Archive for October, 2009

Sport of Cowards

Friday, October 30th, 2009

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton referred to a suicide bombing in Pakistan during her visit there as “cowardly.” She may be right about that, but no American diplomat should dare breathe that word while unmanned US aircraft are launching missiles on houses and farms in distant lands. In a match as uneven as that between the U. S. and what’s left of Afghanistan and Pakistan, most of the cowardliness is on our side, and it’s becoming more and more difficult, even for patriots, to sympathize with the victors. Valor is unnecessary in this contest, and none is displayed. All the carnage is done by remote control.

No nation has ever had the capacity to kill with the coldness we now are able to affect. We have weapons, guaranteed to destroy populations, that can be launched from thousands of miles away, and we can keep track of targets from space. There is no contest between soldiers, but only between people, on the one side, and machines, on the other. Uniformed American terrorists, busy at automated work stations in Nevada, see more blood after shaving than they do in a month of what is now called “combat” or “fighting.” They willingly incinerate babies without ever risking a hair of their own.

The press–as we affectionately still call the news desk of our entertainment industry–is positively buoyant over the “drone” attacks, content that we are inflicting more casualties than we are sustaining. Most public policy is now carried on to satisfy these folks’ demands, and the current military adventures are no exception. Political correctness, of which newsmen are the authors, requires that Americans be victorious in all military engagements, and so explosions in foreign cities are like music to a correspondent’s ears.

There is no legal authority for what our government is now doing. Bombing people with robots is recognized everywhere but here as a war crime, and it was only very recently that our government and the media began to advocate the assassination of foreigners. It’s against our laws, and so are our various military adventures. There is a procedure in the Constitution for war, but we have not followed it, and so all of this killing is unlawful. The nation’s founders must be spinning in their graves. The idea of a sovereign targeting and killing people without arrest, trial, or any determination of guilt was an old one by the time Jefferson and Adams came of age. Although they disagreed on much, they were united against this sort of justice.

What’s ironic is the spirit of compliance that seems to be in vogue now. You can’t get people to obey the speed limits, but they seem willing and even eager to give up basic civil rights. Almost nobody is kicking about the nation’s assassination policy, even though it should raise some questions. For instance, do I, as a citizen, have a legal right to advocate your assassination? May I advocate government death squads, in general, to terminate wrongdoers? May I advocate the assassination of named individuals, such as Osama, for instance? If I say Democratic office-holders should be lined up and shot, am I doing something wrong, or am I guilty merely of bad taste? Can I say my neighbor should be killed? My ex-spouse? Charles Manson? Jesse Jackson? Janet Jackson? If I can’t do it, then neither can Obama. The law gives neither of us a license to kill.

Honor, courage and the rule of law may simply be the price a nation must pay to bask in the luxury of superpower status. Today it’s mass murder by remote control. We can only imagine what feats of cowardice will become possible if we keep to the present course.

The Mendacity of Hope

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

Hope keeps our president from confessing that his job has beaten him. If he came in with principles, they are all so much gas today. He’s at the mercy of the same forces that controlled his predecessors. Hope turns out not to be a strategy, or even a virtue. Hope is false, always and ever. It never got a job done, except to stand in the way of social progress.

What we want, what we deserve, what we demand, what we aspire to or subscribe to, what we have and what we will have are all as unconnected to what we hope for as scat is to Shinola. Hope is a state of suspended animation. Want motivates, but hope merely intoxicates. If the hoped-for object ever materializes, hope ends, and satisfaction sets in. Hope is our substitute for satisfaction, and hope yields its own satisfaction. Living on hope is living without what’s hoped for and, usually, also without what’s deserved, what’s demanded and what’s aspired to.

Consider the hope for satisfactory health care for all Americans. Millions of us have no health care, and millions more are not feeling secure about what they have, but we continue to hold out hope for some sort of improvement. While we hope, our leaders plot a course that seems intended to mislead us as citizens, exploit us as consumers, and serve their patrons a generous helping from the big pot of money that their “reform” will create. Hopeful people are frantically calling their congressmen, writing letters, forwarding emails. They have hope, and maybe that’s all they have, because the media tell them, with great regularity and considerable relish, that nobody’s listening to them. If hope could ever yield to resolve, universal health care might be possible, but hope keeps us quiet and patient, and nothing changes in that sort of atmosphere.

Lambs going to the slaughter don’t know hope, but it wouldn’t help them much if they did. Americans and their president are different from lambs only in that they have hope. Hope is something you can do instead of anything. A person doesn’t have to expend much effort to hope, as he might to deserve, demand, or expect. Hope springs eternal, because, in hoping, passively and effortlessly, we gain satisfaction without ever gaining the hoped-for object. That’s why there is no hope for peace and justice where there is only hope for peace and justice.

Frustration of social objectives seems to be the lesson of an ever-hopeful USA. We concede that our objects as a republic–liberty and justice for all–are ideals that can never be fully realized. Instead, we hope for a better future, and this allows us to maintain all sorts of unsatisfactory conditions. Hope makes us tolerant and accepting, like sheep. Expectation might make us accountable and responsible, but this prospect seems to frighten us, and so we cower hopefully.

Sometimes, people really need to do something, and now is one of those times. Hope paralyzes us even as the conditions that surround us require the utmost mobility, energy and stamina. We’re beyond hope now. What we need is determination, in ourselves and in our leader.

Popular War

Monday, October 12th, 2009

There’s a poll out reporting that 60 percent of us are willing to drop bombs on Iran to keep the Ayatollah from developing atomic weapons. Obviously, poll respondents were confronted with a situation that doesn’t exist, and so the finding could be deemed suspect. Citizens of a garrison state like ours might be disposed to threaten armed attack in anticipation of some adverse event when they really have no intention of following through with actual violence. And then, of course, there’s the way the poll is designed. How do you reply when the pollster inquires, “Would you rather bomb another country or be evaporated in a mushroom cloud?” Still, despite its weaknesses, the poll is worrying.

It seems to suggest that most Americans have abandoned all moral reservations about killing people with bombs and bullets. In my USA, we don’t go for our gun over every political disagreement. We the people believe–most of us, anyway–in war only as a last resort. We express some reverence for the UN charter, which forbids us to bomb another country because our leaders (or the leaders of some allied country) think it might do somebody some harm sometime in the future. Not that we haven’t violated this principle time after time, but we’ve done it knowingly, and it stands to reason that the lessons of past transgressions would sink in after awhile. Not.

Today, it’s war at the drop of a hat, and we seem to be OK with that policy. We might balk at some point at the cost in dollars or even at the cost in blood, but we’re willing to hold our reservations in abeyance and allow our government—precipitously–to risk young American lives to end young Iranian lives. Persian tears would be shed without remorse on our part, if the poll is accurate. This after the destruction by the USA of a million Arabs of all ages and the displacement of four million more. Worrying.

The poll suggests that we have no problem sending other people’s kids to do the killing, and also that we require no national commitment or debate. Fact is that only about one in a thousand of us is now deployed. It’s pretty easy to say yes to war when nothing is required of you. The poll didn’t measure the strength of the respondents’ commitment to armed force, but it’s likely that they’d have thought harder if they believed they might find themselves in a uniform far from home.

True, this poll is not informed opinion. It might be useful to see a poll showing what percent of people who can find Iran on a map consider it a threat to mankind. A somewhat smaller slice than in this poll, probably. These pollsters might profitably have adjusted for bigotry, ignorance and imbecility.  There’s informed opinion, and then there’s superstition.

It’s also true that poll respondents in the USA survive as citizens on a diet of disinformation. This week, all the networks and NPR told news-consumers that Iran has a secret facility to make nuclear bombs, despite abundant evidence to the contrary. They pulled this on us with Iraq, and they seem to think we’re stupid enough to believe them again this time. If that’s what this poll means, somebody should be questioning our sanity along with our morality.

Disinformation and superstition may be an explanation for the survey findings, but they’re no excuse. Regardless of the reasons, many of your neighbors, relatives, classmates and co-workers are perfectly content to inflict death from above on innocents. If you disagree with that view, you might want to make your feelings known. “I got arrested at a peace rally,” is a good ice-breaker over a beer with your frat brother. If he says, “Idiot,” challenge him to find Iran on the globe. Ask whether he’d like to be at the controls of a missile-launching drone aimed at young Iranian soldiers, guys like him. If he answers that he would like to do that, suggest that he enlist. If he demurs to this, tell him his commitment to killing innocent people isn’t all that deep, and he ought to re-think his politics.

Risk making him mad. And get mad. And do it in front of other people if you can. Because your neighbor’s knee-jerk advocacy of murder is going to be paid for by you and your progeny and their kids after them. The sins of the fathers definitely are visited on the children, as history’s proved over and over again. You want to put a stop to this madness, you have to expose brutality and unreason wherever you find them, even in people near and dear to you.

Slightly-Less-War Prize Goes to US Commander

Sunday, October 11th, 2009

If not for war, people would have no concern for peace. We would take peace for granted, like daylight or air. We might want less noise, less commotion, but peace as the relative absence of armed conflict wouldn’t be on our minds.

It probably was on the mind of Alfred Nobel when he signed his will a hundred or so years ago, in the hope of burnishing his public image. Nobel’s scientific accomplishments as a chemist–he invented dynamite–were eclipsed by his success as a dealer in ordnance and ammunition. He was the richest war profiteer of his time and was considered a merchant of death by many of his critics. He may have hoped to purchase redemption by dedicating most of his estate to the recognition of scientific, literary and humanitarian accomplishments.

If Nobel intended something more of his legacy than personal aggrandizement–to put an end to war, for example–he was on a fool’s errand. Despite the grave consequences suffered by 20th century warriors, nations are armed to the teeth in the twenty-first, and generals worldwide still tremble with excitement at the prospect of seeing “the arms and legs fly,” as one American commander famously remarked, confessing his personal fondness for war.

War should have become an anachronism by now, so that the Nobel Peace Prize would more often come in recognition of “the most or the best work for fraternity between nations,” as Nobel referred to this qualification in his will, than for the disengagement of armies. Instead, warfare is as common today as it was in Nobel’s time. If I were on the Nobel committee, I’d refuse to award a prize until nations stop making war. Whatever individual people have done to end war, it hasn’t been enough, and nobody deserves a prize.

Nobel’s will mandates a prize every year, and so you can see why the people who are on the committee, obliged to make an award even in time of war, might have to give it to the commander-in-chief of the US armed forces. Obama’s not unlike the heroic firefighter who’s also an arsonist or the doctor who poisons patients so that he can rescue them from impending death. As the world’s prime warmaker, he gets to say how much war there will be, and any interruption, any forbearance at all is greeted with appreciation and even applause.

Never mind that of all nations the USA sheds the most blood with bullets and explosives, displaces the most families, destroys the greatest number of neighborhoods, towns and villages, and sanctions the greatest breakdown of law and order. Despite all that, we maintain an armory so destructive that we could do much worse, and so give our commander the prize for not killing everybody. Or else.

Your Money & Your Life

Saturday, October 3rd, 2009

People with too much money are always looking for ways to use their excess to make more. They call this “investment.” They might buy shares in a company or purchase a piece of land or contracts to sell wheat. Lately, investment brokers have been promoting a new type of money-making scheme: insurance on other people’s lives.

Suppose you’re the insured on a paid-up or nearly paid-up fifty-thousand-dollar life insurance policy and you need money. The cash value of your policy is much less than the death benefit, and you won’t be around to collect that, so you find yourself sitting on a valuable asset and broke at the same time. Enter a Wall Street outfit, maybe in the form of a TV commercial, with an offer to buy your policy for twenty-five thou cash. All you have to do is cut your beneficiary out and name the fund as new beneficiary. You take the deal, you and thousands of other cash-strapped insureds.

The Wall Streeter bundles up all those policies and sells shares in them. As the insureds exit the scene, the fund collects their death benefits, double and more what it paid for them, and the investors make money. They’ve placed a bet that you and the others–I don’t know what to call this group: collaterals, maybe–will die sooner rather than later, thus making the investors richer.

If you were a Wall Streeter putting together an exotic investment vehicle like this one, you would probably look for insureds of advanced age and limited resources in areas with a relatively low life expectancy. The sooner they die, after all, the better for your investors. In fact, your investment instrument would create an incentive among your investors to do everything they could–other than murder–to put an end to the people in the pool.

What might these investors do to improve their prospects of making money? Anything to shorten the lives of poor people, most likely. Oppose public assistance. Oppose universal health care. Oppose nursing home care. Support war. Encourage polluting industry. Limit food subsidies. Legalize euthanasia. Arm everybody. Anything that increases sickness and mortality will work to their benefit. A lot of people other than their fund’s insureds might have to die to make them a decent profit, but that’s capitalism, after all, isn’t it? Class warfare at its classiest.

Notice any similarities between the investors’ objectives and the legislative bounty of the 111th Congress? This is the Congress that claims to have a Democrat majority but that hews ever so loyally to the Republican agenda. With the possible exception of a direct poverty extermination policy, all of the measures that would aid investors in the insurance fund have the support of 100% of Republicans and enough Democrats to command a congressional majority.

It’s no mystery why this has happened. Congress is bought and paid for by people with too much money. Part of using excess money to make more money is buying elected officials, so that they will adopt friendly policies. Now, under a Washington standard that encourages new and brutal forms of investment, the rich will get so much richer and the poor will not only get poorer. They’ll get dead. What a deal.