Thursday, February 3, 2011

#7: The Money and the Power: The Making of Las Vegas and Its Hold on America by Sally Denton and Roger Morris

The rationale behind this text is expressed in full on page 12: "In an America so widely dominated by corporate and individual wealth, the Strip's once disreputable Mob ethic of exploitation and greed has become in large measure a national ethic."

This ethic is not limited to the Mob. Ask a slave on a plantation in 1840s Alabama if he or she is being exploited. Ask a breaker boy at a coal field in West Virginia in 1895 if he was being exploited. Exploitation has always been present in the U.S. The crucial difference is, as my late brother would say, "In Vegas, money spends no matter who brought it. If you can afford it, you can have it." In the 1950s and 1960s, this was not true in Vegas as black entertainers and gamblers were not welcome to stay at the mob-owned business like the Tropicana and the Frontier. In Glitter Gulch downtown, they would be thrown out by bouncers. I learned more about the mob roots of Vegas from this text than any other source, and found it utterly captivating. By and large, the following rules apply:
1. Money talks, Bullshit walks
2. It's not what you know, it's who you know
3. Those who don't know speak, those who know keep their mouths shut.

These three items seem to be the unifying theme of the text. Examine the Kennedys, for example. According to Denton and Morris, Old Man Kennedy had ties to Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel through the Cal-Neva resort in Tahoe. Joe K's company became the largest importer of Scotch whisky in the U.S. following prohibition through ties he made in the Mob. Joe K had money and lots of it. He also had sons (and lots of them as well). JFK moved into the driver's seat following the death of his older brother in Europe during World War II. The relationship between Frank Sinatra, JFK and Sam Giancana are well known. Giancana was a heavy investor in at least three Vegas casinos, gaming halls in Havana, and the head of the Chicago crime syndicate. JFK was also banging his mistress. A month before he was killed in Vegas, the authors of this text report that JFK was having a threesome in Vegas with prostitutes provided by known mobster Johnny Rosselli. After JFK was killed, Bobby never went after the syndicate. He in fact kept his mouth shut.

One cryptic comment RFK made in conjunction with his brother's murder was this: "I found out something I never knew...I found out my world was not the real world." (255). Of course it wasn't and isn't. Old Man Kennedy knew that. Nixon knew that. Reagan knew that. LBJ knew that. The Kennedy's did not know, and that is why they were gunned down. I think in many ways they wanted to change the relationship between organized crime, politics and corporate interest in a way that frosted the balls of all three groups. Tax crime, limit political donations and cut support for corporate interests. Our world is dominated by people we do not see. Don't worry, I am not dumb enough to think government bureaucrats run the world. That idea is for people who pay attention to Sarah Palin.

The people who run the world are the people behind the blithering Mama Grizzlies like Palin. How do people with the brain wattage of Palin, Romney, Biden, O'Connell, Kerry and the like continue to get elected? Money. As Pete Seeger once sang, "Are leaders are the finest men, and we elect them again and again". What is not so much frightening as "matter of fact" about this text is that the mob and the rich fuckers that own most of the resorts in Vegas literally own politicians. That ownership is not limited to Vegas; in this respect, the "Godfather Part II" is not far off. Politicians need the money to get elected; the people who have the money have needs. Promise to see to those needs, and you get the office.

I do not feel bad in saying this, and do not throw it out in a Marxist fashion. It is simply an extension of money talks and bullshit walks. Both parties are culpable, and it is simply mental masturbation to argue over which is more to blame. My point here is that the evidence collected and put forth in these pages solidified my already rock-solid cynicism of the electoral process and the media in general. Randy Newman wrote in the 1980s "It's Money that Matters." The trade off is power. "In any fair system, they would flourish and thrive." If money does not matter to you, there are plenty of trades for you (teacher, priest, social work, librarian, nurse) that are fulfilling if filled with a soft, warm center of bull shit.

But, we make no money. Hence, we have no entree into the political arena besides bullshit awards, feel good back slaps and "Ohhhh, teachers should make so much more than they do." If you want to know a little bit about what is important in America, read this book.

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