Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Sociopathic Kings, Queens & Lords: Wealth Is Proof Of Goodness...

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that:

"Executives and other highly compensated employees now receive more than one-third of all pay in the US... Highly paid employees received nearly $2.1 trillion of the $6.4 trillion in total US pay in 2007, the latest figures available."

One of the questions often asked when the subject of CEO pay comes up is:

"What could a person such as William McGuire or Lee Raymond (the former CEOs of UnitedHealth and ExxonMobil, respectively) possibly do to justify a $1.7 billion paycheck or a $400 million retirement bonus?"

Why is executive pay so high?

I've examined this with both my psychotherapist hat on and my amateur economist hat on, and only one rational answer presents itself: CEOs in America make as much money as they do because there really is a shortage of people with their skill set. And it's such a serious shortage that some companies have to pay as much as $1 million a day to have somebody successfully do the job. But what part of being a CEO could be so difficult-so impossible for mere mortals-that it would mean that there are only a few hundred individuals in the United States capable of performing it?

In my humble opinion, it's the sociopath part:

CEOs of community-based businesses are typically responsive to their communities and decent people. But the CEOs of most of the world's largest corporations daily make decisions that destroy the lives of many other human beings. Only about 1 to 3 percent of us are sociopaths-people who don't have normal human feelings and can easily go to sleep at night after having done horrific things. And of that 1 percent of sociopaths, there's probably only a fraction of a percent with a college education. And of that tiny fraction, there's an even tinier fraction that understands how business works, particularly within any specific industry. Thus there is such a shortage of people who can run modern monopolistic, destructive corporations that stockholders have to pay millions to get them to work. And being sociopaths, they gladly take the money without any thought to its social consequences.

Today's modern transnational corporate CEOs-who live in a private-jet-and-limousine world entirely apart from the rest of us-are remnants from the times of kings, queens, and lords. They reflect the dysfunctional cultural (and Calvinist/Darwinian) belief that wealth is proof of goodness, and that that goodness then justifies taking more of the wealth.

Democracy in the workplace is known as a union. The most democratic workplaces are the least exploitative, because labor has a power to balance capital and management. And looking around the world, we can clearly see that those cultures that most embrace the largest number of their people in an egalitarian and democratic way (in and out of the workplace) are the ones that have the highest quality of life. Those that are the most despotic, from the workplace to the government, are those with the poorest quality of life.

Over time, balance and democratic oversight will always produce the best results. An "unregulated" marketplace is like an "unregulated" football game -CHAOS. And chaos is a state perfectly exploited by sociopaths, be they serial killers, warlords, or CEOs.

By changing the rules of the game of business so that sociopathic business behavior is no longer rewarded (and, indeed, is punished - as Teddy Roosevelt famously did as the "Trustbuster" and FDR did when he threatened to send "War Profiteers" to jail), we can create a less dysfunctional and more egalitarian society. And that's an important first step back from the thresholds to environmental and economic disaster we're now facing.

-Thom Hartmann ( Exerpt: "Profiling CEOs & Their Sociopathic Paychecks, 7.27.2009. Image: Louis XIII Crowned by Victory (Siege of La Rochelle, 1628), Oil on canvas, 228 x 175 cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris, 1635).

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Torture 2003: "Sadistic Acts Perpetrated Against The Innocent." -GWB

"In 2003, President Bush said torture anywhere is an affront to human dignity everywhere, and the United States is committed to building a world where human rights are respected and protected by the rule of law. In a statement issued on United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture June 26, the president called on all governments to join in prohibiting, investigating and prosecuting all acts of torture and in undertaking to prevent other cruel and unusual punishment. Following is the official text of Bush's statement:

Office of the Press Secretary
June 26, 2003


United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture

“Today, on the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, the United States declares its strong solidarity with torture victims across the world. Torture anywhere is an affront to human dignity everywhere. We are committed to building a world where human rights are respected and protected by the rule of law. Freedom from torture is an inalienable human right. The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment, ratified by the United States and more than 130 other countries since 1984, forbids governments from deliberately inflicting severe physical or mental pain or suffering on those within their custody or control. Yet torture continues to be practiced around the world by rogue regimes whose cruel methods match their determination to crush the human spirit. Beating, burning, rape, and electric shock are some of the grisly tools such regimes use to terrorize their own citizens. These despicable crimes cannot be tolerated by a world committed to justice.

Notorious human rights abusers, including, among others, Burma, Cuba, North Korea, Iran, and Zimbabwe, have long sought to shield their abuses from the eyes of the world by staging elaborate deceptions and denying access to international human rights monitors. Until recently, Saddam Hussein used similar means to hide the crimes of his regime. With Iraq's liberation, the world is only now learning the enormity of the dictator's three decades of victimization of the Iraqi people. Across the country, evidence of Baathist atrocities is mounting, including scores of mass graves containing the remains of thousands of men, women, and children and torture chambers hidden inside palaces and ministries. The most compelling evidence of all lies in the stories told by torture survivors, who are recounting a vast array of sadistic acts perpetrated against the innocent. Their testimony reminds us of their great courage in outlasting one of history's most brutal regimes, and it reminds us that similar cruelties are taking place behind the closed doors of other prison states.

The United States is committed to the world-wide elimination of torture and we are leading this fight by example. I call on all governments to join with the United States and the community of law-abiding nations in prohibiting, investigating, and prosecuting all acts of torture and in undertaking to prevent other cruel and unusual punishment. I call on all nations to speak out against torture in all its forms and to make ending torture an essential part of their diplomacy. I further urge governments to join America and others in supporting torture victims' treatment centers, contributing to the UN Fund for the Victims of Torture, and supporting the efforts of non-governmental organizations to end torture and assist its victims.

No people, no matter where they reside, should have to live in fear of their own government. Nowhere should the midnight knock foreshadow a nightmare of state-commissioned crime. The suffering of torture victims must end, and the United States calls on all governments to assume this great mission."

- Office of the White House Press Secretary (U.S Diplomatic Mission to Italy U.S. Department of State, 6.26.2003. Image: - Joseph Rodriguez, "Levi's Prison Guard-Advertisement", 2008).

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Statistical Destroyers: Irrational Patriotism & The RAND Corporation

"You probably never heard of the RAND Corporation but it's indirectly influenced your life more than any government or institution in North America.

Early in its 60 years, this Santa Monica-based nonprofit corporation taught the U.S. Air Force how to fight a nuclear war while assuring the rest of us that such a war would be kind of OK. But it's done much more. Early on, RAND economist Kenneth Arrow argued mathematically that individuals always act rationally in their own interest, not in the interest of groups. This philosophy developed into Reaganism (government is the problem) and Thatcherism (society doesn't exist). It guided the policies of George W. Bush.

RAND developed "systems analysis," a logical, mathematical approach to problems. Its analysts argued, for example, that fallout shelters and evacuation into deep mines could save millions of American lives. That would make a nuclear war not just fightable, but winnable. Herman Kahn, an advocate of such wars, became the model for Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove. Paul Baran, another RAND analyst, thinking about surviving a Soviet nuclear attack, invented a way to use digital communications. His information packets are the foundation of the modern internet.

Systems analysis had an eager ally in Robert McNamara, who died Monday. When McNamara was U.S. defense secretary, he told his boss, President Lyndon Johnson, that Vietnam was a winnable war. Then RAND analysts interviewed Vietcong prisoners and found them alarmingly irrational and unconcerned about their individual interests. Instead, they were patriots determined to unify their country at any cost. The analysts decided the U.S. had put itself on the losing side of the war, but by then it was too late. It was a RAND analyst, Daniel Ellsberg, who secretly photocopied the top-secret history of the Vietnam War and released it to the U.S. media. As The Pentagon Papers, that leak discredited a generation of America's best and brightest.

Alex Abella's new book, "Soldiers of Reason" is a disturbing history of very smart people putting their brains at the service of very stupid ideas. He managed to interview many of the key persons in the organizations, as well as friends and relatives of those who launched RAND after World War II. The result is a book rich in ironies. Perhaps the richest irony is that RAND owes much of its success to an ex-communist who kept his radical youth a secret. Albert Wohlstetter had been part of a 1930s generation -- the brightest and poorest.

AT CCNY, Wohlstetter, a brilliant young mathematician, knew the Reds who sat at separate cafeteria tables -- the Stalinists at one, the Trotskyites at another. Some of the names of the CCNY Trots still resonate today: Irving Howe, Irving Kristol, Daniel Bell. They soon migrated from the left to the anti-Soviet right, and flourished in Cold War America. Kristol's son William is a Neoconservative. Not yet political, Wohlstetter left CCNY in 1934 and managed to study law at Columbia. There he applied his math skills to politics and philosophy. His mathematics and logic led him to join a Neo-Trotskyite splinter group called the "League for a Revolutionary Workers Party."

Fortunately for him, his party records were lost in a traffic accident. While he left the League, he never abandoned his view of the Soviet Union as a system determined to conquer the world. His mission in life was to thwart that system. Wohlstetter spent World War II as a government bureaucrat, and then, in postwar Los Angeles, bumped into an old colleague who invited him to apply for a job with the new RAND Corporation. With his communist past well concealed, he got the job -- and, Abella suggests, prevented the possibility of a Soviet first strike on American air bases.

Wohlstetter's analysis of the vulnerability of the Strategic Air Command didn't just teach the Air Force to disperse its bases. It also made him a major force in U.S. strategic thinking. RAND's systems analysis approach has dominated American policy-making ever since. Wohlstetter strongly influenced John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon. He eventually left RAND, but his impact endured. By the time he died in 1996, at the age of 86, he had inspired and advanced a new generation of apprentices who would become the Neocons: Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Zalmay Khalilzad.

As soldiers of reason, the neocons believed in numbers and systems and individualism. Trotsky's bastards, they imagined themselves "scientific" just as the Bolsheviks had. Like the Bolsheviks, they believed in reason yet never examined their basic premises. Their patriotism was as irrational as that of the Vietcong, but far more destructive. It didn't matter. As long as they had access to the billions in the US defense budget, and they could invoke a Soviet or terrorist threat, they flourished.

Many who worked with RAND, including Wohlstetter and Kahn, emerge as genuinely likable men with charm and wit. That makes them all the more disturbing. RAND's greatest triumphs were the war in Iraq and the economic policies of the Bush administration. Now both are in ruins. But for the foreseeable future we will live with the consequences of RAND’s thinking, just as we have for the past 60 years.

-Crawford Kilian (Exerpt: “Cold War Cult,”, 7.8.2009. Image:Westinghouse Advertisement, 1960s).

Monday, July 6, 2009

Michael Jackson: Hybridity & Longing For That Lethal Sleep...

"American popular culture is our eternal present, our illusion of deathlessness. We don’t really mourn the death of a pop-culture icon. We use his extinction to resurrect his life. In America, the death of an American star is really the occasion for a garrulous, obsessive, round-the-clock denial of death. Much has been written about the influence Jackson had on other singers, but the most consequential thing he did was to make the pop song a fusion of drama and music.

But the most fascinating high-powered extinction has of course been the tragic end of Michael Jackson, and he occupies the most fascinating celebrity category. Jackson’s celebrity-type was the most complex and interesting—and American—of them all. He was The Hybrid.

Hybridity is the American purity. Our most beloved cultural figures are fantastical fusions of opposites, improbable microcosms of the larger national melting pot. Marilyn, for example, who was absolutely innocent and absolutely corrupt at the same time. Or Sinatra, whose masculine voice emanated from a lithe female body. There was feline Brando, with that woman’s face buried in the macho features. White Elvis with his deep black voice; male Elvis who outraged people because he gyrated his pelvis like a female stripper, rather than thrusting like a copulating man.

You could say that, unlike these other figures, Michael Jackson had his hybridity thrust upon him. Breaking his nose during a live performance when he was in his early 20s, he had several nose jobs that transformed his looks. He then repeatedly had plastic surgery performed on his face to realign his looks to the drastic re-shapings of his nose. As his human anguish intensified—anxiety, depression, insomnia—his face took on more and more of the aspect of an adjustable machine. The increasing whiteness of his skin (he said it was the result of a disease, while gossip-mongers insisted it was the consequence of Jackson using bleach to alter his appearance); his woman’s hairstyle; even his signature “moonwalk” dance, which creates the illusion of moving forward while walking backward—all of these juxtaposed contrasts made it seem as though he was either deliberately turning himself into a hybrid, or parodying hybridity itself.

Other hybrids, or their children, gravitated toward him. Lisa Marie Presley married him. Brando, whose own broken nose made his feminine side poignant and his masculine side almost ironic, became one of his closest friends. You could see, for his part, why Jackson gravitated toward Brando. Hybrids escape their conflicted nature into the theatrical. Hybrids are usually actors, and those who aren’t often seek to escape into the theater’s impersonality, into its surrender of self. Sinatra and Elvis both had acting careers, and Marilyn spent a good part of her career as an actor trying to learn how to become a better one. Much has been written about the influence Jackson had on other singers, but the most consequential thing he did was to make the pop song a fusion of drama and music.

It was significant that Quincy Jones, composer of film scores par excellence, produced Jackson’s album Off the Wall. The two had met when Jackson played the scarecrow in the movie version of The Wiz, whose musical score Jones had arranged. From then on—if you will pardon the outrageous comparison—just as Wagner had combined theater, symphonic music, painting, and literature in his operas, Jackson created his own special fusion of pop song, show tune, film score, music video, and robotic pantomime in his music and his performances. He poured his hybridity into his art.

Jackson’s success was to make this capacity to pour the odd angles of his nature into fantasy available to everyone who listened to his music. You cannot listen to “Thriller”—song or album—without starting to dramatize yourself in some made-up situation or another. It’s no coincidence that Jackson’s rise happened at the same time as the rise of the Walkman (remember that?), a device that allowed you to move through your days to your very own musical score, as if you were starring in your very own movie.

That’s as it should be: We are all hybrids to some degree, and fantasy is the only one of two places where our conflicting aspects work in harmony. The other place is sleep, into which fantasy sometimes rushes headlong when life overwhelms it. That is the other, fatal, quality of hybrids. They hunger for—as the tabloids are putting it in Jackson’s sad case—“potentially lethal sleep.”

-Lee Siegel ( Excerpt: How Constant Change Killed Jackson, The Daily Beast, 7.5.09. Image: Drew Friedman, Michael Jackson, 2009).