Monday, October 1, 2012

Victory (in Vietnam) was an illusion.

Even now, years after the Vietnam War, when its outcome is clear to see, some observers still pine for the lost victory.  If only this had been different, or that done better, victory could have been ours.  A number of these ideal solutions are porposed by witnesses to Vietnam who were themselves participants in the war.  But memory faces, and the proponents of one of another of these latter-day solutions do not recall the way solutions were advanced then, every day, with equal confidence and self-assurance.  The men who led the war, the "best and the brightest" in David Halberstam's phrase, had every opportunity to fulfill Lyndon Johnson's dream and "nail the 'coonskin to the wall."  The war nevertheless ended in 1975 , with Hanoi's troops marching into Saigon and ARVN's generals fleeing on American helicopters.

Given the way Vietnam ended there is no reason to suppose that the perfect strategies now advanced would have succeeded any better than those that were actually employed.  In fact, because of the way the war ended, claims of a perfect strategy should be subject to special scrutiny.  The burden of proof must be on claimants to show that a postulated strategy would necessarily have led to victory.  Instead many Americans have uncritically accepted assertions that instant "decisive" intervention, or a bombing campaign of maximum violence, or a perfected Phoenix program would have been ideal solutions.  We have evaluated a number of these stragegies here and found them wanting.  These are prima facie criticisms to be sure, but the apparent flaws in the victory strategies show that the claims made today do not differ in substance from the kinds of arguments used for stratregy proposals while the Vietnam War was still going on.

Let us walk away from the confining strictures of military strategies for a moment and think of the quest for victory in Vietnam as an intellectual problem.  Doing this we can set criteria tat a proposed strategy should have to meet, an exercise that ought to clarify the whole matter.  First, any victory strategy had to utilize what was there, what was available in South Vietnam, and since the national identity oand the aspirations of Vietnamese favored the other side, any potential strategy had an extra obstacle to overcome.  Moreover, since the institutions of South Vietnam were of such rrecent creation, they were of limited strength and subject to manipulation (as in the military coups of the 1960s or the Buddhist Struggle Movement) in ways inimical to our hypothetical strategy.

Second, a winning strategy had to utilize the military and intellligence methods and forces of the time, or, at the margin, those conceivable at thetime.  Since Americans' preliminary definition of the problem (counterinsurgency against a "foreign" adversary) was imperfect, a process of trianglation had to occur before the strategy could fit the problem.  A number of perceptive analysts have examined American military doctrines of the time and come away with the impression that we did not understand, or wholeheartedly commit ourselves to, the kinds of activity that might have addressed the probblem in Vietnam.  Under those circumstances, no winning strategy was possible.

Part of the triangulation strategy and force that had to occur was a march between the degree of American commitment and the capacity of South Vietnnam to absorb and utilize the forces dispatched.  We have shown that in fact the deployment to Vietnam occurred at about the fastest rate possible given inherent limitations of port and transport infrastructure.  Therefore there is very little room in our hypothetical winning strategy for varying rates of force commitment to Vietnam.  Proponents of these kinds of solutions have simply not looked at both sides of the equation.

Third, the triangulation that had to be made between problem and strategy would inevitably occur against an evolving threat.  the clock was running, not only as North Vietnam and the Viet Cong improved their infrastucture and military striking power, but also domestically.  American politics permitted only a certain length of time for the perfect solution to be found, after which reversal of political support swould occur.  This is the real meaning of Tet, and the problem is by no means confined to the Vietnam War.  The way the perceptoinh of what was accomplished in the 1991 Gulf War reversed itself, and the wa;y the poolitics of the Somalia intervention evolved in a fashion similar to Vietnam shows that this problem is now endemic in American politics.

Moreeover, it can be argued that the rate at which events develop is accelerating.  As for Vietnam, the political argument is not simply retrospective, for the French had fallen victim before us to the same kind of trap. 

Fourth, the winning strategy had to be found in the face of a system generating false information for the top decision makers, a system that was not operating to correct itself.  The problem of false information compounds the other criteria for a winning strategy -- it means that more time is needed to do a triangulation, it means that uncertainty remains when observers tentatively think they havfe a fit between problem and strategy.  Equally troubling, since false information was characteristic in Vietnam and cannot be fixed retrospectively, any proposed winning strategy had to be one that would have succeeded in spite of the false information in the system.

Fifth, a proposed strategy cannot telescope history.  That is, a winning strategy cannot rely upon elements of a situation or forces which did not exist at the time it had to be implemented.  For example, Richard Nixon could mine Haiphong in 1972 because of diplomatic and other developments which had already reduced the intensity of the cold war and the probability of Russian or Chinese intervention.  Mining Haiphong in 1966 would have thrown down a gauntlet to the Russians and the Chinese.  Hypothetical strategies that telescope history like this really depend on after-the-factg observations for their effectiveness (that is, the Russians did not intervene when we minede Haiphong in 1972, so we would have stopped Hanoi if only we had mined in 1966).  Such post hoc arguments for strategy are not admissible.

Sixth, a winning strategy had to have been effective against the real adversary in Vietnam, not the one we thought existed.  This is the problem with proposed pacification solutions implemented at a time Hanoi had moved on to conventional warfare, or war-fighting solutions attempted while the opponent continued to concentrate on guerrilla warfare.  Mismatch between strategy and threat was a continual obstacle to American success in South Vietnam, one obviously exacerbated by falso information in the system.

Given these criteria, a winning strategy for Vietnam seems unattainable.  As a matter of logic and theoretical tests the problem is hard enough; as as matter of flesh and blood and men following a jungle track, many "perfect strategies" seem so facile as to be laughable.  The truth is that American military force was seductive, seeminly omnipotent, against an opponent who appeared fragile.  Victory became a vision; there had to be a formula for success, simply because we were so strong and they so weak.  Visions of victory led Americans to Keh Sanh, to Phoenix, to Cambodia and Laos, to Haiphong harbor.  But all that time the clock was running, as the visions led us on.  In the end, Americans set off three World War II's worth of explosives on the land of Indochina without making the vision concrete.

Victory was an illusion.

There is wisdom too in knowing when to stop.  In the strategy of pokere, the most skillful element lies in understsanding when to hold your cards, when to bluff, when to fold your hand and walk away.  American strategists have drawn about as much as possible from pursuit of the illusion of victory in Vietnam, but there is vast unexplored territory in identifying points at which the U.S. mikght have stopped.  It seems clear that in the post-cold war world, strategies for holding out amid uncertainty without damaging escalation; for defusing local crises by bluff and maneuver; for disengaging from crises by walking away -- these are concepts that coule be of enormous value in our nation's future.  Progress on such novel strategic concepts, using Vietnam's fertile ground for research, seems a good deal more useful than further debate over the illusion of victory in the past.  Beyond matters of strategy, at the national level it is time for closure; America should move beyond real or imagined disputes over the Vietnam War.

Many have already done this on an individual, personal level.  People like Thich Nhat Hanh and Tim Brown have found, in peace and comradeship, valid results from the Vietnam War.  Their victories are not illusions.

From:  The Hidden History of the Vietnam War,
By John Prados
pp  294-297

While we're thinking about not voting for either of the Party of One's

Drones, Vaginas, Blood Coltan, Complicity and Resistance…

Hypocrite Narcissist Explains Things to the “Raging, Rancid” Left


“Anyone who makes a comfortable living off of anything having to do with resistance is part of the problem.”

– Marc Salomon

Self-anointed Resistance spokesperson Rebecca Solnit’s nasty, pro-Obama attack on the anti-Empire/eco-left and, to a much lesser degree, my response to her, have set off a storm on the liberal/left blogosphere; not to mention, my e-mail in-box.

Her piece is up on CommonDreams, The Nation blog, Salon, Michael Moore’s site, Truth(sic)out, et al., in addition to having first been posted on Tom Englehart’s site: TomGram. Comments on the sites are running pretty much 20-1 against/aghast over her mean-spirited drivel. (Though, TomGram disabled Comments soon after the first ones ran similarly against.)

Her one response to my piece that I saw (and luckily captured off FB before the site’s owner defriended me and denied me access)?

“Male writer explains how Solnit couldn’t possibly have had the interactions she says she had. Wow! This guy’s free-floating rage could replace the fuel in our nuclear submarine fleet …”

Let’s start there. Sexism: if a male writer had used the word “hysteria” to describe her musings, he would quickly be labeled a sexist. But, her substance-less use of “rage” as an anti-male pejorative is just as sexist, as is the first sentence. I posit that any “progressive” that stoops to using anyone they disagree with’s gender, age, race or sexual orientation to buttress any argument certainly reveals themselves. In fact, isn’t that progressive dogma by now? – that such is a tactic of scoundrels?

Then again, maybe I shouldn’t take it as personally as she meant it (one of the problems with the left that I see is that so many take political disagreements personally and thus, fail on the facts.) And, I admit we live in a patriarchy where men clearly have more power; (though western women just as clearly have more power than the women and children on the receiving end of Obama’s drones), so maybe the parallelism of those words used as cudgels is unfair – I just think her use of it this way should be examined. Reader Peter wrote: “Her dismissal of honest rage and dissent as ‘whining’ sounds all too much like Democratic Party subterfuge to me.”

Since, I never questioned her interactions (why would I?) and since there was also no import to the rest of her short missive (other than a disingenuous whine about how much she gets paid for her screeds), there is nothing more I can respond to. However, there will forever be her original assault and I highly recommend that people read the compelling responses – most, way more so than mine – in the various Comments sections.

“You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations.”

– Dr Martin Luther King, Jr., from his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, directed to his clergy critics.

Solnit either has never read MLK’s Letter or she completely missed its “let’s not be wishy-washy here” sentiment. Would she cavalierly dismiss King as one of those ineffective “complainer” straw men of her presumptuous take on the Civil Rights Movement? As someone who marched with Dr. King in Detroit when I was 14 and who was a founding board member of the Flint Urban Coalition at 18, I found that part of her piece particularly egregious, which is why I liked this rebuttal most of the many excellent ones her piece engendered.

And then there is this, regrettably not at all uncommon, despicable mind-set that bubbles under the surface of Solnit’s writing: “I prioritize my vagina over drones” — “Angry Black Lady” blogger Imani Gandy

So, Immoral Gadfly, tell me again, “Why do they hate us?”

“Dismal” Leftists Weigh In

Among the many cogent Comments to Solnit’s piece that I found outstanding was this one:

“So here I want to lay out an insanely obvious principle that apparently needs clarification. 
Nine years ago I began writing about hope, and I eventually began to refer to my project as ‘snatching the teddy bear of despair from the loving arms of the left.’ ” – Rebecca Solnit

Well, there she is, friends. A walking, talking personification of what Chris Hedges meant when he wrote:

“Liberals…talk of glory and honor. They vow not to abandon their core liberal values….They fight for nothing. They stand for nothing. And at a moment when we desperately need citizens and institutions willing to stand up against corporate forces for the core liberal values, values that make a democracy possible, we get the ridiculous chatter and noise of the liberal class.” – Chris Hedges

“You could argue that to vote for Obama is to vote for the killing of 
children, or that to vote for him is to vote for the protection for 
other children or even killing fewer children.” – Rebecca Solnit

Who thinks like that? Maybe the Commandant at Auschwitz did, when he decided which people would go to the left or the right: to be gassed or to be spared.

Reader Chuck wrote me this first-rate response/question:

I got to the last part where you said…

“I have no problem with people admitting Obama’s the Lesser Evil, holding their noses and voting for him.”

In that you know ahead of time that Obama is going to continue his drone missions, with their heavy losses of innocent lives, what would you gauge a voters responsibility for that loss of life when they vote to continue the drone missions?

Is a voter that votes for drone killing not responsible at all, somewhat responsible, or fully responsible for killing these innocent peoples?

“You have “no problem” voting for these killings…or telling others that you have no problem with it either?

Would you have no problem if it was your own daughter taking a Tomahawk missile?

We can no longer afford to advance evil at a lesser rate.

Lesser evilism IS war.

To which I responded:

“Good point.

What I mean is that while I certainly don’t like it, I won’t condemn people who, at least, admit this all and vote for Obama because they fear worse…there’s not much I can do about it anyway, other than do my best to inform them of the likely result – then again, that’s gonna be the reality no matter who is selected as the latest face of Empire…and, it’s either the silver spoon bully plutocrat or the slick corporate lickspittle con man this time around…a disgusting choice.

I DO have a problem with people like Solnit, who clearly know the facts, completely dismissing this likely result – she even dismissed the entire history of it – and, then viciously badgered people to vote Obama anyway….all the while, calling for others to have more “generosity” and “kindness.” And, that NOT voting for Obama destroys “movement-building” – even pointing out Obama’s crimes would “Suppress the Vote,” like that’s some horrid outcome. Sheesh! The woman needs clinical help…

…In a way, I feel we ALL are responsible for the killings (of people and the planet) as we all reap the benefits of Empire just by living here – Example: this relic computer and the dead salmon it takes to run it (here in the NW) or the destroyed mountains, species and communities for the coal used nationwide. The coltan that is a critical component in iPads, iPhones, laptops, wind turbines, most other “renewable” energy scams, etc. involves thousands of deaths (many of children) where it is mined. I can’t condemn ALL of us for simply being born into this situation – we even defecate in perfectly good drinking water, while about 2 billion people on the planet have no access to clean water on a daily basis. We don’t even note, much less question, such stuff.

So yeah, I give scared, deluded, and/or ignorant Obama voters a pass, just as I do computer users, fossil fuel drivers, imported food eaters, toilet users, etc. I won’t tolerate, however, those who absolutely know the facts and still maliciously attack those who DO choose to opt out of the Obama “fairy tale.”

And, yes if it was my own daughter, I would still not place the blame on voters (naive though they may be) who at least were hoping for better or at least hoping to avoid worse, but squarely on the Empire and the ruling class behind it. We won’t win regular citizens over through condemnation, anyway, and the Resistance is gonna need everyone we can as things get worse.”

What to do?

I mentioned some other alternatives to voting for the latest corporate Imperial candidates – the Green Party and the Libertarians – in my piece. I unpardonably forgot about the Rosanne Barr and the inimitable Cindy Sheehan ticket, which is on the ballot in a handful of states. And, I also inexcusably – since Linh Dinh and others have already written about it on CounterPunch even – didn’t mention the principled Election Boycott 2012 option.

You can get in on a radio discussion of Election Boycott 2012 today, Oct. 1st or, check out the website www.electionboycott for more info.

We’re all in this dreadful mess together. In a way, we owe Tom Englehart and Solnit a bit of thanks for firing things up and getting people taking a deeper look and asking the right questions.

Though, it’s disgraceful that Solnit would assault the most aware part of the Resistance with her name-calling, straw man and Projection-filled gibberish - worse that such hostile crap was written by someone who then claims the high ground of “generosity and kindness.” She merely uses that peaceful-sounding rhetoric to mask what she is really doing – exactly like Obama uses similar empty expressions - as a weapon defending the status quo; a status quo that’s been very, very good for them and very, very bad for the rest of planet and all the species She supports.

MICHAEL DONNELLY lives in Salem, OR. He can be reached at

Lawyers in the tight circle who specialize in filing fraud claims with the federal government on behalf of clients with evidence of wrongdoing have raised more than $3 million so far for President Obama. The administration, meanwhile, has paid out $1.6 billion to whistle-blowers during his tenure, with law firms taking a cut in some cases of up to 40 percent of the proceeds.

October 1, 2012

Whistle-Blower Lawyers Throw Support
Behind ObamaBy ERIC LIPTON - NYT

WASHINGTON — As the Obama administration has cracked down on corporate fraud, lawyers representing whistle-blowers have reaped multimillion-dollar rewards. Now, as they seek to sustain these historic payouts, they are serving as generous donors to the president’s re-election campaign.

Lawyers in the tight circle who specialize in filing fraud claims with the federal government on behalf of clients with evidence of wrongdoing have raised more than $3 million so far for President Obama. The administration, meanwhile, has paid out $1.6 billion to whistle-blowers during his tenure, with law firms taking a cut in some cases of up to 40 percent of the proceeds.

The lawyers have contributed directly to Mr. Obama’s campaign, served as “bundlers” who solicit contributions from others, donated to the Democratic National Committee and written large checks to Priorities USA, the “super PAC” supporting Mr. Obama’s re-election efforts. They have also donated heavily to Congressional Democrats.

Their support comes as Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, has called for repeal of the Dodd-Frank Act, which imposed new oversight of the financial services industry and expanded the government’s whistle-blower program to the Securities and Exchange Commission, which has set aside $430 million for payouts. Business groups have also pushed for legislation imposing a cap on payments to whistle-blowers, arguing that rewards reaching as high as $104 million, as happened in one case, have turned anti-fraud efforts into a lottery.

“The risks are enormous there will be real pullback because of pressure from the industry that has paid billions in penalties,” said John R. Phillips, one of the nation’s top whistle-blower lawyers, who has raised more than $200,000 for Mr. Obama’s re-election from colleagues, after first working in 2008 to help Mr. Obama get elected.

The fund-raising is already a flash point in Washington, where lawmakers have been divided along partisan lines over the administration’s efforts to regulate the financial industry and the political parties have long been at odds over trial lawyers and class-action suits. On the campaign trail, Mr. Romney has cast himself and fellow Republicans as champions of business and the president and Democrats as hostile to business interests.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which represents many of the companies that have been targets of the whistle-blower investigations, has criticized the lawyers’ efforts, particularly their aggressive outreach for potential clients.

“If someone is defrauding the federal government or investors, they should have the book thrown at them,” said Matt Webb, senior vice president for legal reform policy at the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform. “But increasingly, this is not just about exposing wrongdoing. It is about trying to generate as much money and fees for the firms handling the cases.”

Some of the industry’s most important players, including lawyers from Mr. Phillips’s firm, played a central role in advising the Securities and Exchange Commission on the rules creating its whistle-blower program, including a provision to broaden the list of who was eligible to file a claim. In the last year, whistle-blower law firms have hired several top S.E.C. officials who helped write those rules. They include Jordan Thomas, who has started a new S.E.C. whistle-blower unit at Labaton Sucharow, a New York-based firm whose employees have contributed to the Obama campaign.

“We have had hundreds and hundreds of inquiries,” said Mr. Thomas, who has sought out clients and promoted his firm’s practice in speeches nationwide, an Internet blog and YouTube videos. “Our phones are ringing off the hook.”

The push to crack down on Medicare fraud, for example, started long before the Obama administration, with many cases initiated by the Justice Department under President George W. Bush. But the Obama administration has been particularly aggressive in pursuing them.

Since January 2009, $13.2 billion has been collected by the federal government from companies through the False Claims Act, the primary whistle-blower tool, with about $9.4 billion of that involving alleged health care fraud. The federal government has recovered more overall in financial penalties against drugmakers since 2009 than in the previous 18 years combined, with whistle-blowers credited for helping initiate about three quarters of the cases, according to a recent study by Public Citizen, a nonprofit group.

Among the biggest False Claims Act settlements was a $2 billion fine against GlaxoSmithKline, accused of illegally promoting one of its blockbuster drugs, which could translate into a more than $100 million bounty for the whistle-blowers, two of whom were represented by Mr. Phillips’s firm. In May, Abbott Laboratories agreed to pay an $800 million fine, which included an $84 million payment to the whistle-blowers, four former Abbott sales staff members, who tipped off authorities about illegal marketing of an anti-seizure drug to children and elderly patients. The lead whistle-blower was represented by Grant & Eisenhofer, a Delaware-based firm whose managing director has also served as bundler and contributor to Mr. Obama.

The S.E.C. whistle-blower program targets fraud that harms investors or consumers through a securities law violation, while the health care cases typically involve cheating the Medicare or Medicaid programs. No big fines have resulted yet from the S.E.C. program because cases typically take several years to develop. But the office is receiving on average 10 tips a day, and got nearly 3,000 in its first year.

Mr. Phillips and other lawyers said their contributions are unrelated to their work and he said they have sparred with the Justice Department during Mr. Obama’s tenure because of its efforts to minimize payouts to whistle-blowers. Corporate lawyers who defend companies, he added, typically make more money on a case than the whistle-blower attorney does.

Still, the ranks of lawyers seeking to represent whistle-blowers has grown quickly in the last several years, as the value of the awards has skyrocketed. Lawyers at dozens of these law firms nationwide have contributed to Mr. Obama, campaign finance records show, while only a sprinkling of checks have been written from employees at the same firms to Mr. Romney.

The single biggest fund-raiser is John Morgan, a Florida-based lawyer. He has collected more than $1.7 million for Mr. Obama’s re-election or for the Democratic National Committee, making him one of the campaign’s biggest bundlers nationwide. He has also raised money for Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts Democrat running for the United States Senate. Ms. Warren served as interim head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, also created as part of the Dodd-Frank law.

Mr. Morgan, in an interview, said his support for Mr. Obama and Ms. Warren was entirely motivated by his admiration for their leadership in Washington. But his fund-raising blitz occurred just as he was expanding his personal injury and trial law practice into the whistle-blower field, with a television advertising campaign and new Web site, named

“America is full of crooks who are defrauding the government and investors every day,” Mr. Morgan said. “We are talking about billions of dollars in ill-gotten gains. We win one case and it will pay for our entire national advertising budget.”

Sean McKessy, a former corporate attorney who leads the new S.E.C. Whistleblower Office, said he welcomed the support of the outside lawyers. Whistle-blowers get paid only if the claim is substantiated and results in a fine of at least $1 million — meaning there is no incentive to flood the agency with frivolous complaints.

“There is an extraordinary important role that good lawyers that understand the regulatory process can play,” Mr. McKessy said, adding that individuals can also submit a tip without hiring a lawyer at all, although many do.

At a recent gathering of whistle-blower lawyers at a Washington hotel, several hundred of them sipped on glasses of wine and cocktails as they began a series of meetings with senior officials from the Justice Department, the S.E.C. and Medicare programs — as well as Mr. McKessy — to compare strategies on how to bring in more corporate wrongdoers.

“The way you get more hunting dogs showing up is you feed them,” said Patrick Burns, director of communications at a group that calls itself Taxpayers Against Fraud, the legal industry group that sponsored the conference. “And the Justice Department is cooking with Crisco right now.”

The Trust: the Private and Powerful Family Behind the New York Times (1999), a biography of these New York dynasts by Susan E. Tifft and Alex S. Jones reveals them to be creatures of self-deprecating humour and abundant mischief. They radiated power, but never gave the impression they aspired to it.

Arthur Ochs Sulzberger's Times

Paper King of the Gray Lady


My conclusion is simple. Nepotism works.

– Arthur Ochs Sulzberger

Arthur Ochs Sulzberger has left us aged 86, though the old gray lady he was a steward to still remains, casting her lingering shadow over the publishing world, wrinkles and all. The shadow of the New York Times has not always been a consistently cast one. The paper has maintained its aristocratic front for decades, but Sulzberger’s time saw it transform into a profitable, multi-sectioned grandiosity.

That particular era was monarchical and expansive, covering 34 years. In 1963, the man nicknamed “Punch” took over as publisher (his grandfather Adolph S. Ochs having bought the paper in 1896), finding the coffers in a poor state. If the words of his father on seeing him at birth were anything to go by, Punch had certainly acquitted himself well. Service in the Marines certainly bolstered his flagging confidence, though he saw little combat, courtesy of an understanding between General Macarthur and his father.

Some of the paper’s figures during Punch’s tenure are impressive – the 31 Pulitzer prizes the publication netted, and the increased circulation from 714,000 in 1963 to 1.1 million in 1992. Annual revenues climbed from $100 million to a healthy $1.7 billion (AP, Sep 30). In the 1990s, the reins of power were passed to Arthur Sulzberger Jr..

The gray lady, for that reason, ceased being one during Sulzberger’s time. Colour presses were brought in, as did special themed sections that could hardly, in the old credo of the paper, be deemed “news”. Dry stories and serious commentary was interspersed with luxury and food sections. The paper became one of national record, a country’s barometric metre.

The various court battles fought by the paper under Sulzberger were intense. In 1964, the US Supreme Court found in New York Times v. Sullivan that the press was protected from libel suits initiated by public figures unless evidence of actual malice could be shown. That malice would take the form of knowledge of a statement’s falsity or reckless disregard to whether it was true or false.

When it came to his 1971 editorial decision to run the classified Defense Department history of US involvement in Vietnam, he framed the traditional position on whether such “state secrets” needed to be given a public airing. Releasing the Pentagon Papers in defiance of various requests not to do so was “not a breach of national security,” Sulzberger emphatically stated. “We gave away no national secrets. We didn’t jeopardise any American soldiers or marines overseas.” Rarely has the First Amendment had such defenders, and Sulzberger certainly feared the consequences of his decision.

There is a hushed manner the Sulzbergers tend to be described by, creatures curiously adapted to the world of the paper mill yet seemingly at odds with modern corporate viciousness. When a rapacious Rupert Murdoch went, and got, the Wall Street Journal, the contrast with the Bancroft family, who had relinquished their crown jewels, was drawn. Joe Hagan, writing for New York Magazine (Oct 13, 2008), illustrated the point. “The Sulzberger family is a different clan from the Bancrofts, who were divided by trust funds and populated with restless socialites and horse enthusiasts whose hobbies required access to substantial funds.”

This is not to suggest that the Sulzbergers have not been a colourful family brimming with quirks. The Trust: the Private and Powerful Family Behind the New York Times (1999), a biography of these New York dynasts by Susan E. Tifft and Alex S. Jones reveals them to be creatures of self-deprecating humour and abundant mischief. They radiated power, but never gave the impression they aspired to it.

That said, the sustained and unflagging nepotism behind the paper – glibly remarked upon by Punch Sulzberger himself – has created an impenetrable mythology, the cult of the paper mill and the hallmark of traditional family business. So much so that “Young Arthur” made a point of preventing an incursion by Stanley Investment Management to challenge the family’s control over the paper. Whether that sustains itself remains to be seen. The whirly gig of time is turning.

The Times story is itself one of variation. The social Darwinist tendencies of the print industry have made the paper format difficult to sustain. Decisions made by Sulzberger – take the acquisition of the Boston Globe – were not exactly top drawer deals, leading to substantial write downs. There have been declines in the stock price under Sulzberger Jr. Decisions were made when the paper was doing well to buy back stock rather than invest in new properties.

The Times can no longer be said to be merely the paper one receives in the mail. It is myriad, protean, comprising multiple digital forms and a bewildering assortment of online formats. In 2007, when Young Arthur was asked about the pressures of the digital future, he exclaimed that he wasn’t sure “whether we’ll be printing the Times in five years, and you know what? I don’t care either” (American Journalism Review, April-May 2007). Despite such pressures, the Sulzberger family have shown their mettle as the surviving aristocrats of the newspaper industry. And Punch Sulzberger proved to be one of the best ones.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email:

“There is but one evil party with two names, and it will be elected despite all I can do or say.”

Two Names, One Party

The End of Political Theatre


“There is but one evil party with two names, and it will be elected despite all I can do or say.”
-W..E.B. Dubois (1956)

“Places everyone, Places” we are entering the final act of political theatre. The Presidential debates indicate the eminent conclusion of the 2012 Presidential elections.This election season has been equally entertaining as any Broadway show. Whether it’s the pep rally/Sunday revival that is the nominating conventions or tragic-comedy of Mitt Romney’s comment regarding the “47%.” But ultimately what makes this election theatre is the fact that the political and economic system of this society has been structured to restrict the acceptable terms of debate. How did this happen?

For all those who remember the 2000 elections, in Florida, a controversy developed concerning which votes would be counted in one of the closest presidential elections in US history. After the case was sent to the Supreme Court, the justices in Gore v Bush decided “The individual citizen has no federal constitutional right to vote for electors for the President of the United States”. This judicial decision reminds US citizens that in this Republic, not democracy, the Electoral College determines the winner of the election. In short, voting is a privilege, not a right.

At the founding of the US, when this drama was written, only property owning white males could vote. Originally the US senate was decided by the state legislatures.In fact, in agreement with several framers of the US Constitution, James Madison in in Federalist Papers No. 10 explicitly states the he believes the masses should not enter politics because they would want to redistribute wealth. It wasn’t until Blacks, Women and other disenfranchised people engaged in dynamic social movements that they gained the privilege to vote. In a capitalist society, the poor are denied a voice.

More recently, the Supreme Court facilitated the corporate sponsorship of this theatrical production per the Citizens United case. This far sighted judicial decision allows corporations to spend unlimited amounts in election campaigns. Although in 2008 Obama received a record amount of small donations, he received many large donations that helped him reach the record setting $745 million. In a report titled “America for Sale” Sen. Bernie Sanders (D) states the Koch Brothers alone plan to give $400 million.

To a large extent, in 1972, following the Gary Convention, the Black movement began to shift its primary focus from militant grassroots organizing to electoral politics.This strategy has been a major error. The Black Movements primary focus should return to tactics such as the general strike, non-violent civil disobedience, and independent Black-led political organizations. Then, we can end the political theatre and get on the real show called: Liberation!

Benjamin Woods is a PhD candidate at Howard University in Washington, DC.

Curt Schilling, one of the principal heroes of the Boston Red Sox thrilling 2004 World series run, stood on stage with [gubenatorial] candidate Scott Brown, at stops throughout the commonwealth, and recited the vintage conservative psalms of up-by-the-bootstraps philosophy, “He’s for smaller government, stopping the concentration of power in one political party, a strong military and vigorous homeland defense, as well as — and probably most appropriate and meaningful right now — giving all Americans health care, but not by creating a new government insurance program.”

Surprise! She's a Hawk!

The Problem With Massachusetts And Elizabeth Warren


It’s somewhat embarrassing, but when I think back to the evening Scott Brown captured Ted Kennedy’s vacant Senate seat in my home state of Massachusetts, what I remember, above all else, is a Facebook comment. An old acquaintance took to the Social Network to congratulate Massachusetts on not becoming “Alabama in reverse.” The implication of this status update was that The Old Colony had devolved into a remorseless sea of dark blue; a prepossessed purgatory of obligatory taxes and unrelenting elitism, that was incapable of serving as anything other than a right-wing punch line. These sentiments were summarized in a 2007 book by local television analyst Jon Keller titled, The Bluest State: How Democrats Created the Massachusetts Blueprint for American Political Disaster, “At one time, Americans thought of Massachusetts with pride. It was the place where the charge against British oppression was incubated and first battle of the Revolutionary War was fought. It was the intellectual center of the United States, the home of the country’s first university – Harvard – and the birthplace of some of our most famous writers — Emily Dickinson, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, to name just a few.

What do Americans picture when they think of Massachusetts today? They think of taxes on everything that moves and a burning desire to tax what doesn’t. They think of unctuous, doomed Presidential candidates from Michael Dukakis to John Kerry. And, most of all, they think of “Kennedy Country” - not the moderate politics of JFK who backed supply-side tax cuts and saber-rattling foreign policy, but a place influenced by the ideology of his little brother, Ted, a punch line for bad political jokes and the relic of a dream gone bad.”

The dream was to be restored through the no-nonsense words and alluring visage of Scott Brown. The lawyer, politician, and former model declared that Massachusetts needed an independent voice, branded himself as a new kind of Republican, and continually referenced the fact he drove a truck. Curt Schilling, one of the principal heroes of the Boston Red Sox thrilling 2004 World series run, stood on stage with the candidate, at stops throughout the commonwealth, and recited the vintage conservative psalms of up-by-the-bootstraps philosophy, “He’s for smaller government, stopping the concentration of power in one political party, a strong military and vigorous homeland defense, as well as — and probably most appropriate and meaningful right now — giving all Americans health care, but not by creating a new government insurance program.”

Brown stupefied the experts, raising over a million dollars in a day and clinging to the reputation of The Underdog. The elite, those running Massachusetts like their own personal piggy bank, weren’t taking an outsider seriously, just like they didn’t take the citizens of their state seriously. Any deviation from this script, any attempt to steer the debate away from emotion and into the sticky realm of facts was met with staunch GOP opposition. When the Democratic candidate, and Massachusetts Attorney General, Martha Coakley ran a television spot criticizing Brown’s stance on emergency contraception, he accused her of running “attack-ads”, the disgusting inverse of dichotomous high-mindedness.

When he shocked the world and flipped the script on Massachusetts, the praise poured in from all quarters. The liberal Boston Globe identified Brown as the Bostonian of the Year for proving that “anything is possible” and producing “the tiniest rays of bipartisanship in a Senate dark with dysfunction.”

Like most seemingly spontaneous bursts of populism, the problematic specter of anti-systemic rightwing thought quietly hovered above the evening’s festivities. Kick over any bit of Brown’s stagecraft and find yourself face to face with grim realities. During a campaign stop, a supporter yelled that Brown should, “stick a curling iron up [Coakley’s] butt,” a horrific reference to a sexual molestation case that occurred while she was Attorney General. This call for a local female politician to be sodomized was met with a giggle and nod by Brown, the few bleats of protest shrugged off as political sniping. The Tea Party played their hand superbly, never officially tagging the Bipartisan Boy Wonder with the mark of the beast, but working fundraisers for him and running cable spots celebrating his candidacy. As for Curt Schilling, he continually expressed his opinions on personal economic responsibility while borrowing $75 million from the state of Rhode Island in order to fund a videogame company, a venture which left him over a million bucks in debt to the state. When asked by a journalist if the taxpayers of Rhode Island would ever see their money again, he told the inquisitive reporter to ask the Governor. How does Schilling, who made more than $60 million during his time with the Red Sox, cope with the financial loss he dealt to the state? “Faith. My faith in God.”

The ascent of Brown also highlighted a Massachusetts that is seldom dissected by America’s punditry. Content to use the New England state as a barometer to mark the tolerable height of liberal governance, the media fails to draw attention to its disturbing racial history and dynamics. Yes, as people frequently point out, Massachusetts is the only state that George McGovern carried during the 1972 election, but four years later local analysts identified it as a state George Wallace could potentially snag in the Democratic primary, with so many white voters enraged by the busing crisis. After Boston Celtics’ first-round pick Len Bias died of a cocaine overdose, the era of draconian racial drug-policy was led by the beloved local statesman Tip O’Neil, Speaker of the House at the time, who bellowed at his staffers to write him “some goddamn legislation” and got his wish with mandatory minimums and new discrepancies in the cocaine laws; a tightening that led to what Michelle Alexander has called, “The New Jim Crow.”

By the way, Obama didn’t win Massachusetts, Hilary Clinton, who toured the white working-class areas hit hardest by the country’s economic collapse and rolled out the standard staples of Clintonian triangulation, snagged it. The unspoken underbelly of Massachusetts, predicated on philosophies spun by Archie Bunker, is always closer than the professors and students that pack Boston let on; walk into any number of local bars or tune into a Massachusetts talk-radio station and quickly realize that the thesis hatched by my FB buddy is a myth. If Massachusetts represents anything it’s the inability of liberals to fight for the interests of their base, thus allowing vociferous proponents of backlash politics to fill in the gaps. Just look at the career of Governor Deval Patrick, as an example: his campaign was backed by many of the same PR firms that helped Obama become a Senator, identified casino gambling as the way to push Massachusetts ahead economically. The day his plans were rejected by the state legislature, he was out of town plugging his autobiography, an optimistic view of public life that netted him a $1.3 million contract. When something resembling a controversy broke out over Mitt Romney’s time with Bain Capital, Patrick was quick to defend the company along with the wider concept of private equity.

Into this depressing morass skips Elizabeth Warren: reasonable human being, savvy economic mind, possible Native American, and liberal darling. By now we can all recite the Harvard Law School professor’s biography, we are aware of her books and articles, we know she oversaw the creation of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act, and that she was instrumental in the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Most importantly we know that, despite progressive pressure, Obama decided against allowing her to run the organization, due to the ire she generated in bankers, picking the strikingly non-feisty Richard Cordray to keep the agency relatively toothless. Warren also burrowed her way into our collective consciousness via her cameo in Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story, in which she effectively answered the question, “Where’s our money?” David Simon repeated her rudimentary explanation of economics in a speech (“You built that with help.”) and then, most recently, Obama aped it as a campaign piece, leading to predictable charges of Communism from the Fox News set. Her track record on standing up Wall Street is a pretty good one and anyone who upsets the American Right in the way that Warren does is generally a great bet. Shortly after announcing her candidacy, she was confronted by an irate audience member at a speech who accused her of being a “whore” aligned with the OWS movement. YES! This ringing endorsement solidified what any self-respecting leftist already knew: saying Warren was a better candidate than Brown was like saying it’s colder in January than it is in July.

Nonetheless, issues arise and, once again, our surface proves to be deceptive. Minimal digging into the political stances of Warren unearths a number of foreign policy positions that put her at odds with her base. Start with her staunch support for the economic sanctions against Iran, recently strengthened to unparalleled heights by H.R. 1905. “The United States must take the necessary steps to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. I support strong sanctions against Iran and believe that the United States must also continue to take a leadership role in pushing other countries to implement strong sanctions as well. Iran must not have an escape hatch,” Warren said in April, before being questioned by a blogger at a meet-and-greet and claiming she would look into his assertion that no proof exists linking Iran with nuclear weapons. Warren quantified her statement by later explaining that, “careless talk of rushing to war is unhelpful,” but what can you possibly call sanctions designed to make Iran’s economy scream if not an act of war? According to the journalist Franklin Lamb, the new legislation is, “designed to prevent Iran from repatriating any proceeds from its oil sales, thus depriving Iran of 80 percent of its hard currency earnings and half of the funds to support its national budget for education, health, food subsidies and other needed public purposes.”

Another security staple of the current administration, that Warren feels passionate about, is Obama’s controversial “Kill List.” After the New York Times published an in-depth story detailing the President’s personal connection to the, possibly illegal, program, Warren declared, “These threats are not going away. We must remain vigilant. Al Qaeda has operations or affiliates in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and elsewhere around the world. We need to continue our aggressive efforts against Al Qaeda, and we need to continue to support the efforts of our intelligence, law enforcement, homeland security, and military professionals.”

Warren’s position on Israel may be the most craven of all, as she leaves little doubt which side she would have taken in the recent brouhaha, that erupted at the DNC, when a reference to Jerusalem was rammed into the party’s platform. Her website rolls out the usual platitudes (“steadfast, trusted, and reliable allies”) and identifies Palestine’s membership effort at the UN as a “unilateral step” that cannot be condoned. As for the United States assisting in a two-state solution, America “cannot dictate the terms” to Israel, regarding whether or not they should refrain from bulldozing houses or cutting off a population’s access to water.In an article, at Al Akhbar, Max Blumenthal took her to task on the question of Israel, before ending with an entirely sensible point, “ It is far better for progressives to grill her on her foreign policy positions before the campaign is over than after the next war begins.”

However, as we know, liberals aren’t always receptive to sensible points. Criticism of Warren’s warmongering has been virtually nonexistent and millions of dollars have poured into her campaign, without caveats. After Norman Solomon, the celebrated journalist and distinguished antiwar activist, lost his congressional bid in California, Dave Swanson, former advisory board member of Progressive Democrats of America, put things into a perspective that few dared to ,“You’ll see a lot of support for Warren, who’s perfectly fine with the wars but wants the bankers to help pay for them. Norman Solomon isn’t that kind of guy. This is someone who was attempting to infiltrate the party from the outside.”

Apologists like to shrug off the left’s ability to infiltrate the Democratic Party and talk about the constrictions imposed by modern politics, but history proves this position cynical. Shit, anyone who read Game Change knows how conscious of the antiwar movement the Clinton campaign was. One of the definitive examples of the left pushing Democrats to reckon with their demands is the case of Eugene McCarthy, the snobby Catholic politician from Minnesota, who sported all the standard pro-war characteristics of a Cold-War liberal before being propped up as a viable threat to LBJ by a fervent anti-Vietnam War movement. McCarthy turned out to be a fraud, disappearing when the smoke settled and, occasionally, resurfacing to vouch for the Reagan administration or plug a new book of poetry, his commitment to the people of Vietnam virtually nonexistent. Therefore, the enduring lesson of McCarthy’s impact should not be the beacon of hope that a courageous politician can represent, as the establishment would have you believe, but the power of social movements to push candidates on issues.

I asked Dominic Sandbrook, author of Eugene McCarthy: The Rise and Fall of Postwar American Liberalism, how he contrasts a political climate in which McCarthy was pushed to antiwar positions, with the current apologetics for perpetual Empire emanating from the left/liberal set. After mentioning the draft, he zeroed in on the current economic landscape, “My sense is that voters can only really concentrate on one or two issues at a time, and today that means the economy. Everything else is secondary, so any candidate planning to run on an exclusively anti-war platform would be misguided, in my view. The contrast with 1968 is glaring: Vietnam was then a transcendent issue, while the economy was in much better shape, which opened up space for an anti-war campaign.”

The transcendent issue is now the economy and, as good as Warren is on that, her blemishes on war factor into her perception of the dilemma. For instance, she recycles that tired liberal line about Bush sticking the Iraq War on a credit card. As Yves Smith brilliantly pointed out, on Naked Capitalism, “She seems to have fallen for the balance budget meme, when the proper role of government fiscal policy is to accommodate the actions of the private sector, meaning households and business. Households want to save for retirement and emergencies, and the tacit assumption is business invests household savings. Unless a country is running a trade surplus, and the US is not in that category, the government needs to accommodate the desire of the private sector to save by deficit spending. Otherwise wages fall and the economy contracts, and that makes the debt to GDP ratio worse.”

This is what makes the liberal silence on Warren’s international vision so disturbing. How can anyone truly work on reforming the economic system in our country without addressing the existence of a permanent-war economy? How can anyone tackle the issue of tax breaks without taking a look at the House Armed Services Committee and the Defense Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee defense bills? If the problem with the Iraq War isn’t the subversion of international law, or destruction of a country, but whether or not it impacted our ability to balance the budget, doesn’t logic dictate a war with Iran, with the potential of bailing out the economy, could easily be embraced?

When Obama campaigned for President, he made no attempts to conceal his positions on Afghanistan or Pakistan. Right before the election, the late Christopher Hitchens, an Obama supporter, argued that the joke wasn’t on him, an adamant War on Terror enthusiast, but on the young antiwar protestors lining up behind the promise of Hope and Change, “American liberals can’t quite face the fact that if their man does win in November, and if he has meant a single serious word he’s ever said, it means more war, and more bitter and protracted war at that—not less.”

He was right. If Elizabeth Warren becomes Senator, her critics stand to be correct as well, although her potentially toxic votes on war will be overshadowed by those enduring right-wing mantras: Massachusetts liberal, bluest of blue states…

Then what?

Michael Arria writes for Vice’s