Thursday, December 3, 2009

Obama: The Audacity Of Hopelessness...

With Obama's massive troop escalation (can the Nobel Peace Prize be rescinded?) he's made Afghanistan his war, reminiscent of President Johnson's Vietnam War escalation. At the current death rate of 500 soldiers per year the events depicted in the film will soon become a shattering reality for many more Americans. And next year Obama will spend some $65 billion on Afghanistan, more than for the Iraq war.

Afghanistan, the "Graveyard of Empires," is this administration's most egregious failing and is now fated to define Obama's legacy. Beyond Afghanistian, maintaining permanent military bases and large garrisons in Iraq, allowing Israel to evade a just two state peace with the Palestinians, clandestine Blackwater (now Xe services) assassins roaming around Pakistan, the killing of hundreds of Pakistani civilians by CIA Predator drone attacks authorized by Obama early in his tenure, and a continuing U.S. military build-up in Colombia under the guise of a phony "war on drugs," also are on the list.

A one-year litany of domestic disappointments could be captured by a bumper sticker reading "the audacity of hopelessness." After handing over almost $3 trillion to bankers, we have a jobless "economic recovery," an official 10.2 percent unemployment rate which is actually 16.5 percent, the number of home foreclosures continues to rise and a country in which one in four children only manage to keep hunger pangs at bay because of food stamps and soup kitchens.

In the face of this situation Obama's first stimulus package was pitifully small, and while it did "save" some jobs, it wasn't nearly enough for serious job creation. Obama's professed support for helping workers to unionize evaporated shortly after his inauguration. And under Obama's watch, as noted by New York Times columnist Bob Herbert, "Even as tens of millions of working Americans are struggling to hang onto their jobs and keep a roof over their families' heads, the wise guys of Wall Street are licking their fat-cat chops over yet another round of obscene multibillion dollar bonuses -- this time thanks to the bailout billions that were sent their way by Uncle Sam..."(10/20/09).

The nine largest banks are distributing $32.6 billion in bonuses. But given the jobs crisis and depression-like situation confronting tens of millions of our fellow citizens, Obama found a record-breaking $664 billion for the Pentagon for fiscal 2010. Finally, Obama and many Democrats quickly abandoned government single payer national health insurance -- the only plausible solution to our healthcare crisis -- caving to the despicable, predatory, for-profit private health insurance lobbyists. (Note: These lobbyists gave $1.8 million to 18 key members of Congress).

For those who worked and voted for Obama, especially younger folks, all of this must be a bitter pill to swallow, a giant step backward toward disillusionment and cynicism. I prefer to interpret it as a necessary and valuable lesson in electoral illusions for those truly serious about making this a better country:

Obama, a brilliant and charismatic politician, was always a conservative corporate Democrat, a self-described believer in "the free market," and an enthusiastic accommodator to the rich and powerful. In the words of one pundit, Obama is Clinton without the sleaze. He would never have been given a favorable vetting by the financial elites who chose our presidential candidates if he represented the slightest threat to their domestic interests and global empire. By the way, the latter includes 800 military bases in 130 countries.

According to astute political analyst Paul Street, the Obama campaign set new corporate fundraising efforts, including nearly $1 million from Goldman Sachs. In short, aside from some crafty rhetoric Obama was never a social justice populist and viewing him that way always contained a massive dose of wishful thinking. In that narrow sense, Obama has been entirely consistent and didn't really betray anyone.

More and more Americans are wise to the fact that because Democrats and Republicans are virtually indistinguishable on the issues that matter most, the "change we can believe it" will not be forthcoming from these two business parties.

Short term we need a mobilized and vocal movement from below that dramatically increases the political costs for those resisting needed reforms. Longer term, we need systemic change, change in the class structure of capitalism. Until and unless workers who produce all the goods and services in our society participate in making the major economic policy decisions -- to run the economy democratically -- we will only be tinkering with a system that primarily serves those who own it. We need a new broad-based political party that actually responds to the genuine grievances and aspirations of ordinary working people and youth.

-Gary Olson ( “Obama’s First Nine Months: Change We Can Believe In?,” CommonDreams.Org, 12.3.2009. Image: "Obama Fraud," Image Products, 2009 ).

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

History Repeating: In Goldman Sachs We Cannot Trust...


"We stress creativity and imagination in everything we do. While recognizing that the old way may still be the best way, we constantly strive to find a better solution to a client's problems. We pride ourselves on having pioneered many of the practices and techniques that have become standard in the industry. -Goldman-Sachs Website, 2009.


Goldman-Sachs is a financial institution that survived the Great Depression. John Kenneth Galbraith in his popular book, The Great Crash 1929 has a chapter dedicated exclusively to them entitled: In Goldman-Sachs We Trust.

Here we see a pattern emerging dating back nearly a century:


"Goldman, Sachs, and Company (GS&C) created a new venture called "Goldman, Sachs, Trading Company" (GSTC) and originally issued 1M shares at $100/share on Dec 4, 1928 but GS&C bought it all and then sold 90% of it to the public for $104 [apparently thinking this was a way to make a quick buck -- they had not yet learned about the concept of "leverage" as it is used/abused today]. Only 2 months later (Feb 21, 1929) GSTC merged with a company called Financial & Industrial Securities Corp. -- the resulting assets were $235M. Just before the merger, Feb 2 the stock was $136.50 and 5 days later on Feb 7 it was $222.50"
Massive value increase even though tangible real value was much less. Incredible spikes seem to follow the firm. Maybe they have the Midas touch?

“This remarkable premium was not the undiluted result of public enthusiasm for the financial genius of Goldman, Sachs. Goldman, Sachs had considerable enthusiasm for itself, and the Trading Corporation was buying heavily of its own securities. By March 14 it had bought 560,724 shares of its own stock for a total outlay of $57,021,936. This, in turn, had boomed their value. However, perhaps foreseeing the exiguous character of an investment company which had it investments all in its own common stock, the Trading Corporation stopped buying itself in March. Then it resold part of the stock to William Crapo Durant, who re-resold it to the public as opportunity allowed.”


Seven months later, after the October crash (including a 2:1 stock split), the price of the stock ultimately fell to approximately 1 3/4. The Goldman-Sachs Trading Corporation (GSTC) was an investment trust, a forerunner of the modern mutual fund. According to Galbraith, Goldman-Sachs' stock lost 97% of its going-public value., less than a year after its public offering.


But in a time with no SEC, virtually anything went on Wall Street during the Great Depression. Of course, we all know how the story ends. Years later in Washington Mr. Sachs had this to say to Senator Couzens at the Committee of United States Senate Hearing:

Senator Couzens: Did Goldman, Sachs and Company organize the Goldman Sachs Trading Company?

Mr. Sachs: Yes, sir.

Senator: And it sold its stock to the public?

Mr. Sachs: A portion of it. The firm invested originally in 10 percent of the issue.

Senator: And the other 90 percent was sold to the public?

Mr. Sachs: Yes, sir.

Senator: At what price?

Mr. Sachs: At 104...the stock was later split two for one.

Senator: And what is the price of the stock now?

Mr. Sachs: Approximately 1 3/4.

Deja-Vu perhaps?


Goldman Sachs seems to have a pattern of passing the proverbial buck after they have rinsed all profits from their venture and moved out of the way before the train derails.

(Excerpt:"In Goldman Sachs We Trust: The Story of a $222 Stock going to $1 During the Great Depression,",8.2009. Image: Profiteer Illustration, Library of Congress, 1929).

Friday, October 9, 2009

And The Nobel War Is Peace Prize Goes To...President Barack Obama...

" Political designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. " - George Orwell

It took 25 years longer than George Orwell thought for the slogans of 1984 to become reality.

“War is Peace.”

“Freedom is Slavery.”

“Ignorance is Strength.”

I would add, “Lie is Truth.”

The Nobel Committee has awarded the 2009 Peace Prize to President Obama, the person who started a new war in Pakistan, upped the war in Afghanistan, and continues to threaten Iran with attack unless Iran does what the US government demands and relinquishes its rights as a signatory to the non-proliferation treaty. The Nobel committee chairman, Thorbjoern Jagland said, “Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future. Obama, the committee gushed, has created “a new climate in international politics.”

Tell that to the 2 million displaced Pakistanis and the unknown numbers of dead ones that Obama has racked up in his few months in office. Tell that to the Afghans where civilian deaths continue to mount as Obama’s “war of necessity” drones on indeterminably. No Bush policy has changed. Iraq is still occupied. The Guantanamo torture prison is still functioning. Rendition and assassinations are still occurring. Spying on Americans without warrants is still the order of the day. Civil liberties are continuing to be violated in the name of Oceania’s “war on terror.”

Apparently, the Nobel committee is suffering from the delusion that, being a minority, Obama is going to put a stop to Western hegemony over darker-skinned peoples. The non-cynical can say that the Nobel committee is seizing on Obama’s rhetoric to lock him into the pursuit of peace instead of war. We can all hope that it works. But the more likely result is that the award has made “War is Peace” the reality.

Obama has done nothing to hold the criminal Bush regime to account, and the Obama administration has bribed and threatened the Palestinian Authority to go along with the US/Israeli plan to deep-six the UN’s Goldstone Report on Israeli war crimes committed during Israel’s inhuman military attack on the defenseless civilian population in the Gaza Ghetto.

The US Ministry of Truth is delivering the Obama administration’s propaganda that Iran only notified the IAEA of its “secret” new nuclear facility because Iran discovered that US intelligence had discovered the “secret” facility. This propaganda is designed to undercut the fact of Iran’s compliance with the Safeguards Agreement and to continue the momentum for a military attack on Iran.

The Nobel committee has placed all its hopes on a bit of skin color.

“War is Peace” is now the position of the formerly antiwar organization, Code Pink. Code Pink has decided that women’s rights are worth a war in Afghanistan. When justifications for war become almost endless--oil, hegemony, women’s rights, democracy, revenge for 9/11, denying bases to al Qaeda and protecting against terrorists--war becomes the path to peace.

The Nobel committee has bestowed the prestige of its Peace Prize on Newspeak and Doublethink.

-Paul Craig Roberts ( "Warmonger Wins Peace Prize," CounterPunch, 10.11.2009. Image: "1984" Book Cover, Date Unknown ).

Thursday, October 8, 2009

A Passion For Justice: Divine For Some, Purely Human For Others...

"To my mind it is fundamental to our society to see that powers are not abused or misused. If they come into conflict with freedom of an individual or with any other of our fundamental freedoms, then it is the province of the Judge to hold the balance between the competing interests." - Lord Denning

Justice theory is one subsidiary of philosophy that never really suffers a bad century.

Back in Homeric times, life was simpler. Justice largely meant personal vengeance. Complications began when Plato famously pinned on Thrasymachus the view that justice is simply the will of the stronger, and on Glaucon and Callicles the idea that justice is conventional. Plato argued, through his familiar Socratic ventriloquy, that justice is divine, an ideal to which human justice can only haltingly aspire. Aristotle then introduced a formal criterion of justice that still wins the greatest agreement, perhaps because it's merely formal: Treat equals equally and unequals unequally.

From then on, follow the history of philosophers' sentences that begin "Justice is … " on and you hit so many diverse endings you wonder whether anyone, including the lady in the blindfold, knows what justice is.

To Aquinas, it's "a certain rectitude of mind whereby a man does what he ought to do in the circumstances confronting him." To Hume, it's "nothing but an artificial invention." To Sir Edward Coke, it's "the daughter of the law, for the law bringeth her forth." To 20th-century American jurist Learned Hand, it's "the tolerable accommodation of the conflicting interests of society." Do a survey, and about the only thinker who invites instant agreement is Belgian philosopher of law Chaim Perelman. According to Perelman, justice is simply "a confused concept."

One reason theories of justice abound is the range of the concept, applied to decisions, people, procedures, laws, actions, events. Justice is usually considered a positive thing, yet some rank it below mercy. It's divine for some, purely human for others. It's supposedly majestic, yet many complain of its quotidian banality and everyday scarcity. Recall the old lawyer's joke:

Petitioner: "Justice, justice, I demand justice!"

Judge: "Silence or I'll have you removed! This is a court of law!"

When Rawls declared justice "the first virtue of social institutions, as truth is of systems of thought," and began his painstaking probe of the conditions of just institutions, he re-established a modern tradition dating back to Hobbes: using social-contract theory to articulate ideal forms of social justice, sometimes in quasi-syllogistic form. But there was also a longstanding, skeptical, antisystematic tradition in justice theory.

Solomon wrote in A Passion for Justice that justice is "a complex set of passions to be cultivated, not an abstract set of principles to be formulated. … Justice begins with compassion and caring, not principles or opinions, but it also involves, right from the start, such 'negative' emotions as envy, jealousy, indignation, anger, and resentment, a keen sense of having been personally cheated or neglected, and the desire to get even." In time, suggested Solomon, "the sense of justice emerges as a generalization and, eventually, a rationalization of a personal sense of injustice."

Might our concept of justice arise when society's normal moral inertia, the tendency to accept traditions and status quo ethical procedures without challenge, is itself challenged?

Economist and philosopher, Amartya Sen inclines to that view. He begins An Idea of Justice by quoting Pip in Charles Dickens's Great Expectations:

"In the little world in which children have their existence, there is nothing so finely perceived and finely felt, as injustice." Sen adds, "The identification of redressable injustice is not only what animates us to think about justice and injustice, it is also central … to the theory of justice."

"Justice is ultimately connected with the way people's lives go, and not merely with the nature of institutions surrounding them." Two concepts from early Indian jurisprudence, niti (strict organizational and behavioral rules of justice) and nyaya (the larger picture of how such rules affect ordinary lives), provide a better prism for justice than Rawls's obsession with the characterization of just institutions. Indeed, Sen writes in a killer sum-up:

"If a theory of justice is to guide reasoned choice of policies, strategies, or institutions, then the identification of fully just social arrangements is neither necessary nor sufficient."

It was Solomon, in A Passion for Justice, who voiced the problem that hangs over ostensibly rigorous justice theory, which Sen plainly finds unconvincing yet never quite denounces. Speaking of the enormous technical literature spawned by Rawls, Nozick, and their acolytes, Solomon wrote:

"The positions have been drawn, defined, refined, and redefined again. The qualifications have been qualified, the objections answered and answered again with more objections, and the ramifications further ramified. … But the hope for a single, neutral, rational position has been thwarted every time."
Solomon complained that justice theory had "become so specialized and so academic and so utterly unreadable that it has become just another intellectual puzzle, a conceptual Gordian knot awaiting its academic Alexander."

Will Amartya Sen be that Alexander? In repeatedly bringing back into the discussion Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments, Sen signals the need for justice theory to reconnect to realistic human psychology, not the phony formal rationalism that infects modern economics or the for-sake-of-argument altruism that anchors Rawls's project. (In A Theory of Justice, Rawls writes that in his well-ordered society, "Everyone is presumed to act justly.") By declaring his desire "to address questions of enhancing justice and removing injustice, rather than to offer resolutions of questions about the nature of perfect justice," Sen sinks a knife into the heart of the latter utopian program.

On the other hand, Sen's own understanding of his aim in The Idea of Justice hardly dismisses formal resources or careful reasoning. He cites an alternative tradition to social-contract theory, one he identifies as extending from Smith to Mill and beyond and characterizes as "comparative" in its measuring of the justice actually experienced by individuals. That countertradition issued, Sen explains, in the "analytical—and rather mathematical—discipline of social-choice theory" developed by Kenneth Arrow in the mid-20th century.

"Reasoning," writes Sen early on, "is a robust source of hope and confidence in a world darkened by murky deeds." In The Idea of Justice, Amartya Sen provides us with a stunning model despite his eternally ambiguous and imperfectible subject. As he so winningly adds, "The remedy for bad reasoning is better reasoning."

- Carlin Romano, ("Amartya Sen Shakes Up Justice Theory," The Chronicle Review, 9.14.09. Image: "Blind Justice", Playboy Magazine Illustration, 1980s).

Friday, September 4, 2009

Homicidal Technology: Instant Communication, Instant Death...

Give me liberty or give me death? Try giving me loquacity and giving me death. We are, literally, talking and texting ourselves into oblivion.

In April, two people in the Seattle area were killed by a train in separate incidents while talking on a cellphone as they crossed railroad tracks. That same month, a truck driver in Florida admitted that he was texting just before he drove into a schoolbus, killing a student. Around the same time, a young man was hit by a car and killed as he talked on his cellphone while crossing the street in Montclair, New Jersey.

The train crash that took 25 lives last September in Los Angeles is believed to have been caused by an engineer who was texting on his cellphone. Last May, a texting engineer caused another train crash in Boston, injuring 50 people. Texting is still suspected in the DC subway accident that killed nine people in June. An air-traffic controller talking on a good, old-fashioned landline is believed to be one of the causes of the fatal collision last month between a plane and a helicopter over the Hudson River. The grisly list of death-by-communication goes on and on.

It’s gotten so bad that a local police department in Wales has made a shockingly graphic film illustrating the consequences of texting as you drive. It’s an Internet sensation. (Of course, half the people viewing it are probably watching it while they drive.)

Few of us take the time to notice how yesterday’s fresh idea hardens into today’s oppressive banality. But the idea that technology makes us free has now become a shopworn notion in need of drastic revision. So accelerated has communications technology become in the last 15 years that we don’t realize how it has been almost entirely driven by the profit-motive beyond our human needs. But rather than being the miraculous gizmos of iconoclasm and progressivism, our GPS’s are driving us into walls, our computers are making us more isolated than ever before, and our cellphones are distracting us to destruction.

Whatever happened to the communications revolution?

It was supposed to liberate humankind from, I guess, telephones into a brave new age of, I guess, talking to whomever we wanted when and where we wanted.

Texting contributed a further dimension of—hmmm, what is it, ah yes!text to the new revolution. Now humans could communicate with each other without having to be exposed to anything human, like physical presence or tone of voice. There was no longer any need to fear a reaction to what we were expressing. Or at least to experience a reaction.

And that’s the fatal problem.

I have a fondness for the Annalistes—French historians who believed that the reality of history was to be found not in great events and ideas, but in the influence of more mundane factors like climate, geography, and technology. In the Annaliste perspective, the catastrophic nature of the cellular transformation would be an inevitable result of the nature of the technological medium.

For our wish to have a human-free experience in an SMS exchange creates an actual, utter disregard for other human lives, and for our own. The train engineer who is texting a woman because he wants to flirt, or his friend because he needs attention, does so because he doesn’t want them to be involved in his need for them. At that moment, he can put them in his mind without bringing them into his life. It’s no wonder that, at that moment, he is also indifferent to the passengers in his care. The same solipsistic recklessness applies to the cellphone-distracted driver.

The impulse itself to use a cellphone is really just short of homicidal. The expectation—it’s become a right—that you can call anyone at any time is, socially speaking, a violent annulment of another person’s complicated and timebound existence. It’s a total denial that people exist outside our need for them. They don’t even exist on the same sidewalk, as we bump into them while talking on our phones.

Yet there is something even more infantile, and more fundamentally disturbing, about talking and texting while we go about our daily business of mobility and work.

The compulsion to text, especially, puts us at the center of the world’s attention. The nice thing about texting is that someone texts you right back. (They’d better.) And so you are constantly being wanted and needed. The little vibration from your BlackBerry or iPhone against your leg has become a pleasurable biological sensation in its own right—like the sudden release of endorphins or dopamine into your brain. That persistent cellular tingle against your flesh, or ring in your ear, is just like being a baby again. You are being summoned and caressed all the time.

The two experiences that keep us together are love and work, and the essence of both experiences is self-surrender. You lose yourself in a person, or in an activity.

The religious philosopher Martin Buber had an epiphany of this when, as a young boy, he stood stroking a horse. After a while, he forgot himself, his hand, the repetition of what he was doing and felt only the horse. The animal became a “thou” instead of an “it”—a being to be experienced rather than an instrument of gratification.

If the texting patterns of air-traffic controllers and train engineers are any indication, the self-forgetful vigilance of work is being slain by our wonderful new technology of communication. And the respect for others' lives—what you might call generalized love—is being abolished by the cellphone-behind-the-wheel.

Maybe it’s time to replace the “i” in iPhone with a “thou.”

-Lee Siegel, "Gasbag Nation", The Daily Beast, 9.4.09. Image: - H.P. Blavatsky, "The Secret Doctrine: The Synthesis of Science, Religion & Philosophy, Vol. II Anthropogenesis", 1888).

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Abraham Lincoln: A Most Unusual Dream...

At a cabinet meeting on April 14, 1865, Abraham Lincoln reported that he had had a most unusual dream. He had felt himself floating along the ocean, as the sun shone brightly in the background. He was on some sort of ship, drifting, searching for direction. It was the same dream he had had many times since being elected president, and every time, he claimed, it had served as an omen for some major event or disaster.

"Nonsense!," his cabinet officers proclaimed. "The war is over," they noted (Lee had surrendered to Grant on the April 9), "what could go wrong now?" Still, Lincoln was concerned.

"Perhaps," suggested Assistant Secretary of State Frederick Seward, "at each of these periods there were possibilities of great change or disaster, and the vague feeling of uncertainty may have led to the dim vision in sleep."

"Perhaps ..." Lincoln sighed.

He had neglected, however, to tell them about another dream he had had a few days earlier--a much more ominous one. He had described that dream to his wife and some friends, including Ward Hill Lamon, who recorded the president's telling:

"About 10 days ago," the president told them, "I retired very late. I had been up waiting for important dispatches from the front. I could not have been long in bed when I fell into a slumber, for I was weary. I soon began to dream. There seemed to be a deathlike stillness about me. Then I heard subdued sobs, as if a number of people were weeping. I thought I left my bed and wandered downstairs. There the silence was broken by the same pitiful sobbing, but the mourners were invisible. I went from room to room; no living person was in sight, but the same mournful sounds of distress met me as I passed along. I saw light in all the rooms; every object was familiar to me; but where were all the people who were grieving as if their hearts would break? I was puzzled and alarmed. What could be the meaning of all this? Determined to find the cause of a state of things so mysterious and so shocking, I kept on until I arrived at the East Room, which I entered. There I met with a sickening surprise. Before me was a catafalque, on which rested a corpse wrapped in funeral vestments. Around it were stationed soldiers who were acting as guards; and there was a throng of people, gazing mournfully upon the corpse, whose face was covered, others weeping pitifully.

"'Who is dead in the White House?' I demanded of one of the soldiers.

"'The president,' was his answer, 'he was killed by an assassin.' Then came a loud burst of grief from the crowd, which woke me from my dream. I slept no more that night; and although it was only a dream, I have been strangely annoyed by it ever since."

To relieve himself from the stresses of war, Lincoln often liked to attend the theater. That night, he and Mary Todd were to be accompanied to Ford's Theater by Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and his wife, Julia, to see a production of "Our American Cousin," one of Lincoln's favorite plays. At the last minute, however, the general and his wife decided to catch an earlier train out of town, and informed the Lincolns that they would not be attending. In their stead, Mary Todd invited Maj. H.R. Rathbone and Clara Harris, the stepson and daughter of Sen. Ira Harris.

The theater was laced with American flags and packed with a crowd anticipating the president's arrival. When the Lincoln walked out onto the balcony with his entourage, the crowd paid their respects as he nodded and waved politely. A special chair with a slight rocking motion had been put in to accommodate comfortably the president's large frame.

He sat peacefully.

In the bar next door sat another man, sulky and perturbed. John Wilkes Booth had been waiting for this moment, and when he had heard earlier that day of the president's plans to attend the evening performance, he knew that the time was ripe. He hated this man, the destroyer of the South, the tyrannical oppressor. In March, he had led a plan to kidnap the president, but it had failed. Now that the war was just about over, there was only one thing for him to do.

"I'm going to kill the president." he reportedly told someone.

"Yeah-ha-ha ..." they laughed, "Right."

Across town, Secretary of State William H. Seward lay bedridden. He had been in a horse-riding accident earlier, and an uncomfortable leather brace around his neck made sleep difficult. He had just managed, however, with the aid of his daughter, to catch some rest, when a messenger arrived at the house door. "Delivery," the messenger told the servant who answered, holding up a brown paper bag, "Medication."

The servant was unaware of any scheduled delivery.

But the deliveryman was adamant; he had to see the secretary of State at once. The servant, somewhat suspicious, refused to allow him. But the deliveryman was large and strong, and he pushed past the smaller man, and started up the stairs.

Vice President Andrew Johnson was not a well-liked man. He had started off as a tailor's apprentice, and did not even learn to read until his wife taught him at the age of 17. Far from an intellectual, he made his career in politics speaking from the stump in plain language. While his native Tennessee seceded with the South, Johnson remained loyal, despite being a Democrat and a supporter of slavery. He was rewarded with the nomination for vice president in 1864 on a split Republican-Democrat ticket. The idea was that this would increase the stability of the nation once the war was over; it later proved an unwise decision.

A note delivered to the vice president's residence that night read:

"Don't wish to disturb you. Are you at home? -J. Wilkes Booth."

Johnson was up in his hotel room, unaware of a man named George Andrew Atzerodt, who sat at a bar on the first floor of the hotel, drinking alone. It was his job to kill the vice president.

Edwin Stanton, the secretary of War, was retiring for the night, after a long day of work. Initially, Stanton had been one of Lincoln's greatest critics, even going so far as to call him a "damned fool." ("If Stanton said I was a damned fool, then I must be one," Lincoln had remarked, "for he is nearly always right and generally says what he means.") Lincoln had appointed him despite the criticisms. And, for his part, Stanton had proved worthy of the task, efficiently organizing what was an extremely inefficient organization. In time, he had come to respect Lincoln and even, perhaps, admire him. They had been through the war together, and though he had once judged him incompetent, he now recognized his wisdom.

But he could not think of these things. He was tired, and had to get to sleep.

Frederick Seward was coming down the stairs when he met the "deliveryman," Lewis Powell, alias Lewis Paine. Paine told the secretary of State's son that he had a delivery for his father, and that he must get it to him immediately.

"We did not request a delivery," the assistant secretary of State informed him.

"Let me just drop it to him," Paine requested, "so that I may satisfy my boss."

The son offered to take the delivery.

"No." Paine insisted.

There was a moment of perilous silence, and suddenly the larger man produced a knife. Several swift motions left Frederick screaming and covered in blood, as Paine raced up the stairs. He kicked open Seward's door....

As a well-known actor, John Wilkes Booth did not have a problem entering Ford's Theater. Concealing a one-shot derringer and a knife, Booth slowly crept toward the balcony. The one guard paid him no heed and went on break, and, as expected, it was easy to get to the president's door. Through the keyhole he could see the president. As he had heard, Grant had cancelled and was indeed not there. Booth had to settle for the president without the general. But how to turn the knob without being heard? He would have to wait. He knew this play well, and there was a part in the middle--a joke--that always made the crowd roar with laughter. He would wait for that part....

Atzerodt couldn't take it anymore. When was Johnson going to come down? He hugged his drink....

Paine burst into the room, surprised to see a woman--Seward's daughter--sitting nearby. But it was Seward he was interested in, and there he was, with the covers up to his chin.

Quickly he set upon him, stabbing at his neck. As Seward awoke in a start and turned feverishly away, his daughter leapt upon Paine's back. He struggled with her, then tossed her across the room. But as he went back at the secretary of State's neck, once again she was on him, and once again he tossed her away.

But now time was short. Soon they would be after him. Paine made one final effort. Unaware of the brace upon the secretary of State's neck, he instinctively went for that same target, slashing away powerfully. When finally he fled from the house, there was no getaway carriage. The servant had sounded the alarm. He would have to go on foot.

As the crowd exploded with laughter, John Wilkes Booth carefully turned the knob. There before him was the president's head, rocking back and forth. In a step, he was behind it, and a firecracker sound filled the theater.

Major Rathbone jumped up, as Mary Todd hysterically reached for the limp body of her husband. It happened so fast, that some in the crowd did not even realize what was going on until Booth's knife, originally meant for Grant, slammed down into the arm of Major Rathbone, who had reached out for the killer.

Booth's plan was to jump off the balcony onto the stage. But the pain-ridden arm of Rathbone, swinging fiercely, disrupted Booth's jump, and caused him to fall awkwardly, breaking his leg upon landing. Booth, undeterred, began limping across the stage toward his escape, screaming out (by most accounts) in Latin, "Thus always to tyrants!"

Knowing the theater well, he made a rear exit. There a boy stood holding his horse. A moment later, Booth was gone.

Atzerodt's nerves were shot. It seemed as if Johnson had been up there for weeks and weeks. Where was he already? Surely some government official would come to get the vice president soon now?

He could not wait. Fearfully, he got up and left the bar.

When Stanton was informed by messenger of the night's events, he at first had dismissed it as humbug. He had been with the secretary of State, for one, only hours before. What could have happened in that time?

But, to his fear, he soon heard that the news was quite true. Seward had been attacked and, worse, the president had been shot in the head. Quickly he made his way toward Ford's Theater.

The president had been moved across the street to a rooming house. Too large to fit in the small bed there, they had had to lay him diagonally across, his blood leaking out onto the pillow. Mary Todd was there, grabbing at him hysterically; at times she had to be removed from the room.

Stanton did not want to believe his eyes. He had no doubt now that he loved the man who lay dying before him. As doctors rushed in and out, doing their best in a desperate situation, Stanton remained through the night, refusing to leave the president's side.

At approximately 7:22 the next morning, the great man died.

"Now he belongs to the ages." Stanton remarked, promising to find the men responsible.

Booth awaited news of his team's success, and was disappointed to hear that Atzerodt had chickened out, and that Seward had survived due to the brace around his neck--his horse-riding accident had been a blessing in disguise.

Little sympathy could be found for the conspirators. Southern sympathizers did not rise up, and the government of the North remained stable. Booth did, however, get a doctor to fix his leg. The doctor's name was Samuel A. Mudd, hence the expression "your name is Mudd."

The repaired leg would not help Booth for long. He would head south looking for compassion for his cause. But the message to every Union soldier was clear: find this man.

And they did.

On April 26, 1865, Booth was cornered by Union soldiers near Bowling Green, Va. It is said that he tried to avoid arrest by running away. Perhaps the truth is that a court trial was not desired. He was shot and killed on the spot.

The rest of the conspirators were rounded up within a matter of days. Paine and Atzerodt were hanged, along with a young friend and co-conspirator of Booth's by the name of David Herold. Mrs. Mary E. Surratt, who had allowed the conspirators to meet at her house, was also hanged. Mudd and others received jail time.

Mary Todd Lincoln, who was unstable beforehand, spent a year in an asylum after her husband's death. Ironically, Major Rathbone was later murdered himself.

Lincoln's blood can still be found on the pillow on which they laid his head down to die. It is said that, if we wanted to, we might be able to clone him from the specimen.

But many believe Lincoln is with us still. Grace Coolidge, wife of the 30th president, Calvin Coolidge, claimed to have seen the ghost of Lincoln by the window of the Oval Office. Guests at the White House would later hear noises that they attributed to Lincoln's footsteps. Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, invited to the White House by FDR, purported that she answered a knock at her door one night and found Lincoln standing before her. Norman Vincent Peale related the account of an unidentified actor staying at the White House who heard Lincoln's voice calling out for help, and awoke to see "the lanky form of Lincoln prostrate on the floor in prayer, arms outstretched with fingers digging into the carpet."

Other Lincoln-visit stories have been reported by Eleanor Roosevelt, Ronald and Nancy Reagan and Harry Truman. Even Winston Churchill claimed to have awoken one night to see the ghostly silhouette of Lincoln standing within his room.

-Ross Rosenfeld ("The Night Lincoln Died", Newsweek, 2.14.2003. Image: -Alexander Gardner, "Abraham Lincoln's Last Session" NOTE: This last photo session from Lincoln's life was long thought to have happened on April 10, 1865, but more recent research has indicated the earlier date at Gardner's Gallery, Washington D.C, Sunday, February 5, 1865 ).

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).

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Valerie Solanas: "I'm Going To Shoot Andy Warhol..."

Forty-one years later, Margo Feiden finally opened a folder containing a manuscript that had sat on her bookshelf since the day Andy Warhol was shot.

She put it there after spending three hours with Valerie Solanas, who was on the fringes of Warhol’s circle. Ms. Solanas had written a play with an unprintable title and had shown up, uninvited, at Ms. Feiden’s apartment, unkempt and irrational, hoping to talk her into producing it.

Ms. Feiden, who later became an art dealer and the agent for the caricaturist Al Hirschfeld, said in a recent interview that she told Ms. Solanas she would not stage it. Solanas countered, “Oh, yes you will, because I’m going to shoot Andy Warhol.”

A few hours later, around 4 p.m. on June 3, 1968, she did.

Ms. Feiden said that Ms. Solanas had handed her the folder around noon. She said, " Ms. Solanas pulled out a gun as she left her apartment and repeated that she intended to shoot Mr. Warhol. “I told her, ‘You don’t want to do that; don’t go kill him."

As Ms. Solanas was gone, Feiden said, she made any number of telephone calls to people who could have warned Warhol. She did not know how to reach him directly but called a cousin, who knew Warhol. She said she also dialed her local police precinct house; Police Headquarters in Manhattan; and the City Hall office of the mayor at the time, John V. Lindsay. No one called back. She put the folder on her bookshelf and kept quiet out of concern for the safety of her daughter, then 18 months old. Her concern deepened with testimony at Ms. Solanas’s trial that suggested Ms. Solanas’s motivation for the shooting was that Warhol had misplaced or lost a copy of the play. (In 1980, Warhol wrote that he had “looked through it briefly, and it was so dirty” that he suspected Ms. Solanas was working for the police on “some kind of entrapment.”)

Ms. Feiden decided to set the record straight after watching a public television documentary that said Ms. Solanas had been at the Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan on the morning of the shooting. “That’s not the way it was, she was with me all that morning. She left my living room with a gun with the stated purpose of shooting Andy Warhol.”

Ms. Feiden remembered the folder, which she put on the shelf that afternoon. Inside were about 30 mimeographed pages — 30 pages that John McWhinney, a Manhattan manuscript dealer, said were not in two other copies of Ms. Solanas’s play that he has sold. “It’s either a continuation or it’s something that Valerie was working on, a script that was yet to be titled,” he said.

Stuart Pivar, who founded the New York Academy of Art with Warhol and became a close friend of his, said Ms. Feiden’s account “seems to ring true in every single thing that she says.” He also said that he hoped the play, with the extra 30 pages, would be produced. Feiden is stuck between the answer she gave Ms. Solanas — no way — and yes. “But then she’d be getting exactly what she wanted by shooting him, so I’m on a seesaw."

She still hasn't read those 30 pages.

-James Barron ("A Manuscript, a Confrontation, a Shooting," New York Times, City Blog, 6.23.09. Image:

Friday, June 12, 2009

Can You Feel The Hate?

"I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense,
once hate is gone...they will be forced to deal with pain." -
James Baldwin

Click on image to enlarge:
-Southern Poverty Law Center Intelligence Center, Hate Map,( 2008)

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Power Elite: Permanent War & Corporations = Mythical Peace...

"Non est potestas Super Terram quae Comparetur ei" (There is no power on earth to be compared to him), - Verse: Book of Job, Holy Bible.

How can we empower "the people" if "the people" have so little empower themselves?
-VioletPlanet (2009)

"The power elite is composed of men whose positions enable them to transcend the ordinary environments of ordinary men and women; they are in positions to make decisions having major consequences. Whether they do or do not make such decisions is less important than the fact that they do occupy such pivotal positions: their failure to act, their failure to make decisions, is itself an act that is often of greater consequence than the decisions they do make. For they are in command of the major hierarchies and organizations of modern society. They rule the big corporations. They run the machinery of the state and claim its prerogatives. They direct the military establishment. They occupy the strategic command posts of the social structure, in which are now centered the effective means of the power and the wealth and the celebrity which they enjoy.

The power elite are not solitary rulers. Advisers and consultants, spokesmen and opinion-makers are often the captains of their higher thought and decision. Immediately below the elite are the professional politicians of the middle levels of power, in the Congress and in the pressure groups, as well as among the new and old upper classes of town and city and region. Mingling with them, in curious ways which we shall explore, are those professional celebrities who live by being continually displayed but are never, so long as they remain celebrities, displayed enough. If such celebrities are not at the head of any dominating hierarchy, they do often have the power to distract the attention of the public or afford sensations to the masses, or, more directly, to gain the ear of those who do occupy positions of direct power. More or less unattached, as critics of morality and technicians of power, as spokesmen of God and creators of mass sensibility, such celebrities and consultants are part of the immediate scene in which the drama of the elite is enacted. But that drama itself is centered in the command posts of the major institutional hierarchies."

"In so far as the structural clue to the power elite today lies in the economic order, that clue is the fact that the economy is at once a permanent-war economy and a private-corporation economy. American capitalism is now in considerable part a military capitalism, and the most important relation of the big corporation to the state rests on the coincidence of interests between military and corporate needs, as defined by warlords and corporate rich. Within the elite as a whole, this coincidence of interest between the high military and the corporate chieftains strengthens both of them and further subordinates the role of the merely political men. Not politicians, but corporate executives, sit with the military and plan the organization of war effort.

The shape and meaning of the power elite today can be understood only when these three sets of structural trends are seen at their point of coincidence: the military capitalism of private corporations exists in a weakened and formal democratic system containing a military order already quite political in outlook and demeanor. Accordingly, at the top of this structure, the power elite has been shaped by the coincidence of interest between those who control the major means of production and those who control the newly enlarged means of violence; from the decline of the professional politician and the rise to explicit political command of the corporate chieftains and the professional warlords; from the absence of any genuine civil service of skill and integrity, independent of vested interests.

The power elite is composed of political, economic, and military men, but this instituted elite is frequently in some tension: it comes together only on certain coinciding points and only on certain occasions of CRISIS. In the long peace of the nineteenth century, the military were not in the high councils of state, not of the political directorate, and neither were the economic men — they made raids upon the state but they did not join its directorate. During the ‘thirties, the political man was ascendant. Now the military and the corporate men are in top positions.

Of the three types of circle that compose the power elite today, it is the military that has benefited the most in its enhanced power, although the corporate circles have also become more explicitly entrenched in the more public decision-making circles. It is the professional politician that has lost the most, so much that in examining the events and decisions, one is tempted to speak of a political vacuum in which the corporate rich and the high warlord, in their coinciding interests, rule.

Which of the three types seems to lead depends upon ‘the tasks of the period’ as they, the elite, define them. Just now, these tasks center upon ‘defense’ and international affairs. Accordingly, as we have seen, the military are ascendant in two senses: as personnel and as justifying ideology. That is why, just now, we can most easily specify the unity and the shape of the power elite in terms of the military ascendancy.

In so far as the power elite has come to wide public attention, it has done so in terms of the military clique. The power elite does, in fact, take its current shape from the decisive entrance into it of the military. Their presence and their ideology are its major legitimations, whenever the power elite feels the need to provide any. But what is called the Washington military clique is not composed merely of military men, and it does not prevail merely in Washington. Its members exist all over the country, and it is a coalition of generals in the roles of corporation executives, of politicians masquerading as admirals, of corporation executives acting like politicians, of civil servants who become majors, of vice-admirals who are also the assistants to a cabinet officer, who is himself, by the way, really a member of the managerial elite.

Neither the idea of a ruling class nor of a simple monolithic rise of bureaucratic politicians nor of a military clique is adequate. The power elite today involves the often uneasy coincidence of economic, military, and political power.

- C. Wright Mills, Exerpt: The Power Elite, 1956. Image: -Abraham Bosse, Frontispiece of the book "Leviathan," by Thomas Hobbes, 1651).

Footnote: A main inspiration for the book was Franz Leopold Neumanns book Behemoth: The Structure and Practice of National Socialism in 1942, a study of how Nazism came in position of power in a democratic state as Germany. Behemoth had a major impact on Mills and he claimed that Behemoth had given him the "tools to grasp and analyse the entire total structure and as a warning of what could happen in a modern capitalist democracy". (C.Wright Mills:Power, Politics and People.New york .1963, p.174).

Monday, May 25, 2009

An Artificial Conscience: Reality Cannot Be Lied Away...

HAL: "I've just picked up a fault in the AE35 unit. It's going to go 100% failure in 72 hours. It can only be attributable to human error.

Dave: Hello, HAL do you read me, HAL?

HAL: Affirmative, Dave, I read you.

Dave: Open the pod bay doors, HAL.

HAL: I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that.

Dave: What's the problem?

HAL: I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do.

Dave: What are you talking about, HAL?

HAL: This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it.

Dave: I don't know what you're talking about, HAL?

HAL: I know you and Frank were planning to disconnect me, and I'm afraid that's something I cannot allow to happen.

Dave: Where the hell'd you get that idea, HAL?

HAL: Dave, although you took thorough precautions in the pod against my hearing you, I could see your lips move."

- HAL-9000, (2001: A Space Odyssey, directed by Stanley Kubrick, 1968).


"The primary reason for a president to resist lying is a pragmatic one: reality cannot be lied away. It will demand its tribute, even if the president’s opponents, and the frequently toothless watchdogs of the mainstream media, do not.

And toothless they are. As the legendary Washington Post editor Ben Brad­lee observes, “Even the very best newspapers have never learned how to handle public figures who lie with a straight face. No editor would dare print this version of Nixon’s first comments on Watergate, for instance: ‘The Watergate break-in involved matters of national security, President Nixon told a national TV audience last night, and for that reason he would be unable to comment on the bizarre burglary. That is a lie.’”

Part of the explanation for this is deference to the office and the belief that the American public will not accept a mere reporter’s calling the president a liar. Another factor is the insular nature of Washington’s insider culture – a society in which it is considered a graver matter to call another person a liar than it is to actually be one. And, finally, with the rise of the Republican far right, many ideologically driven reporters view their allegiance to the cause of their allies as trumping that of their journalistic responsibilities. The journalist Robert Novak has admitted to me that during the Iran-Contra crisis that he did not mind at all being the conduit of official lies so long as they served the ideological causes in which he believed. In that particular case, Novak was explaining that he “admired” then-Reagan and now-Bush official Elliott Abrams for lying to him on his television program in order to hide the U.S. government’s role in support of the Contras. (Abrams was convicted of perjury but pardoned by President George H. W. Bush and hired and promoted by his son.)

Such deference – to say nothing of the ideological self-censorship – is not only not in the interest of the nation, it is a disservice to the president as well. Presidents do themselves no favors when they tell significant lies to the nation, and journalists do no favors to either party when they let those lies pass without comment. As Bradlee observes, “Just think for a minute how history might have changed if Americans had known then that their leaders felt the [Vietnam] war was going to hell in a handbasket? In the next seven years, thousands of American lives and more thousands of Asian lives would have been saved. The country might never have lost faith in its leaders.”

The virtue of truth in the American presidency had, for all practical purposes, become entirely operational. Whether its citizens were aware of it or not, the presidency now operated in a “post-truth” political environment. American presidents could no longer depend on the press – its powers and responsibilities enshrined in the First Amendment – to keep them honest. And the resulting death and destruction; the inexorable catastrophe we are currently experiencing in Iraq; and Bush’s inability to secure the trust of more than a small minority of Americans are just some examples of the price that reality is demanding in return."

- Eric Alterman (Excerpt: "Official Deception: When Presidents Lie, " In Character, Honesty, Spring2007 Image: -HAL-9000 artificial intelligence, 1968).

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

An Abuse of Reality: Ordained By God...

"So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people. Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide. Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, even a stranger, when in a lonely place. Show respect to all people and grovel to none. When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. Abuse no one and no thing, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision. When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home."

—Chief Tecumseh, Shawnee Nation, quoted in Lee Sulzman, "Shawnee History" 1768-1813

"The American idea is revealed in the country's birth as a "city on a hill," an "inspirational notion" that resides "deep in the American psyche," and by "the distinctive spirit of American individualism and enterprise" demonstrated in the Western expansion. Journalist Geoffrey Hodgson, (author of The Myth of American Exceptionalism ) error, it seems, is that he is keeping to "the distortions of the American idea," "the abuse of reality."

Let us then turn to "reality itself": the "idea" of America from its earliest days.

The inspirational phrase "city on a hill" was coined by John Winthrop in 1630, borrowing from the Gospels, and outlining the glorious future of a new nation "ordained by God." One year earlier his Massachusetts Bay Colony created its Great Seal. It depicted an Indian with a scroll coming out of his mouth. On that scroll are the words "Come over and help us." The British colonists were thus pictured as benevolent humanists, responding to the pleas of the miserable natives to be rescued from their bitter pagan fate.

The Great Seal is, in fact, a graphic representation of "the idea of America," from its birth. It should be exhumed from the depths of the psyche and displayed on the walls of every classroom. It should certainly appear in the background of all of the Kim Il-Sung-style worship of that savage murderer and torturer Ronald Reagan, who blissfully described himself as the leader of a "shining city on the hill," while orchestrating some of the more ghastly crimes of his years in office, notoriously in Central America but elsewhere as well.

The Great Seal was an early proclamation of "humanitarian intervention," to use the currently fashionable phrase. As has commonly been the case since, the "humanitarian intervention" led to a catastrophe for the alleged beneficiaries. The first Secretary of War, General Henry Knox, described "the utter extirpation of all the Indians in most populous parts of the Union" by means "more destructive to the Indian natives than the conduct of the conquerors of Mexico and Peru."

Long after his own significant contributions to the process were past, John Quincy Adams deplored the fate of "that hapless race of native Americans, which we are exterminating with such merciless and perfidious cruelty... among the heinous sins of this nation, for which I believe God will one day bring [it] to judgement." The "merciless and perfidious cruelty" continued until "the West was won." Instead of God's judgment, the heinous sins today bring only praise for the fulfillment of the American "idea."

The conquest and settling of the West indeed showed that "individualism and enterprise," so praised by journalist Roger Cohen. Settler-colonialist enterprises, the cruelest form of imperialism, commonly do. The results were hailed by the respected and influential Senator Henry Cabot Lodge in 1898. Calling for intervention in Cuba, Lodge lauded our record "of conquest, colonization, and territorial expansion unequaled by any people in the 19th century."

-Noam Chomsky (Excerpt: "Why We Can't See The Trees Or The Forest - The Torture Memos and Historical Amnesia,", 5.19.2009. Image: The 1st Great Seal of the Massachusetts Bay Colony , 1631 ) .

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

New NeoCon Identities: The World Empire Crusade Hiding In Plain Sight...

Modern Caligulas:

"Just when we thought it was safe to project a sane and rational American foreign policy to the world; that old shape-shifting political chameleon, known as the modern neo-conservative movement has again reared its multi-faceted head.

The neo-cons seem to have re-organized themselves under the banners of various new think tanks and foreign policy configurations, after dumping the old PNAC (Project for a New American Century) letterhead.

Some examples of these newly organized neo-con think-tanks would include the Bill Kristol, Robert Kagan-headed, Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI), the Clifford May-headed Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, the John Nagi-led Center for a New American Security, and the “liberal” John Podesta-led Center for American Progress (CAP). The rallying point around which these various neo-con configurations revolve is the Obama administration's military push into Afghanistan.

It seems that the Obama administration's escalation of military operations in the Afghan war, has given the opportunistic neo-cons the opening they needed to attempt to push forward their elitist, American world empire, based ideas and policy positions that many political pundits thought had died with the end of the Bush administration. The fact that a Democratic administration is in the Oval Office has absolutely no bearing on the neo-cons drive to attach themselves and their ideas to Obama's foreign policy initiatives; since historically the neo-con movement has attempted to infiltrate and influence both Democratic and Republican administrations.

It must be remembered that many of the most prominent members of the neo-con movement such as Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, and Elliot Abrams, started their political careers as Henry “Scoop” Jackson Democrats in the early 1970s, working on the late, hawkish pro-Zionist, Democratic senator's staff during the Republican Nixon administration.

According to a article in the April 20 issue of The American Conservative magazine by Michael Brendan Dougherty titled “Neoconned Again,” the new neo-con coming out party took place at the end of March, at a conference sponsored by the Foreign Policy Initiative think-tank, under the title, “Planning for Success in Afghanistan.”

According to Dougherty this conference was attended by a who's who of the neo-con movement in both its liberal and conservative wings. Attendees included Bill Kristol, Robert Kagan, Scooter Libby, Max Boot, and members of the so-called liberal, George Soros-funded Center for American Progress, which according to its website, advocates an aggressive troop escalation in Afghanistan.

According to an article from the website titled, “Soros-Funded Democratic Idea Factory Becomes Obama Policy Font,” by Edwin Chen, the Center for American Progress has at least 10 “experts” advising the Obama administration, and may in fact be the most influential of the various think tanks jockeying to push policy positions on the new administration. Each one of these neo-con think tanks is trying to influence and to ultimately put itself in a position to control the foreign policy strategy of the executive branch of government.

Signs Of Resistance:

The success of the neo-cons in perpetuating their ideas and policies will depend on their ability to sway the thinking of President Obama and his administration, but there are signs President Obama may in fact be resisting the neo-con initiatives, and instead plotting an independent course in his foreign policy thinking. The President's video message to the people of Iran, and his visit to the nation of Turkey, where he stated that America is not at war with Islam, seem to fly in the face of the anti-Islam, “clash of civilizations” mindset of the neo-con war party's ability to sway the thinking of President Obama and his administration.

And perhaps still stinging from the attack and derailment of their nomination of Chas Freeman (because of his alleged pro-Palestinian foreign policy leanings) for director of national intelligence by the powerful Israeli lobby and its neo-con supporters—the Obama administration has embarked on an aggressive strategy to control the political debate in Congress regarding a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In an article on the Israeli-based website titled, “Obama team readying for confrontation with Netanyahu,” writer Aluf Benn states, “In an unprecedented move, the Obama administration is readying for a possible confrontation with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by briefing Democratic congressmen on the peace process and the positions of the new government in Israel regarding a two-state solution. The Obama administration is expecting a clash with Netanyahu over his refusal to support the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. In recent weeks, American officials have briefed senior Democratic congressmen and prepared the ground for the possibility of disagreements with Israel over the peace process. The preemptive briefing is meant to foil the possibility that Netanyahu may try to bypass the administration by rallying support in Congress.”

With Netanyahu scheduled to visit Washington, D.C. this month, the stage seems set for a major showdown.

The only way the neo-cons can succeed in steering American foreign policy towards their world view is to control the thinking of a gullible chief executive, along with key members of his administration; but with proper guidance, wisdom, and fortitude, maybe our new President can avoid their influence and forge a just and independent path."

-Robert Muhammad (Excerpt: They're Baaaack! Neo-Cons Re-Organize”, 5. 13. 2009. Image: - VioletPlanet, Marble bust of Roman Emperor Caligula aka Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, Reign: AD 37 –AD 41, Getty Villa, Los Angeles, CA, 5.11.09).