The Return to the Dangerous Normal
It was a moving scene. During Joe Biden’s Presidential Inauguration, we saw him join three former presidents – George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, to stand in front of the grave of the unknown soldier in the Arlington National Ceremony. It was a sombre break from the near-Hollywood blitz of the rest of the celebrations that featured stars like Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Jennifer Lopez. The message of much of the day was that America had just got through a four-year bad patch but now, as the New Republic put it, “The adults are back in the room”. The four presidents – past and present, Democrat and Republican standing in front of the corpse of a young soldier were united in saying that, essentially, “America is returning to normal.”
Lets hope not.
Because “normal” particularly the “normal” that these presidents bequeathed on America is not for the faint-hearted.
To start with the grotesque symbolism of using military dead for largely political purposes. Between these men, America was plunged into a series of wars that have not yet ended, cost trillions of dollars and millions of lives. There are hundreds of thousands of young people in the United States who suffer from injuries and psychological harm due to these conflicts. Perhaps these past presidents would have been better if they had shown as much care for American soldiers before they sent them to foreign wars rather than standing in front of their dead bodies for a photo op.
These presidents also oversaw innumerable financial crisis and recessions. One, the Great Recession of 2008 was so severe – it was estimated by the U.S. Treasury Board to have cost the world’s GDP $19 trillion dollars. At the same time, under the collective watch of Clinton, Bush and Obama, the national debt more than quadrupled; the inequality of wages between average workers and American CEO’s skyrocketed. According to the site inequality.org, restaurant workers – cooks and waiters – have not had a pay raise in the 29 years since Bill Clinton took office. Meanwhile, American CEO’s wages have grown by over 500%.
If this was the normal that America was used to under the three presidents who stood at Biden’s side at Arlington cemetery, what can we expect the normal of a President Joe Biden to look like?
Are you kidding me?
Erin Brockovitch, who established her reputation in the 1990s campaigning against companies who polluted the groundwater near low-income communities, is less than impressed with some of the people that Biden has already put into his administration. In an open letter entitled, “Dear
Joe Biden, Are you kidding me?” written less than two weeks after his election victory. She slams his choice of Michael McAbe for the Board of Directors of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). A man she describes as “a chemical company insider” who helped develop the media strategy to help soften government regulations of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). A substance some scientists have dubbed a “forever chemical” that remains in animals, humans and the environment in virtual perpetuity and has been linked to lowered fertility, cancer and liver damage.
The choice of McAbe made Brockovitch write, “This smells of the dawn of the same old. To quote the Who: meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”
Brockovitch’s anger stretches across the progressive side of the Democratic party. They claim that Biden campaigned as a progressive and promptly betrayed the ideals that he won on. Biden’s rhetoric about reforming the same financial industry that plunged America into a recession was not to be taken seriously. That, at least, was the purport of a Washington Post
article in September 2020 where it was revealed by an anonymous high-level banker that: “in private calls with Wall Street leaders, the Biden campaign made it clear those proposals (reform of the banking industry) would not be central to Biden’s agenda. They basically said, ‘Listen,
this is just an exercise to keep the Warren (Sen. Elizabeth Warren) people happy, and don’t read too much into it’”.
It is not only Biden’s choice of EPA administrators or his dealings with the big banks that have come under criticism.
The center of this issue is the D.C. company WestExec Advisors. The firm has put so many people inside Biden’s administration, including Secretary of State Tony Blinken and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, that Politico described it, “as a a virtual government in waiting”.
As a consultancy rather than a lobbying company WestExec does not have to reveal the identity of their clients who paid them, presumably, hefty fees to acquire access to Washington’s power brokers. There is also a problem of selection. That so many of his cabinet and senior administrators are coming from one particular Washington company indicates that Biden may not be getting perspectives from a wide selection of life experiences.
However, there other prospective Biden cabinet members who have more than just the slur of long-term Washington “swamp creature” against them. Alejandro Mayorkas, the proposed Secretary of Homeland Security, was named in a congressional report for selling green cards (an important U.S. immigration visa) to Chinese financial donors of the Democratic Party. Perhaps more troubling for the man who will head up America’s security establishment, Mayorkas, was also was specifically singled out by the Department of Justice, for his involvement in the troubling pardon of a convicted drug dealer by then-President Bill Clinton on his final day in
Tom Vilsack, Biden’s choice for Secretary of Agriculture, is currently a corporate food lobbyist who will continue to collect his private salary up until the day he enters Biden’s cabinet to regulate his former employers. In an article in The Guardian, George Goehl, a rural community activist, who campaigned against Donald Trump, quoted a rancher’s reaction to the nomination, “Vilsack assisted big agribusiness monopolies in preying upon and gutting rural America… His policy led to catastrophic rural decline, followed by suicide rates not seen since the 1980s farm crisis.”
Matt Taibbi, the maverick journalist who wrote Hate Inc, about media companies deliberately suppressing journalism to replace it with professional wrestling-like commentary, declares the Biden Cabinet to be a ‘triumph of Sameness’ and that “The White House is about to be re-occupied by a political fossil from the eighties, surrounded by a zombie cabinet of Iraq War supporters, drone assassination proponents, corporate lawyers, lobbyists and neoliberal economists coming from places like Amazon, DuPont and Raytheon.”
A Digital Coup d’Etat
This “triumph of sameness” has been accompanied by a digital coup d’etat. In October 2020, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law delivered a scathing 425-page report that said that the Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google are
monopolies who are using anti-competitive powers to stave off any competitors.
More concerning is that, now, these same companies are, arguably, combining to suppress political debate. In January 2021, on the same day it was announced at Capitol Hill that the two legislative committees overseeing the tech industry would be controlled by Democrats, Amazon,
Facebook, Twitter, Google and Apple, completely coincidently, announced that they were censoring the Republican supporters of ex-President Donald Trump. He, and many of his supporters, have been removed from the communication platforms that hundreds-of-millions of people use.
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It is an odd and troubling situation. On social networks like Twitter and Facebook – readers are bombarded with ads from TikTok. A company that has been named by U.S. intelligence services and Apple for aggressive spying on the American public. Yet users cannot access the tweets of the former President of the United States.
To make sure that Americans do not have easy access to Trump’s words, Big Tech companies, whose employees and executives, according to a survey of campaign donations by Wired, also contributed overwhelmingly to Biden’s campaign over Trump, worked together to close down the popular chat app Parler, which has a large number of right-wing users.
The Big Tech companies declare that they were censoring Democrat party opponents not at the behest of their political regulators or the party that they financially support. Nor even, as reported by the Guardian’s John Naughton, that many of Big Tech’s executives now work for Biden’s
team (the joint chief of his transition team is an ex-Facebook executive), but because of the disgraceful riot in the Capitol inspired by Trump’s inflammatory speech was organized on Parler. The problem with this idea is that far more of the attack on the Capitol was actually organized on platforms like Facebook and Twitter than on Parler.
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Nepotism and Potential Influence Peddling
Even more problematic is that this finger on the media scales by Big Tech
towards Biden began far earlier than the disturbing events at Congress by Trump’s supporters. In December 2020, Instagram was caught by progressive critics falsely “fact-checking” Biden’s record on racism. Instagram was labeling false what everyone inside the Democrat camp during the primaries had agreed was true – the 1994 crime bill promoted by Joe Biden was a massive and racist disaster. In fact, this was so widely accepted that even Bill Clinton the president who signed the crime bill into law, agreed that it had been a mistake. Still Instagram and its parent company Facebook declared that the now-President Biden’s crime bill had been a triumph and labelled criticism of it as “false”.
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Its not the only George Orwell’s 1984 reminiscent incident that has blighted U.S. politics and its too cosy relationship with Big Tech in the last few eventful months.
Remember the affair that kicked off the first impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump? An awful nepotism scandal that if Joe Biden had not been the heir apparent of the Democratic Party would have seen him disgraced. While Biden was Vice-President, his undistinguished son,
Hunter, was flying with him on official state trips to foreign countries and then several weeks later signing multi-million dollar deals for ‘consulting’ or serving as a board of directors for companies connected to the political elite of those countries.
As quickly as you can say “suspicious financial transaction”, “alleged bribe” or “possible influence peddling”, the Biden defenders pointed out that it was not technically illegal (not a great defense for a political leader) and that Trump did the same thing by trying to get Hunter Biden investigated by the Ukrainian government in return for a potential American government
Yet what was in plain sight was that Big Tech interfered with the presidential election in a way that dwarfs anything from the first Trump impeachment saga. In October 2020, a pro-Trump newspaper, the New York Post, published a further series of stories about Hunter Biden’s
involvement in sketchy deals in both Ukraine and China.
It was a legitimate story about a presidential candidate’s son allegedly profiteering from his father’s power. However, the Big Tech companies actively suppressed the story. They took down the New York Post’s social media posts about it and labelled as “false” any reporting on the story.
However, six weeks after the election, when voters’ opinions no longer matter, it was shown that there was an active criminal investigation for money laundering, tax evasion and “foreign ties” led by the U.S. Department of Justice against the incoming President’s son.
If this is the world that the political “adults” are returning America to, then the country may be just about to enter a very strange and dangerous normalcy.