MIT professor revisits the cultures that bombed Pearl Harbor, destroyed the WTC and dropped A-bombs

I’m reading a very fascinating scholarly study called Cultures of War by MIT history professor John Dower. Professor Dower analyzes in detail the similarities in the cultural assumptions, bureaucratic decision-making processes, fascination with technology, religious orientation, use of propaganda and strategic military imperatives of four events that serve as symbolic points in the cultural history of two wars. 

Interestingly enough, in all cases the decision to act proved disastrous for mankind. In three, and maybe all four, it was also disastrous for the nation/organization instigating the act:

  1. The Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor
  2. The United States detonation of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki
  3. Al Qaida’s terrorist attacks by suicide crash on September 11, 2001
  4. The United States “war by choice” against Iraq under the false pretext of destroying weapons of mass destruction and disabling Al Qaida.

The obvious symmetry in considering the cultures that produced all four of these actions is that they are paired: in both pairs, the actions of the United States are typically considered to be reactions against horrible deeds, by a nation in one pair and by a terrorist organization in the other.

But Dower carefully draws U.S. defensive motives into question: He recapitulates what we already know about the duplicitous lead-up to the invasion of Iraq by the Bush II Administration. He also reminds us that no one can say for sure that dropping two atom bombs saved more lives than the more than 200,000 that the U.S. obliterated in two fairly short bombing raids. We know for a fact, however, that the U.S. wanted to brandish its new weapon for the Soviets and everyone else in the world and wanted to stop potential grumbling at home about the cost of the Manhattan Project. Dower also shows us how much the U.S. wanted to go to war against Japan before Pearl Harbor and how much the Bush II (non)brain trust wanted to attack Iraq before 9/11.

Many would consider it blasphemy and/or treason to equate the moral bearing of Osama bin Laden and the U.S. under Bush II or Roosevelt, but Dower makes a very strong case.   Here are some of the similarities:

  • The use of religion as a justification and of religious imagery in manifestos about the events
  • The postulation of a battle between civilizations
  • The belief that your civilization/religion is infinitely superior to the civilization/religion of the foe
  • A justification of killing innocent civilians, politely known as “collateral damage”
  • The focus on technology (in the case of Osama, it was computers, not weapons)

We really did feel threatened by the combined force of the Japanese and Germans, and we really did feel threatened by the terrorist attack. But Dower makes it clear that Osama’s followers, too, felt their civilization threatened by U.S. military activity and economic and social imperialism. 

The fact that many of us think that the Japanese and the extreme Islamists were fools or devils to feel that their way of life was superior merely suggests that we are unable to transcend our own cultural imperatives that tell us that our way of life is the best. I’m not saying that Al Qaida was right to launch the 9/11 attack. It was as wrong as we were to drop the atom bombs and to attack Iraq (and to pursue the Viet Nam War for that matter). But they certainly were right to think their civilization was threatened by U.S. military and political actions. 

And just as Pearl Harbor united even the most vocal pacifists and isolationists in the United States, just as 9/11 united us again, so did the invasion of Iraq, the declarations by the Bush II Administration of a holy war and our establishment of a world-wide torture gulag help Osama recruit many new terrorists throughout the Islamic world. In all cases, too, the governments and terrorist organization embarked on major propaganda campaigns to convince their people that they did the right thing by unleashing death, in one case against soldiers sworn to fight to the death and in the others against innocent bystanders.

Perhaps the most horrible similarity in all the cultures of war that Dower considers in his provocative and easy-to-read book is that in all four attacks, the participants—the military men, the government officials, the scientists and engineers, the soldiers who did the dirty work—were able to forget that they were engaged in killing large numbers of people. 

Many factors led to the dehumanization of the people at the receiving end of the bombs, tanks and suicide plane crashes:

  • A bureaucratic language that used euphemisms and passive constructions to conceal horrible realities
  • A focus on the complex challenge of the task at hand (as opposed to the destructive ends)
  • A belief in the inferiority of the victims
  • The self-deception often generated by the constant creation of propaganda for others
  • A religious belief, i.e., that you’re on a religious mission

These factors affected the decisions and actions of the one-party Shinto autocracy, the Christian representative democracy and the Islamic theocracy. Who has the moral high ground here?

There is no threshold for terror, for starting wars of choice or for unleashing weapons of mass destruction. 

There is no military justification for bombing and attacking civilians that can offset or override the moral evil involved in killing masses of innocents. 

Heinous acts of terror, genocide and lawlessness in a just cause turn that cause to evil and take from the perpetrators any claims of morality or civilization.

I came away from reading Cultures of War more convinced than ever of these things.

New York Fashion Week and Westminster Dogs: lots of prancing in NYC this week

It is one of those rare poetic coincidences that both the Westminster Dog Show and New York Fashion Week unfolded in the same week this year. Some might even call it proof of an intelligent, if satirical, design behind cultural history.

Imagine: while pedigree dogs bred and trained to an arbitrary standard are parading around one floor in Manhattan at the same time mostly overly thin and mostly female models with who knows what surgeries, maquillage and other enhancements applied to imitate another arbitrary standard are parading around another Manhattan floor.

The news media and television entertainment programming have dedicated extensive space and time to both these shows. Fashion plays into the greater universe of celebrity culture, since celebrities are often the ones who wear the newest fashions or sell fashions to the consumer. As celebrity culture has grown, so has interest in these fashion shows. 

In the same way, the growth of interest in the Westminster Dog Show mirrors the growth in America’s interest in dogs and other pets, as witnessed by the growing number of new products for dogs that come out each year, the growth of spending on dogs, the growth of advertising of pet products and the growth in the use of dogs as a cultural icon in other commercials. Consider, for example, the TV ad in which someone is walking a dog when his button bursts from overeating. Or the one in which a dog drinks beer with his master. The one in which a woman tells her dog that she reacts to eating a cereal the way the pooch reacts to having its belly scratched. The list of dogs popping up in commercials for other products in recent years is endless.   

What’s most interesting is that in the case of both the animals and the models , these living embodiments of perfect form prance gracefully in front of the adoring crowds not just for themselves, but to glorify a third party. In the case of the dogs, it’s their owners and trainers. In the case of the models, it’s the designers whose clothes adorn their bodies.

At least the dogs get to do tricks and demonstrate their intelligence. The models could readily be replaced by a future generation of robots that looked and moved as humans do.

In the real world, most people like seeing an attractive person in interesting or provocative dress in the street, even if they would never go to a fashion show. We don’t always feel so positively about dogs, which can be big and mean-looking, howling or whimpering viragos, dangerously left to wander without leash or not cleaned up after by the master.

It’s ironic then that in the world of shows, it’s the models who are getting into trouble with the neighbors. Like its Parisian version, the New York Fashion Show is a tent affair, erected in front of Lincoln Center in Damrosch Park. Residents are complaining that between setting up, operating and taking apart two Fashion Shows and a circus, the park is out of commission for 10 months out of every year.  The New York Times reported yesterday that a group of residents and a group called NYC Park Advocates announced that they had sent a “cease and desist” letter to the city and to Lincoln Center demanding that Damrosch Park be returned to its proper use as a city park.

We could break every week down to a series of three to five cultural stories that represent the playing out of long-term trends in ideological indoctrination. This week, for example, to Fashion Week and the Westminster Dog Show we might add the death of Whitney Houston, the excitement created because a devoutly Christian professional basketball player of Chinese descent played six good games and the Republicans relenting on offsets to the continuation of the temporary cut in the Social Security tax. 

Beneath these immediate stories lurk ideological imperatives: the culture of celebrity; the commoditization of emotion; the idea that the private sector solves all economic problems and government none. That two of these stories are shows that take place in New York merely suggests how much the mass culture of consumption now dominates the public marketplace of ideas.

There are too many ways that employers can raid pension plans of workers

An article in the Wall Street Journal earlier this week depicted the various ways that employers can legally raid the pension fund of their employees and retirees.

The premise of the article, titled “Signs Your Pension Plan Is in Trouble,” was that even healthy pensions plans that are adequately funded can be in trouble.

The article doesn’t admit it, but all of the risks to healthy pension plans described in it come down to permitted but nefarious actions by employers, including:

  • The employer selects financial assumptions that make the plan look like a bigger burden than it really is and uses that as an excuse to freeze payouts or commitments.
  • The employer offers incentives for early retirement using the assets of the pension plan, which depletes the pension plan of funds to pay retirees.
  • If the employer either sells or spins off the operation, the new owner uses the assets of the plan to pay off its own underfunded obligations to its plans, thus putting the strong plan in trouble.
  • A religious or other nonprofit organization changes the status of its plan to a “church” plan, which exempts it from federal pension rules including the requirement to fund the plan.

The common theme in all these scenarios is that the employer legally takes money earmarked for paying the pensions of retirees and uses it for something else. It sounds a lot like what the rightwing wants to do with public pensions: cut them to pay for tax cuts.

The article basically mongers fear, but anyone reading the article who cares about fairness should feel outrage instead. 

Every single one of these tricks should be illegal. Whether unionized or not, the employee accepts pension benefits in lieu of current salary. The money in the pension plans should be sealed off from other funds into which the employer dips to meet expenses, just like Social Security is sealed off from the rest of the federal government, with its own trust. Despite recent reform, pension laws still provide too little protection to both private and public employees.

When the mainstream media chatters about the retirement crisis in America, it usually points a finger at the profligate Baby Boomers, who spent most their earnings (and thus shored up the U.S. and world economies) and now don’t have enough saved for retirement. Perhaps more should be said about the profligate company executives who treated and continue to treat the assets of pension plans as their company’s private piggy bank.

In GOP’s alternative world, Social Security is part of overall budget and not in a special trust

The banter between Republicans and Democrats on extending the temporary cut on the Social Security tax continues to take place in an alternative universe.

In the real world, cutting a program that is part of the budget doesn’t offset a temporary decrease in the Social Security tax, since Social Security is administered by a special trust which loans money to the federal government. A cut in the budget only cuts the amount of money the federal government has to borrow from Social Security. The government will eventually have to pay it all back, no matter what.  That is, unless the rightwing has its way and the U.S. defaults on its financial obligation to repay the Social Security Trust Fund.

The original beauty of putting more money into consumers’ hands by cutting the Social Security tax rate temporarily was that as long as the federal government pays back what it owes the Social Security Administration, Social Security is safely financed for a long time, with no real problem until 2037 if current trends continue.  The Obama Administration thus was able to pump money into the economy to fight the recession without hurting government finances because the money was coming from the fiscally strongest part of the government’s financial structure.

But in the Republican’s alternative world, Social Security is part of the budget and the Social Security taxes part of the revenues that the government collects to pay for its expenditures.  This fiction, supported to a large degree by imprecision in the mainstream media, plays into two basic principles of the current right-wing:

  1. Make the tax system more regressive. Unlike income taxes, everyone pays the same rate for Social Security and there is a cap on the income assessed that rate, so treating it as just another tax makes the overall tax system more regressive.
  2. Destroy Social Security and replace it with a risky private pension system. If Social Security is considered part of the overall budget, then the program is in trouble, since the United States has been spending more than it takes in for years, thanks to Bush II’s decade-old “temporary” cuts for the wealthy and our senseless, costly and bloody wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

The House Republicans have now retreated from their intransigent insistence that spending cuts in the budget must make up for the lost revenue to the Social Security Trust Fund from continuation of these temporary cuts through year’s end. They have clearly lost face with the Tea Party element, but to block the continuation of this temporary tax cut for virtually all workers would have lost them the election and taxing the wealthy to “compensate” for the extension would have angered their financial backers.

The Republicans may have lost the battle, but by no means did they lose the war.  The months-long bickering over “funding the temporary Social Security tax cuts” did establish the false idea in the news media that Social Security is part of the overall budget. And while still strong, Social Security is financially weaker than it would be if it had the additional revenues represented by the temporary tax cut. 

Another, more progressive, way to kick-start the stalled economy might have been to pump money into infrastructure improvements, alternative energy development and other job-creating programs and finance it by ending Bush II’s temporary income tax cuts to the wealthy. The Republicans have still prevented this option, despite the fact that surveys keep showing that voters wanted to raise taxes on the wealthy. So the loss of the one battle has enabled the Republicans to keep winning the war.

I want to close this post by recommending a blog called Stochastic Scientist, upon which I stumbled while responding to a tweet from the writer, Kathy Orlinsky. Stochastic Scientist covers scientific developments and offers a very pleasing and well-written mix of science news.

There are two types of right-wing extremists and both base their actions on faith, not reason

“Tell me what you think makes a person right wing extremist.”

That’s the question posed to me on a personal tweet I received yesterday from someone names Silly Girl.  Silly Girl describes herself as “pro-life” and a “Tea Party Patriot.”

Responding to Silly Girl’s question takes far more characters than Twitter’s limit.  Twitter is great for sloganeering and enticing followers to link elsewhere.  But it’s not a great venue for deep thought.  So here’s my answer, for Silly Girl and the rest of the world:

There are currently two kinds of extreme right-wingers currently participating in the American marketplace of ideas:

  1. Social extremists
  2. Economic-political (econ-pol) extremists

Interesting enough, both types of right-wing extremist base their ideas on a faith that they believe overrides the lessons of science, history and rational thinking:

  • Social extremists have faith in religion, primarily Christianity, and refuse to believe the truth of science.
  • Econ-pol extremists have faith in the unencumbered free market to solve all problems and sort out wealth in a fair manner, even though both history and economic analysis reveal that the free market often works against the best interests of society.

By contrast, social and econ-pol extremists differ in their approach to social control.  This difference is striking when we consider that many people such as Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann and John Boehner are both social and economic conservatives:

  • Social extremists want to control actions of individuals, e.g., preventing abortions, birth control and gay marriage and forcing religion into the school and other public places.
  • Econ-pol extremists want to take all limitations from the actions of institutions, specifically businesses, so they can operate free of constraints such as labor, safety and environmental laws and regulations.

We can see this difference in the approach to control when we take a look at the major positions held by the two types of right-wing extremist.  I think I have them all, but
if I missed some of the major ideas of right-wing extremists, please let me know.

Basic beliefs of social right-wing extremists:

  1. Global warming is not occurring and the theory
    of evolution is wrong
  2. Religion should be taught in the schools
  3. Abortion, stem cell research, gay marriage and birth control are wrong
  4. Homosexuality is a sin and a failing, not a natural occurrence in the population
  5. It’s okay to discriminate against practitioners of Islam and/or religions other than Christianity

Basic beliefs of econ-pol right-wing extremists:

  1. There should be no constraints on businesses, including constraints to promote fair wages, workplace or consumer safety or a
    clean environmental
  2. The private sector can solve all problems and deliver all goods and services better than government
  3. Private institutions should replace public ones, e.g. schools, roads, prisons and military services
  4. Labor organizations should be made illegal and there should be no minimum wage or other employer mandates to compensate employees fairly
  5. Taxes should not only be low but also regressive, meaning that the richer one is the less one’s relative tax burden should be
  6. The military should engage to protect the private interests of large American multinational companies

I label as extremists those who subscribe to either of these sets of beliefs for several reasons:

  • To believe in all of these ideas (as opposed to just one or two) defines extremism on the right.
  • Unwillingness to compromise characterizes both types of extremists, and is a trait associated with extremists of all varieties.
  • For the most part, these ideas are rejected by mainstream America.  Most Americans support keeping abortion legal, although sometimes with limits.  Most Americans support raising taxes on the wealthy.  People overwhelmingly support birth control, the minimum wage and safety regulations.
  • Those views of the extreme rightwing that large amounts of other Americans share usuualy firmly contradict all scientific evidence, such as not believing in Darwinism or doubting the occurrence of global warming.  Failure to believe truth is a sure sign of extremism, all else notwithstanding.

These two kinds of extremists really have nothing in common, except that they both tend to support views formed before the 18th century and both must exercise a great deal of faith to uphold their beliefs in light of sometimes overwhelming contradictory evidence. Social extremists tend to be less educated and live in the South or in rural communities; while some have money, as a group they are not wealthy. Econ-pol extremists tend to be wealthier than the average American and are not as defined by geography. In a sense, two unrelated groups have formed a partnership out of political convenience.

What is so odd about the current coalition of social and economic-political right-wingers constituting the Republican Party is that the policies of the econ-pols hurt a large majority of the social true believers, many of whom are poor, near poor or in the struggling, some would say drowning, middle class. And yet the social right-wingers continue to support the econ-pols.  It’s a deal with the devil that is keeping much of America poor and driving much of middle class America towards poverty.

Individuals should take precedence over institutions when it comes to a health matter like contraception

Is it a matter of women’s rights or is it a matter of religious freedom?

That question has grown to become one of the major concerns of the mainstream news media since the Obama Administration mandated that contraception be covered in all health insurance policies. 

The answer to this question of definition determines where you stand on what the Obama Administration did:  If you think we’re talking about women’s rights, then you likely believe the Obama Administration did the right thing.  If you think we’re talking about religious freedom, you likely believe it’s illegal for the Obama Administration to make Catholic organizations cover birth control in health insurance policies they offer employees.  Look at the coverage in Google News and you’ll see that Democrats, women’s organizations and progressives such as Rachel Maddow are talking about women’s rights and Republicans and right-wing pundits like Rush Limbaugh are talking about religious freedom.

Both sides have a point.

So what do we do when two fundamental rights come into conflict?

We could go with majority rules. An overwhelming majority of Americans have used birth control, support birth control and think that health insurance should cover it. In fact , as Gail Collins, Rachel Maddow and others have pointed out, two-thirds of Catholic women currently use birth control and virtually all have used some form of birth control at some point in their lives.  The surveys show that the only group among Americans in which a majority is not in favor of birth control is the right-wing Christian evangelical movement, which unfortunately now sets policy for one of our only two political parties and thereby defines the terms of virtually every debate involving social issues in the United States.

Even including the overly loud voice of the Protestant right, majority rules would dictate that the Obama Administration made the right move.

Of course, at the heart of the very idea of rights is the principle that the majority can’t bully a minority.  But in this case it’s a minority wanting to bully the majority. 

Both those who are in favor of all health insurance policies covering contraceptives for women and those against it focus their attention on individual institutions or persons.  They often forget to mention the third party in the discussion, and that’s society.

As a matter of public policy, the government is charged with securing the public health.  We can judge success in this matter by the health of our citizens and by the funds we must allocate for health care.  As measured by people or by money, there can be no doubt that contraceptives help to promote a healthier society.  Birth control prevents two major factors in healthcare costs: unwanted pregnancies and venereal diseases. Birth control also leads to fewer abortions. 

When the government considers public policy issues, it often has to weigh conflicting rights.  Some examples include water rights policies, environmental standards, rules for eminent domain actions and product safety standards.

In the case of covering contraception, the public policy decision looks like a no brainer: something that serves the public interest by leading to a healthier population and lower health costs is supported by an overwhelming majority of citizens.  The policy favors a right central to the lives of individuals versus the right of an institution to avoid paying for something considered standard by most individuals and institutions.

I don’t believe there is any religious freedom involved in setting a standard for public health, which is all the Obama Administration did. In fact, a decision to exempt religious organizations might have infringed on the religious freedom of the women using birth control. 

But even if a religious freedom were involved, it would be superseded by public policy, just as the right to marry more than one woman was superseded by public policy in the last century, and just as the right to believe in the power of prayer ends as a matter of law and public policy when parents deny medical treatment to a child for religious reasons.

Forget about racism. By denigrating food stamps, Newt attacks all poor people regardless of race

February 8, 2012

Newt Gingrich has persisted in calling President Obama the “food stamp” president, despite the fact that more people went on food stamps during Bush II’s presidency than during the Obama presidency. 

What I find interesting is how many people, both conservative and progressive, assume that the statement is inherently racist. And behind the assumption of racism stands two other assumptions:

  1. That African-Americans get food stamps disproportionately (which is not true according to all statistical evidence: about 30% of African-Americans are poor and about 30% receive food stamps).
  2. That getting food stamps is a bad thing.

Here is sample quote from this morning’s National Public Radio report on Gingrich’s campaign against food stamps: “Obama is big food stamps. Romney is little food stamps. But they both think food stamps are okay.”

But how can food stamps not be okay if one out of every seven Americans depends on them for their sustenance? Something involving 14% of the population is normal, and normal is okay.

What’s not okay is the state of the economy which has led to so many people meeting the very strict requirements for receiving food stamps. 

Newt is careful to make sure that his labeling of Obama as the ”food stamp president” comes inside statements related to the sad state of the economy. In fact, he uses food stamps as the primary measure of economic well-being, not unemployment, nor average wages, nor per capita gross domestic product. Thus the negativity we feel about the recession focuses not on measuring economic weakness but on measuring the help the government gives to allay the misery that the recession has caused. 

Gingrich attaches a negative moral value to receiving food stamps and to giving them as well, since the giver, i.e., the federal government, serves to enable the recipients in their moral failure. This “blame the victim” mentality has had a place in conservative propaganda ever since the late 1960’s when the news media’s coverage of the civil rights movement made people believe, wrongly, that the victims of poverty were primarily people of color.  

Besides revealing hard hearts, Gingrich, Santorum and their ilk fail to realize that food stamps represent a tremendous injection of cash into the economy since every penny given to food stamp recipients is spent, primarily on American products, since the United States is still the bread basket of the world, the greatest agricultural nation in history. 

Conservatives would rather we cut taxes on businesses, which they incorrectly argue will give businesses more money to create more jobs. The trouble with cutting food stamps so we can cut business taxes is that with fewer people spending food stamp money, the market will be smaller and businesses will have less reason to invest. It’s unimaginable that every cent of a tax cut would go to creating more jobs and nothing to greater profit to the business owner. Past tax cuts suggest that much of the cut goes directly to the owners and shareholders.

But that’s not what people are thinking about when Gingrich slams food stamps and Democrats react.

The more Newt harps on the “food stamp president” issue, the more ingrained in people’s minds becomes the idea that food stamps recipients are bad. The Democrats, progressive and African-American leaders all do themselves a disservice by playing Newt’s game because it’s win-win for Newt. Gingrich doesn’t risk many votes by denigrating food stamps, but he does set the terms of the conversation, and one of those terms is the idea that receiving food stamps is both a moral failure and a drag on the economy.

My advice to progressives: When conservatives start to moan about food stamps, forget the race card and directly accuse them of blaming the victim. Say something like, “You show no sympathy for the victims of the recession. We’re talking about meeting basic food needs. We may disagree about how to the improve the economy and create more jobs but how can we possibly disagree about the need to keep fellow Americans from starving? looks devoid of ideology, but proposes a secular religion that accepts the status quo

While channel-surfing last night I stumbled on a TV commercial selling the idea that people should say ”please” and “thank you.” After the Miss Manners seminar, the ad sends the viewer to the website.
The website is a hodgepodge of feel-good slogans and stories, sponsored by something called The Foundation for a Better Life (FBL). Here is how the website describes the foundation: “The Foundation for a Better Life began as a simple idea to promote positive values. We believe that people are basically good and just need a reminder. And that the values we live by are worth more when we pass them on.”
Besides the website, FBL pays for feel-good, values-based TV and radio spots, billboards, podcasts and a message board for inspirational stories and quotes. The website never mentions who funds FBL, but to its good, at least it states explicitly that FBL neither accepts contributions nor charges membership fees nor gives grants to other organizations. It claims not to have any religious or political affiliation. The only affiliation mentioned at the website is with The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation (RAKF).
On to the RAKF website, which describes RAKF as “inspiring people to practice kindness and pass it on to others.” It’s another feel good website with stories and quotes about kind acts, ideas about how to make people kinder in the workplace, at home and elsewhere, a blog on kindness and links to “kindness resources,” which include other organizations and more anecdotes of people being kind to others. Although a 501(c) 3 organization, RAKF is privately held and funded; accepts no donations, grants or membership dues; and does not provide financial assistance to individuals or organizations.
Only by investigating on the Internet a little bit did I discover that both foundations are funded one hundred percent by Denver right-wing billionaire Phillip Anschutz, who Forbes describes as one of the richest people in America. Besides oil and real estate, Anschutz owns a number of professional sports teams.
On its surface, these two organizations and their websites are innocuous enough, spreading a non-ideological and homogenized love and goodness to the planet. A careful analysis, however, reveals that in fact these organizations lend subtle support to the current inequitable economic and social realities of the United States by distracting people from addressing real problems.
Let’s start our analysis by taking a look at the list of 88 values that Foundation for a Better Life lists at the website:
1. Achievement
2. Ambition
3. Appreciation
4. Believe
5. Believe In Yourself
6. Caring
7. Character
8. Charity
9. Class And Grace
10. Commitment
11. Common Ground
12. Compassion
13. Compliments
14. Compromise
15. Confidence
16. Courage
17. Courtesy
18. Dedication
19. Determination
20. Devotion
21. Do Your Part
22. Drive
23. Education
24. Encouragement
25. Equality
26. Excellence
27. Foresight
28. Forgiveness
29. Friendship
30. Generosity
31. Giving Back
32. Good Manners
33. Gratitude
34. Hard Work
35. Helping Others
36. Honesty
37. Honor
38. Hope
39. Humility
40. Including Others
41. Ingenuity
42. Innovation
43. Inspiration
44. Integrity
45. Justice
46. Kindness
47. Laughter
48. Leadership
49. Learning
50. Listening
51. Live Life
52. Live Your Dreams
53. Love
54. Loyalty
55. Making A Difference
56. Mentoring
57. Motivation
58. Opportunity
59. Optimism
60. Overcoming
61. Passion
62. Patience
63. Peace
64. Perseverance
65. Persistence
66. Practice
67. Preparation
68. Purpose
69. Reaching Out
70. Respect
71. Responsibility
72. Right Choices
73. Rising Above
74. Sacrifice
75. Sharing
76. Smile
77. Soul
78. Sportsmanship
79. Spread Your Wings
80. Stewardship
81. Strength
82. Teaching By Example
83. Team Work
84. True Beauty
85. Trust
86. Unity
87. Vision
88. Volunteering
It’s a strange hodgepodge of etiquette, Dale Carnegie-style positive thinking, ideas shared by all religions, ways to “play by the rules” and notions that tend to support the establishment no matter what it is. These are all general terms that most of us would agree should form the basis of decision-making. We should seek “excellence” and “justice,” and we should “do our parts” and make “right” choices.
But the fight to preserve these “values” is as bogus as the campaign to “support our soldiers” was during the early phases of the Iraqi War. Everyone supported our soldiers, even those opposed to the war. What action can an individual in our post-industrial society take that doesn’t support soldiers, except maybe not holding their jobs while they’re off fighting? What exactly did pasting a bumper sticker on your car do to support the soldiers? At its heart, “support the soldiers” was a shill and a code word for “support the war” and everyone knew it at the time.
In the case of these 88 values, the code is more subtle. These values can apply to anything. A dictatorship or state ruled by one party would be just as likely to list all these values as a representative democracy would. Virtually all these values (with the exception of “true beauty”) would come in handy in training an elite force to torture and engage in illegal assassinations. Many of these values would make a perfect substitute for “Arbeit Macht Frei,” which means “work makes you free” in German and was hung as a sign over the entrance of several Nazi concentration camps. Those in favor of a woman’s reproductive rights are equally able to find solace in contemplating these values as those who wish to restrict these rights.
The amorphous quality of these values, and of the concept of kindness as well, make the campaign for “values” and “kindness” mere shills for maintaining the status quo, which as people are discovering is a fixed game in favor of those who already have money and power, a game which 95% of the population is currently losing badly.
By creating campaigns, the organizations take our minds off of our real problems such as addressing global warming and creating a more equitable society and economy. And why would Mr. Anschutz not want to get our minds off these problems, since dealing with them might upset the current status quo, which has generously rewarded Mr. Anschutz even as it has hurt the thousands of workers who serve the food or clean the floors in the venues where his many professional sports teams play. From the standpoint of Mr. Anschutz then, isn’t it better if college students and adults are engaged in programs to support “values” and “kindness” than in organizing in favor of unions, a higher minimum wage or better environmental regulations? And doesn’t the spread of all these feel good stories make people feel better about their current circumstances?
The idea that we should all rally behind the need to “believe in yourself,” “volunteer” and “practice” unifies the country in an artificial way, like flag-waving does. It’s a false unity that serves merely to support the way things are now because it’s not a real action that we’re united behind, such as the real action of boycotting the Komen Foundation. By replacing real-good action, these campaigns distract us from addressing real problems. By serving as a distraction, Anschutz’ organizations quietly support the economic and social status quo. Just as “support the troops” was code for “support the war.” So are the values and kindness campaigns really campaigns to support our current unfair system.

Those supporting a woman’s right over her own body should stop sending money and walking for Komen

February 2 2012

It’s time for anyone who supports a woman’s right to an abortion to stop giving money to the Susan G. Komen Foundation and to stop participating in its walks.  Send your money to other organizations fighting breast cancer. But by no means should you reward the Komen Foundation for ending its funding of Planned Parenthood’s breast cancer programs.

According to Planned Parenthood, its centers performed more than 4 million breast exams over the past five years, including nearly 170,000 financed by Komen grants. That’s 34,000 women a year who may not get a breast exam because of the lost funding.

When Komen made the announcement yesterday, its spokesperson said that the organization stopped giving to Planned Parenthood because it was following Komen’s newly adopted criteria barring grants to organizations that are under investigation by local, state or federal authorities. Komen applied these new standards to Planned Parenthood because of an inquiry launched against it by right-wing Congressman Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., who claims that Planned Parenthood may have improperly spent public money on abortions.

But Komen’s reasoning strikes me as a frame job on Planned Parenthood. 

Komen has been involved in women’s health issues over the past 30 years, so it knows that at any given time some right-wing elected official is involved in a vendetta against Planned Parenthood that is typically cloaked in a government or regulatory investigation. Komen could have easily written the new criteria to take into account politically inspired investigations or to enable the decision-makers some latitude. 

As The New York Times reported this morning, Komen knew all along that the only organization to be affected by the new policy would be Planned Parenthood. It sounds to me as if anti-abortion activists in the Komen organization pushed for this rigid clause in the new funding criteria as a back-door maneuver against Planned Parenthood. The Times article publicizes a Twitter effort by three women to boycott Komen.

There are many organizations involved in fighting breast cancer and educating women about how to recognize the early symptoms. There is no reason why anyone has to stop supporting this very important cause. Let’s just stop giving to Komen and make sure we tell it why.

A terrifying reminder of the thousands of nuclear weapons stockpiled around the world

February 1, 2012

My son recently sent me a very beautiful but frightening piece of video art that more than 609,000 people have seen since it was uploaded onto Youtube in October 2010. The video punches us in the face with the realization that we have already poisoned the Earth with radiation from testing nuclear bombs.

The video, by Japanese artist Isao Hashimoto, shows a time-lapse map of the 2,053 nuclear explosions which took place from 1945 to 1998, beginning with the Manhattan Project’s “Trinity” test and concluding with Pakistan’s nuclear tests in May of 1998. The time-lapse of the map unfolds at about one month per second.

Each nation gets its own musical note that is short like a blip and a flashing dot on the map whenever they detonate a nuclear weapon, with a running tally kept on the bars above and below the map. Once the explosions get started by 1950, we hear a strange and terrifying music that is also beautiful, like the etchings of World War I battlefields by Otto Dix. The more textured and complex the music becomes, the more radiation we see erupting into the atmosphere. Yet because the sound is generated by the symbolic detonation through time, there is a random quality to the sound, very much like some serious contemporary classical music.

After the show, we get an encore, which consists of a series of explosions for each of the 7 countries to have exploded nuclear devices between 1945 and 1998.  The more bombs a country has detonated, the longer its little fiery dance lasts.  The countries are ordered from fewest explosions to most.

Here comes the most frightening part for American citizens, as we see and hear the stark truth: our country is responsible for 1,032, or just over 50% of all nuclear explosions.  By ourselves, the United States has exploded more nuclear devices than the rest of the world combined and 44% more than the second place Soviet Union.

I urge everyone to see Hashimoto’s video and send it to their network of friends and acquaintances.  I also urge you to write your senators, congressional representative and President Obama and tell them you support a unilateral ending of the U.S. stockpile of nuclear weapons.

The news media constantly worries about Iran or North Korea developing the capability to produce nuclear weapons, and we’re pretty freaked out about Pakistan having them, too. Yet no one has acted more irresponsibly when it comes to nuclear weaponry than the United States has. We have tested the most weapons and we have the second most bombs stockpiled. More significantly, the United States is the only nation to use a nuclear bomb in war, dropping it on innocent citizens not once, but twice.

I was going to wait until Hiroshima Day in August to mention this video, but I realized that until every nation destroys its stockpile of nuclear weapons, every day is Hiroshima Day.