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>Comment on "Diagnosing the US national character"

2006/04/30 3 comments

>After I posted “Diagnosing the US national character” on another list the same day (April 27) that I posted it here, I received the following comments that I think worthy of your attention. Bill

I’d say that Americans are addicted to picking fights with people in a weaker position than they are (cf the so-called Powell Doctrine, which makes this explicit). It doesn’t really matter what the fight is about, as long as they win (“Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing”). The drama after the Vietnam War had little to do with what the fighting was about, but with the fact that Americans lost a war.

The sad thing about this mentality is that a lot of American lives have to be damaged or lost, before Americans know when to stop (“operation accomplished, the patient died”).

Americans are not especially known for understanding the morals of other peoples. What they understand is brute force. And money. It’s a harsh society, which thinks sensitivity has to do with sex. That’s their functionalist culture.

As far as I am concerned, Americans lost any moral high ground when they provided Israelis with a gigantic killing machine, so that Israelis could be like Americans, that is, pick fights with people in a weaker position than they are. The murder of Iraq is “merely” a new low point of American morality.

Thankfully there are still plenty Americans – and Jews – for whom this cynical approach to human beings is utterly repugnant. So there is still hope for the American character, what’s left of it.

But it will take more than a baseball coach to sort it out.

Jurriaan

_____

NB – I left out one important aspect, namely the connection between winning and (moral) truth in American ideology. What I mean here, is that the American belief is that “if we win, we are right”, and the fact that they win, seems to prove practically “our way is right” or superior. In the historical sciences, they say “history is typically rewritten by the victors to reflect their path to victory” and indeed insofar as American pragmatists are at all interested in history, it often focuses very much on who won and who lost, with the suggestion that the ideas of the winners “must” have been better, otherwise they wouldn’t have won. Alas, historical processes are more complex than that, since “you might win the battle, but lose the war”.

Jurriaan

Bill Totten http://www.ashisuto.co.jp/english/index.html

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>The Empire’s New Clothes

2006/04/29 2 comments
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>Invisible Hands of the Market

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>Patriotism requires faith

>A modest proposal for understanding President Bush’s policies

by Charles Davis, Staff Writer

The Vista, University of San Diego (April 20 2006)

No matter where one turns these days, it seems impossible to avoid negative news stories about President Bush and his mission to bring peace and freedom to the people of Iraq. All too often the liberal media, which has wanted our troops to fail from the start, has reported only the bad things happening while completely avoiding all of the positives.

For instance, thirty people were burned to death in a Baghdad market as the result of an ongoing wave of sectarian violence, but there is no recognition of the people who were saved from the flames or watched a cherished loved one agonizingly die before their eyes. Furthermore, in their ongoing war against America and its values, liberals have even gone so far as to question our leader’s policies and conduct in a time of war – a clear act of treason. The president’s critics must realize that he is only doing what he feels is best for America.

“President Bush’s policies are helping the United States economy”

Questions are best saved for the end of the conflict, which, as Vice-President Cheney has told us, should be in just a few short generations.

To further their anti-American agenda, many critics of the Bush administration have made outlandish accusations, including the claim that the president lied to the nation, prompting a war on a country that posed no discernible threat.

These critics point to statements made by people such as former Bush Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, who stated that the administration discussed plans for invading Iraq from the very first cabinet meeting in 2001, and said that “it was all about finding a way to [invade]. That was the tone of it. The president saying ‘Go find me a way to do this’.”

Others point to the Downing Street memos, wherein a British intelligence officer who met with the Bush administration back in July 2002 reported to his superiors that Bush was ready to go to war but that “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy”.

Of course, these partisan critics of the president inevitably act as if misleading the public into war is a bad thing – but is it?

In reality, Bush is only ensuring that Americans have plenty of future adversaries and conflicts, meaning plenty of business for our nation’s patriotic defense contractors.

Ever since World War II, the United States’ economy has been dependent on what former president Dwight D Eisenhower called “the military-industrial complex”.

As the Department of Defense’s Web site states, “[We] are America’s oldest, largest, busiest and most successful company”, employing millions of people, operating over 6,000 bases in the United States and 702 overseas bases in 130 countries.

For 2007, the defense budget is roughly $463 billion, not including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which account for an additional $120 billion.

The United States’ defense budget accounts for just under half of world military spending.
By launching wars and planning for future conflicts, Bush has allowed our economy to thrive.

Since launching the war on Iraq in 2003, companies like Lockheed-Martin have seen profits rise by over 73 percent, and Halliburton CEO Dave Lesar said “2005 was the best in our 86-year history”, after seeing his company’s profits soar to $2.4 billion.

Without war, the American economy would collapse, forcing defense contractors and their families to live on the streets begging for scraps of food.

By actively planning for war, Bush has shown his bold foresight and commitment to creating well-paying American jobs, while proving to foreigners that America means business.

Some critics say that by heralding militarism and international belligerence, Bush is neglecting other important fields, such as science and medicine; however, nothing could be further from the truth. By allocating $22 billion for the Energy Department to develop a new class of tactical nuclear weapons, Bush is providing jobs for some of America’s brightest scientists.

With all that said, too many Americans seem to have, unfortunately, bought into the mainstream media and liberal academia.

According to a recent poll by the Pew Research Center, Bush’s approval rating sits at a dismal 33 percent, with the most frequent words used to describe him including “incompetent” and “liar”. President Bush is being unjustly persecuted by his detractors.

With two-thirds of the public apparently not appreciative of all the work Bush has done perpetuating the success of our war economy, one is left with no other option but to ask: Why do so many Americans hate America?

The Vista (April 20 2006) Volume 43, Issue 10

(c) 2006 USD. All rights reserved.

University of San Diego, 5998 Alcala’ Park, San Diego, California 92110 (619) 260-4600

http://www.sandiego.edu/vista/opinion/opin_1_4.20.06.php

Bill Totten http://www.ashisuto.co.jp/english/index.html

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>America’s rags-to-riches dream an illusion: study

>by Alister Bull

Reuters (April 26 2006)

America may still think of itself as the land of opportunity, but the chances of living a rags-to-riches life are a lot lower than elsewhere in the world, according to a new study published on Wednesday.

The likelihood that a child born into a poor family will make it into the top five percent is just one percent, according to “Understanding Mobility in America”, a study by economist Tom Hertz from American University.

By contrast, a child born rich had a 22 percent chance of being rich as an adult, he said.

“In other words, the chances of getting rich are about twenty times higher if you are born rich than if you are born in a low-income family”, he told an audience at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think-tank sponsoring the work.

He also found the United States had one of the lowest levels of inter-generational mobility in the wealthy world, on a par with Britain but way behind most of Europe.

“Consider a rich and poor family in the United States and a similar pair of families in Denmark, and ask how much of the difference in the parents’ incomes would be transmitted, on average, to their grandchildren”, Hertz said.

“In the United States this would be 22 percent; in Denmark it would be two percent”, he said.

The research was based on a panel of over 4,000 children, whose parents’ income were observed in 1968, and whose income as adults was reviewed again in 1995, 1996, 1997 and 1999.

The survey did not include immigrants, who were not captured in the original data pool. Millions of immigrants work in the US many illegally, earnings much higher salaries than they could get back home.

Several other experts invited to review his work endorsed the general findings, although they were reticent about accompanying policy recommendations.

“This debunks the myth of America as the land of opportunity, but it doesn’t tell us what to do to fix it”, said Bhashkar Mazumder, a senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland who has researched this field.

Recent studies have highlighted growing income inequality in the United States, but Americans remain highly optimistic about the odds for economic improvement in their own lifetime.

A survey for the New York Times last year found that eighty percent of those polled believed that it was possible to start out poor, work hard and become rich, compared with less than sixty percent back in 1983.

This contradiction, implying that while people think they are going to make it, the reality is very different, has been seized by critics of President Bush to pound the White House over tax cuts they say favor the rich.

Hertz examined channels transmitting income across generations and identified education as the single largest factor, explaining thirty percent of the income-correlation, in an argument to boost public access to universities.

Breaking the survey down by race spotlighted this as the next most powerful force to explain why the poor stay poor.

On average, 47 percent of poor families remain poor. But within this, 32 percent of whites stay poor while the figure for blacks is 63 percent.

It works the other way as well, with only three percent of blacks making it from the bottom quarter of the income ladder to the top quarter, versus fourteen percent of whites.

“Part of the reason mobility is so low in America is that race still makes a difference in economic life”, he said.

Copyright (c) 2006 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20060426/ts_nm/economy_mobility_dc_2

Bill Totten http://www.ashisuto.co.jp/english/index.html

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>Diagnosing the US ‘national character’

>Narcissistic Personality Disorder

by Robert Jensen

ZNet (April 22 2006)

Politicians and pundits in the United States love to talk about our “national character”, typically in rapturous tones of triumphalism.

Often that character is asserted as a noble force but not defined: Earlier this year, for example, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said our national character – presumed to be benevolent – requires us to be welcoming to legal immigrants.

Other times it must be defended against foreigners who just don’t understand us: Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland last month explained that too many Middle Easterners fall prey to “depictions of Americans routinely raping, killing, firebombing mosques and torturing innocents as a function of national character”.

And sometimes character is political destiny: In New Delhi last month, President Bush proclaimed that “democracy is more than a form of government, it is the central promise of our national character”. Luckily for India, its national character shares the same feature, according to Bush.

Can a nation have a coherent character? If we take the question seriously – investigating reality rather than merely asserting nobility – we see in the US national character signs of pathology and decay as well as health and vigor. What if, for purposes of analysis, we treated the nation as a person? Scan the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association (the bible of mental-health professionals, now in its fourth edition) and one category jumps out: Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

DSM-IV describes the disorder as “a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy” that can be diagnosed when any five of these nine criteria are met:

1. a grandiose sense of self-importance.

2. preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.

3. believes he or she is special and unique.

4. requires excessive admiration.

5. sense of entitlement.

6. interpersonally exploitative, taking advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends.

7. lacks empathy.

8. often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her.

9. shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.

Narcissistic tendencies to self-aggrandize are not unique to the United States, of course. But given the predominance of US power in the world, we should worry most about the consequences of such narcissism here.

This disorder is bipartisan, and is virtually required of all mainstream politicians. When the House of Representatives held hearings about the creation of the Department of Homeland Security in 2002, California Democrat Nancy Pelosi declared that America is “the greatest country that ever existed on the face of the earth”. Texas Republican Dick Armey described the United States as “the greatest, most free nation the world has ever known”. With a “grandiose sense of self-importance”, politicians routinely ratchet up the rhetorical flourishes when asserting that the country is “special and unique”.

As for arrogance and haughtiness: When asked at his pre-war news conference in March 2003 whether the United States would be defying the United Nations if it were to invade Iraq without legal authorization, Bush said, “if we need to act, we will act, and we really don’t need United Nations approval to do so”. Bush prefaced that promise to defy international and US law with the phrase “when it comes to our security”, but since the invasion of Iraq had little or nothing to do with the security of the United States we can ignore that qualifier. Here the younger Bush was merely mimicking his father, who remarked in February 1991 as the United States was destroying Iraq a first time: “The US has a new credibility. What we say goes.”

On the Gulf War and “lacks empathy”: On February 13 1991, US planes hit a bunker in Baghdad. Whether military planners knew it was an air-raid shelter or thought it was a “command-and-control site”, an estimated 300-400 civilians died. Colin Powell, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, referred to this as “one downside of airpower”, and said the incident led him to discuss with General Norman Schwarzkopf the need “to look at the target list a little more closely”. Was the goal of that review to discuss civilian casualties? No, it was to question the efficiency of bombing an already bombed-out Baghdad. In Powell’s words: “I asked questions like, ‘Why are we bombing the Baath Party headquarters for the eighth time? … Why are we bouncing rubble with million-dollar missiles?'”

Powell, who went on to serve as secretary of state in George W Bush’s first term, was often referred to as the “dove” of that administration. Perhaps we could call this level of empathy the mark of a “tough dove”.

The unpleasant subject of the current Iraq war brings up “fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance”. Though Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently acknowledged mistakes in the current Iraq war – “We’ve made tactical errors, thousands of them, I’m sure” – she made it clear that history will vindicate US officials for making “the right strategic decision” to invade. But that small concession to reality was too much for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who responded, “I don’t know what she was talking about, to be perfectly honest”.

While it’s easy to point at the narcissism of soulless and self-indulgent leaders, this diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder applies to the country as a whole. The belief that the United States is unique – a shining “city upon a hill” – is deeply rooted, and for many has divine origins; 48 percent of Americans believe the United States has “special protection from God”, according to a 2002 survey.

The narcissism of the whole society also is evident in the widespread “sense of entitlement”, defined as “unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations”. This is difficult to confront, precisely because it takes root to some degree in all of us and can’t be so easily displaced onto only the most overtly pathological. The vast majority of the US public – by comparison to the rest of the world – lives an extravagant lifestyle that we show few signs of being willing to give up.

We are five percent of the world’s population and consume about a quarter of the world’s energy. This state of affairs is clearly unjust, made possible by coercion and violence, not some natural superiority of Americans. Yet the vast majority of the US public, and even much of the left cum progressive political community, acts as if they expect this state of affairs to continue. That’s real narcissism, and it’s at the heart of the political problem of the United States. Even if we swept the halls of Congress and the White House clean of every corrupt and cruel politician, the deeper self-indulgence of an affluent culture would be untouched.

Political activism to derail the pathological policies of those politicians must go forward. Critique of the concentrated power of the corporate elites who support those policies is essential. But the critical self-reflection necessary at the collective level also must come home to each of us.

Robert Jensen is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin and board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center http://thirdcoastactivist.org/. He is the author of The Heart of Whiteness: Race, Racism, and White Privilege (2005) and Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity (2004), both from City Lights Books. He can be reached at rjensen@uts.cc.utexas.edu .

http://www.zmag.org/sustainers/content/2006-04/22jensen.cfm

Bill Totten http://billtotten.blogspot.com/

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>A Fondness for Fossil Fuels

>If we’re to have a hydrogen economy, we have to secure our supplies of natural gas.

by George Monbiot

Published in the Guardian (April 25 2006)

My timing could scarcely be worse. To announce, in this of all weeks, a Damascene conversion to natural gas is to invite ridicule from every quarter. The price of oil has hit $75, and for reasons no energy company has yet been able to explain to me, it takes the gas price with it. Even before this new surge, the wholesale cost of gas had trebled in just three years {1}.

This winter, we nearly had to do without it altogether. First Russia’s state-controlled producer Gazprom cut the supplies to Europe in order to show Ukraine where real power still lies; then the private monopolists in the European Union appeared to restrict the flow through the “interconnector” which supplies the United Kingdom. At just the wrong moment – February 16th – the UK’s main gas storage facility (on the Rough Field in the North Sea) blew up. Centrica, the company which runs it, predicted then that it would remain closed for one month {2}. A month later, the company said it would be shut till May {3}. Now its spokesman tells me that it will be back in business “from June 1st” {4}. The “from” does not inspire confidence.

Last week the chief executive of Gazprom, from which the UK buys about a quarter of its natural gas, warned of the consequences this country would suffer if the government refused to let it buy Centrica. “One cannot forget that we are actively developing new markets such as North America and China. Gas producers in Central Asia are also pay [sic] their attention to the Chinese market. It is not by accident. Competition for energy resources is increasing. It is needed to note that attempts to limit Gazprom’s activity in European market and politicize gas supply issues … will make no good results.” {5} Doubtless he was stroking a white cat as he said it. To make my task of persuasion particularly difficult, Human Rights Watch and the International Crisis Group reported that the European Union, desperate for access to Turkmenistan’s reserves, has been ignoring the atrocities of the borderline-bonkers President Niyazov {6}.

All this means that the British government is even more likely to recommend a new generation of nuclear generators in its energy review in the summer. It can now summon some heavyweight support: on Friday the Financial Times revealed that the International Energy Agency has converted to the nuclear cause {7}. My fellow environmentalists argue that the money would be better spent on wind turbines. I find myself at odds with almost everyone, by deciding, at the worst possible moment, that in one respect at least our battle against climate change depends on neither nuclear power nor renewables, but on a fossil fuel.

The problem comes down to this: that our homes, whose consumption has grown by nineteen percent since 1990, now account for almost one-third of the energy the United Kingdom uses {8}. Of this, only eighteen percent is used for lights and fridges and TVs and the other electronic gadgets with which we now fill them. All the rest is used for space and water heating {9}. In the domestic sector, the big issue is not electricity but heat.

I’ve looked into every source of sustainable heat I can find, and while there are plenty that could supply some of our houses – wood and straw, solar hot water panels, district heating systems and heat pumps for example – all of them are constrained by one factor or another, such as a shortage of agricultural land, our feeble sun and the disruption involved in fitting them to existing homes. It seems that there is only one low-carbon source of heat which could (with a massive investment in new infrastructure) be supplied to most of the homes in the United Kingdom between now and 2030. It is hydrogen.

Hydrogen can be used to power a fuel cell, which is a kind of gas battery. If, as their promoters predict, fuel cells can very soon be made small enough, cheap enough and reliable enough to take the place of domestic boilers {10}, they could provide both the heat and electricity our homes require. The natural gas pipes to which most of our houses are now attached would be replaced by hydrogen pipes. These are about fifty percent wider, but otherwise the system is much the same.

There are three means of making hydrogen without releasing much carbon dioxide: by reacting natural gas with steam and capturing and burying the carbon it contains, by passing steam and oxygen through pulverised coal (and catching the carbon) and by the electrolysis of water. The last option is the one beloved of both environmentalists (because the electricity can come from wind) and the nuclear industry.

But a hydrogen network will be viable only if it is cheap. According to a report by the US National Academy of Engineering, the wholesale price of hydrogen made from natural gas with carbon capture will, in “the future”, be $1.72 per kilogramme; from coal, $1.45; and from electrolysis $3.93 {11}. In other words, if a hydrogen economy is to be taken seriously, the fuel has to be made from gas or coal, rather than by either wind turbines or nuclear generators.

Even in my confessional mood, I cannot bring myself to support coal. I defy anyone who knows what opencast mining looks like to say the words “clean coal” without blushing. This leaves only gas. If my calculations are correct, the retail price of hydrogen made from natural gas will be around fifty percent greater than the retail price of gas itself. But because fuel cells supplying both heat and electricity are more efficient than gas boilers, the total cost would be roughly the same.

So it seems to me that a key environmental challenge, odd as this seems, is to ensure that gas has a future in the United Kingdom, by making its supplies more secure. I don’t mean invading Iran or sucking up to Saparmurat Niyazov. I mean increasing our storage capacity so that we cannot be held to ransom – in the short term at least – either by Gazprom or by the companies which control the flow through the interconnector. While other European countries hoard an average of 52 days’ worth of gas, the UK stores only fourteen {12}. As we discovered in February, we’ve put most of our eggs into one basket: the Rough Field facility, which can hold about three billion cubic metres, accounts for seventy percent of our capacity.

The ten new projects under construction in the United Kingdom will provide us with only fifty percent more storage space {13}. We need to develop four or five massive reservoirs like the Rough site, in which gas is pumped back into depleted fields under the seabed during the summer and then extracted in the winter. As far as I can tell, only one significant scheme of this kind is even being discussed: a proposal by a company called Stag Energy to hollow out 500 million cubic metres of caverns from the salt deposits two thousand feet beneath the Irish Sea {14}.

So in two respects, the future seems to lie in the seabed. Our natural gas supplies will be secured and our carbon dioxide buried in old gas fields and salt deposits. All my instincts rebel against this prospect, but there don’t seem to be any other answers. Cutting the carbon our homes produce means hydrogen, and hydrogen means natural gas. I appear to have become a supporter of the fossil fuel industry.

www.monbiot.com

References:

1. Eg Christopher Adams, 17th February 2006. Industry feels heat of gas price surge. The Financial Times.

2. BBC Online, 21st February 2006. Damaged gas rig ‘out for a month’. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/humber/4736942.stm

3. BBC Online, 14th March 2006. Crippled rig out of use until May. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/humber/4802656.stm

4. Andrew Hansen, Centrica, 21st April 2006. pers comm.

5. Gazprom, 18th April 2006. On Results of Alexey Miller’s Meeting with Ambassadors of the European Union countries. Press release. http://www.gazprom.ru/eng/news/2006/04/19363.shtml

6. Nicholas Watt, 21st April 2006. EU accused of ignoring human rights abuses in rush for gas deal. The Guardian.

7. Carola Hoyos, 21st April 2006. Energy watchdog to back N-power. The Financial Times.

8. http://www.dti.gov.uk/energy/inform/energy_indicators/ind11_2004.pdf

9. The Department of Trade and Industry, updated July 2005. Energy consumption in the UK. http://www.dti.gov.uk/energy/inform/energy_consumption/ecuk.pdf

10. The Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, 2005. Decarbonising the UK – energy for a climate conscious future. Tyndall Centre, Manchester.

11. National Academy of Engineering – Board on Energy and Environmental Systems, 2004. The Hydrogen Economy: Opportunities, Costs, Barriers, and R&D Needs (2004). http://www.nap.edu/books/0309091632/html/1.html

12.House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, 15th July 2004. Renewable Energy: Practicalities. The Stationery Office, London.

13. Andrew Hansen, ibid.

14. Stag Energy, 2006. Gateway Project – Fact Sheet. Sent to me by Stag, 21st April 2006.

http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2006/04/25/my-new-fondness-for-fossil-fuels/

Bill Totten http://www.ashisuto.co.jp/english/index.html

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