Tuesday 23rd of April 2019

no skin left...

no skin left...

Quinlan: Come on, read my future for me.
Tana: You haven’t got any.
Quinlan: Hmm? What do you mean?
Tana: Your future’s all used up.

A grotesquely bloated, corrupt cop stumbling through a self-created mire of lies and death, sick of the world and his own ugly, irredeemable self. Glints and flecks of a better person, far in the past, appear, reflected not in his own time-assaulted visage but in a despised Other, a strong brown man with a beautiful wife, the kind of glamorous woman he used to have. A lowly Other, as he sees it, an inferior creature putting on airs … yet embodying the gritty nobility and thirst for justice that he, the bloated one, the one whose soul is already rotting in its putrescent flesh, once held in his own heart as his ideal. This comes out every time he speaks the Other’s name, in a slurred drawl that mixes loathing and yearning in equal measure: “Vargas.”

Orson Welles’ portrayal of Capt. Hank Quinlan in his 1958 film “Touch of Evil” is perhaps the most courageous self-immolation in cinema history — even Marlon Brando in “Apocalypse Now” makes sure there is a kind of ruined beauty and grandeur in his portrayal of Kurtz. But Welles —himself once a glamorous golden boy of American culture, at one time married to one of the most alluring women in the world, Rita Hayworth — cuts himself no such slack. There is no ruined grandeur in the jowly, sweating, loathsome wretch he pushes at the audience — often in large, intense close-ups. This is what we can come to, he says, using himself as a canvas of human degeneracy. Perhaps, he hints, this what we are — this is all we are — at the core.


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the future was murdered a long time ago...



The winding path to civil war has yet another wrinkle: the people-elite divide. In the 1770s and the 1850s, American fissuring was championed by opposing elites. In the 1770s, two elites had emerged: one was the colonial, homegrown elite—such as Washington, Hamilton, and Adams—and the other was the metropole, trans-Atlantic British elite, celebrated by royally endowed landowners such as Lord Fairfax, whose holdings were in the thousands of square miles. Yet the British aristocracy was less intimately engaged in the colonies, and the loyalist elite a more sotto voce voice in colonial politics.

Not so the proto-Confederacy, the celebrated “Slave Power.” In the looming struggle between North and South, the Southern elite was the dominant economic force in the nation, thanks to its overwhelming capital stored in human flesh. In fact, planter aristocracy capital formation in 1860 equaled all capital invested in manufacturing, railroads, banks, and all currency in circulation—combined. This was the power of chattel slavery as the wealth ecology of the antebellum South. In defiant opposition to them were the Northern anti-slavery elites, nowhere as privileged and rich as their Southern counterparts. The new Republicans were further thwarted by the indissoluble alliance of planter aristocracy and the nation’s financial hub: New York City. There was an unholy bond between a dominant slaveholder elite and an equally dominant New York slave-enabling elite. To make the point, in 1859, New York shipbuilders outfitted 85 slave ships for the hungry needs of the Southern planter class.

The dominant cultural position occupied by the overlords of chattel slavery has its analogy today in the overlords of America’s Blue elite. While there is a vocal Red elite, the Blue elite dominates public life through its hold on the Internet, Hollywood, publishing, social media, academia, the Washington bureaucracy, and the global grip of corporate giants. Blue elite’s power, in its hold on the cultural pulse and economic lifeblood of American life, compares granularly to the planter aristocracy of the 1850s. 

Ruling elites famously overthrown by history—like the Ancien Régime in France, Czarist Russia, and even the Antebellum South—were fated by their insatiable selfishness, their impenetrable arrogance, and their sneering aloofness from the despised people—“the deplorables”—upon whom their own economic status feasted.

Today’s Blue elite represents the greatest concentration of wealth and power in the United States. Moreover, such wealth is scattered across a mosaic of pristine, manicured, gated communities physically and socially divorced from the realities of normal American life—glittering bubbles of sovereign privilege. This is the very oligarchy Founders like John Adams so feared. While both Red and Blue elites represent themselves as the people’s champion, Blue’s protests ring the most false

America is divided today not by customary tussles in party politics, but rather by passionate, existential, and irreconcilable opposition. Furthermore, the onset of battle is driven yet more urgently by the “intersection” of a culturally embedded kinship divide moving—however haphazardly—to join up with an elite-people divide. 

Tragically, our divide may no longer be an outcome that people of goodwill work to overcome. Schism—with our nation in an ideological Iron Maiden—will soon force us all to submit, and choose.  




Michael Vlahos teaches strategy and war at Johns Hopkins Advanced Academic Programs and formerly, at the Naval War College. He is the author of the book Fighting Identity: Sacred War and World Change.


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US economy boomed due to bankrupt ethics...

How did the US transform from an overseas colony into an economic powerhouse? A prominent think tank says “free markets” are to thank, but skeptics quickly pointed to the vast amounts of forcibly seized land and human chattel.

In a tweet promoting an article that compares gross domestic product of several US metro areas to entire countries (Los Angeles and the surrounding region have a combined GDP comparable to Mexico’s, for example), the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) praised the ingenuity of American capitalism.

“Free markets, free trade, and #capitalism propelled the US from a minor colony to a global economic superpower and the world’s largest economy, with dozens of metro areas that produce the equivalent to the GDP of some of the world’s largest countries,” AEI argued.

Many Americans were not convinced, countering that a fondness for land-grabbing under false pretenses and slavery could have had a role in US economic development as well.

“You forgot free labor, free land, and free resources. More commonly known as slavery of Africans and robbing & murdering the Indigenous people of North America. But do go on,” one unpersuaded Twitter user replied.

No matter how much you try to pretty it up or whatever literary eloquence you apply, it was still the nightmare of slavery that made America what it is today. Don't sit here and try to rewrite history.”

Others helpfully offered up a more concise version of AEI’s tweet:

"You spelled slavery wrong," another unimpressed netizen wrote.


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the clintons' harsh prison legacy...

Nearly 25 years ago, President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton led a robust campaign for tougher sentencing laws that would become the 1994 crime bill. At the time, the NAACP called it a “crime against the American people.”

The next quarter century would prove the NAACP right.

“Bill Clinton presided over the largest increase in federal and state prison inmates of any president in American history,” human rights advocate Michelle Alexander reminded Hillary Clinton supporters in 2016. “By the end of Clinton’s presidency, more than half of working-age African-American men in many large urban areas were saddled with criminal records and subject to legalized discrimination in employment, housing, access to education, and basic public benefits—relegated to a permanent second-class status eerily reminiscent of Jim Crow,” said Alexander, who wrote a book on the subject, The New Jim Crow.

“It is difficult to overstate the damage that’s been done,” she lamented.

Senator Rand Paul’s wife put a number on that damage. The Clintons’ harsh sentencing laws had “resulted in a 500 percent increase in the number of people behind bars in this country,” she claimed in a television interview.

Kelley Paul—who, along with her husband, has been a major advocate for criminal justice reform—reminded Fox & Friends viewers that a major purpose of the current Senate legislation was to “enact prison reforms and sentencing reforms to correct some of the terrible effects of the 1994 Clinton crime bill.”

A few hours after Mrs. Paul said this on Wednesday, President Trump announced his support for the First Step Act, the criminal justice reform bill supported by Republican senators Paul, Mike Lee, Tim Scott, and Chuck Grassley, and many Democrats too.

“It rolls back some of the provisions of the Clinton crime law that disproportionately harmed the African-American community,” Trump said. “You all saw that, and you all know that—everybody in this room knows that,” he added, as black faith and law enforcement leaders standing behind him nodded in agreement.

“It was very disproportionate and very unfair,” President Trump continued.

There were many players who brought the president and the country to this moment. Many progressives and libertarian-friendly Republicans have been fighting for such reforms for years. The president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, arguably played one of the largest roles. So did rapper Kanye Westand his wife Kim Kardashian.

The fight for criminal justice reform has not only been bipartisan but transcultural. 

But that’s not what’s important. For all the criticism the president receives—both fair and unfair—he just announced his integral support for a bill that stands to impact many lives. No less a Trump foe than the New York Times declared in an editorial before the announcement that this was finally “A Real Chance at Criminal Justice Reform.”

The Clintons and the 1994 crime bill don’t deserve all the blame. Drug warrior presidents Ronald Reagan and both George Bushes were also no friends to non-violent offenders. The incarceration rate had risen significantly before Bill Clinton took office.

But Michelle Alexander is also right. No modern president has done more to damage the lives of non-violent offenders than Bill Clinton, and particularly black Americans who might have made mistakes but paid draconian prices. 

To say America’s criminal justice system was in good shape before Bill Clinton was elected in 1992 would be patently false. But in trying to take the crime issue away from Republicans, his administration made a bad situation worse.

And President Trump just took a big step towards fixing it.


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