Wednesday, November 11, 2009

"Afghanistan is about a pipeline"

If there is one benefit to being single-income (and there are very few of those to be had in this day and age) it is when my wife calls or emails about something amusing she's seen on one of the shows she watches. This time around, I guess Woody Harrelson was on The View to plug his latest movie. Since his character in that film is a soldier, and since Harrelson is an outspoken war critic, the conversation got briefly political. It didn't stay that way for long. One of the ladies on the show asks him about his thoughts on Afghanistan, and he puts it about as bluntly as I have:
"Afghanistan is about a pipeline."

Let's just say there was an uncomfortable silence for a couple seconds, before the topic got changed. The moral of the story, I suppose, if that if you don't want frightening answers, don't ask frightening questions.

Here's the video clip:



The relevant soundbite can be found around 2:25-2:32 into the video clip. The moment can be summed up in a word: awkward. And yet, we should remind ourselves that it doesn't take an actor to point out the obvious:
The commitment to invade Afghanistan was made long before 9/11.

The Bush Administration wanted to secure for American energy companies-notably the Enron and Unocal Corporations-the strategic pipeline route across Afghanistan to the Caspian Basin. But the Taliban had signed a contract in 1996 with the Bridas Corporation of Argentina, preempting the route.

Scarcely settled in Washington in early 2001, the Bush Administration immediately pressed the Taliban to rescind the Bridas contract, and undertook planning for military intervention should negotiations fail. Administration officials and the Taliban met for talks three times throughout the spring and summer, in Washington D.C., Berlin, and Islamabad-but to no avail.

At the last session, in August, 2001 the Administration threatened a "carpet of bombs" if the Taliban did not comply. The Taliban would not. Soon thereafter-still weeks before September 11-President Bush notified Pakistan and India he would attack Afghanistan "before the end of October."

Then 9/11. Then two more refusals of Osama bin Laden's head. Then, on October 7, the Bush Administration looses the carpet of bombs.

Since then Afghanistan has been supplied with a puppet government, the Bridas contract is history, and the country is dotted today with permanent U.S. military bases in close proximity to the pipeline route. It was a war of conquest and occupation.
It's about a pipeline - and one way or another we're going to see more blood spilled in the not-too-distant future over a pipeline. Even better yet, this isn't exactly breaking news - folks were calling the opening salvo in the "War on Terror" what it really was - a raw power play - right from the beginning.

Corruption

Blackwater/Xe is in the news again:
Senior executives at Blackwater Worldwide, the US security company, approved secret payments of $1m (£600,000) to buy the silence of Iraqi officials after its guards killed 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad in 2007, it was alleged today.

Blackwater, which changed its name to Xe in February, approved the cash in December 2007, the New York Times reported, following an outcry in Iraq over the killings. The paper said that Gary Jackson, who was then Blackwater's president, approved the bribes and that the money was sent from Amman, Jordan, where the company had an office, to a top manager in Iraq.

[snip]

In the shooting at Nisour square in September 2007, 17 Iraqis were killed when guards protecting a convoy of US diplomats opened fire a crowded at a crowded crossing. The guards were accused of acting like trigger-happy cowboys, who shot with no fear of consequences. The killings shone a harsh light on the role of private contractors in war zones and hardened Iraqi sentiment against the company, which had already been criticised for its mistreatment of Iraqi civilians.

The attempt to bribe Iraqi government officials – which would be illegal under American law – created friction within the company, the Times reported.

Sensible

The SmackDog Chronicles on Carrie Prejean's sex video "controversy"
I’d rather respect women who make masturbation videos who don’t feel shame or disgust for loving sex. Whether they be conservative, liberal, radical or not.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Paranoia, The Destroyer

Here's what paranoia gets you:
Marine reservist Jasen Bruce was getting clothes out of the trunk of his car Monday evening when a bearded man in a robe approached him.

That man, a Greek Orthodox priest named Father Alexios Marakis, speaks little English and was lost, police said. He wanted directions.

What the priest got instead, police say, was a tire iron to the head. Then he was chased for three blocks and pinned to the ground — as the Marine kept a 911 operator on the phone, saying he had captured a terrorist.

Police say Bruce offered several reasons to explain his actions:

The man tried to rob him.

The man grabbed Bruce's crotch and made an overt sexual advance in perfect English.

The man yelled "Allahu Akbar," Arabic for "God is great," the same words some witnesses said the Fort Hood shooting suspect uttered last week.

"That's what they tell you right before they blow you up," police say Bruce told them.

Bruce ended up in jail, accused of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. He was released Tuesday on $7,500 bail. Marakis ended up at the hospital with stitches. He told the police he didn't want to press charges, espousing biblical forgiveness.

But Tuesday, Bruce wasn't saying sorry.
It's quite a society we have, eh? Thankfully the priest wasn't killed by this goon. Unfortunately, this is what you get when you shove eliminationist propaganda down our throats for years on end.

One a lighter note, here's the Kinks, playing "Destroyer" from a 1979 television appearance:



Just in case, here's the lyrics.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Hypocrisy watch

Big Bankers (such as Goldman Sachs) claim to be doing God's work. Alas, our pious banksters forget that Jesus was quite famous for turning over the tables of the money changers in the Jerusalem temple - a rather radical action at the time. Something tells me there are a lot of tables needing turning over.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

American Exceptionalism: Epidemic Edition

As Eli, notes, the US is certainly exceptional, but not in any way we would consider positive:
Epidemic one - People going bankrupt and killing themselves, their families, or, as in yesterday's case, their ex-coworkers.
Epidemic two - People with medical expenses they can't possible pay, having to resort to inviting their friends to fund-raising events to help them pay. To quote a variant of the old bumper sticker, "What if the government funded health care and the military had to hold bake sales?"
With regard to the second epidemic, what can I say other than I see too much of it for comfort. I'll chip in a buck or two if I can (my paycheck is already spoken for the moment it reaches my bank account, so that's usually a pretty big if), but I can't help but view such efforts - valiant though they may be - as doomed to failure. Those who put on the fundraisers or who manage to chip in a few nickels feel momentarily all warm and fuzzy inside, but they barely make a dent in terms of paying all those damned medical bills nor do they address the fundamental flaws of our health "care" system. That system will only be effectively addressed on a structural level rather than at an individual level.

As far as the first epidemic, I mentioned a year ago about losing an acquaintance to suicide, whose living was made in real estate. Here was my reaction at the time:
A few weeks ago, a neighbor of my in-laws killed himself. He was a real estate agent. I'm guessing that given the market in SoCal, he was no longer making the commissions that had enabled him to live a suburban middle class existence, and perhaps saw no hope in that changing for the foreseeable future. We'd chatted during my last visit to the area, just weeks before his suicide. Seemed like a nice person. When I got the news, even though he was at most a casual acquaintance, I silently mourned his loss.

I thought of the spike in suicides in the wake of the 1929 stock market crash, or of the drastic increase in suicide rate in Russia after the Soviet Union collapsed and Yeltsin's regime imposed neoliberal "shock therapy" on the nation's economy, leading to a massive influx of displaced, unemployed workers who could not find a way to make a living. I also thought of the increase in suicides among subsistence farmers in India, who have become increasingly displaced as corporate conglomerates have driven them off their land. What these folks have in common is the rather profound stress of no longer being able to live productively, to the extent that identities tend to get tied at least partially to our vocations. Even for those of us who have steady, and likely stable, work situations, there has been a confluence of factors that have squeezed us financially. Although nominally a professional person, my salary on a good month barely pays for basics, and when energy costs spiked over the last year, even that ability was stretched to and finally beyond the breaking point. Let's just say that I'm facing the prospect of making difficult decisions between paying for food and paying utilities. Given my own cultural makeup, no matter how radical I may be, I have never been able to shake off the basic southern white mindset of the male as provider, and the inability to be able to provide on an increasingly regular basis quite frankly gets to me. I can easily empathize with those who've taken their lives in the wake of lost income, foreclosures, and the like (in research on stress, those tend to fall under the rubric of "major life events" - the more profound of the stressors), if for no other reason than I've stared into the same abyss. My saving grace is the knowledge that next year's tax refund will provide some breathing room, so if we can just ride out the winter somehow.
In discussing another murder-suicide early this year, I tried to put together a few puzzle pieces that I considered (and still consider) highly relevant:
...some sort of hyper-individualism, an illusion of freedom, and depersonalization. I'd add a hierarchical social structure that thrives on competition, violence at all levels (from interpersonal to structural), and which instructs its residents to attach personal meaning to the attainment of ephemeral "wealth". Somehow, the way the pieces of this particular society fit together to invite a sort of narcisissm (a fancy way of saying extremely high but extremely unstable self-esteem), which itself is a marker of aggressive and violent behavior (I'd add not only at the individual interpersonal and intrapersonal levels, where most social psychologists seem to leave it, but also at the organizational and structural levels as exemplified by certain policies adopted by ruling elites). The stressors inherent in our current economic and political climate are those that would invite behaviors that would be arguably unthinkable in another context.

The kids who committed the murder-suicide in Littleton about a decade ago were written off as pathological, as have those belonging to religious cults - e.g., The People's Temple, and I'm sure the couple in the story that began this particular dispatch, but I would offer that those exemplars rather than being "bad apples" are actually merely visible symptoms of a society that lives and potentially dies by the threat of murder-suicide: US foreign policy since WWII has been predicated on the concept of murder-suicide from the "good old days" of Mutually Assured Destruction to the present "War on Terra"; economic policy is based on the exploitation and depletion of nonrenewable resources with no consideration for the future (If we can't have it now, we'll make sure that NO ONE will have it later).
The last sentence captures part of the essence of our society: nihilism. It is so pervasive that it practically oozes out of our pores and yet few notice. Yes, there is an epidemic or two going on right now. The flu epidemic is in some fundamental way the lesser of our worries (though please, do not read into that a lack of concern about the flu - H1N1 has already hit my household). I'm not sure what cure or cures would even be available at this late date. However, if the US is to survive in some more or less meaningful fashion, or if what rises from the ashes is to be relatively nontoxic, here are a couple core principles that should guide those wishing to shape or reshape the society:
1. Children should not be [separated] from their limbs on purpose.
2. Profit should not be made on human suffering.

Start with those, and work from there. Oh, and as the writer expressing those principles admonishes, don't get tangled up in debates over impossible occurrences.