Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Message in a Bottle

The pictures below were taken by the inestimable Diane Arbus, and they had a powerful effect on me. I may be naive in saying this, but something tells me they wouldn't understand what has happened to this country today.

Are we losing America forever?

What does it even mean to be American anymore? What do we stand for? What can I do to help my country? I fear I am too late even asking.

The button simply says, "I'm proud".

Two devistatingly powerful smiles. They could have stopped the war.



I hope someone gets this message. If anyone asks, tell them that America was done in by zombies. In the end, there were just too many of them.


The other day, I read Howard Zinn's interview over at AlterNet in which he discusses the decline of the American empire. I normally like Howard and find him to be a compelling thinker, but this interview fell flat. It actually had an odd tone to it:

... if American foreign policy continues in the way it has been -- that is aggressive and violent and uncaring about the feelings and thoughts of other people -- then the influence of the United States is going to decline more and more.

We are not some bully that needs to knock it off; what we are is a seriously ill nation with a terminal prognosis. Besides uncaring of others, we are incapable of acting in our own best interest. Right now, all I hear is a wailing klaxon and the sound of an automated voice counting down the time to self-destruction.

In fairness to Zinn, the interview was originally given to Al Jazeera, so there is the possibillity he may have felt compelled to dial it back a notch..., but if that were the case, then maybe he should have written about that itself.

You may not like this essay, folks. I wrote it because Zinn didn't, and it cuts to what I think are the preemminent causes for the trajectory we find ourselves on. It doesn't have a very happy ending because frankly, I'm at a loss as to how these causes can be unwound by anything short of a violent convulsion. The America that I have been waiting to reclaim might not actually exist anymore.

I'm still pissed at myself for not reading Tom Brokaw's The Greatest Generation, yet it seems completely inappropriate to do so now. I wasn't alive during WWII, but that's not a requirement to pass judgement on America of then versus America of now. I was born into an already-great nation in 1963. Highways had always existed as far as I was concerned. Highways, cars, gas stations, and the electricity to pump the gas were all appearently God given.

Building something like the highway system today is unthinkable. I don't mean the physical construction of it, I mean getting everyone on the same page. About the best we can manage today is a fence along the Mexican border, and that happened mainly as a stupid political statement. It won't stop a terrorist, it won't stop illegal border crossings, and it doesn't even work as a fence very well.

We used to build anything. We used to do anything. It was competition not hegemony that made us put a flag on the moon in response to the Soviet Union putting an antenna named Sputnik into space. It didn't matter that the world could only be blown up once, if the Soviets had the capacity to do it 10,000 times, then we could do it 15,000 times. We didn't like steaming around continents, so we cut canals across entire countries to shorten the trip. We cured polio, we discovered DNA, we invented the transistor, we made our government embrace civil rights, and we tossed crooked presidents out on their ass.

We didn't have everything, though; we didn't have a government that micromanaged our fear. We didn't have daily colors to tell us if it was a good day or a bad day to die in a terrorist attack. We never realized we had a huge illegal immigrant problem that was inflicting untold economic damage on the country. We didn't know we might have restless leg syndrome. We didn't know voter fraud was appearently widespread in mostly impovished Democratic strongholds. We didn't know that gay people cause New Orleans to flood. We didn't know they hate us for our freedoms; we always assumed it was the napalm.

We certainly didn't know that George Orwell's 1984 was an instruction manual.

When the Soviet Union fell, we became that shining city on a hill. We were victorious! We were correct. We were truly enlightened, and thanks to us, we invented the Internet just in time for the long run of peace which would surely follow. The Internet was to be the great equalizer. The playing field would be leveled for everybody, and the free flow of information would allow reason to polish good ideas like pearls and the best among them would percolate to the surface to be realized with the great peace dividend that was due us. We couldn't wait to see what came next.

If you ignore the porn and the chain letters, you could argue that we did in fact start to attain enlightenment, but 9/11 interrupted our march up that hill. In fact, the political party currently in power has stopped the clock since 9/11. You need not look any further than the 2008 Republican National Convention for the shameful proof of that. I can't tell you how much I was looking forward to fleeing 2001. We have let events usurp whatever plans we had for the nation, and that is most deciedly un-American.

Consider this:

In 1939, the US unemployment rate was over 17% and it had a military budget of $1.3 billion. Over the next 5 years, this nation managed to crank up an enourmous industrial base that designed and built 15,000 ships, 100,000 aircraft, and 130,000 tanks, not to mention all the other vehicles and munitions needed for the war. We did this while fielding 16 million enlisted personel to fly, drive, shoot, save lives, and die in WWII.

It was definitely not the kind of war you could shop your way out of because it took the United States, England, and whatever other help that could be found in Europe, along with a massive Russian army fighting in unthinkably brutal conditions to defeat the Huns.

Parallel to fighting in two theatres, another project was going on in the US that involved the nation's best scientists and a supporting staff of 130,000 people. That project, of course, was the Manhatten Project. The Oak Ridge separation facility alone was consuming twice the electricity than all of New York City consumed just to separate enough material to make a couple of atomic bombs. All this work was being done from first principles and in secret. The US dropped two of those weapons on Japan and the resulting horror forced Japan to surrender, and thus ended WWII.

The United States stood like a freshly minted titan and set to task restoring the economies of entire continents. It took the lead in holding open and fair trials for all the world to see, and brought a degree of closure for many by winning conviction against war criminals. The world looked to us as the moral authority, and we took that roll serious.

It was easy to overlook the fact that the US stripped away the constitutional rights for a whole class of US citizens when it interred Japanese Americans; easy to overlook, that is, unless you happened to be a Japanese American. Roosevelt had his dark side and this was an exceptional thing for him to order considering there were no indications that Japanese Americans were any less patriotic than any other group. I think he genuinely hated the Japanese and that simple emotion spilled out to affect 100,000 people in the worst possible way - by stripped them of their rights and property and putting them in a box in their own country simply by association. Even in a democracy, a single man can upend the lives of many with just a careless wave of a pen.

Newspapers during WWII were politically incorrect at best, and racist screeds at worst. The enemy was often referred to in patently offensive terms. We were fighting little more than deranged monsters and cur dogs. The utility of fear and hatred was not lost on America even during the height of our righteousness.

Below is a masterful bit of advertising for fear.

Notice the dead dolly on the floor.
Do you think this is too polarizing? I wonder

how returning amputees felt about it...



Say what you want, but at least they had posters and acknowledged the war.

If the government had its warts, well, it was just a reflection of the people - what to you expect from a seed stock of criminals. We've not always been the quickest on the block either; the settlers forgot that In 1705, British Chief Justice Holt stated

: "as soon as a negro comes into England, he becomes free; one may be a villein in England, but not a slave".

They forgot it so thouroughly that it took another 150+ years and a brutal civil war to remember it. Civil wars are not just for abstract sub-human creatures that live in the Middle East.

There was a bit of irony between interring Japanese Americans and drafting men to fight the war; both actions removed the fundamental rights and free will of a large number of people. Their freedom and will was commandeered for the (percieved) collective good of the nation.

This is in stark contrast to the number of times the US has commandeered business and industry.

A disproportionate amount of the heavy lifting and sacrifice has always fallen on the people of America, and that weight is often carried without so much as a word. These are things we do for freedom, and for our country, and for our family, and for our friends, and for our neightbors. Sacrifice and giving is ingrained in us; we don't need to be reminded of it all the time, and I hate it when we feel we have to remind others of our past sacrifices too. It's tacky.

It is also profoundly troubling when the government enguages in discretionary warfare. The people pay a heavy burden in lives and treasure, while companies typically flourish. Will Exxon and Shell reimburse us for a portion of the $2 trillion dollars that we spent to arrange their oil contracts in Iraq?

It hurts when you find out fellow citizens such as General Electric ran a cartel from 1924 to 1939 to:

lower costs and decrease the life expectancy of light bulbs, while at the same time hiking prices without fear of competition.

or that  IBM collected profits on all the tabulation machines that Hitler used to keep track of prisoners and exterminations at the concentration camps.

These are just two examples from an untold number of instances where corporations conduct business in a way that is attendant to profits at the expense of society. There is a complete divorce from accountability in the minds of the CEO's who make the descisions. Their job is to raise shareholder value, they will say.

The harm that corporations do is not always premeditated; Bhopal India, Exxon Valdez, WR Grace, lead paint, DDT, asbestos, Vioxx, e-coli... the list is endless. People understand that accidents happen, but they also understand that consequences and accountability must happen too. Accidental or not, corporations can always be counted on to go to extraordinary lengths to deny having anything to do with a mountain of dead bodies or patch of scorched earth.

Corporations have been afforded the status of 'person' which puts the company on the hook for any wrongdoing even though the 'company' did not make any descisions. If I run over a child with my car, you can bet that it's not my car that is going to jail. In the case of the Bhopal disaster which killed upwards of 20,000 people, the CEO of Union Carbide, Warren Anderson, literally walked away and was declared a fugitive from justice in India until Greenpeace found him living in luxury in the Hamptons. When India found out, the US government refused to extradite him. Again, that is just one example; we don't even want to go near South American examples.

Far be it for me to stand in the path of progress; that is not the point I am trying to make. I like money just as much as the next person, unless the next person likes it enough to kill for. I also do not mean to impugn all companies as being immoral; one need only to look at the Mensch Of Malden Mills for a great example of corporate stewardship. How unfortunate that he was punished by the banks for his humanity.

Another thing borne after WWII was a codified international monetary system at Bretton Woods, NH. The world needed to be rebuilt and there was a need to establish monetary rules for this. It was here that the greenback was adopted as the fiat currency for the world. This was not a meeting of bankers hammering out financing for the reconstruction, it was a meeting dominated by economists who think about things such as the causes of war, trade imbalances, and depressions - or at least they used to. A macroeconomist lives in a brutally cold world of numbers and consequences. They are not moralists, and I want you to keep that in mind.

The results of that meeting was a tangible affirmation that the United States was not only the moral leader of the world, but also the economic leader as well. By default, America was accepted as benevolent; it obviously had to be, or else it would not stand as the leader.

America's dominance in world affairs gave rise to, or added prominence to many so-called think tanks, which examine all areas of policy. Many of these think tanks mixed public, economic, and military policy through various public and private commissions. Some didn't; some offered unsolicited advice based on studies they undertook themselves.

When smart people with similar views are put together in relative isolation to think about smart policy, their beliefs run the risk of suffering from groupthink along some dominant line of though. If a common ideology pre-exists among the group, then groupthink is intensified. When that group is composed of powerful and influential people who are not used to thinking they could be wrong and are not often second-guessed, then the product of groupthink can spill into policy.

Ideology is what allows someone to defend a bad idea even in the face of contrary evidence. It has a nasty tendency to reduce the problem space to black and white, and sometimes even into threat and non-threat. Bush's famous statement, "you're either with us, or against us", is an example of the former, and Cheney's 1-percent doctrine is an example of the latter.

Many think tanks either have economist fellows or draw on influential economists from outside. Economists use a tool, called rational choice theory, to predict how the average, rational individual will behave under certain circumstances. They use this model because it is so critically important to predict how people will respond to changes in the economy. Unfortunately, rational choice theory has been maladapted by policy wonks to pick the rational answer among several for a given question. The distinction is major because once ideology, or even willful deceit has reduced the question to black and white, the answer is often red – as in red herring.

The whole War on Terror concept is a red herring. Why stop there? Why not a War on Crime too? Or a War on Poverty? Or a War on Drugs? We land some helicopters in a far-away place, shoot a few people, and when someone else shoots at us, now we have terrorists. Now we can rip through the population and assert just enough authority to officially get away with dropping bombs on houses and wedding parties. Do you think it's possible that the decision to torture was the product of groupthink reduced by ideology to black and white? Let me rephrase that: have you ever in your life heard of an actual ticking bomb scenario? Could it be a red herring?

Like maximizing shareholder value, the rational choice scenario deflects accountability. How could we think about prosecuting someone trying to save us from a ticking bomb? Why, they should get medals – and probably will.

Milton Friedman is an important figure in the world of economics, and he has attained an ideological following that is pervasive within the libertarian and conservative community. His contributions to statistical analysis won him a Nobel medal and some of his economic models have proven to be quite accurate. What earned him love is his doctrine which asserts that the primary function of a corporation is to maximize wealth for its owners, and the only thing that prevents that is government interference. Friedman's position on corporate responsibility starts and ends at maximizing wealth for the owner while staying within the law of the country in which it operates. If it can be shown that giving to charity somehow increases the real wealth of the company, then it should do it, otherwise let the owner do with the profits as he or she see fit.

You can see how the dogmatic simplicity would appeal to a conservative, and I don't mean that as an insult, I just mean the fixed order and predictability.

Ronald Reagan was an eloquent speaker, so when he uttered the phrase, "greed is good", not everyone saw it for what it was - an uncharacteristically clumsy endorsement of Milton Friedman's economic doctrine. Actually, maybe it wasn't so clumsy after all. Economics is a very important topic inside the think tanks because all other policies are dependent on it. After a think tank has reduced Friedman down to black and white and filtered it through rational choice, what they were left with was the conclusion that a declaration of war on government was in order. Trickle-down economics was a good rational choice for a small government, even if you didn't make government smaller.

The funny thing is, Friedman started making money off his celebrity and once that happens, it's pretty hard to turn the bus around or even slow it down to explain that maybe he shouldn't be taken so literally. Here is Friedman's last interview before he died. What comes through is a content old man who has done his assigned job. He charted a path through the jagged, shifting icescape of macroeconomics, and he did so with the bitterly cold detachment and objectivity required from any scientific study. He was well aware of the messiness of the real world as is evidenced in the last exchange of his last interview:

NPQ | In the end, your ideas have triumphed over Marx and Keynes. Is this, then, the end of the road for economic thought? Is there anything more to say than free markets are the most efficient way to organize a society? Is it the "end of history," as Francis Fukuyama put it?

Friedman | Oh no. "Free markets" is a very general term. There are all sorts of problems that will emerge. Free markets work best when the transaction between two individuals affects only those individuals. But that isn’t the fact. The fact is that, most often, a transaction between you and me affects a third party. That is the source of all problems for government. That is the source of all pollution problems, of the inequality problem. There are some good economists like Gary Becker and Bob Lucas who are working on these issues. This reality ensures that the end of history will never come.

That is a definitive acknowledgement of the need for regulations. I just wanted to establish that before I get back to the think tanks.

Washington has a million think tanks, and they help keep the streets free of deranged ex-public servants. One think tank, Progress for a New American Century, or PNAC for short was formed in 1997 and was kind of like the American Enterprise Institute's bizarre little brother who tortures small animals. PNAC had one thing going for it, and that was a member named Jeb Bush.

Jeb had a brother named George who would be perfect to sit in the oval office while the members of PNAC formulated American policy. George had all the right qualifications: distinct lack of curiosity, corrupt, without conscience, etc, etc. Not only would PNAC members get choice jobs in government again, but their carefully crafted, ideologically driven, rationally chosen path to perpetual world domination would finally get a chance to bear fruit. PNAC members such as Elliott Abrams, William Bennett, Dick Cheney, Eliot Cohen, Scooter Libby, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, John Bolton, and Doug Feith all were installed into influential positions in George Bush's administration.

I have to say something real quick about Donald Rumsfeld. His wrongness is so total that had Alan Turing been aware of someone like Rumsfeld, he would have had to rethink his test for machine intelligence because even the smartest computer in the most distant future would identify him as some kind of wrong-answer-generating automaton. Be it a prepared speech or an on-the-spot interview, he can be counted on to deliver a rapid series of lies, some inferences drawn from no known form of logic, references to mysterious information, monumentally stupid assertions, and usually finishes up with a flourish of arrogant insults. As a civilian, here are a few things he did on the side:

• Member of the President's General Advisory Committee on Arms Control—Reagan Administration (1982–1986);

• Senior Advisor to President Reagan's Panel on Strategic Systems (1983–1984);

• President Reagan's Special Envoy to the Middle East (1983–1984);

• Member of the National Economic Commission (1988–1989);

• Chairman Emeritus, Defense Contractor, Carlyle Group (1989–2005);

• Chairman, Commission on the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States (1998–1999);

• Member of the U.S. Trade Deficit Review Commission (1999–2000);

• Member of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR);

• Chairman of the U.S. Commission to Assess National Security Space Management and Organization (2000);

All the members have similar backgrounds in economics, policy, and war. Economic globalization dovetails beautifully with PNAC's goals. They know that establishing a global hegemony will proceed faster riding an economic wavefront than by trying to cripple others economically. You can't fund yourself by bankrupting everybody else; you just need to assimilate their economies in yours.

The members of PNAC are extreme right-wing ideologues. If you look at the papers on the PNAC website, you will notice they all promote the idea of US expansion throughout the world by the perpetual use of military power. There is barely a mention of any diplomacy or even consideration of our allies. Here are some common traits among the members of PNAC:

• Most have no military service.

• Most have sat on the boards of weapons manufacturers and were members of other think tanks that advised weapons systems procurement for the government.

• Many have strong ties to Israel and Israeli lobbies.

• Many cut their teeth in the Nixon administration and learned very well the lesson of compartmentalization and covering one's tracks.

• All seem to be more than willing to lie to promote an interest.

• All are intolerant of insubordination or dissent.

• All obsessively micromanage.

• All hold favorable opinions of the unitary executive theory.

• All have expressed disdain for the media but use it to spread disinformation.

They live in an antiseptic world which they created for themselves. There is no such thing as erring on the side of caution, because there is no erring; reduced to black and white, all problems are simple, rational choices. It is simply inconceivable that things could go wrong. If they didn't like the information they were hearing, they would find someone who would tell them what they want to hear. In this antiseptic world, negotiating is not an option because it leads to unpredictability. Milton Friedman showed them the way; it is all predictable inside the think tank.

PNAC knew that a new world order world take some time and be difficult. In fact, in 2000 they said:

"the process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event -- like a new Pearl Harbor."

Getting George Bush in office required finance and something else. The financing was not a problem because an oilman has lots of friends who would love to see him in office. Being a republican son of a republican president and ex-CIA head probably had the weapons manufacturers calling him before his campaign had a chance to beg themselves.

Money wasn't a problem, but the candidate was. You can't teach passion, or even compassion for that matter. What was George Bush passionate about? What did he stand for? What inspired him? Forget it.

There were no wars, and the economy wasn't in the tank. In fact, the government was even running a surplus, so there was one issue for Bush – he could be passionate about reducing taxes. About the only other thing the country faced was that it had a special prosecutor named Ken Starr who liked to publish pornography. That would be Bush's other populist issue – restore integrity to the White House, and that one resonated wonderfully throughout the conservative and religious communities.

Still, it was best not to take chances. If you don't have anything to offer the public, or don't really give a shit about governing anyway, then it's best to buy an insurance policy by staffing up with people who understand how to manipulate the public and who make no distinction between right and wrong. In fact, if you are not very good with issues then stay clear of them because they could get you embarrassed. What you need are good wedge issues to carve up the map and get just enough votes to win. You pit Americans against Americans. You play off people's fears. You even chose wildly irresponsible running mates if it will get you a block of votes. Most of all, you lie like a threadbare rug.

George Bush's good friend, Turdblossom – A.K.A. Karl Rove – was a Republican campaign consultant. Because he works exclusively for republicans, it is assumed he is a fiercely partisan republican, but it's actually hard to tell.  He is remarkably apolitical for a political consultant, but then again, Larry Bird didn't need to run, jump, or dribble to be a great basketball player. Karl Rove is just like an economist; he lives in a frozen world of numbers and consequences. Unlike an economist, who makes no judgment of morality when devising a predictive model, Rove is simply unconstrained by morality when synthesizing political strategy. It's not as much his wormy brain as his tireless legwork that makes him successful. Rove tries to leave nothing to chance. He has a bag full of dirty tricks and a head full of stats and traits, and he has a good instinct for matching one with the other. Standard fare is to take an opponent's asset and turn it into a liability: John McCain adopted a black child, so when he ran against George Bush in the 2000 primary, Rove started a rumor that McCain fathered a black child and still supported it. He only used that one down south, but it did the trick nicely there.

George Bush was the perfect storm against society. On the first day that he moved into the White House, he indulged in hubris and allowed Rove to start a rumor that the Clinton administration trashed the White House on the way out. There was no need for it; it was just a taste of what would become a habit of manufacturing reality.

With his cabinet stuffed to the rafters with binary-thinking, hard-right, PNAC ideologues, and with their prophetic, hypothetic catastrophe still in the future, the ideologues set out to their respected areas and systematically began dismantling or gutting all government agencies and services which related to public health,  welfare, education, and the environment. Bush pulled out of the Kyoto protocol, the ABM treaty with Russia, and the International Criminal Court. He also announced the Bar Association would no longer review federal judge selections.

These actions were relentlessly spun as smaller government, less spending, and a court system that better reflected the core values and beliefs of mainstream Americans. All this, of course, was pure bullshit; it was nothing less than power consolidation and alignment of interests not in the public good, but exclusively for the private sector. The government did not become smaller, it grew bigger and it spent more – just not on the public.

The spinning was relentless, and the cutting pernicious. The Clean Air act was to make the air less clean, and shutting down EPA libraries had nothing to do with hindering environmental research – it was all about saving that whopping $2 million dollars. By the time the government was finished rewriting the reports, the research would have been a waste of time anyway.

The Bush administration perverted Friedman's theory of less government regulation and actually employed the federal government as a tool to assist in private enterprise and to pursue an ideological agenda. The shares that We, The People, purchase when we pay our taxes vest us as the owners of the government. What Bush has done in his role of CEO is to sever ties with the board of directors (congress) and embark on a new corporate strategy altogether. As a result, Moody's and Fitch have downgraded us to junk status.

Friedman really should have thrown his Nobel over the White House fence.


I don't want to dwell on 9/11, and I certainly do not claim PNAC foresaw the event, but I will say that PNAC saw and wrote about the utility of "a new Pearl Harbor". 9/11 was a tragedy, but what followed was a disaster.

With the exception of a couple of programs, television did not do journalism; they only reported the news. As an economical substitute to journalism, television adopted a pundit debate format which let you decide if you believe the liar on the left, or the liar on the right. The all-news networks found it extremely profitable telling gullible people what they wanted to hear.

9/11 scared the hell out of everybody, and the government moved rapidly to take full advantage of the situation. People could not get enough news and the largest content provider was the government. Networks would do nothing to jeopardize their access to content, and as a result, we were beaten half to death with fascist tactics designed to whip up a patriotic fervor that had Chinese factories running day and night to keep up with US flag sales.

Honesty would not do. Honesty was punished, and opinions only came in one flavor. Iraq had to be perceived as an imminant threat to the entire population of the United States.

New departments were created within the government to manufacture the evidence to back up Cheney's repeated public lies about Iraq. Generals were fired who injected reality into Rumsfeld's antiseptic world where enemies flee before his invincible machines of death from land, air, sea, and space. Paul Wolfowitz emerged from his cocoon just long enough to tell us the war would only cost $3.50 and the only arms we would encounter would be hugs.

Because we were examining Iraq with a microscope looking for anything that could be interpreted as a weapon, it was no surprise that the weapon Powell showed us from satellite photos was the vial he help up to the camera and asked us to imagine it contained something awful. I don't know if it was a straw man or a red herring.

These colors don't run, and get busy shopping. We placed your wife in danger, Mr. Wilson, because of your attempts to expose our lies. If people are not doing anything wrong, then they shouldn't mind the government having a little peek to see if that is true. Don't you trust the government?

Well don't you, punk?

The war is going great, the economy is sound, and unless we need a dose of fear, the forecast is for sunshine and handjobs for as far as we can see into the future.

Torture is just a word for certain actions which, if forbidden, will result in your death from a ticking bomb. It is also needed to find out if there is a ticking bomb. The rules forbidding torture are as quaint as the constitution and are not applicable in the new ways of the world. It's not like the government is obsessed with torture and have high-level, secret meetings about it, and write legal opinions on it, and the fact that the same specific techniques of torture appeared simultaneously in Cuba and in Iraq are a complete coincidence. It's just a few rotten apples pulling pranks on a few dead-enders.

It's pretty hypocritical for us to condemn the government's use of torture when we as citizens are neck deep in the weapons trade. You are probably not even aware about how much you subsidize the weapons industry, so let's take a quick look: First, there is very little actual risk in designing a new weapon because it is almost a rule that the government will pay for the design up front. Once designed, the weapon manufacturer stands a good chance that the weapon will end up on display at trade shows around the world that the government pays to exhibit at. If it doesn't sell there, the government will give it a good word at the:

  • International Military Education & Training Program

  • Military-to-Military Contact Program

  • International Narcotics Control (and other counter-narcotics programs)

  • Anti-terrorism Assistance

  • International Criminal Justice (and other police training programs

Usually, weapons sales just walk in the front door. The weapon may be selected as part of an arms agreement with another nation, or the government might reward a country which behaves in ways we like with free weapons. If a conflict breaks out you can be sure the government will be there supplying one or both sides with weapons. There is even crazy talk about the CIA covertly funneling weapons to groups around the world to foment rebellion.

If the weapon manufacturer does happen to make a direct sale to another country, then there is a good chance that some side business in the form of offsets will develop too. Weapons offsets are potentially very costly, but it's hard to tell because they are not always done in full daylight. It is common practice for some country to demand concessions from the weapons manufacturer for the privilege of selling the weapons. The concessions are commonly equal in value to the weapons sale. What the other country wants can range from a promise to build a factory in the country to manufacture the weapons there (which siphons jobs away from the US), to arranging the purchase of some exported product (which might kill the sales of a domestic producer). All of this can be tricky business, and since weapons manufacturers' might not know anything about selling mangos, they can look for help in arranging the offset through:

  • American Countertrade Association

  • Defense Industry Offset Association

  • International Reciprocal Trade Association

  • National Association of Trade Exchanges

  • Corporate Barter Council

  • Investment Recovery Association

These non-profit, government-subsidized organizations will know just who to call in the government to orchestrate the offset trade. The government employs thousands of contractors for this.

Without even knowing it, you have been funding a huge vertical support structure to assist in the delivery of weapons to other countries with the manufacturer pulling in all the profits. Ironically, the successful use of these products tends to lower demand for other products that you might wish to sell.

If you think this is an exceptional set of circumstances, you would be very wrong. This is happening in virtually every field, and it didn't come about by accident. The government is infested with tics and leeches. We only see the engorged bodies of the lobbyists, but below the skin, the government is teeming with parasites.

A stupid president/CEO would see oil as a vital resource and conclude that a preemptive strategy at any expense was necessary to ensure access to the commodity. The CEO would conclude that the huge ongoing expense of maintaining access to it, even for 100 years, was worth it. It would never seriously consider finding an alternative method of obtaining the commodity, or an alternative to the commodity itself.

A smart president/CEO would entice the commodity into the market where it could use market forces to attain the best price for the commodity. A smart CEO also realizes the folly of relying on the consumption of a non-renewable resource, and that research into alternatives is needed, and that technology is the only thing that can manufacture wealth – anything else is just a zero-sum game.

One tribe hunts an animal to extinction, and the other tribe learns how to farm.

I can't even remember the last time the government asked us to save money, yet I hear plenty of calls to go shopping. I bore witness to the government borrowing money to send checks to everybody in the hope they all used it to shop with. I bore witness to the government refusing to assist children in medical coverage while it continued to fund a war of choice. The government right now is asking every man, woman, and child to give at least $2,300 to the same institutions that feast on the poor through predatory lending practices, and try to trick you into punitive fees for things they don't even want you to be aware of.

In one sense, Friedman had it exactly backwards; it is not government that interferes with business, it is business that interferes with government. Grover Norquist wants a government that he can drown in a bathtub, but I want a government that supplies the things which the free market will not. The free market has not provided a way for 49 million Americans to afford health insurance. The free market will not pay for a toxic spill or the possible outbreak of leukemia which follows. The free market does not promote conservation of anything. An unconstrained free market is pathological. It will feast on the weak to grow stronger. It would seek free resources, including labor. It is regulations and laws which saves the free market from itself. It is laws that cause timber companies to replant what they cut. The free market will throw anybody under the bus for a buck. The free market would scorch the earth if left unchecked.

We need to know that we are more than just profit centers for corporations.

The administration has made it so we can't even get an honest report from any agency without having to follow it back to its originator to find out what was gutted due to political pressure and coercion, and only then if we are lucky. All too often nobody can remember anything about anything and they are ready to quit and go work for a lobbyist anyway.

This is the Bush administration. It sees no problem using the Department of Justice as a tool to crush political opposition. It has staffed that department with people who refuse to cooperate in the normal checks and balances of government, and these people refuse to serve subpoenas to members of the executive branch who have been found in contempt for not cooperating in investigations of the politicization of the DOJ by the executive branch. It is an administration that has staffed every department dealing in public welfare with corporate stewards. It is an administration that does not honor laws and refuses oversight right to the point of destroying documents and records. Oversight poses a threat to the government. Dick Cheney shits himself at the thought of an inspector. I can say it is an objective fact that anyone who tries to hide between branches of the government should not be anywhere near government. If he wants to be a criminal, that's his personal choice; but get the hell out of leadership when you are doing it.

The same is true for Congress; none of them should be in leadership rolls. I like Obama and I will be voting for him, but he starts in a deep credibility hole simply on his despicable FISA vote. What is the business of Congress? Jesus Christ! FISA was about the lowest bar to jump over for doing the people's business. It was nothing more or less than voting to following the law or not, and they failed. Congress is an institution for of the criminally negligent.

None of this, though, is what makes me think we are not going to crawl out of the hole we dug for ourselves. Not without a sea change.

I'm of the opinion that a person cannot actually become more stupid. I think it was there all the time but had less opportunity to be expressed before 9/11. I'm not talking about basic cognition skills, I'm talking about knowledge. I am sure there is a direct relation between the quantity of a person's knowledge and the quality (or objective truth) to their knowledge. Expansive knowledge allows new information to be run through that many more filters before a judgment is made on its usefulness. I think plenty of people willfully skip the filtering process when new information clashes with pre-existing beliefs. These people are highly unlikely to mention the alternative information when expressing beliefs. It is the groupthink cycle where alternative options cease to exist.

John McCain mentions over and over that he is a maverick. He can do this because there is a romantic notion to the word; nobody likes to think of themselves as a conformist; it's much more exciting to be a maverick. The reality is that most people do not like to be ridiculed or scorned, or singled out in any negative way, and because of this, they tend toward conformity. Whores don't go to church – they pray at home.

"You are either with us, or against us," was probably Bush's most damaging statement. I contend that its cumulative effect was more frightening and caused more damage than the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Corporations were pissing themselves from fear of being labeled unpatriotic, and the administration used that power against everyone. There are basically 6 companies that control all the broadcast and print media. The fear index in broadcast media was particularly high. Any programming that could be perceived as unpatriotic ran the risk of destroying sponsorship. Questioning the administration was a sure way to get labeled unpatriotic and lose your revenue stream. In this mode, people absorbed a steady stream of one-sided bullshit until their brains began to bleed. Democratic politicians would melt into a puddle at the threat of being called unpatriotic, and self-identified republicans feasted on it. It emboldened them to make outrageous statements and it lured all the conformists into their poisonous den.

I am not sure the country has been this polarized since the civil war. The pundit wars on broadcast television established the new nature of dialog between liberals and conservatives, and the Internet amplified it. Sharp, short attacks on intelligence and character pass for dialog, and a clever turn of the phrase often substituted for logic. I should know; I'm a grand participant. This race to the bottom is so pervasive that it is now ingrained in marketing and media experts. The fact that John McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate is so obscenely disgusting, insulting, and dangerous, that it should earn him the label of terrorist. The problem is, a large number of people fully support it. Even after watching Palin emit random words that carried no discernable information content in response to a complete softball question lobbed underhand to her by Katie Couric, many people still think she is up to the job. Here is what her foreign policy consultant had to say about her proximity to Russia assertion:

"The point she was making is that the geographical location of Alaska has unique attributes. This doesn't happen to many states in the union," Biegun said. "Her point was that she's pretty up close to some of the big issues of international affairs."

This is what they are doing to America because they know that half the population need some excuse... any excuse to quiet their discomfort in aligning themselves with such an ass. I fantasize about meeting this Biegun person and vomiting all over him for 2008 seconds. It's just a marketing job to them. Marketing works. McDonald's could run graphic ads for a new menu item called McShit-on-a-Stick and 50% of the people would rush out to try it.

So here we are, weeks before the election and all of a sudden we are being blackmailed for a starting figure of $700 billion dollars. The people spoke on the first vote, so now the politicians are at it again, only this time they are adding a colossal insult to the package in the form of tax breaks. They hope Bush will accept this new legislation with tax breaks in it. Nothing in the bailout addresses the underlying problems in the economy, and attempting to reinflate the bubble will get the banks lending for 5 days. They will begin hoarding cash once again because the economy is still contracting and they don't trust each other any more than we trust them. So far, every failed or merged institution of late is under investigation for fraud and other crimes.

Everything about it is wrong, but it is part of the new pattern of inaction, unaccountability, and failure that we now specialize in. We have eliminated constructive social discourse. We have a thoroughly incompetent government incapable of making a correct decision and unwilling to legislate for a better standard of living. We have a media that has completely abdicated its responsibility to inform the public, and has done so for the cause of money. We are socializing all of the nation's excess that we only tangentially benefited from in the first place. Wages have fallen in real dollars, and we are ready to strap ourselves onto the inflation bus that is going to go over the cliff. We are a consumptive society which has already shipped its manufacturing jobs overseas, and is now in the process of shipping all of its technological prowess and leadership there as well. What the fuck good is being able to buy an $8.00 pair of work boots if there is no work and we don't have any money anyway?

Maybe the government will start sending work boots to us. I hope they don't make us stand in line for them.

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