Interesting and Inspiring Excerpts from around the Web

I’ve picked up a contract job that’s taking a lot of the time and energy I’d otherwise spend loafing about, surfing the web, and coming up with things to write about here. The good news is that it’ll pay my bills this year without putting me over the income tax line. The bad news is that for a while, The Picket Line will be likely to have less original material and more collections of links, like today:

Non-combatants. Celebrating on a disabled U.S. vehicle, granted. But civilians nonetheless. Certainly not in combat against any U.S. troops.

In the foreground, a reporter just doing his job, frowning over some little technical glitch, maybe something he forgot to do…

Bang, boom. No warning. Just an incoming U.S. aerial attack. “To prevent looters from stripping the vehicle,” the Pentagon later says, classifying everyone within thirty feet as “looters” and sentencing them to summary execution.

Blood splashes on the lens. The camera spins. Tiny glimpses of terrible carnage.

Without a beat, without reflection, without even a moment of minimal thought, Wolf Blitzer moves on. As do we, collectively.

And that’s that. America kills innocent civilians. Lots of them. And it’s no big deal now. Not controversial. No reason to ask questions or rationalize or even pretend to soul-search like the national media once did. America kills civilians. Lots of them. Just part of the fabric of things now.…

We are killing in large numbers. And we are numb to what we are doing.

That’s it. Game over. We have lost.

Not the war. Ourselves.

From Our savage numbness
by Bob Harris

In between come all the hundreds of little steps, some of them imperceptible, each of them preparing you not to be shocked by the next. Step C is not so much worse than Step B, and, if you did not make a stand at Step B, why should you at Step C? And so on to Step D.

And one day, too late, your principles, if you were ever sensible of them, all rush in upon you. The burden of self deception has grown too heavy, and some minor incident, in my case my little boy, hardly more than a baby, saying “Jew swine,” collapses it all at once, and you see that everything, everything, has changed and changed completely under your nose. The world you live in — your nation, your people — is not the world you were in at all. The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed. Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves; when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed. Now you live in a system which rules without responsibility even to God. The system itself could not have intended this in the beginning, but in order to sustain itself it was compelled to go all the way.

You have gone almost all the way yourself. Life is a continuing process, a flow, not a succession of acts and events at all. It has flowed to a new level, carrying you with it, without any effort on your part. On this new level you live, you have been living more comfortably every day, with new morals, new principles. You have accepted things you would not have accepted five years ago, a year ago, things that your father, even in Germany, could not have imagined.

Suddenly it all comes down, all at once. You see what you are, what you have done, or, more accurately, what you haven’t done (for that was all that was required of most of us: that we do nothing).

From But Then It Was Too Late
by Milton Mayer

In one district after another the weapons industry has bought the incumbent and the voters are unable to dislodge him or her. On really big projects like the B-2 stealth bomber, contracts are placed for pieces of the airplane in all of the 48 continental states to insure that individual members of Congress can be threatened with the loss of jobs in their districts should they ever get the idea that we do not need another weapon of massive destruction. The result is defense budgets of $425 billion per year (plus that extra $75 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan, another $20 billion for nuclear weapons, and $200 billion more for veterans and the wounded), leading to the highest governmental deficits in postwar history. It seems likely that only bankruptcy will stop the American imperial juggernaut.

from The Military-Industrial Man
by Chalmers Johnson

Ever since Mancur Olson’s classic The Logic of Collective Action was published, the dominant view of politics in the academy and the popular understanding has featured the special interest model. Small groups with high stakes in legislative outcomes solve their coordination and free-rider problems and then descend on Washington and other bastions of power, seeking rents. In this model, the special interests are the predators, the legislators the prey. In this paper, we argue that in an important set of cases, the process works in reverse. Legislators pro-actively solve the coordination and free riding problems identified by Olson so that they can then shake down the groups so formed for campaign contributions. We illustrate this model of a reverse Mancur Olson phenomenon with the extended example of estate tax repeal/non repeal, and suggest further extensions. The key properties of the phenomenon are small groups with high stakes that Congress has helped to frame or set up; plausible action; two or more sides; plausible longevity for any legislative action. The key predictions are that, once Congress has found rich territory for the game, it will string matters along, frequently voting, never really acting, and avoiding sensible compromises at every turn.

from Shakedown at Gucci Gulch
by Edward J McCaffery & Linda R. Cohen