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The Parable of the Mosquito and the Testicles April 6, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in War.
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Thanks to Jeff Nguyen, http://deconstructingmyths.com/2014/03/06/the-mosquito-and-the-testicles/

 

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Griner takes aim at fighting bullying April 5, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, Sports, Sports, Women.
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Roger’s note: Confession: I love sports.  I am an unrepentant sports fan.   Blame the golden era of the Brooklyn Dodgers and my father who took me to witness history and Jackie Robinson at Ebbets Field in 1947.  Blame a Rose Bowl appearance in my freshman year at Berkeley (there has not been once since that day in January 1959).  I know this is not politically correct (note that I use the phrase as it was originally intended, to indicate a minor and relatively insignificant aberration of principle [an acknowledgement of human frailty], and not how the phase has been perverted by the radical right to denote someone who is zealous in the pursuit of the principles of social justice).  Every once in a while, rarely perhaps, a story comes out of the sports world that conflates the world of sport with socially positive principle.  Such is the case of Brittney Griner.  I also cannot help pointing out that Texas’s Baylor University, a self-proclaimed “Christian” school with overt and repressive anti-gay regulations for its students, was willing to “overlook” Griner’s lesbianism as long as she kept her mouth shut about it and continued to rake in big money for the school with her extraordinary basketball skills.

As you will see from reading this article, she is now a wealthy professional basketball player in the WNBA and still feels compelled to share her painful history and re-live that pain so that LGBT youth of today may not have to experience the same degradations that she did.  I consider her a heroic figure, both on and off the court.

 

By LZ Granderson | ESPN.com, April 4, 2014

 

Brittney GrinerJennifer Stewart/USA TODAY SportsBrittney Griner’s app will provide resources to school officials looking for ways to aid bullying victims.

 

It was hard watching Brittney Griner struggle to keep the smile on her face.

With each breath, it seemed a tiny portion of the joy she came onstage with slowly dissipated, like smoke fleeing the wick of a candle that has recently been blown out. Barely five minutes into the first session of this year’s SXSW’s sports plenary and one of the most accomplished players in NCAA history is broken.

When I asked her to begin the panel discussion by reading aloud a passage from her autobiography, “In My Skin: My Life on and off the Basketball Court,” I had assumed the 22-year-old was over it.

The bullying from middle school.

The teasing from high school.

The ridicule and isolation that can sometime come when who and what society says you are supposed to be are not reflective of who and what you actually are.

Because the Venn diagram our culture etches into the national narrative makes happiness a subset of wealth, from the outside looking in, and we naturally assume professional athletes have it all. Griner has a Nike deal and 77-foot banner of her likeness draped over a building in downtown Phoenix before she took a single WNBA dribble. And yet here we are, in a crowded banquet room of an Austin, Texas, hotel, and the only sounds that can be heard are the occasional creaks a chair makes when the occupant shifts his or her weight — and the gentle sobs of someone who is supposed to have it all.

 

They say it’s important for kids to express themselves, but from the moment kids start to make choices — what clothes they want to wear, what toys they want to play with, what activities they want to pursue — society tries to define them and put them into neat little boxes. Girls are supposed to act this way, boys that way. And any kid who doesn’t fit into one of those boxes gets labeled as weird or strange or different.

“I really don’t talk about the past that much because it just wasn’t good,” Griner told me later after she had read the above passage from her book at our panel. “Even when I was writing the book I was reliving that pain all over again.

“There were times when I didn’t want to do the book anymore because of all of the pain. But I felt that if I did it, maybe I could help someone else who was in school right now and having a very hard time.”

 

 

 

Brittney Griner, who scored 3,283 career points, dunked 18 times and set the NCAA record (man or woman) with 748 career blocks at Baylor, shares her coming-of-age story, revealing how she found the strength to overcome bullies and to embrace her authentic self.

 

Griner: Book signing, interview

• Brittney Griner will hold a book-signing session following an exclusive interview with espnW.com’s Kate Fagan, as part of the weekend’s festivities at NCAA Tourney Town. The event begins Sunday, April 6, at 3:30 p.m. local time at Music City Center in Nashville.

 

In addition to the book, Griner is launching a smartphone app to help bullied teens and provide resources to school officials who are at a loss as to how to help them.

“The one question I would ask my teachers is, ‘Why?’” Griner said, her voice starting to shake. “‘Why didn’t you do anything to try to stop what was happening to me? Why didn’t you do anything to help me or any of the other kids who were being bullied every day?’

“But then I wonder if they even knew how to help. Or even if they understood how important it is that they do help. They might think it’s just kids being kids, but really — it’s more. They could save somebody’s life.”

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the second-leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 24, with LGBT youth being four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers. It’s a statistic that resonates more when familiar faces like Griner’s are attached to it. She spends time in the book discussing what she calls “the dark days” and the time in which she imagined what would happen “if I didn’t exist anymore.”

Only the most callous of hearts could hear such a statement and not be touched. And usually those hearts have Twitter accounts.

Despite rewriting the record books, the names directed at Griner, even still, are as demeaning as the ones that began circulating soon after the “High School Girl Dunks” video clip made her a YouTube curiosity while at Nimitz High School. The ridicule via social media remains as relentless as the insults schoolmates would direct her way in the halls of Teague Middle School. Griner said one of her tormentors walked right up to her in the hallway, rubbed on her chest and then yelled, “See, I told you she was a boy.”

The teachers nearby did nothing.

“I remember thinking once I got to college I would finally be free,” she said. “And then I get there and I had to stay hidden. My teammates didn’t have a problem with me being gay, but the school did. It was crazy.”

Whenever an athlete — be it Griner, the NBA’s Jason Collins or NFL draft prospect Michael Sam — publicly talk about their sexual orientation, inevitably the question “Who cares?” can be heard. And in many ways it is a legitimate response. If someone wants to be judged by their on-the-field performance, then why willingly choose to draw attention to one’s private life?

“In My Skin” is Griner’s way of answering that. In one passage, she writes: “Being true to myself has often been at odds with my desire to please others. I’ve spent years trying so hard to be the version of myself that would make the most people happy. Over time, though, I’ve come to realize that no matter how much I compromise, some people will never understand me. And accepting this truth has given me a new level of comfort and freedom.”

And by expressing that comfort and freedom, Griner said she hopes to empower young people who, like her younger self, spent many nights feeling hopeless and alone. This weekend she is the Grand Marshall in the Phoenix Pride parade, and, along with Blake Skjellerup — an openly gay Olympic speed skater — will be doing a meet-and-greet at the celebration’s youth zone.

 

[+] EnlargeBrittney Griner, Rebekkah Brunson, Maya Moore

AP Photo/Stacy BengsBrittney Griner hired longtime NBA assistant Dean Denomopolis to help her with her game this offseason.

 

“It was important to Phoenix Pride to showcase individuals whom are not only out, but actively using their celebrity to make the world a better place,” said Dani Logan, the celebration’s program manager.

“One of the hardest parts about growing up was not having any role models,” Griner said. “I mean I don’t know if that would have stopped kids from bullying me, but it would have given me some strength. … There were a lot of days when I was tired of being bullied, that I didn’t have strength.”

There used to be a time when the thought of someone who was routinely the biggest kid in class — someone who currently stands at 6 feet, 8 inches and 200 pounds — as not having the strength to fight off bullying was ridiculous. But that was before the environment that 6-5, 312-pound Jonathan Martin had to contend with in Miami came to light, and suddenly the size of victims and bullies was diminished.

“From the very first day, we clicked,” said Janell Roy, a high school teammate of Griner who remains close to her today. “We were like sisters, but she wouldn’t tell me everything that was going on. I guess because she knew I would try to protect her, but there’s only so much you can do, you know?

“But I saw some of it. Even in our locker room. They would say she was a guy and talk about her sexuality. Sometimes things would get real tense, and that would be hard for her. She didn’t tell me all that had happened to her in middle school until years later. My sister’s been through a lot.”

Nearly 82 percent of LGBT students are verbally harassed and close to 40 percent are physically harassed, according to the 2011 National School Climate Survey. And unfortunately, there’s no shortage of faces who fall into those categories.

Faces such as Jack Andraka, the high school whiz kid who in 2012 invented an early detection test for pancreatic cancer at age 15, talks about relentless bullying and thoughts of suicide. His story is not very different from Griner’s. Their stories are not very different from the ones featured in the 2011 documentary “Bully” or the stories regularly heard by volunteers at organizations such as The Human Rights Campaign, the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Alliance and The Trevor Project, which the San Francisco 49ers’ Chris Culliver visited as part of his mea culpa for anti-gay statements made during Super Bowl XLVII media week.

All of it continues to drive Griner.

“I can’t live my life and pretend as if everything is OK now that I’m a professional basketball player when I know it’s not OK for kids who were like me,” she said.Which is not to suggest her basketball development is taking a back seat to advocacy work.

Far from it.

Though fans made her a WNBA All-Star, a knee injury kept Griner from playing in the game. And besides dunking in her first game and hitting a series-clinching jumper over Candace Parker in the first round of the playoffs, Griner’s inaugural season was plagued by foul trouble and overshadowed by Chicago Sky’s Elena Delle Donne, who won rookie of the year honors. There’s work to be done, and she knows it. After signing to play in the Women’s Chinese Basketball Association last summer, Griner hired longtime NBA assistant coach Dean Demopoulos to travel with her to help her develop her game.

“I don’t know if I taught her anything new,” he said. “When we met, she could pretty much do everything. She had the footwork, she had the touch. She can shoot. And I mean really shoot. I spent two years with Ray Allen, so I know what a shooter looks like — she has a stroke. What we worked on was repetition. Taking the second-guessing out of her game and letting things come naturally.”

 

I can’t live my life and pretend as if everything is OK now that I’m a professional basketball player when I know it’s not OK for kids who were like me.

– Brittney Griner

 

The results? MVP honors in the league’s All-Star game and coming a game short of a finals appearance.

“She could probably play the 4, the 3 — she’s that agile,” Demopoulos said. “It’s going to be interesting to see just how much better she’s going to get, because she has a big glass and it’s not near full.

“She got it, by the way — that ‘it’ stuff — she’s got it. That charisma you want your franchise player to have. Only thing is she’s got to change that diet. That girl ate Pizza Hut, KFC and candy for four months.”

But if you let Griner tell it, that was the best thing on the menu.

“Let’s just say the food was really interesting,” she said with a smile.

And it is good to see her smile.

With high cheek bones, flawless cafe-au-lait-colored skin and shoulder-length locks with tips that appear to have been dipped in honey, the great irony about Griner being harassed for her appearance is that she is really beautiful. Sweet, too. The kind of woman who still smiles when referred to being her daddy’s little girl even as her daddy still wrestles with who his little girl is. Early on, Griner writes that her father never wanted her to play beyond the backyard of their home. And when he learned she was gay, he told her, “I ain’t raising no gay girl in my house! You can pack your s— and get the f— out!” And for two months she stayed at an assistant coach’s home before reconciliation.

An estimated 40 percent of all homeless youth are LGBT, with nearly half being kicked out of their homes for that reason. Again, statistics resonate more when familiar faces are attached to it.

“I think we’re getting better,” Griner said. “I still love my family very much. But it’s hard.

“I guess this is why I thought it was important that I did this book and shared my story. I don’t like thinking about the past and all of that pain. But if talking about it helps just one person — I’ll do it.”

 

‘Stand Up, Fight Back!’: Newark Students Protest Charter Schools April 5, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Education.
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Roger’s note: The Tea Party agenda to destroy (privatize) public education is alive and well in the hands of Arne Duncan, Obama’s Chicago basketball buddy and Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan (and various state governors and legislatures), via the strategy of charter schools, standardized testing, attacks on teachers and their unions and education for profit.  The reason for this, apart from the base economic motive, has to do with undoing the leveling and democratizing function of public education.  In its all-out war of the wealthy (the owners of managers of capital) against the rest of us, destroying what is left (after defunding and segregation) of public education will have tremendous negative impact on racial minorities, the poor and lower middle class.  At the university level, we are already seeing  more and more that only the children of the upper economic brackets are able to afford a college education.  A strong public education system and democracy are inseparable entities.  It is heartening to see, not only in Newark, but around the nation, students, their families and their teachers are fighting to reject the Tea Party/Koch Brother/Obama attacks on public education.

 

Hundreds of students walk out in march demanding public schools over charters

- Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer

Newark students protest outside of city hall, April 3, 2014 (Photo via Twitter / Newark Student Union / @NewarkStudents)Following moves by the state of New Jersey to defund public schools in exchange for a flood of privately run charter schools, hundreds of students in Newark walked out of classes in protest on Thursday.

According to the Newark’s Star Ledger, almost 1,000 students from about nine schools gathered in front of City Hall around 1 p.m. with microphones and signs.

The protest was organized by the Newark Students Union, calling the protest the “March of Shame,” specifically targeting Superintendent Cami Anderson’s “One Newark” reorganization plan. The plan is set to close or downsize several public schools, fire a range of teachers, and move privately run charter schools into public buildings.

“Holding bullhorns and signs – some with the word ‘liar’ in bold letters above the silhouettes of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and state-appointed Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson – hundreds of middle and high school students walked out of schools and into the streets of this economically struggling city,” Al Jazeera America reports.

“Newark students: stand up, fight back!” the students chanted throughout the rally.

“The Anderson administration is not afraid to take quality schools away but is scared of students engaging in their right,” Newark Students Union president Kristin Towkaniek, told the crowd. “It’s your right to be here.”

“I’m walking out because the voices of the students need to be heard, and they will be heard,” said Towkaniuk ahead of the march.

“They said (the plan) will make Newark schools better,” Jose Leonard, a 16-year-old at Arts High School, told Al Jazeera America.  “They’ve been saying that for 20 years and we haven’t seen anything. It’s like they don’t care about the students.”

The protest follows a growing trend in students putting their foot down in opposition to a countrywide trend of defunding public education.

As Al Jazeera America reports:

In February, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett canceled his appearance at a Philadelphia public school after students and teachers at the school planned a protest over his budget cuts, which forced many of the city’s schools to cut all extracurricular activities. In Oklahoma, an estimated 25,000 converged on the capitol earlier this week to protest low school funding. Protests have also been held in Oregon and in Camden, N.J.

The protests in Newark aren’t new, either. Last year, high schools students formed the Newark Students Union and held a protest in the city’s downtown area, followed by another in March of this year.

“What’s happening in Newark follows a national pattern as we see states fund schools less than they did before the (2008) recession started,” said Jeff Bryant, a fellow the Campaign for America’s Future.

American Federation of Teachers New Jersey has video of the protest:

 

______________________

Murphy Criticized Over Paternity Leave April 4, 2014

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Roger’s note: First an openly gay football player in the NFL.  Now Major League baseball players taking paternity leave.  What is this world coming to?  Next thing you know, men will be sharing their feelings.  With other men!  Scary.

Mike Golic and Mike Greenberg react to the criticism of Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy’s decision to miss the first two games of the season for the birth of his first child; http://www.espn.go.com, April 4, 2014

NEW YORK — New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy on Thursday calmly deflected talk-radio criticism of his decision to miss the first two games of the season for the birth of his first child.

“I got a couple of text messages about it, so I’m not going to sit here and lie and say I didn’t hear about it,” Murphy said about the on-air criticism from WFAN Radio of his decision. “But that’s the awesome part about being blessed, about being a parent, is you get that choice. My wife and I discussed it, and we felt the best thing for our family was for me to try to stay for an extra day — that being Wednesday — due to the fact that she can’t travel for two weeks.

 

 

“It’s going to be tough for her to get up to New York for a month. I can only speak from my experience — a father seeing his wife — she was completely finished. I mean, she was done. She had surgery and she was wiped. Having me there helped a lot, and vice versa, to take some of the load off. … It felt, for us, like the right decision to make.”

After receiving word about 11:30 p.m. Sunday that his wife’s water had broken, Murphy traveled from New York to Florida and arrived in time for the birth of 8-pound, 2-ounce son Noah at 12:02 p.m. Monday — about an hour before the first pitch of the Mets’ opener against the Washington Nationals.

The Mets had Tuesday off before resuming the series Wednesday. Murphy remained with his family through Wednesday, as he was placed on paternity leave, and rejoined the Mets in time for Thursday’s afternoon game against the Nats.

“You’re a major league baseball player. You can hire a nurse,” Mike Francesa reportedly said of Murphy on WFAN Radio during Wednesday’s show. “What are you gonna do, sit there and look at your wife in the hospital bed for two days?”

 

Daniel Murphy

AP Photo/Evan VucciSecond baseman Daniel Murphy missed the Mets’ first two games of the season to be in Florida with his wife, Tori, for the birth of their first child.

 

Murphy said his wife delivered their son by C-section. On another WFAN show, host Boomer Esiason said, in part, that Murphy’s wife should have had a “C-section before the season starts.”

Esiason issued a lengthy apology Friday at the start of his radio show.

“I just want to say again on this radio show that in no way, shape or form was I advocating anything for anybody to do. I was not telling women what to do with their bodies. I would never do that,” he said. “That’s their decision, that’s their life and they know their bodies better than I do. And the other thing, too, that I really felt bad about is that Daniel Murphy and Tori Murphy were dragged into a conversation, and their whole life was exposed. And it shouldn’t have been.”

Mets manager Terry Collins said the criticism was unfair.

“I’m sure there might be some guy along the way that said, ‘Hey, listen, it’s too far to go. It’s too far to travel. I’ll see you in a few days,’” Collins said. “But you know what? I certainly feel it’s very unfair to criticize Dan Murphy.”

The collective bargaining agreement between MLB and the players’ association allows for up to a three-day absence after being placed on paternity leave.

Asked if he was surprised about parental-rights criticism in this day and age, Murphy said: “Again, that’s the choice of parents that they get to make. That’s the greatness of it. You discuss it with your spouse and you find out what you think works best for your family.”

Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins also went on paternity leave Wednesday.

“We had a really cool occasion yesterday morning, about 3 o’clock. We had our first panic session,” Murphy said. “It was dark. She tried to change a diaper — couldn’t do it. I came in. It was just the three of us at 3 o’clock in the morning, all freaking out. He was the only one screaming. I wanted to. I wanted to scream and cry, but I don’t think that’s publicly acceptable, so I let him do it.”

The name Noah, by the way, was selected for the biblical significance, not for flame-throwing Mets prospect Noah Syndergaard, Murphy joked.

“I told Syndergaard he’s the ‘other Noah’ in my life in spring training,” Murphy said. “The first thing when we decided to do it, I was like, ‘People are going to think I named him after the monstrosity that throws like 1,000 miles per hour.’ We didn’t.”

Lynch Law: The Root of US imperialism April 3, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, Torture, War, Race, Racism, History, Civil Liberties, Imperialism.
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Roger’s note: there are strong words.  Back in the late 1960s those of us protesting the US aggression in Vietnam were criticized for using the word “fascist” to characterize the U.S. government.  It seemed to many then, as it may seem to many now, that  the use of such language was going overboard.  I disagreed then, and I disagree now.  And believe me, friends, in terms of the kinds of governmental actions that can be described as fascist, we have come a long way since then.

 

Domestic U.S. lynch has morphed into imperialist terrorism. “Washington uses a nexus of intelligence and military institutions to lynch the world’s people of their lives and resources.”

 

by Danny Haiphong; http://www.blackagendareport.com, April 1, 2014

The prospect of being lynched by Obama’s ‘kill list’ or detained under the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is just a ‘terrorist’ label away from any American the US government finds a threat to its ‘national security.’”

The political and economic foundation of the United States is built on the corpses of legal lynching, or “lynch law.” Without the genocide and enslavement of Black and indigenous peoples, the US capitalist class could not have amassed its profits, wealth, or power. Following the passage of the 13th Amendment that supposedly ended Black chattel slavery at the close of the Civil War, the US capitalist class moved quickly to reorganize the capitalist economy so newly “freed” Blacks would remain enslaved. Convict-leasing, sharecropping, and legalized segregation ensured Black exploitation and white power. These brutal forms of exploitation were kept intact by white terrorism in the form of lynching.

Thousands of Black people were lynched by white supremacists from the end of the Civil War until 1968.  Ho Chi Minh, the first revolutionary president of socialist Vietnam, worked in the US in the mid-1920s and examined the horrors of lynching.  He described the gruesome details of white vigilantes torturing and killing Black people with impunity.  Local law enforcement officials protected white lynch mobs like the KKK and Black Legion and often participated in lynching alongside their white counterparts. ‘Uncle Ho’ states in his work Lyching (1924) that “the principal culprits [of lynching] were never troubled, for the simple reason that they were always incited . . . then protected by the politicians, financiers, and authorities . . . “ It wasn’t until Black people organized themselves to defend and arm their communities that white mobs were forced to curtail their racist murder sprees.

80,000 mostly Black prisoners are caged in solitary confinement, which by definition is torture and illegal under international law.”

The so-called end of “Jim Crow” racism only changed the form in which Black people would be lynched by the US racist order. The US capitalist class responded to the force of the Black liberation movement by institutionalizing “lynch law” into its criminal injustice system.  Today, some form of law enforcement murders a Black person in this country every 28 hours.  Nearly half of the estimated 3 million US prisoners are Black and nearly all are “people of color.” 80,000 mostly Black prisoners are caged in solitary confinement, which by definition is torture and illegal under international law.  Numerous states in the US have “Stand your ground” laws that allow white supremacists to murder Black people with impunity. Sound familiar? And President Obama, the Commander-in-Chief of US imperialism, is too concerned with pathologizing Black America than forwarding substantive policies that address “lynch law” on behalf of his most loyal constituency.

In this period of heightened exploitation for the oppressed in general and Black America in particular, the propertied classes are becoming increasingly paranoid about the potential for popular unrest. “Lynch law” is becoming the law of the land for the entire populace. A homeless man in Albuquerque, New Mexico was shot dead by local police for being homeless on March 16th.  More US citizens have been murdered by US law enforcement in the last decade than have died in the US invasion of Iraq over the same period. The surveillance US imperialism had to conduct in secret on radical dissent in the past has expanded to the entire population through a massive surveillance state of federal intelligence agencies, private contractors, and US multinational corporations. The prospect of being lynched by Obama’s “kill list” or detained under the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is just a “terrorist” label away from any American the US government finds a threat to its “national security.”

More US citizens have been murdered by US law enforcement in the last decade than have died in the US invasion of Iraq over the same period.”

“Lynch law” is also a global tactic for US imperialism to maintain its global domination.  Washington uses a nexus of intelligence and military institutions to lynch the world’s people of their lives and resources. This can be examined in specific instances like the thousands of people in the Middle East and Africa murdered by Obama Administration drone strikes or the NATO bombing of Libya that killed tens of thousands and nearly exterminated the Black Libyan population. The CIA has overthrown over 50 foreign governments since the end of World War II. These are just a few important examples of how Washington and its masters, the capitalist class, must lynch the majority of the world’s people to obtain their wealth and power.

The increasing violence, suffering, and social death imposed on oppressed people by US imperialist “lynch law” exposes the bankruptcy of the liberal wing of the capitalist class. Propped up by the corporate media like MSNBC, this self-proclaimed “left” actively participates in bi-partisan lynching in all of its forms to further their careers with the liberal imperialist Democratic Party and the untouchable fascist Commander-in-Chief, Barack Obama. Any movement that depends on this corporate brand of leftism to bring about the end of US lynch law is destined to fail.  A people’s movement for complete justice will have to be led by the struggle of Black America’s oppressed majority and all communities suffering from US fascist rule.  We must spend each day building a movement that empowers oppressed people to demand the power to collectively determine their own destiny. This movement is far from victory’s reach, but each day we fail to act, another exploited human being is lynched by the US imperialist system.

Danny Haiphong is an activist and case manager. You can contact Danny at: wakeupriseup1990@gmail.com.

It’s Not Just Uganda: Behind the Christian Right’s Onslaught in Africa April 3, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Africa, Human Rights, Kenya, LGBT, Nigeria, Religion, Right Wing, Zimbabwe.
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For years now, evangelical activists from the United States have been speaking out against homosexuality and cheering on antigay legislation all over Africa.

As their influence has waned at home, antigay evangelists from the United States have been flexing their sanctimonious muscles influencing policymakers in Africa. (Photo: Travis Lupick / Flickr)

In Uganda, being gay can now earn you a lifetime in prison.

Last month, the East African country was again thrust into the international spotlight after President Yoweri Museveni signed into law a draconian bill that criminalized homosexuality. The high profile, on-and-off battle over the so-called “kill the gays” bill has drawn headlines for years as the most extreme example in a wave of antigay legislation on the continent. But homophobia in Africa is not merely an African problem.

As the gay rights movement has gained traction in the United States, the more virulently homophobic ideologies of the religious right have been pushed further out of the mainstream and into fringe territory. But as their influence has waned at home, right-wing evangelists from the United States have been flexing their sanctimonious muscles influencing policymakers in Africa.

For years now, evangelical activists from the United States have been injecting themselves into African politics, speaking out against homosexuality and cheering on antigay legislation on the continent. The influence of these groups has been well documented in Uganda. The now-defunct Exodus International, for example, sent Don Schmierer, a board member, to Uganda in 2009 to speak at a conference alongside Scott Lively, a pastor who was later sued by a Ugandan gay rights group for his role in promoting human rights violations against LGBTQ people. The two participated in a disturbing anti-gay conference, where speakers blamed homosexuals for the rise of Nazism and the Rwandan genocide, among other abhorrent acts. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, a hard-right Christian group that is active in U.S. politics as well, similarly supported anti-gay laws in Uganda. At the peak of controversy over the “kill the gays” bill, Perkins praised the Ugandan president for “leading his nation to repentance.”

But such groups aren’t just active in Uganda. They have promoted antigay legislation in Kenya, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe, just to name a few other places. The support ranges from popular agitation and sideline cheerleading to outright intervention.

In 2010, for example, when Zimbabwe began the process of drafting a new constitution, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ)—a Christian law firm founded by evangelist Pat Robertson—launched a Zimbabwean counterpart called the African Centre for Law and Justice. The outpost trained lawyers for the express purpose of putting a Christian stamp on the draft of the new constitution.

The African Centre joined forces with the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe (EFZ), an indigenous organization, to promote constitutional language affirming that Zimbabwe is a Christian nation and ensuring that homosexuality remained illegal. These and other hardline views are outlined in a pamphlet distributed by the EFZ and ACLJ. Jordan Sekulow, the executive director of ACLJ, announced that his organization would lobby for Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe in political and religious circles in the event of any controversy over the provisions, despite the fact that the Zimbabwean president has been sanctioned by the United States and the European Union for violating human rights. Last year, Zimbabwe’s new constitution, which includes a ban on gay marriage, was approved by an overwhelming popular vote.

ACLJ’s Kenyan-based offshoot, the East African Center for Law and Justice (EACLJ), made an effort to lobby against Kenya’s progressive new constitution as well. In April 2010, a report on the group’s website called homosexuality “unacceptable” and “foreign” and called for the Kenyan constitution to clearly define marriage as between a man and a woman, thus closing the door on future laws that could attempt to legalize same-sex marriage. In this case the ECLJ was unsuccessful, and the new constitution was approved without any language regarding same-sex marriage.

Pat Robertson’s entanglements in Africa go well beyond Zimbabwe and Kenya.

In 1960, Robertson created The Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), which broadcasts through cable and satellite to over 200 countries. Robertson is a co-host on the 700 Club, arguably CBN’s most popular show. From his perch on the show, Roberts has made a seemingly endless variety of inflammatory remarks about LGBTQ people and just about everyone else that does not fall in line with his own religious thinking.

In the United States, Robertson’s vitriol can be brushed aside as the antiquated ravings of a fringe figure. Not so in much of Africa. A survey conducted in 2010 found that 74 million people in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, had watched at least one CBN show in the previous year. That’s a remarkable reach considering Nigeria is home to over 80 million Christians.

Robertson’s influence plays into an increasingly hostile political climate for gays in the country. Last January, Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan signed into law the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, which provides punishments of up to 14 years imprisonment for a gay marriage and up to 10 years for membership in or encouragement of gay clubs and organizations. The enactment of the law was followed by a wave of arrests of gay men—and widespread denouncement from the international community.

The religious right, however, doesn’t see Nigerian laws regarding homosexuality as a gross violation of human rights, but rather as protection of “traditional marriage.” In 2011, on the heels of the Nigerian Senate passing an earlier version of the anti-gay law, President Barack Obama announced that the United States would officially promote LGBTQ rights abroad as part of its development framework. In response, the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute denounced the administration’s directive for putting “U.S. foreign policy on a collision course with religious freedom.”

MassResistance, a Massachusetts-based organization that bills itself as a “pro-family” activist group, praised Nigeria when the Nigerian House passed an earlier version of the bill that President Jonathan signed into law on January 7. In a statement, the group said that African nations are “feeling the brunt” of the gay rights movement, claiming that the “huge spread of AIDS” and the “breakdown in society caused by the homosexual movement seems to bring more general social destruction in African cultures than in the West.” Anti-gay laws in Nigeria have enjoyed unequivocal support from some hardline evangelical groups in the United States, with some going so far as to travel to Nigeria to spread anti-gay sentiment.

One such group is Family Watch International (FWI), another U.S.-based “pro-family” advocacy group. Formed in 1999 and headed by Sharon Slater, FWI boasts members and supporters from over 170 countries. In 2011, Slater was the keynote speaker at a meeting of the Nigerian Bar Association, where she touted her beliefs on homosexuality, telling delegates that they would no longer have religious freedom and homosexuals would prey on their children if they supported “fictitious sexual rights.” To Slater and her ilk, the rights of LGBTQ persons are imaginary.

FWI even wields influence within the United Nations. In early 2011, FWI co-hosted a “Global Family Policy Forum” in Phoenix, Arizona. Over the two-day event, FWI coached 26 UN staffers from 23 different countries in attendance on how to resist UN initiatives on gay rights. An FWI newsletter claimed that conference attendees were finally hearing scientific and clinical “evidence” that homosexuality was not genetically determined and could be cured by therapy.

To some, the belief that homosexuality is a disease that needs to be cured may seem too ridiculous to even entertain. But if the devout can’t win at home, they’ll take their message abroad. It’s up to the international community and African activists dedicated to human rights to put an end to this export of hate.

UN Raporteur Accuses Israel of “Ethnic Cleansing” March 24, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Genocide, Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
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Richard Falk

“The realities on the ground are worsening from the point of view of both international law and from the point of view of the Palestinian people,” Richard Falk, an 82-year-old American who is an emeritus law professor at Princeton University, told reporters.

Richard Falk, United Nations rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories accused Israel last week of “ethnic cleansing” of Palestinians. Speaking at a press conference, he said that Israeli policies bore “unacceptable characteristics of colonialism, apartheid and ethnic cleansing.”

“Every increment of enlarging the settlements or every incident of house demolition is a way of worsening the situation confronting the Palestinian people and reducing what prospects they might have as the outcome of supposed peace negotiations,” he added. Falk is an American who is Jewish, is an international law expert and Professor Emeritus at Princeton University in the US.

According to Falk, more than 11,000 Palestinians had lost their right to live in Jerusalem since 1966 due to Israel imposing residence laws favoring Jews. At the same time, the Israeli government was revoking Palestinian residence permits. “The 11,000 is just the tip of the iceberg,” he said, “because many more are faced with possible challenges to their residence rights.”

Falk’s comments lend support to similar statements done in the past regarding Israeli actions towards the Palestinians. In 2006, Ilan Pappé, an Israeli historian and social activist who is a professor with the College of Social Sciences and International Studies at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, wrote a book called “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine.

In that book, Pappé states that the 1948 Palestinian exodus was a planned cleansing of Palestine that was carried out by the Zionist movement leaders, mainly David Ben-Gurion and his associates. The process was carried out through the systematic expulsion of Arabs from about 500 villages, complemented by terrorist attacks executed mainly by members of the Irgun and the Haganah troops acting against the civilian population.

Pappé based his assumptions on the Plan Dalet and on village files as a proof of the planned expulsions. Although the purpose of the plan has been amply debated, it seems that the plan was a set of guidelines whose purpose was to take control of the territory of the Jewish state and to defend its borders and its people, including the Jewish population outside its borders as a precaution against an expected invasion by Arab armies.

Predictably, the book caused an uproar. Benny Morris, an Israeli professor of History in the Middle East Studies department of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, wrote, “At best, Ilan Pappé must be one of the world’s sloppiest historians: at worst, one of the most dishonest. In truth, he probably merits a place somewhere between the two.”

Morris himself stated, however, “In retrospect, it is clear that what occurred in 1948 in Palestine was a variety of ethnic cleansing of Arab areas by Jews. It is impossible to say how many of the 700,000 or so Palestinians who became refugees in 1948 were physically expelled, as distinct from simply fleeing a combat zone.”

Not everybody was equally critical of Pappé, though. Stephen Howe, professor of the history of colonialism at Bristol University, said that Pappé’s book was an often compelling mixture of historical argument and politico-moral tract. According to Howe, although Pappé’s book might not be the last word on the events of 1948, it still is “a major intervention in an argument that will, and must, continue.”

And it does continue. In November 2013, more than 50 public figures in Britain wrote a letter opposing an Israeli plan to forcibly remove up to 70,000 Palestinian Bedouins from their historic desert land –an act that critics considered ethnic cleansing. The eviction and destruction of approximately 35 villages in the Negev desert, claims the letter, “will mean the forced displacement of Palestinians from their homes and land, and systematic discrimination and separation.”

Writing in Save Canada Post in 2010, Suzanne Weiss, a Holocaust survivor stated, “I am a survivor of the Jewish Holocaust, the Nazis’ mass murder of Europe’s Jews. The tragic experience of my family and community under Hitler makes me alert to the suffering of other peoples denied their human rights today — including the Palestinians. True, Hitler’s Holocaust was unique. The Palestinians are victims of ethnic cleansing and apartheid. Hitler started with that, but went on to extermination. In my family’s city in Poland, Piotrkow, 99 per cent of the Jews perished. Yet for me, the Israeli government’s actions toward the Palestinians awaken horrific memories of my family’s experiences under Hitlerism: the inhuman walls, the checkpoints, the daily humiliations, killings, diseases, the systematic deprivation. There’s no escaping the fact that Israel has occupied the entire country of Palestine, and taken most of the land, while the Palestinians have been expelled, walled off, and deprived of human rights and human dignity.”

Richard Falk will address the UN Human Rights Council on Monday, March 24.

Putin or Kerry: Who’s Delusional? March 6, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Media, Russia, Ukraine.
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Roger’s note: Sometimes (most times?) I feel that I am living in a world of surrealism.  Watching Secretary of State Kerry and President Obama standing up and accusing Putin of violation of international law, and doing this with a straight face, I get the sense that I understand how Alice must have felt once she went done the rabbit hole.  The wonderland we live in is not so wonderful.  It is a nightmare.  Not so much for the likes of me, a middle class intellectual, but for the millions around the globe — including the victims of Putin’s racist and homophobic actions, if not so much in this case the Crimean population — who suffer from the corporate militarism of the major powers and their lap dog allies.

 

 

 

Official Washington and its compliant mainstream news media operate with a convenient situational ethics when it comes to the principles of international law and non-intervention in sovereign states.

 

When Secretary of State John Kerry denounces Russia’s intervention in Crimea by declaring “It is not appropriate to invade a country and at the end of a barrel of gun dictate what you are trying to achieve. That is not Twenty-first Century, G-8, major-nation behavior,” you might expect that the next line in a serious newspaper would note Kerry’s breathtaking hypocrisy.

John Kerry visits the Shrine of the Fallen in Independence Square, Kiev, on Tuesday. (Photograph: Sipa USA/Rex)

But not if you were reading the New York Times on Wednesday, or for that matter the Washington Post or virtually any mainstream U.S. newspaper or watching a broadcast outlet.

Yet, look what happens when Russia’s President Vladimir Putin does what the U.S. news media should do, i.e. point out that “It’s necessary to recall the actions of the United States in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Libya, where they acted either without any sanction from the U.N. Security Council or distorted the content of these resolutions, as it happened in Libya. There, as you know, only the right to create a no-fly zone for government aircraft was authorized, and it all ended in the bombing and participation of special forces in group operations.”

Despite the undeniable accuracy of Putin’s observation, he was promptly deemed to have “lost touch with reality,” according to a Washington Post’s editorial, which called his press conference “rambling” and a “bizarre performance” in which his words have “become indistinguishable from the propaganda of his state television network.”

You get the point. If someone notes the disturbing U.S. history of military interventions or describes the troubling narrative behind the “democratic” coup in Ukraine – spearheaded by neo-Nazi militias who overthrew a duly elected president – you are dismissed as crazy.

Revised Narrative

Yet, it has been the Post, Times and other U.S. news outlets which have led the way in developing a propaganda narrative at odds with the known reality. For instance, the violent February clashes in Kiev are now typically described as the Ukrainian police having killed some 80 protesters, though the original reporting had that death toll including 13 policemen and the fact that neo-Nazi militias were responsible for much of the violence, from hurling firebombs to shooting firearms.

That history is already fast disappearing as we saw in a typical New York Times report on Wednesday, which reported: “More than 80 protesters were shot to death by the police as an uprising spiraled out of control in mid-February.”

Those revised “facts” better fit the preferred narrative of innocent and peaceful demonstrators being set upon by thuggish police without provocation. But that isn’t what the original reporting revealed. Either the New York Times should explain how the earlier reporting was wrong or it should respect the more nuanced reality.

To do so, however, would undercut the desired narrative. So, it’s better to simply accuse anyone with a functioning memory of being “delusional.” The same with anyone who mentions the stunning hypocrisy of the U.S. government suddenly finding international law inviolable.

The history of the United States crossing borders to overthrow governments or to seize resources is a long and sordid one. Even after World War II and the establishment of the Nuremberg principles against “aggressive war,” the U.S. government has routinely violated those rules, sometimes unilaterally and sometimes by distorting the clear meaning of U.N. resolutions, as Putin noted.

No Accountability

Those violations of international law have done nothing to diminish the official reputations of presidents who broke the rules. Despite the slaughters of millions of people from these U.S. military adventures, no U.S. president has ever been punished either by U.S. judicial authorities or by international tribunals.

In 1983, President Ronald Reagan, one of the most honored political figures in modern American history, ordered the invasion of the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada to overthrow its leftist government amid a political crisis that U.S. hostility had helped stir up. Reagan’s pretext was to protect American students at the St. George’s Medical School, though the students were not in any physical danger.

The U.S. invasion killed some 70 people on the island, including 25 Cuban construction workers. Nineteen U.S. soldiers also died. Though Reagan’s clear violation of international law was noted around the globe, he was hailed as a hero by the U.S. media at home and faced no accountability from the United Nations or anyone else.

When I went to Grenada to report on the invasion for the Associated Press, an article that I co-wrote about abuses committed by American troops, including the ransacking of the personal libraries of prominent Grenadians (in search of books such as Karl Marx’s Das Kapital), was spiked by my AP editors, presumably because it clashed with the feel-good U.S. public reaction to the invasion.

Last week, as I was reviewing documents at the Reagan Presidential Library at Simi Valley, California, I found a number of papers about how the Reagan administration used propaganda techniques to manipulate the American people regarding Grenada.

The files belonged to Walter Raymond Jr., a top CIA expert in propaganda and psychological operations who had been reassigned to Reagan’s National Security Council staff to oversee the creation of a global psy-op structure including one aimed at the U.S. public.

On Nov. 1, 1983, just a week after the invasion, White House public-relations specialist David Gergen advised Reagan’s image-molder Michael Deaver on steps to orchestrate the “follow-up on Grenada” to impress the American people,  including making sure that the phased U.S. withdrawals were “well publicized, the bigger the groups the better. When units of the fleet leave, that also ought to be done with fanfare.”

The P.R. choreography called, too, for using the “rescued” students as props. Gergen wrote: “Students Meet with Liberating Forces: Everyone sees this as a key event, and it needs to be done before RR [Reagan] leaves for the Far East. … Students Visit the Wounded: Many of the wounded would probably welcome a thank you visit from a student delegation.”

In a handwritten comment on the last suggestion, Raymond praised the idea: “Happy Grenada theme.”

More Recent Violations

Secretary Kerry might argue that Grenada was so Twentieth Century, along with such events as the Vietnam War, the invasion of Panama in 1989 and the Persian Gulf conflict of 1990-91, which involved the slaughter of Iraqi soldiers and civilians even after the Iraqi government agreed to withdraw from Kuwait in a deal negotiated by then-Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. [For details, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege.]

However, if one were to take up Secretary Kerry’s challenge and just look at the Twenty-first Century and “G-8, major-nation behavior,” which would include the United States and its major European allies, you’d still have a substantial list of U.S. violations: Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Libya and others. France and Great Britain, two other G-8 countries, have engaged in military interventions as well, including France in Mali and other African conflicts.

On Aug. 30, 2013, Secretary Kerry himself gave a belligerent speech justifying U.S. military action against Syria over murky accounts of a chemical weapons attack outside Damascus, a war that was only averted by Putin’s diplomatic efforts in convincing President Bashar al-Assad to agree to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons.

Plus, throughout his presidency, Barack Obama has declared, over and over, that “all options are on the table” regarding Iran’s nuclear program, a clear threat of another U.S. bombing campaign, another crisis that Putin has helped tamp down by assisting in getting Iran to the bargaining table.

Indeed, it appears that one reason why Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, a neocon holdover, has been so aggressive in trying to exacerbate the Ukraine crisis was as a form of neocon payback for Putin’s defusing the confrontations with Syria and Iran, when Official Washington’s still-influential neocons were eager for more violence and “regime change.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “What Neocons Want from Ukraine Crisis.”]

In virtually all these threatened or actual U.S. military assaults on sovereign nations, the major U.S. news media has been enthusiastically onboard. Indeed, the Washington Post and the New York Times played key roles in manufacturing public consent for George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 under the false pretext of eliminating its non-existent weapons of mass destruction.

By promoting dubious and false allegations, the Post and Times also have helped lay the groundwork for potential U.S. wars against Iran and Syria, including the Times making the bogus claim that the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack east of Damascus was launched by Syrian government forces northwest of the city. Months later, the Times grudgingly admitted that its reporting, which helped bring the U.S. to the brink of another war, was contradicted by the fact that the Sarin-laden missile had a much more limited range. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Mistaken Guns of Last August.”]

However, when Russia has a much more understandable case for intervention – an incipient civil war on its border that involves clear U.S. interference, the overthrow of an elected president and the participation of neo-Nazi militias – the U.S. government and its compliant mainstream media lock arms in outrage.

Robert Parry

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat. His two previous books are Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’.

What Neocons Want from Ukraine Crisis March 3, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Russia, Ukraine.
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Roger’s note: This article lays out in detail the overall geopolitical strategy of the most reactionary hawkish elements within the Obama government, including Hillary Clinton; and puts the Ukraine crisis in a broader perspective.  This situation is complex and has historical roots that get ignored in the main stream media which, for analysis, substitutes cheer leading  for U.S. interests, which have absolutely nothing to do with democracy, not to mention the best interests of the Ukrainian, Russian or American people.

 

 

President Barack Obama has been trying, mostly in secret, to craft a new foreign policy that relies heavily on cooperation with Russian President Vladimir Putin to tamp down confrontations in hotspots such as Iran and Syria. But Obama’s timidity about publicly explaining this strategy has left it open to attack from powerful elements of Official Washington, including well-placed neocons and people in his own administration.

The gravest threat to this Obama-Putin collaboration has now emerged in Ukraine, where a coalition of U.S. neocon operatives and neocon holdovers within the State Department fanned the flames of unrest in Ukraine, contributing to the violent overthrow of democratically elected President Viktor Yanukovych and now to a military intervention by Russian troops in the Crimea, a regionin southern Ukraine that historically was part of Russia.

 

President Barack Obama discusses the crisis in Ukraine for 90 minutes on March 1, 2014, with Russian President Vladimir Putin. (White House photo/Pete Souza)

Though I’m told the Ukraine crisis caught Obama and Putin by surprise, the neocon determination to drive a wedge between the two leaders has been apparent for months, especially after Putin brokered a deal to head off U.S. military strikes against Syria last summer and helped get Iran to negotiate concessions on its nuclear program, both moves upsetting the neocons who had favored heightened confrontations.

Putin also is reported to have verbally dressed down Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan over what Putin considered their provocative actions regarding the Syrian civil war. So, by disrupting neocon plans and offending Netanyahu and Bandar, the Russian president found himself squarely in the crosshairs of some very powerful people.

If not for Putin, the neocons – along with Israel and Saudi Arabia – had hoped that Obama would launch military strikes on Syria and Iran that could open the door to more “regime change” across the Middle East, a dream at the center of neocon geopolitical strategy since the 1990s. This neocon strategy took shape after the display of U.S. high-tech warfare against Iraq in 1991 and the collapse of the Soviet Union later that year. U.S. neocons began believing in a new paradigm of a uni-polar world where U.S. edicts were law.

The neocons felt this paradigm shift also meant that Israel would no longer need to put up with frustrating negotiations with the Palestinians. Rather than haggling over a two-state solution, U.S. neocons simply pressed for “regime change” in hostile Muslim countries that were assisting the Palestinians or Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

Iraq was first on the neocon hit list, but next came Syria and Iran. The overriding idea was that once the regimes assisting the Palestinians and Hezbollah were removed or neutralized, then Israel could dictate peace terms to the Palestinians who would have no choice but to accept what was on the table.

U.S. neocons working on Netanyahu’s campaign team in 1996, including Richard Perle and Douglas Feith, even formalized their bold new plan, which they outlined in a strategy paper, called “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm.” The paper argued that only “regime change” in hostile Muslim countries could achieve the necessary “clean break” from the diplomatic standoffs that had followed inconclusive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

In 1998, the neocon Project for the New American Century called for a U.S. invasion of Iraq, but President Bill Clinton refused to go along. The situation changed, however, when President George W. Bush took office and after the 9/11 attacks. Suddenly, the neocons had a Commander in Chief who agreed with the need to eliminate Iraq’s Saddam Hussein — and a stunned and angry U.S. public could be easily persuaded. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Mysterious Why of the Iraq War.”]

So, Bush invaded Iraq, ousting Hussein but failing to subdue the country. The U.S. death toll of nearly 4,500 soldiers and the staggering costs, estimated to exceed $1 trillion, made the American people and even Bush unwilling to fulfill the full-scale neocon vision, which was expressed in one of their favorite jokes of 2003 about where to attack next, Iran or Syria, with the punch line: “Real men go to Tehran!”

Though hawks like Vice President Dick Cheney pushed the neocon/Israeli case for having the U.S. military bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities – with the hope that the attacks also might spark a “regime change” in Tehran – Bush decided that he couldn’t risk the move, especially after the U.S. intelligence community assessed in 2007 that Iran had stopped work on a bomb four years earlier.

The Rise of Obama

The neocons were dealt another setback in 2008 when Barack Obama defeated a neocon favorite, Sen. John McCain. But Obama then made one of the fateful decisions of his presidency, deciding to staff key foreign-policy positions with “a team of rivals,” i.e. keeping Republican operative Robert Gates at the Defense Department and recruiting Hillary Clinton, a neocon-lite, to head the State Department.

Obama also retained Bush’s high command, most significantly the media-darling Gen. David Petraeus. That meant that Obama didn’t take control over his own foreign policy.

Gates and Petraeus were themselves deeply influenced by the neocons, particularly Frederick Kagan, who had been a major advocate for the 2007 “surge” escalation in Iraq, which was hailed by the U.S. mainstream media as a great “success” but never achieved its principal goal of a unified Iraq. At the cost of nearly 1,000 U.S. dead, it only bought time for an orderly withdrawal that spared Bush and the neocons the embarrassment of an obvious defeat.

So, instead of a major personnel shakeup in the wake of the catastrophic Iraq War, Obama presided over what looked more like continuity with the Bush war policies, albeit with a firmer commitment to draw down troops in Iraq and eventually in Afghanistan.

From the start, however, Obama was opposed by key elements of his own administration, especially at State and Defense, and by the still-influential neocons of Official Washington. According to various accounts, including Gates’s new memoir Duty, Obama was maneuvered into supporting a troop “surge” in Afghanistan, as advocated by neocon Frederick Kagan and pushed by Gates, Petraeus and Clinton.

Gates wrote that Kagan persuaded him to recommend the Afghan “surge” and that Obama grudgingly went along although Gates concluded that Obama didn’t believe in the “mission” and wanted to reverse course more quickly than Gates, Petraeus and their side wanted.

Faced with this resistance from his own bureaucracy, Obama began to rely on a small inner circle built around Vice President Joe Biden and a few White House advisers with the analytical support of some CIA officials, including CIA Director Leon Panetta.

Obama also found a surprising ally in Putin after he regained the Russian presidency in 2012. A Putin adviser told me that the Russian president personally liked Obama and genuinely wanted to help him resolve dangerous disputes, especially crises with Iran and Syria.

In other words, what evolved out of Obama’s early “team of rivals” misjudgment was an extraordinary presidential foreign policy style, in which Obama developed and implemented much of his approach to the world outside the view of his secretaries of State and Defense (except when Panetta moved briefly to the Pentagon).

Even after the eventual departures of Gates in 2011, Petraeus as CIA director after a sex scandal in late 2012, and Clinton in early 2013, Obama’s peculiar approach didn’t particularly change. I’m told that he has a distant relationship with Secretary of State John Kerry, who never joined Obama’s inner foreign policy circle.

Though Obama’s taciturn protectiveness of his “real” foreign policy may be understandable given the continued neocon “tough-guy-ism” that dominates Official Washington, Obama’s freelancing approach gave space to hawkish elements of his own administration.

For instance, Secretary of State Kerry came close to announcing a U.S. war against Syria in a bellicose speech on Aug. 30, 2013, only to see Obama pull the rug out from under him as the President worked with Putin to defuse the crisis sparked by a disputed chemical weapons attack outside Damascus. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “How War on Syria Lost Its Way.”]

Similarly, Obama and Putin hammered out the structure for an interim deal with Iran on how to constrain its nuclear program. But when Kerry was sent to seal that agreement in Geneva, he instead inserted new demands from the French (who were carrying water for the Saudis) and nearly screwed it all up. After getting called on the carpet by the White House, Kerry returned to Geneva and finalized the arrangements.[See Consortiumnews.com’s “A Saudi-Israel Defeat on Iran Deal.”]

Unorthodox Foreign Policy

Obama’s unorthodox foreign policy – essentially working in tandem with the Russian president and sometimes at odds with his own foreign policy bureaucracy – has forced Obama into faux outrage when he’s faced with some perceived affront from Russia, such as its agreement to give temporary asylum to National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.

For the record, Obama had to express strong disapproval of Snowden’s asylum, though in many ways Putin was doing Obama a favor by sparing Obama from having to prosecute Snowden with the attendant complications for U.S. national security and the damaging political repercussions from Obama’s liberal base.

Putin’s unforced errors also complicated the relationship, such as when he defended Russian hostility toward gays and cracked down on dissent before the Sochi Olympics. Putin became an easy target for U.S. commentators and comedians.

But Obama’s hesitancy to explain the degree of his strategic cooperation with Putin has enabled Official Washington’s still influential neocons, including holdovers within the State Department bureaucracy, to drive more substantive wedges between Obama and Putin. The neocons came to recognize that the Obama-Putin tandem had become a major impediment to their strategic vision.

Without doubt, the neocons’ most dramatic – and potentially most dangerous – counter-move has been Ukraine, where they have lent their political and financial support to opposition forces who sought to break Ukraine away from its Russian neighbor.

Though this crisis also stems from the historical division of Ukraine – between its more European-oriented west and the Russian-ethnic east and south – neocon operatives, with financing from the U.S.-funded National Endowment for Democracy and other U.S. sources, played key roles in destabilizing and overthrowing the democratically elected president.

NED, a $100 million-a-year agency created by the Reagan administration in 1983 to promote political action and psychological warfare against targeted states, lists 65 projects that it supports financially inside Ukraine, including training activists, supporting “journalists” and promoting business groups, effectively creating a full-service structure primed and ready to destabilize a government in the name of promoting “democracy.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “A Shadow US Foreign Policy.”]

State Department neocons also put their shoulders into shoving Ukraine away from Russia. Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, the wife of prominent neocon Robert Kagan and the sister-in-law of the Gates-Petraeus adviser Frederick Kagan, advocated strenuously for Ukraine’s reorientation toward Europe.

Last December, Nuland reminded Ukrainian business leaders that, to help Ukraine achieve “its European aspirations, we have invested more than $5 billion.” She said the U.S. goal was to take “Ukraine into the future that it deserves,” by which she meant into the West’s orbit and away from Russia’s.

But President Yanukovych rejected a European Union plan that would have imposed harsh austerity on the already impoverished Ukraine. He accepted a more generous $15 billion loan from Russia, which also has propped up Ukraine’s economy with discounted natural gas. Yanukovych’s decision sparked anti-Russian street protests in Kiev, located in the country’s western and more pro-European region.

Nuland was soon at work planning for “regime change,” encouraging disruptive street protests by personally passing out cookies to the anti-government demonstrators. She didn’t seem to notice or mind that the protesters in Kiev’s Maidan square had hoisted a large banner honoring Stepan Bandera, a Ukrainian nationalist who collaborated with the German Nazis during World War II and whose militias participated in atrocities against Jews and Poles.

By late January, Nuland was discussing with U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt who should be allowed in the new government.

“Yats is the guy,” Nuland said in a phone call to Pyatt that was intercepted and posted online. “He’s got the economic experience, the governing experience. He’s the guy you know.” By “Yats,” Nuland was referring to Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who had served as head of the central bank, foreign minister and economic minister — and who was committed to harsh austerity.

As Assistant Secretary Nuland and Sen. McCain cheered the demonstrators on, the street protests turned violent. Police clashed with neo-Nazi bands, the ideological descendants of Bandera’s anti-Russian Ukrainians who collaborated with the Nazi SS during World War II.

With the crisis escalating and scores of people killed in the street fighting, Yanukovych agreed to a E.U.-brokered deal that called for moving up scheduled elections and having the police stand down. The neo-Nazi storm troopers then seized the opening to occupy government buildings and force Yanukovych and many of his aides to flee for their lives.

With these neo-Nazis providing “security,” the remaining parliamentarians agreed in a series of unanimous or near unanimous votes to establish a new government and seek Yanukovych’s arrest for mass murder. Nuland’s choice, Yatsenyuk, emerged as interim prime minister.

Yet, the violent ouster of Yanukovych provoked popular resistance to the coup from the Russian-ethnic south and east. After seeking refuge in Russia, Yanukovych appealed to Putin for help. Putin then dispatched Russian troops to secure control of the Crimea. [For more on this history, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Cheering a ‘Democratic’ Coup in Ukraine.”]

Separating Obama from Putin

The Ukraine crisis has given Official Washington’s neocons another wedge to drive between Obama and Putin. For instance, the neocon flagship Washington Post editorialized on Saturday that Obama was responding “with phone calls” when something much more threatening than “condemnation” was needed.

It’s always stunning when the Post, which so energetically lobbied for the U.S. invasion of Iraq under the false pretense of eliminating its (non-existent) weapons of mass destruction, gets its ire up about another country acting in response to a genuine security threat on its own borders, not half a world away.

But the Post’s editors have never been deterred by their own hypocrisy. They wrote, “Mr. Putin’s likely objective was not difficult to figure. He appears to be responding to Ukraine’s overthrow of a pro-Kremlin government last week with an old and ugly Russian tactic: provoking a separatist rebellion in a neighboring state, using its own troops when necessary.”

The reality, however, appears to have been that neocon elements from within the U.S. government encouraged the overthrow of the elected president of Ukraine via a coup spearheaded by neo-Nazi storm troopers who then terrorized lawmakers as the parliament passed draconian laws, including some intended to punish the Russian-oriented regions which favor Yanukovych.

Yet, besides baiting Obama over his tempered words about the crisis, the Post declared that “Mr. Obama and European leaders must act quickly to prevent Ukraine’s dismemberment. Missing from the president’s statement was a necessary first step: a demand that all Russian forces – regular and irregular – be withdrawn … and that Moscow recognize the authority of the new Kiev government. … If Mr. Putin does not comply, Western leaders should make clear that Russia will pay a heavy price.”

The Post editors are fond of calling for ultimatums against various countries, especially Syria and Iran, with the implication that if they don’t comply with some U.S. demand that harsh actions, including military reprisals, will follow.

But now the neocons, in their single-minded pursuit of endless “regime change” in countries that get in their way, have taken their ambitions to a dangerous new level, confronting nuclear-armed Russia with ultimatums.

By Sunday, the Post’s neocon editors were “spelling out the consequences” for Putin and Russia, essentially proposing a new Cold War. The Post mocked Obama for alleged softness toward Russia and suggested that the next “regime change” must come in Moscow.

“Many in the West did not believe Mr. Putin would dare attempt a military intervention in Ukraine because of the steep potential consequences,” the Post wrote. “That the Russian ruler plunged ahead shows that he doubts Western leaders will respond forcefully. If he does not quickly retreat, the United States must prove him wrong.”

The madness of the neocons has long been indicated by their extraordinary arrogance and their contempt for other nations’ interests. They assume that U.S. military might and other coercive means must be brought to bear on any nation that doesn’t bow before U.S. ultimatums or that resists U.S.-orchestrated coups.

Whenever the neocons meet resistance, they don’t rethink their strategy; they simply take it to the next level. Angered by Russia’s role in heading off U.S. military attacks against Syria and Iran, the neocons escalated their geopolitical conflict by taking it to Russia’s own border, by egging on the violent ouster of Ukraine’s elected president.

The idea was to give Putin an embarrassing black eye as punishment for his interference in the neocons’ dream of “regime change” across the Middle East. Now, with Putin’s countermove, his dispatch of Russian troops to secure control of the Crimea, the neocons want Obama to further escalate the crisis by going after Putin.

Some leading neocons even see ousting Putin as a crucial step toward reestablishing the preeminence of their agenda. NED president Carl Gershman wrote in the Washington Post, “Ukraine’s choice to join Europe will accelerate the demise of the ideology of Russian imperialism that Putin represents.  … Russians, too, face a choice, and Putin may find himself on the losing end not just in the near abroad but within Russia itself.”

At minimum, the neocons hope that they can neutralize Putin as Obama’s ally in trying to tamp down tensions with Syria and Iran – and thus put American military strikes against those two countries back under active consideration.

As events spin out of control, it appears way past time for President Obama to explain to the American people why he has collaborated with President Putin in trying to resolve some of the world’s thorniest problems.

That, however, would require him to belatedly take control of his own administration, to purge the neocon holdovers who have worked to sabotage his actual foreign policy, and to put an end to neocon-controlled organizations, like the National Endowment for Democracy, that use U.S. taxpayers’ money to stir up trouble abroad. That would require real political courage.

Robert Parry

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat. His two previous books are Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’.

One-Percent Jokes and Plutocrats in Drag: What I Saw When I Crashed a Wall Street Secret Society February 20, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Capitalism, Economic Crisis.
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Roger’s note: You know the phrase “how the other half lives,” well this is a peek at how the 1% live.  These are the heartless billionaires who pilot the capitalist death ship.  I guess it is only natural that in their character (or lack thereof) they would reflect the very heartless inhumanity of the system they own and operate. Enjoy.

By 

Recently, our nation’s financial chieftains have been feeling a little unloved. Venture capitalists are comparing the persecution of the rich to the plight ofJews at Kristallnacht, Wall Street titans are saying that they’re sick of being beaten up, and this week, a billionaire investor, Wilbur Ross, proclaimed that “the 1 percent is being picked on for political reasons.”

Ross’s statement seemed particularly odd, because two years ago, I met Ross at an event that might single-handedly explain why the rest of the country still hates financial tycoons – the annual black-tie induction ceremony of a secret Wall Street fraternity called Kappa Beta Phi.

Adapted
from Kevin Roose’s book Young Money, published today by Grand Central Publishing.

“Good evening, Exalted High Council, former Grand Swipes, Grand Swipes-in-waiting, fellow Wall Street Kappas, Kappas from the Spring Street and Montgomery Street chapters, and worthless neophytes!”

It was January 2012, and Ross, wearing a tuxedo and purple velvet moccasins embroidered with the fraternity’s Greek letters, was standing at the dais of the St. Regis Hotel ballroom, welcoming a crowd of two hundred wealthy and famous Wall Street figures to the Kappa Beta Phi dinner. Ross, the leader (or “Grand Swipe”) of the fraternity, was preparing to invite 21 new members — “neophytes,” as the group called them — to join its exclusive ranks.

Looking up at him from an elegant dinner of rack of lamb and foie gras were many of the most famous investors in the world, including executives from nearly every too-big-to-fail bank, private equity megafirm, and major hedge fund. AIG CEO Bob Benmosche was there, as were Wall Street superlawyer Marty Lipton and Alan “Ace” Greenberg, the former chairman of Bear Stearns. And those were just the returning members. Among the neophytes were hedge fund billionaire and major Obama donor Marc Lasry and Joe Reece, a high-ranking dealmaker at Credit Suisse. [To see the full Kappa Beta Phi member list, click here.] All told, enough wealth and power was concentrated in the St. Regis that night that if you had dropped a bomb on the roof, global finance as we know it might have ceased to exist.

During his introductory remarks, Ross spoke for several minutes about the legend of Kappa Beta Phi – how it had been started in 1929 by “four C+ William and Mary students”; how its crest, depicting a “macho right hand in a proper Savile Row suit and a Turnbull and Asser shirtsleeve,” was superior to that of its namesake Phi Beta Kappa (Ross called Phi Beta Kappa’s ruffled-sleeve logo a “tacit confession of homosexuality”); and how the fraternity’s motto, “Dum vivamus edimus et biberimus,” was Latin for “While we live, we eat and drink.”

On cue, the financiers shouted out in a thundering bellow: “DUM VIVAMUS EDIMUS ET BIBERIMUS.”

Click here to listen: https://soundcloud.com/daily-intelligencer/wilbur-ross/s-iFMBX
The only person not saying the chant along with Ross was me — a journalist who had sneaked into the event, and who was hiding out at a table in the back corner in a rented tuxedo.
Several Kappas at the table next to me, presumably discussing the coming plutocracy.

I’d heard whisperings about the existence of Kappa Beta Phi, whose members included both incredibly successful financiers (New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Goldman Sachs chairman John Whitehead, hedge-fund billionaire Paul Tudor Jones) and incredibly unsuccessful ones (Lehman Brothers CEO Dick Fuld, Bear Stearns CEO Jimmy Cayne, former New Jersey governor and MF Global flameout Jon Corzine). It was a secret fraternity, founded at the beginning of the Great Depression, that functioned as a sort of one-percenter’s Friars Club. Each year, the group’s dinner features comedy skits, musical acts in drag, and off-color jokes, and its group’s privacy mantra is “What happens at the St. Regis stays at the St. Regis.” For eight decades, it worked. No outsider in living memory had witnessed the entire proceedings firsthand.

A Kappa neophyte (left) chats up a vet.

I wanted to break the streak for several reasons. As part of my research for my book,Young Money, I’d been investigating the lives of young Wall Street bankers – the 22-year-olds toiling at the bottom of the financial sector’s food chain. I knew what made those people tick. But in my career as a financial journalist, one question that proved stubbornly elusive was what happened to Wall Streeters as they climbed the ladder to adulthood. Whenever I’d interviewed CEOs and chairmen at big Wall Street firms, they were always too guarded, too on-message and wrapped in media-relations armor to reveal anything interesting about the psychology of the ultra-wealthy. But if I could somehow see these barons in their natural environment, with their defenses down, I might be able to understand the world my young subjects were stepping into.

So when I learned when and where Kappa Beta Phi’s annual dinner was being held, I knew I needed to try to go.

Getting in was shockingly easy — a brisk walk past the sign-in desk, and I was inside cocktail hour. Immediately, I saw faces I recognized from the papers. I picked up an event program and saw that there were other boldface names on the Kappa Beta Phi membership roll — among them, then-Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink, Home Depot billionaire Ken Langone, Morgan Stanley bigwig Greg Fleming, and JPMorgan Chase vice chairman Jimmy Lee. Any way you count, this was one of the most powerful groups of business executives in the world. (Since I was a good 20 years younger than any other attendee, I suspect that anyone taking note of my presence assumed I was a waiter.)

I hadn’t counted on getting in to the Kappa Beta Phi dinner, and now that I had gotten past security, I wasn’t sure quite what to do. I wanted to avoid rousing suspicion, and I knew that talking to people would get me outed in short order. So I did the next best thing — slouched against a far wall of the room, and pretended to tap out emails on my phone.

The 2012 Kappa Beta Phi neophyte class.

After cocktail hour, the new inductees – all of whom were required to dress in leotards and gold-sequined skirts, with costume wigs – began their variety-show acts. Among the night’s lowlights:

• Paul Queally, a private-equity executive with Welsh, Carson, Anderson, & Stowe, told off-color jokes to Ted Virtue, another private-equity bigwig with MidOcean Partners. The jokes ranged from unfunny and sexist (Q: “What’s the biggest difference between Hillary Clinton and a catfish?” A: “One has whiskers and stinks, and the other is a fish”) to unfunny and homophobic (Q: “What’s the biggest difference between Barney Frank and a Fenway Frank?” A: “Barney Frank comes in different-size buns”).

Click here to listen: https://soundcloud.com/daily-intelligencer/queally-jokes/s-qxUq6

• Bill Mulrow, a top executive at the Blackstone Group (who was later appointed chairman of the New York State Housing Finance Agency), and Emil Henry, a hedge fund manager with Tiger Infrastructure Partners and former assistant secretary of the Treasury, performed a bizarre two-man comedy skit. Mulrow was dressed in raggedy, tie-dye clothes to play the part of a liberal radical, and Henry was playing the part of a wealthy baron. They exchanged lines as if staging a debate between the 99 percent and the 1 percent. (“Bill, look at you! You’re pathetic, you liberal! You need a bath!” Henry shouted. “My God, you callow, insensitive Republican! Don’t you know what we need to do? We need to create jobs,” Mulrow shot back.)

• David MooreMarc Lasry, and Keith Meister — respectively, a holding company CEO, a billionaire hedge-fund manager, and an activist investor — sang a few seconds of a finance-themed parody of “YMCA” before getting the hook.

• Warren Stephens, an investment banking CEO, took the stage in a Confederate flag hat and sang a song about the financial crisis, set to the tune of “Dixie.” (“In Wall Street land we’ll take our stand, said Morgan and Goldman. But first we better get some loans, so quick, get to the Fed, man.”)

Click here to listen: https://soundcloud.com/daily-intelligencer/dixie
A few more acts followed, during which the veteran Kappas continued to gorge themselves on racks of lamb, throw petits fours at the stage, and laugh uproariously. Michael Novogratz, a former Army helicopter pilot with a shaved head and a stocky build whose firm, Fortress Investment Group, had made him a billionaire, was sitting next to me, drinking liberally and annotating each performance with jokes and insults.

“Can you fuckin’ believe Lasry up there?” Novogratz asked me. I nodded. He added, “He just gave me a ride in his jet a month ago.”

The neophytes – who had changed from their drag outfits into Mormon missionary costumes — broke into their musical finale: a parody version of “I Believe,” the hit ballad from The Book of Mormon, with customized lyrics like “I believe that God has a plan for all of us. I believe my plan involves a seven-figure bonus.” Amused, I pulled out my phone, and began recording the proceedings on video. Wrong move.

The grand finale, a parody of “I Believe” from The Book of Mormon
Click here to listen: https://soundcloud.com/daily-intelligencer/i-believe/s-GmzF7
“Who the hell are you?” Novogratz demanded.

I felt my pulse spike. I was tempted to make a run for it, but – due to the ethics code of the New York Times, my then-employer – I had no choice but to out myself.

“I’m a reporter,” I said.

Novogratz stood up from the table.

“You’re not allowed to be here,” he said.

I, too, stood, and tried to excuse myself, but he grabbed my arm and wouldn’t let go.

“Give me that or I’ll fucking break it!” Novogratz yelled, grabbing for my phone, which was filled with damning evidence. His eyes were bloodshot, and his neck veins were bulging. The song onstage was now over, and a number of prominent Kappas had rushed over to our table. Before the situation could escalate dangerously, a bond investor and former Grand Swipe named Alexandra Lebenthal stepped in between us. Wilbur Ross quickly followed, and the two of them led me out into the lobby, past a throng of Wall Street tycoons, some of whom seemed to be hyperventilating.

Once we made it to the lobby, Ross and Lebenthal reassured me that what I’d just seen wasn’t really a group of wealthy and powerful financiers making homophobic jokes, making light of the financial crisis, and bragging about their business conquests at Main Street’s expense. No, it was just a group of friends who came together to roast each other in a benign and self-deprecating manner. Nothing to see here.

But the extent of their worry wasn’t made clear until Ross offered himself up as a source for future stories in exchange for my cooperation.

“I’ll pick up the phone anytime, get you any help you need,” he said.

“Yeah, the people in this group could be very helpful,” Lebenthal chimed in. “If you could just keep their privacy in mind.”

I wasn’t going to be bribed off my story, but I understood their panic.  Here, after all, was a group that included many of the executives whose firms had collectively wrecked the global economy in 2008 and 2009. And they were laughing off the entire disaster in private, as if it were a long-forgotten lark. (Or worse, sing about it — one of the last skits of the night was a self-congratulatory parody of ABBA’s “Dancing Queen,” called “Bailout King.”) These were activities that amounted to a gigantic middle finger to Main Street and that, if made public, could end careers and damage very public reputations.

After several more minutes spent trying to do damage control, Ross and Lebenthal escorted me out of the St. Regis.

As I walked through the streets of midtown in my ill-fitting tuxedo, I thought about the implications of what I’d just seen.

The first and most obvious conclusion was that the upper ranks of finance are composed of people who have completely divorced themselves from reality. No self-aware and socially conscious Wall Street executive would have agreed to be part of a group whose tacit mission is to make light of the financial sector’s foibles. Not when those foibles had resulted in real harm to millions of people in the form of foreclosures, wrecked 401(k)s, and a devastating unemployment crisis.

The second thing I realized was that Kappa Beta Phi was, in large part, a fear-based organization. Here were executives who had strong ideas about politics, society, and the work of their colleagues, but who would never have the courage to voice those opinions in a public setting. Their cowardice had reduced them to sniping at their perceived enemies in the form of satirical songs and sketches, among only those people who had been handpicked to share their view of the world. And the idea of a reporter making those views public had caused them to throw a mass temper tantrum.

The last thought I had, and the saddest, was that many of these self-righteous Kappa Beta Phi members had surely been first-year bankers once. And in the 20, 30, or 40 years since, something fundamental about them had changed. Their pursuit of money and power had removed them from the larger world to the sad extent that, now, in the primes of their careers, the only people with whom they could be truly themselves were a handful of other prominent financiers.

Perhaps, I realized, this social isolation is why despite extraordinary evidence to the contrary, one-percenters like Ross keep saying how badly persecuted they are. When you’re a member of the fraternity of money, it can be hard to see past the foie gras to the real world.

Copyright 2014 by Kevin Roose. Reprinted by permission of Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.

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