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Posts Tagged ‘SPARTACUS’

ROME IS U.S.

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on May 24, 2016 at 12:56 am

The 1960 Kirk Douglas epic, Spartacus may soon prove to be more than great entertainment. It may also turn out to be a prophecy of the end of the American Republic.

In the movie, Spartacus (Douglas), a Roman slave, entertains Marcus Crassus (Laurence Oliver) the richest man in Rome. He does so by fighting to the death as a gladiator.

Poster for Spartacus

While Spartacus and his fellow gladiator/friend, Draba, slash and stab at each other in the arena, Crassus idly chats with his crony, Marcus Glabrus.

Crassus has just secured Glabrus’ appointment as commander of the garrison of Rome.  Glabrus is grateful, but curious as to how he did it.

After all, Gaius Gracchus, the leader of the Roman Senate, hates Crassus, and stands ever ready to oppose his every move.

“I fought fire with oil,” says Crassus. “I purchased the Senate behind his back.”  

Draba defeats Spartacus in their gladiatorial bout, but refuses to kill him. Instead, he throws his spear at Crassus and is immediately slaughtered by Roman guards.  

Soon afterward, Spartacus leads 70 other gladiators  against their Roman masters, forms an army of freed slaves, and marches against Rome.

Just as Crassus bought the Roman Senate in Spartacus, so, too, are billionaires now buying the 2016 Presidential election.

In 2016, Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House of Representatives, ran as the pet candidate of casino billionaire Sheldon G. Adelson. Since 2007, Adelson had spent millions in support of Gingrich and his causes.

Newt Gingrich

Adelson put up seed money and, ultimately, $7.7 million between 2006 and 2010 for a nonprofit group that served as a precursor to Gingrich’s presidential campaign.

Related image

Sheldon Adelson

Such a contribution is no small amount to the average American. But Adelson is listed by Forbes as the eighth-wealthiest American, with a net worth of $21.5 billion.

Naturally, Adelson denied he had any selfish motives for shelling out so much money to a candidate for the most powerful office in the world:

“My motivation for helping Newt is simple and should not be mistaken for anything other than the fact that my wife Miriam and I hold our friendship with him very dear and are doing what we can as private citizens to support his candidacy.”

Unfortunately, Gingrich was not the only candidate of the rich, by the rich and for the rich seeking the Presidency.

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney relied heavily on a small group of millionaires and billionaires for support.

By February, 2012, a quarter of the money amassed by Romney’s campaign came from just 41 people. Each contributor gave more than $100,000, according to a Washington Post analysis of disclosure data. Nearly a dozen of the donors had contributed $1 million or more.

Related image

Some of Romney’s biggest supporters included executives at Bain Capital, his former firm; bankers at Goldman Sachs; and a hedge fund mogul who made billions betting on the housing crash.

Like Adelson, Bain has directly profited from the losses of others.  

Fast forward to 2016:

In early May, Adelson met privately with Republican Presidential nominee-in-waiting Donald Trump. Nevertheless, at least this much has leaked: 

Adelson promised to contribute more to secure Trump’s election than he had contributed to any previous campaign. This could exceed $100 million.  

Meanwhile, Trump is bragging that he’s “not beholden” to any “special interests” because “I’m really rich.”  This myth has been a main reason for his popularity as a candidate.

Donald Trump

All of this can be directly traced to the 2010 “Citizens United” decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that ended limits in corporate contributions to political campaigns. The decision is so named for the group that successfully sued over federal campaign finance laws.

The 5-4 decision led to the rise of Super PACs–outside groups affiliated with candidates that can take in unlimited contributions as long as they don’t directly coordinate with the candidate. The overwhelming majority of this money goes for negative ads–that slander opponents without saying anything about what a candidate proposes to do.

Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia brushed aside criticism of the corrupting role money played in politics: Change the channel or turn off the TV.

“I don’t care who is doing the speech–the more the merrier,” Scalia said. “People are not stupid. If they don’t like it, they’ll shut it off.”

On the contrary: A fundamental principle of propaganda holds that most people are stupid–or can be made to behave stupidly. If they are ceaselessly bombarded with mind-numbing lies, they will eventually substitute these for reality.  

In Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler laid out his formula for successful propaganda: “All effective propaganda must be confined to a few bare essentials.  

“These must be expressed as far as possible in stereotypical formulas.  These slogans should be persistently repeated until the very last individual has come to grasp the idea that has been put forward.”

During the early 1960s a series of movies about the Roman Empire–like Spartacus and Cleopatra–hit the big screen. In these, rich criminals like Marcus Crassus openly bought the favors of ambitious politicians like Julius Caesar.

No doubt millions of moviegoers thought, “Boy, I’m glad that couldn’t happen here.” But it has happened here–and it’s happening right now.

MOVIES: A SELF-DESTRUCTING INDUSTRY

In Bureaucracy, Business, Entertainment, History, Social commentary on December 16, 2015 at 12:39 am

On August 31, 2014, the Huffington Post ran a story about trouble in Hollywood, under the headline: “Film Industry Has Worst Summer since 1997.”

Little more than one month earlier–on July 22–a headline in the Hollywood Reporter had offered this insight into moviedom’s current woes: “Average Movie Ticket Price Hits $8.33 in Second Quarter.”

Click here: Average Movie Ticket Price Hits $8.33 in Second Quarter

Movie Theater

It’s hard to think of an industry that’s created a better recipe for self-destruction than the movie business.

Consider the following:

According to Rentrak, a company that keeps tabs on box office profits:

  • Ticket sales to movie theaters in the U.S. and Canada were expected to sink to $3.9 billion by the end of 2014.
  • In July, 2014, movie ticket sales were down 30%.
  • That’s a 15% decline in movie revenues when compared to those racked up during the summer of 2013.
  • For the first time in 13 years, no summer film netted $300 million in domestic ticket sales.

Among the films that disappointed movie studios in summer, 2014:

  • “The Expendables 3″
  • “Planes:  Fire and Rescue”
  • “Amazing Spider Man 2″
  • “Sex Tape”
  • “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For”
  • “Edge of Tomorrow”
  • “Transformers: Age of Extinction”
  • “How to Train Your Dragon 2″

Click here: Film Industry Has Worst Summer Since 1997

Analysts had predicted a drop-off in movie attendance owing to increased use of online streaming. They also expected major television events like the World’s Cup to keep moviegoers indoors.

But they didn’t expect the summer of 2014 to prove the worst in ticket sales since 1997.

Which is outrageous.  The wonder is that the movie business hasn’t collapsed already.

It’s hard to think of an industry more geared toward its own destruction than the movie business.

First, there’s the before-mentioned average ticket price of $8.33.  You don’t have to be an Einstein at math to multiply $8.33 by, say, a husband, wife, and two to four children.

So a couple with two children can expect to spend at least $33.32 just to get into the theater. A couple with four children will be gouged $49.98 for a single movie’s entertainment.

And that’s not including the marked-up prices charged for candy, soda and popcorn at the concession stand.

Second, it’s almost guaranteed that even the biggest potential movie “draw” will be released on DVD or streaming within three to six months after it hits theaters.

So if you need to save enough money each month to meet the rent and other basic needs, you’re likely to wait it out for the DVD to  hit stores.  Wait even longer than six months, and you can probably buy a cheaper used DVD.

With that, you can watch your new favorite movie as many times as you want–without being charged bigtime every time you do so.

This is especially tempting to those with big-screen TVs, whose prices have steadily fallen and are now affordable by almost everyone.

Third, there used to be an unspoken agreement between theaters and moviegoers: We’ll pay a fair price to see one movie.  In return, we don’t expect to see TV-like commercials.

Naturally, that didn’t include previews of coming attractions.  These have been a widely enjoyed part of the movie experience since the 1930s.

But starting in 2003, theaters began aiming commercials at their customers before even the previews came on.  Some industry sources believe cinema advertising generates over $200 million a year in sales.

Click here: Now showing at a theatre near you – Louisville – Business First

But for those who feel they’ve already suffered enough at the ticket booth, being forced to watch TV-style ads is simply too much.

Fourth, while some theaters provide lush seating and special help for their customers (such as closed-captioning for the deaf) many others do not.

At AMC theaters, an onscreen advisory tells you to seek help if you need it.   But your chances of finding an available usher range from slim to none at most theaters.

In fact, only one floor of a multi-storied AMC theater offers a concession stand.  This means that people have to take the elevator down several floors to the second-floor snack bar.

Not many moviegoers are going to lose that much time while watching a movie just to get a second high-priced bag of popcorn.

To sum it up: What was once thought a special experience has become a jarring assault on the pocketbook and senses.

Just as airlines are now widely considered to be “flying buses,” so, too are movie theaters fast becoming expensive TV sets for moviegoers.

In the 1950s and 1960s, theaters lured customers from small-screen TVs with film spectacles like “Ben Hur” and “Spartacus”.”  Or with new “you-are-there” film experiments like Cinnemascope.

“Family-friendly” movies like “Mary Poppins” and “The Sound of Music” proved box-office champs with millions.

But now theaters have allowed their greed–for high ticket prices, quick-release DVDs and/or streaming and TV-style ads–to drive much of their audiences away.

Unless the owners of movie studios–and movie theaters–quickly smarten up, the motion picture business may ultimately became a pale shadow of its former Technicolor self.

HOLLYWOOD: ITS OWN WORST ENEMY

In Business, History, Social commentary on January 13, 2015 at 12:55 am

The cyberhacking of Sony Pictures last December led many Americans to wonder: “Is this the end of the movie industry as we know it?”

Yet Hollywood doesn’t need cyberattackers–whether from North Korea, as the FBI alleges, or fired ex-employees of Sony, as others believe–to seek its destruction.

It has long been its own worst enemy.

On July 22, 2014, a headline in the Hollywood Reporter offered this insight into moviedom’s current woes: “Average Movie Ticket Price Hits $8.33 in Second Quarter.”

Click here: Average Movie Ticket Price Hits $8.33 in Second Quarter

Movie Theater

It’s hard to think of an industry that’s created a better recipe for self-destruction than the movie business.

Consider the following:

According to Rentrak, a company that keeps tabs on box office profits:

  • Ticket sales to movie theaters in the U.S. and Canada are expected to sink to $3.9 billion.
  • In July, movie ticket sales were down 30%.
  • That’s a 15% decline in movie revenues when compared to those racked up during the summer of 2013.
  • For the first time in 13 years, no summer film netted $300 million in domestic ticket sales.

Among this summer’s films that disappointed movie studios:

  • “The Expendables 3″
  • “Planes:  Fire and Rescue”
  • “Amazing Spider Man 2″
  • “Sex Tape”
  • “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For”
  • “Edge of Tomorrow”
  • “Transformers: Age of Extinction”
  • “How to Train Your Dragon 2″

Click here: Film Industry Has Worst Summer Since 1997

Analysts had predicted a drop-off in movie attendance owing to increased use of online streaming.  They also expected major television events like the World’s Cup to keep moviegoers indoors.

But they didn’t expect the summer of 2014 to prove the worst in ticket sales since 1997.

Actually, the wonder is that the movie business hasn’t collapsed already.

It’s hard to think of an industry more geared toward its own destruction than the movie business.

First, there’s the before-mentioned average ticket price of $8.33.  You don’t have to be an Einstein at math to multiply $8.33 by, say, a husband, wife, and two to four children.

So a couple with two children can expect to spend at least $33.32 just to get into the theater.  A couple with four children will be gouged $49.98 for a single movie’s entertainment.

And that’s not including the marked-up prices charged for candy, soda and popcorn at the concession stand.

Second, it’s almost guaranteed that even the biggest potential movie “draw” will be released on DVD or streaming within three to six months after it hits theaters.

Putting out a film on DVD so soon after its theater-release only cheapens the thrill of seeing it in a movie theater.

So if you need to save enough money each month to meet the rent and other basic needs, you’re likely to wait it out for the DVD to  hit stores.  Wait even longer than six months, and you can probably buy a cheaper used DVD.

With that, you can watch your new favorite movie as many times as you want–-without being charged bigtime every time you do so.

This is especially tempting to those with big-screen TVs, whose prices have steadily fallen and are now affordable by almost everyone.

Third, there are the TV-like commercials that overwhelm audiences waiting for the movie to start.

There used to be an unspoken agreement between theaters and moviegoers: We’ll pay a fair price to see one movie.  In return, we don’t expect to see commercials.

Naturally, that didn’t include previews of coming attractions.  These have been a widely enjoyed part of the movie experience since the 1930s.

But starting in 2003, theaters began aiming commercials at their customers before even the previews came on.  Some industry sources believe cinema advertising generates over $200 million a year in sales.

Even so, it turns movie-theaters into expensive TVs, and thus cheapens the special experience of seeing a movie in a theater.

Click here: Now showing at a theatre near you – Louisville – Business First

But for those who feel they’ve already suffered enough at the ticket booth, being forced to watch TV-style ads is simply too much.

Fourth, while some theaters provide lush seating and special help for their customers (such as closed-captioning for the deaf) many others do not.

At AMC theaters, an onscreen advisory tells you to seek help if you need it.   But your chances of finding an available usher range from slim to none at most theaters.

To sum it up: What was once thought a special experience has become a jarring assault on the pocketbook and senses.

Just as airlines are now widely considered to be “flying buses,” so, too are movie theaters fast becoming expensive TV sets for moviegoers.

In the 1950s and 1960s, theaters lured customers from small-screen TVs with film spectacles like “Ben Hur” and “Spartacus.”  Or with new “you-are-there” film experiments like Cinnemascope.

“Family-friendly” movies like “Mary Poppins” and “The Sound of Music” proved box-office champs with millions.

But now theaters have allowed their greed–for high ticket prices, quick-release DVDs and/or streaming and TV-style ads–to drive much of their audiences away.

Unless the owners of movie studios–-and movie theaters–quickly smarten up, the motion picture business may ultimately became a pale shadow of its former Technicolor self.

MOVIES: A SELF-DESTRUCTIVE INDUSTRY

In Bureaucracy, Business, Entertainment, History, Social commentary on September 4, 2014 at 11:16 pm

On August 31, the Huffington Post ran a story about trouble in Hollywood, under the headline: “Film Industry Has Worst Summer since 1997.”

Little more than one month earlier–on July 22–a headline in the Hollywood Reporter had offered this insight into moviedom’s current woes: “Average Movie Ticket Price Hits $8.33 in Second Quarter.”

Click here: Average Movie Ticket Price Hits $8.33 in Second Quarter

Movie Theater

It’s hard to think of an industry that’s created a better recipe for self-destruction than the movie business.

Consider the following:

According to Rentrak, a company that keeps tabs on box office profits:

  • Ticket sales to movie theaters in the U.S. and Canada are expected to sink to $3.9 billion.
  • In July, movie ticket sales were down 30%.
  • That’s a 15% decline in movie revenues when compared to those racked up during the summer of 2013.
  • For the first time in 13 years, no summer film netted $300 million in domestic ticket sales.

Among this summer’s films that disappointed movie studios:

  • “The Expendables 3″
  • “Planes:  Fire and Rescue”
  • “Amazing Spider Man 2″
  • “Sex Tape”
  • “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For”
  • “Edge of Tomorrow”
  • “Transformers: Age of Extinction”
  • “How to Train Your Dragon 2″

Click here: Film Industry Has Worst Summer Since 1997

Analysts had predicted a drop-off in movie attendance owing to increased use of online streaming.  They also expected major television events like the World’s Cup to keep moviegoers indoors.

But they didn’t expect the summer of 2014 to prove the worst in ticket sales since 1997.

Which is outrageous.  The wonder is that the movie business hasn’t collapsed already.

It’s hard to think of an industry more geared toward its own destruction than the movie business.

First, there’s the before-mentioned average ticket price of $8.33.  You don’t have to be an Einstein at math to multiply $8.33 by, say, a husband, wife, and two to four children.

So a couple with two children can expect to spend at least $33.32 just to get into the theater.  A couple with four children will be gouged $49.98 for a single movie’s entertainment.

And that’s not including the marked-up prices charged for candy, soda and popcorn at the concession stand.

Second, it’s almost guaranteed that even the biggest potential movie “draw” will be released on DVD or streaming within three to six months after it hits theaters.

So if you need to save enough money each month to meet the rent and other basic needs, you’re likely to wait it out for the DVD to  hit stores.  Wait even longer than six months, and you can probably buy a cheaper used DVD.

With that, you can watch your new favorite movie as many times as you want–without being charged bigtime every time you do so.

This is especially tempting to those with big-screen TVs, whose prices have steadily fallen and are now affordable by almost everyone.

Third, there used to be an unspoken agreement between theaters and moviegoers: We’ll pay a fair price to see one movie.  In return, we don’t expect to see TV-like commercials.

Naturally, that didn’t include previews of coming attractions.  These have been a widely enjoyed part of the movie experience since the 1930s.

But starting in 2003, theaters began aiming commercials at their customers before even the previews came on.  Some industry sources believe cinema advertising generates over $200 million a year in sales.

Click here: Now showing at a theatre near you – Louisville – Business First

But for those who feel they’ve already suffered enough at the ticket booth, being forced to watch TV-style ads is simply too much.

Fourth, while some theaters provide lush seating and special help for their customers (such as closed-captioning for the deaf) many others do not.

At AMC theaters, an onscreen advisory tells you to seek help if you need it.   But your chances of finding an available usher range from slim to none at most theaters.

To sum it up: What was once thought a special experience has become a jarring assault on the pocketbook and senses.

Just as airlines are now widely considered to be “flying buses,” so, too are movie theaters fast becoming expensive TV sets for moviegoers.

In the 1950s and 1960s, theaters lured customers from small-screen TVs with film spectacles like “Ben Hur” and “Spartacus”.”  Or with new “you-are-there” film experiments like Cinnemascope.

“Family-friendly” movies like “Mary Poppins” and “The Sound of Music” proved box-office champs with millions.

But now theaters have allowed their greed–for high ticket prices, quick-release DVDs and/or streaming and TV-style ads–to drive much of their audiences away.

Unless the owners of movie studios–and movie theaters–quickly smarten up, the motion picture business may ultimately became a pale shadow of its former Technicolor self.

MERCS FOR HIRE: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on May 15, 2014 at 12:33 am

The 1960 Kirk Douglas epic, Spartacus, may soon prove to be more than great entertainment. It may also turn out to be a prophecy of the end of the American Republic.

Throughout the movie, wealthy Romans assume they can buy anything–or anyone.  When seeking a favor, Marcus Licinius Crassus (Laurence Oliver) says bluntly: “Name your price.”

Today, “Name your price” has become the password for entry into America’s Intelligence community.

Althugh not portrayed in Spartacus, one of the reasons for the fall of the Roman empire lay in its reliance on foreign mercenaries.

Roman citizens, who had for centuries manned their city’s legions, decided to outsource these hardships and dangers to hired soldiers from Germany and Gaul (now France).

Although Germans and Gauls had proven capable fighters when defending their own countries, they proved highly unrelible as paid mercenaries.

Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of political science, drew heavily on ancient history for his examples of how liberty could best be preserved within a republic.

Niccolo Machiavelli

Fully aware of the Romans’ disastrous experience with mercenaries, Machiavelli believed that a nation’s army should be driven by patriotism, not greed.  Speaking of mercenaries, he warned:

“Mercenaries…are useless and dangerous. And if a prince holds on to his state by means of mercenary armies, he will never be stable or secure; for they are disunited, ambitious, without discipline, disloyal; they are brave among friends, among enemies they are cowards.”

Americans–generally disdainful of history–have blatantly ignored both the examples of history and the counsel of Machiavelli.  To their own peril.

Mark Mazzetti, author of the bestselling The Way of the Knife, chronicles how the CIA has been transformed from a primarily fact-finding agency into a terrorist-killing one.

Along with this transformation has come a dangerous dependency on private contractors to supply information that government agents used to dig up for themselves.

America’s defense and Intelligence industries, writes Mazzetti, once spread across the country, have relocated to the Washington area.

They want to be close to “the customer”: The National Security Agency, the Pentagon, the CIA and an array of other Intelligence agencies.

The U.S. Navy SEALS raid that killed Osama bin Laden has been the subject of books, documentaries and even an Oscar-nominated movie: “Zero Dark Thirty.”

Almost unknown by comparison is a program the CIA developed with Blackwater, a private security company, to locate and assassinate Islamic terrorists.

“We were building a unilateral, unattributable capability,” Erik Prince, CEO of Blackwater, said in an interview.  “If it went bad, we weren’t expecting the [CIA] chief of station, the ambassador or anyone to bail us out.”

But the program never got past the planning stage.  Senior CIA officials feared the agency would not be able to  permanently hide its own role in the effort.

“The more you outsource an operation,” said a CIA official, “the more deniable it becomes.  But you’re also giving up control of the operation.  And if that guy screws up, it’s still your fault.”

Increased reliance on “outsourcing” has created a “brain-drain” within the Intelligence community. Jobs with private security companies usually pay 50% more than government jobs.

Many employees at the CIA, NSA and other Intelligence agencies leave government service–and then return to it as private contractors earning far higher salaries.

Many within the Intelligence community fear that too much Intelligence work has been outsourced and the government has effectively lost control of its own information channels.

And, as always with the hiring of mercenaries, there is an even more basic fear: How fully can they be trusted?

“There’s an inevitable tension as to where the contractor’s loyalties lie,” said Jeffrey Smith, a former general counsel for the CIA.  “Do they lie with the flag?  Or do they lie with the bottom line?”

Yet another concern: How much can Intelligence agencies count on private contractors to effectively screen the people they hire?

Edward Snowden, it should be remembered, was an employee of Booz Allen Hamilton, a consulting/security firm.  It was through this company that Snowden gained access to a treasury of NSA secrets.

In March 2007, the Bush administration revealed that it paid 70% of its intelligence budget to private security contractors.  That remains the case today–and the Intelligence budget for 2012 was $75.4 billion.

A 2010 investigative series by the Washington Post found that “1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the country.”

Jesus never served as a spy or soldier.  But he clearly understood a truth too many officials within the American Intelligence community have forgotten:

“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

JAMES BOND FOR HIRE: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on July 12, 2013 at 9:00 pm

The 1960 Kirk Douglas epic, Spartacus, may soon prove to be more than great entertainment. It may also turn out to be a prophecy of the end of the American Republic.

Throughout the movie, wealthy Romans assume they can buy anything–or anyone.  When seeking a favor, Marcus Licinius Crassus (Laurence Oliver) says bluntly: “Name your price.”

Today, “Name your price” has become the password for entry into America’s Intelligence community.

Althugh not portrayed in Spartacus, one of the reasons for the fall of the Roman empire lay in its reliance on foreign mercenaries.

Roman citizens, who had for centuries manned their city’s legions, decided to outsource these hardships and dangers to hired soldiers from Germany and Gaul (now France).

Although Germans and Gauls had proven capable fighters when defending their own countries, they proved highly unrelible as paid mercenaries.

Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of political science, drew heavily on ancient history for his examples of how liberty could best be preserved within a republic.

Fully aware of the Romans’ disastrous experience with mercenaries, Machiavelli believed that a nation’s army should be driven by patriotism, not greed.  Speaking of mercenaries, he warned:

“Mercenaries…are useless and dangerous. And if a prince holds on to his state by means of mercenary armies, he will never be stable or secure; for they are disunited, ambitious, without discipline, disloyal; they are brave among friends, among enemies they are cowards.

“They have neither the fear of God nor fidelity to men, and destruction is deferred only so long as the attack is. For in peace one is robbed by them, and in war by the enemy.”

Americans–generally disdainful of history–have blatantly ignored both the examples of history and the counsel of Machiavelli.  To their own peril.

Mark Mazzetti, author of the bestselling The Way of the Knife, chronicles how the CIA has been transformed from a primarily fact-finding agency into a terrorist-killing one.

Along with this transformation has come a dangerous dependency on private contractors to supply information that government agents used to dig up for themselves.

America’s defense and intelligence industries, writes Mazzetti, once spread across the country, have relocated to the Washington area.

They want to be close to “the customer”: The National Security Agency, the Pentagon, the CIA and an array of other Intelligence agencies.

The U.S. Navy SEALS raid that killed Osama bin Laden has been the subject of books, documentaries and even an Oscar-nominated movie: “Zero Dark Thirty.”

Almost unknown by comparison is a program the CIA developed with Blackwater, a private security company, to locate and assassinate Islamic terrorists.

“We were building a unilateral, unattributable capability,” Erik Prince, CEO of Blackwater, said in an interview.  “If it went bad, we weren’t expecting the [CIA] chief of station, the ambassador or anyone to bail us out.”

But the program never got past the planning stage.  Senior CIA officials feared the agency would not be able to  permanently hide its own role in the effort.

“The more you outsource an operation,” said a CIA official, “the more deniable it becomes.  But you’re also giving up control of the operation.  And if that guy screws up, it’s still your fault.”

Increased reliance on “outsourcing” has created a “brain-drain” within the Intelligence community. Jobs with private security companies usually pay 50% more than government jobs.

Many employees at the CIA, NSA and other Intelligence agencies leave government service–and then return to it as private contractors earning far higher salaries.

Many within the Intelligence community fear that too much Intelligence work has been outsourced and the government has effectively lost control of its own information channels.

And, as always with the hiring of mercenaries, there is an even more basic fear: How fully can they be trusted?

“There’s an inevitable tension as to where the contractor’s loyalties lie,” said Jeffrey Smith, a former general counsel for the CIA.  “Do they lie with the flag?  Or do they lie with the bottom line?”

Yet another concern: How much can Intelligence agencies count on private contractors to effectively screen the people they hire?

Edward Snowden, it should be remembered, was an employee of Booz Allen Hamilton, a consulting/security firm.  It was through this company that Snowden gained access to a treasury of NSA secrets.

In March 2007, the Bush administration revealed that it paid 70% of its intelligence budget to private security contractors.  That remains the case today–and the Intelligence budget for 2012 was $75.4 billion.

A 2010 investigative series by the Washington Post found that “1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the country.”

Jesus never served as a spy or soldier.  But he clearly understood a truth too many officials within the American Intelligence community have forgotten:

“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

CRASSUS/ROMNEY FOR EMPEROR: PART TWO (END)

In History, Politics, Social commentary on September 21, 2012 at 12:00 am

Mitt Romney never had the chance to portray Marcus Licinius Crassus, once the wealthiest man in ancient Rome.

That part went to Laurence Oliver in the 1960 Kirk Douglas epic, Spartacus.

Laurence Oliver as Marcus Crassus in “Spartacus”

The film depicted a slave revolt led by an escaped Thracian gladiator named Spartacus (Douglas).  A revolt that Crassus played a major role in destroying.

Still, Romney–whose wealth is estimated at $250 million–has had the opportunity to play the role of a patrician in real life.  And nowhere was it on better display than during a May 17 private fund-raising event.

Mitt Romney

The event–closed to the press–was nevertheless surreptitiously recorded on video and leaked to Mother Jones magazine.

And Romney’s comments about those Americans who do not share his wealth-given privileges have momentarily paralyzed his Presidential campaign.

As F. Scott Fitzgerald said, the “very rich” are “different from you and me.”

To observe that difference, it’s necessary only to compare the attitude of Marcus Crassus–as depicted in Spartacus–with that of Mitt Romney.

GRACCHUS: The Senate’s been in session all day over this business of Spartacus.    We’ve got eight legions to march against him and no one to lead them.  The minute you offer the generals command…they start wheezing like winded mules….

CRASSUS: I take it the senate’s now offering command of the legions to me.

GRACCHUS: You’ve been expecting it.

CRASSUS:  I have.  But have you thought how costly my services might be?

GRACCHUS:  We buy everything else these days.  No reason why we shouldn’t be charged for patriotism. What’s your fee?

CRASSUS:  My election as first consul, command of all the legions of ltaly, and the abolition of Senatorial authority over the courts.

GRACCHUS:  Dictatorship.

CRASSUS:  Order.

* * * * *

ROMNEY:  The division of America, based on going after those who have been successful.

And then I quote Marco Rubio….I just said, Senator Rubio says–when he grew up here poor, that they looked at people that had a lot of wealth.

And his parents never once said, “We need some of what they have. They should give us some.”

Instead they said, “If we work hard and go to school, someday we might be able to have that.”

…And–and so my job is not to worry about those people [the 47% of Americans who allegedly don’t pay taxes and expect the government to assist the poor].

I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for for their lives.

* * * * *

In Spartacus, Crassus becomes dictator of Rome and brutally crushes the slave revolt. Then he aims his fury at his longtime political enemy, Gaius Gracchus, the democratic leader of the Roman Senate–and hero to the poor.

CRASSUS: Did you truly believe 500 years of Rome could so easily be delivered into the clutches of a mob? Already the bodies of 6,000 crucified slaves line the Appian Way….

As those slaves have died, so will your rabble if they falter one instant in loyalty to the new order of affairs. The enemies of the state are known. Arrests are in progress. The prisons begin to fill….

Yet upon you I have no desire for vengeance. Your property shall not be touched. You will retain the rank and title of Roman senator. A house, a farmhouse in Picenum has been provided for your exile. You may take your women with you.

GRACCHUS: Why am I to be left so conspicuously alive?

CRASSUS: Your followers are deluded enough to trust you. I intend that you shall speak to them tomorrow for their own good, their peaceful and profitable future.

From time to time thereafter, I may find it useful to bring you back to Rome to continue your duty to her to calm the envious spirit and the troubled mind. You will persuade them to accept destiny and order, and trust the gods!

* * * * *

ROMNEY: The 5 to 6 or 7 percent that we have to bring onto our side—they all voted for Barack Obama four years ago…. And because they voted for him, they don’t want to be told that they were wrong, that he’s a bad guy, that he did bad things, that he’s corrupt.

Those people that we have to get, they want to believe they did the right thing, but he just wasn’t up to the task.

But…you and I, we spend our day with Republicans.  We spend our days with people who agree with us. And these people are people who voted for him and don’t agree with us.

And so the things that animate us are not the things that animate them….

If it looks like I’m going to win, the markets will be happy.  If it looks like the President’s going to win, the markets should not be terribly happy….

My own view is that if we win on November 6th, there will be a great deal of optimism about the future of this country.  We’ll see capital come back and we’ll see—without actually doing anything—we’ll actually get a boost in the economy.

CRASSUS/ROMNEY FOR EMPEROR: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In History, Politics, Social commentary on September 20, 2012 at 12:00 am

Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand.

They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves. Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are. They are different.

–F. Scott Fitzgerald

The 1960 Kirk Douglas epic, Spartacus, may soon prove to be more than great entertainment. It may also turn out to be a prophecy of the end of the American Republic.

In the movie, Spartacus (Douglas), a Roman slave, entertains Marcus Crassus (Laurence Oliver) the richest man in Rome. He does so by fighting to the death as a gladiator.

While Spartacus and his fellow gladiator/friend, Draba, slash and stab at each other in the arena, Crassus idly chats with his crony, Marcus Glabrus.

Crassus has just secured Glabrus’ appointment as commander of the garrison of Rome. Glabrus is grateful, but curious as to how he did it.

After all, Gaius Gracchus, the democratic  leader of the Roman Senate, hates Crassus, and eagerly opposes his every move.

“I fought fire with oil,” says Crassus. “I purchased the Senate behind his back.”

Just as Crassus bought the Roman Senate in Spartacus, so, too, are Mitt Romney and his billionaire supporters now trying to buy the 2012 Presidential election.

Anyone who doubts this need only examine the video burning up the Internet of Romney addressing a private fund-raiser on May 17.  The site: The home of controversial private equity manager Marc Leder, in Boca Raton, Florida.

In fact, it’s fascinating to compare some of the remarks of Olivier’s Crassus with some of those by Romney.  Doing so will offer useful insights into the values of the super wealthy.

For both men are truly spokesmen for the privileged moneyed class–of which they themselves are pre-eminent members.

CRASSUS [speaking of Gaius Gracchus, the democratic leader of the Roman Senate]: For Gracchus, hatred of the patrician class is a profession, and not such a bad one, either.  How else can one become master of the mob, and first senator of Rome?

Laurence Oliver as Marcus Crassus in “Spartacus”

ROMNEY:  What he’s [President Barack Obama] gonna do, by the way, is try and vilify me as someone who’s been successful. Or who’s– or who’s, you know, closed businesses or laid people off and this is an evil bad guy. And that may work.

Mitt Romney

* * * * *

CRASSUS [To Julius Caesar]:  For years, your family and mine have been members of the Equestrian Order and the Patrician Party. servants and rulers of Rome.  Why have you left us for Gracchus and the mob?

CAESAR:  I’ve left no one, least of all Rome.  This much I’ve learned from Gracchus: Rome is the mob.

CRASSUS:  No!  Rome is an eternal thought in the mind of God.

CAESAR:  I had no idea you’d grown religious.

CRASSUS:  That doesn’t matter.  If there were no gods at all, I’d revere them. If there were no Rome, I’d dream of her…as I want you to do.  I want you to come back to your own kind.  I beg you to.

CAESAR:  Is it me you want or is it the garrison [of Rome, which Caesar now commands]?

CRASSUS:  Both. Tell me frankly.  If you were l, would you take the field against Spartacus?

CAESAR:  Of course.

CRASSUS:  Why?

 CAESAR:  We have no other choice if we’re to save Rome.

 CRASSUS:  Ah, Caesar!  Which Rome?  Theirs…or ours?

* * * * *

ROMNEY:  Well, there are 47% of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right? There are 47% who are with him. Who are dependent upon government, who believe that–that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they’re entitled to healthcare, to food, to housing, to you name it. But that’s–it’s an entitlement.   And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what.

And–and–I mean the President starts off with 48%, 49%, 40–or he….starts off with a huge number. These are people who pay no income tax. 47% of Americans pay no income taxes. So our message of low taxes doesn’t connect. And he’ll be out there talking about tax cuts for the rich. I mean that’s what they sell every….four years.

ROME IS U.S.

In History, Politics on February 5, 2012 at 3:23 pm

The 1960 Kirk Douglas epic, Spartacus, may soon prove to be more than great entertainment.  It may also turn out to be a prophecy of the end of the American Republic.

In the movie, Spartacus (Douglas), a Roman slave, entertains Marcus Crassus (Laurence Oliver) the richest man in Rome.  He does so by fighting to the death as a gladiator.

While Spartacus and his fellow gladiator/friend, Draba, slash and stab at each other in the arena, Crassus idly chats with his crony, Marcus Glabrus.

Crassus has just secured Glabrus’ appointment as commander of the garrison of Rome.  Glabrus is grateful, but curious as to how he did it.

After all, Gaius Gracchus, the leader of the Roman Senate, hates Crassus, and stands ever ready to oppose his every move.

“I fought fire with oil,” says Crassus.  “I purchased the Senate behind his back.”

Just as Crassus bought the Roman Senate in Spartacus, so, too, are billionaires now buying the 2012 Presidential election.

Consider the candidacy of Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House of Representatives.  Were it not for the endlessly deep pockets of casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, Gingrich would have dropped out long ago.

Perhaps no other major presidential candidate in recent times has relied so heavily on the contributions of a single donor, as Gingrich has on Adelson.  Since 2007, Adelson, 78, has spent millions in support of Gingrich and his causes.

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Sheldon Adelson

In a primary season dominated by the mega-spending of super PACs, Adelson’s efforts on Gingrich’s behalf speak volumes about the corrupting influence of the super-rich on American politics.

Adelson put up seed money and, ultimately, $7.7 million between 2006 and 2010 for a nonprofit group that served as a precursor to Gingrich’s presidential campaign.

In January, Adelson gave $5 million to a PAC run by former close aides to Gingrich.

Such a contribution is no small amount to the average American.  But Adelson is clearly not the average American. He’s listed by Forbes as the eigth-wealthiest American, with a net worth of $21.5 billion.

Naturally, Adelson denies he has any selfish motives for shelling out so much money to a candidate for the most powerful office in the world:

“My motivation for helping Newt is simple and should not be mistaken for anything other than the fact that my wife Miriam and I hold our friendship with him very dear and are doing what we can as private citizens to support his candidacy.”

Unfortunately, Gingrich is not the only candidate of the rich, by the rich and for the rich seeking the Presidency.

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is relying heavily on a small group of millionaires and billionaires for support.

A quarter of the money amassed by Romney’s campaign has come from just 41 people.  Each contributor has given more than $100,000, according to a Washington Post analysis of disclosure data. Nearly a dozen of the donors have contributed $1 million or more.

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Some of Romney’s biggest supporters include executives at Bain Capital, his former firm; bankers at Goldman Sachs; and a hedge fund mogul who made billions betting on the housing crash.

In short: This last contributor has directly profited from the suffering of others.

All of this can be directly traced to the 2010 “Citizens United” decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that ended limits in corporate contributions to political campaigns.  The decision is so named for the group that successfully sued over federal campaign finance laws.

The 5-4 decision led to the rise of Super PACs–outside groups affiliated with candidates that can take in unlimited contributions as long as they don’t directly coordinate with the candidate.

Meanwhile, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has a simple solution for people who don’t like all the political ads unleashed as a result: Change the channel or turn off the TV.

“I don’t care who is doing the speech–the more the merrier,” Scalia said. “People are not stupid. If they don’t like it, they’ll shut it off.”

On the contrary: A fundamental principle of propaganda holds that most people are stupid–or can be made to behave stupidly.  If they are ceaselessly bombarded with mind-numbing lies, they will eventually substitute these for reality.

As proof of this: Nevada has the country’s highest foreclosure rate and the nation’s highest unemployment rate.

So what is Mitt Romney’s solution for the foreclosure crisis threatening the homes of millions of Americans?

“Don’t try to stop the foreclosure process. Let it run its course and hit the bottom. Allow investors to buy homes, put renters in them, fix the homes up and let it turn around and come back up.”

On February 4,  Romney claimed victory in Nevada’s caucuses by a decisive margin.

So much for Justice Scalia’s comment: “People are not stupid.”

YOU BET YOUR CHARACTER

In History, Politics on December 15, 2011 at 11:36 am

It must be borne in mind that my design is not to write histories, but lives. And the most glorious exploits do not always furnish us with the clearest discoveries of virtue or vice in men.

Sometimes a matter of less moment, an expression or a jest, informs us better of their characters and inclinations, than the most famous sieges, the greatest armaments, or the bloodiest battles whatsoever.

–Plutarch’s biography of Alexander the Great

Mitt Romney suffered a “Plutarch moment” during his December 10 debate encounter with Rick Perry.

The faceoff came in Des Moines, Iowa.  The former Massachussetts governor found himself once again accosted by the current governor of Texas.

It was the same annoying accusation that Perry had made in past debates: That Romney had supported national healthcare reform in the hardcover edition of his book, No Apology.

According to Perry, that passage was removed from the paperback edition.

The United States remains the only major Western nation without a national health insurance program.  About 60 million Americans lack medical insurance.

So you would expect a hero’s laurels for the man who could bring medical care to those most in need of it.

But President Obama had made healthcare reform a major part of his 2008 election campaign and his new administration.  Thus, such an accusation put Romney–for Republicans–into the same category as The Anti-Christ.

“I’m just saying, you’re for individual mandates, my friend,” Perry said to Romney.

Romney had to quash the charge.  The question was: How to do it?

So Romney–whose fortune has been estimated at $250 million–did what comes naturally to the sons of privilege: He used his wealth as a bludgeon.

“You’ve raised that before, Rick, and you’re simply wrong,” said Romney.

Then: “Rick, I’ll tell you what: $10,000 bucks? Ten thousand dollar bet?” Romney asked, extending his hand to shake.

Perry, a Christian evangelical, may have a principled stand on betting.  Or maybe, at the last minute, he decided he was wrong about the book.  So he declined.

“I’m not in the betting business but I will show you the book,” Perry said.

It was the bet heard round the world.

“For someone to go and throw around a $10,000 bet, just goes to show even more that he’s not the same level as the people of Iowa or the country,” said Alice Stewart, a spokeswoman for would-be President Michele Bachmann.

And Bill Burton, an organizer for President Obama’s re-election campaign, wrote on Twitter: “Not a lot of 99%’ers are out there making $10,000 bets.”

Eric Fehrnstrom, Romney’s press spokesman, tried to laugh the incident off, saying it was not a serious bet.

“I’ve made bets with friends and family for $1m,” Fehrnstrom said. He added that Romney had made the bet because he knew Perry would not take it.

But others were having none of it.

“Romney promises that his butler will ‘personally deliver’ the $10,000 check if he loses,” Jonah Goldberg of the National Review tweeted.

Jonathan Martin, who covers the GOP race for Politico, asked tongue-in-cheek: “Who among us doesn’t wager $10,000 at a time?”

With at least 14 million Americans unemployed, some perspective can be gained from the wealth of those who seek the nation’s highest office:

Mitt Romney: Former Massachussetts governor.  During his 2008 White House bid, he put his personal wealth at between $190 and $250 million, most of it from his time in business.

Jon Huntsman: Former U.S. ambassador to China.  He listed his personal assets this year as between $15 and $66 million, much of it from a chemical company set up by his father.

Newt Gingrich:  Former Speaker of the House of Representatives.  He earned $2.5 million last year from speeches, book and his work as a lobbyist.  As a lobbyist he has earned an estimated $100 million over the past decade.

Ron Paul: Congressman from Texas.  His assets are between $2.29 and $5.3 million, based on his disclosure in the 2008 White House race.

Rick Santorum: Former U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania.  His personal assets range between $522,000 and $1.8 million.

Michele Bachmann: Congresswoman from MinnesotaShe is worth $1 to $2.5 million, mostly profits from a therapy clinic.  A family farm brings in $5,000 to $15,000.

Rick Perry: Governor of Texas.  He claimed that his wealth, in 2009, was $896,000, held in a blind trust. He has made his money mainly from buying and selling houses.

Barack Obama: In 2009, the President filed disclosure forms stating that his wealth totaled between $2.3 and $7.7 million.  Much of this comes from royalties from his two best-selling books: Dreams from My Father and The Audacity of Hope.

Americans watch movies like “Spartacus” and “Gladiator” where rich, toga-clad Roman senators ruthlessly decide the fates of their poor constituents.  And they think–and even say: “Thank God that couldn’t happen here.”

But those with a greater sense of history–past and present–know the brutal truth: It has happened here.

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