Belaboring the Obvious

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Parables of Ill Influence

Decades ago, someone I knew in graduate school would regale me and others with tales of two brothers from his childhood who, over their growing up years, seemed to be in constant trouble. The older brother was actually the instigator of trouble and was always getting his younger brother into great difficulty (quite the opposite of conventional wisdom, which always says--at least in film and television--that the older brother is always trying to keep the younger ones out of trouble), and yet, the younger brother followed the older everywhere he went. They were seemingly inseparable.

Seen in the context of the events alone, they were moderately tragic, but with a few beers, they were hilarious. The older brother once pushed the younger into a cesspool and the unfortunate sibling had taken in a large quantity of raw sewage in his attempts to surface. He ended up in the hospital with cholera and a couple of other waste-borne diseases.

Then, on another occasion, the older dared the younger to drink a quart of vinegar. Naturally, the kid went into acidosis and spent a few more days in the hospital.

When they were a bit older, perhaps twelve and eight, they were playing at some abandoned old factory or gasworks they had been told not to go near. The older climbed a fixed utility ladder up a wall and his little brother followed him. At some point many feet off the ground, the older put his foot-and much of his weight--on the younger's head below him, "just to see what happened." Physics being what they are, the kid went off the ladder and landed on his head on the concrete below. Upon seeing the great amount of blood pouring from his brother's head, the older brother panicked and dragged his younger brother home to see if he could stop the bleeding.

As with most head wounds, it didn't stop easily, so, the older brother got needle and thread and scissors from his mother's sewing basket, plunked his brother down in a chair at the kitchen table, hacked off clumps of his brother's hair and proceeded to sew up the gaping split in his brother's scalp. And, needless to say, this eventually meant another trip to the hospital to repair the damage.

Let us not forget that Dick Cheney, despite looking like Caligula's grandpa, or, at best, the archetypal pasty-faced old fart, is just a few years older than Dubya....

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Uh, Raincheck On That Democracy Stuff....

With all this ejaculative talk of "surges" in Iraq, revived Presidential aspirations for "victory," however the hell Bush defines that in his own mind, it's worth asking, briefly, what it is that is expected to be attained. We know that the all the excuses for the war first offered or implied--WMDs, collusion with al-Qaeda, involvement in 9/11--were all a load of horseshit. So, the real reasons for the invasion and occupation should figure prominently in any definition of "victory."

The end arguments about what the future can bring must depend upon the ultimate intentions of the originators of the plan. The neo-conservatives have always fallen back on the Ledeen imperative--"creative destruction"--or some such other nonsense approximating the shading of imperial ambition with words the meanings of which neither the press nor the public ever attempts to define: freedom, democracy, free market, free trade, etc.

So, baldly and crassly, the aims were to a) invade the country for the purposes of destroying the existing regime and to install a puppet government (for now) aligned with the United States, thus facilitating, b) to obtain contractual arrangements for US and British (else, why would Tony Blair ever go along with this insanity?) multinational oil firms to obtain Iraqi oil at the cheapest possible cost and, c) to obtain agreements to place US troops permanently in the country, in order use them as protective services for US oil companies and to obtain logistic advantage for further forays into the Middle East and central Asia, and, finally, d) turning the entire country into a laboratory experiment in privatization.

I suppose if even one of those aims were met, the neo-conservatives could say they'd achieved a partial victory, but, if the sole aim were item "a" above, as has been proffered by the Bush administration, we could have packed up and left in December, 2003, before the insurgency gained hold, and left the details of the construction of a government to the Iraqis and perhaps some international advisers, possibly to the everlasting appreciation of the Iraqis.

That we did not belies the truth: items "b" and "c" and "d" above are the real reasons for the invasion. This was apparent, even in April, 2003, although there was little hindsight at the time to help with the determination. If the intent was to preserve Iraq and turn it over to Iraqis after obtaining their freedom, why would the US ignore the protection of the many divisions of government which were mostly responsible for management of civil society in Iraq and focus their attentions only on the Interior Ministry and the Petroleum Ministry while the rest of the agencies (not to mention cultural repositories) were looted and for practical purposes rendered completely inoperative for months and years?

Oops. They gave away the game within days of reaching Baghdad, and the press just tsk-tsked.

So, whither victory? When the airtight, copper-clad oil contracts and constitutional imbroglio are firmly set and the status of forces agreements are signed (if they haven't been already, without the Iraqi public's knowledge), that's when Bush claims victory and goes on to the next misadventure.

If you're expecting either shame or introspection from these whores of Babylon West, it's going to be a long wait.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Musings on a Unified Field Theory of Conservatism....

Once again, digby gets it right.

I thought much the same thing upon first seeing the photograph digby mentions in the post linked above.

But, a little historical perspective is helpful. This inclination toward aristocracy has bedeviled the country ever since its inception. The Federalists aligned with Hamilton and Adams always believed that there was a natural aristocracy which was necessary to run the country on behalf of the masses, and, whenever that aristocracy was threatened by populism of any sort, it had the right to use the tools available to suppress dissent--especially in the press--in favor of the aristocracy, hence, the Alien and Sedition Acts during Adams' tenure as President. Almost reflexively, Adams saw attacks on him and his administration as attacks on the country, because he conceived of himself and his cohort as the rightful leaders of the country in government.

Oddly, the very nature of the aristocracy in Great Britain was the principal source of friction between itself and the colonies, and led to the first seminal open rebellion in the colonies against the aristocratic system in place--the Boston Tea Party. While it's not taught in this fashion these days, because it's largely been glossed over, the Stamp Act was a big deal. It was, effectively, a corrupt practice meant to ensure profit to the king and the aristocracy in Parliament.

The British East India Company had maintained its monopoly on trade with the aid of British government, and had made that government complicit in its practices by offering them shares of the profits as a condition of its exclusive trade charter. When the East India Company's profits were threatened, because of its own trade practices regarding tea, resulting in great surpluses it could not sell and which were languishing in its warehouses, there was a definite self-interest on the part of the King and Parliament to find a means to continue those profits, and the Stamp Act was part of that protection.

The British East India Company was the visible face of an aristocratic cartel in the colonies, and it was greatly resented--especially by the local merchants who were in competition with it. The tax stamp on tea and other goods insured that colonial money would accrue to the King and the British East India Company's shareholders in Parliament, one way or another. The aristocracy in Great Britain was, therefore, advocating monopolistic practices in protection of its own power and wealth.

That realization on the part of rebels would cause them to strike any mention of corporations from the Constitution, relegating such chartering to the states, where they presumed, incorrectly, that they would remain without power to create national aristocracies.

We've always lived with the problem of accumulated wealth creating artificial aristocracies in this country (the Vanderbilts, the Morgans, the Mellons, etc.), which evolved from the most successful in the Old Yankee banking and mercantile class, and digby rightly points out that their conservatism is directed largely at preserving the power of that aristocracy--and that the intellectual foundation of such aristocracy, such as it is, depends upon the British model espoused by people such as Edmund Burke--i.e., don't touch a thing as long as we're in power and control the economics of the world--who were in power at the height of the British imperial power in the 19th century.

That tendency in this country is manifested in all sorts of ways that can be roughly classified as faux or manipulative social engineering. Paul Kaufman rightly says that economic growth over the long term roughly follows population growth more closely than any other factor, so those who depend upon clipping coupons for a living need a continually expanding population to skim off of. Voila!, there's a movement, largely shielded from intellectual scrutiny, to increase the population--the Quiverfuls, etc., which also tie into the thinly-veiled eugenics arguments of the anti-immigration crowd--along with alignment with factions in the religious right which are publicly espousing abstinence and are secretly (and often, vehemently) against all forms of birth control. If one can't have feudalism because of the external skin of democracy, a virtual feudalism can be imposed by other means.

I would guess, with enough sources and computer power and people thinking about it, one could probably come up with a Unified Field Theory of Conservatism, a means of explaining most events in the world to the extent they are influenced by American conservatism in all its manifestations, but one would likely come up with a model which generally mirrors the prevailing conspiracy theories on the way power and wealth are apportioned in the world. All else would just be details. It's not accident that the secret societies of Yale, and the legacy system of the Ivy League, in general, have been the springboards to power in American society, nor is it particularly conspiratorial to suggest that the influence of Yale on the CIA is not just direct, but indirect, as well. Recruits from Yale going into the leadership positions of the CIA are likely to be chosen, in part, for their innate and unspoken understanding that they are part of an elite and their service in such institutions in government is to be directed toward protecting that elite--for the same reasons that John Adams believed there was a natural aristocracy which should control government. That understanding would create subtle fixed protocols in assessing and ranking the importance of tasks in that agency and the long-term direction of the institution and how it might advise the centers of power in the Executive branch. (This may, in part, explain the hostility with which the neo-cons have traditionally viewed the CIA. Not only has the CIA been a drag on their plans to create chaos around the world, they may also intuitively sense that the CIA's institutionalized purpose is to protect the interests of the natural aristocracy. Hence, the bomb-throwing by Rumsfeld, Cheney and others.)

The Bush I cohort now pushing the findings of the Iraq Study Group are a classic instance of one elite believing itself to be a "natural aristocracy." The tension comes from this particular elite being seen as in opposition to a new elite, the neo-conservatives. Think of it, in the conservative constellation, as old money against new. Bush I comes out of that patrician Yankee ethos of long standing, while the Cheneys and Rumsfelds and Perles and Kristols are upstarts, and all imagine themselves self-made men (though most have gained their prominence in government through the auspices of the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute and their offshoots, all of which have been funded by old money).

What distinguishes the two is that the old money elite want stability in the pursuit of profit, while the new money elite want power (wealth, while not secondary to neo-conservatives, is seen as an inevitable outcome of the exercise of unlimited military power--apply military might and all else follows), and while each elite has aligned itself with the other when they are not at cross-purposes, the fault lines are drawn upon matters of class, and that difference shows up in the way each group approaches problems. The old guard want stability, but they also want to leave as few fingerprints as possible. The young turks of the conservative movement, many being defectors from Marxist-Leninist doctrine, prefer military confrontation, up front and pugnacious.

I don't think it's purely accident that the two impeachments of contemporary times were of Presidents who were seen by the Washington establishment as interlopers to the seat of power. Nixon was seen as an overly-ambitious political climber with marginal ethics (remember that the "Checkers" speech--over twenty years before Watergate--was a response to those claims by the establishment press) who used his anti-Communism credentials to insinuate himself into elected office. But, he was also not of the eastern moneyed elite. In the same fashion, Clinton was the backwoods rube who had the temerity to run against a symbol of the entrenched elite. The so-called "Arkansas Project" was funded largely by old eastern banking money (Richard Mellon Scaife) and was initiated when Clinton refused to abandon his run for the presidency against *gasp* a Bush. His impeachment was a direct outgrowth of that failure to defer to what, to the Bushes, was a simple matter of class and entitlement.

So, in a not entirely curious way, now that Bush II has shown himself to be thoroughly incompetent, any talk of impeachment is "off the table." Junior is of that former elite (and, therefore, unimpeachable by virtue of membership in the aristocracy), but, as a weak and weak-minded scion, he's been tugged in a different direction by the more vocal neo-conservatives, who speak to him in urgent terms. Viewed in that fashion, the report from the Iraq Study Group is a salvage effort--to give just enough to the far-right neo-conservatives, but not so much that the old guard will be unable to obtain the stability they desire. It may be for this reason that the neo-conservative horde have been ranting about Baker's "anti-Semitism." They recognize the principles in tension and greatly fear the loss of Junior's ear. The far right in Israel and the far right in this country have adopted similar principles--military force as a means of ensuring ongoing chaos, which keeps them in power--because, as long as they can create new enemies from without, they can perpetuate a siege mentality in the minds of the voters which keep them in power. Thus, the young turks of the conservative movement aren't interested in the stability the old guard craves. They are, in fact, antithetical to it. Were Iraq to suddenly calm itself and achieve the stability conducive to the profits the establishment elite desires, the neo-cons would immediately focus on starting a war with yet another country.

How this tension will play out, I have no idea. My guess is that Junior will use his old money creds to raise money for the establishment elite's candidates in 2008, while continuing to act on the advice of the neo-cons, because their appeal is to raw power, which suits Dubya's psychology. But, Dems ought to realize that there is a war going on between the two main factions on the right, and that siding with either side in that fight empowers that side, not the Democrats. Sylvestre Reyes' pronouncement that more troops are advisable does just that, and certainly does not follow the general wishes of the voters at this time. Equally, taking impeachment out of the political equation serves only the conservative aristocracies, entrenched old and budding new alike. (Does all this explain the conundrum of Bush behaving in far worse fashion than even Nixon with regard to breach of law, and yet he seems untouchable? What better means of reaffirming democracy and repudiating the lawlessness of the aristocracy than, finally, once and for all, throwing out one of its misbehavers?)

What Democrats must see, once and for all, is that these conservative aristocracies, old and new, are fundamentally undemocratic in nature and philosophy. Both believe that there is a natural leadership of the country (of their definition), and that anything which interferes with their assumption of power is to be pushed down or, if necessary--as we've seen by the DeLay/K Street/Gingrich/Bush II/Cheney cabal--to be crushed. Playing into their hands is to court disaster, and I don't just mean for the party. Give them a break on their lawbreaking and it reinforces their power, and inclines them to seize yet more power. Give them a break on taxes, and it increases the volume of their public relations megaphone and gives them more cash to run their candidates. Most of all, it gives them more opportunity to fiddle with the levers of government to obtain the ends they most desire--further profit and power.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Chance....

Bush has finally shown himself to be the literal descendent of Jerzy Kosinski's Chance, the Gardener, reducing every press opportunity and speech to a laundry list of stock phrases absent of contextual reality and repeated abstractions never meant to be elucidated upon. In answering questions yesterday, Bush resorted to "prevail" eleven times, and between Blair and Bush (a routine that's more and more beginning to seem, unintentionally, like the comedic pairing of Spike Milligan and Tommy Smothers), the two used the word "important" forty-six times in about an hour. When the tone of reporters' questions began to verge on exasperated, the linguistically-desiccated Bush turned testy, truculent and dismissive (so,

what's new?).

Orwell would be laughing his ass off. After yesterday, I can imagine him hearing such a speech, wadding up a draft copy of "Politics and the English Language" and throwing it over his shoulder with a helpless shrug. What he would likely find funniest about it, though, is the way the press in the United States takes such mindless drivel seriously, adding thousands of tons of paper and ink to Bush's words to give them weight they do not innately possess, lest they drift off aimlessly, mimicking the thought processes which produced them.

H.L. Mencken knew how to deal with mental lightweights like Bush (he had his own example on which to gain much practice, Warren Gamaliel Harding). Mencken treated Harding as he should have been treated--as a idiotic bumbler, a buffoon and a serial practitioner of verbal self-immolation. Harding, though, was mostly harmless. Bush, however, is like a petulant teenager with a sense of extreme entitlement who keeps trying to burn down his parents' house because he doesn't get what he wants and his parents won't do as he says.

That ought to encourage the press and the pundits to adopt language even more acidic than that applied to Harding by Mencken, but they do not. Part of the reason for that, of course, is that Karl Rove (Bush's inner juvenile delinquent) has made it clear to the press that even the suggestion of mild skepticism toward Bush or his "ideas" will be dealt with harshly. The other part of the reason is that the press treats such threats as real and behaves accordingly, for reasons of its own that will be debated for decades to come--because, to a corporate press, access to power is more important than speaking truth to it.

Despite this, the public is still getting a sense of just how seriously they were duped by both Bush and the press, and is experiencing more than just a sense of buyer's regret. Favorability ratings of Bush are approaching the lows experienced by Nixon and Bush's father. Sentiment both for the war itself and Bush's prosecution of it are flagging badly. Despite the pundits in the press cheerfully repeating in 2000 the news that "the adults are back in charge," the public is now rapidly coming to the opinion that what the press once called "plain speaking" was and is just the confused, self-important rantings of an adolescent idiot, signifying nothing resembling a national policy.

In idle moments, I often wonder what Mencken would have said of Bush. He likely would have been capable of seeing through the photo-ops and the faux toe-in-the-dirt, "aw, shucks" routine of the campaigning Bush, and skewered him as the patrician Connecticut Yankee carpetbagging in the South, just like his father before him. He would have seen him, with genuine perception, as the wastrel son whose life was the inevitable culmination of the combination of perceived aristocratic entitlement, social inbreeding and the general bad manners of the indolent rich. He would likely have noted that not only is Bush an emperor without clothes, but is, as well, a pretender to the emperor's throne, with a $500 cowboy hat for a crown and a $3000 mountain bike for a sceptre.

He undoubtedly would have noted Bush's tendency to talk in circles, and made short shrift of Bush's fulsome employment of as little as possible of his six-hundred-word vocabulary in every irritatingly deceptive extemporaneous speech. No doubt, too, from the paucity of Bush's speech, he inevitably would have been led to the most direct and obvious of conclusions about Bush's mental state and capacity, something upon which current members of the press are simply too fearful to speculate, as they are likely fretful about being charged with inciting to riot. When Bush began to talk of God acting through him, Mencken would have had an opportunity he rarely had in his own lifetime, the chance to finely dissect the defects of both religion and politicians without having to alternate between examples.

Of all this I am reasonably certain, if only because Mencken delineated Bush long before Bush was born. For example: "Firmness in decision is often merely a form of stupidity. It indicates an inability to think the same thing out twice."

Kosinski's Being There was a farcical commentary on the utter credulousness of the American press and public, which Mencken, were he alive today and observing Bush in his current habitat, would have found entirely justified. Orwell would have shrugged and said, "it's not polite to rub your noses in it, but I told you so." While Kosinski was a strange, in ways unfathomable person, he still let us know something about ourselves which we dutifully and promptly ignored. Mencken, who was skeptical and iconoclastic about almost everything and was likely wrong about a great many things, nevertheless could pin down the identity and ill intentions of politicians such as Bush as if they were objects for entomological display. Orwell saw, in 1948, that political speech had become so corrupted and absent of meaning that it would inevitably lead to "free-fire zones," "collateral damage" and, sooner than later, to the passive-aggressive grunts of a psychically malformed, willfully ignorant petty tyrant made President.

We were duly and properly warned of what we now continue to endure....

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Baker/Hamilton/Pseudo Wise Men Report Is Out....

And, despite all the media flackery going on, big fuckin' deal.

The contradictions in what is offered in the report, the media's interpretations and the White House pronouncements about it are extreme.

No one will at this moment say, outright, that Bush and Cheney won't do anything that makes them look like they're abject, drooling idiots, and Congress won't make them look foolish and stupid, though well they are.

No one will offer any other suggestions about what to do that in any way impinges upon the real issues.

Here's the main issue. Bush and Cheney, along with assorted intellectual dwarves in the White House and the Department of Defense and the State Department, just plain fucked up. In massive and incalculable fashion. They started a war for no other reasons but greed and the exercise of power (all sorts of manifestations of those principles implicit in what they did and what has happened afterwards). Now they won't admit it. That makes them pretty poor examples of human beings, but recognizing that won't stop Iraqis from being killed.

Now, anyone who thinks they have an airtight plan to fix the problems of the last four years in Iraq probably is ready for a rubber room, but, maybe, there's a plan which has some direction, and even if Bush and Cheney and their fellow neo-con self-deniers won't carry it through, maybe there's something that can be done.

Some of the facts as they are now (as opposed to what they were four years ago) are:

  • A plurality of Iraqis, based on polls, want us out of their country.
  • There is and was a civil war going on which is now spiraling down into anarchy.
  • The country is awash in corruption and there is little being done to reestablish essential services.
  • Further violence will only harden sectarian divisions and encourage attacks on US personnel.
  • The US, for political and economic purposes, is treating the Iraq government and its leaders as puppets to be controlled by the US.
  • There is little hope of obtaining a truly secular and democratic society in Iraq in the short-term or in the foreseeable future.
  • The violence is, if not accelerating, then is still maintaining at unacceptable levels.

Given all these things, the US, if it actually wants to correct the problem it has made in the region, must do some variation on the following:

  • It must tell its multinational corporations to abandon all near-term expectations of profiting from the situation, and in blunt terms. They must be told to stay away.
  • The current US government and its successors must accept that there is no hope of creating a pro-US puppet government which will do the bidding of the US, either now or in the foreseeable future.
  • The current US government must acknowledge that its plans have failed, and continued pursuit of those plans will make the situation worse, not better.
  • The current US government must accept that the only way to minimize the violence is to offer incentives which appeal to Iraq's self-interest, rather than the self-interest of the US.
  • The current US government must accept that it has obligations to repair the damage it has caused in its attacks on Iraq, but that it has no right to dictate terms, beyond those which appeal to Iraqi self-interest.

To that end, there's this option:

The current US government must establish terms for withdrawal of all troops, not only from Iraq but the general region. The presence of US troops in alien territory is fundamentally antagonistic. The current US government must negotiate with whatever parties, formal and informal, representing Iraqi interests, for safe passage out of the country of all US troops and parties aiding the US at this time which wish safe passage out. The US must give up, absolutely, all plans for some troops to remain in Iraq indefinitely. Likewise, the US must accept absolute Iraqi sovereignty.

In exchange, the Iraqi government would receive, with three conditions, sufficient funds to begin rebuilding its country in its own way, and with its own companies and labor and to provide basic operating expenses of government. The conditions would be, first, that all sectarian and internecine violence must end. Second, the Iraqi government must submit all expenditures of US monies to independent auditors. Third, the Iraqi government must seek a unified government which constitutionally guarantees that the majority may not in any way tyrannize the minorities in Iraq and must maintain good jurisprudence and acceptance of internationally-understood concepts of human rights. Failure to accomplish these ends would trigger equivalent monthly forfeitures of aid.

Given that the country managed, under the oil-for-food program, perhaps an average of $6-8 billion in oil revenues, 10% of which was likely siphoned off as graft, a sum of $30 billion annually (along with Iraqis controlling oil revenues as they see fit) would provide for government operations and rebuilding to an acceptable degree, at least initially. This would encourage the Iraqi government to establish their own protocols based upon their own self-interest.

The United States is spending about $100 billion per year on a war which is not accomplishing intended aims, and continued attempts by the US to manipulate the governmental processes in furtherance of US self-interest have failed. The Iraq Study Group's plans are destined to fail, and, if anything, will increase the human and financial costs in Iraq.

It's time to recognize our genuine obligations regarding safety and security and war reparations and the ways in which those obligations can be met by acknowledging Iraqi self-interest. America still wishes to manipulate conditions to satisfy its own self-interest, and such manipulations are a continuing source of irritation to the situation in Iraq. If the United States continues to believe that its self-interest is more important than that of Iraqis, no resolution can be expected and the situation there will grow worse with time. The United States went to war on false pretenses, and without the concerted aid of the international community and its regulatory body, the UN. Now, almost four years later, for it to continue to impose its methods and troops of occupation on Iraq in the expectation of improvement--in the face of contradictory empirical evidence--is to maintain a deadly and expensive fiction.

Hey, it can't be any worse than what Bush or the Wise Men have come up with so far....

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

NPR Does Something Right....

In both morning and afternoon news editions, Daniel Zwerdling has been doing a story on soldiers returning to their home base at Ft. Carson, CO, from Iraq. His focus has been in interviewing soldiers whose records were good before Iraq and steadily eroded after returning, because of their experiences there.

The stories are all similar--soldiers experiencing classic symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which then affect their professional behavior, and, in most cases, not promptly receiving the mental health treatment they need, and in some instances, being dogged by superiors who think them weak for showing those symptoms, or choosing to punish them for the behavior accompanying PTSD.

One wife described her husband, pre-Iraq, as the kindest, most loving man imaginable, who, post-return, regularly knocks her down at any perceived slight. One soldier, knowing he had trouble, literally begged for treatment which was not forthcoming. His problem? He was overwhelmed by a central event during his time in Iraq--a fellow in his unit next to him was killed when his head literally exploded after being hit by enemy fire and the soldier was sprayed with the man's brains.

Now, I'm not an expert on PTSD, but I think I know its root causes. We spend a couple of decades civilizing our children--teaching them to treat others as they would like to be treated, encouraging them to avoid fighting and seek to resolve their problems non-violently and impressing on them that fighting should only be a last resort and in self-defense.

Then, for as many reasons as there are children, they enter the military. Quite suddenly, they are expected to selectively turn off all the training from those civilizing influences they've learned from parents, schools and general society, and kill other people, and are expected to switch that training on again when they are back in "civilization."

The problem is that many of those children of ours were not professional soldiers by natural inclination--they did not have the disposition to switch their emotions on and off at will. They had young families and no job, or they wanted an education they could not get by any other means except volunteering for the military. A smaller percentage were induced to join because they thought they were fighting the enemies of 9/11 in Iraq--and found their motivations challenged when they actually arrived to fight there.

All the things we taught our children--about solving problems amicably, about using force as a last resort and only to defend themselves--were negated by a national policy promulgated almost exclusively by people who avoided combat themselves when their time came for that, and the collision of those values hard against reality have come to damage those in our society in whom we had the most trust to carry on principles of "civilization" and "civilized behavior." The young people most adversely affected psychologically by this war are those who believed in the ideals we instilled in them as they were growing to adulthood.

It is that way in every war, but it is especially that way in wars that we discover, only later, were initiated for the most specious of purposes, and had nothing to do with the last resort of self defense, had nothing to do with protecting us from a genuine threat to our homes, families, our local businesses. In that way, the best of our children--the ones who took our advice about civilized behavior to heart and made it a part of themselves--are the canaries in the coal mine of wars of opportunity. They are the first to suffer.

Their minds rebel at what they have been forced to do in furtherance of the lies of their government and at what horrors they have witnessed in that effort. They were equipped by the military with most everything they needed to kill, except that ability to switch off their humanity in service of the imperial notions of a few unwise men, and then switch it back on again when they returned home. The soldier who is by inclination a professional has that ability, but those conscripted--either by the draft in the Vietnam War or--by economic necessity, do not. It is for that reason that these soldiers are now being viewed as "weak" or "shirking duty" by their professional superiors. How odd that our best and most-civilized soldiers--those we trained from infancy to adulthood to be good, decent people--are now the most disregarded after suffering, first-hand, the horrors we taught them, year by year, to avoid, and in which they had no choice but, in the face of brutal duty, to engage.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Welcome the Battle-Weary Home... for keeps, if possible....

Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana says:

"There is a lot of battle fatigue among members, probably on both sides of the aisle," said Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), usually a reliable conservative firebrand. "Contrary to popular belief, members of Congress are human beings. They have a certain shelf life and a certain amount of energy to be drawn on. We're tired."

Hmm. Would this be the Congress that spent less hours on the job and got even less essential appropriations legislation done than the infamous "do-nothing" Congress of the Truman years?

Yes, indeedy. The very same. Mike Pence has been smelling his own farts for waaaaay too long. If these bozos are tired out, it's because they've been putting in overtime protecting their own asses from being prosecuted, or spending all their time pushing a conservative social agenda for the country that no one but the craziest minority of their supporters want them to pursue.

Tired out? Gimme a fuckin' break. These guys do less real work than a grifter in a Tammany Hall sinecure. Yeah, they may be tired from all that kissing contributors' asses in a desperate attempt to hang onto their titles and their perks, but, real work? Not on your life.

But, Mike, tell you what--if you're just not up to it, if you're getting a case of the vapors and need to lay down on the fainting couch, just let me know. I'll be happy to fill in for you. I've been out of work for three years. I'm full of pep, vim and vigor, piss and vinegar. Just let me know if you're too tuckered out to go on, and I'll be happy to take over your job, your salary and your responsibilities. And get some real work done.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Uh, There's a Turd in the Punchbowl....

You fish it out. No, you. Why don't you just throw it all out? Okay.

Newtie Gingrich, politic's human Macy's Parade balloon, is at it again. He wants to be President. He wants to be President so badly that he gets a twitching anal sphincter pucker every time he thinks about it--which is, well, probably, constantly (the bad blogger's segue to explaining why Newtie's full of shit).

Has Newtie been discussing divorce with his wife while she's in the midst of cancer treatment, as he did with Wife #1? Nope. Does this mean he's regained any measure of decency? Uh, no.

Is he banging the secretary while telling Wife #3 he'll "be back late after the Clinton impeachment strategy conference," as he did with Wife #2? Uh, not that we know of. Does that mean he's traded in Republican family values for a better way of life? Doubtful. After all, he's still Newtie and his lips are still moving.

And were they ever moving this week, as many folks noted.

Let it not be said that Newtie, while patently insane, does not have a flair for the dramatic (hey, that's cool--Hitler did, too). Invited by the Manchester Union-Leader to speak at its annual Free Speech awards banquet (the only time all year that the Union-Leader's publishers treat card-carrying ACLU members like human beings), Newtie did (for him) the predictable: he advocated suppression of free speech:

"My prediction to you is that either before we lose a city, or if we are truly stupid, after we lose a city, we will adopt rules of engagement that use every technology we can find to break up their capacity to use the internet, to break up their capacity to use free speech, and to go after people who want to kill us to stop them from recruiting people before they get to reach out and convince young people to destroy their lives while destroying us," Gingrich said in the transcript.

"This is a serious problem that will lead to a serious debate about the first amendment, but I think that the national security threat of losing an American city to a nuclear weapon, or losing several million Americans to a biological attack is so real that we need to proactively, now, develop the appropriate rules of engagement...."

Now, maybe Newtie's confused between good investigative work here and abroad and jackboot tactics at home. Or, maybe not. Newtie's releasing mushroom clouds out of his ass because that worked so well for George Bush in 2002. Newtie is being very calculating here (well, as best as he is able)--he really does believe that because a Republican Congress and President have been so successful at ramrodding through infringements of civil rights because they've got 48.8% of the country scared out of its wits, he can do it, too, and that he'll be elected, just as Bush was 2004, by keeping that 48.8% pissing in their pants.

Too bad Newt's about four years late--nuke-you-ler terror is so... then. This is now. A fair amount of the public has come to the conclusion that they were bamboozled. By Newt's bunch. By the Contract on America. By the same greedy bastards that are now getting closer and closer to jail time. And, the public's pretty pissed about it--enough so that they have thrown a lot of them out. Maybe a healthy part of that public might now even be able to distinguish between a possible threat that can be controlled with some attention to the root causes, and a wild-assed, booga-booga, scared-the-shit-outta-ya-didn't-I? story manufactured for political electoral purposes... which is exactly what Newtie's doing here.

What's the real free speech issue for ol' Newtie? His speech and that of his wealthy contributors (sure, go ahead, it's probably proper to call them his enablers, or co-conspirators will do fine, too) is being drastically curtailed by campaign finance laws. And that those campaign finance laws didn't curtail the use of negative ads.

Help me up... that one just knocked me for a loop.

Newtie wants no restrictions whatsoever on how much money corporations and the fatcats can give to candidates. Newtie + free speech = "I'm the tubbiest whore with the lowest ethics and morals in North America, so I deserve to win. Shit, yeah, I like selling myself to the highest bidder--I'm good at it. And, it beats sitting around the house, listening to the wife. For now."

Still, even though Newtie's hamstrung by that horrid campaign finance law that prevents him from whoring his way to the top, he's not running for office--at least not in the way that mere mortals do:

“I am not ‘running’ for president,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) tells Fortune. “I am seeking to create a movement to win the future by offering a series of solutions so compelling that if the American people say I have to be president, it will happen.”

My sense of things so far is that one had better stay well back and keep the gas mask on while Newtie's creating that movement.

What can one say about Newtie? His chutzpah and bullshit are stacked so toweringly high that looking up at it leaves one dizzy and breathless. And, just like leaning back against the wall of the Empire State Building and looking up at the top, there's a moment's disorientation, a feeling for just a fearful second that it's toppling over right on top of you.

Then you realize that it's just Newtie's bullshit that's so overwhelming, and you look down, and there's Newtie himself, that chubby little turd in the punchbowl.

(image by

Friday, December 01, 2006

What Are We Fighting For?

After five years of waging yet more war, it's probably time to reconsider not just the wars currently engaged, but the reasons why war is still such an easy option for the United States today.

It's not a stretch to say that almost every war and military action in which the US has engaged since WWII has been a war of choice. By the simple standard of our own territory and people not being attacked by another nation, we've elected each war, rather than been forced to engage an enemy who has attacked us.

Of course, this notion has become more complex as the United States, in its successive attempts to place its military further and further afield, has made mutual defense pacts with as many nations as possible, and initiated status of forces agreements which keep a considerable percentage of our soldiers and sailors overseas. In some places, such as Okinawa and South Korea (and earlier, in France, under NATO auspices), the mere presence of our troops is an antagonism to better relations.

While this impulse to stray far beyond our borders has some of its roots in the Monroe Doctrine and the notion of "manifest destiny," which has always been tinged by a mentality extending back to the Crusades, the impetus today is "globalization." With the too-often repeated statement that "globalization is inevitable," state military intervention on behalf of the multinational also becomes inevitable. The propaganda being employed by the White House in its war of choice on Iraq assiduously avoids any mention of oil or corporate gain, and yet, most of its actions immediately after the invasion were almost single-mindedly directed toward creating lucrative opportunities for US multinationals (the list here is almost endless, from attempting to create long-term oil contracts advantageous to US- and UK-based oil firms to awarding huge reconstruction contracts to US firms only, to making rules barring Iraqi farmers from saving seeds, a practice clearly meant to benefit US agricultural and chemical firms). I don't think it's any accident that the country's foremost advocate of economic globalization for American multinational gain, the NY Times' Tom Friedman, was also one of the biggest supporters of a war of choice against Iraq.

Because of this wholesale attempt to transfer the assets of an entire country to private hands, it should be obvious that war is being waged for not larger issues of national defense, but, rather, for economic gain by some of the largest multinational corporations in the world. While the fundamental injustice in this is that life in other countries is thoroughly disrupted and innocent people are subjected to the ravages of war, the next down on that long list of injustices is the expectation that the American public should fund such war, enduring the expenses of both blood and treasure, for the benefit of the already wealthiest people in the United States--its corporate CEOs and major stockholders (and forgive me for laughing out loud about the "ownership society"--that's a lot of smoke, too; the wealthiest 10% of the country's inhabitants control between 80 and 90% of the country's wealth--the abovementioned Friedman just happens to have married into a fortune estimated to be nearly $3 billion).

While the implicit Constitutional problems with the national security state we have now have been growing steadily since its institution in 1947, the Bush administration has demonstrated the extent to which Constitutional mandate and common sense can be defied by a small group determined to subvert law and civil rights, and start wars of choice with the aid of a compliant and complacent Congress. (Conventional wisdom has it that 9/11 created an emergency prompting the White House toward those ends; in fact, there's plenty of evidence that such was the plan from the very start of the Bush administration. The very notion of the "unitary executive" proceeds toward those ends.)

In this sense, one fundamental principle has been demonstrated during the Bush years--that a demagogue, using a national emergency, can move the public toward a war of choice and intimidate politicians into authorizing the open-ended use of troops--without formal declaration of war--and then manipulate Congress to expend funds in perpetuity without proper budgeting, no matter what the Constitution has to say about declaration of war. While the roots of this problem go back to the Vietnam war and the War Powers Act, the manipulations accomplished by Bush and his cohort are extraordinary.

It seems, if one wishes to avoid wars of choice and opportunity, one has no option but to address the means by which those wars are approved and funded. The principal arguments about the continuing wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq are two: that the all-volunteer army, largely composed as it is of the poor and middle-class who are more often than not induced to join the military for either employment or for educational benefits they could not otherwise afford, is neither representative of the country as a whole or large enough in troop strength to fight multiple land wars as occupying forces; second, that the costs of those wars are disproportionately falling on the middle class and future generations (via debt), due to continuing decisions to cut taxes on the wealthy in time of war, and to continuing efforts on the part of a Republican Congress and President to provide combinations of subsidies, credits and tax cuts to corporations.

It's almost reductive to state that if war is a national decision, then the costs of war, both human and financial, must be borne by all of society. It's also taken as historical truth in the United States that war profiteering and mercenary activities are generally odious practices (consider here, for example, the extreme disgust with which revolutionaries thought of the British for employing Hessian mercenaries, and the public speeches of Wisconsin Sen. Robert "Fighting Bob" LaFollette on the subject of profiting from war). And yet, the Bush administration has chosen to ignore those national inclinations and has actually encouraged these bad practices.

Now, it's possible that the public, after growing tired of interminable war, may eventually come to its senses and demand that Congress do its Constitutional duty and remove the prime movers of such policies and practices from office. What, though, about the future? How do we prevent the next demagogue from repeating, and possibly amplifying upon, the wars of choice of the Bush administration, and how do we prevent those wars from becoming open-ended, unstructured affairs with no definitive conclusion (e.g., Bush's self-declared "war on terror")?

It seems to me that only Constitutional amendment can in some way deter the narrow political and economic self-interest which has particularly caused the Bushies to promote wars of choice. We have seen the ways in which the courts have been progressively stacked with right-wing judges and Federalist Society members inclined to give wide leeway to authoritarian impulses on the part of George Bush, so clearly expressed Constitutional language may be the only means of declaring the country's intentions not to engage in war for the sake of cynical political purposes or crony capitalism.

To that end, one must accept that it is not the people who decide whether or not to go to war. It is the elites in the country who make those decisions; therefore, such Constitutional language must serve to act as a deterrent to narrow self-interest and to ensure that the elites do not materially benefit from war. The two essential elements of any change would have to address the two primary complaints addressed above: the ways in which wars are funded and the ways in which citizens are put at risk during war.

This first element, I think, is easy to justify. The wealthy (both individual and corporate), as of now, have every reason to encourage wars of opportunity. They make money on them, and suffer virtually no risks by doing so (in fact, wars such as those in Iraq are meant to obtain profits for increasingly risk-averse corporations and investors). A Constitutional amendment which acts as both a disincentive to frivolous war and as a means of funding necessary ones is, therefore, of prime importance. Since the wealthy in society have the most to lose, they must also shoulder the costs of defense against outside forces which would render their fortunes meaningless. For those reasons, why not seek a Constitutional amendment which places a 91% tax on the gross income of the top 10% and on all corporations until all war-related costs (including those of veterans disabled by war) are paid? If war is not absolutely necessary, the elites in society will resist it on the grounds that their self-interest would be harmed, rather than aided. If war is absolutely necessary, then such would create a means of paying for that war--by the entities most benefitting from defense of the nation.

The second element, however, is more difficult, since it inevitably leads to conscription. A genuinely free society should not force its citizens to mandatory military service without extreme need. At the same time, an all-volunteer force creates manpower problems in time of war. Those pundits and neo-conservatives who have been prone to comparing Iraq with WWII conveniently forget that the draft brought many millions of people into that previous effort--at the conclusion of WWII, there were twelve million US citizens in uniform.

The great problem with conscription is that it never has been equitable--wars always have been fought predominantly by the poor and the least powerful in society. In the Civil War, Congress passed laws which benefitted the wealthy, almost exclusively (wealthy people could buy an exemption from duty by paying someone to take their place), and this was done more informally during the so-called Philippines Insurrection. After WWII, Congress adopted rules which allowed progressively more exclusions which could then be used more effectively by the wealthy than the poor--college deferments, medical excuses from multiple doctors and ever more creative interpretations on deferment for the national good (former Attorney General John Ashcroft, for example, escaped service in the Vietnam era by claiming, first six consecutive student deferments, and later that it was in the national interest that he remain an instructor at Southwest Missouri State).

It's obvious, then, that Congress, which is, by definition, a part of the elite structure, has been able, generally, to create rules to the advantage of the elites, and the historical record is replete with instances of Congress doing just that. It's for this reason that I think Charlie Rangel's repeated calls for the resumption of the draft will likely not accomplish his intended aim, which is to create some equity among all the social and economic classes in the country in bearing the brunt of the human costs of war. For the same reasons, a two-tiered system of military or community service is also destined to fail in that aim--Congress would inevitably write preferential rules enabling the elites to serve more safely than the rest of society.

That said, if a draft were Constitutionally-mandated for any instance of warfare, actual or declared (thus putting it into effect during AUMFs), with some provision to spread that conscription equally across all classes of society, it would go a long, long way in convincing the elites in society that if they want war, they must bear the costs, too. (How that might be done, I'm not sure--although a requirement that each one percent of economic strata, one way or another, provide to the military one percent of the people in each group (up to the age of, say, 55) is, at first sight, appealing. So is a requirement that election or appointment to state and national office (excepting the President and Vice-President) could not be used as an exemption from service.)

One thing's certain, though. Without Constitutional changes to take the incentives out of war for political ends or for profit, the example the Bush administration has created will resonate down the decades, to our ultimate great detriment. The current wars, small as they are compared to previous wars, have been enormously damaging to overall American interests--our national debt is climbing, inexorably, the military continues to suffer unnecessary losses, our worldwide reputation declines steadily year by year, and our ability to apply our common resources to greater problems is impaired, not to mention that there's been a steady diminution of civil rights accompanying the prosecution of these wars.

It's possible that the past six years will be viewed in the future as an anomaly in our history, but, it's equally possible that the Bush administration, having created a model for the neverending pursuit of war for political and economic gain, may have road-tested an action plan to be used and improved upon by future demagogues. There are a limited number of ways we can prevent such from happening in the future, and the failure to embrace them may well be our undoing.

A first step toward avoiding that failure might well be to convince the wealthy that war is truly a last-resort means for them to hang onto what they have, rather than an exploitable business opportunity to increase their wealth. As long as war is disproportionately advantageous to the elite, and disproportionately disadvantageous to the rest of us, even democracy and proportional representation cannot save us from wars of opportunity.