Thursday, June 28, 2012

Are Americans Really This Stupid?

Using two web sites, ballotpedia and the official U.S. house web site, I looked at the primary election results for a handful of states - just the U.S. House. It made me sick.

Alabama - 7 districts - 7 incumbents won
California 53 districts - 44 incumbents won
Illinois 18 districts - 14 incumbents won
Indiana - 9 district - 6 incumbents won
Iowa - five districts - 4 incumbents won
Mississippi - 4 districts - 4 incumbents won
North Carolina - 13 districts - 10 incumbents won
Ohio - 18 districts - 15 incumbents won
Pennsylvania - 19 districts - 16 incumbents won
South Carolina - 7 districts - 6 incumbents won
Texas - 36 districts - 30 incumbents won
Virginia 11 districts - 11 incumbents won

Some seats were uncontested, either party, so the incumbent will walk right back in come November. New districts were created as a result of the 2010 census based on counting illegal aliens; those seats are up for grabs. Some incumbents are retiring, which you and I will pay for until they leave this earth in retirement and benefits.

The American people in those states are so happy with the destruction of their rights and the fleecing of their wallets by their incumbents, collectively they're going to send back 167 of the same crooks, cowards and incompetent jackals to finish us off. There is still a pretend election in November where Republican incumbents will square off against a Democrat who won the primary on their party ticket; the same applies just the opposite.

However, with the average return of incumbents to the Outlaw Congress being 96%, most of those 167 primary winners will win. There are 435 U.S. House seats. With many more primaries to go, those numbers will increase by the hundreds.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Asperity, Austerity, and Control: Huxley, Orwell, and 1984

Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death begins with a TV-style teaser. He was invited to speak at the 1984 Frankfurt Book Fair, whose theme was Orwell's “1984.” He argued that Orwell had gotten it all wrong by predicting a small group seizing power and imposing its will on the rest in a conspiratorial replica of fascist/Stalinist methods. Instead, he argued that the real prophet had been Aldous Huxley, whose Brave New World had people sedating themselves into oblivion. That, he felt, was how the future had unfolded in the thirty-five years since 1984, and the drug, the Soma that the free world embraced in lieu of thought, was television. Neil Postman's book has a great many interesting observations and provocative statements, but his headline was as commercial and undeveloped as anything he would discuss in media.

Let us start with 1984 and dismiss some canards. First, the book was not a prophecy any more than Animal Farm was a story about animals. Reverse the last two numbers, and “1984” becomes “1948,” the time of Austerity. The BBC had already been nicknamed “Big Brother” by Eric Blair/George Orwell when he was working for it during the war, primarily for its paternal, familial comfort. Its cooperation with wartime intelligence and the government in general made Blair see its omnipresence in a dualistic light, as both friend and overseer. In other words, big brother BBC had become a necessary and willing daily adjunct for the people because of its news and entertainment, and then, later, as its ability to condense and control information had become clear (when things were not true until on the BBC), it had been co-opted by government. What Blair saw was the way that an accidentally and exigently, even demotically, assembled network could become indispensable and, once trusted, once indispensable, become an entertaining Pravda.

Postman would argue that commercial television gets a pass into the home for entertainment and then, by its ability to trivialize, flatten, and control, and its desperation to entertain in order to keep its welcome, becomes a medium of denial and repression. In short, Postman's critique of television is the same as Orwell's “Big Brother,” except that Orwell seemingly never discussed the pleasures of Big Brother, and television in the United States was decentralized. These differences are somewhat illusory, however. The BBC war service had been put together from voices of opposition and ministry, with a tumult that ended up becoming Babel-like and then calmly paternal (or avuncular), while American broadcasting's putative competition maintained the tumult but competed away the innovations and experiments, resulting in a uniformly 'safe' product that Postman would regard as reductive.

What sets 1984 off from other dystopian works is its economic criticism and analysis. The characters in that world are always hungry, always looking for material goods. This is because their nation is always and eternally on a “war footing.” In the real world, Blair did not need to say that the government was always paying down debt before investing in growth. The difference between 1948 and 1984 was that one kept using the debt of the war to rationalize public harm, and the other merely literalized that into a perpetual war economy. This keeps Orwell's novel a generalized economic and political diagnosis rather than a satire.

In 1948, not only was there rubble in the streets, but the economy was shattered, and the nation was paying off all the generous lend-lease. Taxes were high, expenditures low, and the message on the BBC was that wartime food rationing would have to continue – that nylon, meat, steel, rubber, and all sorts of things would have to be carefully controlled for the common good. The wealthy, curiously, seemed to remain wealthy. (Orwell wrote in his war diary that rationing meant the selling of zoo animals, but, meanwhile, two thousand race horses were being kept just fine and eating as much per day as a division of men apiece.) Politicians, however, boasted of the progress they were making, whenever they sought re-election. Blair saw beneath this situation a possible reconfiguration of capitalism and state power. He saw how the authority of the state could use emergency to perpetuate control, how it could lavish money on militarism and starve the people, so long as there was always an existential threat. He saw a new fascism that had nothing to do with capitalism or socialism. Instead of “Hail, war!” his new group would say, “Hail war state, regardless.” He saw The Writings of Immanuel Goldstein.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The 23 Biggest 9/11 Coincidences

September 11, 2001 was unquestionably a tragic day for America and the world. While the 3,000-plus deaths on American soil elicited support and tears from around the world, now many international citizens resent or even despise the country that ratcheted up the War on Terror.

But for many in the country, and a staggering number of foreign citizens, the truth about what really took place on September 11, 2001 remains under relentless scrutiny and doubt. The mainstream media and politicians love to pass these claims off as "conspiracy theories" (the threat of being a social outcast can get the best of us), but the facts tell a much different story.

Here are just some of the major coincidences surrounding 9/11.


Thursday, June 21, 2012

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Is This Still America? 40 Years of Growing Surveillance

The Watergate legacy of disabling opponents by wiretaps and other suspensions of the Bill of Rights has since been protected by the current administration in federal court. The attorney general, Eric Holder, opposed a history professor's attempt to secure records about the wiretap that cost Nixon his presidency.

But ceaseless advances in government privacy-invading technology have made the Nixon-era suspensions of individual constitutional liberties appear amateurish.

For an example that far exceeds the once-fearsome vision of George Orwell's 1984, the National Security Agency — with the support of President Obama, who was elected in part for pledging the most transparent administration in American history — is erecting a data tracking center in Bluffdale, Utah, that as of September 2013 will be storing and distributing to other intelligence agencies "all forms of communications, including the contents of private emails, cellphone calls and Google searches, as well as personal data trails — parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases." (Including, I'm sure, e-books, to be up to date.) In view of the Obama administration's strange definition of its transparency, I give you my source: James Bamford, a historian who, more successfully than any investigative reporter, has become familiar with the inner workings of the N.S.A.

It was Senator Frank Church of Idaho who, investigating the state of our privacy in 1975, warned that as the N.S.A. kept evolving without accountability, for Americans "there would be no place to hide."

Meanwhile, the F.B.I.'s domestic surveillance powers allow it to open a warrantless "threat assessment" against any American or organization without going to court and without any articulable evidence of imminent or actual criminal behavior.

Turning America into a society under surveillance was never remotely conceived by the Founders, however conflicted they sometimes were. Nor does it seem likely that our resemblance to Iran in this context will be an issue of any consequence in the 2012 elections. The incumbent is, of course, immovable in his definition of national security as it frees him from fealty to the Constitution. Mitt Romney has so far not given any indication that he is in the least troubled by the National Security Agency. And most of the rest of us are concerned with our survival in this perilous economy.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Rand Paul’s Oedipal Drama

Every time Rand Paul opens his mouth, he seems to put both feet and a couple of other appendages in it. There was that unfortunate interview with Rachel Maddow, there was the “couldn’t get any gayer” quip – and now this.

In an alternately opaque and all-too-revealing interview with the Daily Paul web site, in which he tried to explain why he endorsed Mitt Romney, Sen. Paul actually said “It doesn’t mean anything.” I’m sure the Romney campaign will be quite glad to hear that.

However, a few minutes later he was infusing the endorsement with historic significance, telling his no doubt baffled and increasingly skeptical listeners it would open all kinds of doors for the “liberty movement,” among them the promise that “we are going to have a big influence over what happens with the platform.” Citing a laundry list of his own personal legislative goals – legalizing hemp, ending mandatory minimums for nonviolent crimes, auditing the Fed – he declared “we need to look beyond politics.”

To those Ron Paulians still fighting in the trenches – in Iowa, for example, where they won a hard-fought victory, or in Louisiana, where the Romneyites called the cops and shut down the delegate-selection process – hearing this must be absolutely infuriating. While the establishment Republican leadership is using every dirty trick in the book – and a few new ones – to stop Ron Paul’s duly-elected delegates from being seated, their candidate’s son is going over to the enemy!

Psychoanalysts of the Freudian school are sure to have fun with this case – a classic Oedipal conflict, as only a high dramatist like Freud might have imagined it, acted out on the public stage. All that’s missing is the Greek chorus.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Endorsing Evil Is Politics as Usual

Last Wednesday, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky endorsed Mitt Romney for president of the United States and followed up a day later by saying he would be “honored” to be Romney’s choice for vice president. Paul pledged his support after having a discussion with Romney in which the latter outlined some of his positions that were of particular concern. According to Paul, Romney supported “reforming the Federal Reserve, limiting regulations, and opposing the Stop Online Privacy Act,” adding that “there is a lot of kinship between us on those issues.”

Regarding Mitt’s foreign policy views, Rand Paul told Sean Hannity that “[we] had a very good and I think honest discussion about a lot of these things; and I came away from it feeling he would be a very responsible commander in chief, I don’t think he’ll be reckless, I don’t think he’ll be rash, and I think that he realizes and believes as I do that war is a last resort and something we don’t rush willy-nilly into, and I came away feeling that he’ll have [a] mature attitude and beliefs toward foreign policy.”

Basically, Rand Paul came away with nothing in exchange for providing Mitt Romney with some modicum of acceptability and respectability vis-à-vis the millions of Paulistas and tea partyers who support him and his father. Mitt does not want to audit the Fed but would indeed limit government regulation as it relates to himself and his predatory capitalist friends. He might or might not oppose SOPA, but freedom of the Internet is not a core issue for him and might, in fact, be something he opposes for copyright protection, i.e., corporate money, reasons. And Rand is dead wrong about Mitt the commander in chief. It is generally accepted that Mitt’s foreign policy will be a repeat of George W. Bush’s, except maybe even worse. In exchange for a pocketful of mumbles for Rand, Mitt Romney has successfully marginalized Ron Paul supporters, who are now under orders not to try to disrupt the Republican Convention in Tampa in August.

It is already being argued that Rand Paul’s bowing to the Republican establishment by endorsing Romney should have been anticipated and is essentially a political calculation: if one wishes to reform the beast, it is only possible to do so by remaining inside and apparently loyal. No Republican luminary will now be able to claim that Paul is anything but a true blue (or red) supporter of the party. The example of Pat Buchanan is cited to demonstrate that leaving the party means abandoning the debate to others who couldn’t care less about the principles at stake.

But I don’t see it that way. Rand Paul will be mistrusted by the Republican oligarchs whether or not he endorses Romney. More important, as we are really talking about Ron Paul and his legacy, the issue is not how well one plays the political game. Ron Paul was as close to an honest politician as is possible to find on Capitol Hill. He was guided by principle and never wavered, which is precisely why he created a high level of rock star–style enthusiasm among his supporters. He called for radical changes in how we do business as a nation and demanded a return to both constitutionalism and rule of law as well as a restoration of national integrity. Rand instead is trimming his message, or even ignoring what he claims to believe in, because he and his advisers have made a political calculation regarding what has to be done to remain viable. These overpaid advisers, who are drifting over from his father’s poorly run campaign, apparently think far too much about political strategies and think far too little about what is wrong with this country.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

America’s Street Priest

The Rev. Daniel Berrigan, undaunted at 92 and full of the fire that makes him one of this nation’s most courageous voices for justice, stands in New York City’s Zuccotti Park. He is there, along with other clergy, to ask Trinity Church, which is the third-largest landowner in Manhattan, to drop charges against Occupy activists, including retired Episcopal Bishop George Packard, for occupying its empty lot on 6th Avenue and Canal Street on Dec. 17. The protesters, slated to go to court Monday, June 11, hoped to establish a new Liberty Square on the lot after being evicted by New York City police from Zuccotti in November. But Trinity had the demonstrators arrested. It chose to act like a real estate company, or the corporation it has become, rather than a church. And its steadfast refusal to drop the charges means that many of those arrested, including Packard, could spend as long as three months in jail.

“This is the only way to bring faith to the public and the public to the faith,” Berrigan said softly as we spoke before the demonstration in the park that was once the epicenter of Occupy Wall Street. “If faith does not touch the lives of others it has no point. Faith always starts with oneself. It means an overriding sense of responsibility for the universe, making sure that universe is left in good hands and the belief that things will finally turn out right if we remain faithful. But I underscore the word ‘faithful.’ This faith was embodied in the Occupy movement from the first day. The official churches remained slow. It is up to us to take the initiative and hope the churches catch up.”

There is one place, Berrigan says, where those who care about justice need to be—in the streets. The folly of electoral politics, the colossal waste of energy invested in the charade of the Wisconsin recall, which once again funneled hopes and passion back into a dead political system and a bankrupt Democratic Party, the failure by large numbers of citizens to carry out mass acts of civil disobedience, will only ensure that we remain hostages to corporate power.

Berrigan believes, as did Martin Luther King, that “the evils of capitalism are as real as the evils of militarism and the evils of racism.” And he has dedicated his life to fighting these evils. It is a life worth emulating.

Berrigan, a Jesuit priest, was ordained 70 years ago. He was a professor at Le Moyne College, Cornel University and Fordham University. His book of poems, “Time Without Number,” won the Lamont Poetry Prize. But it is as a religious radical that he gained national prominence, as well as numerous enemies within the Roman Catholic hierarchy. He and his brother Philip Berrigan, a Josephite priest and World War II combat veteran, along with the Trappist monk Thomas Merton, led some of the first protests against the Vietnam War. In 1967 Philip Berrigan was arrested for nonviolent civil disobedience and was sentenced to six years in prison. Philip’s sentence spurred Daniel to greater activism. He traveled to Hanoi with the historian Howard Zinn to bring back three American prisoners of war. And then he and eight other Catholic priests concocted homemade napalm and on May 17, 1968, used it to burn 378 draft files in the parking lot of the Catonsville, Md., draft board.

Friday, June 8, 2012

America is a Battlefield

The recently passed National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) empowers the President to detain "terror suspects" indefinitely, without benefit of a court of law, and without even making this lawless act public. This is the very definition of tyranny, and if allowed to stand would indeed murder what is left of our old republic in its sickbed.

That the vision of the Founders has not yet permanently faded is reflected in the decision of Judge Katherine Forest to declare the law unconstitutional: that the enemies of liberty are tireless is underscored by the Obama administration’s contention that the judge’s decision only means they won’t be able to detain the individuals who brought the lawsuit. So Daniel Ellsberg and Noam Chomsky are safe: the rest of us, not so much..,.

The "Homeland battlefield" portions of the NDAA, which have been struck down by the court, are not specifically aimed at members of Al Qaeda, or allied groups, and this lack of specificity is what drove the judge’s decision. Government lawyers argue that the President, in his role as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, must be free to act on the battlefield "in wartime" – and that, in our eternal "war on terrorism," America is a battlefield.

It’s an argument with some interesting implications. Given that perpetual warfare is the animating principle of American foreign policy in the post-9/11 era, no special circumstances are required before President Obama sends the Koch brothers off to Guantanamo.

Like the Bush administration before it – whose top security officials issued a letter before the judge’s decision, arguing that to strike down the "homeland battlefield" provisions would be "unconstitutional" – this liberal White House is committed to the legal doctrine of presidential supremacism, which argues that the chief executive’s role as commander-in-chief trumps all constitutional checks and balances, including the Bill of Rights.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Collapse At Hand

Ever since the beginning of the financial crisis and quantitative easing, the question has been before us: How can the Federal Reserve maintain zero interest rates for banks and negative real interest rates for savers and bond holders when the US government is adding $1.5 trillion to the national debt every year via its budget deficits? Not long ago the Fed announced that it was going to continue this policy for another 2 or 3 years. Indeed, the Fed is locked into the policy. Without the artificially low interest rates, the debt service on the national debt would be so large that it would raise questions about the US Treasury’s credit rating and the viability of the dollar, and the trillions of dollars in Interest Rate Swaps and other derivatives would come unglued.

In other words, financial deregulation leading to Wall Street’s gambles, the US government’s decision to bail out the banks and to keep them afloat, and the Federal Reserve’s zero interest rate policy have put the economic future of the US and its currency in an untenable and dangerous position. It will not be possible to continue to flood the bond markets with $1.5 trillion in new issues each year when the interest rate on the bonds is less than the rate of inflation. Everyone who purchases a Treasury bond is purchasing a depreciating asset. Moreover, the capital risk of investing in Treasuries is very high. The low interest rate means that the price paid for the bond is very high. A rise in interest rates, which must come sooner or later, will collapse the price of the bonds and inflict capital losses on bond holders, both domestic and foreign.

The question is: when is sooner or later? The purpose of this article is to examine that question.

Let us begin by answering the question: how has such an untenable policy managed to last this long?

A number of factors are contributing to the stability of the dollar and the bond market. A very important factor is the situation in Europe. There are real problems there as well, and the financial press keeps our focus on Greece, Europe, and the euro. Will Greece exit the European Union or be kicked out? Will the sovereign debt problem spread to Spain, Italy, and essentially everywhere except for Germany and the Netherlands?

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Monday, June 4, 2012

POLICE STATE USA: The Paranoid Style of American Governance

The following pieces of legislation, programs, and actions--by no means exhaustive--illustrate the unfortunate yet steady advance in the paranoid style of American governance that especially since 2001 has placed both the subject and all who come in to contact with it at risk of serious injury or death.

Executive Order 12148, 1979

Created the Federal Emergency Management Agency that is to interface with the Department of Defense for civil defense planning and funding. Bulk of FEMA funding utilized for construction of secret underground facilities to assure continuity of government in case of a major emergency, foreign or domestic.

Executive Order Number 12656, 1988

Appointed National Security Council as principal body to consider emergency powers. Allows government to increase domestic intelligence and surveillance of U.S. citizens and would restrict the freedom of movement within the United States and grant the government the right to isolate large groups of civilians.

Omnibus Counterterrorism Act of 1995

Allows US government to use evidence from secret sources in deportation proceedings for aliens suspected of terrorist involvement. Deportee would not have right to face accusers. Makes an individual liable for contributing to an organization deemed by US President to be involved in terrorism, even if donation was for a non-terrorist activity.

Model States Emergency Health Powers Act, 2001

Calls for giving state public health officials broad, new police powers for controlling epidemics of infectious diseases during public health emergencies. Defines "infectious disease" as "a disease caused by a living organism." Forces individuals suspected of harboring an "infectious disease" to undergo medical examinations, be vaccinated, treated, or quarantined for infectious diseases.