30 September 2010

Marc Estrin : Holocaust Thinking in America I: The Authoritarian Personality

What is the limit of obedience? Illustration of the setup of a Milgram experiment (see below). Created by Wapcaplet in Inkscape / Wikimedia Commons.

Holocaust thinking in America I:
The Authoritarian Personality

My Marc Estrin / The Rag Blog / September 30, 2010

[Part one of three.]

So now, in place of Newt Gingrich's 1994 Contract With America (aka Contract On America) we have the new GOP Pledge to America. Not unlike the current design, the rich are to get richer, and the poor to get sick, become homeless, starve, or shatter in endless wars.

The comparison of our American trajectory with the tactics and strategy of Germany in the late 1930s is more striking now than ever. We would do well to study this era carefully for a possible glimpse of our own future. Those targeted are no longer just our dispossessed, reviled and outcast -- our "jews" -- but much of the American (and of course world) population.

The attempt to exterminate European Jewry during the Nazi era was, in many ways, as unique as Jewish culture proclaims. Never before had an organized, industrial state targeted a population for complete annihilation, ruthlessly and efficiently pursued even within its “civil” codes and activities.

But to think of the Holocaust as a completely unique act, restricted to 20th century German antisemitism, is to limit it unduly, to make it unavailable as evidence and warning about tendencies in our own place, our own time.

For it would seem that every major thought pattern, every cultural institution that fueled the Nazi holocaust is present and empowered in the United States today. Safeguards against catastrophic outcomes are few and weak. “It can’t happen here”? Maybe. But with so many elements brewing together, and no visible controls to dampen the flux, there is no predicting in what direction the reaction will run.

Half a century ago, a civilization as culturally advanced as our own experienced a society-wide suspension of morality. Jews were the target. Now, the next set of domestic victims has already been chosen: the poor and unruly. Ready... aim...

The once and future perpetrators

Much of the current political agenda is dominated by what is popularly known as the “extreme right." Clinton and Obama have been instrumental in moving the Democratic Party in that direction. The Tea Parties and religious fundamentalism nourish the “shift to the right” within the population at large.

Critics have unanimously deemed the right wing motives as “greedy” and “mean-spirited," but such labels obscure the positive agenda involved -- an agenda described in most detail by the Frankfurt School in its attempt to analyze the roots of German fascism. Then and now; the descriptions are eerily alike.

It is reasonable to assume that Obama, the Clintons, Bush and Joe&Jane Six-Pack are nice enough folks who love their children and grandchildren, and hope to pass on to them a better world. What is it, then, that drives them to outlandish and seemingly heartless proposals concerning the poor, often themselves?

The authoritarian personality
In each event -- in the living act, the undoubted deed -- there, some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the moulding of its features from behind the unreasoning mask. -- Captain Ahab
While differing in detail, such right-wing positions are driven by belief systems characteristic of what The Frankfurt School called “the Authoritarian Personality," whose main characteristic is the urgent need for order. Freud, Fromm, and Reich unearthed the psycho-dynamics of weak ego-structure which underlay it, while Adorno and Horkheimer analyzed the social repression which left its authoritarian marks on the individual soul. When ALLES IN ORDNUNG becomes the highest value,the consequences are predictable. For the authoritarian personality:
  1. Powerful leaders are needed to keep society in line and restrict it to conventional, middle-class values. Exaggerated assertions of toughness and strength become the norm. Trickle-down theories are designed to protect the powerful -- in the interest of all. Though greed and lust for power may be involved, they are rationalized by an appeal to the general good.

  2. Democracy becomes a threat and must be limited. In The Crisis of Democracy: Report on the Governability of Democracies to the Trilateral Commission, Samuel Huntington warns about the consequences of an “excess of democracy”:
    The arenas where democratic procedures are appropriate are, in short, limited... The effective operation of a democratic political system usually requires some measure of apathy and noninvolvement on the part of some individuals and groups... Marginality on the part of some groups is inherently undemocratic, but it has also been one of the factors which has enabled democracy to function effectively.
    A need to control unpredictable “excess” democracy has guided American foreign and economic policy throughout this century. The pattern of marginalizing peasant populations and supporting dictatorial strongmen is likely driven as much by rage for order and fear of chaos as by the selfish need to maximize profits -- which profits might be even greater should the general standard of living be raised. So great is the need for predictable order that maximal profits are sacrificed.

  3. Individualism becomes suspect, a negative value to be stamped out. “Difference” means unpredictability, and fear of an unpredictable, uncontrollable “Other” spawns all the “isms” which rampage today: racism, sexism, classism, anti-semitism, anti-immigrant, anti-muslim rage, xenophobia. Nature itself becomes an uncertain enemy to be conquered and subdued.

  4. The psycho-sexual chaos at the core of an authoritarian personality simultaneously fascinates and repels. Rigid moralism embracing stereotypical values seems the most secure protection against anarchy and chaos. There is exaggerated concern with and denunciation of libidinal art and sexual “goings-on." At the same time, unconscious emotional impulses are projected outward, and the world is seen as a wild and dangerous place in which worst-case scenarios abound.

  5. Fear and guilt about chaotic thoughts within and anarchy without is so potentially threatening that psychic numbing is a typical response, with emotional dissociation from the consequences of action. Knee-jerk “patriotism” in response to moral questions is an effective defense mechanism. Yellow ribbons blindfold the eyes against mass incineration and live burial. The story of the Palestinians targeted by U.S. weapons must not be told. Such defensive control of information minimizes compassion for victims.

  6. A culture of punishment follows hard upon. Offenders against order must be strictly punished. Dominance and submission becomes crucial. The very same heartmind is both pro-life and pro-death penalty. But the sanctity of life is secondary: the important thing is punishment. Tender-mindedness is for “bleeding-heart liberals."
While no political leader or follower may display every characteristic above, they are all on fine collective display in the current reactionary Zeitgeist -- as they were in Nazi Germany.

Is it just that “people are no damn good”, or is their behavior created by social conditions surrounding them?

The Milgram evidence

In her study of Adolf Eichmann, Hannah Arendt noted that the greatest problem the Nazis faced was “how to overcome... the animal pity by which all normal men are affected in the presence of physical suffering.”

Most of the German perpetrators were “normal” people, people who would not be picked up by any questionnaire or psychiatric screen. They were by and large not sadists or moral degenerates or even political fanatics -- yet they became conscious collaborators in the process of mass murder.

How was it possible to create torturers out of next door neighbors? (How could our clean-cut young boys napalm women and children?) What about that animal pity?

In the early Sixties, A Yale psychologist named Stanley Milgram began a series of experiments which sought to clarify these problems. The basic question was narrowed to “if an experimenter tells a subject to act with increasing severity against another person, under what conditions will the subject comply, and under what conditions will he disobey?”

Subjects were recruited from all walks of life to “help us complete a study of memory and learning.” An actor-scientist greeted pairs of volunteers, and lots were drawn to pick who would be the"teacher"and who would be the"learner." The subject would always choose the “teacher” slip (all the slips said “teacher”); the other “volunteer” was a plant who then became the “learner”/victim.

The “scientist” explained that there has been some association of punishment with learning, but that there had never been any quantitative studies on how much punishment would give the best results.

After orientation, the “learner” was strapped into a chair in the next room, and an electrode glued to his wrist. The “teacher” could see and communicate with him via a glass panel and microphone. In front of the "teacher" was a bogus control panel consisting of 30 switches enabling him to deliver shocks from 15 to 450 volts in 15 volt increments.

The groups of switches were marked Slight Shock, Moderate Shock, Strong Shock, Very Strong Shock, Intense Shock, Extreme Intensity Shock, Danger: Severe Shock. Two switches after this last designation were simply marked XXX.

Milgram conceived many ingenious variations to examine different parameters, but the basic design was this: the “teacher” was read groups of word pairs to the “learner," and then ask him to correctly identify the pairing word from lists of four. If the "learner" made a mistake, the "teacher" was to administer a shock. For each mistake, the "teacher" was instructed to “move one level higher on the shock generator."

The victim (who, of course, was feeling no shock at all) greeted the increasing “voltage levels” with a full range of response, indicating no discomfort until the 75 volt shock was administered. At 120 volts he would shout to the experimenter that the shocks were becoming painful. Painful groans at 135 volts. At 150 volts. he would cry out, “Experimenter, get me out of here! I won’t be in the experiment any more! I refuse to go on!”

By 180 volts, “I can’t stand the pain," and by 270, agonizing screams. After 300 volts he would no longer provide answers to the test questions. The “teacher” was told that no answer constituted a wrong answer, and was instructed to raise the shock level.

How far would these “teacher”/subjects go? In spite of there being no coercion or threat (as in Nazi Germany), and without any animosity toward the victim (unlike Nazi Germany), these average Americans far, far exceeded the expectations of all psychologists in their obedient compliance with instructions.

Despite the fact that many questioned or even protested what they were doing, a substantial proportion continued to the last last level of shock despite the “learners'” screams. Almost two-thirds of the subjects -- ordinary people drawn from working, managerial, and professional classes -- were “obedient subjects," willing to go to almost any length at the command of an authority. Their explanations at post-experiment interview echoed those of Adolf Eichmann -- “I was just doing my job. I was doing what I was told. I was only doing my duty.”

Milgram was profoundly disturbed by his findings, (as were many members of the scientific community who attacked him personally).
What is the limit of such obedience? At many points we attempted to establish a boundary. Cries from the victim were inserted: they were not good enough. The victim claimed heart trouble; subjects continued to shock him on command. The victim pleaded to be let free, and his answers no longer registered on the signal box; subjects continued to shock him.

At the outset we had not conceived that such drastic procedures would be needed to generate disobedience, and each step was added only as the ineffectiveness of the earlier techniques became clear. The final effort to establish a limit was the Touch-Proximity condition [where the “learner” sat, screaming, shoulder to shoulder with the subject]. But the very first subject in this condition subdued the victim on command, and proceeded to the highest shock level. A quarter of the subjects in this condition performed similarly.

The results, as seen and felt in the laboratory, are to this author disturbing. They raise the possibility that human nature or -- more specifically -- the kind of character produced in America democratic society, cannot be counted on to insulate its citizens from brutality and inhumane treatment at the direction of malevolent authority. A substantial proportion of people do what they are told to do, irrespective of the content of the act and without limitations of conscience, so long as they perceive that the command comes from a legitimate authority.
In spite of Milgram’s despair, the findings did have their bright side. A number of experiments were done in which the subjects were exposed to several experimenters who disagreed among themselves and argued about continuing the shocks. Another series was performed not at Yale, with its aura of authority, but in a minimal office, under the auspices of the fictitious, unknown, “Bridgeport Research Associates." A third series was performed in which the “teachers” were not instructed to increase the shock level with each wrong answer, but could choose their own levels throughout the experiment.

The outcomes of these series was illuminating: given any hint of disagreement among the authorities, subjects immediately discarded their slavish obedience, and were no longer willing to engage in behavior they found morally questionable. When authority became questionable (“Bridgeport” vs. Yale), compliance dropped significantly. And without prompting from authority, “teachers” maintained shocks well under the discomfort level of the victim.

The casting off of “animal pity” was sustainable only under seamless monolithic authority. For all its fragility, it seems that it is not human nature per se that is malevolent, but that human malevolence, at least in part, is socially constructed. Under the right system, even here and now in the United States, obedience to authority can prevail against the “better instincts” of the population. The trouble is that such a system is currently alive and well throughout the land.

The system there and here and then and now

It is commonly assumed that outbreaks of bestial violence -- the Holocaust, or what we have recently seen in Rwanda, Afghanistan or Palestine -- are the result of primitive eruptions into a civilization insufficient to contain them. If people could only become “more civilized," there would be no such behavior. But what if our civilization itself were the problem -- not the solution? More civilization would mean more such crimes. Is such a proposition simply inappropriate self-hatred?

Again and again we have to confront the difficult fact that Nazi Germany was an advanced industrial culture quite like our own. The death machines were put into operation by people quite like us, living in comparable surroundings. Certified architects and engineers in well-lit rooms drew up plans for crematoria. Government bureaucrats, some trained in Kant and Hegel, purchased tickets for each passenger in the cattle cars.

Had there been computers, there would have been excellent data bases. Nazi soldiers played Beethoven sonatas to entertain the troops, to lift their spirits and help them return to guard duty at the camps. Bayer made superb aspirin using slave labor. Out of this modern, rational society, with a history of the highest culture, the Holocaust was born. Can we ever understand this? What can it tell us about our own situation?

One of the most crucial insights here came from a man who died well before Hitler came to power. Contemplating the industrialization of late 19th century Germany, Max Weber, “the father of sociology," came to the conclusion that “Reason” -- the ideal of the Enlightenment -- was evolving dangerously into Zweckrationalität -- instrumental reason, reason driven by a goal. In the service of its goals, modern society was becoming efficiently bureaucratic and scientific, but was losing its sense of values. In fact, “value-free” had become a test of objectivity and scientific legitimacy, as technique replaced moral responsibility.

This century has certainly proven Weber correct. Marxists and postmodern thinkers have taken Weber many steps further, as they deconstruct the goals we have inherited, and the stories we tell ourselves. Whose goals are they? What corpses lie between the lines in our story of “Progress”? If society is a garden, who decides on who gets weeded?

The important point is that Weber’s analysis of modern society -- clearly increasingly applicable as the years push on -- in no way excludes the possibility of another Nazi state. Nothing in the rules of the reigning instrumental rationality would disqualify Holocaust methods of social engineering, nor would its actions even seem improper. After all, social problems must be solved.

Milgram, too, found Weberian mechanisms at play in his subjects. To avoid confronting the victim’s pain, his “teachers” became absorbed in the technical aspects of voltage control and memory testing. They also demonstrated a kind of “counter-anthropomorphism," denying any human element in a human-generated situation.

“The experiment requires that you continue” was often sufficient explanation to overcome any hesitations. “Scientific truth” as defined by “authority” was a goal so persuasive that its perceived legitimacy overwhelmed humane behavior.

Outside the laboratory, for instance in the military, we find parallel mechanisms at work. Boot camp is not so much a training in military technique as it is in absolute acceptance of monolithic authority. Patriotism requires such acceptance. Once in the field, attention to technical details blinds the perpetrator to the effects of his violence.

The bombing sequence in Dr. Strangelove is a brilliant satire on the efficient calm of men about to destroy the world. Violence is turned into a technique, free from emotion and purely rational, even reasonable. Similar comparisons can easily be made with the instrumental rationality of the corporate board room, where the lives of millions are part of the calculus of maximizing profit.

More to come.

[Marc Estrin is a writer and activist, living in Burlington, Vermont. His novels,
Insect Dreams, The Half Life of Gregor Samsa, The Education of Arnold Hitler, Golem Song, and The Lamentations of Julius Marantz have won critical acclaim. His memoir, Rehearsing With Gods: Photographs and Essays on the Bread & Puppet Theater (with Ron Simon, photographer) won a 2004 theater book of the year award. He is currently working on a novel about the dead Tchaikovsky.]

The Rag Blog

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Bill Freeland : Electric Cars Not All That 'Green'

Graphic by Bill Freeland / The Rag Blog.

All-electric cars:
The not-so-green alternative

By Bill Freeland / The Rag Blog / September 30, 2010
Conventional wisdom has just assumed electric cars are clean because there's no tailpipe. So the focus has only been on convenience and cost. We need to go back to square one and ask: what's the point, since they're no cleaner than what we already have -- plus they have a short range and long recharge times.
With new all-electric vehicles (EV's to the trade) soon coming to market, there’s a drumbeat building that proclaims them the next stage of the green revolution. They promise a convenient, cost-effective and clean alternative to the gas guzzlers we’ve been hoping to replace for years.

The only problem: the data so far show that none of this is true. Most surprising, going electric is at least as bad for the environment as staying with the fuel-efficient, gas-powered cars on the road today.

This is not the conclusion one would expect, given the hype.

Let’s start with the first two “benefits”:

U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) lists one EV model currently available and eight more “coming soon.” Four others are promised by 2013. In terms of driving range, DOE reports these cars go only “about 100–200 miles” on each charge. And recharging the battery pack can take “4 to 8 hours.” Hardly convenient.

And the initial cost? Of those with prices available, DOE finds the average base sticker price will be $43,600. Not exactly cheap.

And then there’s the upkeep -- particularly replacement batteries.

Replacements for the Tesla Roadster, the only EV model now available (for $109,000!), for example, cost around $36,000. Tesla, however, offers the option to pre-order them now (for $12,000) for delivery in seven years, the time the originals are predicted to wear out.

Still, there are likely to be some who will be willing to accept these limitations for the greater good of the planet. But even that is more than these cars can deliver.

Here’s the reason: Whether you’re getting your “juice” from a pump or a plug, that energy is produced from fossil fuels -- either at an oil refinery or a coal-fired electric power plant. So either way, cars pollute. The difference is whether the emissions are discharged locally from your tailpipe or somewhere else by a electric generating facility.

To understand why, imagine you’re making a trip of 30 miles. In today’s typical fuel-efficient car, that takes about one gallon of gas, which according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), produces 19.4 pounds of CO2.

Now consider the EV alternative. Their power consumption is measured, not in gallons of gas, but kilowatt-hours of electricity. To drive the same distance in the EVs now under development will take an average 10.6 kilowatt-hours of electricity. And according to the EPA, generating that much power results in 21.5 pounds of CO2 -- which is two pounds more than burning a gallon of gas!

So bottom line: there’s no free ride for any automotive technology based on fossil fuels.

Future advances in EV technology could increase battery performance. And mass production could bring down the sticker price. But gas-powered cars that get 40 miles per gallon are also on the horizon. And nothing is likely to surpass their driving range.

So EVs are likely to be only a “second car” at best. Which means the jury is still out on whether EVs will ever make sense.

But for now, if you’re considering electric transportation, you’re limited by driving range, recharge times and higher sticker prices -- and overall the planet is still worse off!

So, sadly for the environment, while all-electric cars are the new thing, they aren’t any better than what we have now.

The Rag Blog

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29 September 2010

Thomas McKelvey Cleaver : 'I Agree With President Obama'

Photograph by Mark Seliger /RollingStone.com.

Put aside the President's botch-ups:
We cannot 'stand on the sidelines'

The Republicans are dedicated now to overthrowing everything I have worked for or supported for the past half century.
By Thomas McKelvey Cleaver / The Rag Blog / September 29, 2010

Let me just say that, as a person who has been politically active for change in this country for 45 years, I have had a rough time in the period since President Obama's inauguration last year, watching things go as they have, particularly since I invested so much time and energy into working for his election.

I can specifically look at the botch-up of the fight over health care, the way the President ignored the base and let the organization he had built for the campaign turn into nothing when it could have been used across the country to build the kind of support that could have led to a really worthwhile health care reform.

I can specifically look at the idiocy of appointing Senator Salazar as Secretary of the Interior, where he has managed to make what is supposed to be the "greenest administration in history" look nearly as bad as the Bush Administration in their approach to environmental management.

I can specifically look at the war in Afghanistan, which has gone from bad to worse under leadership that fails to see the obvious right in front of them. I need not go into my dismay over the way they have handled things like DADT, marriage equality, and the rest.

At the same time, the mere fact there is a health care reform law in existence is good. For those who don't pay attention to history, the original Social Security law in 1935 and the original Medicare law in 1966 were mere shadows of what they are today and what Social Security has been throughout my lifetime in the 50-odd years since I first got my Social Security card.

After these laws got their "foot in the door" they got amended and improved over the years. One can look at much of the environmental legislation in the same way -- a foot in the door and then improvement. That is the way things work here in this country.

Or at least that's the way it has worked in the past, back when there were two political parties that believed in actually governing and improving the country.

Today we have one party that has been taken over by a revolutionary far right political movement, which is dedicated to the overthrow of the system we all understand and support, and to the ultimate imposition of a theocratic corporate-fascist dictatorship -- they are not "conservative." They are radical and revolutionary.

Things are as dangerous for us right now, in my view, as they were in 1931 in Germany. Lots of people (myself included) have been pointing to the example of the 1933 German elections, but that misses the point. Had the Nazi party not managed to become the single largest party in the German Reichstag as a result of the 1931 elections, they could never have pulled off the victory in 1933.

So, to me, the election of 2010 in America is as important as that of 1931 in Germany. If the Republicans get the majority they are looking at, we can kiss all chance of getting any progressive change anywhere good-bye.

As a result of that analysis, I am willing even to vote for Jerry Brown, a politician I have not-so-cordially detested for 35 years, due to my personal direct knowledge of his role in creating the political/social/financial disaster we face today in California, back when it would have been easy to fix in 1975.

In this case, it really does come down to the lesser of two evils, because letting Whitman in completely wrecks the possibility of stopping things from getting a whole lot worse.

In fact, if we let the Republicans in, every last one of my concerns listed above will only get worse, with no possibility of "getting a foot in the door and then changing things as the opportunity arises." The Republicans are dedicated now to overthrowing everything I have worked for or supported for the past half century.

And so I find myself in complete agreement with this statement by President Obama, in the new Rolling Stone interview. And I hope Rag Blog readers will see it for the good advice it is (emphasis mine):
One closing remark that I want to make: It is inexcusable for any Democrat or progressive right now to stand on the sidelines in this midterm election. There may be complaints about us not having gotten certain things done, not fast enough, making certain legislative compromises. But right now, we've got a choice between a Republican Party that has moved to the right of George Bush and is looking to lock in the same policies that got us into these disasters in the first place, versus an administration that, with some admitted warts, has been the most successful administration in a generation in moving progressive agendas forward.

The idea that we've got a lack of enthusiasm in the Democratic base, that people are sitting on their hands complaining, is just irresponsible.

Everybody out there has to be thinking about what's at stake in this election and if they want to move forward over the next two years or six years or 10 years on key issues like climate change, key issues like how we restore a sense of equity and optimism to middle-class families who have seen their incomes decline by five percent over the last decade. If we want the kind of country that respects civil rights and civil liberties, we'd better fight in this election.

And right now, we are getting outspent eight to one by these 527s that the Roberts court says can spend with impunity without disclosing where their money's coming from. In every single one of these congressional districts, you are seeing these independent organizations outspend political parties and the candidates by, as I said, factors of four to one, five to one, eight to one, 10 to one.

We have to get folks off the sidelines. People need to shake off this lethargy, people need to buck up. Bringing about change is hard -- that's what I said during the campaign. It has been hard, and we've got some lumps to show for it. But if people now want to take their ball and go home, that tells me folks weren't serious in the first place.

If you're serious, now's exactly the time that people have to step up.
[Thomas McKelvey Cleaver is an accidental native Texan, a journalist, and a produced screenwriter. He has written successful horror movies and articles about Second World War aviation, was a major fundraiser for Obama in 2008, and has been an activist on anti-war, political reform, and environmental issues for almost 50 years.]

The Rag Blog

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Dr. Stephen R. Keister : On Biden's Blaming the Base

Joe Biden, at a Manchester, NH, fundraiser on Sept. 27, 2010, told the Democratic base to "stop whining." Photo from AP.

'Perhaps I grow testy':
On Obama and Biden blaming the Democratic base

By Dr. Stephen R. Keister / The Rag Blog / September 29, 2010
[On Sept. 27] at a fundraiser in Manchester, NH, Vice President Biden urged Democrats to "remind our base constituency to stop whining and get out there and look at the alternatives. This President has done an incredible job. He’s kept his promises."
[On Sept. 20] at the Pyramid Club in Philadelphia, President Obama said “when I hear Democrats griping and groaning and saying, ‘Well, you know, the health care plan didn’t have a public option' .... or this or that or the other -- I say, folks, wake up... This is not some academic exercise. ”
Perhaps I grow testy in my old age, but I am very much bothered by the statements of President Obama and Vice President Biden demeaning their progressive supporters and the young activists who brought them to office.

To place the blame on the progressives within the Democratic party for their own lack of insight -- and their pandering to the Republicans and "Blue Dogs" -- strains credulity and reason. Once again Casandra is ignored with, I fear, potential results comparable to the fall of Troy come the election five weeks away.

I look for a personal analogy... In 1938 I applied for admission to medical school. One of my sponsors, who I feel was key to my admission, was the elderly family physician.

Let us assume that at the end of my freshman year my grades were below average, and let us assume that my sponsor admonished me for my lack of dedication and perseverance.I would have two options: (1) to show my gratitude and respect and assure the gentleman that I would do better; or (2) to be cutting, unkind, and show no respect for his efforts in my behalf... put him down, demean him. If I had been an insightful, courteous, and thinking individual I would have opted for the first.

(No such event ever occurred... I worked my butt off!)

The Obama/Biden response to their initial supporters and donors certainly shows complete lack of any comprehension of reality. We are asked to be thankful for the crumbs from their table, and concurrently provide them a scapegoat for their own failings come election night and an overwhelming Republican win.

Of course we must take into account that the administration has been facing a hostile minority, but a minority indeed. We elected these folks to do what is morally and ethically correct, not to cringe and hide behind their dissident Democrats in the Senate.

Whether their response is a product of lack of understanding, stupidity, or gross disrespect hardly seems to matter. Perhaps, just perhaps, these folks can be saved from themselves. Perhaps we can in our actions get it across to them that they are derelict in communicating with the American people, a point that should be repeated time and time again.

Elect Republicans and put in jeopardy your Social Security, Medicare, and tax relief for the great majority of the American people. Elect Republicans and look forward to escalation of foreign wars with the concurrent loss to our national economy. Elect Republicans and deny yourself further ability to make individual choices.

One can hardly anticipate any positive action from these folks who cannot see the forest for the trees, but it might help an iota if the White House would appoint a thinking person, a person of vision and compassion, to the openings in the Treasury and White House staff, rather than more clones of Wall Street or of the Blue Dog stripe.

However, as the followers of true progressive tradition we must hold our noses and GET OUT AND VOTE. We progressives cannot afford to be petty and stay home; we must drag ourselves, our families, and our friends to the polls if we are to preclude a situation that could become unimaginably worse.

This is crucial in many, many states and many, many congressional districts, but none more than here in Pennsylvania where in the senatorial contest Vice-Admiral Sestak faces a very well-funded (by the corporations) political Neanderthal -- one Pat Toomey -- who is a leader in the drive to privatize Social Security.

I remember while in college being at an FRD rally when Harold Ickes spoke. Oh, to see persons like him, Henry Wallace, and Francis Perkins in Washington again.

[Dr. Stephen R. Keister lives in Erie, Pennsylvania. He is a retired physician who is active in health care reform.]

The Rag Blog

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Greg Moses : Saad Nabeel, the Sophomore Who Isn't

Saad Nabeel: An education interrupted.

The sophomore who isn’t:
How Saad Nabeel's freshman year got ICE'd

By Greg Moses / The Rag Blog / September 29, 2010
See Saad Nabeel video, Below.
[See Greg Moses' earlier articles about Saad Nabeel on The Rag Blog here.]

As the 2009 graduates of Liberty High School in Frisco, Texas begin their sophomore year of college under new stresses of time and study, they do not forget that their classmate Saad Nabeel never got to finish the first semester of his freshman year. And Nabeel’s immigration advocate Ralph Isenberg says the young man’s abrupt deportation last year was so unfair and illegal that he should be immediately restored to his college career in the USA.

Thanks to Nabeel's energetic internet campaign seeking return to his American homeland, the young man's deportation has been covered by reporters in Texas, Germany, and India. His open letter to President Barack Obama was recently published at The Huffington Post.

Pinak Joshi is one of Nabeel’s best friends and was able to take calls during some of the cruelest days of detention last year. Joshi is a sophomore in molecular biology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he is already doing independent experimentation on prostate cancer.

“Although I'm proud of all that I do, it is a very strenuous weight to hold at the age of 19,” says Joshi via email. “What happened to Saad showed me that this is a privileged kind of stress. Being a sophomore in college has changed how I look at the world. Thanks to my research experience and coursework, I'm more thorough with my responsibilities and I'm able to think about complex problems analytically.”

“Saad is missing out on all that,” says Joshi. “He's missing out on the ridiculous volume of math problems he would get as an engineer. He's missing the laughs, the good times, and the beauty that is in the struggle of leading a scholarly life. He's missing out on making new friends and building a network that could help him in the future. Most of all, he has been denied the opportunity to pursue his dreams.”

At the College Station campus of Texas A&M University, another close friend of Nabeel, sophomore engineering student Chris Anderson, finds himself already caught up in three-day bouts of homework and tests.

“Being a sophomore in college is more than just a title of what age I am,” says Anderson, “it means that I was able to make it through a whole year on my own. Being able to manage a tough engineering curriculum while still having time to do other activities has helped teach me how to prioritize and manage my time better. If I hadn’t had these skills coming into my sophomore year then I would be behind and struggling in my classes.”

“When Saad’s first semester of his Freshman year of college was disrupted he lost not only his grades which he spent so much time and effort to keep up, but he also lost the whole Freshman experience and the ability to prove himself as an independent person,” says Anderson. “College is about more than just getting a degree, it’s about learning to grow as a person and getting that life experience, but because our government decided to deport him and interrupt his education he is missing a year of his life that he will never get back.”

In Bangladesh, Nabeel struggles with living conditions quite different from the college apartments that he enjoyed last year while attending the University of Texas at Arlington on full scholarship for engineering.

“It is very hot and humid here,” says Nabeel in a draft script that he is preparing for an update to his YouTube page. “The temperature is constantly above 100 degrees outside. The apartment I live in has no air conditioning. To make matters worse, the electricity stays off for upwards of nine hours a day. Then there is the pollution. The air can make you sick here and some days I can barely get out of bed. I have also suffered several bouts of food poisoning. I hope you can better understand why I am so anxious to get home. Bangladesh is not home but rather a nightmare that I hope soon ends.”

To get his American dream back on track, Nabeel has been working with Dallas businessman and immigration advocate Ralph Isenberg. After a recent review of Nabeel’s case, Isenberg is arguing that U.S. immigration authorities contradicted themselves when they first separated Nabeel from his mother and then failed to treat him as an unaccompanied minor.

On Isenberg’s reading, immigration law defines minors as younger than 21. Therefore, when Nabeel at age 18 was separated from his mother, immigration authorities should have transferred him to Health and Human Services (HHS), where he would have been entitled to education and legal representation, both denied to him under supervision of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

“Saad’s detention was unlawful and ICE knew it,” says Isenberg via telephone. “Immigration law defines a minor as 21 years old or less. And there are two types of minors, accompanied and unaccompanied. Saad coming to America at age three was clearly an accompanied minor the whole time.”

ICE authorities in New York separated Nabeel from his mother on the day before Thanksgiving, 2009. ICE then detained the 18-year-old in an adult facility and refused the young man’s requests to communicate with his parents who were both under ICE detention. ICE could have allowed communication between the young man and his parents. They could have transferred the younger Nabeel to detention with his father in Haskell, Texas. Or they could have released the 18-year-old to the care of his uncle in New York.

At no point during their 15-year immigration saga in America were the Nabeel family “illegal,” explains the younger Nabeel in his upcoming YouTube video. They arrived with visas in 1994 and were very close to finalizing Green Cards in 2009. It was not the application of immigration law that forced the family to Bangladesh in 2010, but the misapplication of law by authorities who misused their powers.

“There is no gray area in the law,” explains Isenberg. “Unaccompanied minors must be handed over to HHS. ICE knew it, but refused to do that. They took a minor and put him into an adult detention facility without protections of law that minors are entitled to. There are halfway houses for unaccompanied minors. HHS has definitive responsibilities to provide education and social services. Saad was denied all that.

“When Saad asked for help he was called a security risk. ICE not only could have but should have paroled Saad to his uncle,” says Isenberg. “I dare say had that happened he would have never been deported. ICE broke the law by ignoring Saad’s request for political asylum while detained. They broke the law, put him in jail, threw away the key, put him on the plane, and there was no due process whatsoever.”

Saad Nabeel and Taylor Swift, in better times.

On a sweltering day in late August Nabeel received an email with a link to the just-released Taylor Swift video. When he clicked on the link he was informed that the video was not available for viewing in the Bangladesh region.

“It sucks,” he emailed, “because I had tickets to her concert twice but couldn't go because my parents said, ‘we don't know if immigration will extend our time that long.'” The family was living lawfully and obediently according to the directions that ICE had communicated. What else could keep the young Nabeel from twice buying his Taylor Swift tickets in advance?

Of course, eight hours after the first email a second one arrived from the computer saavy Nabeel. In all caps it read “just watched it, greatest music video ever!” How do you get to be more of an American kid than that?

[Greg Moses is editor of the Texas Civil Rights Review and author of Revolution of Conscience: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Philosophy of Nonviolence. He can be reached at gmosesx@gmail.com.]

Also see:

The Rag Blog

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28 September 2010

James McEnteer : Feeling Trapped?

Traffic jam in China. Photo from MSN.

Feeling trapped?
Miner problems, major paralysis
We may not be hung up in a Chilean copper mine or a Chinese traffic jam, but we're stuck just the same in our own intractable dilemmas...
By James McEnteer / The Rag Blog / September 28, 2010

Today is sunny and warm where I happen to be, with a light breeze, perfect for riding bikes with the dogs, enjoying a cool swim and eating lunch outside under the trees.

But for 33 Chilean miners trapped more than 2,000 feet below the earth's surface since August 5, it's been 50-odd days since they've seen sunlight or taken a breath of fresh air. Alive and uninjured, they can now communicate with their families and get food. But they are trapped.

Rescuers say it may be Christmas -- three more months -- before they can drill a hole wide enough to pull the men one by one up to the surface. Three simultaneous drilling operations are under way, attempting to rescue the miners sooner. Some of them appear emotional on camera, irritable and rebellious. When their request for wine was refused, the miners complained. Some are reportedly riding mining machinery “recklessly” in the tunnels. It's hard to blame them.

Not long after falling rock trapped the miners in Chile, motorists heading into Beijing on a major highway from Inner Mongolia became snarled in a monster traffic jam that lasted 10 days and stretched 60 miles. Truckers hauling coal from Mongolia crowd the G110 Highway because it has no coal checkpoints. So they don't need to bribe inspectors to ignore their illegal loads.

A few accidents and breakdowns helped create the longest traffic jam ever (so far). The trapped truckers had to pay roadside entrepreneurs nasty marked-up prices for their survival staples of noodles, cigarettes, and amphetamines, a capitalist coup. Anyone who has ever spent a motionless hour in commuter traffic can only sympathize with the horror of a 10-day stall.

Before you shake your head and say, too bad for them, at least it's not us... Wait. We may not be hung up in a Chilean copper mine or a Chinese traffic jam, but we're stuck just the same in our own intractable dilemmas, like Iraq and Afghanistan.

President Obama claims the 50,000 U.S. soldiers still on the ground in Iraq are “non-combat” troops. But that only proves we're still stuck with public officials who will say anything, true or not, despite the rhetoric of “hope” and “change.” Mission accomplished again? Same mission, equally accomplished.

Every occupation of Afghanistan has failed, but the U.S. feels exempt from history. Exceptional. We've been there nine years already with no end in sight. Since we lack any defined goals, we have no idea what “victory” in Afghanistan might look like. So year after year we kill more Afghan civilians and sacrifice more American soldiers for... what, exactly?

We are stuck with a militaristic foreign policy. We pursue global military dominance as our tattered social safety nets fail to relieve the desperate conditions millions of our citizens must now endure. We are stuck with an unworkable capitalist model.

But the tiny percentage of the ultra-wealthy who control our media and our government like it this way. They're doing better despite the widespread suffering. To consider another economic system is Unimaginable! Un-American! Our dysfunctional “freedom from government” is tops in the world. No?

Nobody -- rich or poor -- wants to pay taxes for public services that are deteriorating and disappearing. Our roads are bad. Our schools are worse. Our libraries and police departments are underfunded. Occasional acts of billionaire noblesse oblige -- Zuckerberg donates to Newark! Gates pledges billions against AIDS! -- make headlines and substitute for sustainable public policy planning. California spends more for prisons than for education. That's criminal.

The State of Virginia recently executed a retarded woman, though hundreds of studies show the death penalty does not deter capital crime. On the contrary, state-sanctioned murder only adds to the climate of violence in our country. But God help anyone (except He won't!) who dares challenge the right of citizens to carry concealed assault weapons in church.

No mass rebellion is likely. We are too wired up to act. Oldies watch the CBS Evening News. Kids are plugged into Play Station. Everyone in between is attached to their Blackberries, iPhones, and myriad digital doodads. Recent research shows that unless you unhook from your techno-fix sometimes you cannot process the information you're receiving. We are too addicted to our gizmos to understand or evaluate what we know.

Even adults like to believe there must be some responsible person somewhere who can clear up traffic jams, rescue lost miners or attend in a rational way to the disappearing American middle class. But as our shrill, primitive political rhetoric demonstrates, nobody wants to be the grownup in America. Public officials and political players prefer to point fingers and call each other names than to grapple with problems in an honest, pragmatic way.

That's much easier of course, though utterly unhelpful. Coming unglued will not help us get unstuck. If our species goes the way of the dinosaurs it will be because we failed to grow up. Christine O'Donnell may be right about evolution after all.

None of our problems is inevitable. But we show no sign of gearing up to liberate ourselves from any of them. Instead we double down, hoping to grab what we can before the whole show folds, which all but guarantees that fold it will.

Our fate resembles that of the trapped Chilean miners, forced to endure a long, excruciating survey of their potential demise. Is this our grave we see before us? Except no one is coming to save us. It's up to us.

So if you feel moved to pray for those trapped miners, you might also spare a few words for the rest of us.

[James McEnteer is the author of two books about Texas, including Deep in the Heart: the Texas Tendency in American Politics (Praeger 2004). Formerly of Austin, he now lives in South Africa.]

The Rag Blog

[+/-]

27 September 2010

Carl Davidson : Mondragon Diaries III: Visions of the Future

Otalora: This old blockhouse fortress now houses a worker-owned credit union. Image from Udalatx / Flickr.

Mondragon Diaries, Day Three
Visions of the future, ties to the past:
Tools for shaping organization for tomorrow

By Carl Davidson / The Rag Blog / September 27, 2010

[This is the third of a five-part series by Carl Davidson about the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation, a 50-year-old network of nearly 120 factories and agencies, involving nearly 100,000 workers -- centered in the the Basque Country but now spanning the globe. Go here for the series so far.]

BASQUE COUNTRY, Spain -- This morning our bus again takes us far up the winding mountain road to the 15th Century blockhouse fortress now transformed into a conference center. I've since found out it's called Otalora, after an old noble family that owned the whole area reaching back 600 years. In those days, in was an armed way station on a trade route between the center of Spain and the sea, and the Otalora family extracted heavy taxes on the traffic going both ways.

This led to wars among the noble families over these spoils, and at one point the tall armed tower on one end of the building was destroyed by a rival. In the years that followed, to bring a degree of stability, all the armed towers on other castles in the area
were also lopped off . This imagery brought smiles to the faces of the women in our group, who caught the symbolic significance immediately, even if the men took a moment or two to catch up with the laughter.

In any case, Otalora is now owned by Caja Laboral, the worker-owned credit union of the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation, which operates on the scale of a major bank with outlets across the country, in addition to serving as a source of finance to all the MCC coops, that dominate its governing council. The other voice on the council is a bloc of representatives from the Caja Laboral staff workers themselves. A few farmers use the land for dairy cows and sheep, but otherwise, the whole area looks like a well-tended national park.

After the Otalora story, our more serious topic this morning is the wider range of the cooperative movement, both in the Basque Country and Spain. Mikel introduces Lorea Soldevilla, a young worker-owner from KONFEKOOP, the Basque Cooperative Confederation. MCC is part of this, but it turns out that there are many more cooperatives in the region that are not from MCC. From the group's acronym, I also learn that the Basque language does not use the letter "C."

There are currently 755 cooperatives in the Basque Country, she explains, and only 80 of them are the worker-owned MCC coops. There are a total of 537,000 members of all the coops, but only 54,919 are worker members, and 37,860 of these are the MCC worker-owners.

Where did these other nearly 500,000 come from? Lorea brings up a spreadsheet on a screen to show us that there are all kinds of cooperatives and members. Eroski, the supermarket chain, for instance, has consumer members as well as worker members, and there are other consumer coops. There are also producer coops, such a dairy farms where the farm owners are members, but not necessarily the farm workers. There are also marketing coops, transport coops of independent truckers, cooperative schools, food coops, and housing coops.

At the center of KONFEKOOP's work as a confederation is the concept of "inter-cooperation," the idea that coops should help each other. "Inter-Coop," as it's called, has several organized components. ELKAR-LAN helps people with the legal and organizational consulting needed to form new coops. ELKAR-IKERTIGIA is a volunteer policy and research center. PromoKoop helps find new markets and helps coops enter new markets. OLINARRI helps to link coops to the wider social economy.

But there is another vital function as well. MCC is nonpartisan; it's not tied to any political party, and the same is true of many of the others. Still, they need to influence and work with the Basque and Spanish governments, especially on matters of law and regulations that can help or hinder them.

Konfekoop enables them to do this, both as a lobbying arm and by directly having its people serve on government bodies and study groups. It's a way of working with favorable politicians of all parties without directly being members of any of them. The Basque government, for its part, is largely favorable to MCC and the other coops, since they have helped to bring a higher-than-average degree of prosperity to the region.

We all gave Lorea a round of applause for expanding our horizons. It was now time for our caffeine break, and we all headed downstairs to a room in the old castle that was now a coffee bar. There were three workers getting us expressos and cafe con leches, so I asked, 'Are you guys worker-owners of this fancy Caja Cabral enterprise too? I asked. “Of course,” was the answer, as if it was the most natural thing in the world.

As we returned for the next round, I heard a few groans about the title: "The Corporate Management Model." Some gritted their teeth for a technical lecture; a few said, “can't they find a better word than 'corporate'?” “Give it a chance,” I replied. “'Corporation' doesn't always translate with the same meaning we put on it.”

Mikel introduced Jose Luis Lafuente, whose title, accordingly, was "Director of Corporate Management Model." Jose started off by explaining that their model was developed over decades, going back to Father Arizmendi's Ten Principles, but in a 1990's update, was also deeply rooted in the TQM outlook, or Total Quality Management. Again a few eyes were rolled, because a version of TQM was used against U.S trade unions back in those days, and a few around the table remembered it.

But as Jose continued expanding on MCC's approach, which put the core values of worker ownership and democracy at the center of an ever-widening set of values and organizational principles, the mood in the room began to change. He then took each component, and in a wonderful set of inter-linked graphic images, he unfolded a number of powerful tools that could be adapted to any progressive organization to build its strength, grow its size, and achieve its goals.

He posted "people in cooperation" as the first starting circle, then went on to connect that concept to the necessity of participatory organization, wage solidarity, social transformation, and many others. By the time he was done, everyone was wide-eyed. “So what do you think?” he asked. “I love it,” I blurted out. “But I'm going to adapt it to building my socialist and other political organizations.”

He laughed, but in the front of my mind was the conclusion that I had a powerful, modernized framework to update and supplement Lenin's "What Is To Be Done" and a number of other classics on organization.

It was time for lunch, and all the tables were buzzing with excitement over the presentation. Jose sat across from me, but he immediately asked about other matters. “We made an agreement with the U.S. Steelworkers about a year ago to form some worker coops in the U.S. How's it going?”

“From what I know,” I replied, “they want to proceed with caution, finding a few profitable firms to buy up and then transform into coops. Plus a lot of their members had bad experiences in the past with Employee Stock Ownership Plans or ESOPs, and they have an educational task to show how the MCC model is not at all the same as ESOPs.

He countered that it was often easier to form a worker coop as a new startup, but he understood my points. He went on to speak highly of GAMESA, the Spanish wind turbine outfit that had opened up three new plants in Pennsylvania in cooperation with the USW. GAMESA got along fairly well with MCC, even though it wasn't a coop, but simply a high-road green capitalist firm.

After lunch, we boarded our bus and headed back down the mountainside to the town of Assarte-Mondragon. We were next visiting IKERLAN, one of MCC's 13 Research and Development cooperatives. It was the first and the largest, and had a number of research lines. It included 209 full-time research scientists as worker-owners, and another 54 trainees.

“Effective Innovation at the service of our company clients” was how Maria, our presenter, summed up their mission. She went on to describe energy saving power stations, micro-needles for bio-tech medicine, new computer components for smart electrical grids, touch screen control panels for home automation, and so on. “Less energy, with lighter materials at lower costs” is a common thread, she added.

Again I was impressed by seeing the advanced productive forces, created by high design, that would be critical to solving problems like the climate change crisis. One of our team, however, asked an interesting question: “Does serving your clients mean working on nuclear weapons or other military instruments?” No, she said firmly, we turn these down. “Is that written down somewhere?” She wasn't sure, but added that with their values, “We would simply not think of doing things like that.”

The comment served as a transition to the last part of our day, a 40-minute bus ride even higher into the mountains. We were headed to a Franciscan monastery with a new secular institution, BAKETIK, the Basque Peace Center of Aranzazu, far above the small town of Onati.

Basque Country denizens. Image from Epicurean Ways.

The ride itself was a joy, with forest broken up by high mountain meadows with dairy cattle and, once you got higher, the sheep the Basques are known for raising. The cathedral at the top was a powerful piece of modern architecture, one you had to walk down through cut stone to enter.

The peace center itself had taken on a tough task. There were hundreds of undocumented refugee children, mainly from bloody civil conflicts in Africa, who had wound up on the streets of Spain, homeless. Many were brought here, and paired with volunteer "big brothers" and "big sisters" to help them regain trust and their own physical and mental health. It took patience, but it served the children well.

On the way back we stopped for an hour in Onati, known for good chocolate stores. It was true, as I picked up a large bar of truffle-flavored 80% cacao dark for only two Euros. But as I strolled through the town square at evening, I noticed something of far greater value. The town's working-class families were sitting in the town square, drinking beer and coffee, engaged in conversation. Children had the run of the streets, playing games and riding bikes -- and there wasn't a bevy of police cars to be seen. It was a place of community and solidarity, where people still enjoyed the simple company of one another and the smaller pleasures of life.

[Carl Davidson is a national co-chair of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, a national board member of Solidarity Economy Network, and a local Beaver County, PA member of Steelworkers Associates. His website is Keep on Keepin' On, where this series also appears. Davidson is also available to speak on the topic. Contact him at carld717@gmail.com. For more info on these tours, go here.]

Also see:The Rag Blog

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FILM / Danny Schechter : Stone's 'Wall Street' Sequel Goes Soft

Journalist, author, Emmy winning television producer, and independent filmmaker Danny Schechter will be Thorne Dreyer's guest on Rag Radio on KOOP 91.7 FM in Austin, Tuesday, September 28, 2-3 p.m. (CST). To stream Rag Radio live, go here. To listen to this show after the broadcast, or to listen to earlier shows on Rag Radio, go here.
'Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps'
Oliver Stone's sequel misses the mark

By Danny Schechter / The Rag Blog / September 27, 2010
Lack of focus on corruption mars Stone's new Wall Street movie. It's heavy on atmosphere, light on anger.
The lead headline in The New York Times is “Extensive Fraud Appears to Mar Afghan Election." The line below is "A Blow to Credibility," as if anyone who follows Afghanistan, a country known for blatant and notorious corruption, would be at all surprised by this latest “blow.” This “blow” followed an earlier “blow” a few weeks back with the disclosure of the crash of the Kabul Bank with $300 billion still unaccounted for.

In America, another fraud: CNN reported the next morning that the pathetic blonde beauty-celebrity Lindsay Lohan put up $300,000 to get out of jail. That’s the kind of story American media considers worthy of constant “Breaking News” attention.

When will we see the headlines like "Extensive Fraud Appears to Mar Economic Recovery" or "Extensive Fraud Led to Financial Collapse"?

I ask this question, sort of knowing the answer, after two recent back-to-back film experiences.

Last Thursday I spoke at a packed screening of my film Plunder: The Crime of our Time that indicts financial crimes and corruption behind the financial crisis. The audience seemed overwhelmingly positive except for one Wall Streeter in the house who insisted that while there may have been “ethical lapses,” no crimes were committed, an expression of a conventional wisdom that most of the media has reinforced without investigating any evidence.

At a reception after the film in Suburban Long Island’s Cinema Arts Center, several people told me that one impact the crisis has had on them is sleeplessness because of anxiety over whether they can pay their bills and avoid joblessness and foreclosure.

Ironically, film director Oliver Stone also had sleep on his mind, as "Money Never Sleeps” is the subtitle of his remake of the movie Wall Street. To my surprise, the theater was not packed for a film distributed ironically by the money of mad mogul Rupert Murdoch’s 20th Century Fox company.

After watching the movie, I realized why the right-wing Rupert Murdoch could be comfortable enough releasing the latest from the nominally left-wing Oliver Stone.

The movie built an “explainer” around a love story that in the end was as much about child-parent conflicts and pretentious philosophizing as the background of the collapse of Wall Street -- which is treated, ultimately, from a “we are all to blame” viewpoint. In many ways the movie celebrates the brash culture of greed and excess of our era while we watch Michael Douglas' portrayal of Gordon Gekko, known in earlier times for the slogan “Greed Is Good.”

Now, greed is everywhere, and there ain’t much we can do about it.

Oh Oliver, really.

Personally, I saw many of the stories I reported in my film turn up in his -- with even the same lines -- leading me to unprovable suspicions after having given my film personally to Stone with a request for his help months earlier.

How naive of me. We are in different leagues, clearly, and maybe on different sides.

In an interview on CNN, Stone seemed to argue that free speech is more of an issue than the insolvency of the banks. He became totally obsessed with the rumors that brought down Bear Stearns, an issue I explore in depth. Stone told CNN:
What I found out, what shocked me back in 2009, was that Goldman Sachs and those type of banks were really going long and short at the same time and were actually selling out on their clients. I thought that was shocking information to me, as well as the power of rumor, which, amazing. We show the power of that and how it can destroy a company...

I'm not so sure that's good for the system, although it's more transparent. But it does lead to circles of viciousness and rumor and hype and a stock, as you know, drops. I mean, look at what happened a few months ago, right? The market just crashed. So what's going to happen?

It does scare me, and I think it's the nature of the modern world, I suppose.
The following comment was on the website Ml-implode.com, where the intervew was excerpted:
There you go, "rumor,” mentioned as a causative factor 4 or 5 times; insolvency/leverage? Zero. Those poor, poor Wall Street banks -- they're victims, you know.
The movie dances on all sides of the issues, actually featuring an on camera cameo by Stone, of course and, Grayon Carter, editor of Vanity Fair, who I quote in my film and book, The Crime of our Time, because he labeled the crisis “the greatest non-violent crime in history” Stone feigns to that view but ultimately rejects it.

Hedge Fund investor Jim Chanos, who I also quote, and who has called for the prosecution of wrongdoers, was even an advisor. It seems like he was wanted for his insight more on the atmospherics of the scene, not his demand for more perp walks.

Wall Street 2 features a father-son subtext as the young banker played by Shia LaBeouf watches as his mentor -- at a firm made to resemble Bear Stearns or Lehman Brothers -- commits suicide after the company is brought down by rumors and dirty tricks. In the end he marries and has a son with Gekko’s daughter who, natch, runs a left wing website.

The kid is named Louie after the banker who died. Undisclosed is that Stone’s dad who worked on Wall Street was also a Lou. Clearly this movie was as much about the personal psychodrama of Stone’s life as many of his earlier films were about the ghosts of Vietnam. His movies about Nixon and W also featured father-son conflicts. The banker who died by jumping into the subway, Frank Langella, recently played Nixon in the movie about David Frost’s interview.

More disturbing was the film’s failure to call for any action. It starts with Gekko getting out of jail and getting back in the industry. So jail, in the end means nothing.

Many Wall Streeters interviewed about the film seemed confused about its message and meandering plot points. Most (including myself) liked the luscious cinematography of New York that even profiled Bernie Madoff’s former office, as well as David Byrne’s great music. Said former banker Nomi Prins who is in Plunder, “ I liked it until halfway through, and then it was a hodge-podge bunch of events.”

The pro-free market Daily Bell wrote:
Always, Oliver Stone seems a propagandist and apologist... One so successful and perspicacious as Oliver Stone must know generally where the truth lies. Would it be any news to him that the United States is over-extended from a monetary and military standpoint? Or that Fed money printing was the proximate cause of the economic crash. It should not be too hard to figure this out. The Internet is full of such analyses.
Critic Roger Ebert liked the film but added, "I wish it had been angrier. I wish it had been outraged. Maybe Stone's instincts are correct, and American audiences aren't ready for that. They haven't had enough of Greed."

Did those “instincts” lead to the pandering, or was it just the logic of the market or Murdoch’s neutering its critical edge with an insistence to “just tell us a story, Oliver, if you want this to be big.”

In my experience, audiences I met were furious about what’s happened to them and the country. Late last week Paul Volker warned that the financial system is still broken. Others fear another crash is only just a matter of time. This reality is not evident on Oliver Stone’s radar screen.

After my screening, a man named Milton told me he is active in the Democratic Party, but that the Dems will not really act against Wall Street. “They don’t have the guts,” he said. Can the same be said about Oliver Stone, who loves the Hugo Chavez’s of the world South Of The Border, but echoes CNBC here at home?

["News Dissector" Danny Schechter is a journalist, author,
Emmy award winning television producer, and independent filmmaker who also writes, blogs, and speaks about media issues. Schechter directed Plunder: The Crime of Our Time, and a companion book, The Crime of Our Time: Why Wall Street Is Not Too Big to Jail. Contact him at dissector@mediachannel.org.]

The Rag Blog

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Harvey Wasserman : 'Pebble Bed' Nuke Bites the Dust

The "Pebble Bed" design. Graphic from Anthonares.

No go for 'Pebble Bed' nukes:
South Africa ditches much-hyped technology

By Harvey Wasserman / The Rag Blog / September 27, 2010

As the "reactor renaissance" desperately demands new billions from a lame duck Congress, one of its shining stars has dropped dead. Other much-hyped "new generation" plans may soon die with it.

For years "expert" reactor backers have touted the "Pebble Bed" design as an "inherently safe" alternative to traditional domed light water models. Now its South African developers say they're done pouring money into it.

The Pebble Bed's big idea was to create a critical mass of uranium particles coated with silicon carbide and encased in graphite. These intensely radioactive "pebbles" would seethe in a passive container, cooled by helium. Without the need for a containment dome, the super-heated mass would produce both heat and electricity. Touted as needing no back-up emergency systems to prevent a major disaster, the plan was to mass-produce these "smaller, simpler" reactors for use throughout the industrial world.

Pebble Bed technology originated in Germany. But it was adopted and developed by the government of South Africa. For some it was a source of pride that a "developing" nation had become a significant player in the so-called nuclear renaissance.

But the South African government has now cut off funding for the project. Public Enterprises Minister Barbara Hogan has told the National Assembly that "sobering realities" included the lack of a working demonstration model, the lack of customers, the lack of a major investment partner, and the impending demand for $4.2 billion in new investment capital. As deadlines consistently slipped, Westinghouse withdrew from the project in May.

South African officials say the U.S. and China are still working on the technology. But economic realities make any tangible future Pebble Bed as a major source of new energy largely imaginary. Critics also worry that without a containment dome, the pebble beds would be vulnerable to small groups of terrorists with simple shell-lobbing mortars. And that critical metal components would not perform as needed under the intense stresses of heat and radiation.

The death of the Pebble Bed has considerable significance. For nearly two decades reactor backers have counted it in the imaginary fleet of new generation reactors coming to save us. Its alleged bright future would make it just one of the many new nuclear technologies that would render solar and wind energy unnecessary.

This anti-green arsenal has also included fast breeder reactors, which would magically create new fuel from used fuel. Canada's heavy water CanDu. Thorium reactors, which would burn a radioactive element other than uranium. Fusion reactors, which would mimic the gargantuan power of the sun. The AP 1000, new from Westinghouse. The European (or Evolutionary) Power Reactor, new from France's Areva. And a whole fleet of "Fourth Generation" designs which are unproven and often wildly impractical.

Like older proposed projects such as nuclear-powered aircraft, homes built of uranium, and nuclear-tipped anti-ballistic missiles, all have run afoul of reality. None offer a realistic solution to the problems of waste or terrorism, not to mention cost, heat emissions, and greenhouse gas production in all but the fission/fusion portion of the process. The first big breeder, Fermi I, nearly exploded in Monroe, Michigan, in 1966, threatening to irradiate the entire Great Lakes region. Today's models are extremely dangerous, dirty, and have been widely rejected outside France and Japan, where they barely operate.

Canada has been unable to find buyers for its CanDu design, and has put its own Atomic Energy of Canada, Ltd., up for sale. Thorium reactors are unproven, with no prototypes. Fusion reactors are periodically hyped and always "20 years away." The AP1000 and EPR face major regulatory, safety and financial hurdles.

Meanwhile a "Fourth Generation" of proposed reactors is theoretical and all over the map. As Michael Mariotte of the Nuclear Information & Resource Service puts it: "The Pebble Bed has failed for the same reason all the other new reactor designs ultimately will fail: they are too expensive compared to the competition. Renewables and energy efficiency are cheap and getting cheaper; nuclear is expensive and getting more so."

Sensing an unending march of hotly hyped but feeble headed new design failures, the U.S. industry is now pushing hard to get its aging fleet -- originally designed to operate 30 to 40 years -- licensed to run for 60 to 80 years. But not one of 104 U.S. reactors has a containment dome designed to withstand a serious jet crash. Reactor builders now say they'll put stronger domes on the new models, but prefer not to discuss cost or logistical realities.

The Pebble Bed's backers could not find private investors, and the South African government finally got tired of footing the bill. If/when that happens here -- and the sooner the better -- the Solartopian technologies of true green power and efficiency will finally get their day.

Then the "too cheap to meter" six-decade Peaceful Atom fantasy, with its fast breeding corps of failed new designs, can take its final rest in the very dead pebble bed.

[Harvey Wasserman's Solartopia! Our Green-Powered Earth is at www.solartopia.org along with Pete Seeger's "Song for Solartopia!" He edits the NukeFree.org website and is senior editor of www.FreePress.org.]

The Rag Blog

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26 September 2010

Hugh O'Shaughnessy: Former Guerrilla Rousseff Set to Lead Brazil

Dilma Rousseff: Brazil's next president? Photo from Menas Associates.

Brazil's Dilma Rousseff:
Former guerrilla in line to be
world's most powerful woman

By Hugh O'Shaughnessy / September 16, 2010
See 'Female representation: A woman's place... is in the government,' Below.
The world's most powerful woman will start coming into her own next weekend. Stocky and forceful at 63, this former leader of the resistance to a Western-backed military dictatorship (which tortured her) is preparing to take her place as President of Brazil.

As head of state, president Dilma Rousseff would outrank Angela Merkel, Germany's Chancellor, and Hillary Clinton, the U.S. Secretary of State: her enormous country of 200 million people is reveling in its new oil wealth. Brazil's growth rate, rivaling China's, is one that Europe and Washington can only envy.

Her widely predicted victory in next Sunday's presidential poll will be greeted with delight by millions. It marks the final demolition of the "national security state," an arrangement that conservative governments in the U.S. and Europe once regarded as their best artifice for limiting democracy and reform. It maintained a rotten status quo that kept a vast majority in poverty in Latin America while favoring their rich friends.

Ms. Rousseff, the daughter of a Bulgarian immigrant to Brazil and his schoolteacher wife, has benefited from being, in effect, the prime minister of the immensely popular President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the former union leader. But, with a record of determination and success (which includes appearing to have conquered lymphatic cancer), this wife, mother, and grandmother will be her own woman.

The polls say she has built up an unassailable lead -- of more than 50 percent compared with less than 30 percent -- over her nearest rival, an uninspiring man of the center called Jose Serra. Few doubt that she will be installed in the Alvorada presidential palace in Brasilia in January.

Like President Jose Mujica of Uruguay, Brazil's neighbor, Ms Rousseff is unashamed of a past as an urban guerrilla which included battling the generals and spending time in jail as a political prisoner.

As a little girl growing up in the provincial city of Belo Horizonte, she says she dreamed successively of becoming a ballerina, a firefighter, and a trapeze artist. The nuns at her school took her class to the city's poor area to show them the vast gaps between the middle-class minority and the vast majority of the poor. She remembers that when a young beggar with sad eyes came to her family's door she tore a currency note in half to share with him, not knowing that half a banknote had no value.

Her father, Pedro, died when she was 14, but by then he had introduced her to the novels of Zola and Dostoevsky. After that, she and her siblings had to work hard with their mother to make ends meet. By 16 she was in POLOP (Workers' Politics), a group outside the traditional Brazilian Communist Party that sought to bring socialism to those who knew little about it.

The generals seized power in 1964 and decreed a reign of terror to defend what they called "national security." She joined secretive radical groups that saw nothing wrong with taking up arms against an illegitimate military regime. Besides cosseting the rich and crushing trade unions and the underclass, the generals censored the press, forbidding editors from leaving gaps in newspapers to show where news had been suppressed.

Dilma Rousseff in 1970 police mugshot. Photo from Reuters / The Independent, U.K.

Ms. Rousseff ended up in the clandestine VAR-Palmares (Palmares Armed Revolutionary Vanguard). In the 1960's and 1970's, members of such organizations seized foreign diplomats for ransom: a U.S. ambassador was swapped for a dozen political prisoners; a German ambassador was exchanged for 40 militants; a Swiss envoy swapped for 70. They also shot foreign torture experts sent to train the generals' death squads.

Though she says she never used weapons, she was eventually rounded up and tortured by the secret police in Brazil's equivalent to Abu Ghraib, the Tiradentes prison in Sao Paulo. She was given a 25-month sentence for "subversion" and freed after three years. Today she openly confesses to having "wanted to change the world."

In 1973 she moved to the prosperous southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, where her second husband, Carlos Araujo, a lawyer, was finishing a four-year term as a political prisoner (her first marriage with a young left-winger, Claudio Galeno, had not survived the strains of two people being on the run in different cities). She went back to university, started working for the state government in 1975, and had a daughter, Paula.

In 1986, she was named finance chief of Porto Alegre, the state capital, where her political talents began to blossom. Yet the 1990s were bitter-sweet years for her. In 1993 she was named secretary of energy for the state, and pulled off the coup of vastly increasing power production, ensuring the state was spared the power cuts that plagued the rest of the country.

She had 1,000km of new electric power lines, new dams and thermal power stations built while persuading citizens to switch off the lights whenever they could. Her political star started shining brightly. But in 1994, after 24 years together, she separated from Mr Araujo, though apparently on good terms. At the same time she was torn between academic life and politics, but her attempt to gain a doctorate in social sciences failed in 1998.

In 2000 she threw her lot in with Lula and his Partido dos Trabalhadores, or Workers' Party which set its sights successfully on combining economic growth with an attack on poverty. The two immediately hit it off and she became his first energy minister in 2003. Two years later he made her his chief of staff and has since backed her as his successor.

She has been by his side as Brazil has found vast new offshore oil deposits, aiding a leader whom many in the European and U.S. media were denouncing a decade ago as a extreme left-wing wrecker to pull 24 million Brazilians out of poverty. Lula stood by her in April last year as she was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer, a condition that was declared under control a year ago. Recent reports of financial irregularities among her staff do not seem to have damaged her popularity.

Ms Rousseff is likely to invite President Mujica of Uruguay to her inauguration in the New Year. President Evo Morales of Bolivia, President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, and President Fernando Lugo of Paraguay -- other successful South American leaders who have, like her, weathered merciless campaigns of denigration in the Western media -- are also sure to be there. It will be a celebration of political decency -- and feminism.
Female representation:
A woman's place... is in the government

In recent years, female political representation has undergone significant growth, with dramatic changes occurring in unexpected corners of the globe. In some countries women are dominating cabinets and even parliamentary chambers. By comparison, the UK falls far behind, with only 22 per cent of seats in the Commons currently held by women.

Bolivia: In the Bolivian cabinet, 10 men are now matched by 10 women. In 2009, women won 25 per cent of seats in the lower chamber, and 47 per cent in the upper chamber.

Costa Rica: In 2010, women won 39 per cent of seats in the lower chamber.

Argentina: In 2009, women won 39 per cent of seats in the lower chamber and 47 per cent in the upper chamber.

Cuba: In 2009, women won 41 per cent of seats in the lower chamber.

Rwanda: In 2009, women won 56 per cent of seats in the lower chamber and 35 per cent in the upper chamber.

Mozambique: In 2009, women won 39 per cent of seats in the lower chamber.

Angola: In 2009, women won 38 per cent of seats in the lower chamber.

Switzerland: Has a female-dominated cabinet for the first time. In 2007, women won 29 per cent of seats in the lower chamber.

Germany: In 2009, the cabinet had six women and 10 men. That year, women won 33 per cent of lower chamber seats.

Spain: Nine women compared with eight men in cabinet. In 2008, women won 37 per cent of seats in the lower chamber.

Norway: Equal numbers of men and women in the cabinet. Women won 40 per cent of seats in the lower chamber.

Denmark: Nine women and 10 men in cabinet. In 2007, women won 23 per cent of seats in the lower chamber.

Netherlands: Three women and nine men in cabinet. In 2010, women won 41 per cent of seats in the lower chamber.
© 2010 Independent/UK

Source / The Independent, U.K. / CommonDreams

Thanks to David Holmes Morris / The Rag Blog

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