MILLION-DOLLAR SOLDIERS AND MISPLACED PRIORITIES

12 09 2010

Nine years ago yesterday, something awful happened in downtown Manhattan.  Whether it was the work of a small, dedicated group of terrorists who slipped through our defenses or a “Reichstag fire” has still not been settled.  While I find it hard to believe that the World Trade Center caught fire so readily and collapsed so neatly and completely without skilled assistance (including a building that did not get hit by an airplane but did contain surveillance equipment that could have told us who-knows-what), I also find it hard to believe that, in this Wikileaks age, nobody who’s in on the secret has spilled any beans so far.  Maybe it really was done by Israeli intelligence operatives.  They are some mean, dedicated mofos.

Speaking of mean, dedicated mofos, let’s give a shout-out to the US Congress for failing to pass a bill that would provide funds to help the thousands of people who are still sick today because they inhaled WTC dust.  Kudos to Bush’s EPA secretary, Christie Whitman, who announced that it was safe to work in the rubble without protective equipment. Kudos to the “support our heroes” Republicans who wouldn’t support the bill because it was  financed by closing a corporate tax loophole, and kudos to the Democrats who hobbled the bill by proposing it in a form that required a 2/3 majority to pass.  What a wonderful government we have, yessir.

But that’s not what I’m here to talk about.  The rubble from the World Trade Center has been consigned to the dust bin of history, and is unlikely to ever be exhumed and examined, to the great relief of whoever is keeping whatever secrets there may be about this event.  In response to the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, because a bunch of Saudi Arabians allegedly attacked us, and the Afghans were allegedly giving them shelter, aid and comfort.

We never have found that pesky Bin Laden, in spite of all our vaunted high-tech surveillance and the presence of around 160,000 US soldiers, over 100,000 mercenaries, aka “private contractors,”  and the deputization of around 200,000 Afghans as soldiers and policemen–although, given the shoddy state of record keeping in Afghanistan, one of those deputies could very well be Ben Laden…but, I digress.  The country is relatively small, about 250,000 square miles, which means that there are nearly two foreign or Afghan soldiers per square mile of Afghanistan.  Many of those square miles are incredibly rugged, but others are flat as a pancake, with nowhere to hide. That should be enough “boots on the ground” to find whatever’s there, but Bin Laden, that former CIA asset, still eludes us, as do thousands of his supporters, aka a sizable percentage of the people of Afghanistan.  Yet another batch of mean, dedicated mofos.

So, the U.S. has sent 160,000 soldiers to one of the most isolated, primitive places in the world, and is trying to make it comfy for them.  When my father fought in World War II, he was issued  a blanket to sleep in and a tent to put his blanket in.  The war was nearly over before he got a real sleeping bag.  In Afghanistan, Uncle Sam is providing air conditioning for tents in the desert.  That’ll boost your expenses.  In fact, the war is costing the U.S. a million dollars per soldier per year.  This comes to about six thousand dollars a year for each of the approximately twenty-five million citizens of Afghanistan, whose per capita annual income is estimated to be about $800.  Gee…might they become a lot more peaceful and open minded if we withdrew our soldiers and instituted a guaranteed annual income of $1600 per person?  We’d save a lot of money, too, which we could really use over here, dontcha know?

Meanwhile,just south of Afghanistan, Pakistan is suffering from devastating flooding.  The immediate cause of this is an unusually strong monsoon, but what has made this worse is that Pakistan’s hills have been denuded by firewood seekers and grazing animals, so there is nothing to catch the water as it falls on barren hillsides and swells the country’s rivers.  Over 800 million dollars has been raised for Pakistan so far for immediate relief; more would be necessary to actually fix the deeper problem.  Eight hundred million sounds like a lot of money–but it’s the cost of maintaining just eight hundred of the 160,000 American soldiers in the region.  That’s one-half of one percent of the troops and the budget.  But we can’t spare it–gotta make Afghanistan safe for democracy, or oil pipelines and mineral exploitation in any case.  The US has kicked in the equivalent of just 150 soldiers from our Afghan expedition–a tenth of one percent.  That’s seven and a half dollars per displaced person in Pakistan.  Pakistanis are dying from malnutrition and bad water while U.S. soldiers eat steak and sleep in air-conditioned tents.  What is wrong with this picture?

US soldiers in Afghanistan are making enemies just by being there.  Scrimping on aid to Pakistan because we’re fighting a war in Afghanistan is making enemies by not being there.  In the Middle East, this contributes to the perception that the US would rather shoot Muslims than save them.  Here at home, where mass demonstrations against mosques are all the rage from Murfreesboro to Manhattan, Americans are likewise pouring gasoline on the fire of Muslim anger at our arrogance in imposing our secular/Christian, commercial way of life on them.  Some Muslims are indeed violent and misogynistic, but we lack the moral authority to inspire them out of those bad habits.  Not only are we pretty violent and sexist ourselves, but our secular, commercial, “Christian” culture is revoltingly shallow compared to theirs, in which spiritual considerations take precedence over commercialism.

“Secular/Christian”?  How can our way of life be both?  OK, this is the “deep green” part.  One of the changes in thinking that marked the emergence of Protestantism from Catholicism was that Protestants viewed a person’s path through life, whatever it might be, as, at least potentially, a “calling,” a spiritual enterprise, and identified material success in the world as a sign of spiritual success.  That is, if God loves you, He will make you rich.   Therefore, if you profess Christianity, and you’re wealthy, God must love you.  That is how secularism and Christianity can reinforce each other.  If you want to learn more about this, read Max Weber‘s “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.”  Weber was a prophet.

At a still deeper level, we are falling victim to good, old-fashioned Christian dualism–good and evil, Devil and God.  “We who are saved are good, those who are not saved are evil.”  If we are saved/good, any “evil” must be “out there–our own mind is pure because we are saved, so somebody else is the problem.  This has been a consistent theme through American history–some group has always been demonized, starting with the Native Americans, then witches, Quakers, Irish, Germans, Italians, Eastern Europeans, Negroes, Chinese,  Jews, labor organizers, Communists, hippies, gays.  Now it’s Islam’s turn.

Nor can we ignore the fact that the real villains in American history–the ruling class–have distracted the masses into these foolish prejudices to preserve their own power. And no, I am not just pointing to another “enemy out there.”  We are all deeply enmeshed with those who rule us.  It’s called “the American way of life,” and the sooner we admit that it is, in fact, negotiable, the easier it will be  not just on  us, but on the whole planet.

music:  Jackson Browne, “Soldier of Plenty

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A WAKE-UP CALL

9 05 2010

There was no earthquake.  There was no tornado.  There was no hurricane boiling up from the Gulf.  And Wolf Creek Dam didn’t even break.  It was just, as the Army Corps of Engineers put it, “a thousand-year flood.”

And suddenly, life came to a screeching, splashing halt here in middle Tennessee.  Interstate highways were closed and impassible.  The electricity went out over large parts of town.  There was no way to pump gasoline, if you could get anywhere, and grocery stores, their freezers, coolers, and cash registers disabled, closed down as tons of food. albeit only a three-day supply for the city,  spoiled.  Rising waters overwhelmed one of the city’s water treatment plants and came within a foot of flooding the other before starting to recede.

Up where I live, we were lucky.  Our homestead is at the head of a hollow, so although on Saturday and Sunday  we had a whitewater stream rushing down the dirt road that leads up our hill, damaging the road and washing away material we had stockpiled to expand our garden, the water quickly moved on and we have only had to deal witht the relative inconveniences of a 14-hour electrical outage and an intermittent supply of city tap water.

Things have been much more dire elsewhere.  Just a mile downstream from us, White’s Creek has expanded across its floodplain, inundating houses.  Here’s a quote from a friend who lives along the Harpeth:

Beth and I just got back from a 2 hour canoe ride to assess the damage to our place and to the neighbors…Hundreds of our neighbors no longer have houses to come home to. We paddled across the big lake to Beech Bend Subdivision where every house was at least partly submerged along with their cars and trucks. The Harpeth was taking the shortest route by cutting off Beech Bend and running a strong current right through the yards and houses. People had to wade quickly out and had no time to gather anything. We ferried a man back to his house from the shore so he could get his skidoo out of the garage. It barely fit between the water and the top of the door. You could hear the sound of a broken water main inside. He tried to wade  through the house in chest deep water to retrieve his wallet but said his bed was pinned against the ceiling and he couldn’t get to it. A National Guard helicopter was buzzing us, probably thinking we were looters, but they didn’t shoot. A cop back on the shore said that a kayak had just flipped over a few blocks away and the people had to be rescued. He said we had better leave quickly or the authorities would probably not let us get back out. So we stroked hard for home, the current strong between every house.

Except for the fact that the authorities didn’t shoot (hey, my friends are white!), it sounds like New Orleans, doesn’t it?

As an aside, I think the May family should be very grateful that they were stopped from building Maytown, because this flood would have washed it all away.  How ’bout it, Jack?  But, I digress…..

Cassandras like me and Albert Bates (Albert much more emphatically than I, to be sure) have been warning local governments for years that we are woefully unprepared for disaster.  Our police, fire departments, and hospitals have little or nothing in the way of long-term backup for motor fuel or electricity.  Maybe this brief, but dramatic interlude will bring official Nashville to its senses.

The IPCC has warned that one consequence of global warming will be more intense storms, and more of them.  What just happened in Nashville has been termed “a thousand-year storm,” but I have an uneasy feeling that we will see its equal, or worse, a lot sooner than the thirty-first century, quite possibly in the next decade or two.  Maybe even next year.

My eighty-year old neighbor, who has lived in this hollow just about all her life, said she had never seen it rain like that before.  “Is God punishing us for being bad?” she asked my wife.   I would have to say it’s not some God out there that’s punishing us, but this is a fate we are bringing on ourselves.  Can we wake up enough to stop before it’s too late?  Or is it too late already?

music:  The Band, “Look Out Cleveland








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