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You Might be a Liberal (and not even know)

July 31st, 2010 No comments

“But you don’t understand,” they say. “This is a conservative country. You liberals want all these reforms but you ignore the fact that most Americans disagree with you.”

As one of those liberals who is constantly haranguing Obama for not delivering on the progressive changes he promised in his campaign, I hear this argument all the time and not just from conservatives. Obama apologists insist that I just don’t understand how unpopular my ideas are. Obama is the president of all Americans—not just progressives. He has to lean conservative because America is conservative.

Well, that may be the conventional wisdom, but as is often the case it turns out that it’s actually just conventional bullshit. The pundits constantly repeat their mantra that “This is a center-right country.” They said it in 2004 when Bush was re-elected and republicans gained seats in congress, and back then it might have been justified. But they said it again in 2006 when democrats regained control of the House and Senate, insisting that the particular democrats who won only did so because they were more conservative. And I clearly remember on the night of the 2008 election, after Barack Obama won the presidency with a huge majority, that the pundits were still saying, “In spite of this, it’s still a center-right country.”

Why does this conventional bullshit exist? Two reasons. The first is that it’s useful for the establishment if everyone believes that most of the country is conservative. One of the core elements of conservatism is the resistance to change, and naturally those who benefit from the existing power structure have an interest in preventing any changes to it.

The second reason is poll-data, and it’s the cold, hard, indisputably factual nature of this data that continues to allow people to get away with the claim that most Americans are conservative. This is the Gallup Poll they’re always thinking of:

Thus far in 2009, 40% of Americans interviewed in national Gallup Poll surveys describe their political views as conservative, 35% as moderate, and 21% as liberal. This represents a slight increase for conservatism in the U.S. since 2008, returning it to a level last seen in 2004. The 21% calling themselves liberal is in line with findings throughout this decade, but is up from the 1990s.

What gets left out of this picture is the all-too-obvious fact that the poll doesn’t actually tell us whether someone is conservative or liberal, but only the words they choose to describe themselves. There is a difference between a self-identified conservative and an actual conservative.

All right, you might be saying, but where is the poll-data that shows that the majority of the country is actually liberal? Well I’m glad you asked, because it just so happens that this data really exists. Media Matters did a study in which they collected poll-data which indicates what Americans think on an issue by issue basis. Now before you go saying that Media Matters is a totally biased, radical left-wing organization, you have to consider that they collected this data from the most reliable, unbiased polling organizations out there: American National Election Studies, Gallup, Pew Research Center, etc.

Any liberals who are seriously looking to win this argument with conservative friends ought to read the entire study in detail and memorize some of the statistics, but for those without that much of an attention-span, I’ll offer a [somewhat] more brief and hopefully more colorful presentation of the findings. I certainly won’t cover all that data but I’ll present a large enough sampling.

If you look at the numbers, you’ll see that when you ask about specific issues, the majority of Americans consistently take the more liberal position. That means that not only is America itself is more liberal than everyone thinks, but that many self-described conservatives are more liberal than they think as well. Wherever you think you might fall on the ideological spectrum, answer these questions honestly and see just how liberal or conservative you really are.

The Roll of Government

Everyone knows that Americans hate Big Government and would rather make it so small that you could drown it in a bathtub, right? This is probably the biggest unifying idea behind the entire Tea Party Movement. Let’s see how you (and America) really come down on this issue.

1. Would you say “The less government, the better” or “There are more things the government should be doing”?
2. Can the Free Market can handle complex economic problems without government involvement or do we need a strong government to handle complex economic problems?
3. Do you agree or disagree that the government should provide more services even if it means an increase in spending?
4. Agree or disagree: “The government should care for those who can’t care for themselves”?

How did you do? As for how America did, the results may surprise you. 58% said the government should do more things as opposed to 42% who think it should do less. 67% said we need strong government to handle the economy while only 33% said the Free Market can take care of itself. 43% agreed that the government should provide more services even if spending increases, but only 20% disagreed. Finally 69% agreed that the government should care for those who can’t care for themselves. It turns out that Big Government isn’t as unpopular as they’d have us believe.

Business and Unions

Businesses are good and unions are bad, right? Most Americans think government should stay completely out of the business sector and let the Free Market work its magic. Unions are an unnecessary burden on business-owners who need to be free to make as much profit as possible. Let’s see what you think:

5. Should government reduce income differences?
6. Should business strike a fair balance between profits and public interest?
7. Does America benefit from Free Trade, or is it harmed by the global economy?
8. Do you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of unions?
9. Do you favor or oppose an increase in the minimum wage from $5.15/hour to $7.25/hour?

When it comes to income disparity, 47% said the government should take steps to reduce it but only 35% said it shouldn’t. 58% agree that business should strike a fair balance between profits and public interest, while only 38% disagree. 48% of Americans say the country is harmed by Free Trade agreements while only 25% say we benefit from the global economy. Much to my personal surprise, 56% of Americans have a favorable opinion of unions while 33% have an unfavorable view. And a whopping 84% favored the increase of the federal minimum wage while only 14% thought $5.15 was enough for those clods at the bottom of the social ladder.

Taxes

Everybody hates taxes. Surely we’re an extremely conservative country when it comes to taxes. That’s how republicans keep getting elected, isn’t it? Obviously if you ask Americans questions about taxes, you’ll see that the big-spending liberals are in a dismal minority.

10. Do you think your own taxes are too high, too low, or about right?
11. Do you think taxes for upper-income people are too high, too low, or about right?
12. Do you think taxes for corporations are too high, too low, or about right?
13. Which do you think is more effective in stimulating the nation’s economy: tax-cuts or spending on infrastructure?
14. Were the Bush tax-cuts worth it or not?

Well, not surprisingly, 53% of Americans think their taxes are too high, but wouldn’t you think that number would be higher? It turns our that 41% of people think they’re tax-level is about right (only 2% think it’s too low). As for the rich, wouldn’t most Americans say that rich people should get to keep most of their money and not be punished for their success? Well, only 9% think taxes for the wealthy are too high, while 66% think they’re too low (21% say they’re about right). As for corporations, only 5% think they pay too much in taxes while 71% say they don’t pay enough (19% think they pay their fair share).

The stimulus package was incredibly unpopular [right?] so I’m sure most Americans would rather have less taxes than more spending. Well, apparently 60% of Americans think spending on infrastructure is more effective than tax-cuts while only 34% think it’s the contrary (incidentally, the facts are on the majority’s side). As for those awesome Bush tax-cuts which exploded the deficit, only 39% say it was worth it while 53% said it wasn’t. I guess we’re not as taxophobic as everyone thinks.

National Security

Okay, now we’re getting to the area where conservatives have a clear advantage. Surely most Americans support strong defense spending and continued vigilance in the war on terror. Surely the benefits of this strategy outweigh the harms.

15. Is America more or less respected than it was in the past?
16. Is the best way to reduce the threat of terrorism to reduce our presence overseas?
17. Are we spending too much, too little, or just the right amount on defense?
18. Should the U.S. emphasize diplomatic rather than military efforts in fighting terrorism?
19. Agree or disagree: “The best way to ensure peace is through military strength?”

Even the hawks will agree that America is less respected now than in the past, with 65% agreeing and only 7% agreeing, but I’m sure it’s only because the rest of the world sucks and not because America is doing anything wrong. But wait—by a margin of 45 to 32, Americans say we ought to reduce our presence overseas, by a 43 to 35 margin they say we’re spending too much on defense, and 67% think we should emphasize diplomatic over military efforts in the fight against terrorism.

Don’t worry, conservatives. At least more people—49%—agree that peace is best ensured through military strength while a paltry 47% disagree. Although, the fact that the number of people agreeing with that statement is down sharply from 62% in 2002 might be cause for some concern.

Domestic Security

Everyone wants to appear tough on crime, so Americans must be conservative when it comes to issues of gun control and criminal punishment.

20. Do you think current laws governing the sale of firearms should be more strict or less?
21. Would you favor or oppose a law requiring people to obtain a police permit before buying a gun?
22. Which is more effective in dealing with crime: Attacking social problems or more enforcement?
23. Do you favor or oppose the death penalty?

In spite of the influence of the NRA, 56% of people think gun laws should be more strict and only 9% say less (33% say it should be kept the same). As for the law requiring a police permit, an incredible 81% are in favor with 19% opposed, which goes to show just how liberal people can be when presented with a very specific rather than broad question.

As for crime, 65% think it’s more important to attack social problems to just 31% who think more enforcement is the answer. As for the death penalty, it’s pretty much a dead-heat with opponents having just recently overtaken proponents by a margin of 48 to 47, but the trend is unmistakably drifting away from favoring capital punishment. Bunch of bleeding-heart libs we are.

The Environment

We may be bleeding-hearts, but are we tree-hugging hippies too? Surely the majority of Americans believe that the earth is doing just fine and all those environmentalist wackos are just ranting and raving about nothing. Ask yourself how much you care (a great deal, a fair amount, only a little, or not at all) about the following issues and see if America agrees:

24. Pollution of rivers, lakes, and reservoirs.
25. Air pollution.
26. Loss of tropical rain-forests.
27. Extinction of plant and animal species
28. Global warming

It turns out that when asked, 84% care a great deal or a fair amount about water pollution as opposed to 16% who care very little or not at all. 79% care about air pollution while 20% don’t. 73% care about rain-forests (thanks, Disney) while 27% don’t. 69% care about the extinction of plant and animal species while 31% are apparently speciesists. And in spite of all the campaigns to call it a hoax, 65% think global warming is a problem while only 34% don’t.

Okay, so if you ask people if they care about the environment, most will say yes. But what about the actual policies? When it comes time to put up or shut up, most people would probably put their pocketbooks above their environmental conscience, right? Ask yourself if you favor or oppose these measures:

29. Opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska for oil drilling.
30. Setting higher emissions standards for automobiles.
31. Imposing mandatory controls on greenhouse gas emissions.
32. Spending more government money to develop solar and wind technology.

The results are the same. Americans oppose Alaska oil drilling by a margin of 57 to 41. They favor higher emissions standards by 79 to 18, imposing controls on greenhouse gases by 79 to 19, and favor more spending on solar and wind by a whopping 86 to 12.

To be fair, we haven’t yet asked anyone to pay for these things. Now ask yourself these questions regarding the environment and energy:

33. Would you be willing to pay higher prices to protect the environment?
34. Would you be willing to pay higher taxes on gasoline if the money was used to research renewable energy sources?
35. Would you pay more for electricity if it were generated by renewable sources?

Well holy hell, it seems that Americans are willing to pay. By a margin of 60 to 37, most Americans would be willing to pay the price for environmental protection. We’d be willing to pay more for gasoline in order to research renewables by a margin of by a margin of 64 to 33. And by a margin of 75 to 20, we’d be willing to pay more for our electricity if came from renewable sources. Wow, there may be some hope for us after all.

Immigration

Seeing as how the Arizona “Papers, Please” law still enjoys popular support, you’d think most Americans would be conservative when it comes to immigration.

36. Which is the best response to illegal immigration: Penalizing employers who hire illegals, increasing border control, or building more fences?
37. Would you favor or oppose a program providing a path to legal citizenship for illegal immigrants currently living in the country?

49% of Americans think the best approach to immigration is to penalize employers, with only 33% calling for more border control and a pitiful 9% thinking fences are the answer. As for the idea of a path to legal citizenship, it may shock you that 80% of Americans are in favor of this idea and only 19% oppose. We’re not even a conservative country when it comes to this.

Health Care

During the seemingly endless battle for health-care reform stretching from last year into this, we were told that the country is too conservative to introduce a public option. We were made to believe that Americans are petrified of any government involvement in the health care system. Are we really?

38. Is it the federal government’s responsibility to make sure all Americans have health care coverage?
39. Would you rather maintain the Bush tax-cuts or make sure all Americans have access to health care?
40. Would you be willing to pay $500 a year or more to ensure that all Americans have health insurance that they can’t lose no matter what?
41. Given a choice between a health care plan that attempts to cover all Americans, a more limited plan that would cover some currently uninsured groups, or a plan that keeps things basically as they are, which would you choose?

The results would make Tea Party heads explode. We’re apparently a nation of socialists. 69% of Americans think it’s the government’s responsibility to provide health-care for its citizens while only 28% think it isn’t. 76% of us say that providing access to health care is more important than maintaining the Bush tax cuts while only 18% say otherwise. Amazingly, 82% of American would be willing to pay $500 or more to provide their fellow citizens with health care while only 6% would not. As for the competing plans, 52% want the strongest possible plan while only 24% want something more limited (I hope they’re happy with what they got) and a paltry 14% wanted to maintain the status quo. How we ended up with what we did is a testament to the influence of private insurance.

Social (Wedge) Issues

Okay. I’ve shown you that when you ask Americans about economic or security issues, most of them lean towards the liberal position. But we all know that a huge chunk of voters don’t give any thought whatsoever to those issues when they go to the polls. They vote based on their religious moral convictions. It doesn’t matter how much damage a candidate will do to their own financial interests—as long as they’re pro-life, that’s who gets their vote.

Indeed, when people self-identify as conservatives they’re probably thinking in terms of social issues. So when we ask people specific questions about these issues, this is where liberals must run into trouble. This is where we’ll find that we are in fact in the minority, that most Americans are not with us, and we’d better compromise on these ideals if we ever want to reach out to the broader population.

So for those of you who thought you were a conservative when you began reading this but are now beginning to have some doubts, I’ll offer you one last chance:

42. Would you like to see the Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade?
43. Do you favor or oppose making it more difficult for a woman to get an abortion?
44. Do you approve or disapprove of Congress’ involvement in the Terry Schiavo euthanasia case?
45. Do you support or oppose embryonic stem-cell research?
46. Do you think women should have an equal role with men in business, industry, and government, or is a woman’s place in the home?
47. Agree or disagree: “Homosexuals should have equal job rights”?
48. Should gays be allowed in the military?
49. Should gays be allowed to adopt children?
50. Should gay couples be allow to marry?

As for abortion, America is solidly pro-choice, with only 29% in favor of overturning Roe v. Wade and 62% opposed. 56% oppose making it more difficult for a woman to get an abortion while 35% are in favor. As for euthanasia, 76% say it’s none of the government’s business while only 20% think they were right to step in on the Terry Schiavo case. Regarding embryonic stem-cell research, 61% support it and 31% value cells in a Petri dish over the health of fully-grown adults.

When it comes to women, our mothers have taught us well—78% think their role in the public sphere should be equal to that of men while only 8% are still living in the 19th century.

Finally, we come to gay rights. The last of the persecuted groups to really come out and forcefully advocate for fair treatment still has a long way to go, but they’re getting there. Most people at least agree that gays should have “equal job rights”. 89% say yes and only 9% say no—while only 30 years ago that margin was still at 55 to 33.

What about other rights? 60% now say that gays should be allowed to serve in the military, up from 52% in 1994. Only 46% say they should be allowed to adopt, but that’s up from 38% in ‘94. And while only 37% of Americans now believe that gays should have the right to marry (because they haven’t read my blog post on the subject yet), that’s up from a mere 27% a decade ago. The arc of the moral universe is indeed long, but it bends towards liberalism.

Conclusion

If you’ve read to the end of this piece, you should congratulate yourself. Now you are inoculated against the argument that America is a center-right country and we should just accept whatever small amount of change we’re given because the majority is against us. The next time someone throws that at you, throw the link to the report from Media Matters back at them (or the link to this blog entry if you want to be that awesome).

If you think of yourself as a conservative but found yourself taking the liberal position on most of these questions, consider that you may only be reluctant to call yourself a “liberal” because that word has been demonized by the right-wing media for the last few decades. It’s been so demonized that many liberals have taken to calling themselves “progressives” instead, and while some insist that there’s an actual distinction there, I tend to use the terms interchangeably. But of course now they’re going after the word “progressive” as well.

It’s time for those of us who are not afraid to self-identify as liberals to push back and wear our label proudly. Not only are we liberal, but most Americans are liberal as well—even if they won’t admit it.

Only in this way can we shatter the conventional bullshit that America is a conservative country and the government must therefore govern conservatively. Once that Gallup poll data starts showing more people self-identifying as liberal than conservative, candidates who run on progressive platforms might realize that they don’t actually need to compromise those principles when they get to office—that if they just stand up and make the case for the kinds of changes liberals are calling for (single-payer health care, strict Wall Street regulation, comprehensive immigration reform, strong environmental protection, investment in renewable fuel sources, etc.) they’ll have the American people right behind them to take the fight to the establishment and to finally win.

The Afghanistan WikiLeak, the Media, and the Future of Humanity

July 30th, 2010 No comments

I’ve had some trouble figuring out how to approach this story. With over 90,000 previously classified documents from the war in Afghanistan having been posted on WikiLeaks, an online state-independent organization dedicated to fighting power through truth, most of the media coverage thus far has been either about WikiLeaks itself or about how there is nothing contained in these documents that we didn’t already know. I’ll touch briefly on what I see as the three main elements to the story—what it says about the wars, how the media has covered it, and the larger implications of the existence of an organization like WikiLeaks in terms of humanity’s future.

The War

I confess I haven’t read all 90,000 documents, so I can’t offer too much analysis of what they actually contain. What I do know from reading articles about the documents is that they contain details that basically confirm everything critics of the war have been saying for years—that it looks to be going very badly, that Pakistan’s interests aren’t exactly aligned with ours and they may be working against us in some cases, and that far too many innocent civilians have been killed by the U.S. military either through recklessness, carelessness, or honest errors of judgment.

Those of us who have been critical of the war from the very beginning can point to this and say it supports the arguments we’ve been making. Most importantly, these documents should highlight the fact that what we’re doing in Afghanistan (and Iraq as well) is not ‘warfare’ in the sense that most Americans still think of the term—two opposing armies meeting on the battlefield with the intention of doing as much damage to the other side as possible—but is more of an occupation. When you’re looking for historical precedents, this is far more like the British occupation of [insert name of third-world country here] than it is like either of the two World Wars.

Ironically, we may have Rush Limbaugh to thank for helping us drive this point home. His completely outrageous misunderstanding of the nature of this war, deliberate or otherwise, perfectly exemplifies the problem with the war hawks’ thinking:

“The documents cover some known aspects of the troubled nine-year conflict. US Special Operations Forces have targeted militants without trial.” Afghans have been killed by accident. Why, that is unheard of. That is unheard of, in any war, anywhere in the history of the world, that civilians have been killed by accident?

That’s unheard of! Do you realize what this says about us? How guilty, how rotten-to-the-core can this country be? Innocent Afghan citizens killed by accident! In the old days it used to be on purpose (i.e., Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Dresden). In the old days the definition of winning a war was killing people and breaking things. In the old days, there was no such thing as a “surgical strike.” In the old days, you purposely killed innocent civilians. That’s what war was all about. That’s how you won it! But now all of a sudden these big WikiLeaks documents say that Afghans have been killed by accident. Whoa, the incompetence of the US military!

By completely missing the point, Rush has actually confirmed the point we’re making. This is not WWII, in which victory can be secured by carpet-bombing cities and devastating the enemy to the point where his will to fight is broken—in this kind of conflict ‘winning’ involves actually helping the civilians, providing them security and infrastructure in order to win their hearts and minds so that they would rather support their government and fight the Taliban instead of joining the Taliban to fight their government. If people like Rush Limbaugh—who seem to relish the idea of indiscriminate destruction—want that kind of war, they need to rethink their support of this one.

If we decided to do a Dresden-style carpet-bombing of Kabul, it would be like kicking the ball through our own goal-posts a thousand times over. Every last able-bodied Afghan civilian would take up arms against us, and the rest of the Muslim world would join them. The war would be over. The victory would belong to the Taliban, to Al Qaeda, and to every other militant or insurgent group that we’re supposedly waging ‘war’ against.

The fact is, ‘war’ as we know it seems to be coming to an end. This piece by Andrew Bacevich lays out this case perfectly, and it’s the biggest lesson that we could potentially learn from these leaked documents if our nation were to actually have a serious discussion about it.

The Media

Unfortunately we’re not going to have a serious discussion about the nature of war in the 21st century any time soon, thanks to the nature of the American mainstream media in the 21st century. The reaction to this leak has been every bit as pitiful as one would expect, and the media’s extreme deference to the established power-structure has seldom been more apparent. It’s as if every corporation within the military-industrial complex got together to feed their talking points not just to the White House but directly to the media organizations themselves.

“This is not news” was the headline from nearly every front. “Nothing to see here. No big revelations. This is only stuff we already know.” Jason Linkins and Ben Craw at the Huffington Post did a superb job of mashing together the reaction to the leaks from the White House and the media, which are barely distinguishable:

To be [extremely] fair to the White House and the media, this is a legitimate point. What has been revealed by the documents are merely the details behind the broader facts that we already knew if we’d been paying any attention.

But the best points are made right at the end of the clip, as Jon Stewart says “I’m not reacting to the newness of it, I’m reacting to the fucked-uppedness of it,” and Dennis Kucinich wonders why—if we already knew all of this—we haven’t been debating it for the last six years. This may not be new, but it’s fucked up stuff that calls for debate and frankly should have been debated every step of the way.

But these leaks don’t fit the proper time-table for the White House and the media. This is supposed to be election season, when everyone is talking about the economy and the impact it will have on the upcoming mid-terms. Afghanistan is not supposed to be among the election issues this year. The debate is supposed to happen next year when we approach the July 2011 deadline that Obama said would be when we begin our withdrawal.

But if things really are going as badly as the documents suggest, there’s no excuse not to have the debate right frickin now. This has been the single deadliest month of combat in Afghanistan since the war began. If we know the war is un-winnable, why let our soldiers continue to die for a lost cause? The sad truth is, our brave men and women overseas aren’t dying for national security or even for Afghan liberation anymore—they are dying for politics.

The Future

This is why organizations like WikiLeaks have such tremendous potential for the future of humanity on this planet. I’ve written extensively about the current precipice on which we stand, from which we can either sit idly by as civilization collapses and the human species faces extinction, or wake up and do what needs to be done to tear down the existing power structures and put something in their place that will allow for a peaceful, sustainable existence worldwide.

One of the biggest tools of the powerful is secrecy. The less the masses know about what the power-elites are doing, the less chance there is that we’ll be able to stop them. Certainly, as long as no one is held accountable, they won’t be afraid to make decisions that benefit the few at the expense of the many.

Case-in-point—we’re just now learning about what was said in behind-closed-door meetings regarding the escalation of the Vietnam War 40 years ago. Because the transcripts of these meetings were classified and everyone in the room knew they would remain classified for the next four decades, they didn’t have to worry about making mistakes or doing the right thing. They needed only do what they wanted to do or what it was in their best short-term political or financial interests to do—by the time anyone found out they’d either be dead or too old to bother prosecuting. Currently, the White House can make any decisions it wants with impunity because they don’t have to worry about being held accountable for another forty years.

WikiLeaks has the potential to change that. Had the person who leaked these documents online gone to an actual mainstream news organization, it’s likely the editors would have sat on the story. By putting it on WikiLeaks, they guaranteed that the story would get out there. WikiLeaks itself can’t be prosecuted for leaking the documents because it doesn’t exist within the jurisdiction of a particular country.

As Janine R. Wedel and Linda Keenan write, WikiLeaks can serve as a counter-weapon to the “Shadow Elite” who direct the course of world events. The people who benefit from the existing power structures, who profit from war and by sucking money from the middle class, can only get away with it as long as nobody is paying attention. If somebody at the highest echelons of power suddenly develops a conscience, WikiLeaks will be waiting.

Yes, there is the potential for some innocents to be harmed if leaks are made irresponsibly, but it’s a small price to pay for a much greater good.

I keep saying that the internet is the best chance we have to come together as a species and really change the way the world works from the ground up. So far we haven’t even come close to realizing that potential, but sites like WikiLeaks could go a long way towards bringing us to that goal. It can be one of the most powerful tools we have to fight back against the powerful, and I hope its influence continues to grow.

At the very least, it can help make up for what the mainstream media is missing, and force us to examine facts that would not have otherwise been reported. The facts about the war in Afghanistan almost all lead to the conclusion that our nation is doomed unless it starts withdrawing, so the more facts that come to light the more pressure there will be to do so. Neither the White House nor the leadership of either political party wants to deal with that pressure right now, but that’s too bad. The lives of our soldiers, the security of the Afghan people, the health of our economy, and the long-term interests of the human race depend on keeping that pressure as high as possible for as long as it takes.

NPR vs. Fox News

July 29th, 2010 No comments

Due to some unexpected social activity (Tuesday night in Celle) I’m a little behind on my news-intake schedule. I don’t want to write about Wikileaks and the Afghanistan documents until I’ve gotten a bit more analysis, so today I’ll just make the quickest comment I’ve made so far and save the heavier stuff for the weekend.

A small opportunity now exists for Obama to push back against the perception that his administration has Foxnewsophobia. Helen Thomas was a member of the White House Press Corps (all those journalists who sit in on the daily briefing and press conferences) for decades and had a prime seat in the front row until controversial comments about Palestine forced her to step down. Now that seat is empty.

The two biggest contenders for who to take that seat are a reporter from National Public Radio or a “reporter” from Fox “News”. Given all the backlash from last week’s Shirley Sherrod debacle, you’d think it would be a no-brainer to give the seat to NPR.

My guess is they give it to Fox News and continue with their bullshit strategy of trying to appear as centrist and moderate as possible by constantly lending credibility to the network that spends nearly all of its time attacking them. After all, if they give it to NPR instead of Fox News, what would Glenn Beck say?

Luckily, you can make your voice heard. Signing this petition will basically say to the White House: “If you give the seat to Fox News, you suck.”

Categories: Political Tags: , ,

The Climate Cave-In

July 28th, 2010 No comments

Just another quick comment today, this one on the corrupt and spineless senate democrats:

After almost a year of trying to build consensus, top Democrats on Thursday admitted that a sweeping climate and energy bill simply couldn’t be done, faulting Republicans for being unwilling to contribute neither votes nor ideas toward forging a compromise. At a press conference on the Hill, climate crusader Sen. John Kerry called the prospect “admittedly narrow.” Majority Leader Harry Reid followed with a frank conclusion: “We simply don’t have the votes.”

I would be much more angry about this if I thought that the legislation would have had a serious impact on America’s energy policy and the global climate crisis, but had they moved forward we would have no doubt ended up with something weak and ineffective that wouldn’t have really solved anything or brought about real change but would have somehow benefited the oil and coal companies.

Still, just in terms of the gesture itself, this is one big “fuck you” to everyone who voted for Obama and congressional democrats. A radical, “Apollo-style” transformation of American energy policy was one of Obama’s central campaign platforms, and they’re just saying it’s too difficult—they don’t have the votes.

Of course you don’t fucking have the votes! You never have the votes at the very beginning. Too many democrats (as well as every last republican) are owned by the fossil fuel industry. The last thing they want is to have to vote on something that will either piss off their constituents or piss off their energy-industry pals. You have to push the legislation and call on your supporters to put pressure on these people to do the right thing. You never start off with enough votes—you have to fight to get them.

But instead they’ve decided not to fight at all. They piss their constituents off, but there’s no prolonged battle, it’s not in the headlines, nobody is talking about it, and therefore [they think] nobody suffers any electoral consequences for it.

But the worst part is that they’re saying “Now is not the right time. It’s too difficult.” Right, with a Democrat in the White House and overwhelming Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, passing legislation that the overwhelming majority of Democratic voters have been demanding for decades is just too hard. Maybe after the mid-term elections when the Republican Party [presumably] takes over again, it’ll be easier.

I really hate these people.

National Security Argument for DADT Repeal

July 27th, 2010 No comments

Just a quick comment today on the upcoming repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. On last Friday’s episode of Countdown, author and strong gay-rights activist Dan Savage made an argument for repeal that I hadn’t considered before but which I think could actually get through to some hardcore conservatives no matter how homophobic they are.

If a soldier has to keep a secret from his fellow soldiers and commanding officers, that presents a security risk. If an outsider knows that secret, he or she can use it as leverage against the soldier. For instance, if a soldier beats up an Afghan civilian without provocation, that solider faces court-martial if anyone finds out. Witnesses to the event could use it against him, threatening to go to his commanding officer unless he looks the other way while they sell weapons to terrorists or something.

Being gay shouldn’t be something that anyone can hold against a soldier. By forcing gay soldiers to keep this a secret, the United States Army is handing over power to anyone—friend or enemy—who discovers that the soldier is gay. It may be unlikely but it’s not impossible that a gay soldier might let national security be compromised in order to protect his secret and keep his job.

It’s looking inevitable that repeal will happen this year, but there’s no harm in keeping pressure on Obama right now. As commander-in-chief he could, with a stroke of a pen, end implementation of the policy immediately and issue an order that no gay personnel are to be fired until the policy is repealed or the next president overrides his order. He almost certainly won’t do that because, as we all know, he has Foxnewsophobia and is too scared of Glenn Beck to do anything that might piss off conservatives. But every day that goes by in which gay soldiers have to be afraid of someone outing them is a day in which national security is a bit more compromised than it needs to be.

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Refudiating Sarah Palin

July 26th, 2010 No comments

I know this is ancient history already, but I’ve been meaning to comment on it for days and more important stuff got in the way. I promise this isn’t as unimportant as it will seem at first.

So all the way back at the beginning of last week, Sarah Palin sent out a tweet regarding the plans to build an Islamic mosque a few blocks from Ground Zero:

Ground Zero Mosque supporters: doesn’t it stab you in the heart, as it does ours throughout the heartland? Peaceful Muslims, pls refudiate

Totally ignoring the substance of what she was saying, the Twitterverse apparently responded with resounding laughter over the completely made-up word “refudiate”. Palin then responded with another tweet trying to mitigate the damage from the first:

Peaceful New Yorkers, pls refute the Ground Zero mosque plan if you believe catastrophic pain caused @ Twin Towers site is too raw, too real

Seeing as how “refute” makes no sense in that context, that didn’t really help. Finally she offered up this gem:

“Refudiate”, “misunderestimate,” “wee-wee’d up.” English is a living language. Shakespeare liked to coin new words too. Got to celebrate it!

Immediately all of the focus shifted to the absurdity of Palin comparing herself to Shakespeare (not to mention the choice of “wee-wee’d up” as an example of a great new word). That is indeed hilarious, but it’s not the real issue. I’m going to give her a pass on the surface and condemn her on the substance.

For one thing, “Refudiate” is actually a great word. It even applies to what I’m doing in this blog post. It’s a combination of “refute” and “repudiate”—two things that often go together. So I will refute the idea behind Palin’s original tweet and repudiate her for saying it—thus refudiating her.

Here’s the thing: Why would a mosque a couple of blocks from Ground Zero “stab” any reasonable person “in the heart”? The tacit claim made in this statement is that the same people behind the 9/11 attacks are the people who want to build a mosque near Ground Zero—that all Muslims are guilty of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Refutation: Not true at all. Are all Christians guilty of every crime ever committed by Christians throughout history? I didn’t think so. Are all Tea Partiers guilty of racism because some of them hold racist signs? I didn’t think so. So how can you claim that all Muslims are guilty of what a small segment of radicalized, violent Muslims decided to do? If an entire group of people bears full responsibility for what a small segment of that group does, then the whole Tea Party is racist and all Christians have a lot of blood on their hands.

Repudiation: Shame on you, Sarah. You’re contributing to the already massive level of intolerance on the part of Americans towards Muslims. By equating the word “Muslim” with “Terrorist” you’re inviting further violence against Muslims, and possibly even an attack on the mosque they’re building near Ground Zero—which, incidentally, will be home to a perfectly mainstream, peaceful branch of Islam that would no doubt condemn the actions of the 9/11 terrorists, as would the vast majority of all Muslims around the world. What you said is divisive and ignorant and you owe all Muslims an apology.

But thanks for the great new word! Now whenever someone says something both factually and morally wrong, we can refute and repudiate them at the same time! Refudiation! Got to celebrate it!

Categories: Political Tags: , ,

Why Elizabeth Warren is Important

July 25th, 2010 No comments

I’m on fire today, as you’ll know if you read the post below. I’m temporarily without internet access so until I take this computer to somewhere with a WiFi signal I can’t waste any time doing research and finding relevant links and videos—which is the most time-consuming part of blogging. So today I’m going old-school and just ranting straight from my head. As such I’m only covering the really important stuff—Sarah Palin will have to wait.

You wouldn’t know it unless you’ve been paying really close attention, but we’re approaching what will be one of the most defining moments of the Obama presidency. In fact, it may be the most important cross-roads that Barack Obama has ever come to. He’s faced with a choice—a choice that only he can make and for which the responsibility will rest on his shoulders alone. It would seem like a small decision, like just one of a thousand little decisions the president makes every day, but taken in the broader context it’s a decision that will define how he is perceived by the public for the remainder of his presidency. The decision is over who to appoint as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

It’s no secret that the financial reform legislation that came out of the senate is weak and watered-down. It won’t change the way Wall Street does business and it won’t prevent future bailouts. The only thing it does that has the potential to do real, substantial good on behalf of the American people is the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau which would serve as a much-needed watchdog to protect consumers from corporate greed and abuses of power.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will only be as strong as the people who control it. It it’s run by establishment insiders and friends of Wall Street bankers, it’s probably not going to do too much to protect consumers. It’ll just exist for the sake of public perception, to make it look like Obama accomplished reform.

The question on everyone’s mind is whether Obama wanted real reform and was just forced to accept what he could get from a congress drowning in Wall Street money, or whether he’s as complicit as they are and has no interest in changing the status quo either. When Obama chooses who to appoint as the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, we’ll know the answer.

Elizabeth Warren is the person who came up with the idea in the first place. From her current position as chairwoman of the Congressional Oversight Panel, she has been an incredibly forceful advocate on behalf of the middle-class and her zeal for standing up to big corporations on behalf of the little guy is well-known and celebrated by progressives everywhere. If she were put in control of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, there is no doubt that she would give the corporations a run for their money. She would take the strongest possible approach to dealing with Wall Street and while she might still not have the power to prevent another financial crisis, she’d be able to warn everyone when she sees it coming, and people would have to listen to her because she would be in a position of power. We need a progressive in a position of power. We need someone who is not beholden to Wall Street with the capability to exert pressure on Wall Street.

If Obama appoints Elizabeth Warren, then nearly all of my cynicism about the financial reform legislation will evaporate. I’ll bow my head and concede that at least in this instance, Obama delivered on some of the Change he promised.

Obviously, the rich and powerful are completely opposed to Elizabeth Warren. She’s their worst nightmare. They’d rather have anyone but Elizabeth Warren at the helm of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Preferably, they want someone who isn’t really interested in protecting consumers. Someone like Tim Geithner whom they already know and whom they’re buddies with. Someone whose top priority will be protecting Wall Street first, and protecting consumers only insofar as it doesn’t interfere with the way Wall Street does business.

If Obama appoints someone other than Elizabeth Warren (assuming it’s not another progressive like Paul Krugman or Robert Reich), then you can rip the “Change We Can Believe In” sticker off your bumper and bury it six feet under ground, because the promise of the Obama presidency will be dead. It will be completely over. He will have raised the white flag and surrendered to the very establishment he said he was going to change.

Why is this decision so important as compared to all the others? Why will this be more of an indicator of Obama’s true character than, say, the fight over the public option? Because this time, there’s no one else to blame. This time the decision is squarely on his shoulders and there are no Joe Liebermans, Blanche Lincolns or Ben Nelsons to hide behind.

You can already see indications that the White House is leaning away from appointing Warren. They don’t want to piss off progressives too much so they keep insisting how much they like her and how great she is, but

The ‘but’ is key. They’ll say “But there are other good options” when in reality the only other names being thrown around are friends of Tim Geithner—people with the Wall Street stamp of approval. They’ll say “But she’s unconfirmable because republicans will filibuster her” but in reality Obama could appoint her with the stroke of a pen. I’m pretty sure the way the legislation is written she doesn’t need senate confirmation, but even if she does there’s the option of a recess appointment.

The point is, it can be done and the only thing that would stop it is Obama deciding not to. He knows that progressives really want him to appoint Warren, but so far his whole governing strategy has been to ignore progressives and do everything he can to try and appear like a centrist moderate (see my rant below). So far, he seems to have done everything the establishment has wanted him to do.

Will the pattern continue? Will he decide not to appoint Warren because he’d take too much criticism from Fox News? There’s no doubt they’ll be throwing the entire Socialist/Maoist smear machine directly at her, but they’ll do that to anyone he appoints even it’s Lloyd Blankfein (the CEO of Goldman Sachs) himself!

Will he decide not to appoint Warren because Wall Street won’t stand for it? They’re almost certainly threatening to pull their funding from Democratic candidates this election if he goes with Warren, so he might think he has no choice but to cave in again.

Or will he just this once actually make the right decision and appoint Warren to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau? Will he just this once accomplish some real Change? Will he listen to the people that got him elected just this once instead of spitting in their faces?

I doubt it. But I really hope more attention gets paid to this because it’s of monumental significance. This is a moment where Obama can really change course and begin to regain some of that progressive support he’s been losing since taking office by standing up to Wall Street and doing something that will actually help average Americans.

What’ll it be, Barack? Was the promise of Change just a big fat fucking lie that you had no intention of keeping? Or are you really trying to do the best you can? Your decision will reveal the answer, and we anxiously await it.

The Fox News Administration

July 25th, 2010 No comments

I don’t know about you, but I don’t remember voting for Glenn Beck for president. I don’t think many Obama supporters, upon casting their vote in 2008, were hoping that once president he would bend over backwards to do everything he possibly could to appease Fox News. I could be wrong—maybe Obama voters were really hoping for a president who would ignore progressives and listen only to the likes of Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity—but somehow I find that hard to believe.

Excuse me for ranting but I’ve got the need. Cenk Uygur’s epic rant over the Shirley Sherrod debacle on Wednesday’s Young Turks got me fired up. Between that and a dozen other columns and blog entries I’ve read these last couple of days, it’s clear that this story is far more significant than I initially realized.

At first my anger was directed almost entirely at Fox News. I couldn’t believe how so many people can still see them as an actual news organization when they clearly have a political agenda and will rush to broadcast any story that fits their pre-existing narrative with a deliberate disregard for what the actual facts are. Their #1 agenda is to do political harm to Obama. When presented with a heavily-edited video that seemed to show an employee of Obama’s department of agriculture boasting about how she discriminated against a white farmer, they didn’t waste a single moment checking to see whether it was what it appeared to be.

They could have found the entire unedited video but didn’t. They could have tried to contact Sherrod for her side of the story but didn’t. Most egregiously, they didn’t even try to contact the white farmers who were supposedly the victims of this discrimination, as if they had they would have learned—as the rest of the country learned when actual journalists stepped onto the scene—that Sherrod actually helped them save their farm, and that the story she’d been telling in that video was about how she learned that it was wrong to discriminate based on color.

But the Obama White House fired Shirley Sherrod before any journalism was done—before any basic questions were even asked. Sherrod told reporters that she actually had to pull over to the side of the road and submit her resignation via text message because she had to be gone by the time Glenn Beck went on the air.

Brillliant move on the White House’s part. Obviously they learned their lesson from the Van Jones fiasco, when they let Fox News hammer them for days before finally getting rid of him. No doubt they were patting themselves on the back for swift, decisive action when they got rid of Sherrod within a single news cycle.

Surely they had fixed everything. Fox News, upon seeing how quickly the administration caved in to them, would undoubtedly give him all the credit in the world and begin reporting how they’d been wrong about him all along—that he’s really not a reverse-racist and that he should be applauded for getting rid of Sherrod.

Of course not. Their number one agenda, remember, is to harm Obama politically. So when he did exactly what they wanted him to do, they hammered him for that! How could he fire her so quickly before checking all the facts? I can’t believe he just threw that poor woman under the bus like that. I mean, we’re Fox News so it’s not our job to check the facts but surely the White House has a responsibility to get the whole story before taking action.

And on that, they’re absolutely right. It’s not Fox News’s responsibility to report the truth—they are a propaganda network, not a news organization—but the White House does have a responsibility to make sure that the actions they take are based on hard facts and solid evidence.

But apparently that’s not how they operate. It would seem that they’ve got their eyes on Fox News at all times and stand ever poised to deflate whatever criticism that network might be leveling against them. They say Van Jones is a communist? Get rid of him. They say ACORN is full of criminals? Cut off its funding. Just please don’t hate us, right-wingers. We swear we’ll do whatever you say, Glenn Beck. Just stop saying mean things about us. What is it you want us to do? Just tell us who to fire and they’ll be out of here by 5 p.m.

Last year, in the midst of the health care debacle, I asked whether Obama was a pussy or a sell-out. I keep going back and forth on that question, but this drove me firmly back to the pussy side of the equation. Running the country based on Fox News talking points? How weak and pathetic can you possibly be?

What the hell do you think you’re actually accomplishing with this strategy? You think that if you keep caving in to Fox News, one day conservatives are suddenly going to change their minds about you? That if you keep compromising on all your progressive ideals and delivering watered-down, industry-friendly legislation, that right-wingers are going to start saying, “You know, maybe we were wrong about him. He might not be a radical socialist after all.”

News for you: That. Will. Never. Fucking. Happen.

So deal with it. Give up this absurd act of chasing your own tail all day long, turn off the goddamn Fox News channel, and run the country the way you would run it if there were no such thing as the Glenn Beck program.

Or better yet, listen to both sides. Progressives have criticisms too, and theirs are actually based in reality. Instead of only taking Bill O’Reilly’s advice, try listening to Rachel Maddow for once. Her advice is actually designed to help you.

The Shirley Sherrod thing, in itself, is just a small story. But taken in the larger context of the way Barack Obama has been conducting his administration, it’s one of the most important political events of his presidency. It’s one of those Wizard of Oz moments when the curtain is drawn back and you see who’s really running the show.

The strategy is clear: Don’t waste any time worrying about what liberals and progressives are saying because liberals and progressives don’t matter. They will never vote for republicans, so you gain nothing by doing anything more than the bare minimum to appease them. You win elections by appealing to swing-voters, to the moderate center, to the people who want to see both parties working together in a bipartisan fashion to accomplish things in Washington. When conservatives criticize you, you should immediately respond to that criticism in order to show how much of a centrist you are and how much you’re willing to listen to the other side.

The strategy is also dead wrong. I don’t know who this imaginary moderate centrist voter is, but I’ve never met him. Is there a single American voter who wasn’t sure about Obama until he dropped the public option, watered-down financial reform, called for more offshore oil drilling, fired Van Jones and de-funded ACORN? Seriously, I want to know how many people will go to the polls and vote for democrats this Fall because Obama proved to them that he’s not ‘too liberal’.

It’s complete and utter bullshit, and it’s so frustrating that Obama is so wrapped up inside his Washington bubble that he can’t even see it. He thinks that Bush’s approval ratings were so low because he spent too much time appeasing his base and never compromising with the other side. Wrong—Bush’s approval ratings were so low because everything he did as president was a total disaster. But at least he got shit done.

Why don’t you try that strategy for awhile, Obama? Why don’t you take a “Bring ‘em on” approach to Fox News and let them say whatever the hell they want to say while you deliver on the Change you promised? The Washington punditocracy will no doubt say you’ve gone off the deep-end, that you’re drifting perilously to the left and that this center-right country won’t stand for it. But you know what? You might find that in the Fall, liberals and progressives will actually come out and vote instead of staying home. You might even find that these all-important centrist-moderates you’re so concerned about actually come out and vote for democrats as well because…golly gee…it turns out they didn’t actually care about bipartisan posturing as much as they cared about government actually getting shit done.

Wake up, Obama. You’ve handed control of the country over to Fox News and you wonder why you’re heading for a failed presidency. In 2012 you should just let voters write in Glenn Beck’s name instead of yours so he can run the country directly without a middle-man.

Cut Off

July 24th, 2010 No comments

My supplier has cut me off. As of now, I can’t access the internet from my apartment. If I want to use the internet, I have to go to a café or to the Planeo office. Right now I’m at Planeo because it’s infinity percent cheaper.

Once upon a time, I had internet service that I never had to worry about. All payments were automatically deducted from my account, and I’d get e-mail every month from O2 merely telling me the amount of the bill. A couple of months ago I started noticing the amount of the bill getting higher and higher, to the point of absurdity. Was I downloading a lot more? Am I being charged by how much I use the internet? I definitely use it a lot.

But a warning letter from O2 cleared things up, and I found that the bills had just been piling up because payments were, for some reason, no longer being deducted automatically. Rather than go to an O2 service location and deal with figuring out the problem, I just manually made the payment, and did so again the following month—which is this month.

A few weeks ago, however, I got another bill from a company called “Inkasso” that I didn’t know anything about. It seemed to have something to do with O2, but I didn’t pay it because I’d just paid my O2 bill and it didn’t make sense that some other company would charge me for something I already paid for.

Apparently that was a mistake. I should have just paid the 33 euros, whatever it was for, because apparently Inkasso was going to cut off my internet service if I didn’t pay. They decided to do this at the most convenient possible time—Saturday morning.

Yes, Saturday morning. The longest possible time before the banks would be operating again, as in Germany they and most other business close down for the entire weekend.

It was a long process before I even figured out that the Inkasso thing was the problem. I called tech support and found out there was an issue with a bill but he’d have to have someone else call me, then I went to an O2 service location and after a long process of trying to figure out what was wrong the girl there informed me I needed to pay Inkasso but the situation wouldn’t be able to get resolved until the middle of the week. Apparently no one can just flick a switch and turn my internet back on. The bank has to contact Inkasso, Inkasso has to contact O2, and O2 has to flick the switch. In Germany all of this will apparently take several days, and the ball won’t even begin to get rolling until Monday at the earliest. Wahoo.

Not that it’s too much of an inconvenience. I only spend about a third of my life online. For the next few days it’ll have to be reduced to less than 5%. No big deal. It’ll be a nice opportunity to change up the routine, and I’ll appreciate having the internet at home all the more when I get it back, which hopefully won’t take months.

This will, however, make my resolve to put up at least one blog post a day much more difficult. Luckily I don’t have all that much I want to blog about. I was going to comment on the Sarah Palin / Mosque at Ground Zero thing, but I’ll save that for tomorrow and make this today’s contribution. Sorry it’s such a lame one.

Categories: Personal Tags: , ,

American Interventionism: Potential vs. Reality

July 23rd, 2010 No comments

The argument for American troops remaining in Afghanistan is essentially that Afghanistan needs our help. Without a strong U.S. military presence there, the Taliban will retake control, impose brutal Sharia law on all the citizens, and life for the Afghan people will be much worse than if we stay.

If that was all there was to it, I’d be saying we should stay. If we had the capability to really make Afghanistan a better country through our military presence, then I’d be the first to advocate intervening in their affairs. Not only that, but I’d also call for us to intervene in Somalia, Darfur, and everywhere else where people are suffering at the hands of brutal, corrupt, or nonexistent governments.

I’m not opposed to the idea of American Interventionism—I simply recognize that there is no “America” anymore, at least not in the sense that most people believe.

In the prophetic 1976 film Network, Paddy Chayefsky spells it out brilliantly in the pivotal scene in which network chairman Arthur Jensen explains to Howard Beale, his news-anchor-turned-crusader-for-America, how the world really works:

For those who still believe that America can and should spread its ideals throughout the world and bring peace and democracy to all, I would emphasize these words:

You are an old man who thinks in terms of nations and peoples. There are no nations. There are no peoples. There are no Russians. There are no Arabs. There are no Third Worlds. There is no West. There is only one holistic system of systems. One vast and immane, interwoven, interacting, multi-varied, multi-national dominion of dollars. Petro-dollars, electro-dollars, multi-dollars, reichmarks, rins, rubles, pounds and shekels.

We no longer live in a world of nations and ideologies, Mr. Beale. The world is a college of corporations, inexorably determined by the immutable by-laws of business. The world is a business, Mr. Beale. It has been since man crawled out of the slime.

There is “America” and there is America. “America” is the land of the free, home of the brave, champion of human rights and individual liberty, and crusader for the rights of man worldwide. America, on the other hand, is a governmental structure which has made itself extremely well-suited to Big Business interests. Multi-national corporations can do extremely well by putting America to good use. Tax-loopholes, virtually no regulation, and the strongest military the world has ever seen.

The only flaw in Arthur Jensen’s speech is this:

And our children will live, Mr Beale, to see that perfect world in which there is no war nor famine, oppression or brutality. One vast and ecumenical holding company for whom all men will work to serve a common profit. In which all men will hold a share of stock.

In all fairness to Chayefsky, this is what the corporate titans who really control the world probably tell themselves to justify their actions—that when all the world is a business there will be no need for war. But they ignore one important thing: war is great business.

Military and defense contractors, oil companies, drug-lords, corrupt government officials, and a slew of multi-national corporations all stand to make loads of money through continued American occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq. It is their bidding that our troops are doing there. American interventionism is actually corporate interventionism conducted through America.

But what if “America” actually existed? What if, as a nation, we collectively decided to intervene in countries that needed our help? What if instead of deploying armies of soldiers equipped with guns and bombs, we deployed armies of doctors equipped with medical supplies?

If you have the time, I’d strongly recommending watching this clip from the Young Turks’ “Rethink Reviews” segment in which documentary-film critic Jonathan Kim discusses the film “Living in Emergency” (about Doctors Without Borders) with Cenk Uygur (discussion begins at 4:49):

Doctors Without Borders is a non-governmental organization that does exactly the kind of intervention I wish America would do—sending doctors into impoverished nations and war-zones to offer humanitarian assistance to the people who need it most.

For those of you without the time or patience to sit through the whole clip, here is what Doctors With Borders did in 2006 alone:

• Held more than 9 million out-patient consultations
• Hospitalized half a million patients
• Delivered 99,000 babies
• Treated 1.8 million people for malaria
• Treated 150,000 malnourished children
• Provided 100,000 people with HIV and AIDS retro-virus therapy
• Vaccinated 1.8 million people against meningitis
• Conducted 64,000 surgeries

They did this with a team of 20,000-26,000 doctors and nurses who work for free, either out of the goodness of their hearts or to pad their resumes. Either way, they do an amazing amount of good with an amazingly small amount of resources.

Here are the statistics that will blow your mind:

• In 2006, the United States spend about $2 billion per week in Iraq.
• Doctors Without Borders runs with a budget of about $400 million per year.
• For the price of a week in Iraq, we could have either funded Doctors Without Borders for five years, or quintupled the size of Doctors Without Borders and ran it for one year.

• It’s estimated that there are at most 100 Al Qaeda members in Afghanistan, and we have about 100,000 soldiers there at a cost of about $1 million per soldier per year.
• This means we have about 1,000 troops per Al Qaeda member, which means we are spending $1 billion per Al Qaeda member.
• This amount of money would fund Doctors Without Borders for 2.5 years.
• National priorities: We can either chase one Al Qaeda member in Afghanistan for a year or fund Doctors Without Borders for two and a half years.

• This fiscal year, we’re spending $167 billion in Iraq and Afghanistan. This amount of money would fund Doctors Without Borders for 417.5 years.

Do I even need to spell it out? If the idea behind American Interventionism is to improve the lot of humanity on a global scale, there are far better ways of doing it than dropping bombs on civilians. If the main argument for staying in Afghanistan is that we’re helping the Afghan people, it is undeniable that the money could be spent in much wiser ways to help much more people. Not necessarily by funding Doctors Without Borders, but by modeling our overseas interventions as humanitarian rather than military campaigns.

Obviously, security is important and we need to have soldiers to protect the doctors we deploy as well as to support the national governments of countries threatened by violent insurgency. But right now the focus is far more on the cost of weapons than the cost of medical supplies.

The entire justification for the Global War on Terror is to fight the enemy overseas to keep America safe at home. But by making this an almost purely military endeavor, we’re only boosting the perception that America is an Empire and we’re occupying these foreign countries out of our own selfish interests. As such, more terrorists are recruited and we lose the support of allies who were otherwise willing to help us in the fight against violent extremism.

But if we spent the same amount of money on medicine and infrastructure as we do on weapons, the perception would be completely different. Our international image would be unassailable, and we’d once again be looked up to by the rest of the world with respect and admiration. What Muslim kid is going to strap on a bomb and blow himself up to fight the country that built his school or cured his father of a terminal illness? Terrorist organizations would find themselves obsolete within a matter of years.

Unfortunately, this is never going to happen, precisely because “America” as it was once understood no longer exists. We may be the most powerful nation-state on earth, but we’re not the most powerful entity. The multi-national corporations have all the power, and it’s in their best interests to keep the engines of war churning, to keep third-world nations impoverished, and to keep the peoples of the world divided, distrustful, and hateful of each other.

It is the international system of currency which determines the totality of life on this planet. That is the natural order of things today. That is the atomic, and sub-atomic and galactic structure of things today.

You can’t meddle with the primal forces of nature.