Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Why is it "death" when cops kill black men, but "murder" when a black man kills two cops?

I checked. Barack Obama repeatedly referred to the "death" of Michael Brown and of Eric Garner, with all the politically required sorrowful noises. Yet when it was non-black policemen who were killed, he used the m-word.

"I unconditionally condemn today's murder of two police officers in New York City," said Obama when two New York City policemen were killed, as unjustly and unjustifiably as Brown and Garner.

I am not aiming to excuse any killing. Nor do I intend to encourage killing. But a sense of even-handedness, of fairness, has to be raised here.

Not even President Obama seems to have the courage to speak up. Suddenly everyone is tripping over each other to say how bad this is and what a crime it is -- no ifs ands or buts.

No talk of sorrow, no compassion for the man who killed the policemen, even though his actions might have justified an insanity plea had he lived. In the eyes of the media and the president, the man was wrong.

Where was this moral certitude when cops were the killers? The cops were given all sorts of leeway, even to the point of walking scot free from any criminal charge.

Yet it was murder, too, in the cases of Brown and Garner.

The dictionary tells us to murder is "to kill or slaughter inhumanly or barbarously." The multiple bullets fired at Brown and the strangulation of Garner qualify as inhumane and barbarous.

Those acts should have been condemned "unconditionally" (I would say unequivocally), by the same president who now rends his garments. And by all the sound-bite seekers who are now lining up to express outrage.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Santa Claus shows us the fine line between truth and lies

Today's news included a Christmas item about a letter in the JFK Library in which the president wrote to a child assuring her that Soviet nuclear testing at the North Pole would not affect Santa, with whom the man in the White House claimed to have spoken on the telephone the day before.

Forgive me if I stop to point out at just how many levels this letter exemplifies the myriad of ways in which children of the 1950s and 60s, of whom I was one, were lied to blatantly, nonchalantly and unnecessarily. Some of these lies continue today, at some level, to children of the new millenium.

"Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus," looked upon today as a heartwarming story, is the quintessence of the American mythmaking. The 1897 New York Sun editorial, in which Francis Pharcellus Church replied to a letter by Virginia O'Hanlon, was an antecedent of the John F. Kennedy letter.

Let me begin by pointing out the crass commercial motive behind the Sun editorial's profession of a broad nonconfessional "faith." It was no accident that Church prominently cited the bias of O'Hanlon's father, another lie: "If you see it in The Sun, it's so."

Church was selling his newspaper and, along with it, the singular and fundamental philosophical flaw in American society's thinking: the notion that facts are truths to be believed, especially if an authoritative source says so.

Facts are not truth. They are only realities observable within certain contextual circumstances. Almost everything we "know" about physics ceases to be certain, for example, at the quantum level. Facts are only tenable claims, not truth.

Church did O'Hanlon no favor, really. Look up her life and you learn that within little more than a decade she ended up in a short-lived marriage in which the man deserted her before her daughter was born.

Skepticism is warranted. We should not base anything on fact alone; or if we do, we must remind ourselves that the facts are dependent on how perception occurs. Even myth, which is not factual but not necessarily untrue, must be handled with care lest it become an actual falsehood rather than an intuitive inkling of truth.

This is where the gratuitous and arrogant twist of Kennedy's mendacity gets me. He did not have to tell the girl that he had spoken to Santa. It was true enough that Soviet testing of nuclear weapons would not hurt Santa Claus.

In a broader arena, there is little doubt that during the Cold War era the Soviet regime was harsh and repressive. But was it necessary to tell children Superman fought "for truth, justice and the American Way," when that Way featured blatant injustices such as racism and patent falsehoods such as fairly rewarded hard work?

As a child I once wrote a letter to the pope asking that the assassinated Kennedy be canonized. Today, the Irish name summons the indelible image of a young president bidding an infatuated young woman to perform oral sex on an aide in the White House pool. So much for Camelot; King Arthur was a frat boy.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

So now it's legal for white cops to kill black males by shooting or chokehold?

Let me get this straight: the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness has been rescinded for black males in the United States, at least when it's a white cop abridging the right? I didn't get the memo.

Must be filed somewhere near that as yet nonexistent presidential executive order freeing the subminimum-wage immigrant slaves. Or the national health program. Or the prosecution of Wall Street gamblers who sank the economy.

Oh wait, none of those things exist, either. Welcome to "post-racial" America.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Black shopkeepers whose stores were trashed are, like Obama, part of the problem, not the solution

The narrative is being pushed that the anger in Ferguson and elsewhere is the doing of "looters" who are destroying the tiny shops of upstanding black shopkeepers. This perpetuates the lie that there is good, capitalist black behavior that is rewarded in this society: in fact, there isn't.

The truth is that people with dark skin get to the Oval Office only by first submitting to a thorough intellectual and moral rape akin to the kind of forced sodomy for which our prison system is infamous. That is what happened to poor Barry Obama, who at one time could have passed for Michael Brown of Ferguson, Mo., but now does not even know what a "half smoke" is. (Truth in blogging: I hate half smokes.)

Indeed, the truth is that Barack Obama is not the first African-American president. He is the first mulatto president. He is as much white as he is African. Moreover, his African-ness did not undergo the unspeakably cruel passage into 300 years slavery and 150 years of segregation and ethnic hatred.

It is the white Obama who in his first term came within inches of deporting more immigrants than Bush in his two terms. It is the white Obama who allowed the people who cause the worldwide Great Recession to go not merely scot free, but to get huge government-subsidized bonuses.

"Well done, boys, you ripped off the Negroes and white trash you sold subprime loans to, but good," that white Obama effectively said to the guys at AIG and to the many Goldman-Sachsers he hired to run government on behalf of Wall Street.

As for the Ferguson shopkeepers, they are either as unprincipled as Obama, posing as the poster children of capitalism in exchange for their pound of soul. The fact of the matter is that to be a capitalist you have to become "white" in all its gory, rapacious, imperialist, war-mongering glory. Just as Barry Obama dutifully did.

People come before property, not property before (mostly non-white) people.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

It's time for a real American revolution

As people lament the damage of rioting in Ferguson, I am still struck dumb at the systematic, persistent and escalating legally authorized violence against African-Americans. Along with the planned pauperization of huge swaths of what was once the middle class, this is the perfect storm of "revolutionary conditions" that Lenin hoped for a century ago. 

Personally, I find it lamentable that this is happening just when I am getting to the nadir of my life and will find myself enfeebled and helpless in the turmoil of a revolt. Having witnessed "bloodless" military coups, retaining perfect awareness of who gets bloodied in such events, I must say I look at all this with some ill foreboding.

So does Barack Obama. A few weeks ago, Paul Krugman called Obama "what we used to call a liberal Republican," and it felt right. Now at least one publication on the real Left (not merely liberal Democrats, who are capitalist to the core) is calling Obama "our conservative black president." 

That label feels right after the equivocal display Obama put on television. It seemed as if an emasculated Negro president was channeling the fears of the Wall Street financiers who bankrolled his 2008 campaign.

Those in power are afraid. For good reason. We are headed for very rough times.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

It must have been a Missouri turkey sandwich

"You can indict a ham sandwich," every lawyer I know, including one prosecutor, has told me. Indeed, when I served on a grand jury from December through March this year, albeit not in Missouri, I was surprised just how easy it was to indict, even on the basis of what, to me, was clearly a casual remark of a hothead to a police officer.

This is why the Ferguson shooting grand jury baffles me. Someone shoots someone else dead and it's not even involuntary manslaughter? What exculpating evidence did the grand jury have that we don't have?

Of course, there is the matter of skin color and ethnicity.

When I was a grand juror in a city that is about half African-American, I saw that only 1 percent of the cases involved a white defendant. The overwhelming preponderance of people accused of crimes that I saw were black; disproportionately so.

For this reason, among others, I intend to refuse to serve in a grand jury at any time in the future as a matter of conscience and fairness. I cannot be complicit with a system designed in such a way that what passes for "justice" is meted out only to African-Americans.

I suspect, but I do not know for a fact, that this influenced Officer Wilson to shoot Michael Brown. In his experience, most people he was trained to be on the lookout for and to regard as part of a dangerous criminal class would be African-American.

Why the grand jury accepted that a police officer can shoot a defenseless teenager with impunity is part mystery, part stupidity.

The mystery today, and when I served, is why the average Joe on these panels accepts the word of prosecutors and police at face value. I suspect this is part of the get-out-of-jail free card handed out to Wilson, again, my surmise only.

The stupidity part is something one encounters with depressing regularity in a grand jury, to the point that I coined what I thought should be a criminal charge: "felony stupidity." Yes, the overwhelming majority of crimes are not resolved by the intelligence of the police, which is something of an oxymoron in many cases, but by the sheer stupidity of people whose behavior comes astoundingly close to begging to be arrested.

Wilson and others in law enforcement, no doubt, encounter it frequently enough that they probably assume things of certain types of people in certain circumstances. He may have thought Michael Brown fit the bill, but why did the grand jury buy that erroneous assumption? Why, to the point of excusing causing the death of another person?

In this picture in which hues seem to play a role, color me baffled.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Maybe it's time for Republican Socialism

I know, it sounds crazy, but listen to my logic before you completely reject the idea. The indisputable fact of the matter is that there is a fairly miniscule ideological difference between the two pro-capitalist parties. Even Paul Krugman is now calling Barack Obama "what we used to call a liberal Republican."

I didn't vote in 2008 for Jacob Javits, the old Senate liberal Republican warhorse of the 60s and 70s. I voted for a man who claimed to embrace change and hope, but who has essentially embraced a very watered-down version of everything.

Obama promised to reform the health care system, but only gave us "reformed" but more expensive health care insurance. He didn't even dare to put a single-payer plan, similar to the national health care systems of those oh-so-soviet Canada and Britain, to a vote!

For years I have thought that democratic socialism, a la Michael Harrington, was the only viable, reformist route to bring about real change in the United States. But let's face it, in the last 40 years or so, we have witnessed things get worse and worse and worse.

Reagan began the work of destroying what is now recognizably the aberrant era of New Deal to Great Society reformism, with some unionism, some economic security (for whites), a cosmetic opening to women and people whose ancestors did not hail from northwestern Europe.

But Clinton was the real errand boy of capitalism, shipping jobs overseas by the bushel with NAFTA and what later became the WTC, while signing the end of the 1930s Glass-Steagall finance-banking-stockgambling firewall behind the smokescreen of Monica Lewinsky.

Then Dubya doubled down on Reagan, managing to double the debt Reagan had accumulated (which was already more than all the debt racked up by all previous presidents). Why increase the debt? Just look who holds the bonds.

Obama, we in the Left should now realize, was just a clever sop the people who really run things threw at a public irate by the Reagan-Squared misrule.

Obama was never intended to do anything real. The house is on fire? Hand the keys to the black man and let him clean up. His people have always been good janitors. I'm certain that was the thinking on Wall Street. Why else did they support him?

So, folks, what are we to do now? The answer seems clear.

The Republican Party is becoming increasingly rigid and ideological. It is buying into everything that, as anyone who ever read Marx knows, accentuates the self-destructive internal contradictions of capitalism. Look at Kansas. The policies don't work. Kansas' schools are being cut because no one pays enough taxes.

Let's cut all taxes. Let's lower everyone's salaries. Let's egg them on to slash and burn.

Let's send the consumer-spending-dependent system into the suicide it attempted in 2008 ... only this time, let's not save Wall Street and the big corporations. Let's instead follow strict Republican austerity until it cripples the United States economy as we know it beyond repair.

Then we'll have real change -- it's called revolution, and it needn't be physically violent -- starting from scratch.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The True Meaning of Success

A bright intelligent professional of my acquaintance regrets not being a success. I suspect that to this person, success involves a sizable suburban house with a white picket fence, one or two European cars, a photogenic family, foreign travel and career recognition.
I plead guilty to hankering after some recognition for the work I do. I labor obscurely on an economic weekly dealing primarily with unemployment and poverty.
My dream was to be managing editor of The New York Times. I couldn't even get an op-ed piece published by the Gray Lady. Then again, last I heard the Nobel committee had bypassed me for the Peace Prize yet again.
But let's be clear. My dream of being the NYT managing editor wasn't because in that lofty position I would be able to afford Armani suits costing way more than I spend for food in a month.
Rather, I thought I would be able to steer the finest journalism in the world to even greater heights, performing a public service, unmasking wrongdoing, pointing out tragedies that are going unaddressed, holding the feet of government, business and so-called charities to the fire. Admittedly, Jill Abramson did that very nicely without me.
Similarly, I am proud of my progeny not for the money they make, but for the essentially principled lives they lead. They are successful in this.
This, I submit is the true meaning of success: living a life with a purpose that in some way, no matter how little noticed, attempts to serve the betterment of humanity.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

RCC doesn't mean what it used to now that Francis and the Jesuits have gone off the deep end

I was briefly and mildly attracted to an Argentine pope, a citizen of my parents’ homeland, who seemed more open-minded than most. Alas, I am now confirmed as a former Catholic. The RC clergy and their followers—we’ll soon find out what RC really means—have gone off their collective rockers.

First, of course, following the now-canonized “saint” pope who was a former CIA agent and pedophile protector, Karol Wojtyla (aka John Paul II), was the election of a Nazi to the papacy.

And, yes, Papa Nazinger (aka Benedict XVI) was a Nazi. It has been shown beyond doubt that other boys his age in his village did not join the Hitler Youth and nothing happened to them. Also, consider his 2006 speech at Auschwitz and weep. The most charitable way to read Joseph Ratzinger’s acquiescence to joining the goosestepping and seig heiling club is that he was amorally ambitious enough to join whatever would get him ahead. Not much of recommendation for a moral leader of Christianity.

Second, came the canonization of two popes, which we are now told is to be followed by a rush to put a halo on Giovanni Montini (aka Paul VI). Because what Christianity needs, in an age in which the corruption of its clergy is an unmitigated scandal for which they show no shame, is the model of a “papal saint.”

There are so many of us ordinary folks who, like popes, are faced with the challenge of what to do when we learn that the Mafia has been laundering money through our bank or hundreds of priests, with the knowing collusion of their bishops, have raped children. Oh, wait! They did nothing.

Third, even in my own recondite American corner of Catholicism, the pope’s order, the Jesuits, have completely sold out. I pick up their magazine, called America, once a literate New York Times/New Yorker version of a Catholic magazine and find featured a spread on poverty by none other than budgetcutter and chief flim-flam man in the House of Representatives, Paul Ryan.

Paul Ryan? The man who wants to cut, or at a minimum freeze, social spending? The man whose “anti-poverty” plan amounts to lumping all programs together to yield imaginary single mothers getting their master's in education so they can teach?

Clearly, it’s not the RCC I knew. Rather, RCC now stands for Republican Cocksucking Church. Nothing against Republicans, if you like your politics stupid; and nothing against cocksucking, if that is what you like ... only, just perhaps not when it involves children, please?

Monday, September 01, 2014

How our Labor Day has separated U.S. workers from the world's May Day celebrations

The U.S. Department of Labor's site omits it, but the timing of Labor Day as a federal holiday on the first Monday in September — today — was by design ideological and anti-socialist. The odd thing is that the origin of the May 1st Day of Labor, or International Workers' Day if you prefer, is as American as apple pie.

May Day commemorates a pivotal event in U.S. labor history, the Haymarket Massacre, which occurred on May 4, 1886, in Chicago.

The incident took place during a peaceful demonstration in Chicago's Haymarket Square demanding the eight-hour workday, which is now an almost universal labor standard. The workers were mostly immigrants from Germany and what was then the Kingdom of Bohemia (now Czech Republic).

An unknown individual — believed to be an agent provocateur who he did it to give the police an excuse to anti-worker attacks — threw a dynamite bomb at police, which reacted vigorously to disperse the gathering. Between the bomb and shooting that followed seven policemen were killed and at least four civilians, with dozens of people injured.

In case you think the protesters were rebels without a cause, consider that they worked for $1.50 per day, 10 hours a day, six days a week. In 2014 dollars, would be $37.50 a day ($3.75 an hour), or $ 11,700 annually — just $ 300 in excess of the U.S. poverty level for a single-person household

In brief, protesters worked 10 hours a day for sums insufficient to support a family — and those days women were not supposed to work (although children did). Moreover, they had taken to the streets in response to the shooting of several workers by police the day before.

The May 4 protest had a history.

In October 1884, a convention held by the Federation of Organized  Trades and Unions unanimously set on May 1, 1886, as a target date for the adoption of and eight-hour work day. As the date approached without policy measures by the government, unions prepared for a general strike.

On Saturday, May 1st, 1886, an estimated 300,000 to a half-million workers participated in the strike in major cities nationwide, and paraded in the streets chanting "Eight-hour day, with no cut in pay."

After the riot in Chicago three days later, many lawmakers in Congress expressed shock and the need to commemorate Labor Day. Most labor organizations, many affiliated to the First International, preferred May 1st to commemorate the broad-based 1886 protest strike that had led to the Haymarket Affair, as some called it.

President Grover Cleveland, however, believed a holiday on May 1st would incite workers to disorder while also strengthening the nascent and broad-based socialist movement. Cleveland belonged to pro-business wing of Democratic Party, at the time dubbed "Bourbon Democrats."

The alternative date we have today stems from a parade held on September 5, 1882 in New York by the Noble Order of the Knights of Labor, a Catholic-inspired anti-socialist union. the Knights repeated the event in 1884 and decided to do so henceforth every first Monday in September. Naturally, they endorsed their parade date as Labor Day. In 1887 Cleveland endorsed the position of the Knights and its date.

The story doesn't end there. It had at least two sequels.

First, the popular pressure for the eight-hour day continued. At the 1888 convention of the FOTU (that year renamed American Federation of Labor, it was decided that yet another push for the eight-hour workday was needed and settled on May 1, 1890, for other general strike.

The International Workers Association (or Second International), meeting in Paris in 1889, endorsed the AFL's date for international demonstrations in solidarity, thus starting the international workers' tradition of May Day.

But the struggle for the eight-hour workday was long. It was won first in the U.S.A. by the miners' union in 1898, then construction workers in San Francisco's won it in 1900, the printers in 1905. In 1914 the Ford Company doubled pay to $ 5 a day and reduced the workday from nine to eight hours.

Yet it was not until 1916, with wartime protests looming, that the federal government established the eight-hour day as a national standard. Under the later legislation and litigation, a broad swath of salaried workers are exempt from overtime pay rules and effectively from the eight-hour workday.

A second consequence of the Haymarket Massacre was the hoary Chicago trial of eight anarchist workers were accused of conspiring to incite violence. Five were sentenced to death (one committed suicide before his execution) and three were sentenced to prison. The labor movement called them the Martyrs of Chicago.

The trial, which lasted until 1893, was universally described as illegitimate and deliberately malicious. The new governor of Illinois, John Peter Altgeld, pardoned the accused and joined those who criticized the prosecution of the case in the courts.

Altgeld, one of the founders of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, could have been a candidate for president, as many at the time said they wanted, if he had not been born a fellow citizen of the German immigrants who fought for their rights in Haymarket Square.

Happy Labor Day and remember: no rights have been acquired without considerable struggle and those who say so are likely trying to deprive you of some.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

To Return, Perchance To Stay

"To return ... with a withered face, the snows of time have turned silver my templea ..." I'm not tango devotee, nor a fan of Carlos Gardel, but there are lyrics that say it all and this one, upon returning from a trip to South America (and cybernetically reconnecting with former school classmates as a result of the emergency of one), feels appropriate.

No, I don't long to return. That's only the paradox Thomas Wolfe (not the modern Tom Wolfe) proposed in his novel You Can't Go Home Again, which is, ultimately, a version of the rejection of Jesus in his childhood Nazareth. We can't go back. Or as they sang after World War I, "How ya gonna keep'em down on the farm, after they've seen Paree?"

I "returned" to São Paulo, where I never lived but had visited before. I have relatives in Brazil, as I have in many other countries. To that was added a brief stop in Bogotá. Furthermore, I "returned" once already via the cyberworld while remaining on the terra firma of the good ol' U.S. of A., after hearing via email of a temporary health crisis (the reader is welcome to thank the god of choice) of a former classmate.

Sometimes distance from the daily occurrences of even people and places we know let us discern differences that have happened to them over time. Call it the Rip Van Winkle Outsider Effect, if you will.

Bogotá, for example, no longer has those packs of street urchins engaged in begging or street vending. Or perhaps they hide them better today from the tourists. You do see in their place some grungy old and obviously very poor men. Are they the children of yesteryear grown old? At least their descendants don't seem to lead similar lives.

São Paulo has always been a thriving hub of commerce. I was amazed that its newyorkization (all Latin American cities aspire, in my view foolishly, to have New York skyscrapers) is not absurdly functional. Instead of the square, sterile and high blocks, the Paulistas have been concerned to build modern art objects.

Sure, being in the country of architectural genius Oscar Niemeyer gives them some incentive to avoid modernizing without rhyme or reason. But I can declare: modern Paulista buildings have a grace that is not found even in the big cities of the First World. Really!

While the consensus among those with whom I spoke is that the economic miracle of Lula is fading (and the efforts of Dilma to build stadiums for the World Cup has been an inexcusable waste), it is still remarkable that Brazil's poverty fell from 22% in 2002 to 9% in 2012 As a point of comparison, in the United States, the rate is 15%, having never dropped below 11%.

These rapid declines are slowing. Perhaps it's like dieting.

Of course, the Third World poverty based on poor or unevenly accessed infrastructure persists. You see people in the 21st century still without electricity, power, fresh drinking water and weather-worthy housing. That's not to mention the social problems that are of a more First World type, such as education, work and opportunity.

And there is the kind of return.

I got a mass email from my secondary school "litter" announcing that a former classmate was in intensive care and suddenly saw names that had never been in my inbox before. They were people whose names evoke a variety of experiences in my youth.

Other names, of course, yield nothing. ("This guy attended school with me?")

Then there's the fact that at a certain age, the numbers begin to diminish. Five of my fiftysomething classmates have died. Any day now, I is listed among them.

We are not intimates, except for two or three who kept up a friendship through the years. There's at least one who is not in the list and I don't want to see even if it is only an email address. Yet for better or worse, all of us are part of each other's youth.

In my case they are men (I went to a boys' school, where the existence of beings called "girls" was mostly theoretical) who are intelligent, vigorous that have managed to stay afloat despite everything that has happened to Argentina since 1968.

(Yes, I know, some readers were not alive then. You are forgiven.)

It occurs to me that many of my concerns will be echoed in theirs. The values ​​that were instilled in us are the same. The intellectual reference points are, in essence, the same.

We will have had failures. You can't reach a certain age without failing; the absence of failure yields no success. I would have liked to say that my former colleagues and I made the world better, as we once expected. But no.

All these things make returning to people and place in the past desirable and undesirable at the same time, leaving a bittersweet taste. Nostalgia has pulled us back to a reality that somehow did not welcome us or serve us well enough to keep us there.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Why "innocent"? The Malaysia Air passengers had no foibles like anyone else?

It riles me no end to read and hear the drumbeat of "innocent" passengers killed in the Malaysia Air plane over the Ukraine. Without any disrespect intended to the dead (although, why not, since we don't particular honor the living?), I am sure that these people all had their moral failures; including the children.

This happens with annoying regularity. Yet what makes people killed randomly innocent?

Gazans and Israelis do not cheat on taxes or their mates? Boston Marathon bombing victims had never cheated in school or failed to come to a full stop at a stop sign? And don't get me started on the scummy bond traders who died in 9/11!

The same applies to children who, any truthful parent or teacher will testify, are selfishly wilfull.

All right, you might say that these people who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, were innocent with respect to the conflicts that caused their deaths. But were they?

Conflicts in the Middle East and the Chechnya did not occur in isolation to everything else. Certainly, also, the largest economy in the world, the United States, is in some respect dependent on almost every corner of the planet.

For example, when something grievous has happened in the Middle East, we have to think of our oil interests. Surely some oil company has profited and its employees have purchased something that has spurred economic activity that in some way has splashed upon us directly or indirectly.

As Dick Gregory once told a Canadian who claimed to be uninvolved in Vietnam, "Did you pay sales tax on those socks you're wearing?" When the young man admitted he had, Gregory went on to show in a complicated train of events I have long forgotten how those taxes freed resources for war.

We are all much more interconnected today than we were in the 1970s, when Gregory's remark was made. No one is entirely unconnected to what happens in Gaza, the Ukraine and elsewhere. We all in some way continue to thrive in the global human system that makes these events happen.

There are no innocents. Indeed, long ago one Augustine of Hippo proposed the theory of "original sin" (or original concupiscence) as an explanation of the reality that, even at birth, we are all culpable. The rich baby effectively exploits the poor baby born the same second, taking a greater share of resources than, strictly speaking, are his or her due.

None of us is an island. We are all in some way responsible for everything and have the duty to stop the bad and increase the good. To the extent we fail at either, we are guilty of moral failure.

There were no innocents on the Malaysia Air flight as there will not be in the next tragedy that occurs.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Happy Real Independence Day

Cecilieaux is off for the holiday, but he left behind his now-traditional Independence Day blog post. Happy 2nd!

Today, July 2nd, rather than July 4th, is the actual day that independence of the territories that were to become the United States from Britain was first approved. This came in the form of a resolution that attorney Richard Henry Lee, a Virginian, proposed to the Second Continental Congress.

The brief document read:
    Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.
    That it is expedient forthwith to take the most effectual measures for forming foreign Alliances.
    That a plan of confederation be prepared and transmitted to the respective Colonies for their consideration and approbation.

The motion was approved by 12 of the 13 colonies. Indeed, John Adams, of Massachusetts, who seconded Lee's proposal, was so certain that a great step had been taken that he wrote to his wife Abigail:
    The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.

Now, 238 years later, the festival is held on the 4th, when the delegates approved the wordier, some would say grander, announcement of the decision by Thomas Jefferson, who composed it in the absence of Lee, who had rushed back to Virginia due to his wife's illness.

In honor of someone born on this great day, however, let us fire off an imaginary firecracker.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Financiers' Goal on Argentina Shouldn't End the Game

In these World Cup days, it is easy to see a U.S. Supreme Court's decision as a decisive financiers' goal scored against Argentina, but the game isn't over. The court let stand a lower court judgment requiring Argentina to pay $1.3 billion to creditors means different things to different people, but it is actually the human writ small.

For Argentina, and Argentines I know, it's a disaster that causes anxiety. Among Americans, most of whom are completely unaware of the news, those who are up on the events are scratching their heads: what are Argentines complaining about, didn't they borrow the money?

The International Monetary Fund has taken a position of concern about the possible repercussions well beyond the republic of the Southern Cone.

It does not take great theological acumen to realize that from the point of view of the Argentine pope this is an injustice. And it is. The Argentina bad debt was wrongly acquired. Worse, those who will suffer will be children without a meal at school, their teachers who may not get paid and otherwise needy people who never got the least benefit from the loans.

The debt doesn't just go back to the year in which the Argentine peso rapidly lost two thirds of its value overnight (when Argentines say "2001" they mean this event, not September 11). It goes back much earlier. There were the abysmal governments by military officers who borrowed to buy useless weapons (and certainly to fund their retirements) and at least one subsequent civil government (that of Carlos Menem), which essentially carried out a monetary scam, peso parity with the dollar.

To complicate matters, this is not fair in even for those of us who live in the wealthy First World. These investment pools are not just for millionaires (I mean, billionaires), men who fit the image of the fat Monopoly man with a top hat and cigar. These funds are freely sold to the common middle-class citizen who has some put away a little something for old age or medical expenses. This man or woman also had nothing to do with Argentine governments' waste.

Moreover, the Supreme Court didn't actually rule against Argentina. Rather, the justices simply declined to hear the case, without explanation as is common in most such petitions. And, actually, I don't see a legal issue in this matter. The bonds were developed and sold in accordance with current laws and their constitutionality is not in question, which is what the high court judges.

In Argentine eyes, the move will be seen as part of U.S. foreign policy, but Supreme Court justices cannot be removed unless they are charged with serious wrongdoing and their decisions can not be modified or President Obama, or Congress.

So it's not an American "trick." Nor a goal by a foreign soccer team. It is undoubtedly the result of a sad story, one very well known in Latin America. National leaders have been very bad, there have been too many dictators and even democracies have been undemocratic.

As to consequences, there are few countries that historically have been able to escape their debts as tried by Argentina under Presidents Nestor and Cristina Kirchner. Greece is trying today (using the Argentine "model," which some say is merely a bad example).

When someone does not pay a debt, he is considered bad debtor and the cost of borrowing goes up for the debtor because the risk of loss is higher. All loans follow this pattern going back to the Church's abandonment of its traditional condemnation of usury, a fact that coincided with the rise of Italian banking in the Renaissance (and ecclesiastical money needs for monumental works such as St. Peter's Basilica in Rome).

The great historical exception was Russia. In 1917, Lenin refused repay foreign debt (also internal debt, but that's another story), arguing that the debt belonged to tsars and not the people. He got as a response a military intervention by Great Britain, United States and other creditor countries from 1918 to 1920.

The Soviet Union won milityarily, but the nation was an economic pariah until the fall of the Communist Party. The ruble ceased to be convertible currency and Russia could not buy anything on the world market without paying for it with hard currency obtained through exports. However, the USSR had vast internal resources and made use of them to survive.

Partly in preparation for the eventuality of such an isolation the Kirchner governments have restricted and controlled trade and monetary exchange, a move that may have seemed crazy to anyone who did not consider the default problem. Like Russia, Argentina is one of the few countries in the world that is physically self-sufficient: it has enough food to feed all of Europe, let alone merely 40 million Argentines, plus it has oil, minerals and untold natural raw materials and industries.

It's not entirely insane to think that, with doors closed to external funding, Argentina must find a way to survive on its own.

But of course, for the IMF, which bears the responsibility the debt of all, this situation is a potential global disaster. The international economy depends on a degree of cooperation between all people, rich and poor, creditors and debtors.

Indeed, human beings are not independent and autonomous. We are born thanks to the love of our parents (in the best cases) or instinct, but not on our own. We survive at least the first 10 years thanks to someone who feeds, dresses and shelters us.

Human societies bear a resemblance to individuals. We all depend on each other. The owner of factory depends on workers and vice versa. Sellers on buyers. Professionals on those who don't have their specialized knowledge, and vice versa.

Societies also need one another. Think of Colombian Coffee, Brazilian bananas, Argentine beef, Sri Lanka's tea, Chilean copper and Venezuelan oil. Consider the cultural diversity that enriches us all: what would we read without Tolstoy, Mafoud, Cortázar or Naipaul? What would we listen to without Beethoven or Menuchin?

In short, this is one of those times when you have to wear the uniform of the human team. In fact, I think that's what everyone with the power of persuasion in this matter will wear. If not, we all lose.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Europe is committing suicide again; we should let them

The Europeans tried to commit suicide beginning 100 years ago with what Churchill called a 30 years conflict with a long truce (that included the Stalin purges and the Spanish Civil War)—easily 150 million dead. Now, with these recent European Union elections, they're saying they want to do it again.

I say, let them.

Twice, the United States stepped into centuries of European ethnic and religious hatred leading to savagery of all kinds—a fair amount of it inflicted on the peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America in the form of colonialism.

We rescued France, which effectively lost both world wars. We gave the Germans the means to rebuild themselves (unlike the Soviets, who took everything that wasn't nailed down back to Mother Russia, where their incompetence could destroy German machinery better). The Marshall Plan and the U.S. nuclear umbrella allowed western Europe the longest and most widely felt prosperity they had ever known.

Yet, ever since the U.S.-Soviet bipolar world ended, the European uglies have been surfacing. The practice of "ethnic cleansing" took the world back to the Holocaust. The hatred of immigrants took the world back to Kipling's "white man's burden."

Their mishandling of the economic crisis, which may have started in United States but rippled through Europe thanks to European banks that eagerly overinvested in junk bonds, has now delivered Europe to levels of suffering not seen since the Great Depression.

True to their script, the Europeans are goosestepping back to fascism, austerity (for the many—not the politicians, not the bankers). The right-wingers, in classic capitalist self-contradiction, have run for and won seats in a useless electoral body (the European Parliament) that they want to implode from within—presumably to die in the ruins with it. Hurray!

Russia is dreaming of empire, France wants Napoleon back (Britain presumably wants Nelson back to defeat Napoleon again). Crimea, not heard of since Tennyson's "Charge of the Light Brigade" in the 19th century, is back in the newspapers—even though newspapers are on the verge of disappearing.

The Europeans are crazy and they deserve everything they choose to inflict on themselves.

I say this as a descendant of Europeans, but of the group of the few plucky Europeans who had the good sense to leave and try to start something better on the western shores of the Atlantic. We may not have succeeded—and some of our dumber cousins are trying to undo the democratic experiment.

At least, we knew not to repeat history. Of course, our own Mark Twain told us about the repetition in his famous aphorism: "History does not repeat itself, but it rhymes."

Monday, April 28, 2014

All Hail St. Karol Wojtyla, Patron Saint of Priestly Pedophiles!

Jorge Bergoglio, aka Pope Francis, has sold out. For the 30 (million?) pieces of silver from tourism and holy trinkets that the Vatican is surely to reap, he has put on a spectacle sainting two popes in an unscrupulous and totally unnecessary way.

The Roncalli-Wojtyla compromise—meaning the balancing of the canonization as saints of John XXIII, the "good pope" beloved by many reform-minded people, with John Paul II, every conservative Catholic's favorite ecclesiastical fascist—has been in the works for some time. It's one of those deals favored by politicians, union leaders and the Mafia: a little bit for everyone, not enough for any one constituency and, most importantly, no power base gets rolled.

It's the sort of thing I would have expected from his predecessor, Pope Nazinger, the bemoaner at Auschwitz of how the poor Germans suffered (see here).

To be fair, Guiseppe Roncalli, aka John XXIII, could be called a good man. During the Holocaust, while he was a Vatican diplomat in Turkey, he personally forged hundreds of baptismal certificates to put under the protection of the pope a boatload of children being shipped to certain death by the Nazis. Years later, at the outset of the Second Vatican Council, he gathered the periti, or experts, in his office (one of them was Nazinger) giving them the warning: "the Church is not a museum."

Roncalli was an astute man of faith. He wanted to a faith that was alive. His view meshed with that of historian of religion Yaroslav Pelikan: "Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living." Still, was he a saint?

No such doubt arises with the Polish pope, Karol Wojtyla, who was from the outset the false John Paul. The original one, John Paul I, died in still suspicious circumstances at the onset of a money laundering scandal affecting the Vatican Bank. He had adopted the papal name John Paul as a way of signalling that he would steer a middle course between the openness of John XXIII and the retrenchment of successor Paul VI. Instead, JP1 died, and Wojtyla was elected, after which he effectively closed every window Vatican II had opened.

Back came the enormous rugs under which to sweep the corruption of the clergy. Wojtyla was especially protective of one Marcial Maciel, founder of a religious order called the Legionnaires of Christ (tip: mistrust religious groups with military or monarchical names). Maciel was found to have operated what was essentially a seminarian man-on-boy rape mill.

As John Paul II's press secretary, an Opus Dei operative in the Vatican, put it, Wojtyla could not imagine such a thing because of "the purity of his thought." Right! A man who lived through World War II, precisely where some of the worst crimes of the Holocaust took place, could not imagine pedophile or sex-abusing priests.

I know for a fact altar boys knew about "funny priests" for at least the past half century. Also that particular U.S. bishops knew such a thing was going. One of them thought he was making a joke when he remarked behind closed doors and in my presence, "We have to make sure seminary rectors don't screw the Hispanic seminarians." That double meaning was intended was shown by his own laughter and that of his peers.

You're going to tell me the pope at that time did not know? I have nice bridge for you in Brooklyn at a bargain price.

The Vatican may not care about raped altar boys and the Roman Curia may not give a damn about Pope Francis' the blessed poor, but they sure care about tourism to Rome. So I learned when I received the one direct contact from the Vatican while I worked for the U.S. conference of bishops quite some time ago.

They sent an officious little man to see if I could help organize a "pilgrimage." Johann Tetzel, the infamous seller of indulgences who enraged Martin Luther, put the religious marketing in slightly different but no less mercenary terms: "As soon as a coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs."

They're still selling indulgences of a sort in Rome. This week it has been the massive orgy of tourism and saint swag selling brought on by the canonization, or sainting, of Roncalli and Wojtyla.

This is not good Christian leadership. It's a bad imitation of Elmer Gantry: put on a show for the fools who will always go for one (and sell them travel and baubles). All "for God." Because God needs your pilgrimages and your shopping for saint cards.

Referencing the Vatican's own purported beliefs, sainthood merely means that a dead person is living in the presence of God. Add to that the theology in the Nicene Creed and you get "the communion of saints," in which those in heaven are believed (at least by Catholics) to be able to hear from and intercede for the living here on Earth.

This is what the whole Catholic saint shtick is all about. Johnny is incurably sick, they pray to St. Holyguy. So St. H goes to God, "Hey, Creator of All, Johnny's sick, how about you slip him one of those superduper aspirins of yours and make him better?" Presto! A miracle through the influence of St. H!

The notion of revering certain Christians goes back to when they were killed for their beliefs during the Roman Empire. To be a martyr meant to be a witness to the faith to heroic proportions. Vatican press releases to the contrary, neither Roncalli nor Wojtyla quite qualify. OK, but not all saints on the church calendar were martyrs.

Indeed, my favorite children's hymn in the Episcopal Hymn Book begins "I Sing a Song of the Saints of God":
I sing a song of the saints of God,
patient and brave and true,
who toiled and fought and lived and died
for the Lord they loved and knew.
Then it goes on to say that "one was a doctor, and one was a queen, and one was a shepherdess on the green" and later "one was a soldier, and one was a priest, and one was slain by a fierce wild beast." But my favorite part comes in the third verse:
You can meet them in school,
on the street, in the store,
in church, by the sea, in the house next door;
they are saints of God, whether rich or poor,
and I mean to be one too.
And here's where Saints Roncalli and Woytyla make absolutely no sense as models. Who in this day and age can realistically draw for personal moral example from the deeds and circumstances of the chief gerontocrat of a worldwide religion of about 1 billion lemmings?

I mean, I'm not planning to issue an encyclical letter any time soon. Or ride around a 500-year-old piazza in a converted golf cart. O wear white dresses and a white yarmulke. What does a pope have to do with the problems and moral dilemmas facing thee and me?

Here's where Francis the rock-star pope has tripped up in his marketing of a faith we all now know he completely lacks. Pity. He had me fooled.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Bye, bye, Microsoft, you've XPired

Today Windows XP ceases to be supported (meaning that Microsoft will not correct any more of the mistakes in their shoddy ware), so I am saying goodbye Windows, hello Linux.

This has gone in stages. At first I thought I would go to 7. I am a great believer in "distressed" software technology. To me this means software that someone else has forced Microsoft to bring up to the standard it should have been in the first place.

I decided to keep a locked up, un-networked XP for those projects that started with a particular Windows application. But the more I look at this, the fewer items there are to preserve.

Most of the ordinary software runs great in Linux (and for free!!!):
  • Firefox, Chromium (no need to sell your soul to Google using Chrome), Opera and even Safari surf fine under the penguin.
  • Open Office or Libre Office are in many ways better than Microsoft Office and they are compatible with WordPerfect (which I prefer to Word).
  • GIMP (Gnu Image Manipulation Program) will do everything any other graphics programs will do and there are media players and editorsthat do cartwheels on the overpriced Windows wares.
Some specialized software is hard to replicate because the bastards (yes, Intuit, I mean you) refuse to allow people to export their own data from programs for which they paid good money. Imagine buying a car that would not let you empty the trunk unless it was to the trunk of a car made by the same manufacturer!

That's why I think that in about a year from now, I won't even using my museum piece XP.

So give it a try. I'm using Linux Ubuntu, which is very friendly and comes in a huge bunch of flavors.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Is it the long winter? Is it me? Why can't people exchange more than chit-chat and pictures?

There's a dearth of real, urgent, passionate and intelligent discussion on the Internet. Yes, you have TED and there is "social media" (I hate the term); but there is, increasingly, nowhere to discuss things that matter with people who have a modicum of education.

I don't do chit-chat, in person or online. I'm terribly bad. I run out of things to say in three minutes. Your illness? I'm a bit phobic about talking about disease, minor or major. As to your family ... I care, because? Gardening is a yawn. Your plans for retirement, your dream house, your car ... yawn, yawn, yawn.

Consider ideas, not the partisan or doctrinally correct or fashionable or  lockstep or group-think mishmash you think is your ideo-(a)theo-philosophical "position." More how it applies and how you came to this conclusion and how come there are so many other "positions."

Give me religion. Is there a God? What church does she attend? Is homosexuality moral? Why can't a society with so much religion be fairer, more equitable and so forth? Why, why, why ... and let's source our answers, at least in passing, please.

Or politics, but not so much which party is right nor the latest chatter from your favorite radio ranter or columnist, but something that you really want to explore.

Legal or economic issues. What's happening or what do you think will happen?

Or literature or the arts. What are you reading or seeing (no TV, please)? Do you like or dislike it? Why?

Or historical interpretations.

There used to be some (few) email lists that had some level of intelligence in them. (Although, frankly, I'm appalled at the level of historical, religious, political, cultural and linguistic illiteracy that is found online.)

Anyone wish to revive cyberspace for any of this? Or just exchange email? Or point me to where this exists, if it does?

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Why do we have to work, anyway?

The answer to a declining need for workers is, of course, not to work so much. Or, seen another way, who says work has to be punishing drudgery performed 40 hours a week for 40-plus years?

We in America are such Puritans that we are constantly in dread that someone somewhere is having fun. We live by the biblical curse: “By the sweat of your face you will eat bread, till you return to the ground” (Genesis 3:19).

Europeans are no better. Sure, there's the French month-long vacation and Italy’s ferragosto (or, literally closed August), which have spread all over the Old World. The British worker seems to love striking and habitually appears at the workplace following his own unscheduled notion of a short workday, often intoxicated. This behavior actually upholds the very same Puritan work ethic—through transgression.

Effectively, the European welfare states (and American unemployment) have produced masses of people to whom life without work is one long stretch of daytime television watching while drunk or high, with the occasional sex break during commercials or the news. That’s no answer to work; it’s an inhumane wasting of the most precious non-renewable resource we have: life itself.

There has to be a better way. Indeed, there is. It’s called the society of leisure.

The idea has been around at least since British sociologist Kenneth Roberts’ original work The Society of Leisure, published in the 1970s. Sadly it's out of print and I was not able to find it anywhere on the Internet, although there are copious references.

However, I did find Roberts himself and a later work of his, Leisure in Contemporary Society. If you are as fond of social science theory as I am, you will recognize it as a positive and upside-down spin on Thorstein Veblen’s ideas.

“Say what,” you ask? Allow me to explain.

Restated for the era of the Internet and incipient robot-controlled machines, from which the 1970s were very far, the underlying premise is that a society that can produce enough food and consumer goods for all using diminishing inputs of human work—defined as toil for wages—will reach the point at which workers as we know them will, on the whole, become unnecessary.

All that will eventually be needed are a few specialists to check on the systems now and then; there’s no reason they could not be volunteers who simply love to check the running of systems. There will always be someone who does.

This might be something as imagined by Richard Brautigan in his poem "All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace," which in part says

I like to think (it has to be!)
of a cybernetic ecology
where we are free of our labors
and joined back to nature,
returned to our mammal
brothers and sisters,
and all watched over
by machines of loving grace.

Next Roberts stipulates that all of us enjoy applying our innate talents in a way that provides structure to our lives. If we could wave a magic wand, we would all choose to do something productive with our brains, our hands, our eye-hand coordination, etc.

I should have been a lawyer and that gene was passed on to the son who became one. I could also have been a programmer and that gene was passed on to the son who became one.

The point is that we all enjoy some quantity and form of what is known as work today. What we don’t like are bosses, or generically, people who tell us to work at their convenience rather than ours. We don’t like the compulsion, mind-numbing tasks (except if we are obsessive-compulsive or temporarily upset), unhealthy work conditions or hours and so on and so forth.

Of course, right now no one is prepared for world without work. Unemployment or retirement are unmitigated human disasters. But what if things changed? What if we didn’t have to bear with work as we know it?

Next: Why society has failed to change.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Maybe the economy doesn't need full employment any more

Instead of arguing whether raising the minimum wage will destroy jobs—which it won’t*—let’s consider a new International Labor Organization report that tells us that, globally, the labor market is not likely to come close to recovering before 2018. That's not even counting the catchup needed to employ the workers added each year.

This brings me to the thought that has been haunting me since 2008: What if we don’t ever get everybody back to work again right here in the good old U.S. of A.? It seems more likely every year.

This is a prospect looming over workers everywhere, and particularly in the technologically advanced United States since the 1970s. It was then that premature predictions of the Luddites—the textile artisans who protested against newly developed labor-saving machinery in the 1810s—began to come true.

Since then a long slump in average wages, from which we have yet to recover, has occurred despite enormous productivity gains, sucking profits to the investing class in the now popularly known top 1% income bracket (I would include the top 20%, but that).

In 1978, President Carter signed the Humphrey–Hawkins Full Employment Act (formally the Full Employment and Balanced Growth Act), which set full employment as a national goal, defining that condition as 3% unemployment for adults and 4% for youths.

Those rates were never reached. For three months in 2000, national rates for the civilian labor force slipped below 4% and the national average for that last year of the Clinton Administration was 4%. But the complete goal, which coincided with the well-known view of economist William Beveridge, was never reached.

What if the modern economy doesn’t need full employment to function?

For five full years in United States, which has the world’s largest economy with the world’s largest functioning internal market, has been able to chug along with roughly 1 in 10 workers idled or involuntarily employed part-time. Growth has not been great, but profits (and the stock market) have soared.

The plutocracy (which comes from the Greek for “the wealthiest rule”) has been perfectly content to effectively toss into the garbage the 30% to 40% of the American human beings directly affected by this (assume one worker per roughly three people, including children and the aged).

Unemployment insurance and food stamps have been cut in a time of continuing need; welfare didn’t need to be cut because it’s been effectively frozen since 1996 (that’s 18 years ago).

Welcome to the United States of Brazil or Argentina ... or even Greece.

Next: an immodest proposal ...

* Every respectable piece of research since the 1994 “Ur” study by Card and Krueger has proven—contrary to the repeated argument of the restaurant industry’s fake “Employment Policies Institute” plastered in a full page ad in The New York Times this week—that increasing minimum wage has no negative effect on employment. Some have suggested there may be a positive, job-generating effect.

Monday, January 27, 2014

How does Pope Francis keep believing?

The world I will hand over to my grandson is measurably worse than the world I was given, in almost every sense imaginable. Like many other people of goodwill, I have fought the good fight and essentially lost. How does Jorge Bergoglio keep the faith?

I have no idea.

This is not a rant against others. I know my flaws all too well ("...I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me," says Psalm 51). Any dispassionate observer looking at my life would see someone born with more privilege than 4/5ths of humanity (this probably applies to most people in the United States) and all I managed to achieve is securing my own well-being and a college degree for my sons.

If I am honest, my life says I care about me and mine. Well, "mine" not so much at times.

Looking at my life I see that I have written about injustices for decades, done some volunteering here and there, made tax-deductible and non-deductible donations to "good" organizations and to people I have come across, voted responsibly and generally been an average middle class do-gooder. None of this has had much effect; granted these were not heroic nor large contributions.

Lest the reader think I don't know what I am talking about, consider that in the richest economy in the world, middle incomes have been in stagnation and decline since 1973, while productivity and profits have soared. Things have not been better elsewhere.

Consider how
  • "Second wave" feminism of Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem ends up looking like a deliberate ruse by the plutocracy to double the supply of workers, thus driving wages down. 
  • The civil rights movement led to only token reforms and blacks never acceded in the right proportions to the social and economic well-being experienced by whites when Martin Luther King spoke of his famous dream. 
  • Those who took arms against injustice actually furthered the careers of many a Western intelligence and military man's career.
Moreover, to delve in Pope Francis' pond, didn't Soeur Sourire (the gentle nun who sang "Dominique-nique-nique" about St. Dominic to the sounds of her guitar) end up committing suicide at the end of a lesbian affair gone wrong? Weren't the clerics of the Vatican II era, conservative and liberal alike, consummate liars?

So, who's to say that the much ballyhooed victories of the Baby Boomers in the 1960s and 70s weren't merely mirages and the leaders mere stooges? Even polio is back, thanks to the Syrian civil war.

This is why I'm thinking that the Republican economic conservatives have a point. Life is nasty, brutish and short; the law of the jungle prevails and the real ethic to which everyone adheres is "me first."

In that state of things, why love your neighbor (other than carnally if it pleases you)? Why derive from such a principle a socioeconomic perspective that would in theory lead to a better life for all? Why not admit our fundamental selfishness and be done with it? Let the most selfish win.

Certainly, the tale about a Galilean woodworker 2,000 years ago is full of holes, as are the stories of Abraham and Moses. The religion of Mohammed has been so twisted and distorted into hate and war as to neutralize its genuinely peace-loving principles. Perhaps Buddha, who did not bother to start an actual religion, had a the right idea.

I suppose that's why I believe that the sun will "rise" tomorrow. Beyond that, I'm not so sure.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

What if Al-Qaeda is just a creature (or partner) of the CIA, MI6 and the Mossad?

No, I have not become a conspiracy theory nut. But I have just been made to think by an Argentine gentleman I won't name who alluded to a possible collusion between "terrorists" and spies to push countries like Syria to a self-destructive boil.

Yes, it sounded crazy to me at first. There are so many folks who will tell you the CIA was behind AIDS, the crack epidemic and hell, the hangnail they woke up with, that such claims can't be taken at face value. In my experience, and I have personally met at least a good half-dozen actual CIA officers and perhaps more that I didn't know were CIA, that's not how the world works.

However, once you pose the ancient Roman lawyer's question qui bono (who benefits?) it begins to be a bit less absurd. Why wouldn't intelligence services of the post-Cold War era seek to invent enemies to keep their budgets fat? It's not like that hasn't been done before.

Remember Vietnam? The United States would never have gotten so deeply enmeshed in, nor so wrongheadedly misdirected, the fate of the Republic of South Vietnam were it not for the CIA careerists who set in motion the assassination of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem in 1963, albeit with the well-documented casual consent of President Kennedy.

And what about that splendid little anti-Soviet revolt in Hungary in 1956, with Czech weapons supplied by MI6 and the French DGSE as a political distraction during the Franco-English seizure of Suez?

And so on and so forth ...

My friend included drug cartels in the mix, a not implausible partner, as the Iran-Contra scandal taught us. Or should have.

It makes perfect sense that Al-Qaeda, whose founder and leader Osama Bin Laden was demonstrably CIA trained and supported, might collude with the guys at Langley.

What's the use of an intelligence service if there is no war? What's the use of a Jihad without endless money and weapons? It's win-win for both.

Now we have an endless "war" against an invisible "enemy" that can justify anything the spooks want to justify.

The "terrorists," who frankly do not inspire terror in me, are clearly a useful Boogeyman; they enjoy the role.

So do the hundreds of thousands of (mostly) men who get good pay to do everything from running the security theater at airports and federal buildings, to concocting new ways to blow up Third World countries.

These countries are handpicked because their governments refuse in some way to be client states, cheerfully handing over their national resources to Western corporations, often under thinly veiled "democracies" run by leaders bought and paid for by ... the CIA, MI6, the Mossad and who knows who else.

It doesn't have to be outright refusal, either.

Iran's Mossadegh in 1954 was merely a nationalist. Not pro-Soviet by a very, very long stretch. Saddam Hussein, like Tito, was a classic Bonapartist dictator who had made himself indispensable to keep his country together within admittedly artificial borders. Iraq was invented in 1931 and its borders drawn in London by the Foreign Office. Yugoslavia was a creature of the Versailles Treaty (as was Czechoslovakia). Look what happened when the dictators were removed (can anyone reading this spell S-a-r-a-j-e-v-o and F-a-l-l-u-j-a-h?).

The capital sin of these tin-horn dictators was not that they were Communist. No, they just weren't wildly enthusiastic cheerleaders of Western profitmaking at their countries' expense. (Plus, overthrowing them helped the careers of many intelligence officers at little political expense to the players in question.)

So, what do we do with this thought? Unfortunately, here is where I fall short. I don't have an intelligence service of my own to overthrow the CIA, MI6 and their pals.

Still, there is one thing of which, my experience as a journalist has taught me: government wrongdoing abhors the light of day. And humor. And respectful, civil disobedience. And common sense.