Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Final Sorting

We are distorting the way our economy works, refashioning and refitting it to serve fewer people and thereby cutting more people out of it. The rich are behaving in a completely predictable way. The more we pay them the more they want, and every desire is quickly turned into a basic need.

(I wrote about this over a decade ago and nobody thought it was worth discussing.)

For the rest of us every basic need is redefined an expensive option, a remote "maybe", something we’re not entitled to.

It’s gotten to the point where the word “entitlement" is used as a pejorative term. We, who work for a living, are no longer entitled to anything. And the small minority of people who own for a living are entitled to everything.

We need to relearn what history taught us. We can allow people to grow rich, but being rich must bring obligations too. (Here's a good history lesson about this from the Washington Post. Anybody remember Magna Carta? We should have learned something from how England created its democracy.)

The bad old days were barely a century ago. (Does anyone remember the Ludlow Massacre?) We earned a better living standard the hard way. Our parents and grandparents got fed up and changed things. They organized, and elected a president who believed they had the right to be organized. That has been undone since.

In the past thirty years this has all been taken away and we have let it be taken away.

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Racist Narrative

Here's an interview Chicago TV news had with a young African American. Cute kid, nice conversation. But they edited it to make it appear this black child wants to grow up to be a gang member with a big gun when he actually wants to grow up to be a policeman.

Here's FoxNews editing President Obama’s remarks about Ferguson, MO, taking out the portion where he deplores public violence against police, then accusing him of being anti-police.

There is a narrative which a certain part of our society prefers to hear, one that shows President Obama not being the evenhanded fair-minded leader he is, one that shows African Americans in a negative light to gin up the partisan and irrational feelings of white Americans.

This is racism. As William Faulkner said "The past isn't dead. It isn't even past." A determined effort by deep dyed racists and deeply partisan forces in this country has worked very hard (and very profitably) to turn America back into a tribal society, where there is no honest public conversation, only confrontations with two sides screaming their different opinions at each other. Different races, different party affiliations, nativists and immigrants (and all those "nativists" descended from immigrants.)

FoxNews and talk radio prefer conflict, disagreement and hatred more than they have ever been interested in truth. The point isn't to promote honesty and facts, it's to attract viewers to their anger machine, to gin up team spirit.

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Friday, August 15, 2014


The author of this op-ed piece in the Des Moines Register served for eight years in the George W. Bush administration. He says the GOP has become a party of extremists.

Here's another lifelong dyed-in-the-wool Republican wondering what the hell happened to his party.

On a lighter note, this woman was chosen by the GOP as their best candidate for Vice President in 2008. (This video is a hoot, as is she.) She’s still a marquee draw at all conservative and Republican confabs. What message does that send?

I’ll let noted communist sympathizer George Will tell about where this whole Nixonian legacy began in 1968.

This is where this sorry history began. (You didn’t read about deep skullduggery in the Eisenhower years. Not domestically anyway. We know what happened in Iran and Guatemala.) In 1968 Nixon wanted so badly not to lose again that he sabotaged a truce that had been arranged between North and South Vietnam. It would have saved many thousands of American and Vietnamese lives, but it would have helped Humphrey win the presidency. What followed? Watergate. Bill Casey arranging for the Iranians to hold American hostages till after Reagan was sworn in as president. Iran Contra. The appointment of George W. Bush by the Supreme Court after the halt of the Florida recount. And today we have a Republican Party that proudly opposes everything done by the elected government of the United States, modeling their opposition on the Taliban and on the Confederacy.

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Friday, August 08, 2014

David Brooks Instructs the Poor On How To Be Better People

THE CHARACTER FACTORY (July 31, 2014) David Brooks

(With useful annotations and explanations of the author’s possible meaning)

Nearly every parent on earth operates on the assumption that character matters a lot to the life outcomes of their children. Nearly every government antipoverty program operates on the assumption that it doesn’t. [Do conservatives really want government to instruct all Americans on the content of their character, or only poor Americans? Are we to assume that poverty springs from failure of character? Do corporations of better character succeed and those of low character fail, or does it have more to do with luck, the way riches and poverty do? Is ruthlessness considered a positive character trait in a poor person? It's certainly essential in a corporation. When taxpayers rescue a company, say via bankruptcy, do they weigh the character of the CEO or the entire board of directors? Do they measure the character of every shareholder? No. We rescue corporations based upon collateral, the same as we rescue rich people. Often it is because that collateral is comprised of employees who didn't cause the company to fail, or the broader economy which might suffer, if the corporation is a bank and is large enough. Brooks hasn't begun well, has he?]

Most Democratic antipoverty programs consist of transferring money, providing jobs or otherwise addressing the material deprivation of the poor. Most Republican antipoverty programs likewise consist of adjusting the economic incentives or regulatory barriers faced by the disadvantaged.

As Richard Reeves of the Brookings Institution pointed out recently in National Affairs, both orthodox progressive and conservative approaches treat individuals as if they were abstractions — as if they were part of a species of “hollow man” whose destiny is shaped by economic structures alone, and not by character and behavior. [What Mr. Brooks calls “abstraction” is what policymakers might call lack of prejudice. An attempt to make the grant of benefits less about whether the bureaucrat likes the look of the applicant. Once an applicant for assistance is concrete and no longer abstract, other forms of judgment come in. What we call “discrimination”. Does this sound familiar? Does the applicant look like someone you’d ask to lunch? Did your son play lacrosse with him at Choate? Is he “the sort of person” you’d like to have move in next door? Once the terms become concrete the decision is less about the applicant and more about the person granting the benefits, the person deciding the terms.]

It’s easy to understand why policy makers would skirt the issue of character. Nobody wants to be seen blaming the victim — spreading the calumny that the poor are that way because they don’t love their children enough, or don’t have good values. Furthermore, most sensible people wonder if government can do anything to alter character anyway. [Insert a silent “But…" Here is where Brooks gets credit for saying he won’t say something before he spends the rest of the column saying it.]

The problem is that policies that ignore character and behavior have produced disappointing results. [Disappointing to whom? By whose standards? Disappointing to conservatives who despise welfare programs? Disappointing in the way conservatives enjoy being disappointed? The way they have a habit of being disappointed? And who are the rich to judge the character of the poor? Seems like a lot of the failures of character in recent years have been by rich folks. Do we give Social Security benefits based upon “character”? No. Medicare? No. Not even corporate welfare programs are based upon character, otherwise corporations who run themselves into the ground might be found wanting. Only programs for the poor require extra tests to see if the recipients are worthy. And the only instances when corporate welfare is said by conservatives to require extra worthiness tests is when the rescue is called for to save the jobs of the employees who were not to blame for the corporate failure.] Social research over the last decade or so has reinforced the point that would have been self-evident in any other era — that if you can’t help people become more resilient, conscientious or prudent, then all the cash transfers in the world will not produce permanent benefits. [Perhaps this research (whose research?) has shown this uniformly discouraging result because by 2004 the U.S. had already degraded a lot of the meaningful and effective instruments of our social welfare system, and beefed up the systems devised to make obtaining welfare a hard job in itself, by creating bars and tests and restrictions, by erecting barriers to discourage the poor from getting help. These systems also shifted critical dollars away from the actual welfare and into the pockets of the functionaries hired to make welfare more difficult to obtain. And it happened at a time when working class incomes were in swift decline and jobs were being shipped overseas where they could be done by children for 50¢ an hour with no benefits and no 40 hour work week. The poor in other countries have more “character” than our own poor, they'll say, which means the poor will work longer and harder for less than America's poor. That's not character. That's inferior status. And fear.]

Walter Mischel’s famous marshmallow experiment demonstrated that delayed gratification skills learned by age 4 produce important benefits into adulthood. [Or maybe the children who failed were simply more hungry than the ones who succeeded? Mightn't this delayed gratification training be better applied to the preschoolers who will one day be corporate executives? Wouldn't you say that the impulsive self-centeredness and impatient greed of the 1% does more harm than the undisguised hunger of preschoolers? If delayed gratification signifies superior character, wouldn't 450 years of delayed gratification mean that descendents of slaves have a lot to teach the rest of us?] Carol Dweck’s work has shown that people who have a growth mind-set — who believe their basic qualities can be developed through hard work — do better than people who believe their basic talents are fixed and innate. [True. But is this a greater deficiency among the poor? Is it a fair calculus to apply to persons of innately limited ability, who also tend to wind up poor? Conservatives hate the “everyone is special” philosophy taught during the '70s, but they seem to think everyone is equally able. True? Or not? Should we punish the unlucky? Should we add a “character test” for those who God, in His wisdom, decided to bless with limited abilities?Perhaps this test would be more usefully applied to the scions of the wealthy classes whose lives will float happily on a tax-free pillow of inherited wealth, whatever their innate abilities––if David Brooks can persuade our men and women in Congress to eliminate the inheritance tax.] Angela Duckworth has shown how important grit and perseverance are to lifetime outcomes. [You want to see grit and determination? Spend some time with the horribly underpaid working classes in this country. After a full week working at Walmart or McDonalds and whatever other second job they have, they still have to expend the effort to jump through the foodstamp hurdles and endure the opprobrium of cashiers and fellow shoppers when they use these benefits. Enduring the scorn of others is real endurance. Don't get me started on the long commutes some of the working poor endure every day to get to their jobs, or the thousands taken from each of them via legal systematic wage theft by their employers and creditors.] College students who report that they finish whatever they begin have higher grades than their peers, even ones with higher SATs. Spelling bee contestants who scored significantly higher on grit scores were 41 percent more likely to advance to later rounds than less resilient competitors. [Can I obtain my Grit Score from the Grit Bureau the same way I get my Credit Score? Of course not. It's a fiction. Grit is one of those words that should be reserved for individuals enduring the indignity of menial work, not for the cosseted classes Mr. Brooks is more familiar with.]

Summarizing the research in this area, Reeves estimates that measures of drive and self-control influence academic achievement roughly as much as cognitive skills. [Shall we include the negative effects that persistent systematic discouragement and sense of class inferiority learned from the indignities the poor and persons of color suffer every day? That has a more measurable effect on achievement. Let's not include that, though, because it may skew the reassuring conclusions Mr. Brooks prefers with his breakfast. And I'm sure his is a nutritious hot one, enjoyed with the New York Times, neither of which are as available in many poor working class households. I'll bet the poor hardly ever see a decent half grapefruit between one Christmas and the next, and seldom enjoy the better kinds of granola.] Recent research has also shown that there are very different levels of self-control up and down the income scale. Poorer children grow up with more stress and more disruption, and these disadvantages produce effects on the brain. [Ya think? Amazing how this factoid is relegated to the bottom of one of the middle paragraphs, where the author sorts the things he wants you to dismiss quickly while giving him credit for mentioning them. How fair and honorable of Mr. Brooks. One star for Gryffindor!] Researchers often use dull tests to see who can focus attention and stay on task. Children raised in the top income quintile were two-and-a-half times more likely to score well on these tests than students raised in the bottom quintile. [I'm afraid I scored badly on this paragraph. Can someone untangle the previous sentence?]

But these effects are reversible with the proper experiences. [Like what, par example... Experiences like pony camp? Computer camp? Computer camp followed by ownership of a computer, perhaps even a current model with decent software? We'd be better off sorting the prospects of Mac children vs. the losers who grow up with Windows.]

People who have studied character development through the ages have generally found hectoring lectures don’t help. [This is inserted to correct the idea that David Brooks is hectoring, which he would never do. A poor person would need to have a subscription to the Times to feel hectored. The brilliance of this rhetorical strategy is astonishing. What is the Latin expression for it?] The superficial “character education” programs implanted into some schools of late haven’t done much either. [Here I will not say anything using David Brooks and superficial in the same sentence.] Instead, sages over years have generally found at least four effective avenues to make it easier to climb. [Stairs? Stairs that actually go up? Stairs that don't have double-locked doors at the top? Stairs which don't have a No Persons Of Color sign painted above them? I'm speaking in metaphors here.] Government-supported programs can contribute in all realms. [Brooks is saying this is government's responsibility. Or is this a clever trick?]

First, habits. If you can change behavior you eventually change disposition. [Shall we also consider changing the negative behaviors of people other than those needing social welfare programs? For instance the people who pay them miserably and get rich thereby? Red lining and other forms of economic prejudice are not habits of the poor or people of color. They're the habits of the outside groups who decide the destinies of poor people without regard to their worthiness or character or hard work.] People who practice small acts of self-control find it easier to perform big acts in times of crisis. [Was it by several centuries of self control that African Americans found it easier to invent the only significant art forms America is known for? I'm sure that's too complicated for conservatives to answer. Did Mr. Brooks ever know someone whose self control enabled him to overcome the effects of several generations of poverty in his family? Such cases are not unknown, but they are outliers, they are not the rule. Why? Perhaps it would be more fair to blame the pervasive failure of poor and working class children to enter Princeton on some societal factors rather than on the individual's lack of “grit.” Perhaps it has something to do with the shrinking number of places available to “poor-people-with-grit” in places like Princeton, places which need to charge Westchester-and-Darien prices to stay, as they say, in the black. Let's face it, scholarship programs are more carefully directed at young people who are just a bit below the top quintile rather than those far below it. And perhaps there are many more “young ambitious poor persons with grit” who fail than there are “young ambitious rich persons with or without grit” who fail. Grit is less of a difference here than background and the learned experience that we call history. The rich child is likelier to land on his feet however things turn out.] Quality preschools, K.I.P.P. schools and parenting coaches have produced lasting effects by encouraging young parents and students to observe basic etiquette and practice small but regular acts of self-restraint. [Is this Brooks's subtly disguised hymn to charter and private education? 
“Private enterprise is the answer to everything.” From what I've read young black males learn to exhibit basic etiquette among whiter peers and adults earlier and better than young white males do. Self restraint is not something wealthy children tend to learn, but they don't spend their lives paying for that failure. The rest of us pay for their failures as well as our own.]

Second, opportunity. Maybe you can practice self-discipline through iron willpower. But most of us can only deny short-term pleasures because we see a realistic path between self-denial now and something better down the road. Young women who see affordable college prospects ahead are much less likely to become teen moms. [Gosh...did you read this in the same handbook I got from my health teacher in 1965? Quit insulting us and I'll quit insulting you. Did women deserve the vote and the right to property more because they waited centuries for it? I refer again to the centuries that African Americans waited for the right to basic civil rights in this country. We didn't withhold that to make them better people. In both cases we white males did it to make ourselves rich and powerful at their expense. The wrong class of people seems to be giving the character lectures here.]

Third, exemplars. Character is not developed individually. It is instilled by communities and transmitted by elders. [Translation: why the hell isn't every black father exactly like Bill Cosby? Meaning, I guess, wealthy, understandably irritable and articulate.] The centrist Democratic group Third Way suggests the government create a BoomerCorps. Every day 10,000 baby boomers turn 65, some of them could be recruited into an AmeriCorps-type program to help low-income families move up the mobility ladder. [Shall we get right on this when the person of color gets out of the White House? Because nuthin's gonna happen till he's gone. The Confederate Army now occupying Congress have made that plain. Still, not a bad idea. The people in our generation who will never be able to afford to retire will need something to do. And those who can will need something to do not to feel like lazy privileged jerks. Genuine lazy privileged jerks have no trouble dealing with idleness and wealth.]

Fourth, standards. People can only practice restraint after they have a certain definition of the sort of person they want to be. [Oh, I love this. Yardsticks. Standards. Always applied downward, never applied upward toward the persons pulling down enormous annual barely taxed pay packages despite dismal corporate performance. Here's a standard practice for you: If a CEO does a lousy job he pays the shareholders back out of his enormous package from the previous year. Here's another: If a Congress spends its entire two years in office doing nothing but withholding benefits from unemployed people and veterans, degrading our infrastructure, opposing everything and posturing, they don't get paid. Another: If they retire to a lucrative job as a lobbyist they surrender their retirement.] Research from Martin West of Harvard and others suggests that students at certain charter schools raise their own expectations for themselves, and judge themselves by more demanding criteria. [Or maybe it's just that those families who go to the effort to move their child to a different school are likelier to be more demanding. Here's another standard we might enact, but you won't like it: Expect all American companies to pay their employees a living wage, a wage sufficient to feed a family. This failure belongs to the employer not the employed, not the struggling worker or his and her children. This failure IS a failure of character that belongs to the very very rich in this country who have become rich by exploiting hardworking people. That is an old American tradition, exploiting workers, but it's not one we should be proud of. It may build character in the exploited but all the rewards accrue to the exploiter whose character is deficient if it exists at all. Wealth absolves a person from having his character or worthiness questioned. After a few generations he is automatically a better person than his economic inferiors––according to “conservative” beliefs. Even the wealth from generations of slave trading and slave-owning can confer superior character on the heirs.
Time launders the family as efficiently as it launders the wealth.]

Character development is an idiosyncratic, mysterious process. [Magical thinking is useful when the real variety gets sticky, so let’s finish with a vague compound aphorism:] But if families, communities and the government can envelop lives with attachments and institutions, then that might reduce the alienation and distrust that retards mobility and ruins dreams.  

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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Kiss Up, Kick Down

What does it say about our modern values that we always give the benefit of the doubt to the wealthy and assume the worst about the poor? Here's an article from the Guardian about how we punish the poor for being poor.

Everybody agrees it’s wasteful to throw money at the poor. A lazy way of thinking. But the rich? So much is given to them you couldn’t begin to throw it, it has to be delivered in semi trucks, in supertankers. Everybody’s giving money to them, so it must be a good thing. That’s lazy too, and wasteful in much larger amounts. The rich get so much it seems to justify giving them everything. Rich people pass us in the street and without thinking we hand them the contents of our wallets. We buy them drinks and lunch, pay their parking meters, polish their cars, kiss their feet. Here's an article from Vox describing how the rich get richer no matter how lousy they are at their jobs, assuming they have one.

Poor people, though? Ugh. Let’s criminalize poverty. Let’s fine them for being poor and charge them a fee for being unable to pay the fine and imprison them when they cannot pay the fee for nonpayment of fines. This accomplishes two things: it teaches the poor a lesson––not to to be poor––and it adds to the enormous profits we pay to the for-profit prison industry and its wealthy shareholders.

Our society is so clever though. Always innovating. Inventing new ways to kiss up and kick down. Devising new methods for discouraging and penalizing the poor who are already discouraged and penalized and new rituals for worshipping the rich.

Our urban landscape has a new feature: spikes to prevent the homeless from lying down to sleep.

New apartment buildings are being built with separate doors for the rich and the poor. (This way the developers get a tax break for housing us poor folks without forcing the rich to tolerate our company in the elevator.)

Our society used to dish out indignity to one easily identified segment of the population, people with darker skin. The system was called Jim Crow. What will we call this new system?

Sadly, our vocabulary is deficient. We aren’t innovating there. We don’t have words that adequately describe this galloping unfairness. Why? Because in our kissing up we are careful not to cause offense to our betters. We don’t want to hurt the feelings of the rich by explaining how monstrous their privileges are. We don’t want to understand the ways they are robbing us all blind.

Let’s get to work on a fairer vocabulary. Terms like “wage theft” are just coming into use. Let’s see it used more often. Until it was labelled as theft, it seemed perfectly legal for rich employers to do what they were doing. We need to use our language. It’s the only weapon we have left.

“The salient fact of American politics is that there are fifty to seventy million voters each of who will volunteer to live, with his family, in a cardboard box under an overpass, and cook sparrows on an old curtain rod, if someone would only guarantee that the black, gay, Hispanic, liberal, whatever, in the next box over doesn’t even have a curtain rod, or a sparrow to put on it.” ~Davis X. Machina

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Friday, June 06, 2014

The GOP and Bowe Bergdahl

It’s shameful when a political party uses war to make its own motives seem nobler. And to disparage and question the loyalty and rubbish the reputations of others who disagree with them. There is something cowardly and genuinely evil in this. In recent years we’ve seen one political party that engages in this kind of underhanded behavior and another that doesn’t. One party that accuses others of cutting and running when they themselves cut and ran. And in doing so created all the negative consequences that came after. (Article about Reagan's Cut and Run in Foreign Policy Magazine)

We have one party that condemns the president for “negotiating with terrorists” when the great hero of their party did the same thing. Worse, in fact: he traded missiles to those terrorists to obtain the release of hostages, and funneled the money left over to extremist gangs of his own in Central America. It was all against the law and contrary to his own policy. (How Reagan traded arms to Iranian terrorists in exchange for hostages)

(When questioned about it Saint Ronald said he didn’t remember what he’d authorized. But, heck, just about every president has negotiated with shadowy and downright evil enemy groups. Our own Minute Men were called terrorists during the American Revolution. Labels get us nowhere. Negotiation sometimes works where war does not.)

Republicans accuse others of cynical trickery when they own the patent on it, delaying the release of American prisoners in order to win an election, not once but twice. Nixon won a close election by scuttling peace talks in Vietnam. Reagan won in 1980 by making sure Americans remained in captivity for several months till he was safely elected and sworn in.

(The New York Times article about how the Reagan Campaign kept Americans in captivity in Iran so he could win the election.)

(The Smithsonian Magazine article about how Nixon derailed peace in Vietnam so he could win election in 1968, and keep the war going for another six years.)

I guess we shouldn’t be surprised how low Republicans have gone to turn the traditional exchange of POWs at the end of a war into a shameful, even an impeachable, act. They were all in favor of it till President Obama got it done.

(SLATE article about how Republicans supported Bergdahl's release until the president got it done.)

They were demanding it until it happened. Then it became an impeachable offense. Did the GOP delete its thoughts and prayers for Bergdahl and his family? How's that done exactly?

(USAToday article detailing how GOP politicians deleted the Tweets they'd posted demanding the White House get Bergdahl released.)

Think you know all about Sgt. Bowie Bergdahl? You should read the Rolling Stone article about him, published in 2012. He was a serious, idealistic, brave, confused soldier who grew disillusioned with the mission and felt dishonored by the shabby disrespectful way his platoon mates treated the Afghan civilian population. In other words, he was a lot like a lot of other GIs in previous wars. Maybe after reading this you ought to pick up Joseph Heller’s WW2 novel Catch22 or Tim OBrien’s Going After Cacciato or The Things They Carried. War is hell. Or read The Red Badge of Courage. Those who haven’t been in war have little idea of it.

(Rolling Stone's excellent and thorough article about Bowe Bergdahl's military career.)

Oliver North, the pardoned felon who violated the law to trade arms to terrorists for hostages and used the extra cash to fund death squads in Central America, should know as much about ransoming hostages as anyone, but he’s been a political hit man a lot longer than he was a soldier.

(Salon article about Ollie North's slippery changeable position on dealing with terrorists.)

He’s saying the crime in the Bergdahl case was in NOT covering it up. I guess Nixon made an impression on someone.

The Cheney/Rove/Cruz/Palin/Limbaugh/Hannity anger machine would rather you not read the Bush White House memos that gave legal cover for this kind of transaction.

(Ironically, the jurist who wrote the Bush memo justifying torture also laid the legal ground for getting Bowe Bergdahl back.)

As if the exchange of prisoners at the end of hostilities ever needed legal justification. It’s simply always been done. Not doing it would put you in the same club with North Korea and whoever it was that imprisoned the Count of Monte Cristo.

John McCain demanded the White House do all it could to obtain Bowe Bergdahl’s release…. until the White House obtained his release. Then McCain condemned it as a shameful, treasonous and foolish act.

But wars always end in controversy and disagreement. John Kerry was crucified by other vets, envious of his heroism and resentful that he later opposed the war in Vietnam. They were fortunate to have wealthy Republicans bankrolling them.

McCain has been accused by less well-funded veterans’ and MIA groups for his scornful treatment of their concerns.

(Some of McCain's fellow Vietnam vets find his record in that war to be despicable and treasonous. But they weren't funded by wealthy backers of his political opponents so they haven't been on the nightly network newscasts.)

Which was surprising since McCain was a POW himself… Some who were in captivity with him have accused him of treason. Perhaps the charges are flimsy, perhaps not. The passage of time has forgiven a lot of former warriors for what they did, and sometimes what they did was done because of what was done to them.

(An alternative weekly in Arizona published this article about McCain's checkered military career. The man lives in a glass house.)

The point is… it’s objectionable to question other soldiers’ loyalty when your own loyalty and behavior under fire has been questioned.

It’s worse when politicians who have never put themselves in harm’s way in the service of their country are seating themselves in judgment of the motives or actions of actual soldiers and captives and their families. It’s shameful.

War makes even the bravest men and women disillusioned.

(The Guardian's article about the GOP's favorite Iraq War hero, Pat Tillman.)

(NPR's story about Tillman, when the Tillman biography came out.)

None of this is new, so why are we outraged? Because of the FoxNews outrage machine. But that machine is aimed at the wrong outrage. War is an outrage in itself. There are certainly good wars undertaken for noble reasons, but war is Hell, as General Sherman said. And there are a lot of shabby motives for it. As General Smedley Butler, America's most decorated veteran, once said.

(General Smedley Butler's famous "War is a Racket" speech.)

You may remember Smedley Butler's name. He was the war hero who certain Wall Street executives tried to hire to overthrow Franklin Roosevelt. He wanted nothing to do with it and told reporters and Congress all about the plot.

(The BBC did a documentary about the Wall Street Coup. For some reason the story got little play in this country. Perhaps because President Bush's grandfather was one of the plotters.)

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Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Hanging Private Ryan

A bit of dialogue from Saving Private Ryan that seemed topical today...

"Private Jackson: Sir... I have an opinion on this matter.

Captain Miller: Well, by all means, share it with the squad.

Private Jackson: Well, from my way of thinking, sir, this entire mission is a serious misallocation of valuable military resources.

Captain Miller: Yeah. Go on.

Private Jackson: Well, it seems to me, sir, that God gave me a special gift, made me a fine instrument of warfare.

Captain Miller: Reiben, pay attention. Now, this is the way to gripe. Continue, Jackson.

Private Jackson: Well, what I mean by that, sir, is... if you was to put me and this here sniper rifle anywhere up to and including one mile of Adolf Hitler with a clear line of sight, sir... pack your bags, fellas, war's over. Amen.

Private Reiben: Oh, that's brilliant, bumpkin. Hey, so, Captain, what about you? I mean, you don't gripe at all?

Captain Miller: I don't gripe to *you*, Reiben. I'm a captain. There's a chain of command. Gripes go up, not down. Always up. You gripe to me, I gripe to my superior officer, so on, so on, and so on. I don't gripe to you. I don't gripe in front of you. You should know that as a Ranger.

Private Reiben: I'm sorry, sir, but uh... let's say you weren't a captain, or maybe I was a major. What would you say then?

Captain Miller: Well, in that case... I'd say, "This is an excellent mission, sir, with an extremely valuable objective, sir, worthy of my best efforts, sir. Moreover... I feel heartfelt sorrow for the mother of Private James Ryan and am willing to lay down my life and the lives of my men - especially you, Reiben - to ease her suffering.”


A lot of bickering goes on in war. Soldiers grumble about the mission. Some of them have reason to. Some lose hope. Some die for no clear reason. Some are horribly wounded in mind or body. Some go missing. Some are taken prisoner by the enemy. When the war is declared over those prisoners are brought home and those taken by our side are returned according to international law. Making a political game out of it is not uncommon, but it is in bad taste.

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