What We Never Know

We never really know.  It just happens.

I lost my sister this past week. Well, I guess people would call her my sister-in-law, but really she was like both my second sister and a brother I never had. 41 years. That’s a long time. We take it for granted. It seems like our most loved ones will always be there, especially those that have been there for us when we struggled or floundered. We call them our rocks. We never know when the rock slides come.

I’ve had some rocks slide away from me slowly. My dad 23 years ago defied the docs and took a year-and-a-half to move on. Mother was the same. My father-in-law was quicker, taking only a few days. Truth was, though, we knew for weeks ahead but we just denied it.

But Nancy? This was a sudden landslide. An earthquake. The rock is there and then it’s gone.  Bam. She’s gone. Pulmonary embolism outside a store while running a quick errand.  She didn’t expect it. I didn’t expect it. Lord knows my sister didn’t expect it.  We never really know.

Tell your loved ones you love them. Do it often. Because we never know.

So today is Saturday. I’ve got a lot of work to do, but some unstructured time. I’m trying to figure out how to move forward in a landscape that’s missing one big rock.

The news isn’t helpful. Two black men killed by a white supremacist outside a grocery store in Kentucky. An anti-semite shoots up a synagogue in Pittsburgh. Bombs mailed to reporters, former Presidents & cabinet officers, and others by a hate-filled, paranoid right-winger in Florida.  All of these men, and sadly they are all white men, chose to escalate from throwing verbal stones to throwing rocks to shooting bullets and throwing bombs. Why? Because they thought they knew. They thought they knew that their targets weren’t fully human. They thought they knew they were in the right. But their facts were wrong. They didn’t understand. Their own traumas and fears painted a false landscape of hate and an isolated world.  But they didn’t really know. We never really know.

Those men never met my sister. They probably would have hated her too. I don’t know for sure.  But she wouldn’t have hated them. She would have seen the hurt child in each of them.  She knew that’s something most of us share. It’s where we can start healing. That’s where she did work. Work on the healing now to prevent the hate later is the best way to stop the hurt.

This week is the 56th anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis.  There’s a great read here by Jon Schwarz in the Intercept, What Trump and Bolton Don’t Understand About Nuclear War. Take some time and read it. It’s about what we didn’t know. It’s about what most of us haven’t known or known wrongly.

I was in first grade during the October Cuban missile crisis. It’s still my strongest memory of first grade. I remember hiding under my desk during an a-bomb drill. That’s not just an Internet meme. It was real. We did it. I remember my anxiety about trying to remember the difference between the fire drill alarm and the a-bomb alarm. I mean, you run outside for a fire but you really don’t want to run outside into the a-bombs, right?  You never know when the a-bombs will come.  I was lucky. I had an older sister who helped calm me and figure out the alarms. We knew in Dayton, Ohio we’d be among the first to go – unless we could stay under our school desk. We never knew how close we came.

Like the rest of the U.S. we were sold a story about how President Kennedy stood up to Khrushchev and made those Russians back down. We weren’t told about the missiles we agreed to tear down too in the deal. We weren’t told how we had erected the many missiles threatening Moscow first.  No, we were told the Russians (excuse me, the Soviets) were just evil. They wanted to destroy us – just because. But we had to stand up to them and be willing to destroy them first.  Just like how this week’s bomber, synagogue shooter, and Kentucky shooter all were told that the blacks, the Jews, the Democrats, the liberals were all evil and out to destroy us, just, just  because. But they didn’t know. They didn’t know that their information was incomplete and often wrong.

The leaders in the Cuban missile crisis didn’t know either. They made assumptions about the others. Assumptions that were wrong. They saw each other as, well, “others”, not humans.  56 years ago, we were saved because one out of three Soviet submarine commanders wouldn’t/couldn’t agree to kill or hate despite the peer pressure of his  two fellow commanders.  One person was aware that he might not know.  Instead of acting on what he felt he “just knew”, he acted on the possibility that he just might not know. If you’re too young to remember the Cuban missile crisis, think about this. If that one Russian sub officer hadn’t dissented, you likely wouldn’t be here. Period. You’d never have been born.

We don’t know. The only way to for us to know more, to move forward, to keep this human race and planet alive and thriving is to talk, listen, and consider that maybe we don’t know it all right now. That means learning. And being open.

I don’t have Nancy’s ability to work with kids and adults about their traumas. But I’m going to keep working on open learning and being open to the possibility that we just don’t know it all.  It’s the only way we move forward.

Peace folks.  And tell each other you love them. Be a rock for another and let us build a peaceful world together.

jim

Second Casualty of War

It’s  been said often that the “first casualty when war comes is truth”.  If so, then surely the second casualty of war is the English language.  The Pentagon, White House and State Dept have long butchered plain language and favored the use of euphemisms.  We long ago learned that it’s not really civilians that get killed, it’s “collateral damage is incurred”.

Now with President Obama’s and NATO’s attempts to spend money blowing things up in Libya so that we can’t spend the money at home where it might create jobs, the same people are falling over themselves to invent new terms to describe what’s happening.  We must, it seems, at all costs avoid using the words “war” or “attack”.  The terms they’ve used though are about as muddy and unclear as our objectives in Libya.

For the full effect, I recommend watching the March 29, 2011 episode of the Daily Show With Jon Stewart.  The segment is the first one and it’s long but worth it.  You can find it at the link – warning, link plays audio and commercials automatically.

Two good ones are Sarah Palin referring to the Libyan operations as a “squirmish”.  This is bettered by an official assertion by an Admiral that it’s really a “kinetic military action” *

The best, though, is Stewart’s suggestion that instead of a “turd sandwich” as one analyst called it, we refer to it as “Bread-Based Feces Containment Operation”.  Yes, a BBFCO.  We are too civilized to attack and go to war.  We do BBFCO’s.

* I’m astounded the Admiral could say it repeatedly with a straight face.  What’s Kinetic Military Action mean?  Have we ever fought a war that wasn’t “kinetic”, where we just stood still?  Is it possible to have a Kinetic Military Inaction?

 

U.S. Is Not Broke: Obama Launches Jobs at Libyans

Of course neither Obama nor the Congress nor the news media think of this past weekend’s launch of hostilities with Libya in these terms. But it’s what’s happening. Three weeks ago we were being told by Obama, the Democrats, the Republicans, and lord knows Fox News, that the “U.S. is broke”.  We “must cut spending and cut the deficit”.  It was all nonsense then and it’s nonsense now.  All the talk about needs to cut the deficit were nothing but political posturing to cover for the truth which is that they don’t want to help ordinary Americans and they don’t care about jobs. The “they” is the elected folks from both parties.

Now a chance to get involved in a war over oil and the story is different.  On Saturday in the first few hours alone, the U.S. launched over 119 cruise missiles.  Cruise missiles don’t come back. Launching one is the same as burning money.  Actually it’s worse. Money can be easily replaced by the government – just click and create the new bank reserves. A cruise missile represents lost real goods and resources.  Goods and resources that could have been used for productive purposes and strengthened the economy.  Instead, they simply go boom.  Oftentimes taking human life with them. A cruise missile costs $1,066,465 each. 119 cruise missiles is $119 million gone in an hour or two. Those missiles could have been spent on job-creation and stimulus producing jobs, teaching children, and feeding families. But instead, in a few hours on Saturday, March 19 the U.S. launched  a lot of jobs over Libya.

Lest you think this is just the crank ramblings of a left-over 70’s anti-war commenter (which it may well be), let me quote one of the greatest generals of the 20th century.  Dwight Eisenhower described the opportunity costs of military escapades and equipment as:

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter with a half-million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people. . . . This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”

Mark Thoma summarized the whole situation quite succinctly.  His entire post:

Revealed Preference

We have enough money to pay for military action in Libya, but not for job creation?

 

War Is Not the Answer

I must add my voice to Brad Delong’s, Dean Baker’s, and Mark Thoma’s.  War is NOT the answer to our economic problems.  The only way war can help economically is by increasing government spending dramatically.  If we could do it for a war, then we can get the same benefits without the dead bodies, the broken families, and the destruction just by focusing our spending here on constructive stuff.  David Broder should be fired. I will let Mark Thoma explain:

I don’t know if I can muster the shrillness this deserves, so let me turn it over to Dean Baker and Brad DeLong. Brad DeLong first:

There Should Be Resignations in Protest and on Principle from the Washington Post Today…, by Brad DeLong: …but there should be such resignations every day. …

David Broder… call[s] for Barack Obama to bomb Iran to get the economy moving? It would be good for the country if this monstrosity shut itself down today. … Broder is … monstrous:

[I]f Obama cannot spur that [economic] growth by 2012, he is unlikely to be reelected…. Can Obama harness the forces that might spur new growth?…. What are those forces?… One is the power of the business cycle…. What else might affect the economy? The answer is obvious, but its implications are frightening. War and peace influence the economy.

Look back at FDR and the Great Depression. What finally resolved that economic crisis? World War II.

Here is where Obama is likely to prevail…. [H]e can spend much of 2011 and 2012 orchestrating a showdown with the mullahs. This will help him politically because the opposition party will be urging him on. And as tensions rise and we accelerate preparations for war, the economy will improve.

I am not suggesting, of course, that the president incite a war to get reelected. But the nation will rally around Obama because Iran is the greatest threat to the world in the young century. If he can confront this threat and contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions, he will have made the world safer and may be regarded as one of the most successful presidents in history.

Dean Baker:

David Broder Calls for War With Iran to Boost the Economy, by Dean Baker: This is not a joke (at least not on my part). David Broder, the longtime columnist and reporter at a formerly respectable newspaper,quite explicitly suggested that fighting a war with Iran could be an effective way to boost the economy. Ignoring the idea that anyone should undertake war as an economic policy, Broder’s economics is also a visit to loon tune land. …

Sorry Mr. Broder, outside of Fox on 15th the world does not work this way. War affects the economy the same way that other government spending affects the economy. …

If spending on war can provide jobs and lift the economy then so can spending on roads, weatherizing homes, or educating our kids. Yes, that’s right, all the forms of stimulus spending that Broder derided so much because they add to the deficit will increase GDP and generate jobs just like the war that Broder is advocating (which will also add to the deficit).

So, we have two routes to prosperity. We can either build up our physical infrastructure and improve the skills and education of our workers or we can go kill Iranians. Broder has made it clear where he stands.

Even they aren’t shrill enough for my taste. Trying to sell a war by pointing to positive economic and political externalities is pretty disgusting, especially when the same economic benefits and then some can be realized by spending the money on infrastructure instead. Killing Iranians and Americans is not required. (And even if there was some way to justify going to war to spur the economy, the spike in oil prices that would surely occur would likely make things worse, not better.)

How about a war on joblessness? Had that war been conducted with the support of people like Broder, or without for that matter, the economy would be doing better, and Democrats would be doing better in the polls. I’m convinced of that. But the Broders of the world, the “serious people,” aren’t so serious when it comes to ordinary households struggling to make ends meet. Where’s the support for their struggles? Why aren’t they worth spending money on? Grrr.