WE ARE KNOWN BY OUR FRIENDS; OR, BIRDS OF A FEATHER FLOCK TOGETHER—WHAT CHRISTIE’S STAFF REVEALS ABOUT CHRISTIE

Gov. Christie of New Jersey is under suspicion of ordering a “political payback” to the mayor of a N.J. city for not supporting him in his bid for governor. Christie’s deputy chief of staff, Bridget Kelly, along with Christie’s man at the Port Authority, David Wildstein, set in motion a diabolical plot to close down The George Washington Bridge by closing several access roads, thereby causing a monumental, and dangerous, shutdown of the bridge for several days. The big question is, How could that have happened without Christie’s prior knowledge and consent? Is it believable that his deputy chief of staff on her own authority would, or could, perpetrate such a horrific offence, knowing full well that the truth might well come out later? Would she—could she—have acted on her own authority?—If so, many very troubling questions naturally come to mind.

First, what does it say about Christie’s managerial style that a horrific, and extremely dangerous act of sabotage by his own staff, putting hundreds of thousands of commuters in a complete tie-up, with all the risks of “road rage,” children not being picked up, doctors’ appointments missed, emergency responders brought to a standstill, etc., could happen without his knowledge?  Is it even credible that with such certain consequences attendant to a complete traffic standstill, Christie’s deputy chief of staff would have conceived and executed this “payback” all by herself? But even if we find out that, yes, she did indeed plot the whole thing, then Christie should still step down for hiring such diabolical people to help him run his governorship. His lack of good judgment here, if this is the case, is both stunning, reprehensible, and extremely dangerous. It is tantamount to having a mad man as governor—like “Mad Ludwig” of Bavaria, who was drowned while bathing in order to save the state from more of his irrational schemes. Just think: What would Christie—or his staff—do with all the power of the presidency? Order break-ins like Nixon, tamper with evidence, harm political opponents, etc?  If the rule of law can be so cavalierly dispensed with on the state level, just think what he or his staff could do on the federal level. One crazy “Rob Ford” on the continent is more than enough, I should think.

Second, adding to the suspicion that Christie, despite his denials, himself authored this ‘traffic bomb’ is the accusation of the Hoboken mayor that funds for Sandy’s victims would be withheld unless she allowed the Rockefeller Group to develop property in Hoboken. One act of intimidation/retaliation raises suspicions—but two?

A person is known by the friends/associates whom he chooses as his intimate companions. They reveal well a person’s character. Christie has unequivocally revealed who he likes to employ and to hang out with (for these were his friends too). As Aristotle well said, “Birds of a feather flock together.” In this instance, we should revise it to “vultures of equal rapacity and immorality flock and fly together.”

Len Sive Jr.

CHRIS CHISTIE: CORRUPTION, INTIMIDATION, PAY-BACK—STAPLES OF THE REPUBLICAN PARTY

“Our ideal of America is a nation in which justice is done; and therefore the continued existence of injustice, of unnecessary inexcusable poverty in this most favored of nations—this knowledge erodes our ideal of America, our basic sense of who and what we are. It is, in the deepest sense of the word, demoralizing—to all of us.” Robert F. Kennedy

Republicans in Congress are, most of them, skilled not in statecraft, or the subtleties of governing a pluralistic country (Republicans on the whole care nothing about pluralism). They are skilled only in aiding the rich in becoming richer. That is their raison d’etre. They are in office for no other reason than to serve their financial puppet masters—for which loyal service they can expect to receive due compensation, and not a few perquisites distributed along the way.

Chris Christie is a perfect illustration of this pragmatic service to his real, behind the stage political “handlers”. His office received hundreds of millions of dollars in federal emergency (FEMA) funds to help those hurt by the unprecedented, gigantic storm, Sandy. But first, Christie tells a few of his would-be recipients, “they must allow the Rockefeller Group [inter alia, a real estate investment corporation] into their city to develop various properties—and then, but only then, will their city receive their much-needed, and long-awaited for, Sandy funds. Don’t allow Rockefeller in and you won’t get your funds.” (This is a paraphrase of what Christie [and his office] is reputed to have said.)

Here is intimidation at its cruelest: people who are still struggling to get their lives back on track after Hurricane Sandy have their funds withheld in—let us call it like it is—a blackmail scheme, while Christie and his henchmen obsequiously court the interests of the super-rich. But the urgent needs of the poor, the suffering, and the displaced victims of hurricane Sandy—these take a back seat to the unfeeling rich.

Or failing verbal intimidation—this never works on high-minded people like the Hoboken mayor who resisted Christie’s threats—you can always engage in “dirty tricks,” in this case political revenge, a time-honored Republican habit of subverting the rule of law, here by illegally closing lanes that feed onto the George Washington Bridge, thereby causing a monumental tie-up for the town of the N.J. mayor who refused to support Christie for governor (and with good reason we now see!) This high-minded act of political statesmanship by Christie and his staff not only

caused a traffic fiasco of gargantuan proportions, adversely affecting hundreds of thousands of people, it also put at risk the lives of sick citizens who might have needed to go to the hospital.

But isn’t this just the sort of thing the Mafia routinely does? Or what one would expect of (neo-Czar) Putin and his FSB henchmen? But, no, these are not totalitarian Russians, they’re home-grown right-wing Republicans, for whom “legality” is a decidedly relative matter: It’s legal if the Republicans themselves distort, or even trample upon, the Constitution, but illegal if a Democrat should try, out of Christian compassion, to assist the elderly, the young, the sick, the impoverished, the helpless and the hopeless. Then it’s called red herring names like “Big Government” or “Big Brother” or “socialism.” That 50% of Americans fall for this political charade is even more shocking and disturbing.

Democracy in America is emphatically not working. It’s been co-opted by the super-rich, like the Rockefeller Group, so that they can become even richer (and they do). Chris Christie shows us all very clearly that, after all is said and done, unlike in the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, the Bailey Savings and Loan does indeed finally lose out to Potter, and with it goes the end of the Middle-Class. (Only in movies like It’s a Wonderful Life does America still “have” a middle class.)

So, welcome to Pottersville, the ghetto formed by rapacious, uncaring, and unchristian rich Republicans, for the poor, the sick, and the suffering—that being out of sight they might also be out of mind.

Len Sive Jr

NSA ONLY?

HOW ABOUT BUSINESSES AND ADVERTISERS? WHO IS MONITORING THEM MONITORING US?

It would be comical if it weren’t so frightening how eight key Internet providers (Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Facebook, et. al.) have petitioned the White House to do something about the NSA’s spying while failing to mention that they themselves are either spying on Internet users or else allowing others to do so—companies like Doubleclick, an advertising company, or QuestionMarket, a company that collects  data for example on your purchases, which may include your name and phone number, etc. Yet do we hear even a peep of concern over this ubiquitous spying by businesses?—Not a word!

And not one word either from Mr. Anti-Spying himself—Edward Snowden.  Are we to assume that  he knows all about government spying but nothing at all about businesses spying? Or does he feel that a government collecting personal and confidential information is one thing, while  a business doing it  is something else altogether.  If the latter, Is he so naïve as to believe that businesses are inherently virtuous and would never at some time in the future misuse our data? (After the recent  bank, real estate, stock brokerage , et. al., unprecedented  fraud that took the world to the very doorstep of another Great Depression,  one would have to be blind indeed to think that businesses  are more virtuous than governments.)  In light of Snowden’s continuous revelations about the NSA, his silence about Internet spying by the business world is most puzzling indeed.

The question we need to ask is: Are we to have merely “relative privacy”—privacy from government  spying but not from businesses spying? Are we comfortable with Google knowing, and  showing, not only where we live but which Internet sites we visit, when,  what we do there, what we buy, how much we spend, etc.?

“Privacy” (here defined as everything about ourselves: how we spend our money, who or what we visit, etc.) is a virtual absolute; it is either present or it’s not. There is no such thing as “relative privacy.”  Privacy is an either/or, not a both/and. It either is or it isn’t.—And unfortunately it isn’t! (I say “virtual” because with a court order, on a suspicion of a crime, etc, the interests of the state at that moment override the absolute privacy of an individual.)

So to watch this group of Internet providers wringing their hands in despair over the NSA’s spying  was comical, since each knows only too well that every Internet user is tracked if at all possible—yet not one word was raised by them against this practice. Why not?—Money. Profit. millions of dollars is at stake, that’s why. And uniquely in the US, profit habitually trumps virtue and morality, by the right-wing as well as by the left-.

And where, one may ask, is the public’s outcry in all this?

“ He who ceases to be vigilant will in time lose all his liberties.” So said Wendell Phillips, wisely.  Are we so engrossed in our little self-absorbed world of cell-phone texting, activities, and games that no one really cares if on the Internet someone watches, and notes, our every move?

Len Sive Jr.

INTERNET PRIVACY: THE TABOO TOPIC OF NSA CRITICS

We have a problem no one wants to talk about—a BIG problem! Everywhere we turn, Internet companies, or companies using the Internet, are tracking us: our stops, our viewings, our buys; you-name-it, they’re collecting it. But who is angry? Who is even talking about it?

I subscribe to the New York Times: They informed me in December that I visited the Opinion pages 28 times, the World 24 times, the US 13 times, and so on. They know my most viewed and my most recently viewed…And this is the very same NYT that published several of Snowden’s NSA exposés, presumably because they saw in them the hand of Big Brother—and yet they too are collecting personal data on us, every day, every hour, every time we visit their web site. They’re collecting data and storing it. And if the NYT is doing it, rest assured other newspapers, TV stations, etc,  are also doing it—as well as allowing it to be done. Yet I don’t hear a whimper of protest from either the Liberal Left or the Radical Right. Why is that?

I’ll tell you why—money…profit, with a capital P.  Companies can make lots of money tracking and collecting your data and then selling it. But is Big Brother any less frightening if it’s a corporation? Even to get new downloads, for example from Adobe, I had to sign an agreement in which I consented to having Adobe  collect data on me; so if I wanted the latest download I had no choice but to agree to their terms. This is pure extortion: my data for their most recent downloads!

Later as I was viewing Amazon’s books, Amazon “helpfully” told me which books I had recently viewed and gave me the name of some others that I might like. But how did they get their information? By tracking me, of course, and keeping a file of my habits and reading proclivities. Why are these trackings OK to the otherwise virulently anti-spying, anti-NSA crowd but phone collection isn’t? Isn’t data collection data collection? To my mind tracking is tracking, no matter who does it! So where are our liberal and conservative congressmen and senators on this hushed-up issue?…Or have the “campaign contributions” (aka The Bribe) already paid for our representatives to “look the other way”?

Let’s take a moment and put all this into a down-to-earth, commonsense perspective to see how truly disturbing such tracking is. You’re out shopping. Unbeknownst to you there is someone looking over your shoulder writing down where you shop, what you look at, what you buy, how much you spend, your phone number, address, bank, etc.  Frightening? You bet! Big Brother isn’t coming: He’s already here! But do we care?

The price of liberty—lest we forget—is eternal vigilance. And just how much do we prize our liberty?

Len Sive Jr.

IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE: A CHRISTMAS TALE FOR ALL-TIME

Just as there are only a small number of the very greatest symphonies, or paintings, or novels, so there are only a small number of truly great films. It’s A Wonderful Life is one of them, however—perhaps even the greatest film ever made. It has everything: good versus evil; liberal versus conservative (read: Tea Party) politics and economics; romance; idealism versus cynical selfishness; living and dying for ideals; love for the common man and contempt for the hard-bitten man of wealth and power; sacrificial love; the struggle to lead a good life helping others; faith and despair; and God’s providential care for those who selflessly work for His Kingdom on earth. And all this presented through believable, powerful, natural acting by everyone—James Stewart, Donna Reed, Thomas Mitchell, Henry Travers, Lionel Barrymore, Beluha Bondi, Ward Bond, among many others. The music is by the peerless Dimitri Tiomkin, and the film is directed by one of America’s greatest directors, Frank Capra.

Here on film, made in 1946, is our current Tea Party politics portrayed in the guise of Mr. Potter, on a collision course with Democrats, in the guise of the Bailey family, whose nickel-and-dime savings and loan enables the little man to own a home and leave Potter’s slums. It’s a film we love to watch but hate to emulate: for it means that Profit is NOT king; indeed, that life is far more than mere profit, and that helping the working man obtain a house is more important than a bank’s bottom-line. It’s an iconic film whose message we steadfastly ignore, all the while praising the film. It’s a film Conservatives love to hate—or love in spite of its Christian message that people must come before profit; and that the health of one’s soul is more important than the size of one’s bank account—not a message in accord with the Tea Party’s  socio-economic policy—or Trumps’ vision of America.

The film is almost 70 years old, yet its message is as fresh as a morning breeze and profound as life itself. Capra knew his Bible. He translated the New Testament into film—and its power to move one’s soul, to live like a Bailey and not a Potter (or Trump, or Murdoch, or Ryan), to fight for God’s kingdom on earth and not Satan’s (Potter), makes this a film for the ages—but most appropriately a film for the Christmas season, where love of neighbor trumps love of money and power, just as the Christ child will in time conquer darkness and sin.   It’s a film after God’s own heart precisely because it reveals God’s own heart. Do we get the message?—love before profit. Love. Love. Love.

Len Sive Jr.

THE NRA HOLDS A GUN TO AMERICA’S HEAD. PROUDLY.

There is nothing in our history quite as bizarre as the continuing influence of the NRA (National Rifle Association) despite one  gun-related tragedy after another, at home, at school, in shopping malls, bars, sporting events, political rallies, churches, airports—everywhere people gather together.  More Americans die each year from gun-related incidents than were killed during our entire involvement in Vietnam! If there is one group that we can single out for its depraved influence on American life: in expertly leading gullible folk away from facts to emotional, spurious constitutional gun arguments: whose policies and lobbying practices have resulted in making gun-buying an all-too-simple process: who oppose all background checks of prospective gun-buyers, including those who are mentally unstable: who want even assault weapons to be sold and bought—the NRA has no rival. If ever Mephistopheles sought out a partner to bring terror and violence to the American way of life, it would surely be an unholy alliance with the NRA.

What’s the NRA’s typical response to any and every incident of gun violence?—If everyone had been armed there would have been no incident in the first place! Now if their retort weren’t so very dangerous, it would be simply laughable—laughably stupid. But the steady, seemingly unstoppable stream of gun violence now defiling our land is certainly no topic for laughter.

Behind the NRA lies the gun manufacturers and their owners, like the notorious rich and powerful DuPont family, originally made rich by selling shoddy, substandard goods to our troops in various wars (like the Civil War) and owner of Remington Arms, as well as longtime backer of many right-wing extremist groups like the KKK, the Minutemen, and the John Birch Society. Their politics is determined solely by financial considerations masquerading as politics. What care they who die by the gun so long as they can hear the ‘klink’ of the cash register for yet another gun sale?

Of course, to any half-normal mind our gun laws are completely insane. There is no clearer proof of the dangers of lobbyists, to my mind, than the example of the NRA. Not the common weal is under consideration by congressmen and women when they pass gun laws that (however unintentionally) make mass killings possible, even inevitable, but simply the wealth and power of gun manufacturers and their owners. But let’s call a spade a spade: lobbyists give money as BRIBES. It’s unethical and decidedly unchristian. They buy votes—and what ought to be done gets buried under so many handfuls of cash. The word “Lobbyist” comes straight from the devil’s own dictionary, to obscure truth and to make evil easier to get away with.

The Constitution’s phrase, “The right to bear arms,” was intended for militiamen in a country that at that time had no standing army. (Our Founding Fathers would never have been so insane as to allow, e.g., assault weapons in the hands of anyone, including the mentally unstable.) But that was then. Times have changed. We have an army now, and so we don’t need militiamen—or their weapons.

Moreover, many laws enacted during our colonial period (like proslavery legislation) are today seen for the insane laws that they were all along. But people were blinded by self-interest. And such will future generations view today’s gun laws—they were insane all along, but were supported by those whom the NRA bribed, so that a congressman’s self-interest, and not the concern for the common weal, alone motivated their votes on all gun legislation.

The NRA has an assault rifle pointed directly at America’s head—and, incredibly, the majority of Americans don’t even seem to care.

Len Sive Jr.

CHINA: FROM VICTIM TO VICTIMIZER

China in the 18th and 19th centuries was largely a victim of various colonial powers and the US, which pent-up resentment finally resulted in the nationalistic Boxer Rebellion—which China lost handily and suffered greatly for as a result. In those days China was a rural nation, economically undeveloped, and, militarily speaking, of no significance as compared with the US and other colonial powers.

But that was then.  China has gone from victim to victimizer: continuing to suppress human rights in its own nation (a legacy going back to Chairman Mao and the so-called People’s Revolution) and now venturing for the first time into spaces outside of China as well, claiming as Chinese territory the South China Sea, heedless of the claims of other nations to that same area. Indeed, its military has declared that certain areas in international waters/air-space are now under Chinese sovereignty, and Japan, the US, Philippines, South Korea, Viet Nam, et. al. be damned.

What is particularly galling about China’s rise to the front rank of military powers is that the West, and the US in particular, has made her military prowess possible by having Corporate America relocate industry after industry to China, with China then copying (or stealing) manufacturing secrets and setting up its own industry as a result. We also have educated countless Chinese in US universities, mathematicians, physicists, engineers, computer specialists, et. al. professions vital to their military-industrial complex and the  development of new weapons, jets, ships, etc. being unveiled. China is already rivaling the US in developing stealth ships, aircraft, drones, submarines, computer technology (including a virus that destroys a computer if downloaded), and nuclear weapons—and they spend only about one-fifth of what we outlay for the military!

China is now flexing its military muscles. It does not take a great imagination to see that a war in Asia could easily rsult. And we have only ourselves to blame—I mean Corporate America, which made this now full-grown tiger possible through their amoral lust for more and more profit heedless of any and all consequences. Stamped on the backside of every armament in China’s  arsenal is “Thank you Corporate America. We couldn’t have done it without you.”

Len Sive Jr.

FROM CHRISTIAN LOVE TO COMMERCIALIZATION: THE CHANGING TIDES OF HOLIDAY CHEER

When I was a boy, many a holiday season ago, there was a palpable sense of “holiday cheer” from Thanksgiving to Christmas through to the New Year: people smiled and laughed;  opened doors for one another and helped people cross the street; greeted strangers with a warm smile and a wave; kept the elevator door open for that slow moving senior citizen; always tipped lavishly; and made church services an integral part of the  holiday season—joyously and gratefully, as people counted their several  blessings throughout the holiday season.

Thanksgiving was, uniquely, its own deeply memorable holiday as well as the forerunner to Christmas—a harbinger of Christmas, so to speak. For us, the focus on Thanksgiving was family and friends. And our family’s best friends, the Craigs, usually  joined us (or we them)—which trebled our joy, for Pete and Virginia were wonderfully urbane, contagiously witty, warm, caring,  kind, and just plain fun to be around.

People—friends, family— dominated the holiday. We watched no TV. We sat and talked for hours—first over mountains of roast Turkey, stuffing (‘wet and dry’), cranberry sauce, green beans, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes with gravy, corn bread freshly baked, and pumpkin pie. Then when dinner was over we reassembled in the living room for more conversation, in the enjoyment of each other.  For us—and for me— this was heaven itself: People loving people.

Christmas was more strictly a family affair (the Craigs usually visited us on the 26th  or thereabouts). It began with a midnight church service on Christmas Eve, then the Christmas Day service, and, in our church, properly ended with The Boar’s Head Festival days later—a huge, magnificent and unforgettable costume-and-carol pageant (copied from England) celebrating the Christ infant’s coming to bring light and joy to a dark and sinful world—which was put on, properly, after Christmas and before the celebration of the New Year.

Christmas gifts were not just received with joy but given with joy; old animosities and hurts were entirely forgotten if not forgiven; and though Santa had, once again, managed somehow to work his way down then up again in our old chimney in the bringing of gifts—it was the birth of the Christ child, the symbol of love and forgiveness and goodness for all mankind, which ran like a golden thread all through the holiday season, reinforced by sermon and carol and liturgy. In short, it was a blessed holiday, whose effects outlasted the holiday itself.  Yes, for one brief shining moment during the year, the cosmos radiated love, and forgiveness, and good cheer…We all genuinely felt better, more humane, happier, more content.

Then in the 60’s began the slow commercialization—the corporatization—of the holidays, aided by TV with its hugely profitable advertising. With what societal result? Thanksgiving and Christmas, once beacons of love and joy, have become subservient to holiday sporting affairs; the underlying religious basis for the holidays has been transmogrified in a larger realm of commercial activity whose end is profit–and more profit. Even the symbols of Christmas—the crèche, the Christ infant, the three Wise men—in many cases have been outlawed on public property. Conversation and deep, meaningful dialogue  have devolved into a mere collective rooting for one’s team to win; and Christian love into the camaraderie of ‘high-fiving’ over a big play. The Christ child, in short, has been smuggled out of the season altogether by Corporate America.

Again, with what general societal result? People now regularly get into fights , and even killed, at sporting events; one’s personality—and especially one’s free time—and the very clothing on one’s back—are now tied to a sport’s team or a specific player. Women, I remember, used to dress and act like women. Now they dress and act like male athletes. People’s attire—and identity— are tied, if not to sports then to a corporate Logos. And to add insult to injury we are obsessed with (media-created) celebrity, which is nothing but the cooked-up hype of Corporate America given as pablum to a mindless and de-spiritualized society.  We have seen a tectonic shift away from spiritual inwardness to mere showy outwardness, from Love to Thingness.

“Celebrity” is nothing but the advertising of a person: the media create celebrity, hype it, and control it—in order to sell things to a public only too willing to buy. What great deed did Paris Hilton do to result in all that media attention?—Nothing. But it certainly made the Rupert Murdochs of the media world richer.

Today, to state the obvious, technology is in the ascendant. People have a text conversation while ignoring the person they are sitting with! Game-playing takes precedence over thinking and dialoging. Cell phones and gaming both have left society stupider and shallower.

So, we have in only a few decades gone from deep spiritual significance in the meaning of Thanksgiving and Christmas to the worship of meaningless sporting events in our new cathedral called the stadium, with its high priest the coach and its apostles the players. Our identity and personality used to have some inner meaning and value, and bring real joy. Now it’s all outward glitter and inward emptiness—texting with nothing to say; game-addiction with nothing to show for the hours and years wasted.

Corporate America, in its single-minded, all-consuming drive for more and more profit, has led us all astray, like a Pied Piper—and we, like the silly children in the story, have followed this Piper even to our own intellectual and spiritual degradation.

Len Sive Jr

JIM MCNERNEY OF BOEING: THE FACE OF CORPORATE IRRATIONAL GREED AND INHUMANITY

Not even Sophocles could have dreamed up the degree of hubris shown by Boeing CEO Jim McNerney in his company’s negotiations with the Machinists Union for a new contract. McNerney, who last year pulled in 22 million dollars!, told the union that if they wanted to keep their jobs, they must give up their pension and accept higher healthcare costs!

This is the epitome of how Corporate America works: The lowly worker (who, be it noted, really makes the company) is threatened with losing his job unless he agrees to such draconian terms as those stated above, or ones similar. A Boeing toolmaker called the offer “extortion,” and indeed one is hard-pressed to call it anything else. Of course, conservatives never stand with the worker, but when his job is taken from him and he is unemployed, he is then accused of being lazy and shiftless. Naturally, there’s not a single word from Ted Cruz or Paul Rand—both presidential Tea Party aspirants—on the injustice of this situation. For Republicans it’s just “business as usual”—everything for the top 1% and nothing for the lowly 85%.

There has got to be a grass-roots movement to change the laws dealing with corporations in order to make them more humane. As things now stand, they are omnipotent; they do whatever they want, get from Congress whatever they want, get from states whatever they want (the state of Washington is going to give them billions in new tax breaks)–while the media extols them and prestigious business schools train their CEOs. (McNerney went to HarvardBusinessSchool).

Do you think McNerney could even survive on a machinist’s salary, let alone one without a pension, and having to shoulder higher healthcare costs to boot—and raise a family, too?—not on your 22 million dollars!

Len Sive Jr.

EDWARD SNOWDEN: FRIEND OR FOE; PATRIOT OR PARIAH?

There are many important issues in history—or even everyday life—that do not resolve themselves into (so to speak) “easy round numbers,” but involve “messy arithmetical calculations.” So it is with Snowden: Any way you take him, the calculations to be done are messy indeed.

Let’s look at him, first, from a positive standpoint. What has he done that we ought to be thankful for? Clearly it’s revealing the inner workings of the NSA’s massive, indeed historically unprecedented, ability to monitor our calls, our emails, and our Internet activity—and to millions of Americans, and over many years, the NSA has been doing exactly that. And not just to us Americans, either, but to nations around the globe, whether friend, neutral, or foe. Snowden has also, as if to try to balance things out a bit, revealed that many European nations are themselves actively engaged in spying and data collection even as they remonstrated with the Obama administration over our nation’s spying proclivities and habits.

Spying is a universal activity; but it’s the depth and breadth of our capabilities that at first shocked, then angered, and then, upon sober reflection, frightened those whom Snowden revealed that we’ve spied on, with the rest of the world left to wonder if, and when, we will spy on them as well.

We have not only the world’s most advanced weaponry, ships, and planes, but clearly the most advanced—and audaciously run—intelligence gathering force on the planet. For many nations it’s clearly a case of “data envy”: if they had had our capability, they would have done exactly what we have been doing. But notwithstanding this, Snowden is largely right in showing the world that we have overstepped our bounds by a long country mile; and presumably legislation, already written up, corralling the intelligence community, will be passed soon. History shows that honoring a citizen’s rights is among the rarest of historical phenomena. Once those rights are curtailed, it’s difficult indeed to get them restored. So, on this side of the equation then, thumbs up for Snowden. We all owe him a deep debt of gratitude. Now for those messy arithmetical calculations I mentioned.

What has Snowden done that one can’t accept or approve of? First, Snowden lied on his application in order to get a job with the NSA so he himself could spy and eavesdrop and monitor and engage in data collection—against the NSA, CIA, et. al.: precisely the things he complains that the NSA has done, he did. Only he went one step further: He also stole top-secret documents which have nothing to do with NSA’s spying, many of which are of the highest strategic importance. On what grounds could Snowden possibly justify that? Moreover, for shelter he first went to one of our adversaries—and one of the world’s worst countries for human rights violations, then ended up in another country that also massively fails to honor human rights—this from someone supposedly concerned about the NSA’s violation of the rights of others. For Snowden, the ends evidently sanction any means (a pernicious doctrine if ever there was one);

and he talks out of both sides of his mouth, being pro-human rights yet cozying up to countries whose human rights records are wretched at best.

Second, he could have taken a few key documents and then gone to the Senate intelligence oversight committee, as a whistle-blower. That way, the monitoring of terrorists, at home and abroad, would not have been compromised, as it has been by his revelations. And if nothing had been done by the committee, he could then have gone public.

I get the impression that his ego played no small part in all this—that he thought of himself as being half James Bond and half Jason Bourne, with a dash of Daniel Ellsberg or Noam Chomsky thrown in. But this is no movie, and the stakes are high indeed—and very dangerous. Moreover, Ellsberg didn’t steal top-secret documents and then abscond to China or Russia like Snowden did. Ellsberg didn’t betray his country; releasing the Pentagon Papers on Vietnam cannot possibly be compared to stealing top secret documents that could seriously compromise our security.

So, for me the negatives win out. He betrayed his country unnecessarily, is hypocritical, and possesses an ego of dangerous dimensions. Moreover, if we allow this treachery to go unpunished, it would set a precedent that would cripple our armed forces in the future. No, patriots stand up and are counted; pariah  slink stealthily away.

Len Sive Jr.

AN EDUCATION BASED ON TESTING; DISLIKE OF READING; AND ADDICTIVE TECHNOLOGY: A POTENT RECIPE FOR SOCIETAL DISASTER

In Korea where I live and work as a teacher, education is entirely test-oriented. One is tested only too frequently throughout one’s education. The reason is to pass that all-important test to go to one of Korea’s top high schools: and this in order to have a very good chance of going to one of Korea’s three top universities, and then land a well-paying job upon graduation. Obtaining that well-paying job is the payoff; Korean education, and Korean society, cannot be understood apart from this fact. If you wish to gain admission to a top Korean university (and so get a good job afterwards), then your entire childhood must be bent towards this single goal—necessarily so, since the competition here is as stiff, or stiffer than getting into Harvard or Yale or Princeton—Korea’s equivalent universities being Seoul National University, Yonsei University, and Korea University.

From pre-kindergarten or kindergarten, mothers are anxiously shopping around, looking for the right private academy, or “hogwan,” in which to enroll their child, as the one way to accomplish this dream. Always in the forefront of a Korean mother’s thinking is this single, all-important goal of education: obtaining a well-paying job. Studying the liberal arts, pursuing “knowledge for its own sake,” studying philosophy, for example, motivate few in Korea. Education must be practical—and most students pursue their undergraduate studies in areas like law, medicine, pharmacy, business, engineering, education, and the like. In the five years spent here, I have met only two students who love to learn for its own sake, but both will pursue practical educational paths; one will study to be a scientist, the other a diplomat.

To an extent we Americans cannot understand, a Korean child’s life is measured less by birthdays or participation in sports or some other extra-curricular activity, as in the U.S., than in moving from this test to that test, of being immersed in this or that private school or academy, often until 8, 9, or 10 at night, every night.

I’ve seen hundreds of students attending one or more academies, after school or in the evening and even on the weekends. Indeed, it is common for many, more well-to-do Koreans, to attend several different academies; and not a few attend as many as six different after-school academies, studying not only academic subjects like Korean, English, Chinese, social studies, science, and math, but also non-academic ones such as Tae Kwon Do, art, and music (piano, violin, etc.).

What is unimaginable in American society is the degree of self-sacrifice Korean parents, especially poor parents, make so that their child can attend at least one academy. Because most public schools are perceived by Korean society to be inadequate to prepare students for the years of critical testing which will determine their entire future, private, after-school academies are seen to be the best way to educate their children—i.e., to pass the all-important exams required to go to a top-tier high school, then be accepted by a prestigious university, and go on to land a well-paying job: the fruit of one’s dedicated labors and the decade-long sacrifices made by the student’s parents and family

 Due to the extreme emphasis on test-taking, many Koreans develop such a proficiency in taking tests that they are almost “pros” at it—and their scores often show it. We Americans would not fare well in competition with a veteran 12-year-old test-taker, much less a “pro” of 18 years of age! This is one reason why Koreans do well on international tests and we Americans do not. To watch a 12 year-old attack an exam with equal amounts of calm, self-confidence, and nonchalance is impressive indeed. Tellingly, there are few sweaty palms, palpitations of the heart, or shallow breathing—the by-product of weekly tests, at school or at academies, for years and years.

But a serious consequence of such stressful living since kindergarten, viz., the pressure to be a top student, is that after college most people stop reading. I know dozens of people and not one cares to learn new things, English excepted (though this, too, is a practical subject). They are simply burned-out. The joy that should have accompanied their learning, didn’t—only stress did. If they do anything, they might dabble at art or take up music, though few even do this. But EVERYONE here watches TV, which offers some of the most clownish, inane, or absurd programs on record—a tribute to a society that can’t think.

What you have pervading Korean society and culture, then, is an empty head and distracted heart; consequently, thinking is something only a few here can manage. And for a young, developing country, that is dangerous indeed.

Now add to this the well-nigh universal addiction in Korea to cell-phones and their games (added to TV watching) and one has a slow retardation of society settling in. People increasingly prefer a cell-phone game, or texting, to live, present conversation. I’ve even seen, on many occasions, mothers ignoring their babies when engaged in playing cell-phone games; lovers with cell-phone games in hand sitting silently across from each other; friends oblivious to one another for long periods of time while engrossed in playing games; even people 40 years old and older obsessed with cell-phone games; and of course students who use cell phones in class ubiquitously and compulsively. Society can’t fare well, cannot grow and deepen, under such harsh conditions of mental neglect and absolute self-absorption—yet that describes present-day Korean society, and I suspect many another as well.

Thinking begins—or should begin—when one is young, and slowly develops in strength over the course of many years, indeed, continuing even unto death. New insights, new ideas about life and how we should live together fruitfully, or just sheer joy and wonder at life’s beauty and complexity—books of glorious prose and poetry deep and poignant: these are the offspring of genuine thought, and make life better not only for the reader but, through the reader, the whole of society. This desiccation of the minds of our young, however, has serious ramifications for society as a whole. Yet we have not even begun to address this grave problem—not here in Korea, and hardly anywhere in the West.  We blithely assume technology—or education by test-taking—or education directed simply at getting a job, will inevitably yield harvest after harvest of benefits to society. This couldn’t be more wrong. One glance at our western culture today tells us that we are lost: we know neither the proper goals to seek nor the means to reach them. Like the ostrich, we keep our head buried…in game-playing—cell, lap-top, or otherwise. Or to use another image: Rome (western culture) is burning while Nero (us) fiddles (plays games, refuse to grow intellectually, spiritually). It is a crisis of the first order, but Academia sleeps unconscious of the danger.

Civilization needs culture to sustain itself; it needs thinkers, innovators (in non-tech areas); it needs men and women who can discern worthy ends and devise means appropriate to that end. It needs men and women of deep sensitivity and profound minds. It needs artists and poets, writers and thinkers. But today—in Korea—but also around the globe, technology is ruling where thought and creativity once held sway.

And that is a recipe for societal disaster—and the continuing demise of western culture.

Len Sive Jr.

The Demise of Western Culture

Oswald Spengler in his book Decline of the West famously—or infamously—asserts that all civilizations go through cycles and eventually die, and that the West is now in such a downward cycle, with its final decline and death certain.

I have not yet read Spengler myself (a desideratum), though as someone once said, after the publication of Spengler’s book and in the context of the horrific mutual bloodletting of European nations in World War I, “we are all Spenglerians now”, meaning that life after WWI changed how everyone saw western civilization, excepting a few Christians like A Toynbee and G K Chesterton.

My own belief is that the rise of the corporation has been one of the leading factors in the decline of western civilization. It has little or no legal accountability (legally it’s a non-existent “person,” so individuals are rarely held to account); is concerned only with profits and not with ethics or environment; and demands a total self-effacement and submersion of self in the frenzy for profits that dehumanizes all who enter the rule and power of the corporation. It is not only a law unto itself, it is a pseudo-religion: its “high priest” is the omnipotent and all-wise, and always to be obeyed, CEO. Its set of beliefs is that the god “Profit,” if duly attended to, worshipped aright, and always submitted to, will bring “salvation”—whether  it be through higher stock values, or the glory of a new iPhone, or the spiritual (and demonically) hypnotic effect of a new cell phone- or computer game, or any other product our all-wise profit-god entices us to buy (worship).

Most damning of all is its power: a power Faust would have relished. It can—and does—make or unmake a whole community by its power to stay and provide jobs or to leave and destroy jobs—and the environing community. Thus it has that divine power of life or death in its hands: and it cares not about either the individual affected, or the larger community.

In former times the community was the “end,” and all “means” had to conform to this “end,” to ensure its health and viability. But with the god Profit being the final “end,” and all means commanded to further this single end, it’s the community which, by lot, either thrives or dies, depending on the whim of the god Profit and its high-priest the CEO. Historically not even kings held such power in their hands.

Until this “god” is un-masked and its demonic nature revealed so that its power may be circumscribed, and its negative effects on the community (and state and nation) blocked and, by law, redirected so as to include the public good, the corporation will continue its demonic ways…and eventually signal the death of western civilization.

Len Sive Jr.

SENATOR PAUL RAND: VIRTUE STOPS AT THE FRONT DOOR, THANK YOU!

The character of a man is shown by how he handles crises, especially those of his own making and which involve questions of ethics. Senator Paul Rand, Tea Party stalwart and aspiring presidential candidate, has been found guilty of cheating—plagiarizing other people’s work for his own speeches. This Tea Party bully who likes to pick on people weaker than he—the poor, the uninsured, the elderly, the sick, the unemployed, the under-paid—was caught red-handed with his hands in other people’s writings. And what does Mr. Virtue have to say for himself? “I was weak and cheated”?—not on your life. Mr. Clean sullied himself all the more by lying, adding injury to injury, and then showed more of his stellar character by insulting those who caught him, adding insult to double-injury. And he wants to be president?

He reminds me of “Tricky Dick” Richard M Nixon, who could lie through his teeth with wonderful artistry, hence his sobriquet “Tricky Dick.”  Perhaps a new, more accurate christening is in order (and long over-due) for our junior senator: Paul (Forked-Tongue) Rand. It has two obvious benefits: truth-in- advertising, and a red light that warns us of his dislike of truth-telling. Now whenever he attacks the veracity of democrats and liberals in general and of President Obama in particular, we can refer it all to his penchant for not speaking truthfully—for speaking with “forked tongue.”

More largely considered, his habits of inveracity indict his comrades–in–arms as well. For they engage in “wild and dissolute” speech as a matter of course. How many times have they assaulted the President’s Christian faith (deeply-held at that) with scurrilous remarks about his being a secret Muslim, or calling him a socialist, or insinuating that he’s out to enslave Americans, taking away their liberties, et.al. lying remarks? The real question here is: Can Senator Paul Rand or any other Tea Party person speak the truth at all? Sadly—and dangerously—it would appear not. For them, ideology trumps honesty; ideology well-funded by the Koch brothers, whose love of truth is as strong as Paul Rand’s. The Koch brothers single aim is to get richer—how is of no concern. If (well-funded) lies do it through the agency of The Tea Party, then thanks be to Mephistopheles with his Mephitic gifts.

As Aristotle well said, “Birds of a feather flock together.” –Amen to that!

Len Sive Jr.

Edward Snowden: Avalanches and Frankenstein

Perhaps it’s appropriate that Edward’s last name has “snow” in it, since he has caused a world-wide avalanche of reactions to his carefully released documents revealing how almost omnipotent the NSA has become in snooping, monitoring, and data gathering from seemingly every corner of the globe, whether friendly or hostile to the US.

Perhaps never before in history has electronic snooping been so ubiquitous  as to present at least the pre-figurement of Big Brother, if not Big Brother himself. The reassurances, for example, of the NSA’s director, Gen. Keith Alexander, that they didn’t break into Google and Yahoo data centers, that doing so would be illegal; given the enormity of offences already catalogued through Snowden’s disclosures, is less than reassuring, to say the least. When the NSA taps the cell phone of the Chancellor of Germany, who is America’s close ally and friend–for ten years no less– all bets are off as to what they wouldn’t do, or what they haven’t already done, or what they will do tomorrow.

Here we have a pregnant example of Lord Acton’s famous maxim, oh so wise: “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” It is simply human nature that when you can do something, eventually you do it. The NSA can snoop anywhere they desire—and they have, as we now know. Before Snowden no one knew. We lived in innocence. The world seemed a friendlier place, a relatively private place—before the avalanche of documents, released and yet-to-be released, destroyed our idyllic personal world of peace and privacy—and complacency.

Part of the problem is money. The NSA’s and CIA’s intelligence budget is 52 billion dollars. What can’t you do with a budget of that size? We have indeed created a monster, and now it has turned on its creator.

In today’s highly electronic-computerized world privacy is losing out to technology. The Frankenstein metaphor is now no mere metaphor. What’s to be done?

First, there must be non-intelligence personnel charged with oversight. Next, penalties must be super-stiff for violating a person’s privacy (phone, email, eavesdropping, surveillance, et. al. types of intrusion). Third, monies slated for intelligence-gathering should be cut and used for public projects like trains, subways, buses; solar and wind power; etc.  And fourth, a court order should be mandatory for all eavesdropping. And this is just a sampling of what must be done.

The power of spying has reached a critical stage. The public’s ability to focus is time-limited, so we must strike while the iron is still hot if we want to keep our privacy, and the privacy of others, in tact. It’s a race we’re in, a race against all-devouring technology. Will Frankenstein win out—or will we?

Len Sive Jr.

HEAR NO EVIL, SEE NO EVIL, SPEAK NO EVIL

I wrote this several years ago. It still stands. But the figure about whom I wrote, instead of being criticized, is still lionized.  Today, October 27, 2013, Jack Welch is on his own show on CNBC’s “One-On-One With Jack Welch”, when, given his notorious record at GE, he should, at the very least, be shunned. Oh. I forgot to mention: GE owns NBC.

Corporations are today the dominant institution in life, both at home and abroad. Their reach and influence and power are unexcelled, and perhaps unexampled in history. They enjoy the kind of omnipresence and omnipotence that made the Christian Church the dominant institution of the Middle Ages-only more so. In the Middle Ages there were two realms: the earthly and the spiritual. The Church was exalted above the earthly realm, which by and large went its way content with this hierarchical ordering of life that put a premium on spiritual things, and made the princes of this realm subject to the princes of the next. But for the corporation there is one, and only one, realm and rule: the Kingdom of Profit here and now.

The major differences between these two world-dominant institutions, the Church and the Corporation, are these: The Church exists for the sake of the individual, while the individual, first and last, exists for the sake of the Corporation. The former strives to enhance life: the latter cares only for profit, even at the expense of life. The former is mindful of the earthly battle between good and evil: the latter is mindful only of the battle for increasing profits. The one enhances and deepens life, to create a caring, loving community based on self-giving love: the other pursues profit, even to the point of destroying life and community. One strives to make men fit to meet their Maker: the other destroys men’s souls when engaged in the single-minded pursuit of profit at any cost. One is liberating: the other enslaving. One seeks Truth, Goodness, and Beauty: the other only Gain. One develops and fosters a person’s independence: the other demands radical dependency. One is adjured to care for all of creation no matter the cost: the other cares only for the bottom line. One strives to incarnate radical goodness and love: the other, legally, is bidden to be, and is in fact, radically selfish and amoral.

Let us now praise famous men.

Jack Welch retired from General Electric in 2001, having been its CEO since 1981. Under his leadership, GE developed from a $13 billion dollar corporation into one worth hundreds of billions of dollars, becoming in the process the second largest corporation in the world. And along the way Welch became famous. As one biography says, “…Jack Welch’s management skills became almost legendary. His no nonsense leadership style gave him a reputation of being hard, even ruthless but also fair when making business decisions.” He urged his managers to follow the “GE ethic of constant change and striving to do better.” The biography goes on to state that under Welch’s tenure each business under the GE (conglomerate) umbrella “was one of the best in its field.” Since retiring (amidst much praise and adulation from his peers and the media), Welch has penned a best-selling memoir “Jack, Straight From The Gut,” and now advises other Fortune 500 companies as well.

But this is only part of his biography: the other, seamier side is carefully hidden from view by both GE, Jack Welch, and the media.

In 2002, United For A Fair Economy, a corporate watch-dog, gave GE its “special lifetime achievement award” “for scoring the highest average rank across 10 bad (corporate) habits”, outdistancing second-place Enron (!) by an astounding 45%. Canadian law professor and expert on the corporation, Joel Bakan, writes that in only 11 years, from 1990-2001, GE had been charged with 47 “major legal breeches.” What kinds of things has GE done?

Between 1990-1994 GE was charged with 15 cases of fraud in Department of Defence contracts. In 1995 GE paid a $7.1 million dollar fine in a fraud suit for having sold thousands of jet engines to the military without complying with the military’s testing requirements. In 1997 GE pled guilty to defrauding the military out of $10 million dollars for a battlefield computer system. In 1985 GE pled guilty to fraud and falsifying 108 claims on a missile contract. GE-designed nuclear reactors around the world have now been shown to have serious design flaws that imperil surrounding populations; this is also true of its boiling water reactors both here and abroad, with its threat of radioactive fuel rod contamination. GE has also been a “serial polluter” of PCBs and other chemicals at its many plant sites, contaminating both soil , ground-water, and rivers. GE was found to have built defective wiring and cables into 754 NYC subway cars. GE has had to pay a $100 million dollar fine for “unfair debt collection practices.” GE was found guilty of fraud and money-laundering in an unauthorized sale of jets to Israel. The list goes on and on. Clearly “striving to do better” and “being the best in one’s field” mean one thing to Welch and GE and quite another to the rest of us.

This is what makes corporations so dangerous and so evil. There is no ultimate accountability. They are in essence a law unto themselves, backed (and white-washed) by a media which it largely controls (eg, GE owns NBC) or influences through its power of advertising, and politicians to whom they have contributed money and so now have “great influence” with, and a largely pro-business judicial system. So the buck literally stops Nowhere. Since the corporation legally has been defined as a “person,” only it–this non-existent “person”–by and large suffers the force of the law…and that almost always ends in fines. Which to a wealthy corporation like GE means exactly nothing.

Jack Welch has spent not a single day in prison–likely not even a single day in court. But if you or I had repeatedly defrauded the federal government, engaged in serial, damaging pollution, not to mention money-laundering (inter alia), we surely would have suffered fully for it–and not only just seen the inside of a courtroom but also spent many years in federal prison!

With there being no real deterrence to crime, a corporation just adds up the “externalities”, as it calls them. If I break the law (it says), how much will I profit by it as against how much will it cost (if I get caught). A corporation’s modus operandi, or manner of operation, is done strictly on a “cost-benefit” analysis, leaving aside all concern for ethics, the environment, the worker, safety, etc.
What one ought to do is quite simply never considered, only what will bring in the greatest profit.

So today we have this frightening specter of the most powerful institution in the world being a law unto itself, with the spiritual realm, and its imperatives for goodness and truth, not so much as even influencing, let alone determining, its policies, practices, or goals.

And unfortunately, society always pays in the end, exactly as we are now doing in the Gulf of Mexico–but the CEO nearly always retains his honor, his respect, and his good name–no matter what.

Let us now praise famous men.

Len Sive Jr.