Monday, April 21, 2014

Emancipating the American serf

The whole world is festering with unhappy souls
(from 'The Merry Minuet,' sung by Kingston Trio 1959)


Loosely translated, the word “maskirovka” means masked warfare. It could refer to Putin's use of local thugs, volunteers and disguised Russian Special Operations troops in eastern Ukraine to destabilize the region, thus avoiding the use of traditional forces crossing the border as an invading army.

Of course, we Americans know quite a bit about “special operations” across the globe; however, we know a good deal less about masked warfare inside our own country, partly because we're largely unaware of what is is but, more importantly, the idea is not to know it's actually happening. There are no men dressed in uniforms carrying automatic weapons and speaking in halting English. But our own unique masked warfare has been going on for a very long time, from the very beginning of the republic actually.

The men the American people admire most extravagantly are the most daring liars; the men they detest most violently are those who try to tell them the truth
(H.L. Mencken)

It's all mine

The confirmations continue to pile up on the expanding dung heap. Following rapidly on the heels of Thomas Piketty's “best seller” Capital in the Twenty-First Century (see previous article), detailing the level of American inequality, we now have Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens (see Additional Reading below).

Getting beyond the political science jargon and supporting data, all of which is revealing, the report pretty much demonstrates that the overwhelming majority of the American public has very little influence regarding the policies our government adopts. The full report will be available in the Fall.

Freedom in capitalist society always remains about the same as it was in ancient Greek republics: Freedom for slave owners
(Vladimir Lenin)

The sound of black helicopters

Special operations at its very best are good at deliberate misdirection, pitting various groups against one another, stirring up old fears and superstitions, manipulating ignorance, creating new historical “facts,” which oftentimes includes nostalgic myths about the "good old days." The final act of the very best special operations is instilling fear in the dominant culture, be it at the local level or even throughout a nation-state. “My god, 'they' might take it from us.”

Picking on white America

There's something to be said for a national upheaval, even revolution in some cases. It can clear out the accumulated rot and fanciful misconceptions, as well as rid the nation of a corrupt and useless status quo. But, there is also a downside. In the U.S. in the 1930s it took a worldwide economic Depression and an extraordinary political leader like Franklin D. Roosevelt to create serious political, economic and social change.

In Europe the same Depression led to Fascism and WWII.. The 1918 Bolshevik revolution in Russia, by the 1930s, had turned into a reign of terror and the leadership of the sociopath Joseph Stalin. The world is full of similar dismal examples.

White America has been fortunate, in that it has not had a foreign army in its country since the British invaded the U.S. in the War of 1812. The same certainly can not be said of the Indian nation occupying the same territory as European-Americans but for a longer period of time. As for African-Americans, well, they were considered property until the 1860s and were subjected to second class citizenship until well into the 20th century. No, the American Civil War was not about state rights.

Louis Hartz, in his classic The Liberal Tradition in America, said in the mid-1950s, “that instead of recapturing our past, we have got to transcend it. As for a child leaving adolescence, there is no going home again for America.”

Your 'people', sir, is nothing but a great beast
(Alexander Hamilton, June 18, 1787, Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia)

Our Founding Fathers, while an extraordinary group of men, were not gods from Mount Olympus, and they certainly never put “democracy” on some elevated platform as we tend to do today. They were, understandably, fearful of excessive concentration of power. For our Founders, democracy meant preventing “mob rule and the triumph of passion over reason to serve the ambition of the demagogue.” They created a government which ended up over time serving the needs of the status quo. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in a television interview during a visit to Egypt said, “I would not look to the United States Constitution if I were drafting a constitution in the year 2012.”

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)

Had Lincoln not been assassinated, might the history of the United States been far different? Historians will likely be debating this question for years to come. Regardless, white America did not choose the high ground after Lincoln was killed. Four million former slaves were emancipated in 1865. At the same time some 8 million whites, largely illiterate, never owned slaves, but ended up regarding the freed African-Americans as competitors. The whites were easily manipulated, usually by the same people that were in control before the Civil War. By 1874 the white power structure had regained control and the former Confederacy descended into a “heart of darkness.”

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
(St. Louis Republic newspaper, December 17, 1890)

Abraham Lincoln wanted the West opened for all Americans after the Civil War ended and for the average American to own some land and be a citizen and a full participant in a democratic country. Well, once again white America did not choose the high ground. The opening of the West became the on-going story of genocide, violence, environmental destruction, class warfare and corporate predation and corruption. (For an excellent understanding of the role of the railroads in the West and the rise of the Gilded Age in the late 19th century, read Railroaded by Richard White.)

Wealth, as Mr. Hobbes says, is power
(Adam Smith)

Cow billy liberty, freedom and farmer Bundy

Today, in 2014, mythical American exceptionalism is all pervasive, reinforced by info-entertainers on cable news, politicians, corporations and certainly the many oligarchs with their own anti-democratic agenda. We Americans are somehow special and different we are advised and, if truth be told, a little better than all the rest. The glow, however, is wearing off the glorious fable, rather quickly. But remember what masked warfare is all about.

Cliven Bundy, a millionaire cattle rancher in Nevada may be an apt metaphor for a certain delusional albeit influential segment of America, wallowing in white entitlement and demanding its proprietary welfare capitalism in perpetuity.

Farmer Bundy has been grazing his cattle on “public” lands and has not paid the range fee, hardly onerous by any rational standard, to the Bureau of Land Management in some twenty years, which clearly begs the question: What the hell has the BLM been doing all this time?

Part of the land that Bundy grazes his cattle on has been reserved for the endangered desert tortoise. The land does not belong to Cliven but is held in trust for all Americans, thanks to the intelligence and foresight of the Republican president Theodore Roosevelt at the turn of the 20th century. Supposedly the fee Mr. Bundy now owes to the citizens of the United States is approximately a million dollars.

Recently, like a tired cowboy fable, when the BLM decided it was about time to enforce the law and round up Bundy's cattle, this odious freeloader claimed he didn't “recognize” the Federal government and started yapping on cue about his freedom and liberty, which naturally brought out the various “patriot” groups and the lunatic militia movement, who were armed to the teeth and threatened violence against BLM officials. This dreary “range war”story is not yet over.

A judicious hanging in Wall Street would be a good measure with which to begin the reformation
(Ignatius Donnelly, in The Representative, August 29, 1894)

No fairy tales to believe in anymore

The population of the United States is over 300 million people. The total number of eligible voters is approximately 206 million people. The number of registered voters in the U.S. are approximately 169 million, with some 86 million registered Democrats, 55 million registered Republicans and some 28 million falling into various categories. Now consider one to five percent of the population.

Oligarchy, for all practical purposes, is the government we now have in the United States. Masked warfare has been quite successful. The obvious question is what will be done about it? Who will do it?
How many people constitute a serious movement with the discipline, the knowledge and the ability to sweep out the accumulated rot and toss out a corrupt and useless status quo? There will be in the near future no national uprising, no college students successfully confronting para-military police forces on a part-time basis, and most definitely no “glorious” revolution. It will, however, not be pain free.

Five percent of 86 million registered Democrats is some 4 million people; three percent of 169 million registered voters is 5 million people; two percent of 300 million residents of the U.S. is 6 million people. The numbers are there.

Credit must be given where credit is due. The current Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts, and his majority of reactionaries could be dressed in top hats and tails and sent back to the late 19th century. They'd fit right in. Antonin Scalia could ponder his doctrine of “original intent” until the cows come home.

From voting rights to unlimited money in politics, the Roberts court has done its duty well. It was a television comedian that said of the Chief Justice that he was either a liar or too naïve to be serving on the highest court in the land, if he believed that large sums of money did not corrupt the political system.

The U.S. Congress, a corrupt, pompous debating society for millionaires, is merely irrelevant. The Executive branch—who knows? Certainly having a political system allowing for a wider pool of talent to run for the presidency would be a good beginning.

Our 18th century Constitution, a remarkable document for its time, is now a relic of a distant past and needs to be rewritten for the 21st century.

Who will rid this country of the oligarchs?

Additional Reading:

Friday, April 11, 2014

A sociopath and an oligarch go into a bar....

I can hire one-half of the working class to kill the other half
(Jay Gould, 19th century financier and speculator)

Exceptional American exceptionalism

Thomas Piketty, the French economist, with the publication of Capital in the Twenty-first Century has seemingly stirred up the sleepy and bloodless world of modern economic theory and its bland, oftentimes, pseudo-scientific gibberish. Yes, inequality cannot be understood independently of politics. Some of those 19th century economists, like Karl Marx and David Ricardo, did have some extremely important insights about how the world actually works—then and now.

In regard to income created by work, inequality (the level of inequality) in the U.S., according to Piketty, is “probably higher than in any other society at any time in the past, anywhere in the world.”

The Jones Plantation

Mind of the sociopath

Martijn van den Heuvel of the University Medical Center in Utrecht, the Netherlands recently announced that they have completed the first detailed map of any mammal's neural network. It's called the Allen Mouse Brain Connectivity Atlas.

While a similar mapping of the human brain is still many years away, this is a first step in understanding medical conditions such as bi-polar disorders, schizophrenia and autism. It is about connections and the complexity of brain connectivity. Now, if we are able in the not too distant future, to understand human predation and how to make the necessary adjustments to those neural networks, we could possibly look forward to a future where humankind might make a positive contribution to our planet's well being.

Of course, economic theory and neuroscience aside, how do you actually go about—in this day and age—of bringing the existing structure to an end and rebuilding anew? Possibly remembering some old ideas.