Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Trueing the True

In his novel Gravity’s Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon speaks of a “clinical version of the truth.”

What a concept!

I’m having a vision, here: I see a clinical version of the truth in which truth is not really true but only the appearance of truth that meets certain criteria to qualify itself as truthful even though it isn’t, strictly speaking, exactly true, but is close enough because it fits preconceived notion of truth as defined by a Blue Ribbon Panel of Experts whose brief is narrowly enough defined that it is possible to arrive at a truth that meets all the clinical criteria for truth when truth isn’t exactly true but is made so by being properly defined with quantifiable metrics to accurately measure the degree to which it deflects from what is and should be the Truth but can’t be because it is clinically defined.

Do you smell victory in Afghanistan?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Happy Thought

Imagine every lunatic in the asylum had a staff made up of the best and the brightest that would take their mad ravings and rework them into policies and directives. Without this staff, the ravings would remain ravings; with the staff, the same ravings could well become legislation.

Gosh! Isn’t that what we have on the Beltway where legions of the over educated take the deliriums of the mad (We can win in Afghanistan! Iran is a threat! We must save our feral bankers!) and craft them into policies and laws that give these ravings a patina of sanity?

Without these drones, the bombing of wedding parties would never have achieved the respectability it has. In their hands, murder becomes tactical.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Casting Runes on the floor of the NYSE

Economic is not a science; it is augury; it is the casting of runes in a vain attempt to bring predictability to the nonlinear chaos that is our human lot. And, as John Michael Greer points out, economists have an abysmal track record.

One of the problems is that economists believe that the past never happened. The past is a dream lost in the mists of time and has no relevance to the present. Their vision is a pinprick of light that sees only the fleeting present they mistakenly believe can be captured and held in place by complex mathematical models.

Greer quotes John Kenneth Galbraith who said that, “[I]n the financial world, the term ‘innovation’ usually refers to the rediscovery of the same limited set of bad ideas that always, without exception, lead to economic disaster.”

This is especially true of bubbles, be they housing bubbles, bubbles, South Seas bubbles or tulip bubbles. Every time a new bubble surfaces, economists put on their priestly robes and mumble that four-word incantation that is the precursor to disaster, “It’s different this time,”

It never is.

However, as Greer points out, bubbles are golden eggs for economists. As asset prices soar towards the galaxy, economists are the seers assuring us that the current bubble is constructed of high-carbon steel and will never, ever burst. And the first thing a people with no sense of history do after the bubble has popped is to forget that it popped so they are primed and ready for the next one.

Economics is a branch of the social sciences, surely history’s greatest oxymoron. They filled the vacuum left by the collapse of religion and are just as invalid.

Heisenberg’s Principle of Indeterminacy is a product of quantum physics, but it certainly describes the fatal flaw in the social sciences. The principle states, “Absolutely precise measurements are impossible, due to interference to the measured quantity which is inevitably introduced by the measuring instrument.”

In other words, as soon as an economist opens his mouth, the phenomenon being described is changed by his statement. But that doesn’t stop economists from constructing their mathematical models and hawking them as valid predictors of future activity. As Greer points out:

Economics is particularly vulnerable to this sort of malign feedback because its raw material—human beings making economic decisions—is so complex that the only way to control all the variables is to impose conditions so arbitrary and rigid that the results have only the most distant relation to the real world.

He cites the example Long Term Capital Management (LTCM). Two noble laureate economists constructed mathematic models one claimed “were so good that they could not lose money in the lifetime of the universe.” Unfortunately, the model failed to factor in history, i.e. countries sometimes default on their debts. Russia did, and LTCM tanked.

The reason we need high priests is that we simply don’t know what the fuck is happening. It’s all so confusing. The truth is we don’t know if we’ll survive to see tomorrow morning. This is especially true of our financial retards who are like little boys who love building intricate structure out of blocks just so they can send them crashing to the ground.

The high priest of economics is a godsend to them. The economists unroll their complex formulae and our fund managers, whose concept of history is Sunday’s Giants game, are reassured that the current bubble is forever.

The story is told of the man who, when he walked into work every morning would be hit alongside the head with a two-by-four wielde by his boss. It was the same thing every morning, Monday through Friday. Then, one day, the boss wasn’t there, so the man waited for him to appear.

The employee must have been an investment banker.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Saving Big Pharma

I’m not gloating because this is not something to gloat about. However, even as far back as July, 2008 I knew Obama was a dud. He was just another charming corporate Democrat who had no intention of messing with the status quo.

Well, guess what: his do-nothingism scored another victory, Thursday, when the Senate Finance Committee voted down an amendment to the health “reform” bill that would have required Big Pharma to give deeper discounts on drugs sold to older Americans.

If you remember, Obama cut a closed-door deal with Big Pharma in June in which the drug companies agreed to $80 billion in reduced costs over the next ten years, a cut that wouldn’t even put a dent in their bloated profits. In exchange, the drug dealers agreed to support the health care reform bill.

Senator Bill Nelson, Democrat of Florida, introduced an amendment that would have upped that discount to $100 billion.

Well, holy shit! You would have thought his amendment wanted to sell the United States to al Qaeda.

The reason for voting the amendment down is telling. According to Senator Thomas Carper, Democrat of Delaware, asking the drug companies to contribute more to the public welfare would “undermine our ability to pass comprehensive health care reform in this Congress.” It seems Big Pharma would pull their support if the government did a sensible thing like using its purchasing power to affect deep discounts, something any corporation worth its salt (think Wal-Mart) wouldn’t hesitate to do.

Let’s see if I have this straight: seventy-percent of the public wants health care reform, yet Congress is more worried about Big Pharma’s tender feelings than the wishes and desires of the public it purportedly represents.

My, this has a familiar ring to it.

Big Pharma was right there waving the bloody flag of potential unemployment if it was forced to sell its over-priced drugs at a fair price. A spokesman said, “If our contribution to health care reform exceeds $80 billion, you reach a point where you risk sacrificing someone’s job for some else’s health insurance.”

It is always amazing how our corporate oligarchy is quick to whine about lost jobs whenever any sort of reform is suggested, but will not hesitate to lay off tens of thousands of workers if it will ads a point or to two the profit margin.

I’m sorry to say that my senators, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, was one of three Democrats to vote against the amendment that would have saved our seniors, whose retirement accounts have been savaged by our corporate masters, a few bucks. Well, when he comes up for reelection, I’m voting for Rush. At least I’d know what I was getting.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Statistical Sophistry

Numbers are all the rage. Our airways are flooded with numbers that explain, analyze, categorize, interpret and order. Numbers never lie, we are told; they are better than the Ten Commandments and more accurate. The Commandments are fuzzy and ambiguous, too open to contradictory interpretation to qualify as efficient guidelines. (Is it Thou shall not kill or Thou shall not murder?)

No, numbers never lie, they just distort. The first rule of statistical analysis is, “If you can’t think, count.” The result is a statistical sophistry that pawns itself off as truth.

· If the banks are insolvent, simply stop marking their toxic assets to market, mark them to model and, suddenly, they are solvent.
· If you redefine “unemployment” to exclude certain categories of the jobless, the numbers suddenly look better.
· If you exclude food and fuel from the Consumer Price Index, you tame inflation even though our out-of-pocket expenses are increasing. But, that’s not inflation because the statistics say it isn’t. It simply means that we’re spending more.
· If students get good test scores, they’re smart, even though they can’t think.

It all boils down to the bottom line. If that looks good, it is good. You can’t quantify the gut-wrenching experience of hunger or poverty, all you can do is count the number of poor people using a statistical definition.

The nice thing about statistics is that they never smell of unwashed bodies or resound with the cry of a hungry child. As such, they fail to engage us or stir us to action. Okay, so 80 percent of the world lives on less than US$2.50 a day. Isn’t it a shame that 25,000 children die daily due to poverty related conditions?

All they are is dry numbers, numbers we hear so often we’re numbed to them. Nothing to be done except fold the newspaper, gulp down the lost of our coffee and leave for work, confident that the economy is improving because the numbers tell it is.

Corporations print their spreadsheets on thick paper so the blood of the innocent can’t soak through. War is bloodless if reduced to body counts and metrics. As long as an enterprise gives its stockholders a good return on investment it makes no difference how destructive to people and the environment its activities are.

The numbers lead us around by the nose. They measure our lives and tell us how to think. If Obama’s numbers are up, he’d doing a good joy; if they’re down, he isn’t. If a movie grossed $45 million dollars on the day it opened, it must be good. If “Dancing with the Stars” gets good numbers, it a success no matter how badly the show sucks.

Numbers rattle around in our empty minds like dried beans in a tin can. They dazzle and confuse as they goosestep across screens and paper in rand and file order. They are the dry tit we all suck on in the belief it is giving us sustenance, and we mistake the dust we that fills our mouths for milk and can’t understand why we are losing weight.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Return of the Lip-Sticked Pig

She's back! My Wingnut beauty with the finest boobs in on the American political scene has returned. Yes, Sarah Palin surfaced in Hong Kong speaking to a group of global investors where she scored a trifecta by proving she was alive, could find Hong Kong and could speak to a group investors for more than five minutes without being thrown off the stage.

At least we think she spoke. The event was shrouded in so many layers of secrecy, nobody’s sure she even showed up. The press was barred and no copies of her speech were distributed. Only selected dribbles of her speech were allowed to leak out. (One of the dribbles was that she assured the investors that many average Americans don’t like health care reforms that infringe on our free enterprise system. By average Americans she meant CEOs making mega-billion dollar salaries. In her world, that’s about as average as you can get.)

An advisor denied that her appearance had any political overtones. She just happened to be in the neighborhood and dropped by for a chat.

What is so thrilling about her appearance is that it marks the kickoff of a new breakthrough in political campaigning. For decades, there has been talk of marketing a presidential candidate as a commodity like deoderant. The downside is that the candidate actually has to appear in public. With the GWB campaign, this turned out to be a disaster.

Political operatives learned their lesson, so with Sarah Palin we could well be seeing the introduction of the virtual presidential campaign in which the candidate is never seen in person until Inauguration Day. The campaign is conducted in a hermetically sealed bubble. During speeches the press is confined to a Free Speech Zone; after the appearance, aides handout press releases describing the appearances that the press is expected to print verbatim if they want future access to the Free Speech Zone.

Hell, if we can reduce war to a video game, why can’t we do the same for a presidential campaign? There’d be no more embarrassing slips of tongue, and the press releases would paint a picture of a candidate with an intellect is as big as her boobs.

However, the important thing is that she’s returned. If she keeps popping up, it may be time to bring Belacqua out of retirement.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Whimsical World of Pop Culture and Yuppie Nihilism

Sunday, I checked out the premier of HBO’s “Bored to Death,” and I was. But it did occur to me that we are seeing the emergence of a new genre that is joining those traditional television staples the western and the sitcom. I call this new genre is Yuppie Nihilism. It began with “Seinfeld” and is continuing with “Curb your Enthusiasm.”

In the series, Jason Schwarzman plays a bored writer whose girlfriend leaves him because he drinks too much and smokes pot. Incapable of despair, he becomes a self-styled, if unlicensed private detective.

Schwarzman is playing a type, the Yuppie. So, what's a Yuppie? Mort Sahl once said, “A Yuppie is someone who believes it's courageous to eat in a restaurant that hasn't been reviewed yet.”

Yuppies are more than that. They are the bored children of prosperity raised in a virtual world of screens and malls where freedom is reduced to choosing what logo you want to wear on your ass.

Technically, they are not nihilists. A nihilist has the sense not to believe in anything. Yuppies at least believe in the virtual. However, since the virtual is an empty void, they qualify. This belief in the virtual is why traumas like real-life relationships with their hidden thorns and ambiguities are so difficult for them. If it doesn’t play like a TV commercial, they have trouble handling it.

They are chronic avatars of pop culture, which must be distinguished from popular culture. Popular culture is organic and is bottom up. It is the product of a people’s struggles and tragedies and finds expression in their unique music. Pop culture is a top-down corporate creation that has been carefully packaged and sanitized as a bland “Bread and Circuses” designed to numb the masses. To claim that pop culture gives us insight into a people’s psyche is like believing that a turd floating on the ocean’s surface tells us all we need to know about its depths.

Back in the 50s, when psychoanalysis was all the rage and a grey conformity was de rigueur, artistic creativity was treated as a neurosis. Artists were unfortunate souls who simply couldn’t adjust to the good life. The cure for this neurosis was to conform. The “suffering artists” became a cliché reinforced by a few artists who actually led self-destructive lives. It was an idea that died in the maelstrom of the sixties.

But this doesn’t stop Schwarzman from doing his damndest to resurrect the stereotype. His character has published one novel and is too indecisive to start on a second. He is so mired in his arrested childhood that he is like the steel ball in a pinball machine, bounced from bumper to bumper. In the process he shows as much life as the ball.

One wonders what will happen to our bored children now that their economic bubble is popping, and they can no longer afford their logos and gadgets. Will they finally grow up, or will they start listening to Rush and Glen and discover that the only meaning they can discover in life is the white rage of the petulant child whose parents have turned off the T.V.?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Secret of "Success"

It’s one of our national mantras that we all heard as children: America is the land of opportunity; it’s the land of rugged individuals whose grit and determination built a nation and made amassed great wealth. Work hard and a fortune is yours for the taking. Rockefeller, Carnegie, and JP Morgan: they’re our icons, proof positive that hard work pays off. We are all taught the mantra that, “Work shall set you free.”

It’s a stirring message. It sparks hope in young breasts knowing that all one need do is keep his nose to the grindstone and the only sound he will hear is the clang of coins tumbling into his pockets. If you’re poor it’s because you didn’t try hard enough, so stop bitching and head for the nearest bodega with your meager fistful of food stamps.

It’s a wonderful description of Americans, at least the top 5 percent that controls the lion’s share of our nation’s wealth.

It is also a coded message. The truth is that work, in and of itself, doesn’t get you shit. When our leaders speak of “hard work” they really mean “greed and venality.” And forget the rugged individualism nonsense. It’s not what you are but who you know that counts.

But it takes more than greed and venality: you’ve got to dress right, look right and talk right. If you’re a smiling sociopath, the world is yours. If you meet that criteria, you’re part of the nation’s elite; if all you have are the greed and venality, you’re a common criminal.

Mother Jones summed it up nicely when she said:

I asked a man in prison once how he happened to be there and he said he had stolen a pair of shoes. I told him if he had stolen a railroad he would be a United States Senator.

The key to success in America is to steal big and steal with a smile. Then you let your PR flacks and congressional employees deal with the fallout.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Random Thoughts Apropos of Nothing in Particular

  • The trouble with organized religion is that all too often the ego farts and the soul thinks the Breath of the Spirit is upon it.
  • We want nature to be governed by hard and fast laws. However, a flyswatter plays havoc with the law of nature governing a fly's life. Laws of nature exist as abstract generalizations; in reality, it's all chaos.
  • When government and religion wed, Hell pays for the receptions for the child of the union is Death.
  • GWB's twisted logic that posits, "If I did it, it's legal," lives on. It's moral relativism on steroids. In other words, the king always farts perfume.
  • God only promised us no more floods. He said nothing about our self-extinction.
  • There's no law that says the next Messiah can't be a cockroach.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Blackening of our Black Hole

The black hole that is the Beltway is getting deeper and deeper. The slow turn of its vortex is sucking in the decency that has been struggling to emerge over the 233 years of our country’s existence. Black holes are formed when a star collapses, and their gravitational pull is so great no matter can resist it. The star that collapsed in America was democracy, and the void left by its destruction is pulling all that once was into its darkness.

The change we were supposed to believe in was the resurrection of the star to its former glory. Alas, the suction of the black hole has proven too powerful for the pathetic efforts to change that we have seen thus far.

In the end it’s all spin. The lips mouth decency while the heart sinks deeper and deeper into the void.

Last month, Attorney General Eric Holder announced the appointment of a special prosecutor to look into CIA interrogation techniques in the wake of 9/11. It was a breath of fresh air that quickly turned stale.

Now, The New York Times tells us that seven former CIA directors have signed a letter urging that the inquiry be dropped. Their arguments for doing so are arguments that could only come from the belly of the black hole.

Our torture was reviewed by “career prosecutors,” they reassure us, who determined that torture wasn’t torture. Case closed, even though the prosecutors in question were DOJ hacks appointed by Karl Rove.

“These men and women who undertake difficult intelligence assignments in the aftermath of an attack such as September 11 must believe there is permanence in the legal rules that govern their action,” the men said in their letter.

It’s a simply philosophy: a law once broken remains broken.

The Magnificent Seven could have spared themselves the effort, though. Nothing is going to come of the investigation. The Times article informs us that:

Matthew Miller, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said the department “will not prosecute anyone who acted in good faith and within the scope of the legal guidance given by the Office of Legal Council regarding the interrogation of detainees.

A broken law is like an exploded star—both, once gone, are gone forever. But I forget, we are no longer a nation of laws; we are a nation of corporate policies. While the law is bounded by precedent, corporate policy can do a one-eighty on a dime.

Such is the arrogance of those who live in our black hole that they no longer feel compelled to put together a decent argument to justify their immorality. But why should they: nobody’s paying attention.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

It can't be!

Holy Shit! It turns out I may be a freaking conservative after all. The person responsible for driving this home was Tom Engelhardt . He made a point about the founding fathers that popped my bubble.

Now the founding fathers were deeply flawed. They were slaveholders, landed gentry and large commercial interests. They created a republic grounded in limited suffrage and the gradual genocide against the Native Americans whose land they coveted.

However, they did get a few things right, like the Bill or Rights and the mindset Engelhardt mentions: a deep-seated suspicion of standing armies. How right they were on that one.

If power corrupts, then militarism is the catalyst that speeds up the reaction. War is a perversion of all that is decent; it is a dry rot that decays and undermines a society until it collapses in a cloud of dust. The world is peppered with the ruins of militarized societies that thought their power was eternal.

What is so corrupting about a militarized society is that its success depends on maintaining the emotional makeup of an arrested adolescent. Maturity and militarism are mutually exclusive.

And we are a militarized society. Engelhardt cites the example of a twenty-year-old private who was killed in Afghanistan. He notes:

[H]e was probably born not long before the First Gulf War…If you include that war, which never really ended—low-level U.S. military actions against Saddam Hussein’s regime continued until the invasion of 2003—as well as U.S. actions in the former Yugoslavia and Somalia, not to speak of the steady warfare underway since November 2001, in his short life, there was hardly a moment in which the U.S. wasn’t engaged in military operations somewhere on the planet.

This militarization is so pervasive we have become numb to it. It’s a way of life, as American as mom and apple pie. We do war because we can and because no man can resist playing with a new toy. Give a man a $1,600 fly rod and, even if he’s never fished in his life, you’ll find him waist-deep in an ice-cold stream trying to untangle his line from the nearest tree. It’s the same with a new weapon system. Shit! We just gotta take it out for a test drive! It’s all part of that adolescent mentality that lives for the adrenalin high of sending our young out to die.

Most militarized societies end up in bankruptcy court, and we certainly have one foot in the door. However, we could well be the first militarized society to simply run out of oil.

No matter how big a work party you have, you still can’t push a Bradley Fighting Vehicle into combat.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Gelding the Acorn

The left is like a battered wife who cringes every time her husband raises his hand instead of planting her toe in his balls. The latest example of this is the flap of the community organizing group Acorn.

The scenario was simple: two right-wing bloggers posing as a prostitute and her pimp visited various Acorn offices and sought advice on opening a whorehouse to be stocked with underage Salvadorian girls smuggled into the country.

Acorn employees then counseled them on how to do so,

The whore’s pimp secretly taped the sessions and posted them on the internet as stimulants to give Glen Beck’s unstable mind another excuse to go over the edge. All hell broke loose as the Senate, that hotbed of integrity and moral propriety, voted to cut off the group’s HUD funding. The Census Bureau scraped plans to use Acorn volunteers to help in the 2010 census.

I actually watched couple of the tapes and found them a little suspect.

Let’s start with the kiddy whores. During the sessions, the audio quality on the tapes is very poor; at times it’s difficult to make out what is being said, though it is obvious that the prostitute wants to set up a brothel. However, whenever the discussion turns to the underage prostitutes, it is the man who is speaking and his voice comes through loud and clear as if (dare I say it) it was dubbed in after the fact.

In an interview with Juan Carlos, identified as an immigration consultant, the tape ends the second the pimp mentions underage hookers. Carlos could have thrown them out of his office, but we’ll never know.

But that’s minor stuff. Let’s get to the real scandal, Acorn advising the two how to evade taxes and set up an illegal whorehouse.

O, the horror of it!

If advising a client how to evade taxes were a sin, every tax lawyer and accountant would e burning in hell, along with their wealthy clients. If aiding and abetting illegal activities were a sin, the Pentagon and all its employees would be relocated to Dante’s ninth circle.

But, hypocrisy has never been a problem for the right. Its minions bray their moral outrage over a set of very questionable tapes while popping pain pills and setting up appointment with their favorite call girls.

The real cause of the right’s “moral outrage” is a renegade community organization that has been successful in aiding and abetting bottom-up democratic activity. That’s their real sin, and that’s why the right has been gunning for them.

Even as our lapdog Senate votes 83 to 7 to cut off their HUD funding, the left sits on its hands and raises not a peep. How much abuse does the left intend to take until it plants its toe in the right’s balls?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

We are healed!

Life is so much sweeter when viewed with blinders firmly in place. They block out all those unpleasant truths that can be such downers. Add to the blinders a pair of rose colored glasses, and utopia has arrived.

The Rt. Rev. Ben Bernanke had both blinders and glasses in place when he declared the worst recession since the 1930s over, finished, history, no more, a thing of the past. Just like Jesus raising Lazarus, Bernanke raised the economy from the dead in a speech to the Brookings Institution.

“From a technical perspective, the recession is very likely over at this point,” he said. And there it was: that magic incantation—“technical.” Once again, the steel door of mathematical guesswork slammed shut on the real world. It’s the mantra of the technician: if it looks good, it is good. All you have to do is ignore the foul stench emanating from the ranks of the poor and the unemployed.

Ben did pay lip service to these unfortunates when he said, “It’s still going to feel like a very weak economy for some time because many people will still find that their job security and their employment status is not what they wish it was.” That’s the technicians way of saying that people have lost their jobs, they can’t find another and their unemployment benefits are running out.

Of course, we have to understand what Ben means when he says the recession is over. What he is telling us is that the tip of the pyramid has risen out of the muck. As long as the tip has surfaced, all is well.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that unemployment will hit 10 percent this year. However, we have to remember the rose colored glasses BLS wears have thicker lenses than Ben’s. The uncooked figures would put unemployment somewhere around 16 of 17 percent.

But, what the hell! If the banks can hide their insolvency by marking their junk assets to model instead of market, and if Goldman Sachs can make money hand-over-fist through their computerized front-running, then we have nothing to worry about. In today’s virtual world, the numbers on a screen are all that count. It makes no difference if the numbers have no relationship to reality.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

It wasn't just the Nazis.

I don’t remember what triggered it, but the most terrifying epiphany I had in grad school was when it struck me that the only difference between Adolph Eichmann and a clean-cut Air Force first lieutenant sitting in a missile silo in the wheatfields of Kansas was that Eichmann had been given the opportunity to carry out his orders while the lieutenant hadn’t. However, if so ordered, this apple-pie American boy would not have hesitated to press a button that would have resulted in the death of millions.

Slaughter is slaughter, whether the ideology driving it is anti-Semitism or anticommunism.

So great is our revulsion at the Holocaust that we treat it as an aberration, the result of a group of mentally unbalanced Nazis, a historical fluke that could never happen again. This view is reinforced by movies such as Luchino Visconti’s “The Damned” that depicted a Nazi Germany rift with sexual depravity.

The tragic truth is that it took more than depravity to make the Holocaust the stunning success that it was.

Once the Nazis decided that extermination was the only efficient way to rid Germany of its Jewish population, they assigned the task to the SS. The idea was to keep it an interparty operation.

The poor sots tried everything including mass shooting and packing their victims into trucks into which carbon monoxide was pumped. Not only couldn’t they get the numbers, but their executions were going psycho.

Reluctantly, the Nazis decided they had to bring in the German civil service and German industry. This led to the Warmsee Conference, chaired by SS-Obergruppenfuhrer Reinhard Heydrich

Before the conference, Heydrich was very apprehensive over how the civil servants and industrialists would react. After the meeting, he was thrilled by the enthusiasm by which participants greeted the plan.

The Holocaust was a product of corporate management theory. As one writer puts it:

Even a single transport of German Jews required the involvement of many municipal authorities other than the local police. An assembly and loading area, usually in the cargo depot, had to be made available by local railway authorities. Officials from the Finance Office collected property inventories from the deportees, liquidated the property, and turned the proceeds over to the Tax Office.

Engineers drew up blueprints for the death camps while contracts were inked for their construction. Marketing managers of the large chemical firms were thrilled with government orders for large quantities of poison gas.

The point is that the Holocaust was executed by people we’d feel very comfortable sitting next to in church or at a conference. They were solid citizen, respectable in their behavior and mores.

We’d feel as comfortable with them as we would our first lieutenant. To a certain extent, I can identify with him. I was in the military and would not have hesitated to kill if so ordered, and would have made scant distinction between civilian and combatant. The only difference between the lieutenant and me is that my M1 rifle would have created less havoc than his missile.

This suggests that the Holocaust was not an aberration, that the qualities that made it possible are universal to Western society. And with the replacement of paper and forms by the computer, there would be a quantum increase in its efficiency.

The question that has always plagued me is what is the mechanism that numbs our moral sensibilities to such an extent that we would be willing to perpetrate mass slaughter, especially if we knew we would never ever see a dead body? Is it group think, or the bland language of our policymakers that scrubs murder clean of its gore? It must be an adrenalin high for a bored civil servant to implement a policy of state-sanctioned slaughter.

I suspect it all comes down to the language, its tepid drone that normalized horror and gives it respectability. A normal voice or a dry paragraph drowns out the screams of the victims.

What time bombs we are in our well adjusted normality. All we need is a workable label and we're off to the races.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Masterful Misdirection

They poured into our nation’s capitol by the thousands, venting their rage at the government and the Obama administration. They cried out against the creeping socialism they believed was taking over the country, even though America has experienced nearly three decades of rampant deregulation in which government has been reduced to a emaciated remnant of its former self.

The protest was organized by FreedomWorks, a well-funded "think" tank organized by former Republican house leader Dick Armey.

The groups mission statement is a study in irony: “FreedomWorks believes individual liberty and the freedom to compete increases consumer choice and provides individuals with the greatest control over what they earn and own.”

That’s the ultimate goal of the right, to reduce citizens to consumers and make them believe that the government wants to tax away their toys.

The pathetic thing about the march was that the angry protesters should have been rallied by the left, not the right. The demonstration was a masterpiece of misdirection.

The right has neatly deflected public anger over their sinking quality of life onto the government, thus concealing the fact that government is little more than a barnacle clinging to the side of the corporate ship, and like the barnacle, government is powerless to chart its own course. It can only go where the ship takes it.

The left should be raising three kinds of hell as it demonizes corporations. It should preach freedom, freedom from being cogs in the corporate machinery that has used toys and feel-good commercials to deaden the public to what is happening to it.

And now that life has lost its “feel-good” quality, the corporate propaganda mill is busily deflecting public away from the ship by focusing on the barnacle and accusing it of being the culprit even though the poor thing is absolutely powerless.

All the while the left sits in stunned silence still believing that reason and rational discourse will prevail as the pubic that that should be its base slips between its fingers and congeals around the corporate masters who have made their life the misery that it is.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Zombie Shoppers

This has happened to us all. Our significant other asks us to pick up a loaf of bread on the way home from work. We enter the supermarket with a twenty in our wallet. Forty-five minutes later we leave with the bread and a bag full of stuff we really don’t need. All that’s left of the twenty is a handful of change.

It was all so easy. We entered the supermarket and hung a left. This put us in the produce department, and all of a sudden, it was back to nature as the sights and odors flooded our senses. Our pace slowed as we started moving up and down the aisles.

Shapes and colors caressed us as the pressures of the day fall away. The lettering on a label evokes a memory of childhood, so into the basket it goes. A redesigned container holds the dishwashing liquid we’ve been using for years, so we pick it up. We can’t remember how much sugar we have left, so we pick up a bag, just in case. In another aisle, we find a clever little tool for opening a pop top can of soda, saving wear and tear on our fingers. Have to have it. Then there is the jar of marmalade that reminds us of a pastoral cottage in the English countryside.

It feels good; it’s relaxing. As our basket fills, we feel whole again.

This doesn’t just happen. We have fallen victim to what is known in marketing circles as the Gruen Transfer, named after Victor Gruen who designed the world’s first shopping mall.

The transfer is the moment when the an individual is transferred from a focused shopper to a passive zombie “more likely to make an impulse purchase because of unconscious influences of lighting, ambient sound and music, spatial choices, visual detail, mirrored and polished surfaces, climate control, and the sequence and order” of shelving and merchandise.

The antidote to the transfer is simple: maintain a brisk pace and remain focused on why you’re in the store. Once you find your pace starting to slow, a warning light should start flashing. Pick up the pace again and you’ll be sure to leave the supermarket with only the bread and a lot of change.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Media Void Lives

Back when we were a nation, death didn’t upset us. It was a fact of life best expressed by Gus in Lonesome Dove, “Life is short; some are shorter than others.” Middle class homes all had parlors where the bodies of love ones were displayed before burials.

When we went to war, we honored the dead through photographs and drawings. Mathew Brady brought the Civil War home to America with his horrific photographs of corpse-strewn battlefields. World Wars, Korea and Vietnam featured film footage and photographs of the fallen.

It kept our leaders honest. The public accepted the death of the young only as long as they felt the war was necessary. But if, as in Vietnam, the war appeared to be unnecessary, the public, shocked by scenes of carnage, turned against it.

But, that was when we were a nation. Now that we are a corporate state, things are different. Corporate states thrive on dishonest wars. In dishonest wars, public support is tenuous at best' so wars must be sanitized and reduced to video games.

This means no more dead bodies, no more film clips of grieving parents of children killed in airstrikes. In the public’s eye, war now takes place in a sterile void where there is neither blood nor death. It’s war that isn’t really war, a make-believe Noh drama in which the public quickly loses interest, especially if it’s been going on for eight years.

Our corporate masters like it that way. It gives them a great deal of latitude to wreak havoc on the world while its citizens sit comatose and unaware.

But, God help the media that allows reality to dribble into this void!

Recently, the Associated Press released a photograph of a wounded Marine who later died.

The outcry showed that hypocrisy is the cement that hold the corporate state together. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said the Associated Press lacked “common decency.” He spoke of the “pain and suffering inflicted upon the Marine’s family.”

I hate stating the obvious, but I have no choice here. Since when did bombing civilians cease to display a lack of “common decency?” Which caused the Marine’s family more anguish, the photograph or the death of their son in an unnecessary war?

It is telling that so few people noted the obvious. The corporate state has done its job well.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Plan Obama and the Goose that Laid the Golden Egg

It was pure Obama. The rhetoric soared; it soared so high that the details were microscopic specks of dust floating aimlessly in the stale air of the House chamber.

Deftly, and with a single sentence, he dismissed the idea of a single-payer plan as a progressive wet dream, and then he proceeded to emasculate the public option.

Yes, there would be a public option, but it would be noncompetitive which negates the whole idea of a public option as a tool to force private insurers to cut the pork fat out of their operating expenses. And it apparently would only be available to those who simply couldn’t afford to secure coverage on the “free market.”

One reporter opined that Obama was telling liberals to forget about it! “He was saying to the liberals in his own party, ‘look, we’re not going to get this public government-run program that you’re insisting on, but there are a lot of things we can get done, very significant things.’”

And all of these “significant” things are sure to enrich the private insurers since, under his plan, health coverage would become mandatory. Granted, he would give tax credits to those too poor to pay the premiums. However, one suspects that once the lobbyists get done rewriting his program that tax credit could easily amount to .5 percent of the total projected outlay for an individual’s medical expenses accrued during the second coming of Christ.

Actually, one can only imagine what his plan will look like once it’s run through the lobbying printing presses. True, the companies will be forced to cover people with preexisting conditions, but one wonders what the size of the “preexisting condition surcharge” will be. Sure there will be no more rescinding of policies because a patient forgot to report treatment received for acne. But such a provision is sure to contain some healthy loopholes, such as allowing a company to rescind a policy if the unreported treatment was received during a month that included a full moon.

And the lobbyists will be sure to limit the insured’s out-of-pocket expenses to a three times the policy deductible.

But, I exaggerate. Surely, no publicly minded private insurer would see in Obama’s plan a goose squatting to drop a golden egg. I have faith that the loopholes they build into the bill will be fair and equitable even as they allow the companies to maximize their profits.

Obama has served his handlers well.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Congress Solves Health Care

Let me see if I can get this straight. The newest idea floating around Congress is to drop the public option from the health care reform bill, but make coverage mandatory and fine those who fail to take out this mandatory coverage up to $3,800.

This is the brainchild of Montana Democrat Max Baucus, whose state represents less than one percent of the population, but who, thanks to his seniority, chairs the Senate Finance Committee. In this case, the tail is doing a hell of a lot more than wagging the dog.

It’s another example of congressional genius hard at work. The logic simmers: Most people who don’t have coverage can’t afford it in the first place. So Congress wants to fine them for being too poor to afford the coverage the new law would require them to buy. This presents the spectacle of a family that is being forced into financial ruin by mounting medical bills being pushed further into penury by a hefty fine because they don’t have the coverage they can’t afford.

This didn’t stop Sen. Henry Reid from bouncing out of a strategy meeting with Obama crowing that, “We’re re-energized; we’re ready to do health care reform.” (The Democrats idea of reform is to grease up the iron bar before reaming the public.)

Under the Baucus plan, “A 60-year-old could be charged five times as much for a policy as a 20-year-old. So, there’d be no death panels snuffing grandma, just a government driving her into the poor house.

The heaviest fines for being unable to afford coverage would fall on families making three times the federal poverty level, or $66,000. A family of four trying to get by on $66,000 in San Francisco or New York City is sucking wind. But what would a senator from Montana know about that?

But, these families do get a bone thrown to them. The premiums for the mandatory health coverage they couldn’t afford would be capped at 13 percent of their income. For a mere $8,500 a year that they don’t have, they are covered. That’s $715 a month from a monthly income of $5500.

That should solve the problem of childhood obesity.

I assume that fines for the unemployed would be deducted from their unemployment benefits.

Fear not, however, the plan is not entirely lacking in common decency. " would require helthy fees [read chump change] on insurers, drug companies and others in the health care business to help pay for it."

In lieu of a public option, Baucus has a vision of nonprofit co-ops. I’ve no doubt the insurance companies would be more than happy to organize them, for a fee.

The only consolation is that this whole health care reform gig was a public relations ploy from the start. One thing our publicly-elected congress will never do is slip their handlers’ leash. They bring to mind the Leonard Cohen song that opens with, “I thought that I heard your master’s voice when I was sick in bed….”

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Real World of Pixie Dust

Who says prosperity isn’t blowing in the wind? Here’s another green shoot forcing its way up through the rubble that was once our financial system. The world-wide total of all the derivative paper now in circulation exceeds a quadrillion dollars.

This is a number so far out in an alien galaxy that our brains can’t comprehend it. John Michael Greer puts it into perspective for us. Multicellular life first appeared on earth 3.5 billion years ago. If, with the first appearance of this life, an individual started spending $2000 a day, he’d still have money left over.

The kicker is that this paper is virtually worthless since there ain’t a quadrillion dollars of nonfinancial stuff on the globe. It’s all funny money. Our bankers are out there skipping through La-La Land, and all they have in their wallets is pixie dust.

And these are the jokers who are running our economy?

Monday, September 7, 2009

Greed rises from the ashes.

Greed is good up to a point, but beyond that point, it turns financial wizards into financial retards. Having been nearly destroyed by the securitization of mortgages, Wall Street is now casting a venal eye at bundling life insurance policies. This is like a drunk switching from vodka to scotch and expecting a better outcome.

According to Sunday’s New York Times, here’s how it works: Say grandpa has a $2 million life insurance policy for which he pays an annual premium of $50,000. If he tried to cash it in before croaking, he’d get a paltry $58,000.

Along comes a “life settlement company” and offers him $215,000 for the policy. They continue to pay the premiums on the expectation that he is going to kick off in a couple of years, at which time they will collect on the policy and make a bundle. Such companies are already in existence.

The banks want to add a new wrinkle by bundling these purchased policies into bonds, which they would slice, dice and trance so each bond would minimize risk by bundling a variety of life expectancies and diseases.

They plan to sell these bonds to the pension funds they burned with their mortgage bonds.

Now, the problem is that the longer people live, the smaller the return on investment is.

Not to worry! The same mathematical geniuses who figured out how to slice and dice mortgages are on the job! Their solution is, “A bond made up of life settlements would ideally have policies from people with a range of diseases—leukemia, lung cancer, heart disease, breast cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s.”

This conjures up a warm image of gramps in his hospital bed, wires and tubes running into what’s left of his body as the medical expenses add up at a frightening rate, when suddenly a savior appears in the form of a “life settlement” salesman who offers gramps 22 cents on the dollar if gramps will just sign over his policy.

With a trembling hand, he signs the policy over. Gramps’ family is screwed out of a hunk of change, and a bond holder stands to make a healthy profit when gramps croaks. (Should the Angel of the Lord come down and lay a healing hand on gramps forehead, the bondholder loses money. But if the “life settlement” companies only work the terminally ill, most of whom are too drugged to think clearly, they minimize that risk.)

Let us not call them vultures because that would be an insult to a noble bird. And I am sure they have enough integrity that they would never think of working in cahoots with a life insurance company to deliberately sell life policies to the aged and ill with an eye to buying them back at pennies on the dollar just so they can be securitized.

That would as dishonest as approving a mortgage for someone who didn’t have a dime to their name.


Sunday, September 6, 2009

Speaking truth, or a reasonable facsimile thereof.

The nasal drone of the Pentagon spokeshill fills the air, soothing, reassuring, denying, euphemizing the vile, beautifying the ugly, making of death an abstraction, Orwellian in its ability to create truths out of falsehoods.

It’s a voice monotonous in its movement, a dulling cadence that moves neither too quickly nor too slowly as it casually drops labels and clichés, trying to pass jargon off as depth, concealing its dehumanizing void behind a shield of faux-positive delivery, painting uncertainty as certainty, hinting at truth in words that conceal the linguistic nihilism that is at its core, pumping itself up on a word steam of its own self importance, a smokescreen spinning itself out of the stale cobwebs of fantasy. It is the voice of the serene barbarity of the civilized.

And it drones on and on and on and on until we drop into a hypnotic trance, and all of our doubts and misgivings are put to rest, as once again God is in His heaven and we can continue to sleep the sleep of the dead.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

A Deft New World

John Pilger deftly deconstructs the Obamaphenom when he points out that:

Like Calvin Klein or Benetton, he is a brand that promises something special—something exciting, almost risqué, as if he might be a radical, as if he might enact change. He makes people feel good. He’s postmodern man with no political baggage.

Chris Hedges picks up on that theme when he adds, “President Obama does one thing and Brand Obama gets you to believe another.

It’s a corporate wet dream come true: Marketing has replaced politics.

Friday, September 4, 2009

It's Frog and Scorpion Time

At last, a whimper of honesty drifts out of the White House. The headline in Friday’s New York Times says it all: “G.O.P. May Be Vital to Obama In Afghan War.”

Public support for the war is waning. This has nothing to do with an outbreak of peace and everything to do with an off-the-cuff cost-benefit analysis. We’re not getting a big enough return on our investment. Bombing children is fine as long as there’s a profit in it.

Sen. Russ Feingold summed it up nicely when he said, “I and the American people [read corporate handlers] cannot tolerate more troops without some commitment about when this perceived occupation will end.”

In other words, when will the situation be stable enough for us to lay our pipeline so we can route Caspian Sea oil around both Russia and Iran, which is what this affair is all about.

Not that all is lost for Obama with the Democrats. Pelosi and Reid still support his effort to liberate Afghanistan from whatever we’re trying to liberate it from today.

But, it’s the Republican National Committee who is rushing to his rescue. Chairman Michael Steele sent out an email, “Stand Strong Mr. President” in which he urged Obama to “stand strong and speak out for why we are fighting there.” The chairman expressed concern that the president had said too little “about why the voices of defeat are wrong.”

Of course, the silence from the White House could have to do with the fact that there really isn’t much justification for the war, other than that damn pipeline.

The Obama-Republican union calls to mind the story of the frog and the scorpion. One day a frog and scorpion were standing on the bank of a river. Both needed to get to the other side.

The scorpion asked the frog, “Will you carry me across on your back?”

“If I do, you’ll sting me,” the frog replied.

“I couldn’t do that,” the scorpion said, “because I’d die too.”

The frog reluctantly agreed and they started across. Midway in their journey, the scorpion stung the frog.

With his dying breath, the frog asked,” Why did you do that?”

“Because it’s my nature,” the scorpion replied.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The beacon shines, again.

The goodness and virtue oozing out of the Beltway elevates my soul. Is it any wonder that we are a shining beacon unto the world? Attorney General Eric Holder finally appoints a special prosecutor to look into allegations of CIA torture and that liberal senator from the liberal city of San Francisco, Dianne Feinstein raises her pinky and says, “Wait a minute!”

The timing is all wrong on this, she contends, “And candidly, I wish the attorney general had waited.” Hell, no sense rushing into these things. It’s not just timing we have to consider. There’s the image thing, and questions of national security. How will this affect the economy? How will it impact on the New York Mets? Will it delay badly-needed repairs to Michigan’s I-96?

Timing! Timing! Timing! Don’t leave home without it!

The good senator has other concerns. “Every day something kind of dribbles out into the public arena [Damned those informed citizens!] Very often it has mistakes. Very often it’s a half story. I think we need to get the whole story together and tell it in an appropriate way,” she said.

You’re so right, Senator! Did he bleed? Was it really blood, or did he just snort some ketchup while scarfing his Big Mac? If blood, how many milliliters? Was it pure blood or were flecks of viscera found floating in it? Did he cry, whimper or scream? Was he naked or clothed? Was he hanging from the ceiling by his hands or by his ankles?

Let’s wait until we get all the data; let’s wait until we alphabetize it, collate it, analyze it, hold it up to the light, refer it, discuss it, classify it, and table it for further consideration.

Then, of course, the Big Dick chimed in saying he would have no problem with torture that went beyond specific legal authorization. He then called the probe “political.” And he is so right! The political rift in America is between morality and amorality, and Cheney stands proudly and firmly with the party of amorality.

So moved was I by his utterance that the Lord God of Hosts came down and touched mine eyes and I had a vision in which I saw the Big Dick dancing naked save his wingtips, screaming into a dead phone, “Level it! Level it!” Spinning, spinning to keep the spattering blood off his wingtips while bloodied children sat staring in a circle, waiting for Uncle Dickey to tell them a story ‘til the earth cracked and the eternal flame charred and scorched their skin even as they sat silently waiting for the story to begin ‘til only the black dust of their bones remained and their parents fled the wingtips in an undulating swarm like lice leaving the cooled carcass of the newly dead, and my heart sang songs of potency and power, of ravaging the dead and breaking the weak to the thrumbulation of fife and drum beating the cadence of the damned.

O my soul! How you are seared by the goodness of our leaders! It’s enough to make a person go screaming back to a life of sin.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

"Play it again, Sam."

“The situation in Afghanistan is serious, but success is achievable and demands a revised implementation strategy, commitment and resolve, and increased unity of effort.”
Gen. Stanley McChrystal
Commander of US and NATO troops
in Afghanistan

“History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.”
Karl Marx