Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Eve Of Destruction (No Matter Who You Vote For, The Government Always Gets In)

Lord John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton (1834-1902)
     I have tried to keep this blog as non-political as possible because my thoughts regarding politics are fairly settled and static. Essentially, they boil down a belief in Lord Acton's dictum that "power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely", supplemented by Pete Townshend's pronouncement: "meet the new boss, same as the old boss".

     I would rather try to use my imagination more flexibly on subjects that seem to invite and welcome flexion and reflection, however successful or unsuccessful I might be in my efforts on any given day.

     But the recent (unrelated) matters of Rep.Charles Rangel's disgrace and the current Wikileaks fiasco are so dispiriting.

Charles Rangel fingerpointing

     Rangel is, of course, a poster figure phony at best, who exploited his youthful good achievements and talents (if you live a long life, as the congressman has, resting on the 50-year old laurels of a distinguished service record in Korean war no longer cuts it on a per se basis) for purposes of amassing personal wealth disproportionate to the his official public official's salary level and securing for himself until now unassailable and virtually impregnable stature and status as part of the "permanent government." 

Charles Rangel resting from his fingerpointing labors
     Until this year, when his larceny was brought to light and proven, attacking Rangel for any reason would have incited false charges of racism. This, despite the sorry figure he has cut for decades serving as the personally ambitious congressman for the economically depressed Manhattan ghetto (New York Times Metro section and real estate Gazeteer stories to the contrary, notwithstanding) so powerfully depicted in the tragic film New Jack City.  As a former New York prosecutor during the early days of the crack epidemic, as well as a longtime New York resident, I am amazed that Rangel's professional inadequacies (in terms of their sheer obviousness) are never spoken of by the claque of journalists so anxious to amplify the congressman's "I am such a nice guy" (although there is ample evidence in the record that he really isn't) statements and comment instead on his natty attire. I mean, apart from taking routine Caribbean corporate junkets to visit his offshore investments, feathering his own nest by acquiring additional rent controlled New York City real estate, parking his disused, engine-out  Mercedes sedan free for more than a decade on the public dime in the congressional garage, evading and violating the provisions of the tax code he has, in part, written and overseen, and planning his eponymous CUNY mausoleum (it's hard to think of it as a think tank), what were exactly Rangel's constituent-oriented priorities over the course of his career?  When the roll call of brave and great 20th and 21st century civil rights leaders is collated and recited, does anybody imagine that it will actually include Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY, 15th District)? 

     Like Richard  Nixon, spared prison and, in fact, pardoned, when so many underlings in his administration were incarcerated, the difference between you, I and Charlie Rangel is that if we had done what he did, we would be rotting in jail, despised and quickly forgotten.  As sarcastic, rueful jokes so often end, "is this a great country or what?"  And as the Scottish novelist, Muriel Spark wrote perfectly: "All politicians simply want to manipulate people; that mixed with a marked tendency to kleptomania".

Pvt. First Class Bradley E. Manning, U.S. Army

     As for Wikileaks, one needs to contrast the amorality and apparent psychopathy and delusions of grandeur of Julian Assange and Private First Class Bradley E. Manning (about both of whom it has usefully been asked, why don't you guys first train your efforts on non-democratic, despotic regimes and then attack imperfect, but clearly preferable nations containing large populations of actual flesh and blood, non-fat cat, non-government stooge, people who are not cardboard cutouts, stick figures or digital images populating your fantasy mental shooter games?) with the fecklessness of the United States government, including its State, Defense and Justice departments, in this matter.

Julian Assange, Wikileaks

     I could cite revealing passages from Sergey Nechaev and John Most, among others, contained in Part II (The Origins of Modern Terrorism) of Walter Lacquer's very fine Terrorism Reader to illustrate where Assange's and Manning's heads are at (although Assange and Manning both seem to lack the literary powers of these 19th century terrorists).  Still, from Assange's weird, affectless but enervated manner and the dumb, endlessly recycled news image of Pvt. Manning, supplemented by yesterday's CNN reports about his background and possible motivations, which are sure to stir up a hornet's nest of rancor and confusion, one can imagine both men endorsing the chilling, taunting  Khmer Rouge slogan and warning:  "Losing you is no loss; keeping you is no particular gain."

     Regarding our own culpable and incompetent public officials, who oversee the ridiculous scrivening of  "Dear Diary"-style self-aggrandizing and indiscreet memos, which are then published in insecure and seemingly unedited cable traffic, it seems as though, despite all the enormous (both on a percentage and actual dollar level amounts) public sector pay raises our government has enacted, they haven't yet produced, or even procured at an inflated price, better diplomatic mousetraps.

    Incompetence isn't a sin; neither is it a virtue.  And this isn't volunteer work. Results count.

    Barry McGuire had it right in Eve Of Destruction:  You might leave here for four days in space, but when you return it's the same old place.  As we all say in French, diplomacy's former language (since replaced by gibberish),  plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.

Bonzo Dog Band, London, 1968 

     And as the great, great Bonzo Dog Band said in their 1988 reunion single (Neil Innes, Vivian Stanshall and most original hands on board):

No Matter Who You Vote For, The Government Always Gets In 

Khmer Rouge handiwork

Eve of Destruction logotype

That's it, I promise. I'm returning to happier pastures.


  1. Dear Curtis,

    I am guessing that, as you appear to be former prosecutor, you feel an understandable irritation that individuals such as Mr. Rangel and Mr. Assange are not being prosecuted . . .however, outside of those twin misfortunes--and it may be one is more of a misfortune than another--the characters don't seem to belong together. For government representitives, Rangel might better be paired with Delay or perhaps other individuals, such as Sen. Byrd or Strom Thurmond who served a commesurate amount of time in their incumbency. Or you might even give us a European--or Chinese--equivalent. As for Mr. Assange, he appears to belong to a rare and elite group of anti-social individuals who might appear in a Conrad novel--or a Martin Amis short story. Mr. Assange's enormous patience and his clear hostility to (Western) institutions may like him to such master of this scornful fellowship as Mohammad Atta or, somewhat closer to home, our own John Brown (apparently as is reported in Today's Times, admired by John Wilkes Booth himself!) Finally, your title, "Eve of Destruction, No Matter Who You Vote For the Government Always Gets In" might be more pungent if you considered either different forms of "voting", including direct representation, or a real alternative to voting such as oligarchy or monarchy. Surely none of us must be afraid to out-Aristotle Aristotle.

    Much affection to you, you wraith of our mediocre Representations.

    W i l l i a m

  2. Hi. I can only respond briefly because I am semi-speechless with fatigue, but I'm less concerned with prosecution issues in Rangel's and Assange's cases than you might imagine. I forget what, if any, status the Rangel matter currently has in the courts. He's just been such an irritating phony for so long that his deserved disgrace is his comeuppance. He can and at some point I'm sure will contrive a way to stand near some other creep like Al Sharpton or, more likely, the new senator from CT (the Attorney General who lied about being a Vietnam combat veteran) and simply say that he's not as bad as they are. I imagine he'll probably get a CNN show like former NY governor Eliot Spitzer or will at least be featured as a talking head on news shows shortly. As you probably know, our current Philadelphia Eagles quarterback is dog-killer Michael Vick, who has basically been forgiven for his crimes here based on his very successful performances on the field, so redemption is available for putting numbers on whatever the relevant scoreboard is. As for Assange, it's chiefly the attitude and affect of our own Attorney General that bothers me. To expect exemplary performance from him would overexercise even my active imagination. As you can probably tell, what provoked this post was a very bad mood that was exacerbated by the coverage confluence of these two news events. I hope that sleep and a good book alleviate the problem. It is SO very nice to hear from you and I'll try to respond more thoughtfully next time. Curtis