It is my opinion that the news media could have killed this “birther” business about Barack Obama, or at least marginalized it to the lunatic fringe where it belonged, had they just taken the time to expose it for what it was from the beginning. Instead, it was kept alive as if there was any grain of truth to the belief that this man with a vaguely “terrorist”-sounding name and dark skin couldn’t possibly be a “real” American. But there being a hardcore of older people still living in the Jurassic Age and Republicans and right-wing radio eager to take advantage of them, the story runs on legs continuously injected with stimulants that have the side effect of numbing the brain to common sense. I’m not exactly certain what George Stephanopoulos was trying to accomplish grilling the president on why he hasn’t done more to put the issue to “rest,” when the whole thing is just one of the more pathetic elements of the right's attempt to delegitimatize Obama. In a recent interview on Good Morning America, Stephanopoulos allowed Donald Trump to air-out what are essentially his own made-up “facts” as to Obama’s citizenship as a means to “advance” his quest for the presidency, rather than expose the infantile nature of Trump’s thought processes. He did a better job catching Michelle Bachmann first in a lie and then forcing her to face the consequences of lying. Stephanopoulos reminded Bachmann of her appearance on Fox News the previous day in which she still questioned Obama’s citizenship, which she denied she had done by making the ludicrous claim that “The People” were asking Republicans like herself to vouch for Obama—which, of course, they “can’t” do without “evidence.”
The reality is that Bachmann and other Republicans are using the “birther” propaganda as a partisan political attack weapon. And why not? A shocking 43 percent of Americans, according a recent poll, are still not convinced that Obama is a native-born citizen. When Stephanopoulos surprised Bachmann by producing a notarized copy of Obama’s birth certificate, stamped with the official state of Hawaii seal, she refused to even look at, as if doing so would cause her permanent blindness (not necessarily a bad thing, since it might teach her to appreciate her other senses—or lack of). To publicly acknowledge her ethical and factual shortcomings was clearly not something that Bachmann was prepared to do; having not actually studied the document that Stephanopoulos was thrusting at her, she could claim later that since she hadn’t actually seen it, she still can’t “vouch” for its “authenticity.” This is how Republican/Tea Party fraudsters operate: The facts are right in front of them, but because they live in an alternative universe, lies pass for truth. Even now Bachmann is comparing taxes to the Holocaust, and trying her best make the complaints of the rich a white cause; if the working class’ “economic liberty” is being sucked from them, it is not due to the policies of Obama or the liberal “socialists,” but by the plantation master-and-slave and profits before living wage philosophy of corporate America and their Republican stooges. Bachmann, Sarah Palin and others might call attacks on the current status quo as “anti-American,” but the real anti-Americanism is the repeated use of lies and misinformation in support of a society rife with inequality and economic injustice.
So why don’t we just tell the truth about the birther matter? No one with a European name is being asked to produce their birth certificate. John McCain was born in Panama and nobody is professing to have an issue with that. The birth certificate really isn’t the point; the point is that it is just an excuse to highlight Obama’s name, his race and his “foreignness” for whites to whom race—along with all the paranoia and stereotypes applied to it—is and has always been their primary “concern” about Obama.
Some more thoughts on Donald Trump’s delusion that he is presidential material: He’s obviously been conned by his own public relations machine. He’s been portrayed as a “successful” businessman, but really he’s just a “celebrity”—perhaps a little more substantive than Paris Hilton and her friend Nicole Richie combined. The fact is that he’s made his money gaming the system, having been in and out of bankruptcy courts for at least twenty years. And he’s not a “self-made” man—his father, Fred Trump, was. “The Donald” benefited immensely from his father’s success and good name as a builder of residential homes and rental apartments in New York City, and Trump used his father’s Trump Organization assets to set himself up; he’s a good salesman of the infomercial variety, but otherwise people should not be fooled by this self-promoter and charlatan.
While I was waiting for the weather report that comes “every ten minutes” on KOMO radio, I was forced to listen to some right-wing guest of John Carlson complain about why we are in Afghanistan; do you think this hypocrite realizes that he actually has something in common with the “progressive” left? Of course not; wasn’t it Obama and the socialist left that got us into the war in the first place? I started to chuckle when he said that the Bush administration erred not by putting too few boots on the ground in the beginning, but because he put “too many” boots in the country; it always kills me how these conservative extremists put aside common sense and tell blatant fabrications just to play partisan games. It was claimed that all we needed were a few soldiers to patrol the porous Afghan-Pakistani border—without acknowledging the fact that the failure to have sufficient troops on the ground led to the escape of the majority of Al Qaeda and Taliban forces to fight another day. Again, the left has argued all along that we really can’t “win” in Afghanistan because of the lack of infrastructure—social, governmental or otherwise—and now trying to appropriate the common sense view if they see it plays better with their constituency. Obama’s mistake was that he thought that he could “fix” Bush’s mistakes, but after six years of neglect, that is clear that by then it was too late; we should cut our losses by negotiating a settlement with the de facto powers that be. But why kid ourselves? If Obama had decided to pull out of Afghanistan soon after he took office, the right would be saying that he left the country wide open for terrorists.
I read a story about Amazon’s Kindle “E-library,” which called this development the sounding of the death knell for the traditional book. Twenty years ago a college professor told me that computers would make books obsolete; however, they still seem to be hanging around. I admit that devices like Kindle are theoretically useful in the fact that they can store multiple titles in its internal memory, although what happens when the hard drive or memory stick is damaged or the software is crippled (or when the battery runs out, for that matter) are issues that prevent me from getting too excited about the technology. I still much prefer the paper book. Why? Primarily because I don’t trust the longevity of electronic media, but also because I’m one those people who rarely reads a book from page one, especially if it’s a historical work, and particularly if I am already familiar with the timeline. On the other hand if, if there is something that requires a little background checking to understand, then I can quickly flip back to the relevant section. You can’t do that with an e-book, at least not easily. Person who reads a real book should also be seen to be a more serious reader than a person with a Kindle, who is probably more interested in the technology than in retaining inspiration for the long-term. And imagine what would happen if we had one of those solar flares that knocked-out electricity all over the globe? People with books can at least pass the time more usefully than those whose sensory abilities are limited to what the electronic world feeds them.
There’s a good bet that the last Academy Awards ceremony will go down as the lamest in history, not merely because of the presentation but because of the lack of compelling product. I didn’t see the “Black Swan” in a theater, but I did watch the DVD because I thought it was supposed to be “good.” Wrong. Even if I forced myself to get past the politics, there was nothing that compelled me. How come lesbian sex is always supposed to be “meaningful” in a bad movie with stupid caricatures and makes absolutely no sense, except on a political and “metaphorical” level? It always amuses me that in programming like “The L Word,” women who look nothing like the bald, tattooed and nose- ringed women I see on Capitol Hill howl like they never heard of the word “fake.” It all seems so, well, political. “What’s wrong? Am I hurting you?” Yeah, my ears and incredulity. In the movie, the ballet director is the stereotypical Euro-trash sex predator, but that doesn’t mean it’s a true caricature. Some people have portrayed the film as “pornographic” because of all the action between the bulimic Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis; sorry, but neither one of them does a thing for me—together or apart—and worse, for a movie with so much “sex,” there is no nudity at all in it. No reason for me to suffer to watch it again. They could have cut the boring sex scenes and concentrated on Portman’s lines; it would have made her Oscar win more palatable and less stomach-grinder material. It just goes to show you that film reviewers—just like music critics today—have to pimp for anything vaguely “meaningful” so they can keep their job descriptions viable. It might be hard to believe now, but there was a time when telling a compelling story that forced the viewer to ask questions was important to a filmmaker—or at least knew how to make such a film.
To be fair, I can’t leave “The King’s Speech” be. Now, I suppose watching a commoner break the uptight King down into a cussing fit has its charms, but if that’s the highlight, I’ve seen better cussing by other kings; Peter O’Toole’s profane Henry II in “The Lion in Winter” was entirely more entertaining. I don’t understand it; why are Americans—or rather the American media—fascinated with British royalty anyways? Didn’t American “patriots” fight a revolution so they wouldn’t have to kneel before these arrogant, posturing clowns? All this fuss about the royal wedding between Prince William and what’s-her-name with the giraffe neck—we should see it for what it is: just more bread and circuses for the British proletariat. Snore. It was said that the former Labour Party (what’s with the extra “u” anyways?) prime ministers were not invited because the Labour Party was not as supportive of maintaining the antiquated monarchy and their puffed-up fakery. And no, not all the colonials are pining for the old days of King George; when I came into work the wee hours of the morning on Saturday, the graveyard shift apparently preferred to sleep than watch the wedding. Anyways, for “The King’s Speech” to win the best picture Oscar only means that this was yet another year of subpar filmmaking. Back in the day, it was possible for real drama in the presentation; for the 1976 Oscars, great films like “Rocky,” “Taxi Driver,” “Network” and “All the President’s Men” were under consideration and all would have been perfectly acceptable winners (“Network” probably should have won over “Rocky”). That’s my opinion, anyways.
There is a men’s restroom in the ramp area at the airport that I am certain is much less aesthetic than the women’s room across the way in more ways than one. Despite the fact that there are three urinals, there are some “sensitive” people who insist on not just urinating in the stalls, but either urinate on the toilet seat, or not flush, or both. I suppose that some people from certain countries who have never seen a urinal and have no idea what it is for; on the other hand, there are certainly some people who do it just because they have no concern for the anyone else. But I have another theory: Those who should know better do it because they’ve been taught that this is the “right way.” Who could that be? Mothers? Girlfriends? Wives? We’ve all heard that female complaint that men always leave the toilet seat up instead of down. Well, they should leave men be who are actually doing the right thing in regard to toilet bowl etiquette: Putting the seat up before pissing in the bowl. Perhaps the women would like it better if they peed all over the seat. So what if they forget to put the seat back down; it’s better than the alternative of suffering the unpotty-trained. Just take it as a life lesson learned.
One may recall that a month ago there was on the cover of TIME a picture of a rock that could be the savior of the world’s energy needs. No, it wasn’t a piece of coal or a Dilithium Crystal, but shale. There has been talk about shale before, in the rather expensive process of converting it into liquid oil. Now the talk is about exploiting the huge shale fields in the U.S. and Canada for natural gas extraction—and is already well underway in states like Pennsylvania. The considerable depths where this is found is causes extreme heat where the shale is naturally converted into a gas form; the problem is cutting through the impermeable rock to get to the gas. The method used to cut through the rock and maintain an opening to extract the oil is called “fracking,” which generally involves inserting chemicals to the drilling process to add pressure in order to expand the opening. The U.S. supposedly has enough of reserves to supply the country’s current consumption rate of natural gas for another century.
More sober analysis tells us that natural gas is only a partial answer to our energy needs, and does not even address transportation issues. The fracking process has received a lot of attention for the potential of chemical leaks poisoning water supplies, and the possibility of causing structural weaknesses that result in “seismic” events. There has been very little regulation concerning fracking; in 2004, the Bush EPA declared that there was no “adverse” impacts from fracking, and the issue didn’t warrant “further study”—not surprising, knowing that the EPA under the overview of James Watt disciple Gale Norton, who was in the pocket of industry. Natural gas from shale deposits is also much dirtier than that produced from conventional mean; the production of excessive methane gas—more dangerous a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide— is particularly troubling. In fact, shale gas may be even dirtier than coal.
Yet again the powers that be have presented us an “answer” from old ideas that set us backwards instead of forward. Solar and wind power help, but do not address transportation requirements. I remember when the “cold fusion” story excited a lot of people in 1989, but since then it has been derided as pseudo-science; I was listening to “Coast-to-Coast” the other night, which dealt with the alleged “conspiracy” against cold fusion, but the fact remains that it is physically impossible to generate the pressures needed to cause fusion at room temperature. Hydrogen gas has been touted as the “answer,” except that it still requires more energy input to produce than it outputs. Right now, the only “feasible” long-term energy “solution” to wean the country off imported oil is converting enmass to electric powered-vehicles, which would still require much more efficient batteries and recharging methods than currently available to make it a truly feasible option.
According to the latest census information, Mississippi has a population that is 37.2 percent black, the highest in the country; only 0.9 percent of the population identifies itself as more than one race, half the national average. 17 percent of the population has a bachelors degree or higher, 2/3rd the national average. Although home ownership is slightly above the national average, half of all homes have a value of less than $72,000—60 percent of the national median. Median household and individual income is 70 percent of the national average, and the poverty rate is 60 percent higher than the national average; close to half of blacks live below the official poverty line. Mississippi, of course, has always been notorious for being last or near last in every quality of life indicator, as is its support for public and higher education.
And this is the perfect world according to the right. A Gallup poll in February identified Mississippi as the most conservative state in the country, with over 50 percent of the state identifying themselves as “conservative,” and naturally has been controlled by Republican governors for all but one term in the last 30 years. Since 58 percent of the state is non-Hispanic white, we might conjecture that at least 80 percent of whites identify themselves as conservative. The extent of this conservatism is such that another recent poll revealed that 46 percent of those who identified themselves as Republican believed that interracial marriage should be illegal. Although Democrats do maintain some presence in the state legislature, the essential conservatism of white Democrats is born-out by the unusual number of legislators who have switched parties while in office—so many in the Senate that the Democrats went from a 28-24 majority after the 2007 state elections to a 25-27 minority today without benefit of election; one suspects that the Democrats who switched parties did not want to be identified as being a member of the party with that “colored” president (I’m sure in private they use more “colorful” language to describe Obama). Many people claim (usually Republicans), that we are in the “least racist” period of the country’s history. We are also told that whites are “color blind.” But that is certainly not true everywhere, and certainly not true of Republicans, particularly in the South. You would think that 25 percent of whites in Mississippi at least share the idea of social equality for the greater good, but even that small minority cannot be mustered. White Mississippians may give some visitors the impression that they are friendly, but just don’t ask them questions like why the state has an Apartheid mentality. I am always reminded of the white female student in the southern college I attended who claimed she wasn’t a racist, but would never “go out” with a black man. Color-blind my fundament.
There was a story recently about the FBI invaded some guy’s home, put him in a prone posture and demanded that he confess that he had been rummaging through the dung pile of internet child porn—except that it wasn’t him, but the guy next door stealing access to his Wi-Fi. The FBI has been accused of sending out fake hyperlinks to computers to see who they could “catch” displaying an interest in child porn (the 11-year-old Brooke Shields in “Pretty Baby” doesn’t qualify); the courts have ruled that merely clicking on a hyperlink (even if you don’t know what it is for) is sufficient to get a person arrested as a child porn pervert. Something tells me these guys can be quite persistent, to the point of harassment. I recall some years ago that one day I started getting these unsolicited e-mails that I at first regarded as annoying spam; if you spend a lot of time surfing the web, you will eventually encounter people with something to “sell,” especially websites that receive income from advertising for other websites. Anyways, it seemed that every day my inbox was filling up with links advertising “products” that I found disturbing and refused to touch save to identify them as spam to be deleted upon receipt. But no matter how many links were marked as spam, more replaced them each day. It got to the point where all I did every morning was click the “select all” button and delete the increasingly insistent come-ons.
Then one day, after a few months of this, the spam stopped. It didn’t merely dribble away to nothing; one day I checked my inbox, and there was nothing to delete. I wonder now what would have happened if I had actually hit one of these links, even just to find out who was sending this stuff, since there never was a dot-com indicated, just an obviously phony name and a tagline. I did feel someone was harassing me and making some rather offensive insinuations regarding my “interests.”
Several news organizations managed to get their hands on some WikiLeaks documents, which they recently been given “permission” to release to the public, in regard to the prison operations at Guantánamo. It seems that not only did the Bush administration suffer intelligence breakdowns in regard to the 9-11 attack, but contrary to popular opinion, American intelligence experts were complete amateurs when it came to interrogation techniques and determining who was or wasn’t a detainee of “value.” The U.S. had to send in the “experts”—Chinese and Russian state security agents—with questionable results. According to newspaper analysis of the data, the information that interrogators did glean was mainly hearsay from detainees who claim to have heard something from someone else, but they personally had no knowledge of—or from self-described “insiders” who claimed to know more than they actually knew, making-up details and essentially making fools of U.S. agents; records show that many of these latter have been released for their so-called “cooperation.”
Naturally, Sean Hannity over at Fox News called the release of these embarrassing (for the Bush administration) revelations to be “treason.” Hannity can be easily dismissed for the bigot he is, and some of the criticisms from overseas should only be taken as self-serving, since heaping abuse on the U.S. has been a favorite pastime of Europeans since at least the 1970s. One may conjecture, given the incompetence of the interrogation techniques, that this displayed an adherence to anti-torture conventions prior to 9-11 that other countries cannot claim. Since the prisoners at Gitmo ultimately revealed nothing that aided in the capture of Osama Bin Laden—or anything else particularly useful—the Bush administration could have saved itself from these embarrassing revelations by treating the detainees like prisoners of war, and conducting intelligence work in the field, such as before something like 9-11 occured.
The Obama Justice Department has warned the state of Washington that if the medical marijuana bill that was passed by both chambers of the legislature is signed into law, that it will enforce federal statutes that forbid “growing and selling” marijuana, despite the fact that the administration has “looked the other way” with regard to limited use of medicinal marijuana. The government has particular concerns about state employees being involved in issuing licenses to private persons for growing marijuana, which local authorities and police demanded in order to help ferret-out growers with illegal uses in mind. A Justice Department spokesperson, however, put out this rather quizzical statement: "We are not going to look the other way while significant drug-trafficking organizations try and shield their illegal efforts from investigation and prosecution through the pretense that they are medical dispensaries.” The problem here is that technically, this is exactly what the state hopes to avoid in passing a law establishing licensed dispensaries. The Justice Department seems to saying that they believe state regulators are secret drug dealers, trying to set-up their own operations, or give their drug-dealing friends a leg-up on the competition. This is not completely beyond the realm of possibility, but on the other hand this is a farfetched and paranoid interpretation to put on the law which seeks to reduce—not increase—illegal activity.
The “war on drugs” has been not only a clear failure and purely a political exercise, but in fact has produced more violence and illegality than it has stopped. The tact that the Justice Department should take is allow the law to pass, and simply stand back and see what effect it has. My sense is that it will not cause any uptick in drug-related crime, or cause a legion of Zombie-eyed addicts wandering the countryside. It might even prove that marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol or aspirin.
A week ago, Newsweek had a cover story about “Dead Suit Walking.” Apparently this is in reference to older white men in white color management jobs and blue collar manufacturing jobs who are out of a job and supposedly no future. Feminists or other gender activists think this is a “good” thing. I have a limited amount of sympathy to spare for these fellas (certainly more than the fire department at the airport; it must be tough being an arrogant diva who once in blue moon actually has to do something to earn his or her paycheck); the fact is that it was their bosses who made the business choices that sold not just them, but many millions of working people who actually made things, down the river. Some take gleeful pleasure in this, as if this reveals some “insight” into the male psyche rather than an indication of how the country’s economy has eroded in the face of cheap labor and goods from Asia. Take this quote in the article from Judith Gerberg, an “executive career coach” specializing in “coaching” women:
“Many of these guys may be great on the back nine but totally lack the skill set to get them through anything like this. If you went to the college of your choice, married the woman of your choice, and bought the house of your choice, you’ve never dealt with rejection. You’ve never had to develop fortitude.” Meaning, of course, that these men are, once you strip away the façade, weak and vulnerable. Yippee. The reality is that in this society, men have the pressure of being programmed to understand that they are responsible for others; women, on the other hand, have been programmed to believe that someone else should be responsible for their well-being.
This week, not surprisingly, Newsweek “celebrates” the alternate “reality”: Two youngish white females who are “America’s next billionaires.” Self-made the Olsen Twins are not; they were infants when they became “famous” playing the same character on “Fullhouse,” standing in for each on alternate days to abide by child labor laws. By the age of seven “they” were marketing this gimmick. Of course, it was not ”they” who were the brains behind the scheme, but their parents, managers and PR department who thought a quick buck could be made in the “famous for being famous” generation. Their subsequent TV shows have been panned by critics and died rapid deaths, but no matter; the teen market is alive and well for the insubstantial; the twins are living Barbie Dolls for the “reality” TV age (no talent required, just be in the right place at the right time). The Olsens’ seem to be doing quite well representing a clothing line that has been described as the “homeless look”—i.e. the trashy look, which frankly along with baggy shorts and pants hanging half-way down the arse is less a “style” than an “attitude”—and not one that gives us much hope for the future. If the Olsen Twins “success” proves anything, it is how unfair life is; it reminds me of the old black woman in “Being There” watching the mentally-challenged Chance the Gardener on television being lionized by high society: “Yes, sir, all you've gotta be is white in America, to get whatever you want.” At any rate, the Olsens’ “look”—along with their fraudulent good fortune—will hopefully lose its appeal in time, since there is nothing more nauseating than middle-aged women painting themselves up to look like teenagers.
America’s greatest dramatist is Eugene O’Neill, although I doubt many Americans are sufficiently aware of their “culture” to know this. One of his great plays is “Mourning Becomes Electra,” and it is technically it is influenced by ancient Greek drama. It’s principle theme is about how jealousy, deceit, incestuous relations, revenge, murder, madness and suicide led to the downfall of a family. I saw the 1947 film version starring Rosalind Russell and Michael Redgrave; at slightly less than 3 hours in length, it was still truncated from the original text. During the 1970s, the play was mounted on public television in a version that was 100 minutes longer than the film version, and this version was released complete on DVD. I assumed that this version would be more satisfying than the film.
I was wrong, very wrong. It wasn’t merely that Roberta Maxwell in the key role of Lavinia fell noticeably short of Russell’s powerful performance; the film stayed true to the essential elements of this tragic drama, and the longer television version, unhappily, did not (Sidney Lumet, on the other hand, cut no corners in his television production of “The Iceman Cometh”). In the original play, the progression of events led inexorably to a self-inflicted horror, ending with Lavinia, with nowhere else to hide from her sins, voluntarily locks herself up forever in the family residence that had literally become a tomb of the dead. The television version destroys the awful power of the drama by tacking on a confusing “happy ending.” While the first and second sections of the play generally keeps to script, the tinkering with the third part destroys whatever intent that O’Neill envisioned. In this production, the denouement goes something like this: Lavinia’s brother Orin (who is tormented by his mother’s suicide) says crazy things, Lavinia’s suitor, Peter, arrives to comfort her, promise to marry her, and they will help Orin get better. While they are embracing, Orin comes into the room with a strange look in his eyes. That’s it. End of story. What is it supposed to mean? We don’t really know.
The power of the drama is literally emasculated by an ambiguous ending that holds out the hope for “happiness.” There is no such ambiguity in the more surprisingly more faithful 1947 film, which I absolutely recommend over this. The essential elements that O’Neill intended remain intact: Orin goes mad with self-incrimination, blackmails Lavinia by writing an account of the family crimes, and after Lavinia emasculates him verbally, he commits suicide. Lavinia, growing mad with her own sense of the world crumbling around her, frightens Peter with her aggressive desire to marry, and then ends any hope for a “happy” conclusion when she admits to a rumor (probably false) that she had some sexual escapade with a Pacific island native during a recent holiday. After Peter stalks off, vowing never to see her again, she tells her handyman to shutter-up the mansion, where she, as the last of the Mannons, will live out her life among the family dead.
All too often, we see the intentions of dramatists and authors twisted into something that that is allegedly more “palatable” for the audience's of filmed media. Some directors, like Sidney Lumet who was also responsible for the superb film version of “A Long Day’s Journey into Night” knew that tacking on “happy endings” made moot everything that went before it. In the Susanna Moore novel “In the Cut,” the main character paid for her lack of judgment with the belated realization that she was about to be a serial killer’s next victim, and she was helpless to stop it; Jane Campion’s film version, on the other hand, has a fairy tale-like ending that is entirely unrealistic. Richard Brooks, on the other hand, played no such games with the tragic, violent denouement of the novel he based his film “Looking for Mr. Goodbar” on—which still has not been released on DVD.
I was listening to the BBC world news radio program concerning an American’s glorification of Winnie Mandela. Shirley Jo Finney, because she was black and female (thus “sensitive” to the subject matter), was hired to direct “Winnie: The Opera,” the content of which was personally approved by Mandela. “I have always wanted to come to South Africa and Winnie the Opera speaks to who I am as an artist, a spirit, a woman, a mother and as a humanist, preparing for world-wide tour, celebrating the life of Winnie Mandela,” Finney said. She may be an icon to her die-hard supporters in South Africa, but it is a disservice to pretend that the opera tells the “whole story” in order to portray Mandela as some kind of saint.
It is true that Winnie Mandela participated as a focus for discontent among the dispossessed natives of South Africa, and she did serve a total of about 17 months in prison at various times in the 1960s and 70s. However, it appears that all the adulation passed her way turned her into a kind of megalomaniac—believing herself invulnerable as the wife of the imprisoned martyr Nelson Mandela. While Bishop Desmond Tutu was vocal in opposing Reagan’s policy of “constructive engagement” toward the Apartheid government and presented the moral challenge that foreign countries could not ignore without losing face, Winnie Mandela was terrorizing and killing those she regarded as her enemies—which should not have been difficult to believe, since she frequently employed rhetoric regarded as “bloodthirsty.” She operated as a virtual warlord in Soweto during the 1980s, with her “body guards”—the Mandela United Football Club—providing the muscle on her orders. Members of the “club” would later testify that Mandela had not only ordered torture and murder, but personally participated in such acts. She was eventually convicted for the murder of a 14-year-old boy—and was also suspected in the murder of her own personal physician, who refused to cover-up the crime—but her prison sentence was reduced to a fine on appeal. She would later be convicted on a fraud charge, but her popularity among her “people” is such that she was recently elected to a legislative seat.
Mandela was also far from the faithful wife of myth; she had numerous affairs while Nelson was in prison, and upon his release, it was said she could not bring herself to even touch him. Her violent rhetoric and temper was also at odds with Nelson’s desire for peace solutions after 27 years in prison. These days, Mandela spends her time attacking Nelson and Tutu, allegedly because they haven’t done enough to support a more radical redistribution of wealth, but mainly because their reputations are less sullied than hers. Nelson, for his part, has always spoken graciously of her, even after he divorced her after it was clear that their bond was more symbolic than real.
People tend to forget that although Nelson and Winnie Mandela were the symbol of the anti-Apartheid movement, it was Oliver Tambo who as the ambassador and de facto head of the “government in exile” served as the most effective representative for a post-Apartheid South Africa, which doubtless made the imposition of sanctions against the Apartheid government more palatable for some countries not inclined to do so—like the right-wing regimes of Reagan and the UK under Margaret Thatcher. Had he not been struck with a stroke, and later die in 1993, Tambo and not Nelson Mandela would likely have been the first president of a free South Africa.
There was a story in the Seattle Times that is indicative of the double-standard applied to the “favored” and “unfavored” minority groups. While this state discourages educational and professional attainment of its own population in favor of foreign and out-of-state students for strictly "budgetary" reasons, Chinese immigrants, students and those with work visas are given glowing reviews despite their presence in high-paying jobs that might otherwise have gone to a “native,” and the fact of job losses here from unfair trade practices there. I personally don’t care if white people don’t care, but what I find particularly galling is that on the other hand they demonize Latinos for “taking” low-paying jobs; the Seattle Times in particular has frequently been involved in this mendacity. Of course, it will be said that the Chinese “contribute” more, but that only means they’ve taken the place of a native who could have contributed the same thing. All of this is indicative of the fact that the media, rather than report the news dispassionately, betrays the prejudices of its membership.
Some people may have heard or seen an advertisement exhorting you to listen to a renowned “journalist”—who boasted that he “predicted” the Wall Street and mortgage meltdowns—tell you how to save yourself from the consequences of his “dire prophecy.” The website—or websites—where this vital information is to be found is called “endofamerica##.com.” The ## is actually a number, like 21 or 36; it is unclear why there are differently numbered messages, since they basically repeat the same line. The “journalist” is someone named Porter Stansberry, who runs a website company called “Stansberry Investment Research.” He basically drones on for over an hour about doom and gloom, anti-government, the world is over unless you wait to find out what secret information he has to impart. Much of what he says about the problem of government debt is true in isolation, but completely lacks context. In the radio and TV add teaser, we are warned that something “baaaad” is going to happen in the next twelve months, but he never gets around to telling us what exactly that is. Stansberry throws out words like “riots,” “martial law,” “protests” and “socialism” so often that it becomes clear that his real agenda is frighten the paranoid fear freaks into such state in the hope that he can snag at least a few of these suckers on his line. He claims credit for “predicting” the mortgage meltdowns of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, except that he forgets to mention that not only did they only represent a small percentage of the failed mortgages, but the fact that it was the Bush administration’s anti-regulatory stance that dismissed the Clinton-era lending rules that were meant to prevent predatory loans from being used to inflate affordable housing benchmarks. Stansberry also derisively dismisses the idea of taxing the rich as an option to close the deficit, even to maintain Social Security; this basically reveals him to be nothing but a right-wing hack engaging in a political diatribe. The CBO recently reported that federal revenues are at their lowest level as a percentage of GDP since 1950; Any sensible long-term plan should include raising the income ceiling on Social Security deductions—as well as raising the Medicare tax from 1.45 percent to 2 percent. At least it is much less onerous on the poor rich than the 70 and 90 percent top marginal rates of the past, so their complaints can’t be taken any more seriously than that of a child crying because he can’t have candy for breakfast, lunch AND supper.
After an hour of this, Stansberry finally gets to the “point”: How to hide your money from the government, the “secrets of the silver market,” and the “100 percent secret” which will shield you and your family from certain doom. All of this vital information and more can be had for half-off the list price of a subscription for his monthly “investment advisory.” While the Wall Street Journal and Barron’s has portrayed Stansberry as some kind of soothsayer, his defrauded customers say otherwise. In 2003, after Stansberry had been exposed as a stock “hypester” who sold “tips” to the unsuspecting investor which turned out to be false. One of his “tips” was that an AIDS drug called AidsVax was “proven” to work, driving-up the stock price. It turned out the drug had failed in clinical trials, and when news of this came out the stock subsequently crashed, causing many to lose their shirts but allowing Stansberry and his co-conspirators to profit handsomely—not from stock they purchased and sold while the stock was high, but from the sale of the “tip.”
The SEC filed a complaint against Stansberry, his newsletter and his publisher, alleging the following:
1. Defendants engaged in an ongoing scheme to defraud public investors by disseminating false information in several Internet newsletters published by Agora or its wholly owned subsidiaries such as Pirate (now known as Stansberry & Associates). Through various publications, defendants claimed to have inside information about certain public companies. Defendants suggested that its readers could cash in on the inside information and make quick profits. The defendants offered to sell the inside information to newsletter subscribers for a fee of $1,000 (this was also in reference to 1,217 investors who bought Stansberry’s “super insider tip” in another scam involving the energy company USEC).
2. Numerous subscribers purchased the defendants "inside tips" and made investment decisions based on that information. The purported inside information was false and, as a result, the subscribers did not realize the profits the defendants promised.
3. The defendants, however, profited handsomely. On information and belief, Agora received in excess of $1 million from the sale of false information to its newsletter subscribers.
Found guilty of selling stock “tips” based on fraudulent claims, Stansberry was fined $1.5 million. While the Wall Street Journal opined that the SEC had no case, because Stansberry was merely exercising his right to “free speech” and had not personally invested in the stock he “hyped,” the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, stating that fraud is fraud, regardless of the context. The judge noted that not only did Stansberry engage in activities that “undoubtedly involved deliberate fraud,” but repeatedly made “statements that he knew to be false.”
So if you are ever tempted to find out what “endofamerica.com” is all about, just know that in doing so, you will be force endure over an hour of doomsday “hype” by a man has been in the past sanctioned for selling fraud.
The family of John T. Williams, the Native American woodcarver shot to death by ex-Seattle police officer Ian Birk, settled their wrongful death suit for $1.5 million. This compares with the $10 million received by a white man, Christopher Harris, after a King County Transit deputy shoved his head against a wall, causing permanent brain injury. We might also compare this to the civil suit against Bellevue, its police department and officer Mike Hetle that was eventually settled for $75,000—reduced from $5 million—in a case brought by the mother of Guatemalan immigrant Nelson Mendez, who had been shot and killed by Hetle in 2001. On the day he was killed, Mendez had packed his belongings into his car, intending to drive to the airport to fly to California that afternoon. His cousin, apparently upset that he was going to leave without paying his share of the rent for the Bellevue apartment they co-habitated, called 9-1-1 to claim domestic violence as a way to threaten him. As Mendez was leaving, three Bellevue police officers arrived, one of them Hetle. Hetle blocked Mendez’s car, and according to witnesses, within as little as six seconds he got out of his patrol car and shot Mendez several times. Hetle claimed that Mendez was reaching for a weapon, but all that was found was his wallet. Bizarrely, despite the fact that Mendez was probably already dead, the police pulled him out of the car and handcuffed him, likely in order to alter the perceptions of witnesses; however, the other officers did note that they did not understand why Hetle confronted Mendez with lethal force without waiting for them to arrive at the scene only moments later. At the subsequent inquest, jurors were not allowed to hear testimony that Hetle had already been reprimanded for threatening an Ethiopian woman with deportation after she complained of harassment and derogatory comments during a traffic stop (she eventually would receive a $5,750 judgment in court over the incident). But despite the fact that the jury reached the predictable “justified” verdict, one juror admitted they might have reached an “unjustified” conclusion if the questions they had to answer were not so narrowly tailored to favor the police. Latino residents of Bellevue have often complained of their treatment by Bellevue police; interestingly, a former Bellevue police detective, Carlos Preciado, charged the department with racial commentary and innuendo, both toward him and the Latino community. Naturally, no white officer in the department professed to know what he was talking about.
What about Hetle? The police chief jokingly suggested that he might want to talk to him about the Mendez incident, except that by then Hetle had managed to skip town; he had somehow been allowed to “serve” in Hawaii as a member of the National Guard. The conceited Hetle also managed to wrangle $30,000 from the city for what he called the “harassment” he received because of all the publicity over the killing and the business about the Ethiopian woman. Hetle was clearly a head case in his racist attitude toward minorities, which made him perfectly suitable for the Department of Homeland Security, which currently employs him.