Monthly Archives: June 2012

A Vermont No Fly Zone

For months the debate has raged in Vermont over the possible replacement by the Air Force of the Vermont Air National Guard’s aging fleet of F-16 fighter jets with state-of-the-art F-35 jets. Not only will the controversial new fighters cost $115 million a piece, but they will be significantly noisier than their predecessors.  For that reason the debate has been framed primarily as an environmental impact issue.  As many as 2,000 homes near the Burlington International Airport might have to be abandoned, if the screaming meemies are adopted.

But there is a much more fundamental question that seems to have garnered all too little attention from Vermonters.  Why does Vermont need any fighter jets, whether they be F-16s or F-35s, based at the Burlington International Airport?  From whom are they trying to protect us?  The Québécois, Yorkers, or the New Hampshire Free State?  Or does someone truly believe that either China or Russia might attack tiny, irrelevant Vermont?  What would they do with it?  Imagine the thrill of an outside invader capturing Vermont’s state capital Montpelier, which has a population of less than 10,000.  Vermont has no permanent military bases, few military contractors, no big cities, and no strategic resources other than an aging nuclear power plant.

I believe all military aircraft should be banned not only from the Burlington International Airport but from Vermont’s airspace. Vermont should become the country’s first military no fly zone, just like Libya was during the recent war.

Although Vermont has no anti-aircraft guns or missile launchers to shoot down intruders into its airspace, it does occupy the moral high ground.  It could become a role model for other states and small countries to follow.

Obviously the U.S. government will challenge the Vermont military aircraft ban, but the Vermont Attorney General should doggedly pursue the case until the U.S. Supreme Court rules against the ban.  Just as Vermont town meetings have in the past called for a ban on nuclear weapons, the end of the war in Iraq, and the impeachment of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, so too could they call for a ban on military aircraft in Vermont’s airspace.

A Vermont no fly zone, or perhaps just a call for one, would send a clear signal to the White House, the Congress, and the rest of the nation that, “Enough is enough.  We are sick and tired of the condescending arrogance of the American Empire and its foreign policy based on full spectrum dominance, might makes right, and imperial overstretch.  We are utterly disgusted with President Obama’s drones, Navy Seals, death squads, and kill lists.”

Who knows, maybe Vermont’s moribund, complacent war mongering Congressional delegation, Senator Patrick Leahy, Senator Bernie Sanders, and Congressman Peter Welch might get the message too?

Thomas H. Naylor

June 23, 2012

Founder of the Second Vermont Republic and Professor Emeritus of Economics at Duke University; co-author of Affluenza, Downsizing the USA, and The Search for Meaning.

www.vermontrepublic.org.

Chris Hayes Lays All the Blame on American Elites, But Is He Right?

I consider myself to be a huge fan of MSNBC talk show host Chris Hayes.  His Saturday – Sunday morning political news analysis talk show known as Up w/Chris Hayes is hands down the best news commentary program on American television.  It is arguably the only TV show to which one can turn today for objective analysis of what’s actually happening in the world of politics, foreign affairs, economics, and finance, topics about which Hayes possesses encyclopedic knowledge.

Although he is a liberal Democrat who supports Barack Obama, a political ideologue he is not.  Unlike his MSNBC colleagues Chris Matthews, Rachel Maddow, Lawrence O’Donnell, and Ed Schultz, Hayes is not an apologist for Obama.  He neither tries to sugar coat him nor blame all of his failures on the Republicans.

It was, therefore, with eager anticipation that I awaited the publication of Hayes’s first book, Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy, only to find myself sorely disappointed by the results.

Hayes  believes that a new breed of elites, “more prone to failure and corruption” than their predecessors, gave rise to a series of major failures during the first decade of the twenty-first century including those of Wall Street, Corporate America, the White House, the Congress, the Roman Catholic Church, Penn State University, and even Major League Baseball.  He goes on to link these failures to the system of “meritocracy” in the United States which he defines as “putting the most qualified, best equipped people into the positions of greatest responsibility and import.”  But is he right?  I think not.

That elites have played an important role, if not the dominant role, in the history of the United States since day one is an irrefutable fact.  Morris Berman confirms this in his recent book Why America Failed, although he couches his argument in terms of “hustling” rather than elitism.  Berman argues convincingly that “hustling, materialism, and the pursuit of personal gain without regard for its effects on others” have provided the dominant theme of American culture since the sixteenth century.  I believe there is a relatively thin line separating hustling from elitism and meritocracy as practiced in the United States.  As Berman said, “The hustling life is a type of cancer at the very center of a nation’s soul.”

Hayes is not very convincing when he argues that there was something new and unique about the elites who presided over the demise of Enron, WorldCom, Global Crossing, Bear Stearns, and Lehman Brothers or those who promoted and orchestrated the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, not to mention the cover-up of the Catholic Church’s sex scandal.  While it is true that the bankster MBAs who precipitated the 2008 financial crisis did have access to some very sophisticated new financial instruments and fancy mathematical models, there was really nothing new about the dirty tricks they employed including creative accounting, insider trading, stock price manipulation, lying, cheating, bribery, and fraud to mention only a few.  However, I have to concede, Bernie Madoff may have been one-of-a-kind!

What Hayes has overlooked is that rule by elites is not the only common characteristic shared by Wall Street banks, Corporate America, the U.S. Government, the Catholic Church, Penn State University, and Big League Baseball.  What all of these institutions have in common is that they are too big, not too big to fail, too big to manage.  They are fundamentally unmanageable by elites or anyone else, and it matters not whether they are a part of a meritocracy or not.

And what does Chris Hayes propose that we do about the problem of excessive elitism in America?  Of course, “make America more equal.”  And how will that be accomplished?  “We will need to imagine a different social order, to conceive of what more egalitarian institutions would look like.  We will need to construct coalitions, institutions, and constituencies that militate not only against the status quo but for equality.  The most fundamental institutions – our educational system, the federal government, the national security state, and Wall Street – must be confronted and reformed directly.”

It apparently never occurred to Mr. Hayes that neither the U.S. Government, Wall Street, Corporate America, the Catholic Church, nor Penn State may be fixable.

Chris Hayes is a very good writer when he focuses on a specific topic such as Wall Street bailouts, the U.S. fiscal debacle, the euro crisis, the tension with Iran, or gay rights.  Where he seems to have problems is in connecting the dots.

Maybe he should devote most of his time to his superb television show and less time to writing books.

Thomas H. Naylor

June 14, 2012

Founder of the Second Vermont Republic and Professor Emeritus of Economics at Duke University; co-author of Affluenza, Downsizing the USA, and The Search for Meaning.

www.vermontrepublic.org.

Military Heroes, Mercenaries, or Technofascists?

When MSNBC host Chris Hayes had the audacity in his pre-Memorial Day show to question whether every American soldier was entitled to be called a “hero,” he unleashed a virtual firestorm in cyberspace and elsewhere.  He had clearly asked the right question, a question that was long overdue.

Since Richard Nixon ended the draft in 1973 the United States Military has been made up entirely of paid volunteers, volunteers who have for a fee willingly agreed to go anywhere to kill or be killed in the name of the State.  With little or no knowledge of the history, culture, religion, or traditions of the people whom they are asked to kill, these thoroughly indoctrinated mercenaries blindly follow the orders of their feckless leaders. It’s all about “killing in the name” rapped the legendary, heavy metal, hip-hop band Rage Against the Machine back in the 1990s.  Who then, are our troops?  Are they heroes as they are often portrayed by our media, our politicians, and the public or are they just hired guns trained to kill on behalf of the Empire?

By whose authority other than the law of the jungle do they set themselves up in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Libya to assume the role of prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner?  Is there any difference in their behavior than that of President Barack Obama who sits in the White House and orders drones, Navy Seals, and Delta Force death squads to take out those on his weekly “kill list”?

President Obama claims to be an adherent to the so-called “just war” doctrine.  The concept of a just war is an oxymoron.  It is pure theological mumbo jumbo.  There is no such thing as a just war.

Wars are acts of nihilism.  They are all about money, power, wealth, size, and greed.  Wars are fought not to achieve social justice, but to serve the interests of political elites pretending to be patriots, who demonize their alleged enemies so as to manipulate their minions into sacrificing their lives for false ideals.

Wars and executions in the name of the state occur when our sense of community gives way to revenge – a lust firmly grounded in nihilism.  Just as active participation in the death of a human being is an expression of life’s meaninglessness, so too is the passive approval of state-sponsored executions, wars, and military combat.  Those who fight in wars are either conscripted to do so by the state or duped into doing so by people of the lie.

Chris Hayes was absolutely correct in pointing out that treating all American troops as though they were heroes does provide further legitimacy for war in a country which needs no additional justification for war.  We live in a nation that is subsumed by a culture of war which includes trillion-dollar plus national security budgets, 1.6 million troops stationed in over 1,000 bases in 153 countries, and Special Operations strike forces in 120 countries.  Indeed, it is not an exaggeration to suggest that the United States has become a giant military machine.

However, because our wars are financed entirely with borrowed money rather than tax dollars and those who are actually involved in fighting them represent such a small portion of the population, most Americans experience little or no pain associated with them.  So institutionalized and sanitized have these nasty little wars become, that they go virtually unnoticed under the radar screen.  Body bags and flag-draped coffins on television are all a thing of the past.  It’s almost as though no one dies or even bleeds in modern warfare.

But people do die, bleed, experience permanently disabling injuries, and become unemployable mental basket cases.  In addition, tens of thousands of innocent women and children are also killed by our fearless warriors.  Should the people responsible for all of this carnage at all levels of the chain of command be designated as national heroes or held accountable for their actions?

Our national war team is headed up by Nobel Peace Laureate and Prince of Drones, Barack Obama.  The all pervasive behemoth includes the Congress, the Pentagon, the 50 state National Guard units, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, General Electric, West Point, Annapolis, the Air Force Academy, and hundreds of college R.O.T.C. units.  What all of these enterprises have in common is an abiding commitment to promoting, facilitating, and conducting war.  In one way or another, they are all in the killing business.  Is it any wonder that peace remains an impossible dream in the wake of a prowar public relations force of millions?

If our troops on the ground and our drone operators, who are far removed from the battlefield, are all paid mercenaries, then what can be said about President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, CIA Director David Petraeus, Lockheed Martin CEO Robert J. Stevens, and the leaders of Congress who support every increase in the Pentagon’s budget?  Or so-called “liberals” like Vermont Senators Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders who always vote to “support the troops”?

Wars are grounded in human killing and human killing is an act of nihilism.  Violence begets more violence, not the other way around.  War is the ultimate form of having – owning, possessing, controlling, manipulating, and finally killing.

Nations which amass military might always find a way to use it.  The risk of war increases in direct proportion to the military power of the state.  Wars also cover up a plethora of political and economic problems by deflecting public attention away from the real issues.

I believe that most, but not all, of our troops are naïve, well intended, ill-informed, patriots, who have been manipulated into risking their lives for false gods by our prowar media and political system.  But heroes they are not.

In stark contrast to the troops, Obama, Biden, Panetta, Clinton, Petraeus, Stevens, Leahy, and Sanders know better.  They are all people of the lie.  They know exactly what business they are in.  It’s call technofascism.

Thomas H. Naylor

June 10, 2012

Founder of the Second Vermont Republic and Professor Emeritus of Economics at Duke University; co-author of Affluenza, Downsizing the USA, and The Search for Meaning.

www.vermontrepublic.org.

Snake Oil Peddlers and the Myth of Big Tomorrows

Whenever I contemplate the tragedy and indeed the absurdity of American presidential elections over the past three decades, my mind often turns to the American South, our nation’s most tragic region.  Traveling through Dixie in the late 1920s, a journalist once noted: “Down in Dixie they tell you and always with cheerful pride that the South is the new frontier…There is a feel in the air:  Big tomorrows seem to be coming around the corner.”  Unfortunately for the South, that particular “big tomorrow” turned out to be the Great Depression.

History suggests that the United States has had few honest presidents.  Arguably Calvin Coolidge and Jimmy Carter may have been among them.  However, Carter was so politically naïve, and surrounded himself with people who were clearly in over their heads, that it was hard to tell.  One thing is for sure, our next five presidents were not among them.  Without exception they were all world class snake oil salesmen peddling the myth that “big tomorrows were just around the corner.”  And a myth it was, for which we have paid dearly.

While trading heavily on the image of America as the “shining city on the hill” and pretending to be a decentralist, Ronald Reagan may have contributed more to the massive concentration of power in Washington than any other president.  His multi-trillion-dollar military buildup resulted in one of the largest government bureaucracies in history. He never encountered a high-tech weapon system he did not wish to buy – and the more expensive the better.  Some of his large-scale, high-tech ventures included the B-1 bomber, the MX missile, the stealth bomber, the Trident II submarine, and most importantly, the Strategic Missile Defense System.  Just as the Egyptian pharaohs had their pyramids and the Turkish sultans their mosques, so too did Reagan have his Star Wars.  Whether or not it would ever work didn’t seem to be particularly important.

Reagan was correct when he accused the Soviet Union of being an “evil empire.”  What he overlooked was the fact that it was not the only evil empire in the world.  Virtually everything he ever accused the Soviets of back in the 1980s we were guilty of in spades.

The cold war ended not because Reagan outspent Gorbachev, as conservatives would like to have us believe, but because the cold war didn’t pay anymore.  We had become much more nearly like our old nemesis than most Americans were willing to acknowledge.

One promise which Reagan surely kept was that America would remain a country in which people could still get rich.  His decision to fire the PATCO workers in 1981 triggered a race to the bottom in terms of wages, fringe benefits, labor-management relations, and union membership.  The rich did indeed get richer, and the poor and middle class got poorer.

Finally, Reagan presided over the scandalous Iran-Contra affair, all the while pretending he knew nothing about it.  He did irreparable damage to this country for which we are still paying the price.

The most important thing to remember about George Herbert Walker Bush is that he was the former Director of the CIA.  By chance alone he happened to preside over the demise of communism in Eastern Europe in 1989 and the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1991.  He called for “a new world order,” “a thousand points of light,” and “a kinder, gentler nation,” none of which came to pass.

Expectations were high as to where Bush I might lead the world’s only remaining superpower after the end of the cold war.  Unfortunately, these expectations remained unrealized because Bush I had no vision of the future whatsoever beyond the cold war.

Instead he condemned Saddam Hussein for replicating in Kuwait precisely what he had done in Panama a few months earlier; namely invading a tiny country with a huge military force and setting up a puppet government.  Within a few days after Hussein invaded Kuwait, Bush I convinced most of the non-Islamic world that our former ally, whom he helped create, had become the moral equivalent of Adolf Hitler.  Ninety-five percent of the American people bought into Bush’s Persian Gulf policy.

As his alleged friend Mikhail S. Gorbachev was going down with the Soviet Union, the American President sat silently on the sidelines.  A few months later he was cozying up to Boris Yeltsin, the drunken idiot who had become president of Russia.

Bill Clinton was not just a snake oil salesman, he was a world class pathological liar, as is his wife Hillary.  While pretending to be a liberal Democrat, Clinton granted conservative Republicans their every wish – NAFTA, welfare reform, budget surpluses, and deregulation of the banking industry.  He was a cheerleader for globalization and the Internet to which he referred as the “new town square.”  Any time he needed a blip in the polls, which was often, he would bomb some country.  And it always seemed to work for him.

There was a lot of talk during the Clinton years about a so-called “peace dividend” following the end of the cold war which might be used to rebuild infrastructure, improve education and health care, and reduce poverty.  But that was not to be.

No quotation better illustrates the con artist which Clinton was then, “There is nothing wrong with America that can’t be fixed with what is right in America.”  But his all-time most preposterous lie was, “The era of big government is over.”

Early in his term of office, without any sense of irony whatsoever, George W. Bush proclaimed, “Free nations are peaceful nations.  Free nations don’t attack each other.  Free nations don’t develop weapons of mass destruction.”

During his first year in office he unilaterally abandoned a global warming treaty, rejected protocols enforcing a ban on germ warfare, demanded amendments to an accord on illegal sales of small arms, threatened to boycott an international conference on racism, and walked away from the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty with the former Soviet Union – the bedrock on which all subsequent arms control treaties with Russia rest.

In response to 9/11, Bush II launched a global war on terror against Islam – a war without end.  He also led the nation into illegal wars against Afghanistan and Iraq, both of which were justified on the basis of lies and half truths.

His policy of benign neglect of financial institutions and financial markets precipitated the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression.

And then there was Barack Obama who promised us all “hope and change,” and delivered business as usual.  Intelligent, articulate, and charismatic but wedded to Wall Street, Corporate America, and Israel.  Drones, Navy Seals, Delta Force death squads, kill lists and F-35s will be his legacy.  Risk aversion, manipulation, a seductive smile, and a complete lack of vision were all part of his persona.

Narcissism, arrogance, and myopia were among the shared values of our most recent five presidents.  Without exception they were each promoting some version of the myth that big tomorrows were just around the corner.  Yet none of them had a vision as to how to realize these big tomorrows.  How then is it possible that so many Americans still believe that by electing the right person president in 2012 that everything will be just fine?

There must be a psychological explanation for such an absurd state of affairs.  At the heart of this Pollyanna perspective is nothing less than the human condition itself – separation, meaninglessness, powerlessness, and fear of death.  Because we are separated, our lives lack meaning, we are powerless, and we are afraid of dying, we find ourselves drawn to these presidential hustlers in search of connectedness, meaning, power, and security.

Connectedness

According to theologian Paul Tillich we are separated from ourselves, from others, and the ground of our being.  Those who are separated from themselves are often lonely, paranoid, and afraid of death.  This form of separation can be precipitated by inconsistent parental support, childhood abuse, sexual abuse, religious indoctrination, poverty, homelessness, and an obsession with consumer goods, technology, and the Internet.  A second form of separation involves an inability to connect with other people either through personal love relationships or through a genuine sense of community.  So-called “reality television” engenders separation by promoting the McDonalidization of personal relationships.  A third type of separation results from a lack of depth or grounding in one’s life leading to alienation and detachment from one’s sense of being.

Separation may give rise to spiritual detachment, intellectual alienation, emotional anxiety, and physiological somatization – bodily complaints for which there is no evidence of any physiological illness.

Just as we turn to the Internet, FaceBook, and cell phones in search of community and human connectedness, so too do we turn to the Empire and its political leaders.  We have to be connected, no matter what the consequences and how bad they may be for us.

Meaning

The search for meaning, said novelist Walker Percy, “is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life.  To become aware of the possibility of the search is to be onto something.  Not to be onto something is to be in despair.”  Meaninglessness can lead to spiritual despair, intellectual nihilism, emotional depression, and even death.  It can also lead us to a plethora of illusory sources of meaning including affluenza, technomania, cybermania, megalomania, robotism, globalization, and imperialism, not to mention the repository of all that is meaningless and absurd, the Empire itself.  Is it any wonder that those whose lives are meaningless find themselves seduced by the likes of Reagan and Obama?

Empowerment

That citizens standing at the feet of a government which is too big, too centralized, too undemocratic, too unjust, too powerful, too intrusive, and too unresponsive to the needs of individuals and small communities should feel powerless should come as no surprise whatsoever.  The fact that this government is owned, operated, and controlled by Wall Street, Corporate America, and the Pentagon simply reinforces these feelings.  Spiritual emptiness, intellectual indolence, emotional trepidation, and physiological lethargy are not uncommon responses to feelings of powerlessness.

When the federal government fosters the illusion that only it can solve all of our problems all of the time, it is hard to resist jumping on the bandwagon and rolling with the flow.  The promise of power sharing can be an important inducement to sign on with the Empire.

Security

In his classic book The Denial of Death, Ernest Becker argues convincingly that most people respond to death by either fear or denial.  To overcome their fear of death many people seek the protection of an omnipotent intercessor such as a personal god or a priest, a rabbi, a physician, a psychiatrist, a shaman, or a mentor.  Still others turn to our political leaders.  Reagan and Bush I promised to protect us from the Evil Empire, an alleged threat they had spent years exaggerating.  Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II promised to keep us safe from Saddam Hussein.  After declaring war on Islam and demonizing all Muslims, Bush II created a gigantic Homeland Security and Defense bureaucracy to protect us from the Islamic menace.  Obama has enhanced the mix with drones, death squads, and kill lists.

While many fear death, others behave as though they were invincible and will surely live forever.  They pursue money, power, and control.  Affluenza, technomania, megalomania, globalization, and imperialism are also responses to the denial of death. Rather than confronting the pain caused by their fear of nothingness, some compulsive people, who are into denying their mortality, pursue careers as athletic superstars, political demagogues, business tycoons, movie stars, rock musicians, and television evangelists.  Those into denial of death often experience feelings of spiritual omnipotence, intellectual invincibility, emotional verve, and immortality.  They pretend to be bigger than life.

For those of us who are not able to become athletic heroes or rock stars, we can always identify with our national political leaders.  Through psychological transference we can live our lives vicariously through them.

Arguably, no American president has ever been able to exploit the denial of death syndrome more effectively than Barack Obama.  To millions of Americans on the political left he was thought to represent the Second Coming of Jesus Christ and surely was expected to be able to walk on water.  So intense was their psychological transference to Obama as a savior, that they are still unable to see him for what he his – a complete charlatan.

The Endgame

As facilitators of our search for community, meaning, empowerment, and security, our past five presidents represent abysmal failures.  If anything, they have actually contributed to our separation, meaninglessness, powerlessness, and fear of death.  For them what life is all about is money, power, speed, greed, violence, and the destruction of the planet earth.  Tomorrow has already arrived.

It’s hard to find much evidence that Albert Camus didn’t have it right on the money.  Life is truly absurd – particularly the American Empire.  Therefore, peacefully rebél against the human condition and the Empire, live life to the fullest, and indeed try to die happy.  Rebellion provides us with the faith to create meaning out of meaninglessness, the energy to connect with those from whom we are separated, the power to surmount powerlessness, and the courage to confront death.

Thomas H. Naylor

May 30, 2012

Founder of the Second Vermont Republic and Professor Emeritus of Economics at Duke University; co-author of Affluenza, Downsizing the USA, and The Search for Meaning.

www.vermontrepublic.org.