Thursday, July 24, 2014

Of 'White Flags' and the Subjugation of Government to a Corporate Order




Question: When is a white flag (actually a whitened American flag) hung atop a bridge (Brooklyn Bridge) a message by fed up citizens against the corporate -military spy state, and not the act of "terrorists", terrorist wannabes, or artists trying to generate an "art form"- as some in the dopey media insist?  

Well, when the medium used actually can constitute the basis of the message, as Marshall McLuhan first pointed out in Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man.  In this case, the message of the bleached out American flag to the point of whiteness, or "surrender" - might well suggest to many of us that the flag raisers wanted us to think of the surrender and subjugation of our actual government to the corporate state and the marginalization of citizens (mostly to consumers) that has transpired since.

Chris Hedges again (Empire of Illusion, p. 166):

"Our government is being wrecked by corporations, which now get 40 percent of federal discretionary spending. More than 800,000 jobs once handled by federal employees have been outsourced to corporations, a move that has not only empowered our shadow corporate government but also helped destroy federal workforce unions."

Hmmmm.....shadow corporate government. But ....what if the 'shadow' becomes so powerful, say in controlling our representatives - either by lobby-campaign money or other  blandishments - that the citizen becomes "Weimar-ized" to use Hedges' term?  That is, useful only very briefly to put the bought out reps into office, after which the infusion of money trumps the votes and the corporate order reigns supreme. In this case the shadow government has de facto taken over the representative one, you know based on "consent of the governed" and it mutates into a nightmare or farce based on "consent of the corporate order".

Maybe, just maybe, that was the message the Brooklyn Bridge flag raisers were trying to send but most Americans, including officialdom,  are too dumb to get it. (Another aspect: the location - as one newser explained last night - is right amidst a bevy of local and federal gov't buildings.)

But we haven't gotten to the most toxic component of the corporate-security shadow matrix, which has extended its tentacles all over the planet.  True, it had existed prior to September 11th, 2001, but following that event it went far beyond any "war on terror". No, it merely exploited the 9/11 event and the pseudo-lingo "war on terror"  to give comprehensive doctrinal expression to an overbearing imperial policy. This came in an official document, “The National Security Strategy of the United States of America,” issued in September 2002. In the world, it stated, only one economic and political system remained “viable”: the American one of liberal democracy and free enterprise.


But as I already noted (previous post) free enterprise has nothing to do with democracy.

As I quoted Chris Hedges (op. cit., p. 185):

Democracy is not an outgrowth of free markets. Democracy and capitalism are antagonistic entities. Democracy...is based not on personal gain, but on self-sacrifice. A functioning democracy must often defy the economic interests of elites on behalf of citizens, but this is not happening.

But see, because the corrupt corporate shadow government, i.e. the "SYSTEM"  e.g.
 http://brane-space.blogspot.com/2012/09/america-haters-uhhno-system-haters.html

sold us this bill of goods, we've been looking the other way while it's metastasized. Grown to the extent of a malignant cancer. Indeed, in its formalized "doctrine" it makes no bones about asserting that it reserves the right to "henceforth promote and defend this system by the unilateral use of force — preemptively, if necessary." 

REALLY? Neoliberal, corporate governance is that crucial?  Imposing slave labor and indentured servitude to the corporations is THAT important to the nation's security? Evidently it is!

The United States  by its "Bush Doctrine" reserved the entire field of military force to itself, restricting other nations to humbler pursuits- like keeping their cell phones and computers open to NSA snoops.. In the imperious  words of the  National Security Strategy:  “Our forces will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military build-up in hopes of surpassing, or equaling, the power of the United States. If the United States is displeased with a regime, it reserved the right to overthrow it — to carry out “regime change.”

In the world we have entered,” Bush Junior said, “the only path to safety is the path of action. And this nation will act.”


Indeed it will if the nation is entrapped in a ruthless corporate order- and is particularly hostage to the military -industrial complex which needs ever more money from the taxpayers to feed its insatiable maw. From this distorted frame of reference,  Bush's insane doctrine makes sense. Plus the fact that the Neoliberal-Neocon security state is dedicated to removing citizen security - and what better way than to bleed the coffers of government dry, via tax cuts and military spending?

Nothing fixes concepts and arguments better than a graphic, shown above. This ought to make mince meat out of former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates' claim this morning that:  "disengaging from two wars - in Iraq and Afghanistan - is tricky - and may lead the world to perceive we are disengaging from the world".

Oh, I think not, sir!  I believe the world would instead exhale in a collective sigh of relief that a newly minted Empire (since 9./11) has finally removed its meddling paws from two places it had no business invading in the first place. But only used the pretext of "pre-emptive" war to try to establish Neoliberal democracies - which tactics we were already warned about in Amy Chua's 'World on Fire'.  As Chua observed,you have to be prepared to live with whatever the result of the democratic outcome - irrespective of how much you may despise it. And if a country's infrastructure won't support Neoliberal markets, well you better suck that up too!

I mean, seriously, does the U.S. REALLY need 702 military 'installations' in 63 foreign countries (it has 4,471 bases altogether), according to the Defense Department's  2012 budget statement? ( Figures that don't include bases in Iraq and Afghanistan.) We're talking about our military presence in nations like Germany, South Korea, and Japan. ALL of these represent redundant costs since the wars that incepted the bases are now more than a half century over! While the total cost of these bases is kept secret, the best analysis I've seen estimates their ten-year cost at approximately $1 trillion. (Some like hedges and Seymour Mehlman - quoted in his book -  put that cost closer to $3 trillion)

Chris Hedges again (p. 165):

"The defense industry is a virus. It destroys healthy economies. We produce sophisticated fighter jets while Boeing is unable to finish its new commercial plane on schedule and our automotive industry goes bankrupt. We sink money into research and development of weapons systems and starve renewable energy technologies to fight global warming....

The massive military spending, aided by a $3 trillion war, has a social cost. Our bridges and levees collapse. Our schools decay, our real manufacturing is done overseas, and our social safety net is taken away. And we are bombarded by the militarized language of power and strength.."

As for Mehlman, as Hedges notes (ibid.) he actually coined the term 'permanent war economy' to describe the American economy.  As he notes, "since the Second World War the federal government has spent more than half its tax dollars on past, present and current military operations. It is the largest single sustaining activity of the government".

The problem is that it's undermining and destroying the nation, leading us to a dangerous precipice. A large part of this is the funneling of desperately needed funds to military programs, and the other part is the mammoth corporate welfare defense contracts afford. As Hedges observes:

"Defense systems are usually sold before they are produced and military industries are permitted to charge the federal government for huge cost overruns. Huge profits are guaranteed."

The Pentagon, Mehlman notes, isn't restricted by the economic rules of producing goods, selling them for a profit, then using the profit for further investment and production. No, it can actually make profits off WASTE.  This may also be why, as former defense spending analyst Chuck Spinney noted in 2002, nearly $1.1 TRILLION still cannot be accounted for by the Pentagon. Consider just the bogus F-35 fighter which has had numerous cost overruns and still exhibits defects and problems that may never be solved. Yet, 2,335 of these white elephants have been ordered at a cost of a third of a billion each (cost still going up). WHY?

Because we think we have a blank check - mainly from the likes of China and other creditor nations - and that gives us license to go on doing this forever. But the jig will soon be up and most of the sad and sorry lot who pass for "citizens" today won't even see it coming.

Hedges again (pp. 187-88):

"The bullet to our head, inevitable if we do not radically alter course, will be sudden. We have been borrowing at the rate of $2 billion a day over the last ten years and at some point it has to stop. The moment China, the oil-rich states and other international investors stop buying U.S> Treasury bonds, the dollar will become junk. We will become Weimar Germany.

A furious and sustained backlash by a betrayed and angry populace, one unprepared intellectually and psychologically for collapse, will sweep aside the Democrats and most of the Republicans."

The proverbial "pitchforks" will then come home to roost.

At that stage, a single raised,  bleached-out American flag over the Brooklyn Bridge will be the least of our security worries.  For make no mistake that an insane policy of unchallengeable military domination over the earth,  wrought at enormous expense to a nation's citizens, and accompanied by a unilateral right to overthrow other governments by military force, is an imperial, Augustan policy destined to end badly. A policy redolent of ancient Rome - and we know what happened to Rome by way of its military overstretch.

Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it, according to George Santayana. But is anyone paying attention?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Truth vs. Lies In Colorado's Fracking War



"If the Democratic party has become so isolated from its constituents it might want to reconsider its business plan." - Lafayette, CO resident Cliff Wilmeng quoted in The Denver Post, July 20, 1B

"America's most dangerous enemies are not Islamic radicals but those who have sold us the perverted ideology of free market capitalism and globalization. They have dynamited the foundations of our society."  - Chris Hedges, in Empire of Illusion, p. 151.

As the fracking wars in Colorado heat up it has become ever more evident that the Democratic Party is being fractured, and large numbers of usually pro-Dem voters will break ranks with the party in the upcoming November elections. Yes, this could enable the Repukes to make great strides including possibly taking a Senate seat (Mark Udall's) but people are sick and tired of "lesser of two evils" thinking. They also understand both parties are subject to the Neoliberal market imperative, so a stand must be made somewhere against it.

Chris Hedges puts the matter bluntly in his book, Empire of Illusion (p. 185):

"Those who run our corporate state have fought environmental regulation as tenaciously as they have fought financial regulation. They are responsible, as Polanyi predicted, for our personal impoverishment and the impoverishment of our ecosystem. We remain addicted, courtesy of the oil, gas and automobile industries and a corporate-controlled government, to fossil fuels. ....

Democracy is not an outgrowth of free markets. Democracy and capitalism are antagonistic entities. Democracy...is based not on personal gain, but on self-sacrifice. A functioning democracy must often defy the economic interests of elites on behalf of citizens, but this is not happening."

Two takeaways: First, any pol who doesn't grasp that democracy and capitalism are in opposition doesn't deserve to keep his job. He will then always be a capitalist-market Neolib toady and be easily bought and manipulated by corporate lobbyists.  He will always place corporate interests over that of citizens. Second, headway is starting to be made here in Colorado by two initiatives that are in the economic (as well as environmental) interest of citizens here. Both these would grant local control of fracking operations to local communities.

The precedent already exists - as of a few weeks ago as per an AP wire report published July 1 (Denver Post, p. 15A),

"New York's top court handed a victory to opponents of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas by affirming the right of municipalities to ban the practice within their borders."

This State Court of Appeals "affirmed a mid-level decision by an appeals court that said state oil and gas law doesn't trump the authority of local governments to control land use through zoning."

Which has been the case in this country for many years. Thus, a neighbor in a residentially zoned neighborhood cannot just suddenly decide to start a hog farm, or now - in Colorado - a marijuana grow operation. Local zoning ordinances prohibit it! The same clearly applies to the practice of fracking,  irrespective of its claimed economic benefits.  It doesn't matter! Whatever those benefits are they don't trump citizens' rights to proscribe the operations via zoning. Indeed, the whole practice of zoning was established to be able to exclude those intrusive, disruptive or inappropriate activities (including porno dives and pawn shops) that didn't fit in with a neighborhood's profile. I mean, Jeebus, why would any right-thinking citizen want pawn shops or sex toy emporiums right next to schools or their homes ? So why would you want a frack well right in your neighborhood?


Here in Colorado, the first casualty of the fracking wars is likely to be Dem Governor John Hickenlooper. He "cannot count on fracktivists' support" according to the Denver Post (op. .cit., p. 8B)  Why?

"The former geologist who is friendly to the oil and gas industry once infuriated the left when he told a U.S. Senate committee he once drank fracking fluid to show it was safe."

Actually, in a Colorado photo-op, this asshole picked up a murky glass of water he claimed was fracked water and drank it before a crowd. (Of course, the punk might have easily later - after the PR appearance- upchucked it all following the usual method of bulemics.)  But it showed most of us that 'Hick' is just a bought and sold corporate whore. As I recently told wifey, I'd vote for Mickey Mouse on the ballot before this turkey.  (Hick's Neoliberal treachery actually traces back to 2012 when he filed a lawsuit against Longmont for voting in fracking regulations which he claimed were "against state law")

Reinforcing my decision, as the Post went on to note (ibid.):

"Hickenlooper announced last week he will work to defeat the measures (for local regulation) if they make it to the November ballot, saying 'they risk thousands of jobs, billions of dollars in investment and millions in tax revenue'."

In other words, 'Hick' is determined to work against Colorado citizens'  health and environmental welfare, in the interest of more oil and gas "investment" and "thousands of jobs" - which aren't worth rotten beans if they generate polluted water, diminished fresh water reserves in a drought prone area, contaminated soil and air and hundreds of cancers of the liver, pancreas, esophagus, lungs, brain etc. As for tax revenue, the idiot Hick could get that in spades if he pressed for a level state tax field applied to retail and medical marijuana. Currently,  the latter is taxed much less, so that most Colorado buyers - naturally - will go via medical MJ route to get it as opposed to the retail route. By instead making both tax burdens the same (e.g. at the medical MJ rate), the state MJ tax revenue could radically increase.

More localities selling MJ would also drastically increase the retail outlets and the state tax revenues. While it's understandable many locales would prohibit retail MJ sales out of a false morality, I still maintain if given the choice most residents would opt for MJ stores as opposed to frack wells.

More lies:

Two former Colorado governors, Roy Romer (D) and Bill Owens (R) have appeared in a campaign "PR blitz claiming 'fracking has a 60-year track record of safety here with the toughest regulations and enforcement you'll find anywhere.'"


Which is total, unadulterated BS. If the enforcement and regulations were so damned great, then how is it the Denver Post (May 4, p. 1A.) could report:

"State data also show that 12.3 percent of the past 1,000 spills (since June 24, 2012) already had contaminated groundwater before companies began cleanups.”

Beyond the contamination of soil and groundwater, the Post's data analysis showed that drilling of new wells unearthed an estimated 652,000 tons a year of sludge-like drill cuttings. These are supposed to be taken to special landfills but more often than not  spread them instead on “leased fields” which were totally unregulated.

But see, corporate PR can get the careless citizen to believe anything. This is why it's so critical to obtain news from outside the corporate contaminated mainstream.

Why are Colorado citizens so energized now to the extent they would be willing to dump office holding Dems? Quoting Pete Maysmith, executive director of Conservation Colorado, a statewide group that works on issues of climate change and environmental damage:

"Now you've got moms - and dads for that matter- who are waking up and seeing a drilling rig just over their back fence or when they drop the kids off at the neighborhood school."

Regarding the new fracking methods which were never around 60 years ago and make use of far more intrusive technologies - that can go beneath homes, he notes:

"In the last few years, communities have identified this process as a threat to their health, safety and welfare."

If Colorado state reps then are truly OUR reps and not corporate -bought whores, we must expect they will support the citizen in his bid for a healthy environment not inundated by polluted fracking liquids, methane and soil contaminants. Again, this is because health and welfare trump economic investment and "jobs" - that are really environment destroying, invasive and debasing devices that benefit the oil and gas corporations for the most part.

Other lies that have been circulated include that "natural gas is less a greenhouse threat for the environment" and fracking is safe for water. For example, in respect to the first lie, in a subsequent examination (Denver Post, May 8, 1A) the article pointed out that scientists have found that Colorado's front Range oil and gas boom has been emitting three times more methane than previously thought. The rate, is 19.3 tons an HOUR. This is serious given the EPA has determined methane is 20 time more potent (i.e. higher forcing component) than CO2.   This study was done at the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration's Cooperative Institute for Research on the Environment.

As for water pollution from fracking, we already know the extent of it even if the frackers aren't totally forthcoming about disclosure.  According to a 2010 report obtained by Sen. Diane DeGette, the product of an inquiry by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, fourteen of the nation's most active hydraulic fracturing companies used 866 million gallons of chemical fracturing products, and more than 650 of the chemicals named in the report were known carcinogens . Among the choice chemicals documented as having been  injected into the  state's water supply:

- Benzene,, a powerful bone-marrow poison (aplastic anemia) associated with leukemia, breast and uterine cancer

- Styrene, which may cause eye and mucous membrane irritation, neurotoxic effects in the central and peripheral nervous systems.

- Toluene, which may cause muscular incoordination, tremors, hearing loss, dizziness, vertigo, emotional instability and delusions, liver and kidney damage, and anemia.

- Xylene, with cancer-causing (mainly in the kidneys, liver) and neurotoxic effects, as well as reproductive abnormalities.

- Methylene chloride, which may cause cancer, liver and kidney damage, central nervous system disorders and COPD.

Clearly, science is on the side of the critics and those who seek to have local bans on fracking, not on the frackers or their PR shills.



This November will determine whether Colorado voters have succumbed to the oil and gas industry's money (as 'speech') and lies, or seen fit to act as authentic citizens - not bought out consumers.

See also:

http://www.salon.com/2014/07/22/oil_and_gas_drilling_damaged_pa_water_supplies_over_200_times_in_the_past_6_years/

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Atheists Still Among Most Hated in US Of A - Along with Muslims

How Right wing Xtians see atheists.
How one nitwit, Reepo blogger portrayed atheists.

According to a new survey by the Pew Research Center, we now know which groups have earned the most vitriol in the good ol' US of A.. Atheists and Muslims actually appear to be in a statistical tie. While atheism itself is not a religion (it has no consistent belief system or rituals or sacred texts) it is often included in religious polls to help account for those who reject religion, instead of just non-affiliated believers. My own take, and it's just me, is that such surveys usually succumb to a dog whistle type of approach that arouses the supercilious sanctimony of most of the American faithful who thereby  invoke their fantasized moral superiority.

 But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves.

Given the absurdly  high level of xenophobia in the United States toward Muslims since 9/11,largely fueled by the Fox-heads, Murdochites and other Reich wing media,  it is not surprising, but it's still depressing to find these two groups  - containing many upstanding citizens - to be ranked so unfavorably. Worse, atheists are shuffled to the bottom and universally disliked by just about every religious group there is. WHY?
 
Why are  ‘Muricans so damned scared of us? Well, I suspect for the same reason they’re terrified of Ed Snowden (61% see him more as ‘traitor’ than patriot) and also because they lack the cojones to live their lives as authentic, critically thinking individuals – not merely consumers. So, they amble through the day scared of their own shadows and anything that smacks of being a threat in their little consumer toy world. They are also the toddlers who most want the NSA to change their panties for them, and keep them "safe" - probably lest those nasty Muslims and atheists come after them.

 But that's just my jaundiced view and it could be wrong, or an over-generalization. Anyway, let's get to the finer details.

Among those polled, atheists received a rating of 33 or lower (on a scale between 0-100) from 40 percent of respondents and only 20 percent of respondents gave atheists a rating higher than 67. (I warrant that this 20 percent are actually among the upper quintile of I.Q. in the country, that is, roughly 120 on the Wechsler scale. Hence, the vast majority dissing atheists are uniformly DENSAN.)

Interestingly, while many tend to conflate the U.S. with its evangelical Christian base, Jews and Catholics ranked the highest on the list. Noted Hemant Mehta on the Friendly Atheist blog:

“[…] When you removed Evangelicals from the survey, their own approval rating dropped from 61 to 52, suggesting that Evangelicals think much more highly of themselves than the rest of us do.”

What makes that so interesting is no other groups in the poll have that kind of drop if you remove them from the list. Meaning they may have less political leverage than even they believe. But again, this isn't terribly surprising. As the old cliché goes: "The squeaky wheel always gets the attention" and the evangelicals have received top political attention for so long precisely because they keep so much noise.  Jews and Catholics would more likely be favored because together they comprise more of the populace, and are also much less obnoxious than evangelicals.

But dishearteningly, the data also shows that no religious group likes atheists very much, and also atheists and  evangelicals both seem to be the archenemies of the US religious spectrum, ranking each other under 30 on the scale. I believe in the case of the fundies it's probably because they're so obnoxious with their 'Elmer Gantry' style mode of proselytizing. In the case of the atheist, I believe most critics are simply terrified of us - well, because people by nature fear what they don't understand and most haven't a clue what an atheist really is. (Many imagining the depiction in the graphic)

When it comes to the political demographic, Republicans really hate atheists, which they ranked at 34. The only group Republicans hate more are Muslims, which they ranked one point lower at 33.  This is not surprising, really, because we all know repukes are the most intellectually bankrupt, infantile, anti-scientific, and xenophobic bunch there is in the USA while atheists are among the most scientific, intelligent and independent thinking.  Hence, a mutual hatred would be expected!

Naturally also, among Republicans the stock of evangelicals soared, to a ranking 71, a full 4 points over the second spot held by Jews. This also is not surprising since an anti-scientific, regressive and knuckle-dragger party would naturally be enamored of a religious group that most reflects its anti-scientific, knuckle-dragger values. Or as they say in Barbados, “scheit stick to scheit”.

Democrats were slightly more favorable to atheists, but not by much. They ranked them 46, pushing Mormons under at 44, but were slightly more trusting of Muslims at 47. This also is not too surprising given most Dems today are nominal and basically unthinking  toadies of the corporate state. Since consumption and making money are what’s most important to them, they would not trust a group that appears so “anti-American”, i.e. as to refuse belief in a deity.  (Besides still believing that “most atheists gotta be commies”)

Why is hatred for atheists so universal? This is far from the first poll to suggest that atheists are the most hated religious group (or non-religious group) in the US. For reference, a  2011 poll found that US citizens trusted atheists on par with rapists. With this kind of fervent hatred and distrust, what does the future hold for a group so hated in their own country? Not much – and I would advise any atheist who wants to run for office to latch onto a Potemkin religion – just for show – first. The large native nitwit populace certainly won’t cast votes for you otherwise, even if you’re running for the school board!

 Earlier, in March of 2006, a University of Minnesota study by Penny Edgell, Associate Professor of Sociology, and co-authors, Doug Hartmann and Joseph Gerteis  disclosed that atheists occupied  the bottom rung of social respect for minorities in American society. At that time, we were regarded as contemptuously as communists were in the 50s, and rated in social worth below Muslims, immigrants and homosexuals.[1]

The 2006 study noted that a significant number of respondents associated atheism with an array of moral misbehavior, including criminality and materialist emphasis. In addition, the findings “seemed to rest on a view of atheists as self-interested individuals who are not concerned with the common good.”[2] 
 
This take is nothing short of astounding given that as a nation and people, Americans are notorious for giving short shrift to the “common good” as evidenced by consistently voting for no-tax, low tax or tax cutting candidates. This despite the fact they know the outcome will starve government of the resources needed to advance the needs of the vulnerable, such as the 17 million kids currently on food stamps - and deprived of enough food because of last December's cuts to food stamps. Seems to me then that these Americans are projecting their own self-interest, miserliness and disrespect for the common good on atheists! We know that this psychological projection is a common device when people feel inferior to, or bested by another group. So they project their own defects onto the hated, perceived superior group.

The truer fact is that Americans (especially the Reeptard crowd who are hardest on atheists)  may not like to confront, is that the U.S. has been committed to a rugged individualism since the country’s founding. The historic confluence of free market capitalism (exalting such individualism) and evangelical Christianity probably occurred in the U.S. ca. 1885 with the publication of the Rev. Josiah Strong's book Our Country, Its Possible Future and Its Present Crisis, [3]

As author Richard Hofstadter notes, the acceptance of Social Darwinism in the U.S. coincided with the visit of Herbert Spencer in 1882, for a speaking tour. Spencer, for those unaware, was a British philosopher who sought to extend the principles of natural selection in Darwinian Evolution, to society as a whole.  As Hofstadter also points out[4], Spencer absolutely repudiated all state assistance to the poor, needy, physically feeble, or infirm. In terms of the role of natural selection in “social evolution” such aid amounted to unwanted artificial interference in nature. Not to mention, meddling in the “natural development” of a superior society.

We know the Rightist-corporate elite (including many of the ‘robber barons’) latched on to this as a kind of dogma, and then performed another “miracle” of sorts, by blending this hyper-individualism with Christian virtue (proto-Calvinism and its work ethic), and a strict, constructionist view of The Constitution.  That Americans forget this basis for rejecting the common good in the national zeitgeist, while blaming atheists for it, is nothing short of amazing in terms of hypocritical acrobatics. Or it perhaps discloses a tragic absence of historical knowledge or perspective. (Or psychological projection as I already noted.)

In general, the respondents believed they “shared a basic sense of moral right and wrong” with everyone but atheist fellow citizens. Difficult to comprehend when the bulk of those actually in prison for major felonies are members of one religion or the other! And this study emerged after more than 30 years, during which Americans have been led to believe by their media that the seeds of social tolerance had finally sprouted.

 That  these "Americans", who pride themselves as being inheritors of the principles of liberty from John Stuart Mill, Franklin, Jefferson and others, could descend to such an abominable level of prejudice was appalling in itself.  That it could still manifest in the 21st century is even more outrageous.

Of course, author Morris Berman has noted another, more depressing alternative: that graciousness, tolerance and humanity may no longer be possible in a nation (in the words of Nicholas von Hoffman) rife with a collection of “asses, dolts and blockheads.”[5] A people that choose to live in a self-fabricated  consumer and media fantasyland, or a bubble cut off from all reality. The question is why any sane, rational and well-informed atheist should take a cue from such a forlorn lot or allow their prejudices to dictate future behavior.

The only response of a rational atheist is to laugh these demented yokels off and make common cause with the Europeans who at least have grown up enough (most of them) to doff the religious nappies..



[1] University of Minnesota News, March 31, 2006, “Atheists Identified as America’s Most Distrusted Minority, According to new U of M Study.”
[2] Ibid.
[3] See, e.g. ‘The Vogue of Spencer’, Chapter 2, in Richard Hofstadter: Social Darwinism in American Thought, American Historical Association, 1955.
[4] Op. cit., pp. 41- 42.
[5] Morris Berman: Dark Ages America: The Final Phase of Empire, W.W. Norton & Co.. page 282. Berman cites a number of authors, including Hoffman, who agree most Americans live in a bubble divorced from reality and take their truth directly from an untrustworthy government or corporate media allied with them, rather than finding it out by their own research and independent thinking.

Yes, Those Detention Camps Are REAL and for YOU!

Martial law: (def.) The law imposed upon citizens by a national military force when civil authority has broken down or during military operations.

"The loss of civil liberties by the American people is probably the biggest thing that's happened in this decade. Now, we no longer have habeas corpus. Any president can decide that you're an enemy combatant and put you in a military prison without trial, without lawyers, without access to your family...indefinitely. Whether you're a citizen of the United States or not. They now have active military battalions on duty - under the North American Command - ready to go and act as police in any city of the United States.

They have built detention centers throughout the country, $350 million that went to Halliburton, to expand detention centers and be prepared for martial law" - Peter Phillips, Former Director Of Project Censored, and now Direction of Media Freedom Foundation.

In the previous post I examined Chris Hedges' exposure of Ivy League institutions as seed beds for elite control of the country,  spanning the areas of business, economics and politics. At the end I also referenced Thomas Frank's quote of Obama to the effect that he was the "only thing" standing between investment bankers and "the pitchforks". The latter is the metaphor used for public or populist outrage at any given shenanigan or even national policy. At its extreme, if investment bankers or any other elites really had anything to fear, it would be mass insurrection or revolution - with the Right and Left finally coming together to oust all of them and who knows what else. Think of the Ukraine- Kiev  uprising back in March but magnified one million times.

The U.S. Neocons and their allies cheered while the "pitchforks" came out in the Ukraine and ousted the democratically elected leader, Viktor Yanukyovich , but don't think for a second they or the national security state would tolerate the same thing here. Say if millions across the nation got violently disaffected with economic conditions and acted out.  In this sense there's always been a measure of hypocrisy but Official Washington used to at least pretend to stand for “democracy,” rather than taking such obvious pleasure in destabilizing elected governments, encouraging riots, overturning constitutional systems and then praising violent putsches - while removing all possibility for such at home - including elimination of habeas corpus (via the Military Commissions Act of 2006, and setting up the COG and Main Core programs as well as expanding corporate -constructed detention camps.

Of course, mass popular insurrection directed at the elite corporate power structure is the corporate security state's worst nightmare. (As Chris Hedges notes, op. cit., p. 177: "The emergence of the corporate state always means the emergence of the security state.") And they have also harbored incessant fears of its realization since the 1960s, especially with probabilities increasing as economic conditions and inequality worsen. But mostly they've been able to keep the anger at bay via the use of the media - to create umpteen diversions to titillate the masses and anesthetize them, or ply them with so many choices they can't decide whether to shit or go blind, far less grab a pitchfork to take out an elite. See e.g.

http://brane-space.blogspot.com/2014/07/media-and-human-attention-whos-to-blame.html

For a long time I admit that I dismissed the crazies on the Right - who endlessly yapped about "FEMA concentration camps" - as whackos, nuts and loony tunes. Their conspiracy theories - including of UN  black helicopters, gave all conspiracies (even legitimate ones like Watergate and the Kennedy assassination) a bad rap and rendered them easier to lampoon by the media cynics. However, after seeing the film "Project Censored the Movie" and extracting further documents based on it, including from  the Project Censored archives i.e.

http://www.projectcensored.org/14-homeland-security-contracts-kbr-to-build-detention-centers-in-the-us/

I became convinced the Righties were basically on to something. They just got the time line a bit wrong. As researcher Peter Dale Scott points out in an update to the Project Censored article (in the above link), it was actually under Reagan that: FEMA’s former plans ‘for the detention of at least 21 million American Negroes in assembly centers or relocation camps’  had arisen.  The basis was to obviously prevent mass riots such as occurred in the 1960s in hundreds of American cities. The reasoning is that Reagan's planned "Reagonomics" supply side impositions would so badly extirpate the social support programs for many African-Americans that it would be intolerable.

But the Righties failed to go to the next level, which was the construction or expansion of existing detention facilities by KBR - an offshoot of Halliburton, soon after Bush Jr., Cheney and that lot revamped the COG (continuity of government) program to include a wide swatch of "domestic terrorists" and malcontents.  Indeed, in the movie, a map is shown of all the detention facilities expanded by KBR, stretching from California to New England. Clearly, the elites hatched out of the Ivies (see previous post) and controlling our nation's destiny aren't about to go quietly into that good night.


As I noted in a previous blog post:

 According to the 9/11 Commission Report (p. 326; cf. p. 38), "Contingency plans for the continuity of government" were implemented on September 11, 2001. But what measures were invoked remains unclear, though Giuffrida’s template was believed to be integrated into it and former Reaganites were in the WH at the time, who had shared earlier in the architecture (Rumsfeld, Cheney etc.)


 Those suspicious of what COG means today have pointed to a number of post 9/11 steps to facilitate the implementation of martial law, including the creation of a new military command (NORTHCOM) for the continental United States. They note also Homeland Security’s strategic plan “Endgame”, whose stated goal is the creation of detention camps designed to "remove all removable aliens," including "potential terrorists."


- Even worse, later mutations of COG under the Bushites  equated political dissent with treason. (Now we know why the security state was so hot to trot to squelch all OWS protests, including beating the living shit out of them when they tried to approach Wall Street and the Stock Exchange!)

In regard to the last, the definition of "terrorist" was expanded to "domestic terrorist" by congress in 2001, to include:

"…activities that involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State; appear to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States"


According to the ACLU, “this definition is broad enough to encompass the activities of…prominent activists, campaigns and organizations.”  That includes Occupy Wall Streeters and anyone who protests the Keystone XL pipeline!


Most concern has been expressed at the Main Core program which one knowledgeable source claims that 8 million Americans are now listed in Main Core as potentially suspect. In the event of a national emergency, these people could be subject to everything from heightened surveillance and tracking to direct questioning and possibly even detention.”

Those who think this is a joke or conspiracy theory nonsense are not paying attention, especially on how the hammer of the security state was brought down on Occupy Wall Street protestors two years ago.  See e.g. http://www.thiscantbehappening.net/node/1494

All of this, of course, facilitated by the NSA's mass surveillance programs - XKeyscore, MUSCULAR, PRISM etc.

The Elite power structure also knows these mass warrant, 4th amendment violating programs are essential, not for "terrorists" or to prevent terror attacks, but to get a handle on who all the potential domestic trouble makers are if a mass eruption does break out.  As Chris Hedges observes (p. 177):

"As the pressure mounts, as this despair and impoverishment reach larger and larger segments of the populace, the mechanisms of corporate and government control are being bolstered to prevent civil unrest and instability. ...This is why the Bush White House pushed through the Patriot Act (and its renewal) , the suspension of habeas corpus, the practice of 'extraordinary rendition', the practice of warrantless wiretapping on American citizens, and the refusal to ensure free and fair elections...

It's all part of a package, It comes together. The motive behind these measures is not to fight terrorism or to bolster national security. It is to seize and maintain internal control."

Hedges notes that the real purpose for these programs leaked out in the course of a Senate Intelligence meeting in February and March, 2009.  That was when then Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair testified that the "deepening economic crisis posed the gravest threat to stability and national security".  It could "trigger" he said, "a return to the violent extremism of the 1920s and 1930s." The implication was that the immediate means and infrastructure needed to be brought up to speed to identify and detain those who might adversely affect corporate state security. The widespread NSA programs, as exposed by Snowden,  followed almost immediately in the wake.

Were Blair's worries justified?  Of course! Because no normal human or mass aggregation is prepared to be shat on their heads forever, exploited and ground under like so much dirt while the elites enjoy their weekend golf jaunts to St. Kitts, as their wives get costly rose wine wraps, e.g.
















Oh we also wouldn't want to deprive them of their special gold -lined bath tubs, and $25,000 apiece Frrrozen Haute Chocolate delicacies now (see below), would we?

 Oh wait, I mustn't do that! No, no and no! That's waging "class warfare" on the little turds!


But you get my point! Just presenting these class warfare images could easily entice the next President - god forbid Ted Cruz or Paul Ryan or that porker Chris Christie, to declare me an "enemy (of the rich) combatant" and have me dragged away to one of those KBR made detention centers.

But the sad fact is one guy raising hell on his blog is mostly going to elicit a big yawn from the elites. The truth is that most Americans are so hypnotized by their little consumer toys, Ipads, smart phones and Facebook that they're nowhere near to being discontented on a level to inspire a Kiev-like insurrection against the corporatists. And a large part of this is the zombie media saturation as well as the false statistics, such as the consumer price index, that Chris Hedges notes the power structure uses to keep people baffled with bullshit.

Want to know the sad truth in all this?  The people most likely to get riled up and take it out on all our hides, whether in domestic bombings (like Oklahoma City) or para-military standoffs (like Waco incident on Clinton's watch) will be the radical Right. As Hedges grimly observes (p. 183):

"As the public begins to grasp the depth of the betrayal and abuse by our ruling class; as the Democratic and Republican parties expose themselves as craven tools of our corporate state; as savings accounts, college funds, and retirement plans become worthless, as unemployment skyrockets and home values go up in smoke, we must prepare for the political re-emergence of the reinvigorated Right wing radicals."

In other words, we may well be put on a track analogous to that in 1932-33 leading Germans to the nightmare of the Third Reich. Only our version will be much worse, since a Right wing controlled NSA- say with a Ted Cruz at the helm as President- would be vastly more powerful than the Nazi Gestapo.

See also:
http://www.smirkingchimp.com/thread/jaime-oneill/57092/the-spoils-of-class-warfare

http://www.smirkingchimp.com/thread/dave-johnson/57086/corporate-tax-deferral-inversions-and-the-destructive-result

and:
http://www.salon.com/2014/07/22/a_much_larger_and_more_dangerous_movement_right_wing_militias_thrive_post_bundy_and_the_media_wont_talk_about_it/

Monday, July 21, 2014

Why the ‘Ivy League’ Universities Really Comprise the Corrupt League – In Politics, Econ, Business


The Gaussian Copula Formula (top) used by economists to justify credit default swaps, and the Pareto distribution - used to justify the allocation of most wealth to the richest. These are two illustrations of the bunkum taught at 'elite' universities to subvert economics in our nation and the world at large.











It was actually a comment from a nitwit poster on a Guardian (UK) forum that caught my eye. It was in response to a previous poster’s eloquent contribution and a citation of Prof. Stephen Cohen of NYU.  The response comment read, taking on the source of the citation:

From a 2nd rate prof at a 3rd rate university”

Really? Are there ‘third rate’ universities? In fact, not so much these days and hence the inexplicable  yen for so many t0 blow hundreds of thousands of bucks to  compile massive debt just to get into an Ivy league school for the sake of name cachet.  Or tens of thousands more merely to make futile efforts via applications, to enter the magic, golden doors.  The fact is, it makes very little difference which university you attend (assuming it isn’t a ‘for profit’ or online version). It is more the cachet and reputation of the specific department.  From the May 2011 issue of MONEY magazine: "Don't assume an Ivy League education is better than one from a public or state university."

However, as Chris Hedges observes in his remarkable book, ‘The Empire of Illusion’ it is the “Ivies” – the likes of Harvard, Yale, Princeton and others,  that are the source of a continuing flow of zombot, unthinking elites poisoning our nation and the world. To be clear,  this lot are being disgorged in specific academic areas, namely business, politics and economics. Their toxic views are infiltrating the memosphere and reinforcing the hegemony of the elites and their stranglehold on the country – including the ongoing inequality.

Thankfully, their scientific and math contributions remain relatively uncontaminated – unless they’re in the areas which receive corporate grants to support oil shale and natural gas fracking, or GMO foods. In astrophysics, for example, they’re generally fine.

Hedges’ takedown chapter is III: The Illusion of Wisdom and he comes out swinging for the fences with his opening paragraph (p.89):

The multiple failures that beset the country, from our mismanaged economy to our shredding of Constitutional rights to our lack of universal health care to our imperial debacles in the Middle East, can be laid at the door of institutions that produce and sustain our educated elites. Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, Oxford, Cambridge, the University of Toronto and the Paris Institute of Political Studies, along with most elite schools, do only a mediocre job of teaching students to question and think. They focus, through the filter of standardized tests, AP classes, enrichment activities, high-priced tutors, swanky private schools, entrance exams and blind deference to authority, on creating hordes of competent systems managers. “

Adding:

Response for the collapse of the global economy runs in a direct line from the manicured quadrangles and academic halls in Cambridge, New Haven, Toronto and Paris to the financial and power centers of the world.”

 
This is a breathtaking accusation but Hedges can fully back it up with his examples and citations. Nor is this simply a matter of “sour grapes from a loser” since Hedges did in fact lecture at Princeton for years. But what he shows is that the tolerance for divergent thinking in these assorted elite faculties and enclaves is almost non-existent. Hence,  the examples he provides shed light on the extent to which all the above named schools “disdain honest inquiry – which is by its very nature distrustful of authority, fiercely independent and often subversive.”

They therefore would have little tolerance for a remarkable political thinker like Neoliberal gadfly Henry Giroux,  who for many years was Waterbury Chair Professor at Penn State. But on account of his work and resolute critical voice (one of “the most vocal critics of the corporate state and destruction of American education”) he was driven to the margins of academia in the United States. The Neoliberal sock puppets and their assorted lackeys simply couldn’t abide his independent research and critical thought and so drove him to Canada where he now teaches at McMaster University. (Certainly not a ‘3rd rate school’ if it has the likes of Giroux!)

But Giroux is only one of  many examples of the minds marginalized because of their outspokenness.  Hedges also cites those such as Noam Chomsky (linguistics prof from MIT),  consumer advocate Ralph Nader, the late historian Howard Zinn and others who are shut out once they critique the system keeping us all down, as serfs in the alleged ‘land of liberty’.

How do these wretched intellectual pretenders get away with this evisceration of faculty and critical thought? Well, by an entrenched and well-rehearsed, embedded template that sifts all yearly intakes to find the individuals that will be the most easily molded - the most confident carriers of the elite virus and zombie ideas. (Mainly, as Hedges also notes, little dweezils that follow their profs all around -  groveling-   while also grafting for 4.0 in all their subjects.)

As for the zombie ideas forced down the willing throats of these sycophant students, like:  “money is speech”, "corporate personhood", "free markets", "globalization"  and “trickle down economics”, they ought to have died ages ago .  But all are sustained via the publication of specious, pseudo-academic bullshit for which the dumpster would be the only rightful place in a rationally run institution of higher learning.

Hedges details the methods at the outset of the chapter:  

They organize learning around minutely specialized disciplines, narrow answers …it allows students and faculties to retreat into these self-imposed fiefdoms and neglect the most pressing  moral, political and cultural questions.”
 
And then later elaborates some more (p. 103):
 
"This is what the Harvard Business School method is about, a didactic system in which the logic employed to solve a specific problem always, in the end, sustains market capitalism. These elites are not capable of asking the broad, universal questions, those staples of an education in the humanities, which challenge the deepest assumptions of a culture and examine the harsh realities of political and economic power. They have forgotten, because they have not been taught, that human nature is a mix of good and evil. They do not have the capacity for critical reflection. They do not understand that for every answer there arises another question- the very basis behind the Socratic method's search for wisdom."

 
One of the ways this occurs is the use of specialized vocabulary.  Thus, the pseudo-intellectuals or “quants” that helped develop the Gaussian Copula formula (see embedded graphic at top) were quite confident that when they applied it to the development of credit default swaps  few would figure them out before it was too late. Indeed choosing the name for this bastardized form of credit derivative ensured that they’d be virtually home free. On account of the arcane lingo used and the complex nature of the underlying formula, few ordinary mortals would have the time, intelligence or temperament to get to the bottom of it all.

These nasty devices were geared to enable commercial banks (the ones that hold your passbook savings) to leverage their assets to preposterous ratios just like investment banks, sometimes as high as 33:1.  In other words, their generation of profits would largely be based on phantom money – since they lacked the reserves to make good if the bets (which is what the credit defaults swaps were) failed. In the meantime, the Gaussian formula itself allowed the credit derivatives to be sliced and diced numerous ways to package them throughout ordinary securities such as collateralized mortgage obligations.  The failure of the credit agencies themselves to recognize this enabled them to be outfoxed by the specialized lingo and the presence of one fraction of ‘AAA’ bonds in each. This  then led directly to the misrepresentation of junk bonds as AAA and the collapse of the credit markets in 2008.

Since then  it’s become ever more evident why elite economics is a failure and can’t even be regarded as a science like Physics, or even in a “pre-scientific phase” as one respondent (Sanjay Bissessur)  to an original  Financial Times letter of mine showed. But economists' failure to even appreciate or use the Gaussian Copula formula correctly shows that they aren't even in the pre-scientific phase. And Bissessur’s pathetic efforts to compare the incident to “early physics” was plainly based on false analogy and disclosed his own lack of critical thinking.

 
In the case of the Gaussian copula, invented by David X. Li  and articulated in his (2000) paper: ‘On Default Correlation: A Copula Function Approach”  it isn't even a true mathematically sound equation analogous to those used in physics or celestial mechanics.. It is more an intellectual Frankenstein monster that never should have seen the light of day any more than a four-headed baby with a pointed tail. For example, Li's misuse of the distribution functions (FA(1)) and (FB(1)) would appall any genuine mathematician or physicist. Each is actually based upon significant uncertainties via survival law distributions which can vary enormously. There is no way to normalize any probability based on (TA, TB ) so there is no way to equate Pr[TA, TB] to anything on the left side. The equal sign is dangerous recklessness masquerading as math. Did elite economists or quants know any of this when they cranked out their credit default swaps? The evidence of failure to predict the 2008 credit crash shows they didn't.

All of which supports Hedges’ condemnation of these mental zombots, i.e. p. 98:

“They cannot grasp that truth is often relative. They base their decisions on established beliefs such as the primacy of an unregulated market or globalization, which are accepted as absolutes.”

 
In other words, they inhabit a self-confected, solipsist world of illusion devoid of critical, empirical testing or critical thought. I mean, Jeez, if any one of these so-called geniuses would have just taken the time to understand WHAT he was doing in applying the Gaussian Copula to credit derivatives he’d likely have seen it was the equivalent of a physicist taking a tiny piece of special relativity and trying to inject it into areas (i.e. thermodynamic systems at room temperature)  that had no relevance because the primary criterion (speeds near c, the speed of light) were not being met. But see, that sort of moral value perception would also have required a moral dimension to their research and its applications, and all the elites lacked it in spades.

At least physics has and uses empirical testing before advancing to hard claims  – so the odds are less that physicists will make asses of themselves. Not so with these economic, political elites.   Unlike astronomers,  who can accurately predict the position of Jupiter or Mars in 2050 or the next lunar eclipse or occultation of a star, the economists can't even predict simple stuff in their immediate domain - say like forecasting the U.S. economic growth would be 3.2 % in 2011 when it was only 1.7%

So why do we keep paying attention to these overpaid clowns? Just because they have Harvard, Cambridge, Princeton, Stanford or whatever degrees after their names? Well, mainly because the politicos who achieve high office (and have similar backgrounds)  tend to install them in their cabinets so instead of being relegated to some corner office behind the hallowed walls of ivy, they have the ear of Presidents and Prime Ministers. These clowns can then help determine national policy which result is usually to the detriment of the rest of us. (Think of the 'chained CPI' gimmick that Obama once entertained.)

Which elicits the question of whether Obama is caught up in this elitist matrix. It was clear in his recent salon.com piece Thomas Frank believes so, as he writes:

"The Obama team, as the president once announced to a delegation of investment bankers, was “the only thing between you and the pitchforks,” and in retrospect these words seem not only to have been a correct assessment of the situation at the moment but a credo for his entire term in office. For my money, they should be carved in stone over the entrance to his monument: Barack Obama as the one-man rescue squad for an economic order that had aroused the fury of the world. Better: Obama as the awesomely talented doctor who kept the corpse of a dead philosophy lumbering along despite it all.

The Age of the Zombie Consensus, however poetic it sounds, will probably not recommend itself as a catchphrase to the shapers of the Obama legacy. They will probably be looking for a label that is slightly more heroic: the Triumph of Faith over Cynicism, or something like that. Maybe they will borrow a phrase from one of the 2012 campaign books, “The Center Holds,” and describe the Obama presidency as a time when cool, corporate reason prevailed over inflamed public opinion. Barack Obama will be presented as a kind of second FDR: the man who saved the system from itself. That perhaps the system didn’t deserve saving will be left to some less-well-funded museum."

In other words, Frank's take is that Obama has helped to preserve and sustain the defunct market capitalism system taught at the elite schools, as well as the whole corporate hegemonic infrastructure. What does Chris Hedges think? He writes (p. 113):

"Obama is a product of the elitist system. So are his degree-laden cabinet members. They come out of Harvard, Yale, Wellesley and Princeton. Their friends and classmates made huge fortunes on Wall Street . They belong to the same clubs. They speak the same easy language of privilege, comfort and entitlement. The education they have obtained has served to rigidify and perpetuate social stratification."


Not that Obama is any different from Clinton before him and worst of all his immediate predecessor,  Bush Jr.,  who we learned benefited as a "legacy student" at Hah-Vahd. Hedges observes (p. 102) that Harvard sports something called the "Z-list" wherein 25 to 50 well-connected but borderline applicants "are told they can enroll if they defer for a year". Hmmmm.....nice trick if you can get it.  Especially if your pappy happens to be a wealthy SOB that can bestow personal grants on the universiy!

Will this corrupt system ever change to benefit the larger society? Not likely! So long as corporate money, personal wealth and advantage are extolled above principles, honor and moral decency, the myopic, amoral elites will lead their blind, greedy and obsequious students, the blind politicos and the rest of us (who aren't so blind) into oblivion. In this light, Hedges'  words are perhaps most trenchant (p. 103):

"A culture that does not grasp the vital interplay between morality and power, which mistakes management techniques for wisdom, which fails to understand that the measure of a civilization is its compassion, not its speed or ability to consume, condemns itself to death."

Will the elites take any notice of this and act to change their ways before the pitchforks really come out? Hardly! They are too smug, self-satisfied and arrogant to take seriously anything an outside critic has to say.

Which more or less resembles the stance of the French elites before the pitchforks - and guillotines - came out (during the French Revolution) , to lop off thousands of elitist heads and send them rolling into barrels.



Sunday, July 20, 2014

Remembering the Apollo Moon Landing - And How Far Our Manned Space Vision Has Regressed

Neil Armstrong on the Moon, July 20, 1969
Forty-five years ago, at roughly 4:10  eastern time this afternoon,  I'd just returned from an Introductory Astrophysics class with Prof. Sabatino Sofia at the University of South Florida, and trekked to the Beta Hall Commons. There,  nearly 40 students had already gathered to watch the Apollo 11 Moon landing and the first time humans set foot on our natural satellite..

Within eight minutes of my arrival - watching the black and white images on a 22" TV set - Neil Armstrong slowly stepped off the landing ladder and uttered some of the most famous words ever spoken: "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.".   Most of us then envisaged a great space future, with this event only the warm up. I mean, after the fantastic film '2001 - A Space Odyssey' - which had just opened a year or so earlier - we had visions of space stations and Moon colonies dancing in our heads - not to mention trips to Mars by the turn of the century.

What spawned the Apollo project? Space historians go back to May 25, 1961, barely 3 weeks after Alan Shepherd's successful first sub-orbital trip in the Mercury capsule. At that time President John F. Kennedy addressed a joint session of Congress and asked for a joint commitment to 'landing a man on the Moon and returning him to Earth', within the decade. Thus began America's biggest, costliest and most ambitious effort ever, rivaled only by the building of the Panama Canal and the Manhattan Project's building of an atomic bomb.

It would take just over 8 years to fulfill the vision, which included disastrous mishaps such as Apollo 1, in which Gus Grissom was killed along with fellow astronauts Ed White and Roger Chaffee during a pre-launch test at Cape Canaveral on January 27, 1967. Despite the setback and other problems that came up, the vision remained in place.

On July 16, the Apollo 11 crew was launched aboard a Saturn V rocket topped by the 'Eagle'  lunar module, arriving on the dusty surface of Tranquility Base 4 days later.. As commander, Neil Armstrong was first out of the module and walking on the Moon, followed by Buzz Aldrin. Alas, somebody had to remain behind and that was command module pilot Michael Collins who was responsible for being the 'gatekeeper' - in lunar orbit.

The success of the mission met with resounding public approval and the U.S. emerged as leader in space faring after a string of losses to the Soviet Union. This was despite the final cost tally of $20b or about $80b in today's dollars. There followed six landings in all through 1972 with 12 men  having explored the Moon. We  spaceniks wanted more - including the establishment of lunar colonies, to show the whole Apollo deal wasn't a flash in the pan for PR. But it wasn't to be.

What happened? Short story: the country painfully learned it couldn't support "guns, butter" and manned space exploration all at once. There wasn't enough money to do so. Recall a short time earlier Johnson's 'Great Society' programs were launched and before that - the Vietnam War - after a concocted incident in the Tonkin Gulf in August, 1964.

Indeed, as the red ink bled, both from the war and LBJ’s “Great Society” programs, it was evident by 1971 that: a) the Apollo missions would have to be truncated, and b) the manned space program – if kept – would devolve and diminish to a low Earth orbit substitute of earlier aspirations. When then President Richard Nixon (just before his Watergate crisis) confronted NASA’s administrators in 1972, they were basically informed of the writing on the wall: Either come up with a much tailored down program for manned space exploration, or have nothing at all.

Given the choice between something and nothing, NASA chose the first – which meant pursuing the less costly Space Shuttle program, already on the drawing boards. Alas, since the Shuttle was really designed for re-supply of existing space stations and none existed yet, this meant it would be constrained mainly to ‘show and tell’ events in low Earth orbit. There were no other choices, it was either this, leading on to the eventual substantive Shuttle missions 20 years later, or no manned flights.

And so the nation's manned space vision had begun to dim and recede.

Once Reagan assumed office in January, 1981, the constrictions on spending for space grew much more formidable, thanks to his massive tax cuts (going from a maximal marginal rate near 70% to 28%) and the $2.7 trillion defense spending spree (which combination was in fact responsible for converting us into a global debtor). Naturally, in this anemic and hostile (to space spending) fiscal environment the screws tightened even more on NASA and they were forced to lowball cost estimates and cut corners for future flights. The latter included ramping up an already overly ambitious launch schedule. If they didn’t do this, they’d be totally left out of the manned space budget. In these circumstances, the Challenger disaster must be understood and referenced- as the ultimate result of excessive cutting corners, and rushing launch schedules (the Challenger never should have been launched under those frigid conditions – and the O-ring risk had been noted by engineers at Morton Thiokol)

By 2011, and the final launch of the Space Shuttle Atlantis, the U.S. had basically reached its nadir in space exploration. Now, three years later, the U.S. is still dependent on the Russians to get crew to the Space Station. Without the Russians allowing our illustrious guys to "hitch hike" on the Soyuz, there wouldn't be any Americans in space.

To me, this 'beggar thy neighbor' motif,  along with the capitulation of  national manned space programs to the private sector, shows how far we have regressed in vision and acumen along with the symbols embodied by our collapsing bridges, sewer lines, water mains ......and the fouling of our air and water by natural gas fracking. Not to mention squandering nearly 80% of current budget expenditures since 1969 on military BS and other wars of choice (Iraq, Afghanistan.)  We have thus become a nation in monumental decline, though pie-eyed,  false hope pols and others brainwashed by PR refuse to see it.

U.S. space junkies, some of them, assert the U.S. will soon have its own program back, thanks to private outfits like Space-X. But from my vantage point, that is years away, if ever. I'd even be amazed if they have a manned craft ready to go to the IST in 3 years. (Robot craft are one thing, but you need lots of redundancy with manned craft and private companies are more likely to cut corners for profit.)  I will bet it's more like five years, again, if ever. Space-X  truth be told, is a pale imitation of the NASA -government funded space program we once had until too many wars of choice made it unaffordable.

To underscore my justifiable skepticism, I can refer to an April 7 article  from The Denver Post to the effect Space X is filing suit against Colorado- based UAL which has an AIR FORCE contract worth $70b to use Russian-made rocket engines.   Hmmmmm......wonder why that is? Because they're MORE RELIABLE! As a UAL spokesperson put it: "We've been using them (in Atlas rockets) for twenty years now".

So why - without meeting QA test criteria, would the AF give a contract to Space X? Well, because they don't believe that outfit is ready yet to handle its ELVP (Expendable Launch Vehicle Program) demands.   Instead of squallering like brats and babies whose nappies are soiled, Elon Musk and Space X need to show- by meeting the Air Force's standards,  how and when they can deliver better quality engines than the Russian ones used by UAL.

Most serious space junkies that I've talked to are appalled at how far we have receded in our space vision and the commitment to manned space exploration - which is emphatically not a 'gimmick' or ploy to hook the hoi polloi. It is the only means by which we can eventually leave this planet and colonize another world, because - as Isaac Asimov put it in his 1976 Barbados lecture: "Only a foolish species would leave all its eggs in one planetary basket."

Right on! Let's hope our species gets some smarts before the next 'planet killer' asteroid arrives.