Youth and the Oppression Machine

Our current strain of monopoly capitalism has extraordinary social effects, although one would never find this discussed in the media. Since the media itself is one of the drivers and perhaps the main cheerleader for monopoly capitalism in general, it would be foolish and self-destructive to allow a real dialogue on the subject of how the system affects our individual selves.

One obvious example of this is in religious belief. It is much remarked on how we have the most Christianized society of all the major Western countries and how incongruous our way of living is compared to Christ’s actual message. The preachers in our society are distinguished by their expensive suits, jewelry, and snake oil personalities, and are nonetheless listened to by masses of people who purport to followers of Jesus Christ – that is to say, a Jewish man/god who had no possessions whatsoever and spent all his time with lepers, prostitutes, and destitute fishermen. This arises out of the peculiar brand of Christianity that emerged in the United States, derived from the concept of the “elect,” a kind of aristocracy in which material wealth and success constitutes evidence of providential blessings. God is thus reinvented as a capitalist, and never mind what his chief messenger actually said and did.

Although this may be the clearest example of the domineering effect that monopoly capitalism possesses on our lives, it has other pernicious influences as well.

An anthropologist, seeing our culture from above, would naturally remark on the disparity and poor and rich, the racial lines in which rich and poor are distributed, and the culture’s obsession with imprisoning black men for the crime of smoking a plant. That same anthropologist would no doubt also note the manner in which the bodies of women are used as prizes to distinguish the relative success of men and how those bodies are used to sell every manner of product imaginable. They might also conclude that, whatever gains women have made in the working world, they remain viewed by society as pure commodities to be selected for their physical characteristics, used, disposed of, and then replaced.

That is to say, our culture views women the way the military infrastructure sees young men.

YOUTH

And this brings us to the subject of my little rant here. Of course youth is a fetish in our culture; it is so obvious that to say it is to invoke cliché. It makes perfect sense that it should be so. In a culture where everyone and everything is seen in purely mercantile terms, and worldly goods form the basis of worship, it is natural that youth – which is to say, raw human potentiality – becomes what is most valued.

Spirituality itself – the sense of the sacred – is dead in our country. Sacrality requires a certain attachment to history, and to traditions, and to learning from the past. All of this is dead, of course, in a society which has no long-term memory and jumps from fashion to fashion in increasingly hysterical and rapid succession.  It is literally dépêche mode. And what remains is the desire to be frozen in one’s youthful state, and – absent that – to possess others who still embody youth. What material good, after all, could be valued more than the promise of maximal time, given our instinctive fear of death and the utter lack of social comfort?

These things are connected, then, in my view: the elimination of social bonds of any importance, the capitalist infrastructure, and the fruitless pursuit of youth for its own sake. The phrase “he who dies with the most toys wins” becomes a motto for an entire people. The phrase itself acknowledges the essentially infantile nature of modern life without any real beliefs in a higher purpose. Hence the rampant cynicism in our society, an unearned cynicism, a cynicism without history or education, the knowledge of a desiccated world acquired from one’s couch.

I am not arguing in favor of natural religion or that we should believe in an illusion. Indeed, one of our many problems is that in believing everything to be illusory, we become vulnerable to every illusion imaginable. Our cynicism becomes a means of control.

The simple reality is that monopoly capitalism is an oppression machine. In the quest to generate fantastic profits for a tiny subset of human beings, it requires vast energies from other human beings who are graded according to their youthful potential, dumped into the machine, and spat out. Is this what we want? Is this the best organization possible? Is the only worthwhile goal in life maximal productive efficiency in the service of 0.1% of the population, regardless of the human costs?

What I am arguing is that if our society tells us that the only thing worth knowing about life is that young men kill and young women fuck, then it is wrong.

Fin

Cassandra and I on the observatory wall

Sharing the same calling

And feeling the evening breeze,

Stalling without time,

We pretend to be alone.

The horn sounds, but

This determined creation

Was nothing of the kind;

Turning from the sign.

.

Should I cry out ‘these are the end times’

When it’s just our calendar’s lost the will to count?

.

My moments will be as banal

As anyone’s, I’m sure;

Recriminations and bitter regrets,

Dead promises and human debts.

I loved you –

But then so did they all,

And all of them lost,

Saw themselves ashen,

Remembered or not,

They rot.

.

‘All one does is all one can.’

This relieves not at all.

The stars begin to fall.

.

Beaten by tyrant nerves, I waver,

Hustle a glance at her countenance,

No luck; she doesn’t look at all.

Too late for that –

Incalculable prayers connect and form

At the hole in the stratosphere;

They dissipate like so much air,

Sprinkling into dust and fear.

.

I can almost feel you

.

Your body, your hair, your breath on my neck,

My hand curled to shield your face

And your glorious hands tight on me

To steady your stance;

One moment of grand romance.

My arms offer reassurance

Against the unendurable.

.

Lost in this sensation, an invocation of everything

You,

Although untrue, keeps me breaking apart.

Knowing this listless infinity we’re about to start,

I take the final step

Into the event horizon.

Fareed Zakaria: Profile of a Neocon

I noticed a photo of Barack Obama reading a book. It is still a bit charming to have a President who actually reads books, so I am inclined to view this as a positive. However, the book turned out to be The Post-American Future by Fareed Zakaria.

So is this sinister? Probably not, since Zakaria is a big shot (he is the editor of TIME Magazine international) and the book was a bestseller and one doesn’t simply read what one agrees with. Still, this is a bit troubling, since we’ve been told more than once that the Neocons are dead but the suckers keep coming back to life.

So who is Fareed Zakaria? His B.A. is from Yale (he was Scroll and Key – probably too ethnic for Skull and Bones) and his Ph.D. is from Harvard. His mentor at Harvard was Samuel Huntington. Huntington is a famous neocon and the author of a number of books, including Who are We? And The Clash of Civilizations.

By neocon we mean of of course “neoconservative,” which is to say a descendant in the intellectual lineage of Leo Strauss, which is to say an opponent of democracy, or if we want to get serious, a fascist. Strauss proposes there are two levels of truth, the exoteric and the esoteric, one set of doctrines he publishes for the outside (which are lunacy by themselves) and then, another, more radical doctrine which is spoken only to his chosen few. It is an attitude that also pervade the religious organization “The Family” which has been much in the news over the last year or so, a group which believes that Jesus held back his real doctrine for the elected few and contradicted the “exoteric” Jesus who seemed to believe in healing the sick, helping the poor, etc.

Allan Bloom was another of these neocons, the author of The Closing of the American Mind and whose self was immortalized in his friend Saul Bellow’s book Ravelstein, highly recommended for anyone wanting to gain further insight into the Ethan Brand-charcoal heart of a neocon.  Francis Fukuyama was another, the author of Our Posthuman Future, but his ascendancy to become the new Henry Kissinger appears to have stalled despite his own attempts to distance himself from the neocon disasters and also because Kissinger, of course, does not die but lives on like Nosferatu.

Zakaria seems to be the new neocon golden boy. Like so many of these people, he benefited in the public eye from 9/11; in his case, due to an essay he wrote called “Why They Hate Us” which was published in TIME. In this article, he placed the blame for Arabic problem squarely on the Arabs:

If there is one great cause of the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, it is the total failure of political institutions in the Arab world. Muslim elites have averted their eyes from this reality. Conferences at Islamic centers would still rather discuss “Islam and the Environment” than examine the dysfunctions of the current regimes. But as the moderate majority looks the other way, Islam is being taken over by a small poisonous element, people who advocate cruel attitudes toward women, education, the economy and modern life in general. I have seen this happen in India, where I grew up. The rich, colorful, pluralistic and easygoing Islam of my youth has turned into a dour, puritanical faith, policed by petty theocrats and religious commissars. The next section deals with what the United States can do to help the Islamic world. But if Muslims do not take it upon themselves to stop their religion from falling prey to medievalists, nothing any outsider can do will save them.

http://www.newsweek.com/2001/10/14/the-politics-of-rage-why-do-they-hate-us.html

Pay no attention to the long history of intervention by Great Britain and the United States in the region, but instead point the finger of blame directly at the Arab world. Of course. We’re only here to help.

Zakaria is the author of two other books besides the one Obama was seen reading. One is called The Future of Freedom. I could summarize it here, but the summary provided on Amazon.com is so succinctly astonishing that I just want to quote it in full here:

Democracy is not inherently good, Zakaria (From Wealth to Power) tells us in his thought-provoking and timely second book. It works in some situations and not others, and needs strong limits to function properly. The editor of Newsweek International and former managing editor of Foreign Affairs takes us on a tour of democracy’s deficiencies, beginning with the reminder that in 1933 Germans elected the Nazis. While most Western governments are both democratic and liberal-i.e., characterized by the rule of law, a separation of powers, and the protection of basic rights-the two don’t necessarily go hand in hand. Zakaria praises countries like Singapore, Chile and Mexico for liberalizing their economies first and then their political systems, and compares them to other Third World countries “that proclaimed themselves democracies immediately after their independence, while they were poor and unstable, [but] became dictatorships within a decade.” But Zakaria contends that something has also gone wrong with democracy in America, which has descended into “a simple-minded populism that values popularity and openness.” The solution, Zakaria says, is more appointed bodies, like the World Trade Organization and the U.S. Supreme Court, which are effective precisely because they are insulated from political pressures. Zakaria provides a much-needed intellectual framework for many current foreign policy dilemmas, arguing that the United States should support a liberalizing dictator like Pakistan’s Pervez Musharraf, be wary of an elected “thug” like Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and take care to remake Afghanistan and Iraq into societies that are not merely democratic but free.

Amazing. Democracies require “strong limits,” the Germans “elected” the Nazis (this is a radical oversimplification of what happened – the Nazis never held a popular majority of any kind), Singapore, Chile, and Mexico represent “good” governments and Hugo Chavez is “bad,”  and the World Trade Organization is “effective” because it is “insulated.” This is jaw-dropping stuff, as unsubtle as a propaganda cartoon during wartime.

So what is The Post-American World about? It is globalist cheerleading, a book that in its own words describes a world in which American has not declined but it is rather the rest of the world which is rising up to meet us. (Indeed, the Amazon.com page for this book features a fawning interview between Zakaria and the propagandist Thomas Friedman.) How glorious! It is part and parcel of the worldview that somehow if all the countries of the world participate in monopoly capitalism’s future, that we all can benefit (or, more likely) perish equally. The neocon’s idea of democracy is that everybody gets equally reamed. The good news is, however, that great profits can be made by those in the know.

My Platform

Assuming I were to run for public office – let’s say President since we’re being ambitious – these would be 12 of my major tenets. (Needless to say, I am not running for any kind of public office.) Some of these may seem rather extreme, but it’s just a function of our present societal situation in which poor people face heavy penalties for crimes they commit and rich and powerful people face virtually no penalties whatsoever, despite the fact that rich and powerful people can do much more damage.

1. Legalize all drugs under the present California model; i.e., licenses and federal oversight. All drug offenders will receive immediate release. All non-drug offenders shall be moved to federal prisons. All private prisons shall be closed. No person or corporate entity shall ever be granted the power to make profit from the imprisonment of others. Addicts will be hospitalized, of course.

2. Ban all drug advertisements, to include alcohol, in all media. No drug companies (which includes alcohol) can sponsor sports stadiums or anything of the like. They can stay in business – I like a Long Island myself from time to time – but the playing field is completely equal and we want to reduce the all-encompassing nature of alcohol in our society a bit.

3. All presidential candidates must pass a basic skills test, including general knowledge questions in economics and geography. There will be essays and an oral exam. It need not be excessively difficult – we could perhaps use a general knowledge exam designed for English public school students, for example. We just want to make sure anyone who runs for office isn’t a complete fucking toolbag. They need to know the Earth goes ’round the Sun. The question of whether a magical snake talked to Adam and Eve should not be something that requires heavy thought.

4. The death penalty will be federally mandated, with several important provisions and limitations:

  1. All people of color must be convicted by a jury of their peers; that is, the jury must be composed of at least 50% people of color as well. In certain areas in the South, this is raised to 75%. All current death penalty cases will be re-examined by independent investigators to determine the evidence used to obtain their conviction, and will be stayed until approval to move forward is received. The manpower to do these independent investigations shall be found in the local communities and there will also be more people available because all drug cases are going away.
  2. The death penalty will be greatly expanded to include white-collar criminals. For example, attempted bribery of a public official, whether by direct or indirect means, will be punishable by death. The CEO of any company whose products result in even one person’s death as a result of malfeasance or disregard shall be charged with murder and put to death. Any executive who can be demonstrated to be knowledgeable of any hazardous material being placed in an area such that it directly or indirectly causes the death of a single individual shall be charged with murder and put to death. Any CEO or executive who knowingly participates in a scheme wherein funds are mismanaged to a degree that 1,000 or more people are put out of work shall be put to death. Any less than that number is merely life in prison with no possibility of parole. All higher-ups shall be responsible for every accountant, so that they are held accountable for their employee’s actions; the “I was unaware” defense is invalid.
  3. With regard to war-making, any member of any government body, whether in the legislative, executive, or judiciary branch, who agrees to commit troops to any war under false pretenses shall be put to death. The “I was unaware” defense will also be invalid in this case. It is their responsibility to be aware.
  4. Any police officer convicted of using excessive force which results in the death of a person, accidental or not, shall face the death penalty. Police officers will receive no special protections in prison and will be among the general population; however, it will be made known to the other prisoners who among them was formerly an officer. Any police officer who is found to have committed perjury in the trial of any person, under any circumstances, will face the death penalty. Any police officer who is found to have planted evidence or otherwise aided the false prosecution of any person will face the death penalty.

5. All anti-sodomy laws are hereby repealed. All private sexual activities are legalized as long as they are between consulting adults.

6. Any public relations firm who is found to have knowingly provided disinformation or lied on the behalf of any individual or corporation shall be broken up and the funds used to rebuild infrastructure in the communities of the affected persons.

7. Corporations are no longer persons and have no person-specific protections. Executives must be responsible for their own actions under penalty of law.

8. The “three strikes” law is hereby dissolved.

9. Prostitution is legalized. Federal case centers are set up so that prostitutes can get health care, regular medical checkups, work standard shifts, and obtain their licenses.

10. All medical patents last for 5 years maximum. Minor changes in “medicines” which do not alter their constituent elements do not count for purposes of re-patenting. Anything naturally occurring shall not be patentable; i.e., animals, plants, and people are not patentable, and neither are their cell structures or DNA. Viruses are considered “living” for purposes of non-patentability. Terminator seeds are hereby banned and all patents to that effect are revoked. Any further experimentation along those lines will be punishable by death.

11. Investments can only be in tangible entities and for a tangible productive purpose. All derivatives-based gambling is hereby banned. Any funds invested in that manner and lost cannot be re-collected and all such debts are considered null and void. All companies who solely trade such entities shall be broken up and the monies gained used to rebuild infrastructure in the communities most affected.

12. Companies whose businesses are in the United States but whose primary holdings are in banks other than the United States shall be subject to increased taxation. Those tax burdens are lessened to the extent that the monies stay in U.S. banks. Those tax burdens are eliminated if those same monies are used to rebuild infrastructure in the communities they serve or fund programs that serve the inner cities. Small profits will be allowed in the operation of these programs for businesses who use this money in such a productive capacity. Businesses would also be allowed to discuss their funding of these programs in their advertising, so there would be an incentive to have the best and most productive assistance programs so as to engender people to buy their products generally.

Anyway, these are just a few of the ideas. It’s a start…

Things That Keep Me Up at Night

I am monstrously lucky.

Sure, I have a tough time making ends meet sometimes and have the usual worries of a modern person in 21st century America, which is to say that I am better off than 99% of the world’s population.

Anyone who can read these words is lucky. Anyone who has all of their senses and resides in that part of the world’s population centers having sufficient technology to access the Internet (far less than 50% of the planet) is lucky.

We all know this, and we internalize it and move on, and bitch about our status anyway. But the “lucky” aspect of this is just the beginning.

There are two ideas that nag at me:

(1)    All of the terrible suffering endured in the world is entirely capricious and it is therefore literally true that it would have been better had no one ever been born. No consciousness, no pain.

(2)    Our moral imperative is to help others to whatever extent we can without regard to our personal means or geography, and when we do anything that is not directly assisting others we are egregiously immoral.

These may seem in opposition, but in actuality these ideas are mutually supportive. If we find ourselves in the midst of a war, once we moved past our own survival, would we not tend to the wounded around us? Suppose we disagreed with the reasons for the war. Suppose we found ourselves in a remote country, where we did not speak the language, and couldn’t even begin to understand the motives for war. We should still help the wounded, shouldn’t we?

If not, why not? What possible argument could there be to support our desire to (1) do nothing in the face of the war around us, or (2) take some other action that involves not helping others?

We are not (or, at least, most of us capable of reading this at the moment) in the middle of a war. However, we are on planet Earth, and the atrocities taking place at this very second are too numerous to mention. We all know these are going on around each second of every day and we limit our horizons to those in a small circle around us. And if we ever do think about the problems of the world, we quickly assure ourselves that our resources are such that we could never really make a difference.

Is that relevant? Suppose I can only, by expending the totality of my energies of my lifetime, reduce total universal misery by some pathetic, barely existent fraction of 1%. Does that mean I shouldn’t do it? What possible argument could be levied against using my life in this way? That it could be better used in some other way? Then it becomes a matter of calculation, and possible disagreement, but this would be a choice of possible alternatives within the structure of helping others. One possibility that would definitely be excluded would be, for example, to eke out a comfortable existence for myself and my family and friends, and buy a television and two cars and all the various accoutrements of modern life. All those resources could be better used in alleviating misery.

You might want to punch me at this point, and I don’t blame you. Please tell me where I’m wrong.

Every time I decide to share a laugh with a friend, or pick up Richard II and curl up in my favorite chair, or write in this blog, instead of volunteering at a homeless shelter, I am fit to be damned.

If this isn’t true, then why isn’t it true?

“You can’t be expected to live your life that way.”

“Being with friends makes you a good person, not a bad one.”

“First do no harm. You are not expected to bring evil into the world, but you can’t ask that everyone in the whole world dedicate their lives to bettering one another.”

These are not arguments.

Let’s take another example.

Everyone recognizes overindulgence. We might disagree about where the line lies, but everyone understands the concept and agrees that it would apply to one situation or another.

Let’s pick one: A man buys a Porsche.

Without judging in any way whether this action is good or bad, we can all recognize that there is no practical reason to ever buy a Porsche. Unlike, say, an SUV, wherein people talk themselves into believing they “need” one because they have kids, no such rationale can ever be given for a Porsche. There is no important reason to ever buy one. People like them because they are cool, or because they go very fast, but not because they aid in the assistance of others.

So that’s overindulgence.

Now look at the world. We see monumental universal misery all around us.

Is it an exaggeration to say that, in the face of universal human misery, that it is an overindulgence to treat oneself to an ice cream? Every time one is faced with the desire to have an ice cream, one would have to weigh its benefits against the global benefits of using those resources to help a starving person, for example. Will your desire for ice cream ever outstrip the need of the destitute?

“Well, I have to provide for my kids.”

Does providing for one’s kids mean buying expensive presents and sending them to expensive schools or even buying them clothes at some place other than Goodwill? If we’re serious about the simple principle of assisting others, then every dime we have that could be used for help and isn’t used for that renders us morally repugnant.

In Robert Bolt’s play A Man for All Seasons, Thomas More has been imprisoned for refusing to sign the Act of Succession. His friend Norfolk attempts to get him to comply and sign the act, and they have the following exchange:

NORFOLK: Oh, confound all this…I’m not a scholar, as Master Cromwell never tires of pointing out, and frankly I don’t whether the marriage was lawful or not. But damn it, Thomas, look at those names…You know those men! Can’t you do what I did, and come with us, for fellowship?

MORE: (Moved) And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship?

More’s God is a fascinating entity who lays traps for the learned. More’s intelligence enables him to be more in danger of Hellfire than Norfolk, whose simplicity assures his ascension even if he is in the wrong. Remarkable.

Of course I don’t believe in Heaven or Hell, which one could argue makes everything pointless. I am myself haunted by the possibility that this play has been run again and again in a mindless eternity for no one’s amusement. But, as I noted at the beginning, this amplifies our responsibility rather than reducing it. The difference is that the damnation is entirely within the limitations of our own consciences.

I’m not saying I have any answers, or that I’m right. I don’t know. That’s the reason I’m up.

Daniel Schorr, 1917-2010

Christian Science Monitor story on Schorr’s career

Schorr was a key figure in the Congressional investigation into CIA abuses that began in 1975. It began when Gerald Ford was engaged in an off-the-record discussion with Arthur Sulzberger and other big shots at the New York Times and let it slip that the U.S. had been involved in conspiracies to assassinate heads of state. One of the reporters immediately asked “Domestically?” to which Ford replied, “Foreign!” This was supposed to be an off-the-record talk, as noted, but the story was leaked to Schorr, who was at CBS News at that time. (Schorr had been recruited by the great Edward R. Murrow in 1953.)

“Ever since the investigation of C.I.A. plots began, there has been a growing question of whether United States activities might in some way be connection with the shooting of President Kennedy.”

“Ford Seeks Curb on Data on Plots”, New York Times, 3 November 1975

Schorr’s report led directly to the Pike Report and the Church Committee, whose documents showed that the CIA had been implicated in the assassination of such figures as Patrice Lumumba and others. When Frank Church started getting too hot to handle, Ford intervened and appointed his Vice President, Nelson Rockefeller, to head up an “independent” investigation. The Rockefeller Commission included such luminaries as Operation Northwoods author Lyman Lemnitzer and former Joe McCarthy supporter Ronald Reagan, and it produced a report that naturally whitewashed a great deal of this activity. (Besides the obvious, journalist Seymour Hersh had already shown during Rocky’s confirmation hearings that he had made large “donations” to people in the government’s sphere of influence, such as  Henry Kissinger.) However, the report was forced to disclose that the CIA had forced LSD trials on U.S. citizens, done aerial spraying over San Francisco, run a private bordello (I have some of the receipts, which are hilarious), and started the MK-ULTRA project to attempt mind control for the purpose of creating agents for targeted assassination.

A good example of the conflict created by this tug of war is this telephone call between Senator Inouye (who would become the first head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, a post created by the Church Committee) and Henry Kissinger:

Henry Kissinger and Senator Inouye: 12 November 1975

I: Sorry I didn’t return your call earlier. I just found out about it.

K: That is alright. I am sorry this has turned into a test of manhood. I am not trying to keep anything from you. I am not going to let you have these documents. We are not trying to maintain that our aid is based on the Sinai agreement. I trust you and your associates but the way our classified information is being handled is getting to be a dangerous thing for the country. I can cope with it but my successors will suffer.  I have the highest regard for your committee, but my worry is how will I handle the other Committees. My Committee leaks more than yours. Some day come over for a drink and I will explain what worries me. I want you to know it has nothing to do with you and I will send you these documents as official documents.

I: OK. And I accept your invitation.

K: Any documents we give to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee appear in the newspapers. We have a problem on how to conduct diplomacy when this happens and how to conduct matters with the Congress.

I: That is a problem.

K: We will talk about this but not on the telephone. You won this one and I will send the documents.

I: It is not a matter of winning.

K: OK.

(Oh, incidentally, while all this was going on, the head of the CIA was William Colby. Colby had been criticized internally for being too cooperative with the various committees and confirming too much of what the CIA had been doing. Colby was let go and replaced by…drumroll…George H.W. Bush. The same George H.W. Bush who allegedly had zero experience with the CIA, despite the fact that he now has a building named after him. Bush ended all cooperation.)

“From the outset I had been, of course, aware that many in the administration did not approve of my cooperative approach to the investigations, and I had felt myself increasingly isolated from the White House team as the year progressed. I had been criticized for not categorically denying Hersh’s story at the very beginning; I had been criticized for turning material on Helms over to the Department of Justice; I had been chided for being too forthcoming to the Rockefeller Commission; I had been scolded for not stonewalling at every Congressional hearing.” (443-444)

“But I would not and could not change my basic approach. I believed in the Constitution; I believed in the Congress’ constitutional right to investigate the intelligence community; and I believed that, as head of that community, I was required by the Constitution to cooperate with the Congress.” (444)

William Colby, Honorable Men (Simon & Schuster: NY 1978)

Note the difference in attitude. DCI Richard Helms had lied to Congress about CIA involvement in the Chilean coup of Salvador Allende and was proud of it. His CIA friends paid his ridiculous $2000 fine.

Although this has been disputed, it hardly seems possible to argue that Bush did not replace Colby in order to carry out a coverup.

“Then, on November 3, Church was approached by reporters outside of his Senate hearing room and asked by Daniel Schorr about the firing of Colby and his likely replacement by Bush. Church responded with a voice that was trembling with anger. “There is no question in my mind but that concealment is the new order of the day,” he said. “Hiding evil is the trademark of a totalitarian government.” Schorr said that he had never seen Church so upset.

Church’s former speechwriter Loch Johnson is quoted as saying:

“The nomination of George Bush to succeed Colby disturbed him and he wanted to wind up the speech by opposing the nomination…Church wanted me to stress  how Bush ‘might compromise the independence of the CIA – the agency could be politicized.’”

Webster G. Tarpley & Anton Chaitkin, George Bush: The Unauthorized Biography (ProgressivePress: 2004), 292.

The Times noted Bush’s background in the article describing the so-called “Halloween Massacre.”

“Mr. Bush is an Eastern elitist who has prospered in a Republican Party that has largely turned its back on such persons.  The son of Prescott Bush,a Republican Senator from Connecticut, he was educated at the Andover School and at Yale before heading for Texas to make his fortune in the oil business.

“He was twice defeated in attempts to win a seat in the United States Senate, but that did not prevent his appointment as chief American representative at the United Nations, chairman of the Republican National Committee and United States representative in China.”

“Ford Discharges Schlesinger and Colby and Asks Kissinger to Give Up His Security Post,” New York Times, 3 November 1975

In February of 1976, a month after Bush was appointed, the House voted to suppress the report. Schorr obtained an advance copy and leaked it to the Village Voice, which published it. Schorr was suspended from CBS. (Paley had already tried to censor Schorr’s reporting on Watergate, which had landed the latter on the White House Enemies List.) He was also investigated by a House ethics committee, who eventually cleared him in a split vote.

Needless to say, Schorr left CBS.

One footnote: William Colby was found dead in May of 1996, after deciding to go on a canoeing trip, by himself, without a life jacket. It was apparently a sudden decision, as he also left the lights on in his weekend home, his dinner uneaten on the table, his radio on, and the front door unlocked.

Nominated as Director of Central Intelligence by President Richard M. Nixon in May 1973, Mr. Colby led the nation’s espionage services through two of their most turbulent years. On his watch, the Central Intelligence Agency came under fire as never before, accused by Congress and the press of a range of misbehavior that included spying on Americans and plotting to assassinate foreign leaders.

In many cases Mr. Colby chose, in effect, to plead guilty with an explanation. Much of what is now known of the C.I.A.’s history became public because he disclosed it. For his candor and cooperation with Congress, he was dismissed by President Gerald R. Ford in November 1975. A future President, George Bush, succeeded him in January 1976.

“Body of William Colby Is Found on Riverbank,” Tim Weiner, New York Times, 7 May 1996

Capitalism and the Public Good

There was a recent story that illustrates one of the many problems of the hard-right free-market capitalism strategies espoused not only by Thomas Friedman but seemingly the conventional wisdom of everyday Americans. Even in an era where the Gulf Oil spill, a direct result of these policies, is having genocidal effects on sea life, people still cling to the notion that the American capitalist society is best.

I don’t necessarily want to argue (at this moment) that it isn’t. In fact, let’s say all the things defenders of capitalism say about it are true. It stimulates innovation; it creates prosperity; it evens the playing field so that any person can succeed on their own terms and become rich if only they work hard enough. These things are not true, of course, (or rather they are true in a very limited sense) but let’s assume they are for a moment. Even given this, a totally unregulated capitalism (which is what free-marketeers and, incidentally, libertarians such as Ron Paul promote) has destructive effects on our society.

The story I want to discuss concerns the increasing lack of antivenom to certain types of poisonous snakes. What has happened is that the general lack of snakebites, and poisonous snakebites in particular, has made it unprofitable to produce antivenom:

Unfortunately, after Oct. 31 of this year, there may be no commercially available antivenom (antivenin) left. That’s the expiration date on existing vials of Micrurus fulvius, the only antivenom approved by the Food and Drug Administration for coral snake bites. Produced by Wyeth, now owned by Pfizer, the antivenom was approved for sale in 1967, in a time of less stringent regulation.

Wyeth kept up production of coral snake antivenom for almost 40 years. But given the rarity of coral snake bites, it was hardly a profit center, and the company shut down the factory that made the antivenom in 2003. Wyeth worked with the FDA to produce a five-year supply of the medicine to provide a stopgap while other options were pursued. After that period, the FDA extended the expiration date on existing stock from 2008 to 2009, and then again from 2009 to 2010. But as of press time, no new manufacturer has stepped forward.

In theory, goods and services are produced to meet the demands of society, creating a situation which benefits both the producer and the consumer. The consumer benefits from the goods and services and the producer generates a profit for him or herself. Simple enough. However, the key word in all of this is profit.

Capitalism is to human organization as Nietzsche’s ubermensch is to humanity itself.  In other words, the pursuit of profit divorced from other concerns trumps social values, and indeed it creates social values. For any business model to work, it must operate based on the desires of others. Those desires tend to be generated by the businesses themselves. Do we need cheese puffs? Do we need Disney television programs? Do we need nuclear weapons? No, but we can have as much of those things as we want, because those things are associated with profit.

It is not inherently profitable to promote human community. Businesses do not benefit from people giving their labor to others for their benefit, or sharing vehicles, or giving clothes away when they no longer fit, or any of a million other human behaviors that do not involve production.

The end result is a situation where people may die of a snake bite because it isn’t cost-efficient to make antivenom.

Obviously, there are other social effects as well. People now take it for granted that of course businesses have a right to monitor, for example, one’s messages on the internet even on private time. It could affect their business, which is what’s really important, not the rights of the individual. That is explicitly a capitalist meme. It is the thought process of the employee. And it infects all similar discussions like this, because people have gotten so used to thinking this way that it becomes a reflex.

Truth, Justice, and the American Way, as Superman (the ubermensch) likes to say.