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Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.

HL Mencken

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As the dust settles from the electoral frenzy of the last 18 months, and the victor, Donald John Trump, begins to form the government of his choice, what had been made clear for the last decade in his behavior, spoken words, and actions, is being underlined in the exact same gilt packaging in which he has always shown his inclinations. His choice for his own Chief of Staff is Steve Bannon, the captain of a far-right website, Breitbart – where racism is the norm, and who himself has stated his intention is to destroy the government. (He was once a Leninist, so he’s said.) Thus for his choice for Attorney General is a good old boy of the South, Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, a man whose racism was so evident he could not be confirmed as a Federal Judge in 1996. His choice for Defense Secretary is an aggressive narrow-minded ex-general who has made his view of Islam blatantly clear.  For Secretary of the Treasury, and other financial positions, he’s chosen gilded Wall Streeters intent on dismantling the modest restraints imposed after 2008’s collapse.  And so on down the list, as DJ Trump spins us up a full-tilt oligarch’s government.

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Or…

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Oh, happy days. Or perhaps once the edifice is fully constructed and in place, and it begins its work, perhaps it will be:  Oh, unhappy daze. We’ll see.

static2-politico-comSteve Bannon, alt-right Chief of Staff (and apparent alcoholic)

Meantime the Republican party is showing itself, even more than in the primaries, to be composed of a collection of obsequious frauds whose only evident principles are to hold on to any straw, however obscene, to grasp at a shred of governmental power. Those who once preached of “family values” now suck up to a twice divorced self-confessed pussy grabber, whose track record in business is to have constructed a real estate and media empire out of serial bankruptcies, and who has, by his words, been “smart” to avoid Federal Taxes for 18 years while living the life of a prince. The trail of those come to his court in Trump Tower or at one of his golf courses is fouled with those who only months ago loudly declared Trump to be unworthy as a human or as a politician to occupy the office he will soon take. The hypocrisy is beyond measure, though it seems no one in the Republican party bats an eyelash at it: the party stands as naked as the King.

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Out in the heartland, those abandoned citizens of the the Rust Belt, of the million collapsed rural towns done in by agribiz, of the small factories wiped out with globalization and robots, all gaze towards the despised mecca of New York, and imagine (still) that this showman who has so fully conned them, will overturn the hated guvmint, and all its regulations and rules, and bless them with “freedom” along with jobs and good old all-American happiness wrapped in the red white and blue, as he “drains the swamp.” As they dream he’s stocked the swamp with all manner of class-A alligators hailing from Wall Street to the hallowed halls of corporate boards, with a good dose of military enforcers added to the mix. And, of course, the alt-right.

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These same denizens of the vast interior of America, who by and large are the major recipients of Federal largesse in the form of subsidies for agriculture, oil and gas, Medicare and Medicaid, military bases littered strategically about “out there,” siphoning off far more from Washington than they send in taxes, are likely in for an ugly surprise from their leader. Rather than jobs, their Social Security and Medicaid will be stripped away, replaced with vouchers which will line the pockets of still more for-profit services. Obamacare will be dismantled and replaced with more dubious and costly schemes. Meantime taxes will be cut not for them, but for the wealthiest among us, who will gorge themselves on yet more. This will all be done while the President twitters deep into the night, his own distraction-shill dazzling the victims of his charade as they are left ever further behind.

Out in the heartland for a considerable slice of the folks the real reward will be the general social OK to say “nigger” or “wetback” or “slant eyes,” and congratulate themselves that the White House once again is white, like it was meant to be. Yes, racism and myriad other prejudices, submerged in the coastal elite’s program of PCism, will roar back unfettered, though, as usual, wrapped in Biblical rectitude and patriotic gore.

article-kingsims-11253 White Supremacists wanted for murder this week of black man in California

Once the shock for the coastals and islands of inland urbanity to this election result has shaken off and a clearer eyed view is taken, some things stand out bluntly enough:

+ Of the electorate, of those eligible, barely half voted. Of those who voted, several million more chose Clinton over Trump nationally, but owing to the peculiar institution of the Electoral College (originally established to protect the interests of those founders who employed the peculiar institution of slavery), Trump won courtesy of the “winner take all” system, such that winning Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Ohio by margins of 10,000 votes or less, he was able to pick up all the Electors. The bottom line is that a “loser” won, by gaining the approval of less than 25% of eligible voters.

+ The simple reality is that approximately half of the eligible electorate decided, for whatever their reasons, to sit out this process, pointing directly to the systemic rot of our political system and its two permitted parties. Each is so corrupt in its own way that half the could-be voters can’t be bothered with engaging them, and another third of the country – not eligible owing to age, to former felony convictions (a great percentage based on race matters), or being unable owing to dubious “legal” machinations designed to cut down voting rights, to being too old to function – are simply cut out of the deal, their views discounted 100%. The bottom line is that not quite 60 million Americans out of 360 million citizens voted for Donald Trump, and our corrupted political system bequeathed him the Presidency. Something is very wrong in this picture, and it is not just Donald J. Trump.

+ In the past decades the Republican party has done as much as it could, legally, to restrict voter eligibility in areas where it had the political power, or by gerrymandering, to control voting outcomes on a local level. It clearly intends to pursue this practice more fully now that it has control over all the elements of the national government. While mouthing platitudes about the virtues of “democracy” the GOP does whatever it can to restrict voting to their kind of people (white – suburban and rural, the very wealthy), and where unable to do so with “legal” rules, it has carefully gerrymandered many states so that “librul” votes are compacted into a few districts, and reliable GOP ones are spread “liberally” about. On top of this present matter is the old one of the Electoral College which tilts heavily to thinly populated rural places, like Wyoming or Montana, where each voters’ weight is proportionally far greater than those of voters in places like California, New York or Connecticut, etc. The GOP has no interest in altering this original scam.

+ Since Reagan’s deregulation of the airwaves and deleting of the requirement of equal time for differing political views, the right – financed by major economic powers – has constructed a vast communications system in talk radio, cable TV and Fox News. This system, used as a blunt propaganda instrument for 3 decades now, with no obligation to be even vaguely truthful, has, along with a willfully dumbed down educational system, produced a brainwashed public sold the Republican ideology as a near religion. It operates almost unopposed throughout the middle of the nation, being the primary “news” source for citizens from Pennsylvania though the mid-west and into eastern Washington, Oregon and inland California. It has worked wonderfully for those interests, if not really for the public to which it has been administered.

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Cumulatively these factors have allowed the right-wing of American politics to carry out a slow-motion putsch, or coup – culminating in Trump’s victory in which less than 20% of the population chose, through the warped mechanism of the Electoral College, to impose Trump upon the Nation.

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As The Donald assembles his cabinet and fills other governmental offices with a mix of strident Right-wing ideologues, Wall Streeters, and a few alt-right (aka neo-Nazi) sorts, we can figure we’re in for some very rough sailing. Rather than making any effort at unifying the country, Trump appears dead-set to do all he can to fracture it, the better for he and his cronies to, as it were, “make a killing.”

And so on January 20th, in the pundit speak of cliches, “No Drama” Obama will turn over the office of President of the United States to Trumpolini, the ultimate Drama Queen, who seems to need a daily fix of shock and awe to keep himself interested in himself. Thanks to a totally corrupted political system, which is emblematic of the society it is sourced in, the Nation and the world will be subject to a sequence of on-going shocks, the consequences of which could collapse the global economy, will be highly damaging to the fragile ecological state of the world, and even lead to a world war with nuclear weapons. Not so distant history has seen the catastrophic results of having sociopaths elevated to being the leaders of powerful nations. The 20th century is an object lesson in precisely that, though it appears most Americans now have a dim regard for history if it cannot be compacted into 140 characters.

Screen-Shot-2012-01-30-at-11.46.39-PMH L Mencken, the Sage of Baltimore

“No one in this world, so far as I know — and I have searched the records for years, and employed agents to help me — has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.”

— H.L. Mencken, “Notes on Journalism” in the Chicago Daily Tribune, Sept 19, 1926.

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In a profound miscalculation, the myriad powers-that-be in the USA have inadvertently ushered in a new era, definitively abolishing the general framework that governed America and the globe since World War Two.  Those powers – often masked from public view – had constructed a complex social/economic/political edifice composed of corporate business interests, the military-industrial complex (which naturally includes corporate interests), and media (corporately owned), all bound together with an ideological glue of American nationalism embodied in a kind of mindless patriotism of flag, (and for some Bible, guns and grits), and capitalism.  As famously stated, “The business of America is business.”

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It was the ideology of American Exceptionalism, which Hillary Clinton recently extolled, and as the heaving crowds of Trump’s fans echoed as they chanted USA USA USA!  This ideology is seen expressed in the countless VFW halls in small-town America, in the national genuflection to our military – “the finest and best” – and in the blind and usually totally provincial insistence that the United States is the greatest country on earth, goddammit!   Most insistently this is said by those who never set foot in another place, unless in the military.

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Since 1945, at the conclusion of the WW2, America stood as the singular industrial power still standing, with marginal losses, and wielding nuclear weapons to boot.  It had put the 30’s Depression era aside and largely unchallenged it proceeded to install itself as an unstated empire, taking most of Britain’s holdings and those of others.  The emergence of the cold war with the Soviet Union, and then the Chinese, propelled this process, which had moved rapidly in the 1950’s, such that the former general and Republican President, Eisenhower, cautioned us against the dangers of our emerging military-industrial complex.  We paid no heed, and in the following decades the linkage of the military, corporate interests and the media were bound ever tighter, as we expanded our military force beyond all reason aside from maintaining a stranglehold on global natural resources – especially oil.  And we sought to maintain political control with the installation of puppet governments game to kow-tow to Uncle Sam.  While we intervened in South East Asia, in the Middle East, in Central and South America, and Africa, our corporate controlled media largely dismissed what we were doing by simply not reporting it.  America was too busy imagining itself as Ozzie and Harriet while it stitched together its far-flung “business holdings” backed with its military might.   In the aftermath of the American loss in Vietnam, the collusion between the military-industrial complex and the media became such that for the most part our adventures abroad were simply not reported, as the body-counts in Vietnam had proved toxic to our imperial ambitions.  Instead the American public was led into a fog of permanent propaganda, whether officially, from the mouths of government speakers, or unofficially in the onslaught of 24/7 television, Hollywood films, and talk radio.  We were “exceptional” so we told ourselves, somehow exempt from judgement and from history, or from the consequences of our actions on the world stage.

Americans were constantly told theirs was the richest, best country on earth.  They were not told that they were but 5% of the world’s population while they consumed 25% of the globe’s resources.  They were not told that in order to acquire this imbalanced share of the world’s wealth that it required robbery, rape, mayhem and political knavery of the worst kinds.  Nope, instead they were told that America was “good,” a shining city on a hill, and that whenever we were forced to intervene out in the big bad world it was to be the White Hat bringing the blessings of democracy or freedom or something “good” to those we were bombing and robbing blind.

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When 9/11 came our slumbering public was blind-sided, completely unaware of American meddling since the early 50’s (and far earlier) in the middle-east.  In turn the vast majority were easy marks for Bush’s imaginary WMD and Rumsfeld’s it’ll-pay-for-itself easy war.  From the fraud of Bush’s failed Presidency, Americans leaped at the do-good chance to erase the stain of our slave state origins and deep racism, and elected a good Harvard trained establishment man, Barack Obama.  Nice as his outward appearances were, Barack was a company man, and did his duty while liberals swooned and ignored the brass knuckle business being quietly conducted – drone assassinations, more military meddling, economic strong arming, and, well, America as usual.  We were “defending our national interests,” however far from our own shores.  “From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli” is how the marine hymn has it, since forever.

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In 2016, still limping from the 2008 economic collapse with which the Bush administration departed, with many still seething at the failure of Obama to pursue those responsible (bankers, big corporate execs), and others likewise angered at the failure to bring Bush and company to account, the US political atmosphere was transparently smoldering with anti-establishment resentment.  The success of Trump in the Republican primaries, as well as of Sanders with the Democrats, was evidence enough for even the thickest minded.  And yet the Democrats, enmeshed in their narrow horizon Beltway vision, did backroom dirt to shove Sanders aside, and plowed on with their anointed one, HRC.  Backed with a phalanx of political pros, pollsters, billionaire funds, pundits, and their own arrogant presumptions, they poured hundreds of millions of dollars into advertisements, a slick convention, and endless polls – all for naught.  Like the CIA with the collapse of the Soviet Union, all the professional wisdom in the world failed to perceive the obvious, and Clinton came up short in the Electoral College on November 7th.

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The shock waves still reverberate as Donald John Trump prepares to take on the Presidency, surrounded with sleaze in the form of Rudolph Giuliani, Chris Christie, and a cluster-fuck of others, including the editor of a strident right-wing website, Breitbart, and a Vice-Presidential side-kick ready to attempt to impose mid-western fundamentalist Christianism on the nation.   I would not pretend to predict what Trump will or won’t do, or what it will do to our polity.  During the campaign (and well before) he did open a can of very ugly worms, and in doing so legitimized them as OK for public discourse.  I doubt he can, as President, make a U-turn, and stuff all the vile things he has said and done back into that can.  Welcome to Pandora’s not-nice box.  Of course the truth is that this can of worms was sitting there under the pressure cooker of the nice world of PCism.  Naturally it stewed and festered, and now we will have its off-spring running the White House – Mr Bannon looks to be Chief of Staff for President Trump, which promises a very rough ride.

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses the crowd at the South Carolina African American Chamber of Commerce in North Charleston, South Carolina, September 23, 2015. REUTERS/Randall Hill TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Who to blame?  Most obviously, first in line is the Democratic National Committee which was as corrupt as Trump suggested.  Hillary Clinton was their girl, and despite the obvious evidence of Sanders’ primary successes, and those of Trump, they stuck to their insiders game plan, awash with money, all those experienced “professionals” and drove themselves and the country, and perhaps the world, into a ditch.  They did it in plain sight, and carried on despite numerous warnings that it was not the season for more “Change You Can Believe In” nor for “Stronger Together” sloganeering, but for up-ending the Establishment.  Ah, but if you are the Establishment, what do you do?  As demonstrated in this election, you stick your head up your butt and pretend it ain’t happening.

But it was, and rather than taking the path offered by Sanders, the DNC persisted, and handed us Trump on a silver plate.

Some of the rest of the blame belongs to the American right-wing which, since Reagan, has flooded the national psyche with hysterical radio, Fox, et al, with 24/7 propaganda, and, aided and abetted by the Clinton gang, let corporate interests run roughshod over the public interest in the form of trade agreements, privatizing education and prisons and whatever else they could grab, producing a dumbed-down populace in thrall to celebrity and money and the miracle of capitalism.  Trump is the natural result.

That Trump, a Queen’s kid with a massive chip on his shoulder and a chronic loser himself, should pick up the chips may seem surprising but in the warped landscape of America circa 2016, it is perfectly logical even if his syntax and vocabulary aren’t.  Frankly half of America cannot speak English decently and I am not talking about the ones who happen to have Spanish or some Asian language as their first tongue.  Nor am I talking only about the uneducated whom Mr Trump asserts he loves, but rather the millions of dubiously “educated” college kids who are gifted with grade inflation while being unable to construct a coherent paragraph in our corrupted universities, many of which are more interested in football income than in the “liberal arts.”  Reading, writing and arithmetic hardly covers the bases.   These folks want “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces” in which to obscure their helicopter parented ignorance.   In this America Trump is a natural.  His vulgarity, sexism, racism all slides nicely in with a large portion of the population who in fact think and feel just like that, especially when put into the pressure cooker of the new gig economy.   Trump has given them their voice, and promises they they too will enter the Valhalla of a glittery gold-plated coal mine or factory, and a future in the New Again Great America.

Well, good luck with that.  Though, frankly, while there likely would have been some softening of the rougher edges for some had Clinton won, those who voted for Trump in anticipation of working in the West Virginia or Kentucky mines, are more likely to find out they’ve been mystically turned into canaries.   In fact it appears that all Americans have been so morphed, as we move into the post-WW2 “American Century” of the last 75 years, and enter a new era, with all the volatility which radical changes always bring.   Whether Americans will take kindly to being weaned from their imperially enforced quarter of the global goodies for their 20th of the globe’s population is doubtful.  Or for giving most of that “stuff” to a tiny minority of people – like their new President – while in time honored fashion, they feast on the crumbs falling from the table.

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Mr Trump’s first wife, Ivana, tells us that her ex-husband’s bed time reading when they shared their lives, was Mein Kampf,  the story of an aggrieved failed artist and corporal who went on to leave a significant imprint on history.  Mr Schicklegruber reinvented himself in a highly theatrical manner, in a period of extreme economic and political stress in his time and culture.  The sophisticated world of Beethoven, Hegel, etc. succumbed to his wiles and his prejudices.  And paid a price.

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Donald Trump was a kid from the Queens who got a nice head-start from his hustling father.  Bedazzled by the classier folks across the East River, he moved to Manhattan, out to impress those people, with his string of sexy babes, his golden towers, his beauty contests and casinos.  His nouveau-riche garishness failed to win their favor, and while happy to play with his money, Donald was never really accepted by the toney East Siders and Wall Street honchos. The chip on his shoulder grew bigger and bigger, and he had more and more to prove, revenge to take, scores to settle.  He ran for President, and despite being reviled by almost everyone – the Republican establishment, the pundits, the intellectuals, the security experts, Wall Street, the hipwasie, the Democrats, and the Hollywood clans and monster pop stars, not to mention the minorities whom he joyfully slandered – he won.

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My crystal ball is occluded, though history provides some clues where things might go.  That well thumbed book at his bedside might be a place to look.

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Item pertinent to this, worth the read:

http://forsetti.tumblr.com/post/153181757500/on-rural-america-understanding-isnt-the-problem

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In the frantic last days of our national election mania, in this year of 2016, each day awaits some new internet routed disclosure, private beans spilled into public view of the (alleged) perfidies of Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. In the last weeks we’ve been treated to Trump’s sleaze on the Hwd Access tapes, to the coming forward of 12 ladies to accuse his highness of doing what he says he likes to do and can do courtesy of his wealth and fame, to Wikileaks revelations of inside dope on the Democratic National Committee’s machinations, and most recently to the Comey/FBI innuendos extracted from the dubious Anthony Weiner’s laptop lapdance. Each day seemingly offers yet another exposure of the sordid underbelly of America’s Id, as if we’d morphed into a TV noir in which Sgt Friday’s mantra is inverted, and it’s “the rumors, just the rumors” which are in demand. Facts, truth – WTF are those?

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In the hyper-acceleration of “information” thanks to the nano-second nervous system of our new digital world, ADDS shunts our attention around in loopy contortions: fact-free and factful merge into the same realm with no time to think. It is the political equivalent of high-speed trading in which a millisecond’s advantage can be leveraged into vast winnings. Never mind those winnings might evaporate in the next minute as ever new revelations sour the public consciousness. Such is the miswired collective neural system we have constructed for ourselves, like an elephant wired to regard a mosquito as a major threat instead of an almost unnoticeable irritant.

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Whatever the outcome of Tuesday’s trek to the polls, what is sure is that the coming years will be a season in hell for the US, and sadly, as we are far too powerful on a global scale, a hell for the rest of the world. Should Trump win (not seemingly likely, but….) all bets on anything are off – he is simply too wild a card to predict anything except in Silicon Valley-speak, we can be sure he’d be a major disruptor, if only from an out of control ego and transparent incompetence at anything aside from conning. He has successfully so far proved a handful of American dicta: “There’s a sucker born every minute,” and “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.” If, as the polls thus far suggest, 42% or so of the American voting public are hot for Trump, the proof is staring us in the face. We’ll know on Nov 8 whether another dictum holds: “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but not all of the people all of the time.”

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Should Hillary Clinton emerge victorious, we will enter a presidential term utterly lacking the positive energy which attended Obama’s start. Instead the atmosphere will be instantly curdled, with a sizable contingent of the liberal/left having voted only to keep Trump away and not “for” Clinton, and with a Republican party in disarray with the apparently single unifying element to be as hostile towards Clinton’s term in office as it was towards Obama’s. Or more so. Already talk of impeachment, endless Benghazi, email server and other matters to be “investigated”, and a refusal to accept any Supreme Court (or other lesser ones) appointments. The Republicans have in effect said if they cannot govern, then no one will. This will make for yet another four years of governmental dys- and malfunction, in which certainly the House, and perhaps the Senate, simply decline to “do the work of the nation” with the intention of making Clinton yet another “failed President.”

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As America, and indeed the world, faces unprecedented pressures and emergencies in the form of population growth, immigration, resource depletion, and the ever increasing real life consequences of global warming and all its complex effects, we will have a government paralyzed for idiotic parochial reasons. Internally we are divided along geographic lines, along urban/rural, along regional matters of genuine import: water, economic disparities, then, perhaps most importantly, deep cultural rifts (including plain old all-American racism). The United States simply are not united. The fracture lines run deep, and seem unbridgeable. For some decades now my hunch has been we will fall apart much as the USSR did – owing to excess investment in militarism, collapsing infrastructure, vast economic divides between a ruling political/economic elite, and the rest of the populace. And, as in the USSR, wide cultural divisions among the members of “Union.” A prescription for dissolution.

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Of course Americans have been raised on the myth of our “exceptionalism”, and so they too perceive themselves as monolithic, powerful, special, “exceptional.” As do Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump – on this I am sure they will agree big league, or bigly. Neither of them will level with the American populace, which itself is broadly not inclined to do so either, and acknowledge the ugly truth that the USA which constitutes 5% of the world’s population, and occupies 7% of the earth’s land, consumes 25% of the world’s resources. It manages this feat by operating a global empire backed by overwhelmingly the world’s largest and most powerful military, which enforces US economic policies, which are often extortionary and constitute theft in a suit, along with political and cultural leverages which gift America with one quarter of the world’s “wealth” while being only one twentieth of the world’s population. And, of course, within the USA the dispersal of this wealth is heavily skewed such that 1% own and control 80% of the wealth. A wealth which they use to distort domestic politics, and to dictate foreign policy. So yes, we are “exceptional” – in our voracious greed and the evils necessary to feed that greed, and in our communal self-delusion that denies this disproportionate wealth, and how we obtain it.

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Hillary Clinton is a firm believer in the concept of American exceptionalism, as well as in using our vast military power to enforce our economic empire across the world.  Should, as is expected, she win the office of President, she will surely pursue American foreign policy as in the past.  Having Kissinger as a friend and advisor, as well a other members of the neo-con and neo-liberal camps who have guided US policy in the last half century, suggests more of the same on tap.  The anger of both the left/Sanders people, as well as that of the right/Trump people seems unlikely to be assuaged by a Clinton administration, though surely she will try to soften the anger with domestic programs intended to help those on the lower rungs of our warped economic pyramid.  Whichever way the vote falls on Tuesday the immediate future appears fraught with the bitter tastes of the long electoral process now coming to a close.  The cleavages in the nation look to deepen with – as already demonstrated in the Oregon Malheur case – armed rebellions a clear possibility.  The crystal ball is looking rather opaque.

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A little item I found after writing this, pertinent:

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“The pure products of America go crazy.”  William Carlos Williams

The endless cycle of the great American electoral farce is, once again, in full swing, this time with a menagerie of characters drawn from the deepest swamps of the national id.  On the Republican side have been up to 13 figures, each pandering to the furthest right-wing Tea-party strains of the once (at least to some) proud Grand Old Party, and each backed with the greasy fluids unleashed by the Roberts’ Supreme Court  ruling Citizens United which averred that we must avoid even the appearance of corruption, while instead, and perfectly in keeping with American tradition, we have leaped whole hog into the trough of billionaire slush money, tossed shamelessly and taken shamelessly by puppet candidates whose capacity to lie is equaled only by their pure venality.  Scrapping like poorly trained fight-dogs, snarling and posturing in a contest of who can rhetorically act “strong” while debasing themselves and the nation with true puerility.  Watching these would-be Presidents snap, and bark at one another, while chorusing their utter hatred for Obama (clearly because he is Other), is a spectacle suitable for….  For a nation hooked on Octagon cage-fights, guns, bloated SUV’s and war.

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While out in the wider world the consequences of American policies reveal themselves in manners oblique and blunt, our GOP candidates collectively stick their heads in the sand.  Refugees from AFTRA “globalization” wade the Rio Grande; refugees from the American-made war-ravaged middle-east flood Europe and beg admission to “the land of the free” which denies them (while its northern neighbor welcomes them); refugees from the early effects of global warming flee from drought-impacted worlds, soon to be joined by those fleeing from low-lands inundated by rising oceans.  Domestically these candidates stoke the flames of paranoid hysteria over “terrorists” while saying and doing nothing with regard to the 33,000+ Americans killed by guns each year.  Stats show each incident of gun-play lines the pockets of arms manufacturers with another spike of sales, as a minority of Americans arm up to Stand Their Ground, open and conceal carry, to take on the “bad guys” lurking in every theater, church, or Planned Parenthood clinic.   As the NRA asserts, “The sound of guns is the sound of freedom!”

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“I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. . . . corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.”
—U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, Nov. 21, 1864

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A nation of immigrants, though from the viewpoint of the actual natives, of invaders, the US seems ever to have tangled with its origins.   From the very outset it imported Africans, as slaves, whom it used and abused for 500 years, and the nation still cannot come to a passable accommodation with this ugly original sin.  The vitriol aimed at its first half-African president in the last years has merely underlined the underlying racism which animates our society.  Primarily settled in the 1600’s by Anglo-Saxons, the nation recoiled when Europeans from other places began to enter: the Irish, the Italians, Jews, Chinese – basically anyone not fitting the profile of the original WASP settlers of New England and the East Coast.  It is a long, old, and very tired story.  It is, alas, us.  As is our electoral circus, and the process by which we select those who supposedly lead us.

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In the debased lingo of our permissible political language, there are only two real parties, though periodically, for very short terms, others try to horn in on this limited spectrum, and are hastily brushed into the historical trash can.  The two are our supposedly traditional parties of the Democrats and the Republicans, who curiously inverted themselves over 150 years.  The cleavage, crudely, has been a party “of the people” vs a party “of business.”   In recent times both these parties have been essentially taken over by corporate interests, with the distinction that the Democrats seek to mollify the resentments of an ever increasing left-behind class of blue-collar and middle-class sectors by softening the blows of economic consolidation and the concentration of wealth in an ever smaller circle, by offering social programs to make economic decline a bit more tolerable.  The Republicans on the other hand seek to exploit those resentments, casting race, religion and economic stations against each other, while stripping away the modest safety-net the Democrats offer.   The result, largely, is a Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum choice, which results in an apathetic electorate, in which real solutions to social problems are ignored, and our politicians tend to servile ass-kissing of the economic/corporate powers that actually determine our political situation.

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In this cycle, a modest wrinkle has been tossed in the mix with the participation of a self-named “Socialist,” or, a bit more exact, “Social Democrat,” running for the Democratic nomination against the heavily favored establishment candidate, Hillary Clinton.  Bernie Sanders, despite the utterly dismissive treatment delivered by the mainstream media (statistical analyses show that he gets 20 seconds of air time for 82 minutes on Trump), in what is a transparent effort to censor him, in recent polls runs better than Clinton and beats any Republican in head-to-head contests.  However the corporate Democratic establishment has already convinced most the nation that she will be heading the ticket.  And, given the behind-the-curtain realities of American politics, they are probably more than right.  However, that despite the absence of coverage and the disdainful treatment his candidacy, Sanders polls remotely so well, is indicative of the deep undercurrent of unease which the body politic is showing – whether in support of Trump or Sanders.  Both tap into the economic squeeze which is in play: Sanders with programmatic solutions, and Trump with bluster.  Of course our corporate media gives the show-man all the coverage and does its best to reduce Sanders to a Pravda-style “non-person.”

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In Paris in recent weeks, following the terrorist events of the last year, the high-priests of the globe’s political caste all met to discuss, still again, the matter of global warming and its dire consequences.  Several weeks of wrangling produced an agreement a mere 50 years too late, and as customary, toothless.  Humanity will plow ahead, dumping tons of carbon into the atmosphere.  China and India will burn coal (as will the US and Europe and…), Americans will buy SUVs to run to the shopping mall, passenger jets will criss-cross the sky endlessly, VW will lie about emissions, the oceans will continue to acidify and rise, the Greenland icecap will melt, and perhaps in another ten years, as the catastrophic real price of foot-dragging shows itself (as if it hasn’t already), the world’s elite will gather again to discuss how to fortify their high-ground redoubts from the masses of people who are landless, without food, jobs, or the minimum requisites of life.  Though surely by then World War III will have begun the cull.

 

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Back home, as our candidates mince around the real problems before us, and instead raise the specter of terrorism, promising to unleash the full powers of American military might on those ever present Others, to whom of course we have never done anything bad to arouse their anger, we are gifted with reminders that we are exceptional, the greatest nation ever, ever #1!   Such is the deluded rhetoric with which we dress ourselves, as we march over the cliff.  The coming elections, asserted (as usual) to be a turning point in our history, offer us, most likely, a Republican ready to scorch the earth of all Muslims, enlarge our already bloated military, delete as many social safety net programs as possible, and toss more $$ to the 1%, and then a Democratic corporate honey who, in keeping with party tradition will more or less retain social programs, though like her husband did, cut them here and there, make cozy with Wall Street, and more or less continue business as usual.  Some choice!  But it is the American way, the choice offered in our corrupted, decadent alleged Democracy which is really a Wizard of Oz show.  And most often a highly successful one: how many Americans accept that 9-11 was a carefully designed and executed scam, one even announced some years before in the PNAC document of 1998?

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Back in the good old days, when the USSR existed, and America had a different monolithic moral threat to warrant the building of our massive military, it was a practice of the apparatchiks there to carefully, if rather crudely in pre-Photoshop days, edit history, or even the present, and indeed they had sufficient hubris to imagine they were actually editing the future.  Aside from the simple matter of deleting undesirables from the ideological narratives spun by Lenin and Stalin, and then by the lesser figures who followed them – by killing their opponents – they felt the compulsion to snip away at pictures and texts, to make such persons simply disappear:  if there were no pictures and no texts, the person was expunged from history.  They became, as the term was used in the Soviet Union, a “non-person.”

It was not only political figures who were subject to this treatment, but also cultural figures – some of whom were indeed dispatched with a bullet, but more likely, at least in the latter phases of the USSR’s history, they were exiled to some remote setting, and never mentioned again in public.  Out of sight, out of mind.  It was a regular practice applied to any who  diverged in their writing, painting, poetry or films – or even science – from the official  line.  In hindsight, of course, the figures subjected to this social banishment constitutes for the most part the best of Russia’s intelligentsia of the time, as well of the satellite members of the old USSR.   After all, the Soviet Union, like more or less all political and social entities, became totally corrupted, and the official story was that this was not so.  Anyone brazen enough to speak of the Emperor’s New Clothes would be exiled, silenced, and turned into a non-person.

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Of course in the USA, this supposedly doesn’t occur.  Never mind that our current President, surely like all those before him, doesn’t hesitate to liquidate American citizens, and others ungraced with this Constitutional advantage, under some legalistic rubric, just as Stalin did.  Politics at that level  – whatever nice verbiage we wish to drape over it and whatever deliberate self-delusions we like to entertain – is hard-core life/death stuff in which killing “enemies” is s.o.p.    And of course, in America’s culture the phrase and concept of “non-person” is not used.   As it were, “we don’t do that.”  Just like we don’t do “torture.”

Well, we may not use that phrase, but we do something almost exactly the same, and for largely the same reasons.  Probably we’d use a different phrase, with seemingly a different meaning.  The phrase might be “dropped out of sight” or, “well, fashions change,” or, if one is of a younger cohort, “she’s old.”  There are a lot of handy metaphors to supplant the “non-person” label of the USSR, though the effect is the same.

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Of course, the concept of a “non-person” begs a certain question: what is a “person.”    In this context it isn’t you or me, or just any bi-ped with a pair of eyes, and what not.   It is, rather, a person who is magnified and known through the media – a public figure, certified by being shown or discussed in public media.  To “be someone” in this sense means to cut some kind of public figure.  It might be a grand international one, like a famous movie or sports or rock star, or a politician, or more exotically, perhaps a scientist like Stephen Hawking.  Or more frequently in our day, a highly successful businessman like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs or Warren Buffet.  These are people who truly stride the global stage, and are recognized almost everywhere.   Or, stepping down a few notches from such broad renown and acknowledged personhood, perhaps a famous writer or painter.  And then to specialists in various areas – academic or business, or the many lesser sports.  Or media personalities heard or seen on radio or TV.   Essentially this kind of personhood is secured through the media, which these days is omniscient: there is hardly a public space left into which some kind of TV screen, digital scroll device, and speakers do not intrude to show a parade of public figures or to thump to a driven beat.   In turn we have developed a social pathology in which the personhood conferred by the media is sought after by almost everyone.   “I think, therefor I am” no longer suffices.   Rather we must ratify our existence by appearing in the media.

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In part I think this explains the plague of “selfies” which has descended upon us.  I sometimes wonder how many selfies are made any given second on a global scale – it must be in the multiple millions!  Each of these is a small little media certification that one exists, and each signals that the maker of the selfie perceives themselves as a non-person if they can’t see themselves in a picture or video.  Look, I am in front of the Grand Canyon! The Mona Lisa!  The Eiffel Tower!  I therefore exist and in my tiny little world, this is proof I am important.  The proof is in the photograph.  Or the video.  Or the YouTube item.  Or Facebook.  Or, up a step or two, that one is in a “reality TV” show, or on the news.  Each of these certifies one’s personhood, and of course, the more there is of this, the more of a “personality” one is, and the more the world swirls around you, hanging on your every word, each gesture.  Or so it seems. And of course as this happens the more likelihood that the central figure in this constellation will begin to take themselves as indeed bigger and more important and, yes, indeed, worthy of all that attention.  We need only observe the behavior of those who’ve been escalated to such positions. And we need only observe the behavior of the selfie-taker: one doesn’t actually spend any time in looking at Mona Lisa, in fact one’s back is to it, as it is to the Grand Canyon or any other famous thing or landmark.  The point is to be in front of something famed, and in some bizarre sense, it is imagined this fame rubs off on the selfied-person.

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I am reminded of a lecture I gave at a State University in New Jersey – the best paying gig I ever had.  A one hour talk to students of the media department.  Introduced, I stepped up to do my one hour spiel, and gazed out at a hip-hop attired crowd of young people, utterly caught up in the styles of the moment.  Droopy pants, tattoo’s, Simpson-style hairdo’s, Nike swoops – the entire generational look.  And ditto, what came from their minds.  What they wanted to inquire of me – self-willed “failure” on so many levels – was how does one get rich and famous, instantly.  This was their desire, which, given the world they are surrounded by, is a vaguely understandable thought for a very young person bombarded with the glories of celebrity 24/7, along with the neo-liberal con that the only meaningful measure of value in the world is signified with dollar signs.   Unfortunately I had no answer for them – not the name of a reality TV show producer, not the magic insider’s trick the would work like Abracadabra Open Sesame.  Nope, none of that.  Taken aback by the bluntness of their inquiry I suggested that first they might want to learn how to do something, and to do it very well.  And that once they had done that, perhaps, with a lot of persistence, work, and luck, they might become “famous” and then “rich.”  I believe I was, no matter how carefully I had tried to phrase it, a huge disappointment for them.  They wanted, as Jim Morrison had it, the world, and they wanted it now.  Just by getting in front of a camera, on American Idol, or some “reality” TV show.   For them, life’s success would be measured by equal measures of fame and its partner, riches.    They could not have comprehended how disappointed I was to see that our culture has produced through its total educational system, the social culture as a whole, such a shallow and empty generation of dupes.   Though I am not surprised.

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 [To be continued, wherein my own non-personhood enters the picture.]

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As I write, October 16th, 2013, the grand Kabuki drama of the nation rises to one of its cyclical peaks as the structural weaknesses of our Constitution come into synchronicity. In the next day or two this media orchestrated minuet will play out,  with a temporary collapse of the Tea-Party Republican extremist’s efforts to block so-called Obamacare, claiming the real concern is the Federal deficit, by threatening to defund the government, though most of the same people blithely upped the deficit, slashed taxes, and started two fraudulent wars without a care during the reign of George W. Bush – as VP Cheney famously said way back then, “Deficits don’t matter.”  But today, with a black man in the White House, they matter, if only as a rhetorical weapon-of-the-moment.  Or, instead, this dance may see the little hard-core of Tea Party Representatives willing and able to risk a global financial melt-down as the rigged “reserve currency” of the post-World War II era runs aground on the fractured politics of the nation which prints those famous old Greenbacks, as the “exceptional” USA defaults on its debts.  This in turn will accelerate the process where the great sloshing of globalized, unaccountable wealth is shifting its currency into what those with it imagine to be safer forms than silly old abstractions, like money.  Instead they buy “art” or real estate in places like London, New York, Abu Dubai, and other enclaves of the increasingly “only rich welcome” sanctuaries.

[Note: barring some last minute glitch, it appears the Republicans have blinked, and our grand Kabuki drama will carry on, with another riveting crisis being revved up off-stage at this very moment.]

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rothko1_2214608aMark Rothko painting, sold for $86,882,500koons01_Jeff Koons work sold for $33,682,500

A Rothko painting is composed of a thin sheet of canvas, and some thin layers of paint, and a wooden frame.  Materially it is both easily degraded (the red tones in this work are especially vulnerable to fading), or destroyed.  Materially it is worth perhaps $100.   Clearly what is being bought is something else – either the experience of looking at it, or, the assumption that its investment value in terms of money will increase faster, say, than the value of stocks, or interest from loaning the money.   While the Koons work is materially more substantial, the money to purchase it was animated by the same assumption: that the “art” aspect would multiply its “value” more rapidly than other investments.  In both cases, the reality is that, exactly as is the case with “money,” what is being assumed is that a social agreement that something “abstract” has material value.  Money, whether “represented” with things like gold or silver (chosen long ago because they do not readily oxidize and change their atomic structure), or paper, is in effect a social contract, one which says X currency is worth X material something.  When I was young a cup of (bad in the USA) coffee cost 5 cents.  Today in most cafes a cup of perhaps good coffee would run $3 or so. You can do the math on the inflation and figure out that the social contract regarding the numbers shifted terms rather drastically in my life-time.   In a similar way the social contract in America – between Americans – has also drastically changed.

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Two years ago Occupy Wall Street materialized, and shifted our political dialog sharply:  the phrases “we are the 99%” and its corollary, “the 1%” emerged from decades of suffocation with barbs about “class war.”  OWS was initially ignored by the press, and then briefly given coverage as it spawned across the country.  At the same moment the NSA, CIA and FBI, in a Federally coordinated effort, collaborated with local police departments to heavily clamp down and as best they could, destroy this movement.  But the cat had been let out of the bag and a broad social awareness of the ever increasing disparities regarding the grossly tilted distribution of wealth, topics which are now almost everyday conversation, and around which our thoroughly corrupted politicians must dance, had been birthed.  Hence today’s minuet, which, as I write, appears headed towards an absurd “settlement” of kicking the can down the road 4 months.  And behind the curtains, cynic that I am, I can see the next act in this American theater of the Absurd:  in the coming months, as the Congress sits down to “seriously” decide on the Nation’s budget for the coming years, decade, whatever they say, in a signal of his “flexibility” President Obama will agree to cutting Social Security costs, cutting Medicare and Medicaid costs, and doubtless many other things.  However our sacrosanct military, and its burgeoning adjunct of the vast security state which has blossomed since 9/11, will not be touched.  And perhaps, as a signal of its reasonableness the counter-party will admit to some tiny tax here or there, though preferably it would be along the line of a VAT, “so we can all share the burden.”  Bets?

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But, just in case the dog and pony show in the District of Columbia doesn’t provide enough sleight-of-hand to duly befuddle the citizenry, we can always count on mass media circus to do the job.

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As this scenario has essentially been going on since we started, at the very outset anointing ourselves as “exceptional” and telling whatever untruths were necessary to support our illusion, beginning with our blatant theft of an entire continent from its inhabitants under the ironclad law that “might makes right” – after all, what were “they” doing with all this except wasting its values?  And on through a founding document which asserted that “all me are created equal” which was written by wealthy men who owned slaves, and whose document actually only considered white male landowners as “men” and on through the rest of our sordid mountain of self-delusions, which we must confront every day, and which confound our politics and society as they historically have.  To untangle this mess of contradictions is certainly more than our institutions can cope with, which as the stresses of these days indicate, will lead to a breaking up of our Union, as the diverse interests and beliefs of our populace decide myth is not a good place in which to actually live.

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Ten years ago, coaxed by a massive global propaganda barrage orchestrated by the US government, and for the most part supported fully by our corporate owned and controlled mass media, the United States went to war in Iraq.  It did so under false pretenses, on the basis of willfully fraudulent “intelligence,” prompted by the attack of 9/11/2001, the story of which itself is highly suspect.  I refer the reader to the document of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), which was signed by many figures of the Bush administration, including Richard Cheney, and which called, publicly, for an event like 9/11 to jolt the American public into actions like the war on Iraq and Afghanistan.  The initiation of the way was presented as grand spectacle, and was breathlessly reported by the “embedded” media.

Ten years later, having lost this war, and the war in Afghanistan, and having collapsed its own economy in process, America scarcely whispers a word about the catastrophic actions it took.  Though our military – demonstrating its corruption and incompetence despite its massive expansion and absurd costs – carries on with the top brass shifting from their executive roles as failures, directly into the lucrative corporate offices of the military-industrial complex.  When, if ever, they are punished for matters, it has to do with sexual peccadilloes and public relations scandals, and not with their incompetence as military commanders and strategists.  Exactly as are the golden-parachuted managers of failed American corporate enterprises, or the criminal officers of TBTF banks and Wall Street trading companies.  The corruption runs throughout America’s economic, political, military and cultural systems.

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George Bush, cod-piece strutting “pilot” of 2003, is 2013’s non-person, disappeared by our political mandarins and the media which is their servant, just as is the war with which he is associated.  The patriotic admonishment for the American public which he delivered in the wake of 9/11, “Just keep shopping,” now falls flat on the ears of a public which has largely been stripped of its income and wealth by the events of the last decade – not merely the negative effects of the war, but of the “neo-liberal” economic policies which have gutted America’s economy in the interests of corporate profits for the benefit of the 1%.

So as we enter this grim anniversary, and the cocky presumptions of PNAC’s neo-con fevered dream of American dominance has shriveled, it is perhaps proper that rather than silence, voices of those most deeply effected speak.   John Gianvito, who initiated and organized the making of a film, Far From Afghanistan, sent me today a letter he saw on Truthdig (one of the sad small minority media outlets which dot the internet in an attempt to counter the corporate mass media which dominates the world’s “information” system).  I thought it a good way to mark this dubious anniversary of America’s lunge into an immoral, dishonest and in the long run, utterly disastrous and failed warring.

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A Message to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney From a Dying Veteran

18 March 2013

To: George W. Bush and Dick Cheney
From: Tomas Young

I write this letter on the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War on behalf of my fellow Iraq War veterans. I write this letter on behalf of the 4,488 soldiers and Marines who died in Iraq. I write this letter on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of veterans who have been wounded and on behalf of those whose wounds, physical and psychological, have destroyed their lives. I am one of those gravely wounded. I was paralyzed in an insurgent ambush in 2004 in Sadr City. My life is coming to an end. I am living under hospice care.

I write this letter on behalf of husbands and wives who have lost spouses, on behalf of children who have lost a parent, on behalf of the fathers and mothers who have lost sons and daughters and on behalf of those who care for the many thousands of my fellow veterans who have brain injuries. I write this letter on behalf of those veterans whose trauma and self-revulsion for what they have witnessed, endured and done in Iraq have led to suicide and on behalf of the active-duty soldiers and Marines who commit, on average, a suicide a day. I write this letter on behalf of the some 1 million Iraqi dead and on behalf of the countless Iraqi wounded. I write this letter on behalf of us all-the human detritus your war has left behind, those who will spend their lives in unending pain and grief.

 I write this letter, my last letter, to you, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney. I write not because I think you grasp the terrible human and moral consequences of your lies, manipulation and thirst for wealth and power. I write this letter because, before my own death, I want to make it clear that I, and hundreds of thousands of my fellow veterans, along with millions of my fellow citizens, along with hundreds of millions more in Iraq and the Middle East, know fully who you are and what you have done. You may evade justice but in our eyes you are each guilty of egregious war crimes, of plunder and, finally, of murder, including the murder of thousands of young Americans-my fellow veterans-whose future you stole.

Your positions of authority, your millions of dollars of personal wealth, your public relations consultants, your privilege and your power cannot mask the hollowness of your character. You sent us to fight and die in Iraq after you, Mr. Cheney, dodged the draft in Vietnam, and you, Mr. Bush, went AWOL from your National Guard unit. Your cowardice and selfishness were established decades ago. You were not willing to risk yourselves for our nation but you sent hundreds of thousands of young men and women to be sacrificed in a senseless war with no more thought than it takes to put out the garbage.

I joined the Army two days after the 9/11 attacks. I joined the Army because our country had been attacked. I wanted to strike back at those who had killed some 3,000 of my fellow citizens. I did not join the Army to go to Iraq, a country that had no part in the September 2001 attacks and did not pose a threat to its neighbors, much less to the United States. I did not join the Army to “liberate” Iraqis or to shut down mythical weapons-of-mass-destruction facilities or to implant what you cynically called “democracy” in Baghdad and the Middle East. I did not join the Army to rebuild Iraq, which at the time you told us could be paid for by Iraq’s oil revenues. Instead, this war has cost the United States over $3 trillion. I especially did not join the Army to carry out pre-emptive war. Pre-emptive war is illegal under international law. And as a soldier in Iraq I was, I now know, abetting your idiocy and your crimes. The Iraq War is the largest strategic blunder in U.S. history. It obliterated the balance of power in the Middle East. It installed a corrupt and brutal pro-Iranian government in Baghdad, one cemented in power through the use of torture, death squads and terror. And it has left Iran as the dominant force in the region. On every level-moral, strategic, military and economic-Iraq was a failure. And it was you, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney, who started this war. It is you who should pay the consequences.

I would not be writing this letter if I had been wounded fighting in Afghanistan against those forces that carried out the attacks of 9/11. Had I been wounded there I would still be miserable because of my physical deterioration and imminent death, but I would at least have the comfort of knowing that my injuries were a consequence of my own decision to defend the country I love. I would not have to lie in my bed, my body filled with painkillers, my life ebbing away, and deal with the fact that hundreds of thousands of human beings, including children, including myself, were sacrificed by you for little more than the greed of oil companies, for your alliance with the oil sheiks in Saudi Arabia, and your insane visions of empire.

I have, like many other disabled veterans, suffered from the inadequate and often inept care provided by the Veterans Administration. I have, like many other disabled veterans, come to realize that our mental and physical wounds are of no interest to you, perhaps of no interest to any politician. We were used. We were betrayed. And we have been abandoned. You, Mr. Bush, make much pretense of being a Christian. But isn’t lying a sin? Isn’t murder a sin? Aren’t theft and selfish ambition sins? I am not a Christian. But I believe in the Christian ideal. I believe that what you do to the least of your brothers you finally do to yourself, to your own soul.

My day of reckoning is upon me. Yours will come. I hope you will be put on trial. But mostly I hope, for your sakes, that you find the moral courage to face what you have done to me and to many, many others who deserved to live. I hope that before your time on earth ends, as mine is now ending, you will find the strength of character to stand before the American public and the world, and in particular the Iraqi people, and beg for forgiveness.

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By the laws of the government which they controlled and directed, George Bush and his entire entourage, committed grievous crimes, crimes for which they have not and will not be prosecuted.  They will not be prosecuted, nor convicted, nor punished, because though the names have changed, that government is run and controlled by the same parties who brought us these catastrophes, and like our self-serving CEOs, who gut their corporations for personal profit, within the now fully corrupted system of USA.inc., one is rewarded for failure, however disastrous it is to the country, so long as it serves the 1%.

In the academic sense, I have never been a “good student,” and in fact my career in school has been checkered with what the outside eye would perceive as failure.   I hated high school and contrived to escape it early by going to summer school each year in order to accrue credits enough to leave in 3 years rather than 4.  Along the way I was antagonized by the mostly bad teaching, and in turn I antagonized the system.   At the end of those 3 years I declined to go to my graduation ceremony and later found out I was punished for this transgression by formally not receiving the papers that said I had completed my studies.  I found this out much later on, when I went to prison for refusing to participate in the American war machine, when they suggested I do remedial classes there because there was no record of my having graduated.    I noted for the prison people that I’d done two years of college and they let it go.  I was busy reading Heidegger, Kierkegaard, Sartre, Silone, John Barths, Duras, Brecht, and things like that while in prison.

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Jon singing at Sadie Hawkins dance 1958

Going on to college in 1960 I anticipated a big change in the academic reality, but at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, where I landed to study architecture, it didn’t really seem that much different, except I wasn’t living at home.  Within 6 weeks I concluded I would never get a degree, and figured out how to manipulate the system to my advantage by dropping all courses I didn’t enjoy within 6 weeks, in which case these – like my high school diploma – vanished from the record as if I’d never signed up.  I hence was on the dean’s honors list my first two semesters, and got a scholarship.   After that year I also concluded that architecture was a business and I didn’t feel at all comfortable with that.  So secretly, with regard to my parents, I applied to go to an art school in Britain, the Bath Academy of Arts, and was accepted.

Crown Hall, IIT, home of architectural school and Institute of Design

That summer I went to the UK on a ship, checked the school and found it was a playground for rich kids, with snazzy MG’s and Morgan’s and such, and decided I would not fit in or like it there either.   So after a summer of hitchhiking in Europe I returned to the US, where the Pratt Institute accepted me, but wanted me to wait a semester as I’d applied late.  I didn’t like that so I went back to Chicago and got into the Institute of Design, at the time considered one of the top schools in the States for such things.  I excelled, got straight A’s and the second semester did all the work equally well but rebelled and told them they were just like the academies of old which they criticized, and that they just taught a different set of rigid cliches, those of modernism.  And I left, looking to find a job over the summer,  but the Postal Service, whose test I’d passed, required a Pledge of Allegiance, which I could not do.  I returned to ID, talked with the dean of the school, Jay Doblin, and told him I didn’t want to get a degree, and would like to attend solely to use the equipment and take classes that were of interest to me, but not other things.  He told me that in his view I was already beyond what they had to teach, and let me stay under the terms I described.   But that didn’t last long as the Marines sent a recruiting team on campus and I and a few friends did a political protest.  We were called up to the IIT dean and told to cease and desist, which the others agreed to do.  I, instead, knowing I had no interest in a degree anyway, announced I would protest against the Armour Research Institute, which was part of IIT, and did research for the military.   Meantime the Cuban missile crisis arrived, and I hunkered down with my friends to smoke dope and drink lousy red wine waiting to be incinerated in a nuclear war.   I sold everything I had (some books) and checked the process of moving to New Zealand.  However, by the time I had it all together to make that move the crisis had blown over.  So, almost arbitrarily, I decided to become a filmmaker, spent a month going to movies at the Clark Street Cinema, which showed 2 different films each day – old Hollywood and European classics, and new European and Japanese art house films – and got my film education.  I bought a Bolex in NYC, and decamped for Europe.   And that was the end of my academic life.   While I had “dropped out” in 60’s fashion I later found out I’d also been expelled – not that it mattered to me.  I spent a year and a half in Europe and Mexico, hitch-hiking and making my first three films.  And then returned to the USA knowing I would go to prison for refusing to serve in the military.  I was locked up from March 1965-June 1967.   It was another education, as meaningful and useful to me as the two years I’d spent in college.

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And that was my academic career, until in 2007, I was invited to teach at Yonsei University in Korea – considered one of the country’s top three schools – and was magically elevated to a full Professorship at the age of 64.  It was my first ever actual job.  A year later they informed me that in Korea mandatory retirement comes at 65, but they solved that problem by making me a “Distinguished Professor,” and I spent 3 more years teaching (in the easiest job one can imagine) and quit of my own choice last July, 2011, though the school wanted me to stay.  And thus ended my brilliant academic career.

In the many years from leaving prison to becoming a professor I did have the experience of showing my films at many universities, colleges and art schools, which for the most part was an eye-opening process.  Back in the early 70’s, along with many other things, these schools began to do “Film Studies” and related courses – history, theory, and making.   It was indeed quite fashionable, and in turn it bred a peculiar kind of academic filmmaking, often weighted with theoretical or other ideological baggage – feminism, “minority” tilts,  and all kinds of things.   In my glancing passages through these institutions I was often asked to look at work and give my opinions, sometimes to PhD candidates who would then enter teaching film.   The work I saw was most often mind-bogglingly bad, though presented by the professors or teachers as good work.   Usually it was clotted with whatever fashionable intellectual winds were sweeping through, and usually they evinced not even the most basic artistic sensibility.  Most of these films seemed to strain to demonstrate some intellectual “thesis,”  and they were terrible.  And over the decades this kind of “filmmaking” was taught, reproducing itself.   It also reproduced the notion in our groves of academe that after such studies, with one’s fresh diploma, a job in the industry – either the actual filmmaking industry or the film studies industry – would materialize.   Anyone remotely connected with the industry is well aware that a degree is worth a little less than toilet paper in the business, as the statistics available to those very schools, busy charging students 40K a year and up, show, and of which they are quite aware.  Similarly the chances for snagging the next generation’s academic slot are rather dim as the line is endless and the places few and becoming fewer.   So, like many other things in our culture, what is offered up is more or less a fraud.     I bring this up, perhaps prompted by a letter I received last autumn, from a friend, Ray Carney, who teaches at Boston University.  Over the years he’s told me of his situation, which has steadily worsened, even as I have in the same years crossed paths with former students of his, whose testimony is of a teacher who genuinely changed them for the better, opened their eyes, and, well, did what a teacher should do:  helped them learn to comprehend the world honestly.   I think his blog, now blocked by BU, offers testimony in its very high hits-per-day, and the positive commentary on it, that Ray has been an inspiration to a generation of students.  Which seems to make him a threat to BU.  (See www.Cassavetes.com.)

About 6 years ago I was invited to do a workshop at BU, a 7 day matter for BU students, but also open to others.  So I had around 12 students, including a few BU graduate film school ones, down to some young girls utterly inexperienced.   I’m used to this, and my teaching philosophy is to cut the bullshit talk, and get  down to a very carefully bracketed bit of work – work which should also be play.   So after some days of this – essentially little guided exercises that open up one’s creative spirits to what digital video can be – I had them each make a little film, and at the end of the week we had a screening of films running around 90 minutes total.  And most of it was from very good, to quite creditable.  Of course one can’t make those without innate talent suddenly acquire it, though you can nicely tell them they should find some other outlet suitable to whatever talents they might have, though film schools seem loathe to do so.  In any event the person who’d invited me was rather surprised and told me he hadn’t really expected the students to actually “do something” over the week, where in reality they’d each made three or four simple “learning” films, and then the final one.   The students were, naturally, excited and pleased with themselves and the process, and I suppose with this kind of teaching which so quickly and successfully prompted them to learn so much so fast, and make something worth showing.  As it happened, the teacher who’d invited me had also required the participants to write a little diary of the process.   He passed those along to me, and in those done by the BU grad students there were comments to the effect, “why didn’t we do this the last two years?”    Indeed.  And, being reasonably well acquainted with many film schools, I know most would be deliriously pleased if their students made work so good as this workshop’s at the end of an entire year.  But, for the most part, those teaching don’t really know how to make such work themselves, and less how to convey to students the sensibilities to try themselves.   There are exceptions, of course – I’d point to Cal Arts as one school that seems to work, but then it has some real filmmakers on the faculty – Jim Benning, Thom Andersen, Nina Menkes among them, and from the viewpoint of students from there that I’ve met, they’re good teachers as well.

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While doing that workshop, there was a little gathering for me, which the faculty seems to have pointedly avoided, except as it happened, for Ray Carney.   I’ve been to many schools and this seems endemic.  If not of the glamor/fame bracket (I am sure they’d show up for Spielberg or someone of contemporary Hollywood fame) – my experience is that the filmmaker/teacher faculty seldom shows up for such things.  I feel they perceive someone like me as a threat – someone who actually makes films.  When they have materialized I have literally heard some teachers tell me they have, once upon a time, made one film, doubtless one I’d fear to see.  And they are the teachers!  During that BU visit Ray told me a little bit about what the administration was doing to him, and in turn I wrote a letter to the President of  BU.  In the turgid language of a bureaucrat he replied that the Film Department was undergoing an administrative change of some sort, and that he’d take my note into account.    And indeed the Department did change a bit – it became more Hollywood oriented, more technical, and more averse to creative thinking.  In effect it became a trade-school with the little caveat that the industry for which it cranks out techies has no room for them.  I was told a year at BU runs around 60K.  An expensive con.   Though, I guess one must, in light of the rest of American culture these days, from Wall Street to K Street, and doubtless down your nearby Main Street,  rack it up to a generalized corruption – economic, moral, ethical – which is now the nation’s “norm.”   One would like to fantasize that universities are pristine exceptions to this rule, but even the most casual look shows they are in reality – with perhaps their sports programs demonstrating it most clearly – paragons of corruption, basically in the service of our corporate overlords.  Money talks and bullshit walks.  Even in our most respected educational institutions.

Here’s the letter Ray sent me:

From: Prof. Ray Carney
Subject: Faculty treatment at Boston University
To: Jon Jost
Date: 26 November 2011

Dear Jon,

Hope you are thriving. Sorry to take so long to respond to your questions about the BU situation and whether it has changed in the past few years. I’m racing a deadline on a French project, but have a little time tonight to give you a summary account. The basic thing you have to keep in mind, and that I’d assume you wouldn’t already know, is that the treatment I have experienced for the past eight or nine years (I’ve lost count) is part of a much longer history of faculty-administration problems within Boston University that extends back four or five decades. The university has a long history of abusing, mistreating, and retaliating against faculty who say things administrators don’t agree with. Google “John Silber” and “Howard Zinn” to read the highest profile, but by no means only, instance—in that case involving the administrative abuse of one of BU’s most distinguished history professors for more than three decades because his politics did not coincide with those of the administration. I was, in fact, warned about the faculty-hostile situation before I arrived at BU (many academic friends told me to avoid the school at all costs), and during my time here have witnessed a number of the most creative faculty members being driven away by administrative high-handedness and stupidity. The university continues to have faculty recruitment problems on this count. Although there have been a few administrative changes at the top in the past six or seven years, not much has actually changed in terms of the attitudes of some of the middle- and upper-level administrators who cut their teeth, and formed their anti-faculty attitudes, under the old system. Many of them are still in place and continue to perform their duties no differently than they did ten or twenty years ago. As any MBA “Introduction to Organizational Behavior” course teaches, a large bureaucracy fights change tooth and nail. It takes more than a few changes at the top, or a Kumbaya speech from a new President, to change an entrenched institutional culture. File under “Democracy in Iraq.”

The current President, a guy named Robert Brown, talks big about leaving the bad old BU behind, but, if my situation and the treatment I have received (some preceding, but much, even most, of it taking place during Brown’s administration) counts as evidence, he has not done anything to alter the unethical behavior, anti-faculty attitudes, and anti-intellectual understandings of the function of a university at the middle- and upper-management levels. Most of the faculty think Brown is simply too naïve to understand the depth of the problems he inherited—or too imperceptive about human nature. (His background is in science.) Others say he is afraid to make real changes. If you want a good sardonic laugh, look up what happened to the man who preceded Brown, a guy named Daniel Goldin, who announced that he was actually going to “clean house at BU” and that he intended to remove the worst-behaving individuals in middle- and upper-management and put the university on a completely new path. He made the announcement one day, and a few weeks later was canned—by the very individuals he sought to remove! They went to the Board of Trustees and had him fired! Many BU faculty members consider it a “lesson learned” for Brown. He learned it was OK to talk a good line, as long as he did not actually rock the boat by doing anything to threaten the entrenched powers. (You’ll only find a skeleton account of this on the internet, but enough to read between the lines, since as much as possible was hushed up by the university with a multi-million dollar buy-out and a non-disclosure agreement. That’s BU’s customary way to deal with “problems.” They buy silence and keep them out of the paper with payoffs. There are lots of unmarked graves.)

Well, that’s the university I’ve devoted the best part of my career to for something like 22 or 23 years. Everything went terrific for me for the first thirteen or fourteen of them: As you know, I am a highly published scholar with many books in many languages and am invited to speak or participate in events all over the world; as a university teacher and colleague, I received superlative annual evaluations; I was entrusted with high-level committee assignments; I was asked to speak at major university functions; my classroom teaching and professional mentoring of students was judged to be superb; and I was even asked to play an administrative role, serving as the Director of the program I teach in for close to a decade, and, more briefly, serving as department Chair during the regular Chairman’s leave of absence. But everything—and I do mean everything—changed in 2003, following the appointment of a new Dean (the highest administrative position in my college). He was an absolute terror—and a horror—as an administrator. He demanded a series of changes in graduate admissions, course requirements, and student evaluation and grading methods that would significantly lower academic standards in order to attempt to bring in more tuition dollars. (He was nothing if not candid about his reasons.)

If the Dean’s ideas were bad, his character and morals were worse. He was emotionally off the chart—with, as a psychologically-minded colleague put it, “major anger-management issues”—uncontrolled rants, rages, tirades, and explosions of anger, garnished with obscene language (“asshole” was the special term of endearment I personally earned for my service to the university over the years) and actual physical threats—believe it or not. (“If I meet you in a dark alley and have a baseball bat, watch out…,” was one uttered at a gathering of faculty and staff members, and the friend who told it to me was pretty sure the Dean wasn’t talking about playing a night game of fungo with her; she was scared.) Morally speaking, the Dean was completely beyond the pale (guilty of an uncounted number of ethical and procedural violations). He administratively punished faculty “enemies” (his designation for anyone who wasn’t in favor of his changes or who asked embarrassing questions about his violations of procedure) and rewarded faculty “friends.” The first group had their leaves denied, their perquisites withdrawn, and was berated, yelled at, badgered, or as I say called obscene names or threatened with bodily harm. The second group was given high evaluations, pay raises, money for research and travel, promotions, and, yes, last but not least, teaching and service awards at Commencement. (Could someone make this stuff up? Would anyone believe it if it was in a novel or a movie?)

Absolutely everything was “personal” for this guy—and nothing too low or too unethical for him to stoop to doing it, including gaming the faculty evaluation and review system to achieve the results he wanted. To illustrate the depth of the Dean’s paranoia and retaliatory machinations, though it sounds comical to mention it, this guy even enlisted specific faculty members to serve as “spies” to report back to him if someone said something negative about him in a closed-door meeting, the better to speedily punish the offender. Needless to say, there were individuals willing to do this; there are always individuals willing to do such things. (Both the Dean’s bullying personality and his thuggish behavior were established facts long before he was appointed, since he had behaved similarly as a college faculty member and department Chair—and had, in fact, been forced to resign his Chairmanship a few years earlier after being charged with plagiarism. Only at BU could a faculty member guilty of that degree of academic misconduct be promoted to the Deanship a few years later! And only at BU could he continue in the Deanship with this sort of behavior, because virtually everyone on the faculty was either too afraid—or bought-off with bureaucratic bribes—to protest. Good old Boston University.)

It’s a basic principle of bureaucratic behavior that when the person at the top not only endorses shady practices, but pressures the people under him to achieve certain kinds of results, the sleaze can spread like an oil slick throughout the organizational flow chart. The Dean taught the people under and around him what was and was not acceptable behavior to deal with faculty “troublemakers” (another of his tender terms, directed at me personally on more than one occasion), and other college administrators (not all of them, but more than a few) were not slow to learn the lesson, particularly when they were being given raises, promotions, and awards for being good soldiers. Much of the same unethical behavior (tweaking faculty evaluations and reviews to achieve “desirable” results, punishing individuals who expressed reservations about the Dean’s plans to increase tuition income, etc.) started being practiced by administrators in my own department shortly after the Dean came to power, and these administrators or their successors continue many of the same shady practices right up into the present.

Leopards don’t change their spots and a situation like this does not magically heal itself if the person at the top leaves. In point of fact, the Dean had to resign his position in late 2006, after he was charged with a series of additional, unrelated ethical violations, including lying on his résumé. (Thanks to the predictable generosity of the university senior administration when it comes to supporting one of its own, even after these events, he was not drummed out of the university in disgrace, but remained on the faculty and continued to collect a fat salary—those tuition dollars he was so obsessed with pulling out of students’ pockets now being used to support him.) But, as I say, the Dean’s resignation didn’t change very much, given that most of the other administrators who had worked hand-in-glove with him to carry out his orders remained in place after his departure, and the additional fact that, by the time he stepped down, the practices he had pioneered had become generally accepted, especially by my department Chairman and most of the program Directors. In summary: even after the Dean stepped down, very little changed, particularly in my department.

Well, you can probably see where this is headed. My mortal sin—like Howard Zinn’s two or three decades earlier, and like that of other fired or discredited Boston University faculty members before and after Zinn—was that, starting in 2003 and continuing right up through the present, I dared to argue against the lowering of academic standards and had the audacity to object to the ethical and procedural violations I witnessed or was told about. Just call me stupid. I made the mistake of speaking out on the basis of my intellect, my conscience, and my principles—not based on calculations of what would curry favor with the Dean and his successors, or with other college and university administrators.

A few others in my college also spoke up over the years, but it was never more than a handful. The overwhelming majority of college faculty and staff serve on renewable, limited-term contracts; they couldn’t possibly speak up about these things without being fired; but I was different. I had tenure. This kind of situation was, as far as I was concerned, the reason tenure existed: to allow a faculty member to speak for those who are unable to speak for themselves (particularly students who are unknowingly being defrauded of receiving a first-class education, even as they take out enormous loans to pay astronomical tuitions in the expectation of obtaining one), and to defend the highest possible pedagogical, procedural, and ethical standards (even as the administration headed pell-mell in the opposite direction). I spoke up at meetings; I wrote memos; I sent emails; I held face-to-face meetings with the Dean and his successors and with administrators inside and outside the college to express my concerns.

But, as should be clear by now, taking principled stands and reporting ethical issues has always been hazardous to one’s health at Boston University, and as the past decade of my experience proves, it continues to be extremely dangerous. The response of the entire administrative system at Boston University, right up to the present moment, has been to attempt to force me to shut up, and if I won’t be silenced, to savage me. I have been attacked and punished in every way possible—personally, professionally, pedagogically, financially, and emotionally. My annual evaluations (which, as I said, had been the highest in my department before I began speaking up) have been reversed and are now at the bottom; my pay has been docked; support for my research has been withdrawn; my student advisees have been taken away from me; my courses have been assigned to undesirable times (how about one class that meets 8AM and another that meets at 9PM, and on the same day—worse hours and a longer workday than the building custodian would be given) and impossible locations (all-too-easy to do to a film teacher—all you have to do is force him to show the films on a tiny TV so that students can’t read the subtitles—while other teachers’ classes, on the very same days and times, are assigned to a movie theater classroom); and, to add insult to injury, I have been abused and reviled—had my morals, character, and performance of my duties viciously attacked—in a series of truly unbelievable ceremonies of public and private humiliation (staged both behind closed doors and in public places to humiliate me in front of students, staff members, and junior colleagues).

Perhaps most unethically of all (though it’s hard to rank the circles of hell to which these individuals have descended), when my department program Director, my Chairman, the Dean whose conduct I have described, and others designated by them saw that I was not going to stop speaking up or writing memos no matter how much they docked my pay and lowered my evaluations, they held meetings with students to publicly criticize my teaching and the performance of my duties and instructed them to complain about me, with the student being pressured to submit a criticism of something I had published or said in class, with the administrator coaching the student what to say or actually editing or writing the text, all the while concealing the meetings and the coaching and editing sessions, with the goal of making the complaint look like it was spontaneously initiated and written by the individual student. It shouldn’t be hard to imagine how this affected my teaching and relationship with students. Can you picture what a teacher’s classes are like after the students’ minds have been poisoned in this way—after this kind of toxicity has been created by a trusted administrator telling students vicious (and false) things about their teacher—or after a student has seen his or her teacher being yelled at and upbraided in a public place by an administrator?

Another strand of the retaliation involves censorship, or punishment directed against me if censorship fails, for what I have written or said. To give credit where credit is due, I want to acknowledge that the Dean whose behavior I have been describing apparently initiated the censorship plan. He deserves full credit as the first one to scream at me at the top of his voice, in private and public, that things I published be changed or suppressed, and was the first to threaten me with bureaucratic punishment if I did not comply. (Him to me, in his most bellowing, threatening voice: “There will be consequences … there will be serious consequences….[if you don’t retract what you wrote].” And, of course, there were.) But, as I noted, the Dean was a master at getting others to do his bidding, and around 2004 or 2005, he enlisted my Chairman and the new program Director (I was forced out of my position as Director at the Dean’s insistence, of course) as his allies and surrogates, which ensured that the censorship efforts continued, and, in fact, even increased, after he was forced out of the Deanship.

As you know, a good part of my publication record involves reflections on issues affecting film and arts education in American universities. For close to a decade now, BU administrators have asserted their right to censor, suppress, edit, or otherwise meddle with what I publish or say on this subject—or, if censorship fails, to punish me (in my evaluations, pay, and perquisites) for what I have said or written. I have been forbidden to talk about certain things when I give interviews. I have been told what I can and cannot say in my classes. I have been told not to tell my students about the challenges of the job market. I have been told I should not have written confidential memos pointing out problems in my department. I have been told to remove my web site from the BU server because it had views about education that the administration disagrees with.

The catch-all criticism (and justification for the subsequent negative evaluations and hits on my pay) is that I am “not being a team player”—though why in the world I would want to be a member of this sort of intolerant, dictatorial, censorious, anti-intellectual, and unethical “team” has never been explained to me. I had thought I was hired to follow the dictates of my conscience in ethical issues and to think with my own brain in intellectual ones. I had thought that that’s what my job was: to think as originally and creatively as possible; but I was mistaken. BU clearly hired me to think with its administrators’ brains.

In terms of the censorship issue, if the facts weren’t so appalling, they might make for an absurdist black comedy. Since it may be good for a laugh, or at least to demonstrate that the BU administrators have no sense of humor, I’ll mention that the two pieces that subjected me to the most vicious administrative attacks and the most serious punishment (lowering my evaluations and pay based on my “uncollegiality”) were two interviews I gave: one was with a reporter from the UCLA Daily Bruin, titled “A Modest Proposal: Let’s Replace Film Production Programs with Majors in Auto Mechanics (at least majors would be able to get jobs…),” and the second was with a former BU student, titled: “About Art, Life, Hollywood, Independent Film, Critics, Professors, Universities, and How to Make a Fortune in Real Estate.” As the titles indicate, both were semi-comic in nature, but about serious issues—from the false values fostered by academics who fawn on celebrity speakers and host movie-star events; to the consequences of staffing the professoriate with Hollywood-trained (and entertainment-addled) writers and directors; to the pernicious effects of journalistic film reviewing on American film appreciation and commentary (and the bad effects of including newspaper reviewers on the faculty); to the shocking lack of intellectual content in most film production courses; to the dishonesty of film programs representing themselves as preparing students for meaningful careers. I was told in no uncertain terms—and with the financial and institutional penalties I have described—that these subjects were no-nos. They were things I was not supposed to say. They were bad for student recruitment; they would hurt enrollment; they could affect student morale; and heresy of heresies: what I said might actually encourage students to major in something other than film—an absolutely unthinkable outcome to administrators more interested in defending departmental turf—by maintaining course enrollments—than in helping students pursue their true callings. I was not allowed to say such things. Since this material appeared on several pages of my web site, I was given a formal, written order by my Chairman to take the entire site down and given a deadline by which to do it. The over-the-top extremity of my Chairman’s demand—the fact that it also meant censoring hundreds of other pages of writing and interviews (probably close to a thousand pages in all) that did not contain material that had been objected to—or that could not possibly be objected to even by individuals as intolerant and narrow-minded as my college’s administrators—was central to the punishment. It would not punish me and my work sufficiently if I was forced to remove only five or ten or twenty pages of writing and interviews and was able to leave hundreds of other pages in place. I was told to remove everything I had published on the internet.

It may amuse you if I add that when the censorship threats against me were initially made, my first response was to tell my Dean, Chairman, and everyone else that if they didn’t like what I said, and felt that their views needed more visibility and publicity, I would gladly engage in a public debate with them on these issues, and if they didn’t want to do that, I would be delighted to post their responses to anything I had said that they disagreed with on my web site, complete and unedited, at any length they submitted them, prominently displayed next to my own statements so that no one could miss them. The offer was rejected out of hand (and jeered at as “a trick”). So much for the commitment to the free and open exchange of ideas at Boston University. No, no, no—dialogue, conversation, the expression of a range of views and opinions was emphatically not what BU administrators wanted. They demanded that their ideas and only their ideas, their views and only their views be represented. They repeated—frankly, I have to admit I’ve lost track how many times a BU administrator, month after month, year after year, angrily yelled it at me, both in public and in private, screaming at me in front of students in a hallway, in front of junior colleagues at a faculty meeting, or pounding the table in an office—that I was not to have published these opinions, and having published them, I was to be punished for having done it. The administration position was non-negotiable and unyielding. As my Chairman told me several times in front of the entire department faculty, if I wouldn’t take down the web site “voluntarily” (a new and different sense of the word than the one I was familiar with), university administrators would “bring in the lawyers” and do it themselves. He was not asking; he was telling. The web site would not be tolerated. (I’ll pass over the sheer institutional stupidity and counter-productiveness of his fiat. My web site was arguably the largest, most important, and most highly visible site by a BU faculty member. It was known all over the world, read by as many as 50,000 viewers a month, and was one of the major recruitment tools for BU’s own graduate programs. Now that it has been suspended and discontinued, all of the benefit it provided the university has, of course, been lost.)

It bears repeating that the financial, bureaucratic, and personal punishments administered to me have been doled out not for anything I have done or failed to do as a teacher, advisor, or mentor, but for the expression of my ideas, for my reports of ethical issues—in meetings, memos, and emails—and for the statements about film education I made in my writing and in interviews like the two I mentioned. Now I don’t know your personal feelings about it, Jon, but to someone who has devoted his entire professional career to academia, this is the most shameful, most destructive action a university can take: to punish a faculty member for the principled expression of his or her views. In my definition of it, this is the reason that a university exists, and the thing that most distinguishes a university from a profit-making corporation—namely, that its faculty are not only allowed, but as the very heart and soul of the performance of their duties are required to speak the truth and to defend the honesty and integrity of their dealings with others. That’s what it is to be a professional with professional standards of conduct, and not a wage-slave doing the bidding of a corporate boss to shill a product to turn a profit. But that distinction is clearly something administrators at Boston University are unable to grasp. My Dean, my program Director, my Chairman, and others treat my job as if it were about generating flattering press releases, not about telling the truth—and they are willing to punish me for my non-compliance with their gag-orders.

My point is that the issues these administrative actions raise have nothing to do with the merit of any particular idea I may express. My Chairman always told me, as justification for his censorship, that my ideas were “wrong” or “put things in a false light”—as if that made it all right to suppress them. Of course I disagreed with him; my ideas were not wrong. But the rightness or wrongness of my views is not what ultimately matters. What matters, supremely, to the lifeblood of the university is that I and other faculty members be accorded the right to express our ideas, to say what we honestly think and believe, without fear of censorship or punishment.

That’s what academic freedom is about—not about pleasing people, and certainly not about putting the acceptability of a faculty member’s ideas up for a vote—as my Chairman did before telling me that I was not allowed to publish what I had—and that I was being formally censored for having done it. Now that was an experience I’ll not soon forget. Can you imagine sitting through three months of department meetings where excerpts from my publications were projected on a screen, distributed in Xeroxed packets, and read out loud by my Chairman and others while, in an orgy of abuse personally orchestrated and presided over by my Chairman, I was called names, yelled at, and had my morals and character viciously attacked for what I had published? That’s how BU treats faculty who “think differently.” All I could think while the rigged, one-sided “show trial” went on (at an early point in the proceedings I was told that “no one is interested” in anything I might say in my own defense so that for most of the time I was forced to sit there and take the hurled abuse in silence) was that it was good practice if I—or any other BU faculty member who similarly said something BU administrators disagreed with—ever ended up teaching in China, Iran, or North Korea.

These actions raise important questions about the university attitude toward (and treatment of) public intellectuals. Public intellectuals are lauded if they talk about (and locate) problems elsewhere in society, but are criticized and punished if they turn their attention to what goes on in universities. The modern corporate American university, like the rest of modern corporate America, puts a premium on unanimity of opinion and homogeneity of expression, and penalizes genuine diversity of points of view. There is of course much lip service given to something called “diversity”—i.e., racial, ethnic, and sexual diversity; however, intellectual diversity, the expression of genuinely new, different, or—God help us—unpopular or controversial ideas and opinions, the only kind of diversity that means anything intellectually—is frowned on. Like other corporations, the educational corporation aspires to speak with one voice—a sanitized, safe, uncontroversial, politically-correct voice—since the goal is never to offend or upset anyone—particularly anyone with money, anyone who wields the power of the purse, like students, grant officers, politicians, or alumni contributors. The goal is to “build a brand” (there has been much appallingly straight-faced discussion in this vein in my college) that will upset no one, change nothing, and threaten nothing that really matters—particularly cherished beliefs. But this is the opposite of the true function of a university and the death of true education—which is to allow everything, absolutely everything, to be looked at, questioned, examined, and re-thought where necessary. These “branding” discussions, pointedly, focus not on how to better educate students, how to get them to see the limitations of their current understandings and preferences, but about how to please them and teach to their desires—once more in the service of getting tuition dollars out of their pockets and burdening them with ever larger student loans.

If you can stand to read even more on this subject some day, ask me sometime and I’ll send you a memo I wrote my current Dean a few weeks ago, after he vehemently objected to my raising a few fundamental questions with my students (e.g., about the real purpose of their education, and the relation of an education to a career, and of a career to a life—controversial, and hence forbidden, topics, as my Dean angrily told me). If you can believe it, one of the things he went ballistic over was that I sent my students a link to an article about film education in The New York Times—that’s an article in The Times, not a link to something by Noam Chomsky or Karl Marx! My Dean made clear—in a nasty, sarcastic critique of my actions—that articles like the one in The Times are not things I am supposed to be exposing my students to. They are apparently too controversial, too subversive, too dangerous for Boston University film students to grapple with. What does that tell you about his views on education—not to mention his opinion of the intellectual ability of the students in his college? They should be picketing his office to protest his contempt for their intellect.

In what I wrote him in reply I tried to explain why these issues (i.e. about the value and purpose of an education) were important ones for a teacher to raise with his students—and specifically why sending my students links to articles in the New York Times and elsewhere was an important part of my duties as a teacher; but my Dean’s mocking, sarcastic, and completely dismissive response demonstrated one more time (if it weren’t already abundantly clear) that everything I said represented a vision of education that not only had never occurred to him before, but that was something he still couldn’t wrap his mind around even after I had spent several thousand words trying to explain it to him. Not really a surprise. Like many other BU administrators, my Dean spent his entire previous career in corporate America, and has clearly internalized its values, where you don’t ask fundamental questions or raise difficult issues. You “sell a product” to a “customer”—in this instance, a college degree to students. You don’t ask people to think deeply about purposes and values and the meaning of their lives; you just yammer a sales pitch, convincing the customer that the commodity he or she has purchased is worth the tens of thousands of dollars and multiple years of his or her life required to obtain it. If the past is prologue, I am bracing myself for one more hit on my annual evaluations and pay as a result of that exchange. The beat—and the beating—goes on.

In short, the modern American corporate university, like its close cousin the modern American corporation, puts financial considerations ahead of educational ones, and analyzes educational projects (including faculty publications and a teacher’s exchanges with his students, in my case) not in terms of their educational benefit, but their potential effect on the bottom line. The educational experience takes a backseat to budgetary considerations, and the educational process is never allowed to pose questions that might jeopardize fund-raising, grant support, or alumni boosterism. As a professor friend of mine put it, the “cost” of education, in this state of affairs, is education itself—which gets dumbed-down or forgotten in the relentless competition universities (and professors!) wage with each other for students, grants, and alumni support. The budgetary—or enrollment—tail wags the educational dog. Meanwhile, as it didn’t take the Occupy Wall Street protestors to point out, the ballooning cost of college tuitions (required to pay the ridiculous salaries of the very administrators who are setting these mistaken priorities) staggers generations of students under the weight of loans they may never be able to work their way out from under—no matter how many false promises about the value of their degrees and the glorious careers that await them are self-promotingly proffered by the schools they are persuaded to attend.

Now none of the preceding observations is particularly new or original. Everything I am saying is really just common sense and conventional wisdom. And there is nothing terribly controversial about any of it, beyond the fact that it is being said by a university faculty member rather than an outsider, and the fact that it is being said out loud rather than merely whispered or muttered under the faculty member’s breath during or after a meeting. When someone who is actually a member of a university raises these kinds of issues in public, or, for that matter, raises them behind closed doors in a committee or staff meeting, he or she is ostracized or retaliated against as betraying the institution—or “pissing in your own soup” as my current Dean vulgarly put it in a recent memo excoriating me for having informed my students about the challenges of the job market in an email I sent to them that apparently veered too close to the truth. A faculty member who says such things must be penalized—or marginalized and made irrelevant. It’s worth noting that, on top of the other punishments that have been administered to me, I have also been removed from (or excluded from service on) university committees where these sorts of issues might come up and be discussed—e.g., committees in charge of admissions, curricular matters, and faculty reviews, promotions, and hiring. It is apparently too dangerous to give me a platform to express my views, even to other faculty members within Boston University. Who knows what might happen if I actually persuaded a few others to go along with my ideas? My Chairman actually cited this as his reason for removing me from a graduate admissions committee I had previously chaired, after I expressed my opposition to the Dean’s dictates about lowering admissions standards to bring in more tuition dollars. He told me that if he left me on the committee he was afraid I would persuade other faculty members to agree with me about the importance of maintaining academic standards and consequently might jeopardize the execution of the Dean’s goals. So much for the virtues of discussion and debate at Boston University. The only kind of faculty input that is wanted—or tolerated—on the admissions committee is unequivocal, unthinking, obedient academic hucksterism.

The censorship I’ve personally experienced is part of a larger system of surveillance and control of expression at Boston University. The college I teach in, the College of Communication (ironically named in the light of what I am going to tell you) can stand as an example. The current Dean of the college is the same guy I have already mentioned a couple times (the guy who eviscerated me for raising philosophical issues about the meaning of education with my students), a fellow named Tom Fiedler. Unlike the Dean who preceded him, Fiedler is not a total disaster as a human being, but being a normal human being is not sufficient to qualify one to be a university Dean. It takes a lot of knowledge and insight into how a large, complex academic organization devoted to scholarship and pedagogy functions, and Fiedler is clearly not qualified in those areas, about which he knows more or less nothing, since he has no academic background. As I noted, his previous career involved working for a corporation, specifically as a journalist whose apparent claim to fame (it’s the lead item on his bio sheet and something he is obviously extremely proud of) is that he was one of a team of Miami Herald reporters who forced Democratic hopeful Gary Hart to drop out of the presidential race in 1987 by stalking his girlfriend and secretly staking-out Hart’s residence, to catch the two of them in a compromising relationship. Fiedler and his reporter buddies trailed, spied, stalked, and staked-out Hart in a private residential neighborhood night and day for days at time (with, at one point, Fiedler actually putting on a costume to continue the surreptitious snooping!). Then, like the pack of yelping jackals they were, they swooped in for the kill as a group, unexpectedly surrounding a stunned and off-guard Hart on the street when he hadn’t even known they were there, swarming, confronting, and barraging him with a series of privacy-invading questions about his sex life, then broadcasting the results of his stammering, stunned replies on the front page of the newspaper.

In other words, Fiedler and his pals were practitioners of the trashiest form of headline-grabbing tabloid journalism, based on covert surveillance, deceit, trickery, concealing your identity, and a final Perry-Mason-like “gotcha” confrontation with the individual you have snared in your trap and deliberately caught off-guard. It’s the sensationalism and trivialization of journalism that the Watergate scandal and television shows like 60 Minutes inspired, as practiced by reporters who would rather “investigate” who a politician slept with than what the effect of his policies will be—and a quintessential example of the transgression of every normal and customary standard of human decency and respectful treatment that American and British journalists (and executives like Rupert Murdoch) so proudly and self-justifyingly feel their profession entitles them to. Cheaters has become the standard of excellence for the new journalism. It’s not about ethics; it’s about getting a big headline you can cite on your bio sheet.

Well, given that kind of “investigative” predilection, and that sense of what constitutes acceptable (and ethical) professional behavior, I guess no one should have been surprised that when Fiedler arrived at Boston University he chose to pursue a covert spying and surveillance policy against his own faculty members. He revealed to surprised college faculty last year that his office had had a long-standing policy of remotely electronically monitoring what faculty members printed on their computers (it’s amazing what can be done nowadays in that way), and subsequently revealed that he had authorized staff members to call telephone numbers faculty had dialed from their offices to check up on them (allegedly to verify whether college equipment was being used “properly”). The spying policy was divulged to the faculty in the form of a memo that attacked specific individuals for printing material that Fiedler did not approve of. When questioned about the extent of his surveillance activities at a subsequent faculty meeting—I was the questioner of course—Fiedler asserted his additional right to read the emails faculty send and receive (though he noted that he didn’t “have the time to do it,” as if that made a difference). Shades of News Corps’ Rupert Murdoch and Hewlett-Packard’s Patricia Dunn, with the major difference being that at least Murdoch and Dunn initially denied that they had authorized what they had, since they knew it was wrong, while Fiedler defended his right to do everything he did—and he and the BU administration continue to defend his right to continue to do it. At BU, it’s not only OK to spy on your faculty, but you don’t apologize for it or abandon the practice when you are forced to divulge it.

Can you imagine the climate of fear and intimidation this policy has created among faculty members—or the chilling effect it has had on faculty expression? Some faculty members have stopped using their office computers to print sensitive documents, stopped using their university email accounts to write anything important or confidential, stopped using their office telephones, and stopped using the Xerox machine—oh, I forgot to mention that, as one of his other administrative innovations, Fiedler had the faculty copier pulled out and requires that everything faculty members want to Xerox be left for 48 hours with one of his staffers to read and check its contents before the job is performed by the staffer on a locked machine controlled by the Dean. So much for the confidentiality of communications between faculty members or between faculty and the senior administration. If you copy a letter before you send the original off to the President or a member of the Board of Trustees (or copy anything else you want to send to anyone else), the Dean’s office gets to know about it before you’ve even put it in the envelope. (And remember you can’t just print out a duplicate on your computer, since printing is already covered by the Dean’s other surveillance practices.) That, by the way, is why I am writing this at home and e-mailing it to you from a non-BU account. If I didn’t, or if I printed this out on a university printer, my Dean could conceivably know that I was writing you—or what I was writing about—before you did. That’s the BU I and other faculty members know—the so-called “new BU” under the leadership of President Robert Brown.

I had initially assumed that many of the things I am describing (and particularly the attempts to control and censor what I write and say) were taking place “under the radar” of the most senior university administrators, but I was disabused of that notion in 2007 when my Chairman told me that many of the punitive actions he was taking against me to censor my publications (or to punish me for having published them) had been personally authorized by the Provost, the second most senior administrator in the university—a fact which the Provost (David Campbell) subsequently confirmed when I met with him in person to object to what was being done. (For the record, Campbell didn’t yield a nanometer. He told me he saw nothing wrong with censoring my publications, and that I should obey my Chairman’s dictates.) In the three or four years since then, I have made sure that the previous university Provost (David Campbell), the current Provost (Jean Morrison), and the President (Robert Brown) have been made fully aware of the events I am describing, by sending them reports and memos (or by sending them carbons of memos and reports I have sent to others) describing everything I have described here—and more. So nothing I have mentioned in this email is news to the Provost or President. Since none of the misconduct I have told them about has been stopped, or even questioned, the only possible conclusion is that it is endorsed and approved by the Provost and President. Only at BU would that not be surprising.

For five or six years now, I have done everything but get down on my knees in front of these administrators, both those in my college and those above them, either in person or via memo, to plead with them, to beg them for fair treatment and redress, but the obvious problem is that, at the level of my college, I am appealing to the very people who have been guilty of the mistreatment and unprofessional behavior I am asking to be remedied. I have written memo after memo and held meeting after meeting with my program Director, Chairman, and Dean, but the only reply (if I can dignify it with that word) I have received from any of them has been more name-calling, more sarcasm, more verbal abuse (shouts and attacks on my morals, character, and performance of my duties), more threats that I am not to talk or write about certain things, more anger, and more negative evaluations, hits on my pay, and withdrawals of research and other support, etc..

In a vicious circle, my appeals have actually been used against me on the grounds that, by appealing for fair treatment, I am being “difficult” and “uncollegial.” BU administrators have told me this over and over again when I have met with them in person. If I just stop making these reports and stop pointing out that administrators have failed to act on them (or, to all appearances, even to read them), I might stand a chance in the future of getting a better evaluation or a raise in my pay to make up, even slightly, for the past. (Do you get it? Is it clear why they would say this? Do you understand the bribe I am being offered to withdraw my reports of their misbehavior?)

Dean Fiedler’s first conversation with me on the subject can sum up the Catch-22, upside-down, inside-outness of the situation. When, a few months after he took over the Deanship, I sent him a memo detailing some of the unethical behavior I had witnessed in the College of Communication, and (after receiving no response for a number of months) asked to meet with him in person to discuss what I had sent him, he told me that my memo only confirmed what he had been told when he took over the Deanship, namely that I was a “troublemaker”—someone, he said, he had been “warned” to “watch out for.” In the light of that, he told me that what I had written about professional misconduct was of “no importance.” He didn’t take anything I wrote or told him seriously then—or since. He concluded the meeting by saying he hoped I would agree not to “make trouble” (i.e., not submit such reports) in the future. He laid it down as a condition he expected me to live up to if I wanted to restore myself to his good graces—and the good graces of other administrators. He called it “wiping the slate clean.” And that was the end of his response, the end of our meeting, and the end of the ethics inquiry. The ethical problem was me!—for writing what I had. And the only action to be taken was to be taken by me!—I was to stop making reports.

But I guess you can call me a hardened criminal, since I compounded my initial felony since that first meeting by continuing to write or visit Fiedler’s office (but only a few times, of course, since he’s made it more than clear on numerous occasions that he simply doesn’t want to hear about such things) to continue to express concerns about ethical issues, administrative misbehavior, transparency of decision-making, violations of procedure, treatment of faculty members who think differently from others, faculty review procedures, and related issues. Predictably enough, Fiedler’s subsequent responses have been even more rude, sarcastic, or nasty than they were at that first meeting—increasingly rude, sarcastic, and nasty—and of course my evaluations and pay (which he determines) have continued being negatively affected. My problem, my failure, the reason for the scornful, mocking words and the punishments? I continued to express ethical and procedural concerns.

The humor of it is that the Dean’s logic is actually unassailable since, once he’s defined submitting reports of ethical violations and professional misconduct as “making trouble,” I have to plead guilty to indeed having been a bona fide “trouble-maker”—in that definition of it. And, in that definition of it, I continue to “make trouble” right up into the present, every time I submit another report about a problem. With each statement I make, the Dean is clearly more exasperated with me than he was the last time. By this point, three or four years into the process, his responses have ceased being either thoughtful or logical (not that they were so eminently thoughtful or logical even in our first meeting): they have descended to sheer mockery, sarcasm, name-calling, and the “pissing in your soup” vulgar insult I already quoted. Fiedler clearly doesn’t want reports of ethical and behavioral “trouble” to cross his desk—just like the administrators at Penn State didn’t want them to cross theirs. He wants positive stories and good news. He wants “team spirit” (and, if you can believe it, actually showed a sports video to the faculty to make the point!). He wants “salesmanship” and “brand identification.” He wants flattering press releases. In his (corporate/sports-nut) view, that’s what a professor is paid for. My reports and meetings with him about ethical issues obviously don’t fit into those categories or perform those services. They “make trouble” for him, which is reason enough, once he has committed himself to this view of the function of a Dean/Coach and the function of a professor/team member, to punish and retaliate against me. Quod erat demonstrandum. What part of “stop telling me about ethical issues” don’t I understand?

The chief difference from the Penn State situation that I can see is that the Penn State events apparently consisted of an administrator simply not responding to a “troubling” report, while Fiedler has taken a much more active stance and decided to “shoot the messenger”—to punish me financially, bureaucratically, and personally (with verbal abuse)—for bringing him the message. So, you see, that’s my crime: I have told and, like a complete fool, continue to tell my Dean things he doesn’t want to hear and refuses to listen to. That’s the man President Brown chose as the successor to the previous Dean, to restore ethical conduct and respectful faculty treatment to the College of Communication. Welcome to BU. Welcome to my world. Ah, the joys of the academy and the life of the mind, and the deep satisfaction of devoting your life to an institution committed, as President Brown frequently boasts, to the highest standards of ethical conduct.

As I say, I have sent long, detailed memos (or copies of reports submitted to others) to the current Provost (Morrison) and President (Brown) describing the behavior of the individuals in my college and the unprofessional treatment and unethical behavior I have witnessed and been subject to, appealing for fair treatment and redress. And what has been the result? I have yet to receive a single sentence in the way of a reply, an invitation to meet with them to discuss the issues I have raised, or seen any change whatsoever in the treatment I am receiving. (I have waited months for a response from either one, and have even written follow-up memos reminding them about the original memos, which they also never responded to.) If a university administrator can’t even be bothered to respond to a memo about serious ethical violations from a long-serving, senior, tenured professor—let alone take action based on it—he or she is clearly not interested in addressing serious ethical issues.

Call it one more manifestation of the Penn State see-and-hear-no-evil syndrome. Middle-level administrators (my program Director, my Chairman, and my Dean) ignore my appeals for fair treatment since they would be admitting their own present and past misbehavior and culpability. And senior-level administrators (the university Provost and President) are unable to sympathetically enter into the situation of someone who is so far below them (Jerry Sandusky’s victims, or me in this instance—not that I am equating myself with them). BU is very top-heavy administratively (and very top-down in its management style) and faculty do their jobs many layers down, near the bottom of the totem pole. I can only conclude either that the bad behavior is taking place so many levels below the President and Provost that it is effectively “invisible” (notwithstanding my detailed reports) from the skyscraper heights they inhabit, or that it is too dangerous for them to deal with, since dealing with it would involve rattling the cages of the administrators below them who perpetrated the situation—or who, at least, repeatedly turned a blind eye toward my reports of it. Since the individuals guilty of the misbehavior undoubtedly deny that anything untoward has taken place, it becomes easy for the President and Provost to pretend that nothing happened. As at Penn State, when in doubt, put your head in the sand. To quote the lyric to the old song: Out of sight; out of mind. It’s easier to look the other way and deny ethical problems exist than to go to all the trouble of dealing with them. “Denial”—in every sense of the concept—is a major BU administrative coping strategy, at all levels.

I am tenured; I cannot easily be fired (baring a trumped-up morals charge against me, which might sound like a sick joke, but given the Nixonian dirty tricks I have already been subject to—like the secret meetings administrators held with my students to say nasty things about me—nothing is beyond the realm of possibility). Tenure is supposed to grant me the right to speak my mind and teach my courses without fear or retaliation; but the treatment I have received obviously raises questions about what is tenure worth at Boston University? Not very much apparently. If you say something university administrators don’t like, they can make your relation to your colleagues so unbearable, the performance of your duties so difficult, and your mentoring of students so untenable—in short, make your life so hellish—that they will succeed in making you quit in disgust and discouragement, tenure or no tenure. That’s clearly what they have been trying to do to me. At BU, tenure is, in effect, worthless.

Well, that’s a very long answer to a very short question. Forgive any typos in the preceding. I am writing quickly. It was early in the evening when I started, but it’s now well past midnight. Yikes! And sorry for the length. I’ve undoubtedly told you more than you wanted to know; but, if you can believe it, there is more to say about all of these issues—and many other instances of administrative misconduct and ethical violation at BU. (It’s a basic principle that if someone is capable of the kinds of unprofessional and unethical behavior I have described, they are capable of others.) I’ve left out a lot. I have hundreds of pages of memos and reports documenting additional events. But this will do for now. Basta. Thanks for reading this far—if you did!

I wish you well in your work, Jon. You are truly one of the most important living artists, and I only hope I can do justice to your work in the book I am writing. The sooner I finish, the better to celebrate the importance of your films and your personal example. Keep going. It matters—all the more in the world we find ourselves living in. As a greater man than I said: “Truth and love will triumph over lies and hate.” Given my experience at BU, I sometimes have my doubts, but we have to keep believing that is true. It’s the only way to live our lives.

All best wishes.

Cordially,

Ray

Ray Carney
Professor of Film and American Studies

Author of: The Films of John Cassavetes: Pragmatism, Modernism and the Movies (Cambridge University Press); The Films of Mike Leigh: Embracing the World (Cambridge University Press); Speaking the Language of Desire: The Films of Carl Dreyer (Cambridge University Press); American Vision: The Films of Frank Capra (Cambridge University Press/University Press of New England); American Dreaming (University of California Press at Berkeley); Shadows (British Film Institute/Macmillan); Cassavetes on Cassavetes (Faber and Faber/Farrar Straus); The Adventure of Insecurity; Necessary Experiences; Why Art Matters; What’s Wrong with Film Criticism; and other books, essays, and editions.

Web site: http://www.Cassavetes.com (suspended at the demand of my Chairman and Dean)

Mailing address:
Prof. Ray Carney
College of Communication
640 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston University
Boston, MA 02215

Office telephone: 617-353-5976
Office e-mail address: rcarney@bu.edu

What this little tale tells is in keeping with a broader phenomenon in America: the steady seep of corruption into all levels of our society, a hand-maiden to the take-over of corporations, with their financial power warping all aspects of life in America.   I will do another post on this in the near future.

Meantime support the Spring Occupation where ever you live.

ADDENDUM:

The following is a response to this posting from the President of Boston University, Robert Brown:

April 1, 2012
Dear Mr. Jost:
It is inappropriate for me to comment externally on faculty performance and university personnel matters.  Boston University has well established and fair processes for faculty members to bring forward grievances.  Sometimes they do not like the answers that result.
Sincerely,
Bob Brown
President
Boston University

This is, naturally, the kind of response one can expect from corporatized souls, reciting like a mantra cliche phrases defending their institution.  Boston University in truth has a good track record of harassing faculty who don’t toe the proper political line of the administration.  Howard Zinn is the most visible case.   The response to the letter I sent to Mr Brown some 6 or so years ago, was pretty much the same boiler-plate corporatese CYA.    Our universities have long been the subject of scathing novels on the petty politics of internal department politics, bloated egos, etc., and recently, as in the case of Penn State, of pure unmitigated corruption.  Universities are now very big business, with spin-off research institutions, close ties to corporate interests, sports incomes, and of course their original mission of “education” has been duly corrupted in process.  They largely function as farm systems for corporate interests.  Along the way they charge exorbitantly for their “services” and leave their students, clearly as part of a larger social project, with a massive debt in loans, which puts those clients on a treadmill of corporate servitude.  Student loans are particularly odious as most are structured precisely to put the borrower in an untenable position, under the lash.  It is clearly a purposeful system as the universities are transparently part of the larger social con in which it is insisted that without a vaunted degree one will get nowhere in life.  It has all degenerated into a cruel farce in which corruption is the moral, ethical, economic, social and political norm.   These universities play a significant role on constructing this fraud.

The upcoming Presidential election is in full swing, with the Republican Party seemingly intent on committing suicide in full public view.  Leading off with their endless “debates,” in which the vapidity of the self-chosen nominees was put on full display – – or is it newly-minted billionaire superPAC anointed?    Then segueing into the primaries, the GOP has managed to compound its folly with the media-hyped roller-coaster shifting of favored dunces bouncing wildly from Cain to Romney to Perry to Gingrich with some of the lesser lights in their dim world cast aside earlier – Michelle and Sarah, and most recently landing in the lap of Rick Santorum.  Traversing the nation, this circus seems to live in some other-world bubble, firmly detached from the every day realities of the ostensible public to which they appeal for votes.  Of course in most states this particular public is winnowed down to the narrow band of Republican stalwarts who vote in these primaries – strident ideologues, racists, Christian fundamentalists and evangelists, and those who genuflect at the altar of St Reagan, patron of the party, even if in these times, like Eisenhower, he would be vilified for the actual things he did (raise taxes, critique the military-industrial complex).  Of these things those of the current Grand Old Party can hardly be bothered to notice: facts are distinctly not within their peripheral vision, not to mention in-your-face.

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St Reagan

With nary a hint of irony, these would-be political leaders all fall into lock-step, as rigid as that of the Third Reich or the unlamented long-gone USSR.  Bedecked in mandatory stiff suits for their debates, American flag lapel pin correctly shown, or “common folk” jeans and plaid when on the hustings, they preach a gospel of “family values,” of “bring back America” and a long litany of sure-fire cliches as fraudulent as their own selves.   Between the lines are racist cue words, carefully placed.   One by one, caught up in messes of their own making – sexual, financial, “ethical” or “political” they march to the gangplank and leap.   What the Great American Public actually thinks of these people – mired in hypocrisy, transparently bought and sold in the new Supreme Court version of “free speech” in which the ancient axiom of America “money talks and bullshit walks” was given legal sanction – is presumably to be deciphered in the tea-leave readings of our vaunted “pundits” who presume to have their fingers on the pulse of the nation, though they seem only to talk to the somnambulant zombies residing “inside the Beltway.”

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One is told that the vast American public learns everything on television, a medium some time ago seized by profit-minded corporate moguls who naturally attempt to seize any medium which demonstrates that it indeed reaches masses of people, or, in their minds, “clients” or “customers.”   Mass communications equals big numbers, and hence, big profits.   And so news became a commodity, just like anything else, and in keeping with the capitalist impulse to place money uber alles, the news had to be repackaged to be more attractive, exciting, and engaging.    So, like the dazzlingly packaged bag of puffed sugar/salt coated air carefully placed before your eyes at the check-out counter – a bag scientifically designed to catch the eye, and full of substances designed to be nearly addictive  (like cigarettes), and for sure you “just can’t stop eatin’ them,” the “news” also morphed into a high-profit margin substance full of air and little else. And so we got celebrity news, famous name violence (AJ on the Freeway), and whatever else seemed to hook the biggest audience for the longest time, the better to feed them the sin qua non of American television:  advertisements.

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At the same time “serious” news got shoved into the background, unless,  as in the events of 9/11, it is forced by circumstances to the headlines.  See, for example, the history of OWS and the news organizations. The news, shifted to being a conduit for profiteering, like any entertainment, is altered and takes on a curious semblance to “commercial” television and filmmaking: heavy on stupid comedy, sex and violence.  Very thin on serious “content.”

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String-pullers, media moguls Jeffrey Bewkes and Sumner Redstone

String-puller supreme: Rupert Murdoch (wire-tapping)

Not content with merely shaping the consumer desires of the populace, once having demonstrated through the wiles of Madison Avenue the effectiveness of advertising, as well as through scientific social research which focused ever more exactly on how to manipulate the consumer – so that now many people proudly wear the corporate emblems of the products which they purchase, be it high-end clothing, or bottom-end costly Nike shoes, or anything between – the corporations realized that they could themselves write “the news” and go directly to pure propaganda:  Fox “News.”   In a manner far more directly than their network predecessors, which reported news of a narrowed, provincial, “about/of concern to America” range, the new systems dispense with any pretense to objectivity.  Of course, in Orwellian language, they claim the opposite: “fair and balanced” they loudly announce as the exact opposite spews over the airwaves.

Draped in the requisite redwhiten’blue, culled by a systemically corrupt order in which only certain things may be said, and certain things may not be said (for example, with regard to cutting the government deficit one must not mention the biggest and most needless hog at the trough – the military-industrial complex), our political process coughs forth these puppets, who with no small irony echo those of our arch-nemesis of not-so-long-ago, or the present.  The particularities of the costumes may be a little different – stars & stripes instead of hammer and sickle – but the genuflection to a given style is exactly the same.

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Chinese PolitburoUS Congress

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Bequeathed the toxic legacy of the Bush administration – a massive deficit incurred by tax cuts for the rich combined with two unpaid for failing wars, the lack of enforcement of existing regulatory laws and a peel back of regulation in general, and the fiscal bubble it provoked bursting shortly after the 2008 election – Barack Obama entered his office under the dark clouds of an economic crisis for which Republican policies were almost wholly responsible.   They have spent the last 3 years doing what they could both to prolong the economic trauma for Americans, and to shift the blame onto Obama and his policies.   It is a case of pure hard-core right-wing politics, no matter what the damages to the nation.  The consequences are the massive foreclosures, loss of jobs, and the human misery it produces.  Naturally the right blames the victims for their situation.  Class warfare in action.

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Foreclosure heaven

“Creative destruction”

Following 3 years of being pummeled by the Republicans – a process which began the day of his inauguration, and perhaps culminating in the Astro-turfed Tea Party events of last year – President Obama has seemingly stood aloof, distant from the political fray.  And seemingly he was whipped one time after another.   With each seeming triumph the rabble and potentates of the right smelled blood and upped the ante, moving in for the kill:  Boehner stated simply that his work as Speaker of the House was to assure Obama had only one term, and he very much acted out that role, painting himself in purely negative terms.  Others questioned Obama’s legitimacy, whether he was “American” at all.  Throughout this  scourging Obama remained largely silent, drawing to himself critiques of a failure to fight in equal kind to  the vulgar abuses dished out by the voices of the right – from Limbaugh onto the various personages vying for the Republican nomination.  As the vocal turmoil mounted, Obama seemed almost to disappear.   And now, whipped to a frenzy, those on the right, in their eagerness to produce a corpse, have interestingly turned on themselves.  Denied the victim they wanted, who declined the role, the Republican nominees are slicing and dicing one another.

Sitting back these last months, Barack Obama has been gifted this bloodletting by his ostensible opponents, and one imagines he recalls another famous African-American, who likewise bore a Muslim name, and likewise incensed the fury of our legions of racists.   In his profession he had a tactic, which bears some similarity to the political moves of Obama.  He called it rope-a-dope.  He’d let his opponent spend himself in a fury of punches, exhausting himself, while he, Muhammed Ali, laid back against the ropes, seemingly being whupped.  Once the flourish of energy spent was finished, he’d bounce back and deliver the coup de grace.  It was a kind of pugilistic Zen, of a kind Obama appears to exercise in politics.

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Ironically, in this theater of the political absurd, it is the king-makers of the “elite” ruling class who are likely to have the last laugh.  Once all the grand media drama of the election has subsided, and the fulminating of ideologues has drifted into momentary silence, and the votes have been cast (and perhaps, if necessary, jiggled, as recent history indicates is becoming our norm), those eminences, hiding behind their Wizard of Oz curtain, will doubtless be pleased with the success of their latest shell game.   After all the sturm und drang, indeed, the best and most useful Republican in the field will have triumphed:  Barack Obama.   Carefully masked as a “liberal” in the last election, this time around he is clearly put forward as a domestic, somewhat centrist Republican, though calling himself a “Democrat.”  He can do this thanks to having spent the last 3 years being vilified by the mindless shriekers of the right as a Kenyan anti-imperialist “socialist” (unsaid, “nigger”) who is, OMG, trying to turn the nation into a servile European-style welfare state.  Tarred with this, his actions on domestic matters slip easily into the mold of old-time mainstream Republican policies.  Which makes those behind the curtains happy.  And on the foreign front, Barack is happy to drones away whomever disturbs American imperial prerogatives, never mind the Constitutionality of it.  And likewise, while feigning to curb the ravenous appetite of the military-industrial complex, our biggest feeder at the Federal welfare trough, the figures show nothing of the kind.  Rather the numbers are shifted to focus on our new very costly very high-tech kind of warfare in which 10 million dollar Hell-Fire missiles are used to take out a few peasant guerrillas at a time.   Mr. Obama not only pursues this policy, he seems to relish it.  A virtual warrior on behalf of the empire.

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Manchurian candidate Barack Obama and the Harvard Class of 1991

Of course, this scenario might have a monkey-wrench thrown in it should the OWS emerge from its winter hibernation having learned from its militarized-police-imposed FBI/CIA nationally coordinated attack, and accompanying corporate-media rub-out, that it needs to acquire some new tactics.  I’m inclined to think they’ve taken this seeming down-time to hone their thoughts.  It was only 6 months ago that any national discussion about class warfare, income disparities, the 1%, or the ugly consequences of yahoo capitalism was simply unthinkable, totally taboo!  Without recourse to the governing establishment’s usual requirements – appearing on Sunday talk shows, having a clear bullet-point agenda, a “leader,” a party,  and all the rest – OWS seized the high-ground and pressed these issues into the national consciousness and discourse.  No small feat in our highly manipulated society.  The 1% are no longer invisible or chronically lauded; rather they are criticized and their actual actions are under scrutiny.   Whether their shell-game with Mr Obama will suffice to smother the discontent brewing across the nation remains to be seen.

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Gary Beydler, 16mm film, Hand Held Day (1970)Trader, NY Stock ExchangeForeclosureRustbelt, DetroitTornado, Grand Island, NebraskaMitt Romney and Rick Perry, Presidential aspirantsNina Mannering, killed at 29 in meth’ed out Ohio townMap, Jasper JohnsAttica State Prison, New YorkOccupy, SeattleOccupy, OaklandTodd Morten, Scott’s Bluff, Ne.Hank Williams
George Kuchar, 1942-2011Paramount Cinema, Oakland, Ca.

Rupturing through the slick apathy of corporatized America, where last the semblance of public utterance was underwritten by the Koch brothers in the form of the Tea Party, this autumn found another voice.  Unlike the AstroTurf patriots of the tri-corner hat costumed shills of wealth, whose origins were transparent in their corporate logo mass-produced placards, the Occupy Wall Street movement – triggered by the example of the Arab Spring, fueled with Twitter and Facebook and ironically their corporate heft, as well as seeded by the Canadian anti-corporate magazine Adbusters – is instead truly a grass-roots phenomenon, as signaled in their simple hand-made singular signs.  Willfully lacking “leaders,” the Occupy movement has baffled our “authorities,” be they of the government or pundits representing the ruling class, all of whom take hierarchical order as a natural state of affairs and cannot comprehend its absence.   At its outset, occupying Zuccotti Park in New York City, OWS was seen as a brief quirk, a small cluster of mostly college kids camping in downtown Manhattan.  Palin’s “lame-stream” press did its best to ignore them, in a manner tipping its corporate hand:  when the Tea Party entered the scene the coverage was instant and massive.  But of course, hidden behind the screen, it was their party, supporting corporate interests.   OWS was certainly not theirs, and in the classic Pravda style of the good old USSR, if they didn’t report it, it wouldn’t exist.   And so the major media of America issued its black-out fatwa, very much as the Mubarak regime had done, and officially Occupy Wall Street vanished from view.  But, just as in Egypt, the internet provided the mechanism for an end-run around the the views of officialdom, and rather than withering in a matter of days, variants of OWS began to pop up around the country.  Flummoxed, authorities applied their usual remedies:  police were used to cordon and attack, rules were suddenly applied or invented.  And yet with each maneuver of suppression the movement gained support and within a short period, despite repeated attempts at official suppression and ridicule from the punditry, Occupy Wall Street managed to gain from 47 to 70% favorable polling (depending on which), and the national conversation drastically shifted from discussing how to slash Social Security or Medicare, into  discussing how it was that 1% of the population sucked up most the wealth, had bought the government and the press, and had pretty much ruined things for the 99% below them.  All in six weeks.  Without a “leader.”  Without a talking-point agenda.  Without going on one of the TV network talk shows, or Sunday morning political platforms.  Without all the requisites of corporate dictated politics.

Whether in its current form Occupy manages to survive, or develops into a potent political force, it can reasonably be said that it has already been a massive success in articulating the rage underlying our political and economic system.   Without presenting a platform or a list of requested demands, it has made clear that our economic system is utterly out of balance and does not serve the larger public, and it has pointed the finger at the Masters of the Universe who occupy the suites of Wall Street and K Street, and dictate to our corrupted politicians – from Barack Obama to Mitch O’Connell and on out to the far-right extremes of those presently running for the Republican nomination.   In changing the national conversation from the bullet points of neo-liberalist economics and neo-con foreign policy, it has made a major contribution already towards correcting the insanity which has engulfed our national politics.

Governor Scott Walker, Wisconsin

George Kuchar sees the futureScott Olsen, Iraq war vet attacked by Oakland policeFrom Nathaniel Dorsky’s “The Visitation”