Putting a Number on Protecting the Important

Last week I discussed the security arrangements for Barack Obama’s latest trip in my Center for a Stateless Society commentary White House Invades India. My commentary was based on a story that the White House quickly stated was false. So how did I come to participate in the spread of what is likely false information?

In trying to keep up with current news, I posted my commentary the same day the story was dated in the Times of India. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t do any background research.

The sources appeared as reliable as mainstream media can get. According to Wikipedia, the Press Trust of India involves more than 450 Indian newspapers, oversees Indian operations of the Associated Press and Reuters services, and has relations with many prominent international news organizations. The Times of India is the world’s largest selling English-language daily newspaper, and marketing research company ComScore reported that the Times has the world’s most-visited newspaper website. These organizations certainly have a lot invested in reputations for credible reporting.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs denied the Indian reports, stating among other things that it was “simply not true” that 34 warships would be sent as part of a security force (“Obama’s India trip clouded by election results and misinformation on cost,” Washington Post, November 4, 2010).

But the figure of 34 warships is not outside of rational belief. According to the website of the United States Seventh Fleet, the naval force operating in the region, the fleet has 60 to 70 ships assigned to it at any given time. And they aren’t exactly sitting in port all the time — Seventh Fleet units take part in as many as 100 exercises each year. Since the president is supposed to be the most important man in the world, it is not inconceivable — especially to those who’ve seen the assault rifles and riot shields brandished by police officers protecting national party conventions — that 34 ships would be deployed to support the presidential security force.

I certainly wouldn’t put it past the White House to mislead the public about the true amount of protection that very important people are provided out of the pockets of less-important people. This is, after all, the administration that delivers change in the form of more secrecy, more executive privilege, redefinition of withdrawal, and use of different military forces to police the world. But let’s assume that Gibbs is speaking closer to the truth than the Press Trust of India.

We still have the most powerful political leader in the world taking business executives abroad on a trip paid for by tax money. This leader commands a military with a $680 billion budget, nearly 300 warships, well over a million troops, and countless military and surveillance contractors. If that’s not elitism, what is? The point of my “White House Invades India” commentary, that the powerful generally do not want the rest of us asking what makes them so important, stands regardless of the specific figures.

Who are invited to political summits? People who have something to offer those with political power.

Who are invited to economic summits? Those who exercise decision making power over large sectors of the global economy, and those who can make the task more profitable for the right people.

After a decade of murderous terrorism in response to imperial ambition, unending wars bringing countless reports of shameful activity, documented police unaccountability, and economic downturns leaving many without homes and many without savings while houses sit empty and corporate dinosaurs continue to profit, shouldn’t we know better than to let things keep going the way they’re going?

When I write things that later appear to be wrong, I note the error and make a genuine effort to improve future output. Unfortunately, the authorities will not behave this way so long as they retain the ability to command. When bad things happen, they will likely say that if only the right people had more control over other peoples’ lives, things would turn out better. But of course!

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