Fake News: Chicken Little Meets the Canary in the Coal Mine

The surge of partisan vitriol over “fake news” during and after the 2016 U.S. presidential election raises some very serious though deeply misunderstood issues. What is news, what is information, what are facts, and what role does propaganda play in the “news cycle” in the various media? Is there a viable role for “fact checkers” in today’s fast-paced flow of pseudo-facts and contrived images on social media? After all, a skilled Photoshop user can create an image to match just about any fantasy. Moreover, what is happening to the communication of fact and opinion in the so-called political discourse in the U.S. today? To what extent can the average “consumer” of news actually distinguish fact from fantasy?

For a long time it has been painfully obvious, at least to some, that the quality and relevance of network news have gone steadily downhill since the “good old days” of Walter Cronkite. When Cronkite concluded his CBS evening news show in the 1960s and 70s with “…and that’s the way it is…” we believed him, more or less. We had no reason to suspect, in any case, that he was contriving stories or falsifying images, even if he left out difficult or sensitive details. Those were the days when television network-news divisions operated independently from commercial entertainment divisions and had their own budgets. In the 1950s and ‘60s, competitive pressures drove the networks, CBS, NBC, and ABC to seek news audiences based on gathering and presenting news, not on ratings driven by superficial yet attention grabbing entertainment.

Cable TV and the Internet were things of the future in the era of television network-news divisions that were more or less independent of commercial pressures. Foreign correspondents and field reporters covered the horrible details of the Vietnam War and the brutal facts of the civil rights movement on the ground. The networks’ entertainment divisions have since swallowed up television news operations, which must now muster ratings that satisfy sponsors. News budgets now reflect advertising revenue and entertainment values. News ratings reflect promoting as well as pandering to curiosity over celebrity antics and gossip about political candidates’ personal lives. Neither network nor cable news operations pursue important political or economic stories unless they are consistent with corporate interests. Trump built his initial momentum partly with free air time based as much on media voyeuristic interest as on his demagoguery.

Enter social media and “reality television.” With the proliferation of digital technology, in both constructing images and purveying “information,” the rise of “fake news” probably was inevitable. CNN had broken into the news business as a hard-hitting 24/7 international cable-news source after the networks virtually abandoned their overseas bureaus and investigative reporting. Gradually it succumbed to the dominant model of mainstream media that Paul Krasner used to call “dis-info-tainment,” in his satirical underground magazine, The Realist. (See the The Realist archives at http://www.ep.tc/realist/index.html)

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Keith Olbermann

MSNBC began as the cable-TV voice of political liberalism, or more accurately, the Democratic Party. However, it was, after all, a subsidiary of NBC, still one of the corporate media giants; its “liberalism” is strictly corporatist, just like that of Hillary and the DNC. MSNBC executives eventually drove out any reporter or commentator who tried to speak truth to power. A certain conservatism is evident in corporatized liberalism – corporate rather than cultural conservatism. The former LA sports reporter, Keith Olbermann, for while held sway on his popular news and political commentary show “Countdown with Keith Olbermann,” on MSNBC. His rants were politically biting and quite entertaining for MSNBC’s largely well-educated audience; he did not dumb down his words. Management suspended him, allegedly for donated $2,400 each to three Democratic candidates for Congress, without management approval. Executives him two days later after a viewer petition with 250,000 signatures demanded it. By January 2011, he departed by mutual agreement.

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Melissa Harris-Perry

Then, on February 26, 2016, Melissa Harris-Perry, a vibrant and moderately progressive political science professor, who hosted a popular current events and political commentary show on MSNBC, announced her departure after they took her show from her without comment. “… I will not be used as a tool for [management’s] purposes … I am not a token, mammy, or little brown bobble head,” she said in an email to her colleagues. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melissa_Harris-Perry) Corporate media allow very little deviation from their establishment viewpoint. Yes, ratings are important to corporate media executives, but their relations to the political elite are even more essential to their power.

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Cenk Uygur

Ed Schultz, popular outspoken advocate for workers and unions also did not last at MSNBC. Then, following the rearrangement of the schedule after the Olbermann and Schultz departures, Cenk Uygur filled the prime time spot as anchor of “MSNBC Live,” but not for long. Formerly conservative Uygur’s strong voice in progressive news and commentary got him good ratings. He co-founded and now hosts a new network, The Young Turks (TYT), following his departure from MSNBC after management told him that important people in Washington did not like his tone and that “We’re not outsiders.” Now, MSNBC has picked FOX reject Greta Van Susteren over Joy-Ann Reid, MSNBC’s popular hard-hitting journalist who is widely respected for her interviewing skills and incisive commentary. So much for “the liberal media bias.”

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Joy Ann Reid

What’s all that about? Fake News, that is what. The current cross-accusations of “fake news” between Democrats and Republicans, with various intelligence agencies chiming in with highly irregular unverifiable announcements and leaks, over whether the Russians hacked Hillary’s emails or a disgruntled Democrat leaked them is the tip of the disinfotainment iceberg. Has anyone considered the possibility that both claims are true? Now, plausible claims surface that Russian agents have evidence of Trumpian philandering in Russia as well as other shocking information – but then, the shock of Trump has worn off, rendering any revelation, true or false, no longer shocking. Social media debates over the source of the Hillary emails exposure become absurd in this climate of unverified dis-information.

Most corporate mass media report the “party line” of the Republican-Democrat political elite as if it were a “fair and balanced” coverage of the political spectrum. Yet independent surveys show that the American public is far more progressive than either party apparatus. That is why the New York Times and Washington Post ignored Bernie Sanders until he got so popular they had to descend into slandering him. (It is also why the corporatist Democratic National Committee undercut his campaign.) Political reporting routinely distorts “news” and power, so that we are likely to hear just about anything we can imagine, or they want us to hear.

glenn-greenwaldGlen Greenwald, who with Laura Poitras, helped get Edward Snowden’s revelations of the NSA’s unconstitutional spying on Americans made public, started the online publication, The Intercept (https://theintercept.com/) in 2014, and edits it with Jeremy Scahill, Poitras, and Betsy Reed. The Intercept provides deep investigative reporting of government and corporate wrongdoing. Greenwald recently explained the convoluted manipulations of mainstream U.S. media, on Democracy Now!, America’s premier viewer-sponsored independent progressive news outlet. (https://www.democracynow.org/2017/1/5/glenn_greenwald_mainstream_us_media_is)

As a narcissistic sociopath with unpredictable political intensions ascents to the status of president-elect, the elite members of the “deep state” get nervous.[1] Fox News was the original butt of the puns, “Fixed News” and “Fake News” by its critics. Yet, as Julian Assange pointed out when interviewed by Shawn Hannity of Fox News, the political elite corrupts the mainstream media in the old “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” sense. We now face a situation in which the usual “managing” of news in the interests of the political class has become much more complicated. The usual political rivalries within the Washington establishment seem all jumbled up. In the new Trumplandia, we can hardly sort out the players or their interests. It seems they are all lying. But remember, political claims and the framing of “issues” are primarily means of maintaining or gaining position within the power structure. Yes, the political sky is falling, but “Chicken Little” may very well be the “Canary in the Coal Mine.”

[1] See Lofgren, Mike (2016). The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government. New York: Viking.

Delusions of Democrats Continue: Denying Bernie

Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness
~ George Orwell

Vermont is a rather independent state. Its outspoken independent senator, Bernie Sanders, is the only politician I know of who has been able to attain office without prostituting himself to the powerful. His independence extends beyond party affiliation. It is not just that he is a registered independent; he is viscerally independent of party politics and corporate influence. The political class will try to silence Bernie’s challenges to the politics-as-usual of the corporate state, but how effective will they be?

Most Democrats can be described as “Corporate Democrats” since their financing comes mostly from corporate campaign contributions and is reflected in their voting. Whatever their “liberal” rhetoric, they vote primarily in the corporate economic interest. That includes their support for military adventurism around the world, cutting public investment in health, education, and viable employment and maintaining the corporate strangle-hold on the American political system. Their “liberal values” usually do not extend beyond rhetorical abstractions. Their automatic affiliation with Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the presidency reflects the same corporate affiliations she and her husband have built and maintained over decades. It is the source of their wealth and political power. In that sense, Bernie Sanders is a consummate outsider, challenging the prevailing orthodoxy of the pseudo-liberal Democratic Party.

Killing Democracy…or Not

From the perspective of the political class, Bernie’s battle for the Democratic nomination will be a naïve uphill battle, as difficult as the agents of corporate power can make it. All the powers that be will continue to oppose him, mostly by trying to keep him out of any public debate. The corporate media will continue to ignore him as much as they can or dismiss him as a quaint crazy. He will get no support from corporate donors – indeed, he does not want any. He wants the support of the public.

When Bernie gains significant public attention, we will begin to see a new wave of “red-baiting” not unlike that of the era of Joe McCarthy in the 1950s. After all, he is an independent “democratic socialist.” But the word “socialist” has lost a lot of its fear mongering power as American political structure has moved closer to total corporate control – what used to be called fascism. The “Deep State” of integrated political and economic elites [1] has reached such an extreme level of oligarchy, that Sheldon Wolin’s description of its “inverted totalitarianism” [2] is right on the mark.

But despite being an unknown to much of the population, the initial response to the announcement of his candidacy was a robust set of small donations. Regular citizens who hear what he has to say agree with most of his positions. But what Bernie stands for, the “liberal” political class gives only vague lip service to and acts in quite opposite ways. Classic liberalism is dead, but progressive ideas are not.

The decline and fall of actual political liberalism since the surge of the liberal economic reforms of the New Deal during the Great Depression of the 1930s is well documented. [3] The “Reagan Revolution” and the blatantly racist denial of the legitimacy of Barrack Obama’s presidency by the “Congress of No” have pretty much finished the job. Obama’s prodigious rhetorical skills allowed him to fully exploit national progressive sentiments. With a moderately progressive congress, Obama might have been a liberal-centrist president. But with the extremely reactionary congress seated, he vainly attempted to appease those Radical Regressive Republicans he should have recognized as his enemies. Even Obama’s embarrassingly naïve attempts to compromise with the extreme Republicans were summarily denigrated. Bill Clinton’s destruction of welfare programs for the poor had been facilitated by corporate Democrats as well as Republicans. The corporate takeover of the Congress of the United States of America is nearly complete as Barrack Obama carries forth the Bush neo-conservative imperial agenda of endless wars and Hillary attempts to step in and continue the neo-conservative project in pseudo-liberal clothing. But then there is Bernie.

Save the Planet, Save Democracy

Bernie Sanders is one of a small number of senators who openly acknowledge the urgency of taking action to curtail climate disruption. He also takes several other blatantly “progressive” positions. While some talk obliquely about inequality having gone too far, Bernie simply states that the billionaire class has bought the political process and must be stopped.

It is not surprising that the powerful corporate media try their best to ignore Bernie Sanders in hopes that he might thereby go away. But social media may be a route for frustrated Americans to express their support for policies in the public interest instead of the special interests of the corporate state. We must wonder how much latent progressivism can be found within the Democratic political machine and might creep into the convention. Mainline Democrats don’t know what to do about Bernie. He resonates with rank and file Democrats. That is because he is an viable spokesman for the interests of the American people.

Bernie Sanders is an articulate outspoken critic of the powerful corporate, financial, and military interests that try to frame the politics of fear and the policies of the power elite as if they were in the public interest – but are not. Even if he is elected there may not be enough members of congress voting in the public interest to move the nation away from the brink of climate catastrophe and social-economic collapse. Whatever the odds, Bernie Sanders seems the last great hope for a presidency that serves the public interest. If you are worried about Bernie’s chances, consider the dangerous business-as-usual alternatives.
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1 See Bill Moyers interview with Mike Lofgren, a 28-year veteran staffer with the powerful House and Senate Budget Committees on the “invisible labyrinth of power” where “elected and unelected figures collude to protect and serve powerful vested interests. http://billmoyers.com/episode/the-deep-state-hiding-in-plain-sight/. See also, Lofgren’s book, The Party Is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless and the Middle class Got Shafted. New York: Penguin Books, 2013.
2 Sheldon S. Wolin, Democracy, Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010.
3 See Chris Hedges, Death of the Liberal Class, (New York: Nation Books, 2010) for a fiery denunciation of the hypocrisy of those politicians who still call themselves “liberal” and use liberal rhetoric while representing the interests of the power elites against the interests of ordinary citizens. Historian Kim Phillips-Fein, Invisible Hands: The Businessmen’s Crusade Against the New Deal (New York: W.W. Norton, 2009) provides detailed documentation of the decades-long campaign by the titans of industry to destroy the liberal agenda of the New Deal. They won.

The Greatest Challenge Ever to Human Ingenuity

We usually think of innovation as creating new technologies to solve problems or improve some industrial process, or invent new products. Throughout the Industrial Age, economic growth and productivity have resulted from innovations in the production of goods and services. The integration of new technologies with labor and new energy sources, first coal, then oil, and later nuclear power, resulted in rapid development. Cheap energy has been so plentiful in the industrial nations for most of that time that we have been comfortably complacent, assuming its permanence.

But now, the fossil-fuel driven growth economy has just about run its course. Resource depletion, overpopulation, over-consumption, financial crises, and peak everything leave little room for the continued economic expansionism on which social stability has been based for over 200 years. On top of that, the ultimate planetary limits imposed by accelerating climate disruption call upon humanity to innovate in heretofore unimagined ways.

One of the standard rationales used by business elites to argue for special tax breaks and subsidies is that they are needed to stimulate innovation. Even the Banksters throw up the idea that “financial innovation” will stimulate investment and job growth, to justify avoiding public regulation. They manipulate markets and sell fraudulent derivatives to pension funds and municipalities. Their overextended speculations caused the world banking crisis of 2008-9, from which we still suffer. It will happen again without real controls in place. That kind of innovation we can do without. Yet Attorney General Erik Holder cowers before the power of Jamie Diamond, CEO of J.P. Morgan Chase, one of the biggest offenders and one of Wall Street’s most powerful firms. Crime without punishment.  These are artifacts of a corrupt and dying system.

Of course, looking at the actual cases of innovation and ingenuity in the real world of business, technology, or social sectors, which lead to actual benefits to society, we see a very different picture. Innovations come from the creativity of persons in situations. In contrast, financial manipulators operate in an abstract electronic environment. Some people are quite ingenious in creating new ways to acquire money. But money does not cause real-world innovation. Today, the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced calls for ingenuity and innovation of a completely different kind at a much grander scale than even the financial elite can imagine.

The Challenge
This time, a huge dose of human ingenuity is required by the rapid emergence of extreme circumstances. Yet, the elements of this crisis of humanity are barely recognized and are mostly seen as a vague future threat. Major innovations at scale are needed because of the severity and urgency of the need for massive collective action to abandon fossil-fuel and create an unprecedented societal transformation to reset our relation to the earth systems on which we depend for life.

Awareness is a very big challenge. We do, after all, live in a bubble, experientially quite isolated from the natural environment. Consider the overwhelming inundation of our senses by the images and symbols of consumer culture – from inside the bubble. Being “connected” has become both an essential resource and a source of endless thought-numbing consumerist propaganda. The total effect of nearly universal engagement with mass media is to shape much of the consciousness and beliefs of most people most of the time. That consciousness is closely tied to the fossil-fueled growth economy and its needs.

The one critical benefit of social media is what may remain of “net neutrality.” The Internet has been a major resource for the Occupy Wall Street movement, the Arab Spring movement, and the Peoples Climate Marches. These all indicate a broad awareness that something is very wrong. Naturally, social media venues are targets for corporate control, even though the Internet was created by government and universities funded by the taxpayers for public purposes. But social communication will be critical resource in shaping the new transformations required for human survival as environmental and economic disturbances accelerate in response to the climate disruptions that are already inevitable. Only if we are able to develop rapid methods for changing the relationship of human economies to energy systems will the great new challenge be met.

Ingenious Innovation
The 1% of the “1%” has a lock on the economic and political institutions. That is clear, and it is not about to change on its own. But as has been demonstrated in various historical examples, major social change can occur when large numbers of people recognize the problem and stand together in opposition to dictatorial regimes holding all the military power. We are not used to calling our government “dictatorial,” although various conspiracy theories seem to be on the rise. It is more accurate to view the new situation as “inverted totalitarianism,” as Sheldon Wolin describes it. A shell or façade of democracy is operated by the “deep state” (as former congressional staffer Mike Lofgren calls it) a plutocratic corporate-government institutional complex that works in its own interests, not the public interest.

In any case, the comprehensive transformation of society necessary to respond adequately to the crisis of rapidly destabilizing earth systems will not come from that entrenched corporate-state. Therefore it must arise from below. Many small local efforts are underway, from efforts to establish municipal solar utilities to public banking initiatives, but so much more is needed. We do have some examples of social transformation, but, as the title of Naomi Kline’s new book puts it so well, This Changes Everything.

Every situation is different – especially this one. Today contrasts with the familiar examples of the Collapse of small societies detailed by Jared Diamond. The problem of likely societal collapse due to environmental destruction at present is planetary. System failures caused by human actions can only be fixed by human action. Looming earth-system failures can only be fixed by community actions all over the globe involving innovative ways to quickly withdraw from the fossil-fuel energy systems and create ingenious non-destructive ways of life. That may be the greatest challenge to human ingenuity ever.

The Militarised “Big-Data” Threat to Non-Violent Civil Action

The stories just keep coming. The NSA and the big corporations have been sweeping up massive amounts of data on all Americans. And of course, most others in the world who are “connected” in some way are being spied upon too. We cannot fail to notice that widespread surveillance has become routine practice in diverse institutions. Less widely discussed are the various means by which public and corporate institutions are collecting large quantities of increasingly detailed information on everyone. “Big Data” is all the buzz where institutional efforts are made to manage everyone’s behavior to control politics and increase profits.

Pervasive police violence upon the most vulnerable populations has become a widely discussed public problem since unarmed black teen Michael Brown’s murder-by-cop. Many instances of excessive or entirely gratuitous “use of force” are now posted on social media every day. The growing split between dominant institutions – whether corporate, government, or militarized police – and the general population, is palpable.

Local law enforcement agencies continue to move toward full militarized weaponry and the “warrior cop” mentality as they more closely align with the DEA, ICE, NSA, the military, et al. Police departments are increasingly populated by violence prone individuals largely incapable of and uninterested in “keeping the peace.” Any civil objection to an institutional injustice is treated like and defined as ‘potentially’ terrorism related. To defend civil liberties is becoming an activity dangerously close to being considered ‘subversive.’ We are fast moving toward becoming a much more closed society, characterized by widespread violent repression of dissent.

Climate chaos is already upon us, yet it is treated in politics as if it were just another issue to be considered later because we don’t really know everything about it yet – no rush. The ever-expanding “terrorism” meme excuses every imaginable abuse of civil liberty and personal information. Little in the way of constitutional rights remains protected from the secret machinations of the “deep state” of “Democracy, Inc.”

The neoliberal economic and “third way” political ideologies both assert endless economic growth as the solution to the catastrophic conditions unbridled growth has created. Despite the failure of that growth to contribute to the pursuit of human happiness, it is touted as both good and inevitable. More and more institutional resources are poured into “big data” collection for use in managing the pseudo-democracy of corporate controlled politics and anti-democratic voter suppression.

In short, it’s all going in the wrong direction. Environmental progress is advertised as carbon emissions continue to grow. A massive turnaround is necessary in the very short term. Yet, corporate and governmental power – whether gestures of environmental concern are made or not – continue on the path of financialized economic growth and extractive capitalism. The necessity to take immediate collective action to slow the accelerating mass extinction is politically ignored. The power elites are not about take the responsibility to initiate the social mobilization necessary to begin the Great Transformation from the doomed carbon economy to an economy that will not destroy the whole earth system.

Only widespread civil collective action will get the attention of the power elites, which continue their exploitative rampage across the planet. They seem hell-bent on continuing on the path toward species extinction beyond the point where mitigation of climate disruption and its catastrophic consequences is no longer possible. The possibility to mount a massive popular uprising demanding the complex techno-economic and social transformation necessary seems unlikely. So, where do we go from here?

Increasingly overt and not entirely polite collective actions to draw attention to the immediacy of the crisis are necessary. But that presents a dilemma. The institutional forces of the status quo are increasingly turning to militarized violence in response to any interference with their exercise of power. There is no question as to where the physical power resides. The people have only one form of power: their numbers. Despite the fact that most people know that something is very wrong, it is extremely difficult for most folks to get the information needed to realize how critical the situation is. Knowledge is power.

Yet, numerous situations of past social transformations and/or revolutions – not merely one group overthrowing another and taking power, but actual rapid structural change – have demonstrated the unstoppable power of large numbers of people united and acting peacefully. The only viable counter to institutional violence is massive non-violent civil disobedience. Of course, the situation today is different than in colonial India or Poland under Soviet domination, or South African apartheid, or various other historical cases. But in nearly every case where the population mobilized for peaceful change, it succeeded. Still, every situation is different and calls for particular tactics and strategies. So, we must find our own way.

After Obama: Apocalypse or What?

It ought to be clear to just about everyone who had hoped for “change we can believe in,” that very little of significance will likely emerge from the Obama Presidency in its final years.  Whatever the outcomes of the mid-term elections, the political commitments of the president, as well as the Democrats in Congress, are likely to continue to put the interests of the ruling elites – the energy industry, Wall Street Banksters, military contractors, the prison-industrial complex, and international industrial corporations – above the public interest.  The entrenched power of the “Deep State” –  that informal assembly of the most powerful political, economic, and military elites that shape national policies in all domains – is in full control of the nation’s direction.  No matter what we may imagine Obama would like to have accomplished, it is clear that the interests of the most powerful institutions and the wealthiest individuals who are represented by the army of lobbyists in Washington who control congressional [in]action, will continue to limit the range of actions that this president will take.  What we have here is an elite plutocracy behind a thin veil of a hollowed out imaginary representative democracy.

Sadly, however we interpret the humanitarian causes referenced by eloquent impassioned rhetoric, the substance of those great speeches simply has not been reflected in national or international policy, except in the smallest of ways.  “Yes we can!” – well, how did that work out for us?  The widely popular principle of universal health care – routine in “advanced” nations except for our own – was taken off the table at the very beginning of the effort for “health care reform” in favor of protecting the economic interests of the unnecessary health insurance companies, the middle-men of the consequently expensive and distorted health care system.  The wind-down-the-wars president became Commander in Chief of Drone Assassination and Civilian Massacre.  The self-righteous indignation over Russia’s occupation of Crimea in response to the West’s pressuring Ukraine to join NATO and supporting the overthrow of its elected government – both seen as military threats by Russia– is nothing if not massively hypocritical.   Obama’s climate change policy of “all of the above” panders to the entrenched corporate interests of coal, nuclear energy, and fracked gas and oil, all of which are the main drivers accelerating the crisis of a destabilizing biosphere.  Meanwhile, Obama makes oratorical gestures toward human and planetary survival, while carefully avoiding any threat to corporate sovereignty.

Nothing, really, seems to be going all that well.  “Trickle down economics”?  How has that worked out for you?  Extreme wealth and income disparity to the point of economic destabilization, extreme climate disruption accelerating and politically ignored, extreme corporate control of mass communications constraining public understanding of the crises, never-ending propaganda supporting the fantasy of never-ending economic growth and consequent resource depletion, etc. – it all adds up to socio-economic as well as ecological disaster.  After all, the crises we face are only intensified by of the politics of business as usual – and that has been the problem all along.  So, the serious question now is what can be done outside the Obama presidency and after it ends, particularly when no Democrat or Republican made president by corporate controlled elections is any more likely to face the idea that the nation and the planet are in deep trouble.

Exactly what can anyone do, who has observed the politically moribund corporate state that prohibits the national concerted action necessary to re-establish some semblance of democratic process, no less a massive redirection of public policy toward international action to save the planet from certain biospheric catastrophe?  It is now quite clear that electoral politics – even if voter suppression could be reversed, gerrymandering unwound, and elections democratized – is too slow and cumbersome, given the proximity of disaster.

Of course, those things must be accomplished anyway.  But major actions must be taken now to stop continued expansion of the fossil-fuel economy and replace it.  Setting goals for utilities to produce ten or twenty percent of energy from renewable sources by 2030, and the like, are nothing more than pathetic gestures in the present emergency.  Even rationing energy production may be necessary in the short term.  But is it possible?

A new kind of thinking seems necessary and a new kind of action is required now – direct citizen action.  What is it and how can it be initiated and executed?  The beginnings of direct citizen action to stave off some of the worst projects of the oil and gas industry – protests of the Keystone XL pipeline and of oil and gas fracking around the country – offer examples of immediate lines of citizen action, along with divestment.  Such actions must be intensified, expanded and multiplied.

We are entering an apocalyptic era – not in the evangelical sense, but in the sense of the original meaning of the word, “to uncover, reveal, or disclose” – and we need to respond accordingly.  The catastrophic character of anthropogenic climate disruption will be revealed to us, even though we may have already ignored it too long.  A majority of citizens in a recent poll were still deceived into believing that Keystone XL is a ‘job creator’ and necessary for “energy independence.”  Wrong, but also irrelevant.  It is clear that much propaganda must be overcome to uncover the truth about dirty coal, nuclear, and fracked oil and gas, so that the nature of the crisis we all face can be fully revealed and collectively acted upon.

What Middle Class?

In recent memory at least, Americans have been uncomfortable with the idea of class.  That somehow has caused a retreat to the middle.  In the context of the myth of universal opportunity for mobility through achievement, it’s almost like Garrison Keeler’s Lake Woebegone, where “all the children are above average.”  The “lower class” is not seen as an economic stratum as much as an admonition of individual personal failure or an attribution of questionable personal character applied to a “lower class of people.” In the individualistic consumer society, one just does not talk about “class structure.”

The very idea of class is a taboo subject in the American political discourse – which is so stilted anyway – with the exception that the wealthy immediately invoke “class warfare” if publicly called upon to accept a rate of taxation as high as that of their clerical staff.  Any other time, the denial of class in America is great cover for upper-class privilege.  That seems to make the rest of us “middle class,” by fiat – except for the “undeserving poor” – despite the vast economic disparities manifestly apparent to any casual observer.

The problem now is that the American class structure is changing radically and it is hard to ignore.  It is clear that on any objective measure the middle class is disappearing as the rich get obscenely rich and the poor are joined by so many formerly middle class.  What is most interesting and most disturbing about all this is that the pattern of change in the class structure is so similar to that which preceded the Great Depression.  That too escapes entry into the political discourse as the same old arguments against economic reform mimic those which opposed FDR’s New Deal.

Politicians routinely invoke “the middle class” when they are trying to show how empathetic they are to the plight of the American people – at least the American people who are not “low class.”  But as livable employment escapes more and more Americans, the politicians’ actions continue to reflect only the short-term interests of the corporations whose lobbyists dole out those “contributions” that somehow are not defined as bribery.

What about the Upper Class?  What about the Lower Class?  What about, well, the American people?  Well, that concept is increasingly as moot as it is continually invoked as an icon of political purity by those who exploit it – that cartel of corporate and governmental power elites Mike Lofgren calls the “deep state,” which is so entrenched that its decisions stand regardless of who gets elected. [1]   Remember the revolving door?

The term, middle class, has become increasingly meaningless as large numbers of people who were not long ago earning middle range salaries have fallen on hard times because of the malfeasance of upper class financial and corporate decision makers.  But there is much more to it.  The entire trajectory of the endless-growth economy has been predicated on reducing the need for labor by capital investment in technology to expand growth.  In its final stage, as menial jobs are outsourced – except for direct service work such as fast food and manual cleaning jobs – the technical and intellectual jobs with middle level salaries are fast being automated or outsourced too.  Combined with the exploding kleptocracy at the very top levels of the financial and political sectors, enabled by the Deep State of which they are members, the impact of this trend is to decimate what one might have described as the economic middle class.

So, the ranks of the lower class have been swelled by former middle-class folks and most lower-class folks, working or unemployed, are already at the bottom with no prospects of upward mobility.  The irony, it seems, resides in the fact that the very elites who do everything they can to eliminate labor costs just love to call themselves the “job creators.”

So, again, what’s with all this talk about taking care of the middle class?  What I suspect most politicians are doing when they appeal to that term is that they are referring to those “regular Americans” who fit their stereotype of culturally and behaviorally acceptable or legitimate “Americans,” that is, the most likely voters.  It’s pure demagoguery.  This, of course, flies in the fact of the growing populism among a wide swath of Americans who are gradually realizing that the “middle class,” just like the “American Dream,” is an illusion glossing over a system that is rigged against them, but increasingly cannot be sustained.

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[1]  Lofgren, a former congressional staffer, was interviewed by Bill Moyers on his PBS show, and posted an essay describing the ruling political-economic cartel, “Anatomy of the Deep State.” Read it at: http://billmoyers.com/2014/02/21/anatomy-of-the-deep-state/.  His book, The Party’s over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted, is about how congress really operates.