The Unknown Unknown

I just saw the “The Unknown Unknown” – yeah. A bit delayed. But now, more than ever, I’m thinking about who we will give the keys to the front doors of the White House.

I’ve always thought that people like Donald Rumsfeld scare the lights out of a candle. Media has made him seem anti-social and driven by pure arrogance. Like his cohort Dick Cheney (who, in my opinion is a watered down version of Rumsfeld), he’s right and to hell with anyone who doesn’t agree. But with Rumsfeld, you can’t watch this film without appreciating the definite gravitas of the man.

By contrast, Cheney is a pure manipulator. All that matters is that he pulls off his political machinations convincingly enough so that the core believers still believe. With Rumsfeld, I can see the manipulation, but there is a prow-like determination that slices through argument and debate with something that feels like clarity. To be sure, it is Rumsfeld’s clarity; what else should he be concerned about; bolstered by cold, steel-minded analysis.

Through the crystal eyes of the news media, we saw Rumsfeld often wholly unapologetic and wrapped in this enigmatic double-speak philosophic (e.g., the unknown unknowns). He is parroted and ridiculed as a master of confabulation. He is tagged along with Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz as one of the chief architects of a disastrous war in Iraq, and the principle deconstructor of the image of American civil rights, post-911.

That’s what we do with our war leaders – celebrate them and hold them aloft when they win, criminalize them and bury their image when they lose. That’s what happened to Rumsfeld, who – aside from this film and a few public appearance – has tried to stay buried. Cheney, on the other hand, is a zombie – angry hands bursting out of the grave with yet another tirade about why he was right.

There’s a part of me that admires Rumsfeld. In the sharp contrast, Rumsfeld stands above as a true believer. Pure patriotism fuels his bubbling self-confidence and steadfast determination. You must admit, this is the kind of guy that you want in the foxhole with you. This is the kind of commander you want on the front line. This is the kind of person you want making tough decisions and pulling triggers when they need pulling. But that’s the front line. The seat of governance is another matter.

By the way, the soundtrack by Danny Elfman is freaking cool. Nice music to listen to with the news channel volume turned off.

Criminals of Greek Debt: They need solutions, Not more Austerity

The news about the Greek financial mess is everywhere. Most people mistakenly believe that the fault lay solely on the people of Greece. It is true that part of the blame goes to years of corruption and tax avoidance by its wealthy. But how many people are talking about the role that Goldman Sachs played in this catastrophe.

Wall Street padded profits by leveraging the Greek economy with secret debt deals based on cooked up books. This entire crisis threatens to trigger another world economic crisis and it all stems from a secret deal that Goldman Sachs’ Lloyd Blankfein engineered.

According to a report from Bloomberg, Blankfein worked with former head of Greece’s Public Debt Management Agency,Christoforos Sardelis, to help the Greek government hide the true extent of its national debt.

The first part of the debt deal was struck in 2001, when Greece owed about 600 million euros ($793 million) more than the 2.8 billion euros it had borrowed. Goldman then cooked up an off-the-books derivative for Greece that disguised the shortfall but increased the government’s losses to 5.1 billion euros.

In 2005, the deal was restructured and the 5.1 billion euro debt was locked in. After that, Goldman and the rest of Wall Street pulled the global economy to its knees—whacking Greece even harder.

The complexity of the deal helped Goldman reap a bigger payday. In fact, the loan was so confusing that even the Greece government had trouble understanding it and thought it was much cheaper than it actually was. The Bloomberg report simplifies the situation with this telling quote:

Like the municipalities, Greece is just another example of a poorly-governed client that got taken apart … These trades are structured not to be unwound, and Goldman is ruthless about ensuring that its interests aren’t compromised — it’s part of the DNA of that organization.

Did any of its executives ever go to jail? Of course not. They all got fat bonuses and promotions. Blankfein, now CEO, raked in $24 million in 2014 alone. Meanwhile, the people of Greece struggle to buy medicine and food. Where is our outrage?

Okay. So let’s say that the Greek people bear some responsibility for mismanaging their financial situation and letting the sharks rake them over the coals. What’s the cost of this lesson. According to economists Thomas Piketty and Jeffrey Sachs in a letter published by The Nation, Euro austerity measures have hit Greece’s vulnerable population the hardest.

40 percent of children now live in poverty, infant mortality is sky-rocketing and youth unemployment is close to 50 percent.

Most people agree that debt restructuring must be part of any solution for economic reforms in Greece. But what the European powers have done is add additional eleventh-hour, draconian demands that Greece slash pensions even further, privatize even more core state functions, and attack unions and workers’ collective bargaining rights.

What has the U.S. done? We’ve stood by and done nothing. Not only do we have diplomatic influence, we are also a charter member of the IMF – we can actually vote in favor of better terms for Greece. Obama and Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew could use these tools to help steer this crisis away from catastrophe.

We can demand action, help push the powers along for solutions, or we can idly stand by and watch the people of Greece absorb the full brunt of an American-made economic implosion. We can also draw a line in the sand and let everyone know that austerity is off the negotiating table.

If we don’t, then guess who are the criminals of the Greek debt?

Post note: Yeah, I shamelessly pulled text from a Moveon letter that I got. So what? It’s a serious situation. I donated and I’m activating.

 

Lessons from Greece: Austerity and Trickle Down Economics Do Not Work

There are pundits who use Greece as an example of how not to run a country. I’ll use Germany on how not to make lasting unions.

Germany’s financial institutions – the lenders, investors, regulators, negotiators, and politicos – are the ones driving the lesson of austerity. It’s been a hard lesson for Greek politicians. But it’s been a painful one for the common Greek people.

The Greek economy has gone through the shredder – contracting by a stunning 25% since austerity measures have been put into place seven years ago. This has not helped Greeks repay their debt and it has actually made things a lot worse. It’s true that Greeks have a poor record on tax collection and that tax reform is probably long overdue, but at this point of the game, how do you squeeze water out of a rock?

Yet, even as the pain of poverty laps up around the legs of the common Greek worker, the Germans have demanded even more austerity measures than before – and this was during earlier negotiations. This is why we’re at the Grexit scenario – a full or partial departure of a valuable NATO partner.

What does a “Grexit” mean to us? According to some folks who keep eyes on global strategy issues, Greece is already sliding closer to Russia, which is bad for NATO. If you care at all about global military strategy – something bad for NATO means that it’s probably bad for US.

Americans should also take heed that austerity doesn’t work, trickle-down economics doesn’t work (period), and unrest follows when things get bad enough.

What does austerity do? It shrinks payrolls, reduces worker benefits, and in the case such as Greece – it tends to eliminate good paying jobs. And what happens when you shrink payrolls, reduce worker benefits, and eliminate jobs? Economies tend to not grow.

What does trickle-down economics do? For the common worker – nothing. But it does ensure steady cash flows to the wealthy. Do the wealthy spend money? Sure. But as our own experience has shown us, the outflows are no nearly enough to bolster real economic growth.

Is it any surprise that Greeks have revolted over the thought of handing over BILLIONS of Euros to creditors in the form of interest payments? The Greeks have rejected Euro bank polices that would chain common workers to decades of debt repayment. More power to the Grecian people – they’ve figured it out.  And they’ve put a name to their suffering and it is German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The list of credits should also include the cadre of heartless “profit at any cost” financiers who are squarely responsible for everything that happens next.

In the U.S., we have a name to put to our lackluster economy and horribly distorted distribution of wealth and it is every Republican, Tea Partier, and Libertarian who has put their name of government shutdowns and forced budget sequestration. Like the Germans, the GOP has repelled civil policy-making and, thus, repelled civil negotiations with the workers of America.

Americans have learned, as have the Greeks, that the ideology of austerity and trickle-down economics is bad for economies, bad for workers, and bad for civil society. Austerity and trickle down economics do not work – they’ve never worked. It’s time that we stop believing that they ever will.

Bush Lie, People Die: A 100 Year Family Business of Death

For the record – I have never voted for a Bush in my life. When George Herbert Walker Bush ran for president, I instinctively knew that “Bush” was a bad name in American politics. Little did I know how bad.

I am not a conspiracy theorist, but you can’t avoid them when researching the Bush Family legacy. There’s quite a bit of filtering needed. I filtered out the truly “superbolic” and focused on what could be corroborated by third-party sources. At best, you can call this an aggregate of many sources. It’s not perfect, but for the purpose of conversation, it’s more than adequate.

The big headline is that the Bush Family men did indeed profit from American war. The story starts back when the phrase “World War” was just entering the global vernacular.

An unholy partnership was established with the formation of the ‘War Industries Board’ (WIB). Historians and many pundits have labeled the WIB as “unholy” on account of its intent: a civilian omnibus to assist and coordinate the Federal government’s purchase of war material. Is it any surprise that it quickly morphed into an exclusive lobby group that rewarded its participants and supporters with lucrative contracts under the cloak of patriotic duty? I share the prevailing opinion that the WIB is the forerunner of what Eisenhower called the ‘military-industrial complex’. More on that later.

Before war broke in Europe, Samuel P. Bush, paternal grandfather of GHW Bush, had already made a name for himself as a successful businessman and industrialist. In 1918, Samuel was tapped by business associate and banker Bernard Baruch to sit on the board of directors of the WIB as “Chief of Ordnance” (for the procurement of small arms, rifles and ammunition).

Bush funneled much of this business to family members and associates. America became an open market for war material with millions of rifles sold to Czarist Russia and about half of all of the small arms and rifles used by the U.S. and its allies – all under due to Samuel Bush’s influence. Baruch was also active financing war; to ensure that all participants could afford to buy weapons. In one reported instance, U.S. financiers loaned Germany $27M while at the same time loaning the UK and its allies $2.3B. Together with other board members, the men of the WIB profited in excess of $200M.

Not everyone was blind to what was going on. Retired Major General Smedley D. Butler, U.S.M.C., wrote and published a book titled “War is a Racket” in 1935 wherein he detailed how business interests commercially benefited from warfare.

War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small ‘inside’ group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.

Enter U.S. Senator Gerald Nye. Nye and others were appalled by General Butler’s blunt expository, made all the sharper because of his rank in the military and the high esteem he held among the military culture (he was a two-time recipient of the Medal of Honor). Nye chaired The Special Committee on Investigation of the Munitions Industry to investigate wartime profiteering activities of many commercial and industrial participants. The investigation, often known as the “Nye Committee”, uncovered many things about WIB activities and pretty much confirmed General Butler’s claims that there were many deep connections between wartime profits, banking, and munitions industries. The results of these investigations never found criminal culpability, but the members of the WIB were ultimately labeled “Merchants of Death.” Senator Nye’s investigation may have also contributed to the American “non-interventionist movement” of the 1930s.

The German Connection

In 1922, there was a man named George Herbert Walker, patriarch of the Walker family and Governor Scott Walker’s grandfather who is also the maternal grandfather to George HW Bush. Walker had a friend named W. Averell Harriman. Walker was well-known and successful banker. Harriman was the son of E.H. Harriman who made a fortune as a railroad baron. Walker and Harriman linked their fortunes together to form W.A. Harriman & Co., an investment bank and brokerage firm.

One of the first significant business transactions, Walker set up a branch office in Berlin, Germany and met with Fritz Thyssen, an early financial sponsor of Adolph Hitler. Of course, no one knew what was about to happen with the nascent Hitler, but it was the beginning of what Walker called, “the Hitler Project.” Through Harriman & Co., Walker helped Thyssen establish a new German bank in downtown New York called Union Banking Corporation so that Thyssen could purchase of American commodities like steel, copper, and coal.

By 1926, Prescott Bush, father of George WH Bush (and a fellow Yale “Bonesman” to Harriman and son-in-law to George Walker), had joined the firm as its Senior Vice President. At this point, we have Prescott, George Walker, Prescott’s father (the aforementioned Samuel P. Bush), and Samuel’s fellow WIB member, Clarence Dillon, all working together at the same firm when it receives $70M from Fritz Thyssen. Several sources speculate that this money funded a new company called United Steel Works Corporation for German Steel Trust, which was at the time Germany’s largest industrial corporation. Note that several sources also name Prescott Bush and W. Averell Harriman as among seven board members of Union Banking Corp.

Were the Bush men Nazis as some theories claim? I don’t believe so. Financial opportunism makes for a poor substitute for socio-ideology. From the Bush perspective, their entire raison d’etre was economic. No one knew the future; what horrible things that the Nazis would do and what terrible things the names would come to represent: holocaust, murder, genocide. The images that these words bring are anathema to economic profit. That Hitler and his Nazis were also opportunistic is agreed, but only at this one intersection of history.

Based on available factual evidence, it is highly likely that some (if not all) of the account activities for Union Banking and United Steel Works ran through the Walker-Bush financial apparatus. Since the detailed records are lost, we’ll just leave it at that. As a footnote, there are enough surviving records that shows Union Bank holding more than half ownership of Germany’s pig iron, about 40% of universal steel plate and heavy plate, plus 35% of Germany’s explosives.

On October 20, 1942, the entire scheme comes to a screeching halt. By Executive Order 9095 (under the “Trading with the Enemy Act of 1917”), the Federal Government seized all banking operations under Union Banking. By then, Bush, Inc. had already made their fortunes financing and arming Hitler. As a postscript, after World War II ended, Union Banking assets were released and Prescott Bush sold his holdings for $1.5M.

Nazi conspiracists love this web of intrigue, but I believe that it is a mistake to take this link too far. There are many kinds of opportunists. In this case, we have fervent believers of a perverse and weird social ideology (the Nazis) mixing up with fervent believers of the almighty profit. Is it possible that the ideologies cross-pollenate – but nothing I have read about Samuel or Prescott suggests that they were interested in anything but the holy dollar.

The Legacy of Blood Continues

To be honest, from this point the factoids presented by Bush conspiracy theorists are difficult to verify. However, how interesting it is that the men of Bush and their close friends keep popping up at the most opportune moments.

Consider the Dulles brothers: Allan and John were both attorneys and both were deployed at various times as diplomats. They and their law firm were involved with defending Fritz Thyssen and the holdings of Union Banking and United Steel Works. Roll forward a few years and you find the Dulles involved in the weirdest U.S. diplomatic foreign flip-flop.

John Foster Dulles is said to have told South Korean President Rhee Syng-man that if his country was ready to attack the communist North, the U.S. would come to its aid.  In nearly the same beat, then U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson (who was close friend of Harriman) pledged to Russia and North Korean leaders that the U.S. would not defend South Korea if attacked.

The result was a massive collision of forces and a huge loss of life. You might expect that this would have been career-ending crisis for at least one of the men, but not more than a few years later, Harriman was appointed by Truman as the Mutual Security Agency director and the chief military alliance adviser of overseas national security affairs. Then in 1953, Eisenhower appointed John Dulles as Secretary of State and Allen Dulles as Director of the CIA.

Eisenhower may have been aware of at least some of these events. He at least harbored some ill will to what was happening to his America. On his departure, he brushed over these ill feelings in his farewell address of 1961 (excerpt):

…three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United State corporations.

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence-economic, political, even spiritual-is felt in every city, every state house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

Of Pigs, Loops and WMDs

It was around that time that Prescott Bush brought his son, George Herbert Walker Bush, into the CIA. Here are the relevant details about GHW’s early career at the CIA:

  • April 12, 1961 – Up to this point, CIA Agent GHW Bush had spent the prior year recruiting and training right-wing Cuban exiles in Miami for the invasion. He worked for 2 years with Felix Rodriguez, the CIA operative who had hunted down and murdered Che Guevara. Allen Dulles clears the operation to deliver ships to Bush for use in the invasion.
  • April 14, 1961 – Merchant ships carrying a paramilitary force of 1,400 Cuban Florida exiles arrived at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba. The landing went badly and two ships carrying most of the equipment and supplies had sunk. When two planes providing air cover were shot down, CIA agents pleaded with President Kennedy to authorize more planes and military reinforcements. Kennedy refused and the invasion ended as tragic defeat. The CIA lost 15 agents and more than 1,100 Cuban exiles were captured and imprisoned.

Kennedy stopped an unauthorized conflict and probably prevented a raging war which could have dragged the U.S. and Soviet Russia into another world war. However, CIA operatives and extremist hawks were bitterly angry with Kennedy.  GHW Bush, who stood at the epicenter of the disaster, brewed his own bitter hatred of Kennedy.

Fast forward past Viet Nam, Laos and Cambodia (because there’s only so much I can cover), and you run smack into GHW Bush’s short stint as Director of Central Intelligence (1976) under President Ford, then as Vice President of the U.S. with Ronald Reagan. And here’s where we find the Iran-Contra affair.

Iran-Contra was a big scandal during Reagan’s second term. The story broke in 1986 about secret arrangements to provide funds to the Nicaraguan contra rebels from profits gained by selling arms to Iran. The press and critics of Ronald Reagan’s administration claim that Iran-contra affair was the product of three distinct initiatives. One was a commitment to aid the contras who were conducting a guerrilla war against the Sandinista government of Nicaragua. The other was an effort to placate “moderates” within the Iranian government so that Reagan could secure the release of American hostages held by pro-Iranian groups. A third initiative was to bypass the Boland Amendments which prohibited military aid to the contras.

When the story broke to the press, Bush famously said he was “out of the loop” and unaware of the operation, which seems incredible given his background. Then, rather infamously, he later revealed, “I’m one of the few people that know fully the details.”

That leaves us to George W Bush’s rationale for the Iraq War. This history is still pretty fresh. Conservatives may spin recent discoveries about the WMD issue, but the fact remains – the Iraq engagement was ill-timed and badly conceived. Just as many Middle East experts (e.g., people FROM Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Israel) predicted, the Iraqi war was so badly managed that the worse has happened. Iraq is a broken country – barely able to manage areas that it controls let alone combat insurgencies like ISIS. There’s even doubt that Iraq will ever recover as a country. Whose fault is this?

I’ve heard conservatives suggest that GW Bush’s successor is chiefly to blame for the present situation in Iraq. Jeb Bush even went so far as to say that Obama is responsible for creating ISIS. That’s like the man who knocked down a glass doll, blaming the guy who had to sweep up the debris. Moreover, we should remember that Obama had to withdraw troops because the terms of withdraw were already set by the Bush Administration. Could Obama have changed the terms of withdraw? Sure. But were Americans willing? Were the Iraqis willing? We need only to re-read the news reports and senate testimony from 2005 to 2007 to find these answers. And for all intents and purposes, Bush had lied about Saddam Hussein, WMDs and the potential for success in Iraq. The result: a great great many people died. Seems par for the course, doesn’t it?

Parting Shots

You can draw your own conclusions about how angry and opportunistic men can sometimes be driven to do terrible things. Some of the conspiracy theories seem terrible and implausible. But like some folktales – there’s just enough truth embroidered into the yarn to make you wonder.

Repeated investigations into Bush/Walker family dealings have uncovered little actionable evidence of actual wrong-doing. While I was poking around, I wasn’t at all surprised to read that many records including reports and correspondence relating to the WIB and  Samuel Bush’s arms dealings were disposed and burned, “to save space” in the National Archives. Many key records concerning the Bush-Walker link to Union Banking Corporation and United Steel Works have also been lost. Losing and destroying records relating to the People’s business should alarm all citizens, but doesn’t this reveal something deeper about our real problem? While there are a great many people who are willing to hide, obfuscate, and spin in favor of the Bush-Walker legacy, there’s just enough evidence left to make you want to worry about what you’ll never know.

I reread Eisenhower’s farewell message to the American people:

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

For those of us with independent minds, we must resist natural cynicism from taking over our ability to think clearly. I have long since joined the ranks of those who reject the notion that only the powerful are qualified to govern. We can do what the powerful hate most: read for ourselves and think hard when it comes time to vote.

Final note. I tried to avoid making this yet another conspiracy tome. It was difficult to stay that course on account of the time span covered (nearly 100 years) and the relevant information uncovered. The spotty nature of the resources made it doubly difficult to verify certain parts of the story, but I did the best I could. To anyone who is interested in carrying on, I used the obvious conspiracy sites to point the way, but I used Wikipedia and other sources to light the path:

  • Members of the War Industries Board Organization, U.S. War Industries Board, Washington, Government Printing Office, 1919
  • Dwight D Eisenhower, Farewell Speech Transcripts, Eisenhower Archives.
  • Bernard M. Baruch, My Own Story (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1957), pp. 138-39.
  • Smedley D. Butler, War is a Racket (New York: Skyhorse Publishing, Inc., 2013).
  • Alden Hatch, Remington Arms: An American History, 1956, copyright by the Remington Arms Co., pp. 224-25

The Artful Blogger

Clayton Thomas Kelly is back in the news. In May 2014, Kelly was involved with a nefarious cabal of political thugs who wanted to replace Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran (R) with Tea Party favorite State Sen Chris McDaniel. June 14, 2015 he was sentenced for 2.5 years for a stunt that reveals much about the Tea Party and the Neocons who run it.

I say nefarious on account that what this little group pulled was not only socially unacceptable, it was illegal.

Court records and news outlets have reported that Clayton Kelly (28), who labored under the name “Constitutional Clayton”, was an ambitious blogger who wanted to get noticed. Kelly got the attention he dreampt about. He connected with a handful of McDaniel’s ardent supporters and was commissioned to break into a nursing home and shoot video of Thad Cochran’s ailing wife who was suffering from dementia – all in an effort to spin up a rumor that Cochran had a mistress.

Why, you ask, would anyone want pull a stupid stunt like this? Enter Richard Sager – school teacher, raging Tea Party boy – and John Bert (aka John Mary) – a former radio talk show host and local Tea Party leader. Apparently, John Bert was the main inspirator, along with cohorts Mark Mayfield (who committed suicide after his arrest in the case) and Elaine Vechorik, a died-in-the-wool fan of McDaniel’s. Richard Sager was the handler.

As of today, there are still some lingering questions about Chris McDaniel’s involvement. Apparently, McDaniel’s campaign manager, Melanie Sojourner, knew about Kelly’s arrest well before the story broke.

If you want details, check out the sources:

The Clarion-Ledger, Jun 16 ’15: Cochran Photo Case Messages: “Chris not happy. Delete everything” 

The Clarion-Ledger, Jun 16 ’15: Kelly gets 2.5 years in Cochran photo case

Talking Points Memo, May 21 ’14: Meet The Blogger Who Risked it all For A Mississippi Tea Party Candidate

Slate, May 18 ’14: Arrest of Blogger for Taking Pictures of Senator’s Ill Wife Rattles Republican Party

Marijuana Nation Rising

Another study is out: Americans believe that marijuana (pot) is less harmful than alcohol. A summary of the study was published by the Washington Post with this summary:

A new Pew survey out today provides yet another illustration of the failure of America’s drug war. By a nearly five-to-one margin, Americans agree that alcohol is worse for you than marijuana.

Which begs the question: why is it still treated like a controlled substance in more than half of the states? MONEY.

But just saying that doesn’t define the problem enough. Like Deep Throat, we have to follow the money to find out who profits from control. When you arrive at the bottomline (and there’s always one in these types of things) you find that the prohibition of Marijuana is driven by people who profit from control.

  1. Pharmaceutical companies. They stand to lose a big chunk of revenue – both from legal and illicit sales of their products. In a Marijuana Nation, people who need it can get it; people who want it, can have it – without fear.
  2. Beer breweries. Like big pharma, major beer producers could see some erosion in revenue as people turn to smoking joints rather than consume 6 cans beer a night.
  3. Private prisons. They could lose the inflow of tens of thousands inmates who still go to jail for minor possession violations and cultivation.
  4. Law enforcement unions. The “war on drugs” draws funding from federal grants and bonds, therefore legalized marijuana means many municipal and state law enforcement could lose a chunk of funding. The shortfall may also be transitional as resources are refocused on other law enforcement priorities.
  5. Petrochemical companies. Possibly the biggest losers in a Marijuana Nation. One well-known theory claims that companies like Dupont, Allied Chemical Corporation and Hearst Paper Manufacturing Division of Kimberly Clark, just to name a few, were the first to profit from prohibition. It is completely true that the “hemp” version of marijuana was once a global cash crop for centuries – and the beauty of it is, it is destined to be so again.
Washington Post
Pew survey: Marijuana is less harmful than alcohol.

Yes. Here in the United States of America, special interest groups who are willing to spend tens of millions of dollars to protect billions in revenue. And they have been very successful for many decades. Shocker, right? Survey anti-pot groups websites and postings: the same weird logic and false information that comes from lobbyists who have also profited from prohibition. Ah, but now I’m starting to sound like one of those hemp conspiracists. Some folks don’t agree with the idea that industries might conspire against another industry to leverage a business advantage. Alternet’s Steven Wishnia posted Debunking the Hemp Conspiracy in

2008 with a impressive study that reveals a gradual social intolerance for the plant that led to prohibition.  

Why, then, do
so many people believe in the “hemp conspiracy”? First, it’s the influence of The Emperor Wears No Clothes ; many people inspired to cannabis activism by Jack Herer’s hemp-can-save-the-world vision and passionate denunciations of pot prohibition buy into the whole “conspiracy against marijuana” package. Another is that many stoners love a good conspiracy theory; secret cabals are simpler and sexier villains than sociopolitical forces. The conspiracist worldview, a hybrid of the who-really-killed-the-Kennedys suspicions of the ’60s left and the Bilderbergs-and-Illuminati demonology of the far right, is especially common in rural areas and among pothead Ron Paul supporters. Most people don’t have the historical or political knowledge to dispute a conspiracist flood of detailed half-truths. – Steven Wishnia, Alternet

For all his snakiness,

Wishnia makes a few good points. But his rationale is too precise; his conclusion is too clean. Yes, potheads love a conspiracy, but he forgets (or doesn’t want to acknowledge) that conspiracy is like folklore; there’s always just enough fact to stick out like a smoking bong.

Consider the effect that a restored hemp industry could have on textiles and other industries. Hemp is quite useful, used for centuries in the manufacture of everything from rope to canvas to clothing. Hemp production would end absolute control over textiles and other hydrocarbon dependent products. Domestic hemp production might decrease our dependence on foreign textiles. Note also that cultivation of hemp is cheap and environmentally sustainable. If that’s the case now, could it also have been the case when Marijuana was made illegal?

By the way, hemp is marijuana is cannabis. Same basic plant, same prohibition, different names.

My favorite marijuana conspiracy is the one that says that smoking weed will increase incidence of disease. The Hearst “yellow journalists” loved to poke at that, and it’s actually true – to a point. The fact is, anything done in excess is bad for you. What about moderate use? Moderate users have been smoking pot for centuries. If there were any direct effects from smoking weed (e.g., cancer or other disease) we’d have empirical data. But we don’t. Do you know why? Because there is no direct effect. NORML released this well-written and fairly comprehensive report on various medical studies. So this amounts to ‘another’ bottom line for legalization: no conclusive evidence, no direct cause-effect relationship between Marijuana and disease. Here’s a link to the NORML report: http://norml.org/component/zoo/category/cannabis-smoke-and-cancer-assessing-the-risk

Stoner Laughing
Ed Rosenthal declared that the successful legalization initiatives in Colorado and Washington last November have “cured” him of his need for medical marijuana. Raw Story

When the Tea Party first emerged, I was inspired by their platform to limit government’s reach and let me live my life as I choose. As an adult, tax paying citizen, I am entitled to make decisions about my personal enjoyment. As long as my choices do not infringe on the rights of others, then what I do is my business, nobody else’s. Unfortunately, the Tea Party was hijacked by the Christian social agenda and got sidetracked by a dozen other little agendas that never made sense to me. Yet, the dream lives on. 

Twenty states and the District of Columbia now have laws legalizing marijuana in some form (see MAP). Colorado and Washington state have recently granted full legalization for recreational use, while the others issue individual permits for medicinal use of marijuana. Support is strong for major changes and I believe that very soon, Marijuana will be granted federal legalization. 

Now is our chance to end this wasteful and horribly distorted prohibition. More of us need to stand up and speak up. Marijuana nation IS rising. But it needs our constant vigilance.  

The Crime of the Election Year

The present electoral climate is like walking past a shadowy alley – it repulses us, but we can’t put a finger on why.

We sense that there’s a crime, everybody is suspect, but nobody agrees what happened. How does one begin an investigation? “Follow the money,” said Deep Throat. That, I did. And the startling thing is that the answers are right there in plain sight.

I’m talking about Obamacare, the Republicans, the Democrats, and all the rich guys paving the road to election day with their dollars. What I’ve concluded is that Obama is a sideshow. Being POTUS is one of the best-paying jobs Obama has ever had. His ideas are not all that original. The public policies he has pursued have been on EVERYBODY’s platform since FDR. He’s black. That’s the biggest difference, and it is a convenient distraction. But from what?

Consider the recently revealed bit of news that Koch brothers really don’t care much about Obamacare – well, maybe not as much as they care about Keystone XL. That’s the real strategy – they want the billions that they might earn from a big straw that’ll carry oil product from Canada to the Gulf. So… just like it was during Bush II, it’s all about oil. That’s all. Healthcare be damned.

Koch are the true boogeymen of America. Rich. Arrogant. Aloof. They run the John Birch Society. They run the Tea Party. They run Fox News. They run the propagandists who telegraph every lie about everyone they don’t like – smear campaigns against Democrats and Republicans alike. These are the guys I see when I have nightmares.

Most conservative supporters (and many liberals) are not listening to the real threat. If all politicians lie (I hope this isn’t a big surprise) then the real metric should be the personal gain of the actors. Consider the personal gain that Obama gets from Obamacare. Arguably, that’s a zero. Well, maybe a mark in history for being the president who successfully started meaningful health care reform, but there’s no factual evidence of him getting rich from the thing. 

Not so with Koch. Not only do they have an “invested” interest in oil – they have a HUGE invested interest. Billions of dollars in extracting, transporting and reselling oil. Question: what would you do if you want to get a controversial pipeline through the middle of the country? A nice feel good ad campaign? Or would spend big on ‘like-minded’ candidates whom you could later control and influence? Wouldn’t you like at least one or two political distractions? 

I’m convinced that Obamacare is the sideshow – and so is every last one of the other little distractions that the Tea Party has created. Anything with Obama’s name is like meat on a hook to the hyenas of superbole. That’s how publicity works. I should know. I write that kind of crap.

The really big show is going on in plain sight. And believe it or not, the Koch brothers themselves are just the vanguards. There’s a whole petrochemical industry out there just snapping its jaws for Keystone XL. And they’ll do anything to distract us from their business. Even ruin this country.

Time to wake up. The candle was lit long before the meal was cooked.

Book Review of “The Road to Serfdom”

The core of Hayekian philosophy is not conservatism; at least not the way American conservatives claim. Did they read Hayek or are they just pretending?

Humanism is a progressive philosophy. The goal is to improve yourself and the society in which you live and upon which you are dependent. For society to thrive, you need a sense of community that is engaged and supportive. It is not enough to improve yourself; as a member of the community, you must also be concerned with social responsibility.

Humanists do not accept the status quo if the status quo means that people are suffering. For that reason, you’ll find a humanist agitating for change and ways to end suffering. Invariably, even among humanists – there is disagreement on the details. Both Freidrich Hayek and Karl Marx were Humanist economists. One advocated for controlled capitalism, the other for communism. What they wanted to achieve was similar, how they thought we could accomplish it was very different.

Which brings me to a kind of conundrum when I meet conservatives who use The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich Hayek as a Christian uses a bible – high velocity, with intent to do bodily damage. This book is said to have spurred the Tea Party and the Ultra Conservative movement.  In 2006, the book appeared on Martin Seymour-Smith‘s list of the 100 Most Influential Books Ever Written and made HumanEvents.com’s list of Top Ten Books Every Republican Congressman Should Read.

If only they would read it. If only they truly understood what Hayek was trying to accomplish, perhaps they would realize what an utter fraud the leaders of the Republican Party (and the Tea Party) have committed. And the fraud? To say that they have blended Hayekian philosophy into the late not so great brand of American conservatism is nothing more than mere bullshit.

For backstory, Hayek is considered one of the intellectual leaders of the libertarian brain trust. Among the things contemplated were the limit of government’s role versus the range of freedom for the governed. Frankly, I have no problem with that notion. Government ought to stay out of personal lives and focus on governance. While Hayek message is also cautionary (at a time when caution was needed), it is the degree and the way that he makes his case that is troublesome.

The bullets had barely stopped flying in Berlin when many intellectuals and pundits declared that socialism was a fait accompli – an accomplished fact; a thing already done. The enemy, often characterized as rampant capitalistic oligarchies propped up by royalty or riches (take your pick), were on the run. Surrender was inevitable. History tells us another story. Not only did the oligarchs survive, they reformed during reconstruction. Which was good, for a while. But then even stronger cabals were formed, but that’s a story for another time. 

Hayek was among an opposing group – people like Jose Ortega and John Dos Passos – who feared the rise of socialism, but for different reasons. Ortega believed that given any opportunity, “mass man” would swell up and destroy the intellectual world in a fit of rage. Dos Passos was originally enthralled by socialism, but he became disillusioned by what he saw in Stalin’s Russia.

The trouble with an all-powerful secret police in the hands of fanatics, or of anybody, is that once it gets started there’s no stopping it until it has corrupted the whole body politic. I am afraid that’s what’s happening in Russia. – Dos Passos

Hayek took another turn. He believed that all forms of collectivism were doomed to failure — including collective bargaining. He pinned socialism as the greatest threat to individual liberty. It was on that point that he harps the most. In his world, all forms of socialism should be rejected by freedom loving people. So broad was that brush that he included simple things like government giving money to the old and infirm so that they could buy food and shelter. 

If it wasn’t pure democracy and absolute capitalism, Hayek had nothing kind to say. One chapter is nothing more than a long run-on rant about communism, socialism, fascism, totalitarianism, and despotism. On the first read, it seemed like one lumpy and wholly inaccurate mess. On redirect (by a friend who has read other works by Hayek), I find that he rails against ideology for the sake of ideology. It’s not that he has a problem with socialism, per se, but that he worries about the dogma that historically follows it. Given historical examples – the Soviet, Mao’s China, North Korea – he makes a point. The brush, therefore, is even wider than I originally thought.

What confounds me is that Hayek points out weaknesses in collectivism without serving back weaknesses in capitalism (for example). Let’s agree that there are many examples where central planning, or collectivism, has failed; 1960s American experimentation with urban planning comes to mind. But post-war Japan is a great example where short-term collective/central planning was extremely effective for raising up battered economies. 

It is true that the virtues which are less esteemed and practiced now — independence, self-reliance, and the willingness to bear risks, the readiness to back one’s own conviction against a majority, and the willingness to voluntary cooperation with one’s neighbors — are essentially those on which the of an individualist society rests. Collectivism has nothing to put in their place, and in so far as it already has destroyed then it has left a void filled by nothing but the demand for obedience and the compulsion of the individual to what is collectively decided to be good. – Hayek

As an interesting footnote to my study, there was a chapter – nine, I believe – where Hayek seems to support the idea of government sponsored social insurance, including health care.

As history shows, socialism did not sweep Western Europe, but it did roost. Through free elections, the people of Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and France reformed as mixed economies which allowed extensive private enterprise alongside substantial state enterprise and government intervention. This outcome was probably deeply disappointing to Hayek.

Who imagines that there exist any common ideals of distributive justice such as will make the Norwegian fisherman consent to forego the prospect of economic improvement in order to help his Portuguese fellow, or the Dutch worker to pay more for his bicycle to help the Coventry mechanic, or the French peasant to pay more taxes to assist the industrialization of Italy? – Hayek

And yet what the fisherman, the mechanic, and the peasant decided to do has worked out very well them, hasn’t it? Which then causes me to wonder, what the hell is he worried about?

I’m not an economist, so maybe I missed something, but “The Road to Serfdom” seemed to be more about Hayek’s philosophical views rather than an articulate analysis of competing systems. But I don’t think that this is the result of false advertising on his part. I believe Hayek sought to balance the rush to collectivism and wanted to fill what he perceived as a lack of complete discussion.

Consider how he contrives conflict. In one breath, he says, “…money is one of the greatest instruments of freedom ever invented by man,” but by another, he spouts that “it is money which in existing society opens an astounding range of choice to the poor man.” How does this work, that a poor serf may be caused to admire the “astounding” array of choices at his feet? Call me stupid, but I’ve always thought that the lack of money restricts choices and constricts possibilities. Isn’t that the center argument of the spiral into poverty? Isn’t that the very spiral that has caused gross imbalance of wealth? Isn’t this imbalance at the core of discontent among the masses especially as the lack of choices become acute?

If Hayek doesn’t understand the plight of the serf, then how can he advise us on how to avoid serfdom? Maybe it is because he never intends to deal offer advise; perhaps this book is as it appears – a collection of belly aches that ascribes to no ideology whatsoever.

Speaking of gastronomical distress, I believe mine is caused by reflection and realization that the current brand of conservatism believes that they have accurately portrayed his work. Seeking gravitas, they have exposed their ignorance. Therefore, the fraud is not Hayek’s but everyone who says that they have read his book and can give a good account why it must be held as the grail of the new American neo-conservative movement. I hope they do better on other subjects.

Stop Blaming “GOD” and Start Believing in Humanity

Source: Wikipedia
One of many depictions of “God.” Depending upon your influences, God is piloting a spacecraft, operating a holy button machine, or playing a cosmic organ at church.

As advanced as we pretend to be, we still have some pretty amusing superstitions. Well, actually some of them are pretty damned tragic. Like the one that says “god” will come down from heaven one day and lay waste to all people who don’t believe in her. Poppycock.

As an avowed Atheist, I do not believe that an all-powerful deity will swoop down and do anything – except maybe to stop by Area 51 and find out why the “angels” never reported back (TIC). But seriously, rain down from heaven to lay waste on the puny unbelieving humans? And yet, from altar, dias and pulpit we hear it proclaimed; idiot Chicago area Republicans declare it; citizens fear it: “god’s” punishment is ongoing in all form of murder, mayhem, and mischief.

Judeo-Christians are not alone. There are many religions that “believe” this is precisely what “God” (or “Gods”) are supposed to do; that death and mayhem on a grand scale is the purview of the great deity – a pox on you if you don’t embrace it. I’ll bet some clever shaman in the high tundra about 10,000 years ago came up with that idea first – to reign in a restless tribe. Probably the same wanton loin clothed bastard that told other men that women cannot be trusted. But I digress.

Sadly, there are ample examples of people declaring death and mayhem in the name of God (or Allah, or whaaaatever). Take a picture of that – we’re talking about men (e.g., terrorists from Chechnya and Waziristan, and gun-toting knuckle draggers from the Ozarks) driven out of their minds by what they believe to be the spoken word of their god. Personally, I have a problem with the picture of an otherwise beneficent all-powerful being really giving a rats-behind about little old me. Suffice to say, god’s wrath is a tragedy to those who are the victims and a pathetic waste to those of us who have learned control our impulses and now work toward a more sustainable solution.

Puzzling that Islam – like Christianity – truly tries to espouse peace (read both Koran and NT Bible to find appropriate passages). A vengeful god goes contrary to Christian belief that Jesus Christ was sacrificed on the cross to atone for sins for all time. So what is the problem? A root division within the faith? In Islam – you have influences of Medina and Mecca; differences in interpretation regarding the disposition of “Kafir” (non-believers). In Christianity, there’s the (in)famous division between Protestants (the Reformists) and Roman Catholics. I sat in a bible study once where Lutherans were clucking off about the “evil” of the Vatican; then (on the same day) sat through a Catholic seminar on the unsettling (and unholy) divisions created by reformists. But is that really the cause or merely a symptom?

GodI recently participated as the representative atheist in a “cross-denominational’ table talk at a local university (you know us heathens, we love universities). My assertion is that there is a root division – not within the house of “God” but within the house of humanity. Those who hold reverence to a deity commit the heresy of surrendering human rationality; of denying their human capacity to solve problems amicably without the veil of ‘belief’ to cloud choices. When we hide behind “god” we surrender “god given” freewill for mob action; we merely go with the flow regardless how we really feel. Later – when we are honest – we realize guilt, diminished individuality, foolishness; but we’re back at it again the next worship day – rattling the sabers of faith in homage to god.

The reaction from my fellow table talkers was somewhat subdued, but I took pleasure in one Catholic lady who stepped up to me and said, “You know, you are right. It is a heresy to proclaim punishment in the name of God.”

“Why do they keep doing it,” I asked.

“Because they don’t know any better.”

The absolute real solution to the problem: stop blaming god and start believing in humanity. Take personal responsibility for your actions and stop asking god for permission to do the right thing.

Carbon 14 Idiocy

One day, I was mousing through the net and in a flash of boredom I wandered to the CNN comment boards thinking I might catch some some good LOL. Then one comment caught my eye; one that baited me into a swift crushing blow. It’s times like these that I’m the Human Torch. “FLAME ON.”

The story in question was titled “Did Earth get zapped in the eighth century?” Horrible headline, but the author posted recent findings about a cosmic collision that may have resulted in a ‘short-duration gamma-ray burst’ that bathed Earth’s surface with radiation back in the 8th century. The finding could help explain why researchers find high levels of carbon-14 and beryllium-10 in trees that were cut down during that time. Not exactly front page headliner stuff, but it’s interesting to me.

Most comments that followed were the usual trollish nonsense, but one comment in particular put the flame in my eye. First, let me explain that I loathe nitwits out there who cite “evidence” that carbon 14 tests are so inadequate that the age estimation of dinosaurs (for instance) might be 70 million years or only 6,000 years – who knows <shrug>. This rationale has deeper roots that branch out from a Christian heresy that young Earth Creationism is absolute (e.g., you are not a Christian unless you believe this bullshit wholeheartedly). To the Christian who might stumble on this post – you read correctly. Young Earth Creationism is not biblical, its teaching is false, therefore it is heresy.

Back to the poster:

hubrisdenied: this right here is why i ALWAYS HATED CARBON DATING……its such a huge assumption to say we know for sure what carbon 14 levels were 50 years ago…..let alone millions…

Little did Mr Hubris realize that his hubris jerked me into the conversation.

superbole: What in the friggin world does this event have to do with the decay rate of carbon? Are you a complete moron or are you doing this to get attention?

Actually, what I wanted to say was that unlike YOUR GOD, atoms and the speed of light do not lie. If you want to believe that YOUR deity has TOLD you that the Earth is only 6,000 years old, fine. Don’t use your faith to invalidate a physical mechanical fact. In other words, get the hell out of my face with your stupid comment! But I simplified.

superbole: NOTE – carbon-14 dating is only accurate up to within 50,000 years (or so), so IF there were multiple radiation events, then we’d see a distortion in the 14C baseline – which, by the way, we do; that’s why the disclaimer. BUT… but… the friggin dinosaurs in your museum are still between 60 to 200 million years old. OKAY??

To whit, a passersby added this gem:

are122: There are many dinosaurs in D.C. much younger than that.

Yah. I admit it. I was ready to rip are122‘s head off when a cooler head popped up between my shoulders and said… “yo dude, chill.”

superbole: lol… i was like, “wft? where?” then… i had to laugh. “oh… THOSE dinosaurs

No question about it… this is idiocy at its finest. But dammit… don’t mess with my Carbon 14!