August 01, 2015
How to Tame a Prole

The excerpt below is from a 1961 book by the late John Schaar called Escape from Authority. Professor Schaar was an army buddy of mine at Ft. Bragg in the mid-1950s, before our rulers figured out that it would be easier to go to war if they didn’t draft Ph.Ds (or even college freshmen). James Carville once described the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as “two big cities with Alabama in between.” Jack Schaar was from the Alabama part, where you went to work on the farm when you got through with high school. He had heard, though, that you could go to college in California for free, so he stuck out his thumb and headed west.

That was before our rulers figured out that ambitious poor white trash could be kept in their place with crippling loans if you just did away with that free tuition thing. Risk-free loans, of course, backed by the suckers themselves in their role as tax payers. Loans that could never be discharged in bankruptcy the way they could if the suckers had only been corporation-people instead of just people-people.

Anyway, Jack was lucky enough to be able work his way through to a doctorate and become a hugely-admired professor of political science at Berkeley and U.C. Santa Cruz. And here he is, or was in 1961. It wasn’t yet clear that limitless consumption was just the first step in the taming of the proles. Properly managed, it would turn them into obedient debt slaves, voting for massa.

Under present conditions, co-management and workers’ participation would most probably mean only an acceleration of the present powerful tendencies toward materialism and what Fromm calls alienated consumption, for the workers have no conception of any moral or aesthetic order beyond the present one. What has to be recognized is that the workers have been all “corrupted,” tamed. And they have been tamed to the harness of meaningless work not by the stick of hunger but by the carrot of limitless consumption, by the vision of utopia offered by the ad-men and sold on the installment plan.

Only if this is kept in mind can one explain the astonishing fact that organized business and organized labor have combined to make productivity, profit, and “full” employment — that is, work in its inescapable modern meaninglessness — the dominant and almost the sole aim and function of the communities’ internal political life. The principal feature of our political life is the use of truly prodigious means for paltry ends. After all, the expenditure of a very small proportion (the Goodmans estimate 1/7) of our available resources of labor, time, money, and materials would provide all Americans with a very solid “subsistence.” The remainder goes for luxury and emulative consumption goods — as though we had already thought through to a solution the profound moral and political question of the relation between standard of living and quality of life.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 4:34 PM | Permalink & Email Post | Comments (1)
Class Warriors | Economics and Society | Education
July 27, 2015
HoldiNg the GoRe Aloft

From The Rude Pundit:

It’s long been apparent that the United States is now a death cult built around the worship of guns. The dead in each shooting, whether it’s gang-related in Los Angeles, accidental in Virginia, or mass shooting after mass shooting, are treated as a necessity in order for us to stay safe. How is Sandy Hook any different than the Aztecs stabbing a child to keep the city from destruction? How did that work out for them?

…If we continue to do nothing, we are all mentally ill and we are all extremists. We are just another bunch of Mayans, watching the high priest politicians cut out the hearts of the children in Newtown, the churchgoers in Charleston, the women in Lafayette, all to appease the malicious gods of the NRA, holding the gore aloft so all may see it, hoping that our sacrifices are deemed worthy, not realizing that the gods are illusions and that we’re just killing our way into oblivion.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 2:38 PM | Permalink & Email Post | Comments (4)
America is Doomed | Idiots | Weakening America
July 23, 2015
Grand Old Partypooper?

From the world’s smartest blogger, Professor Robert Paul Wolff at The Philosopher’s Stone. Go ahead, tell me why this isn’t a truly great idea:

I have, in the past, observed that Hillary Clinton is the smartest, most knowledgeable, most deeply experienced Republican currently running for the Presidency. I think she needs to announce her candidacy for the Republican nomination. She can explain that she has been deeply distressed by the partisan feuding between the Congress and the President that has brought the normal political processes to a standstill, and that she hopes, by offering herself as a Unity candidate on both party tickets, finally to bring the nation together again. Since she has already satisfied whatever legal requirements there are for formal candidacy for the presidency, she would be good to go for the Republican nomination immediately.

In light of her sky-high name recognition and the general ignorance and stupidity of the Republican base, she would almost certainly garner enough votes in the polling to qualify for the Republican debates. What is more, her policies are, or were at one time, mainstream Republican. Her domestic policies are a trifle to the right of those of Eisenhower and Nixon, and she is easily as Hawkish in foreign policy as Dole or Romney. Her dual candidacy would be a gift of great value to the bloviating Television commentariat, which is running out of faux astonishment and comic one-liners about Trump.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 1:49 PM | Permalink & Email Post | Comments (1)
Elections | Political Commentary | Presidential Hopefuls
July 21, 2015
Self or Country? That’s Too Easy

I clicked through Josh Marshall’s comment and read the article by Asher Schechter at Ha’aretz, which is both brilliant and troubling. As Josh recounts, Schechter’s premise is what seems on the surface to be a complete political defeat for Netanyahu; the decades he’s spent decrying the Iranian threat have failed to prevent an agreement that has Security Council backing after negotiations led by the US. He gave up the pretense of neutrality or at least even-handedness in dealing with the two major American political parties, siding openly with Republicans and creating splits in Democratic ranks, in his fight to stop a deal, yet a deal appears on the verge of happening despite all he can do.

In the process he has personally alienated the chief executive of Israel’s one reliable ally, which is however a temporary issue. Possibly more permanently (or at least longer term), he’s turned what has been essentially reflexive support in the Congress for whatever actions Israel’s government takes, accompanied if necessary by loud protestations on our part that we do not condone that which our support enables, into a partisan issue that splits both US parties in unfamiliar ways.


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Republicans and Democrats are split between pro-cat and pro-watermelon caucuses
[h/t Mick Tomlinson]


Schechter’s focus is on the gap between an apparent defeat and what he sees as an actual victory. He refers not merely to the simple fact that Netanyahu has managed once again to hold onto power at whatever cost to his own and his country’s international reputations. By far the greater triumph is the conversion of much of the Israeli body politic, and thus of its politicians, into believers in what Schechter calls “Bibiism — Netanyahu’s worldview, his stubborn rejectionism”. Practically the entire political spectrum in Israel, excepting only the Arab MKs, condemned the deal with Iran, many before they’d seen the final agreement, and most in the same terms Bibi has long relied on. The public, at least the voting public, has not switched from left- to right-wing parties so much as the entire spectrum has moved rightward, closer to Bibi’s views. Which means his hold on power remains strong.

Lest we fall into the trap of thinking that Netanyahu’s actions are directed toward achieving an ideological end, Schechter reminds us that:

Throughout his career, Netanyahu has never been an ideologue. Whether it was voting for Ariel Sharon’s unilateral disengagement from Gaza despite being vehemently against it, or altering his economic views to fit his political needs, Netanyahu has always preferred political survival above all else.

Binyamin Netanyahu is obviously an enormously talented politician and an even more egregiously cynical one. He and his inaccurately titled ambassador to the US have put together an appropriately cynical strategy for stoking fears in Israel while fomenting discord here, banking on the strength of the pro-Likud lobby here to minimize any possibility of real US action reifying policy disagreements. This strategy has kept Bibi in power and brought the political establishment of the entire spectrum into his camp.

Israelis were quick to denounce the deal, thereby affirming the impression that they would have rejected any deal, regardless of the terms.

So for those who, once again, are quick to eulogize Netanyahu — don’t. In the one true fight that matters to him — his own political survival — he won. He may look beaten, but these are only the flesh wounds of a man who made a big bet — not necessarily on his chances of thwarting the Iran deal, but on his ability to get the Israeli public, and through it the Israeli political system, on his side.

So far, it has worked beautifully. According to a poll published by Israeli newspaper Maariv this weekend, almost half of Israelis (47%) would support a unilateral Israeli strike on Iran. Netanyahu’s biggest rivals inadvertently channel him even when attacking him, thereby proving he was right all along, essentially postponing any possibility that he might be replaced.

This lack of discussion, of opposition, of dissent, is Netanyahu’s true victory. In Netanyahu’s Israel, there is only one way to react to a deal that the rest of the West greeted with at least some measure of cautious optimism: fear and paranoia. And when it comes to fear and paranoia, Netanyahu is equal to none.

Burning bridges with your country’s single major reliable ally to advance your personal political career, which you long ago conflated with the physical survival of the country you live in: this is an act of such breathtaking cynicism that it would be quite at home in Gibbon’s recounting of the dramas surrounding the Imperial succession that fascinated and occasionally wreaked havoc in Rome.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 1:43 AM | Permalink & Email Post | Comments (1)
World Affairs
July 20, 2015
Why The Left Loses

I am a fat, white, middle-aged man sitting on the couch. I’m wearing a baseball cap and watching sports. I pay attention to commercials. I’m not politically active, but I vote out of a vague sense of duty. I’m not a Republican or a Democrat and do not vote along party lines. I proudly say that I vote for the “best person.”

I’ve never left the United States because, as I always tell people, “there’s plenty to see right here.” I do not read for pleasure. I’m not clear on the difference between a Honduran and a Salvadoran or a Mexican. For that matter, I’m not one hundred percent on the difference between the Chinese and the Japanese. But it doesn’t matter, because such issues never, ever come up in my day-to-day life. Such knowledge is totally irrelevant to my work, and nobody in my social circle knows or cares about such things. They are as alien to our concerns as astrophysics or ballet.

I’m a moderate, but my views, such as they are, tend to lean center right. For example, I believe the United States needs to be tough on crime, tough on terrorism, and tough on illegal aliens. I think we need to stand up to Putin, Iran, and other enemies of democracy. I don’t like welfare handouts, but I’m okay with a social safety net because I’m basically a decent and generous person.

In my heart of hearts, I believe blacks are less intelligent than whites, and this is why they are continually behind everyone else, but I never admit this unless I’m with friends who I know feel the same way.

(On the other hand, I secretly fear that Asians are smarter than whites, maybe a LOT smarter. This is troublesome to me, but I dismiss it with the thought that they’re robotic and lack individuality. I console myself with the knowledge that intelligence isn’t everything.)

I am, in short, the big fat white American normal. I used to be called “the vital center” in American politics. I am the demographic that candidates try to win after they’ve secured their party’s nomination.

Lately. just lately, I’ve begun to sense something wrong with this country. I can’t put my finger on it, but I can feel in my bones that something way deep down is askew. It no longer feels like the country I grew up in. What is it?

So for the first time in my life I am paying closer attention to politics. I am listening with an open mind to candidates from both right and left that I normally wouldn’t give the time of day. This weekend I decided to give leftists like Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley a look, and what did I see?

I saw everything Rush Limbaugh says about the left. I saw every cliché about left wing activists all rolled up and bunched into a single, cringe-worthy episode that proves they are totally unfit to be taken seriously as a political force in America. I saw a screeching activist undermining her natural political allies for the sake of getting attention. I saw a spoiled child ruining it for everyone because nobody was giving her pet cause enough attention. Just as the views of people like Bernie Sanders were beginning to gain a little traction among people like me, I saw a fool, an arrant fool, deliberately cutting them off at the knees.

Meanwhile, Trump stuck to his guns. I don’t agree with a lot of what he says, but he has guts and he doesn’t back down. He talks straight. And funny as it sounds, he might be just the kind of person this country needs …

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Posted by OHollern at 5:54 PM | Permalink & Email Post | Comments (7)
July 17, 2015
Id Est

Sigmund Freud:

“It is the dark, inaccessible part of our personality, what little we know of it we have learned from our study of the Dreamwork and of the construction of neurotic symptoms, and most of that is of a negative character and can be described only as a contrast to the ego. We approach the id with analogies: we call it a chaos, a cauldron full of seething excitations ... It is filled with energy reaching it from the instincts, but it has no organization, produces no collective will, but only a striving to bring about the satisfaction of the instinctual needs subject to the observance of the pleasure principle.”

…as in “Trump is the id of the Republican Party.”


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 2:16 PM | Permalink & Email Post | Comments (0)
American Heroes | Elections | Idiots | Republicans
A Fish Doesn’t Know It’s Wet Either

From The Washington Post:

A team of researchers at Georgia Southern University found an alarming rise in the lack of self awareness among children and teenagers in the United States. Specifically, way more overweight adolescents are oblivious today to the fact that they ought to lose weight than were in decades past—and it's a big problem…

Adolescents, for instance, are 29 percent less likely to correctly perceive themselves as being overweight than they were almost twenty years ago, according to the study's findings. And the drop-off is the most pronounced among younger children—overweight 12-year-olds are almost 40 percent less likely to understand that they are overweight today.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 1:02 PM | Permalink & Email Post | Comments (1)
Good Eats
July 14, 2015
Who Could Possibly Object?

I just came across this dispatch from Laos in 1969, the height of our Southeast Asian War Games. Thousands of Americans were stationed in the capital, Vientiane, many with their families. It is an open letter, here slightly abridged, to parents of students at the American School of Vientiane:
At the Student Council meeting January 29th, the idea of buying a cobra, the school mascot, was brought up. After discussing it, the Council decided to look into it deeper then ask the student body what they thought. A questionnaire was sent to the students February 13th. Two-thirds of the student body want a live cobra. The Student Council would like the opinion of the parents before purchasing a cobra.

The cobra we are interested in is a King Cobra which sells for $50.00. The cobra is expensive because of its rarity, and because it is imported.

In case someone is ever bitten, we will have medication on hand at all times. However, a student won’t get bitten because of the safety factors we will take. The cage will have three cement sides and one side of safety-glass so people will be able to see the cobra. Inside the cage there will be a cement mound with a door on it which can be opened and closed from the outside. The plans and construction will be approved by OICC or another qualifying Mission agency.

We thought we could ask help from GSO or USAID Maintenance to put up the fence. It was decided to hire a man to feed the cobra and clean the cage. Because only the keeper will be allowed near the cobra, no students will get hurt. We asked the zoo keeper about pulling the cobra’s fangs and he told us if we did the cobra couldn’t eat. He said that if we were to milk the cobra so that it would be harmless, it would have to be done every week. So, the cobra will remain in his natural state.

Do you have any objections to buying the King Cobra so that ASV can have their mascot? If so, please state your reasons. Please put your reply in the box marked at the ACA or send it through distribution to the American School of Vientiane before Saturday, March 30th.

Sincerely,

Elaine M____
Student Council President


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 5:47 PM | Permalink & Email Post | Comments (3)
Animal blogging | Snakes
July 13, 2015
A White Jesse Jackson?

From Sam Smith at Undernews:

In 1988, Jesse Jackson ran a remarkable campaign for president that was based in no small part on bringing together forces that the elite prefer to see at each others’ throats. As he had put it earlier, “When we change the race problem into a class fight between the haves and the have-nots, then we are going to have a new ball game.”
From Wikipedia:

At the conclusion of the Democratic primary season, Jackson had captured 6.9 million votes and won 11 contests; seven primaries (Alabama, the District of Columbia, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Puerto Rico and Virginia) and four caucuses (Delaware, Michigan, South Carolina and Vermont). Jackson also scored March victories in Alaska’s caucuses and Texas’s local conventions, despite losing the Texas primary.

Back to Sam Smith at Undernews:

One need have no illusions about Sanders being the ultimate choice to recognize the difference he has already made in our country and how much more he can continue to make before we have to choose, say, between Bill Clinton’s wife and George Bush’s brother. We have a whole year in which to make things really different and better. It’s Bernie time. Enjoy it.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 3:26 PM | Permalink & Email Post | Comments (1)
Civil Liberties | Class Warriors | Elections | Historical Perspectives | Hope for the Future | Presidential Hopefuls
July 11, 2015
No Laughing Matter

Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Mike Huckabee are not funny. They are not fluffy celebrities that we can laugh at in between bites of Cheetos and jalapeno poppers. They are symptoms of deep political dysfunction that reflective people should be disturbed about. How is it that our political culture has degenerated to a point where these kinds of clowns and charlatans can be taken seriously as presidential candidates? This is not a joke. This is not a laughing matter. This is something that should give all serious people pause.

Has it occurred to anybody that one of these dangerous incompetents might actually stumble into the White House?

This is not a television show. This is not a popularity contest. We are not judging contestants on American Idol. These people are angling for a job that gives them power to use nuclear weapons. We must insist as a culture that it be treated more seriously. One of these rich, celebrity dolts might wind up with the most powerful job in the world. One of these frivolous celebrities might be in charge of negotiating with foreign countries.

We are playing with fire. We laugh at these buffoons, but do you realize how close they are to edging their way into power? Our “serious” candidates, our Bushes and Clintons, are plutocrats with absolutely no clue about life as it is actually lived in America. Their way of thinking is stale and out-of-touch. They offer nothing but the same cliches that have been dumped down our throats like castor oil for the last thirty years. They are dull, unimaginative, and totally unable to grasp the magnitude of the problems that are confronting us. A blunt, outspoken Donald Trump type can easily pose as a “truth teller” and kick them over like so much moldy wood. Sooner or later it’s going to happen.

We are laughing at the show like it is just a joke, like it is just another episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians. We are going to laugh ourselves right into a catastrophe.

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Posted by OHollern at 7:33 PM | Permalink & Email Post | Comments (0)
Sit Up Straight, Music Lovers…

…and pay attention, because glancing through one of my old pocket notebooks last night I came across this entry from the Carter years. It is in somebody else’s handwriting, whose and why I forget. The only explanation is this footnote, dating the verses 20 years before Paul Newman sang a slightly different version of the song in “Cool Hand Luke”:

*(As sung by the Glover Family of Columbia, Mo. on station WWVA’s “Hour of Reckoning” show — 5:35 a.m., July 12, 1957.)
• • •

OH, I don’t care if it rains or freezes
Long as I got my plastic Jesus
Settin’ on the dashboard of my car.

You can buy him, pink and pleasant,
Glows in the dark, he’s phosphorescent,
Take him with you when you travel far.

You can buy a sweet madonna,
Dressed in rhinestones, standin’ on a
Pedestal of abalone shell—

Drivin’ 90 I’m not wary,
Long as I got Magnetic Mary
Guaranteein’ I won’t go to Hell.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 4:16 PM | Permalink & Email Post | Comments (1)
An Angel Directs the Storm | Music
July 09, 2015
What Adam Smith Thought…

… the “Invisible Hand” actually did. From Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker of October 19, 2010:

Smith believes, in a way that few neoclassical economists seem to accept, that there is a “natural” price for goods — for goods — a price that takes in the cost of making them and a profits for the makers — and a “market” price, and that these two are not always the same. The market is susceptible to pressures from the masters and dealers to keep prices unnaturally high. Smith does not think that “government is the problem”; he thinks that the producers’ compact against the consumers is the problem, and that the producers, because they are concentrated and rich, are usually able to make the government take their side. It is the proper function of the state to prevent the dealers from ganging up on the customers. “Consumption is the sole end and purpose of all production, and the interest of the producer ought to be attended to only so far as it may be necessary for promoting that of the consumer.” For Smith, the market moves towards monopoly; it is the job of the philosopher to define, and of the sovereign state to restore, fair play.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 7:57 PM | Permalink & Email Post | Comments (0)
Class Warriors | Economics and Society | Regulation for the Benefit of Public Health, Safety and Welfare | The Problem with Capitalism
July 06, 2015
The Least Damage

Sam Smith at Undernews offers some depressing but persuasive advice. Read the full version here.

I wouldn’t lend my car to Hillary Clinton and I regard the Democratic Party as betraying not only the American people but its very own heritage from the New Deal and Great Society. But even with this burden, absent some revolutionary change between now and then, I shall go the polls and cast my national vote based not on anger and disgust but on a bitter assessment of which party will do the least damage to the least number of Americans and which will provide the most favorable environment for those seeking real change. Then I will save my personal virtue for those Greens running in my state and town.
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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 1:03 PM | Permalink & Email Post | Comments (1)
Elections | Political Commentary | Presidential Hopefuls | The Real World
Kudos to Greece!

The outcome of the referendum in Greece seems to me an event for which the word remarkable is inadequate, but earth-shattering is too strong. Perhaps it will do simply to call it a turning point in modern history. Not one equal to the demise of the Soviet Union, true, but like that event the implications of the referendum are likely to be many, varied, and unpredictable, unrolling over a period of years or even decades. This is one of those times people look back on and say, Yes, that was the moment when the wave started to take shape. At such moments I feel a bit like an observer of the Big Bang, seeing in real time the making of distinctions, often by the barest of margins, that will determine the shape and behavior of the universe.

One major remaining question is what, precisely, Greek voters meant by their overwhelming No vote. In part this is because the ballot was framed, as you’ve no doubt read, in technical jargon and referred to an agreement whose offer had lapsed before the referendum took place. But this was not entirely an effort to obscure on the part of the Syriza government in Greece, who tied their own political success to that of the No side and thus had clear incentive to thumb the scales. Blame must be shared, perhaps even in a manner analogous to progressive taxation, by those who stood to profit from failure of negotiations with the current government in Greece, whether by forcing Syriza out of power to demonstrate that democratically elected governments must bow to the overarching authority of the troika or by valuing the assets of the wealthy over the lives of those impoverished by the accumulation of that very wealth. Issuing an ultimatum that includes the opponents’ red-line items is equivalent to walking out, but even less acceptable (much less admirable) when the issuers hold the power to cut off food and medicine to the other side’s backers. To do so in such circumstances seems a calculated ploy to force the opponents to walk out in protest and disgust, at which point the ultimatum-givers can give self-righteous statements at press conferences and decry the profligacy of those Southerners. That those opponents had the gall to subject the actual terms of the ultimatum to a national referendum was even a greater irritation, once again bringing the pesky problem of democracy into the discussion.

So the Greeks couldn’t really know exactly what Yes and No meant. In the end, Syriza’s view that the troika would have to renegotiate after a No vote gave Greece a stronger hand probably seemed more hopeful, or at least less permanently bleak, than the prospect of returning to the EU fold when that very embrace has caused the devastation of the Greek economy, with some commentators calling it equal to or worse than the Great Depression here in the US considering proportions of unemployed workers and so on. But there was support from specialists in the field as well, with Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman, Nobel laureates both, recommending No votes with very cogent arguments.

…Read on

Posted by Chuck Dupree at 12:40 AM | Permalink & Email Post | Comments (1)
Economics and Society | World Affairs
July 03, 2015
Surprise, Surprise!

From The Guardian:

The six police officers involved in Gray’s arrest have been indicted by a grand jury. All six face charges of reckless endangerment, defined in Maryland law as “engaging in conduct that creates a substantial risk of death or serious physical injury to another” and punishable by five years in prison.

Caesar Goodson, driver of the van, faces a charge of second-degree murder. Four of the officers are charged with involuntary manslaughter.

The van carrying Gray had a surveillance camera, according to Rawlings-Blake. The camera was not working at the time of Gray’s injury.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 2:15 PM | Permalink & Email Post | Comments (0)
Police State
June 28, 2015
Garbage In, Garbage Out

From News: the Politics of Illusion, by W. Lance Bennett:

More important, a hard look at information quality shows that far from “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable,” the mass media play a major political role by not taking sides at all. In theory it seems fair for the media to be neutral. In practice, however, journalistic neutrality means that groups with the loudest, best financed and most rehearsed voices get their messages across more effectively and more often. The result of journalism’s unwillingness to develop a voice for democracy is that the news has become virtually a direct pipeline for propaganda from powerful organizations to the people. In practice then, medial neutrality must be a great comfort to the already comfortable and an additional affliction to the already afflicted.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 3:39 PM | Permalink & Email Post | Comments (1)
Class Warriors | Media | Weakening America
June 27, 2015
The Rich Stay Rich and the Poor…

Going through the archives today, I came across this from a 2003 piece in The Nation by Professor Gar Alperovitz of the University of Maryland. Since we’re paying more attention these days than back then to economic inequality, here’s a little more ammo for the class war:

“Most Western European nations tax wealth — in Sweden, the highest annual rate is three percent; at the low end of the scale is Switzerland, with a tax of only one third of a percent. The United States, however, for the most part only taxes the kind of wealth most people own — their home. Moreover, we tax the total value of the home even though most people actually own only a part of the house — i.e., their net property value after subtracting the mortgage amount they owe. We simply do not directly tax ownership of the kind of wealth which is concentrated in the hands of the plutocracy: stocks and bonds.”

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 4:49 PM | Permalink & Email Post | Comments (0)
Class Warriors | Economics and Society
June 26, 2015
Nick Danger Has Left the Office

One of the dangers of growing old is that your networks tend to be created less through happenstance and more through past contact. As a result it’s easy to find oneself continually in a state of loss. Though minor in a larger context, a significant loss to me happened last Thursday, June 18, with the death of Phil Austin of the seminal comedy group Firesign Theatre, whose name the New York Times is unable to spell correctly even a single time throughout a rather extensive article on Austin and the group. I suppose consistently spelling it the same wrong way at least proves the text was copy-edited, but apparently no one even noticed that the group’s website to which the Times article links spells it “Theatre”, not “Theater”, in the very URL they used in the link. This is neither an infrequent nor an obscure spelling, and the Times shows a certain disrespect for Mr. Austin by printing his obituary but misspelling the name of his most familiar accomplishment. So thanks, Times, for some classy coverage.

Firesign Theatre was not readily described. Their comedy was very social and media-savvy in the environment of the late 60s and early 70s, yet in the midst of the war on Vietnam and the Nixon presidency the Theatre skits were not overtly political. They loved to skewer the ridiculous aspects of life wherever they found them. Check out the pitch from Ralph Spoilsport at Ralph Spoilsport Motors (Austin is in the lower middle in the picture):



These four guys from Berkeley (all as it happened astrologically fire signs) in the midst of political and social turmoil imagined both the current world and possible future ones from what was then a radical point of view, one in which the government and the powerful could not be trusted in the manner to which Americans had been accustomed during World War II and its aftermath. Without mentioning Nixon or the war the Theatre could explicitly and occasionally viciously eviscerate the viewpoints and behavioral tendencies of the supporters of both, and this at a time when everyone was forced to side one way or the other; no one was neutral about the American presence in Vietnam. Yet the name of that country never came up in their work as far as I know, though I admit to not being familiar with all of their work from the most recent few years.

Still, somehow they told us truths that helped guide us through murky and dangerous times. How can you be in two places at once, they quite legitimately wondered, when you’re not anywhere at all? Physicists are still working on that one. Everything you know is wrong! Quite right, and it’s proven every day. We’re all bozos on this bus? Look at the results.

This is why it took me a while to warm up to Monty Python, whose comedy at the time avoided any social commentary whatsoever and focused entirely on individuals and their silly situations and actions. Hilarious, certainly, but not as deep, I thought; but that idea too evolved, as Python developed over the years.

Anyway, Regnad Kcin, also known as Nick Danger when the name is read from the front of the door rather than behind, was a noir-style detective in LA whose antics Theatre fans lapped up. Austin voiced Nick, so I’ll sign this off with that signature performance. But seriously, check out the Youtube videos for the group, they remain pretty damn funny.

RIP, Phil, you gave us a lot of laughs and insight to boot. You were the real deal.


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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 6:05 PM | Permalink & Email Post | Comments (1)
Crime Fiction | Heroes and Friends | Media | Political Commentary
June 22, 2015
Oooh, That Man Just Said Nigger, Mommy

Here’s where to find President Obama’s fascinating podcast interview with comedian Marc Maron. It’s an hour well spent. Among many other things, you’ll find out how absolutely absurd is the handwringing over the President’s use of the word nigger.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 8:10 PM | Permalink & Email Post | Comments (3)
The Donald

Kiernan Majerus-Collins is a student at Bates College as well as a Democratic Town Committee member from West Hartford. Plus he went to a Trump rally in New Hampshire so now you don’t have to. Just read his account in CT News Junkie. Excerpt:

After getting past the slew of part-time models Trump had manning the door, we joined the long line of old white people (and College Republicans, who are old white people in the making), and waited for the doors to open. While we stood there, I managed to snag a Trump shirt, which I’m willing to trade for an O’Malley button and a bumper sticker to be named later.

After waiting for about an hour, and talking to a local woman who “really likes” Trump, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders, we managed to get into the college gym where Trump would make the magic happen. First, though, we had to hear from a variety of warm-up speakers — a talk-show host, a failed gubernatorial candidate, a state representative, and so on. My favorite was Miss New Hampshire USA, who said being a beauty queen was the greatest achievement a little girl could dream of. Someone should introduce her to Hillary Clinton. (As an aside, I’m betting either Miss New Hampshire or Miss Iowa wins the Trump-sponsored Miss USA contest this year.)

As exciting as it was to hear from various unknown New Hampshire politicos, it was even better to meet some of my fellow rally attendees. Mingling in the crowd was political satirist and perennial presidential candidate Vermin Supreme. I chatted with him about what it’s like to run for president, and he gave me a lollipop and showed me his dental records…


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 2:06 PM | Permalink & Email Post | Comments (0)
American Heroes | Idiots | Republicans | Reveling in the Weird | Rich White Trash
June 20, 2015
People Are Corporations Too

This Salon article by Corey Robin came as news to me. For those equally out of it, here’s an excerpt. At first I was surprised by the cynicism displayed, but of course I shouldn’t have been. These corporate control freaks are only acting in according to a basic rule of life: Why does a dog lick his balls? Because he can.

According to these employers, leveraging their workers, along with more traditional modes of lobbying, is the most effective way to control the political sphere. That’s how firms get laws passed and candidates elected. Mobilizing workers, employers claim, is more effective than making campaign donations, buying ads, or investing in large corporate lobbies like the Chamber of Commerce. Workers seem to agree: almost half of the workers Hertel-Fernandez surveyed claim that they changed their political behavior or beliefs because of their employers.

One of the reasons employee mobilization is so potent a force is that workers can be deployed with almost military-style precision. As Hertel-Fernandez explains in his paper, firms have extensive HR offices, which compile databases about where employees live and who their legislators (local, state and federal) are. Firms issue specific instructions to specific workers living on a specific street, say, to write personal letters to a specific representative. Then the firms fire more volleys, lobbying that representative with reminders of how many letters were sent and from where.

To ensure that workers do as they are told, firms use online systems that track whether a worker opens an email from her boss, clicks on the links, downloads information and sends her message to her representative.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 5:48 PM | Permalink & Email Post | Comments (0)
Political Commentary
June 19, 2015
Yes, the Charleston Killings Were Racist! See, That Wasn’t So Hard

Although I put no small effort into it, I’ve been unable to recall anything in recent American politics as shameless and craven as the rush of Republican candidates to avoid the obvious about the horrific murders in Charleston.

Of course Fox will say it’s not about racism and if we’d just shut about racism already it would be a non-factor. And naturally the Wall Street Journal will opine, grossly dishonestly, that:

What causes young men such as Dylann Roof to erupt in homicidal rage, whatever their motivation, is a problem that defies explanation beyond the reality that evil still stalks humanity. It is no small solace that in committing such an act today, he stands alone.

And similarly outrageous views are to be expected from much of the GOP field based on the simple fact that most of them are stark raving bonkers, or batshit crazy as we say in the psychology biz. Of course Santorum and Perry and their ilk will try to claim the murders had something to do with religion; see previous sentence. But the nature of the marketplace for Republican primary votes is such that even the Establishment candidate Jeb! Bush is unable to bring himself to admit straightforwardly that the killings were racist in nature.

When asked about whether he thought the attack was racially motivated, Bush told a Huffington Post reporter, “It was a horrific act and I don’t know what the background of it is, but it was an act of hatred.”

When pressed again about whether race motivated the attacks, Bush said, “I don’t know. Looks like to me it was, but we’ll find out all the information. It’s clear it was an act of raw hatred, for sure. Nine people lost their lives, and they were African-American. You can judge what it is.”

The question came after a speech Bush made at a Faith and Freedom Coalition summit in Washington.

“I don’t know what was on the mind or the heart of the man who committed these atrocious crimes,” Bush said in his remarks. “But I do know what was in the heart of the victims.”

Apparently looking into the hearts of some folks and not others is a Bush family trait; you no doubt remember how well that worked out with W. and Putin.

First, what kind of electorate both desperately needs to deny obvious racism and has the power to approve Presidential nominees? It’s a pretty disgusting group, though of course as with any large group there are individuals who don’t fit the pattern. But basically we’re talking about old white racists, many of them in the South though by no means all, and if you need their support what do you expect can come of that?

And second, why is it so hard for Republican candidates simply to state the obvious? Typically, John Kasich is the closest to sanity of the group, responding to a question whether the shooting was racially motivated by saying, “You read what they said about the guy. It sure appears that way.” What was so tricky about that? Are you afraid, a la Jon Chait, that you’ll lose the votes of all those racist potential murderers who might otherwise back you as the GOP nominee?

Update: Pope Erick has weighed in:

A society that looks at a 65 year old male Olympian and, with a straight face, declares him a her and “a new normal” cannot have a conversation about mental health or evil because that society no longer distinguishes normal from crazy and evil from good. Our American society has a mental illness — overwhelming narcissism and delusion — and so cannot recognize what crazy or evil looks like.

The technical term for this is projection. I could make a reasoned response but it would be wasted. Instead I’ll simply say, Eat it, Erick.


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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 8:30 PM | Permalink & Email Post | Comments (2)
Political Commentary
Plus His Stuff Was Getting Rebarbative

The Guardian twists itself into sooty pools trying to explain “Why Jackson Pollock Gave Up Painting”:

With their sooty pools and block structures, the ‘black pour’ paintings of Pollock’s late period mark his rejection of sex and the erotic aspects of his drip techniques. A new exhibition shows how the artist formerly known as ‘Jack the Dripper’ reached the end of the line … A number of New York artists — including the abstract expressionist Willem de Kooning — had recently tried painting in a restricted palette of black and white, but Pollock’s black pours are especially distinctive because of their drily rebarbative, block-like structures. They don’t feel as if they have been effortlessly “splashed out” (code for “ecstatically ejaculated”) so much as strenuously carved and kneaded. Rather than being “all-over”, with the potential for limitless lateral spread, they often have a tight internal frame that seems to compress the contents.
Either that or he hung up the old paint pail when he finally realized he couldn’t do hands.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 4:13 PM | Permalink & Email Post | Comments (3)
Arts and Literature
Boy, That’s a Real Head-Scratcher…

…what the heck could that something have been? From The Washington Post:

It wasn’t that long ago that a broad majority of Americans supported gun control. In April 2007, 6 in 10 said controlling guns was more important than protecting Americans’ right to own a firearm, according to the Pew Research Center. That figure had fluctuated some over the prior 15 years, but generally speaking, gun control was popular.

Something changed in the first year of the Obama administration, when support for gun-control measures fell sharply. Late last year, Pew reported for the first time that a majority of Americans thought that gun rights outweighed gun control.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 12:47 PM | Permalink & Email Post | Comments (0)
Idiots | Our Longest National Nightmare Ever | Race | Weakening America
June 17, 2015
A Separation in Progress

I’ve been finding the musings on Israel from Zack Beauchamp over at Vox to be interesting and thoughtful even when I disagree. Today he has an interesting bit about a video released by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs that was apparently intended to clarify the realities of the recent war in Gaza:



It’s hard to imagine whom they hope to win over with such a heavy-handed approach. As Beauchamp puts it:

This is what Israel’s government actually believes a winning PR campaign looks like. And that speaks to a serious and growing problem for the country: stuck in an echo chamber of its own making, it is struggling to connect to anyone who doesn’t buy its government’s line.

He concludes that the video’s creators must be unable to conceive of viewers in the West, especially the US, seeing the world in any way other than that of the far right wing of Israeli politics. This, of course, is delusional, but there it is.

In addition to typifying the communal behavior of Right Wing Authoritarians, it strikes me that the perverse consequences of living in an echo chamber are not limited to the government and the growing right wing in Israel. That echo chamber is supported in no small part by American billionaires, particularly Sheldon Adelson who started a free nationwide newspaper there specifically to promote Netanyahu and his ideas. It is also shared with Netanyahu’s allies here in the US, in particular the Republican so-called leaders in Congress, who are increasingly out of touch even with their own constituents and in thrall to conservative media. Come to think of it, the echo chamber here involves many of the same personalities, supplemented by the free-standing echo chamber of right-wing Christianity whose actual goal is Armageddon when Jews will finally be forced either to convert or to suffer eternal damnation. Tricky allies at best, but they share with this section of Israel a life lived entirely inside their chosen echo chamber.

It’s beyond me how the Israeli government expects to maintain even the level of international cooperation it currently enjoys while continuing the policies it knows are noxious to those very nations. As Josh Marshall puts it:

Obama came into office wanting to make the ‘peace process’ into a peace reality, or to put it more prosaically, to move from the policy of permanent negotiation to a final territorial settlement. Netanyahu came to office wanting to end the ‘peace process’, or more prosaically, believing that a generation of Israeli leaders from Labor, Likud and Kadima had made a series of unmerited and unreciprocated concessions to the Palestinians which he meant to rollback. For good.

From where we stand currently it’s difficult to see Israel remaining integrated into the Western democracies in the way it has been over the past fifty years. A split is underway between the Israel-right-or-wrong crowd, AKA the neocons, and those Americans who believe that actually trying for peace makes it more likely to happen. It’s even possible that American policy will become oriented to American interests and goals rather than reflexively supporting whatever illegal actions Israel decides to use American support to cover. That would be a big change, as Matthew Duss at TNR reported (h/t Ed Kilgore):

[R]epresentatives of the Obama, McCain, and Clinton teams appeared [in 2008] at a Jewish community forum. Daniel Kurtzer, the former U.S. ambassador to Israel and Egypt, spoke for Obama, explaining that he wanted to see a “plurality of views” on Israel. Clinton adviser Ann Lewis responded that the United States should simply support Israeli policy, regardless of its content. “The role of the president of the United States is to support the decisions that are made by the people of Israel,” she said.

It was a pretty strange statement (is there any other country in the world to whose electorate anyone would similarly suggest outsourcing U.S. policy decisions?), but it does accurately describe the operating theory upon which much of conservative pro-Israel advocacy in Washington is based.

Whatever we might say, whether as individuals or as a nation, our actions are the measure of our character.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 11:33 PM | Permalink & Email Post | Comments (1)
World Affairs
Picky, Picky…

…that’s McCain for you:

“He just hasn’t met the expectation level of what we expected of a Bush,” said Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, who is supporting Senator Lindsey Graham’s candidacy but likes Mr. Bush. “And that’s been a hindrance to him.”
And McCain is no slouch when it comes to low expectations. Don’t forget, he’s the shrewd judge of character who chose Sarah Palin to be a heartbeat away from the presidency. As for the two Presidents Bush, they chose as their potential successors Danny “Potatoe Head” Quayle and Dick Cheney.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 6:15 PM | Permalink & Email Post | Comments (1)
June 15, 2015
Lest We Forget…

…what actually happened in Ukraine, as opposed to what the lamestream media has been obediently feeding us. This from James Howard Kunstler:

Ukraine became a failed state due to a coup d’état engineered by Barack Obama’s state department. US policy wonks did not like the prospect of Ukraine joining Russia’s regional trade group called the Eurasian Customs Union instead of tilting toward NATO and the European Union. So, we paid for and enabled a coalition of crypto-fascists to rout the duly elected president. One of the first acts of the US-backed new regime was to declare punishment of Russian language speakers, and so the predominately Russian-speaking people in eastern Ukraine revolted. Russia reacted to all this instability by seizing the Crimean peninsula, which had been part of Russia proper both before and through the Soviet chapter of history. The Crimea contained Russia’s only warm water seaports and naval bases. What morons in the US government ever thought Russia would surrender those assets to a newly-failed neighbor state?

Was Vladimir Putin acting irresponsibly in this case? The opposite would be a much more logical conclusion. And what interest does the United States have in Ukraine? Surely no more than Russia would have in Texas. And when else in the entire history of the USA all the way back to George Washington did any government official declare Ukraine to be America’s business? Answer: Never. Reason: we have no legitimate interests in that corner of the world. So why in the early 21st century are we making this such a sore spot in our foreign relations? Because our waning influence in the world, in turn a product of our foolish inattention to our own economic problems and failing polity at home, is driving America batshit crazy.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 3:49 PM | Permalink & Email Post | Comments (2)
Historical Perspectives | Media | Our Sordid Press Corps | The Fall of the Roman American Empire | The Real World | Weakening America
A Dark Prediction

Watching an anthill is more interesting than anything David Brooks or Thomas Friedman ever write. It is infinitely more engaging than anything Jeb Bush or Hillary Clinton ever say. Insects are more fascinating than anything our so called “elites” ever do. I get more wisdom from ants dragging a moth carcass around than I do from Bill Gates or Warren Buffet.

I’m thunderstruck by how dull and unexceptional our “leaders” are. They are the colorless emanations of an exhausted culture. They can offer nothing but stale thinking and shopworn cliches. Sooner or later, a sinister Ted Cruz type is going to step into this leaderless vacuum and take us all down. Just watch. He’s going to kick the door down while our idiot weakling leaders dither. They will mindlessly repeat conventional wisdom while this evil demagogue speaks the “truth” to people. Fifty percent plus one of the electorate will go along with him.

I’m telling you this country is ripe for it and it will happen if we don’t get our shit together.

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Posted by OHollern at 2:09 PM | Permalink & Email Post | Comments (2)
June 13, 2015
Indecision Time

I have a big life decision coming up. Wait, stop yawning! Should I go teach in China or should I stay with a girl I've recently started seeing? Should I choose China or the girl?

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Posted by OHollern at 1:45 PM | Permalink & Email Post | Comments (6)
June 12, 2015
Support Your Local Sociopath

What would a support group for sociopaths look like?

“I first stopped caring about people at ten.”

“I stopped caring at birth.”

“I didn’t ask for your opinion.”

“I don’t care.”

“I don’t care either.”

“Hey, let me explain something: All of you are just objects to me.”

“You’re just an object to us.”

“ I don’t give a shit.”

“We don’t give a shit either.”

What gets me on this subject? This weird blog that I suspect is fraudulent. At any rate, there is a fine line between sociopath and narcissist. I think we’re dealing with the latter here.

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Posted by OHollern at 2:31 PM | Permalink & Email Post | Comments (2)