I have to laugh otherwise, I’ll never stop crying. In perusing the headlines this morning , trying to decide which fresh disaster to focus on, I’m reminded of what H. L. Mencken had to say about America in the third volume of his Prejudices:
“Here, more than anywhere else I know of or have heard of, the daily panorama of human existence, of private and communal follythe unending procession of governmental extortions and chicaneries, of commercial brigandages and throat-slittings, of theological buffooneries, of aesthetic ribaldries, of legal swindles and harlotries, of miscellaneous rogueries, villainies, imbecilities, grotesqueries and extravagancesis so inordinately gross and preposterous, so perfectly brought up to the highest conceivable amperage, so steadily enriched with an almost fabulous daring and originality, that only the man who was born with a petrified diaphragm can fail to laugh himself to sleep every night, and to awake every morning with all the eager, unflagging expectation of a Sunday-school superintendent touring the Paris peep-shows.”
Speaking of “governmental extortions and chicaneries,” the Center for Responsive Politics has calculated that our congressional solons, collectively, have invested some $196 million in the military-industrial complex, i.e. in companies doing significant business with the Defense Department.
Conflict of interest, anyone?
This actually goes way beyond being a mere conflict of interest: it is more of a titanic collision. .Yet we don’t usually hear much about it, even when the talk turns to mention of the military industrial complex.. This is, perhaps, why the original phrase, as first written by Dwight Eisenhower’s speechwriters, was military-industrial-congressional complex. Ike edited it down to military-industrial for fear of offending Congress.
Yes, it took a Republican to warn us of the impending danger, although he waited until his farewell address to do it. Taking this partisan theme a bit further, it seems the “antiwar” Democrats are in deeper than the Republicans. As one news report puts it:
“The study found that more Republicans than Democrats hold stock in defense companies, but that the Democrats who are invested had significantly more money at stake. In 2006, for example, Democrats held at least $3.7 million in military-related investments, compared to Republican investments of $577,500.”
The biggest congressional war profiteers are Joe Lieberman (no surprise there!), John Kerry (he was against it before he looked at his bank balance), and House Republican whip Roy Blunt (no surprise there, either). According to the study, “forty-seven current members of Congress (or 9 percent of all members of the House and Senate) were invested in 2006 in companies that are primarily in the defense sector, for a total investment of between $4.2 million and $8 million. The average share price of these corporations today is nearly twice what it was in 2004..”
Yes, the Republicans are raking in the cash, but at least we know where they stand, because they don’t make any bones about it. On the other hand, the Democrats are even more heavily invested in the “defense” sector: they’re raking in more cash, per politico, including in the form of campaign contributions, as well as votes from grateful defense workers who get to keep their jobs while others are laid off. When Bush comes to Congress, hand outstretched, the Dems make a pro forma attempt to attach “conditions,” the President threatens a veto, they cave and why shouldn’t they? “Antiwar” Senator John Kerry with $38,209,020 in defense-related investments is laughing all the way to the bank.
This should be illegal. Instead, it is routine. Just another indication that we’ve slipped into a Bizarro World alternate universe, where laws and morals are inverted and the sacred is regularly profaned. Members of Congress are not even required to report their specific holdings: instead, we are informed, they must merely indicate “the general range of their holdings.” So we don’t know who owns how much of what. Which means members of Congress are no doubt enriching themselves and their friends, at taxpayers’ expense, while the rest of us face foreclosure and the worst economic climate since the last Great Depression.
Yes, the worst rise to the top at home and abroad in times such as these: evil times, to be sure. Take the case of Leonid Rozhetskin, former chief executive of Russia’s Norilsk Nickel, the world’s largest producer of nickel, dubbed an international man of mystery by the Independent. He was always a bit of an enigma and much more so now that he’s disappeared.
Like many of his fellow émigrés, the 41-year-old Rozhetskin made a dubious fortune in post-Communist Russia, was indicted for fraud, and fled to London with his ill-gotten gains, where real estate prices were driven up to unheard of levels. Flashy, a jet-setter, and lately an aspiring movie producer, the Independent describes him as follows:
“Mr. Rozhetskin was a Russian. Or an American. Or both. He was in the law, or mining, or venture capital, or mobile phones, or all of them (his investments also include the free London business paper City AM). He was murdered, or kidnapped, or went into hiding. He lived or lives in Los Angeles, or London, or Moscow, or Riga. Or in a £40,000 semi-detached bungalow in East Ayrshire, at an address where it was reported last week that the name of Leonid Rozhetskin appeared on the electoral register.”
Rozhetskin was last seen in Jumala, Latvia, where he owns a mansion. Two men left his domicile in the early morning of March 16, and were taken by taxi to XXL, a club of a certain sort in nearby Riga. The next morning, his house was in disarray, there was blood all over the place, and Senor Rozhetskin was nowhere to be seen.
As if by magic, overnight, Rozhetskin, the shady character, has quickly morphed into Rozhetskin the “Putin critic” which apparently now means any common criminal indicted in a Russian court. The Russia-haters in the British media had a field day, with the Daily Mail taking the lead: “My son was killed by Kremlin agents says mother of missing oligarch.”
Even oligarchs have mothers, and they cry real tears and yet there is some question as to whether her beloved son is really dead or feigning his demise. As the Latvian police officer in charge of the investigation put it: “We are working on three possibilities: Mr Rozhetskin was killed, he has been abducted or it is all theatre.” Perhaps the cop’s peevish tone can be attributed to annoyance at Rozhetskin’s fake Latvian passport, or just maybe there’s more to it than that. Given the rather suspect series of events preceding Rozhetskin’s disappearance only on the second police visit to his house was anything untoward discovered and that Flying Dutchman in the skies over Europe, something about the disappearance of this “Putin critic” seems just a bit odd, to say the least.
More or less than foul play seems to be a work here, because, you see, Rozhetskin’s private jet departed from Riga hours after he disappeared. Originally bound for London, the flight plan was changed at the last minute. Reports of the plane’s appearance throughout Europe are popping up, like sightings of a ghost ship, manned with a skeleton crew.
The key to the mystery man’s “disappearance” is in the movements of his Challenger 604 jet: the Daily Mail reports “it has zigzagged around the world in the fortnight since the tycoon vanished.” From Riga to Vienna, on to Geneva, and from there all the way to Newfoundland, then back to Geneva. The jet was last seen taking off from Stavanger, Norway, where two men with coats draped over their heads boarded, headed for points unknown . a comic moment, capturing the absurdity of the charade, caught by an intrepid Daily Mail photographer. The same paper runs stories with headlines like “KGB plot fears as London oligarch vanishes and traces of blood are found in his mansion.” A good deal of these stories are illustrated with photos of Rozhetskin’s wife, a comely blonde model.
Interestingly, even after the discovery of the blood, the overturned furniture, and Rozhetskin’s extended absence, the Telegraph reports: “However the US embassy in Latvia have indicated that they believe Mr. Rozhetskin, who emigrated to America as a teenage boy, was alive.” The first news report in the English-speaking media, a Guardian story, reported the same belief.
That isn’t stopping the faux-intelligence “specialists over at Stratfor from listing Rozhetskin on a roll call of the KGB’s recent victims, including Anna Politkovskaya and Alexander Litvinenko. The far reaches of the neoconosphere proclaim: “Putin’s Critics Used to Drop Dead Now They Vanish.”
Oh, the melodrama! Just what Mencken meant by “inordinately gross and preposterous, so perfectly brought up to the highest conceivable amperage.”
Recording and commenting on “the daily panorama of human existence, of private and communal folly,” as Mencken put it, is journalism, but these days it seems more like the stuff of novels bad novels, to be sure. The sort where the villains are a bit too villainous, and there are no heroes, only shades of evil, gray to pitch black.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
The new editor of Reason magazine, “warblogger” Matt Welch, continues his sustained assault on Ron Paul and the mainstream of the libertarian movement. Not content with having lost a lot of subscribers on account of his obsessive grudge, Welch’s editorial the first under his name in the print edition adds fresh smears to his previous calumnies. He also extends his aim to include the late Murray Rothbard and his followers. I make mincemeat out of him here.