Thoughtcrime - 03 May 2013

It is an unfortunate but true fact that in order to best understand villains, you have to place yourself in their frame of mind. 

Along those lines, if you were to imagine the best ways to control and exploit a group of people without them realizing it and fighting back, you'd - interestingly enough - find just about every method applied on a regular basis in the United States.

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Thoughtcrime - 02 May 2013

What are the real purposes of power structures?

Do the police exist to protect you, or do they exist to keep you in line?

Do politicians exist to represent you, or do they exist to delude you into believing you're part of the process?

Does the military exist to defend your life and happiness, or does it exist to destroy others'?

Do the intelligence and national security apparatuses exist to uproot enemies before they get to you, or do they exist to create enemies and utilize the fear of those enemies to better control you?

Does the media exist to inform you, or does it exist to misinform you, control the dialogue, and keep you thinking the Right Thoughts?

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Thoughtcrime - 01 May 2013

We may rightfully be disturbed and upset when any citizen uses the bulk of their income to spy on others, disrupt their lives in any way possible, and even order their deaths.  But when a government does it?  Well, then it's just normal, necessary behavior.

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Thoughtcrime - 30 Apr 2013

How often do people say "don't be so political" when they agree with what you're saying?

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Thoughtcrime - 29 Apr 2013

At some point it seems that the CIA decided it was too troublesome being a criminal enterprise financed by the state, and so, as a remedy, turned to paying for its most unsavory activities with cleaner money - that taken from drug trafficking and the like.

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Thoughtcrime - 28 Apr 2013

Enemies will continue to exist as long as there is an incentive for people in positions of power to create them.

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Thoughtcrime - 27 Apr 2013

Given the willingness to lie to go to war, and the sheer military power backing those lies, who could the United States not have attacked after September 11, 2001?

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Thoughtcrime - 26 Apr 2013

The most troublesome part of any reactionary dismissal of 'within reason' conspiracy theories (those that are political or regarding events pertaining strictly to humanity) is the insinuation that certain groups of people would not be willing to go to such lengths to deceive others for their own gain.

A proper reading of history reveals thousands of such instances, happening at occurrences so regular that any lack of conspiracy involved in a particular event must be considered an outlier.  And yet, knowing only what they were told at the time, the better part of every generation thought their leaders above it.

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Thoughtcrime - 25 Apr 2013

How exactly can you be for enlarging the middle class while against the redistribution of wealth?

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Thoughtcrime - 24 Apr 2013

So you mean to tell me that "follow the money" is a valid tactic to decipher criminal motivation in police/detective work, but somehow becomes void in the sphere of politics and foreign policy, where everyone is miraculously concerned about the well-being of others?

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Thoughtcrime - 23 Apr 2013

If we can agree that inequality is a serious problem which must be dealt with in order to forge a better society, should our primary focus not be combating the greatest of inequalities - that where some are given a chance to live (not always with the same level of opportunity, but a chance nonetheless), while others are killed in cold blood?

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Thoughtcrime - 22 Apr 2013

Why is it when a business provides a service that is cheaper for itself to maintain, yet more costly for the public to access, it is seen as a positive development?  Should it not cause more outrage when the costs of doing business are shifted onto the consumer, who in reality has little to no recourse?

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Thoughtcrime - 21 Apr 2013

Group A presents evidence showing the United States and its entire political system as anathema to the interests of the greater part of humanity, and comes to the conclusion that, because it is beyond repair, steps must be taken outside of the system in order to enact meaningful change.

Meanwhile, group B offers similar (or even the same) evidence, and amazingly comes to the opposite conclusion - that we can still work within the system, and everything could be salvaged if only we were to vote the right people into office.

Now, who exactly are the radicals, the crazies - those who espouse opinions that no reasonable person could ever accept?

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Thoughtcrime - 20 Apr 2013

If we recognize a competitive spirit as part of the greater part of human nature, should we not divert that spirit into healthy endeavors, rather than ones that harm both the better part of humanity and the planet itself?

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Thoughtcrime - 19 Apr 2013

Is the corporate world - in either theory or reality - in favor of social programs and general equality?

In theory, they're completely against both.   Social programs are seen as encroaching on their moneymaking ability, as sectors of the economy not open for exploitation.  Equality, on the other hand, completely voids the entire hierarchical structure of capitalism, where the 'good' (ideas, people, etc) rise to the top, and the 'bad' suffer and die out.

In reality, the situation is a bit more complex.  The activism of the 1960s and onward has punctured the corporate world, not only filling some of its ranks with more sympathetic members of the human race, but also keeping public relations managers on guard against anything which might spark public outcry.  The end result is one where a few well-meaning individuals on the inside offer token gestures in the way of reform, at the same time the company itself heavily lobbies against any such programs in Washington.

That is, it's similar to most of the products they force down our throats - at face value, a boon to humanity, but in actuality a gigantic waste of resources, only made to line the pockets of the already incredibly wealthy.

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Thoughtcrime - 18 Apr 2013

Disinformation is becoming so easy to generate, weapons increasingly deadly and easy to procure, and centers of power so centralized and removed from the rest of the world, that humans are now fast approaching a time where any society based on self-interest will not simply exploit and dehumanize - as has been the case for the bulk of human history - but destroy itself altogether.

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Thoughtcrime - 17 Apr 2013

In today's interconnected world, where news stories break within seconds, all it takes is an initial falsified report about an event - conveniently fitting someone's closed-minded worldview - for that report to be embraced as truth for years to come. 

Similarly, you can place a specific country and terrorist group together in a few sentences, and convince millions they are one and the same.

All this in today's interconnected world, where the truth is often just a few simple keystrokes away.

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Thoughtcrime - 16 Apr 2013

I'm not sure who is crazier:  those who immediately after an event has occurred already have pieced together an elaborate and detailed theory alleging a conspiracy, or those who condemn the first bunch by acting as if no such conspiracy could ever take place - especially not one involving our benevolent government!

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Thoughtcrime - 15 Apr 2013

While the majority of the right wing in America may be irrational, ignorant of simple truths, and at times completely insane, when it comes down to it they have very real grievances.  They are overtaxed (again, the majority are not in the top tax brackets), civil liberties are being reduced by the day, and government bureaucracy is a serious concern.

Unfortunately, due to the fact that professional right wing forces have both much simpler solutions, and far more reach due to their wealth and power, these people are deceived into supporting policies which only harm them in the long run.

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Thoughtcrime - 14 Apr 2013

What exactly is "America"?  Is it a static concept, based on a constitution alongside centuries old texts written by framers, wholly removed from the usual definitions of country, state, nation, and empire?  Or is it more representative of what Americans are like themselves, ever-changing as time goes on?

The answer to this question has serious implications for those who adhere to our civic religion, championing the ideals of liberty and justice, while at the same time attempting to quiet dissent.

If America is an ideal in and of itself, and not a product of the people who live in it today, then how seriously can we take appeals to democracy and freedom?

On the other hand, if we the people are supposed to enjoy some amount of say in what America is, shouldn't criticism be considered an essential task of every new generation, rather than an affront to all that is good and patriotic?

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Thoughtcrime - 13 Apr 2013

Studying military history might seem like an awful task, but the discipline is not without real use.  It's incredibly important to understand not only the sheer amount of time, energy, and resources spent on perfecting methods to kill other human beings, but the deceit used to justify that violence and convince ordinary people to follow along with ferverous glee.

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Thoughtcrime - 12 Apr 2013

Do we really want the military controlling technological advancement?  Are they not the last group anyone should trust with the latest advances in robotics, brain imaging and the like?  Have they not proven time and time again that they will, in their attempt to perfect the art of killing, test out any manner of weaponry which might lead to their advantage, even if it means wanton destruction and  indiscriminate slaughter?

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Thoughtcrime - 11 Apr 2013

There is a kind of sliding scale of how one will react to the level of information they have about the world:

At one end, there simply isn't enough information to bypass the control mechanisms leaders have set in place, and the result is something akin to 'ignorance is bliss'. 

Moving toward the middle, knowledge has accumulated to the point where one cannot help but be angry at the state of things, and so ventures into the world of activism and volunteer work. 

And near the far end, things become especially dangerous.  Hit by the realization that there is just so much wrong that it might not be possible to affect any sort of real change, the mood trends toward defeatism and apathy, followed by a willful effort to start at the other end all over again.  Of course, that can never happen.

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Thoughtcrime - 10 Apr 2013

The debate inside establishment foreign policy circles (those which drive policy) is not "should America seek to dominate the world?" , but "at what cost...?".

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Thoughtcrime - 09 Apr 2013

Because it is much easier for the mind to disown support for murderous policy (especially given the many coercions within society) than it is for it to disown the design and implementation of murderous policy, leaders often have an even more firm belief in the innate goodness of their country and its actions than that found amongst the jingoistic, reactionary masses.

So, when they follow through with said policy, inevitably kill innocents, and are later forced to admit to their crimes, the response is always that it was a mistake.  They claim their intent was noble, pure - they just wanted to help people.  They say this not just for the sake of the angry populace, but also for their own.  For sanity's sake, they need to believe it just as much as they need others to.

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Thoughtcrime - 08 Apr 2013

I don't wish for anyone to die.

But death is, as they say, inevitable.  When someone who was responsible for real, tangible suffering dies, we should not commit the further crime of bullying those affected into submission, playing off of a feigned respect for the deceased.  Instead, we should join them in making sure the legacies of these misguided, heartless, or otherwise damaged human beings are framed in the correct light - not whitewashed - and their crimes laid out for all to see.

It's never "too soon" to tell the truth.  If anything, it is too late for those who thought that perhaps they could see justice prevail in their lifetimes.

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Thoughtcrime - 07 Apr 2013

There are, as is to be expected with any group, competing arguments amongst the ruling class regarding how best to keep control of a given populace:

One group says racism, sexism, homophobia, religious strife, etc have been great ways of keeping control and distracting people from real issues, and thus everything should be done to maintain their existence.

The other group says the times are changing, and inevitably those divisions will disappear.  They believe it's best to get ahead of the game and ensure that the correct level of superficial diversity is maintained - that is, make sure that women, people of color, and minorities are visible, but supporting the same institutions white men were before them.

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Thoughtcrime - 06 Apr 2013

NATO is, by very definition, a right-wing organization.

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Thoughtcrime - 05 Apr 2013

Markets unquestionably work at a small community level.  They self-regulate and are efficient.

But just the same, they unquestionably fail at any scale larger than that.  The physical and emotional distance between humans creates an atmosphere wherein the benefit of society at large is rarely, if ever, taken into account.  Currency only furthers that distance by obscuring the social good that is provided when humans share their successes (i.e.: trade) with each other.

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Thoughtcrime - 04 Apr 2013

What is the purpose of a community, or a society?  Is it to come together to better provide for the needs and happiness of all members, or is it more akin to an arena or a fighting pit where we battle each other to determine who is fit to live and carry on, and who is not?

If it is the latter, on whose terms do we fight?  On what merits do we decide who is worthy and who is not?

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The Troubled Minds of Pro-War Do-Gooders

The ultra-establishment foreign policy journal, Foreign Affairs, recently had a very informative interview with retired U.S. General Stanley McChrystal (Yes, typing those words made me cringe).  What's most interesting about McChrystal is that he doesn't seem to hold back from saying things which showcase the military's intense level of cognitive dissonance.  So, for example, he can readily admit something most pundits tend to gloss over - that the Iraq War was largely responsible for the growth of al Qaeda:

"In the post-9/11 environment -- particularly the post-March 2003 environment in Iraq -- the breadth of al Qaeda and associated movements exploded."

This was a predictable occurrence, given the reasons 9/11 was carried out in the first place.  Osama bin Laden and others had long been angry at the U.S. for meddling in the Middle East, building bases on holy ground, and backing regimes which repressed Arabs and Muslims.  The American response of attacking Afghanistan and Iraq, killing untold numbers of Arabs and Muslims, could only have had the effect of fostering even more anti-American sentiment, and subsequently support for those who resist U.S. hegemony.  Worse yet was the rebuilding of bases in Saudi Arabia, and the continuing support for Israeli apartheid and indiscriminate bombing of Gaza[PDF].

Even if the average American doesn't think much of these actions, the sentiment in the Middle East is much different.  Our media may hide most of the grisly images of war, but the 'fledgling' journalists in amongst the Arab world are not always as afraid to document reality when it is unsatisfying to the eye, or inconvenient to those in power.  Mind you, these are things you cannot easily conceal from the families of the victims, either.  Every death affects dozens of other lives, especially in societies which contain large close-knit family groups.  Americans supposedly understood this effect when over fifty-thousand soldiers were killed in Vietnam, with hundreds of thousands more injured and suffering from permanent psychological damage - nearly every family affected in some way.  But even those numbers pale in comparison to what happened to the Vietnamese then, and what has happened in Iraq and Afghanistan more recently.

McChrystal and other U.S. military and political leaders read this 'culture clash' a bit differently, though:

"The thing that hurt us more than anything else in the war in Iraq was Abu Ghraib. When the pictures came out in the spring of 2004, many Americans felt our government was being honest -- that we had a problem with a platoon operating in the prison mistreating prisoners. The Iraqi people viewed it very differently. Many of them felt it was proof positive that the Americans were doing exactly what Saddam Hussein had done -- that it was proof [that] everything they thought bad about the Americans was true." 

So what we thought of as an exception, they thought of as the rule?
"That's right. They thought that was the broader reality. And there were hundreds of foreign fighters that came in [to Iraq] because they were responding to Abu Ghraib."

Ah, those silly Iraqis.  Don't they know the abuses at Abu Ghraib were committed by just a few bad apples, and aren't at all representative of the great enlightenment America was bringing to their backward, civilization?  Similar things couldn't have happened on McChrystal's own watch, could they?

Thoughtcrime - 03 Apr 2013

You're willing to pay more to ensure the animals you eat were not kept in inhumane conditions, tortured, or abused in any other way.  Will you do the same for the workers who make or facilitate the products you buy?

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Thoughtcrime - 02 Apr 2013

Do leaders now choose not to use nuclear arms during conflicts* because they don't believe in the wonton destruction of human life, or because they know they would never survive the resulting political fallout?

*- ..with non-nuclear states.  The reason they're not used against other nuclear powers is obvious.

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Thoughtcrime - 01 Apr 2013

I will not say negative things about my beloved country or its people, to which I owe my freedom.
I will not say negative things about my beloved country or its people, to which I owe my freedom.
I will not say negative things about my beloved country or its people, to which I owe my freedom.
I will not say negative things about my beloved country or its people, to which I owe my freedom.
I will not say negative things about my beloved country or its people, to which I owe my freedom.
I will not say negative things about my beloved country or its people, to which I owe my freedom.
I will not say negative things about my beloved country or its people, to which I owe my freedom.
I will not say negative things about my beloved country or its people, to which I owe my freedom.
I will not say negative things about my beloved country or its people, to which I owe my freedom.
I will not say negative things about my beloved country or its people, to which I owe my freedom.

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Thoughtcrime - 31 Mar 2013

Either the country which professes the strongest fealty to individual self-interest, greed, and accumulation is somehow the most benevolent of all, doling out gifts and acting as the world's savior - or it simply does what it knows best, and ruthlessly fights for control over resources and markets.

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Thoughtcrime - 30 Mar 2013

Simply because a government relies on the support of its populace in order to rule does not make it a democracy.  After all, no matter how repressive, every single country on earth is subject to the whims of its people, and only functions smoothly due to the greater public accepting their current state of affairs.  Whether it be Denmark or North Korea, if 99% of people (or even half that) decided they found the government lacking, nothing short of outside intervention could stop their movement for change.

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What Makes a Drone Strike "Legitimate"?

The Brookings Institution's Lawfare blog (tag line "hard national security decisions", to show they are super-serious about accepting nearly any justification for state murder the US government comes up with) has taken offense to a presentation on drone strikes in Pakistan put out by Pitch Interactive, a data visualization company.  The post in question, written by Ritika Singh, concludes that "the presentation of the data set is deeply flawed", presumably due to the fact it relied on data unpleasant to the usual foreign policy consensus, and didn't give enough weight to the charges of 'militant' and 'combatant'.

How casually we speak of murder.

Though the post also questions the Bureau of Investigative Journalism's data, Singh's primary point of contention is what Pitch does with the victims whose identities are contended.  These are the vast majority of the kills (that alone should raise a red flag), and Pitch groups them together under the label "other":

The category of victims we call “OTHER” is classified differently depending on the source. The Obama administration classifies any able-bodied male a military combatant unless evidence is brought forward to prove otherwise. This is a very grey area for us. These could be neighbors of a target killed. They may all be militants and a threat. What we do know for sure is that they are targeted without being given any representation or voice to defend themselves.

Despite this mostly-reasonable explanation, Singh claims the "other" category is "almost surely composed overwhelmingly of legitimate targets."  How much faith must one have in US intelligence in order to believe that incredible statement?  Taking into account history - even recent history - this can only be seen as wholly irrational.  The intelligence relied on for major foreign policy decisions ends up being wrong, time and time again.  Though, to be fair, the primary function of the intelligence agencies is not actually to provide information in order to shape and influence policy decisions.  They are instead designed to manufacture evidence to support actions which leaders are already intent on carrying out.  Any "need" for America's exponentially expanding national security apparatus can be attributed more to influencing public opinion than to gathering information on enemies.  The Iraq War was a picture-perfect example of that.

But, not only does the intelligence stem from this type of confirmation bias, the agencies themselves contain within an active incentive to produce 'terrorists'.  This is not at all a wild concept.  Just think about it.  Who gets promoted at the CIA, FBI, etc: those who find 'terrorists', or those who do not? The consensus is that there are lots and lots of Bad Guys out there, and they must be found and dealt with before they commit Evil Deeds.  So, that's what gets accomplished.  It's nothing new.  Once upon a time, they were Reds; today, they're terrorists.  The entire industry (and indeed the entire idea behind it) is set up specifically to search out and identify enemies.  It's an irredeemably broken system for anyone who aims for peace.

Summing the drone presentation up, Singh is even more blunt, and again focused on what victims people will perceive as being legitimate: "Put simply, the visualization is implying that of 3,105 drone-strike casualties, only 47 are known to be legitimate kills. And that is nonsense."

The 47 are those "high profile targets" - basically, the few targets the government actually has been willing to give names.  And again the argument seems to be along the same lines as that surrounding intelligence: "Trust us."  But how are we to do so in good conscience, when time and time again they claim to have killed suspected terrorists who turn up alive the next month, not to mention exaggerate the retinue of nearly every target (to the point where it has become a joke whenever someone mentions the "#2 guy in al-Qaeda")?

Despite this, and the fact that Singh was so unhappy over the use of the BIJ data, no qualms are expressed over the authenticity of those 47 deaths and how they were counted.  Could this be because the source of the data - the New America Foundation - tends to cater more to Lawfare's brand of foreign policy 'realism'?  That is, even though they've exposed that only 2% of drone strikes in Pakistan killed so-called terrorist leaders, they can still be trusted to send the right message?  Something like 'While there is some need to cut down on civilian casualties and improve precision, the drone program is nonetheless absolutely essential to our national security', perhaps?

Putting aside that most of the reports of these high profile strikes are identical to the others - in that, when you read through them, you notice they're filled with the usual terminology: alleged, supposedly, likely, potentially, etc. - there is the larger question completely ignored in this dialogue.  What makes killing even known disaffected persons in Pakistan (or in any other country) a legitimate function of national security?

If you pose this question to most foreign policy writers, the justification you get is based on the targets being imminent threats.  Now, historically, imminent has been taken to mean something akin to when someone is point a gun at you and threatening to shoot.  That seems like a fairly reasonable scenario, and we would be hard pressed to not give someone the right to self-defense within it.  Though, there is something to be said for attempting to disable the person rather than shooting to kill.  Taking a life should always be our last resort.

Today, in order to justify the entirety of American foreign policy post-9/11, it has become essential to redefine imminent to mean something wholly different.  Imminent now is said to mean - more or less - a potential occurrence any time in the future.  Clearly neither Iraq or Afghanistan was on the cusp of acquiring technology capable of attacking the United States, nor had any intention of doing so in the near future, but we were warned that if left alone, they would attack us.  Clearly a local fighter halfway across the world - who has trouble even attacking with any success his own government - is not an imminent threat to the United States or any of its people, and yet they (often alongside their families) are blown to pieces on a regular basis.

Like everyone else, I'm willing to accept that people, no matter where they currently reside, could potentially be a threat to my existence.  However, I'm more concerned over both why they have chosen the path they have, and why the US government seems to think they're deserving of death, rather than one of the many other alternatives we use in our lives to counter threats of any kind.  Why kill them rather than attempt to understand what has made them so upset that they would aim to terrorize others in response?

Is there something that sort of question might reveal about the nature of America which causes people to recoil from even attempting to answer it?

Thoughtcrime - 29 Mar 2013

The problem with treating history as a job of objective stenography is that if you simply report on what happens without an incredible amount of hindsight and the correct level of skepticism, you will constantly fall victim to lies, and (wittingly or unwittingly) spread them to future generations.

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Thoughtcrime - 28 Mar 2013

The dynamic between the "developing world" and the "developed world" is not one where the industrialized nations perform their valiant duty to 'civilize' the rest of the world, but rather where those nations, seizing upon their past glory, have made a concerted effort to underdevelop the rest of the world, all in order to stay on top.

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Thoughtcrime - 27 Mar 2013

If the war on terror were designed specifically to fuel sectarian violence within Islam, would the current atmosphere in the Middle East be much different?

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Thoughtcrime - 26 Mar 2013

Every time financial concerns alter your medical decision-making, every time you cannot see a doctor (or cannot see the right doctor) and instead force yourself to fight through the pain and stress, capitalism has eroded away a portion of the time you have left to live.

Every time someone starves to death or succumbs to the elements because no food or shelter was available to them in this age of plenty, capitalism must be deemed - at best - willfully negligent.

And every time a war is begun to fragment and destroy those whose only crime is to offer an alternative to economic subjugation, a coup manufactured to institute a regime more friendly to corporate control of its natural resources, or death squads sent out to the countryside to maintain the grip of the wealthy on the peasants' throats, capitalism is directly responsible for mass murder.

These are not unforeseen droughts or poor harvests causing famine.  They're instead the all-too-preventable casualties of an economic system which yet manages to remain blameless, all the while pointing the finger at its victims.  They're knowledgeable crimes, gone unprosecuted in order to protect those who benefit from others' misfortune.

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Thoughtcrime - 25 Mar 2013

Presidents don't prosecute other presidents for their crimes - if anything, they pardon them.

Is this some sort of 'power elite' camaraderie, or is it simply self-preservation: "I'm ignoring the crimes of the past, so that the next leader of this corrupt institution will ignore mine"?

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Thoughtcrime - 24 Mar 2013

After 9/11, honest condolence and support was offered to the United States from the greater part of the world's people - the sentiment being something along the lines of "even though your government is so often complicit in the worst atrocities, you yourself do not deserve to be the victim of such crimes in retaliation."

But, just as quickly as it appeared, this feeling was lost.  America - reactionary as ever - lashed out, falling back on old habits in order to prove it was still the powerful force it claimed to be.  The idea of combating "terrorism" (by first recognizing what drives terrorists to act in the first place) turned out to be nothing but useful rhetoric in the Empire's quest to pursue its goals in the strategically important and oil-rich Middle East.

In the end, what could have been a time for self-reflection and a move toward lasting peace became yet another example of the inhumanity of imperialism.

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Thoughtcrime - 23 Mar 2013

It's an extremely comforting and hopeful fact that, despite the brutality and slaughter which has comprised most of American foreign policy for the past century or so, the greater part of the world's people do not wish death and destruction upon the average American.  Only an extreme few travel to those lengths.  That fact alone must be indicative of something in human nature, or at least in human enlightenment.

Along those lines, the idea that those who have actually been released from Guantanamo Bay, while unhappy, are not immediately taking up arms is remarkable.  It is almost as if American "counter-terrorism" policies are designed to elicit revenge as a response, and yet (contrary to the government's claims) it is in relatively short supply!

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Manufacturing Consent, Disintigrating Dissent

Glenn Greenwald has an exceptional post up (ah, the number of times I've said that over the past few years...) over at the Guardian wherein he discusses how Noam Chomsky is treated in popular media.  In particular, he notes the fact that the focus is usually on trivialities, if not direct personal attacks:

This method is applied with particular aggression to those who engage in any meaningful dissent against the society's most powerful factions and their institutions. Nixon White House officials sought to steal the files from Daniel Ellsberg's psychoanalyst's office precisely because they knew they could best discredit his disclosures with irrelevant attacks on his psyche. Identically, the New York Times and partisan Obama supporters have led the way in depicting both Bradley Manning and Julian Assange as mentally unstable outcasts with serious personality deficiencies. The lesson is clear: only someone plagued by mental afflictions would take such extreme steps to subvert the power of the US government.

A subtler version of this technique is to attack the so-called "style" of the critic as a means of impugning, really avoiding, the substance of the critique. Although Paul Krugman is comfortably within mainstream political thought as a loyal Democrat and a New York Times columnist, his relentless attack against the austerity mindset is threatening to many. As a result, he is barraged with endless, substance-free complaints about his "tone": he is too abrasive, he does not treat opponents with respect, he demonizes those who disagree with him, etc. The complaints are usually devoid of specifics to prevent meaningful refutation; one typical example: "[Krugman] often cloaks his claims in professional authority, overstates them, omits arguments that undermine his case, and is a bit of a bully." All of that enables the substance of the critique to be avoided in lieu of alleged personality flaws.

That is, when they even address those critics at all.  Silence is their most potent weapon - a point that Chomsky himself has regularly made.  Large portions of his book Manufacturing Consent, written alongside Edward S. Herman, hit on the fact that by ignoring or burying certain stories, arguments, people, and facts which are critical of power, they direct public opinion into safe zones, and away from dissent.  In addition, people who consider contemporary American society to be a legitimate democracy (or at least a legitimate democracy of ideas) believe that a consensus has been reached among those who know best.  Chomsky, by the very nature of his absence from 'serious' journalism, must not have any arguments worth worrying over.

Yet the lack of attention given to Chomsky by the usual power sectors shows not the absence of truth, effectiveness, or humanity in his work, but proof of those very same attributes!  They would not treat him with such silence if they thought they could engage with his actual arguments and come out ahead.  This fact becomes obvious when you sit down and read him - the bulk of the arguments within his books have largely gone unchallenged.

That is why, predictably, the few times he does become 'worthy' of mention, his body of work is ignored in favor of personal attacks and petty nonsense.  This is the tactic the media regularly uses to discredit anyone who don't play by the rules.  It isn't just limited to dissenters, but to whomever the establishment media wants to paint as a villain at any given time.  I can't help but recall a rather hilarious moment in a Michael Parenti talk, where he mocks how the leading newspapers described Slobodan Milosevic as a "pudgy loner", among other things.

Howard Zinn still faces this treatment - even now after his death.  Of course, that fact only speaks to how profoundly he has influenced a large audience of people.  There would be no reason to slander the now-deceased Zinn otherwise, would there?  As is to be expected by now, the attacks are vague if not cryptic, and focus entirely on discrediting him as a historian - if not a person.  But Zinn, as anyone paying attention knows, was not writing to replace the standard history - he wanted simply to offer an alternative to the worst of its patriotic excesses and oversights.  The final product was one both humane and rational, though you'll likely never hear those words used to describe a People's History of the United States in any significant venue.  He was, after all, a radical.

When you read between the lines, the source of the elites' vocal disdain for the most popular of dissenters becomes obvious.  They're angry that a People's History has gained the recognition it has, knowing America would be a far different place had every child grown up reading it alongside "standard" history. They're angry that Chomsky's worldview not only has emotional implications which rally activists, but is damningly rational and endlessly referenced - to the extent that even if two people may disagree on what steps should be taken, his explanation of events is not actually challenged by any alternate hypotheses (no matter how loudly the "foreign policy experts" wail and moan in response).

And while it is difficult to find hope for humanity in the face of today's world, with the systems of control as powerful as ever (having transitioned effectively from overt to more subtle methods), we should take heart every time establishment journalists bash Chomsky, Zinn, Blum, or any one of the other brilliant activist/writers of our time.  It means they feel forced to respond - no matter how childishly - to the growing reverberations of these arguments.

Arguments they cannot defeat.

Thoughtcrime - 22 Mar 2013

It's not that arguments which benefit the powerful shouldn't be considered at all.  It's only that they reflect a conflict of interest, and so are best approached with a higher degree of scrutiny than normal.

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Thoughtcrime - 21 Mar 2013

Sometimes I think they say the pen triumphs the sword just so we'll keep writing and stop fighting.

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Thoughtcrime - 20 Mar 2013

When it's said that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it, the idea is not that you can just memorize a few choice facts, store them in your mind, and never have problems again.  You still have to learn the right lessons, and later act upon that knowledge when similar situations arise.

In that sense, those whose takeaway from the Iraq War was "Bush and Cheney are liars", or "the war was a mistake / a blunder", or "the media got it wrong", or "it was bad for the economy", or "it was bungled and mismanaged" have in actuality learned nothing.  They'll later support a war conceived by leaders who are thought to be of higher moral standing, and who might indeed be telling the truth (or simply lying in a more subtle manner) - a war which may seem to be just, more accurately reported on, filling the nation's coffers with gold, and/or executed with incredible precision.

That war will nonetheless claim lives and permanently maim others, benefit the few in place of the many, and serve as but a prelude to the next one - and the next, and the next.  But, speaking in place of the dead, those who failed to learn the correct lessons will believe it was all "worth it".

Meanwhile, the liars and deceivers, now offering empty mea culpas for the previous slaughter, will soon attempt to justify the next.  "Trust us," they'll say. "This time it will be different."

History, for those paying attention, teaches otherwise.

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Thoughtcrime - 19 Mar 2013

Too often 'checks and balances', much like competition in general, becomes not a healthy give-and-take wherein everyone benefits from the end result, but a power grab which sets people against each other to the detriment of humanity as a whole.

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The Answer To Every Last Bit of Economic Injustice is Apparently "More Growth"

When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.
                                -  Hélder Câmara

Much of the study of economic inequality - including and especially poverty - is irrevocably tainted with the brush of the 'dismal science'.  Mainstream economists and statisticians, backed by an unwavering faith in capitalist theory and market forces, have by now completely lost sight of the big picture.  They conveniently forget to account for variables, to adhere to the most basic principles of logic and the scientific method.

And for some reason, this effect is especially potent when the topic of the day is economic downturn.  It's as if they tell themselves:  Don't ask which sectors are growing and which are shrinking.  Don't ask what is being made with which resources, or where all the money is going.  Whatever you do, don't try to piece together the bigger picture.  Just focus on 'what is'.  The market has dictated how things will be done, and so it shall be.

I happened to run into a stellar example of this madness when an otherwise-interesting headline "Poverty rate is highest in 15 years, says professor" drew my attention.  The reference is that to an interview given about a book "America's Poor and the Great Recession", which discusses - you guessed it - how the poor fared during the "Great Recession".  The synopsis seems to be that the poor fared even worse than usual (go figure), and that steps should be taken to rectify the situation.  Interesting, right?

Well, maybe not.  Now I have to confess: I haven't read the book.  But if this short interview is any guide, it's better that I haven't. 

Thoughtcrime - 18 Mar 2013

Am I a radical who doesn't understand that progress is a historical force which is best earned gradually, or have you just resigned yourself to be content living out your entire life as most of the world's people are systematically exploited, oppressed, and/or slaughtered with no recourse?

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Thoughtcrime - 17 Mar 2013

If money is to be seen as a corrupting force, then there are no pure souls left in American politics (if there ever were to begin with).   No matter how noble your intentions, or how selfless your politics, campaigns do not finance themselves.

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Thoughtcrime - 16 Mar 2013

When will some benevolent nation finally take the step of dropping leaflets on America in order to enlighten its citizens to the political repression of the party duopoly, the state of never-ending fear and perpetual war, and the gross economic mismanagement they've lived under for so long?

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Thoughtcrime - 15 Mar 2013

What we refer to as economics is something which is wholly of human creationIt is, without a doubt, among the very worst applications of our creativity.  It's dry, it's dull, it's unforgiving and cruel.  It serves as little but a systematic justification for the worst behavior toward others, including the exploitation of the vast majority of the world's people and their treatment as inferior beings.  Just by daring to delve into this nightmarish bore of a topic, you risk it consuming your very heart and soul.  Your empathy drained away in a sea of statistical analysis.

However, in order to understand who truly controls what - and why - it is necessary to study economics.  In order to understand how the discipline casually misappropriates the resources available to us, exonerating itself all the while with appeals to freedom of choice, it is essential to be able to piece together the workings of complex financial instruments with our knowledge of geopolitical reality.

But we must always be mindful to maintain a broad perspective, keeping in mind that the supposed facts and figures within represent something which can be more reasonably be called 'capitalist theory' than it can 'economics'.

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Thoughtcrime - 14 Mar 2013

What is "independence"?

True independence in statehood seems extremely hard to come by.  It's one thing for a colony to declare itself independent from its master and actually succeed in driving out the occupying military, but it's another entirely to gain complete freedom from all forms of coercion and bullying from other nations.  And, in that sense, there have been very few countries which ever reached independence.  Most simply celebrated 'independence' as simply a new name for the status quo.

The United States, on the other hand, thought that in order to achieve true independence it had to dominate the world in order to make most other countries dependent on it.  Rather than do what it claims to, and allow other nations the right of self-determination (a lie if there ever was one), America seeks to subjugate them - at the very least economically - so that its own interests are never really threatened.

And as long as that is the example set for others to follow, we will continue to have independence for a few, but dependence and servitude for most.

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Show Me Your Demons, Your Devils, Your Most Evil Religious Constructions Imaginable - and I'll Show You What Americans Did In Vietnam

Today, a healthy reminder that the lies spoken by leaders regarding American foreign policy - no matter how asinine they may sound at times - are not going away any time soon:

During a debate over whether the country is engaging in too many wars, outspoken conservative Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) made the case that the United States was on the doorstep of victory in Vietnam but gave up.
“Vietnam was winnable, but people in Washington decided we would not win it,” Gohmert said.
Gohmert said a North Vietnamese guard told an American prisoner of war “You stupid Americans. Don’t you know if you had bombed us for one more week, we would have had to surrender unconditionally?”
“We carpet-bombed North Vietnam, and specifically Hanoi, for two weeks. They race back to the table, and we surrender in effect,” Gohmert said.

Ridiculous statements like these are no stranger to the type of ultra-conservative conventions - filled to the brim with authoritarian reactionaries - where this one found play.  Exaggerated machismo is the name of the game, and if it also glorifies projecting American power overseas (against far weaker foes no less)?  Well, then it's doubly celebrated.  The usual suspects run around clamoring over the latest bogeymen and referring to those who dare suggest alternatives to war as "surrender-monkeys".  It's that special kind of bullying rhetoric, meant to hide a whole forest of insecurities.

What makes this specific bit so vile though is not just the fact that Gohmert says that the Vietnam War could have been "won", but that he implies the way to win it would have been to continue bombing.

Back in the real world, the sheer brutality inflicted upon the Vietnamese by American forces during the war could hardly have been worse.  Chris Hedges has just finished reviewing a new book by Nick Turse, "Kill Anything That Moves", which discusses the history of the Vietnam War that no one seems to want to deal with.  It's graphic, it's disturbing, and it's stomach-churning.  And that's just the review...

Thoughtcrime - 13 Mar 2013

As you read through the various histories, you begin to ask yourself a question:  "Was America in the past considered a 'terrestrial paradise' because it had impressively created an equitable and just society where everyone was able to succeed, or because - by constantly working to bring the rest of the world's hopes and dreams of a better society to an end time and time again - it made itself look divine by comparison?"

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Thoughtcrime - 12 Mar 2013

What would we do without our freedom to have a voice drowned out by mass distraction and disinformation, forever relegated to obscurity?

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Thoughtcrime - 11 Mar 2013

If you go out of your way to war against a much weaker nation, allying with and supporting its neighbor throughout, and then - after an armistice - starve it with unrelenting sanctions for decades while regularly conducting military drills with its neighbor right on its borders, can you really blame it for feeling threatened and lashing out?   If war begins anew, whose fault will it truly be?

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That Silly Old "Rule of Law" Again

"To hell with your courts, I know what justice is."
                                           - Jack White, IWW

The big stories in the wake of Rand Paul's drone-themed filibuster in the Senate last week are, as usual, concerning the rule of law.  Specifically, the focus is on whether or not it was legal for the government to target and kill U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, who, living in Yemen, became a 'mouthpiece' for al-Qaida.  And while it's important to dissect the lies and manipulation of the law our government feeds us on a regular basis (as Marcy Wheeler has done here and here), by getting caught up in legal arguments we tend to lose sight of the more important ethical values laws are supposed to represent.  After all, when we ask "what gives you the right to kill these people?", we aren't asking for a lawyer, we're asking for a compelling moral justification.

The Obama administration originally had killed Anwar al-Awlaki without much of a real thought.  He was a clear 'bad guy' - U.S. citizen or not - and had been regularly called out as such in the media.  Only later did the administration attempt to reconcile what they had done with existing law - interestingly enough, this was prompted by a few hostile blog posts making the legal case for referring to al-Awlaki's death as murder.  And, now that it has become an even bigger issue due to the filibuster, the ever-faithful New York Times has been called in to rectify the situation.  The Times makes some rather serious mistakes in that article (see the emptywheel links above), but the purpose is to appeal to those who are already on the fence about supporting such actions, not to find some sort of flawless logic that will convince those of us who are critics.  After all, the vast majority of evidence in these cases is either circumstantial or purposefully withheld by the government in appeals to national security.

It is not coincidental that this article has appeared right as President Obama is due to give a speech defending the drone program.  Given how the Times consistently repeats shaky administration claims without challenging them - a function which it can be expected to fulfill in nearly every foreign policy discussion (and in the wake of the Iraq War, this should be an uncontroversial statement) - some amount of collusion is a given.  It's not some wild conspiratorial party or anything.  The Times simply lets government officials say what they want, when they want.  That's what they do.

But this tired episode really isn't about the pathetic lapdogs of the rich and famous we call the media.  It instead speaks to a point which I keep finding myself coming back to time and time again: that those in power act first, and only later search the law in attempt to justify what they've done as legal when objections arise.  They don't always have to do this (because they generally control how the law is written in the first place), but when its necessary they don't even hesitate.

Thoughtcrime - 10 Mar 2013

I'm all for 'militant' atheism.  It's militant atheism I have a problem with.

Pointing out the flaws and contradictions in religious belief, championing secularism, and fighting against faith-based initiatives being forced into the public sphere - these are wholly rational endeavors.

Supporting acts of war against countries dominated by religious factions because of the belief that they should be 'democratized', 'modernized', and 'brought into the 21st century' - as if Anglo-American society at all resembles a model we should be fighting to spread - that is irrationality in its worst display.

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Thoughtcrime - 09 Mar 2013

If you spend more time worried about whether or not Julian Assange is a rapist, than you do mulling over the information Wikileaks has released which reveals the nature of crimes which are not only alleged, chances are you've been duped.

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Thoughtcrime - 08 Mar 2013

When we say we agree or disagree with our representatives, we buy into the idea that they do what they do based on their convictions and sense of ethics.

But isn't the truth more that they act for personal gain - to accumulate wealth and power - and that the only threat keeping them in check is the fear that the masses might be angry enough not to vote them back into office for the next chance at a share of the plunder?

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Thoughtcrime - 07 Mar 2013

When the military says they regret what they call 'collateral damage', do they mean they regret killing someone they didn't mean to kill, or do they mean they regret you finding out about it, reporting it, and forcing them to respond to public outcry over it?

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Thoughtcrime - 06 Mar 2013

If being against things like going to war, orchestrating military coups, setting up right wing dictatorships, trying to control the resources of the world for one's own benefit, and the countless other entries on the long list of crimes the United States is responsible for, makes me un-American, does that mean I'm supposed to attempt to emigrate elsewhere?

Am I then to find a country which respects human rights, attempts to end war and violence, and works toward an egalitarian society?

How can I do that, when "Americanism" has make a deliberate effort to destroy each and every one which sought to pursue those goals?

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The Dialogue on Race Has Failed Because Nearly Everyone is Too Busy Trying to Feel Good About Themselves

Freddie deBoer has a series of extremely important posts up, wherein he dissects the motivations driving social liberalism, as well as the effectiveness of tactics in battling systemic racism.  I don't consider myself the greatest of experts on the topic, but I have spent the better part of my life living in the Southern U.S. in areas still de-facto racially segregated, often attempting to bridge the divide, or at least to broaden the horizons of the white conservatives and libertarians (many of whom are family members or acquaintances) living there.  To some extent, I have hands-on experience in efforts to combat both institutionalized and individual examples of racism - something sorely lacking amongst the class of social liberals deBoer describes.  I claim no great victories, but it has given me perspective I might not otherwise have if I had instead lived in predominantly white, upper-middle class areas my entire life.

The recent mess which prompted the posts in question all started because of an edgy tweet (yes, we have reached the point where tweets are the most serious of business) sent out by the fake news network the Onion.  The tweet was meant to satirize funny-man Seth MacFarlane's terrible (sexist, racist, etc) performance at the terrible (celebrity and star worship claptrap) Oscars, but was perceived as "going too far" in its use of language and the name of a 9-year-old girl to make the intended point.  The difference between the MacFarlane's act and the Onion tweet was substantial, which deBoer noted in a separate post:

The Onion's Tweet was based on the fact that its premise was ridiculous and that nobody believes it. McFarlane's jokes were based on the idea that his premises-- that Jews run Hollywood, that women need to starve themselves to be attractive, that the violence against women in Django Unchained is similar to Chris Brown's violence against Rhianna, etc.-- are true, and that we know they are true but are too polite to agree with him publicly.

Whether or not a joke 'works' relies on the audience both understanding it (a problem with the Onion tweet), and also believing its implications to be true.  When you disagree with the statement a joke is making, it becomes unfunny, even offensive.  As an example, I don't find most jokes referencing violence experienced in childhood very funny, because the implication is that corporeal punishment is okay because "I got hit as a kid, and look at me - I turned out just fine."  In that case, I see no truth - only further reinforcement of a dangerous practice which tends to result in a disturbed society.  However, if someone were to parody those jokes themselves, dressing up like Hitler to say that same tired old line "I got hit as a kid, and look at me - I turned out just fine!", well, then I could enjoy it.  It would serve the same purpose as the Onion tweet: to shed light on how ridiculous a particular sentiment is - in this case corporeal punishment, and in the Onion's case the attitude toward women who become celebrities - by using an outlandish premise.

Thoughtcrime - 05 Mar 2013

Two separate objects meant to fulfill the same purpose are patented, created, and introduced into the market where they compete against each other.  How often do patents, copyright, and other restrictions supposedly meant to facilitate competition prevent each from using the best parts and design concepts of both?

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