The Kaleidescope — Prof Michael Brenner

Prof Michael Brenner
Professor of International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh, USA
Honourary
International Advisor, Ground Report India

WE live in a kaleidoscopic environment that we call post-modern society. It spins and reconfigures itself without stop. Whatever the oases of solidity and order we have managed to carve out for ourselves, we sense the fields of reality ever shifting. It is all unpredictable and, to a great extent, incomprehensible. It is the continuous novelty of this scrambled environment that unsettles us – more than the disruption we experience. For It lacks any discernible coherence or design or pattern.

That said, we are able to identify the most salient features of this singular phenomenon.  The confluence of three powerful forces spins the kaleidoscope. Foremost is the triumphant Plutocracy* whose dominance now reaches far beyond the economic sphere to degrade our politics, our public institutions, and our social ethics. Most firmly established in the financial heights, it has become transnational. Its predatory actions, freed from any significant regulation by state authorities, lead to fragmentation and atomization of communities along with pervasive worker insecurities.  Moreover, their unprecedented success in rolling back the historic achievements of the post-WW II period that institutionalized enlightened social programs has sown disillusion as standards of living – as well as future prospects – decline.

The great ‘civilizational compact’ of that period culminated a cultural and social evolutionary process over two centuries. The speed and completeness with which it is being reversed represents a stunning counter-revolution. That remarkable achievement was planned and implementation through acts of political will. The greater political mystery is why that project was not detected, understood and resisted. Part of the answer lies in the post-modern condition described below.

The plutocracy’s tightening hold on society is inseparable from the success of a rather primitive utilitarian philosophy that has pervaded the culture. Homo economicus is the foundation stone of an edifice that reifies the notion that it is our nature to seek gain over all else – and justifies all means in its pursuit. This is the contemporary expression of a monophysite world view. Manifestly at variance with experience and observed behavior, it nonetheless asserts as incontrovertible Truth that empathy, communal sentiment, and all other human aspiration are simply covers for selfish instinct. Beyond economics, this idea predominates in behavioral psychology, political thought, and even ethics. 

The effect is the recrudescence of Social Darwinism that justifies all manner of corporate greed, stigmatization of the poor, narcissism, and the exaltation of ruthless competition. As a consequence, it generates insecurities, anxieties and distrust not seen in the Western world since the 1930s.

Second, is neo-Fascism. A recent additive to the brew, it introduces a highly volatile element – making the mix combustible. Neo-Fascism looks to be an historical ‘throwback.’ In fact, we are becoming aware that it is like a retrovirus that lurks in the body politique of modern societies awaiting the right conditions and right catalyst to reappear. Fascism is, above all, a state of mind. Although it takes on diverse colorations from one country to another, it is everywhere autocratic with attitude. Fascists relish acting with impunity in rejecting the legitimacy of any restraints – legal, institutional, ethical. Releasing an impulse to hate and to hurt, Neo-Fascism taps the free-floating anger and anxieties of a dislocated, disoriented populace.

Like plutocracy, it is a transnational phenomenon. Crypto-Fascists have a strong natural affinity for each other –as did their forebears. It transcends all other divisions. That is less a matter of ideology than of sharing the same atavistic impulses. It explains why Donald Trump is so strongly attracted to them – and they to him. 

A Fascist or crypto-Fascist movement places feelings above thought. That is manifest in its simplistic ideology (often reduced to “we’re better than anyone else”); in its rhetoric; in the crude emotions it taps among followers; in its suppression of dissenters; in its very demeanor and mode of address to all parties. The stress is on obfuscation rather than the inculcation of new ideas. It aims to clear the decks through acts of destruction, physical or institutional or philosophical or political, so that there is nothing left but raw emotions to be manipulated.

Crypto-Fascists like to hurt people. That is the most tangible way to demonstrate domination, control and superiority. In extremes it is violent – whether impulsive or as a calculated move to cow and to intimidate. Today’s crypto-Fascist movements naturally attract violent persons who see a chance to act out their aggressiveness in conditions that legitimize them and offer justifications for vile behavior.

The stunning revival of Fascism – as doctrine, as sentiment, as movement – carries two cardinal dangers. First is its cult of destruction. There is nothing constructive about Fascism in theory or practice. It extols and exalts power – the power to destroy. A crude version of the Kali complex. It is incapable of building anything. Its companion trait is the instinct to inflict pain – on people, institutions. The total absence of empathy or humanistic feelings removes all inhibition about doing so.

Second, the damage being wrought right now by neo-Fascism throughout the Western world and beyond (India, Brazil, Hungary, Poland, Philippines, Bolivia) creates a societal void, an ethical wasteland that could be filled by any manner of dangerous forces - all autocratic, all cultist; non- civil or humanistic. In the U.S., Trumpism foreshadows even worse. As it is, Trump’s legacy will take a generation to overcome – at best – even were he (or a fellow cultist like Pence or Haley) not reelected. A second term means an end of the historic America.

Just look at the destruction wrought by Donald Trump and his band of thugs in three years – despite the nominal institutional, cultural and legal constraints. This without any formal organization, militias, doctrine or discipline. This despite Trump himself being mentally deficient, abysmally ignorant, incapable of concentration or sustained action. Think of what it would mean to have someone in power who is far more clever, more skilled, more controlled, more capable of strategizing.

The third force is Nihilism – although the term ‘force’ carries misleading connotations. Nihilism is not a movement, much less institutionalized. It is a cultural condition.  It acts principally as a permissive factor – one that invites, legitimizes all manner of thought and expression. As such, nihilism has had a crucial influence on the weakening of the super-ego – blurring norms, diminishing standards, undercutting the law, tolerating sociopathic deviance. The net effect is a perverted reification of the counter-culture admonitions: ‘do your own thing, let it all hang out,’ et al -without any sense of the communal humanism that also was integral to the counter-culture ethos.

NIHILISM

Nihilism is the doctrine or philosophy which postulates that life is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value. Hence, the ancillary axiom that there is no inherent morality, and that accepted moral values are contrived abstractions without a valid claim to authority. That is the standard meaning of the term. 

Not all nihilistic behavior is erratic and random. Post-modern societies, in particular the United States, do encompass some groupings who calculating exploit that condition within an overarching social reality of indifference toward fixed values and norms. Outstanding examples: the plutocrats, the Christian Right, the American hyper-nationalists. The nihilist state-of-affairs also gives wide leeway to individual persons to behave in word and deed existentially with little need for explanation or justification. Trump is the personification; we see mini-Trumps cropping up everywhere.

This state-of-affairs is close to Durkheim’s concept of ANOMIE. It has been defined as a "condition in which society provides little moral guidance to individuals"- or, little moral guidance widely accepted by the populace. That leads to a loosening of social bonds between an individual and the formal community, and, thereby, among individuals. 

Nihilism is a construct of two ideas; “Anything can happen” and “Everything goes.” That pretty much sums up where we are today in America (plus a few other English-speaking places). It explains the randomness of what we encounter while reminding us that often there is little consistent logic in what we observe and experience.

Narcissism not only enables and encourages random behavior; it favors certain kinds of behavior. Aggressive, selfish and exploitive. These are inhibited in healthy societies by traditions, communal norms, shaming and their adverse practical consequences. The most liberal and tolerant societies exercise restraints on the impulses toward destructive actions, domination/suppression of others, gross exploitation of fellow citizens, or the subverting of communal harmony. In such societies, those impulses themselves are less pervasive, less intense, and more likely to be sublimated. That is due to socialization and the absence of negative models (Trump).

Today’s America features – indeed, celebrates – multiple expressions of the anti-social or asocial behaviors noted above. Many are not obviously pernicious, e.g. the incessant juvenilia represented on the mass media. Their common denominator is immaturity. That trait also is manifest in the word and deed of persons who hold responsible positions in society. Perhaps, the best descriptive term in American English is ‘jerk.’ And it is conceivable that the ultimate study of our times will be titled “The Age of the Jerk.” “Jerk” is very hard to define – but we know one when we see one (or, at least, we used to). A jerk is a child in an adult’s body who indulges itself while prioritizing every (or most) momentary want, desire or impulse without regard to others or setting.

A nihilistic society is a breeding ground cum playground for such persons. Think of a very young child who has reached the stage of testing his parents’ tolerance of that kind of indulgence. In the absence of guidance, the child learns nothing about limits or restraints. They grow into functional narcissists. In contemporary America, the spoiled, now adult ‘jerk’ can aspire to occupy the Oval Office with a reasonable hope of succeeding.

This kind of delinquent juvenile behavior is at once effect and cause of a nihilistic society. It grows on itself. Each observed instance provides some small measure of encouragement through modelling and further weakening of both norms and penalties for impulsive, selfish actions. Their effect is sociopathic. However, the acts themselves are not driven by hostility toward society – or others. It is entirely self-regarding, and, therefore, asocial.

Nihilistic behavior can be found among every stratum or sphere of society. There are reactionary, neo-fascist, and racist ‘jerks’. Caution: by no means all of the foregoing types are jerks; in fact, the most dangerous ones are not. One would never imagine calling Mussolini or Bolsonaro or Orban or Pinochet a jerk. Boris Johnson, by contrast, very much is one – dangerous only as a self-absorbed fool is. Other examples: Erdogan is not a juvenile sociopath; Mohammed bin-Salman is. Here at home, Trump, of course, and lieutenants like Maryanne Conway, Jonathan Miller and Rudi Giuliani clearly are.

Ignorance and intellectual deficiency encourage jerk-like behavior; however, they are not a prerequisite. Pompeo, for example, was first in his class at West Point.*** Ignorance does help, though, by minimizing objective facts in the mental equation. Jared Kushner is a prime example. 

These people do odd-ball things that makes you ask yourself: “Is (s)he out of his mind? How can an intelligent &/or educated person do/say something like that?” The above is a partial explanation. There may be expedient factors at work – political, financial, familial; but, still, repeated acts with no self-awareness or embarrassment suggests a behavioral deformation. The truth is that those people have not lost their mind in the sense of being insane. Rather, they have misplaced it - rational intelligence now longer controls thought and conduct. It’s been replaced by self-regarding feelings and emotions.

These immature people have an element of pretense in their make-up. Otherwise, they are just dismissed as fools. It is the glaring discrepancy between what they are pretending to be and their immature behavior that prompts us to call them jerks. These days, in our narcissistic culture, many of such are elevated to positions where that discrepancy arises automatically. The resulting exposure does not inhibit them, nor do they feel embarrassment when criticized for their unseemly juvenilia. They simply dismiss it as personal vendetta or conspiracy.

The historically unprecedented proliferation of persons in high office who deserve the appellation ‘jerk’ is facilitated by another singular feature of contemporary public life. Western societies face no mortal threats that might force a level of political sobriety that would prevent handing power over to deranged or feckless leaders. For that could be disastrous. Think of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister of Britain in 1940. Or Donald Trump and his gang in the White House in 1941. Or Trump in 1933. Today, neither the United States - nor Western Europe – is endangered by an aggressive military power. Terrorism is a mosquito invasion by comparison. Human tragedy, of course, but no danger of systemic significance. Witness Washington’s collaboration with al-Qaidi in Syria for the past 8 years. There we have assessed the authors of 9/11 as a lesser enemy than Mr. Assad in Damascus – who himself barely registers on the security Richter Scale. Russia as a threat is a figment of our cultivated, low-grade but persistent hysteria. (“If we don’t fight them in Ukraine, we’ll have to fight them over here.”) China does pose a profound challenge insofar as its rise requires us to fashion imaginative plans and skillful diplomacy to accommodate it on terms that modify, to some degree, the current structures and modus operandi of the international system. However, that is not an immediate, direct or security threat that places in jeopardy our sovereign integrity or core interests. 

This uniquely benign circumstance creates the kind of complacency and indulgence that opens the way for crackpots of various types to gain control of the levers of power.  

The feckless manners endemic to the nihilistic society are exemplified by the notorious New York Times editorial endorsing TWO candidates for the Democratic nomination despite their divergent views on almost all issues of consequence. They did so just because they are both women. In this, they follow Barack Obama’s inane dictum that women are innately superior and, thereby, should run things. Their actual preference is the chromosome challenged Joe Biden who, unfortunately, is also pigment challenged. The editor’s original favorites had been the black, corporate Democrats Kamala Harris and Corey Booker who will reemerge this August when the Times promotes them for the Vice President slot on the ticket. 

The NYT pseudo-editorial on the Democratic contest stands as the embodiment of nihilism. It exhibits the hallmark traits of our incoherent, randomized public communication. No logical continuity, inner contradictions, aimless thoughts presented at voluminous length, shameless; and totally dishonest in concealing the one solid preference: nominating a woman. Editorials with a modicum of integrity would candidly say: “there are two wings of the Democratic party in competition; we are divided as to which one we should support; you make up your own mind. If ambivalent, we encourage you to vote for a woman because we believe that feature as more important than the individual’s views and character.” 50 honest words – one for each state.

There is yet another feature of the present state of affairs which is unique and of utmost importance: the IT Revolution. Computers, social media, communication as affirmation of self, artifices of personal relations. Myriad are the ways that they interact with the three main driving forces that churn our maelstrom. The effects can be placed in a few general categories whose modalities are incalculable. Atomization and depersonalization, with attendant dehumanization is one generalized effect. That is closely associated with Nihilism. It also makes it easier to hurt people &/or to passively tolerate people being hurt. It is an attitude at the core of the plutocratic and neo-Fascist mind-sets.

Another effect is to diffuse responsibility and, therefore, accountability. These days, nobody seems ready to admit error or sin. Nobody apologizes or says I’m sorry. Inter alia: the financial predators who brought us the great collapse of 2008, the non-regulators, the high officials who encouraged illicit practices, the economists who justified it all. Too, think of the disastrous military misadventures in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Libya, et al. Think of the deceitful electronic surveillance of Americans that is at once illegal and unconstitutional. Think of Boeing executives and FAA officials. Think of Jeffrey Epstein: his collaborators, participants, protectors (DOJ, FBI, CIA, WHITE HOUSE, Virgin Islands Governor’s Office, Buckingham Palace), free riders on the LOLITA EXPRESS (Bill Clinton), beneficiaries (3 successive presidents of Harvard). Think of the American Psychological Association leaders who entered into a contract with the CIA to help them refine torture technics. Thinks of the doctors who participated in torture sessions by monitoring when the subject might expire from abuse and thus lose their utility. Think of Barack Obama who ordered the CIA to break into the staff computers of the Senate Intelligence Committee to seize documents that would expose those criminal practices. Not a single apology from any of the responsible parties.

This phenomenon is at once cause and reinforced effect of the conditions being discussed. Where social media comes in is that they fragment institutional structures along with accompanying sense of collective identity and interest. We belong to the fluid, incorporeal electronic universe. The amorphous, ever-shifting  groupings that do form provide no solid basis for understanding, appraising, judging and holding accountable those who exercise influence over our lives. 

Some might fault this overview for the failure to mention American military adventuresome, the special interests that sustain it, the distorted nationalism that makes being Number 1 so important for Americans. There are several reasons for this absence.

It has been treated extensively in other essays. That’s one. I dislike repeating myself; after all, I am not an overpaid, underinformed bi-weekly Op Ed columnist for The New York Times or Washington Post. Also, the immense, tangible human costs are imposed almost exclusively on others: those who live – and die – outside the post-modern West which is my subject. That’s two. The main impacts on the latter, above all the United States, are the surveillance state (also treated elsewhere) and the sheer waste of vast resources. The effects of the latter are felt by most of us (e.g. NYC subway riders, those dependent of public assistance, the working poor – among others).  Still, we do not face mass destitution because of Pentagon waste; the sufferers are victims of the country’s political-economy more than they are of militarism. That’s three. In other words, taxing the rich and corporations while increasing expenditure on social programs and infrastructure would greatly improve the condition most Americans experience, particularly the worse off, even if the U.S. continued to squander hundreds of billions each year on the military/Intelligence establishment.

CACOPHONY!

Finally, we are immersed in noise and static.  CACOPHONY Nothing registers deeply because it cannot get through, because it is quickly layered by other stimuli, because there is no time or space for assimilation or processing. Never before have we had so many means to communicate.  Never before has there been more clatter and clamor.  Never before have we communicated less.  Especially in our political life.  It’s all about emotional self-expression rather than thought. Confusion reigns.  

Today, speech as self-affirmation drowns out speech intended to convey something. It’s the ‘I’ in each phrase that counts – certainly not the ‘you.’  Public figures seemingly follow the imperative: “I sound off, therefore I am.”  Silence is tantamount to death in the celebrity age.  The storm of static in our public space is invasive.  It destroys the ability to reflect, to assess, to ponder, to imagine.  We have come to ‘think’ in sound bites as well as to talk in sound bites.  This is the ultimate endpoint of a culture dominated by the noisy hunt of sweaty egos for self-justification.

Antidote to Cacophony

So here’s a proposal.  A national vow of silence from all of the above.  Let’s call it ‘Shut-up Wednesdays.’  One day of the week, one of seven, devoted to whatever but all ranting and raving prohibited !

Tens of millions laid-back Americans listening to Fats Waller crooning: 

“No one to talk with

All by myself

No one to walk with

But I'm happy on the shelf

Ain't misbehavin'….”

Triumph of the Will

An inchoate society where purpose and design are obscure, where norms of behavior and speech are confused, where restless motion – individual or collective – replaces action, where celebrity sets status – is a society that invites abuse. That abuse may take political forms, economic ones, criminal ones. 

The resulting maelstrom of anxious egos rewards the belligerent.  It is the willful who triumph. The more ruthless they are, the less sensitive they are to the damage they do others and the collectivity, the weaker the superego or conscience, the greater the chances of accomplishing what they want. We see that everywhere. That reality is exemplified in Donald Trump, in Boris Johnson, in the autocrats and autocratic methods spreading around the globe like a wildfire. Here at home, the abuse of position and authority is so commonplace that we have come to accept it at the norm. On Wall Street, in Silicon Valley, in police departments – there, it reigns in the crudest form.

It is even evident in places where civil regard for rules and for others are supposedly part of the organizational warp and woof – in the courts, in academia. Arbitrary use of power has become so routine as to figure as part of the normal duties of office. As for the media, factual truth is taken as just a speed bump on the road to entertainment and profit. They are the great enablers – inducing wearied resignation or mindless agitation. The winner is whoever is ready to push furthest into the moral wilderness of gross selfishness. On social media, we have reached the nadir of total anarchy and nihilism. That may be our future – a dystopian kaleidoscopic alternative to regimented autocracy.

PRAXIS

Tracing the intertwined patterns among these elements is a daunting task. It is exacerbated by the constant shifting force fields tossed about by internal changes within each, technological developments in the IT dimension, and external events originating outside the Western world. However, there are a few things that we can do in order to give ourselves some intellectual purchase and to do some preliminary planning for ameliorative action:

  1. Abandon the fiction that the present-state-of-affairs is ‘normal.’ It isn’t. Unfortunately, as the weirdness spreads, intensifies and persists the more natural it seems. Among the older, memories of a different time fade. Among the younger, narratives of them are taken as legends. (E.g. My students at a public university think that I’m joking when I tell them that graduate school at Berkeley cost me $62.50 a semester). As for the tenor of public discourse, none of the wacky quotes listed below would ever had been made 25 or thirty years ago. Their remarks quickly would have brought about the demise of whomever uttered them.In this respect, our MSM are culpable of strengthening the belief that wackiness is normal. Not only do they treat everything as entertainment that fattens the bottom line, but they place every event or statement on an equal plane. If you have a clinical psychopath in the White House, surrounded by people almost as fanatical or deranged as he is, that truth should be presented as such. If there are repeated first-hand revelations that the national security decision-making process in the White House resembles the antics of Animal House, we all have a responsibility as citizens to denounce, to broadcast and to cite that cardinal fact. However, that is very rarely done by either the media or even the Democratic leadership who view such action as ‘bad manners;’ expressions of outrage are “uncouth.” In addition, they fret about the risk of stirring up the Republican ‘base.’  

    So, CNN devotes an hour of prime time to a discussion of Trump’s latest claim that Suleimani was plotting an imminent attack on for U.S. embassies – leaving more views actually believing this bald-faced lie than if CNN had simply mentioned it as a 20 second news item with a reminder of similar lies. After all, those are objective facts – not opinion or speculation.

    Let’s be blunt in how we depict our unsavory leaders – even at the risk of ‘crossing a line.’ Is it inaccurate or unreasonable to assert that Donald Trump, Mike Pompeo, Mike Pence, Betsy DeVos, Kim Prince and indeed William Barr have Fascist mindsets? Pompeo, for one is a Christian Millenarian who declares that the United States’ Divinely mandated role is to bring forward the apocalyptic Rapture when non-believers worldwide will be thrown into the fiery abyss of Hell. Everything he says matches closely the dogmas of Hungary’s Arrow Cross, Romania’s Iron Guard, Franco’s Falange who melded Salafist Christianity with Fascism before and during WW II. The others likely would be entirely comfortable in those movements whose successors haunt us today. Yes – they are Evangelical Protestants while those movements were Catholic; the mindset, though, is identical regardless of denomination. Let’s also remember that John of Palmos’ Book of Revelation that foretells Armageddon has been part of the canon for the Vatican as well as Protestants since the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD.

    We understandably hesitate at making so harsh a judgement. But we should not allow the Stars & Stripes pin in the label to eclipse the evidence of our eyes and ears. If we think that this designation is correct, and there is abundant evidence to substantiate it, then stating so is not only appropriate but obligatory.
  1. Democracies produce enormous amounts of trash. Political health depends on having shoveling capacity to match. In recent years, the amount of BS has risen sharply while shoveling capacity has shrunk. The latter condition is due, above all, to an infirmed press that has abandoned its role as the public’s agent in monitoring and exposing the behavior of their rulers. Instead, they welcome any antics that might entertain viewers/readers. Interpretation and deepening understanding are no longer seen as the primary journalistic functions. The other chief sanitizing agent, in theory, is the political opposition. Timidity and conformity in that domain have deprived the country of the kind of direct contestation of policies and positions essential to keeping public actors reasonably honest.
  1. Another key to gaining some perspective on the perverse present, is to concentrate greater attention on other societies. Admittedly, most of these trends are creeping around the world – especially in wealthy, liberal countries. England, for example, is as far gone as is the United States. Nevertheless, there are noteworthy contrasts to highlight. Think of healthcare.  All of Western Europe has universal health care (as does Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, etc). World Health Organization studies give highest marks to the French system. Yet, France devotes less than 11% of GDP to its programs. We, by comparison, spent 16% + for the mess of a non-system here that leaves 45 million with no insurance whatsoever and tens of millions more with inadequate care. Despite these hard facts, when Elizabeth Warren proposes an American version of what exists elsewhere, the headlines shout “how is she going to pay for it?” Well, everybody else does - with far greater efficiency.The unstated, prejudicial assumption underlying this criticism is that existing health care structures will remain in place along with their profiteering and squandering of vast sums. Moreover, when the Treasury was stripped of assets by the Bush tax cuts for the rich, by the abundant bailout cum give-away to the biggest financial institutions, by the Trump administration tax cuts for the rich and corporations along with drastic deregulation – no one asked :”what does that mean for inequality and the funding of basic social services?” Can we afford them? Not even the nominal opposition.

    The unhappy truth is that a reasonably sharp 5th-grader could see the logical flaw in a formulation that has framed public debate for months. This mindlessness is enabled by ignorance even as it is exploited by those who reap the profits from the current set-up. 
  1. It is imperative to regulate the IT world and everything associated with it. The pernicious consequences, in multiple spheres, of runaway technology are now self-evident. To allow Silicon Valley profiteers, fantasists and the omnivorous appetites of the Intelligence snoops to shape our future without a good measure of public assessment and rule-setting is suicidal. We must regain the sense of collective interest and communal action.
  1. Can we maintain a coherent society without reversing this trend? Individuals who do not genuinely communicate with their fellows are caught in a puerile trap – they neither grow nor decay – either as private persons or as citizens. So, too, for the collectivity that they form. But the change that we need is not what occupies most of us.

Those with an understanding of our plight have a responsibility to speak up with brutal honesty. The alternative is to have our fate determined by brutal dishonesty.

PLUTOCRACY

  • A concise definition of “plutocracy” is hard to compose; and a full description of the conditions that mark the present American plutocracy requires more space than available. Symbolic markers are readily available, though. Think of Mr. Carlos Ghosn, the criminal ex-CEO of Nissan-Renault-Mitsubishi. Indicted in Japan for multiple felonies, he contrived an escape to his native Lebanon with the assistance of several well-connected parties. There, he holds a marathon press conference before a fawning international press corps who then proceed to broadcast to the world his brash condemnation of everyone but himself. His public relations agents at The New York Times join in with a lead editorial that echoes his claim that “the Japanese judicial system” is the one on trial, and adds that the matter of guilty should be decided “in the court of public opinion.” Remember Japan is a functioning democracy not known for cases of prosecutorial abuse. Let’s remind ourselves that, by contrast, the media have gone silent on the atrocities committed by American federal authorities, along with private contractors, in tearing thousands of young children from their parents and scattering them in places of abuse where many have been administratively ‘disappeared.’ This has been done in violation of a judicial order. Should these crimes, too, be tried in the court of international public opinion?

Another example:

Boeing and the Federal Aviation Agency together are culpable of criminal negligence in regard to the Boeing 737MX scandal. A new batch of documents provides concrete evidence of deceit, lies and collusion. Safety was knowingly compromised for the sake of profit. Particularly damning are memos from engineers, test pilots and other Boeing employees. One wrote:

“this airplane is designed by clowns, who are in turn supervised by monkeys.”

The reaction of Boeing:  “We regret the content of these communications, and apologize to the F.A.A., Congress, our airline customers and to the flying public for them,” Boeing added. “The language used in these communications, and some of the sentiments they express, are inconsistent with Boeing values, and the company is taking appropriate action in response. This will ultimately include disciplinary or other personnel action, once the necessary reviews are completed.”

An FAA spokesman echoed the Boeing line: “the tone and content of some of the language contained in the documents is disappointing.”

In other words, the misconduct to be addressed is the blunt language of those who exposed the criminal enterprise – not the enterprise itself! The culpable parties will be disciplined or fired.


** Manifestations of nihilistic immaturity are most often evident in speech. Here are some characteristic examples:

TRUMP: “The Kurds Weren’t With Us At Normandy”

POMPEO: “God put Donald Trump on the White House to protect Israel”

Hillary CLINTON: “Putin is the new Hitler,” “Tulsi Gabbard Is A Russian Agent of Influence,” ”Nobody Likes Bernie Sanders”

PENCE: “Iran was behind 9/11.”

ZUCKERBERG: “I updated my grilling app, iGrill, today and it now has Facebook integration that lets you see what other people are grilling right now around the world. Awesome.” 

“Google must die! Google Must Die!” 

“Move fast and break things. Unless you are breaking stuff, you are not moving fast enough.”

“A squirrel dying in front of your house may be more relevant to your interests right now than people dying in Africa.”

Prize Winner : New York Times editorial board’s explanation (1/19/19) of why it rejected Sanders in its Democratic primary endorsement: “We see little advantage to exchanging one over-promising, divisive figure in Washington for another.” (One marvels at the negative precedents of divisive figures they may have had in mind: Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt? Or maybe Moses. How about Jesus Christ?)

NYT’s Editorial Board Nick Fox:  “I’m wondering how you flying around the country in 2021 rallying the people would be different than what Donald Trump has been doing.” (This particular dimwit probably never heard of FDR or John Kennedy or even remembers Barack Obama)

NYT Feature: “How To Have Sex In A Canoe”

Jaime DIMON:  “We are totally open kimono with regulators.”

BORIS JOHNSON  “Voting Tory will cause your wife to have bigger breasts and increase your chances of owning a BMW M3.”

Margaret THATCHER “There really is no such thing as society” – as she is stalked by a club-wielding caveman about to dispossess her of her handbag


*** Pompeo is that strange type of IQ intelligent person who habitually says and does illogical – often totally irrational - things. They are becoming more common in the age of narcissism. At times, it seems that they have dedicated much of their adult life to losing a few IQ points each year. An instructive comparison could be made with a young, very talented baseball pitcher. He has all the physical attributes to be successful. Muscle tone, shoulder construction, hand-eye coordination, reflexes, etc. He demonstrates an early ability to apply them. Then, for whatever combination of reasons, he neglects them – abandons pitching and just occasionally plays recreational slow-pitch softball. A few years later, he tries to marshal his inborn physical abilities. Outcome: he cannot come close to performing at the level he did earlier - even though there has been little or no deterioration in his basic physiology.


**** The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) signed by President Obama in 2016 with ten other countries was the most radical international agreement the United States ever has attached itself to. There is no precedent; indeed, there is no approximation. For it (1) entails the transfer of entire segments of national sovereignty to panels of multinational arbitrators, and (2) accords business corporations a legal status equal to that of the signatory states. In summary, its central provisions empower private parties to challenge laws and regulations promulgated by governments on the grounds that they in some manner curtail or obviate the privileges and prerogatives of investment institutions written into the 5,400 pages of the TPP treaty. 

The obligatory dispute resolution mechanism is the constitution of ad hoc, three person    panels which are endowed with final power of judgment. One of the three will be appointed by the plaintiff corporation, one by the defendant state and the third agreed mutually between the two parties. Their decision permits of no appeal. The purview of the panels, as derived from the comprehensive provisions of the treaty, cover inter alia safety regulations, environmental regulations, repatriation of funds rules, alterations in taxes and fees, and legislation/rule that allegedly favors domestic business over foreign business. 

The terms of the negotiations, including the positions of the United States, were kept secret from the Congress and the public. Business and financial interests participated directly in the preparation of the United States’ proposals and in the negotiations throughout the multi-year negotiations. At the insistence of President Obama, Congress was forced to vote on according the administration fast-track authority that allows him to present the treaty as a package with no amendment possible. Despite immense lobbying pressure from business interests, the resolution that set “fast track” in motion failed in the Senate only to be rescued by some devious maneuvering by the White House. On no previous occasion had the President made anything like the exertions that he did on TPP. 

Fortunately, it was rejected by Donald Trump – for all the wrong reasons,

This is the great underreported story of our times. The draft proposals are the most radical move in the direction of an unregulated world marketplace in history. In effect, states would relinquish a large slice of their sovereign authority to set standards in a variety of areas: environment, working conditions, etc. That authority would not be transferred to a supranational authority a la the European Union but to the market itself whose rules would be applied by a pro-business corps of private persons. In effect, the authority to control would cease to exist. 

The issue here is less unconstitutional conduct than the vitiating of the Constitution itself.

”Under the TPP, corporations will be able to appeal the laws of nations to 3-member panels of arbitrators, with one arbitrator chosen by them and a second agreed to by both them and the nation whose laws they are seeking to overturn. See the chapter on "investment," for how this works. It means that a foreign oil or mining corporation, for example, could overrule a U.S. environmental law by appealing to 2 out of 3 corporate lawyers on a secret panel. 

The TPP puts a large number of disastrous policies in place without waiting for corporate arbitration. For example, the U.S. Department of Energy would be required to approve any applications to export liquefied "natural" gas -- meaning more fracking, more destruction of the earth's climate, more profits for those who've been writing this treaty in secret for years, but not more sustainability, environmental protection, or even U.S. energy "independence." 

The TPP could require the United States to import food that doesn't meet U.S. safety standards. Any U.S. food safety rule on pesticides, labeling, or additives that is higher than international standards could be challenged as an "illegal trade barrier." 

The TPP would threaten provisions included in Medicare, Medicaid, and veterans' health programs to make medicines more affordable, as well as domestic patent and drug-pricing laws.”

About Author

Prof Michael Brenner, PhD

is a recognized authority on risk assessment & management, American foreign policy, and geopolitics. He is a "Fellow" of the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin and a Fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations SAIS-Johns Hopkins.  He also is Emeritus Professor of International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh. He was the Director of the International Relations & Global Studies Program at the University of Texas until 2012.

His record of publication on a broad span of international issues is complementary to his extensive activities in the policy realm. He has been an advisor to the United States government, a consultant to global corporations, a prominent participant in the programs of leading Washington think tanks and a prolific commentator on public affairs.  He contributes essays regularly to the Huffington Post, the National Journal, and the Pakistani Spectator and also has written for al-Arabiya. Prof Brenner’s consulting includes the United States Departments of State and Defense, the Foreign Service Institute, Westinghouse Corporation and Mellon Bank.

Professor Brenner has worked in the energy field for 30 years. He directed a project on International Energy & Natural Resource Issues sponsored by the Exxon Educational Foundation that produced a series of 20 case studies. He contributed studies of the Persian Gulf Reflagging Crisis, Oil as a Coercive Instrument in the 1970s, United States – China Bilateral Nuclear Accord, and US-France Dealings in Nuclear Energy. In addition, he organized the Pittsburgh Energy Seminar while at the Graduate School of Public & International Affairs, was Rapporteur for the Conference on Technology Transfer: Government & Industry in the Energy Sector at M.I.T. In the environmental policy field, he has conducted research on environmental management issues at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography (La Jolla), Natural Sciences Research Council (London), and the Center For International Affairs (Harvard University). He is the author of America’s Environmental Dilemma (Lexington Books) and The Scientific Advisory Function (Scripps Brenner is the author of numerous books, and over 70 articles and published papers on a wide range of topics.   His most recent works are:; Democracy Promotion and Islam; Fear and Dread In The Middle East (also translated into Arabic);; Toward A More Independent Europe  (Royal Institute of International Relations), Brussels), Narcissistic Public Personalities & Our Times..  His writings include books with Cambridge University Press (Nuclear Power and Non-Proliferation), the Center For International Affairs at Harvard University (The Politics of International Monetary Reform);  Institute of International Affairs at Cornell University (The Functionalist Theory of European Integration); the Brookings Institution (Reconcilable Differences, US-French Relations In The New Era) and publications in major journals in the United States and Europe, such as World Politics, Comparative Politics, Foreign Policy, International Studies Quarterly, International Affairs, Survival, Politique Etrangere, and Internationale Politik. Prof Brenner has directed multinational research projects with colleagues in France, England, Germany and Italy supported by grants from the Ford Foundation, NATO and the Commission of the European Union.

Brenner is an invited lecturer at major universities and institutes in the United States and abroad, including Georgetown University, UCLA, the National Defense University, the State Department, Sorbonne, Ecole des Sciences Politiques, Royal Institute of International Affairs, International Institute of Strategic Studies (London), King’s College of the University of London, German Council on Foreign Relations, Konrad Adenauer Foundation, and Universita di Firenze.

Brenner has held previous teaching and research appointments at Cornell, Stanford, Harvard, MIT, Brookings Institution, University of California – San Diego, University of California – Berkeley, and Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the National Defense University.  He also has been a Fellow of the Center on France & the United States in Paris.

His memberships include: APSA, ISA, IISS, Forum du Futur (Paris).

Prof Brenner is proficient in French and English.

  • Ph.D. Political Science, University of California, Berkeley
  • M.A. Political Science, University of California, Berkeley
  • B.A. Political Science, Summa Cum Lauda, Phi Beta Kappa , Brooklyne College – CUNY
  • Certificate, International Relations, Stockholm University, Sweden
  • About the author

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