Tom Ferguson – LikeTheDew.com http://likethedew.com A journal of progressive Southern culture and politics Wed, 11 Jul 2018 16:03:18 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.7 http://likethedew.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/cropped-DewLogoSquare825-32x32.png Tom Ferguson – LikeTheDew.com http://likethedew.com 32 32 The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner, Daniel Ellsberg http://likethedew.com/2018/07/02/the-doomsday-machine-confessions-of-a-nuclear-war-planner-daniel-ellsberg/ http://likethedew.com/2018/07/02/the-doomsday-machine-confessions-of-a-nuclear-war-planner-daniel-ellsberg/#respond Mon, 02 Jul 2018 12:25:08 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=69451

The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner by Daniel EllsbergFar into this book, Ellsberg quotes a commission report which unanimously recommended against pursuing the H-bomb (1,000 times more destructive than the A-bomb used on Hiroshima): “Any military advantage would be completely trumped(!) by the threat to humankind posed by the proliferation of these terrible weapons. They are necessarily an evil thing considered in any light.” The commission’s recommendation was, of course, overruled by the usual fear mongerers and profiteers and “these terrible weapons” were indeed developed, the chief source of the curse of apocalypse that hangs over our every moment.

Daniel Ellsberg, Ivy League whiz kid, was hired by the RAND corporation in the 50s, a mostly Defense Department-funded think tank. He was given a “go anywhere, talk to anybody about anything” mandate in a project to review U.S. nuclear policy. Ellsberg was shocked by much of what he encountered as he traveled from site to site, missile silos and far-flung bases across the world: the numbers of predicted casualties, in the millions, blithely noted; the communication problems and trigger points that could start an accidental nuclear exchange; the fact that China would be targeted and destroyed, with again, millions dead, even if it had nothing whatever to do with whatever conflict; that every city over 25,000 in the Soviet Union (and China) would be annihilated and that Western Europe, including all of Scandinavia, would become “collateral damage” from fallout. The realization came later, that Nuclear Winter would expand the collateral damage to the entire planet, essentially ending civilization, perhaps life on earth. This information, predictably, has not slowed the Doomsday Machine in the slightest.

Doomsday - painting by Tom Ferguson

An astonishing fact stands out in the narrative, that Ellsberg found very few, almost zero, moral objections to policies that amount to unprecedented genocide. This across over 7,000 pages of official documents. Add to this the near zero politicans willing to point out the actual threat, to candidly discuss the insanity and criminality of possessing these weapons. Instead candidates for high office strut and fret their macho hour upon the stage… a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing… as if their personal ambition, ideology, power and position were more important than that life continue on this planet. It is the peace activists and “fringe” politicians like Dennis Kucinich and Bernie Sanders who are willing to address these issues and who are marginalized by a mainstream media that seems to place the privilege of wealth above all other considerations. “Better dead than red” was an actual slogan in the 50s, part of an establishment effort to dampen a growing awareness among the population, of the nuclear danger. It is discouraging also to note that among the whole discussion in those official documents, of millions horribly vaporized, billions really since few if any would survive a full nuclear exchange, that among those documents there was virtually no discussion of disarmament, of summoning the energy and creativity to find a way around this terrible monster – of examining the obvious necessity, as MLK and other “radicals” attempted to point out, that we end war or it ends us.

The Pentagon Papers: The Secret History of the Vietnam WarEllsberg risked his freedom to release The Pentagon Papers, a secret and unflattering history of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Only the bungling of the Nixon crew saved him from prison. He intended to release secret papers about the insane nuclear policy but events conspired against that plan. The integrity and courage he displayed in the Marine Corps and his early RAND days did not wane as his point of view shifted from a patriotic commitment to the status quo to a realization of the threat to life that view entailed. The book details the careerist bureaucratic and ideological obstacles that stood (and stand) in the way of his effort to sound the alarm, how the frustration of those obstacles led him to risk all, in the case of the Pentagon Papers, and with this book, a renewed, urgent effort to reach the public in a time as, or perhaps more, dangerous than the cold war. I like to share a phrase I heard in my early activist education: Those who call for an end to war are dismissed as hopeless dreamers, but the only dreamers are those who think we can survive if we don’t.

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Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money and How Russia Helped Trump Win, Luke Harding http://likethedew.com/2018/05/07/collusion-secret-meetings-dirty-money-and-how-russia-helped-trump-win-luke-harding/ http://likethedew.com/2018/05/07/collusion-secret-meetings-dirty-money-and-how-russia-helped-trump-win-luke-harding/#respond Mon, 07 May 2018 12:00:51 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=69223 Collusion, Guardian investigative reporter Luke Harding assures us that the Russian/Trump connection scandal is even more disturbing than we might have thought. Sordid details confirm the worst. We're accustomed to corporate disregard for life system and workers in their singular pursuit of profits... and we're accustomed to politicians manipulating and lying but the Trump administration has taken this to new lengths. I mean, Gary Hart was driven out of a presidential race for dating a woman while separated from his spouse. Ed Muskie for raising his voice to be heard in a crowd and getting a little emotional in a speech. We have an administration of pro-business fanatics, yes, not all that unusual – corporations do heavily fund the campaigns of most contenders and so influence their policies. But when have we had high government officials routinely dallying and scheming with official enemies? Top government employees take oaths to defend the constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic so that would include also a lot of business interests, as well as the Nazi party and KKK... hell, even half the supreme court. But back to Russia.]]>

Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win by Luke HardingIn his book Collusion, Guardian investigative reporter Luke Harding assures us that the Russian/Trump connection scandal is even more disturbing than we might have thought. Sordid details confirm the worst. We’re accustomed to corporate disregard for life system and workers in their singular pursuit of profits… and we’re accustomed to politicians manipulating and lying but the Trump administration has taken this to new lengths. I mean, Gary Hart was driven out of a presidential race for dating a woman while separated from his spouse. Ed Muskie for raising his voice to be heard in a crowd and getting a little emotional in a speech. We have an administration of pro-business fanatics, yes, not all that unusual – corporations do heavily fund the campaigns of most contenders and so influence their policies. But when have we had high government officials routinely dallying and scheming with official enemies? Top government employees take oaths to defend the constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic so that would include also a lot of business interests, as well as the Nazi party and KKK… hell, even half the supreme court. But back to Russia.

Cutting to the chase, Russia is owned and run by and for oligarchs/gangsters. This seems a force more pernicious, and successful, than the former Soviet leaders, who supposedly were out to conqueor the world. These folks know how to do it. Maybe because they’ve harnessed the power of greed. Ironic for the nation that once proclaimed itself the champion of ordinary working people. Collusion makes it quite clear that not only is Russia interested in disrupting democracy everywhere but is also partnering, across national boundaries, with like-minded oligarchs. By hook or by crook, by bribery or blackmail, intimidation or partnership, they have captured the highest levels of U.S. government. The White House. and its power to appoint department heads and staff the judiciary, is taken. The congress is pretty much owned though there remains some feeble resistance. The Supreme Court is similar, corrupted but not fully in their hands, yet. State Houses across the country are also in the fold, states like Michigan and Wisconsin, former unionized strongholds of democracy. The fall elections may be the last opportunity for effective resistance to what is arguably a world-wide oligarchic coup.

That’s the conclusion. Collusion provides plenty of disturbing evidence. Take the Russian oligarch, Dmitry Rybolovlev, purchasing a Trump Florida mansion for $95 million. Trump had paid $41 million four years early. This in a sagging Florida market. The Russian oligarch never even visited the building, before nor after purchase. He ended up having it demolished. Was this money laundering? A payoff, purchasing perhaps a U.S. president? At least 63 individuals with Russian passports purchased Trump-branded Tower properties in Florida totaling $98 million. Many of the other buyers were limited liability companies whose owners were not identifiable. More Russian mobsters than seems coincidental owned or own Trump Tower Manhattan condos or have offices there.

When Trump’s casinos went bankrupt it was Deutsche Bank, a German bank with New York offices, that bailed him out. All previous lenders were refusing loan requests, having been once burned. Later Deutsche NY was suing him to recover $640 million he had personally guaranteed for more Trump Towers, an acrimonious situation of suits and counter-suits. Deutsch Bank in Germany did two very odd things. They loaned him, a guy who was refusing to repay loans, the money to pay off his loans and undertake new projects. The other odd thing, Deutsche was caught money-laundering, Russian money laundering, in the billions.

The Russian hacking is also broader than I was aware. They may have tilted the British Brexit vote and interfered in French and German elections as well, probably others. They like to fund both left and right factions, but seem to prefer zany rightwingers like Le Pen, in France. The object is to disrupt targeted democracies. The ideal of course would be to place “agents” or compromised candidates in powerful positions. This they seem to have done, to such a degree that we may not be allowed to find out, it being far from certain that the Mueller investigation will be allowed to continue. An informed, activist electorate is probably more critical today than at any other time in U.S. history.

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Testimony, Robbie Robertson & Gangster, George Anastasia http://likethedew.com/2018/04/16/testimony-robbie-robertson-gangster-george-anastasia/ http://likethedew.com/2018/04/16/testimony-robbie-robertson-gangster-george-anastasia/#respond Mon, 16 Apr 2018 16:55:56 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=69182

The title of this memoir, Testimony, begs the question, where’s the cross examination?

This Wheel's on Fire: Levon Helm and the Story of the BandMy jokey reference has to do with the feud between Robertson and drummer Levon Helm. That tension is finessed in this intriguing view of one of rock’s great bands, the Americana rockers, the Band. Levon’s main complaint in his book, This Wheel’s on Fire, was that Robbie pretty much broke up the band by hoarding songwriting credits, and the money that brought his way. Robbie claims that he insisted on equal credits, shared royalties early on, but later in the book mentions, without explanation, that he made sure Richard and Rick got credit on one of his songs. Obviously he wouldn’t have to do that if they were taking equal credit.

It’s an unsettled argument. I tend to come down with tradition. The songwriter gets songwriter royalties, the performers get performance royalties, so that’s just standard. REM deviated perhaps by sharing equally but Stipe only did the lyrics so that makes sense. It is absolutely true that the other members of The Band gave the songs personality, contributing mightily to their success… yet, that is recognized in performance royalties. But I ain’t arguing, I don’t get any of that action. Besides, Levon seemed like an ornery cuss sometimes, even without the array of paranoia-inducing drugs he, and they, got into. Witness him leaving the band when they were touring with and getting boo-ed by Dylan’s folk fans for going electric. Witness him pulling the scope out of his nose-throat exam in that documentary. And witness Levon, Rick and Richard all going stupid and doing heroin. So, petty stuff went on, yeah, but what music came out of that combination of personalities. They probably could have made interesting music getting lyrics out of the phone book but Robbie’s lyrics hit a chord with the public.

Testimony by Robbie RobertsonThe Last WaltzIn Testimony, the book covers Robertson’s early life but ends after the Band’s filmed finale in the venue they first played as the Band, San Francisco’s Winterland. This was the acclaimed film, The Last Waltz. It is so hard to get and hold a band together, a truth echoed in Robbie’s observation when he spent time with John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo and of course in his own band. This is a fun part of the book, little teasing introductions to celebs Robbie routinely ran into – Jonie Mitchell, James Taylor, Carly Simon, Miles Davis, Henry Miller, David Geffen, Charles Loyd, Neil Young, Jamie James (Jimmie Hendrix), Van Morrison, Eric Clapton, SLN crew, endless musicians, apparently totally comfortable and un-awed. Just as Previte the gangster found himself the smartest guy in the room, so did Robbie, often enough to insure his acceptance in those rarified circles.

At 15, Robbie’s then band opened for Ronnie Hawkins in Toronto. Ronnie was impressed and invited the precocious guitarist to audition. He dropped out of high school and trained to Arkansa, was given a chance to prove himself and worked to make that happen. They had to disguise his age since they were playing clubs he was too young to enter – fake mustache, etc;. Levon Helm, the only other eventual Band member at the time, became Robbie’s mentor and confidant. Personnel changes and Ronnie Hawkins’ eventual shift in interest whittled the group out and down to the five guys who made music history, first as Dylan’s backup band, then as the Band. It was their musical mastery and Robbie’s songs (and Dylan’s) at the heart of their taking the country by storm. Funny, in some of Dylan’s interviews he complained about getting bands together in high school and having someone come along and steal the players. He finally got his revenge by swooping in on Ronnie Hawkins, taking the Band on tour.

CarnyI watched an interview with Robbie, promoting his book, on youtube. He wasn’t asked if he’s still making music or much about what he’s been up to. Immediately after The Last Waltz, he was in a film with Gary Busey and Jody Foster, Carny it was called. But apparently he made enough money and got enough of the spotlight that he could just do whatever quiet thing he decided to do. Which, wikipedia tells me, is a lot: producing other artists, doing film scores, solo albums, co-writing, getting awards left and right. Having a rich, princely life.

Gangster by George AnastasiaThe first song Robbie got published, at 15, was stolen by a mob-infiltrated publishing company. Which brings me to another book I’ve been reading, Gangster by George Anastasia. This is a genre I return to periodically, that I find fascinating for some reason. One of the many despicable things mobsters do is move in on an established business, like the publishing company, and take it over, or demand a percentage of the profits for “protection,” maybe use if also for money laundering.

Ron Previte was nudged out of the Air Force when his incorrigible thievery became obvious but not proveable. With an honorable discharge he was able to join the Philadelphia police department where he took his skills to new heights. Again his behavior, not so uncommon for awhile in that department, became a liability when a reformist Chief came aboard. Nudged out again he took up security work at the new Atlantic City casinos. Now the thievery got truly imaginative, profitable and decadent. Eventually he was busted and became an informer for the New Jersey State Police. This allowed him to pursue his criminality unimpeded. Disgusted with him after some years the state passed him onto the FBI.

His casino and street work had brought him into contact with the Philadelphia mob and since he was such an “earner” he wormed his way into their hearts. He discovered that he was pretty consistently the smartest guy in the room so didn’t mind ratting these sorry guys out, feeling that it was only a matter of time before they were all in prison anyway. Over a period of years he wore a wire and got the goods for the FBI. He continued his shake-downs, extortion, drugs, receiving stolen property business (never murder he claims), making substantial money all while drawing a salary from the Feds and allowing them to fund schemes designed to lure mobsters into drug deals and various other illegal operations in order to get them off the streets.

Previte seemed to admire the old time gangsters with their Omerta and so-called “honor” but the new version, typified by New York’s John Gotti, was foolishly flamboyant, way too public, courting the media, public and ostentatious spending, seeking celebrity… obviously bringing attention to themselves in ways that would advantage the authorities who wanted to bring them down. Omerta of course was the code of silence practiced by the older generation but suddenly, facing life in prison, many criminals, even high-ranking Cosa Nostra made members, did deals with prosecutors that decimated the ranks. There certainly was no lack of replacements but it was becoming more and more stressful and risky to pursue criminality for profit. The deal-making with authorities became quite contagious and, at least for awhile, the Philadelphia mob was in disarray.

The government made a deal with the highest ranking mobster in Philadelphia to testify against his former cronies, which didn’t work out so well for the government. Juries returned “not proven” verdicts on all charges dependent on boss Ralph Natale’s testimony. The government had Natale but gave it up for nothing, as it turned out. The big boss is handed a get-out-of-jail-free card. Ron Previte however, with his tapes, was more successful, putting many of the crew in for relatively long terms. They were not convicted of the murders they were surely guilty of, disappointing the prosecutors and FBI, having traded the top boss for a chance at the others, especially the real boss, Joey Merlino. They did however put top cadre away for a good many years, 14 for Merlino, not enough given his crimes, but still… and the Feds were moving in on the replacement boss, Joe Ligambi, now presiding over only about a dozen members, down from 70. And the 300 pound “fat rat”, Ron Previte? Five years probation and a million dollars for risking his life to make those recordings. Of course the vacuum created by good police work was soon filled by Russian and East European gangsters, another story.

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Atomic Accidents, One Summer, The Way of All Flesh, O. Henry, James Gallant http://likethedew.com/2018/03/25/atomic-accidents-one-summer-the-way-of-all-flesh-o-henry-james-gallant/ http://likethedew.com/2018/03/25/atomic-accidents-one-summer-the-way-of-all-flesh-o-henry-james-gallant/#respond Sun, 25 Mar 2018 18:31:55 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=69060

Reading books carefully by Tom FergusonGiven the facts about the effects of the livestock industry on the life system, our health and the animals, meat-eaters are nudged toward vegetarianism, vegetarians towards veganism. Denial of course kicks in quickly for many. Given the facts about nuclear power and weapons, the devastating accidents, already upon us and hanging over us always potentially, with its expense, its mind-bogglingly long-term waste, its devilishly complicated design and proliferation issues, the average person shudders and takes a stand against. The average nuclear physicist or technician, enthralled with the intricate technical challenges, may acknowledge the dangers and expense but in the end, overwhelmingly, like the meat-eater, comes down in favor.

Atomic Accidents, A History of Nuclear Meltdowns and Disasters by James MahaffeyThus comes down James Mahaffey in his book, Atomic Accidents, A History of Nuclear Meltdowns and Disasters. Despite Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and now Fukushima (and many others), all discussed quite objectively in the book, with just the slightest pro-nuke coloration, he jumps to a conclusion little different than the propaganda we’ve heard over the years. True, he is grounded in knowledge that allows him to pounce upon mis-readings and misunderstandings among the non-scientist opposition but still, we’re talking about boiling water here. Well, and destroying civilization – the slow way or the fast way. But to the scientist, all this is understandably fascinating. It’s a bit like religion. The first one that gets ahold of you, you usually stick to. Why isn’t the challenge of intermittency for solar and wind as fascinating a challenge? Seems reasonable to assume that it could be met given the billions spent on nuclear. Some claim that it is already met. See Arjun Makhijani’s, Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free, A Roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy, a free download at IEER.org (Institute for Energy & Environmental Research). Then there is the disturbing fact Harvey Wasserman points out, that every nuclear reactor is a pre-positioned nuclear device to a terrorist.

A Brief History of Nearly Everything by Bill BrysonBill Bryson is an entertaining writer. His, A Brief History of Nearly Everything starts out by explaining that the Universe as we know it is rather roomy. And he does try to cover everything the development of science has revealed. To keep it interesting he often lingers on dramatic threats, like the fact that the whole of Yellowstone is a potential magma explosion, perhaps relieved or delayed by the effusions of Old Faithful and the like. Were the explosion to occur we would have basically the same effect as nuclear winter with a massive dust cloud blocking the sun for longer than civilization can probably stand, at least the U.S. version. And this explosion happens to be well overdue if you believe in geologic patterns. His One Summer is lighter fare. Everything in the book pivots from some event that happened in the summer of 1927. Lindberg’s crossing the Atlantic, Al Capone’s corrupting presence in Chicago, talking movies, broadway plays and the exodus to Hollywood of its finest actors, Henry Ford’s Model T and A, the decisions that locked in the coming stock market crash, Coolidge, Hoover and Roosevelt. And, as they say, more! A very fun read for your beach trip.

The Way of All Flesh by Samuel ButlerNow I had heard somehow of the book by Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh. At one time I scoured yard sales picking up paperback classics by anyone I ever heard of in the great book department. This I recently found in my collection, so yellowed and brittle that, after a few pages I decided to get a hardback copy from the library. I even wrote a song, stealing the title without having read it in 1990, The Way of the Flesh (see https://thinkspeak.bandcamp.com/track/the-way-of-the-flesh). Well I’ve always been impressed by people who can talk, or write and this guy, Sam Butler is one, not as witty perhaps as Sam Clemens, but still, eloquent and knowledgeable enough to impress me, and keep me reading. He is constantly meandering off his story with little asides exploring human psychology, usually ending with an indeterminate dismissal of the subject as hopelessly controversial. As I’m only a few chapters into it I have little to report other than it fits into the late 19th century oeuvre of master writers, some claiming it as standing very near the tippy top of the genre.

The Best Short Stories of O. Henry William Sidney PorterSpeaking of eloquence and mastery of language, I seem to remember an early television series called O. Henry, based on his short stories (real name William Sidney Porter). The writer, similar approximate time-frame to Butler, interestingly spent some time in prison where he began to develop the craft of, as my friend Jim Marsh calls it, scribbling. Poor bloke had only ten years to write, dying with 23 cents in his pocket. I put one of his books on library hold and when I picked it up needed help to carry it to the car. I can only take it a short story at a time for it weighs heavily on my lap. I’ve developed a callous and a crink in my left hand holding it up, turning the pages with my right. So far it is situated in Central America where the author spent some time. He is noted for his kind of Rod Serling-esgue twists in the endings without the metaphysical aspect. I am going to have to renew this one more than once, coming in at 1400 pages.

Whatever Happened to Ohio? by James GallantI’ll end this sojourn with a reference to the new James Gallant e-book I’ve acquired, Whatever Happened to Ohio?. It has a wonderful hot-air balloon cover image to kind of lure you into the whimsical fantasy aspect of the tale. Said tale is highly populated, shifting from character to character in a tentatively bewildering mix which I trust, knowing Gallant’s skills, will evolve into some mightily interesting, clever and satisfying resolution. The proof is in his earlier book, The Big Bust at Tyrone’s Rooming House, set in my Atlanta neighborhood. http://tfthinkspeak.blogspot.com/2017/10/meandering-mind-stream.html This is the first e-book I’ve read and I do declare, it has some appealing features. It certainly isn’t heavy in my lap.

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The Deep State: the Fall of the Constitution and Rise of a Shadow Government by Mike Lofgren http://likethedew.com/2018/03/06/the-deep-state-the-fall-of-the-constitution-and-rise-of-a-shadow-government-by-mike-lofgren/ http://likethedew.com/2018/03/06/the-deep-state-the-fall-of-the-constitution-and-rise-of-a-shadow-government-by-mike-lofgren/#respond Tue, 06 Mar 2018 13:46:09 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=68943 The Deep State does not, as I expected, delve into the secretive intelligence agencies but rather studies the mostly corporate oligarchy, their lobbyists and the bureaucracy whose prime motivation is job security and advancement. Such factions are served by policies that perpetuate the status quo and resist reform. Whether these policies promote the general welfare is a matter of indifference, if not hostility to the players. The CIA, NSA etc; have their role but as servants not masters. Lofgren's very nicely written prose is embedded with intriguing and devastating tidbits on the deep state, like these:
  • After 28 years as congressional staff member I increasingly viewed all political ideologies as mental and emotional crutches, substitute religions: for leaders, a means of manpulating attitudes and behaviors; for the rank and file, a lazy surrogate for problem solving and a way of fulfilling the craving to belong to something bigger than oneself.
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Mike Lofgfren’s The Deep State does not, as I expected, delve into the secretive intelligence agencies but rather studies the mostly corporate oligarchy, their lobbyists and the bureaucracy whose prime motivation is job security and advancement. Such factions are served by policies that perpetuate the status quo and resist reform. Whether these policies promote the general welfare is a matter of indifference, if not hostility to the players. The CIA, NSA etc; have their role but as servants not masters. Lofgren’s very nicely written prose is embedded with intriguing and devastating tidbits on the deep state, like these:

  • A tape measure using dollars - illustration by Tom FergusonAfter 28 years as congressional staff member I increasingly viewed all political ideologies as mental and emotional crutches, substitute religions: for leaders, a means of manpulating attitudes and behaviors; for the rank and file, a lazy surrogate for problem solving and a way of fulfilling the craving to belong to something bigger than oneself.
  • Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich employed chaos, polarization and scapegoating to carry out a divide-and-rule strategy, destroying what bi-partisanship had existed previously.
  • A clique of neoconservative ideologues, both inside and outside the Bush administration, abetted at every step by the mainstream media, acted as carnival barkers for the most destructive and self-defeating policies since Vietnam.
  • I told whoever would listen that the “slam dunk” evidence of Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction was weak and that by invading Iraq the U.S. might be purchasing its very own West Bank on steroids. The total bill for Iraq summed up to a nice, round trillion dollars.
  • The U.S. economy was mutating into a casino with a tilted wheel, a Wall Street constructed heads-I-win-tails-you-lose Ponzi scheme resulting in the meltdown of 2008.
  • The twin shocks of 9/11 and the Great Recession seem mentally to have unhinged a portion of the people and much of the political class. Thus followed crazy arguments about the president’s birth certificate, death panels and voters shouting that the government must get its hands off their government-provided Medicare.
  • A new crop of Tea Party freshman announced that their first priority was to drive the country into a sovereign debt default. The circus was being run from the monkey cage.
  • Our venerable institutions have outwardly remained the same but they have grown more and more resistant to the popular will as they have become hardwired into a corporate and private influence network with almost unlimited cash to enforce its will.
  • The rural counties of West Virginia and eastern Kentucky, large areas of Detroit, Cleveland, Camden and many other U.S. cities, qualify as third-world. At the same time, wealth beyond computation piles up in the money center of New York and the technology hub of Palo Alto, enough to purchase a $95,000 truffle, a $38 million vintage Ferrari or $179 million Picasso before the balance is parked in an off-shore hiding place.
  • These are symptoms of a shadow government that pays little heed to the plain words of the Constitution.
  • The Deep State is the red thread that runs through the war on terrorism, militarization of foreign policy, financialization and deindustrialization of the U.S. economy and the rise of plutocracy.

A tidbit also from the book is that the author is a former Reaganite whose 28 years on the Hill gave him a close-up of the sausage-making, which transformed (radicalized) the way he saw the world. The above bullet points all come from the first 5 pages of the introduction. The book is full of them. Here are a few more or less randomly selected from deeper in:

  • A Kennedy quote, “D.C. Is a town of northern charm and southern efficiency.”, injects a little humor to the discouraging list.
  • Sam Ervin the much-loved, Shakespeare-quoting chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee Watergate hearings was also the author of The Southern Manifesto, a document urging defiance of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education.
  • Those who bray about “family values” fail to consider that the modern U.S. economy is increasingly unable to deliver the stable, well-paid jobs, medical insurance and family leave that make such a way of life possible.
  • Politicians are too busy raising money and looking over their shoulder to do much socializing.
  • At frequent points during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, the tongue-tied George W. Bush sorely needed the mellifluous double-talk of British prime minister Tony Blair, on the theory that nothing sells hideously awful policy as well as an Oxford accent.
  • If the American people did not voluntarily give informed consent to the web of unaccountable influence that radiates from Washington and permeates the country, then their passive acquiescence, aided by false appeals to patriotism and occasional doses of fear, surely played a role.
  • A lot of money is changing hands, both in campaign fund-raising and honararia to government personnel whose “distinguished” careers set them up for a payday beyond imagining for most U.S. citizens.
  • When Obama, for once, sought a negotiated solution to a problem in the Middle East rather than unilaterally employing force, Republicans presented a nearly united wall of opposition.
  • Do the citizens of the U.S. consciously decide with their votes that the safety of their drinking water is a lesser priority than delivering suitcases of off-the-books cash to a corrupt satrap running Afghanistan?

These entertaining bullet points are merely a sampling of the multitude of mixed joys you’ll encounter in the writing of this career bureaucrat, before he sets down some suggestions as to what it might take to overcome the latest guilded age. The first on that 9 item list is “Eliminate private money from public elections.” The others are: sensibly downsize and redeploy the military and intelligence complex; stay out of the Middle East; redirect the peace dividend to domestic infrastructure improvement; enforce antitrust laws; reform tax policy (to get corporations paying their share); reform immigration policy; adopt a single-payer health care system; abolish corporate personhood status. He details those proposals and closes his book on an optimistic note – We are situated to where we can turn this around, despite our many institutional flaws and the accretion of ideological myths that have impaired our ability to see the world as it is and live sensibly and peacably within it.

From a conservative Reagan appointee to this list of recommendations is quite a leap and exactly the transformation needed for a critical mass of the remaining Reaganites and fellow travelers, if we are to avoid social and environmental catastrophe.

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Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari http://likethedew.com/2018/02/11/sapiens-a-brief-history-of-humankind-by-yuval-noah-harari/ http://likethedew.com/2018/02/11/sapiens-a-brief-history-of-humankind-by-yuval-noah-harari/#respond Sun, 11 Feb 2018 19:02:49 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=68851 Big Bang and what followed - being physics, chemistry, biology and finally culture, throwing in everything but the kitchen sink, though it is implied. Once evolution had produced, according to Harari, the last common Grandmother of Chimpanzees and humans, we emerged as the genus Homo, breaking into several main camps - Erectus, Rudolfensis, Neanderthalensis and Sapiens, with other short-lived (relatively speaking) members who didn't make it. Of course, neither did the main ones, except for a ferocious serial killer called Homo Sapien. Harari accuses this group, us, of virtual genocide in bringing to extinction the other members as well as hoards of other species and genera.]]>

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah HarariThe subject of Sapiens is a trifle broad, covering as it does, beginning at the beginning, Big Bang and what followed – being physics, chemistry, biology and finally culture, throwing in everything but the kitchen sink, though it is implied.

Once evolution had produced, according to Harari, the last common grandmother of chimpanzees and humans, we emerged as the genus Homo, breaking into several main camps – Erectus, Rudolfensis, Neanderthalensis and Sapiens, with other short-lived (relatively speaking) members who didn’t make it. Of course, neither did the main ones, except for a ferocious serial killer called Homo Sapien. Harari accuses this group, us, of virtual genocide in bringing to extinction the other members as well as hoards of other species and genera.

You can keep your left thumb marking the timeline just before the first chapter. It informs us that the Universe has been expanding for 13.5 billion years, the earth settled in around 4.5 billion, a billion years later organisms emerged, and the genus Homo appeared about 2.5 million. Homo Sapien comes in at 200,000 years and their (our) cognitive revolution at 70,000. A lot of this stuff you, as a casual reader, have to, like the Trump follower, take on faith, trust the experts, although in this case the “experts” have credibility.

Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah HarariThe timeframe in question here is divided up into major revolutions by the author – after hunting and foraging for a few million years someone got the fateful idea, about 12,000 years back, to have an Agricultural Revolution, with its domestication of plants and animals. This was gradual, despite my wit but carried on until the Scientific Revolution of only 500 years ago. What made these revolutions possible also sealed the extinction of the other members of the Homo club, what Harari calls the Cognitive Revolution of about 70,000 years back. This DNA mutation or whatever, enabled Homo Sapien to imagine, which enabled complex social structures. Sapien was no match, one to one, for the stronger Neanderthal but the capacity to imagine, to “fictionalize”, gave us a fatal, for them, advantage. And it laid the ground for our own successor, the non-biological being we are about to create. Harari leads us to this argument but puts off the sales job to his next book, Homo Deus.

And that is an impressive feat, to have another book to follow this comprehensive, dense look at our journey. I would have thought he’d be exhausted and at most, ferreting around for the energy to begin to research his next scholarly project. The guy has already done it. But back to this one. He throws in interesting details like, it took 300,000 years for the daily use of fire to become routine. There is a persuasive description of how animals became domesticated. He credits the quirky adoption, in Western Europe, of an attitude of incomplete knowledge, curiosity, with its eventual dominance, in the form of a capitalist colonialism. That colonialism was (is) cruel with dire consequences AND he would argue, benefits. The mindset retrieved lost knowledge of India’s past civilizations, for example, and united a diverse array of people into the present state of India. It also engaged in some serious drug dealing, even going to war with China for its right to sell opium there, gaining also the long-term lease of what came to be Hong Kong.

Harari likes to challenge convention, provoke a little controversy. He suggests that Homo Sapien was more content in the days of hunting/gathering, had more leisure and enjoyment whereas the agricultural life brought us tedium and long work days, extending down the long line to our own over-scheduled lives. He argues that the ability to imagine myths and religions, beliefs, enabled Sapiens to create large cities and empires, something the pre-cognitive peoples lacked. This short-coming limited the size of a band of foragers to less than 150 members. He lays out some perfectly arbitrary and ridiculous beliefs, contrasts them with contemporary thought and suggests that they serve the same function. When someone says they love their country they don’t realize that the whole thing is fiction, the “country” is an arbitrary area. That the value of money or property are completely fictive, unreal. He sketches the development of money from early barley to coinage to electronic transfer of funds around the planet, all imaginary and based on trust. Despite the “truth or not” of these beliefs, they unify, provide the cohesion necessary for a society to thrive, even if it’s only an elite who actually prospers.

Speaking of controversy, Harari describes Sapien as a vicious, efficient serial killer. He backs this up by showing that we had reached the far corners of the earth, spread from Africa, across Europe and Asia, to Australia, to the tip of South America by 10,000 BC. Wherever we went, vast numbers of other species went extinct. This trend continues though of course, like a virulent parasite, we insure our own demise when we kill our host. We have grown in numbers from one million 150,000 years ago to today’s near 7 billion, crowding other species out, with our numbers and with our domestication and thus proliferation of certain species ie, chickens, cows, pigs. All unsustainable.

Along with two colleagues, in the late 90s, I attended a 5 day course called Living on the Edge of Evolution. We covered much of the same ground as Sapiens and there was an emphasis on values. What values brought us to this moment in time? What values do we need to adopt to survive the fate our current values are bringing us to ie, nuclear holocaust, polluted life system, over-population? The three of us returned to Atlanta and did several 7 week workshops using the template of that training in California. The workshops culminated in intensive weekends in North Georgia where we all left rejuvenated and optimistic about the future of Sapiens and the life system. Little did we know what was coming in the Bush/Cheney administrations, the disappointing Obama presidency and now, the calamity.

The author’s notion of where Sapien is heading does not cheer me up either. When I think of how empires have treated their new subjects, how corporate raiders treat their acquisitions, how the patriarchy treats women, minorities, slaves… I fear for the people of my home country when the next empire rumbles into town, China perhaps, Harari’s notion of AI (artificial intellegence) a non-biology critter or an advanced culture from another galaxy or dimension. We can hope, despite discouraging precedent, that they will break with the historical record and come with beneficial intentions. It could, and should, happen from within but in these discouraging times it is hard to muster the imagination in that direction.

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Post-script: The citizen who identifies with the current leadership supposes that that leadership represents their interests. Why? Probably because the leadership seems to mouth important shared values. One way for the ordinary citizen to free themselves from this association, which I suggest is actually NOT in that citizen’s interests, is to examine those supposed shared values – racism for example. The average citizen actually has more in common with workers of other races, ethnicities and nations than with the so-called leadership and those who control them, the 1%.

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Open Veins of Latin America, Eduardo Galeano http://likethedew.com/2018/01/21/open-veins-of-latin-america-eduardo-galeano/ http://likethedew.com/2018/01/21/open-veins-of-latin-america-eduardo-galeano/#respond Sun, 21 Jan 2018 19:37:40 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=68639 Open Veins of Latin America Edwardo Galeano has written a Latin American equivalent of Howard Zinn's People's History of the U.S. As difficult as it has been for the subject of Zinn's book, not your generals and presidents but the people, ordinary workers, the plight of Latin America's people has been much harsher. More akin to the victims of slavery and the land-stealing expansion and massacre of Native Americans. The ruling class in the U.S., or much of it, currently aspires to total control whereas the rulers of our southern neighbors have had it from day one. First the native population was coopted, enslaved and slaughtered. Then came ...]]>

Open Veins of Latin America by Eduardo GaleanoOpen Veins of Latin America Eduardo Galeano has written a Latin American equivalent of Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the U.S. As difficult as it has been for the subject of Zinn’s book, not your generals and presidents but the people, ordinary workers, the plight of Latin America’s people has been much harsher. More akin to the victims of slavery and the land-stealing expansion and massacre of Native Americans. The ruling class in the U.S., or much of it, currently aspires to total control whereas the rulers of our southern neighbors have had it from day one. First the native population was coopted, enslaved and slaughtered. Then came that part of the population not deft, clever, well-placed or ruthless enough to insinuate themselves into the local elite. Slavery, slaughter, hunger and merciless exploitation has been the daily grind of those unfortunates.

Galeano points out that the settlers of the U.S. had to eck out a way to survive, taking cues from the natives at first who knew how to do it. Since there were no particularly desireable resources, like the gold of South Amercia, to hypnotize European royalty, North America became primarily a dumping ground for Europe’s access population. The fiercest focus of exploitation was where the gold was, at first, then various natural resources. So, by a sort of distraction the colonies developed an independence not tolerated in the south. Even later, with the settlement of the west, the general population rather than an elite was given land. If they worked it successfully they prospered, or at least survived. With the southern model, workers did not own land but were viewed as disposable slaves or cheap labor, working it for the owners. The owners were sub-colonialists for the European masters. This accounts for the greater prosperity of the north, according to Galeano. This prosperity, obviously, excluded the original inhabitants and slaves, a legacy of unimaginable injustice that lives on, nurtured by white privilege and class division. The 1% profited from the scourge of slavery and continues to profit from the division caused by racism and an abysmal ignorance.

This was the situation in Latin America, colonialism. With national independence a neo-colonialism emerged where a local elite thrived serving the European manipulators, exchanging local resources and cheap labor, for luxury imports and a privileged life. The slaves and later the peasants were kept in line by the usual methods – the whip, the overseer, the police and army. One exception occurred but like the French Revolution, was soon crushed by surrounding nations, threatened by a “bad” example. Paraguay came under the dictatorship of Gaspar Rodriguez de Francia who reversed the usual state of affairs. Torture, prison, police and death squads were put to work but this time against the oligarchy instead of dissidents in the general population. Land reform, locally beneficial projects, industry were all developed for a truly independent Paraguay, escaping the colonialism directed by Eurpoean business interests. These by the way, were primarily British. Even when the gold was flowing to Spain and Portugal, the lion’s share ended up in Britain via their business acumen versus the royal families’ aristocratic, decadent and unsustainable wars and lifestyles. These frivolous values were exported of course to Latin America, mirrored in elite rule and mass poverty. The Paraguayan experiment lasted from 1814 – 1840 under Gaspar and to about 1865 under his successors who continued and vitalized the policies. Travelers of the times remarked that Paraquay lacked beggars, thieves, hunger, illiteracy and great fortunes held by oligarchs.

Brazil and Argentina, threatened by the subversion of this “bad apple,” invaded Uruguay and from there Paraguay, putting a stop to the experiment in the most decisive and ruthless manner, returning the country to the fold of cheap labor, export economy, elite rule and a seriously outta luck peasantry. The true winner in this endeavor was neither Brazil nor Argentina but British bankers who funded the war, leaving both countries deeply in debt. Eventually Latin America left the British orbit, only to be captured by the U.S. as it became the dominant imperialist power. Remember the Monroe Doctrine?

There have been some hopeful developments since Galeano’s book was published in 1971 – Chavez, Castro, Nicaragua but on the whole the oligarchy beats back any threat. The U.S. (under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the “liberal” President Obama) was quick to recognize a coup in Honduras that overthrew a democratically elected president on flimsy pretenses, paid mercenaries, terrorists really, to turn back Nicaragua’s revolution under Reagan, and of course has been illegally attacking and undermining Cuba since 1959, meddling with Venezuela’s attempts to extricate itself from colonialism and supported oppressive regimes and coups all over Central and South America. This is the force running through not just Latin America’s history but the world’s… a force that has mostly, but not always, overwhelmed the resistance that arises to its injustice. This is the cancerous force that must be subdued if our species is to have any hope of surviving. It is out there, yes, but it is also in here, and seductive. Though it is another discussion, the struggle between greed and justice can be reduced to the question of who will dominate, both personally and societal, ego or presence.

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Author’s Post Script: Venezuela’s President Chavez handed Obama a copy of Open Veins at a function. Obama later said, to his shame, “He can give it to me but I don’t have to read it.”

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No Is Not Enough by Naomi Klein http://likethedew.com/2017/12/29/no-is-not-enough-by-naomi-klein/ http://likethedew.com/2017/12/29/no-is-not-enough-by-naomi-klein/#respond Fri, 29 Dec 2017 16:15:39 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=68519 No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump's Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need Naomi Klein refers back to another of her books, No Logo, to talk about Trump's early recognition of the business idea to – instead of selling products, objects, sell his brand. His outrageous behavior got him attention and that helped build the Trump brand. Marketing the brand brought him millions and, the cherry on top, the presidency – where he continues his same outsized strategy.]]>

Editorial cartoon by Tom Ferguson of Uncle Sam holding the door of a man fat with money - Uncle Sam says, "Door's always open to you, sir."

In No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need Naomi Klein refers back to another of her books, No Logo, to talk about Trump’s early recognition of the business idea to – instead of selling products, objects, sell his brand. His outrageous behavior got him attention and that helped build the Trump brand. Marketing the brand brought him millions and, the cherry on top, the presidency – where he continues his same outsized strategy.

He didn’t have to pursue far right values but those values seem to accompany an all-that-matters-is-money logic. Given the stories about his refusing to pay contractors, coming out on top of deals with little regard for ethics or fairness, bankruptcies, it is quite astonishing that voters would expect him to suddenly display benevolent behavior toward them. He railed against the loss of manufacturing jobs in the U.S. but his brands were all outsourced.

The recent tax bill is another instance of blatant betrayal. Another consequence of and motivation for this bill is that increasing the national debt makes the kind of social programs the Right disapproves of unaffordable. I suppose you have to factor in the alienation – the anti-establishment to-hell-with-it attitude of frustrated working people feeling financial vulnerability bearing down on them without a clear idea that it’s coming from predatory capitalism.

Then there’s the Fox News factor. Who was it said when a Faux News figure moved to work for the Bush Administration, “The merger of the Republican party with Fox News is now complete.” The anomie is shifted, with the help of these unscrupulous zealots, to immigrants, minorities, liberals or some other scapegoat. The “smart” con man worked this field with impressive results.

Klein also references her important book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism to warn that the agenda now being pursued works best under cover of some crisis. They’re going full bore but the resistance is always easier to overcome when some dramatic smokescreen is available. The Patriot Act was rammed through congress with hardly a dissenting voice in the aftermath of the 911 crisis, a bill that gave the executive branch grave undemocratic powers.

The author hopefully postulates that it is harder to use the shock doctrine, or crisis capitalism, when the population has already been shaken down. For example, Klein suggests that the right wing Spanish government attempted to use a bombing in a Madrid subway to herd the population toward its agenda but that attempt backfired because the populace had already been manipulated by the right so often that they could see it coming, promptly throwing that government out of office, and pulling Spanish troops out of Iraq.

Other examples are given to encourage U.S. citizens to be prepared for the likelihood that Trump will create or use any crisis that might arise to advance those parts of his agenda that ordinarily would be strongly resisted. Like rolling back social security, something the right resisted at its creation and has been yearning to repeal ever since.

Although nuclear war, accidental or not, and over-population are very real threats to our civilization, the most urgent in Klein’s view is climate change. It is disheartening in the extreme then to consider Trump’s appointments to cabinet positions, climate deniers one and all. Rex Tillerson of Exxon, Secretary of State? Jeff Sessions, known racist, Attorney General? Scott Pruitt, EPA Administrator, known for his cosy relations with fossil fuels industry? Rick Perry, Energy Secretary, the guy whose position, during the presidential campaign, was that the department should be eliminated? Goldman Sacks in all things financial? The fox in the hen house, as the saying goes.

And there are those deluded souls who believe that they can turn a profit from war. War also is one of those crises behind which much profitable mischief can be carried out. It provides a nice distraction. Clinton attempted to deflect attention away from his, ah, problems, by bombing a pharmaceutical plant in Africa, pretending it was a bomb plant. Bush/Cheney were under investigation for insider trading when “patriotism” required disappearance of such investigation when the good ol’ boys invaded Iraq. Hopefully we have been conned enough to meet the next one with an effective skepticism.

Naomi suggests that the aesthetics of branding is Dynasty-meets-Louis XIV…. gold and flash. Trump’s brand is the ultimate boss who can do whatever he wants, as exampled by his own boasting about grabbing whoever he wants wherever he wants. What might have been scandalous in the pre-branding era, is now just proof of being a “winner” in the power/wealth game. Someone gets stepped on? More proof. Being entirely amoral, he thinks he can get away with anything. Being president is the ultimate branding tool. Mar-a-lago has doubled its membership fees to $200,000. The president meets there with world leaders. His children meet with them and cut deals. So the presidency and U.S. government are now a for-profit family business. Where can the ego go from here?

Reagan began de-regulation with a vengeance, Clinton, Bush and Obama enabled it further. Klein notes that this is a wholesale disparaging of the public sphere. Deregulation was like fertilizer for Trump and he is pushing it, if we-the-public let him, to where it will be irreversible.

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The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI, Betty Medsger http://likethedew.com/2017/12/16/the-burglary-the-discovery-of-j-edgar-hoovers-secret-fbi-by-betty-medsger/ http://likethedew.com/2017/12/16/the-burglary-the-discovery-of-j-edgar-hoovers-secret-fbi-by-betty-medsger/#comments Sat, 16 Dec 2017 16:35:15 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=68421 The Burglary is also but such a page-turner that two days in a row it was 3:30a.m. before I could put it down. In 1971 eight activists decided to break into an FBI office to find proof that the agency was off the rails, blatantly violating the constitution. Their successful action confirmed this in spades. They divided the booty up into categories, setting aside criminal investigations and mailing the hot stuff to key congressional figures and media, the author of this book foremost.]]>
FBI - a drawing by Tom Ferguson of an agent hidden underneath an agent
This drawing was done in 1975 as the Church Committee investigated.

The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover's Secret FBI by Betty MedsgerThe non-fiction on my reading list is important stuff but not exactly entertaining… and mostly depressing. It’s part of my dutiful good-citizen activism. The Burglary is also but such a page-turner that two days in a row it was 3:30a.m. before I could put it down.

In 1971 eight activists decided to break into an FBI office to find proof that the agency was off the rails, blatantly violating the constitution. Their successful action confirmed this in spades. They divided the booty up into categories, setting aside criminal investigations and mailing the hot stuff to key congressional figures and media, the author of this book foremost. The politicians, notably George McGovern, disappointedly turned the stuff over to the FBI, though one member of congress kept copies of the mailer, Representative Mitchell of Baltimore. He also publicly commented that though the burglary was illegal, so were some of the FBI acts exposed.

Medsger gives a detailed account of the burglary and its planning, the media response (she was a young Washington Post reporter), the political response and the FBI’s panic attempting to suppress publication and manage the fall-out. Finding the culprits became Director Hoover’s obsession. Revealed is the tangled and corrupt relationship of the bureau with sympathetic individuals in congress, the press and many institutions.

Universities, banks and businesses were willing to turn over confidential files and information, trusting that the bureau was what its PR department said it was, a fearless, patriotic, honest, super crime fighter. Few knew that the Sunday night television show The FBI allowed the bureau to vet all scripts. It’s star, Efram Zimbalist Jr. often appeared at bureau dinners and social functions.

Hoover was a control freak who considered anyone who disagreed with him a subversive radical, thus a legitimate target for surveillance and even dirty tricks. A Tennessee Representative who dared to publicly criticize Hoover found himself smeared with false accusations at his next election where he lost his seat. FBI agents followed “subversive” citizens as they traveled abroad. Feliz Frankfurter, supreme court justice, was one of these.

To Hoover the civil rights and anti-war movement were all communist-inspired. Read Marx? You’re on the list, the hundreds of thousands to be rounded up and put in internment camps during a “national emergency.” The director fumed that he could not arrest people for embracing ideas he didn’t approve of, labeling them communist after helping to stigmatize that word.

Few in the congress questioned FBI methods. Hoover compiled dossiers on politicians, to blackmail and silence potential antagonists. An innocent man, Black Panther Geronimo Platt, spent 27 years in prison on a charge the FBI knew was false. Another Panther, Fred Hampton, was murdered by Chicago police in collaboration with agents. Like the Vietnam War, freedom and democracy were cited to justify their twisted opposite. Police departments and chiefs across the country seemed to emulate Hoover’s methods and regard for the Constitution.

Several of the activists had spent time in the deep south at Freedom Summer, being beaten and jailed for helping to register black voters. They were also involved with breaking into draft board offices to destroy records to disrupt what they considered an out of control killing machine unwilling to question its rigid ideology. In their frustrated work to stop that unjust war they happened upon the burglary idea and had a significant impact, if not on the war per se, on its bosom mate, the beast of injustice.

Speaking of justice… another group of draft burners were arrested in the act in Camden, New Jersey, betrayed by an informer. The FBI was convinced that these were the burglars they were searching for. There is a wonderfully moving description of the trial, of how the defendants convinced the jury, and even the judge, walking away with a not guilty verdict. The defendants, who fully participated in the trial as co-counsel, were so persuasive and respectful, truly peace workers, that even the prosecutors joined the group hug after the verdict was read.

The burglars, when meticulously sorting the files at a rural farmhouse, put them into categories and pointed out in the cover letter to media that 47% dealt with survelliance of legal, constitutionally-protected behavior, of students, unions, activists and especially black students. If you were black under the Hoover FBI, you were assumed to be subversive and potentially violent. Scores of informers were hired to report on lawful meetings and activity in “subversive” neighborhoods, ie, black communities. They weren’t seen to have legitimate grievances but to be manipulated by the Soviet bug-a-bear. The bureau went to ridiculous lengths, all at taxpayer expense… all hidden behind the carefully crafted image of a crack FBI crime-fighting organization.

Eventual fallout for the bureau from the burglary was a stained reputation, especially as the Church Senate Committee delved into FBI and National Security Agency activities. Their reports and conclusions were watered down and certain to be resisted by, let’s face it, fascist forces. The bureau factions that approved of Hoover resisted mightily the reforms that were attempted.

Hoover, over his tenure, kept hidden the illegal activities from oversight, changing the name of the department when necessary while telling Congress or the Justice Department that the department had been eliminated. COINTELPRO was the current acronym in 1971.

The activist burglars began a chain of events that exposed Hoover, mostly posthumously. Apparently only death could stop him. He died within a year of the burglary, lacking that critical dossier on the grim reaper. A tyrant sat in the heart, well, bowels of a great nation for nearly 50 years, malevolently undermining democracy. There are many so inclined, necessitating the continual presence of the courage of those resisters.

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The Great Derangement & Insane Clown President http://likethedew.com/2017/12/04/the-great-derangement-insane-clown-president/ http://likethedew.com/2017/12/04/the-great-derangement-insane-clown-president/#comments Mon, 04 Dec 2017 11:36:35 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=68313 The Great Derangement Matt Taibbi looked at several contemporary phenomenon: The War in Iraq, Fundamentalism as exemplified by a Texas Mega-church and, in his words, the great sausage-making in Washington, D.C. The 911 conspiracy buffs come under scrutiny as well. He makes no bones about the deception in Iraq accomplished by the usual methods: jingoism, cowardly congress, compliant press...]]>

You thought I cared about the little guy... I do. This money is the little guy - Cartoon by Tom Fergueson

In The Great Derangement Matt Taibbi looked at several contemporary phenomenon: The War in Iraq, Fundamentalism as exemplified by a Texas Mega-church and, in his words, the great sausage-making in Washington, D.C. The 911 conspiracy buffs come under scrutiny as well.

The Great Derangement: A Terrifying True Story of War, Politics, and Religion at the Twilight of the American EmpireHe makes no bones about the deception in Iraq accomplished by the usual methods: jingoism, cowardly congress, compliant press. Great sympathy and respect is extended to the soldier and civilian victims of folly but none for the stupidity, ideological blindness and corruption which he sees ravaging the corpse of democracy. Senseless destruction, death and injury, obscene waste and robbery of national treasure.

Fundamentalism and 911 Truthers get lambasted for their willingness to swallow anything with no evidence required. Given an opportunity to organize to affect policy they choose instead to wallow in half-baked conspiracies, surrendering any critical faculty they might have had and having virtually zero impact. I suppose psychologically conspiracy and religious dogma offer a sense of being right, superior, that in the face of a mysterious and precarious existence, one gains comfort from the delusion of understanding it. Mega-church preachers routinely violate the agreement by which they remain tax-free, politically denouncing those who might vote for Obama or advocate abortion, gay marriage, alternatives to capitalism and whatever other prejudice the father figure embraces. They bring to their “flock” a brand of conservative republicanism hard to reconcile with certain readings of the scripture they claim to speak for… and the flock seems predisposed to bless and accept whatever nonsense is handed to them with enthusiastic ferv0r.

Taibbi’s congressional monitoring is quite entertaining, as writing, providing relief from the depressing subject as he describes the representatives of democracy blatantly serving the interests of their campaign contributors in the most shameful, business-as-usual servitude. Sausage indeed. Those valiant few who buck the sytem expose themselves to deep-pocketed attacks, even conservatives who slightly deviate from the party line are vulnerable. There is also the revolving door of corporate hacks running the departments supposedly regulating the corporations they will return to in short order, with pay raises.

Insane Clown President is a collection of Taibbi’s reporting, mostly from Rolling Stone, during the 2016 campaign. Always witty and entertaining it is never-the-less a sad spectacle. His take is that the Republicans have for years depended on a strategy of demonizing the poor, blacks, immigrants, unions, gays etc; depending on the white voter to buy into it, vote against their own interests, as Bernie pointed out regularly, on issues that really have little relevance to their lives. Once in power virtually none of the issues advertised get addressed until the next election cycle while continuing to eagerly serve the 1%, either from financial dependence or ideological zeal, or both. And this they expected to repeat ad infinitum. Something happened though. The victims of this con began to recognize that business-as-usual somehow wasn’t working for them as promised. Since the propaganda system had prepped them to instinctively recoil from the stance that Bernie brought to the conversation, even though it actually would have benefitted them – plus that candidate was marginalized by a 1%-owned media that found said point of view threatening to their elite position… well, enter Trump, the master con artist. Taibbi hilariously describes the establishment figures, Romney, Bush, Perry, Cruz etc; as out of their depth in this new reality show terrain, bumbling, out-maneuvored by the celebrity oaf at every turn. In Taibbi’s words, “Trump’s continued success puts the onus on the field to try to out-crazy the frontrunner.” Where Bernie and Trump’s platforms overlapped, as in criticism of campaign-financing and corporate control, Trump’s were, in the words he aimed at Hillary, just talk.

To give a sense of Taibbi’s humor and style I quote this about the GOP:

The party spent 50 years preaching rich people bromides like “trickle-down economics” and “picking yourself up by your bootstraps” as solutions to the growing alienation and financial privation of the ordinary voter. In place of jobs, exported overseas by the millions by their financial backers, Republicans glibly offered the flag, Jesus and Willie Horton.

Gaffes that normally quickly eliminate a presidential candidate, in the new climate, are cheered on by the delighted new “silent majority”, now finally found a champion. The other candidates were reduced to stretching for the ridiculous to get press attention but they were up against a natural. The networks, desperate for audience in the ratings game, shamelessly hung on every outrageous speech, giving Trump far more air time than any of the others. They opportunistically participated in a farcical dismantling of our democracy and for that they shall live in infamy,… but not poverty.

The debates provide Taibbi’s sense of humor an outlet as he constructs drinking games to accompany them. We are to take a drink whenever one of the candidates: uses god platitudes, promises to carpet bomb any sandy country, complains that Obama won’t use the word “terrorism”, mentions a war on Christmas, derides science in favor of “common sense”. Etc; Sometimes a double shot is required if, for example referring to “star wars” a candidate uses sound effects.; then there is the good guy with a gun rule, and thoughts and prayers for the latest victims. The competition for citing ridiculous “facts” is hilarious also until you remember that one of these guys might actually be president (of course this was written before the election – one criticism of Taibbi’s writing would be his characterization at one point of Hillary as one of the most esteemed politicians in the country but elsewhere as one of the most hated… and he several times predicts Trump’s demise, due to the “pussy” video and supposed plunge in the polls). But back to the “facts”: Trump repeatedly claimed to have seen thousands of New Jersy Muslims dancing and celebrating across the river from the towers on 911 and this absurd claim rolled right off the backs of his followers… and his fellow candidates. Carson, returning from a “fact finding” trip to the middle east assured us that the pyramids were used for storing grain. Since they’re not hollow one could be forgiven for wondering about this candidate. One reporter followed up by asking whether the Eiffel Tower was for storing French bread. No mystery why these candidates were compared to the clown car.

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Text Addict http://likethedew.com/2017/11/12/text-addict/ http://likethedew.com/2017/11/12/text-addict/#respond Sun, 12 Nov 2017 15:42:17 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=68193 Mystic River was first rate – so says James Lee Burke. But he wrote one where I felt so suckered I vowed not to read him again. But this one drew me in, thought I'd give it a chance. The first hundred pages read like a book club book: serious, smart writing, psychologically insightful, lot of research to make the world he's portraying credible.]]>

Drawing/Cartoon of police spokesperson: “Ok, our new human rights policy - make sure

Mystic River by Dennis LeHane

So I ran across Dennis LeHane’s latest in the new book shelf at the Atlanta Ponce library. His Mystic River was first rate – so says James Lee Burke. But he wrote one where I felt so suckered I vowed not to read him again. But this one drew me in, thought I’d give it a chance. The first hundred pages read like a book club book: serious, smart writing, psychologically insightful, lot of research to make the world he’s portraying credible. A young woman grows up with an intense single Mom and, losing her in an accident, seeks out her biological father, even hiring a private detective who later becomes a major character in the story. The book suddenly becomes crime fiction, a mystery that keeps you befuddled, careening from event to event, from mental breakdown to recovery and back again in a very dark world. A good read but with one or two credibility flaws you’ll have to overlook if you want, at that point, which you will, to finish.

I Can't Breathe: A Killing on Bay Street by Matt TaibbiI’ve encountered the respectable political writer Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone Magazine and ran across his book I Can’t Breathe: A Killing on Bay Street about Eric Garner, the 2014 fatal victim of police brutality in the Bronx. I wondered, how do you write a whole book about one street killing? Taibbi uses it as a means to explore the dynamic of police departments, prosecutors, judges, politicians, and the varied people they’re supposed to be serving. This was definitely Matt’s focus, sympathetically portraying the victims of racism and poverty, and not so sympathetically sketching the police perpetrators, demonstrating racism at all levels of the bureaucracy and its poisonous effect, both in elevating white fear of dark people and perpetuating it with their draconian tactics. He covers the phenomenon called “Broken Windows,” a police strategy based on the theory that aggressively attacking minor crime will reduce total crime. Not quite buying it, Matt describes it as a belief that if you go after graffiti vandals the murder rate will somehow drop. He cites an incident in 1971 Arkansas where a cop shot a black man between the eyes for the crime of requesting a receipt for a traffic fine. The cop was of course acquitted. This he ties in with the killing of Eric Garner and the police coverup (a little more difficult than usual since it was video-taped) and prosecutorial grand jury manipulation leading to no indictment. The cop who did the killing had a long history of citizen complaints and a police department/bureaucracy that seemed willing to dismiss any and all charges. Not a book with a happy ending unless you identify with villains – the prosecutor goes merrily on to a successful run for congress, the officer goes unimpeded on his violent trail to a nice retirement. Maybe karma will take care of it all, the justice system certainly didn’t.

Dodge City: Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and the Wickedest Town in the American West by Tom ClavinIn Kansas, 150 years earlier, the same ignorance and casual violence was at work, though, as portrayed in Tom Clavin’s book, Dodge City, there was significant, and somewhat successful, resistance in the form of Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, their brothers and friends. The “good guys” weren’t exactly choir boys as the saying goes, but they had an integrity, at least in Clavin’s coverage, not evident in Taibbi’s book. They were surrounded by corrupt lawmen, politicians, cattlemen, reckless cowboys and vicious sociopathic outlaws differentiated from today’s mobsters only by horses instead of Lincoln Town Cars. Women fit into the story only peripherally, mostly as prostitutes. “Taming the west” involved colossal injustice for natives: the stealing of their land; forced removal to “reservations”, often the least habitable areas around, which were stolen again whenever precious metals were discovered; the wanton slaughter of the magnificent buffalo to near-extinction, on which the natives were dependent for food. The “good guys” Wyatt and Bat did little on this illegal front, standing on the wrong side of it in fact as their early work was killing buffalo for the hides, well, the money for the hides – ain’t it always so. Daniel Quinn, in the novel Ishmael, asks the reader to – Imagine yourself in 1930s Germany; what would you do? Extending the question to the western United States in 1870, or hell, to our 2017 world, points up the immense difficulty confronting those who would intervene in the relentless trajectory of rapacious patriarchal greed.

The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment by Eckhart TolleThat brings us to another book I’ve been dipping into, Eckhart Tolle’s, The Power of Now, the book that brought him fame. It provides the hope lacking in these other books. In the form of questions from Tolle’s clients and his answers, it covers basically the same ground as his wonderful A New Earth (I like to say, the most important book ever published). In a nutshell, the hope consists in realizing that human dysfunction, at the root of all that ails our civilization… greed, conflict, war… is a mental construct he calls ego. Even the reformers, the activists who dream of and work for peace are often captured by it. The ultimate form of activism is to become the observer, of the thoughts and emotions, the mind chatter, that drifts across our field of awareness, observing rather than being them, avoiding mistaking them for us. Our real selves, in essence, is that observer which is consciousness. Bringing the light of consciousness to those thoughts and emotions, they are transposed into presence. In presence is joy of being and eventually comes an impulse to creativity, an ego-less act aligned with the intelligence, the source of being. We don’t decide to be good, to act according to some ethical creed, we get present and our behavior, aligned as said, is ethical, sensitive, caring, compassionate and respectful of the miracle of life, recognizing that the essence, consciousness, is where we all meet. I did say, “in a nutshell” – Tolle’s books and talks elaborate on these appealing ideas which are newly articulated but hardly original, having been stated, and mostly misunderstood, in many, often esoteric, forms, by rare and singular individuals throughout history.

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Meandering Mind Stream http://likethedew.com/2017/10/25/meandering-mind-stream/ http://likethedew.com/2017/10/25/meandering-mind-stream/#respond Wed, 25 Oct 2017 18:14:07 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=68083 Joe's Coffee Shop is nearby. Browsing their little book shelf I found a John le Carré novel. With coffee I read ten or fifteen pages, marveling at his superb writing. Coincidentally the hold books I was there to pick up included a le Carré memoir, a collection of magazine articles he published over the years, a unique form of memoir...]]>

At Least The Dems are Resisting a Little - Illustration by Tom Ferguson

Caught without my emergency notebooks, not even a book, I found myself with 45 minutes to kill before the East Atlanta library opened. Fortunately Joe’s Coffee Shop is nearby.

The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from My Life: John le CarréBrowsing their little book shelf I found a John le Carré novel. With coffee I read ten or fifteen pages, marveling at his superb writing. Coincidentally the hold books I was there to pick up included a le Carré memoir, a collection of magazine articles he published over the years, a unique form of memoir. In his 80s now, le Carré reflects on a long life of unusual good luck and the usual share of heartache. Since writing spy novels played a way important part of his life, he refers often to trips he made for research or events that triggered certain novels or episodes. I’ve read all of his books, I think, except The Night Manager, which I somehow missed. Oh, and The Little Drummer Girl, which I quit, finding its glorification of the Israeli Mosaad a bit much. I may have been wrong on this because the author’s politics seem to be generally respectable. Reading the memoir made me want to go back and re-read his whole catalog, a luxury I really don’t think I can indulge, given the list of books I haven’t gotten to yet.

The other hold book was Norman Mailer’s, Armies of the Night. This latter I came toArmies of the Night by Norman Mailer by a reference in Noam Chomsky’s American Power, where he mentioned the weekend he spent in Jail, arrested with Mailer and others in a demonstration at the Pentagon. Armies of the Night is Mailer’s playful account of that weekend. It’s told whimsically in the third person narrative with Mailer as the central character. The writer can hardly form a sentence without revealing a broad erudition and a great confidence in his opinons and theories of human behavior, and an anthropomorphizing of America (north not south). He calls himself a conservative leftist without quite defining that and describes his fellow inmates with sometimes derision and sometimes great respect. He’s sort of all over the place but fun, anyway, to witness a nimble and mind at work (or play). He makes fun of himself and his 4 marriages and multiple children and maverick reputation, using just that removed narrative to do it. He ruminates, naturally, on the Vietnam War, the reason for the demonstration, savagely attacking U.S. coporations and hysteria around communism. Critiquing the Right’s justification for their war (basically the domino theory), and caricaturing a bit the “liberal” opposition, he remains vague as compared to Chomsky’s persuasive take in American Power where the motivation is laid out clearly: the ruling class reflexively strikes out at any organized resistance or alternative to capitalism, the system that provides them with their ultra privileged lives.

http://amzn.to/2zCY070Just a mile or two southwest of where I live, lies a neighborhood bordering Grant Park, the setting for another book I was working on, The Big Bust at Tyrone’s Boarding House by James Gallant. The casually humorous, autobiographical-seeming story is of a writer, a stay-at-home scribe who is constantly distracted from his calling by his own lack of focus and an array of neighborhood characters ranging from prostitutes to eccentric elders, an ex-green beret buddy and crack dealers. The time frame is probably the 80s when that neighborhood was just beginning its gentrification transformation. The characters rob him of his time and money with their constant visiting and borrowing. His laid back openness to them is touching even as he uses them in his stories, even paying some for their stories. I picked up the book free somewhere. It has an attached note – This book is free – enjoy! If you should be overwhelmed by an urge to remunerate the author, who is not a wealthy man, he will not object to receiving checks in any amount – Such quality writing reminds me of one of my favorite bands, The Swimming Pool Qs. Their falling just short of the combination of luck and connection, but not talent, to break into the big money, though unfortunate for them, makes it possible for a low-income person like myself to go see ’em. But things are looking up a little – Vagabondage Press is publishing Gallant’s Whatever Happened to Debbie and Phil? It will be an e-book initially, distributed by Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc., probably selling for about $4. – his website: JamesGallantWriter.com.

Also in East Atlanta – “The Longest US War: Korea 1950 – 2017”a presentation by Ajamu Baraka October 17 at the First Iconium Baptist Church: Ajamu Baraka ran on the Jill Stein Green Party ticket, spoilers some might say. My position was that Trump or Hillary, one of ’em, was going to be president. Progressives would be fighting Hillary’s hawkish foreign policy. She was good more or less on some issues, race and women but an establishment figure solidly in bed with the 1%. But as compared to Trump? No contest. Subsequent events have certainly confirmed this choice – I mean, Jeff Sessions Attorney General? Pruit at EPA? Loony Tunes is far too mild a description. My first thought that awful Wednesday morning was, “We’ve decided, as a species, on suicide.” Later I heard Bernie’s reality check, “We have no right to quit. The stakes are too high.”

But I’m not going to blame the Green Party, entirely, plenty of other factors figure in. Ajamu’s talk after all was about Korea. He used incendiary words (they’re incendiary because of the propaganda efforts of the 1%) like U.S. Imperialism and hegemony. He questioned the official narrative which portrays the U.S. in benevolent terms and demonizes the official enemy and attempted to humanize the situation, to acknowledge the Korean people as living persons not communists. And he emphasized that the U.S. has no right to determine what kind of society North Korea has. Even if the U.S. were sincere, not hypocritical in its criticism, the way to peace is not war. It is rather arrived at through the skills of non-violent conflict resolution. It must have been disappointing for the speaker and organizers, that despite the bellicose rhetoric coming out of both captials, there was a very light turn out for the event.

The Hidden History of the Korean War I.F. StoneThe light turn-out made it feasible for me to get to the speaker and ask about I.F. Stone’s book, The Hidden History of the Korean WarThe speaker was aware of it but hadn’t read it. Stone was blacklisted in the late 40s – 50s, so started a weekly newsletter, which sustained him during this bleak history. The facts in his book on Korea, so he could not be accused of treason, came entirely from the congressional record. Salient items: the U.S. straffed North Korean vehicles carrying delegates to the peace talks and, at the talks, offered proposals designed to be rejected. “We” were winning, why seek peace? The Soviet Union however gave mig jets to China (which came into the war thanks to McCarthur’s foolish aggression). These migs could shoot down B-29 bombers which had given an edge to the U.S. Without this edge, suddenly the U.S. was interested in peace and the armistice was finally reached, which has held precariously since.

Power of Now by Eckhart TolleI’ve been dipping, for this writing, into the books that litter my sofa and kitchen table. Re-reading Eckhart Tolle’s, Power of Now, the first book of his I read and an amazing work. It offers an analysis of what is at the root of all these problems I’m complaining about, which reduces to ego, the dysfunction of our culture which we either root out or perish. Tolle doesn’t say anything that hasn’t been said before but no one, to my awareness, has said it with such consistency and clarity. Even Oprah agrees with me on this calling his work the most important reading she’s encountered.

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power: Your Action Handbook to Learn the Science, Find Your Voice, and Help Solve the Climate Crisis by Al GoreAnother on the stack, from the library, Al Gore’s sequel to An Inconvenient Truth: Truth to PowerAl initiated a satellite project as vice-president to monitor climate change and provide solar disruption warnings. It was cancelled by the Bush/Cheney administration. When businesses complained because the disruption warnings would be important in protecting their electric systems, Bush proposed replacing the climate monitoring aspect with sand bags. Gore remarked, “That is real extremism.” The project was side-lined and finally accomplished under Obama.

The Talented Mr Ripley Ripley Under Ground Ripleys Game by Patricia Highsmith Patricia Highsmith, wrote a short story in 1955, The Talented Mr. Ripley, followed in the 70s by Ripley Underground and The Game. Matt Damon played Ripley in the film of the first. I had been reading a streak of Martha Grimes crime fiction and got tired of her. Usually when I find a new author I greedily read everything they’ve written and am eagerly waiting the next new one, or mourning if the author is no longer writing. Grimes however wore me out with her productivity. I happened on a list of women novelists on line, Highsmith among them. Learning that she wrote the follow up Ripley books led me to put a hold on one that had all three. Odd to find oneself rooting for a murderer, worried as the police close in, relieved when he talks his way out. The third one is starting to portray him in a less sympathetic way and I suspect she’s going to finally bust him. Nope. Though it’s her last book on that character there was room for sequel. Later, Donald Westlake writing as Richard Stark, took up the practice of anti-hero in his noble criminal Parker. Then Lawrence Block did his hit-man series.

My text addiction is a serious, though late in starting. I was in my early 20s before I discovered the world of intellect and I’ve been trying to make up for those lost years ever since. As things are winding down now I have to question whether this is the best use of my time. Shouldn’t I perhaps be spending what I allocate to books (and writing for that matter) to attempt to intervene in our headlong rush toward extinction? A fair question. I’ll have to get back to you on that.

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Vietnam in the Air http://likethedew.com/2017/10/04/vietnam-in-the-air/ http://likethedew.com/2017/10/04/vietnam-in-the-air/#respond Wed, 04 Oct 2017 13:12:41 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=67952 Hue 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam by Mark Bowden, at the library just as the Ken Burns' Vietnam: A Television History began on PBS. I was curious to see what perspective was brought to both the book and documentary. The factoid that especially interested me: Vietnam was one country, temporarily divided by the Geneva Accords ...]]>

Any Army-illustration by Tom Ferguson

Timely to have happened on the book, Hue 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam by Mark Bowden, at the library just as the Ken Burns’ “The Vietnam War” began on PBS. I was curious to see what perspective was brought to both the book and documentary. The factoid that especially interested me: Vietnam was one country, temporarily divided by the Geneva Accords, after the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu. Elections were to be held in 1956 to unify the country (which I repeat… was one country). When it became evident that Ho Chi Minh would easily win, the U.S. colluded with the temporary caretaker government to boycott the elections. Thus was created South Vietnam. Thus was democracy scuttled.

The Vietnam War: A Film by Ken Burns and Lynn NovickHue 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam by Mark BowdenWiping away the cobwebs of self deceit and propaganda, a government with democratic pretensions but oligarchic realities dismisses the will of the people when it threatens their rule. They anoint and militarily back a tyrannical government in the south that mirrors their own, an elite interested only in their own privilege and power. Even the writer of this quite critical book (author of the highly successful Black Hawk Down) falls victim sometimes to the propaganda. He fails, I think, to properly highlight this incredibly important subterfuge, the disastrous canceling of elections that would have very likely, entirely avoided the death and misery to come. This should have been repeated, maybe run at the bottom screen continually like those CNN ticker tape reports. And in one sentence he refers to the “communist” versus the “free” forces, when in fact there was nothing “free” about the southern situation except the usual feudalism, freedom to chase money. Vietcong, Buddhists and other opposition groups were excluded from participation in elections and repressed in their activism. One of democracy’s chief purposes and benefits is the peaceful transfer of power, the avoidance of war, with its inglorious cost. Yet we were told our troops were fighting for freedom and democracy. Well, obviously they couldn’t have said,“We want you to kill, die, sacrifice and suffer so the elite can continue to enjoy its great privileged life style.” Who would have supported that project? Yet that is exactly what it was about.

Bowden does not spare the facts. He refers to the trail of deception revealed by The Pentagon Papers but emphasizes the military stupidity, on both sides, that led to the terrible loss of life at Hue during the 1968 Tet Offensive, particularly the civilian carnage. He seems, at times, to set aside his knowledge of the decision to thwart democracy as when he proclaims that the U.S. had every right to choose sides in what he calls the Saigon/Hanoi struggle. In the Ken Burns film there is a similar forgetfulness. North Vietnam is repeatedly referred to as “Communist Vietnam” but the south is never referred to as “Capitalist Vietnam.” Whether this is conscious propaganda or simply embedded in the psyche, it is hardly objective. I’ve noticed this in other documentaries, where scary, goose-stepping, bayonet wielding hoards appear just when the narrator intones the word, communism – classic Skinnerian conditioning. In a sense the U.S. purpose was freedom and democracy. The ideologue attempts, in that pairing, to capture the prestige of the word democracy and indelibly associate it with capitalism, what they really mean by “freedom.” One of the things that struck me in an interview with Ken Burns and Lynn Novick on Terry Gross’ Fresh Air was Burns’ statement that a high percentage of the public felt that the students killed at Kent State University “got what they deserved.” This is a measure of the disheartening success of propaganda and, though Trump is no doubt a bit of a loose cannon in establishment eyes, his election is another.

There is a scene in Burn’s film where John Foster Dulles is said to make the decision to support Diem’s refusal to honor the elections. It is presented as an agonizing decision yet the Secretary of State, and his CIA Chief brother Allen, were known to be hysterically anti-communist religious fundamentalists. Their objection to communism lay not in its authoritarianism but in its disdain for religion and rejection of class privilege. In today’s vernacular, they were committed to rule by the 1%. Their support for an elite in South Vietnam, and everywhere else, is consistent and bears this out. One (me) yearns to turn back the clock to FDR’s presidency and re-instate the brilliant, anti-colonialist Vice-president Wallace as Roosevelt’s successor rather than the cold-warrior Harry Truman. It might be a different world. According to Oliver Stone’s book and film, The Untold History of the U.S., the business constituency’s successful backroom deal to replace Wallace with Truman amounted to a coup, with sad and serious consequences. But I digress.

The left/right struggle continues in contemporary life, almost to caricature, with Trump the megalomaniac, narcissistic, near-fascist completing the shredding of the New Deal and the Constitution versus Bernie Sanders standing for real democracy. Not that the North Vietnamese or the left in general were or are poster children for democracy. So long as ol’ ego, like the 1%, rules our nations and our selves, we are going to find our rhetoric and our practice as far from each other as the obscenely rich are from the miserable poor.

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The Big Board Game, Capitalism http://likethedew.com/2017/09/05/the-big-board-game-capitalism/ http://likethedew.com/2017/09/05/the-big-board-game-capitalism/#respond Tue, 05 Sep 2017 12:19:37 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=67849 American Power and the New Mandarins and an early book of Parenti's, The Sword and the Dollar... ]]>

My Cup Runneth Over and Yours Doesn't by Tom Ferguson

In terms of articulating what’s going on, who runs things for whose benefit in the country, hell, the world, we are gifted with two stand-out analysts; Noam Chomsky and Michael Parenti. I’ve been reading Chomsky’s first book on the subject, American Power and the New Mandarins and an early book of Parenti’s, The Sword and the Dollar (1989).

American Power engages the Vietnam War, which was raging at the time of publication, 1967. This “new release” has a foreword by the late great Howard Zinn, a treat in itself. Chomsky approaches the subject by examining the rationalizations on the liberal end of the spectrum, to devastating effect, for those authors. The conclusion is inescapable – these folks are in service to power, by a pragmatic recognition of the path to privilege and/or self delusion.

I can relate. At the time I was a recent Vietnam vet and hawkish on the subject, until my professors and fellow students got to me with those questions no one else had thought to raise. That along with Senator Fulbright’s enlightening hearings which I read transcripts of in book form. I marveled at how administration officials offered justifications for the war and when the good senator shot them full of holes, instead of admitting they were wrong and changing course they came up with a series of equally flimsy new ones.

Is strikes me how this pattern repeats. I was trying to tell the Georgia Public Service Commission this same lesson. Opponents of Plant Vogtle argued against the plant originally, and its latest expansion. In contrast the supporters painted a rosy picture. Whose arguments eventually turned out to be spot on? The opponents of course. So when it comes to future projects does the PSC listen to those who’ve lost all credibiity or to the opponents who were proven right? You know the answer and it is the same with the Vietnam War, Iraq and many other issues. Perhaps there is a hidden money component? Ya think? There’s certainly an ideological one.

Chomsky also looks at World War II. in the Pacific, from the provocative, economically stifling policies of the Imperial powers, the U.S., Britain etc; which served to strengthen the hardline fascists in the Japanese power structure, to the decisions made to obliterate Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The revelation that a frivolous 1,000 plane bombing mission was cynically sent against Japan between the agreement to surrender and the actual, technical signing, blemishes the benevolent propaganda image the machine likes to spit out. Truman’s claim that the atomic bombs were dropped on military targets was also disingenuous and suggests that the real reasons for the barbaric decision were, ah… classified, as usual.

The Sword and the Dollar by Michael ParentiParenti joins in “U.S. bashing” by sampling an assortment of facts. Like, the U.S. gave more money to the infamous Contras, terrorists by any sober definition, to undermine the 1979 Nicaraguan revolution, than aid to the forty poorest nations on the planet. Most such aid, Parenti points out, is military, aimed at securing local elite rule against their own people, whom they, in service to U.S. corporate interests and anti-socialist hysteria, use to suppress any questioning of this arrangement. Our leaders ever seek stability and what they mean by that is maintaining current class relations, both abroad and at home.

The World Bank and International Monetary Fund are intricate aspects of this effort. Loans are typically contingent on the dismantling of social programs and/or to be used for the purchase of failing U.S. Enterprises at above market rates. It is largely U.S. taxpayers who fund these institutions who, on the whole, have no idea of their actual purpose. The closest many might get to insight is the propaganda line from the right that the U.S. indulges in way too much foreign aid. This does not include the information that two-thirds of our aid stays in the U.S. due to requirements that shipping, materials etc; be U.S. Third world nations, like U.S. farmers, become indebted beyond their ability to pay, enriching elites but leaving the onerous debt to be paid by citizens who had no say in the borrowing. So the lower classes are saddled with the debt on both ends. In 1973 third world debt was about $73 billion. By 1988 it had grown to a trillion dollars. A large portion of the debtor nation’s earnings go to service the debt. Loaning in this manner is more profitable than direct investment in the countries. Another requirement in the usurious terms is that in addition to slashing social programs the recipients must adopt an export-oriented economy. Thus an agriculturally rich area can have high rates of malnutrition, more collateral damage.

This explains part of the U.S. hostility toward Cuba, Nicaragua, Libya and other nations who attempt to escape this kind of entrapment – always justified by the bugaboo of the Soviet Union, a handy “enemy”, the dissolution of which in the 90s created a scrambling for new “threats” much like the John Administration minions with their justifications for Vietnam. This same boogie man was earlier used to justify Reagan’s two trillion dollar military extravaganza. Parenti likes to point out that a billion dollars is a thousand million and a trillion is a thousand billion. Getting into some real money. And it’s the same people paying for it… and the same people profiting from it. They do have themselves a nice little game going. Another way ordinary people pay is in the fact that as military spending increases, social spending is cut. This is not merely collateral damage, this is part of the intent. Just as social spending abroad is discouraged, social spending at home is under continuous attack for such spending empowers the wrong people. Our current administration has removed all subtlety, approaching these values in caricature, spiced by a jingoist, racist, near-fascist rhetoric.

What is the alternative? It’s my mantra – instead of chasing money our energy could be directed into answering this question: how can we provide food, clothing, shelter, education and healthcare for the world’s population without despoiling the life system and creating widespread extinction of other species?

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New Wave Mobsters http://likethedew.com/2017/08/12/new-wave-mobsters/ http://likethedew.com/2017/08/12/new-wave-mobsters/#respond Sat, 12 Aug 2017 12:13:18 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=67685

Mafiya by © Tom Ferguson

Mobsters tend to evolve out of inner city poverty. The young look around and notice the people in the neighborhood with flashy lifestyles, who don’t go hungry, who lord it over ordinary citizens. They resemble the intimidating bullies in their own circles who ham-fistedly appropriate their lunch money and humiliate them in other ways. The limited options visible on their horizon tempt the young and some inevitably are drawn into criminal apprenticeship.

Adult gangsters of whatever ethnic persuasion traditionally provide “protection” to small businesses, run numbers, hijack trucks, mug citizens, commit armed robbery, murder for hire, burgle, organize prostitution, trafficking, gambling, kidnapping, home invasions, drug dealing and other illegal contraband and counterfeiting at all kinds of levels. Eventually the most successful expand into legal businesses, often as fronts for laundering illegal gains. They also tend to spend time in prison, an extreme form of networking, where they advance their education and are further desensitized, distanced from any natural ability to empathize they might possess. Like their counterparts chasing money and power along legal corridors, they seem to become addicted, seeking ever more profits, even after accumulating more wealth than they can possibly spend, even considering their often extravagant life styles.

The United States has suffered various waves of criminal immigrants, always a minority of any group but a significant one. Irish, Jewish, Italian, Latino, Black, Chinese, Vietnamese… mobsters of all stripes have variously dominated neighborhoods, cities, regions in an ebb and flow paralleling periods of immigration. They sort themselves out by the merging, warring or jittery co-existence. Of course there are home-grown criminals also and rural bandits all over the world. The white collar and political thieves, tycoons and corporate malfeasors we will set aside for now except where they interact, as underworld victims or collaborators. Robert Friedman, in his bookRed Mafiya, comments, “The Russian Mafiya is made up of multipurpose, entrepreneurial master criminals, flush with billions in cash doing every shape, manner and form of global crime.”

When in the 80s it became evident that the Soviet Union was falling apart the leadership there met and concluded there were two possible courses: a first strike nuclear attack on the U.S. (!) or, loot the country. Gorbachev wanted to create a Scandinavian-type socialist nation but he was soon got rid of, with U.S. support of course, and the looting began. The enormity of the job soon became evident and high-ranking government officials, KGB, etc; turned for help to the criminal element… which of course soon more or less took over, conducting the largest exodus of national treasure in history. Russia was in effect lawless so, to safely stash the spoils, accounts were set up in the west. Though our civilization was fortunate the nuclear option was foregone, this monumental theft has perilous repercussions that will not be easily reversed. It is said that Putin consolidated his power by selecting one of the oligarchs of this exodus, putting them in a cage, on very public trial. The other oligarchs approached Putin asking what it is he wanted. 50% was the answer. This deal made him the wealthiest man on the planet, estimated at $ 200 billion. Friedman is quite persuasive in his claim that dealing with Russia is dealing with Mafiya.

A U.S. center for the Russian mob is in the Brooklyn, New York neighborhood of Brighton Beach, densely populated with Russian immigrants. There criminals prey on small business and the local citizenry. They enter into collaborative projects with already existing gangs though their comfort with violence intimidates even hardened veterans of the streets. This partially is accounted for by the move Russian mobsters made to rid themselves of a particularly psychopathic criminal named Ivankov, who they talked into “invading” the U.S. Taking along a cadre of his most hardened lieutenants, he soon took over the Brighton Beach neighborhood, ratcheting up violence to a level the competition couldn’t match. To him other criminals were no different than small businesses – pay up or die. Defy us? We’ll murder your whole family. That’s what works in Russia, why wouldn’t it work here? Brighton Beach police are out-gunned and out-funded, if not corrupted themselves. One couple declining his proposal to buy their antique shop, at a bargain basement price, simply disappeared. Another couple, in Miami, accepted the ridiculously meager buyout of their Deli and fled terrified to Canada. The new owner had little interest in antiques or deli food but an acute need for money laundering. Brighton Beach, Denver and Miami, cities with dense Russian immigrants, were beach heads for Ivankov’s “invasion.” Like billionaires in general, these criminals are not going to rest until they have it all. Israel’s policy of accepting Jews from Russia (or those who claim to be Jewish) has affected the country severely. Officials estimate that as much as 12% of their 500,000 Russian immigrants are criminals. From Israel they have easy access to Western Europe, Canada and the U.S.

Drug running is a highly lucrative endeavor, usually thought of as the domain of mobsters. But terrorists have realized drugs can be a means to fund their operations. And states such as North Korea engage in international criminality to supplement their annual budget, not to mention gold bathroom fixtures. Another state not usually associated with criminality, in fact usually seen as one of the more enlightened states in terms of rule of law, not flawless of course but all is relative: as one Russian gangster said, “I love the United States. It is so easy to steal here.” And this is one of their safe havens as far as safely banking ill-gotten proceeds. Friedman’s description of a Russian invasion of the U.S. by absolutely vicious criminals, is disturbing enough at just the street crime level. Add to that their branching out into sophisticated Wall Street, Banking and internet cons, and the investigation of Russian meddling U.S. elections, the firing of FBI Director Comer, the apparent maneuvering to fire investigative head Robert Meuller, and the knowledge that the modus operandi of these criminals stops at nothing, freely and imaginatively employing violence and extortion – luring victims into situations where they are either hopelessly indebted or they and their families are terrorized into corruption, or both. Israel’s government, Friedman claims, is the most compromised nation by Mafiya outside of Russia, that whether it can be considered a democracy (aside from its suppression of Palestinians and theft of their land) is seriously in question. When many of these mobsters own condos in Trump Tower and rumors persist of ominous relations between the Trump Administration and Russian figures, there is the danger that the time is not far off where the same can be said of the United States.

I draw on three books for these ruminations: Red Mafiya by Robert Friedman; Organized Crime by Michael Lyman et al. (an actual text book); Angels, Mobsters and Narco-Terrorists by Antonio Nicaso et al.

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