Monday, December 15, 2014

White America's secret, part 3

“Oh give me a home where the buffalo roam...”
(poem and song published in 1870s)

Round em up, round them up

The 1950s and 1960s were the heyday of the American Western. It was also one of our most popular exports. Television shows like Bonanza, Wagon Train, Gunsmoke, The Virginian, Have Gun, Will Travel and Maverick were among the most highly rated programs on television. I recently watched the 1959 TV pilot of Rawhide, where Clint Eastwood made his first appearance, about cowboys on a cattle drive.

It's quintessentially American … sort of. Stoic white men and go-it-alone kind of guys solve problems, protect children and the women folk and aren't afraid to use their guns, which of course are omnipresent. This view was in fact part of the West but only one small part, the part that has always been most comfortable to white people, who decided how the West “was won.”

The real story is of course much broader, much more ambiguous and oftentimes far darker, literally and figuratively, and the laconic lone cowboy was more often than not an unremarkable cog in a much bigger system. It is also about how large corporations and politicians first colluded on a large scale to plunder the resources of the West and where the ends justified the means.

The state of Idaho is sponsoring a Killing Competition on National Forest Lands. The contestants will be competing for cash prizes. The prizes go to those that kill the most wolves, coyotes and other wild life. To paraphrase Rap Brown, blood lust “is as American as cherry pie.”Yeah, it's about continued disrespect and disconnect but more important it's about mass delusion.

It's part of an old story about taming the frontier. Ranching interests today in the western states are the ones behind most of the shooting, trapping and poisoning of millions of animals. Ranchers drove the Mexican gray wolf to extinction and continually oppose any recovery efforts. Grazing on public lands has threatened or endangered hundreds of species, and thousands of miles of rivers have been polluted by livestock waste

Politicians in the western states love to talk about their Libertarian roots and how they are the “true” protectors of the environment and the authentic America. It's once again about white America making up stuff on a grand scale. No doubt many of these characters and their constituents actually believe the claptrap they utter—but why wouldn't they.

I hear the chickens are coming home

“You didn't hear about the terrorists planning to blow up the subway in Paris?” I had not. “Do you think it's safe to fly to New York”? I said I thought it was perfectly safe.

We had one of the lowest voter turnouts in years (36%) for our recent mid-term elections, terrible even by the dismal American standard, yet some $3.6 billion was spent to “buy the election.” The low voter turnout wasn't because of widespread contentment among the citizenry. But who did vote were the older, whiter, wealthier and more conservative voters. And who they voted into office at both the national and state level will guarantee all of us “interesting times” come January 2015.

I suspect the next two years will be unpleasant for a great many Americans, especially for those of us that don't want to revisit the 1950s let alone the nostalgic era of President William McKinley, 1897-1901.

“What do those people want?” “You ought to open an account in the Caymans, only the ignorant pay more taxes than they should.” “Stopping the system of dependency in this country is the most important thing we can do.” “We're the real victims.” “Next time we'll have a President who is, well, you know.”

I happened to run across a particular group of tennis players this past summer, who I ended up playing with periodically. They were white men, all over the age of 55, middle class, some of whom were retired … engineers, business types, one or two had worked in the public sector, with grown children and grandchildren. I listened to what they had to say.

They were a subset of white America but have always been an influential constituency and certain about their place in the order of things, until recently. It's about a world they know that seems to be now unraveling, difficult for many of them to comprehend. The television and radio info-entertainers tell them that, while they're in the right, they also ought to be afraid—of virtually everything. And they are resisting the inevitable changes, sometimes mindlessly.

Friday, December 12, 2014

White America's secret, part 2

Men, women and children were piled up on that little flat in one confused mass. Blood ran like water ...
Big Foot's band was converted into good Indians.
(A soldier who participated in The Wounded Knee Massacre, December 29, 1890)

A lust for conquest had already destroyed the Great Republic, because trampling upon the helpless abroad had taught her, by a natural process, to endure with apathy the like at home.
(Mark Twain, during U.S. conquest of the Philippines, 1899-1902 )

Verscharfte Vernehmung [Enhanced Interrogation]
(The Gestapo's Methods of Examination, from a directive by the Gestapo chief, Muller, 1937)

Mohammed was also subjected to rectal rehydration 'without a determination of medical need.' Mohammed's chief interrogator described use of the process as emblematic of their 'total control over the detainee.'
(excerpt from Senate report on CIA torture, December 2014)

Um-m, before post-racial America

Approximately 20 Africans arrived in the English colony of Jamestown, Virginia in 1619, but we think they were treated as indentured servants. Some supposedly achieved their freedom and became property owners. A lot of historians cite John Punch who, in July 1640, became the first official slave in the English colonies, supposedly because he decided to leave his employer before he'd finished his indentured servitude. The two white men that left with Punch had their servitude extended for a few years unlike Punch, who was placed in permanent bondage for the remainder of his life, with no rights. He became human property.

The “formal institution” of slavery was a gradual process and it took another 150 years or so before it was thoroughly and “legally” entrenched into the fabric of the entire country. Edward Baptist, professor of history at Cornell, has written an economic history of slavery, entitled The Half Has Never Been Told.

Many American history texts have portrayed slavery as a marginal system in the South, a relic of feudalism and perpetrated by a handful of landowners, with many slaves often becoming part of the slave owner’s family or variations of this relatively benign theme. I certainly have known a number of white southerners, who were far from being ignorant racist troglodytes or in any way thought slavery was “not all that bad,” but who still cling to some version of the Gone with the Wind nonsense.

The “war of northern aggression,” as some white southerners still today call the American Civil War, was not about slavery, but was about state's rights. This is a belief still offered by far too many. It is why Baptist's book is an important contribution in sweeping away the illusions of many white Americans and better understanding the very long legacy of slavery, that is far from being a relic of the past. Go to Hate Map to see where some of these groups reside at the present time.

According to Professor Baptist, America's rise to power ( and white privilege ) was very much connected to black slaves. It is a story about global capitalism and where “personal” property superseded all other rights. It most definitely was not a marginal system practiced by a few backwater southern plantation owners. In fact, Baptist doesn't speak of plantations but of slave labor camps. Think of Stalin's Gulags, North Korea's labor camps, and Nazi concentration camps. Work Sets You Free—Arbeit Macht Frei.

At the end of the Civil War in 1865 some 4 million former slaves were set free. Eight million whites in the South, overwhelmingly poor, landless and illiterate, thought of black people as competitors. White southerners were easily manipulated. By 1874 white power in the South had regained control, and the North had lost interest in Reconstruction. We had the West to now “civilize” and for some there was a lot of money to be made. Above all we now understood industrial warfare after the carnage of the Civil War..


Tuesday, December 09, 2014

White America's secret, part 1

We must delight in each other, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, our community as members of the same body.
(“A Model of Christian Charity,” John Winthrop, leading figure in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, 1630)

No ancient empire has risen or mouldered away within these limits. Except the red man, of doubtful origin and melancholy fate, America has no “surviving memorials of the past.”
(History of New Hampshire, George Barstow, 1858)

It would soon become the greatest mass slaughter of warm-blooded animals in human history. In Kansas alone the bones of thirty-one million buffalo were sold for fertilizer between 1868 and 1881.
(from Empire of the Summer Moon, by S.C.Gwynne)

A system cannot fail those it was never meant to protect.
W.E.B. DuBois

Violence is as American as cherry pie.
Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin [H. Rap Brown], 1960s

All a man needed was a horse, a gun and the open land, and he could conquer the world.
(attributed to U.S. Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, 2014)

Vacuum domicilium

My favorite time to visit Cape Cod, the section of Massachusetts that juts out into the ocean, had always been in the fall, when the tourists had long gone and the beaches were deserted. It was the emptiness that I liked, watching the Atlantic Ocean crash onto the shore. It was easier to imagine so much.

That same ocean crashed onto the beaches when my ancestors landed in November of 1620—cold, miserable, frightened yet believing fervently in their stern religion and that they were the chosen people of God, about to establish the New Jerusalem.

To these early Pilgrims and Puritans, this New Jerusalem was deserted! It was vacuum domicilium, meaning “vacant dwelling.” It didn't fit the traditional English characteristic.”Unimproved” lands without any clear title were simply available.

Right away the views of the Indians and the Europeans regarding “property” were ultimately irreconcilable. For the newcomers, title was available for the first occupant who would clear the land, build on it, garden, farm and permanently inhabit the property. Property for Europeans meant power and virtually no one in Europe had any in the seventeenth century. And there was so much land for the taking and so few white people to take it, arguably the most fertile region on the planet. We had to be the chosen people.

Back in 2005 I wrote an article entitled A Druid Nation. I asked the question whether or not it would have been different if someone other than the Puritans had established settlements in America.

A clear duality exists in this country. My Puritan relatives were not Libertarians, contrary to some of the more fanciful views of white conservatives today. In the beginning it was about shared responsibility and community norms. It was also about obeying God's laws … as interpreted by the leaders of the community. William Jenkyn the Puritan martyr, who died in Newgate Prison in London, said that, “As the wicked are hurt by the best things, so the godly are bettered by the worst.”

While the Puritan communitarian strain pretty much dominated the settling of the “new” world, the secular influence of the European Enlightenment dominated the founding of the United States.

On Thomas Jefferson's tomb nothing is written about being the third president of the United States. What we see is that he was the author of the Declaration of American Independence, the Father of the University of Virginia and, the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom. The state, in Jefferson's eyes, had no business in proselytizing religious views.

We white people have been mixing, matching, justifying and making stuff up from the very beginning.


Saturday, November 22, 2014

Entering injun country and fighting hostiles

It's a fascinating photographic collection at the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City. In 1867 photographer Alexander Gardner became part of the survey team for the Union Pacific Railway. Gardner had once worked in New York for Mathew Brady, who had produced so many iconic pictures of the Civil War.

While part of the exhibit contains photographs of Kansas City in 1867-68, Lawrence, Kansas and other areas, other photographs depict the myriad relations between the U.S. military, white settlers and the Indians that lived in the region. These are powerful images, both poignant and hypnotic. See “images.”

In 1868 Gardner went with the Indian Peace Commission held in Fort Laramie, Wyoming. The Commission was made up of people sympathetic to Indian culture and their way of life and those that wanted a “final” solution. It was, however, the beginning of the end for the Plains Indians.

The American Civil War was over and the “frontier” was about to be opened up to European-Americans on a vast scale. We were headed for the Pacific coast. (Still one of the best accounts on how the railroad opened the West and its consequences read Richard White's book Railroaded.)

A story for all of us in injun country

This is not an American story or just another sad tale about indigenous people worldwide, although it has directly affected native populations for a long time. It's really about values, economic systems and what we're willing to consider as alternatives in the 21st century. See 'tar sands' and accompanying video.

The U.S. military has used the expression “going into injun country” for a long time when embarking on our numerous military campaigns or entering an especially dangerous area within a country where we're usually not wanted. The problem is that more and more of us will likely be considered “hostiles” living in injun country by those few seeking some type of “final solution.”

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Economic America: A delusion wrapped in an illusion

We are the rich. We own America. We got it, God knows how, but we intend to keep it.
(Frederick Townsend Martin, a member of New York's late 19th century upper class)

Listen to your betters

I have learned how to cultivate my karma for success; a wealthy businessman told me. I've lost track of all the articles I have read on numerous sites, including Linkedin, about “making it.” Now I know how to write a resume so as to avoid age discrimination and what clothes to wear for all occasions.

So many articles on how to get rich, including pictures of beautiful people, beautiful mansions and beautiful yachts and so little time. Mark Cuban told me he gets his inspiration from reading Ayn Rand novels. There's hope. I read Ayn Rand novels when I was in college.

I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country.... Corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow....
(Abraham Lincoln, 1864)

Mirrors and smoke

My libertarian friends are fond of reminding me that America is a republic not a democracy. I usually thank them and only occasionally ask them if a republic can be democratic. Certainly, our 18th century Founding Fathers, a remarkable collection of human beings, were no democrats as we understand the term in the 21st century.

For the creators of the Constitution, they did not place “democracy” on a marble stand. When they spoke of democracy they meant preventing”mob rule” and the “triumph” of passion. Alexander Hamilton once remarked during the Constitutional Convention of 1787 that, “Your 'people,' sir, is nothing but a great beast.”

In the 21st century one of our favorite Horatio Alger stories is the self-made billionaire tale. It was Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's propaganda muse, that said, “You tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”

Our billionaires in the U.S., overwhelmingly, receive their education from elite or elitist institutions, depending on your point of view, and a large percentage have advanced degrees. (See Wealth-X and UBS Billionaire Census2014). It's actually a perpetuation of a class and most definitely not the enlargement of an opportunity.

It's like when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939.
(Stephen Schwarzman, CEO of Blackstone, a private equity firm, in response to the Obama administration proposal to close the 'carried interest loophole' benefiting the very rich, 2011)

“My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place.”

Yes, we are living in a “wonder-land.” The information is readily available. For some it might begin with Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty. But there are many other sources less abstruse.

Corporate profits have risen five times faster than wages, while the middle class has not seen its wages rise in 15 years. College costs have risen 500 percent since 1985 while the consumer price index rose only 115 percent during the same period. At Harvard 11 % of the students receive Pell grants, while at the University of Texas 59% receive Pell grants.

Even with a less than perfect Affordable Care Act (hardly a radical idea in the developed world), health costs are going up, while family income is going down. The rich, well, they are “different” from you and me. They have their subsidies, which of course is a tax for everyone else.

Who loves you baby

I have seen examples of “capitalism” in a small rum shop in Barbados, in an Indian market outside of Quito, Ecuador and at a small hotel on the coast of Venezuela. In my own family there are small business owners, who employ people, pay taxes and who really do believe in responsibility beyond themselves.

With the “millennials” well on their way of becoming the new American serfs because of college debt and a broken economic system, I have wondered even more if we actually do believe in an educated citizenry, because freedom, liberty and opportunity for all is supposedly, at the very least, in our national interest.

Leaving aside for the moment secondary and primary school education, why is college tuition not paid for by its citizens? After all, we are seemingly happy to pay for the education of a professional military officer class. I suppose the question is mostly rhetorical.

Our republic is broken and nonsense about Ayn Rand and “dressing” for success are the distracting tales told by idiots and sociopaths.

The death of Sitting Bull removes one of the obstacles to civilization. He was a greasy savage, who rarely bathed and was liable at anytime to become infected with vermin. During the whole of his life he entertained the remarkable delusion that he was a free-born American with some rights in the country of his ancestors.
(The St. Louis Republic , St. Louis, Missouri, December 17, 1890)

Additional reading:

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Extinction for fun and profit

The dog is a gentleman; I hope to go to his heaven, not man's
(Mark Twain)

The approaching silence

It's a remarkable picture making the rounds on the internet: More than 30,000 walruses have come ashore in Alaska because of disappearing sea ice in the Chukchi Sea, an area where the oil and gas industry want to drill. This is the feeding area for the walruses and where the females give birth. A similar phenomenon is occurring along the Russian coast as well. Climate change is so inconvenient.

The depressing numbers

The World Wildlife Fund recently updated its Living Planet Report. In just two human generations half the animals are gone (10,000 representative population sampling of mammals, birds, reptiles and fish), which represents a 50 percent decline over the past 40 years.

The major causes are familiar. In addition to climate change, there is habitat destruction and loss, devastation caused by unsustainable levels of hunting and fishing—for whatever reasons—and exploitation in general. Right now between 23 percent and 36 percent of all birds mammals, and amphibians used for food or medicine are now threatened with extinction.

A house of death eaters

While the industrial slaughter of iconic animals like the elephant and the rhino is frequently in the news, less well known creature have many scientists far more worried and could have a direct and disastrous impact on Homo sapiens.

Some of us, for example, may know that the world's food production (possibly more than 60 percent) is dependent on bees and other pollinators, but how many know about the importance of the lowly worm, which turns waste into soil nutrients or that bats keep malaria rates down. It is the small, not so cuddly creatures, that may ultimately change everything for humankind, possibly much sooner than we might imagine.