Tuesday, June 9, 2009

U.S. war funding bill brims with unrelated extras

A $100 billion bill to fund U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is rapidly accumulating extra items such as money for military aircraft the Pentagon doesn't want and possibly a scheme to jump-start sagging auto sales.

The cars and planes are not directly linked to the U.S. war effort. But they are typical of Congress' penchant for loading bills with unrelated spending in hopes the funds will sail through on the strength of the main legislation.

President Barack Obama originally sought $83.4 billion for the two wars and more foreign aid for countries like Pakistan.

But then he too sought more -- $4 billion extra to combat H1N1 swine flu and $5 billion to back credit lines to the International Monetary Fund, which is trying to help developing countries weather the global economic downturn.

The unrelated provisions have slowed the bill down, especially for the IMF because Republicans have argued the extra items should be vetted through the normal congressional process rather than jammed into an emergency spending bill.

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What makes a people commit mass atrocities?

From Dave Pollard's brilliant How to Save the World blog:

Over my lifetime I have heard many explanations of why so many Germans were complicit in the atrocities committed during World War II. None of them is credible. Early accounts, during my youth, asserted that the Germans were either duped or unaware of what was happening, and that all the atrocities were committed by a small group of psychopathic leaders. This theory is absurd -- no leaders could possibly pull off such a deception of their own people. More recent accounts would have us believe that Germans had been systematically indoctrinated for decades with anti-Semitism and xenophobia, to the point that, like North American slave owners a century earlier, and male patriarchs in most of the Western world a century before that, they couldn't conceive of these 'others' being 'real' people at all, entitled to treatment as civilized humans, as peers. Or they would have us believe that the German people, reeling under the collective shame of military failure twenty years earlier and suffering from the terrifying, seemingly endless poverty and misery of the Great Depression, were so overcome with Nazism's generous sharing of the plunders of foreign imperialism and war, and so terrified by a world seemingly coming apart, that they willingly, gleefully accepted the genocidal consequences of this liberation from poverty, hopelessness, shame and fear.

In the last century we saw atrocities committed in even greater numbers by Stalin and Mao in their own countries, resulting in the murder, often under unimaginably cruel circumstances, of 60 million and 80 million people respectively. Go back earlier in history and such atrocities will be found everywhere on the planet. Go forward and the two most extreme examples of the past decade -- in the Balkan states of the former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda -- make clear that this is not something that civilized societies outgrow.

[ ... ]

None of this would occur in a healthy world. All that is needed, however, is a widespread sense of fear, shame, suffering and poverty to induce the mass psychosis. Fear comes about when sudden and unappreciated change is foisted upon us: When our daughter comes home hand in hand with someone from another culture, race, or gender than the one we are comfortable with. When we realize that information and technology are so accessible that anyone could kill us or ruin our lives with a gun, a suicide bomb, a disease of overcrowded poultry, a drug, a penis, a home invasion (by legal authorities or strangers), tainted food or water, a nuclear or chemical or biological weapon cooked up in their basement. Or when a small group of spoiled rich lunatics brings down a couple of buildings by crashing airplanes into them.

Shame is also in no short supply in our civilization. Ask any German. Ask Romeo Dallaire. Ask yourself, when you cringe and change the station when the commercials and documentaries about the state of the world just outside your door come on, begging you, daring you to look and learn. I can almost hear you, whispering: It's not really that bad, There is no other (economic) choice, I don't know about that, There's nothing we can do about that.

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The psychopathology of the modern American corporate leader

From Boss Science by Steve Fishman

...In many offices, the boss's focus tends to be on himself, in a mirror, heroically distorted. Take Michael Scott, Steve Carell's character in The Office. Scott is craven, self-admiring, clueless, the Ur-narcissist. Others' feelings and talents register little, if at all. Subordinates exist to serve—one, in fact, does Scott's laundry. Scott's only redeeming trait is that he's a buffoon, the butt of the running joke. Still—and this is a crucial insight into the narcissistic boss—he is among the few who don't see this. “Narcissists have unrealistically exaggerated views of their abilities and achievements,” reports University of Florida professor Timothy Judge, whose 2006 study of narcissists was titled “Loving Yourself Abundantly.”

As a TV character, Scott is laughable, in part, because we assume no one quite like that could really be boss. Yet the sad irony of office life is that a large and growing body of evidence argues that narcissistic personality traits are some of those that propel the jerk up the ladder. Research suggests that he who climbs quickly is likely more talkative, social, and at the same time more obviously—obviously is the key word—dominant than his peers. “He answers to himself,” as one management consultant puts it. He's self-referential—“I believe … ” is the way he starts most every sentence. He has a talent for manipulating others' impressions. One way he sometimes does that is by flashing a little anger. “Leadership research shows that subtle nasty moves like glaring and condescending comments, explicit moves like insults or put-downs, and even physical intimidation can be effective paths to power,” reports Robert Sutton, a Stanford professor and author of The No Asshole Rule.

And so, the research shows, employees tend to see the jerk, the narcissist, and yes, even the asshole, as boss material. “Yeah, the narcissist has advantages,” Adler says, as if fingering a nemesis. Most important among them, the narcissist believes that it's his natural right to be the boss. “Narcissism,” says Adler, his hands flapping the air, “makes a person feel that he should be a leader. He's the one motivated to sell himself to peers.”

Certainly no one in the corporate-psychology business wants to be seen as soft-minded about nasty, brutish workplace tactics. If the jerk who shoves others aside to rise in fact makes the best boss, so be it. If employees have to suffer, so be it. That's why they call it work.

But the one who reaches the top fastest doesn't necessarily make the best boss. A foundational bit of research on this issue was done by Fred Luthans at the University of Nebraska. “What do successful managers—those who have been promoted relatively quickly—have in common with effective managers—those who have satisfied, committed subordinates and high-performing units?” asked Luthans. “Surprisingly, the answer seems to be that they have little in common.”

And the problem isn't easily controlled. Dysfunction at the top tends to infect an organization. When the boss is disagreeable, disagreeableness spreads. Sutton and others see assholicness as a disease vector. “There's powerful evidence from longitudinal studies that if you're around jerky people you'll become like them if you don't leave,” Sutton tells me. “Specifically, studies show that if you work for a bully boss, you will become a bully.

“Being an asshole,” he says flatly, “is a contagious disease.” ...

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The genesis of evil on a macrosocial scale

THE HYSTEROIDAL CYCLE

Ever since human societies and civilizations have been created on our globe, people have longed for happy times full of tranquility and justice, which would have allowed everyone to herd his sheep in peace, search for fertile valleys, plow the earth, dig for treasures, or build houses and palaces. Man desires peace so as to enjoy the benefits accumulated by earlier generations and to proudly observe the growth of future ones he has begotten. Sipping wine or mead in the meantime would be nice. He would like to wander about, becoming familiar with other lands and people, or enjoy the star-studded sky of the south, the colors of nature, and the faces and costumes of women. He would also like to give free rein to his imagination and immortalize his name in works of art, whether sculptured in marble or eternalized in myth and poetry.

From time immemorial, then, man has dreamed of a life in which the measured effort of mind and muscle would be punctuated by well-deserved rest. He would like to learn nature's laws so as to dominate her and take advantage of her gifts. Man enlisted the natural power of animals in order to make his dreams come true, and when this did not meet his needs, he turned to his own kind for this purpose, in part depriving other humans of their humanity simply because he was more powerful.

Dreams of a happy and peaceful life thus gave rise to force over others, a force which depraves the mind of its user. That is why man's dreams of happiness have not come true throughout history: this hedonistic view of “happiness” contains the seeds of misery. Quite the contrary, they feed the eternal cycle whereby good times give birth to bad times, which in turn cause the suffering and mental effort which produce experience, good sense, moderation, and a certain amount of psychological knowledge, all virtues which serve to rebuild more felicitous conditions of existence.

During good times, people progressively lose sight of the need for profound reflection, introspection, knowledge of others, and an under-standing of life's complicated laws. Is it worth pondering the properties of human nature and man's flawed personality, whether one's own or someone else's? Can we understand the creative meaning of suffering we have not undergone ourselves, instead of taking the easy way out and blaming the victim? Any excess mental effort seems like pointless labor if life's joys appear to be available for the taking. A clever, liberal, and merry individual is a good sport; a more farsighted person predicting dire results becomes a wet-blanket killjoy.

Perception of the truth about the real environment, especially an understanding of the human personality and its values, ceases to be a virtue during the so-called “happy” times; thoughtful doubters are decried as meddlers who cannot leave well enough alone. This leads to an impoverishment of psychological knowledge, the capacity of differentiating the properties of human nature and personality, and the ability to mold minds creatively.

The cult of power thus supplants those mental values so essential for maintaining law and order by peaceful means. A nation's enrichment or involution regarding its psychological world-view could be considered an indicator of whether its future will be good or bad.

During “good” times, the search for truth becomes uncomfortable because it reveals inconvenient factors. It is better to think about easier and more pleasant things. Unconscious elimination of data which are or appear to be inexpedient gradually turns to habit, then becomes a custom accepted by society at large. Any thought process based on such truncated information cannot possibly give rise to correct conclusions; it further leads to subconscious substitution of inconvenient premises by more convenient ones, thereby approaching the boundaries of phenomena which should be viewed as psychopathological.

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