I Rebel, Therefore We Exist, 2019

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I Rebel, Therefore We Exist, 2019

When Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez spoke of her origins and family today (19 October 2019), I remembered my own story because they are so similar. My mother, too, is a lovely Puertorriqueña; I too was born in the Boogie-Town island stolen from the American Indians (Manhattan); we too lived in Parkchester, in the Bronx, in a basement apartment (concrete floor, concrete walls, tiny windows at the top at shoe-level to the sidewalk); I too have felt the glass ceiling pushing me down (my whole career), along with other melanin-rich talent.

My rebellion was never as brilliantly insightful nor as spectacularly successful as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s, but it still goes on in my own idiosyncratic and annoying way (my unpopularity is deserved, and I’m proud of it). So I can easily bypass the cynicism and miffed sense of superiority of the self-regarding left intelligentsia who are so obviously jealous of the genuine popularity — and political effectiveness — of Alexandria and Bernie.

I can relish the first possibility for a real change in American politics, economics and life that I’ve seen since my heart sank on November 8, 1980, when Ronald Reagan was elected president, defeating Jimmy Carter, and since December 8, 1980, when John Lennon was murdered and Ronald Reagan went on the air to defend guns and the NRA. It was so clear America was plunging into an abyss as blithely and stupidly as the British, French and Germans marched into World War I in 1914; and America has in every way, hasn’t it?

Maybe now, 39 years later, enough people have been hurt by the institutionalized criminality of the American political economy that many of the survivors of those times — the workers, not the parasites — and our new, younger generations are really ready to join up and actually create a successful revolution. I have no shame in appearing to be “utopian” or “dreamy” or “immature” or “foolish” or “naïve” in holding and vocally proclaiming such a hope and such a wish. Bernie’s got 9 years on me, so I’ve seen almost as much as he has of 20th and 21st century American and world history; and I know what can be because it already was once, I lived in it. And I want the best of the past for my three children (two older than AOC). And for their children if they have them, and for everybody’s children, and all children everywhere.

I want the thieves robbing today’s youth of their futures — as they rob and have robbed their wage-slave parents and grandparents — along with the unctuous slimy hypocritical bottom-feeding careerist political ass-kissers (you see them daily on TV) — who tell you a decent life for you is impossible, or costs too much, and who pimp justice to claw their way to the top — to rot in a hell for them where they are discarded, ignored, profitless and robustly taxed: a new American society that is socialist, and democratic, and universally just, and enthusiastically ethical and intelligent.

Vision must precede any reality that one wants to realize, and so in these times don’t repress your vision out of fear of the future or (worse yet) fear of your public image being ridiculed. Let your vision be grand, let it soar, because we want that vision to take us as far as the yet unknown political opportunities of the next year may allow us to go. Don’t be so fearful of being disappointed by the “imperfections” of whatever the political outcome is in 2020 and beyond, that you repress your thinking and emotions in favor of the entirely possible “impossible dream” that Bernie Sanders (above all others) has articulated to the nation.

The “revolution,” as Bernie calls it, will never be perfect, no revolution ever is, but that is not the point. The goal is to get as much revolution as American politics, physical reality, and the inherent chaos of the universe will allow the American people, united in both uplifting aspiration and just purpose, to achieve. And not just in 2020, but continually from this moment on.

So, again, I don’t care how foolish I look or sound. Over my life I’ve seen too much lying, betrayal and exploitation palmed off as “the way things must be,” and I also know the opportunity of a lifetime when I see it. We blew it in 2016, but by now it should be obvious to everybody that a tsunami of change must drown the cold dead vampire of American capitalism, beginning with the ballot boxes on November 3, 2020, and then continuing far beyond electoral politics into every aspect of American society and American life.

So go ahead, be “foolish,” have a dream, have vision, pump out the vibes, because every revolution is powered by a unity of human aspirations, and every advance of civilization occurs as a jolt along the fault-lines of human society: by revolution. “I rebel, therefore we exist.” (Thank you, Albert Camus.)

Videos of Bernie and AOC, 19 October 2019

“Bernie’s Back” Rally with AOC in New York
19 October 2019
[complete speeches by all, at the rally today]
1:31:50 Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
1:51:10 AOC ->to-> Bernie
2:52:04 end of Bernie’s speech.
https://youtu.be/0HbS65oiN18

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Endorses Bernie For President
19 October 2019
[Solo studio video appearance, 3:05]
https://youtu.be/DDGf39NkZe0

AOC’s Bernie Endorsement: HIGHLIGHTS
[Excerpts of AOC’s address at the 19 Oct. 2019 rally, 5:54]
https://youtu.be/QW-Nx1g8EpI

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Through My Lens, Clearly

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Through My Lens, Clearly

For me, the 1950s ended in 1962 with the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the 1960s began in 1959 with the Cuban Revolution. I remember the elation in my family, in New York City’s Upper West Side (136th Street, and Broadway), when the Batista Regime in Cuba collapsed in January 1959; and I remember our dumbstruck terror in October 1962, listening to President John Kennedy speaking on our black-and-white TV, wondering if my grandparents would be radioactively incinerated in Havana before we were similarly dematerialized in New York City, or vice versa.

That is how my political consciousness was born; its coming-of-age and definitive molding was done later by the Vietnam War, and the many insistent demands by my government that I sacrifice myself to it. I escaped by dumb luck, for which I am eternally grateful. With the particular curvature and polish of my own idiosyncratic lens for political consciousness, I have come to resolve images of our collective reality that I sometimes feel a need to project, as here today.

People can’t be changed, they either evolve on their own, or they persist as they are to the death. The best you can do, for the rare few, is tell them the truth if they ask.

We live in a world rich in its diversity of intolerance of independent thought and self-directed living. Expressions of personal independence and creativity are threats to the slavish conformity of the mass of fearful repressed people hiding in their submissiveness to traditional ideologies that give them status in social hierarchies that limit the full human potential of the individual. This maintains, without merit, the elevation of patriarchs and power-hungry mediocrities who clip the wings of the human spirit and direct the enforcement of their systems of mental and physical imprisonment of the masses serving them.

Bigotry is popular because it makes stupid people feel intelligent, and weak people feel strong. President (sic!) Donald Trump’s popularity rests on people’s desire to be bigoted and respected for it. Bigotry will exist as long as there are ignorant people who are fearful. Such bigoted people love fascism because under it they can stay bigoted and be proud of it. Fascist bigots, like Trump, don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want to be made to feel ashamed. That is why publicly recognized fascist power-seekers always try to silence their critics: first by ignoring them, then by ridiculing them, then by judicial attacks against them, or by veiled calls to their followers to sprout proxies who will make illegal attacks on their critics, and ultimately if they gain dictatorial power they have their critics killed.

Evangelical Christianity is a cult of fear, and for its men also a cult of patriarchy. Politically, it is irrational Republicanism; socially, it is white supremacy and the subjugation of women. Why do such Republican women remain Republican? Because their bigotry, which is fear, is so embedded that it overpowers their self-respect, which is courage. Evangelical Christianity sees Islam as its reflection and its rival, which is why it hates Islam. In practice, their religion is a hate crime. Heraclitus was so perceptive to write, in about 500 BC, that “bigotry is the disease of the religious.”

The problem of race bigotry in America is like the problem of climate change. It is of our making, and we know how to fix it, but we never will. People are too invested in their ignorance for that to ever happen, and afraid if they let it go they will be weak in a changed world.

Arresting climate change would require the universal application of human intelligence, indiscriminate compassion, worldwide solidarity instead of personal selfishness, and thoughtful discipline instead of thoughtless waste. We are doomed. Climate Change is only a problem for the young, bequeathed to them by the old, who won’t notice it anyway because they’re comfortably done, and will be gone soon (geologically speaking).

I probably should not bother writing about the Climate Change Crisis anymore. Everyone everywhere now knows that it is real, and most have felt its first unpleasant effects. So, some Green Energy actions will now happen in response, probably too few, too weak and too late, but at least a start now that the Global Mind has opened to the truth.

Also, I really don’t need to write any more Jeremiads against Republican Party partisans (there are plenty of others to do that nicely), because it is now obvious to everyone everywhere — even the U.S. corporate media (though it puckers their sphincters to mouth it) — that the Republican Party is just a fascist conspiracy to eliminate democracy in the United States of America, and replace it with an authoritarian corporatized xenophobic bigoted Fundamentalist Christian White Supremacy theocratic oligarchy, to drive us all expeditiously to extinction under their self-satisfied obsessively avaricious command. Thieves lie, and liars steal. For them, it is better for humanity to die out badly than for the stupid, bigoted and greedy to be bypassed. Capitalism is fossil-fueled greed with a total lack of imagination, and a bodacious military. Capitalism is the ideology of parasites.

Who built the United States of America into the richest country in world history?: enslaved and exterminated Native Americans, enslaved Africans, dispossessed Mexicans, and exploited European and Asian immigrant laborers. Who produces American wealth today?: the wage-slave descendants of all of these, who only gain a pittance from their harvested labors. What salve are these squeezed working people given for the bruising sacrifices they make of their humanity into the endlessly grinding engines of obsessive greed?: a patriotism deficient in human solidarity but voracious for taxes. But, don’t think of it as taxes, think of it as tithing to the War Religion.

So in my lens’s focus today I find the following: For the world: Capitalism must die for the World to live. For my country: Tribalism is America’s fatal flaw. Resentment, envy and a fanatical sense of entitlement are its corrosive agents. A generational overturning led by socialist youth is its only hope. For myself and every other person: It’s not what happens to you that determines whether you are a success or failure at life, but how you deal with it. As Thucydides quoted Pericles: “Honor is the only thing that does not grow old.”

And now, back to the bread and circuses.

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Happy 200th, Herman!

Herman Melville, 1870

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Happy 200th, Herman!

The first of August 2019 is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Herman Melville, author of Moby-Dick or, the Whale (1851), as well as numerous other novels, short stories and much poetry.

Because of the depth of his thought as well as the range of his invention, Herman Melville (1 August 1819 – 28 September 1891) remains America’s greatest writer of literary fiction, and also one of its superior poets. I consider Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens, 1835-1910) the quintessential American novelist because his masterwork, the novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), is such an exquisite encapsulation of anti-slavery and anti-bigotry moral principle within a widely popular coming-of-age boy’s adventure story. But Melville is America’s deepest literary artist, his novels are metaphors for long-running threads of reality entwined as the American experience.

While Mark Twain’s facile humor and droll prose made him very popular with his 19th century audiences — both through publications and with live appearances — Herman Melville remained largely neglected during the last forty years of his life, by a reading public that was alienated by the complexity of his art. That complexity resulted from the combination of his literary sophistication, strongly influenced by the poetic language and moral insights of both William Shakespeare and the King James Bible; his personal philosophical thought as the fundamental source for his writing; his morally enlightened (non-racist) attitude about the world’s people; and the wit of his continuing critique, embedded in his fiction, of Americans’ myopic for-profit utilitarianism and obsessive hucksterism and con-artistry, which continues to this very day.

Herman Melville, 1860

I am no amateur scholar of Herman Melville and his literature, nor do I pretend to be. I am just one of millions of readers who since 1851 have been entranced by Melville’s masterpiece, Moby-Dick. I have read this book at least three times since 1961. With each reading I was older, more experienced, and was able to gain more insight about and appreciation for the literary use of the American language, and 19th America, out of the richness of Melville’s prose. I used the image of Captain Ahab’s monomaniacal and fatal obsession to hunt down and kill the white whale Moby Dick, in a recent article of my own, as a metaphor for humanity’s current obsession to continue racing with its self-destructive fossil-fueled capitalism, which is the profligate source of greenhouse gas emissions causing anthropogenic global warming climate change.

Many readers today would find Melville prolix, abstruse, convoluted, and with a confounding multifarious vocabulary. This obviates Melville’s work from achieving instant contemporary mass pop-appeal. However, that prolixity, abstruseness, convolution and wide-spectrum vocabulary we grumble about now could reflect the devolution of Americans’ thought processes and language from a measured 19th century pacing of consideration to a hurried jittery 21st century attention-deficit superficiality: the shorn American language of today, our no-brainer “New Speak.”

Herman Melville, 1861

Herman Melville gained popular success as an author with his initial novel Typee (1846), a romantic account of his experiences of Polynesian life, gathered during his time as a whaler and seaman in the South Pacific between early 1841 and late 1844. Typee was followed by a sequel, Omoo (1847), which was also successful and paid him enough to marry and start a family. His first novel not based on his own experiences, Mardi (1849), was not well received. His next fictional work, Redburn (1849), and his non-fiction White-Jacket (1850) were given better reviews but did not provide financial security. (1)

Moby-Dick (1851), although now considered one of the great American novels, was not well received among contemporary critics. His psychological novel, Pierre: or, The Ambiguities (1852) was also scorned by reviewers. From 1853 to 1856, Melville published short fiction in magazines which were collected in 1856 as The Piazza Tales. In 1857, he traveled to England and then toured the Near East. The Confidence-Man (1857) was the last prose work that he published. He moved to New York to take a position as Customs Inspector and turned to poetry. Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War (1866) was his poetic reflection on the moral questions of the American Civil War. (1)

In 1867, his oldest child Malcolm died at home from a self-inflicted gunshot. Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land was published in 1876, a metaphysical epic. In 1886, his son Stanwix died of apparent tuberculosis, and Melville retired. During his last years, he privately published two volumes of poetry, left one volume unpublished, and returned to prose of the sea. The novella Billy Budd was left unfinished at his death but was published posthumously in 1924. Melville died from cardiovascular disease in 1891. The 1919 centennial of his birth became the starting point of the “Melville Revival” with critics rediscovering his work and his major novels starting to become recognized as world classics of prominent importance to contemporary world literature. (1)

Most of Melville’s works can now be found on-line. (2)

Herman Melville, 1868

A most interesting and knowledgable commentator on Herman Melville’s works is Louis Proyect, both because of his familiarity with Melville’s texts, and because of his discussions of how Melville’s themes are critically reflected in the social contexts of both the 19th century and today, and of how Melville’s anti-racist attitudes contrasted favorably with the “utilitarian” consensus of his times, and even ours. (3), (4), (5).

To end this commemoration of Herman Melville and his literature, on the occasion of his 200th birthday, I borrow the following paragraphs from Louis Proyect (3). Mark well what ye read here, for we need slake our forgetfulness and remember this conviction today.

Melville’s Redburn is one of his lesser-known books, but it comes as close to a conscious expression of the world we are trying to build as will be found in all of his works. He writes:

There is something in the contemplation of the mode in which America has been settled that, in a noble breast, would forever extinguish the prejudices of national dislikes. Settled by the people of all nations, all nations may claim her for their own. You cannot spill a drop of American blood without spilling the blood of the whole world. . .Our blood is as the flood of the Amazon, made of a thousand noble currents all pouring into one. We are not a nation, so much as a world. . .Our ancestry is lost in the universal pageantry; and Caesar and Alfred, St. Paul and Luther, and Homer and Shakespeare are as much ours as Washington, who is as much the world’s as our own. We are the heirs of all time, and with all nations we divide our inheritance. On this Western Hemisphere all tribes and peoples are forming into one federated whole; and there is a future which shall see the estranged children of Adam restored as to the old hearthstone in Eden.

Herman Melville, 1885

Notes

(1) Herman Melville
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herman_Melville

All images of Herman Melville here are from Wikipedia.

(2) The Life and Works of Herman Melville
http://www.melville.org/

(3) Deconstructing cannibalism
5 January 2016
https://louisproyect.org/2016/01/05/deconstructing-cannibalism/

includes Louis Proyect’s articles:

Shakespeare’s Tempest and the American Indian
6 December 1998

Herman Melville’s Typee: a Peep at Polynesian Life
18 October 2004

(4) The Confidence Man
23 December 2013
https://louisproyect.org/2013/12/23/the-confidence-man/

(5) Herman Melville and indigenous peoples
16 February 2008
https://louisproyect.org/2008/02/16/herman-melville-and-indigenous-peoples/

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F. Scott Fitzgerald and Lost American Lyricism

 

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F. Scott Fitzgerald and Lost American Lyricism

For me, the American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940) was an English Romantic Poet like John Keats (1795-1821), who experienced during his college years — that pivotal time of transition from youth to adulthood — the shock of World War I destroying the Belle Époque and unleashing the blaring, crass, destructive, frenzied and wasteful Youth Quake sociological explosion known as the Roaring Twenties, when the prewar Gilded Age was resuscitated — to eventually reach its apotheosis in Trumpian America — during the postwar prosperity of a hypocritically repressed Prohibition America that was an economic bubble flinging open the starting gates to the modernization of American manners, morals, rhythms, fantasies and expectations, and whose totality we have all experienced as the 20th Century, which we can date as the zeitgeist from 1919 to 2019.

The zeitgeist now is of self-evident global warming climate change, openly acknowledged by all except intransigent ultra wealthy buffoons clinging to their hoards and their pathetically transparent propaganda intended to ward off just taxation.

Fitzgerald was a literary artist, a lyrical romanticist who became the hip young voice of the 1920s outburst because he was able to apply his 19th century mindset and literary facility to articulate — as deep psychological insights of general applicability — his personal youthful experiences and observations of transiting through the World War I cultural shock wave thrusting his generation into the manic modernity of a vastly industrialized, depersonalized and entertainment-obsessed America.

It was because Fitzgerald’s conceptions had been formed in a previous social paradigm that he had a basis from which to objectively evaluate the new psycho-social realities of the 1920s. Younger and less alert people, whose entire awareness of social life awakened during the 1920s, lacked such a contrasting mental framework because they were blindingly immersed in, and distracted and buffeted by their times. Fitzgerald was young enough to be completely hip to and synchronized with the 1920s, but not too young to be unable to understand where the 1920s had emerged from, how they were different from the prewar past, and how they were experienced as matters of personal and societal character.

Fitzgerald, along with his older English contemporary W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965), have given me the deepest psychological insights into women as men experience them, and into personal character as it expresses itself through interpersonal relationships, especially between the sexes.

A similar transition of American life occurred forty to fifty years later when the Vietnam War shattered the stability and stasis of 1950s America, from which erupted the cultural efflorescence and political turmoil of the late 1960s, which like the late 1920s burned off the general prosperity that had been accumulated during the economic boom hot-housed during the preceding period of victorious peace.

Culturally alert writers of the 1960s included Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (1922-2007), Joseph Heller (1923-1999), Malcolm X (1925-1965) with Alex Haley (1921-1992), and Tennessee Williams (1911-1983). These writers were as different from F. Scott Fitzgerald as he was from Mark Twain (1835-1910), and none of these others matched Fitzgerald for lyricism, except for a memorable passage in Twain’s Huckleberry Finn — on the Mississippi River in early morning — and the calmly eloquent and reflective moments in Tennessee Williams’ dramas.

Fitzgerald was 14 when Twain died, and when Fitzgerald died at age 44 in 1940: Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. was 18, Joseph Heller was 17, Malcolm X was 15, Alex Haley was 19, and Tennessee Williams was 29. W. Somerset Maugham was 22 when F. Scott Fitzgerald was born, 36 when Mark Twain died, and 66 when F. Scott Fitzgerald died.

Twain’s war shocks were the American Civil War (1860-1865) and the Philippine-American War (1899-1902), while Vonnegut’s and Heller’s were World War II (1941-1945), primarily, and also the Korean War (1950-1953, for the hot war) and the Vietnam War (1954-1975, for the American phase).

Fitzgerald’s life was so timed that during the third decade of his life — and prime adult years — he also experienced the societal shock of the Crash of 1929 and its immediate aftermath, the Great Depression (1929-1942), when the outlandish and dissipative prosperity of 1920s capitalism collapsed into the socio-economic wreckage of the 1930s, with his own personal circumstances tumbling into ruins along with the times.

I find Fitzgerald’s keen insights on personal motivations and character, and on interpersonal relationships, to be far superior to those of both earlier and later American writers because of how his English Romantic Poetic frame of mind processed his experiences with youthful success and the allurements of fame while confronting the postwar shock of the new in the 1920s, followed by the collapse of illusions with the loss of wealth and social status in the 1930s, and all of that filtered through his intense emotions pulsing out of his marriage to and care for Zelda Sayre, his socially advanced and schizophrenic wife, and mother of his only child.

I can see why Fitzgeraldian lyricism was stripped out of American writing in reaction to the serial disappointments of the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean War, the sterility of the Tailfin ’50s, and the Vietnam War, and why Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) and imitators of his arid style became popular to this day, given the post World War II re-acceleration of life’s American rhythm, and the relentless commercially driven dumbing down of the American mind.

The loss of lyricism from American literary fiction, since that of F. Scott Fitzgerald, is not a sign of its increased artistry and insight, but of the opposite.

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“Fifty-Year” Look Back At Lived History, 1963-2013

This essay is a summary of U.S. history, which I lived through from 1963 to 2013 (primarily during the 1960s and 1970s). This essay is simply a combination of two of my items published by Swans (now gone) in 2013. I wrote them for the benefit of younger people. In writing these essays, I did make an effort (research) to verify my statements of fact. I am posting this compendium here because 2018 is the half-century mark after 1968, which I consider the most consequential year in U.S. history since 1945.

Fifty-Year Look Back 1963-2013, Part I: 1963-1968
18 November 2013
http://www.swans.com/library/art19/mgarci75.html

Fifty-Year Look Back 1963-2013, Part II: 1968-2013
2 December 2013
http://www.swans.com/library/art19/mgarci76.html

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“Fifty-Year” Look Back At Lived History, 1963-2013
(Part I, 1963-1968)

(November 18, 2013)   November 22, 2013, is the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of US president John Fitzgerald Kennedy. We can expect many commentaries on, remembrances of, and uses and misuses made of this anniversary during this month of November. My contribution to that chatter is this look back at the last fifty years in American history, from my personal perspective. I make no claims of scholarship, inclusiveness, balance, or attitudinal and interpretive “correctness,” only that the following characterizes how I remember what I’ve chosen to focus on with respect to the “big picture” of American history that I have lived through.

Before 1963

The America of November 1963 was a country that had seen the collapse of European colonialism in Asia and Africa during the post World War II period of 1945-1960. America’s own imperialistic Monroe Doctrine presumptuousness was sorely tried by the Cuban Revolution of 1959, which openly declared itself communist in 1961. The Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 had brought the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (Soviet Russia) dangerously close to nuclear war, but was fortunately defused, and subsequent diplomacy led to a treaty limiting nuclear weapons testing.

There had been about 100 atmospheric nuclear weapons tests, primarily by the U.S. and the USSR, during the period 1951-1956 (there had been about 9 between 1945 and 1950). The annual number of nuclear tests jumped to over 40 in 1957, and over 100 in 1958. There was a voluntary halt to testing during 1959-1960 (except for a few tests by France) in response to public fears about the radioactive fallout contamination of the milk supply. The peace symbol, which is now an icon of our culture, was designed by Gerald Holtom in 1958, and first popularized as a badge by Eric Austen, both nuclear disarmament advocates in Britain. In 1961 — John Kennedy’s first year as US president — the USSR launched a major series of over 30 nuclear tests, and the U.S. mounted about half that number. This weapons race accelerated wildly to a frenzied peak in 1962, with 140 tests performed (over 90 for the U.S. and nearly 40 for the USSR). Except for 1958 and 1962, there have never been more than about 90 nuclear tests in any year (and from 1971 usually under 60), and only very few since 1992, the last year of US testing (post 1992 testing has been by France, China, India, Pakistan, and North Korea). The numbers I quote for nuclear tests in a given year are read off a chart and rounded. (1)

The environmental movement was born on September 27, 1962, with the publication of Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring, on the ecological devastation caused by pesticide pollution.

In 1963

The negotiations initiated in October 1962 to defuse the Cuban Missile Crisis blossomed into the crafting of, signing (August 5, 1963), US ratification (September 24, 1963), and implementation (October 10, 1963) of the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963, which banned nuclear weapon tests in the atmosphere, in outer space, and under water.

The Civil Rights (anti-apartheid or anti-segregation) movement for black Americans had been very vigorous in the southern U.S. from the beginning of John Kennedy’s presidency in 1961. The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous “I have a dream speech” from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. on August 28, 1963.

From 1961, John Kennedy had sent US military advisors to aid the anti-communist Ngô Ðình Diêm regime of South Vietnam in its fight against a communist insurgency (the will of the peasantry) allied with communist North Vietnam. By late 1962, there were 12,000 US soldiers in South Vietnam. Disappointed with Diem as an anti-communist unifier for North and South Vietnam, Kennedy approved a CIA program to aid Diem’s generals in a coup to produce new leadership, which occurred on November 2, 1963, with the deposed Diem summarily executed.

Lee Harvey Oswald, a disaffected American seeking glorious recognition as a leftist hero, acted as a freelancing James Bond (the world’s favorite fictional Tory) to impress the Dirección General de Inteligencia de Cuba (DGI, the Cuban intelligence service) by assassinating President Kennedy on November 22, 1963. The DGI had been locked in a battle with the CIA to keep Fidel Castro from being assassinated, a project pushed hard by the Kennedy brothers, John and Robert. Lyndon Baines Johnson, John Kennedy’s successor, stopped the CIA’s Fidel assassination program shortly after taking office. The Soviet Russian intelligence service (KGB) had found Oswald too unstable to rely on as an agent, and happily let him return to America from his self-imposed exile in Russia (October 1959 to June 1962). The DGI had the difficulty of being a much less powerful organization situated far closer to its small nation’s overwhelmingly superior enemy. Thus, the DGI unlike the KGB might be willing to exploit the improvisations of a volunteer useful idiot. Oswald spent the last week of September 1963 in Mexico City, visiting the Cuban and Russian consulates seeking a visa to travel to Cuba, and as a consequence met DGI agents. The DGI was too professional to compromise itself by inducting a delusional American outcast into its ranks, but the DGI seems to have been either gutsy enough or desperate enough to allow Oswald to imagine he would be welcomed in Cuba should he accomplish something of significant value for the Cuban Revolution. Oswald returned to Dallas on October 14, 1963. (2)

During 1964-1968

1964:

The Beatles conquer America by capturing the hearts of its teenage girls. We boys had no choice but to follow.

Lyndon Baines Johnson wins a landslide electoral victory over conservative Republican Barry Goldwater (Au-H2O), who had said in his nomination acceptance speech, “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.” The Johnson campaign exploited Goldwater’s strident public image with the most explosive political advertisement ever devised, the famous Daisy commercial. (3)

The Johnson administration bequeathed America the national tragedy experienced as the Vietnam War (between 1964 to 1968, after which the Republican administration continued it till 1975), but also the towering civil rights triumphs codified by three laws:

– Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin by federal and state governments as well as some public places.

– Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibits states and local governments from imposing any “voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure … to deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.”

– Civil Rights Act of 1968, also known as the Fair Housing Act, prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of housing based on race, creed, and national origin.

1965:

Unsafe At Any Speed, Ralph Nader’s book about deficiencies of automotive design as regards passenger safety, launches the consumer product safety movement.

President Lyndon Johnson sends American troops into South Vietnam; by July there are 75,000. On July 28, Johnson announces he is increasing the troop level to 125,000 and doubling the monthly draft calls (from 17,000 to 35,000). A gradual and sustained aerial bombardment of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam), Operation Rolling Thunder, had begun on March 2, 1965, and would continue until November 2, 1968.

1967:

Positive Crankcase Ventilation (PCV) valves, which are simple pollution control devices, are mandated for internal combustion engines. This was the first regulation for automobile exhaust pollution control. Since Silent Spring in 1962, numerous concerns had combined into a broad environmental movement: the flooding of Glen Canyon on the Colorado River in 1963 behind the new Glen Canyon Dam, the logging of old growth redwood trees, air pollution — smog — caused by auto and truck exhaust gases, river and coastal pollution from industrial and farm wastes, and the danger of ecological damage by oil spills from offshore drilling platforms, which infamously occurred at Santa Barbara, California, in 1969.

The Six Day War, between Israel and the combined forces of Egypt, Jordan and Syria, takes place in early June. Israel is victorious, and the present Palestinian crisis of Israeli occupation begins.

Ernesto “Che” Guevara is captured and executed on October 9, 1967, by the Bolivian military aided by the CIA. One of many blows by a perpetually petulant US establishment vainly seeking a satisfying vengeance for the Kennedy hit.

1968:

The Tet Offensive, launched by the Communist Party of Vietnam on January 30, stuns the Johnson administration as well as the US public. It was now clear that the American war for South Vietnam was futile, but nevertheless it would continue till 1975.

On March 31, Lyndon Baines Johnson announces that he will not seek reelection; it is a presidential election year. Robert F. Kennedy (John Kennedy’s younger brother and attorney general) was a senator at that time, and had announced his own bid for the presidency on March 16.

Martin Luther King, Jr. is assassinated on April 4, in Memphis, Tennessee. Major rioting breaks out in many cities. Because of the extensive damage and fires caused during these urban riots, and the deployment of National Guard troops to restore order, the television images of these scenes on US soil had an eerily disquieting resemblance to images of Stalingrad in 1943, Berlin in 1945, and Hue and other Vietnamese cities besieged during the previous three months during the Tet Offensive. Many Americans became very frightened, and a diversity of Americans had their various prejudices deepened.

Robert Kennedy is assassinated after a campaign speech in Los Angeles on June 6 by a resentful Palestinian with Jordanian citizenship, Sirhan Sirhan, who is still serving a life sentence for that crime. Robert Kennedy had captured the imagination of liberals, especially young ones, who were ignorant of his earlier political career (as a McCarthy-type commie chaser, and the zealous prosecutor of the Fidel assassination project) and crushed by his loss. Robert Kennedy had been deeply affected by John Kennedy’s death and the politics behind it, and as a result he had undoubtedly become much more sympathetic to the aspirations and suffering of marginalized populations, like the Mexican-American farm workers that Cesar Chavez was organizing in California’s Central Valley. However, the degree to which Robert Kennedy had become more “revolutionary,” or “socialist,” or just moral after 1963, and how such a presumed deepening of compassion and conviction might express itself politically, are matters of pure speculation mooted by his death. Hubert Humphrey, the vice president and eventual 1968 Democratic nominee for President, was the quintessential mainstream liberal politician of the 1960s.

Richard Milhous Nixon, a Republican from California, wins the 1968 presidential election with a campaign promoting “law and order” and appealing to anti-civil rights southern white resentment (Dixiecrats become Republicans). Nixon’s winning concept was called “the southern strategy.” It would become the formula applied by all subsequent Republican presidential contenders to this day, very effectively by Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, who vastly increased the formula’s content of rhetoric and cant on fiscal soundness and the evils of taxation, but unsuccessfully by Willard Mitt Romney in 2012 because of the changed demographic composition of the American electorate since 1968 and 1988.

Notes to Part I

1.  Nuclear Weapons Testing,
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_weapons_testing

2.  Manuel García, Jr.,
“Castro And The Kennedy Image After The Checkmate”
Swans, 23 April 2012,
http://www.swans.com/library/art18/mgarci46.html

Some Words About JFK,
see the section “Castro And The Kennedy Image After The Checkmate”
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2017/11/20/some-words-about-jfk/

3.  Daisy Commercial (1964),
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Id_r6pNsus

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“Fifty-Year” Look Back At Lived History, 1963-2013
(Part II, 1968-2013)

(December 2, 2013) This two-part series is a look back at the last fifty years in American history, from my personal perspective. The thread of my historical narrative begins in Part I (1963-1968). (1)

Enjoy the show.

The Vietnam War and the US Presidential Election in 1968

On January 30, the Communist Party of Vietnam launched its stunning though costly and ultimately stymied Tet Offensive across all of South Vietnam. For the Vietnamese Communist Party, the Tet Offensive was a propaganda victory and foreign relations coup; for the Johnson administration and the American public it was a crippling blow to self-confidence about the conduct of the war. The number of American troops in Vietnam peaked at 543,482 in late April.

The year was the most expensive in the Vietnam War with America spending US$ 77.4 billion (US$ 519 billion in 2013) on the war. The year also became the deadliest of the Vietnam War for America and its allies with 27,915 South Vietnamese (ARVN) soldiers killed and the Americans suffering 16,592 killed compared to around two hundred thousand of the communist forces killed. The deadliest week of the Vietnam War for the USA was during the Tet Offensive, specifically February 11-17, 1968, during which 543 Americans were killed in action and 2,547 were wounded. (2)

On March 31, Lyndon Johnson announced in a nationally televised address that he would not seek reelection as US president in the November election. That same month, to encourage the North Vietnamese to begin negotiations, he halted the aerial bombing of the northern portion of North Vietnam, which includes those regions surrounding the capitol city Hanoi but not those areas bordering the 10 kilometer-wide 1954 treaty line — the DMZ or demilitarized zone — marking the separation into North and South Vietnam. The parties agreed to conduct the negotiations in Paris, and met for the first time on May 10. However, the North Vietnamese were adamant in demanding the Americans halt all aerial bombing in the North before discussing anything else, which Johnson finally acceded to on October 31, after which serious negotiations began. (3)

On November 5th, Richard Milhous Nixon, a Republican from California, won the 1968 presidential election with a campaign promoting “law and order” and appealing to anti-civil rights southern white resentment (Dixiecrats become Republicans). Nixon’s winning concept was called “the southern strategy.” It would become the formula applied by all subsequent Republican presidential contenders to this day, very effectively by Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, who vastly increased the formula’s content of rhetoric on fiscal soundness and cant on the evils of taxation, but unsuccessfully by Willard Mitt Romney in 2012 because the demographic composition of the American electorate had changed significantly since 1968, and 1988.

The Arc Of American Liberalism

The years 1964 through 1980 spanned the arc of American liberalism, arising out of the optimism of the Kennedy administration and plunging into the sour witless eruption of neo-liberalism: Thatcherism (1979) and Reaganism (1981)
.
The legislative triumphs of civil rights occurred during the same years as the vast expansion of the Vietnam War, 1964 to 1968. The accumulating costs of that war combined with the growing costs of social welfare programs to cause fiscal problems and a mild recession in late 1969 through 1970, and a monetary crisis in 1971 (the Nixon Shock, the end of the Bretton Woods system of international financial exchange, and the beginning of the present situation of freely floating currencies).

The Oil Crisis of 1973 (the Arab Oil Embargo in retaliation for the US support of Israel during its October 1973 war with Egypt and Syria) introduced Americans to the energy crisis: shortages of gasoline and fuel oil, with a quadrupling of prices. The recession triggered by the 1973 oil crisis lasted until 1975. By that time, American economic productivity (or profitability) had fallen from its peak levels during the previous thirty years of the post World War II boom (Les Trente Glorieuses), in part because advanced automation could now replace more human labor, and in part because of increased foreign competition, since the post WWII recovery of Europe and Japan had advanced rapidly though the 1950s and matured in the 1960s.

The reductionist quest for profitability led to the “outsourcing” and “offshoring” practices of seeking minimum cost foreign labor (with minimum investment in foreign health, safety, environment, and taxation) to produce products for sale and consumption in the United States. The inflation of the 1970s coupled with slow economic growth (“stagflation”) spurred the intensification of well-financed campaigns by corporate interests to acquire political influence, which could be used to lower corporate taxes, eliminate or loosen government regulations on business practices, and break unions. This neo-liberal ideology of corporatism above all considerations of social democracy became the American paradigm with the arrival of the Reagan administration (1981-1988), and continues to the present despite its destruction — catastrophically in 2008 — of the American economy for over 90% of the population.

The long, horrible, drawn-out bleeding of the Vietnam War was totally unnecessary. The 1973 Oil Crisis was never addressed as it should have been, by the development of sustainable, non-nuclear energy and power sources not based on fossil fuels (or combustion). I think of how much better off Americans and the world would be today if these two problems had been solved compassionately and intelligently. The successors of the Vietnam War have been briefer, more streamlined, and far too numerous. The newest American wars are now carried out as computer games of automated assassination, equipped with real remotely-controlled unmanned bomber aircraft and missiles, and programmed directly from the White House. The energy crisis that erupted in 1973 has now metastasized into the anthropogenic global warming problem. To my mind, the way to move the United States beyond its present glut of drone wars and military adventurism and wastefulness, as well as most effectively address the energy and global warming dilemma, is to be found by abandoning neo-liberalism and embracing its exact opposite, social democracy.

Vietnamization For “Peace With Honor,” Mega-Death For “Credibility”

For Americans, the Vietnam War had a slow buildup. It began during the Harry S. Truman administration with the behind-the-scenes provisioning with military equipment for, and the financing of, the French colonial forces in Indochina in 1945-1952. The Dwight D. Eisenhower administration (1953-1960) continued this support after the French defeat in 1954, with the propping up of anti-communist regimes in the southern half of Vietnam, and supporting anti-communist factions in Laos.

The forces of communist North Vietnam completed the north-south Ho Chi Minh Trail in 1959, along the eastern margins of the countries west of Vietnam: Laos in the north, and Cambodia in the south. This route for the clandestine re-supply of communist forces in South Vietnam would be the key to the eventual communist victory in 1975. The trail was camouflaged to evade aerial surveillance and bombardment. American aerial bombardment along the Ho Chi Minh Trail between 1964 and 1973 was so intense that Laos has the sad distinction of being the most bombed country on a per capita basis.

During the Richard M. Nixon administration (1969-1974), the American bombardment of North Vietnamese military activities in eastern Cambodia was secretly expanded to include an invasion with ground forces (in 1970). The officially neutral Cambodian government, led by Prince Sihanouk, had publicly protested the violations of its territory in the east, but quietly accepted both: the North Vietnamese infiltration, in order to maintain the possibility of good relations with the Vietnamese communists who Sihanouk saw as the inevitable victors; and Sihanouk accepted some of the American bombardment of the North Vietnamese in Cambodia’s east so as to placate the Americans, discourage the Vietnamese communists from openly invading and occupying Cambodia, and to keep the small Cambodian communist factions from gaining popular support. Unfortunately, the American bombardment was so massive, unrelenting, and deadly, that many survivors among the rural population in both Laos and Cambodia became radicalized and joined the communist forces in their countries, who all swept to victory in 1975.

Richard Nixon knew the Vietnam War was a lost cause, and his plan to gain “peace with honor” and extricate the United States from the meat grinder of war-making was to build up the military forces of the anti-communist regime in South Vietnam while simultaneously withdrawing American personnel. This was called “Vietnamization.” From a certain distance, Nixon’s plan had a reasonable cast to it. The idea was to prosecute the war by substituting well-trained and amply equipped South Vietnamese troops for American troops, and in so doing show the world that the United States “kept its promises” to allies, and it would thus retain its “credibility.”

You have to hear Henry Kissinger’s leaden intonation of “American credibility” to understand why an additional 21,257 deaths of Americans in Vietnam, and over a million Vietnamese deaths, and hundreds of thousands of combined Laotian and Cambodian deaths had to be sustained between 1969 and 1975. The arc of American mortality because of the Vietnam War, grouped by presidential administration, was a follows: 9 Eisenhower (1956-1960), 191 Kennedy (1961-1963), 36,756 Johnson (1964-1968), 21,195 Nixon (1969-1974), 62 Ford (1975-1976), and 7 during 1987-2006. (4)

The Vietnamization process to retain “American credibility,” that is to say the international reputation of the American foreign policy-making elite, was based on thinking in which individual American lives were mere ciphers to be churned in the calculations of force projection to gain diplomatic advantage for elite geo-strategic gamesmen, while the individual lives of Vietnamese, Laotians, and Cambodians were not even considered up to the level of ciphers. A ceasefire, truce, declaration of defeat, withdrawal of American forces, and less violent consolidation of communist power in Indochina could have been accomplished much sooner, with the stated goal of stopping bloodshed and limiting casualties by accepting the inevitable. That course of action would have lost the United States one form of “credibility” but it would have gained it another I think far more valuable.

The Nixon-Kissinger Vietnamization policy was an egotistical face-saving crime of genocidal proportions. Thinking back to it leaves me wondering if human history is farcical tragedy or a tragic farce.

Some Incidents In The History Of My Times

The following incidents made impressions on me, for one reason or another.

20 July 1969. Neil Armstrong lands on the Moon, and a gesture is fulfilled. The other side of the coin was the CIA-sponsored killing of Ernesto “Che” Guevara in Bolivia on 9 October 1967. The American Gods must be propitiated. (5)

1 December 1969. The first Draft Lottery, and the beginning of the end for antiwar protests in the U.S. For my little story about that see (6).

22 April 1970. The first Earth Day, the environmental movement at its height, the most radiantly hopeful day I ever had dreaming about the future. It was pure bliss, and I was also in love.

7 November 1972. Richard M. Nixon wins a landslide presidential electoral victory against antiwar Democrat George Stanley McGovern. I liked McGovern.

11 September 1973. Chile’s Marxist president, Salvador Allende, dies and his government falls in a very violent coup led by a fascist Chilean general, Augusto Pinochet, aided by the CIA as directed with disgusting enthusiasm by Henry Kissinger, National Security Advisor to Richard Nixon, and then Secretary of State (from 22 September 1973).

17 June 1972 – 9 August 1974. The Watergate scandal unfolds, Nixon resigns, and his former vice president, Gerald Ford, advances to the presidency and pardons Nixon, immunizing him from all Watergate-related prosecution, making Ford unelectable in 1976.

20 November 1975. Francisco Franco, the pseudo-fascist monarchist-authoritarian Spanish dictator, dies, and Spain carefully emerges out of its enforced medieval slumber of 36 years.

1977-1980. The Jimmy Carter administration is the twilight of American political liberalism (the unifying concept being the social welfare state), which effectively ends in 1978 as Carter’s initiatives became more militarized.

18 April 1977. Jimmy Carter addresses the nation on energy. This could have been the start of the sustainable and solar energy revolution in America, but it wasn’t. Think of how much better served and secure we would be today if it had.

28 March 1979. Three Mile Island nuclear accident, a partial meltdown of a commercial nuclear reactor at a power station in Pennsylvania. The worst such accident in the U.S.

15 July 1979. President Jimmy Carter addresses the nation on its “crisis of confidence” during its 1979 energy crisis (oil and gasoline shortages and high prices, consequences of the Iranian Revolution). This address would become known as the “malaise speech,” though Carter never mentioned “malaise.”

August 1979. Paul Volcker is appointed chairman of the Federal Reserve by President Jimmy Carter, and his monetary policies cure the persistent inflation of the 1970s and early 1980s.

1979. Zbigniew Kazimierz Brzezinski, the National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter, initiates the covert transfer of billions of dollars in arms to the Afghan mujahideen militants opposed to the Soviet military forces that had invaded in support of the allied central government, which itself faced insurrection. Osama Bin Laden, from Arabia, led one such mujahideen group in the ensuing Afghan War prosecuted by the Soviets. That war proved to be a quagmire for the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and drained sufficient resources and caused enough human suffering and resentment among Russians that it initiated the political instability that eventually led to the collapse of communism in the USSR.

4 November 1980. Ronald Reagan is elected president, and the neo-liberal shredding of the 1945 postwar social contract begins. My heart sank that day, and of Americans I thought: “Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.” (An anonymous ancient proverb wrongly attributed to Euripides. This variant is spoken by Prometheus, in The Masque of Pandora (1875) by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.)

1980-1988. The Shah of Iran is deposed by the Shiite theocratic Iranian Revolution of 1979, and American embassy personnel are held as hostages for 444 days, being released shortly after Reagan’s inauguration. Iraq under the control of its dictator, Saddam Hussein, attacks Iran in 1980, initiating an eight year Iran-Iraq War during which the United States government aides Iraq by providing satellite reconnaissance information about Iran to the Iraqis, and eases the transfer of materials and technology that Iraq uses to fabricate and then deploy chemical weapons against Iranian troops, and later dissident Iraqi populations. It is estimated one million lives were lost in the Iran-Iraq War.

1981-1989, The Reagan Administration launched proxy wars against the peasantry in Central America (Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras). The underlying conflicts between an impoverished peasantry and a wealthy land-owning elite that sponsored the national military and police establishments had erupted into armed struggle (again) after 1959, becoming ferocious by the late 1970s. Using the excuse of fighting communism putatively infiltrated into Central America by Cuba, the Reagan administration supplied and funded local anti-communist and reactionary militias as proxy military forces, to destroy popular social democracy by despicable terrorism. These proxy militias, or “contras” (“against” the revolutions), were usually police and army personnel acting out of uniform in Guatemala, El Salvador, or Honduras, or in Nicaragua they were former police and army personnel of the Somoza regime, which had been deposed by the Sandinista Revolution of 1979. The savage cruelty inflicted on the ethnic Mayan peasantry by the contra forces reached their crests of genocidal magnitude under Reagan Administration sponsorship. These Central American Wars all trailed off in the 1990s.

20 August 1985 – 4 March 1987. Iran-Contra Scandal. (7)

26 April 1986. A nuclear reactor at the Chernobyl power station in the Ukraine explodes, spewing radioactivity far and wide, and the fuel core melts down. The Chernobyl disaster was the worst nuclear power plant accident until the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster of March 11, 2011. Also during 1986, Ronald Reagan has the solar hot water system removed, which had been installed on the roof of the White House during the Carter Administration. The spirit of Earth Day 1970 had been executed.

17 October 1987. “Black Monday” stock market crash. The Dow Jones Industrial Average experienced a drop of 22%. Alan Greenspan had just been appointed as chairman of the Federal Reserve by Ronald Reagan, replacing Paul Volcker. This crash occurred during the midst of the Savings and Loan Crisis of the 1980s.

23 June 1988. In testimony before the US Senate, NASA scientist James Hansen stated that anthropogenic global warming had begun.

22 November 1988. Twenty five years since the assassination of John Kennedy, and twenty five years before today [2013].

9 November 1989. The Berlin Wall falls, communism in Eastern Europe crumbles. I was elated and exhausted. I believed nuclear disarmament was now immanent, as well as a revamping of the US war economy (Defense Department funding) into a robust “peace” and “green” economy. Clearly, I was naively delusional.

2 August 1990 – 28 February 1991. The Gulf War (Persian Gulf War, First Iraq War) is successfully prosecuted by a NATO combined force under US direction, acting to reverse the annexation of Kuwait by the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein. America’s ally to punish Iran during 1980-1988 had since fallen out of favor. The chemical and biological weapons, and some nuclear technology held by the Saddam Hussein regime were now seen as intolerable threats to American interests.

26 December 1991. The USSR formally ceased to exist. The twelve republics that had comprised the USSR were declared independent.

Into The 21st Century

William Jefferson Clinton Administration (1991-2000)

Bill Clinton is a 1960s center-right Republican dressed up as a 1960s liberal Democrat. He went along with deregulating the banks (repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933) and financial industry (signing the Commodity Futures Trading Act of 2000, allowing easy trading in derivatives), which together set up the casino environment that would lead to the publicly-damaging financial collapse of 2008.

George Walker Bush Administration (2001-2008)

G. W. Bush spent profligately on tax cuts for the rich, and the Iraq War (20 March 2003 – 15 December 2011), using the 11 September 2001 attacks as an excuse. The loose money policy of Alan Greenspan, chairman at the Federal Reserve, fed a housing bubble that peaked in 2006, deflating into an expanding financial crisis in late 2007, and a catastrophic banking collapse in October 2008.

Barack Hussein Obama Administration (2009-2016)

Barack Obama is a corporatist Democrat in the Clinton mold, and shepherds the financial industry’s interests by managing the economy with a bias for public austerity maintained to preserve speculator (a.k.a. investor) accumulations (gains), and the continuing regime of insufficient regulations and taxes on trading. Keynesianism to lift the economy out of its chronic joblessness is denied. The current official unemployment rate (based on definitional sophistry) is about 7%, the real unemployment rate is about 23%. (8)

Obama is a master of symbolism, and much of a wishful-thinking public allows that symbolism to distract them from reality.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, today’s [2013] leading Democratic Party contender for president

Hillary Clinton is the presumed frontrunner in the race to become the Democratic Party’s nominee for president in the 2016 election. She has already captivated the attention of those Americans for whom the symbolism of “the first female US president” overwhelms all rational considerations. So, perhaps the underwriting of her presidential campaign will pay off for corporate America, in giving the first female president the historic privilege of privatizing Social Security, and staking multi-millionaire Wall Street gamblers with an abundance of other people’s money they can play with risk-free. The symbol-awed will never notice.

Notes to Part II

1.  Fifty Year Look Back 1963-2013,
(Part I: 1963-1969)
 [above here]

2.  1968 in the Vietnam War
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1968_in_the_Vietnam_War

3.  Paris Peace Accords
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paris_Peace_Accords

4.  Statistical Information about Fatal Casualties of the Vietnam War
U.S. National Archives
http://www.archives.gov/research/military/vietnam-war/casualty-statistics.html

5.
“Castro And The Kennedy Image After The Checkmate”
Swans, 23 April 2012,
http://www.swans.com/library/art18/mgarci46.html

Some Words About JFK,
see the section “Castro And The Kennedy Image After The Checkmate”
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2017/11/20/some-words-about-jfk/

6.  The Promise Of Remembered Soundtracks
7 October 2013
http://www.swans.com/library/art19/mgarci72.html

7.  Iran-Contra Affair
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iran%E2%80%93Contra_affair

8.
“Official” US Unemployment Rate
http://data.bls.gov/timeseries/LNS14000000

“Real” US Unemployment Rate
http://www.shadowstats.com/alternate_data/unemployment-charts

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The Ultimate Great American Novel

“The Great American Novel” is an idea difficult to define yet clear in every American mind, or at least in the minds of some of America’s readers. It is that ideal book that captures some universal quality of American life and popular aspiration, and especially of quintessential patterns of American thought and speech at a particular time and place during the nation’s history. For a truly timeless work, it would give an insight into enduring universalities of Americanness as perceived through a compelling story cast in idiomatic and ephemeral particulars.

It is impossible for any one novel to achieve this ideal for any length of time, or even at all. But, a few do ascend artistically far above the accumulated mass of published and unpublished American novels. Here are eight that I think qualify as being contenders for the unattainable title of “The Great American Novel.”

First, they are listed by publication date:

Moby-Dick
(Herman Melville, 1851)
(1820s-1840s New England whalers at sea)

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
(Mark Twain, 1884)
(1830s-1840s, rafting down the Mississippi River)

The Great Gatsby
(F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1925)
(1922, love longing, triangles and betrayal in wealthy suburban New York)

The Grapes of Wrath
(John Steinbeck, 1939)
(1930s homeless Oklahoma farmers on the road in California)

The Catcher In The Rye
(J. D. Salinger, 1951)
(1950, a prep school boy’s New York City)

To Kill A Mockingbird
(Harper Lee, 1960)
(1933-1935, in a rural Southern town)

Catch-22
(Joseph Heller, 1961)
(1942-1944, US Army Air Force men in Italy)

Slaughterhouse-Five
(Kurt Vonnegut, 1969)
(1944-1945, 1968, 1976, US Army survivor of the Dresden fire-bombing).

Secondly, they are listed by the time periods of their stories:

Moby-Dick
(1820s-1840s)

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
(1830s-1840s)

The Great Gatsby
(1922)

The Grapes of Wrath
(1930s)

To Kill A Mockingbird
(1933-1935)

Catch-22
(1942-1944)

Slaughterhouse-Five
(1944-1945, 1968, 1976)

The Catcher In The Rye
(1950).

Thirdly, they are listed in my rank order:

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Moby-Dick

The Great Gatsby

The Grapes of Wrath

The Catcher In The Rye

Catch-22

Slaughterhouse-Five

To Kill A Mockingbird.

I would group the eight novels thematically as follows:

Moral defiance versus obedience to the avaricious and vengefully obsessed, before the Civil War:
– The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
– Moby-Dick

The soulful poets among the materialistic urban elite, as social failures by definition:
– The Great Gatsby
– The Catcher In The Rye

Prejudice against the wretched dispossessed in a time of economic depression:
– The Grapes of Wrath
– To Kill A Mockingbird

The sanity of being creatively insane to try surviving the random heartless cruelties of war, and of life:
– Catch-22
– Slaughterhouse-Five

So, perhaps an Ultimate Great American Novel would offer us the compelling attraction of seeing strong individual moral character successfully defy the social strictures that direct people into lives of soulless materialistic gain and obsessive and even vengeful ambition; and, by artful indirection rather than polemics, it would lead us to condemn those aspects of our society by which the most wretched and dispossessed are inflicted with the cruelest forms of exclusion, exploitation and persecution; and it would show us how to recognize those morally insightful and artistically apt observers of our unappealing and often denied social realities, despite the casting off of such poets by materialism’s powerful. Finally, such a novel would delight us with a realization of good triumphing over monolithic indifference, by showing how its good-hearted empathetic poet-observers and realists, who captivate our attention, escape monstrous injustices and random fatal cruelties by their own artful nonconformities. Seeing such escapes would give us a lightening hope: perhaps we could do it too.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens, 1835-1910) wrote that “a sound heart is a surer guide than an ill-trained conscience,” and Huckleberry Finn is “a book of mine where a sound heart and a deformed conscience come into collision and conscience suffers defeat.” Because of his innate good character and his beneficial friendship with Jim, an escaped slave, the adolescent Huckleberry Finn comes to see black slavery and its enabling racism as morally wrong despite their being treated as upright and legally essential to American society, by the white adults of his time. It is important to note that Jim, the runaway black slave, is the noblest adult in this story. This is the quintessential American novel, scintillating and funny, still fresh, still relevant, still controversial.

Moby-Dick; or, The Whale

Herman Melville (1819-1891) wrote “one of the strangest and most wonderful books in the world” and “the greatest book of the sea ever written” (D. H. Lawrence). It tells of Captain Ahab’s obsessive quest, aboard the whaling ship Pequod, for revenge against the white whale, Moby-Dick, for having bitten off his leg at the knee on a previous voyage. Melville gives detailed and realistic descriptions of whale hunting, the extraction of whale oil, and life aboard ship among a culturally diverse crew. Mixed into this narrative are explorations of class and social status, good and evil, and the existence of God.

The Great Gatsby

In 1923, Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald (1896-1940) wanted to write “something new – something extraordinary and beautiful and simple and intricately patterned.” That effort produced his masterpiece, The Great Gatsby. The story centers on the young and mysterious millionaire, Jay Gatsby, and his quixotic and obsessive passion for the beautiful former debutante Daisy Buchanan. Gatsby’s main problem is Daisy’s oafish, wealthy husband, Tom Buchanan. Because of their inherited wealth, Tom and Daisy are spoiled and thus careless people, and that causes damage to others of humble origins who have their own great aspirations: the American Dream. The story is told by lyrical observer and incidental participant Nick Carraway. Fitzgerald’s artful, fluid prose conveys not only the interesting plot of the social drama, but a sense of the times, the nature of the characters, and – very subtly – his own judgments about each of these.

The Grapes of Wrath

While preparing this novel, John Steinbeck (1902-1968) wrote: “I want to put a tag of shame on the greedy bastards who are responsible for this [the Great Depression and its effects],” he also said “I’ve done my damnedest to rip a reader’s nerves to rags.” The Grapes of Wrath is the story of the Joads, a poor family of tenant farmers driven from their Oklahoma home by drought, economic hardship, changes in the agricultural industry, and bank foreclosure. Down and out and on the road during the Dust Bowl, the Joads set out for California along with thousands of other “Okies” in the hopes of finding jobs, land, dignity, and a future. Steinbeck’s sympathies for people like the Joads, and his accessible realist prose style, brought him a large following among the working class worldwide, and recognition with the Nobel Prize in Literature for 1962.

The Catcher In The Rye

Jerome David Salinger (1919-2010) matched Mark Twain’s achievement in Huckleberry Finn, of presenting the story of a rebellious and kind-hearted teenager, Holden Caulfield, in the very specific idiomatic speech of the protagonist, his peers, time and place. This novel presents an unparalleled view into the angst and alienation filling a perceptive teenage boy’s mind, trying to unravel the complexities of innocence, identity, belonging, loss, and connection. James Joyce had said that he wanted his own book, Ulysses, to be so richly detailed in describing Dublin on 16 June 1904 that one could thereafter recreate the entire city of that time out of his novel. Salinger did just that, with The Catcher In The Rye, for the New York City of a prep school lad during Christmas week, 1950.

Catch-22

Joseph Heller (1923-1999) mined his experiences as a U.S. Army Air Corps B-25 bombardier, who flew 60 combat missions on the Italian Front during World War II, to write his best novel, Catch-22. This satiric novel unfolds in a non-chronological manner, and it centers on Captain John Yossarian, a B-25 (a twin engine, medium bomber) bombardier, who along with his companions attempts to maintain his sanity during his time at war, despite its continuous undercurrent of deep dread, which is punctuated by random instances of explosive terror. The great hope is to return home alive. There are many comical elements in this book, and Yossarian is a serious nonconformist, a wise ass, but all these laughs are forms of gallows humor to help these men trapped in war to momentarily release their tightly knotted tensions. This is an anti-war book. In the novel, the Catch-22 itself is a circularly constructed Air Corps rule that makes it impossible for an airman to arrive at a valid excuse – except being killed – for being relieved of combat duty. Milo Minderbinder, one of the characters in Catch-22, is the quintessential icon of a capitalist, a parody that is so exquisite because it is so realistically accurate.

Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death

To write Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007) drew on his experiences as an American prisoner of war, captured by the Germans in 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge, who witnessed the destruction of the city of Dresden by an incredibly intense firestorm created by four British and American aerial bombing raids, dropping high explosive and incendiary devices, between 13-15 February 1945. At least 25,000 Germans, mainly civilians, died as a result of the indiscriminate area bombing of an ancient city with scant military installations. Slaughterhouse-Five is an overt anti-war novel published during the height of the Vietnam War. It presents the science fiction-infused story of Billy Pilgrim, an innocent Everyman-type who is a chaplain’s assistant in the U.S. Army and survives the firebombing of Dresden as a prisoner of war. This experience forms Billy into the not-so-usual individual he becomes by his maturity in present-day 1968 upstate New York, and the guru-seer he becomes thereafter, “unstuck in time” and in out-of-his-control contact with the Tralfamadorians, aliens from deep outer space. Vonnegut’s prose is almost child-like, and his science fiction episodes are whimsical, but the essence of this book and the drive behind it are very serious.

To Kill A Mockingbird

Nelle Harper Lee (1926-2016) reflected on her observations of her own father, a lawyer, to write this warm, Southern Gothic novel about the rape trial of a black man, Tom Robinson, by a white court and jury, in a small Alabama town during the Great Depression, in 1936. The rape victim-accuser is an unmarried white woman whose father is a rabid racist; Tom Robinson is a married man with children: a black family. This story unfolds as the observations of two young white children, primarily Jean Louise Finch (nicknamed Scout), and her older brother Jeremy (nicknamed Jem), who live with their widowed father Atticus Finch, a highly principled, anti-racist and quietly brave man. Atticus Finch is Tom Robinson’s defense attorney. About this novel, the critic J. Crespino wrote in 2000 that “In the twentieth century, To Kill a Mockingbird is probably the most widely read book dealing with race in America, and its protagonist, Atticus Finch, the most enduring fictional image of racial heroism.” To Kill A Mockingbird was Harper Lee’s only published book from 1960 until 2015 (seven months before her death), when her publisher, J. B. Lippincott & Co., issued Go Set A Watchman, an inferior novel based on an earlier draft of To Kill A Mockingbird. I suspect this was an act of pure exploitation by Lee’s publisher.

Are The Movies Any Good?

Nothing equals the experience of reading these books, and having their artistry unfold intimately in your own mind and at your own pace. Do yourself a favor and read each completely before you see any movie or even movie clip of it (actually, a movie of somebody’s interpretation or even misrepresentation of it).

Also, make sure to avoid all introductions, prefaces, essays about and critiques on any of these stories before actually reading the full texts that the authors labored to gift us with. Don’t allow the blather of others to pollute the purity of your own first impressions and – just as good as any critic’s and English teacher’s – your own analysis and artistic appreciation of what the authors have given us.

The nature of American society and the American cinematic industry makes it impossible to create accurate and meritorious movies of three of these novels: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Great Gatsby, and The Catcher In The Rye. The barriers to making good movies of these three stories are, respectively: the inability to face Mark Twain’s searing frankness about 19th century American racism; the inability to produce a movie as elegant, layered, lyrical and subtle as Fitzgerald’s novel; and similarly with Salinger’s novel, which he anticipated by stipulating that movie rights to his stories never be sold.

There are good movies of Moby-Dick (in 1956, by John Huston and Ray Bradbury), The Grapes of Wrath (in 1940, by John Ford, Nunnally Johnson and Darryl F. Zanuck), Catch-22 (in 1970, by Mike Nichols and Buck Henry), Slaughterhouse-Five (in 1972, by George Roy Hill and Stephen Geller), and To Kill A Mockingbird (in 1962, by Robert Mulligan, Horton Foote and Alan J. Pakula). But read the books first!

Other Great American Novels

Obviously, there can be as many different nominees for inclusion in lists of “great American novels” as there are enthusiastic and opinionated readers of American literature. A listing of often cited works for inclusion among the “American greats” is given by Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_American_Novel).

Remember, readers come in two sexes (and varieties of sexual orientation), of all ages, and from the wide multi-cultural spectrum of the American people, and beyond. So, the type and period of American novel that would captivate any given reader, as a “great book,” can be quite different from the novels I have listed.

I’m not arguing, just gratefully enjoying and appreciatively learning from the sincere and varied literary artistry of the dedicated authors cited here. Enjoy!

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School Trolls and Choice Schools

Multi-culturalism doesn’t work. Every ethnicity wants to promote its own and win “success” over all others. That is why there is a visceral preference for segregation by every ethnicity everywhere. On the idea of integration, American schools have proved that: if they are public and separate they cannot be equal; if they are integrated and public they cannot be excellent; if they are private and selective they can be integrated and good. “Excellent” means every student graduates with a good education. “Selective” means expensive for the average student, and free for cherry-picked exceptional talent in poverty.

To be excellent, a school must be staffed with educators, those who enable each student to succeed at learning how to become a motivated critical thinker who proceeds to carry on their own career. Being an educator requires talent and awareness that can deliver teaching suited to each individual student’s needs. American schools are too rigid and disorganized, and have too few educators and too many bureaucratic gatekeepers and trolls (as in the story “Three Billy Goats Gruff”). These trolls maintain the barriers students are supposed to overcome on their own “to prepare them for college.”

These barriers are quite simply a lack of teaching: a lack of clear specific answers to individual students’ questions about assigned work (“see my blog”), substituting “homework” as self-learning by students in place of “the teacher” actually presenting informative classroom instruction, and an obsessive rigidity about grades and schedules (on which public school income is now based). The consequence of these barriers and the “preparation” they provide is to frustrate natural talent and to inculcate onto succeeding generations the intellectual mediocrity that the school trolls embody.

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http://angelsandsuperheroes.com/2017/01/09/1112/

18 February 2017, response to above, on US Public/Mandatory Primary Education:

[The School Accountability Scam, and mandatory standardized testing] “is an intentional set up to bring about the demise of the public education system” BINGO! “The future of our educational system, and the future of our children, is at stake.” NOT A CONCERN. $620+B of public money is spent on public education in the US each year. The FREE MARKET sees this as a waste, and wants to get this bountiful money stream flowing into its hands as another goldmine of profitability (“privatize”). This is what all the hysterical propaganda (lies) and the push for “vouchers” to for-profit schools is all about. The economic dream is to have Harvard-level tuition for “competitive” Pre-Schools and all the way up: Elementary, Middle, High School, and college. Just as good money can be made from your-money-or-your-life “private” and “voucher” health care (“insurance”), so will parents desperate for successful children “pay anything” for getting their baby into a “good” school (without “those” low class students) which will guarantee (ha ha) their baby graduating into the success class of American society. School privatization is purely stealth segregation on steroids, and sadly, most Americans are prejudiced enough and delusional enough (about their own merit) to believe in this. Betsy DeVoid is not an aberration, she is the face of the popular national ignorance — and prejudice and greed. For these “success” people (who are intrinsically anti-democratic), mass public education is solely for the purpose of grinding down childhood creativity and curiosity into featureless, unquestioning, obedient and reliable robots, to be used as disposable laborers in the economic enterprises of the success people. If the US corporations really need workers who know math or science, they can just import them on H1-B visas from Malaysia or Russia, or wherever they actually teach youngsters. It’s all about the money; it’s all about exploitation; people don’t count because that is an unwanted overhead expense to mechanized systems of profitability (capital gains!). There is no national solidarity, it is all colonialism with a plantation economics mentality.

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