Archive for October, 2006

>Presidential Neglect

>by Charley Reese

King Features Syndicate (October 20 2006)

The president concentrated so hard on the two members of his infamous “axis of evil” that didn’t have nuclear weapons that he neglected the one that does. North Korea announced that it would test a nuclear weapon, and now it has done so.

I’m sure the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il, said, “Woe is me” when he heard such words as “provocative” and “unacceptable” tossed at him as if words were weapons. By the way, how can a fact be unacceptable? The fact exists whether the president likes it or not.

It’s a good idea not to call anything unacceptable that you aren’t prepared to prevent, and, of course, the president was not prepared to prevent the nuclear test. I seriously hope he didn’t believe that mere words would deter the North Koreans.

A nuclear-armed North Korea represents a failure of American diplomacy. For the sake of fairness, it should be said that the most skilled diplomats in the world might have failed to dissuade the North Koreans from pursuing nuclear weapons. The president’s stumblebum, lead-footed style of diplomacy, however, virtually guaranteed that the North Koreans would develop nuclear weapons.

For example, he included North Korea in his stupid axis of evil, a phrase coined by David Frum, a fanatic neoconservative who at the time was a White House speechwriter. Next Bush announces a US policy of preemptive wars. He tells the whole world, “You’re either with us or against us”.

He then proceeds to launch two pre-emptive wars, on Afghanistan and Iraq. Even as he remains bogged down in those two countries, he launches a verbal war against Iran. At the same time, his so-called negotiations with North Korea had been reduced to threats and demands.

Well, if you were North Korea’s “Dear Leader”, what would you conclude? The logical conclusion is that the US eventually plans to attack North Korea. The best deterrence against that is to have nuclear weapons. The North Korean leader might strike us as odd or even comical, but he’s not stupid. Nobody who can survive in the midst of all those grim-faced generals is stupid.

Diplomacy is not molecular biology. It is simply negotiations. The first mistake Bush made was to include Japan. Koreans, North and South, hate Japan because its half-century occupation of the Korean peninsula was so brutal. Bush should have asked Japan to sit out the negotiation process.

Russia, China and South Korea are the three countries most likely to have influence with North Korea. Working closely with these countries, Bush should have presented the North Koreans with a menu of incentives and disincentives. Instead, he refused everything they asked for, such as one-on-one talks and a security guarantee, and simply made threats.

Well, North Korea has called the president’s bluff. Other than bluster, the president is not going to do anything. Even without nukes, North Korea is a little dragon with a lot of very sharp teeth. A military attack on North Korea would unleash a blood bath involving scores of thousands of casualties.

One view of history is that it is a record of political leaders making decisions. If they are smart and make good decisions, good things happen. If they are stupid and make bad decisions, then disasters can befall innocent people.

We have elected ourselves a president who is not very smart when it comes to foreign affairs and, even worse, seems to have no real interest in them. Instead of seeking wise counsel, he has surrounded himself with neoconservative ideologues who think the US can bully the rest of the world into doing what they want it to do.

I’ll be glad when he retires to Crawford, Texas, and I’m reasonably sure the rest of the world will feel the same way. In the meantime, nuclear nonproliferation is a dead issue.

Write to Charley Reese at Post Office Box 2446, Orlando, Florida 32802.

Copyright (c) 2006 by King Features Syndicate

Bill Totten

Categories: Uncategorized

>Ban It Now!

>Friends Don’t Let Friends Use PowerPoint

by Thomas A Stewart

Fortune (February 05 2001)

Nearly a decade ago I met with Jack Welch in the office he keeps in Manhattan, high up in Rockefeller Center. I’d just made a swing around the company, visiting GE businesses in must-see spots like Erie, Pennsylvania, Schenectady, New York, and Burkville, Alabama.

“What did you learn?” Welch asked as we sat at a round table.

“Well”, I began, “I saw how GE could save hundreds of thousands of dollars a year”. His alert-status instantly ratcheted up. I continued: “Ban overheads”.

He laughed: “You should have seen how much they cost before we got Macs”.

Neither of us knew it, but we were seeing the first signs of an epidemic that threatens the cerebrums of business more than bovine spongiform encephalopathy does Elsie and her ilk. GE had those Macs (since replaced with PCs) because Macs, and at the time only Macs, could run an application called PowerPoint.

The time has come to think the unthinkable, say the unsayable, and then, gulp, do the undoable: Ban PowerPoint. Make up one last slide that reads: FRIENDS DON’T LET FRIENDS USE POWERPOINT. Then stop. Just say no. Whip inflation now. Expunge it. Find the application. Select it with the mouse. Drag it to the trash. Then make sure your machine empties it.

Here’s why.

WHY BAN POWERPOINT? It’s a monopoly.

PowerPoint was the brainchild of a company called Forethought, which Microsoft bought in 1987. Programmers for the Evil Empire took the application, then Mac-specific, made a PC version, steadily improved it, and put it into Office. There is now no realistic alternative. The other day someone at IBM said, “I think Lotus” – which IBM owns – “makes some kind of presentation software”. But he couldn’t remember its name – and he joined IBM in the Lotus acquisition. (It’s called Freelance Graphics. There are other applications, including one from Corel, the limping maker of WordPerfect. Microsoft just invested in Corel, keeping it afloat and creating the simulacrum of competition.)

WHY BAN POWERPOINT? It’s a monopoly. It’s inescapable.

I go to a lot of conferences, do a lot of speaking. I used to use no graphics, but that meant I got a zero where speaker-evaluation forms ask the audience to rate the speaker’s graphics, and it was bringing down my grade. So like any student who studies for the test rather than for the joy of learning, I learned to use acetate graphics and an overhead projector. But these days conference organizers say, “We’ll put them on PowerPoint for you. We want a uniform look.”

WHY BAN POWERPOINT? It’s a monopoly. It’s inescapable. It’s monotonous.

Why in the world would you want a uniform look? The price of giving a lot of speeches is having to listen to a lot of them. They’re all the same. One speaker finishes, his last slide saying thank you and giving his e-mail address. There is applause. The lights go up, he unplugs his laptop and leaves the podium, the emcee introduces the next speaker. She walks up, mumbles inconsequentially while she plugs in her laptop. The lights dim and she shows her first slide. It reads good morning. This starts at eight, goes to twelve, resumes at one, and ends at five. Somewhere a bird must be singing.

WHY BAN POWERPOINT? It’s intellectually suspect.

Never put more than three bullet points on a PowerPoint slide, experts say. It confuses people. Keep it simple. You know, the way life is. In “The American Scholar”, Emerson warned against the tendency to believe something just because it is written down. How much greater the danger when it is also boiled down.

WHY BAN POWERPOINT? It’s intellectually suspect. Complexity exists, really. It disguises tone of voice and point of view. In real life, bullet points kill.

I was at a conference in Boston when a speaker proposed as a best practice something that was directly the opposite of advice given by a speaker the day before. An irate member of the audience rose during the Q&A and insisted that this be sorted out then and there. “I paid good money to come here”, he said, “and I want to know what to do”. The speaker had no slide giving the right answer – “Think for yourself”.

Nor does PowerPoint allow for idiosyncrasy. See, for example, what happens to the Gettysburg Address when it’s converted into a PowerPoint presentation, . Only by thinking and acting differently from the competition can you perform differently from it.

WHY BAN POWERPOINT? It’s intellectually suspect. It’s business television.

If this is Thursday, this must be … Loews Coronado Bay in San Diego? The Turnberry Isle in Aventura, Florida? The Pointe Hilton South Mountain in Phoenix? Wherever you are, half the audience arrived last night from at least two time zones away. Another half – to some degree the two groups overlap – was up way late, drinking and carousing. By all means, fire up PowerPoint and dim the lights. These guys need their beauty sleep. Besides, they’ll have a hard copy of your presentation to puzzle over on the plane ride home.

WHY BAN POWERPOINT? It’s intellectually suspect. It’s business television. It discourages questioning.

Wherever you are, note where you’re not: Pebble Beach or the Greenbrier. Your boss is there, drinking better wine and eating better food. PowerPoint is very rare at CEO conferences. Like Supreme Court justices, captains of industry like to see a speaker think, not watch him read.

WORKERS OF THE WORLD, UNITE! You have nothing to lose but your frames! Thank You!

Copies of this presentation are available at the back of the auditorium.

Copyright (c) 2001 Time, Inc.

Bill Totten

Categories: Uncategorized

>Project Manager Leaves Suicide PowerPoint Presentation

>The Onion | Issue 41.06 (February 09 2005)

Portland, Oregon – Project manager Ron Butler left behind a 48-slide PowerPoint presentation explaining his tragic decision to commit suicide, coworkers reported Tuesday.

“When I first heard that Ron had swallowed an entire bottle of sleeping pills, I was shocked”, said Hector Benitez, Butler’s friend and coworker at Williams+Kennedy Marketing Consultants. “But after the team went through Ron’s final PowerPoint presentation, I had a solid working knowledge of the pain he was feeling, his attempts to cope, and the reasons for his ultimate decision”.

“I just wish he would’ve shot me an e-mail asking for help”, Benitez added.

Butler broke his presentation into four categories: Assessment Of Current Situation, Apologies & Farewells, Will & Funeral Arrangements, and Final Thoughts.

According to Williams+Kennedy president Bradford Williams, finalgoodbye.ppt was “clear, concise, and persuasive”.

“After everyone left the room, I sat down and went through Ron’s final presentation in slide-sorter view”, Williams said. “Man, I gotta tell you, it blew me away. That presentation really utilized the full multimedia capabilities of Microsoft’s PowerPoint application.”

“We’re really gonna miss Ron around here”, Williams added.

In the presentation’s first section, a three-dimensional bar graph illustrated the growth of Butler’s sorrow during the two years since his wife and only child died in a car accident.

“We all got Ron’s message loud and clear when that JPEG of his wife wipe-transitioned to a photo of her tombstone”, coworker Anne Thibideux said.

The first section closed with a review of key objectives and critical success factors. The two-column text display was enlivened by colorful background wallpaper and clip-art question marks depicting Ron’s confusion over his choice.

The second portion of the presentation comprised an ordered list of goodbyes to colleagues and apologies to friends.

“The colors in Apologies & Farewells were perfectly calibrated for digital-projector display”, IT director Bill Schapp said. “I think Ron was the only guy at W+K who understood the importance of running the Gretag-Macbeth Eye-One Beamer on presentations”.

The third segment, Will & Funeral Arrangements, included a list of Butler’s friends and family indexed with phone numbers, a last will and testament, and scrolling-text instructions for the dissemination of his ashes.

“To Ron’s credit, it was one helluva way to go out”, human resources manager Gail Everts said. “Ron clearly spent a lot of time on that presentation. If the subject matter weren’t so heavy, we’d probably use it to train his replacement.”

Copywriter Gita Pruriyaran said the presentation “had room for improvement”.

“I felt some of the later transitions were weak”, Pruriyaran said. “The point of a transition is to maintain audience interest and lighten the mood. To me, the door-closing sound effects in Will & Funeral were repetitive and heavy-handed. But Ron’s choice to end with that Hamlet quote and then fade to black was really powerful. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room when Hector flipped off the projector and brought up the lights.”

Coworkers were shocked to learn that Butler’s document was initially created on August 8 2004.

“I should have seen this coming, but I didn’t”, Benitez said. “When Ron started deleting all of his old files last week, I thought he was worried about another hard-drive crash. I never imagined he was, you know, preparing.”

“If only we’d all paid more attention to Ron during the Microsoft Project workshop he held last month”, Benitez added.

Butler is survived by his parents Gerald and Martha Butler, who described their relationship with their son as “distant”.

“Ron would e-mail us photos and home movies, but we’re not very good with computers”, said Gerald, 71, a retired postal worker. “We tried to stay close, but we just never learned how to open up those files. At the very end, Ron was sending us his suicidal thoughts, but we didn’t get the instant message – until it was too late”.

Williams+Kennedy vice president Vivien Esterhaus said Butler “will not be forgotten”.

“We have made arrangements for his PowerPoint presentation to be stored in the W+K off-site secure file-storage archive”, Esterhaus said. “Barring a virus or major computer malfunction, his final words will always be accessible. If only Ron could’ve been saved, too.”


The late Ron and his slides are shown at URL below.

(c) Copyright 2006, Onion, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Onion is not intended for readers under 18 years of age.

Bill Totten

Categories: Uncategorized

>PowerPoint: Killer App?

>by Ruth Marcus

Washington Post (August 30 2005)

Did PowerPoint make the space shuttle crash? Could it doom another mission? Preposterous as this may sound, the ubiquitous Microsoft “presentation software” has twice been singled out for special criticism by task forces reviewing the space shuttle disaster.

Perhaps I’ve sat through too many PowerPoint presentations lately, but I think the trouble with these critics is that they don’t go far enough: The software may be as much of a mind-numbing menace to those of us who intend to remain earthbound as it is to astronauts.

PowerPoint’s failings have been outlined most vividly by Yale political scientist Edward Tufte, a specialist in the visual display of information. In a 2003 Wired magazine article headlined “PowerPoint Is Evil” and a less dramatically titled pamphlet, The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint (Graphics Press, 2006), Tufte argued that the program encourages “faux-analytical” thinking that favors the slickly produced “sales pitch” over the sober exchange of information.

Exhibit A in Tufte’s analysis is a PowerPoint slide presented to NASA senior managers in January 2003, while the space shuttle Columbia was in the air and the agency was weighing the risk posed by tile damage on the shuttle wings. Key information was so buried and condensed in the rigid PowerPoint format as to be useless.

“It is easy to understand how a senior manager might read this PowerPoint slide and not realize that it addresses a life-threatening situation”, the Columbia Accident Investigation Board concluded, citing Tufte’s work. The board devoted a full page of its 2003 report to the issue, criticizing a space agency culture in which, it said, “the endemic use of PowerPoint” substituted for rigorous technical analysis.

But NASA – like the rest of corporate and bureaucratic America – seems powerless to resist PowerPoint. Just this month a minority report by the latest shuttle safety task force echoed the earlier concerns: Often, the group said, when it asked for data it ended up with PowerPoints – without supporting documentation.

These critiques are, pardon the phrase, on point, but I suspect that the insidious influence of PowerPoint goes beyond the way it frustrates scientific analysis. The deeper problem with the PowerPointing of America – the PowerPointing of the planet, actually – is that the program tends to flatten the most complex, subtle, even beautiful, ideas into tedious, bullet-pointed bureaucratese.

I experienced a particularly dreary example of this under a starry Hawaiian sky this year, listening to a talk on astronomy. It was the perfect moment for magical images of distant stars and newly discovered planets. Yet, instead of using technology to transport, the lecturer plodded point-by-point through cookie-cutter slides.

The soul-sapping essence of PowerPoint was captured perfectly in a spoof of the Gettysburg Address by computer whiz Peter Norvig of Google. It featured Abe Lincoln fumbling with his computer (“Just a second while I get this connection to work. Do I press this button here? Function-F7?”) and collapsing his speech into six slides, complete with a bar chart depicting four score and seven years.

For example, Slide 4:

Review of Key Objectives & Critical Success Factors

* What makes nation unique

– Conceived in liberty

– Men are equal

* Shared vision

– New birth of freedom

– Gov’t of/by/for the people.

If NASA managers didn’t recognize the safety problem, perhaps it’s because they were dazed from having to endure too many presentations like this – the inevitable computer balkiness, the robotic recitation of bullet points, the truncated language of a marketing pitch. Hence the New Yorker cartoon in which the devil, seated at his desk in Hell, interviews a potential assistant: “I need someone well versed in the art of torture – do you know PowerPoint?”

Like all forms of torture, though, PowerPoint degrades its practitioners as well as its victims. Yes, boring slides were plentiful in the pre-PowerPoint era – remember the overhead projector? Yes, it can help the intellectually inept organize their thoughts. But the seductive availability of PowerPoint and the built-in drive to reduce all subjects to a series of short-handed bullet points eliminates nuances and enables, even encourages, the absence of serious thinking. Really, why think at all when the auto-content wizard can do it for you?

The most disturbing development in the world of PowerPoint is its migration to the schools – like sex and drugs, at earlier and earlier ages. Now we have second-graders being tutored in PowerPoint. No matter that students who compose at the keyboard already spend more energy perfecting their fonts than polishing their sentences – PowerPoint dispenses with the need to write any sentences at all. Perhaps the politicians who are so worked up about the ill effects of violent video games should turn their attention to PowerPoint instead.

In the meantime, Tufte, who’s now doing consulting work for NASA, has a modest proposal for its new administrator: Ban the use of PowerPoint. Sounds good to me. After all, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see the perils of PowerPoint.

Bill Totten

Categories: Uncategorized

>PowerPoint: Shot With Its Own Bullets

>by Peter Norvig

Imagine a world with almost no pronouns or punctuation. A world where any complex thought must be broken into seven- word chunks, with colorful blobs between them. It sounds like the futuristic dystopia of Kurt Vonnegut’s short story Harrison Bergeron, in which intelligent citizens receive ear-splitting broadcasts over headsets so that they cannot gain an unfair advantage over their less intelligent peers. But this world is no fiction – it is the present-day reality of a PowerPoint presentation, a reality that is repeated an estimated thirty million times a day. {5}

Stanford University’s Cliff Nass was quoted in the New Yorker {1} saying that PowerPoint “lifts the floor”; it allows some main points to come across even if the speaker mumbles, forgets, or is otherwise grossly incompetent. But PowerPoint also “lowers the ceiling”; it makes it harder to have an open exchange between presenter and audience, to convey ideas that do not neatly fit into outline format, or to have a truly inspiring presentation. This is what I was getting at when I created the Gettysburg PowerPoint presentation {2}, a parody that has been viewed by hundreds of thousands of frustrated PowerPoint sufferers. I used PowerPoint’s AutoContent Wizard (which Parker {1} calls “a rare example of a product named in outright mockery of its target customers”), adding only the slide “Not on Agenda!” to the standard format.

Nobody should be surprised that PowerPoint does not measure up to the great speeches of history, such as Lincoln’s Gettysburg address. And it is certainly a shame when a potentially interesting presentation is dumbed down by another formulaic over-application of PowerPoint. But when PowerPoint leads not just to boredom but to bad decisions, it is a tragedy, not just a shame.

For an example of excellent decision-making without PowerPoint, consider the agenda of Apollo programme-manager George Low, on August 9 1968. {3} At 0845, Low met with Houston center-director Robert Gilruth to recommend that the Apollo 8 mission attempt a lunar orbit, an ambitious change from previous plans. Gilruth agreed. At 0900, Low met with flight-director Chris Kraft, who verified the technical feasibility. At 0930 Low, Gilruth, and Kraft agreed to present the idea to Werner von Braun. They flew to Huntsville to meet von Braun and others at 1430 that afternoon. The lunar orbit plan was tentatively approved that day. Just four months later, Apollo 8 orbited the moon, sending back the first photograph of an Earthrise over another world.

Think what Low accomplished in the time that many present-day beaurocrats take to select their fonts and backgrounds. He achieved consensus on a billion- dollar decision about one of the most complex engineering projects of all time, with enormous implications for national security. PowerPoint cannot help you do that.

In current-day NASA, the need to cram complex facts into PowerPoint’s limited format may have contributed to poor decisions in the Columbia tragedy, according to a recent essay by the graphic designer, Edward Tufte. {4} Tufte points out that the limited resolution of PowerPoint slides makes it impossible to fit complex charts and graphs, or even full English sentences. As a result the intended meaning of a presentation may be obscured.

How can you make informed decisions like George Low’s? The key seems to be to gather experts who are knowledgeable and passionate about the subject matter, and have them cooperatively discuss a series of questions designed to explore the limits of technical feasibility. They must strive to reach the best decision rather than to persuade each other. The Chicago Tribune {5} quotes Sherry Turkle, from Massachusetts Institute of Technology: “a strong [PowerPoint] presentation is designed to close down debate, not open it up”.

Design your presentations and your meetings to take advantage of the people gathered there, not to bore them. If everyone has set their remarks in stone ahead of time (all using the same templates) then there is little room for the comments of one to build on another, or for a new idea to arise collaboratively from the meeting. Homogeneity is great for milk, but not for ideas. Use visual aids to convey visual information: photographs, charts, or diagrams. But do not use them to give the impression that the matter is solved, wrapped up in a few bullet points.

Peter Norvig
2400 Bayshore Parkway, Mountain View, California 94043, USA


{1} Parker I. Absolute Powerpoint. New Yorker magazine (May 28 2001).

{2} Norvig P. The Gettysburg Powerpoint presentation (January, 1999) (accessed July 02 2003).

{3} Wade M. Decision that Apollo 8 should be a lunar orbital mission. SpaceDaily (June 26 2002) (accessed July 02 2003).

{4} Tufte E. The cognitive style of PowerPoint (May 2003) (accessed July 02 2003).

{5} Keller J. Is PowerPoint the devil? Chicago Tribune (January 22 2003).

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.

- Abraham Lincoln

Bill Totten

Categories: Uncategorized

>PowerPoint Is Evil

>Power Corrupts.
PowerPoint Corrupts Absolutely.

by Edward Tufte

Wired Magazine Issue 11.09 (September 2003)

Imagine a widely used and expensive prescription drug that promised to make us beautiful but didn’t. Instead the drug had frequent, serious side effects: It induced stupidity, turned everyone into bores, wasted time, and degraded the quality and credibility of communication. These side effects would rightly lead to a worldwide product recall.

Yet slideware – computer programs for presentations – is everywhere: in corporate America, in government bureaucracies, even in our schools. Several hundred million copies of Microsoft PowerPoint are churning out trillions of slides each year. Slideware may help speakers outline their talks, but convenience for the speaker can be punishing to both content and audience. The standard PowerPoint presentation elevates format over content, betraying an attitude of commercialism that turns everything into a sales pitch.

Of course, data-driven meetings are nothing new. Years before today’s slideware, presentations at companies such as IBM and in the military used bullet lists shown by overhead projectors. But the format has become ubiquitous under PowerPoint, which was created in 1984 and later acquired by Microsoft. PowerPoint’s pushy style seeks to set up a speaker’s dominance over the audience. The speaker, after all, is making power points with bullets to followers. Could any metaphor be worse? Voicemail menu systems? Billboards? Television? Stalin?

Particularly disturbing is the adoption of the PowerPoint cognitive style in our schools. Rather than learning to write a report using sentences, children are being taught how to formulate client pitches and infomercials. Elementary school PowerPoint exercises (as seen in teacher guides and in student work posted on the Internet) typically consist of ten to twenty words and a piece of clip art on each slide in a presentation of three to six slides – a total of perhaps eighty words (fifteen seconds of silent reading) for a week of work. Students would be better off if the schools simply closed down on those days and everyone went to the Exploratorium or wrote an illustrated essay explaining something.

In a business setting, a PowerPoint slide typically shows forty words, which is about eight seconds’ worth of silent reading material. With so little information per slide, many, many slides are needed. Audiences consequently endure a relentless sequentiality, one damn slide after another. When information is stacked in time, it is difficult to understand context and evaluate relationships. Visual reasoning usually works more effectively when relevant information is shown side by side. Often, the more intense the detail, the greater the clarity and understanding. This is especially so for statistical data, where the fundamental analytical act is to make comparisons.

Consider an important and intriguing table of survival rates for those with cancer relative to those without cancer for the same time period. Some 196 numbers and 57 words describe survival rates and their standard errors for 24 cancers.

The charts discussed in the previous and next paragraph are illustrated at .

Applying the PowerPoint templates to this nice, straightforward table yields an analytical disaster. The data explodes into six separate chaotic slides, consuming 2.9 times the area of the table. Everything is wrong with these smarmy, incoherent graphs: the encoded legends, the meaningless color, the logo-type branding. They are uncomparative, indifferent to content and evidence, and so data-starved as to be almost pointless. Chartjunk is a clear sign of statistical stupidity. Poking a finger into the eye of thought, these data graphics would turn into a nasty travesty if used for a serious purpose, such as helping cancer patients assess their survival chances. To sell a product that messes up data with such systematic intensity, Microsoft abandons any pretense of statistical integrity and reasoning.

Presentations largely stand or fall on the quality, relevance, and integrity of the content. If your numbers are boring, then you’ve got the wrong numbers. If your words or images are not on point, making them dance in color won’t make them relevant. Audience boredom is usually a content failure, not a decoration failure.

At a minimum, a presentation format should do no harm. Yet the PowerPoint style routinely disrupts, dominates, and trivializes content. Thus PowerPoint presentations too often resemble a school play – very loud, very slow, and very simple.

The practical conclusions are clear. PowerPoint is a competent slide manager and projector. But rather than supplementing a presentation, it has become a substitute for it. Such misuse ignores the most important rule of speaking: Respect your audience.


Edward R Tufte is professor emeritus of political science, computer science and statistics, and graphic design at Yale. His new monograph, The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint, is available from Graphics Press, .

Copyright (c) 1993-2004 The Conde’ Nast Publications Inc. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 1994-2003 Wired Digital, Inc. All rights reserved.

Bill Totten

Categories: Uncategorized

>The Day the American Empire Ran Out of Gas

2006/10/18 2 comments

>by Gore Vidal

Chapter Three of Imperial America (Nation Books, 2005)

On September 16 1985, when the Commerce Department announced that the United States had become a debtor nation, the American Empire was as dead, theoretically, as its predecessor, the British. Our empire was seventy-one years old and had been in ill financial health since 1968. Like most modern empires, ours rested not so much on military prowess as on economic primacy. {1}

After the French Revolution, the world money power shifted from Paris to London. For three generations, the British maintained an old-fashioned colonial empire, as well as a modern empire based on London’s supremacy in the money markets. Then, in 1914, New York replaced London as the world’s financial capital. Before 1914, the United States had been a developing country, dependent on outside investment. But with the shift of the money power from Old World to New, what had been a debtor nation became a creditor nation and the central motor to the world’s economy. All in all, the English were well pleased to have us take their place. They were too few in number for so big a task. As early as the turn of the century, they were eager for us not only to help them out financially, but to continue, on their behalf, the destiny of the Anglo-Saxon race: to bear with courage the white man’s burden, as Rudyard Kipling not so tactfully put it. Were we not – English and Americans – all Anglo-Saxons, united by common blood, laws, language? Well, no, we were not. But our differences were not so apparent then. In any case, we took the job. We would supervise and civilize the lesser breeds. We would make money.

By the end of the Second World War, we were the most powerful and least damaged of the great nations. We also had most of the money. America’s peaceful hegemony lasted exactly five years. Then the cold and hot wars began. Our masters would have us believe that all our problems are the fault of the Evil Empire of the East, with its satanic and atheistic religion, ever ready to destroy us in the night. This nonsense began at a time when we had atomic weapons and the Russians did not. They had lost twenty million of their people in the war, and eight million of them before the war, thanks to their neo-conservative Mongolian political system. Most important, there was never any chance, then or now, of the money power shifting from New York to Moscow.

What was – and is – the reason for the big scare? Well, the Second World War made prosperous the United States, which had been undergoing a depression for a dozen years, and made very rich those magnates and their managers who govern the republic, with many a wink, in the people’s name. In order to maintain a general prosperity (and enormous wealth for the few) they decided that we would become the world’s policeman, perennial shield against the Mongol hordes. We shall have an arms race, said one of the high priests, John Foster Dulles, and we shall win it because the Russians will go broke first. We were then put on a permanent wartime economy, which is why close to two-thirds of the government’s revenues are constantly being siphoned off to pay for what is euphemistically called “defense”.

As early as 1950, Albert Einstein understood the nature of the rip-off. He said, “The men who possess real power in the country have no intention of ending the cold war”. Thirty-five years later they are still at it, making money while the nation itself declines to eleventh place in world per-capita income, to forty-sixth place in literacy and so on, until last summer (not suddenly, I fear) we found ourselves close to $2 trillion in debt. Then, in the fall, the money power shifted from New York to Tokyo, and that looked to be the end of our empire. Now the long-feared Asiatic colossus takes its turn as the world leader, and we – the white race – have become the yellow man’s burden. Let us hope that he will treat us more kindly than we treated him. {2} In any case, if the foreseeable future is not nuclear, it will be Asiatic, some combination of Japan’s advanced technology with China’s resourceful landmass. Europe and the United States will then be, simply, irrelevant to the world that matters, and so we come full circle: Europe began as the relatively empty uncivilized Wild West of Asia; then the Western Hemisphere became the Wild West of Europe. Now the sun is setting in our West and rising once more in the East.

The British used to say that their empire was obtained in a fit of absentmindedness. They exaggerate, of course; on the other hand, our modern empire was carefully thought out by four men. In 1890 a US Navy captain, Alfred Thayer Mahan, wrote the blueprint for the American imperium, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1783 (Dover Publications; New Ed edition, 1987). Then Mahan’s friend, the historian-geopolitician Brooks Adams, younger brother of Henry, came up with the following formula: “All civilization is centralization. All centralization is economy.” He applied the formula in the following syllogism: “Under economical centralization, Asia is cheaper than Europe. The world tends to economic centralization. Therefore, Asia tends to survive and Europe to perish.” Ultimately, that is why we were in Vietnam. The amateur historian and professional politician Theodore Roosevelt was much under the influence of Adams and Mahan; he was also their political instrument, most active not so much during his presidency as during the crucial war with Spain, where he can take a good deal of credit for our seizure of the Philippines, which made us a world empire. Finally, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Roosevelt’s closest friend, kept in line a Congress that had a tendency to forget our holy mission – our manifest destiny – and ask, rather wistfully, for internal improvements.

From the beginning of our republic, we have had imperial longings. We took care – as we continue to take care – of the indigenous American population. We maintained slavery a bit too long, even by a cynical worlds tolerant standards. Then, in 1846, we produced our first conquistador, President James K Polk. After acquiring Texas, Polk deliberately started a war with Mexico because, as he later told the historian George Bancroft, we had to acquire California. Thanks to Polk, we did. And that is why to this day the Mexicans refer to our southwestern states as “the occupied lands”, which Hispanics are now, quite sensibly, filling up.

The case against empire began as early as 1847. Representative Abraham Lincoln did not think much of Polk’s war, while Lieutenant Ulysses S Grant, who fought at Veracruz, said in his memoirs, “The war was an instance of a republic following the bad example of European monarchies, in not considering the justice in their desire to acquire additional territory”. He went on to make a causal link, something not usual in our politics then and completely unknown now: “The Southern rebellion was largely the outgrowth of the Mexican War. Nations, like individuals, are punished for their transgressions. We got our punishment in the most sanguinary and expensive war of modern times.”

But the empire has always had more supporters than opponents. By 1895 we had filled up our section of North America. We had tried twice – and failed – to conquer Canada. We had taken everything that we wanted from Mexico. Where next? Well, there was the Caribbean at our front door and the vast Pacific at our back. Enter the Four Horsemen – Mahan, Adams, Roosevelt, and Lodge.

The original republic was thought out carefully, and openly, in The Federalist Papers: We were not going to have a monarchy, and we were not going to have a democracy. And to this day we have had neither. For two hundred years we have had an oligarchical system in which men of property can do well and others are on their own. Or, as Brooks Adams put it, the sole problem of our ruling class is whether to coerce or bribe the powerless majority. The so-called Great Society bribed; today coercion is very much in the air. Happily, our neo-conservative Mongoloids favor authoritarian if not totalitarian means of coercion.

Unlike the republic, the empire was worked out largely in secret. Captain Mahan, in a series of lectures delivered at the Naval War College, compared the United States with England. Each was essentially an island state that could prevail in the world only through sea power. England had already proved his thesis. Now the United States must do the same. We must build a great navy in order to acquire overseas possessions. Since great navies are expensive, the wealth of new colonies must be used to pay for our fleets. In fact, the more colonies acquired, the more ships; the more ships, the more empire. Mahan’s thesis is agreeably circular. He showed how small England has ended up with most of Africa and all of southern Asia, thanks to sea power. He thought that we should do the same. The Caribbean was our first and easiest target. Then on to the Pacific Ocean, with all its islands. And, finally, to China, which was breaking up as a political entity.

Theodore Roosevelt and Brooks Adams were tremendously excited by this prospect. At the time, Roosevelt was a mere police commissioner in New York City, but he had dreams of imperial glory. “He wants to be”, snarled Henry Adams, “our Dutch-American Napoleon”. Roosevelt began to maneuver his way toward the heart of power, sea power. With Lodge’s help, he got himself appointed assistant secretary of the navy, under a weak secretary and a mild president. Now he was in place to modernize the fleet and acquire colonies. Hawaii was annexed. Then a part of Samoa. Finally, colonial Cuba, somehow, had to be liberated from Spain’s tyranny. At the Naval War College, Roosevelt declared, “to prepare for war is the most effectual means to promote peace”. How familiar that sounds! But since the United States had no enemies as of June 1897, a contemporary might have remarked that since we were already at peace with everyone, why prepare for war? Today, of course, we are what he dreamed we would be, a nation armed to the teeth, hostile to everyone and eager to strike preemptively, at presidential command. But what with Roosevelt was a design to acquire an empire is for us a means to transfer money from the Treasury to the various defense industries which, in turn, pay for the elections of Congress and president.

Our turn-of-the-century imperialists may have been wrong, and I think they were. But they were intelligent men with a plan, and the plan worked. Aided by Lodge in the Senate, Brooks Adams in the press, Admiral Mahan at the Naval War College, the young assistant secretary of the navy began to build up the fleet and look for enemies. After all, as Brooks Adams proclaimed, “war is the solvent”. But war with whom? And for what? And where? At one point England seemed a likely enemy. There was a boundary dispute over Venezuela, which meant that we could invoke the all-purpose Monroe Doctrine (the invention of John Quincy Adams, Brooks’s grandfather). But as we might have lost such a war, nothing happened. Nevertheless, Roosevelt kept on beating his drum: “No triumph of peace”, he shouted, “can equal the armed triumph of war”. Also: “We must take Hawaii in the interests of the white race”. Even Henry Adams, who found TR tiresome and Brooks, his own brother, brilliant but mad, suddenly declared, “In another fifty years … the white race will have to reconquer the tropics by war and nomadic invasion, or be shut up north of the 50th parallel”. And so at the century’s end, our most distinguished ancestral voices were not prophesying, but praying for war.

An American warship, the Maine, blew up in Havana harbor. We held Spain responsible; thus, we got what John Hay called “a splendid little war”. We would liberate Cuba, drive Spain from the Caribbean. As for the Pacific, even before the Maine was sunk, Roosevelt had ordered Commodore Dewey and his fleet to the Spanish Philippines – just in case. Spain promptly collapsed, and we inherited its Pacific and Caribbean colonies. Admiral Mahan’s plan was working triumphantly.

In time we allowed Cuba the appearance of freedom while holding on to Puerto Rico. Then President William McKinley, after an in-depth talk with God, decided that we should also keep the Philippines, in order, he said, to Christianize them. When reminded that the Filipinos were Roman Catholics, the president said, Exactly. We must Christianize them. Although Philippine nationalists had been our allies against Spain, we promptly betrayed them and their leader, Emilio Aguinaldo. As a result it took us several years to conquer the Philippines, and tens – some say hundreds – of thousands of Filipinos died that our empire might grow.

The war was the making of Theodore Roosevelt. Surrounded by the flower of the American press, he led a group of so-called Rough Riders up a very small hill in Cuba. As a result of this proto-photo opportunity he became a national hero, governor of New York, McKinley’s running mate and, when McKinley was killed in 1901, president.

Not everyone liked the new empire. After Manila, Mark Twain thought that the stars and bars of the American flag should be replaced by a skull and crossbones. He also said, “We cannot maintain an empire in the Orient and maintain a republic in America”. He was right, of course. But as he was only a writer who said funny things, he was ignored. The compulsively vigorous Roosevelt defended our war against the Philippine population, and he attacked the likes of Twain. “Every argument that can be made for the Filipinos could be made for the Apaches”, he explained, with his lovely gift for analogy. “And every word that can be said for Aguinaldo could be said for Sitting Bull. As peace, order and prosperity followed our expansion over the land of the Indians, so they will follow us in the Philippines.”

Despite the criticism of the few, the Four Horsemen had pulled it off. The United States was a world empire. And one of the horsemen not only got to be president but, for his pious meddling in the Russo-Japanese conflict, our greatest apostle of war was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. One must never underestimate Scandinavian wit.

Empires are restless organisms. They must constantly renew themselves; should an empire start leaking energy, it will die. Not for nothing were the Adams brothers fascinated by entropy. By energy. By force. Brooks Adams, as usual, said the unsayable: “Laws are a necessity” he declared. “Laws are made by the strongest and they must and shall be obeyed”. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr, thought this a wonderful observation, while the philosopher William James came to a similar conclusion, which can also be detected, like an invisible dynamo, at the heart of the novels of his brother Henry.

According to Brooks Adams, “The most difficult problem of modern times is unquestionably how to protect property under popular governments”. The Four Horsemen fretted a lot about this. They need not have. We have never had a popular government in the sense that they feared, nor are we in any danger now. Our only political party has two right wings, one called Republican, the other Democratic. But Henry Adams figured all that out back in the 1890s. “We have a single system”, he wrote, and “in that system the only question is the price at which the proletariat is to be bought and sold, the bread and circuses”. But none of this was for public consumption. Publicly, the Four Horsemen and their outriders spoke of the American mission to bring all the world freedom and peace – through slavery and war, if necessary. Privately, their constant fear was that the weak masses might combine one day against the strong few, their natural leaders, and take away their money. As early as the election of 1876, socialism had been targeted as a vast evil that must never be allowed to corrupt simple American persons. When Christianity was invoked as the natural enemy of those who might limit the rich and their games, the combination of cross and dollar sign proved – and proves – irresistible.

During the first decade of the disagreeable twentieth century, the great world fact was the internal collapse of China. Who could pick up the pieces? Britain grabbed Kowloon; Russia was busy in the north; the Kaiser’s fleet prowled the China coast; Japan was modernizing itself and biding its time. Although Theodore Roosevelt lived and died a dedicated racist, the Japanese puzzled him. After they sank the Russian fleet, Roosevelt decided that they were to be respected and feared even though they were our racial inferiors. For those Americans who served in the Second World War, it was an article of faith – as of 1941, anyway – that the Japanese could never win a modern war. Because of their slant eyes, they would not be able to master aircraft. Then they sank our fleet at Pearl Harbor.

Jingoism aside, Brooks Adams was a good analyst. In the 1890s he wrote: “Russia, to survive, must undergo a social revolution internally and/or expand externally. She will try to move into Shansi Province, richest prize in the world. Should Russia and Germany combine …” That was the nightmare of the Four Horsemen. At a time when simpler folk feared the rise of Germany alone, Brooks Adams saw the world ultimately polarized between Russia and the United States, with China as the common prize. American maritime power versus Russia’s landmass. That is why, quite seriously, he wanted to extend the Monroe Doctrine to the Pacific Ocean. For him, “War [was] the ultimate form of economic competition”.

We are now at the end of the twentieth century. England, France, and Germany have all disappeared from the imperial stage. China is now reassembling itself, and Confucius, greatest of all political thinkers, is again at the center of the Middle Kingdom. Japan has the world money power but needs a landmass; China now seems ready to go into business with its ancient enemy. Wars of the sort that the Four Horsemen enjoyed are, if no longer possible, no longer practical. {3} Today’s true conquests are shifts of currency by computer and the manufacture of those things that people everywhere are willing to buy.

I have said very little about writers because writers have figured very little in our imperial story. The founders of both republic and empire wrote well: Jefferson and Hamilton, Lincoln and Grant. TR, and the Adamses. Today public figures can no longer write their own speeches or books, and there is some evidence that they can’t read them, either.

Yet at the dawn of the empire, for a brief instant, our professional writers tended to make a difference. Upton Sinclair and company attacked the excesses of the ruling class. Theodore Roosevelt coined the word “muckraking” to describe what they were doing. He did not mean the word as praise. Since then a few of our writers have written on public themes, but as they are not taken seriously, they have ended by not taking themselves seriously, at least as citizens of a republic. After all, most writers are paid by universities, and it is not wise to be thought critical of a garrison state which spends so much money on so many campuses.

When Confucius was asked what would be the first thing that he would do if he were to lead the state – a never-to-be-fulfilled dream – he said, Rectify the language. This is wise. This is subtle. As societies grow decadent, the language grows decadent, too. Words are used to disguise, not to illuminate, action: You liberate a city by destroying it. Words are used to confuse, so that at election time people will solemnly vote against their own interests. Finally, words must be so twisted as to justify an empire that has now ceased to exist, much less make sense. Is rectification of our system possible for us? Henry Adams thought not. In 1910 he wrote: “The whole fabric of society will go to wrack if we really lay hands of reform on our rotten institutions”. Then he added, “From top to bottom the whole system is a fraud, all of us know it, laborers and capitalists alike, and all of us are consenting parties to it”. Since then consent has grown frayed; we have become poor; our people sullen.

To maintain a thirty-five-year arms race it is necessary to have a fearsome enemy. Not since the invention of the Wizard of Oz have American publicists created anything quite so demented as the idea that the Soviet Union is a monolithic, omnipotent empire with tentacles everywhere on earth, intent on our destruction, which will surely take place unless we constantly imitate it with our war machine and secret services.

In actual fact, the Soviet Union is a Second World country with a First World military capacity. Frighten the Russians sufficiently and they might blow us up. By the same token, as our republic now begins to crack under the vast expense of maintaining a mindless imperial force, we might try to blow them up. Particularly if we had a president who really was a twice-born Christian and believed that the good folks would all go to heaven (where they were headed anyway) and the bad folks would go where they belong.

Even worse than the not-very-likely prospect of a nuclear war – deliberate or by accident – is the economic collapse of our society because too many of our resources have been wasted on the military. The Pentagon is like a black hole; what goes in is forever lost to us, and no new wealth is created. Hence, our cities, whose centers are unlivable; our crime rate, the highest in the Western world; a public education system that has given up … you know the litany.

There is now only one way out. The time has come for the United States to make common cause with the Soviet Union. The bringing together of the Soviet landmass (with all its natural resources) and our island empire (with all its technological resources) would be of great benefit to each society, not to mention the world. Also, to recall the wisdom of the Four Horsemen who gave us our empire, the Soviet Union and our section of North America combined would be a match, industrially and technologically, for the Sino-Japanese axis that will dominate the future just as Japan dominates world trade as of today. But where the horsemen thought of war as the supreme solvent, we now know that war is worse than useless. Therefore, the alliance of the two great powers of the Northern Hemisphere will double the strength of each and give us, working together, an opportunity to survive, economically, in a highly centralized Asiatic world. {4}


{1} Could it have been these words of mine that stimulated a small group of radicals, soon to call themselves “neo-conservatives”, to conspire to propagandize us toward perpetual war to gain military primacy globally to compensate for loss of economic primacy?

{2} Believe it or not, this plain observation was interpreted as a racist invocation of “The
Yellow Peril”!

{3} Our ongoing failures in Iraq and Afghanistan prove this fact.

{4} The suggestion that the United States and the USSR join forces set alarm bells ringing in Freedom’s Land. The Israel lobby, in particular.


Originally published in The Nation (January 11 1986)

Bill Totten

Categories: Uncategorized

>Just Think

>by Charley Reese

King Features Syndicate (October 16 2006)

The foremost duty of a citizen, especially in dangerous times, is to think. Without independent thinkers who are also economically independent of the government, democracy doesn’t work.

Remembering and imagining are not thinking. Emotional reactions or ideological reactions are not thinking. Belief in the “word magic” of labels is not thinking. Faith is not thinking.

Thinking is the use of reason to determine the truth as best we can. To do that, we have to shuck emotions, desires and wishes and look at the world in its nakedness as it is, not as we wish it were or as someone else has told us it is.

Reality is not affected by our desires or by our comprehension. We glean data from our senses of that world outside our bodies and use our brains to draw inferences from the data. We have to conform to it; reality will not conform to us.

Clear thinking today is especially difficult, because the present generations of human beings are exposed to information in an unprecedented flood. Some years ago, it was estimated that the average American was exposed to about 15,000 messages per day. I’m sure that number has increased.

Advertising is pervasive with labels, point-of-sale displays and ads in newspapers and on television, radio and the Internet, as well as signs and billboards. Information – much of it false or self-serving or incomplete or trivial – pours out of print publications, television, radio and the Internet.

Information is not truth. It is bits of data that might be true or false or completely useless to know. I’ve often recommended that people take an information break. Go a week without watching television, listening to the radio, reading newspapers or magazines or surfing the Net. It might be difficult at first, but if you persist, you will be surprised by how normal the world appears once you’ve cut out the political chatter and the daily roundup of the world’s pain and misery.

Another exercise in mind control is that when you are driving, make a conscious effort not to read signs or billboards. Look instead at trees and other natural features. Work for the goal of being able to give someone directions to your house like this: Go three blocks north of the giant magnolia tree, turn east and look for two crab-apple trees.

The most important point is to realize that your mind belongs to you. It is your principal means of survival. Don’t rent it out to politicians or political parties or anybody else, including columnists and commentators. All leaders of whatever stripe desire is to persuade you to adopt their agenda. Don’t do it. Arrive at your own independent agenda. If your own agenda coincides with theirs, then cooperate. If it doesn’t, go your own way.

Next, you should start editing the information that is presented to you. Do you really need to know that Mel Gibson said he’s been sober for 65 days? Not unless you’re kin or a personal friend. Do you need to know there has been a coup in Thailand? Not unless you plan to visit that country.

Despite all the talk about globalism, in most cases our true interests are local – family, community, region, state and our own country. We should concentrate on these, for here we can make a difference.

While global busybodies worry about rain forests, tribal conflicts in the Sudan and poverty in Africa, our own infrastructure, including public education, is deteriorating. Celebrities who want to hold poor black babies don’t have to go to Africa. There are plenty of poor babies of all colors in the US.

Think, folks, think.


Write to Charley Reese at Post Office Box 2446, Orlando, Florida 32802

Copyright (c) 2006 by King Features Syndicate

Bill Totten

Categories: Uncategorized

>The Truth About the "Embargo" on Cuba

>An Economic War

by Ricardo Alarcon

CounterPunch (October 05 2006)

“To bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government”

– State Department (April 06 1960)

A few weeks from now, the UN General Assembly will pass, with practical unanimity, a new resolution, the number 15, condemning the blockade on Cuba, which Washington tries to describe as barely an “embargo”. The United States Government will try to justify its policy once again without success. They have been doing this for almost half a century now, concealing the truth behind their fabrications and lies.

The truth is, however, contained in documents that were kept secret by Washington until 1991. More than an embargo or blockade, it is in fact an act of “economic warfare”, as the then secretary of state, Christian Herter, said in 1959. An economic warfare that began with the triumph of the Revolution in January of 1959 and it is still in force today, a war which has always had the same genocidal purpose: to bring about hunger, misery and desperation among the people of Cuba.

Dictator Fulgencio Batista and his main accomplices plundered the Republic’s Treasury and upon fleeing Cuba in January of that year they took with them more than 424 million dollars which came to rest in the United States and form the economic basis of a mafia often hailed by the US press as “successful businessmen” of Miami. For Cuba the situation was critical and Washington knew it. The Department of State described it as such, saying in February 1959 that:

“the serious threat to the stability of the Cuba peso which results from the fact that following the departure of the Batista administration it was determined that the currency reserve of the country is depleted”, something which, “would tax the governing abilities of any of the best leaders”.

The Central Bank of Cuba sent a team of experts to Washington to seek a modest loan that would alleviate such a crisis. The issue was analysed by the National Security Council on February 12 1959. The decision was unequivocal: they would listen to the Cubans but offer them nothing at all. They didn’t grant any kind of loan. They didn’t even promise to look into the matter. Needless to say, not one cent of the money stolen from the Cuban people was ever returned.

The dispossession of Cuban bank reserves, which constitutes a blatant act of economic aggression, took place long before any revolutionary measure was adopted on the Island (the first being the Law of Agrarian reform, passed on May 17 of that year).

On March 26 1959, the National Security Council also discussed the Cuba situation. At this meeting CIA’s director, Allen Dulles, said that: “it was quite possible that the US Congress would do something which would affect the sale of Cuban sugar in the US”. Depriving Cuba of its main source of income, sugar exports to the US market, would become a recurrent theme of Washington’s secret meetings before, long before, relationships with the Soviet Union were re-established and before socialism was proclaimed to be Revolution’s goal. They did that when sugar was still being grown on large landed estates and processed in factories – many of which were US owned – that had not been expropriated and were still in the hands of the Island’s oligarchy and foreign companies.

US Government officials were aware of the consequences of such action. A report from the Department of State acknowledged that: “If Cuba were deprived of its quota privilege, the sugar industry would promptly suffer an abrupt decline, causing widespread further unemployment. The large numbers of people those forced out of work would begin to go hungry.”

But they weren’t just talking about sugar: “if we were to cut the Cubans off from their fuel supply, the effect would be devastating on them within a month or six weeks”.

Nobody in Washington claimed to have been deceived. They knew that the actions taken against the Revolution would cause pain and suffering to all the Cuban people. They did it with premeditation and full knowledge of the effect, converting the act of genocide into a malicious political instrument. An analysis from this same Department, dated April 6 1960 and approved with the signature of Assistant Secretary, Roy Rubottom, offers us explicit proof of this policy.

In this analysis it is flatly affirmed that:

“The majority of Cubans support Castro. The only foreseeable means of alienating internal support is through disenchantment and disaffection based on economic dissatisfaction and hardship … it follows that every possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba … it should be the result of a positive decision which would call forth a line of action while as adroit and inconspicuous as possible, makes the greatest inroads in denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.”

Note that they acknowledged they should act in a manner “as adroit and inconspicuous as possible”, something that fits with a criminal behaviour, and not just any crime, but rather one that has been particularly condemned by humankind: the crime of genocide clearly defined by the Geneva Convention of 1948 as any attempt to cause total or partial damage to any human group. What is this if it isn’t precisely that: an attempt at “bringing about hunger and desperation” among all Cubans?

It is probably the most prolonged act of genocide in history. It began before the majority of Cubans alive today were born, meaning that they have spent their entire lives under the blockade.

Soon it will be condemned again by humankind as a whole. Once again the US administration will reveal its arrogance and ignore the demand being made worldwide. When will it end?


NB: All quotes are from the official documents compiled in the book published by the Department of State: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958-1960 Volume VI Cuba, United States Goverment Printing Office (Washington, 1991).

Ricardo Alarcon de Quesada is Cuba’s Vice President and President of its National Assembly.

Bill Totten

Categories: Uncategorized

>The War Against Wages

2006/10/13 1 comment

>by Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Contributor

The New York Times (October 06 2006)

Should we be cheering over the fact that the Dow Jones Industrial Average has finally set a new record? No. The Dow is doing well largely because American employers are waging a successful war against wages. Economic growth since early 2000, when the Dow reached its previous peak, hasn’t been exceptional. But after-tax corporate profits have more than doubled, because workers’ productivity is up, but their wages aren’t – and because companies have dealt with rising health insurance premiums by denying insurance to ever more workers.

If you want to see how the war against wages is being fought, and what it’s doing to working Americans and their families, consider the latest news from Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart already has a well-deserved reputation for paying low wages and offering few benefits to its employees; last year, an internal Wal-Mart memo conceded that 46 percent of its workers’ children were either on Medicaid or lacked health insurance. Nonetheless, the memo expressed concern that wages and benefits were rising, in part “because we pay an associate more in salary and benefits as his or her tenure increases”.

The problem from the company’s point of view, then, is that its workers are too loyal; it wants cheap labor that doesn’t hang around too long, but not enough workers quit before acquiring the right to higher wages and benefits. Among the policy changes the memo suggested to deal with this problem was a shift to hiring more part-time workers, which “will lower Wal-Mart’s health care enrollment”.

And the strategy is being put into effect. “Investment analysts and store managers,” reports The New York Times, “say Wal-Mart executives have told them the company wants to transform its work force to forty percent part-time from twenty percent”. Another leaked Wal-Mart memo describes a plan to impose wage caps, so that long-term employees won’t get raises. And the company is taking other steps to keep workers from staying too long: in some stores, according to workers, “managers have suddenly barred older employees with back or leg problems from sitting on stools”.

It’s a brutal strategy. Once upon a time a company that treated its workers this badly would have made itself a prime target for union organizers. But Wal-Mart doesn’t have to worry about that, because it knows that these days the people who are supposed to enforce labor laws are on the side of the employers, not the workers.

Since 1935, US workers considering whether to join a union have been protected by the National Labor Relations Act, which bars employers from firing workers for engaging in union activities. For a long time the law was effective: workers were reasonably well protected against employer intimidation, and the union movement flourished.

In the 1970s, however, employers began a successful campaign to roll back unions. This campaign depended on routine violation of labor law: experts estimate that by 1980 employers were illegally firing at least one out of every twenty workers who voted for a union. But employers rarely faced serious consequences for their lawbreaking, thanks to America’s political shift to the right. And now that the shift to the right has gone even further, political appointees are seeking to remove whatever protection for workers’ rights that the labor relations law still provides.

The Republican majority on the National Labor Relations Board, which is responsible for enforcing the law, has just declared that millions of workers who thought they had the right to join unions don’t. You see, the act grants that right only to workers who aren’t supervisors. And the board, ruling on a case involving nurses, has declared that millions of workers who occasionally give other workers instructions can now be considered supervisors.

As the dissent from the Democrats on the board makes clear, the majority bent over backward, violating the spirit of the law, to reduce workers’ bargaining power.

So what’s keeping paychecks down? Major employers like Wal-Mart have decided that their interests are best served by treating workers as a disposable commodity, paid as little as possible and encouraged to leave after a year or two. And these employers don’t worry that angry workers will respond to their war on wages by forming unions, because they know that government officials, who are supposed to protect workers’ rights, will do everything they can to come down on the side of the wage-cutters.

Bill Totten

Categories: Uncategorized

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