Making Waves In The Kiddie Pool

Politically, in case you hadn’t guessed, I tend to be a liberal libertarian. Which is why I so utterly have always opposed George W. Bush, who is a conservative (radically so) authoritarian, radically so.

In both the Republican party and the Democratic party, each of which I was a member of for about 15 years, the problems that I had was WITH the authoritarians.

It has been interesting to listen to John Dean, as he moved from radio show to radio show, talking about authoritarianism, and pushing his then-new book, Conservatives Without Conscience. [Excerpt here]

According to Glen Greenwald’s review of the book, posted at on 23 July 06:

Dean contends, and amply documents, that the “conservative” movement has become, at its core, an authoritarian movement composed of those with a psychological and emotional need to follow a strong authority figure which provides them a sense of moral clarity and a feeling of individual power, the absence of which creates fear and insecurity in the individuals who crave it. By definition, its followers’ devotion to authority and the movement’s own power is supreme, thereby overriding the consciences of its individual members and removing any intellectual and moral limits on what will be justified in defense of their movement.

Now, Lee Iacocca is flogging “his” book, and a chapter was released, which was forwarded to me by bornagaintextileworker, originally from doc. (Ah, the alternate universe of internet names!)

It was ghostwritten by a “with” writer (a “with” writer gets a credit, and is a Brahmin in the deeply caste-and-cash-driven world of ghostwriting) named Catherine Whitney. What that “with” means is that Whitney did all the hard work and Iacocca gets all the credit for “his” book. By the time you see him on the Daily Show, that “Catherine” person will be out of sight and mind.

It goes precisely like this:

Where Have All the Leaders Gone?
By Lee Iacocca with Catherine Whitney

I. Had Enough?

Am I the only guy in this country who’s fed up with what’s happening? Where the hell is our outrage? We should be screaming bloody murder. We’ve got a gang of clueless bozos steering our ship of state right over a cliff, we’ve got corporate gangsters stealing us blind, and we can’t even clean up after a hurricane much less build a hybrid car. But instead of getting mad, everyone sits around and nods their heads when the politicians say, “Stay the course.”

Stay the course? You’ve got to be kidding. This is America, not the damned Titanic. I’ll give you a sound bite: Throw the bums out!

You might think I’m getting senile, that I’ve gone off my rocker, and maybe I have. But someone has to speak up. I hardly recognize this country anymore. The President of the United States is given a free pass to ignore the Constitution, tap our phones, and lead us to war on a pack of lies. Congress responds to record deficits by passing a huge tax cut for the wealthy (thanks, but I don’t need it). The most famous business leaders are not the innovators but the guys in handcuffs. While we’re fiddling in Iraq, the Middle East is burning and nobody seems to know what to do. And the press is waving pom-poms instead of asking hard questions. That’s not the promise of America my parents and yours traveled across the ocean for. I’ve had enough. How about you?

I’ll go a step further. You can’t call yourself a patriot if you’re not outraged. This is a fight I’m ready and willing to have.

My friends tell me to calm down. They say, “Lee, you’re eighty-two years old. Leave the rage to the young people.” I’d love to-as soon as I can pry them away from their iPods for five seconds and get them to pay attention. I’m going to speak up because it’s my patriotic duty. I think people will listen to me. They say I have a reputation as a straight shooter. So I’ll tell you how I see it, and it’s not pretty, but at least it’s real. I’m hoping to strike a nerve in those young folks who say they don’t vote because they don’t trust politicians to represent their interests. Hey, America, wake up. These guys work for us.

Who Are These Guys, Anyway?

Why are we in this mess? How did we end up with this crowd in Washington? Well, we voted for them-or at least some of us did. But I’ll tell you what we didn’t do. We didn’t agree to suspend the Constitution. We didn’t agree to stop asking questions or demanding answers. Some of us are sick and tired of people who call free speech treason. Where I come from that’s a dictatorship, not a democracy.

And don’t tell me it’s all the fault of right-wing Republicans or liberal Democrats. That’s an intellectually lazy argument, and it’s part of the reason we’re in this stew. We’re not just a nation of factions. We’re a people. We share common principles and ideals. And we rise and fall together.

Where are the voices of leaders who can inspire us to action and make us stand taller? What happened to the strong and resolute party of Lincoln? What happened to the courageous, populist party of FDR and Truman? There was a time in this country when the voices of great leaders lifted us up and made us want to do better. Where have all the leaders gone?

To that, add, where have all the journalists gone? (Et al, etcetera, ad infinitum, amen.)

But consider this: Iacocca is making a grand appeal for a leader (but, in all probability an AUTHORITARIAN leader, since that’s what business loves). Certainly a BETTER leader that George W. Bush, and his sock-puppet hand Dick Cheney, agenting for whomever they take their marching orders from.

That’s easy.

But still an authoritarian.

Well, let’s consider the great authoritarian center from whence our society now springs: the school system. You might argue that the public school system is a failing, quasi-fascist, certainly authoritarian institution (where a principal in Omaha is suspended for allowing her school’s newspaper to explore a racially-charged word in a racially mixed and balanced school). The original idea might have been the necessary investment of society’s resources for the continuance OF this society, which DEPENDS on an educated and informed populace.

Why do you think that “freedom of the press” is co-equal to “freedom of religion,” and “freedom of speech”? (The First Amendment.)

But, in practice since the Second World War, the public education system has become an authoritarian system devoted to driving initiative AWAY from students, and encouraging a “go along to get along” attitude. Indeed, the students who MOST accept authority tend to do best!

And then we send the most cowed of our students to universities, (the rebels have pretty much been weeded out by the “permanent record” at this point) where the same authoritarian matrix applies. At this point, the “students” are no longer wards of the state with few rights, and many have reached their majority.

And the rationale SHIFTS, but the authoritarianism remains. Freedoms and the Bill of Rights are now guaranteed, except in actual practice.

This model has created its own self-perpetuating version of the Peter Principle: the conformity rises until it sours.

But whether it sours or not (a debate best left for another day), conformity surely does rise.

And in the authoritarian model, the “liberty” vanishes by incremental degrees as the obedience rises in like measure.

I do not propose any solution herein. My only point is to point out that the “leaders” have vanished because success in this increasingly corrupted system lies in conformity. I ran for office in 2004, on the centennial of the first primary, in the first state in which it was practiced, to try and understand what had gone wrong. (The Oregon newspapers failed to notice the centenary, and the election itself was trumped by the media hubub over an ex-governor’s affair with his underage baby-sitter a quarter century earlier.)

I came to know this much: The smoke-filled back rooms in which corrupt political machines selected candidates that the general primary election was created to reform had turned into smoke-free back rooms in which political insiders selected candidates. It was noted that most primary races were unopposed!

The “candidates” arise through back-room machineries, and, in comparison to corporate and institutional funding of pre-selected candidates, individual contributions are a joke. A bit of camouflage on the Golden Pig. The entire process is a matter of media creation, getting sound bites, hiring political consultants, sending out timed mailings, perhaps radio and/or television ads, which invariably show the smiling candidate kissing babies, nodding sagely at old people, and sitting in some rustic setting listening to REAL FAMILIES. (Or real working people, or real homophobes or whatever).

But “leaders”? No: followers of the “rules.” Followers of the money. Followers of the Party Line. Not leaders at all. Those get winnowed out very early in the process.

The press is awed and cowed by the authority, and, having proven their willingness to go along and not make waves in journalism school, they fit nicely into the well-oiled bureaucracy of the newsroom, whether a newspaper, television, or radio.

It matters very little, since virtually all news comes from the Associated Press. Period. Where there had formerly been a robust press, with multiple newspapers in every city, now they are one “traditional newspaper” and one “alternative paper.”

The “traditional” newspaper is where you buy obituaries (part of the mortuary fee) and is generally a reprint of whatever the AP wire has that the editors believe the locals want to read. Increasingly, there is very little “local” writing in the newspaper. The same increasingly holds true for television, and much moreso for radio, whose news tends to be almost entirely AP driven (along with ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN or FOX syndicated sound bites, according to which service the station subscribes to-although it really doesn’t matter all that much: the aforementioned news is, itself, mostly read from the AP wire.)

The “alternative” newspaper is usually filled with crap writing, a lot of music, art and movies coverage, and given away free because it’s advertising driven. (And worth every penny, generally).

When you’re advertising driven, you don’t write anything that would make waves or drive off advertisers.

Which may be why, when Clear Channel and Cumulus Broadcasting (San Antonio, TX and Atlanta, GA respectively) bought up nearly all the radio stations in this market (twelve, AM and FM between then as I recall) and the NBC affiliate UHF broadcast TV station not a PEEP was made about it in the local newspapers, and when a “cover story” was done (with a lot of prompting by yours truly) by the “alternative” paper, the fact that two media giants had just wiped out local radio in Eugene was weirdly elided over*-don’t want to upset potential advertisers.

[*The article focuses entirely on the “national” issues, and doesn’t much get into local stuff. It is kept at a “safe” distance without ever broaching the “taboo” topic of the complete loss of local control of the airwaves. Don’t make(air)waves! Don’t upset advertisers. Be hard-hitting, but somewhere else! KRVM is still kicking, BTW]

Where have all the leaders gone? Why is there no protest? Why are we sitting mutely, our outrage only expressed in the harder pressing of the buttons on the remote?

Are we REALLY David Lynch’s “Angriest Dog in the World“?

Perhaps, it’s because we no longer question authority-even when it’s crazy. Because non-conformity is weeded out so effectively, even as we, hilariously, maunder on about “promoting diversity.” Diversity, yes. But a diversity of conformity, surely. And, in the name of “diversity,” ever harsher authoritarian measures have been taken.

If you think it’s just the public schools, think again: In a “private” school, the few rights that the students had in public schools are a thing of the past. COMPLETE authoritarian rule is now the norm, and even a proud selling point to parents seeking to escape a society that they don’t want their precious little darling rubbing elbows with.

Authority: conformity. There can be no other way. We have bullied our way into a populace that ACCEPTS these outrageous power grabs of authoritarianism-gone-wild because we were RAISED in a system of outrageous power grabs. We learned to just go along in school, and now, the whole nation is just going along, Mr. Iacocca.

Go along to get along. If you’re Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Invertebrate, NV), and correctly note that the military portion of the war in Iraq is hopelessly lost, you are PILLORIED by the national media for “bravely” pointing out a self-evident fact.

Go along, Harry. Get along, Harry.

(And I will never pick Harry Reid as my shining example of Leadership In Action.)

But I should remind you that the American army started out as TWO armies, both of which fought and won significant battles. There was the standing, traditional, authoritarian army, and there were the militias, who arrived, organized, fought the threat, and then returned to their homes, disbanding until another threat was perceived.

For more than 230 years, our armed forces were organized along the same lines: a balance between state militias (National Guard) and the regular armed forces, and right now, that is being rapidly eroded, just as our freedom from authoritarianism is being eroded.

Where have the leaders gone, Mr. Iacocca?

Surely you know that when you herd sheep, you don’t need nearly as many herders as when you herd cattle. And not nearly as many herders as when you herd cats.

Revolutionary America herded cats.

Present-day America herds sheep.

Which is why we don’t need so many leaders. And why our country has gone from being the largest exporter of finished goods to the largest importer of finished goods, and the largest exporter of raw materials in the past 25 years.

Oh, we have authoritarians in abundance, but we suffer from a dearth of original thinkers. We have petty satraps who throw their weight around aplenty, but we have few contrarians.

I’ll tell you a truth about America that I learned: if you rebel, and you are in the right, they will shudder. A significant portion of the general population will even be angry with you-not about whether you are right or wrong-but simply because you caused a ruckus.

It is a great irony of our society that the heroes we love to watch in the movies-the maverick, the lone crusader, the one-man-against-city-hall-are PRECISELY the people that we absolutely would NOT tolerate in our workplace or our life.


It got you through an authoritarian grade school. It got you through an authoritarian high school, and an authoritarian university system. (After the rebellions of the 1960s, a generation of Administrators has found a way to put you ALL on double-secret probation-no more of THAT mickey mouse. Nosiree bob.)

Where have all the leaders gone, Mr. Iacocca? They vanished when the schools decided to go back to dress codes, without bothering to worry about the Supreme Court. They vanished when it was decided that American History and Civics were just too controversial, and the giant textbook publishers (to save money) would only publish the texts that the MOST censorious school boards in the country found uncontroversial-substituting “go along to get along” for actually teaching the only core mission that the schools have.

Those leaders disappeared when we decided to structure every waking moment of every child’s life, and to hand them textbooks that were more graphic novels than “books,” when we had provided a generation of conformity for the job market, who eagerly accepted them into their mills. When we busted the unions, hired illegal workers, outsourced our jobs and manufacturing, and sent generations into a cycle of perpetual debt by making usury (loan sharking) not only legal, but the preferred method of doing business.

In the novels of the 1940s and 1950s, loan sharks and their brutal leg breakers charged outrageous interest of … ten and fifteen per cent! A little history detour might be in order here:

From PBS’ FRONTLINE report “The Secret History of Credit Cards“:

By 1980 Citibank was being squeezed between New York state usury laws and double-digit inflation rates. “You are lending money at 12 percent and paying 20 percent,” Mr. Wriston explained. “You don’t have to be Einstein to realize you’re out of business.”

The bank employed 3,000 people in its credit card unit in Long Island at the time, a fact that Mr. Wriston hoped would entice New York lawmakers to offer relief. “All you have to do is lift the usury ceiling to some reasonable amount and we’ll stay here,” Mr. Wriston recalled telling New York’s political leaders. “And they said, ‘Ah, ha! You really won’t move. We’re not going to do anything.'”

What allowed Wriston to make good on his threat to leave New York was a little-noticed December 1978 Supreme Court ruling. The Marquette Bank opinion permitted national banks to export interest rates on consumer loans from the state where credit decisions were made to borrowers nationwide.

… With bipartisan support and backing from South Dakota’s banking association, Janklow proposed a special “emergency” bill. “Citibank actually drafted the legislation,” he said. “Literally we introduced it, and it passed our legislature in one day.”

The arrangement ultimately brought 3,000 high-paying jobs to South Dakota and a host of new suitors from banks across the country. Citibank seemed to just be the beginning.

“It did fall out of the sky,” Mr. Janklow said. “I was going to sleep at night thinking that we were the new financial center of America.”

But other states were quick to catch on. Delaware, which passed similar legislation the following year, would foil Mr. Janklow’s dreams. “By that time, we’d captured a lot, but we thought we were going to get them all. Chase, Manufacturer’s Hanover, Chemical — they all went to Delaware. They were coming here,” he said.

South Dakota would never become the next New York or Hong Kong, but Bill Janklow carved out a niche in credit card operations that remains one of the largest sources of jobs in the state. “The tragedy to me is that if Delaware would have waited one year,” he said, “we would have had 20,000 more jobs in this state today.”

Thank you, US Supreme Court. FRONTLINE continues:

[In 1991] Sen. D’Amato proposed national legislation to cap credit card interest rates at 14 percent. After some 30 minutes of debate, the Senate voted 74-19 to approve the measure.

Panic swept through the banking industry. By Friday, economists were speculating about huge bank failures and the stock market plunged. The fervor for reform quickly cooled. In a television interview that weekend, Vice President Dan Quayle said if the proposed cap survived a House vote, it would likely be vetoed. By Monday, the tough talk about a national usury law became a call for a study of industry pricing practices.

Still, the industry was shaken. It was not just that the Big Scare signified an end to the comfortable and lucrative 10-point spread of the 1980s. It also marked a critical turning point in the broader evolution of the credit card — from a mass-marketed, straightforward loan at 18 percent to a highly complex financial arrangement with ever-shifting terms and prices.

Wooo. Many VISA and Mastercard franchises charge 29% and more. And a compliant congress passed a bankruptcy bill a couple of years ago to protect the loan sharks’ rights.

What’s scary is the thought that at 14 percent the banks would go BELLY UP! Two percent above what New York State had considered USURY wouldn’t keep them in business. Good ghod: how much is enough? (To Greed, that question HAS no answer.)

Hell, many of these “title loan” outfits actually charge annual interest rates that run 3 digits!

Who can AFFORD to make waves?

But isn’t that what a “leader” does? Makes waves?

Where did all the leaders go, Mr. Iacocca?

Gee. I haven’t a clue.


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About Hart Williams

Mr. Williams grew up in Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas and New Mexico. He lived in Hollywood, California for many years. He has been published in The Washington Post, The Kansas City Star, The Santa Fe Sun, The Los Angeles Free Press, Oui Magazine, New West, and many, many more. A published novelist and a filmed screenwriter, Mr. Williams eschews the decadence of Hollywood for the simple, wholesome goodness of the plain, honest people of the land. He enjoys Luis Buñuel documentaries immensely.
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12 Responses to Making Waves In The Kiddie Pool

  1. Darrell Prows says:

    A couple of quick things. Deity is usually an authority figure and some deity has been invented by pretty much every human community over time. I don’t think that you would want to overlook the biological nature of the creature that you’re dealing with.

    Second, and related, this old planet is filling up with people pretty quickly. If life didn’t get more structured as it gets more complicated things would probably just spin apart.

    Part of the saving grace certainly would be leadership able to function on the basis of persuasion, but we also need to enshrine the complimentary principles of Right to Privacy and Least Restrictive Alternative.

  2. Ginny Cotts says:

    How come you didn’t call it “Drowning in the Kiddie Pool”?

    I sure would rather pay the local loan sharks than Citi and Chase, but I think they went out of business.

  3. Darrell,

    That is the sharpest comment I have seen in any forum on any subject in years. Sharp as in ‘incisive.’

  4. I would also throw in the obsessive, almost delusional, desire to ram standardized tests down every kid’s throat from grades 3-8 (a hallmark of NCLB) as being an extension of the vast move to authoritarianism. NCLB was trumpeted as “making teachers accountable” (as if they never were before Gee W. became preznit) and “ending social promotion” (whatever that is), which sounded good until you read the fine print.

    Standardized tests function only for rote memorization and that’s it. Critical thinking skills (outside the box, or “the president of the U.S. is a moron”) are stamped out, along with the arts, music, creative writing, on and on.

    For more:

  5. >>>>

    Alternative newspapers “don’t write anything that that would make waves or drive off advertisers.” What in the world are you talking about? It’s clear to me from your description that you don’t actually read any alternative newspapers. But that doesn’t stop you from slandering them, does it?

    Richard Karpel (liberal libertarian)
    Executive Director
    Association of Alternative Newsweeklies
    1250 Eye Street N.W., Suite 804
    Washington, D.C. 20005-5982

  6. Richard Karpel

    A blog is like an alternative newspaper in many regards. As a journalist I’m sure you know that this is hardly a slanderous statement but merely an opinion: Alternative newspapers “don’t write anything that that would make waves or drive off advertisers.”

  7. I didn’t mean your statement was slanderous in the legal sense. I meant it was a lie.

    You say it’s merely an opinion. What is your opinion based on? Have you actually read any alternative newspapers? What else do you express your opinion on despite your ignorance of the subject?

  8. Richard

    I didn’t write the statement here, but speaking for myself – yes, I read alternative newspapers. Most of the writers here are very well read and informed.

  9. harto says:


    I base my opinion on the observed activities of several alternative newspapers that I’ve written for, watched founded, watched fold and listened in on the office politics at the local coffee shop on.

    When I make such a generalization, it is, by nature, gross: all generalizations are. But as a general principle, newspapers and magazines have ALWAYS been in a kind of ugly co-dependence between the advertisers and the news. There are taboos in the newsroom, whether at the Kansas City Star or the Orange County Register, or at the Eugene Weekly, the Santa Fe Sun, or the L.A. Weekly and (if it hasn’t vanished) the L.A. Reader.

    My comment came from informed observation over thirty years as an author and journalist. Your attack might be construed as part of the mission statement of your title. Therefore, I invite the casual reader to weigh the integrity of both sides in making a judgement as to who’s “right.”

    And please note, Mr. Karpel, I did not claim that alternative newspapers are entirely useless, nor that they have never broken important stories. Indeed: I’ve written for them over three decades. But the inhibition is only increased when the newspaper is ENTIRELY ad-driven.

  10. Richard Karpel says:

    Harto, when a newspaper — free or paid — doesn’t “write anything that that
    would make waves or drive off advertisers,” people generally stop reading
    it. Ultimately it isn’t a winning business strategy. Maybe that’s why all
    the “alternative newspapers” you worked for folded.

    For you to say that alternative newspapers don’t write anything that would
    offend advertisers is simply ludicrous. I promise you there are hundreds of
    examples where the exact opposite is true — where alternative newsweeklies
    write tough stories about advertisers or potential advertisers. I see it on
    almost a weekly basis, for instance, in my hometown alt-weekly, the
    Washington City Paper.

    Or another example: Stories about Starbucks or Whole Foods Markets, two
    retailers (and obvious potential advertisers for alt-weeklies) that receive
    adoring press almost everywhere but in our papers.

    I see that you have now backed off your statement a little, i.e., “I did not
    claim that alternative newspapers … have never broken important stories.”
    Well, actually you did. You said they ³don¹t write anything that that would
    make waves.”

    So I thought I would compile some examples of important stories that were
    broken by alt-weeklies IN THE LAST 30 DAYS ALONE. These, of course, are only
    the ones we know about. I’m sure there are hundreds of others that are too
    locally focused to receive national attention:

    And by the way, I’d be curious to know which “alternative newspapers” you
    are referring to in the statement — “several alternative newspapers that
    I¹ve written for, watched founded, watched fold and listened in on the
    office politics at the local coffee shop on.”

    Maybe the problem is we’re not talking about the same newspapers.

    Richard Karpel

  11. harto says:

    My response to Mr. Karpel’s numerous comments isn’t (I feel) appropriate to The Democratic Daily, but is posted here, for the curious. HW

  12. Hart

    I’ve been swamped today – feel free to post your response here if you want.