National Times Circa 1997
The National Times was a unique information-rich bimonthly that reprinted (unabridged) the best articles in world journalism on international affairs, government, politics, health, business, economics, science, technology, the environment, culture and the arts and more.
Content is from the site's 1997 archived pages providing a glimpse of what this site offered its readership.
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The National Times explores today's most significant issues and concepts by presenting the most insightful articles, analyses and commentaries from both American and international media. We provide our readers with the opportunity to develop and expand their own informed, coherent world view. Our intent is not to dictate to our readers what they should or should not believe, nor do we necessarily agree or disagree with all of the views expressed within our pages.
We do believe, however, that they are very much worth reading and considering and leave it to our readers to decide who and what to believe.
As Thomas Paine wrote in Common Sense, published February 14, 1776, "In the following pages I offer nothing more than simple facts, plain arguments, and common sense; and have no other preliminaries to settle with the reader, than that he [she] will divest himself of prejudice and prepossession, and suffer his reason and his feelings to determine for themselves; that he will put on, rather that he will not put off the true character of a man, and generously enlarge his views beyond the present day."
With the advent of COVID one of the truly important stories is the avalanche of medical waste being created by the effort to develop vaccines and immunize the world's populations. This tsunami of hazardous bio-medical waste is being handled by a very small number of accredited services and there is a danger that they will be overwhelmed by the demand for these critical disposal needs. Waste medical removal companies sreport record numbers of requests for pickups and removal efforts from both research and hospital groups. Every disposable syringe adds to the problem which also includes the glass vials containing the serums, bandages and other disposable medical supplies. And as research continues to follow the increase in varients, the industries involved in the genomic detection and testing regimes all contribute to the need for prompt, ethical disposal. This will not end when everyone is vaccinated, since the government needs to prepare for a surprise recurrence or new pathogen.
July / August 1997
- 12 RUSSIA AND CHINA
Can a bear love a dragon?
The Economist (London)
- THE LESSONS OF WAR
Learning from the last 2,000 years
Donald Kagan interviewed
by Fredric Smoler
- HAS JAZZ GONE CLASSICAL?
Jazz is finally winning recognition as "America's classical music"
By Clive Davis
The Wilson Quarterly
Has Jazz Gone Classical?
By Clive Davis
The Wilson Quarterly
One unmistakable symptom of old age, we are told, is the habit of picking up the newspaper at the breakfast table and turning first to the obituaries page. If that is the case, then jazz long ago passed the state when it first began to sense its own mortality; each week, it seems, brings more melancholy news. The death last year of Ella Fitzgerald, who had been in retirement after years of ill health, furnished yet another reminded of how may of the giants have departed. Recent years have also seen the loss of the irreplaceable Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Blakey, Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McRea, Gerry Mulligan, and Stan Getz, to name but a few of the pioneers of the last half-century. Of the swing music masters, of course, even fewer remain: the octogenarian vibraphone pioneer Lionel Hampton has gallantly shuffled onto the concert stage for choruses of "Airmail Special"; the former Count Basie trumpeter Harry "Sweets" Edison celebrated his 81st birthday last October in the way he knows best, blowing a languid blues solo on a bandstand.
The iconography of jazz is arguably more fashionable now than at any time since the days of The Great Gatsby. Donna Karen supplied the outfits for a recent tour by the hip young saxophonist Joshua Redman; no glossy magazine is complete without a bourbon advertisement depicting some artfully photographed tenor player, eyes shut, perspiration glistening on his brow. Yet the media hubbub is counterbalanced by an undeniable mood of unease. Though the Basie orchestra, for instance, continues to win magazine polls, the Count himself, possessor of the most inimitable of piano signatures, has been dead for 13 years. The Mingus Big Band's raucous weekly sessions at The Fez, a New York watering hole, have become a chic attraction. But Charles Mingus himself passed away nearly two decades ago. His most admired albums - Mingus Ah Um, New Tijuana Moods, The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady - are more than 30 years old.
When, last Autumn, New York's Town Hall played host to an all-star tribute to Oscar Peterson - now 71 and still performing in spite of the effects of a stroke - it was impossible to overlook the fact that so many of the musicians paying homage to the pianist belonged to his age group, a generation edging inexorably toward retirement. As Peterson embarked on a vibrant duet with his excellent protégé Benny Green, a soulful pianist some four decades his junior, I doubt that I was alone in wondering whether Green and his peers would be able to fill the venue then they, in their turn, attain the status of grizzled elder statesman.
But then, as one wag put it, if jazz is dead, the body is in remarkably good condition. Walk into the average branch of a large record chain in any major city, and you are likely to find the racks crammed with enough reissues to satisfy all but the most esoteric collectors. Recordings that were all but impossible to find when they were first issued on 78 rpm or LP discs can now be scooped up by the handful on compact discs replete with alternate takes and voluminous historical notes. The most sought-after purchase of 1996 was a sumptuously packaged, six-disc collection of trumpeter Miles Davis's historic orchestral collaborations with the Canadian arranger Gil Evans - the jazz world's answer, if you like, to the great Frank Sinatra-Nelson Riple swinging sessions in the 1950s. Not content with reissuing the original albums - including the sublime version of Porgy and Bess - accompanied by three extensive essays, Columbia Records also threw in fragments of overdubbed solos, rehearsal sequences, and desultory studio conversation. To some skeptics it was a case of corporate overkill, but for Davis's many admirers, the box set was the next best thing to entering a time machine and sitting in a corner at the recording sessions themselves. More Davis memorabilia are due to follow.
Other record companies, taking their cue from the extraordinary success of Columbia's 1990 retrospective devoted to the blues guitarist Robert Johnson - which sold in excess of 300,000 copies - have plunged into the box set business. The Atlantic/Rhino Records tribute to John Coltrane, aptly entitled The Heavyweight Champion, outweighs even the Davis set, devoting no fewer than seven discs to a mere 18-month phase in the prolific saxophonist's career. Another recent arrival, on the Blue Note label, is an effervescent, four-disc compilation of traditional music, Hot Jazz on Blue Note, performed by the likes of Sidney Bechet, George Lewis, and Bunk Johnson. These fascinating recordings from the 1940s and '50s were reissued under the aegis of America's Jazz Heritage, a program organized by the Smithsonian Institution and the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Foundation. The foundation is also investing several million dollars in jazz programs run by Lincoln Center and National Public Radio, music databases, and a fledgling touring and recording network.
If America's inheritance seems in safe hands at last, the contemporary agenda looks rather more ambiguous. Identifying a modern classic, the 1990s equivalent of, say, Miles Davis's 1959 masterpiece Kind of Blue, is difficult. Plenty of interesting albums are still being made, but none that herald any dramatic advance beyond what has gone before. What are we to make of the fact that perhaps the most publicized album of last year was the soundtrack of Robert Altman's film Kansas City - swing music played by Joshua Redman, James Carter, and other young saxophonists in fedoras and baggy suits, all doing a wonderful job of pretending to be Ben Webster and Coleman Hawkins?
The problem, some would contend, is that renovation and restoration are not sufficient on their own. According to this view, we are simply witnessing the repackaging of a dynamic art form as little more than a collection of museum pieces, a sanitized theme park bereft of that critical element of spontaneous inspiration - what New Yorker jazz critic Whitney Balliett famously described as "the sound of surprise." Even among those who abhor the prolixity of John Coltrane's "sheets of sound" solos - frenzied epics of improvisation that could last for 30 minutes or more - it is generally agreed that the tenor saxophonist remains the last major innovator. The 30th anniversary of his death, this coming July, will no doubt be marked by another bout of reissues. Yet if nobody has taken his place after three decades, so the argument runs, then Jazz can hardly hope to compete with an all-pervasive rock culture, the musical equivalent of McDonald's, or the exotic temptations of so-called world music.
The respected critic Francis Davis summarized the concerns of many observers in a provocative essay in the Atlantic Monthly last July. Noting the record industry's propensity to seize upon the latest youthful talent at the expense of older and more expressive artists, Davis complained that the musicians who have been receiving the most attention over the last decade or so - the so-called young lions - lack the individuality of authentic leaders: "There are no Thelonious Monks or Ornette Colemans in this bunch - no innovators or woolly eccentrics among those we've heard from so far. In setting craftsmanship as their highest goal these neophytes remind me of such second-tier stars of the Fifties and Sixties as Blue Mitchell and Wynton Kelly - players whose modesty and good taste made them ideal sidemen but whose own record dates invariably lacked the dark corners and disfigurements of character that separate great music from merely good."
In a subsequent interview, Davis made a particularly striking observation. Whereas critics have historically been cast in the role of guardians of the canon, sternly measuring new works against the timeless standards of the old, their role has now been reversed, he pointed out. Now it seems to be the musicians who are most interested in clinging to tradition, while critics chafe at the perceived dearth of fresh, adventurous voices.
Who is the new Miles, the new Charlie Parker? After all, the history of jazz traditionally has been presented as a series of Great Leaps Forward initiated by towering individualists: the urbane New Orleans polyphony of the pianist and bandleader Jelly Roll Morton gave way to soloist-led, small-group music championed by Louis Armstrong; Basie, Benny Goodman, and the swing bands then took center stage before being supplanted after World War II by Dizzy Gillespie and the beboppers. Frustrated with the predictable harmonic framework of bop, Ornette Coleman and Coltrane led their followers into the inhospitable, atonal realm of Free Jazz during the 1960s, while another faction headed by Miles Davis headed for the broader - and much more lucrative - pastures of jazz-rock, otherwise known as fusion music. Bearing in mind that the first jazz record, Livery Stable Blues, by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, was made in 1917, and that the first waves of the avant-guard crashed into the public's consciousness by the end of the 1950s, the pace of change has been astonishingly rapid. The novelist Kingsley Amis, an aficionado of the raucous speakeasy music of the 1920s and '30s, spoke for many a bewildered member of the old guard when he reflected on his lost love in his Memoirs: "Good going in a sense, to have got from Monteverdi to John Cage in - what? Forty years? The Hot Five to Ornette Coleman? Nothing makes me feel more thoroughly old than to realize that there is nothing but a bloody great hole where quite an important part of my life once was. I mean, poetry, the novel and much more besides have gone off all right, but they have not vanished (except as it might be for pastiches of bygone writers)."
The 1970s were, it is fair to say, the bleakest period of all. (Given the quadruple blight of rock "supergroups," disco, punk, and Andrew Lloyd Webber, it was hardly the brightest era for popular music in general.) The following decade saw the rise of what has been called a "neoclassical" movement, a school of twentysomething, conservatory-trained musicians who have sought to counteract what they saw as the lowering of standards wrought by both the self-indulgences of the avant-garde and the crowd-pleasing posturing of the jazz-rockers.
Wynton Marsalis, a trumpeter born in Louis Armstrong's native New Orleans, emerged as the unchallenged figurehead of this austere, high-minded band of suit-and-tie revivalists. Beginning with frighteningly precise evocations of the Miles Davis Quintet, circa 1964, Marsalis has worked his way back through canon, trying his hand at olde-worlde New Orleans and the sleeker lines of Ellington's big band scores. As a star of Columbia's roster and artistic director of the fast-expanding jazz repertory program at Lincoln Center, Marsalis is now, at 35, the most influential figure in world jazz. By last summer Time was listing him, with a touch of hyperbole, as one of "America's 25 Most Influential People." Hailed in a Washington Post profile, with the faintest hint of sarcasm, as "the Leonard Bernstein of jazz," Marsalis has led a frenetic one-man campaign to restore the music to its former prominence in American culture. Thanks to an extended series of albums, tours, television appearances, and high school clinics - and above all through a mixture of revivals and new works presented at Lincoln Center - he has become inextricably linked with the notion of jazz as an indigenous classical music.
The link between the classical and jazz traditions has been a thread running through Marsalis's career. When he signed with Columbia in the early 1980s, he made a point of dividing his energies between the classics and recordings by which his group (which at the time featured his elder brother, Branford, on saxophone). In 1984, he became the first musician to win Grammy awards in both the classical and jazz categories. Indeed, the disc that brought him the classical accolade - a performance of the Haydn, Hummel, and Joseph Haydn trumpet concertos - finds him playing with more abandon and exuberance than can be found on any of his early jazz albums.
Marsalis subsequently retreated from classical concerts. However, he returned to a Lincoln Center touring program that included Stravinsky's L'Histoire du Soldat. Meanwhile, with his Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra in tow, he has launched a major international tour, presenting his composition Blood on the Fields, an oratorio inspired by the history of slavery in the United States. Plans for the 1997-98 season, unveiled in January, include a celebration of Cuban jazz and concerts marking the birthdays of Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk, as well as the centenary of Sidney Bechet.
Marsalis's eminence as a classical interpreter is unquestioned. But his pronouncements on musical tradition and his activist role in New York have aroused resentment among performers and critics alike. Even in a domain renowned for its petty internecine warfare - jazz has endured almost as many sectarian disputes as the average Trotskyite sect - the controversy surrounding the man who would be trumpet king has been unusually acrimonious.
The issue of race has stirred the most rancor. In short, Marsalis and his advisors (who include the outspoken critic and polemicist Stanley Crouch) have been accused of indulging in "Crow Jim" - a term minted in the 1940s by critic and composer Leonard Feather to describe reverse racism. By 1993, there were repeated rumblings that the programming at Lincoln Center consistently neglected the legacy of white performers such as Bill Evans and Benny Goodman, and that too many of the new commissions stayed in the hands of Marsalis himself or his inner circle of friends. Marsalis consistently denied any improprieties, but the fact that, during a television interview, he once referred to control of the music industry being wielded by "people who read the Torah and stuff" hardly helped his cause. The combative writings and remarks of Stanley Crouch, who routinely supplies manifestolike liner notes for Marsalis's records, and claims to have provided him with a grounding in jazz history and literature, have inflamed matters further.
Marsalis can usually count on a favorable (some would say, fawning) press in New York, but as one newspaper commentary followed another, matters came to a head in the summer of 1994, when he challenged one of his principal antagonists, the writer and historian James Lincoln Collier, to a public debate. The immediate cause of what amounted to a bare-knuckles fight was a letter Marsalis wrote to the New York Times Book Review in response to a positive review (by the British journalist Russell Davies) of Collier's latest book, Jazz: The American Theme Song (1993), a collection of highly readable essays.
Collier combines an interest in social commentary with a passion for the trombone that he indulges in lunchtime Dixieland sessions at a Cajun restaurant on New York's Eighth Avenue. In 1978 he published The Making of Jazz, which remains one of the best single-volume surveys of the subject. As his friends would agree, he also relishes an old-fashioned set-to. It therefore did not come as a complete surprise that, in an intriguing chapter on racial divisions in his book, he took a swipe at Lincoln Center for its decision to "turn to blacks as authorities on the music simply because they are black." Not content to rest there, Collier followed up with a chapter devoted to the inadequacies of critics which included a blunt attack on Stanley Crouch.
The Marsalis-Collier bout, held at Lincoln Center in front of an audience mostly predisposed to favor the trumpeter, proved to be as entertaining as any concert. Fighting on his own turf, with the venue's audio-visual resources at his disposal, Marsalis was obviously looking forward to administering what he promised in his opening remarks would be a "whipping." Some newspaper accounts agreed that Collier was "trounced," but although Marsalis scored numerous points by noting technical inaccuracies in the author's controversial and unflattering 1987 biography of Duke Ellington, the older man appeared the superior debater. Some members of the audience, hissing at his remarks and occasionally trying to shout him down, had clearly come with the intention of taking part in a politically correct public execution. Collier cheated them out of that dubious pleasure.
It was an ugly but undeniably entertaining occasion from which Marsalis emerged with less dignity than his opponent. For all the theatrics, though, it would be a mistake to overestimate the significance of the various Lincoln Center skirmishes. In some respects this was a classic New York insiders' story of large egos battling in an enclosed space. Some of the resentment directed at Marsalis arises from a perennial problem: the city plays host to too many dedicated, poorly paid musicians chasing too little work. Besides, Marsalis and his repertory formula are just one segment of the fractured mosaic of international jazz, which ranges from the ephemeral dance-floor rhythms of the fusion style called "acid jazz" to the stark, New Age ambiance of recordings on the German ECM label, or the vibrant South African township rhythms of the pianist Abdullah Ibrahim.
Marsalis's record sales, it should be aped, have also been in decline - partly because he has issued too much honorable but undistinguished material. The sprawling, double-album "sacred" suite, In This House, On This Morning, was a case in point, a distinct anti-climax after the vigor of another two-disc set, Citi Movement, a hyperkinetic score composed for the choreographer Garth Fagan. Like George Eliot's Mr. Casubon, Marsalis has long seemed to be burrowing his way toward a magnum opus. He has not reached it yet - Casubon never did - and the New Orleans prodigy has reached an age at which many musicians find their best work is already behind them.
Cynics who believe he never will create anything as inspired as the music of the masters he so admires should also ask themselves where jazz would be without his high-profile campaigning. Moreover, from his bully pulpit on Manhattan's Upper West Side, he is making important points about the health of popular music. (And he is listened to with greater respect than any critic: through his ex cathedra comments, his endorsements of other performers, his media appearances, and his dispensing of commissions, he has robbed the critical fraternity of a good deal of its power.)
Marsalis's basic argument - one with which I sympathize - is that popular music has for some time been subject to an ever-accelerating process of infantilization, epitomized by the irresistible rise of Michael Jackson and Madonna. Jazz musicians, he insists, have a duty to resist the erosions of standards rather than contribute to the pace of "dumbing down" in music. Many column inches have been devoted to Marsalis's weary denunciation of rap music; as he pointed out in an interview, the genre is only one symptom of a malaise: "My feelings are not just about rap, but about the whole direction of American popular music. Once it switched from an adult base to an adolescent base, that was a major step backwards. Pop music used to be adult music, with adult sensibilities. But since pop made that switch to an adolescent base, it has never been able to return, as music, to what it was. And I guess it's understandable, because in terms of commerciality, it becomes more successful every year."
Marsalis and Crouch confirm that jazz can flourish only if new generations of musicians, students, and audiences are introduced to the treasures of the past and learn from them - just as the classical listener learns to appreciate Bach or Mahler. Hence the need for the Lincoln Center program and similar projects at Carnegie Hall and the Smithsonian, where the saxophonist and arranger Bob Wilber (who skillfully recreated the sound of the Ellington band on Francis Ford Cappola's 1984 film The Cotton Club ) founded a repertory group nearly 20 years ago.
The objection is often raised that the unfettered spirit of jazz withers away in the formal setting of a concert hall. My own experience is that sitting in the best seat at Avery Fisher Hall or London's Royal Festival Hall is no substitute for the ultimate acoustics of a club. Yet it would also be foolish to ignore the resources made available by institutions such as Lincoln Center. Repertory music, with all its copyists and rehearsals, does not come cheap. The ultimate implication of all this is that the tradition has in fact reached a terminus of sorts: as Marsalis has expressed it, an adult evolves and grows more slowly than a six-year old. Interestingly, his archenemy Collier arrived at a very similar conclusion in his epilogue to The Making Of Jazz - published, remember, two decades ago: "We have to divest ourselves of the idea that the history of jazz has always been toward better and better. In no art has this ever been the case....Jazz has always been obsessed with the new, with experimentation, and the result has been that it has rarely paused to exploit its discoveries before leaping out to make fresh ones.... Jazz needs , at the moment, a respite from experiments. It needs time to consolidate the gains, to go back and re-examine what is there. There is enough work left undone to last many lifetimes."
Of course, the strategy carries risk. Too much church-like solemnity, too many overblown pseudoclassical suites, too much reverence for old standards, could well alienate new listeners. Yet, in view of how much damage the worst excesses of fusion and the avant-guard have caused over the past quarter-century, the gamble is worth taking. Who knows, we may also be witnessing the beginnings of a return to an emphasis on arranger-led music rather than music structured around the supposedly superhuman faculties of the soloist.
Certainly, the neoclassical reaction has produced an over-emphasis on technique for its own sake (a problem compounded by the narrow, homogenized curricula of many music schools). But in new arrivals such as Joshua Redman and the percussionist Leon Parker it is possible to detect musicians who put emotion and that indefinable quality we call "soul" ahead of merely following the rules. Just as encouraging is the flourishing of a clutch of young vocalists - chief among them the superb Canadian singer-pianist Diana Krall - who are reminding us of the simplicities and virtues of unadulterated melody.
To wish for a return of Louis Armstrong or Count Basie's original, raw Kansas City orchestra is to long for the magical return of a combination of social conditions that have gone forever. Even at the height of the swing era, in the 1930s, when big bands embodied the popular music of the day, the amount of interesting music being played was relatively small: what most people enjoyed was dance tunes tinged with the jazz idiom. For better or worse, bebop's coterie aesthetic severed those fragile ties with the mainstream; henceforth, jazz tended to be produced and discussed as a branch of "art music." If the music faces a crisis of confidence today, it is not too different from the predicament that confronts so many of the arts in this febrile era of postmodernism. Are the novel or the visual arts in a much better state? Can the cinema be in the best of health when the film-school antics of Quentin Tarantino are the height of fashion?
If jazz has been pushed further toward the margins, that is the fate it shares with classical music and other art forms. As MTV culture seeps deeper into the social fabric, embracing the baby boomers as well as their children, cultural horizons shrink further. When I opened my newspaper this morning, I read another article reporting the calamitous fall in classical music sales. The business section, by contrast, announced that the rock singer David Bowie had collected $55 million from the issue of bonds on future royalty payments on his music. You do not have to be as pessimistic as Allan Bloom to detect a connection there.
- SEEING THINGS AS THEY REALLY ARE
Some predictions from the very foresightful Peter Drucker
By Robert Lenzner and Stephen S. Johnson
May / June 1997
Cover Stories / Click On Cover To See Issue
- WHAT SApAM LEARNED FROM BILL CLINTON
- CHINA: READY TO FACE THE WORLD
THE ECONOMIST (LONDON)
- THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO GREENSPAN
THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO GREENSPAN
From "Central Bankism," by Edward Luttwak
The London Review of Books.
A fanatical religion has swept the United States and Europe in recent years: central bankism. Its high priests, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and his European counterparts, believe in a devil and are dedicated to the struggle against it--in this case, inflation. Common sense suffices to oppose high inflation and to fear hyperinflation as the death of currencies, but it takes the absolute faith of religion to refuse even very moderate inflation at the cost of slow economic growth for years on end, as in the United States.
Like many religions, central bankism has its sanctuaries, and these inspire as much awe as any great cathedral--from the majestic Bank of England to the Greek temples of the Federal Reserve in Washington, fro m the solidity of the Banque de France to the massive modernity of Germany's Bundesbank. In these sanctuaries the pontiffs constantly strive to assert their independence from secular politicians, mere mortals voted in and out of office by the ignorant masses. Although, like other public officials, they receive their salaries from the taxpayers, central bankers claim the right to ignore the public will. They invariably remain in office for terms of papal length often prematurely renewed for fear of disturbing financial markets. And when these high priests do at last retire, they are frequently elevated to financial sainthood, their every fleeting opinion reverentially treasured, their candidacy for any position of special trust eagerly accepted, their very names talismanic, as with Paul Volker on Wall Street and far beyond.
Because their power derives largely from their supreme command of the crusade against the devil of inflation, central bankers naturally see his insidious presence everywhere. Very often, they detect "disturbing signs of incipient inflation," or even "alarming warnings of mounting inflationary pressure" in output, employment, and wage statistics that many respected economists view with equanimity or find downright reassuring. True, every time new statistical indicators are published, there are calls from some quarters for slightly lower interest rates to achieve a bit more growth, but such outbreaks of heresy are easily quashed by the high priests.
Simple, definitive proof of the doctrinal supremacy of central bankism can be found in the fact that any policy initiative branded as "inflationary" is usually rejected out of hand. Although it is occasionally used as a purely technical term to express falling prices, deflation might more properly be used to describe what the central bankers have given us: overrestrictive fiscal and monetary policies that strangle growth, policies that in the 1930s brought about the Great Depression, political chaos, dictatorship, and war. Inflation hits the instrument of money while deflation has an immediate impact on people, denying them the opportunity to work and earn, and to buy goods and services, which would allow others to work and earn. Indeed, in the United States central bankism has resulted in falling real wages; although unemployment at the end of 1966 remained at 5.3 percent, more than half of all American jobs pay less now in constant dollars than they did twenty years ago. No wonder, as President Clinton keeps boasting, millions of new jobs keep being created (a quarter of a million were created last December alone): American labor is so cheap.
Of course, it is true that real incomes and real wealth cannot be created by printing money, that inflation hurts the poor disproportionately as well as rich bondholders and everyone who lives on a fixed income. Inflation benefits smart speculators and all who are already wealthy enough to own real estate and other marketable assets. It is also true that, if unchecked, inflation naturally accelerates into hyperinflation, which not only destroys currencies but also degrades economic efficiency--as people run to spend their suitcases full of bank notes instead of working--and may even wreck the entire financial structure of a society.
Inflation, then, is bad; and hyperinflation very bad indeed. But it is just as true that deflation is bad and that hyperdeflation is disastrous. In economic theory, deflation should have no consequences at all, because any upward movement in the value of money (i.e., falling prices) can by nullified by a compensating reduction in wages. In practice, however, prices resist going down, and very few employees anywhere at any time accept wage cuts without the most bitter resistance--even in the United States, with its mass immigration, increasingly unfavorable labor market, and weak unions. Contrary to theory, then, deflation starves economies; with deflation, moreover, people feel poorer and spend less simply because the nominal value of their houses and other assets is falling. Inflation and deflation should therefore be viewed as equally objectionable; they should resound in our ears as equivalent evils, like flood and drought. It is the greatest triumph of central bankism that only inflation is viewed as sinful.
How did the ascendance of the central bankers come about? How did the employees of one public institution assume a priestly status, becoming more powerful in many ways than prime ministers or presidents? One heard very little about them in the three postwar decades of rapid economic growth, sharply rising incomes, and widening prosperity. Only during the Thirties, not coincidentally the years of the Great Depression, were they as prominent as they are now. A world in crisis followed with bated breath every pronouncement from the lips of the Bank of England's Montagu Norman, Germany's Hjalmar Schacht, and their lesser colleagues on both sides of the Atlantic. With tragic consequences for millions of American families , and far more terrible repercussions in Europe, governments almost everywhere accepted the central bankers' remedy for the Depression, which was to deflate, deflate, deflate, by cutting public spending and restricting credit. One result was that Hitler's rise to power was accelerated by mass unemployment.
We now know that central bankers were completely wrong. The only way to refloat the sinking economies of the Thirties was to start the chain reaction of demand by sharply increasing government spending, and never mind a bit of inflation. Had the big boys of the world economy led the way, by inflating and by importing first, to generate more demand for their own exports, everyone would have come out just fine. But only a few adventurous souls, and only one reputable economist, John Maynard Keynes, dared to contradict what seemed to be common sense, and even they were hesitant. The central bankers, by contrast, were utterly certain that they were right, just as they are now; and they gave exactly the same advice that they are giving now, the only advice central bankers ever give: tighten credit, restrict spending, hold back demand.
Another reason for the rise of central bankism as the prevailing wisdom of the age is institutional: while the value of money is protected with fierce determination by the central bankers, industry and labor have no such exalted defenders, only mere governments and parliaments now greatly inhibited by the decrees of central bankism.
Like all religions, central bankism demands sacrifices from the faithful. Catholics, Jews, and Muslims have it rather easy by comparison: central bankism resembles the Aztec faith in its demands for human sacrifice. So far, we have yet to see central bankers climb pyramids to cut out the palpitating hearts of young men and virgins with obsidian knives, but not a single one of them hesitates to impose levels of unemployment that year after year deprive millions of young people of the opportunity even to start a career. Indeed, the central bankers have all the moral certitude of the Aztec priests. Gathered together last August with their host Alan Greenspan, in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, the central bankers congratulated themselves at length on their success in reducing inflation by keeping real estate rates high; they did not pause to deplore miserable growth rates for the G7 countries (the United States, Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan) average out at 1.8 percent, which guarantees rising unemployment simply because the size of the labor force and its productivity are increasing somewhat faster. Still, in Jackson Hole the central bankers competed for the prize of calling for the lowest inflation rate.
France was the surprise winner of this deflation Olympics. Untroubled by an economy not merely stagnant but in rigor mortis, with a level of unemployment--above 12 percent-- unseen since the Great Depression, the French were enormously proud of their amazingly low 1.3 percent inflation rate, a full 0.2 percent below Germany's! It was as if the defeats of 1870 and 1940 had been undone.
Indeed, there was heady talk of ascending to the paradise of central bankism: a zero inflation rate. It would only be a matter of eliminating budget deficits by scrapping more welfare programs, and of maintaining interest-rate discipline, orders easily handed down from the magnificent heights of Jackson Hole to the vulgar crowd of Europe's 18 million unemployed.
As for Alan Greenspan, he has nothing whatsoever to worry about, because in the United States, slow growth (just over 2 percent annually), a 5 percent unemployment rate, and falling wages are all now accepted as perfectly normal, or even as good news. The stage has been reached in which any spurt of faster growth, any fall in unemployment, is very bad news indeed for Wall Street and for all of us, because it will only lead the Federal Reserve to increase interest rates in order to "cool down the economy."
In fact, nobody knows the exact rate of unemployment below which wages start rising, pushing prices upward. Economists continue to debate the issue, but the Fed takes no chances, Greenspan invariably errs on the side of caution: a million people can lose their jobs because higher interest rates might, perhaps, keep inflation at one-tenth of one percent below what it might have been. In the name of the holy struggle against inflation, the central bankers decree, the public must sacrifice.
Luttwak is a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. His essay "The Miple-Class Backlash" appeared in the January 1996 issue of Harper's Magazine.
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Deadly Crossroads: Farrakhan's Rise And Malcolm X's Fall
Three decades of Malcolm X's assassination, his spirit was vibrantly alive at the Million Man March.
By Karl Evanzz
The Washington Post
FOR LOUIS Farrakhan, the success of the Million Man March vindicated his vision of black solidarity. But as the Nation of Islam leader looked out at the vast crowd in October, he could not have failed to notice that the spirit of his once-hated but now martyred mentor, Malcolm X, was everywhere. From the dais, speakers invoked Malcolm's name; in the crowd, men wore T-shirts, baseball caps and buttons bearing his likeness.
The living presence of Malcolm X at Farrakhan's moment of triumph was a reminder of the bitter battle three decades ago when Farrakhan flaunted his hatred of Malcolm X and his loyalty to Elijah Muhammad, the co-founder of the Nation of Islam. It was also a reminder that any understanding of Farrakhan's leadership role today must be grounded in the little-known history of his role in the events leading up to Malcolm X's murder in a Harlem auditorium on Feb. 21, 1965.
Last May, Farrakhan appeared on stage with Malcolm X's widow, Betty Shabazz, at the Apollo Theater in New York for a public reconciliation.
"Our zeal, our love and hatred, our ignorance was manipulated by powerful outside forces," Farrakhan said of the events 30 years ago, referring to government infiltration and surveillance of his organization, "and the result is that members of the Nation of Islam were involved in the assassination of Malcolm X . . . . We cannot deny whatever our part was. That is true, but we must not let the real culprit get away," meaning the U.S. government. But were Farrakhan and other Nation of Islam leaders who hated Malcolm X really "manipulated by outside forcesË›? What was their "part" that they cannot deny?
Between 1978 and 1992, I made numerous requests to Farrakhan for an interview about the death of Malcolm X; all were rebuffed. Farrakhan's view is that such questions are irrelevant in light of the government's illegal spying on Malcolm X and Martin Luther King --- evidence, he says, of an ongoing government conspiracy against African American leaders, including himself.
"With this history of the government's treatment of blacks," declared an editorial last February in The Final Call, the Nation of Islam newspaper, "our community should not get sidetracked into the non-issue of whether Min. Farrakhan was involved in the murder of Malcolm X. He was not. Neither the media nor the government implicated him some 30 years ago, so why are they trying to implicate him now?"
There is no evidence that Farrakhan was involved in the plans to assassinate Malcolm X, but he did play a central role in creating the poisonous atmosphere within the leadership circle of the Nation of Islam that others say encouraged them to gun down the fiery nationalist orator. In 1955, a young calypso singer in Boston named Louis Walcott became a disciple of Malcolm X, a reformed thief turned theoretician for the Nation of Islam. The Nation was then a separatist sect with mosques in a few northern cities. After forsaking his entertainment career at Malcolm X's insistence, Walcott became "Louis X" and was appointed minister of the group's new mosque in Boston. In the late 1960s, Louis X took on a new name: Louis Farrakhan.
Meanwhile, Malcolm X's constant travel, keen intelligence and charisma were winning the Nation of Islam a growing following in black communities around the country. Unlike Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm was capable of attracting not just poor black followers but working-class and miple-class people. As head of the Nation's Harlem mosque, he gained national prominence in the late 1950s as a self-proclaimed nightmare for all white people and a caustic critic of more moderate black leaders. Eventually, though, Malcolm's independence and uncompromising integrity came to be seen as a threat by Elijah Muhammad and his most loyal followers --- among them Farrakhan.
On Dec. 2, 1963, Muhammad suspended Malcolm X for violating his order to Nation of Islam members not to comment publicly on the assassination of President Kennedy 10 days earlier. In a New York appearance the day before, Malcolm had described the assassination as God's punishment of America for the CIA's alleged role in assassinating the leaders of Third World nations. "It's a case of the chickens coming home to roost," he said.
In early 1964, the split deepened. While Malcolm struck out on his own, attempting to formulate his own political philosophy and launch his own movement, Elijah Muhammad began grooming Farrakhan to replace Malcolm X as head of the Harlem mosque.
All the while, the FBI was listening in. The FBI had begun keeping tabs on Muhammad and the Nation of Islam in the 1940s, after discovering that the sect was affiliated with Japanese radical expatriates in Detroit. The full scope of the FBI surveillance wasn't made public until the early 1980s when the FBI responded to my Freedom of Information Act requests. Since then, more than 15,000 pages of documents on Malcolm X have been declassified, as have 3,000 pages about Elijah Muhammad.
These documents provide a reliable portrait of the inner workings of the Nation of Islam at that time --- and raise questions that Louis Farrakhan (or his biographers) will someday have to answer.
On March 8, 1964 -- the day Malcolm X publicly declared his independence from the Nation of Islam -- Muhammad called Farrakhan and broached the idea of evicting Malcolm from a residence in Queens owned by the Nation of Islam, according to an FBI wiretap summary. Once Malcolm was out, Muhammad said, the house would be given to Farrakhan.
On March 19, the FBI recorded a call from Elijah Muhammad to a man identified as "Minister Louis X of Boston" during which Muhammad said that Malcolm had to be silenced before he revealed too many scandalous secrets. Malcolm had told reporters that Muhammad had many illegitimate children by a number of his former personal teenage secretaries. "Elijah said the only way to stop him was to get rid of him the way Moses and the others did their bad ones," the wiretap summary stated. "Elijah said you have to make an example out of the bad ones."
The conclusion of their conversation left little room for doubt about what Muhammad wanted: "Elijah stated that with these hypocrites, when you find them cut their heads off." The available FBI documents do not report any reaction to this idea on Farrakhan's part. In September 1964, Muhammad summoned a select squadron of followers to a secret meeting in Chicago. According to an FBI document, approximately 200 men were present.
"Elijah Muhammad spoke for seven and one-half hours . . . ," the FBI report noted. "He said that Malcolm X Little was the greatest hypocrite and must be stopped at all costs. Other hypocrites were to be taken care of, either by beatings or killings, but it was to be done carefully when there were no witnesses so that there would be no repercussions with the police."
By then, Malcolm had returned from his now-famous trip to Africa and Mecca where meetings with friendly, fair-skinned Muslims prompted him to rethink the Nation of Islam's doctrine that whites were inherently evil. And he was busy establishing a religious group called Muslim Mosque Inc., intended to re-educate blacks misled by Muhammad's version of Islam.
"If any Muslim backed a fool like Malcolm in building a mosque, he would be a fool himself," Farrkhan responded, under the byline "Minister Lewis," in the Dec. 4, 1964, issue of Muhammed Speaks. "Only those who wish to be led to hell, or to their doom, will follow Malcolm. The die is set, and Malcolm shall not escape Š Such a man as Malcolm is worthy of death."
Within weeks Leon 4X Ameer, a former Boston colleague of Farrakhan who quit the Nation of Islam to join Malcolm's new group, learned the price of disloyalty. Accused of stealing $600 from the New Haven mosque, he was savagely beaten in a Boston hotel room on Christmas Eve, 1964. He would have died if a police officer seeking him on criminal charges related to the alleged theft hadn't happened by and discovered him drowning in blood in the bathroom. Ameer, according to a statement he later gave the FBI, then requested a hearing with Farrakhan to inquire as to why he was beaten. When he went to the Harlem mosque on Jan. 5, 1965, he was greeted by high-ranking officers from the Harlem and Newark mosques and two notorious enforcers for the Nation of Islam, Thomas 15X Johnson and Norman 3X Butler. The nervous Ameer asked why Farrakhan wasn't there but the two enforcers were. He was informed that Johnson and Butler were there to take care of another "traitor" who had established a rival mosque near the one in Harlem. Farrakhan phoned and said he couldn't make the meeting; Ameer was dismissed and returned to Boston.
Ameer later learned that less than an hour after the meeting, the founder of the rival mosque, a man named Benjamin Brown, was shot in the chest at point-blank range. Johnson and Butler were arrested for the shooting. (These charges were later dropped.)
Six weeks later, on Feb. 21, 1965, Malcolm X was scheduled to make an appearance at the Audubon Ballroom on 125th Street in New York. As Malcolm began to speak, an altercation broke out in the front row. When Malcolm attempted to intervene, several men pulled out guns and shot him a total of 16 times. One of the assailants, Talmage Hayer, was wounded by one of Malcolm's bodyguards and captured on the spot. The other gunmen escaped.
Malcolm X was pronounced dead less than an hour later.
A few days later, Thomas 15X Johnson and Norman 3X Butler were arrested and charged with Malcolm's murder. At their trial in 1966, Hayer admitted he was one of the killers; Johnson and Butler denied the charges. But many eyewitnesses from the Audubon Ballroom identified them as the gunmen. All three men were convicted and sentenced to life terms in prison.
And where was Louis Farrakhan at the time? He was, he told reporters at the time, at Mosque No. 25 in Newark.
Farrakhan had gotten an early start that day, according to information gathered after the assassination by agents in the FBI's Boston field office.
"Boston has not been able to establish the whereabouts of [Minister Louis X Farrakhan] on Feb. 21, beyond the fact [he] was reported to have left his [Boston] residence at 1:30 a.m. on the morning of Feb. 21, 1965, and was seen driving off in his automobile. He was not present at the services of Muhammad's Temple of Islam [in Boston] on the afternoon of Feb. 21, 1965."
When asked about his appearance in Newark, Farrakhan told reporters that he went there as part of his regularly scheduled ministerial responsibilities. But on April 1, 1965, FBI agents said that none of the dozens of members of the Boston mosque whom they had interviewed knew where Farrakhan was on Feb. 21.
Hayer, one of the assassins, taught karate at the Newark mosque. In an affidavit filed on appeal in the 1970s, Hayer said for the first time that he and other assassins had traveled from the Newark mosque to Harlem on the morning of the assassination.
The three men convicted of murdering Malcolm have been released from prison and all have given interviews. None has implicated Louis Farrakhan or Elijah Muhammad in the planning, the timing or the execution of the assassination plot. No specific order was necessary, they say. Once Malcolm --- or anyone else --- had been denounced as a "devil," a traitor to the Nation of Islam, they say it was their duty to take appropriate action.
"Malcolm X was a dead man the minute he told the media about the Honorable Elijah Muhammad's personal life," Johnson told me, referring to Muhammad's extramarital affairs. "From that day forward it was just a matter of time."
Farrakhan's most candid discussion of Malcolm X came on Feb. 26, 1993, when he apressed 20,000 supporters in Chicago. His sermon that night differed from his remarks at the Apollo Theater last May. They showed little regret about Malcolm's murder 28 years earlier, revealing an angry, and some would say jealous, side of his personality.
"I loved Elijah Muhammad enough so I would kill you Š yesterday, today, and tomorrow," Farrakhan told the crowd. "We don't give a damn about no white man's laws when you attack what we love."
The sermon, which is now sold on audio-cassette and videotape at Nation of Islam stores, was delivered shortly after the release of "X," Spike Lee's epic film. Farrakhan denounced the movie as a white effort to appropriate the memory of the black leader.
"Was Malcolm your traitor or ours?" he asked rhetorically. "And if we dealt with him like a nation deals with traitors, what the hell business is it of yours?"
Now that Farrakhan is a national leader capable of galvanizing the black people everywhere, it is everybody's business.
© 1995 The Washington Post. Reprinted with permission by The Washington Post News Service
Karl Evanzz, the author of The Judas Factor: The Plot to Kill Malcolm X, is writing a book about the rise and fall of the Nation of Islam. He is an on-line editor at The Washington Post.
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