Friday, March 21, 2014

10 More Conspiracy Theories

Jamie Frater
Conspiracy theories – I can’t get enough of them! Fortunately there are so many floating about that we have been able to give you not one, not two, but now three lists of theories that many people believe with all their might. Be sure to read the earlier lists if you haven’t already and feel free to add any conspiracies missing from all three to the comments here.

10
Area 51
Area-51-1
It makes the list because it appears in almost every alien or UFO conspiracy theory ever devised. The fact is Area 51 is real. It’s a popular target on Google Earth. Another fact is that the FAA has confirmed that no air routes go over or anywhere near Area 51, by direct order from the USAF.
There are television shows purporting to explain just what goes on there, one even including an interview with “a disgruntled employee,” who is provided with black-out lighting, but no vocal distortion, and who states that “it is a testing ground for experimental aircraft. It’s as simple as that.”
I considered putting the Aurora Aircraft on this list, but since its existence is tied so closely to Area 51, I use Area 51 as a catch-all of sorts. It is verifiable now, that the F-117 Stealth Fighter, the B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber, and the SR-71 Blackbird were all invented at Area 51. This may account for all the strange lights people have recorded near the base through the years.
But the conspiracy theory goes on to claim that humans were unable to come up with these technologies. They were, instead, reverse engineered by studying the technology of the flying saucer that crashed at Roswell, NM, in 1947. In fact, there may have been other alien aircraft recovered or even shot down in the area over the years, all of which have led to the USAF’s mighty power of innovation. The theory claims that the flying saucer is still there, housed in a secret bunker or hangar, as are the corpses of the three or four aliens who crashed it and died.

9
The Clinton Body Count
Bill Clinton Yeahihitit
This one at least seems plausible, as it has nothing to do with science fiction. This theory states that Bill Clinton, while he was president and before, was quietly assassinating his associates (ostensibly anyone who got in the way of his career, such as Vince Foster). The Clinton Body Count is a list of about 50-60 associates of Clinton who have died “under mysterious circumstance.” The list began circulating over the Internet starting in the mid-1990s. The list grew out of a 1993 list of about 24 names prepared by the pro-gun lobby group American Justice Federation, which was led by Linda Thompson. The list was posted to the group’s bulletin board system.
The facts concerning Vince Foster’s death are that he died untimely, on July 20, 1993, of apparent suicide by gunshot in the mouth. His body was found in Fort Marcy Park, Virginia. Gunshot residue was found on the hand which had held the gun. Foster and Clinton were boyhood friends, both lawyers, and it is believed by the theory that Foster got too close to uncovering some embarrassing truth about Clinton, probably of a sexual and/or dishonest nature, and that Foster was assassinated, less than a year after joining Clinton’s White House staff.
The theorists argue that it is unlikely that a man with a wife and three children, and an extremely lucrative law practice, earning him $300,000 a year, would have manic depression, but Foster was diagnosed with it and prescribed anti-depressants.

8
The Christ Myth Theory
Christ-King2
Yes, you read that right. According to this conspiracy theory, the man himself never existed. His life story, his ministry, his status as the divine Son of God, is a fabrication of the Roman Catholic Church. Those who have proposed one form or another of this theory have documented the similarities between stories of Jesus and those of Krishna, Adonis, Osiris, Mithra, and a pre-Christian cult of Jesus (Joshua) within Judaism. Some authors attribute the beginning of Christianity to a historical founder who predates the time Jesus is said to have lived.
The theory appears to have been originated by two French Enlightenment thinkers, Constantin-Francois Volney and Charles Francois Dupuis, in the 1790s. The theory has always been largely dismissed by academic circles and biblical historians, in which case, the theorists simply elaborated on the theory. Not only did Jesus never exist, his presence in the New Testament is utter fiction, created by the Roman Catholic Church sometime in the very early 3rd Century AD, or late 2nd Century, as a means by which to control people. The authorities passed down the idea to their successors until Constantine considered it a very good means of control and called the Council of Nicaea to organize the Church into global domination.
Despite all of the historical proof that Jesus did exist – and there is plenty of it – there are still many people who would like to think he didn’t. That is the source of this bizarre revisionist theory.

7
The Antichrist
Satan And Demon Baby
Satan is alive on Earth, and has created the Antichrist, who is, at this moment, not quite old enough to seize power, but will in only a few years. He will do so in a very political manner, taking over some powerful organization, such as the United Nations.
Every generation, since St. John the Divine wrote the Revelation, has sworn that it would witness the Great Tribulation, Armageddon, and the second coming of Jesus. “The end is near,” everyone has been saying.
Now, though, with the advent of global communications, especially the Internet, the theory has swelled exponentially. Christians who previously didn’t think much of it have changed their minds. It can be argued that the worldwide availability of press coverage only serves to heighten fear of terrible things happening at any moment. 9/11 was the most well covered, watched tragedy in human history. Wheneer a tragedy occurs, people who believe in the Christian end-times scenarios flock to church to pray away their fear.
But now, with the ability to control the entire world actually conceivable, the paranoia of the Antichrist showing up has become quite the pandemic. Most terrorists believe he will be male, will arise in Europe, probably Western Europe, and some even swear that he will be French. Plenty are sure, however, that President Barack Obama is in fact the Antichrist. Numerologists believe that the Antichrist is not yet old enough, but will make his appearance at the age of 30, symbolically equal to Jesus beginning his ministry. Worldwide terrorism, the current U. S. led war on it in the hotbed of political unrest, and the fact that almost every Arab nation seems to be threatening an invasion of Israel at every second, all serve to make this one feel very real. Every day CNN is loaded with horror stories about the Holy Land, and it just seems to keep getting worse. “The end is near.”

6
The electric car
Jetsons L51
It is a verifiable fact that the human land speed record was set in 1899 at 65 mph by an electric car. Steam and gasoline-powered automobiles could not achieve this for another 20 to 25 years. Today, technology has progressed immensely, and yet, we still have no electric cars. The best production model is the Toyota Prius, which gets 50 mpg. This only intensifies the theory that the U. S. oil companies currently possess the technology for purely electric cars, which you can plug into an ordinary, American wall outlet at night and charge up to a cross-country trip by morning.
But because this would, in truth, bankrupt the oil companies, they refuse to release the technology, and have even put out successful hits on various geniuses since the 1960s, none of whom became very famous, because he was killed before he could make his publish his discovery. A documentary in 2006, “Who Killed the Electric Car?” fueled the fire that if the technology is documented to have existed as early as the 1830s, why did it appear to hits its peak at the turn of the 20th Century, and then decline? Why are we still waiting for electric cars? Edison patented one in 1913. All the electrical pioneers of that time tinkered with the idea, and plenty of reasonable examples were produced.

5
HAARP
Haarp1
The High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program does exist. It is a research project funded jointly by the USAF, the US Navy, the University of Alaska, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). When you put that many government organizations into one sentence about new technology, conspiracy theorists come running. Did you see the 2003 movie “The Core”? It concerns a stall in the earth’s magnetic field, allowing the sun’s microwave radiation to cook the planet, until a team goes into the core of the planet and jumpstarts it spinning again, so the magnetic field will resume.
The movie explains that the stall was caused not on its own, but accidentally by HAARP, which is researching the ability to create earthquakes for use as a weapon. The official description of the program, given by the program, is “to provide a research facility to conduct pioneering experiments in ionospheric phenomena… used to analyze basic ionospheric properties and to assess the potential for developing ionospheric enhancement technology for communications and surveillance purposes.”
This sounds like the opposite of deep-Earth experiments, but conspiracy theorists believe the program is a cover for a kind of particle-beam weapon, first invented by Nikola Tesla, which has in fact been perfected, or brought close to perfection, by HAARP. The theory also claims that the ionospheric research is not a lie, but is being developed for use as a weapon to shoot down enemy spacecraft, or ballistic missiles, the latter popular especially given that HAARP’s facilities are all in Alaska, close to Russia. It even speculates that the weapon could become Tesla’s most infamous invention: “the Death Beam,” able to project a beam of extremely powerful electricity from the facility to any point on the planet and create an explosion as devastating as a hydrogen bomb.

4
The Vril Society
Nazi-Ufo Vril6
It has been suggested that there is a secret form of energy, called Vril, which is used and controlled by a secret subterranean society of matriarchal socialist utopian superior beings. Yes, you read that correctly. It is similar in this respect to the #2 theory. It also claims that Nazi Germany discovered this race, and its technology, at Shambhala, Tibet, and used it to create flying saucers (pictured above).
The whole theory is based on an 1871 sci-fi novel by Edward Bulwer-Lytton, titled, “Vril: The Coming of the Race.” It is generally considered an early example of science fiction, but because this genre was just getting off the ground at the time, it was seen by many as a non-fiction account of the subterranean race and their technology, a theory which persists today. The theory really took off in the 1960s.

3
The suppression of Free Energy
Tesla
This one actually sounds plausible. Nikola Tesla claimed that free energy was indeed possible, and worked for most of his career to achieve it. The theory claims that he did, in fact, succeed, just before his death in 1943, in discovering the mathematics and mechanics involved, but that the FBI immediately broke into his home and seized all his papers and work, and has never released any of it to the public.
The concept of free energy is, in very general terms, the ability to input x amount of energy into a machine, which will output x + 1 amount of energy. This seems to conflict with the law of conservation of energy, which states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. Tesla believed the law to be incorrect. He invented the Tesla Coil as an attempt to create free energy.
If it is possible, free energy could be perfected and result in the entire planet being powered by a single power source, such as a nuclear power plant, and output all the energy anyone could ever need. An infinite supply of energy at our fingertips, all based on electric output. You can see how this would irritate the oil companies.
They are the cause of the suppression, the theory claims, as no one would have to depend on fossil fuels anymore. Electric input is just as viable as coal input, or gasoline input. Thus, the electricity required to power a lightbulb could be all we need to power the whole world, invent spacecrafts capable of interstellar travel, anti-gravity, etc.

2
Jesus was a different species
Rosslyn Chapel
This theory is a lot of fun. It has been alleged that the U. S. and Israeli governments led archaeological digs in the past, which discovered the True Cross, on which Jesus Himself was crucified (along with many others, as crosses were reused). The theories disagree on the location, most claiming Jerusalem, many claiming Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland, or various places in England.
Minute traces of blood were discovered on the cross and analyzed. The DNA was of several strains, and one was encoded not on a double helix, but on a triple helix! Is this good stuff or what?! The DNA is unlike any other known, and was labeled as a new species, Homo superioris. The theory continues that there are other people of this species currently living underground in various places around the world, including most of the major cities, and they have been around as long or longer than Homo sapiens. Jesus made the unprecedented decision to come up to the surface and live among us, and try to teach us to be good, and kind and peaceful.
His species possesses phenomenal supernatural abilities, including telekinesis, levitation (walking on water), telepathy (knowing people’s thoughts), healing, etc. They are also very difficult to kill, and when no one was looking, presumably during the freak storm and earthquake, Jesus got down off the cross and disappeared, having done his job. This ties in with the Jesus bloodline theory.

1
The Montauk Project
Montauk
In the annals of paranoia, no conspiracy theory is more labyrinthine, more convoluted, more encompassing of other conspiracy theories as the Montauk Project, based out of Camp Hero, Montauk Point, Long Island, New York. At the extreme northeastern tip of the island there is a massive AN/FPS-35 radar dish that has long since been decommissioned, but has been saved from demolition by a petition from the local civilian residents, who find it a better sea-faring landmark than the nearby Montauk Lighthouse. This dish features prominently in all the theories surrounding a hyper-top secret military research facility which supposedly operated from 1967 to the early 1980s.
Some theories claim that research still goes on there, deep underground in a facility that was frequently expanded since its inception. But the theories involving what went on in Camp Hero from the 1960s on are the best stuff you’re likely to hear in terms of science fiction realism. The Project began on US Government initiative in 1952-53, when a secret committee was organized to discuss possible research into time travel. The methods by which this could be achieved have never been adequately explained in the theory, but are based primarily on the work of the two favorite scientists of conspiracy theorists: Albert Einstein and Nikola Tesla.
Einstein’s general relativity theory is considered the only plausible jumping-off point to a Unified Field Theory, which has so far not been discovered. Or so the public thinks. The Montauk Project resulted directly from the Philadelphia Experiment, which topped a previous list of conspiracy theories and is claimed by the theorists to be the accidental discovery of time travel. Nikola Tesla, who supposedly died in 1943, did not die, but perfected Einstein’s theory, and invented the mechanics required to stabilize a wormhole, a rip in the fabric of space-time.
The Montauk Project furthered this research, funded initially by $10 billion in Nazi gold bullion, stolen by American soldiers from an underground railroad tunnel in Switzerland in 1945. Some theories include Tesla as the immortal head of the project, traveling through time to cheat death. The base is said to have created and stabilized a time tunnel into the past, enabling anyone to go into it and arrive at any programmed point in the past. But then something terrible happened. No one can agree on precisely what, except that a mechanical failure in the 1980s resulted in a horrible monster from a foreign world (and perhaps from the past or future), which came through the underground tunnel without warning and severely destroyed the base, before being killed by unknown means.
The government immediately scrapped the Project, having learned how to travel through time, and sealed off the entire base, which had grown so large that it actually extends, to this day, under the town of Montauk itself, several square miles. The massive radar dish was used to transmit messages to alien worlds in various times through the history of the Universe.
Today, Camp Hero is now a state park where anyone may go and picnic or hike, and yet there are verifiable reports of backpackers and campers being suddenly accosted by men with automatic assault rifles in the middle of the night and threatened with death if they didn’t leave. In all these reports, the men have been said to wear olive drab uniforms with no insignia of any kind. The film “Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” was filmed in the area, but not in the state park itself, because the local authorities charged exorbitant fees, apparently to dissuade the production from accidentally uncovering any secrets.
The theories all converge at a brilliant end: there is a concrete-sealed door in the side of a building on Camp Hero grounds, which leads down, and which no one is allowed to go near.
Jamie Frater Jamie is the founder of Listverse. He spends his time working on the site, doing research for new lists, and cooking. He is fascinated with all things morbid and bizarre.
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50 best cult books

Albert Camus, Joseph Heller, JD Salinger and Thomas Pynchon are among the authors chosen by our critics for the 50 best cult books

Cult books: Joseph Heller, Albert Camus, Hermann Hesse, Dr Spock, Naomi Wolf, Tom Wolfe, Thomas Pynchon and Hunter S Thompson
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Cult books: Joseph Heller, Albert Camus, Hermann Hesse, Dr Spock, Naomi Wolf, Tom Wolfe, Thomas Pynchon and Hunter S Thompson 
4:29PM GMT 07 Nov 2013

A cult book may be hard to define but one thing is for sure: you know a cult book when you see one.
Cult books are somehow, intangibly, different from simple bestsellers – though many of them are that. And people have passionate feelings on both sides:
Our critics present a selection of the most notable cult writing from the past two centuries. Some is classic. Some is catastrophic. All of it had the power to inspire . . .

19th CENTURY . . .

The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg (1824)
A Calvinist convinced of his indefectible election to salvation is led to acts of murder by Gil-Martin, his devilish doppelganger. More a myth than a religious satire, it vividly survives James Hogg's not entirely satisfactory manner of recounting it. Consider this: there may be a Gil-Martin near you. Christopher Howse
The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám tr by Edward FitzGerald (1859)
This is among the best-selling volumes of poetry of all time, and does all that a translation should: it introduces the idea of an exotic, different culture; and it expresses what its readers feel, but lets them blame it on someone else. Here, in an age of doubt, aesthetics and Darwinism, these mysterious verses, drawn from 11th-century Persian, stand as little examples of how to celebrate life even as it slips away. TP
Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1883-85)
Incendiary declamation through a megaphone. If only one knew what he was on about. Put six Nietzscheans in a room and it ought to be a bloodbath; except, since they're all nancies who fancy themselves as Supermen, there wouldn't be one. Nietzsche was brave and mad enough to kill God: but look what happened to him. His acolytes are, largely, less brave. Andrew McKie
A Rebours by JK Huysmans (1884)
Plotless, morality-free salute to decadence. An individual based on its French author lounges about his luxurious home indulging in pursuits such as embedding gemstones in the shell of a tortoise until, loaded down, it expires. Dripping with Baudelairean ennui (and not a little dull itself), A Rebours was a bible for the Symbolists, Oscar Wilde and alienated creative types everywhere. Serena Davies

TWENTIES . . .

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse (1922)
Hermann Hesse’s allegorical novel sounds a bit Buddhist but is actually saying that experience (including of wealth), rather than contemplation, is the key to enlightenment. It's persuasive, especially if you read it, as many do, chillum in hand, in the Himalayas. Although, thinking about it now, profundities such as "the secret of the river is there is no time" don't make much sense out of context. SD
The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran (1923)
Pocket-sized set of aphorisms that sound like they were written by a medieval monk but were actually the product of a Lebanese-American alcoholic who died of cirrhosis of the liver in 1931. The Prophet is a beautifully phrased exercise in pointing out the obvious but Sixties hippy kids loved it. SD

THIRTIES . . .

Journey to the End of Night by Louis-Ferdinand Céline (1932)
Céline's vile political views are well documented but his first novel, Journey to the End of Night, was a groundbreaking modernist novel and a fine satire on war and the medical profession. Céline is considered one of the great French prose stylists of the 20th century. Martin Chilton
Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain (1933)
A record of a lost generation in the shape of the contemporaries Vera Brittain loved and lost in the First World War, this memoir is also a poignant, passionate and perfectly poised study of a woman trying to find her place in a changing world. A bible to the generation who read it on publication, its influence continues thanks to a Virago reprint. Sarah Crompton
The Road to Oxiana by Robert Byron (1937)
Modern travel writers such as Colin Thubron and Bruce Chatwin were inspired by Robert Byron. Travelling through the Middle East and Asia in the 1930s, Byron provides detailed descriptions of Islamic architecture, with pungent asides: "The Arabs hate the French more than they hate us. Having more reason to do so, they are more polite; in other words, they have learnt not to try it on, when they meet a European. This makes Damascus a pleasant city from the visitor's point of view." Sameer Rahim

FORTIES . . .

The Stranger by Albert Camus (1942)
"Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don’t know." The beach, the sun, the Arab, the gunshots, the chaplain: the stuff of millions of adolescents' fevered imaginings. If you don't love this when you're 17, there’s something wrong with you. In the film Talladega Nights, Sacha Baron Cohen's snooty French racing driver reads it on the starting grid. Strange but true: George W Bush read it on holiday when he was President. Dominic Sandbrook
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand (1943)
Bewilderingly popular and extremely silly Nietzschean melodrama, in which Ayn Rand gives her mad arch-capitalist philosophy a run round the block in the person of Howard Roark, a flouncy architect. Loved by the kind of person who tells you selfishness is an evolutionary advantage, before stealing your house/lover/job. Tim Martin
Baby and Child Care by Doctor Benjamin Spock (1946)
Childcare experts go in and out of fashion, but Dr Benjamin Spock remains the daddy of them all. From his reassuring first sentence – "You know more than you think you do" – he revolutionised the way parents thought about their children, asserting the right to cuddle, comfort and follow your instincts. He also tells you how to deal with croup. SC
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (1948)
This heady mix of romance and reality opens with its teenage heroine Cassandra Mortmain writing while sitting in the kitchen sink. It ends with the words "I love you" scribbled in the margins of the imaginary journal that forms the substance of the novel. In between a story unfolds that feeds the fantasies of every lovelorn young girl; but its status owes much to the way that, as in life, things don’t end happily ever after. SC

FIFTIES . . .

Dianetics: the Modern Science of Mental Health by L Ron Hubbard (1950)
Do you often feel unhappy? Depressed? Ill at ease with others? You will if you read this. Creepy bit of mind-mechanics by the indifferent sci-fi novelist who founded Scientology. TM
The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger (1951)
Ur-text of adolescent alienation, beloved of assassins, emos and everyone in between, Gordon Brown included. Complicated teen Holden Caulfield at large in the big city, working out his family and getting drunk. You've probably read it, be honest. TM
The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley (1954)
The book that launched a thousand trips. William Blake said that if we could cleanse the "doors of perception" we would perceive "the infinite". Huxley thought mescalin was the way to do so. In this essay, he pops a pill, goes on about "not-self" and "suchness", and decides love is the ultimate truth. He also took LSD when dying, but hardly stuffed it down the way his fans did. Jim Morrison was one: he named the Doors after Huxley's book, gobbled mouthfuls of acid and was dead by 27. SD
Story of O by Pauline Réage (1954)
Deliberately discomforting, Story of O takes as its subject the objectification of women. O is a beautiful woman who submits to the sadistic whims of various men after she is kidnapped and taken to a chateau to be blindfolded, whipped, branded and pierced. It ends with an odd sense of triumph, O wearing nothing but a mask before a group of strangers. Bewildering, creepy and joyless, it's a guaranteed detumescent. Toby Clements
The Outsider by Colin Wilson (1956)
Required reading in the coffee bars of the East Midlands in the late Fifties; unbelievably, some people paid good money for this study of the outsider figure in Western literature. The TLS found 285 mistakes in a sample of 249 lines, but in its young author’s eyes, it confirmed him as "the major literary genius of our century". Modesty was not one of his virtues; nor, sadly, was literary ability. DS
On The Road by Jack Kerouac (1957)
Supposedly filled in under three caffeine-fuelled weeks, the roll of paper on which Kerouac typed his seminal novel recently sold for more than two million dollars, and has spent the past few years on the road itself, travelling from museum to museum in the US, where it attracts queues of bearded jazz fanatics. It is the result of seven years of road-trips across America during the 1940s. Initially it celebrates the alternative lifestyle, although by the end it is coloured by disappointment. TC
The Leopard by Giuseppe di Lampedusa (1958)
A thing of beauty, the sole bequest of the last in the line of Sicilian aristocrats on whom the novel is based. An ineradicable elegy for a vanished society, and, despite its risorgimento setting, still the best psychological and botanical guidebook to parts of southern Italy. TM
TM The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell (1957-60)
The great modern Baroque novel. Made it possible for the middle classes to embrace the Mediterranean. No such Alexandria ever existed, nor did the potboiler thriller plot of space/time exploration, Kaballa, sex, good food and drink (it came out during rationing) or philosophical enquiry. Some beautiful sentences, sure; but lots of them don’t make sense. AMcK

SIXTIES . . .

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)
Economical Deep South drama around perennially hot-button racial questions, further exalted in literary mythology by being the only thing its author ever wrote. Even those who think they haven’t read it often have. TM
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (1961)
Bitterly bouncy military farce, responsible for inventing the dilemma to which it gave its name: you're only excused war if you're mad, but wanting an exemption argues that you must be sane. Literary history would be entirely different if Heller had followed his original intention and called it Catch-18: it was changed to avoid confusion with a Leon Uris book. TM
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey (1962)
Anti-hero Randle Patrick McMurphy will forever be associated with Jack Nicholson, the actor who won an Oscar for portraying him in the film, but he is the brilliant creation of Ken Kesey in this novel set in a mental institution. Through the conflict between Nurse Ratched and McMurphy, the novel explores the theme of how individuals are crushed and of rebellion against conformity. MC
Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges (1962)
Miniature literary mindwarps from the world's most famous blind librarian, a writer – like Kafka – whose work, once encountered, adds a new adjective to the mental lexicon. Unforgettable stuff, after which mazes and mirrors will never be the same again. Often beloved of the kind of person who agrees with its author that "there is a kind of lazy pleasure in useless and out-of-the-way erudition", and none the worse for that. TM
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (1963)
In one of the original misery memoirs, Sylvia Plath delivered an intense, semiautobiographical story of growing up at a time when electroshock therapy was used to treat troubled young women. The narrator is a talented writer who arrives in New York with every opportunity before her, but buckles. The Bell Jar became a rallying call for a better understanding of mental illness, creativity and the impact on women of stifling social conventions. Plath killed herself a month after its publication. Ceri Radford
Dune by Frank Herbert (1965)
Sandworms, ornithopters, Atreides, Harkonnen and spice: chop and blend for sci-fi fantasy, strangely like an intergalactic cousin of James Clavell. The first in an increasingly soap-operatic sequence. Equally cultishly adapted for the screen by David Lynch, and the root of many a lifelong passion for complex character names and/or arcane ceremonial weaponry. TM
The Magus by John Fowles (1966)
Posh young teacher goes to idyllic Greek island, there to be exquisitely tormented by young women and a Prospero-like figure. Like most John Fowles, this is solid middlebrow dressed as highbrow, but stunning setdressing, TS Eliot quotations and a twist at the end guaranteed a lifelong place in the hearts of a certain type of bookish male. TM
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov (1967)
Satan live and in person, a mansized black cat, a magician and his helpmeet, Pontius Pilate… Classic text of dissident magic realism, banned for years under Stalin: now you’ll struggle to find a Russian who hasn't read it. Essential stuff, and with the finest description of a headache yet committed to paper. TM
Chariots of the Gods: Was God An Astronaut? by Erich Von Däniken (1968)
Those Easter Island things, they're blokes wearing space suits, aren’t they? Er, no. Hugely influential work of mad-eyed fabricated Arch & Anth, responsible for decades of pub pseudoscience as well as for splendid stuff such as The X-Files. Increasingly common at jumble sales these days, though Von Däniken happily got another 25 books out of the idea. TM
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe (1968)
New journalism, non-fiction novel – however you define it, Tom Wolfe’s 1968 account of the novelist Ken Kesey’s psychedelic bus ride across America with his "Merry Pranksters" established a style of free-associating, hyperbolic writing (count the exclamation marks!!!) that spawned countless imitations. To a generation of readers it fostered a burning envy that they had not been in San Francisco when the Kool-Aid dispensers were being spiked with "Purple Haze". Now a vivid social history of a period that seems as remote as Byzantium. Mick Brown
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut (1969)
Sideways fantasy from the Diogenes of American letters, a comic sage who survived the firebombing of Dresden and various familial tragedies to work out his own unique brand of science-fictional satire. Like much of Vonnegut's stuff, this is savage anger barely masked by urbane anthropological sarcasm. Very much a defining cult novel. TM

SEVENTIES . . .

Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach and Russell Munson (1970)
The book that gave 1970s idealism a bad name, the nauseating story of a seagull who defies his fellows to soar into the heavens. "The only true law," the bird solemnly tells us, "is that which leads to freedom." Richard Nixon's FBI director, L Patrick Gray, ordered all his staff to read it. Later, he resigned for gross corruption, a fitting punishment for his dreadful taste. DS
The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer (1970)
Women should taste their own menstrual blood to reconcile themselves to their bodies, declared Germaine Greer in the seminal feminist text of the 1970s. Greer told a generation of women that society had turned them into meek, self-hating, castrated clones. The book was an international best-seller which earned Greer a mixed but enduring legacy. CR
The Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart (1971)
Blame a burgeoning mistrust of conventional psychiatry for the immediate impact of The Dice Man – a novel whose hero, a disillusioned psychiatrist, vows to make every decision of his life according to the roll of a die. As one might have expected from the times, chance sends him into violence and anarchy, which also explains the book’s enduring appeal. Alex Clark
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S Thompson (1971)
Needs little introduction. Bad craziness as the Duke of Gonzo and his helpless attorney blaze a streak of pharmaceutical havoc across 1970s California, all in demented bar-fight prose and fever-dream set-pieces. Now also a core text for ex-public school drug bores, which tends to obscure the anarchic excellence of HST's journalistic talent. TM
Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon (1973)
Europe-hopping comic metanovel of war and power, stuffed with maths, shaggy-dog stories, childish humour and ravishing sentences. And lots of rockets. Genius, though long enough to lie unfinished. TM
Fear of Flying by Erica Jong (1973)
More 1970s searching for "authenticity" and "selfhood": a housewife has an affair with a radical psychoanalyst ("Adrian Goodlove", geddit?) and fantasises about sexual liberation. At the end, though, she goes back to her husband. John Updike called it the most "delicious erotic novel a woman everwrote" – but really, what on earth was all the fuss about? DS
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: an Inquiry into Values by Robert M Pirsig (1974)
Burnt-out hippy takes son on bike trip. Remembers previous self: lecturer who had nervous breakdown contemplating Eastern and Western philosophy. Very bad course in Ordinary General Philosophy follows. If he’d done Greek at school and knew what "arête" meant, we could have been spared most of the 1970s. AMcK
If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino (1979)
A book composed of the first chapters from other invented books. Either a classic work of literary snakes and ladders or a tiresomely recursive bit of postmodern sterility depending on your interlocutor. Italo Calvino was arguably better elsewhere. TM
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (1979)
Forget Asimov or PKD. Douglas Adams was so brilliant a visionary that even in the late 1970s he was able to foresee a time when digital watches would look pretty silly. The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy – a radio show before it was a novel, and a film, and a game, and a TV show – was incredibly clever and wildly funny. Thanks to the Guide, an entire generation of Britons was nursed to adulthood with the phrases "Don’t Panic" and "Mostly Harmless", and the number 42. Sam Leith
Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas R Hofstadter (1979)
About what it means to think, and how that happens, this is written in the spirit of Lewis Carroll. Pattern recognition in the work of geniuses. Loved by maths geeks and anybody with Asperger's syndrome and anyone with sense. But at root a chess textbook. AMcK

EIGHTIES . . .

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole (1980)
Ignatius J Reilly is a fat anti-hero to thwart Promethean selfdramatisation in any reader. With the medieval poetry of Hroswitha swirling in a head jammed into a green hunting cap with earpieces, Reilly eats steadily, despises modernity, seeks solace in canine fantasies and remembers with terror his one experience of leaving New Orleans. CH
The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln (1982)
Similar territory to The Da Vinci Code but earlier, less balefully stupid and with the nerve to claim factual accuracy (its authors took Dan Brown to court and lost). The usual song and dance about Templars, bloodlines of Christ and global conspiracies, but somehow still chilling for all that. Staple text of the bonkers brigade. TM

NINETIES . . .

Iron John: a Book About Men by Robert Bly (1990)
For decades, the cowed menfolk of the world ambled about in pinafores, dusting ornaments and saying "yes, dear". Then Robert Bly wrote Iron John, invented mythopoetic masculinity, and the daft creatures all rushed off into the woods together, hugged, bellowed, wept, painted their furry parts blue and felt re-empowered to wee standing up. SL
The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf (1991)
The woman who made feminism sexy by being gorgeous and shaving her legs also taught her readers to eat a hearty meal. This book argues that a cult of thinness has desexualised and disempowered women just when, after the acceptance of free love and the introduction of the contraceptive pill, the opposite should have happened. The most important feminist text of the past 20 years. SD
The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield (1993)
Deep in the South American jungle an intrepid explorer is about to stumble on a sequence of ancient prophecies that could change our way of living, even save the world. If only we didn’t have to buy the other novels in that the series to find out what they were! For a similar effect on the cheap, rent an Indiana-Jonesalike film – Tomb Raider, say – and ask a hippy to whisper nonsense in your ear while you're watching it. TM

21st CENTURY . . .

No Logo by Naomi Klein (2000)
Few books have caught a political moment better than Naomi Klein’s stylish and impassioned report on the abuses of brands, and the activists who fight them. It was published in 2000, just as "antiglobalisation" crashed into the mainstream, and Klein was adopted as its poster-girl. SL
The Road by Cormac McCarthy (2006)
In the Sixties and Seventies, McCarthy was a cult figure with a reputation as a writer's writer. Yet despite all the success and the film adaptations, McCarthy somehow remains a writer of cult classics, even if they are bestsellers. The Road is his bleak masterpiece about a father and his son in a post-apocalyptic world (“barren, silent, godless”). MC
1Q84 by Haruki Murakami (2011)
You could say that Haruki Murakami has always been a cult writer, even though he is now a novelist who sells millions, both in translation and in his native Japan. The two-volume 1Q84, set in 1984 but with a Q in the title to emphasis the question marks hanging over the lives of characters in his epic romance novel. MC
See the whole list at Telegraph Books >

Monday, March 17, 2014

Absolute Perversion of the Law in US Drone Killings

Written by Adam Dick

Drone Strike

We see in the United States government’s “targeted killings” program carried out by drones and other means a perversion of the law so extreme that it brings to mind the introductory paragraph of Frederic Bastiat’s classic book The Law:
The law perverted! The law — and, in its wake, all the collective forces of the nation — the law, I say, not only diverted from its proper direction, but made to pursue one entirely contrary! The law become the tool of every kind of avarice, instead of being its check! The law guilty of that very iniquity which it was its mission to punish! Truly, this is a serious fact, if it exists, and one to which I feel bound to call the attention of my fellow citizens.
As individuals we possess the, hopefully, rarely exercisable right to use lethal force to defend ourselves and others against people who threaten us with death or serious injury. Even then, in a court case regarding such a killing we are further called upon to prove that the killing is justified and rebut the presumption that the killing is wrongful.

Governments may rely on this individual defensive right as a justification for their exercise of killing power, terming the government’s right to kill as an extension of individuals’ right to kill in defense of themselves or others. In the targeted killings program, the Obama administration has perverted this reasoning beyond recognition so that in Bastiat’s phrasing an “entirely contrary” direction — unjustified homicides — is pursued.

The legal perversion of the US government’s targeted killings program is explained with dramatic details in a speech by Future of Freedom Foundation Policy Advisor James Bovard and a discussion of RPI Chairman and Founder Ron Paul with The Intercept writer Jeremy Scahill. The revelations in the speech and discussion give ample support for RPI Advisory Board Member Andrew Napolitano’s declaration that the targeted killings are both illegal and unconstitutional.

Bovard answers two questions in his speech at the New Hampshire Liberty Forum last month to explain the legal perversion of the US government’s targeted killings:
How much evidence should the US government be obliged to show before it kills an American citizen? None, according to the Obama administration. And how much evidence should the government be obliged to possess of an American’s wrongdoing before it officially targets him for killing? That’s a secret according to Obama.
Bovard proceeds to explain that Obama’s targeted killings program is both more active and more flagrant in lawlessness than the program Obama inherited from President George W. Bush:
The Obama administration is pioneering these pretexts for presidential killings. The drone assassinations have increased more than 500 percent since Obama took office, and Obama is claiming openly and publicly rights that George W. Bush only claimed secretly.
The program’s secretive application is illustrated by Bovard in the context of the judiciary supporting the Obama administration’s refusal to tell the father of Anwar al-Awlaki the legal standards for including al-Awlaki on the targeted killings list, claiming protection from disclosure as state secrets. The US government later used a drone to kill al-Awlaki in Yemen.

As Bovard goes on to suggest, Obama may want to keep the reasoning behind targeted killings so secret because the reasoning is flimsy, based on conjectures such as that people present in a known terrorist area or carrying guns must be terrorists or up to no good.

Watch here Bovard’s speech in which he also addresses the US government’s violations of individual rights through the Transportation Security Administration and the National Security Agency.

Paul and Scahill’s Ron Paul Channel discussion delves into the Obama administration’s unaccountable use of drones to kill overseas. Scahill elaborates with one example how, in addition to covering up the reasoning behind drone killings, the US government can also cover up who is killed and even the fact that the US government is behind the killings:
So, what happened very early on when Obama came to power is that he embraced some of the most dark forces within the US national security apparatus and began to give them wide-ranging authorities to wage war in countries where Congress had not actually declared war. And one of the places where he really started striking heavily was in Yemen.

And, so, this scene that we saw relates to the first time that President Obama authorized a missile attack against Yemen. It was in December of 2009. They said that they were taking out an al-Qaeda training facility. It turns out that it was a village of Bedouins and 14 women were killed, 21 children. We have the names of all of them. And they have not been able to produce any actual al-Qaeda figures that were killed in that attack.

And you’ll of course remember, Ron, that, when this bombing happened, the Yemeni government took responsibility for it publicly, and the Obama administration allowed them to do it and in fact sent them a note of congratulations saying, “Wow, great job on striking against the terrorists.” At the end of the day, this was General David Patraeus, President Obama, and the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command conspiring to start a secret bombing campaign against Yemen.
Watch the complete interview here where Scahill explains in more detail the growth of this executive branch power through the Bush and Obama administrations, and even back to the end of World War II. In particular, Scahill notes how Obama embraced “the life’s work of Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney … essentially to enact a coup d’etat in the United States where one branch of government — the executive branch — would essentially operate a dictatorship over what they broadly termed national security policy or counter-terrorism policy.” Scahill elaborates:
Under Bush and Cheney we had Murder Incorporated. There were no morals whatsoever. They waged war on the world. They sent thousands of young Americans to their deaths in these unnecessary wars. But, under Obama, he’s actually trying to make an argument that the US not only has a right to do these assassination operations — though they call them targeted killing — but that the US is right to do it, and that it’s lawful to do it, and that it’s constitutional to do it.

I don’t understand how Mr. Nobel Peace Prize Winner, a constitutional lawyer, can actually with a straight face say that he can observe as the prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner of an American citizen who has not been charged with a crime and is not on an active battlefield fighting against US forces or attacking US individuals. I don’t understand how he, with a straight face, can say that to the American people.
Despite Obama’s statement in his January State of the Union speech that he would follow “prudent limits” on the use of drones, the targeted killings program remains in full force. As the killings — directed by people thousands of miles away using secret reasoning — continue, it seems appropriate for people to consider Bastiat’s explanation in The Law of the proper limits on government:
What is law? What ought it to be? What is its domain? What are its limits? Where, in fact, does the prerogative of the legislator stop?

I have no hesitation in answering, Law is common force organized to prevent injustice; — in short, Law is Justice.

It is not true that the legislator has absolute power over our persons and property, since they pre-exist, and his work is only to secure them from injury.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Obama threatens vetoes of bills requiring him to follow the law


President Obama is threatening to veto a law that would allow Congress to sue him in federal courts for arbitrarily changing or refusing to enforce federal laws because it "violates the separation of powers" by encroaching on his presidential authority.
"[T]he power the bill purports to assign to Congress to sue the President over whether he has properly discharged his constitutional obligation to take care that the laws be faithfully executed exceeds constitutional limitations," the White House Office of Management and Budget said Wednesday in a statement of administration policy. "Congress may not assign such power to itself, nor may it assign to the courts the task of resolving such generalized political disputes."
 
The lead sponsor of the measure, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., said it was designed to curb Obama's abuse of presidential authority, most notably in his frequent changes to Obamacare.
"We have pursued certain remedies afforded to Congress to address executive overreach but these efforts have been thwarted," Gowdy said. "This bill is necessary; it will give Congress the authority to defend this branch of government as the Framers and our fellow citizens would expect."
Obama also threatened to veto another bill by Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., which would require the administration to explain decisions not to enforce laws when those decisions are rooted in policy concerns rather than just constitutional concerns (which the Justice Department is already required to do).
"The American people deserve to know exactly which laws the Obama administration is refusing to enforce and why," DeSantis said when introducing his bill.
OMB said DeSantis' law is too burdensome. "The bill would inordinately expand current law, which already requires reports to Congress when non-enforcement of federal law is based on constitutional grounds," Obama's team said in a statement of administration policy.
"Federal agencies are continually engaged in the process of determining how to concentrate limited enforcement resources most effectively. ... The vastly expanded reporting scheme required by the bill would be unduly burdensome and would place the Attorney General in the unprecedented position of having to be kept informed of and report on enforcement decisions made by every other Federal agency," the statement continued.
The House is scheduled to vote on both bills Wednesday.
On the same day that DeSantis introduced his bill, Attorney General Eric Holder told Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, that he thought Obama was "probably at the height of his constitutional power" when issuing the delays of Obamacare mandates, though he acknowledged that he couldn't explain the precise legal analysis.
"When you look at the quality, not just the quantity but the quality, the nature of the executive orders that he has issued, he has usurped an extraordinary amount of authority within the executive branch," Lee said at the time. "This is not precedented, and I point to the delay — the unilateral delay, lawless delay, in my opinion — of the employer mandate as an example of this. And so, at a minimum, I think he owes us an explanation as to what his legal analysis was."



Joel Gehrke

Commentary Writer
The Washington Examiner



Monday, March 10, 2014

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Puerto Rico and Wall Street’s 21st Century Debt Peonage Imperialism

The Genealogy of the Crisis

by VICTOR M. RODRIGUEZ


Puerto Rico is usually thought of as a tourism destination or is usually invisible in the U.S. media. In recent times, its fiscal and economic crisis has led to inaccurate comparisons with Detroit or Greece whose fiscal crises have attracted much media attention. As usual, the mainstream press looks at the illness without looking at the root causes. And the comparisons are usually risky because they tend to ignore history and the nuances of each case. Unfortunately for Puerto Rico, its fuzzy political relationship with the United States is always described with euphemisms (“Commonwealth”) in order to avoid the undeniable truth: Puerto Rico is a colonial possession of the United States in the 21st century. The colonial model that was developed after World War II is entering a stage of complete collapse and the colonial government has few alternatives to repair the economic crisis. But the United States, like an alcoholic has always been in denial of the fact that a democratic nation has colonies. But in Puerto Rico the wall of denials is cracking and threatening to impact the U.S economy and national security.
History
One outcome of the “splendid little war” of 1898, the Cuban-American-Spanish war was the transfer of Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Philippines as part of the Treaty of Paris. No representatives from these nations were present in the treaty process. Spain “ceded” Puerto Rico to the United States. Puerto Rico then became an “unincorporated territory of the United States “or to use the phrase of Justice Edward Douglas White in his Downes v. Bidwell decision in 1901 “Porto Rico was not a foreign country, since it was owned by the United States, it was foreign to the United States in a domestic sense, because the island had not been incorporated into the United States but was merely appurtenant thereto as a possession.” In other words, it belongs to but it is not part of the United States (this court also decided the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson “Separate but Equal” Decision). Its residents after 1917 became citizens of the United States under the Jones Act (their Puerto Rican citizenship was eliminated) but the statutory nature of the citizenship has created a second class citizenship status for Puerto Ricans. In another decision the Supreme Court in Balzac v. Porto Rico (1922) said that the bill of rights does not pertain to Puerto Ricans. They do not pay Federal Income taxes but they can be drafted in times of war. They also cannot vote for the commander in chief, the president of the United States. Because of the statutory nature of its citizenship a Puerto Rican born in the island cannot be president of the United States (although this has not been firmly decided by the Supreme Court where a Puerto Rican woman, Sonia Sotomayor now serves). If islanders want to increase the level of their citizenship they must travel to the United States mainland and participate in the electoral process there. Close to 5 million Puerto Ricans live in the mainland already while only 3.6 million live in the island proper.
The awkward status of the island is the outcome of misgivings U.S. congress had in incorporating a nation where a majority of the population was considered non-white. Most of the territories conquered by the United States (with the exception of the Philippines and Cuba) became territories (the track toward possible statehood) and their final entry was finally determined by their racial demography. New Mexico, for example, although the Mexican American War ended in 1848 did not become a state until 1912, while California became a state in 1850. The determinant factor in the different time of admission for both is that by 1850 whites were the dominant group in California. New Mexico, on the other hand had, while it still had a significant Mexican American population by 1912 the white population (and their control of the economy) had become sufficiently large to allay some of the congressional fears. The cases of Hawaii and Alaska occurred after World War II when the racial issue while still pertinent was less determinant in the process because there was a significantly large white population in both territories. To not grant statehood would have created two large populations of white second class citizens.
Puerto Rico, on the other hand by the end of the Spanish American War already had a population of one million inhabitants, so changing the racial demography of the island would have been a massive process of ethnic cleansing. The bringing of white settlers and the promotion of the massive emigration of Puerto Ricans would have been too controversial.  However, population control efforts were carried out in Puerto Rico by the colonial government coupled with the promotion of emigration and the recruitment of workers for sugar plantations of Hawaii and the agricultural fields in the Northeast of the United States. These early immigrants are the pioneers who created the Puerto Rican communities that persist today in the United States. By 1930, more than 52,000 resided in the U.S. But the process of emigration was not sufficient to diminish the population significantly since the birth rate was quite high. In fact, the population of Puerto Rico has always shown natural growth in each of the decennial census the U.S. Bureau of the Census has carried out in the island. But recently, a new population phenomena is taking place in Puerto Rico.
Declining Population
For the first time since 1898 the population of Puerto Rico has suffered a decline. According to the U.S. Census Bureau the island’s population has declined from 2010 (last decennial census) through 2013. An analysis performed by the Center of Puerto Rican Studies (2014) indicates that the population of Puerto Rico declined from 3,721,208 in 2010 to 3,615,086 in 2013. A decline rate of 1 per cent per year while at the same time the natural growth of the population has declined 13 per cent between 2012 and 2013. It is estimated also that 500,000 Puerto Ricans have emigrated in the last decade. Just in the state of Florida an estimated 900,000 Puerto Reside. In fact, in the 2012 elections President Obama received the electoral votes of this states thanks to the Puerto Rican vote which nationally voted 83 per cent for Democrats.
But the emigration is having other consequences in the island. The island’s population is becoming older which together with the fiscal crisis that it is facing are creating a climate of uncertainty among its population. While there is a small flow of immigrants to the island their demographic characteristics compound the problem. The median age of the population of return migrants is 33 years and the median age of those who leave is 29 years so the median age of the island population will likely increase from the present 38.2 years. As the dependency ratio increases (ratio between the young and the old population) it will mean a smaller working class to maintain the increasingly growing retired elderly population. This is becoming a core problem which has resulted in some drastic reforms by the colonial government of the public pension systems of teachers and public workers. Both system have an actuarial deficit of $45 billion according to the government. Teachers engaged in limited strikes and protests because of the dramatic reduction in their pensions. This reduction in benefits has also induced many teachers to emigrate.
But despite the myths that abound in the media there is not a massive “brain drain” occurring in the emigration flow. In fact, most of the emigrants are less educated than the non-emigrant population according to a study covering 2000-2011 by Kurt Birson of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies of Hunter College, CUNY. While there are a significant number of professionals among the emigrants, only 15 per cent hold a bachelor’s degree and 5 per cent a graduate degree, a slightly smaller representation than the non-emigrant population. The emigrants are however younger and made up of more blue-collar workers than their counterparts who stayed in the island. Given the state of the U.S. economy where low wage jobs are being produced in greater proportion than in previous decades the less educated emigrants are finding themselves stuck in low wage jobs and competing with foreign immigrant workers. But the anecdotal narratives carried by mainstream newspapers in the U.S. exacerbate and inflate the perception that most of those leaving are highly educated teachers, engineers, physicians etc. Already, the public school system has closed many elementary schools because of the decline in the birth rate.
The Fiscal Debt of Puerto Rico
In the meantime, as a result of the failure of the colonial system to provide the momentum for the economic development of the island, the colonial government, especially since the 1970s began to rely on debt to pay for basic public services and to pay for previous debt. Since last February 4, 2014, Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s and Fitch have downgraded its debt to junk status, brushing aside a series of austerity measures taken by the new governor which were considered necessary but only helped to avoid a further lowering of the credit rating. Also, despite the announced radical measures by the governor of Puerto Rico’s Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla to reduce appropriations by $170 million and plans to have a balanced budget for 2015, Standard & Poor surmised that the government may have to return to the market to cover a 2015 deficit. This is a chaotic situation given that the public debt of Puerto Rico is $70 billion dollars or 102 per cent of the island’s GNP the highest of any state in the U.S. The debt income ratio is 83 per cent (Villamil, 2014) almost 14 times the same measure as New York, California or Illinois. The island is paying close to $3.7 billion a year to service the debt. To compound the situation the population is declining, the labor participation rate has declined to 41.3 per cent (one of the lowest in the world). In addition, the unemployment rate is 15.4 per cent, highest than any state of the U.S.
Colonialism and the Failure of Economic Development
The Achilles heel of any effort to heal Puerto Rico’s financial crisis is its inability to expand its economic growth in a self-sustaining way. While according to the governor there is an increase in revenues that may help the island avoid a deficit in 2015, the reality is that Puerto Rico decades ago chose a growth and not a developmental path that was limited by its colonial status. Puerto Rico cannot issue its own currency, because of cabotage laws enacted by Congress in 1920 Puerto Rican trade has to utilize the U.S. merchant marine, the most expensive and likely the most inefficient in the world. It is also unable to protect its local production because it does not have the power to raise tariffs. Its poultry sector, its agriculture, housing construction and even its once thriving banking sector are also in a crisis. Three major banks were liquidated by the FDIC. Puerto Rico also cannot enter into trade agreements with its neighbors directly it has to use the United States government as an intermediary. In fact, contrary to the experience of Detroit, Puerto Rico cannot go into bankruptcy. To add insult to injury, Puerto Rico’s constitution requires the government to pay general obligation bond holders before it fulfills other regular governmental obligations. In other words, services to the citizenry could be further cut to pay for its fiscal debt. At this point, with the reduction of the island’s credit rating even if they wanted they could not afford the higher interest rates that the markets have imposed. For many years Puerto Rico bonds did pretty well in the market offering higher interest rates than those bonds issues by states and municipalities in the U.S. The constitutional clause and the backing of the colonial government made these bonds very profitable to its buyers. For example California was paid 2.375 for its bonds while Puerto Rican bonds earned between 8 and 10% (2013). Now that bonds have been reduced to a junk status this source of income is almost closed to Puerto Rico. Finally, raising taxes in an already regressive tax system will only further accelerate the depressed economy. Puerto Rico’s economy, while the U.S. economy is enjoying a modest recovery, is in it eight recessionary year. Its GNP has been reduced by 15 per cent in real terms.
The Genealogy of the Crisis
Puerto Rico’s colonial governments have relied upon tax exemption benefits to muster economic growth since the failure of a modest import substitution effort in the 1940s. This effort was modeled on similar efforts in Latin America to develop industries that had some linkages to the local economy and that would reduce the dependency on imports. The intellectual template for this effort was the “Chardon Plan,” Carlos Chardon was the first Puerto Rican chancellor of the University of Puerto Rico (1931-35). In 1935 he developed the framework for what was to become the Puerto Rico Reconstruction Administration (PRRA) created by the Roosevelt administration to help solve some of Puerto Rico’s economic problems. The local government provided some resources and had the support of a progressive colonial administration under Governor Rexford G. Tugwell (1941-46) who was appointed governor of the island by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. With government financing, publicly owned industries were created (like the Tennessee Valley Authority), enterprises like a glass bottle plant, a cement plant, a box carton plant and other agencies with the purpose of decreasing the reliance on imports, provide some resources for local industrial development and provide local employment. Most of the publicly owned initiatives were labor intensive. Unfortunately, management problems and political problems led to the eventual privatization of these enterprises. Politicians both in Puerto Rico and the U.S. had complained calling this a socialist experiment a complaint that resonated among conservative sectors in the U.S.
The first effort after World War II to improve the economy was called “Operation Bootstrap” which was a misnomer because Puerto Rico was not pulling itself by the bootstraps instead it was relying on U.S. corporate investment in labor intensive light industry. Initially these enterprises provided significant local employment. However, because the colonial government provided generous tax incentives to these corporations it also reduced the tax revenues for basic services. While the tax incentives attracted corporate investment that increased employment the fiscal situation of the island remained under control. From 1950 to 1970 the model had some success in attracting U.S. capital because since U.S. workers had not been allowed to strike during World War II U.S. capital had accumulated huge profits during the war. Then after the war, since the traditional economic rivals of the United States, Japan and Germany had their industrial base demolished the U.S. became the dominant economic power.
This unique combination of factors created a niche that helped Puerto Rico achieve some economic growth, however, no development. The income per capita in in the U.S. 1950 was $1,935 (Dietz, 2003) or six times larger than Puerto Rico’s. As the industrialization program developed under these conditions it achieved some success, by 1960 income per capita in the island had reached $723 and by 1970 it had doubled to $1,857. During a short period there was a convergence between the local economy and the U.S. For example, during the first two decades 1950-1970s the U.S. per capita gross domestic product (GDP) as a multiple of the island’s income was only four in 1960 ($2,915) and then in 1970 it was only 2.7 times ($5,050) greater than Puerto Rico’s (Dietz, 2003). The income convergence between the U.S. and Puerto Rico began to slow after 1970, and through 1990s remained virtually unchanged. But while in absolute terms there were increases in income, the position of the economy of the island relative to the United States remained static, the convergence ended. One factor that stabilized local income was the federal transfers to the island that began in 1975 when food stamps were approved for Puerto Rican residents. This infusion of money helped the commercial sector and brought many out of deep poverty. But in addition to the federal transfers one factor that aided in the reduction of poverty and the unemployment rate was the massive emigration of Puerto Ricans. The industrialization process included the overt and deliberate promotion of emigration to the United States as an escape valve. During the 1940s and 1950s Nationalist activism created fear of political disruption in Puerto Rico and the United States. In 1950s there was a Nationalist insurrection and in 1954 nationalists engaged in armed action against congress.
The next phase of the Puerto Rican economy was primarily based on the changes in the Federal IRS code which created the 936 code in 1976 which allowed U.S. corporations to repatriate profits in Puerto Rico without paying federal taxes (in the form of a tax credit). The purpose of this tax code was to help “possessions” to bring external capital investment to increase employment and economic growth. Some amendments were made to the law in subsequent years which allowed corporations to also get tax credits from passive investment and intangibles like intellectual property of patents. In sum, a very generous tax scheme which resulted in the expansion of drug and pharmaceutical industries, medical instruments, high technology. Unfortunately, the contribution to employment in the island became expensive since in the late 80s the cost of creating one job was $70,000 in lost federal revenues for a job that paid $26,471 in wages in the pharmaceutical industry.
The local government, in order to avail itself of some income from the tax exempt industries instituted a “tollgate tax” of 10 per cent for any repatriated profits. This money was to be invested in the local banks which provided a financial incentive to banks and increased the availability of loans and in some way promoted the consumerism which continues unabated even today. For many years, personal consumption in the island benefitted from this significant source of funds which were available to the banking sector. Puerto Ricans enjoyed very reasonable interests for consumer expenditures leading to one of the highest ratio of cars per 1,000 inhabitants in the world. These low interests which also extended to the mortgage market may also well be responsible for the real estate housing bubble that ensued.
Because of the concern that the 1976 936 IRS code was too expensive for the U.S. Treasury and because it was not providing the level of employment that had been expected the Clinton administration in 1995 signed legislation which phased out the 936 code which was to end in 2005. Corporations would have to opt for other sections of the tax code so they could protect their profits. Some incorporated as “controlled foreign corporations” (CFC’s) which allowed the enterprises to receive tax benefits under the 901 IRS code which allowed corporations to get tax credits for their investment in foreign countries. Puerto Rico was considered a foreign country for tax purposes so many investors chose this avenue to protect their investment. Ironically, despite the fear that only tax incentives could provide the island with economic growth, the partial decline in the role of manufacturing in Puerto Rico predates the elimination of the 936 tax exemptions. Manufacturing, like in the United States already had begun to decline as a percentage of the island’s economy. In fact, from 1995 through 2000 employment grew in construction, trade and services and began to provide a greater proportion of the employment than manufacturing. These are also sectors of the economy with a greater role of local capital. The explanation for this is that since the 1970s Puerto Rico began to receive federal transfers like food stamps and other programs which maintained the consuming power of the population and reduced poverty.
However, most of the external investment has resulted in the elimination of local capital and in a reduction in the tax revenues for government services. Also, as Dietz has indicated in previous work (1986) the Puerto Rican economic developmental model focused on growth but not on development. Puerto Rico was the model (which initially was showcased for other Latin American countries) for what in other countries, particularly Mexico are called “maquiladoras” which are basically assembly plants. The core problem of this model is that it creates an enclave with no forward or backward linkages to the local economy. The manufacturing plants are basically assembly plants that avail themselves of cheaper labor and then export their products. Since they use very few local inputs, their contribution to the local economy is relatively small since most of the inputs are also imported. These external inputs also negatively affects the trade balance.
The other weakness of this model is that, even in the pharmaceutical and drug companies, which pay the highest salaries, they manufacture their products, also with external inputs, and then export them to the U.S. creating a “crisscross” process. Pharmaceutical products are exported directly to the U.S. and then exported back to the Puerto Rican consumers increasing prices for local consumers. Logically, there should be a direct sourcing of those products to local pharmacies and other commercial consumers but that is not the practice.
In order to obtain some revenue from these newly incorporated “controlled foreign corporations” the colonial government instituted Law 154 to tax these corporations at a rate of 4 per cent, in an industry that has become addicted to low taxes this measure has not been received well. In 2012 the government received $1.8 billion dollars from this measure. A local economist Argeo Quiñones has argued that instead of this tax the government should legislate to increase the backward linkages of these enterprises. In other words to provide incentives so that they buy a higher percentage of their industrial inputs to infuse more money into the economy and further increase employment. Also, he suggests that pharmaceutical and drug companies should be forced to sell their products in the island to reduce the cost of drugs and other pharmaceutical products in the island.
Because of the reliance on local tax exemptions, “controlled foreign corporations” are not subject to federal taxes and at times they sell their intellectual rights (like Microsoft USA) to their local foreign owned subsidiary (since Puerto Rico is foreign for tax purposes) and are able to save billions of dollar in the sales in the U.S. market. The Congress Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs (October 12, 2012), chaired by Senator Max Baucus found that: “In 2011, this corporate sleight of hand enabled Microsoft USA to shift 47 cent of every dollar in U.S. sales totaling $6 billion, to its Puerto Rican subsidiary, dodging payments of U.S. taxes on nearly half of its U.S. sales income.”          
The façade that attempts to hide Puerto Rico colonial status, the doublespeak that politicians engage in and the fiscal maneuvers that local and foreign corporations engage in to avoid paying taxes is accompanied by a high level of corruption at the highest levels of government. During the administration of former governor Pedro Roselló (2005-2009) close to 40 members of his administration were indicted for corruption, including the secretary of the department of education. This culture is reflected in the decline in labor participation rate and the paucity in tax collections. Recently, the local government reported that only half of income from the sales tax that had been implemented to augment revenue for government services and that was flowing into COFINA, (its Spanish acronym) Puerto Rico Sales Tax Financing Corporation, were received by the government. Although they were being collected by businesses, half of the businesses did not send the collections to the government. For years the government has had a serious problem in being able to get the tax revenue that is necessary to run the government and to provide incentives for the development of the economy.
Also, the informal economy has grown to such an extent that some measure it as close to 30 per cent of the GNP, so despite the fact that income has fallen personal disposable income from 2007-2011 increased 0.7% The difference lies in federal transfers, which now not only include food stamps but Social Security, and also the underground drug economy. Federal transfers alone have increased from 6 per cent of personal income in the 1970s to 22 per cent today (Villamil, 2014). According to Estudios Técnicos , an important local economic planning and consulting firm, Puerto Rico is a transshipment point for drugs into the United States that brought in $5 billion in drug trafficking activity in Puerto Rico in 2011.This is 10 per cent of the island’s gross domestic product (GDP). While 7 per cent of the U.S. bound cocaine trafficking came through the Caribbean in 2011, 14 per cent came along this route in 2013. In tandem with the corruption, 8 year recession, lower labor participation rate crime, particularly murders, most related to the drug trafficking activity has reached dramatic levels. According to the World Bank in 2010 Puerto Rico’s per capita murder rate was higher than Mexico and 500 per cent higher than the U.S. mainland rate (Villamil, 2014).
The Eternal Status Issue
Politics in Puerto Rico, given its uncertain political relationship with the U.S. have always in one way or another revolved around the political status. The three main political parties represent each of the three formal positions: the governing Popular Democratic Party (PPD) represents the “Commonwealth”; the New Progressive Party represents statehood and Pro Independence Party represent independence. In the 1950s the first elected Governor of Puerto Rico, Luis Muñoz Marin and his Popular Democratic Party passed legislation like the “muzzle law” to suppress pro-independence dissent which was at its height during the 1940s-50s. They also contributed to the dismantling of the Central General de Trabajadores (CGT) the most power trade union federation in the nation which had a large number of socialist and pro-independence leaders. In a referendum in 1952 the PPD submitted Law 600 and a constitution which had been agreed with the United States (whether there were negotiations is matter of debate) for an improvement in the political relationship with the United States. A constitutional convention was organized and a constitution was drafted but it had to be approved by Congress. Some of the most progressive aspects of that draft were vetoed by congress. Only 54.7 per cent of the electorate participated, the lowest in any referendum over the status in the island. The United States then informed that Puerto Rico had exercised self-determination and the island was removed from the UN purview. A few years later the PPD wanted some cosmetic changes to the newly approved “status” in 1959 when the Fernós-Murray Bill was introduced in Congress. This bill like many other bills attempting some changes in the relationship have died in congress, the last effort was the Young Bill in 1998 which died in the Senate. Since 1952, Puerto Ricans have voted in non-binding referenda in 1967, 1993, 1998, in all the elections the “Commonwealth” has been chosen as the preferred option for Puerto Rico (always with some improvements) but congress has ignored the results. In 1998, as a protest because of the efforts of the New Progressive Status to not include the “Commonwealth” as an option, the vote was inconclusive. Most voters from pro-commonwealth to independence supporters voted for “none of the above “which received 53.7 per cent of the vote. But since 1967 the pro-statehood has increased in its support, although this has waned in the last decade.
Recently, in 2012 the regular election included a referendum on Puerto Rico’s status. The referendum had two parts, one in which people had to choose whether they were satisfied with the present “territorial status” status, given the long term efforts to improve it the results of this vote were not a surprise. 54 per cent of the voters chose that they were not satisfied with the present colonial status. In the second part of the referendum people were given three choices but the present status of “commonwealth’ was not included. The purpose was to disperse the pro-commonwealth vote and highlight the pro-statehood vote. However, in protest for the language of the ballot the PPD asked its supporters to leave the ballots blank. In this round, while statehood received the highest percentage of the votes 44.4 per cent it is the lowest pro-statehood vote since 1998 and 1993. When the blank votes are added to the rest 54.7 per cent of voter rejected statehood. What is interesting is the high percentage of votes for the “Free Association” alternative (24.2%) which are the left of the PPD voters who reject the colonial status of the island. But in sum, these results have confused the issue for congress and while the Obama administration approved funding for another plebiscite and another bill is in Congress to ask voter “Yes or No” on statehood no reasonable observer expects any clear result from these efforts.
Until Puerto Ricans are assured a clear path toward a status that allows them to have more control over their political and economic destiny, Puerto Rico will continue to fester and hundreds of thousands of island residents will vote with their feet against living under the oppressive conditions of its colonial status. Any plebiscite that is carried out in the island (or a constitutional assembly as the left proposes) is destined for failure unless Puerto Ricans are granted the power to decide their destiny and protect their economy. That can only happen under independence. Just like other colonies were able to have a transition period where economic and political adjustments could be made (including a decolonization fund to reconstruct the economy) many islanders will choose the underground economy. This will have dire consequences for all, Puerto Rico and the United States.
Victor M. Rodriguez, Professor, California State University, Long Beach. He is the author of Latino Politics: Race, Class, Ethnicity and Gender in the Mexican American and Puerto Rican Experience (Kendall Hunt, 2012).
Selected References
1. James Dietz. Puerto Rico: Negotiating Development and Change. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2003
2. Emilio Pantojas Garcia. “The Puerto Rico Status Question: Can The Stalemate Be Broken?” Caribbean Journal of International & Diplomacy. Vol. 1, No. 2 June 2013: pp. 41-52.
3. Jose R. Villamil. “Why Puerto Rico’s Economy Matters for U.S. Security.” Washington, D.C.: Center for Strategic & International Studies, January 2014.
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