Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Most Ingenious Paradox

In 2004, during the height of the Bush era crimes against humanity and logic, The Onion ran a piece called "Nation's Liberals Suffering from Outrage Fatigue".

It provides a list of symptoms necessary for an official diagnosis of outrage fatigue syndrome. The general theory behind this creeping scourge is that the more information people get about government corruption, the more inured to it they become. After awhile, people have become so benumbed that each new jolting revelation of political malfeasance becomes one more shot of Novocaine. Too many doses of outrage end up being anesthetizing rather than stimulating. In medicine, this is called called the paradoxical reaction.
With so many right-wing shams to choose from, it's simply too daunting for the average, left-leaning citizen to maintain a sense of anger," said Rachel Neas, the (fake) study's director. "By our estimation, roughly 70 percent of liberals are experiencing some degree of lethargy resulting from a glut of civil-liberties abuses, education funding cuts, and exorbitant military expenditures."
Liberals in the Age of Obama  find themselves now, as then, requiring ever greater doses of government corruption and hypocrisy in order to maintain any semblance of righteous indignation. And as a (real) new study by Salon shows, when Obama is the provocateur of what would normally constitute an epidemic of outrage (over failure to prosecute banksters, his campaign of targeted drone assassinations, unprecedented secrecy, record deportations of undocumented immigrants, draconian whistleblowing prosecutions, establishment of a political action slush fund that accepts unlimited corporate money, selling out education to the highest corporate bidders, etcetera and so forth) the typical popular reaction is a big collective Meh.

Outrage is dead. Long live ennui. Welcome to the new age of American totalitarianism.

That the daily doses of outrage coming from Washington are having a parodoxical effect on the populace and the journalistic class that covers it is evidenced today in the placement of, and reaction to, a New York Times blockbuster revealing that President Obama is refusing to hand over legal opinions on his Oval Office murder squad to Congress, and trying to get away with it through some cynical political horsetrading with the Republicans over Benghazi-Gate. In exchange for handing over some emails on what he knew about the firebombing of the consulate and when he knew it, Obama will try to force through the confirmation of John Brennan as CIA director with Republican votes, without ever having to explain just what it is that he thinks gives him the right to kill people. If Congress agrees to turn a blind eye to his role as judge, jury and executioner, then he will accomodate them with a few meaningless emails on an unrelated topic.

Obama would rather please Lindsey Graham than Ron Wyden. His recent promises of transparency over his kill list are just that -- empty promises. His continued success at stringing his fans along with glib words is continuously astounding.

The article initially appeared in the desirable and visible top left corner of the digital homepage late last night. But by this morning, it had been relegated to smaller type, buried between a piece on the Pistorius case and a retrospective on the red tape encountered during Hurricane Katrina. More than 12 hours later, the Times had published only 100 reader comments -- and judging from the low reader recommendation tally, the story was not generating much interest. But I guess we should take comfort from the fact that among those readers who are taking an interest, their reaction is almost universally scathing against Obama and Brennan. Here's my own comment:

If the White House is refusing to allow Congress to see the legal opinions, then it can only be because either the opinions are as embarrassingly flimsy as the paper they are written on, or because they are damning enough to constitute physical evidence of war crimes. And who knows -- maybe they don't even exist at all, or are rough drafts written in invisible ink. Perhaps this Administration is wary of what happened to the Bush Administration after they released their own opinions on torture -- and foreign governments proceeded to issue indictments and arrest warrants based on violations of the Geneva convention.
This refusal to provide the requested documents is even more troubling given that only last week, President Obama promised more transparency about the drone program, acknowledging that nobody should just take his word for it and that we have a right to know "the parameters" around the program. His alleged refusal to furnish the legal opinions to even his own party, while making a show of compromising with the Republicans over a contrived scandal, betrays a stunning cynicism and a contempt for the rule of law and the democratic process.

Maybe there is also such a thing as immunity to outrage fatigue in a certain stubborn segment of the populace. But for now anyway, the herd immunity to the onslaught of virulence coming from the very top of our government remains the norm. The Obama Administration represents both the disease and the treatment of it. The president quips, the politicians quibble, the journalists nibble, the people are stuck right in the middle. A most ingenious paradox.

How quaint the ways of Paradox
At common sense she gently mocks. (Gilbert & Sullivan, The Pirates of Penzance)


James F Traynor said...

It's enough to drive you nuts, nuts, nuts. I've been driven to the point where I've 'become crazier than a shit-house rat'. And then there's the people, the hoi polloi, lord luv 'em. You know the ones who gave the hemlock to Socrates to get even with the oligarchs who invited him, Socrates, to their dinner parties for entertainment. You could say he got NDAA'd for being a 'terrorist' by 'association'. But, what the hell, they put up a statue of him about a year or so later to make up for it all.

We liberals, progressives, whatever come to the defense of the hoi polloi by saying there's no transparency, they don't know the truth. Well, I don't know about that anymore.

Case in point. Not terribly far south from where I live they have a black bear problem in a community of double wides and single wides (retirees and low income people). They've been told by wildlife biologists that the bears are after the garbage and if they secured the garbage the bears wouldn't come around. They won't do it. They've been told the relocation area for the bears is in easy bear traveling distance. They still won't do it and claim it's the government's fault.

I could go on this way up the social and economic ladder pointing out other examples of the species' behavior but I won't because that's why I'm crazier than a shit house rat.

Pearl said...

Karen, there is another article in the N.Y.Times, Who Will Mind the Drones, asking questions in addition to the article you quoted in your column. I can tell you why there is ennui among liberals, we are so overwhelmed with conflicting articles about all the problems in the Obama administration that even with your guide lines it is difficult to know how to get clear answers about complicated challenges.

I have more time than most people due to being retired to keep up with the ongoing crisis situations the government is trying to deal with and have to cut back on some of the reading I would like to do from various journalists in order to tend to the everyday chores in my life. How do people holding jobs, taking care of family needs have the energy and time to try and figure out fact from fiction and even more, find ways and means for protesting the ongoing craziness?

There seem to be more and more articles being written trying to delve into the convoluted minds of our leaders and lawmakers but it takes time to see any kind of clear picture in it all. It could be that we are deliberately being confused by this administration but I rather think that they are caught up in a vortex they themselves don't comprehend and slamming the Republicans at every opportunity seems to be the only way they can excuse their flimsy attempts at solving ongoing crises. Just see how Krugman has been stuck in a box in his repetitive columns as well as his commenters, except for people like you, Karen.

At least we should make the most of the increasing questioning and criticism being printed and see where that may lead. There have been several articles coming out exposing the inability to handle the growing problems in the Obamacare health care construct, following warnings by many of us who know its inadequacies and which I am following closely. Keep tuned.

Outsida said...

I actually read a hopeful bit of information today!

This was from the Washington Post in an article titled 'Chinese Cyberspies Have Hacked Most Washington Institutions'. No news there, but this is interesting:

“They’re trying to make connections between prominent people who work at think tanks, prominent donors that they’ve heard of and how the government makes decisions,” said Dan Blumenthal, director of Asian studies at the American Enterprise Institute, which also has been hacked.

“It’s a sophisticated intelligence-gathering effort at trying to make human-network linkages of people in power, whether they be in Congress or the executive branch.”

This reminds me of how we analyzed clans and associated power structures in the Middle East in order to turn them against each other and select and bribe the most powerful with billions in cash to get them to do our bidding.

Of course in this case, the Chinese have accessed information straight from the belly of the beast. God only knows how they will use it, but I can only hope at some point they share this information with the American public. It's not that we don't already suspect the connections, but having the proof sure would help us possibly restore our Democracy.

By the way, I bet anything they have hacked into Obama's Blackberry. Hope he isn't trying to hide any personal secrets, because blackmail on a grand scale could be possible.

There is a curse attributed to the Chinese 'May you live in interesting times'. I think we're there!

cek said...

Bingo, Pearl.

Denis Neville said...

The big collective Meh to our new age of American totalitarianism…

Say it ain't so Joe.

But, as Joe Bageant once said, “The saddest thing is that Americans are cultivated like mushrooms from birth to death, kept in the dark and fed horseshit.”

It’s Groundhog Day. Nothing has changed today from 2009, when Bageant wrote:

“There are still a few delusional souls out there who believe Obama is trying to do his honest best to fulfill campaign promises, but just cannot get past the pack of vampire financial corporations and cold blooded Republican lizards. Which is true in a sense. He cannot get past the Wall Street pack because he is running in the middle of it. Obama's nefarious relationship with Wall Street's power players has been ongoing for years. It is no accident that Wall Street got to select the members of the president's financial cabinet. My mutton eating friends, it's a sad and sordid tale.”

“Americans may be starting to get the big picture about politics, money and corporate power. But I doubt it. Given that most still believe the war on terrorism is real, and that terrorists always just happen to be found near gas and oil deposits, there is plenty of room left to blow more smoke up their asses. Especially considering how we are conditioned to go into blind fits of patriotism at the sight of the flag, an eagle, or the mention of "our heroes," even if the heroes happen to be killing and maiming Muslim babies at the moment. Patriotism is a cataract that blinds us to all national discrepancies.” – Joe Bageant, “The Devil and Mr. Obama,”

There are two ways they control the mushrooms. First, frighten them. Second, demoralize them. An educated, healthy and confident nation is harder to govern. That is why Americans are cultivated like mushrooms – they don't want them to be educated, healthy and confident because they would get out of control. So the mushrooms put up with all the horseshit, because they're poor, they're demoralized, they're frightened and they think perhaps the safest thing to do is to remain in the dark, take orders and hope for the best. Meh!!!

Kat said...

Suffering from fatigue here. Last weekend they had in my paper a piece about the administration's efforts to amp up drone operations in Africa. They named Central African Republic, Djibouti, and Niger. I do believe most Americans would be hard pressed to find Nigeria, let alone Niger on a map. Who am I kidding? I imagine most Americans believe Africa is a country. Somehow these countries represent grave threats to our safety.
Now, the other day I ordered a few books online. I see their name on B&N marketplace and decide to go directly to their site. They had good prices and plenty of books. But, damn-- all over the place is stuff about their use of carbon offsets and their donations to libraries in Africa. Then they used my favorite phrase "Doing well by doing good." Aargh.
No, Africa does not need your used paperbacks nor does it need Tom's shoes.

Fred Drumlevitch said...


You said "I imagine most Americans believe Africa is a country".

Yeah, it wouldn't surprise me to hear that. In a related example (one that Jay and Pearl especially on this forum will appreciate): Several years ago while standing in line for the cashier at Walgreens, I witnessed a dispute over the inclusion of a Canadian coin as payment/change. I don't remember whether it was the clerk or customer who was ignorant, but one of them was adamant that it was legal tender here in Arizona because "Canada is part of the United States"!


Thanks for relating that Joe Bageant comment that “The saddest thing is that Americans are cultivated like mushrooms from birth to death, kept in the dark and fed horseshit.” That must be the most memorable concise summary of the American condition I'll ever see. The rest of his/your comment was well-said too.

@Kat, again:

Carbon offsets are a particular peeve of mine, too. Being of leftist persuasion, and in the biological sciences, I'm probably expected to support them. I do know the rationale. But in what other area do we consider offsets an acceptable strategy for dealing with what should be unacceptable behavior? Murder, rape, or robbery offsets, anyone? Those would, rightly, be considered ludicrous. More often than not, I think that the offset strategy is, in its actual implementation, a way to obscure how slow the pace of change (if any) is, and a way to co-opt calls for truly significant action. And it also obscures the unwillingness of leaders to properly lead, as extensively discussed in the comments to the previous ("Hold That Tiger") post.


Thanks for your comment in the previous thread about reforestation and wildlife overpopulation. Yeah, most people probably don't know those facts. Nor do most people understand the natural role of fire in ecosystems. Smoky the Bear's decades of fire suppression has turned forests into tinderboxes that, when fire does break out, burn intensely and very destructively, and we've seen examples of that in Arizona, New Mexico, and elsewhere in recent years.

Two reasonably readable books that show the complexity of conservation:

Conservation; Linking Ecology, Economics, and Culture, by Mulder and Coppolillo, 2005, Princeton University Press.

American Sportsmen and the Origins of Conservation, 3rd edition revised and expanded, by John F. Reiger, 2001, Oregon State University Press.

The Eastern U.S. forest regrowth story may be more complex than the usual presentation:


Thanks for the Ralph Peters column reference (in the previous thread), arguing for military spending cutbacks. I've been writing a very extensive piece (stay tuned!) that covers much, much more than military spending, but to the extent that military spending is one thing that requires serious cutbacks, I too was/am using the F-35 program and a comparison to decades-past fighter costs as example. I don't know Peters' sources for the F-86 costs. I based my comparison partly on Eisenhower's 1953 "The Chance for Peace" speech, which is well worth reading.

Kat said...

@Fred-- totally agree with you about the offsets. Plus, they seem to be something of a scam.

Jay - Ottawa said...

@Kat & Fred

Sounds like you've both read articles like the following and probably some on the more technical level. Anyway, I include a citation and a quote from a fine article in case others are interested in learning more about carbon offsets (at the library since internet access is blocked to nonsubscribers).

The problem is the measure and book-keeping process for international carbon trading. It's an inside joke, explained here:

"Conning the Climate: Inside the Carbon-trading Shell Game," Mark Schapiro, Harper's Magazine (Feb 2010).

And here's the summary last paragraph:

Indeed, carbon exists as a commodity only
through the decisions of politicians and bureaucrats,
who determine both the demand, by
setting emissions limits, and the supply, by establishing criteria for offsets. It was the United
States that sculpted the cap-and-trade system
during the Kyoto negotiations, before pulling
out of the accord and leaving the rest of the
world to implement the scheme. Since then,
most of the world’s major political, financial,
and environmental interests have aligned
themselves with the idea, because of its potential
to generate profits out of adversity and to
avoid the difficult economic decisions posed
by climate change. Now the Obama Administration
and the Democratic Congress—along
with most American companies, which see
cap-and-trade as the friendliest regulation
they could hope for—want to rejoin the world
and multiply the market. That market is, in
essence, an elaborate shell game, a disappearing
act that nicely serves the immediate interests
of the world’s governments but fails to meet the challenges of our looming environmental crisis.

Zee said...


You can find information on the unit cost (flyaway cost) of the F-86D, $343,839 in 1950 dollars, here:

Lt. Col. Peters did his cost escalation from 1950 to 2013 dollars correctly, coming in at $3,339,238, or, as he simply put it, “under $4 million” per copy today , according the the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis' “inflation calculator:”

If you haven't found it already, a fantastic source of data for weapon system program costs from 1962 through 1995 is Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Since 1940 which you can find here:

Of particular interest to you might be their internet access to the “Department of Defense Future Years
Program Historical Database,” which includes everything from 1962 through 1995, not just nuclear weapons system programs:

Click on “View Report” to see the entire database.

Hope that this helps with your research, if you haven't already seen the book and associated data.

Kat said...

Your post certainly underscores how the bots continue in their mass delusion-- look at the comments on the OFA article. People believe in this mythical creature known as "the progressive billionaire". Their dollars are going to serve as a counterweight to those ol' obstructionist Republicans so that Mr. Obama may enact his bold progressive agenda. Hah.
At least even the NYT readers are not buying what Sheryl Sandberg is selling. Never mind though, we'll be seeing her all over the morning shows whether we want to or not. I see her book is blurbed by Chelsea Clinton, Jeffrey Immelt, Wendy Kopp, and Condi. Now that's a ringing endorsement.
Besides all the criticism Karen had to offer I'm thinking why does it always have to be a woman must be more like a man? And really what a sad little prize she wants women to fight for.
I did enjoy this reader comment: is everyone at facebook delusional and in the middle of a manic narcissistic high? it's like studio 54 but without the music and fun