Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Koch Machine and the True Cost of Jingoism

                                                                                  Cheshire Regiment, The Somme, 1916                             Photo by Ernest Brooks

I was reading an article in Common Dreams about Koch Industries’ bid to buy up major news outlets[i] when I came upon a term that poked my curiosity and gifted me with a hunch. Here’s my line of thinking.

The author of the article, Robert Parry, used the term “entrenched power” to refer to today’s uber-rich elites who don’t appreciate the fact that, for a brief time in our modern history, major media outlets occasionally reported actual facts that embarrassed and even threatened to disempower them. They yearned for “the good old days” before the “liberal media” afflicted the nation with the “Vietnam syndrome” which made Americans allergic to nationalistic propaganda that preceeds all violent foreign adventures known as “wars” to us lucky Americans whose last military conflict on our native soil was during the 19th century. 

But the term “entrenched power” is a modern phrase, my hunch went, and says something more than what most people intend or infer.

Whenever my curiosity is piqued by a word, I look it up in my antique set of Funk and Wagnell’s, where I didn’t find any mention of the modern political usage of the word “entrenched”, which is why I love my Funk and Wagnell’s. It's history. The "good old days”, back to the 40s,  when the word "entrenched" was all about trenches, as in trench warfare.

As any American school kid should know, World War One was fought mostly in trenches. And as most American school kids should also know but probably don’t, it was fought yard by bloody yard by boys and men who were put in those trenches by the “entrenched powers” of their day, using the jingoistic propaganda methods from what our contemporary Entrenched Ones now term “the good old days”. Sixteen million people were killed in World War One. Twenty million physically-wounded and untold millions pschycologically-so, which set the stage for World War Two, when almost 60 million people were killed. The wounded from that war set the stage for the Cold War, from which we will apparently never recover.

We try to put numerical costs on various wars, which we hope helps a little. For example, America’s Afgan-Iraq adventure, brought to us by our modern “entrenched powers” using jingoistic propaganda methods that date back to their “good old days”, will run about $4-$6 trillion[ii]. “Horreurs!” we say to that, and then we move on. It feels a little better to at least have a number to work with. “Whew!” we say in place of approaching War’s true reckonings, and we move on. But as most people in the world know, and as we Americans are really just learning, that number just scratches the surface of the tip of the iceberg. Sure, the iceberg’s melting, but it’s still a big iceberg, and any dollar amount is just a tiny scratch on it in terms of reckoning the true cost of jingoism.

One statistic from World War One that should give pause to those of us who seem so gullible to the various distractions our elites deploy against us is that there are still hundreds of pounds of unexploded, still-deadly ordinance for EVERY YARD along that war's hundred-year-old front. If you add up the unexploded ordinance remaining from World War Two, this grim statistic literally skyrockets. And that’s just in Europe, where the word “war” means a bit more than the mere lack of a “syndrome”, n'est pas? Speaking of which, the French still employ bomb disposal units, who gather up the century-old ordinance from the farmers who find them when they plow their fields. They will continue to do so for decades into the future, at huge cost. For unexploded bombs. From World War One.

My hunch is that the word “entrenched” didn’t start getting used for politics until well after World War Two, and I further hunch that at least some of the original evolvers of the word had that iconic trench war--World War One--in mind when they were stretching our language for a phrase to describe the corrosive all-powerful entities inhabiting the inner circles of our modern corporate states. I can't prove it. It's just a hunch. But I can literally visualize the aptness of using a literary relic like "trench warfare" to describe the toxic blend of 21st century elites employing 19th century propaganda that’s occurring on our watch. In the context of the modern definition, the trenches are always where "entrenched powers" put the rest of us, to fight yard by bloody yard for their priorities, not ours. For nothing, in other words, and at great cost to ourselves and our great-grandchildren's' futures. Visualize Global Warming. We're fighting--literally fighting-- each other in the trenches to prove or deny THAT? For who?

We worry much about economic monstrosities such as the Koch Brothers and Rupert Murdoch running amok through our nation’s always-fragile news outlets, as well we should. But we shouldn’t worry about whether the kind of propaganda these “entrenched powers” want to entrench us with are anything new unto the face of the Earth or more ominous than what we’ve seen in the past. They're not. And as always, we can either deal with it through our still-breathing democratic mechanisms, as the New Dealers did when they declared our spanking new airwaves "public domain" and limited its control by corporate powers. Or not, and let Koch and Murdoch, Beck and Limbaugh define our terms for us. What price Enfotainment? 

As any American school kid should know, some few folks made a lot of money in World War One. Some of the same made a killing in World War Two, and the Iraq-Afgan conflicts have been veritable cash cows for for the Zombies of War who kill but never die, the deep-pocketed reality-shifters who wear the face of the Koch brothers today, to whom “entrenched powers” is a most apt, modern and meaningful description.

“It was that resurgence of participatory democracy that was the real fear for those who held entrenched power, whether in the segregationist South or inside the wood-paneled rooms of Wall Street banks and big corporations. Thus, there developed a powerful pushback that sought to both hold the line on additional (and possibly even more damaging) disclosures of wrongdoing and to reassert control of the channels of information that influenced how the American people saw the world.”

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Medicaid Killed by Fanatics

                                           Photo courtesy of Paul Stanton

I was going to try and make sense out of the horrible vote yesterday in the House to kill a tepid version of Medicaid Expansion, but words fail me. Instead, I'm posting this great shot of a billboard south of Hamilton to tell you everything you need to know.

Which is: Guns don't kill people. People kill people, with guns and with crazed, rogue legislators who abdicate their responsibility for the sake of an ideology that can truly and only be described as a "culture of death". People kill people by willfully and maliciously denying them healthcare. Your legislators did this to you and yours. Why? Why?

Really. Why?

Well, a picture's worth a thousand words and all that. Pass it around. It's a pretty damn good explanation.

Friday, April 19, 2013

On Reasoning Fairly

Bigotry has not the capacity.
Superstition the knowledge or discipline.
Fanatics have not the patience.
Intolerance the disposition.

     (Funk and Wagnell,  ca. 1946)

Thursday, April 18, 2013

No More Max

The following is a gut reaction response I sent to Max Baucus this morning on his cowardly vote against marginal gun control measures. Many of us have had huge problems with Max on huge issues in the past, but he has topped even himself this time. He's gone too far. He voted against the clear will and need of not only the majority of Americans, but of the majority of Montanans. This is where Progressivism meets the Middle, where progressivism really resides. I urge all of you to contact Senator Baucus here: and I urge all Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Progressives  (mint-flavored Rocky Roads or whatever you want to call yourselves) to come up with some decent candidates who are not afraid to call out the N.R.A. for the terrorist organization that it demonstrably has become.

I'm outraged, sad and determined all at once at your vote against the tepid gun control measures offered to the Senate yesterday. I always vote Democratic, but I will never vote for you again, and I will actively work against you in the next election on this issue. I don't care if the Republican candidate is Dracula. You made a horrible decision yesterday. Bill LaCroix

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Tip of the Hat to the Bitterroot Star

You have to love an old-fashioned independent paper that actually prints the news and views of its community. How quaint, and if you compare the likes of Tom Paine and Ben Franklin to the sorry hairball of product that passes for print journalism today, how necessary.

The following is an exchange I had with Ravalli County “patriot” Commissioner Suzie Foss on the editorial page of the Bitterroot Star over the course of about three weeks. It started with the commissioners’ anti-government grandstanding (you know, like, don’t tread on me, man) over a water agreement between the Forest Service and the State of Montana. I responded to that crazy meeting, then Commissioner Suzie responded to my response, and it went downhill from there, which, as in skiing, was my intent. One loves to hear the wind whistling through one’s ears. We’re hard-wired for adventure, and that’s what I love about print media when done correctly. It actually encourages democratic discussion, unlike Lee Enterprises’ Missoulian, whose staff limits your words to about 300 and actually edits your stuff(!!), if they print it at all. Other than this blog, I’ll be using the Star exclusively from now on, because that’s where the authentic printed history of these weird times will reside if anyone in the future ever wants to know. 

Most of what we really know about the good, bad and ugly of our nation’s past comes from what was passed down to us from the early printers, pamphleteers and journalists who understood and freely experimented with the power of the printed word, which in my opinion is still the most powerful human invention to date. Yes, the mechanics have changed some, and we’re very smug about our new inventions as we upright monkeys always are when we surprise ourselves with our cleverness. But I recently finished reading William T. Sherman’s memoirs written in the 1880s and was struck, as I always am when I read old books, by how dependent—and in Sherman’s view how captive—the critical debates of those times were carried on in the newspapers. After the first lousy day at Shiloh, for instance, Sherman was found reading a newspaper by candlelight in the pouring rain. Try attaching that level of importance to the discussions going in in, say, U.S.A. Today. The Federalist Papers were basically pamphlets with substance, and they have survived with most of their original power to this day. Will Ann Coulter’s self-important waste of forest products wear as evenly? I don’t think so.

For all the warlike nattering we hear today from “patriots” about our sacred “founders”, there’s precious little real-time honor being paid to the pamphleteers who actually pioneered modern journalism and, in the process, made the American and French revolutions not only possible but inevitable. The lies of the rich were what the independent, portable presses of the time were meant to counter. We the People owe our modern voice to hemp, lead type and burnt linseed oil (ink, I think).

Not that I believe the Bitterroot Star is going to inspire us into messy revolutions, but as Sherman might have put it, I submit the following letters and articles in order to demonstrate the passions that existed at the time and in the hope that they speak for themselves:

My first editorial titledCrazy corruption” was printed Feb. 26, 2013 and was also posted previously on this blog here:

Commissioner Foss replied on March 5, 2013, which I edited here for the sake of brevity, can read in its entirety here:

“I usually ignore the rantings of Bill LaCroix as they are so over the top that I know the reasonable citizens of Ravalli County will see this poor man’s extremism for what it is. However, sometimes the man just goes too far and that is the case in his last ravings.
Titled “Crazy Corruption”, LaCroix accuses me of engineering an “ambush of hotheads and low-information malcontents,” referring to a meeting called by the commission for a representative of the DNRC to explain…(etc.)…Bitterroot National Forest supervisor Julie King stated that “yes, the reason the Forest Service is filing on the water is to control future…(etc.)…I swore to “defend the Constitutions” when I took office and my word is my bond…(OMG etc.)…the challenge we as a commission have is to weigh threats to our county…(Holy Cow! etc.)… the legislature violated our Constitutional rights…(etc. OMG OMG!)… we embrace our family and friends who are employed by the USFS, however, that does not mean we do not have the right or the obligation to …(etc.)…Mr. LaCroix failed to mention that he was in the very small minority of citizens during our public meeting. The majority there asked us to file an objection on their behalf.
I believe we all want what is best, that is the ultimate goal.”
Suzy FossRavalli County Commissioner

My response to Ms. Foss, printed March 15th, 2013:

I’d like to thank Commissioner Foss for coming up with a label I can finally live with. After decades of living and working in Montana, Idaho and Washington, working in the fishing industry, the logging industry, having my own nursery and restoration business, searching for my true identity, I’ve tripped over a lot of handles people have tried to hang on folks like me that just didn’t seem like quite the perfect fit. “Veteran”, “hippy”, “redneck”, “environmentalist”. All of them lacked that certain zing I craved in describing my peculiar path upon this planet.

Thanks to Ms. Foss, though, I can now lay that burden down by proudly accepting her labeling me as a “poor man’s extremist”. I never would have thought of it myself, and it’s got that zing, it fits my many moods and it also actually means something, unlike so many things people have called me—and the many, many folks like me in this neck of the woods—in the past.

Speaking of which, Suzie’s facts aren’t straight. The folks who showed up to that meeting objecting to this commission’s haranguing of state and federal employees just doing their jobs was far more than “a very small minority” and the Forest Service supervisor didn’t say what Suzie said she said. It’s unfortunate, to say the least, that a county commissioner would dismiss whole groups of county taxpayers in a published letter like that.

But never mind. I really just wanted to thank her for the “poor man’s extremist” label and I’d like to recommend that anyone else feeling slightly out of place in these tea-soaked times try it on. It feels just right, at least for me.

The Star’s article on Montana Dept. of Natural Resource’s (DNRC) refusing to entertain the commissioners’ frivolous objection, printed March 27th, 2013:

My response to that article, printed April 2nd, 2013
I hadn't realized until I read the Bitterroot Star last week that our commission was protesting the $25 filing fee to object to the Forest Service’s water right applications as a violation of citizens' rights to participate in government. To quote the Star: “The county claims that to charge a $25 fee to file an objection violates the Montana constitution’s guarantee of the right to know and participate in the actions of governmental agencies.”

Attention all Bitterroot voters: In early 2011, this commission set up and attended as a quorum a for-profit meeting with American Stewards of Liberty (ASL), the Far-Right, for profit outfit that promotes the Wise-Use/county-supremacy scheme they dub “coordination”. This for-profit meeting with ASL was on the commissioners’ agenda, and when members of the public showed up and demanded the right to attend, they were told that they could not do so unless they paid the $45 fee the organizer--Suzie Foss--demanded. The public was therefore explicitly denied access to a public meeting by the organizer—Suzie Foss—who unilaterally declared this public meeting a revenue-generating activity. Soon after, the same commission voted in a sweet, taxpayer-funded deal for ASL to the tune of thousands of dollars.

Bitterroot Human Rights Alliance has had a FOIA request on the table since May of 2011 requesting financial records of that event, and to date have not had the satisfaction of an adequate response. The only reason it has been sitting so long is the lack of formal litigation, which as we all know makes justice inaccessible in many important cases such as this.

Given the conflict-of-interest issues arising from current challenges facing this county, such as Legacy Ranch Subdivision, I believe the issue of charging citizens to attend public governmental meetings is still relevant and has standing on several levels, and we should demand the public's right to know about these conflicts of interest issues consistently emanating from this commission.        

Happily, now that this commission has come out in full support against fees for public process, and since the same players, such as Foss and Planning Office Manager Terry Nelson were intimately involved in the January 2011 ASL meeting as well as the Legacy proposal and the protesting of federal water rights, I'm sure the time is ripe for them to fully cooperate in handing over all relevant documents, including bank statements etc. from Ms. Foss' private account to assure the public that she did not profit from a PUBLIC meeting with ASL that the public was denied access to.

This commission consistently insists on picking frivolous, money-consuming fights with straw men of their own creation in order to display a frivolous ideology that, unsurprisingly, also has a more-earthy conflict-of-interest component. Given the seriousness of such official actions as taking on the Forest Service and approving a new, for-profit town euphemistically dubbed Legacy Ranch Subdivision, we the public have every right to be as informed as possible about these commissioners’ true relationships with Legacy Ranch’s Donald Morton and Territorial Landworks as well as the out-of-state, for-profit organization, American Stewards of Liberty.

                                                                                                Bill LaCroix