Why this and not that? America’s topsy turvy priorities

Why this and not that? I don’t understand my own country much of the time.

For instance, in his first major public speech after resigning from his position as head of the CIA, David Petraeus felt he had to apologize again for having had an affair.

But some elements of the CIA engaged in extensive torture and farmed out torture to foreign black sites through the past decade, and neither he nor anyone else has apologized for that! (To be fair, it happened before he came on deck, though questions have been raised about torture in Iraq when he was commander there, too).

Why is a personal peccadillo taken more seriously than a widespread and systematic flaunting of US and international law?

Or, a Republican congressman took heat for saying that ‘wetbacks’ used to work on the family ranch.

But when Google commemorated Cesar Chavez, who worked tirelessly to organize and help Mexican laborers, they were slammed for doing it on Easter Sunday. But isn’t the resurrection a message of hope for the oppressed, symbolically crucified by low wages and unfair working conditions?

So which is it, is it bad to put down laborers or is it bad to commemorate their struggles?

Or, the Republican Party is supposed to be the party of business and property rights. They don’t want taxes to interfere with the value of homes.

But the biggest threat to property and to business worth in the world is now climate change, which will hurt property owners along seashores and will disrupt many businesses.

Yet the Republican way of dealing with this crisis to is try to pass laws forbidding people from pointing out that seashore property is suddenly worth less, and to try to convince the public that climate change isn’t happening. Since climate change is already inflicting damage and the damage will increase, denial will not actually protect businesses or property.

Or, Republicans proudly take stands against burdens being placed on businesses and government interference.

But on gay marriage rights or abortion rights, Republicans are the strongest force in the country for government coming into our living rooms and actually laying hands on our bodies.

Why this and not that? I don’t get it.

23 Responses

  1. The Republican Party is “lost” tribal,
    And by lore it will never be liable
    For all the bad things
    That await in the wings,
    So why should it ever be pliable

  2. On Sunday’s This Week they ran a segment on a new book featuring pictures taken of GW Bush during his years in the White House. Some of the photos showed warmonger in chief kissing wounded soldiers as they lay wounded in a hospital bed while others showed Bush praying with MLK’s widow.

    This only proves the neocons still revere the stooge GW Bush, a man who created such much misery. Naturally, they did not show photos of bodies blow into fragments or young children hysterically crying as they laid to rest their fathers, all thanks to Bush/Cheney and their neocon cabal.

  3. Esp. ludicrous was that Cesar Chavez’s birth date was Sunday, just a quirk of the lunar calendar that Easter fell on it this year.

  4. Professor, I know it’s just a rhetorical device — I’m sure you “get it” just fine, both as to what’s happening, and in the context of human values and behaviors, why.

    As to torture and drone-launched missile and bomb attacks, the “why” is really, really simple, don’t you see: “It’s in our national interest.” (And, you know, it’s kind of exciting and can be a lot of fun!) Because you can plainly see that both have had such significant effects on US “security,” scaring those nasty Muslims (and all the other Wogs) into doing the bidding of those who rule the rest of us, we who now also have to be scared that “US forces” will spy on us in our bank-robbed homes and Bain-Capital-stripped workplaces and privatized schools, and have decreed they have the power (not the ‘right,’ of course) to do whatever they darn please to our bodies after some secret process that determines we are a “threat” to Their Rulerships.

    And of course taking an ever larger share of the real wealth we generate in all those workplaces, on the institutionalized way to concretizing their dream of becoming Boss of the Whole World.

  5. “This” is the ideal; “that” is the personal (political, social, religious, whathaveyou) expression. Petraeus was the ideal before he became the person(able) that people didn’t expect to know. His warring was done with the best of ideal intentions before the grit and grime of the environmental factors became overwhelming; Iraq’s a mess. The thing we learn when going into the military is that the generals put their pants on the same way as the lowest enlisted person. Their uniforms always look perfect but they all start out the same way. The ideal is to become (like) a general but getting bogged down in the details can be too limiting.

    The problem with the United States’ leadership is not keeping the ideal in mind when executing their policies, when they become all-too-personal. Being right should be at the forefront of every decision and every corresponding and resulting action. Unfortunately, things don’t always work out and then diversions become more and more pronounced before they are the norm. As we’ve seen with Iraq, “right” might have been some Arabian Night dream of rescuing the demographic in distress but the leaders had to have lost their focus while on their magic carpet rides …

    Petraeus’ (and others’) mistakes began with giving credence to the rumours and propaganda that surrounding his supposed ‘affair,’ similar to what happened with Bill Jeff and Gary Condit. Instead of keeping the issue personal and private, they all permitted their lives to be consumed by something that should have been recognised as an expression of the ideal (and who doesn’t recognise ‘love’ as being the ultimate [or have all the songwriters of the last hundred years been blowing smoke]). They lost control of their fires and (almost) became consumed by them.

    Rather than addressing the ideal within its own context, the detractors undermined it with their innate hatred of those who achieve more than the naysayers ever could. I recently saw something that has put this notion into context for me, “Jealousy comes from counting others’ blessings instead of your own.” The problem is compounded by those who haven’t as good thoughts or ideas or words as another and seek to destroy the person when unable to confront the thoughts or ideas or words on their own merits. The less blessed want the blessed to have less.

    The ideal has long term implications while the personal only works for the short run. Politicians think in terms of two, four, or six years and multiples thereof. Their thinking is – unfortunately – constricted by their emotions of political mortality, rather than notions of morality. This is true until, of course, the fallacy of ‘mortality’ is exposed, as we’ve long seen in Bill Jeff’s case. As Margaret Mitchell pointed out a long time ago, “Until you have lost your reputation, you never realize what a burden it was or what freedom really is.”*

    Until we all become April’s fools, we’ll just be foolish!

    * link to citatecelebre.eu

    • “Rather than addressing the ideal within its own context”

      Ideals have no context. That’s their point: they are transcendent. They rely on no historical contingency or subjective whim. They simply are in a universal sense.

      “The detractors…”

      Do you mean those of us who argued against the war? Don’t blame us for the failure of the war. We told you beforehand that the war was folly, and it turned out to be more of an epic failure than even this “naysayer” predicted.

  6. Juan: The explanation is easy. The Bush WH official who said:”We create our own reality” (in Iraq)was giving away the secret. I saw Gen. Allen answering Afghanistan questions on C-Span. In every answer he appeared to be gazing at the power point presentation in his head as he droned on for 5 minutes leading to the conclusion that Kabul will be secure by Jan 2015. Then he would conclude by saying: “I hope I didn’t leave anything out.”
    He did, at one point indicate that whether the Afghans would fight the Taliban after we’re gone remains to be seen.
    No mention of $$$, corruption, elections,air support, drugs.
    Just create your own reality Juan. And then repeat, repeat, repeate!! Once everyone is asleep just thank them and bow!

  7. To someone on the outside it looks even more baffling.

    As a teenager I got very confused on how American’s said one thing but did another in practice and thought that I was not understanding the bigger picture properly.

    It was only after I read Chomsky and others that I realized that a lot of what was said/done was actually in the context of special interests. After understanding that, connecting the dots became much easier.

    The appearance of doing the right thing seems to be more important than doing the right thing. The way MSM handles these things by being partisan does not help matters.

    The gun control issue is so simple when seen in the right context but it is muddled by an amazing amount of doublespeak.

  8. Because none of these positions are motivated by consistent principle or logic. Any appeal to either by advocates of the policies is a smoke screen.

    Positions labeled as traditional values are really just what the speaker imagines his grandpa would have preferred, and political positions sold as part of a freedom or small government agenda are really just the preferences of whatever monied interest the speaker has accepted patronage from most recently.

    Refusing to take the red herring arguments seriously and instead talking about what’s really going on would increase the efficiency and clarity of the discussion a great deal.

  9. “So which is it, is it bad to put down laborers or is it bad to commemorate their struggles?”
    In America it just seems to be both. The elite will never give and inch and will always take the mile. It been so since Columbus and his friends set foot here 600 years ago.
    I would be nice to think that things might change but… . We are still fighting the same battles of centuries ago for the same reasons.
    You might say: Just, keep up the fight!

  10. We should consider a possible answer in the demonstrations of our national Jekyll-and-Hyde personality that has been part of this nation’s way of life since the first colonists fleeing religious persecution got into the persecution business themselves. Consider two of countless examples:

    During the Kennedy presidency, good Americans expanded a tradition of humanitarian aid around the world with the Peace Corps. At the same time through bungling and arrogance we were key figures in that monstrous march of folly in Vietnam getting tens of thousands of Americans and anywhere between 1.5 and three million Vietnamese killed and maimed.

    While many Americans volunteered to help the poor and ill in countries around the world and to support those volunteers financially, our government instigated and maintained sanctions against Iraq that led to the inhumane deaths of an estimated half million Iraqi children.

  11. Republicans are the perfect Orwellian creature. Doublespeak and Doublethink is second nature to them. To them, the more the government tries to run your personal life the “smaller” it is.

  12. It almost makes sense if you see it this way: the default liberal position emphasizes rights regarding your person (privacy, speech) and responsibilities regarding your property (taxes, environmental protections). The default conservative position emphasizes responsibilities regarding your person (“personal responsibility”) and rights regarding your property (low taxes, etc.).

    One problem, is that the normal humanitarian viewpoint would usually hold that personal rights trump property rights when the two come into conflict, while the modern right seems to regard property rights as continuing to be paramount no matter the personal cost. For example, they see the right to own guns as more important than the right to not get shot.

    Another problem is that they define personal responsibility in a manner increasingly out of step with the mainstream — gay people getting married instead of just shacking up could easily be characterized as a conservative position, and use of birth control seems far more responsible than having children you can’t afford.

    • You have hit on something in noting the default liberal and conservative positions, emphasizing personal rights (privacy) and personal responsibility (less government) respectively, McJulie. The perfect illustration of these respective positions, and the pernicious effect they can have on both individuals and society, was the movement in the 1970s to empty out the mental hospitals in the US.

      The liberals were all for it because they thought that institutionalizing individuals violated their “rights,” and some went so far as to suggest that the mentally ill were simply experiencing a “different reality” and shouldn’t be committed as a result. the conservatives were all for it because they didn’t want to pay “taxes” to keep the mentally ill institutionalized. The result has been with us ever since: Hundreds of homeless on the streets in every major city, many of them mentally ill, but they have their “privacy” and they don’t cost anyone additional “taxes.”

      The Law of Unintended Consequences strikes again. Or perhaps it was intended all along, and both liberals and conservatives got the result they wanted.

    • I think your observation is accurate, and it’s partly because conservatives have to believe that rich people are superior to poor people to justify economic inequality, therefore the extent to which you are fully a person is based on how much property you have. The rich discharge their “responsibilities” by being greedy, aggressive and successful and thus making their tribe… uh, republic stronger. The poor are just holding it back with all their stupid rights.

  13. JC wrote: “But on gay marriage rights or abortion rights, Republicans are the strongest force in the country for government coming into our living rooms and actually laying hands on our bodies.”

    The GOP view on gay marriage is ridiculous, but its views on legalized abortion are considerably more difficult to refute, for the obvious reasons.

  14. Once I decided news is not about news but entertainment, I realized news is what Americans want to read (if they can) or hear. If it doesn’t entertain me, I switch channels.

    The masses simply don’t care about torture, who dies in some far off war or anything else of any consequence. As one person I knows quickly says “I like fantasy better”. We bitch about “government” but expect it to deliver what we want, when we want it and how we want it just as long as we can charge it.

  15. The “self created reality” a commenter referred to above and the billions of assistance supporting it rendered by Rupert Murdoch, Faux Snews, the Koch evil twins etc. etc. and an apparently failing education system all help explain why it is so easy to take American (and Canadian) eyes off of the things that actually matter.

    If you keep folks worried about what sexual practices are happening next door, they won’t notice that you sent their job to China and you MIGHT get on part time at Wally Mart.

  16. Perhaps the American Taliban, the GOP or – more correctly – the rape-public-cans ‘celebrate’ April Fools all year long?

    Part of their life style to try to trick others: lie to folks, steal their dough, rob them of their rights, etc…

  17. There are parallels between Cesar Chavez and Martin Luther King, and he is a just example of someone the Mexican-American community should honor, however he was not viewed as perfect by all persons.

    For example, he had a policy during a period of time in his early years of reporting to the Immigration and Naturalization Service undocumented aliens who refused to join his union or who broke strikes. The INS is widely regarded as disliked by immigrants, primarily those of latin extraction, for heavy-handed tactics.

    Chavez also met with ardently embraced Fiipino President Ferdinand Marcos and endorsed his regime – which drew fire from human rights activists.

    Also, produce growers from California had their labor costs skyrocket due to wage increases brought about from unionization and had to deal with other labor rights being asserted via union grievances – although migrant farm workers clearly often suffered from substandard working conditions which were ameliorated by United Farm Workers’ union advocacy.

  18. As far as skyrocketing costs for produce growers in California who could no longer exploit their laborers as easily I say, cry me a river.

  19. This obsession of a society with the forms of propriety and not the reality of injustice reminds me of an argument in Plato’s Republic between Socrates and a young oligarch, Polemarchus, over the definition of justice. The latter’s argument is the tribalist (now “patriot” or “conservative”) position in its purest form, I think.

    “Justice is doing good unto friends and harm unto enemies.”

    2500 years ago, the implications of this were obvious, and easily shot to pieces by Socrates. But there is a certain red meat there that is still delicious to our reptile brains. The sophistication of modern sophistry, at the command of Polemarchus’ heirs, is to disguise our selfish cronyism (favors for our friends) under a myriad of causes, religions, moral habits, economic movements, and foreign alliances. Our friends might thus be tricking our enemies into voting for them, and we wink at that. But logical principles, in practice, will sometimes help our side, and sometimes the other side, and that’s not tolerable. The adherence to ancient codes and scriptures, which have to be interpreted by wealthy specialists, solves the problem by somehow usually siding with the friends of the rich, and punishing their enemies. So religion and “traditional values” must be defended, even at a short-term cost to the defenders.

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