NSA Spying Expires

Certain of the more egregious aspects of the Patriot Act have been allowed to expire, if only temporary.  I’m troubled that it has lasted as long as it has.  Americans have seemed too willing to give up freedom for safety ever since 911.  I know people in small-town America that literally sit around scared of terrorists when the odds are they’ll die of cancer, a highway pile up, or just about any other thing than terrorism.  We allow the government to spy on us, harass us at the airport, and foolishly spend a ridiculous amount of money all for something that has about as much a chance of happening to us as lightning.  Meanwhile our roads and bridges, places that there is actual danger, decay.  People want to complain about the government, but it is the foolish fear of so many people that allows the government to do what they do.

Mass Death, Critical Thinking, and Media Distortion

There is a digital sign, very close to where I live, that lets the passerby know that 457 people have been killed on Texas roads this year.  That is 457 people killed on the roads in the state of Texas only, in just over three months of one year.  There were 2,877 victims during 911.  So roughly one sixth of all of the people that were killed as the result of 911 have been killed through traffic accidents in the state of Texas this year from January 1st to March 24th.

Yet, no one is particularly troubled by this, unless of course they have been some how touched by one of these accidents in a personal way.  Meanwhile when 911 happened we lost our collective shit, resulting in the invasion of a country that in no way was related to 911.  That invasion led to far more death and destruction than 911 did.  I am not saying 911 was not a horrible event.  I am not saying that no response was necessary.  I am only saying that if you compare the results of 911 to the results of what happen all the time, it didn’t warrant the kind of response that it created.  We did not need to change every law in the land, drop bombs on other people, etc.  We should have gone after the people directly responsible, mourned the dead in the way that we should mourn all people that have fallen before their time, and gotten back to business as usual.

I would imagine that most people would agree with this now, especially in concern with our ill advised adventure into Iraq.  So why am I bringing this up?  (And I’m even bringing it up again as I have touched upon this idea before.  I am constantly reminded of this idea from the sign that I see every time I leave my house to go out into greater Austin.)  Today over at Huffington Post the headline is about a plane crash in the Alps where right now 150 are feared dead.  This number is less than a third of all the people that have been killed in Texas highways this year, and it is far away, so the chance of us knowing someone that died is even less.  Yet, this is the HEADLINE at Huffington Post.  I can only imagine what cable news is going to do with a story like this.  I assume, and hopefully I’m wrong, but I doubt that I am, that cable news is going to have a fucking field day with it!

We live in a democracy.  To have a democracy that functions efficiently, it is important that the citizens of the democracy can assess what’s going on and make educated choices concerning problems.  Yet here in America, a sort of tabloid lizard brain runs the show in determining what is important to focus on.  That is if you take the view that things aren’t being actively manipulated to keep us afraid and in the dark.

When horrible events occur, which with news cameras in almost every part of the globe, they are going on consistently in some form or fashion on a daily basis, we must try to maintain some kind of perspective on things.  As citizens of the United States and as citizens of the greater world, what actually concerns us?  What is a tragedy and what is a threat?  Given that we as humans only have so much time in a day to devote to understanding the world around us, what is really important for us to know and what is not?  When is something blown out of proportion to where it actually prevents us from making wise decisions?  This does not meant that we should be callous to suffering.  It only means that we should not let suffering blind us into creating other suffering in the world.

The way that our news media operates actually causes us to be less informed, as we are overloaded with the horrific and the sensational.  Anytime a news story comes on one should ask, “Does this affect me and my life in anyway?  Does this increase the likelihood that I am going to make better decisions about the world?  If it does not, can I acknowledge that I am watching this for mere entertainment or escapism?”

I would prefer that all Americans quit watching TV news.  If they can’t, I would at least prefer that they limited the amount of time they spent viewing it.  TV news, even though I mentioned Huffington Post up above, is the worst at pumping up false threats, while ignoring real events that we should be learning about.  However, if one is not going to stop watching TV news, I think people should at least take the right set of tools with them, as they try to sort through the insanity of the day.

Critical thinking is more important than ever.  In a world full of information, it is those that understand how to interpret information that are going to stand the best of thriving in this world.  Unfortunately our schools are moving more towards standardized testing, more towards rewarding the unthinking worker bee.  These are the exact opposite of the skills that are truly needed in the modern world.

Vietnam, Ignorance of Culture, War Profiteering

I am going to try to explain a very complex subject in a very short amount of space.  While I was out this weekend I was reading about the Vietnam War.  I believe what I’m about to say has currency now with our recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Really though it has to do with a lot of the wars we have been involved in, especially going back to the Indian Wars of the 1800’s.  We basically don’t take the time to understand a culture, we project our own politics onto it often based on what is in the best interest of big money, and then we make a mess out of shit.

A great deal of daily life in leading up to the Vietnam War was based on village culture.  People lived on their ancestral homeland in small villages and lived off the land.  What goods they couldn’t produce they would trade for rice and other goods that they got farming.  The people that they traded with were largely Chinese merchants.  Because of the Communist ties of the Chinese, the Diem government, which we backed, kicked the Chinese out of Vietnam.  Suddenly peaceful villagers’ rice was left to rot as they had no one to trade it with.  Many of the Vietnamese traded for water, as the brackish water that they used for farming was undrinkable.  They did collect water from rain, but this was not a solution to everyday needs.  After awhile these villagers, many of which were in South Vietnam and had no relation to the North Vietnamese, again this was a village society where politics and justice was local, resorted to banditry to get what they needed.

On top of this you had the French leaving after they were defeated and a large part of the law and order of the country left with it.  This didn’t matter so much in and of itself it had not been combined with the expulsion of the Chinese merchants.

To make it all more complicated Diem was a Catholic.  Millions of Catholics from the North were coerced into coming down into the South of Vietnam, some would say through government propaganda and fear tactics that we supported.  Some estimate that 1,500,000 refugees came to South Vietnam during this time.  Many of these people were also from a village society and had never lived anywhere other than their ancestral land.  Many of these people had nowhere to go to earn a living.  Some were put in power by the Diem government because they were Catholics, and were now in positions of power over those that were non-Catholic.

So basically lawlessness erupted that had nothing to do with communism.  It had to do with economic reasons, a breakdown in law and order, and a mixing of different cultures.  That’s not to say that there weren’t problems derived form the communist North.  However, because we didn’t understand the culture and we viewed everything through a communist vs. capitalist lens at the time, this led to the early escalation of the war.  Often we ended up killing or supporting people that killed peasants that only wanted to live in peace and have some kind of economic stability.  One of the biggest problems of Vietnam was trying to figure out who the enemy was.  Even calling Vietnam a civil war is a bit simplistic.  There were all kinds of different factions fighting for different reasons, especially in the beginning.

You can see in more recent times that we didn’t fully understand the Sunni Shiite dynamic or the tribal culture of Afghanistan.  We also didn’t realize, at least I hope we didn’t, that we were empowering our future enemy when we helped the Mujaheddin, aka the Taliban, fight against the Soviets.

During the Indian Wars we couldn’t separate the peaceful Indians from the ones that waged war, so we often just killed everyone.  Even when we did try to make treaties, even on the small occasion that we were acting in good faith, we often didn’t have interpreters that were good to deal with the Indians.  Often our government agents would walk away from a treaty with a very different interpretation from what the Indians had signed off on.

I guess if you are going to go to war you should at least try to understand the dynamics of the country you are invading.  Otherwise you end up in a war without end, fighting people that are no threat to you or your country.  Shame on our leaders and pity on those poor bastards sent to fight.

Where does big money come into all of this?  Everyone with half a brain knows that our country has plenty of companies that benefit economically from warfare.  They were once called war profiteers and looked on poorly, now they are called job creators.  One can read a lot of right wing literature and know that people wanted to go into Iraq long before 911.  911 was just an excuse to go in and do what some members of our society always wanted to do.  Often we killed Indians just because they lived over gold.  When you combine ignorance of culture with economic interests to go to war, there is a good chance that there is a giant shit storm brewing up ahead, just around that next bend in the road.

Tokyo Gas Attacks and 911

I’m reading Haruki Murakami’s book Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attacks and the Japanese Psyche.  Murakami is one of my favorite authors, but this is the first piece of nonfiction that I’ve read by him.  It deals with the sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subway by the terrorist group Aum.  However, it mostly it is mostly made up of the testimony of the survivors.  I’m only about 40% of the way through the book, I’m reading it on my Kindle, and don’t have a final thought on the book yet.  It’s interesting so far. 

One thing that I find amazing about the book so far is the amount of survivors that refuse to let their lives be dictated by hate concerning the group that carried out the attacks.  Most of them want to see the members of Aum receive the proper sentencing, but only a few of the people seem to be angry.  I am not far enough in the book to make a final judgment, but this seems to me to be a remarkable contrast to the bloodlust that was unleashed after the 911 terrorist attacks. 

Another book that I picked up recently, which I’m about the same amount of the way through, is Terry Jones’s Terry Jones On the War on Terror.  I have mentioned this book in previous blogs.  With laser sharp wit Jones points out the foolishness of the west in our response to the 911 terrorist attacks.  He makes the case with the utmost clarity on how our actions immediately following 911 actually probably created more terrorists than anything Osama Bin Laden and his cohorts could have done on their own.  This is especially true with our foolish foray into Iraq which had nothing to do with 911, which is obvious now and was obvious at the time to those that paid attention.  With this absurd drone war under President Obama it seems that we haven’t gotten much smarter since then. 

A recent post that I made talked about how we are falling further and further behind in world wide education.  We continue to lead the world in military spending.  I’d like to see those things reversed.  First maybe we need to change the actual psyche of our nation.  Although we need to prosecute fully those that trespass against us, we should be careful of revenge of the most savage kind.  It rarely leads to anywhere that we want to go.  It can often create future threats in ways that we can’t fully grasp at the time.  

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Terry Jones on the War on Terror

What really alarms me about President Bush’s “War on Terrorism” is the grammar. How do you wage war on an abstract noun? It’s rather like bombing “murder”.

“We’re going to bomb ‘murder’ wherever it lurks,” announced President Bush. “We are going to seek out murderers and the would-be murderers wherever they are hiding and we are going to bring them to justice. We are also going to bomb any government that harbors murderers and murderers-to-be.”

Terry Jones in 2001.  I am reading Terry Jones’s book Terry Jones on the War on Terror.  Terry Jones is a founding member of Monty Python.  I am only a couple of pages in, but to refer to a point I made in my previous blog, Terry Jones talks about how the neocon website www.newamericancentury.org leading up to 911 didn’t exactly hide the fact that they wanted to invade Iraq.  That is again supporting my point that most conspiracies, the one’s that are deemed secret, often seem ridiculous to me.  Those in power rarely hide their tracks so well, if they even hide them at all.  Criminals on that scale don’t usually feel the need to worry about things like law and order.  They often see themselves as above the law.

Eric Snowden, Hero

I am hoping that one place the right and left can join together is on the issue of intelligence gathering within the United States.  Despite all of my ranting and raving about the new right, I actually would like to see the American people not be as divided as they are.  This can only happen through small steps.  Hopefully a small step could be the left and the libertarian right putting their foot down together, and saying that what the NSA has been doing is not Ok.

Everyone dies.  When you drive to work each morning on the highway you are putting your life at risk.  No one is ever safe.  We have much more of a chance of turning our car into a mushroom cloud than actually being killed by a mushroom cloud.  Too often we willingly give up freedoms for a false sense of security.

However, if we are going to give up freedom for security at times, we should at least have a say in that process.  What was so nefarious about what the NSA was doing was that it had completely taken the American public out of the equation in their decision making.

Ever since 911 we have passed around the word hero like a cheap joint.  Were the firemen that ran into the WorldTradeCenter to save people, especially the ones that went in after the first tower collapsed heroes?  Yes.  Is someone a hero just because they choose to be a fireman?  No.  I don’t say that lightly as my own grandfather was a volunteer fireman.  My cousin is a fireman today. I am extremely proud of them.  However, some people just like jobs that have a slightly higher risk factor than others.  That doesn’t make them a hero.  They might in the course of their career eventually do something heroic, but everyone that is a fireman, or a police officer, or in the military is not a hero.  There are good and bad people in those fields like in every other profession.  Again those professions run a higher risk than the general public for danger, and because of that they might have a higher chance of doing something heroic, but that doesn’t make them heroes by default.  I believe by calling all people in certain professions heroes we devalue those that actually do something heroic.

If we are going to call someone a hero, I would be more inclined to mention Eric Snowden.  He is someone that exposed corruption at the highest level and put himself in the crosshairs of our government.  Because of his actions he had to leave all of his friends and family behind.  As most of you probably know, he now is living in exile in Russia.  This story is still unfolding, but because of him the rest of us have the chance of having less government intrusion in our lives.  He took the fall for us.

If you are a libertarian on the right how can you not appreciate this?  He took on the very government that you seem bent on reducing.  He did more to possibly reduce government than all of the House Republicans combined.  If you are on the left he took the fall for freedoms that I know many of you appreciate as well.

It might surprise some Republicans that get their news from Fox, but we on the left aren’t for all government all of the time.  We believe that government has an altruistic side when it helps those that are less fortunate and when it counterbalances the corporate world.  However, we know that government can be corrupt too and that the wrong kind of bureaucracy can crush lives just as easily as the right kind of government can help them.

So maybe those of us on the right and left can call a momentary cease fire and thank Eric Snowden for exposing the NSA.  He was a whistleblower plain and simple.  He saw something he believed was wrong and acted, against his own best interest.  The origin of the word hero comes from the Greek word heros.  One of the literal translations of this is “protector”.  Eric Snowden protected our freedom.  That is good enough for me to say Eric Snowden, hero.

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Hunter Thompson’s Prediction

The towers are gone now, reduced to bloody rubble, along with all hopes for Peace in Our Time, in the United States or any other country. Make no mistake about it: We are At War now — with somebody — and we will stay At War with that mysterious Enemy for the rest of our lives.

Hunter S. Thompson wrote this on 911.  Was he some kind of mystic visionary?  Or had he just been in the realm of politics and current affairs long enough to grasp reality ahead of the rest of us?