Tuesday, October 7, 2008

This is How We Do It

Yesterday, Naomi Klein detailed how the University of Chicago Department of Economics, under Milton Friedman, trained "visting scholars" in the same way the former School of the Americas trained a similar cadre of Latin American "scholars" in the fine arts of popular oppression, cruelty, and torture.

These "right-wing think tanks" should be seen more as the military meaning of the word: self-propelled war machines. They run on their own tracks, obliterating, demolishing everything under their gargantuan weight. They see the world through mechanical eyes. To a man in a right-wing think tank, the rest of us are targets.

From yesterday's broadcast of Democracy Now!

So, this plan was cooked up—it was between the head of USAID’s Chile office and the head of the University of Chicago’s Economics Department—to try to change the debate in Latin America, starting in Chile, because that’s where developmentalism had gained its deepest roots. And the idea was to bring a group of Chilean students to the University of Chicago to study under a group of economists who were considered so extreme that they were on the margins of the discussion in the United States, which, of course, at the time, in the 1950s, was fully in the grips of Keynesianism. But the idea was that there would be—this would be a battle to the—a counterbalance to the emergence of left-wing ideas in Latin America, that they would go home and counterbalance the pink economists.

And so, the Chicago Boys were born. And it was considered a success, and the Ford Foundation got in on the funding. And hundreds and hundreds of Latin American students, on full scholarships, came to the University of Chicago in the 1950s and ’60s to study here to try to engage in what Juan Gabriel Valdes, Chile’s foreign minister after the dictatorship finally ended, described as a project of deliberate ideological transfer, taking these extreme-right ideas, that were seen as marginal even in the United States, and transplanting them to Latin America. That was his phrase—that is his phrase.

But today, we see that these ideas [developmentalism] are reemerging in Latin America. They were suppressed with force, overthrown with military coups, and then Chile and Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil all became, to varying degrees, laboratories for the ideas that were taught in the classrooms of the University of Chicago. But now, because there was never a democratic consent for this, the ideas are reemerging.

But one of the things that’s interesting about the new left in Latin America is that democracy is at the very center. And, you know, the first thing that Rafael Correa did when he was elected president of Ecuador, for instance—well, the first thing he did was give an interview. They said, “What can we expect of your economic program?” He said, “Well, let’s put it this way: I’m no fan of Milton Friedman’s.” And then he called a constituent assembly. He created an incredibly open political process to rewrite the country’s constitution. And that’s what happened in Bolivia, and that’s what’s happened in many Latin American countries, because democracy is being put at the center of these projects, because there has been a learning process of looking at the mistakes that the left has made in the past, the ends-justify-the-means mistakes.

So, I think all ideologies should be held accountable for the crimes committed in their names. I think it makes us better. Now, of course, there are still those on the far left who will insist that all of those crimes were just an aberration—Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot; reality is annoying—and they retreat into their sacred texts. We all know who I’m talking about.

But lately, particularly just in the past few months, I have noticed something similar happening on the far libertarian right, at places like the Cato Institute and the Reason Foundation. It’s a kind of a panic, and it comes from the fact that the Bush administration adapted—adopted so much of their rhetoric, the fusing of free markets and free people, the championing of so many of their pet policies. But, of course, Bush is the worst thing that has ever happened to believers in this ideology, because while parroting the talking points of Friedmanism, he has overseen an explosion of crony capitalism, that they treat governing as a conveyor belt or an ATM machine, where private corporations make withdrawals of the government in the form of no-bid contracts and then pay back government in the form of campaign contributions. And we’re seeing this more and more. The Bush administration is a nightmare for these guys—the explosion of the debt and now, of course, these massive bailouts.

So, what we see from the ideologues of the far right—by far right, I mean the far economic right—frantically distancing themselves and retreating to their sacred texts: The Road to Serfdom, Capitalism and Freedom, Free to Choose. So that’s why I’ve taken to calling them right-wing Trotskyists, because they have this—and mostly because it annoys them, but also because they have the same sort of frozen-in-time quality. You know, it’s not, you know, 1917, but it’s definitely 1982. Now, the left-wing Trots don’t have very much money, as you know. They make their money selling newspapers outside of events like this. The right-wing Trots have a lot of money. They build think tanks in Washington, D.C., and they want to build a $200 million Milton Friedman Institute at the University of Chicago.

Now, this brings up an interesting point. It’s an interesting point about the think tanks, in general, which has to do with the fact that it does seem to take so much corporate welfare to keep these ideas alive, which would seem to be a contradiction of the core principle of free market ideology—I mean, and particularly now, in the context of the Milton Friedman Institute. I mean, I could see it in the ’90s, but now, is the world really clamoring for this? Is there really a demand that you are supplying here? Really?

I think this points to a larger issue, and this comes up—has come up for me again and again in talking about this ideology, this ideological campaign. You know, is it—is it really fueled by true belief, and—or is it just fueled by greed? Because it’s not—the thoughts are so very profitable. So they are distinctive in that way, distinctive from other ideologies. And, of course, you know, certainly we know that religion has been a great economic partner in imperialism. I mean, this isn’t an entirely new phenomenon. But this is a question that comes up a lot. And I think it’s very difficult to answer, and it’s clear, certainly at this school, that much of it is fueled by belief, by true belief, by falling in love with those elegant systems.

But I think we also need to look particularly at this moment, who this ideology benefits directly economically, keeping it alive in this moment, and how, even in this moment, when everybody is saying, you know, this is the end of market fundamentalism, because we’re seeing this betrayal of the basic tenets of the non-interventionist government by the Bush administration—you know, I believe this is a myth and that the ideology has just gone dormant, because it’s ceased to be useful. But it will come roaring back, and I’ll talk a little bit more about that.

But, you know, I was interested that yesterday the Heritage Foundation, which has always been a staunch Friedmanite think tank, that they came out in favor of the bailout. They came out in favor of the bailout; they said it was vital. And what’s interesting about that is, of course, the bailout is creating a crisis in the economic—in the public sphere. It’s taking a private crisis, a crisis on Wall Street, which of course isn’t restricted to Wall Street, and it will affect everyone, but it is moving it, moving those bad debts, onto the public books.


Ken Silverstein [originally published Octber 7, 2008 in Harpers.org]

The Rumsfeld Fellows: Advanced degrees in bungled invasions

When last spotted, Professor S. Frederick Starr was snuggling up with Washington lobbyists employed by the Kazakh government. Starr, the one-time Soviet advisor to President Reagan who currently heads the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), is now teaming up with former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld in another venture of dubious academic integrity.

Rumsfeld, who has kept a low profile since being fired from his post as Secretary of Defense, has created a foundation whose goals include “encouraging young people to go into government” and generating “support for Central Asian republics.” One of its major grants, I’ve been told, went to fund a new CACI fellowship program for “young leaders” from the region. The first group of fellows has just arrived at CACI.

Felisa Neuringer Klubes, a spokeswoman for SAIS, confirmed that Rumsfeld had provided funding for the program, though she did not specify an amount. Accepting Rumsfeld’s financial support generated internal debate at SAIS. Some at the school apparently felt that taking money from Rumsfeld was improper, given his disastrous role in the Iraq War (“Stuff happens,” he said famously of the looting that broke out soon after the invasion) and involvement in the torture scandals.

CACI took the money, but opted not to burden the visiting academics with the title of “Rumsfeld scholars.” Even the former defense secretary recognized that his name would be radioactive.


And Sam Stein in today's HuffPo has this about McCain's involvement in myth-jacking front group
Why McCain's Time With Council Of World Freedom Matters

"John McCain sat on the board of...the U.S. Council for World Freedom," said Begala, "The Anti-Defamation League, in 1981 when McCain was on the board, said this about this organization. It was affiliated with the World Anti-Communist League - the parent organization - which ADL said 'has increasingly become a gathering place, a forum, a point of contact for extremists, racists and anti-Semites.'"

But McCain's involvement in the U.S. Council for World Freedom, which extended from 1981 through, possibly, 1986 is significant -- not merely because it ties him to unsavory characters but because it firmly associates him with a foreign policy that was, at the time and still, controversial.

"I didn't know that [McCain had] served on the board," said Shannon O'Neil
Douglas Dillon Fellow for Latin American Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. "It is a little bit surprising to me. But all of those organizations did come from the Republican side mostly. Often the people were tied to the military and they saw the world in black and white terms... My impression is [McCain] still sees the world in back and white."

The USCWF was founded in Phoenix, Arizona in November 1981 as an offshoot of the World Anti-Communist League. The group was, from the onset, saddled with the disreputable reputation of its parent group. The WACL had ties to ultra-right figures and Latin American death squads. Roger Pearson, the chairman of the WACL, was expelled from the group in 1980 under allegations that he was a member of a neo-Nazi organization.

The U.S. Council of World Freedom claimed to be cleansed of these elements. The group's director, retired Major General John Singlaub, said he had purged some of the more "kooky" members, including a Mexican chapter that "blamed everything on the Jews," and "even accused Pope John Paul of being a Jew." The Anti-Defamation League, once critical, applauded Singlaub for his efforts. Moreover, the USCWF was granted a sense of political legitimacy when President Ronald Reagan addressed the group in September 1984.

But the group's secret activities were still controversial. It claimed to support "pro-Democratic resistance movements fighting communist totalitarianism." And during the 1980s it became a vehicle for the Reagan administration to prop up some of the more totalitarian, anti-communist efforts in Central America.

[Full article]

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