Wednesday, February 25, 2009

11 Reasons Why Bernard Madoff aka "The Swindler" Is America's Unconscious Superhero

“In today’s regulatory environment, it’s virtually impossible to violate rules.” -Bernard Madoff (2007).

The Inadvertent Hand of Justice:

While it is understandable that the super-rich and wealthy, who have lost a large portion of their retirement and investment funds are unanimous in their condemnation and cries of betrayal of trust, and the editorials of all the prestigious newspapers and weeklies have joined the chorus of moral critics, there is much to praise in Madoff’s deeds, even if such praise was not at the heart of his fraudulent endeavor.

1. The swindle of $50 plus billion dollars may make a big dent on US Zionist funding of illegal Israeli colonial settlements in the Occupied Territories, lessen funding for AIPAC’s purchase of Congressional influence and financing of propaganda campaigns in favor of a pre-emptive US military attack against Iran. Most investors will have to lower or eliminate their purchase of Israel bonds, which subsidize the Jewish State’s military budget.

2. The swindle has further discredited the highly speculative hedge funds already reeling from massive withdrawals because of deep losses. Madoff’s funds were one of the last ‘respected’ operations still drawing new investors, but with the latest revelations it may accelerate their demise. The dismissed promoters may finally have to perform an honest, productive day’s work.

3. Madoff’s long-term, large-scale fraud was not detected by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) despite its claims of at least two investigations. As a result, there is a total loss of credibility. More generally, the SEC’s failure demonstrates the incapacity of capitalist government regulatory agencies to detect mega frauds. This failure raises the question of whether alternatives to investing in Wall Street are better suited to protect savings and pension funds.

4. Madoff’s long-term association with NASDAQ, including his chairmanship, while he was defrauding his clients of billions, strongly suggests that the members and leaders of this stock exchange are incapable of recognizing a crook, and are prone to overlook felonious behavior of ‘one of their own’. In other words, the investing public can no longer look to holders of high posts in NASDAQ as a sign of probity. After Madoff, it may signal time to look for a king-size mattress for safe keeping of what remains of a family’s wealth.

5. The investment advisors from top banks in Europe, Asia and the US managing billions of funds did not carry out the most elementary due diligence of Madoff’s operation. Apart from severe bank losses, tens of thousands of influential, affluent and super-rich lost their entire accumulated wealth. The result is total loss of confidence in the leading banks and financial instruments as well as the general discrediting of ‘expert knowledge’. The result is a weakening of the financial stranglehold over investor behavior and the demise of an important sector of the parasitic ‘rentier’ class, which gains without producing any useful commodities or providing needed services.

6. Since most of the money stolen by Madoff came from the upper classes around the world, his behavior has reduced inequalities – he is the ‘greatest leveler’ since the introduction of the progressive income tax. By ruining billionaires and bankrupting millionaires, Madoff has lessened their capacity to use their wealth to influence politicians in their favor – thus increasing the potential political influence of the less affluent sectors of class society…and inadvertently strengthening democracy against the financial oligarchs.

7. By swindling life-long friends, self-same ethno-religious investors, narrow ethnically defined country club members and close family members, Madoff demonstrates that finance capital shows no respect for any of the pieties of everyday life: Great and small, holy and profane, all are subordinated to the rule of capital.

8. Among the many ruined investors in New York and New England, there are a number of mega slumlords (real estate moguls), sweatshop owners (fancy name-brand clothes and toy manufacturers) and others who barely paid the minimum wage to their women and immigrant laborers, evicted poor tenants and swindled employees out of their pensions before moving their operations to China. In other words, Madoff’s swindle was a kind of secular ‘divine’ retribution for past and present crimes against labor and the poor. Needless to say, this ‘unconscious Robin Hood’ did not redistribute the money fleeced from the employers to their workers, he reinvested part of it in charities which enhanced his philanthropic image and to payout to some of his early investors so sustain the overall Ponzi scam.

9. Madoff struck a severe blow against anti-Semites who claim that there is a ‘close-knit Jewish conspiracy to defraud the Gentiles’, laying that canard to rest once and for all. Among Bernard Madoff’s principle victims were his closest Jewish friends and colleagues, people who shared Seder meals and frequented the same upscale temples in Long Island and Palm Beach.

Bernie was discriminating in accepting clients, but it was on the basis of their wealth and not their national origin, race, religion or sexual preference. He was very ecumenical and a strong backer of globalization. There was nothing ethnocentric about Madoff: He defrauded the Anglo-Chinese bank HSBC of $1 billion dollars and several billions from the Dutch arm of the Belgian bank Fortes. $1.4 billion was from the Royal Bank of Scotland, the French bank BNP Paribas, the Spanish bank, Banco Santander, the Japanese Nomura; not to mention hedge funds in London and the US, which have admitted holdings in Bernard Madoff Investment Securities. Indeed Bernie was emblematic of the modern up-to-date, politically correct, multicultural, international…swindler. The ease with which the super rich of Europe forked their fortunes over caused one Madrid-based business consultant to observe that, “picking off Spain’s wealthiest was like clubbing seals…” (Financial Times, December 18, 2008 p.16)

10. Madoff’s swindle will likely promote greater self-criticism and a more distrustful attitude toward other potential confidence people posing as reliable financial know-it-alls. Among self-critical Jews, they are less likely to confide in brokers simply because they are zealous backers of Israel and generous contributors to Zionist fund drives. That is no longer an adequate guarantee of ethical behavior and a certificate of good conduct. In fact it may raise suspicion of brokers who are excessively ardent boosters of Israel and promise consistent high returns to local Zionist affiliates – asking themselves whether this business about ‘what is good for the …’ is really a cover for another scam.

11. The demise of Madoff’s enterprise and his wealthy liberal Jewish victims will adversely affect contributions to the 52 Major Jewish American Organizations, numerous foundations in Boston, Los Angeles, New York and elsewhere, as well as the Clinton/Schumer militarist wing of the Democratic Party (Madoff bankrolled both of them as well as other unconditional Congressional supporters of Israel). This may open Congress to greater debate on Middle East policy without the usual high volume attacks.


Madoff’s swindle and fraudulent behavior is not the result of a personal moral failure. It is the product of a systemic imperative and the economic culture, which informs the highest circles of our class structure. The paper economy, hedge funds and all the ‘sophisticated financial instruments’ are all ‘Ponzi schemes’ – they are not based on producing and selling goods and services. They are financial bets on future financial paper growth based on securing future buyers to pay off earlier cash ins.

The ‘failure’ of the SEC is totally predictable and systemic: The regulators are selected from the regulatees, are beholden to them and defer to their judgments, claims and audit sheets. They are structured to ‘miss the signs’ and to avoid ‘over-regulating’ their financial superiors. Madoff operated in a milieu of a Wall Street where everything goes, where impunity for mega-bailouts for mega swindlers is the norm. As an individual swindler, he out-defrauded some of his bigger institutional competitors on the Street. The whole system of rewards and prestige goes to those best able to juggle the books, to cover the paper trails and who have willing victims begging to get fleeced. What a mensch, this Madoff!

In a few days, one individual, Bernard Madoff, has struck a bigger blow against global financial capital, Wall Street and the US Zionist Lobby/Israel-First Agenda than the entire US and European left combined over the past half century! He has been more successful in reducing vast wealth disparities in New York than all the white, black, Christian and Jewish, reform and mainline Democratic and Republican governors and Mayors over the past two centuries.

Some right-wing conspiracy theorists are claiming that Bernie is a secret Islamic-Palestinian agent (from Hamas) who set out to deliberately undermine the financial base of the Jewish State of Israel and its most powerful, affluent and generous US backers and foundations. Others claim that he is a closet Marxist whose swindles were carefully designed to discredit Wall Street and to funnel billions into clandestine radical organizations – after all…does anyone know where the lost billions have gone? Unlike the leftist pundits, bloggers and protest marchers, whose earnest and public activities have had no effect on the rich and powerful, Madoff has aimed his blows where it hurts the most: Their mega-bank accounts, their confidence in the
capitalist system, their self-esteem and, yes, even their cardiac well-being.

Does that mean we on the left should form a Bernie Madoff Defense Committee and call for a bailout in line with Paulson’s bailout of his Citibank cronies? Should we proclaim “Equal bailout for equal swindlers!”? Should we advocate his flight (or his right of return) to Israel to avoid a trial? It might not fly with his many Jewish victims to make the case for an Israeli retirement for Bernie.

There is no reason to mount the barricades for Bernard Madoff. It’s enough to recognize that he has inadvertently rendered an historic service to popular justice by undermining some of the financial props of a class-ridden injustice system.
-James Petras (Excerpt: "Bernard Madoff: Wall Street Swindler Strikes Powerful Blows for Social Justice", Information Clearinghouse, 12.20.2008. Image: -VioletPlanet, The Hero Factory, 2.26.09).

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Salvador Dalí: Self-Promotion, Madness, Genius, Hucksterism & Fakery...

"Dalí and I: Exposing the Dark Circus of the International Art Market" is a book devoted to the thesis that self-promotion, hucksterism and fakery are the only way to get ahead. They were certainly the basis of author Stan Lauryssens’s career, when he graduated in the Seventies from pasting together fake interviews with Hollywood stars for a Belgian magazine to flogging fake pictures by the biggest fake of all: Salvador Dalí.

When he enters the art world, Lauryssens knows little about his golden goose, except that Dalí means money. As the months pass, and he disposes of works of ever-decreasing quality for ever-increasing prices, he realizes the Dalí market rests on a gigantic con: thousands of works are being certified that cannot possibly be by Dalí.

In one instance, he buys a stack of prints from one of Dalí’s authorized dealers, only to discover that they are unsigned. When he returns the next day, Dalí’s signature is on every one.

Eventually, the titanic swindle, in which Lauryssens has only a small role, unravels, along with his extravagant lifestyle. And it is here that the book gets most interesting. After a cursory imprisonment, and a dark night of the soul that features some hilariously overwrought writing – “I was a fox in a trap. For the fox, the trap means death” – Lauryssens hightails it to his girlfriend in Catalonia. Here he finds himself both a neighbour of Dalí, and on the periphery of his circle, at last able to winkle out some of the truth.

And that truth is a sad business. Originally, Dalí seems to Lauryssens like a mad genius, a showman whose career is a cheerfully orchestrated fraud on the world, whether it be signing blank canvasses, ordering muses to drink his urine “to raise your genius level”, or hosting orgies based around demands for “2,000 live ants, four transvestites, a white Arabian stallion, 300 dead grasshoppers, four dwarfs, four giants and the suit of armour of Jeanne d’Arc”.

But the real Dalí is more pitiable – not just because of the crippled state in which Lauryssens finds him on their one meeting, but because of how he has become a prisoner of his greed and pathologies, to the extent that, according to Lauryssens, he maintained a “secret studio” of artists who did virtually every work of his final decades. Even Dali's moustache was a fraud: hair extensions wrapped around drinking straws.

In an interview with The Herald newspaper, Lauryssens says he believes the famous painting " Christ of St John on the Cross " was in fact painted by one of Dali's assistants. He claims Dali did not have the artistic skill to paint the image of the body of Christ. “If you look at Christ of St John on the Cross, you can see that it is made by two different people. It's basically two different paintings. The part below, the seascape – that is 100 per cent Dali. But on top you have Christ seen from above – that is not a Salvador Dali painting. It was painted by others because Dali couldn’t paint living flesh.” Lauryssens says he’s even seen film that shows an assistant drawing the life model who appears as Christ in Dali’s masterpiece. But art critics and the painting’s owners, Glasgow City Council – which bought the painting now estimated to be worth upwards of £60m for a bargain £8,200 – have rubbished Lauryssens’s claims.

It is sensational stuff, fantastic in every sense. And whether it is fact or fiction, it seems to capture two essential truths about Dalí: both his work and life could mean anything and everything, and that there is always a more astonishing story around the corner.

-Robert Colvile (Book Review: "Dalí and I: Exposing the Dark Circus of the International Art Market," Telegraph UK, 2.17.09. Image: -Salvador Dalí, "Christ Of Saint John On The Cross," Glasgow Museum, Scotland, 1951).

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Prince Of Darkness: Neoconservatives Do Not Exist...

"If we just let our vision of the world go forth, and we embrace it entirely, and we don't try to piece together clever diplomacy but just wage a total war, our children will sing great songs about us years from now."

-Richard Perle (Interview with journalist John Pilger, 2003).

Listening to neoconservative mastermind Richard Perle at the Nixon Center yesterday, there was a sense of falling down the rabbit hole. Perle was the ideological architect of the Iraq war and of the Bush doctrine of preemptive attack. But at yesterday's forum of foreign policy intellectuals, he created a fantastic world in which:

1. Perle is not a neoconservative.

2. Neoconservatives do not exist.

3. Even if neoconservatives did exist, they certainly couldn't be blamed for the disasters of the past eight years

"There is no such thing as a neoconservative foreign policy," Perle informed the gathering, hosted by National Interest magazine. "It is a left critique of what is believed by the commentator to be a right-wing policy."

So what about the 1996 report he co-authored that is widely seen as the cornerstone of neoconservative foreign policy? "My name was on it because I signed up for the study group," Perle explained. "I didn't approve it. I didn't read it." Mm-hmm. And the two letters to the president, signed by Perle, giving a "moral" basis to Middle East policy and demanding military means to remove Saddam Hussein? "I don't have the letters in front of me," Perle replied.

Right... And the Bush administration National Security Strategy, enshrining the neoconservative themes of preemptive war and using American power to spread freedom?

"I don't know whether President Bush ever read any of those statements. My guess is he didn't."

The Prince of Darkness -- so dubbed during his days opposing arms control in the Reagan Pentagon was not about to let details get in the way of his argument that "50 million conspiracy theorists have it wrong," as the subtitle of his article for National Interest put it. "I see a number of people here who believe and have expressed themselves abundantly that there is a neoconservative foreign policy and it was the policy that dominated the Bush administration, and they ascribe to it responsibility for the deplorable state of the world," Perle told the foreign policy luminaries at yesterday's lunch. "None of that is true, of course."

Of course...

He was a leading cheerleader for the Iraq war, predicting that the effort would take few troops, last only a few days, and that Iraq would pay for its own reconstruction. Perle was chairman of Bush's Defense Policy Board -- and the president clearly took the advice of Perle and his fellow neocons. And Perle, in turn, said back then that Bush "knows exactly what he's doing."

Yesterday, however, Perle said Bush's foreign policy had "no philosophical underpinnings and certainly nothing like the demonic influence of neoconservatives that is alleged." He also took issue with the common view that neocons favored using American might to spread democratic values:

"There's no documentation! I can't find a single example of a neoconservative supposed to have influence over the Bush administration arguing that we should impose democracy by force."

Those in the room were skeptical of Perle's efforts to recast himself as a pragmatist.

Richard Burt, who clashed with Perle during the Reagan administration, took issue with "this argument that neoconservatism maybe actually doesn't exist." He reminded Perle of the longtime rift between foreign policy realists and neoconservative interventionists. "You've got to kind of acknowledge there is a neoconservative school of thought," Burt challenged.

"I don't accept the approach, not at all," the Prince of Darkness replied.

Jacob Heilbrunn of National Interest asked Perle to square his newfound realism with the rather idealistic title of his book, "An End to Evil." "We had a publisher who chose the title," Perle claimed, adding: "There's hardly an ideology in that book." (An excerpt: "There is no middle way for Americans: It is victory or holocaust. This book is a manual for victory.")

Regardless of the title, Heilbrunn pursued, how could so many people -- including lapsed neoconservative Francis Fukuyama -- all be so wrong about what neoconservatives represent?

"It's not surprising that a lot of people get something wrong," Perle reasoned.

At times, the Prince of Darkness turned on his questioners. Fielding a question from the Financial Times, he said that the newspaper "propagated this myth of neoconservative influence." He informed Stefan Halper of Cambridge University that "you have contributed significantly to this mythology."

"There are some 5,000 footnotes," Halper replied. "Documents that you've signed." But documents did not deter denials. "I've never advocated attacking Iran," he said, to a few chuckles. "Regime change does not imply military force, at least not when I use the term," he said, to raised eyebrows.

Accusations that neoconservatives manipulated intelligence on Iraq? "There's no truth to it." At one point, he argued that the word "neoconservative" has been used as an anti-Semitic slur, just moments after complaining that prominent figures such as Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld -- Christians both -- had been grouped in with the neoconservatives.

"I don't know that I persuaded anyone," Perle speculated when the session ended. No worries, said the moderator. "You certainly kept us all entertained."

-Dana Milbank ("Prince of Darkness Denies Own Existence," Washington Post, 2.20.09. Image: Christopher Lee as Dracula - The Prince Of Darkness, 1970s).

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Organism Earth: The Gaia Theory...

The Gaia Hypothesis:

"The entire range of living matter on Earth from whales to viruses and from oaks to algae could be regarded as constituting a single living entity capable of maintaining the Earth's atmosphere to suit its overall needs and endowed with faculties and powers far beyond those of its constituent parts...A complex entity involving the Earth's biosphere, atmosphere, oceans, and soil; the totality constituting a feedback or cybernetic system which seeks an optimal physical and chemical environment for life on this planet."

"To what extent is our collective intelligence also a part of Gaia? Do we as a species constitute a Gaian nervous system and a brain which can consciously anticipate environmental changes?" -James Lovelock (1960s).

"Earth is a perfect planet for life but, according to Gaia theory, this is no coincidence. From the moment life first appeared on Earth it has worked hard to make Earth a more comfortable place to live. Gaia theory suggests that the Earth and its natural cycles can be thought of like a living organism. When one natural cycle starts to go out of kilter other cycles work to bring it back, continually optimising the conditions for life on Earth.

Named after the Greek Earth goddess, Gaia, the theory was developed in the 1960s by scientist Dr James Lovelock. At the time, Lovelock was working for NASA, looking at methods of detecting life on Mars. The theory came about as a way of explaining why the Earth's atmosphere contains high levels of nitrogen and oxygen.

Initially, Gaia theory was ignored, and then later ridiculed by scientists such as Richard Dawkins and Stephen J Gould. However, in recent times stronger evidence for the theory has emerged and Gaia has started to gain support. The theory helps to explain some of the more unusual features of planet Earth, such as why the atmosphere isn't mostly carbon dioxide, and why the oceans aren't more salty.

In its early years Earth's atmosphere was mostly carbon dioxide - the product of multiple volcanic burps. It wasn't until life arrived that the balance began to change. Bacteria produced nitrogen, an inert gas, and photosynthesising plants produced oxygen, a very reactive gas. Ever since that time, about 2,500m years ago, Earth's atmosphere has contained significant amounts of nitrogen and oxygen, supporting life on this planet. The nitrogen helps to keep things stable, preventing oxygen levels from climbing too high and fuelling runaway fires. Meanwhile, the oxygen supports complex life.

Gaia also helps to explain how the oceans are kept in balance. Rivers dissolve salt from rocks and carry it to the ocean, yet ocean salinity has remained at about 3.4% for a very long time. It appears that the salt is removed again when water is cycled through cracks on the ocean floor. This process keeps the oceans' salinity in balance and at a level that most lifeforms can tolerate.

These processes are not thought to be conscious ones, or to favour any one life form over another. Gaia theory simply maintains that Earth's natural cycles work together to keep the Earth healthy and support life on Earth.

Lovelock argues that humans have now pushed Gaia to her limit. In addition to filling the atmosphere with carbon dioxide, we have hacked our way through the "lungs" of the planet (the rainforests) and driven many species to extinction. He thinks we are heading for a very warm world, where only polar regions are comfortable for most life forms. Eventually, he suspects, Gaia will pull things back into check, but it may be too late for the human race.

Feedback Loops:

Feedback loops often appear to keep the planet in balance. One good example of this is the way in which atmospheric carbon dioxide is kept in check. Carbon dioxide is pumped into the atmosphere by volcanoes, and removed by the weathering of rocks (encouraged by bacteria and plant roots in the soil). When it reaches the sea, the dissolved carbon dioxide is used by tiny organisms, known as coccolithophores (algae), to make their shells. When coccolithophores die they release a gas - dimethyl sulphate - which encourages the formation of clouds in the atmosphere.

When atmospheric carbon dioxide levels become too high, coccolithophores get busy, locking up more carbon dioxide in their shells and pumping dimethyl sulphate into the atmosphere when they die - producing clouds which reflect back sunlight and help the Earth to cool. Conversely, if atmospheric carbon dioxide levels become low, coccolithophores reduce their activity. Over the past 200 years mankind has greatly increased atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, and recently there has been evidence that algal blooms in the ocean are increasing. Could Gaia be trying to correct our mistake?

The Gaia Hypothesis has often been described by commentators as one of the most provoking singular ideas to have been put forward in the second half of the 20th Century."

-Kate Ravilious ("Perfect Harmony," Guardian UK, 4.28.2008. Image:-Hieronymus Bosch, Detail from the Triptych: "Garden of Earthly Delights", Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1500 ).

Friday, February 13, 2009

Love & The Forces Of Human Destiny: Just...A Place In The Sun

The Moment:

George: I love you. I've loved you since the first moment I saw you. I guess maybe I've even loved you before I saw you.

Angela: You're the fellow that wondered why I invited you here tonight. Well, I'll tell you why. I love...Are they watching us?

(Angela pulls George away from the party onto a balcony)

Angela: I love you, too. It scares me. But it is a wonderful feeling.

George: It's wonderful when you're here. I can hold you. I can, I can see you. I can hold you next to me. But what's it gonna be like next week? All summer long? I'll still be just as much in love with you. You'll be gone.

Angela: But I'll be at the lake. You'll come up and see me. Oh, it's so beautiful there. You must come. I know my parents will be a problem, but you can come on the weekends when the kids from school are up there. You don't have to work weekends. That's the best time. If you don't come, I'll drive down here to see you. I'll pick you up outside the factory. You'll be my pickup. Oh, we'll arrange it somehow, whatever way we can. We'll have such wonderful times together, just the two of us.

George:  I am the happiest person in the world.

Angela: The second happiest.

George: Oh, Angela, if I could only tell you how much I love you, if I could only tell you all....

Angela: Tell mama, tell mama all.

- Michael Wilson & Harry Brown ("A Place In The Sun," directed by George Stevens. Image: Elizabeth Taylor & Montgomery Clift kiss on the balcony, 1951).

Footnote: Based on the classic novel "An American Tragedy" by Theodore Dreiser. Themes: "One man’s losing struggle against forces that shape human destiny. According to Dreiser and other writers of Naturalism, the destiny of a human being results from hereditary, environmental, economic, social, and fatalistic forces that act upon him."(- Michael Cummings, 2006).

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Controlling The Battle Space: Pentagon Perception Management Tools

BAGHDAD: The black-and-white video starts with a mini-van locked in the crosshairs and the sound of a missile launching. A ball of fire suddenly consumes the van and a palm grove somewhere in Iraq. "Good shot," says a voice squawking over what sounds like a military radio. Before the one-minute video clip is over, two more SUVs are destroyed by Apache helicopters.

The video is one of dozens brought to viewers around the world by Maj. Alayne Conway, the top public affairs officer for the 3rd Infantry Division. When her unit was in Iraq, her office sent out four to six videos a day to media outlets around the world, as well as posting them on YouTube. "You want to make sure you edit it in the right way," Conway said. "You have to go through the steps. ... Is this something that is going to make Joe Six-Pack look up from his TV dinner or his fast-food meal and look up at the TV and say, `Wow, the American troops are kicking butt in Iraq?'"

Critics say the purpose of such violent material is not to inform the public about what the military is doing, but to promote it. Public affairs officers argue that they are in a battle with insurgents to shape the public perception of the wars they are fighting, and they will use every means available to push the military's version of events.

The Pentagon now spends more than $550 million a year -- at least double the amount since 2003 -- on public affairs, and that doesn't including personnel costs. Public affairs officers are, in the words of the military's training manual, a "perception management tool." Their job is to provide facts but not spin to American audiences and the American media.

Over the past two years, the number of public affairs officers trained by the Defense Information School has grown by 24 percent to almost 3,500. The military is also expanding its Internet presence from 300 to 1,000 sites and increasing its free cable programming on the Pentagon Channel by 33 percent to 2,080 programs.

Along with putting out its own messages, the public affairs arm tries to regulate what others put out.

In recent years, as reporting out of Iraq turned more negative, the public affairs department has increased its ground rules for media who embed with troops from one to four pages.

In mid-2008, Associated Press reporter Bradley Brooks was stepping off a cargo plane in Mosul en route to an embed when he saw pallbearers carry the flag-draped coffins of dead soldiers from Humvee ambulances onto a plane. Brooks talked to soldiers, who mentioned their anger with political leaders, and wrote a story. Within 24 hours the military had expelled him from northern Iraq. He was told he had broken a new rule that embedded reporters could not write while in transit.

In 2008, eight journalists were detained for more than 48 hours, according to cases tracked by the Associated Press, more than in any other year since the war began. Since 2003, the Associated Press alone has had 11 journalists detained in Iraq for more than 24 hours. And a Reuters journalist has been detained by U.S. forces as "a security threat" since Sept. 2.

"All of these journalists, with the exception of the one being held now, have been released without charge. That troubles us because it suggests that they are not able to successfully charge these journalists with anything," said Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Pentagon officials say commanders have the right to detain anyone they consider a threat to security, and that the U.S. Constitution does not apply to foreign battlefields."The U.S. military is going to control the battle space in which they operate," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told a gathering of journalists in April 2007. "The First Amendment provides no right of access to the battlefield -- zero, none." Whitman's assertion has never been tested in court, and legal opinions vary.

The public affairs department has even arranged to fly friendly bloggers to Iraq and Afghanistan, according to documents made available through the Freedom of Information Act. The public affairs office decided who could take part in special "Blogger Roundtables" with Pentagon officials in 2005, and transcripts show that those chosen were overwhelmingly pro-military and repeated the information they heard on their own Web sites without always revealing its source.

-AP ("Media, Pentagon Spar Over Control of Information," Associated Press, 2.6.2009. Image: -Sir Joe, "TV Dinner," Flickr, 2008).

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Revolution In The Art Of Democracy: To Tame The Bewildered Herd...

"Walter Lippmann, was the Dean of American journalists, a major foreign and domestic policy critic and a major theorist of liberal democracy. Lippmann was involved in propaganda commissions and recognized their achivements. He argued that what he called a "revolution in the art of democracy," could be used to"manufacture consent," that is, to bring about agreement on the part of the public for things that they didn't want by the new techniques of propaganda.

He also thought that this was a good idea, in fact necessary. It was necessary because, as he put it, "the common interests elude public opinion entirely" and can only be understood and managed by a specialized class of responsible men who are smart enough to figure things out. This theory asserts that only a small elite, the intellectual community that the Deweyites were talking about, can understand the common interests, what all of us care about, and that these things "elude the general public." This is a view that goes back hundreds of years. It's also a typical Leninist view. In fact, it has very close resemblance to the Leninist conception that a vanguard of revolutionary intellectuals take state power, using popular revolutions as the force that brings them to state power, and then drive the stupid masses towards a future that they're too dumb and incompetent to envision themselves.

The liberal democratic theory and Marxism-Leninism are very close in their common ideological assumptions. I think that's one reason why people have found it so easy over the years to drift from one position to another without any particular sense of change. It's just a matter of assessing where power is.

Maybe there will be a popular revolution, and that will put us into state power; or maybe there won't be, in which case we'll just work for the people with real power: the business community. But we'll do the same thing: We'll drive the stupid masses towards a world that they're too dumb to understand for themselves.

Lippmann backed this up by a pretty elaborated theory of progressive democracy. He argued that in a properly-functioning democracy there are classes of citizens. There is first of all the class of citizens who have to take some active role in running general affairs. That's the specialized class. They are the people who analyze, execute, make decisions, and run things in the political, economic, and ideological systems. That's a small percentage of the population. Naturally, anyone who puts these ideas forth is always part of that small group, and they're talking about what to do about those others. Those others, who are out of the small group, the big majority of the population, they are what Lippmann called "the bewildered herd." We have to protect ourselves from the trampling and rage of the bewildered herd. Now there are two functions in a democracy:

1. The specialized class, the responsible men, carry out the executive function, which means they do the thinking and planning and understand the common interests.

2. The bewildered herd, and they have a function in democracy too. Their function in a democracy is to be spectators, not participants in action.

But they have more of a function than that, because it's a democracy. Occasionally they are allowed to lend their weight to one or another member of the specialized class. In other words, they're allowed to say, "We want you to be our leader" or "We want you to be our leader." That's because it's a democracy and not a totalitarian state. That's called an election. But once they've lent their weight to one or another member of the specialized class they're supposed to sink back and become spectators of action, but not participants. That's a properly functioning democracy. And there's a logic behind it. There's even a kind of compelling moral principle behind it. The compelling moral principle is that the mass of the public is just too stupid to be able to understand things. If they try to participate in managing their own affairs, they're just going to cause trouble. Therefore it would be immoral and improper to permit them to do this.

We have to tame the bewildered herd, not allow the bewildered herd to rage and trample and destroy things. It's pretty much the same logic that says that it would be improper to let a three-year-old run across the street. You don't give a three-year-old that kind of freedom because the three-year-old doesn'tknow how to handle that freedom. Correspondingly, you don't allow the bewildered herd to become participants in action. They'll just cause trouble. So we need something to tame the bewildered herd, and that something is this new revolution in the art of democracy: the manufacture of consent.

The media, the schools,and popular culture have to be divided. For the political class and the decision maker shave to give them some tolerable sense of reality, although they also have to instill the proper beliefs. Just remember, there is an unstated premise here. The unstate premise --and even the responsible men have to disguise this from themselves-- has to do with the question of how they get into the position where they have the authority to make decisions. The way they do that, of course, is by serving people with real power. The people with real power are the ones who own the society, which is a pretty narrow group. If the specialized class can come along and say, I can serve your interests, then they'll be part of the executive group. You've got to keep that quiet. That means they have to have instilled in them the beliefs and doctrines that will serve the interests of private power. Unless they can master that skill, they're not part of the specialized class.

So we have one kind of educational system directed to responsible men, the specialized class. They have to be deeply indoctrinated in the values and interests of private power and the state-corporate nexus that represents it. If they can get through that, then they can be part of the specialized class. The rest of the bewildered herd just has to be basically distracted. Turn their attention to something else. Keep them out of trouble. Make sure that they remain at most spectators."

-Noam Chomsky, (Excerpt: "Media Control: The Role of Media in Contemporary Politics," New York, Seven Stories Press, 2002. Image: -Maxell Audio Cassette Advertisement, 1979).

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Holy Grail Of Victory: Death Will Be Our Darling & Fear Will Be Our Name...

The United States began its war in Afghanistan 88 months ago. "The war on terror" has no sunset clause. As a perpetual emotion machine, it offers to avenge what can never heal and to fix grief that is irreparable.

For the crimes against humanity committed on Sept. 11, 2001, countless others are to follow, with huge conceits about technological "sophistication" and moral superiority. But if we scrape away the concrete of media truisms, we may reach substrata where some poets have dug.

W.H. Auden: "Those to whom evil is done. Do evil in return."

Stanley Kunitz: "In a murderous time the heart breaks and breaks and lives by breaking."

And from 1965, when another faraway war got its jolt of righteous escalation from Washington's certainty, Richard Farina wrote:

"And death will be our darling and fear will be our name."

Then as now came the lessons that taught with unfathomable violence once and for all that unauthorized violence must be crushed by superior violence.

The U.S. war effort in Afghanistan owes itself to the enduring "war on terrorism," chasing a holy grail of victory that can never be. Early into the second year of the Afghanistan war, in November 2002, a retired U.S. Army general, William Odom, appeared on C-SPAN's "Washington Journal" program and told viewers:

"Terrorism is not an enemy. It cannot be defeated. It's a tactic. It's about as sensible to say we declare war on night attacks and expect we're going to win that war. We're not going to win the war on terrorism."

But the "war on terrorism" rubric -- increasingly shortened to the even vaguer "war on terror" -- kept holding enormous promise for a warfare state of mind. Early on, the writer Joan Didion saw the blotting of the horizon and said so:

"We had seen, most importantly, the insistent use of Sept. 11 to justify the reconception of America's correct role in the world as one of initiating and waging virtually perpetual war."

There, in one sentence, an essayist and novelist had captured the essence of a historical moment that vast numbers of journalists had refused to recognize -- or, at least, had refused to publicly acknowledge. Didion put to shame the array of self-important and widely lauded journalists at the likes of the New York Times, the Washington Post, PBS and National Public Radio.

The new U.S. "war on terror" was rhetorically bent on dismissing the concept of peacetime as a fatuous mirage.

Now, in early 2009, we're entering what could be called Endless War 2.0, while the new president's escalation of warfare in Afghanistan makes the rounds of the media trade shows, preening the newest applications of technological might and domestic political acquiescence. And now, although repression of open debate has greatly dissipated since the first months after 9/11, the narrow range of political discourse on Afghanistan is essential to the Obama administration's reported plan to double U.S. troop deployments in that country within a year.

"This war, if it proliferates over the next decade, could prove worse in one respect than any conflict we have yet experienced," Norman Mailer wrote in his book "Why Are We at War?" six years ago:

"It is that we will never know just what we are fighting for. It is not enough to say we are against terrorism. Of course we are. In America, who is not? But terrorism compared to more conventional kinds of war is formless, and it is hard to feel righteous when in combat with a void..."

Anticipating futility and destruction that would be enormous and endless, Norman Mailer told an interviewer in late 2002:

"This war is so unbalanced in so many ways, so much power on one side, so much true hatred on the other, so much technology for us, so much potential terrorism on the other, that the damages cannot be estimated. It is bad to enter a war that offers no clear avenue to conclusion. ... There will always be someone left to act as a terrorist."

And there will always be plenty of rationales for continuing to send out the patrols and launch the missiles and drop the bombs in Afghanistan, just as there have been in Iraq, just has there were in Vietnam and Laos. Those countries, with very different histories, had the misfortune to share a singular enemy, the most powerful military force on the planet.

It may be profoundly true that we are not red states and blue states, that we are the United States of America -- but what that really means is still very much up for grabs. Even the greatest rhetoric is just that. And while the clock ticks, the deployment orders are going through channels.

Now, on Capitol Hill and at the White House, convenience masquerades as realism about "the war on terror." Too big to fail. A beast too awesome and immortal not to feed. And death will be our darling. And fear will be our name.

-Norman Solomon,("Why Are We Still At War?,"Common Dreams, 2.3.2009. Image: -Jaqian, "Lost Holy Grail," Street sign found on telephone pole, Flickr, 2007).

Monday, February 2, 2009

Inverted Totalitarianism: A Dying Empire & The Absurdity Of Dreams...

"The daily bleeding of thousands of jobs will soon turn our economic crisis into a political crisis. The street protests, strikes and riots that have rattled France, Turkey, Greece, Ukraine, Russia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria and Iceland will descend on us. It is only a matter of time. And not much time. When things start to go sour, when Barack Obama is exposed as a mortal waving a sword at a tidal wave, the United States could plunge into a long period of precarious social instability.

At no period in American history has our democracy been in such peril or has the possibility of totalitarianism been as real. Our way of life is over. Our profligate consumption is finished. Our children will never have the standard of living we had. And poverty and despair will sweep across the landscape like a plague. This is the bleak future. There is nothing President Obama can do to stop it. It has been decades in the making. It cannot be undone with a trillion or two trillion dollars in bailout money. Our empire is dying. Our economy has collapsed.

How will we cope with our decline? Will we cling to the absurd dreams of a superpower and a glorious tomorrow or will we responsibly face our stark new limitations? Will we heed those who are sober and rational, those who speak of a new simplicity and humility, or will we follow the demagogues and charlatans who rise up out of the slime in moments of crisis to offer fantastic visions? Will we radically transform our system to one that protects the ordinary citizen and fosters the common good, that defies the corporate state, or will we employ the brutality and technology of our internal security and surveillance apparatus to crush all dissent? We won’t have to wait long to find out.

There are a few isolated individuals who saw it coming. The political philosophers Sheldon S. Wolin, John Ralston Saul and Andrew Bacevich, as well as writers such as Noam Chomsky, Chalmers Johnson, David Korten and Naomi Klein, along with activists such as Bill McKibben and Ralph Nader, rang the alarm bells. They were largely ignored or ridiculed. Our corporate media and corporate universities proved, when we needed them most, intellectually and morally useless.

Wolin, who taught political philosophy at the University of California in Berkeley and at Princeton, in his book “Democracy Incorporated” uses the phrase "inverted totalitarianism" to describe our system of power. "Inverted totalitarianism, unlike classical totalitarianism, does not revolve around a demagogue or charismatic leader. It finds its expression in the anonymity of the corporate state. It purports to cherish democracy, patriotism and the Constitution while cynically manipulating internal levers to subvert and thwart democratic institutions. Political candidates are elected in popular votes by citizens, but they must raise staggering amounts of corporate funds to compete. They are beholden to armies of corporate lobbyists in Washington or state capitals who write the legislation. A corporate media controls nearly everything we read, watch or hear and imposes a bland uniformity of opinion or diverts us with trivia and celebrity gossip. In classical totalitarian regimes, such as Nazi fascism or Soviet communism, economics was subordinate to politics. “Under inverted totalitarianism the reverse is true,” Wolin writes.

“Economics dominates politics—and with that domination comes different forms of ruthlessness.”

“The basic systems are going to stay in place; they are too powerful to be challenged,” Wolin told me when I asked him about the new Obama administration. “This is shown by the financial bailout. It does not bother with the structure at all. I don’t think Obama can take on the kind of military establishment we have developed. This is not to say that I do not admire him. He is probably the most intelligent president we have had in decades. I think he is well meaning, but he inherits a system of constraints that make it very difficult to take on these major power configurations. I do not think he has the appetite for it in any ideological sense. The corporate structure is not going to be challenged. There has not been a word from him that would suggest an attempt to rethink the American imperium.”

Wolin argues that a failure to dismantle our vast and overextended imperial projects, coupled with the economic collapse, is likely to result in "inverted totalitarianism." He said that without “radical and drastic remedies” the response to mounting discontent and social unrest will probably lead to greater state control and repression.

He said the widespread political passivity is dangerous. It is often exploited by demagogues who pose as saviors and offer dreams of glory and salvation. He warned thatthe apoliticalness, even anti-politicalness, will be very powerful elements in taking us towards a radically dictatorial direction. It testifies to how thin the commitment to democracy is in the present circumstances. Democracy is not ascendant. It is not dominant. It is beleaguered. The extent to which young people have been drawn away from public concerns and given this extraordinary range of diversions makes it very likely they could then rally to a demagogue.”

Wolin lamented that the corporate state has successfully blocked any real debate about alternative forms of power. Corporations determine who gets heard and who does not, he said. And those who critique corporate power are given no place in the national dialogue.
“In the 1930s there were all kinds of alternative understandings, from socialism to more extensive governmental involvement, There was a range of different approaches. But what I am struck by now is the narrow range within which palliatives are being modeled. We are supposed to work with the financial system. So the people who helped create this system are put in charge of the solution. There has to be some major effort to think outside the box.”

“The puzzle to me is the lack of social unrest,” Wolin said when I asked why we have not yet seen rioting or protests. He said he worried that popular protests will be dismissed and ignored by the corporate media. This, he said, is what happened when tens of thousands protested the war in Iraq. This will permit the state to ruthlessly suppress local protests, as happened during the Democratic and Republic conventions. Anti-war protests in the 1960s gained momentum from their ability to spread across the country, he noted. This, he said, may not happen this time.
“The ways they can isolate protests and prevent it from [becoming] a contagion are formidable."

“My greatest fear is that the Obama administration will achieve relatively little in terms of structural change,” he added. “They may at best keep the system going. But there is a growing pessimism. Every day we hear how much longer the recession will continue. They are already talking about beyond next year. The economic difficulties are more profound than we had guessed and because of globalization more difficult to deal with. I wish the political establishment, the parties and leadership, would become more aware of the depths of the problem. They can’t keep throwing money at this. They have to begin structural changes that involve a very different approach from a market economy.

I don’t think this will happen. I keep asking why and how and when this country became so conservative? This country once prided itself on its experimentation and flexibility. It has become rigid. It is probably the most conservative of all the advanced countries.”

"The American left has crumbled. It sold out to a bankrupt Democratic Party, abandoned the working class and has no ability to organize. Unions are a spent force. The universities are mills for corporate employees. The press churns out info-entertainment or fatuous pundits. The left, he said, no longer has the capacity to be a counterweight to the corporate state. He said that if an extreme right gains momentum there will probably be very little organized resistance. The left is amorphous. I despair over the left. Left parties may be small in number in Europe but they are a coherent organization that keeps going. Here, except for Nader’s efforts, we don’t have that. We have a few voices here, a magazine there, and that’s about it. It goes nowhere.”

-Chris Hedges, ( Excerpt: "It's Not Going To Be OK,", 2.2.09. Image: - James E. Westcott, Official U.S. Photographer for the Manhattan Project. Control panels and female operators for calutrons at the Y-12 Nuclear Plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. During the Manhattan Project, the female operators worked in shifts covering 24 hours a day. Gladys Owens, the woman seated at right closest to the camera, was unaware of the purpose and consequence of her work until seeing the photo of herself while taking a public tour of the facility nearly 60 years later, American Museum Of Science & Energy, 1940s ).