July 21, 2012
A friend of mine just reminded me that we were talking Thursday morning and I told her: "I'm never surprised by mass shootings in America. Considering how brutalized and under pressure most people are and how easy it is to get guns, I'm surprised every day there ISN'T a mass shooting."
Of course, given how many mass shootings there are in the U.S., you could say that any day and be unsurprised pretty soon.
July 15, 2012
I learned from this article about the work of Bradley J. Strawser, a former Air Force officer and now a professor of philosophy at the Naval Postgraduate School. Strawser recently wrote as article titled "Moral Predators: The Duty to Employ Unmanned Aerial Vehicles" (PDF) in which he explained that:
I argue that there is an ethical obligation to use UAVs. ... there is a strong moral obligation to use [drones] in place of inhabited aircraft.
But is using drones the only moral obligation that we have? No. As another philosopher, Michael Novak, said in a February 10, 2003 speech at the Vatican on Just War doctrine, invading Iraq was also "a moral obligation."
Similarly, the philosopher Osama bin Laden explained in a 1996 journal article titled "Declaration of War Against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places,"
Terrorizing you, while you are carrying arms in our land, is a legitimate right and a moral obligation.
You want to be a good person, don't you? Of course you do. And now you know what you have to do.
July 07, 2012
This Is So Lurid It Makes Me Yawn
There are two candidates for the best foreign policy reporter in the U.S., the famous Seymour Hersh and the non-famous Robert Parry. But Robert Parry may be superior to Hersh, because he continually revisits stories as more information is available and weaves new stuff into a larger story:
Did Reagan Know about Baby Thefts?
An Argentine court has convicted two of the nation’s former right-wing dictators, Jorge Rafael Videla and Reynaldo Bignone, in a scheme to murder leftist mothers and give their infants to military personnel often complicit in the killings, a shocking process known to the Reagan administration even as it worked closely with the bloody regime…
A human rights group, Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, says as many as 500 babies were stolen by the military during the repression from 1976 to 1983. Some of the pregnant mothers were kept alive long enough to give birth and then were chained together with other prisoners and pushed out of the planes into the ocean to drown.
Despite U.S. government awareness of the grisly actions of the Argentine junta, which had drawn public condemnation from the Carter administration in the 1970s, these Argentine neo-Nazis were warmly supported by Ronald Reagan, both as a political commentator in the late 1970s and as President once he took office in 1981.
When President Jimmy Carter’s human rights coordinator, Patricia Derian, berated the Argentine junta for its brutality, Reagan used his newspaper column to chide her, suggesting that Derian should "walk a mile in the moccasins" of the Argentine generals before criticizing them.
My feeling is that whatever moral code you follow, you've probably gone astray if you defend people who seize pregnant doctors, steal their children and then push them naked out of a plane over the Atlantic Ocean:
One of the most notorious cases involved Silvia Quintela, a leftist doctor who attended to the sick in shanty towns around Buenos Aires. On Jan. 17, 1977, Quintela was abducted off a Buenos Aires street by military authorities because of her political leanings. At the time, Quintela and her agronomist husband Abel Madariaga were expecting their first child.
According to witnesses who later testified before a government truth commission, Quintela was held at a military base called Campo de Mayo, where she gave birth to a baby boy. As in similar cases, the infant then was separated from the mother.
What happened to the boy is still not clear, but Quintela reportedly was transferred to a nearby airfield. There, victims were stripped naked, shackled in groups and dragged aboard military planes. The planes then flew out over the Rio de la Plata or the Atlantic Ocean, where soldiers pushed the victims out of the planes and into the water to drown.
What's especially interesting about this is how incredibly lurid it is – it would obviously grab the attention of any normal human being – yet somehow, as Parry points out, the whole subject is of no interest to the current rotation of U.S. elites. If you asked them about it at a party they could barely keep their eyes open even as they told you they were flying off to Dubai tomorrow out of Reagan National Airport.
P.S. You can donate to Robert Parry's Consortium News here.
July 06, 2012
America's Billionaires: Are They Crazy Enough?
Jon Ronson just wrote a long article for GQ for which he interviewed people at five different levels of income, starting at $10,000 and going up to B. Wayne Hughes, a self-storage magnate worth $1.9 billion.
Hughes apparently has strong political views, and has given $3.25 million to Karl Rove's American Crossroads. As is traditional with America's billionaires, he's also filled with bizarre fury toward all non-billionaire Americans:
Wayne talked to me about "derelicts on welfare" who check themselves into the hospital because they're "bored" and "want feeding," and "we're paying for all that activity." He said too much tax money is spent on "guys going to chiropractors, guys getting massages! On us! Give me a break. Guys getting Viagra!" He talked about "Los Angeles bus drivers who are on permanent stress leave because someone spat on them when they got on the bus, and now they're emotionally upside down. More than half the bus drivers are out on stress leave! Systems like that cannot work!" It seemed as if, for Wayne's philosophy to work, he needed to believe that those who don't make it deserve their ill fortune.
Later, I hunt for data that back up Wayne's feckless-bus-driver nightmare scenario. I can't find any. I do find something else, though—plenty of statistics showing that a guy with Wayne's level of wealth has never had it so good in America. And yet of all the people I interview, Wayne is the only one who seems angry about the politics of his situation. Frantz, Rebecca, Dennis—those at the bottom looking up showed no animosity for the rich at all.
These guys are totally sincere, which makes it even more terrifying. Recently Bush speechwriter David Frum explained:
When contemplating the ruthless brilliance of this system, it’s tempting to fall back on the theory that the GOP is masterminded by a cadre of sinister billionaires, deftly manipulating the political process for their own benefit. ...Yet for the most part, these Republican billionaires are not acting cynically. They watch Fox News too, and they’re gripped by the same apocalyptic fears as the Republican base.
In fact, I'd go so far as to say that most propaganda like Fox isn't aimed at outsiders, or even the Republican base. In a very real sense it's generated by Rupert Murdoch & co. because they have a deep need to be told that they're wonderful non-stop 24 hours a day.
The psychology of this is straightforward and obvious: the Prime Directive of everyone's psyche is to believe they're morally good. (As Hughes says in the GQ article, "I've lived my whole life doing what I thought was right.") But there's no rational way for any human being in history to believe it's morally justified for them to have as much money and power as Hughes, Murdoch, etc. So people at the top must become crazy in this particular way. As my grandfather, a historian who focused on the Spanish conquest of the Western Hemisphere, always said:
The hostility of those who have power toward those who can be called inferior because they are different – because they are others, the strangers – has been a historical constant. Indeed, at times it seems to be the dominant theme in human history.
ONLY IN AMERICA: One weird thing about the GQ article is that of the five people Ronson talks to, three are in the richest 0.1%.
July 04, 2012
Happy July 4th to Founding Commie John Adams
One of the funniest things about American politics is how many ideas now derided as Marxist or anti-American or whatever were stated plainly by various American founding fathers. For instance, the Marxist concept of false consciousness was earlier endorsed by John Adams back in 1776:
Such is the frailty of the human heart that very few men who have no property have any judgment of their own. They talk and vote as they are directed by some man of property who has attached their minds to his interest.
Adams claimed this in order to argue that men without property shouldn't be allowed to vote. But before you get too mad at the Dead White Guy, he follows that up with this:
[P]ower always follows property. This I believe to be as infallible a maxim in politics, as that action and reaction are equal is in mechanics. Nay, I believe we may advance one step farther, and affirm that the balance of power in a society accompanies the balance of property in land. The only possible way, then, of preserving the balance of power on the side of equal liberty and public virtue is to make the acquisition of land easy to every member of society; to make a division of the land into small quantities, so that the multitude may be possessed of landed estates. If the multitude is possessed of the balance of real estate, the multitude will have the balance of power, and in that case the multitude will take care of the liberty, virtue, and interest of the multitude in all acts of government.
It's easy to imagine that today Adams would extend this to mean property of all kinds, not just land. Thank god no one in America reads books, or things might really get out of control.
Declaration of Independence
Mike Gerber and I wrote this manifesto for July 4th, 2002, but so far it doesn't seem to have gotten a lot of traction:
Declaration of Independence
The unanimous Declaration of the world's Normal People (we know who we are),
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for the Normal People of this Planet to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with their Leaders, and to give getting along without Leaders a real Shot, courtesy requires that we should declare the causes of this long-overdue separation, just so we're all on the same page.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Leaders are a pretty dodgy proposition -- That even the best ones are Self-Absorbed Primadonnas, and the rest are seriously Craze-o Lunatics -- That Normal People have the right to tell their Leaders "…see Ya, wouldn't want to be Ya" -- That to secure this right of being left alone, we should set up a special Island to which all Leaders can be sent, so that they can bicker, and posture, and pursue the Phantom of Eternal Fame amongst themselves without Injuring all the rest of us -- That this Island could maybe, this is just off the top of our heads you understand, be like Epcot Center, with the whole world in miniature so the Leaders could conquer it and lose it and bend it to their Mighty Will and lose it again, and generally Ruin It to their hearts' content, without bothering Us. Prudence indeed will dictate that the long-established Idea of having Leaders should not be changed for light or transient Causes, but, come on. We've given this concept plenty of Time, at least 8,000 years, and it's for the birds. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
The world's Leaders have somehow convinced us that we are all on different Teams, sort of, and that they are the rightful captains of these Teams.
They have tried to weld us together by constantly harping on our Team's Great and Glorious Destiny, assuming that we, like them, give a shit. In lower voices, they assure us that we will be in Big Trouble if we don't do exactly as they Say.
They have persuaded us to try to kill members of the other Teams, instead of following our natural instinct, which is to indulge our curiosity about whether people from different countries have discovered any new Sex Tricks, or have Better Food.
They have gotten us to go on ludicrously dangerous missions against the other Teams, while they remain safely behind at their Impregnable Mountain Redoubts. This has insured that the people responsible for starting Wars always survive, and can't wait to start the Next One.
They have started innumerable, catastrophic conflicts to, for example, impress some Girl that rejected them in High School, or to prove to their Mother that they're just as successful as their Older Brother. Read their Biographies if you don't believe Us.
They've informed us that they've talked to God, and that He agrees with them Completely.
They have made our laws so complicated that, while we know we're being Screwed, we can never figure out Exactly How.
They think that we're Fascinated by them, despite the fact that, by steadily reducing our voting rate for The past fifty years, we keep giving them a resolute and obvious Hint.
In every stage of these Oppressions we have humbly petitioned for redress by bitching among ourselves, reading the paper with a weary cynicism, and laughing at the opening monologues on late night television. We have even allowed Dennis Miller on Monday Night Football. The cost is finally too dear, and we need a new Strategy.
We, therefore, the Normal People of this Planet, who don't care who's on the money, or think that anybody will (or should) remember any of us in 500 years, do solemnly publish and declare that all the world's Leaders are hereby relieved of their positions; that our feeling is, enough already with the Jihads and the Crusades and Glorious Struggles and Finest Hours; that we believe we will be much better off without them, relying for our safety instead on our inability to organize a three-person trip to 7-Eleven, much less sustained armed conflict; that it's time to get this Leader Island idea off the ground; that if, once the Leaders have been sent to the Island, any of us develop Leader-tendencies, we will encourage such Persons to develop a Hobby, or get them a Date with somebody Nice, and this will help them remember what's important. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our dearest Hope that we can finally get some Peace and Quiet. We are not Kidding.