AlterNet Readers' 10 Best Comments of the Week!

This week, AlterNet readers discussed the usual: Iraq, 9/11, and the suppression of civil liberties in the name of national security; and the slightly more off-beat: "rednecks," sex workers on Craigslist, and invisible potsmokers. But enough talk from us and onto your comments:

Sometimes our articles can elicit unexpected honesty and self-reflection from our readers, like mike1997 who responded to America's Deadly Shock Doctrine in Iraq by writing:

You know what's odd about this article? After reading it, I feel like a criminal. That was my tax dollars at work in Iraq. That was my government in action. I have never voted for any of the people currently serving in Washington. I voted against Bush, both of my states (KY) sitting senators and the Republican congressman representing my district. Still it doesn't feel like enough. It is still my fault on some level. I let the government that is designed to work for me do this in my name.

Staying on the topic of our foreign policy quagmire, umravya responded to The Battle for Iraq is About Oil and Democracy, Not Religion! by writing:

Ra'ed and Joshua, thank you so much for this and the other articles you have published here. It brings a critical insight to what is really going on and what is really important to understand about today's situation in Iraq, and it is entirely consistent with Iraq's social and political history. I wish you would do more of these joint articles. Ra'ed offers a voice and a set of insights that are very difficult to come by.

The story that Iraq's history is one of centuries of deep-seated ethno-sectarian conflict, and that therefore Iraq's fracture into three warring groups was an inevitable result of the removal of Saddam Hussein's regime has no basis in reality. The claim that Iraq is an inherently non-viable entity consisting of three distinct geo-ethno-sectarian bodies who have detested and slaughtered each other for centuries, and that the nation was only held together by the iron fist of Saddam is a falsehood that by incessant repetition over at least a decade, has become "received truth". To challenge this "received truth" one could begin by asking how Iraq managed to not only hold together but become well known for its people's strong sense of national identity during the half century or so of statehood that constitutes most of its history before Saddam's iron fist supposedly started holding it together.

This is an interesting question particularly because compared to the relatively politically stable years of Saddam's rule the earlier decades were a period of great political instability and regular upheaval, and yet Iraq did not show any signs of flying apart along geo-ethno-sectarian or any other lines. On the contrary, as Iraq historian Reidar Visser shows in his book, Basra, the Failed Gulf State: Separatism and Nationalism in Southern Iraq, an early attempt by Iraqis at separatism was not based on ethno-sectarian considerations at all, but on political and economic ones. Furthermore, as Visser shows, Iraqi nationalism ultimately prevailed.

This is much too large a subject to address in any real detail here. I strongly recommend taking a good look at Visser's site, and some of the articles he has written. It will open some eyes to an Iraqi reality that very few Americans have any idea of.

It is also worth considering that the original issues that led to the creation of the Shi'ite sect were not over issues of religious doctrine or practice, but over politics. To be specific it was over who should succeed Mohammad as leader of the Muslims.

I will end this comment by pointing out that, rather than being some kind of uncharacteristic anomaly as it was presented in the media, Iraqis' reaction to their soccer team's victory in the Asia Cup was a true reflection of their natural feeling of nationalism and national pride. That win engendered enormous joy and pride in Iraqis of all kinds, everywhere, including in Kurdistan, where a number of Kurds were arrested for waving the Iraqi flag. (Oh yes, did you know that the separatist "government" of Kurdistan has made it a crime to display the Iraqi flag?)

Iraqis' natural habit and inclination is not toward division, but toward nationalism. The polls referred to by Ra'ed and Joshua illustrate that, as does the reaction to the soccer victory. It has taken years of unrelenting pressure from some very powerful forces to gradually drive Iraqis into this state of conflict. It should be obvious that the longer the United States stays in Iraq the more difficult it will become for Iraqis to repair their nation and their society.

Responding to Six Years of 9/11 as a License to Kill, commenter american gave perspective on why the U.S. fails to extract itself out of the mess it has made:

If you look at the history, the US has been in wars and conflicts continuously since its founding and their viciousness has increased hand in hand with the country's capacity to kill.

Both small and large wars protect "American interests," but it is the big wars that really juice the military industrial complex's owners. These owners, by the way, own the media and the military industries. One hand has reached out and shaken the other, and vise-versa, since this country's founding. All of this has been fueled by money, myths, power, patriotism, and propaganda.

This one-hand-shaking-the-other is evident in the feigned opposition of the power democrats and republicans on matters of core social philosophy - one that is financial-elite centered. They are just a few degrees off from one another in philosophy; yet they use rhetoric to appear to make the difference seem greater. Look at what they do, not at what they say.

The US jumps at the slightest provocation to a threat to its "interests." If they are not present, it, along with the media, create indefinable ones such as:

The War on Communism (which controlled the middle and underclass and fueled the military industry. By the way, communism was at variance with capitalism, not democracy, but was framed in the US as a force against freedom, which, of course, is more clearly associated with democracy than capitalism.)

The War on Drugs (which controls the middle and underclass, and creates a cut for large segments of the US plutocracy via laundering and other activities)

The War on Terror (which controls the middle and underclass, fuels the military industry, and seizes middle eastern countries' oil and heroin assets)

The power media can report and portray things the way they have been because their owners own everything else. If newspapers are down, armaments are up. The lower wealth groups still have to pay the proverbial "rent." They cannot shake free of this without control of the dialogue, e.g., democracy. They cannot shake free of this without some control of the means of production, e.g., fair, unrigged, economic policies and the time to grow, make and repair their own things.

In the past, this state of affairs was more controllable by the plutocracy. Now however, prevalent technology requires grand scale education. In response, the plutocracy has made education more like training. Training creates automatons for the automation. Education creates thinking people who are well-rounded individuals who can be creative and make up their own minds.

"Principles," and all other notions or ideas, quaint or logical, are things that, in the minds of the power "elite," are used to quell people.

The Iraq war has also been used to suppress civil liberties abroad, notably through the government's secret "No Fly" List. To the article that asked, Are You on the Government's 'No Fly' List? one of our readers, ellie, answered with a resounding "Yes!":

happy to know I'm on the list ... every time I fly, I go through the same thing, but I do have a copy of my official 'political agitator' file from years ago ... funny thing is that every time I request a copy of the file, more and more of the old stuff is blacked out, but there are few if any entries in 30 years ... hey, I use a copy of the original face page and the latest face page for comparison when I teach a 101 class as a powerpoint slide no less ... last time I requested a copy I was told no more copies because of 'national security' in a nice way ...

last time I flew, they even went after my medical assistance dog, squeezed and patted him down, all 100 lbs of indignant elderly fur, and he left a 'deposit' on the floor for them as a political statement, no I walked away and didn't clean it up ...

been doing mail ping pong with the state department for almost a year over my passport renewal ...

nice to know TSA is on their toes after an older lady who is an academic with her elderly medical assistance dog ... gee, I'm still a thorn in the governmental side after all these years, I do feel so loved...

the thing that makes them nuts at the airport is that I've flipped the situation on them so many times, that I act like I'm a celebrity and don't react with indignation or anger and that drives them crazy!!!

yes, I do leave a network of info and assorted people knowing my whereabouts every time I go somewhere as a safety measure ...

now, where's my renewed passport?????

Switching gears to the more off-beat topics, hagwind opines on the meaning of white counterculture in response to A Journey into the Redneck State of Mind:

Sounds a lot like Woodstock with more motor vehicles for sure, and beer substituted for pot, hash, and acid.

"Counterculture" is by definition reactionary: it's a reaction against whatever is perceived as mainstream culture. What's "mainstream"? Whatever you want to rebel against! It is a bit disconcerting to read of the young black woman who isn't bothered by all the Confederate flags -- at least until I recall that for a (blessedly brief) period in high school a couple of friends and I thought iron crosses were cool and even wore them around our necks. The purpose was to make the adults sputter. After we learned more about Nazi Germany, we stopped wearing iron crosses and came up with more constructive ways to piss the adults off.

One thing's certain, though: in the U.S. of A. there's no culture or counterculture that can't be homogenized, repackaged, and sold back to consumers. Get your hippie/redneck paraphernalia here! What do you want to bet that "white trash rallies" are the next coming thing? Maybe they're already happening on a fairground near you.

The article, "NBA Syndrome" Helps Fuel Spiraling Inequality discusses the unrealistic dreams placed upon America's poor. Poster Spot had this to say: I have the unfortunate position of being in retail management. I see every day what kind of people are trying to survive in a $6-8/hour world. not being the top of the food chain myself and under surveillance from my own overlords, i am severely limited in the measures i can take to better their situations.

some weeks, business is up and everyone can work a full 40 hours. other times, i have to choose between cutting everyone back to 30 or 34 hours or singling out a few for 20 hours or less.

i find that morale stays highest when i communicate the reasons for what I must do, but the excuses always feel hollow.

the exploitation of labor originates from and thrives on a devious calculus i see daily: for profits to exist, labor must cost less than its value. we are, all but the very top, paid less than our value. the market doesn't ensure our value as workers, it deflates it. it has turned us from artisans and craftsmen to replaceable biological widgets in the grand machine. we are a means to the riches of the rich, we are the gold in their vaults. if we won't do their work, they will find someone else who will.

to combat this system that pits us against each other in competition, this 'race to the bottom', we must stop or counter the power of the few who benefit from this parasitic arrangement.

to stop it, we must no longer buy from for-profit organizations. we must attack the weed at its root. without our money being fed back into the system, the loop is opened. to counter their power, we must organize, because it is only in solidarity that we have the potential to stand against those who divide us for their gain. we must deny them the tools of exploitation they depend on for their survival.

Metamind gave a similar analysis, applied to the reasons why people become sex workers, in response to Craigslist Is the Newest Target in the War on Prostitution:

Imagine if we had an economy, which focused first on meeting the needs of the people so that nobody would go without food, shelter, clothing, education, health care and transportation. Then, once everyone has these things we could play our "money game" to get wealthy.

It would have an entirely different dynamic. People wouldn't be going into prostitution out of necessity. If they did it then it would truly be a choice.

Let's remember that there are "invisible costs" to prostitution. The psychic harm done by submitting one's body to the desires of another for the sake of monetary gain is immense. It's like eating arsenic. Eventually you have so much accumulated in your soul (mind) that you cannot love without expectation of a return, you cannot trust anyone and you cannot respect yourselves or others. You have put your faith into money rather than virtue.

Money destroys virtue by its nature. If we spent more time teaching virtue and less time punishing vice we would have a better society. We'd also have a different economy.

While education is supposed to be an equalizing mechanism among different socioeconomic classes, the reality is that poorer students are less able to pay off the loans that saddle them after college. Anothername responds to College Students, Welcome to a Lifetime of Debt! by writing:

Writing on local school board elections I realized that schools are not about students. Schools are about societies. Suddenly, I started to think again.

Universities used to teach the elite class that would serve in government, provide medical care, and otherwise manage society. Now, universities are about business. Professors are expected to get corporate research grants to fund departments. Corporations were encouraged to send their employees back to school to fill seats that were empty between the baby boomers and the echo boomers. Companies trying to establish affirmative action guidelines started requiring college degrees as a sorting mechanism, whether the job really needed a college-educated person or merely someone with a brain. Police departments started requiring college degrees because they discovered that 22-year-olds are less reckless than 18-year-olds. How much debt are older students, returning to college after being laid off and needing to prove themselves again, carrying?

Think about the role of universities, private and public, and community colleges and vocational schools in society. Do not think about their role in providing a lifestyle for any given student. What has changed at Stanford since Leland Stanford started it as a no-tuition university open to both men and women? Is it now serving society by educating people, such as Pres. Herbert Hoover, or is it merely serving corporations and the individuals who find jobs with the companies?

Here's another question for thought: Why is it when people hear that I write original theoretical socio-political philosophy, their first question tends to be an inquiry as to where I teach? We have become a society where we are not expected to think except within a scholastic environment.

Many readers also touted eating locally as a means of boosting the local economy in Is Eating Local the Best Choice? The reader, vision, offered a mult-layered approach:

The economic argument is important here as well. When you buy locally you strengthen the local economy. When you buy from Dole, you strengthen the NYSE.

It seems to me a multi-tiered, integrated approach is going to be necessary for many of these problems. For example, at my house, we grow some of our food, we get some through a CSA (community supported agriculture) partnership, we get some from a co-op grocery store, and then for the few things we can't get from those sources -- apples in the summer, bulk honey, etc. -- we go to a responsible large corporation like Whole Foods.

Same thing with energy -- it's going to take a mix of reducing demand by improving insulation, putting on a sweater in the winter or sweating a little bit in the summer, etc.; generating some power atomically (as in, the house is an atom, not as splitting atoms) through solar or wind or whatever is locally optimal, and when those are inadequate being able to pull power that's environmentally responsible from the grid -- from far away wind farms when the weather is insufficient locally, for example.

On a final note, vasamurti gives a history of prohibition, and the problems of making pot illegal in response to The Pot Smokers Who the Government Says Don't Exist:

Throughout history, the legal and moral status of psychoactive drugs has kept changing. During the 17th century, the sale and consumption of tobacco were punished by death in much of Europe, Russia, China and Japan. For centuries, many of the Muslim domains that forbade the sale and consumption of alcohol simultaneously tolerated and even regulated the sale of opium and cannabis.

Alcohol prohibition in the United States was repealed after just thirteen years while the prohibition of other drugs has continued for over 75 years. Why? Alcohol prohibition struck directly at society's most powerful members. The prohibition of other drugs, by contrast, threatened far fewer Americans with hardly any political power.

Only the prohibition of marijuana, which some sixty million Americans have violated since 1965, has come close to approximating the Prohibition era experience, but marijuana smokers consist mostly of young and relatively powerless Americans.

Richard Posner, Chicago's chief federal appeals judge, and one of the nation's leading legal scholars, says marijuana use should be legalized as a way of reducing crime. Posner, a Reagan administration appointee once described by American Lawyer magazine as "the most brilliant judge in the country," explained his views on marijuana in The Times Literary Supplement, a British publication, and in an interview that followed shortly thereafter.

"It is nonsense that we should be devoting so many law enforcement resources to marijuana," said Posner. "I am skeptical that a society that is so tolerant of alcohol and cigarettes should come down so hard on marijuana use and send people to prison for life without parole."

Posner, chief judge of the 7th U.S Circuit Court of Appeals, is the highest-ranking judge to publicly favor the repeal of marijuana laws. Several judges of the federal district court, a level lower than the appeals court, have made similar calls, including Robert Sweet of New York and James Paine of Florida, both Carter Administration appointees.

New York University law professor Burt Neuborne said it's significant that "one of the leading intellectuals in the judicial system recognizes that the laws don't seem to be working well."

Richard Cowan of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) said, "His remarks will help move the debate along. Judges are well-situated to see the damage done to the public and to the justice system by these laws."

Cowan says more than 400,000 marijuana arrests are made annually, costing the nations billions of dollars in police and court time and prison space. Posner and other federal judges have complained that sentencing guidelines force them to give unjustly severe prison sentences to relatively minor drug offenders.

'"Prison terms in America have become appallingly long, especially for conduct that, arguably, should not be criminal at all," Posner said. Making marijuana legal, he observed, might take the profit out of sales of illegal drugs and would not necessarily increase drug addiction.

"Only decriminalization is a sure route to a lower crime rate," Posner said. "It is sad that it appears so far below the horizon of political feasibility."

Thanks for reading and tune in next week!

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