Striking Thirteen: The World of Surveillance and Indifference

Since today, June 6, is George Orwell’s birthday, let’s begin with him. “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen,” reads the opening line of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. Looking around this morning, I find that the clocks are, indeed, “striking thirteen.”

So let me set things straight for President Obama and the NSA, this way no one has to come looking for me — or if you want to, I’m transparent: I frequently receive phone calls from Kabul, Afghanistan, sometimes even from other provinces; other times I receive communiqués from Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and Hong Kong; I receive regular communiqués from Argentina and Great Britain, the odd couple, Spain and France, too. Sometimes Germany, though I’m sure you’re fine with that, unless it’s a white supremacist group. Welcome to the reality of global citizenry in the 21st Century. We’re all interconnected so we’re all under surveillance at all times — through Facebook, Twitter, etc. We’re all very willing to tell the world where we are at any given moment.

I am open about all of my communications because it makes little — or no — difference to the Obama Administration since it is pursuing with great force the Bush era Patriot Act section allowing for secret surveillance of US citizen’s phone records (number only for now). I am also a Verizon Wireless client, which is named in the New York Times (yes, I also have an iPhone — just keeping with the transparency). Screwed every which way, I guess.

And just to be clear, my conversations with Middlebury College alumni, which is mostly who I speak to, unless it’s family in Argentina, usually cover the following subjects:

  • The rejection of the Bush – Cheney lies that got us into Iraq, forgoing Afghanistan, until it was time to enter there.
  • The complete understanding that the government in Kabul is totally corrupt and millions U.S. dollars have been siphoned off and the Afghan people continue to suffer — and will suffer for yet another one or two generations. But we don’t really mind that.
  • The disgust over drones that in Obama’s hands makes Bush-Cheney war-mongoring seem like Sesame Street.
  • The militarization of key spots in the world to protect multinational oil business that, in turn, is channeling money to buy senators and congressmen, thus continuing our climate / environmental debacle and our dependency on fossil fuels.
  • The continued global policy, by the most powerful nations, to disenfranchise the poor – those without voice – on whose backs our way of living is built on, though, by all logical uses of statistical models we see that it’s in decline but we don’t want to look inward. So it goes.
  • The willful and systematic dismantling of public education in the USA — and education that’s meaningful globally — in order to ensure that production models of existence that malign one’s identity continue on our current conveyor belts to oblivion.
  • I also discuss, just to create a list of themes: Inverted Totalitarianism, the environmentalism of the poor, world wide, climate change, the industrialization of food and our decaying health, as well as the confusion over health care, which is an inalienable right.

There. If anyone this morning is looking around, just browsing and skimming, it’s impossible not to be depressed. Besides the U.S. secretly collecting the phone exchanges of citizens, FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe says the IRS scandal leads to Obama — and it’s as bad as Watergate. So Obama is being compared to Nixon? At this point, does anyone really care?

Obama, back in 2008, ran on the promise of change. “Yes we can.” Indeed, we can. We have changed — and Bush-Cheney are having a grand old time smiling away their respective retirements because never in a million years could they have imagined that Obama would out Bush-Cheney them. Frankly, I don’t really know why the conservative right is all bent out of shape about Obama; he’s outdoing even them.

Let’s see:

  • Obama is weak on the environment, the Keystone pipeline likely to be the next feather in his cap.
  • Obama is weak on education, following No Child Left Behind — and Duncan’s rather mindless approach to any real education reform (I say reform rather then change, though they mean the same thing to this administration: privatization and homogeneity).
  • Obama is weak on civil liberties, particularly when it comes to our rights as citizens, going full force with an Orwellian (thus the beginning of this piece) scheme that will blanket the nation — and the world. (See the book: Chatter)
  • Obama is strong on keeping our banks strong, as I said he would during his 2008 election campaign; shortly thereafter appointing Timothy Geithner, a Wall Street insider, Secretary Treasurer — the fox in the hen coop.
  • Guantanamo is still open — what more can we say?

On June 23, 2011, I said that even with an Obama victory, nothing will change. GMO’s everywhere so that we can’t tell what’s what; a Farm Bill that, according to Mark Bittman in Welfare for Wealthy, is, well, just that, welfare for the wealthy — multinational agribusiness will be guaranteed pay-offs and given an open door to increase their monoculture production that has ruined land and air, while the poor will get less; Eric Holder is still on the ropes with the FBI scandal, the aggressive probing of journalists.

Has anything changed, really?

In my mind it has — but it didn’t change with Obama. In my mind things began to change and become more violent and aggressive, government more elusive, abrasive and prohibitive, with the assassination of John F. Kennedy. At 12:30PM, Central time, on November 22, 1963, in Dealey Plaza, Dallas, Texas, the world changed — and if not the world, then the U.S. certainly did. A standing president could be assassinated. Shortly thereafter, Malcolm X was assassinated (February 21, 1965), in New York City. On April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. And, on June 5th of that year, shortly after midnight, Bobby went. In the span of 5 years, a sitting president, a brother running for president and two civil rights leaders were all shot down before our eyes. We were all witnesses. American violence played on the evening news, alongside harrowing images of Vietnam and dogs attacking Civil Rights marchers. We passed through the looking glass and became something else altogether different — callous, angry, colder and more reserved and reluctant.

It was no wonder that this lead to Richard Nixon and Watergate. The stage was set for the coming of our hostile age of surveillance and indifference, the twin brothers that accompany a politics that gives justice to malice.

In his seminal work, The Idea of Justice, Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen says that, “What moves us, reasonably enough, is not the realization that the world falls short of being completely just — which few of us expect — but that there are clearly remediate injustices around us which we want to eliminate.” All around us, daily, we see, “inequities or subjugations from which we may suffer and which we have good reason to recent, but it also applies to more widespread diagnoses of injustice in the wider world in which we live,” continues Sen.

So I want to be clear, I want to be transparent about what I’m saying, this way, Mr. Obama and the NSA have a clear mission: the most profound injustice, which is evident in the U.S., as a leader, and the wider world, is a resentment towards creative, free and open uses of the imagination; rather, justice, now, is interpreted as equal to or consistent with the injustice brought about by homogeneity and subjugation, the children of surveillance and indifference.

In other words, when I talk to my former students in Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Great Britain, Germany and France and Spain, we all note the same thing: the closing of the American mind leads the world so powerfully that the abuses and violence we see in the rest of the world are a mindless mirror of who we are and what we’ve nurtured. That’s been the big change. We’re leading the world in our repression of social justice, of humanity. We’re all interconnected; it can’t be otherwise.

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The New Oligarchy: the Carpetbagger Mitt and the Future on a Plantation Called America

I’m feeling a bit depressed coming into the final weeks of the election — then I saw Barry Blitt’s incredible New Yorker cover in the October 29 & November 5, 2012 issue and I went over the edge. I’m feeling as if a dark, ominous cloud is over my head, a weighty thing. Something heavy is in my soul.

In Blitt’s cartoon we see an overwhelming Romney, eyes shut, complascent, sitting erect. His left arm is being tattooed. All his major issues are being crossed over: Pro-Choice, Tax Cuts, Immigration, Stem Cells, 47%, Romney Care, Outsourcing.

Barry Blitt, The New Yorker, 10/29 & 11/5, 2012

Framing this rather ironic scene are a clipper ship, Caymen or Bust!; a top hat fat with dollar bills; a SEVERLY CONSERVATIVE GOP elephant; a heart: ANN, but of course; hands shaking on the $10,000 BET; CORPORATIONS ARE PEOPLE; BINDERS OF BABES; the infamous 5 -POINT PLAN to nowhere; and, of course, with his head cut off at the upper right-hand corner, DADDY, SIR! — an anxiety, much as W had for HIS DADDY.

The cover depressed me because it signifies a recipe for a dangerous freefall into old fashioned oligarchy and tyranny manufactured by the Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, and Ayn Rand myth-making machinery hell-bent on destroying how this country came about through gradual growth and social protective legislation, once understanding that we are all bound together in this democratic — and humane — experiment. This is what we mean by community and moderation. Growth is moderate.

Blitt portrays a slithery Romney — immoral, elitist, self-righteous, and willing to sacrifice anyone, particularly the young, the poor and the old and the infirmed, the white workers who follow him though Romney’s career shows he’s always taken their work away in order to promote himself. Romney has profitted from others’ suffering. This history is crystal clear. Let’s be hard on China while he’s made over 13 million dollars by selling US jobs to the Chinese. To the victor belongs the spoils — and they’re in the Cayman Islands. That’s what we want? A carpetbagger

What does Romney stand for, asks Blitt? How do we perceive him? What’s he done?

The best answer came in another Blitt cartoon, this one in The New Yorker’s October 1, 2012 issue.  An elegant and indifferent Romney, sitting on a great white stallion, is driven, by his stately groomsman, to the edges of Washington, D.C. — the disconnected elites, that 1%, are encroaching without a care in the world. They will continue on their journey — million dollar dressage horses and an aloofness spray painted by a lack of empathy for anyone that’s not like them. This is why Tagg Romney wanted to punch President Obama after the final Presidential debate. These people respect no one.

Barry Blitt, The New Yorker, Oct 1, 2012

Where are we? What kind of a country do we have?

I’ve come to see that we are in an age of transition where old forms of thinking and living are slowly and reluctantly giving way to more humane ways. This movement is happening everywhere around the world. But what is most depressing — and quite obvious — is that in the US, a reluctance to accept this change means hostility and anger and what is quickly emerging is the legacy of Slavery — Romney – Ryan as plantation owners.

The Plantation Economic Model lives on. First, as I said above, there’s Tagg’s incredibly disrespectful desire to punch the president; second, there’s Donald Trump’s calling for Obama’s college record; and, third, there’s the most flagrant comment made by John Sununu on CNN: “When you take a look at Colin Powell, you have to wonder whether that’s an endorsement based on issues or whether he’s got a slightly different reason for preferring President Obama.” Isn’t that racial profiling? Sununu doesn’t leave it there: “I think when you have somebody of your own race that you’re proud of being president of the United States, I applaud Colin for standing with him.”

Colin Powell’s former chief of staff, retired Army Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, told MSNBC’s Ed Schultz, “My party if full of racists.” The GOP, with Romney-Ryan-Rand at the helm, is completely racist.  The evidence is overwhelming.  Powell and Wilkerson are soldiers, having taken an oath to fall on their swords, as Powell did for Bush – Cheney when, before the UN, said that we had found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, clearly and, even by then, when he made that statement, we knew that this was not true. Powell is loyal. He fell on his sword. These guys tell it like it is.

Many around Obama, particularly those that are close to him, don’t want to go here and deflect the race question. But isn’t that the point, the central issue of the election if we follow Tag’s disrespect, Trump’s clear rascism, wanting to have more evidence of his president’s authenticity, and Sununu: the most powerful office in the world is held by a man of mixed race?

It’s as if Obama had suddenly risen to be the first mixed race owner of an NFL franchise — this one called America. It’s unacceptable. Field hands, even those earning 40 Million Dollars, stay on the field.

Obama, I’d argue, to his detriment, has not done well in addressing Race in America. He’s paying the price now, especially in Florida where the Republican lead legislature has cut early voting days, which benefitted Obama in the last election, from 14 days to 8 days. Similar legislation — and obfuscation — abounds in other states. It’s an all out attempt to make it difficult for African-Americans, Latinos and the disenfranchised to vote.

Where does this come from, if not from ye olde grand days of southern plantation owner supremacy?

Now, to fully get depressed, place on top of the race problem the continued Romney support of Tea Party-backed Republican Richard Murdock who declared that he was against abortion even in the event of rape because it’s a “gift from God”; Joe Walsh, another Tea Party – backed Republican Representative of Illinois, who opposed abortion even in cases where the life of the mother is in danger, saying, “with modern technology and science, you can’t find one instance” in which a woman would not survive without abortion, though doctors and researchers have agressively come out against this statement; and, all this in the wake of Representative Todd Aikin, Senate hopeful of Missouri, who said that pregnancy as a result of “legitimate rape” is rare because “the female body has ways to try and shut that whole thing down”: what do you have?

We have one racist, anti inalienable rights, hostile to self-reliance and social justice — and social mobility — GOP.

I’m totally depressed because many Americans are choosing to vote for a slick carpetbagger, an opportunist on the grandest scale, forgetting that US History tells us that our progress and work towards Democracy is slow, arduous, full of potholes, which is why we need social protective legislation that helps us, together, help each other. That’s Obama’s Forward, looking back to a poignant history — and not Romney’s future, an America ruled by oligarchs.

The Coming Plague: the RYAN – Romney Ticket to the Middle Ages

Is anybody scared?

I am. I’m very scared. Very.

Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his VP running mate is a throwing down of the gauntlet: America is going to abide by a stringent hierarchy that will impose a highly structured system that won’t bend – for you or anyone; each class will be identifiable — and verifiable. We will have different Americas. Some Americans will be on the inside, others will forever remain on the outside. It’s all we can afford, so pick yourself up by your bootstraps — and if you can’t, oh well.

This is the election: do we continue to struggle on the demanding, bumpy road towards freedom(s) for each and everyone of us, working really hard, in difficult times, to re-adjust social mobility and tolerance, or do we give that up for a sure place on a ladder’s rung without being able to control (a) which rung we land on and (b) without being able to move the ladder this way and that, this angle and that, re-adjusting it in concordance with great suffering — and there will be plenty of suffering.

Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his VP running mate is a window into who the Republic Presidential candidate actually is and how he works. Romney’s selection is a window into his soul, a dark, foreboding place. It’s obvious now.

Romney is the second coming of “W.” Romney, like W, is willing to be used. With W came Cheney, a very powerful, intelligent and articulate conservative, with hands in some of the most powerful pockets in the world — oil, defense, Wall Street, fundamentalist capitalists. He changed the course of history — and W went along. Cheney’s and W’s tack caused deaths, depravation and a furthering of the American decline: the 2008 economy, Iraq and Afghanistan, Bin Laden running around like a lunatic planning his next destruction, education nearly collapsing, the greatest economic separation among Americans in history. The evidence is indisputable. This was the world handed to Obama and Biden.

Those same forces that gave us W and Cheney are now stronger; they’ve learned from their loss to Obama. Now they’ve forced Ryan onto Romney. Ryan’s economic plan will float money upwards, much like Cheney loved to have power and influence float upward only to him, then he could push the punk, W, around. Romney’s been pushed, for sure; Ryan has the upper hand.  Ayn Rand is winning, an early influence on Ryan, he admits. (I read Rand as  teenager, too, but had the instinct to turn away.)

If I’m not telling the truth, saying it like it is, watch the 60 Minutes Interview that aired last night, Sunday, August 12th.

Romney is cautiously in love. And Ryan can hardly sit still, so enthralled is he to describe his vision. He’s so excited with his new stage that he had to hold back from jumping in with data and projections, deferring to Romney’s jingoistic responses to rather soft questions. When Ryan speaks, Romney looks like a puppy that’s having his belly scratched, grinning from ear to ear. But his eyes, they tell a different story: watch it, this guy is really ambitious — and he can talk better then I can.

What’s he saying? For starters, we’re learning that Romney will have less control. We’re also learning that Ryan’s plan controls from the top.

The Romney-Ryan plan wants less social welfare drag, more struggle in the under classes, more riches at the top of the income ladder. It’s not a solution to our problems, it’s merely a re-distribution of a dwindling pie. Re-distribution, according to Ryan, can only happen by guaranteeing denial of benefits to Americans that are in trouble and struggling, hurting, maybe even confused and vulnerable. Ryan’s plan never looks at the reasons for our state being the way it is. The market place will then run free and produce growth; however, what kind of growth this is, we don’t know. What we do know is that growth depends on how rules and regulations are erased — particularly when these rules pertain to the environment and the extraction of natural resources by international corporations.

The gamble is that Ryan’s plan will provoke the upper-middle class and the socially unconscious. It goes something like this: People are always willing pay for the good life. Let’s take it. Make it. Sell it. Let’s take it now. Screw it. Climate change. Dwindling resources. Hell, there may not be a tomorrow. Let’s take it before it’s too late. Down the road, after much wealth is acquired and it all works out, maybe we’ll have the technologies in place that will allow us to tack back a bit. But for now, let’s take it. What do we have to lose?

Ryan’s plan is medieval. We’ve seen it before — the lord, his serfs and the anonymous living in abject poverty reliant on hand-outs from the serfs. Free market enterprise is the moat — free meaning that to profit one must be socially mobile to access open, competitive enterprise where there are rules that guarantee a kind of success, provided that monopolizing capital is something you’re willing to go along with. It’s a wonderful life.

But no one has a crystal ball. Obama and Biden could win. Romney and Ryan could win and end up paralyzed by a congress that opposes them, having to redefine their harsh perspective on the American future. In the meantime, as each party lobs insults to the other — and at the American people — we can feel safe in knowing that there are dark, harsh forces out there —  we can see them and identify them; it’s not a conspiracy at all —  throwing tons of money into the Romney – Ryan coffers, perhaps because they see the ticket as being Ryan – Romney.

I’m scared. Very scared of that!

Everything is Connected: Contemplating the American Decline and the Rise of Fascism

I stood on West 33rd Street and 8th Avenue, in front of Madison Square Garden, New York City, staring at a block long billboard, a top McDonald’s and Duane Reeds, announcing the savagery of a UFC Kick-Ass Match, when a guy came up to me and asked, “You have a cigarette I can buy?”

Before I nodded “no” he shrugged me off and walked away mumbling something to himself. I looked towards the opposite corner, across 33rd, and a giant Pepsi billboard said that the world is better when we buy a Pepsi. Beneath this Biblical declaration, sitting at the entrance to Penn Station, a woman held a homemade cardboard sign — “homeless” — in one hand, on the other a stained paper cup that she shook and called to passersby walking with such purpose that they didn’t seem to see her; she was invincible, unseen, except to a couple of cops who recognized her and said something familiar to her. She held up a cigarette for a light — for someone to light, anyone stepping around her and heading down the escalator to the trains.

When I looked up from the invisible homeless woman, the huge and incomprehensible, always changing digital account of green house gases emitted into the universe caught my attention. The last few numbers in the hundreds column kept rhythm with the extreme traffic and anxious pedestrian tumult of the streets — heads down, pushing and moving, sidestepping, anxious, changing. And I became aware — and saddened — by how owned we are, how much of how we perceive our lives — billboards and giant TV screens, digital versions of our illusions, avatars on Facebook and MySpace and Twitter– is not of our making. What we do on a daily basis is exchange value. How much are you worth to me? What can you do for me? I felt inconsequential.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn said, “Men, in order to do evil, must first believe that what they are doing is good.” How much of what we do in a predictable economic system necessitates that we violate and murder, particularly in the judgment of the puppeteers?

Standing on West 33rd and 8th Avenue, I followed the money, how it moves and what it touches in our vertical economy. One way or another, we all have to consume — this is what our economy is suggesting: no way out of consumption. Globalization is also saying that the poorest nations have only one hope: consume your way out of misery. Haiti is our example here — there are more, of course.

I had a memory: in a visit to Amsterdam, staring at the women in booths coquettishly calling to men, I noticed that on the door of these booths are two documents legitimizing prostitution, a city permit and just beneath it, Visa and Mastercard signs. I realized that money works in every nook and cranny of our world; it filters through everything — prostitution, weapons, narcotics, education and health care, war, depravity and violence.  This interconnectivity is forged by the money we put into the system that is pushed and funneled, by powerful people, in directions we have no control over. Everything is connected.  Everything is connected by money.

I learned in Crossing the Rubicon: The Decline of The American Empire at the End of The Age of Oil, by Michael C. Rubbert,* in the forward by Catherine Austin Fitts, Assistant Secretary in the first Bush administration, that in “1997, the Washington Post killed a cover story on [Fitts’] efforts to help HUD insure the integrity of its mortgage programs, thus making possible the subsequent disappearance of $59 billion from HUD as a part of this orgy of ‘piratization’ of government assets by private interests.” Benito Mussolini said, “Fascism should more properly be called corporatism, since it is the merger of state and corporate power.” Rubbert’s investigation — his argument — is simple: follow the money and we’ll find collusion — government, private enterprise and the criminal narcotics trade; money washed through Wall Street. The citizenry is mostly unconscious, paying for the infrastructure, dedicating earned dollars (taxes + consumption) to ‘piratization’.

Why? Because we live in a closed system of limited and dwindling resources (oil + gas). “Global demand for oil and natural gas is growing faster than new supplies are being found, and the world population is exploding,” Rubbert reminds us.  We are in a crisis that results in aggressive and hostile methods to ensure power remains in the right hands. “American fascism,” Rubbert tells us, “is something different now … It’s not just private, elite control over the legal system, nor private evasion of the rule of law. It’s a crisis – induced transition from a society with a deeply compromised legal system to a society where force and surveillance completely supplant the system.”

The first Bush election and the Florida fiasco effectively demonstrated a very real coup d’état— the aggressive start of the surveillance society; the derelict response to 9/11 was a convenience — we know this now since Cheney and clan already had plans to invade Iraq. The old and weak system was effectively supplanted with 9/11. Now Obama. He has little room to move; he will be given latitude, but not so much that he’ll change the “crisis-induced” system.

When I stood on West 33rd Street and 8th Avenue, in front of Madison Square Garden, I came to understand my small place, my inconsequential place in a “crisis – induced” system. Like a serf in the middle ages, I can see the mote I can’t cross — none of us can. I thought about self-reliance and individualism, only to realize that these ideas have been turned on their head, used to ensure we keep walking, heads down, thinking about tomorrow, forgetting about yesterday, and never fully grasping — or seeing — the present because, after all, this is where things are going wrong, the ground floor where a homeless woman begs for scraps.

Can Obama be Obama

Guantanamo is still open for business, following the Bush-Cheney doctrine.  Iraq is on a tighrope.  Afghanistan is a quagmire — confusing and violent with no end in sight, corruption at every turn and the Taliban negotiating a come back with their tribal leader, Karzai (he brought them in to begin with).  Unemployment is a plague upon our house.  The economy is stagnant, for the lack of a better or more optimistic word — nothing new or promising in the not so distant future.  Wall Street is totally out of touch with the rest of the country, mired in its hubris, having drawn up the bridge, leaving the illusion they helped create on our side to work through.  Health care — what can we say about health care, the single most significant sign of how unbelievably short sided we are in government?  And government, the crux of the problem, cowardly and ignorant, lacking any sense of an imaginative approach to a future that already is here, pushing us further down as if a great weight is upon us.

Obama showed promise during his campaign.  Many of us voted for Obama because of the promises — change, yes we can.  Well, no, apparently not, we can’t.  Obama is stuck in age old partisan politics complicated by special interests that circulate about him like sharks looking for prey.  Obama can’t function and live up to his potential, preferring a professorial approach that, as a professor myself, know to be a way to conceal the truth of things, the passion that’s not to interfere with the reasoned sense of reality, the illusion of objectivity that students — the citizens — know quite well does not exist, not even in the sciences.  Thus, Obama can’t be Obama — he’s become something else.

The problem with Obama not being Obama is not the upcoming mid-term elections; the dilemma is that we will all be so dissolutioned by the time the next presidential election that we will be hard pressed to vote for him again, leaving the presidency wide open for the fascist-like remains, the crumbs left in the wake of  Bush-Cheney — the racist Tea Party contingency that’s followed by the ignorant bliss of Sarah Palin.  The picture gets uglier and uglier as we look further and further.

Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio has come over to the Obama Health Care Senate plan — what’s left of the original and approved by the Senate — because he feels that this legislation is so important that it could literally be the first of the blocks taken from underneath the Obama Presidency and topple it.

It’s not the merits of the plan that warrant Kucinich’s vote, but rather, saving the Presidency from the extraordinarily negative and bigoted sharks nibbling at the President’s ankles that inspired his allegiance.

This is a mark of our decline, not a gesture of progress and creativty.  While the world clamors for diversity and difference to solve problems, our government — and those that want to run our government — aspire to homogeneity, sameness, the status quo. This will kill us completely.