Ah, But the Media CAN be Controlled, and is

Donald Trump has announced that he will take a pass on the Republican Debate tomorrow night, perhaps even staging a debate independently in the same timeframe. Ostensibly this is because he feels he cannot be treated fairly by Fox News. Anchorwoman Megyn Kelly said on the air words to the effect that … the media cannot be controlled … presumably to show how independent Fox News really is.

Absurdly, and sadly, exactly the opposite is true. The media, mainstream and otherwise, chase ratings, and Fox News and all other major cable news media are controlled these days by Trump. There is no way that these media can bring themselves to cover anything other than Trump’s latest nonsense until they feel they have exhausted whatever Trump is saying currently. The media have given over more air time to Trump than to all other presidential candidates combined. Is this their idea of media control? Alas, they cover Trump because that is what everyone else is doing.

The least important goal for the media, especially cable media, is transmit news. If in their quest for ratings, consequently maximizing revenues, they should happen to give out some useful information, well, so be it. In any event, it will be difficult to discern such information, awash as the screen, the airtime, is with commercials. The same damn commercials over and over. A reasonable person can either scream or turn the machine off. The so-called news media are not, they are profit generating vehicles. They apparently believe that the best current way to said profit is to fawn over Trump. It’s truly pathetic. Such is the stranglehold the corporate world holds over the American “culture.”

Need More Proof? Commerce and Climate Change.

Today, March 31, 2014, the IPCC released its latest report about climate change. As I was making my bed, I chanced to have the Weather Channel playing on my television. The “meteorologist” was interviewing a scientist who was part of the IPCC and was offering his take on what the report reported. He went through the findings of the report about Climate Change, and was about to speak about what could be done about it. The “meteorologist” interrupted him in mid-sentence, and cut him off. This pressing need to interrupt was so that a commercial about a palliative for heartburn, then something to end your constipation could be shown. Commerce, always. The greed and hubris of capitalism writ large. Profit is far more important than the end of the world as we know it.

National Security? What’s That?

We hear talk unendingly about “National Security” but I for one have never heard a coherent definition of just what is meant by the term. No definition, that is, beyond the entirely fatuous and unbelievably vague assertion that it is whatever those in power want it to be. Anything that is counter to the will and the wishes of those who hold us in thrall is to them a threat to National Security. But that is no definition at all. Were the idea of National Security ever to be given cogent expression, those who pretend to be our leaders would lose the arbitrary power to control us at will.
The National Security is a chimera used as a way of cowing the citizenry. No one can actually give the term meaningful expression. Most frequently it is used to keep secret the myriad ways in which the government and its minions are gradually pressing ordinary citizens further and further under their proverbial thumb. How can ordinary (that is, those not part of the National Security apparatus) ever call into question anything the apparatus may do without fear of retaliation by any of numberless means?
The whole idea of National Security, although conceivably reasonable in some situations, is purely and simply a means of control of the general population by the corporate and militarist state. The mechanisms by which what one might call πλούσιος πολλοί keep the rest of us, οι πολλοί subservient are several. (Don’t call me out on the Greek, I’m just amusing myself with these terms.) The oldest is simply through the Constitution, reverence for which is truly religious. The government of the United States was never intended to work to the advantage of most of the population. Originally only rich landed white men were intended. Nominally this has been modified to include others, but the rights of these others are severely circumscribed. The hallowed system of checks and balances actually serves to keep progress and change at bay. Latterly the rise of the corporate state has helped to fill in the gaps wherein Constitutional remedies actually functioned. Finally, a new branch of government, what Tom Englehardt calls the National Security State, has arisen seemingly from nothing to become the most powerful of all. The NSS comprises the NSA and the military, with the collusion of Congress, the Judiciary, and POTUS, as an entity answering to no one but themselves. I refer the reader to the writings of Daniel Lazare, Chris Hedges, and Tom Englehardt for fuller exposition of these phenomena.
Whatever, the fact remains that no one can clearly define what National Security actually is, except to say that it has become the only thing that counts. Through it are justified war, torture, murder, assassination, slavery, both economic and physical, dissolution of human rights and much more, not the least of which is transfer of wealth from poor schmucks like us to the usurpers.

We hear talk unendingly about “National Security” but I for one have never heard a coherent definition of just what is meant by the term. No definition, that is, beyond the entirely fatuous and unbelievably vague assertion that it is whatever those in power want it to be. Anything that is counter to the will and the wishes of those who hold us in thrall is to them a threat to National Security. But that is no definition at all. Were the idea of National Security ever to be given cogent expression, those who pretend to be our leaders would lose the arbitrary power to control us at will.

The National Security is a chimera used as a way of cowing the citizenry. No one can actually give the term meaningful expression. Most frequently it is used to keep secret the myriad ways in which the government and its minions are gradually pressing ordinary citizens further and further under their proverbial thumb. How can ordinary (that is, those not part of the National Security apparatus) ever call into question anything the apparatus may do without fear of retaliation by any of numberless means?

The whole idea of National Security, although conceivably reasonable in some situations, is purely and simply a means of control of the general population by the corporate and militarist state. The mechanisms by which what one might call πλούσιος πολλοί keep the rest of us, οι πολλοί subservient are several. (Don’t call me out on the Greek, I’m just amusing myself with these terms.) The oldest is simply through the Constitution, reverence for which is truly religious. The government of the United States was never intended to work to the advantage of most of the population. Originally only rich landed white men were intended. Nominally this has been modified to include others, but the rights of these others are severely circumscribed. The hallowed system of checks and balances actually serves to keep progress and change at bay. Latterly the rise of the corporate state has helped to fill in the gaps wherein Constitutional remedies actually functioned. Finally, a new branch of government, what Tom Englehardt calls the National Security State, has arisen seemingly from nothing to become the most powerful of all. The NSS comprises the NSA and the military, with the collusion of Congress, the Judiciary, and POTUS, as an entity answering to no one but themselves. I refer the reader to the writings of Daniel Lazare, Chris Hedges, and Tom Englehardt for fuller exposition of these phenomena. References will be added in a day or two, but I’m under the weather today.

Whatever, the fact remains that no one can clearly define what National Security actually is, except to say that it has become the only thing that counts. Through it are justified war, torture, murder, assassination, slavery, both economic and physical, dissolution of human rights and much more, not the least of which is transfer of wealth from poor schmucks like us to the usurpers.

Notes on Talk of Bombing Syria.

N.B.: This post is perhaps no longer as topical as it was a month ago, but I stand by the sentiments.

Truthdig announced as “Truthdigger of the Week” for September 1, 2013 all those who remain skeptical about the claims by the Obama administration regarding the use of sarin gas by the Syrian military against civilians and others. Truthdig regards this skepticism as useful and positive not because they know Syria did not carry out such an attack, but rather because the evidence proferred by the administration was not sufficiently solid to warrant a bombing attack by U.S. forces against targets held by the Assad government.

As it turns out, such a bombing was avoided due to numerous factors not needing explanation in the context of what is bothering me. All the “debate” in the media and elsewhere has been about the veracity of the allegations, and the consequences, good or bad, were the bombing to take place. My concern lies elsewhere.

Truthdigger? Well, yes. I’m now an old man, but not yet doddering. I remember the Gulf of Tonkin “incident” when I told anyone who would listen how phony the propaganda played. I told anyone who would listen that Nixon had no intention at all of ending the genocide in VietNam. And on and on. In ’91 I told anyone who would listen that the Gulf War would be a dark day indeed in human history. Again in ’02 and ’03 on the streets of Washington and New York telling anyone who would listen that Bush’s rush to war was entirely fake, a bundle of lies. When Obama was elected I so desperately wanted to believe the lies he told, but again, I told anyone who would listen that now-President Obama was not about to give up any of the imperial powers collected by Bush. And that’s the short list. The track record of the U.S. government is not enviable, to say the least.

When I was in graduate school at Michigan in the early sixties I took a microbiology course from a professor who admonished his students to always be skeptical about any new information received. I took it to heart. But for present purposes let me grant for argument’s sake that Assad really did do the dirty deed. Is the U.S. entitled to drop bombs in such circumstances?

I am not a pacifist, although I sometimes feel I should be. As for the mess in Syria, or any other move to violence, I hold that the U.S. government, in whatever form you envision it, will be entitled even to consider such action only when it apologizes for the genocide of two million in VietNam, when it apologizes for the entirely covert current move into Honduras, when it apologizes for the genocide of Native Americans, when it apologizes for the deliberate use of terrorism in the incendiary bombings of Dresden, Hamburg, Berlin, Tokyo, and countless other German and Japanese cities in the “Good War,” when it apologizes for being the only government in human history to deliberately use nuclear weapons, both on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and later in the deployment of depleted uranium, when it apologizes for carpet bombing of the helpless of Afghanistan and Iraq, when it apologizes for the countless ways it relentlessly oppresses the citizens of the world through its overt and covert military and spy apparatuses. And that’s just the short list.

In the many comments to the Truthdig article, only a few, a blessed few, refer disapprovingly to the long history of oppression and genocide by U.S. power. God bless those few. Pick your own god.

Violence, love of violence and the attendant power, is an addiction. So also is sin, however one may define this loaded term, in general. Sri Ramakrishna, the great nineteenth century Indian mystic, wrote in his “Gospel,” “A bath in the Ganges undoubtedly absolves one of all sins; but what does that avail? They say that the sins perch on the trees along the banks of the Ganges. No sooner does the man come back from the holy waters than the old sins jump on his shoulders from the trees. The same old sins take possession of him again. He is hardly out of the water before they fall upon him.”

Just so for mankind. We fall into sin or its secular equivalent, and willingly. We become what we profess to revile, despite the warnings of Kurt Vonnegut. And we kill. We are killing now. And it is done in the name of mercy, in the name of righteousness, in the name of peace.

Right to Free Speech?

Defenders of the Constitutional right to First Amendment free speech are always quick to assert that the U.S. is a wonderful country because citizens have the right to disagree with their government without fear of reprisal. When Medea Benjamin stood up and spoke out during President Obama’s foreign policy speech on May 23 at the National Defense University (whew!), the President made the point that she was exercising her First Amendment right to speak her mind. Then Obama made the fatuous claim that he was doing the same, implying that their rights were equivalent. This brought thunderous applause, as the saying goes, from the audience.

What nonsense. The rights of Medea Benjamin are in no way even remotely comparable to those of a President of the United States. Obama made this ridiculous claim even as Ms. Benjamin was being forcibly escorted from the room. President Obama can command the attention of the media at any time, and the population at large usually has the option of listening in. Dissenters such as Ms. Benjamin have no such right. Often, she doesn’t even have the right to stand on a soapbox on a city corner with impunity. In some cities of this great nation, she would be summarily arrested, illegally of course, but arrested none the less.

In this country there is a broad right to speak freely about just about any subject, but there is no right to be heard, that is to have a venue to make such free speech meaningful. The President can call a press conference and always be guaranteed an audience. Medea Benjamin has the right to call a press conference as well, but that doesn’t mean anyone will show up. Even I have a right to call a press conference, but it is certain that no one will show up to hear me.

The plain truth is that in practice, this right exists so long as your expression of it doesn’t make a difference. There are many clear examples of this. The Occupy Movement, according to an increasing number of citizens, was beginning to make a difference. Their campaign was attracting attention, and worse, from the point of view of those holding power, more and more people were beginning to agree with them. Try to find the Occupy Movement today. The Movement continues on Web sites and such, but effectively they were stripped of all means of expression of free speech by the imperial corporate state, in accordance with the corporate powers that are really in control. There was no way that the power structure of this nation was going to allow the Occupy Movement to jeopardize the accumulation of profit.

Worse still, the government, and therefore the power lords, will have the right under the terms of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013 to detain U.S. citizens based on a suspicion that such persons might possibly commit some act of terrorism at some time in the future in the opinion of unspecified government “authorities,” presumably Homeland Security, CIA, FBI, NSA and such, although such power could conceivably reach to much lesser minions of the corporate state. No habeas corpus here. Under the circumstances of the Act a prisoner or detainee cannot petition if there is no way for a court even to know that a petitioner exists. This is Gitmo for the rest of us. Or worse, like disappearances in Argentina or Chile. Oh boy, are we in trouble, morally for the government and physically for just plain folks.

“National Security” has become the shibboleth for all manner of expression of state control over the population. A government agency has merely to claim that virtually any action is a threat to “national security” without proof or even definition of the term and therefore may be suppressed. “Action” does not necessarily involve physical acts. Conceivably expression of dissent may be so classified, and in fact often is.

Formally, citizens of the United States of America still have broad rights under the First Amendment. The Amendment reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Now, these rights are all subject to interpretation, and technically such interpretations fall under the aegis of the Supreme Court. Good luck.

This post conflates habeas corpus and the First Amendment. Yet they are connected in a practical sense. It is the erosion of habeas corpus that facilitates denial of free speech in the extreme. Lawyers could easily shred my layperson’s apprehension of these matters. They are good at that, especially when they want to exert control. Yet how far are we from the sort of society wherein police or military will break down doors in the night and spirit citizens away, never to be seen or heard from again?

Would You Rather?

Some Choices You Might Have

  • You’ve just met a woman or man who seems the embodiment of all you yearned for when you were young. Your heart beats with excitement, with the possibility that your life could be blissful, after all.
    Or would you rather have more money?
  • Perhaps you have a child who asks about suffering in the world, and wants to know how to change it. The child wants you to help transform the world.
    Or would you rather get a little richer?
  • Your spouse admits to a secret desire to lead a simpler life. S/he tries to convince you of the rightness of this course.
    But after all, you could make lots of cash if you continued working, working, only just a little bit harder.
  • You are sitting in your car on I-93, inching along toward a job that does not satisfy, in order to make enough money to buy the car that gets you to the job you hate.
    Does this make sense? Does it?

Morgan Stanley Gets Stronger, 1,000s “Cut”

According to my favorite source of news of the “progress” of the empire, The New York Times (All the News We See Fit to Print), reporting on page one of the business news for January 19, 2013, “Morgan Stanley has taken aggressive action to bolster profit. Over the last year, the Wall Street bank has cut thousands of employees, sold costly assets and retooled major businesses.” Furthermore, according to reporter Susanne Craig “Those efforts worked. In the fourth quarter, Morgan Stanley reported earnings of $481 million … . Profit was equally strong for the year.” Even so, analysts are not particularly impressed. For one thing, return on equity is not good enough.

Okay. I thought the big deal in improving the American economy was to create jobs. That’s what our President tells us, repeatedly. That’s what the Republicans promised if taxes for the rich, the “job creators,” were only lowered. Well, Wall Street has a different way of looking at things. This is, after all, finance capitalism we’re observing here. Anyone who has even casually perused this blog has an idea of my opinions regarding capitalism, especially finance capitalism. Return on equity not good enough? Hmm. Return on equity is just one of capitalism’s measures of profitability. And profits are all that counts.

Supposedly unemployment is a major worry about the health of the economy. Humph. Unemployment means nothing to the Masters of the Universe except insofar as it might be construed as affecting profits. The government makes a lot of noise about having a “jobs plan.” But if such a plan interferes with profits, well, jobs become an “externality.” The truth? Jobs are never anything more than an externality to the corporate state and its corporate masters. If profits can be improved by hiring, then there will be hiring. If carrying too many employees might possibly hurt profits, then there will be firings, not hirings. Capitalists like to assert they have a goal of increasing “productivity.” The usual measure of productivity (an imprecise term, despite economists and their particular brand of shenanigans) is “output per man-hour of direct labor.” Well, if goods could be produced without any direct labor at all, then productivity would be infinite! Surely a capitalist’s wet dream. No, capitalists, and thus the state as well, being a client of capitalism, care not a whit about workers, unless it be a political expedient. For these capitalist predators, creating jobs is OK, or at least tolerable until the power of the corporate state becomes absolute, so long as wages are pushed lower and lower.

Usury and Finance Capitalism

Usury, I believe, is forbidden by both the Bible and the Q’uran, but not by the state and by finance capitalism. I have written about this before, but the U.S. mail compels me to consider it again. In today’s mail is a missive from “the company ranked #1 in customer loyalty,” namely Discover card. Discover is offering me a credit card for which, it seems, I am “pre-approved.” The mailing lists the supposed advantages of accepting this card, which list makes the idea of having a Discover card tempting, or so they hope.

But it’s usury, nonetheless. Money costs big financial interests essentially nothing, as close to zero interest as you can get without actually being free. If I am to believe what I read in the newspapers, the government, or rather the Federal Reserve, which we all know has no connection with the government and is also fully independent of corporate and capitalist influence, has established this ultra-low discount rate, currently 0.75 percent, to encourage banks to lend money to consumers. This rate is the interest rate at which qualified banks or other financial institutions may borrow funds directly from a Federal Reserve bank. The Federal Funds Rate, the interest rate at which banks and other depository institutions lend money to each other, is even lower, at 0.25 percent. One can, indeed, after dizzying rounds of credit checks and other hoops, get a mortgage at about 3.25 percent, about prime, if your credit score is above 800.

But it’s usury when it comes to credit cards. Even though there was supposedly a credit card “reform” passed by Congress, the rates charged by credit cards are simply banditry. For example, the offer from Discover was magnanimous, a mere 16 to 19 percent! Oh, pardon me, 15.99 to 18.99 percent. Every once in a while I receive an offer from a credit card company to write a check to myself for which the interest rate is zero for a short period. Consumers, tempted to take advantage of such seeming largesse, and far too frequently drowning in debt, far too often do write such checks. Most probably fully intend to pay off this interest-free loan within the allotted time, but credit card companies don’t make such offers out of the goodness of their hearts. They know full well that most of these debts will not be paid off in time, and the interest on the balance will jump to the customary usurious rate. And it’s all perfectly legal. You tell me, whose interests is the state protecting here? Not mine, and not yours. The state is protecting finance capitalists, to whom the state is in thrall.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

How fascinating to contemplate that indeed “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” When the Defense Department banished the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, one might have thought that LGBTQ folks would be accepted in the armed forces. Fat chance. Obama might declare in his Inaugural Address that he believed that gays should be equal to straights in our society. Fat chance. In the New York Times of January 20, 2013 on the front page below the fold was an article “Military Rules Leave Gay Spouses Out in Cold.” The article, by Rachel L. Swarns, describes a female Army Lieutenant who, after returning from nine months in Afghanistan, “… signed up for a military retreat to help soldiers and their husbands and wives cope with the pressures of deployments and relocations.” Alas, the Lieutenant, legally married to another woman, and her spouse were denied permission to attend. The military chaplains running the program told the couple that their presence made the others uncomfortable. These men of the cloth apparently went to the trouble of determining that under federal law only heterosexuals couples could be helped with coping.

It is pathetic that these chaplains would do such a thing. Sadly, it is predictable that the end of “don’t ask, don’t tell” only meant that gays and lesbians would not be summarily discharged for being so. So, this lesbian woman, who apparently served honorably, would just have to cope on her own with such things as PTSD and other results of involvement, directly or indirectly, in killing other human beings.

Ah, me, the really distressing part of this story to my mind is the fact that the presence of gay or lesbian couples would make straight couples uncomfortable, and furthermore, rather than trying to deal with this psychological dysfunction, for that is what it is, the Armed Forces prefer to remove the irritant.

Well, it’s nothing new. Throughout history, serving in the military has been for far too many a means of proving “manhood.” One can only presume that such proof is desired because of insecurity. It’s like the middle aged, overweight, grey-bearded men riding their Harleys, invariably with open pipes. (I don’t buy the argument “loud pipes save lives” but I will concede that you know when they are coming.)

Voter ID Laws Amount to Unconstitutional Poll Taxes

With all the uproar about voter ID laws passed by conservative lawmakers, probably to suppress the minority vote, the assertions by progressives and liberals and such about why they should be defeated surprise me. These are principally that it places a hardship on the poor, the elderly, and others who might find it difficult to obtain the ID documents required by the laws. While this is generally true, to my mind it is not the best argument against such laws. All forms of ID required, to the best of my knowledge, involve the spending of considerable sums to obtain them. To me, a non-lawyer, this amounts to a poll tax, and is therefore unconstitutional. In my opinion, it’s as simple as that.