Monday, November 20, 2017

Response to Lynn Sherr's "Chaos: The New Normal"

Journalist Lynn Sherr wrote a fine evaluation of the destructive force of Trump on Bill Moyers' website. Here's my response:

Who can disagree with Lynn Sherr's "Chaos: the New Normal" where she nails Trump as an agent of chaos in its most destructive form? It just might be the millionth pious liberal condemnation of our unlikely President, which I'm beginning to find fatiguing. 
I can't help thinking that Sherr and our perceptive commentators in the NY Times and other liberal mouthpieces are attacking the disease without inquiring into its causes.
And the most insidious causes, those that are concealed by liberal complacency (if not sanctimony) include the failure of our mainstream and even progressive media to face up to the hard truths of our time: that big banks and corporate interests control both political parties; that the Democrats, like the Republicans, have abandoned not just the working class, but the middle class and the poor as well; that the judicial system no longer works fairly; that there are still serious questions about the genesis of the 9/11 attacks and its subsequent rationale for 2 wars, horrendous destruction in the Middle East, the National Security State, and huge expenditure of our resources on military and security projects rather than institutions that would civilize us and facilitate normal life in this country so that people could realize their potential: namely, education, health care, environmental health, physical health (rather tha coddling the various noxious food industries), infrastructure, and, dare I say it, even the arts; and that our electoral process has been thoroughly corrupted (by "flipping," "stripping," crosscheck, gerrymandering, and voter ID laws), so that it no longer reflects the will of the People. And then there is America's largely destructive relation to the rest of the world, starting with Israel/Palestine, but that's another story.
Too many people have lost faith in the government that is supposed to belong to them, but underinformed and misled, they take out their anger & frustration by electing a destructive demagogue. 
And it's not as if this information has been hidden! Prophetic voices, like those of Chris Hedges, the lately departed Edward Herman, Noam Chomsky, Eric Larsen, Mark Crispin Miller, Jonathan Simon, Greg Palast, Thomas Frank, Jane Mayer, among others—none of whose words would be permitted on the op-ed pages of the New York Times (unless severely censored)—such voices have spoken out, published books, articles both online and occasionally in print. 
Hedges, in "The Death of the Liberal Class" (2011), wrote about the five traditional institutions that have been weakened or compromised to the point of ineffectiveness: the universities, the labor unions, the liberal churches, the Democratic party, and the press. Of these, I place the greatest blame on the press, now lacking the courage, independence and integrity that they once had (we believe), who now merely pretend to give us an integral, unbiased picture of events, while ignoring or denying the most critical, pivotal, consequential truths of our time.
The result is widespread false consciousness, which, when combined with the inchoate misgivings of a majority of our countrymen who sense that much is wrong, expresses its loss of faith and gut displeasure by electing a "wrecker" (though his election was fraudulent, and not just through the fault of the Russians—see above), who will destroy significant parcels of our civilization, increasing among the 99%, levels of misery, disease, frustration, ignorance, and above all, debt.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Ai Weiwei's New Film about the Worldwide Refugee Crisis: "Human Flow"

    Dissident Chinese multi-media artist Ai Weiwei released his new documentary in New York this week. Human Flow is massive, as it tries to condense the experience of 35 million people into two hours and twenty minutes. We saw much more shocking scope than we felt individual pain, although there was a bit of that, too, along with a piercing  & ironic comment by an African over the different degrees of attention and thereby value that are assigned to the sufferings of different groups of human beings. We're always fighting hypocrisy and racism underneath it all. On top of that is politics—the struggle for Assad to survive against both ISIS and the surreptitious agendas of Western countries to dislodge him to gain access to Syria's resources (as we did in Iraq and Libya); the continuing oppression by Israel of 3.5 million Palestinians to hold onto their ancestral lands and to justify Israel's right to an exclusive ethnocracy that masquerades as a democracy. And on top of that is the desperate work of relief agencies, both UN and national to receive, process and sustain these uprooted people; versus various national efforts to contain, restrain and disburse them, such as Hungary's razor-wire-chain-link wall and France's night burning of "Les Jungles," the tent-city staging area for refugees in Calais trying to get to the UK.
    Ai appears a number of times throughout the movie, an almost comic presence, with his beard and belly, but one, like a signature, meant to signal the honesty of his attempt to encompass the whole issue globally, an impossible task, but one that he's the only one to have tried to do. His most effective appearance is on the US-Mexico border, where he personally talks to a border guard riding by on a motorcycle, who instructs him to stay on the US side of the border, which is marked only by a post in the desert. He returns to his cohorts, and they laugh about it—as one is reminded of the last scene in Jean Renoir's La Grande illusion (1937), where the WWI German officer tells his men to stop shooting at the escaping Jean Gabin & comrade, two moving black dots over a blank snowfield, since they have crossed the (invisible) border into Switzerland.
    In the end, though, there is no analysis of the political causes and little focus on the environmental causes of the migrations, and only the most lame, hortatory "one-world" humanistic prescriptions about our duty to solve the problems. That is, there was no analysis of the destructive power relations that have caused these migrations, so nothing about the sociopathology of the leaders involved.

At the Angelika on West Houston Street in New York.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Election Masters' Pow-Wow

Scene: Inner circle of the Election Manipulation Committee, the Highest Echelon of American Crosseyeds

KR: What do we do now? The GOP is in a hot civil war. So many of those candidates we got elected with our ECT (Extremely Clever Technology) are being threatened from the no-nothing right, who, frankly, have run out of feet to shoot themselves in—we certainly gave them two or three. They overwhelmingly nominate a guy like Roy Moore, who claims that the First Amendment doesn’t apply to Muslims because they don’t have a “real religion,” and that gay people are an abomination in the sight of their deity and should be deprived of rights. We need these people’s votes, but how do you reign in such crazies? What if Moore tries to put the Ten Commandments up in the Senate? Or cover the female statues in the Rotunda, the way Ashcroft did.

Pa*l S*nger: And look at all the money we’ve spent to give them the gift of full spectrum dominance! 

Charles K*ch: And they couldn’t repeal Abominable Care even when I dangled $400 million in front of their noses. I mean if that’s not worth blanking on the details, I don’t know what is! Are they losing their sense of priorities? 

Robert Merc*r: Geez, Karl. You’re great at winning elections for them, but what do we do with these nincompoops in office? The whole point is to dump government regulations and lower our taxes, but do they have to be so incompetent about pretending to be concerned about anything else?

KR: I just don’t know. We give them money; we massively purge hostile urban constituencies; we’ve figured out how to flip votes in their favor; we even go as far as to crash the plane of that traitor whistleblower Connell. Hell, we manage to dominate power in this country with little more than a third of the electorate’s support. And now that’s fragmenting. It’s going to get tough. 

Pa*l Sing*r: Maybe your biggest mistake, Karl, was actually letting them win.

Charles K*ch: Yeah, nothing fails like success, at least in politics. Which is why I prefer oil & gas. We can't lose, as long as we keep to the high ground above 40º north latitude, away from coastlines and fault lines and out of tornado alleys.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Left Forum 2017: Election Integrity, Deep State Controversies, I Confront a Nation Editor, Junk Economics, the Poverty of Standard Left Discourse

Left Forum 2017

The Left Forum, with over 400 panels and three plenaries, is so rich with content that it's impossible to attend every panel one would want to, and no two people’s experience is the same (unless they agree to do everything together).

    This year, the first year after the retirement of 8-year-director Seth Adler, under the new direction of Marcus Graetsch and Ashley Abbott, went smoothly overall. It is, after all, a huge task to coordinate all the panels, get all participants’ contact info and bio right, and to assign rooms and times so that there are no overlaps for individual speakers who might be appearing in different panels.

     I presented two panels on Election Integrity in two large classrooms. The first one was in the plumb Session A spot on Friday evening, and we had a standing room only crowd of nearly 100 people. Speakers were Jonathan Simon, author of CODE RED: Computerized Election Theft and the New American Century; Robert Fitrakis, author with Harvey Wasserman of  The Strip and Flip Disaster of American's Stolen Elections; Mark Crispin Miller, editor of Loser Take All, and author of Fooled Again among many other books; Marta Steele, author of Grassroots, Geeks, Pros and Pols; and Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein. The response was enthusiastic, and we added many names to our action contact sign-up list.

 Bob Fitrakis
 Jonathan Simon addresses a full room
 Jonathan Simon
 Jill Stein
 Jill Stein and the panel
   Mark Crispin Miller

      The second panel was on Saturday afternoon. It gave a platform to a number of the most energetic election reform activists across the country, including Democratic Election Commissioner of Columbia County, New York, Virginia Martin; journalist Lulu Friesdat of New York; activist YahNé Ndgo of Philadelphia; activist and self-described gadfly John Brakey of Tuscon, Arizona; and activist Allegra Dengler of Westchester County, New York. Jonathan Simon also spoke. The crowd wasn't as large—there were 44 other panels going on simultaneously—and we didn't get as deeply into reform strategies as many of the panelists had wanted, but it was good airing, and we signed more people up onto the action list, which I expect we'll use for letter-writing campaigns to media.
 John Brakey, Lulu Friesdat, Virginia Martin, YahNé Ndgo & Allegra Dengler of our second panel on Election Integrity
 Lulu Friesdat
 Virginia Martin
 YahNé Ndgo
 The Election Integrity.2 panel
 There were actually three other events on the subject of Election Integrity, one sponsored by the Socialist Party USA, one featuring Harvey Wasserman and Greg Palast, and a screening of Palast's hard-hitting documentary on the interstate crosscheck screen to purge millions of minority registrations, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy: A Tale of Billionaires and Ballot Bandits, with a discussion afterwards.

 Harvey Wasserman
 Greg Palast's demonstrative style
 Greg Palast speaks of the self-censorship of the mainstream media
 Greg Palast illustrates the attitude towards the public of those who purge registrations
 The crowd for Palast's documentary film
 Harvey Wasserman, social media whiz and activist Mohammed Naeem, Greg Palast

   I always make a point to hear my favorite economist, Michael Hudson, at every Left Forum. This year he spoke at a panel which corresponded to the title of his latest book, J Is for Junk Economics. His main point in his talk was the bad faith of banks and governments to espouse discredited or absurd economic theories that protect their interests, while exploiting employees and increasing the risks of economic melt-downs. He offered several analyses of the shift in the meanings of economic terms, with his trademark emphatic clarity that made you wonder how anyone could be so dishonest as to advocate such ideas, or so naive as to think people would believe them—but they do. For example, how "free market" has come to mean freedom for landlords and corporations to exploit workers, or how "reform" now means lowering taxes and curbing regulations on industry, rather than giving power to unions or acceding to popular desires. And he exposed the mendacious folly in the notion, now being preached in economics departments endowed by the Koch Brothers, that markets are self-stabilizing by means of the business cycle, and that national economies should be planned—to conform to the interests of big banks, not industrial production. He pointed out that after World War I, Anglo-American banks promoted such ideas, whereas the principle that had made Germany such a strong power, namely industrial investment banking, was de-emphasized. And he stressed the deceptiveness of Milton Friedman's idea, since embraced by the mainstream media, that debt repayment and interest charged by banks should be counted as production and savings rather than as rents, that is, usage fees that do not buy the fruits of productive work. In fact, when 40% of a family's income is spent on rent and 10–20% more on interest payments, this leaves only 40–50% to buy goods and services, rather than the 75% that was the norm 50 years ago. This, of course, is one of the main engines of the inequality of wealth concentration, and what so many people are so angry at their government for not protecting them from.

  Michael Hudson

     But this year's Left Forum was also marked by a rather upsetting contretemps: rather late in the planning of the Forum, four panels, all around the subject of the “deep state,” were accused of featuring speakers with anti-Semitic, even Holocaust-denying associations or reputations. These panels were officially cancelled and left out of the program. Nevertheless, their organizers managed to run them anyway, all on Sunday, one after the other, announcing the location by 9 am that morning on the website They passed out colored fliers starting Saturday morning with content and logistical information. The panels turned out to be quite well-attended, and streamed as well as video recorded. I managed to attend two of them.

    Not only am I interested in the overall subject of the Deep State, which I have lectured on three times, but I was very interested in the speakers. I had heard three of them, Barbara Honegger, Kevin Barrett and Richard Gage (of Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth) and was very impressed by their courageous research and irrefutable conclusions regarding the 9/11 attacks, but I was curious to hear Dr. Anthony Hall, whom someone pointed out to me has the reputation of a Holocaust-denier, and who is therefore to be shunned. I looked him up on the web on my smart phone, and found that he was a history professor at Lethbridge University in Alberta, who had been suspended without a hearing by the University president, Mike Mahon, pursuant to accusations of anti-Semitism by the B’nai Brith (which I grew up thinking was a very honorable organization ethically supporting Jewish interests). The Canadian Association of University Teachers (the Canadian AAUP) investigated and found the charges baseless and wrote to Mahon a letter of reproach, threatening to censure the university if it did not immediately reinstate him and restore all forfeited pay. Prof. Hall had, in fact, been the victim of a vicious smear campaign, in which operatives allegedly associated with the B’nai Brith hacked onto Prof. Hall's Facebook page a disturbing image with the legend “Kill all Jews.” It was extremely crude, obviously not the work of history professor, but it aroused no suspicious of foul play among his superiors at the university. The perpetrators have been tracked down to Florida, by the way. (See for the full story).

    Meanwhile, I was told that the effort to have the four panels banned came locally from one Spencer Sunshine, who operates a purportedly progressive website, I checked the website Saturday night and found a number of telltale signs that it was a not an authentic progressive website, but probably one designed to give credibility to smears directed at those who espouse views considered threatening to Zionist or Deep State agendas. These telltale signs included 1. the limited group of issues considered, none of which include corporate power or Palestinian rights, or any issue the New York Times wouldn’t embrace; 2. the suspicious overuse of the word “justice” in naming these issues, and 3. the extremely limited and naive definition of “fascism,” which is described a race-based ideology, entirely omitting the corporate-state alliance, which is how Mussolini himself defined it. This was from just a cursory reading of the site.

    Hall, who had originally intended to come in person as I later found out, spoke via Skype hookup, and of course, nothing he said had any whiff of anti-Semitism or Holocaust denial. He had investigated terrorist incidents for their suspicious features, that gave rise to his and Barrett's hypotheses of their being false-flag operations. This is, of course, what makes them dangerous to Deep State and Zionist interests.

    Kevin Barrett is another one who has been broadly accused of anti-Semitism. He has been especially vocal in his investigations of well-known terrorist attacks as false-flag operations, including the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris, the Orlando attack and the San Bernardino attack. Of course, he is a major supporter of 9/11 Truth, the greatest false-flag attack of all, and which has been associated with very concrete evidence by Christopher Bollyn, with Zionist, specifically Mossad, operatives. This has made Bollyn the target of years of vicious attacks.
 Kevin Barrett
Lucy Morgan Edwards, Dave Lindorff and Kevin Barrett, with Barrett's cover and diagram on the screen.

    Now, I had been slated to speak on a “Deep State.2.0” panel by my friend Sander Hicks, who leads the New York chapter of the 9/11 Truth Action Project, that I belong to. I was flattered and delighted to speak, but I had been a bit bewildered by the subtitle: “Against Anti-Semitism, but Critical of Zionism.” My focus in speaking on the Deep State had been on the Security State (CIA, NSA, DoD) alliance with military contractors, big banks and major corporate interests (fossil fuels, pharmaceutical, private prisons), and probing how mass incarceration and election corruption serve Deep State interests. I hadn’t investigated the Zionist connection to the Deep State, so I plunged into Jeff Halper’s profound book War Against the People: Israel, the Palestinians and Global Pacification, and found more than enough on the subject.

    Having read Douglas Valentine’s exposé, The CIA as Organized Crime: How Illegal Operations Corrupt America and the World, I discovered that Israel’s mushrooming security industries have been working full bore to supply the surveillance and “securocratic” needs of repressive regimes around the world, as well as the aggression of the US military. Moreover, they have honed their “framing” skills to control the public narrative to minimize their very disproportionate violent and murderous oppression of the Palestinians while portraying themselves as victims of the comparatively modest though savage retaliation coming from the objects of their oppression. These framing activities have come to include smear attacks on respectable academics and journalists who are critical of their shameful treatment of the Palestinians, which has repeatedly been condemned by the United Nations and the world community, with the notable exception of the US government. There is now a movement to draw attention to these spurious attacks and to condemn them.

    Now, although anti-Semitism is an ongoing danger, and the election of Trump has unleashed a spate of despicable anti-Semitic attacks based on deep historical ignorance and pathological hatred, mostly from White Nation racist types, who tend to slander Muslims, African-Americans and Catholics too. There is also, regrettably, more sophisticated anti-Semitic propaganda on the American Free Press website, a right-wing site that also publishes articles on 9/11 Truth. I had not been aware of the right-wing sources of 9/11 Truth opinion earlier than about six weeks ago, but there has actually been some valid writing on the subject, to my surprise. But given the obvious impossibility of the officially sanctioned narrative, that the buildings (including Building 7) were brought down by jet fuel fires or flying debris, and the powerfully obvious collapse of the buildings in the style of a demolition (symmetrical and accelerating downward), it’s no wonder that rational people of many ideological stripes would come to the conclusion that official story is simply false.

    However, the idea that deeply educated academics and journalists who are committed to progressive causes could be blatant or even covert anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers is questionable on its face. It turned out that only a small amount of probing was necessary to expose these accusations as slanders, often based, as in the case of Anthony Hall, on the hacking of his Facebook page, into which was inserted a crude and anachronistic anti-Semitic screed, calling for the killing of all “kikes.” Who uses this term any more? Certainly not an academic historian.

    In several cases, academia has become a battleground of pro-and anti-Zionist forces. Historian Norman Finkelstein, a profound, relentless, and academically unimpeachable critic of Israeli policies and military actions against Palestinians, was denied tenure at DePaul University in 2007, under pressure from Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz. Sometimes these attacks are accompanied by threats of the removal of financial support to a university, if the person in question is not fired. This was egregiously the case in 2014 with Steven G. Salaita, a specialist in Native American history (not surprisingly). Salaita had tweeted a pro-Palestinian anti-Zionist message, prompting one of the University of Illinois’ (Urbana-Champaign) major donors to threaten to withdraw support if his job offer wasn’t revoked, which the University promptly did, violating a contract, and exposing itself to a lawsuit.

    The obdurate, contributing cause to these disturbing incidents is the Israeli government’s deliberate attempts to conflate criticism of its oppressive policies against the Palestinians that repeatedly violate international law and kill thousands of them over the years, with anti-Semitism! Netanyahu has been very explicit in this matter. So they essentially invite anti-Semitism among those who are repelled by their oppressive and racist policies. In opposition to this, journalists such as Robert Fisk, many prominent Jews who take human rights seriously, and secular organizations such as Jewish Voice for Peace, and the Orthodox group Neturei Karta International (aka Jews United Against Zionism), explicitly distinguish Jewishness, with its deep ethical and human rights traditions, from the Zionist project of populating Palestine with Jews, ethnically cleansing the native population, and cruelly oppressing them for almost 70 years. The Zionist project of Jewish supremacism and Palestinian oppression has been opposed over the years by such prominent Jews as Ahad Ha’am, Albert Einstein, and Hannah Arendt, among others. Growing up, as I did, in the traumatic shadow of the Holocaust, I embraced Zionism as a young person—it was the dominant ideology of my Jewish education—insensitive to its implicit racism, and only came to realize its truly oppressive dimensions in the early 1980s.
    So this is the hornet’s nest that I walked into with my 20-minute talk on “Deep State 2.0: Against Anti-Semitism but Critical of Zionism.” Speaking to a packed classroom of about 40 people, I followed a report by the courageous journalist Alison Weir, who spoke and showed slides of her trip to Israel and Palestine in 2001 (before Israel was confiscating photographic equipment of those visiting the Palestinian territories).

 Sander Hicks addresses his audience
 Sander with Alison Weir to his right
   Alison Weir

      I described Jeff Halper’s argument of the first part of his book as a revealing account of the structure and agenda of the Deep State as a kind of global imperialism by trans-national corporations based in the richest nations, whose aim is to control the resources and populations of the entire world. Those who operate this imperialism he calls “core hegemons,” while not using the term Deep State. Within this system over the past two to three decades, Israel has carved out a uniquely useful role to serve these powerful hegemons, based on its development of population surveillance and control technology through its dispossession and suppression of the indigenous Palestinian population. It is, in brief, a full spectrum of the technology of oppression, that dictators, colonialist militaries, and domestic (militarized) police forces the world over are all too happy to avail themselves of. It manages support for its position by framing Israeli Jews as victims of the comparatively puny low-tech retaliatory strikes by the population it oppresses. Moreover, it apparently deploys an active cohort of scammers and hackers who work to discredit its critics, including by planting spurious anti-Semitic screeds on their social media, so that they will be branded as anti-Semities or worse. These pernicious tactics along with other forms of pressure and blackmail, often work to get these critics branded as bigots, fired from their jobs, and boycotted in their profession, ruining their careers. It often takes a great deal of effort and expense to expose such tactics, sue offending institutions and get its victims reinstated.
The author and photographer

    After coming to rely on US military aid starting in the 1960s, Israel has become by far the largest recipient of US foreign aid in the world, receiving over $3 billion per year. But it turns out that this does not derive from altruism. Not only does the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) contribute heavily to US politicians of both parties, essentially bribing them to support Israel and its oppressive policies against the Palestinians, but Israel’s niche role as the producers of some of the best technology of oppression in the world has made it extremely useful to US military adventures around the world (with our 600+ foreign military bases), as well as those of hitherto hostile countries such as Saudi Arabia in its oppressive war in Yemen.

    It’s interesting that Israel should assume the role of techno-servant to the hegemonic global forces, who in their “bankster” avatars have been ironically referred to as the “lords of the universe.” It evokes the painful memories of Jews serving the Polish aristocracy in the late Middle Ages and incurring the resentment of the peasantry (even deflecting it from the aristocrats themselves), who took it out on them in pogroms. And again, when Jewish settlers in Palestine served the imperialist interests of the British Empire in the early 20th Century as a Western bulwark—a “settler state”—against the Ottomans, and later other Muslim local powers (and it turns out that the Balfour Declaration, officially opening Palestine to Jewish settlement before the British had chased the Turks out, was made—through consultation with Justice Louis Brandeis, a close advisor to President Wilson at the time—at least partially in exchange for  American Jewish support to bring the US into the First World War on the British side, as well as to weaken Jewish support inside Germany for the Kaiser).

    Following the panel in which I spoke, Sander had another one in which he carefully questioned other prominent 9/11 Truth activists, including Barbara Honegger (whose meticulous research has exploded the official story of the Pentagon Attack) and Les Jamieson (organizer of last September’s 9/11 Symposium), on the legal progress being made to reopen the 9/11 Commission hearings, or at least bring up the anomalies of the original report in open court in the context of the “Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act” (JASTA) lawsuit. This is the lawsuit on the part of the families of 9/11 victims against Saudi Arabia for its part in the attacks. JASTA received overwhelming support in Congress, passing over President Obama’s veto, in sympathy for those families. The fear, of course, among the government perpetrators of the attacks, who, it is presumed in the 9/11 Truth Movement, used Saudi nationals as patsies, is that, in the process of probing Saudi complicity, their own part in planning the attacks will be revealed. So they have mounted an opposition to the lawsuit by presenting their own set of victims, namely US veterans of the Afghan and Iraq wars that were the direct result of the attacks. As of now, JASTA is in litigation. Its has been strengthened by the release in July of 2016 of the celebrated “28 pages” from a Congressional report on the attacks that preceded the release of the 9/11 Commission Report. These pages confirm that there were suspected ties between the hijackers and the Saudi government, but according to Sen. Bob Graham (R-SC) who was on the Congressional committee that released the report, the Saudi government had obstinately refused to release information on the individuals named in the report, obstructing the investigation. Now, however, since the pages were released, that government has loudly proclaimed its intention to cooperate in every way.
 The panel on New 9/11 Legal Actions: Jane Clark, J. Michael Springmann, Barbara Honegger 
& Les Jamieson
 Barbara Honegger & Les Jamieson
Barbara Honegger

    After those two sessions, I attended a “lunch session” on “Globalization, Blowback and Beyond” featuring prominent progressive journalists Sarah Leonard, a senior editor of The Nation and Dissent, Leo Panitch of York University, Toronto, and Dan LaBotz, co-editor of New Politics. Their talks focused on explaining Trump’s victory by analysis of class-identity politics, namely, how the Democrats have betrayed their traditional working-class constituents, who overwhelmingly voted for Trump. When the brief question period arrived, I popped up, so that the moderator, the venerable former Nation publisher Victor Navasky, recognized me first (though he said he had wanted to choose a woman first). I said in as booming a voice as I could muster, that this analysis leaves out the overwhelming evidence of election corruption, and that The Nation indeed has the power to oppose these electoral trends by opening its eyes to this corruption. They have so far been in denial of it. When I announced that Bernie had actually won the Democratic primary, I received light applause. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the presence of mind to point out the power of anti-Establishment sentiment in the last election. What I should have said was that the single-digit confidence in Congress and the widespread gut-resentment of the corporatocracy (or “Power Elite” [C. Wright Mills, 1957], oligarchy, or Deep State—take your choice—was expressing itself in strong support for Bernie Sanders on the left and Trump on the right, and there were many voters who felt they could vote for either one. Hillary, in contrast, was the epitome of the Establishment politician, militarist, pro-war, intimate with the banksters. She eventually took on some of Bernie’s progressive positions, but she generally ran a lack-luster campaign, making major mistakes in her campaign schedule, depending on an anemic message (e.g. “Let’s move forward together!”) and relying excessively on the presumption that she was the serious, competent candidate, making a historic breakthrough as a woman (following Obama’s historic racial breakthrough), the overwhelming favorite. I later found out that there is now a book, Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes, that reveals both the general disorganization of her campaign (also characteristic of her contest against Obama for the nomination in 2008), and the ideological bankruptcy of the Democratic party—since it deserted its base during the Clinton Administration in favor of corporate financial power.
The "Globalization, Blowback and Beyond" panel: Victor Navasky, Sarah Leonard, Les Panitch & Dan La Botz
        But Navasky went on to take four more questions, and then the speakers focused their answers on those and entirely ignored mine. Incidentally, Code Pink leader Medea Benjamin was in the audience eating a giant black olive pizza slice. I wrote her this morning inviting her to be a part of the Election Integrity movement as the shortest path to challenging the hegemony of the Deep State in this country. She said she was well aware of the issue but had her hands full with global preoccupations.


          After trying so hard and failing to acquire a plenary session to present the Election Integrity issue, I attended two of the plenaries to see what was being offered. As I suspected, the speakers were well-informed and energetic, but they were offering analyses and exhortations that we had been hearing for years: blaming the corporate state, encouraging groups devoted to different issues to join forces, whipping up resistance to the retrograde policies of Trump. The left has been losing ground for years, but no one was proposing how to take back power. We in the Election Integrity movement believe that the shortest route would be to expose the ongoing corruption of our elections, the illegal and unconstitutional short-circuiting of democracy, the suppression of the people's voice and our constitutional power to throw out governments that do not serve their interests by voting them out of office. But with both political parties and the mainstream and progressive press refusing to acknowledge the problem, we're stuck with corporate, militarist, bankster, CIA-NSA domination of our political system, viz. the Deep State.
 An energetic speaker whose plenary message was "unity" on the left
Richard Wolff, the grey eminence of Sunday evening's plenary


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

David Brooks' NY Times Op-Ed of May 23, 2017: "The Alienated Mind": an Analysis

David Brooks is the king of question begging, the assumption that something is true even though it hasn't been proven. But when one questions his breezy descriptions, they turn out to be amalgums of right-wing clichés and prejudices. It has upset me for years that the New York Times gives so much valuable space to such an intellectual pretender, but it took me until last night to take one of his columns apart, as I've been tempted to do for years. Here it is.

     In Tuesday's NY Times column (May 23, 2017) “The Alienated Mind,” David Brooks takes aim at an “elite” resented by "angry voters." The problem with this elite is that it is "college educated," and that it has "found ingenious ways to make everybody else feel invisible" and then has " managed to transfer wealth upward to itself" and then "crashes the hammer of political correctness down on anybody who does not have faculty lounge views." This is a cartoon stereotype that degrades  educated, historically informed (and dare I say empathetic) members of the middle class, and then conflates them with financial elites! It makes boogie men out of reasonable, educated people, who happen not to be conservative shills for unnamed oligarchs, as Brooks is, and then confuses them with the oligarchs themselves! And the Times pays for such crap!

     Then he lands on “alienation” as a concept, like some undergraduate discovering the term for the first time, and then blames our political ills on it, elevating it to a major force on its own, giving it a separate existence from the variety of conditions that engender it, making a disease out of a symptom. Nowhere does he refer to the depredations of inequality, the flight of good jobs, the concentrating of wealth, the neglect and suffering of poor minority communities, which is equal to or worse than that of communities who were once prosperous. He tries to drum up sympathy for these white working class folks who have been betrayed by globalist corporations, focusing on their feelings of betrayal but not on those who betrayed them, but rather on those whom they are duped into blaming. Meanwhile, the Republican policies these poor benighted alienated white working class voters vote for just continue to slam them. But you’d never learn this from a Brooks column.

    No. Brooks' column is actually a summary and popularization of an extended article by Yuval Levin in the conservative quarterly (available on line) Modern Age. He cites Levin on the subject of alienation, who opines that "on the right" it tends to a “desire for purity—to exclude the foreign,” while "on the left" it fosters a “desire for conformity—to squelch differing speakers and faiths.” Full stop. The Wise Man hath spoken; following the rather abstract Levin, Brooks has dispensed his characteristic dyad, which stands in for philosophical reflection or sociological observation. Except that it’s pure baloney. How about the the tendency on the right to blame the Other: the immigrants taking “our” jobs and getting a free ride without paying taxes (which they do), the “elite” bogeymen disdaining them for their ignorance in allowing themselves to be duped by wealthy oligarchs who know how to dangle racist illusions in front of their noses? And he takes impolite student protest to shut down appearances by right-wing purveyors of prejudice as a “desire for conformity,” when the protesters see such people as atavistically bringing us back to a time when prejudicial stereotypes were accepted as truth.

    Brooks’ prescription? To “revive a living elite patriotism.” Yeah. Well, if he actually asked the real elites, the financial oligarchs, they’re the most patriotic of all—at least they use patriotism as a mask for their self-interested support of military spending, which is where most conventional patriotism leads these days. How about rooting out structural racism in housing patterns and health care delivery? Would this be considered “patriotic”? In all fairness, he does seem to be advising his Republican back-benchers to be more open to compromise. But does he realize that the institutionalized intransigence of Republicans nowadays comes from a fear of being attacked from the farther right by “purer” intransigents, who happen to be bankrolled by the Koch Brothers and their Tea Party pet project? Has he made this connection? Now, there are some elite actors he would do well to target—but nary a word, of course.

    In the end he prescribes “moral realism” to fight alienation. What a good idea! Why not print up pamphlets and distribute them widely telling people how to be more morally realistic? Just be as wise as David Brooks! Discard your “lazy cynicism” and “self-righteous despair”! (Why, I had become quite attached to mine, Mr. Brooks! But I’m so glad you informed me that they were counter-productive!) Adopt an attitude of “pessimistic hopefulness.” Aha! I’m so glad you let me know that that’s the answer! You’ve solved the country’s problems! Let’s all be “grateful for the institutions our ancestors left us, and filled with cheerful confidence that they can be reformed to solve present needs.” Seriously! He writes this!

    It sounds like lazy complacency with the status quo rather than Brooks' “lazy cynicism.” What about accelerating inequality and its consequences in shortening life-spans? What about the exploitation by our banks of our children in college? What about a ballooning military, sucking up resources that would be better spent on people: health care, education & infrastructure? How do we dislodge these vested interests, which by the way, also undermine our democratic elections, insuring that their supporters remain in power? How do we adopt an attitude of "cheerful confidence" in the face of these seemingly intractable trends? People like you, your NY Times editors, and most of your readers don’t even realize how the system is structured to maintain the parasitic and infinitely greedy forces in power. But you assure us that we should adopt a “cheerful confidence that [our institutions] can be reformed to solve present needs.” Sounds like you’re working for the oligarchs, Mr. Brooks. Just let ‘em alone, and everything’ll work out just fine. And by the way, that's the contemporary corporate definition of “freedom”: just leave ‘em alone, detax and let them self-regulate, and then let the rest of us, the 99%, just get sicker, stupider and dirtier.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Scrap Metal as Temporary Archaeology

I became fascinated with photographing scrap metal from a geological photographer's point of view, and two visits to an unnamed scrap metal yard in May 2013 yielded a rich body of work. See it on my website

I returned to the yard this past March and had another field day, especially with the giant rusted "bricks" of compressed cans.

But there were also other beauties as well: 

One of the main reasons I went then was that there was snow on the ground, and I caught this pile of giant compressed bricks against the snow.

I returned to the yard this past Sunday, May 14, since I had seen a shiny wall of these huge bricks of compressed cans from the train I take into New York. The light was now on the side away from the tracks.

But when I went around to the shady side, the lower contrast from the skylight (rather than the intense sunlight) made the textures more visible:
 Then when I framed it as a wall, rather than just a stack, it took on archaeological resonances, recalling the large hewn stones of ancient buildings and walls. I rendered this one in toned monochrome to emphasize that aspect:
And this just happens to be the [W]estern [W]all in the scrap metal yard. Its archaeological evocations notwithstanding, it will disappear in a matter of days, hauled off in one of the hopper cars on the tracks that form the western border of the yard.


Trump's Unraveling

It’s fascinating to watch Trump unravel. A rather limited authoritarian personality, “insecure, paranoid and brittle, jostling between egomania and narcissism, intoxicated with a power beyond his meager comprehension and indulging in it beyond the point of abuse” (Charles Blow, NY Times, 16 May 2017), he’s a rather stupid version of a dictator, who would be quite comfortable jailing and murdering his enemies in a non-democratic state with no embedded checks and balances. But he probably wouldn’t last long there either, because a cleverer, more brutal authoritarian would outsmart him and have him killed within his first year.

Our lame press and compromised Democratic party have still sufficiently risen to the occasion to denounce his howlers. He has no concept of the scrutiny he’s under, nor how careful he must be in language and action. He conducts his Presidential business as the mendacious businessman he’s always been, and he flops daily in his more exalted role. He can’t possibly last long, since he’ll become a deep embarrassment to the actual professionals who make up the Republican party, corrupt and hypocritical though they are. McCain has already turned against him.