Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Washington Consensus Controlling Trade: NAFTA & Al Gore Then; TPP & Obama Now; Andrew O'Hehir on the Neoliberal, Monetized, Tory Dystopia of London 2015

This entry contains some political commentary that I was trying to post all last week. It combines what were three entries.

The sculpture "Man Controlling Trade" at the Federal Trade Commission headquarters, Washington, D.C., 6:22PM May 20, 2015.

This sculpture is at once awesome and amazing; awfully fascist; and vaguely homoerotic. I featured it in this entry 4-1/2 years ago.

Of course, if this were the present era, it would feature milquetoast, ex-pat Tory Sebastian Mallaby of Fred Hiatt's "Washington Consensus" crowd at a Counsel on Foreign Relations think tank "symposium" seated next to a grinning Chinese Party delegation from some city of 24 million people in central China that you've never heard of -- itself something out of Limbo in Inception with endless soulless skyscrapers, most of which are empty under a pall of choking coal fire smog and greenhouse gases spewed by the millions of metric tons CO2-eq. per day into the air, enough to give pause even to the dumbest "global cooling" American family eating cheeseburgers and drinking 64-oz Diet Cokes at the Creationist theme park -- in a conference room at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel. Alas, there is no appropriate backdrop image of post-apocalyptic (Damnation Alley-style) Detroit or the rural impoverished wastes of eastern Kentucky. However, cross town there is Benji Wittes at a BROOKINGS panel yap-yap-yapping away about how great are the Deep State's drones and what a "model facility" is Guantanamo Bay.

The more I think about it, the more I realize what a disaster was Al Gore. Yes, he was / is good on climate change issues, but on everything else, he achieved the exact opposite outcome of what was promised.

This includes the mutually-assured destruction that has been NAFTA to that horrific 2000 presidential campaign with the sighs and endless superciliousness in a country that values simplicity to the point of stupidity; the appalling convention speech; the shocking French kiss of his wife; and above all else, listening to the WaHoPo editorial board / Beltway "Gang of 500" courtiers class on the need to "distance" himself from Bill Clinton.

Bill Clinton is many things, but a bad campaigner or a vapid, non-motivational speaker are not among them.

How did that work out for ya, Al? Not even your own state wanted you, and you were both a sitting Vice President and part of a political dynasty back home. That takes real talent.

Al Gore, losing "gracefully" what he should have easily won. (Well, technically, he won but the "Scalia 5" -- facilitated by a whore-media -- ensured that this would not be so.)


Let me just add here that then-Vice President Al Gore's legendary Larry King CNN showdown on November 9, 1993 with Ross Perot on the promised utopian joys of NAFTA was the start of the High Period of the Washington Consensus, running from about 1994 to 1998. That "debate" in hindsight was so maddening -- in particular how all the bought-and-paid for corporate journalist-whores of the time dutifully did their job of all-of-a-sudden singing Al Gore's praises for his purported brilliance and intelligence about the endless virtues of "Free Trade" (read: giving whatever the forces of rapacious oligarchy demand) and the supposed hick stupidity of Ross Perot for daring to challenge this narrative (and who, admittedly, was surely not the best spokesperson for the other side).

All the references to "Smoot-Hawley"(or in idiot Michele Bachmann's phraseology, "Hoot-Smalley") -- itself a bunch of mythological bullshit in terms of it purportedly "causing" the 1929 stock market crash and start of the Great Depression -- would have filled multiple giant Walmart stores of today.

This was just pre-internet when the old news cycle actually still mattered and people were still watching "the Big Three" network news and CNN, so in that sense, the Beltway Courtier-Scribe class was more influential than today. The infotainment bubbles of today did not yet exist and the Conservative Entertainment Complex was in its infancy.

It has been explained by others how Newt Gingrich brilliantly absconded with the 1992 Ross Perot voters, in part through their disapproval of NAFTA (despite the fact that GOP was pro-NAFTA, too, but never mind that) pulling them into the Republican Party and contributing to the party's 1994 electoral tsunami). Specifically, there was the "Contract on America" nonsense, itself little more than a manifesto of oligarchy. (Today it would include a bunch of anti-global climate change horse manure.)

Returning to the present ...

As for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Paul Krugman is absolutely right when he talks about the wholly out-of-character duplicitous levels of secrecy the Obama administration has erected around that awful agreement.

And it's inevitable that "fast track" authority also will be granted by the House. There's almost no way it won't happen.

Oligarchy always gets its way.

In brief, as many others including Paul Krugman have noted, NONE of this is about "free trade" in some deeply insulting NAFTA 1994-era "off-the-shelf" argument about "comparative advantage" -- the kind of bullshit that gets the neoliberal Washington Consensus crowd all tingly all over.

The Washington Consensus

This is true even when said arguments fail on their own terms and causes things such as maquiladora sweatshop conditions or the wanton destruction of local food growing capabilities for the sake of agribusiness multinationals selling to Third World countries such as happened in Haiti, so much so that even the ultimate neoliberal politician agrees it was a Devil's bargain.

Haitian rice farmers.


Rather, this TPP is all about intellectual property safeguards for the forces of corporate oligarchy and the ability to enforce Bangladesh and Vietnam-level worker protection standards.

Two Bangladeshi garment factory workers killed in a plant collapse, April 25, 2013.


I would like to conclude with this excellent, albeit very depressing piece by Andrew O'Hehir on the ultra-monetized neoliberal theme park that London has become in the age of vapid Tory dominance and Labour uselessness. That so many British people would vote so eagerly to keep this state of affairs is a testament to the fact that it's not only American voters who can be epically dumb.

Of course, Labour offered nothing of value in return and failed to make any sensible arguments including on the effects of all that 19th Century-style deflationary economics and austerity. It was left to folks such as Paul Krugman and Simon Wren-Lewis to do that, but to no avail.

(Note: Except for the first montage image directly belo (which appears in the article itself) and the final one in the article excert, the other pictures -- stunning London-at-night aerial ones -- were taken by renowned photographer Jason Hawkes (appropriate name) probably in 2013 and appeared in this International Business Times article in Jan. 2014. I'm posting them without captions, so either visit the IBT article or click on the images to see what they are. Honestly, I didn't even realize London had such a variety of skyscrapers these days.)

London as neoliberal theme park: The Platform 9 ¾ economy and the Tories' shocking victory

How London became a monetized simulation of itself -- and how that vision fueled David Cameron's surprise win

Source here.

By Andrew O'Hehir

Extended excerpts:

"Nothing quite so blatantly sums up the victory of neoliberalism in 21st-century London, and that city's relentless commodification of every aspect of its literary and historical legacy, like Platform 9 ¾ at King’s Cross. If anything, the vulgarity and banality of Platform 9 ¾ are too blatant; it's a crack in the façade that demonstrates how thoroughly London has become Londonland, a nearly convincing scavenger-hunt simulation of itself, chock-full of royal bones and references to Dan Brown novels. To enter Westminster Abbey – which is still nominally a house of worship for the Anglican Communion, rather than a historical theme park -- now costs 44 pounds for a family of four, or about $68. (The Catholic Church has abundant problems, but it still has some pride; a few days later we visited Notre Dame in Paris, for free.)...

As one Guardian columnist lamented once the scale of the debacle became clear, Ed Miliband's Labour Party believed it could coast to victory -- or at least take power as the leading partner in a patchwork governing coalition -- on a disgruntled and uneasy national tide, without ever clarifying what it stood for or how it envisioned the future. OK, Labour stood for some degree of retrenchment against the neoliberal reinvention of Britain under Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair, and some degree of reinvestment in the extraordinary British welfare state created in the postwar years. But the vision was almost entirely negative: We're not the Tories, with their overpriced City of London wine bars and their privatized everything and their Platform 9 ¾ economy. It proved to be a disastrous combination of arrogance and cowardice and obfuscation; despite drooping poll numbers, David Cameron won the Conservatives’ first outright majority since 1992, and became the first prime minister to improve on his original vote share in 100 years.

Most British people, I would speculate, understand that the current Tory blend of softcore English nationalism and wine-bar trickle-down economics – Thatcherism, with the overt meanness redacted – is basically a scam, just as the tourists from San Antonio and São Paulo queuing up at Platform 9 ¾ cannot avoid noticing that this experience is a bullshit bastardization of Rowling's fantasy universe....

Britain's electoral mood, at least outside the affluent suburban greenbelt of southern England, which votes Tory for valid if dreadful reasons, was somewhat similar. The Tories' 1-percenter scam policies, in which London's exorbitantly expensive public transit is kept spotlessly clean and subsistence-wage service jobs are abundant, are understood to reflect reality, a construct meaning that we're all on our own and everything is for sale. (As Margaret Thatcher famously observed in 1987, there is no such thing as society.) We live in a world where to expect anything not to be a predatory scam is to reveal oneself as fatally naïve.

Forget cultural critic Lionel Trilling's long-ago highbrow dialectic between sincerity and authenticity; the idea that such qualities are possible as themselves, in some unalloyed state, has become ludicrous. They are of course available, in more or less convincing simulated form, with a price tag to match. Platform 9 ¾ is a "free attraction," flung down from the neoliberal parapets by the smirking lords, who wouldn't be caught dead going there and could hire the real Albus-fucking-Dumbledore for their kids’ birthday parties if they cared to. There's no need to purchase the insanely overpriced Hogwarts swag, O you groveling peasants in your Banana Republic travel outfits, unless you’d like to prove you’re not losers. Westminster Abbey, on the other hand, where we occasionally baptize honest-to-God royal babies and can assure you that the moldering carcasses of Geoffrey Chaucer and Edward the Confessor are 100 percent genuine? That grade of English-flavored realness does not come cheap.

I do understand something here: I understand that it's absurd for an American to lecture the British about how much their venerable capital city has turned itself into Platform 9 ¾ fakery, Ye Olde London Towne on the River Thames, as big as life. It was an American who bought the decommissioned London Bridge and moved it to a resort town in Arizona, to be barfed from by spring breakers. We are the nation that perfected historical denial, the nation that invented the human soul and then sold it, the nation that memorializes its own destruction with instantly decaying shopping centers named after the geographical features they have replaced. As the soldier hero of Ben Fountain’s novel "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" – perhaps the best thing written about the Iraq War and its true costs – reflects to himself, American public life is a "nonstop sales job" that most of us don't seem to mind and don't quite notice, thanks to our "exceptionally high thresholds for sham, puff, spin, bullshit, and outright lies, in other words for advertising in all its forms" ...

London no longer seems "Americanized," the way it did for a while in the '80s and '90s after the arrival of fast-food franchises, Nikes and hip-hop music. It mostly just seems monetized. In its allegiance to the pure, sleek power of money -- understood as a bracing, non-ideological force, somewhat like an ab-shaping exercise routine or a double shot of espresso -- it has left the crumbling metropolises of America behind. It would be conventional to suggest, right about now, that there are lessons for Americans to be found in Britain's 2015 political paroxysm. That is no doubt true, but I suspect those lessons are not obvious or easily detected...

If you're a loyal Democrat who's "ready for Hillary," please tell me where you can discern a dime's worth of difference between Cameron and Hillary Clinton on any substantive political issues. Set aside Cameron's need to appease the crotchety, anti-immigration Tory right and Clinton’s need to appease the populist, Elizabeth Warren Democratic left, and they represent exactly the same trans-Atlantic power structure of banks, spy agencies and multinational corporations sometimes called the "Washington consensus," which at this point is just as much headquartered in London. Is she cooler than him, semiotically speaking, because of her gender and her supposed appeal to the white working class? Granted. When it comes to war, national security and boundless fealty to Israel, however, Clinton is likely to position herself a millimeter or two to Cameron's right.

"What we see in the Cameron victory and in Clinton’s possible or likely 2016 victory is not just the triumph of international capital and its emissaries (which is hardly surprising on its own) but the left's inability to mount any meaningful counterattack or establish a powerful counter-narrative. Miliband's ill-fated Labour leadership tiptoed back a step or two toward the party's banished socialist heritage, but without quite saying so and without ever feeling sure that was a winning strategy. (Would it have been? I don’t know, and that's not the point.) All they said, in effect, was that they were against the depressing bogosity of the Platform 9 ¾ economy, without ever making clear what they might like to build in its place. With no vision to challenge the core values of neoliberal economics, and that goes far beyond reformist nibbling, the electoral left in the Anglo-American zone is pretty much defunct..."

Grrrr ...


OK, that's all for now. I'm supposed to meet Gary and his mom for lunch and then I'll take a bike ride. Last night, Gary and I had a rather nice time at Brick and Mortar in Chinatown (a different venue for both of us).


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