Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Everybody's Gone Serfin' — Serfin' USA

By Dan Hagen
Don’t fool yourself. The Republicans — and too many Democrats — are quite serious about using the national debt they have deliberately exacerbated as a weapon to finish off the American middle class.
Remember, also, that ordinary Americans were pushed and manipulated into relying on credit. Their productivity increased, but their wages did not.
Consumption fueled by higher wages would have left the middle class something. But the kleptocapitalists wanted consumption fueled only by credit cards, in order to leave them with nothing but perpetual debt to be repaid to the kleptocapitalists.
They want to effectively reduce ordinary Americans to the level of feudal serfs. So much more manageable that way. Serfs don't dare talk out of turn, do they?
The Republican Party, the party of corporate liberty and individual serfdom, has so far gifted us with the corporate nullification of democratically elected city governments, legalized torture, unlimited police state spying on Americans, permanent war, indefinite imprisonment without legal rights and an economy wrecked by a manufactured debt-ceiling hostage crisis. And they claim we are still unsafe because we have too many rights left. A little more of their kind of “liberty,” and we’ll all be slaves, if we’re not dead.
Now that the corporations are transnational and routinely hoodwink the public through their corporate media propaganda, they are free to buy and consume governments like bottles of beer, extracting the wealth from taxpayers through no-bid contracts and unending, highly profitable wars while leaving those same taxpayers without health care or economic security.
And how do we pretend to pay for all this? The right wingers have only one tax they truly like: sales tax. Sales or consumption tax is regressive, which is why plutocrats love it.
It hits the poor the hardest, because the poor have to spend all their income on sales-taxed items to survive. It hits the rich the least, because the rich spend only a sliver of their ever-accumulating wealth on sales-taxable items.
Sales tax is a means of piling the costs of all public services on the already-overburdened backs of the poor and the shrinking, staggering, soon-to-be-poor middle class, while letting the rich, who benefited most from the community they refuse to support, laugh all the way to the proverbial bank at the fools they've fleeced.
And national security? For the corporate rapists, “national security” is just another term for looting the public treasury. They only need the Pentagon to supply them with no-bid, no-performance contracts, now that they have created ruthless private armies like Blackwater-Xe-Academi to protect them and gun down any mouthy serfs who might get in their way.
And when the nation starts to collapse as the middle class and the working class stagger and fall from the effects of corporate rape, frankly, who cares? There are always the mountain resorts of Switzerland to be enjoyed, or the vast estates of Paraguay, or the dazzling, sun-soaked fleshpots of Dubai.
There, the corporate rapists can watch the chaos they've created from a safe, lofty distance. And there are always more easily gulled serfs where the late, great Americans came from.
None of this is news, and if it were you wouldn't be getting it from the corporate media anyway.
As George Bernard Shaw observed long ago, the faults of the burglar are the qualities of the financier. To keep the marks distracted, always blame the poor.
The GOP plutocrats, the Wall Street Puppet masters and their Tea Party puppets are aiming at Dickens' England, pre-revolutionary France and finally their utopia, the Dark Ages, where they can live as the feudal overlords they long to be.
Then perhaps Fox News can explain to its little wannabe serfs what a fine tradition droit de seigneur really was.

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Illustrated Fascist Checklist

A useful checklist, even if somebody needs to double check the spelling of the word "disdain."
By Dan Hagen
The fact that people are frightened of calling American fascism by its right name is one of the key weapons that the fascists have at their disposal. They can bring the hammer down on American citizens' heads while the citizens are still trying to decide what to call it.

The Illustrated Fascist, Part 3

No. 3, Identification of Enemies/ Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause.
The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial , ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc. 
Britt wrote, “The most significant common thread among these regimes was the use of scapegoating as a means to divert the people’s attention from other problems, to shift blame for failures, and to channel frustration in controlled directions. The methods of choice — relentless propaganda and disinformation — were usually effective. Often the regimes would incite ‘spontaneous’ acts against the target scapegoats… Active opponents of these regimes were inevitably labeled as terrorists and dealt with accordingly.”

About Mr. Rmoney

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Illustrated Fascist, Part 5

No. 5, Rampant Sexism.
The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Opposition to abortion is high, as is homophobia and anti-gay legislation and national policy.
Fascist leaders celebrate war as masculine fulfillment, presenting themselves as exemplars of machismo and thereby implying both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits. Fascists also fetishize weaponry, investing it with mythical phallic power.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A Royal Pain

I always find it funny that many of the same people who so loudly resent a single American mother being given money to feed her child were busy slobbering over the $80 million parade of hereditary parasites at the last "royal wedding" in Great Britain.

What's Wrong With Fox News, Vol. 3, Part 6,801

Yet another study confirms that Fox News attracts and/or creates ignoramuses.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The People of the Palm

By Dan Hagen
They are the ghosts of the future.
They drift down the sidewalks like phantoms, 
half there
and half somewhere else unknown,
their gaze averted ever downward,
as if afraid to meet
the eyes of the world.
They are new,
the true citizens of the 21st century.
The people of the palm,
holding wonders and horrors there.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

What's Wrong With Fox News, Vol 3, Part 6,799

Fox News has only been on the air since October 7, 1996. But what they had been around longer?

The Horror of Traditional Values

By Dan Hagen
Republicans claim they want to reintroduce us to “traditional values,” and they aren’t kidding.
Voting privileges only for property owners. County poorhouses. Child labor. Company towns. Sweat shops. Debtor’s prisons. Economic serfdom. Torture. Slavery (euphemistically to be called “contracted prison labor”).
The GOP plutocrats and the Tea Party puppets are aiming at restoring the traditions of Dickens' England, pre-revolutionary France and finally their utopia, the Dark Ages, where they can live as the feudal overlords they long to be.
Perhaps Fox News can explain to its little serfs what a fine tradition droit de seigneur really was.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Or It Could Be Something Special Just for Me

By Dan Hagen
Remember the first letters you ever got in the mail, what a thrill they were?
I was impressed to get a reply from Marvel Comics, before they were even called Marvel Comics, after I wrote them a letter about all the familial bickering in the early issues of the Fantastic Four. Too young to appreciate the drama, I found that unsettling. Even caught in a death trap, the Justice League members never seemed to so much as raise their voices.
A little later, with my age still in the single digits, I got a nice, serious and friendly reply from the famed anti-comic book psychiatrist and author Fredric Wertham after I wrote asking him why he hated my beloved Superman. He replied that he did not and gave me an age-appropriate explanation of his views. It is clear, in retrospect, that Wertham cared a great deal about children’s welfare.
That first letter addressed just to you. It’s another of those little defining pleasures that today’s children will likely never experience, along with the wonder of books and magazines spread like a rainbow across a newsstand and the mouth-watering cozy-warm-sweet smell of a small bakery the moment you walk in.
This letterhead must have thrilled any number of kids in the late 1940s.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Yes, Maugham

By Dan Hagen
Sitting on our deck at that uniquely comfortable angle that only an Adirondack chair can offer. Sipping at the dark gold of an Old Brown Dog Ale. Looking out across the shameless green of spring in the slanting light of late afternoon. Glancing down, from time to time, to read a page or two of Somerset Maugham.
It’s a comfortable, drowsy way to end a day — so pleasant, in fact, that you make a mental note of it and file it away with those days you don’t want to lose.
I picked up this substantial two-volume hardcover set of Maugham’s complete short stories for next to nothing at one of those library book sales that must rank among life’s unalloyed pleasures.  
Graham Sutherland's 1949 portrait of Maugham
The volumes are matched gray Doubleday editions with gold-stamped lettering on the covers, and feel just right in the hand. Bibliophiles will know what I mean.
Some books underline the excellence of their intellectual content with a matching aesthetic presence, a certain physical solidity, texture and balance. Good books are like friends, but books such as these are almost like lovers.
Maugham is one of those writers who seems to have fallen through the cracks of time — not cheap and splashy enough to have acquired a devoted cult to preserve him, like an Edgar Rice Burroughs, but not fancy enough to earn accolades from the forces of literature, like a William Burroughs.
Maugham, an English writer of the leisure class in the early 20th century, was a smart enough observer of fashion and human nature to have guessed correctly at his own posthumous fate. You can hear that awareness as a defensive note in his prefaces. A proud craftsman, Maugham seems to sense that he’ll be dismissed as a magazine writer who was too fond of a decent plot and a more-than-decent income, and not fond enough of his art.
His contemporary Noel Coward was also aware that he would suffer the same slings and arrows. Both were already out of fashion even in my youth. Both waved away such criticisms as the products of envy and arrogance, but both visibly flinched at them anyway.
When someone suggests you’re really a fraud, you tend to entertain the thought, at least for a moment, presuming you’re not a perfectly self-satisfied sociopath.
Ian Fleming, a friend of both Maugham and Coward, paid Maugham the compliment of a pastiche in his short story Quantum of Solace, with James Bond substituting for Maugham’s much more realistic British agent character, Ashenden. Maugham had been an intelligence agent in World War I, so Ashenden was Maugham himself.
But it was spying on human nature, not on state secrets, that interested Maugham — particularly the ironies of human nature (for example, the revelation that great, insightful artists can also be creeps).
Maugham's Moorish charm
Maugham was gay and, like Coward, made no issue of the fact while doing little to conceal it. That then-scandalous truth alone charged his privileged, globe-trotting social life with irony, and put him outside society while still in its center — the ideal position for an observer.
From the vantage point of a social sniper, Maugham targets types you immediately recognize as genuine, but were perhaps never consciously aware of until now.
“I thought him a rather odious young man, but I did not mind that,” Maugham reflects in The Voice of the Turtle. “It is very natural that clever young men should be rather odious. They are conscious of gifts that they do not know how to use. They are exasperated with the world that will not recognize their merit. They have something to give, and no hand is stretched out to receive it. They are impatient for the fame they regard as their due. No, I do not mind odious young men; it is when they are charming that I button up the pockets of my sympathy.”
Though cosmopolitan, Maugham was firmly fixed in his era and class. But nevertheless, he tried to look outside them from time to time, thus setting himself the task of a real artist.
In the novel The Moon and Sixpence, Maugham gives us a painter who coldly abandons his wife and children to live in Tahiti. And in the novel The Razor’s Edge, Maugham describes a young veteran from Chicago whose combat experiences in World War I have exposed for him the emptiness of American materialism. Seeking more through meditation in India, he returns home with something special to offer.
Maugham’s short stories can often double back on you in interesting ways, and, like James Thurber’s, are particularly entertaining if read aloud .
After Ashenden has helped arrange the capture and execution of a gross and vulgar German secret agent in The Traitor, we hear the German spy’s little bull terrier howling in agonized mourning. Instantly international intrigue is dwarfed by the tragedy of ordinary human reality, and it’s haunting, not a story you forget.
I enjoy the fact that Maugham himself is almost always a character in his stories, circling the action like a particularly sagacious ghost. His first-person narration gives us a well-established viewpoint and thus a kind of traveling companion for our journeys through the byways and sharp, sudden turns of human drama.
That first-person narrative was so much a part of Maugham’s style that it even carried over into the movies made from his books, where it was an unnecessary if charming affectation. The actor Herbert Marshall, as dryly sophisticated as museum parchment, essentially played Maugham more than once, in The Moon and Sixpence (1942) and The Razor’s Edge (1946).
When his short story collections were brought to the screen, Maugham himself introduced them, and his sagging, world-weary features became familiar to audiences around the world he had traveled.
The first-person observer who pays close attention to those around him, sometimes peripheral to the action, sometimes central to it. Semi-detached, like one of those houses in London. As confident as a cat, though occasionally fatuous, and sometimes even eloquent in his pronouncements.
I wonder why that appeals to me?

Friday, May 11, 2012

How the Cruel Love to Rule

Think of all the qualities that enable us to form a functioning and vital nation -- respect, compassion, tolerance, selflessness -- and you will see that they don't exist in the narcissistic personality (or culture).

— Dr. Jim Taylor
By Dan Hagen
Of course Little Lord Mittens’ idea of fun was to forcibly butcher a gay guy’s hair and maneuver a disabled teacher into slamming into a door. Of course Romney liked the idea of strapping his terrified dog to the roof of a speeding vehicle.
Remember how many of Romney’s campaign “gaffs” revealed his apparent inability to understand or consider the feelings of others? When your empathy is scripted and fake, you’re going to trip up.
Connect all the dots, and they spell “The GOP presidential candidate is a sadistic creep.”
Unless they happen to be giggling about the idea of hurting someone, American right wingers are often humor-challenged. That fact underlines their bizarre lack of emotional balance.
Remember when Fox News Business Host Eric Bolling asked his viewers to list people they'd like to see tortured? They targeted Joy Behar, President Obama and Senate Democrats, among others.
Note that this wasn’t even about torture falsely described as an intelligence necessity, but about the real reason right wingers love it — as a sadistic fantasy punishment of their innocent enemies.
Consider the obvious relish and frequency with which even the most prominent Republicans announce that they’d like to inflict pain and death on someone. Gov. Rick Perry said he wanted to lynch the Fed chairman, and Sen. Tom Coburn said he wanted to shoot his fellow senators.  Just out of curiosity, is there ANY problem that Republicans think can't be solved by torture and/or murder?
Remember how those “deregulated” Wall Street banks stole the homes of 50 active-duty U.S. troops with mortgage fraud? That’s good, old, deregulated GOP kleptocapitalism for you. Pat the vets on the back as you pick their pockets, then kick the chumps right out into the street with a contemptuous laugh.
“Corporations are people,” Romney famously said. Republicans deny humanity to actual human beings like illegal aliens, gays and Muslims, but grant it to legal fictions created by the rich solely to dodge taxes and evade responsibility.
“(T)he Republicans divert public attention from their culpability in destroying a sound federal financial regulatory system and gifting Wall Street crooks with a platinum get-out-of-jail-free card,” Robert Scheer wrote. “To listen to the GOP presidential candidates, the banking meltdown was caused by everyone except the bankers.”
Republicans will man the barricades of freedom to defend the power of multinational corporations to overwhelm U.S. elections with billions of dollars in lying propaganda and kick Americans out of their homes into the gutter. But they have no problem with the government imprisoning and torturing innocent people, and turning them into corporate slave labor for private prisons. In fact, they rather like the idea.
Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott spent $178 million of the taxpayers’ money in order to prove that 98 percent of welfare recipients don’t use drugs. He intended to prove the opposite, of course, but Scott’s witch hunt served its purpose anyway, which was never to save money but to demonize the poor in order to justify cruel treatment for them.
Welfare recipients make delightful targets for Tea Party venom. They are denied a voice, so they can’t fight back. And with the Republicans’ billionaire puppet masters busy wiping the American middle class out of existence, they desperately need to find somebody else to frame. Poor people make the perfect diversion.
Republicans worship only money and actively loathe people who do not possess it — including, ironically, themselves. They are fearful of a society in which money might not trump and crush all legal rights and social privileges.
Republicans worship hierarchy, and their contempt for those they’ve shoved to the bottom is palpable. They WANT to see the working class and minorities suffer. That suffering justifies their delusions, and tickles their barely concealed — or in Romney’s case, unconcealed — sadistic impulses.
The Tea Party crowds at the recent GOP presidential debates actually booed a gay veteran and cheered for wholesale executions and the idea of letting uninsured Americans die in agony without medical treatment. If that’s their “Christian compassion” at work, I'd hate to see their idea of cruelty.
Detect a theme here?
“Republicans go after the thinkers for thinking, the poor for being poor, the teachers for teaching, the gays for loving each other, and the Democrats for caring about their fellow man,” Mike Dennison observed.
To paraphrase Jon Faulkner, the Republicans are a political party that regards the unfortunate, the weak and the helpless as pests. Or perhaps as playthings.
Naturally, the cruel want to rule. And obviously, we’d have to be crazy to let them.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Down in the Gutter, Looking Up at the Stars

ANNOUNCER: Ladies and Gentlemen. The Network News Hour! With Sybil the Soothsayer, Jim Webbing and his It’s-the-Emmes-Truth Department, Miss Mata Hari and her Skeletons in the Closets, and tonight, another segment of Vox Populi, and starring…
ANNOUNCER:… the mad prophet of the airwaves, Howard Beale!
— Paddy Chayefsky’s Network (1976)

By Dan Hagen
I tuned in to the Weather Channel one morning just in time to catch the end of a rather odd news report about something they called a “Kim Kardashian.”
I figured it must be some kind of tropical depression.
In fact, of course, it’s a topical depression, and it’s a symptom of a kind of national cultural depression.
“Celebrity news” is just something to keep all those little American citizen-frogs distracted, docile and drowsy as the heat in their pot continues to head up toward the boiling point. Now, on television anyway, news pretty much IS marketing and/or propaganda, and almost nothing more.
Why else would we be subjected to endless stories about worthless, brand-name slut-puppy heiresses and playboys?

The economists have a handy concept called “opportunity cost.” When you invest your resources, the opportunity cost of that deal is the benefits you would have derived from whatever else you might have done with those resources.
Obviously, celebrity slut news has a considerable opportunity cost for the consumer. Celebrity news offers no practical benefit to the person viewing it, and chews up his time and attention.
But for the media corporations that so eagerly provide it, the opportunity cost is on the other foot. Not only is celebrity news cheap to cover (compared to $1 million or so it costs to send a reporter to Afghanistan for a year, for example), but its intellectual opportunity cost is a plus, too. When Americans are lulled into thinking about celebrities who have no possible impact on their actual fate, they are NOT thinking about the national issues that DO have a considerable impact on their lives. And many corporations prefer it that way. Celebrity reporting is a deliberate way to burn up the media oxygen so that little ACTUAL news is covered. Real news incommodes corporations.
Also, vapid media celebrityhood reinforces the corporate-right wing meme that you don't need any of that expensive education, health care or Social Security. Just be extremely rich instead. Must be a common state, since TV is lousy with rich people.
 “In media today, even among journalists who entered the field for the noblest of reasons, there is an internalized bias to simply shy away from controversial journalism that might enmesh a media firm in a battle with powerful corporations or government agencies,” wrote Bob McChesney and John Nichols in Our Media. Not Theirs.
“(R)elatively vast resources are deployed for news pitched at a narrow business class, and suited to their needs and prejudices; such news has come to dominate newspapers, specialty magazines, and cable television. Likewise, news for the masses increasingly consists of stories about celebrities, royal families, athletes, natural disasters, plane crashes, and train wrecks. Political coverage is limited to regurgitating what some politician says.”
The corporate media has demonstrated that it is perfectly willing to peddle us poison and label it lemonade.
I recall when Bush slipped during a press conference and announced that it was “scripted.” The White House altered the transcript to say “unscripted.” Now, tell me, why would anyone announce that a press conference was “unscripted?”
That's when I finally admitted that the once-heroic American press had become a hopelessly corrupted collection of corporate propagandists.
The business shows are there to peddle junk to patsies, right up to the point where Wall Street derivative fraud tanks the market, and the news shows are there to sell terrorist scares and phony military “victories” to patsies — all in the time left between ads for bankruptcy services, “structured settlement” thieves and pills to rescue your poor, lost erection.
Apparently people fleeced and impoverished by unregulated Wall Street crooks have a hard time having a hard time.
Working in concert, the corporate media manipulators can make anything seem to happen, or unhappen. Remember, we went to war to stop weapons that didn't exist. Howard Dean, the most liberal candidate, was kicked out of the race for the ludicrous reason that he supposedly made a funny noise at a screaming rally.
The right wingers even found, to their amazement, that — thanks to their corporate media echo chamber — they were capable of selling even a C-student, combat-dodging serial business failure who is an idiot as presidential material. So now they think they can palm any old winking, lying, phony creep off on the American people — Trump, Palin, Bachmann, Huckabee, Mittens Romneycare, anybody. And maybe they can.
After all, during the 2008 election, thanks to a relentless GOP propaganda campaign aimed at know-nothings, craven and wretched reporting by the corporate media and the general willful, thundering stupidity of the American public, what we were offered as "issues" were such topics as Hillary Clinton's capacity to sob, Barack Obama's middle name, the fear of his “secret Muslim religion,” whether he and his wife indulge in “terrorist fist bumps,” and his bowling score.
This was what the voters in this country allegedly wanted to discuss while deregulated financial fraud collapsed the world economy.
Even the so-called critics of the corporate media are often shills for it. CNN’s Howard Kurtz, for example, has been VERY good at his chosen mission, which is to attack the news media on the rare occasions when it actually does its job of informing the public. Remember how he got an attack of the vapors when Rolling Stone DARED to report Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s remarks when, in front of a reporter, he insulted his commander in chief?
In any sane society, the relevant, important truth about the conduct of a war is called “the news.”
For all their influence, though, the corporate media can still be blindsided. The Occupy movement — something new — caught the corporate media off guard last year, and they had to cover it if only to sow seeds of suspicion about it.
They’ve gotten their marching orders since, and are determinedly ignoring the Occupy revival this spring. And this is the same bunch that provided any lame gathering of 40-odd Tea Baggers with breathless national coverage.
It’s a quite a trick. The corporate media can make the American left simply disappear, with a puff of back-room smoke and the sound of Howard Dean making a funny noise.
And where, for example, is the serious coverage of the continuing Japanese nuclear disaster? The anti-nuclear implications frightened America’s corporate­controlled propaganda media. Hence the tranquilizer gas they sprayed at us.
American corporations are interested only in centralized power that can be delivered over lines to return a constant stream of greenbacks to them. Any alternative must be mocked, questioned and finally buried in media silence. Any permanent, obvious, deadly consequences to people and the planet must be waved away by Sunday morning talk-show gasbags as being irrelevant to what they call a “grown-up conversation.”
The events of the last decade illustrate the fact that the purpose of the corporate “news media” is often not to publish the truth, but A) to see to it that the truth isn’t published or B) to distract the public with puerile trivia if the truth does somehow slip out.
My guess is that we could see blood flowing through the streets of our cities and still watch the corporate news media desperately crank up the volume on the latest celebrity gossip story. Their job is to keep the news hidden, keep the news confused, keep the news brief — to do anything they can do to avoid fully reporting it until it’s too late for the people watching to do anything about it.
The corporate media must pretend, dance a little dance for the fools, to make sure they don't find out what's been done to them, and by whom.