Category: Politics

Ostensibly affable older man…

… uses political cunning to consolidate power and convert a lavish democracy into a sinister, pro-military regime, only to bring said regime low by sinking crippling amounts of resources into two large military projects dogged by insurgencies.

Death Star


Epic science fiction story or history of the ’00s? You decide!



"Something Dark and Undeniable Shifing in Our Cultural Mood…"

Today ran an article by Dr. Charles Barber entitled “Are We Really That Miserable?” which cites that a staggering ten percent of Americans now take antidepressants. It meanders around the ideas that people are afraid to feel real feelings and that drug advertising is involved and that “there is something dark and undeniable shifting in our cultural mood,” without being particularly specific, I thought — though I found it to be a step in the right direction. The article has the tag line: “Antidepressant use has doubled, and anxiety is at a troubling high. Blame TV, Big Pharma — and possibly yourself,” which prompted the following response from me:

Wait, blame who?

I think the American way of life itself, in its broad strokes, is unsustainable. Not the “golden era” way of life that is touted and defended by reactionaries and conservatives (and no longer really exists), but the one that actually exists today.

I agree with those who say that Americans lead lonely lives, and that the social network is breaking down. I see it in my own life, and just as dramatically when I am with my fellow citizens in public places. I see people that are agitated, unnecessarily defensive, or pushy, or oblivious. Normal behavior of average people seems to fall on several diagnostic spectra these days: paranoid, oppositional, autistic, narcissistic, catatonic.

The quality of our food, and the equity of our labor are both in trouble. Corn-fed beef (which, in America, just means “beef”) is sixty percent fat, and is a staple in the diet of many. Seventy percent of the antibiotics in the US are consumed BY THE LIVESTOCK WE EAT.

The average CEO now makes 344 times as much as the average worker when, between 1960 and 1990 that ratio was more like 30 or 40 to one. Between 1955 and the 2000s, the corporate income tax rate has dropped from 33% to less than 8%. (These and other statistics are well-presented in the article “Wealth Inequality Destroys US Ideals,” by Don Monkerud, available online through The Baltimore Chronicle & Sentinel.) The rich, the powerful, and the COMPANIES AS ENTITIES THEMSELVES all win out more than ever over the average individual.

We are lonely; the food we eat is unhealthy; the income we earn goes disproportionately to the chosen few, and increasingly so.

And more: It was myopic AMERICAN financiers crashed the global financial system. William Black, who was among the appointees to investigate the S&L scandal, spoke of this with Bill Moyers NOT as a failure of regulation, but as a failure of MORALS, pointing out that it has been, up until now, a combination of regulation and personal ethical limits which had prevented crashes such as the current crisis, not regulation alone. To repeat: one of the key failures (in addition to deregulation, and in addition to a failure to support the FBI’s attempts at oversight), was that of personal moral codes of the greedy few. The world entire paid the price, and the culprits go unconsequenced. Some reaped tremendous rewards within a year of the disaster.

In this jacked-up, unjust, amoral, wealth-chasing, shallow-thinking environment, America has become, at best, a place that elevates those who are SOMEWHAT smart, SOMEWHAT globally and politically aware, SOMEWHAT ethical, somewhat INsensitive, and VERY driven. At worst, of course, it also rewards the greedy, the ruthlessly ambitious and the corrupt. But even in the best case, these quasi-virtues, plus an increasingly aggressive drive, cannot alone uphold civil society; yet these are what is rewarded, and we see the result. Bill O’Reilly rises to the top and Bill Moyers is marginalized. Sarah Palin becomes a serious contender for the Republican Presidential nomination and Nobel-Prize winning Al Gore goes practically unheard in the mainstream. In fact, when we need clear, practical leadership the most, cadres of elected officials are developing a tradition of relying on the most egregious demagoguery to accomplish their goals.

Americans seem to aspire to be little more than what they already are — except sexier — when, held against the moral, social and intellectual templates of past eras, what they are really isn’t particularly marvelous. But still, they seem to carry themselves with a radiant ostensible pride that is either accompanied by a host of hidden shames, or an utter tone-deafness to their own shortcomings. Consequently, we are awash in one another’s strident, arrogant shabbiness with less compulsion to be upright, decent human beings than perhaps ever before in our history.

Meanwhile, ten percent of the country goes on anti-depressants. Which is perhaps the most serious part, insofar as it is emblematic of the poor half-measures we apply to address our problems.

Our ways of life are, from all corners, plainly unsustainable; the consequence of their pursuit is our slow creep toward a new barbarism, but we are not yet galvanized to preventive action truly commensurate with the scale of the difficulties. I think Dr. Barber is right that people are not feeling the natural pain that is appropriate to the circumstances, but I also think the depressed people are the canaries in our coal mine; we’re all suffocating.

What can we do?


More and more I ask myself, “Don’t I have something better to do on a Saturday morning?” The truth is no, but that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t be looking for something better to do instead of doing this.

To that end, I have taken the step of creating a “bookmark” folder entitled “to f’book post,” in which to store articles of a political nature that I discover over the weekend. Now I can empty that folder on Mondays, instead of posting a hail of stuff over the weekend. This folder currently includes Glenn Greenwald’s cogent run-down of the reasons Obama’s indefinite detention policy is bad, bad, bad, and why it’s important for people to speak up about it (because it seems like Obama listens). This folder is some kind of progress.

But in the meantime, I felt I had to post this now. Thursday, David Brooks, writing in The New York Times, echoed Lawrence Wilkerson’s idea that the so-called Bush/Cheney detention and interrogation policies were in play only until 2003 or 2004. The article is here.

The truth of the matter seems to be that the Bush/Cheney approach proved to be politically impractical some five or six years ago. But on Thursday both Cheney and Obama codified something else in the minds of Americans. Officially, it is Obama who is loosening the reins, and not people like Condoleezza Rice, Stephen Hadley, Jack Goldsmith and John Bellinger. Therefore, if any sort of successful attack occurs on American soil it will be Obama’s fault, and the Democrats’ fault, and the unpopular Cheney will be vindicated, along with whosoever is left of the GOP fear mongerers — even though many within the Bush administration worked to mediate Cheney’s policies for years.

Who knows why Obama is willing to open himself to this culpability when he doesn’t have to (my guess is he’s just too busy to see it, and doesn’t tend to think primarily in terms of this kind of partisan chess in the first place). But I can’t see how Cheney’s intentions are anything but nefarious. Even from outside the electoral process, he is showing a capacity to powerfully manipulate the truth, and unlike Rush Limbaugh, he reaches more than the ultra-conservative eddy of the GOP.

That’s bad.

Surplus Facebook Status Updates

I was working on a post recently, but I haven’t had time to come back to it. In the meantime, I thought it might be worthwhile to at least keep the cobwebs off this blog, so I am posting pertinent unused facebook status updates here, which seem to have been coming to me in excess as of late.

Here’s one that I found time to post on f’book, and but I’ll re-post here:

Matt was reminded this weekend that Einstein, Freud, Picasso and T. S. Eliot were contemporaries.

And here is a bona fide surplus item:

Matt still loves Barack Obama, but man he sure does seem to be spending a hell of a lot of money…

Fraud. Plain and Simple.

So says Bill Black, author of The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One. The current financial crisis is not just the result of rampant greed, but fraud — a fundamental “moral crisis” within the most elite American financial institutions.

In the video linked below, Black, formerly a federal regulator whose investigations helped bring successful convictions during the S & L scandal tells Bill Moyers:

a) The collapse of the market, brought about by bad loans, was a deliberate result of criminal fraud by banks’ CEOs and the rating system.

b) The FBI has known for years. In 2004, the FBI publicly announced an epidemic of mortgage fraud and vowed to respond but was unable, largely because the Bush administration had allocated 500 FBI investigators to national terrorism efforts and not replaced them.

c) Taxpayer money has already gone to banks fined for fraudulent activity.

d) Tim Geithner is denying the insolvency of many large banks, in violation of the law, which requires that these banks be closed. The cover-up is motivated by fear of a total collapse beyond the scope of the current crisis, but it is also helping those guilty of fraud to find protection from the rule of law.

e) Conflicts of interest abound. Larry Sommers, who advises Obama, is near the center of the trouble. And under Bush, Henry Paulson appointed Goldman Sachs to the panel recommending the fate of AIG, while AIG was in charge of bailing out Goldman Sachs (which Paulson himself had recently served as CEO). Black notes, “in most stages in American history, that would be a scandal of such proportions that he wouldn’t be allowed in civilized society.”

I think the twenty-seven minutes of this presentation, and the article Bill Moyers and Michael Winship ran in Salon today are both worth understanding clearly by all Americans. This is at least as big as the spin that got us into Iraq. Bigger, in important ways.

Bill Black speaking on Bill Moyers (with transcript)

“Obama: Stop protecting Wall Street bankers from Main Street” by Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

Stanley Fish on free markets and social responsibility, and me on what I saw on the metro.

Stanley Fish discusses “neoliberalism” and its effect on higher education with a nod to some effects on society as a whole. In short, in the neoliberal model, profit alone is esteemed as the one measure of good, and any other concern such as ethics, social responsibility, or even happiness are extraneous measures — sometimes labeled, in the austere purity of the model, as “market distortions.”

He notes that this philosophy is potently at work now, and traces its effects. It’s been observed that:

“Short-term transactions-for-profit replace long-term planning designed to produce a more just and equitable society. Everyone is always running around doing and acquiring things, but the things done and acquired provide only momentary and empty pleasures (shopping, trophy houses, designer clothing and jewelry), which in the end amount to nothing. Neoliberalism, David Harvey explains, delivers a ‘world of pseudo-satisfactions that is superficially exciting but hollow at its core.’ ”

I spent part of the weekend people-watching, and one of the things I noticed was that I felt as though I observed, in virtually everyone I encountered, a great paucity of concern for the well-being of others. This was punctuated, of course, by occasional demonstrations of out-and-out offensive rudeness, as one is conditioned to expect in cities, but what struck me more was the pervasive indifference and preoccupation with self and small social unit.

I could comfortably summarize what I saw as a whole lot of people who I would not say were “bad,” but who I would not say were actually, pro-actively, “good,” either — nor did they seem to care to be.

And if people seek success and fulfillment through the mores of our society alone, what else should be expected? I think few, if any, of the strongest forces at work in the mainstream suggest a way of life that accords to any great degree with true satisfaction and happiness, let alone any true indicator of what may be good and right human behavior, either universally or at this particular (and I think crucial) time in our history.

Instead, it seems to me that what’s extolled is, really, in fact, the pursuit of hollow pleasures. Furthermore, most people still seem to remain hypnotized by this pursuit even as what seems to me a cacophonous call to change thunders out from, basically, every observable circumstance. Most people seem to still be seeking either the pleasures themselves, or seeking to assert an ego identity that fits one of the archetypes in various tiers of the pleasure-seeking system. Again, I feel I so often see, for example, the middle-class royal who, having punched out of work, is utterly sovereign in his or her world, striding around thinking only of personal satisfaction and nothing, once off the clock, about contribution to any sort of greater social welfare whatsoever. This, across age-ranges and cultures. And those who don’t have it want it.

The reformist sub-cultures are not immune. There are plenty of radicals who can’t actually think, or whose heart would be in the right place except for the fact that they themselves are lost in an ego identity, who seek the quick pleasure in their efforts, resist contemplation, and who remain products of the very society to which they react: shallow, bawdy and callous.

Even in intimate couples you might see shallow, socially prescribed self-interests predominate. (And accompanied by confusion as to why relationships are empty, and lacking the passion you see in the movies.)

I have no doubt: Directly or indirectly, it affects EVERYONE.

In rushing off these observations, I have in no way protected myself from the embarrassment of having to retract from overstatement. But the funny thing is, I think most people would agree with me to some degree, and yet that remains the world we co-create. But really what I mainly wanted to do was point to Fish’s article, which I think is well worth the read (once your reading stamina is recharged from this lengthy and introduction). And also, I wanted to toss out an idea which has been on my mind for the past month or so:

If we *don’t* make it past the current crises, if the economic downturn becomes some kind of real collapse, if it destabilizes countries to the point of violence and that spirals, or if it prohibits enough responsible action on climate change to prevent a runaway disaster of some sort — in short, if civilization were to completely come apart for one reason or another, I think that whatever organized societies arose after us might look back and say, with the benefit of hindsight, “that civilization which came before us, and fell [ours], was corrupt and morally bankrupt.”

It actually has, I believe, something of Biblical proportions to it.

I have no doubt that it can be changed to something better. But not without effort, nor without intelligence, nor heart — and not through abiding the social status quo, in any of its current iterations, I suspect.

Think Again: Neoliberalism and Higher Education

Out of the Past

I received an e-mail today quoting Jon Stewart on Larry King Live:

In Larry King’s interview with Jon Stewart, Larry brought up the subject of the primaries and asked him if America was ready for a woman or a black president.

Jon looked at him quizzically and said “This is such a non-question. Did anyone ask us in 2000 if Americans were ready for a moron?”

It reminded me of another Jon Stewart moment, which I went and looked up, and was so affected watching it again that I thought I’d post it below. Then I got all itchy about fair use — since it’s a fourteen minute clip — that I decided to post a link to the transcript instead. If you want more, you know where to find it. You’ve perhaps already seen it, but I think it’s worth a second look. Especially now, in with the New York Times breaking a new scandal about cable pseudo-news.

If you’ve never seen the Jon Stewart clip, or never seen the whole thing, I can’t recommend it enough. It’s one thing to have heard about it, it’s quite another to see the way it played out.

Four months after the broadcast, the CNN show Crossfire was canceled, and the network ended its professional relationship with the bowtie-wearing Tucker Carlson. The new CNN President, Jonathan Klein, said the night before the announcement, “I agree wholeheartedly with Jon Stewart’s overall ‘premise.'”

The premise was, of course. “I’m here to confront you, because we need help from the media, and they’re hurting us.”

I find this no less astonishing four years after its event, and perhaps more. The Quakers have an injunction, “speak truth to power.” It’s a rousing thought, and the need for it has not gone away.

Transcript of Jon Stewart’s Crossfire Interview

“And there is no trade or employment but the young man following it may become a hero.”

— Walt Whitman

Update: Deadly Asteroid Aimed Toward White House; Will It Be Stopped?

New York Times:
“Senator John McCain of Arizona frequently uses the shorthand ‘Al Qaeda’ to describe the enemy in Iraq in pressing to stay the course in the war there.”

Which tempts the author to refer to his own earlier post, of March 31 (and humbly, and since you’re here anyway.)

Meanwhile some analysts approve of McCain’s usage. They say McCain is more detailed when he has the time, but according to Kenneth M. Pollack, research director at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution:

“[The campaign trail] does not lend itself to long-winded explanations of what we really are facing.”

Which daunts not Juan Cole, author of Sacred Space and Holy War: The Politics, Culture and History of Shi’ite Islam, who boldly risks boring America to tears with the epic:

“The U.S. has not been fighting Al Qaeda, it’s been fighting Iraqis.”


…chimes in Bruce Hoffman, terrorism and counterinsurgency expert at Georgetown University:

“This is much more fractionated than most people could imagine…”

Which is not only terse, but gives English-speakers worldwide a whole new word: fractionated.

McCain, Iraq War and the Threat of ‘Al Qaeda’

…up comes Cliff Schecter’s new book, The Real McCain:

Three reporters from Arizona, on the condition of anonymity, also let me in on another incident involving McCain’s intemperateness. In his 1992 Senate bid, McCain was joined on the campaign trail by his wife, Cindy, as well as campaign aide Doug Cole and consultant Wes Gullett. At one point, Cindy playfully twirled McCain’s hair and said, “You’re getting a little thin up there.” McCain’s face reddened, and he responded, “At least I don’t plaster on the makeup like a trollop, you cunt.” McCain’s excuse was that it had been a long day. If elected president of the United States, McCain would have many long days.

(Well-discussed here, at The Raw Story.)

and Wonkette, a DC blogger offers, and I hope resoundingly:

“But yeah for real he can’t be president.”

Lastly, yours truly considers stepping further in the fray with:

…the above being a custom bumper sticker he has created on a site online, and is tempted to order, but reluctant to affix, fearing that he will thereby forfeit the “I’m a high school teacher” cred he currently enjoys with Northern Virginia traffic police.

Greenland’s Ice Melting Faster

So, this might sound hackneyed to some, but according to an article in BusinessWeek, Greenland is melting faster than expected. What I found particularly interesting here are the details. Melted lakes are cracking their ice basins and flowing to bedrock, causing glaciers to slide more quickly, which causes them to melt faster. Which, one might presume, causes deeper and heavier lakes, with more ice-cracking ability, etc.

Global Warming: The Greenland Factor

The slide show is beautiful, in odd contrast to its implications for humanity…

The other thing that’s profound in this article is the invitation to contemplate that Miami, parts of New York City and some tremendous amount of Bangladesh might be under water in a few centuries (as is commonly predicted, should Greenland’s ice cover melt entirely.)

In the meantime, some nasty floods between now and then, I’d bet.

P.S. The President of the United States announced this week that he has a plan to cut US greenhouse gas emission increases to zero by 2025 or so…

…Meaning, as I read it, that rates of greenhouse gas emissions would continue to rise in the US until then?

Easter Sunday, part II

There’s one other exchange of dialogue from the Easter conversation that I wanted to include:

“Plus, hundreds of thousands of innocent people have been killed.”

“No, I don’t think it’s been nearly that many.”

The most comprehensive study of people killed by violence in Iraq was compiled in 2006, by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. It was “examined and validated by four separate independent experts who all urged publication.” It ran in the British Medical journal, Lancet. The Bloomberg study estimated the number, in 2006, at 655,000. President Bush dismissed the study as “politics.”

Maybe that number was too high. The second most comprehensive study is the UN assessment that in the year 2006 in isolation, the death toll was greater than 34,000. But, as one blogger noted that that’s about twice the number murdered in the US, only it occurred among a population one tenth the size. (I suppose it may or may not be useful, and certainly unscientific, to consider that 34,000 times five years is 170,000.)

It seems the unfortunate truth is that no oneknows for sure how many people have been killed in Iraq. Few are trying to keep count, and it seems one of the only ways to collect reliable data is to do the grunt work of collecting figures from the morgues, and the obituaries and so on. The information does not seem to be going to a centralized location on its own with any regularity. So as far as the dyad quoted at the top of the post goes, I guess you have to be the judge of who might be more accurate.