Now Age Minute: First We Take Manhattan

manhattan

Adding to his infamous television news personality buffoonery, MSNBC’s Brian Williams shared the news of U.S. missile strikes on Syria last week with an uncomfortable, gleeful fascination about the weaponry. According to a story in the Washington Post,

As dozens of cruise missiles laid waste to a Syrian military airfield late Thursday, MSNBC’s Brian Williams took a moment to wax poetic…

It was a sight that seemed to dazzle Williams, who described the images as “beautiful” in a segment on his show, “The 11th Hour.”

“We see these beautiful pictures at night from the decks of these two U.S. Navy vessels in the eastern Mediterranean,” Williams said. “I am tempted to quote the great Leonard Cohen: ‘I am guided by the beauty of our weapons.’”

When news was news
I came of consciousness right about the time my friend Dion Dimucci released “Abraham, Martin and John,” (a fitting eulogy for the rash of 1960s American political assassinations), together with night-after-night reporting of the horrors of the Vietnam War, which were broadcast, unfiltered, via nightly television news. Those were days when CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite was regarded as “the most trusted man in America.” So, in 1968 when Cronkite took to the airwaves to explain to American viewers what was actually happening in Vietnam (despite official Johnson Administration propaganda), the tide of pubic opinion began to turn against America’s involvement in the war.

 

News is business
A possible reason for Brian Williams’ glee over Trump’s (certainly illegal) missile launch over Syria was the sound of clinking champagne glasses in his earpiece; his superiors celebrating certain spoils of war profiteering. And profits were had, according to Business Insider,

Defense stocks are up in pre-market trading following US air strikes on Syria last night…

The company that makes those missiles, Raytheon, is up more than 2% in early morning trading. Lockheed Martin, the producer of the new F-35 fighter jet and the Hellfire missile, is up more than 1%.

Boeing, which has millions in government defense contracts, is up slightly this morning. Boeing makes the JDAM GPS, a guidance system for bombs.

And should a new cold war (or worse) break out between the U.S. and Russia, look for continued champagne celebrations.

So forget what you learned about the press as the “forth estate” of American democracy in elementary school, it was sold down the neoliberal river decades ago. How did that happen, you ask?

The cult of finance
A major victory of the neoliberal policy movement is the “financialization” of the economy. Financialization, in short, refers to the expanded space of the finance industry in the economy as a whole. According to a very worthwhile essay published in Forbes, by Mike Collins, financialization is the “growing scale and profitability of the finance sector at the expense of the rest of the economy and the shrinking regulation of its rules and returns.”

The expansion of the financial services industry in the 70s came consistent with neoliberal, deregulatory and free-market policy impulses to address declining corporate profits. Again from Collins,

As the New Deal regulations were slowly dismantled, the financial sector growth accelerated along with risks and speculation. The employment and total sales of the finance industry grew from 10% of GDP in 1970 to 20% by 2010. The emphasis was no longer on making things – it was making money from money.

At the same time the manufacturing industry fell from 30% of GDP in 1950 to 10% in 2010. The finance industry swelled as the rest of the economy weakened. The disproportionate growth of finance diverted income from labor to capital. Wall Street profits rose from less than 10% in 1982 to 40% of all corporate profits by 2003.

And, as we learned so painfully, deregulated financial speculation nearly took the economy off the cliff, and left to its own devices the finance industry will continue in its risky behavior, as Collins argues,

Perhaps the financial industry is an example of free market capitalism at its best. But its lust for short term profits has the power to hurt the economy and destroy the manufacturing sector. It is said that these types of capitalists who continually push the legal boundaries would sell you the rope at their own hanging. The one thing that they have proved over the last 4 decades is that they must be strictly regulated.

Still, despite the billions or trillions (depending on the calculus) of U.S. taxpayer money awarded in bailout money to the financial sector post 2008 meltdown, the biggest banks have grown bigger, regulations have been beaten back, and no industry executives or leaders have seen prosecution for their crimes. That’s because, as Illinois Senator Dick Durban exclaimed in frustration in 2009 while trying to gain support for a bankruptcy reform bill, “the banks own the place.” And nothing of significance has changed since to deflate the financialization bubble.

First We Take Manhattan
Discussing the meaning behind “First We Take Manhattan,” the late Leonard Cohen talked about a certain reverence for the mindset behind terrorism. According to Cohen,

I think it’s a response to terrorism. There’s something about terrorism that I’ve always admired. The fact that there are no alibis or no compromises. That position is always very attractive. I don’t like it when it’s manifested on the physical plane – I don’t really enjoy the terrorist activities – but Psychic Terrorism. I remember there was a great poem by Irving Layton that I once read, I’ll give you a paraphrase of it… well, you guys blow up an occasional airline and kill a few children here and there. But our terrorists, Jesus, Freud, Marx, Einstein. The whole world is still quaking.

You don’t need to be a big Leonard Cohen fan to believe he (a well-known Jewboo) was really guided by the beauty of our weapons. But that requires a depth of thinking a half-inch deeper than Brian Williams is accustomed. And that’s just fine for his bosses at MSNBC, who are also celebrating the network’s best quarter in its history, thanks to their relentless rantings about Russian conspiracy theories.

With America’s neoliberal financial heart beating from Wall Street, someone did, in fact, first take Manhattan in order to conquer the rest of the country. And with Wall Street’s consolidation of the media industry, via President Bill Clinton’s signing of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, they had the perfect perch to project their propaganda.

So if your head is spinning in an attempt to separate fake news from fact, there’s big money in keeping you confused, and your anger focused on anything but the actual villain: neoliberal capitalism.

While Trump successfully campaigned on populist rhetoric, he clearly is no match for the money and power behind America’s neocon-neoliberal imperialism. So, while Trump had promised to stand up and disrupt Washington’s establishment, like Jeb, he too is weak. Time to unplug the cable and take matters into our own hands.

I’m guided by a signal in the heavens
I’m guided by this birthmark on my skin
I’m guided by the beauty of our weapons
First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin
–Leonard Cohen

By | 2017-04-12T14:19:48+00:00 April 12th, 2017|Categories: Columns, Now Age Minute|Tags: , , , , |

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Craig Gordon

Craig Gordon comments on the perverse state of American society, and is the publisher of this website.

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