Sunday, June 28, 2015

The only real “winners” in war are corporate interests

When I was growing up in Wisconsin, the school history texts told us that the most prominent politician to come out of the state was Robert “Fighting Bob” La Follette, and for good reason. As governor and U.S. senator, he was the leader of the progressive party that was Republican in name only. For La Follette, the world was a battle between “the people” and the “selfish interests,” or laborers and farmers against corporations and their millionaire stooges in Congress. He pushed for tax reform, business and finance regulation, labor rights and the curbing of the “rights” of the powerful to influence elections and the legislative agenda long before the Great Depression made the need for it “popular.” 

But La Follette ran afoul of popular sentiment in regard to the U.S.’ entry into World War I.  Not that his reasoning for doing so had no basis in fact. The U.S. did frequently intervene in foreign countries solely for the purpose of protecting the interests of American businesses. For those who doubt this, I have already quoted Gen. Smedley Butler—as self-described “muscle man” for corporate interests—from his pamphlet War is a Racket:

I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents."

La Follette believed that corporations and business interests were pushing the U.S. to war in the hope of profiting by it (the U.S. certainly had no direct “interest” in involving itself in what was essentially the usual European struggle to maintain “equilibrium” between the leading states). Once war against Germany was declared, partly in response to the sinking of the Lusitania, a British passenger liner out of New York that was also carrying nearly 200 tons of war munitions (technically violating the U.S. claim of “neutrality” up to that point), which likely caused the massive explosion and led to the loss of life of over 1,000 people. La Follette—besides opposing the draft, attempted and failed to convince Congress to force corporations to pay for U.S. war efforts, since they were the ones profiting by it. 

But pro-war advocates labeled La Follette a “traitor” and pushed for his expulsion from the U.S. Senate. The effort failed, but he was essentially a public pariah for several years after the “successful” conclusion of the World War I. But public opinion would change when people realized that he was correct in claiming that the unjust “settlement” of the “war to end all wars” would only lead to another—and probably even worse—war. The victorious allies imposed an impossible burden on Germany alone to pay war reparations in the hopes of destroying forever its military capacity; instead of doing that, the West only made conditions impossible for Germans to accept “democracy” and give credibility to avowed democrats, who were viewed a stooges and traitors in allowing the country’s foreign—and Jewish—“enemies” to drive Germany into the ground. It might have been different if economic conditions had improved with that of the rest of the world in the 1920s and allowed Germans to believe in democracy as a viable form of government, but Britain and France insisted on forcing Germany to pay $33 billion in war damages—obviously a staggering sum in 1919—and there was no hope for recovery. 

Thus when the Great Depression hit, it was especially crushing on Germany, and thus the rise of the Nazis and the search for external and internal scapegoats was not unexpected. And of course for a people that believed itself unjustly punished by the Western powers, revenge was never far from the national mindset. War was still not necessarily inevitably, but after foolishly trying to “crush” Germany into a militarily weak state, the allies themselves became weak in enforcing the terms of the Versailles Treaty, apparently in the belief that treating Hitler with kid gloves would “soften” him and sate his expansionist tendencies. It did not. Moral questions aside, think about this: No outrageous imposition of reparations that stunted economic recovery, no Nazis or Hitler, no war, no Holocaust, very likely no founding of the state of Israel, no Islamic jihadist reaction to the West’s support of it.

And American corporations rejoiced at the entry of the U.S. into the World War II. The fact was that the U.S. was still far from completely recovered from the Depression in 1941, and the “recovery” of the economy that would soon occur did so on the back of massive government spending on military-affiliated activities. After the war, the economy went into a downspin following diminished military expenditures, but recovered somewhat with the beginning of the so-called “Cold War.” In Pres. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s final address before leaving office, this former general warned of the power of “military-industrial complex,” which he felt would undermine American democracy and promote activities not in the country’s best interest—like the Vietnam War. 

Things have not changed since then. The alleged economic “recovery” under Reagan was built on the back of massive government military spending, failing to support domestic consumer manufacturing that was disappearing in the face of foreign competition. Today, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld claims that he never believed that “democracy” would take in Iraq, but that didn’t stop the U.S. for engaging in what now can be seen as a foolish endeavor that needlessly cost many thousands of American lives. And who was among those who profited most from the Iraq War? Halliburton, an oil and gas company which “expanded” into military-related endeavors under the Bush administration—and its technically on leave CEO, Vice President Dick Cheney, didn’t have anything to do with it. Oh sure. Cheney was perfectly content to wait for his “deferred” millions in compensation for directing military and oil contracts to his “former” company. 

Of course, war profiteering and actually “winning” a war are two entirely different things. The former only needs an ongoing war (such as a decade in Iraq and trillions in “off-the-books” spending); the latter requires a cost in blood, which corporate fat cats and rocking chair “warriors” regard as an “unfortunate” but “unavoidable” outlay. With ISIS on the loose, it is clear that—as Eisenhower stated—the interests of corporations and their political stooges are as often as not in direct conflict with that of the national and public interest. But Gen. Butler would hardly be surprised.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Golf: A new “golden age” or reversion to the stone age?

I admit that before Tiger Woods, I had no interest whatever in golf. All I knew about golf was that I was terrible at it the few times I was forced to go to a golf course in my youth, and that it was boring to watch on television, and that it was my impression that golf was a pastime for retired people and people with money to waste and had exclusive access to the clubhouse. The bottom line was that before Tiger Woods, I didn’t give a damn about golf or the people who played it.

But that changed somewhat when Tiger Woods emerged onto the scene. The media treated him the like the Second Coming, and why not? Here was this young (mostly) black man who was clearly not one of society’s “privileged” class, who was threatening to break down the walls of golf’s privileged, exclusionary society. And he wasn’t merely going to be one the best, but he was going to be the Michael Jordon of golf, establishing a new paradigm of greatness, making white golfers look like they were the second-class citizens. Thus Woods represented (whether he accepted it or not) everyone who felt excluded from the halls of power and privilege, who by sheer force of will and talent broke down the door—not just for him, but for all those who felt the outsider.

That is why golf’s new young “superstars” will never have the same impact on the public imagination as Woods had. They are just another generation of the privilege class. Sure, golf fanatics will call them the long-awaited “changing of the guard” as Woods falls off the map, but others will see them as the latest of the “great white hopes” will succeed only because Woods, because of injury and age, has seen his glory days pass. There greatest fear was that Woods might herald the start of an influx of black golfers who take their sport away from them. 

But there was never any chance of that happening, and Woods has never recovered from either the injury that made his last major championship victory, the 2008 U.S. Open, such a courageous one, or the damage to his reputation and fall from grace following revelations of his marital problems. It hardly seems even ironic that Tom Brady, a white football star, was left untouched by the media when he dumped his pregnant first wife for a super model.

The reality is that while it is good for the hardcore golf fan that Jordan Spieth, Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson and Roy McIlroy have risen to the top of the golf heap—which means nothing save that they are better than the competition—none of these players has anything close to the societal and cultural impact of Woods. Not even close. And that means that both golf’s popularity and revenues will take a hit—perhaps it will be a slow slide so long as Woods is around—even the PGA brass think that his “shelf-life” as a money-maker for the tour for another decade—and slide back to be of interest only to the committed golf fanatic. 

But there are of course those who actually thought Woods’ success was a danger to the game—or to the notion of white supremacy—and refuse to face the truth. Take for example the Bleacher Reports’ Tom Weir: “Spieth and McIlroy are rendering the old guard irrelevant, and it’s a joy to see. Monday morning conversations about a golf tournament are far more enjoyable when they focus on triumphs rather than a fading star’s latest round of 80.” 

Weir must be one of those “traditional” types who bemoaned Woods’ dominance of a “white” sport. Of course it is a “joy” to see his presumed demise, with the game back in the hands of where it “belongs.” Well, who follows polo or lacrosse in this country? Nobody, because they are just “country club” activities for people who think these pastimes are for “superior” people—and what is more “country club” than golf? 

Others are less sanguine about the impact of a Tigerless golf world. Jake Simpson wrote in the Atlantic:

For more than 15 years, Eldrick “Tiger” Woods has been the engine fueling the exponential growth of golf's revenues, purses, and endorsement deals, and he's a bigger draw for casual fans than the rest of the sport combined. For starters, he's brought in younger fans through his sheer cult of personality on the golf course. Woods, at the peak of his powers, was cool like Jordan or Ali—he can’t be compared to any other golfer in terms of his effect on the sport’s popularity among the masses.

Sara Germano of the Wall Street Journal wrote:

For the fifth year, overall participation in golf fell in 2014 as measured by the number of U.S. individuals who reported playing on a course at least once, according to Sports & Fitness Industry Association data. But the participation rates of people aged 18 to 34 fell roughly 13% in 2013 from 2009, while their rates for other active sports like running rose 29%, according to SFIA data.

Jason Notte, writing for Market Watch,  noted  that while “certain corners of the sports and business worlds are elated”  by the development that “new blood” is driving endorsements for their products, “using dog whistles such as ‘clean cut’ to describe Woods’ would-be replacements and “all-American” to describe Masters winner Jordan Speith — this isn’t how it works...Millennials grew up watching Tiger Woods’ near-invincible run and, when he isn’t around, they have no problem abandoning golf altogether. According to Nielsen, 63% of people who watch golf on television are 55 or older. A whopping 87% of golf viewers are over the age of 35, making golf’s audience the oldest in professional sports just ahead of Nascar (with 77% of racing viewers age 35 or older). Compared to the 45% of the NBA’s audience that’s under 35, golf looks gray and out of touch.” 

Notte also noted that places Woods’ “value to the sport at somewhere around $15 billion. That’s 22% of the $68.8 billion golf industry and roughly a quarter of the status quo that isn’t coming back if millennials and other casual fans tune out golf altogether.”

I’ve got news for those people who think that Jordan Spieth is the new “golden child” of golf: The “millennials”—those born between 1980 and 2000—whose formative years occurred during Woods’ rise to prominence, a symbol that anything was possible if you had the talent no matter what the odds, breaking down the barriers that prevented entry into previously closed doors—see those doors closing again, and the same old faces in control again. I have already confessed that I became a “fan” of golf solely because of Woods; every weekend I checked the leaderboard to see only one name: Tiger Woods. I didn’t care one whit about the other players. 

But with Woods out of the picture, I have no interest in golf whatever, and there are many, many “casual” fans like me. To me, if Spieth and McIlroy become “superstars,” it will only because of the lack of the poor quality of their competition, and the desperate need for someone—anyone—to escape the long shadow of Woods. 

I am one of those who occasionally took a peek at sports headlines that suggested  that Woods was in “contention” to win a tournament, and if so probably watched the weekend  rounds of a tournament if he had any chance of winning. Otherwise, my interest in golf was and is close to zilch—and no doubt I will be joined by many if not most of those people who found Woods such an inspiration for breaking down barriers. McIlroy and Speith, no matter how “great” they are perceived to be, can never elevate themselves beyond the course the way Woods has done. For me and many others, they are just a reversion to the “old” guard, not the new.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Nothing “sticks” to white folks

“God bless us.” This is what the uncle of Dylann Storm Roof said as he hung up the phone when initially reached by the Los Angeles Times.  Perhaps that didn’t come out quite right in hindsight, because Carson Cowles would soon come to a more definitive conclusion after the full horror of what his 21-year-old nephew had done: “He’s a monster . . . and he needs to pay for what he’s done.”

Roof, who according to one friend had been plotting to start a new “civil war” by some unnamed action against blacks who he claimed were about to take over the country, an idea that has been the motivation of the likes of Timothy McVeigh and white supremacist “militia” and paramilitary groups. These domestic terrorists who are usually ignored by law enforcement and the FBI often have bizarre ideas driving their desire for a whites-only country, in the case of Roof that he believed that recent publicity over the shootings of black males by white police has the effect of emasculating the police whose purpose is to protect whites and maintain their dominance.

It was reported by that friend of Roof that a few weeks ago he seemed to be drunk raving mad, claiming that he had been planning for six months to start his war to save white people, and the friend took the gun Roof had been given as a birthday present, but returned it the next day. Two weeks later Roof walked into a prayer meeting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and announcing that he was there to kill black people because among other things “You rape our women and are taking over our country,” he proceeded to shoot dead nine people, including two women aged 70 and 87, escaping before being caught in North Carolina.

Roof, besides being a coward like all white supremacists are—not daring to take on, say, the residents of tough minority neighborhoods for fear they might get “hurt,” but the innocent and vulnerable—seemed to have certain issues with self-identity, having spent much of his youth in a neighborhood 90 percent black. Although he supposedly was “friendly” with some blacks, he made plain that he didn’t “identify” with them, making racist epithets and espousing segregation, which was odd, since he and the tiny minority of whites in the neighborhood and school he attended were the ones in “violation” of that code. 

After the shooting, the mayor of Charleston, Joseph Riley Jr., declared “That awful person, that terrible human being who would go into a place of worship where people were praying and kill them is now in custody, where he will always remain. In America, we don’t let bad people get away with these dastardly deeds.”

That’s funny; bad people have been doing such deeds seemingly on a monthly basis, and no one seems the wiser. What is really odd about all of this is that here we have a clearly racist individual who murdered nine peaceful people in a church, and this youthful white male, who appears rather diminutive, almost just a boy, is just a “curiosity” to the media. He isn’t being demonized or dehumanized, nobody is rioting in the streets. 

But George Zimmerman, who was a neighborhood watchman in a neighborhood that had been terrorized by home invasions, break-ins and robberies for a year, was and is demonized and dehumanized despite clear evidence he shot Trayvon Martin in self-defense. The reaction to shooting had as much to do with the often poisonous relations between blacks and Hispanics, which the white media feeds, but also the seeming “indignation” over the fact that Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense was legitimate when the media and family was providing false images of an “innocent child," when Martin was clearly neither. 

Roof’s friend claimed that “He wanted to do something big, like the Trayvon Martin case”—as in Martin being “gunned down” in cold blood according to the New York Daily News; the media keeps forgetting that Zimmerman was actually acquitted of all charges, the only evidence available showing fairly conclusively that he acted in self-defense after no one responded to his calls for help—either by police who were lackadaisical in arriving or the “neighbors” he was protecting from nightly predations by “transients” with theft on their minds. By the media’s twisted logic, there is no difference between Roof and Zimmerman, or a gangsta-wannabe like Martin, and those God-fearing church people.

Far more despicably, there is no acknowledgement that white people like Roof don’t simply emerge out of thin air. They exist in an atmosphere of paranoia, prejudice, fear and racial and “ethnic” scapegoating propaganda. The media pretends it doesn’t exist, or that it doesn’t disseminate it (particularly in regard to Hispanic immigrants). It pretends that it doesn’t know that the core of Republican support is from racists and white people who believe in and practice de facto segregation. Neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups may be on the fringes and ignored there, but in reality there is very little difference in principle between what they preach and right-wingers who claim to uphold “civilization,” “morality” and “ethics”—or by “liberals” whose social “idealism” ends when it comes to their front door and they have to open it. No one wants to admit that no one is innocent; it is all about some "crazy." One should never forget who is crafting the message--and who decides what to leave in, and what to leave out. That is why Zimmerman was turned into a subhuman species, while Roof is just a curiosity.

It now appears that Roof was indeed influenced by the rantings of at least one white supremacist outfit, the Council of Conservative Citizens, whose president, Earl Holt III, has donated to the campaigns of several current Republican presidential hopefuls. Roof referenced some of the group's racist claims on its website; according to the New York Times, "Mr. Holt, in a statement posted online in his name, said he was not surprised to learn that Mr. Roof had found out about 'black-on-white violent crime' from his group because, he said, it was one of the few that had the courage to disclose 'the seemingly endless incidents involving black-on-white murder./ But he said his group does not advocate violence and should not be held responsible for the shootings." 

The hypocrisy is remarkable in its audacity. Like all demographic rates, the vast majority of whites are not killed by blacks or other minorities, but by other whites; in fact, there is a slightly higher white-perpetrator to black-victim ratio than vice versa, and to say that racist propaganda doesn't influence others to violence is sheer mendacity.

The truth of the matter is that here once more we see a white person who the media tries to isolate from all others of their kind, that they share nothing in common. In this way the dark place that motivated Roof to act in the way he did doesn’t “stick” to them. And it works, because we don’t see rioting or mass protests like we see when there is a police shooting. Despite all the talk about the state of society, nobody really wants to accept that even the police act by the dictates of that society; no one is “innocent.

The “lady” vanishes: Good riddance to bad rubbish

The mainstream media never misses an opportunity to characterize women as “victims” or “superior” to men, usually based on opinion rather than evidentiary foundation and contrary to empirical support. Oh well. Usually this has more to do with personal egotism and an effort to downsize accomplishments not their own.  Newsweek recently had a cover story demonstrating this propensity entitled “The Lady Vanishes,” the premise of which is that because of the one-child policy in China, and the assumed preference for male children over females, there is a slightly lower number of female births, meaning that the “preference” is only just that. In any case, there is a slight surplus of marriage-age men that, according to the story, actually gives women power over men in China. The alleged Chinese “lady” has reverted back to the stereotypical “Dragon Lady,” going from “unwanted” to suddenly “in charge.” Chinese women won’t marry a man who doesn’t own a house or have a large bank account, and the divorce rate is increasing, although still rather considerably lower than in the West. 

I mean, like, so what else is new? Frankly, societal change today often has less to do with advancing morality and ethics than being in direct opposition to them, because they are viewed as maintaining the “patriarchy” rather than directing personal responsibility. “Temporary” marriage arrangements (usually in the minds of women) as an economic consideration or based on lust rather than love, deliberate single-parenthood and certain kinds of “permanent” domestic arrangements are examples of this.  What is “ironic” is that it is “educated” women who are too self-obsessed or have “special needs” who are driving this, in the belief  that they are “victims” or superior beings being “held down” by men—or at least those are messages we are continually being bombarded with by the media. 

But what does it really say about gender relations? That contrary to popular myth, they are really more self-interested than “caring” about others, even their own children, often used by vindictive women as weapons against their fathers in divorce cases? That they feel they have  responsibility when it comes to compromise or even giving any credence to their partner’s take on the state of a relationship, refusing to take any responsibility for their own behavior, or feel that only their “needs” matter?  This may in reality describe gender relations, but the refusal to recognize it indicates the power of gender myths. Or is it just a lot of hot hair and sob-sister bovine scatology, because deep inside they know  just how dependent they are on males for the maintenance of the comforts of civilization they take for granted? One “educated” female once told me that men are only good for “killing bugs and fixing cars.” At least she admitted in a backhanded way that males were “needed” for something.

Why would Chinese women be any different? Some may say to themselves “I am going to pick the ‘perfect’ man for me.” But what is the “perfect” male for such self-interested women? Does such a person even exist? And why would a man want a woman who requires him to kowtow to her every “need”—which often she cannot even articulate—or illogical whim.  Of course, Newsweek may be “inventing” a story, basing its conclusion on the commentary of an isolated cadre of “career” women, and not the opinion of the general population. But it doesn’t matter, since the propaganda takes no matter of true it is in the generality or not.

Attitudes about relationship go both ways, gender politics aside. CNN recently reported on the growing apathy of some Japanese men in regard to women. “A government survey released this week suggested that nearly 40 percent of Japanese in their twenties and thirties are not in a relationship don't think they need a romantic partner, with many calling relationships ‘bothersome.’ Another survey from 2010 found that one in four Japanese men in their thirties who've never been married are virgins. The figures were only slightly less for women.” One of these men said "When you see a woman and find her attractive, you might ask her out, hold her hand, kiss and that's how it goes. But in my case, it did not happen for me. I thought it might happen naturally, but it never did."

For men confronted with the abuses of women whose “needs” can never be met or satisfied, Bob Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me Babe” has the right message:

You say you're looking for someone
Who promises never to part
Someone to close his eyes to you
Someone to close his heart
Someone who will die for you and more
But it ain't me babe
No, no, no it ain't me babe
It ain't me you're looking for