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Posted by Time for change in General Discussion (1/22-2007 thru 12/14/2010)
Sat Jan 03rd 2009, 08:50 PM
Unquestioning allegiance to and confidence in those who have the most power to control the fate of our country, no matter what crimes they commit, is unhealthy in the extreme. Those on the right call it “patriotism”. I call it willful denial, arrogan
“How do I respond when I see that in some Islamic nations there is vitriolic hatred for America? I’ll tell you how I respond: I’m amazed. I’m amazed that there is such misunderstanding of what our country is about that people would hate us. Like most Americans, I just can’t believe it because I know how good we are” – George W. Bush, trying to understand why a nation whose country he invaded and destroyed, in the process killing a million innocent civilians and creating four million refugees, is not grateful to him for the “freedom” that he brought to them.

One of our worst traits as a nation is our unwillingness to recognize or admit to the bad things that our government does – in our name. Of course, in order to facilitate our denial of our government’s bad actions, it helps greatly if the things that our government wants us to deny are virtually unmentionable. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating:

There are numerous things that absolutely cannot be mentioned by American politicians because they are …. well, “embarrassing to our country”. Mere mention of these things brings down the wrath of conservative pundits and moderates as well, and even some who consider themselves to be liberal or progressive. The wrath is likely to be so intense that few U.S. politicians dare mention these things because of the risk of being booted out of office – or worse. Three such things are: 1. the stealing of a U.S. presidential election; 2. referring to American military or covert actions as immoral, rather than merely as “misguided”; and, 3. imputing bad intentions, rather than mere incompetence, onto a U.S. president.

Since we are a democracy, the consequences of our failure to recognize the bad things that our government does means that our government will therefore be enabled to continue to do those things with impunity. William Blum explains in “Freeing the World to Death”:

This is the main reason that the U.S. can get away with what it does all over the world – the lack of awareness of the American people about US foreign policy. These Americans are not necessarily stupid, but there are all kinds of intelligence in this world… There’s political intelligence, which might be defined as the ability to see through the bullshit which every society, past, present and future, feeds its citizens from birth on to assure the continuance of the prevailing ruling class and its ideology.

Some examples of the American propensity for denial, arrogance and stupidity

Before I discuss the psychology behind these attitudes, I’ll give some examples so as to put the issue in perspective:

Our failure to hold a president and a vice president accountable for a multitude of crimes
One of our sorriest episodes as a nation was our utter failure to hold George Bush and Dick Cheney accountable for the many crimes they committed against us and other peoples of the world. It isn’t as if the evidence wasn’t readily available. On June 9th, 2008, Congressman Dennis Kucinich presented 35 articles of impeachment to the U.S. House of Representatives. They are worth summarizing here:

Articles I – XIII: Creating a propaganda campaign and lying to the American people and Congress in order to build a false case for war against Iraq; then invading and occupying Iraq, in violation of U.S. and international law and in the absence of any good reason whatsoever; then failing to provide our troops with the body armor they needed, falsifying accounts of US troop deaths, and establishing permanent military bases in Iraq.

Article XIV: Exposing a covert CIA agent.

Articles XV-XVI: Providing immunity from prosecution to criminal contractors in Iraq and recklessly wasting US tax dollars on contractors in Iraq.

Articles XVII-XX: Indefinitely detaining our prisoners, including children, without charges or any legal rights, torturing them, and kidnapping people and transporting them to other countries to be tortured.

Article XXI: Lying to the American people and Congress, with the goal of overthrowing the Iranian government.
Article XXII: Creating secret laws.
Article XXIII: Violating the Posse Comitatus Act
Articles XXIV – XXV: Spying on American citizens in violation of our 4th Amendment.
Article XXVI: Announcing intent to violate duly enacted laws with signing statements.
Article XXVII: Failure to comply with Congressional subpoenas.
Article XXVIII - XXIX: Tampering with free and fair elections and corruption of the administration of justice.
Article XXX: Misleading Congress and the American people in an attempt to destroy Medicare.
Article XXXI: Failure to plan for or adequately respond to Hurricane Katrina.
Article XXXII: Obstructing efforts to address global climate change.

Article XXXIII - XXXV: Failure to respond to the 9/11 attacks on our country; then endangering the health of first responders and obstructing investigation into the attacks.

Congressman Kucinich spelled out the evidence for each of these serious crimes and misdeeds. Yet the U.S. House of Representatives utterly failed to hold the Bush administration accountable for any of them, through impeachment or any other means. Presumably, the main rationale for this failure was along the lines that it would be too disruptive for our nation or be seen as too “partisan”. In short, the idea that a sitting President would engage in such things was seen as too painful for our nation to bear.

Expressing outrage over publicizing the Bush/Cheney torture policies
On June 14th, 2005, Senator Richard Durbin exposed, on the floor of the US Senate, the Bush administration treatment of its prisoners by reading directly from an FBI report:

On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food, or water. Most times they urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for eighteen to twenty-four hours or more. On one occasion… the temperature was so cold in the room that the barefooted detainee was shaking with cold… On another occasion… the temperature in the unventilated room well over 100 degrees. The detainee was almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him….

Durbin then provided his own opinion on the matter:

If I read this to you and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in the gulags, or some mad regime – Pol Pot or others – that had no concern for human beings….

It is not too late. I hope we will learn from history…. The president could declare the United States will apply the Geneva Conventions to the war on terrorism… that the United States will not, under any circumstances, subject any detainee to torture…

For this courageous act, Durbin was subjected to a torrent of abuse from the Republican Party, called a traitor, accused of stabbing our troops in the back, and eventually pressured into apologizing.

Hypocritical standard for war crimes
After World War II, the victorious Allies set up the Nuremberg Military Tribunal, which they used to prosecute several top Nazis for war crimes, sentencing 12 of them to death and 7 to long term prison sentences. One of the most famous statements made by the Chief US prosecutor of the Tribunal was:

We must make clear to the Germans that the wrong for which their fallen leaders are on trial is not that they lost the war, but that they started it… Our position is that no grievances… will justify resort to aggressive war. It is utterly renounced and condemned as an implement of policy…

The Tribunal’s final judgment stated:

To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime. It is the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.

One of the biggest criticisms of the Nuremberg Tribunal was that the Allies applied standards that they would be unwilling to subject themselves to. But in 1998, 120 member states of the United Nations created the International Criminal Court (ICC), with the goal of holding all of the world accountable for war crimes and other crimes against humanity. President Clinton signed the treaty in 2000, but George Bush unsigned it in 2002.

The vast majority of Americans approve of our holding the Nazi war criminals accountable for starting World War II. Yet, substantially smaller numbers approve of holding George Bush accountable for his equally illegal invasion of Iraq. I defy anyone to explain how Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 was more legal or moral than Hitler’s invasion of Poland in 1939, for which we sentenced several Nazi war criminals to death.

Refusing to condone the provision of an honest education for our children
Worst of all is the fact that our nation insists on keeping its children in the dark about our true history. In November 1994, the National Council for History Standards (NCHS), having used an unprecedented process of open debate, multiple reviews, and the active participation of the largest organizations of history educators in the nation, released its proposed National Standards for United States History.

That document was meant to provide voluntary guidelines for national curricula in history for grades 5-12. As explained by Gary Nash, who led the effort, these standards were meant to have one thing in common: “to provide students with a more comprehensive, challenging, and thought-provoking education in the nation's public schools.” Their signature features were said to include “a new framework for critical thinking and active learning” and “repeated references to primary documents that would allow students to read and hear authentic voices from the past”.

Major critics of the document included Newt Gingrich, Lynn Cheney and Republican presidential candidates Pat Buchanan and Bob Dole. Dole blamed the document on “the embarrassed to be American crowd” of “intellectual elites”. Lynn Cheney aggressively criticized the document as containing “multicultural excess”, a “grim and gloomy portrayal of American history”, “a politicized history”, and a disparaging of the West.

Nash defended the document from the historians’ point of view:

To be sure, it is not possible to recover the history of women, African Americans, religious minorities, Native Americans, laboring Americans, Latino Americans, and Asian Americans without addressing issues of conflict, exploitation, and the compromising of the national ideals set forth by the Revolutionary generation… To this extent, the standards counseled a less self-congratulatory history of the United States and a less triumphalist Western Civilization orientation toward world history…

Historians have never regarded themselves as anti-patriots because they revise history or examine sordid chapters of it. Indeed, they expose and critique the past in order to improve American society and to protect dearly won gains… This is not a new argument. Historians have periodically been at sword's point with vociferous segments of the public, especially those of deeply conservative bent.

The U.S. Senate’s rejected the document in 1995 by a vote of 99-1.

The psychology behind the American propensity for denial

Denial is a very common psychological defense mechanism that people use in order to avoid the psychological pain of having to face something that is very unpleasant to them. It is so common that all humans use it to one degree or another on occasion. But as we grow we learn to face things that were previously too difficult for us to face, and that is part of the process of emotional maturation. Mastering this process gives us the strength to face the world as it really is, rather than as we would like it to be. With regard to the denial of evil, Laura Knight-Jadczyk explains:

Human beings have been accustomed to assume that other human beings are – at the very least – trying to “do right” and “be good” and fair and honest. And so, very often, we do not take the time to use due diligence in order to determine if a person who has entered our life is, in fact, a “good person”.

That helps to explain why innocent people deny the bad things that other people do. There is a somewhat different explanation for why people deny their own murderous actions. Noam Chomsky explains that in his book, “What we Say Goes”:

When you conquer somebody and suppress them, you have to have a reason. You can’t just say, “I’m a son of a bitch and I want to rob them.” You have to say it’s for their good, they deserve it, or they actually benefit from it. We’re helping them. That was the attitude of slave owners. Most of them didn’t say, “Look, I’m enslaving these people because I want easily exploitable, cheap labor for my own benefit.” They said, “We’re doing them a favor. They need it.”

William Blum speaks specifically of the American tendency to deny (or be willfully ignorant of) the immoral international acts that its government commits in their name:

I believe that the main cause of this ignorance about foreign policy among Americans has to do with the deeply held belief that no matter what the US does abroad, no matter how bad it may look, no matter what horror may result, the United States means well. American leaders may make mistakes, they may blunder, they may even on the odd occasion cause more harm than good, but they do mean well. Their intentions are always noble. Of that Americans are certain… They see their leaders on TV and their photos in the press, they see them smiling or laughing, telling jokes; they see them with their families, they hear them speak of God and love, of peace and the law, of democracy and freedom, of human rights and justice… How can such people be moral monsters? They have names like George and Dick and Donald, not a single Mohammed or Abdulla…

Former US Senator William Fulbright, an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War, explains the phenomenon (page 51) in a more generic way:

Power tends to confuse itself with virtue and a great nation is peculiarly susceptible to the idea that its power is a sign of God’s favor, conferring upon it a special responsibility for other nations – to remake them in its own shining image.

“Conspiracy theorists”

Our leaders and ruling elites have a number of tools for keeping us in denial about the bad things that they do. Corporate domination of our national news media, along with their refusal to talk about such things as Bush administration war crimes, is one of their most important ones. But widespread availability of the Internet has certainly reduced the effectiveness of that tool.

One of the last strategies in their firewall is to marginalize people who threaten them by bringing up topics that make them uncomfortable. That is what they effectively did to political figures like Dennis Kucinich, John Edwards and Cynthia McKinney. One of their major tactics for marginalizing people who seriously question their own version of reality is to refer to them as “conspiracy theorists”. In fact, they use that term to denote a kind of mental illness, the implication of the label being that such people are kooks and should not be taken seriously, or that they should be regarded with contempt. No matter that world history is chock full of conspiracies used by people to obtain or maintain their wealth and power. Anyone who questions their own version of reality is a “conspiracy theorist” and a weirdo. And so successfully have our ruling elites sold this paradigm to the American people that much or most of them, including those who have no means of benefiting from it, buy their “conspiracy theorist” labels. Thus it is that people who care about their country and their fellow citizens and who question the version of reality hoisted upon them by our ruling elites are often known as kooky “conspiracy theorists”.

My daughter recently experienced a mild version of this. In response to a post on her Facebook page urging her friends to ask Obama to invest in a more thorough investigation of the 9/11 attacks, Carrie received the following e-mail from an old high school friend who is an FBI agent:

Hi Carrie, how have you been? Just curious. In what way would you like the government to take the 9/11 attacks more seriously? Is there a conspiracy theory?

Such is the willful denial of most Americans regarding the actions of their country that even a simple request to re-investigate the event with the most far reaching implications of our times elicits reactions of incredulity. Does my daughter’s FBI friend not realize that our interpretation of the events of 9/11 have committed our nation to hundreds of billions of dollars annually in the cause of a perpetual war with no foreseeable end? Does she not realize how woefully inadequate those events have been investigated to date? Does she not realize how absurd the rest of the world sees our nation’s own conspiracy theory, which constitutes its official explanation of the events of 9/11? And is she not aware that the organization that she belongs to went to great lengths prior to the 9/11 attacks, to successfully obstruct investigation into warnings that could have prevented them from occurring?

How will this ever end?

This unquestioning attitude of allegiance to, confidence in, and even worshipping of those who have the most power to control the fate of our country, no matter what crimes they commit, is unhealthy in the extreme. Those on the right call it “patriotism”. I call it willful denial, arrogance and stupidity. And the longer it takes to stop, the more likely and sooner it will be that our planet is engulfed in world-wide catastrophe.

I’ll end this post with a comment from William Blum, which is highly appropriate to our current situation:

If I were the president, I could stop terrorist attacks against American targets in a few days. Permanently. I would first apologize – very publicly and very sincerely – to all the widows and the orphans, the impoverished and the tortured, and all the many millions of other victims of American imperialism. Then I would announce that America’s global interventions – including the awful bombings – have come to an end… I would then reduce the military budget by at least 90% and use the savings to pay reparations to the victims and repair the damage from the many American bombings and invasions. There would be more than enough money… One year of the US military budget is equal to $20,000 per hour for every hour since Jesus Christ was born.

That’s what I’d do on my first three days in the White House. On the fourth day, I’d be assassinated.

And I will second Blum’s plan. If I was president I would try to find a way to do something similar to what he’s suggesting … if I had the courage to do so.
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The Unfulfilled Promise
The Unfulfilled Promise of the American Dream: The Widening Gap between the Reality of the United States and its Highest Ideals

Time for change

Notwithstanding the lofty sentiments and purpose of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, the reality of the United States of America did not then – and never has – lived up to its ideal. Our nation remains today a long way from fulfilling the promise implied by those ideals. Yet, our Declaration was a great start, and it has long shone as a beacon of hope for people all over the world.

Throughout our history, while many have striven to close the gap between our highest ideals and the reality of our nation, others have focused on the accumulation of private wealth and power, at the expense of everyone else. In recent decades the latter have gained much ground, leading to increasing imperialism abroad and deteriorating democracy at home, characterized by routine (and legal) bribery of our public officials, the fusion of government and private corporate interests (corporatocracy), a corrupt election system largely in the hands of private corporations, a corporate controlled communications media, and the widespread acceptance of Executive Branch secrecy, routinely justified with little if any questioning, by the magic words “national security”. All of this is rapidly turning our country from the democracy proclaimed at our founding into a plutocracy (government by the wealthy and for the wealthy). The result is the most obscene wealth gap our country has ever known, the highest imprisonment rate in the world, rampant militarism, routine flaunting of international law, the least efficient health care system in the developed world, a pending environmental catastrophe that threatens to destroy the life sustaining forces of our planet, and myriad other problems that threaten to destroy our nation and tyrannize our people.

My new book, The Unfulfilled Promise of the American Dream – The Widening Gap between the Reality of the United States and its Highest Ideals, explores the roots and consequences of the demise of our democracy, and why most Americans have been unable to understand this process or even become aware of it. A good understanding of why and how we have deviated so greatly from the ideals of our nation is the first and necessary step towards getting back on the right track and revitalizing our society.

The book is currently being sold in electronic PDF format and can be purchased at for $3.99. It will also soon be available in Amazon Kindle format. DU members who cannot afford to buy the book but would like to read it can pm me with your e-mail address, and I will send you a free PDF copy.

I’ve previously posted on DU a slightly earlier version of the introduction to the book, which is also posted at my site. Here is the Table of Contents, followed by a brief description of the three parts of the book:


Prologue – What is Wrong with the United States of America?

Part I – Root Causes of the Impending Demise of American Democracy
Chapter 1 – Legalized Bribery
Chapter 2 – Human Psychological Factors
Chapter 3 – Corporatocracy
Chapter 4 – Corporate Control of Media
Chapter 5 – Corrupt Election System
Chapter 6 – Government Secrecy
Chapter 7 – American Exceptionalism

Part II – A Sampling of Imperialist Actions
Chapter 8 – Slavery and its Legacy
Chapter 9 – Early U.S. Imperialism
Chapter 10 – U.S. Imperialism in Cold War
Chapter 11 – Iraq War and Occupation
Chapter 12 – Afghanistan War

Part III – Consequences
Chapter 13 – Election of George W. Bush
Chapter 14 – War and Imperialism
Chapter 15 – Class Warfare
Chapter 16 – Predator Financial Class
Chapter 17 – Shock Therapy
Chapter 18 – Contempt for Int. Law
Chapter 19 – The “War on Drugs”
Chapter 20 – Climate Change
Chapter 21 – “War on Terror”
Chapter 22 – Health Care
Chapter 23 – Unaccountable government
Chapter 24 – Response to 9/11 Attacks

PART I – Root Causes of the Impending Demise of American Democracy

It is somewhat difficult to separate the causes of our problems from their consequences, since they combine to form a long chain of cause leading to consequence, leading to more consequences, etcetera. Nevertheless, it seems worth while to identify the root causes of our problems, those that occur early in the chain and lead to so many of the tragic consequences we see today. The only chance we have of reversing the demise of our democracy is through addressing and attacking its root causes.

At the top of the list is the systematic bribery of public officials by the powerful corporations (Chapter 1) whom our government is charged with regulating in the public interest. Instead of calling it bribery, we call it “campaign contributions”, but what we call it isn’t as important as what it is. It is hard to fathom how democracy can survive when such a practice is legal and condoned.

Working in tandem with our system of legalized bribery is the nature of the people who inhabit our country. That is not to say that Americans are inherently substantially different than any other people. Human beings are imperfect, and that is probably a major reason why in a world where civilization began more than five millennia ago, the oldest written national framework of government in the world today – the Constitution of the United States of America – is only a little more than two and a quarter centuries old. Chapter 2 explores the roles of basic human needs, authoritarianism, psychological defense mechanisms used to prevent us from perceiving reality as it is rather than as we’d like it to be, and corrupted ideologies in causing us to passively accept the accumulation of power in the hands of ambitious and ruthless individuals who care about little else than expanding their own wealth and power.

When bribery of public officials is tolerated as an inevitable aspect of public life, government inevitably grows close to the wealthy interests that shower it with money in return for legislative and other favors. A malevolent symbiosis grows between the state and corporate power, resulting in rule by an oligarchy that is highly detrimental to the lives of ordinary people (Chapter 3). Using their accumulated wealth and power to manipulate our legislative process, the oligarchy grabs for more and more control of the communications media (Chapter 4) that are used to control the information available to and shape the attitudes of our nation’s people, in pursuit of their own narrow interests.

Since the 1980s an orchestrated campaign has been underway to demonize “big government”, thereby paving the way for private corporate control over more and more functions that were previously deemed intrinsic functions of government. Among those functions is the running of public elections (Chapter 5) – the function that symbolizes democracy perhaps more than any other single function. Consequently, the purging of selected registered voters from our computerized voter rolls has become a routine recurring event throughout much of our country, and without a doubt determined the results of the 2000 – and probably 2004 as well – presidential election. Just as bad, more and more of the counting of votes in our public elections have been turned over to private corporations, which count our votes using electronic machines using secret software to produce vote counts that cannot be verified by anyone.

Bribery, the fusion of government and private interest, fake and biased news, and corrupt elections are not things that government and its corporate allies want us to know about. Consequently, they construct walls of secrecy (Chapter 6) to keep us from obtaining information that sheds light on their activities. The perfect phrase for facilitating this is “national security”. When our government tells us that the “national security” requires that certain things be kept secret from us, the understanding is that to question such a pronouncement is unpatriotic, and to actually attempt to obtain the “secret” information may be treasonous.

But indefinitely maintaining secrets from the American people can be very difficult, because at least some people want to know what their government is up to. So in addition to the formal mechanisms of secrecy, informal mechanisms are constructed (Chapter 7) to keep vital information away from us. One of the primary methods for doing this is to make certain sensitive subjects taboo – that is, to create the widespread belief that discussion of these topics is so outside the bounds of acceptable human discourse that anyone who discusses them should be shunned by society, or worse. The most common issue that falls into this category is any discussion that sheds light on the disparity between American ideals and the reality of life in our country today.

PART II – A Sampling of Imperialist Actions in U.S. History

Notwithstanding the fact that our founding document says that “all men are created equal” and speaks of the inalienable rights of humankind, the United States has throughout its history partaken of massive exploitation of other peoples.

It is estimated that at the time of our birth, 18% of our population was black slaves. In our expansion westwards during the late 18th and 19th centuries, we decimated the original inhabitants of our continent, and often treated them with great cruelty. In 1846 we manufactured an excuse for war with our neighbor Mexico, in which we continued to expand our country westwards and southwards. In 1893 we began our overseas imperialism with the conquest of Hawaii. Our overseas expansion was greatly accelerated in 1898 with our participation in the Spanish-American War, which led to our conquest of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. With our arrival at world superpower status at the end of World War II, we began the Cold War, which led to and served as a rationalization for covert and/or direct military actions against myriad foreign nations over the next 46 years. With the September 11, 2001 attacks on our country, we declared a perpetual “War on Terror”, which served and continues to serve as an excuse to invade and occupy Iraq and Afghanistan, nations that posed no threat to us. We do not know when or if this perpetual war will ever end. We don’t know how many additional imperial conquests it will lead to.

Most Americans don’t think much about all this. Many of these actions are done in secrecy, and the American people don’t find out about them until many years later – or we never find out about them at all. Those that we do know about are spun into the most favorable light, to make them seem benign or even noble.

But these actions come at great costs: in the lives of our soldiers; in the ruined lives of the peoples of the victim countries; in trillions of dollars cost to our people and their future generations; in our international reputation; in anti-American hatred leading to terrorism; and, to our democracy itself. For how can a nation claim to believe in the inalienable rights of humankind specified in its founding document, while making a mockery of that belief in the way it treats other peoples? For that reason alone it is worth while to take a brief look at our long history of imperialist actions.

PART III – Consequences

In the Prologue I give a brief account of what I see as some of the worst and tragic consequences of the root causes that I discuss in Part I – to enable the reader to see where this book is heading. When elections of our public officials are for sale to the highest bidder… when our public officials are so addicted to the “campaign contributions” of their wealthiest constituents that they develop a symbiotic relationship with them… when our communications media are owned and controlled by an oligarchy of wealthy elites… when our citizenry lack the ability to differentiate propaganda from reality… when we allow machines provided by private corporations to count our votes using secret electronic software… then we should expect that the consequences will not be pretty or comfortable for the vast majority of our citizens.

In Part III, I explore those consequences in much greater detail, in the hope that the reader will agree with me that these are very serious problems, and that they must be successfully addressed if our country is ever to fulfill the promise of its ideals, or even make progress in that direction. When enough Americans recognize our problems as problems, stripped of the gloss and spin put on them by our oligarchy, they will rise up and do something about them. Until then there will be no progress, and we are very likely to head in the direction of all the former empires of our planet, ending in chaos, widespread catastrophe, suffering, and ignominy.

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