The New Addiction: War Fever

The Nation just released a strangely relevant excerpt from the recently published in ebook format Vonnegut by the Dozen, a collection of 12 essays by Kurt Vonnegut.  The excerpt is from the essay “The worst addiction of them all.”

Vonnegut starts by praising Alcoholics Anonymous as America’s “most nurturing contribution” to the world we see today. This support group encourages people to begin recovery by identifying their vice. This is undoubtedly a powerful statement to make, it is the steepest step of all twelve. A number of authors writing about their experiences in AA have made the 12 steps the crucial plot element, and have seen accolades by Oprah’s book club and on other more reputable platforms. By requiring a confession of just what you are, the AA scheme is attributed “measurable success in dealing with the tendency of some human beings, to become addicted to substances that give them brief spasms of pleasure but in the long term transmute their lives and the lives of those around them into ultimate ghastliness.”

This is Vonnegut’s statement on what addiction is. While more may be said by those in the know, we can stick with that definition for our present purposes.

For example alcohol, or narcotics or gambling. Vonngeut is gonna focus on gambling to make his point, since gamblers do not ingest any particular substance. The actions they take, through their own biochemical processes, create for them a high unmatched by any of the substances we classify as drugs. Thus far gambling is unscheduled, probably because the chemicals and/or substances causing the high can be produced by every human brain. As it turns out, humans have the capacity to create their own toxic high through a variety of activities. We can get that brief spasm of pleasure through video games, through pornography, or even through shopping, not just placing bets and risking money, and not just through illicit activities.

Kurt Vonnegut identifies a new class of addiction in Vonnegut by the Dozen:

It is more like gambling than drinking, since the people afflicted are ravenous for situations that will cause their bodies to release exciting chemicals into their bloodstreams. I am persuaded that there are among us people who are tragically hooked on preparations for war.

Of course he’s correct. They’ve been around just as long as alcoholics and sex-addicts and probably even longer. Compulsive war-preparers are “more tragically addicted” than the stockbroker, the alcoholic or the gambler, who just wants a dollar bet on who can spit farther than whom. But what might it take to get the war-preparer his high?

For us to give a compulsive war-preparer a fleeting moment of happiness, we may have to buy him three Trident submarines and a hundred intercontinental ballistic missiles.

…aaaahhh. For a fleeting moment of happiness, “we” have to get him what?

A couple of these:

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Hmmm.

Vonnegut goes on to identify the sick few who have fallen between the cracks: “If Western Civilization were a person, we would be directing it to War-Preparers Anonymous.” Thereafter, Vonnegut fails to clarify the sick entity that he dubs “Western Civilization,” except in an unacceptably overbroad fashion. His further characterization/personification of Western Civilization is completely erroneous. It takes his substantive addendum to the character of the West from a tautology to a simple buzz in the temporo-parietal junction (TPJ) and maybe not even the buzz that you might pass on.

By dubbing this new category of addict Western Civilization, he makes all of us geographically located in the Western Hemisphere feel guilt, without assigning responsibility to those who are actively seeking their fix. He doesn’t stop there. He says, “Western Civilizations, which surely now includes the Soviet Union, China, India, Pakistan and so on…” What a claim to make! So we all are sick? The whole globe is afflicted? We have a collective addiction to preparing for War? I cannot submit that this is what Kurt intends to mean because he goes on to say:

Let us recognize how sick such people are. From now on, when a national leader, or even just a neighbor, starts talking about some new weapons system which is going to cost us a mere $29 billion, we should speak up. We should say something on the order of, “Honest to God, I couldn’t be sorrier for you if I’d seen you wash down a fistful of black, beauties with a pint of Southern Comfort.”

That is, I couldn’t be sorrier for you (national leader, or just a neighbor) than if you were drowning in alcohol, with a liver the size of your ribcage, and you were whining for more booze. I couldn’t be more sorry for you. At this point. we should speak up. We should say to such a person, craving for the urgent, weighty sting of preparing for combat, you need help. You seek a brief spasm of pleasure from a substance that will transmute your life into ultimate ghastliness. The first step is a confession. This will be the first of many steps on the long journey back to sobriety that those people will have to take.

Finally, Vonnegut’s solution: Let us not mock them. All we have to do is separate them from the levers of power.

Here, Vonnegut admits that Western Civilization itself it not sick with this kind of addiction. Rather, Western Civilization, in failing to recognize this condition as an illness, has venerated these persons by rewarding them with complete control over the levers of power. Western Civilization, in the act of insinuating war on others, seeks to appease, not antagonistic nations, but its own addicts to war preparation. Moreover, nations will lose most of their freedom and wealth in seeking to appease such addicts.

After describing how war-prep addicts come into being (“it starts innocently enough in childhood, under agreeable, respectable auspices”), Vonnegut clarifies the contours of the addiction and how to recognize it. But until now, Vonnegut is just bringing the reader to the precipice. He lets the reader glance over when he asks:

Should addicts of any sort hold high office in this or any other country?

Absolutely not, for their first priority will always be to satisfy their addiction, no matter how terrible the consequences may be–even to themselves.

Affordable Care Act is a Nightmare for Young People

Health insurance and health care have gotten a lot of attention in the US lately. Since the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (commonly called the ACA or ObamaCare), the federal government has released a litany of new regulations. These rules govern everything from which policies are offered to how research is funded to which drugs can get approved.

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Due to the introduction of mandatory premium ceilings, we are now all held responsible for the higher costs of people in the state in which we live or company for which we work. This is good from an insurance perspective, because it spreads the risk, but it’s a nightmare from the perspective of a young person trying to afford insurance. When the average risk of a consumer base increases, that means premiums must also increase. Insurance companies need to be able to pay for the services they cover, and when they cannot charge certain people more money, they charge everyone more.

The consequence for most young people is that they see premiums skyrocket. When premiums skyrocket, healthy people drop out of the insurance market or select into different plans with different risk sharing. This is called a death spiral: when fewer healthy people buy insurance, insurance companies must raise premiums to cover their costs. Higher premiums mean more people drop out, and the people who are left with more premiums therefore buy even higher-price policies. It used to be that people could buy different policies with customized deductibles and coinsurance rates so as to fit their budgets. However, that’s now illegal.

A similar effect results from insurance packages required to cover more services. As you may have heard from the controversial protests of such a policy, the ACA requires non-grandfathered health plans to cover contraceptive services for women without cost sharing. Certain groups (religious employers and their affiliated health plans) have won exemption from the rule.

While it seems like a great thing to have your contraception covered for “free”, the consequences are again deeper than they appear. When insurance companies are required to provide any service without sharing the costs with consumers, the price mechanism is disrupted. Instead of seeing a price tag right away, we get fooled. No one likes to pay for things, so that part seems nice. The truth, however, is that we all still pay.

The actual cost of these services is still passed along to the consumer. Just because we don’t see the check right away doesn’t mean that there are no costs; instead, the true cost of the service gets added to our premiums and still ends up hurting our wallets. People have to pay for these services somehow, so they pass it along to those of us paying premiums.

These are just a few of the problems with the ACA. As the Exchanges open for business in October and other changes come into effect on January 1, we will continue to see the effect of third-party intervention and distortion. Everyone deserves to have the best health care, and the ACA will not help young people achieve that goal.

This is why my generation demands a true market for healthcare in this country.

If you’d like to speak with or book Sloane or any of our other Advocates, please contact Young Voices now.

Snowden might be “Enemy of the State” but Surveillance State is “the Enemy of the People”

The ongoing NSA revelations and the debate on how to deal with those who inform the public about our rights being violated shows that the United States is at a pivotal point in our history. We need to decide whether we want to be governed by secret courts and institutions which don’t hesitate to testify falsely in front of congressional committees or if we want to live in a society where we are protected against those who feel they have the authority to do.

Today’s youth have grown up in the most connected world that has ever existed.  Our generation recognizes modern communications, social media, and especially the Internet as one of the greatest innovations in human history. We love sharing, liking, and collaborating via the web, keeping in touch with friends from overseas, and being able to work in virtual offices. We share information on the web willingly and voluntarily, knowing that it is available to others. We use free-of-charge services such as Gmail with the awareness that their business model is based on advertisement and marketing. We accept that trade-off: We share a limited amount of our information to gain the significant benefits that come from high-quality email services and online collaboration. But we do not consent to share everything with everyone.

When politicians such as President Obama and representatives of various intelligence services tell us that there is a trade-off between privacy and security, they are not actually offering a trade. Not only are we offered any meaningful mechanisms to defend privacy from these latest encroachments. There is little-to-no proof that programs such as PRISM add any value to counter-terrorism efforts. They are asking for a blank check to override our privacy and offering us nothing in return.

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The Obama Administration and hawkish politicians on both sides of the aisle have labeled Edward Snowden as an “enemy of the state.” As long as they define “the state” by the individuals who hold the power within the state and the systems that exist to exert their powers, without regard to the lawfulness of their activities, then they are right. However, if we recognize the state as more than that, as an embodiment of principles of justice, to achieve certain ends such as protecting human rights, whose authority is derived from the people, who must be able to check what those in power are doing, then they are wrong. To the extent that a person is an “enemy of the state” for holding that state accountable to the principles of justice it is meant to embody and protect, we should call that state an “enemy of the people.”

My generation is frightened by the fact that we have been ruled by two presidential administrations and multiple intelligence services that bear greater resemblance to a dystopian Hollywood movie than the model of liberal and constitutional values we are taught in history and government classes. Lavabit founder Ladar Levison cannot even talk about the reasons why he shut down his service, for to do so would bring about criminal charges. It is unbelievable that this is possible in the country that brought about modern Democracy.

Our government, and the court system in particular, needs to start protecting people’s privacy instead of snooping around and massively collecting data of innocent citizens. Real security can only come about when we are secure in our rights.

For this reason, my generation demands more oversight for US surveillance practices.

If you’d like to speak with or book Alexander or any of our other Advocates, please contact Young Voices now.

Greeks, 60%, Favor Privatization – Bureaucrats, Unions, and Political Interests In the Way

The case of “Privatization in Times of Crisis” opened three years ago as a resource that would contribute decisively in the battle to reduce debt and deficits.

In June 2010, after a cabinet meeting, then Prime Minister George Papandreou announced a wide variety of ministerial privatization programs involving banks, ports, airports, roads, railways, utilities, and public property.

Half a year later, at the end of 2011, absolutely nothing had happened. The agenda of privatization in 2011 included scenes of international tragicomedy, with the Troika announcing that it will realize around 50 billion Euros from privatization.

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In 2010 the 74 enterprises controlled by the state were worth about 44 billion Euros. Of course now, their value has fallen dramatically. However, If the state had decided to sell 10% of its enterprises in 2010, the taxpayers would be relieved from all the additional taxes they eventually paid compared to 2009. If the state had sold 25% it could also have paid 6 billion Euros owed ​​to individuals (contractors, doctors, pharmacists, etc.) in the private sector. If it had decided to sell the 50% of state-owned companies in the country, the public would be spared from the brutal cuts in wages and pensions.

In a nutshell: The worst part of the crisis would be over, with minimum casualties in the private sector.

In early 2012 a more realistic target was set: collect 5 billion Euros that year. The actual privatization gains amounted to 84 million Euros. For 2013, things changed. The government of Samaras set more conservative goals — to collect around 2 billion Euros — and changed the strategy. However due to their failure to sell the public gas corporation DEPA, the target was automatically reduced and nobody knows if this can be achieved.

The Greek legal entity responsible for the privatization process, the TAIPED, “froze” its activities between May and July 2012, when the board decided that no decisions were to be taken until the formation of a new government. The formation of the new government, however, was followed by the resignation of the chairman of the Board. Recently his successor also resigned.

Privatizations have also slowed down due to litigation. More than 13 appeals have been filed to the Council of State. Unions (electricity, water, DEPA, OLTH etc.) and citizens requested that the decisions be held unconstitutional.

Bureaucracy is another serious problem. Until recently, 72 administrative acts and regulations were pending. Serious privatizations could simply not be materialized without those acts (State Lottery, DEPA, Greek, IBC, Afandou, Cassiopeia).

The way that until recently the Greek government has handled its property is totally anachronistic. They knew neither what that property was, nor it’s condition. Nobody bothered to document the problems.

The problem is a lethal combination of political apathy, which slowed down the processes, bureaucracy, and incompetence. Greece is a rich country, which could and should exploit its resources, by selling off assets through the market, securitizing its future income, and partnering with private investors. The aim should be twofold. First, earn some profit and use some of it to pay off debt. Second, open the economy to the international markets by deregulating the Greek economy.

The failed privatizations mean more taxes for average citizen, since the government revenue “gaps” are usually filled with taxpayers’ money and further debt. According to recent polls, more than 60% of Greek citizens are in favor of privatizations. Only bureaucrats, unions and ultra leftists together with political interests and rampant corruption inhibit the solution to the Greek crisis, which can only come from the private sector.

For this reason, my generation demands privatization to bolster the Greek economy.

If you’d like to speak with or book Harry or any of our other Advocates, please contact Young Voices now.

Intervention Into Syria Is As Well-Intended As It Is Ill-Advised

President Obama may soon authorize military intervention in Syria. The decision apparently rests on whether the Syrian government’s slaughter of possibly more than 1,000 of its own citizens was aided by chemical weaponry. Besides the fact that this is an odd and arbitrary basis upon which to violate another country’s sovereignty, intervention into Syria is as well-intended as it is ill-advised.

The Assad regime has denied responsibility for the attacks, and authorized a U.N. convoy to inspect the sites of the attacks to determine whether chemical weapons were used. Yesterday the convoy had to turn back after it was met with sniper fire, for which the Assad regime has also denied responsibility.

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There is good reason to believe the Assad regime is committing human rights violations and failing to fully cooperate with international law. However, this is true of many nations across the world at any given time, and the U.S. simply does not have the resources to intervene in every case. In addition, nothing in actuality makes the Syrian case more pressing than any other.

Most importantly, military strikes against the Assad regime would necessarily assist the rebel forces. There is no indication that a takeover by these forces would create a better situation for the Syrian people or the international community. There is, however, strong evidence that parts of the rebellion are strongly tied with Al-Qaeda.

Military intervention into Syria would mean that the U.S. is declaring war on a terrible, but democratically elected, regime, only to have it replaced by a resistance which is made up of an organization with whom the United States is already at war.

In Iran, the U.S. deposed Mossadeq. In Iraq the U.S. supported what a U.N. Security Council statement called chemical warfare by Saddam Hussein against Iran. The U.S. armed the rebels in Afghanistan who would later begin Al-Qaeda. There is no way to know the consequences of a military engagement in Syria. But if history and an ongoing war in Afghanistan is any guide, there will be no winning. Perhaps that’s why only 9% of Americans support military intervention.

We don’t want to see further decades of unrest and human rights violations perpetrated by governments we helped put in place. This is why my generation demands no military intervention in Syria.

If you’d like to speak with or book Cathy or any of our Advocates, please contact Young Voices now.