Monday, May 31, 2010

From Joe's Vault On Memorial Day: Remembering A Real American Hero

By Manifesto Joe
Originally posted on, Aug. 5, 2005

In an age of faux heroism, illustrated by the swagger and tough talk of our "president," we should perhaps take time to remember a real American hero.

July 30 was the birthday of Smedley D. Butler, born in 1881. Few Americans have heard of this two-time Medal of Honor winner, who rose to the rank of major general in the Marine Corps. But history teachers ought to note that Butler probably thwarted the first serious conspiracy toward a coup in the United States.

In 1933, soon after he retired from active duty, Butler alleged that he was approached by a representative of a group of super-rich business interests, led by the Du Pont and J.P. Morgan industrial empires, with a proposition. The representative, a top Wall Street bond salesman named Gerald MacGuire, was said to have tried to recruit Butler to lead a move to strip recently inaugurated President Franklin D. Roosevelt of his political power.

Butler testified before a congressional committee that he was promised a militia of 500,000 men for a coup, after which Butler would assume near-absolute power as "secretary of general affairs," with Roosevelt retained as a figurehead. The men behind MacGuire feared a major redistribution of wealth by an FDR administration, and they were prepared to bankroll the force needed to prevent it.

The outcome of Butler's testimony was predictable. The press, at the time mostly owned by business-friendly conservatives, generally played the story way down. The tiny "reports" that did run ridiculed Butler and said he lacked evidence. Those whom he accused of the conspiracy, including former Democratic presidential nominees Al Smith and John W. Davis, professed innocence and did not come under public scrutiny. MacGuire -- known through his correspondence to have been an admirer of Mussolini's fascist rule in Italy -- was the panel's only open-session witness besides Butler. Of course, he told the lawmakers he never made such a proposition. The allegations are now a footnote in history.

But in 1967, journalist John Spivak vindicated Butler (who died in 1940) when he uncovered the House committee's internal, secret report. It clearly confirmed the story. The panel's public report was a whitewash and even omitted the names of the powerful men whom Butler accused.

This was not the only time Butler tangled with the early U.S. military-industrial complex. He had seen its operations firsthand many times, and blew the whistle on it. In a speech delivered in 1933, the same year he went public about the conspiracy, Butler told his audience:

"War is just a racket. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of people. Only a small inside group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the few at the expense of the masses. ...

"I wouldn't go to war again as I have done to protect some lousy investment of the bankers. There are only two things we should fight for. One is the defense of our homes and the other is the Bill of Rights. War for any other reason is simply a racket.

"There isn't a trick in the racketeering bag that the military gang is blind to. It has its 'finger men' to point out enemies, its 'muscle men' to destroy enemies, its 'brain men' to plan war preparations, and a 'Big Boss' Super-Nationalistic-Capitalism.

"It may seem odd for me, a military man to adopt such a comparison. Truthfulness compels me to. I spent thirty-three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country's most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.

"I suspected I was just part of a racket at the time. Now I am sure of it. Like all the members of the military profession, I never had a thought of my own until I left the service. My mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of higher-ups. This is typical with everyone in the military service.

"I helped make Mexico ... safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. ... I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. ... I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.

"During those years, I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket. Looking back on it, I feel that I could have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents."

Today we have other names -- Iraq, Halliburton, Diebold, Rove. We've had two Bush administrations; the first was at best legally questionable, the second possibly elected through voting irregularities in the deciding state and high-tech rigging in others. The stench of war for profit, and of crypto-fascism, is in the air.

Those who discuss this odor are being either ridiculed or ignored by the mainstream media. Perhaps they will be vindicated one day, as Butler was.

Meanwhile, let's honor a real hero, a man who blew the whistle on nascent American fascism.

HISTORICAL SOURCES: Wikipedia; excerpts from an online transcript of a 1933 speech by Smedley D. Butler

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

A Great Song Is Timeless: Frank Sinatra, 'Summer Wind' (1966)

It's been a while since I posted music on this site. This has been an earwig for me for a while, and for better reasons than for worse. Ol' Blue Eyes was certainly no saint, but he also certainly knew his way around a song or two. -- MJ

Songwriters: Bradtke, Hans; Mercer, Johnny; Meier, Heinz

Monday, May 24, 2010

Who Is John Galt (And Why Does He Keep Saying All Those Foolish Things)? Musings On The Rand Paul Controversy

By Manifesto Joe

Why is anyone shocked about Rand Paul, and his views on the Civil Rights Act of 1964? I confess to being a recovering libertarian, and therefore I understand that viewpoint better than most left-leaning people do. It's about absolute property rights.

John Galt, that shadowy character in Ayn Rand's magnum opus Atlas Shrugged, articulated this view about as well as something that silly can be. This is from a Wikipedia article on Rand's 1957 novel:

Atlas Shrugged endorses the belief that a society's best hope rests on adopting a system of pure laissez-faire. Rand's view of the ideal government is expressed by John Galt, who says, "The political system we will build is contained in a single moral premise: no man may obtain any values from others by resorting to physical force," and claims that "no rights can exist without the right to translate one's rights into reality — to think, to work and to keep the results — which means: the right of property." Galt himself lives a life of laissez-faire capitalism as the only way to live consistently with his beliefs.

The obvious extension of this philosophy isn't much of a stretch. Nobody is obligated to pay taxes -- they would come only at the generous sufferance of volunteer property owners who realize they will have to have roads and bridges to drive on. Your neighbors would be theoretically "free" to bury dioxins in their back yards, and you have no say in the matter. A machine shop owner could hire you, require you to furnish your own tools, ignore safety issues -- and when you get hurt, well, tough, buddy. Go home and get well, and maybe we'll see you again some day. Of course, bear in mind that wage slaves are always "free" to change masters.

And, the private owners of lunch counters would be "free" to segregate, or to ban minorities altogether, as they did before 1964.

This brings to mind a simple observation: No civilized society has been able to function for long with the notion that property rights are generally absolute. It's not workable, and never has been.

I admit, long ago I thought this way, regarding property rights as more or less something that cannot be abridged in a "free" society. To get past this, one must deconstruct the underpinnings of the idea.

Libertarians, and many conservatives, often point to nature as justification for absolute property rights. Territory is visible throughout nature, and animals will fight to defend it.

But this is actually crucial to the point: In nature, there is no property, only territory. And if you're going to keep territory, you'd better be able to defend it.

If one goes back to a time before property rights were codified among hominids, territory was something that belonged to the Baddest MF in the Valley. Let's figure that he had a few rivals across the river, and that there were constant fights over water.

But a generation goes by, and the Baddest MF in the Valley sees his kids grow up. His sons aren't nearly as bad as he was. His little tribe of warriors is growing old and soft. He sees his power over territory slowly slipping away.

So, he arranges a meeting with rivals, now also aging, from across the river. "Gentlemen," he says. "Enough of all this senseless violence and killing. We must have laws -- to govern us!"

And so, the codification of property rights is born. But, who will enforce those rights? The police department and the courts are soon born. Disputes are settled peacefully for a change, and yes, civilization is born.

But are such rights absolute or conditional? It should be obvious. Property rights exist because of government, not in spite of it.

Without codified property rights, my grasp over my home and yard would be tenuous. I would have to be able to defend them, as my territory. If someone could get the drop on me, kill me, my wife and my dogs, and bury us in the back yard -- well, the territory would "belong" to that person. It is the codification of my property rights that would enable the police and the courts to intervene. But I realize that my rights are conditional. I have to pay property taxes, and I don't have the right to let my grass grow over a foot tall.

As for Rand Paul?

I'm going to toss in recent video
of Dr. Paul, now the Kentucky Republican U.S. Senate nominee, talking to Rachel Maddow.

A lot of commentators are painting Dr. Paul as a racist over this. I cannot say whether he is one, as I cannot read his mind. But he is clearly the same thing that I was long, long ago -- an ideologue who has never had the experience of driving into a town, tired and hungry, and finding nearly all public accommodations segregated or just plain closed to him.

I will take the doctor at his word that he opposes segregation. But he also clearly buys into the idea of absolute property rights, something that distinguishes his brand of libertarian conservative from the older and more pragmatic style of Burkean conservatism. And it certainly sets him apart from modern liberalism, which has evolved a great deal since the days of Manchester liberals.

The notion of absolute property rights is certainly common in America, but the idea falls apart upon proper deconstruction. No civilized society could function that way for long. In a sense, it's time for many Americans, especially the Tea Party variety, to grow up and get over it. They are part of a larger society as much as they are individuals. It's time for people to start acting like it.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Republicans Again Rewrite History: They Were The Main 'Architects' Of Deregulation

By Manifesto Joe

Republicans either have a great sense of sick humor, or they think everybody else has amnesia, or they are brainwashed stoolheads -- or some of the above, or all of the above.

Some of us were paying attention to matters political and economic over the past 30-plus years. Deregulation was mainly a Republican idea, in all facets of the economy. The mantras were all very familiar: If you hamstring business to where it can't operate, everybody suffers; the free market is self-regulating anyway; competition will make the pie bigger for everyone. ...

There were Democrats, dating back to Jimmy Carter, who fell for all this and become accomplices. I can't blame them too much -- I'm all for leaving the market to do anything it can do better than the public sector, and that encompasses many things.

But recent evidence seems quite clear that finance and oil drilling are not strong suits for unfettered private sectors.

New Deal-era banking regulations (the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933) were rolled back by the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999. Yes, President Bill Clinton did sign that bill -- he now acknowledges that to have been a mistake. Please note that the three legislators whose names were attached to the latter act -- led by the former Senate solon of kleptocracy, Phil Gramm of Texas -- were all Republicans.

Listening to Republicans talk now reminds me somewhat of the 1970s, when you could actually hear some of them blame the Vietnam War on the Democratic Party. Remember Bob Dole's remark during his vice presidential debate with Walter Mondale in 1976, in which he talked about "Democrat wars"? I remember Barry Goldwater saying something to that effect as well.

Blaming Vietnam on Democrats is, historically, quite a stretch. Yes, they were in office during the 1965-68 escalation, and it was Cold War Democrats who crafted Vietnam policy. But was this against the opposition of Republicans?

Hardly. The main problem Republicans seemed to have with the Vietnam War was that, according to them, the U.S. wasn't fighting to win. They favored MORE aggressiveness, MORE escalation and MORE involvement, not less. With the lonely exceptions of Mark Hatfield in the Senate and Pete McClosky in the House, there were few high-profile Republican critics of the war -- only critics of its conduct. In 1964, Republican presidential candidate Goldwater even suggested that the use of "low-yield" nuclear weapons should be seriously considered. By 1968, it was the Democratic Party, not the Republicans, who were split up the middle over the war.

And, please recall that it was two Democratic senators, Wayne Morse of Oregon and Ernest Gruening of Alaska, who cast the only two votes in Congress against the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964. Neither man saw his political career survive the decade.

Yes, Wall Street and the Gulf of Mexico are both a long way from Vietnam. But what is recalled is the Republican propensity to rewrite history for their own political purposes. To hear some of these people tell it, Barack Obama, with his 16 months in office, is largely responsible for the Gulf spill, for the Wall Street/subprime mortgage crackup, and for the Tate-LaBianca murders. And whatever he didn't do, Clinton and Carter did.

Let's see: Who was in office in 2005, when we saw BP's first big disaster, the explosion of the oil refinery at Texas City, Texas? Who didn't follow up with any advocacy of more stringent safety regulations of the oil industry, even after negligence on BP's part in the 2005 blast was so evident?

And, let's see: Who was in office when possible criminal prosecution of BP over a 2006 Alaska pipeline rupture was killed?

And, let's see again: Who was in office most of the time that the federal Minerals Management Service was supposed to be inspecting that Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf at least monthly, and failing to do it?

No, Republicans are not the exclusive owners of modern deregulation. But they were certainly the primary "architects" of it. And their anti-government rhetoric became a self-fulfilling prophesy: When you keep saying that government is the problem, that it can't do anything right, and then you put people of that philosophy in charge of what little regulation there is ... don't be surprised by the meltdowns. And, please don't blame it on those who sometimes just went along, in some cases reluctantly.

I'm reminded once more of something the late Molly Ivins wrote. It was something to the effect that when you deregulate something, you will often find out why it was regulated in the first place.

Republicans, enough revisionist history, please. At this time in history, we need to get busy cleaning up the messes. Obama seems willing to try, if you will let him. But so far, that hasn't seemed to be your inclination.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In

Postscript: Please note that although this post is dated Saturday, May 15, it was not actually posted until Thursday, May 20. This discrepancy is the result of the saving of an earlier draft, and I don't think it will be worthwhile to go to the trouble of altering it.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Lewis Black On Glenn Beck And Nazi Tourette's: Yes, You Can See It Here, Too

Yeah, this has already been all over the Internet. I work at a job that makes it hard for me to stay right on the cutting edge of things. But something this good bears repeating. Once again, here's Lewis Black, discussing Glenn Beck's constant playing of the Nazi card, on Wednesday night's The Daily Show:

Vy haf zeh not come for me yet, ee-zer? I am vaiting ... -- MJ

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

BP Is Still Grappling With Its 2005 Texas City Disaster

By Manifesto Joe

While various officials try to sort out who's to blame for the environmental disaster, not to mention the deaths of 11 workers, in the Gulf of Mexico, it may be time for a bit of context.

BP, the London-based multinational oil giant that's behind the huge Gulf oil spill, is still paying for a March 23, 2005 disaster. An explosion at a Texas City, Texas, refinery owned by BP killed 15 workers and injured 170. And investigations have repeatedly pointed to safety negligence on the part of BP leading up to that disaster.

Here's the U.S. Chemical Safety Board video on events leading up to the 2005 disaster:

To date, BP has been forced to pay over $1.6 billion in damages, fines and repairs for their gross negligence at Texas City. And litigation is still pending. A Wikipedia article details the company's persistent failure to heed or implement safety recommendations made as long as 14 years before the explosion.

And, BP is still fighting everything it can. It it challenging an $87 million OSHA fine, the largest in OSHA history, for failing to correct the hazards.

It appears, as usual, that nothing was really learned from history. BP continues to operate as a rogue multinational, with additional fatalities occurring at the Texas City refinery since the 2005 disaster.

From what we've been hearing from the kooky, phony-populist right wing and other sundry apologists for corporate greed, what we have here is failure to regulate. Such arguments are absurd beyond belief. I used to hold Warren Buffett in relatively high esteem for his modesty about his fortune and his sometimes progressive views. But he and his business partner, Charlie Munger, had the nerve to blame regulators for the duplicity of Goldman Sachs. And there are people who will consider lax regulators, not BP, to be primarily responsible for the current travesty in the Gulf.

This is like blaming the farmhand who fell asleep while the fox was pillaging the henhouse. Is the farmhand's ill-timed nap supposed to exonerate the fox of all guilt?

It's looking more and more like time to actually re-empower the regulators of capitalism, in all its facets. But that would require a sense of history that, so far, not many people seem to have.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas

Friday, May 7, 2010

At Last, An Explanation For Tea Party People ...

... And for Republicans in general. The Neanderthals walk among us. Here's the full story. -- MJ