Tuesday, November 23, 2010


I've been thinking about a post that the proprietress of Mimi's Musing wrote over at Dead Horse. An excerpt:
The New York Times is running one of their wonderfully patriotic and fat-headed series, this one on our military heroes who are such brave youth and who just incidentally, you understand, have signed up to slaughter other human beings. I commented:

What is it, in particular, these hired killers are fighting for? Not to protect our country; Afghanistan has never been a threat to this country. Not "our freedoms"; our freedoms have been eroding for years. Not "our way of life," whatever in the world that could possibly mean.
I certainly agree with the substance of Mimi's post. But there's something I get to thinking about, now and then: for instance, every Armistice Day Veterans' Day, when we're supposed to get all misty-eyed about how everything worthwhile about America only exists because somebody spent 1977 to 1983 as an avionics tech in the Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. It's the "hired killers" thing I want to get to here. It's certainly descriptive of what they do, but I don't think -- in most cases -- that it's what they are. That's not a distinction that's worth much of anything to the killers' victims, but it's worth something, I think, in terms of our efforts to understand our countrymen.

The average age of first enlistment in the Army hovers right around 21 in recent years. That's certainly old enough for legal responsibility ... but I wonder how many of us were really doing a lot of serious thinking at that age? At the very least, I think we'd have to say that 21-year-olds tend to be pretty easily swayed by advertising, and by other forms of social pressure. And between one thing and another, it seems to me that we as a society are very insistent in telling the youngsters that signing up to kill is both a noble exercise, and a smart career move. (In today's hollowed-out US economy, it's about the only career move available to a whole lot of kids.) I'm sure that some of the recruits do have an insane urge to kill other people and destroy their homes. I'm inclined to doubt that the majority join up to become killers, though; I'm thinking that for most, the motivation is a good bit more mundane, and a good bit closer to innocent. America sells them on the idea; and America is well-equipped with astute salesmen.

As I say, a 21-year-old is responsible for what he or she agrees to do, and does. And the distinctions I'm referring to aren't very important to the people who are unlucky enough to live in places that our masters have decided to destroy, and unlucky enough to be the ones our masters have decided to murder. But the responsibility goes far beyond the torpedoes in uniform. It extends to everyone who pays taxes to the crime lords. When it comes right down to it, there's plenty of guilt to go around. I believe I'm wearing my share, too.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Some Do, and Some Don't

Vote, that is. I don't, as I explained at some length in this post; and my fellow Fort Wayne-area blogger Phil Marx does, as he explains at some length in this post. He writes well. You should check it out.

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Depression-Proof Business

Maybe your job's already evaporated, or maybe you're still hanging on. Maybe your real income continues to decline (in fact, O American, there's not much "maybe" about that). Maybe your kids have gone through school, only to find that the only available jobs are low-paying service-sector ones, or none at all. Maybe the military is looking like their employer of last resort. But don't think that all is disaster, everywhere. There is one "industry" that seems to be depression-proof: Israel, Inc. In a few months, while you're preparing your federal income-tax return, consider the following:
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presents his ministers with a multibillion-dollar incentive package from the U.S. to reopen peace talks with Palestinian leaders. He may have difficulty in winning their approval.

Under pressure from the Obama administration, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu began nudging his Cabinet on Sunday toward accepting a multibillion-dollar package of U.S. incentives to restart peace talks with Palestinians.

But Netanyahu immediately faced strong opposition from conservative politicians and Jewish settler groups, who vowed to block the American proposal because it would reimpose building restrictions in the West Bank for three months.

U.S. officials hope to use the three-month window to focus talks on setting final borders for a proposed Palestinian state. Once both sides agree to borders, Israel could resume building in areas that will become part of Israel and halt construction in areas that will become part of the Palestinian state.

After a confrontational Cabinet meeting, Moshe Yaalon, a vice prime minister, rejected the U.S. offer as a "honey trap" that "will lead us down a slippery slope and into another crisis with the American administration after three months, or perhaps even sooner."

Netanyahu told ministers that the terms of the U.S. offer were still being negotiated and he pledged to bring it for a vote before the smaller security Cabinet when the details are finalized.

The package, discussed last week between Netanyahu and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in New York, includes 20 stealth fighter jets worth $3 billion and a promise to veto anti-Israel proposals raised in the U.N. Security Council during the next year, including a potential Palestinian bid to seek international support for a unilateral declaration of statehood.

In return, Israel would renew its partial West Bank construction moratorium for 90 days, including units that broke ground after the previous freeze expired in September.


Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, a key coalition partner, voiced opposition to the U.S. offer in private meetings, according to Israeli news reports. Lieberman and others oppose setting final borders before addressing other issues, such as security or the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

"We will not agree to focus on the subject of the border," Lieberman was quoted as saying by Israel Today newspaper. "That would be a bitter mistake."

But Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who had voiced opposition to renewing the building moratorium, indicated Sunday that his Shas Party might agree to abstain from the vote if Jewish building in East Jerusalem could continue unabated.

Palestinian officials said they had not been briefed on the plan by U.S. officials and would refrain from making a judgment until then. But some expressed concern that the building restrictions would not cover East Jerusalem, which Israel seized in 1967 and where it recently announced the approval of 1,300 new units.
So, despite the fact the we're broke, and all signs point to Uncle Sam's VISA card being declined on a worldwide basis, we're going to somehow kite some more debt to fix the Izzies up with "20 stealth fighter jets" -- no doubt, in addition to that other $3B that we send them annually. And we're going to use our power in the UN to silence any criticism of their war crimes and general thuggishness, thus identifying ourselves with them yet again, making even more dedicated enemies in the Middle East (which may not matter at this point, as our "enemy" status is probably saturated by now). Then, if we are successful in bribing the Chosen, the Palestinians will undoubtedly require a bribe of some sort also, although it will predictably be a pale ghost of the one we deliver to the sons of Abraham. After this, both sides will do what the hell they want anyway, and we -- having sown the wind -- will reap the whirlwind.

If the US suddenly retrieved any semblance of sanity, it would instantly withdraw its armed forces from Mesopotamia and southwest Asia (along with everywhere else, but that's another discussion), and would gently inform all states of the region that every form of assistance and all military "partnerships" are hereby discontinued; the very best of luck to all; see you later, boys; don't call us, we'll call you (not).

What do you suppose the probability of such a return of sanity is?

Yeah, that's about my guess, also.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Who'd Ever Have Thunk It?

The state has investigated its own coverup of its own crimes. The result: nothing to see here; move along, move along.
No criminal charges will be filed against CIA officials involved in destroying videotapes of harsh interrogations of terrorism suspects, the US Justice Department has said.

The CIA destroyed 92 tapes of al-Qaeda operatives Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Nashiri being waterboarded in 2005.

Jose Rodriguez, a former clandestine officer, approved the move out of concern the tapes could harm the CIA.

The investigation has spanned nearly three years.
The accused has investigated, and has concluded that there's no crime. As Gomer Pyle might say: surprise, surprise, surprise!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Rite of Consent

Some conversations I've had -- both online and in physical space -- since November 2 cause me to think I should lay out a substantial case for not voting. As I try to do so, please don't think I'm being smug: I myself am a very recently reformed former voter. Worse yet, it wasn't so long ago that I held an elected public office; not only am I a voter, I'm a candidate, and a winning candidate at that. (My shame multiplies.) So let's think of this as the equivalent of an AA meeting: "Hi, I'm Jim, and I'm a voter."

That said, here goes.

Voting as Communication

We're often told that our vote "sends 'em a message." The message that is sent, and to whom, varies considerably from one voting-exhorter to another. When Denise Democrat defeats Rick Republican for a congressional seat, what message did a particular voter (say, Vince Voter) send? He wants an increase in Social Security benefits? He's against the war? He likes legal abortion? He thinks Denise is a goddess of government, or that Rick is slimy? He thinks Denise is dead horrible, but Rick's even worse? He wants a better Republican than Rick in office, and voted for Denise based on a strategic calculation that it's more important to reform the Republican party through the cleansing fire of defeat than to win this particular election, this one time? He votes alphabetically, and "D" comes before "R?" Out of these and a thousand more possibilities, it's quite hopeless to decipher Vince's "message."

Voting is a bad way to send messages because of the information deficiency inherent in the mechanism: a "multiple" choice between two (or, rarely, three or four) alternatives. The information content is nearly zero. It's similar to displaying a flag -- what do you mean: you like America, or you hate everyone else? Or wearing a cross, which might mean that you love Jesus, or that you think Madonna was really, really hot when she wore one.

Want to send a message? Voting is an incredibly ineffective way to do so. Depending on the size and proximity of your audience, consider having conversations, giving speeches, or writing: a book, an essay, a blog, comments to someone else's blog, or letters. In these ways, you can -- with effort -- say exactly what you want to say.

How Does Your Voting Affect Others?

I argued above that voting is a poor way to communicate. When you vote, though, you do tell government something: that you buy into the state's basic scheme, and that any disagreement you have with the state concerns only the small details -- which is the kind of disagreement that's easy for them to live with. You tell them that you're engaged in their game. And that's fine with them: the nominal two parties (one party, in reality) have arranged things so that no third party, even a sellout like the Libertarian Party, will ever be relevant to the way in which business is actually done. No matter whom you vote for or against, your vote tells your supervisors that you're a happy camper ... or, if not actually happy, that you're at least going to continue camping on their campground, by their rules.

Secondly, when you vote, you add peer pressure to the general pressure exerted by the respectable media on your fellow-subjects to vote. You're serving as a bad example.

Thirdly, your voting lends a spurious legitimacy to the state. The more people vote in an election, the easier it is for the victor in that election to claim that his or her ascension to power is the Will of the People. Imagine an election in which 99% of the eligible voters don't vote. Sure, one clown or another will receive a larger share of the 1% than the other clown, and will therefore be awarded the driver's seat in the clown car. But he'll certainly sound silly -- even more so than usual -- when he talks about having a popular mandate for his particular brand of buffoonery. As the number of voters increases, so does the clown's plausibility; and that's not good.

How Does Your Voting Affect Yourself?

I'm assuming here that I'm talking about the reluctant, nose-holding, lesser-of-two-evils voter: someone who realizes that things have gone badly wrong in American political life, and is considering his or her vote as a mitigation, a limitation of damage, an effort to salvage something from a bad situation. To the cheerful person who can wholeheartedly "get behind" a major-party platform, I have nothing to say, really; that person is dealing with a version of reality that I'm not familiar with.

First, voting uselessly consumes your time and mental energies. It requires that you become familiar with the mechanics of politics at a tactical level, as you will often be deploying your vote in some indirect way; voting for an unusually-egregious clown in Party A's primary in order that Party B's candidate will find it easier to win the general election is a classic example of this. (I say "uselessly" because the probability of a single vote changing the outcome of any election at a higher level than Assistant Township Dogcatcher is negligibly small.) It requires that you study the chicken entrails endlessly, trying to divine the true intentions of candidates who will try hard to prevent you from doing so accurately.

Secondly, the effects of tactical, nose-holding compromises are cumulative. What you repeatedly do, you incorporate within your mind; to an extent, you become what you do. Compromise becomes a habit. Eventually, your very ability to think and act in a principled way has to be compromised, along with everything else.

Finally, there's the "Stockholm Syndrome." A hostage, held at gunpoint, is compelled to compromise, accepting the wrongful status of prisoner in order not to be shot. After some time, he tends to start identifying or sympathizing with his captor. Similarly, if you cast enough lesser-of-two-evils votes for Congressman Doe, you're apt to excuse, or at least to overlook, some of his misdeeds. Having voted for him so many times makes you complicit, to a degree, with those misdeeds -- so they must not be so terribly bad. Your thinking has become distorted, and that's not good.

What's the Real Meaning of Your Vote?

In the Declaration of Independence, we read:
That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
Please don't misunderstand: I'm not saying that voting makes you a party to an explicit legal contract. I do claim, though, that in most people's minds, when a group decision by voting is embarked upon, the expectation is that each person who votes expresses, through the act of voting, his or her willingness to abide by the outcome. The "consent of the governed," as the text of the Declaration puts it, is signalled and marked by the performance of some action by the people.

What is that action, that consent ritual, if not voting? Commonly-understood expectation makes it that; and I would suggest that there isn't really any other thing that we're urged to do that would qualify. Voting ratifies the state's claim that what it does, it does rightfully in our names, with our consent. "You've had your say; now, let's get on with it."

And it's a bad bargain that we get: exchanging our consent for an entirely illusory voice in the process, an entry ticket for a fully-rigged game. Look, objectively, at what actually happens. Republican "conservatives" in power, Democratic liberals out? Government gets bigger and more powerful, and our liberties shrink. Throw out the Republicans, and vote in the Democrats? Government gets bigger and more powerful, and our liberties shrink. Let one party control Congress, and the other the White House, in so-called gridlock? Government gets bigger and more powerful, and our liberties shrink. Sensing a theme here? As Emma Goldman said, back in the day: if voting actually changed anything, it would be illegal. Instead, it's recommended to us as a solemn duty by those who certainly would not welcome fundamental change. Obviously, it's sublimely harmless to the powers that be. With apologies to that great philosopher, Bob Seger:
Ooooooh, they love to watch her ... vote
Ooooooh, they do respect her but
They love to watch her vote.

The Bottom Line

To sum up, voting doesn't "send them a message" -- at least, not the message you may have had in mind. It's bad for your fellow citizens, and worse yet, it's bad for you. Voting is used by the state to bolster its own spurious claims of legitimacy. It's a bad habit, and one that we'd all do well to break.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The Mystery Solved!

Most of us, I'm sure, are perpetually asking ourselves just what the problem is with America these days. That question has now been answered. The problem is me, and maybe a few others who just aren't well-adjusted.

Those few "others" seem to include this guy, with whom I disagree on some of the particulars -- I'm not a Commie, and he is, I think. But, as I've remarked from time to time, class analysis is a powerful tool for understanding what we see going on around us. (Via Mr. Oxtrot.)
When the political tricksters fail and the voting public actually gets a little bit upset, it is time to send in the clowns, and so most recently a couple of late-night TV comedians have joined the fray, holding a massive rally to “restore sanity.” This new sanity is epitomized by the following family portrait: daddy is a “Conservative Republican” mommy is an “Obama Liberal,” the son is a “Libertarian,” the daughter is a “Green,” and the dog (the only one of them who is sane) is trying to run away. Meet the Losers: they are the ones who have no idea what class their family is in, or what their class interest is, and as far as their chances of making successful use of democratic politics to collectively defend and advance their class interest, well... they are the Losers—that says it all, doesn't it? All that blood spilled in the name of liberty and democracy, and to show for it we have a country of insane Losers and the odd sane stray dog, free to a good home.

But it is all a waste of time: the Losers may vote or not vote, they may flap their gums at the breakfast table or twinkle their toes up and down the street holding signs, where they may take part in peaceful protest or get teargassed and shot with rubber bullets—the result will be exactly the same.
Wow -- I guess I shoulda voted! Because, as we all know, voting changes things.