entertain.

So as we move on to the Democratic convention in Philadelphia, let’s be clear: The great tragedy of the moment is not rooted in the Republican Party’s self-cannibalization. It’s with a Democratic Party that “successfully” suffocated responsible answers to the crises consuming our world. Indeed, as Hillary Clinton’s selection of the milquetoast Tim Kaine as her vice president shows, the Dems have put forward a candidate who embodies an establishment widely recognized as having betrayed the majority of the American public.

All of which leaves us with the very real possibility of President Donald Trump being inaugurated on Jan. 20.

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/why_donald_trump_could_be_the_next_president_of_the_united_states_20160722

THE RISE OF FACEBOOK AND ‘THE OPERATING SYSTEM OF OUR LIVES’

Siva Vaidhyanathan, UVA’s Robertson Professor of Media Studies, is the director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Media and Citizenship.Siva Vaidhyanathan, UVA’s Robertson Professor of Media Studies, is the director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Media and Citizenship. (Photo by Dan Addison)

Recent changes announced by social media giant Facebook have roiled the media community and raised questions about privacy. The company’s updates include a higher level of news feed priority for posts made by friends and family and testing for new end-to-end encryption software inside its messenger service.

As Facebook now boasts more than a billion users worldwide, both of these updates are likely to impact the way the world communicates. Prior to the company’s news-feed algorithm change, a 2016 study from the Pew Research Center found that approximately 44 percent of American adults regularly read news content through Facebook.

UVA Today sat down with Siva Vaidhyanathan, the director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Media and Citizenship and Robertson Professor of Media Studies, to discuss the impact of these changes and the evolving role of Facebook in the world. Naturally, the conversation first aired on Facebook Live.

Excerpts from the conversation and the full video are available below.

Q. What is the change to Facebook’s News Feed?

A. Facebook has announced a different emphasis within its news feed. Now of course, your news feed is much more than news. It’s all of those links and photos and videos that your friends are posting and all of the sites that you’re following. So that could be an interesting combination of your cousin, your coworker, the New York Times and Fox News all streaming through.

A couple of years ago, the folks that run Facebook recognized that Facebook was quickly becoming the leading news source for many millions of Americans, and considering that they have 1.6 billion users around the world, and it’s growing fast, there was a real concern that Facebook should take that responsibility seriously. So one of the things that Facebook did was cut a deal with a number of publishers to be able to load up their content directly from Facebook servers, rather than just link to an original content server. That provided more dependable loading, especially of video, but also faster loading, especially through mobile.

But in recent weeks, Facebook has sort of rolled back on that. They haven’t removed the partnership program that serves up all that content in a quick form, but they’ve made it very clear that their algorithms that generate your news feed will be weighted much more heavily to what your friends are linking to, liking and commenting on, and what you’ve told Facebook over the years you’re interested in.

This has a couple of ramifications. One, it sort of downgrades the project of bringing legitimate news into the forefront by default, but it also makes sure that we are more likely to be rewarded with materials that we’ve already expressed an interest in. We’re much more likely to see material from publications and our friends we reward with links and likes. We’re much more likely to see material linked by friends with whom we have had comment conversations.

This can generate something that we call a “filter bubble.” A gentlemen named Eli Pariser wrote a book called “The Filter Bubble.” It came out in 2011, and the problem he identified has only gotten worse since it came out. Facebook is a prime example of that because Facebook is in the business of giving you reasons to feel good about being on Facebook. Facebook’s incentives are designed to keep you engaged.

Q. How will this change the experience for publishers?

A. The change or the announcement of the change came about because a number of former Facebook employees told stories about how Facebook had guided their decisions to privilege certain things in news feeds that seemed to diminish the content and arguments of conservative media.

Well, Facebook didn’t want that reputation, obviously. Facebook would rather not be mixed up or labeled as a champion of liberal causes over conservative causes in the U.S. That means that Facebook is still going to privilege certain producers of media – those producers of media that have signed contracts with Facebook. The Guardian is one, the New York Times is another. There are dozens of others. Those are still going to be privileged in Facebook’s algorithm, and among the news sources you encounter, you’re more likely to see those news sources than those that have not engaged in a explicit contract with Facebook. So Facebook is making editorial decisions based on their self-interest more than anything, and not necessarily on any sort of political ideology.

Q. You wrote “The Googlization of Everything” in 2011. Since then, have we progressed to the “Facebookization” of everything?

A. I wouldn’t say that it’s the Facebookization of everything – and that’s pretty clumsy anyway. I would make an argument that if you look at five companies that don’t even seem to do the same thing – Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple and Amazon – they’re actually competing in a long game, and it has nothing to do with social media. It has nothing to do with your phone, nothing to do with your computer and nothing to do with the Internet as we know it.

They’re all competing to earn our trust and manage the data flows that they think will soon run through every aspect of our lives – through our watches, through our eyeglasses, through our cars, through our refrigerators, our toasters and our thermostats. So you see companies – all five of these companies from Amazon to Google to Microsoft to Facebook to Apple – are all putting out products and services meant to establish ubiquitous data connections, whether it’s the Apple Watch or the Google self-driving car or whether it’s that weird obelisk that Amazon’s selling us [the Echo] that you can talk to or use to play music and things. These are all part of what I call the “operating system of our lives.”

Facebook is interesting because it’s part of that race. Facebook, like those other companies, is trying to be the company that ultimately manages our lives, in every possible way.

We often hear a phrase called the “Internet of things.” I think that’s a misnomer because what we’re talking about, first of all, is not like the Internet at all. It’s going to be a closed system, not an open system. Secondly, it’s not about things. It’s actually about our bodies. The reason that watches and glasses and cars are important is that they lie on and carry human bodies. What we’re really seeing is the full embeddedness of human bodies and human motion in these data streams and the full connectivity of these data streams to the human body.

So the fact that Facebook is constantly tracking your location, is constantly encouraging you to be in conversation with your friends through it – at every bus stop and subway stop, at every traffic light, even though you’re not supposed to – is a sign that they are doing their best to plug you in constantly. That phenomenon, and it’s not just about Facebook alone, is something that’s really interesting.

Q. What are the implications of that for society?

A. The implications of the emergence of an operating system of our lives are pretty severe. First of all, consider that we will consistently be outsourcing decision-making like “Turn left or turn right?,” “What kind of orange juice to buy?” and “What kind of washing detergent to buy?” All of these decisions will be guided by, if not determined by, contracts that these data companies will be signing with consumer companies.

… We’re accepting short-term convenience, a rather trivial reward, and deferring long-term harms. Those harms include a loss of autonomy, a loss of privacy and perhaps even a loss of dignity at some point. … Right now, what I am concerned about is the notion that we’re all plugging into these data streams and deciding to allow other companies to manage our decisions. We’re letting Facebook manage what we get to see and which friends we get to interact with.

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The Alternative to Fervent Nationalism Isn’t Corporate Liberalism—It’s Social Democracy

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Barack Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton. (Photo: Jim Bourg/Reuters)

In his 1946 essay reviewing former Trotskyist-turned-reactionary James Burnham’s book The Managerial Revolution, George Orwell made several observations that resonate just as powerfully today as they did when they were first published.

“The real question,” he wrote, “is not whether the people who wipe their boots on us during the next fifty years are to be called managers, bureaucrats, or politicians: the question is whether capitalism, now obviously doomed, is to give way to oligarchy or to true democracy.”

Orwell recognized what many today fail to perceive: That free market capitalism is, in the words of Karl Polanyi, a “stark Utopia,” a system that does not exist, and one that would not survive for long if it ever came into existence.

But for Orwell, the question was not how (or whether) the crises of capitalism that rocked both Europe and the United States in the 20th century would be solved — the question was: what would take the place of an economic order that was clearly on its way out?

Read today, his prediction of the world to come emanates prescience.

“For quite fifty years past the general drift has almost certainly been towards oligarchy,” Orwell argued. “The ever-increasing concentration of industrial and financial power; the diminishing importance of the individual capitalist or shareholder, and the growth of the new ‘managerial’ class of scientists, technicians, and bureaucrats; the weakness of the proletariat against the centralised state; the increasing helplessness of small countries against big ones; the decay of representative institutions and the appearance of one-party regimes based on police terrorism, faked plebiscites, etc.: all these things seem to point in the same direction.”

This year has in some ways marked the peak of these trends — trends that are currently being exploited (as they always have been) by both genuine nationalists and political opportunists looking to capitalize on the destabilizing effects of the international economic order.

Globally, the concentration of income at the very top is obscene: As a widely cited Oxfam report notes, 62 people own the same amount of wealth as half of the world’s population. The report also found that as the wealth of the global elite continues to soar, “the wealth of the poorest half of the world’s population has fallen by a trillion dollars since 2010, a drop of 38 percent.”

And such trends have not just inflicted the poorest. The middle class in the United States, for instance, has been steadily eroding over the past several decades in the face of slow growth and stagnant wages. Meanwhile, top CEOs have seen their incomes rise by over 900 percent.

People are reacting. From the rise of Donald Trump and right-wing nationalists throughout Europe to the United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union, people are using the influence they still have to express their contempt for a system that has failed them and their families.

Some of the discontent is undoubtedly motivated by racial animus and anti-immigrant sentiment, both of which have been preyed upon by charlatans across the globe. But it has also been motivated by class antagonism, by a general feeling that economic and political elites are making out like bandits while the public is forced to scramble for an ever-dwindling piece of the pie.

Responses to these developments by apologists for elites and by elites themselves have been varied, but all have had a common core: The United States and Europe are, contrary to popular perception, suffering from too much democracy.

The leash restraining the people, the argument goes, has been excessively loosened, and, consequently, the “ignorant masses” have wreaked havoc. More or less, the proposed solution has been to tighten the leash.

In a recent piece for Foreign Policy, James Traub calls on “elites to rise up against the ignorant masses.” They must put the people in their place with facts and reason, with the decent sense that “the mob” lacks by definition.

Traub’s was perhaps the most explicit and aggressive call to action, and, as he notes in his latest work for the same outlet, he has reaped a storm of criticism.

With a hint of regret, Traub insists that his point was misunderstood. The notion, Traub explains, that “people who take issue with the forces of globalization, whether from the left or the right, should defer to elites” is “repellent.”

This latest piece was, when it was first published, provocatively titled “Liberalism Isn’t Working.” The title has since been altered, but the core point remains: Europe and the United States, Traub argues, are experiencing “the breakdown of the liberal order.”

In Traub’s view, irrationality is prevailing over reason — noticeable in, for instance, popular disdain for “experts” — and illiberal democracy is taking the place of what was previously liberal democracy. Intolerance is replacing tolerance. Those who “can’t stand the way the world is going and want to return to a mythical golden age where women and Mexicans and refugees and gays and atheists didn’t disturb the public with their demands” are defeating those who favor diversity and free thought.

It is heartening to see Traub walk back his elitist war cry, and he is correct that liberalism in its current form — that is to say, corporate liberalism, or neoliberalism — has failed to muster an adequate response to the various crises facing global society.

But this is not because liberals have no desire to do so; it is because their ideological system is utterly bankrupt, divorced from the needs of the masses and subservient to the needs of organized wealth.

Traub notes, perhaps correctly, that President Obama’s “remote, cerebral manner has…whetted the public’s appetite for a snake-oil salesman like Trump.”

More than his “manner,” though, Obama’s ideological bent — largely shared by Hillary Clinton and other corporate Democrats — has left a vacuum into which phony populists like Trump have emerged.

And this is what Traub fails to consider: The alternative to Trumpism is not more smug, corporate liberalism that manages the decline and tempers the expectations of the masses; it is, rather, an ambitious social agenda that utilizes mass politics to create an economic and political order that is responsive to the material needs of the population.

Contrary to the urgent warnings that we are suffering from an excess of democracy, the United States and Europe have for too long been gripped by a democratic deficit.

“If we want to avert the sense of powerlessness among voters that fuels demagogy,” writes Michael Lind, “the answer is not less democracy in America, but more.”

Traub and others like him have succeeded in putting forward critiques of the movements responding to the discontent of the masses, but they have failed to criticize the economic order whose failures have sparked this discontent. As a result, they have failed to offer a compelling alternative to the surging nationalism they profess to fear.

And as Luke Savage notes in a recent piece for Jacobin, the self-styled experts have often done much worse than that.

He points to the fact that “beyond a few largely anecdotal comments about globalization, Traub offers no real analysis of the causes driving the polarization he so detests. In familiar tones, he conflates the populist right and the populist left, and characterizes anti-establishment sentiment as the product of sheer, mindless democratic stupidity.”

In effect, the expert class has — predictably — erased from view the agendas of figures like Bernie Sanders, figures who represent an alternative to both fervent nationalism and neoliberalism.

And far from putting forward radical and unworkable proposals, the ideas on which the Sanders campaign has been based have far-reaching appeal.

Ultimately, Savage concludes, “the real political schism of our time” is “not one between ‘the sane and the mindlessly angry,’ but between democrats and technocratic elites.”

It is, for instance, elite opinion, not public opinion, that stands in the way of the implementation of single-payer healthcare.

Most of the public, furthermore, believes that “major donors sway Congress more than constituents,” but it is elites — including self-styled progressives — who stand in the way of campaign finance reform.

The so-called “ignorant masses” understand that “there is too much power concentrated in the hands of a few big companies,” and that “the government doesn’t do enough for older people, poor people or children.” But it is elites whose entrenched interests undercut any attempt to remedy these trends.

There is, in short, an appetite for social democracy in the United States, but it is elites — economic and political — who stand in the way and insist that such an appetite is the result of excessive imagination.

Conservatives — including Trump — continue to fight unabashedly for the needs of corporate America, while neoliberals like President Obama and Hillary Clinton insist that progressive initiatives must be curbed in the interest of “getting things done.”

But such a commitment to “pragmatism” is, in reality, a lack of commitment to the systemic change necessary in the midst of unprecedented inequality, horrific levels of child poverty, an intolerably high rate of infant mortality, neglected communities, and other crises that require radical action.

Interestingly, in his essay James Traub cites George Orwell as one of the “great exponents” of liberalism and anti-totalitarianism.

But he fails to mention what Orwell, himself, wrote about his own political motivations, which he expressed in his 1946 essay “Why I Write.”

“Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936,” Orwell notes, “has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic Socialism, as I understand it.”

Needless to say, Orwell’s vision was not a hierarchical one that placed technocratic elites and self-proclaimed experts at the helm; it was one that warned of totalitarianism of all forms and proposed a more egalitarian alternative.

By ignoring this — deliberately or otherwise — and by establishing a status quo of austerity, intolerable inequality, environmental degradation, and endless war, elites have fostered the reaction they are now attempting to beat back.

But their proposed alternative is, effectively, more of the same. That, as much of the world’s population recognizes, is not enough.

“It’s not about the EU,” notes Mark Blyth in an assessment of the European economy that applies just as well to the United States. “It’s about the elites. It’s about the 1%. It’s about the fact that your parties that were meant to serve your interests have sold you down the river.”

Corporate Globalization Has Been a Wrecking Ball to the American Dream

LOCAL PEACE ECONOMY
If the American Dream isn’t working for them, why should anyone, anywhere, believe it will work for their own children?

Photo Credit: pixabay.com

This piece originally appeared atLocal Futures.

Implicit in all the rhetoric promoting globalization is the premise that the rest of the world can and should be brought up to the standard of living of the West, and America in particular. For much of the world the American Dream—though a constantly moving target—is globalization’s ultimate endpoint.

But if this is the direction globalization is taking the world, it is worth examining where America itself is headed. A good way to do so is to take a hard look at America’s children, since so many features of the global monoculture have been in place their whole lives. If the American Dream isn’t working for them, why should anyone, anywhere, believe it will work for their own children?

As it turns out, children in the US are far from “confident, self-reliant, tolerant, generous, and future-oriented.” One indication of this is that more than 8.3 million American children and adolescents require psychiatric drugs; over 2 million are on anti-depressants, and another 2 million are on anti-anxiety drugs. The age groups for which these drugs are prescribed is shockingly young: nearly half a million children 0-3 years old are taking drugs to combat anxiety.[1]

Most people in the “less developed” world will find it hard to imagine how a toddler could be so anxiety-ridden that they need psychiatric help. Equally difficult to fathom are many other symptoms of social breakdown among America’s children. Eating disorders, for example: the incidence of anorexia, bulimia and other eating disorders has doubled since the 1960s, and girls are developing these problems at younger and younger ages.[2]

If eating disorders are the bane of America’s young girls, violence is a more common problem for its boys. Consider the fact that there have been more than 150 school shootings in the US since 1990, claiming 165 lives. The youngest killer? A six-year old boy.[3]

Sometimes the violence is directed inward, with suicide the result. In America today, suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year olds. In 2013, 17 percent of US high school students seriously considered suicide during the preceding year.[4]

What has made America’s children so insecure and troubled? A number of causes are surely involved, most of which can be linked to the global economy. For example, as corporations scour the world for bigger subsidies and lower costs, jobs move with them, and families as well: the typical American moves eleven times during their life, repeatedly severing connections with relatives, neighbors and friends.[5]

Within almost every family, the economic pressures on parents systematically rob them of time with even their own children. Americans put in longer hours than workers in any other industrialized country, with many breadwinners working two or more jobs just to make ends meet.[6] Increasing numbers of women are in the workforce, so there are no adults left at home; young children are relegated to day-care centers, while older children are left in the company of video games, the internet, or the corporate sponsors of their favorite television shows. According to a 2010 study of American children, the average 8- to 10-year-old spends nearly eight hours a day with various media; older children and teenagers spend more than 11 hours a day with media. Not surprisingly, time spent in nature—something essential for our well-being—has all but disappeared: only 10 percent of American children spend time outside on a daily basis.[7]

America’s screen-obsessed children no longer have flesh-and-blood role models—parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends and neighbors—to look up to. Instead they have media and advertising images: rakish movie stars and music idols, steroid-enhanced athletes and airbrushed supermodels. Children who strive to emulate the manufactured “perfection” of these role models are left feeling insecure and inadequate. This is one reason cosmetic surgery is on the increase among America’s children. According to the president of the American Academy for Facial Plastic Surgery, “the more consumers are inundated with celebrity images via social media, the more they want to replicate the enhanced, re-touched images that are passed off as reality.” What’s more, he adds, “we are seeing a younger demographic than ever before.”[8]

It seems clear that what is often called ‘American culture’ is no longer a product of the American people: it is instead an artificial consumer culture created and projected by corporate advertising and media. This consumer culture is fundamentally different from the diverse cultures that for millennia were shaped by climate, topography, and the local biota—by a dialogue between humans and the natural world. This is a new phenomenon, something that has never happened before: a culture determined by technological and economic forces, rather than human and ecological needs. It is not surprising that American children, many of whom seem to “have everything,” are so unhappy: like their parents, their teachers and their peers, they have been put on a treadmill that is ever more stressful and competitive, ever more meaningless and lonely.

As the globalization juggernaut continues to advance, the number of victims worldwide is growing exponentially. Millions of children from Mongolia to Patagonia are today targeted by a fanatical and fundamentalist campaign to bring them into the consumer culture. The cost is massive in terms of self-rejection, psychological breakdown and violence. Like American children they are bombarded with sophisticated marketing messages telling them that this brand of make-up will inch them closer to perfection, that this brand of sneakers will make them more like their sports hero. But in the global South—where the ideal is often blue-eyed, blonde, and Western—children are even more vulnerable. It’s no wonder that sales of dangerous bleach to lighten the skin, and contact lenses advertised as “the color of eyes you wish you were born with,” are booming across the South.[9]

This psychological impoverishment is accompanied by a massive rise in material poverty. Even though more than 46 million Americans—nearly 15 percent of the population—live in poverty,[10] globalization aims to replicate the American model of development across the global South. Among the results are the elimination of small farmers and the gutting of rural communities, with hundreds of millions of people drawn into sweatshops or unemployment in rapidly growing urban slums. Meanwhile, many of those whose ways of life are threatened by the forces of globalization are turning to fundamentalism, even terrorism.

The central hope of the American Dream—that our children will have a better life than we do—seems to have vanished. Many people, in fact, no longer believe that our children really have any future at all.

Nonetheless policymakers insist that globalization is bringing a better world for everyone. How can there be such a gap between the cheerleading rhetoric and the lives of real people?

Part of the disconnect results from the way globalization’s promoters measure “progress.” The shallowest definition compares the modern consumer cornucopia with what was available 50 or 100 years ago—as though electronic gadgets and plastic gewgaws are synonymous with happiness and fulfillment. More often the baseline for comparison is the Dickensian period of the early industrial revolution, when exploitation and deprivation, pollution and squalor were rampant. From this starting point, our child-labor laws and 40-hour workweek look like real progress. Similarly, the baseline in the global South is the immediate post-colonial period, with its uprooted cultures, poverty, over-population and political instability. Based on the misery of these contrived starting points, political leaders can argue that our technologies and our economic system have brought a far better world into being, and that globalization will bring similar benefits to the “wretched, servile, fatalistic and intolerant human beings” in the remaining “undeveloped” parts of the world.

In reality, however, globalization is a continuation of a broad process that started with the age of conquest and colonialism in the South and the enclosures and the Industrial Revolution in the North. From then on a single economic system has relentlessly expanded, taking over other cultures, other peoples’ resources and labor. Far from elevating those people from poverty, the globalizing economic system has systematically impoverished them.

If there is to be any hope of a better world, it is vital that we connect the dots between “progress” and poverty. Erasing other cultures—replacing them with an artificial culture created by corporations and the media they control—can only lead to an increase in social breakdown and poverty. Even in the narrowest economic terms, globalization means continuing to rob, rather than enrich, the majority. According to a recent report by Oxfam, the world’s richest 62 people now have more wealth than the poorest half of the global population combined. Their assets have risen by more than $500 million since 2010, while the bottom 3.5 billion people have become poorer by $1 trillion.[11] This is globalization at work.

While globalization systematically widens the gap between rich and poor, attempting in the name of equity to globalize the American standard of living is a fool’s errand. The earth is finite, and global economic activity has already outstripped the planet’s ability to provide resources and absorb wastes. When the average American uses 32 times more resources and produces 32 times more waste than the average resident of the global South, it is a criminal hoax to promise that development can enable everyone to live the American Dream.[12]

The spread of globalization has been profoundly destructive to people’s ability to survive in their own cultures, in their own place on the earth. It has even been destructive to those considered to be its most privileged beneficiaries. Continuing down this corporate-determined path will only lead to further social, psychological and environmental breakdown. Whether they know it or not, America’s children are telling us we need to go in a very different direction.

 

Helena Norberg-Hodge is founder and director of Local Futures (International Society for Ecology and Culture). A pioneer of the “new economy” movement, she has been promoting an economics of personal, social and ecological well-being for more than thirty years. She is the producer and co-director of the award-winning documentary, The Economics of Happiness, and is the author of Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh. She was honored with the Right Livelihood Award for her groundbreaking work in Ladakh, and received the 2012 Goi Peace Prize for contributing to “the revitalization of cultural and biological diversity, and the strengthening of local communities and economies worldwide.”

Steven Gorelick is Managing Programs Director at Local Futures (International Society for Ecology and Culture). He is the author of Small is Beautiful, Big is Subsidized (pdf), co-author of Bringing the Food Economy Home, and co-director of The Economics of Happiness. His writings have been published in The Ecologist and Resurgence magazines. He frequently teaches and speaks on local economics around the US.

http://www.alternet.org/local-peace-economy/how-globalization-impacts-american-dream?akid=14341.265072.CtYp-J&rd=1&src=newsletter1058139&t=8

Facebook, Google and the Tech Companies Bankrolling Hate at the RNC

ECONOMY
Trump has threatened to shut down the open internet. Why aren’t companies divesting from him?

Photo Credit: Khalil Bendib / OtherWords

It’s common for major corporations to sponsor political conventions to buy favor with political parties. But what about when the convention nominates a presidential candidate who’s an out-and-out racist?

That’s a deal breaker, right?

For some big tech companies, apparently not.

Facebook recently announced that it will provide funding and other support for the Donald Trump-led Republican National Convention. And Google will be the event’s official livestream provider via YouTube.

These companies need to find their moral compass and divest from hate.

“Trumped into a Corner,” an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Trump’s violent rhetoric has inflamed a national atmosphere that’s already hostile toward Latino, Muslim, and black communities, as well as women and people with disabilities. He’s called for the mass deportation of undocumented immigrants, promised to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, and vowed to ban all Muslims from entering the United States.

Trump has also incited actual physical violence against people of color, and refused to denounce the white supremacist organizations that openly support him.

If that weren’t enough, Trump’s also threatened to shut down the open internet, censoring the dissident voices standing up against his hate and racism. He’s called for greater surveillance of communities of color, and has encouraged violence against protesters and journalists.

In short, Trump’s campaign isn’t “business as usual”—and corporations shouldn’t treat it as such. That’s why the racial justice group ColorOfChange has launched a campaign called Divest from Hate.

They’re urging major tech companies not to bankroll a platform for hate while Trump continues to incite violence against marginalized communities. Other groups, including my own, have joined the effort to push tech companies to pull their support from the Republican convention, including both direct financial donations and in-kind contributions.

This isn’t about left or right, but right and wrong. People of color make up a large portion of the users of services like YouTube and Facebook. These companies are essentially profiting off the very communities that Trump’s rallying against.

Erin Egan, a Facebook vice president for publicity, claims that the company’s involvement in the convention will “facilitate an open dialogue among voters, candidates, and elected officials.” But throwing a coronation ball for Trump and his white supremacist supporters has nothing to do with democracy.

It’s important to note that these companies have taken stands on other political issues.

Both Google and Facebook recently spoke out against North Carolina’s transphobic “bathroom bill.” And earlier this year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg circulated an internal memo calling out employees who crossed out the words “Black Lives Matter” on the signature wall at the company’s headquarters. He called the behavior “malicious” and “unacceptable.”

Now it’s time for Facebook and Google to take another stand against hate—and to join companies like Coca-Cola, Hewlett-Packard, and Microsoft that have already scaled back or cut their support to the Republican convention.

Lucia Martínez is an organizer with the Free Press Action Fund, a nonpartisan organization that doesn’t support or oppose any candidates for public office.

http://www.alternet.org/economy/facebook-google-tech-funding-trump-rnc?akid=14341.265072.CtYp-J&rd=1&src=newsletter1058139&t=24

Post-Capitalism Utopia Is a Bit of a Farce

WORLD
Technology brings new ways of working, but what has really changed?

Photo Credit: Microsiervos / Flickr Creative Commons

One of Ireland’s thicker politicians recently made the rather bold claim that the country was in danger of becoming “a lawless utopia.” The ditzy comment spurred much head-scratching among the Irish, who tried fruitlessly to square her obvious negative intent with the image of a paradise on earth so wonderful even laws would be obsolete.

After all, most of us, it’s fair to say, would agree that a lawless utopia sounds like a pretty good thing. It’s just that it also sounds… how shall I put this…utopian? Unrealizable? Ultra-idealistic?

Nonetheless, the recent paperback edition of Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future by British journalist Paul Mason got me thinking about lawless utopia again. The book itself was something of a disappointment, with the author offering up such morsels of wisdom as “understand the limits of human willpower” and “attack the problem from all angles,” apparently in ignorance of the fact that you can get this kind of sage advice for free on social media now, alongside perennial favorites like “follow your dreams” and “once you choose hope, anything is possible.” In fact, Postcapitalism reads like one long buzzy LinkedIn post, a collection of a hundred inspirational anecdotes, none of them leading anywhere much.

This created an atmosphere of such utter boredom while reading that the high points for me consisted in a mention of one economist named Slutsky and another named Cockshott (sadly, the constraints of time and space prevented them from ever producing a mutual paper).

But these failings notwithstanding, Mason’s main premise, that information technology will bring with it profound new ways of work and perhaps a new economy—a post-capitalist economy if you will—is an interesting one. Unlike so many others on the political left—and Mason is definitely and unapologetically on the left—he has grasped that a return to the glory days of widespread union membership and workplace solidarity is impossible. People simply do not live and work in the rooted communities of the past—they are more disaggregated, hopping from job to job and city to city, working on contract, freelance or as self-employed “entrepreneurs” of the digital age. At the same time, the scarcity model of economic understanding is at least partially unraveling, with social enterprise and the sharing economy blurring, as the author puts it, the distinction between work and play.

Unfortunately, the insights end there. While Mason views the “networked individual” plugged in to the online community as key to the future, recognizing that not only will we change technology, but that it will change us, he does not pursue this line of philosophy to any particular conclusion. Instead, he uses the final chapter of his book to offer up such simple recipes for change as “nationalize the central bank,” “switch off the neoliberal privatization machine” and “liberate the 1 percent” because “[t]hey become poorer and therefore happier. Because it’s tough being rich.” Naively hopeful doesn’t begin to describe this. Even Jesus went in for a bit more of the carrot and stick when he declared that it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven.

That being said, the idea of economic decentralization is a big one, something we’ve all been vaguely eyeballing for a while now, with a mix of tingling anticipation and anxious trepidation.

In his science-fiction books, Scottish author Iain M. Banks created one of the most spectacular utopias of all time, a society not far off the one Mason seems to be pointing to. This society, known simply as the Culture, was inhabited by what one could term “networked individuals” who live in a perpetual state of awe-inspiring abundance, without central government and free to live life on whatever terms they choose. More to the point, when Banks began writing his Culture novels (the first was published in 1987) few people had cellphones or home computers of any description. Yet Banks envisaged a culture (or Culture) in which all citizens had the potential to connect to each other and to the collective knowledge of their entire society at any given time. It is this connectivity to each other and to the communal knowledge base that Mason also sees as pivotal for the new post-capitalist economy.

At the time of Banks’ death in 2013, smartphones and Wikipedia had ensured that society had come a long way toward looking like the civilization he had foreseen, although it was still lacking a few things on the Culture, and not just the space travel and three-legged aliens. We may be pretty much networked like a utopia, but we do not enjoy either the equality or freedom of one.

So, how to get from the point of transition Mason senses to something more like the wonderland described by Banks?

The key, I believe, lies in creating mechanisms for decentralization while still maintaining quality control. We have seen a certain decentralization of knowledge, as Mason points out, but we need to follow this up with decentralization in other areas of life. Technology is key here, but unlike Mason, I have difficulty in believing that such change is inevitable or that it will occur spontaneously.

Another recent paperback, Digital Gold: The Untold Story of Bitcoin offers an instructive example. Prior to reading, I had been worried that Digital Gold would be a slog of technical details that would force into my mind the unholy knowledge of how Bitcoin actually works. However, it turned out to be a surprisingly easy, and genuinely interesting read.

Although—spoiler alert—the author does tell you how Bitcoin works, the emphasis of the book is on why a digital currency was dreamed up in the first place and the ups and downs of trying to make it a success.

Early Bitcoin collaborators foresaw the coming end of cold, hard cash, and went to some efforts to create a digital equivalent that would allow for anonymous transactions. However, Bitcoin’s political potential went much further than cash replacement. Its manner of production—by harnessing computing power—placed it beyond the control of central banks and governments. Taken to its logical conclusion, this allows money to become a shared resource, instead of something that can be manipulated by a small number of individuals deciding on monetary policy in the form of interest rates, quantitative easing (printing more money) and the like. Bitcoin, when used as creator Satoshi Nakamoto intended, has this decentralization embedded into the very technology—the collective, not the individual, is in charge. When one thinks of the way the LIBOR rate, that is the interest rate banks charge each other, was manipulated in the run up to the 2008 crash, or how credit rating agencies handed out triple-A ratings to what would later become junk bonds, it is all too obvious that our highly centralized financial system has some serious weak points that could potentially be addressed through decentralization, provided that such a system could be adequately secured. The prospects may look at bit dim with Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht sentenced to life without parole for running a drug trading forum that utilized Bitcoin and Mt. Gox Bitcoin exchange owner Mark Karpeles under investigation for embezzlement, but digital cash has taken its share of highs and lows before, and implementation is never a linear process.

Another mode of possible decentralization runs through the media, with products like Twitter allowing users to bypass the centralized output of CNN, Fox News, and the like. New forms of journalism like the Backfeed Magazine are working to use similar algorithms to Bitcoin to harness the hivemind in adjudging the value of journalism and rewarding risk-takers who make major contributions. The idea is to put it all out there, but curate top stories based not on shallow feedback like views or comments but perceptions of value added. In other words, say good-bye to clickbait. It’s freedom to the highest common denominator, not the lowest, for a change.

In similar fashion, decentralized decision-making has received a massive boost through online technology that allows large groups of people to debate and decide on political issues collectively in a way that logistics would make impossible in the “real” physical world. Let’s face it, no utopia can really be lawless—even Banks’ Culture had its methods of norm enforcement—but mass digital decision-making—something that is already entirely possible—lets those laws be in the interests of the majority instead of the so-called elites.

While those elites are hardly likely to disempower themselves, however often Paul Mason may try to sell them on the benefits of the simple life, it is still possible to harness technology in ways that work against them. The same breakthroughs that enable NSA spying also allow average people to work together like never before, bypassing traditional hierarchies. Mason and the Bitcoin collaborators—and even that dumb Irish lady—are right about one thing: however dark things may look, this is, at least, an interesting time to be alive. The hoverboard may have been a disappointment—notable, indeed, for its complete lack of hovering—but I still have hopes of driving a flying carsomeday. I’d just rather not be flying it over an endless slum.

And therein lies the thorny issue of knitting together technological and societal progress. I highly doubt that even marginal positive changes to our society will be induced purely via the wonderful ways of technology, which has the ability both to centralize and de-centralize, to empower and enslave, and is thus, unto itself, a double-edged sword. However, I remain hopeful that, given some of the emerging tools, we don’t need to be constrained by superficial ideas of what a decent future could look like. The Jetsons may have left us all with a lingering feeling that flying car stage represented the pinnacle of societal achievement, but life’s a bit more complicated. What we really need to focus on is how we can leverage some of these technological developments to shift traditional power balances. Concrete actions rather than wishful predictions are called for. That is a tall order, but there are some promising options for radical change out there, and it we play our cards right, the future needn’t be dismal; compared to our current situation, it may even feel a little bit like utopia.

Dr. Roslyn Fuller is a research associate at Waterford Institute of Technology and has lectured in International Law at Trinity College, Dublin and National University of Ireland, Maynooth. She is also legal correspondent for Russia Today.