Epic epicaricacy

Sardonic humor while the world burns. Ironic and often sarcastic satire amidst the collapse of western civilization. Epic epicaricacy

Thursday, July 28, 2011

RE: "The Romanovs Ride Again"

Casino Capitalism at the Terminus of Empire

for Matt O.

Q: "so short of violence, what do you think should be done? Let the debt soar? Up taxes? Ban investing? Clearly you're passionate about this stuff. I'd be interested to hear what you think should be done specifically to correct the current state of our economy. Lord knows Washington has no idea."

A: I wish I could tender a simple answer to what, on the surface, appears to be a relatively innocuous and simple question. Short of some sort of modern day Farmer's Rebellion, I feel there is no simple answer because the problem itself is very very complex. This point is not meant to be obtuse or otiose, but simply the truth at the heart of the matter: to "correct the current state of the economy" one needs to analyze what the core causes of the problem really are, beyond the superficialities that we generally accept as answers. Indeed the problems with the economy reflect a rather systematic failure of objective government and corporate self-regulation, both terms seemingly Orwellian, ironic, and oxymoronic in this day and age. One of the key issues here is that the engine of economy has co-opted our political process.

Ideally and historically our economy and government work best when opposed, it is perhaps best to conceptualize this notion as an inverse relationship; if the market is allowed to operate in a vacuum without regulation and oversight things usually congeal in a top down manner, monopolies, conglomerates, cartels, and sprawling corporations form - limiting choice and freedom, which is not to mention that if allowed to exist unfettered the market grows too quickly- (I have a mental image of my mother's tomato plants in the garden: huge tomatoes just destroying a small plant with no root system or stalk capable of supporting them)- and shaky, shady and sketchy practices are allowed to become the norm, forming bubbles and the economy grows rapidly before collapsing like a dying sun. Now the antipode has similar consequences - if the oversight and regulation of the government are too Draconian, growth is inhibited and freedom is again castrated, the market essentially becomes socialized and innovation is stagnant (this however has not been the case in the US yet, historically or at least in the last near century since the establishment of the Federal Reserve system, the market has swung repeatedly from the laissez-faire lack of any regulation what-so-ever to moderate regulation, but never really with any serious handcuffs - the US has never really had to worry about economic socialism as anything but the hyperbolic threats of FOX News Corp). When in opposition gov't and economy can strike a good balance, following the great depression the Glass-Steagall Act provided a healthy environment for slow steady growth which existed primarily until the Reagan administration (I am ignoring the gas crisis of the 70's as it does not reflect the failure of state or market, but rather of infrastructure in building a society completely dependent on an exogenous commodity). Because of the then (Reagan Era) popularity of economists like Milton Freidman and his cronies (contemporaries and predecessors e.g. the Laffer curve, 'The Road to Serfdom', ect.) which immediately followed a period of stagnant growth, supply-side-voodoo-trickle-down economics came en vogue and has remained fashionable ever since despite it's manifest failure. We have since watched the complete unraveling of all the regulation, oversight, accountability and transparency in our financial sectors. Wall Street and Washington are, for all intents and purposes, effectively attached at the hip.

And I don't mean this last point to resonate as hyperbolic or demagogic, I'm not trying to wax Glenn Beck here, but in an objective sense all three branches of government have become compromised by the interests of Wall Street. Congress is of course the most compromised branch of gov't, as legislators basically run as stool pigeons for corporate interests, and then retire to lucrative careers as lobbyists, the very lobbyists they were once influenced by. This is simony by another name, a complete corruption of the democratic process that has only become more obscene (consider the vicious ouroboros: W.S. Lobbyists push hard for deregulation i.e. the repeal of Glass-Steagall and get it. They then translate this new found boon into a windfall, using it in turn to lobby more aggressively with more zeal and capital to relax standards even more to make even more capital etcetera, etcetera. This is the snake devouring it own tail) in recent years, at least in terms of size and scope. And then there is the executive branch which has the benefit of appearing less corrupted but this in and of itself is a facade spun from the fantastic filaments of the PR machine. When 2 of the last 4 last Treasury Secretaries served as chief executives for Goldman Sachs (Rubin, Paulson) its hard not to think of the old axiom "don't piss on my leg and tell me its raining". [Pop Quiz: Rubin was on the board of which transnational investment bank when the mortgage bubble burst? (A)] The heads of the Fed haven't really been anything better than apologists for the S.O.P. or 'business as usual' mentality. All these positions being appointed by the executive branch, a branch that seems increasingly focused on placating Wall Street (Interesting Trivia: Obama's largest donors outside of Google, Microsoft, and I believe Cal U, were large investment banks [although it should be noted the McCain's donors were primarily investment banks, and he had about twice the amount of banks crack his top ten list {although the big banks seemed to hedge their bets by giving them both a shit ton of money}]). Which brings us to the last hope in our system of check and balances: the ever esteemed and always controversial Judiciary. And there is nothing to be optimistic about here..."Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate" ...the Citizen's United ruling was a serious punch in the balls to democracy, and things seem to be trending along these same lines, as the Chamber of Commerce seems to hold the ear of the court, due (no doubt) in large part to the scads of lawyers and oodles cash they have at their disposal. This has a two fold effect on the Supreme court: a blatant selection bias in the cases they hear and a skew toward corporate interests. I am not being naïve or provincial in making this point, it is in fact supported by metrics (which I have read about but did not memorize, as is the case with everything that I am saying, I am writing this on my phone and do not have the luxury of being able to go back and forth to link the appropriate data to the relevant points I am trying to argue, but I assure you if you look for it, you will find it, I shit you not [in addendum: apologies for any missing prepositions, spelling errors, erroneous grammar, this being composed on a Blackberry in somewhat of a fugue state]) and relevant data, statistics, ect. ect.

<< Editorial Water Break: Now you may feel that all this so far has been a digression, aside, rant or what have you, and that I am not answering the initial question, which is partly true but I ask that you bear with me a little longer. I realize I may be trying your patience in what may very well read like a shrill or overly pedantic screed, but tone or narrative aside, I am getting to the question, I promise. >>


Now this marriage of business, economy and government is not new, and I do not intend to present it as such. Post World War II was the honeymoon, one only needs to do scant research into the early history of CIA to see that (1) its 'founding' members consisted of a motley cabal of Wall Streeters (2) that securing US interests abroad meant de-stabilizing established governments in the third world to artificially depreciate commodity prices and keep them that way under the puppet strong men of banana republics (3) that espionage was and is used for the benefit of US corporations [I can recall a more recent example of the CIA getting caught in the act of corporate espionage in negotiations in the 90's when Boeing was pitted against Airbus either in Brazil or Japan, I'd have to look it up, but it was rather embarrassing and quickly swept under the carpet *Although I could not find this example in particular, I found several others of the US intervening directly for Boeing, one using the Echelon system and another here]. However, this honeymoon was more like lovers eloping, as it was kept secret from pretty much everyone. (The term military-industrial complex seems pretty plangent here but what most people don't know is that this widely used phrase comes from a speech by Ike where the speechwriter had written 'military-industrial-banking complex'. A glaring redaction/omission in history* Correction, could not find evidence for this claim that was relayed to me anecdotally, however,  there is much to say about the revisions of this speech). All this to say: this courtship has lasted awhile - American industry/banking ect. has long existed under the shelter and auspices of the gov't's big stick. It is only a recent development, however, that the relationship has grown to be one sided, but that's a mediocre way of putting it... It should be essential when viewing the problem here that this relationship as once symbiotic now parasitic is essentially moot, the boundaries/ borders that exist between these two entities are either completely permeable or do not exist anymore at all.

So then the idea of working through the normal channels to enact reform seems like a farce or at least a portentous exercise in futility (just ask Elizabeth Warren, tasked with the simple chore of tracking the TARP money, she bears an unfortunate resemblance to a modern day Sysiphus). In fact its hard to think of any real economic reformers in the political arena at all. (If someone mentions that half wit Paul Ryan's accursed name I swear to God on high I'll rip off their head and shit down their throat) I'm hard pressed to come up with real historical examples...Andrew Jackson, FDR, JFK, (who, interestingly enough, enacted a rival currency to Fed's dollar through a silver backed note issued by the treasury. A year later he was dead, and LBJ rescinded that executive order. Draw your own conclusions) and most recently -the sheriff of Wall Street himself- Elliot Spitzer. And we know his story, it goes to show that if you go up against the big boys you better have no skeletons in the closet (and if you don't, be prepared for an assassination attempt [and here I'm not being conspiracy theory-esque, but referring to the attempt on Andrew Jackson's life by the banking cartels. This is the stuff of compelling history]). Most 'reform' these days is nothing but whitewashed propaganda packaged into toothless legislation. The Dodd bill is a joke, and even as we speak the largest lobby on Capitol Hill is seeking to send it to an early grave. Working within a systematically corrupt and co-opted bureaucracy to end corruption (i.e. enact reform) seems akin to a fool's errand but let's play it out: what would I do (within the constraints of legal action within the system) if given the chance to fix the problems, and what are the corresponding consequences?

Here are my simple solutions that will eventually lead to correcting the economy at least by way of restoring faith in the fiscal state of the union:

1) Close tax loopholes to avoid raising taxes which we all know is political poison [Bush Sr. "Read my lips..."]

2) Repeal the Bush tax cuts, or allow them to expire, another political landmine that's sure to get worse the longer we get accustomed to having them around as the norm

3) Balance the budget, if Clinton could do it with a GOP congress, it can't be that hard. Essentially put an end to deficit spending except in times of crisis

4) Reduce Spending:

4.1)Address the glut of military spending...

4.2) While at it remove corn subsidies...

4.3) And reform Social Security & Medicaid? Oy vey!

<< Editorial Flourish: Mind you all this being stated under the assumption that Wall Street and commerce do not up and reform themselves under the cover of darkness and purge themselves of corruption and police themselves to levels that make the SEC and DOJ seem like irrelevant redundancies. I make this assumption as their is no «immediate» profit incentive in this, and as such few companies are willing to take a quarterly hit for the sake of longevity. The "everybody else is doing it" ethos that pervades BODs seems reason enough to make this assumption. The assumption here is that regulation and reform has to be enacted by government (which as stated previously, is already in bed with business) because business (or any entity with greed as its engine) can never be able to or expected to monitor and correct itself. There is no profit motive. >>

Corresponding problems that stem from simple solutions that illustrate the vast complexities in what is a very tangled web of politics and economics:

1) Closing tax loopholes is, on paper, a very easy way to increase revenue without raising taxes per say, it is also has the benefit of streamlining an archaic and convuluted tax code. I do not think this will happen, probably ever. These tax loopholes primarily benefit huge conglomerates (monopolies) and the uber-rich, who as previously mentioned, effectively control the government (if you think this "J'accuse" of plutocracy is hyperbolic on my part consider what would happen if a congressman tried to pass legislation that crippled his campaign donors...where would the filthy lucre come from for his re-election campaign? How many lobbyists would come out of the woodwork to stymie his efforts? You bite the hand that feeds and you lose) and as such it should be no surprise that they will not go gentle into that goodnight. GE pays no taxes. Think about it.


2) I thought the Bush tax cuts would fade into the annals of history, but the support for their extension from Obama on down in times when that revenue seems sorely needed is a slap in the face. It appears that these may become permanent if Republicans get their way, and of course these tax cuts primarily benefit the rich. Of course.

3) Balancing the budget should not be some herculean labor, it should be S.O.P. but we know this is not the case. We have been locked into a paradigm of infinite growth, and this contagion is endemic to globalization. This is, of course, untenable. There are only so many markets to expand into globally, there are only so many resources, id est there are rational limits to expansion in capitalistic markets. This basic and unassuming fact is very neglected and looked over. We exist in a country of debt. We live off of consumer debt: credit cards, mortgages, car loans, leases, to the point where a jingle from an ad for a website that checks your credit rating is known by all. Our nation has the same problem of debt as we do as individuals, it spends far more than it makes to the point where payment of the interest on the money it has borrowed (the debt) is 250 billion dollars. That's just the interest which is "taking up more federal spending now than federal outlays on education, transportation and housing and urban development combined" according to today's NYTimes. Indeed the interest on our debt is more than our actual debt was in 1946 and just a little smaller than it was in 1970. We are now past the point of no return. This is really not reversible without serious austerity, and for the US to do that, the US that is the consumer of everything worldwide, would mean a global recession for decades. Because no one wants that the US continues to raise the debt ceiling and keeps spending like its going out of style. Simply put we, as a nation, live beyond our means and, like an individual with a lot of consumer debt, we keep getting offers in the mail for credit cards unsolicited. They want us to keep spending. And our politicians don't want to stop spending (because constituents love pork belly!) but they also don't want to pay for what they want to enact with higher taxes which are the bane of any re election campaign. Its called a free lunch. Its doesn't exist, and this paradigm of infinite growth is unsustainable. So that being the case the budget should be balanced i.e. we shouldn't spend more than we take in. This is problematic for reasons that will be made clear in 4) but its also disturbing that if we balance the budget all we manage to do is tread water, we pay the interest on the loans we took, but we remain trillions of dollars in debt. We aren't actually paying any of it back. Troubling...

4) So what really needs to be done politically is to reduce spending to both balance the budget and be able to payback the debt and reduce the deficit or else the entire budget of the US in 50 years will only be able to pay the interest on our loans (slightly hyperbolic? I don't have the numbers in front of me but I don't think that's far off). So what's the first thing that gets the axe? Probably our biggest line-item that consumes a quarter of our spending...


4.1) The military. Now here's what the scholars call a real shitpickle: if we overnight got rid of all military bases all over the world (we have military personnel in over 200 countries) would we really have the ability dominate economically? For an awfully small democracy that always considers itself an underdog, we do act presumptuously like an empire. We are an empire, and I don't really want to argue this because it is essentially moot, the real question is that if you remove the fangs of the hegemon, isn't it only a matter of time before the buzzards start circling? Before the corporations we built jump ship to the greener pastures of China? It seems a little late to be isolationist, and our economy couldn't handle a change in this direction after been weaned on globalization for so long; the soaring prices of the commodities indices would more than offset the amount of money we saved on our state-of-the-art death machine.


4.2) So it would make sense to just get fucking rid of something completely pointless like subsidies for farmers not to grow on their land so they don't flood the market with their bountiful crop to the point where said crop becomes worthless. Or even to remove subsidies for growing the crop itself, because its a bullshit crop with little to offer humanity besides calamitous obesity. Yet the almighty corn lobby trods forward, and politicians pay lip service to ethanol as a viable fuel alternative simply because of how important the Iowa primaries are in the ass backwards process of securing the party nomination (it seems making concessions «for the sake of a straw poll or caucus» no matter how critical these concessions are to the future, is more important than a telling the straight dope to a bunch of truculent bucolic-pastoral types: specifically that their beloved crop is a very inefficient use of arable land and a threat to the stability of our political and economic infrastructure in the near future). Are you beginning to see how inordinately complex this is?

4.3) Social Security on paper should pay for itself, which is why when you look at your check you should see a sizable chunk appropriated ostensibly for Social Security. SS is actually running a surplus at the moment which should continue in the short term until we see the retirement of the baby boomers en masse. But mind you I said "on paper". The thing is, before our esteemed congressmen decided to drive us deep into debt they decided to raid the coffers of SS, taking all the incoming revenue and swaping it out for junk bonds. They raided the piggy bank and left IOUs (The legality of this is questionable, but it happened so get over it). Which makes SS non-viable, a problem that will only get compounded by the fact that when baby boomers do retire there will not be enough people working to support them sitting on their asses. Because SS has been gutted and its surplus is for naught, it has essentially become a very large pyramid or Ponzi scheme, we need to increase the amount of people working to pay for the increasing number of retirees (This is a symptom of an infinite growth paradigm). This will not happen, there are high unemployment rates, and we can't reproduce fast enough to keep this fucker chugging along. The retirement age should be advanced a year or two, people are working longer, and some serious revamping needs to be done if this monstrous program is to survive. Medicaid and Medicare are also a huge drain on the budget but its not really a a fault of theirs, or SS for that matter. The problem with M&M is that they are forced to acquiesce to the medical industry and insurance companies that have been running a racket for years. The doctors and hospitals have been raising prices that have nothing to do with cost, insurances companies pass the buck to the businesses that insure their employees and everybody wins. Drug companies made sure they weren't left out. Prices spiraled upward, and were of course, unregulated (insurance companies, doctors, nurses & hospitals, and Big Pharm all have their own huge phalanx like teams of men in suits lobbying vigorously for them, just look what happened with a national consensus on health care). I mean its all so fucking ludicrous, M&M could be gutted along with ObamaCare and instead we could all be given some socialized healthcare and not have to worry about horrifying terms like medical debt in country whose health care system ranks below Cuba. Seriously WTF.

I am running out of steam writing this, trying to make it somewhat cogent and lucid while writing with my thumbs on a 3 inch screen but I'll try to wrap this up coherently.

So what would I do to fix the problem? What can be done to correct the current state of the economy? I have tried to show that working within the system to reach a workable solution to our contemporary problems of economy is impossible and infuriating. I have tried to do this in a laconic matter (seriously, I did not really delve into the media and contemporary thought, the concept of a central banking system, globalization and the environment or the dynamics of fiat currency) and I hope my earnest attempt was able to demonstrate in some way, shape, or form the state of late-stage capitalism we exist in. This is not at all what Adam Smith envisioned. This is Casino Capitalism. It can't be saved (well maybe it could if you took FDR's heart put it with Teddy Roosevelt's balls in JFK's body, and created an über president that would smash the shit out the banks and tell congress to shut the fuck up and fall in line, and regulate all big business until their were none left just small business and no corporations). If you play the game you lose (I conceptualize it as a chess match, and going through the near infinite permutations the best outlook is a stalemate - a draw in which the status quo is able to continue to maintain itself, which seems highly unlikely). The only way to win is to throw out the rules, throw out the board, and re-conceptualize the game itself. The best way to fix the economy is to not fix it, not adhere some band aid to a lost limb, not dream that a paltry stop-gap solution is the answer to our prayers. The system is broken, the faster we acknowledge this the faster we can implement real stratagems. Short of violent uprising I advocate: large scale organization to show our dissatisfaction with government (wait... the Tea Party did this, and it was funded by the billionaire Koch bros. to advance a conservative agenda under the guise of populism...let's just scrap this point entirely). Hmm so what I would advocate is a reworking of economy in general, a change from profit-driven economy to purpose-driven economy, a *resource based economy*. This is all pretty radical stuff, and I don't expect you or anyone else to immediately get enthralled or jump on board. What I do expect is a collapse of the global economy within my lifetime, and the resulting life changes we will all be forced to make in order to survive. We need to live in sustainable communities with a focus on self sufficiency. The idea that its somehow cheaper to pull up oil from the remote corners of the world, spend endless amounts of energy shipping that oil across the world to be molded into a plastic fork to be thrown away in a landfill where it will not biodegrade because its non biodegradable, the idea that this is somehow cheaper than washing a fork needs to die. We need a better way to live. We really do, and call me a pessimist, a hatchet man, a naysayer, a paranoid doom-and-gloomer, call me what you will but I don't think we will find a better way to live on our own, not without some external impetus to get our collective shit together, if you will. It will take something catastrophic to wake us from the catatonic states of slumber and delusion we are cloistered in now. Luckily for us its just over the horizon. Calamity, that is.

Sincerely, DJV

Post Script: I don't know if you are one for scripture but my favorite part of the bible was when Jesus freaks out on the money changers outside the temple. There was a time when usury was considered a sin. Now its the norm. Sign o' the times.

*This was edited to remove my phone number, and to add formatting and much needed citations on Sunday Aug 7th, 2011

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Modern Liberal Hypocrisy

I hate celebrities.

There are many reasons why, but probably the most significant is how celebrities have this ceaseless way of  taking-up pet causes. These causes are always different and always the same. Always. They are: liberal activist causes based on giving humanitarian aid to some poor afflicted people in the third world after some form of calamitous catastrophe (man made or natural) has occurred. This aspect of celebrity is particularly annoying because this cause is then paraded around by vapid beautiful people (George Clooney, Angelina Jolie) who promote it in way that makes a whore out of the cause itself, coating the cause with a thin film of sleaze, using the cause as a disposable commodity to further the perception of themselves as deep and sympathetic people. These causes are taken up and forgotten and changed with a dizzying pace, the political accessories of celebrities. But the smugness this breeds, or this idea of charity as vanity is not even what upsets me the most about these celebrity "endorsements". What bothers me the most is that they really highlight the greatest fallacy of modern liberalism in America, one that is the elephant we ignore, the Baluchitherium in the room.

Even if I were able to believe that humanitarian aid addressed the source of the problem (the systematic root problems that precipitate crisis), even if I were to believe that this cause of giving aid was something more than putting a bandaid on a bullet wound, even if I accepted all that as true, I would still be faced with the greater truth - that merely by existing and consequently, consuming, one is always participating in systems of exploitation and abuse that far outweigh any ethical choices one can make throughout a lifetime. This is the great fallacy of modern liberalism in America, that while one espouses human rights and liberty for all individuals, one is doing this while actively participating in a system of commercial and political exploitation that intentionally deprives those affected people of any greater agency, all for the betterment of this great nation. Even if one were to be the greenest humanist philanthropist imaginable, involved in a myriad of causes to help the less fortunate, one would still be participating in a system that made them less fortunate to begin with, and one would still be supporting that system by innocuously consuming products with no knowledge of the greater consequences that small act of consumption will have.This liberalism in thought and conservatism in action is doublespeak, and most liberals don't know they guilty of it, mainly because living in America means being totally divorced from the knowledge of where what you consume comes from, and what what you consume is made out of. This is not a rhetorical flourish, for those incredulous allow me demonstrate:

Lets consider 3 seemingly harmless items that are ubiquitous in our quotidian lives: Chocolate, Plastics, and anything that uses a microchip processor like an iPod, computer, or cell phone.

1. Chocolate. Delicious right? It comes from the Theobroma cacao tree, which is a tropical tree, a temperamental tree that takes years to cultivate before bearing beans to be harvested. About 80% of the worlds supply of cacao beans comes from West Africa - mostly from the Ivory Coast - where child labor is used to harvest the beans. A UNICEF report from the late 90's reported that some farmers in the Ivory coast use slave labor, child slave labor. What's even better is that the chocolate industry instead of self-regulating, and offering organic slave labor free chocolate as a commercial alternative, decided to fight legislation tooth and nail against a slave free food label. Thanks Nestle! This ensures that when we bite into our next candy bar we can be pretty sure a child slave helped contribute to our satisfaction.

2. Plastics. Life would suck without 'em right? They are in everything these days-from the cellophane on my cigarettes to the cars we drive. And speaking of cars, plastics also use petroleum, because plastics come from petroleum. Which comes from oil, that limited natural resource that only grows in scarcity. We can only manufacture plastics from natural gas and petroleum, both of which will run out sometime in the near future. But plastics have another similarity with cars, in that they offer their own special, largely ignored ecological disaster. Plastics are one of those few man made creations that are non-biodegradable, meaning they stick around forever slowly breaking down through erosion and sunlight into smaller polymer chains, until they are small enough to be runoff from a landfill and enter our tributaries and lakes and streams where we consume them and then they play a new role in our bodies where they act as estradiol and make our endocrine systems go crazy or make us infertile. Depending on which number plastic it is (1-7) it can also be toxic. So there's that. Then there's plastic island in the pacific ocean that covers a surface area 2X the size of Texas. This is a large ecological disaster that remains widely ignored, the consequences of which are unconscionable. Oh did I mention this is only one of the 5 great garbage patches in the gyres of the worlds oceans?

3. Cell phones, iPods, and computers. These are essentials in the ever increasing digital lives we lead. Necessary at this point. The motherboards and microchips that power these devices come from basic minerals we are relatively familiar with  - gold and the three T's: tin (cassiterite), tungsten (wolframite), and tantalum (coltan). Now tantalum is wonderful because it used in almost every form of electronic capacitor in small devices - it stores the energy. Tin is the soldering on the motherboard, tungsten allows your phone to vibrate, and gold coats the wires. Now all this is important because all these resources are in abundance in one country in the world, the Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire). Now if you don't know anything about Congo, you are probably not to blame, in the US there has been a conspicuous media blackout concerning the Second Congo War which began in 1998. Since it started over 5.4 million people have died making it the second most deadly conflict since World War II. Now despite clear ideologies at the beginning of the conflict  it degraded into just a deadly power grab for all sides involved, and all of DRC's neighbors got involved in some way shape or form, Rawanda and Uganda playing the biggest roles, but not to be outdone by the troops of despots Mugabe and Gaddafi. Burundi, Sudan, Namibia, Chad, and Angola have at various points entered the fracas for their own self interest. Several different factions and militias control various parts of the country where they tax the mines and smuggle the minerals out to buy weapons to perpetuate an endless cycle of war. As if this wasn't atrocious enough, rape has been institutionalized by ALL sides in the conflict as a means of control and fear. This has driven up the rates of HIV and vaginal fistulae due to gang rape. And rape is not just against women, rape is also against men. The DRC has the highest incidents of sexual assault in the world. If this wasn't atrocious enough all sides have also engaged in the hunting of pygmies as sport. Pygmies are regarded as subhuman and often eaten in acts of cannibalism loosely associated with the magic powers supposedly embodied in them. This is, without a doubt the largest humanitarian crisis in the world, it makes Darfur look ike a walk in the park yet remains absent from the news and absent from Clooney's armchair activism.

The fact is the destabilization of this region is great for business (just as child slavery is great for chocolate), if DRC were allowed to have a coherent government they could nationalize the mines and demand a fair price for their resources, which would consequently damage the economies of all first world countries that rely heavily on technology in their infrastructure.

Now here is the fallacy: try going a day without chocolate. Easy enough? Now try and repeat the process with technology? Very difficult. Now try and do that with plastics? Impossible. Even if trying to boycott these things one finds it impossible and unbearable because we have created a reality so thoroughly based on domination and exploitation, one so pervasive, that we simply cannot escape it even if we want to. There is no way out, and we choose to remain ignorant to these issues so we never have to confront the hypocrisy of our liberalism, that while calling for justice we are actively contributing to injustice. I own a Blackberry and I am currently writing on this laptop, and I have to recognize that to even be able to share this with you today someone was either raped or murdered. This is the hidden brutality of the world we live in, it is too late to even bite the hand feeds, at this point you would just be biting yourself.

But maybe I am too harsh on celebrity maybe there can be a purposeful use for it after all. Because here I am in the check out lane of a crowded super market and I'm starring at People magazine and they have one those Clooney causes as one of their many subheadlines next to his smug face and then I look over and see all the chocolate bars next to the Tic Tacs and random AAA batteries wrapped in plastic next to the register that is ringing up my order, the register that is made out tungsten and tin and tantalum, and I don't want to think about what I'm looking at, I don't want to consciously agree that I am a bad person, I want to laugh and be distracted and I need that mindless celebrity that says nothing of any importance but is still a manic disorienting 24/7 source of entertainment. At times like this, as much as I hate to admit it, I need Charlie Sheen. 

WINNING.

-DJV

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Racial Biases of Duke Hating


While its hard to disagree with most of the conclusion­s of this article, there are notable glaring omissions, the most significan­t being exactly what jpbuehner alludes to: The Corey Maggette Scandal.



There is a very clear double standard. Because of Chris Webber, Michigan was forced to vacate its wins, Yet, Corey Maggette (who left Duke for the NBA after one year like Elton Brand [compared to "Coach K recruited kids who had every intention of staying in school for four years"] and Will Avery) received money from AAU Coach Piggie, which, if logically following NCAA guidelines­, rendered him ineligible to play and essentiall­y forfeits the wins of which he was apart, mainly the 1999 national runner up NCAA title. This is all a matter of record. The NCAA looked the other way, plain and simple.



The greater issue encapsulat­ed in all this nonsense is one of semiotics and not semantics, Duke represents white establishm­ent through and through - from their tobacco endowment, to their predominan­tly white teams, to their well behaved and cultured black athletes - all of which serve as a stark contrast to the swagger and authentici­ty of the Fab Five, a contrast that is night and day, black and white. It is no wonder that when culpable of the same crime, the institutio­n that more closely represents white patriarcha­l hegemony goes completely unpunished and untarnishe­d.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Monday, March 21, 2011

A Love Letter From Afghanistan

The following is a letter from Lance Corporal Cullen J. Barrett, United States Marine Corps., currently serving a tour of duty in Afghanistan. The letter has been edited (by me) for grammar, and redacted by the United States Government to remove all sensitive information. All photos ©Cullen J. Barrett 2010, 2011 are available for reproduction upon written request. - DJV




The Dull Empty Life You Live

You are boring.

Where are you going with your life?

You haven't changed a day since we knew each other, those days when we were young and dumb and in high school, or maybe I knew you from somewhere else.

I look down on you.

Do you know what are you doing?

You party everyday and live your life based upon the status you rake in at these parties: your outfit + the amount of booze you intake = how cool you feel about yourself.

Grow the fuck up. Move on in life. Quit posting gay ass photos of yourself on fucking Facebook, oh look at me at the bonfire, look at me at this kegger, look at me in the back of this party bus... Nobody cares that you are 21 years old, maybe older, maybe younger , that you have no job, or a job so minuscule that you can only afford to buy the clothes you wear to your parties and the beer you bring to them. You dropped out of college or are attending community college and you think you are going places or you delude yourself into believing that same story you tell everyone else about what your "plan" is. Newsflash Einstein get a fucking degree from a university, the only thing CC will get you is a manager job at a Subway, or for you freaks, Whole Foods maybe...



Is this really the life you want to live?

Do you want to be 30 years old and not remember what you did for the past 10 years, still living in the same town you grew up in, just moving to the apt. complex down the street? Sounds like a sad existence to me.


How do you feel when you see all your friends have graduated college or are almost there and have real plans for the long term? What's your long term...planing next year's fourth o' July kegger??!

Do you wake up in the morning and look at yourself in the mirror and think... man I've done something with my life, I've really fucking accomplished something or are you so naive and short sighted that you can't see past the day you are living in? Or behind it for that matter?


I'll come home after being away for a year and not shit has changed, you are the same, exactly how I left you,  maybe slightly better or worse, a whole fucking year and you are no different than when I left. Are you serious? And the really sad part is you didn't run into me doing anything of importance, most likely in a fucking bar the night before Thanksgiving, exchanging stupid greetings, asking questions that you don't really wanna know the answer to, because when you ask "how are you?" you don't really want to know what it feels like to see someone you know die, you don't really want to know the consequences of taking a life, you don't actually want to know how it feels to go to hell and back. "HOW THE FUCK ARE YOU?"


Now I'm gone again, in a foreign country, fighting a war you protest - but know nothing about. You don't educate yourself in anyway but take up these self-righteous calls that are "in" at the moment, and you haven't fucking changed, you're still posting dumb shit on Facebook that you probably don't remember because you were sooo drunk, and you're still living at your parent's house or maybe you got a party apt. with some other friends so you never have to face the music, never have to wake up to reality.

It is not that I hate you,
it is that I pity you.
I pity your sad dull empty life.

If you died tomorrow, what would people say about you?

One day we will meet up again and it will be awkward, and there will be long pauses filled with an uncomfortable silence that says more than our words will. We will have nothing in common. Whether you have been there for awhile or have just arrived you will probably be drunk, but I will know you don't drink because "it is cool" anymore, you drink to numb your sadness to forget that in the morning no matter how hungover you are, you will have to punch that ticket and work your sad minimum wage job, not because you want to work, or like what you do, but because you need to eat and pay your bills.

Don't ever complain about how hard your life is.
You don't know hard,
you don't know pain.


So please, when you read this, think this question aloud: could I be this person?

Because, more likely than not, you probably are.

Lance Corporal Cullen J. Barret
March 9th, 2011

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Horror

This is one of the really great horrors of post-modernism: the refutation of objective reality or truth leads to  a greater problem than preceded it, mainly that no greater ethos can exist within this framework as individual viewpoints are both incommensurable and equally correct. This leads to nihilism, the “fuck it – its all fucking bullshit” understanding of realtiy (which is yet another way in which we allow ourselves to be powerless), but more often than leading  us over the cliff to a belief in nothingness  it leads us to settle for a  belief in self, belief that while our views are incommensurable with others, our own beliefs are true – a perfect philosophy for a consumer culture where identity can be defined through commodities.  This pervasive idea of greater meaninglessness is a de facto endorsement of the status quo, because it dispossess any real movement for change against the current system of things by disavowing it of any greater meaning or purpose .

One only has to look at the microcosm of the authentic music movements of the last few decades to see this exemplified.  For instance this was best captured in the zeitgeist of the early 90’s, felt through bands like Nirvana, The Smashing Pumpkins, and Rage Against the Machine. There was a general aesthetic of rebellion and yet an accompanying confusion as to what exactly to rebel against. This was perhaps  best embodied by the lyric “despite of my rage, I am still just a rat in cage” a perfect definition of generation X. Not surprisingly Billy Corgan and the other music folk heroes of that generation have either sold out or died. This is a ceaseless motif, especially in music - one of the last available forums to authentically comment  on injustice and still have that message reach a wider audience. Consider the pre gen X radical hip hop movement: Ice T’s “Cop Killer”, NWA’s “Fuck the Police”, and Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power”. All are songs that were incredibly popular yet very radical in illustrating levels of injustice and inequality throughout the system they exist in… but where are they now? Ice T has been portraying a police officer on network television for years, Ice Cube has starred in two PG family comedy movies, and Flava Flav has had several Vh1 reality shows. Essentially they’ve become established parts of the system the once fought to destroy, one does not have to be a scholar to recognize the pattern – it is always heavily embedded in our culture. Any genuine movement is created out of feelings of alienation, oppression and angst, this message, because it speaks in a great way to many of us, is then incorporated and assimilated by the greater system until it becomes devoid of any real meaning. Which then seems to tell us that every thing is meaningless. That everything is corrupt and everyone is corruptible is the great self fulfilling prophecy of the last two decades which reinforces the greater pervasive feeling of powerlessness.  

Unfortunately affirmations of this self fulfilling prophecy of post-modernism exist all around us. It would appear that greater truth, reality, and goodness don’t exist, or rather the appearances/simulcrum  of these things exist but they are just facades – representations or tokens of truth, reality, and goodness  for a greater manipulation of personal gain. This is the circular logic of what I refer to as a self fufilling prophecy, that a rejection of a greater truth or a rejection of a greater reality (that is not subjective) leads to form of moral isolationism, and one then views that others are acting morally isolated which serves as justification for the ideology that created it. It is no wonder that Fredric Jameson characterized post-modernism as “the dominant cultural logic of late capitalism”. Ironically or significantly post-modernism serves society as modernism had: as a blanket justification for inequality, decadence and nihilism. 

And to be fair the problem really isn’t with post-modernism.  Brandon Edward Mitchell defines the underlying tenets of post-modernism to be:
Five critical suppositions:
-politics is pervasive
-language is constitutive
-truth is provisional
-meaning is contingent
-human nature is a myth
Which is not to say that greater capital “T” truth does not exist, merely that is provisional , temporal and constantly evolving just as we are, or more imporatntly because we are. Our own subjective evolution and our own conceptions of what is the capital “T” truth changes with the ever increasing amounts of data we encounter and the experiences we undergo as our mind struggles to find the greater truth in the reality all around us. 

But if post-modernism isn’t the real culprit, why has its meaning been twisted to deliver that message? Nietzsche hated that modernism had resulted in inequality, decadence and nihilism and yet post-modernism in its radical shift from the past paradigm seems to have provoked the exact same consequence. But Why? Why does post-modernism have the same results? My best guess is that the rampant relativism that the sciences have embraced, and more importantly that is rife in everyday culture and experience, stems from the masters of system we exist in. To me it seems that once the door was opened into any discussion of relativism the powers that be jumped on it because finally their actions could be absolved and explained and any opposition would be silenced. This is all too evident in Kissinger’s move to inject Realpolitik into US foreign policy.
Now the real question now is what the hell to do about it, and part of me feels like doing nothing except drowning in that malaise and ennui that all of us who went to Starbucks and listened to Nirvana are all too familiar with, part of me feels like writing poetry about how disconnected I feel in this twisted dystopia of post-modernism (In flannel). 

Part of me feels like setting the world on fire.

but despite of my rage I am still just a rat in cage

DJV

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Conspiracy!



Recently I've come in contact with an old friend who, being like minded, subscribed me to several (radical) organizations on the Facebox. These groups include but are not limited to: Club V, World Truth, FU-NWO, Black Ops Liberty Clan, Children of Liberty, and We Are Change London. My initial excitement quickly petered out as I recognized these groups for what they are. Exempli gratia: on World Truth's wall Phillis "WeArechange" Georgia writes:
"My wonderful fellow human beings. We all know that the mouth of hell yawns before us. But has it occured to us that we are so close to running out of time that all these bits of proof we are offering each other have now become merely distractions? The internet is being kept on because it is serving someone else's purpose, NOT OURS. These bits of information, no matter how true they are, are keeping us from uniting in a meaningful way.

I don't know if you are aware of it or not, but Chaos is the name of an actual god. This god, among others, is one of the gods the Illuminati literally worship. The outbreaks of skirmishes, death, bold despotism, anger, and hatred all over the globe are ENERGY. This was INTENTIONALLY set off in order to feed the antichrist. He NEEDS this energy in order to rise. Now, whether you believe this or not, it does not matter. Even on basic levels we already know that anger and hatred serve to divide. So, let's not participate. Instead, let's pool our efforts toward learning how to unite with each other in the most meaningful way so that we can defeat this evil and send it shrinking back into the bowels of hell from which it is rising. This does not require any violence whatsoever. Just stop participating. Stop transmitting negative energy.

So far, we have united in anger. And, that's a good thing! Anger offers clarity, and we desperately needed clarity because we had none before we met each other. But it has occured to me that we are ready to begin letting go of anger more than we may realize. If the goal is to survive, what good does a ticker tape parade of evidence do for us? Ultimately, uniting in anger is not True uniting at all because it does not last! What happens when no one is angry anymore? We all go our separate ways, and the bonds we forged fade into the annals of human history. History, as we all know, is written only by the victors. This time, humanity will not be forgotten. It is time to start putting these things aside that make us angry and indignant, and learn the old ways of what it means to unite as humans. This we can do together, also by sharing bits of information!"

Well fuck-my-ass there goes the notion of there existing an objective organization (on Facebook) that understands the infinite levels of corruption and conspiracy present in all the systems that control our daily life in a non-children's book/bible kinda way. SMH. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, after all most consensus on conspiracy theories comes from low quality YouTube documentaries which espouse facts with no sourcing and always take the most simplistic route in assigning blame. The villains are: (and always are, I mean this in a profound no-bullshit-honest-Joe type of way)  always the ubiquitous Illuminati, the NWO, the always vexing 10th planet nibiru, the David Icke conspiracy of lizard people, the Rothschilds/all Jews, and then any mixture of these conspiracies you can possibly imagine.

My biggest problem with all the bullshit rhetoric that gets kicked around on the internets (by Alex Jones/Glenn Beck type demagogues) is that the greater theory of conspiracy is diluted, bottled, and sold to those who don't know better. And we do know better, we know we are being lied to. We all inherently know - deep in our guts -balls to bones - that we are being hoodwinked. And the problem is now that there exist those who decry the liars, those who call for change, who illustrate the conspiracies, but these people are nothing more than liars cornering the market of people who are slightly aware of the fact that they have been lied to in the first place. This is essentially another level of deception, liars who sell new lies by revealing the old ones - "Yes your government is out to deceive you and put you in concentration camps... so buy my survival kit and some gold bullion!" What we are seeing today in Alex Jones and those of his ilk, are the new carpetbaggers of information, those that exploit our yearning for truth by giving us bits and pieces of it redistributed in a whole new set of lies.

And we know we are being lied to. My generation has grown so apathetic to the political process precisely because from a young age we have been "pitched to" by armies of ad men selling He-Man and Barbie and Colgate and Coca-Cola so when some boring suit talks about something abstract like "character" or "hope" we immediately recognize that they are lying and they are in it for themselves . We know we are being lied to, if for no other reason than this basic fact: we are "pitched to" at least 50 times a day - pop up ads online, billboards, commercials on TV, commercials on the radio, newspaper and magazine ads, ads on the subways, ect. ect. and this happens so much its nearly unconscious and we no longer actively think about it. This constant barrage is like living with a really sexy charming persuasive liar, who lies chronically but you never really can tell what exactly their lying about, you just get the feeling that if you buy that sportscar your wife's tits won't be so disproportionately huge, or you just feel that rainbows won't shoot out of your ass if you eat a particularly sugary breakfast cereal, or maybe you just know that 4 out of 5 dentists don't smoke Lucky Strikes.

But the really painful part about all of this shit is that we know we are being lied to - but it is almost impossible in this sea of conspiracies to discern what is actually the truth from what is gibberish. And if you believe in conspiracies then it becomes easier to believe that this itself is a conspiracy; that somewhere out there a low level government bureaucrat is purposely making  painfully low production value YouTube videos about how Alicia Keys and Beyonce speak in witch tongue and serve satanic masters by using Masonic signs which is, of course, all part of the Illuminati pancake conspiracy of everything.

Whether this conspiracy to water down conspiracy theories is true or not is ultimately irrelevant, what is important is that real conspiracies go unnoticed in our midst. I think the problem that most people have nowadays is that the information about "real" conspiracies is right in front of them, but they don't have the attentions spans, focus, will or desire to give a shit if its real or not. In one sense we've been lied to so goddamn much that any piece of news that illustrates plutocratic evil, governmental misconduct, or corporate malfeasance just serves to confirm our already inculcated apathy. In a deeper sense, we only have that reaction when we actually see something that should piss us off and most of the time we don't, this is all sterilized and neutralized by a mass media saturated in mindless sound bites and A.D.D. inducing jump cuts. All we really have to do to discover the conspiracies that are all around us in contemporary culture is READ. Yes, read.

We don't like to read anymore. A survey done by the Jenkin's Group revealed these statistics:

  • 1/3 of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives.
  • 42 percent of college graduates never read another book after college.
  • 80 percent of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year.
  • 70 percent of U.S. adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.
  • 57 percent of new books are not read to completion.[7][8]
There is kind of a primal gut churning fear that arises when asked to read, an amygdala based reaction of "oh shit theres gotta be a way outta this" kind of escapism that we seek when we asked to be still and quiet and take in new information and think. We are so instilled with digital and electronic stimulation that it is hard to imagine a life without those devices like TV, radio, internet, iPod, cell phone ect etc except when we have to read. We are so hooked on our toys that we can no longer entertain ourselves. But no one ever thinks of this as a conspiracy: that the supposedly most advanced people on earth are functionally illiterate and completely apathetic to those that control the wealth and systems of power around them. Hmmm.

Maybe if we were more more literate we would have read Carroll Quigley's epic tome "Tragedy and Hope" which, in over 1,300 pages, in no uncertain terms, describes how the Round Table Group founded by Cecil Rhodes (yes the Rhodes Scholar guy) has come to dominate everything that shapes foreign policy and international banking, IE spawning the Bilderburg Group, the Trilateral Commission, Council of Foreign Relations ect. which I know sounds pretty crazy but is actually just some of those facts that we ignore or remain ignorant of.

Or maybe if we read more we'd discover that after it was rumored that the ace up the sleeve Wikileaks had been threatening to dish out was possibly dirt on Bank of America. Bank of America then went to the Justice Department of United States federal government, and the Justice Dept. put BoA in contact with a sleezy law firm that put them in touch with a corporate hacker who in his attempt at espionage of Wikileaks openly flouted the law, so much so that his illegal actions were written down in emails that then got leaked when Anonymous reverse hacked him. This is one of the most important new stories of the year, and as such completely uncovered by major media outlets.

Or maybe if we read we'd learn that the British government just declassified over 8,000 UFO files. Seriously its on their official National Archives website here. I can't make it up but you can learn about UFO's from the thousands of files available for free courtesy of the the RAF and the UK.


Or maybe if we read even the mainstream paper we'd learn that JPMorgan in collusion with HSBC and the Fed have cornered the silver market.And even tried to kill the guy that exposed them!

Or maybe we would have read the leaked CitiGroup memo that demonstrated that our economy was now a Plutonomy and offered solutions to cater to the rich, and undermine our basic freedoms.

But these are just crazy theories right? UFOs can't be real and banks don't collude with government for their own benefit. That would just be crazy.

That would be as crazy as in someone believing in an Illuminati conspiracy but not believing that the CIA brought crack into inner city LA.

As crazy as believing that lizard people controlled the world but not believing the US government infected poor black Alabama sharecroppers with syphilis even after the cure had been discovered, letting them die until 1972.

As crazy as someone actually taking the time to read all this.

- DJV