Thursday, May 29, 2014

Technical Difficulties

Apologies, my ISP, a small local company out here in the Arizona desert, has suffered a catastrophic system failure which may take several days to repair. Posting is suspended until the situation is resolved. - CP

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Daily "Near You?"

Fremont, California, USA. Thanks for stopping by.

Chet Raymo, “The Mysterious Play of Forces”

“The Mysterious Play of Forces”
by Chet Raymo

“I have often quoted here the poet Rainer Maria Rilke, mostly from the “Duino Elegies” or “The Sonnets of Orpheus.” We now have a new translation of Rilke's earlier “The Book of Hours”, by Susan Ranson, which I have been reading, and I offer a short poem from the “First Book: The Book of Monkish Life.”
"I find your trace in all these things, in all
that like a brother I am careful for;
you sun yourself, a seed, within the small
and in the great give yourself the more.

This the mysterious play of forces, then,
that serve in things, over and under ground:
that rise in roots, narrow into the stem,
and in the crown like resurrection stand."

The poems of “The Book of Hours”, written when Rilke was in his mid-twenties, are as the title suggests addressed to God, but his is a strange and unfamiliar sort of deity. Not quite the transcendent God of the theist, who lives outside of the creation. Nor is he quite the immanent God of the pantheist who is manifest in all things. Rather, Rilke's God is concealed within the creation, within the poems even. The point of the poems, says Ben Hutchinson in an Introduction to Ranson's translations, is to create a "lattice-work" of rhymes and rythms through which the poet encourages God to grow. Rilke's God resides in the interstices of things. The poet- the poem- is "your pitcher," writes Rilke, addressing God. If the pitcher shatters that which might quench the thirst is dispersed.

A curious God, this God of Rilke. I'm not sure if there is a name for his sort of religion. In a sense, it is an egotistical theology, making God's existence dependent upon the poet's apprehension. But it is also an enobling sort of theology, emphasizing our responsibility to nurture divinity- to divinize the world.

Anyway, the little poem above strikes me as an appropriate meditation for a religious naturalist. On these occasions, we praise the things- call them divine if you wish- "that rise in roots, narrow into the stem, and in the crown like resurrection stand."

“Sharing Grief: Opening to Receive Comfort”

“Sharing Grief: Opening to Receive Comfort”
by Madisyn Taylor, The DailyOM

“Grief is part of the human experience, and sharing our vulnerability helps create truly close bonds. When we experience something that causes us to feel shock and sadness, we may feel the urge to withdraw from life. It may seem like remaining withdrawn will keep us protected from the world, but during these times it is important to reach out to those trusted and precious people who care about us the most. Even with our best information and reasoning, we never know when someone else’s experience or perspective can give us additional information that we need. The universe speaks to us through many channels, and when we open ourselves up to receive its messages, we also receive nurturing care from a loving partner in life’s journey.

Grief is part of the human experience, and sharing our vulnerability is what creates truly close bonds in our relationships. Opening ourselves up in this way gets to the core of our being, past all of our defenses and prejudices. When life seems to crack the outer shell of our world, we are both raw and fresh at the same time. It is then that we discover who is truly willing to walk with us through life. We also see that some of those sent to us may not be the ones we expected to see. Regardless, we learn to trust in the universe, in others, in our own strength and resilience, and in the wisdom of life itself.

Sharing grief allows us to ease our burden by letting someone else help carry it. This helps us process our own inner thoughts and feelings through the filter of a trusted and beloved someone. We may feel guilty or selfish, as if we are unloading on someone who has their own challenges. Although, if we think about it, we know we would do the same for them, and their protests would seem pointless. Remember that not sharing feelings with others denies them the opportunity to feel. We may be the messenger sent by the universe for their benefit, and it is on this mission that we have been sent. By sharing our hopes and fears, joys and pains with another person, we accept the universe’s gifts of wisdom and loving care.”

"How It Really Is"


"Everything Is Backwards..."

"Just look at us. Everything is backwards; everything is upside down. Doctors destroy health, lawyers destroy justice, universities destroy knowledge, governments destroy freedom, the major media destroy information and religions destroy spirituality" - Michael Ellner

Aren't you tired of this, Good Citizen?

Satire: “Obama Defends Controversial Policy of Not Invading Countries for No Reason”

“Obama Defends Controversial Policy of Not Invading Countries for No Reason”
by Andy Borowitz 

WEST POINT (The Borowitz Report)— “President Obama raised eyebrows with his West Point commencement address Wednesday by offering a defense of his controversial foreign-policy doctrine of not invading countries for no reason. Conservative critics were taken aback by Obama’s speech, which was riddled with incendiary remarks about only using military force for a clearly identified and rational purpose. Obama did not shy away from employing polarizing rhetoric, often using words such as “responsible” and “sensible” to underscore his message.

Harland Dorrinson, a fellow at the conservative think tank the Center for Global Intervention, said that he was “stunned” to see Obama “defend his failure to engage the United States in impulsive and random military adventures. History tells us that the best way to earn respect around the world is by using your military in a totally unpredictable and reckless manner,” he said. “Today, President Obama showed once again that he doesn’t get it.”

"To the Class of 2014: You're 'Screwed'"

"To the Class of 2014: You're 'Screwed'" 
by Bill Bonner

"We're still on our commencement day address, where our callow graduates find out that they've been set up.

Dear Class of '14: Except in the sciences and engineering, a college education may do more harm than good. As I explained yesterday, to be taught, studied and learned, the arts and humanities must be reduced to a caricature. People are turned into stick figures. Complex story lines become narratives so simple even a college student can understand them. You're young. And now you're leaving school, you can begin to learn. It will take you many years to develop the deep suspicion and cynicism you need to understand what is really going on. But I'll give you a little preview...

The Curious Case of Moses Triplett: America's armed forces protect our freedom, right? Memorial Day is set aside to honor them. The Department of Veterans Affairs provides them with material benefits. These are the "facts" taught to every schoolboy and schoolgirl and rehearsed every year by every newspaper in the nation. 

On Memorial Day, our minister chose to tell the story of Moses Triplett, whose daughter is the last person from the Civil War era still receiving veterans' benefits. Triplett was a soldier in the Confederate States Army. On the road to Gettysburg, he defected to the Union cause. He survived the war. Married. His wife died. Late in life, Triplett remarried a woman 50 years his younger (and apparently retarded) and had a child, who is still alive. 

But why should we honor a man who betrayed his people and his nation? Why does the VA support the traitors' child, 150 years after the end of the war? Memorial Day and higher education have a lot in common: You have to ignore the particulars to appreciate them. Take out the inconvenient details. Remove the embarrassing facts. Often what is left is sterile nonsense. 

Every Memorial Day editorial tells us our veterans fought for "freedom." Yet in not a single one of America's wars was an enemy preparing to reduce our freedom. The huns wanted Alsace, not Pennsylvania. The Philippines intended no subjugation of Indiana. And what about the Nicaraguans? Nobody even remembers the shackles they were meant to clamp onto American wrists. But after every victory, we know what happened next: The doughboys and grunts came home to higher taxes and more prohibitions. 

Democracy or Dictatorship? What you learn in college is the way things are "supposed" to work. But few things in real life are as simple as they're "supposed" to be. Our government is not run by the people for the people. Government is merely a way one group of people – the insiders – take advantage of other people – the outsiders. 

You can call it democracy or dictatorship; it hardly matters. It can be gentle and broadly tolerable... or brutal and widely detested. What makes it a government is it has a monopoly on the use of violence; ultimately, the insiders use it to get what they want. 

As for the economy, you have learned about our capitalist system. You have been told that it needs regulation by the SEC, the Fed, the Department of Justice, the FDA, the FTC and other agencies to keep the capitalists honest. You have been lied to. It's not a capitalist system; the feds took the capital out 40 years ago. Now, it depends on cronies and credit. It's a corrupt system – the product of collusion between industry and the agencies meant to regulate them. Its real purpose is to transfer more wealth and power to the insiders. 

Economist William Baumol understood. He noticed that goods-producing businesses – such as an automaker or a maker of a widget – could achieve high productivity growth, thanks to labor-saving automation and supply-chain efficiencies. He also noticed that productivity stayed more or less static in service-sector jobs, such as nursing and teaching. (Basically, a nurse needed to spend just as much time with a sick patient... and a teacher needed to spend as much time with a student.)

Despite this, wage increases in service-sector industries – education, healthcare and government – tended to keep pace with wage increases in industries where rising wage growth was justified by growing productivity.  That's part of the reason your TVs are cheap... but your health care has become so expensive. Not only is health care largely protected from competition and distorted by third parties who pay the bills, including the government and insurance companies, but also wages for health-care workers rise, even though productivity stays more or less static. 

This also helps explain why a university education is eight times more costly than it was in 1978... even though you're still getting more or less the same education. Also, as I explained on Friday, college was optional to a decent income in the 1970s. Now, it's almost obligatory. 

When everything is rigged, the riggers have the money and the power. Lobbyists, lawyers, accountants, administrators: Whether you want to take a business public... or just build a house... you come face to face with someone who can stop you, with paperwork, legal razzmatazz and nauseating administration. You need to play the game, too. 

More to come tomorrow – including the Cantillon Effect... and "intertemporal discoordination." You'll find out what they mean... and how they affect you. (Hint: You're "screwed.")"

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

“The Biggest Thing In The Universe Is So Gigantic It Shouldn't Exist At All”

“The Biggest Thing In The Universe Is So Gigantic It Shouldn't Exist At All” 
by Jacqueline Howard

“What's the biggest known structure in the universe? Astronomers used to think it was a "filament" of galaxies known as the Sloan Great Wall. But recent research suggests a different structure is even bigger- and its size has astronomers scratching their heads. Meet the Hercules-Corona Borealis Great Wall (Her-CrB GW). Check it out in the video below:

"The Her-CrB GW is larger than the theoretical upper limit on how big universal structures can be," Dr. Jon Hakkila, an astrophysics professor at the College of Charleston in South Carolina and one of the astronomers who discovered the structure, told The Huffington Post in an email. "Thus, it is a conundrum: it shouldn't exist but apparently does."

Mysteries just like this are why astronomers scan the skies for a glimpse into the past, as they shed light not only on the early years of our universe, but also more about our galaxy, our solar system, and ultimately, ourselves.

"We are now mapping structures across the sky," astronomer Dr. Jay M. Pasachoff, director of the Hopkins Observatory at Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., who was not involved in the great wall's discovery, told The Huffington Post. "We’re learning how the universe grew up. So we’re learning about how our cluster of galaxies grew up and how our own galaxy grew up and how our sun formed, and how the Earth formed soon there after. We’re looking back at our history."

Because astronomers are still mapping the sky, there just may be something even grander than the Hercules-Corona Borealis Great Wall in our universe. "The danger of finding the biggest, or most distant, or the oldest things in the universe is always that sooner or later someone is likely to come along and find something bigger, more distant, or older than the thing you found," Hakkila said. "So far we have not been upstaged, but it has only been about six months since we published." The finding was published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

"How It Really Is"

“The Commencement Address Nobody Wants to Hear”

“The Commencement Address Nobody Wants to Hear” 
by Bill Bonner

“Yesterday was Memorial Day in the US. We used this quiet interlude to continue the commencement address nobody wants to hear. You are heirs to a great society, a great economy, a great government... and more snaky illusions than you can shake a stick at. 

Memorial Day gave us an opportunity to salute the fallen. Without a moment's hesitation or thought (which is the only way to do it) those who protect us rush to the barricades or recruiting offices. Germans, French, Vietnamese... Protestant, Catholic and Muslim... Nazis, Bolsheviks and Democrats... royalists and revolutionaries... mad kings... evil dictators... oligarchs, patriarchs and string pullers – all the world's elites should pause for a minute and give thanks to the poor suckers who protect them. And you, the Class of '14, after 12 years in prison-like schools... and another four or more in college... now you are ready to take your place among them. But let's look at what you are getting yourselves into... 

The Biggest Chumps in the Country: Specifically, let's look at the financial system. It's not the same financial system that your parents came into. And it has some new features that are going to make you the biggest chumps in history. 

Did I mention the Cantillon Effect, "intertemporal discoordination" and Baumol's cost disease? These are just ways economists have tried to understand the financial distortions and economic perversions caused by today's money system. Look, I don't have time to explain the entire universe to you... but here is what you need to know... The whole system is rigged against you. 

Even college. Did you ever wonder why you went to college? And why it was so expensive? You pay an average of $30,000 a year, plus another $10,000 for room and board! As I explained on Friday, the unlimited credit of the post-1970s period favored talkers and meddlers over doers and makers. For 90% of people, real wages have been flat since 1968. The other 10% had jobs that were mostly for college graduates – in finance and administration. That's why you're here: You wanted to be in that small group of Americans with rising incomes. 

The last four years should have been the best years of your life. You were as alert, energetic and strong as you ever will be. And what did you really get for it? Did you learn more in school than you would have learned in real life? I doubt it. 

90% Claptrap: Real life is tough. Infinitely complex. Unlimited in its subtlety and ambiguity. You never know when you'll be tested in real life... and you never know what the test will cover. So you have to be on your toes. In college you can get through courses with CliffsNotes and cram sessions. In real life, you have to use your brain. 

In college, life is stripped down, simplified to the point of caricature. People are turned into stick figures. History, politics, sociology, psychology, government, economics – all are reduced to simple narratives that can be taught, studied and learned. An infinite variety of facts and nuances must be distilled into just a few. The flesh must be boiled off the bone. What you end up with is bare – with 10% useful insights... and 90% claptrap. And we don't even need to mention literature, art, and gender studies. 

Now that you're graduating, you must think you know something. But unless you're in the sciences or engineering, what you know is probably not worth knowing. It's not how real life works. And the longer you spend in school studying this artificial world, the less able you are to function in the real world. 

Most of history's successful people spent little time in formal education. Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Aristotle, Hannibal, Abraham Lincoln, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Henry Ford, Charles Dickens. And thousands of others. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of college. But today, big employers want you to have a college degree. Especially the biggest employer of all: the government. 

Heck, today Jesus of Nazareth could apply for a job as a social worker in any town in the US. He wouldn't get it. He didn't have a diploma. Socrates could offer to teach a class in philosophy; almost every university would turn him down. "Where's your PhD?" they'd ask. Archimedes, the greatest engineering genius of all time, wouldn't be allowed to design a county storm drain. What kind of a system wastes strong backs and ignores strong minds? More to come..."


"Curious how often you humans manage to obtain that which you do not want."
 - Mr. Spock

“So You Want To Go To College, Eh? (To Our Young People)”

“So You Want To Go To College, Eh? (To Our Young People)”
 by Karl Denninger

“Look folks, I know, you've applied and been accepted. You're ecstatic at going off to school in late August or early September. Before you do it, think long and hard about it.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics issues 10-year projections of job growth by occupation, including estimates of the “typical education needed for entry.” The most recent projections cover 2012 to 2022. During that period, there will be an estimated net increase of 15,628,000 jobs, but only about 27 percent of them (4,230,500) will require a bachelor’s degree or more. More than twice as many of those jobs (8,789,200) are estimated to require no postsecondary education at all. In the 2001-11 decade, about 15 million people received bachelor’s degrees, and the number of college graduates per year has been rising.

Got that? Only about one in four of the jobs created over the next 10 years will require a college degree, and more than double that many people, including you, will receive one.

It is time for you to sit down and perform an honest self-assessment, because you are about to embark on a choice as an adult that will change your life.  It will either change it for the better or it will change it for the worse- and in fact it may economically destroy you. This is particularly true if you find yourself in the same situation as most, where you are going to to be taking on any debt whatsoever to go to school.

Let's take a look at the assumptions (once again) that you are making and have been sold:

Your cost of attendance and thus the amount of debt you will take on are predicated on you finishing school in 4 years. The odds are you will not do so, unless you're attending one of a handful of very select schools. Most schools intentionally try to erect roadblocks should you stumble in any way in your progression through their program. Your course catalog is a contract, but if you miss just one requirement for any reason you can't hold them to it if that impacts your progress. What are the odds you will have not one adverse life event over the next four years? Be honest with yourself- virtually everyone has an adverse life event over that period of time! If it takes you six years to finish your costs will be 50% higher than projected.

If you never finish will your partial education have any value in the marketplace at all? Maybe, and maybe not. But you're still stuck with the debt. Which is better- pulling coffees at Starbucks with or without $20,000, $40,000 or even $100,000 of debt to pay off? You do the math on that. Even if you do finish, what's the monthly payment on that debt?  How will this impact your ability to buy a house and start a family? Are you prepared to sacrifice that goal for a decade to pay down that debt? Think long and hard about that.

Are you really the exceptional one in whatever field you are choosing to study?  Here's reality for you: The 10% of people in any field usually do ok, irrespective of the obstacles before them. Why? Because they're exceptional, that's why. You have been lied to serially since grade school if you are like most kids these days with "graduation" ceremonies going back to your elementary days, handing out awards for things like "exceptional physical education" to every single kid in the class. That's a lie because it's impossible for everyone to be "exceptional", and yet that's what you're sold. The odds are 1 in 10 that you are actually the exceptional one. If you are he or she, you'll probably do ok. If you allow the delusion sold to you to become internalized you will destroy yourself instead.

Now might this pessimism be wrong? Sure. But this much I do know- those with vested interests in selling you something will never tell you that the future is bleak when getting you to impoverish yourself so they can get rich(er) requires that they tell you it will be partly sunny and warm tomorrow. This is true even if they know there's a damned hurricane coming and what you ought to be doing is boarding up the windows instead of sitting on the beach marveling at the nice waves rolling in.

We all think we're exceptional. And we all are- at something. But schools are not only derelict at detecting and nurturing that part of us, they're diametrically opposed to it because once you discover what you're really good at you don't need them any more.

The human animal is born wanting to learn. Watch any baby for a few minutes and you'll see for yourself. The fundamentals necessary to learn anything- how to read, write and perform basic arithmetic up to exponents- can be taught to any six year on within a few short years, certainly by the time said kid is 10. The rest is about desire. Your desire.

The truth is that you are seen by the people of this nation who are older than you, particularly those in the educational system and government, as product. You are a resource to be bled through taxation and fee. You are asked in the name of "country" to get up and go to work- not for yourself, but so you can pay taxes. Think I'm wrong:? Then why did we spend over $2,000 billion last year on social programs and yet for less than 1/4 of that we could give every family in America a $32,000 after-tax income? We could eliminate poverty for every American citizen right now, forever, and we've been able to do it since you were an infant. At the same time we could cut federal taxes (all of them) by 30% and eliminate the deficit. All at once. That's the math folks.

Unfortunately we don't do any of that in this country. Instead we assess your property, we tax your car, we force you to buy insurance of various sorts and if you have a job today you know all about paying taxes because on your pay stub they're in your face every Friday.

You are expected to carry on in the face of this and you probably will because frankly, the people of this country no longer have the stomach to put a stop to grift, fraud, theft and outrage. It seems we lost the willingness to do that long before the calendar flipped onto the 20th century. Instead we fill our lives with dreams of Ponzi finance- get rich schemes that all devolve into "get yours no matter what, then run like hell before anyone else can grab it from you." This is a losing game over the long run for most, but we're all sold that we're exceptional- we're all that 1%, or is it the 0.1%?

Irrespective of that, however, there is no shame in refusing to go into debt to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars because someone tells you it's what you "should" do, or that the market "demands" it, or that you're "special." Only you know if the path you're on is really one that tailors to your own personal exceptionalism. The odds are extremely high that it is not, and you are not- not on the path you're on.

If you're the one in ten on your chosen path, then stay on it and pursue it. It's worth it. If you're in the 90%, and most of you are, then you need to take the next couple of months and figure that out. You need to change your path before it absorbs you and the machine of lies and deceit put forward both by those who do know better and don't give a damn (that includes most of your government and people at your school) or those who have fallen for the insanity themselves (that probably includes your parents) grind you up. In short, you need to change the path you're walking on before you step off the cliff- it's a long way down and that's a knapsack on your back, not a parachute. And while the fall may be exhilarating I assure you that the last quarter of an inch is a real bitch.

You see, you're either not a kid anymore today, or you soon won't be. You're on the threshold of being an adult. With adulthood comes the responsibility for your actions and inactions, whether you've been duped or not. You, and nobody else, is going to have to live with the outcome of your choices- whether they were made in a fully-informed manner or whether you were only told half the story- or worse, were intentionally lied to.  And believe me, when it comes to whether you were lied to-  you were.

So if you're a young person graduating this week, or in the immediate future, step back and think before you step forward. Your future no longer depends on others. It now depends on you.”

Monday, May 26, 2014

Musical Interlude: CCR, “Fortunate Son”

CCR, “Fortunate Son” 

“'Bloodiest Thing the World Has Seen': David Cay Johnston on Inequality’s Looming Disaster"

“'Bloodiest Thing the World Has Seen':
 David Cay Johnston on Inequality’s Looming Disaster"
By Elias Isquith

"Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable."
 - John F. Kennedy

"Long before anyone knew the name Thomas Piketty, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnston was plumbing the hidden depths of the American tax code, revealing the myriad ways it privileges the interests of corporations and the wealthy ahead of those of the 99 percent. Indeed, while it may sometimes feel as if economic inequality is the new trend, Johnston’s career reminds us that the great gulf that separates the rich from the rest in the contemporary United States didn’t happen overnight, but over a course of decades.

Despite coming out during the same year as “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” and “The Divide,” Johnston’s newest release, “Divided: The Perils of Our Growing Inequality,” is a different kind of inequality book. Rather than a sweeping overview of centuries of economic history, or an on-the-ground examination of how our justice system ignores the powerful while brutalizing the rest, Johnston’s book is a collection of essays, speeches and excerpts — a kind of inequality reader. Featuring insights from philosophers, economists, journalists, researchers and even politicians, “Divided” reminds us how inequality is one of those rare problems that truly matters to all of us, no matter what our interests or chosen field.

Earlier this week, Salon reached Johnston via telephone to discuss “Divided,” whether American democracy can survive such great economic disparities, and how returning to a more equal society is literally a matter of life and death. Our conversation follows, and has been slightly edited for clarity and length. In addition, Johnston followed up with further thoughts via email.

Salon: What inspired you to create this book?

Johnston: I had done a trilogy on hidden aspects of the American economy, “Perfectly Legal,” which was about how the rich benefit from taxes, “Free Lunch,” about all the subsidies people didn’t know about that go to rich people and corporations, and “The Fine Print,” which was about restraint of trade and monopolies. And in speaking for the last 10 years around the country, one of the things I learned is that people didn’t understand that this isn’t just a function of numbers and whatnot; they didn’t understand there’s a whole structure that affects families, health, healthcare — which are different things — incarceration, opportunity, exposure to environmental hazards, wage theft and so, there was really a need here to give people a broad understanding of, well, “How did this come about, this incredible inequality that we didn’t have in this country until recent years?”

[After the interview, Johnston emailed to add: "My trilogy on the American economy explained many of the little-known, and often deceptive, laws, regulations and official practices. But inequality involves much more than what I had written about in the trilogy. I wanted to provide people with a broad understanding of the issues, ranging from limited opportunity and obstacles to achieving a modicum of prosperity, to the remarkably cruel and thoughtless policies of the Reagan era."]

Salon: In your introductory essay, you make a point of arguing that inequality is not natural, that it’s something we created and, by extensions, we can undo. But what would you say to those who, say, have read their Piketty and are thinking this kind of inequality is endemic to capitalism?

Johnston: Well, Piketty — whose work I relied on for years and who substantiates a lot of things that I’ve written with his research — argues that the concentration of wealth will just continue and continue and continue. As Herbert Stein, Richard Nixon’s chief economic adviser, famously said, a trend will only continue as long as it can. We will either, through peaceful, rational means, go back to a system that does not take from the many to give to the few in all these subtle ways, or we will end up like 18th century France. And if we end up in that awful condition, it will be the bloodiest thing the world has even seen. So I think it’s really important to get a handle on this inequality. After all, since the end of the Great Recession, one-third of all income increases in this country went to just 16,000 households, 95 percent of it went to the top 1 percent, and the bottom 90 percent’s incomes fell, and they fell by 15 percent. So we need to recognize that there is a very, very serious problem here that has to get addressed. But it won’t just go on forever because if you follow that to its logical absurdity, one person ends up with 90 percent of the wealth in the world. And that’s not going to happen.

[In the aforementioned email, Johnston also followed up on this point, writing: "While I certainly am worried that we could end up in a violent revolution somewhere in the future, sparked by extreme inequality, I’m [an] indictable optimist and believe that [if] the American people have access to explanations and information they will, over the long run, make smart choices.”]

Salon: So when you say it will be very bloody, I know you’re speaking of a wild hypothetical to some degree, but do you really think we’re on track for violent social upheaval?

Johnston: Oh, yes. I’ve written about people on the far right and the far left since the ’60s. Back in the ’60s, I was in the homes of people who built bombs, both left and right. And we live in a country now where we have members of Congress who have either questioned, or ignored questions about, killing the president of the United States. We are seeing all these laws passed allowing people to carry guns openly. We are coming apart as a society, and inequality is right at the core of that. When the 90 percent are getting worse off and they’re trying to figure out what happened, they’re not people like me who get to spend four or five hours a day studying these things and then writing about them — they’re people who have to make a living and get through life. And they’re going to be swayed by demagogues and filled with fear about the other, rather than bringing us together.

Salon: When you mention demagogues, are there people currently on the scene that give you a shiver up your spine in that regard, or are you speaking hypothetically?

Johnston: I think it would be easy for someone to arrive in the near future and really create forces that would lead to trouble in this country. And you see people who, they’re not the leaders to pull it off, but we have suggestions that the president should be killed, that he’s not an American, that Texas can secede, that states can ignore federal law, and these are things that don’t lack for antecedents in America  history but they’re clearly on the rise. In addition to that, we have this large, very well-funded news organization that is premised on misconstruing facts and telling lies, Faux News (formerly Fox News), that is creating, in a large segment of the population — somewhere around one-fifth and one-fourth of it — belief in all sorts of things that are detrimental to our well-being. President Theodore Roosevelt said we shall all rise together or we shall all fall together, and we need to have an appreciation of that.

So, no, I don’t see this happening tomorrow, but I have said for many years that if we don’t get a handle on this then one of these days our descendants are going to sit down in high-school history class and open a textbook that begins with the words: “The United States of America was …” and then it will dissect how our experiment in self-governance came apart. By the way, the Founders were very worried about this. John Adams said his fear was that instead of having yeoman farmers who owned their own land, and workers who owned their own tools and therefore were independent, that we would become a country in which a business aristocracy would arise, and the mass of people would simply work for wages and the business aristocrats would persuade the wage-earners to support those policies that were actually against their interest and favor the business aristocrats and, when that happened, we would lose our liberties and our democracy. And he wasn’t exactly the proto-lefty bomb-thrower of the group.

No, but Madison and Monroe and Jefferson — there was a lot of concern about this. They were fearful not just of a hereditary aristocracy but a business aristocracy. And I’ve had my research assistants at Syracuse Law working on this for the last two-and-a-half years and there was an abundance of material written in that era that was concerned about extreme inequality. And that’s what we have in America, is extreme inequality.

Salon: To turn from how bad things are getting to how we can make them better, I’d like to ask you what solutions you’d like to see people organize around in terms of reducing inequality?

Johnston: Number one, we’ve got to change the makeup of Congress. The Democrats got 1.4 million more votes than the Republicans [in 2010] but they have a minority [in Congress] because of gerrymandering. So we need to have state legislatures — and we may need a constitutional amendment to make districts evenly divided between the parties — that will get us more centrist candidates rather than extremists on both left and right.

Secondly, we’ve got to restore unions. If you believe in market economics, you’ve gotta believe in unions. Now, unions aren’t perfect, but neither are corporations, or the government or, for god’s sake, the clergy. Unions allow people as a group to negotiate for reasonable pay, and without unions you have big corporations, and individuals who have no bargaining power, such as a lot of unemployed workers. Our competitors all have unions. The Germans even have unions for executives. So we need to get back to unions if we’re going to improve people’s economics.

We need to get people to vote. If the bottom 90 percent voted at the same rate that the top 1 percent do, you would have a different Congress. That’s why you’re seeing efforts to take away the franchise, because the serious professionals in the Republican Party recognize that the demographic trends are going against them, and to stave that off they’ve got to try and deny the franchise to people, which is an extraordinary move, something we haven’t seen since Jim Crow.

We need to have a big enough government to enforce the law. We have not prosecuted any of the “too big to fail” banks and we have a president who has said, Well, these things look awful, but they may not be crimes. I’m sorry — the banks falsely certified documents… there are plenty of witnesses who have emails and memos they wrote and can testify that they said that this is illegal and wrong and they were told to shut up or were gotten rid of. We have money transferred through the mail and through the wires. That’s all you need to prosecute fraud. And yet, Bill Black, the guy who got us all those convictions in the savings and loan crisis, no one will speak to him. That’s just one example. I have written about all sorts of lawless behavior that’s going on, involving cheating in the real-estate industry, the failure to pay out benefits in the insurance industry, and when you “deregulate” and cut the staffs whose job is to look out for the public, the most cunning and conniving are the beneficiaries.

And this is also true in tax; the wage-earners will be taxed very effectively because it’s all automated. But those people who have very complicated individual or investment or corporate tax portfolios, Congress has cut away the ability to — and put in place rules that make it really impossible to — enforce the laws. So America today has two income taxes separate and unequal, one for wage earners who are thoroughly and efficiently taxed, and one for investors, business owners and corporations, who the government does not have the capacity to properly tax, and therefore are undertaxed, shifting the burden onto the wage earners.

Salon: To that point, it’s died down now that the elections are coming up, but there was previously a lot of talk of “tax reform” —

Johnston: Well, I’ve said repeatedly, there is no discussion in Washington of tax “reform,” a word journalists should use in quotes. There is a lot of talk of shifting the burden of taxes off of corporations and wealthy Americans. But reform means making the system better, and there’s nothing being proposed that’s reform. When Ronald Reagan’s (too big) tax policy changes were made, there were giant studies by the Treasury where they tried to figure out everything about the effects of this. There’s no serious intellectual work going on about how do we design a tax system for the 21st century.

Let me give you one of my lines on it: America has a tax system that is well-designed and effective for the middle of the 20th century. We now live in the 21st century. We are not a national industrial wage economy — we are a global services/asset economy. Mostly intangible assets. And the tax system does not recognize this. Therefore, it is damaging the economy rather than strengthening and providing for the commonwealth goods and services that are needed for private wealth creation.

Barack Obama has made a point to be seen as sort of like the president who put inequality on the front burner. And you include his speech from 2011 in Osawatomie, Kansas (where Teddy Roosevelt gave his famous “New Nationalism” address), in the book. But at the same time, as you’ve noted, 95 percent of the gains, post-Great Recession, have gone to the tippy-top of the economic pyramid. How do you judge him on this issue?

President Obama understands the broad nature of the problem and he’s right to say this is the issue of our time. But his policies simply reinforce inequality. His policies show that he very much identifies with Wall Street and with its interests. Remember, he was going to put Lawrence Summers in as head of the Federal Reserve, and a whole bunch of people — and I was among them — [said] that this would be a terrible policy mistake, that Janet Yellen is among the group of people who consistently predicted things correctly and gotten it right (and I would count among them Dean Baker, me, Paul Krugman, Joe Stiglitz and a few dozen other people who deal with these issues in public).

The president has consistently sided with Wall Street, whether it’s not prosecuting the criminality which brought down the economy in 2008, or supporting the Trans-Pacific Partnership — which is not about “free trade,” it’s about protecting existing ownership interests against the future. And so he’s just a really good example of where what he says and what he does don’t align. I don’t know the explanation for that. But having watched him very closely, I think it has to do in part with [that] he wants very much to be … the great uniter. And if you’re going to bring about the kind of change I think we need, there’s going to be a lot of divisiveness about it; and he just doesn’t have a stomach for it, it’s not who he is. He’s the “Can we please get along here together?" guy.

Salon: Garry Wills once described his approach as “omnidirectional placation.”

Johnston: That’s a great line. I mean, he’s like the child from the family where the parents fought and that child was the one who’d get the parents to make peace. And he really does identify very heavily with the folks on Wall Street. Here’s [former Treasury Secretary] Timothy Geithner who flat-out cheated — calculated deliberately — on his taxes and lied to Congress about it. And I can tell you that because I replicated his taxes in TurboTax, which was a hell of a lot of work. And I know somebody who was a deep expert/authority who did the same thing. We could not produce, without overriding the system, what he said. And all he had to do to be honorable about this was pay the penalties as well as the taxes and interest. But look at Geithner, look at everything he’s done. Did Geithner do anything for the homeowners who got taken to the cleaners, here? You didn’t have to take out a mortgage to get taken to the cleaners; property values fell for everybody. People who had nothing to do with taking out these bad mortgages were harmed. Now, every single thing you saw Geithner do was to benefit Wall Street. And Obama spoke well of him right to the moment [Geithner] decided to earn his reward and go to work on Wall Street.

Salon: Obama was even, before he moved on to not-better Summers, considering nominating Geithner for the Fed.

Johnston: Yes. I recognize that Obama has been dealt a terrible hand. Ten days after his inauguration in 2009, top Republicans had a meeting and agreed that making him ineffective was their overriding goal. He’s been dealt a terrible hand, here, and in some ways he’s played it well. But on the fundamental issues of what’s driving our inequality, he has not played this at all well.

He has a very deep knowledge of strategic arms, because that’s what he studied when he was in college; [but] I don’t think he has a deeper understanding of economics than your average college graduate, and your average college graduate doesn’t have a very good understanding of economics. Because we live in a society where there’s a dogma: neoclassical economics, particularly the Chicago set. (By the way, I went to the Chicago school, 40 years ago. I’m not an economist but I did go there for two quarters on a fellowship.) There are lots of other economic theories out there and they get no attention because we have this dogma about economics in America.

Salon: Now that we seem to be in a moment when the discussion of inequality has gone mainstream, how optimistic are you that this is a problem we’ll actually start to fix in the near- or medium-term future?

Johnston:We’re still living in the age of Reaganism; that has not come to an end yet. But we now have 33 years of empirical evidence that what Reagan promised didn’t work. If it did, if what Reagan and George W. Bush promised us worked, we would be swimming in jobs today. And we’re not. So I’m afraid, in the short run, what we’re going to see is an effort to shift the blame for this from failed policies to us. The “it’s the 47 percent who are takers” argument that Romney put forth, rather than looking at the structure and the rules that create and reinforce inequality. But this must come to an end and we have to get some changes and what’s missing are leaders who can articulate a new path. A smarter, growth-oriented path that will make us all better off. So Elizabeth Warren, who I’ve known for 25 years, Elizabeth Warren could be that person, but I don’t think she’s going to do it. She wants to focus on fixing what she knows. But we need someone, multiple people, to arise who understands the structure and nature of the problem and can then put it in terms that ordinary people understand before we get real change.”

"Why American Conservatives Are Suddenly Freaking Out About Guillotines"

"Why American Conservatives Are Suddenly Freaking Out About Guillotines"
Are they afraid the people’s patience is not endless?
By Lynn Stuart Parramore 

"On the June cover of the conservative magazine "American Spectator", above, a vision arises from the collective unconscious of the rich. Angry citizens look on as a monocled fatcat is led to a blood-soaked guillotine, calling up the memory of the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution, when tens of thousands were executed, many by what came to be known as the "National Razor." The caption reads, “The New Class Warfare: Thomas Piketty’s intellectual cover for confiscation.” One member of the mob can be seen holding up a bloody copy of the French economist's recent book, "Capital in the 21st Century." Confiscation, of course, can only mean one thing. Off with their heads! In reality, the most "revolutionary" thing Professor Piketty calls for in his best-sellling tome is a wealth tax, but our rich are very sensitive.

In his article, however, James Pierson warns that a revolution is afoot, and that the 99 percent is going to try to punish the rich. The ungrateful horde is angry, he says, when they really should be celebrating their marvelous good fortune and thanking their betters: “From one point of view, the contemporary era has been a 'gilded age' of regression and reaction due to rising inequality and increasing concentrations of wealth. But from another it can be seen as a 'golden age' of capitalism marked by fabulous innovations, globalizing markets, the absence of major wars, rising living standards, low inflation and interest rates, and a thirty-year bull market in stocks, bonds, and real estate.”

Yes, things do indeed look very different to the haves and the have-nots. But some of the haves are willing to say what’s actually going down — and it's a war of their own making. Warren Buffett made this very clear in his declaration: “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”

Warren is quite correct: It is the rich who have made war against the 99 percent, not the other way around. They have dumped the tax burden onto the rest of us. They have shredded our social safety net and attacked our retirements. In their insatiable greed, they refuse even to consider raising the minimum wage for people who toil all day and can’t earn enough to feed their children. And they do everything in their power to block as many people from the polls as possible who might protest these conditions, while crushing the unions and any other countervailing forces that could fight to improve them.

The goal of this vicious war is to control all of the wealth and the government not just in the U.S., but the rest of the world, too, and to make sure the people are kept in a state of fear.

But the greedy rich are experts in cloaking their aggression. Like steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie, who successfully transitioned from robber baron to philanthropist, David H. Koch and his conservative colleagues put on the mask of philanthropy to hide their war dance. Or they project their aggression onto ordinary people who are simply trying to feed their families, pay the bills, and keep the roof over their heads. Many of the wealthy liberals play a less crass version of the game: they talk about inequality only to alleviate their conscience while secretly — or not so secretly — protecting their turf (witness: NY Governor Andrew Cuomo and his mission to reduce taxes on his wealthy benefactors).

It is rich Americans, in particular, financial capitalists, who have made the war-like values of self interest and ruthlessness their code of ethics through their championing of an unregulated market. When we hear the term, “It’s just business,” we know what it means. Somebody has legally gouged us.

People in America are under attack daily. The greedy rich know it, because they are the ones doing the attacking. They know that they have made collateral damage out of hungry children, hard-working parents, grandmothers and grandfathers. And somewhere behind the gates of their private communities and the roped-off areas — their private schools, private hospitals, private modes of transport—they fear that the aggression may one day be turned back. They wonder how far they can erode our quality of life before something might just snap.

The growing concentration of wealth is creating an increasingly antagonistic society, which is why we have seen the buildup of the police state and the rise of unregulated markets appear in tandem. This is why the prisons are bursting at the seams with the poor.

The oligarchs hope that Americans will be so tired, so pumped full of Xanax, so terrified, that they will remain in their places. They hope that we will watch the rich cavorting on reality shows and set ourselves to climbing the economic ladder instead of seeing that the rungs have been kicked away. 

Of course, there is a very easy way for the rich to remain rich and alleviate their nightmares of the guillotine. That is simply to allow their unearned wealth to be taxed at a reasonable rate. Voila! No more fear of angry mobs.

Or they can wait for some less pleasant alternative, like a revolution. This theme, which once timidly hid behind the scenes, has lately burst onto cultural center stage. The cover of the current issue of Lapham’s Quarterly, dedicated to the topic, “Revolutions,” features five crossed swords. Its contents outline various periods in history when ordinary folks had had enough, such as “The People’s Patience is Not Endless,” a pamphlet issued by the Command of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the African National Congress, in December 1961. Very interesting reading for the 1 percent."

Greg Hunter, “Catastrophic Economic Outcomes May Come Faster Than Expected”

“Catastrophic Economic Outcomes May Come Faster Than Expected”
by By Greg Hunter’s 
Interview with James Rickards.

"The Cloak Of the Past..."

“The cloak of the past is cut from patches of feeling, and sewn with rebus threads. Most of the time, the best we can do is wrap it around ourselves for comfort or drag it behind us as we struggle to go on. But everything has its cause and its meaning. Every life, every love, every action and feeling and thought has its reason and significance: its beginning, and the part it plays in the end. Sometimes, we do see. Sometimes, we see the past so clearly, and read the legend of its parts with such acuity, that every stitch of time reveals its purpose, and a kind of message is enfolded in it. Nothing in any life, no matter how well or poorly lived, is wiser than failure or clearer than sorrow. And in the tiny, precious wisdom that they give to us, even those dread and hated enemies, suffering and failure, have their reason and their right to be.”
- Gregory David Roberts, “Shantaram”

“Sullivan Ballou’s Letter Home, 1861”

“Sullivan Ballou’s Letter Home, 1861”
From Ken Burns’ PBS Documentary “The Civil War”

"Give Me Liberty Or Keep Me Safe!"

"Give Me Liberty Or Keep Me Safe!"
by William Astore

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary
 deserve neither liberty nor safety."- Benjamin Franklin

"Every school boy and girl knows the famous cry of Patrick Henry: "Give me liberty or give me death!" However imperfectly realized, enshrining and protecting personal liberties and freedoms was the core ideal of our American Revolution, and Henry became a martyr to the cause of greater liberty. Others heard his cry and rallied to advance his cause, to be vouchsafed by a new concord of likeminded individuals, unafraid to risk their safety and even their lives in the cause of liberty and justice.

How far we've come from those tough-minded days. Today, our new cry seems to be "Give me liberty or keep me safe": safe, that is, from the big, bad, terrorist wolf. And since we've come to see it as an either/or choice, we've compromised basic liberties and rights, such as habeas corpus, and even authorized state-sanctioned assassinations of American citizens accused of aiding terrorists, all in the name of safety and security.

It's a remarkable spectacle. The United States of America, the country with the world's most powerful military, the country that continues to dominate the international arms trade, is also the country that's apparently so frightened of another terrorist attack that we willingly surrender basic liberties and rights - even our core principles that our ancestors fought and died for - just so we can sleep soundly and safely.

On Memorial Day, as we prepare to remember our dead and honor our heroes, we should recall not only their sacrifice, but also the principles for which they struggled and fought. Those principles, of course, are no mystery: they're stated clearly and simply in our Constitution and Bill of Rights. And they're best protected, not through weak-kneed compromise, but by steadfast vigilance.

Perfect safety, after all, is not only impossible: it's seductively dangerous. The more we sacrifice basic liberties and rights in the name of "safety" and "security," the more likely we'll lose our so-called "war on terror." Why? Because we'll end up terrorizing ourselves.

It will indeed be a hollow victory if, in seeking to win over (or eliminate) the "hearts and minds" of our enemies, we lose in the process our own hearts and minds. For the heartbeat of America doesn't draw strength from security or safety but from personal liberty and its actualization within a community of truth- and freedom-seekers. Patrick Henry knew this, which was why he committed his heart and soul to it. Only Americans can hurt America, Dwight D. Eisenhower once said. Let us constantly keep his words before us; let us constantly recall that our freedoms and liberties are still, and forever will remain, our greatest strength."

"Humanity Hanging From A Cross Of Iron..."

"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people. Is this, I repeat, the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking? This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron. Is there no other way the world may live?"

“When people speak to you about a preventive war, you tell them to go and fight it. I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity. After my experience, I have come to hate war. War settles nothing.”
- Dwight D. Eisenhower

Musical Interlude: The Rolling Stones, “Gimme Shelter” - Vietnam

The Rolling Stones, “Gimme Shelter” - Vietnam

And we haven't learned a goddamned thing in all these years...
- CP,
Veteran, United State Marine Corps, MOS 0311

Happy Memorial day

Have a safe, peaceful and thoughtful Memorial Day, folks.
Posting sporadic until Tuesday.
- CP

“For the Fallen”

“For the Fallen”
by Laurence Binyon

"Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old,
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labor of the day-time;
They sleep beyond their country’s foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.”

- Laurence Binyon,
“For the Fallen” (adapted)
We honor their sacrifice and service.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

"You Still Think..."

“You still think it's beautiful to die for your country. The first bombardment
taught us better. When it comes to dying for country, it's better not to die at all.”
- Paul Baumer, "All Quiet on the Western Front" (1930)

"War In A Nutshell"

"War In A Nutshell"
by Eugene Debs

"Wars throughout history have been waged for conquest and plunder. In the Middle Ages when the feudal lords who inhabited the castles (whose towers may still be seen along the Rhine) concluded to enlarge their domains, to increase their power, their prestige and their wealth they declared war upon one another. But they themselves did not go to war any more than the modern feudal lords, the barons of Wall Street go to war.

The feudal barons of the Middle Ages, the economic predecessors of the capitalists of our day, declared all wars. And their miserable serfs fought all the battles. The poor, ignorant serfs had been taught to revere their masters; to believe that when their masters declared war upon one another, it was their patriotic duty to fall upon one another and to cut one another's throats for the profit and glory of the lords and barons who held them in contempt. And that is war in a nutshell. The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and all to lose - especially their lives.

They have always taught and trained you to believe it to be your patriotic duty to go to war and to have yourselves slaughtered at their command. But in all the history of the world you, the people, have never had a voice in declaring war, and strange as it certainly appears, no war by any nation in any age has ever been declared by the people. And here let me emphasize the fact- and it cannot be repeated too often- that the working class who fight all the battles, the working class who make the supreme sacrifices, the working class who freely shed their blood and furnish the corpses, have never yet had a voice in either declaring war or making peace. It is the ruling class that invariably does both. They alone declare war and they alone make peace."

"Remembering the Dead"

"Remembering the Dead"
by Bill Bonner

"Monday is the day set aside by the US federal government for us to remember our war dead. Here at the Diary of a Rogue Economist, we always do as we are told. So, today, we will turn our thoughts back to Vicksburg, Mississippi... which gave the country enough corpses to remember... and from where we've just returned.

We were born south of the Mason-Dixon line. More importantly, we were born south of Pratt Street in Baltimore, giving us Southern tendencies from the start. Even as a child, we felt a sentimental attachment to the Old South and a romantic softness for the underdog. We rooted for General Lee at Gettysburg and General Jackson at the Wilderness. We wanted to sign up for Jeb Stuart's cavalry, but we were a century too late.

The Mason-Dixon line is the official boundary separating North from South. It runs between Maryland and Pennsylvania. But the real dividing line- in terms of attitudes, culture and topography- runs right through the heart of Baltimore. North of Pratt Street, the land rises under hills of granite. It was settled by Germans, mainly- farmers who raised cattle and wheat, traders who used their Baltimore clippers to move goods all over the world and entrepreneurs who built factories on the upland rivers. South of Pratt Street, the land immediately flattens into tidewater. There... stretching all the way from the sidewalk to Florida in the south and to the Appalachians in the west... the land is rich, mostly level and good for tobacco and cotton. It is also warmer... and more suitable for slave labor. The English and Scotch-Irish settlers who built their houses in Maryland in the late 17th century (my ancestors included) were used to slavery. They knew they would have to give it up some day, but they didn't want the Yankees to tell them when.

We wondered: Does Memorial Day apply south of Pratt Street... that is, to the people the Union Army tried to kill? To be more precise, does it apply to those who fought for the Confederacy against the United States of America? If not, we will have to stop remembering half of our ancestors- those who fought under Lee and Jackson.

We consulted the Wikipedia for guidance: "Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. Formerly known as Decoration Day, it originated after the American Civil War to commemorate the Union and Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War. By the 20th century, Memorial Day had been extended to honor all Americans who have died while in the military service. It typically marks the start of the summer vacation season, while Labor Day marks its end."

There you have it. As we try to grill our hamburgers to perfection, we can remember all our ancestors- even those from south of Pratt Street. Years ago, our grandmother recalled: "Yes... Uncles Rufus and Zacharia McCeney used to live here. My grandmother told me about them. She raised me. I never knew my mother; she died when I was still a baby. Rufus and Zacharia were her uncles. I never met them. My grandmother, Mary Agnes McCeney, told me they left the farm and never came back. They rode with Jeb Stuart's cavalry in the Army of Virginia. Presumed dead. But who knows?"

And now, with the permission of the federales, we wonder if Rufus or Zacharia made his way to join poor General John Pemberton in the defense of Vicksburg. It was a lost cause from the get-go. By March 1863, "Fighting Joe" Johnston, commander of the Southern forces in the West, had already given it up for lost. Vicksburg couldn't be resupplied. The Yankees controlled the river... and the overland routes. Seeing the handwriting on the wall, he recommended to Pemberton that he take his army and skedaddle. Vicksburg would be lost. But at least the army would be saved. But Pemberton was either stubborn or stupid. He stayed put with his army. He gave the worms plenty of meat; nearly 10,000 of his soldiers were planted there.

Many Southerners remember the Siege of Vicksburg as heroic. It is said the city didn't forget what had been done to it until 1910- when it first permitted public festivities for the Fourth of July. And now, more than 100 years later, it flies the Stars and Stripes every day of the year.

One of the features of a successful empire is it is able to build on its successes and turn its victims into loyal supporters. The Romans brought in soldiers from all over the Empire. The English followed the same program. First, they conquered Scotland- making the Scots the backbone of the British Army. Later, the Irish- another conquered people- were easily enlisted, partly because they had so few other career options. (The British prevented Irish Catholics from owning land.) Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans, Indians, Malaysians- all served the British cause.

The Yankees did the same thing. After the Southern states were conquered, their young men became the most enthusiastic soldiers in the Union Army. Later, the Union signed up Hispanics from Texas and Navajos from the reservations in Arizona. Today, New Yorkers may have doubts about signing up for military service, but among middle-class Southerners, it is a family tradition. They have served their conquerors for generations.

We remember the dead. What do we think of them? We wonder. We remember both sides of the War Between the States equally. But if both sides were equal, what was the point? You may as well have died for one side as for the other. It seems hardly worth dying for a cause that didn't matter. One side wanted to tell the other side how to run its affairs. But the other side was running its affairs in an abominable way. One side held black people in slavery. The other side wanted to boss around white people. We're all going to die, but neither cause seems worth advancing the schedule.

And what do the dead think of us? Those 10,000 boys at Vicksburg. Uncle Rufus and Uncle Zacharia. What would they think of their descendants? At least they were fighting in a real war. At least they had a cause that they thought was worth fighting for... and at least they died at the hands of the enemy or from disease while waiting for the enemy to kill them. Today's soldiers are more likely to die by suicide than to be felled by disease or by an enemy. Our soldiers' most lethal enemies are themselves.

Our ancestors. They must pity us."