Sunday, September 13, 2009

I walked with a zombie

When the Soviet Imperium finally fell, it was because it had progressively destroyed all of its options. This is what the American Imperium under Bush and Obama is doing. Holes appeared in the Soviet Imperium – ravaged ecologies, economic projects that suddenly didn’t work, a puzzling downfall in healthcare, a rise in the criminality of the ruling oligarchy. All of these holes are appearing in the American Imperium, of course. The article in the NYT today about water is a reminder of just how far down the hole we have fallen. When I read the following, about Charlestown, West Virginia, I think of the Aral Sea:

Jennifer Hall-Massey knows not to drink the tap water in her home near Charleston, W.Va.

In fact, her entire family tries to avoid any contact with the water. Her youngest son has scabs on his arms, legs and chest where the bathwater — polluted with lead, nickel and other heavy metals — caused painful rashes. Many of his brother’s teeth were capped to replace enamel that was eaten away.

Neighbors apply special lotions after showering because their skin burns. Tests show that their tap water contains arsenic, barium, lead, manganese and other chemicals at concentrations federal regulators say could contribute to cancer and damage the kidneys and nervous system.

“How can we get digital cable and Internet in our homes, but not clean water?” said Mrs. Hall-Massey, a senior accountant at one of the state’s largest banks.
She and her husband, Charles, do not live in some remote corner of Appalachia. Charleston, the state capital, is less than 17 miles from her home.”

As the article makes clear, these are collateral victims of the oligarchy in place – as in the Soviet Union, the law exists, in the U.S., mostly as a weapon of the powerful, and is utterly meaningless in the face of the entrenched corporate power. Thus, coal companies can dump any kind of hazardous chemical in any area they want to, safe in the knowledge that their clients in D.C. will protect them from any harm.

As the Aral Sea area was becoming the world’s worst ecological disaster, the Uzbek government became ever more involved in fraudulent dealing with Leonid Brezhnev’s son in law (who was just released from his 12 year term in prison) which allowed the cotton coops to continue and made the families at the top of the Uzbekistan state extremely wealthy and powerful.

“Today, public health conditions in the Aral Sea area hve rapidly deteriorated to levels found in the least-developed countries, and proliferating infectious diseases are claiming an increasing share of health resources. Making matters worse is an acute shortage of drugs and supplies. Patients undergoing medical treatment are often forced to pay exorbitant prices on the black market for necessary medicines. Women giving birth in hospitals typically must bring with them all the items the doctors may require, right down to surgical gloves. [Generation in Jeopardy: children in Central and Eastern Europe, 159]

It would astonish me if this doesn't happen in the U.S. in the next five years, in certain areas - like Eastern Kentucky - where civil society has simply died.

The inability to fix an out of control healthcare system in the U.S., where healthcare costs per person have reached absurd levels as the employee based healthcare insurance system is crumbling and there is no substitute on the horizon –– is part of the general return to third world status. Only in an echo chamber that is dead to reason would the argument be made that the Americans have to suffer the highest cost for medicines in the entire world because BigPharma makes most of its profits here. Yet this was an actual argument put forth in the Washington Post. Not only has monopoly power been expanded beyond all reason to create giant inefficient corporations, but the monopoloy comes with a moral dictate that we must do all we can to keep investors in these behemoths wealthy. It is as if the wolves were preaching to the sheep that they need to spread out a bit, in order to give the wolves more time to leisurely attack and devour them.

It is another symptom of the entropic state of power, the gated community mentality, in the American Imperium, impervious to its world parasite status, fats clogging its blood.

Holes appear, too, in the humanitarian attitude among elites that was painfully created in the mid nineteenth century as, for instance, torture was banned. This is from the NYRB on government sponsored torture at Guantanamo. As Phillipe Sands, the author, notes:

On April 24, 1863, President Lincoln signed his General Order No. 100, written by Columbia University professor Francis Lieber, to decree that "military necessity does not admit of cruelty." The United States military formally respected that rule for nearly 140 years—until, on December 2, 2002, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld signed a memorandum on "Counter-Resistance Techniques" prepared for him by his general counsel, William J. Haynes II.

And thus began the U.S. sponsored torture of Mohmmaed al-Qahtani, as well as many many others. Juntas torture; the Bush administration came in as a Junta, an administration that resulted from an electoral college that makes the U.S. presidential race officially less democratic than the Iranian one, plus, in this case, an interference by the Republican heavy Supreme Court. Junta’s are incompetent – a point quickly made plain before the first year of the administration was out, with the highly preventable attack on 9/11 followed by an invasion of Afghanistan that allowed the top tier of the Taliban and the top tier of Al Qaeda, including Osama bin Laden, to simply escape and set up camp across the border. Junta’s promote the psychopathologies of the ruling class, and of course the Bush cabinet and his advisors were full of old and twisted people, like Donald Rumsfeld and Richard Cheney.

In the event, after allowing the pitifully small group of terrorists that were the supposed target of the Afghanistan war escape (and even, at Kunduz, allowing Pakistan to run a full blown evacuation, with airplanes, of the top Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders) in order to preserve a threat that was credible to an American population awash in debt, hubris, and panic, Rumsfeld’s people devised a nice 15 point agenda of acceptable torture, which went from Category 1 to Category 3. It was never very clear what the torture really was about – it is not as if the Taliban or Al Qaeda made much of a secret of their business. The calculation must have been this: allowing Al Qaeda to keep going was the first order of business, in order to retain a political grip on the American Imperium. But allowing them to actually successfully attack again, on American soil, would definitely demoralize those voters in, say, Charleston West Virginia who could not take showers without burning themselves, but who were ultra-proud to be led by tough talking suits.
As Sand points out, the General Richard Myers was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at this time, and he signed off on it. Sands interviewed Myers:

“As we moved down the list onto Category II we reached forced grooming (cutting off hair), the use of dogs, and other matters. "Dogs were only to be present, never to be..." His voice trailed off. Removal of clothing? That "would be less fun." Forced grooming? "The last two here are a little...the last one in particular"—referring to the use of "individual phobias (such as fear of dogs) to induce stress"—"you know in general I think, that's how we train. Those are the kind of things we train against." His voice paused. "There was never a physical injury there...," he said, throwing light on the rationale for humiliation.
"I think all of these are in the manual," he then offered.
"They're not," I responded.
"They aren't?"
"No they're not," I said, "none of them are in the manual."
This was a moment that occurs only rarely in any interview: your interlocutor inadvertently reveals the full extent to which he has fallen into a fog. There was one issue on which I had a particular interest. As chairman of the Joint Chiefs, I asked, are you comfortable with all of these techniques being used on American personnel? "Not [the ones] in this memo," he responded without hesitation. The response left open the unanswerable follow-up question: If these techniques are "inappropriate" for us, why are they appropriate for detainees in US custody?”

When the holes appear in the Imperium, those who have a sociological curiosity – which should include all poets, novelists and essayists – have a rare chance: to leap into the hole is to find the strata of scar tissue that constitutes a society’s secret history, its Gnostic unconscious. Sands’ follow up question, the fundamenal asymmetry in which American policy is hatched and grows up, is a product of the combination of supreme power and supreme inequality which is the American holy ghost, the body electric of the American character in the time of its decadence. I live in a zombie country.


northanger said...

for some reason this reminds me of an old LO post of yours from September 09, 2001.


Roger Gathmann said...

North, that was pretty good! I didn't think I was that good in 2001. I misunderestimated myself.

northanger said...

get a big head roger, i love throwing bricks at it.

btw, i wasn't reading you in 2001 but did a post on this here

modulo said...

Good news though. 'Efficient markets' is out; 'adaptive markets' is in.

I hope to write a book giving much-needed advice to our elites on public contrition. You know, what thinkers to name-drop as signs of your conversion, a few anecdotes showing how overlooking basic personal inputs leads to catastrophe, a few more anecdotes saying that hubris in self-interest is universal, e.g. we all do it, so what can you expect?, that sort of thing.

It's going to be a big market, I will tell audiences at my seminars, helping those who fuck up and never lose a thing.

northanger said...

helping those who fuck up and never lose a thing

that's really weird. i was going to finally tell roger about what i really thought of larry summers. thanks for saying it for me!

northanger said...

roger! yoohoo! please check out toxic assets & insurance companies. how much do they have and all? how does this effect the health care thingy? (or, how you get americans to pay for the toxic asset problem with health care -- i'm still working on the details!)

The real problem with toxic assets isn't that "nobody knows how to value them:"

The real problem is that everybody knows how to value them, but nobody can say it out loud. But I have the answer!