June 02, 2012

Saturday Morning Essay: A Presidential Misstatement, Or More Truth Is Said In Error

Brought to you by Trader Joe's Dark Roast...

"Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?"  - John "Bluto" Blutarsky, in the course of a rousing speech to his frat brothers in "Animal House" (1978).

"Obama on Tuesday used the expression "a Polish death camp" while honoring a Polish World War II resistance hero rather than wording that would have made clear that he meant a death camp that Nazi Germany operated on Polish soil during its wartime occupation of Poland."  AP, May 30.

Well, sure.  Obama blew it, and without the galvanizing effect of John Blutarsky, who also erred but, as Otter said to a frat brother who sought to correct Bluto, "he's rolling."  President Obama is the first president than whom I am older.  I think I've got that grammar right.  I am about 1/2 generation ahead of the O Man, reckoning as we used to that a generation is 25 years or so. (Among younger Americans of my demographic, I think a generation is currently never.)  Obama is a full-scale member of the TV generation, that first cohort in American history who grew up, in an undiluted way, under the influence of the tube.  My generation was about 50/50.  We watched TV, but we also got a lot of information from reading material.  If Jerry Mander was right in Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television (he was, of course), you don't really absorb information you consume by way of video images in the same way you do with the linear process of reading.  This is probably why many Americans, perhaps a majority, cannot find the United States on a map of North America.  It just never sunk in.

Early in his presidential tenure, Mr. Obama sought to alleviate the embarrassment of an Austrian struggling with English at a conference by saying that he (Mr. Obama) "did not speak Austrian, either."  This was gracious, if somewhat imbecilic.  Compared to this gaffe, the Polish death camp faux pas is minor league.  And in any case, the death camps (Auschwitz, Treblinka, several others) were in fact located in Poland, so the statement is not exactly incorrect.  One might wonder, indeed, why the Polish President Komorowski is so damn sensitive to a "misinterpretation" of what Mr. Obama said, when it's so obvious what Obama meant. 

Especially when you consider that Mr. Obama had taken time out from a busy day of largely ceremonial exercises in statecraft to give a posthumous Medal of Freedom to Jan Karski, a Polish (and Catholic) resistance fighter who allowed himself to be captured by the Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto so he could be sent to a Polish, er, Nazi death camp and report on what he observed.  Somehow he managed to get out of the camp and brought news back to the West about Jewish extermination, er, Nazi extermination of Jews in Auschwitz, Treblinka and elsewhere.  When the news reached FDR, Roosevelt realized that the Germans had succeeded where FDR's quotas on Jewish participation in the professions in New York had failed, and he did nothing about Karski's revelations.

Still, it's never too late to do the right thing, so someone told Obama that it would be a good idea, if we want continued Polish cooperation with missile defense against Russia, er, Iran, to recognize the magnificent futility of Jan Karski's heroism in risking his life against unimaginable odds to get the news to an anti-Semitic, anti-American-Japanese, anti-everybody-except-East-Coast-WASPS President. 

It was all perfect until Mr. Obama called them "Polish death camps," and then the Polish front office got nervous and touchy again, because while it's true that Poland was a "logical" place for the Nazis to set up their death factories (3.3 million Jews lived in Poland before the war, Poland was away from Eastern and Western Fronts, Poland had a functioning rail network, et cetera), logistics weren't the only consideration.  It helps to have a sympathetic local population for such a barbarous undertaking. Couldn't that be true as well?  Does a wild Polish Pope shit in the woods?

May 30, 2012

Thanks, Doc, for all the pickin'

With Doc Watson in the house, who needed a fiddler?  His flowing style reminded me of fast-moving water headed down a rocky stream bed.


May 29, 2012

The Mad Tin Foil Hatter, 2

What do the following Congressional, Executive and Judicial actions have in common?

1.  The George Bush/Henry Paulson TARP bailout of Wall Street casinos.

2.  The specific legislative proscription of Medicare's ability to engage in bulk purchase discounts with America's pharmaceutical companies.

3.  The 2005 Bankruptcy reform act which protected credit card companies and banks against the previous unqualified right of individual citizens to declare bankruptcy when they became insolvent.

4.  The inability of students to discharge in bankruptcy loans taken on to finance their educations at America's overpriced colleges and universities.

5.  Agricultural subsidies paid out to monoculture Big Ag, particularly corn and soybean growers, and the "food pyramid" of the Department of Agriculture recommending a "balanced diet" designed to fatten and finally finish off America's vast hordes of grossly obese citizens.

6.  The 10 to one price discrepancy between American pharmaceuticals purchased in America and American drugs purchased just across the border in Canada, with the concomitant illegality of "re-importation" of American drugs into America because of "safety concerns."

7.  Wars of choice against various Muslim countries with no discernible connection to any threat to the United States.

8.  The Zero Interest Rate Policy (ZIRP) of the Federal Reserve, apparently now a permanent fixture of American finance, which makes it impossible for America's retired citizens to achieve any sort of reasonable return on life savings without gambling on a manipulated stock market.

9.  The Citizens United case handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court, guaranteeing continued corporate ownership of the electoral process.

10. Senator Dick Durbin's statement, in reference to the Senate:  "Frankly, the banks own this place."

Admittedly, #10 kind of dispels some of the mystery.  The overriding point is this:  the federal government does not exist, and does not function, for the general welfare of the American commoner any longer.  This conclusion was made perhaps most elegantly in Sheldon Wolin's book, Democracy, Inc., with its subtitled reference to "inverted totalitarianism."  Professor Wolin (Berkeley, Princeton), in using this description, was distinguishing the American form of tyranny from the Soviet system, where the state owned the means of production (socialist ownership of the economy) and from the Fascist system (derived, as Mussolini told us, from "fascia," meaning tissue) where private ownership of business exists, but the private economy is nevertheless under the effective control of the central state.

In America we've come up with something different.  Using the exigencies of globalism as a pretext and rationale for unfettered growth of monopolies and cartels in big business (we have to let our big companies compete on the world stage, after all, and many foreign multinational companies, as in China, are merely extensions of the central government), America's big multinationals and monopolies have achieved a power and dominance such that they effectively own the government.

Obviously, all of this is achieved through money and its corrupting influence on the political electoral process.  The rationale behind each of the nine federal enactments or decisions in the list above is that each serves the interests of Big Business, at the expense of the individual American citizen.  These federal actions are fully bipartisan.  Senator Joe Biden, for example, was one of the prime movers behind the Bankruptcy "Reform" Act; many financial companies use the corporate Reno of Delaware (Biden's home state) as their state of domicile, simply because of the favorable (read: lax) corporate environment provided.

Thus, I think the "conspiracy theories" that matter in American life are not complicated mysteries concerning how a TWA flight went down near Long Island, or whether Elvis is alive and working for the CIA.  They're right out in the open, and the "mechanism" of the conspiracy is very simple: a recognition of commonality of interest among America's big businesses and the federal government which serves them. 

The needs of Big Business are simple:  low tax rates; lax regulation; the absence of any effective criminal prosecution to rein in the excesses of the financial industry;  and, to the extent that money paid into the federal government (or, increasingly, "borrowed" from the Federal Reserve) is not wasted on senseless boondoggles like Social Security and Medicare, an "investment" in the military-industrial complex, which requires endless, meaningless wars in order to keep the populace frightened and the money flowing to the Pentagon and defense contractors.  Congress and the Executive Branch provide all of this and more.

It's instructive that Senator Russ Feingold, formerly a Democratic Senator from Wisconsin, prided himself on his ability to run campaigns financed almost entirely by contributions from individual supporters.  He was in many respects the conscience of the Senate, a legislator who actually sought to hold George W. Bush accountable, for example, for the many felonies committed by the Bush White House in its serial FISA violations (illegal wiretapping).  Feingold attracted the support, I believe, of precisely three other Senators for his censure motion.  It was not a popular move in that bank-owned institution, and it's certainly significant that Feingold was defeated in a recent election.  He didn't play ball, and he paid the price.

May 28, 2012

Mad Tin Foil Hatter, Part One

As I recall from my law school days, a criminal conspiracy is essentially an agreement between two or more persons to commit a crime, accompanied by at least one "overt act" in furtherance of the plan.  Thus, for example, if Sluggo and Rico are knocking back the muscatel in an alley somewhere and realize, in an unclouded area of one of their brains, that they've run out of money, they might hatch a scheme to knock over the local 7-11 in order to refinance their operation and continue with their lifestyle, which consists of drinking muscatel in an alley and finding creative places to urinate where they won't be arrested.  Unlike lower mammalian forms, human life is not always ennobling.

The law school exam "issue" (which you're supposed to "spot") is that no crime has been committed yet. So far we just have two derelicts talking about robbing a convenience store, an activity protected by our precious (if fast disappearing) Freedom of Speech.  However, Sluggo, who is resourceful when an acute shortage of muscatel presents itself, remembers that his pal Yerzy has a .38 revolver which could help with the heist, and he and Rico stagger over to Yerzy's to borrow the gun.  They brag to Yerzy about their plan, in their incoherent, brain-damaged way, not realizing that Yerzy acquired the policeman's special .38 revolver from an actual policeman, on account Yerzy is a snitch on the payroll of the local fuzz.  As soon as Rico and Sluggo stagger off, Yerzy calls the cops.  They sweep in and make the bust as S & R approach the unwitting Pakistani behind the counter at the 7-11.

Question: has a crime been committed?  Well, yeah.  Sluggo and Rico don't actually have to rob the store to be guilty of a conspiracy to commit armed robbery, a felony.  There was an agreement and the overt act of borrowing a snitch's revolver to use in the scheme.  Sluggo and Rico cop to a year in the local pen, although Sluggo dies of the DTs while awaiting sentencing.

So much for the formal, legal meaning of conspiracy.

We live in a society that is now rife with conspiracy theories of a different kind.  Such theories tend to abound, I believe, when conditions of life become excessively complex and incomprehensible.  It becomes a great challenge, requiring prodigious exercises of the intellect, to discern any reason at all why things happen the way they do in modern American life.  As more and more power becomes concentrated in distant seats of government or non-governmental, financial authorities (Washington, D.C., the International Monetary Fund, the Federal Reserve), the individual citizen becomes simply a passive pawn in the digitized, hyper-reality of a confusing technocratic state, casting votes in a haphazard, more or less random way for either Republican or Democratic imagery.

Leading to questions such as: just what the hell is going on?  The esteemed Dimitry Orlov allowed himself a little conspiracy theory, subtly expressed, in one of his recent posts, where he was writing about "skyscraper theory" (the idea that skyscrapers tend to be built in increasing numbers just before financial crashes, citing a theorist who linked the two through interest rate analysis).  Dimitry had this to say about the demolition of skyscrapers:

The prospect of collapse is built right into the very concept of the skyscraper. The best case scenario of a controlled demolition requires explosive charges and electronic sensors to be placed in key areas all along its steel frame. The explosions must be triggered in a specific sequence, precise to the millisecond and dynamically adjusted by a computer so as to steer the accumulating avalanche of rubble into the footprint of the skyscraper's basement, to be excavated using heavy machinery once the entire mass stops burning and cools down. Without such precise and active control, things are guaranteed to go sideways because errors multiply rather than cancel. The idea that a skyscraper can collapse down into its own footprint by itself has been disproved by every generation of little children who played with stacking up blocks and knocking them down: the blocks don't land on top of each other in an neat little pile; they scatter all over the living room floor. The worst case scenario is that the entire structure will eventually start to lean a bit, then a bit more, and eventually topple, forming a trench forced with twisted steel. Where the skyscrapers are packed close together, as they are in the many “downtowns” where skyscrapers are to be found, there is a chance of a domino effect, with one skyscraper knocking down others in a chain reaction.

I think I see what he's getting at, and so do you.  This is one kind of "conspiracy theory," one that I personally do not place much credence in.  There were many eyewitnesses to the two airliners hitting the World Trade Center towers, were there not?  To accept this kind of conspiracy theory, you have to believe that there was considerable planning involving the 9/11 terrorists, who were allowed to hijack planes and fly them to lower Manhattan, and domestic authorities who rigged the towers to blow, killing many people including New York fire and police.  Thus, in this scenario the Arabs provided a false flag diversion, making it appear that the airplanes were the proximate cause of collapse, but their nefarious American co-conspirators didn't quite have the heart to rig the building to fall down haphazardly, risking an utter catastrophe, as Orlov describes.

Yeah, I know:  No Arab-piloted plane hit World Trade Building 7, and it fell down too.  Was a plane supposed to have hit it?  Nevertheless, is the example provided by "experiments" by children with blocks actually transferable to buildings made of structural steel where the upper floors (weakened by burning jet fuel and damaged directly by impact) pancake onto the floors below?  I'm not so sure about that at all.  The design flaw of the twin towers, according to the engineer who built them, was that the internal, horizontal members were light and susceptible to failure, compared especially to the heavy strength of the vertical elements.  This might explain the "controlled" nature of the collapse.

This kind of conspiracy theory highlights the difficulty of actually knowing anything about anything that happens outside the range of one's own percipient faculties.  One is left with the banal common sense of saying things such as, well, if a conspiracy had been involved, wouldn't someone have divulged something, anything by now about how it was carried out?  It would take so many people to plan it and put the scheme into operation.  This is no Sluggo & Rico caper.  By and large, I think such criticisms are valid, and I use this approach for Reality Navigation in my own life.

Without being 100% sure.  Yet I do think that most of American life is in fact now controlled by conspiracies of agreed interests, which operate on a different basis and for different purposes. More on that subsequently.