Friday, November 29, 2013

Indoctrinated Is Not A Synonym For Stupid

Comedians regularly do street-side interviews of "average" Americans designed to get laughs at the expense of those interviewed, who are presumed to be witless fools.   But the information asked for, "What is the 'sequester'? and, "Can you name the president of various countries?" is generally of a trivial nature, and to call people "ignorant" for not knowing the "right" answer is grossly unfair. Granted, general information about history/society/politics/geography, you name it, is abysmally low in the U.S. and around the world. But that has a lot more to do with the effectiveness of propaganda than it does individual deficiencies in pursuing knowledge. Look at the media bombardment the U.S.public faces on a 24-7 basis. It's designed to destroy people's mental capacities so they will be mindless consumers. Trillions of dollars a year are allocated to that (i.e. marketing and public relations). So comedians who go out in the street looking to show how "dumb" the common people are, are simply cooperating with the elites who run the country in casting blame where it doesn't belong.  There's nothing funny about that.

Dogs Are People; Children Are "Investments"

We often hear the claim that government programs for the benefit of young children are sound because "The value of investment in these early childhood years has been well-documented."

It's certainly heartening to know that the "investments" in childhood have been shown to have a respectable yield, because if that were not the case, we'd be justified in letting our children starve and die on the streets, right? Framing the issue in this way - as an "investment" with a good payoff - is frankly sick. People spend loads of money on their adored pets, but it's unlikely anyone has justified such expenses on the grounds that they are good investments.

Friday, November 22, 2013

JFK: The Real Story


"I don't want to die!"  ----- crying Los Angeles schoolchildren at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis

"I cut his balls off."
-----President Kennedy, exulting in what he took to be Premier Khrushchev’s humiliation in backing away from nuclear war

“End this madness,” Bertrand Russell cabled John Kennedy, imploring the American president to come to his senses while the world waited to discover if Kennedy’s game of “nuclear chicken” was destined to relegate Hiroshima and Nagasaki to footnotes of the atomic age.

In order to prevent Washington from staging a second Bay of Pigs (i.e., repeat invasion of Cuba) the Soviet Union had installed nuclear missiles on the island in the fall of 1962. Though a negotiated settlement carried the least risk of catastrophe, the Kennedy administration rejected diplomacy for allegedly carrying the taint of moral weakness. At a time when nuclear-armed Soviet submarines could hit U.S. territory from the ocean, Kennedy opted to blockade Cuba, and he did so (in violation the U.N. Charter), cutting off Soviet access to the island.

Soviet supply ships with submarine escorts steamed toward the American blockade while the largest U.S. invasion force since WWII prepared for war with 42,000 nuclear-armed Soviet troops awaiting them in Cuba. The Strategic Air Command deployed its bomber fleet to pre-selected airfields throughout the United States, and nuclear bombs were loaded aboard planes on SAC bases in Britain, Spain, and Morocco. Nuclear-equipped fighter-bombers went on alert in Europe, preparing to hit assigned targets in the Soviet bloc. Polaris submarines possessed of enough firepower to destroy every major city in the USSR left Scotland to patrol the North Atlantic.

At the height of the crisis, Khrushchev broadcast a letter to Kennedy on Radio Moscow offering removal of Soviet missiles in Cuba and a non-aggression pledge to Turkey in return for a U.S. withdrawal of nuclear missiles from Turkey (Washington had apparently already issued a withdrawal order for those missiles) and a non-aggression pledge to Cuba. But Kennedy ignored the offer, pressing for unconditional victory with millions of lives in the balance.

According to Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., the official JFK historian of his White House years, this was “the most dangerous moment in human history.” How close did the world come to nuclear war? Participants in a 2002 conference between former Kennedy administration officials, former Soviet military officers, Cuban officials, and scholars from all three countries, concluded that nuclear war was averted only because a Soviet submarine commander countermanded an order to launch nuclear-armed torpedoes in response to U.S. destroyers firing depth charges to force Soviet submarines to the surface. “The lesson from this is that a guy called Vasili Arkhipov saved the world,” said Thomas Blanton, director of the (private) National Security Archive.

Among the documents pored over at the 2002 conference in Havana was a declassified 1961 Defense Department memo describing a three-step plan for the “US endeavor to cause the overthrow of the Castro government.” The strategy was to carry out intensive military exercises near Cuba to provoke a defensive reaction, which would then give the U.S. a pretext with which to “destroy Castro with speed, force and determination.” Robert McNamara, Kennedy’s defense secretary and a conference participant, conceded that Cuba’s fears that they were going to be attacked by the U.S. were justified. “If I were in Cuban or Soviet shoes, I would have thought so, too.”

Exulting in the lucky outcome, Kennedy did not renounce Washington’s ongoing terrorist war against Cuba, which included chemical and biological attacks against the island and numerous attempts on the life of Fidel Castro. In fact, he had already effectively declared war on all of Latin America in order to prevent a second Cuban-style revolution in the hemisphere. Robert McNamara had announced in early 1962 that Latin American states receiving U.S. military assistance would henceforth change their mission from “hemispheric defense” to “internal security,” i.e., making war on their own peoples. Through the Agency For International Development, Latin American police were promised training in the use of gas guns, helicopters, anti-riot equipment, and torture. As the numbers of mutilated and dead mounted, the U.S. School of the Americas, where Washington’s counterinsurgency training was carried out, became known in Latin America as “the school of coups.”

Kennedy’s jingoist politics shouldn’t have surprised anyone, as they were a matter of longstanding record. Elected to Congress in 1946 as a rich war hero, JFK spent his time in the House condemning the “betrayal” of Poland at Yalta, thundering against the Truman administration’s “loss” of China, and voting for the McCarran Act (the Patriot Act of its day) which required that organizations tainted by “Communism” register with a Subversive Activities Control Board. Members of such organizations lost their right to travel, to hold government jobs, and to work in defense plants. In 1952 Kennedy was elected to the Senate, where he avoided condemning Joe McCarthy, who was a close friend of the Kennedy family (Bobby named him godfather of one of his children). According to Kennedy speech-writer Theodore Sorenson, the Massachusetts senator believed that military force was “the bulk of diplomacy and disarmament only a dream.” Preoccupied with shaking his fist at the Communist world, Kennedy paid little attention to the 1954 Brown decision ordering desegregation of the nation’s apartheid school system, dismissing school integration as “a judicial problem, not a legislative one.”

As president, Kennedy appointed shrewd technocrats - almost all from the upper class - who were clueless about social justice, but well-practiced in the exercise of power. Dean Rusk, a John Foster Dulles protege and president of the Rockefeller Foundation, became Secretary of State. C. Douglas Dillon of Wall Street’s Dillon, Read and Company was named Secretary of the Treasury. Robert McNamara, president of the Ford Motor Company, was selected to be Secretary of Defense. Other top Kennedy officials were Averell Harriman of Brown Brothers Harriman, Paul Nitze, of Dillon-Read, Roswell Gilpatrick of another Wall Street firm, John McCone, Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, and William C. Foster. John J. McCloy, who Kennedy appointed to be his special adviser on disarmament, had a background, according to Arthur Schlesinger, that “combined the Republican party, the Pentagon, the Ford Foundation, the Chase Manhattan Bank, Cravath, Swaine & Moore, the Brook and the Links.”

From such a cast progressive policy was hardly to be expected, and indeed, it was not forthcoming. In Southeast Asia Kennedy changed Washington’s Vietnam policy from support for state terror to outright aggression, which led to the disastrous U.S. engagement that claimed the lives of millions of Indochinese, as well as more than 50,000 U.S. soldiers. Contrary to much Camelot romanticism, Kennedy never considered any policy other than military victory. Just three weeks before his assassination, in the wake of the overthrow of the Diem regime, he remained hopeful about the prospects for an intensification of the war, telling the press that he thought there was a “new situation” in Vietnam, which would lead to, “we hope, an increased effort in the war” (emphasis added). He added that the U.S. policy should be to “intensify the struggle” so that “we can bring Americans out of there” - after U.S. forces had subjugated the country, a goal he never renounced.

The carnage involved in attempting to fulfill such an aspiration was, as might be expected, appalling. Children were burned alive with napalm. Fragmentation bombs ripped villagers to shreds. Charred bodies fertilized the fields of “free Vietnam” and bullet-riddled corpses of Buddhist demonstrators lay crumpled in the streets. When external support for state terrorism proved inadequate to the task, Kennedy sent the U.S. Air Force to bomb rural South Vietnam (October 1962), driving hundreds of thousands of peasants into “strategic hamlets,” where, surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards, they were “protected” from the guerrilla movement the Pentagon conceded they were voluntarily supporting. By the time of Kennedy’s death, over half the population of South Vietnam was engaged in forced labor in such “strategic hamlets,” with the Kennedy administration planning to incarcerate nearly the entire rural population of the country to prevent it from acting on its political convictions.

The human cost of U.S. policy in Vietnam was devastating. According to the Bertrand Russell war crimes commission, by 1963 the Vietnam war had already yielded 160,000 dead; 700,000 tortured and maimed; 400,000 imprisoned; 31,000 raped; 3000 disemboweled with their livers cut out while alive; 4000 people burned alive; 1000 destroyed temples; and 46 instances of villages attacked with poisonous chemicals.

Meanwhile, on the domestic front, Kennedy did little to aid the desegregation movement, which he considered a trivial affair until worldwide publicity forced him to pay attention (Arthur Schlesinger’s book on the Kennedy presidency treats the theme in the 35th of 37 chapters). While pacifist civil rights activists endured savage attacks at the hands of racist mobs in an attempt to topple Jim Crow, Kennedy dismissed them as “sons of bitches” (SNCC) who had “an investment in violence,” a harsh judgment he could never bring himself to make about the segregationist terrorists the SNCC activists were being beaten and killed by. He refused to back civil rights legislation until well into 1963. Among civil rights leaders, what the NAACP’s Roy Wilkins referred to as Kennedy’s “supercaution” evoked almost universal condemnation.

Embarrassed by the screaming headlines and distressed at the propaganda coup the Kremlin was reaping from his studied inaction in the face of horrifying brutality, Kennedy moved only belatedly and reluctantly to support the black freedom movement. While thousands were attacked and jailed throughout the South, and Medgar Evers was murdered on his front porch in Mississippi, FBI agents took notes and filed reports, but did not move to protect the lives of black people, or even properly investigate when white supremacists shot them dead. Worried about his support in Congress, Kennedy moved to shore up his Southern political base, appointing racist judges to the bench, including one in Georgia who sought to prevent “pinks, radicals and black voters” from overturning segregation, and another in Mississippi who saw no point in registering “a bunch of niggers on a voter drive.” And when the March on Washington threatened to include an indictment of federal government policy, Kennedy convinced black leaders to tone down their critical rhetoric and cancel plans for civil disobedience, provoking Malcolm X to dismiss the choreographed event as “the farce on Washington.”

In many ways Kennedy was Ronald Reagan. Although criticized for his participation in the McCarthy-led witch hunts (he was on a Senate committee that doggedly abused UAW leader Harold Christoffel for swearing he wasn’t a Communist, and also supported a bill that included concentration camps for heretics), he inspired admiration at home and abroad for his unwavering faith in American “democracy” (i.e., capitalism). Heir to a bootlegging fortune and helped into the White House by mob connections, he became president after besting Richard Nixon in televised campaign debates in which he promised to end the nation’s economic slump and pursue a more aggressive anti-Communist policy with Moscow once elected. While Nikita Khruschev radically cut back Soviet armaments and military forces - calling for reciprocal action by the U.S. - Kennedy ignored the plea in favor of a huge military build-up, warning repeatedly of the U.S.S.R.’s alleged “monolithic and ruthless conspiracy to take over the world.” He was obsessed with overthrowing the Cuban government (as Reagan later was with toppling the Nicaraguan Sandinistas), which he denounced as a Soviet proxy. To avoid the spread of the Cuban policy of nationalizing resources in order to raise the quality of life for the masses, he strongly supported military dictatorships throughout Latin America. He also supplied military advisors to Vietnam, enthusiastically backing their efforts to destroy popular organizations and terrorize the population into submission. To mobilize budgetary support for his massive increases in war spending, he warned the Congress and the public about a non-existent missile gap that supposedly favored the Soviets. On domestic policy, he advised restraint on social programs and a tax cut for business, which he argued would stimulate economic growth and lead to trickle down benefits for all Americans. (However, in the first five years of Kennedy-Johnson policy corporate profits increased 76.5%, but wages only 18 percent, demonstrating that JFK’s economic policies redistributed income from the poor to the rich.)

In short, an honest account of JFK’s legacy must include (1) an anti-Communist fanaticism that nearly blew up the world, (2) aggression in Vietnam that reached almost genocidal levels in subsequent years (3) contempt for civil liberties at crucial moments (4) equivocation in the face of K.K.K. terror (5) an invasion of the sovereign state of Cuba and years of terrorism against the island after the invasion failed (6) reverse Robin Hood economics.

The Sources:

Marion Lloyd, "Soviets Close to Using A-Bomb in 1962 Crisis," Boston Globe, October 13, 2002

Cedric Belfrage and James Aronson, "Something To Guard: The Stormy Life of the National Guardian, 1948-1967,"(Columbia, 1978)

Kenneth, O'Reilly, "Racial Matters - The F.B.I.'s Secret File on Black America, 1960-1972," (Free Press, 1989)

Taylor Branch, "Parting the Waters - America in the King Years, 1954-1963," (Simon and Schuster, 1988)

Lawrence S. Wittner, "Cold War America - From Hiroshima to Watergate," (Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1978)

Walter LaFeber, "Inevitable Revolutions - The United States in Central America" (Norton, 1984)

Cedric Belfrage, "The American Inquisition - A Profile of the 'McCarthy Era'" (Thunder's Mouth, 1989)

Arthur Schlesinger, "A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House," (Houghton Mifflin, 1965)

Todd Gitlin, "The Sixties - Years of Hope, Days of Rage," (Bantam, 1986)

Howard Zinn, Postwar America - 1945-1971," (Bobbs-Merrill, 1973)

Howard Zinn, "A People's History of the United States," (Harper, 1995)

Seymour Hersh, "The Dark Side of Camelot," (Little Brown, 1997)

Bertrand Russell, "War Crimes in Vietnam," (George Allen & Unwin, Ltd., 1966)

Noam Chomsky, "Rethinking Camelot - JFK, the Vietnam War, and U.S. Political Culture," (Verso, 1993)

Noam Chomsky, "Year 501 - The Conquest Continues," (South End, 1993)

Noam Chomsky, "World Orders Old and New," (Columbia, 1994)

Noam Chomsky, "Hegemony or Survival - America's Quest For Global Dominance," (Holt, 2003)

Monday, November 11, 2013

Support Our Troops - Indict Their Leaders

As usual on Veteran's Day, we are urged to honor our "heroes" and salute their martial courage, while ignoring the murderous imperial role they play in "fighting for their country."

This really cannot be done.  A professional army is by definition an organized band that kills on command.  This can only be justified on the grounds that its mission is purely defensive, designed to repel invasion of the national territory the troops are sworn to protect and defend.

But this is hardly the role of the U.S. armed forces today, when Washington maintains hundreds of major military bases around the world, and thousands of smaller military installations, all of them dedicated to maintaining an economic and political status quo increasingly protested by popular majorities seeking a freer, more democratic world.  In short, in spite of its multicultural and bi-gender facade, the U.S. military is an anti-democratic force.  And there is nothing heroic about suppressing democracy.

Yes, our troops often display spectacular physical courage under fire.  But so did soldiers defending Nazism and Communism, Japanese soldiers defending a brutal empire, and Confederate soldiers fighting to preserve chattel slavery.  We do not ordinarily consider these soldiers heroes, no matter how great their martial courage, because we rate the missions they were sent on as illegitimate or evil.

We cannot have it both ways.  If military service is value neutral, then it does not matter what cause soldiers fight for, we must salute their courage under fire.  But if the value of physical courage is inextricably bound up with the legitimacy of the mission a soldier is sent on, then we must withhold hero status from imperial soldiers who fight - not to defend us from evil - but merely to preserve and extend the hegemony of empire.  In the latter case, their bravery is stained and diminished by the ignoble cause they have been commanded to serve.

Actually, these days a soldier does not even have to demonstrate physical courage to be designated a hero.  Cheap praise is heaped on our soldiers merely for being in the military, quite apart from anything they may do on a field of battle.  This is directly related to a steady decline in public support for imperial military missions, which the architects of empire resist by equating anti-war sentiment with hostility to soldiers.  "Support our troops" actually means "support the mission," no matter how illegitimate.

This we must not do.  The grotesque barbarity displayed at Abu Ghraib - hardly ancient history - was neither heroic, nor accidental.  In fact, it was deliberately sanctioned policy, extensively pre-tested by Israel, to associate all resistance to foreign invasion with sexual humiliation.  In short, it was an attempt to make legitimate heroism impossible for Iraqis, to stain public memory of resistance with images of utter disgrace.  To invoke "support our troops" in this context is to embrace complete moral degeneracy.

A better option would be to widely publicize and critique the civilian leaders who craft such policies, and degrade our troops in the name of honoring them.  "Support our troops - dispatch Donald Rumsfeld to jail," should have been a national slogan years ago.  Today, we have just as much reason to call for the same for Barack Obama - our first African-American president, who overthrew a Libyan government with the highest standard of living in Africa, leaving the country to the mercy of murderous and plundering gangs.

Service?  Honor?  Respect?  What have any of these words to do with the role of the U.S. military in the world today?  What is honorable about occupying Afghanistan in the service of a government so corrupt it makes the Taliban seem preferable?  How is respect cultivated by mass murder of civilians by drones?  What kind of "service" is involved in establishing an international network of torture centers in defiance of international law and basic morality?

Yes, let's honor our troops, not by continuing the atrocities that degrade them, but by abolishing the imperial military and developing a real national defense policy to replace it.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Market Place For Everything: Especially Debt


“Debt is a relationship of power and inequality between the loan institution and the borrower.”

Want some health care? Need a place to live? Are you hungry? Need a gun? A politician? A drone missile? All those and more, much much more, are available all day and all night at the marketplace and you don’t even have to leave your home to go downtown or to the mall to do your shopping. It’s all there for your consuming convenience on your computer, iPod, smart phone, dumb phone or other products that can be used to charge purchases to your plastic for anything and everything, anytime all the time. Nice?

Until your credit runs out. Or you lose your job. Or you didn’t have a job or credit in the first place. In which case, none of those things will be available to you.

It might not be too painful going without a weapon or a missile or a rented if not fully owned politician but lacking food, clothing, shelter and health care make it really tough to survive. In fact, science, religion and numerous polls paid for by market researchers make it clear:

It’s impossible.

We are currently being told by some that the private insurance profit program called Obamacare has created a wonderful health care marketplace and is the greatest thing we’ve ever had, and by others that it will kill people, destroy the economy and bring attack from outer space or worse. Both arguments avoid the major question:

How come we have to go to a marketplace and purchase health care and everything else we need in life? And who, or what, decides how much money we need to have in order to get whatever it is we need and how deeply we go into debt once we no longer have that money? Where and when did that process start? At the Garden of Eden? During the American Revolution? At a Christmas sale? Who started it? God? The Iroquois? Morgan Guaranty No-Trust? More important, how can we control that process before it produces not only greater inequality than already exists, but worse, an end to the process of life itself?

Consumers – at one time called citizens but that was long ago – have run up personal debts in this marketplace that add up to hundreds of billions if not trillions of dollars. And the nations and societies where they once were called citizens have debts equaling many trillions more. Does this mean everybody is leading a wonderful life with all the stuff we’ve purchased even if we don’t need it and don’t have the money to buy it?

Does a snake have wings?

If we’re so happy and content how come we have to spend hundreds of billions to protect ourselves from nazis, commies, terrorists, anti-Semites, Jews, burglars, street criminals, suite criminals, invaders from outer and inner space, vampires, sitcoms, the landlord, our in-laws, finance companies and so much else that has us constantly at our wits end, worried sick and living in fear?

Reminder for the arithmetically challenged among us: we are talking very very big numbers that have moved from millions to billions to trillions in a very short period of historic time. For example:

 A trillion has twelve zeros and is equal to a thousand billions, each of them having nine zeros. Got that? A billion seconds equal 32 years. In current media-speech, that’s more than three decades. Wow? But a trillion seconds are equal to 320 centuries. That’s 32,000 years. Huh? Again to put it into a form that might make it clear to those who can no longer say “ten years” but are compelled by custom, habit and/or language and logic disability to only use the word “decade”, those trillion seconds would take 3,200 “decades” to pass. However we say it, that is a very very very long time. And remember, we are speaking about very very very large dollar numbers, in most cases equally beyond our ability to comprehend except as abstractions with seemingly little meaning in everyday life.

Now back to our personal and collective-as-a-nation debts. Think of those numbers for a second or a minute or all day or, if you’re really slow and hung up on current media mind mash, a decade, and in the words of Ricky Ricardo, “‘splain to me Lucy how we gonna pay that money?” Or more realistically, whether we should even try, and when we should start canceling it, and whether to begin that cancellation at a personal, state, national or global level.

We should all know about our unfortunately massive global marketplace for garbage. We are burying our planet in layers of our economic species feces. How about seeing much if not all of debt for the garbage that it is, a putrid life threatening smelly dump for those of us who don’t have enough political power (guns, drones, etc.) to force its payment to us, but under the guns and drones of those with the political power to force our payments of it to them. Hmmm.

What would happen if a whole lot of us, not just one community but many in unity with many others, told “them”; we are cancelling the debt? If we did it in great enough numbers, like maybe close to the seemingly incalculable figures called national and accumulated personal debt, what would happen? Of course democracy would have to play a major role in getting us to take that step. Some think we are a democratic society already. Hmmm. Bring this subject up with your democratically elected representative and see what reaction you get. Disregard that reaction and begin working with your fellow citizens to stop consuming for just a while and begin planning to bring about a happier environment by first cancelling the debt and then seeing what it is we really need and where we should go to get it. We could save hundreds of trillions of dollars and our race as well. Who would be against such a sensible plan for humanity?


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Cancer, Polio or Good Health?

The elections are over and while many Demo-liberals are heartened by the results the rest of us should understand that we have a long way to go.

The DiBlasio victory in New York shows hopeful signs for a city that has been run for more than twenty years exclusively by Wall Street, banking and financial interests and their upper income servant class. Of course that’s true for the nation as a whole, so one victory for a candidate at least speaking to more humane values is a step in the right – as well as slightly left – direction. And more important than DiBlasio’s long time Democratic affiliation was the fact that the Working Peoples Party both endorsed and labored for his victory.

Alternative parties are not supposed to matter in our winner-take-all corporate imitation of democracy, but this New York group and the nationwide Greens and Libertarians are playing a greater role in moving people to bother at all with election days that usually offer a lesser evil choice of cancer or polio.

Considering the massive obstacles put in place by the wealthy national ownership of the political-economic-electoral process, even small gains can inspire but also offer further experience to activists on how to present issues and candidates to the public and then organize to get understandably disgusted voters to the polls.

Some initiatives were even more hopeful than individual candidates, especially a minimum wage increase in New Jersey and an even bigger one - $15 an hour – in Washington. What we really need are a $20 an hour minimum wage, a twenty hour work week to make full employment and family life possible, a national health care program covering all, public banks, an end to multi billion dollar military meddling in other nation’s affairs, vastly improved schools and infrastructure paid for in part by the savings of such a peaceful policy, a much higher tax rate on the corporate rich, and a full employment program for americans that ends our destruction of foreign economies in order to create cheap immigrant labor here that pits natives against immigrants strengthening the divide and conquer policy that keeps a minority in power and a majority squabbling over massive losses it carries so that the even more massive profits are gorged on by an ever richer minority at the top.

It will take more than the electoral process to accomplish those ends and more, but that process is necessary even in an imitation democracy like ours. But for a real one it is absolutely essential. This election saw some victories, some setbacks, and as such was like all others. “They” of the minority still control the process and while “we” of the majority made some small gains, for substantial change and not simply more moving around of the deck chairs on the Titanic, future elections will need to offer far more opportunities than this one. We need to see to that and we’d better or they will continue leading us to greater inequality, more wars and ecological breakdown of the planetary life support system.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Vicious Anti-Semitism:First Bernie Madoff, Now This

SAC to Plead Guilty and Pay $1.2 Billion for Insider Trading


SAC Capital Advisors, the hedge fund owned by Steven A. Cohen, has agreed to plead guilty to insider trading violations, becoming the first large Wall Street firm in a generation to confess to criminal conduct.