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Cover-Ups and Truth Tellers

Cover-Ups and Truth Tellers

In a May, 22, 2019 appearance in the White House Rose Garden, President Donald Trump declared that “I don’t do cover-ups.” Various news outlets immediately started to enumerate a long list of bona fide cover-ups associated with the president.

What can one say about this bit of Trumpian nonsense? Can you accuse a person of lying who actually seems not to know the difference between truth and untruth? Trump’s inability in this regard is demonstrated daily, and The Washington Post fact checker puts the running count of presidential lies at 10,111, with no end in sight. When it comes to reality, the president appears to be a malignant version of Walter Mitty

Trump delivering State of the Union address, Feb. 5, 2019, in Washington, D.C. (White House/ D. Myles Cullen)

Unfortunately, Trump’s behavior is but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to cover-ups. One can surmise that just by virtue of being the head of the U.S. government, the president — any president — must be directly or indirectly associated with hundreds of such evasions. That is because, it can be argued without much paranoia, that every major division of the government is hiding something —particularly when it comes to foreign activities.

Of course, being cover-ups by the government may make them appear acceptable, at least to a naive public. Many of them are rationalized as necessary for the sake of national “security.” And, of course, everyone wants to be “secure,” accepting the notion that “people sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”

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The Climate Crisis is Back in the News

The Climate Crisis is Back in the News

Photo Source Peter Prokosch | CC BY 2.0

The prospect of drastic climate change is back in the news. But, for all too many people it is just that, a news item. It is like other eye-grabbing stories: a bit scary, but also happening somewhere else and at some other time. Of course, if you happen to be at that other place or approximate to that time (the latest examples would be the Florida Panhandle in mid-October and Mexico’s southwestern coast in late October), things get more immediate, more real. But otherwise it is theory. Examine your own sense of urgency as you read on.

Back in 2015, when most of the world’s nations were debating a treaty on climate change in Paris, this time-and-place factor played a part in the negotiations. Specifically, it played into defining how to best read the “doomsday thermometer.” According to climatologists, a relatively small upward shift in the world’s average temperature—caused largely by a steady increase in the atmospheric greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2)—over the next few decades could play havoc with civilization worldwide. But, how much of a shift?

Industrialized societies whose standard of living would take a politically rattling hit from any sizable cut in CO2 wanted to set the target for allowable temperature rise at 2 degrees Celsius or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. They thought that sufficient to their time and place. However, this was considered a starkly insufficient goal by those who live in the Maldives, Seychelles, Micronesia, Bangladesh, Marshall Islands, and other such countries. It would also of course be bad news for any number of other low-lying coastal areas (think lower Manhattan).

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Julian Assange and the Fate of Journalism

Julian Assange and the Fate of Journalism

Photograph Source Jeanne Menjoulet | CC BY 2.0

Julian Assange is the Australian founder of Wikileaks—a website dedicated to the public’s right to know what governments and other powerful organizations are doing. Wikileaks pursues this goal by posting revelatory documents, often acquired unofficially, that bring to light the criminal behavior that results in wars and other man-made disasters. Because Wikileaks’ very existence encourages “leaks,” government officials fear the website, and particularly dislike Julian Assange.

Essentially, Wikileaks functions as a wholesale supplier of evidence. Having identified alleged official misconduct, Wikileaks seeks to acquire and make public overwhelming amounts of evidence—sometimes hundreds of thousands of documents at a time—which journalists and other interested parties can draw upon. And since the individuals and organizations being investigated are ones ultimately responsible to the public, such a role as wholesale supplier of evidence can be seen as a public service.

Unfortunately, that is not how most government officials see the situation. They assert that government cannot be successful unless aspects of its behavior are conducted in secret. The fact that those aspects in question thereby lose any accountable connection to the public is discounted. The assumption here is that most citizens simply trust their governments to act in their interests, including when they act clandestinely. Historically, such trust is dangerously naive. Often government officials, even the democratic ones, feel no obligation to their citizens in general, but rather only to special interests.

One reason for this is that large and bureaucratic institutions that last for any length of time have the tendency to become stand-alone institutions—ones with their own self-referencing cultures, loyalty to which comes to override any responsibility to outside groups other than those with particular shared interests. In other words, long-lasting institutions/bureaucracies take on a life of their own.

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A System Problem for Democracy

A System Problem for Democracy


In 1956 William H. Whyte published a book entitled The Organization Man. Basing his findings on a large number of interviews with CEOs of major American corporations, Whyte concluded that, within the context of modern organizational structure, American “rugged individualism” had given way to a “collectivist ethic.” Economic success and individual recognition was now pursued within an institutional structure – that is, by “serving the organization.”

Whyte’s book was widely read and praised, yet his thesis was not as novel as it seemed. “Rugged individualism,” to the extent that it existed, was (and is) the exception for human behavior and not the rule. We have evolved to be group-oriented animals and not lone wolves. This means that the vast majority of us (and certainly not just Americans) live our lives according to established cultural conventions. These operate on many levels – not just national patriotism or the customs of family life.

What Whyte ran across was the sub-culture of the workplace as followed by those who set themselves upon a “career path” within a specific organization. The stereotypical examples are those, to quote Whyte, “who have left home spiritually as well as physically, to take the vows of organization life. [They adopt an ethic that] rationalizes the organization’s demand for fealty and gives those who offer it wholeheartedly a sense of dedication.”

Today, some private sector organizations have moved away from the most extreme demands of such conformity, but some other career lines have not, two examples being the military and career party politics. For insight in this we can turn to the sociologist C. Wright Mills, whose famous book The Power Elite was published the same year as Whyte’s The Organization Man.

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America’s Long History of Warfare

America’s Long History of Warfare

Americans like to view their country as a force for peace in the world when the historical reality is almost the opposite, a reality ignored by the PBS Vietnam War documentary, writes Lawrence Davidson.


If you go to the Wikipedia page that gives a timeline of U.S. foreign military operations between 1775 and 2010, you are likely to come away in shock. It seems that ever since the founding of the country, the United States has been at war. It is as if Americans just could not (and still cannot) sit still, but had to (and still have to) force themselves on others through military action.

Photos of victims of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam galvanized public awareness about the barbarity of the war. (Photo taken by U. S. Army photographer Ronald L. Haeberle)

Often this is aimed at controlling foreign resources, thus forcing upon others the consequences of their own capitalist avarice. At other times the violence is spurred on by an ideology that confuses U.S. interests with civilization and freedom. Only very rarely is Washington out there on the side of the angels. Regardless, the bottom line seems to be that peace has never been a deeply ingrained cultural value for the citizens of the United States. As pertains to foreign policy, America’s national culture is a war culture.

It is against this historical backdrop that the recent Ken Burns 18-hour-long documentary on the Vietnam War comes off as superficial. There is a subtle suggestion that while those American leaders who initiated and escalated the war were certainly deceptive, murderously stubborn and even self-deluded, they were so in what they considered to be a good cause.

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