Just Jake

Jake Highton is a journalism professor at the Reynolds School of Journalism, University of Nevada, Reno. He teaches media law, history of journalism and advanced reporting. Highton is the author of numerous books, including "Nevada Newspaper Days." He writes a weekly column for the Daily Sparks Tribune.

Location: United States

Monday, September 29, 2008

Congress embraces socialism for rich

The ugliness, materialism and ruthless human exploitation of capitalism affronts sensitive minds.
--Richard Hofstadter, “Anti-Intellectualism in American Life”

America has long had socialism for corporations and social Darwinism for everyone else. It privatizes the profits and nationalizes the losses.
The latest example: a proposed trillion dollar bailout for failing financial giants, behemoth banks and gigantic insurance firms.
In vivid contrast, universal health care is forbidden. That is dreadful socialism. Making money is more important than health. Besides, capitalism flourishes even more if people have to pay big sums for insurance.
Congress is bought and paid for by campaign contributions. This influence racket and legalized bribery works. Corporations get off scot-free, taxpayers pay the bills.
The retrograde President Reagan proclaimed his faith in free markets. He called big government the problem not the solution. But government is the solution for Big Business failure. Recall that in the late 1980s the savings and loan industry got a $200 billion welfare check.
After Ayn Rand’s glorification of self-interest in “Atlas Shrugged,” the motto of the Right became greed is good. Immoral? Certainly.
Naomi Klein skewers that notion in her recent book, “The Shock Doctrine,” aptly subtitled “The Rise in Disaster Capitalism.”
Some still think America had an “immaculate conception” and has never sinned. Her book shatters such illusions. Indeed, it is profoundly upsetting, filling the reader with black despair.
Klein traces the economic genocide to the teachings of “Dr. Shock,” University of Chicago economist Milton Friedman. His mantra was deregulation and privatization.
He urged deep slashes in the social contract. He preached “free trade, low taxes and minimal government intervention.” Indeed, he was such an archreactionary that he proposed abolishing public schools.
William Grieder noted in a Nation article that Friedman “championed an ethic of unrelenting, unapologetic self-interest that pushed aside human sympathy.”
The horrible results were evident in Chile, post-Sovet Russia, China and Iraq.
Friedman’s “gospel of wealth” was adopted in America with tax cuts for the wealthy under Reagan. It continued in the archconservative reign of Bush II. His deregulation madness produced the scandal of Enron’s energy shell game.
Wall Streeters get eight-figure salaries. CEOs reap outrageous salaries even when their corporations fare badly. The CEO of Nike earned $6.3 million in 2007.
Yet Congress still embraces socialism for the rich. The tax system is regressive, the minimum wage a pittance.
Congress really has just one party, a party oozing love for Big Business. It lets corporations set up tax havens offshore, avoiding $50 billion in taxes yearly. Subsidies. Outsourcing. Sweatshops. Plants abroad with scandalously low pay and inhuman hours.
Bill Moyers in a Nation article puts it about as well as anyone since Marx: “freedom to accumulate wealth without social responsibilities and the license to buy the political system right out from under everyone else.”
France’s Le Monde observed: “Inequalities constitute one of the world’s cancers.”
America has that cancer with the ever-widening gap between the Haves and Have Nots. The class system abounds in America although few dare mention it. The new $1.3 billion Yankee stadium was built with tax free bonds subsidized by taxpayers.
Its skyboxes and luxury suites are for the fatcats, removed from the rabble. Seats behind the dugout will cost $850 a game, seats near home plate up to $2,500.
Look at the sad state of many Americans. The economy near recession, home foreclosures stunning. Trapped by debt. Joblessness exceeding 6 percent.
Pensions cut back, wages and salaries slashed. Medical costs ever-rising, gas prices onerous. Thirty-seven million living in poverty. Nearly 50 million without health insurance.
Even Barack Obama, who is far worthier of being president than John McCain, is limp in the financial crisis. He lacks the Rooseveltian fire and blunt-speaking. Teddy: “the malefactors of great wealth.” Franklin: “the privileged princes” of “economic dynasties.”
But even that is better than McCain mouthing clichés about corporate tax cuts and smaller government.
The horror of capitalism is cloaked by what Marx called sham watchwords: democracy, liberty and freedom of the press. These are “cobwebs, embroidered with flowers of rhetoric, steeped in the dew of sickly sentiment,” he wrote.
Capitalism is soulless, what Helen Keller indicted as an intolerable system. America epitomizes that heartless, predatory system, promoting war, destroying unions and displaying hostility to working people.
Civilized nations like France have long since rejected Friedmanite capitalism.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Palin pick disgraces America

Few people vote for vice president. What matters is the presidency. But if people did vote for the No. 2 spot, Joe Biden is highly qualified and Sarah Palin is highly unqualified.
Biden has been in the Senate for 39 years. Palin’s résumé is incredibly thin: small-town mayor and governor of Alaska for less than two years.
The GOP presidential nominee, John McCain, is hardly ancient at 72. But he is vulnerable actuarily. He has had serious skin cancer. It is frightening to think of a president Palin if a president McCain dies.
Of the 43 presidents, eight have died in office: W.H. Harrison, 1841; Zack Taylor, 1850; Lincoln, 1865; James Garfield, 1881; William McKinley, 1901; Warren Harding, 1923; Franklin Roosevelt, 1945; and John Kennedy, 1963. Another president, Richard Nixon, was forced to resign in 1974.
McCain boasts that his country always comes first but actually he thinks first of McCain. He cynically picked a poorly credentialed running mate because she is a Great Diversion from his 95 percent support of the disastrous President Bush.
Columnist Richard Cohen of the Washington Post calls the choice “opportunistic and irresponsible.” Columnist Maureen Dowd of the New York Times ridicules Palin as a “glamorous Pioneer Woman, packing a gun, a baby and a Bible.”
McCain has reversed his occasional maverick positions to appease the Right. He would rather be president than right.
All summer McCain accused Barack Obama of lacking the experience to be president. Palin has far less experience than Obama. Karl Rove, GOP smearmeister, called it “not a governing decision but a campaign decision.”
McCain’s campaign manager admits it, declaring that “this election is not about issues.” Appearances are all. Palin proves it. She is a babe with a come-hither look, a rambete, a beautiful foil to the aging warrior, top gun McCain.
Unfortunately, such superficialities attract boobus Americanus.
Palin’s ideas are appallingly reactionary. She opposes abortion, gay marriage, benefits for same-sex partners and stem cell research. She supports sexual abstinence programs. She debunks global warming.
She wants drilling in the Alaskan wildlife refuge, belittles the Endangered Species Act, calls the listing of the polar bear unscientific and thinks it great sport to shoot wolves from a helicopter.
Palin insists on the literal truth of every word in the Bible. She urges teaching of creationism. She sees the troops in Iraq as doing a “task that is from God.” It is “God’s will” that the federal government contributes to a gas pipeline in Alaska. She says Christ will return in her lifetime.
Her foreign policy expertise? She can see Russia from Alaska. She says her son is going to Iraq to fight the 9/11 perpetrators. Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11.
Palin denies her past with anti-rhetoric. She favored the “Bridge to Nowhere” but now denies she did. She says she opposes tax increases but raised taxes as mayor of Wasilla. She says she opposes pork-barreling but delights in federal largesse for Alaska. She says she opposes political corruption yet served as chief fund-raiser for the corrupt Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska. She rails at the political establishment which McCain has served 26 years.
Her gibes at Obama are sophomoric. She absurdly says Obama is more concerned about the rights of terrorists than their threat. She belittles Obama’s altruistic and commendable community organizing.
National conventions are a charade, all about marketing. The hypocrisy of the GOP convention was flabbergasting. It trumpeted change while masking the fact that McCain is McSame. It talked insurgency yet it has been running the White House and Congress for most of the past eight years.
Convention delegation differences were stark. The GOP delegates were white, rich and conservative, the Democratic delegation loaded with minorities, women and progressives.
Biden? He is hardly a paragon. He was on the wrong side when he voted for the Iraq war. Wrong again in backing so-called free trade acts that hurt workers. Wrong again to push the bankruptcy bill clamping down on millions of families mired in debt. And wrong again to flack for the credit card business.
As head of the Senate Judiciary Committee he gave the nation the reprehensible Justice Thomas, refusing to allow corrobative evidence for Anita Hill’s scathing indictment of Thomas’ sexual harassment.
And oh, my, how Biden talks and talks and talks.
Still, Biden is a liberal. Except for the Thomas lapse, he has fought for liberal judicial appointments, has superb environmental credentials and battled valiantly for the Violence Against Women Act.
He stands for everything Palin does not.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Homage to ‘Gulag’ Solzhenitsyn

It is within the power of writers and artists to defeat the lie!
For in the struggle with lies, art has always triumphed.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the world’s most powerful post-World War II writer, was in the great Russian mode of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky.
Awarding him the Nobel Prize in 1970, the jurors cited “the ethical force with which he has pursued the indispensable traditions of Russian literature.”
Solzhenitsyn, who died last month, was jailed in the Gulag network of labor camps, camps for the destruction of body, mind and spirit. Camps where prisoners went to die, camps where 50 million suffered over five decades. Camps, as Orwell phrased it in “1984,” of “a boot stamping on a human face.”
The Gulag was Stalin’s holocaust, important to his reign of terror. Prisoners landed there for trivial reasons--or no reason.
Solzhenitsyn, while serving in the Red Army, was sent to the Gulag in 1945 for referring to Stalin in a letter to a friend as “the man with the mustache,” “the whiskered one.”
Counterrevolutionary words written by an enemy of the people! Such words cost him eight years at hard labor. But Solzhenitsyn’s revenge was the magnificent novel, “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich,” based on his life as a zek (prisoner).
The novel, with its protagonist Shukhov, a simple guy, a type beloved by Russians, created a sensation. “One Day” first appeared in Novy Mir (New World), liberal monthly magazine, in 1962. It sold out the entire run of 95,000 copies the first day.
Despite the slavery, the intense cold and “work, work, work” in the Gulag, the novel concludes on an upbeat note: “Shukhov went to sleep fully content. He’d had many strokes of luck that day…he’d swiped a bowl of kasha (porridge) at dinner. He’d built a wall and enjoyed doing it. He’d smuggled that bit of hacksaw blade…A day without a dark cloud. Almost a happy day.”
The New York Times applauded Solzhenitsyn for “holding a mirror up to Soviet society.” The Soviet authorities did not like the reflection, finally exiling him in 1974.
Solzhenitsyn’s three-volume “The Gulag Archipelago,” part history, part autobiography and part analyis, cemented his literary immortality.
It told how the notorious Article 58 of the criminal code swelled the Gulag. “There is no step, thought, action or lack of action under the heavens that could not be punished by (its) heavy hand,” Solzhenitsyn wrote in the first volume.
It decried the Cheka, the Soviet secret police, “the Sentinel of the Revolution,” as “the only punitive organ in human history that combined in one set of hands investigation, arrest, interrogration, prosecution, trial and execution.”
In the third volume, Solzhenitsyn gives a breathless account of two escapees whose encounter with a kitten revealed that the hardened zeks had not lost their humanity. Another stirring chapter, “The Forty Days of Kengir,” tells how rebellious zeks seized a camp and ruled briefly.
The two most important post-Stalin rulers of the Soviet Union were Khrushchev and Gorbachev.
Khrushchev, despite his shoe-banging at the U.N. and crude rhetoric of “We will bury you,” began the de-Stalinization. Then his thaw allowed the publication of “One Day.” Gorbachev, with his glasnost (openness), showed that socialism had a human face.
The last two decades of Solzhenitsyn’s life were sad.
He extolled Holy Russia, defended Holy Church and espoused Holy Capitalism. A victim of cancer in 1953, he attributed his recovery, not to a successful operation, but to “a divine miracle.” In a speech at Harvard in 1978 he called man “God’s creature.”
In that same speech Solzhenitsyn denounced “the ossified formulas of the Enlightenment,” a pitiful descent into reactionaryism. The Enlightenment was the Age of Reason, applying intelligence to politics and morality. It attacked ignorance and superstition. It replaced dogma with science, knowledge and truth.
Solzhenitsyn also lauded Russian President Putin for the “restoration” of Russia. Some restoration. He restored the autocratic rule of Czars and Soviet leaders. He fostered the dictatorship of business rather than the communism he once served.
Solzhenitsyn lectured America about its “vulgar materialism” (true) and lamented its hasty capitulation in Vietnam (false). He deplored the country’s music as intolerable (true) but attacked its unfettered press (false).
He repudiated socialism, calling it “a false and dangerous doctrine.” He declared that it “leads to a total destruction of the human spirit and to a leveling of mankind.”
Socialism is not the problem. Stalin was. Civilized nations, abandoning the savagery of capitalism, have long established democratic socialism. It works. Scandinavian countries with cradle-to-grave socialism prove it.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

‘Liberty’ stars at the Louvre

PARIS--This is the art capital of the world, providing a Lucullan feast for the culture vulture. But if one painting symbolizes the revolutionary history of France it is “Liberty Leading the People” by Delacroix.
A monumental, bare-breasted woman leads the charge across the barricades. In her left hand she carries a rifle with fixed bayonet. In her right she holds aloft the tricolor, the blue, white and red flag of France. On her head is the Phrygian cap of liberty as she exhorts the insurgents.
The 1830 painting is stirring in its militant portrayal of the July Revolution. It is one of the many treasures of the Louvre. But the Louvre, the biggest and best museum in the world, has many other masterpieces of painting, sculpture and antiquity.
One is Vermeer’s “The Lacemaker” (1670). The painting, just nine inches square, is luminous. The woman, her yellow blouse shining, is concentrating intently on her work. No less an authority than Renoir called it one of the best pictures in the world.
A 17th century artist “starring” with six works in the Louvre is Georges de la Tour, one of my favorites. I like the way he uses the light of candles and torches to illuminate the darkness of his canvases.
Anyone enamored of the Impressionists must visit the d’Orsay museum. Two paintings there are quintessential Impressionism: Monet’s “The Station at St. Lazare,” filled with gray-white steam, and his picture of the London houses of Parliament, a reddish sun piercing the dense fog of London.
Particular delights: the Manet portrait of fellow artist, Berthe Morisot; the Degas “Ballet Dancers Rehearsing on Stage”; Monet’s “Magpie” perched on a stile in a snowscape; the colorful Van Goghs; works by Caillebotte, the best “unknown” artist of the era; and the Toulouse-Lautrec showing two young lovers sleeping in bed, a beautific expression on the young man’s face.
The Rodin museum houses some of the world’s great sculptures including “The Thinker.” The museum has wonderful grounds and gardens which my wife, Mary Foxton, savored.
Rodin’s “The Burghers of Calais” gives me the chill that comes from confronting the works of a genius. Some of the sculpted men are stoic, others anquished as they face death. The veins, ropes and keys seem to be alive.
“The Kiss,” Rodin’s homage to women, shows a man kneeling before a woman, gently kissing her abdomen. It is modeled on Paolo and Francesca, the lovers in canto No. 5 of Dante’s “Inferno” who “read no more that day.”
The Chagall ceiling in the opera house is hardly the equal of the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo. But it is a joyous, colorful work, splashed with red, green, yellow, blue and pink. An angel plays a cello, a corps de ballet rehearses, animals prance. Throughout are such Paris landmarks as the Eiffel Tower and the Arch of Triumph.
The Orangerie museum is disappointing--until you see the Monet water lilies. Calm. Peaceful. Relaxing. Balm for this frenetic, driven, workaholic. I liked best the panels showing branches dangling near the water.
At the Cluny Museum of the Middle Ages religious symbols abound. Stained glass. Wooden statues from the 13th century of Christian “heroes.”
The tapestries are impressive, one showing the wine harvest: picking, stomping grapes in a barrel and pressing them. “The Lady and the Unicorn” tapestry is remarkable for its beauty, its bright colors sparkling.
But amid the welter of art in Paris are disappointments: the Pompidou museum of modern art and the Picasso and Dali museums.
The Pompidou houses much Klee, Léger, Gris, Gorky, Arp, Miro, Braque and Picasso. But all leave me cold. Will no one shout: “This may be art but it is not good art”?
At the Picasso museum an engraving, “The Frugal Meal” (1904), impresses with two emaciated figures. But most of the Picasso works exhibited are rife with colors, lots of lines, bizarre heads, breasts out of position and unrecognizable body parts. All cubistic--and all junky. But, hey, a squiggle by the great Picasso is worth $10,000.
Perhaps modern art can be summed up by a painting in the Pompidou by British artist Francis Bacon, “Female Nude Standing in Doorway” (1972). The woman is misshapen, grotesque. Nevertheless, paintings by Bacon paintings are worth millions, proving there is no accounting for tastes.
Dali? He was a showman, a con artist. But his talent was immense. A bronze sculpture at the Dali museum pleases: a melted watch and a teardrop stemming from his signature painting, “The Persistence of Memory” (1977).
Very little in life is perfect but the Paris art banquet comes close.