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Namekagon Notebook 

  By James Richard Bailey

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Oct. 14, 2018 (First Published Nov. 4, 2013)


Book review:


Conspiracy Theory In America


By Lance deHaven-Smith


This is not the first time I've written about the bad rap that the term “conspiracy theory” has gotten here in the land of the free. Back in March I penned a piece entitled In defense of a phrase: conspiracy theory. I posted it on the supposedly liberal blog site, Daily KOS...from which I was promptly banned. Apparently founder Markos Moulitsas Zúniga isn't all that liberal. It is still available on that site but I am no longer allowed to post any contributions there.

Shortly thereafter I heard an interview with Lance deHaven-Smith, author of the book Conspiracy Theory in America. In this book he explores the social and media phenomenon of the excoriation of all references to events such as the assassination of President Kennedy, the toppling of the World Trade Center buildings on September 11, 2001 and the disputed presidential elections of George W. Bush.

This scholarly work, published by the University of Texas Pres s is not what one might expect, judging by its title. The introduction alone is 24 pages long, which is none too much in setting the logical tone of the chapters that follow. To wit:

Given its title, you might think Conspiracy Theory in America is simply another addition to the long list of books criticizing conspiracy theories. You probably expect the book to blame the popularity of these theories on some flaw in American culture or character. No doubt, you have encountered this view many times, not just in books and magazines but also on radio and television.

Not so. If it is a criticism of anything, it demolishes the tin foil hat image invoked by conspiracy theory debunkers. Being mocked for questioning the cover-up of high crimes is the fate of anybody who has the courage to connect the dots, to put together obvious patterns. The author explains:

This is because most of the criticism directed at conspiracy beliefs is based on sentimentality about America's political leaders and institutions rather than on unbiased reasoning and objective observation. Most authors who criticize conspiracy theories not only disagree with the theories factual claims, they find the ideas [themselves] offensive.

In a nutshell, it is the premise of Conspiracy Theory In America that a compilation of documented facts coupled with a logical interpretation of the pattern that emerges from doing so can be summed up in the concept of State Crimes Against Democracy, or SCADs.

The author is a stickler for logic. He points out simple fallacies, such as false balance. In plain language, this is comparing apples to oranges or, more accurately, comparing the promise of an apple to a bushel full of them.

The visceral reaction to conspiracy theories is understandable. However, it often results in blanket dismissals that treat all conspiracy theories as equally ludicrous and insulting. In fact, conspiracy beliefs vary widely in terms of their supporting evidence and plausibility

deHaven-Smith develops this line of thought by tracing back in time to the first appearance of the phrase “conspiracy theory” in American media. Its first use can be documented as stemming from popular mistrust of the Warren Commission's conclusions as to the facts surrounding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

The commission's report was issued in September, 1964. That year, the New York Times printed five stories in which the phrase “conspiracy theory” was used. These days the phrase appears in that newspaper more than 140 times a year.

How did this happen? In the chapter titled The Conspiracy-Theory Conspiracy, our attention is directed to the following facts. Due to inconsistencies in the Warren Commission's report itself, by 1966 public opinion polls started to show that Americans were beginning to reject the report's conclusions. This is when the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) began a campaign mocking people's doubts, calling them “conspiracy theories.”

The author documents this by referring to a January, 1967 CIA “dispatch” that was numbered 1035-960, noting that the heading included the notation “PSYCH” and instructions to “destroy when no longer needed.” Their goal was not to promote the commission's report as accurate, but rather to sow doubt in the public's mind about its critics.

At first, conspiracy theories weren't mocked. Today it happens all of the time. People who are suspicious of any government malfeasance are routinely labeled “conspiracy theorists.” At this point, deHaven-Smith builds his case by going down the list of the biggest SCADs in history. The list is impressive.


Author Lance deHaven-Smith solidly builds in Conspiracy Theory In America a case that State Crimes Against Democracy have been committed in America. He uses a scholarly analysis of conspiracy denial in the social sciences. He looks at European philosophers Karl Popper and Leo Strauss, who largely influenced a transformation of U.S. social science, moving it away from the well documented conspiracy beliefs of this country's Founders. These two actually blamed conspiracy theory for totalitarianism in Europe, World War 2, and the Holocaust. He says the following:

Popper is largely responsible for the mistaken idea that conspiracy theories are modern variants of ancient superstitions and nineteenth-century social prejudices. […] For his part, Strauss did not use the term “conspiracy theory,” but he advocated state political propaganda and covert actions to protect a society's traditional beliefs and ongoing illusions about its origins and virtues...

Looking at the conspiracy theory label, the American tradition of conspiracy belief, conspiracy denial in the social sciences, the ironic conspiracy to debunk conspiracy-theory, and his well documented exploration of State Crimes Against Democracy, deHaven-Smith ends up with a discussion of restoring American democracy. It pays to remember, he says, that the U.S.A. was established as a nation of laws, and that these shouldn't just apply to its citizens. These laws should apply to government as well.

Ask the basic question of crime investigation: Qui bono? Who benefits? This is the question that should have been asked from Day One.

Conspiracy Theory In America is an excellent presentation, logical and well documented. Do pick it up and see for yourself.

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October 19, 2017 (originally posted 1/23/14)

The demise of liberalism


(Based on 'Death of the Liberal Class' by Chris Hedges)

There have traditionally been six pillars of the liberal movement in America.

It is easy to make the case that all six have been entirely taken over by big money. They have had their teeth pulled, been marginalized, or have been completely taken over by the 1%.

The institutions of higher learning used to be hotbeds of liberal thought. I was in college during the height of the Vietnam War, and the school was steeped in anti-war, racial equality and women's rights action. Now, universities and colleges are increasingly modeled along corporate lines. Unlike the days when a college education could be had at low cost, even no cost in some cases (GI Bill), it now comes with an unhealthy side dish of student debt that isn't even discharchgeable via bankruptcy.

In an article called How the American University Was Killed, In Five Easy Steps, ”this is how you break the evil, wicked, leftist academic class in America.”

(a) First, you defund public higher education.

(b) Second, you deprofessionalize and impoverish the professors (and continue to create a surplus of underemployed and unemployed Ph.D.s).

(c) You move in a managerial/administrative class who take over governance of the university.

(d) You move in corporate culture and corporate money.

(e) Destroy the students:

1.  Dumb down the curriculum.

2. Make a higher education insanely costly, so that the only students who can

graduate debt free are those who were wealthy to begin with.

These days in the political arena the only religious voices being heard are those of the fundamentalist Christians. They are climate change denying mouthpieces for the fossil fuel industry. They hijack the political debate through the use of anti-abortion and anti-LGBT rights stances. Religious broadcasters have turned worship into big business. It is a rare day when you hear from leftist theologians who advocate for compassion.

The Democratic Party has been taken over by big business and wealthy individuals just like the Republican Party has. This has been the case ever since the Democrats achieved corporate fund raising parity with the Republicans during the Clinton years.

Even with Barack Obama in the White House, things have only gotten worse. No bankers went to jail for their criminal activities that derailed our economy in 2007. Health care reform turned into a gift to the health insurance industry. Civil rights have been severely eroded. On the international stage, the U.S.A. has accelerated it's illegal drone strikes against Middle Eastern countries. State legislatures have been hijacked by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a front for the billionaire class.

Where were any prominent Democrats when the Wisconsin Uprising took place? Nowhere to be seen. What about the famous Obama quote?

And understand this: If American workers are being denied their right to organize and collectively bargain when I’m in the White House, I will put on a comfortable pair of shoes myself, I will walk on that picket line with you as President of the United States of America. Because workers deserve to know that somebody is standing in their corner.

All we got out of him was a Tweet on the day before the 2012 recall election.

The press no longer even acknowledges the existence of people power. Newscasts always feature business news. We have a Nightly Business Report. Where is the “daily labor report?” When I was growing up, there was a major radio station in Chicago: WCFL. Those call letters stood for the Chicago Federation of Labor. It no longer exists in that form.

Businesses act in their own self-interests, and in the interests of their shareholders.   Big media companies are businesses -- $360 billion worth.   They want a cultural, labor, legislative, regulatory, and judicial environment that allows them to maximize profits.   But progressive politics are an immediate and tangible threat to their interests.   In what alternate universe would big media companies permit a liberal bias in their own programming?!   'Liberal media bias' is more than a myth -- it's an absurd lie echoing from media corporations themselves, and resonating with the ignorant among us.”

My generation remembers protest songs as hallmarks of the times. Popular culture was once a powerful force in the liberal universe. Music, literature, movies, TV shows and art carried powerful messages that bridged the gap between consciousness and reality. The song War by Edwin Starr was probably the most popular protest song of all time in America, reaching the #1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1970. Other songs, like those of Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, and John Lennon dominated the thoughts of the 1960s and '70s youths.

The book Catch 22 by Joseph Heller was so wildly popular that to this day the phrase “catch 22” is embedded in our lexicon. The TV show Mash used tragedy and comedy in a gripping mixture with its message about the stupidity of war. Songs like Free Your Mind by En Vogue, A Change is Gonna Come by Sam Cooke, Blowin' in the Wind by Bob Dylan, Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell, and I Am Woman by Helen Reddy addressed racism, the environment and civil rights.

These days pop culture is all about narcissistic gratification of material desires. That and the gratuitous satisfaction of violence found in video games and movies.

Unions were once the proud voice of labor. I grew up in Kenosha, Wisconsin. It was the quintessential manufacturing town. At 7 a.m. We could hear the factory whistles all over town, heralding another day for union employees at American Motors (AMC), Anaconda American Brass, Snap-on Tools, McWhite Wire Rope, Tri-Clover Ladish and Jockey International. On Labor Day, the annual parade included marchers and floats in a mile long procession. The AMC plant alone employed some 8,000 workers, supporting about 25,000 households.

Union membership is about 1/3 of its level during the heydays of the 1950s. The portion of private sector workers in unions fell to just 6.6 percent last year, from 6.9 percent in 2011, causing some labor specialists to question whether private sector unions were sinking toward irrelevance. Private sector union membership peaked at around 35 percent in the 1950s.

The biggest segment of labor union membership is now in the public sector. Teacher's unions have come under particular fire as the move to shift education dollars from public to charter schools has picked up steam. “Right to work” laws have been passed in 24 states. Auto manufacturing plants now pay people about half of what they did when unions were dominant.

All of the above factors have collectively meant the end of the liberal aspect of American society. One in four children live in poverty, and we have the highest prison population in the world. Even our prisons have been privatized. They are now big business.

According to Wikepedia, there are approximately 2 million inmates in state, federal and private prisons throughout the country. According to California Prison Focus, “no other society in human history has imprisoned so many of its own citizens.”

We are a permanent war culture, with civil rights on the run. I feel that the pendulum must soon begin to swing the other way. As our devastated economy and environment deepens, a new generation of Americans must rise up and take back our any means necessary.

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