A Technocrat Gets it Wrong: Obama Scores a Decisive Victory in the Second Presidential Debate of 2012

Posted on October 17, 2012

By: Jerald Cumbus

The gotcha moment… when the Benghazi attack came up during the second presidential debate, Gov. Mitt Romney decided to pounce. You could see it in his eyes, the look of a lion about to go for the throat.  However, a funny thing happened along the way to the watering hole: reality got in the way.

When Presidential debates are decisive, it is rarely about the details, it is usually about the intangible that alters the perception about one candidate or the other.  Nixon and his 5AM shadow sweating under the lights, Michael Dukakis looking physically small in contrast to George Bush, Sr., Bush, St. checking his watch, Gore and Kerry looking wooden and stiff, all of these performances changed the perceptions of the candidate and the trajectory of the race.

When the debate moderator, Candy Crowley, fact-checked Gov. Romney it dealt a significant blow to Romney not just because he was wrong on facts of his Rose Garden address the day after the Libya attack, but because it destroyed the image Romney had been trying to project (with some success) since the first debate: the competent businessman– the technocrat.  Romney has been relying on his resume as a businessman to sell his ideas in plans, not specific content.

This approach has a key weakness.  When you say ‘trust me’ on the economy and to get program details right because of the skill represented by your resume, you cannot lose face.  Additionally, when you try to demonstrate your command of the facts, you cannot just flatly get it wrong.  A technocrat has to demonstrate they can get it right when they act decisively. Romney in one simple exchange destroyed the narrative he was trying to establish about himself since the first debate.  Perception is everything.  Instead he showed himself to be out of touch with reality and lost somewhere in the fog of the right-wing blogosphere.   It most likely lost him the election.

In Europe, Banks Get Bailed Out and Countries Get Austerity

Posted on May 22, 2012

While everyone’s attention was elsewhere, last Fall EU members bailed-out Dexia bank. This bank, on paper, is worth more than the GDP of Greece. Apparently, that makes it somehow more deserving. For Dexia, it is business as usual and billions of Euros to stay afloat (this is in addition to what the bank received in the 2008 bailouts):

The bailout plan for Dexia came after German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy agreed Europe’s crisis-hit banks needed to be recapitalised.

Dexia also secured state guarantees of up to 90bn euros to secure borrowing over the next 10 years. Belgium will provide 60.5% of these guarantees, France 36.5% and Luxembourg 3%, the bank said in a statement… http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-15235915

Meanwhile, Greece was being forced into austerity:

Euro zone finance ministers agreed a 130-billion-euro ($172 billion) rescue for Greece on Tuesday to avert an imminent chaotic default after forcing Athens to commit to unpopular cuts and private bondholders to take bigger losses.

The complex deal wrought in overnight negotiations buys time to stabilize the 17-nation currency bloc and strengthen its financial firewalls, but it leaves deep doubts about Greece’s ability to recover and avoid default in the longer term.

After 13 hours of talks, ministers finalized measures to cut Athens’ debt to 120.5 percent of gross domestic product by 2020, a fraction above the target, securing a second rescue in less than two years in time for a major bond repayment due in March… http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/02/21/us-greece-idUSTRE8120HI20120221

During the 2008 crisis, Dexia borrowed nearly $60 billion from the US Federal reserve to stay afloat:

Since Dexia had a New York banking office they were eligible for various bailouts from the US Federal Reserve. At its peak Dexia had borrowed $58.5 billion… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dexia

Additionally, it wasn’t just ‘simple’ banking losses due to the downturn. A big percentage of their problem (read idiocy) was because they gave a pile of money to Bernie Madoff:

According to the financial services provider Bloomberg Dexia lost €78 million through the Ponzi scheme of Bernard Madoff… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dexia

Did Dexia deserve a second bailout after not doing the most basic due diligence?

Apparently, austerity is for countries, not the profligate and idiotic banks who created the mess.

Why am I not shocked?


I am cross-posting this from DU.

The Grand Old Party of Racism

Posted on April 29, 2011

Once upon a time, there was the party of Lincoln. It was devoted to the idea emancipation and 40 acres and a mule. Over the last 150 years, how times have changed. Today, in order to secure their electoral base, the Republican party has lowered itself to the lowest common denominator of its rabid base. It has become the Grand Old Party of Racism.


Since the Southern strategy became the bread and butter of Republican electoral politics, a key shift happened in the party. As new (more Southern) elements gained power in the party, racism began rearing its ugly head from time to time. The most toxic of these outbreaks was the Louisiana politician, David Duke. A former Grand Wizard

of the KKK, he ran semi-successful candidacies for the House (1989), the Senate (1990), Governor of Louisiana (1991) and President (1992). While much of the national party repudiated Duke’s racism, his ability to collect votes in Louisiana pointed to a demographic and a fact just beneath the surface of the Republican Party. At the heart of the base (especially in Southern states) people with predominantly racist beliefs form the core of the party that Republicans rely on to get elected.


In recent years, the American electorate has basically broken itself down into thirds. About 25% of the electorate is liberal/progressive and about 35% of the electorate identifies as hard-core Republican/Conservative. The remaining 40% or so occupy the mushy middle of non-ideologues, independents, libertarians, greens, and others. 40% might seem high, but that mushy middle has a tendency to not come out to vote. They are notoriously unpredictable. For much of the 1980s and 1990s, Republican electoral strategy was pretty simple. To win elections all you had to do was get out your base, and focus on enough single, hot-button social issues to swing key constituencies who might be found in that mushy middle. For example, you might go for the Catholic vote by focusing on abortion. Additionally, Republican strategists also tended to focus on negative advertising as a means of voter suppression. If middle-of-the-road voters were not breaking your candidate’s way, you could always swing enough mud to turn those voters (who were not very likely to vote anyway) off. Meanwhile, Democrats would have to both excite their base and manage to pull enough of those 40% to get a plurality.

While favorable for many years, the demographics began to slip away from Republicans after 2000. Primarily in Southern states, Hispanics have become the new force to deal with in politics as the Hispanic population in the U.S. has soared. Enter Karl Rove. Rove’s strategy was quite smart. He took into account the growing Hispanic nature of the electorate and chose to directly address them in Bush’s 2000 campaign. His improved slice of the Hispanic pie (35%) was just enough to help push him over the top in several key states in 2000, namely Florida. In 2004, Bush did even better with national security dominating the campaign. In 2004, Bush managed to get around 44% of the vote. But then, the bottom dropped out for Republicans with the Hispanic community. What happened?

The answer to that question is simple. In June of 2007, Bush’s Immigration bill, which would have established a path to citizenship for up to 12 million illegal aliens in the country, went down to ignominious defeat largely at the hands of conservatives in his own party. Key conservative Senators, such as Jim DeMint (R-SC) and John Cornyn (R-TX) led the charge. Bush’s ‘Big Tent’ had been scorched just in time for the 2008 elections. When all the dust had settled on the McCain campaign, he managed to receive only 31% of the Hispanic vote. Obama managed to pull together a powerful coalition of minorities, liberals, and people in the middle who simply wanted a change in the country’s direction. Obama easily won election as he managed to flip key states like Florida, North Carolina and Virginia from red to blue. However, in massive defeat, the Republican party didn’t change course. Instead, Republicans at the state level got involved in the process and Arizona passed a “show me your papers” immigration bill that pushed even more Hispanic into the ‘D’ column. The Republicans were facing electoral apocalypse. So, what to do?

Unfortunately for them, the solution will most likely be their undoing. Since 2008, Republican party strategy has shifted to give the nativist, ‘no-nothing’, bigoted wing of the Republican party exactly what they want. In primary after primary, they have pushed the extremist candidates of choice. Re-branded as the Tea-Party movement and endowed by the wealthy supporters of Republican think-tanks, they have systematically purged the Republican party of any moderation. In 2010, the new Republican strategy became clear. First, your base must over-perform in the polls. You do this by giving them red-meat in the form of concessions and an enemy in the form of President Obama (more on this later). Second, you take advantage of a ruling (Citizens United) by your bought and paid for Supreme Court that allows corporations to dump unlimited money on campaigns. You use that advantage to suppress Democratic votes in any way possible, be that hiring thugs to scream at Town Hall meetings, or massive negative campaign buys. The result was rather predictable. In an off-year election (2010), when moderates are less likely to vote, the Republicans managed to gain control of Congress. The trouble is that now their strategy is locked-in for 2012.

In 2012, no Republican who significantly disagrees with the base will come close to being nominated. What’s worse, the concert of racism that was once conducted with dog-whistles is now out in the open. It is slowly exposing itself for the racist strategy that it is. Since 2008, Republicans at all levels have used the Obama birth-certificate as a code-word for race. It gave birth (pardon the pun) to the weaselly argument of, “I take him at his word, but people have raised questions.” Time and time again we heard this talking point from the Republican leadership. Tea-Party leaders, like Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN), were even more open with their doubts about what President Obama was trying to hide. Enter Donald Trump. Over the last month, Mr. Trump has managed to stir-up huge free publicity on this non-issue to help put forward the central idea of his non-campaign for President. When not challenging the President’s nationality, Trump has been busy touting his, “great relationship with the blacks.” Trump’s constant verbal diarrhea merely reveals what has been there all along: the attacks on President Obama and his birth certificate were always about race.

While you might dismiss Trump as a “barker” for the Tea-Party side-show as President Obama so eloquently described the situation, the Grand Old Party of racism just keeps rolling along. State by state, the Koch Brothers, ALEC and other groups have been systematically pushing their racist agenda. Across the nation (Florida, Wisconsin, North Carolina and other states) Republican legislatures have all put forward ‘curiously’ similar bills all designed to make it harder to vote. For example in Florida, those most likely to move by demographic are the poor and minorities. The bill would make it much more difficult for registration groups to work with these individuals, even leaving non-partisan groups like the League of Women Voters thinking they will have to suspend voter drives under the threat of fines. With more people voting provisional ballots (of which only 48% were counted across the country in last Fall’s election), voter suppression is a certainty as voters forgo the long lines created by the shortening of early voting.


In Oklahoma, the mask has completely fallen off and Republican legislators seem to be empowered these days to say exactly how they feel. Upon the passing of legislation to put Affirmative Action up to a vote by the electorate,

Rep. Sally Kern (R-Oklahoma City) decided to let it all hang out. In an interview with the Tulsa World she said, “Minorities earn less than white people because they don’t work as hard and have less initiative.” She went on to add that, “We have a high percentage of blacks in prison, and that’s tragic, but are they in prison just because they are black or because they don’t want to study as hard in school? I’ve taught school, and I saw a lot of people of color who didn’t study hard because they said the government would take care of them.” The GOP needs to ask itself if they still want to be the party of Lincoln. Right now, they are looking an awful lot like the party of David Duke and ‘Bull’ Connor.


Read More At: http://blogcritics.org/politics/article/the-grand-old-party-of-racism/



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The Arab World Braces for the Summer of Counter-Revolution

Posted on April 25, 2011

When the weather changes from Spring to Summer in the MENA region, you feel it. The sun and heat shift into a different gear and more often than not, the change comes on the wind with the dust and sand making snakes along the highways. Once that shift happens, there is no going back, Summer is locked-in for next 5-6 months. In recent years Summers have been the time of escape. Oil wealth in many countries allowed citizens to bug-out for the maximum vacation time allowed during this oppressive period.

Some towns in Libya, for example, were known to look like ghost towns during this time. In the UAE, it is the only time of year you can be assured of a smooth and easy commute to work. In many parts of the Middle-East, the heat can be so oppressive that you don’t even want to move around during most hours between sunset and sundown. This is especially true in the Gulf Region where it regularly pushes 45+ centigrade every day. Over the last few months, the world has witnessed the Winter of Arab discontent, and the Spring of Revolutions. However, another shift has begun: the Summer of Counter-Revolution is upon us.

The heat always kills optimism and the forces of counter-revolution and oppression have come to control the story. In Bahrain, the heat came early with an invasion by GCC forces (mainly Saudi), the destruction of Lulu (Pearl Roundabout), and a brutal clampdown by the Al Khalifa regime. Since then, Bahrain has seen the disappearance and arrests of hundreds of activists, the destruction of Shia mosques, the arrest and intimidation of doctors, torture, and other forms of state terror. The American government’s reaction in the face of the invasion and the brutal crackdown has been almost silence on these issues. However, they are not the only ones keeping silent. There has been an almost total media blackout orchestrated (no doubt) by Saudis and others.

When I was going the research for this article, there was a only a smattering of recent Western articles on what is going on in Bahrain. It is sad commentary when organizations like the BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera are simply MIA when it comes to coverage. The only one who is covering it is Iran’s PressTV which has its own agenda.

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Florida Set to Move on a “Show Me Your Papers” Immigration Bill- It May Cost the Republicans 2012

Posted on April 20, 2011

Rep. William Snyder’s (R, Stuart) proposal to halt illegal immigration cleared the Economic Affairs Committee of the Florida House on an 11-7 vote late last week. Snyder’s bill, which will now go to the full house, allows police to ask for proof residency for anyone under investigation. Additionally, any company with more than 100 employees would require documentation of residency for employment. Similar to Arizona’s infamous law, Snyder’s bill goes well beyond what is mandated by the Federal government. However, things aren’t just one big tea party in Florida over this. The tea has grown cold and slightly bitter over time.

Gov. Rick Scott (R) made similar legislation a center-piece of his campaign and supports the tough requirements being put forward in the Snyder bill. However, things are not so crystal clear for the Republican party at-large in Florida. Even the normal cheerleading of the Florida Chamber of Commerce for the Republican party has become muted over this issue. Adam Babbington, a Florida Chamber lobbyist, stated before the house committee, “The mere consideration of this bill is causing the image of the state of Florida to be tarnished.” Of course, he is exactly right. Draconian state legislation is no substitute for a real and effective federal immigration policy.

Rage has already been building in Florida’s immigrant communities over the content of the bill. Even traditionally staunch Republican supporters such as Miami’s Cuban exile community have not been supportive of the Governor and the legislature on this issue. Ana Navarro, a Republican activist, fundraiser and former McCain staffer was quoted in the Miami Herald as saying, “If they pass something that is viewed as anything similar to Arizona law, it could very well wind up costing us Florida in the 2012 presidential election.” Hispanic backlash against the Republican party could be a decisive factor in 2012 given the variables that may make 2012 a close race. If Obama’s approval ratings are in the 40’s and unemployment is still north of 8%, Florida may once again play the pivotal role of uber-swingstate and decide who wins the next election. If this issue is the cause, Republicans have only themselves to blame.

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Standard & Poor’s Plays Politics

Posted on April 19, 2011

People used to rely on Standard & Poor’s to follow the debt rating of stock, bonds, and other financial instruments. Since 2008, their credibility has been flushed down the toilet after the exposure of their role in giving the magic AAA rating to various questionable real estate products.

Today, Standard & Poor’s has managed to take one step further down the road to ignominy. Not only did they downgrade Ireland’s debt, but they downgraded the outlook on US debt citing the US government’s inability to come to terms with the budget by 2013.

Can these moves be seen as anything but a brash attempt to push the ideology of austerity on the United States and Europe? What is really disgusting is they are making these moves in relation to a problem they played a key role in making!

Wall Street would like nothing better than to see job growth stall and a probable victory by a Republican for president in 2012. Standard & Poor’s is playing by that script. The only question which remains is will the American people do what is right for the country, or what is right for Wall Street and Standard & Poor’s?

Standard & Poor’s isn’t practicing economics, it is practicing blatant extortion by threatening to hold hostage a jobs recovery for the ransom of an American austerity program.

It is simple politics, not economics.

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Ronald Reagan’s Painful Legacy …

Posted on June 06, 2004

It’s important at times like these to not become confused. Ronald Reagan is dead. Don’t be confused by the frail, sickly man with Alzheimer’s that we have known since 1994. We offer this obituary as a laundry list of Reagan’s evils. The great ‘actor’ had many and God knows you won’t be hearing about them in the mainstream press. Here are the top 10:


-In the name of rooting out Communism, the United States embarked on a policy of war crimes and genocide in the region. In Guatemala alone, tens of thousands of people were disappeared by their American directed government. It was the same for El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras. Today, many of the important people involved in these crimes are working for the George W. Bush administration.


-It wasn’t wartime, but Reagan managed to more than triple the U.S. national debt during his time in office. At the same time, he left virtually no social program untouched. This left payments on the national debt the largest single item in the budget and has left America with a legacy that will last for hundreds of years.


-Most care facilities (hospitals) for the mentally ill closed under the Reagan administration. This left “50,000 homeless mentally ill” on the streets in California alone. Across the country, the costs have been catastrophic.


Here Reagan played a double game to keep either side from winning any of the crucial oil producing territory. The Soviet Union’s support of Iraq forced to U.S. to secretly begin supplying Baghdad with weapons and expertise allowing Saddam Hussein to develop weapons of mass destruction which were eventually used against the Iranians and his own people. At the same time, we secretly sold weapons to Iran in order to fund our activities in Central America. The war was disastrous for both countries, stalling economic development and disrupting oil exports, and costing an estimated million lives. Iraq was left with serious debts to its former Arab backers, including $14 billion loaned by Kuwait, a debt which contributed to Hussein’s 1990 decision to invade Kuwait. Reagan’s actions prolonged the war and helped make it far more devastating.


This didn’t end the Cold War. Instead it wasted billions of American Taxpayer’s dollars on an utter boondoggle. As such, Star Wars can be seen as a massive redistribution of wealth program from American tax payers to defese constractors.


More criminality from Reagan and company. The Reagan administration, contrary to acts of Congress (specifically the 1982-1983 Boland Amendment), ferried funds and weaponry to the Contras gained by the sale of arms to Iran. The Contras, led by former members of the National Guard of the overthrown Somoza regime (1936-1979) received weapons and training from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, especially in guerrilla tactics such as destroying infrastructural elements and assassination… The United States Congress then on November 18, 1987 issued its final report on the affair, which stated that Reagan bore “ultimate responsibility” for wrongdoing by his aides and his administration exhibited “secrecy, deception, and disdain for the law.” Oliver North and John Poindexter were indicted on charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States on March 16, 1988. Poindexter was convicted on several felony counts of lying to Congress, obstruction of justice, conspiracy, and altering and destroying documents pertinent to the investigation. He avoided jail time due to a legal technicality. Poindexter, Abrams, Negroponte and many others now work for George W. Bush.


In 1979 a bloodless coup, led by the revolutionary Maurice Bishop, toppled the government of Grenada to establish a communist society. Under Bishop, Grenada began construction of an international airport with the help of Cuba. To begin to establish a case for invasion, seven months before the operation began, Ronald Reagan pointed to this airport and several other sites as evidence of the potential threat posed by Grenada towards the United States. Reagan accused Grenada of constructing facilities to aid a Soviet/Cuban military build-up in the Caribbean.

Prime Minister Bishop went to Washington, D.C., to dispel these fears, but his government was later overthrown in a violent coup… The Cuban based turned out to be an airfield for tourism and the Medical School that was under ‘threat’ turned out to be under no threat at all. These Reagan theatrics helpd distract people from the killing of 242 marines in one bomb attack in Beirut.


The conflict began with aerial combat between two Libyan aircraft and two American naval aircraft over the Gulf of Sidra in August 1981, as the US Navy was conducting a Freedom of Navigation (FON) exercise to challenge Libyan claims to control what was legally international waters This was followed by a series of Libyan sponsored terrorist incidents, most notably the airport massacres in Rome and Vienna in late 1985 and further reassertions of claims to the Gulf of Sidra , this time with threats to attack any naval forces that crossed a so-called “Line of Death,” a challenge the Reagan administration quickly took up. This resulted in another FON exercise (Prairie Fire) in March 1986 by the Navy, during which a couple of Libyan naval vessels were destroyed. A spate of terrorist attacks followed, culminating in the bombing of the La Belle Discotheque in Berlin on 5 April 1986, with over 200 casualties, among them 78 Americans. The conflict with Libya culminated a week later with a raid by US Navy carrier aircraft and Air Force bombers operating from Britain against selected targets, including Qaddafi’s own residence, killing his adopted four year old daughter. The conflict then subsided, ending with a bizarre air battle off Tobruk on Jan. 4, 1989, in which two F-14’s shot down two more Libyan aircraft ( Source).


The conservative climate enabled the Reagan administration’s indifference toward AIDS. The administration undercut federal efforts to confront AIDS in a meaningful way by refusing to spend the money Congress allocated for AIDS research. In the critical years of 1984 and 1985, according to his White House physician, Reagan thought of AIDS as though “it was measles and it would go away.” Reagan’s biographer Lou Cannon claims that the president’s response to AIDS was “halting and ineffective.” ( Source) His actions directly led to the rapid spread of AIDS in the United States. How many deaths did this indirectly cause?


This had to be one of the lowest and most insensitive things he ever did. Most Americans had never heard of the SS, an abbreviation for Schutzstaffel, an elite unit of German soldiers, until May 1985 when President Ronald Reagan outraged the Jewish Community and created a huge controversy when he decided to bypass an invitation to tour the concentration camp at Dachau on a state visit to Germany and instead opted to visit a military cemetery in Bitberg, where German SS soldiers were buried. In defense of his visit, Reagan said, “There’s nothing wrong with visiting that cemetery where those young men are victims of Nazis also…They were victims, just as surely as the victims of the concentration camps.” Reagan had gotten his start in politics when he worked with the Screen Actor’s Guild to expose Communists in the movie industry in the McCarthy era. The Schutzstaffel (Protection Squad) was started in April 1925 as a unit of personal body guards for Adolf Hitler who needed protection from the Communist protesters who tried to disrupt his political speeches for his Fascist party, the National Socialist German Workers Party, better known to Americans as the Nazis.

The occasion for Reagan’s visit was the 40th anniversary of the end of World War II and he wanted to forget the Holocaust and show that Germany was now our Ally and a member of NATO. His purpose in visiting the graves of these German SS soldiers was to “demonstrate reconciliation and friendship” with the country that had murdered 6 million Jews. However, the soldiers that he was honoring at Bitberg were not the guards at the concentration camps, the infamous Death’s Head unit, which was only one part of the SS; Reagan was paying tribute to the soldiers of the Waffen-SS (Weapons SS), an elite fighting unit which included volunteers from many countries who fought the Communists in Hitler’s war against the Soviet Union, something that Reagan could certainly relate to…( Source

Rest in peace Mr. President.


Originally published in my old blog thesyndrome.com

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Setting Son

Posted on February 19, 2002

Japan has never been a good place for the Bushes. Nearly shot down by one of their fighters and later vomiting in the lap of the Prime Minister made the country one of those places George Bush, Sr. would rather forget. Like his father before him, George W. comes to Japan at a crossroads in his political life. Having ridden the popularity of a war of revenge against terror he has seamlessly reached the heights of Presidential power, yet his power wanes at the hands of a sagging economy and the nagging specter of Enron.

With this as the backdrop, the challenge W. faces in Japan will be daunting and perhaps even greater than the challenges brought to the fore by the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Japan’s banking system stands on the precipice of a total collapse.

“If the Asian imbroglio does spread, it could lead to a world recession as severe as that of the early ’80s – the last time when world trade actually declined. It could spark currency crises in Brazil and other developing countries that could imperil banks in the United States and in Europe. It could also inspire governments to adopt the kind of monetary autarky and trade protection that prolonged and deepened the Great Depression of the 1930s.” These words from the New Republic in 1998 sound almost prophetic today. Over the past few months the world has seen the collapse of the Argentine banking system and a new crisis in Venezuela.

We are mired in a recession that is partially the hangover of the Asian Crisis combined with America’s crisis in leadership. Despite America lowering interest rates, Japan’s economic woes continue.

Currently, Japan is debating what measures to take to combat deflation and a 1.0% GDP contration for the year ending in March. The only real solution is for the Japanese government to take on public debt. However, this hardly seems an option when government debt is already 130% of GDP. PM Koizumi’s latest plan also includes measures to prevent a rush on banks by nervous savers when the Government caps an unlimited guarantee on deposits at ¥10 million ($147,600) from April.

If George W. Bush fails to help guarantee the liquidity of Japanese banks, the resulting failure may bring about a 1929 style global depression. A failure to act dooms the U.S. economy, at the very best, to the kind of long-term stagnation that Japan itself is experiencing. No doubt there will be many platitudes exchanged and the word ‘reform’ mentioned.

However, nothing will happen. Besides, reform in the Bush lexicon means an unconditional surrender to American Corporate Imperialism. Instead, expect another fine foreign policy failure: simply another one from the setting son.


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Welcome to Imperial America

Posted on November 28, 2001

Welcome to Imperial America
November 28, 2001
by Jerald Cumbus (JCMach1)

“Thus, before our own time, the customs of our ancestors produced excellent men, and eminent men preserved our ancient customs and the institutions of their forefathers. But through the republic, when it came to us, was like a beautiful painting, whose colours, however, were already fading with age, our own time not only has neglected to freshen it by renewing the original colors, but has not even taken the trouble to preserve its configuration and, so to speak, its general outlines. For what is now left of the ‘ancient customs’… They have been, as we see, so completely buried in oblivion that they are not only no longer practiced, but are already unknown. And what shall I say of the men? … For it is through our own faults, not by any accident, that we retain only the form of the commonwealth, but have long since lost its substance.” – Cicero

Since September 11th there have been a number of people (especially on the Left) who have called George W. Bush’s ruthless grab for power Nazi-like. A number of these people (and you know who you are) have put forward many theories about how the current situation we find ourselves involved in is like the rise of the National Socialists in the 1930s. While I think a number of interesting points have been made, I believe the operative historical precedent isn’t the rise of the Nazi. The key to understanding our current situation can be found much farther back in history: the fall of the Roman Republic.

“In the city the landless urban population was now engaged in various kinds of production and services. So long as the consumer market was being increased – by providing for the war machine, by the need for new buildings and engineering works in the city – and by satisfying the growing sophistication of the urban population itself – there was enough work to keep the city dwellers employed and quiet” (Cunliffe 90-91). So it went in the Roman Republic and so it goes in America today.

Much like the growth the Romans faced with the First and Second Punic Wars, America in the 20th Century was forced by circumstances and sometimes necessity to expand its military power across the globe. After the Second World War, that power led to a specific American led hegemony in Europe in the form of NATO. Military hegemony led directly to an American economic hegemony. Eventually becoming the multi-national corporations we have today, the tentacles of American economic Imperialism spread across the globe. Nothing could resist the force of this globalization of American Empire.

Those who did resist became pariah states or worse. Take for example the last 40 years of Cuban history. Or, take the ousting and subsequent murder of Salvador Allende in Chile by CIA operatives. America guarded its empire zealously under Republican and Democratic presidents. In Vietnam, two Democratic administrations and one Republican one fought a war to ensure American dominance of Southeast Asia. Defeated, one might of thought that the Empire had been taught a lesson. Just like the Roman Republic though, we took our defeats and further mastered the art of waging war in pursuit of Empire.

Similar to the Republic, America has formed itself from an ever-increasing expansion of the notion of citizenship. In early Rome, local peoples in Italy found themselves homogenized into the melting-pot of Roman society. Like the American ideal, the Roman ideals of government created a nation and a way of life. In a kind of Imperialist ‘mission creep’ those values eventually morphed into the militarist Imperialism of the present day and of the past. Instead of accepting difference as an important value in a citizen or a political ally, Rome began accepting only blind allegiance to its directives. Is this any different from America today?

Eisenhower’s farewell speech in which he warned of the growing power of the military industrial complex should have much resonance today. By Eisenhower’s time, it had become clear that America’s Imperial goals were being permanently instilled in our society in the name of National Security. Switzerland has almost perfect National Security. In America National Security equals the preservation of the American Empire at any cost. While I could argue who is Marius and who is Sulla, I propose there is something much greater at stake in the loss of our civil liberties and the stolen selection of George W. Bush as President: we risk losing Democracy itself if we follow the path of Imperialism. It doesn’t happen overnight. It moves from Marius to Sulla and to Caesar. And while Augustus is not too bad, it also gives us Caligula and Nero. This is the same anti-Democratic system that has given us George W. Bush.

As Cicero argues, if we do not act it is our own fault. These acts cannot stand in a true Democracy. Getting rid of Bush alone will not do, the mechanisms of Imperialism must be dismantled in our country. If we fail at this, another will rise in his place. We cannot forget that the blades that killed Caesar engendered in the womb of Rome the Imperial state. In these times we indeed find that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.


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What Hobbits Can Teach America

Posted on November 26, 2001
With the impending release of the new film The Fellowship of the Ring, I thought it would be important to explore how this material is relevant to us in America today. There is little doubt that the film will be hugely successful. The large built-in fan base and Hollywood marketing will assure that. But, as good or bad as this film may be I want to launch a strike before America’s film critics get hold of it. I have little doubt that our myopic critics in this country will reduce the story to one of Good vs. Evil. Also, there is little doubt that they will use that simplistic explanation to explain the probable success of the film. However, I believe Hobbits have much they can teach America and it goes far beyond such myopic reductions.

The years Tolkien was writing his trilogy roughly covers the years of World War II and just after. So, it should come as little surprise that the traumatic events of that period had a profound affect on his work. I won’t go so far as to suggest it is an outright allegory as some critics have. Instead, I suggest that Tolkien’s work is colored by the times in which he lived and represents an intentional critique of totalitarianism.

The evil system that Tolkien describes is a world that seeks absolute control over individual thoughts and actions. All that is needed for the perfection of the system is finding the “One Ring:”

One Ring to Rule them All
One Ring to Find Them
One Ring to take them all
And in the Darkness Bind them

That rune is written on the inside of the ring of power – hidden, it only appears when great heat is applied. The ring itself hides a person when exercising its power.

Power hides itself and Sauron himself never physically appears in the book. The most popular reference is to the “lidless eye” which exerts its force from the Dark Tower. Like Bentham’s Panopticon, Sauron’s power and authority is placed in the discipline of surveillance a la Foucault. Constant and unbending – Sauron is always watching his minions.

The power of totalitarianism is also seductive. The Black Riders (Nazgul) were humans seduced by the drive for power. Even those seemingly good characters Elrond and Galadriel, seduced by the power in the Elven rings, have used the power to carve out their own havens from the outside world. This cannot help but remind me of the traditional liberal position of working within a system for positive change. Can this work if the system itself is evil? Tolkien’s answer seems to be no. The elves pass away at the end of the Third Age. They cease to be a force.

Force alone is not the answer. Warfare in the book, merely served as defense, or a cover for Frodo’s quest. The system had to be destroyed from the inside. Through those faults (greed, disloyalty, apathy, incompetence) Frodo is able to make his way into Mordor and to Mount Doom. On the brink of the crack, Frodo finds himself unable to give up the Ring. Seduced by the power, he imagines himself ruler of the world. It is at that moment that Gollum (the former ring owner) bites his finger off and falls into the heart of the volcano. The irony is, of course, that Frodo’s act of pity and kindness for not killing Gollum is rewarded in the end. True heroism also has its shades of gray.

The War Against Totalitarianism did not end with the Third Age of Middle-Earth. It did not end with the war against Hitler and Hirohito. It didn’t end with the collapse of Stalin and his disciples. It exists in a System that coerces people to conform to its power and directives: that is the magic of the Ring. In one of the more telling scenes in the trilogy, Frodo offers to give Galadriel the One Ring. She resists the temptation and points out that instead of a Dark Lord, she would have become a Dark Queen – as beautiful as she was terrible. America, Lady Liberty herself, has much to learn from hobbits.


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