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Journalist masterfully dissects the dishonesty and narcissism inherent in nearly all Christian theological work

No historical figure has been as manipulated, distorted and used for nefarious and self-serving ends as egregiously as Jesus Christ. Jesus has been trotted out over the past two millennia to justify a litany of evils including the Crusades, the Inquisition, the European conquest and genocide of the native peoples of the Americas, Puritan witch trials and the burning of heretics, slavery, the subjugation of women, the persecution of homosexuals, and, in the latest iteration, the endless wars in the Middle East. Since there is so little known historically about Jesus, he is infinitely malleable. Every generation, and every brand of Christianity, has, for this reason, produced a Jesus in its own image. When I was a student at Harvard Divinity School, we read the German theologian Rudolf Bultmann, who, heavily influenced by Martin Heidegger, was an existentialist, and who, of course, turned Jesus into an existentialist.

This article originally appeared on ScheerPost.

The liberal church is as infected with this disease as right-wing Christians who have twisted Jesus into a Rambo-like white, male messiah for American capitalism, American imperialism, white supremacy and patriarchy. And it is this dishonesty and narcissism, inherent in nearly all Christian theological work, that Ariel Sabar masterfully dissects in his book "Veritas: A Harvard Professor, A Con Man and the Gospel of Jesus's Wife."

Karen King, a professor at Harvard Divinity School, made a startling announcement in September 2012 at a conference in Rome. She had obtained, she told the gathering, a second-century papyrus fragment with a text suggesting that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and that she was considered one of the disciples. King called the fragment, the size of a business card, "The Gospel of Jesus's Wife," a clever marketing ploy, especially since it was impossible to know where the text, which turned out to be a crude forgery, came from. Even if it was real, it could have been nothing more than a tiny scrap of paper rolled up and worn in an amulet. But King, if nothing else, was media savvy, and "The Gospel of Jesus's Wife" catapulted her "discovery" to international fame.

She had already gotten a taste of popular acclaim, hitching herself to Dan Brown's 2003 novel "The Da Vinci Code," which was to Biblical scholarship what Raiders of the Lost Ark was to archeology. In the novel Brown makes Mary Magdalene the wife of Jesus, pregnant with Christ's child when he was crucified. "The Da Vinci Code" was only a few degrees separated from the claims made by scholars like King, who published her book "The Gospel of Mary Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle" the same year as Brown's novel. She instantly became a ubiquitous media presence, defending the novel despite its numerous Biblical and historical inaccuracies. "She appeared in cover stories about the book in Time, Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report and became a regular on Code-themed TV specials, on ABC's Primetime, NBC's Dateline and CNN Presents," Sabar writes in "Veritas." In some of these media appearances she was joined by Brown. In the movie version, starring Tom Hanks, King is listed as a "consultant." The novel transformed King from "a scholar whose intellectual passions had been confined to classrooms, academic tracts and the occasional church into a best-selling author with live audiences of hundreds and a television viewership of millions." "The Gospel of Jesus's Wife" returned her to the epicenter of popular culture and the mass media.

King has spent her career championing the idea that Mary Magdalene and women in the early church played a prominent role in Jesus' ministry. She is a scholar of gnostic texts, texts from the second to fourth centuries that did not make it into the church-approved canon. The Gnostics were condemned as heretics by the early church and their writings were banned. The Gnostics believed that an elect group of believers, themselves, had been given a secret knowledge—the Greek word gnosis means knowledge of spiritual mysteries—about the divine status of human beings that was obscured by the Old Testament and revealed to them by Jesus, who was regarded as an illuminator rather than the resurrected savior.

The Gnostics were, as Sabar writes, "socially estranged, more open to women, less violent, more centered on the self," a belief system that catered to the inwardly-focused zeitgeist of America's consumer society. It appears from the fragments of the Gnostic texts that the sect included female leadership, something King explored, although often through very liberal interpretation, in "The Gospel of Mary Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle."

King, as Sabar writes, "placed a heavy burden on the Gospel of Mary. It didn't matter that more than half of its pages were missing, obscuring its ultimate meanings. It didn't matter that most scholars saw it as too late to compete with the canon. King, who titled her book The Gospel of Mary Magdala, even though the gospel nowhere identifies its 'Mary' as Magdalene, wanted the text to say things—and be things—that the available facts didn't always support. In many fields, an incomplete one-of-a-kind data point might deter a scholar from making sweeping generalizations. But King went in precisely the opposite direction. She not only built 'the history of Christianity' atop the discontinuous surviving nine pages of a single text; she called its portrait of the faith's first centuries 'in a number of respects more historically accurate than that of the master story."

From the beginning King obscured the origins of the fragment. She refused to disclose the identity of the donor. She did not show the scholars at the conference in Rome photographs of the text, as is customary in academic conferences. She worked with the Smithsonian Channel to produce a documentary before the papyrus was analyzed and vetted. She eventually turned to close friends who lacked expertise to test the papyrus and authenticate the text. She openly dismissed the need for scientific testing, telling Sabar that chemical tests were "not usually done and not relevant." Carbon dating, she said, "was too imprecise" and multispectral analysis—the imaging technique that can help identify erased or overwritten text—"wasn't going to show anything."

Her disdain for science and fact is only rivaled by the Christian right, which has also fallen prey to forgers. The billionaire evangelical owners of the Hobby Lobby, for example, have spent millions buying up Biblical artifacts to prove "the absolute authority and reliability of the Bible." It is the flip side of King's interpretation of the Bible. They were duped into buying fake Dead Sea Scroll fragments and a forged text, supposedly from Leviticus, condemning homosexuality.

When King's claims were peer reviewed by two expert Coptic papyrologists in the Harvard Theological Review, they warned that the fragment was probably a fake. King used her clout with the publication to publish her findings without their critiques, leaning instead on one positive review by a friend who did not specialize in early Coptic Christian literature. Harvard University and The Harvard Theological Review, it turned out, were not immune to the media frenzy and the obfuscations needed to perpetuate it.

Sabar's dogged reporting uncovered not only King's numerous schemes to pass the forgery off as real, but the identity of the forger, a German expatriate living in Florida named Walter Fritz who had a fake Egyptology degree, was a former director of the Stasi Museum in East Germany, and produced online pornographic videos of his wife having sex with multiple other men. The tissue of lies and deceit, from the hands of the forger up the chain to King and Harvard Divinity School, is staggering.

Perhaps most disturbing is King's apparent indifference to the truth, even once the text was unmasked as a forgery. She told Sabar she was "not particularly" interested in what he had uncovered, and that she did not realize that an object's past could be studied.

"How could a historian, one at Harvard no less, have failed to see provenance as a subject to investigation?" Sabar asks. "Provenance, after all, was nothing more than history—King's own scholarly discipline."

King, like many academics, is infected with the disease of postmodernism. To them, there is no discernable, objective truth. Truth is a language game. It is determined by those who tell the best story. History is, they argue, a form of fiction. Facts, along with linear time, do not matter as long as the story told feels true and relevant.

History, King writes, "is not about truth but about power relations." She argues that historians must abandon "the association between truth and chronology." She calls for "reconceptualizing the Western construction of time" and sees history as "discontinuous and unpatterned." History, she writes, "is not serious, real or true." History, she insists, is about "enlarging one's imaginative universe" and never saying "no to a story, a song, a poem that gives life, heartens, teaches, or consoles, and need never fail to call it true." She calls facts "little tyrannies." Those bound by facts, she writes, are constricted by "fact fundamentalism." She even concedes that Jesus's marital status is finally unknowable, but also says this is irrelevant. As Sabar points out about King and the postmodernists, "a thing is true not if it is real; it is true if—in King's estimation—it was a moral good."

"In this view, every historical account—every piece of writing, for that matter—was a kind of stealthy sales pitch, a self-serving tale that promoted the interests of a particular individual or group," Sabar writes. "The same held for reading. Whether Mary Magdalene was a prostitute or an apostle, for instance, turned less on 'what happened' than on which camp—pro-sinner or pro-saint—best publicized its interpretation."

Sabar hits on something very important, the corruption and dishonesty of postmodern scholarship, the deforming of fact and history to serve ideologies and beliefs. King is a product of a collective of liberal, postmodern theologians known as the Jesus Seminar, which routinely sacrificed serious scholarship to advance a liberal interpretation of the Christian gospels, making them no different from the owners of the Hobby Lobby. The group dismisses most of the sayings of Jesus in the Gospels as invented, writes off the entire Gospel of John as fiction and does not believe in miracles or the resurrection. But to advance the cause of feminism, it twisted itself into contortions to assert that the scene at the end of the Gospel of John, where Mary witnesses the resurrected Jesus, is a real-life version of an actual historical event.

"A group that set out to tell the public what Jesus really said and did had decided that a vision in a book it called false could be the basis for the reality of Magdalene's witness to a resurrection that never happened," Sabar writes.

A society that severs itself from discourse rooted in verifiable fact commits moral and intellectual suicide. Facts become indistinguishable from opinions. This war on truth, on science and on fact, whether from the liberal postmodern elites or the right-wing Christian fascists, widens the social divides. Believers on each side of the divide can no longer communicate. A culture that disdains truth and fact rapidly calcifies and dies. It bifurcates, as I saw in the former Yugoslavia, into antagonistic warring tribes. This severance from reality fuels hate and finally violence. Competing demographics expend their energy demonizing the other. This is the most important lesson in Sabar's meticulous study of the dishonesty and moral corruption that is eating away at the heart of America. That this story was set at Harvard Divinity School is not surprising to those of us who have watched the liberal church fold in on itself and orchestrate its own irrelevance. It would be comforting if King was an anomaly. Unfortunately, she is not.

The return of the Taliban is a headlight on the end of America's empire — and no one will be held accountable

The debacle in Afghanistan, which will unravel into chaos with lightning speed over the next few weeks and ensure the return of the Taliban to power, is one more signpost of the end of the American empire. The two decades of combat, the one trillion dollars we spent, the 100,000 troops deployed to subdue Afghanistan, the high-tech gadgets, artificial intelligence, cyberwarfare, Reaper drones armed with Hellfire missiles and GBU-30 bombs and the Global Hawk drones with high-resolution cameras, Special Operations Command composed of elite rangers, SEALs and air commandos, black sites, torture, electronic surveillance, satellites, attack aircraft, mercenary armies, infusions of millions of dollars to buy off and bribe the local elites and train an Afghan army of 350,000 that has never exhibited the will to fight, failed to defeat a guerrilla army of 60,000 that funded itself through opium production and extortion in one of the poorest countries on earth.

This article originally appeared on ScheerPost.com.

Like any empire in terminal decay, no one will be held accountable for the debacle or for the other debacles in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Yemen or anywhere else. Not the generals. Not the politicians. Not the CIA and intelligence agencies. Not the diplomats. Not the obsequious courtiers in the press who serve as cheerleaders for war. Not the compliant academics and area specialists. Not the defense industry. Empires at the end are collective suicide machines. The military becomes in late empire unmanageable, unaccountable, and endlessly self-perpetuating, no matter how many fiascos, blunders and defeats it visits upon the carcass of the nation, or how much money it plunders, impoverishing the citizenry and leaving governing institutions and the physical infrastructure decayed.

The human tragedy — at least 801,000 people have been killed by direct war violence in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, and Pakistan and 37 million have been displaced in and from Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, the Philippines, Libya, and Syria according to The Watson Institute at Brown University — is reduced to a neglected footnote.

Nearly all the roughly 70 empires during the last four thousand years, including the Greek, Roman, Chinese, Ottoman, Hapsburg, imperial German, imperial Japanese, British, French, Dutch, Portuguese, and Soviet empires, collapsed in the same orgy of military folly. The Roman Republic, at its height, only lasted two centuries. We are set to disintegrate in roughly the same time. This is why, at the start of World War I in Germany, Karl Liebknecht called the German military, which imprisoned and later assassinated him, "the enemy from within."

Mark Twain, who was a fierce opponent of the efforts to plant the seeds of empire in Cuba, the Philippines, Guam, Hawaii and Puerto Rico, wrote an imagined history of America in the twentieth-century where its "lust for conquest" had destroyed "the Great Republic…[because] trampling upon the helpless abroad had taught her, by a natural process, to endure with apathy the like at home; multitudes who had applauded the crushing of other people's liberties, lived to suffer for their mistake."

Twain knew that foreign occupations, designed to enrich the ruling elites, use occupied populations as laboratory rats to perfect techniques of control that soon migrate back to the homeland. It was the brutal colonial policing practices in the Philippines, which included a vast spy network along with routine beatings, torture, and executions, which became the model for centralized domestic policing and intelligence gathering in the United States. Israeli's arms, surveillance and drone industries test their products on the Palestinians.

It is one of the dark ironies that it was the American empire, led by Jimmy Carter's national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, which spawned the mess in Afghanistan. Brzezinski oversaw a multibillion-dollar CIA covert operation to arm, train and equip the Taliban to fight the Soviets. This clandestine effort sidelined the secular, democratic opposition and assured the ascendancy of the Taliban in Afghanistan, along with the spread of its radical Islam into Soviet Central Asia, once Soviet forces withdrew. The American empire would, years later, find itself desperately trying to destroy its own creation. In April 2017, in a classic example of this kind of absurd blowback, the United States dropped the "mother of all bombs" — the most powerful conventional bomb in the American arsenal — on an Islamic State cave complex in Afghanistan that the CIA had invested millions in building and fortifying.

The attacks of September 11, 2001 were not an existential threat to the United States. They were not politically significant. They did not disrupt the balance of global power. They were not an act of war. They were acts of nihilistic terror.

The only way to fight terrorists is to isolate them within their own societies. I was in the Middle East for The New York Times after the attacks. Most of the Muslim world was appalled and revolted at the crimes against humanity that had been carried out in the name of Islam. If we had the courage to be vulnerable, to grasp that this was an intelligence war, not a conventional war, we would be far safer and secure today. These wars in the shadows, as the Israelis illustrated when they tracked down the assassins of their athletes in the 1972 Olympic games in Munich, take months, even years of work.

But the attacks gave the ruling elites, lusting for control of the Middle East, especially Iraq, which had nothing to do with the attacks, the excuse to carry out the greatest strategic blunder in American history — the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. The architects of the war, including then Senator Joe Biden, knew little about the countries being invaded, did not grasp the limits of industrial and technocratic war or the inevitable blowback that would see the United States reviled throughout the Muslim world. They believed they could implant client regimes by force throughout the region, use the oil revenues in Iraq, since the war in Afghanistan would be over in a matter of weeks, to cover the cost of reconstruction and magically restore American global hegemony. It did the opposite.

Invading Iraq and Afghanistan, dropping iron fragmentation bombs on villages and towns, kidnapping, torturing and imprisoning tens of thousands of people, using drones to sow terror from the skies, resurrected the discredited radical jihadists and was a potent recruiting tool in the fight against U.S. and NATO forces. We were the best thing that ever happened to the Taliban and al Qaeda.

There was little objection within the power structures to these invasions. The congressional vote was 518 to one in favor of empowering President George W. Bush to launch a war, Rep. Barbara Lee being the lone dissenter. Those of us who spoke out against the idiocy of the looming bloodlust were slandered, denied media platforms, and cast into the wilderness, where most of us remain. Those who sold us the war kept their megaphones, a reward for their service to empire and the military-industrial complex. It did not matter how cynical or foolish they were.

Historians call the self-defeating military adventurism of late empires "micro-militarism." During the Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.) the Athenians invaded Sicily, suffering the loss of 200 ships and thousands of soldiers and triggering revolts throughout the empire. Britain attacked Egypt in 1956 in a dispute over the nationalization of the Suez Canal and was humiliated when it had to withdraw its forces, bolstering the status of Arab nationalists such as Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser.

"While rising empires are often judicious, even rational in their application of armed force for conquest and control of overseas dominions, fading empires are inclined to ill-considered displays of power, dreaming of bold military masterstrokes that would somehow recoup lost prestige and power," the historian Alfred McCoy writes "In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of US Global Power." "Often irrational even from an imperial point of view, these micromilitary operations can yield hemorrhaging expenditures or humiliating defeats that only accelerate the process already under way."

The death blow to the American empire will, as McCoy writes, be the loss of the dollar as the world's reserve currency. This loss will plunge the United States into a crippling, and prolonged depression. It will force a massive contraction of the global military footprint.

The ugly, squalid face of empire, with the loss of the dollar as the reserve currency, will become familiar at home. The bleak economic landscape, with its decay and hopelessness, will accelerate an array of violent and self-destructive pathologies including mass shootings, hate crimes, opioid and heroin overdoses, morbid obesity, suicides, gambling, and alcoholism. The state will increasingly dispense with the fiction of the rule of law to rely exclusively on militarized police, essentially internal armies of occupation, and the prisons and jails, which already hold 25 percent of the world's prisoners although the United States represents less than 5 percent of global population.

Our demise will probably come more swiftly than we imagine. When revenues shrink or collapse, McCoy points out, empires become "brittle." An economy heavily dependent on massive government subsidies to produce primarily weapons and munitions, as well as fund military adventurism, will go into a tailspin with a heavily depreciated dollar, falling to perhaps a third of its former value. Prices will dramatically rise because of the steep increase in the cost of imports. Wages in real terms will decline. The devaluation of Treasury bonds will make paying for our massive deficits onerous, perhaps impossible. The unemployment level will climb to depression era levels. Social assistance programs, because of a contracting budget, will be sharply curtailed or eliminated. This dystopian world will fuel the rage and hyper nationalism that put Donald Trump in the White House. It will spawn an authoritarian state to keep order and, I expect, a Christianized fascism.

The tools of control on the outer reaches of empire, already part of our existence, will become ubiquitous. The wholesale surveillance, the abolition of basic civil liberties, militarized police authorized to use indiscriminate lethal force, the use of drones and satellites to keep us monitored and fearful, along with the censorship of the press and social media, familiar to Iraqis or Afghans, will define America. We are not the first empire to suffer this fate. It is a familiar ending. Imperialism and militarism are poisons that eradicate the separation of powers, designed to prevent tyranny, and extinguish democracy. If those who orchestrated these crimes are not held accountable, and this means organizing sustained mass resistance, we will pay the price, and we may pay it soon, for their hubris and greed.

How the 'boy mayor' put himself on a collision course with the monied elites who ran the city

Originally published at ScheerPost.

"The Division of Light and Power," by Dennis Kucinich, like Robert Caro's "The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York," is a gripping, moving and lucidly written account of the hidden mechanisms of corporate power in the United States and what happens when these corporate interests are challenged. It is essential reading, especially as we face an intensified corporate assault, done in the name of fiscal necessity following the financial wounds imposed by the pandemic, to seize total control of all public assets.

Kucinich warns that this assault is more than the seizure of public assets for private gain. These corporate forces, which function as a shadow government in Washington and cities across the country, threaten to achieve a monolithic lock on all forms of power and extinguish our anemic democracy. As Kucinich discovered throughout his career, these corporate forces will deploy every weapon in their arsenal against those brave or foolish enough to defy them. "The Division of Light and Power"is destined to become a classic text for those who seek to understand the corporate coup d'etat that took place in the United States in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

"People who say, 'You can't fight City Hall,' don't know where it is," writes Kucinich, who battled Cleveland's big banks and corporations as a member of the city council and as mayor. "You have to find it before you can fight it. City Hall was not only the Doric gray stone temple on East Sixth and Lakeside Avenue in downtown Cleveland. City Hall was the boardroom of Cleveland's banks, its investor-owned utilities, its real estate combines — and the mob. In Cleveland, City Hall was in the shadows, a giant specter invisible to the people of the city. I brought the invisible City Hall to light, with great consequences for my city, my family, my friends and myself. I was the Mayor and I fought City Hall."

Kucinich, a diminutive 23-year-old, who was often mistaken for the paperboy when he campaigned door to door, had just been elected at the opening of the book to be the new Councilman from Ward Seven. Kucinich grew up in Ward Seven in extreme poverty. His family struggled to pay rent and utility bills. They endured evictions and at one point were forced to sleep in their car. Ward Seven was, he recalls, where "I went to high school, where church spires and pipe-organ smokestacks reached to a smudged sky. A neighborhood populated by a steely league of nations who spoke Polish, Greek, Slovak, Ukrainian, Russian, Arabic, Spanish, and occasionally English. A neighborhood of narrow streets lined with old men wearing white shirts and suspenders, and old ladies wearing babushkas and carrying shopping bags that dangled just above their socks, paraded up and down the small commercial district on Professor Avenue."

Because he would not abandon his neighborhood, his people, he was on a collision course with the monied elites who ran the city.

The seasoned politicians in city hall assumed that Kucinich, like themselves, would sell out the voters for his own political and economic advancement. No one thought he was serious about defending those who elected him. They welcomed him to the cynical club of our bought-and-paid-for political class and explained the inner workings of our system of legalized bribery. He was young. He was talented. He would go far, the political hacks assured him, if he did the bidding of the real centers of power.

"These pros knew that every one of the thirty-three Cleveland City Council seats were won with campaign contributions from banks who held city deposits, money from phone, gas, and electric interests, or downtown real estate developers who never lost an election because they always bet on both sides," Kucinich writes.

One middle-aged Councilman, an attorney from a neighboring ward, let's call him Richard, befriended me, confiding, "Dennis, there are a lot of legitimate ways you can make money in politics. Nothing dishonest, mind you. Opportunities come to people who hold office," he said.

"Opportunities?"

"You know, you do favors for people. They do favors for you."

"Favors?" I didn't understand.

"Attorneys elected to Council get law business thrown their way. Insurance salesmen get policies. Travel agents book trips for people they help. Real estate guys get commissions from property deals called to their attention," he shared. "It's all legit."

A "rotund, cigar-chomping and irascible" councilman named James H. Bell told Kucinich that all he wanted was a little ice cream. "He opened his mouth, lolled his tongue, and with child-like abandon licked an imaginary cone, his diamond pinky ring sparkling in the bar lights," Kucinich writes. "'Just a little ice cream. I'm not a pig,' he repeated. 'I want what's mine. Some ice cream.'"

The rules were clear from the start. Serve the interests of big business and the city's rich — by granting tax abatements, 99-year franchises, monopolies, and bond financing for big, often unnecessary multi-million dollar projects — and thrive. Defy those interests and face political oblivion.

"City Hall reeked of mendacity, of checking one's spiritual beliefs at the door like a beat-up coat and entering into circumstances where unseen forces were dictating decisions, demanding consensus, and meting out punishment to those who denied the deal-making, was, after all, politics, the dominion of amorality, where personal advancement relied on pragmatism operating in shuttered light, without the imposition of conscience," Kucinich writes.

On August 13, 1978, Dennis Kucinich defeated a recall vote. Celebrating at the Bond Court Hotel that night, left to right: Sandy Kucinich (the mayor's wife), Frank Kucinich (his father), the mayor, Bill Casstevens of the United Auto Workers, Joe Tegreene (mayoral aide). [Photo by Tim Culek, reposted from clevelandmemory.org]Once it was clear the elites could not buy him off, they set out to destroy his political career, slander and intimidate him, and, after he was elected mayor in 1977, wreck the city's finances and finally attempt to assassinate him. The ruling elites play for keeps. And this is why a politician like Kucinich, with integrity and undaunted courage, is an anathema in the deeply corrupted world of American electoral politics where nearly all who flourish, in city, state and national politics, do so because they have a price.

The battle royale, which would see the business elites force the city into default to remove Kucinich from the mayor's office, centered around the schemes by CEI (Cleveland Electric Illuminating Co.) to crush the public utility, Municipal Light, or Muny Light, founded in 1907 by then-Cleveland Mayor Tom L. Johnson. CEI sought a monopoly so it could jack up rates for the city's residents. CEI orchestrated blackouts by blocking Muny's access to back-up power and exhausting the patience of Muny customers to force them into the hands of CEI. The fight to save Muny was, Kucinich knew, more than a fight to protect a public utility.

Johnson said when the founded the public utility, "I believe in public ownership of all public service monopolies for the same reason that I believe in the municipal ownership of waterworks, of parks, of schools. I believe in the municipal ownership of these monopolies because if you do not own them, they will in time own you. They will corrupt your politics, rule your institutions and finally destroy your liberties."

Kucinich, like Johnson, realized the danger the privatization of public assets present and, unlike most politicians, was willing to sacrifice his political career to protect those, like his family, who struggled under the onslaught of predatory corporations and the rich.

But it was not only Kucinich the business elites targeted. They destroyed the careers of the handful of reporters who attempted to investigate and make public the dirty machinations of CEI and the ruling elites. Kucinich watched as one honest reporter after another was silenced by his or her employer, beholden to the money and power of advertisers. Kucinich discovered that the press was not only docile, but complicit. He realized he would have few allies in the public arena. When the war against him began in earnest, the press dutifully amplified the lies spun out by the public relations departments of the corporations against Kucinich. The city was saturated with constant news and editorials touting the benefits of privatizing the private utility, although customers with Muny Light had one of the lowest electric rates in the country.

When Steve Clark, the top radio news commentator in Cleveland on WERE radio, for example, decried CEI's spending over $7 million for promotions and advertising, or about $11 per customer, and announced that CEI had realized a net profit of $40 million, or more than sixteen cents for each dollar of operating revenue, at the same time it was demanding a 20 percent rate increase from the Ohio Public Utilities Commission, which would generate an additional $54 million annually for the company, his career was finished. The radio station received at least $70,000 a year from CEI in advertising. The owners did not intend to lose it. Clark was fired.

"News reporters covering the Council meeting were a sketch of supine immobility, a confession of the futility of expression without independence," Kucinich writes. "If CEI worked to influence editors, the editors in turn would place limitations on their reporters. I could not expect any help from the 'free press.'"

"I dispensed a long time ago with the idea that my political advancement depended upon currying the favor of newspapers, or by agreeing with their editorial or news policy, which wasn't really theirs, but that of interest groups they were fronting," he adds.

The Muny Light wars exposed the lengths corporate power and the mob bosses, who Kucinich also fought, will go to destroy anyone who threatens their unchecked pillaging. Cleveland was known at the time as "America's Bombing Capital" because of a war by crime syndicates for control of Cleveland rackets. The city endured 30 mob-related bombings and periodic assassinations. There were also several attempts to kill Kucinich that were narrowly thwarted by luck or timely police work. Mayor George Moscone and City Supervisor Harvey Milk were shot and killed at San Francisco City Hall while Kucinich was in office. Chapter 28 in his book is titled "City Hell."

The business elites orchestrated a recall election, which he narrowly survived, threw the city into default, orchestrated electrical blackouts, especially during the Christmas holiday, and used a compliant press to blame Kucinich for the chaos they spawned. When Kucinich threw out the first pitch at the Cleveland Indian's game, forced at that point to wear a bulletproof vest and travel with police snipers, the crowd booed and yelled "kill the bum." Kucinich was defeated for reelection in 1979, the celebrated political phenom now treated as a national punchline.

(Nearly two decades later, after wandering the political wilderness — and the country — yet still supported strongly by the working class of Cleveland, Kucinich made an unexpected political comeback when he was elected to Congress in 1996. However, in 2010 the Democratic Party machine in Ohio drew up a redistricting plan which moved his Cleveland home address into the Toledo-based district of another incumbent, all but assuring his defeat in 2012.)

Through his besieged two years as mayor, Kucinich was acutely aware that if he capitulated to the sale of the public utility his political future would be instantly assured. He writes:

My political future would be guaranteed, with the swipe of a pen. The endless calls to sell would end. The media trumpeting the so-called deficiencies of Muny Light would stop their barrage. The equation of the sale of Muny Light with the avoidance of default would end. If I sold the electric system under these intricately-contrived circumstances, the people of Cleveland would never know I did not have to sell. They would be offered a fictional tale of a happy outcome, agreed upon by the media, the business community, CEI, the banks, and the political establishment. It would be the fairy tale of a young Mayor who finally came to his senses and did the "right thing."

But I knew the truth.

The people would end up paying millions of dollars in higher taxes to the city for street lighting and other services. Without competition, CEI would continually raise rates. People in the city would pay millions more in higher electric bills. Yes, the city would have credit. It could borrow money and go deeper in debt. If I agreed to sell, no one in Cleveland would ever know what happened in this boardroom. Today the world's attention was briefly on the impending default in a major American city. If I sold, tomorrow the big story would be 'The Escape from Default," the bookends of a complete political soap opera. Only I would know that Muny Light was stolen. I would have to conceal that knowledge, as I rocketed to political stardom with my newfound friends. I'd wave from a high platform at "the people." Unaware, they would think they were the ones who sent me to higher office.

His enemies did not forgive him once they removed him from office. He and those who worked in his mayoral administration were blacklisted by the city's elite, often unable to find work. Kucinich was meant to be an example to all who thought of defying the system.

"Most of those who worked for me could not find jobs, blackballed by the Cleveland establishment," he writes. "Several members of my team had to travel many miles out of town to find work. Most found themselves at a significant financial disadvantage. One, a brilliant city planner who had courageously challenged developers' schemes to extract millions from the taxpayers, committed suicide. It was my decision, and I paid a price, but regrettably, others also paid."

"After I left office, I had time to absorb what had happened to me in Cleveland, my ten-year climb to become Mayor, my collision with corrupt interests amidst the highest of hopes for the city," He writes. "However hard I tried, I could not find a moral to the story. I was shattered, not so much from losing an election, as from the pillorying of the ethical signposts of my life: Right was wrong and wrong was right. The inversion of reality was particularly shocking. The banks, the business and political establishment had now constructed, and the Cleveland media carried forth, a new fictitious narrative. The city on its way to recovery … from me."

Nevertheless, Kucinich, sacrificing his position as mayor, had indeed, with the support of a grassroots army, saved the city's public utility.

Near the end of his first term in Congress he was invited to attend a meeting of the Cleveland City Council on December 14th, 1998, the eve of the twentieth anniversary of the city's default. The council presented him with a resolution of recognition. It read:

…Today the City of Cleveland has one of the fastest-growing municipal electric systems in America. Currently, Cleveland Public Power is expanding to provide low-cost electricity to more and more people, providing power for city facilities and streetlights, thereby helping to keep taxes low and encouraging economic development. None of this would have been possible had Mayor Kucinich not refused to sell the City's electric system on December 15, 1978 . . . now, therefore . . . BE IT RESOLVED, that Cleveland City Council hereby extends its deep appreciation to Dennis J. Kucinich, for having the courage and foresight to refuse to sell the City's municipal electric system, which has saved the people of Cleveland over $300 million since that time.
— Cleveland City Council

Members of city council stood and applauded.

Chris Hedges: Julian Assange and the collapse of the rule of law

A society that prohibits the capacity to speak in truth extinguishes the capacity to live in justice.

This article originally appeared on ScheerPost.

This why we are here tonight. Yes, all of us who know and admire Julian decry his prolonged suffering and the suffering of his family. Yes, we demand that the many wrongs and injustices that have been visited upon him be ended. Yes, we honor him up for his courage and his integrity. But the battle for Julian's liberty has always been much more than the persecution of a publisher. It is the most important battle for press freedom of our era. And if we lose this battle, it will be devastating, not only for Julian and his family, but for us.

Tyrannies invert the rule of law. They turn the law into an instrument of injustice. They cloak their crimes in a faux legality. They use the decorum of the courts and trials, to mask their criminality. Those, such as Julian, who expose that criminality to the public are dangerous, for without the pretext of legitimacy the tyranny loses credibility and has nothing left in its arsenal but fear, coercion and violence.

The long campaign against Julian and WikiLeaks is a window into the collapse of the rule of law, the rise of what the political philosopher Sheldon Wolin calls our system of inverted totalitarianism, a form of totalitarianism that maintains the fictions of the old capitalist democracy, including its institutions, iconography, patriotic symbols and rhetoric, but internally has surrendered total control to the dictates of global corporations.

I was in the London courtroom when Julian was being tried by Judge Vanessa Baraitser, an updated version of the Queen of Hearts in Alice-in Wonderland demanding the sentence before pronouncing the verdict. It was judicial farce. There was no legal basis to hold Julian in prison. There was no legal basis to try him, an Australian citizen, under the U.S. Espionage Act. The CIA spied on Julian in the embassy through a Spanish company, UC Global, contracted to provide embassy security. This spying included recording the privileged conversations between Julian and his lawyers as they discussed his defense. This fact alone invalidated the trial. Julian is being held in a high security prison so the state can, as Nils Melzer, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, has testified, continue the degrading abuse and torture it hopes will lead to his psychological if not physical disintegration.

The U.S. government directed, as Craig Murray so eloquently documented, the London prosecutor James Lewis. Lewis presented these directives to Baraitser. Baraitser adopted them as her legal decision. It was judicial pantomime. Lewis and the judge insisted they were not attempting to criminalize journalists and muzzle the press while they busily set up the legal framework to criminalize journalists and muzzle the press. And that is why the court worked so hard to mask the proceedings from the public, limiting access to the courtroom to a handful of observers and making it hard and at times impossible to access the trial online. It was a tawdry show trial, not an example of the best of English jurisprudence but the Lubyanka.

Now, I know many of us here tonight would like to think of ourselves as radicals, maybe even revolutionaries. But what we are demanding on the political spectrum is in fact conservative, it is the restoration of the rule of law. It is simple and basic. It should not, in a functioning democracy, be incendiary. But living in truth in a despotic system is the supreme act of defiance. This truth terrifies those in power.

The architects of imperialism, the masters of war, the corporate-controlled legislative, judicial and executive branches of government and their obsequious courtiers in the media, are illegitimate. Say this simple truth and you are banished, as many of us have been, to the margins of the media landscape. Prove this truth, as Julian, Chelsea Manning, Jeremy Hammond and Edward Snowden have by allowing us to peer into the inner workings of power, and you are hunted down and persecuted.

Shortly after WikiLeaks released the Iraq War Logs in October 2010, which documented numerous US war crimes—including video images of the gunning down of two Reuters journalists and 10 other unarmed civilians in the Collateral Murder video, the routine torture of Iraqi prisoners, the covering up of thousands of civilian deaths and the killing of nearly 700 civilians that had approached too closely to U.S. checkpoints—the towering civil rights attorneys Len Weinglass and my good friend Michael Ratner, who I would later accompany to meet Julian in the Ecuadoran Embassy, met with Julian in a studio apartment in Central London. Julian's personal bank cards had been blocked. Three encrypted laptops with documents detailing US war crimes had disappeared from his luggage in route to London. Swedish police were fabricating a case against him in a move, Ratner warned, that was about extraditing Julian to the United States.

"WikiLeaks and you personally are facing a battle that is both legal and political," Weinglass told Assange. "As we learned in the Pentagon Papers case, the US government doesn't like the truth coming out. And it doesn't like to be humiliated. No matter if it's Nixon or Bush or Obama, Republican or Democrat in the White House. The US government will try to stop you from publishing its ugly secrets. And if they have to destroy you and the First Amendment and the rights of publishers with you, they are willing to do it. We believe they are going to come after WikiLeaks and you, Julian, as the publisher."

"Come after me for what?" asked Julian.

"Espionage," Weinglass continued. "They're going to charge Bradley Manning with treason under the Espionage Act of 1917. We don't think it applies to him because he's a whistleblower, not a spy. And we don't think it applies to you either because you are a publisher. But they are going to try to force Manning into implicating you as his collaborator."

"Come after me for what?

That is the question.

They came after Julian not for his vices, but his virtues.

They came after Julian because he exposed the more than 15,000 unreported deaths of Iraqi civilians; because he exposed the torture and abuse of some 800 men and boys, aged between 14 and 89, at Guantánamo; because he exposed that Hillary Clinton in 2009 ordered US diplomats to spy on U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and other U.N. representatives from China, France, Russia, and the UK, spying that included obtaining DNA, iris scans, fingerprints, and personal passwords, part of the long pattern of illegal surveillance that included the eavesdropping on UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in the weeks before the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003; because he exposed that Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and the CIA orchestrated the June 2009 military coup in Honduras that overthrew the democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya, replacing it with a murderous and corrupt military regime; because he exposed that George W. Bush, Barack Obama and General David Petraeus prosecuted a war in Iraq that under post-Nuremberg laws is defined as a criminal war of aggression, a war crime, that they authorized hundreds of targeted assassinations, including those of U.S. citizens in Yemen, and that they secretly launched missile, bomb, and drone attacks on Yemen, killing scores of civilians; because he exposed that Goldman Sachs paid Hillary Clinton $657,000 to give talks, a sum so large it can only be considered a bribe, and that she privately assured corporate leaders she would do their bidding while promising the public financial regulation and reform; because he exposed the internal campaign to discredit and destroy British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn by members of his own party; because he exposed how the hacking tools used by the CIA and the National Security Agency permits the wholesale government surveillance of our televisions, computers, smartphones and anti-virus software, allowing the government to record and store our conversations, images and private text messages, even from encrypted apps.

Julian exposed the truth. He exposed it over and over and over until there was no question of the endemic illegality, corruption and mendacity that defines the global ruling elite. And for these truths they came after Julian, as they have come after all who dared rip back the veil on power. "Red Rosa now has vanished too. …" Bertolt Brecht wrote after the German socialist Rosa Luxemburg was murdered. "She told the poor what life is about, And so the rich have rubbed her out."

We have undergone a corporate coup, where the poor and working men and women are reduced to joblessness and hunger, where war, financial speculation and internal surveillance are the only real business of the state, where even habeas corpus no longer exists, where we, as citizens, are nothing more than commodities to corporate systems of power, ones to be used, fleeced and discarded. To refuse to fight back, to reach out and help the weak, the oppressed and the suffering, to save the planet from ecocide, to decry the domestic and international crimes of the ruling class, to demand justice, to live in truth, is to bear the mark of Cain. Those in power must feel our wrath, and this means constant acts of mass civil disobedience, it means constant acts of social and political disruption, for this organized power from below is the only power that will save us and the only power that will free Julian. Politics is a game of fear. It is our moral and civic duty to make those in power very, very afraid.

The criminal ruling class has all of us locked in its death grip. It cannot be reformed. It has abolished the rule of law. It obscures and falsifies the truth. It seeks the consolidation of its obscene wealth and power. And so, to quote the Queen of Hearts, metaphorically of course, I say, "Off with their heads."

The US is complicit in the global war on workers

Global capitalists have turned back the clock to the early days of the Industrial Revolution. The working class is increasingly bereft of rights, blocked from forming unions, paid starvation wages, subject to wage theft, under constant surveillance, fired for minor infractions, exposed to dangerous carcinogens, forced to work overtime, given punishing quotas and abandoned when they are sick and old. Workers have become, here and abroad, disposable cogs to corporate oligarchs, who wallow in obscene personal wealth that dwarfs the worst excesses of the Robber Barons.

This article originally appeared on ScheerPost.

In fashionable liberal circles there are, as Noam Chomsky notes, worthy and unworthy victims. Nancy Pelosi has called on global leaders not to attend the Winter Olympics, scheduled to be held in Beijing in February, because of what she called a "genocide" being carried out by the Chinese government against the Uyghur minority. New York Times columnist Nick Kristof in a column rattled off a list of human rights violations overseen by China's leader Xi Jinping, writing "[Xi] eviscerates Hong Kong freedoms, jails lawyers and journalists, seizes Canadian hostages, threatens Taiwan and, most horrifying, presides over crimes against humanity in the far western region of Xinjiang that is home to several Muslim minorities."

Not a word about the millions of workers in China who are treated little better than serfs. They live separated from their families, including their children, and housed in overcrowded company dormitories, which sees rent deducted from their paychecks, next to factories that have round-the-clock production, often making products for U.S. corporations. Workers are abused, underpaid and sickened from exposure to chemicals and toxins such as aluminum dust.

The suffering of the working class, within and outside the United States, is as ignored by our corporatized media as the suffering of the Palestinians. And yet, I would argue, it is one of the most important human rights issues of our era, since once workers are empowered, they can fend off other human rights violations. Unless workers can organize, here and in countries such as China, and achieve basic rights and living wages, it will cement into place a global serfdom that will leave workers trapped in the appalling conditions described by Friedrich Engels in his 1845 book "The Conditions of the Working Class in England" or Émile Zola's 1885 masterpiece "Germinal."

As long as China can pay slave wages it will be impossible to raise wages anywhere else. Any trade agreement has to include the right of workers to organize, otherwise all the promises by Joe Biden to rebuild the American middle class is a lie. Between 2001-2011, 2.7 million jobs were lost to China with 2.1 million in manufacturing. None are coming back if workers in China and other countries that allow corporations to exploit labor and skirt basic environmental and labor regulations are locked in corporate servitude. And while we can chastise China for its labor policies, the United States has crushed its own union movement, allowed its corporations to move manufacturing overseas to profit from the Chinese manufacturing models, suppressed wages, passed anti-labor right-to-work laws, and demolished regulations that once protected workers. The war on workers is not a Chinese phenomenon. It is a global one. And U.S. corporations are complicit. Apple has 46 percent of its suppliers in China. Walmart has 80 percent of its suppliers in China. Amazon has 63 percent of its suppliers in China.

The largest U.S. corporations are full partners in the exploitation of Chinese labor, and the abandonment and impoverishment of the American working class. U.S. corporations and Chinese manufacturers kept millions of Chinese workers crammed into factories at the height of a global pandemic. Their health was of no concern. Apple's profits more than doubled to $23.6 billion in the most recent quarter. Its revenues rose by 54 percent to $89.6 billion, which meant Apple sold more than $1 billion on average each day. Until these corporations are held accountable, which the Biden administration will not do, nothing will change for workers here or in China. Economic justice is global or it does not exist.

Workers in Chinese industrial centers—self-contained company cities with up to a half million people—drive the huge profits of two of the world's most powerful companies, Foxconn, the world's largest provider of electronics manufacturing services, and Apple, with $ 2 trillion dollars in market value. Foxconn's largest customer is Apple, but it also produces products for Alphabet (formerly Google), Amazon, which owns more than 400 private-label brands, BlackBerry, Cisco, Dell, Fujitsu, GE, HP, IBM, Intel, LG, Microsoft, Nintendo, Panasonic, Philips, Samsung, Sony, and Toshiba, as well as leading Chinese firms including Lenovo, Huawei, ZTE, and Xiaomi. Foxconn assembles iPhones, iPads, iPods, Macs, TVs, Xboxes, PlayStations, Wii U's, Kindles, printers, as well as numerous digital devices.

Jenny Chan, Mark Selden, and Pun Ngai spent a decade conducting undercover research at Foxconn's major manufacturing sites in the Chinese cities of Shenzhen, Shanghai, Kunshan, Hangzhou, Nanjing, Tianjin, Langfang, Taiyuan, and Wuhan for their book "Dying for an iPhone: Apple, Foxconn, and The Lives of China's Workers". What they describe is an Orwellian dystopia, one where global corporations have perfected the techniques for a disempowered work force. These vast worker cities are little more than labor penal colonies. Yes, it is possible to leave, but to incur the ire of the bosses, especially by speaking out or attempting to organize, is to be blacklisted for life throughout China's archipelago of industrial centers and cast to the margins of society or often prison.

Workers live under constant surveillance. They are policed by company security units. They sleep in segregated male and female dormitories with eight or more people to a room. The multi-story dormitories have bars on the windows and nets below, put up to halt the spate of worker suicides that afflicted these factory cities a few years ago.

"The workplace and living space are compressed to facilitate high-speed, round-the-clock production," the authors write. "The dormitory warehouses a massive migrant labor force without the care and love of family. Whether single or married, the worker is assigned a bunk space for one person. The 'private space' consists simply of one's own bed behind a self-made curtain with little common living space."

Workers, who earn about $2 an hour and an average of $390 a month, are paid in wage debit cards, an updated version of company scrip. The bank card allows a worker to deposit, withdraw, and transfer money from 24-hour ATM machines that are accessible at Foxconn facilities.

Managers, foremen, and line leaders prohibit conversation on the assembly floor that operates on a 24-hour cycle of 10- or 12-hour shifts. Workers are reprimanded if they work "too slowly" on the line. They are punished for turning out defective products. Workers are often forced to remain behind after a shift if a worker committed an infraction. The worker who violated the rules is required to stand before his or her co-workers and read a statement of self-criticism. Any worker issued a "D" grade in their review for "unsatisfactory performance" is fired. The workers receive one day off every second week, or two rest days a month. They can be summarily shifted between the night and day shifts.

The authors describe the daily routine of a worker entering a Foxconn factory at 7 a.m. with hundreds of thousands of other Foxconn employees. Each person, prohibited from entering the factory complex with electronic devices, is checked by facial recognition systems to confirm his or her identity.

The human flow continues for more than an hour. Night-shift workers cross the footbridge and pour into the shopping malls and street markets that have sprung up around the factory. Day-shift workers cross the same footbridge, in the opposite direction, heading to work. From the moment they enter the factory gate, workers are monitored by a security system more intrusive than any that we found in the neighboring smaller electronics-processing factories. "Foxconn has its own security force, just as a country has an army," a stern faced, broad-shouldered security officer stated as a matter of fact. Workers pass through successive electronic gates and Special Security Zones before arriving at their workshops to start work.

Once inside, the authors write, workers endure a familiar ritual:

As workers prepare to begin a shift, managers call out: "How are you?" Workers must respond by shouting in unison, "Good! Very good! Very, very good!" This drill is said to foster disciplined workers. A laser-soldering worker reported, "Before shift-time, a whistle sounds three times. At the first whistle we must rise and put our stools in order. At the second whistle we prepare to work and put on special gloves or equipment. At the third whistle we sit and work. "No talking, no laughing, no eating, no sleeping" during work hours is the number one factory rule. Any behavior that violates discipline is penalized. "Going to the toilet for more than ten minutes incurs an oral warning, and chatting during work time incurs a written warning," a line leader explained.

The work is exhausting, stressful and repetitive. An iPhone has more than one hundred parts. "Every worker," the authors write, "specializes in one task and performs repetitive motions at high speed, hourly, daily, ten hours or more on many working days, for months on end."

A woman interviewed in the book described her life on the assembly line:

I am a cog in the visual inspection workstation, which is part of the static electricity assembly line. As the adjacent soldering oven delivers smartphone motherboards, both my hands extend to take the motherboard, then my head starts shifting from left to right, my eyes move from the left side of the motherboard to the right side, then stare from the top to the bottom, without interruption, and when something is off, I call out, and another human part similar to myself will run over, ask about the cause of the error, and fix it. I repeat the same task thousands of times a day. My brain rusts.

The work can also be hazardous. The polishing machine emits aluminum dust as it grinds the casings. This dust gets into the eyes and causes irritation and tiny tears. Workers suffer from respiratory problems, sore throats and chronic coughs. "Microscopic aluminum dust coats workers' faces and clothes," the authors write. "A worker described the situation this way: 'I'm breathing aluminum dust at Foxconn like a vacuum cleaner. With the workshop windows tightly shut, workers felt that they were suffocating.'"

The aluminum dust can also cause fires, such as one on May 20, 2011 when an accumulation of aluminum dust in the air duct on the third floor at Foxconn Chengdu Building A5 was ignited by a spark from an electric switch. Four workers died. Dozens were injured. It was not the only explosion, which Foxconn managed to largely hide by imposing a near total media blackout. "Seven months after the Foxconn tragedy, on December 17, 2011, combustible aluminum dust fueled another blast, this time at iPhone maker Pegatron in Shanghai, injuring sixty-one workers. In the blast, young men and women suffered severe burns and shattered bones, leaving many permanently disabled," the authors write.

Workers are required to clean one thousand iPhone touchscreens per shift. They were cleaned for years with the chemical n-hexane, which evaporates faster than industrial alcohol. Prolonged exposure to n-hexane damages peripheral nerves, leading to painful muscle cramps, headaches, uncontrollable shaking, blurred vision and difficulties walking. It should only be applied in well ventilated areas by workers wearing respirators. Thousands of Foxconn workers applied n-hexane in sealed rooms without ventilators and were sickened, finally leading to its ban.

These vast industrial complexes also discharge huge amounts of heavy metals and wastewater into the rivers and ground water. Rivers near plants run black with sewage and are filled with plastic waste. Workers complain that the drinking water is discolored and smells.

The United States cast its workers aside in the 1990s with de-industrialization. China did the same by dismantling socialism in favor of state-controlled capitalism. State and collective sector jobs in China fell from 76 percent in 1995 to 27 percent in 2005. Tens of millions of laid off workers were left to compete for jobs run by corporations such as Foxconn. But even these jobs are now under threat, partly from automation, with workers on assembly lines replaced by robotic automatons that can spray, weld, press, polish, do quality testing and assemble printed circuit boards. Foxconn has installed over 40,000 industrial robots in its factories, along with hundreds of thousands of other automated machines.

But over the past decade, the authors note, "the major changes inside Foxconn were not the replacement of workers with robots but the replacement of full-time employees with growing numbers of student interns and contingent subcontracted laborers."

These workers, part of the gig economy familiar in the United States, have even less job stability and security than full time employees. As many as 150,000 high-school age vocational students are employed in Foxconn plants. They are paid the minimum wage, but are not entitled to the 400-yuan-per-month skills subsidy, even if they pass the probationary period. Foxconn is also not required to enroll them in social security.

Those who lead these corporate behemoths often replicate the behavior of despots, not only exerting total control over every aspect of their workers lives but dispensing folksy wisdom to the masses. They are often treated by a fawning media as gurus, asked to opine–as Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos do–on a range of social, economic, political and cultural issues. Their immense fortunes confer to them in our Mammon-worshipping society a sage-like status.

Terry Gou, the founder and CEO of Foxconn, has published a list of slogans and aphorisms that adorn the walls of his factories, along with his portraits. Workers are required to write out passages from "Gou's Quotations." While Mao Zedong called for class struggle and rebellion, Gou calls for conformity and blind obedience. "Growth thy name is suffering," reads one of his quotes. The Wall Street Journal reporter Jason Dean, in a 2007 interview with Gou, characterized Gao as a "warlord," and noted that "he wears a beaded bracelet he got from a temple dedicated to Genghis Khan, the thirteenth-century Mongolian conqueror whom he calls a personal hero."

"A harsh environment is a good thing," one of Gou's quotes reads. "Achieve goals or the sun will no longer rise. Value efficiency every minute, every second. Execution is the integration of speed, accuracy, and precision."

His more than one million employees, as is true at Amazon and other large corporations, are subjected to mandatory company meetings where they are taught to obey company rules, pay fealty to the interests of the corporation and, as the authors note, strive for "the individualistic model of success." Those who heed the rules, workers are told, are rewarded. Those who do not, are punished or banished.

Workers in these global sweatshops are organizing underground and protesting. There were 8,700 incidents of labor unrest in China in 1993, the first year for which official data is available, to 32,000 in 1999, the authors write. "The number 'continued to increase at more than 20 percent a year' between 2000 and 2003. In 2005, the official record noted 87,000 cases, rising to 127,000 in 2008 during the world recession–the last time the Chinese Ministry of Public Security released figures."

In Hubei's East Lake High-Tech Development Zone, the authors note, known as Optics Valley, on January 3, 2012, 150 Foxconn workers threatened to jump from the roof of the factory and commit mass suicide if the managers refused to address their demands, which included protests over forced transfers to other factories' cities and a wage dispute.

Strikes, protests and work stoppages that take place now are state secrets, but the past statistics seem to indicate that they are growing. Strikes are usually swiftly and brutally broken by company security and police, with strike leaders being fired and often imprisoned.

We will not save ourselves through the perverted individualism, sold to us by our corporate masters and a compliant mass media, which encourages our advancement at the expense of others. We will save ourselves by working in solidarity with workers inside and outside the United States. This collective power is our only hope. Amazon workers from the Hulu Garment factory in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and Global Garments factory in Chittagong, Bangladesh, recently led a global day of action to make Amazon pay all its workers, no matter where they live, fair wages. This has to be our model. Otherwise, workers in one country will be pitted against workers in another country. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels got it right. Workers of the world unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains.

Chris Hedges: Israel is not exercising 'the right to defend itself' in the occupied Palestinian territories

Nearly all the words and phrases used by the Democrats, Republicans and the talking heads on the media to describe the unrest inside Israel and the heaviest Israeli assault against the Palestinians since the 2014 attacks on Gaza, which lasted 51 days and killed more than 2,200 Palestinians, including 551 children, are a lie. Israel, by employing its military machine against an occupied population that does not have mechanized units, an air force, navy, missiles, heavy artillery and command-and-control, not to mention a U.S. commitment to provide a $38 billion defense aid package for Israel over the next decade, is not exercising "the right to defend itself." It is carrying out mass murder. It is a war crime.

This article originally appeared on ScheerPost.

Israel has made it clear it is ready to destroy and kill as wantonly now as it was in 2014. Israel's defense minister Benny Gantz, who was the chief of staff during the murderous assault on Gaza in 2014, has vowed that if Hamas "does not stop the violence, the strike of 2021 will be harder and more painful than that of 2014." The current attacks have already targeted several residential high rises including buildings that housed over a dozen local and international press agencies, government buildings, roads, public facilities, agricultural lands, two schools and a mosque.

I spent seven years in the Middle East as a correspondent, four of them as The New York Times Middle East Bureau Chief. I am an Arabic speaker. I lived for weeks at a time in Gaza, the world's largest open-air prison where over two million Palestinians exist on the edge of starvation, struggle to find clean water and endure constant Israeli terror. I have been in Gaza when it was pounded with Israeli artillery and air strikes. I have watched mothers and fathers, wailing in grief, cradling the bloodied bodies of their sons and daughters. I know the crimes of the occupation—the food shortages caused by the Israeli blockade, the stifling overcrowding, the contaminated water, the lack of health services, the near constant electrical outages due to the Israeli targeting of power plants, the crippling poverty, the endemic unemployment, the fear and the despair. I have witnessed the carnage.

I also have listened from Gaza to the lies emanating from Jerusalem and Washington. Israel's indiscriminate use of modern, industrial weapons to kill thousands of innocents, wound thousands more and make tens of thousands of families homeless is not a war: It is state-sponsored terror. And, while I oppose the indiscriminate firing of rockets by Palestinians into Israel, as I oppose suicide bombings, seeing them also as war crimes, I am acutely aware of a huge disparity between the industrial violence carried out by Israel against innocent Palestinians and the minimal acts of violence capable of being waged by groups such as Hamas.

The false equivalency between Israeli and Palestinian violence was echoed during the war I covered in Bosnia. Those of us in the besieged city of Sarajevo were pounded daily with hundreds of heavy shells and rockets from the surrounding Serbs. We were targeted by sniper fire. The city suffered a few dozen dead and wounded each day. The government forces inside the city fired back with light mortars and small arms fire. Supporters of the Serbs seized on any casualties caused by Bosnian government forces to play the same dirty game, although well over 90 percent of the killings in Bosnia were the fault of the Serbs, as is also true regarding Israel.

The second and perhaps most important parallel is that the Serbs, like the Israelis, were the principal violators of international law. Israel is in breach of more than 30 U.N. Security Council resolutions. It is in breach of Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention that defines collective punishment of a civilian population as a war crime. It is in violation of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention for settling over half a million Jewish Israelis on occupied Palestinian land and for the ethnic cleansing of at least 750,000 Palestinians when the Israeli state was founded and another 300,000 after Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank were occupied following the 1967 war. Its annexation of East Jerusalem and the Syrian Golan Heights violates international law, as does its building of a security barrier in the West Bank that annexes Palestinian land into Israel. It is in violation of U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194 that states that Palestinian "refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date."

This is the truth. Any other starting point for the discussion of what is taking place between Israel and the Palestinians is a lie.

Israel's once vibrant peace movement and political left, which condemned and protested against the Israeli occupation when I lived in Jerusalem, is moribund. The right-wing Netanyahu government, despite its rhetoric about fighting terrorism, has built an alliance with the repressive regime in Saudi Arabia, which also views Iran as an enemy. Saudi Arabia, a country that produced 15 of the 19 hijackers in the September 11 attacks, is reputed to be the most prolific sponsor of international Islamist terrorism, allegedly supporting Salafist jihadism, the basis of al-Qaeda, and groups such as the Afghanistan Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and the Al-Nusra Front.

Saudi Arabia and Israel worked closely together to back the 2013 military coup in Egypt, led by General Adbul Fattah el Sisi. Sisi overthrew a democratically elected government. He has imprisoned tens of thousands of government critics, including journalists and human rights defenders, on politically motivated charges. The Sisi regime collaborates with Israel by keeping its common border with Gaza closed to Palestinians, trapping them in the Gaza strip, one of the most densely populated places on earth. Israel's cynicism and hypocrisy, especially when it wraps itself in the mantle of protecting democracy and fighting terrorism, is of epic proportions.

Those who are not Jewish in Israel are either second class citizens or live under brutal military occupation. Israel is not, and never has been, the exclusive homeland of the Jewish people. From the 7th century until 1948, when Jewish colonial settlers used violence and ethnic cleansing to create the state of Israel, Palestine was overwhelmingly Muslim. It was never empty land. The Jews in Palestine were traditionally a tiny minority. The United States is not an honest broker for peace but has funded, enabled and defended Israel's crimes against the Palestinian people. Israel is not defending the rule of law. Israel is not a democracy. It is an apartheid state.

That the lie of Israel continues to be embraced by the ruling elites–there is no daylight between statements in defense of Israeli war crimes by Nancy Pelosi and Ted Cruz–and used as a foundation for any discussion of Israel is a testament to the corrupting power of money, in this case that of the Israel lobby, and the bankruptcy of a political system of legalized bribery that has surrendered its autonomy and its principles to its major donors. It is also a stunning example of how colonial settler projects, and this is true in the United States, always carry out cultural genocide so they can exist in a suspended state of myth and historical amnesia to legitimize themselves.

The Israel lobby has shamelessly used its immense political clout to demand that Americans take de facto loyalty oaths to Israel. The passage by 35 state legislatures of Israel lobby-backed legislation requiring their workers and contractors, under threat of dismissal, to sign a pro-Israel oath and promise not to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is a mockery of our Constitutional right of free speech. Israel has lobbied the U.S. State Department to redefine anti-Semitism under a three-point test known as the Three Ds: the making of statements that "demonize" Israel; statements that apply "double standards" for Israel; statements that "delegitimize" the state of Israel. This definition of anti-Semitism is being pushed by the Israel lobby in state legislatures and on college campuses. The Israel lobby spies in the United States, often at the direction of Israel's Ministry of Strategic Affairs, on those who speak up for the rights of Palestinians. It wages public smear campaigns and blacklists defenders of Palestinian rights–including the Jewish historian Norman Finkelstein; U.N. Special Rapporteur for the Occupied Territories, Richard Falk, also Jewish; and university students, many of them Jewish, in organizations such as Students for Justice in Palestine.

The Israel lobby has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to manipulate U.S. elections, far beyond anything alleged to have been carried out by Russia, China or any other country. The heavy-handed interference by Israel in the American political system, which includes operatives and donors bundling together hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions in every U.S. congressional district to bankroll compliant candidates, is documented in the Al-Jazeera four-part series "The Lobby." Israel managed to block "The Lobby" from being broadcast. In the film, a pirated copy that is available on the website Electronic Intifada, the leaders of the Israel lobby are repeatedly captured on a reporter's hidden camera explaining how they, backed by the intelligence services within Israel, attack and silence American critics and use massive cash donations to buy politicians. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu secured the unconstitutional invitation by then-House Speaker John Boehner to address Congress in 2015 to denounce President Barack Obama's Iranian nuclear agreement. Netanyahu's open defiance of Obama and alliance with the Republican Party, however, did not stop Obama in 2014 from authorizing a 10-year $38 billion military aid package to Israel, a sad commentary on how captive American politics is to Israeli interests.

The investment by Israel and its backers is worth it, especially when you consider that the U.S. has also spent over $ 6 trillion during the last 20 years fighting futile wars that Israel and its lobby pushed for in the Middle East. These wars are the greatest strategic debacle in American history, accelerating the decline of the American empire, bankrupting the nation at a time of economic stagnation and mounting poverty, and turning huge parts of the globe against us. They serve Israel's interests, not ours.

The longer the mendacious Israeli narrative is embraced, the more empowered become the racists, bigots, conspiracy theorists and far-right hate groups inside and outside Israel. This steady shift to the far right in Israel has fostered an alliance between Israel and the Christian right, many of whom are anti-Semites. The more Israel and the Israel lobby level the charge of anti-Semitism against those who speak up for Palestinian rights, as they did against British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, the more they embolden the real anti-Semites.

Racism, including anti-Semitism, is dangerous. It is not only bad for the Jews. It is bad for everyone. It empowers the dark forces of ethnic and religious hatred on the extremes. Netanyahu's racist government has built alliances with far-right leaders in Hungary, India, and Brazil, and was closely allied with Donald Trump. Racists and ethnic chauvinists, as I saw in the wars in the former Yugoslavia, feed off of each other. They divide societies into polarized, antagonistic camps that only speak in the language of violence. The radical jihadists need Israel to justify their violence, just as Israel needs the radical jihadists to justify its violence. These extremists are ideological twins.

This polarization fosters a fearful, militarized society. It permits the ruling elites in Israel, as in the United States, to dismantle civil liberties in the name of national security. Israel runs training programs for militarized police, including from the United States. It is a global player in the multibillion-dollar drone industry, competing against China and the United States.

It oversees hundreds of cybersurveillance startups whose espionage innovations, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, have been utilized abroad "to locate and detain human rights activists, persecute members of the LGBT community, silence citizens critical of their governments, and even fabricate cases of blasphemy against Islam in Muslim countries that don't maintain formal relations with Israel."

Israel, like the United States, has been poisoned by the psychosis of permanent war. One million Israelis, many of them among the most enlightened and educated, have left the country. Its most courageous human rights campaigners, intellectuals and journalists—Israeli and Palestinian—endure constant government surveillance, arbitrary arrests and vicious government-run smear campaigns. Mobs and vigilantes, including thugs from right-wing youth groups such as Im Tirtzu, physically assault dissidents, Palestinians, Israeli Arabs and African immigrants in the slums of Tel Aviv. These Jewish extremists have targeted Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, demanding their expulsion. They are supported by an array of anti-Arab groups including the Otzma Yehudit Party, the ideological descendant of the outlawed Kach party, the Lehava movement, which calls for all Palestinians in Israel and the occupied territories to be expelled to surrounding Arab states, and La Familia, far-right soccer hooligans. Lehava in Hebrew means "flame" and is the acronym for "Prevention of Assimilation in the Holy Land." Mobs of these Jewish fanatics parade through Palestinian neighborhoods, including in occupied East Jerusalem, protected by Israeli police, shouting to the Palestinians who live there "Death to the Arabs," which is also a popular chant at Israeli soccer matches.

Israel has pushed through a series of discriminatory laws against non-Jews that echo the racist Nuremberg Laws that disenfranchised Jews in Nazi Germany. The Communities Acceptance Law, for example, permits "small, exclusively Jewish towns planted across Israel's Galilee region to formally reject applicants for residency on the grounds of 'suitability to the community's fundamental outlook." Israel's educational system, starting in primary school, uses the Holocaust to portray Jews as eternal victims. This victimhood is an indoctrination machine used to justify racism, Islamophobia, religious chauvinism and the deification of the Israeli military.

There are many parallels between the deformities that grip Israel and the deformities that grip the United States. The two countries are moving at warp speed towards a 21rst century fascism, cloaked in religious language, which will revoke what remains of our civil liberties and snuff out our anemic democracies. The failure of the United States to stand up for the rule of law, to demand that the Palestinians, powerless and friendless, even in the Arab world, be granted basic human rights mirrors the abandonment of the vulnerable within our own society. We are headed, I fear, down the road Israel is heading down. It will be devastating for the Palestinians. It will be devastating for us. And all resistance, as the Palestinians courageously show us, will only come from the street.

Chris Hedges warns Americans not to be 'fooled' by Biden: 'What's exceptional about America is its culture of sadism'

Don't be fooled by Joe Biden. He knows his infrastructure and education bills have as much chance at becoming law as the $15-dollar minimum wage or the $2,000 stimulus checks he promised us as a candidate. He knows his American Jobs Plan will never create "millions of good paying jobs – jobs Americans can raise their families on" any more than NAFTA, which he supported, would, as was also promised, create millions of good paying jobs. His mantra of "buy American" is worthless. He knows the vast majority of our consumer electronics, apparel, furniture and industrial supplies are made in China by workers who earn an average of one or two dollars an hour and lack unions and basic labor rights. He knows his call to lower deductibles and prescription drug costs in the Affordable Care Act will never be permitted by the corporations that profit from health care. He knows the corporate donors that fund the Democratic Party will ensure their lobbyists will continue to write the laws that guarantee they pay little or no taxes. He knows the corporate subsidies and tax incentives he proposes as a solution to the climate crisis will do nothing to halt oil and gas fracking, shut down coal-fired plants or halt the construction of new pipelines for gas-fired power plants. His promises of reform have no more weight than those peddled by Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, who Biden slavishly served and who also promised social equality while betraying working men and women.

This article originally appeared on ScheerPost.com.

Biden is the epitome of the empty, amoral creature produced by our system of legalized bribery. His long political career in Congress was defined by representing the interests of big business, especially the credit card companies based in Delaware. He was nicknamed Senator Credit Card. He has always glibly told the public what it wants to hear and then sold them out. He was a prominent promoter and architect of a generation of federal "tough on crime" laws that helped militarize the nation's police and more than doubled the population of the world's largest prison system with harsh mandatory sentencing guidelines and laws that put people in prison for life for nonviolent drug crimes, even as his son struggled with addiction. He was a principal author of the Patriot Act, which began the stripping away of our most basic civil liberties. And there has never been a weapons system, or a war, he did not support.

Nothing substantial will change under Biden, despite the hyperventilating about him being the next FDR. Biden's request for $715 billion for the Defense Department in fiscal year 2022, a $11.3 billion (1.6 percent) increase over 2021, will support the disastrous military provocations with China and Russia he embraces, the endless wars in the Middle East and the bloated defense industry. Wholesale government surveillance will not be curbed. Julian Assange will remain a target. The industries that were shipped overseas and the well-paying unionized jobs will not return. The grinding machinery of predatory capitalism, and the sadism that defines it, will poison the society as mercilessly under Biden as it did when Donald Trump was conducting his Twitter presidency.

Sadism now defines nearly every cultural, social and political experience in the United States. It is expressed in the greed of an oligarchic elite that has seen its wealth increase during the pandemic by $1.1 trillion while the country has suffered the sharpest rise in its poverty rate in more than 50 years. It is expressed in extra-judicial killings by police in cities such as Minneapolis. It is expressed in our complicity in Israel's wholesale killing of unarmed Palestinians, the humanitarian crisis engendered by the war in Yemen and our reigns of terror in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. It is expressed in the torture in our prisons and black sites. It is expressed in the separation of children from their undocumented parents, where they are held as if they were dogs in a kennel.

The historian Johan Huizinga, writing about the twilight of the middle ages, argued that as things fall apart sadism is embraced as a way to cope with the hostility of an indifferent universe. No longer bound to a common purpose, a ruptured society retreats into the cult of the self. It celebrates, as do corporations on Wall Street or mass culture through reality television shows, the classic traits of psychopaths: superficial charm, grandiosity and self-importance; a need for constant stimulation; a penchant for lying, deception and manipulation; and the incapacity for remorse or guilt. Get what you can, as fast as you can, before someone else gets it. This is the state of nature, the "war of all against all," Thomas Hobbes saw as the consequence of social collapse, a world in which life becomes "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." And this sadism, as Friedrich Nietzsche understood, fuels a perverted, sadistic pleasure.

The only way out for most Americans is to serve, as Biden does, the sadistic machine. The impoverishment of the working class has conditioned tens of millions of Americans to accept being recruited into the service of the militarized police that function as lethal armies of internal occupation; a military that carries out reigns of terror in foreign occupations; intelligence agencies that torture in global black sites; the government's vast network of spying on the citizenry; the theft of personal information by credit agencies and digital media; the largest prison system in the world; an immigration service that hunts down people who have never committed a crime and separates children from their parents to pack them in warehouses; a court system that condemns the poor to decades of incarceration, often for nonviolent crimes, and denies them a jury trial; companies that carry out the dirty work of evictions, shutting off utilities, including water, collecting usurious debts that force people into bankruptcy and denying health services to those that cannot pay; banks and payday lenders that burden the destitute with predatory, high-interest loans; and a financial system designed to keep most of the country locked in a crippling debt peonage as the wealth of the oligarchic elite swells to levels unseen in American history.

These are some of the few jobs that are well compensated. They bring with them feelings of omnipotence, for the victims are largely powerless. In service to the state or corporations, employees can abuse, humiliate and even kill with impunity, as the near daily murder of unarmed civilians by the police illustrates. This service to monolithic centers of power absolves people of moral choice. It imparts a God-like omnipotence.

We know what this sadism looks like. It looks like Derek Chauvin nonchalantly choking to death George Floyd as his police colleagues watch impassively. It looks like Andrew Brown Jr. shot five times by police in North Carolina, including once in the back of the head. It looks like Abner Louima, who had a broomstick pushed up his rectum by police in a bathroom at the 70th Precinct station house in Brooklyn, requiring three major operations to repair the internal injuries. It looks like Navy Seal Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher randomly shooting to death unarmed civilians and using a hunting knife to repeatedly stab to death an injured, sedated 17-year-old Iraqi prisoner and then photographing himself with the corpse. It looks like Iraqi civilians, few of whom had anything to do with the insurgency, naked, bound, beaten and sexually humiliated and raped, and at times murdered, by army guards and private contractors in Abu Ghraib. Prisoners in Abu Ghraib were routinely dragged across the prison floor by a rope tied to their penises and chemical lights were used to sodomize them or snapped open so the phosphoric liquid could be poured over their naked bodies. It looks like women who are tortured, beaten, degraded and sexually violated, often by numerous men, in porn films, who are then discarded after a few weeks or months with severe trauma, along with sexually transmitted diseases and vaginal and anal tears that must be repaired surgically.

Sadistic societies condemn segments of the population – in America these are poor Blacks, Muslims, the undocumented, the LGBTQ community, radical anti-capitalists, intellectuals – as human refuse. They are viewed as social contaminants. Laws, institutions and bureaucratic structures are built in sadistic societies that function, in the words of Max Weber, as an "inanimate machine." The machine forces most people into the mass, but it allows some willing to do its dirty work to rise above the multitude. Those that carry out the sadism on behalf of the power elite fear being pushed back into the mass. For this reason, they energetically carry out the degradation, cruelty and sadism the machine demands. The more they insult, persecute, torture, humiliate and kill, the more they seem to magically widen the divide between themselves and their victims. This is why Black police and corrections officers can be as cruel, and sometimes crueler, than their white counterparts.

The sadism eradicates, at least momentarily, the sadist's feelings of worthlessness, vulnerability and susceptibility to pain and death. It imparts pleasure. I was beaten by Saudi military police and later by Saddam Hussein's secret police when I was taken prisoner after the first Gulf War. The goons carrying out my beatings clearly enjoyed them. Israel's abuse of the Palestinians, the assaults of Muslims and girls and women in India and the denigration of Muslims in the countries we occupy are part of a global breakdown that extends beyond the United States. Wilhelm Reich in "The Mass Psychology of Fascism" and Klaus Theweleit in "Male Fantasies" argue that sadism, along with a grotesque hyper-masculinity, rather than any coherent belief system, is the core of fascism, although communist regimes in China and the Soviet Union could be as murderous and sadistic as their fascist counterparts.

Jean Amery, who was in the Belgian resistance in World War II and who was captured and tortured by the Gestapo in 1943, defines sadism "as the radical negation of the other, the simultaneous denial of both the social principle and the reality principle. In the sadist's world, torture, destruction, and death are triumphant: and such a world clearly has no hope of survival. On the contrary, he desires to transcend the world, to achieve total sovereignty by negating fellow human beings – which he sees as representing a particular kind of 'hell.'"

Amery's point is important. A sadistic society is about collective self-destruction. It is the apotheosis of a society deformed by overwhelming experiences of loss, alienation and stasis. The only way left to affirm yourself in failed societies is to destroy. Johan Huizinga in his book "Waning of the Middle Ages" noted that that the dissolution of medieval society provoked "the violent tenor of life." Today, this "violent tenor of life" drives people to carry out police murders, evictions of families, court-ordered bankruptcies, the denial of medical care to the sick, suicide bombings and mass shootings. As the sociologist Emil Durkheim understood, those who seek the annihilation of others are driven by desires for self-annihilation. Sadism imparts the rush and pleasure, often with heavy sexual overtones, which lures us towards what Sigmund Freud called the death instinct, the instinct to destroy all forms of life, including our own. When enveloped by a death-saturated world death, ironically, is embraced as the cure.

Corporate capitalism, which has perverted the values of American society to commodify its every aspect, including human beings and the natural world, and teaching us that the dictates of the market should govern every aspect of our existence, is infused with sadism. It is about the pleasure derived from exploiting others, as Frederick Nietzsche wrote in "On the Genealogy of Morals:"

[T]he creditor is given a kind of pleasure as repayment and compensation – the pleasure of being allowed to discharge his power on a powerless person … the delight in 'de fair le mal pour le plaisir de le faire' [doing wrong for the pleasure of it], the enjoyment of violation. This enjoyment is more highly prized the lower and baser the debtor stands in the social order, and it can easily seem to the creditor a delicious mouthful, even a foretaste of a higher rank. By means of the 'punishment' of the debtor, the creditor participates in a right belonging to the masters. … The compensation thus consist of a permission for and right to crueltyEnron energy traders, in a dialogue that could have come from any large corporation, were caught on tape in 2000 discussing "stealing" from California, sticking it to "Grandma Millie." Two traders, identified as Kevin and Bob, dismissed demands by California regulators for refunds because of the company's constant price-gouging.

Kevin: So the rumor's true? They're fucking takin' all the money back from you guys? All those money you guys stole from those poor grandmothers in California?
Bob: Yeah, Grandma Millie, man. But she's the one who couldn't figure out how to fucking vote on the butterfly ballot.
Kevin: Yeah, now she wants her fucking money back for all the power you've charged for fucking $250 a megawatt hour.
Bob: You know – you know – you know, Grandma Millie, she's the one that Al Gore's fightin' for, you know?
Later in the same conversation, Kevin and Bob denigrate Californians.
Kevin: Oh, best thing that could happen is fucking an earthquake, let that thing float out to the Pacific and put 'em fucking candles.
Bob: I know. Those guys – just cut 'em off.
Kevin: They're so fucked and they're so like totally – –
Bob: They are so fucked.

We will not extract ourselves from predatory capitalism and its culture of sadism with meager government handouts. We will not extract ourselves because Biden's slick speech writers and public relations specialists, who use polls and focus groups to feed back to us what we want to hear, can make us feel the administration is on our side. There is no good will in the Biden White House, the Congress, the courts, the media – which has become an echo chamber of the privileged classes – or corporate boardrooms. They are the enemy.

We will extract ourselves from this culture of sadism the way the dispossessed extracted themselves from the stranglehold of crony capitalism during the Great Depression, by organizing, protesting and disrupting the system until the ruling elites are forced to grant a measure of social and economic justice. The Bonus Army, World War I veterans who had been denied pension payments, set up huge encampments in Washington, which were violently dispersed by the army. Neighborhood groups, many of them members of the Wobblies or the Communist Party, in the 1930s physically prevented sheriff departments from evicting families. In 1936 and 1937, the United Auto Workers union carried out a sit-down strike inside factories that crippled General Motors, forcing the company to recognize the union, raise wages and meet union demands for job protection and safe working conditions. It was one of the most important labor victories in American history and led to the entire automobile industry in the United States becoming unionized. Farmers, forced into bankruptcy and foreclosures by the big banks and Wall Street, founded the Farmer's Holiday Association to protest the seizure of family farms, one of the reasons bank robbers such as John Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde and the Barker Gang were folk heroes. The farmers blocked roads and destroyed mountains of farm products, reducing supply and raising prices. The farmers, like unionized auto workers, endured widespread government surveillance and violent attacks from the FBI, company goons, hired gun thugs, militias and sheriff's departments. But the militancy worked. The farmers forced the state to accept a de facto moratorium on farm foreclosures. Mass demonstrations outside state capitals at the same time pressured state legislatures to block the collection of overdue mortgage payments. Tenant farmers and sharecroppers in the south unionized. The Department of Labor called their collective action a "miniature civil war." The unemployed and the hungry throughout the country squatted in vacant homes and on vacant land forming shantytowns that were known as Hoovervilles. The destitute took over public buildings and public utilities. This constant pressure, not the good will of FDR, created the New Deal. He and his fellow oligarchs eventually understood that if there was not reform there would be revolution, something Roosevelt acknowledged in his private correspondence.

It is not until people are reintegrated into the society, not until corporate and oligarchic control over our educational, political and media systems are removed, not until we recover the ethic of the common good, that we have any hope of rebuilding the positive social bonds that foster a healthy society. History has amply illustrated how this process works. It is a game of fear. And until we make them afraid, until a terrified Joe Biden and the oligarchs he serves look out on a sea of pitchforks, we will not blunt the culture of sadism they have engineered.

The real tragedy behind the collapse of the American empire

America's defeat in Afghanistan is one in a string of catastrophic military blunders that herald the death of the American empire. With the exception of the first Gulf War, fought largely by mechanized units in the open desert that did not—wisely—attempt to occupy Iraq, the United States political and military leadership has stumbled from one military debacle to another. Korea. Vietnam. Lebanon. Afghanistan. Iraq. Syria. Libya. The trajectory of military fiascos mirrors the sad finales of the Chinese, Ottoman, Hapsburg, Russian, French, British, Dutch, Portuguese and Soviet empires. While each of these empires decayed with their own peculiarities, they all exhibited patterns of dissolution that characterize the American experiment.

Imperial ineptitude is matched by domestic ineptitude. The collapse of good government at home, with legislative, executive and judicial systems all seized by corporate power, ensures that the incompetent and the corrupt, those dedicated not to the national interest but to swelling the profits of the oligarchic elite, lead the country into a cul-de-sac. Rulers and military leaders, driven by venal self-interest, are often buffoonish characters in a grand comic operetta. How else to think of Allen Dulles, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, Donald Trump or the hapless Joe Biden? While their intellectual and moral vacuity is often darkly amusing, it is murderous and savage when directed towards their victims.

The two-decade-long wars in the Middle East, the greatest strategic blunder in American history, have only left in their wake one failed state after another. Yet, no one in the ruling class is held accountable.

There is not a single case since 1941 when the coups, political assassinations, election fraud, black propaganda, blackmail, kidnapping, brutal counter-insurgency campaigns, U.S. sanctioned massacres, torture in global black sites, proxy wars or military interventions carried out by the United States resulted in the establishment of a democratic government. The two-decade-long wars in the Middle East, the greatest strategic blunder in American history, have only left in their wake one failed state after another. Yet, no one in the ruling class is held accountable.

War, when it is waged to serve utopian absurdities, such as implanting a client government in Baghdad that will flip the region, including Iran, into U.S. protectorates, or when, as in Afghanistan, there is no vision at all, descends into a quagmire. The massive allocation of money and resources to the U.S. military, which includes Biden's request for $715 billion for the Defense Department in fiscal year 2022, a $11.3 billion, or 1.6 percent increase, over 2021, is not in the end about national defense. The bloated military budget is designed, as Seymour Melman explained in his book, "The Permanent War Economy," primarily to keep the American economy from collapsing. All we really make anymore are weapons. Once this is understood, perpetual war makes sense, at least for those who profit from it.

The idea that America is a defender of democracy, liberty and human rights would come as a huge surprise to those who saw their democratically elected governments subverted and overthrown by the United States in Panama (1941), Syria (1949), Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954), Congo (1960), Brazil (1964), Chile (1973), Honduras (2009) and Egypt (2013). And this list does not include a host of other governments that, however despotic, as was the case in South Vietnam, Indonesia or Iraq, were viewed as inimical to American interests and destroyed, in each case making life for the inhabitants of these countries even more miserable.

I spent two decades on the outer reaches of empire as a foreign correspondent. The flowery rhetoric used to justify the subjugation of other nations so corporations can plunder natural resources and exploit cheap labor is solely for domestic consumption. The generals, intelligence operatives, diplomats, bankers and corporate executives that manage empire find this idealistic talk risible. They despise, with good reason, naïve liberals who call for "humanitarian intervention" and believe the ideals used to justify empire are real, that empire can be a force for good. These liberal interventionists, the useful idiots of imperialism, attempt to civilize a process that was created and designed to repress, intimidate, plunder and dominate.

The liberal interventionists, because they wrap themselves in high ideals, are responsible for numerous military and foreign policy debacles. The call by liberal interventionists such as Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Susan Rice and Samantha Power to fund jihadists in Syria and depose Muammar Gaddafi in Libya rent these countries—as in Afghanistan and Iraq—into warring fiefdoms. The liberal interventionists are also the tip of the spear in the campaign to rachet up tensions with China and Russia.

Russia is blamed for interfering in the last two presidential elections on behalf of Donald Trump. Russia, whose economy is roughly the size of Italy's, is also attacked for destabilizing the Ukraine, supporting Bashar al-Assad in Syria, funding France's National Front party and hacking into German computers. Biden has imposed sanctions on Russia—including limits on buying newly issued sovereign debt—in response to allegations that Moscow was behind a hack on SolarWinds Corp. and worked to thwart his candidacy.

At the same time, the liberal interventionists are orchestrating a new cold war with China, justifying this cold war because the Chinese government is carrying out genocide against its Uyghur minority, repressing the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong and stealing U.S. patents. As with Russia, sanctions have been imposed targeting the country's ruling elite. The U.S. is also carrying out provocative military maneuvers along the Russian border and in the South China Sea.

The core belief of imperialists, whether they come in the form of a Barack Obama or a George W. Bush, is racism and ethnic chauvinism, the notion that Americans are permitted, because of superior attributes, to impose their "values" on lesser races and peoples by force. This racism, carried out in the name of Western civilization and its corollary white supremacy, unites the rabid imperialists and liberal interventionists in the Republican and Democratic parties. It is the fatal disease of empire, captured in Graham Greene's novel "The Quiet American" and Michael Ondaatje's "The English Patient."

The crimes of empire always spawn counter-violence that is then used to justify harsher forms of imperial repression. For example, the United States routinely kidnapped Islamic jihadists fighting in the Balkans between 1995 and 1998. They were sent to Egypt—many were Egyptian—where they were savagely tortured and usually executed. In 1998, the International Islamic Front for Jihad said it would carry out a strike against the United States after jihadists were kidnapped and transferred to black sites from Albania. They made good on their threat igniting massive truck bombs at the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that left 224 dead. Of course, the "extraordinary renditions" by the CIA did not end and neither did the attacks by jihadists.

Our decades-long military fiascos, a feature of all late empires, are called "micro-militarism." The Athenians engaged in micro-militarism during the Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.) when they invaded Sicily, suffering the loss of 200 ships and thousands of soldiers. The defeat triggered successful revolts throughout the Athenian empire. The Roman empire, which at its height lasted for two centuries, created a military machine that, like the Pentagon, was a state within a state. Rome's military rulers, led by Augustus, snuffed out the remnants of Rome's anemic democracy and ushered in a period of despotism that saw the empire disintegrate under the weight of extravagant military expenditures and corruption. The British empire, after the suicidal military folly of World War I, was terminated in 1956 when it attacked Egypt in a dispute over the nationalization of the Suez Canal. Britain was forced to withdraw in humiliation, empowering Arab nationalist leaders such as Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser and dooming British rule over its few remaining colonies. None of these empires recovered.

"While rising empires are often judicious, even rational in their application of armed force for conquest and control of overseas dominions, fading empires are inclined to ill-considered displays of power, dreaming of bold military masterstrokes that would somehow recoup lost prestige and power," the historian Alfred W. McCoy writes in his book "In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of US Global Power": "Often irrational even from an imperial point of view, these micromilitary operations can yield hemorrhaging expenditures or humiliating defeats that only accelerate the process already under way."

The worse it gets at home the more the empire needs to fabricate enemies within and without. This is the real reason for the increase in tensions with Russia and China. The poverty of half the nation and concentration of wealth in the hands of a tiny oligarchic cabal, the wanton murder of unarmed civilians by militarized police, the rage at the ruling elites, expressed with nearly half the electorate voting for a con artist and demagogue and a mob of his supporters storming the capital, are the internal signs of disintegration. The inability of the for-profit national health services to cope with the pandemic, the passage of a Covid relief bill and the proposal of an infrastructure bill that would hand the bulk of some $5 trillion dollars to corporations while tossing crumbs—one-time checks of $1,400 to a citizenry in deep financial distress—will only fuel the decline.

The façade of empire is able to mask the rot within its foundations, often for decades, until, as we saw with the Soviet Union, the empire appears to suddenly disintegrate.

Because of the loss of unionized jobs, the real decline of wages, de-industrialization, chronic underemployment and unemployment, and punishing austerity programs, the country is plagued by a plethora of diseases of despair including opioid addictions, alcoholism, suicides, gambling, depression, morbid obesity and mass shootings —since March 16 the United States has had at least 45 mass shootings, including eight people killed in an Indiana FedEx facility on Friday, three dead and three injured in a shooting in Wisconsin on Sunday, and another three dead in a shooting in Austin on Sunday. These are the consequences of a deeply troubled society.

The façade of empire is able to mask the rot within its foundations, often for decades, until, as we saw with the Soviet Union, the empire appears to suddenly disintegrate. The loss of the dollar as the global reserve currency will probably mark the final chapter of the American empire. In 2015, the dollar accounted for 90 percent of bilateral transactions between China and Russia, a percentage that has since fallen to about 50 percent. The use of sanctions as a weapon against China and Russia pushes these countries to replace the dollar with their own national currencies. Russia, as part of this move away from the dollar, has begun accumulating yuan reserves.

The loss of the dollar as the world's reserve currency will instantly raise the cost of imports. It will result in unemployment of Depression-era levels. It will force the empire to dramatically contract. It will, as the economy worsens, fuel a hyper-nationalism that will most likely be expressed through a Christianized fascism. The mechanisms, already in place, for total social control, militarized police, a suspension of civil liberties, wholesale government surveillance, enhanced "terrorism" laws that railroad people into the world's largest prison system and censorship overseen by the digital media monopolies will seamlessly cement into place a police state. Nations that descend into crises these severe seek to deflect the rage of a betrayed population on foreign scapegoats. China and Russia will be used to fill these roles.

The defeat in Afghanistan is a familiar and sad story, one all those blinded by imperial hubris endure. The tragedy, however, is not the collapse of the American empire, but that, lacking the ability to engage in self-critique and self-correction, as it dies it will lash out in a blind, inchoate fury at innocents at home and abroad.

Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who was a foreign correspondent for fifteen years for The New York Times, where he served as the Middle East Bureau Chief and Balkan Bureau Chief for the paper. He is the host of the Emmy Award-nominated RT America show On Contact. His most recent book is "America: The Farewell Tour" (2019).

'Quintessentially American': The worst aspects of US society are sacralized by a heretical form of Christianity

Robert Aaron Long, 21, charged with murdering eight victims, six of whom were Asian women, at three Atlanta-area massage parlors, told police that he carried out the killings to eliminate the temptations that fed his sexual addiction. His church, Crabapple First Baptist Church, in Milton, Georgia, which opposes sex outside of marriage, issued a statement condemning the shootings as "unacceptable and contrary to the gospel."

This article originally appeared on ScheerPost.

The church, however, also immediately took down its web site and removed videos, including one that was captured by The Washington Post before it was deleted where the church's pastor, the Rev. Jerry Dockery, told the congregation that Christ's second coming was imminent. And when Christ returned, Dockery said, he would wage a ruthless and violent war on nonbelievers and infidels, those controlled by Satan.

"There is one word devoted to their demise," the pastor said. "Swept away! Banished! Judged. They have no power before God. Satan himself is bound and released and then bound again and banished. That great dragon deceiver – just that quickly – God throws him into an eternal torment. And then we read where everyone – everyone that rejects Christ – will join Satan, the Beast and the false prophet in hell."

I heard a lot of these types of sermons by fundamentalist preachers during the two years I crisscrossed the country for my book American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. I attended Bible studies, prayer groups, conventions, tapings of Christian television shows, rallies held by Patriot Pastors, talks by leaders such as James Dobson, D. James Kennedy and Tony Perkins and creationist seminars. I visited the 50,000-square-foot Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, took an Evangelism Explosion course, joined congregations at numerous megachurches for Sunday worship and participated in right-to-life retreats. I spent hundreds of hours interviewing scores of believers.

The simplistic message was always the same. The world was divided into us and them, the blessed and the damned, agents of God and agents of Satan, good and evil. Millions of largely white Americans, hermetically sealed within the ideology of the Christian Right, yearn to destroy the Satanic forces they blame for the debacle of their lives, the broken homes, domestic and sexual abuse, struggling single parent households, lack of opportunities, crippling debt, poverty, evictions, bankruptcies, loss of sustainable incomes and the decay of their communities. Satanic forces, they believe, control the financial systems, the media, public education and the three branches of government. They believed this long before Donald Trump, who astutely tapped into this deep malaise and magic thinking, mounted his 2016 campaign for president.

The killings in Atlanta were not an anomaly by a deranged gunman. The hatred for people of other ethnicities and faiths, the hatred for women of color, who are condemned by the Christian right as temptresses in league with Satan, was fertilized in the rampant misogyny, hypermasculinity and racism that lie at the center of the belief system of the Christian right, as well define the core beliefs of American imperialism. The white race, especially in the United States, is celebrated as God's chosen agent. Imperialism and war are divine instruments for purging the world of infidels and barbarians, evil itself. Capitalism, because God blessed the righteous with wealth and power and condemned the immoral to poverty and suffering, is shorn of its inherent cruelty and exploitation. The iconography and symbols of American nationalism are intertwined with the iconography and symbols of the Christian faith. In short, the worst aspects of American society are sacralized by this heretical form of Christianity.

Believers are told that Satanic forces, promoting a liberal creed of "secular humanism," lure people to self-destruction through drugs, alcohol, gambling, pornography and massage brothels. Long, who had frequented two of the massage parlors he attacked, was arrested on his way to Florida to attack a business connected with the pornography industry. He had attempted to block porn sites on his computer and sought help for his fascination with porn from Christian counselors.

The secular humanists, along with creating a society designed to tempt people into sin, are blamed for immigration programs that fuel demographic shifts to turn whites into a minority. The secular humanists are charged with elevating those of other races and beliefs – including Muslims whose religion is branded as Satanic – along with those whose gender identities challenge the sanctity of marriage as between a man and a woman and patriarchy. The secular humanists are believed to be behind an array of institutions including the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Organization for Women, Planned Parenthood, the Trilateral Commission, the United Nations, the State Department, major foundations (Rockefeller, Carnegie, Ford), elite universities and media platforms such as CNN and The New York Times.

In D. James Kennedy's book "The Gates of Hell Shall Not Prevail: The Attack on Christianity and What You Need to Know to Combat It," he writes that although the United States was once a "Christian nation," that is no longer the case because today "the hostile barrage from atheists, agnostics and other secular humanists has begun to take a serious toll on that heritage. In recent years, they have built up their forces and even increased their assault upon all our Christian institutions, and they have been enormously successful in taking over the 'public square.' Public education, the media, the government, the courts, and even the church in many places, now belong to them."

The incendiary rhetoric creates an atmosphere of being under siege. It imparts a sense of comradeship, the feeling that although the world outside the walls of the church or the home is dangerous and hostile, there is a select community of brothers and sisters. Believers only owe a moral obligation to other Christians. The world is divided between comrades and enemies, neighbors and strangers. The commandment "Love your neighbor as yourself" is perverted to "Love your fellow Christians as yourself." Nonbelievers have no place on the moral map.

When Christ returns, believers are told, He will lead the elect in one final apocalyptic battle against the people and groups blamed for their dislocation and despair. The secular world, the one that almost destroyed them and their families, will be eradicated. The flaws in human society and in human beings will be erased. They will have what most never had: a stable home and family, a loving community, fixed moral standards, financial and personal security and success and an abolition of uncertainty, disorder and doubt. Their fragmented, troubled lives will become whole. Evil will be physically vanquished. There will be no more impurity because the impure will no longer exist.

This externalization of evil, however, is not limited to the Christian Right. It lies at the core of American imperialism, American exceptionalism and American racism. White supremacy, which dehumanizes the other at home and abroad, is also fueled by the fantasy that there are superior human beings who are white and lesser human beings who are not. Long did not need the Christian fascism of his church to justify to himself the killings; the racial hierarchies within American society had already dehumanized his victims. His church simply cloaked it in religious language. The jargon varies. The dark sentiments are the same.

The ideology of the Christian right, like all totalitarian creeds, is, at its core, an ideology of hatred. It rejects what Augustine calls the grace of love, or volo ut sis (I want you to be). It replaces it with an ideology that condemns all those outside the magic circle. There is, in relationships based on love, an affirmation of the mystery of the other, an affirmation of unexplained and unfathomable differences. These relationships not only recognize that others have a right to be, as Augustine wrote, but the sacredness of difference. This sacredness of difference is an anathema to Christian fundamentalists, as it is to imperialists, to all racists. It is dangerous to the hegemony of the triumphalist ideology. It calls into question the infallibility of the doctrine, the essential appeal of all ideologies. It suggests that there are alternative ways to live and believe. The moment there is a hint of uncertainty the ideological edifice crumbles. The truth is irrelevant as long as the ideology is consistent, doubt is heretical and the vision of the world, however absurd, absolute and unassailable. These ideologies are not meant to be rational. They are meant to fill emotional voids.

Evil for the Christian fundamentalists is not something within them. It is an external force to be destroyed. It may require indiscriminate acts of violence, but if it leads to a better world this violence is morally justified. Those who advance the holy crusade alone know the truth. They alone have been anointed by God or, in the language of American imperialism, western civilization, to do battle with evil. They alone have the right to impose their "values" on others by force. Once evil is external, once the human race is divided into the righteous and the damned, repression and even murder become a sacred duty.

Immanuel Kant defined "radical evil" as the drive, often carried out under a righteous façade, to surrender to absolute self-love. Those gripped by radical evil always externalize evil. They lose touch with their own humanity. They are blind to their own innate depravity. In the name of western civilization and high ideals, in the name of reason and science, in the name of America, in the name of the free market, in the name of Jesus, they seek the subjugation and annihilation of others. Radical evil, Hannah Arendt wrote, makes whole groups of human beings superfluous. They become, rhetorically, living corpses before often becoming actual corpses.

This binary world view is anti-thought. That is part of its attraction. It gives to those who are alienated and lost emotional certitude. It is buttressed by hollow cliches, patriotic slogans and Bible passages, what psychologists call symbol agnostics. True believers are capable only of imitation. They shut down, by choice, critical reflection and genuine understanding. They surrender all moral autonomy. The impoverished language is regurgitated not because it makes sense, but because it justifies the messianic and intoxicating right to lead humankind to paradise. These pseudo-heroes, however, know only one form of sacrifice, the sacrifice of others.

Human evil is not a problem to be solved. It is a mystery. It is a bitter, constant paradox. We carry the capacity for evil within us. I learned this unsettling truth as a war correspondent. The line between the victim and the victimizer is razor thin. Evil is also seductive. It offers us unlimited often lethal power to turn those around us into objects to destroy or debase to gratify our most perverted desires or both. This evil waits to consume us. All it requires to flourish is for us to turn away, to pretend it is not there, to do nothing. Those who blind themselves to their capacity for evil commit evil not for evil's sake, but to make a better world. This collective self-delusion is the story of America, from its foundation on the twin evils of slavery and genocide to its inherent racism, predatory capitalism and savage wars of conquest. The more we ignore this evil, the worse it gets.

The awareness of human corruptibility and human limitations, as understood by Augustine, Kant, Sigmund Freud and Primo Levi, has been humankind's most potent check on evil. Levi wrote that "compassion and brutality can coexist in the same individual and in the same moment, despite all logic." This self-knowledge forces us to accept that no act, even one defined as moral or virtuous, is ever free from the taint of self-interest. It reminds us that we are condemned to always battle our baser instincts. It recognizes that compassion, as Rousseau wrote, is alone the quality from which "all the social virtues flow."

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said that "some are guilty, but all are responsible." We may not be guilty of the murders in Atlanta, but we are responsible. We must answer for them. We must accept the truth about ourselves, however unpleasant. We must unmask the lie of our pretended innocence. Long's murderous spree was quintessentially American. That is what makes it, along with all other hate crimes, along with our endless imperial wars, police terror, callous abandonment of the poor and the vulnerable, so frightening. This evil will not be tamed until it is named and confronted.

Chris Hedges on 'America's death spiral': 'The elites collectively sold out the public to corporate power'

The established ruling elites know there is a crisis. They agreed, at least temporarily, to throw money at it with the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 bill known as American Rescue Plan (ARP). But the ARP will not alter the structural inequities, either by raising the minimum wage to $15.00 an hour or imposing taxes and regulations on corporations or the billionaire class that saw its wealth increase by a staggering $1.1 trillion since the start of the pandemic. The health system will remain privatized, meaning the insurance and pharmaceutical corporations will reap a windfall of tens of billions of dollars with the ARP, and this when they are already making record profits. The endless wars in the Middle East, and the bloated military budget that funds them, will remain sacrosanct. Wall Street and the predatory global speculators that profit from the massive levels of debt peonage imposed on an underpaid working class and loot the U.S. Treasury in our casino capitalism will continue to funnel money upwards into the hands of a tiny, oligarchic cabal. There will be no campaign finance reform to end our system of legalized bribery. The giant tech monopolies will remain intact. The fossil fuel companies will continue to ravage the ecosystem. The militarized police, censorship imposed by digital media platforms, vast prison system, harsher and harsher laws aimed at curbing domestic terrorism and dissent and wholesale government surveillance will be, as they were before, the primary instruments of state control.

This article originally appeared on ScheerPost.com.

This act will, at best, provide a momentary respite from the country's death spiral, sending out one time checks of $1,400 to 280 million Americans, extending $300 weekly unemployment benefits until the end of August and distributing as much as $3,600 to families per child for a year starting on July 1. Much of this money will be instantly gobbled up by landlords, lenders, medical providers and credit card companies. The act does, to its credit, bail out some 1 million unionized workers poised to lose their pensions and hands $31.2 billion in aid to Native communities, some of the poorest in the nation.

But what happens to the majority of Americans who get government support for only a few months? What are they supposed to do when the checks stop arriving at the end of the year? Will the federal government orchestrate another massive relief package? I doubt it. We will be back where we started.

By refusing to address the root causes of America's rot, by failing to pump life back into the democratic institutions that once gave the citizen a voice, however limited, and make incremental and piecemeal reform possible, by not addressing the severe economic and social inequality and dislocation that afflicts at least half the country, the anomie and ruptured social bonds that gave rise to a demagogue like Donald Trump will expand. The American empire will not staunch its disintegration. The political deformities will metastasize.

When the next demagogue appears, and the Republican Party has banked its future on Trump or his doppelgänger, he or she will probably be competent. The Republican Party in 43 states has proposed 250 laws to limit mail, early in-person and Election Day voting and mandate stricter ID requirements, as well as reduce the hours at voting sites and the numbers of voting locations potentially disenfranchising tens of millions of voters. The party has no intention of playing by the rules. Once back in power, cloaked in the ideological garb of Christian fascism, the new or the old Trump will abolish what little is left of democratic space.

The established elites pretend that Trump was a freakish anomaly. They naively believe they can make Trump and his most vociferous supporters disappear by banishing them from social media. The ancien régime, will, they assert, return with the decorum of its imperial presidency, respect for procedural norms, elaborately choreographed elections and fealty to neoliberal and imperial policies.

But what the established ruling elites have yet to grasp, despite the narrow electoral victory Joe Biden had over Trump and the storming of the capital on January 6 by an enraged mob, is that the credibility of the old order is dead. The Trump era, if not Trump himself, is the future. The ruling elites, embodied by Biden and the Democratic Party and the polite wing of the Republican Party represented by Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney, is headed for the dustbin of history.

The elites collectively sold out the American public to corporate power. They did this by lying to the public about the consequences of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), trade deals, dismantling welfare, revoking Glass-Stegall, imposing austerity measures, deregulating Wall Street, passing draconian crime bills, launching endless wars in the Middle East and bailing out the big banks and financial firms rather than the victims of their fraud. These lies were far, far more damaging to the public than any of the lies told by Trump. These elites have been found out. They are hated. They deserve to be hated.

The Biden administration — and Biden was one of the principal architects of the policies that fleeced the working class and made war on the poor — is nothing more than a brief coda in the decline and fall, set against which is China's rising global economic and military clout.

The loss of credibility has left the media, which serves as courtiers to the elites, largely powerless to manipulate public perceptions and public opinion. Rather, the media has divided the public into competing demographics. Media platforms target one demographic, feeding its opinions and proclivities back to it, while shrilly demonizing the demographic on the other side of the political divide. This has proved commercially successful. But it has also split the country into irreconcilable warring factions that can no longer communicate. Truth and verifiable fact have been sacrificed. Russiagate is as absurd as the belief that the presidential election was stolen from Trump. Pick your fantasy.

The loss of credibility among the ruling elites has transferred political influence to those outside established centers of power such as Alex Jones, celebrities and those, such as Joe Rogan, Glenn Greenwald and Matt Taibbi who were never groomed by the media conglomerates. The Democratic Party, in an effort to curb the influence of the new centers of power, has allied itself with social media industry giants such as Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Patreon, Substack and Spotify to curtail or censor its critics. The goal is to herd the public back to Democratic Party allied news organizations such as The New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN. But these media outlets, which in the service to corporate advertisers have rendered the lives of the working class and the poor invisible, are as reviled as the ruling elites themselves.

The loss of credibility has also given rise to new, often spontaneous groups such as Black Lives Matter, as well as the lunatic fringe that embraces conspiracy theories such as QAnon. None of these groups or individuals, whether they are on the left or the right, however, have the organizational structure, coherence and ideological cohesiveness of radical movements of the past, including the old Communist Party or militant labor unions. They traffic in emotional outrage, often replacing one outrage with another. They provide new forms of identity to replace the identities lost by tens of millions of Americans who have been cast aside. This energy can be harnessed for laudable causes, such as ending police abuse, but it is too often ephemeral. It has a tendency to transform political debate into grievance protests, at best, and more often televised spectacle. These flash mobs pose no threat to the elites unless they build disciplined organization structures, which takes years, and articulate a vision of what can come next. This is why I support Extinction Rebellion, which has a large grassroots network, especially in Europe, carries out effective sustained acts of civil disobedience and has a clearly stated goal of overthrowing the ruling elites and building a new governing system through people's committees and sortition.

This amorphous, emotionally driven anti-politics is fertile ground for demagogues, who have no political consistency but cater exclusively to the zeitgeist of the moment. Many of those who support demagogues know, on some level, they are con artists and liars. But demagogues are revered because, like all cult leaders, they flout conventions, are outrageous and crude, claim omnipotence and disdain traditional decorum. Demagogues are weaponized against bankrupt well-heeled elites who have stripped the public of opportunities and identities, extinguishing hopes for the future. A cornered population has little left but hate and the emotional catharsis expressing it brings.

Time is not on our side. The old world is never going to return. The new one is fraught with minefields that, if we do not bring down the ruling elites, will make most of our lives miserable. Vladimir Lenin urged his followers to be as radical as reality itself. What he meant is that once you understand the radical forces arrayed against you — Wall Street, militarism, the climate emergency, government surveillance, the prison system, militarized police, corporate controlled elections and legislation and austerity measures — you must embrace a radical response. These malevolent forces, and the political elites such as Biden that do their bidding, will not save us. We will only save ourselves.

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