How To Get Absolutely Everything on the War on Terror Wrong

This is just too much.

I generally prefer not to spend too long gawking at the travesty that is the American media - at least not to the point where I'm willing to dedicate hour after hour of my life to laying out exactly how it is systematically destroying our minds.  Not that it isn't a noble profession for those willing - just that I tend to drift toward broader thoughts.  But avoiding the lies is nearly impossible these days.  The disinformation campaign is just so pervasive that you find yourself having to refute the same tired talking points again and again and again.

Luckily, every now and then someone comes out with something so incredibly and awfully fallacious that it actually ends up as a great example of everything that is wrong with mainstream discourse in this country.  And it's amazing how often that someone ends up writing an opinion column in the Washington Post.

We Know How the Supreme Court Really Works

I just wanted to elaborate on a point about the Supreme Court and the power of the judicial branch I made recently when discussing Jeremy Hammond and the judge who denied him bail.

In that post I wrote:
Look at it this way:  If you personally held the power they do, would you use it to act as a positive force in the world, even if it meant picking and choosing from legal rulings?  Even if it meant having to uphold a law you believed in, like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for example, on something as ambiguous as 'interstate commerce'?  Yes, you would, because you'd know that bastard Scalia (or someone like him) was doing the same thing on the other side of the ball.  If you don't play the game, he wins.  And if he wins, we're all doomed.

There's an interesting anecdote that goes along with that.

Today, our common conception of the civil rights movement in America is that of the mid 20th century, and rightfully so.  But it's important to keep in mind that many similarly sweeping reforms were passed in the wake of the Civil War (along with the 14th Amendment) during what is known as Reconstruction, and only rendered useless by the unwillingness of both the Supreme Court and the Executive to support and enforce them.  The Civil Rights Act of 1875 was one of these, guaranteeing blacks equal treatment, much as other civil rights legislation did almost a century later.  Unfortunately, the Supreme Court stepped in.

Framing the Debate Pt. 2 - Israel

It's the year 2012, and "anti-Semite" has officially become a meaningless term.

It took years and years of sticking the label to anyone who dared to question Israel's divine actions, pledge support to a Palestinian group, or simply say 'Zionist' in a way which did not show proper reverence, but here we are.

Continuing the saga of what should really be a completely mundane political appointment, potential Secretary of Defense nominee Chuck Hagel (of whom - if I haven't been otherwise clear - I'm no fan) is now being smeared as an anti-Semite.  It seems that some years ago he had the audacity to claim: "The Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here [on Capitol hill]".  Of course, "Jewish lobby" is a questionable term, but the Israel lobby certainly does exist and is quite powerful.  Regardless, the attacks are coming rapid fire, and it has put many on the left in the awkward position of having to actually defend Hagel and his pro-Israel record.

This is the point we've reached - where even the slightest diversion from uncompromising support for Israel means you will have to endure the worst kind of personal attacks.  It doesn't matter if you're a former US Senator who has regularly voted for legislation favorable to Israel and hostile to Hamas, even sponsoring resolutions condemning moves toward a Palestinian state.  You will be branded an anti-Semite if you stray off the beaten path.

If it seems like we just played this game a few months ago, it's because we did.  The very same neocons attacked Obama during the election cycle by claiming he wasn't pro-Israel enough.  That didn't have quite the direct effect they were looking for (American Jews still overwhelmingly supported Obama), but it might have played a role later that month in Obama's unwavering support for the 'Pillar of Defense' attacks on Gaza, as well as in Susan Rice's very angry speech at the UN condemning the vote to recognize limited Palestinian statehood after it passed 138-9 - the US being one of the 9, of course.  This is, after all, where these attacks are most effective - at keeping the power players in America sufficiently on Israel's side, through good times and bad.

You have to ask: if Chuck Hagel is an anti-Semite, who isn't?  The vast majority of the world's population takes a much harsher stance on Israel than he does.  Nearly every international human rights group, advocate, and intergovernmental agency strongly criticizes Israel, or at the very least supports a Palestinian identity.  And from UNESCO to Desmond Tutu, they're all called antisemitic.  As an al-Jazeera anchor put it in a brilliantly titled article: "If Bishop Desmond Tutu is an anti-Semite - what hope for the rest of us?"

Is no one safe from this labeling?  What about American Jews who criticize Israel?  Well, Noam Chomsky is regularly called a 'self-hating Jew', and that sounds a little bit nicer, even if it has similar implications.  At the very least it doesn't implicitly invoke Hitler.  Still, it's not hard to find Chomsky (among many others) labeled as antisemitic as well.  It seems there's no clear consensus on what American Jews who criticize Israel should be called.  Even the ever-distasteful Jonah Goldberg wrestles with the problem, ending just a tiny step away from outright calling a few of the candidates he lists anti-Semites (to be fair, he seems to understand the increasing skepticism attached to the label).

Strangely enough, though, this isn't how the debate works in Israel.  While the right wing there currently dominates the political sphere, dissenting voices within Israel have an easier time finding a platform than they do in the United States.  Amazingly, even in the middle of strong pro-war sentiment during 'Pillar of Defense', television stations in Israel were willing to give Palestinian voices airtime.  This, at the very same time you were hard pressed to find a single pro-Palestinian voice on American television (the exception being, I believe, on Chris Hayes' show), let alone an actual Palestinian.  Even the BBC - usually a far more enlightened voice on international matters than the U.S. media - was much the same way.

Clearly, the "anti-Semite" branding has worked.  And it's no surprise - what defense is there really against name-calling?  Attempts to clear your name only further the momentum, making it seem as if you actually have something to hide.  Voices in the American media - rightfully sensitive to concerns over true antisemitism, and willing to defer to Jewish definitions of it - have unfairly censored themselves.  They've completely lost scope of the entire nature of the debate.  At first, if you challenged the idea of Zionism, or the inherent rights of the state of Israel, you were an anti-Semite; then, if you condemned Israeli treatment of Palestinians or its military campaigns in the occupied territories you were an anti-Semite; and now... well, we've seen where we're at now.  The debate has been continually restricted over time, to the point where we just simply don't even have one.  The entire frame of discussion is:  You either support Israel, or you implicitly hate Jews.

But there is an even harsher side to this.  Hagel's "Jewish Lobby" mistake is an easy one to make.  The very same people who are calling him out for it are the ones who always tend to refer to Israel as the "Jewish State" (despite its very real demographics).  And if you insist on calling Israel as a "Jewish state", and labeling anyone who criticizes the actions of the state of Israel as antisemitic - even if those critics are Jewish themselves - then you're effectively saying that the state of Israel speaks for all Jewry.  It then follows that all true Jews support Palestinians being forced to live in conditions that are "worse than apartheid", not to mention regular bombings of Gaza (killing at least as many civilians as militants), open threats to other nations in the Middle East, and even war crimesYou've now become the one who is demonizing Jews, opening them up to real antisemitism.

And, indeed, if we were to accept this logic, it would be hard not to condemn Jews as a group.  Many open-minded people who haven't yet studied the issue of Israel/Palestine fall into this trap - seeing the uncompromising pro-Israel position as that of Jews defending Jews no matter the crime.  The old, ugly stereotypes start to come alive again, where Jews everywhere are seen as a nefarious group with unhealthy amounts of power.

But I know - and all reasonable people know - that the actions of the state of Israel do not speak for every Jew.  It just so happens that the Israeli right apparently has a stranglehold right now on defining what it means to be Jewish.  And when American politicians and media moguls accept this position, they do an incredible disservice to the many Jewish groups who are working for a lasting peace, and who are unafraid to actually have a debate on the issues.

For their sake, and the sake of our collective sanity, the term "anti-Semite" needs to be resuscitated by being put in its proper context.  There will not be peace when lines are drawn furiously in the sand, divisions are solidified, and the rhetoric is that of Israel (with American at its back) against the world.

Framing the Debate Pt. 1 - Hagel and the Washington Post

There are a couple points I wanted to make regarding the recent discussions over President Obama's potential nomination of Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense.  They have to do less with the substance of the job offering itself, and more with how restricted our thinking has become without us even realizing it.

The standard, acceptable discourse in America is framed in such a way by the media that it ensures the status quo will not be challenged.  We so easily find ourselves caught up in the he-said, she-said mode of discussion that we lose sight of the very principles we're supposed to be discussing in the first place.  By arguing within the frame of debate they set for us, we limit our perspective and become hardened to the idea that we can do better.  The end result is that we are more and more willing to make concessions and accept our fate - spending our time not arguing over ideas, but their leftover tiny scraps.

The Simple Move to the Right

Chuck Hagel was a Republican Senator from a red state who, despite breaking the mold by vocally challenging the Bush administration on the Iraq war, still voted with Republicans the vast majority of the time during his tenure in the Senate.  It is a rather common tactic for presidents to pick moderates (and Hagel is considered one - most Republicans simply fall in line) from the opposite party to fill certain cabinet positions in a show of good faith.  This, of course, is nothing new for Obama, who chose Bush-appointee Robert Gates for the same job in his first term.

Yesterday, the Washington Post editorial board took Obama to task for this move, arguing that Hagel has outlandish views on foreign policy which "fall well to the left of those pursued by Mr. Obama during his first term".  But the indictment is not that of Obama's failure to live up to the (largely unfounded) progressive hype surrounding his presidency. The Post is simply upset because "the usual role of such opposite-party nominees" is to "move...toward the center", and presumably Hagel's nomination does not achieve this.

Thus, we've arrived at a scenario in which Obama's ambition to be a great mediator whose bipartisanship ushers forth a new era of American politics does not even impress the beltway journalists who clamored for him to take that approach in the first place.  At the same time, his consistent moves to the 'center' never actually appease his right-wing detractors in the corporate media.  They will continue to pick at the minutia of leftism he shows, knowing that as they do so the sphere of debate moves further and further to the right.

This has long been the shared goal of those worst elements of disinformation who originated the mantra about Obama being an anti-American socialist/communist.  If Obama - who is center-right at best - even can be argued to have some socialist tendencies, then clearly those to the left of him must be full-blown socialists themselves.  And if those 'socialists' are by definition anti-American, that means they can be either ignored or vilified without a second thought.

Perpetual War

Where the Post really shows its colors, though, is in where it tells us Hagel has gone wrong.  First, he has dared to suggest in interviews that he believes defense budgets could be cut (!).  This is even more of a crime than usual, because both the current Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta, and the military are arguing against it.  You see, normally we have a system you could call "You can't put a price on safety":  the military asks for money, and since the military are the experts on the military, they get it.  But now things might change.  There's a chance - just a chance - Hagel could implement some of those 'checks and balances' we always hear about, and actually stand up to the heads of staff rather than becoming their willing stooge.   Clearly, that's a possibility we just can't entertain.

Even more damning, Hagel actually "argued that direct negotiations, rather than sanctions, were the best means to alter Iran’s behavior."  This position is untenable for foreign policy 'realists', and it probably kills them that they can't outright call Hagel - who served in Vietnam with a distinguished record - an idealistic peace-loving hippie.  Of course, it can't be possible that he understood the toll those sanctions would eventually take on civilian life, and how they would only embolden and strengthen the current regime (as sanctions tend to do, time and time again).  Nor could the fact he had seen war firsthand have played into his rejection of a method which so often leads to it.  He's just simply not on the right page, and was "isolated" on this issue in the Senate as a result.

The fun doesn't end there, though.  The Post has yet to serve up its most healthy dose of hardened foreign policy realism yet:
"Mr. Hagel has elsewhere expressed strong skepticism about the use of force.  We share that skepticism — but we also understand that, during the next year or two, Mr. Obama may be forced to contemplate military action if Iran refuses to negotiate or halt its uranium-enrichment program."  [emphasis mine]

You see, they share his skepticism, but unlike his nancy-ass two-time Purple Heart self they realize life is about the hard choices.  They know that sometimes a president is forced into going to war, and when that happens, he needs people around who aren't going to question him.  People who are willing to lie to the world about enriched uranium and what not.  And you know we clearly never want to go to war, but Iran is just pushing, and pushing, and pushing.  What are the good people of the world to do when such an evil nation forces our hand?

Of course, none of this conforms to reality at all.  The case against Iran is so ridiculous at this point - even if you don't take into consideration the fact that the main aggressor in the region (Israel) already has nuclear weapons - that certain countries have polluted the discourse with nonsensical "leaks" in order to further their position.  And you don't have to be Glenn Greenwald to see the eerie similarity between this and the tactics used in the run up to the Iraq War.

But here's where this all ties in:
"What’s certain is that Mr. Obama has available other possible nominees who are considerably closer to the mainstream and to the president’s first-term policies."
[emphasis mine]

There it is.  Chuck Hagel just isn't mainstream enough.  The most amazing part of this is that Hagel does not even endeavor to challenge the core tenets of American foreign policy.  He simply disagrees on a few small issues, which may not even come into play given that he'd be working under an administration that is all about the mainstream.

Make no mistake, the Washington Post knows exactly what it's doing here.  It's important to keep in mind throughout all this that they are running an editorial they know will be controversial, just to let everyone know that they do not endorse a nomination that is only rumored to happen.   By painting Hegel as an outsider, someone with positions far from the norm, they condense the debate into extremely narrow terms.  The question of who is best for a Defense Secretary becomes limited to whether or not the nominee is sufficiently pro-war; whether or not they fall in line with the mainstream, serious, insider opinion.  Not a single person will dare criticize Hagel from the left now.  How can you, when he's under such an assault?

If he is indeed out of the mainstream - too far to the left on these issues - where does that put the rest of us who actually want to challenge the broader issues? 

Those who are more than willing to turn this discussion into one of aggression and war - rather than that of defense - might instead take the words of a previous president and general who knew the military better than anyone:  "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in a final sense a theft from those who are hungry and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed."

Is it not disturbing how far that sentiment is from our everyday conversation?


In the next installment (coming soon, if all turns out well), I'll discuss the attacks on Hagel coming from the standpoint that he doesn't support Israel enough, and how the labeling of him as anti-Semitic is just the next step in making that term nearly meaningless.


Dangerous Evolutionary Baggage

In 1980, the late (great) Carl Sagan made a powerful plea on COSMOS, not just to Americans but to all of humanity:
"In our tenure on this planet we've accumulated dangerous evolutionary baggage - propensities for aggression and ritual, submission to leaders, hostility to outsiders - all of which puts our survival in some doubt. But we've also acquired compassion for others, love for our children, a desire to learn from history and experience, and a great soaring passionate intelligence - the clear tools for our continued survival and prosperity. Which aspects of our nature will prevail is uncertain, particularly when our visions and prospects are bound to one small part of the small planet Earth. But up there in the Cosmos an inescapable perspective awaits. National boundaries are not evident when we view the Earth from space. Fanatical ethnic or religious or national identifications are a little difficult to support when we see our Earth as a fragile blue crescent fading to become an inconspicuous point of light against the bastion and the citadel of the stars. There are not yet obvious signs of extraterrestrial intelligence and this makes us wonder whether civilizations like ours rush inevitably headlong into self-destruction." 

Of this, a single question comes to mind:  Can we not strive to create a society which appeals to those most positive aspects of humanity, while limiting the impact of our shared evolutionary baggage?

I find myself coming back to this question time and time again; I can't escape it.  The greater part of our world is dominated by an economic system that - in its purest form - plays to our most primal, base qualities.  It tells us to give in to our selfishness and aggression, to unleash our competitive desires in a sphere where we literally decide between comfort and misery, life and death.  And it concludes that if we do this for a long enough time, we will create the best society possible.  This form of thinking has such a stranglehold on mainstream thought that so-called scholars and experts openly declare that capitalism has "won".  They say we have reached the end of history.

Personally, I find it unfathomable to believe that this is the best we have to offer as a species.  It must be a sad, lonely existence for those who do.  They project triumphantly, but what real gains are there underneath the rhetoric?  What solace can be found in claiming there must always be such suffering in the world?

After all, capitalism ferociously attempts to answer my question in the negative.  It is indeed the very antithesis of a society which facilitates the best in us and discourages the worst.  It fights progress, hates compassion, and denigrates all forms of justice.  Worse, it takes our collective humanity and crushes it; takes our interconnectedness, smashes it into tiny pieces, and forces those pieces to fight for its pleasure.  In capitalist society we define ourselves not through our thoughts and relations, but through the businesses we support, the cars we drive, and the clothes we wear.  We literally think in brand names and logos.  We are not who we are - we are the things we like, and the jobs we hold.  We network not to meet new people, but to sell ourselves.  All this we take it for granted as if it were the natural course of things, our dehumanization nearly complete.

Everything in this life is looked at as an investment, no matter its true nature.   Even something like education is swooped down upon and made into a cost-benefit analysis, with only faint relation to its stated purpose of offering knowledge and self-improvement.  Our coming of age is burdened with the heavy weight of choosing between 'healthy' well-paying careers, 'worthless pieces of paper', and all manner in between.  But this is what the system does - it forces us to treat what are otherwise idealistic times with cruel and selfish pragmatism.  It tells us that, through the powers of the free market, society has already made the decision of what jobs are necessary for us and what are not.  That, therefore, we should not waste time considering what benefit our talents will bring to others, but instead focus on ourselves.  No matter what good deeds we do, our primary concern should always be to gain from them.  You see, it just works out better for everyone that way.  Don't question it, just do it.

It is no surprise that this mindset translates so fluidly into neoliberal policy, and that of the West's approach to the rest of the world.  The richest of nations have always claimed to offer charity to the poorest.  But as Eduardo Galeano said, "charity is top-down, humiliating those who receive it and never challenging the implicit power relations."  And what we have in reality is even worse than that.  Our language is not that of the solidarity Galeano has long fought for, "horizontal and tak[ing] place between equals".  It's not even that of charity.  We go on instead about 'investment' and 'economic growth'.  We tell these countries that just simply seeing them improve is not enough for us; we must also materially benefit from the transaction.  Even self-identified socialists speak to the developing world in this manner, despite the fact it is the same logic multinational corporations use when they defend their grisly policies in these countries - that they're improving the conditions of the average person with their investment.  Not coincidentally, this is the same type of philosophy the World Bank and IMF were built upon.

Now, despite very real backlash against neoliberalism in the Americas (among other places), we've reached the point where left increasingly is defined as 'capitalist who cares for the poor', while right is 'capitalist who is more than okay with letting them starve'.  Where John Maynard Keynes, and his near-equivalent in this day Paul Krugman are progressive heroes; and Larry "I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that" Summers can be accepted among the ranks of the American left.  The overall message is clear: You can care about the poor and disenfranchised.  You can even help improve their position in the world.  But you can't challenge the implicit power relations.

That's the recurring theme under capitalism: money is power, and power is everything.  It's in this dog-eat-dog world that we foster the worst of what human beings have to offer.  We teach our children - whether it be implicitly or explicitly - that life is about who is better than whom.  We teach them we are individuals all playing the game, trying to get ahead - our wealth the score. 

And there's a reason we call a person's wealth their 'worth'.  Forbes explained the mentality perfectly when it introduced its annual The World's Most Powerful People this year by stating: "There are 7.1 billion people on the planet. These are the 71 who matter."  If this mindset is not evidence that something is drastically wrong with our social order, I'm not sure what is.

But all is not lost - yet.

It's easy to let the true nature of the world we live in affect us to the point of depression - or worse, apathy.  To allow the most powerful, soul-destroying forces to break our will and reduce us to putty.  But, against all odds, our humanity invariably shines through.  Despite having our spirits crushed day after day, so many of us are able to stand back up again and speak truth to power.  It's this kind of spark, I think, that kept Carl Sagan so optimistic about the fate of our species.  I can only hope one day we manage to marginalize - rather than embrace - our evolutionary baggage and prove him right.

America - The World's Foremost Mental Health Patient

We're Broken

Whenever I speak to people who have spent their entire lives outside of America, and they ask what it's like for someone who is self-aware to live here, I find myself at a loss for words.  It's nearly impossible to describe.  The best I can muster is to say it's like one tragedy after the next, to the point where you're in danger of going numb if you don't keep yourself grounded in humanity.  It's frightening, it's brutal, and it's relentless.  Yet sometimes, when you're around good people, it's great, and you love and you feel as human as anyone else.  But by then you've lulled yourself into a false sense of security, and the next thing you know you get blindsided by the full weight of all that is wrong with the world and wake up wishing you were never born.

This country has a disease, and rarely is it as evident as it is now in the wake of the latest mass shooting spree.

Please don't get confused: this isn't like what happened in Norway.  Norwegians had good reason to be shocked and appalled by what happened.  Here in America we have no excuse - it doesn't surprise us when these things happen anymore, and it shouldn't.  This is, in fact, part of the awful reality of our culture now.  It fits in somewhere between the nine pound hamburger and "God Bless America" being sung at a monster truck show.

The rest of the world should expect this from a country that continually acts out its aggressive fantasies on the rest of the world.  They should expect it from a country that has clearly spent the better part of its existence ignoring its collective humanity.  Our history is - if nothing else - one of dehumanization.  Rather than learn from our past mistakes, we stubbornly rationalize crimes as heinous as using nuclear weapons on cities.  We lie and say all of our wars were necessary - even beneficial.  We completely ignore the conditions of the average human being in favor of celebrating great men - those giants of industry and politic who fought progressive reform for hundreds of years, and still fight it today.  This is the history we teach our kids, and we wonder why things go wrong.

Even when we do admit America has made mistakes, we fail to put them in terms of human concern. We refuse to look at history as it applies to today, and, predictably, we never learn the right lesson.  So while we admit what was done to Native Americans and blacks for hundreds of years was terrible, the fate of their descendants today is casually brushed aside, or ignored altogether.  When we do discuss these things, the message is always: we've come so far!  A great excuse to give up hope and accept the current state of things as inevitable, no doubt.

I tell my European friends who wonder why we've taken such divergent pathways in recent times: 
 Remember World War II?  Your cities got bombed, not ours.  While you said: "Oh god, this must never happen again!", we said "Oh god, we saved the world!  We're heroes!  We should do this more often..."
Most societies end up having a kind of humbling moment where they realize that violence only makes things worse.  Not us.  By the time 9/11 came along, we were so full of ourselves that we took the absolute opposite approach.  We didn't have a "Holy shit, where did we go wrong?" moment.  We had a "We will rid the world of the evil-doers." one.

This type of foreign policy is but a reflection of our inner selves.  Just as Bush was living out his puerile superhero fantasy on the world stage, we do the same in our own lives.  We think we're helping everyone, that we have the answer to all the problems of the world.  But rarely do we experience that crucial moment in the hero's journey - where they reflect on their failures and wonder if what they're doing is actually helping.  You see, we just don't do self-criticism here.  It takes away from that whole confident, macho, headstrong image we've got going.  It's no wonder that whenever there's a shooting spree a good chunk of the populace dreams about being there with a gun of their own, killing the bad guy and saving the day.

I'm not going to lie - this kind of critique is hard to quantify.  There are very few academic studies addressing "How closed minded are Americans on average?", "How well do Americans take criticism?", or "How many Americans have no critical thinking skills whatsoever?".  All we have to go by are public opinion polls and trends and the like.  Anecdotes, mostly.  But even if we had some statistical analysis, I'm not sure it would really do the subject any justice.  It's not the statistics that really speak to you.  It's the year after year mental absorption of sounds, feelings, and atmosphere.

It's the skeletons in our collective closet.  The fact we know too much.  How can you explain the feeling of hopelessness you have after you've heard yet another person you know tell you, in vivid detail, about abuse in their life or of someone close to them?  It practically destroys your own mind as you sit and listen, powerless to do anything.  The nearness of it can be too much to bear.  After all, it's very hard for us to fully absorb all the news stories we hear, to tell how prevalent this type of thing is.  But when we look at our own lives, we learn enough.  We may all be within six degrees of Kevin Bacon, but we're most certainly within one degree of child abuse, molestation, rape, or some other awful debilitating event that never fully leaves you.  Try as you might, you can't unknow the horror.  And you think:  If this almost makes living unbearable for me to just think about, what about the person it happened to?  How do they live with it?  How does it affect them? How can this person ever be a functional human being again?

But the worst reality is how we perpetuate this type of behavior.  We show an utter disdain for the fragility of human life, again and again, and yet that very fact itself escapes us.  We ask:  How could someone do this?  How could they kill a bunch of poor defenseless kids?  This, in spite of the fact we allow - and even advocate for - regular violence toward children as a form of punishment.  And even in the absence of that, so many others are subject to various forms of mental abuse, and torments of the mind - all carried out by those whom children are programmed by nature to trust most.  Many internalize this, but some act out.  They are then subject to further abuse(PDF) in juvenile detention centers - and later, in jails.  And all for what?  To preserve power and authority.  To bend another human being to one's will.

This is the sickening reality for so many of America's children, doomed to abuse by parent, teacher, and state.  They are forced to submit time and time again to authority, but not to reason.  Obligated to bow their heads to power - power which cannot be questioned, no matter how wrong it is.  Taught that - no matter who you are - there are people and institutions you should be subservient to.  Might is right.  And now we sit, stunned, as the final recourse of our endless humiliation is shown front stage and center.

I ask: is it too much to ask that we treat every child with dignity, as if they were actual human beings?  Is it too much to ask that we rehabilitate, rather than punish?  Will we ever end this cycle of abuse, or are we too afraid to look deep within and admit that some things we do are categorically wrong?   Can we forgive our parents for doing what they thought was right, and not repeat the same mistakes in our own lives?

Can we at least have this conversation?   It's long past time we seriously consider that we're the ones who have problems; that maybe we didn't 'turn out okay'.  Maybe the fact that our highest office is filled by determining who amongst us is the biggest compulsive liar and warmongering sociopath tells us something about the kind of society we are, about the lengths we go to in order to delude ourselves into believing that everything is okay in the homeland.  Or maybe I'm just being too hard on America.

Maybe, but fuck it - if there's one thing we need it's some self-reflection.  God knows we're not going to listen to anyone else.  We need to take in the absolute worst of what we are - every last ugly truth we can barely stomach - and reconcile it all.  Maybe then we'll stop dooming everyone else to destruction through our wondrous works.  Maybe then we'll show the same level of compassion to the children we're blowing to pieces in the Middle East that we show to the ones who are killed in America.

But until that happens, all I can say to the rest of the world is: "We're broken."  "I'm sorry."

We Put the Assault in Assault Rifle

(Update:  Walmart has since removed the gun in question from their website.)

This is an assault rifle available for purchase at Walmart.   It's one of the many ridiculous weapons you could buy there while you watch your neighbors do their grocery shopping.  From the various reviews on-site we learn:

"This is an excellant entry level AR"

Oh, this is only an entry level assault rifle?   Silly me.  It's just I saw M4A3 with NATO rounds and was pretty sure I remembered these were military designations...

"My fivteen year old daughter can shoot this rifle with very accurate results and loves to go out shooting it with dad"

You teach your fifteen year old daughter how to fire a military-grade rifle?  Is this part of her post-apocalyptic Zombie Survival class, or what?

"So, I was in Wal-Mart to buy ammo and walked by the gun display, when...
- I spied an AR in the case
- Immediately, a smile appeared on my face and I knew that things were looking up for the store.

Okay I've already seen enough.

It's generally accepted from all corners that people with mental health issues should not be able to own guns.  The problem is, as mentioned, we're a pretty messed up society.  How do you define mental health?  Where do you draw the line?  Personally, I'm afraid of the fact the three people above own any type of gun at all - and these are extremely tame examples of gun-madness.  (If you don't believe me, search for gun enthusiast forums and read some everyday conversation there.)

You see, guns make murder impersonal.  They make it accessible to the type of person that might otherwise be sane enough not to go through with it if their only options were a knife or their bare hands.  Even someone willing to start with those crude tools might stop halfway, as they see the cost of human life they are extracting right before their eyes.  Not such with a gun.  All you have to do is pull the trigger once and you have the potential to end a life.  It's not just impersonal, it's easy.  Too easy.

Worse, guns like the one above make it incredibly easy to not just kill one person, but a whole slew of people.  In fact, they were exclusively designed for that purpose.  You would think this is reason enough to suggest an immediate ban - not to mention an inquiry into why they were ever legal for the average person to own in the first place.  This seems like such an obvious fact that you could even say it's self-evident.  You could say that, but then you would be underestimating the madness of the society in question.

Americans have always considered themselves rugged individualists before anything.  It's a large part of our myth: the refusal to submit to the crown, the adventurous explorers, the wild west and gold rush.  You know, the glorification of times where slavery was prevalent, women were subjugated, Native Americans were slaughtered and driven off their land, and immigrants were demonized (at best).  At the time of our independence, there were a couple hundred "rugged individualists", and they all either inherited their fortunes, or built them at the expense of others.  Usually both.  But that doesn't stop us from swooning when we hear Jefferson or Madison quoted.

Today, a whole lot more of us can own our own land, homes, and guns.  And that makes us really believe in the myth.  Rather than "no man is an island", we believe every man is an island.  We're all self-made here: no outside help, no mention of greater society.  Of course, if it so happens that we fail... well, then it's clearly not our own fault.  Something disrupted us.  Something got in our way.  Something (the government), or someone (blacks, immigrants, the leeches of society).  That's the American mentality in its most telling moment.   Like the child who never knew compassion, we blame others for our problems.

These primal responses are only aided by the long-standing tradition of our political parties to divide and conquer.  While outright racial and ethnic slurs have been abandoned in the last few decades, the same sentiments filter through Lee Atwater style.  They enforce the idea that someone is actively out trying to ruin your livelihood, and you need to defend yourself from them: "These people are criminals after all!  Protect your family!  Protect your property!"  This is the mindset in which we lose ourselves, our humanity.  It's the rhetoric that kills; the inflection in a man's voice that tells you that he really means it when he says "it's us versus them".  And he tells it to his kids.  He tells them it isn't a game.

And, of course, he owns a gun.  Or two.  Or a dozen.  Now, living in America you know a few sane, rational people that own guns, and you're okay with that to some degree.  But most of the time you worry, because you know who else is on that list.  It's that friend of yours who was always prone to rages, always a little more violent than you were comfortable with.  It's your neighbors who you have to call the police on because the sounds of domestic violence are so frightening you worry someone is dying.  It's the sex offender down the street whom society has abandoned, isolated, and humiliated.  And this knowledge scares you.  But worse yet: many of them don't just own guns, they worship guns.  They collect guns.  They go to gun shows, and gun conventions, and hang out at gun ranges.  They love guns, and they teach their children to love guns.

Clearly, we aren't sane enough to be trusted with these things.  And yet we have the most guns in the world, and the largest military to boot.  And we can't ever, ever give them up.  You see, it's just never the right time.

But even that belies the point.  We, as citizens, have very little recourse in situations like these.  We don't want to admit it, because of what it says about our "democracy", but it's true.  When we think of signing a petition, of writing to (the representatives of) our representatives, or of exercising our power to vote, our mind says: no one's going to see it, no one's going to listen, and no one's going to care.  After all, we've tried before.  We've tried and it didn't work because there weren't enough voices to break the political creatures from their habit and scare them into fearing for their jobs (that is, their loss of power).

The problem is we're missing a huge chunk of our fellow people.  They're kept in wage slavery, often without the time to even grasp the reality they live in.  They come home after working their second (or third) job, and they just want a couple hours of escape from the hell of it all before they have to go to sleep and start the grind all over again.  What little they're able to absorb about political life is filtered through layer after layer of the disinformation machine.  By the time it gets to their ear it turns out to be some anecdote about why one of the political parties or its leadership is terrible - a perfectly executed ploy to appeal to our most base, reactionary tendencies.  All of their political will is then directed into the election cycle - the area in which they actually have the least amount of say.

The real power in America lies with lobbyists and the money they throw around.  This is why progressive groups have focused their efforts on attacking the NRA just as much as they have in trying to find some way to influence their representatives to pass gun control legislation.  The NRA is the most powerful gun lobby out there - and one of the most powerful lobbies period.  The R stands for rifle; they advocate for handguns, and your 'right' to take them wherever you please:  schools, national parks, restaurants, government buildings.  Anywhere, basically.  It's a type of madness they've gotten away with for years and years, despite fairly regular outrage at the extent of gun violence we face.

But even if some headway is made in freeing members of Congress from the NRA's cold, dead hands (a feat in and of itself), we still have to worry about political expediency.  By the time some sort of gun control is passed, and controls on the ground are put in place, how many more times will we face tragedy?  In 2012 alone we've had at least sixteen mass shootings.  A multiple-victim shooting happens once about every six days.  There is no time too soon to start acting on this.

Of course, the practicality of implementing any sort of gun control is an issue all its own, which I will not go into here.  It's clear that it will have to be a slow process from start to finish, with many problems to work out, and that makes urgency even more important.  I just hope that when we do finally embrace it, it will be the first step to acknowledging the other serious problems underlying our deeply disturbed society.

Know Your Enemy

Much hullabaloo is being made over the upcoming release of the new thriller about the search for bin Laden, Zero Dark Thirty.  Most pundits are keying in on what the movie said about torture, and I can't blame them.  In the last decade, popular media has been saturated with the type of 24-style terrordramas that feature ticking time-bombs that can only be stopped if the ex-marine superhero is willing to torture someone for the information he needs to do so.  Thanks to the sheer popularity of these programs - and the willingness of torture advocates to accept any arguments in favor of their repulsive position, no matter how flawed - this ridiculous logic pervades public discourse on the subject.

But, irregardless of what the movie says (or doesn't say) about torture, it was destined from the start to be nothing more than a propaganda film, fitting the standard US-government-led narrative of the war on terror.  That fate was sealed the moment it came out that the Obama administration was allowing the screenwriter intimate access to those involved in the "greatest manhunt in history" - access which is expressly barred from journalists, of course.

And how do you get this kind of play?

Well, you start by making The Hurt Locker.  Gotta shore up your credentials with a parochial war-is-hell-but-we're-not-blaming-anyone (and if we are, it's those dirty terrorist Arabs who use children as human bombs) adrenaline fest.  Once you've got that on your resume, and it's clear you're going to be no real threat to power - in actuality you're filling space where someone might make a truly critical piece - then you're on your way.  Follow that up by making it clear that your new movie is simply going to be about America trying to get the bad guy.  A limited timeline with no unsavory history.  Just 9/11 to Seal Team Six.

And that's surely what we're going to be fed, given a glance at the rave reviews that have come out already.  I mean, no one is doubting the cinematic prowess of those involved.  I'm sure that - just like The Hurt Locker - it's an extremely well-made film.  The problem is the industry churns out these type of well-made films that say nothing at an increasingly rapid pace.  They strive to make the type of film that at face value appears to titillate, but in actuality just reinforces the stereotypical view of the world we're all fed from day one.  So, even if Zero Dark Thirty does give its viewers a so-so view of torture, in the end it's still a celebratory "we got our guy!" whitewash.  It will do far more for jingoism than it will for self-reflection.

But there is a bigger issue here, and it is the question of: "What is acceptable discourse?"

Let's say I were to create a movie telling the story of bin Laden (that's what the idea here is, right?).  So, I start from the training of the mujahideen, show the extent of his money and influence, talk about US bases in the Middle East and the situation with Israel and Palestine and why that upsets the Muslim world. I eventually work through it all, and include the embassy bombings, 9/11 and the war in Afghanistan, and finally the events surrounding his death.  Immediately, it would be labelled terrorist propaganda.  It would be utterly shunned by all but the most activist sectors of the film industry.  The government wouldn't cooperate with details and events, they would put me on a watch list and work on doing their best to discredit me.  And yet I would only be showing the same history told by ultra-radical Wikipedia.

Contrast this with how Zero Dark Thirty is received.  Director Kathryn Bigelow says the film "doesn't have an agenda".  Really, no agenda?  With all things considered, that statement may fly in the face of reason, but what it really means is that the movie adheres completely to the official history of events - as dictated by the US government.  And that's the difference here.  Challenge the standard dialogue - factually, and fairly - and you're an enemy of the state; play to it, and you "have no agenda" and become a celebrated director.  This same scenario plays out in all walks of life, and it's hard to blame people for submitting.  You just can't build a career unless you sell out.  And American society teaches us to sell out, hard and fast.

The predictable result is that we've become a citizenry which is more than happy to regurgitate our government's foreign policy talking points and call them objective.  And we get really upset if anyone dares to break our fantasy.  Greater America has become a "don't make me think!" zone, and it's gotten to the point where we can't even stomach legitimate discussion on domestic policy.  Don't talk to me about gun culture, Bob Costas, I just want to watch my football game!  Don't talk to me about racism, Kanye, just read from the script!  When you take people out of their comfort zone, all the sudden you have an agenda, and that's bad.

"But I still don't see the problem.  Shouldn't we celebrate bin Laden's death?  Haven't we made the world a better place?"

No.  The entire episode is symptomatic of the problems inherent in the war on terror.  We do not seek to enact justice; we only continue to perpetuate a gross cycle of revenge, without ever once looking in the mirror.  The American Empire is incredibly harmful to most of the world's population, and our support for it is nearly as religiously closed-minded as that of the very same terrorists we deride.  The idea that killing bin Laden was going to change anything was rooted in pure fantasy.  We've spent years radicalizing Muslims to the same cause.  We're constantly warned that by killing, and killing, and killing, we're creating thousands of new 'bin Ladens' to take his place.

So how do you deal with a someone like Osama bin Laden?  Well, you first realize that he has nothing if affected Muslims around the world cannot relate to his words.  So you embrace the majority of scholars who do not treat Islam as radically as he does, and thus marginalize his views.  You also make an effort to stop stepping on Arabs all over the world, as opposed to denying you're doing so.  I'm reminded of something William Blum wrote in early 2002:

If I were the president, I could stop terrorist attacks against the United States in a few
days. Permanently. I would first apologize to all the widows and orphans, the tortured
and impoverished, and all the many millions of other victims of American imperialism.
Then I would announce, in all sincerity, to every corner of the world, that America's
global interventions have come to an end, and inform Israel that it is no longer the 51st state of the USA but henceforth—oddly enough—a foreign country. I would then reduce the military budget by at least 90% and use the savings to pay reparations to the victims. There would be more than enough money. One year's military budget of $330 billion is equal to more than $18,000 an hour for every hour since Jesus Christ was born.
That's what I'd do on my first three days in the White House. On the fourth day, I'd be
But of course none of this would ever happen.  We refuse to even admit that our strategy of bombing and more bombing might actually be counterproductive.

Bin Laden was also never marginalized.  Quite the opposite, in fact - the US government continually acted just as he criticized them for (and make no mistake, he was hardly the first or last to say these things).  Rather than shrink, al Qaeda and similar groups have grown.  Every Iraqi and Afghan knows their message, and has experienced part of it firsthand.  And now the people of Pakistan, Yemen, and the other predominantly Muslim countries we have drones flying around, are doing the same.

Maybe if we thought about these issues a little bit more, we wouldn't be so callous.  Maybe in the end we would find out bin Laden really did care about the issues he claimed to, and wasn't just some madman hellbent on watching the world burn.  Maybe he even turns himself in.  Maybe if you start this process in the 1990s events like 9/11 never happen.

Of course, now we'll never know.


Jeremy Hammond and the Amorphous Rule of Law

 "To bring about the rule of righteousness in the land... so that the strong should not harm the weak."
                      - Hammurabi's Code, Prologue

Justice in America is a funny concept. Publicly, we pay lip service to the grand ideas of "innocent until proven guilty" and "justice is blind", while in casual conversation the average person is more than willing to admit to that the rich and powerful get a much different rap than the rest of us. Most everyone is well aware that who you are is the key variable in how you're treated by the system. If you're black and living in Oakland or Baltimore, or Latino and living in Arizona, chances are you have a very different image of the law and what it stands for than the average suburban white male does. But racial injustice is only a symptom of the larger problem: that our laws make no real effort to prevent the strong from harming the weak. They, in fact, facilitate it.

Rarely is this more clear than when you look at who the state chooses to hold accountable, and to what degree. As Glenn Greenwald notes today, big banks and other powerful entities are simply above being prosecuted, while small time drug offenders (even if they've been likely set up) are sent to jail for life. In the wake of the subprime mortgage crisis, and the creation of the Occupy movement, this is an important distinction to make.

But while disproportionate and ridiculous crackdowns on drug offenders are largely the result of terrible politics and lawmaking, it is another thing entirely to see the government in action against those who might pose some actual threat to its power - those who don't share the establishment worldview and are sick and tired of the status quo. In this battle, the internet is the great equalizer, giving activists the power to do more than just stand in a designated zone, hold up signs, and chant slogans for a couple hours. So it comes naturally that the government strikes out at internet freedom, at Wikileaks, and at anyone sharing a similar philosophy. And now, mirroring one of its favorite real-world tactics, it increasingly does so under the auspices of fighting something called 'cyberterrorism'.

Jeremy Hammond fits the bill as exactly the type of person the government would just love to call a cyberterrorist. Hammond is a political activist, hacker, and as a recent Rolling Stone article about him puts it: enemy of the state. There's a picture of him in dreadlocks floating around, and he claims to have smoked pot every other day since he was 16. You can just hear the stuck-up national security types around the beltway shouting "what a fucking hippy". Earlier this year, he was arrested on charges that he was deeply involved in the Stratfor hacks apparently committed by Anonymous. He faces a potential sentence of thirty years to life if convicted, and if things follow the current course, he's very likely to be convicted.

Why do I say that? Recently, Hammond was denied bail on grounds that he presents a "a very substantial danger to the community". As Rolling Stone describes it:

On November 21st, 2012, more than eight months after his arrest, Jeremy Hammond was denied bail by a Manhattan federal court judge. The hearing before Judge Loretta Preska, a Bush 41 appointee known for her conservatism, took nearly two hours, and was dominated by an impassioned plea by Hammond's defense counsel. "There is no way I can prepare for this trial while this man is in prison," his lawyer, Elizabeth Fink, a well-known civil rights attorney, stated, noting the hundreds of thousands of pages of discovery – much of it highly technical forensic material – which she found almost completely incomprehensible. Her colleague, Sarah Kunstler, put it even more plainly. "As lawyers, we don't understand [the evidence]. We don't have that sophistication."

Preska, however, was unmoved – even with multiple assurances from the defense that Hammond, who doesn't hold a passport, was not a flight risk and would remain under house arrest at the home of Manhattan lawyer Michael Smith, an "officer of the court" who was willing to guarantee that Hammond would have no access to a computer.

Mrs. Preska also has a bit of a secret: it just so happens she's married to a client of Stratfor whose information was obtained in the very same hack Hammond is alleged to have committed. And even though we in America love to pride ourselves on the glories of the trial by jury system, the reality is that the judge that presides over any given criminal case has a significant amount of sway in how a case turns out. They decide on not just whether or not the accused will be offered bail (and therefore have an easier time preparing for the eventual trial), but also what evidence is permissible in court and what is not.

As there is clearly no legitimate reason to deny the defense's request for bail given the restrictions Hammond would be under, we have to ask the question of whether or not there is an obvious bias at play here. The prosecution's over-the-top characterization of how dangerous he is, and Preska's acceptance of it, only further add fuel to that fire.

Some may find the idea that a judge has already taken sides from the start hard to believe, but what is a hearing for bail if not a judgment of character? In this case, it's even more profound than usual, because of how ludicrous the denial is at face value. Consider what this passage from the original story says about preconceived notions of guilt:

Prosecutor Rosemary Nidiry replied that pretrial services recommended bail denial because Hammond faced warrants twice before for alleged parole violations.

Fink replied that the pretrial services report the government gave her that morning did not include copies of these warrants.

She added that other courts eventually threw out both warrants.

"None of this resulted in any sentence," she said.

Preska replied: "So what?"

Punishment or not, the alleged violations showed a pattern, Preska said.

Let's back up for a moment and digest all of this. A singular judge is deciding whether or not an accused citizen will stay in prison for the months if not years it will take for his case to resolve (keeping in mind the trial will not even start until at least September 2013). This decision is supposed to be based on an objective view of how much of a criminal risk he is in the meantime. But, despite the fact he has no passport and would be under house arrest, this judge considered him a flight risk. She also apparently considered him to be more of a danger than sexual predators because he... knows how to use TOR. This, even though it would be guaranteed he wouldn't have access to a computer, let alone one that could connect to the internet. And to top it all off, her logic in determining how likely he is to commit a crime while out on bail is predicated completely on warrants for alleged parole violations that did not result in any sentencing.

Either we can buy this pathetic explanation, or we can consider that, given the fact she is a powerful conservative judge whose very rich husband was a client of Stratfor, she might be a little biased against the self-described "anarchist-communist" Hammond.

And while the Stratfor connection is a blatant red flag and conflict of interest which should warrant an immediate recusal, we should not harbor any illusions about her being less biased if that connection were not there. This is, after all, someone who was on Bush's short list of potential Supreme Court nominees. Someone who is a member of the Federalist Society - a front group for far-right authoritarians who like to refer to their subservience to powerful, monied interests as promoting "freedom" and "liberty". This is not coincidental doublespeak. If nothing else, lawyers are intelligent people who have firsthand experience cloaking their arguments in a different language. For instance, Preska herself regularly decries "judicial activism", despite being seemingly the exact definition of a judicial activist. This, of course, is nothing new. The Federalist Society and like-minded law professionals have long made a clear, concerted effort to label anything they don't agree with as activism, and their position is proudly espoused by at least a third of the current Supreme Court.

This type of concealment of one's true position, complete with obfuscation of the meaning behind words, is endemic to the very culture of American law. The public wants judges to be impartial, all of the scholarly literature says they must be, and many judges do strive toward that goal. Yet we have to understand we're relying on human nature to prevail over the vices of power. Given that the top positions for judges are politically appointed, and politics in America is a game played by the super rich and super powerful, the ambitious judges (who try the most important cases) are regularly incentivized to play toward the ideology of one of our two lovely corporate-sponsored parties. Even on the other side of things - when a judge's conscience manages to out muscle their id and ego - you can be sure they're well aware of the famous words of St. Augustine: "an unjust law is no law at all." When it truly matters, there is simply no incentive to stick to the law as it's written.

Add to this the fact that judges are basically taught from the start how to fabricate and piecemeal the law to back up what they believe, and you have a clear recipe for "activism".  The adversarial system, despite its many positive aspects, itself creates an atmosphere where both sides work backwards - from a position of certainty (guilt or innocence), toward gathering evidence tailored to fit that position.  Similarly, when powerful justices write decisions with wide implications they first come to a conclusion based on their personal opinion, and then cite from past legal episodes to back it up.  They're smart about it, and they're subtle in their wording, but this is what they do.  Don't take my word for it, though.  Read through some of the big Supreme Court rulings, and decide for yourself.  Take notice that no matter the verdict, all sides draw on extensive amounts of previous arguments and precedent - often referencing the same cases on both sides.  This is not simply a difference in how they interpret one decades-old decision or another, it's a difference in how they see the world as a whole.

Look at it this way: If you personally held the power they do, would you use it to act as a positive force in the world, even if it meant picking and choosing from legal rulings? Even if it meant having to uphold a law you believed in, like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for example, on something as ambiguous as 'interstate commerce'? Yes, you would, because you'd know that bastard Scalia (or someone like him) was doing the same thing on the other side of the ball. If you don't play the game, he wins. And if he wins, we're all doomed.

I mean, when it comes down to it, do we really believe that judges are people whose utter dedication to the rule of law supersedes their personal code of ethics? Of course not. And in this case it's more than clear that it is Loretta Preska's own personal code of ethics - not some purported objective analysis - which causes her to believe that Jeremy Hammond is a serious threat to us all.

Which is strange, because everything I know about ethics tells me she's a hundred times the threat to humanity he could ever be.

Update (Dec 13)

While it seems obvious that Judge Preska should recuse herself, it just so happens she has refused to do so in the past when called out on a conflict of interest. That doesn't mean it won't happen, but I'm not getting my hopes up unless we can put a lot more pressure on the situation.

The Imperial Citizen

Dying Gaul, 3rd century BCE
As a child, I would often daydream about living the glories of Rome.  This was a secret admission, given that a large part of my family is Greek, and we all know the Romans did nothing but take from those most ancient of Greeks, who invented everything ever.  The Romans were thieves, worthy only of disdain!  Fiends who renamed all the gods and eventually managed to get those very same names chosen for the planets of our solar system.

But Rome had everything it seemed: the biggest Empire, prestigious citizenship, vast wealth, cool stone columns.  It was large on a scale Greece could not be due to either fragmented city-states or a fickle Alexander and his warring generals.  For centuries the Roman Empire was the very embodiment of civilization, military prowess, and intellectual advancement.   Who, alive then, would not have wanted to be born Roman?

At face value, this all appealed greatly to the mind of an ambitious child convinced he was born into the wrong era.  It seemed like there was such great purpose in being an imperial citizen, purpose that could not be found with the prospect of a 9-to-5 job with only vague relation to anything tangible.  Today we are sheep; then, we were wolves.  Or at least suckled by them.

By my time, the idea of empire had conquered every fictional medium:  book, television, film, even video games.  But here it was always villainous, oppressing, killing, and destroying whatever it willed with ruthless efficiency.  Efficiency which at times made you almost immune to the reality of what just happened.  When an empire killed or displaced, its victims were but statistics, easily forgotten.  Indeed, the heart felt not what the hands had done.  The chain of command was so long, so convoluted (an unconscious but purposeful design), that placing responsibility became nearly impossible.  Not that there was much interest.  The shock troops were so pure in their ideology that they felt no remorse, and the ruling class saw nothing but sterile white as they signed off on the latest massacre.

The imperial citizens, like children stuffed sublime on lunch meat and jello, never bloodied their minds.  Day by day, they would walk fabulously wide streets, marvel at the obelisque architecture, and casually chat about the weather, completely unaware that their glorious country ever committed a single misdeed.  And of course it could not, as the Empire was all that was true and right in the world by its very definition.  This more than anything was the power of fantasy - real and imagined.

Still, I wondered what it would be like to walk in their shoes, at least for a day.  There's no shame in that, right?  Imperial life is the womb we all at times long for - a shelter from the harsh realities of existence.

It is the subtlety of empire we never discuss.  Imagine if we opened our studies of Rome with a truthful, enlightening statement:  The Roman Empire was built on the backs of slaves.  What perspective would we gain with this method?   What if we were to also remember to mention the irregulars and Legions in equal measure; to tell the story of the proletarii, capite censi, and slave as often of that as the pleb and patrician?  Would we then still glorify empire?  Would a child still dream of being an imperial citizen if they understood they would have to live with the reality that they only obtained abundance by depriving it of others?  Or, is it instead more likely this child would apply those lessons to the current day?

In America, we call our Empire democracy, freedom, and sometimes liberty.  Our ingenuity knows no bounds.   We've outgrown the ugly task of conquering new lands and disposing of their peoples - we need only ensure the right natives are running the gig.   We strongly believe that we live in an enlightened, classless, post-racial, equal opportunity, well-educated great society, where anyone can become President or member of Congress as long as they have the merit, and where ideas flow so freely that the best ones are always adopted.  We believe these things even though none of them are true.  We do so because, more than anything, we hold onto the idea that each citizen has a significant say in things: that, if somehow our glorious country had any glaring deficiencies, we could easily remedy them through the sacred power of the vote.  This is, of course, also untrue.  But it does sound nice.

It's due to this mass euphoria that one can spend the greater part of their childhood wondering what it would be like to live in a real life empire, while they actually live in a real life empire.  And such was my story.  Don't get me wrong - I always knew I was being lied to.  I always knew that the structure of the society I lived in didn't exactly incentivize ethical behavior.  I was aware something was wrong.  But it took me years to absorb enough knowledge to where I could fit most of the pieces together.  It took me that long to realize that I am the imperial citizen I always wanted to be.  And I could not have been more disappointed.

It is an understatement to call this realization life-changing.  How many would accept a social contract that began with "Here, your success comes at the expense of others.  It is predicated more by the happenstance of birthright than by any innate ability or hard-earned skill.  The great luxuries you will indulge yourself in are only available to you due to the subjugation of other human beings halfway across the world."?   It just wouldn't happen.  We would all be certain we could build a better society on our own.  Unfortunately, we don't get to make that choice, and as long as we play along, we cannot avoid sharing some of the responsibility for the mechanizations done in our name.  For the ethical among us, our only solace is found in attempting to counterbalance what harm we inadvertently cause, and in fighting back against that which we realize is wrong.

This is my attempt at doing so.