his book Collusion, Guardian investigative reporter Luke
Harding assures us that the Russian/Trump connection scandal is even
more disturbing than we might have thought. Sordid details confirm
the worst. We're accustomed to corporate disregard for life system
and workers in their singular pursuit of profits... and we're
accustomed to politicians manipulating and lying but the Trump
administration has taken this to new lengths. I mean, Gary Hart was
driven out of a presidential race for dating a woman while separated
from his spouse. Ed Muskie for raising his voice to be heard in a
crowd and getting a little emotional in a speech. We have an
administration of pro-business fanatics, yes, not all that unusual –
corporations do heavily fund the campaigns of most contenders and so
influence their policies. But when have we had high government
officials routinely dallying and scheming with official enemies? Top
government employees take oaths to defend the constitution against
all enemies, foreign and domestic so that would include also a lot of
business interests, as well as the Nazi party and KKK... hell, even
half the supreme court. But back to Russia.
to the chase, Russia is owned and run by and for oligarchs/gangsters.
This seems a force more pernicious, and successful, than the former
Soviet leaders, who supposedly were out to conqueor the world. These
folks know how to do it. Maybe because they've harnassed the power of
greed. Ironic for the nation that once proclaimed itself the champion
of ordinary working people. Collusion makes it quite clear
that not only is Russia interested in disrupting democracy everywhere
but is also partnering, across national boundaries, with like-minded
oligarchs. By hook or by crook, by bribery or blackmail, intimidation
or partnership, they have captured the highest levels of U.S.
government. The White House. and its power to appoint department
heads and staff the judiciary, is taken. The congress is pretty much
owned though there remains some feeble resistance. The Supreme Court
is similar, corrupted but not fully in their hands, yet. State Houses
across the country are also in the fold, states like Michigan and
Wisconsin, former unioniszed strongholds of democracy. The fall
elections may be the last opportunity for effective resistance to
what is arguably a world-wide oligarchic coup.
the conclusion. Collusion provides plenty of disturbing
evidence. Take the Russian oligarch, Dmitry Rybolovlev, purchasing a
Trump Florida mansion for $95 million. Trump had paid $41 million
four years early. This in a sagging Florida market. The Russian
oligarch never even visited the building, before nor after purchase.
He ended up having it demolished. Was this money laundering? A
payoff, purchasing perhaps a U.S. president? At least 63 individuals
with Russian passports purchased Trump-branded Tower properties in
Florida totaling $98 million. Many of the other buyers were limited
liability companies whose owners were not identifiable. More Russian
mobsters than seems coincidental owned or own Trump Tower Manhattan
condos or have offices there.
Trump's casinos went bankrupt it was Deutsche Bank, a German bank
with New York offices, that bailed him out. All previous lenders were
refusing loan requests, having been once burned. Later Deutsche NY
was suing him to recover $640 million he had personally guaranteed
for more Trump Towers, an acrimonious situation of suits and
counter-suits. Deutsch Bank in Germany did two very odd things. They
loaned him, a guy who was refusing to repay loans, the money to pay
off his loans and undertake new projects. The other odd thing,
Deutsche was caught money-laundering, Russian money laundering, in
Russian hacking is also broader than I was aware. They may have
tilted the British Brexit vote and interfered in French and German
elections as well, probably others. They like to fund both left and
right factions, but seem to prefer zany rightwingers like Le Pen, in
France. The object is to disrupt targeted democracies. The ideal of
course would be to place “agents” or compromised candidates in
powerful positions. This they seem to have done, to such a degree
that we may not be allowed to find out, it being far from certain
that the Mueller investigation will be allowed to continue. An
informed, activist electorate is probably more critical today than at
any other time in U.S. history.
title of this memoir, Testimony, begs the question, where's
the cross examination? My jokey reference has to do with the feud
between Robertson and drummer Levon Helm. That tension is finessed in
this intriquing view of one of Rock's great bands, the Americana
rockers, The Band. Levon's main complaint in his book,
This Wheel's on Fire, was that Robbie pretty much broke up the
band by hoarding song-writing credits, and the money that brought his
way. Robbie claims that he insisted on equal credits, shared
royalties early on, but later in the book mentions, without
explanation, that he made sure Richard and Rick got credit on one of
his songs. Obviously he wouldn't have to do that if they were taking
equal credit. It's an unsettled argument. I tend to come down with
tradition. The songwirter gets songwriter royalties, the performers
get performance royalties, so that's just standard. REM deviated
perhaps by sharing equally but Stipe only did the lyrics so that
makes sense. It is absolutely true that the other members of The
Band gave the songs personality, contributing mightily to their
success... yet, that is recognized in performance royalties. But I
ain't arguing, I don't get any of that action. Besides, Levon seemed
like an ornery cuss sometimes, even without the array of
paranoia-inducing drugs he, and they, got into. Witness him leaving
the band when they were touring with and getting boo-ed by Dylan's
folk fans for going electric. Witness him pulling the scope out of
his nose-throat exam in that documentary. And witness Levon, Rick and
Richard all going stupid and doing heroine. So, petty stuff went on,
yeah, but what music came out of that combination of personalities.
They probably could have made interesting music getting lyrics out of
the phone book but Robbie's lyrics hit a chord with the public.
book covers Robertson's early life but ends after The Band's filmed
finale in the venue they first played as The Band, San
Francisco's Winterland. This was the acclaimed film, The
Last Waltz. It is so hard to get and hold a band together, a
truth echoed in Robbie's observsation when he spent time with John
Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo and of course in his own band. This
is a fun part of the book, little teasing introductions to celebs
Robbie routinely ran into – Jonie Mitchell, James Taylor, Carly
Simon, Miles Davis, Henry Miller, David Geffen, Charles Loyd, Neil
Young, Jamie James (Jimmie Hendrix), Van Morrison, Eric Clapton, SLN
crew, endless musicians, apparently totally comfortable and unawed.
Just as Previte the gangster found himself the smartest guy in the
room, so did Robbie, often enough to insure his acceptance in those
15, Robbie's then band opened for Ronnie Hawkins in Toronto. Ronnie
was impressed and invited the precocious guitarist to audition. He
dropped out of high school and trained to Arkansa, was given a chance
to prove himself and worked to make that happen. They had to disguise
his age since they were playing clubs he was too young to enter -
fake moustache etc;. Levon Helm, the only other eventual Band
member at the time, became Robbie's mentor and confidant. Personnell
changes and Ronnie Hawkins' eventual shift in interest whittled the
group out and down to the five guys who made music history, first as
Dylan's backup band, then as The Band. It was their musical
mastery and Robbie's songs (and Dylan's) at the heart of their taking
the country by storm. Funny, in some of Dylan's interviews he
complained about getting bands together in high school and having
someone come along and steal the players. He finally got his revenge
by swooping in on Ronnie Hawkins, taking The Band on tour.
watched an interview with Robbie, promoting his book, on youtube. He
wasn't asked if he's still making music or much about what he's been
up to. Immediately after The Last Waltz, he was in a film with
Gary Busey and Jody Foster, Carny it was called. But
apparently he made enough money and got enough of the spotlight that
he could just do whatever quiet thing he decided to do. Which,
wikipedia tells me, is a lot: producing other artists, doing film
scores, solo albums, co-writing, getting awards left and right.
Having a rich, princely life.
first song Robbie got published, at 15, was stolen by a
mob-infiltrated publishing company. Which brings me to another book
I've been reading, Gangster by George Anastasia. This is a
genre I return to periodically, that I find fascinating for some
reason. One of the many despicable things mobsters do is move in on
an established business, like the publishing company, and take it
over, or demand a percentage of the profits for “protection/”,
maybe use if also for money laundering. Ron Previte was nudged out of
the Air Force when his incorrigible thievery became obvious but not
proveable. With an honorable discharge he was able to join the
Philadelphia police department where he took his skills to new
heights. Again his behavior, not so uncommon for awhile in that
department, became a liability when a reformist Chief came aboard.
Nudged out again he took up security work at the new Atlantic City
casinos. Now the thievery got truely imaginative, profitable and
decadent. Eventually he was busted and became an informer for the New
Jersey State Police. This allowed him to pursue his criminality
unimpeded. Disgusted with him after some years the Staties passed him
onto the FBI. His casino and street work had brought him into contact
with the Philadelphia mob and since he was such an “earner” he
wormed his way into their hearts. He discovered that he was pretty
consistently the smartest guy in the room so didn't mind ratting
these sorry guys out, feeling that it was only a matter of time
before they were all in prison anyway. Over a period of years he wore
a wire and got the goods for the FBI. He continued his shake-downs,
extortion, drugs, receiving stolen property business (never murder he
claims), making substantial money all while drawing a salary from the
Feds and allowing them to fund schemes designed to lure mobsters into
drug deals and various other illegal operations in order to get them
off the streets.
seemed to admire the old time gangsters with their Omerta and
so-called “honor” but the new version, typified by New York's
John Gotti, was foolishly flamboyant, way too public, courting the
media, public and ostentatious spending, seeking celebrity...
obviously bringing attention to themselves in ways that would
advantage the authorities who wanted to bring them down. Omerta of
course was the code of silence practiced by the older generation but
suddenly, facing life in prison, many criminals, even high-ranking
Cosa Nostra made members, did deals with prosecutors that
decimated the ranks. There certainly was no lack of replacements but
it was becoming more and more stressful and risky to pursue
criminality for profit. The deal-making with authorities became quite
contagious and, at least for awhile, the Philadelphia mob was in
government made a deal with the highest ranking mobster in
Philadelphia to testify against his former cronies, which didn't work
out so well for the government. Juries returned “not proven”
verdicts on all charges dependent on boss Ralph Natale's testimony.
The government had Natale but gave it up for nothing, as it turned
out. The big boss is handed a get-out-of-jail-free card. Ron Previte
however, with his tapes, was more successful, putting many of the
crew in for relatively long terms. They were not convicted of the
murders they were surely guilty of, disappointing the prosecutors and
FBI, having traded the top boss for a chance at the others,
especially the real boss, Joey Merlino. They did however put
top cadre away for a good many years, 14 for Merlino, not enough
given his crimes, but still... and the Feds were moving in on the
replacement boss, Joe Ligambi, now presiding over only about a dozen
members, down from 70. And the 300 pound “fat rat”, Ron Previte?
Five years probation and a million dollars for risking his life to
make those recordings. Of course the vacuum created by good police
work was soon filled by Russian and East European gangsters, another
the facts about the effects of the livestock industry on the life
system, our health and the animals, meat-eaters are nudged toward
vegetarianism, vegetarians towards veganism. Denial of course kicks
in quickly for many. Given the facts about nuclear power and weapons,
the devastating accidents, already upon us and hanging over us always
potentially, with its expense, its mind-bogglingly long-term waste,
its devilishly complicated design and proliferation issues, the
average person shudders and takes a stand against. The average
nuclear physicist or technician, enthralled with the intricate
technical challenges, may acknowledge the dangers and expense but in
the end, overwhelmingly, like the meat-eater, comes down in favor.
comes down James Mahaffey in his book, Atomic Accidents, A History
of Nuclear Meltdowns and Disasters. Despite Three Mile Island,
Chernobyl and now Fukushima (and many others), all discussed quite
objectively in the book, with just the slightest pro-nuke coloration,
he jumps to a conclusion little different than the propaganda we've
heard over the years. True, he is grounded in knowledge that allows
him to pounce upon mis-readings and misunderstandings among the
non-scientist opposition but still, we're talking about boiling water
here. Well, and destroying civilization - the slow way or the fast
way. But to the scientist, all this is understandably fascinating.
It's a bit like religion. The first one that gets ahold of you, you
usually stick to. Why isn't the challenge of intermittency for solar
and wind as fascinating a challenge? Seems reasonable to assume that
it could be met given the billions spent on nuclear. Some claim that
it is already met. See Arjun Makhijani's, Carbon-Free and
Nuclear-Free, A Roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy, a free download
at IEER.org (Institute for Energy & Environmental Research). Then
there is the disturbing fact Harvey Wasserman points out, that every
nuclear reactor is a pre-positioned nuclear device to a terrorist.
Bryson is an entertaining writer. His, A Brief History of Nearly
Everything starts out by explaining that the Universe as we know
it is rather roomy. And he does try to cover everthing the
development of science has revealed. To keep it interesting he often
lingers on dramatic threats, like the fact that the whole of
Yellowstone is a potential magma explosion, perhaps relieved or
delayed by the effusions of Old Faithful and the like. Were the
explosion to occur we would have basically the same effect as nuclear
winter with a massive dust cloud blocking the sun for longer than
civilization can probably stand, at least the U.S. version. And this
explosion happens to be well overdue if you believe in geologic
patterns. His One Summer is lighter fare. Everything in the
book pivots from some event that happened in the summer of 1927.
Lindberg's crossing the Atlantic, Al Capone's corrupting presence in
Chicago, talking movies, broadway plays and the exodus to Hollywood
of its finest actors, Henry Ford's Model T and A, the decisions that
locked in the coming stock market crash, Coolidge, Hoover and
Roosevelt. And, as they say, more! A very fun read for your beach
I had heard somehow of the book by Samuel Butler, The Way of All
Flesh. At one time I scoured yard sales picking up paperback
classics by anyone I ever heard of in the great book department. This
I recently found in my collection, so yellowed and brittle that,
after a few pages I decided to get a hardback copy from the library.
I even wrote a song, stealing the title without having read it in
1990, The Way of the Flesh (see
Well I've always been impressed by people who can talk, or write
and this guy, Sam Butler is one, not as witty perhaps as Sam Clemens,
but still, eloquent and knowledgeable enough to impress me, and keep
me reading. He is constantly meandering off his story with little
asides exploring human psychology, usually ending with an
indeterminate dismissal of the subject as hopelessly controversial.
As I'm only a few chapters into it I have little to report other than
it fits into the late 19th century oeuvre of master
writers, some claiming it as standing very near the tippy top of the
of eloguence and mastery of language, I seem to remember an early
television series called O. Henry, based on his short stories
(real name William Sidney Porter). The writer, similar approximate
time-frame to Butler, interestingly spent some time in prison where
he began to develop the craft of, as my friend Jim Marsh calls it,
scribbling. Poor bloke had only ten years to write, dying with 23
cents in his pocket. I put one of his books on library hold and when
I picked it up needed help to carry it to the car. I can only take it
a short story at a time for it weighs heavily on my lap. I've
developed a callous and a crink in my left hand holding it up,
turning the pages with my right. So far it is situated in Central
America where the author spent some time. He is noted for his kind of
Rod Serling-esgue twists in the endings without the metaphysical
aspect. I am going to have to renew this one more than once, coming
in at 1400 pages.
end this sojourn with a reference to the new James Gallant e-book
I've acquired, Whatever Happened to Ohio?. It has a wonderful
hot-air baloon cover image to kind of lure you into the whimsical
fantasy aspect of the tale. Said tale is highly populated, shifting
from character to character in a tentativly bewildering mix which I
trust, knowing Gallant's skills, will evolve into some mightily
interesting, clever and satisfying resolution. The proof is in his
earlier book, The Big Bust at Tyrone's Rooming House, set in
my Atlanta neighborhood.
This is the first e-book I've read and I do declare, it has some
appealing features. It certainly isn't heavy in my lap.
Lofgren's Deep State does not, as I expected, delve into the
secretive intelligence agencies but rather studies the mostly
corporate oligarchy, their lobbyists and the bureacracy whose prime
motivation is job security and advancement. Such factions are served
by policies that perpetuate the status quo and resist reform. Whether
these policies promote the general welfare is a matter of
indifference, if not hostility to the players. The CIA, NSA etc; have
their role but as servants not masters. Lofgren's very nicely written
prose is embedded with intriquing and devastating tidbits on the Deep
State, like these:
28 years as congressional staff member I increasingly viewed all
political ideologies as mental and emotional crutches, substitute
religions: for leaders, a means of manpulating attitudes and
behaviors; for the rank and file, a lazy surrogate for problem
solving and a way of fulfilling the craving to belong to something
bigger than oneself.
of the House Newt Gingrich employed chaos, polarization and
scapegoating to carry out a divide-and-rule strategy, destroying
what bi-partisanship had existed previously.
clique of neoconservative ideologues, both inside and outside the
Bush administration, abetted at every step by the mainstream media,
acted as carnival barkers for the most destructive and
self-defeating policies since Vietnam.
told whoever would listen that the “slam dunk” evidence of
Hussein's weapons of mass destruction was weak and that by invading
Iraq the U.S. might be purchasing its very own West Bank on
steroids. The total bill for Iraq summed up to a nice, round
U.S. economy was mutating into a casino with a tilted wheel, a Wall
Street constructed heads-I-win-tails-you-lose Ponzi scheme resulting
in the meltdown of 2008.
twin shocks of 9/11 and the Great Recession seem mentally to have
unhinged a portion of the people and much of the political class.
Thus followed crazy arguments about the president's birth
certificate, death panels and voters shouting that the government
must get its hands off their government-provided Medicare.
new crop of Tea Party freshman announced that their first priority
was to drive the country into a sovereign debt default. The circus
was being run from the monkey cage.
venerable institutions have outwardly remained the same but they
have grown more and more resistant to the popular will as they have
become hardwired into a corporate and private influence network with
almost unlimited cash to enforce its will.
rural counties of West Virginia and eastern Kentucky, large areas of
Detroit, Cleveland, Camden and many other U.S. cities, qualify as
third-world. At the same time, wealth beyond computation piles up in
the money center of New York and the technology hub of Palo Alto,
enough to purchase a $95,000 truffle, a $38 million vintage Ferrari
or $179 million Picasso before the balance is parked in an off-shore
are symptoms of a shadow government that pays little heed to the
plain words of the Constitution.
Deep State is the red thread that runs through the war on terrorism,
militarization of foreign policy, financialization and
deindustrialization of the U.S. economy and the rise of plutocracy.
tidbit also from the book is that the author is a former Reaganite
whose 28 years on the Hill gave him a close-up of the
sausage-making, which tranformed (radicalized) the way he saw the
world. The above bullet points all come from the first 5 pages of
the introduction. The book is full of them. Here are a few more or
less randomly selected from deeper in:
Kennedy quote, “D.C. Is a town of northern charm and southern
efficiency.”, injects a little humor to the discouraging list.
Ervin the much-loved, Shakespeare-quoting chair of the Senate
Judiciary Committee Watergate hearings was also the author of The
Southern Manifesto, a document urging defiance of the 1954 Brown
v. Board of Education.
who bray about “family values” fail to consider that the modern
U.S. economy is increasingly unable to deliver the stable, well-paid
jobs, medical insurance and family leave that make such a way of
are too busy raising money and looking over their shoulder to do
frequent points during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, the
tongue-tied George W. Bush sorely needed the mellifluous double-talk
of British prime minister Tony Blair, on the theory that nothing
sells hideously awful policy as well as an Oxford accent.
the American people did not voluntarily give informed consent to the
web of unaccountable influence that radiates from Washington and
permeates the country, then their passive acquiescence, aided by
false appeals to patriotism and occasional doses of fear, surely
played a role.
lot of money is changing hands, both in campaign fund-raising and
honararia to government personnel whose “distinguished” careers
set them up for a payday beyond imagining for most U.S. citizens.
Obama, for once, sought a negotiated solution to a problem in the
Middle East rather than unilaterally employing force, Republicans
presented a nearly united wall of opposition.
the citizens of the U.S. consciously decide with their votes that
the safety of their drinking water is a lesser priority than
delivering suitcases of off-the-books cash to a corrupt satrap
entertaining bullet points are merely a sampling of the multitude of
mixed joys you'll encounter in the writing of this career bureaucrat,
before he sets down some suggestions as to what it might take to
overcome the latest guilded age. The first on that 9 item list is
“Eliminate private money from public elections.” The others are:
sensibly downsize and redeploy the military and intelligence complex;
stay out of the Middle East; redirect the peace dividend to domestic
infrastructure improvement; enforce antitrust laws; reform tax policy
(to get corporations paying their share); reform immigration policy;
adopt a single-payer health care system; abolish corporate personhood
status. He details those proposals and closes his book on an
optimistic note – We are situated to where we can turn this around,
despite our many institutional flaws and the accretion of ideological
myths that have impaired our ability to see the world as it is and
live sensibly and peacably within it.
a conservative Reagan appointee to this list of recommendations is
quite a leap and exactly the transformation needed for a critical
mass of the remaining Reaganites and fellow travelers, if we are to
avoid social and environmental catastrophe.
subject of Sapiens is a trifle broad, covering as it does, beginning
at the beginning, Big Bang and what followed - being physics,
chemistry, biology and finally culture, throwing in everything but
the kitchen sink, though it is implied.
evolution had produced, according to Harari, the last common
Grandmother of Chimpanzees and humans, we emerged as the genus Homo,
breaking into several main camps - Erectus, Rudolfensis,
Neanderthalensis and Sapiens, with other short-lived (relatively
speaking) members who didn't make it. Of course, neither did the main
ones, except for a ferocious serial killer called Homo Sapien. Harari
accuses this group, us, of virtual genocide in bringing to extinction
the other members as well as hoards of other species and genera.
can keep your left thumb marking the timeline just before the first
chapter. It informs us that the Universe has been expanding for 13.5
billion years, the earth settled in around 4.5 billion, a billion
years later organisms emerged, and the genus Homo appeared about 2.5
million. Homo Sapien comes in at 200,000 years and their (our)
cognitive revolution at 70,000. A lot of this stuff you, as a casual
reader, have to, like the Trump follower, take on faith, trust the
experts, although in this case the “experts” have credibility.
timeframe in question here is divided up into major revolutions by
the author – after hunting and foraging for a few million years
someone got the fateful idea, about 12,000 years back, to have an
Agricultural Revolution, with its domestication of plants and
animals. This was gradual, despite my wit but carried on until the
Scientific Revolution of only 500 years ago. What made these
revolutions possible also sealed the extinction of the other members
of the Homo club, what Harari calls the Cognitive Revolution of about
70,000 years back. This DNA mutation or whatever, enabled Homo Sapien
to imagine, which enabled complex social structures. Sapien
was no match, one to one, for the stronger Neanderthal but the
capacity to imagine, to “fictionalize”, gave us a fatal, for
them, advantage. And it laid the ground for our own successor, the
non-biological being we are about to create. Harari leads us to this
argument but puts off the sales job to his next book, Homo Deus.
that is an impressive feat, to have another book to follow this
comprehensive, dense look at our journey. I would have thought he'd
be exhausted and at most, ferreting around for the energy to begin to
research his next scholarly project. The guy has already done it. But
back to this one. He throws in interesting details like, it took
300,000 years for the daily use of fire to become routine. There is
a persuasive description of how animals became domesticated. He
credits the quirky adoption, in Western Europe, of an attitude of
incomplete knowledge, curiosity, with its eventual dominance, in the
form of a capitalist colonialism. That colonialism was (is) cruel
with dire consequences AND he would argue, benefits. The mindset
retrieved lost knowledge of India's past civilizations, for example,
and united a diverse array of people into the present state of India.
It also engaged in some serious drug dealing, even going to war with
China for its right to sell opium there, gaining also the long-term
lease of what came to be Hong Kong.
likes to challenge convention, provoke a little controversy. He
suggests that Homo Sapien was more content in the days of
hunting/gathering, had more leisure and enjoyment whereas the
agricultural life brought us tedium and long work days, extending
down the long line to our own over-scheduled lives. He argues that
the ability to imagine myths and religions, beliefs, enabled Sapiens
to create large cities and empires, something the pre-cognitive
peoples lacked. This short-coming limited the size of a band of
foragers to less than 150 members. He lays out some perfectly
arbitrary and ridiculous beliefs, contrasts them with contemporary
thought and suggests that they serve the same function. When someone
says they love their country they don't realize that the whole thing
is fiction, the “country” is an arbitrary area. That the value of
money or property are completely fictive, unreal. He sketches the
development of money from early barley to coinage to electronic
transfer of funds around the planet, all imaginary and based on
trust. Despite the “truth or not” of these beliefs, they unify,
provide the cohesion necessary for a society to thrive, even if it's
only an elite who actually prospers.
of controversy, Harari describes Sapien as a vicious, efficient
serial killer. He backs this up by showing that we had reached the
far corners of the earth, spread from Africa, across Europe and Asia,
to Australia, to the tip of South America by 10,000 BC. Wherever we
went, vast numbers of other species went extinct. This trend
continues though of course, like a virulent parasite, we insure our
own demise when we kill our host. We have grown in numbers from one
million 150,000 years ago to today's near 7 billion, crowding other
species out, with our numbers and with our domestication and thus
proliferation of certain species ie, chickens, cows, pigs. All
with two colleagues, in the late 90s, I attended a 5 day course
called Living on the Edge of Evolution. We covered much of the
same ground as Sapiens and there was an emphasis on values.
What values brought us to this moment in time? What values do we need
to adopt to survive the fate our current values are bringing us to
ie, nuclear holocaust, polluted life system, over-population? The
three of us returned to Atlanta and did several 7 week workshops
using the template of that training in California. The workshops
culminated in intensive weekends in North Georgia where we all left
rejuvenated and optimistic about the future of Sapiens and the life
system. Little did we know what was coming in the Bush/Cheney
administrations, the disappointing Obama presidency and now, the
author's notion of where Sapien is heading does not cheer me up
either. When I think of how empires have treated their new subjects,
how corporate raiders treat their acquisitions, how the patriarchy
treats women, minorities, slaves... I fear for the people of my home
country when the next empire rumbles into town, China perhaps,
Harari's notion of AI (artificial intellegence) a non-biology critter
or an advanced culture from another galaxy or dimension. We can hope,
despite discouraging precedent, that they will break with the
historical record and come with beneficial intentions. It could, and
should, happen from within but in these discouraging times it is hard
to muster the imagination in that direction.
citizen who identifies with the current leadership supposes that that
leadership represents their interests. Why? Probably because the
leadership seems to mouth important shared values. One way for the
ordinary citizen to free themselves from this association, which I
suggest is actually NOT in that citizen's interests, is to examine
those supposed shared values – racism for example. The average
citizen actually has more in common with workers of other races,
ethnicities and nations than with the so-called leadership and those
who control them, the 1%.
Edwardo Galeano has written a Latin American equivalent of Howard Zinn's People's History of the U.S. As difficult as it has been for the subject of Zinn's book, not your generals and presidents but the people, ordinary workers, the plight of Latin America's people has been much harsher. More akin to the victims of slavery and the land-stealing expansion and massacre of Native Americans. The ruling class in the U.S., or much of it, currently aspires to total control whereas the rulers of our southern neighbors have had it from day one. First the native population was coopted, enslaved and slaughtered. Then came that part of the population not deft, clever, well-placed or ruthless enough to insinuate themselves into the local elite. Slavery, slaughter, hunger and merciless exploitation has been the daily grind of those unfortunates.
Galeano points out that the settlers of the U.S. had to eck out a way to survive, taking cues from the natives at first who knew how to do it. Since there were no particularly desireable resources, like the gold of South Amercia, to hypnotize European royalty, North America became primarily a dumping ground for Europe's access population. The fiercest focus of exploitation was where the gold was, at first, then various natural resources. So, by a sort of distraction the colonies developed an independence not tolerated in the south. Even later, with the settlement of the west, the general population rather than an elite was given land. If they worked it successfully they prospered, or at least survived. With the southern model, workers did not own land but were viewed as disposable slaves or cheap labor, working it for the owners. The owners were sub-colonialists for the European masters. This accounts for the greater prosperity of the north, according to Galeano. This prosperity, obviously, excluded the original inhabitants and slaves, a legacy of unimaginable injustice that lives on, nurtured by white privilege and class division. The 1% profited from the scourge of slavery and continues to profit from the division caused by racism and an abysmal ignorance.
This was the situation in Latin America, colonialism. With national independence a neo-colonialism emerged where a local elite thrived serving the European manipulators, exchanging local resources and cheap labor, for luxury imports and a privileged life. The slaves and later the peasants were kept in line by the usual methods - the whip, the overseer, the police and army. One exception occurred but like the French Revolution, was soon crushed by surrounding nations, threatened by a “bad” example. Paraguay came under the dictatorship of Gaspar Rodriguez de Francia who reversed the usual state of affairs. Torture, prison, police and death squads were put to work but this time against the oligarchy instead of dissidents in the general population. Land reform, locally beneficial projects, industry were all developed for a truly independent Paraguay, escaping the colonialism directed by Eurpoean business interests. These by the way, were primarily British. Even when the gold was flowing to Spain and Portugal, the lion's share ended up in Britain via their business acumen versus the royal families' aristocratic, decadent and unsustainable wars and lifestyles. These frivolous values were exported of course to Latin America, mirrored in elite rule and mass poverty. The Paraguayan experiment lasted from 1814 – 1840 under Gaspar and to about 1865 under his successors who continued and vitalized the policies. Travelers of the times remarked that Paraquay lacked beggars, thieves, hunger, illiteracy and great fortunes held by oligarchs.
Brazil and Argentina, threatened by the subversion of this “bad apple”, invaded Uruguay and from there Paraquay, putting a stop to the experiment in the most decisive and ruthless manner, returning the country to the fold of cheap labor, export economy, elite rule and a seriously outta luck peasantry. The true winner in this endeavor was neither Brazil nor Argentina but British bankers who funded the war, leaving both countries deeply in debt. Eventually Latin America left the British orbit, only to be captured by the U.S. as it became the dominant imperialist power. Remember the Monroe Doctrine?
There have been some hopeful developments since Galeano's book was published in 1971 – Chavez, Castro, Nicaragua but on the whole the oligarchy beats back any threat. The U.S. (under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the “liberal” President Obama) was quick to recognize a coup in Honduras that overthrew a democratically elected president on flimsy pretenses, paid mercenaries, terrorists really, to turn back Nicaragua's revolution under Reagan, and of course has been illegally attacking and undermining Cuba since 1959, meddling with Venezuela's attempts to extricate itself from colonialism and supported oppressive regimes and coups all over Central and South America. This is the force running through not just Latin America's history but the world's... a force that has mostly, but not always, overwhelmed the resistance that arises to its injustice. This is the cancerous force that must be subdued if our species is to have any hope of surviving. It is out there, yes, but it is also in here, and seductive. Though it is another discussion, the struggle between greed and justice can be reduced to the question of who will dominate, both personally and societal, ego or presence.
Post Script: Venezuela's President Chavez handed Obama a copy of Open Veins at a function. Obama later said, to his shame, "He can give it to me but I don't have to read it."
Is Not Enough, Resisting Trump's Shock
Politics and Winning the World We Need, Naomi Klein
In her book Naomi Klein refers back to her No Logo, to talk about Trump's early recognition of the business idea to, instead of selling products, objects, sell a brand. His outrageous behavior got him attention and that helped build the Trump brand. Marketing the brand brought him millions and, the cherry on top, the presidency – where he continues his same outsized strategy. He didn't have to pursue far right values but those values seem to accompany an all-that-matters-is-money logic. Given the stories about his refusing to pay contractors, coming out on top of deals with little regard for ethics or fairness, bankruptcies, it is quite astonishing that voters would expect him to suddenly display benevolent behavior toward them. He railed against the loss of manufacturing jobs in the U.S. but his brands were all outsourced. The recent tax bill is another instance of blatant betrayal. Another consequence of, and motivation for, this bill is that increasing the national debt makes the kind of social programs the Right disapproves of unaffordable. I suppose you have to factor in the alienation, the anti-establishment to-hell-with-it attitude of frustrated working people feeling financial vulnerability bearing down on them without a clear idea that it's coming from predatory capitalism. And there's the Fox News factor. Who was it said when a Faux News figure moved to work for the Bush Administration, “The merger of the Republican party with Fox News is now complete.” The anomie is shifted, with the help of these unscrupulous zealots, to immigrants, minorities, liberals or some other scapecoat. The “smart” con man worked this field with impressive results.
Klein references her important book Shock Doctrine, to warn that the agenda now being pursued works best under cover of some crisis. They're going full bore but the resistance is always easier to overcome when some dramatic smokescreen is available. The Patriot Act was rammed through congress with hardly a dissenting voice in the aftermath of the 911 crisis, a bill that gave the executive branch grave undemocratic powers. The author hopefully postulates that it is harder to use the shock doctrine, or crisis capitalism, when the population has already been shaken down. The right wing Spanish government, for example, attempted to use a bombing in a Madrid subway to herd the population toward its agenda but that attempt backfired because, Klein claims, the populace had already been manipulated by the right such that they could see it coming. They promptly threw that government out of office and pulled Spanish troops out of Iraq. Other examples are given to encourage U.S. citizens to be prepared for the likelihood that Trump will create or use any crisis that might arise to advance those parts of his agenda that ordinarily would be strongly resisted. Like rolling back social security, something the right resisted at its creation and has been yearning to repeal ever since.
Although nuclear war, accidental or not, and over-population are very real threats to our civilization, the most urgent in Klein's view is climate change. It is disheartening in the extreme then to consider Trump's appointments to cabinet positions, climate deniers one and all. Rex Tillerson of Exxon, Secretary of State? Jeff Sessions, known racist, Attorney General? Scott Pruitt, EPA Administrator, known for his cosy relations with fossil fuels industry? Rick Perry, Energy Secretary, the guy whose position, during the presidential campaign, was that the department should be eliminated? Goldman Sacks in all things financial? The fox in the hen house, as the saying goes.
And there are those deluded souls who believe that they can turn a profit from war. War also is one of those crisies behind which much profitable mischief can be carried out. It provides a nice distraction. Clinton attempted to deflect attention away from his, ah, problems, by bombing a pharmaceutical plant in Africa, pretending it was a bomb plant. Bush/Cheney were under investigation for insider trading when “patriotism” required disappearance of such investigation when the good ol' boys invaded Iraq. Hopefully we have been conned enough to meet the next one with an effective skepticism.
Naomi suggests that the aesthetics of branding is Dynasty-meets-Louis XIV.... gold and flash. Trump's brand is the ultimate boss who can do whatever he wants, as exampled by his own boasting about grabbing whoever he wants wherever he wants. What might have been scandalous in the pre-branding era, is now just proof of being a “winner” in the power/wealth game. Someone gets stepped on? More proof. Being entirely amoral, he thinks he can get away with anything. Being president is the ultimate branding tool. Mar-a-lago has doubled its membership fees to $200,000. The president meets there with world leaders. His children meet with them and cut deals. So the presidency and U.S. government are now a for-profit family business. Where can the ego go from here?
Reagan began de-regulation with a vengeance, Clinton, Bush and Obama enabled it further. Klein notes that this is a wholesale disparaging of the public sphere. Deregulation was like fertilizer for Trump and he is pushing it, if we-the-public let him, to where it will be irreversible.