Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Brexit and Trump: Backlash against Globalism

In 2016, the twin shocks of the Brexit referendum and the U.S. presidential election lay open the fissure between the neoliberal elites and the despised working class they pretend to represent. The center-left British and American media have tried to attribute this phenomenon to mindless xenophobia, in their usual patronizing manner. In doing so, they betray the democratic principle that the people are the best judges of their own interests. The alternative would be to recognize the failures of neoliberal government.

In both cases, we see an overreaching of economic neoliberalism, which began as a series of multilateral trade agreements allowing free transfer of commodities and capital. Extending this further to the free movement of workers across national borders, without a concurrent improvement in labor rights, makes the race to the bottom for cheap labor even easier.

In the 1970s there was a similar increase in immigration, but there was no public backlash since the labor market could accommodate this. After decades of racing to the bottom, pursuing cheaper labor in the Third World, the neoliberals perform the final insult of allowing the cheap labor to migrate to the First World. It does not require any racial animus toward immigrants to see this. It is absurd to pretend that people are more racist now than 40 years ago. The difference is that there is no longer a strong labor market from the workers’ perspective. Even the more educated find they must compete with students and graduates from around the globe who come to Western universities.

From management’s perspective, the labor market is great: an oversupply of qualified candidates willing to work for relatively lower salaries (in uninflated terms). It is obvious that the cheerleading political and cultural elites generally take the side of management on this issue, all their socialist platitudes notwithstanding. This is why it was utterly shocking and irrational to them why the masses would vote for change when everything was going so well.

The media are so invested in the status quo, that they lost sight that there was ever a productive economy before neoliberalism. Various pundits proclaimed that the U.K. economy would collapse outside the European Union, which has only existed in its present form since 1992. Not only do much smaller economies than the U.K. manage to thrive outside such a union, but a free trade compact does not necessarily have to involve free immigration.

At any rate, the predictions were false, and all interpretations of facts have shown elitist confirmation bias. First, it was suggested that instances of Googling “what is the EU” proved that people voted out of ignorance, as if children don’t use the Internet. Second, they thought to confirm their own wisdom when the pound went down, though currency markets are a poor measure of economic strength. Currency trading is completely unregulated speculation based on purely subjective assessment of value. Here the market simply reflected the panicked atmosphere, and even that only briefly, since the Euro, lest it be forgotten, has not done much better. A year later, the U.K. economy has not collapsed or even done especially poorly, but this failed prediction has been ignored.

The failings of the European Union are already well documented. In brief, the Union over-expanded to countries that could not be reasonably held to the same rigid monetary policy. Further, it was over-ambitious in extending the nature of the Union from a common market to a politically sovereign institution. This ignored substantial differences of national interest and culture among Europeans. The free migration of peoples, innocuous when it was limited to the affluent European nations, proved disastrous in terms of economics and security when it was extended to Eastern Europe. Now all of Europe was at the mercy of the countries with the most lax immigration policies.

Anyone who raised these concerns was dismissed as an isolationist or a xenophobe. People were forced to pretend, absurdly, that Muslims have no greater propensity to terrorism than other groups, or to ignore that too rapid admittance of immigrants hampers cultural assimilation. Economic concerns were dismissed by pointing at overall economic indicators, promoting the “rising tide lifts all boats” myth usually confined to conservatives. While claiming to deplore inequality, neoliberals actively promoted the relative pauperization of their countrymen, forcing them to join the Third World race to the bottom.

In the United States, the non-ideological nature of this discontent was made clear by the spread of support to the self-described socialist Bernie Sanders and the inscrutably non-ideological Donald Trump. The first was thwarted in part by the bias of the Democratic Party, which had decided from the outset to anoint Hillary Clinton. She would have run virtually unopposed had not the independent Sanders decided to run as a Democrat. Even then, the Democratic National Committee favored Clinton with its human resources, its media influence, and its disciplinary authority, as proved by leaked DNC emails.  We should not be surprised that the media considers the leak of the e-mails to be a greater affront to democracy than their content.

Trump was successful not only because of his ability and energy as a campaigner (shown by his brutal travel schedule), but because the Republican primary was much more open and divided. This was perceived early, but attempts by some of the mainstream candidates to combine their constituencies proved of no avail. In fact, the more clear it became that the Trump candidacy was opposed by the party, the greater his appeal became. Here at last was someone who might refuse to take his cues from the globalist free trade crowd.

More so than Sanders, Trump appealed to nationalist sentiment, which was hardly unique, but he did so in a way that refused to apologize for preferring one’s countrymen over all others. This was timely considering the sense of disenfranchisement that prevailed. On specifics, he seemed to be out of sync with reality, repeating canards he had used for decades. His complaints about illegal Mexican immigration ignored the fact that net migration from Mexico is now negative; most of the “damage” has already been done. Concerns about foreign-born terrorists were more appropriate for Europe than the U.S. Although his specific facts were often wrong, he played the right theme. Anyone who knew anything about business understood the cost of globalization and which people were hurt most by it, “rising tide” or not. The difference is that this businessman actually seemed to care about this predicament, and would listen to those who had stories that didn’t comport with neoliberal theory.

On foreign policy, the enigmatic Trump at first seemed to be an anti-interventionist, with his criticisms of the debacles in Iraq, Syria, and Libya, and of the needless provocations of Russia. Perhaps we might have the first non-imperialist president since Hoover. It would be a mistake, however, to look for a coherent foreign policy from Trump, who is guided more by instinct than ideology. Consistent with his aggressive style, he soon turned toward calls for “carpet bombing,” fell in line with Zionism, and promised absurd increases in military spending. This militarist trajectory would continue into his early presidency.

I did not expect Trump to win the election, agreeing with most pundits that the electoral math made this exceedingly unlikely. Basically, he would have to sweep the key battleground states and steal some traditionally Democratic states. Faltering in even one of these states would assure a Clinton victory. Instead, he made a clean sweep of the key battlegrounds, and stunningly picked up historically Democratic Michigan and Wisconsin, completing a sweep of the Rust Belt with Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania. These are areas that Hillary Clinton infamously took for granted and under-campaigned. Yet mere canvassing would be ineffective unless accompanied by a substantive agenda addressing the devastation these areas have experienced due to neoliberal globalization of trade and immigration. Anyone who has visited coal country, as I have recently, finding Confederate flags (in the North) and Trump banners in dilapidated, semi-deserted towns, making “white privilege” an absurdly ignorant epithet, should not wonder why they voted for Trump. Instead, we should be amazed that they have not stormed the cities in armed revolt against those who have sold out their country.

Political Correctness as Ressentiment

Most of the so-called “social issues” in current events are expressed in a hypocritical language that conceals hatred behind supposed pity for the weak. This hatred sometimes reveals itself when journalists and other purveyors of mass culture bandy about the term “bigot” and other epithets to characterize anyone who fails to share their view of things, which is usually a selective egalitarianism. They have painted themselves into a corner, having constructed a naive morality where “love” is good and “hate” is evil, so they cannot admit themselves to having any real hatred toward any group, except with the odd justification that it is acceptable to hate hatred.

The key to understanding this so-called “political correctness” (though it is really more social than political) is Nietzsche’s concept of ressentiment (to be discussed at length in a future essay). The French term simply means “resentment,” a word that was not available in German, but Nietzsche gave it a more specific meaning. Ressentiment is the hatred of the weak toward the strong for being strong. This may be disguised by saying, “It is all right to be strong, but do not exercise force,” yet strength is nothing without its exercise. The weak demand that the strong should lay down their weapons and renounce all privileges, yet they hypocritically exert coercive force on would-be elites through the law, the state, etc.

In the present context, ressentiment especially manifests itself in discussions of race, gender, sexual orientation, and social class. Few would have the candor to say, “I hate rich white males,” but the reality of this belief is shown by repeatedly using such a type as an example of evil or bigotry, without fear of repercussion. The same who do not hesitate to complain that an organization “has too many men” or “is too white” would be denounced as “sexist” or “racist” if they complained of “too many women” or “too many blacks.”  Some whites and males have noted this double standard, and denounced it as “reverse discrimination,” while liberals laughingly deride these complaints, claiming it is absurd for them to pose as victims.

Both sides of the dispute miss the point, for they both presuppose the absurd logic of ressentiment, which actually makes being a victim a privileged position. Both sides are competing for the same worthless prize of being able to say, “I am weak, therefore I should have my way.”

We see this in other contexts as well. In discussions of history, it is pretended that the Europeans were evil for conquering the Americas and other parts of the world. Yet when has any of these supposedly victimized peoples failed to conquer when it was in their power to do so? The Native Americans repeatedly warred against each other, and the sub-Saharan Africans enslaved each other, to say nothing of Asian atrocities. They could claim no moral superiority, yet their descendants now do so on no other basis than having been the conquered rather than the conquerors. This is to say that their pretended moral superiority consists solely in their weakness.

I distinguish the pre-modern conquered peoples from their descendants, because the primary sources show no hint of ressentiment among the conquered. The conquered Aztecs gratefully embraced Christianity and integration under Spanish rule, as is attested by the literate among them. They resisted conquest manfully, but once defeated, they accepted their fate. While they still lamented some of the crimes committed by the conquistadores, they did not long for a return to independence. The North American Indians thought it unjust that they should be forced off the lands of their ancestors, but they saw nothing inherently wrong with war and conquest.

The lack of ressentiment among pre-modern people is confirmed by the candor with which they admit the technical, and sometimes even the spiritual, superiority of European civilization. Even those who prefer their old ways candidly acknowledge their differences, without any sense that any one owes them anything.  They were likewise plainspoken about skin color, as the Indians chose the term “red skins” to describe indigenous Americans when speaking in English or French. Their descendants, exposed to white liberal culture, have adopted modern squeamishness about calling attention to racial differences.

The term “bigot” originally meant someone who is sanctimonious, and ironically the term is now used with insufferable sanctimony. “Sexism” and “male chauvinism” were invented by feminists in 1968 to pathologize anyone who disagreed with their doctrines, and the other epithets likewise serve the purpose of excusing liberals from making actual arguments. They all presuppose the “slave morality” that is consequent to ressentiment, which is to make the strong ashamed for being strong, while others are entitled to privileges for the accident of having been born weak. Max Stirner ridiculed such liberal pretenses over a century ago, noting that to claim you deserve free schooling because poor parents begot you is just another birthright.

The way out of this morass is to boldly embrace the charges thrown at the strong, without apology or shame. Point out the hypocrisy of liberalism, which derides the assertion of individualized force or privilege, while embracing the far more formidable coercive power of the state. For all their supposed love of the weak, in the end they only believe might makes right. Thus they will constantly call for new votes on a “progressive” social issue until the vote goes their way, after which we are never to revisit the issue. They will reinterpret the law or even strike down the law if it opposes their favorite principles, after which we are supposed to blindly respect the “rule of law.” All of this, of course, is backed by physical and financial coercion against those who oppose. I do not complain of this, but neither should they complain when a stronger group does likewise to them.

Exposing the Surveillance State

The mixed reactions to the IRS and NSA surveillance scandals illustrate the astuteness of Richard Nixon’s remark that:

…to the average guy, whether the Republicans bugged the Democrats doesn’t mean a… thing. It means something to intellectuals…. But the average guy is chewing his pretzel. He’s interested in jobs. He’s interested in war and peace and defense and patriotism and that’s about it… [Sep. 8, 1972]

Illegal spying (using informants, wiretaps, bugs, mail opening, break-ins, tax investigations) has been routinely practiced by both political parties since the time of FDR. At first, this was usually done through the FBI, and such operations against political enemies and subversives were centralized under the COINTELPRO program from 1956 until its exposure in 1971.

Various abuses of power (Watergate, assassinations of foreign leaders, covert coups) led to the formation of the Church Committee, whose public reports (1975-76) exposed past crimes in order to promote legislation against future abuses.

To prevent continued abuse of surveillance powers by the FBI, CIA, IRS and NSA, Congress passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in 1978, which prohibited surveillance of Americans by the military, CIA and NSA, and required court approval for surveillance requests, under a system subject to congressional oversight.

From its inception, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) has operated in secret, approving 99.9% of surveillance requests. It is not a mere “rubber stamp” on that account; rather, the Department of Justice vets all applications so that only those known to meet a judge’s standards will be submitted.

There are two standards that FISA requests need to meet regarding privacy: (1) probable cause against the foreign national(s) who are the primary target of surveillance; and (2) relevance (a lower standard) of persons or communications lines to be monitored. The second standard is designed to minimize surveillance of innocent parties, while recognizing that this is sometimes practically necessary.

In the 1990s, the Bush and Clinton administrations adapted the Cold War era ECHELON signal intercept system to operate on newer Internet and satellite technologies. This global surveillance system was apparently used to spy even on private entities in friendly countries and to acquire industrial secrets. The existence and abuse of this system was documented in a European Parliament report in 2001.

Prior to the 9/11 attacks, the surveillance state was already expanding its domain. From 1996 to 2000, the number of FISA line attorneys increased from six or seven to 20-25, and the number of applications increased from 839 to 1005. Yet this was mild compared to the post-9/11 spike. In 2003, there were 1727 applications, and in 2005, there were 2074 requests, 2072 of which were approved. [See FISA annual reports]

Under the PATRIOT Act of 2001, the Bush administration claimed broad surveillance authority beyond what was authorized by FISA. From 2001 through 2006, the NSA conducted wiretapping operations without FISC approval on persons inside the U.S. They claimed presidential authority sufficed as long as one party to the conversation was a suspected foreign terrorist or associate. When it was revealed that even purely domestic calls were included in surveillance, public pressure resulted in an amendment to FISA so that this “terrorist surveillance program” would require FISC approval when monitoring U.S. nationals.

Ironically, the amendment to FISA made possible the recently leaked PRISM program, which allows the NSA to access user data from major Internet companies.

The latest NSA scandal does not involve bypassing the FISA court. Nor is there a Fourth Amendment violation, since the Supreme Court ruled in Smith v. Maryland (1979) that telephone register data is not constitutionally protected. Rather, the vast number of lines monitored – all Verizon customers – suggests that the statutory FISA relevance standard has been practically obliterated.

Indeed, James Baker, Bush’s DOJ point man for FISA applications, said in 2007 regarding the warrantless wiretapping: “We had five years of building up the law before the FISA court, building up precedents, getting to where we needed to be to be able to file this application, have the court consider it and then have them approve it.” This suggests that there has been an evolution in what the judges have been willing to approve, gradually expanding what is permitted to the executive branch.

What is being monitored? First, if you are not a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, the U.S. government claims the right to spy on you with impunity. The U.S. government does not recognize privacy as a natural human right, only as an American legal right. This is contrary to the Founders’ understanding of the Bill of Rights, which was a recognition of rights already held by the people, not granted to them by the state. Instead of enlightened cosmopolitanism, we have regressed to nationalist tribalism.

Second, although the FISA request in question concerns only “metadata” (i.e., who called whom when), the “incidental” collection and viewing of content can be conducted on the authority of an analyst under section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act (FAA). Indeed, public denials that our communications are read may be only technically true. Every phone call, e-mail, and other electronic message can be stored without necessarily being read by a human. NSA whistleblowers claim that the agency collects records on all domestic phone calls, and that they may even read or listen to the content of domestic communications on the authority of an analyst alone. [A summary of past and current surveillance programs can be found in a recent Washington Post article.]

Under the 1994 law known as CALEA, all U.S. phone companies were required to make their networks facilitate wiretapping, changing the hardware at their own (and their customers’) expense. This requirement has been expanded to VoIP and broadband communications. All U.S. electronic communications are required to be accessible to the government. For foreign communications, the NSA hacks into backbone Internet architecture, since no veneer of legality is required to spy on foreigners.

The sheer capacity of the NSA’s Utah Data Center, over 1 septillion bytes, implies that far more than metadata is being stored. There are 3 billion calls per day made in the U.S., and 12.4 billion globally. There are 30 billion e-mails per day globally (excluding spam and viruses). If we generously allow 1 kilobyte of metadata per communication (100 bytes would be more reasonable), then the Utah Data Center already has a billion times more capacity than needed to log every call in the U.S. for the past seven years, or 100 million times more than needed to track every call and e-mail in the world. Yet the government is expanding the facility, adding greatly to its capacity. Clearly, content is being stored, and since the average phone call has about 200 kilobytes of audio (e-mails are even smaller), the facility is capable of comfortably storing every phone call and e-mail worldwide from the past seven years.

How should one respond? First, give the U.S. government zero trust on this matter, which is the fair price they should pay for secrecy. They have no qualms about lying or giving misleading, technically true statements, since they have rationalized their deception in the name of national security, which really means the security of their own power.

Second, assume that all electronic communications are monitored. You can try to avoid this by using encrypted e-mail, which prevents interception in transit, since RSA encryption is computationally unbreakable. Keep in mind, however, that hosting ISPs in the U.S. must be CALEA-compliant, so e-mail is vulnerable once stored on their servers. This vulnerability can be minimized by using foreign ISPs, self-hosting, or real-time downloading of e-mail off of servers. Naturally, the most sensitive data should be kept offline or at least backed up offline.

Another approach, per Martin Luther, is to “sin boldly.” That is, express subversive ideas openly and publicly, daring to be persecuted. The U.S. government’s corporate culture hates scandal and bad publicity, so it will hardly persecute a visible gadfly, as this will arouse accusations of tyranny.

On the other hand, we should not alter our behavior too much. The size of the “haystack” collected by the NSA is too gigantic to be terribly useful for Big Brother-like surveillance of all individuals. Your data is likely to remain unread. This may change in future years, as improved analytics along the lines of IBM’s Watson may make it feasible for vast sums of data to be scanned effectively by an electronic pseudo-mind. Until then, our best defense is the stupidity of the Empire. [See Mozilla’s petition to stop domestic spying.]

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