Friday, October 21, 2022

Fall Elections


We’ve just had national elections in Italy on 25 September 2022, and now we await the mid-term elections of 2022 in the USA. 

The Italian elections were called as soon as the newly elected Parliamentarians had served enough time in office to be assured of a Parliamentary pension.  That was foreseeable but the speed with which these snap elections were scheduled was not.  There was little time for campaigning and little was done.  In half a century I have never seen so little campaign publicity here.  Almost no posters or ads anywhere.  The current Italian organization of elections is virtually indecipherable, certainly to foreigners, but my impression is that few Italians have much of a clue as to how the system works either.  One mostly just votes for a party, but there are also preferences and politicians seem to be able to represent whatever city or region their party agrees to let them run in, with residency having nothing to do with it.

There are a large number of political parties but they tend to band together as parties of the center-right or the center-left.  Italy has suffered a great deal from the Covid pandemic and now, just when people have expected a recovery, the war in Ukraine has come along to devastate the economy even more than Covid.  The Draghi Government was something akin to a unity government, i.e. a government of unelected “technocrats” appointed to see the country through the Covid crisis.  Virtually all the major parties supported that government, with the exception of Giorgia Meloni’s Fratelli d’Italia.  While in the past this essentially right-wing party trailed behind the other two parties in the center-right alliance, the Lega, headed by Matteo Salvini and Forza Italia, headed by Silvio Berlusconi, this time she outpolled them with 26% compared to 8% for the Lega and 8% for Forza Italia, with their combined center-right taking something like 44% of the vote.  She may not have been a part of the Draghi Government but she did support its unconditional allegiance to NATO and the US, just like all the other parties.

The big losers were the Partito Democratico and its partners in the center-left coalition.  Its partners mostly consist of vanity parties, i.e. splinter parties formed by former leaders of the PD who thought they were better than the current leadership.  The center-left wound up with 26% of the vote.

That left the Five Star Movement, which only a couple of election cycles back came out of nowhere to become the party with the highest number of elected parliamentarians, as the only other significant element.  While the 5SM officially supported the Draghi Government, it split over the continued supply of weapons to Ukraine, with several of its members, who were ministers in the government, forming their own party, in a show of support for Draghi and the US government.  When riding high, the 5SM had accomplished two significant goals.  It passed legislation to cut Italy’s oversized Parliament by 40%, a change which goes into effect following the recent elections. It also passed the Reddito di Citidinanza, a measure by which people with limited means who apply, receive an income of €500./month.  The party was expected to do very badly in the recent elections, at least in part because of the anger generated in the north among people who work hard and still struggle to make a living.  However, the 5SM did remarkably well in the South where many people have benefitted from the boost to their typically low income.  The party polled 15% with the remaining 15% split between a center coalition and the other small parties.

There was some discussion on why there had not been faster action to make Italy independent in terms of energy and why renewable energy had not been a high priority of the government but the fact that the US sanctions, acquiesced to by the EU, had cut the available supply of energy practically over night by 40%, was rarely mentioned except by a few non-establishment journalists and a several renegade politicians.  Thus, the Italian public, which apparently opposed sending more weapons to Ukraine by something like 44 to 38%, had no political party representing their views on one of the most pressing issues of the day.

Italians usually have a large turnout in national elections.  This year was an exception with a 64% turnout, down from 73% in 2018 and 80% in 2008.  Non-voters outnumbered both the winning center-right coalition and the defeated center-left coalition.  There has been more noise about the election after it than there was before it took place.  Conventional establishment leftists are pulling their hair out because the country has been taken over by a party whose origins derive from the remnants of Mussolini supporters, while nobody cares to point out that originally of the Partito Democratico was the Partito Comunista Italiano, which supported Stalin and toasted the crushing of Hungary, long after the death of Mussolini.  Can people change and do they change? Much evidence suggests that they can.  The PD became the most extreme right party in Italy, at least with regard to economic issues, when Matteo Renzi attempted to push through a new Italian Constitution drawn up by JP Morgan with the paid consultancy of Tony Blair, in an effort to reduce the input of the Italian public on policy decisions. 

The recent elections took place on September 25th.  While the PD had become the most vociferous supporter of Ukraine and NATO prior to the elections, by October 6th or 7th the newly resigned PD Secretary was calling for demonstrations demanding negotiations leading to peace, as people were already in the streets burning their electric bills and to refusing to pay what in essence were well beyond their ability to pay.  Unfortunately, ex-Secretary Letta called for the demonstrations to be outside the Russian Embassy, rather than at the US Embassy, a rather hollow gesture inasmuch as the Russians had been clamoring for negotiations for nearly a decade to halt the NATO expansion on their borders.  Indeed, there had been negotiations leading to the Minsk accords, ignored by signees France and Germany and violated by Ukraine.  Apparently, there were also negotiations to end the war shortly after the invasion, supported by Zelenskyy, but vetoed by Uncle Sam and the more militant elements within the Ukrainian regime.

The new government will not take office until early November, despite all the criticism it has received before even being officially appointed.  The country is showing signs of turmoil which are likely to grow.  The Italian economy may grind to a halt as retail and industrial businesses are forced to close but it will not be alone.  Much of the EU is likely to face something reminiscent of the Great Depression.  Misery loves company.  There should be enough to go around.

The 2022 US Mid-term Elections-

It is not uncommon in the US to describe up-coming elections as the most important in a lifetime.  Presidential elections of 2000, 2016 and 2020 had something of that aura.  They had the potential to alter the course of history, of conditions in the US and around the world, and they did.  Mid-term elections seldom have that importance.  This year they do.  The BLOODS and the CRIPS, as I choose to refer to the Republican and Democratic Parties, both deserve to lose, one for sedition, the other for failing to effectively deal with it.  While both parties appear to be functioning below a level of competency one would expect by picking government representatives at random out of a large phone book, there is a major difference. One party has effectively abandoned the concept of government elected by the voters.  It is a minority party, a difficulty it has dealt with effectively for decades by using many of the built-in peculiarities of the US Constitution to hold onto power despite rarely having majority votes.  Under the last president, the BLOODS have renounced all respect for the rule of law and any pretence of civility or decency, to pursue the quest for unlimited perpetual power, whether it be for personal gain or to inflict their will on the majority of their countrymen.  This is a clear attempt to seat a totalitarian regime.  If they prevail in the upcoming election by margins large enough for them to gain full control of the voting process, the USA, which we prefer to think of as an historic leader of the democratic experiment, is dead!  Unless the current war escalates into a nuclear holocaust, the physical terrain will still be there, inhabited by more than 300 million people, as will be rulers of the country, but the USA will be as extinct as the Roman Republic or the Soviet Union.

There should be two other major issues in the coming elections, starting with climate change making the world uninhabitable, and the threat of a nuclear holocaust doing the same thing more quickly.  However, it would seem, judging from the news as presented by the MSM, that the deciding issues are more likely to be the price of gasoline and the status of abortion rights. The CRIPS, who only a few months ago were in a funk over their prospects of being blown out in the mid-terms, have grown more optimistic since the striking down of Roe vs. Wade by the newly radical right-wing Supreme Court, which has created a sizable backlash.  CRIPS have also been encouraged by the reduction of gasoline prices, by full employment, and by the soaring stock market.  Unfortunately, the stock market has sagged lately, gas prices have turned up again and inflation has grown fast enough to make people edgy.  A poll taken in Georgia the other day said that abortion rights are a decisive issue for 11.7% of voters polled, “threats to democracy” are the central issue for 18%, while “the economy” is the decisive factor for 40%.  In a few weeks the continued existence of the world’s most powerful democracy may be decided by fluctuations in gasoline prices. 

For any of you with the opportunity to vote in the upcoming US elections, I urge you to vote for the CRIPS, no matter how obnoxious you may find their candidate on your ballot.  I have faced a similar challenge.  The CRIP candidate on my ballot is the son of one of my Senators, who is a Batista Cuban, among other issues.  I am unaware of any Batista Cuban who has ever voted against funding any CIA-installed Fascist government anywhere in the world, or for that matter opposing any military expenditure at all, whether they are BLOODS or CRIPS, or whether they represent FL, TX or NJ.  I have no anti-Cuban prejudice. I simply don’t want to vote for anyone with that kind of mind-set.  I have done it though, and you should too.  There are many issues to be fought over and some may be very important to you.  Speak out about them.  But right now, nothing is more important than assuring that there will be real elections in the future.

Saturday, September 3, 2022

What's the Next -ISM to be Called?

For about a hundred years we’ve been living with or under a barrage of isms. The turn of the century leading into the Twentieth Century, from what I know about it, seems to have been a rather good time. Perhaps that’s because my interests lie largely in the fields of art and architecture. It was the time of Gaudì. of Klimt, Art Nouveau, and the emergence of FLLW. There hadn’t been any major war in Europe for some time. Teddy Roosevelt, one of the greatest American presidents, was promoting National Parks and leading the charge against monopolies.

Then things fell apart, and the isms started to multiply.  Colonialism, socialism and nationalism were not new, but nationalism got out of hand in the second decade of the century, leading to the accidental start of WWI between neighboring countries, all armed to the teeth against possible aggression, and three decades of unprecedented worldwide death and destruction followed.  An estimated 150 million people were killed.  Communism got a jump start with the Russian Revolution of 1917, leaving misery in its wake for more than seven decades.  In 1923 Mussolini gave fascism its name and brought it to power in Italy.  He was followed by Hitler who invented Nazism a decade later and rode it to control Germany.   Following the loss of WWII by the Fascist Axis, the rest of the Twentieth Century was devoted to a Cold War between communism and capitalism, sometimes conflated with democracy.

“Ism” is an innocuous and even useful suffix for turning a noun or an adjective into a movement.  The art world is full of them: impressionism, expressionism, fauvism, futurism and more.  Our focus here is on political terms.  The old terms continue to be used, mostly out of context, sometimes in ways that have no rational connection with the original meaning.  

“Fascism” as a term has hung around for a long time although the original fascist regime in Italy ended with its defeat in WWII, and the term has been prohibited in Italy ever since as a name for a political party or movement. These days, with a widespread fear of its return, there are more and more books and articles discussing or defining it.   Fascism lingered on for a while in Spain with Franco and Salazar in Portugal but otherwise no regime has self-described as Fascist and the word has evolved into a term of derision for anyone who appears to be authoritarian, or sometimes, for anyone you just don’t agree with.  Communism has had a similar fate and with the demise of the Soviet Union three decades ago, it ceases to really function as a regime system but the American right continues to rail at it.  Some will argue that China, the world’s most populous nation is communist and indeed, its ruling entity is its Communist Party.  In practice however, it has embraced much of conventional western entrepreneurial capitalism and begins to show the disparities of income and wealth that are undermining the west.

The legacies of the two opposing factions, the communists and the fascists, lie in the tendency of people who have lived under one of those systems to embrace the other.  Thus, the people of much of Eastern Europe, from Poland to Hungary, who suffered for many years under communist regimes, seem relatively amenable to governments with authoritarian, i.e. fascist tendencies.  In Italy, birthplace of fascism, the Communist Party became the country’s largest political party after the regime was ousted.  It is still one of the largest despite changing its name to the Democratic Party (Partito Democratico).  The term “Nazism” has been banished from all polite discourse everywhere, other than a few outposts in Ukraine and Hells Angels reunions in South Dakota.  Germany has made a major effort to make amends for its history as the birthplace of Nazism and to assure that those roots never again sprout on its soil.  It has also remained productively and reassuringly demilitarized for nearly eighty years, other than for its on-going military occupation by the US.  That peaceful era appears to be coming to an end.

The terms “left” and “right” had understandable meaning for most of the world, based on seating divisions in the French Parliament long ago.  Since the recent turn of the century, most such meaning has been turned on its head.  In both the US and in Italy, parties that were understood as being of the left have splintered into factions which have little to do with what was understood to be leftist.  The same is true of the parties of the right.  This is not unprecedented, but it is certainly confusing.   Not long ago, Italy’s Partito Democratico of Italy tried to pass a new Constitution drafted by JP Morgan with the paid consultation of Tony Blair, the former leader of the British Labour Party, best known for his collusion with George W. Bush in the invasion of Iraq.  Its scope and intent were to remove more of public policy from the influence of the voting public, giving freer reign to the ruling class of experts.  There are too many instances of such maneuvers to document here but it would not be too much of a stretch to say that the Partito Democratico is now among the most right-wing and pro-war of the major parties in Italy.

With a two-party system in the US it should be easier to understand what those parties support.  As far as we can tell, they both appear to favor a dystopian regime as described in those famous books of George Orwell and Aldous Huxley, with the Republicans preferring the more traditional violence of the Orwell model while the Democrats work toward the mind control and drug-induced euphoria of the Huxley model.  What does “the right” mean these days?  We knew that the GOP was the party of the bankers, the Buick dealers, country club members and Rotary Club presidents for longer than we can remember.  It was conservative regarding social change and fiscal matters, typically opposing debt and favoring law and order over civil rights.  With the arrival and takeover of the Republican Party by the big orange narcissist, everything changed.  The old values of decency, morality, honesty, and respectability have been dumped in favor of using any means, legal, extra-legal or illegal to grab and hold power.  The recipients of the new augmented bounty remain the same, the top 1% of the population, but the loyal troops are no longer the middle class, replaced now by an angry proletariat, ever more crass, crude and violent.  

The party of the racial minorities, the workers, the immigrants, the poor and the weak, is no longer the Democratic Party, which has joined the money bandwagon and now draws its support largely from the educated, the independently wealthy and the upper levels of the service workers of the oligarchy.  Money nowadays wins or buys elections and supporting the rich is an easier path to victory than helping people who actually need help.  In essence, that puts both parties in much the same position, no matter how much their supporters seem to be at each other’s throats.

Recently I’ve been reminded of stories that I’ve heard of women who live together for a length of time seeing their menstrual cycles converge into perfect synchronization.  That’s not my topic for today but I wonder if something similar can happen to countries.   The US and the UK seem to be in total synch.  The conservative parties of both countries seized control of their government with an orange-haired narcissistic son of privilege who repeatedly violated all recognized standards of acceptable behaviour.  Both gained power through the subversion the campaigns of the leading candidate of the opposition party.  Methods varied slightly.  In the UK, Jeremy Corbin was accused of anti-Semitism for criticizing Israel for its treatment of Palestinians.  He never even used the word genocide, as I might have, but he was suspended from his own party by right-wing infiltrators within the party administration.  Bernie Sanders was also shunted aside twice by the leadership of the Democratic Party.  The first time was an inside job, not unlike the Corbin affair.  The second time, it took a greater effort, as the big guns of the major regime media were brought in, along with hundreds of millions of dollars of Michael Bloomberg’s fortune, to keep the oligarchy safe from a potentially democratic regime. Under the resulting leadership the UK shot itself in the foot by bailing out of the EU.  The US did much the same, withdrawing from the world community by unilaterally abrogating various treaties and agreements, such as the denuclearization agreement with Iran and the accords on measures to combat climate change.  Both of the orange/beige muppets have been removed after offending their countries’ sensibilities repeatedly, in the UK by the vote of his own disgusted party members and in the US by voters, who despite voting in what was essentially a Republican landslide, just couldn’t stomach more of the deranged antics of the boor.  Neither man went quietly and both countries must face the threat of a possible comeback in the midst of growing militarism and a dearth of political leadership.  

In my last blog post I erroneously claimed that the Italian government would stand until sometime next year. I apologize for my inadequate research.  I was wrong because I was misinformed about how long the government had to stay in place before the pensions of the new members of Parliament would be funded.  I said the government would remain because with new elections, the number of parliamentarians would be reduced by 40% and most would lose their jobs.  The day on which the pensions of the new class of parliamentarians of the last elections (about 60% of the total) were assured was on 24 September 2022, not sometime next year as I had understood. The government did fall and new elections were scheduled for 25 September.  The current parliamentarians remain until 24 September, the exact day on which their pensions will have been “earned”.    Sometimes Italians can be more efficient than people give them credit for.

But back to the original argument.  What do we call the mess we’re in?  “Oligarchy” is technically correct but it hasn’t gained wide acceptance.  We tend to think of oligarchs as rich young thugs, often Russian or Ukrainian, who get sweetheart deals in buying privatized assets, and then ostentatiously spend the loot on huge yachts or British soccer clubs.  While often true, this is a bit of a misconception.  You certainly know who Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos are but how many of you know the names of the CEOs of Exxon or Rockwell?  There are lots of others, some with a public face, more who are unknown to the public.  Michael Hudson described it well.  A study at Princeton a few years back determined that the expressed and recorded opinion of the American public had no influence whatsoever on the legislation passed by the Congress.

So while oligarchy would be objectively correct, the term fails to resonate with the American public, or with the populations of the growing numbers of American colonies and countries aspiring to colonial status around the world.  My own preferred term in recent years has been “neo-feudalism”.  I believe it is accurate enough but I have to face the reality that “neo”-anything has a built-in defect.  People always say that the neo thing is different from the original and for whatever reason should  not be confused with it.  Neo-con, neo-lib, neo-fascist?  What do they mean?  Is there any meaningful difference?  Sometimes yes: sometimes no, but mostly they sow confusion, often intentionally so.

Following the Watts riots in the late ‘60’s, gang warfare grew within the confines of South-Central Los Angeles.  In typical American fashion, the smaller entities were swallowed up into two monopolistic super gangs, first the Crips, then the Bloods.  They adopted the colors blue and red respectively, which to outsiders was the only distinction between them.  Both had the same goal, which came down to killing members of the rival gang.  They controlled zones within the large piece of the city in which they were confined and gang members who ventured into turf controlled by the other gang risked death.  Over a similar span of time, six times as many of them were killed as all the people killed in “the troubles” that afflicted Northern Ireland.  If you are curious about this phenomenon, watch this.

Color TV made its debut in the US in 1951 but it wasn’t until 1966 that all prime-time shows were transmitted in color.  The networks started assigning colors to the political parties early on but they all had their own color charts, which sometimes varied from one election to another.  In 1980 Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter in what was referred to as the blue wave.  It wasn’t until the election of 2000 when all the networks assigned red to the Republicans and blue to the Democrats.  Such assignment was both anti-historical and counter-intuitive since red had been the color associated with the left since the French Revolution and was later the color of the communist regimes of China and the Soviet Union.  Probably the networks, which in those days tended to be slightly more sympathetic to the Democrats, did not want to have anyone make such associations, since the Cold War was still raging on in America without regard to what had happened in the world.

Trying to write about US politics has become ever more confusing since if you are discussing Democrats you have to specify whether you refer to “corporate” democrats, “progressive” democrats or moderates, greens, etc.  With the Republicans it is increasingly the same.  All may be “corporate Republicans” but that was always understood.  Now we have traditionalists, Trump loyalists, populists, anti-Trump conservatives, libertarians and RINOs.

Gang Turf

Senate Turf

Given that US election maps have come to be indistinguishable from the territorial gang maps of central LA, and the function and goals of the parties have taken on similar aspects, from here on I’ll simply refer to the two controlling parties as the BLOODS and the CRIPS. No offense intended to the original gangs. They have their own problems.

If elections have nothing to do with government policy, as we noted above, are there any differences between the CRIPS and the BLOODS, and do they matter?  Possibly not in the short run, but if there is to be a continuation of human life on the planet beyond the life expectancy of the currently middle-aged, some of the differences might matter, first of all in determining speed of human extinction and secondly for the survival of the idea of democracy.  

Not so long ago, monarchy prevailed in the world.  Queen Elizabeth has occupied the British throne longer than all her predecessors but in all that time she hasn’t had a single subject beheaded.  Right now, there are probably more than a few of her subjects who would welcome a return to a true monarchy if it brought the prospect of a few heads of errant politicians being mounted high of the walls of Westminster Abbey.  That’s certainly true in the USA, among both BLOODS and CRIPS, and we’ve never even had a real Queen.  Was that what January 6th was all about, Queen envy?

Democracy has been around in a few places even longer than Queen Elizabeth but its hold on most places seems as tenuous as the monarchy’s continued existence in the UK.  Seen in a slightly different light, it continues its existence much as the monarchy continues in the UK.  Good for parades and the rhetoric of national pride but not much of a problem for the true rulers of the world.

I haven’t needed to set foot in the Homeland for eight years but from my daily interactions with US media, family and friends, I surmise that the US is obsessed with the following themes:  Authoritarianism and Libertarianism, Militarism, Diversity, Pride, Impunity, and Denial.

The BLOODS and the CRIPS have different and sometimes opposing takes on almost all of these with the obvious exception of militarism, on which there has been nearly total bipartisan accord for decades.  Barbara Lee was the lone vote against the invasion of Iraq twenty years ago.  Little has changed since.  Ukraine was armed to the teeth by the US despite its coup-installed government not yet being inserted into NATO as fast as the PNAC blueprint had called for.  Following the invasion, the vote to supply an unprecedented amount of additional weaponry to extend the proxy war with Russia was similarly uncontested.  The surviving Bloods and Crips in LA must be basking in the glory of being world trend setters.  Guns R Us!

Diverging attitudes about authoritarianism and libertarianism are more complex and contradictory, but then we all have contradictory elements in our personal makeup so why shouldn’t the rival gangs.  For my part, I’ve always been opposed to speed limits, except as helpful advisories, but despite this libertarian obsession, I have also favored the prosecution and conviction of at least one  ex-president of the US for war crimes, a stance far more authoritarian than most of my compatriots.  Ron Paul is about the only US politician who calls himself a libertarian but most of the BLOODS consider it a birthright to be free to carry whatever weapons they choose wherever they want to go.  Curiously, I have not yet heard of a civil suit being filed over the right to carry a hand grenade onto a train or plane.  The CRIPS reject any of this laissez faire approach to angry citizens running loose while heavily armed but recently have been even more aggressive than the BLOODS in shipping arms to all the troubled parts of the world, the ultimate in NIMBYism.

The CRIPS’ own streak of libertarianism is best expressed in the slogan “my body my choice” while the BLOODS, whose implied slogan is “my gun my choice”, usually pronounced as “my gun, my right”, do not extend that libertarian approach to the contentious issue of abortion.  I say contentious but there are many issues which the public has disagreed about, but until recently people agreed to disagree and the government just ignored the debate.  That was before the gangland takeover of public life and everything became a binary choice.

Enough has been said about the American aversion to healthcare except as a reward for a successful and profitable life, so I won’t bother with those larger issues here.  However, we have suffered through two or three years of Covid pandemic which has killed a lot of people and who would ever have imagined that facing such an emergency, our response would have been conditioned by the gang divide?  My own response was that in an emergency you do whatever you can to get through it and I said that I don’t envy anyone with the administrative responsibility to deal with such a problem.  Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.  That was the inevitable course of public opinion.  Doctors, nurses and others in the medical field worked in difficult conditions to get us through the crisis.  However, Big Orange, the chief of the BLOODs, decided to make the emergency into a partisan gangland issue.  The misinformation he disseminated has probably killed a lot of people.  Still, mistakes, mostly made in good faith, have also killed a lot of people.  Large percentages of people who were rushed into ventilators died as a result of such treatment, rather than in spite of it.   Vaccines were developed quickly and saved many people from death or other serious effects but the vaccines were described as a panacea, a foolproof protection from the virus.  As the response lapsed into political polarization, people who expressed doubts or even fears about the vaccines were told, usually by people who identified as CRIPS, that they should just follow the science and shut up.   Unfortunately, many governments stopped following the science themselves when scientists noted that vaccinated people could be infected, could get sick and could spread the disease, and they reverted into authoritarian, punitive behavior towards those who questioned some of their decrees.  

Being totally unqualified to do so, I wouldn’t presume to discuss the disagreements within the field of medical research, but the politicization of a medical crisis has left people of all political colors looking a little foolish.  We see party-loving BLOODS congregating as never before when infection rates are high, just as we see obedient CRIPS wearing masks while walking alone in the countryside, both types engaging in a perverse sort of virtue signaling.  I try to do what doctors tell me and except for the gland on my neck which swelled up to the size of a golf ball a few days after my third shot, I’ve suffered no new problems and feel happy and grateful to have survived the pandemic so far.  I would only hope that the posturing around it would subside as quickly as the disease.

BLOODS and CRIPS both favor an authoritarian approach to education these days.  It’s just that they prefer a different authority, reflecting contrasting views on diversity, the current obsession of the CRIPS.  CRIP diversity is a bit like the diversity of a shopping mall food court.  Different names, colors, spices and maybe ingredients but the packaging and overall effect is often much the same.  BLOODS typically despise diversity and try to stamp it out.  Diversity is a fact of nature and is the natural condition of life but with sustained effort it can be eliminated in some controlled situations.  Thus, the United Fruit Company was able to suppress many of the types of bananas found in nature in order to simplify logistical problems in shipping a tropical fruit to the far corners of the world.  In Germany about eighty years ago there was a similar effort toward standardization of people.  We know how that worked out.  

CRIPS want no part of that.  They welcome all colors, sizes, shapes and origins of people as long as they can be molded to think alike, i.e. in line with the latest fashion in ideology, thus there is a push to start indoctrination of children at a very young age.  Math and science can be sacrificed a little to make room for sex education for children who have no organic concept of what sex is, in order that they can be given, or can pick an elaborate sexual “identity”.  There is significant resistance on the part of parents, many of whom would be inclined to be CRIPS but have limits as to what they will put up with to be in the gang.

At the higher levels of education, the colleges and graduate schools, there are similar divergencies of approach.  For many decades the BLOODS have lamented the liberal ideas taught there.  Their remedy was to cut funding to state universities which promoted independent research on subjects they didn’t want anyone to know more about and to get rich donors, from oligarchs to corporations, to fund departments that promoted a vocational approach to education and exalted the merits of late-stage capitalism and the Military Industrial Complex.  Perhaps they worried too much.  Some highly rated universities in deep blue states started providing “safe places” where students could congregate protected from exposure to ideas that made them uncomfortable.  So much for the liberal arts curriculum.  That was an easy win as academia turned its attention from history and philosophy to the study of minority cultures, the smaller the minority, the better.

While students are being shielded from ideas by both the BLOODS and the CRIPS, the latter have taken to using loyalty oaths to promote the Q agenda.  Loyalty oaths were a tactic pioneered by the bloodiest BLOOD of all time, the late Senator Joseph McCarthy.  He damaged the careers of a lot of people but was eventually shamed and censured in the Senate, after which he slithered off to irrelevance and early death.  The Senate doesn’t censure its own anymore, no matter how deserving.  When and if the number of careers damaged by the new CRIP loyalty oaths reaches McCarthyite proportions is up to statisticians to measure, but they are proceeding uncensured.  

This is not the first or only time that the BLOODS and CRIPS have reversed positions.  The BLOODS or GOP as the Republican Party was also known, was started by anti-slavery abolitionists who agreed with the Whigs on all the other conservative pro-business issues of the day.  The CRIPS remained the party of white southerners throughout FDR’s reign until the one-two punch of LBJ and Richard Nixon flipped the party alignments to the solid BLOOD South, which is still mostly in effect.  LBJ knew that he had lost the South for the Democrats for a generation with his civil rights legislation but we’re now in the third generation post-LBJ and the South still appears to be almost solid red, thanks to BLOOD control of the voting apparatus.   Georgia was a breakthrough state in 2020 and the presence of some determined independent minded CRIPS, combined with the BLOODS running a candidate for the Senate with a relationship to the truth reminiscent of that of his sponsor, Big Orange, suggests that the BLOODS monopoly control of the former Confederacy may be fragmenting a little. 

The BLOODS have scored some huge victories lately.  Their long battle to take over the Supreme Court finally achieved success and the fruits of their victory are now being tasted.  The first feast was the overturning of Roe vs Wade, a decision which may prove a pyrrhic victory in that it may save the CRIPS from resounding defeat in the 2022 mid-term elections. It was the only one of the BLOOD Court’s three revolutionary rulings that had any conceivable justification.  Abortion was and is a highly devisive issue and it had been decided by a judicial ruling, not by law, nor by any very convincing parts of the US Constitution.  The earlier court ruling may have been pragmatically effective but it was judicial overreach in the face of a long-dormant Congress, enabling the views of one vocal segment of the public over the views of the another segment.  The BLOOD COURT flipped it in the cherished American tradition of activities being labeled crimes, then rights, then crimes again, etc. etc. etc.    

The other two radical decisions, which have received far less scrutiny, can be regarded as the acts of certifiably insane people.  The striking down of laws controlling the use or carrying of weapons in New York City is the wobbly fun house mirror image of the campaign in some CRIP circles to defund or disband the police.  That was a hard one to top but they did so in another landmark ruling saying that the Environmental Protection Agency, set up to protect the environment, could not take measures to combat global warming, which scientists have been warning us about for years.  Scientists are now saying it’s almost too late to do anything about it.  Some of us, especially those who don’t die soon, are destined to witness the earth growing uninhabitable.  Jim Jones perished with his flock at Jonestown in 1978 but it makes you wonder if he’s been resurrected, cloned and appointed to the Supreme Court.  Is a death wish the new litmus test for SC membership?

The two failed impeachments of Big Orange could be seen as a BLOOD victory, but they really constitute more of a CRIP defeat than a BLOOD win and a potential death blow to the concept of democracy is the US.  The CRIPS lick their wounds and cannot imagine how a man could get away with fraud, sedition, corruption and affronts to all known standards of decency, while not facing the fact that we live in an age of impunity, and they were complicit in establishing it.  Big Orange ran on an impunity ticket, inspiring millions of followers to partake of it. 

The road to impunity was long and too complicated to trace here.  Maybe it got started with Dr. Spock.  It’s probably good that children are no longer whipped when they spill spaghetti sauce on the tablecloth, or if they are, the unacceptable act is attributed by society to be that of the whipper, not the whippee.  That’s been the inexorable path of history for some time.  Bad boys in school used to be sent to detention hall where they had to stay in school late.  Some of us learned to modify our behavior.  Now they are diagnosed as having ADS and medicated.  Drug addicts were arrested and put in jail but lately are given substitute drugs and released.  Many forms of anti-social behavior are now regarded as an illness and chemically treated.

There have been a few notable exceptions.  In the years of the Giuliani mayoralty and the Clinton presidency, young black men were exempted from impunity and vast numbers of them ended up in prison on minor drug charges.  For young people from the upper echelons of society, impunity went on as never before.  When Enron imploded, taking with it the savings of hundreds of thousands of people, more perpetrators died by their own hand than by any punishments meted out.

The other major exception to impunity is for whistle blowers.  There is no impunity for whistle blowers!  Some people can get away with reporting on thievery by another employee if it’s another low-level employee and the violation is something the company wants to know about, but God help the straight arrow who reports criminal acts by the organization itself.  If that agency is the US Government, no mercy will be coming from either the BLOODS or the CRIPS.  

Just as the newly exalted status of impunity derailed two impeachment proceedings, it has also made a farce out of recent US foreign policy.  After years of slow but steady US aggression into countries of the former Soviet Union, when Russia finally responded militarily, the current CRIP president responded by calling the Russian president a war criminal.  There is nothing funny about the present tragedy but hearing such a statement from a man who was a cheerleader for the truly unprovoked invasion of Iraq made it hard to know whether to laugh or scream.  No American leader or leader of any participating NATO country has yet been prosecuted for the crimes committed there or in the invasions of Afghanistan, Libya or Syria.  Perhaps in another hundred and fifty years, assuming that humans still live on the planet, statues of these criminals will be torn down and destroyed by descendants of their victims but for now, impunity reigns unchallenged.  

We started by asking what term describes the mess we’re in at this moment in history.  Language is important and it has become a major weapon in the culture wars as well as in the military conflicts.  A man named George Lakoff, a professor of linguistics and philosophy, wrote a number of books and articles of the uses of language.  He said that “the act of stating that a lie is false reinforces the lie because it repeats the way the lie is framed”.  He urged the liberal side to catch up with the conservative side in framing issues on their own terms.  He was correct in that the BLOODS had a long lead in the field, such as in gaining acceptance of using terms such as “conservatives” to describe wild-eyed neo-fascists and “moderates” to describe right-wing corporate-funded CRIPS.  I haven’t seen new articles by Lakoff for some time.  Perhaps he felt he had had too much success.

They haven’t been in the news recently but there have been some poor Somalian immigrants in the US involved with genital mutilation, as was traditionally practiced back home.  They have been denounced for it but had they been able to afford a linguistic consultant or PR person, they might have seen a more sympathetic reception.  “Virtue affirming health care” has a nice ring to it, almost as innocuous as “gender affirming health care” for the sterilization and genital mutilation of confused children, today’s new fashion trend.  We all like soft fuzzy terms so if you are either for or against abortion, “pro-choice” and “pro-life” each give a positive lilt to a thorny issue.  

On the war front, the distortions of language have become even more weird than in the culture wars.  The media of the far right are mostly owned by Rupert Murdoch and a few other oligarch ideologues.  Over more than two decades FoxNews has become the house organ of the BLOODS.  The only mystery is which entity is in charge of the other.  Since Big Orange decreed that the Only Truth is what comes out of his mouth, there really hasn’t been any reason to pay attention to the entire  Fox media enterprise except to measure how bad things really are.

The status of the so-called liberal media is more confusing.  The largest elements are the NYT, the WaPO and the four traditional TV networks but their ownership is a mixture of traditionally wealthy liberals and oligarchs occasionally posing as CRIPS.  The New York Times is often called “the paper of record”.  Perhaps it should come as no surprise that during a proxy war between the US and Russia, it should be the mouthpiece of the US Government.  That’s what happens in wartime.  Still, the linguistic gyrations that it employs make it seem more like the Pravda of the 1970’s than the BBC of the days before Tony Blair.  It is hard to tell if the Times reporting on the war is influenced more by the suggestions of George Lakoff or of Josef Goebbels, or perhaps it’s simply all handouts from the Departments of State or Defense.  All text apparently passes through a word editing program which transforms “the Russian invasion of Ukraine” into the “unprovoked Russian invasion of Ukraine”.  The same program also sprinkles adjectives such as ruthless, authoritarian, or brutal into every sentence that also includes the name Putin.  “Independent liberal democracy” is another State Dept./NYT favorite, as applied to all right-wing authoritarian regimes established by the CIA from central America to eastern Europe.  We can’t tell if all the opinion writers have their articles run through the same word editor or if they have all been collectively hypnotized and subliminally instructed to do the same thing.

While the NYT describes the war as between authoritarianism and “liberal democracy”, its own language has not been unscathed by the radical authoritarianism of the ultra-libertarians who will accept no dictates of grammar but their own. There are growing numbers of articles mutilated by newly mandated linguistic perversions.    However, the Times did recently publish a rather cool and analytical article by Amy Harmon on some of the more controversial linguistic battles, which is worth reading, regardless of how you regard some of the proposals.

Paranoia is all around us in varying degrees and if you don’t have any, you live in a bubble or are just not paying attention.  Those most seriously afflicted often refer to “they” as in “they know” but the implication is that there is an evil cabal of monsters which must remained unnamed.  Is the Times unwittingly slipping into that sort of nonsense by way of politically correct pronouns?  We hope not.  There is enough nonsense out there already, without submitting to the latest fads in authoritarian libertarianism.  Victoria Nuland is not a they and the CIA is not just any they either, it’s the CIA.

My wife experienced fibrillation recently, a medical condition where the heart muscles start beating  out of rhythm, both very fast and very slowly.  I have come to believe that our brains, individually and collectively, can have a similar condition, undocumented as yet, where we go out of control, oscillating erratically between our authoritarian impulses and our libertarian excesses.  It manifests itself in a “rules-based society” where the rules are made by the country with the biggest guns, by a “free market” imposed by the entities which control the market, by a tolerant liberal society where adhesion to establishment commandments is rigorously enforced, and where “democracy” is imposed militarily on people deemed incapable of self-government.  The BLOODS do it.  The CRIPS do it.  I’ll call it fibrillationism.   We may be headed for feudalism again, or extinction, but this is how we’re fueling the voyage.

If you have a better term for today’s condition, please share it.  To cure a disease, it’s helpful to define it.


Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Building a Wall of Hate


Hate building has a long history, far longer than I can even remember personally. Hitler eventually murdered millions of Jews and others but not before he roused most of the populace of his highly developed country to hate the Jews and blame them for the country’s woes. Mao did much the same in his campaign to eliminate the Chinese professional and intellectual classes. The German campaign was reciprocated in the US by demonizing the Axis leaders. It’s difficult to fight a war successfully if you can’t get your people to hate the enemy. Sometimes it’s easier than other times. Hitler made it easy. Not to win the war but to summon the will, the determination, and the sense of sacrifice to fight to the end. 

WWI was an insane war which had no reason to be fought other than the desire for a fight that all the participants displayed. It could easily be seen as similar to gang wars of opposing teenage thugs who show up on a designated playground to wreak whatever damage their available weapons can inflict. A good deal of hatred was generated before, during, and after that war. A minor example, of which I have a smattering of knowledge, was the vandalism of German-American shops, the renaming of sauerkraut into liberty cabbage and the transformation of frankfurters into hot dogs. 

Hate prevailed at the end of WWI and victory was not enough to assuage the blood lust of the victors. The enemy had to be humiliated and dragged down into misery. They were. Unfortunately, hatred tends to be reciprocated. Germany had an educated and energetic population and despite the crippling reparations, it managed to rebuild its industries, along with a newly ambitious military sector under the direction of a populist hate-building political leader. We all know how that played out. 

We are also familiar with a bunch of aphorisms such as: “if we don’t learn from history, we’re destined to repeat it.” Miraculously, there appeared a number of influential people in the USA who did learn from it. Was this just a freakish miracle, a gift of God, this streak of intelligence in high places, rarely seen before in the US after the passing of the founding fathers, and never seen again in the past half century? However it happened, and we have to mention that the fear of our WWII ally, the Soviet Union, and the more generalized fear of Marxism did play a role, the unexpected wisdom of people such as General George Marshall did steer the US into helping its defeated former enemies, Germany, Japan and Italy, to rebuild themselves into democratic societies, ironically even more democratic and more prosperous than the US itself. 

As enlightened as the foreign policy of the US may have been, at home Senator McCarthy and the newly emerging Military Industrial Complex were fostering a climate of fear and hate. It was officially designated a fear of communism but in concrete terms it translated into fear of the USSR, understood as Russia. It extended to countries which bore little of no resemblance to Russia, either culturally, economically, or militarily. There certainly were some reasons for western concerns. We fought and lost wars that we associated with the Soviet Union but somehow, the hatred that might have persisted toward the people of Viet Nam, Cambodia and Korea never really took hold, whereas the anti-Russian rhetoric was so persistent as to cloud the minds of even people born after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In 1989 the Berlin Wall went down and the Soviet Union collapsed. The Cold War was over and we won it. The Warsaw Pact was dead and NATO had served its function. It could have been disbanded, but alas, the military industrial complex discovered its utility as a money-making operation. Mikhail Gorbachev had graciously decided to step aside from further confrontation with the west by not opposing the unification of Germany and the concurrent withdrawal of Soviet troops. He thereby received assurances from the highest US and German authorities that NATO would not move one foot further to the east. Unfortunately, although the accord was witnessed and attested to by various participants on both sides, he did not have this formalized in a treaty, although, given the history of written agreements that the US has entered into, it might have made little difference. 

The US had the opportunity to help Russia grow into a democratic society but could not bring itself to do so as it had done with Nazi Germany and the other Axis powers. The lone important voice in the west who decried the lack of effort by the US to promote a democratic Russia was that of George Soros, who put some of his own money where his mouth was. For that he has been subjected to anti-Semitic vilification throughout the world but especially in Hungary, his  birthplace. To the old Cold Warriors, who are by now mostly dead, and to the new ones, who were not even born then, Russia was, and always will be, the enemy. Boris Yeltsin, the first Russian post-collapse president, even flattered the US by building a new society on the recent US model: oligarchy. He privatized much, if not all, of the Soviet economy and handed ownership over to friendly oligarchs. Russia collapsed even faster than the USSR had and turned into a latter stage version of what the USA has recently become, a country with a precipitating birthrate, a diminishing life expectancy, and alarmingly high rates of alcoholism and suicide. All this while the American big shots of industry and in the military chuckled and licked their chopped at the prospects of increased East European arms sales and markets for its other monopolies until the enfeebled Russian bear breathed its last. 

The cultivation of hate has not only persisted but has been given new impetus in recent decades. Ronald Reagan did his part by saying that “government is not the solution, it’s the problem”, a statement which has been true in much of the world, but which in a democracy could rightfully be described as seditious. Either it was an attempt at undermining democracy or an admission that the USA was not a democracy. The hatred of government, especially democratic government, has continued its growth for thirty years until its apparent culmination in the Trump Administration, which not only denigrated democracy but did its best to eliminate it. From the blustering, racist, hate campaigns of Rush Limbaugh and his clones to the constant anti-democratic propaganda of Fox News and the unending vulgar stream of Trumpian tweets, the campaign to make hate not only acceptable but even a source of pride, has been remarkably successful. 

One might have expected to see a huge backlash to all this from the self-identifying liberal or democratic side, but no, it was easier to match it than to oppose it. While Fox News has set the tone, the New York Times has noticed that hate sells, and it has upped the ante. Its readers have managed to emulate the Fox crowd in hating anyone they disagree with rather than engaging in debate.

The hate-Russia campaign has been growing rapidly since the 2016 US elections, this time led by the Democrats. Trump appeared to go soft on Russia, not a complete surprise, given his ambition to build a Trump Tower in Moscow and the importance of the support for his real estate projects by the newly minted Russian oligarchs. Democrats insisted that the insidious Putin had influenced the 2016 election which brought us Trump, while studiously ignoring the presence of Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking, at the invitation of the Republican leadership, to a joint assembly of the US Congress on 3 March 2015, in the midst of the Presidential primary campaign, days before US-Iran nuclear treaty negotiations began and just weeks before Israeli elections, the most egregious foreign meddling in American elections and foreign policy that I can recall. I can barely remember instances of US meddling in the elections of other countries. They have become as common as the summer appearances of house flies in the kitchen. You don’t remember them and you can’t tell them apart. 

Last week, La 4, an Italian TV channel, broadcast a very long interview with Vladimir Putin conducted by Oliver Stone in 2016. While Madeleine Albright referred to his almost reptilian coldness, in the Stone interview he comes across as serious, cool, polite, diplomatic and intelligent. His presidency has run as long as the combined reign of four US presidents. He stated his national security concerns in 2016 and he has repeated them again and again. Although he inherited control of a failed state, he has brought back Russia from its predicted demise to a state of renewal, despite dealing with sanctions handed out by Uncle Sam as freely as candies and gift certificates are handed out by department store Santa Clauses. All this while the four American presidents have presided over a continued decline in virtually all statistical measures of public well-being, i.e. those unrelated to the wealth of the top 1%, and the US has not been under sanctions by another country. 

Any intelligence agency, staffed by rational people, which saw the growth of weapons emplacements surrounding its borders, would sound an alarm and seek to take precautionary measures. Putin has stated his concerns, consistently and rationally. He has requested negotiations and guarantees. Most recently those requests were rejected by President Biden with the tone of an assistant principal of a junior high school responding to a kid complaining that a larger kid had stolen her lunch and threatened to beat her up. “Don’t worry. He’s not really a bad boy and anyway, you’d be better off eating a little less.” Putin is not a little girl. He’s the head of a very large country which besides having a rich cultural legacy, happens to have the second largest stockpile of nuclear weapons in the world. Unlike most of the recent US presidents, he appears to be fully cognizant of the dangers and responsibilities this entails. 

The time of stalemate finally ran out. There are limits to anyone’s patience. Despite being subjected to heavy sanctions already, Russia will be hurt by even more sanctions, but it has energy resources and earlier sanctions have already pushed them to be more self-sufficient. Putin can turn to China for closer economic relations. Much of the pain inflicted by the sanctions will really be felt by Europe. Ukraine will be crushed and there will be yet another refugee crisis. One can hope that the country will not be devastated and destroyed as Iraq was when the US and its co-conspirators invaded. Biden has ruled that the US will not fight to defend Ukraine but along with the UK, he has sent plenty of weapons to that country to assure that the invasion will be as bloody and destructive as possible. Was Biden as clueless as it seems?  Was he unaware or uninterested in the consequences of his flippant humiliation of Russia? Maybe Smilin’ Joe is really a sly SOB after all, who saw an opportunity to weaken both Russia and Europe in one seemingly casual move and thereby increase American hegemony and arms sales. 

In the US, the mainstream media have raised the volume level on the hate channel. The NYT has resisted the temptation to rehire Judith Miller, its chief cheerleader and propagandist for the invasion of Iraq, but that’s as far as their discretion has extended. It even published a piece by Madeleine Albright, the former Secretary of State, in which she writes about an earlier interview with Putin: Whereas Mr. Yeltsin had cajoled, blustered and flattered, Mr. Putin spoke unemotionally and without notes about his determination to resurrect Russia’s economy and quash Chechen rebels. Flying home, I recorded my impressions. “Putin is small and pale,” I wrote, “so cold as to be almost reptilian.” Ms. Albright is mostly famous for her reply to this question from Leslie Stahl of CBS: “We heard that half a million children have died (as a result of US sanctions on Iraq)....that’s more children than died in the price worth it?” “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price- we think the price is worth it.”  

Putin has had to make hard choices too but at least he has to know the sort of people he’s contending with. Albright wrote to say that Putin’s actions were unacceptable. The comments in response to her article were mostly in line with the sentiments of the day.  A sampling:

 “we are still reaping the harvest of failing to contain the USSR after WWII.” “Few countries are as dependent on one industry as Russia. It's almost all petro. Cripple that industry, and we cripple them.” “In 2022 expansionism in the middle of Europe is not just a throw back from Hitler, it's a sign of insanity.” “Appeasement didn't work with Hitler. Why would anyone think it would work with Putin or any other autocrat?” “Secretary Albright has a personal history that gives her sensitivity to the perils of nationalism and armed aggression, especially where notions of ethnic identity are involved.” “Putin wants Trump back in the Oval Office so Putin can move ever more aggressively in expanding his reach across Europe with Donnie's slavering approval.” “Russia is nothing more than the largest and best run criminal organization in the world.” “If Ukraine really wanted to put waste to the invasion it would burn the crops, blow up the crop storage and shipping lines, blow up the manufacturing centers and the gas line.” 

The comments went on and on by the hundreds. There were some rational observations and they did reflect a split between typical Republican (Biden isn’t aggressive enough) and Democratic (pure anti-Putin hate bound to wishful thinking) positions but the common thread is hate. The propaganda machine has succeeded all too well. 

What’s next? Traditionally, entering a war has been a tactic used by politicians in trouble to gain public support. Will that work for anybody in the next few years? I would guess that all governments will be at risk from the aftermath of this conflict. In Europe, all the political leaders have gathered in an orgy of virtue signalling, wishful thinking and impotence, denouncing Russian aggression after hardly sounding a peep when the US invaded and destroyed Iraq, Syria and Libya, bringing heavy consequences not just to the Middle East but to all of Europe. That may have been due to the fact that many of them participated in those invasions. Not one of them ever stood up to the US and said “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Most of you are probably aware of the leadership problems in the UK and France, i.e. even apart from their leading the charge in the catastrophic destruction of Libya.  Those "leaders" are gone.  Has there been any improvement? 

Here in Italy, there is a similar problem, compounded by the fact that the Italian Parliament is engaged in a semi-permanent work stoppage. All the parties, from those on the far right to those on the not-so-far left have tacitly agreed to agree on everything so as not to have the government fall. Thus, the Prime Minister, Draghi, could conceivably do anything, sell off Sicily if he could find a buyer, attack and seize Lichtenstein for its assets (the EU would intervene), or sell off all Italian assets to German banks, which is not so far-fetched, and he would face no opposition in Parliament. All this because when new elections are called, the size of the Parliament will be reduced by 40% and salaries and benefits (the world’s highest) will also be cut. Most of the newer members will be without a job. Those elections will not be called until the last moment required, which is late next year. 

Italy has already been grievously damaged by illegally imposed US sanctions on countless trade partners.  By next year the effects will be many times worse.  As in all NATO member states, all the Italian political parties have joined in the obsequious licking of Uncle Sam’s boots. What will the voters do by next year when the economic damage follows upon the damage done by Covid? In the US, I doubt that either Biden or Trump will be running for president in 2024. What sort of new monster will emerge?  An authoritarian weapons merchant from the right or an authoritarian thought police captain from the left?  Perhaps they can join together in a new Have Arms To Export Party to form an emergency unity government.

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Reasons Why We Need NATO

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was formed in 1949 by the North Atlantic Treaty, signed by the UK, France and the US, Canada, Italy, Portugal, Norway, Denmark and Iceland to provide mutual military protection for countries in what came to be known as the North Atlantic region from Soviet aggression, which showed itself to be a real threat with its takeover of Czechoslovakia. The treaty was briefly preceded in 1947 and ‘48 by the Treaty of Dunkirk and the Treaty of Brussels both of which involved a growing number of European countries in mutual defense. The presence of NATO forces largely prevented further aggression in Europe, and with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the rapid subsequent dissolution of the USSR, it could be said that its mission was complete. However, we must remember that any time an effective organization is created to take on a challenge, part of its mission is to find new missions and purposes which it can serve. While a few rogue voices might suggest that NATO has outlived its mission and therefore is no longer needed, we cannot overlook the fact that there are a number of good reasons for the continued existence of NATO. 

 1. NATO has a proven record of success. It was established seventy-three years ago to combat Soviet aggression and more than thirty years ago the Soviet Union, crippled by the arms race, ceased to exist. No other organization is so well equipped to neutralize any other hostile power, even one which hasn’t emerged or been identified yet. 

 2. NATO provides gainful employment for thousands of people and corporations, not only in the United States but throughout the world. With wages lagging behind productivity gains in the US and the cost of education growing beyond the ability of workers to pay, this is a major benefit. High ranking officers and defense contractors are thriving as never before. 

 3. While the US pays a disproportionate share of the costs of maintaining a huge military to defend the expanded North Atlantic zone, member nations provide a number of the foot soldiers needed for a military entity crucial to the imposition of American foreign policy goals. 

 4. The co-involvement of our many “allied countries” in our military operations reduces the likelihood of those countries raising objections to our military, commercial or social objectives. While there has been some talk in civilian courts in obscure places of bringing American leaders to trial for war crimes involved in the invasion of Iraq, there has been little or no such talk in the countries of NATO which participated in the invasion. Similarly, there has been little objection in Europe to the unrelenting expansion of NATO which has finally provoked an international crisis in Ukraine. 

 5. The continued presence of the US Military in most countries of the world helps spread familiarity with American products, trends, customs and values, from Halloween and Black Friday to gender flexibility, fast food and the Easter Bunny. NATO provides the cover for such an important presence by imparting the prestige of being an international organization. 

 6. Although the United Nations was established to provide a forum for all the countries of the world to air their concerns and complaints, its effectiveness has been diminished by the presence of so many conflicting outlooks. NATO has filled the void, providing military strength under the direction of a unified vision. While attending to vital activities such as pipeline systems, Air Traffic Management as well as Air Defense, oceanography and meteorological studies, NATO has provided us with a de facto world government, not something to be undervalued.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

The Ritual Elimination of Jon Gruden

On Friday October 8, 2021 word leaked that emails had been found where Jon Gruden expressed
unacceptably racist and homophobic sentiments. By Monday the New York Times expanded the
coverage and Gruden was gone, faster even than Al Franken or Garrison Keillor. Whereas Franken and Keillor were alleged to have engaged in inappropriate touching and gestures, there were no known complaints against Gruden. For anyone who is not familiar with American football and may not even have heard of Jon Gruden, I might first explain who Jon Gruden is. Until he resigned on October 11th, Gruden was the head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders football team in the National Football League.  He had coached them earlier in his career when they were in Oakland and had then moved on to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers where he had won a Super Bowl at the end of the 2002 season. After dropping out of coaching in 2008 he went on to being a TV analyst for ESPN and other sports TV outlets until the Raiders lured him out of retirement with a ten-year $100 million contract in 2018.

I confess to a smidgen of cynicism that led me to wonder if there was a plot hatched to get the Raiders out of this ill-conceived contract. Hearing the Raiders’ owner, Mark Davis react with displeasure that he had been neither consulted nor informed by the NFL before they launched the attack on his coach tends to neutralize the conspiracy theory, which leads us to the more plausible theory that the NFL was taking advantage of the atmosphere spearheaded by the Me Too Movement to eliminate a perceived enemy/liability.

Salaries in sports have reached absurd levels but this was surprising even in this inflated atmosphere, not so much for the amount as for the duration of the contract. Losing coaches are often sacked after only one or two seasons. Gruden had been out of coaching for a decade and while his knowledge of the game is impressive and his earlier coaching record was good, $100 million was a large bet on his belated return to coaching. His first three years into the contract did not produce a winning season but in 2021 the Raiders started off well and appeared headed for success. Indeed they did manage to get into the playoffs and were then eliminated in a close game.

The NFL was conducting its own investigation of what had been the Washington Redskins football organization until the name “Redskins” was deemed politically incorrect and the league forced the owner of the club to drop the name. Concurrently the league was facing lawsuits brought by female employees of the Washington Football Club alleging a hostile workplace and sexist discrimination. It was during these investigations that the league found emails to the Redskins’ General Manager at the time, Bruce Allen, an old friend of Gruden. The investigation reviewed 650,000 emails in all, an effort worthy of its DC neighbors, the FBI and the CIA. That it chose to reveal and publicize the old emails of Gruden, who was not under investigation himself, may have had something to do with the fact that Gruden had often criticized Roger Goodell, the Commissioner of the NFL, whose salary is even more generous than that of Gruden.

A man making $10 million a year probably should be smart enough to avoid calling the man who runs the organization in which he operates “a faggot” and a “clueless anti-football pussy”, even in an email to a friend. Most of us learn early in life that insulting people on whom our continued employment depends is not in our self-interest. Then again, $100 million apparently generates a degree of hubris.

The release of a coach’s old personal emails was not one of the league’s shining hours. Gruden was critical of Goodell’s management and his criticisms extended to bashing the hiring of female referees, tolerance of player protests during the playing of the national anthem, pressuring teams to draft gay players, and the league’s drawing too much attention to its injury protocols. I’m unaware of Gruden ever making his criticisms public but I assume that some of them are shared by many people in and out of the league. Beyond his league concerns, Gruden’s emailed criticisms of Presidents Obama and Biden to friends using vulgar epithets similar to those he applied to the NFL Commissioner.

In his place I might have made some comments critical of the league myself, although very different than his, and unlike Gruden, I realize that if I had a job in the NFL, I would probably be forced out for my views. First of all, I find the incestuous relationship between the NFL and the US military highly repugnant. The military flyovers at many games seem more appropriate to the Germany of the 1930’s than to a country that likes to think itself as a model of democracy.

Football and the military may appear to have some affinities. Strategies, discipline, training and
violence are present in both and they relish the high levels of testosterone in the more physical of those activities. From my limited involvement with football and the Army in the distant past, I recall that insults to ones virility were routinely used to inspire greater dedication to unpleasant tasks, from running laps around the field to digging latrines. Despite such affinities, there are differences. Football is a game, a rough game which inspires the natural competitive spirit of boys and young men. As a lifelong fan, I would argue that it is one of the greatest games ever devised, right up there with chess in its deployment of complex offensive and defensive strategies, as well as having specialized players on the field with different roles. The military is about waging war, which is not a game, except in the minds of some of our politicians and generals. It’s about killing people. In theory, it is about defending ourselves from foreign aggression, although to my knowledge the US Department of Defense has engaged exclusively in offensive activities since its name was changed from “War Department” in an early gesture of political correctness.

As for the misogyny which Gruden has been accused of by the NYT, I’ve never quite been able to forget that two current NFL quarterbacks were accused of rape early in their careers. Those charges were either dropped after an out-of-court settlement, or reclassified as sexual assault, that magical term which can be used to mask a violent crime or to conflate an unwanted gesture into a career-ending accusation. Good thing for them. Rape is usually a fairly clearly defined crime, although there are some exceptions, such as when the alleged rapist has been declared a wanted enemy of the state. Those players were suspended briefly, which given their salaries, would appear to most of us as severe monetary penalties. In 2007, the year after Roger Goodell had been named Commissioner of the NFL, another star QB, Michael Vick, who at the time was considered by many to be the best athlete in the league, was found to be involved in a dog fighting ring. He was charged with killing dogs who were not vicious enough, convicted and sentenced to two years in prison, as well as being suspended by the NFL. He served his time, interrupting a good career in his prime. I am often out of synch with a great number of my fellow Americans across a wide spectrum of subjects, issues and causes, but am I really alone among my countrymen, or even among football fans, in believing that raping women is a more serious offense than killing dogs?

Did this contrast in consequences of different disapproved activities reflect the values of the NFL or the USA in general? It was after all, a US prison where Michael Vick served his time. Then again, it may just be that it’s easier to negotiate an out-of-court settlement with a cocktail waitress than with a dead dog.

In fairness to Roger Goodell and the NFL, the league has expanded the business on his watch, making a lot of young men of humble origins into millionaires while making all their wealthy team owners into billionaires. To his credit, I’ve never heard Goodell use vile or offensive language but then, I have never read his e-mails or listened to his phone calls.  

If October 11th was a bad day for the NFL, it was worse for the New York Times. The Times, often referred to as America’s paper of record, covers many aspects of the news rather well, especially the obits, and its intelligent columnists outnumber its Neo-Lib propagandists and its presumed if undeclared foreign agents. It also documents and promotes the trendy values of its wealthy and influential NYC readers and the vast legions who would share those values and consumer preferences but just don’t have the wealth yet. Unfortunately, it does have a tradition of cowardly backing of the Establishment at its worst, such as its cheer-leading for the invasion of Iraq and its massive effort to derail the campaign of the most notably democratic candidate for the presidency. While the attack on Gruden may appear to be a small thing, its implications are greater than people seem to realize.

The exposè of Gruden was written by Ken Bolten and Katherine Rosman, who should have known better. You can see it here. Among the long list of all the terrible things that Gruden said to friends in his emails, the article had this gem:

“ Taken together, the emails provide an unvarnished look into the clubby culture of one N.F.L.
circle of peers, where white male decision makers felt comfortable sharing pornographic
images, deriding the league policies, and jocularly sharing homophobic language .”

While we were allowed to read many of the comments in Gruden’s emails, we were not furnished the images, described elsewhere in the article as pictures of women wearing only bikini bottoms, including one photo of two Washington cheerleaders. Did the authors see the photos? We did not. Jon Gruden was born in 1963, well after Hugh Hefner had made his fortune by founding Playboy Magazine, which featured women wearing not even bikini bottoms. Playboy’s decline came as a result of its sweet girl-next-door-photographed-nude features being nudged aside by publications such as Hustler, more open to pubic hair and a grittier sort of eroticism. Since then the USA has grown a huge pornography industry, which proves that the US can still make products for export. Most of the participants don’t get to wear bikini bottoms. When were Bolten and Rosman born and where have they been living?

Elsewhere in the New York Times, in the same week as the e-lynching of the Raider's coach, there was a glowing tribute to the artist Mickalene Thomas, with her loving appreciation of images of topless women.  Thomas's views were sincere enough but could there have been just a bit too much hypocrisy in the policies of the NYT, which spent so much effort decrying hypocrisy in the NFL?

Gruden was also accused of using offensive homophobic language. His language was certainly
vulgar, but these days does anyone not use vulgar language? After the story of the emails was
published, Carl Nassib, the only currently active player in the NFL who has come out as gay, and who happens to play for Gruden’s team, the Raiders, unsurprisingly declared that Gruden’s comments were unacceptable, but there was no report of his having had any previous objection to Gruden’s speech or comportment as coach.

The article drew more than two thousand comments and was republished at the end of December as one of the most widely read articles of the year. While there were a sprinkling of comments saying that the whole thing was a bit overwrought and out of place, the comments more typically seethed with heterophobic hatred, and a good many exuded racial hatred as well.  Of the thousands of comments, only a handful suggested that the whole episode involved a serious invasion of privacy. None seemed to grasp that their own comportment and attitude resembled that of the lynch mobs of a century ago. Yes, I am aware of the radical difference in outcomes. Losing your job, no matter how well paid, is not the same as being tortured and hanged. Still, the angry mob wanted Gruden to lose his job, and many suggested that others should follow. Were the NYT writers guilty of a hate crime in instigating such a reaction?

Gruden has been hounded out of a lucrative job because he used foul language and made comments in his private emails which were considered by some as racist, misogynous and homophobic. While all people should understand that old emails never die; they just go into a deep reversible coma, he might have been better off if he’d simply vented his spleen on Twitter. After all, the ex-President publicly sent out messages on Twitter far more crude, offensive and vulgar than anything Gruden said to his friends, and he sent them virtually every day of the four years he was in office. The two institutional attempts to remove him from office both failed since the majority of our elected Senators apparently do not regard his behavior as unacceptable to the degree that the majority of NYT commenters regard Gruden’s.

Hate is the major driver of ratings on all the radio and TV networks, and apparently for the major print media as well. Foul language has grown ever more foul. The N-word may have been successfully suppressed, except among black comics, but the F-word is now the most common adjective/adverb in American English. While I would be happy myself to see the use of the F-word banished from more than one instance per published or broadcast sentence, the establishment of a thought police or a speech police to bring about vigilante justice, whether it be brought about by hot-headed legislators or the New York Times readership, is something we should all stand up and fight.

We congratulate the Raiders for making the play-offs despite all the turmoil brought down on them by the Commissioner and the NYT in mid-season.. We don’t agree with Jon Gruden about much of anything outside of his field of football knowledge but we do wish him well with his lawsuits.