Saturday, December 24, 2011

Why Ron Paul Matters

911 NYPD Pictures 2010 Pictures, Images and Photos
I first developed an interest in politics after 9/11. Why on Earth would someone hate America that much, I wondered? Who is al qaida? What the hell is their problem with us? Why are they attacking our financial institutions?  So I began paying attention to politics, U.S. foreign affairs in particular. During the Bush/Cheney march to war in Iraq in 2002 I was tuned in and I watched in amazement as the Bush Administration fed the American public one line of bullshit after another. I mean I was all for getting rid of Saddam, but what I was not for was being lied to. And it was so obvious that the Bush/Cheney Administration were lying out their asses. When ole Barack Obama, a local Chicago politician, came onto the scene, pointing out how the Bush/Cheney Administration was lying out their asses, it was refreshing.  The Bush/Cheney war was not about Saddam's violation of human rights, nor about national security and WMDs. It was about oil and geo-political influence. Then as I watched the 2004 Presidential election, the Bush/Cheney lies just kept snowballing. Cheney was obviously evil and Bush Jr. was living in a box of dellusions--yet Kerry/Edwards didn't inspire me to drive to my local voting place, wait in line and cast my ballot either. They just didn't seem like they would make things drastically any better.

How can you be so interested in politics yet not vote? People would ask me. I wasn't sure. It just didn't seem like it was worth my time. Lamely I argued that my state always votes Democrat anyway, so my vote wouldnt really make a difference. Plus I don't agree with the electoral college system. Why not one person = one vote?  But honestly, the main reason was because that the root of what I thought was wrong with our corporate-political economic system was not going to be solved by any of these candidates. No one was speaking out for what I wanted. I wanted to live in a nation that put an emphasis on ethics, honesty, transparency, and basic human decency. I wanted to live in an America where not ONE single corporation polluted the environment or rushed untested drugs onto the market. I wanted to live in an America where every single child had equal educational opportunities and health care. I wanted to live in an America where the economic system did not reward greed.

When 2008 rolled around, I chose not to vote once again. I was glad Obama won, but I saw no signs that he was going to overhaul our entire system like it needed to be overhauled.  Much of what he did felt like it was just more of the same old, same old.

By 2012 I had been listening to talk radio regularly--both left-wing stations and right-wing ones. I had spent the last few months of 2011 watching the Occupy Wall Street folks with interest--but I couldnt help but think that they had no chance of drastically changing the system. They might accomplish something positive, some small step in the right direction, but nothing revolutionary. And I also watched in waning interest as the Republican Party went through the fiasco of trying to nominate a Presidental candidate--a process that went from resembling a bunch of mentally handicapped people playing musical chairs that eventually breaks out into a full blown circular firing squad.  All of which led me to the the notion that most likely Obama would have 4 more years. Hopefully he will do some positive things, especially in the area towards building a greener infrastructure.  But I see no promise of anything revolutionary being done--nothing that would begin to tear down the corrupt corporate political system that governs our nation.  So it was beginning to look as though the 2012 Presidential election was going to be the same old typical bull shit, with nothing of interest in terms of real change being injected into the national debate. But then...

Enter Ron Paul
Ron Paul is not a new name in the presidential campaign. He ran in 1988 and 2008 with pretty much the same Libertarian message as he has today. But the difference now is that he actually has a chance to seriously interject this message into the national conversation. For the first time Paul is looking like he is about to enter the national spotlight as he is now poised as an honest contender to win the first Republican contest in Iowa. The time for his message to be heard, might have finally come.

The centerpiece of Paul's message is that our nation needs to phase out the Federal Reserve System. To get a more detailed picture of this argument I picked up a copy of End the Fed by Ron Paul. On page 4 of End the Fed Ron Paul writes:

 "...I think the system of Fed domination must come to an end."

On page 11 he goes on to write:

"The Federal Reserve System must be challenged. Ultimately, it needs to be eliminated."

End the FedNow that is what I call revolutionary talk. Paul does not come right out and say that we need to get rid of Federal money or even get rid of a Federal Bank, but he does say that we need to get rid of the Federal Reserve System. Paul then goes on to lay out the gripes he has with the Fed system. First of all, he thinks that no single institution in society should have a monopoly on money. It puts too much power in the hands of the Federal Government. He also doesn't like the idea that the U.S. government can just print money out of thin air in order to (directly or indirectly) generate funds for its agenda and policies--whether that agenda be a war for oil in Iraq, or universal healthcare, or financial aid to victims of Katrina, or building and repairing the nation's infrastructure. Paul also argues that having a Federal Reserve allows banks to provide risky loans. And that it also provides banks with 'elasticity' (the ability to expand money and credit as much as they want to). The Fed, as Paul sees it, is in the business of generating inflation. In fact since the creation of the Federal Reserve in 1913 the worth of the dollar has shrunk to just 5 cents.

Paul goes on to argue that the reason that the Fed can do all these things is because of "the institution of fractional reserves" -- in other words the mixing of the two distinct functions of the bank. The first function of a bank is simply the warehousing of money whereas the second function is providing a loan service. When the warehousing of money becomes a source of lending then that is considered as mixing the two distinct functions of a bank (a.k.a. the fractional reserve sytsem). As the Fed relies heavily on fractional reserves, "using the banking system as the engine through which new money is injected into the economy as a whole" and then backs this fractional reserve system with the promise of endless money creation and bailouts, it perpetuates an illusion, according to Paul. Paul labels this system as half-socialized--"propped up by the government". It is a system that was created by the establishment of the Federal Reserve in 1913 by "powerful bankers with powerful government officials working together to have the nation's money serve their interests..." The Fed was designed to benefit the rich and poweful and that is what it has done for the last hundred years, continually making the rich even richer and expanding the gap between the 1%ers and the rest of us.

So if the Fed is so bad, then why not get rid of it?

The one obvious problem with free market capitalism is that it doesn't concern itself with humanity. It simply does not calculate humanity into the equation at all. It ignores humanity--which is why free market proponents come off as so callous: they have dehumanized us. They think only in terms of monetary concerns, the bottom line. And this is why free-market capitalism will never work. It is why we have Ron Paul and Libertarians making callous comments about victims of Katrina, or about victums of large corporate drug companies who have rushed untested drugs onto the market. It is why they do not seem concerned about children who have gotten cancer due to chemicals that nearby factories dump into the land, air and water in their neighborhoods. The government shouldn't regulate these corporations, they argue--you have to let the free market determine everything and fuck the people who get bulled over by the wave of free-market enterprise, for people are not important. Only corporations are important. They are all that matters.

money tree Pictures, Images and PhotosAnd this is why true free-market capitalism has never worked and never will work. We say we have a capitalistic system, but the truth is--as Ron Paul says, we have a half-socialized system, a half-capitialistic system. Which is actually a good thing. If you pit capitalism against communism, neither one actually takes into account the realistic influences of human nature. In a strictly communist society, with no economic motive to get ahead, there will be people who simply will not contribute, people who will be motivated NOT to work. Why should they go out and bust their ass when their food and shelter is provided for them? There will also be those who form a black market, there will be those who get ahead through corruption. Likewise, a strictly capitalistic society, falls victim to human vices as well. Those with power and money and access to power and money create machinations that perpetuate their access to power and money and that discriminate in order to further deny that access to others. This is why there are no truly capitalistic societies nor any truly communistic societies in the world. What we have are systems that are various combinations of the two, and that are in continual flux, teeter-tottering back and forth, leaning toward one or the other at all times. In the U.S for example, for every shift toward communism (like the New Deal in the 1930 or the Great Society in the 1960s) we see a counter-shift toward capitialism (like in the Eisenhower Era and Reagan Era). At times however, these battles are very complex and colored in nuance. Today for instance, we are seeing that the capitalisitic shift during the Bush/Cheney that was camoflauged in smoke and mirrors is being countered with a communistic shift of the ObamaCare era that is equally as nuanced, complicated and camoflauged in smoke and mirrors.

Which brings us back to Ron Paul and his effort to shift America back towards capitalism--which is really what his 'End the Fed' ideology is all about. Does America need a shift towards free-market capitalism right now? Or do we need to continue shifting towards socialism? Is there some way to restructure the Federal Reserve System? What would happen if we stopped bailing out the "too big to fail" financial institutions? Do we simply need more regulations on the Fed or to actually enforce the regulations that exist?  In the long run what is better for America? What would be the most fair?  If Ron Paul makes it to the national spot light and is able to take the stage in a debate with Barrack Obama, these will be some of the questions that American voters will be challenged to digest. 

Maybe there is hope for this year's Presidential Election after all...

In 2008, Paul secured the support and signatures of 4 canidates for President that agreed to the follwoing statement:

We insist that there be a thorough investigation, evaluation and audit of the Federal Reserve System and its cozy relationships with the banking, corporate, financial institutions.  The arbitrary power to creat money and credit out of thin air behind closed doors for the benefit of special interests must be brought to an end.  There should be no bailouts of corporations and no corporate subsides.  Corporations should be aggressively prosecuted for fraud.

©2012 Rockism 101. All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

One Million Electric Cars

Nothing symbolizes the greatness of America more than the road trip. Growing up in the 1970s I went on at least one road trip with my (disfunctional) family every summer. My brother and I would travel cross country to Colorado, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio, Kentucky, Missouri, some times with our biological father in his Econoline van or other times with my step-father and our mother in our Dodge Ramcharger. Each trip was an adventure, stops to go swimming, tubeing, bicycling, camping, fishing, to see ball games, to run around amusement parks, go-carting, hang at water parks, visit distant relatives, eat bologna sandwiches with Pringles and slurp 7-ups on the side of the road.

By 1984 I obtained my driver's license and I began road tripping with my friends.  We ventured off to state parks, county fairs, R.E.M. concerts, to the Iowa border (to a grungey strip club that let 17 year olds in), to the Wisconsin border to buy fireworks, to New Orleans' French Quarter, to tailgate parties in the parking lots of college stadiums. And by the 1990s I was taking road trips with girlfriends, romantic getaways to small tourist towns with antique shops, and ski resorts with almost-fine dining. My honeymoon in 2005 was a road trip to Knoxville Tennessee where my bride (now ex-wife) and I explored the winding roads and small towns around the Smokey Mountains, camped deep in the woods, hiked trails and listened to bluegrass music in smalltown bars.

                                            The summer of 2011

Now I have a 3 year old daughter and a 5 year old son and I can't wait to pass down the tradition of experiencing the wonders of the American road trip to them.  This was the summer in fact that I was planning to take my curious little munchkins on their first ever American road trip adventure, through small towns, visiting arts and crafts fairs, music festivals and eating in ma and pa diners. But there is something different about America in 2011.  Gas prices are well over 4 dollars a gallon - and in an economy crippled by wasteful government spending in recent foreign wars for oil, my dream of a summer road trip with my munchkins seems more like a fantasy. When I sat down to try and work out a budget for this road trip the reality hit me and it became too depressing to even think about: my kids would not be able to experience the great American road trip adventure. Not this year at least.  Maybe never.

But wait a frickin minute. Wait one god-damned minute! This IS still America, right? The once great land where anything was possible? The nation that gave us Muhammid Ali, the electric blues, NFL football, Classic Rock, muscle cars, baseball cards and Indie films? The nation that put a man on the moon, created the internet, defeated Hitler, and invented the roller coaster and gonzo journalism. So why can't this be the nation to perfect the electric car and give rebirth to the dream of the American road trip?

Addicted To Oil

Our country's addiction to oil was at one time a productive thing. After World War II oil promoted innovation, it got the country moving, it enriched our culture. But in october of 1973, for reasons too complex to get into here, Egypt and Syria attacked Isreal. Our President, Richard Milhouse Nixon, sided with Isreal which pissed off OPEC and resulted in an oil embargo on the US by the anti-Isreal, oil-exporting countries of the Middle East. This embargo caused a disastrous energy crisis in America which saw oil prices skyrocket from just $3 a barrel to $40 almost overnight. There were lines at gas stations as oil consuming Americans worried about whether they would have enough fuel to maintain their lives. The idea of an alternative to the gas-engine car started to become something worth serious considerion.

In 1976 in fact, three years after the Arab oil embargo, Congress passed the Electric and Hybrid Vehicle Research, Development and Demonstration Act (despite a veto by then-President Jerry Ford). The idea was to stimulate the production of alternatives to gas-engines. During Jimmy Carter's time in office (remember Jimmy Carter--the guy who put solar panels on the roof of the white house) government funds were provided that led to serious progress in the development of electric batteries. This progress lead to an enormous cultural and economic impact via the resulting gadget boom of the early/mid 80s; digital watches, pocket calculators, cameras, portable stereos, Sony walkmen, cell phones. As the gadget boom continued throughout the 80s it seemed like it was only just a matter of time until a viable electric car battery would be produced.

 But then, just like that, development for the electric car in the USA came to a sudden standstill. In 1985 the price of oil began to fall again as the short-sighted Reagan Administration deregulated the oil industry. Oil companies were finding new petroleum sources in the North Sea, Alaska, Mexico and South America. Meanwhile OPEC lowered its prices in a successful attempt to increase U.S. addiction to oil and by 1986 the price of oil dropped down to only $15 a barrel. As Japanase auto companies encroached on the US auto market the idea of the electric car became even more marginalized. To compete with Japanese automakers the Reagan Administration was compelled to promote the consuption of cars with combustionable engines and totally dismiss alternative energy. On page 37 of Seth Fletcher's book Bottled Lightning, he writes:

"Reagan came in and cut back energy efficiency and renewable energy programs by something like 80 percent," Elton Cairns, who at the time was working on advanced battery research at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, told me. "All labs, including ours, suffered layoffs as a result. The reduction in funding occured something like overnight. That pretty well put an end to the significant involvement in DOE [Department of Energy] labs in battery and fuel-cell programs at that time."

Who Killed the Electric Car?

The documentary film Who Killed The Electric Car? picks up the story from there. In 1987 a solar powered vehicle created by an L.A. company called AeroVironment won the World Solar Challenge race across Austrailia. Law makers in California took note and began to see that emission free vehicles were very much a reality. This inspired the California Air Resource Board (known as CARB) to pass a mandate in 1990 that called for 2% of all cars sold in California to be emission-free by 1995. Car companies then began teetering between trying to comply to this mandate and working to get the mandate repealed. The technology to make a viable electric car was basically there. In fact within a short period GM came up with the EV1, an electric car that was fast, smooth, stylish, aerodynamic, emission-free and silent. It went up to 140 miles per charge. But the EV1 was not for sale. GM decided to make it available by lease only - for about $349 a month. Francis Ford Coppola leased one. Mel Gibson leased one. 24,000 customers from L.A. and NYC alone called in requesting to lease a EV1 before it even hit the market. Yet even as GM was producing this eco-vehicle with a huge demand, they realized that more profit was to be made in keeping with the gas combustionable engine vehicle business model. The gas engine was so much more complex in terms of working parts and therefore needed more maintenance which yielded incredible profits for car manufactures.  The electric engine on the other hand required absolutely no maintenance at all. So the auto companies, in cahoots with the big oil companies, began infiltrating CARB in order to end the emmission free mandate (which was scheduled to be increased to a 10% requirement of all vehicles sold in California by 2003).

Since there was no common sense reason for CARB to repeal the mandate (other than it would line the big auto and big oil companies pockets), the auto manufacturers and oil companies had to manufacture a reason. Enter hydrogen fuel cell technology - a developing technology that big oil and big auto could use as a stalling tactic or a bait and switch to dupe Bill Clinton (and later Geroge W. Bush) into promoting the ideal of fuel cell cars. This fantastical idea of the fuel-cell vehicle allowed the oil companies and car manufacturers to argue that fuel cell was a better way to go than the electric car - with the added caveat of course that they needed a bit more time to develop fuel-cell technology. In reality however, it would take decades (if ever) to develop AND it actually cost one million dollars to make just ONE fuel cell car (whereas electric cars were going for around $32,000). This seemed like a hard sell, but to hedge their bets the oil and car companies got to the chairman of the California Fuel Cell Partnership, Dr. Alan Lloyd who was also elected as the chairman of CARB. And in 2003 CARB repealed the mandate. Then, in a gesture reminescient of Ronald Reagan having the solar panels removed from the white house roof upon moving in, GM and the other auto makers recalled ALL their electric vehicles - every last one of them - and trucked them out to the desert and had them literally crushed. Meanwhile, the Bush Administration's War for Oil in Iraq had been declared and was in full swing.

Yes We Can!

Upon winning office in 2008 Barrack Obama put an immediate emphasis on ending the USA's addiction to oil as he put forth historic new nationwide fuel-economy standards of a 35.5 mpg fleetwide by 2016 (a 40 percent increase over existing standards). Then, as Fletcher writes on page 115 of Bottled Lightning:

"...the current White House was more supportive of automotive electrification than any since Carter's. Obama worked an oblique mention of the Volt [GM's current electric car] into his first joint address to Congress as an example of the automotive technology of the future--and as a compelling reason to fund an American lithium-ion battery industry. And on March 19, 2009, he toured the Electric Vehicle Technical Center at Southern California Edison and declared a goal of putting one million electric cars on the road by the year 2015. He announced a $2 billion competitive grant program for electric-car battery and component manufacturers..." And the list goes on.

Today, there are a number of electric cars on the road. Chevy has the Volt, Nissan has the Leaf, Tesla has its Roadster. Meanwhile Ford, Toyota, Mitshubishi, Volkswagen, Audi and even Porsche have all announced plans to release an electric car by 2012. We will soon be seeing electric cars that can go 300 miles on a fully charged battery and which take as little as 5 minutes to recharge. You can charge the electric cars from your own home or at conveniently located charging stations (WalMart, are you listening?). The cost of an electic car has dropped to below $32,000 and considering the savings a driver will get from no longer having to put gas in their vehicle (with gas prices flirting with 5 dollars a gallon) it costs TEN times as much to travel in a gas engine vehicle than an electric vehicle - plus the savings from not having to get oil changes and engine maintenance.  So there is no reason NOT to buy an electric car. In fact I see no reason why I should ever need to buy a gas-engine car again in my life. I can see a 21st century where the American road trip returns, where I can travel all day on about one dollar in energy costs. Where I can drive my kids from small town to big city showing them all the greatness and glory that is still America.

Bottled Lightning: Superbatteries, Electric Cars, and the New Lithium EconomyFor a history of the evolution of the electric car, check out
Bottled Lightning: Superbatteries, Electric Cars, and the New Lithium Economy by Seth Fletcher.  Overall, there are parts in Seth Fletcher's Bottled Lightning where you might need to have at least a high-school level physics class understanding of chemistry in order to get the gist of it, particularly the history and evolution of man's relationship to electricity. As this history unfolds it is interesting enough, but it begins taking on a more immediate relevence as Fletcher brings us into the early 1970s and the U.S. energy crisis. Fletcher does a workman's job of explainin how the electric car has gotten to where it is today and then explaining where it is going in the future.  For this I give Bottled Lightening 3 out of 5 wagemannheads.

©2010 Rockism 101. All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Magic versus Bird

When the Game Was OursWhen the Game Was Ours by Jackie MacMullan

The 1980s was a golden era for the NBA and that is largely due to the two great legends of that era, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. When the Game Was Ours follows the zigzagging storylines of how these two men's basketball lives intertwined, dating back to the late 1970s when Magic and Bird played together on a collegiate all-american team months prior to taking the court against each other in the 1979 NCAA finals. Their story progresses through their peaks in the 1980s as Magic and Bird trade off NBA championships year after year while taking the NBA to new heights in the process--capped off by the two former adversaries playing together as teammates once again on the 1992 Dream Team.

The NBA was a pretty mediocre entity prior to Magic and Bird. And its been pretty ho-hum since. Before Magic and Bird you had Kareem and Dr. J. Since then you've had Shaq and Jordan. But despite the individual talents of the superstars that came before and after, nothing has come close to creating the excitement or capture the imagination like the Magic-Bird rivalry did.  It is unique in sports history.

When the Game Was Ours goes into detail about this rivalry and in doing such it expresses how the cultural fascination of Bird versus Magic went far beyond what took place on the basketball court. There are many storylines involved--for instance the obvious story of how the competition between these two men actually pushed each other to attain greater hieghts--but from this story of clashing titans emerges a story of clashing cultures. From outward appearances these two men seemed to be products of conflicting cultures: Magic was Hollywood showtime, he loved the limelight, he loved signing autographs and hanging out with pop stars like the Jackson 5. Bird on the other hand, was the down home Hick from French Lick, who garnered the adolation of the lunchpale/hardhat crowd as he refused to drink expensive beer and looked for side entrances to avoid crowds in public places. Magic had grown up as a black kid who was bussed to a predominantly white suburban school. Bird had rarely left his rural hometown while growing up. But beyond the surface both men developed a drive to win that far surpassed their peers. They both grew up dirt poor in neighboring states (Michigan and Indiana) and they both endured incredible tragedies throughout their lives, from the suicide of Bird's father to the contraction of the HIV virus by Magic.

This clash of cultures worked itself out night after night as these two maestros conducted one masterpiece after another on the basketball court, and in the process defined an era. The 1980s were the dawn of the cable tv revolution. It was the decade that gave rise to multi-million dollar endorsements for sports athletes. It was the decade where the vices of our cultural heros were being fully exposed for the first time, from gambling to womanizing to drug abuse and cheating to rape and even murder.

Bird and Magic emerged from this decade as icons, cultural heros, true legends. But they couldn't have done that without each other. It was during the shooting of the "choose your weapon" shoe commercial at Larry Bird's home in 1985 when these two adversaries first began to form their lifelong friendship and it may have been then that they began to understand the fact that they were forever linked to each other and that their rivalry was something greater than their own inividual greatnesses. 

When the Game Was Ours is an easy read on a fascinating subject matter. It gets 3 out of 5 Wagemannheads.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Shit Happens and David Sirota's latest book proves it.

Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live in Now--Our Culture, Our Politics, Our EverythingBack to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live in Now--Our Culture, Our Politics, Our Everything by David Sirota

People who don't think for themselves really irk me. And since there are alot of dipshits in our society who conform to the mass mindlessness, I seem to get irked at least three times a day. That number shot up considerably as I read David Sirota's Back To Our Future.

Conformity of thought goes back ages and is in fact a natural tendencies in human group environments. In the middle ages for instance, if you didn't conform to what the church told you, or to what the landowners told you, you could get drawn and quartered. So conformity of thought was a self-preservation tool that parents taught their children, that communities encouraged in their neighborhoods and that nations encouraged in their citizens.  There have been rebels of course, the Jonathon Livingston Seagulls who don't pine for the acceptance of the group or their peers and who ventured off on their own path--but the masses have generally been conforming to their church, their community, their family, their parents, their government, their employer for as long as mankind has existed in groups.

hanged drawn quartered Pictures, Images and PhotosBeginning in the early to mid 20th century however, there came a new and incredibly powerful force that influenced control over conformity of thought--it was the mass media, ie radio, film, television. Television especially, which invaded the American home in the 1950s like an infestation of brain-eating ants, became a most potent tool for conformity. TV not only took the place of babysitters in some families but of parents as well, as kids across the country would sit in front of the boob tube after school and on weekends and let the idiot box infiltrate their young, formidable little brains. By the 1980s this brain-draining osmosis went into full-on assault as the cable tv revolution invaded millions of households across America. Millions of children were no longer learning the social norms, values and behavioral patterns from their parents and community. They were learning it from the fucking TV!

David Sirota, who does not seem to have any childhood/teenage memories beyond the soundbites of his favorite 1980s movies that shaped his relationship with his brothers and parents, is one of these children of the 80s.  Like Steven Johnson (author of the equally irksome Everything Bad is Good For You) Sirota seems to believe that just because he saw something (or believes something) that our entire culture must have seen it also (and therefore also believes it). The introduction to his book Back To Our Future is filled with a miraid of these kinds of idiotic judgements:

"Today, we still see economics through Wall Street's [the Oliver Stone movie] eyes and government through The A-Team's garage googles, confident that a few 'greed is good' tweaks and hired mercenaries can save our economy and foreign policy."

Really?  We do?

"We view race through Diff'erent Strokes and Cosby Show living rooms, differentiating between the acceptable 'transcendent' minorities and unacceptably ethnic ones."


"When we consider ourselves on the global stage, we still imagine Sergeant Slaughter. When we look at the rest of the world, we still scowl at the Iron Sheik."

lol!  Notice how often Sirota says "we" and you can see why I get irked. I mean nothing is quite as frustrating as some douche-ball like Sirota projecting his pop-consumer-culture world view of simple-minded generalities onto our entire society. He bases (what passes for) his world views on the too many hours of cable tv he watched as a pimply-faced teen growing up in the 80s. And this is where the massive disconnect that the mass mindlessness sheeple like Steve Johnson, Glen Beck and David Sirota becomes obvious: They each seem to have this dellusion that they speak for an entire generation or even an entire society.  For instance, here Sirota in his infinite "wisdom" claims:

"Fox [actor Michael J. Fox] in the 1980s was helping concoct the indelible generational fantasies that still dictate America's sense of possible and impossible, desirable and undesirable."

And this:

"Every public-policy, competition, and entertainment plot worships the Michael Jordan ideal originally popularized in sneakers, T-shirts, animated movies, and McDonald's commercials."

This redonkulous hyperbolic tone make's Sirota's prose entirely unlikable and it makes his crap-stick of a book frustratingly unreadable, but at the same time it gives some insight into the mindframe of the mass mindlessness sheeple.

For instance, it's interesting to see how influenced Sirota's mindset was by the mainstream media's version of the 1960s. In the mainstream media version of the 1960s there was this coming together of an entire generation that stood up for civil rights and peace and love and humanity. This generation had a common experience--all viewed through the tv set and that was brought together by events like JFK being shot on tv and the Beatles appearing on Ed Sullivan and Jimi Hendrix butt-fucking his guitar as he wailed out the star-spangled banner at Woodstock and the US sending a man to the moon. This is the mainstream media's version of the 60s and like most mindless generalities there is always some truth in it. Many Baby Boomers coming of age in the 50s and 60s most likely did have some generational cohesiveness. But Sirota and other mass mindlessness sheeple seem to take this idea of a generational cohesiveness and try to apply it to the children of the 1970s and 1980s and beyond.

Of course in real life there is only a very minor influence of any sort of generational cohesiveness existing.  It really only exists in the world inside the sheeple's little signal emmitting electronic boxes. In reality society became incredibly fragmented in the 70s.  Ironically, the mass media played a real part in this. Musically for instance we saw country, disco, punk, heay metal, new wave, hard rock all develope into distinct genres in the 1970s. The 70s youngsters weren't all listening to the same thing let alone all thinking the same thoughts. And by the 80s they all weren't even watching the same shows. Cable TV and VCRs gave the youth of the 80s more options than the 3 or 4 channels of corporate broadcasting that the youth of the 60s had. The youth of the 80s had more choices for individualism. And this is where Sirota seems to have entirely missed the boat. Stuck in his mainsteam media version of the 1960s, Sirota seems to think that not only did every teenager in the 80s play the same arcade/video games as he did, but listened to the same music, watched the same tv shows and the same movies. 

This asinine assumption becomes obviously even more assinine when trying to apply it to the youth of the 90s (who had even more options with the emergence of the internet) and the youth of today (who have yet even more options with i-phones and all that jazz).  Interestingly enough though, instead of seeing all these modern gadgets as sources of infomration that encourages thought, Sirota actually seems to link all of our modern electronic devices and sources of information to some kind of Orwellian plot that actually encourages people (kids especially) NOT to think on their own.  On page 34, he writes:

We "are outsourcing critical contemplation, vesting complete faith in others and letting them do the thinkng for us.  It is an [bullshit] ideological devotion to individual deities...We read from Oprah's book-club list and get life tips from her magazine.  We imbibe Paris Hilton's gossip and pass on Matt Drudge's headlines--and we do it without question.  We look to Jim Cramer and Suze Orman for investment buy and sell orders, we turn to Deepak Chopra or Dr. Phil for happiness directives--and when we discuss and disagree, we marshal our arguments like Chris Matthews or Lou Dobbs or Rush Limbaugh..."

And according to Sirota this is all because, as Orwell predicted, of our obsession with the Great Individuals (Big Brothers) that began in the 1980s. Actually in 1984 to be exact, that being Michael Jordan's rookie season in the NBA.  And the blame for this obsession with Great Individual all begins with Nike tv ads of the 1980s that protrayed Jordan as superhuman or that proclaimed that we should "Just Do It" or promoted individuality in the "Revolution Ads".  Further more Sirota claims that because of this obsesion with the Great Individuals, we:

 " longer study up on public issues.  We trade in the responsibilities of democratic citizenship for the pleasure of a superfan's hysterical enthusiasm by simply backing whatever is being pushed by the political Michael Jordan we like, and opposing whatever his or her archenemy supports. We don't pay attention to local democracy, we don't pay attention to local issues. We flock to Obama rallies and cheer when he says 'change'. We mob Sarah Palin book signings because she 'stands for what America is'.  We are clashing mobs of rabid fan clubs boorishly following the feuding Jordans at the very top, without regard for what the competition is all about...'"

After reading this far into the book you might start to think that Sirota must really hate America.  And he must really hate himself too, because he isn't saying "Everyone else but me is doing all of this stuff."  He's saying "We are doing this stuff."  But of course Sirota is actually being much less than sincere when he is using all of these "we's" because it becomes pretty obvious that Sirota does not consider himself among the "We" that he is so critical of.  No, he in fact, seems to see himself more as one of the Great Individuals.  Which nicely brings us to his chapter on "narcissistic personality disorder" (NPD--why do we need such idiotic clinical terms for every God damned human trait nowdays???) that is brought on when an individual is enveloped in this world of mass mindlessness. Sirota warns the reader on page 54 of what this NPD does to our society:

"There is...damage when the achievement of fame and kingly wealth becomes the central organizing objective of society.  The future republic is threatened by a sharp increase in the number of people who care only about themselves; and the earth's ecosystem may not survive the scourge of smog-belching and gas-guzzling 'me' culture that first spread in the late 1970s and 1980s.  This modern blast of narcissism all but defines America now..."   

Sirota then accuses Time magazine of celebrating this narcissisic self-absorption of America when they taped reflective Mylar to the cover of their 2006 Person of the Year issue, proclaiming "You" as their person of the year.  Sirota also points the finger at everyone from Karl Rove (for describing himself as courageous) to some random woman sitting next to him in a coffee shop who is "frantically blogging about her favorite movie as if the world is waiting her opinion." 

Which actually doesn't seem that different from frantically writing a book about far-fetched arguments that everything wrong with society today is because of what happened in the 1980s.  Does it?  So maybe it wouldn't be such a bad idea for Mr. Sirota to take a gander into one of those reflective pieces of Mylar on the cover of the Time 2006 person of the year magazine covers and start including himself as one of those idiot "We's" that overpopulate our culture.

In all honesty I gave up reading Sirota's load of shit at this point.  I just couldnt stomach his hyperbole and hypocrisy a minute longer.  Overall I think he needs a serious punch in the nose and I hereby decree that Back To Our Future recieves ZERO out of 5 WagemannHeads.

View all my reviews
©2010 Rockism 101. All Rights Reserved

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Can White Guys Teach The Blues?

I'm always leery when fresh-cut, middle-class white guys try to inform me about the blues, and Preston Lauterbach's The Chitlin' Circuit is a good example of why that is. Within the first 30 pages I found myself cringing so often that I had to stop and decide if I was going to continue reading. Which is a shame because this book actually has some very good things going for it. First and foremost is the subject matter. Documenting the Chitlin' Circuit that was such a huge part of early 20th century American culture is a fascinating idea and has a wealth of untapped possibilities. Also, Lautherbach has certainly done some detailed research here, done some revealing legwork and obviously he has great enthusiasm for the subject, which is important. After all if the writer isn't excited about what he is writing about, then why should the reader be?

So I really wanted to enjoy this book, but early on, too many throwaway/irrelevent sentences like these kept distracting me:

"As former [Denver] Ferguson employee Jimmy Coe recalled, Denver would rather make a hundred dollars crooked than a thousand dollars straight.' Very well, Mr. Coe, but in Indianapolis, crooked was straight."
"A visual would be lovely, but while memories of Denver's baseball ticket game are legion, most players waddled their tickets in disgust and tossed them in the gutter."
"They [Denver Ferguson and his brother] gave generously to charitable causes, functioning as a de facto community foundation. Today we might look cynically upon a reputed gambler who puts uniforms on little leaguers, or chalk in schoolteachers hands..."

There are too many examples like these where Lauterbach inserts distractive and irrelevent opinions ("Today we might look cynically..." and "A visual would be lovely"... lovely??) or when he constantly tries to posture himself as more of an authority than the people who actually experienced the scenes and times he is describing ("Very well, Mr. Coe, but...").  These idiotic statements made it overwhelmingly difficult  to actually enjoy the narrative - which is a shame because it is a narrative that I am very interested in hearing.

Not to make excuses for Lauterbach, but to offer hope, I should point out that The Chitlin' Circuit is his first book and that the editors/proof readers that Lauterbach relied on really should have caught these brutally obvious failures in his narrative. In fact, cut these distractions out and there IS a good book hiding within.

For these reason and more, I give The Chitlin' Circuit Three out of Five Wagemanheads.

View all my reviews
©2010 Rockism 101. All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Americans Are Lazy and Spoiled And The Recession Was A Good Thing

Pinched: How the Great Recession Has Narrowed Our Futures and What We Can Do About ItPinched: How the Great Recession Has Narrowed Our Futures and What We Can Do About It by Don Peck

If you put our current economic problems into a historical context, you might conclude that we are simply in a valley in the up and down economic cycle. Huge economic downturns simply happen about every 40 years and generally follow some kind of economic boom. Over the last 150 years this pattern has been pretty clear.
The economic boom of the The Industrial Age in the last half of the 19th century for instance preceeded the economic calamity of the 1890s. Then while there was a second industrial boom in the early 20th century it famously came crashing down in 1929 sending our nation spiraling into a Great depression that greatly transformed our country.  Our nation tried to claw its way out from that valley through New Deal socialistic mechanisms, from reconstruction packages to social security and so forth.  But real recovery didn't come until a new "boom" came. This time it was in the form of a gignormous military boom. America rapidly saw the military industrial-complex grow to maturity during our involvement in World War II and then the Cold War. This boom had a lot of steam and didnt start to fizzle until the Seventies (largely due to the fact that the military-industrial complex was wedded to the oil industry).  America suffered greatly with the energy crisis of the early 1970s and the end of the Vietnam War as we began waiting around for the next boom

At that point, in the mid Seventies, America couldn't seem to get its economic gears turning. Jimmy Carter touted a solution of thinking green, recycling, reducing usage, etc.  But the economy continued to suffer until the early/mid 1980s when the next boom was just starting to get its legs: the technology and information boom that provided a generation with a supply of new gadgets in the form of Sony walkmans, personal computers, consul games, cable televison, compact discs, VCRs, etc. Meanwhile Ronald Reagan was increasing government spending in historical amounts mainly through attempts to re-start the miliary boom of years gone by.  Unfortunetely this was largely done through the funding of covert wars and the institutionalization of huge pay-outs to corporate defense contractors.

As the Information and Technology Boom continued to snowball into the late 1980s, the Cold War began to lose its pulse. Bush Sr decided to give the military-industrial complex yet another shot in the arm by going to war with Iraq--a war which the US won overwhelmingly. The war was over quickly and Bush Sr was now married to a post WWII military boom that seemed outdated. Again America was looking toward the future and as Bill Clinton took over the white house he was right in time for the Information and Technology boom to become full blown. But another boom was building as well, the Housing boom--largely the creation of America's addiction to credit that started with the open-market, deregulation policies of Reaganomics (which actually made the Housing boom just a huge illusion that would lead to a crash).
The Housing/Real Estate crash is one of the main causes to what Pinched's author Don Peck is calling The Great Recession. There were other large factors of course like Bush Jr's unfunded War for Oil in the Middle East and free-trade agreements that allowed the outsourcing of American jobs to China/India. Also there was the extreme profit-driven take-over of the health care/drug system and of our educational system (all of which stems from the systemic problem of the Corporatization of America's economic-political system).   These factors all lead to the grim statistics that Peck lays out in the early part of his book. During the final year of the Bush Administration, for instance, from 2008 until June of 2009 the US economy shrank by 4 percent. More than 8 million Americans lost their jobs. The average house fell 30% in value and the typical household lost a quarter of its worth. The Dow lost 7,000 points and 165 commercial banks failed. Peck also points out that by 2010, 55% of American workers had experienced job loss in some form, either from actually losing their job, getting less hours, getting a pay-cut or loss of beneits. And on top of that, the people that were losing their jobs, had a longer duration until they found another job than any other time since the Bureau of Labor Statistics started tracking that figure in 1948.

After pointing out these grim statistics, Peck goes into some specifics as to how this Great Recession has transformed America. He points out that it has widen the gap between the rich and the poor to a greater extent than ever before. Also, it has specifically crippled cities that had been falsely propped up by the housing and credit booms - cities like Phoenix, Tampa, Las Vegas. Also the Great Recession has shifted the demographics of the workforce from a majority of men to a majority of women. He also covers stats that express a change in attitudes toward Americas policies when it comes to giving government aid to the poor (support has dropped from a 54% to 48% from 2007 to 2010) while support for free trade has also dropped (53% of Americans thought it was harmful in 2010 whereas 46% thought so in 2007).

dazed and confused Pictures, Images and Photos
Perhaps the deepest effect The Great Recession has had is that, according to Peck, it has deflated and depressed the spirit of the America people (a study sponsored by Rutgers university found that for every 100 people who went without a job for 7 months or more: 63 were suffering from sleep loss, 46 were more likely to lose their temper quicker, 14 developed a substance dependency and the majority of them have strained relations with their family and have begun avoiding social encounters with friends and acquaintances). This depression of the American pscyhe largely parallels the deflated spirit of the American people during the crisis-ridden Seventies when  Americans were waiting around for the next boom (which turned out to be the information and communication boom) to happpen.

So what do we do in the meantime? While we wait for the next great boom? And what if there isn't going to be a next great boom? What if things have steadied into a slow, level, small, incrimental evolution?

Peck admits that he doesnt know the answers, but after researching the subject thouroughly he is at liberty to give his opinion, so he freely points out some remedies in the final chapter: "A Way Forward" in which he throws out a large number of remedies (be forewarned some seem pretty weak and all of them call for Big Government). Here are some of these ideas:

~Aggressive deficit cuts that contain triggers that could lead to across the board spending cuts and tax increases

~Medicare overhaul that would include vouchers for seniors

~More stimuli that includes targeted aid to states, especially for infrastructure projects.

~An end to policies that encourage home ownership (thereby encouraging renting)

~Government aid to people who want to relocate or retrain for jobs

~A multi-bllion dollar Governemnt assistance program for people who lost their job and have to take a lower paying job

~Aid to employers who hire people who have been unemployed for two-years or more.

~Increased Federal investment (possibly to include a National Innovation Bank) and large tax breaks for Scientific/technological research and development

~Massive deregulation (laxing the Sarbanes-Oxley reforms)

~Increased government spening on education

~Implement a fair exchange rate, particularly with China

Overall, Pinched has a lot of relevent research (lots of good statistics but with some ho-hum anecdotal evidence thrown in as well) and reinvorces many points worth keeping in mind. Pinched makes for a fairly accurate historical record of the Great Recession, but beyond that don't expect anything new or exciting in Peck's analysis or perspective.  His solutions relied heavily on Big Government spending at a time when nothing could be less popular.  But let's face it, in the absence of some miraculous technological boom, Big Government spending is what has gotten this country out of every other recession we've ever had.

For these reasons and more I give Pinched a 2.5 out of 5 WagemannHeads.
View all my reviews
©2011 Rockism 101. All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Long Live Rock!

EXPERIENCED: Rock Music Tales of Fact & FictionEXPERIENCED: Rock Music Tales of Fact & Fiction

For reasons not worth going into at the moment, I spent the last 9 days in my hometown, a small town (population 3,000) atop a heavily wooded hill overlooking the Illinois River about ten minutes south of Peoria. The only thing I had to listen to music with was the cd/cassette player in my '97 Dodge Caravan. There's a drawerful of mixed tapes underneath the front passenger seat and 100 mixed cds in a case beside my driver's seat, but I mostly listened to a Donovan mixed cd, a Classic Rock mixed cd, a Devo mixed cd and two cds that a friend burnt for me: The Suburbs by Arcade Fire, in which I liked the first and third songs and Broken Bells in which I like the 6th, 9th and 10th songs. But wait a minute. Why am I referring to these songs by their track number and not their titles? The answer of course is that I dont know the song titles--I only know the track numbers because this is the digital age and who has time to remember song titles, album names, etc, right?

In high school when I listened to an album, after adjusting the levels on my equalizer, I would then visually scrub every inch of the front and back cover of an album, looking for the producer, the engineer, where the record was recorded, looking for insights in the cover art (I had been one of those geeks who needed to find every Paul is Dead clue on the Beatle albums). But today, like most corporate consumers, I dont seem to have time or interest for all of that. Nowadays knowing all those details just doesn't seem worth it. But maybe alot of people long for those days when it did seem worth it. I know I do.

I returned to my residence in a Chicago suburb on Monday and found a weeks worth of junk mail, overdue bills and a manilla envelope sent by Roland Goity. A few months ago Roland had read a book review I had posted on and asked me if I would be interested in reading and reviewing a book of Rock-related stories that he was editing. I was flattered--so much so that I wondered what this guy's angle was. He told me he would send me a copy of the book in a few weeks. I thanked him, then sorta forgot about it until returning home and seeing this envelope.

Inside the envelope was Experienced, the book Roland had promised me, with a sticky on it from Roland, thanking me for giving it a look. The front cover didn't especially impress me (purple and orange design with some guy dressed in black doing a guitar jump pose), but I'm not accustomed to getting free things so I gave that detail a pass and checked out the back cover, which read:

"...Tales of Fact & Fiction..."
"...anthology of compelling narratives giving new insight into the drama of the rock music world from every literary angle, and exploring rock's profound efect on our culture and its devine influence over the devoted faithful."

This seemed right up my alley, so I read the foreward (by co-editor, John Ottey who obviously shared my enthusiasm for Rock) and then the contributor's notes (that gave quick blurbs about each of the writers, the editors and illustrator). After flipping through and checking out the illustrations that preceded each narative, I began reading. It didn't take long for me to realize what Roland Goity's angle had been in sending me this book. This was a book for kindred spirits, people for whom knowing the details of Rock mattered to. Roland Goity was simply wanting to share the joy!

The Rock music world has many different layers, so many different story lines, so much history, technology, innovation, adventure, culture, creative performances and moments that are as complex and beautiful as life itself. Experienced, as the back cover promises, delves into the world of Rock music from all those angles and more. Here's what's included:

"Hunting Accidents" by former Guided By Voices member James Greer tells the story of how major label Warner Brothers schmoozed the band in an effort to get GBV to sign with them back in the early 1990s.

"Little Leftovers" is about a Rock journalist pursuing a Brit pop heroine he has a crush on.

"Steal Your Face" is one of my favorite fictional narratives in the book as it captures the strangeness of phyiscal/emotional/mental reality in the confusing days of a teen who spends the summer of 1983 following the Greatful Dead. The understated, almost deadpan tone of the narrator made me want to read more.

"Road Life Wearies Harmonica Virtuoso", is as the subtitle suggests, the tale of a talented harmonica player who is touring relentlessly yet barely making ends meet.

"Madonna" is an experiemental, almost stream-of-conscious piece that deals with pop star Madonna having her application to live in a NYC high-rise declined (in part by selection committee members Paul Simon and Dustin Hoffman).

"Dead Air" is the story of a radio DJ who has a confessed killer call up on the air moments after she kills a date rapist.

"The Growth and Death of Buddy Gardner" tells the legend of the Memphis blues guitarist as he moves from studio sessions and live performances in the 1960s and 70s.

"Heavy Lifting Days" provides the anectdotal reflections of an experienced sound technician which also highlights how sound equipment has changed over the years

"David Bowie Against the Enemy" is a day-in-the-life piece of a anxiety-riddled wannabe.

"Tour Diary (excerpts)" is a day-by-day journal that coves 3 weeks of a rock musicians west coast tour.

"Bodies on the Moon" depicts the aura of junior high/high school dances.

"Deja Vu (All Over Again)" involves a defunct rock group discussing a reunion tour as they have drinks in a seedy bar.

Chelsea Hotel Pictures, Images and Photos"A little Worse than Moonbeam" is the melodrama of a group of Phish heads following the band on their summer 2000 tour.

My favorite piece in Experienced, is written by Ed Hamilton (the author of Legends of the Chelsea Hotel and Outlaws of New York's Rebel Mecca). His contribution to Experienced, called "Dee Dee's Challenge", provides a snapshot of the life of Dee De Ramone during his time at the infamous Chelsea Hotel.

"Songs in the key of E" eavesdrops on two young procrastinators having a conversation about getting a drummer for their band.

The last narrative, "If a Tree Falls", is about an aging troubadour whose converations with his sister-in-law (an environmental lobbyist) prompt him to face up to the possibility of the extinction of his kind.

Overall, I'm not a big fan of fiction, but as the back cover says: Some [of these stories] are fiction and some non-fiction, but they're all true." So for this reason and many more I give Experienced 3 out of 5 stars.

©2010 Rockism 101. All Rights Reserved

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Slanted and Enchanted: The Evolution of Indie CultureSlanted and Enchanted: The Evolution of Indie Culture by Kaya Oakes

I'm sure this will get me into trouble but, Gawd, I don’t know what it is about female writers that gives me such a hard time. They always seem to have absolutely no authenticity or confidence in their voice.  Mind you 99% of what I read is non-fiction, and a large chunk of non-fiction is written by men, but I see no reason why a female can't succeed in this genre.  Of course I don't want to actively SEEK books soley on the basis that they are written by females (just in order to prove to folks that I'm not a sexist) for nothing proves you are a sexist quicker than trying to prove you are not one--it's an obvious catch-22.  Yet, in the back of my mind I’m always hoping for that find, that rare gem, the great female writer.  Yet thus far I've been consistently disappointed.

Slanted and Enchanted is a prime example of this.  After reading about half of the introduction of Kaya Oakes' examination of the evolution of Indie Culture, I had absoluely no dellusions that this was going to be one of those gems. In fact I was nearly ready to poke both of my eyes out with the corner edge of a chapbook within a few paragraphs. Oakes writes in a matter-of-fact, Jack Webb-like “Just the Facts Mam” monotone that was putting me to sleep faster than five shots of Benadryl on a balmy summer night. How can someone make something as fascinating as Indie culture so frickin boring? Here is a example sentence or two that I randomly picked by flipping the pages of the Introduction and then blindly sticking my finger into the book:

“While Unnameable Books does its best to keep the flames of Independent publishing lit, the highly anticipated Pitchfork Music Festival has kicked into gear in Chicago’s Lincoln Park, bearing witness to the massive popularity of Independent Rock. Chicago has been home to a booming indie scene since, blah, blah, blah.”

 Jesus H. Christ, you can almost see the meladrone swinging back and forth, side to side, right before your very eyes. It’s as though she is stiffly managing to fit every write-by-the-numbers cliche from the Over-educated, culture critic’s playbook into every available inch of print that the book allows. Where is your frickin soul, sister? But you know what? This was just the introduction. I’ve read past plenty of shitty introductions in my life, only to go on and make my way to a number of mediocre, if not even a few above par non-fiction examinations. So I tried to soldier on, then about midway through the intro, I said “screw it”, I’m heading straight to chapter one.

But things did not get better, in fact after a few more pages of torture, I realized I SHOULD have said "Screw it, I'm throwing this in the garbage."

So this book falls under the catagory of books that are so lame and annoying that I didn't even bother to read. Slanted and Enchanted get 1 WagemanHead out of 5.

©2010 Rockism 101. All Rights Reserved

Friday, May 13, 2011

Old Weird America's Last Stand, part 2

Mad as Hell: The Crisis of the 1970s and the Rise of the Populist RightMad as Hell: The Crisis of the 1970s and the Rise of the Populist Right by Dominic Sandbrook

I've read a number of books that are well researched. But finding a book that translates good research into an interesting narrative is much harder to find. Dominic Sandbrook's Mad As Hell is a one of those rare gems.

Sandbrook's narrative is not simply a chronology of political and cultural events from the mid to late 1970s, it is also a look into the ideological evolution of the Everyman of this period. The narrative begins with this Everyman, who was born and raised in the prosperity of the 50s and 60s, who is a high school graduate, who may have even attended college, now finding himself in the wake of his country's losing the War in Vietnam and the disgrace of the Watergate Scandal. With the economy in dire straights, everything from an energy crisis to high unemployment to low-wages and inflation, this Everyman is confronting bleak economic prospects for as far as the eye can see--something that his president Jimmy Carter is calling a "crisis of confidence."  Furthermore he has seen political and corporate corruption become so engrained in the government system that there is basically no ethical way for him to improve his station in life. He has witnessed the breakdown of the nuclear family and other traditional institutions. He watches his TV, reads his newspaper and magazines and listens to his radio in search of a way out, but a gloomy, numbing pessimistic apathy dominates the national consciousness and is reflected in the movies he watches, the music he hears, and the desperation for escape found in the era's recreational activities and fads.

Sandrock advances this narrative best when he weaves both cultural and political episodes in an engaging manner. Here is one example (page 19-20) that details events from the day that Gerald Ford gave Richard Nixon a full presidential pardon:

"On Sunday, September 8, the nation's attention was focused on the small town of Twin Falls, Idaho, where the daredevil motorcyclist Evel Knievel, the bourbon-swilling, cane-twirling darling of the southern and western white working classes, was preparing to leap across the Snake River Canyon on his death-defying, patriotically painted Skycycle X-2. In the event, the Skycycle failed to even make it off the ramp properly, and as the chastened Knievel was whisked away in a limousine, the crowd turned ugly, smashing the television crew's equipment, gutting the concession stands, and setting cars on fire. With his flared white jumpsuit and patriotic trimmings, Knievel had been biled as an American hero. Now he stood exposed as one more failure, one more icon who had let down his admirers.
          But the next day's headlines would belong not to Knievel but to another fallen star, another all-American hero who had turned out to have feet of clay. Even as the daredevil was preparing for his abortive jump, Gerald Ford was putting the finishing touches to an extraordinary decision..."

Sandrock displays superb craftsmanship painting scenes and describing characters in meaningful details that goes to bring history to life.  At times a book this detailed can become mired in the minutia of stale historical facts and dates and opinions, but for the most part Sandrock gives the reader an engaging story of the American Everyman in the late 1970s which leads us to a better understanding of how, in the end, that Everyman emerges from this doom and gloom to create Ronald Reagan's populist right.

For these reasons and more I give Mad As Hell 4 out of 5 WagemannHeads.


©2010 Rockism 101. All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Misleading America into War

The Longest War: A History of the War on Terror and the Battles with Al Qaeda Since 9/11The Longest War: A History of the War on Terror and the Battles with Al Qaeda Since 9/11 by Peter L. Bergen

Living in the Age of Information means that American history books chronicling the first decade of the 21st century are already being written—and they are not looking too kindly upon The Bush Administration and their War On Terror. Peter Bergen's account of the War On Terror depicts George W. Bush as nothing less than an incompetent bafoon surrounded by a cabal of callous, agenda-driven Dr. Evil types (Cheney, Rumsfeldt, Wolfowitz, etc) who were completely clueless (or careless) in regard to the consequences their actions and policies are having on the Middle East and the USA. Bergen reels off example on top of example of the Bush Administration's ineptitude, including:

~The Bush Administration's unwillingness to take al-Qaeda as a serious threat prior to 9/11

~Their falsified reasons for invading Iraq

~Their failure to capture or kill Bin Laden at the battle of Tora Bora in December of 2001

~Their mistake of diverting troops from Afghanistan to Iraq and thereby allowing the Taliban to resurface

~Their use of rendition and enhanced interigation methods that lead to a parade of fiascos from Abu Ghraib to Guantonamo Bay

~The mismanagement by the Coalition Provisional Authority (the transitional Government that the Bush Administration inserted to run Iraq)

 The Bush Administration's unwillingness to see al-Qaeda as a serious threat

On page 42 Bergen writes: “Five days into the new Bush administration, on January 25, 2001, Richard Clarke wrote National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice that a cabinet-level review of al-Qaeda was 'urgently' needed...With the exception of Clark and CIA director George Tenet and the latter’s deputy John McLaughlin, senior Bush administration officials consistently underestimated the urgent threat posed by bin Laden and al-Qaeda...A Nexus database search of all newspapers, magazines and TV transcripts of Rice’s statements and writings from the mid-1990s until 9/11 shows that she never mentioned al-Qaeda publicly...” Nexus searches for Wolfowitz, Cheney and Bush give the same results despite the fact, as Bergen writes on page 43: “The fact that the Bush administration was strangely somnambulant about the al-Qaeda threat is puzzling. It was not as if they did not have enough information or warning about the threat posed by al-Qaeda; quite the opposite...”

One of the problems, Bergen explains, is that the seniors in the Bush Administration had an agenda going into office and a mentality that was a holdover from the Cold War era. Vulcans like Cheney and Wolfowitz were focused on missile defense while Rumsfeldt was knee deep in his efforts at “transformation” of the military into a lighter force. This lack of attention resulted in numerous blunders (such as Attorney General John Ashcroft turning down FBI requests for some 400 additional counterterrorism personnel months prior to 9/11).

The inexusable behavior by the Bush Administration begins with its non-response to al-Qaeda’s bombing of the USS Cole (which took place a coupe weeks before Bush was elected into office). Not only did the Bush administration not respond to this attack but they then went on to dismiss a litany of CIA reports of a current al-Qaeda attack that was being planned.

In the spring and summer leading up to 9/11 the CIA was “blinking red” with repeated warnings to Condi Rice of the high volume of alarming intel about an impending al-Qaeda attack. These reports, including the April 20th report titled “Bin Laden Planning Multiple Operations”, the June 23rd report titled “Bin Laden Attacks May Be Imminent”, the July 2nd report “Planning for Bin Laden Attacks Continues, Despite Delays” met with no interest from the Administration.

Finally on July 10th after receiving no acknowledgement at all from the administration, CIA director George Tenet demanded a meeting with Rice in which he tells her “There will be a significant terrorist attack in the next weeks or months...Multiple and simultaneous attacks...” Counterterrorism advisor Richard Clark echoed Tenets warnings to Rice. Still nothing.

Still continuing to bang their head against a wall, the CIA issued reports such as: the August 3rd report titled “Threat of Impending al-Qaeda Attack to Continue Indefinitely” and the famous August 6th report titled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike the U.S.” that was given to George W. Bush as he was on vacation, clearing brush, in Crawford, Texas. 

Donald Rumsfeldt glad handing Saddam
The Bush Administration’s falsified reasons for invading Iraq

On page 52 of his book, Bergen details the Bush Administrations reactions on the day of the 9/11 attacks. During that afternoon Douglass Feith—the number three man at the Pentagon (behind Rumsfeldt and Wolfowitz) put forth the idea that the 9/11 attacks was reason to overthrow Saddam to a group of senior Pentagon officials. General John Abizaid (who went on to assume responsibility for U.S. military operations in Iraq) interrupted Feith, saying “Not Iraq. There is not a connection with al-Qaeda”. Meanwhile Rumsfeldt was already considering hitting Saddam in retaliation in notes to his top deputies. Then just one day after the attacks, Bush pulled Richard Clarke aside and asked him to find evidence that Saddam was involved somehow. Clarke looked at him incredulously and said “But al-Qaeda did this”as though this should dismiss the notion that Saddam was involved, seeing how Saddam and bin Laden were enemies and in no way connected with each other. “I know, I know” Bush pushed, “But see if Saddam was involved.” As it turns out Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz (who told the president that there was a 50 percent chance that Saddam was involved in 9/11) had Bush’s ear. None the less, Clarke went ahead and did what he was told, did his investigation then sent the results to Condolezza Rice in a report that included that there was no case at all for the notion that Iraq was involved in the attack.

This wasn’t good enough for the Bush Administration. They sent the CIA to work trying to find something, but by June of 2002 they issued their classified assessment that concluded there was no evidence of cooperation between Iraq and al-Qaeda.

In August of 2002, Cheney’s office called upon the FBI’s top expert on al-Qaeda, Daniel Coleman, to “review everything” they had in order to find a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Coleman who had already gone over all his material twice, once again came up empty.

Still the Bush Administration pushed harder, which led to a review of over 80,000 documents of material by the former head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, Michael Scheuer, looking for al-Qaeda links to Iraq. His review also came to the absolute conclusion that there were no connections. Even after the fall of the Taliban produced thousands of more documents, still no links were found.

The definitive report on the issue came in January of 2003, which concluded there was no Iraqi “authority, direction and control” over al-Qaeda.
Despite this, during this entire time, the Bush Administration was making statement’s to the media of just the opposite.  The reason of course is because Dick Cheney and company realized the timing was right for a plan that they had had in the works for many years: Taking over Iraq. The 9/11 attacks had drummed up American patriotism and prompted Bush into an all-time high in popularity and they were certain that the kind of locomotion that 9/11 generated would never be repeated.  So the Bush Administration went ahead with their plans, exploiting the 9/111 tragedy to work at orchestrated reasons for going to war with Iraq. They dug up misinformation about al-Qaeda-Iraq ties, they warned the public of Saddam’s WMD, the issued misinformation—cloaking their sources in the guise of national security—and fed it to the public as if it were fact.

The Bush Administration Letting bin Laden escape:

On page 81 Bergen writes: “Given that only three months earlier some three thousand Americans had died on 9/11 and that al-Qaeda’s leaders and hundreds of the group’s foot soldiers were now all concentrated at Tora Bora, the Pentagon’s reluctance to commit more American boots on the ground is a decision that historians are not likely to judge kindly.”Dalton Fury, the Delta commander who was in Tora Bora in December of 2001, says (page 76 ) “ abort that effort to kill or capture bin Laden when we might have been within 2,000 meters from him, about 2,000 yards, still bothers me.”

Bergen soft soaps the Bush Administration reasons for not going after bin Laden, pointing out that they were totally concentrated on Iraq and engulfed in their campaign to mislead the American people that Saddam was somehow involved in 9/11.  Since it is clear that if bin Laden had been captured at Tora Bora, then the American public would have felt that the attacks on 9/11 had been redeemed and therefore they would not support going to war with Iraq.  The principles who made up the Bush Administration had been planning to invade Iraq for over a decade.  They had no intention of squandering their chance so the Pentagon ordered Dalton Fury and his troops to stand down, thus letting bin Laden escape.

The mismanagement by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA)

On page 155 Bergen writes, “The CPA would prove to be one of the more inept imperial administrations in modern history...” It took just weeks for the most effective military in world history to overthrow Saddam. At first the citizens of Iraq were celebrating their freedom, toppling statues of Saddam and looking forward to a bright future. But instead of handing over Iraq to its people, the Bush Administration decided to enforce an American occupation. The CPA was inserted and they immediately mandated the removal of more than 30,000 Baath party members, the people who ran the Iraq government, its universities, hospitals, etc. Then they dissolved the entire Iraq military of 400,000 men. Military Intelligence and Army soldiers who knew the whereabouts of massive weapon caches stored throughout Iraq that totaled an estimated one million tons. From that point it didn’t take long for the widespread looting and pillaging that was going on in Saddam’s absence to turn into a full blown insurgency. The U.S. practice of searching Iraq citizen’s homes (many without a male head of household) with intimidation, doing body searched of Iraqi women, the news of innocent Iraq civilians being killed, the use of sniffing dogs and the rumored abuses inside CPA prisons of Iraq citizens who taken from their homes oftentimes for no better reason than the fact that they didn’t speak English then fueled the insurgency to the point that it lead to a quagmire for the U.S.

The Bush Administration’s use of rendition and enhanced interigation methods that lead to parade of fiascos at Abu Ghraib and Guantonamo Bay

Put into a socio-economic/political and cultural context, the evil doing of Dick Cheney is equally if not more dispicabee than those of any modern world leader from Saddam Huessein, Milosovic, Kim Jung Il, to Gaddafi. A revealing insight into Dick Cheney’s (for a lack of a better word) fucked-up way of thinking is seen in the months following the 9/11 attacks when he pushed for the government to immunize the entire U.S. population against a smallpox attack. Without any proof what so ever, Cheney was convinced that Iraq possessed smallpox and somehow had the capability to deliver it to the U.S. Despite there being any evidence of this and despite medical studies that showed that such a mass immunization would kill at least 300 Americans, Cheney pushed hard for this. Apparently he thought the death of 300 innocent Americans was no big deal. However President Bush’s political advisers warned Bush against this: it would be hugely unpopular and cost him votes. Plus, obviously, the plan was based on irrational fears and a total lack of factual evidence. The fact that Cheney was so eager to waste so many American lives based on the flimsiest of excuses is incredibly telling of the kind of dipshit that he is and it echoes a lifetime of callous, self-serving decisions that date all the way back to him getting married and having a child in the mid 1960s in order to avoid the draft and being sent to Vietnam.

Similarly Cheney was behind the system of enhanced interigation that the U.S. put in place post 9/11: a systematic abandonment of the Geneva Conventions that not only put every U.S. soldier in danger of being tortured in retaliation, but also totally undercut the moral high ground in the war on terror that the U.S. previously held. After all how could the U.S. argue that they are getting rid of Saddam because he tortured his people and committed crimes against humanity when the U.S. was doing the exact same thing?

But the Bush Administration had looked idiotic caught with their pants down on 9/11 and now had to over compensate. They needed to get information, by any means possible. This included unethical and illegal means. Aware that what they were doing was unethical and illegal, they went to great lengths to try to protect themselves by: 1) practicing rendition (which is illegal according to the United Nations). They outsourced dozens of prisoners to countries like Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Libya, Syria, Sudan and Yemen that practiced torture. 2) They set up a prison camp at Guantanamo Bay where they argued the Geneva Conventions did not apply. And 3) they covered their policy of systemic torture with legal mumbo jumbo, smoke and mirrors and displacement of accountability (in fact CIA agents began taking out liability insurance for fear that they would later have to hire lawyers to represent them before Congress for the unethical actions they were being ordered to partake in—the FBI meanwhile refused to get involved in enhanced interigations completely).

Overall according to the director of national intelligence during the Bush Adminstration, Admiral Dennis Blair, the human rights abuses “hurt our image around the world, the damage they have done to our interests far outweighed whatever benefits they gave us and they are not essential to our national security”


90 to 98% of all humans are fairly unremarkable. 1 to 5% are incredibly remarkable in the best sense of the word and another 1 to 5% are incredibly remarkable in the very worse sense of the word. This latter group I call the Rat Bastards. If one of these Rat Bastards is your neighbor or your co-worker or a family member, then there are a number of ways to deal with them. Ignore them, call the police on them, train your dog to poop in their yard. But if one of these Rat Bastards is a world leader (Hitler, Saddam, Milosovic, Kim Il Jung, Benito Mussolini, Gaddafi, Dick Cheney) then there is really almost nothing you or I can do about it.

I know few if any people who would argue that getting rid of Saddam was NOT the right thing to do. The world is a better place without Saddam as the leader of Iraq. Each situation in regard to trying to get rid of a Rat Bastard is unique and there are no cookie cutter solutions. What works in Egypt most likely won’t work in North Korea. But the actions taken to remove Saddam from office were so wrong that they basically serve as a blue print as how NOT to remove a tyrant. I think it is important none the less to study these mistakes and learn from them, for there are plenty of Rat Bastards in the world today.

For more writing by Ed Wagemann click here: ED WAGEMANN

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