Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Blood is Their Argument

“I am afeard there are few die well that die in battle, for how can they charitably dispose of anything when blood is their argument?”

I confess that whenever I see this quote (not very often, I confess) I immediately think of John McCain and his loyal sidekick, Lindsey Graham, who seem to epitomize the sentiment contained in this statement. There is apparently no situation that, according to these two, cannot be solved by immediately turning to violence. And when the violence is over, and they cannot charitably dispose of anything, they solve this by simply moving on to the next senseless acts of violence, or, I guess, they would if they had their way. This seems to be related to the idea of an American Empire, an empire that can be made possible only through the use of our advanced military prowess and our sense of entitlement. Of course we should dominate the globe, change governments to better suit our taste, get rid of those who do not comply with our wishes (and greed), and spread democracy (and Christianity) around the globe. Our American “Exceptionalism” is justification enough, as we are that “shining beacon on the hill,” the “greatest nation on earth,” the world’s only “superpower,” with “the highest standard of living on earth,” or at least we did once upon a time as I think that may not be any longer true.
I find it amazing that Shakespeare somehow anticipated United States Foreign Policy in the 20th and 21st centuries, when the United States did not yet exist. It does seem to me we have not “charitably disposed of anything” even after all these years of violence and war. In matters such as this we seem to be slipping farther and farther behind, especially in recent years. Remarkable how we could have spent so much money, time, and blood for such little reward. Tell me, if you will, what it is we have accomplished in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, to say nothing of all the other bloodshed in which we have been involved. Have we made the world a better place, profited from our bloodshed, spread democracy, “won hearts and minds,” what?
Once again those who use blood for their argument are pressuring for war against Iran, for military involvement in Syria, for supporting Israeli war crimes, to become more involved in African violence,  to stay forever in Afghanistan, to send our killing drones wherever we wish and against whatever targets we choose, and so on and on and on, a veritable carnival of blood and violence. I’m pretty sure that we and our Israeli “buddies” are now considered by most other people to be the major obstacle to peace on the planet (and for good reason).
Curiously enough, although President Obama has blood on his hands, what with Afghanistan and his drones, he has also been opposed to war with Iran (in spite of intense pressure from Israel and their toadies), and is also resisting intense pressure from the merchants of blood to intervene in Syria. I think he should be given credit for this, but his schizophrenic foreign policy remains a mystery to me (perhaps to him as well).   


Monday, April 29, 2013

Throwin' the Poor Dogs a Bone

Probably most of you don’t remember Memphis Slim and his rendition of “Throw This Poor Dog a Bone.” He is begging a woman to hold him in her arms or at least, as I remember it, “throw him a bone.”
This seems to me curiously related to what is going on at the moment in our bizarre culture. I notice there is a movement now to provide food stamps for pets. One could, I suppose, believe this is a noble, altruistic, caring, and nice thing to do. I mean, there are people so poor they cannot afford to feed their pets, so why should government (or somebody) not provide them with food stamps to alleviate this unfortunate situation, noblesse oblige carried to an extreme, wonderful.
There is another way to look at this apparently generous offer. Consider that we now already have millions of our citizens on food stamps, living either under or on the poverty line, which, as they cannot afford to feed themselves, they cannot afford to feed their pets. The powers that be, gigantic corporations, businesses, and the unbelievably wealthy, would prefer not to have to even provide food stamps or unemployment insurance, are delighted to have a surplus labor market so huge they can pay starvation wages, and are more than merely content with the situation as it is. They agree to food stamps mainly to keep the “peasants” they have been creating from rioting in the streets with their pitchforks and clubs (and pets). And so it is for food stamps for their pets. There is a bottom line to be maintained, just sufficient to prevent a revolution, if feeding their pets helps to placate them it is, for them, a smaller price to pay than having more unrest.
There is no doubt in my mind that the powers that be have systematically over the years attempted to reduce the average U.S. citizen to little more than a basically illiterate, poorly educated, easily pleased, and docile creature who will accept his or her condition without thinking or creating trouble. This can be seen in our progressively failing educational system, our television wasteland, the barrage of propaganda extolling the benefits of capitalism, and our relatively new ethos of anti-intellectualism that seems to have become virtually universal throughout the nation.
There is, I think, a height of (perhaps a depth of) depravity beyond which they dare not, at least at the moment, go. That is, they must realize that ordinary citizens can be pushed and trained into patient obedient peasants and serfs only up to a point, and they are getting dangerously near that point. Thus it is that at least a few of our billionaires will admit that perhaps they should pay a tad more in taxes than they do (these must be ones that are aware of the French and Russian revolutions), if they are to avoid the inevitable fate of the overly greedy. They may have already gone a bit too far as I notice there are beginning to be some major strikes at Walmart, in Chicago, by Nurses, and others, perhaps precursors of more to come. There is also a much overdue suggestion that the minimum wage (which guarantees a level of poverty even for full-time workers) should be raised. President Obama’s suggestion of $9 an hour is basically insulting to anyone with the brain of a slug, ten dollars an hour is not much better, fifteen dollars an hour is better but still doesn’t bring the minimum wage up to where it would be if inflation were taken into account.
The minimum wage we now have, along with food stamps and unemployment insurance, along with Social Security and Medicare, are themselves merely bones that have been thrown over time to the poor dogs to keep them from biting the hands that feed them, such rewards probably cannot work forever unless, for some reason, they are substantially increased which seems unlikely at the present time, especially with Congress in the hands of millionaires only too happy to be further rewarded for their votes by whatever special interests strike their fancy. When you achieve a population that appears to be satisfied with individual billionaires, and has five or six people with more money than 40% of the rest of the population, you should recognize the pathology involved and consider making some major changes. Unless something really drastic happens by, and/or as a result of the 2016 Presidential election, I should think 2017, the hundred year anniversary of the Russian revolution, might become another significant date in the ongoing battle over greed and human rights.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Of Course They Hate Us

If someone asks “Why do they hate us?” I first conclude they must have been deaf, dumb, blind, and living in an underground  bunker somewhere in the depths of the Amazon Jungle, or perhaps in Antarctica, with no contact with the outside world for the past few generations.
Realistically, the question implies they have no knowledge of American history, no knowledge of American Foreign Policy, no knowledge of any of the political and humanitarian disasters we have brought about, especially in the last century, and even more specifically in the 21st century, the “Nightmare Years” of the Bush/Cheney administration. They must have been absent when it was revealed our sanctions had killed an estimated 500,000 Iraqi children and our then Secretary of State, Madeleine “Not-so-bright,” when asked about it, assured us “it was worth it.” I was and still am mystified of what the “It” in that statement might have meant. One can only assume that not only Iraqis, but most other Middle Easterners, would not be happy about that sad chapter in American history. Of course that was not enough, we then went on to start a completely illegal “war” against Iraq, a sovereign nation that was no threat to us or to its neighbors, a unnecessary war that killed altogether probably a million or more people and displaced perhaps twice that many. While we were busy destroying their country we also employed torture, created an illegal “prison” at Guantanamo that still holds large numbers of perfectly innocent people, with no charges against them. They have been there for years for no reason other than perhaps because we are too inept to know what to do with them.
Of course we could go back a few years when our CIA was instrumental in removing a democratically elected Iranian leader and replaced him with a cruel and despotic Shah. Of course we have replaced many national leaders around the world seeking to find toadies who would fulfill our greedy desires. Somehow we have felt it was our duty to manage the affairs of most other countries, a program I am certain has not endeared us to many.
In response to a criminal attack on the Twin Towers by a few representatives of Muslim extremists, rather than treating them as criminals as we should have, we started another “war” against still another country that was by no stretch of the imagination a threat to us. Ironically enough we have learned that our much vaunted “Superpower” status cannot even win a war against a bunch of illiterate Afghans armed with only small arms and explosives. What we thought would be a cakewalk has turned out to be the longest war we have ever fought, and it continues although for no apparent reason other than it continues.
In both Iraq and Afghanistan we sent in our troops, mostly youngsters with no knowledge of other cultures, no language skills, and ethnocentric contempt for the citizens of those countries. We battered down doors and forced our way into their homes, shooting and killing at will, acts that we somehow thought would  “change their hearts and minds.” It certainly did that, but not in the way we stupidly intended. And now we idiotically claim they hate us for our freedoms and way of life rather than for what we have done to them.
Perhaps the worst thing we have done for years is defend Israel, a criminal country that has systematically stolen Palestinian land and water, herded more than a million into a small area where they can be assassinated, starved, humiliated, and brutalized at will while Israeli settlers destroy their orchards, bulldoze their homes, steal their property, kill their children, and thumb their noses at international law, common decency, and morality. Why do they hate us? I wonder. Oh, yeah, they hate our freedoms. From their point of view our freedoms consist of allowing our women to parade around virtually naked in public, glorifying sex and violence, and abusing alcohol and our children. While we may believe they are old-fashioned and prudish when it comes to such things, there is a genuine clash of values involved here.
If all this is not enough we have now developed a “Drone program” in which we send our unmanned aircraft most anywhere we wish in the Middle East, killing untold numbers of perfectly innocent people while occasionally killing a “terrorist.” The targets of these attacks do not respond with love and respect but, of course, with outright hatred. In short our policy of “Might makes Right” has alienated most of the world, and for good reason. Anyone who can now seriously wonder “why they hate us” must be too stupid to read and even watch television (other than Fox news perhaps). There are encouraging signs that our cowardly drone program may be too much even for the American public. As it certainly violates international law and is otherwise immoral and misguided, perhaps it can be stopped, but don’t bet on it. Of course they hate us, how could they NOT hate us?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Fear of Governing

I have for a long time railed about the Republican opposition to President Obama and virtually everything and anything he has tried to do to improve things. I believe their opposition has at times reached virtually to the boundaries of treason. At the same time I have observed Obama’s naivete when it comes to expecting bipartisanship, his continual expectation that Republicans will eventually do the right thing when it has become obvious they have no intention whatsoever of doing the right thing when it  comes to taxation, spending, poverty, health care, employment, minimum wages, unions,  etc., etc.  
I still believe Republicans have repeatedly rejected any attempt s to improve the lot of ordinary citizens and have gone overboard on their attempts to destroy Obama. But I have also grown weary of the Democrats apparent timidity when it comes to governing the country and getting things done. Some say this is a result of the lack of leadership on the part of Obama and that may be true. But there seems to be more to it than that. Democrats in the House and Senate appear to me to be too timid to go all out for what desperately needs doing.  Take the matter of gun legislation, for example, only one example of how they have failed to act, to do the right thing. If Harry Reid (and the Democrats) had not caved on the matter of filibuster reform we would have easily had sensible gun control measures passed. I don’t know exactly why Reid agreed to some ridiculous promise on the part of McConnell, but he did. This was a terrible mistake.
When it comes to taxing the rich the Democrats again lack the will to do the right thing. They are arguing over some paltry two or three percent increase in taxes on the obscenely wealthy and corporations when they should demand probably fifty or more percent. I believe they could do this if they truly wanted to do it, after all Teddy Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt managed to achieve such changes. Health care, too, could be changed into what is obviously required, a single-payer system like all other industrialized countries have, instead of the inefficient, insurance-run travesty that we now have. We could also have strong unions, a decent minimum wage, Social Security, unemployment insurance, Planned Parenthood, and other critical social programs if Democrats would demand such things and enlist the public behind them.
In order to achieve their stated goals about lifting and supporting the middle class they would have become ruthless, more ruthless than the Republicans who oppose them, but  somehow they seem unable, perhaps unwilling, to do this, simply caving in to the small minority in the House that appears to be running the country. It seems to me the Democrats lack the courage of their convictions (if, indeed, they truly have these convictions). I do not believe that a loony minority in the House of Representatives cannot be overcome, removed from office, and relegated to nothing more than a bad memory, if an effort was made to that end.  
It is possible, of course, as some believe, there is little or no difference between Republicans and Democrats, they are all in the pockets of the same corporate and wealthy powers, and maybe that is so. If it is, then, we should have no expectation of any change for the better. But if Democrats are truly serious about what they claim to be for, and if they stop being so timid and passive, giving in time and again to a few loonies in the House, I’m sure they could succeed in actually governing our country. The world does not belong to the weak and submissive. Reid should begin by immediately doing away with the filibuster and making it clear to Republicans their nonsense will no longer be tolerated. That message, by itself, would set the stage for positive changes.

Monday, April 22, 2013

What the Hell...

…is Chuck Hagel talking about? He apparently said Israel has a right to attack Iran whenever it wants to do so. This is outrageous! What “right” does Israel have to attack anyone that has not attacked them? Is this the same “right” Bush/Cheney exercised to attack Iraq? No nation has a right to attack another unless they are under some immediate threat from it, and imaginary paranoid existential threats don’t count. Netanyahu and his henchmen have been trying to get us to attack Iran for them for years, claiming year after year Iran is going to have a nuclear bomb soon, a bomb that has never materialized and quite likely never will. And even if it did the Iranians would no more use it on Israel than they would on Antarctica. Israel wants the world to believe Iranians are just a bunch of stupid, insane, Arabs, who cannot be trusted. As they are not stupid, insane, or Arabs, most of the world recognizes the Israelis are stupid, insane, non-Arabs up to no good; all of the world, that is, except for the United States, which believes Israeli criminality should be defended and rewarded no matter how outrageous. Iran is not the problem, this should be obvious by now, but apparently not to Obama and Hagel, and certainly not to our stupid, insane, Armageddon-obsessed Congress.  Our foreign policy in the Middle East remains a disaster and will continue to be until the Palestinians and Iranians are seen to be just as deserving of respect and human rights as anyone else in this apparently completely irrational world.
But speaking of irrationality, let us return to Boston for a moment. It is being reported that the surviving bomber is responding to questions and apparently cooperating. He is reported to have said they (the two brothers) had no ties to any outside groups. I wonder if that means they never had any such ties or if they did not have direct ties at the moment. Anyway, of more interest is his claim that they acted out of “religious fervor.” If he believes this, and means it, it leaves what seems to me an obvious question: What religion, philosophy, or belief system has ever promoted the idea that humanicide (the completely random killing of large numbers of generic human beings) was the means to accomplish anything? Perhaps I am wrong, perhaps I have missed something, but I can think of no precedent for such acts of random violence. There is a suggestion they did not kill their carjacking victim because he was not an American, indicating that maybe they wanted to kill Americans. But the crowds at the Boston marathon almost certainly would have contained non-Americans. Similarly, if they wanted to kill Christians there almost certainly were many non-Christians in the crowd, including Muslims. The distinguishing feature of what I think of as humanicide is that those who are targeted do not constitute any particular group of people: children, adults, Christians, Americans, Whites, Blacks, Latinos, American Indians, East Indians, Gays, Lesbians, Democrats, Republicans, Gypsies, Bohemians, Communists, Socialists, Anarchists, whatever. Humanicide kills indiscriminately, and as such, makes no sense whatsoever.
I cannot remember anything like humanicide previously. Sure, there were mass murders, genocides, ethnic cleansings, and what-have-you, but they all had specifically targeted groups, Jews, Gypsies, the handicapped, Gays, Armenians, Indians, and so forth. There is no precedent for humanicide although there are hints of it beginning with the bombings of Guernica, Dresden, and Nagasaki  (not truly acts of humanicide). It seems to me that humanicide is a recent phenomenon. It has something to do with the complete absence of morality or beliefs about the value of human life. It is as if it is an attack on the human species itself by members of that very same species. This is not to say there have not been many attacks on humans by other humans, obviously these have been more common than not, but never  before with no apparent or obvious target in mind. Those guilty of humanicides either do not think about what they are doing at all or completely disvalue human life in general as what they do makes no sense and accomplishes nothing. This is true no matter what they offer as an excuse or reason including terrorism. Is this an example of the increasing dehumanization that comes with capitalism and technology, the abandonment of long-standing religious strictures, the culmination of the frustration-aggression complex, alienation, hopelessness, poverty, discrimination, an increase in the means of doing it, some kind of genetic mutation, or just plain dissatisfaction with life in the modern world? I do not know, but I’ll wager humanicide will increase in the near and distant future rather than decrease and disappear.    

Friedrich Nietzsche

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Great Non-dilemma

What a country is the USA! Now that a blue-ribbon bi-partisan committee has made it quite clear that ex-President George W. Bush (and others in his administration) are guilty of war crimes, especially the authorization of and use of torture, we are confronted with a massive non-dilemma. I say non-dilemma because it is obvious nothing is going to happen. There is no doubt about his and other's guilt in this matter and there is also no doubt that he and his henchmen should be tried for their obvious war crimes. But of course they won’t be. President Obama made it clear from the very beginning there would be no investigation and no punishment for whatever the Bush administration did. So for the past few years Bush and Cheney have openly boasted of what they did and claim they would do the same thing over again if given the opportunity.
At least part of this potential dilemma concerns what is to be done, or even what could be done, to prevent future Presidents from doing the same thing…namely, whatever they damn well please (as I guess Obama is currently doing with his drone campaign and claims of murderous Presidential powers). Thus, if Bush, et al, are not punished for their criminal acts there is no way of preventing future Presidents from doing the same, but Bush, et al are not to be punished. U.S. hypocrisy here seems to have reached an all-time high, we go around the world demanding trials for war criminals in other parts of the world but refuse to even consider them for our own war criminals. And of course we actively support all Israeli war crimes no matter how egregious they may be.
I guess the most frustrating part of this non-dilemma is that it is perfectly understandable why Obama would not have tried to bring Bush to justice. Think of the outrage of the Republican Party, think of the already terrible divisions in our society that would have been exacerbated by any attempt to bring Bush/Cheney to justice. Republicans would be quite happy to defend these blatant war crimes for a variety of reasons I won’t mention but have to do with American jingoism, racism, religion, and, unfortunately, basic  ignorance in general. What should be a fundamental national dilemma with a possible legal solution has become an impossible non-dilemma with no possible solution, legal or otherwise. Why it took so long for a commission to tell us what we already knew years ago I do not know. It’s the American way.
I suppose the ethnocentrism of the American news media is understandable, after all they are mainly reporting on things that happen here at home. But I cannot help but notice than when a story breaks here, like the Boston bombings,  that is virtually all you hear about for hours and days on end. It’s as if nothing of any importance might have happened anywhere else in the world, like massive earthquakes, other bombings and killings, potentially significant political events, or whatever. I agree, of course, that the bombings in Boston were terrible, I sympathize completely with the unfortunate victims and their families, and I agree it was important to find and bring the perpetrators to justice. But, really, did we have to hear from so many witnesses, learn that our newspersons knew some of the families personally, once went to the same school as one of them, and up-to-the minute reports that nothing was happening?  When any significant event occurs in the U.S. you can be sure you will hear about nothing else for days. I suppose this is partly due to the fact that the major news outlets no longer want to pay for foreign correspondents, preferring instead to just get whatever there is from the same sources, for after all they are, like everyone else, in it for profits. It’s so much cheaper just to report whatever you are told than to actually investigate anything. And now, of course, when you can depend on some of the news outlets to just print lies so the others have to correct their lies, you don’t have to worry about actual news at all. It’s the American way!
I will resist the temptation to comment on our absolutely shameless, unconscionable, disgusting, and completely stupid policy in the Middle East, especially as it relates to Israel, Palestine, and Iran. Rest assured peace will never come to that region as long as the U.S. has anything to do with it.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Another Act of "Humanicide"

I refer you to my original blog of August 26, 2004 on the subject and definition of humanicide, where I suggested:

“Humanicide is quite different from other forms of mass murder in that there is no motive other than the destruction of large numbers of human beings simply for its own sake. There is no attempt to rob the victims or steal their land or women or anything else. They were not killed because they were resisting. They were not taken prisoner, raped, tortured or otherwise abused. They were simply killed for no reason other than for some perverted idea that had nothing whatsoever to do with them…
For true humanicide you must have an innocent group of human beings for victims. The victims must have nothing in common other than being present at the time. The attackers must have no specific knowledge of who will be present. You must have a motive that has nothing whatsoever to do with those you are about to murder. It must be impersonal and involve some form of relatively modern technology.”

I suggested that the Oklahoma City bombing and the attack on the Twin Towers were examples of humanicide. It seems clear to me that the Boston Marathon bombing is yet another example of this seemingly inexplicable behavior, bizarre attacks on large numbers of human beings that have nothing whatsoever to do with the attackers and only very distant connections, if any, to their motives. The recent murders of school children in Sandy Hook, the Aurora, Colorado theatre massacres, along with the Virginia Tech case and others might also be considered also acts of humanicide, although in these cases there may have been more understandable motives involved, such as personal revenge for past slights or bullying. In any case, I believe mass murders like the Twin Towers and Boson cases are a very recent phenomenon that did not occur prior to the last of the 20th century and will quite likely become increasingly common in the 21st century. Why this is so I do not know but I should think the answer is of grave importance.

I think we may have seen the first inclinations of humanicide in the bombings of Guernica, Dresden, and Nagasaki. These were not acts of humanicide because they occurred for obvious military purposes, however terrible and misguided they might have been. Technology obviously played a role in preparing us for humanicide, as when warfare and plundering occurred previously it was mostly a matter of face-to-face fighting where the enemy was obvious, the outcome was expected, and the means of killing limited. Even bombs, if present, were relatively small and inefficient. As far as I know there were no examples of what I am now describing as humanicide. But the technology necessary to carry out attacks of humanicide need not be highly sophisticated and its existence cannot by itself explain the phenomena. It has to have something to do with human behavior itself, especially as it relates to morality and human attitudes towards each other, and importantly to the value placed on human life in general. Prior to, and during the Middle Ages, human life, as such, was obviously not regarded as terribly important, the Vikings and Mongols and others raided, plundered, and killed with impunity. They may sometimes have wiped out entire villages and killed virtually everyone there, but it was obviously for the purpose of plunder. After the Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th centuries, and up until recent times, the attitude towards human life somewhat mellowed and the previous excesses were at least partly curbed. Could it be said that we are now experiencing a return to a basic human nature that just killed, raped, and plundered at will? I don’t think so, something else seems to be involved.

Humanicide does not seem to involve much in the way of emotion. The victims are not hated (I think and hope), there is not even an element of sadism involved, empathy seems to be absent, ordinary moral strictures seem to be irrelevant, there is a quality of complete detachment involved, nothing material is to be gained, rape and robbery are not involved, no individuals or groups are targeted as people of all races, ethnic backgrounds, religions and beliefs are equally victims, and there appear to be no precedents for acts of humanicide. So why do they occur, and with apparently increasing cases?

We have not yet heard from the one remaining bomber and, if he chooses to remain silent, we may never hear from him. But what can he possibly say to explain this heinous attack that would truly explain it? It was for a “free Chechnia? It was because the U.S. is an immoral country? It was revenge for U.S. involvements in the Middle East? It was part of a Muslim jihad? None of these explanations, nor any explanation of this type, can possibly explain it. No explanation I can conceive of forgives the basic fact that large numbers of completely anonymous innocent people were destroyed. There are no political or religious beliefs that justify humanicide, even anarchists would never condone humanicide. As far as I know, no one, until recently, even conceived of such mass acts of terror.

Is terror the answer? Is the purpose of such acts to strike terror in the minds of all? We might say that, but does it make sense? What, after all, is the purpose of terror? Terrorizing a population does not destroy it, and, indeed, might well strengthen it. And you probably cannot effectively terrorize millions, even billions of people. Terror as a tactic can never work as the terrorized are still going to live and defend themselves. I doubt that even the perpetrators of humanicide can adequately explain their senseless acts. I do not know the answer to the fact of humanicide as a recent human phenomenon. It may have something to do with the dehumanization that has come with technology, the evolution of culture and its effects on aspects of human nature such as basic emotional features like empathy, shame, guilt, beliefs about the sanctity of life, and so forth.

If you ask someone who has just destroyed hundreds of fellow human beings why he did it, and he replies he did it to save the world, protect the children, bring democracy, or free Chechnia, or some other group, don’t believe it. I want the perpetrators of humanicide to explain precisely and in serious detail their justification for what they have done, simple political or religious explanations are not enough, unless, perhaps they are so stupid and vile they really do not know better.    

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Remarkable, What Money...

It is indeed remarkable what money can buy in these (somewhat loosely) United States of America now that virtually everything has become a commodity. Karl Marx was apparently the first to examine the concept of commodity and how important commodities can be. Karl Polanyi described the necessity of the commodity concept for a capitalistic economy, arguing that land, labor, and money all had to be so considered if such an economy were to function. I might be wrong but I doubt that either of these two great men actually conceived of pain, life, and death as commodities, as they have become here in the U.S. Nor, I doubt, did they imagine how easily these particular commodities could be bought and sold in our great central market for such commodities, otherwise known as the U.S. Congress.
We have just witnessed a perfect case in point, the defeat of a modest gun control measure. First consider what I think of as “TAWTINDS” (Things about which there is no doubt). There is no doubt that more people will be killed by guns in the hands of those who should not have them, and there is no doubt that background checks would have prevented at least some of these killings. Thus to vote against background checks is basically a vote for more deaths. There is also no doubt that some of those who voted against this reasonable, common-sense measure, have accepted money in one form or another from the gun manufacturers who derive their profit from the sales of guns. It may be the case that not all of the Senators who voted against the measure were motivated by such greed, but some surely were. As virtually all Republicans voted against the measure it could be that it is just another case of refusing to vote for anything that will help President Obama, and some no doubt voted as they did because of their fear of not being re-elected. In any case it is clear enough that voting against background checks will inevitably lead to more deaths.
Republicans vote consistently in favor of pain, suffering, and death. They oppose universal health care, Obamacare, minimum wages, labor unions, food stamps, unemployment insurance, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and whatever else there may be to improve the lot of ordinary working citizens. They do this as if there is no connection between these various programs and human beings. Their decisions on these matters are calculated purely in terms of monetary value, how much are they going to cost? That is, it is reasonably simple to attach a monetary cost to, say, food stamps or unemployment insurance, and then decide whether or not it is going to be in their opinion too expensive. This works for them because no other costs are considered, what are sometimes referred to as “human costs.” While it is fairly easy to fix a cost on a program to alleviate pain, there is no way to calculate the value of the pain itself. While liberals like Chris Hayes may be concerned about human costs, Republicans are apparently not so concerned. As Polanyi thought that labor was in a sense a false commodity because it was just another word for human behavior and thus could not be separated from that basic fact, so it is that these various programs must be seen only in the abstract, mistakenly divorced from their human or behavioral consequences if one wishes to vote against them. As pain and suffering, just like the value of a human life cannot be quantified, such considerations do not become part of the equation.
Is this not what happens when Congress (aided and abetted by the Executive Branch and the Supreme Court) makes decisions about health care, food stamps, abortion, etc.? As no one can put a price on the human suffering (or pleasure) entailed, the decisions are made purely on the basis of cost, at least by Republicans. Thus we cannot have universal health care because it will cost too much, or we cannot have Social Security because (they falsely claim) it costs too much, and so on. Health care, food stamps, whatever, are traded on our huge Congressional marketplace on the basis of their monetary value, just like pork bellies, lima beans, and coffee. In addition to that unfortunate situation, decisions can also be influenced by special interests through monetary bribes, gifts, and so on. Human desires, pain and suffering, empathy, ethics and morality have nothing to do with it. When fully 90% of the public is clearly for background checks and they are voted down, what more proof do you need? Follow the money we say, and nowhere in the world is money followed more slavishly than here in the good ol’ U. S. of A.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

I Think I've "Had it"

I think maybe I’ve “had it” at long last. I seem to have lost interest in blogging and, in fact, in just about everything that is going on, or not going on, as the case may be. It is possible, I suppose, that this is a result of my increasing age, but I think the answer lies elsewhere. As I saw in a recent poll only about 25% of citizens have a positive attitude toward our government, perhaps I am not alone in my ennui.
I mean, like, nothing happens, certainly nothing positive. Try to close Guantanamo, nothing happens. Try to raise the minimum wage, nothing happens. Try for gun control, nothing happens. Try to deal reasonably with Iran, nothing happens. Try to curb Israeli expansion, nothing happens. Try, try, try, nothing happens.
The late President George W. Bush and his puppet master, Dick Cheney, are both alive and well, having committed horrendous war crimes, boast about it and nothing happens. Banks rip off the public with a regularity that is mind-boggling, nothing much happens other than a modest fine that means nothing. Huge oil companies make record profits, pay no taxes, nothing happens. The wealthy stash trillions overseas, nothing happens. The enormous gap between rich and poor expands constantly, nothing happens.
Well, you might say, President Obama is trying to change things. I’m afraid I have at last lost confidence in him as well as in most everything else. It’s true he says the right things but he doesn’t really make much of an effort. For example, suggesting a raise in the minimum wage to $9 an hour is not a serious attempt, when adjusting for inflation it ought to be somewhere in the vicinity of $20 an hour. Similarly, trying to raise taxes on multi-millionaires and billionaires by 2 or 3 percentage points is pathetically inadequate. Probably getting not much at all in the way of gun control even with 90% of the public behind him is equally pathetic. He refuses to even try to curb the genocidal Israelis, merely mumbling from time to time they should stop the settlements, apparently just putty in the hands of the criminal Netanyahu. He persists in his increasingly belligerent approach to Iran even though it is completely unproductive and is harming the civilian population rather than the leadership. His record on civil liberties and secrecy is appalling even though he keeps making soothing noises about transparency.
It has gotten to the point now in our country that it is impossible to find the truth about anything, our “leaders” lie constantly, have no interest in promoting the public interest, and simply do the bidding of their corporate masters who shamelessly bribe them. Obama talks a good game when it comes to green energy but has not done much to bring it about, talks about improving our superstructure, schools, and etc., but has apparently joined the austerity bandwagon that is completely contrary to what he preaches. His attempt to attack Social Security is not only a betrayal of everything he promised but the fulfillment of the Republican dream of 70 years. In short, it appears that Obama has sold out to the same capitalistic interests that now control virtually everything.  He talks of protecting the middle class while shoveling money to the corporations and the already filthy rich.
I feel I have now a ringside seat to the demise of the United States. Where once we led the world now we are lagging behind, when once we were the lone superpower now we can’t even defeat people with rifles and hand grenades, when once we were the richest nation on earth we are even falling behind on that score, and when once we could claim moral superiority (however perhaps unjustly) we have surrendered that through our war crimes and support for the equally criminal Israelis. Our much touted “free market capitalism” is failing miserably.
Karl Marx may have been very wrong about communism but he was right about capitalism “sowing the seeds of its own destruction.” We are watching that process at this very moment. 

Saturday, April 13, 2013

No Respect

 You are no doubt familiar with the late Rodney Dangerfield’s piteous complaint, “I don’t get no respect.” It appears more and more to me that the current Republican Party has become the Rodney Dangerfield of politics. Here in the U.S. we are often told we must respect one another, and we often hear someone say, “I respect your opinion, you should respect mine,” and so on. I have increasingly found it impossible to respect much of what I hear from Republicans.
For example, when a Republican doubts the reality of climate change, or that it is partly due to human activity, and cites the biblical story of the flood as an example of climate change, I “don’t give it much respect.” Why should I when I know that virtually 98% of the world’s scientists who study such things have determined that climate change is happening and in fact is partly due to human activity? Knowing this how do you respect a Senator’s claim that global warming is one of the worst lies fed to the public?
What respect is due someone who invents an oxymoron like “legitimate rape,” and claims the female body somehow rejects the sperm of rapists, or the somewhat related idiotic claim that a baby as the result of a rape is something “that God intended.” How about Paul Ryan’s recent speech in which he said he wants a society where abortion is not only illegal but not even considered? I venture to say there has probably been no society on earth where abortion has not been considered and most probably practiced, nor will there ever be such a society. This is just babbling nonsense and is not worthy of respect.
When a Republican claims that a particular Democratic political group consists of communists, or another claims that a dozen members of the Harvard Law Faculty are communists, you don’t even have to check to know it is nonsense and not worthy of respect.
Similarly, when a Republican candidate for the Vice-Presidency claims foreign policy experience because she can see Russia from her front porch are we to respect such a claim? When the same person refers to Africa as a country, is that deserving of respect? When a Republican candidate for President chooses as his running mate an obviously unqualified, essentially “Air head” as his running mate does that deserve respect? If so, I cannot see why. That is my not even very carefully considered opinion as it is so patently obvious. You can respect it or not.
Am I to respect his opinion when a Republican Congressman claims that trying to limit the magazine capacity of firearms might lead to polygamy, polyandry, or even beastiality? What respect is due Michele Bachmann’s statement: "And what a bizarre time we're in, when a judge will say to little children that you can't say the pledge of allegiance, but you must learn that homosexuality is normal and you should try it." Here’s Mike Huckbee on energy: We ought to declare that we will be free of energy consumption in this country within a decade."How about the astute Mitt Romney: ''He [Obama] says we need more firemen, more policemen, more teachers. Did he not get the message of Wisconsin? The American people did. It's time for us to cut back on government and help the American people.''
It would be easy to go on with this, but you might say these are just extremists in the Republican Party or mere slips of the tongue or whatever. It doesn’t matter what they are as by and large no matter how idiotic or absurd they are the Republican Party has not refuted them or withheld support for them. Furthermore, should we respect a Party that deliberately planned to withhold all support for our President, and did that, even though it demonstrably damaged our country? For that they do not deserve, nor should they expect any respect.
Far more importantly, are we expected to respect the Party that deliberately lied us into a completely illegal, unconstitutional, and unnecessary “war,” that resulted in the deaths of thousands and thousands of people, that approved of and used criminal torture, that made billions by war profiteering, and that turned so much of the world against us?
 The problem with respect is that once you lose it, it is difficult if not impossible to regain it. Try as they might I doubt the Republican Party, as presently constituted, will manage to regain it in the near future. In any case, given their behavior of the past few years “they don’t get no respect” from me, and they don’t deserve it from anyone else.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Ignorance and "Progress"

I probably should have titled this “Ignorance and the lack of Progress,” as that is what troubles me at the moment. In the early 1960’s and 70’s I spent almost two years living in intimate contact with natives in the New Guinea Highlands, observing their behavior, talking with them, sharing with them, and trying as best I could to understand them. At that time they would have been considered among the most “primitive” people on earth, a rather misleading term I think, but one widely believed to be true.
I came to believe that although they were incredibly ignorant by our “modern” standards they were not at all stupid. I mean, they had no newspapers, magazines, radio, television, and very little contact with anyone beyond their own tribal boundaries, but they did manage their own affairs fairly well, sometimes fighting with their neighbors and sometimes not, marrying into different groups and establishing kinship and political alliances and so on. Although they were culturally as different from me as I think it was probably possible to be, I got along well with them, I think I understood many of them as individuals and human beings, and for the most part I liked and respected them. I found their relations with each other and with other groups to be perfectly understandable if not always completely rational and in their own best interest. In short, they were, in my opinion, not much different from people anywhere I have lived, apart, of course, from their dress, their diet, their material culture, their houses and their strange (to me) customs, mostly merely an overlay on their basically human nature. That is to say, although their outward appearance was strange, their basic behavior patterns were not. Like all the people I have known during my life they shared the same basic emotions, they were capable of reason, they loved their children, experienced grief, happiness, sadness, jealousy, pain, and even what we think of as romantic love, perhaps not always as intensely as some others, but all of the basic emotions were certainly present, as was the capacity to reason. They were as fully “human” as any other people I have known.
There is something about this that puzzles me about humans. You would think that as ignorance was displaced by more and more knowledge there would be some commensurate change in our basic behavior. This does not seem to me to have happened. The huge gap between their knowledge of the world and ours is staggering. Where they knew nothing much about anything beyond their territorial boundaries, were illiterate, and certainly knew nothing about modern technology, production, science, space travel, and so on, we possess mathematics, physics, biology, chemistry, zoology, modern medicine, and so on and on, even space travel (I once tried to explain to them how it was we had shot a chimpanzee in a space capsule into orbit which made them suspect my sanity).   But they did, of course have a great deal of practical knowledge of the animals, birds, and fauna they dealt with on a daily basis).   
I confess that when it comes to the basic facts of human behavior, even interpersonal and international relations, war and peace, basic matters of life and death, marriage and divorce, children, family, and so forth, I can see little if any difference in their behavior and ours, our greater knowledge, our overcoming of ignorance, our mastery of science and space, etc., seems to have made no difference whatsoever in the way we interact with and deal with each other as humans. It is if there is no connection between what we know and how we behave on basic levels. Of course we now kill each other with guns and bombs rather than bows and arrows, and life is far more complex that it was, but we still seem to be, as my great friend Professor Mel Firestone once said, “still infants in increasingly decaying bodies.” We seem to have evolved both physically and culturally but not intellectually and emotionally. Strangely, there seems to be no connection between the physical/material aspects of our lives and the intellectual/emotional components, between what we ought to do and what we do, do, between what is rational and irrational, sensible and foolish, right and wrong, useful and useless.

Albert Einstein

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Don't Trust Nobody

I have had house guests. When I have guests I find it difficult to blog. It’s just as well as there isn’t much to blog about these days. The same old stuff seems to linger on day to day to the last syllable of recorded insanity: gun control, immigration, Iran, deficits, the budget, abortion, voting rights, and an out-of-control basketball coach. All interesting topics I guess, but wake me when anything actually happens.
It all reminds me of a story I once heard, I don’t remember when or from whom, and I’m sure it’s not a true story, but it goes like this: A rancher takes his young son out and stands him on a fence post. He instructs him to jump and tells him he will catch him. The trusting little boy jumps, the father makes no attempt to catch him. As the boy rolls in pain in the dust the father says, “Let that be a lesson to you, don’t trust nobody, not even your own father.”
I didn’t like this story when I first heard it, and I don’t like it now. But I’m beginning to believe there is something to it. I think Social Security is a perfect example of how you cannot trust anybody. First, we are reassured by some that Social Security is “off the table” because it does not contribute to the deficit. Now we learn that President Obama is offering to cut some Social Security benefits in order to arrive at the “grand bargain.” If Social Security does not contribute to the deficit, and if it is off the table, why should it be involved in such negotiations at all? Someone is lying here. Not only that, some keep insisting that Social Security is going to be bankrupt because there are no actual funds in the system while others insist it is fully funded and safe but will eventually need some fine tuning. This argument seems to hinge on the fact that Congress has borrowed money from the fund and spent it so it has no real assets. It is, however, as I understand it, still solvent because it has Government notes that are based on “the full faith and trust of the U.S. government.” Thus those who are telling us the notes are worthless are basically telling us the full faith and trust of the U.S. government is worthless. This is rather strange as these are the same notes we sell everyday to other governments who seem to believe in the full faith and trust of our government. So, who do you trust, nobody? It would seem to me in my apparent naivete that either Social Security is off the table and solvent or it is not. This unfortunately reminds me of my beloved father who was shrewd enough about most things but thought that Joe McCarthy must be right about his accusations because he would not be allowed to say them if they were not true. Sigh.
What has happened in our culture that we have come to distrust our government so readily? While I’m sure there have always been those who sometimes distrusted government this seems to have become a veritable epidemic of distrust. Personally, I think it probably began with Ronald Reagan who fed us the nonsense that “government was the problem.” If government was the problem that implied, it seems to me, that government was somehow dishonest. I don’t think the situation improved much what with Iran/Contra and with the first President Bush’s statement about “read my lips.” President Clinton certainly didn’t improve things with his various lies, especially about Monica. But no one could have done more to destroy the faith in government credibility than Bush/Cheney who never told the truth about anything, especially their illegal, unconstitutional, and criminal “war” with Iraq.
I can’t  say President Obama is doing much to improve our trust in government, especially as he is apparently about to throw our so-called “entitlements” out  the window in spite of his claims he would not do so. Social Security should not be a negotiating point, period, whether it is part of a “grand bargain” or not. I believe it is true Social Security has not contributed to the deficit, is separately and independently funded, is and will be solvent with some adjustments, and should indeed be “off the table.”
Medicare is a different matter. But it, too, could be saved and improved by gradually extending it to everyone, the most sensible thing to do to solve our horrendous problem of the most expensive least efficient healthcare in the modern world. But, of course, when you mention this relatively sensible solution for health care these days, many cry “socialism” and reach for their assault rifles, two dismal idiotic belief systems that seem to go hand in hand.
Culture with a capital “C,” that life style of refinement, taste, and true “civilization” has all but vanished in the United States. Culture with a small “c,” that is, as a functional system for providing basically  instinctless creatures with the means for survival, food, shelter, water, etc., seems to have also been disappearing, except perhaps for the one percent. I think I understand what is going on and I can truthfully say, “I don’t trust nobody.”

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

What's Love Got to do with It

This discussion has nothing to do with the movie of this name, the book that inspired it, the song or whatever else was involved (I have never seen, read, or have any knowledge of this, but I thought the title was useful). I am concerned here with Gay marriage and the concept of “Love and Marriage going together like a horse and carriage,” and such other romantic nonsense.
I have often seen, read, or heard in the current preoccupation with Gay marriage, that when two people love each other they should be allowed to marry. If you love someone and that love is reciprocated, and if you wish to marry and live together, why should  you not be allowed to do so. I find this a reasonably cogent argument. However, the concept of romantic love leading to marriage is a terribly ethnocentric and idealistic idea found almost exclusively in Western-Europeans and especially among Americans.
Historically, even traditionally, and certainly cross-culturally, love has had little or nothing to do with marriage. In many societies marriages are arranged between families, clans, or tribes, and the two participants have little or nothing to say about it. There are always political, economic, or social factors involved that have nothing to do with the desires of those being married. Marriages are arranged to cement alliances between families or groups, to consolidate landholdings, to unite two groups for defense, and so on. Of course these types of marriages were common among the upper classes, the rulers of different countries, but the basic reasons for marriage even among more common people rarely had anything to do with love, romantic or otherwise.
Men sometimes married for dowries that would enable them to raise their status in their society, women married to avoid becoming old maids, and often married in some circumstances because they could not easily survive on their own, they married for security. People married because they needed children to help on the farms and to look after them in their old age. Indeed, in many societies it was virtually unthinkable that women and/or men would remain unmarried, to do so would label them as unworthy. Polygamy was common and men would sometimes have many wives, to imagine these unions as a result of love would be truly stretching it, certainly in most cases.
Certainly in many societies men married because they wished to father children and thus perpetuate their name and their “line.” To not have children in some places, like the New Guinea Highlands, for example, would reduce you to the status of “rubbishman,” and for women to not have children was even worse. A barren woman could be the subject of derision, could be and often were divorced, or relegated to the status of a lesser wife to new wives. In some societies like the Nuer of Africa having an heir was so important a widow would sometimes have a child by another man after her husband was deceased that would be considered the child of her deceased husband. Among the polyandrous Toda of India the paternity of children depended not on the actual progenitor but on the relative position of the husbands.
Things are very different in the “modern” world. Working women do not have to marry for security, being childless is no longer such a terrible debit, children are not needed to work on the farm or take care of their parents, and with increased mobility where children, siblings, parents and grandparents scatter widely, family ties themselves are no longer as important as they were. Except in very rare cases political motives for marriage are virtually nonexistent as are unions for defensive purposes. Similarly, marriages to increase landholdings, or acquire dowries, or even to please parents, are no longer of the importance they once were. Historically, traditionally, realistically, marriages have not for the most part been based merely on the idea of romantic love.
They are not necessarily always so based even now, as having a family and children, and even basic companionship and the security that comes with companionship, are perhaps as important as romantic love itself, but these desires are themselves reflective of love. As this is true, and if it is also true that most of the more practical reasons for marriage in the past no longer apply, it would appear the reasons for marriage now seem clearly to possess a much more important component of love than ever before.  This suggests to me, interestingly, that Gay marriages probably come closer to personifying romantic love than marriages ever before. This is not so say, however, there are no practical advantages involved, but Gays do not have to marry and the practical advantages become salient mostly after their unions are already formed (I think).
In any case, as is pretty typical in our politics, those who presume to speak with authority on the subject of marriage, know little about it.