02 January, 2014

Attention Citizens

In 1957, Ernst Junger, in his novel "The Glass Bees," predicted that the Zapparoni Works (a manufacturer of tiny drones or "glass bees") would rule the world by monitoring everyone's typewriter strokes. Is that

06 November, 2013

Why Capitalism (literally) Stinks

John Ralston Saul comments very presciently on the idea that the market works for the general good in his book “Voltaire’s Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West” (The Free Press, New York City, 1992).  

Take public heath, for example. In the late seventeenth century Paris was without a sanitary system — its streets were a gigantic latrine for five hundred thousand people. The terraces of the king's palace — the Tuileries — smelled so strong that no one dared go onto them except to relieve themselves.   

At that point in history, the modern administrative structure was in its infancy, limited to little more than the maitres de requétes.  An early form of ombudsmen, they were judges who listened to complaints and requests addressed to the king. Richelieu had not even begun his razing of city walls with the idea of making central administrative control possible.  

One hundred and fifty years later, in 1844, very little had changed. Six hundred thousand of the 912,000 residents of Paris lived in slums. At Montfaucon, in the north of the city, transporters of excrement, who had been collecting door-to-door during the night, dumped their loads into great swamps of the same matter. Men spent their lives living on these shores and wading out every day in search of small objects they might sell. At Lille, in the 1860s, in the working-class district of  Saint-Sauveur, 95 percent of the children died before the age of five.   
Paris Sewer in 1966
The famed Paris sewer system was created over a long period in the second half of the last century. The long delays were largely due to the virulent opposition of the property owners, who did not want to pay to install sanitary piping in their buildings. These people were the New Right of their day. The Prefect of Paris, Monsieur Poubelle, succeeded in forcing garbage cans on the property owners in 1887 only after a ferocious public battle. This governmental interference in the individual’s right to throw his garbage into the street -- which was, in reality, the property owner's right to leave his tenants no other option -- made Poubelle into the "cryptosocialist" of the hour. In 1900 the owners were still fighting against the obligations both to put their buildings on the public sewer system and to cooperate in the collection of garbage. In 1904 in the eleventh arrondissement, a working-class district, only two thousand out of eleven thousand buildings had been piped into the sewer system. By 1910 a little over half the city's buildings were on the sewers and only half the cities in France had any sewers at all.   

Photos of early-twentieth-century Marseilles show great piles of refuse and excrement down the centre of the streets. Cholera outbreaks were common and ravaged the population. In 1954 the last city without, St. Remy de Provence, installed sewers.   

It was the gradual creation of an effective bureaucracy which brought an end to all this filth and disease, and the public servants did so against the desires of the mass of the middle and upper classes. The free market opposed sanitation. The rich opposed it. The civilized opposed it. Most of the educated opposed it. That was why it took a century to finish what could have been done in ten years. Put in contemporary terms, the market economy angrily and persistently opposed clean public water, sanitation, garbage collection and improved public health because they appeared to be unprofitable enterprises which, in addition, put limits on the individual's freedoms. These are simple historic truths which have been forgotten today thus permitting the fashionable belief that even public water services should be privatized in order that they night benefit from the free-market system.

This is one more example, of which there are many, of why this capitalist system has got to go!

22 September, 2013

What to do in case of Witch Hunt.

NEWS ITEM: Today in history: September 22, 1692 - Martha Corey executed by hanging after being accused of being a witch during the 1692 Salem Witch Trials. She was the las...t person executed in the Salem Witch Trials. Her only ‘crime’ was that she questioned the truth of the witchcraft accusations against others. Her husband Giles Corey was executed three days before her only because he defended her against the charges. The Salem Witch Trials are used as a powerful metaphor for later waves of political repression in the U.S. Corey and her husband are both prominent characters in Arthur Miller’s 1953 play The Crucible, which Miller wrote as an allegory of that era’s wave of McCarthyism, when the U.S. government jailed, repressed and blacklisted accused communists. Miller himself was questioned by the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1956 and convicted of "contempt of Congress" for refusing to identify others present at meetings he had attended. 

Giles and Martha Corey are among my illustrious forbearers. Their great-grand-son, David Corey served with the Continental Army in the War of Independence. His great-grand-son, Henry Clay Christie, served in the Union Army, seeing action at Shiloh and Vicksburg. I am intensely proud of these people, not only because they are my ancestors, but also because I am an American patriot who loves his country.
Harry Gold, atomic spy
Which hunts are a recurring phenomenon and people forget two things about them that ALWAYS HAPPEN.

Liberals forget that you can’t have a witch-hunt without actual witches. In Salem, the first accused, Tituba, the West Indian slave belonging to Samuel Parris, was an actual witch, practicing Santería. Similarly, in the 1940’s there were actual atomic spies, Klaus Fuchs, Allan Nunn May, and Harry Gold foremost among them, as well as many "fellow travelers" in many branches of government. And, as Liberals never admit that there are witches, so they can never effectively draw the line and defend the innocent.

Conservatives, on the other hand, never discount an accusation. They are the ones who see a witch hunt though; making sure that every accused witch is hammered down to earth.

And so the conservatives always win. It’s simple.

If the liberals defend the obviously guilty (like Julius Rosenberg), then they have no credit when they defend the suspicious but innocent (e.g. Owen Lattimore).

LESSON: Defend the innocent, but let the actual witches burn.

29 June, 2013

My friend Joe Iosbaker puts it in perspective.

June 29, 1948 - Indictments issued in Smith Act Trial against the Communist Party USA leadership, claiming that the CPUSA had been in violation of the anti-communist Smith Act since July 1945. The twelve defendants were all members of the National Board of the CPUSA: Benjamin J. Davis, Eugene Dennis, William Z. Foster (indicted but not tried due to illness), John Gates, Gil Green, Gus Hall, Irving Potash, Jack Stachel, Robert G. Thompson, John Williamson, Henry Winston, and Carl Winter. FBI head J. Edgar Hoover hoped that all 55 members of the CPUSA's National Committee would be indicted and was disappointed that the prosecutors chose to pursue only twelve. The trial, held in New York in 1949, was one of the lengthiest trials in American history. Large numbers of supporters of the defendants protested outside the courthouse on a daily basis. The trial featured twice on the cover of Time magazine. The defense frequently antagonized the judge and prosecution, and five defendants were jailed for contempt of court. After a 10 month trial the jury found all 11 defendants guilty and the judge sentenced them to terms of up to five years in federal prison, further sentencing all five defense attorneys to imprisonment for contempt of court. Two of the attorneys were subsequently disbarred. After the first trial, the prosecutors – encouraged by their success – prosecuted over 100 further CPUSA officers for violating the Smith Act. Many of these defendants had difficulty finding attorneys to represent them. The trials had a big impact on the leadership of the CPUSA. In 1957, eight years after the first trial, the US Supreme Court's Yates decision brought an end to similar prosecutions, holding that defendants could be prosecuted only for their actions, not for their beliefs.

I never understood the fear that the old communists had of repression. When I was a young communist in the 1970s and 80s, I thought that they had been conservative politically and tactically timid.

Then the FBI came to my door with a warrant to search our home, the subpoena to the grand jury, and threatened Stephanie and I and with time behind bars. Two months later, in December 2010, I was invited to address the annual fundraising dinner for the People's World. I looked around a room that contained more than a few octogenarians who had suffered through the attacks that began in the late 40s. I humbly acknowledged that I was learning that they had been, in fact, quite brave.

I don't agree with all the political decisions they made in response to the attacks, but I now feel a much greater respect for those that continued with their work.
— Joe Iosbaker

30 July, 2012

Vidal skewers Rand

Gore Vidal in the July 1961 issue of Esquire Magazine:

Ayn Rand is a rhetorician who writes novels I have never been able to read. She has just published a book, For the New Intellectual, subtitled The Philosophy of Ayn Rand; it is a collection of pensées and arias from her novels and it must be read to be believed. Herewith, a few excerpts from the Rand collection.

• “It was the morality of altruism that undercut American and is now destroying her.”

• “Capitalism and altruism are incompatible; they are philosophical opposites; they cannot co-exist in the same man or in the same society. Today, the conflict has reached its ultimate climax; the choice is clear-cut: either a new morality of rational self-interest, with its consequence of freedom…or the primordial morality of altruism with its consequences of slavery, etc.”

• Then from one of her arias for heldentenor: “I am done with the monster of ‘we,’ the word of serfdom, of plunder, of misery, falsehood and shame. And now I see the face of god, and I raise this god over the earth, this god whom men have sought since men came into being, this god who will grant them joy and peace and pride. This god, this one word: ‘I.’”

• “The first right on earth is the right of the ego. Man’s first duty is to himself.”

• “To love money is to know and love the fact that money is the creation of the best power within you, and your passkey to trade your effort for the effort of the best among men.”

• “The creed of sacrifice is a morality for the immoral….”

This odd little woman is attempting to give a moral sanction to greed and self interest, and to pull it off she must at times indulge in purest Orwellian newspeak of the “freedom is slavery” sort. What interests me most about her is not the absurdity of her “philosophy,” but the size of her audience (in my campaign for the House she was the one writer people knew and talked about). She has a great attraction for simple people who are puzzled by organized society, who object to paying taxes, who dislike the “welfare” state, who feel guilt at the thought of the suffering of others but who would like to harden their hearts. For them, she has an enticing prescription: altruism is the root of all evil, self-interest is the only good, and if you’re dumb or incompetent that’s your lookout.

She is fighting two battles: the first, against the idea of the State being anything more than a police force and a judiciary to restrain people from stealing each other’s money openly. She is in legitimate company here. There is a reactionary position which has many valid attractions, among them lean, sinewy, regular-guy Barry Goldwater. But it is Miss Rand’s second battle that is the moral one. She has declared war not only on Marx but on Christ. Now, although my own enthusiasm for the various systems evolved in the names of those two figures is limited, I doubt if even the most anti-Christian free-thinker would want to deny the ethical value of Christ in the Gospels. To reject that Christ is to embark on dangerous waters indeed. For to justify and extol human greed and egotism is to my mind not only immoral, but evil. For one thing, it is gratuitous to advise any human being to look out for himself. You can be sure that he will. It is far more difficult to persuade him to help his neighbor to build a dam or to defend a town or to give food he has accumulated to the victims of a famine. But since we must live together, dependent upon one another for many things and services, altruism is necessary to survival. To get people to do needed things is the perennial hard task of government, not to mention of religion and philosophy. That it is right to help someone less fortunate is an idea which ahs figured in most systems of conduct since the beginning of the race. We often fail. That predatory demon “I” is difficult to contain but until now we have all agreed that to help others is a right action. Now the dictionary definition of “moral” is: “concerned with the distinction between right and wrong” as in “moral law, the requirements to which right action must conform.” Though Miss Rand’s grasp of logic is uncertain, she does realize that to make even a modicum of sense she must change all the terms. Both Marx and Christ agree that in this life a right action is consideration for the welfare of others. In the one case, through a state which was to wither away, in the other through the private exercise of the moral sense. Miss Rand now tells us that what we have thought was right is really wrong. The lesson should have read: One for one and none for all.

Ayn Rand’s “philosophy” is nearly perfect in its immorality, which makes the size of her audience all the more ominous and symptomatic as we enter a curious new phase in our society.

19 April, 2012

The Fortress of Interlaced Wealth

What has developed, then, under the operation of inheritance laws handed down from the days when property ownership was far more modest to a day when vast properties have been created mainly by technology, is a huge solid fortress of interlaced wealth against which even clever new wealth-seekers, try as they will, cannot make a tiny dent. About the only way one can get in (and that way isn’t always rewarding) is by marriage. If a potential new Henry Ford produces an invention and sets out with friends to market it he generally finds
(as did Professor Edwin H. Armstrong, inventor of wide-swing radio frequency modulation, the regenerative circuit) that is boldly infringed by established companies. After he spends the better part of a lifetime in court straining to protect his rights he may win (usually he does not); but if he wins he collects only a percentage royalty. What the infringers can show they have earned through their promotional efforts they may keep, with the blessings of the courts, who are sticklers for equity: All effort must be rewarded. And then the overwrought inventor, as Professor Armstrong did in 1954, can commit suicide.

Henry Ford came up when there were only small competing companies in the field. When established companies are in the field, inventors must sell out, or suffer a fate similar to Professor Armstrong’s.

— Ferdinand Lundberg
"The Rich and the Super-Rich:
A study in the Power of Money Today"

24 February, 2012

Specious Chart

Recently this chart has been making the rounds of the internet as the "Scariest Economic Stat...Evah!" It ranks nations by per capita national debt, and we come out worst.

The reasoning behind this is utterly specious. National debt is only meaningful in relation to national income. Find below a chart showing national debt as a percentage of GDP. This shows a very different picture, with Greece's indebtedness at about twice that of ours and Spain in a surprizingly good position.