Tag Archives: War of Definitions

Hearts and Minds and Souls of A People


The knack of turning a phrase was explained by Theodore Roosevelt to his young aide, Lieutenant Douglas MacArthur, in 1906. MacArthur had asked the President to what he attributed his popularity, and Roosevelt replied, “To put into words what is in their hearts and minds but not in their mouths.” (“Hearts and minds” later became a slogan of sorts, as what had to be won in Vietnam.

And if the U.S. wants to win hearts and minds, “You have to pursue Gen. McChrystal’s strategy. If you say that’s not acceptable and costs too much, it takes too long, we don’t have our allies — then you come up with a counterterrorist strategy, which means you’re going to start killing people and thereby risk killing a lot of innocent civilians, thereby creating more insurgents.” – Former Secretary of Defense William Cohen

“The Revolution was effected before the War commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people; a change in their religious sentiments of their duties and obligations…. This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people, was the real American Revolution.” – John Adams February 13, 1818

“Evidence from this trial will only show one side. I was on the wrong side but I switched sides,” Hasan, an American-born Muslim, said in a roughly two minute-long opening statement.

Not a new concept nor a new phrase, eh?  This whole “hearts and minds” thing.  We are very good at talking about it, and some of us really do get it.  Sadly, some of us really get it at a level that is only manipulative.  That is the propaganda level.  And, sadly, we are failing in some very important ways.

I have been thinking about this a lot this week in a lot of contexts.  It was that final quote that started the thought process really.  No matter how much lip service our politicians and “leaders” give, many Muslims at home and around the world feel that the so-called “war on terror” is, in fact, a war on Islam.  We are completely failing to “win the hearts and minds” of Muslims.

I have a friend who in many ways is an intelligent, reasonable, educated man, and yet, he totally discounts Al Jazeera as a legitimate news source, simply because he believes that they are Muslim biased.  That’s it.  Yet, he will cite Alex Jones, one of the most popular conspiracy theorists on the right wing circuit, as though he is a reliable and credible news source, and then, my friend will consider himself to be non-biased.  I eventually had to tell him that I will not even look at any link that comes from an infowars.com address.  If he wants me to look at it, find it in another source.  If it has any legitimacy, it will be somewhere else.   Let’s be clear about this.  Alex Jones has as much actual credibility as David Icke, which is to say none.  Zip. Zero. Zilch.

That is, unless, of course, you believe that the British royals are actually shape shifting lizards.

We build bridges and roads.  We build schools, and reach out to children and their parents in these countries that we are occupying.  And, then, we bomb them, and kill those same children.  Why then, do we wonder that we create enemies?

What have you done for me lately?”  When the answer is buzzing my towns, blow up my bridge, destroy my schools and homes, and kill my daughters and sons, then I am going to forget that you built those bridges and schools.  I am going to forget that you said, “We are not at war with Islam”, when all I see is you killing other Muslims.  I am going to forget you said that when I see a disproportionate support of a state that is repeatedly violating the mandates of the same organization that you said was one of the reasons you were invading Iraq, while that same state carries out murders around the world and imposes apartheid conditions on those who are like me.

Our words and our actions have to be in line if we are going to “win the hearts and minds”.  Until then, we are simply continuing the same hypocrisy that we have exhibited for years in our support of dictators around the world, and in countless other ways.  Worse yet, until then, we will continue to fail.

We show that we don’t even believe these words ourselves, at home.  Despite our recent “revelations” we are still a reasonably open society.  Our internal words and thoughts are posted openly for not only our own citizens to see, but also for pretty much the whole world to see.  So, when our warts are exposed, they are really exposed.  That is really as it should be.  That gives us the opportunity to treat them.

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The Only Thing We Have to Fear Is…


I have written before on the purpose that fairy tales served in our not too distant past before they were sanitized and Disneyfied.  In short, they were very useful for keeping children in line.  Fear.  Our first method of discipline as children is often fear.  It is typically the same method that many western religions use.  It is the reason that the phrase “god-fearing Christian” still exists in our lexicon.  (That, and it is baked into the Judeo-Christian religion at a fundamental level.)  As we grow and mature, we can develop into more complex and reasonable ways to discipline and learn.  Fear need not be the way we teach our children the difference between right and wrong, nor should it be the way we govern ourselves, or our society.

Decisions made on the basis of fear are almost always knee-jerk reactions, and more often than not, short of truly critical individually life threatening emergency situations, they are wrong.  Fight or flight responses are almost never appropriate for a society.

This is precisely what we do though.  We elect people more often than not based on fear.  Fear of “the other guy”.  Fear of what will happen if we act on the courage of our convictions.  Fear that “this election is too important to take a chance”.  Fear that we are “at war” with al Qaeda, on drugs, on poverty, on women, on ________ .

All too often, those we elect, and worse yet, those we do not elect, but that are in positions of extraordinary power, are more than happy to use this fear to manipulate and control the populace in the ways that they see fit.  In fairness, some of them are dong so because they sincerely believe that it is necessary.  They truly believe that “the world is a dangerous place” and that “the ends justifies the means”.  These are the people that I most feel sorry for.  They fail to understand that they are actually creating or exacerbating the problems that they are seeking to protect us against.

Yes, there are bad people in the world, and yes, we do have to take steps to protect ourselves against them.  We do not, however, have to go overboard with that.  We do not have to start sacrificing our liberties and our minds in that pursuit.  With complete honesty and not the least bit of hyperbole, it is these people, the ones that are supposed to be protecting us, that scare me far more than the al Qaedas, the M-13s, or the Somali pirates of the world.  I literally have no fear of walking through Chicago’s Auburn Gresham or Shanghai at 2:00 am (which I have done), but these people at the NSA, Homeland Security, the FBI, and the other nearly 1,300 other governmental organizations plus 2,000 private companies?  Yeah, they cause me a great deal of alarm.  Read those numbers again, and stop to think about that.  That is a security apparatus that is not transparent.  It is not even fully known how widely it stretches.  You will not find anyone, any where, who can eve tell you how much money is being spent on these operations.  You will find estimates, but no accurate totals.

And, it is, by its very nature based on fear.  What do animals that are fearful do?  Have you ever seen a cornered dog or cat?  One that is afraid?  That is a dangerous animal!

Then, there are the other types of people who are involved in this community.  Those are the people who should be removed from their positions, stripped of their wealth and prosecuted for a variety of crimes.  In many cases, crimes against humanity.  These are the people who have used fear to manipulate and control simply to enrich themselves and their friends.  They have used fear to maintain positions of power, wealth and prestige.  These people are rightfully called terrorists.  For they use terrorism, and the dictionary definition of terrorism is clear:

terrorism

1.   the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes.

2.   the state of fear and submission produced by terrorism or terrorization.

3.   a terroristic method of governing or of resisting a government.

Osama bin Laden was “on the run” for more than a decade after having been identified and claiming responsibility for the attacks on America on 9/11/2001.  During that time we launched three wars – The War on Terrorism, the War in Iraq, and the War in Afghanistan.  (Though the right has tried to revise history, the Bush cabal clearly made an effort to tie the War in Iraq to al Qaeda and sold it as part of the War on Terrorism.)  All three of these wars were to have two purposes.  First, to defeat al Qaeda, and by extension, any and all terrorists who would attack the US, and by extension, any Western interests anywhere around the world.  Second, to find and capture or kill Osama bin Laden.
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Are You A Crab?


People are so easily confused.  Mathematically if a = b and b = c, then a = c, and we can say that a and c are the same.  In the real world though, being equal and being the same are not synonyms.  They are related, but that is all.

We should have settled that particular concept as a nation a long time ago, and yet, we still haven’t gotten it through our collective thick skull.  We got it wrong – very wrong – at first.  We had to have drawn out court battles in order to reach the Supreme Court and have it ruled, specifically, that “separate but equal” is not.

We see many people who want to refer to the Constitution as the authority of the land, and in many ways, that is good and true.  It should never be forgotten though that it is a horribly flawed document and subject to revision and improvement.  Even the “founding fathers” knew this and that is why they had a built in mechanism for that change.  The very first thing they did after ratifying the Constitution was to change it.  Not only was that necessary to satisfy treaty commitments (because remember that, at the time, that is precisely what the document was), but it also demonstrated clearly that the document could, and should be changed as and when necessary.

We started with a clearly defined right to own people as property and no suffrage right for women (not until August 18, 1920) or non-land owning men.  In fact, a careful reading of the US Constitution shows that we have no constitutional right to vote at all.  It is inferred, much like the right to privacy, but it is not explicitly stated.  What we do find are a series of requirements that must be met if one is to be allowed to vote, and another set of requirements on which it is impermissible to base disenfranchisement of a citizen.  No, really.  Check it for yourself.  Here is the entire constitution right here.  You will find that you are required to own land (a constitutional requirement that has never been revoked), that you must be at least 18, that you may not be prohibited from voting “on account of sex,” nor “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude”, but no where will you find that it specifically grants that you have the right to vote in the first place.

Understand that it is this very important distinction which allows states to do things like revoke the rights of felons to vote, and establish voting requirements such as length of residency.  In some states, the voting rights of convicted felons are automatically restored, and in some states they require an act of the governor, which requires a petition on the behalf of the convicted felon.  It is this which allowed the states to institute the Jim Crow laws that included ridiculous and impossible “literacy tests” like this one.  (Go ahead.  Try it.  You’ve got 10 minutes.  Remember, as it says in the article, if you miss 1 question then you don’t get to vote.)

-> As an aside, understand also that the lack of a right to privacy will also be used, in court, and may already have been used in the FISA court, to justify programs like PRISM as the security apparatus violates the 4th amendment to track your metadata.  It has already been encroached on to say that there is “no legitimate expectation of privacy” in a public place (thus allowing the wide spread use of surveillance cameras “for your safety”), nor even when owning a cell phone. <-

Which brings us back to where we started today.  The notion of equivalency versus sameness.  We absolutely should strive for equality in society and under the law.  However, that does not mean that we are all the same.  Nor does it mean that we are all experiencing the same things.

Men and women are not the same.  Biologically we are different.  Society drives us into different directions and cross purposes all too often.  It does not mean that individuals may not cross these gender boundaries, or that they shouldn’t feel completely free to do so, but we are different.  Regardless of those differences though, we are still equal.  Right?  We ought to be able to agree on that.  Yet, we still find many sexists, and we still have major inequalities in our society in terms of pay, for example, not to mention in protections of the law for violence.

The Zimmerman verdict last weekend has sparked much outrage this week, and rightfully so.  It was a situation and trial that has been mishandled from the very beginning and ended with a verdict which was tragic.  As I wrote last week though, we have to accept it, because that is the foundation of our justice system.  If we have an issue with the verdict, then we have to address the system, not this specific case.  We have to, as I have seen some do, call for changes to the laws, and then we have to act on those calls.

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If it don’t fit, get a bigger hammer


We as a society are not very rational.  That shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.  Not really.  We are fractured along so many lines that the best image of us might be Frankenstein’s monster.  It has always been thus from our very founding.  I have explained to people before that if you want to understand America think about this: our founding fathers and mothers were made up primarily of three groups – Religious zealots that were so sanctimonious their own society kicked them out, Adventurous types either interested in exploring or getting away from the rest of society, and criminals sent to those penal colonies.

It was this mixture that has made up our cultural DNA.  To that, through the years has been added regular and consistent injections of immigrants.  Immigrants tend to, as a rule, not exactly be timid or lacking in adventurousness.  After all, if they did, they would have stayed at home.

Is it any wonder then, that we are not exactly a rational society?  That we say we want one thing, and then take steps to achieve precisely the opposite?  We say, for example, that we want freedom and democracy not only at home but around the world, and then we subvert it at home and support brutal dictators around the world, today and in the past.

This manifests in many ways, of course.  Our drug policy is just one of these.  For most of the last century, we have been attempting a policy of prohibition.  We know from our experience with alcohol prohibition that this approach does not work.  Even some of the farthest right, most repressive groups in America know that this policy doesn’t work.  In theory, we as a society want to reduce drug abuse and the associated societal ills – violence and theft, for example.  In practice, the policies that we have in place create or exacerbate these very problems.

Who is it that wants to continue the prohibition policy?  Primarily it is three groups.  It is the inertia group, the police-industrial complex, and the drug cartels.  One at a time.  The inertia group is made up of a variety of people.  It is those who haven’t taken the time to actually think for themselves or have simply not been educated beyond the propaganda that has been spewed out.  They are also those who are of the, “Well, it’s always been this way” variety.  They are those who may have seen people in their lives who have been abusers of drugs and have expanded this out to a belief that the specific drugs the government has labeled as illegal can only be abused.  They are generally unaware that prior to the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act 1914, there was no legal control on narcotics, and they were used openly.  They were, of course, subject to abuse, and that was frowned on, but they were also used in the same way that alcohol was, responsibly by respected members of the community without disdain or other social sanction.  Certainly abuse was not approved of, but that was true whether the substance was alcohol or any other drug.

There is a lot of money to be made from illegal drugs.  Any item that is sold on the black market raises the prices.  The risk involved, and the lack of regulation or tax drives the profit through the roof!  Take as an analogy, if you will, the situation after a disaster such as a major hurricane or tornado.  Those who are lacking in ethics may well raise the prices on the most basic of commodities because they can.  Food, gas, ice, and more may see their prices triple or quadruple.  We have laws in place to prevent this type of price gouging.  However, this is simply “supply and demand” according to the right wing, and it is what happens in the “free market”.  It is what happens in the black market where there are no controls to prevent it, because the black market is the only true free market.-1-  Where is there any incentive for the drug cartels to want drugs to be legalized?  Why would they want to give up their profits?  There is no more incentive for them to do this, than there is for major legal companies to give up their profits through tax breaks and shelters without a fight.

There is also a great deal of money to be made for the police-industrial complex.  Between 2001 and 2010, we arrested over 8 million people in the US for marijuana alone, and 88% of those were for simple possession.  We spend $3.6 billion a year enforcing marijuana laws.  That’s billion with a b, and that is, again, only marijuana. It does not take into account any of the other drugs.  We spend between $20 and $25 billion a year on the “War on Drugs”.  That should worry you.  The private prison industry is a billion dollar a year business, and the vast majority of those prisoners are in for drug related crimes.  We spend huge amounts of money on equipment to outfit the police who are now often as armed and armored, if not more so, than many of the military personnel we have in war zones.  All of that equipment also costs billions of dollars every year.
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Liberal Media? Riiiighttt


“A lie told often enough becomes the truth.”

– Ronald Reagan1

“And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed—if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’”

– George Orwell, 1984

How many times have you heard about the “liberal media”?  Probably so many times that most of you even believe it.  It would be amusing, if it wasn’t so sad.  These types of falsehoods that become “facts” are precisely part of the war of definitions that the right has used to drag the political center, and the country, further and further to the right over the years.

This myth, in its current form, originated from a single survey that was done many years ago.  1972, S. Robert Lichter et al in “The Media Elite: America’s New Powerbrokers” did a small survey of 238 journalists, and found that the majority of them did vote Democrat.  While this shouldn’t be surprising, particularly given that that study after study shows that there is an inverse relationship between education and conservatism, and as a rule, journalists tend to be fairly well educated.  (This is the truth behind why Republicans and conservatives are so opposed to education.  It is why people like Rick Santorum say, “We will never have the elite, smart people on our side”)

Did this survey find that the media was liberal?  No, not really.  Not even its authors claim so.  What it found was that the media was, in fact, not liberally biased, though many of the mid-level and below reporters did tend to vote Democrat.  (At that point, voting Democrat actually put one a bit left of center.)  The right wing though, and in particular (oh, the irony here), the right wing columnists in the media, took this survey, twisted it, as they are wont to do, and on the other end of their propaganda machine came out the turd that “The media is liberal”.  They have been decrying the media as such ever since.

The facts in front of us would convince any sane reasonable person to the contrary, but that is not what we are dealing with.  We are dealing with people who have largely been victims of a Milligramesque Experiment echo chamber.  “You will accept authority.”  You will accept that the media is liberal.”  “You will believe that everything that comes from the government is evil.”  “You will ignore the contradictions.”  “You will ignore the man behind the curtain.”  You will give me your dollars.”

Oh, and buy my book!  It’s called, “How to get rich by selling people a book called, How to get rich by selling a book called, How to get rich by …”  It’s only $19.99.  Order here.

One of the other interesting things to consider in this is that these low- and mid-level reporters really have very little control or influence over what they actually put in the papers or on the screens.  The people who are in control are the editors and the managers.  These people are the ones who are shown, in the same material referenced above, and multiple repeated surveys, to be most typically conservative.  Oh, wait.  Let’s pause here.  What we have here is pretty typical, isn’t it?  Those at the top are going to escape taking responsibility, while the right blames those at the bottom for their perceived issues?  It is the typical way that the right wing operates.

Let us look briefly at the consolidation of media.  I’m sure we’ve all seen the numbers, yes?  And, they are constantly changing.  Growing ever more consolidated.  When Ben Bagdikian introduced The Media Monopoly in 1983, he concluded that “50 men and women, chiefs of their corporations, control more than half the information and ideas that reach 220 million Americans, it is time for Americans to examine the institutions from which they receive their daily picture of the world.”  Today, 30 years later, the consolidation has grown to such a degree that we now have “more than 1500 newspapers, 1100 magazines, 9000 radio stations, 1500 TV stations, 2400 publishers, owned by only 3 corporations,” as the meme goes.  Using Bagdikian’s methodology, in 2009, this number had fallen from 50 to 15 controlling over 50% of the information and ideas dominating the American market, and:

Expanding the analysis to include emergent technologies like cable television, satellite radio and the Internet, the number of corporations dominating the American media remained at 20.

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The Boys Who Cried Wolf


Does anyone else remember fairy tales?  As I recall, they used to serve a very different purpose many, many moons ago.  You see, fairy tales used to be used to scare children into behaving.  The stories as originally preserved by the Grimm Brothers, for example, were “capricious and often cruel”.  National Geographic says it well, except they leave out a crucial detail, which I’ll come back to in a moment.

Once they saw how the tales bewitched young readers, the Grimms, and editors aplenty after them, started “fixing” things. Tales gradually got softer, sweeter, and primly moral. Yet all the polishing never rubbed away the solid heart of the stories, now read and loved in more than 160 languages.

So, what was left out?  The modern, as in the last 30 years or so, impact on the fairy tale.  What I will call, “the Disney effect”, when fairy tales became even more sanitized and Pollyanna-ish1.  When fairy tales lost their truly moral lessons, and simply became entertainment.

They’re baaaacck!!  At least one of them.  The boy who cried wolf.  Remember that one?  In a nutshell, a shepherd boy who didn’t want to be alone in the fields watching the sheep cries out, “Wolf!” and the town’s men come running to protect him, even though there is no wolf.  Eventually, though, he does this so many times, that they stop.  Then, when there really is a wolf, he cries and cries, and no one comes to his aid.  I am sure in the older version, the wolf not only drives off many of the town’s flock, but also kills him and many of the sheep.  In the modern version, the wolf just scares the little miscreant and scatters the flock, because everyone knows that wolves don’t actually kill sheep, right? uh huh.

This presidency has been one never ending stream of accusations and trumped up scandals.  It has been a series of boys crying wolf, and now that there might, actually be one that is legitimate, most of us who are not so easily worked up and manipulated by the right-wing press are so worn out from it, that we are having a hard time caring.  How sad is that?  You have managed to wear us out with your constant stream of made up malarkey that now that there is a hint of possible real scandal in the air, guess what?  Most of us that you need in order to actually pursue it, don’t care.  Way to go.  Guess it’s time for the wolf to dine.

Before we get to that, let’s recap a little, shall we?  (Not even a complete list.  Just a survey.)

We have had, and still have, questions regarding the POTUS’ place of birth.  This despite it having been established and verified and certified and re-certified.

We have seen attempts to tie him to terrorist organizations, domestic and foreign, from the time he began campaigning and still going today.

We heard about his “Apology Tour”, which when fact checked by more reliable sources, is shown to be either completely fallacious, misunderstood, or overly hyped, depending on which aspect of the “tour” to which you are referring.

For the last 8 months, we have been subjected to the far right-wing, led primarily by Fox news, of course, pushing an investigation into a supposed Benghazi cover-up and scandal.  The Republican party and conservative public has dutifully followed along, wasting much time and money on a non-story.  The rest of the main stream media has had almost no choice but to cover it as well, since this is what all the players are playing.  If they didn’t, it would be like a reporter sent to cover a concert and ignoring the entire first set.  With the latest disclosure being that someone, somewhere, very likely in a Republican congressional office actually changed the e-mails released by the White House in order to make them look more damning than they actually are.  Could it be any more obvious how desperate they are to focus on anything other than real issues?

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Divide and Fall


Yes.  Lately this space has been more focused on the social analysis with a bit of lean towards the politics.  That shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise really.  These things are tightly related, and they are important also.  But, really, what of any true importance is new in the news lately?

Are we going to rehash the gun argument?  Right now, I’m tired of arguing with those on the right who would like to pick and choose from the 2nd Amendment so that they re-write it into a new version without any intelligence or reason, and who are too ignorant (or just plain stupid) and somehow think that because I am unabashedly liberal that I am a “gun grabber”.  Those who do not listen to what I have said, or read what I have written, but somehow think they know.  These are generally people who are too blinded by their own positions to actually hear anyone else anyway.  I am equally tired of arguing with people on the other side who inveigh about the need to enact better controls, but aren’t actually willing to do anything more than bitch and moan about it.  So, no, I don’t think so.

The Benghazi incident?  There is no larger political story there, folks.  This is yet another manufactured crisis that Fox news has made up to attack the center right and try to drag things even further to the right.  Enough about that.

No, today, we’re going to talk about divisiveness.  I’ve written on this as parts of other topics.  I cannot with any real honesty say whether this is increasing or not.  It is my feeling that it is.  Yet, I also suspect that it only seems that way, and to anyone who has been paying attention, we have always been very divided.

In looking back through history, and I am not going to be teaching a history course today, we see a long line of division used as distraction.  Divide and conquer, no?  We go all the way back to our earliest, most basic pack days and we find those classic divisions of “us” and “them”.  Now, we are still dividing and classifying.  To some extent this is necessary and useful.  It aids in our survival, for example, to know who our friends and our opponents are if we are actually in a combat situation.

The problem though is that we often make too large a category.  As I was listening to NPR’s All Things Considered the other day, I was struck by this again.  It was about the actor, Riz Ahmed, but it was only really about him, because of a newly released movie, Reluctant Fundamentalist.  Anyway, the point is this bit from that 5 minute story:

And it’s no surprise that Ahmed is making his American debut with a film as bold as The Reluctant Fundamentalist. It’s about the current fault lines between East and West, Muslim and American, ‘us versus them.’ Those deeper themes fueled director Mira Nair.

Did you catch that or are you so inured to this very problem that you missed it?  I’m going to let that sit for a minute.  We’ll come back.

Yesterday, I was having a conversation with a friend of mine on Facebook.  It was brief, but it was the same issue.  It was started by his posting of a meme of support for Lt Colonel Matthew Dooley.  You may or may not have heard of Lt. Col. Dooley.  To those on the far right, Dooley is being presented as a holy martyr.  (Despite the incident of his martyrdom having happened a year ago.)  He spent years in the US Army, graduating from West Point in 1994, and serving “with distinction” since, including teaching at the Joint Forces Staff College in Norfolk, Va from 2010 until his removal in 2012. Those are the bare facts.  What is being circulated from there by the right is that he is being persecuted by, and I quote my right-wing friend on this one, “Our pro-Jihadist President”.  He is being targeted, the lie, er, argument goes because, “The course “Perspectives on Islam and Islamic Radicalism” ,which was suggested and approved by the Joint Forces Staff College, caught the attention of several Islamic Groups, and they wanted to make an example of him.  They collectively wrote a letter expressing their outrage, and the Pro-Islamic Obama Administration was all too happy to assist.”
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