Saturday, November 05, 2022



"If it is commercialism to want the possession of a strategic point [Philippines] giving the American people an opportunity to maintain a foothold in the markets of that great Eastern country [China], for God's sake let us have commercialism." -- Senator Mark Hanna



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    Neoliberalism as hegemonic ideology in the Philippines

    27 October 2009

    Why does the ideology of neoliberalism still exercise such influence in the Philippines despite the challenges it has faced from both the Asian and now global financial crisis?
    Walden Bello

    This paper seeks to shed light on how an ideology achieves hegemony, how this hegemony is maintained, and what happens when the claims of an ideology are contradicted by reality.  I will use neoliberalism in the Philippines as a case study.

    Neoliberalism is a perspective that champions the market as the prime regulator of economic activity and seeks to limit the intervention of the state in economic life to a minimum.  Neoliberalism in recent times has become identified with economics, given its hegemony as a paradigm within the discipline, that is, it is excluding other perspectives as legitimate ways of doing economics.  Since economics is regarded in many quarters as a hard science, much like physics—being, for instance, the only social science for which there is a Nobel Prize—neoliberalism has had a tremendous and pervasive influence not only in academic circles but in policy circles as well.  While the University of Chicago became the font of academic wisdom, in technocratic circles the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB) were seen as the key institutions that translated this theory into policy, to a set of practical prescriptions that were applicable to all economies.

    It is often surprising to realize how relatively recent neoliberalism has become a hegemonic paradigm.  As late as the latter half of the 1970s, Keynesian economics, which promoted a good dose of state intervention as necessary for stability and steady growth, was the orthodoxy.  In what used to be known as the Third World, developmentalism, which specified Keynesian economics to economies that were still insufficiently penetrated and transformed by capitalism, was the dominant approach.  There was a conservative brand of developmentalism and there was a progressive one, but both saw the state, rather than the market, as the central mechanism of development.
    In the Philippines, neoliberalism first came in the form of the structural adjustment program imposed by the World Bank in the early 1980s, in the latter’s effort to strengthen the economy’s capacity to service its massive external debt.  Structural adjustment helped trigger the economic crisis of the early 1980s, its contractionary effects being magnified by the onset of the global recession.[1]  The crisis was the country’s worst since the Second World War, but the role of neoliberal economics in precipitating it was shrouded by its coinciding with the deep political crisis triggered by the Aquino assassination in August 1983.  To most Filipinos, Marcos was the cause of both crises.

    Triumph by default?

    It was during the Aquino period that neoliberal economics started its rise to ideological ascendancy.  I think it is worthwhile to examine the reasons for the ease with which it captured the heights of both academia and technocracy during this period.
    First of all, it was associated with several high-powered activist intellectuals and technocrats close to the Aquino administration who had been greatly influenced by the Reagan and Thatcher free-market experiments in the United States and Britain.  These included economist Bernie Villegas and Cory Aquino’s secretary of finance Jesus Estanislao.  Another key center of emergent neoliberalism was the University of the Philippines School of Economics, which drafted the extremely influential anti-Marcos White Paper on the Philippine economy in 1985.
    Second, the analysis forwarded by these intellectuals was in synch with the popular mood.  This located the economic troubles of the country in what had come to be known as “crony capitalism,” or the use of state agencies to advance the private interests of a few close associates of the dictator.  The direct assault on the Keynesian state as the source of inefficiency, which was the most prominent feature of Thatcherism and Reaganism, was a subsidiary element in the case made for market freedom.

    Third, there were simply no credible alternatives to neoliberalism.  Keynesian developmentalism, which promoted the role of the state as the strategic factor in the first phase of the ascent to development, was compromised by its personification in the Marcos dictatorship.  As for the left’s vision of “nationalist industrialization” or the “national democratic” economy, this hardly went beyond rhetorical flourishes and had been hardly popularized in the period prior to the EDSA Uprising, perhaps owing to the priority that the Communist Party placed on the anti-fascist struggle, which demanded underplaying the view that national democracy was the antechamber to socialism in order to form as wide a front as possible with anti-dictatorial elements of the elite.  Then, after the EDSA Uprising, the articulation of an alternative was derailed by the left’s preoccupation with the consequences of its failure to participate in the final act of the ouster of Marcos.
    In short, the neoliberal perspective triumphed by default, and this absence of credible alternatives domestically was complemented by four developments internationally:  the collapse of centralized socialism in Eastern Europe, which seemed to deliver the coup de grace to the socialist alternative; the crisis of the Swedish social democratic model; the seeming success of the Reagan and Thatcher Revolutions in revitalizing the American and British economies; and the rise of the East Asian newly industrializing countries.  All four had an impact on the thinking of the middle class and the elites, which are, incidentally, called the “chattering classes” because of their central discursive role in legitimizing social and political perspectives.
    How the Asian miracle was interpreted by the neoliberals

    It is worthwhile to note how the rise of our neighboring economies was interpreted by neoliberals in the Philippines since this shows the ideological and mystifying character of neoliberalism.  In the view of the neoliberals, the key to the success of our neighbors was the hegemony of the market.  As Jesus Estanislao put it, “Government take very good care of macroeconomic balances, takes care of a number of activities like, for example, infrastructure building, and leaves everything else to the private sector.  And that is exactly what Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand have done, and that is what the Philippines is doing, and we are beginning to do it.”[2]
    The reality, however, was that while it is true that in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand, the state may have played a less aggressive role than in Korea and Taiwan, an activist state posture—manifested in industrial policy, protectionism, mercantilism, and intrusive regulation—was central in the drive to industrialize.  For instance, Thailand began to register the 8 to 10 percent growth rates that dazzled the world, when it was moving to a “second stage of import substitution”—the use of trade policy ti create the space for the emergence of an intermediate goods sector—during the second half of the 1980s.[3]

    In the case of Malaysia, while it is true that some privatization and deregulation favoring private interests took place in the late 1980s, it would be a mistake to overestimate the impact of these policies.  The state oil company, Petronas, was consistently rated one of East Asia’s best-run firms, and one of the most innovative and successful enterprises in the whole East Asian region was a state-directed joint venture between a state-owned firm and a foreign automobile corporation, Mitsubishi, which produced the so-called Malaysian car, the Proton Saga.  The Saga, which came to control two-thirds of the domestic market and turned a profit for its producers, exemplified all the sins of industrial policy that neoclassical economists such as Estanislao had warned against discriminatory tax treatment of competitors, strategic industrial targeting or a systematic plan to manipulate market incentives to create a local car industry, and forced local sourcing of components to encourage the growth of local supplier industries.[4]
    In Indonesia, the state remained throughout the 1980s and 1990’s the key actor in the economy, with state enterprises contributing about 30 percent of the total GDP and close to 40 percent of the non-agricultural GDP.  Capital expenditures as a percentage of the government budget came to 47 percent in Indonesia, while Thailand hiked the figure from 23 to 33 percent.  In contrast, in the Philippines, Aquino’s technocrats pushed down capital expenditures as a proportion of the national budget from 26 to 16 percent.  Since the government is the biggest investor in any economy, this radical reduction of capital outlays as our neighbors maintained or increased theirs could not but have an impact on economic performance.  While the Philippines languished with 1-2 percent annual growth for most of the Aquino period, our neighbors enjoyed 6 to 10 percent growth rates.
    In sum, our neoliberal technocrats were dazzled to the point of envy by our neighbors’ performance, but they did not correctly identify the reason for this.   They claimed it was the market when in reality it was the state.  While some liberalization was going on in our neighbors’ economies, it was selective liberalization pursued in the context of strategic protectionism driven by the state, the objective of which was to deepen the industrial structure.  This conclusion was readily available at the empirical level, but the paradigm that our technocrats had settled on screened out these data, to put it in Kuhnian terms.


    The apogee of neoliberalism

    Ideas, unfortunately, do have consequences, and perhaps no development illustrates this more than the effort to make the Philippines a NIC  (“newly industrializing country” by the year 2000, as the slogan went, via globalization: that is, the accelerated integration of the Philippines into the global market and production circuits through radical trade and investment liberalization.  The administration of President Fidel Ramos saw neoliberalism at its most doctrinaire and most influential phase.
    What we might call the “neoclassification” of the Philippine technocracy that became so marked under Ramos did not so much exhibit the character of an intellectual coup as that of a gradual takeover of the strategic heights of the technocracy by free market-oriented policymakers coming from academia, government, and business, many of whom had done graduate work in the 1970’s and 1980’s in the United States and Britain, when state-oriented Keynesianism had lost its luster and neoliberalism had come into vogue in the economics departments of US universities.  A number did their post-graduate stint in the staffs of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, including Ramos’ Finance Minister Roberto de Ocampo.  As one pivotal figure pointed out to Focus on the Global South analyst Joy Chavez,  she and her colleagues  who played prominent roles of the country’s free-market turn acted not only out of external pressure from the World Bank and the IMF but also out of belief.  “Imposed, maybe in one way, but on the other hand, the mainstream decision-makers—[the] technocracy and policymakers—also internally believed in that.  So there’s a confluence of policy direction.”[5]  Another figure stressed the emergence of a broader “consensus” among the elite and the middle class around free-market reform: “[No] policy reform becomes credible, workable policies unless the people accepted [them].  Yes, there were researchers and economists pushing for that, yes there were donor communities pushing for that…but ultimately it is a question of whether the public accepts that policy.”[6]
    In any event, the neoliberal revolution had achieved a critical mass by the time Ramos came to power, and its hegemony was consolidated during his administration.  “It’s the dominant sector,” one player put it.  “It’s the president, it’s his chief economic advisers, both formal and informal; the House of Representatives; the Senate—the mainstream.  The mainstream is pushing for liberalization.”[7]  That player would herself become president in 2001.
    The centerpiece of the neoliberal program during this period was tariff liberalization:  Executive Order 264 committed the Philippines to bringing down tariffs on all but a few sensitive products to 1 to 5 per cent by 2004.  The model for Cielito Habito, the secretary of the National Economic Development Authority who was the brains behind this enterprise, was the radical neoliberal tariff reforms conducted in Chile under the dictator August Pinochet, which had brought tariffs to 11 per cent or under. If the Chileans could manage to bring down their tariffs to 11 per cent, surely the Philippines could bring them to five per cent or below!  In their eagerness to catch up with our neighbors, what our Filipino technocrats saw was only Chile’s not unimpressive growth rate, not the deindustrialization and enormous social crises induced by its free-market policies.
    In addition to radical tariff liberalization, the foreign investment regime was liberalized, banking rules were loosened to allow more foreign banks to set up operations in the country, and the capital account was almost fully liberalized to attract speculative investors by making the peso fully convertible, allowing the full and immediate utilization of profits, and the full utilization of foreign currency accounts.  Indeed, in the administration’s drive to catch up with its neighbors, attracting speculative investment by eliminating barriers to capital entry and exit became the cutting edge of the its globalization strategy.
    The administration also moved to ensure that liberalization would be hard to reverse by succeeding regimes by multilateralizing it, that is make the Philippines party to international agreements requiring it to eliminate quotas and keep tariffs low permanently.  Thus, the Philippines joined the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA), with its Common Effective Preferential Tariff (CEPT) program.  Under this scheme, by next year, 2010, all tariffs, except those on rice, will be reduced at 0 to 5 per cent.  More important, the Philippines joined the World Trade Organization in 1995, a move which required revising a whole slew of laws governing trade, investment, and intellectual property rights to make the our legal code “WTO-consistent.”
    The economy grew by an average of 4 per cent during the Ramos period, mainly because after the depressed Aquino years, there was no place to go but up.  Nevertheless, there was a feeling among sectors of the middle class that it was the reforms of the Ramos administration that accounted for the upward movement in the economy, a key manifestation of which was the boom atmosphere in the real estate and stock markets.
    Consequences of the Asian financial crisis
    This illusion was punctured by the Asian financial crisis of 1997.  As financial panic triggered by the massive devaluation of the Thai baht spread in June 1997, some $4.6 billion in speculative funds left the Philippines, unhindered by capital controls, which the neoliberal administration had eliminated.  The massive outflow of capital resulted in recession and stagnation from 1998 to 2000.
    The Asian financial crisis led, in the next few years, to a more critical reception of neoliberalism in some elite and middle class circles.  It opened up the paradigm to critical challenges, and these challenges from civil society organizations became even stronger as the evidence of the negative impact of the neoliberal approach emerged.  Owing to its compliance with the World Trade Organization’s Agreement in Agriculture, the Philippines was turned from a net food exporting country to a net food importing country from the mid-1990’s on.  The liberalization of industry  beginning with structural adjustment in the miod-eighties, resulted in the irreversible erosion of the country’s manufacturing base.  The list of industrial casualties included paper products, textiles, ceramics, rubber products, furniture and fixtures, petrochemicals, beverage, wood, shoes, petroleum oils, clothing accessories, and leather goods.  By the early years of this decade, the country’s textile industry had shrunk from 200 to less than 10 firms.[8]
    The verdict on over two decades of liberalization was perhaps most cogently delivered by then Finance Secretary Isidro Camacho, Jr., in 2003:  “There’s an uneven implementation of trade liberalization, which was to our disadvantage.”[9] While consumers may have benefited from tariff cuts, he asserted, tariff reform “has killed so many local industries.”[10]  In other countries, the loss of the local industrial base has often been countered by neoliberals by citing improvements in consumer welfare.   This was not possible in the Philippines, where the poverty rate remained stuck at 32-35 per cent of the population.
    Civil society groups as well as local industry lobbies such as the Free Trade Alliance (FTA) were central in the discrediting of neoliberal doctrine.  However, the role played by certain government bodies must not be underestimated.  For instance, the international policy staff at the Department of Agriculture has successfully led opposition to further liberalization of agricultural trade at the WTO.  Indeed, this staff—working closely with civil society groups--provided, along with the Indonesian government, the leadership of the Group of 33 at the WTO, which sought to protect the livelihoods of small farmers by exempting key products from substantial tariffs cuts and instituting mechanisms to allow governments to raise tariffs under certain conditions.
    The doctrinaire neoliberal approach that was dominant under the Ramos administration has given way in recent years to a more pragmatic perspective as dissonant data can no longer be screened out.  While the bias towards tariff reductions continues to dominate, there are now several cases of reversal.  For instance, a government review committee constituted under Executive Order 241 raised tariffs on 627 of 1371 locally produced goods to provide relief to industries suffering from import competition.
    Default discourse
    The recent collapse of the global economy owing to, among other things, the absence of regulation of financial markets has further eroded the credibility of neoliberalism.  Nevertheless, it continues to exercise a strong influence on our economists and economic managers.  Despite its obvious shortcomings, it continues to be the default discourse in these circles.  At the recent hearings on the budget at the House of Representatives that I participated in during the last few days, trade liberalization was defended as leading to greater “competitiveness;” raising the prospect of renegotiating our foreign debt was discouraged, allegedly because it will give us a bad name in global capital markets; globalization continued to be extolled as the wave of the future; and cutting capital outlays was pushed to balance the budget even if this will invite a deeper recession.[11]
    Why this continuing invocation of neoliberal mantras when the promises of neoliberalism have been contradicted at almost every turn by reality?
    Let me end by hazarding the reasons why
    First, corruption discourse continues to be pervasive in explaining Philippine underdevelopment.  In this discourse, the state is the source of corruption, so that having a greater state role in the economy, even as a regulator, is viewed with skepticism.  Neoliberal discourse ties in very neatly with corruption discourse, with its minimization of the role of the state in economic life and its assumption that making market relations more dominant in economic transactions at the expense of the state will reduce the opportunities for rent-seeking by both economic and state agents.  For many Filipinos, and not only in the discourse setting middle class, the corrupt state--and not the relations of inequality spawned by the market and the erosion of national economic interests brought about by the liberalization of trade and capital markets--continues to be the main block to the greater good.  It is seen as the biggest obstacle to development and sustained economic growth.  This is not the place to discuss this belief in detail; suffice it to say at this point that this supposed correlation between corruption and underdevelopment and poverty has little basis in fact.[12]  (This is, not, of course, to deodorize corruption, which must be condemned for moral and political reasons!)
    Second, despite the deep crisis of neoliberalism, there has been no credible alternative paradigm or discourse that has emerged, either locally or internationally.  There is nothing like the challenge that Keynesian economics posed to market fundamentalism during the Great Depression.  The challenges posed by star economists like Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz, and Dani Rodrik continue to be made within the confines of neoclassical economics, with its equation of social welfare with the reduction of the unit cost of production.  Whether we like it or not, not only economists but Filipino intellectuals generally look to guidance from abroad, including from critics of the establishment.
    There is a third, related reason, and this is what I would like conclude this discussion with.  Neoliberal economics continues to project a hard science image owing to its having been thoroughly mathematized.  In the aftermath of the recent financial crisis, this extreme formalization and mathematization of the discipline has come under criticism from within the economics profession itself, with some contending that methodology rather than substance has become the end of economic practice, with the discipline as a result, losing its contact with real world trends and problems.  It might be worthwhile to note that John Maynard Keynes, a mathematical mind himself, opposed the mathematization of the discipline owing precisely to false sense of solidity that this gave to economics.  As his biographer Robert Skidelsky notes,  Keynes was “famously skeptical about econometrics,” with numbers for him being “simply clues, triggers for the imagination,” rather than the expressions of certainties or probabilities of past and future events.[13]
    Getting over neoliberalism, in short, will involve getting beyond the worship of numbers that often act as a shroud to the real, beyond the scientism that masks itself as science.

    (This paper was delivered at the plenary session of the 2009 National Conference of the Philippine Sociological Society held at the PSSC Building, on Oct. 16, 2009.)


    [1] Charles Lindsay, “the Political Economy of Economic Policy Reform in the Philippines: Continuity and Restoration,” in Andrew McIntyre and Kanishka Jayasuriya, eds., The Dynamics of Economic Policy Reform in the Philippines (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1992).
    [2] Jesus Estanislao, interviewed by Marco Mezzera, Nov. 13, 1996.
    [3] See Chaopath Sasakul, Lessons from the World Bank’s Experience of Structural Adjustment Loans (SALs): A Case Study of Thailand (Bangkok: Thailand Development Research Institute, 1992), p. 19; and Narongchai Akrasanee, David Dapice, and Frank Flatters, Thailand’s Export-led Growth: Retrospect and Prospects (Bangkok: Thailand Development Research Institute, 1991), p. 17.
    [4] See, among others, Richard Doner, “Domestic Coalitions and Japanese Auto Firms in Southeast Asia,” Dissertation, University of California at Berkeley, 1987, pp. 511-596.
    [5]Quoted in Jenina Joy Chavez, Shaping the Philippine Political Economy: the Role of Neoclassical Activists (Manila: Mode, 1996), p. 9.
    [6] Ibid.
    [7] Ibid.
    [8] Fair Trade Alliance, Stop De-industrialization: Recalibrate Philippine Tariffs Now (Manila: Fair Trade Alliance, 2003), p. 16.
    [9] Quoted in Eric Boras, “Government Loses P120 Billion to Tariff Cuts,” Business World, Oct. 20, 2003.
    [10] Ibid, p. 26
    [11] Remarks of Rep. June Cua, Chairman of Appropriations Committee, during deliberations on the Republic of the Philippines 2010 Budget, Oct. 6, 2009.
    [12] See Herbert Docena, “Corruption and Poverty: Barking up the Wrong Tree?,” in Walden Bello, Herbert Docena, Marissa de Guzman, and Marylou Malig, eds.,  The Anti-Development State: The Political Economy of Permanent Crisis in the Philippines (London: Zed Press, p. 281.
    [13] Robert Skidelsky, John Maynard Keynes: the Economist as Savior (London: Penguin Books, 1992).

    Friday, October 28, 2022



    "Americans are too broadly underinformed to digest nuggets of information that seem to contradict what they know of the world. Instead, news channels prefer to feed Americans a constant stream of simplified information, all of which fits what they already know. That way they don't have to devote more air time or newsprint space to explanations or further investigations... Politicians and the media have conspired to infantilize, to dumb down, the American public. At heart, politicians don't believe that Americans can handle complex truths, and the news media, especially television news, basically agrees."--Tom Fenton

    The rapid escalation of online censorship, and increasingly offline censorship, cannot be overstated. The silencing tactic that has most commonly provoked attention and debate is the banning of particular posts or individuals by specific social media platforms. But the censorship regime that has been developed, and which is now rapidly escalating, extends far beyond those relatively limited punishments.



    1. Colored and/or underlined words are HTML links. Click on them to see the linked posts/articles. PLEASE SHARE: Forwarding this and other posts to relatives and friends, especially those in the homeland, is greatly appreciated. To share, use all social media tools: email, blog, Google+, Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, etc. THANKS!!

    2. Click the following underlined title/link to checkout these Essential/Primary Readings About Us Filipino Natives:

    3. Instantly translate to any of 71 foreign languages. Go to the sidebar on the right to choose your language. Fellow native Filipinos translation in Cebuano and Tagalog.

    4. The postings are oftentimes long and a few readers have claimed being "burnt out."  My apologies...The selected topics are not for entertainment but to stimulate deep, serious thoughts per my MISSION Statement and hopefully to rock our boat of ignorance, apathy, complacency, and hopefully lead to active citizenship.



    REMINDER: OCTOBER 28, 2022. The total number of postings to date: 580. Use keywords in the sidebar: PAST POSTINGS, Click LABEL to access (sorted by number of related posts).

    The Consortium of State and Corporate Power

    There has been some reporting — by me and others — on the new and utterly fraudulent “disinformation” industry. This newly minted, self-proclaimed expertise, grounded in little more than crude political ideology, claims the right to officially decree what is “true” and "false” for purposes of, among other things,  These government-and-billionaire-funded “anti-disinformation” groups often masquerade under benign-sounding names: The Institute for Strategic DialogueThe Atlantic Council's Digital justifying state and corporate censorship of what its “experts” decree to be "disinformation.” The industry is funded by a consortium of a small handful of neoliberal billionaires (George Soros and Pierre Omidyar) along with U.S., British and EU intelligence agencies.Forensics Research LabBellingcatthe Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.

    They are designed to cast the appearance of apolitical scholarship, but their only real purpose is to provide a justifying framework to stigmatize, repress and censor any thoughts, views and ideas that dissent from neoliberal establishment orthodoxy. It exists, in other words, to make censorship and other forms of repression appear scientific rather than ideological.

    That these groups are funded by the West's security state, Big Tech, and other assorted politically active billionaires is not speculation or some fevered conspiracy theory. For various legal reasons, they are required to disclose their funders, and these facts about who finances them are therefore based on their own public admissions. So often the financing is funneled through well-established front groups for CIA, the State Department and the U.S. National Security State, such as “National Endowment for Democracy.”

    As has always happened with censor-happy tyrants throughout history, the more centers of power inject themselves with the intoxicating rush of silencing their adversaries, the more intense the next hit has to be. Every movement that has wielded censorship as a political weapon tells itself the same story to justify it. In ordinary times, they will casually recite, free speech is a vital value. But these are no ordinary times in which we are living. Our enemies and their ideas are different. They are uniquely hateful, false, inflammatory, and dangerous. The ideas they espouse will destabilize society, cause direct harm to others, deceive people, and incite violence against institutions of authority and their followers. Thus, they reason, we are actually not censoring at all. We are simply preventing evil people from doing harm to society, the government, and to citizens.

    Look to any government or society in which censorship prevailed — either today or throughout history. This narrative about why censorship is not just justified but morally necessary is always present. Nobody wants to think of themselves as a censorship supporter. They need to be supplied with a story about why they are something different, or at least why the censorship they are led to support is uniquely justified.

    And it works because, in the most warped sense possible, it appeals to reason. If one really believes, as millions of American liberals do, that the U.S. faces two and only two choices — either (1) elect Democrats and ensure they rule or (2) live under a white nationalist fascist dictatorship — then of course such people will believe that media disinformation campaigns, censorship, and other forms of authoritarianism are necessary to ensure Democrats win and their opponents are vanquished. Once that self-glorifying rationale is embraced — our adversaries do not merely disagree with us but cause harm with the expression of their views — then the more suppression, the better. And that is exactly what is happening now.

    Banishment From the Financial System

    One of the latest, and perhaps most disturbing, new frontiers of censorship is the escalating means of excluding citizens from the financial system as extra-judicial punishment for expressing views or engaging in political activism disapproved of by establishment power. In one sense, this is not new.

    In 2012, I co-founded the group Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF) — along with the Oscar-winning CitizenFour director Laura Poitras, Pentagon Papers whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg and others. The creation of that group was in response to the 2010 demands made by then-Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), in his capacity as Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, along with other war hawks in both parties, that financial services companies such as the online payment processor PayPal, credit card companies MasterCard and Visa, and the Bank of America all terminated the accounts of WikiLeaks as punishment for the group's publication of the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs: a trove of documents which proved systemic war crimes and lying by the U.S. Security State and its allies. Watching U.S. national security state officials pressure and coerce private companies over which they exert regulatory control to destroy their journalistic critics is exactly what is done in the tyrannies we are all conditioned to despise.

    All of those corporations obeyed, thus preventing WikiLeaks from collecting donations from the public even though the group had never been charged with, let alone convicted of, any crimes. Amazon then booted WikiLeaks off of its hosting platform, removing the group from the internet for weeks. This was nothing less than extra-legal banishment of WikiLeaks from the financial system. We created FPF in order to circumvent that ban by collecting donations for WikiLeaks and then passing those funds to the group. When I announced the group's creation in a 2012 Guardian article, and while reporting on these pressure campaigns against WikiLeaks in a separate Guardian article, I explained how dangerous it would be if the U.S. Government could simply prohibit any journalistic groups it dislikes from participating in the financial system without even charging them with a crime:

    So this was a case where the US government - through affirmative steps and/or approving acquiescence to criminal, sophisticated cyber-attacks - all but destroyed the ability of an adversarial group, convicted of no crime, to function on the internet. Who would possibly consider that power anything other than extremely disturbing? What possible political value can the internet serve, or journalism generally, if the US government, outside the confines of law, is empowered - as it did here - to cripple the operating abilities of any group which meaningfully challenges its policies and exposes its wrongdoing?. . . In sum, [by forming FPF], will render impotent the government's efforts to use its coercive pressure over corporations to suffocate not only WikiLeaks but any other group it may similarly target in the future.

    Last week — in response to numerous reports this year of PayPal's expanding use of expulsion from the financial system as punishment for what it deems “extremist” political views and activities — the tech investor Stephen Cole recalled this then-unprecedented 2010 silencing campaign against WikiLeaks that was led by PayPal. Cole wrote: “I was an engineer at eBay/PayPal when PayPal censored donations to Wikileaks in 2010. That’s the first time I remember wondering… are we sure we’re the good guys?”

    Back in 2010, this ominous tactic was depicted as just a one-time exception, an isolated case for a particularly threatening group (WikiLeaks). But in the last year, there is no question that exclusion from the financial system is becoming the tool of choice for Western censors in both the public and private sector, who work together — just as Big Tech and the U.S. Security State do — to identify and punish dissidents too dangerous to be permitted to speak.

    The most alarming harbinger of this tactic came in February of this year when Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued an emergency decree granting himself the power to freeze the bank accounts of any Canadian citizen who he determined, in his sole discretion, was participating in or otherwise supporting the truckers’ protest against vaccine mandates and passports. As a result of Trudeau's extraordinary seizure of unchecked power, “Canadian banks froze about $7.8 million (US $6.1 million) in just over 200 accounts under emergency powers meant to end protests in Ottawa and at key border crossings.” The BBC called this tactic “unprecedented,” as it empowers the Prime Minister to freeze the personal bank accounts of anyone “linked with the protests …. with no need for court orders.” If it is not considered "despotic” for a political leader to wield the power to unilaterally seize the personal funds of citizens as punishment for peaceful protests against the government's policies, then nothing is.

    But this tactic worked to end the peaceful protest which Trudeau opposed — people cannot survive if they cannot access their funds or participate in the financial system — and it is thus now being aggressively expanded. Perhaps the leading weaponizer is PayPal. Last year, PayPal announced a new partnership with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a once-respected group that battled anti-Semitism and defended universal civil liberties, before becoming yet another standard liberal Democratic Party activist group devoted to censoring adversaries of neoliberal orthodoxy (the ADL has, just as one example, repeatedly demanded the firing of America's most-watched host on cable news, Fox News's Tucker Carlson). The stated purpose of this PayPal/ADL partnership was “to investigate how extremist and hate movements in the United States take advantage of financial platforms to fund their criminal activities,” with the ultimate goal of “uncovering and disrupting the financial flows supporting [what the ADL claims are] white supremacist and anti-government organizations.”

    But predictably — indeed, by design — this “partnership” was nothing more than an ennobling disguise to enable PayPal to begin terminating all sorts of accounts of people and businesses who expressed political views disliked by its executives. Over the past year, a wide range of individuals have had their PayPal accounts canceled due solely to disapproved political views and activism.

    The lesbian activist Jaimee Michell was notified by PayPal last month that the account of her activist group, Gays Against Groomerswas being immediately canceled due to unspecified rules violations. Moments later, the group — created by gay men and lesbians to oppose attempts by trans activists to teach trans dogma and highly controversial gender ideology to young schoolchildren — was notified that their account with PayPal's subsidiary, Venmo, was also canceled immediately, leaving them with few options to continue to collect donations. Around the same time, the British anti-woke and right-wing commentator Toby Young, who had created a group called the Free Speech Union to oppose speech-based cancellations of accounts, was notified by PayPal that the group's account, used to accept donations, was also being cancelled; though PayPal refused to notify Young of the reason for the cancellation, it told The Daily Mail "it was trying to balance ‘protecting the ideals of tolerance, diversity and respect’ with the values of free expression.”

    At the time of his PayPal expulsion, Young had become a vocal opponent of the U.K. Government's escalating involvement in the war in Ukraine. Two of the sites on which this long-time right-wing figure relied for his opposition to NATO involvement in Ukraine were MintPress and Consortium News, two populist left-wing sites long devoted to anti-war and anti-imperialism policies. Several months earlier, those two anti-establishment left-wing sites were notified by PayPal that their accounts were being immediately closed, and that the balances in their account would be seized and may never be returned. PayPal refused to tell either news site, or Coinbase, which reported on the account closures, what its reasons were. It was just an arbitrary decree by unseen authorities who not only closed their accounts but threatened to seize their donations without bothering to provide a reason. Now that is real tyrannical power. MintPress writer Alan MacLeod said that “this is a warning shot fired at anyone even remotely anti-establishment,” adding that “alternative media operations run on shoestring budgets and rely on enormous corporations like PayPal to operate correctly. If they can do this to us, they can do it to you.”

    Earlier this month, PayPal announced that it would fine account holders $2,500 if, in PayPal's sole discretion, it was determined that those users were guilty of “promoting misinformation.” In other words, PayPal would just steal their own users’ funds from their account as extra-judicial punishment for the expression of views that PayPal — presumably working in conjunction with liberal activists groups such as ADL and billionaire-funded “disinformation experts” — decrees to be false or otherwise unacceptable. When this new policy provoked far more anger than PayPal evidently anticipated, they claimed it was all just a big mistake — as if some PayPal computer on its own accidentally manufactured a policy advising users about this seizure of funds. Regardless of whether PayPal returns to this policy — and there are, as Forbes noted, some unconfirmed reports that it is starting to do so — the intent is clear, because it is so consistent with so many other new frameworks: fortifying a multi-faceted regime of state and corporate power to silence and punish dissent.

    Union of Big Tech, U.S. Security State and Corporate Media Giants

    In May, the Department of Homeland Security's attempted appointment of a clearly deranged partisan fanatic, Nina Jankowicz, to effectively serve as “disinformation czar” sparked intense backlash. But liberal media corporations — always the first to jump to the defense of the U.S. Security State — in unison maligned the resulting anger over this audacious appointment as “itself disinformation,” without ever identifying anything false that was alleged about Jankowicz or the DHS program.

    Though anger over this classically Orwellian program was obviously merited — it was, after all, an attempt to assign to the U.S. National Security State the power to issue official decrees about truth and falsity — that anger sometimes obscured the real purpose of the creation of this government program. This was not some aberrational attempt by the Biden administration to arrogate unto itself a wholly new and unprecedented power. It instead was just the latest puzzle piece in the multi-pronged scheme — created by a union of U.S. Security State agencies, Democratic Party politicians, liberal billionaires, and liberal media corporations — to construct and implement a permanent and enduring system to control the flow of information to Western populations. As importantly, these tools will empower them to forcibly silence and otherwise punish anyone who expresses dissent to their orthodoxies or meaningful opposition to their institutional interests.

    That these state and corporate entities collaborate to control the internet is now so well-established that it barely requires proof. One of the first and most consequential revelations from the Snowden reporting was that the leading Big Tech companies — including Google, Apple and Facebook — were turning over massive amounts of data about their users to the National Security Agency (NSA) without so much as a warrant under the state/corporate program called PRISM. A newly obtained document by Revolver News’ Darren Beattie reveals that Jankowicz has worked since 2015 on programs to control “disinformation” on the internet in conjunction with a horde of national security state officials, billionaire-funded NGOs, and the nation's largest media corporations. Ample reporting, including here, has revealed that many of Big Tech's most controversial censorship policies were implemented at the behest of the U.S. Government and the Democratic-controlled Congress that openly threatens regulatory and legal reprisals for failure to comply.

    ***Every newly declared crisis — genuine or contrived — is immediately seized upon to justify all new levels and types of online censorship, and increasingly more and more offline punishment. One of the core precepts of the Russiagate hysteria was that Trump won with the help of Russia because there were insufficient controls in place over what kind of information could be heard by the public, leading to new groups devoted to "monitoring” what they deem disinformation and new policies from media outlets to censor reporting of the type that WikiLeaks provided about the DNC and Clinton campaign in 2016. This censorship frenzy culminated in the still-shocking decision by Twitter and Facebook to censor The New York Post's reporting on Joe Biden's activities in China and Ukraine based on documents from Hunter Biden's laptop that most media outlets now acknowledge were entirely authentic — all justified by a CIA lie, ratified by media outlets, that these documents were “Russian disinformation.”

    The riot at the Capitol on January 6 was used in similar ways, though this time not merely to un-person dissidents from the internet but also to use Big Tech's monopoly power to destroy the then-most-popular app in the country (Parler) followed by the banning of the sitting elected President himself, an act so ominous that even governments hostile to Trump — in France, GermanyMexico and beyond — warned of how threatening it was to democracy to allow private monopolies to ban even elected leaders from the internet. Liberal outlets such as The New Yorker began openly advocating for internet censorship under headlines such as “The National-Security Case for Fixing Social Media.”

    The COVID pandemic ushered in still greater amounts of censorship. Anyone who urged people to use masks at the start of the pandemic was accused of spreading dangerous disinformation because Dr. Anthony Fauci and the WHO insisted at the time that masks were useless or worse. When Fauci and WHO decided masks were an imperative, anyone questioning that decree by insisting that cloth masks were ineffective — the exact view of Fauci and WHO just weeks earlier — was banned from Big Tech platforms for spreading disinformation; such bans by Google included sitting U.S. Senators who themselves are medical doctors. From the start of the pandemic, it was prohibited to question whether the COVID virus may have leaked from a lab in Wuhan — until the Biden administration itself asked that question and ordered an investigation to find out, at which point Facebook and other platforms reversed themselves and announced that it was now permissible to ask this question since the U.S. Government itself was doing so.

    In sum, government agencies and Big Tech monopolies exploited the two-year COVID pandemic to train Western populations to accept as normal the rule that the only views permitted to be heard were those which fully aligned with the views expressed by institutions of state authority. Conversely, anyone dissenting from or even questioning such institutional decrees stood accused of spreading "disinformation” and was deemed unfit to be heard on the internet. As a result, blatant errors and clear lies stood unchallenged for months because people were conditioned that any challenging of official views would result in punishment.

    We are now at the point where every crisis is seized upon to usher in all-new forms of censorship. The war in Ukraine has resulted in escalations of censorship tactics that would have been unimaginable even a year or two ago. The EU enacted legislation legally prohibiting any European company or individual from broadcasting Russian state-owned broadcasters (including RT and Sputnik). While such legal coercion would (for now) almost certainly be banned in the U.S. as a violation of the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech and free press rights, non-EU companies that decided in the name of open debate to allow RT to be heard — such as Rumble — have faced a torrent of threats, pressure campaigns, media attacks and various forms of retribution.

    One of the easiest and surest ways to be banned these days from Big Tech platforms is to reject the core pieties of the CIA/NATO/EU view of the war in Ukraine, even if that dissent entails simply affirming the very views which Western media outlets spent a decade itself endorsing, until completely changing course at the start of the war — such as the fact that the Ukrainian military is dominated by neo-Nazi battalions such as Azov, especially in the Eastern part of the country. Regardless of one's views on the Biden administration's involvement in this war, surely it requires little effort to see how dangerous it is to try to impose a full-scale blackout on challenges to U.S. war policy, especially given the warning by Biden himself that this war has brought the world closer to nuclear Armageddon than at any time since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

    It cannot be overstated how closely aligned Big Tech censorship is with the agenda of the U.S. Security State. And it is not hard to understand why. Google and Amazon receive billions in contracts from the CIA, NSA and Pentagon, and, as we reported here in April, the most vocal lobbyists working to preserve Big Tech monopoly power are former Security State operatives. Illustrating this alignment, Facebook — at the start of the war in Ukraine — implemented an exception to its rule banning praise for Nazi groups by exempting the Azov Battalion and other neo-Nazi Ukrainian militias.

    This regime of censorship is anything but arbitrary. Its core function is to shield propaganda that emanates from ruling class centers of power from critique, challenge and opposition. It is designed to ensure that Western populations hear only the assertions and proclamations of state and corporate elites, while their adversaries and critics are at best marginalized (with warnings labels and other indicia of discredit) or banned outright.

    Pro-Censorship Corporate “Journalists”

    No discussion of this growing and limitless dangerous censorship regime would be complete without noting that central role played by the West's largest media corporations and their largely-millennial, censorship-obsessed liberal employees who bear the deceitful corporate Human Resources job title of “journalist.” The most beloved journalists of modern-day American liberalism are not those who divulge the secret crimes of CIA, or the chronic lies that emanate from the Pentagon and other arms of the U.S.'s endless war machine, or monopolistic abuses of Big Tech. Indeed, journalists who do that work — challenging and exposing the secrets of actual power centers — are the ones most hated by liberals in light of their adoration for those institutions. That is what explains their support for Julian Assange's ongoing imprisonment and Edward Snowden's ongoing exile as the only way to avoid the same fate as Assange is suffering.

    Today's journalistic icons of American liberalism are not those who confront establishment power but rather serve it: by relentlessly attacking ordinary citizens as punishment for expressing views declared off-limits by these journalists' establishment masters. As I have previously reported, there is a horde of corporate employees at media behemoths with the classic mindset of servants of petty tyrants, whose only function — and passion — is to troll the internet searching for upsetting dissent, and then agitate for its removal by centers of corporate powers: NBC News’ disinformation unit employees Ben Collins and Brandy ZadroznyThe Washington Post's “online culture” columnist Taylor Lorenz; and the New York Times’ tech reporters (Mike Isaac, Ryan Mac and countless others). At the time I first reported on what they are assigned to do, I dubbed this “tattletale journalism": the fixation with demanding the immediate cessation of “unfettered conversations” and the constant attempt to confront and expose ordinary citizens for the crime of expressing prohibited views

    Clockwise from top left: censorship advocates Brandy Zadrozny (NBC News’ "disinformation unit”); Taylor Lorenz (The Washington Post); Ben Collins (NBC News’ "disinformation unit”); and Ryan Mac (The New York Times tech unit)

    .In September, Matthew Price, CEO of Cloudflare — a major tech company that provides services constituting the backbone of the internet, including security protections — refused to capitulate to the pressure campaign to cancel the site called KiwiFarms. The cancellation demands were based in the claim that the forum was allowing "harassment” and doxing of a Twitch streamer named "Keffals,” whom Lorenz in The Washington Post — under the headline “The trans Twitch star delivering news to a legion of LGBTQ teens” — had months earlier christened the Patron Saint of Trans Victimhood. Price, the CEO, warned that because Cloudflare is a security company and a hosting service, not a social media site, it would be extremely dangerous for them to start closing accounts based on public dislike of the content that appears on those sites. This is how he explains the company's steadfast refusal to capitulate to censorship demands — such cancellations, he explained, would be akin to demanding that AT&T refuse telephone service to right-wing commentators by arguing that they use their telephones to spread harmful views:

    Some argue that we should terminate these services to content we find reprehensible so that others can launch attacks to knock it offline. That is the equivalent argument in the physical world that the fire department shouldn't respond to fires in the homes of people who do not possess sufficient moral character. Both in the physical world and online, that is a dangerous precedent, and one that is over the long term most likely to disproportionately harm vulnerable and marginalized communities.

    Today, more than 20 percent of the web uses Cloudflare's security services. When considering our policies we need to be mindful of the impact we have and precedent we set for the Internet as a whole. Terminating security services for content that our team personally feels is disgusting and immoral would be the popular choice. But, in the long term, such choices make it more difficult to protect content that supports oppressed and marginalized voices against attacks.

    But Cloudflare's refusal to capitulate to censorship advocates infuriated NBC News’ Ben Collins — whose primary purpose in life is to agitate for greater and more repressive control over the intent to stifle views that deviate from establishment liberalism — and, along with his NBC colleague and fellow censorship advocate Kat Tenbargeused the massive corporate platform of NBC News to pressure Cloudflare to obey, claiming Cloudflare's refusal to censor on command endangers trans people. Within less than 24 hours of the publication of Collins’ article — blasted to millions of people across the various platforms owned by NBC and Collins’ corporate owner, the Comcast Corp. — the CEO of this powerful company reversed himself, groveling before the media's censorship advocates and vowing that this would be a one-time exception. “This is an extraordinary decision for us to make and, given Cloudflare's role as an Internet infrastructure provider, a dangerous one that we are not comfortable with,” he wrote, as he announced that he would do it anyway (it will, needless to say, be the opposite of a one-time exception, since any millennial censor at The Huffington Post or Vox can now easily force Cloudflare to keep censoring by exploiting this new precedent with new articles about their censorship target using the “worse-than-Kiwifarms” formulation).

    And thus did this corporate "journalist” once again usher in a brand new escalation in the strengthening censorship regime: tinkering with the infrastructure of the internet to expel sites and people anathema to liberal pieties. As usual, not just liberals but also the left cheered this forced capitulation, as they are somehow convinced that the world will be a better place when the power to silence voices and ideas is in the collective hands of the U.S. Security State, their oligarchical partners who own Big Tech, and their servants who masquerade as "journalists” deep within the bowels of the West's largest media corporations. Polls leave no doubt that Democrats are vastly more supportive of internet censorship not only by large corporations but also by the state, and that is the mindset that asserts itself over and over to cheer these censorship schemes by the West's most powerful institutional actors.

    This is the regime of censorship whose tentacles grow each month and whose power expands inexorably. Like all censors, the consortium that controls and funds this regime recognizes that whoever controls the flow of information will wield unchallenged power, and that few powers are more potent and tyrannical than the ability to relegate one's critics to the most distant fringes or to silence them altogether.

    Our New Nightly Live Program on Rumble

    Any article that simply reports on these vital developments with free speech and systemic censorship is, by itself, journalistically worthwhile, even necessary. With so many Western corporate journalists supportive of or (at best) indifferent to the grave dangers this system imposes, the truth behind this censorship regime — who is constructing it and for what purposes — is far too rarely revealed. Any news article reporting on the component parts of this escalating regime would be inherently valuable.

    But when it comes to this sinister regime of information control, I long ago ceased believing it sufficient merely to report on it. I regard the need to fight against this regime of censorship, to destabilize and subvert it, and ultimately to defeat it as a paramount cause, the journalistic and political cause I prioritize above all others. Little is possible, including meaningful journalism, if we are prevented from being heard, if our discourse is strictly controlled and policed by the very power centers our rights allow and encourage us to challenge. Few other values can be defended, and few other injustices exposed and combated, if ruling class elites continue to acquire the defining tyrannical power of information control and silencing of dissent.

    Action, not just words, is required. That is why I have been devoting myself to supporting only those sites and companies genuinely determined to resist pressures and other forms of coercion to censor on behalf of Western establishment institutions, and instead to preserve and fortify spaces for free speech and free inquiry online, with the ability to reach large numbers of people. It does nobody any good — other than one's adversaries — if one willingly ghettoizes oneself into fringe and marginalized precincts. What is required is a cause-driven commitment to free speech along with the strategic ability to attract large audiences — and that, to me, means doing my journalism only on platforms with a demonstrated commitment to these values and an demonstrated ability to reach large numbers of people.

    For this reason, the platforms with which I have worked over the past two years are ones that have proven not just a willingness but an eagerness to express defiant contempt for these censorship pressures and an impressive commitment to ensuring free expression: Substack for written journalism, Callin for podcasts, and Rumble for video journalism. Each has been the target of pressure campaigns of the type that caused the Cloudflare CEO so pathetically to reverse his own refusal to obey censorship orders after less than a day. Each of these platforms has refused to accede to these demands in the way that Cloudflare and so many others before it have done. That is precisely what is needed to subvert the growing censorship regime: people and companies that simply refuse to obey.

    Rumble in particular has been the target of intense attacks — in part because it agreed to allow RT to broadcast on its platform in order to protest the EU's outlawing of that network and thus incurred the wrath of the Russia-obsessed corporate media, but also because it has experienced massive growth largely as the result of growing anger toward Big Tech censorship. Rumble has begun attracting not only political commentators banished in unison by Big Tech — such as the recent banning Andrew Tate, who promptly moved his large audience to Rumble — but also cultural commentators and Gen Z personalities increasingly angry at the repressive climate imposed by Google on its YouTube platform. This is driving more and more growth to the platform, which in turn is causing establishment media corporations to devote more and more energy to disparaging it.