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March 02, 2011

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Just to put things a bit in perspective: $1.2 trillion for national security!

http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175361/tomgram%3A_chris_hellman%2C_%241.2_trillion_for_national_security/

Jon, you know I am not inclined to prayer but to this column, I say Hallelujah and Amen.

Yesterday, seven or eight small Afghan boys were out collecting fire wood for their families.

A $25 million US attack helicopter fired a $25,000 laser guided missile and killed all the little boys.

We have spent untold trillions hunting down and killing "terrorists" around the world.

As a result of the above, for the bargain basement price of $25,000 we just created thousands of new potential terrorists around the world.

If you are a country whose primary business is WAR, I guess you would call that a good investment in the future.


For many in my generation, Vietnam was the awakening. America was neither as good as we we taught or as wise as it pretended. We stumbled badly into a virtually inconsequential corner of the world because we were rich and certain. We constructed an enemy of extraordinary evil in order to validate a waking dream of righteous omnipotence.

Since that debacle, we've found newer enemies among Latino campesinos and Muslim fanatics. The organizing principle of our national defense establishment, however, has not changed: find resistance to our institutionalized power drive and deem it a cosmic threat to the American way of life.

Madeleine Albright called America "the indispensable nation". What this means is that we can insert ourselves into any and every conflict because we have conveniently monopolized power and its respnsibilities. America's leadership role in unipolar world means wielding sticks and dangling carrots virtually everywhere. At home, it became our responsibility to make this global leadership our national mission and ideal. Questions were disallowed about the absurdly high costs of this mission because "you can't put a price tag on freedom".

Not only are we the freest nation in the world, we're the richest. Which means we can't maintain bridges or passenger train service, nor provide affordable health care for tens of millions, nor educate our youth in a way that ensures them a decent future.

The American empire is bankrupting itself for the sake of a delusion. It creates paradigms so that it's forced to defend them. It then takes an ever-increasing share of our diminishing national wealth in order to protect not the nation but its own imperial ambitions and conceits. Once again, questions are disallowed. Freedom isn't free, you know.


War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning.

Book by Chris Hedges

You know soleri, since we were the generation that stopped a war, I thought a few years back that we could do it again. When I started asking around, "our" generation was no longer interested. I would hate to go through life with the fire inside of me extinguished and waiting around to die. What kind of existence is that??

A few thoughts. I have trouble labeling most military members as evangelical; some are, most are not. There are many reasons for this but one only need look at the make-up of the forces and their social and world views to make this determination.

You'd be surprised how many, privately of course, question the wars we wage and the expense of the enterprise. Many, probably most, have little issue with gays (not an evangelical quality).

There is another important non-evangelical quality: the most dramatic warnings for future conflicts have already been laid out by Pentagon studies and (don't beat me Cal) military intelligence. Those warnings primarily identify global warming and dwindling freshwater resources as matters of extreme importance.

Lastly, for all intents and purposes, the huge military spending allowance is determined by our elected officials. If we want the military to spend less, which can be done successfully and more easily than many believe, then America must demand it.

The military isn't some mythical thing, it is created from our friends and neighbors. Any qualified American can join; I think that reality is often forgotten.

I recommend John Keegan's "The Mask of Command".

Throughout history, our 'heroic leaders' have been retreating further and further behind the front ranks. Today, officers sit in cubicles in Nevada handling 'joysticks' that control the delivery of costly hellfire missiles towards blurry targets on a video monitor. Hoo-rah.

Azrebel, what's most discouraging about our generational cohort is how easily we folded. I'm not talking about our druggie pals, either. Look at Bill and Hillary. They positively burned with idealism in the early 1970s. Even then, they were stars. Everyone knew they were headed for great things. And where did their meteoric ascent land them? Smack in the middle of the same decadent establishment they once rebuked. Success is the most addicting drug of all. I note this not out of anger but from a sense that if you're going to play the political game, you play it by the existing rules, not the ones you might theoretically prefer. There are no political saviors, just players. And if you really want to change the world, you'll find the world has a lot to say about the arrogance of your presumptions.

There was a BBC series, The Century of the Self, about the ways corporate and government power use the language of dreams to manipulate us. It's four hours long but there are worse ways to spend a long afternoon. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UcYBSXgtmKQ

Aren't most of the "joystick" operators enlisted personnel, colonel? And even then, those programs are extremely limited. Air power is still a real human piloted event.

I agree with all of the above and I am off on my recumbent.

Perhaps we need to remember the Roman Consul Cincinnatus, who when the emergency was over gave up power and returned to his farm. Our whole concept of a citizen army is gone and with it any belief that the military budget and the generals and admirals ought to answer to civilian authority. And, our civilian leadership is clueless when it comes to understanding the military since most never wore the uniform.

Mr. Freeman, I think you have your logic in reverse. The military is only living off the budget it is accustomed to and allowed. Big business is persuading civilian leadership as much as top military brass that newer, less efficient but extremely expensive equipment is the way to go. Luckily, Gates knows better.

"Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry..."

Ha!

As long as fear, tax cuts, and new and improved programs win elections, America is doomed.

interesting to note that regardless of which party is in power the following scenarios play out:

Scenario #1 : Trouble erupts somewhere in the world, ranging from civil unrest to out and out genocide. America's position - "Let's let them work out the details themselves, after all we are otherwise occupied."

Scenario #2 : Trouble erupts somewhere in the world, (there is oil in the vicinity). America's position - MOVE THE CARRIERS, SET UP A NO-FLY ZONE, GET THE MARINES READY.

I realize everyone on this blog is aware of this hypocrisy in our country, but after a while it really gets old. Oil is our drug and we have the biggest and baddest enforcers to make sure we get our fix. It's ugly being a drug addict.

Here's how to interpret azrebel's comments; damned if you do, damned if you don't. Since Libya supplies little oil to U.S. markets, here is how I see the American response interpreted by the rest of the world:

1)America selfishly remains idle, telling the rest of the world to do something this time.

OR

2)Of course, Americans must stick their noses in every country's business and "conquer" the world like "cowboys".

My point exactly. When you are an addict, there is no action that is acceptable to you or to anyone watching what you do. Whatever you do is do-do.

And it should be noted that most of the world is addicted to American protectionism, but deny it; the EU probably the worst offender. Two addicts only enable one another...complaining all the while no less.

PSF, I'm not sure you can say the rest of the world is "addicted" to this arrangement. Sure, they accept it just like you'd accept $100 bills from a stranger if he was passing them out on the street. The rest of the advanced world enjoys our beneficence and shrugs its shoulders. Hey, it's YOUR money!

Ask yourself: have we ever complained about this to other nations? Have we threatened to withdraw our troops or close our bases? Have we even entertained the possibility of this in strategic-thinking conferences at Aspen or Hilton Head?

The empire runs on its steam, with its own rationale, and without questions or doubts. It exists until it doesn't.

So, the rest of the advanced world enjoys universal health care, decent to excellent passenger rail, beautiful cities, a safety net that irons out the creases in the free market, better educational systems (including free universities in some cases) and much smaller defense budgets.

I've heard the arguments for this arrangements - Pax Americana and so forth. It still doesn't make any sense in my mind. I see a nation that is failing and whose failure will cause the collapse of the empire that lives off it. We worry compulsively about Social Security's shortfalls in 2037 but never the empire's always-increasing costs.

Funny, that.

I agree to a certain extent, Soleri; however, the world does more than shrug off our presence. They encourage it. Please read some of the agreements to "assist" nations around the world we've entered into post-Cold War era. Assist is code world for "please don't go," and we oblige because it has been that way for a long time. That is our fault.

But don't let the sheen of those "beautiful" cities or their awfully thinly stretched social programs fool you. There is mass social unrest, racism, and hate brewing in much of the world; Europe leading the way. The fear of the burqa is just the tip of the iceberg; that is why Europe is addicted to our protection and presence.

Who succeeds Gates? And with what kind of mandate from the big dogs in Congress? Has our defense strategy been clearly defined and communicated?

PSF, you sound, if ever so faintly, like the drunk who says his wife encourages him to drink by withholding sex. Think about this for a moment. You're essentially saying we're being held captive by nations that use some kind of agreement to passively extort protection from us.

Huh?

I get that the empire is irrational. But no one is forcing us to be the Daddy/Policeman/Abused Friend here. We're playing this role because we want to and because power never voluntarily relinquishes itself even in the face of its own absurd bargains. Why do we still garrison 50,000 American troops in Germany? Is the Soviet Union still that great a threat?

Yes, we can imagine this scenario or that - a beserk North Korea or something. Maybe the Ottoman Empire will be reconstituted (Glenn Beck thinks so). So, in the face of collapsing physical and social infrastructure at home, we spend billions propping up fantasies abroad.


I guess you missed the part where I said it was our fault? Nonetheless, the relationships we have abroad are symbiotic. Our bases in Germany, for instance, are pocket change compared to ridiculous national defense projects. Both should be scaled back.

PSF, one more disagreement here. The OECD nations, which includes all western and central European nations, are among the most stable places on Earth. The Islamo-fascist scaremongering is a useful tool for immigration hysterics and xenophobes, but there's less evidence that Europe is coming apart at the seams. Let's remember that Europe abuts the menacing if unreal caliphate that so exercises the American right. Have they curtailed civil liberties in response? Have they used the threat as a means to blackmail its citizenry to accept sharp cutbacks in social services? Even in Great Britain, where the Tories swept to power after 13 years of Labour fatigue, the retrenchment that has occurred has met with sharp and loud resistance.

An empire will eventually kill the republic it feeds on. The "pocket change" of bases in Germany adds up when other bases around the world are included. The advanced weapons' systems, whose raison d'être will probably shift as a counterweight to Chinese evil, are part of the mix, neither rationalizing past game theories nor explicating the future health of a nation held captive by them.

Recalling the viciousness, thugs and trolls of my old AzCentral blog, just want to say thanks again for the intelligent, value-added debate here in the comments section.

soleri, I'm not following your last comment there about raisins in China? Is there a grape problem?

Rogue, how about a AzCentral blog comment for old times sake and it will fit this discussion:

"Hey Jon, Yo Mama wears combat boots!"

I've always enjoyed that little exclamation even though I never really understood what it meant. Anyway, now that we got that out of our system, back to civility.

AZrebel, U must not be old enough to remember the rest of that slanderous exclamation!
"and has a mattress strapped to her back."

There is a good reason to not accept hundred dollar bills particularly if you are near a drug sniffing dog.

Maybe we should have an America Idol Blog with Soleri and Phxsun fan as the contestants and Jon and AZrebel as the judges. It's been another good topic and I am off on my recumbent to the Urban Bean.

cal,

I had never heard that part, However, I WILL REMEMBER IT NOW.

Man, I hope something comes up tonight at happy hour so that I can use it. We're meeting at the Dirty Drummer so I probably shouldn't use it on someone large enough to stuff me into the dumpster out back.

AZREBEL, Dirty Drummer, place in the woods in the White Mountains. Now I know whom U R
A Hell's Angel.
Dont drink and drive.

sorry cal,

Dirty Drummer in Mesa on Country Club.
I ain't been on a motor scooter since the early 70's.

Didn't mean to mislead you. I am currently residing in Mesa with a place in Show Low. In two years we plan to be full time in Show Low. Considering my two residences, you can see why my life is greatly impacted by Mormons. I'm not often around people wearing normal underwear. ( : - (

I understand the LDS thing I got relatives praying at that temple every day trying to get this militant agnostic into their heaven. No undies for this guy. Mas Tarde.

"Recalling the viciousness, thugs and trolls of my old AzCentral blog [...]" - Rogue

Here's a little nugget:

"Tempe, Scottsdale ranked among rudest cities"

http://www.azcentral.com/community/scottsdale/articles/2011/03/04/20110304tempe-scottsdale-among-rudest-cities.html

Two of the things that led to the end of the Vietnam involvement were the Draft and President Johnson's 10% surtax. Nothing like demanding everyone contribute blood and treasure to trigger an evaluation of stupidity,
USMC Lt Gen Kelly had a point in his recent speech. Other than "W" asking us to "go shopping," there has been no sacrifice.
Too bad that the 2006 Democratic "victory" didn't have any effect.
Andrew Bacevich gives a pretty goo history and analysis of the Military-Industrial Complex in "Washington Rules."

Being an amateur student of history, I've always been intrigued by periods in the past when swords were made into plows and vice versa. Past events which led a country at peace to turn what limited metal it had into swords, then after the conflict, turn the swords back into implements of food production and commerce.

Thus, it is overwhelming to me to see us waste our natural resources for such useless wars. We no longer have to worry about a limited amount of metal. Instead, we trade money(borrowed) for the tools of war.

I've read that when a gallon of gas is pumped into a humvee in Afghanistan, it cost us $400 to put that gallon in the tank. You mean to tell me that I worked all year long, patriotically paid my federal income tax, and they used it all up filling a few humvees.

I realize it's been stated here before, but we can't keep up this exchange of blood and capital for nothing in return.

We're to the point where if Afghanistan and Iraq could at least give us Green Stamps for money spent, that would at least be something. Maybe one book of stamps for every one billion dollars?

Way OT but pertinent if only because we're human: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/06/magazine/06lives-t.html?_r=1&emc=eta1

Good article soleri and yes way off topic. In fact , you've been off topic ever since you brought up that raisin thing in China. Please get back on board, my friend. ( : -)

P.S. Very good article. I'm going to make a point of trying to "be more helpful to our fellow citizens".

As I read thru this discussion, I'm remembering the time when my 10 year old grandson told me that he planned to "fight in a couple wars" before going to college. Hope I set him straight but wonder how we've conveyed the idea that there is something noble about our misadventures in Korea, 'Nam, and the Muddled East?

Soleri, I loved the article. Except when the guy started to cry. I know this goes against all the feminizing we males are pressured into accepting today. There is something uncomfortable about a man crying at any whim these days. That said, I do whimper from time to time during certain occasions and truly saddening events, but come on man.

The tire iron and tamale story is a great one and see it more as a "city problem"; and since this was in Portland I think that speaks for itself. But I've been in similar situations and had help stop and give a hand (in Arizona and Georgia no less). I think this writer is just being a little oversensitive; maybe a stint in NYC will "man him up" a little. ;-) But hopefully he never blows a tire in Mexico; let's just say I've been in that situation and I'd rather wait for road-side assistance in the middle of a Phoenix summer.

PSF, I don't want to draw any firm cultural or political conclusions here. Sometimes "random acts of kindness" are just that. Still, I've heard from more than a few people that the happiest people they've ever seen are the very poor in India or Mexico. Perhaps it's just the fact that they can't afford to be neurotic, or that there's no gap between the lives they lead and the necessity of cooperation. In America, our buffers tend to be more economic than personal. We measure our freedom in the various ways we don't have to ask for help.

The Arizona Republic ran a human interest story maybe 25 years ago about a Mexican farm worker with a terminal brain tumor. I forget the author but I think it was Don Dedera. The worker would ride his bike 14 miles one way to get to the county hospital for treatment, and did this until late into his shortened life. The medical professionals who treated him were awestruck by his humility and grace. He never complained about his condition and expressed gratitude fully to those caring for him. In effect, the smallness of his social status magnified and illuminated his humanity. When we read stories like this, it's possible to see the human condition not as burden but an opportunity to live large in the face of loneliness and anguish.

While I know it's OT, there is something about these stories that reflect back on our conversations about the environment, economics, politics, and power itself. The seduction of wealth or power is that we shall never be helpless or humiliated. It's a paradox, too, because most of us here want dignity and attention for the least of us. Yet, sometimes, it's the direct experience of necessity that heals the one pain we thought we could avoid by not needing others.

Having lived in many small communities in the U.S., I feel the same can be said of some of the American "country folk" compared to the campesinos from Mexico. I've also been to some of the worst slums in the world in Latin America and Asia, and though we romanticize about the loveliness of some of their poor let's not forget the violence and fear these people live in as well.

I should say, some of the nicest people I've ever met are those some would blow off as rednecks. I think we are too quick to judge our countrymen because, well, we expect more from ourselves. There is nothing wrong with that but from time to time we should remember those of us in the U.S. less fortunate whom have huge hearts. It isn't just a poor Indian or Mexican thing.

Eisenhower gave his farewell speech January 17, 1961. For fiscal year 1960, National Defense (as a budget category) spending accounted for 52.2 percent of federal outlays, and had been running for the past several years (in the absence of any hot war) at about 10 percent of U.S. GDP.

As of FY 2007, National Defense accounted for about 20 percent of federal outlays and 4 percent of GDP.

http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/budget/fy2009/pdf/hist.pdf

So, if those figures are well constructed and meaningful, we've gotten considerably farther from the military-industrial state which Eisenhower warned about.

None of this addresses the necessity or desirability of two (unnecessary and undesirable) foreign wars over the course of the last decade. That said, the U.S. has mired itself in such wars throughout much of its history, so nothing new here.

The one thing that can be said about military contract spending (assuming it isn't on private security orgs or underwriting the cost of blowing the legs off of the cream of American youth) is that aerospace and defense spending involves good paying domestic manufacturing jobs (given restrictions on export of sensitive technologies) and constitutes a kind of government jobs program and ongoing Keynesian stimulus (though Republicans would never acknowledge it as such).

Interesting finds Emil. I found similar numbers but didn't want to post them because I was unsure of the main source (I got the information from a close friend in the Air Force). BUT, we can still cutback considerably on spending and use resources better. I just don't understand why Republicans find it so difficult to cut, let's say, $100 billion from all four branches and use it for high speed rail. As I've stated before, the Navy and Air Force have each identified $30-$35 billion they are willing to part with. That would go a long way toward improving our nation's rail network.

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