Sunday, May 12, 2013
This is America: Blind Consumerism
The psychopathology of consumerism: We have become programmed like robots to spend more than we can afford on things we don't really need. Like sheep headed to the trimmers, we dutifully spend our meager incomes at the bidding of a myriad of shop-till- you-drop gimmicks while capitalism fleeces us all. The worst part is that the useless junk we buy doesn't benefit the US economy, it benefits mainly China's. Those who control America's shadow government – the real movers and shakers from behind the scenes, not their puppets in Congress, the White House, and the Supreme Court – have sold out our country to the opposing side and have thus committed treason. The reason most people don't care about or won't even consider this glaring reality is because they can “live so much cheaper” buying the very inexpensively made garbage that China has been dumping on our shores since the 1980's. Cheaper at first, yes, but due to shoddy manufacturing and poor quality Chinese products are notoriously short-lived and invariably cheap imitations of much better quality merchandise that used to be made here in the US. And so we fight and claw for the thriftiest deal at the various suburban big box stores offering pathetically low wages and zero benefits to staff.
So, how much can we save on all these wonderful items? That depends on whether one can afford to pay cash while doing their shopping or not. If one uses plastic instead of paper, that person will end up paying far more in interest, fees and carrying charges than they would have for a comparable higher-ticket item at the finest store in town. How much can we save? Let's ask some more pertinent questions and explore some far more evident realities about this issue. For example, what about the Chinese workers slaving in dangerous non union factories for 1-2 dollars a day? What does the company make off the deal? Who is actually winning? Is it really the mesmerized consumer teary and googly-eyed while giggling gleefully at 30, 40, and 50% off deals? Or could it be that the whole stinking thing is rigged from beginning to end? Of course it is, just look at what is being sold and calculate how much it costs to make it. If I look at a can of pork and beans on the grocery shelf and it's priced at 75 cents, it doesn't take a marketing genius to figure out that 75 cents is an outrageous markup. The cans are made by the thousands and cost just a couple of pennies each to manufacture in large quantities. The contents of the can usually cost as much or less, and ditto for the label. So we're looking at 2 cents for the can, 2 more for the contents, and maybe an extra penny or two for the label. Add another penny as margin for error and we have 7 cents. Seven cents, and the retail price is 75 cents? So the gross profit is more than ten times the cost, or a markup in excess of 1,000%. Or consider a far more expensive item such as the latest I-phone. They sell for about $300-400 dollars plus tax, but there was a posting on the Internet just recently to the effect that it only costs Apple, Inc. about $120.00 to manufacture I-phones because they were being made in China, resulting in a 150-300% markup. So much for “God bless America”.
"Oh," the politicians and talking heads say to us on TV, "it's the American workers. They don't want to work menial jobs like canning pork and beans. And we can't assemble I-phones in America because its workers aren't qualified." Never mind that there are many thousands of recent college graduates who are living with their parents because they are unable to support themselves. There simply are no jobs for these poor young adults, and yet they are expected to repay predatory and exorbitant student loans. The careers for which they have been training have already been out-sourced to the third world during the last 4+ years that these hapless individuals have spent earning their degrees. They have all been robbed of their educations, which have been rendered worthless by the multinational corporations and the US military-industrial complex.
Yet we are expected to perform our patriotic duty as well as appropriately celebrate the “feast of capitalism” as we shop till we drop looking for that fantastic deal. We are in the process of being programmed to slave at multiple part time jobs working for minimum wages and with no health benefits while being expected to buy $300,000.00 houses, $70,000.00 cars and trucks plus big screen TV's. While all this is occurring, employees of corporations are lining the pockets of senators, congressmen and supreme-court justices in Washington D.C. while sitting on presidential cabinets making decisions regarding our planet's future, our future, and our children's future. Is it any wonder that the entire world seems to be coming unglued?
Meanwhile our consumerism is devouring the planet into what might soon become more lifeless than the moon or a Wall Street tycoon. Yet, mesmerized by commercials with intelligence levels less than a jackass after having a brain amputation, we roll blindly into the gates of the shopping centers turned shopping malls turned humongous big box stores. To share with you what brought out this little speech, consider the following release from the Associated Press.
"A shopper in Los Angeles pepper-sprayed her competition for an X-box and scuffles broke out elsewhere around the United States as bargain-hunters crowded malls and big-box stores in an earlier-than-usual start to the madness known as Black Friday. For the first time, chains such as Target, Best Buy and Kohl's opened their doors before midnight on the most anticipated shopping day of the year. Toys R Us opened for the second straight year on Thanksgiving itself. And some shoppers arrived with sharp elbows. On Thanksgiving night, a Walmart in Los Angeles brought out a crate of discounted X-boxes, and as a crowd waited for the video game players to be unwrapped, a woman fired pepper spray at the other shoppers 'in order to get an advantage,' police said. Ten people suffered cuts and bruises in the chaos, and 10 others had minor injuries from the spray, authorities said. The woman got away in the confusion, and it was not immediately clear whether she got an X-box. On Friday morning, police said, two women were injured and a man was charged after a fight broke out at an upstate New York Walmart. And a man was arrested in a scuffle at a jewelry counter at a Walmart in Kissimmee, Fla. In the U.S., Wal-Mart, the world's biggest retailer, has taken steps in recent years to control its Black Friday crowds following the 2008 death of one of its workers in a stampede of shoppers. This year, it staggered its door-buster deals instead of offering them all at once."
-- The Associated Press, Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 26, 2011
Lennon and McCartney of the Beatles wrote in the song "Revolution", "you say you want a revolution, well you know, we'd all love to change your head." Yes, it is more than changing Wall Street or who resides in the White House. It is, ultimately, about changing ourselves. If we all really want some serious change, then change must start from within. Speak from your heart to your kids about consumerism and how it is affecting the planet as well as our behavior. Help them to understand that it's not about how much we have, but rather how much we contribute. Life is not about how much we own or the value of our possessions, life is all about making a stand for good things like faith, mercy, kindness, and above all, love. Instead of buying your wife a new car and maybe going into debt, take her up on the highest place around where you live, or to some favorite romantic spot, and renew your vows to her. Instead of buying your husband a new bag of golf clubs, give him a night he will never forget. Enjoy each other and be loving to each other. To enjoy is to enjoin, to enjoin is to unite.
Consumerism and the vain pursuit of worldly goods keeps us isolated by gimmicks of sensationalist advertising of strikingly beautiful women, absolutely perfect children and gorgeous, flaming hunks of men that are created off the corporate mold. To put it simply, the corporate mold is a load of BS. And who is being molded in all these advertising gimmicks? You are! For what purpose? To make others rich at your expense. The blue chip corporations have a very good reason for doing all this. As long as they can keep us isolated, we can never be united. Don't go there. Keep your money. Find richness in your heart, your spirit and your character and share that instead.
Sunday, May 5, 2013
What the Boston Bombers and Other Domestic Terrorists Have in Common: All Were Scarred by Pointless U.S. Wars
The recent terrorist bombings at the end of the Boston Marathon is further evidence that US military intervention in other parts of the world is having unintended consequences, and the blow-back reaches all the way back to American soil. These two young men who committed this violent act were evidently radicalized Muslims. It is no coincidence that the country they are from (how do you spell that anyway?) has a majority Muslim population. And America has been waging war against Muslim countries ever since the first Gulf War in 1990-91. Since then America's military has been or still is in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia, and as I write this their newest target is Syria.
Before I go any further with this, I am not Muslim myself, in fact I'm a non-denominational Christian minister of the gospel of Christ Jesus. I don't believe in Islam but I give due respect to those that do because it is always better, not to mention wiser, to have more friends than enemies. But to approach this issue in a Christ-like way, I will try and place myself in their situation or to walk a mile in their shoes. If I lived in that part of the world and my country was being attacked, I would want to fight back too. To me, at least, the reaction of these people is in a way understandable while being simultaneously repulsive and immoral due to their use of violence to attain a goal – presumably to seek vengeance against the US for wrongs both real and imagined. By the same token, the US is equally to blame for perpetrating often-unprovoked violence, and 80% of those being killed in US overseas military operations are civilians. It is an indisputable fact that over 100,000 Iraqi civilians died in the second Iraq war. At any rate, the use of terrorism is unjustifiable in the eyes of God. So you can be sure that another terrorist attack will take place sometime in the future here in America. It's only a matter of time. But there are several other examples of violence being carried out as a result of American military action thousands of miles away.
Another example is the Washington Beltway sniper, John Allen Muhammad. Nine years ago, Muhammad was at the top of conservative commentators' Islamo-fascists-with-Links-to-Al Qaeda lists. Now, like then, the search for foreign links is proving to be a fruitless, distracting us from the abundant evidence of a causal connection between such murders and service in the U.S. Military. In her recently published memoir, Scared Silent, Mildred Muhammad, the latter of his two ex-wives, writes that her husband went to the 1991 Gulf War a "happy," "focused, and "intelligent" man, who returned home "depressed," "totally confused," and "violent," making her fear for her life. In their briefs, Muhammad's appeals lawyers stressed that his "severe mental illness" never came up at trial, where he was allowed to represent himself despite obvious mental incompetence. (Till the end, he maintained his innocence, claiming that at the time of the killing spree he was in Germany for dental work.) In seeking clemency and a stay of execution, Muhammad's lawyers presented psychiatric reports diagnosing Schizophrenia and brain scans documenting profound malformations consistent with psychotic disease. But it wasn't enough to stop his death sentence from being carried out, so one day before Veterans Day 2010, John Allen Muhammad was executed by lethal injection.
Muhammad's lawyers might have included other facts. Mental disorders from depression to mood swings, thought disorders, violent outbursts, and delusions are not uncommon among Gulf War veterans in addition to physical symptoms such as rashes, vertigo, respiratory and gastrointestinal problem, and neurological diseases like Parkinson's, ALS, and brain tumors. According to Dr. William E. Baumzweiger, a California psychiatrist with expertise in psychiatric ailments of Gulf War veterans, "a small but significant number of Gulf War veterans become homicidal" seemingly "out of nowhere." Indeed as early as 1994, University of Texas epidemiologist Dr. Robert Haley, the preeminent researcher of Gulf War disease, had demonstrated that the brain scans of veterans with Gulf War illness were distinctly abnormal. Last year a blue-panel, congressional- mandated Gulf War Research Advisory Committee (RAC) finally confirmed what veterans and their families have long asserted: That "without a doubt," Gulf War illness, as it's come to be called, is a profound, multi-system physical illness "caused" by brain-damaging chemicals to which troops were exposed by the Department of Defense. The RAC report identified three specific neurotoxins as certain culprits: anti-nerve gas pills that troops were forced to take (or risk court martial), insecticides and repellants that drenched troops' tents, clothing, and gear, and nerve gases including sarin (the killer chemical in the Tokyo subway attack) emitted into the air when U.S. forces dismantled and demolished a vast munitions storage facility in Khamisiyah, Iraq. Muhammad's lawyers pointed to childhood beatings as a cause of his psychiatric disease and brain malformation, claiming that Gulf War syndrome exacerbated these conditions. But they didn't mention that Mohammad had no history of mental illness before the war--and that during the war he was stationed in Khamisiyah.
It probably wouldn't have helped. In 2002, another Gulf War veteran, Louis Jones Jr. was executed for the 1995 rape and murder of a young female soldier, Pvt. Tracie Joy McBride. Like Sergeant Muhammad, Sergeant Jones was an exemplary soldier decorated in the war; but also like Muhammad, he returned from Desert Storm depressed, disoriented, and increasingly anti-social and bizarre. Like Muhammad, his defense was inadequate – but his appeals lawyer displayed M.R.I.'s and other scans of his abnormal brain, arguing that it was evidence of the brain damage from toxins he and other veterans with Gulf War disease were exposed to in-country. Supporting the petition for clemency was the written testimony of Dr. Haley that "there is now a compelling involuntary link between Mr. Jones' neurotoxic war injury and his inexplicable crime." Like Muhammad, Jones was stationed in Khamisiyah during the demolition, which poisoned thousands of troops and then thousands more as sarin plumes traveled far and wide, a fact the government hid for close to a decade.
And then there's the case of Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber. We have no scans of his brain, but we have ample reports of his mental state before and after Desert Storm, and evidence that the war changed him profoundly. In their biography, American Terrorist, Lou Michel and Dan Herbeck paint a vivid picture of McVeigh's days in the ground war. The enthusiastic young marksman, at first, happily followed orders and shot an Iraqi soldier manning a machine gun over a mile away. When a bloody mist replaced the soldier's head in his viewfinder, McVeigh was disturbed and discharged the rest of his rounds into empty desert sand. Later, after Saddam had agreed to a UN and Soviet brokered ceasefire, McVeigh was further shocked and shaken by orders to kill defeated Iraqi soldiers traveling home on the highway from Kuwait to Iraq (come to be known as the "Highway of Death" for the thousands that U.S. Forces corralled and massacred on the night of Feb 26, 1991).
In his famous 60 Minutes interview ten years later, McVeigh would tell Ed Bradley that the killing changed him. He found himself thinking, "I'm in this person's country. What right did I have to come over to his country and kill him? How did he ever transgress against me?" He went over thinking, "Not only is Saddam evil, all Iraqis are evil." But quickly it was "an entirely different ballgame… face to face… you realize they're just people like you." He told Bradley that the government modeled brutal violence. In a 1998 prison essay he objected to the United State's continuing campaign against Iraq: It was the U.S. that had "set the standard" for "stockpiling and use of weapons of mass destruction”.
McVeigh's experience in the Gulf War surely altered his thinking. But did it also alter his brain? What toxins might have entered his body on the highway where U.S. forces had just dropped cluster bombs and 500-ton bombs, napalm and depleted uranium, incinerating thousands vehicles and the people inside. He told Ed Bradley that when he came back "something didn't feel right in me, but... I couldn't say what it was." Psychological trauma alone, neuroscience now tell us, affects not only psyches but brains. Sophisticated neuron-imaging shows the brains of those who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to be abnormal in areas regulating memory retrieval and inhibition (hippocampus), fearfulness and focus (pre-frontal cortex), and emotionality and ability (amygdala). The hippocampus of Alzheimer's sufferers are also shrunken and the amygdala of bi-polar sufferers have enhanced activation similar to those with PTSD.
Unlike McVeigh, Muhammad, or Jones, Major Nidal Hasan was not exposed to war's toxins, nor to its traumas first-hand. Day after day, though, soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, or on their way back, relived before him attacks and atrocities they had inflicted, suffered, and/or witnessed, altering his views and his mind. In the beginning of his Army training and service, by all accounts, Nidal Hasan was proud to serve his country. His examination of the internal conflict within Muslim GIs asked to kill other Muslims - prohibited in the Koran-- started out an academic project to enhance the Army's understanding and management of the dilemma. But as Hasan's exposure to mentally disturbed soldiers' memories, fears, and guilt increased, so evidently did his own internal strife and, in all likelihood, the secondary PTSD common to family members, friends, and professionals in close contact with victims, witnesses, and perpetrators of catastrophes. Even the most astute of commentators, like New York Times columnist Frank Rich, are wondering if Hasan is an "actual terrorist or an unfathomable mass murderer merely dabbling in jihadist ideas." But Major Hasan's religion was only one of several aspects of his being shattered by the stories he was charged with hearing. The troubled GI who opened fire on fellow soldiers at a counseling center in Fort Liberty in 2010 was not a Muslim, although some right-wing blogs initially suggested he was. In truth, the violence soldiers and veterans inflict against other Americans is not unfathomable at all.
The fire power expended on Iraq in the 2nd Iraq war was greater than that used in all wars in history combined, exceeded only by today's continuing sequel. The savage murder of civilians, though not on the radar of most producers and consumers of American media, smolders in the minds of many troops and veterans of all backgrounds serving in all three recent wars in the region. Troops on U.S. bases in Afghanistan and Iraq, like the local citizens, suffer the fumes from open burn pits the depth of city blocks and the length of small towns; blast injuries from I.E.D.'s continue to damage the interiors of bodies and brains, often with no external breakage or bleeding, causing, eminent neurologists say, a new kind of brain injury not seen before in the chronicles of war. Chemical fumes, powders, and liquids from military and industrial facilities bombed in both Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom continue to contaminate earth, water, and air. Were today's wars to end tomorrow, the consequences of our invasions would not. For decades and perhaps centuries, Iraqis and Afghans will suffer disease and deprivation, and invading and occupying troops will carry the war back home, as soldiers always do, but with brains, bodies, and minds shattered as never before.
The U.S. criminal justice system has long since came to a conclusion with regard to the cases of all of the above individuals I mentioned. On the other hand, the case against the sole surviving Boston bomber has barely gotten started, with another court hearing scheduled for the middle of this month. There are some questions that have yet to be asked. Who will identify and prosecute those who bear the greatest responsibility for these heinous mass murders? I'm not talking about the bombers, I mean their trainers and enablers. Who is working behind the scenes on behalf of those who use violence to get what they want? And who is their paymaster – who is holding and controlling the purse strings? The current trend in international war crimes and crimes against humanity is to consign crimes committed by individuals to national courts, and to apply international justice to those at the highest levels of government who make the decisions implemented on the ground. Brutal murders by American veterans and troops of fellow soldiers and citizens were surely not the outcomes planned by our leaders, but by now they are too common and too linked to wartime exposures to be considered unanticipated or unfathomable.