Monday Reads: A Game of Thrones

king in yellowGood Morning!

I’ve been watching two HBO series recently as well as doing my usual reading of the latest news. I’ve sensed a theme. I’m not sure if it’s because it’s what I’m fascinated with, drawn to, or surround by in this existence. But, every where I look I see power brokers and money and ultimately war and violence against mostly the poor, women, and children. This is true in the worlds of True Detective and Game of Thrones which are fiction but appear to be loosely based on the corrupt mess of politics and religion in Louisiana and the nastiness of England’s War of the Roses respectively. It’s also true if you look around.

Grabbing power and vast wealth takes money, cunning, and the naked willingness to do anything to further one’s fortunes.  Every one else be damned!  I looked for news for the morning post and it appears that fiction does indeed mimic real life because the same threads of deceit and power grabbing rule the headlines too.  Evil power brokers and tyrants looking for more territory don’t only exist in the pages of literature and the visuals of cinema. They also don’t just haunt the pages of medieval history or swampy, backwards Louisiana.  The desire to corrupt the corruptible for personal gain is every where.

 It is, I believe, primarily a white man’s game and no one plays it better than the Koch Brothers IRL.

“People are really drawn to the Koch model,” said Anthony Scaramucci, a New York hedge fund investor and Republican fund-raiser, who attended the Kochs’ annual donor conference near Palm Springs, Calif., in January. “It’s adaptive, data-driven, and they are the most propitious capital allocators in political activism.”

The quiet revolt signals a broader shift in the world of big money. Clubs of elite donors in both parties are taking a more central role in shaping policy and campaigns, displacing party leaders and the outside-spending organizations they helped create after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010. And the sheer scale of their spending is almost certain to rewrite the playbook for political campaigns this year, as candidates reckon with the strongly held views of some of the world’s wealthiest people.

The phenomenon is not limited to the right. Super PACs blessed by Democratic congressional leaders have posted strong fund-raising over the last year, bolstered by victories in 2012. But those organizations are now being overshadowed by donors like Tom Steyer, the billionaire who is raising a $100 million political fund with other wealthy environmentalists to battle politicians deemed hostile to climate regulation.

Parties have “lost the ability to control the process,” said Jim Nicholson, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, partly because of legislation that cut the flow of money to party committees. “The party can’t coordinate with these super PACs and neither can the campaigns, so there’s a lot more chaos and disequilibrium in the campaigns. And the party structure clearly has a diminished role because they don’t have the resources they used to have.”

Rob Stein, a founder of the Democracy Alliance, one of the largest clubs of donors on the left, agreed.

“The devolution of the two-party system has begun,” Mr. Stein said. “Money is leaving the parties and going to independent expenditure groups. These now are fracturing the ‘big tents’ of our old two-party system into independent, narrow and well-funded wings.”


We’ve seen the Republican party struggle recently with so many factions that it has nearly made the country ungovernable.  The powerful–who once thought that religious kooks were their pawns–are now looking to other means of addressing their greed and expansion needs.  I’m watching Mary Landrieu be assaulted on TV by Koch Brothers money right now. There is not even a challenger at the moment although there are several very extremist congressmen hanging about in the wings. The point appears to be to remove the obstacles first. I’m not sure that they very much care about the overall results as long as the resulting chaos creates an environment where they can thrive without oversight and responsibility for the havoc they cause.

It’s also fascinating to watch Putin flex those old KGB muscles in the Crimea.  The same teapots seem to brew endless tempests.  Wow.  Did the establishment media and analysts miss this one.  They’d do a lot better spending time with reruns of Game of Thrones than sitting in their Georgetown condos discussing their talents for taking complex concepts and boiling them down to digestible and infinitely discussable bits of prose and sound bytes.

Nobody, including us, is infallible about the future. Giving the public your best thoughts about where things are headed is all a poor pundit (or government analyst) can do. But this massive intellectual breakdown has a lot to do with a common American mindset that is especially built into our intellectual and chattering classes. Well educated, successful and reasonably liberal minded Americans find it very hard to believe that other people actually see the world in different ways. They can see that Vladimir Putin is not a stupid man and that many of his Russian officials are sophisticated and seasoned observers of the world scene. American experts and academics assume that smart people everywhere must want the same things and reach the same conclusions about the way the world works.

How many times did foolishly confident American experts and officials come out with some variant of the phrase “We all share a common interest in a stable and prosperous Ukraine.” We may think that’s true, but Putin doesn’t.

We blame this in part on the absence of true intellectual and ideological diversity in so much of the academy, the policy world and the mainstream media. Most college kids at good schools today know many more people from different races and cultural groups than their grandparents did, but they are much less exposed to people who think outside the left-liberal box. How many faithful New York Times readers have no idea what American conservatives think, much less how Russian oligarchs do? Well bred and well read Americans live in an ideological and cultural cocoon and this makes them fatally slow to understand the very different motivations that animate actors ranging from the Tea Party to the Kremlin to, dare we say it, the Supreme Leader and Guide of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

King_in_Yellow_CM_II_by_verreauxAs far as we can tell, the default assumption guiding our political leadership these days is that the people on the other side of the bargaining table (unless they are mindless Tea Party Republicans) are fundamentally reasonable people who see the world as we do, and are motivated by the same things that motivate us. Many people are, of course, guided by an outlook not all that dissimilar from the standard upper middle class gentry American set of progressive ideas. But some aren’t, and when worlds collide, trouble comes.

Too much of the Washington policy establishment looks around the world and sees only reflections of its own enlightened self. That’s natural and perhaps inevitable to some degree. The people who rise through the competitive bureaucracies of American academic, media and think tank life tend to be those who’ve most thoroughly absorbed and internalized the set of beliefs and behavioral norms that those institutions embody and respect. On the whole, those beliefs and norms have a lot going for them. It would not be an improvement if America’s elite institutions started to look more like their counterparts in Russia or Zimbabwe.

But while those ideas and beliefs help people rise through the machinery of the American power system, they can get in the way when it comes to understanding the motives and calculations of people like President Putin. The best of the journalists, think tankers and officials will profit from the Crimean policy fiasco and will never again be as smug or as blind as so much of Washington was last week. The mediocre majority will go on as before.

It seems power brokers do lose interest though.  A few years ago, this skirmish was centermost on the minds of those folks getting their opiate on via the Oscars last night.  There is just one more imperialist army left in the Afghanistan dirt. Russia has moved on from there.  And, now, so do we.  There is one more little outraged pawn exiting the global throne room.

In an unusually emotional interview, the departing Afghan president sought to explain why he has been such a harsh critic of the 12-year-old U.S. war effort here. He said he’s deeply troubled by all the casualties he has seen, including those in U.S. military operations. He feels betrayed by what he calls an insufficient U.S. focus on targeting Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan. And he insists that public criticism was the only way to guarantee an American response to his concerns.

To Karzai, the war was not waged with his country’s interests in mind.

“Afghans died in a war that’s not ours,’ he said in the interview, his first in two years with a U.S. newspaper.

In Karzai’s mind, al-Qaeda is “more a myth than a reality” and the majority of the United States’ prisoners here were innocent. He’s certain that the war was “for the U.S. security and for the Western interest.”

Such statements elicit scorn and shock from U.S. officials, who point out that Americans have sacrificed mightily for Afghanistan — losing more than 2,000 lives and spending more than $600 billion in the effort to defeat al-Qaeda and the Taliban and rebuild the country.

So much hubris. So much detritus. So  much power and money to be generated by fresh adventures. Game-Of-Thrones-Fan-Art-Hogan-McLaughlin-16x9-1

Let’s call it McDomination. It’s been a well thought out and highly financed war plan since the 1970s.  Big Business and Power Brokers dislike all the little people taking to the streets about ecology and civil rights.

On August 23, 1971, Lewis Powell sent a confidential memo to his friend Eugene Sydnor, Jr., the director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The memo was both a call to arms and a battle plan for a business response to its growing legion of opponents. Powell was a corporate lawyer, a former president of the American Bar Association, and a board member of eleven corporations, including Philip Morris and the Ethyl Corporation, a company that made the lead for leaded gasoline. Powell had also represented the Tobacco Institute, the research arm of the tobacco industry, and various tobacco companies. Later that year, President Richard Nixon would nominate Powell to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court, where he served for fifteen years.

Powell’s memo serves as a useful starting point for understanding how the transformation of the corporate system that began in the 1970s set the stage for today’s global health problems. “No thoughtful person can question that the American economic system is under broad attack,” wrote Powell. “The assault on the enterprise system is broadly based and consistently pursued. It is gaining momentum and converts.” “One of the bewildering paradoxes of our time,” Powell continued, “is the extent to which the enterprise system tolerates, if not participates in, its own destruction.” He enumerated the system’s enemies: well-meaning liberals, government officials intent on regulating business, news media, student activists, and an emerging environmental and consumer movement— especially its most visible leader, Ralph Nader, in Powell’s view “the single most effective antagonist of American business.”

Powell called on business, especially the Chamber of Commerce, to end its “appeasement” of its critics and launch an aggressive and systematic counter-assault. The memo warned that “independent and uncoordinated activity by individual corporations, as important as this is, will not be sufficient. Strength lies in organization, in careful long-range planning and implementation, in consistency of action over an indefinite period of years … and in the political power available only though united action and national organizations.”

marquisPowell urged new, well-funded public media campaigns to support the free enterprise system, the creation of think tanks and institutes to develop policy proposals and “direct political action” in legislative and judicial arenas. “It is time,” he argued, for “American business … to apply their great talents vigorously to the preservation of the system itself.” Powell’s “confidential” memo was first circulated within the Chamber of Commerce, then released in 1972 by investigative reporter Jack Anderson during the Powell Supreme Court confirmation hearings. While the document may not have been the blueprint for the rise of the Republican right that some analysts claim, its real value is as the articulation of the corporate prescription for capitalism’s ills.

Today, more than forty years after business took up Powell’s appeal, its success in achieving the goals he laid out makes it hard to fathom the depth of his concern.

A new fresh hell from the minds and money of Putin, Charles Koch, Ted Cruz, Henry Kissinger and Richard II .   Perhaps I should be watching less dark fiction and I’d be less prone to pick up the similarities.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today.

50 Comments on “Monday Reads: A Game of Thrones”

  1. dakinikat says:

    Democrats have conquered most demographics in this country, except, of course, white men. This piece in the New York Times about Democratic efforts to capture their vote—or at least more of it—is fascinating insofar as it really shows how much the white male vote is controlled by nothing more than resentment, particularly resentment of women and people of color for spending the last few decades improving their lot in life. It’s not even a vote to restore lost levels of white male privilege, since I think white men must know that putting that genie back into the bottle isn’t going to work. At this point, then, voting Republican is just about punishment. You can’t stop a black guy from being your boss at work and your wife is never going to be Mrs. Cleaver, but you can make life a little harder for women and people of color in revenge for “stealing” the easy life of never having to compete with them that you feel entitled to. Also, MORE GUNS, because your phallic death totems are so soothing and help fill, temporarily, that desire to be a big man.

    • RalphB says:

      Hopefully she has a point that it’s largely an age issue. Though I also believe it’s a matter of education, those men with less are more apt to be resentful and butthurt in general.

      • dakinikat says:

        I dunno … a lot of younger men are more interested in dick swagger than I’d like to hope … I do have to say my son in laws appear to be fine with my ambitious daughters, but both of my daughters are sacrificing like I did .to be with these young men. I can see it even if they don’t.

        • Mary Luke says:

          Same thing here with the daughter. It makes me cry watching her struggle through the whole young working mother exhaustion same as I did.

        • NW Luna says:

          I see it with some of the younger mothers at work. She’s doing the lion’s share (lioness’s share, really) of the child-rearing, plus working. He deigns to do some rough-housing with the kid, but % basis, it ain’t 50/50. Sad.

  2. bostonboomer says:

    Very interesting post–especially the article about Lewis Powell and the corporatization of America.

    I didn’t really understand your point in using the American Interest article, though. I don’t think there’s a Left-liberal emphasis either in the beltway or in most of Academia. Personally, I was not surprised that Putin sent in troops to protect Russia’s oils supply, and I’ve seen plenty of twitter experts predicting it would happen. I really think twitter is a good place to observe different points of view from both government and academia, if you follow the right people.

    • RalphB says:

      Seems to me it was much less a problem of not seeing Putin’s actions coming as simply not knowing how to prevent them from happening. I admit I don’t know what we could have done to stop him. Ukraine, particularly Crimea, is strategically important to Russia while it frankly isn’t so much to us, so …

      Putin injected Russia into Syria for less strategic reasons and, in 2008, whacked off portions from Georgia via an invasion which he still controls. Dubya had no way to stop that either.

      • bostonboomer says:

        Right. It’s weird that lots of people are blaming Obama, when he had no way to prevent it other than starting WWIII. I hope he hangs tough and stays out of this.

        • RalphB says:

          They always blame Obama, no matter what. I’m certain he’s used to it by now. There seems to be an unwritten Beltway rule that whatever a Republican president does, it’s always “right”, but Democratic presidents must be questioned or blamed.

        • RalphB says:

          While we have little leverage, if any, in the conflict Ukraine does but it probably can’t safely exercise it. Crimea imports all it’s fresh water, electricity, and food from Ukraine proper.

    • dakinikat says:

      I just found it weird that such a group think was labelled as “liberal” when I think it’s more like a provincialism that comes from being in an echo chamber. The Crimea is important for Russia’s Navy too. Following the right people is important. I think there’s this tendency by the east coast establishment to discount any one that’s not in Washington DC or NYC. I also think they are blinded by who goes to what university. I think they’re an echo chamber but not necessarily because of philosophical differences; more like socio-economic.

      • RalphB says:

        I blame Georgetown cocktail parties and Sally Quinn. 😉

      • bostonboomer says:

        Thanks, Dak. That’s pretty much what I thought, just wanted to check.

        • Mary Luke says:

          Me too. I’ve been saying it since the 2000 election. Around August I wandered over to Fox news and listened to what people in the rest of the country were thinking. I was shocked, but I got the message. I started telling all my Boston/Cambridge friends that Bush was going to win the election. They looked at me like I’d landed from the Starship Enterprise, and had lost track of a couple hundred years. Well, I’ll grant you, Bush didn’t exactly “win”, but he did get close enough to prevail. Everyone here in MA thought he’d be crushed by Gore.

    • RalphB says:


      How Putin’s Invasion of Ukraine Already Cost Russia $10 Billion

      The Central Bank of Russia has been forced to intervene in the foreign exchange market today to stem the decline of the Russian ruble, which tanked Monday following an escalation of military tensions on the border between Ukraine and Russia over the weekend.

      According to a trader at ING cited by Bloomberg News, the central bank sold more than $10 billion of its dollar reserves this morning in exchange for rubles in the open market in order to prop up the value of the ruble. The IMF estimates that at the end of January, Russia’s stock of foreign reserves totaled $457.2 billion….

    • RalphB says:

      NYT: Pressure rising …

      Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany told Mr. Obama by telephone on Sunday that after speaking with Mr. Putin she was not sure he was in touch with reality, people briefed on the call said. “In another world,” she said.

      Now that is a bit concerning.

      • dakinikat says:

        Interesting characterization. You would think the Germans of all people would know Russians and how very little they’ve changed. I think there’s a certain amount of hubris about the assumed level of civilization around first world leaders.

  3. bostonboomer says:

    Ha ha!

    Christian lawmakers fall for ‘Ponzi schemer’ who said he’d found Noah’s Ark

  4. dakinikat says:

    Spanking children slows cognitive development and increases risk of criminal behavior, expert says
    A scientist makes a definitive case against spanking, including how it slows cognitive development and increases antisocial and criminal behavior.

    • NW Luna says:

      Well, when you beat & whack kids around and humiliate them — What could possible happen from that?

  5. dakinikat says:

    I wish this was uncommon but …

    A Louisiana pastor was arrested over the weekend on charges that he raped a 20-year-old woman, and car theft charges.

    According to The Advocate, 43-year-old David “Scott” Lemley of Baton Rouge’s New Harmony Baptist Church was booked into East Baton Rouge Parish Prison on Saturday.

    Arrest documents showed that he had been accused of having sex with a woman who had “the medical documentation mental capacity of a 7-year-old.” The woman’s father had told her to have sex with Lemley because the pastor’s wife was too ill, the documents said.

    • RalphB says:

      The father was currently incarcerated in Parish Prison for rape and other sex crimes.

      Good. Hope the sick asshat never gets out.

    • NW Luna says:

      Our state legislators have so abandoned public higher education that most here is student funded. Fortunately the issue is getting more publicity and public backlash.

  6. RalphB says:

    X-ray analysis suggests Neanderthals spoke languages similar to our own

    Researchers have found evidence to suggest that Neanderthals may have spoken languages not too different from ones currently used by humans.

    “The Neanderthal hyoid was basically indistinguishable from our own, strongly suggesting that this key part of the vocal tract was used in the same way,” said Stephen Wroe, a zoologist and palaeontologist at UNE.

    The U-shaped hyoid bone helps support the tongue and raise the larynx to vocalize or swallow, but its location in humans — apparently shared by Neanderthals — allows for a large variety of distinct sounds.

    “From this research, we can conclude that it’s likely that the origins of speech and language are far, far older than once thought,” he said.

    Interesting speculation.

    • NW Luna says:

      Oooh, that is fascinating. Earlier it had been thought that the N’thals could speak. Love that we keep finding out more as the technology improves.

    • bostonboomer says:

      Wow! That’s an amazing breakthrough.

  7. dakinikat says:

    Ross Douthat looks at gay marriage and wonders what’s love got to do with it

    Douthat and Eric Ericson are the faces of of the ugly side of america


    Roe v Wade has been settled law since 1973, but that hasn’t stopped conservatives from continually attempting to set up camp up in America’s vast network of uterus-es-es. And I seem to recall a certain conservative columnist still negotiating the terms of surrender thirty-five years after everyone had taken their Ben-Wa balls and gone home. Because, when it comes to issues involving what other people are doing with their junk, conservative religious folks are like a dog with a boner: they just won’t leave it alone.

  8. Fannie says:

    Dak you have described the situation right here in my own back yard. Here is what the religious kooks have been up to, and I might add since the 1880’s. A group of kooks from the Followers of Christ Church left Kansas, and send missionaries to Oklahoma, Oregon, Idaho and California and all states in between. These are the “holy rollers tongue talkers of the Pentecostal brand of the Christian Nation. They are consumed by the maleness of Jesus, and dominate the women in all aspects of their lives. They do not believe in medical care, therefore hundreds and hundreds of infants, children, teens, and I suspect wives have been denied treatment from doctors and hospitals. These victims are forced to die, and this cruelty is forced upon them by males who are heads of the house, the church and the community. I went to the cemetery where they are buried, about 900, that I could figure, over 140 were babies, and children, and teens. I didn’t even count those before 1900, and these same families have been allowing them since about 1880. I have never seen so many babies buried in a cemetery like that. These kids don’t have voice, they count on adults, and there parents are not responsible. I called on the democrats here to stop this, and called the republicans, but they think this is about religious rights. One such person is Chris Perry, a republican, who has photos of herself, and her horse riding in the wind. I bet she takes him to the veterinarian when he needs treatment. She said ” This is about where they go for eternity”…………and that is why she killed the bill. She defends them before she’ll defend the infants, the children, and women who are dying from a bad tooth, from food poisoning, from bacterial pneumonia. I am so sick of legislators, kooks, and everybody else declaring who goes to heaven and who doesn’t.

    She also supports the guns on campus that is moving forward in the house for vote. So I totally relate to your post today. Make me sick to hear Scott Bedke (Rep.) saying they don’t have the room to debate this issue on the legislative agenda………

  9. adrastos says:

    I’m one of the few people who thinks the Crimean episode will not last very long. The Russians clearly have an interest in maintaining a military presence in Ukraine, above all else their warm water port. Crimea has only been a part of the Ukraine for 60 years, which is nothing. I think a plebiscite might be the long term solution. It worked with the Czechs and the Slovaks.

    Anyway, I wrote more about this today at First Draft with a punny title I’m quite proud of:

  10. RalphB says:

    This is the damndest thing I’ve seen in a long while but it says a lot about our society and the jackbooted thugs who are the cops.

  11. RalphB says:

    The Guardian: Don’t listen to Obama’s Ukraine critics: he’s not ‘losing’ – and it’s not his fight

    In the days since Vladimir Putin sent Russian troops into the Crimea, it has been amateur hour back in Washington.

    I don’t mean Barack Obama. He’s doing pretty much everything he can, with what are a very limited set of policy options at his disposal. No, I’m talking about the people who won’t stop weighing in on Obama’s lack of “action” in the Ukraine. Indeed, the sea of foreign policy punditry – already shark-infested – has reached new lows in fear-mongering, exaggerated doom-saying and a stunning inability to place global events in any rational historical context.

    This would be a useful moment for Americans to have informed reporters, scholars and leaders explaining a crisis rapidly unfolding half a world away. Instead, we’ve already got all the usual suspect arguments: …

    The “armchair experts” advice is gob smackingly stupid.