Un-Brainwashing America

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Lorenz’s Goose Eggs

Konrad Lorenz (1903-1989), the Austrian physician and zoologist who shared the Nobel prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1973, hatched a clutch of greylag goose eggs as a young man and found that the newly-hatched goslings “imprinted” on him and would follow him wherever he went as if he were their mother. He later found that they would imprint on whatever they saw moving during a “critical period” after they emerged from the eggs. In goslings that period is from 13 to 16 hours after hatching. That’s how Lorenz became “mother” to a series of baby geese and ducks in subsequent years. He also found that this surrogate motherhood was indelible. Once the little birds had “learned” that the naturalist was their mother there was no “un-learning” it. That might explain why Lorenz often appears in photographs followed by a gaggle of geese. Continue reading “Un-Brainwashing America”

We Were Wondering…

President Trump's Cabinet
These are the hollow men. They are the stuffed men. Leaning together. Headpieces filled with straw.

How Do American Governments Justify Their Questionable Actions?

Although the Americans in charge regularly resort to “American exceptionalism” and other familiar formulas to justify their belligerent solutions both at home and abroad, Europeans and other people from the world outside the United States have a lot of questions for the government and the people of the world’s only superpower regarding those “solutions.” Thanks largely to that exemplary American hero, Superman, we all agree that superpowers should be used for good, and that evil should be left to the likes of super-villain, Lex Luthor, and other characters of his ilk. At least that’s the theory. As usual, the reality is somewhat different… Let’s take a look together.

How Do Americans Live with Their Own Government?

How does one of the world’s greatest countries–historically, economically, technologically and militarily–the home of some of the world’s most prestigious seats of higher learning, manage to elect a government made up of its worst elements semi-literate accountants, speculators and rednecks, ultra Christian zealots, racists, militarists, hypocrites and other assorted sociopaths, headed by an uncouth, unlettered and unprincipled President and backed by packs of extreme right-wing billionaires and industrialists promoting their own sinister agendas?

Virtually none of these eminent American leaders have any consideration for the wellbeing of the people who elected them, preferring to favor with all their government initiatives a cynical, opportunistic and affluent sector of American society–the notorious “one per-cent,” not to be confused with the 1% sector of unruly motor-cycle club members who might actually be considered a better class of people insofar as they only rough up their fellow citizens individually or in small groups. And they have yet
to provoke a mortgage crisis or major bank bailout. Continue reading “We Were Wondering…”

The Children’s Crusade–3/3

Parkland School Shooting
Victims from the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida

Recipe for a Well-Balanced Country

High levels of humanity, characterized by empathy, generosity, neighborliness, cooperation and collective solutions to the problems of their society, are essential to all well-balanced countries. These all-encompassing solutions in first-world countries include controls on political corruption, universal health care, restrictions on predatory capitalism, reasonable judicial procedures, humane prisons, etc. As a result, their indexes of violence are lower than those of the United States and they have fewer serious problems in their societies than the Americans. This wellbeing in countries that look after their citizens isn’t due to coincidence. It’s thanks to longstanding, constant and well-thought-out execution of programs for the common good of all their citizens. That is to say: healthy politics.

Are there remedies for this inhumanity plague in the United States? There may be but, given the well-dug-in opposition there to humane collective solutions, they would be neither quick nor easy to implement. Embedded inhumanity has become a jealously-preserved American tradition. Continue reading “The Children’s Crusade–3/3”

Washington’s Hollow Men Write Their Own Ticket–and Yours 1/2

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The “experts” in President Donald Trump’s first cabinet.

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

T.S. Eliot
(Full text here.)

Beware the Lycanthropic Superpower

There’s a prima facie case for believing that President Donald Trump’s dubious curriculum and limited intellectual and moral capacities are sufficient justification for asserting that he exercises very little power in the White House. What, after all, can a man who doesn’t read contribute to decision making at the world’s highest level?  That leaves us to believe he’s just a straw man, a placeholder for the oligarchs that really run the United States in every significant respect. The obligatory next question is: Do the oligarchs themselves embody the necessary intellectual and moral capacities?

Since the only values recognized by the USA’s neo-con ruling class are economic in nature they are the only values the Trump administration proposes and promotes. They give no credit to human, nor historical, nor esthetic nor ethical considerations. The mythical “market” rules: just the bucks and the bling, and the faster the better. They know this scenario is essentially based on lies but they will continue to employ it as long as it works.

In matters of international politics the values of the American strategists of permanent war are equally bleak, just brutal smash-and-grab tactics, applied around the world, their aim to consolidate the United States as the world’s pre-eminent lycanthropic superpower.

What Ever Happened to the Free and Fair Election?

Just over two centuries ago the United States of America was cast in the Constitution as a democracy, albeit limited and imperfect. Women and slaves couldn’t vote, for example, and the election of the President was indirect, via an “electoral college” created by the Twelfth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Founding Fathers didn’t trust the unwashed masses; neither has any US American administration since. Even so, it was a step forward over Europe’s absolute monarchies.

Then, as now, the authenticity of a democracy depended upon free and fair elections. Without elections free of fraud and outside influence a “democracy” is a democracy in name only. Flash forward 231 years. How is the United States doing today in matters of preserving democracy? Not terribly well, it seems. Today the great election influencer is money. According to the Wikipedia, in 2009 the Washington Post estimated that there were 13,700 registered lobbyists and described the nation’s Capitol as “teeming with lobbyists.” The ratio of lobbyists employed by the healthcare industry, compared with every elected politician, was six to one, according to one account. (Could this be why the United States doesn’t have proper universal health care, like nearly every other country in the industrialized world?) This is just healthcare lobbyists; the ratio of the total is more like 16 to one. Someone has to pay all these lobbyists. Who pays and what do they get in return?

According to Tom Murse, writing on the ThoughtCo.com website,

Lobbyists are hired and paid by special interest groups, companies, nonprofits and even school districts to exert influence over elected officials at all levels of government. Lobbyists work at the federal level by meeting with members of Congress to introduce legislation and encourage them to vote certain ways that benefit their clients. But they also work at the local and state levels as well.

What does a lobbyist do, then, that makes him so unpopular? It comes down to money. Most Americans don’t have the money to spend on trying to influence their members of Congress, so they view special interests and their lobbyists as having an unfair advantage in creating policy that benefits them rather than the good of the people. 

Lobbyists, however, say they simply want to make sure your elected officials “hear and understand both sides of an issue before making a decision,” as one lobbying firm puts it. Together they spend more than $3 billion trying to influence members of Congress every year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, D.C.

PACs and Super PACs Thicken the Plot

The “political action committee” (PAC) dates from a 1943 CIO union initiative, but it has come a long way since then. Its latest iteration, from, 2010, is the Super PAC, thanks to two judicial decisions that revolutionized campaign financing in the United States. A Super PAC may not make contributions directly to candidate campaigns or parties but may engage in unlimited political spending independently of the campaigns. Unlike traditional PACs, they can raise funds from individuals, corporations, unions, and other groups without any legal limit on donation size. (Emphasis mine.)

That is to say, they can exert massive influence the outcome of elections. The bottom line is that big money, whether individual billionaires, companies, trade associations or unions, can now virtually buy legislators. The process is admittedly indirect but mortally effective. The United States government has become a commodity in their much-vaunted free-market economy. It has passed from democracy to “democracy.” There is only one limit on the power of the Super PAC: how much money are they willing to spend?

Add to the lobbyists and the Super PACs, the legislators’ self-arrogated right to redesign their congressional districts to assure their own re-election (gerrymandering), a grotesque and anti-democratic practice that is also legal.

gerrymandering1

The Spanish philosopher and essayist, José Ortega y Gasset, wrote in his Meditaciones del Quijote, “Yo soy yo y mi circunstancia y si no la salvo a ella no me salvo yo.” (I am myself and my circumstances and if I don’t save them I don’t save myself.) President Donald Trump is himself and his advisors, and he doesn’t seem capable of saving either them nor himself. Without personal resources, without civilized criteria, nor advisors who are more than neophytes, party hacks and generals, the President is a hollow man.

Go to part 2/2
Read more rantings in my ebook, The Turncoat Chronicles.
Thanks for commenting and sharing

 

U.S. Private Prisons Have Failed — 3/3

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Minorities are Cheaper

A 2014 study by a doctoral candidate at UC Berkeley shows that minorities make up a greater percentage of inmates in private prisons than in their public counterparts, largely because minorities are cheaper to incarcerate. (It doesn’t say why. Are they more docile?) According to the study, for-profit prison operators accumulate these low-cost inmates “through explicit and implicit exemptions written into contracts between these private prison management companies and state departments of correction.”

An example of private prisons’ inadequate staff training leading to jail violence was reported by two Bloomberg News journalists, Margaret Newkirk and William Selway in Mississippi at the now-closed Walnut Grove Correctional Facility (WGCF). According to the journalists, the ratio of staff to prisoners in this prison was at times as low as 1 to 120. In a bloody riot in this prison, six inmates were rushed to the hospital, including one with permanent brain damage. During the riot, the staff of the prison did not respond but waited until the melee ended, because prisoners outnumbered staff at the time by a ratio of 60-1.

 Why Does the United States Have Millions of Prisoners?

Why do so many Americans deserve prison? Are they genetically determined for crime and mayhem? Is it something in the water? Are they just the worst people on earth? I’m reluctant to believe that. Something is causing them to be the way they are and preventing them from being honest productive citizens instead of misfits and social pariahs.

Could it have to do with being born and raised in a dystopian (as opposed to utopian) society? The United States is, after all, number one in the world in school shootings (and all firearms deaths, for that matter). It worships get-rich-quick entrepreneurs, speculators and deal makers, people who would rather grab than create.  (And what faster way to get rich quick than dope peddling?) Some of its citizens actually feel threatened by collective solutions whether it be environmental protection or universal health care–or even public schools–solutions that have immensely elevated people’s wellbeing all over the rest of the known world.

The United States is the world leader in home repossessions, in homelessness and people who live–and try to raise their families–in their cars. It’s a country run by an unenlightened conservative majority that prefers castigation to education, self-interest to solidarity. It’s every man for himself. It’s no wonder it gets lonely out there. People get desperate and inevitably get into trouble. And, thanks to mandatory sentences and other inhuman judicial and business practices many of them find themselves incarcerated for a long time, if not forever. Especially if they’re black.

The “natural” habitat of young American black men–the majority of the inmates in all U.S. penal institutions–is mean streets, inequality, penury, unfairness, violence and hopelessness. Could it be any other way? If the current President of the United States is a sociopath, how are the impoverished, uncultured black kids in the neighborhoods supposed to be models of sanity and civility?

It’a not clear how many Americans are aware of the extent to which President Obama was disrespected and boycotted by the Washington good ol’ boys for the mere fact of being black, but from this side of the Atlantic the disdain looked blatantly evident. Considering the treatment accorded the President of the United States, one can only imagine that  dispensed to young black drug offenders in the prison system, whether public or private.

Jill Filopivic Writes in The Guardian

I’d like to cite here a couple of paragraphs from Jill Filopivic writing for The Guardian, examples of how the American private-prison situation is seen by many people in the rest of the world.

“The privatization of traditional government functions – and big government payments to private contractors – isn’t limited to international intelligence operations like the National Security Agency. It’s happening with little oversight in dozens of areas once the province of government, from schools to airports to the military. The shifting of government responsibilities to private actors isn’t without consequence, as privatization often comes with a lack of oversight and a series of abuses. One particularly stunning example is the American prison system, the realities of which should be a national disgrace.

Some of those realities are highlighted in a recent lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of prisoners at the East Mississippi Correctional Facility (EMCF). The ACLU contends the facility, which is operated by private contractors, is rife with horrific abuses.

The complaint lists a litany of such horrors: rampant rapes and placing prisoners in solitary confinement for weeks, months or even years at a time, where the only way to get a guard’s attention in an emergency is to set a fire. Rat infestations are so bad that vermin crawl over prisoners; sometimes, the rats are captured, put on leashes and sold as pets to the most severely mentally ill inmates.

There are many suicide attempts, some successful. The untreated mentally ill throw feces, scream, start fires, electrocute themselves and self-mutilate. The prison authorities deny or delay treatment for infections and even cancer. Stabbings, beatings and other acts of violence are common. Juveniles are housed with adults, including one 16-year-old who was sexually assaulted by his adult cell mate. Malnourishment and chronic hunger abound. Officers deal with prisoners by using physical violence…”

So don’t think that nobody’s looking.

Is There a Solution?

If there is a way out, it’s not in plain view. Because in order to solve the prison problem you have to start by solving everything else, as all of the United States’s critical issues are interrelated: health, education, militarization, white supremacy, social programs, corruption in business and government (including legal corruption like gerrymandering and hard-cash lobbying, that legislators have legalized in order to write their own tickets), unregulated killer capitalism, guns uncontrolled, inequality on all fronts… That is to say, virtually all of the sick values that underlie a terminally ill society.

Just imagine yourself sitting on the tip of a massive iceberg with a paddle, paddling like crazy trying to turn it around 180 degrees. Are you optimistic? Neither am I.

Back to Part 1

Read more rants in my ebook, The Turncoat Chronicles.

Thanks for sharing and commenting.

Permanent War Is Bad for You

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But It’s So Good for Business; What Can We Do?

I wonder if the American dedication to permanent war over the past quarter-century worries you as much as it does me. And it’s looking more permanent every day as if the country had developed a bellicose addiction. It comes in colors: black ops, pre-emptive strikes, war by false flags, war by proxies, mercenary wars. What to do about it? I’ll do what I normally do, write it up, in the vain hope that someone will at least notice the absurdity and injustice of the situation.

I’ve got some specific concerns regarding this “Permawar” business.  Permanent war means victims every day, victims of all flavors, young and old, saints and sinners, almost every type of person in fact, except politicians and war profiteers. I do want to include soldiers in this list of victims. They are, after all, human beings, sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, all with families, dreams and ambitions to lose in a war. And most of them don’t want to be there in the first place. Continue reading “Permanent War Is Bad for You”

What America Learned from the Germans — 2/2

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(Continued from Part 1)

More on the Propaganda Techniques Employed by the Nazis

  • Glittering Generalities, which Yourman characterizes as “the use of “virtue words” to appeal to emotions of love, generosity and brotherhood. This phenomenon extends to references to German traditions dating back to the Middle Ages, especially the word “volk,” pronounced “folk.” German farmers were seduced to back the Third Reich with constant associations with “Blut und Boden,” (Blood and Soil) and bound by oaths of “Bauer honor” to tie them to the land and prevent them from changing their occupation or residence. The Nazis needed every sector of their economy dominated and running smoothly if they were going to win the upcoming war.
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Every country has its own benevolent myths regarding their own folks but the Nazis milked them dry. The Americans did something similar after the war. The myths of the “self-made man,” the “hardy frontiersman” and other old saws were elevated to such heights of nincompoopery that they gave rise to a full-blown axiomatic truth called “American Exeptionalism,” a truth just as true as “Manifest Destiny” and The Tooth Fairy. Continue reading “What America Learned from the Germans — 2/2”