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A veteran journalist's take on such diverse subjects as religion and religious violence, democracy, freedom of expression, sociology, journalism, criticism, travel, philosophy, Southeast Asia, politics,economics, and even parenthood, the supernatural, film criticism, and cooking. Please don't hesitate to participate by starting a comment thread if you have an interest in any of these subjects...or anything else, for that matter... p.write@gmail.com

The Dysfunctional Congress

The enemy within

Pagun

 VANCOUVER ISLAND, CANADA — It’s no secret that the Republican Party of the United States is at the moment a dysfunctional, shambolic sideshow. The 112th Congress of the United States was by orders of magnitude the most useless Congress in recorded history and the recently sworn in 113th is poised to break its record. The last Congress passed fewer bills than any other congress since a record has been kept and most of those bills were either routine business or harmless ones like naming federal libraries. True to its avowed policy of obstructing any presidential initiatives, the Senate, where the Republicans hold a minority, has seen more filibusters than at any other time in American history. The Republicans, for whom democracy is a flexible concept, routinely filibuster routine bills, forcing a delay and requiring a supermajority for passage – effectively deadlocking the legislative process.

For four years congress thwarted every good faith attempt to govern the country, relying on their obstructionist strategy to derail any success of the Obama presidency, figuring that the American public was so ignorant that it would blame the president for the failure of the legislature to perform according to the oath of office taken by its members. The first term election should have disabused them of that notion. Congress enjoyed lower approval ratings than serial sex offenders while Obama decisively won a second mandate.

Clearly then, the appropriate course of action for the Republicans is to shift gears and begin to do their jobs as elected legislators, right? Well, a rational person would think so. Since that restriction clearly eliminates today’s Republicans, they did the opposite…they doubled down on their obstructionism.

Before we were two weeks into the new year, the Republicans had pushed the country over the fiscal cliff by refusing to negotiate with the president on a deal that would involve a slight tax increase on their beloved top 1% income earners

My suggestion the the Republican caucus in Congress

in the country. The economic catastrophe was only averted by delaying the hard decisions for a few months and a patch was applied. Then, just to ensure that their hypocrisy and recalcitrance didn’t go unnoticed, they refused to hold a vote on an emergency relief bill for victims of Hurricane Sandy. When the uproar forced their hand and a watered down bill was brought to the floor, only Republicans voted against it; among those Republicans were twenty congressmen, each of whom had introduced a bill to provide federal disaster relief for their own districts in the past. Each of those bills was passed and signed into law. Most of those bills were passed unanimously. Now they’re entrenching themselves to fight gun control legislation that is so palpably common sense that even a majority of NRA members support it.

Nevertheless, the Republican radicals have decided to open up a new front in the war on democracy. Now they have discovered that they can abuse their power as senators and representatives and prevent the president from governing by obstructing his choice of cabinet members.

Historically, the process of selecting a cabinet has simply been a matter of the president appointing the individuals he believes will be suitable advisors and surrogates to implement his policies in the major branches of government. Congress then has the responsibility of approving the appointees after doing some due diligence to ensure that there is no legal or overwhelming moral reason to deny them a position.

Like much of the system of US government, this procedure has been perverted by the ideologues in the Congresses that have been in place during Obama’s administration. Following their game plan of obstructionism, the Republicans now start to object to potential cabinet members simply because it will impede any initiative the president might want to implement. Not content with subjecting appointees to a brutal inquisition at the oversight hearings, the Republicans start their campaign not just before the hearings, but before the appointments are even announced.

Susan Rice, the Rhodes Scholar and U.S. Ambassador the U.N. was vilified in the right wing press and by the radical Republicans, starting with John McCain, still looking for payback after losing his presidential bid. She was effectively driven from the field of potential cabinet appointments on the speculation that the president might be considering her. McCain, who had previously self-immolated when he chose Sarah (I can see Russia from my house) Palin as his running mate and vice-presidential candidate, actually called the brilliant African American young woman “not very bright”….and he said it with a straight face.

Now the agenda is to take each one of Obama’s appointees and subject them to an inquisition that is expected to be grueling and humiliating. Every aspect of their private lives will be scrutinised, every statement ever made by or about them will be examined for departures from orthodoxy, and they will be subjected to the most inane and invasive personal questions by people who are on record as despising them. In some imaginary Republican universe apparently the country is better off if every advisor and surrogate the president wants is chased out of Washington.

Until this group of political visigoths wielded power, the president was always presumed to have nearly absolute discretion over his selection of a cabinet; the cabinet had to work with him and implement his policies to his specifications and satisfaction, after all. That’s why the formality of Congressional oversight isn’t called an investigation…it’s called a confirmation hearing. Oversight was in theory and in practice a safeguard intended to eliminate the clearly incompetent and to prevent cronyism.

This is in contrast to Supreme Court Justices who also are appointed subject to Congressional oversight. Even they have generally been given the benefit of the doubt, with the exception of Justice Bork, a Reagan appointee, who was exposed during the hearings as a rampant racist and denied the appointment. But it is to be noted that a Supreme Court Justice is appointed for life, and actually has the power to rule on the constitutionality of congress’s laws, presidential executive orders, and is the absolutely last court of appeal for the most serious matters ever brought before the bar. Cabinet members, in contrast, are only in place as administrators of presidential policy and their term expires with the president’s. Nevertheless it provides a way to sabotage the government’s effectiveness and that, to this Congress, is like a big, fat, crystal rock to a crackhead.

There are three fundamental legs the governmental tripod in the US: The Supreme Court, Congress, and the Executive Branch. This Congress has already rendered their own branch ineffective and has caused their own approval ratings to plummet to depths previously unheard of. At this writing, approval for congress is at 14%; that is lower than the approval rate for sex offenders, cockroaches, Lyndsay Lohan, or syphilis. Now they’re working to undermine the Executive Branch by preventing the president from having as his senior staff the people of his choice for entirely partisan and in many cases, spurious reasons.

It remains to be seen what these white collar terrorists will do when they are given an opportunity to vandalise the Supreme Court.

…enditem…

American Exceptionalism

War criminals among us

Patrick Guntensperger

PARKSVILLE, CANADA – Perhaps my inclination to be hypercritical of US politics and popular culture obscures the fact that I have a great deal of respect for the people of the United States of America. I criticise the US because I respect the people and their ability to absorb criticism and in the hope that the criticism will be given due consideration by the open-minded segment of the population that reads my analysis. It is in that spirit that I offer the following commentary on a recent US president. 

If George W. Bush had been the head of state of any other country but the United States of America, I believe that there would

Logo of the International Criminal Court

have been a strong movement, possibly even spearheaded by the US, to have him indicted and tried in the World Court as a war criminal, and further, I contend that he probably would have been convicted.

Specifically, I believe that he is guilty of what is described in The Nuremberg Principles and the United Nations Charter as “Crimes against Peace”. That specific charge is defined in those documents as:

   the “planning, preparation, initiation, or waging of wars of aggression, or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances, or participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the foregoing”.

 There is little argument that Bush manufactured the casus belli his administration used to justify the bombing, invasion, conquering, and occupation of a sovereign country, Iraq, and the apprehension, incarceration, and execution of that country’s head of state. Moreover there is little argument that he and his administration lied deliberately and lied repeatedly to the American people and to allies of the United States in an effort to create an international coalition to aid in a war of aggression and the overthrow of a sovereign regime.

The putative justification for the war prosecuted by the US and its co-conspirator nations against Iraq was that the country had or would shortly have weapons of mass destruction, and that, combined with Iraq’s bellicosity and Saddam Hussein’s intransigence, was sufficient to justify a pre-emptive strike. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke ominously of “mushroom clouds” being the smoking gun if the attack wasn’t launched, and one official after another spoke of “incontrovertible proof” and “absolutely unambiguous intelligence” assuring President Bush that the WMD, including biological agents and nuclear weapons, were being manufactured and stockpiled.

Of course that simply wasn’t true. Nevertheless the United States, with the co-operation of British prime Minister Tony Blair, and a “coalition of the willing” comprised of 49 countries including three (the UK, Australia, and Poland) who provided

One convicted war criminal

troops, launched a first strike against Iraq and ultimately occupied the country and executed Saddam.

It’s important that, as we consider whether Bush’s actions rise to the level of war crimes, we don’t follow the red herring of Saddam’s venality. Let us stipulate at the outset that Saddam was a miserable prick and a thoroughly detestable bastard; he had no business running a country, he was a brute and a vicious despot who thoroughly deserved the enmity and hatred of civilised people everywhere. Whether he deserved the death penalty is a matter for another discussion. The question isn’t about Saddam’s behaviour; it is about Bush’s actions. And there unquestionably exists a prima facie case that George W. Bush, as commander in chief of the armed forces and head of state of the United States committed acts that are specifically proscribed as crimes against peace by the world community.

And lest we forget that crimes against peace are a serious matter, let us remind ourselves that those crimes, specifically waging an unprovoked war of aggression, were among those for which the Nazis were tried at Nuremberg after WW II. Albert Speer spent 20 years in Spandau prison when convicted of those crimes, with the court remarking that leniency was shown in his case because of the evident remorse he showed – something entirely absent in Bush’s post war behaviour. Many of Speer’s compatriots, notably those who, like Bush, persisted in maintaining that they were justified in their behaviour, were executed.

Every rational post-game analysis of the genesis of the Iraq invasion reveals that there was, in fact, no credible evidence of WMDs in Iraq prior to or after the capture and execution of the Iraqi head of state. What Bush and his surrogates described as incontrovertible evidence of WMDs wasn’t even thought to be truly suggestive…even by the CIA who gathered and analysed the intelligence and briefed the president and the Joint Chiefs. And of course, it turned out that there were no WMDs or even evidence of any attempt to manufacture or acquire them. The pathetically unsupported conviction that they nevertheless existed is one more example of the inclination of America’s right wing to self-delusion; to living in a bubble and not letting facts or even common sense intrude into their self-created world view.

Not only was there no evidence to support the empty claims used to justify the war of aggression, but Bush knew it and lied to the world about it. But Bush and Cheney wanted it to be true, Bush because he wanted to be a warrior president and Cheney because his company, Haliburton, made untold millions as war contractors, so they told themselves and us it was true perhaps even until they actually believed it. So they killed over 100,000 (according to Wikileaks) men women and children, then started looking for the weapons of mass destruction that had never existed. When it became clear that they were trying to bring home a chimera, the Bush administration never admitted their culpability and Bush never even offered a “my bad!”

The Republicans are of course somewhat diffident when it comes to acknowledging Dubya as one of their own; he was conspicuous in his absence from the recent GOP convention, and the average Republican shuffles his feet and changes the subject when his name is brought up. But let’s be clear that the reason for their tacit disavowal of their erstwhile president has nothing whatever to do with his war crimes…it’s all about how his economic policies torpedoed the US economy; that’s really embarrassing and hard to explain. War crimes apparently not so much.

Nevertheless the rest of the world, even this commentator – unlike the RNC – is not ensconced in a delusional self-congratulatory bubble. I am fully aware that there will never be any serious attempt to prosecute Bush, Cheney, their sycophants like Blair, and other equally culpable wagers of wars of aggression on charges that, if proven, would see world leaders and heads of smaller, weaker states tried, imprisoned, and possibly even executed.

Just a few of Bush’s victims

That war was hypocritically launched and prosecuted by the United States of America and, other than the loss of many young American men and women in uniform, there will never be any repercussions or accountability. Any other country would have had some ‘splainin’ to do. Bush, though, has retired to a life of ease and prosperity, insufficiently intelligent or burdened by morals to suffer any pangs of conscience for the deaths he caused in his vanity war. He is, after all, an elder statesman…an American one.

Perhaps this is the true nature of the much vaunted “American exceptionalism”.

IMPUNITY

…enditem…

 

Only a Pawn in Their Game

Although I wrote this piece a while back, I have withheld it from publication until my son was safely free to go to Canada. The contents will explain that decision.

 

Jacob Simon Julian Alex Guntensperger

Patrick Guntensperger

Jakarta, Indonesia

 

My son finally has a judicial order of adoption confirming that he is, in fact, my son in the eyes of the laws of Indonesia and Canada. It was obtained when an Indonesian justice signed the order that had taken three years and over $125,000.00 in expenses – including travel between Canada and Indonesia, between cities in Indonesia, to Singapore where much of Canada’s Indonesian mission’s work is done, and (mostly) bribes for Indonesian civil servants and officials of various types. It cost my now late parents their opportunity to meet their grandson; the greed, inefficiency, and corruption that defines Indonesia kept my family separated by half the planet for months at a time, carrying out a legal procedure that should have been completed in about six months with little fuss and nominal fees.

The judge who signed the court order, however, made sure that he stuck the knife in, even though he was giving us the long sought written decision, a decision to which we were manifestly entitled years ago under the laws of both Indonesia and Canada. He stuck it to us in this way: An Indonesian Order of Adoption has two parts; an acknowledgement of the adoption itself, and a secondary order granting the adoptee’s change of name to that of his family. Because I had refused to pay the judge the full demanded tip, “administration fee”, “expression of gratitude”, bribe, or whatever you wish to call it for letting us into his courtroom for him to sign the order, but had only agreed to give him half in advance and the balance when he did his job, he only gave us the first part. We now need a new court date to obtain a name change for my son; until then, he is the Indonesian equivalent of “Baby John Doe 2009/02” and he is unable to obtain documents, like a Canadian citizenship or passport in Canada, or anything at all here in Indonesia. The pro always beats the amateur.

It’s important to be clear that all the criteria for adoption had been met and we were and are entitled to these Orders under the laws of Indonesia and of Canada….the personal gratuity (bribe) was not to encourage the judge to see things our way, or to disregard law or ethics; on the contrary, it is a charge he demands to do what he law already requires of him. And there’s no way around it; no bribe: no court date, no adoption. So now I have to pay him another fee in advance so he will sign the name change portion of the Order…something he is required to do as part of the adoption process, which already has ministerial approval. He gets away with this extortion not by denying us due process, but simply by setting our court date in his judicial calendar several years in the future, which he would keep postponing, and only suddenly finding a five minute opening when the envelope stuffed with cash is handed over and the money is counted. Every single court case, including every criminal trial, in Indonesia is conducted in this fashion. And everyone accepts it. An honest judge is one who moderates his demands, whereas a corrupt judge is one who sells criminal court verdicts at an unreasonably high price. There simply is no sense that justice could or should be equally applied to those with a lot of money and those with less. Justice, like beauty, or any other positive thing is, in this money obsessed country, a commodity; and like all commodities, it is for sale.

The hostage

The chip in this game of Jakarta Hold ’em

Of course the people of Indonesia are an unhappy lot. If they are important (read rich) they screw everybody, so their lives are miserable in any moral or spiritual sense although physically comfortable. If they are one of the unimportant masses (read poor) they are constantly being screwed and fantasising about how they would screw everybody else if they only had the opportunity. The truth is that every Indonesian child’s dream is that he will have his turn at the trough when he grows up. It is a pathetic, miserable place, and until the materialism which is at the very centre of the Indonesian soul is replaced with something – anything – else, this will always be a pathetic, miserable country notable primarily for its hypocrisy,  astonishing greed, heart wrenching poverty, pockets of obscene wealth, endemic corruption, appalling pollution, great weather, and cheap, beautiful prostitutes.

My son will have dual citizenship until he’s eighteen; at that point he’ll have to decide whether he wants to be Indonesian or Canadian. Unless there is some cataclysmic change in the next decade and a half, that call will be an absolute no brainer.

 

…enditem…

 

Stuck Inside of Java with the Bekasi Blues Again

Jakarta"s International airport

Soekarno-Hatta, Jakarta’s International Airport

Indonesia: The Nightmare Continues
Patrick Guntensperger

JAKARTA, INDONESIA – I’m sitting in the airport transit hotel drinking an overpriced Bintang and listening to JJ as he watches cartoons in the bedroom of the only room they had left when I checked us all in…an overpriced suite with a view of the glidepaths of the “international” airport’s runways. JJ loves watching the planes as they depart, waving and saying, “bye, bye!” as the jets climb away, close enough that through the aircraft’s tiny windows you can almost see the flight attendants showing everyone how to inflate their life-vests in the unlikely event of an oxymoronic water landing.

We almost made it. Yolanda, JJ, and her father were already in the departure lounge and all I had to do was clear passport control, then we would have been out of this wretched hell-hole. I had checked with the immigration department and they told me that my exit visa (which had expired as the result of my having had to wait for all the Indonesian civil servants’ broken promises and false assurances to be fulfilled) could be extended simply upon request and production of certain documents at any immigration office. I had asked the supervisor at the main Jakarta office and he told me that the immigration office at passport control at the airport would be the quickest and easiest forum for such a simple matter.

My turn at the counter; I explained my needs and with no formalities I found myself in custody at the airport for trying to leave the country without proper documentation. Cathay Pacific agents helpfully had our luggage pulled from the cargo bay of our getaway vehicle and had it returned to the terminal. My wife, my hyperactive 3 year old son, and my father-in-law were escorted from the departure lounge and our plane left without us. They were permitted to leave Indonesia, but opted to stay if I couldn’t join them. It seems that what I had been told was, to put it clearly, utter bullshit.

The truth was that only the Manado office (2,500 miles away on the island of North Sulawesi) could issue me an extension or new exit visa as that had been where the first one was obtained, and that even attempting to obtain one elsewhere was an offence. Why this should be the case, why every civil servant I spoke to told me differently, why I was finding this out under these circumstances was never explained. Just big smiles and admonishments that this was Indonesia and I had to respect her laws. When I realised that these sadistic pricks were having too much fun fucking my life up even to take a bribe to do what could be done in any civilised country – let a person who had done nothing whatever wrong simply leave with his family – I pointed out that they could expect me to obey Indonesia’s laws, but asking me to respect them was an idiotic request.

Further, it only took a couple of phone calls to determine that the only penalty for attempting to leave without an exit visa was the requirement that one be obtained; being held in custody was nothing more than a scam to elicit a bribe. I let the scumbag airport security know that I was leaving their custody and they’d have to shoot me if they wanted me to stay. So I left. They were chagrined to see that day’s coercion income walking out the door, but it was a game of chicken…I kept going; they shrugged and went back to their perches and waited for the next likely looking victim.

So, after having spent the last 12 hours cancelling and rescheduling flights, (Jakarta-Hong Kong, Hong Kong-Vancouver, Vancouver-Qualicum) absorbing the thousands of dollars in cancellation fees and increased fare prices, having Yolanda’s sister Fali fly to Manado with bribe money and my documentation, settling into an overpriced transit hotel with more luggage than Marco Polo took when he travelled to China, and eating Xanax like M&Ms, things have settled down a bit. Now I’m ready to do what one does best in this piece of shit excuse for a country…wait for people to fulfill their lying promises and live up to their bullshit utterly empty assurances.

So here we are. Tomorrow we move to Bekasi (a suburb of Jakarta, where Yolanda’s father has a house) with all of JJ’s toys and books, all of Yolanda’s excess baggage, the one carry-on out of which I have been living for the last three months, and all of the parting gifts we were given when we left Indonesia for good, or thought we did. There we will wait to see if the “promised” documentation is completed, all the boxes ticked, and the civil servants responsible for doing so properly bribed. Then we will try again. All we want to do is leave this wretched shithole never to return; it’s still an open question as to whether that will be permitted by a culture that thrives on lies, theft, corruption, and the suffering of others.

…enditem…

One more turn of the screw

Slowly, I turned; and step by step…

Patrick Guntensperger

Jakarta, Indonesia

 

One of my favourite  people and Jakarta dwelling expats commented on my Facebook status that I ought to find a fat lady and make her sing. He was, of course, referring to a status announcement I had posted that brought my friends and followers up to date on my quest to extricate my son from this Southeast Asian black hole. I suppose that hearing me whine for the last three years about the process has even affected the patience of those who casually read my bitching and are astonished at the bureaucratic impediments that the fertile imagination of mendacious civil servants are able to erect in order to require bribes to remove.

 The fat lady ain’t sung yet, but I believe I see her in the wings preparing for her entrance.

 

One major step

JJ’s order of adoption is now official! 3 years and counting….

 

 As I write this, my long-suffering Yolanda is in South Jakarta sitting in the sweltering open-air waiting area of an RW (or maybe RT…there are two levels and I have no idea which is which), nearly the lowest ranked civil servant in the country. It is now 7.10pm and she has been waiting since 6.30am, the time of her appointment. She is waiting to pay him and then thank him for accepting the bribe that was negotiated over the phone yesterday, when he finally feels that his importance has been sufficiently established.

These parasites are what are known as “neighbourhood chiefs” and do absolutely fuck all except for apply their rubber stamp to any document you present them along with a bribe. They are elected by the neighbourhood in a biannual popularity contest and they invariably complete their tenure as relatively wealthy men. Their imprimatur is required on certain documents; documents that assure higher authorities that you live in the neighbourhood, that you are not a problem in the neighbourhood, and that you are known in the neighbourhood and to the “chief” personally. Long-stay permits require this, police permits, press passes, pretty much everything requires a stamped document from one of these worthless pricks. They do nothing without a bribe.

 I have dozens of these documents stamped by dozens of these tumorous pustules – for press passes and all kinds of other documents. On each is the personal seal and  sworn statement of a person I met only once….to pay a bribe…that he knows me personally (bullshit) and that I live in his jurisdiction (also bullshit, of course) and that I have never been a problem (true as far as it goes).

Yolanda is going through this charade because we need a court date and we’ve been informed by the clerk of the court in the jurisdiction where we actually live that there are no available dates in the foreseeable future. We need this court date because the last judge we spoke to decided that a separate hearing was required to approve the change of my son’s name to his new family’s name (mine and Yolanda’s) despite his having taken the bribe to hear the motion to adopt and then granting that motion. The supplementary name change motion hadn’t been paid for, so it wasn’t granted along with the adoption as is the usual procedure.

 The statement that there are no court dates available is, of course, a lie… an initial bargaining position for the negotiations over the required “administration fee” to set a date to hear the motion to change JJ’s name (from the Indonesian equivalent of John Doe) to ours. But since the initial position started at “no dates available”, long, painful experience tells us that the required bribe will be astronomical.

 

Take a goddam nap!!

3 year-olds are the leading causes of headaches in this family. Y & JJ take a break from the pool

So we found a South Jakarta jurisdiction that will hear the motion in our lifetimes; all we need is a dozen documents, one of which requires the stamp and signature of a South Jakarta neighbourhood chief.

 

All this is being done so we can present the Canadian government (or is it “The Harper Government?) with proof of JJ’s right to citizenship as the legal child of a Canadian citizen. They will then look at the documentation after we have had it written up by the court then translated by a sworn translator, notarised and sent along with a half dozen other forms to someplace in Nova Scotia. Within weeks, I am assured, Part 1 will be completed and the file sent to Singapore. Then the Canadian Embassy in Singapore will require an interview, so either I, Yolanda, JJ, or all, or two of us will fly to Singapore, do our best to persuade some hostile local hire that JJ isn’t a terrorist and that we have genuine plans to keep our son. If he is convinced that these last three years haven’t been an elaborate con, we go back to Jakarta and he will forward the necessary document to our Indonesian consul. Then, with citizenship papers in hand, we apply at the Canadian Embassy for a passport for JJ. That will take a few weeks to process in Ottawa, but eventually he should get one.

 

Hey Andy...bourbon and coke!

Pool service at the apartment

If everything goes well…the bribes, the translations, the name change, Part1 of the citizenship application, Part 2 of the citizenship application, the passport application and all the unforeseen, we will fly back to Canada so my now 3 and ½ year old son can start his life. Best case scenario…2 months. Worst case scenario… indefinite waiting and expenses. And there is no way everything will go smoothly. There is a fan; there is shit. Without question, the two shall have a close encounter before this is all over. We shall see.

JJ and PAGUN at the apartment swimming pool

 

Meanwhile we wait. And wait. Of course there are worse places to wait. Not much, but worse.

 

…enditem..

Thanks for the Memories

Back in the saddle again

Pagun

JAKARTA, INDONESIA – It’s Monday in Jakarta and I’ve just started to get down to the business for which I came back to the Far East. I’ve made the necessary appointments, placed the needed phone calls and have started what I hope is the final stage in the process that started over three years ago when we adopted my little boy, JJ.

The seedy backpacker Mecca of Jakarta

So I’m sitting in a well-remembered café on Jalan Jaksa in central Jakarta having a pre-lunch Bintang in my customary seat. It’s open to the street and the stifling city air is only disturbed by the slowly rotating overhead fans; although the street has changed…many of the old backpacker haunts and whorehouses have been torn down and gentrification is the order of the day…some things remain the same. The owner of the all-too-appropriately named Memories Café greeted me as though she’d seen me yesterday, although it’s been years since I’ve dropped in here, and the news guy dropped off copies of the Post and the Globe as he always did when I hung out here routinely and wrote for those papers. The same whores, a little longer in the tooth, but still their friendly selves, along with a new crop of young ones, stroll by or perch on the stools at the sidewalk bar, desultorily plying their trade and gossiping.

Groups of genetically identical backpackers, mostly from Holland or Australia, still in their

In front of Memorie's sidewalk bar

Working Jalan Jaksa denizen at Memories

teens and self-satisfied in their shared but grotesquely erroneous conviction that they are deeply appreciated visitors, hang out for hours ordering nothing but bottled water. Each generation is blissfully convinced that the $20 per day that they spend in this impoverished but money obsessed country is like manna from heaven to the local population and remains oblivious to the fact that they are despised for their cheapness and that the smiles they encounter are not smiles of gratitude for their non-existent largesse, but rather culturally dictated expressions employed to disguise their real feelings about strangers. That hasn’t changed.

I turn to the newspapers and am hardly surprised to see that the news, except for minor details, could have been pulled from a Jakarta daily at pretty much any time in the last decade. One of ex-dictator Soeharto’s grandchildren (it used to be that piece of shit’s children…now it’s their piece of shit children) is being investigated for having embezzled billions of dollars from their beloved country. He’s of course ignored a summons to appear before the investigatory board as he’s currently in Singapore, and everyone knows that nothing whatever will come of the show investigation. Remember, Soeharto is the man that historians have described as the most corrupt head of state in the history of the world, and he lived his life in happiness, respect, and prosperity, even after he was ousted; the current president kissed his ring on his deathbed and led the country in a day of mourning for one of history’s arguably most brutal and certainly most avaricious dictators. Let’s also remember that his favourite son, affectionately called Tommy, paid for the assassination of the Supreme Court judge who had found him guilty of embezzlement. Tommy Soeharto was sentenced to spend 15 years in prison for the contract murder but had his sentence reduced five times by the current president (who was one of Soeharto’s protégés) and spent a total of about four years – literally –  in a country club. While he was paying his debt to society for premeditated contract murder, I personally saw him and his entourage of porno models and body guards as they occupied a Jakarta golf course in a moveable party, complete with champagne, cocaine, and golf carts equipped with music systems and very attractive whores.

Meanwhile, both English language dailies report that at least two Islamic fundamentalist groups have promised to disrupt if they can’t eliminate a scheduled Lady Gaga performance here in Jakarta. Swearing that they will die to prevent her from spreading her “satanic message” to good Muslims (like Tommy Soeharto, presumably) they vow to greet her violently in the tens of thousands at the airport and forcibly prevent her from disembarking on their land. The national police who are responsible for granting performance permits have yet to do so; they are, as usual, torn between the enormous bribes the concert promoters will have had to pay and the threats emanating from the peace-loving Islamic forces of good. And as usual, the police have decided to postpone any final decision on the matter…the controversy after all puts them in an ideal bargaining position to push the bribe demands to stratospheric levels.

I sit here in this humid pleasantly seedy bar, soaking up the atmosphere and quarts of beer, sweating like a hungover teacher on parents’ day, and wait for a return call from any one of the half-dozen or so Indonesian civil servants with whose secretaries I have left messages. It’s a pantomime, really, because years of experience tells me I can wait until universal peace has been achieved and world hunger conquered before any Indonesian government officer will actually return a phone call to someone who doesn’t outrank him. The dance will involve me repeating this series of pointless actions for the rest of the week, and then finally show up at his office where I will sit on a hard-backed chair in the heat and humidity outside his air-conditioned office for the whole day, while he entertains friends, has his lunch sent in, takes a few tea breaks, watches the ubiquitous television no civil servant can live without, and then takes a well-deserved nap at his desk. After a day or two of this, and having established his importance and superior status, he will deign to give me a moment, if only to tell me I’ve either done it all wrong or that it’s not his department. He’ll then offer to help me out “as a friend”; I’ll reciprocate the offer; we’ll arrive at a price; I’ll pay the bribe; he might or might not stamp whatever document needs his department’s stamp, and I’ll be on my way to the next civil servant for a repeat performance of the corruption two-step. In the past, I’ve simply had a stamp made with the appropriate departmental logo and applied it to follow-up documents, but that option isn’t available until I’ve seen at least one original. Benzodiazepines were invented for a reason.

As I was writing that last sentence an old hunched-over man, pushing a wheelbarrow containing an equally old woman, timidly opened the bat-wing saloon doors that form the entrance to this café. The woman was missing a few digits on her left hand and had very little of her right hand or lower right leg; the open sores of leprosy were on grotesque display. The old man stood there pathetically making eating gestures with his hands, but not crossing the threshold. I gave the old man about a hundred thousand Rupiah and with downcast eyes and calling me “Tuan” (Lord), he trundled his doomed (although perfectly treatable) wife down the road to whatever fate awaits those about whom nobody gives a shit.

Indonesia, my heart continues to bleed for you.

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Oh, Jakarta…how I’ve missed you!

Once more into the breach

Patrick Guntensperger

Jakarta, Indonesia

 

I have only been gone from this country since January; that’s only about four months, and it’s like going back through the looking glass to settle in once more.

There is of course the weather. Stepping off the plane after the gruelling flights from Vancouver Island to Vancouver, then from Vancouver to Hong Kong, then Hong Kong Kong to here – a total of about 36 hours in transit – the heat and humidity (or warmth and sultriness, depending on whether you’ve had enough Xanax for the journey) hit you immediately. Coming from an island off Canada’s west coast in May, the difference is considerable; there it would get down to just a few degrees above the frost point at night and climb to a balmy 20-23C if it was sunny; less if it was rainy, as it usually was, as the daffodils, tulips, and apple blossoms made their appearances. Here the temperature is a collar-wilting 30-34C with a humidity of over 90% at sunrise; by noon it can be a scorching 40 or more.

In contrast to the quiet little retirement-resort community of Parksville, Jakarta is a mega-city, the population of which is anybody’s guess but 12 million seems about right. (During the daytime it can go up to 18 million – people are serious commuters.) The cacophonous bustle is only matched in other Far Eastern mega-cities; enormous western cities like London or even New York can’t lay claim to the uniquely eastern chaos that characterises places like Jakarta and Bangkok. Even after a decade and more of living in this milieu I was taken aback as I struggled to get my bags and conveyance to the temporary apartment that will be my home until we can get JJ’s status sorted out and acquire him an exit visa.

Well, that’s not entirely true… the struggle to get through the airport, at least. The contrasts actually became apparent before the tropical heat slammed into me. I had wisely arranged to have a VIP service waiting to meet me at the airport. Now before the accusations of elitism start flying, a VIP service just means that you know someone who knows someone who holds a medium to high rank in Indonesia’s Customs and Immigration department. These guys usually freelance for “friends” (people willing to pay about $50). They wait in uniform at the arrival gate for your flight with a flunky or two and greet you with salutes, take your carry-on luggage, passport, and baggage claim checks, and escort you past all the tedious legal safeguards intended to control access to a sovereign country. At the baggage carousel, you chat casually with the top guy while one flunky waits for your stuff to appear, and while this is going on the other flunky comes running with your new visa, a stamped passport and plastic ID card (they’ve apparently snapped your picture as you got off the plane) that says you are registered with (protected by) the national police. The flunkies pile your gear onto a trolley and imperiously walk you past customs with your suitcases full of perfume, Cuban cigars, and bottles of hard to find booze bought by the dozen at duty free stores in Canada and China. Welcome to Indonesia.

That’s when you notice the heat.

And then it’s business as usual in Indonesia. Traffic like a punishment for every sin you’ve ever committed, masses of people everywhere, women so beautiful they bring tears to your eyes (even when you’re with a wife whom you love and haven’t seen in months), hawkers, vendors, beggars, lepers, police soliciting “cigarette money” from all of the above, and constant noise. Home again.

But some things have changed since I last stayed in Jakarta several years ago. The last long stretch I spent in Indonesia was mostly in Manado, in the eastern part of the archipelago, the capital city of the provincial island group called the Sulawesis. I had only visited Jakarta for a day or two at a time and stayed either with friends or at international hotels and was thus insulated from some of the realities of day-to-day life in the Big Durian.

This time we’re living in a furnished apartment in a section of Kelapa Gading that is home to virtually no westerners; mine is the only non-Indonesian face in the neighbourhood and I haven’t seen an occidental since I unpacked my scotch and gin in our tiny apartment. One thing that was pretty hard not to notice on the street was the increase in anti-western racism. One place flatly refused to sell me any take-out, saying they were out of food, although they provided my father in law with exactly what I had asked for when he tried less than a minute later. The barber shop in my building was more straightforward: they flat out told me they wouldn’t cut my hair because I was white. When I thanked them (they don’t get sarcasm) and turned to walk out I could hear the quiet jeering and the repeated use of the word “bule” (literally albino but a pejorative epithet for any westerner).

Indonesia has always been a racist country. Indonesians, particularly Javanese, and Jakartans even more particularly, have a preternatural ability to distinguish among shades of skin colour and to assign you a place in their incredibly rigid social hierarchy accordingly, and they can do that instantly and instinctively. Yolanda, having been born in Ambon, in the Malukus, in the eastern part of the country has dark skin, as does JJ. She has always been served last in Jakartan scrums at retail counters, the fact that her skin colour is at the far end of the spectrum from the ideal Chinese ivory tone affects every instance of social interaction she has or has ever had in this country.

Too dark for their own country

When she had just graduated from high school, she was told by the airline to which she had applied for training as a flight attendant (Garuda, incidentally, the national carrier) that she shouldn’t be ridiculous…she was too hitam (black). Ditto for the cruise line to which she applied. The systemic and endemic bigotry is one of the main reasons we are so anxious to get JJ to Canada.

At the other end of the scale, because of my whiter skin I am treated in this country as a walking ATM; I am regularly forced to pay two to ten times as much as an Indonesian would for the same goods or services, I am routinely treated sycophantically while I am fleeced and fucked over. But discounting for a moment the terrorist bombs in Jakarta and Bali that deliberately targeted and killed white western guests in Indonesia, (and killed a friend of mine, maimed several others,  but merely scorched my eyebrows) this completely overt racist discrimination is new to me. It always existed as a subtext, but there was always the sense that, as long as I kept smiling and didn’t object too strenuously to being screwed and laughed at, we could get along.

 

MMMM good!

In the meantime, the commercial establishments that depend on foreign traffic to stay solvent continue to suck up to the despised bule and ape what they think are western ways. The pictures on this page show my little family eating at a restaurant near the embassy district; it caters to westerners and so its menu reflects the owner’s knowledge and understanding of things western. Please note the items on the menu page. I won’t comment.

The hotdog that almost conquered the world

JJ gazes in awe at Hitler's dog

Great to be back, though. In between bouts of dealing with the realities of bureaucracy and simple things like food shopping and dining out, I sit by our swimming pool and watch JJ. In the late afternoon I make a thermos of martinis and go back down to the pool, sip, write, read and wait until we can finally get out of here.

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Why I will make Colombia my next holiday destination

Thinking with their little heads

Patrick Guntensperger

Parksville BC

 

One of Cartagena's BeachesCartagena Colombia is a fabulous city; it’s a gorgeous Caribbean beach resort city on the northeast tropical South American shores. For anyone who has never been there I strongly recommend it as a holiday destination; it is a town that knows how to party; it loves life, it loves the beach, it loves night clubs, it loves music, food, and it loves sex. If, after visiting Cartagena, you don’t need a holiday, you must have been there on business, and very focussed indeed.

President Barack Obama has just been to Cartagena on his nation’s business. He attended a summit with President Juan Manuel Santos Calderon at which issues including Pan-American economic cooperation, innovative ways to deal with the cocaine trade, and skills transfer were discussed and as a result of which an important international bond was solidified in a region where The United States is deeply mistrusted. His trip to Cartagena was a business trip and he was very focussed indeed.

He was, at any rate. The newly revamped Secret Service? Not so much.

At one time, the Secret Service, which is probably most famously tasked with protecting the current and past living Presidents of the United States, was a part of the US Treasury Department. It was considered the most elite and professional of the vast number of US security services; the members were the most highly trained and squeaky clean; and the presidential protection detail was the very peak of prestige in the US security and intelligence community.

Then came 9-11. A lot of things happened after the planes flew into the World Trade Centers and the Pentagon. One of them was that President George W. Bush sat for a while, staring, while he was trying to read a storybook about a goat to a bunch of children; it took him about seven minutes to absorb the news that the country, as he had been informed, was under attack. (If you don’t think seven minutes is very long, try holding your hand over a flame, or watching FOX News for that long). But I digress.

Bush struggling to understand

08.59 Bush is told that the nation is under attack

 

One of the things that changed was that the Republicans immediately passed legislation that created a new security umbrella organisation with sweeping powers, including some that are clearly unconstitutional, and which condones war crimes (if committed by Americans), that absorbed the Secret Service, then promptly cut the Secret Service’s budget. Homeland Security was born.

 

Bush is still giving it some thought

It is no secret in the intelligence and security community that the Secret Service has steadily gone downhill since then. Morale, training standards, pay rates; all have declined. So has its reputation. It hadn’t quite sunk to the Three Stooges level of the CIA until the latest presidential trip to Cartagena, however.

 

Everybody knows that a company-sponsored road trip can be a lot of fun. In fact, since the new Secret Service was initiated, the slogan had been “wheels up, rings off!” Every time the president’s personal security forces were sent as an advance team or as his personal protection, they knew they were in for a federally sponsored vacation. Now that may not be a great treat when the nation’s business takes him to Dubuque, but Cartagena? Party on, Dude!

The scandal that erupted when the elite Secret Service stepped on their own dicks is one of the best I’ve seen in years; it’s so good that I have to remind myself that the behaviour of this most elite group was an enormously serious security breach that could have had unimaginable consequences. But it is a great scandal.

Details are still coming out, but at the time of this writing, here’s what we know:

The president and his entourage were staying at the Hotel Caribe where they had several floors reserved for their use. During one afternoon of the state visit at least 11 Secret Service agents spent the afternoon drinking with the strippers at a local bordello, and then rounded up some 21 hookers and brought them back by caravan to the Hotel. They then checked them in as overnight guests and spent the rest of the evening and part of the night partying in the fashion for which Cartagena is justly famous. Whether Columbia’s most famous export was in use has not been made clear.

The whole thing began to unravel when one of the prostitutes went to the police (who were stationed at the hotel) complaining that she had been…underpaid. Prostitutes, whose work is respected and legal in Columbia, have every right to seek protection from their police and the police deal with their mistreatment as they would anyone else’s. The police went to the party floor and pounded on the door; they were told to fuck off by the presidential retinue who were still partying. At a loss, the police contacted the US Embassy and State Department and then the fan did its job. The amount in dispute? Glad you asked – less than $60. And the issue was a strictly professional one. The young lady had provided her services to two of the boys but they somehow felt that they should only pay for one.

Agents sent home, Special Forces members included in the mess, supervisory staff among the patrons of the bordello, it almost couldn’t get any more salacious. Gotta love it.

At the moment the main political fallout has been the Republicans trying to figure out a way to place the blame on President Obama. Whether they do or not, heads will roll. There are bound to be repercussions; one can only hope that the scandal continues to spread, with daily tidbits of further detail being released for the foreseeable future.

Just a cheap excuse to show the ethnic diversity in Columbia

 

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The Times They Ain’t a Changin’

Trayvon Martin

Patrick Guntensperger

March 22, 2012

 

By now everyone is familiar with the story of Trayvon. But for those who have been off the planet for a month or more, the facts as far as we can discern are as follows:

Trayvon Martin was an African American seventeen year old boy. He was walking back home from a convenience store in a middle class gated community in Sanford, Florida; he had bought a package of candy and an iced tea. He was stalked and pursued by George Zimmerman, a white male with a history of domestic violence who claims to have been operating as a neighbourhood watch captain, although at this writing there is no evidence of that. Trayvon told his girlfriend via cell phone that he was afraid of the unidentified large male who was following him for no apparent reason. George Zimmerman approached and then shot and killed the boy. That much is known as fact.

The police of Sanford arrived, took in the situation, released Zimmerman with his still loaded weapon and took the corpse to the county morgue where it was stored unidentified for several days, despite having a cell phone with his family’s and girlfriend’s numbers stored. Zimmerman claimed he had acted in self-defence and the police claimed that therefore their hands were tied, in that they had no probable cause to arrest him.

A murdered child

Skittles and ice tea: the weapons of choice

Those are the bare bones; there is a lot more to it and more detail is being released every day as a groundswell movement demanding justice for Trayvon develops. But interestingly, every time a new tidbit of information is released or uncovered, the incident becomes more starkly a simple case of a racist hunting down and murdering an innocent child for what is being described as the crime of WWB (Walking While Black). Moreover, the case becomes even more clearly an example of southern US police complicity in murder. No fact, no witness testimony, no 911 recording, no evidence of any sort has had any mitigating effect on the killer’s actions; the more the truth comes to light, the more the facts reinforce the egregiousness of the crime against Trayvon. Nothing whatsoever exculpatory for Zimmerman has been uncovered.

Defended himself from a child armed with candy

Nevertheless, as this is written, a month after the murder, days after the police chief who took personal responsibility for the case resigned – temporarily, after a grand jury and the FBI both launched investigations into the mishandling of the case, the acknowledged shooter remains free and walking around the streets of Sanford, presumably with his loaded gun. Zimmerman hasn’t even been arrested.

No one is convicting anyone at this point, but surely the fact that there is a dead unarmed boy and a man who admits to having shot him after having admitted he was following him and was told not to by police, is sufficient “probable cause” for an arrest. And an arrest is necessary, if for no other reason, so that there can be a thorough investigation of the shooting itself and not just one of the inept (or corrupt) police work. Trayvon – any human being – deserves that much.

Supporting the homicidal bigotry and the fundamental racism that seems to be at the core of this case, there is at issue a Florida law; a law referred to as “Stand Your Ground” that has parallel legislation in 21 other states.

“Stand Your Ground” is a quintessentially American bit of legislation; the basic principal is that if a citizen feels threatened, he shouldn’t take the responsible course of action and run for safety; it recommends that he kill the person by whom he feels threatened. It encourages the idea that every citizen ought to carry a loaded firearm at all times, in case ground needs to be stood upon. Concerned? Shoot him dead. The best part of this kind of legislation is that when the dust settles, there is usually only one version of the events: that provided by the winner of the gunfight. All he has to say is, “self-defence”, and the police will say, “Off you go then, and don’t forget your gun!” Even if there is a dead, unarmed, innocent child lying in a pool of blood on the sidewalk while the killer’s gun is still smoking.

And that’s what happened to George Zimmerman who is on record as having followed against police requests an unarmed child and shot him to death. Self defence. Stood his ground.

Bullshit. He hunted him down and shot him for sport.

Trayvon may well become the touchstone for the next level of the civil rights war that still rages in the US. The injustice of which the death of Trayvon is an example will reignite the battle for equality among people in the United States; those of us, particularly those of us who are white, who have fought for civil rights, have become complacent; we have for too long assumed that the battle was over; the good guys won. We were wrong. Here in Canada, it’s one thing, we’re not bad. We’re not perfect, but we try. Apparently the United States hasn’t yet got the memo. The Deep South is still Jim Crow country. It’s time to wind it up again. Because the truth is that the country still can’t accept that people of colour are as deserving of the right to life as white Republicans. And that applies to the whole country, complacent though it has become. Time to rally. Here’s hoping that the times that are a changin’ will soon shake your windows and rattle your walls.

Trayvon Martin will be spoken of in the same way that we speak of Rosa Sparks. He will be an emblem, a symbol, a rallying point for what will be the new civil rights war. And that is apparently what is needed. This injustice should not stand. Let’s all stand together.

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The American Fantasy

Dream or nightmare?

Pagun

 

 VANCOUVER ISLAND, CANADA – Mitt Romney has started to run for the Republican presidential nomination on an economic platform. Oh, he hasn’t begun to offer anything resembling a coherent economic plan or anything, but his talking points are all about how he is, in his words, not an “economic lightweight” like the President or his only serious opponent, Rick Santorum.

What he is getting at, one supposes, is that as a very successful corporate businessman, he is a more appropriate choice to lead the United States than either Santorum, a religious ideologue, or the incumbent President Obama, a onetime constitutional law professor. That he perhaps believes this himself, but at any rate expects this to resonate with American voters, is an indication of a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose and function of government. Even the premise – that he is some kind of business genius who can translate his skills to the political realm – is deeply flawed.

It’s important to remember that Romney’ greatest successes in the world of capital, finance, and corporate business were in the dismantling and destruction of companies. He was an expert in hostile takeovers; his company would buy up control of corporations that were undervalued on the stock market, fire the employees and sell off the physical assets for more than the cost of the shares he bought. Think Danny DeVito in Other People’s Money.

Predatory capitalism

Willard “Mitt” Romney’s corporate portrait

 As a venture capitalist, it’s worth noting that when he was with Bain Capital, he refused to fund the automobile companies in Detroit that were teetering on the edge of bankruptcy; he even wrote an op-ed entitled: “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt”. In the absence of any available capital, the federal government at Obama’s instructions stepped in, financed the restructuring of the Big Three, and today the money has all been paid back, interest paid, more employees are working than ever before, and GM is the largest and most profitable auto-maker in the world. Beyond his simple ruthlessness and his flat out being wrong about whether the car companies had any chance of survival, he screwed up because the call was wrong…any capital Bain would have invested would have paid off in spades. His self-avowed business acumen is a myth; that decision alone represents a missed opportunity for possibly billions of dollars in profits for Bain Capital. Bain could have financed the resurgence of the US auto industry and participated in both the financial profits and the accolades for having saved thousands of direct jobs and hundreds of thousands of related indirect ones.

But the key fallacy that is constantly being committed is to equate a nation’s government with a corporation. What Romney and the rest of his friends in the 1% don’t get is that the two are utterly different; they are different in aims, goals, purposes, functions, and structures…everything, right down to their raisons d’etre.

 A corporation exists for one purpose and one purpose only: to make a profit. The CEO of a corporation has one purpose: to devise and implement ways to make and maximise the corporation’s profits. In theory, the shareholders of a corporation are its owners and are the beneficiary of those profits. In reality, at least in publically traded corporations, those shareholders are merely sources of revenue to fund the corporation while the board of directors and senior management are the beneficiaries of the corporate profits through bonuses, outrageous salaries, stock options, and other perks. A corporation emphatically does not exist for the well-being of its employees, its clients, society as a whole, or anyone else but the beneficiaries of the profits it can make.

A government, on the other hand, has absolutely no profit motive; or at least it shouldn’t. It certainly shouldn’t have profit for its CEO (president) and directors (congress and cabinet) as its guiding purpose. In that sense, the manner in which a corporation, particularly a predatory one, is run is the diametric opposite of the manner in which a government ought to be run. It is fair to acknowledge that Mitt Romney has a track record of success at making himself and his peers a lot of money; he wasn’t particularly good, but he was successful. The problem is that such success and experience would be at best irrelevant and, at worst, detrimental to the skill set required of the chief executive officer of the United States.

A president of the US needs to understand the circumstances, needs, and desires of the people he represents; Romney bends over backwards to demonstrate that such understanding is far beyond his grasp. Romney can’t seem to rise above his long exercised paradigm of the fabulously wealthy; there is no reason whatsoever to suspect that as president he would be able to leave his elitist and rapacious world view and methods behind. Nobody who gives it any thought could seriously think that Romney, as president, would be capable of undertaking the paradigm shift to fair distribution of wealth and resources, consideration of the rights and needs of the underprivileged, a sense of compassion, or any of the attitudes that are utterly antithetical to his track record.

Romney personifies the 1% that has come into prominence as a direct result of

A Republican world

We’re better than this!…aren’t we?

the Occupy movement. Far more than 99% of the American electorate is so far away from Romney’s economic league that they couldn’t even begin to imagine what it’s like to have his kind of money. Romney makes more each day – doing nothing – than the average American family earns in one year through work.

 

So why is the upcoming presidential election in all probability going to be a close fought battle?

The American dream. Every American (at least every white American) has been brought up on the notion that through hard work, determination, and self-sacrifice, all the bounty of the nation could be grabbed. It’s a myth, and it’s getting to be more of a barefaced lie every day. The truth is that the Romneys of the world spend much of their energy doing their level best to pull up the drawbridge to keep the riffraff out of the winners’ circle; denying them the American dream. Romney was born rich and started out as a member of the inner circle, on the other side of the drawbridge.

With that as his entrée, he enhanced his wealth; now he is dedicated to ensuring that he and the rest of his ilk are protected from having to pay taxes, that the poor and working classes get no benefits but continue to pay tribute to him and his cronies in the form of taxes from which he is exempt or avoids entirely. They got theirs and now they want to change the rules of America to make sure that they keep theirs and no one else has a shot.

But as long as the American Nightmare is in play, people will still believe that they can somehow storm the citadel and succeed in the face of opposition from the very crowd who control the pieces in the game and have made it clear that they neither need nor want the company of any pretenders to the manor. The myth is perpetuated by flamboyant anomalies being paraded as examples of the viability of the “Dream”.

Look at Steve Jobs, or Mark Zuckerberg…they made their fortunes while very young through dint of hard work and original ides. True enough; the problem is that as anecdotal evidence goes, these are remarkably unconvincing examples. The truth is that the average person has a better chance of breaking down the deliberately erected barriers preventing them from achieving wealth by playing the lottery.

As long as the 1% is allowed the special privileges they enjoy and as long as the myth of the American Dream allows the 99% to identify with and to envy them at the same time, the 99% will be on the outside with their noses pressed up against the glass while the 1% sit inside in the warmth and laugh up their sleeves at the dupes who voted for this to happen.

While it certainly isn’t necessary to sell your soul to enjoy the fruits of the American Dream…it certainly seems as though it helps.

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