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Sunday, November 29, 2015

Where Did You Get the Money, Anne?

Without a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, we may never know to what extent cultural and intellectual life in the US was shaped by schemes and resources associated with powerful US Cold War elites. Thanks to scholars like Francis Stonor Saunders (The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters), Hugh Wilford (The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America), and a handful of resourceful academics, we can piece together a shameful story of knowing and unwitting collaboration with Cold War goals across and deep within the elite academic community; we know of the widespread compromise of key, influential figures in the media to the wishes of the Cold Warriors; and we better understand why some cultural and intellectual trends seemed to flourish while others were left to wither.
At the same time, we have learned more of the repression of dissent from the Cold War consensus. Facts have been uncovered that show that “McCarthyism” was more than a momentary lapse in democratic values. The post-war repression left scars that persist, thought patterns that remain frozen, intellectual and cultural roads that continue to be blocked.
For those who study this history, twentieth century intellectual pillars like Robert Conquest, George Orwell, and Isaiah Berlin are now diminished in stature. Their witting engagement with and sponsorship by secret services and the covert promotion of their ideas shatter any claim to the intellectual integrity of their widely influential work. While this tarnishing of Cold War icons is accepted by most academic specialists, the kept mainstream media continues to herald the “truths” disseminated by similarly kept Cold War intellectuals.
With the Cold War long over, the enduring chant of anti-Soviet demonology continues, but with a new generation of intellectual charlatans conjuring the demons.
The current flock of professional anti-Communists is equally adept at turning from its defamation of the Soviet Union to defaming capitalist Russia. It really comes down to serving up whatever its masters demand.
Timothy Snyder (Bloodlands) and Anne Applebaum (Gulag: A History, Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944–1956) are two of the new breed of intellectuals who espouse views that uncannily coincide with the ideological needs of our ruling elites. As I wrote in March of last year, the two brought their arsenal of invective to smear the deposed Ukraine president Yanukovych, hail the violent, extreme-right opposition, and plant the evil Russians in their apologies for the Ukrainian coup.
While Snyder’s academic credentials convey “expert” standing on his pronouncements, Anne Applebaum has parlayed a master’s degree in international relations and a career in journalism to a widely celebrated place as the leading “scholar” of Soviet-era repression. It’s fair to see her as heir apparent to Robert Conquest, owning the privilege of making ex cathedra judgments of everything Eastern European.
August publications like The New York Review of Books welcome her every thought on Soviet history or modern Eastern Europe, as does nearly every other Western medium. Curiously, none pauses to weigh-- not to mention, to acknowledge—Ms. Applebaum’s marital tie to one of Poland’s more prominent anti-Russian, right-wing, and controversial politicians, Radoslaw Sikorski. Sikorski’s racist outbursts, his extravagant life style, and his virulent anti-Russian screeds cast no shadow over his spouse’s exalted status in the West.
Sikorski’s recent scandals involving corruption and financial mismanagement are widely reported in Poland, but unaddressed in the West. In the US, the Polish power couple (Applebaum has taken Polish citizenship) is viewed as a paragon of liberalism and integrity.
But thanks to the tenacious research of an expatriate US citizen named John Helmer, evidence has emerged that suggests that Applebaum, like her intellectual forbearers, has tasted of the forbidden fruit. Polish law requires that officials and spouses report incomes, reports that are publicly accessible. According to Sikorski’s 2014 report, Ms. Applebaum earned around $800,000 from non-Polish sources in 2013. Generously allowing for income from book royalties, her WaPo and Newsweek columns, and a salary from the Legatum Foundation in London, that leaves several hundred thousand dollars unaccounted for (Helmer estimates $565,000).
It doesn’t take much imagination to see the workings of a hidden hand, a hand grateful for Applebaum’s slavish support and promulgation of US and NATO foreign policy objectives in Ukraine and other Eastern European countries.
Wikileaks noted this interesting bump in income (Sikorski reported his wife’s earnings as $20,000 the prior year). Applebaum responded to Wikileaks with out-of-character discomfit and the intensification of her anti-Russia hysterics. She tweeted: “Wow! Assange now using fake/libellous slander from John Helmer, who fled US after being recruited by the KGB in 80s.”
There is nothing like a dose of red-baiting to deflect the question.
Whether Applebaum can explain this sudden bounty is uncertain. But one thing is certain: the Western media will never allow it to derail the war-mongering propaganda blitz targeting Russia.

Zoltan Zigedy

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Pathologies of Capitalism

Capitalism owes its resilience to its ability to devise novel tactics to deflect, distort, and deflate mass resistance. Even with the casualties of global capitalism mounting, capitalism’s fixers have channeled public dissatisfaction and disappointment into private diminished self-worth and self-destructiveness.
London Review of Books reviewer, Katrina Forrester, aptly captures this insidious ploy: when faced with oppression and exploitation “Don’t join a union, pop a pill.” In her perceptive review of William Davies’ The Happiness Industry: How the Government and Big Business Sold Us Wellbeing (22 October 2015) she exposes the wide spread practice of defining rebellious behavior or negative attitudes as psychological disorders. “...if you’re not happy, wish things were different, or find it hard to adapt to the conditions of modern life, you may be diagnosed as suffering from a mental illness.”
More and more often, academics and therapists have accepted the notion that depression or dysfunctional behavior is a mark of mental problems regardless of the causes of the behavior or attitude. They “…think of unhappiness as a pathology, a psychological or mental state amenable to behavioral and medical intervention. This is the logic that underpins the growth of the ‘happiness industry.’” Thus, for example, when an Iraqi mother loses two sons fighting a foreign occupier, when her personal security is constantly threatened, and living conditions continue to deteriorate, her unhappiness is pathological. It is not the horrid conditions of her life (conditions which could have been avoided or can be altered), but her “negative” feelings that must be changed.
As Forrester points out, “Many people are unhappy for good reasons, which the new therapeutic practices of the happiness industry largely ignore.”
She goes on:
Where once the solution to unhappiness at work was social reform and collective action, now it’s individual uplift and “resilience”; when we want to resist, we don’t join a union but call in sick. If you lose your job and feel demoralized at the prospect of looking for a new one, that too might be a diagnosable condition.
Forrester reports that in the UK some have taken to rebranding unemployment as a psychological disorder with claimants’ “attitude to work” used as a determinant of benefit worthiness.
While appreciative of the book under review, Forrester faults the author for his weak answer to the happiness industry. Rather than recognizing that happiness-obsession serves capitalism by trivializing capital’s destructive nature, William Davies sees it as somehow a threat to democracy. By touting “democratizing” the work place, Davies joins all social democrats in assiduously avoiding placing capitalism’s pathologies at capitalism’s doorsteps. And Forrester sees this flaw clearly: “Happiness and depression are tied up with capital in ways far more concrete than Davies allows.”
Pathological Blowback
It is no secret that whites have often been the most socially compliant demographic group. Middle-aged white people are today inclined to cling to the dominant ideological narrative, to support the ruling class “verities.” But they are paying a heavy price for the trust that they have placed in wealth and power.

A recent study, Rising morbidity and mortality in midlife among white non-Hispanic Americans in the 21st century, shows that whites, especially less educated whites, between the ages of 45 to 54 have suffered a dramatic increase in mortality since 1999. The authors, Professors Case and Deaton, argue that much of this increase is caused by an over four-fold increase of drug and alcohol overdoses, an over 50% increase in suicides, and an over 25% increase of chronic liver disease. Further, they have related this abuse to mental-health problems and problems in handling personal difficulties, especially economic stresses.

Case and Deaton speculate that increased mortality may have caused 488,500 deaths that could have been avoided between 1999 and 2013—what the anti-Soviet Kremlinologists of the Cold War era would label “unnecessary deaths.”
While there is much alarm in the mainstream academic and social work community, there are few theories about how such mass “unhappiness” could occur and about how to arrest it.
But is it really that difficult to discern the causes of this mental health epidemic?
Should it be a surprise that white people who came of age during and after the Reagan era of fanatical US boosterism, who experienced the period where all social questions were settled with the mantra “Are YOU better off now?”, and who endured a time when personal “success” trumped social relations and social responsibilities, would now find disappointment, even despair in the unrelenting crises of the twenty-first century?
Capitalism fostered an ever-present trend of alienation, isolation, and subjectivism that accelerated dramatically over the last forty years. Extreme competitiveness for jobs, status, and power nurtured the virus of selfishness and insensitivity. In the Hobbesian State of Nature that ensued, many were consumed by ruthless competition—the struggle for success. Those who were “losers”—and there must be losers, if there are winners—were stripped of their self-worth.  
With the promise of boundless prosperity and the ideology of self-advancement rocked by two devastating economic crises in the first decade of the twenty-first century, those most committed to this faith were devastated. Harsh realities caught up with the fairy tales spun by capitalism’s apologists. For those seeing no options, alcohol, drugs, and suicide became an answer.  
But causes of this epidemic are not found in the soul or mind, but in capitalism. And solutions are not found on the therapist’s couch, in self-help sessions, the drug store or the bottle, but in creating a world where everyone has a welcoming, useful, and satisfying place. That place will never be found where capitalism reigns.

Zoltan Zigedy