Why Socialism?

Hunter S. Thompson got a lot right in his Atlantic obit of Tricky Dick, maybe more than I’ll ever get right in all my writing. Specifically, he said, reporters had traditionally gotten it wrong when it came to covering one of the Greatest American Crooks: “Some people will say that words like scum and rotten are wrong for Objective Journalism – which is true, but they miss the point. It was the built-in blind spots of the Objective rules and dogma that allowed Nixon to slither into the White House in the first place.”

Thompson got a lot right, but with a big proviso. Now, I wouldn’t presume to lecture the late Dr. of Gonzo on astute observation. While, as a friend of mine observed, Hunter S. was an immature degenerate who blew his brains out while talking on the phone with his wife and may or may not have participated in gang rape in his reporting on the Hell’s Angels, he was a literary genius. But I have to say I think he missed the point himself. In the final paragraph of the obit, perhaps Nixon’s defining epitaph, Thompson distains the sullying of the office of the American president – the ironic symbol itself, the ultimate power emblem, of the dark political arts that over the course of 227 years have sullied the very idea of America.

“Nixon,” Thompson wrote, “will be remembered as a classic case of a smart man shitting in his own nest. But he also shit in our nests, and that was the crime that history will burn on his memory like a brand. By disgracing and degrading the Presidency of the United States, by fleeing the White House like a diseased cur, Richard Nixon broke the heart of the American Dream.”

This is a profound reflection; Nixon weaseled his way into the position he did because of a press weakened by the confines of Traditional Objectivity as USA Today would define it. But so did many other presidents, and the ones who didn’t slunk into power through other proverbial loopholes, like Obama did with his complicit following, or like both Roosevelts and both Bushes via Nepotism Boulevard.

The American Dream itself has blind spots written into it, burned like their own invisible sort of brand in our constitutional obsession and capitalistic addictions. The dirty work is done behind oaken doors hung with “EXECUTIVE SESSION” signs, but we all know about it. Still we act disgusted.

Richard Nixon was not some horrific experiment-gone-wrong in the laboratory of democracy, no bizarre anomaly in the annals of Western leadership. He was only unique in that he got caught doing something all other presidents have done. But that wasn’t where we focused, and it wasn’t where we litigated. The investigation was swept into the spotlight by a couple of scrappy beat reporters at The Washington Post who uncovered the vast underworld of corporate and political villainy at home and abroad by looking into a seemingly isolated, blue-collar incident. We were only able to see the bigger picture of Nixon’s entire preceding lineup through the lens of a break-in, and we quickly forgot the former.

Watergate is a household term;  the Pentagon Papers, not so much.

We’re all complicit, even if it’s only by our own small ballot-box participations in the Great Machine, including me.

Since I enlisted in the World’s Greatest Fighting Force, a keystone of said apparatus, a year and a half ago, I’ve been trying to reconcile this chasm. It’s been especially tangible of late, like the stinging metallic tingle you get in your sinuses when you hit your head. It’s driven me a little batty, to the point I’m not sure if it shows in my social and professional interactions.

In a Navy C school lesson several weeks ago about a certain maintenance check on the weapons system I’m learning for what will become my job on the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier the USS John C. Stennis, an instructor was reading instructions for a procedure. He pointed out the blinking indications we should see on the equipment if everything works properly, and we came in conversation across the subject of just how fucking formidable the technology is. Here’s how it works in action: On floating cities in the middle of the world’s deep blue, through dozens of tons of steel cabinetry containing millions of dollars’ worth of electronic, hydraulic, pneumatic circuitry, signals dart to provide target coordinates to one of eight nearly 600-pound missiles, which takes off at something around three times the speed of sound. A few seconds later the missile detonates, destroying a threat to the ship that is generally flying through the air, also at a sheer velocity. It’s just one of the many fire control systems the Navy’s FC technicians maintain and operate. Ours is strictly defense-based, unlike the Tomahawk missiles capable of targeting small items well past 1,000 miles away. But, NATO Sea Sparrow techs invariably agree, it’s as much a part of our show of force out there in the world.

Don’t fuck with us.

“Speak softly, and carry big stick,” our instructor quoted a former resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, referring to how the system intimidates. “Teddy Roosevelt said that. He was a very wise man – and kind of a bad-ass,” the instructor told us.

His enthusiasm incorporates a level of institutional knowledge that has been difficult to find elsewhere in my Navy experience. He’s more assured in the historical lexicon than the average sailor, who’s generally more interested in beating the next level in the Halo video game series. But his fluency in the Official Record notwithstanding, I winced internally at the praise heaped on the former president.

I’d been reading a lot of literature advocating the abolition of the imperial structure lately, most notably late historian and World War II veteran Howard Zinn’s incredible account of American imperialism “A People’s History of the United States,” and had grown queasy at any fond rumination of American presidents in general.

I wondered if any of my six classmates in the laboratory could sense my apprehension, but they were probably focused on the lesson at hand. The test went well; we went about our day; we always did; we always do. We salute, request permission and go ashore.

The next day, my wife and infant daughter and I visited a naval medical center. Waiting for medical staff to call us for 7-month-old Harper’s checkup, Hailey and I noticed a man amble in, mid-70s I guessed, wearing a faded blue T-shirt, tattered jeans, a pair of tan moccasins and a “Navy Veteran” ball cap. He sat in the seats across from us. His hair was tousled salt-and-pepper, his chin a field of unwieldy stubble, his eyes knowing, gray, friendly. He started making wink-and-twinkle jokes: “That’s a real beautiful little boy you got there,” he said about Harper, who wore sparse dishwater in a small pony tail that stuck straight into the air from atop her head. “Those are such beautiful brown eyes,” he added about Harper’s deep blue optics.

The old man wanted to impart his naval acumen to me, the young third-class petty officer across the way. It would turn out he’s a retired command master chief, the third highest enlisted rank, next to fleet or force master chiefs and the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy.

His pious caretaking Betty Crocker wife filled his prescription at the desk behind him while he informed me about ship passageways. I had no initial way of telling how true it all was, but he told me he suffered from early onset dementia from “hitting my head too many times in the doorways designed for 5-foot-8 guys.” He’d been my height, he told me, 6-foot-1, but had diminished several inches, curled over like a question mark, over the cruel Civilian-World years.

His stories started slowly and shakily.

He was in the Navy during its heyday, was one of the first CMCs under a program officiated in the mid-‘90s to facilitate better communication between enlisted ranks and commanders. He imparted knowledge of how the chain of command should work in all situations – the CMC always goes through the next person in the chain, the executive officer, never straight to the captain. It’s just as it works at any level of rank; always go one rung at a time.

He gave me a history lesson on his final ship, the USS San Jacinto, one of the first Aegis class cruisers in the Navy. His first act as CMC was to commission the San Jacinto in Houston in 1988, with then-Vice President George H.W. Bush in attendance. Bush was there because 47 years earlier he’d flown from the deck of an aircraft carrier of the same name in support of air missions during WWII. The to-be president of the United States had been shot down near Chichi-jima in the Pacific, and had a harrowing tale of escape.

Anyone with a tenuous grasp on American politics knows Bush went on to become a Republican director of Central Intelligence and a politician who strongly supported the military mission of the United States, for whatever that’s worth.

The master chief held a grin and a nostalgic bravado describing his guidance of First Lady, Barb, about the San Jacinto as it became the 56th Navy cruiser off the coast of ‘Murca-town. It was a celebration. The residents of Houston “treated my soldiers to burgers, beer; they really treated my sailors well.”

One last piece of advice as his wife approached, his medication in hand, and he stood to leave: If I ever hit my head on a ship, get it logged in my medical record – the benefits require rigorous documentation.

He showed me his tattered blue VA photo ID confirming his former position, “so you know I’m not bullshittin’ you.” He shook my hand, but didn’t like the grip he had and readjusted to give my palm the engineman’s grip he’d used in the Navy before he became a CMC.

“That’s better; I used to turn wrenches, you know,” he said. He winked, let go of my hand and walked out the door.

“Have a good evening, master chief,” I said.

The interaction lasted no more than 10 minutes, but I already liked the guy. If I were still a drinker, I could have sat down for a beer with him, played a game of pool, heard more sea stories. I generally feel the same way about the far younger C school instructor who’d quoted Roosevelt. Their Americana is the truest, the bluest out there.

But with their laudatory commentary on men who helmed the warship contraption – our military-industrial complex that you’d criticize but lose your humanity – my distaste for Americana only intensified. The idea of accomplishment by most American politicians, who’ve always held the American ideal of capitalist imperialism higher than the health of the body politic, grew more caustic. Roosevelt, Bush, everyone before, in between and after – they were just muscles tightening the bony clutches of American expansionism, turning our green world ugly.

Teddy’s Big Stick

ROOSEVELT, A REPUBLICAN, is more than most held among liberals and intellectuals as one of the greatest American presidents, the truest of progressives, though he’d later be overshadowed by his fifth cousin, FDR. Teddy was hailed as a progressive champion of the betterment of the working class. But he was, by the essence a man who climbed military rank to the top echelons to assistant secretary of the Navy, then vice president, then to Most Powerful Man in the World, another apparition of the imperial erectile hyper-function that has always defined American foreign policy.

I’ll quote heavily from Zinn, so here I go: “Theodore Roosevelt wrote to a friend in the year 1897: ‘In strict confidence … I should welcome any war, for I think this country needs one.’”

The letter, one of the most direct and honest mandates for the military-industrial complex, was written during the Roosevelt ascendency, and a time of particular gloom among Americans. The country had been in an economic depression as American corporate empire-building sputtered to a halt at the Pacific Ocean. The economy had relied disproportionately on railroad expansion in which the tycoons, in bed with political structure, exploited and stole from American Indians and poor farmers just trying to earn an honest day’s wage. At shining sea, they could go no farther. They’d wasted away their most important resource: frontier. Thousands of businesses and hundreds of banks closed, and unemployment remained higher than 10 percent from 1893 to 1898.

Inheriting the mess in 1897, the newly-elected Republican William McKinley was desperate for new boundaries to push. He found them on the lush islands of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines, where the United States had invested millions in railroads, tobacco and mining. It was widely reported that McKinley didn’t want war with Spain, which would be marketed as retribution for Spain’s treatment of an already mobilized local rebellion in Cuba. McKinley didn’t want war – he needed it. A war would mean two big things: First, strategic expansion of the American marketplace abroad. Industry needed this because of an overabundance of American industrial and agricultural production for which there was no letting valve. Second, the remobilization of the war economy, which, with Twentieth Century wars to come, would establish itself as a vital and clever gimmick in keeping America’s imperialist id as secure and largely unconscious as it has been since.

So a mysterious explosion that destroyed the battleship USS Maine  – which sat just off the coast of Havana “as a symbol of American interest in Cuban events,” according to Zinn – offered a convenient catalyst for public support for war with Spain, after establishment newspapers in New York City blamed the explosion on Spanish forces.

Needless to say, America won the conflict and, in a $20 million settlement with Spain, annexed Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines, the last of which allowed the States theater in the burgeoning marketplace of China. The nearly immediate insurrection of the Filipinos in 1899 did not withstand, as Americans brutally quelled it, allegedly massacring the dissenters. As for Cuba, America forced upon it a deal that effectively enslaved it economically to the United States and allowed the American military to set up permanent shop there. This foreshadowed the establishment of the naval base at Guantanamo Bay, where a large number of innocent dark men the U.S. has accused of terrorist affiliation are on hunger strike and are having hoses shoved through their nasal passages as conduit for food to be pumped to their stomachs.

In the swirling clamor, Teddy Roosevelt, an Army colonel whose Rough Riders would orchestrate much of the violence in the American expansion in Cuba, got busy.

He was named assistant secretary of the Navy in 1897 by McKinley, was elected governor of New York in 1898 and was elected McKinley’s vice president in the 1900 presidential contest. McKinley was assassinated a year later, and Roosevelt was sworn in. He would serve two terms.

Though Roosevelt’s administration waged no war, he was arguably one of the most prolific imperialists in the history of the United States. He continued and strengthened the policies of McKinley and McKinley’s predecessor, Grover Cleveland, both rabid imperialists, by creating what’s known as the “Roosevelt corollary to the Monroe Doctrine.” The policy states that, because America had among the strongest assets – read power – of all hemispheric powers, it therefore had a moral responsibility to intervene in economic policy in nearby Latin America. This would spark a century of exponentially more frequent coups d’état in the southerly parts of our side of the world to strengthen American capitalism and quell peoples’ movements.

Roosevelt’s “big stick.”

The Roosevelt administration tried to force Colombia to lease for $10 million and then an annual $250,000 a part of the Panamanian isthmus to the United States. The administration was planning to pay a contractor, the New Panama Canal Company, $40 million to build a massive canal through the isthmus for a new trade route. When the Columbian government refused, the administration financially and militarily augmented a Panamanian uprising that facilitated America’s business interests, and, over a decade, the Panama Canal became reality. It set the stage for Bush 41’s funtivities in Panama eight and half decades later.

Privately hostile to worker’s movements, Roosevelt also personally sought to quell the socialist uprising during his administration at home. Zinn reports Roosevelt’s response to an article written in a radical newspaper by socialist leader Eugene Debs in which Debs called for a general strike if the government cracked down on the socialist movement: “Theodore Roosevelt, after reading this, sent a copy to his Attorney General … with a note: ‘Is it possible to proceed against Debs and the proprietor of this paper criminally?’”

Roosevelt didn’t have time for a crowd of 3,000 that represented the hundreds of thousands of child laborers exploited by corporations. When they marched on Oyster Bay to seek his advice on how to abolish child labor, he wouldn’t see them. He opposed a 1910 Supreme Court opinion that a “workmen’s compensation rule was unconstitutional because it deprived corporations of property without due process of law,” Zinn writes, because Roosevelt believed it would be a lightning rod for the Socialist Party. The Supreme Court had decades earlier spelled out the concept of corporate personhood under the Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment.

Publicly, he worked to throw progressive movements a bone here and there, requiring food companies to accurately label their products and calling on Congress to limit the powers of large corporations. But this had an ancillary effect, much like all seeming progressive policy in the United States, which had before and has since worked in the interest of capital growth. As Zinn notes, Roosevelt made these slight concessions in private meetings with corporate representatives who promised him the veneer of progressivism in exchange for assurance that Roosevelt would guarantee the health of industry.

Progressive is how Roosevelt is seen, same as it ever was.

“The Environmental President”

THOUGH NOT QUITE so as either Roosevelt, H.W. is also seen fondly, but that’s no accomplishment when the historical lens is muddied by the leadership of his son, one of the worst presidents in history.

As president, 41 approved policy that, on the surface, looks progressive. He signed the Clean Air Act in 1990, and used it to coin himself “the environmental president.” He promised no new taxes by lip-reading. His military ventures, most notably the Gulf War, are seen as smashing successes, as liberations of countries in need. Accordingly, he relished a record approval rating between 89 and 91 percent in 1991.

But, also like Roosevelt, and certainly a little easier, when you start picking apart the details, the picture is not so rosy. His biggest environmental initiative the Clean Air Act was a lukewarm solution to a stunningly difficult problem (especially in terms of politics), and in subsequent years Congress gutted it financially and the administration withdrew support.

Zinn writes:

… two years after it was passed, it was seriously weakened by a new rule of the Environmental Protection Agency that allowed manufacturers to increase by 245 tons a year hazardous pollutants in the atmosphere.

Furthermore, little money was allocated for enforcement. Contaminated drinking water had caused over 100,000 illnesses between 1971 and 1985, according to an EPA report. But in Bush’s first year in office, while the EPA received 80,000 complaints of contaminated drinking water, only one in a hundred was investigated. And in 1991 and 1992, according to a private environmental group, the Natural Resources Defense Council, there were some 250,000 violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act (which had been passed during the Nixon administration).

Shortly after Bush took office, a government scientist prepared testimony for a Congressional committee on the dangerous effect of industrial uses of coal and other fossil fuel in contributing to “global warming,” a depletion of the earth’s protective ozone layer. The White House changed the testimony over the scientist’s objections, to minimize the danger (Boston Globe, Oct. 29, 1990). Again, business worries about regulation seemed to override the safety of the public.

At international conferences to deal with the perils of global warming, the European Community and Japan proposed specific levels and timetables for carbon dioxide emissions, in which the United States was the leading culprit. But, as the New York Times reported in the summer of 1991, “the Bush administration fears that … it would hurt the nation’s economy in the short term for no demonstrable long-term climatic benefit.” Scientific opinion was quite clear on the long-term benefit, but this was not as important as “the economy” – that is, the needs of corporations.

Sound familiar? H.W,’s entire administration, despite forgetfulness of hindsight – it’s not 20/20, it appears – smacks of neoconservatism.

Bush enshrined the main policy tenant of neoconservatism in his speech at the 1988 Republican National Convention when he made a statement that played a big role in his losing a second term to Slick Willy four years later: “Read my lips: no new taxes.” Taken by itself, this little gem promised one dangerous third of the neoconservative agenda. The other two-thirds – keeping existing effective tax rates static or shrinking them and rescinding the government’s essential responsibility to regulate businesses – were promised in other parts of the same speech. The address must have done his boss, the Gipper, proud. But, much like his predecessor, who had claimed office twice by promising to deregulate and detax, Bush felt the embarrassment of such unyielding rhetoric always precedes. Facing a Republican Congressional base recalcitrant over Bush’s tacit support of a mixed approach of cutting spending but raising taxes to pay for Reagan’s $220 billion deficit, the president was forced to sign a bill crafted and passed by the Democratic majority of both chambers that focused more heavily on tax increases.

The Bible is full of truisms, and sayeth, “Pride goeth before a fall” – Proverbs 16:18. Clinton, the Great Talker, beat Bush of a second term, and everyone blamed 41’s RNC lips.

Bush signed a ceremonial version of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which facilitated what politicians, including his sweet-talking successor, hailed as a “liberalization” of markets. The law, which dissolved a number of tariffs and trade barriers between the three northernmost North American countries, has allowed large corporations to amass ever larger fortunes, a typical pitfall of regional trade agreements. That expansion predictably attended exploitation of the poverty endemic in such a developing country as Mexico, contributing to worsening squalor.

But his administration’s biggest economic eulogy would write itself militarily. It was his martial guard, much of which he picked up from the Reagan administration (and in turn bequeathed his son), that began to formulate and codify the notion of a perpetual war economy. On the surface, Bush’s military ventures were either self-serving or foolish or both, and always catastrophic. In December 1989, the same year Bush took office, Bush’s Defense Secretary, Yertle the Turtle, noticed a game brewing down south in America’s imperial-corporate corridor, Panama. According to Cheney’s http://www.defense.gov profile:

Panama, controlled by General Manuel Antonio Noriega, the head of the country’s military, against whom a U.S. grand jury had entered an indictment for drug trafficking in February 1988, held Cheney’s attention almost from the time he took office. Using economic sanctions and political pressure, the United States mounted a campaign to drive Noriega from power. In May 1989 after Guillermo Endara had been duly elected president of Panama, Noriega nullified the election outcome, incurring intensified U.S. pressure on him. In October Noriega succeeded in quelling a military coup, but in December, after his defense forces shot a U.S. serviceman, 24,000 U.S. troops invaded Panama. Within a few days they achieved control and Endara assumed the presidency. U.S. forces arrested Noriega and flew him to Miami where he was held until his trial, which led to his conviction and imprisonment on racketeering and drug trafficking charges in April 1992.

All true, but the Establishment writer hood who penned this article neglected to note some important context. According to this quick Guardian rundown, in the years leading to his ouster, Noriega had served the U.S. government well by facilitating its war against the socialist Sandinista government in Nicaragua.

Why, after all, wouldn’t we fight against socialism in our backyard? The Sandinistas established high literacy rates, universal health care and gender equality. So Reagan sold arms to Iran against its own policy and used the revenue to fund the Contras’ kidnap, rape, mutilation and murder of Nicaraguan civilians to spread capitalism. Human Rights Watch reported: “This is an important change from a human rights perspective, because the contras were major and systematic violators of the most basic standards of the laws of armed conflict, including by launching indiscriminate attacks on civilians, selectively murdering non-combatants, and mistreating prisoners.” But, hey, Reagan was an affable guy, so what the hell? But that’s a deep rabbit-hole.

The point is, we the taxpayers paid Noriega through the CIA because his military junta allowed the U.S. to gather intelligence on the Nicaraguan government from outposts on Panamanian soil. But when Noriega became too dangerous a political liability for even a United States Republican to support, the Bush administration came up with a number of reasons to suddenly halt support and CIA payments for Noriega. We invaded militarily and installed a leader we considered friendlier to American imperialist interests. The stated reasons were that Noriega’s military government threatened the lives of the 35,000 American citizens living in Panama; that Noriega somehow posed a threat to the Carter-Torrijos Treaty, which would give back the Panama Canal to Panama in 1999; that a cession of support would stanch the flow of narcotics through Panama. So Bush invaded Panama to extract the at-large Noriega and to install Guillermo Endara, who’d run unsuccessfully against Noriega in the previous election. During the month-long occupation in December 1989, 24 U.S. soldiers died, about 200 Panamanian soldiers lost their lives and an intensely argued-over number of Panamanian citizens were killed. The United States told us everything was OK because only a few hundred Panamanians died in the name of American fascism. Noriega’s associates claimed the number is much higher. Noriega was imprisoned in the U.S. and did nearly two decades of hard time in Florida. He has since been extradited about the globe, to France for murder and then to Panama for money laundering. According to the State Department, “Panama remains a transshipment crossroads for illicit trafficking due to its geographic location and the presence of the canal.” The people who died in the conflict, which the Bush administration called “Operation Just Cause,” are still dead.

Operation Just Cause was a simple jaunt into the by-then familiar territory of the Browner parts of the Western Hemisphere, where America had become very comfortable installing its own dictators and regressive capitalistic policies. (I’ll not go into the region’s entire history here, but I’ll suggest Naomi Klein’s “The Shock Doctrine.” It is fantastic journalism.)

The American intervention in the Middle East was, effectively if not intentionally, more ambitious. The Gulf War, known in Bush White House parlance as “Operation Desert Storm,” is seen in the nation’s classrooms through the lens of Official Narrative as the epitome of just intervention.

The Bush administration started marketing intervention in Iraq mainly as a necessary exercise of America’s moral authority in mitigating the human rights abuses perpetrated on Kurds and Iranians by Saddam Hussein’s military. Under that banner, the same one the next Bush would fly for Operation Iraqi Freedom, Western forces flew their terrifying planes and drove their mighty tanks in what became an iconic flexing of military muscle into the Iraqi desert, fighting, firing and bombing their way to Baghdad’s doorstep, but no farther.

In the end, it was simply a show of power. Why? Zinn writes:

Although in the course of the war Saddam Hussein has been depicted by U.S. officials and the press as another Hitler, the war ended short of a march into Baghdad, leaving Hussein in power. It seemed that the United States had wanted to weaken him, but not to eliminate him, in order to keep him as a balance against Iran. In the years before the Gulf War, the United States had sold Arms to both Iran and Iraq, at different times favoring one or the other as part of the traditional “balance of power” strategy.

Zinn and a number of other journalists and historians also write that U.S. involvement in the Gulf conflict was intended to help secure Bush a second term. But those two benefits were accompanied by a third, which represented what was truly at stake for American corporatism: Saudi oil. Tricky Dick Jr. met several times with King Fahd to assure him that, in exchange for permission to choreograph Operation Desert Storm from Saudi soil, Saddam would be no more. Of course, though Hussein would be weakened, his was not wrested until the younger Bush’s presidency. (Cheney, who for a time took the helm of one of biggest oil companies in the world, Halliburton, has since become a frequent houseguest in the Saudi caliphate, during his vice presidency, as well as more lately to discuss items that are unclear – you know, probably just catching up with old friends.)

But the bigger meaning of the Gulf War for many Iraqis, who were hardly liberated, was terror. According to Bloomberg Businessweek:

Although Cheney said shortly after the 1991 Gulf War that “we have no way of knowing precisely how many casualties occurred” during the fighting “and may never know,” Daponte had estimated otherwise: 13,000 civilians were killed directly by American and allied forces, and about 70,000 civilians died subsequently from war-related damage to medical facilities and supplies, the electric power grid, and the water system, she calculated.

In all, 40,000 Iraqi soldiers were killed in the conflict, she concluded, putting total Iraqi losses from the war and its aftermath at 158,000, including 86,194 men, 39,612 women, and 32,195 children.

The carnage was especially palpable in Fallujah, where military personnel I know, nearly a decade and a half later, yelled racial slurs against Iraqis as they loaded bombs bound for the city in 2004. As Jeremy Scahill writes in “Blackwater – The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army”:

During the 1991 Gulf War, Fallujah was the site of one of the single greatest massacres attributed to “errant” bombs during a war that was painted as the dawn of the age of “smart” weaponry. Shortly after 3:00 p.m. on the afternoon of February 13, 1991, allied war planes thundered over the city, launching missiles at the massive steel bridge crossing the Euphrates River and connecting Fallujah to the main road in Baghdad. Having failed to bring the bridge down, the planes returned to Fallujah an hour later. “I saw eight planes,” recalled an eyewitness. “Six of them were circling as if they were covering. The other two carried out the attack.” British Tornado warplanes fired off several of the much-vaunted laser-guided “precision” missiles at the bridge. But at least three missed their supposed target, and one landed in a residential area some eight hundred yards from the bridge, smashing into a crowded apartment complex and slicing through a packed marketplace. In the end, local hospital officials said more than 130 people were killed that day and some 80 others were wounded. Many of the victims were children. An allied commander, Capt. David Henderson, said the planes’ laser system had malfunctioned. “As far as we were concerned, the bridge was a legitimate military target,” Henderson told reporters. “Unfortunately, it looks as though, despite our best efforts, bombs did land in the town.” He and other officials accused the Iraqi government of publicizing the “errant” bomb as part of a propaganda war, saying, “We should also remember the atrocities committed by Iraq against Iran with chemical warfare and against [its] own countrymen, the Kurds.” As rescue workers and survivors dug through the rubble of the apartment complex and neighboring shops, one Fallujan shouted at reporters, “Look what Bush did! For him Kuwait starts here.”

Whether or not it was an “errant” bomb, for the decade that followed the attack, it was remembered in Iraq as a massacre and would shape the way Fallujans later viewed the invading U.S. forces under the command of yet another President Bush.

All that is, of course, not to mention the horrific Gulf War Syndrome, a nasty cocktail of symptoms like chronic fatigue, diarrhea and joint pain suffered by more than a third of the American veterans of that conflict. No one knows what caused it, but evidence suggests the U.S. military’s usage of chemicals in warfare and ancillary activity.

The Run of the Mill

I REALLY COULD go on about how horrible Bush senior was, but it’s depressing, so I’ll get to the point: Bush, like Nixon and Roosevelt, was typical. Before Bush, Harry Truman oversaw the respective 1953 and ‘54 CIA coups of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh, who’d pissed off British Petroleum when he tried to nationalize Iranian oil, and Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz Guzman, who’d made enemies with the United Fruit Company by challenging its agricultural monopoly in the country. These, which are far from the first American overthrows of foreign governments, were special because they helped establish the CIA as the go-to agency for installing Western democracies, or Western trade sanctuaries if we’re being honest, in foreign countries. Every president since has had a lot of fun with it.

The United States and its corporate fiends have invaded, staged military coups, financed the restructuring of leftist political and economic infrastructure by influencing academia, secretively installed dictators, sent conservative economic advisory groups or otherwise intervened in all 20 Latin American countries not owned by France but three: Venezuela, Paraguay and Colombia. The latter was the only Latin American country to support the second Bush administration’s war on terror.

Since the turn of the Twentieth Century, the United States has taken the Roosevelt Corollary and applied it worldwide. Just since 1945, the end of World War II, to say nothing of other types of meddling we love, the United States has bombed 17 countries not in our hemisphere. It wouldn’t be difficult to imagine that America, in its 237-year existence, has tried in some way to implement its corporatist itinerary in all 194 countries the State Department recognizes and the territories it claimed in its westward invasion of North America. We’re certainly not alone here; Great Britain is known to have invaded nine of 10 countries in the world.

Don’t look to the liberal wing for progress. After H.W., Clinton helped implement a large number of oppressive policies that, whether intentionally or not, appeased his corporate underwriters like the Martin Marietta Corporation. NAFTA ushered in pain for poor people and gain for the rich, widening the wealth gap. It also made it cheap and easy for multinationals to buy cheaper labor in other countries and to bring them home. His vast derivatives deregulation called the Commodities Futures Modernization Act, signed the year before he left office, helped Wall Street bankrupt America, a disaster for which liberals, sleight-of-tongue masters that they are, disingenuously blamed Bush. The legislation ensured Clinton fancy post-presidential digs doing what he did best: talking to cooing crowds from behind a lectern. He’s since advocated at elegant confabs a lower corporate tax rate in America.

W. – well, we all know about W., but Jonathan Chait of New York Magazine has an apt digest of just how much he sucked. Also, Rex Nutting, of The Wall Street Journal’s marketwatch.com puts it this way:

Bush had all the luck of Jimmy Carter, the attention to detail of Ronald Reagan, the adaptability of Lyndon Johnson, the abiding respect for the Constitution of Richard Nixon, the humility of Teddy Roosevelt, the rhetorical skills of Calvin Coolidge, the fiscal restraint of Franklin Roosevelt, the cronyism of Warren Harding, and the overreaching idealism of Woodrow Wilson.

Of course, the newest denizen of the white monstrosity at the exchange of Money and Power is no better. The wealth gap is huge, bigger than at any time under Bush. Obama has, in his latest grand statement on the matter, sworn fealty to those looking to boost their corporate profits by exacerbating climate change – the proliferation of natural gas – and failed to mention the real clincher with climate change: that we must, must, make some cessions in our standard of living if we are to solve the climate crisis. Yes, it’s a signature issue, and yes, he’s botching it. His justice department is wasting vast amounts of public money in going rabidly after drugs – a nice way of saying it’s going rabidly after young black men, who Obama was, as he notes, 35 years ago – while ignoring the systemic causes of America’s drug problems. And of course, Obama has expanded nearly every Bush national security program that he promised to scale back during his campaigns. Obama’s military-industrial complex is doing just fine, thank you.

A short jaunt into the test-beds of economic reductionism would have you otherwise believe, but capitalism in America is not on the downswing. It’s being codified in our nation’s infrastructure by the very corporations it benefits, written parasitically in the American government to where we can’t tell where one begins and the other ends. Republicans might sound a little crazier, but it’s happening on both ends of the political spectrum.

Capitalism: The Auction-Block of Government

The first Bush may have sat a little more to the right of most Democrats, but not by much and only in symbolic ways. Clinton expanded his policies. Bush Jr. combined those policies with Dick Cheney’s dream of privatization of services that are, by their very essence, meant to administered publicly; they’re too important, as journalist Naomi Klein says, to leave to a marketplace that has fickle loyalties except when it comes to commerce. Because when you take away the notion of such services as fundamentally public enterprises, the administration thereof is no longer accountable to the public it affects. Corporations are just doing what corporations do so they’re also immune to criticism.

Scahill writes of former spy Robert Richer, who was later CEO of Total Intelligence, one of the many private security contractors that were so successful by Bush’s war on terror:

In 2007 Richer told [The Washington] Post that now that he is in the private sector, foreign military officials and others are more willing to give him information than they were when he was with the CIA. He recalled a conversation with a general from a foreign military during which Richer was surprised at the potentially “classified” information the general revealed. When Richer asked why the general was giving him the information, he said the general responded, “If I tell it to an embassy official I’ve created espionage. You’re a business partner.”

Privatization of government takes away the public element, and the public is no longer a shareholder. He’s simply an onlooker, blind until it he’s been fleeced and the thief has made off through a labyrinth of corporate alleyways with booty of public treasure. And maybe that’s the point. Maybe the Cheneys and Bushes and Rumsfelds and Bremers, the Obamas and Clintons and Pelosis and Reids are needy in their own way: they need the needy to disappear, sequestered to scrap squabbles among themselves, biting at each others’ throats, as the diminishing middle class does at the jugular of the burgeoning poor, while the bourgeoisie leans back in a lawn chair next to a temperature-regulated pool with an umbrella-capped cocktail, and watches.

But then again, we’re not just bystanders. Bystanders have a responsibility to intervene, which we’ve abdicated to many of the very structures – government-funded watchdog groups and corporate media – that dangle the scraps. We squander rare opportunities to right ourselves when independent groups of intellectuals warn something’s really wrong. We distain intellectualism, we bristle at facts, we kill the messenger. That revulsion informs our worldview. We trust gut feelings that the earth self-heals from the worst wounds so can leave the light on. We let our most venal, reflexive proclivities get the best of us, and always when it’s most important that we don’t.

Historically, Americans have supported efforts to advance Western imperialism. By propping the power structures, we desperately cling, with brittle fingernails, to the idea that if we scrape by, take our lumps, until such time as we can win the Powerball or patent one of those ideas rolling about our brains, we’ll not have to worry anymore. Don’t fret, Margaret, I’ll be coming into some money, soon. It’s stimulated by America’s profound flaw, the alcoholic’s penchant to “never trust a man who doesn’t drink.” David Simon called it the “callow insecurity that accompanies any cry of ‘America, right or wrong’ or ‘America, love it or leave it.’”

In his sweeping novel, “East of Eden,” John Steinbeck wrote of the attitude of residents of his home region, the Salinas Valley, during World War I toward an innocent sad old German man who’d migrated to the valley and had a thick accent, and others:

One Saturday night, they collected in a bar and marched in a column of fours out Central Avenue, saying, “Hup! Hup!” in unison. They tore down Mr. Fenchel’s white picket fence and burned the front of his house. No Kaiser-loving son of a bitch was going to get away with it with us. And then Salinas could hold up its head with San Jose.

Of course that made Watsonville get busy. They tarred and feathered a Pole they thought was a German. He had an accent.

We of Salinas did all of the things that are inevitably done in a war, and we thought the inevitable thoughts. We screamed over good rumors and died of panic at bad news. Everybody had a secret he had to spread obliquely to keep its identity as a secret. Our pattern of life changed in the usual manner. Wages and prices went up. A whisper of shortage caused us to buy and store food. Nice quiet ladies clawed one another over a can of tomatoes.

This is just how we collectively act toward brown people after 9/11. It’s how we act toward everyone who looks similar to a person who’s done something wrong. It’s how we act toward people who look like those our betters have told us have done something wrong, even when they haven’t.

All leaders named above, and every president not named, and the vast majority, with a few notable exceptions, of their cabinet members, have always worked in the interest of parasitic corporations or an arcane bourgeoisie before they’ve worked in the interest of the body politic that voted them into office, and they’re praised for it. It’s written dramatically, and with a certain degree of permanence, into revisionist grade- and high-school curricula.

Zinn writes:

The treatment of heroes (Columbus) and their victims (the Arawaks) – the quiet acceptance of conquest and murder in the name of progress – is only one aspect of a certain approach to history, in which the past is told from the point of view of governments, conquerors, diplomats, leaders. It is as if they, like Columbus, deserve universal acceptance, as if they – the Founding Fathers, Jackson, Lincoln, Wilson, Roosevelt, Kennedy, the leading members of Congress, the famous Justices of the Supreme Court – represent the nation as a whole. The pretense is that there really is such a thing as “the United States,” subject to occasional conflicts and quarrels, but fundamentally a community of people with common interests. It is as if there really is a “national interest” represented in the Constitution, in territorial expansion, in the laws passed by Congress, the decisions of the courts, the development of capitalism, the culture of education and the mass media.

You’d almost prefer apathy in public school education, if only so the lies go in one ear and out the other, wasted in the winds, and death would be by pure complacency and not the worse thing we have.

All the problems engendered by this modus revolve around one concept: our addiction to capitalism. Every significant military- and foreign policy-based action taken by the United States – with very few exceptions, like the American signing of the Geneva Conventions or our participation, hesitant and ceremonial though it always is, in intergovernmental firesides on how to deal with climate change – are in the interest of expanding American market share in the world economy. It’s always about money. We measure American vitality always against the size of our marketplace with manic, nebulous metrics like gross domestic product, jobless claims and fluctuations in the economic confidence index. We measure these instead of the vibrancy of our culture or the conditions under which we are truly happy or the quality of our compassion toward one another. Money has come to embody our culture, our happiness, our compassion – there is nothing outside of it. Otherwise happy couples divorce over it, and the prescription always comes down to personal frugality: Do well by your money, and you’ll be happy; do poorly by it, and no matter how well you handle  other aspects of life, you’ll be screwed. “Money makes the world go ‘round,” they tell us, and we smile and unquestioningly nod. The more fundamental question of whether we should have a social system with money as its foundation – especially the one of which Americans have proven themselves to be incredibly poor, egocentric and greedy stewards – is never asked, never thought of.

This frenzied, rabid struggle for money above all things necessitates the mistreatment of others. Take climate change. The conservative establishment, in its never-ending lip service to deregulation, must deny the fact of human-caused temperature shifts. If they don’t, they’ll be forced to admit the problem requires regulation, which threatens not only the profits of their biggest investors, but their religious and social views. Klein addressed the drop of late in public belief that global warming exists, and that if it does it is caused by humans, in a recent interview with PBS’s Bill Moyers:

Climate change is, I would argue, the greatest single free-market failure. This is what happens when you don’t regulate corporations and you allow them to treat the atmosphere as an open sewer. So it isn’t just, OK the fossil fuel companies want to protect their profits; it’s that this science threatens a worldview. And when you dig deeper, when you drill down into those statistics about the drop in belief in climate change, what you see is that Democrats still believe in climate change in the 70th percentile. That whole drop-off in belief has happened on the right side of the political spectrum. … People who have very strong conservative political beliefs cannot deal with this science because it threatens everything else they believe.

To keep the status quo, we’ll drown nations. Climate is only the most important thing, but we have backups. We’ll also go after national heroes, telling them they’ve aided and abetted the enemy, for whatever that’s worth. We wield the traitor brush as if it’s some original, profound and horrifying observation that, holy shit, terrorists are able to buy technology that connects them to the leaked information. So I’d love to know precisely why, since Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden and Julian Assange represent such a boon for terrorists, litigators have not illustrated any specific instances in which terrorists used the information the leakers disclosed to conduct violence. The truth is, establishment forces must do everything they can to degrade efforts at transparency because they portend public dissent against the war machine and its surveillance state.

Even so, we turn blind eyes, toe the party line and vote for whom the media expects us to. But the culprit of our social ills is quite clear when the backrooms in which our laws are written are monitored by the most courageous journalists.

Why Socialism?

The next leap is to identify a way to neutralize the problem. A number of philosophers and writers look to the historical precedent of nations that have been successful – at least to the point America or another Western empire has intervened – in their experiments with egalitarianism.

These people are quickly written off by conservative intellectuals in palpable ways.

Read Steven Plaut, a professor of economics at Israel’s University of Haifa. He wrote in 2011 in Frontpage Mag – whose online flag motto ominously warns, “Inside Every Liberal Is A Totalitarian Screaming to Get Out” – about Scandinavian countries, which are upheld by liberals as examples of good socialism. He says Scandinavia has low rates of poverty not because it is relatively socialistic, but because Scandinavians, almost as a rule, are stalwart partisans of parsimony, and they put their fine backs and strong shoulders to good work, producing capital:

The interesting question is whether the low poverty rates there are thanks to the economic system or thanks to Scandinavians being hard-working thrifty disciplined people.  That Scandinavians are hard-working is evident from the fact that in spite of enormous benefits in Sweden for the unemployed and for those who do not work, creating incentives to avoid work, Sweden has a labor force participation rate that is one of the highest in Europe.

One way to test our question is to examine Scandinavians who do not live in Scandinavia.  There is a large Scandinavian population that lives in the bad-old-selfish-materialist-capitalist United States.  Well, it turns out that Scandinavians living under its selfish capitalism also have remarkably low poverty rates.  Economists Geranda Notten and Chris de Neubourg have studied Scandinavians living in the US and in Sweden and compared their poverty rates.  They estimate the poverty rate for Scandinavians living in the United States as 6.7%, half that of the general U.S population.  Using measures and definitions of poverty like those used in the US, the same analysts calculate the poverty rate in Sweden using the American poverty threshold as an identical 6.7% (although it was 10% using an alternative measure).   So low poverty among Scandinavians seems to be because Scandinavians work, whether or not Scandinavian “socialism” can be said to work.

But Plaut’s thesis rings hollow – as do those that logically flow from it – when you work past the conceit in his theorem.

To say that poverty is low in Scandinavia simply because Scandinavians have an excellent work ethic, which I’m sure they do, is to say that America has a higher poverty rate because the people who fall into that category are moochers. But more than 90 percent of entitlement benefits meant for the poor in America go to the elderly, most of whom worked until late in life, to the disabled or to working families. An infinitesimal portion of benefits in America go to people who drift on the waves of the social welfare system. Perhaps the Swedes work hard because they have productive socially administered means of procuring decent employment. This contrasts the vast – sometimes unquantifiable because many of these budgets are “dark” – amount of American taxpayer money that goes toward subsidies, for example, to the war machine, the oil industry or the health care apparatus.

Plaut examines a number of statistics about poverty among migrants – Scandinavians who travel to America and don’t fall into the poverty trap, while “moochers” to Scandinavia’s south travel to Scandinavia and still live in squalor. But he fails to notice the dynamic of white gentry that feeds poverty in racially diverse countries like the U.S. or most European countries. Scandinavia has an incredibly homogenous population. According to the CIA, the resident population of Finland is 93.4 percent Finn and 5.6 percent Swede; Norway is 94.4 percent Norwegian; and according to Eurostat, Sweden is 87.7 percent Swede. In America, Whites face far less hardship in finding jobs than their ethnic counterparts. Historically, American policy has also disproportionately favored whites in building a base for success – in acquiring a set of bootstraps by which to pull themselves up. For example, post-Civil War Scandinavian immigrants used the federal homestead acts, which gave portions of public land to private homesteaders but originally excluded blacks, to found their successful futures. It would be reductive to say Scandinavia is without race problems. Indeed, it needs profound self-reflection to right many ethnic wrongs. But America has a far more racially divided history than Scandinavia, and if you’ve been reading the front pages, racism in America is not over by a long shot. Read in this light, Plaut’s column becomes a disingenuous denial of the existence of the American poverty trap, especially in ethnic communities.

Plaut cites a nationmaster.com digest of poverty statistics by country that focuses on the percentage of the population that lives below the poverty line, ranked from the highest poverty rates to the lowest. He notes that Switzerland, a capitalist paradise (which, incidentally, provides universal health care and requires many of its men to own a gun), comes in at 146 of 153, beating out all Scandinavian countries. But he fails to note that Switzerland is beaten by three positions by notoriously socialist Ireland, whose government controls health care, education, banks and many businesses and whose public spending policies are credited with a turnaround from its recent economic recession. The rest of Switzerland’s successors are an amalgam of different types of economies of France, Austria, Malaysia, Lithuania, China and Taiwan. It seems Switzerland is, in a way, its own Plaut anathema. Maybe he needs a different yardstick. Indeed, let’s talk other metrics of success, like free access to good health care and education, excellent job benefits like mandatory maternity leave, and 100 percent literacy rates – all proven corollaries for better economic vitality. Maybe those, when juxtaposed against the abysmal records in the United States would be convincing.

Twice in the column, Plaut writes about real evidence of social dynamics in real places as if they existed in a hypothetical universe, a typical obfuscation tactic for those on the right. He notes the inconsistent protocol across different economies of measuring poverty, which could suggest poverty measured by different standards might mean Scandinavia has a higher poverty rate than it had seemed when viewed through a more Western lens. He writes:

The definition of ‘poverty’ and its measurement are both highly problematic, and both vary dramatically, making inter-country comparisons difficult. In all countries there are serious problems with the measures. Wealthy people are sometimes counted as part of the population below the poverty line, as long as their current income happens to be low.  Examples are retired people and students.  The poverty statistics are based on reported incomes, meaning that lots of people living high on the hog are counted as poor because they do not report their income at all to the tax authorities, earning income from the “shadow economy.”  Poverty is generally measured by income, not consumption.  It is often measured as a percent of median income, not by material hardship, or by the rather silly “Gini coefficient.”  If every single person discovered a petroleum well in his yard, poverty rates would not change much.

OK, Justice Scalia, poverty statistics are flawed – just like any other type. That’s why studies based on data and statistics have error margins. But by Plaut’s logic, Scandinavia might also have a smaller poverty rate, relative to Western countries, than reported. If we’re calling the statistical accuracy of the evidence upon which we base our suppositions into question, why bother to make a conclusion in the first place?

Here, too, we find the same problem: Scandinavian countries, while far more socially progressive than many other Western democracies, are as Plaut points out not at all entirely socialistic. He seems to allude, by citing Scandinavians critical of socialism, that if corporations Scandinavia were on an even longer leash, poverty might be completely eliminated. Again, we must lean on the if-then-might argument to mollify our absence of science, in which the opposite conclusion is equally valid.

All this leads to a magnificent crescendo in the interest of discrediting socialism, and it’s a common conservative talking point on Scandinavia: “The conclusion can only be one thing.  The low poverty rate among Scandinavians in Scandinavian countries is thanks to the fact that Scandinavians work.  It is NOT because socialism works!”

Plaut separates Scandinavia as an aberration of the philosophy: Scandinavians are nothing like those goddamn Browns who tried to run their own countries to America’s south and to Asia’s west. They don’t, somehow, look to mooch off the waning faction of their society that produces the wealth.

The conservatives are perplexed; how does this work? The conclusion can only be one thing …

And, boom and bust, on we go.

This hypothesis ignores that Venezuela’s Chavez, Chile’s Allende, Iran’s Mosaddegh, and so on and so forth brought their people up from poverty, establishing vibrant local economies at the loss of multinational corporations. They placed the ownership of their countries back in the hands of the people. America neutralized or ostracized them. Where we could, we showed up with squadrons of militants to hack the head off socialist Hydra and conservative philosophers cauterized the wound. We never let true socialism work, and where we couldn’t help it, isolated it like a leper. So, Dr. Plaut, we can’t say it doesn’t work. And by any remote indication, it would work far less destructively than the corporatism upon which we base our lives.

But Plaut’s only the mainstream; the tributaries of capitalism touch all the backwoods indigenous who like to think themselves populist, while railing Occupy Wall Street and its “orgies in the street” Glenn Beck’s henchmen swear they saw. The arguments against socialism from conservatives of every type, even the humanitarians, abound.

Men and women, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, whites, LBGT people, old and young alike should have the freedom to work hard in the craft of their choice, while making meaningful contributions to society. That’s the libertarian argument against socialism for capitalism. We should rely solely on charity and church to mitigate poverty or sooth mental illness; they’ll get it done faster and at half the cost. They say the simple liberalization of markets – the abolition of government, if we’re blunt about it – would hand power back to the people and eliminate the problems our form of government poses. It’s true that pure liberalization of the marketplace would jettison the festering sinkhole of corporate welfare, but that’s as far as it would go. We’d hope some group of wealthy eccentrics would be crazy enough to put up the billions to maintain and revise the transportation system. We’d cross our fingers, wait for publicly funded projects like the Internet to be realized. We’d wonder, if only there were a mechanism for corporate oversight, companies might face consequences when they dump cyanide in water supplies, to enslave children under the pretense of lifting them from poverty, to indiscriminately harvest whatever they feel necessary to bolster the bottom line. I’m not writing in hypotheticals or hyperbole. Multinationals do this as second nature in other countries, where every day is a tax holiday, every worker is low-wage and every river is a sewer.

Still others say socialism is the problem, that America’s pendulum is stuck left. This argument, often made in depressingly vapid earnest, is formulated from a fundamental misunderstanding of the basic definitions of economic philosophies. Consider this pearl of prose from American Thinker. Peter Ferrara founds his entire hypothesis on and frames all his dubious data in the notion that Barry is a Marxist, Red as they come. Perhaps Ferrara should buy a dictionary and reference it when thinking about going to work.

I’ll use the same example to which most neoconservatives first turn when they call Obama a socialist: the Affordable Care Act or “Obamacare,” a law originally dreamed up by a consortium of conservative economists. Former health care executive J.D. Kleinke explains in The New York Times:

The president’s program extends the current health care system — mostly employer-based coverage, administered by commercial health insurers, with care delivered by fee-for-service doctors and hospitals – by removing the biggest obstacles to that system’s functioning like a competitive marketplace.

Chief among these obstacles are market limitations imposed by the problematic nature of health insurance, which requires that younger, healthier people subsidize older, sicker ones. Because such participation is often expensive and always voluntary, millions have simply opted out, a risky bet emboldened by the 24/7 presence of the heavily subsidized emergency room down the street. The health care law forcibly repatriates these gamblers, along with those who cannot afford to participate in a market that ultimately cross-subsidizes their medical misfortunes anyway, when they get sick and show up in that E.R. And it outlaws discrimination against those who want to participate but cannot because of their medical histories. Put aside the considerable legislative detritus of the act, and its aim is clear: to rationalize a dysfunctional health insurance marketplace.

This explains why the health insurance industry has been quietly supporting the plan all along. It levels the playing field, expanding the potential market by tens of millions of new customers. Hardly a government takeover of health care. Basically, the law simply ensures the health insurance industry a clientele by requiring Americans to buy its product with the compromise that health insurers can’t refuse anyone, without addressing the real problem in American health care of rampant price gouging in health care administration. Corporate welfare, fascism Western style, at its finest.

The conservatives use climate change as another non-starter for progress. Obama’s vaunted speech on the world’s biggest problem was predictably maligned by the crazies not as being too timid, but as being too aggressive, even though the president, like he did with health care, basically promised the fossil fuel industry a windfall in moving forward.

Under guise of progress, such is Obama Policy.

This is the opposite of socialism, which is defined by Encyclopedia Britannica as “social and economic doctrine that calls for public rather than private ownership or control of property and natural resources.” Meaning not that everyone would own each other’s furniture, but that everyone would own a say in the way the most important resources – like water and food and energy, education and information and health care – are gathered and distributed.

Of course, like any ideology, the idea of socialism deserves criticism, and it can’t be realized without generous flexibility. But the argument isn’t to nitpick the particulars of history, in which, yes, many evil men have used the pretext of socialism to establish one-man rule. It’s to bring the definition of society back to its roots, to redistribute ownership and stewardship of public domain from the hands of a wealthy few and back to the public. This requires reflection and acknowledgement of socialism’s flaws.

Responsible socialism would not aim to completely eliminate poverty and all other social ills, like Plaut says proponents of socialism claim. The best socialists do not claim this. Responsible gun control activists say their proposals would reduce gun violence as it has done in many other countries instead of eliminate it; socialists would simply reduce poverty and other dangerous social paradigms, while implementing safety mechanisms for those who fall through the cracks.

No sane person argues for a rigid economy that is planned down to the cent in every respect. Naomi Klein notes that, though she indicts free-market philosophy with her journalism, she doesn’t think a fundamentalist socialist economy would work:

I think that mixed economies work better than a fundamentalist market system. And I’m not a utopian, and I don’t believe that it’s perfect, and there’s still gonna be violence, there’s still gonna be repression, there’s still gonna be poor people. But by acceptable U.N. measures of a standard of living, what we see is countries that have a mixed economy, i.e. have markets, people are able to go shopping … but also have social protections that identify areas that are too important to leave to the market – whether it’s education, health care – the minimal standard of life that everybody must have.

Under socialism, where we the people own the information, where we own the government, Nixon would have been rightly castigated and jailed for withholding the conversations on Camp David tapes from the public. No salute at his funeral barked from steel and gunpowder would have been tolerated. The backroom deal Obama struck with the health insurance industry’s top lobbyist to require Americans to buy insurance in exchange for its support for the Affordable Care Act would have been subject to scrutiny and criticism beforehand, and a decision made among the masses. Ed Snowden and Bradley Manning, possibly the two most important public servants, would not be in their respective hiding place and prison cell for exposing the corruption they did.

The world is not perfect; it never will be. That’s why Zinn places an asterisk on straight utopianism. He makes perhaps the most eloquent argument for an egalitarian society, a redistribution of true wealth – not of those small encoded green sheets of paper apart from which most Americans are so enslaved they can’t imagine a United States, but the power with which to oversee our own policymaking, absent the festering corporate influence that has diseased our polity:

With the Establishment’s inability either to solve severe economic problems at home or manufacture abroad a safety valve for domestic discontent, American’s might be ready to demand not just more tinkering, more reform laws, another reshuffling of the same deck, another New Deal, but radical change. Let us be utopian for a moment so that when we get realistic again it is not that “realism” so useful to the Establishment in its discouragement of action, that “realism” anchored a certain kind of history empty of surprise. Let us imagine what radical change would require of us all.

The society’s levers of power would have to be taken away from those whose drives have led to the present state – the giant corporations, the military, and their politician collaborators. We would need – by a coordinated effort of local groups all over the country – to reconstruct the economy for both efficiency and justice, producing in a cooperative way what people need most. We would start on our neighborhoods, our cities, our workplaces. Work of some kind would be needed by everyone, including people now kept out of the work force – children, old people, “handicapped” people. Society could use the enormous energy now idle, the skills and talents now unused. Everyone could share the routine but necessary jobs for a few hours a day, and leave most of the time free for enjoyment, creativity, labors of love, and yet produce enough for an equal and ample distribution of goods. Certain things would be abundant enough to be taken out of the money system and be available – free – to everyone: food, housing, health care, education, transportation.

Socialism pits the compassion against the egoisms of capitalism that inform and perpetuate our status quo. If we could take a deep breath and think big toward the fellow man, then equality, literacy, free education, happiness, et al. could win out over hierarchy, corporate welfare, money, patriarchy.

Socialism, if we let it, would neutralize the mechanisms of manipulation and obfuscation by which we’ve accrued our distresses at the intersection of money and power by entrusting the traffic direction of both vast avenues with the people.

It could provide an administrative infrastructure and an existential tolerance to relieve the problems of socioeconomic stratification our brothers and sisters face daily.

It would create an environment in which we could mobilize ourselves to solve the biggest challenges we face, most notably climate change.

Most importantly, it could pit our honesty against our addiction. Like the alcoholic who’s quit drinking, but is in a perpetual state of getting better, we could stop lying to ourselves.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. All this requires a structural overthrow. I hope I’m there to chronicle that battle.

The Science of Mass Destruction – An Excerpt on Dresden

It’s not an exact one, but in the War, the Germans and Britons both put some enterprising research into it. Here’s British historian David Irving, on the impetus for strengthening the Royal Air Force as the Germans had been destroying British resource and culture for months. Accounted in “The Destruction of Dresden – The Most Appalling Air Attack of WW II,” 1963, this is the context in which the British, before American intervention the World War II, recognized its shortcomings in 1941 and began readying its air force for the horrific Allied attack that reduced the peaceful, historic city, one of the most beautiful in the world, to utter rubble after the Allied Forces had already essentially won the war. (A quick Google search of Irving reveals him as a supporter of Hitler and a Holocaust denier. Read on in caution. Also, pardon the antiquated British syntax and grammar):

Chapter II – BOMBER COMMAND GETS ITS TEETH

For Bomber Command and the British Prime Minister the truth about the inaccuracy of their offensive hitherto had dawned slowly, and was revealed to them completely and unambiguously on the date that the private secretary to Professor Lindemann, Mr. David Bensusan-Butt, reported back to Bomber Command: 18th August 1941. Mr. Butt had been shown the entire collection of the R.A.F.’s bombing photographs during a private visit to the Photographic Reconnaissance Unit’s base at R.A.F. Medmenhan, soon after Christmas 1940; the officers who had made the collection fully realised their significance, and saw that while some senior officers had at first refused to believe the evidence of the cameras, there was a possibility of bringing them to the attention of the Government through Professor Lindemann’s secretary. As a direct consequence of his private report to this professor, Mr. Butt was commissioned to analyse the photographs statistically.

The Butt Report, submitted in August 1941 and presented in melancholy detail, finally confirmed what the neutral free Press abroad had been proclaiming for a year about the impotence of the British bomber force. Of all aircraft reported as having attacked their targets, only one-third had in fact bombed within five miles; on well-defended inland targets like the Ruhr industrial complex, the success rating sagged to below one-tenth within five miles. It was clearly unrealistic to require Bomber Command to continue to attempt precision night attacks until electronic equipment like that of the German groups was available at least to a part of the Command’s aircraft.

On 9th July 1941 Air Marshall N. H. Bottomley, the Deputy Chief of the Air Staff, issued the first of his many Directives to the A.O.C.-in-C. of Bomber Command, at that time still Air Marshal Sir Richard Peirse:

I am directed to inform you that a comprehensive review of the enemy’s political, economic and military situation discloses that the weakest points in his armour lie in the morale of the civil population and in his inland transportation system.

The main effort of the bomber force, until further instructions, was to be directed towards dislocating the German transportation system and to destroying the morale of the civil population as a whole. Peirse was left in no doubt as to how he was to achieve this. As primary targets for the attack he was allocated Cologne, Duisburg, Dusseldorf and Duisburg-Ruhrort, ‘all suitable for attack on moonless nights, as they lie in congested industrial towns, where the psychological effect will be the greatest’.

We must first destroy the foundations upon which the [German] war machine rests – the economy which feeds it, the morale which sustains it, the supplies which nourish it, and the hopes of victory which inspire it.

The above extract of the Chiefs of Staff memo, 31st July 1941, heralded the approach of the area offensive; January 1943 Casablanca Directive was barely more than an extension in bolder language of this policy.

An attack on enemy morale, however, required new techniques: an Air Staff memo to Bomber Command commented in September 1941 that the conclusion was irresistible ‘that the greater damage achieved by the enemy is caused by incendiarism’. While Luftwaffe in its attacks on British towns was on occasions dropping 60 percent of its bomb load as incendiaries. Bomber Command never exceeded 30 percent. German practices in achieving terroristic aims was to lead off attacks with waves of fire-raising aircraft, dropping incendiaries in a greater volume than the fire services could master – then to follow up with waves of bombers cascading high explosive bombs into the target; these clearly were factors which Bomber Command could profitably imitate. The high explosive bombs, in bursting water mains, would aid and amplify the devastation wrought by the incendiaries. But in 1941 Bomber Command still had no bombs more massive 500-pounders available, and there was little incentive to develop larger weapons.

Experiments conducted in late 1941 by Professor S. Zuckerman as leader of the Oxford Extramural Unit, and which first came to the public notice as the result of a question in the House of Commons, demonstrated that German bombs, weight for weight, were about twice as efficient as British bombs: furthermore, by detonating standard British 500-pound General Purpose bombs among live goats staked out at various angles in a deep pit, he was able to deduce that ‘the lethal pressure for man was between 400 and 500 pounds per square inch’; cross checks with air raids on British cities showed this estimate to be of the right order. Previously, the lethal pressure had been placed at around 5 pounds per square inch.

Again, the pressure necessary to cause minimal pulmonary damage in man was empirically placed at 70 pounds per square inch; finally, referring to Professor J. D. Bernal’s survey of casualties in German air raids, Professor Zuckerman emphasised  that only a small percentage were so close to the bombs that they received direct injuries from the blast wave. Professor Zuckerman was thus able to forecast the average number of casualties which would occur if one ton of bombs were dropped on one square mile of territory of given population density; ‘the results of these investigations’, a post-war Stationery Office pamphlet on Operational Research relates, ‘became a guide to future bombing policy’. Curiously, although Professor Zuckerman and his team investigated both blast and splinter effects – the latter by firing high-velocity steel balls into rabbits’ legs – no Government scientist investigated the lethality of bombs from the aspect of smoke and gas poisoning which, as we shall come to see, resulted in the raids analysed in this book in at least seventy percent of all fatalities.

At this point these macabre calculations were taken up by an Admiralty expert on Operational Research, Professor P. M. S. Blackett:

Static detonation trials showed that the British General Purpose bombs then in use were about half as effective as the German light-case [i.e. blast] bombs of the same weight. In the ten months from August 1940 to June 1941 the total weight of bombs dropped on the United Kingdom was about 50,000 tons; the number of persons killed was 40,000, giving a 0.8 killed per ton of bombs.

Thus, reasoned Blackett, given the lower efficiency of R.A.F. as well as its inferior weapons, we might hope to kill 0.2 Germans per ton of British bombs dropped. As he had already showed that the loss of industrial production … and civilian casualties … were about proportional’, he implied by his calculations that continuation of the R.A.F.’s area offensive was futile.

But if Professors Blackett and Zuckerman expected the Air Staff to  heed their pessimistic calculations, and to divert industrial resources to an attack on the enemy’s submarines – both were noted opponents of the area offensive – they were disappointed.  Their calculations, and many others by similarly inclined scientists, were used only as an argument for more power weapons and better instrumentation of Bomber Command.

Confusion: The New American Set of Mind (And a Way to Fix It)

The front page of The Virginian-Pilot on Tuesday, Nov. 20, featured as its signature flag photograph a sweeping panorama of a piece of land with maybe a few dozen buildings on it whose soil and structures flew hundreds of feet into the air in three spectacular explosions. The photograph, taken by The Associated Press, bore the cutline: “Smoke rises after an Israeli attack on Monday on what its military says are smuggling tunnels on the border between Egypt and Rafa, Gaza Strip.” Beneath the screaming title “HAMAS DARES ISRAEL TO INVADE” was a story written by The New York Times supporting that headline and elaborating on developments on the six-day-old conflict between the controversial political party, which governs the Gaza Strip, and Israel.

The paper was placed, as it is every day, on a shiny cherry tabletop in a nondescript conference room occupied by me and my fellows in a small holding company in Dam Neck. The Virginian-Pilot was subscribed to by a member of the chain of command; he would read it and then bring it back to the room for our information. Mostly, sailors in the holding company were interested in getting through the boring day unburdened by the mire of current events. They played with their cell phones, read fan-fiction on e-readers, stared blankly into the room’s carpet trying not to fall asleep. If they picked up the newspaper, it was to scan the horoscope or the comic strips. Occasionally, they’d read the articles, but not on Nov. 20.

I don’t want to paint U.S. Navy sailors as apathetic; many of them are not. Example: A week ago, I started my “C” school, where I’m learning how to use and maintain the fire control system I’ll be using on whatever ship I get orders to. One of the instructors in the school has come in twice to chat with us because he likes to get to know the students. Both times, he emphasized keeping up with current events. He talked about a 2010 Individual Augmentee tour, which is an assignment of typically dangerous duty, he did at the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He said if sailors volunteer for IA, they must be mentally fit. He told me people he worked with became terrorist sympathizers after their tour because they weren’t ready to handle the inevitable encounters with faces of terrorists.

“Don’t you read the news? Man, you need to keep up on your current events,” he shamed me when I told him I wasn’t aware of that trend. (I searched for stories on this, but couldn’t find anything that directly illustrated what he was talking about.)

Current events are important to some of us. But I couldn’t tell you the majority of sailors I encounter exhibit any proactive gathering of information to better inform their opinions; in my experience, the instructor, a second-class petty officer, is the exception to the rule.

But why should the sailors in the holding company have cared in that room? It was a peaceful place where those waiting for The Next Thing the Navy Has for Us received working assignments, attended medical and dental appointments, were informed that our orders had arrived and etc. etc. and so on and so forth. We were just doing what we were told. Most days, we sat there from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. We worked out in the mornings, preparing ourselves for physical fitness assessments.

On other days, we performed actual Navy work. On Nov. 20, four of us were assigned a working party on the east edge of base near the oceanfront in a cordoned off semicircle of sand dunes, which had grown thick with the stunted, tough vegetation of coastal highlands and sand dunes on the base. A few petty officers had been mowing down the brush with chainsaws and piling it next to a couple of beater trucks with government plates. The holding company sailors were tasked with putting the tangles of dead flora in the truck and carting them across the base to unload them into an industrial-size dumpster for disposal. The tough, gangly evergreens and spindly vines that had encased the hillside were covered in concentrated, dead sap and thorns that threatened to ruin our aquaflage Navy working uniforms, or NWUs, if we were not careful. We tossed the foliage in the dumpster, an 8-by-8-by-32-foot monstrosity, and clambered in from the truck bed rails to compact it, jumping up and down like maniacal cartoon characters.

The hill slowly balded, like an old man.

Toward the end of the day, a commander in NWUs drove up to the dumpster as a seaman and I unloaded our final flatbed load, in his big personal pickup truck and surveyed the scene. I saluted, “How’s it going, sir?” The seaman, popping his head out from behind one of the trucks, mistook the commander’s gold oak leaf signifying his rank as an officer for a chief petty officer’s gold anchor and failed to salute. I cringed; normally, that would mean a tongue lashing. But this commander seemed to be in a particularly good mood.

“How’s it going?” he said, ignoring the seaman’s breach of military courtesy and looking at the massive piles of brush we’d accumulated inside the dumpster and out. “You guys are doing a great job!”

“Thank you, sir,” I said.

Often in the Navy, it’s difficult to realize the purpose for which you’re doing a job. The seaman and I hadn’t known what the off-limits area we were clearing was used for. The commander told us he was pleased the operation was going smoothly because it was his task to ensure the hillside was clear for drills. The base tested its missiles over the hillside, firing them from land at mock targets over distant water. The trees and undergrowth on the on the dunes that presage the beach are a safety hazard because the flames from the passing missile’s propellant could lick the trees, setting them dangerously ablaze.

“Sometimes, [the missile] sags a little bit, and we don’t want to catch the hillside on fire,” he said.

He thanked us very much for helping out with a good attitude, even though we were from another department. “Many hands make light work; you ever hear that?” He said he hoped that one day we’d get to see the rockets being fired so we could appreciate why our work that day mattered in the Navy’s big picture. He said if it weren’t for training operations, the base would never know if its lines of defense would work in the event of an attack by “Syria or Lebanon.” You know, the crazy ragheads across the ocean. The entire seaboard is a border. Indeed, if the defense systems weren’t working and the base didn’t know about it, disaster would ensue.

The commander thanked us again, climbed back in his pickup truck and drove away.

After conversations like this, I always slip into deep contemplation of what America’s military installations would look like if we’d not had such a mind set to begin with. I should note that it would be incredibly naïve to think evil forces do not exist and to summarily extinguish our defense apparatus. But I wonder if, had we not involved ourselves quite so enthusiastically in the military conflicts of the past, we’d really need those off-limits zones. Maybe our stewardship of the land we presumptuously occupy would look much different. Maybe our efforts would be concentrated in strengthening the environment, rather than destroying little parts of it for training evolutions. Maybe we’d plant trees, instead of cut them down.

I’m sure if I brought up this line of thinking, They – the purveyors of pro-war propaganda, who, take note, span the party lines – would say that’s silly. The fact is, things are the way they are, whether or not we are in fact at fault for them, They’d say. They’re very good at spreading Their message, especially to young sailors, like the seaman and me. It’s built as fact around the preconceived notion that We Have to Protect Ourselves, when really, if our military structures didn’t exist in the supremely elevated way they do, we’d be focused on Bigger Things.

As I jumped up and down, crushing the last of the brush down into the pit of the dumpster, the commander backed his truck up again, and shot me a thumbs-up out his back window. I returned the gesture, and we went about our respective business.

I HAD BEEN working on this post for a couple of days, when I had to put it on hiatus because the Portsmouth Naval Medical Center told my pregnant wife they’d be inducing labor. Right now. It – the post, that is – was originally about American confusion about facts, something that is a bit of a theme here on the Hedge. It still is about that confusion. But the time that naturally elapsed between my becoming a parent and my caring about anything else in the world at all has clarified the issue for me pretty drastically.

My newborn daughter’s deep-blue eyes – whose color may well change several times – will never a see a pre-9/11 world like I did. She’ll never see a world in which the dialogue was quite as crisp and not as mottled by partisan rhetoric and the assumption of American Exceptionalism as it was when I was younger than 16. The political cacophony in which she’ll grow up, should she choose under my strong advice to be aware of it, will seem even louder and more confusing than the one in which we lived before those attacks. You see, the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Centers did more than kill almost 3,000 people and spark a yet-unfinished war between the United States of America and the enemies it had – and has since – created for itself. The terrorism of that moment – along with the Internet age and its allowed pundustry – paved the road to a befuddling discord among those who lead us in which the staunchest of either pole both tell us an insidious untruth: that there is a pool of only two from which to choose, and that those two radically different.

And we’re confused.

Of course, if you stop and think about it, that message’s dishonesty needs no deep investigation to confirm; both sides are public in stating they want the same thing for America – to be better than everyone else – and that they’ll reach them in not quite identical, but incredibly similar ways. We need to protect ourselves from terrorism. We need to secure America’s superiority over the rest of the world. We need to keep consuming and spending and we need to keep taxes lower and markets freer than they were when the American economy was far more prosperous and healthy. (Republicans will tell you Barack Obama wants to raise taxes, and he says he does on rich people. But this is a minor conflict; for all Obama’s rhetoric, he did in fact extend the Bush tax cuts and wants to again for all but the wealthiest. And it’s nothing compared with the systemic reduction in taxes paid by all Americans over the last three decades.) And we need to do all this by forcing our will upon others, mostly through military means.

This message is most recently grounded in the notion pushed by mainstream press, as well as fringe pundits and political operatives from both sides, that the recent presidential election was a victory for liberalism. The Republicans call it socialism, the Democrats call it common sense and true blue American values. Both are wrong. Sure, Obama’s victory keeps the American political trajectory slightly to the left on fiscal philosophy of what many Republicans would like. Sure, the election brought victories for same-sex marriage in four states. Sure, Washington and Colorado decriminalized marijuana (which helped solidify my schedule on my first few days after my Navy enlistment ends). Sure, we don’t have a granny-starver* for a president.

But while the election was a slight concession by the bat-shit apologists of reproductive science in federal and local governments, it was not a concession by the overall movement toward institutionalized corporate welfare and codified terrorism in and by the American government.

I knew Obama was going to win reelection. And after his administration’s handling of Hurricane Sandy and the praise from former Obama detractor and New Right Wing apostle, New Jersey Governor Chris Christy, that came in tow, I knew Obama was going to win. The New York Times’ Timothy Egan tells us it was A Liberal Moment. But Obama’s victory doesn’t represent a shift to the left in America any more than it discounts the following story. There’s this conceptual paradigm in politics you’re probably aware of: an ideological pendulum that swings from a pivot more or less secured in the colloquially accepted center of the ideological spectrum. When it swings too far right, the court of public opinion signifies the gravitational force that pulls it back to the left, and it works the other way around. But the concept operates partially on the flawed idea that the pivot is lodged solidly in that center. It’s not. While there have been political and civil rights victories for America’s proletariat over the last three decades, neoconservative forces have orchestrated a massive effort involving very large money from the corporate interests they represent to knock that pivot to the right. Basically, the new left is the old center right. The old left is radical. And the move is to a distorted right, not of the one of sensible fiscal conservatism. It’s the right of big government, the right of invading bedrooms and of nation building in the American image. It’s the right of sequestered civil rights and of corporate governance. It is the New Right Wing.

The shift was dictated in the public arena to loud cheers when Ronald Regan told the American people that “government is the problem.” And it comes most notably from, but is certainly not limited to, an increasingly strong narrative that started in the judicial and is seeping through the collective American psyche onto Facebook and Twitter, in angry, all-caps missives directed at the Muslim Socialist Antichrist too many Americans were too lazy to vote out of office. The narrative pegs corporations as people due rights to speak freely, own property and, essentially, to vote and shape policy by bankrolling the careers of America’s top politicians. The doctrine has proliferated, as political candidates further the message.

People like me complain, but it’s important to note that the trend is our fault as a plebs; in not catching these fuckers, we have allowed corporations to create a political framework on a federal level that is most beneficial to them. The Bush administration was a rat’s nest of nasty precedent for executive power and privilege. Which is why people got really excited about Barack Obama; after all, he promised all these great things, like politicians and the different branches of government working together again under a halo of transparency, bipartisanship and kumbaya.

But it has only gotten worse. Like a friend of mine noted on Facebook recently, it’s tough if not impossible to name one thing of George W. Bush that Obama has undone. Please do so in the comment board of this article, and I’ll be duly impressed. The infection has spread to all areas of governance and thought in America, creating philosophical environments among states, especially but not exclusively Southwestern states, that paved the way for successful public and private union busting, TABOR rules in Colorado and California that require elected officials to ask voters before they raise taxes, sinful ease in implementing citizen’s initiatives, secession initiatives filed with the federal government from every state after Obama was elected – I could go on, but you get the point.

All this information is easily accessible in a Google search and in the links above. But I’d also like to note that I’m revisiting “The Shock Doctrine,”a 2007 book that narrates this shift written by Naomi Klein, the intrepid Canadian journalist whose intellect is even more attractive than her looks. (Don’t tell Hailey.) The book deserves all the cliché complementary adjectives used by book reviewers who are enamored with a work of literary brilliance. I’m not a book reviewer, so I’ll spare you, except to highly recommend that you pick it up.

Klein writes: “The shift in U.S. policy encapsulated by Vice President Dick Cheney’s infamous statement about working the ‘the dark side’ did not mark an embrace by this administration of tactics that would have repelled its more humane predecessors (as too many Democrats have claimed, invoking what the historian Garry Wills calls the particular American myth of ‘original sinlessness’). Rather, the significant shift was that what had previously been performed by proxy, with enough distance to deny knowledge, would now be performed directly and openly defended.”

The thesis of this thread of the book (there are too many threads of it to synthesize here) is this: What the Bush administration did was directly evil, but more importantly, it made the insidious acts the administration perpetrated – legitimizing torture, eliminating the rule of habeas corpus, going to war without the approval of congress, etc. – politically acceptable among a large enough swathe of lawmakers that it would go on indefinitely, even under more liberal leadership. Even more importantly, it made torture socially acceptable among enough of America’s electorate that we are all culpable, most notably in the reelection of Bush and his successor, who has done nothing to reverse and everything to strengthen the trends W. started.

Appropriately, the book does not stop with the Bush administration; it also singles out the Clinton administration and a number of other ostensibly “liberal” politicians who embody the shift. Clinton – who was also derided by right-wing pundits as The Most Liberal President America Has Ever Had, as well as upheld by the Democrats as a great bringer of centrism – enacted a number of pro-trade policies that only furthered the corporate welfare state. The North American Free Trade Agreement, a treaty brokered under Clinton’s predecessor George H.W. Bush that made way for markets to flow freer between Mexico, Canada and the United States, divided the Democrats and allowed corporations to move their operations to Mexico, outsourcing jobs and saving money, among a slew of too many other ills to name here.

The Clinton administration should be lauded for its management of the American economy – it left W. with a massive surplus to spend, which W. did and much more – and a number of other positives. But the idea that America is in any way becoming a socialist nation or even moving leftward requires a 180-degree reversal of the definition of the basic terms that structure our political discourse. Which is exactly what has happened, and, as a result, the corporate welfare state – and its byproducts, the War on Terror the prime example – is fat, happy and most importantly, unnoticed.

In keeping with her awesomeness, if Klein had written “The Shock Doctrine” now, I can only imagine she would be equally critical of the Obama administration as she was the others. Obama’s first selection as president had the veneer of a departure from these policies. But as the nexus of the American political dialogue shifted from the War on Terror to what became The Great Recession, the budding administration let the boiling concern about the biggest evils Obama initially campaigned against slow to a simmer, alive only in the minds of the people fighting those fights and the few reporters newspapers could afford to keep in the Middle East to cover them.

And we’re confused.

I’M ALL ABOUT reform, but not really the kind they talk about in Washington, like election reform or campaign contribution reform or education reform or tax reform or the reform of energy policy. Though I think all those items are great causes, I don’t believe they’ll do much to make Americans less confused, which is the root of most of our problems.

The trouble is, we’ve become content in being confused; we enjoy having our opinions, but not having to work too hard to come by them. All we do is click on FOX News or MSNBC, or fire up the computer or the iPhone and grab all the data points needed to justify the opinion we wish to have.

I would like to advocate for electorate reform. There should be an institutionalized policy that, before a person is allowed to cast his or her vote in an election in America, they are required to first perform a measureable public service – meaningful journalism, political activism, sitting on a public governing board, you name it. As long as the service requires the person to become accurately and deeply informed about social realities, it will fit. If people are required to know –which they’re not anymore by America’s troubled education system – they’ll make better decisions.

Hell, Jill Stein or Gary Johnson might even have been my commander-in-chief right now.

But that cause embodies quite a stretch. It would entail constitutional reform, a convention that is probably past the facilities of the two-party system, which is currently founded in partisan hackery. So another fact that will sadly remain until that bickering is over is that I don’t think any of my counterparts in the holding company room or in my classroom have any plans to read the front page of The Virginian-Pilot anytime soon.

*stolen from Charles P. Pierce, political writer for Esquire

Drug Running and Other Adventures I Might Have One Day

I made the first footprints on the beach Saturday morning, on a long run before the sun rose. The prints ran through streaks of different colors of minerals and washouts and sea shells, over a mound of sand deposited by tides and currents that runs the miles-long shore at the Dam Neck Annex of Naval Air Station Oceana. The sun hadn’t quite peaked over some low-lying but formidable clouds on the horizon. The air was still. Radar towers stood motionless in the growing light over grassy dunes, part of the training command. Other radars, these ones high on ship superstructures peaked over the horizon, more than a dozen miles away.

I stopped running, breathed, removed my running shoes – still the same ones I was issued in boot camp more than a year ago – and buried my toes in the freezing November sand. The wet grit was clean, constantly disturbed and filtered by the ocean’s never ending cadence. Up the dunes, away from the water, the dry sand, still in cold shadows, was no warmer. It squeaked against skin. It was littered with plastic bags and water bottles, rubber gloves, a crushed and empty Pabst Blue Ribbon can, a pop-top from a Squeezeit.

But gladly, what vastly outnumbered industrial product was thousands of shells; horseshoe crab carcasses; and mermaid’s purses, the empty leathery black cases of shark eggs washed ashore by Hurricane Sandy and incoming tides. And I felt a little better about the world, that in places very close to me life could strongly counter death, even in today’s polluted world.

I had no call to be awake that early aside from my wife’s computer screen, which had glowed out into the dark of our hotel room at 6:30 a.m. because she hasn’t been able to sleep after 3:30.

“I think my body’s just been preparing me to do that,” she said of her ever-ballooning uterus, which is only five days away from when the doc said it should expel the child. The deep breath before the plunge into strung-out sleeplessness that we’ve heard is parenthood.

As I ran south, evidence of the recent hurricane was nuanced, but it was there. The quaint wooden-wire fence that runs the length of the beach just on the ocean side of the dunes was a skeleton, the rolled slats broken off at ground level. Another boardwalk that formerly spanned a dune had been swallowed by sand, except for a few feet of wooden handrail that stuck out.

As it did with New York City residents, nature had the upper hand in its fight with beach structures here.

There’s ample occasion on this base to harken back to when musket- and disease-bearing xenophobes from Great Britain landed far north of these shores nearly 400 years ago. From parts of the evergreen forests that line the base’s beaches, no building, car, road or other modern structure is visible or audible.

Except, of course, when Hornet fighter jets thunder overhead. Indeed, the military apparatus is palpable in the surrounding community, where it’s sometimes tough to find a windshield without a set of base driving stickers.

It’s palpable in the buildings, which are blocky appeals to military order – pastel, non-descript and laid out in linear geometry. Hailey, who spent time in college studying abroad in old parts of Russia, aptly described certain buildings this way: “This part of base reminds me more of the Soviet parts of Russia than anything I’ve ever seen.”

It’s palpable when the weekday starts, and parts of Regulus Avenue, one of the main thoroughfares through base, are closed off and others are opened up and the machine starts working, training a new generation of fire control technicians, electricians mates, intelligence specialists and operations specialists. The training goes on, but people like me and one of my classmates from Great Lakes, who will be in a holding company until our class starts in three weeks on November 26, sit in a small conference room in an administrative building and do what they tell us.

Which wasn’t much on Monday.

Mostly, we listened to the musings of a particularly loud undesignated seaman in our holding company who’s been relegated here indefinitely because he’s been declared “unsuitable for operational duty” for health reasons.

He’s part of a group of three other sailors of the same rate and rank – or lack thereof, if you prefer – who just got back from preparing some bulk heads in another building for a paint job. Later in the week, he said, he would help paint the room in special white HAZMAT uniforms, “just like in Breaking Bad,” he said. The epic saga of the high school chemistry teacher who turns into a meth manufacturer to pay for cancer treatments is one of the seaman’s favorite television shows. He wanted to look just like Aaron Paul and Bryan Cranston’s characters in the show.

“I said, ‘Alright, I’ll be there. On time and everything,’” he said, the clear implication being that he never shows up on time for duty. This was later confirmed by other sailors in the company who call him out for being late every day.

He told a second class culinary specialist, when asked what he plans to do with his long weekend for upcoming Veteran’s Day, that he wanted to go out and get drunk enough so that he was sure to get in trouble.

The petty officer said, “Don’t do that, ‘cause guess what happens if you get caught. I slap the shit out of you.”

The seaman showed people in the room photographs on his phone of himself wearing his Halloween costume, one of the tank-top and ass-shorts employed as uniforms for Hooters waitresses. He insisted his makeup for the outfit was done professionally by a qualified female friend.

The undesignated seaman just wants out of the military, he said.

The second class petty officer told us we would love places like Thailand because of their loose or absent regulations on things like prostitution.

“You might even see me with my Hooters girl outfit there,” the seaman said.

Another second class, a black electrician’s mate who’s been in the Navy for nearly a decade and is waiting for orders to transfer from the base, talked politics with the seaman.

“Everybody says Republicans are racist because white people vote for [Ken Doll Mitt] Romney, and people are like, ‘Oh, you’re racist because you’re voting for the white guy.’ No,” the seaman said.

The second class came back with a story: “I know in Jacksonville, they got a picture of [grand-decider-of-who-lives-or-dies Barack] Obama hanging at a gas station,” he said, reiterating very carefully: “Obama hanging, at a Shell station.”

“How do you know white people did that?” the seaman said.

The ensuing silence had an uncomfortable rhetorical quality.

I asked the petty officer if he intended to vote. Yes, he said. For who? It doesn’t matter; whoever gets in is the commander-in-chief, “is still gonna be my boss,” he said.

Among those willing to criticize Obama, valid though some of those missives might be, you often hear that they’re voting for Romney because he’s promised not to downsize the military. The petty officer acknowledged the trend to which the Ken Doll referred, mentioning an infamous round of “enlisted review boards,” or ERBs, during which the Navy fired thousands of specialized petty officers last year. The Navy came under fire in The Stars and Stripes and other military publications last year and this for the cuts. “That ERB shit, man, that got a lot of people,” the petty officer said. But it’s more complex than a simple result of what has been described rather inaccurately in the right wing as a growing socialist bent in federal policy.

“I been in the Navy for nine years, and since I been in, it’s been downsizing; I’m saying it’s not [Obama’s] fault because we been downsizing since before he was in. … If you read about it, I said we was preparing, and the Army had to kick out like 50,000 people at one time.”

I checked; that’s true about the Army, though it’s over a five-year period. The Navy has been trying to downsize more gradually. The point, though, being that it’s not just the perceived peaceniks in more leftist governments maniacally slashing defense budgets because they have a sick hate for baby killers.

THE PETTY OFFICER talked like one of those once broken and now reformed veterans of foreign wars, though his was experience of a different war, the one on drugs in South America, an ongoing project waged under the radar that you only hear about from people who have been on the deployments.

“The shit I seen, that shit is fun,” he said with an almost ironic air of forewarning to accompany the fervor.

He said on drug war operations, helicopters are dispatched to neutralize drug convoys and capture traffickers. A sniper sits in the chopper’s door and targets engines of suspect vehicles. But the drug runners are smart: They drape a live member of their team over the engine compartment while driving because the snipers are not allowed to kill them. Other drug runners have semi-submerged boats full of cocaine staffed by men ready to pull a customized plug in the bottom and sink the craft, along with the cocaine if they are targeted by the military.

“They pull the plug, sink the boat and jump out of it, and all that cocaine just go to the bottom,” the petty officer said.

Other traffickers use traditional fishing boats and hide the cocaine under fish in freezers.

The petty officer said during his deployment to South America, the Navy confiscated about $400 million worth of cocaine – just on his deployment.

“Everybody on the crew could have split with $2 million,” he said of the 198-sailor staff of the frigate.

The figure is so staggering that the petty officer is convinced the government has conspired to sell the drugs itself in a vast money-making scheme.

“I said, ‘Man, it gotta be a conspiracy; the United States government is resellin’ this cocaine,’” he said.

Not to editorialize, but I totally agree; it’s an interesting thesis, if only from an academic standpoint. It could offer a perfect explanation of why the American government keeps on with its Drug War, even after the decades-old Iran-Contra scandal showed American complicity in the illegal drug trade and after decades of news reports have shown the Drug War to be a foolish venture on economic and moral levels.

“I’m tellin’ you, the amount of cocaine we brought back – what you gonna do with all that? … It’s still money.”

The traffickers are detained and brought aboard. The ship activates a prisoner watch who wears coveralls with no name tag and is forbidden from communicating with the smugglers. They stay in a makeshift holding area, and the watch makes sure the drug runners have sufficient food, water, rest and, in accordance with the Geneva Conventions, entertainment and opportunity to communicate with loved ones. Oh, yeah, and that they don’t escape.

“They eat the same food we do,” the petty officer said.

Some of the traffickers are repeat offenders. The petty officer said his crew turned a group of detainees over to a South American government two weeks before Christmas one year. On Christmas, they detained the same men again for the same offense.

Other times, he said, it’s boring.

“Sometimes we be out there doing nothing, chasing fake ships, ghosts. I call them ghosts because sometimes you get a call and there’s nothing there.”

THIS IS THE job in a holding company.

We just sit around all day and shoot the shit on the taxpayers’ dime. Not that I’m complaining; no sane person would. And I’m sure I’ll pay my dues after I finally learn that last piece of my rate and see a ship and all the stress that goes into maintaining your own work center as a soon-to-be second class petty officer. But I think it bears some deep pondering that those self-touted right-wing proponents of so-called small government who so heavily support this war contraption I work for are cool with this.

Maybe you could just say I’m sticking it to The Man.

I mean, seriously, my friend from “A” school in Great Lakes and this second class petty officer and the seaman formerly in drag and I run in the mornings and listen to sea stories and pontificate on bigger better things. That’s my job right now.

And I’ll run tomorrow morning on the beach and then follow my footsteps back to the conference room. I’ll do this until November 26.

All that aside, maybe the most important thing is that, finally, I have a beach.

Cliché and Wandering Bluster on the Merits of Climate Science and Facts in General

I had a chat several days ago with a friend from boot camp who had a blog. He’d posted some photographs of himself holding a whiteboard inscribed with notes that were very critical of a certain Ken Doll who happens to be running for president, calling him a “narrow-minded bigot” for certain comments the candidate had made during a private fundraiser addressing a perceived 47-percent problem in America.

In the pictures, my friend was wearing his dress blue uniform.

I’d read about the flap in The Navy Times several days prior to our conversation, and it detailed that my friend may have been punished for the post; he confirmed to me he had been disciplined. I’ll not link to the story because I want to minimize stress, which was already ample, for my friend. He may have gone to commanding officer’s mast, a non-judicial proceeding during which the CO of a command can dole out a reprimand for the sailor and a punishment, most likely docked pay, extra duty and restrictions from going on liberty and leave.

The very nature of my words here will be controversial, though it’s not attached to any photograph of me wearing a uniform. But maybe it should be controversial, for several reasons. On a societal level, we shouldn’t take the spreading of information and opinion lightly because then we become FOX News, and nobody but the crazies over at FOX News wants to be FOX News. On a military level, that service members give up some of their rights by enlisting is a fundamental aspect of their choice. On an administrative level, public disagreements with chain of command illustrate discord and foster a decay of confidence in the functioning of a country’s armed forces, et cetera, et cetera, blah, blah, blah; you’ve heard the argument.

So my friend removed his blog from interwebs. He said he hopes to maybe restart it when the debacle is forgotten. He’ll probably be fine, though it may take him a little longer to advance in rank than it would have had he never posted. He certainly had it better than many others who choose dissent.

Infamously, Private Bradley Manning, the Army intelligence analyst charged with disclosing vast amounts of military information to the public, is being held indefinitely in a military prison. His charges could carry a sentence of life in prison. Less prominently, Gary Stein, a Marine sergeant who was accused threatening good order and discipline when he posted comments on his Facebookland page that were critical of Barack Obama, was discharged early this year for the comments. Law enforcement in this country has even gone after military veterans who no longer wear a uniform for publicly saying controversial things. Brandon Raub, a decorated Marine officer who on Facebookland advocated conspiracy theories about the 9/11 attacks and repeated referred to a “revolution” he wanted to start, was arrested when FBI and Virginia police invaded his Richmond, Virginia, home and arrested him.

Grimly, it’s become almost a cliché to mention Manning’s case in journalism about the stifling of dissent, especially during the Obama administration. So much so that you don’t see it very much anymore. In the blogosphincter, these things have a much shorter shelf-life than even the one-day expiration they carried on newsstands in the 1970s and ‘80s. People get sick of a message, and they want something – and newspapers are not willing to set the agenda anymore, like they’re bankrupt of news judgment.

Indeed, there’s far too little writing out there on the “kill list” the Obama administration maintains. There’s too little knowledge out there about the executive assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical American Muslim cleric who attended my college, Colorado State University, and had publicly supported violent jihad against America, and the subsequent murder of his 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, in Yemen. There’s far too little writing anymore about what’s happening with Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks. There’s too little writing on climate change; even though it’s the foremost issue facing modern man, it’s somehow moot in the news cycle.

We live in a new age in which free speech and the unimpeded flow of information are discouraged by the American government.  And not just by the government. Their message – that an intelligent, factual, contextually rich public dialogue is unwelcome in our land – is being embraced by large portions of the electorate.

I had a debate the other day with a military man who told me we’re in an ice age. He was referring, of course, to the polar ice caps that have existed for the last 2.6 million years on the Earth. It was one point of many he used to illustrate that man-made causation of global warming should not be considered a scientific fact because it was never proven by the scientific method.

Any rational person knows for certain the world is getting hotter and that it’s caused by human activity and that to ignore this knowledge in propagation of our lifestyle of excess is dangerous, belligerent behavior. But that fact has become an aside in our narrative. So people like me have to re-ask a question widely considered among the more conscious people in the world: Should we therefore not act on our unproven hypothesis? Depressingly, many people think we should not.

We – not just as politicians anymore, but as Joe Schmoe down the street who simply wants better quality of life, to do for his and his own – are actually helping to spread the unfounded claim that global warming is some conspiracy theory funded and propagated by leftist interest groups. We go so far as to create elaborate – though ill-deployed – smokescreens to distract from the facts. We see it as if it were a cog in some vast power or profit imperative, when in fact, the opposite is true.

And most of us non-climategaters are oblivious to the realities global warming will eventually impose on us – however forcefully, depending how long we fail to act. We think we can contrive a completely new infrastructure under the mantle of clean energy, as if all clean energy didn’t rely completely on the existing oil-based energy network. We close our eyes and trust in Obama to save us from having to depart willingly from our excess. Some of us actually don’t know we’ll be violently ripped from it if we don’t just. Scale. Back.

So we ignore it. As my good friend and contributor to the Hedge, Jim Sojourner, aptly put it in a post on the Apocalypse, four presidential debates this year have failed to mention climate change even in passing.

It’s mind-boggling to think that facts are somehow irrelevant in this debate, allowing the people who are wrong to have the upper-hand simply because they are uncomfortable with basic science, challenges to convention and elevated diction. But that’s the typical debate in the New America, where commitment to public service – in private industry as well as in government – has been replaced by the supreme primacy of industrial or capital gain.

It’s the same with every issue in the modern political lexicon.

In the October 23 presidential debate on foreign policy, the two men at the tops of the tickets said many things. But they – along with the journalists who questioned them – ignored a crucial topic of foreign policy. Mr. Scheiffer didn’t even mention Obama’s extrajudicial killing of American citizens as part of his terrorism strategy. Obama can’t comment because it’s classified. Just ask him; he’ll tell you. Romney can’t criticize Obama about it because he’d do the same thing – he thinks it’s brilliant. So he stays quiet because he couldn’t risk simply agreeing with the president on yet another point during the debate.

Which brings me to the overall: There is no difference between the parties. They conjure these cavernous rifts between one another when they’re really more like hairline fractures. We as Americans have invested ourselves so heavily in duopoly without even thinking about it that we have effectively removed ourselves from the electoral process. We’ve created an environment in which two parties have a choke hold on America’s ability to meaningfully reform itself.

I’m not saying that change can’t happen, because it does.  But as the pivot of the political pendulum – not just the pendulum itself – swings ever to a bizarre and distorted right of neofascism, politicians are more and more capable and willing to implement reforms that benefit the corporate interest instead of the public interest. The only way to break the trend is to vote in someone who will bring meaningful change.

There’s this narrative that voting third-party is essentially trashing your vote. That’s not true; voting in the status quo is trashing your vote. At worst, you protest the backwards rules of the game while still participating. At best, something great could happen. If more people thought this way, we’d be OK as a nation.

It comes down to America being addicted to – you name the platitude. But mostly, to laziness. The entire industrial revolution was based on making life easier. Sure, it spurred innovation and did a lot of good things for us, things I use every day and take for granted, including the technology that supports the word processor I wrote this in. But it also paved the way for all the evils mentioned above.

We must be honest with ourselves about what we’ve created and formulate a plan to work backward. Yes, I’m advocating regression. Not in not in policy or social thinking, but in innovation. We’ve gotten too far ahead of ourselves, and it’s been disgustingly presumptuous. It’s created an unprecedented population crisis.

I could link to plenty of additional credible evidence, but you have the same physical dexterity for a simple Google search or a freedom of information request that I do. I said above that the climate change hypothesis is “ours,” instead of the property of a bunch of scientists, because once something as big as this reaches the size it has – indeed, despite its sweeping under the rug in public dialogue, it’s the dominant issue the world faces – it belongs all of humanity. The responsibility to know and act and talk about it belongs to all of humanity. .

We need to sober up and take a long look.

My First Post – A Rant, A Statement of Hope

In the week of Oct. 14, 2012, a lot of other important things happened aside from the dawning consciousness of this website. In fact, the weight of most of those things was far greater than that consciousness.

Heavy violence in Syria, which had captivated most notably the large cities Homs and Allepo, spread to Damascus, and what was once seen as a haven from which its evil dictator, President Bashar al-Assad, could wield his power over the country became the newest emblem of the populist uprising that had engulfed the country of late. Children became further desensitized by the violence.

Amy Goodman, the weather-beaten anchor of the alternative news program Democracy Now, hosted the views of third-party candidates who were excluded from – indeed, in one case arrested for attempting to attend – the second 2012 presidential debate between granny-starver* Mitt Romney and grand decider of who should live or die Barack Obama. (Protect the duopoly!)

A U.S. appeals court – the second one – struck down DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, which denied federal benefits to married gay and lesbian couples, as unconstitutional. Almost in tandem, demographers at Gallup attempted to measure the gay population of America, releasing a study that showed 3.4 percent of Americans are openly gay. It was called the biggest such study ever.

The Republican governor of Texas, Rick Perry, publicly announced his support for a high-school cheerleading team that was fighting on the basis of free-speech rights to display Bible verses on their game-time banners.

Obama and Romney promised people they would fix problems (but nothing too specific). People around the world, including me, kept foolishly inserting information to the blogosphere and the Facebookland about their lives and views and financial standings that governments and corporations could someday exploit to their benefit and to the degradation of the former. A woman survived three days in the ocean after her plane crashed near the Virgin Islands. The Los Angeles Police Department announced that it was pursuing evidence that implied 12 unsolved deaths in Southern California are linked to the Manson Family.

The baby growing in my wife’s stomach grew to the size of a watermelon and practiced some of its motor skills, like breathing (though its a viscous liquid, instead of air), sucking and gripping. Humans in my military barracks scurried about base in aquaflage uniforms, mostly to oblivious to all these happenings, and organized their transfers to other bases where they’ll continue to learn their jobs in the Navy.

I sat in an office I work in on the third deck and wrote this, trying to come to terms with some things. That, in the last year and a bit, I did a whole lot of things I never thought I would. I joined the military; I got married; I quit drinking. I thought about where I’m going, what I’ll do in the next year and a bit.

I have orders to report to the naval station at Dam Neck, Virginia, to learn how to maintain and operate the NATO Sea Sparrow missile system. It’s a place where, no doubt, some of my friends I made in boot camp and during my time learning basic fire control here at Naval Station Great Lakes, Illinois, have gone to learn their own jobs in the Navy. Painting. Cooking. Administrating. Patching holes in ships. Patching holes in humans.

I’m hoping things will be different.

One day this week, the chief petty officer I work for decided we need to find a replacement to occupy the position I’ll vacate when I leave in a little less that two weeks. I write and edit speeches and emails and papers and news articles on a website that’s as-of-yet unapproved by the command and pontificate on current events. It’s a pretty sweet gig. I don’t have to attend many of the roll calls, which I consider unnecessary, or participate in much of the busy-work – sweeping and swabbing decks, moving furniture, making sure there’s an audience for weekly corporal punishments for shitbaggery – that’s an integral part of other service members’ lives.

To do it well, I’m equipped with a quality eye for the difference between good and bad communication. In a barracks that houses, generally, between 500 and 600 sailors who are waiting for the Navy to vacate a spot for them in the fleet or in a training command, the chief’s theory is that there has to be someone out there with experience in writing or media production. I’m more pessimistic.

The day before yesterday, our tenuous recruiting program yielded a gossiper, straight from high school. I entered the office after lunch, and she was just there, with hollow eyes, a skinny face, overly-straight posture and an underdeveloped taste for pretentious platitudes about the student population she was presumably there to serve. She said she had never failed an academic writing assignment and liked to dabble in “abstract poetry.” I don’t know what the latter is. She didn’t recite any poetry or provide any examples of her writing. I asked her if she knew how to work the back end of a wordpress. She said she didn’t. Instead, she sat in a swivel chair and criticized the wife of an instructor from the fire control school for being fat. She used the word “disgusting.” She was snarky to my coworker and me about what she saw as deficiencies in our product, to which she hadn’t contributed.

She’s not the rule, but she’s not entirely heretic of the group that inhabits this building on the academic fringe of this training command. Stand in on a muster here, and you drown in a swirl of complaints about rules, late liberty and stupid shipmates – the loud banner of the unfounded and lofty sense of entitlement to being treated like an adult, when most owners this of sense are anything but.

So I look outside at the changing leaves – so bright-red they seem to glow purple in the dusk – and I hope the new place will be one separate from the orgy of high-school complaints about having to do actual work. One away from where all we do now is not what we’ll do in the real Navy.

But here, again, I’m pessimistic. As I came to the Navy later in life than most, many of the second- and first-class petty officers on this base are younger than me and harbor the air that something deep is due them. Sure, they’ve been on a deployment or more. They’ve served the American agenda for the good or bad of it or of the world. Most likely, they’ve worked hard and very possibly, they’ve saved a life. Sure, something deep is due them. But mostly, they corrected things, fixing broken circuit cards and revising errant records and topping off fuel tanks – the little things that kept the Navy going, steaming toward that massive goal of protecting America, its allies and its corporate agenda. And now they sit in an office surrounded by reams of paper and a smart phone, and they’re still human beings.

On Oct. 19, lots of important things happened. Most notably here, we went about our lives. We played video games, bitched at leadership for making us do things we didn’t want to do, walked around with no particular purpose, saluted and requested permission to go ashore. That was important to us. So important, most of us didn’t pay attention to the other important things that happened in the world.

I hope it’s different somewhere in this Navy.

*stolen from Charles P. Pierce, political writer for Esquire