The incredible whininess of the oligarchy

Glenn Greenwald has another excellent piece on how the US oligarchs, as represented by the Koch brothers, are so greedy as to be delusional, seeing themselves as the oppressed ones, fighting against a President Obama who in their eyes is a ‘dedicated egalitarian’ who has ‘internalized Marxist models’ and is ‘the most radical president we’ve ever had as a nation’ because he has had ‘antibusiness, anti-free enterprise influences affecting him almost all his life’.

Greenewald contrasts this with the reality:

Since Obama was inaugurated, the Dow Jones has increased more than 50% — from 8,000 to more than 12,000; the wealthiest recieved a massive tax cut; the top marginal tax rate was three times less than during the Eisenhower years and substantially lower than during the Reagan years; income and wealth inequality are so vast and rising that it is easily at Third World levels; meanwhile, “the share of U.S. taxes paid by corporations has fallen from 30 percent of federal revenue in the 1950s to 6.6 percent in 2009.” During this same time period, the unemployment rate has increased from 7.7% to 8.9%; millions of Americans have had their homes foreclosed; and the number of Americans living below the poverty line increased by many millions, the largest number since the statistic has been recorded. Can you smell Obama’s radical egalitarianism and Marxist anti-business hatred yet?

Then there are those whom Obama has empowered. His first chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, is a business-revering corporatist who made close to $20 million in 3 short years as an investment banker, while his second, Bill Daley, served for years as JP Morgan’s Midwest Chairman. His Treasury Secretary is undoubtedly the most loyal and dedicated servant Wall Street has ever had in that position, while Goldman Sachs officials occupy so many key positions in his administration that a former IMF and Salomon Brothers executive condemned what he called “Goldman Sachs’s seeming lock on high-level U.S. Treasury jobs.” Obama’s former OMB Director recently left to take a multi-million-dollar position with Citigroup. From the start, Obama’s economic policies were shaped by the Wall Street-revering neo-liberal Rubinites who did so much to serve corporate America during the Clinton years. Meanwhile, the President’s choice to head his Council on Jobs and Competitiveness — General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt — heads a corporation that “despite $14.2 billion in worldwide profits – including more than $5 billion from U.S. operations – [] did not owe taxes in 2010″: an appointment the White House still defends.

Yes, these are definitely the actions of a doctrinaire egalitarian determined to destroy the capitalist system in the US and usher in a Marxist dictatorship.

John W. Loftus talk on The Christian Delusion

I attended the talk by John W. Loftus on Saturday. There was a crowd of around 35-40 which was very good considering that the event was organized at very short notice and Saturday evenings at 6:00 pm is not the best time to draw a student audience. The officers of the CWRU Center for Inquiry did a terrific job in arranging everything.

Loftus’s talk was very interesting for me in that he presents an insider’s view of how American evangelical Christians see the world. One has to understand that world view if one is to engage effectively with religious people in the US. As a former evangelical preacher, he is aware of what kinds of arguments might reach them. He presents believers with what he calls the ‘Outsider Test for Faith’, asking them to apply to their own faith the same criteria that they use to reject competing faiths.

I think that the alliance of people like Loftus, who were once committed Christians and are now atheists, and atheists who come from a scientific background could be very fruitful since we bring complementary knowledge to bear on the problem of how to deal with religion and can learn a lot from each other.

He and I were able to spend some time together before and after his talk and I found him to be as engaging in private as he is as a public speaker. He and I shared books and ideas and I will report on his book The Christian Delusion once I’ve had a chance to read it.

Meanwhile, his blog Debunking Christianity is lively and well worth visiting.

The lessons of V for Vendetta

After reading the book The Count of Monte Cristo and seeing the 1934 film adaptation, I watched the film V for Vendetta again and enjoyed it even more, as it is one of those films whose message grows on you with repeated viewings (though the plot holes also become more apparent) and I cannot recommend it enough. The trailer focuses a lot more on Natalie Portman, the box office draw, than the film does.

I could see why the character of V would be drawn to the story of The Count of Monte Cristo. Both he and Edmond Dantes seek vengeance for injustices and terrible harm done to them personally, as well as see themselves as agents for bringing evil people to justice. Here is a key scene in which a speech that V gives explains what is going on and why things have to be changed.

I predicted that the film V for Vendetta would become a cult classic and that seems to be coming true. Its basic message, that of people waking up to their oppression and taking on a cruel and ruthless power structure that uses the media and religion as tools of control, has caught on and I have been observing people in various demonstrations wearing the iconic V mask and using the V symbol, mimicking the climactic scene in the film where the people rise up against their oppressive rulers.

V for Vendetta.jpeg v-for-vendetta-logo-wallpaper.jpg

The group Anonymous that consists largely of computer hackers sees itself in the tradition of V, fighting against oppressive structures behind a shield of anonymity. It even uses the V mask on its website where it describes its vision of expanding access to information and breaking down the barriers of secrecy that prevent people from realizing what is actually going on. This group is acting behind the scenes to support the current uprisings in the Middle East.

A recent communiqué further explains its mission.

Under most circumstances, ordinary people have little chance against the massive firepower that rulers will unleash through their security forces against protestors. The prime purpose of the armed security forces in any country is less to defend the country from outside forces and more to be used against their own people if they should challenge the power structure. Soldiers are deliberately hardened during their training so that they will be willing to kill even their own people. We see this happening in Bahrain, Yemen, and Libya, and it is likely to happen in Saudi Arabia and Syria and Jordan. And, yes, it will also happen in the US if the people should really rise up in mass protest against the oligarchic rule that is going on here.

What stops security forces from killing civilians is if they are overwhelmed by the sheer numbers arrayed against them, so that except for the psychopaths, even the most hardened troops on the front line begin to suspect that rather than saving the nation from those who would harm it, they are on the wrong side and are being used as tools to perpetuate a power structure that is actually against the best interests of the nation.

For all the ballyhoo about the use of social networks in the Middle East revolts, that is only a tiny part of the story, since only a small, though influential, minority has access to these new technologies. Besides, technology alone cannot overthrow oppressive governments. The basic message of V for Vendetta is that it is when large numbers of people are willing to get out of their homes and go out into the streets and rise up against their tyrannical rulers that regimes get toppled. As the tagline of the film says, “People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.”

The people in the Middle East are doing precisely what V recommends, whether they have seen the film or not. These protests are spreading. I don’t know where they will go.

Cricket World Cup update

It turned out that only three of my four quarter-final predictions were correct. Pakistan and Sri Lanka trounced West Indies and England respectively. India beat Australia (who had won the three previous world Cups) in a more evenly balanced game. The one upset was New Zealand who won in dramatic come-from-behind fashion over South Africa, the country that I thought would become the eventual champions.

South Africa is an enigma. They consistently field strong teams and have often been thought the best in the tournament. And yet they suddenly collapse and lose at key moments, giving rise to the reputation of being chokers. They have not won the quadrennial World Cup since they first took part in 1992 when they were first allowed back into international sports competition following the end of apartheid. England and New Zealand have not won since the series started in 1975.

The semi-final games consist of Sri Lanka v New Zealand on Tuesday (in Sri Lanka) and Pakistan v India on Wednesday (in India). The teams are quite evenly matched and my picks are Sri Lanka and India, because I think they are slightly better teams and each has the home field advantage.

Those poor persecuted bigots

The Catholic Church has complained to the UN Human Rights Council that “People who criticise gay sexual relations for religious or moral reasons are increasingly being attacked and vilified for their views.”

I had not realized that bigots had such sensitive feelings. No doubt the Catholic Church will next complain about criticisms aimed at those who support pedophilic priests.

It is amazing how people think that saying that one’s views originate from one’s religion automatically confers immunity from the normal rough and tumble of public political discourse.

(via Machines Like Us)

Elizabeth Taylor, 1932-2011

Elizabeth-Taylor.jpgElizabeth Taylor was stunningly beautiful, a wonderful actor, and seemed to be (to the extent that one can infer about public personalities by their public actions) a nice person who supported many worthy causes (especially AIDS prevention and treatment in its early days when many did not want to be associated with it) but who unfortunately could not seem to find happiness in her private life and battled many illnesses and personal demons.

She is the only famous actor that I have seen in person. It happened sometime between mid 1962 and 1963 when I was living in England for a year. My parents were friendly with an executive at Pinewood Studios and he invited my mother and me to spend the day visiting the studios and wandering around the various sets. At lunchtime he took us to the cafeteria and there was Elizabeth Taylor at an adjoining table. They were shooting some final scenes from her epic Cleopatra and she was in costume, famous hairstyle and all.

Of course my mother, a big fan, was far more excited by seeing Elizabeth Taylor than a boy like me who would have preferred to see the action heroes of that time. But even at that age I could tell that she was really pretty and this is the image that I will remember her by.