Friday, April 30, 2010

Paradigms and Prophets

Limits suck! We still want to believe that progress is an eternal upward sweep of human endeavor that is stretching towards a celestial utopia made possible by science and technology. The idea of technology being limited remains a non-issue. But now the prospect of resource depletion has began to impose itself on our utopian vision.

This is why peak oil and global warming are anathema to us. They violate our theology and raise the specter that there might be limits to how far we can take our technology. Our tragic flaw is our inability to frame an issue outside of our theology of science because our all of our thinking proceeds from the unproven premise of eternal growth. This is what Damien Perrotin calls the “culture of progress.” He goes on to say:

The problem of Peak Oil is that the narrative which underlies it runs contrary to everything Enlightenment and the ideology of progress stand for. Where progress is about conquest and the mastery of nature, peak oil tells us of the absolute, unmovable limits this very nature assigns to our development and prosperity.

There is much talk of a need for a paradigm change. Implicit in much of this talk is the unspoken assumption that simply because we understand there is such a thing as paradigm changes it is possible to execute one simply because we understand it. What this assumption fails to appreciate is that there is a world of difference between saying and doing. Just because we can say it doesn’t mean we can do it. For an example of this, let us take a look at how long it took the Enlightenment to be diffused into our everyday life.

One of the earliest expressions of Enlightenment thinking was the French Encyclopedie, edited by Denis Diderot and first published in 1752. Many traditional publications included an illustration showing “The Tree of Knowledge.” Up until Diderot, these illustrations had placed Theology at the base of the tree. Diderot, in his Encyclopedie, showed the base of the tree as Philosophy. Theology was relegated to a twig on the branch of “Fancy and Fairy Tales.”

Fast forward to Westchester County, New York in 1835, where Robert Mathews, who called himself the Prophet Mathias and who claimed to be a messenger from Jesus Christ, was indicted on charges of attempted murder, child abuse and being a false prophet of God. Upon reviewing the indictment, the Westchester County district attorney dropped the false prophet charge because he believed there was no way to prove that Mathews wasn’t a false prophet. In other words, seventy-three years into the Enlightenment educated people still believed in the possibility of an individual being a prophet of God.

Fast forward, again, to 1895 and in Michael Lesy’s Wisconsin Death Trip there are numerous accounts of individuals being institutionalized for “religious insanity.” It looks as if it took 140 years for Enlightenment ideas to percolate down to everyday life.

With time, the paradigm will change, as it always does. But we cannot will it; we cannot throw a switch and make it happen. Nor do we have any knowledge what it will look like. All we can be sure of is that it is now happening and that the upward sweep of progress is grinding to a halt.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Upddate v.1b`

So much for the best laid plans, etc. The doctors have decided that I need a couple of weeks of pulmonary rehab before they operate. I am going in to day so they can feed a camera in and take a picture of the tumor. While they're at it, they are going to yank a suspicious looking lymph node. So I should be back home late this afternoon.

Hopefully, I'll post something tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


The sins of my youth have caught up with me. The doctors discovered a malignant growth on the lower lobe of my left lung. Fortunately, they caught it early. Thursday, I go into the hospital to have the offending lobe removed. I expect to be back here in the first or second week of May.

Monday, April 26, 2010

So, who needs corporations, anyhow?

This is an old chestnut I drag out from time to time whenever our oligarchs and kleptocrats out do themselves, which is quite often. But with the SE C’s civil suit (Note: Not an indictment) against Goldman Sachs, I thought I’d drag it out again. It’s a modest suggestion that may increase the probability that, someday, we might clean up a Beltway that is little more than a Wall Street subsidiary.

Recently, the United States Supreme Court gave Congress back to its corporate handlers when it ruled that Congress could not place restrictions on corporate contributions to political campaigns. The argument was the same fallacious argument that has allowed our corporate oligarchs to befoul our democracy—corporations are people and have the same rights under the Constitution and Bill of Rights as human people.

So, it is time to reprise an idea I put forth about a year ago. Then it fell into a sea of silence, but perhaps the court’s decision has made the ground more fertile for its growth.

What we need is a 28th Amendment to the Constitution that strips our corporations of their personhood. The net effect would be that our corporations would have no rights; they would only have responsibilities enumerated by the terms and conditions of their charters.

Today, such an amendment stands a snowball’s chance in Hell of passing. However, as our economy continues to tank, and as Wall Street bankers continue to get trillions in bailouts while the disempowered class in America, which increasingly includes the Middle Class, continues to slip down the economic ladder, the temperature in Hell is starting to fall.

Besides, think of the fun we could have with such a movement! We could demonize the hell out of the bastards.

Look at where we are now. In an age when it is not only necessary to think outside the box but to reduce the box to kindling, a paralysis has gripped the Obama administration, which spends all of its time trying to figure out if we’re in a box to begin with, and, if so, how big it is, what color it is and is it really necessary to think outside the box when we could easily build an addition to it, provided they could get the financing.

Meanwhile, the Left loudly proclaims that, “Something must be done! Systemic change is needed; reform is called for!” And, there it ends as the Left fragments into a spray of mini issues--gay rights, women’s rights, peace, the environment, animal liberation, universal health care—each droplet suspended in space independent of the others. Each of these issues is important, but each is made all the more difficult because we are confronting a system that is decayed and corrupt, and until this tottering superstructure is addressed, the above issues will simply limp along without any satisfactory resolutions.

The drive for a 28th Amendment would serve two immediate purposes.
Dissatisfaction in America is badly fragmented. We are too isolated in our discontent, which is why we seek escape in celebrity infidelities and reality television.. The drive for a 28th Amendment could well be the lightening rod that would unify this discontent into a viable movement.

At the same time, the radical left has a millstone hanging around its, neck: a vocabulary straight out of the nineteenth century that, in today’s world, is devoid of both meaning and relevance.
The struggle is no longer between capital and labor.

Capitalism is dead; it’s been dead for decades. A CEO is not a capitalist; he is an employee. A capitalist grew capital by the sweat of his brow and the blackness of his soul. A CEO plays with other people’s capital while absorbing as much of it as he can through executive salaries, bonuses and stock options. The soul of a CEO is a bland beige.

We no longer have a working class; we have a dispossessed class that grows larger every day. It is an inclusive class claiming as it members not only workers but the poor, the working poor, undocumented immigrants, the unemployed, the employed who are squeezed for three hours of productivity for one hour’s pay and, increasingly, the middle class. It is a class just waiting to be mobilized by the right issue.

If there is to be any systemic change in the country, the corporation must be demonized, and the movement for a 28th Amendment would present the perfect platform from which to do just that. Let’s face it, the corporation is an anachronism, a dinosaur that has outlived its usefulness and is in the process of devouring itself as it takes the country down with it. That is the box that must be reduced to kindling! The corporation served its purpose; it gave us all sorts of nice toys and technological advances (many of which are destroying the earth, but isn’t your iPhone worth it?) but it’s time it was put out to pasture before it ruins us completely.

The amendment would raise the possibility of doing something about our corrupt Congress. Cynics tell us Washington D.C. is an open septic tank overflowing with the raw sewage of corruption. In truth, it is a bit more sophisticated than that.

Granted, raw sewage is pumped into the beltway via open trenches that run from the nation’s power centers. But, instead of pouring into the Capitol, it is first pumped into the K Street Sewage Treatment Plant. There it is sanitized and deodorized before being piped into the Halls of Congress disguised as campaign contributions. It is still sewage, but, it smells sweeter.

The short answer to this mess is public funding of election campaigns. On the surface it seems to offer much. By freeing the congress from the multiple snares of corporate purse strings, Congress might start representing the public interest. As it stands now, every time an elected official speaks of our national interests or national security, “national” is simply a code word for “corporate”. The system is gamed to minimize public influence on policy.

Congress tried to reign in corporate power with the McCain-Feingold Bill. Before the ink was even dry on the bill, our corporatist oligarchy went weeping to the nearest federal court and claimed that the bill violated its First Amendment right to freedom of speech. Money talks, and if our corporate patrons aren’t allowed to speak through their wallets, they are being unconstitutionally silenced. And, the Supreme Court agreed with the poor darlings one-hundred percent.

The argument won the day, because under our current system, a corporation is a person.
People assume that corporate personhood was the result of a Supreme Court decision. In truth, the court made no such decision. The question of personhood arose when the court considered an appeal[1] of Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad. The focus of the case was the taxation of railroad properties. As the case worked its way through the lower courts, the question of whether corporations were persons protected by the 14th Amendment was argued.

However, before oral arguments began before the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Morrison Remick Waite stated, “The court does not wish to hear argument on the question of whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, applies to these corporations. We are of the opinion that it does.”

Because formal arguments had not begun, Waite’s remark was a non-binding obiter dictum that had no bearing on the outcome of the case. The question of corporate personhood was never mentioned in the court’s written decision. The court limited its decision to the question of taxing corporate property.

However, the court clerk, when writing the header, or summary, of the case stated that, “defendant corporations are persons…”

Thus, was corporate personhood born.

The principle is so engrained in legal precedence that a judicial reversal is virtually impossible. That is why only a constitutional amendment could solve the problem.

That our amendment would raise some corporate hackles is an understatement. Already, I hear lamentations about the sanctity of private property, etc. However, a very compelling argument could be made that the ownership of corporate property is so diffused amongst shareholders that it is a misnomer to call it private property. Since corporate property exists at the pleasure of the State through the granting of a corporate charter, it is more akin to quasi-public property than private property.

I admit this is heresy, but given rate at which corporations are eating us alive, I think some healthy heresy is called for.

This brings us back, in a full circle, to our corrupted Congress. If corporations were stripped of their personhood, a campaign finance reform bill that eliminated corporate money from the electoral process would be protected from a court challenge. There is no guarantee this would clean up the system. All it would do is increase the probability that it would be cleaner than it currently is.

Granted, the idea of a 28th Amendment sits way out there in the foggy fringe, but if our Neocon colleagues taught us anything, it is that today’s fringe is tomorrow’s mainstream.

This is a movement that could cut across class, gender and ethnic divisions because if there is one thing unifying America, it is our economic misery. And if nothing else, the drive for a 28th Amendment would make our oligarchs and plutocrats sweat. That, alone, would make the effort worthwhile.

Sure, it looks hopeless, but I.F. Stone wrote:

The only fights worth fighting are those you are going to lose, because somebody has to fight them and lose and lose and lose until someday, somebody who believes as you do wins. In order for somebody to win an important major fight 100 years hence, a lot of other people have got to be willing—for the sheer fun of it—to go right ahead and fight, knowing you’re going to lose. You mustn’t feel like a martyr. You’ve got to enjoy it.

It’s time to bring back the Merry Pranksters, but instead of promoting psychedelic drugs, they will promote the decorporatization of America.



Sunday, April 25, 2010

Buzz Words

Buzz words rattle around the Beltway like dead seeds; they roll through the corridors of the Pentagon and traverse the potholes that dot Wall Street. They distract us from the intellectual vacuity that permeates much of our economic and foreign policy by the false sense of comfort their familiarity brings. They ring hollow and we mistake them for anthems.

They are all toxic, but the most toxic of all is that old chestnut, “credibility.”

Basically, what credibility means is that when you step in shit, you stand in shit as if you intended to step in it in the first place, as if the step was the result of careful planning, countless meetings, reams of reports and policy studies; that it was subject to congressional oversight and peer review.

Our leaders must remain standing in that pile of shit because to step out of it and scrape their shoes clean would be an admission that they had stepped into it by mistake, and that would undercut our credibility. So, they stand and stand and tell the world that the stench is really perfume and that the world will be a better place because of their dedication and determination.

This explains why our leaders are standing in two piles of shit at the same time—Iraq and Afghanistan. And why they will remain standing in them for some time to come.

After all, shit is sweet once you get use to the stench.

Friday, April 23, 2010


What an oversight! Last month I posted a piece in which I argued that if, as the religious right insists, we are a Christian nation it would be nice if we started acting like one by feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, caring for the sick and (Gasp!) loving our enemies.

I just realized that I left out the most important characteristic of a Christian nation, and that is to follow Christ’s example by driving the moneychangers out of the temple of democracy.

Then I remembered—we worship Calvin, not Christ. And to Calvin wealth is a sign of God’s favor and grace. Maybe Golden Sachs’ Lloyd Blankenfeld is right when he says he’s doing God’s work.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Deconstructing "Reality"

Superstition still lives. We like to think we’re “enlightened” because we no longer believe in ghosts, goblins or things that go bump in the night. But, the truth is we’re just as superstitious as our ancestors. The only difference is that instead of sporting fangs, our monsters wear wingtips.

Alexia Eastwood does a wonderful job of deconstructing one of our more prevalent superstitions, our belief in Economic Man, or Homo Economicus. Economic man was an outgrowth of Adam Smith’s contention that “the self-interested actions of individual agents guided by the ‘invisible hand of the market’ would lead to the greater good of all society.” This, of course, assumed that people were “hyper-rational.” Right away, that concept runs into trouble when you consider the millions who have plunked down over a hundred dollars to buy a pair of Nike sneakers that might have cost five bucks to manufacture.

Eastwood contends that studies in behavioral psychology and anthropology show “that our inclination to share and cooperate is hardwired into our genetic code and may have acted as an evolutionary advantage in human societies throughout the ages.”

Of course, the myth of Homo Economicus fits capitalism like a tee. It provides a rationale for the Social Darwinism that made the late nineteenth century such a hell -hole for the working class and which has made comeback in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Under this doctrine, the poor are poor because they aren’t fit. It’s all a matter of personal choice. A person is poor just because a sperm chose to fertilize an impoverished egg. It should have known better.

Another fallout from our economic friend is that belief that numbers represent reality, that if the numbers say it’s so, it is. Eastwood quotes Karl Polanyi who stated that, “[N]o other society outside of our own has ever raised the pursuit of economic gain to the guiding principle of society or understood it as definitive of the human condition.”

In other words, Economic Man is a socially construct that has no basis in reality. It’s pure make believe, a fantasy encouraged by our oligarchs to justify their manifold predations. We are now living with the dreadful consequences of this superstition

As for the invisible hand of the market, as I’ve explained in previous posts, there is an easy way to make it visible. Place you elbow on a table with your forearm perpendicular to the table’s surface. Make a fist. Now extend you middle finger heavenward and there you have it: the invisible hand of the market.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Pushing the Gurney

Every since the fall of the Soviet Union, Capitalism has been taking its victory lap so thrilled with itself that it doesn’t realize that it’s strapped to a gurney being pushed by Beltway and media denizens. It’s like the dying man who believes that the harder he parties the more death will be kept at bay.

Things aren’t much better at the other end of the political spectrum. The left’s gurney ran off the track decades ago and is lying on its side slowly rusting as it is ignored by passer-bys.

One wonders if the dialectic of history isn’t getting ready to make another turn with capitalism as the thesis and socialism as the antithesis. At this point in time, we have no way of knowing what the emerging synthesis will look like. For that matter, most of us are unaware of this dialectic even being in motion. No doubt a thirteenth-century lord of the manor believed feudalism would last forever.

As Tony Judt puts it, “We have entered an age of insecurity—economic insecurity, physical insecurity, physical insecurity, political insecurity. The fact that we are largely unaware of this is small comfort: few in 1914 predicted the utter collapse of their world and the economic and political catastrophes that followed.”

“Not so!” cry those pushing the gurney. “Capitalism is the end point of history; it will rise from its own ashes like the Phoenix bird of mythology.” It’s a poor analogy. The Phoenix bird was consumed by an external fire; capitalism is dying from the internal rot of its own contradictions. Advanced capitalist countries have reached the limits of economic growth and are now turning inward and devouring themselves in a doomed effort to preserve the appearance of prosperity and health.

Capitalism rode to power on the wings of a geological fluke, abundant fossil fuel. At $2 a barrel, anything is possible. At $85 a barrel our options become limited. Economic growth has reached a tipping point where every increase in our GDP is another step closer to the destruction of the natural world that supports us.

Don’t bother telling that to the man on the gurney. He suffers from a terminal case of dementia in which he believes he is still an energetic young man who will never age or decay.

That’s the way it is with the dying.

Friday, April 16, 2010

A Culture of the Unreal

One of the tenets of America’s Secular Christianism—in addition to our inflated exceptionalism and our belief that we are a City on a Hill sending forth the light of Liberty’s torch to the world-- is a belief in ongoing and eternal progress dictated by the Eternal Providence that has guided our destiny.

Those of us who grew up in the fifties grew up with a utopian view of the future, a future where everything would be automated, where labor and drudgery would be a thing of the past and where they was no limit to our economic growth. It was a time when nobody could understand why children “who had everything” were so unhappy and why the youth of the fifties were drawn to the strident discordance of rock ‘n roll.

A side effect of our belief in progress is the mistaken assumption that technical progress is the same as social progress. It isn’t. According to German philosopher Theodor Adorno, social progress is that which insures the “happiness of unborn generations.” There is no correlation between adding apps to our smart phones and world we will leave behind for our children and grandchildren. It is likely that the children of my grandchildren will live into the twenty-second century. I’d like to leave them more that smart phones, video games and a crushing deficit.

One could argue that social progress will begin when our obsession with technological progress ends, which it may well do as it runs head-long into resource depletion. It is becoming increasingly clear that technological progress is a parasite that has been slowly sucking the life out of Mother Earth. Technology does not necessarily make us better human beings, and given technology’s contribution modern warfare it could well be the instrument of our social regression.

Granted, technology has increased our efficiency, but the sad truth is that efficiency and freedom are mutually exclusive, and, no, being freed from the labor machines now perform for us is not freedom, its convenience. And convenience can make slaves of us all as we cling to our labor-saving devices and are quite comfortable with our militarized surveillance society as long as it keeps providing is with newer and cleverer toys.

There is a difference between hard and soft technology. Hard technology deals with needs; soft technology is pure fluff whose absence would be inconvenient but would be no great loss. Just before Christmas, our microwave went belly up. Panic set in and we rushed out a bought a new one. However, in the week between purchase and delivery, we discovered we really didn’t need one. Hell, bacon tastes better fried in a frying pan then it does when it’s nuked. It takes a little longer, but it’s worth the wait.

Without social progress there can be no ethical progress, which is why we have become so inured to torture, the crushing of our civil liberties, wars of aggression and the “collateral damage” that goes with them. And if we start feeling the stirrings of conscience, there’s always a screen nearby to divert our attention, or another happy pill we can pop that will make everything just fine.

Helena Norberg-Hodge argues that ours is a “synthetic culture” that is more media event than an organic product of people living in community together. Rather than being a product of community, synthetic culture can thrive only when the social bonds that hold together a community or a country have been destroyed and its people fragmented and isolated. She goes on to say, “In this sense, what is often seen as American ‘culture’ is not a product of the American people. It is, in fact, an artificial consumer culture being foisted on people through advertising and the media. This consumer culture is fundamentally different from all those cultures which for millennia were shaped by climate and topography—by a dialogue between humans and the natural world.”

Every once in a while I catch “Modern Marvels” on the History Channel. From time to time a voice-over intones, “Welcome to the twenty-first century. Things are going to be different.” It’s a pity how pop culture remains ignorant of its irony.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Thinking Circular Thoughts

So the Pentagon believes “surplus oil capacity could disappear within two years and there could be serious shortages by 2015 with a significant economic and political impact.”

This little gem was found in a Joint Operating Environment Report issued by the US Joint Forces Command. And of course, we all know what this is. It is “an intellectual foundation upon which we will construct the concept to guide our future force developments.”

In other words, the Pentagon is prepared to burn more oil so it can use oil up so it will have a justification to invade even more countries to replace the oil they’ve burned up getting the oil they need to invade other countries. Or something like that. Of course, with the fully burdened cost of pumping a gallon of gas in Afghanistan averaging $400 a gallon, this could do wonders for our deficit.

While the Pentagon sends billions pouring out of its military tailpipes, the Chinese have discovered the pen is mightier than the sword, especially if the pen is signing contracts for future oil deliveries and joint ventures to develop future oil fields.

“Future fuel supplies are of acute importance to the US army because it is believed to be the biggest single user of petrol in the world.” Gosh, could it be that if we put down the sword and picked up the pen our army just might burn less fuel? It would be a hell of a lot cheaper and burn less fuel if we flew a trade delegation overseas to cut the best deal it could.

Perish the thought! The Pentagon doesn’t want oil, it doesn’t want victory and it sure as hell doesn’t want to spread democracy to the world. All it wants in a justification for its existence. And burning oil to justify fighting for more oil is all the justification it needs.

The report warns of the political upheaval that could accompany the economic a shortage of oil could bring. “One should not forget that the Great Depression spawned a number of totalitarian regimes that sought economic prosperity for their nations by ruthless conquest.”

Gosh! Does that sound like somebody we know?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Learning to Listen

So, where’s the left? As Obama continues to morph into Bush Lite the left is off somewhere on life support. Sure, there are plenty of words flying round damning, condemning and suggesting. But there is no unified movement, no unified organization and no funding.

Part of this problem is that the bulk of the activity in on the net with the remainder being confined to progressive publications. Both are consumed in isolation, and the simple fact of the matter is that you’ve got to leave the house to start a revolution.

But there are other issues at work as well. The left sits by while the Tea Party rallies the working class that was once the left’s base. The reason is quite simple: the left turned its back on the working class in the sixties and continues to do so. Many on the left see the working class as beer-swilling Neanderthals and homophobes who care more about their guns then they do about the state of the country and who are constantly voting against their economic interests by returning one Republican after another to office. The left easily forgets that these are human beings groaning under the crushing weight of an oligarchy that continues to oppress them.

This split happened in the sixties when the left turned its back on the working class as the “new” left sought liberation in drugs and sex while damning all those who did not support its ideological goals. The Republicans, of course, capitalized on this split. What commentators call their Southern Strategy was really the GOP’s Blue Collar Strategy. The first thing they did after they locked in the working class was to screw them to the wall while distracting them with cultural warfare against gun control, abortion and gay rights.

At the same time, the left fragmented into a series of ideological encampments, each secure behind its own wall and so certain of the rightness of its fragmented cause that it was unwilling to enter into meaningful dialog. Consequently, the left today remains crippled by its own ideological prissiness.

There will be no viable left until it reestablishes solidarity with the working class. However, in doing so it must remember that the most important component of solidarity is listening! At the same time, the left must take a careful look at some of its ideological chestnuts and see if there is sufficient wiggle room to make its reunification with the working class a reality.

The irony is that one of the stickiest disagreements between the working class and the left is the one that could be easily resolved—gun control. This probably stirs a greater degree of working class anger than any of the other “culture” issues. Sure, the anti-abortion forces make a lot of noise, but it is gun control that can really get the working class enflamed.

Were it up to me, I would say to the working class, Keep your guns. But I ask one favor in return: teach your sons how to hunt. Hell! Teach your daughters how to hunt as well. Because hunting is environmentally sound. It takes 16 pounds of grain to raise one pound of beef. That works out to eight tons per steer, eight tons the hungry of the world will never see. The average male deer, when dressed, yields about 72 pounds of edible meat. That is 72 pounds of ecologically sound meat that has had a minimum impact on the environment. This venison displaces 72 pounds of beef raised on factory farms, which are environmental disaster areas.

Nor does any hunter want to see his wood leveled to make room for upscale condos or a coven of McMansions. This puts hunters in bed with the environmentalists.

Many will claim hunting is cruel because a lot of hunters can’t shoot straight. However, in nature animals rarely die peacefully in their sleep. Death comes slowly after weeks or months of suffering. Coyotes have been known to eviscerate a sheep while it still lives. And we must never forget that all of creation is grounded in death. (The most sacred thing we do is die. It’s so goddamn sacred we want nothing to do with it.)

It’s true, guns kill people and there have been some horrific acts of violence, but so do trains, planes and automobiles and there’s been no talk of banning them. They are, however, regulated, something the NRA would have to accept, and something it might be more willing to consider once it is convinced the left doesn’t care a whit about taking its guns away.

Gun control is only one example of an area where compromise could be achieved. And no, I am not talking about Obamaesque pragmatism or centrist triangulation. What I am talking about is the left’s core ideal of building a decent society in which all are cared for and in which our corporate oligarchy is brought under control. It is a decent society that would benefit the working class because it would guarantee that its children would have enough to eat, competent and free medical care and America would begin to rebuild its manufacturing base. It would be a country in which our hubric dream of global conquest would be recognized for the pipe dream it is and the Pentagon would be turned into the world’s largest indoor shopping mall.

Yet, none of this will happen until we win back the working class. Either we get them or the Tea Party does. This means our days of ideological prissiness must end.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Even more change we can believe in.

It seems the Army is in a bit of a snit over’s release of the tape showing an Apache helicopter gunning down a group of Iraqi men and the van that came to pick up the wounded.

Huffed an Army spokesperson, WikiLeaks “represents a potential force protection, counterintelligence, operational security (OPSEC), and information security (INFOSEC) threat to the U.S. Army.”

There was a time this would have been called journalism.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Making "All the News That's Fit to Print" fit.

When The New York Times says, “fit,” it means all the news that’s fit to print if its reporters want to continue to have “access,” that door that opens and ushers a reporter into the multiple seats of power, both public and private, that control America. And the door stays open as long as the reporter behaves himself and doesn’t embarrass his handlers with tough questions or voice opinions that do not have official approval.

So it was, in the wake of the video showing the gunning down of Iraqi citizens by U.S. Apache helicopters, that the Times ran a soothing “There, there” story in effect explaining that “boys will be boys.”

“Experts Cite Conditioning and Heat of Combat to Explain Iraq Airstrike Video,” read the headline. You see, the article explains, in order to kill somebody, you’ve got to make a game out of it, you have to dehumanize your victim because that makes it so much easier to kill him. As one officer explains, “Military training is fundamentally an exercise in overcoming a fear of killing another human being.”

This is another way of saying that war is a perversion in that it forces people to perform acts that in any other context they would find morally repulsive, unless they were confirmed sociopaths. This is why a country shouldn’t go to war unless it absolutely has to because in the process it emotionally cripples the young men and women who serve.

There may be times when a war is a necessary perversion, but neither Iraq nor Afghanistan is a necessity. Both are wars instituted by policy wonks who really think it’s all a game and have no concept of the crippled mindset necessary to kill another human being. Both wars muddle along like slithering blobs driven by their own momentum and continued simply because they are already in motion and to withdraw might injure our credibility, which is being shredded anyway because of our inability to bring either war to a satisfactory conclusion.

However, the above is part of a larger debate that is studiously avoided by our mainstream media. Corporate media never questions policy because said policy is set into motion by the Beltway’s corporate masters.

Getting back to the article in question, what is noticeable is the question the reporter failed to ask. Granted, in this day in age it is considered impolite for a reporter to ask tough questions and doing so might end up getting him stripped of his “access.” This would mean he’d have to revert to the old-fashioned journalistic techniques of digging and wearing out shoe leather.

Let us allow that the pilots were on edge and easily spooked. This brings us to the single, most important question the Times reporter failed to ask the experts: Why was the Fire Discipline so lax? One of the components of Fire Discipline is that a soldier fires when commanded to and ceases when commanded to. The assumption is that the individual in command has enough presence of mind to cease firing when a threat no longer exists.

Now, bending over backwards until the back is ready to break, one might say the initial encounter with the group of civilians milling in the street was a tragic action brought on by confirmation bias, which security analyst Christopher Albon defines as “the tendency of the human mind to unconsciously prefer information reinforcing existing beliefs. In this case, the fact the pilots were looking for armed insurgents made them predisposed to believe that any item carried by the persons were weapons.”

Firing on the van that came to assist the wounded was a gratuitous act of violence. If you listen to the dialog between pilots and the individual on the ground responsible for Fire Discipline, it is obvious that the pilots’ blood is up. They’ve killed and they want to kill some more, an unfortunate side effect of combat. This is why Fire Discipline is so important. It is the responsibility of the commander to recognize this and to order his men to cease fire when a threat is no longer present.

When the van showed up, it is obvious it only wanted to collect the wounded. Yet, the pilots begged their controller for permission to fire. They begged and pressured and in the end they controlled their controller and he folded and gave permission to fire on a van that represented no threat whatsoever. Fire Discipline broke down completely. And, of course, the Times never questioned this because it would have been impolite to do so.

After all, boys will be boys, so why sweat it? Once again, the Times made the news fit to print.