Posts Tagged ‘ military

NSA, NDAA and the Relative Risk of “Terrorism”

You are 17,600 times more likely to die from heart disease than a terrorist attack. You are 12,570 times more likely to die from cancer, 1000 times more likely to die in a car crash, 87 times more likely to drown, 12 times more likely to accidentally suffocate in bed.

Each day, we fend off death in ways both large and small, we expend our time and energy gathering resources to prevent hunger, thirst, and to protect from the elements. We invest in things to make our houses and transportation safer and more reliable. We buy healthier food and exercise to reduce the likelihood of disease. We choose to spend the “health and safety” portion of our resources on those things likely to threaten our health and safety.

We needs 3/4 million concrete bunkers because . . . TERRORISTS!

There is a vanishingly small chance that you will die from a terrorist attack. More specifically, there is virtually no chance at all that you will die in an attack that would be prevented by military expeditions, national intelligence agencies, domestic surveillance, increased policing powers etc. Almost entirely none. Barely non-zero.

It’s not a new thought and is probably best presented by master of all things security Bruce Schneier, but I find it especially striking with something like this recent NSA “scandal” pops up how much money is going to defend against a complete non-threat.

Putting aside for the moment the epic loss of life and the hyper-Orwellian annihilation of privacy and human rights, the squandering of precious, finite resources is simply staggering.

The amount of wealth that is just being “pissed away,” as my dear old dad would put it, is beyond the mind’s capacity to fathom. Trillions of dollars spent doing abso-fucking-lutely nothing. Just piles of money set on fire in the name of preventing something that doesn’t happen anyway.

The worst part of this epic destruction of wealth is that it comes from people who actually have real things they need to spend money on! People who have actual health and safety concerns are prevented from using their labor to improve their chances at a long and healthy life. Their money is taken from them and spent on multi-billion dollar NSA data centers and Homeland Security headquarters, which will help the citizens of the country not at all.

From the 1960s to the 1980s, the country of Albania built 750,000 concrete bunkers seemingly randomly around the countryside. They were lead by a lunatic, Enver Hoxha, who had everyone convinced that foreign invasion was just around the corner so this tiny piss-poor country build these useless structures instead of anything that would be of any benefit to anyone. That makes no less sense than the absurd, do-nothing, ongoing, “defensive” boondoggle, that is defended at every turn by both political parties and the media.

Seriously. Seriously. This shit is ridiculous. People have real problems to deal with and real dangers to avoid (police are 8 times more likely to kill you than terrorists). I understand that nothing’s going to change–anybody who decides to do something useful with their money instead of funding this worthless police state will be surrounded by well paid and heavily armed men and taken one of the ample prisons that are currently being filled up.

But can we please drop the pretense that it does anything? Can we at least be honest with each other about the value of the “service” we’re involuntarily subscribed to? Listening Harvard educated millionaire (from defense contracts) government functionaries tell me about how scary the “bad guys” are and how we need money to help the “good guys” protect us is beyond insulting.

Now that I’ve matured, I understand that people have deep-seeded emotional needs for safety and protection and that the bullshit illusion of the national security state fills that need. I understand that verbal abuse isn’t helpful and that a peaceful dialog that respects their human desires is what is required to have a win-win conversation.

But between us, this is one of those things where I just want to be like, “YOU’RE FUCKING WRONG AND SHIT IS FUCKED UP BECAUSE YOU’RE SOOOOO FUCKING WRONG!” Alright, alright. I know that’s over simplifying, the inability to see the fucking painfully obvious is only one aspect of a complex and multi-faceted problem . . . deeeep breaths . . . and dialog. Baby steps. We’ll get there. Thanks for reading.

Happy Birthday Bradley Manning

Today is Bradley Manning’s second birthday in a cage. His “crime”–still alleged, speedy trial and all that–was illuminating the pervasive brutality of the U.S. occupation. While he spends his 20s locked away in a gulag, the exposed murderers, rapists and torturers, along with their bosses and their bosses’ bosses right through to the commander in chief remain free–celebrated even, on occasion.

Manning highlights the impossible nature of reforming “the system.” Besides being one of several million human beings spending the holidays–and every other day–confined in a cage, he’s also a declaration to anyone seeking reform. The price of revelation is being disappeared, joining the non-persons whose lives are openly erased. Any attempt even to shed light on the actual functioning of the imperial state will be met by the full might of the state.

It’s very sad, and infuriating. At the very least, nobody can reasonably say the beast he exposed is an institution with a human well-being as its purpose.

Happy Birthday, Bradley.

What Would Global Capital Do Without an Army?

As I wrote previously, the political left cannot meaningfully criticize or imagine alternatives to the malignant structures of global capital. It is in a state of complete agreement with the political right that nothing should fundamentally challenge existing power structures, concentrations of capital, and associated economic institutions.

Part of the consensus (also mentioned previously), holds that absolute military control of as many of the earth’s resources as possible should be maintained no matter what the cost. And why not? The cost is borne by the tax victims who spend an increasing amount of every work day paying for the war machine; by the uneducated (after 12 years of state education) who are paid to kill strangers and bear the psychological consequences thereafter–assuming they live; and, of course by the innumerable individuals who have the misfortune to live within cruise-missile’s distance of a mine, a well, or a deposit that will bring riches to somebody–just not them.

The victims of the enforcement arm of global capital are entirely distinct from the few thousand direct beneficiaries world-wide. It is clearly in the interest of global capital to garrison the planet to defend against any challenge to their ownership of everything.

Yesterday, Leon Panetta and Hillary Clinton had a public forum to discuss downsizing the imperial army.

“Very simply, it would result in hollowing out the force,” he said, alluding to reductions made in the aftermath of the Vietnam War that left Army units undermanned and ill-equipped. “It would terribly weaken our ability to respond to the threats in the world.”

Given the understanding above, it goes without remarking that democrats are against meaningful decreases in the military. The hack writing the story fills in the details of Panetta’s allusion by positing that “Army units [were left] undermanned and ill-equipped” in the 1970s. For what? Which foreign power overran those undermanned and ill-equipped units and occupied the homeland? Where’s the list of American victims left unprotected? What battles were lost? What threats is he talking about?

All of Western Europe and the Pacific remained fully garrisoned. All puppet states were armed against their populations. Was it Guatamala? Nicaragua? Was the fact that local political movements were able to gain toeholds on the fringes of the global plantation that lead to the conclusion that “our interests” were at risk?

The idea that any country or any conceivable coalition of countries could ever get a single foot soldier onto the North American continent with aggressive intent is absurd. It’s the basest part of the reptilian brain that believes such dangers are out there–a modern day Genghis Khan sweeping down from the Canadian steppes–laughable.

Oh, and recall that the alternative to reducing a military presence in, say, Germany or Japan[1] is cutting the legs out from under social security and
medicare–two programs which people have been stolen from their whole lives to fund. These are the fucking liberals! They’re worried more about their goddamn occupying armies than returning to the elderly the “pension” and medical care that they’ve spent a lifetime paying for!

“It [the threat of budget cuts] does cast a pall over our ability to project the kind of security interests that are in America’s interests,” she said. “This is not about the Defense Department or the State Department. … This is about the United States of America. And we need to have a responsible conversation about how we are going to prepare ourselves for the future.”

The Big Lie is that “security interests” or “America’s interests” are anything but the inverse of the interests of 99% of the people who live under the rule of these sociopaths. Our interests [2] are not being in debt to global finance; not having homes taken away by global banking; not being jailed for non-crimes; being free to conduct peaceful activities without bureaucratic overhead; freedom in general really; freedom from the arbitrary whims of lunatics like Leon Panetta and Hillary Clinton–freedom from being human fuel for the engine global capital. How nice would that be?

  1. [1] Or any of the other 130 countries garrisoned by US soldiers.
  2. [2] With full awareness of the risks of speaking for a collective.

The Bikecast Episode #50: Deficit, Debt, Keynes, and War

Given the displayed concern from our rulers about the state of national finances, one could easily believe that a great deal of thought is going into what cuts can be made to balance the budget and stabilize the national debt. Indeed, the daily news, foreign and domestic, invariably contains stories of agonizing cuts to social programs and all manner of complex machinations aimed to solve social problems in a “revenue neutral” manner.

A moment’s inspection will reveal, however, that this is intended entirely as theater. The very most basic and painless cut isn’t even considered–a cut that would not only balance the budget, but which would also extinguishing the rising and violent anger against the citizens of the United States. What is euphemistically referred to as “defense spending”–a more Orwellian label has never been conceived–could be eliminated at a savings of over 1 trillion dollars a year. Yet this across the spectrum boon isn’t even considered in all the hand-wringing over national finances.

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Forgive the repetition in the show notes. These really are notes–i.e. I didn’t rework them like I sometimes do. I’m trying to get more podcasts out the door :)

Numbers of a certain magnitude defy human comprehension. If we believe the self-report of the government, the national debt is just above 14,000,000,000,000. The total unfunded liabilities, that is money promised in the future (social security and medicare, primarily) that exceeds “revenue”[1] is 114,000,000,000,000.

It’s instructive that these numbers rarely, if ever, enter into the political/economic debate. It’s a laughable premise that they will ever be paid back since the debt burden is something like $250,000 per person (including newborn children) or 1 million dollars per worker.

Instead, the rulers tend to talk about the deficit, which is the amount of money that will added to the debt this year. All manner of trivial cuts are proposed and complex schemes are invented to address some social ill while remaining revenue neutral. Due to the supposed desperation of our rulers to balance the budget, even social programs are threatened with crippling cuts.

The fact that economic stability is not really an important issue to the rulers is made clear by their careful avoidance of the one single budget item that would, by itself, balance the budget and greatly increase the prospects of peace in the world[2].

The US military is currently protecting Western Europe from soviet invasion. Pacific nations are protected from a reemergent imperial Japan. The entire globe is under constant surveillance and is within ½ hour of a nuclear strike, should the situation warrant. 150+ nations are occupied by thousands of US bases (no other country has more than a couple, other than in support of the US occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan).

In the podcast, I hit on a couple non-budgetary advantages of eliminating military spending, like, uh, you know, not killing countless innocent human beings.

I also touch on some of the reasons that defense spending is untouchable. There’s a great writeup over at Common Dreams. According to that article, a show is being made about making military cuts, but as the author says, “Americans should not confuse that talk with reality.”

It’s also worth noting that the economic premise that government should go into debt to help the economy during troubled times and repay the debt when the economy is healthy (Keynesianism, albeit simplified) is hopelessly out-of-scope in our current situation. Every possible stimulus–0% interest rates, money creation, massive debt accumulation–must currently be applied non-stop simply to avoid collapse of the dominant financial institutions. There will be no corresponding surplus ever again–the debt will never be repaid.

If you don't come to democracy, democracy will come to you.

  1. [1] in this case, money stolen
  2. [2] or at least remove the agent of greatest destruction.

The Bikecast Episode #44: Armistice Veterans Day and Moral Honesty

On Veteran’s Day[1], as on most other days, I find myself pulled by a fierce need to condemn the role of “soldier.” This concept, soldier, is used to create an inverse morality where killing is noble and those who kill are heroes. Surely nothing could be less heroic than taking money in order to kill, without question, whomever one is directed to kill.

On Veteran’s Day, as on most other days, I find myself pulled by a fierce need to condemn the role of “soldier.” This concept, soldier, is used to create an inverse morality where killing is noble and those who kill are heroes. Surely nothing could be less heroic than taking money in order to kill, without question, whomever one is directed to kill.
At the same time, it strikes me as unjust to lay blame at the feet of the human being who has assumed the role of soldier. Most soldiers were 18-year-olds who were sold on the honor and virtue of service to one’s country; their friends, relatives, peers, church and community leaders spoke in solemn tones about the noble sacrifices that the armed forces of the united states have made throughout its history. They’ve heard during 12 years of state schooling about how the u.s. military has repeatedly and continuously protected the freedom of the citizenry while spreading liberty and democracy around the globe. How is it fair to hold someone to account for their actions when they’ve been told all their life that the evil they’re signing up to do is good?


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It is for this reason above all others that I believe it necessary to be unrelenting in the moral condemnation of soldiering. Mercenaries and hitmen[2] are paid commensurate with the social stigma attached to killing for money. Nobody honors assassins–there is no day to thank (expressly) paid killers. Nobody becomes a hitman with the expectation that one’s church community will be proud.

To a healthy person, the moral context attached to joining a military is identical to that of becoming muscle for a crime family. Everyone who is considering a career in the military should have the objective nature of the job presented honestly to them. Anything less is moral fraud of the most harmful kind.

The vast majority of the victims of the current slate of wars are, of course, those killed, kidnapped, robbed and displaced by the u.s. military. The greatest moral condemnation, by far, belongs to the political class and their corporate counterparts. In between are the humans sent to do the killing and the dying. Their lives as full humans will likely end with their first kill or their first interrogation. Thereafter, they’re doomed to a shadow existence, unless they brave the road nearly untraveled and examine and atone for their actions.

It will be a great kindness to a large number of potential recruits to accurately and honestly describe moral import the choice that lies ahead. When somebody chooses not to join the military, everything good in the world wins and evil is slowed, however minutely, in its mindless destruction of humanity. The greatest good is likely to the soldier-not-to-be him/herself. We’ll be on the right path when we thank and honor those that choose not to join the military.

Recommended reading:
Punk Johnny Cash on being thanked.
Arthur Silber: On Veteran’s Day, Fuck that Shit
Kelly Patterson on the 2738 Soldiers that died on the final day of the war so that it would end at 11:11 on 11/11/1918

  1. [1] previously known as Armistice Day, until the “War to End All Wars” turned out to be the bloodiest century the world has ever seen
  2. [2] and hitwomen http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hUBAx8jbYNs&feature=related

The Bikecast Episode #34: Wikileaks revisited; Who Has Blood on Their Hands?

One of my first podcasts was to do with Wikileaks which had, at the time, just released gun camera footage capturing the murder by an apache helicopter of a handful of people standing on a street corner.

More recently, Wikileaks hosted 92,000 confidential communications indicating that, indeed, the ongoing brutalization of Afghanistan is the nightmare that sane people have been saying it is for almost 10 years. In both cases, the reactions of the various state organs are telling.

Update below

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Wikileaks and its creator, Julian Assange[1], have been called “infoterrorists.” There have been calls to shut down the physical wikileaks site[2]. Most ludicrous is the claim, made by some dipshit admiral at first, but thereafter picking up meme-steam, that Julian and Wikileaks have “blood on their hands.” If anyone at all in this world has any amount of blood on their hands, then the government of the united states is at the bottom of a mariana trench of blood.

Nobody on this planet is threatening more lives than the government of the united states and nothing is guilty of more destruction, murder, imprisonment, torture, and human misery than the last half-century of US foreign policy[3].

If one’s concern is for human safety and harm minimization, even considering condemnation of wikileaks should be nearly the last item on one’s todo list. Clear -eyed journalists are engaged in detailing the heinous crimes committed against the people of Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, among other places. Meanwhile the mass media, and their toadie bloggers, are opining, or conveying the message that the organization that is bringing these crimes to light is, in fact, the problem component of the story.

In general, this hyper-hypocritical name calling is likely to increase as the situation(s) abroad and at home deteriorate. At the head of the name callers will always be the most-guilty-by-orders-of-magnitude party–the government of the united states. It will be pointing at the nearest innocent bystanders, making accusations, dispensing punishment, and begging the public to allow them greater power to punish increasing numbers of people.

If the past is any indication, the public[4] will oblige. It is, though, another instance in which moral clarity lies very close to the surface and is most easily accessible. It is important to be able to identify these blatant hypocrisies and to call them by their right name. Hopefully, someday, a critical mass of the population will be persuaded and the madness can end.

Update: A concrete example of the hypocrisy I talk about in the podcast: Mike Mullen accuses wikileaks of having “blood on its hands.” He presided, as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs (not as hip a group as the name implies) over the bombing of a wedding party, the bombing of a funeral, the murder of the entire family of an Afghan artillery officer, the killing of the the family of a spokesperson for the Minister of Agriculture, and who knows how many others whose social rank didn’t rise to the level mandated by the American media establishment. So a special “Fuck Off” to Mike Mullen, war criminal and hypocrite.

  1. [1] Sorry for any mispronunciation, Julian!
  2. [2] In the bikecast, I noted the danger to Iceland of a possible US invasion. It turns out Wikileaks is hosted in Sweden, so Iceland, you’re off the hook.
  3. [3] A good argument can be made that the US state has been at the pinnacle of human suffering for even longer, a claim that central americans, native north-americans, enslaved africans and residents of the south pacific would probably support
  4. [4] or, at least a sufficient proportion to provide the shrift of “mandate.”

The Bikecast Episode #31: Returning Moral Agency to Soldiers

As difficult and uncomfortable as it is, I believe it important to oppose the idea that the profession of soldiering is something noble and to be honored. Stripped of the narrative of nationality and the misdirection of just war theory, people who accept money for the job of killing strangers without question are, by definition, assassins, hit men (and hit women), and/or mercenaries.
Update below

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When a person faces the moral decision whether to kill without question in exchange for money, it is reckless and immoral to tilt the scales with promises of honor, glory, triumphal parades, and absolution of any actions taken while pursuing and killing his/her targets.

Such a decision should be made solemnly, with the full understanding of the task at hand and with absolute moral clarity. This is rendered impossible in our war crazed nation-state. In our society, every media depiction of soldiering, every holiday, and every public event has as a component gratitude to the military, appreciation for the soliders, remembering the fallen, honoring the veterans and other forms of soldier worship.

The first thing we learn about soldiers is that they keep us free, keep us safe, and preserve our liberty.  Even when we disagree with a military decision, we can only do so because they have sacrificed their lives to protect our right to speak.  We hear this message endlessly.  It is a foundational societal meme.

As a result, men and women who otherwise would not enlist are enticed to. We have, as a society, essentially removed the moral agency from the would-be solider by disguising the moral character of the decision he/she is making.

I doubt I can emphasize this enough to quell the most deeply ingrained knee-jerk reactions, but the withholding of misplaced and misleading gratitude is not an attack on an individual. It is unproductive and unjust to categorically condemn soldiers for the choices they made under false pretenses. It is essential, however, to remove the false pretenses so that the individual soldier can properly evaluate his/her decision under conditions of moral clarity.

The most difficult aspect of this problem stems from the magnitude of U.S. war crimes. They are incomprehensibly monstrous, murderous, and destructive. The degree and intensity of the propaganda that is required to cloak these crimes is equally massive. There’s nothing I can think of more sacred to most americans than the current and/or historical american military and nothing more universally believed in than the just and necessary nature of current and/or historical wars.

This is an essential element of national cohesion, and thus, an essential target for those interested in ending the global empire and advancing the cause of human freedom. Ultimately, we do not want future generations of friends and family to take the job of mercenary because they misunderstood it as being something noble and honorable.

Update: Robert Jensen published an article at Common Dreams that takes on this same topic. He leaves room for honorable service in “just wars”, which I reject, but all respect for a public figure taking on such a sensitive and emotionally challenging topic.

The Bikecast Episode #2: Wikileaks and Sane vs. Insane Responses to Murder

The sound quality is much better here than in episode 1. There are still some wind gusts audible. I’ve build a windshield for the microphone. Hopefully sound quality will continue to improve. Thanks for bearing with me.

This bikecast might also be labelled a rantcast. The show notes are less supporting documentation and more a collection of supplemental thoughts I had while editing the bikecast.

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Show Notes:
I recorded this episode immediately after the wikileak’d gun camera footage of 12 people being murdered. I don’t talk much about the details, which are, frankly, unimportant.

I surround myself with people and media* who/which have no illusions about murder and who have healthy empathetic responses to people being butchered. Sometimes I’m caught off-guard by attempts to “reframe” murder as something that is entirely just–so long as it takes place under the appropriate circumstances.

An acquaintance of mine posted the wikileak’d footage on Facebook, which I admired, with a comment along the lines of, “It isn’t unamerican to be ashamed of this . . .”

The comment section was a reminder of the mainstream opinions that surround state sanctioned murder. Thankfully, it was largely left-of-center commentary, so I was spared tirades about how the editors of wikileaks should be shot as traitors. On the other hand, it was depressing to witness the headspace of the nominal left.

We will know when we’ve reached a state that can be called “civilized,” when:
1. An event like this could never take place–it probably cost a few million dollars to execute those villagers and journalists–only a state with a central bank and a currency monopoly could ever hope to spend that much money to slaughter civilians.
2. If such an event *did* occur, the response would be immediate revulsion and expulsion of the murderers (and their leaders, and their financiers) from civilized society.

What could be a better definition of ‘evil’ than indiscriminate murder of strangers.

Is it possible to adjust someone’s framework, even temporarily, so that their mind isn’t compelled immediately to defend murder? The clarity of the racism involved becomes clear when one recalls the lack of defense of the 9/11 attackers (or the japanese at pearl harbor, or the vietnamese at the gulf of tonkin, etc.)

The inability to understand the suffering of other “unfamiliar” people to the that degree demonstrated by responses to this, and similar, events demonstrates a psychotic lack of empathy.

Thank you to those of you who provide me with my non-sociopathic bubble.

* Here are some samples of relevant blog posts belonging to sane humans:

Chris Floyd’s Empire Burlesque is an absolute must-read in general. Here he predicts, with equal parts accuracy and sarcasm, the complete indifference of the citizenry to the news that people are being slaughtered by “their” troops half a world away.

Also predicting no pause in the killing, Mike Gogulski:

The whole goddamned thing will be swept under the rug and forgotten, much like the carpet-bombing and napalming of Vietnamese and Burmese families two generations ago. Much like the firebombing of Dresden. Much like Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Much like the massacres in the Philippines. Oh, I could go on…

der Blaustrumpf points out that this event is unusual only in that it involved journalists, a category of people that you can’t butcher with *complete* indifference.

Blaustrumpf’s article points to Glenn Greenwald. Also indispensible and the highest profile sane person I’m aware of.

Sheldon Richman:

The people on the ground were no threat to the American people whatever. Even if they were a threat to the U.S. military, that is only because it is occupying Iraq. There’s a simple way to end any such threat — withdraw.

This last response is especially interesting, it’s from Josh Stieber who was, at one time, in the same company with the ground forces that were present in the wikileak’d footage.