America’s increasing proto-ISIS behavior

Sam Smith – If you step back from the ideological goals of ISIS, it is clear that its way of achieving these goals is what upsets decent folks the most, a presumption that if what you are seeking is considered godly, then you are entitled to achieve it anyway you want.

We are horrified when we read of the ways that ISIS acts on this presumption, but we fail to note how this same concept is increasingly driving public behavior in the United States. Thus it is argued by some:

  • That police may kill, injure or abuse persons at will provided that they do it in the name of law and order.
  • That America may use drones regardless of how many civilians are killed, provided that at least one presumed target is declared a terrorist.
  • That Republicans can pass legislation that results in the death, hunger or homeless of large number of citizens provided that it is done in the name of its political goals.

It is hard to argue effectively against such proto-ISIS behavior when our churches are quiet, the media disinterested, and our universities too busy finding new dollars from students and corporations. We must first understand far better than we do how modern corporatism promoted by morally vapid MBAs, modern law controlled by morally indifferent lawyers, and a media interested only in power and not how it was obtained have helped get us to this spot.

We may not be as bad as ISIS, but we are headed in that direction.

The real World War III: Corporations vs. nationhood

Sam Smith

The recent IMF loans to Ukraine with their dictatorial provisions are one more example of the world’s concealed great war, which is to say the massive invasion of nationhood by corporations. Far more dangerous than any current military threat, corporations have already taken huge territories, legal and financial as well as geographical. Our politicians, many of them covert allies of the corporations, say little of this. And the major media, massive corporations themselves, steadfastly hide the truth from their audience.

For America, not since the Civil War has the sovereignty and constitution of this land come under such assault. In the two previous great wars the damage mostly occurred across two great oceans. Now the victims of the battle are in the heart of our land, witness the deleterious economic effects of NAFTA, the political disaster of Citizens United and the corporate assault on our public schools parading as education reform. Nestles is grabbing our water, our language has been mangled by corporate gobbledygook and even non-profits have adopted the organizational misanthropy of modern corporations.

Without debate, without formal conflict, without even much consciousness, we have absorbed the principles of America’s greediest, adopted their language, and surrendered our constitution and other values to their will. Our last three presidents have been willing participants in undermining our sovereignty, our values and our culture. One might well expect this of a Bush, but Clinton and Obama were just as deeply involved and their liberal constituency hardly said a mumblin’ word.

We may not win this war but we certainly won’t until we admit we are in it and must stand as firmly for American standards and beliefs as we have in great military conflicts.

The Battle of the Economic Bulge – aka TPP – is the struggle presently before us, involving arguably the most disloyal legislation since secession. We still have time to stand up against it. But to do so, we can’t pretend it’s just another measure. We have to recognize the stakes of the battle that we’re in. Our leaders are not surrendering America, they’re just selling it away bit by bit. But the results could well be the same.

Normalizing failure

 Sam Smith The tediously unsuccessful manifestations of American intervention in the Middle East brings to mind the lengthy unwinding of the Vietnam War during which our leaders – like alcoholics avoiding treatment – never admitted that they had made terrible mistakes and never publicly discussed the alternatives. They just ran it all out until they had to give up.

In fact, to this day the establishment and its embedded mainstream media regards those who opposed the deadliest stupid war in American history as nuts or extremists while those who organized the withdrawal years after it should have occurred as our wise leaders.

The same is true today, which is why you are not likely to see any serious critics of our Mid East policy on the Brian Williams show. Truth is not regarded as a matter of accuracy but of timing, as determined by approved sources. It is not a question of if the truth is said, but who says it and when,

Thus it is not surprising that American have such little awareness of how many ways our society is silently failing. After all, who with power is there to tell them?

Here are a few cases in point:

– A drug war that has been failing drastically for over four decades.

– The Iraq and Afghanistan wars – the longest unsuccessful military efforts in American history.

– An economy which, once you move past a few comfortable approved indicators, is still in its worst shape since the Great Depression.

– A level of ethnic conflict we haven’t seen since the days of segregation.

– Police and courts that have moved increasingly towards military rather than constitutional standards of behavior, with America just another occupied country.

– A nation that has silently closed down the First American Republic in favor of a post-constitutional, oligarchic adhocracy whose future remains unpredictable but which history suggests will not return to the better.

– The replacement of votes with money as the primary denominators of elections.

What all these have in common is that our declared ideals have been repeatedly subverted, perverted, and averted to a degree so overwhelming that our leaders, our media and even much of our public consider these stunning failures to be normal.

And as the Germans discovered many decades ago, once you accept the false as normal, anything can happen.

50 years of alternative journalism: Some random notes

Sam Smith, January 2, 2015 –  Having just completed fifty years of alternative journalism, I’m left with a few notes I’d like to clear off my desk:

The biggest improvements over the past half century have been in health, machinery and technology. Good as this is, I still find myself imagining a world in which a 130 year old Dick Cheney drives a hovercraft at 130 mph to his favorite torture chamber while emitting hateful messages that are automatically transferred from his brain to the world via Google glasses.

 Now a few other things that have changed since I started out:
Back then, most politicians got where they were in part by giving people a hand. Now they do it by just selling them a brand. Television was the main change that  turned politics from being based in community, service and reputation into a virtual fantasy with ever lessening connection to reality.

When I started, over half the reporters in the country had only a high school education. As journalists moved up the social ladder so did their interests and loyalties.

Good writing was something you learned from  teachers and writers. Today, writing standards have been outsourced to business schools and public relations firms. Who needs E.B. White or H.L. Mencken when, at the end of the day, you can envision a robust entrepreneurial comprehensive strategic approach to whatever the hell you’re talking about?

Politics was full of conflict, debate and confrontation. Now we have “dialogues” and “conversations” no matter how violent the context.

Most successful business people didn’t have a MBA, yet the economy was improving rapidly. Now we’re producing over 20 times as many MBAs annually and the economy remains a mess.

Climate change happened four predictable times a year and it was largely thanks to nature rather than huge corporations and their subservient politicians.

Washington politicians often had high social intelligence while being weak in formal degrees. This has been reversed, vastly increasing the length and complexity of legislation and our inability to comprehend what it is really about.

Baseball was the national sport, as well as a metaphor for democracy. Each player had their own turf but couldn’t succeed without helping the others, Now football – a metaphor for brutal power and cultural concussions – has risen to the top.

Many of the weakest in our society couldn’t attend, apply or sit. Now some of them can’t even breathe.

Our society was a flawed democracy that we were trying to fix. Now it’s a rampant oligarchy that doesn’t give a damn what we think.

Liberals were deeply concerned with the fate of the least fortunate in our society. As the economic and social status of liberals improved their interest in the least fortunate faded. Which is how some children of liberal Democrats became members of the Tea Party.

Activism was easier – in part because there was a strong counterculture that provided support, friendship and aid to all who were trying to make things better. Today activism is far more atomized, institutionalized and lacking in the common songs and symbols that help bring everyone together.

Being hip wasn’t about fashion or where you lived, Like Miles Davis, the hip played with their backs to the audience and avoided things that corporations and mass media liked. Today, hip is too often just another corporate commodity.


When the Review started (then called The Idler) there were only a handful of alternative news publications in the country – like the Texas Observer, the Village Voice and the Carolina Israelite. In a few years there would be over 400 underground newspapers. In time, these were replaced by “alternative weeklies” that too often fostered a culture in which hipness was defined by one’s purchases; dissent was limited to critiques of style, activism was limited to the gym, and politics was considered the last refuge of the hopelessly dull.

When  this journal started, your editor was respectable enough to be offered a job by the Washington Post and James Reston of the NY Times. By the 1990s, his exposes of the Clintons and his role in helping to start the Green Party helped make the Review unacceptable to even liberal media. Its editor was banned by CSPAN and the DC public radio station.   

Now  many reporters aren’t reporters anymore; they’re just semiotic sharecroppers on some corporate plantation. The number of corporations dominating mass media in the 1980s was 50. Today it is six. And many national reporters, as Gene McCarthy well put it, are like blackbirds on a power line. One flies off and they all fly off.

Despite it all, however, your editor will continue to bring you news while there is still time to do something about it, even if he falls into that category the FBI had for Americans opposed to Spain’s Franco, namely “premature anti-fascists.” Remember that while we may not control history, we can always control our reaction to it.