Monthly Archives: August 2012

The Vicious Cycle of American Meritocracy

It’s interesting that at a time when American corporations and the wealthiest in the country are being taxed at rates that are lower than at any other time during the last 100 years, one of the major political parties is trying to convince Americans that if we do not lower taxes even further on these players, then they will cease to do us the honor of creating the wealth that our nation desperately needs. Now despite that this is simply factual nonsense (during the largest periods of growth during the last century corporations and wealthy citizens, including Mr. Romney Sr., co-existed with a much higher tax burden), this makes no psychological sense. The drive to make money and to succeed, even at the top, is not that tax sensitive. Our wealthiest citizens are not going to suddenly elect poverty because they have to pay the taxes of their fathers. As mentioned, higher taxes during the 1950 and 60s and during Reagan and Clinton didn’t stop the rich Americans from becoming rich.

But one of the biggest problems our nation faces is a psychological disorder, a vicious self-fulfilling prophecy, where people are so convinced that their success and/or failure is due to their own merit, that they are completely disconnected from reality. This inevitably leads to a continuous cycle of nepotism, where those who merit success are limited to those who already belong to the club of the elite, while those who do not belong repeatedly fail, and said failure denies them the merit to achieve success.

In other words, where a society so values success and almost blindly believes that success is solely attributed to one’s own merit, anyone who is successful or unsuccessful is presumed to deserve their station in society, and society is completely and unquestionable content with and accepting of the consequences of having people who succeed disproportionately and those who fail miserably. So for example, we are fully capable of accepting that a corporation can outsource (don’t say “offshore”) jobs and slash employee salaries while increasing executive pay to amounts that simply do not coincide in any shape or form with the reality of the executive’s performance. Yet this disconnect is disregarded, ignored. The CEO achieved the American dream because he [must have] worked harder than all those salaried employees. Continue reading

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Filed under Elections 2012, Essays

The Clash of Civilizations: Between American Geo-Politics and American Ideology

This morning on the metro I was listening to a Leonard Lopate Show podcast where Leonard interviews Fredrik Logevall on his new book Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam. What struck me as interesting was how Logevall described Ho Chi Min’s travels to New York and Boston, his great admiration for the U.S., and how his fierce anti-colonialism was inspired by the Declaration of Independence. As a matter of fact, most anti-colonialist movements after World War II were inspired by America’s independence, yet ironically, the U.S. was at the time, and continues to be to this day, staunchly pro-colonialist.

Logevall attributes the U.S.’s choice immediately after the World War II to side with French colonialism in Vietnam against independence not so much to the fear of the spread of communism, but for its desire to have a strong France strike a power balance across Europe.

Whether or not the same is also true for North Africa and the Middle East, the U.S. consciously choice to support colonialism, neo-colonialism (the replacement of a foreign power with an internal regime that treats its own country as if it were a colony), and right-wing dictatorships over populist, secular and pro-democracy movements in the name of fighting communism.

Morocco is a perfect example. After having suffered a generation of French and Spanish imperialism, when the U.S. troops arrived on Moroccan coasts, the contrast was striking (as Fatima Mernissi describes nicely in Dreams of Trespass). The American soldiers were clean, kind and respectful, unlike their European counterparts. After the War and prior to independence, when grassroots, pro-democracy groups were forming, armed with American democratic values, the U.S. government chose the French. And after Morocco achieved its independence some 10 years later, the U.S. government then chose the monarchy. It was better to have a dictatorship you could finance and military bases where you could park artillery than the threat that free elections posed: labor unions, socialism, dominoes falling.

Does this sounds familiar? Continue reading

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Filed under Essays, We The People

Recent Good Reads

I am now subscribed to Good Reads, an online resource for tracking and sharing what you’ve been reading. It helps to remind me of what I have read, especially since I have moved to mainly reading on my Kindle, which has the major defect of not leaving a physical trophy on the book shelf to impress my friends with. This is my Good Reads list, and below is what I have read recently:

Each was good in its own way, but I would say that the biggest highlights were State of Wonder and A Life Full of Holes (and Skippy Dies if it weren’t so long winded).

And here are some of the titles on my Kindle waiting for a chance to be read:

Why so many classics, you may ask? They’re easy to find for free on the net.

I should also mention that I have uploaded song lyrics onto my Kindle as a cheat sheet for when I sing my son to sleep at night.

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War as American Entertainment

On Monday I was reading via Glenn Greenwald about NBC’s new military-meets-celebs reality show and how

Nine Nobel peace laureates have called on NBC to cancel this show, pointing out that “war isn’t entertainment” and “people—military and civilians—die in ways that are anything but entertaining,” adding: “Trying to somehow sanitize war by likening it to an athletic competition further calls into question the morality and ethics of linking the military anywhere with the entertainment industry in barely veiled efforts to make war and its multitudinous costs more palatable to the public.”

This got me back to my early posts on how we really are becoming more and more like a page out The Hunger Games every day.

Then yesterday afternoon I finally got around to starting Kurt Vonnegut’s classic Slaughterhouse Five and read,

[In response to the narrator writing a novel about his experience in World War II] Well, I know,” she said. “You’ll pretend you were men instead of babies, and you’ll be played in the movies by Frank Sinatra and John Wayne or some of the other glamorous, war-loving dirty old men. And war will look just wonderful, so we’ll have a lot more of them. And they’ll be fought by babies like the babies upstairs.”

So maybe we’re not suddenly becoming more like The Hunger Games, but have for a long time worshipped War as the ultimate heroic sport. Think about it. What other nation constantly produces year after year blockbusters centered around the victorious combatants? Arguably only the Chinese and Japanese have anything remotely comparable in their cultures. Meanwhile we continuously label other religions and cultures – who have absolutely no traces of violence in their popular entertainment — as innately murderous; this, of course, serving the purpose of perpetuating our own ongoing thirst for even more entertainment.

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Filed under Essays, Literature