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For The Record  

FTR #434 Triumph of the Shill Part 2, Reichstag Wildfire?

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Introduction: Continuing analysis of the ascension of Arnold Schwarzenegger, this program examines the presentation of his political personality in the context of the manner in which Hitler was marketed to the German people. Central to the discussion is the theoretical consideration of the devastating California wildfires of October, 2003 as a possible terrorist act. Skeptics should not fail to note that the fires were: deliberately set, feared and anticipated by the Democratic administration of Gray Davis, exploited by Schwarzenegger & Co. for political purposes, utilized by the Bush administration to pass forestry legislation that had previously been “log-jammed”[after they ignored prophylactic measures requested by Gray Davis], blamed on environmentalists, located in the district of recall-financier Darrell Issa, and centered largely in Native American reservations. (Schwarzenegger’s campaign targeted Native American gambling interests.) The fires were also seen as a possible economic stimulus to Southern California—a construction boom was predicted as a possible result of the conflagration. Were these fires—in effect—a “Reichstag Wildfire”?! Were they a deliberate, pre-conceived, and politically-motivated act?!

Program Highlights Include: Darrell Issa’s backing of a constitutional amendment that might permit Schwarzenegger to become president; discussion of the cinematography of Leni Riefenstahl; comparison of her techniques with the staging of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s political posing; analysis of an item not included in the original broadcast: the work of Riefenstahl’s associate Luis Trenker; Trenker’s influence on Mountain Films; the appropriation of Mountain Films by the Nazi propaganda apparatus; Trenker’s film “The Kaiser of California.”

1. Beginning with commentary from the BBC’s Alistair Cook, the program sets forth his ruminations on the meaning of the election of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“California spoke last Tuesday and what California said will not be known until we find out whether the recall procedure is an extension of democracy or a mockery of it. One thing we can be sure of already about the electoral landslide in the most populous state in the union (33 millions)—the state whose economy is larger than that of all but four existing nations, the state which time and again has signaled a change in the direction of popular prejudice—is that the rise to its governorship of Arnold Schwarzenegger is not the joke it was in the beginning of the recent headlong campaign of, wait for it, 135 candidates. . .”

“The Election of Arnold Schwarzenegger is not a Joke”; Alistair Cook’s “Letter from America”; BBC Radio; 10/13/2003; accessed at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/letter_from_america/213544.stm .

2.

“ . . . There is, however, a general agreement, irrespective of party, that Schwarzenegger’s landslide was an angry vote against the men, the people in power, who cannot seem to lead us out of our continuing woes—the economy, joblessness, corporate greed—the usual impatience every 3 years or so at not getting the war over by Christmas. In a simpler word, a strong vote against incumbents.”

Idem.

3.

“Some thoughtful, if pessimistic, people see in the Schwarzenegger triumph a darker vision. He has admitted to his early admiration of Hitler, especially of Hitler’s power to rouse a despairing, poverty-stricken people and lead them on to visionary heights. The thing he most admired about Hitler was the ‘fuhrer princip’—the strong leader principle. Schwarzenegger wants to be that strong leader. So we must wait and see whether in the course of his governorship we shall see democracy invigorated or the emergence of the first American fuhrer.”

Idem.

4. As discussed in FTR#429, Schwarzenegger’s meeting with Enron CEO Kenneth Lay in May of 2001 was intended to sidetrack lawsuits by the state of California against the energy companies that had perpetrated the electricity rip-off of the state. This scam was instrumental in the destabilization of California. (For more about this destabilization, see FTR#’s 280, 420.) This program notes that Schwarzenegger apparently has wasted little time in paying-off his political debt to the lords of electricity.

“ . . . The following is just in from journalist Katherine Yurica: ‘Arnold to Settle Lawsuits for Pennies on the Dollar’. The Yurica Report has learned that only three days after Mr. Schwarzenegger won his victory in California, an aide announced that the governor-elect intends to settle pending energy fraud lawsuits. This apparently includes the suit filed by Cruz Bustamante under the California statute, Civil Code section 17200, of the Unfair Practices Act. The purpose of the act ‘is to safeguard the public against the creation or perpetuation of monopolies and to foster and encourage competition’ the Act expressly prohibits, ‘unfair, dishonest, deceptive, destructive, fraudulent and discriminatory practices by which fair and honest competition is destroyed or prevented.’”

“Told ‘ya So: Yurica Report”; Greg Palast; 10/15/2003; p. 1; accessed at www.gregpalast.com .

5.

“According to news talk show host Bernie Ward of KGO radio, San Francisco, who reported the story Friday night on his radio show, (October 10th), Schwarzenegger’s aid stated that the governor-elect’s administration did not want to be saddled with someone else’s lawsuits. The Unfair Practices Act, however, has provisions that require businesses who profit from unfair practices to pay the victims those profits. . . .”

Idem.

6.

“ . . . Mr. Schwarzenegger’s announcement to settle the lawsuits comes on the heels of an article written on the eve of the election by investigative reporter Greg Palast. Palast, whose reports appear on BBC television’s Newsnight, said that the Los Angeles-based Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights uncovered Enron internal memos regarding Mr. Schwarzenegger’s secret meeting in may 2001 with the disgraced CEO of Enron, Kenneth Lay. The intent of the power company, according to Palast, was to sabotage the Davis-Bustamante plan to win back the $9 billion dollars in illegal profits earned by power moguls. The plan has worked so far. Clearly, Mr. Schwarzenegger should be questioned about his actions.”

Ibid.; pp. 1-2.

7. In contrast with Schwarzenegger’s public image as “Mr. Everyman,” he moves quietly and with no quarter given when the cameras are not rolling. Characteristic of this is his decision to have a private investigator look into the charges of sexual harassment lodged against him, instead of having and independent public investigation of the issue. The possibility that his accusers may face retribution for their accusations is not one to be too readily dismissed. (Note in this regard the threatening phone calls made to author Wendy Leigh after she published Arnold: An Unauthorized Biography. This is discussed in FTR#429.)

“Attorney General Bill Lockyer said on a radio talk show Friday that he had been told two days before the Oct. 7 recall election that gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger had done’ terrible things’ to a woman within the past year. . . .”

“Lockyer tells of Harassment Allegation” by Lynda Gledhill and Carla Marinucci; San Francisco Chronicle; 11/8/2003; p. A4.

8.

“ . . . Petracca said the governor-elect’s announced private investigation was a loser for him either way: ‘If (the document) never becomes public, they’ll criticize that. If it is released, regardless of the outcome, there will be criticism. So, no way do you win.’”

Idem.

9. Turning to an examination of the wildfires of late October 2003, the program underscores the fact that these events were crimes—terrorist acts that produced billions of dollars in damages and a score of deaths.

“ . . . Arson is suspected in two fires, the Grand Prix and Old fires in San Bernardino County. The sheriff’s department released a sketch of a man in his early to mid-20’s who was seen driving a light gray van away from where the fire started, on Old Waterman Canyon Road in San Bernardino. The Cedar fire was ignited by a lost hunter’s signal fire. Ventura County officials Wednesday denied earlier reports that a suspect had confessed to starting the Piru fire.”

“Firefighter Dies as Inferno Rages: Still Advancing; 75,000 Evacuated Near Resorts” by Gary Richards, Putsata Reang and Josh Susong; San Jose Mercury News; 10/30/2003; p. 19A.

10. Among the factors that were eclipsed during the coverage of the fires was the fact that Native American reservations were among the areas devastated by the fires. The firs reduced business at gambling casinos on the reservations. These casinos were a rhetorical target of Schwarzenegger’s campaign.

“ . . . There is one group of Californians that was generally overlooked amid the chaos and destruction during the past week American Indians. In San Diego County, 14 Indian reservations revealed how devastating the fires were to 29,000 acres of tribal lands charred by the Cedar and Paradise fires. Only four reservations in the county were unaffected.”

“Crews Take Upper Hand: Big Bear Lake Still Focus of Concern; Help Centers Open by David E. Early, Putsata Reang and Kellie Schmitt; San Jose Mercury News; 11/1/2003; p. 20A.

11. In assessing the fires that heralded Schwarzenegger’s ascension to the governor’s office, it is important to note that California officials foresaw the possibility of the disaster and vainly requested help from the Bush administration. As it did when Gray Davis requested help with the state’s electricity crisis, the Bush administration turned a deaf ear.

“California officials accused the Bush administration Thursday of ignoring urgent pleas months ago for emergency help to remove beetle-infested trees that experts warned could fuel a catastrophic Southern California fire. The US Senate passed controversial legislation Thursday allowing the thinning of forests across the West, and another debate erupted over whether dire warnings about a bark beetle infestation were ignored in Washington. In April, Gov. Gray Davis requested $430 million to remove unhealthy trees on 415,000 acres of forest, but the request for emergency funds went unanswered until last week—and then was denied. . . .”

“State: Bush Ignored Fire Plea” by Robert Salladay and Zachary Coile; San Francisco Chronicle; 10/31/2003; p. A1.

12. Right-wing talk shows (that helped to propel the recall election) wrongly scapegoated environmentalists for the disaster. (Environmentalists are, of course, a frequent target of the Bush administration.)

“For the past week, while Southern California has burned, environmental groups have been pilloried on talk radio. They have received streams of angry e-mail. Columnists have blasted them. As the story goes, tree-huggers blocked logging projects to thin the very forests that are burning. Had they not been so obstructionist, the fire danger would have been reduced, critics say. . .”

“Fire’s Scapegoats: Environmentalists” by Paul Rogers; San Jose Mercury News; 11/2/2003; p. 25A.

13.

“ . . . ‘If you are going to exploit this and blame environmental groups, you need to back up those statements, and so far nobody has been able to do that,’ said Annie Strickler, a representative of the Sierra Club in Washington, D.C. Strickler said years of fire suppression in national forests, combined with the federal and state governments providing insufficient money to thin trees near homes, is the primary culprit. . . .”

Idem.

14.

“ . . . Last week, Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Stockton, issued a press release titled ‘Wake up and Smell the Smoke: Forests Burn in Southern California.’ In it, Pombo, chair of the House Resources Committee, urged Congress to pass President Bush’s ‘Healthy forests Initiative’ to speed thinning. Friday Pombo press officer Brian Kennedy agreed that the environmentalists’ impact on the fires was minor. ‘In fairness, no appeals have come to our attention in Southern California that could offer that the environmental community is responsible for the fires,’ Kennedy said.”

Idem.

15. Interestingly (and, perhaps, significantly) the administration used the fires as a lever to expedite the passage of forestry legislation it (and its corporate allies in the timber industry) had long sought.

“The flames may be finally dying down, but the great California conflagration of 2003 has created urgency for a long smoldering forest management issue—one that President Bush has managed to turn to his advantage. Over the past year, the Bush administration has been pushing a plan called the Healthy Forests Initiative. It would loosen logging strictures on national forests, allowing U.S. forest Service supervisors to approve large-scale thinning projects deemed essential for wildfire risk reduction. Such decisions would be immune to judicial review. The House of Representatives has passed a bill that essentially mirrors the Bush plan. The Senate, led by Dianne Feinstein, passed an alternative bill Thursday that contains many of the provisions of the Bush and House versions . . . The legislation has moved quickly, say analysts, in large part because of the southern California blazes. And the final bill is likely to incorporate much of the Healthy Forests Initiative.”

“New Forestry Bill Has Environmentalists Worried” by Glen Martin; San Francisco Chronicle; 11/3/2003; p. A1.

16. The fires also provided Schwarzenegger with a political windfall in several important respects. First, the fires may well spark a construction boom in Southern California that will assist the state economically. Second, they may let Schwarzenegger off the hook with regard to his fiscal campaign promises. Third, the fires have given Ahhnuld the opportunity to look “gubernatorial”—the bereaved victims provided him with photo-ops, in which he could appear to be the action-hero, rallying the suffering victims and providing them with succor.

“Arnold Schwarzenegger may have some political pixie dust sprinkled on his broad shoulders in the form of falling ash. It’s the kind of thing politicians only talk about in hushed tones, but the horrible Southern California fires may have a silver lining for the popular Republican governor elect. . . Disasters are a time when politicians are expected to rise to the occasion, as New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani did after the 2001 terrorist attacks. In California, the devastation has allowed Schwarzenegger and Davis to act gubernatorially while praising firefighters and empathizing with those who lost homes or fled the flames. . . .”

“Nothing like a Disaster for a Political Boost” by Mark Gladstone; San Jose Mercury News; 11/2/2003; p. 25A.

17.

“ . . . The fires provide an unexpected opening to the Schwarzenegger drama. Just as he wants to stimulate the state’s economy and lower the jobless rate, homeowners will be hiring thousands of construction workers who will be buying tons of mails and plywood to rebuild. It’s the kind of ‘good fortune’ that eluded Davis during his five years in office, which kicked off soon after a crop-killing freeze caused widespread damage to citrus trees and threw thousands of farmworkers out of jobs. . . .”

Idem.

18.

“ . . . The disaster could change the terms of the debate in Sacramento on the need to pay for basic government services, along with proposals for building restrictions in fire-prone areas. Although Schwarzenegger campaigned not to raise taxes, barring an emergency, some political observers wonder whether the fires could qualify. ‘If you look at the numbers, it’s almost impossible to see how you can balance the budget’ without raising taxes, said Henry Brady, a political science professor at the University of California-Berkeley. ‘This may give him the excuse to do what he said he would do only in an emergency.’ Friday, the governor-elect was asked whether he was reconsidering his pledge to roll back the car tax, much of which goes to underwrite police and fire protection. Schwarzenegger said it was the wrong time to talk about changing his mind on rescinding $4 billion in car taxes. ‘But right now, I totally rule it out. . . .’”

Idem.

19. Rep. Darrell Issa bankrolled the recall effort from his considerable fortune. Many of the fires were in his congressional district.

“ . . . Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, said it was appropriate for Schwarzenegger to travel to Capitol Hill. ‘This is clearly the most effective place he can be to move the agenda, almost as if we get the benefit of two governors,’ said Issa, who helped fund the recall that ousted Davis. Fires have been raging in Issa’s north San Diego County district.”

Idem.

20. Most significant of the benefits accruing to Schwarzenegger from the inferno was the fact that it placed him in position to solicit aid from the Bush administration, which promptly uncorked Fema funds on behalf of the state it had purposefully neglected when it was under the stewardship of Gray Davis.

“Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first visit to Washington as governor-elect of California was meant to be a ceremonial one. But with wildfires raging back home adding to the misery of a state already reeling from a $9bn budget shortfall, Mr. Schwarzenegger was pressed into action on Capitol Hill yesterday. The soon-to-be-governor held an ambitious number of meetings with Republican and Democratic members of Congress as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) as he tried to drum up much-needed support for his state. . . .”

“Schwarzenegger on Mission for Fire-Ravaged California” by Joshua Chaffin; Financial Times; 10/30/2003; p. 2.

21.

“The two-day Washington trip will mark an early test of Mr. Schwarzenegger’s ability to deliver on one of his main campaign claims—that he is better suited to prising funds out of the federal government than the state’s outgoing governor, Gray Davis. In addition to his film celebrity, Mr. Schwarzenegger also counts his status as a rising star in the Republican Party at a time when Congress and the White House are controlled by Republicans. The press conference he held in the Capitol yesterday was packed with cameras. ‘It’s very clear that when you have a dynamic leader representing your state, it’s a lot more rewarding,’ said Darrell Issa, the California representative who pushed the recall vote that brought Mr. Schwarzenegger into office.”

Idem.

22.

“Mr. Schwarzenegger said his first meeting with Michael Brown, the head of Fema, was ‘terrific’, and that the agency had agreed to provide ‘one-stop’ disaster relief centers. The governor-elect later met Congressional leaders, including the powerful appropriations committee that oversees federal purse strings. When asked whether his Republican connections would help California’s cause in Washington, Mr. Schwarzenegger demurred: ‘I don’t think the fire victims right now—or anyone else—is caring about Democrats or Republicans.’”

Idem.

23. Before turning to Schwarzenegger’s carefully-staged trip to Washington (which “coincided” with the wildfires), the program examines Nazi filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl’s cinematography and manipulation of Hitler and his followers in her signature “Triumph of the Will.”

“ . . . The superstar himself, every bit a demagogue, thrived on the adulation of gigantic crowds. Riefenstahl filmed him alone, in a solitary splendor, often from below, so that he loomed over the frame, with the sky and the clouds forming a grand backdrop. The crowds, on the other hand, were usually filmed in multitudes, and even when individual faces were shot, the impression created was that of mass frenzy or mass discipline. The collective will was expressed through the iron will of one man, the destiny of a people and a nation was actualized through the triumph of his will. Every participant in these spectacles was expected to turn, as Goebbels famously put it, ‘from a little worm into part of a large dragon.’ In that moment of sheer performance, when all those involved are ensconced in the circle of magic, everything else is forgotten . . . .”

“The Nazi Who Refused to Die” by Sudhanva Deshpande

24.

“ . . . Nietzsche, in his 1878 text ‘Human, All too Human’ wrote: ‘Even when in the deepest distress, the actor ultimately cannot cease to think of the impression he and the whole scenic effect is making . . . . IF someone obstinately and for a long time wants to APPEAR something, it is in the end hard for him to BE anything else . . . with all great deceivers there is a noteworthy occurrence to which they owe their power. In the actual act of deception, with all its preparations, its enthralling voice, expression, and gesture, in the midst of the scenery designed to give it effect, they are overcome by BELIEF IN THEMSELVES: it is this which then speaks so miraculously and compellingly to those who surround them. . . .”

Idem.

25. Presenting a point of information that was not in the original broadcast, this description highlights the art and career of Luis Trenker, an associate of Leni Riefenstahl whose work was integrated into the Nazi propaganda psyche by Joseph Goebbels. Note the picture of Schwarzenegger from Sports Illustrated. (The picture is featured in a link to this web site.) Was Trenker—the quintessential action hero of the German Mountain Films—a cognitive template and inspiration for the Schwarzenegger gambit? Was his film “The Kaiser of California” part of this template? (Note that John Sutter—the protagonist of the Trenker film—was a Swiss native who moved to California from Germany.)

“ . . . An Austro-Italian, Trenker began in German ‘mountain films’ in the 1920’s and was a popular lead by the end of the decade. He directed some splendid films in the 30’s, but the general neglect or misunderstanding of the films he made during the pre-Nazi and Nazi eras consigned his career to obscurity. And yet, to quote film historian William K. Everson: ‘The Mountain Film was to Germany what the Western was to America, and Trenker, as its leading practitioner, was in a sense Germany’s John Wayne and John Ford rolled into one.’”

“Luis Trenker: Biography”; accessed at Hollywood.com; p. 1; visit their web site at www.hollywood.com/celebs/bio/deleb/1674560 .

26.

“. . . A gifted athlete, Trenker proved a natural for the mountain films’ richly melodramatic tales of dangerous rock climbs and last-second rescues set amid the harsh elements of Germany’s lone frontiers. . . .[director Dr. Arnold] Fanck teamed him [Trenker] with dancer turned actor—and budding director—Leni Riefenstahl for mountain films including ‘Der Heilige Berg/Peaks of Destiny’ (1926) and ‘Der Grosse Sprung/The Big Jump’ (1927). . . .”

Idem.

27.

“He followed up with one of his finest achievements, ‘Der Rebell. The Rebel’ (1932), for which he shot English and German language versions himself on location in Bavaria. A historical tale, based on fact, of mountain peasants defending themselves against Napoleon using guerilla tactics, ‘The Rebel’ was nationalistic: the story celebrated German history and traditions, and Trenker, at one point leading his pursuers on a thrillingly edited chase that could never have taken place in uninterrupted time, was an idealized, proudly German superhero type. It is thus not surprising that Trenker’s films, and indeed many mountain films, would be not only popular with the German people, but also appropriated by the rising Nazi party. . . ‘The Rebel’ was highly praised by no less a person than Joseph Goebbels . . .”

Ibid.; pp. 1-2.

28.

“ . . . Beginning in the Tyrol, the film [“Der Verlorene Sohn/The Lost Son’ (1934)] takes its peripatetic hero to New York for a lengthy middle sequence before returning him home. . . .The ethnographic thrust of the film continued upon its return to the Tyrol documenting a mountain festival. The result is a true folk epic, a tale of two cultures . . . With this film and his follow-up, ‘Der Kaiser von Kalifornien/The Kaiser of California’ (1936), a sometimes conservative and romanticized, but excitingly rendered biopic of the scheming yet pioneering entrepreneur John Sutter, Trenker found himself criticized for showing, respectively, a depressed America and a very flawed protagonist at a time when Germany wanted the USA either as an ally or neutral in the coming war. . . .”

Ibid.; p. 2.

29.

“Arnold Schwarzenegger proved Wednesday that his newfound political aura knows neither geographic nor party bounds. . . .But the story of his first official trip to Washington was best told by the crush of media, lawmakers and power brokers of all political persuasions who dropped other matters to get in a word with, or often just a glimpse of, the hottest commodity in American politics. . . .”

(“State’s Charm Spreads to U.S. Capitol” by Marc Sandalow and Zachary Coile; San Francisco Chronicle; 10/30/2003; p. A1.)

30. Note the structural similarity between Schwarzenegger’s first visit to Washington (“conciding” with the wildfires) and the deliberate, thorough scripting of Hitler’s public persona as portrayed in “Triumph of the Will.”

“ . . . It clearly was more than interest in California that drew at least 100 journalists and 28 cameras to chronicle a ‘media availability’ that consisted of just six questions. And it was more than respect for the governor’s office that lured a near-record crowd of House Republicans, some with their own cameras, to their weekly caucus meeting where the governor was introduced to a standing ovation.”

Ibid.; p. A7.

31.

“Much of the visit was tightly scripted. Walks down hallways were arranged by congressional staff to create pictures showing Schwarzenegger conversing with lawmakers. Staged conversations between Schwarzenegger and members of congress were held before throngs of journalists and replayed on television throughout the day. Schwarzenegger was held back for five minutes outside one GOP lawmakers’ meeting so that regular business could be finished in time for his grand entrance. Schwarzenegger appeared perfectly at ease playing the part and sought to turn his star power into more resources for the state, reminding lawmakers who control the federal purse that he had campaigned as the ‘Collectinator,’ who would bring back to his state a larger share of federal money. . . .”

Idem.

32. As discussed in FTR#’s 421, 429, there is legislation pending that could permit Schwarzenegger to become president. Note that recall- financier Darrell Issa (in whose district many of the wildfires took place) is among the sponsors of the legislation.

“There’s a prophetic scene in the 1993 action flick ‘Demolition Man’ in which cryogenically frozen cop Sylvester Stallone awakens to an unrecognizable America in the year 2032. ‘Hold it!’ he cries in disbelief ‘The Schwarzenegger Library?’ ‘Yes’, his future partner explains, ‘the Schwarzenegger Presidential Library. Wasn’t he an actor?’ ‘Stop! He was president?’ ‘Yes, Even though he was not born in this country, his popularity at the time caused the 61st Amendment. . . .”

“President Schwarzenegger” by Vicki Haddock; San Francisco Chronicle; 11/2/2003; p. D1.

33.

“ . . . Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is sponsoring what some have nicknamed ‘The Ahnuld Amendment’—a proposal to make an immigrant eligible for the presidency after 20 years of U.S. citizenship, conveniently coinciding with the Austrian-born Schwarzenegger’s 20th(Idem.) anniversary as a U.S. citizen. Schwarzenegger and Hatch are friends—the actor has even campaigned for him in Utah . . . . In recent years it has accumulated a diverse core of co-sponsors in the House, including Rep. Darrell Issa of San Diego County. . .”

Idem.

Discussion

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