Bread and Circuses

A number of theorists have drawn interesting parallels between Rome and contemporary America. With one eye on Rome the founders of this nation feared the dissolution of our Republic from within as people lost their sense of civic virtue and went off on tangents into self-indulgence and the seeking of unnecessary wealth. Aldous Huxley later warned Western civilization about its urge to satisfy endless pleasures. I doubt, however, that any of these people could have foreseen the sort of incident that happened in Florida recently.

It is certainly the case that our nation can no longer brag about its commitment to the common good and its practice of public virtue which puts the good of all above one’s  own self-interest. The pursuit of wealth has become synonymous in the minds of many with democracy and freedom. In this regard we do resemble the ancient Romans. But one of the most compelling parallel between today’s Republic and the Roman Republic is our love of diversions. The Romans loved their bread and circuses. Clearly there need to be some diversions, especially at a time when there are pressures from all directions on nearly everyone in this country. But as Aristotle warned, “everything in moderation.”  The love of diversions in this country has reached absurd limits when events like Nathan’s hot dog eating contest takes center stage — only to be upstaged recently by the eating of worms and cockroaches. A recent story tells the sad results:

MIAMI (AP) — The winner of a roach-eating contest in South Florida died shortly after downing dozens of the live bugs as well as worms, authorities said Monday.

About 30 contestants ate the insects during Friday night’s contest at Ben Siegel Reptile Store in Deerfield Beach about 40 miles north of Miami. The grand prize was a python.

If it weren’t so sad it would be positively funny — shades of Monty Python (sorry, ‘had to go there). But one must ask, really, where are we headed in this culture? How does this sort of absurd spectacle pass as entertainment? Even if the man had not died — and he may have died for a number of reasons having nothing whatever to do with his latest meal — what’s with 30 people standing around watching idiots wolf down bugs and worms to see who would win a snake? The sponsors of the “event” thought it fitting to donate the python to the family of the man who died. As the story tells us, “The Miami Herald reported the grand prize has been put aside in Archbold’s [the diseased] name and will be given to his estate.” If we knew how to laugh at a person’s untimely death (as Mary Tyler Moore did)  this, too would be funny. What on earth will this man’s grieving family do with a python?

Twenty years after writing Brave New World Aldous Huxley revisited a number of the themes he had raised in that novel and collected his essays in a book titled Brave New World Revisited. It is a fascinating take on events in the late 50s in light of Huxley’s own predictions in the 1930s. I quoted him in a previous blog as he notes “mankind’s almost limitless appetite for distractions.” Never were truer words spoken and this should make us take seriously his many other warnings about the future of a people who seek nothing more in life than the satisfaction of their own pleasures. But eating bugs and worms? You must be kidding! Surely this is the reductio ad absurdum of our love of distractions and invites another long look at ancient Rome.

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SaltyRandomMusings

Via Slate:

When it comes to lies and half-truths, Romney saves his best stuff for foreign policy.

Mitt Romney has delivered a lot of dishonest speeches in recent months, but Monday’s address on foreign policy may be the most mendacious yet.

It was expected that he would distort President Obama into a caricature of Jimmy Carter. But it was astonishing to watch Romney spin a daydream of himself as some latter-day George Marshall, bringing peace, prosperity, and hope to a chaotic world—this from a man who couldn’t drop in on the London Olympics without alienating our closest ally and turning himself into a transcontinental laughingstock.

To the extent that Romney recited valid criticisms of Obama’s policies, he offered no alternatives. To the extent he spelled out specific steps he would take to deal with one problem or another, he merely recited actions that Obama has already taken.

Let’s go…

View original post 1,892 more words

Political Denial

While it appears that 74% of the Republicans in Congress publicly deny global warming, the insurance industry does not. The insurance industry trusts scientific research; many in Congress reject it. A recent story in the Bloomberg News is worth quoting at length.

Hurricane Irene’s residue is likely to include a confusing debate over whether insurers or property owners are responsible for storm-caused water damage. There’s no lack of clarity, however, over whether the insurance industry believes in climate change and its ties to lethal weather: It does.

As Bloomberg Businessweek reports in its Sept. 5 issue, the industry has absorbed many lessons from Sept. 11 about anticipating risk. One is that the recent spate of weather extremes is likely to continue — and the insurance market must reflect that.

Interestingly, this puts the industry at odds with a number of Republican candidates who have made questioning climate change a not-insignificant part of their campaign strategy. Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann dispute whether global warming is man-made. Perry suggests that climate is affected by many variables, which scientists can manipulate “so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects.” Mitt Romney is on the fence. Only Jon Huntsman Jr. has declared definitively that he trusts scientists on global warming.

Politicians have been known to dissemble about risk because voters generally don’t like to hear bad news. The insurance industry makes its money telling it to you straight — how long you’ll probably live, what price your home will fetch, whether to repair or trade in your car.

For this reason, it’s worth noting that insurers already factor climate change into their models for measuring, pricing and distributing risk. Insurers have no incentive to lie. If they are more scared than they should be in pricing risk, shareholders will punish them. If they aren’t scared enough, nature will do the job.

No one can say for certain that any single weather event flows from the warmer air caused by carbon emissions, which in turn lead to more rainfall, floods and snowfall over some parts of the planet, and more drought in other parts. But last year was the hottest on record. Arctic ice is at record low levels. Regardless of what politicians say, insurers must factor all this into premiums.

[Rick Perry’s comment is especially interesting. Apparently he thinks scientists doctor the facts so they can increase funding for their pet projects. The man has a lively imagination. I always wondered what motive reactionary politicians attributed to scientists for their dire predictions.  I know what motives to attribute to the corporations and politicians for denying the obvious — it’s all about votes and ultimately profits. This helps clarify things for me.]

But in the end, as Diane Keaton said, “Climate change, like gravity, doesn’t give a damn whether you ‘believe’ in it or not. It’s happening regardless. While we sit around and debate its existence, it’s taking full advantage of the situation and using the time we’re giving it to make life miserable.” Indeed so.

Huxley Revisited

My friend Emily January wrote an excellent exposition and commentary on Huxley’s classic novel Brave New World. In commenting on Emily’s blog, I made mention of the extended conversation toward the end of the novel between two of the main protagonists, John (the “savage”) and Mustapha Mond (“The Controller”). The former came lately to the Brave New World from wild and uncivilized America and brought with him the perspective of Shakespeare’s collected works to a world that had lost any desire it may ever have had to read anything. Mustapha Mond runs the show and has a most provocative discussion with the savage about the values and goals of Brave New World in which, the savage insists, “everything is too easy.”

Regarding this novel (which Aldous Huxley, Emily and I all admit is not great literature) I mentioned in two earlier blogs [and here] that a disturbing number of the students I had assigned to read the book in bygone days had no idea whatever what it had to do with them. I will now answer that question: everything.

Our part of the world is rapidly becoming the dystopia Huxley envisioned, though it may differ in certain particulars. But the central issue, as Mond explains to the savage, is that the sole meaning of human life in B.N.W. centers around experiencing pleasure, which we have also come to identify with happiness. As is the case in Mond’s world everything else today has been jettisoned that might stand in the way of our enjoying ourselves. Sex is free with no strings attached. We are not permitted to suffer. We have lost the desire to read. History is bunk (or “irrelevant” as the kids like to say), and if we are sick or sad we can just take a pill….or two. Or we party hardy.

In one of the late chapters the savage asks Mustapha, “Art, science — you seem to have paid a fairly high price for your happiness. Anything else?” Mond replies, “Well, religion, of course…” And the conversation proceeds from there. But let us pause. Have we also sacrificed science to pleasure or happiness? Of course we have. We have done it in two stages: we first reduced science to technology, ignoring the “why” question that is central to theoretical science and focusing exclusively on the “how” question which is key to the technical approach to solving problems, easing pain, and making our lives easier. It’s all about reducing stress and avoiding pain at all costs while we mindlessly pursue diversions that will fill our lives.

We have also replaced religion with “pop” psychology, the analyst’s couch, and the escapist “religion” of the televangelist and the “free” churches. The idea here is to get in touch with our inner selves and to replace the uncomfortable demands of traditional religion — which requires sacrifice and self-denial — with feel-good sessions every week in which parishioners are told that all is well with the world and they should go on doing just what they want in the name of Jesus who loves them no matter what (though we’re not sure about those damned secular humanists).

But we need to think seriously about the elimination of all pain and suffering in our Brave New World. We take it as a given that this is a good thing, but the savage may be right: it’s too easy. We might be much better off if we suffered a bit more, strange to say. Fyodor Dostoevsky, for one, thought suffering made us more human and was the only possible route to real human freedom. If we don’t suffer, we float along on the surface of human experience and never really feel the deprivations and losses that deepen our perspectives and bring us closer to one another and to our common humanity.

Furthermore, as we are now finding out, a society that revels in animal pleasures will never produce a Jane Austen, a George Eliot, a Da Vinci, a Michelangelo, a Shakespeare, a Dostoevsky, a Beethoven, or a Dante. All of these people suffered during their lifetimes and many of their greatest creative inspirations often came as a direct result of some of the darkest moments in their lives. Dante, for example, wrote The Divine Comedy while exiled from Florence where his family was held captive. Mustapha Mond thinks the sacrifice of great art and literature is worth it. The savage disagrees.

In a word, the Brave New World we would create which eliminates pain and suffering is worthy of denizens of an ant-heap (as Dostoevsky would have it) but not human beings. That, it seems to me, was Huxley’s point in writing this novel and the fact that young people could read the novel and wonder what on earth it could have to do with them tells us that they are sadly deluded: the prison bars that Huxley points to and which surround them are invisible to them. These people are amused and easily diverted; that is all they ask of the world in which they live — just as Huxley feared.

Fear Mongering

I made a point in passing in an earlier blog that Obama’s “hustle” in the first debate may have been a ploy to help his party raise more money. I was being facetious (as I often am). But I am now beginning to wonder. Immediately after the debates cyberspace was inundated with requests for money and the appeal was clearly an appeal to fear: Karl Rove is raising millions of dollars in swing states, WHAT IF!!?? The following paragraph from a Yahoo News story sheds some light on the subject:

President Barack Obama and the Democrats raised $181 million in September — their largest monthly haul since he launched his reelection bid, his campaign announced Saturday.

I really don’t want to accept the fact that Barack Obama would stoop to this level. So I will assume for the time being that it is merely a coincidence that Obama’s loss in the first debate would send a shock through the Democratic world that could be turned into big bucks for the home team. But it does seem to be the case that the Democratic party is considerably richer today than it was the day before the debate.

There are two major difficulties here, it seems to me. To begin with are the obscene amounts of money that have been raised already on behalf of the politicians running for political office in November, as summarized in a recent New York Times article. This cartoon sent to me by saltypoliticalmusings says it all:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But the appeal to fear is a problem of a different order. If the amount of money going to reelect politicians is obscene, the increasingly common appeal to fear borders on the immoral. It is a given, sad to say, that the voting public is unwilling to spend much time and attention on the question of who it is they will vote for next month — if they vote at all. So appeals to the emotions are commonplace. They grab unwary TV viewers since they are very effective, if logically fallacious. And we have known for some time that Newt Gingrich is a master of that sort of appeal. We have come to expect such appeals from politicians.

Following 9/11 the appeal to fear was palpable and it resulted in huge increases in defense spending, the initiation of “Homeland Security,” and the rise in prestige of the CIA and greater license for its clandestine activities. A certain amount of this hysteria is to be expected and the results are not all bad. But the carry-over into political marketing is alarming. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be led to do something because of a fear that if I don’t do it something dreadful will assuredly happen. That amounts to extortion and that is not morally acceptable.

Clearly, the “game” of politics is writing its own rules as it goes along. As voters without bottomless pockets we seem to be along just for the ride. We really don’t have much to say any more about who runs this country and how it is to be done. But we don’t have to like the way the game is played. And we can refuse to play as we raise our shrill voices in protest.

Enlightened Leadership

A brief story in Yahoo News tells us about a Georgia politician headed back to Washington who delivered a sermon to some of his fellow Georgians. The story has the following two paragraphs at the outset that pretty much tell the whole story:

ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — Georgia Rep. Paul Broun said in videotaped remarks that evolution, embryology and the Big Bang theory are “lies straight from the pit of hell” meant to convince people that they do not need a savior.

The Republican lawmaker made those comments during a speech Sept. 27 at a sportsman’s banquet at Liberty Baptist Church in Hartwell. Broun, a medical doctor, is running for re-election in November unopposed by Democrats.

Setting aside for the moment how this man would know what lies are told in Hell, I must wonder if the founders of this nation ever imagined in their wildest nightmares that the people their descendents would be electing to the highest offices in the land could possibly say such outrageous things in public — or even think them in private? They were wary of “the people” and saw the Senate, which was to be much more carefully elected, as a balance to the House of Representatives (where this fellow holes up) because they were worried that the House alone would not be enlightened enough to keep its sight set on the public good. But I seriously doubt that they could have foreseen this development.

I am aware from reading “the old fart” that only 26% of the Republicans in Congress publicly accept the fact of global warming — which has been confirmed by 97% of the scientific community. The rest, we can infer, deny it. That in itself is deeply disturbing. But in this day and age for a public figure to stand up anywhere but in his own shower and make such outlandish comments as Mr. (excuse me, Dr.) Broun pretty much takes the cake — especially given that Dr. Broun is a high-ranking member of the House Science Committee of which Rep. Todd Akin (of “legitimate rape” fame) is also a member. These men not only reject facts; they reject science itself.

There are things that are debatable. We call them opinions and they are often little more than gut feelings. The TV airwaves are filled with them. We argue about these things all the time in bars and in the stands at football games and it makes for lively times though there’s usually more smoke than fire. Then there are things called facts which we can only deny by looking stupid — such things as the earth goes around the sun (which 1 in 4 Americans deny); that humans came on the scene long after the dinosaurs died out (though 2 out of every 5 high school biology teachers in a recent poll taken in Texas insist they were on the earth at the same time); and that humans evolved from apes, though some humans seem not to be so very evolved. These are facts and denial of facts is a signal to the men in white coats to warm up the van and get the straight-jackets ready.

Science proceeds by a careful method based on empirical observation, the proposal of hypotheses, and the testing of those hypotheses using clinical methods. If the tests do not verify the hypothesis, it is rejected and the scientist starts over. When the scientist has arrived at what he or she regards as a sound theory they publish it in a peer-reviewed journal and it is carefully scrutinized by other scientists all over the world. Not until the procedure is repeated a number of times does the scientific community make the claim that we are now dealing with facts: claims that are true since they can be verified by independent observers anywhere and at any time.

Evolution is no longer debatable.  Global warming is no longer debatable. “Embryology” is simply the study of the development of embryos; it makes no outlandish claims, though it does shore up theories of evolution since ontogeny does seem to recapitulate phylogeny.  Science is not perfect and there have been glitches and false starts in the history of science — such as the phlogiston theory, cold-fusion, and the theories of Ptolemy. But it is the scientific community itself that has disproved these theories, not Georgia politicians:  the theories are no longer regarded as true.

Such is not the case with evolution and global warming. The evidence is overwhelming and even though we may not follow the elaborate procedures of the scientific community in verifying its claims, we are bound to accept them — or risk being called “stupid.”  The constant scrutiny of scientific claims by disinterested members of the scientific community all over the world raises certain claims to the level of accepted truth. This does not give science carte blanche to make any claims it wants: it simply means that when science no longer questions a claim it no longer makes sense to deny it publicly — though what we think in private is our own business.

What is it they say? Some times it is better to keep one’s mouth closed and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt. Especially when you are being videotaped!

Sitting On The Fence

I read a fascinating article on Yahoo News about a young woman in Ohio who was monitored while watching the presidential debates. Though she thought Obama “won” the debate, given his “confidence and better grasp of policies,” she wasn’t particularly impressed by either candidate. Her name is Maggie O’Toole and she is still on the fence trying to decide which candidate will get her vote. Maggie is part of the “Millennial generation,” so-called; a somewhat independent voter who leans toward the Republican camp though, like many others in her generational group, she is disenchanted with the Republican social proposals regarding such things as gay marriage and abortion.

At one point in the article, Ms O’Toole was asked what would get her off the fence and her reply included this rather interesting comment:

With two more debates to go, what will it take for O’Toole to make a decision?

“Maybe just [for] one of them to terribly screw up and have a Sarah Palin moment where one of them proves to be inept,” she says.

If anyone doubts what I have been saying about the TV debates and their value as entertainment (borrowing from Neil Postman), this comment should seal the deal. Clearly, this woman is more interested in seeing how the candidates perform on TV than she is in thinking about how they would perform in office. Where has she been for the past several months? Mitt Romney has had several “Palin moments” off-camera where he has proven himself to be “inept.” His comments to a group of well-healed Republicans about the poor in this country (which he is trying mightily to take back as I write this blog) and his foot-in-mouth gaffes in England during the Olympics and more recently after the killings in Libya would comprise “Palin moments” in most people’s minds I would think.

But Maggie O’Toole, like so many others, apparently does not follow the news or read excellent blogs like those of the “old fart.” She is waiting to see something happen in one of the three 90 minute debates that will decide the issue for her. And she is supposedly a well-educated person (as we loosely define “education” these days), a “20-something professional” who is a marketing coordinator for an accounting firm while currently working on her MBA. Needless to say, she wants to see which of these two men will turn the economy around. But one has to ask what she expects to see in 180 minutes of TV watching that will change her mind?

Neil Postman was absolutely right: we live in the age of entertainment. We have short attention spans and base our decisions largely on how we feel about things rather than what we think about things. There are a great many people like Maggie O’Toole who still sit on the fence waiting for a strong wind to blow them one way or the other. Her time would be better spent checking on the records of the two men and looking behind the words and the TV impressions to get a better grasp of what one or the other of these men will do in the coming years to help the country regain its footing, nationally and internationally.

The remarkable thing here is not that there are a great many undecided people like Maggie O’Toole, but that there are so many people who will weigh heavily in their deliberations the performance of a man on camera exchanging bromides, zingers, and slogans with his opponent  — voters who apparently wait to see how these men perform three times on TV before they begin to decide who is worthy of their vote. But then, perhaps that is better than those who vote without even watching the debates or bothering to think about what these men have done thus far in their respective political careers.

Obama’s Hustle?

As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, I didn’t watch the presidential debates. But I have read that Mitt Romney “won” the initial debate and the Obama supporters are in a dither. The talking heads are having a field day though Ted Koppel seems to be having apoplexy wondering why Obama didn’t play all the cards in his hand — why didn’t he mention that he had bailed out two of America’s largest car companies thereby saving thousands of jobs? Why didn’t he allude to Mitt’s blunder in his presentation to the fat-cat Republicans who were giving him money by the boatloads by failing to reference the infamous 47%? And so it goes.

From what I read Barack Obama seemed somewhat disinterested after hugging his wife and mentioning to the world that they had been married for 20 years. What sort of game was he playing? Or didn’t he come to play at all? These are the types of questions that people are asking. I mentioned in yesterday’s blog that these debates are really entertainment staged for TV and presented to audiences with short attention spans. I still maintain that this is the case: all of the comments I have read focus on the impressions the two debaters made and none of this has anything whatever to do with which man would make the better president.

In any event, I take solace in the fact that Obama is a master politician and I suspect he knows what he is doing. His fundraisers have been filling cyberspace and the phone lines with appeals for more money to hold off the millions of dollars people like Karl Rove and the Koch brothers are spending in swing states to buy their man the election. I hesitate to suggest that Obama is involved in a clever ploy to raise more money to fuel his campaign in the final weeks. But I do think the man knows what he is doing and that he realizes that while he has lost this battle in the eyes of the voting public, he has not lost the war. The ploy may have begun when he downplayed his debating skills before the debates began, though we know better. This may well be Obama playing Minnesota Fats to Romney’s Fast Eddie: it may be a hustle designed to get the opponent to relax his guard until the final debates when he will come out fresh and primed for the contest and use the final moments on national TV to vault him back into the White House.

In any event, it has certainly made for interesting TV and will assuredly raise viewer interest in the final debates, which tends to fall off historically. One down and two to go! But whether or not this is the case, as I say, it has nothing whatever to do with the central question at issue: which of these two men will make the better president? Perhaps we should worry less about how these men performed on TV and worry more about which one would perform better on the world stage as this country enters an uncertain future.

TV “Debates”

My name is Hugh and I did not watch the presidential debates on TV.  I must be honest: I did not plan to watch them because I did not expect to learn anything important from them. They are not designed to inform; they are entertainment staged for a TV audience. And I don’t find them terribly entertaining.

In such a TV event speeches are timed and each player is allowed a few minutes to speak and a few more to “rebut” the other — with an emcee carefully watching to make certain that neither goes over his allotted time. There will be no time for real rebuttal — an examination of assumptions, development of arguments with premises made explicit, counter-arguments (as opposed to charges and counter-charges, of which there usually are plenty). In a word, there is no intellectual discussion of the most important issues confronting American voters. Instead, there is a televised event in which two performers parade their stuff before the viewing audience which is known to have short attention spans with the goal of making the strongest impression. The “winner” is declared not on the grounds of which speaker made the most sense, but which “came off” the best, which one mentioned the most things that resonated loudest with the larger group of people.  It’s all about impressions in the Age of Entertainment. Like school and church these days, politics is show biz!

I am generalizing on the basis of past experience, but I am also developing a theme that Neil Postman argued in his provocative book Amusing Ourselves to Death in which he makes the case that TV marked the end of the Age of Exposition — which started to die with the invention of the telegraph in the mid-nineteenth century — and the full flowering of the Age of Entertainment. With the death of exposition we saw the gradual disappearance of the “sophisticated ability to think conceptually, deductively, and sequentially; a high valuation of reason and order; an abhorrence of contradiction; a large capacity for detachment and objectivity; and a tolerance for delayed response.” Postman makes a strong case. Can you imagine one of today’s TV debaters pausing to think?

He asks us to consider the Lincoln-Douglass debates in 1858 in which men and women stood for seven hours in the hot Illinois sun and listened carefully to two men debate the serious topics of the day, incorporating into their speeches such devices as story, sarcasm, irony, paradox, elaborated metaphors, fine distinctions, and the exposure of contradictions. The audience listened carefully and picked up on the subtle nuances they were hearing. In a word, there was a true debate involving the meeting of two minds on complex topics of the day in which the audience was asked  (and able) to follow closely and critically for what seems today an impossible length of time.

Consider Douglas’s opening comments in one of the debates: “Ladies and Gentlemen: I appear before you today for the purpose of discussing the leading political topics which now agitate the public mind. By an arrangement between Mr. Lincoln and myself we are  present here today for the purpose of having a joint discussion, as the representatives of the two great political parties of the State and Union, upon the principles at issue between those parties, and this vast concourse of people shows the deep feeling which pervades the public mind in regard to the questions dividing us.” How many modern listeners would (or could) follow this comment to the end — much less listen closely for seven hours?

Bear in mind that neither Lincoln nor Douglas was running for president at that time. They were two men debating public the issues of the day. Today’s TV presidential debates offer a sharp contrast not only in style but in substance. Instead of ideas painstakingly developed we have thought-bytes, slogans and clichés (Yahoo News wondered in print how many “zingers” Romney would get off). As Ortega y Gasset noted when the Age of Entertainment was aborning, we have ideas but we have lost the power of “ideation,” the ability to develop an idea to its full expression. In staged TV debates we are not asked to engage our minds, we are asked how we feel. And the person who makes us feel good will “win” the debate — not the one who speaks the truth (whatever that might be) or explains fully and carefully what he or she plans to do in leading this nation for the next four years. Because this is 2012, the Age of Entertainment, and the one who makes most of us feel good will eventually be elected President of this country.

I will of course vote. There are important issues at stake, including at least one possible appointment to the Supreme Court and the matter of taking steps to save of our planet. But my vote will be cast on the basis of what the candidate has done in the past and what I have reason to believe he will do in the future — as best I can tell. I have learned that what politicians say on TV is nothing more than a political commercial: it’s designed to sell the product.

Protecting Our Country

I have blogged about the reluctance of the Republican party to allow any cuts in “defense” spending — in spite of the fact that 60% of the budget they have pledged to cut to shreds is spent on the military in one form or another. In this regard a recent paragraph from a blogger friend jumped out and I thought it worth passing along:

Last year, the U.S. Army made an unusual request to Congress: Stop sending us tanks. That plea was issued after legislators ignored the Army’s objections and approved a defense appropriations bill that included $255 million for 42 new M1 Abrams tanks. With 2,300 M1s already deployed around the world, and 3,000 more sitting idle at a base in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, the military said it simply didn’t need any more tanks. But Ohio politicians pushed for the extra M1s, so as to keep open an 800-worker tank plant in the state. “A lot of lawmakers stuff funding into defense bills that could benefit their district,” said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense. Republican Rep. Jim Jordan, whose district is home to the tank plant, insisted that he supported the program for reasons of national security. “I think it’s in the best interests of the U.S. to defend our country,” he said.

Clearly waste in the Department of Defense is beyond our comprehension. Another article I read recently (also here) spoke about the waste of $5 billion by the Army attempting by trial and error to find camouflage that would protect the troops around the world — and make them look as “cool” as the Marines. Their camouflage, it turned out, made them more visible in every possible environment! They were unable to find the proper color combinations while the Marines simply went to Home Depot and looked at paint swatches and found the colors they wanted and had a material made in those colors which was then made into camouflage that works remarkably well — saving the taxpayers millions of dollars in the process.

I dare say there are many more stories like this that will never leak out as politicians are unwilling to turn a critical eye on “defense” spending since (as the above paragraph suggests) it would translate into a “weaker” country. Obviously defense spending is really less about defending our country than it is about defending special political interests. In any event this “weak” country would presumably result from a scheduled “sequestering” [reduction] of the military (which is opposed by Republicans in Congress (despite the fact that it would save the country $1.5 trillion over ten years). Our “weak” country would look something like this: it would only have 426,000 soldiers in the Army, only 1,512 fighter planes, only 230 ships in the Navy — not to mention the tanks alluded to above that are sitting and getting rusty and the tactical weapons we dare not mention. The question needs to be asked: what on earth is going on here? Just who are we defending ourselves from? It should be from the fat-cat politicians who talk about “national security” while they bed down with the corporations that make millions from selling defense equipment and weaponry.