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So you’re voting for Romney? (Part 2)

November 2nd, 2012 No comments

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This is the second in a three-part series of blog entries directed at swing-voters and rational conservatives who intend to vote for Mitt Romney as a protest vote against Barack Obama. I’m arguing that as bad as you might think Obama is, Romney is far worse in every way. My first piece tore apart the idea that Romney has any good ideas whatsoever about handling the economy. This piece will deal with his stances on foreign policy and social issues, and in tomorrow’s post I will focus exclusively on his character (or complete lack thereof).

When it comes to politicians, I’m not sure there are any in the history of the United States for whom the term “flip-flopper” is more appropriate. When it comes to foreign policy and social issues, you can find a Mitt Romney quote supporting just about every position one can take. His self-contradictions come so frequently that it’s hard to keep up with what he believes on any given issue at any given time.

There’s even a web page exclusively dedicated to Romney’s flip-flops, and while I don’t like how they don’t include links allowing people to check the context from which the quotes are taken, it does give you a good sense of just how spineless and shifty Mitt Romney is. He’ll say whatever he believes the people in the room want to hear (unless he’s specifically decided not to as a political stunt, as he did with the NAACP).

Let’s take a look at the two major areas where Romney’s actual positions are nearly impossible to pin down: foreign policy and social issues.

Foreign Policy

For the past four years, it’s never been easier to figure out what the leaders of the Republican Party believe about any given foreign policy issue. Whatever Obama is for, they’re against—even if they used to be for it. First, Obama wasn’t quick enough to support the Egyptian protesters. A few months later, he was too quick to throw Mubarak under the bus. They were calling on him to intervene in Libya right up until he intervened, at which point the whole idea was a mistake. Now they’re saying he should do more to help the rebels in Syria. You can safely assume that as soon as he helps the rebels in Syria they’ll say he should never have gotten involved. The only things they never criticize the president for are his continuation of Bush policies like drone strikes and indefinite detention.

Mitt Romney has somehow managed to take flip-flopping to a whole new dimension, as he’s not only taken the whatever-Obama-is-for-I’m-against approach throughout his campaign, but in the final presidential debate on foreign policy, right-wingers were baffled to find him agreeing with just about every foreign policy move the current administration has made. Whether he’s an aggressive war-hawk or a peace-loving pacifist depends entirely on the audience he’s speaking to.

Four years ago, Mitt Romney was a fervent supporter of the Iraq war even though there were no weapons of mass destruction. Now, he says he wouldn’t have invaded Iraq if we’d known there were no weapons of mass destruction. On Afghanistan, he used to be against a timeline for withdrawal. In the last debate, he agreed with the president’s timetable. On the Egyptian revolution, Romney once refused to call Mubarak a dictator, but now he says we couldn’t possibly have supported him against the uprising. And when it comes to Israel and Palestine, Romney says in public that he wants to do everything possible to bring about peace, but he tells his supporters behind closed doors that there won’t be peace and he won’t even bother trying to work towards it.

To be fair to Romney, foreign policy just isn’t his thing. His only real international experience is from his time as a Mormon missionary in France during the Vietnam War. Barack Obama never served in the military either, and just because he spent more time living in foreign countries doesn’t necessarily mean he had more foreign policy credentials when he took office. But at least candidate Obama had strong and informed opinions which he famously expressed before his presidential run, starting with his speech against the Iraq war back when many Democrats were still supporting it. Mitt Romney, by contrast, just doesn’t seem interested at all. His own foreign policy team openly wonders whether he’s even reading their briefings. And if you’re going to talk about Iran being the biggest threat to America in the third debate, you might want to check a map first and see where Iran is—especially when you’ve already gotten it wrong five times!

If Mitt Romney actually knew anything about the world outside the United States, he might have some solid opinions about our role on the international stage. But because he doesn’t know and doesn’t seem to care to know, it’s a safe bet he’ll rely exclusively on his foreign policy advisors to set the course for America. So it’s worth looking at who his advisors are.

It turns out, most of them are veterans of the Bush administration. And if you think Dick Cheney’s approach to the rest of the world was great for America, then you’re in a bubble so thick absolutely nothing will penetrate it. Mitt Romney has done fund-raisers with Dick Cheney, praising him as “a person of wisdom and judgment”. Seriously? The kind of wisdom that got us into the Iraq war? The kind of judgment that destroyed America’s international reputation by authorizing torture? Not to mention the wisdom and judgment that urged President Bush to start a war with Iran before leaving office—advice which Bush to his great credit ignored. Even W eventually came to see Cheney’s judgment for what it was—abysmally stupid and reckless—but I guess he never bothered to tell Mitt.

Mitt Romney can say he’s only interested in peace all he wants, but the people who would have his ear as president when it comes to foreign policy are the same war hawks who so enthusiastically pushed us into two wars under Bush, and who would like to see the war on terror continue indefinitely, perhaps by turning Iran into its latest front-line.

Of course this is all speculation, but one thing we do know is that Mitt Romney would increase the defense budget by as much as $2.3 trillion over the next 10 years, money which the Pentagon hasn’t even asked for. And he’s the guy who’s supposed to care about deficits.

I have plenty of issues with Obama’s foreign policy, but one thing I know for certain as a person who’s lived abroad for the entirety of his presidency is that he has unquestionably helped to restore America’s damaged international reputation. If Romney takes power and brings back the same people who demolished it under Bush, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to win back the admiration and respect we enjoyed for most of the 20th century. Those days are probably permanently behind us already, but every vote for a Romney/Cheney foreign policy is another nail in that coffin.

Social Issues

The president has very little effect on social policies, but it’s worth taking a glance at the myriad of positions Mitt Romney has taken on a few key issues.

Health care is a major economic issue, but I’m including it here because I see it as a moral issue. I personally believe that there are certain institutions in society that should be run exclusively by the government, as introducing a profit-motive leads to terrible results. Health care is the biggest one (others include education, police, and prisons) as what could be more fundamental to the health of a society than how a society deals with the health of its members?

Everybody knows that the Affordable Care Act which President Obama pushed through Congress is almost identical to Mitt Romney’s health care plan for Massachusetts, right down to the individual mandate. Most people don’t seem to realize that the mandate—which is what they invariably hate most about the law—is actually a Republican idea, cooked up by the Heritage Foundation in 1989 and pushed by Republican senators including Orrin Hatch and Chuck Grassley. (And you can be sure that’s true because the source I’m citing is Fox News.com)

Way back when the mandate was a Republican idea (which it was until about three seconds after Barack Obama adopted it), Mitt Romney enthusiastically supported it. Naturally, as soon as the poll numbers on the mandate came in and the party completely disavowed the policy and everything to do with it, Romney had to twist himself into a pretzel by explaining that it’s a perfectly wonderful idea at the state level, but utterly unconstitutional and horrible at the national level. That is, until the Supreme Court declared it a tax, at which point he eventually decided it’s a tax and therefore constitutional (but not before agreeing with Obama that it’s not a tax).

At least Mitt Romney has remained consistent that when he’s president, he’ll repeal Obamacare except for the popular parts about covering pre-existing conditions and letting children stay on their parents’ plans until age 26…except when he’s saying the health care law must be “repealed entirely”.

Never mind how tricky it would be to repeal the health care law while maintaining its most popular aspects. (Chalk this one up as another one of Romney’s secret plans.) But if he somehow gets elected and gets massive Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, you can finally kiss Obamacare goodbye.

But let’s turn now to something that might actually happen if Romney gets elected, which is the elimination of a woman’s right to have an abortion. Of course, Mitt Romney was all for a woman’s right to choose when running against Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts, but when trying to please the Tea Party crowd that dog just doesn’t hunt. Now he’s staunchly pro-life and in favor of outlawing abortion except in cases of rape or the life of the mother—unless you believe him when he says he’d absolutely support a personhood amendment which would leave no room for these exceptions.

Of course the Holy Grail of the pro-life movement is the overturn of Roe v. Wade by the U.S. Supreme Court, and there’s no doubt that a Romney-appointed justice would be far more likely to join the right-wingers on the bench in overturning this law than an Obama-appointed justice. So if you’re one of those who only votes based on social issues and abortion is what you care about most, by all means vote for Romney. Just don’t expect him to fight too hard for your cause, because he’s not a true believer.

When it comes to LGBT issues, here we finally arrive at a place where Romney has shown some degree of consistency—by remaining as far right as you can go. He’s opposed to same-sex marriage of course, but he’s also opposed to civil unions. As for his justification for not letting gay couples enjoy the same rights as straight couples even when it’s not considered “marriage”—well, on that he’s not so clear. But rest assured, he says, it has nothing to do with his Mormon faith. It’s about 3,000 years of history. Obviously it would be wrong to change any institution that’s existed for thousands of years…just ask 19th-century plantation owners.

But even if you agree with Mitt Romney on things like abortion and gay rights, it makes very little sense to vote for him based on that. As I said, the president has very little to do with social policy. What you really want is a man with firm convictions, and all you have to do is listen to Mitt Romney speak for five minutes to realize that he has none.

That Mitt Romney has no character is the argument I’ll be concluding my series with, and I expect it to be the most forceful.

To be continued…

The 2012 Election is Over

January 5th, 2012 No comments

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The Iowa caucuses were last night, and after months and months of exciting horse-race politics in which nearly every single Republican candidate surged to front-runner status and then fell back again, the winner was the guy everybody originally thought would win.

Mitt Romney came in first place ahead of Rick Santorum by just 8 votes. The narrow margin made the night as dramatic as the rest of the race has been so far, but like the entire presidential electoral process in general, it was mostly inconsequential. Santorum only did so well because his popularity happened to peak at just the right time, but like every other alternative-to-Romney candidate in the field, his numbers will plummet once people start paying more attention to him.

And so as early as January 5, with only one primary contest finished and ten months to go before the general election, I can boldly pronounce who the winner of the 2012 election will be: Wall Street, and the rest of Corporate America.

It’s all over, folks. The corporate plutocracy that owns the media and our politicians now has this one in the bag. They already own Barack Obama, and they’ve owned Mitt Romney for quite some time. Both of these guys have demonstrated that they will do whatever the big corporations want them to do, with a few minor exceptions Obama has to make for political reasons (e.g. the consumer financial protection bureau).

The choice between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney is a choice between two different brands of the same product. It’s like being offered Pepsi or Coke when what you really want is orange juice. (Or more accurately, it’s like a choice between Coca-Cola and Royal Crown Cola, both of which are owned by the same company.)

The powerful financial interests which make up the establishment would call the shots no matter who gets elected, be it Obama, Romney, Santorum, Gingrich, or almost any of the others. There are only three candidates in the entire race who would not be beholden to them: 1- Rocky Anderson, who is a third-party candidate and therefore has no chance, 2- Buddy Roemer (a.k.a. “who is that?”) and 3- Ron Paul.

Yes, the last best chance for real change in 2012 was a Ron Paul victory in Iowa. He was the only real threat to the establishment, but they were able to snuff it out in Iowa. Unfortunately, he was too easy of a target.

Don’t get me wrong—there’s a lot to dislike about Ron Paul. Those racist newsletters are a disastrous reflection on his character and his obvious lies to pretend he knew nothing about them made it clear that he’s not quite as honest as he seems. His die-hard libertarianism, if fully implemented, would be a disaster of epic proportions.

But he’s not running for dictator. He’s running for president, and the president does not have nearly the kind of power it would require for him to implement his entire agenda. He would try to eliminate the department of commerce, of education, of energy, the EPA, and so on, but Congress wouldn’t let him. There would be bipartisan opposition to all extremist legislation he proposes, and while a few Republicans would take his side in some fights, the vast majority are owned by the establishment and the establishment would make defeating him their top priority.

On the other hand, there are certain things the president has the power to do all on his own without approval from Congress. He could and would stand against the military industrial complex and get our troops out of Afghanistan immediately, saving billions of dollars of the national budget currently being wasted. He could end the war on drugs, freeing up law enforcement to focus on more serious crimes and deal a death-blow to the cartels. Finally, he could aggressively go after and prosecute every single one of those Wall Street bankers who committed the fraud that crashed the economy and then walked away with millions in taxpayer-funded bonuses.

But this is all a fantasy. Ron Paul would never win the Republican nomination, though I think he’d probably stand the best chance of beating Barack Obama because unlike any other Republican he actually appeals to liberals for the reasons stated above. No progressive is going to vote for Romney, but plenty would be tempted to vote for Ron Paul.

At the very least, a Ron Paul nomination would turn the establishment media on its head. The mainstream media, owned by the same corporations that own the government, would throw everything they have at Paul including, possibly, rational arguments over policy! There would be a real debate over things like the proper extent of the role of government in people’s lives, and conservatives would look at his extreme views and be forced to acknowledge that it should at least play some role. There would be a real discussion over the efficacy of the war on drugs, and if enough people look at the statistics it might finally tip the scales against prohibition, an obviously failed and counter-productive policy. Finally, we’d have a real debate over the wars, and with the Democratic candidate in favor of them and the Republican candidate against, people would have to consider their own opinion instead of just accepting the default position of their team.

But the best thing about the imaginary Paul vs. Obama scenario is that Fox News and the rest of the conservative corporate media would take Obama’s side. After all, he’s a part of the establishment and Paul is not. It serves their purposes to be against Obama now because they are still hoping for a more corporate-friendly president, but if Paul were to be the Republican nominee all that nonsense about Obama being a socialist left-wing radical would go straight out the window and the likes of O’Reilly and Hannity would be talking night after night about how Obama has actually been governing pretty much like a moderate Republican.

Sadly, none of that will happen now, so the establishment can rest easy. There will be no real change this year. The middle-class continues to be squeezed and squeezed but the tipping point has not yet been reached and that slowly roasting kettle will not boil over. In 2011 many people finally took to the streets in a genuine rebellion against the establishment, but that political energy will be absorbed by the election as people eventually accept a candidate and line up behind them. Instead of fighting for real change, most of these people will be fighting to re-elect Obama for the sole reason that they believe Romney will be far worse. But in reality, it will make almost no difference.

The American presidential electoral process used to have the potential to bring about change, but ever since the government has been completely absorbed by the corporations and all of the candidates bought by the same interests, it’s become little more than a sideshow—a useful distraction for the politically-active to direct their energy away from actually fighting for real issues. It’s only January, but the election is already over. The 1% win. The rest of us lose.

President Bachmann? It could happen.

June 25th, 2011 No comments

Right up until this past week, I’d been looking at Michele Bachmann’s candidacy for president as nothing more than an entertaining joke. The woman who famously suggested that the media look into members of Congress to determine if they’re pro- or anti-American, who says that climate science must be wrong because carbon dioxide is not a harmful gas, who thought that the American Revolution began in New Hampshire, could never actually be president.

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But then the Republican debate happened, and all at once the entire mainstream media began taking her seriously. I didn’t watch the debate, but I can easily imagine how a combination of low expectations, innate self-confidence, and contrast with the other boring candidates would have helped her stand out greatly to anyone watching. She is not your typical Republican, and nowadays that’s a huge advantage and one that the media was sure to take notice of.

And once the media takes your candidacy seriously, the rest of the country soon follows. Now Michele Bachmann will no longer be seen as Palin 2.0 but a serious contender for the Republican nomination and therefore the White House. Her history of crazy and/or false comments will be swept to the side, and anyone who brings such things up will be dismissed as a left-wing smear-merchant. “Forget her absurd crusade against the U.S. adopting an international currency—you should be focusing on what she’s saying now.” And as her poll numbers rise and the campaign cash continues to flow, she’ll surround herself with people skilled in the art of making even the most insane candidates sound reasonable.

Michele Bachmann is not insane (though she certainly often sounds that way), and she’s not Sarah Palin (i.e. she’s neither too dumb nor too lazy to run a serious presidential campaign). She is, however, a true believer—as Christian as they come. Read Matt Taibbi’s excellent piece on Bachmann to get a true sense of this. This is a woman who married her husband Marcus because she claims that she, a friend of hers, and Marcus all had a vision from God at the same time. She’s a fierce opponent of gay rights and is as pro-life as they come. These factors will ensure that she’ll have a significant portion of the social-conservative vote locked up from the very beginning, and her uniqueness as a candidate among a field of weak Republicans could easily push her over the top.

It all comes down to whether or not there are still enough sane, pragmatic Republicans left in the party to recognize that Mitt Romney—in spite of his complete lack of solid convictions about anything—is still their best bet to beat Obama in the general election. In 2008, conservatives held their noses and picked McCain because they thought in the end he stood the best chance of winning independents, so it’s not unlikely the same thing will happen again (in which case Bachmann is a shoe-in for VP). But Romney is so weak, so boring, so detested by the Republican base and such a blatant and transparent flip-flopper that his stench might be too much for Republican primary voters even with their noses held. Add to that the widespread (yet obviously false) perception that the reason Republicans lost in 2008 was that their candidate wasn’t right-wing enough, and Michele Bachmann at the top of the ticket doesn’t seem far-fetched at all.

Nothing I’ve written so far is the least bit controversial, but where I know most people will disagree with me is that I believe Michele Bachmann actually stands a very good chance of defeating Barack Obama in the general election. Why? Enthusiasm. Bachmann excites her base. Obama deflates his.

I won’t go into the standard litany of reasons as to why the progressive base is disenchanted and frustrated with Obama—it’s enough to merely restate that the central promise of his campaign was “not to the play the game better” but to “put an end to the game-playing” and in reality all he’s done for the past two and a half years is play the same old Washington games. Rather than stand up and use the power of the presidential bully-pulpit to forcefully articulate a vision for the country and make the (very easily made) arguments in favor of progressive policies, he’s tried to have it both ways on every issue and make compromise after unnecessary compromise with Republicans whom he must know are not negotiating in good faith.

He could secure re-election right now by simply refusing to play these games with the Republicans and proposing instead a massive jobs bill whereby the government will hire millions of Americans and put them to work re-building the nation’s infrastructure (which is in great need of re-building). The Republicans will scream and cry about more excessive spending, but since they’ve been screaming and crying about nothing else for the last two years their objections won’t have so much force. President Obama could make the case that this kind of spending is the best possible kind of spending for the economy, as it puts money directly into the hands of middle class Americans, giving them more purchasing power and thus getting the wheels of the economy rolling again. The American people, most of whom are not wed to a political ideology and who vote solely based on their own financial situation will see one party pushing a bill to create jobs and another party blocking it. Such a bill would undoubtedly fail in the Republican-controlled House, but the legislative failure would be a political victory, and voters would go to the polls next November determined to keep the guy who fights for them in the White House and kick out everyone standing in his way.

But sadly, Obama is operating according to a completely different political calculus. He believes that he’s got the liberal and progressive vote locked up, so all he has to do is drift far enough to the right to secure enough independents to push him over the top. As such, he believes he can compromise with Republicans to look as centrist and moderate as possible at the expense of the middle class. Instead of job creation, this is what we’ll get from Obama:

1- He’s already announced a draw-down of troops in Afghanistan, but one so small-scale and slow that even after three years we’ll still have twice as many troops over there as we did when he took office. That means more middle class kids remaining in harm’s way while billions of treasury dollars continue to be flushed down the toilet on an unwinnable war, forcing us to look elsewhere to cut the deficit.

2- There will be modest cuts to Medicare. Paul Ryan laid the groundwork for an all-out assault on the program that provides health care to seniors, and since Obama has never met a Republican plan that he didn’t want to meet half-way, we can be sure he’ll reach some “reasonable” compromise and weaken the program without completely destroying it (which he will call “strengthening” it).

3- The Social Security retirement age will be raised. In spite of the fact that over 80% of Americans don’t want their representatives to make any cuts to Social Security benefits whatsoever, it’s a foregone conclusion in Washington that cuts will be made and raising the retirement age is how to do it. The AARP has folded on this, and even members of the progressive caucus are saying they’re open to the idea. No one in Washington is going to fight on behalf of 80% of Americans on this issue, so average workers can look forward to a few extra years of work, courtesy of Obama’s political calculation.

4- There will be massive cuts to Medicaid. While many Democrats are at least willing to voice their opposition to this, because it’s politically dangerous to cut Medicare and Social Security too drastically, Medicaid will be the “sacrificial lamb”, as Jay Rockefeller put it. The money’s got to come from somewhere, so why not the program that provides health-care for people who can’t afford it? If you count children, Medicaid pays for the health-care of about 25% of Americans, so one out of every four of us can expect less help with our medical bills, thanks to Obama’s re-election strategy.

I could be wrong, but I see this as a disastrous strategy, one that is almost guaranteed to lose Obama the White House. But Obama believes that progressives have nowhere else to go, and if someone like Michele Bachmann is his opponent, he should easily cruise to victory.

But when an incumbent is running, most voters don’t even consider the opposition candidate and base their decision solely on whether or not they want to re-hire the guy they currently have. If they see that not only is the economy still struggling, that they’re still wrestling with their private insurance companies, their friends are still unemployed, and on top of that they’re now getting less help from the government with their medical bills and they’ll have to work a few extra years before retirement, they won’t care that they’ll be hiring Michele Bachmann—who would certainly be far worse for them—they’ll only be thinking of firing Obama.

I know it seems crazy. And I admit that I just can’t conceive of Michele Bachmann as President of the United States—I can’t picture her addressing the nation from the oval office no matter how hard I try—but then I think of all those conservatives in 2008 who found the idea of a black man in the White House equally inconceivable.

As Bachmann rises to become the nation’s top Republican the idea will gradually seem less and less absurd, and by the time she’s standing across from Barack Obama at the first presidential debate people who might consider her a joke now will have had plenty of time to grow used to the idea of her as president.

In his final act of self-destruction, President Obama will probably instruct his campaign not to attack Bachmann at all, not to call her out on her lies, her religious fundamentalism, or her nutty ideas, and to instead treat her respectfully and agree with her as much as possible. That’s the truly centrist thing to do, and Obama thinks it’ll help him win independents. He never really punched at McCain even when he chose Sarah Palin to run as his VP, and the Obama campaign’s failure to call her out on her idiocy lent her a large degree of legitimacy (temporary though it was). In the same respect, his campaign will legitimize Michele Bachmann.

In the end, most Americans vote on personality, and Bachmann’s is just more appealing. Unlike Obama, she is a fighter. She has strong convictions, and while every one of those convictions might be wrong, dangerous, or outright crazy, she is at least willing to fight for them. Obama is weak, he looks weak, he sounds weak, and he’s governed weakly throughout his whole first term. Bachmann looks and sounds strong, and voters like strength.

I sincerely hope I’m wrong about all of this, but unless we start taking Bachmann seriously we’ll continue laughing at and dismissing her right up until she’s sworn in as president and we’re left with mouths agape, wondering how the hell that happened.

The Murky Moral Questions of Libya

March 29th, 2011 No comments

I’ve remained silent on the Libya issue until now for a number of reasons, the first and foremost being that it’s taken me a long time to settle on a position. Even now my opinion is highly nuanced and subject to change as the situation develops and more information comes to light. Normally I’ll only write a blog post when I feel very strongly about something or I have an opinion that I don’t see being expressed much elsewhere, but since this is a rather significant event in modern American history I feel obliged to write down my thoughts even if they’re neither unique nor firmly held.

The question of whether the United States should have gotten involved in the conflict between Gadhafi and the rebels seeking to overthrow him can be approached from two basic standpoints: intentions and consequences. If we take the stated intentions of President Obama at face-value, it seems we did the right thing going in. Gadhafi did promise to murder many thousands of his own people, and if the prevention of genocide isn’t a justifiable reason to use military force then I don’t know what is. I think we have a moral obligation to prevent genocide wherever and whenever we can.

However, it’s hard to justify intervening in Libya when we didn’t also intervene in Rwanda, the Sudan, and Darfur. It calls our motives into question when we selectively intervene like this, and the fact that Libya has oil while these other countries don’t taints the entire moral calculation as to whether or not our intentions here are correct.

But when all is said and done, oil or no oil, consistency or inconsistency, I think it’s better to have done something than to have done nothing. As one commentator said, I’d rather prevent some genocide some of the time than to prevent no genocide any time.

As for judging the rightness of our actions based on the consequences, this is almost impossible at this early stage. We may help the rebels topple Gadhafi and pave the way for a bourgeoning democracy, in which case history will judge our actions quite kindly. We might fail to oust Gadhafi and genocide will occur anyway, in which case all we’ll have done is waste a lot of resources. And we might find ourselves locked in yet another quagmire from which we can’t seem to extract ourselves no matter how many allies initially went in with us, in which case we’ll have another Iraq- or Afghanistan-like situation on our hands and we’ll have to judge Obama just as harshly as we judged Bush for getting us into a mess with no clear plan for getting us out.

But for now, we seem to have prevented Gadhafi from murdering thousands of his own people, so from a standpoint of consequences I would still judge our actions correct at the moment.

Of course it’s even more complicated when you consider some of the side-issues involved here. For one, I think we did the right thing by acting under the banner of the United Nations, letting France make the first move and handing off leadership as soon as possible. The last thing we want is to reinforce the perception of those in the Muslim world that we’ll use any excuse we can to drop bombs on Muslim countries. I think that if we play our cards right, this could really help us change the narrative of Muslim perceptions of the United States. In this case, at least, we are siding with the people against their brutal dictator. If we did this more consistently, I think it would be a far more effective tactic in the “war on terror” than any occupation ever could.

However, we can’t escape the possibility that this whole thing could backfire. If we help the rebels topple Gadhafi and then pull out and say, “you’re on your own” and the situation descends into chaos and violence, we might very well be blamed. Once you extend your hand to help one side win a fight, it could look very bad for us to pull our hand away when the initial fight is over. Conversely, if we stick around to help the freed Libyans in the aftermath of their revolution, we could be perceived as once again meddling in affairs we have no business sticking our noses in. Making sure this is a multi-national operation will help to mitigate that perception, but I worry we may soon find ourselves in a lose-lose situation.

Then there’s the issue of whether Barack Obama should have sought congressional approval for this military action. I am personally very uncomfortable with the idea of the imperial presidency, so I would have liked to see some discussion about this before we went in. I don’t like how the president can just plunge our nation into an international conflict without giving our representatives a chance to debate the merits in public and the media a chance to delve into the details for the sake of the public’s understanding.

From a pragmatist’s standpoint, however, I understand why this particular president would have chosen to bypass this particular congress at this particular moment in American politics. The Republicans will seize any opportunity to weaken the president no matter what the consequences, and handing them a chance to obstruct this military action for the sake of scoring political points would not have been worth the potential loss of tens of thousands of Libyan lives. Still, I would rather have seen some more discussion about this before we went in, and I’m very wary of the idea that any future president can bomb any country for any reason without seeking the approval of the American people in any way.

The final point I want to make is perhaps the only opinion I hold with 100% conviction, and that is that every American with a shred of respect for logic has to admit that the Republican Party has no interest in either ideological consistency or what is best for this country. I don’t think anyone who is honest with themselves could believe that had George W. Bush done the exact same thing in this situation, the Republicans who are currently criticizing Obama wouldn’t have supported him 100%. It should be abundantly clear to any rational person that Republicans and the commentators on Fox News will criticize Obama for anything, for any reason, no matter how much it contradicts positions they’ve previously held.

Either he shouldn’t have intervened at all, he should have intervened sooner, or in Newt Gingrich’s case both—depending on which day you ask. Some who cheered for the Iraq invasion now jeer American intervention as though they’ve always been opposed to it. Some who derided anyone who criticized Bush’s policies at a time of war as “unpatriotic” and accused them of “demoralizing the troops” are the very same people who are now criticizing Obama’s policies at a time or war. Somehow it doesn’t “embolden the enemy” to criticize a Democratic president at a time of war, only a Republican.

And last but certainly not least by far—any Republican who called for intervention (either before or after the actual intervention) should be forced to explain to the American people why we can afford to pay for foreign military campaigns but we have to cut pay for middle-class workers, take away food stamps and heating assistance from the poor, slash Social Security and Medicare, de-fund NPR, bust up the unions, and do all of these other things they insist we must do for the sake of “fiscal responsibility”. If we can afford to send hundreds of millions of dollars worth of cruise missiles to Northern Africa, I think we can afford to hand out a few food stamps.

So these are my thoughts on the Libya question at this point in time. I rarely support the president these days, but on this one I think he did the right thing (although I do have my reservations about his failure to involve Congress). I’m not an ideological pacifist or an isolationist—I do think violence can be justified to prevent more violence and I do think stronger nations ought to defend weaker ones—and I think this falls into the narrow category of morally justifiable military actions. I just wish we were more consistent.

Time to Talk Primary

December 13th, 2010 No comments

I will try to make this as brief as possible because I want to increase the likelihood that people will read it. If you agree with my assessment, I hope you’ll spread this around the internet far and wide, because this is a conversation that needs to happen NOW if it happens at all. Running a progressive candidate against Barack Obama will require a year of fund-raising, and the Iowa caucus is a year away.

I never thought I’d advocate challenging Obama in the 2012 election, but I also never thought that after two years of a Democratic president with Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, things would still be this bad.

Foreign policy-wise, the troops are still in Iraq and our presence in Afghanistan has escalated. The prisons at Guantanamo Bay and Bagram Air Force Base are still open. The torturers have not been punished nor even investigated, and the president has now claimed the power to execute American citizens suspected of terrorism without due process of law.

Domestically, our government is still illegally spying on its citizens. Private health insurance companies still have no competition to prevent them from profiting by letting people die. Wall Street is continuing the practices that crashed the economy and unless more measures are taken it’s only a matter of time before the second crash comes. The climate change issue has gone completely unaddressed and Big Oil and Coal can continue to rake in record profits. And now, the national debt and deficit will continue to sky-rocket for a minimum of two years as the completely un-necessary and un-stimulative tax-cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans are extended. Presumably, this decrease in revenue will be balanced by decreases in spending, and it looks like Social Security is first on the chopping block.

“But wait,” you might say, “didn’t he sign a measure strengthening registration and reporting requirements for lobbyists?” Yes, you can easily rattle off a long list of small-ball accomplishments that we could never have expected from a Republican president, but most of these things can be done or un-done with the stroke of a pen. When it comes to the fights that really count, the things that go to the heart of the broken system, this president has consistently maintained the status quo.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was when Obama’s advisors started talking about how the tax-cut deal he struck with Republicans would actually be good for the country. Fox News commentators are actually praising Obama for finally “admitting” that tax-cuts for the rich create jobs, and because Obama has now made Bush’s economic policy his own, he has no choice but to defend it. It’s absurd to think he’ll fight to let them expire in two years if he wasn’t willing to do that when he still had wide Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress.

The Democratic president will now be pushing for Republican policies and defending them with Republican talking points. Presumably, we’re going to start hearing him agree with his deficit commission that cuts need to be made to Social Security.

At this point, it has to be acknowledged that unless we issue a primary challenge to Obama, we will essentially have two Republican candidates in 2012.

The objection to this strategy is clear: A primary challenge is likely to fail and it will only weaken Obama and hurt his chances to win the general election. And wouldn’t a Republican president be worse?

Until last week I would have agreed with you. But then I asked myself this question, and I hope you’ll ask yourselves the same:

Which is worse for America? A Republican president who tries to implement Republican policies which progressives and the majority of Americans can rally against to stop those policies from going through? Or a Democratic president who acts as though he has no choice but to implement Republican policies, in which case the progressive movement is fractured and there is not enough unified opposition to prevent them from going through?

Ideally, a primary challenge would result in a true progressive in the White House who will finally draw lines in the sand and be willing to take sides with the American people and against the upper class. But if not, it’s beginning to look like a second Obama term would actually be worse for America than a Republican.

Potential Positives of War in Korea

November 27th, 2010 No comments

Trouble is hardly ever not brewing on the Korean peninsula, but things have been heating up recently. As the crazed über-narcissistic dictator Kim Jong Il hands the reins of power over to his young and presumably equally narcissistic son Kim Jong Un, North Korea seems to be itching for war with their South Korean enemies. Between the testing of nuclear missiles and this past week’s artillery bombardment of Yeonpyeong, it’s not much of a stretch to imagine this escalating into full-scale war.

If that happens, I’ll do something I’ve never done before in my lifetime and advocate for the U.S. military to get involved in the conflict. The South Koreans are our allies and it would be wrong of us to stand idly by as the Kims of North Korea attempt to kill millions of them and subjugate the rest. Those living under the North Korean regime have been handed one of the unluckiest lots in life imaginable, and it would be a moral error to let that regime expand and doom another population to the same fate. It would be just as wrong as letting Adolf Hitler conquer Europe.

I say this as someone who vehemently opposed the war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan before it started. I didn’t think conventional military tactics were the right approach to stopping terrorism. A nation-state didn’t attack us on 9/11. A small group of people who hate us did, and dropping bombs on their fellow Muslims and killing innocent civilians seemed like the most counter-productive response possible. That would only lead to more terrorism, and more hatred of the U.S. internationally.

Now, if war breaks out in the Korean peninsula it will be an entirely different matter. North Korea is an actual nation-state with an actual military made up of actual soldiers. An act of aggression on their part against South Korea would absolutely call for military intervention. We’d be fighting a country as opposed to an ideology.

The potential benefits of such a scenario are actually enormous. If the U.S. is suddenly confronted with a real war against a real enemy, it would have a clarifying effect on the wars of the last decade. The very juxtaposition of these two types of wars would highlight their differences in a way that we’ve never seen before in our history, and even without having to reflect on it too hard both liberals and conservatives alike would be able to understand why one kind is justified and the other is not.

A war against a Hitler-like aggressor with an actual military would bring the country together like it hasn’t been since WWII, and our political parties might just put aside their bickering for a brief historical moment to deal with a real threat to world peace (though I admit that’s a pretty big might, seeing as how the Republicans have shown us that they’re not above playing politics with matters of international security).

It would also give us a good reason to completely pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan, as we couldn’t possibly fight three wars on three fronts at the same time. This would then lead to a restoration of the image of America abroad, as the rest of the world will see us actually doing what we’ve only been pretending to do for the last few decades: defending freedom.

A war fought for noble purposes as opposed to one fought for corporate profits would go a long way to restoring the world’s faith in America, and Americans’ faith in themselves.

All that said, I do not believe such a restoration would be worth the loss of so many Korean lives and the lives of American soldiers, so I sincerely hope that North Korea is just flexing its muscles and that the ultimate result of the death of Kim Jong Il will be peace rather than war.

On Missing My Generation’s War

August 31st, 2010 No comments

“Turn on the TV!” James shouted as he entered my college dorm room. “The war is starting!”

Are you serious? I’d just turned the damned thing off about a half hour earlier, getting sick of waiting for the fireworks that for all I knew wouldn’t be coming at all. I’d been glued to the TV all day, watching the cable news networks count down to the moment Bush’s 48-hour deadline for Saddam to leave Iraq reached 0:00. What an anti-climactic moment that had been. Once it came, the reporters started to remind everyone that this was just the count-down to the end of Bush’s cowboy-diplomacy deadline—that the actual fighting might not begin until the next day or later.

Thanks to James, I hadn’t completely missed the historical moment I’d been waiting for all day. The beginning of a war that might come to define my generation.

More than six years later, James reached me through a Facebook chat and informed me that he was enlisting in the military. That he’d very likely be sent to Iraq or Afghanistan, but he’d given it a lot of thought and decided it’s what he wanted to do. The terrible economy had cost him his job a year earlier and in spite of his college-degree he couldn’t find any work elsewhere. The military seemed like his best option.

Throughout the years I’d also occasionally ponder joining the fighting, usually in my darkest moments when life seemed too overwhelming to figure out how to live it on my own. After graduating college with a relatively useless degree in philosophy, I spent the next couple of years just trying to figure out how to kill the remaining time I had left before death. The likelihood that there were far more years ahead of me than behind me would at times fill me with despair. I never seemed to fit in this world. What was I supposed to be doing here?

Important things were always happening, of course. Mostly too big to wrap my head around, too big to do anything about. Ever since September 11, the instant I heard someone in my high school classroom say the words, “They hit the second tower” I knew that I was probably one of those human beings cursed to live in interesting times. My sense of personal responsibility increased tenfold on that day and the weeks that followed.

After overcoming my initial reaction of anger and rage at the terrorists, I’d thought about it and decided that the best thing for the United States to do would be not to retaliate. We should go after the people responsible for the attack, but not invade an entire country. Not drop bombs that would kill innocent children and make those people hate us even more. After 9/11 we had a chance to show the world what an honorable nation we could be—to refrain from flexing our military muscles and instead focus only on the individuals responsible for the crime.

That was not a very popular position at the time, but I stood my ground and made my case to anyone who would listen. I pointed out that if we were in fact going to war, it would be people my age who would be doing the fighting. I asked everyone if they’d be willing to die for this cause. At that time, most said yes. Ultimately, most never did.

Had I believed in the cause, I might have enlisted. Had this been an event like Pearl Harbor in which my country had been attacked by an actual army from an actual nation that posed an actual existential threat to us, I would have followed in the footsteps of the “greatest generation” and gone to fight and die for my country.

But I never thought this was a noble cause. I didn’t think the fighting in Afghanistan was necessary, and I found the invasion of Iraq to be even less justifiable. If you’re going to put yourself in a position from which you might actually have to kill people—from which you might actually end up killing children—you’d better have a damned good reason, I thought. And giving my life a sense of purpose or direction never seemed good enough.

Those who’ve fought in these wars have my undying respect and admiration, but I just can’t make myself believe that their efforts have been for a good cause. They haven’t been fighting and dying for freedom. They haven’t even been fighting and dying for the United States of America. They’ve been fighting and dying (and killing and maiming) for Blackwater and KBR, for the military industrial complex, for neoconservative ideologues, and for multi-national corporations who have a vested interest in permanent warfare.

I could never be a part of that. All other considerations aside—the sense of accomplishment, the pride of my family, the benefits of being a veteran—none of these would be worth the sense of responsibility that I’d have to carry with me for the rest of my life for having been a part of one of history’s greatest crimes. And the invasion and occupation of Iraq was and always will be a crime in my mind, regardless of how it ultimately turns out.

But that doesn’t mean I consider the soldiers criminals. Far from it. They were following in the footsteps of their fathers, doing what they saw as the most noble thing they could do. In a sense I envy them. When the last decade becomes nothing more than a distant memory and the wars another chapter in the history books, they’ll be able to tell their grandchildren that they were there—that when their country made the call they stood up and answered it. No matter what the politics, that’s something to be proud of.

And what did I do? I partied with my college friends, I moved to California and relaxed on the beach, I flew to Germany to teach English to businesspeople, and I started a blog.

The Iraq war technically ends today. I’ve come a long way since that night in my dorm-room when James and I watched the bombs falling on Baghdad. I’m still not sure which direction my life is going, but I’m always thinking. These are interesting times, and the sense of historical responsibility is still nagging at me. And if I won’t fight, it seems all I can do now is write.

To all of my fellow millennials who fought in Iraq, who were injured, who died, or who watched their friends die: this one’s for you.

Lefty Protest, German Style

August 8th, 2010 No comments

It’s time for an old-school personal journal entry, the kind I used to write all the time but which I now usually end up privatizing because they tend to get a bit too personal. This one has a strong political element so it definitely belongs on the blog even in its current mostly-political incarnation, so I’ll try to fight the impulse to engage in excessive introspection.

Yesterday, one of my friends—Oliver’s girlfriend Lena—was participating in a demonstration here in Hannover and I was invited to come along. Naturally I couldn’t resist—a genuine European lefty-protest is certainly worth checking out if the opportunity presents itself, and it would probably provide me with something worth writing about.

Well, I’m not really sure how that turned out. I can’t guarantee you’ll gain any valuable insight from this entry, but if you don’t mind long stories with no climax and no particular over-arching point, you might enjoy it. Who knows?

I’ll skip the part where Oliver comes by my flat a few hours before the protest starts while Lena meets up with her friends. I’ll start from the point when Oliver and I get off the tram and walk towards the Hannover Congress-Zentrum where the protest is taking place.

Actually, I need to start even earlier to explain what this whole demonstration was about. Apparently the higher-ups in the German military and the executives from the corporations that make up its military-industrial complex all gather together once a year for something called “La Luna” where they meet at the Congress building and have a jolly celebration together. It’s a bit more complicated than that but the Germans had a hard time explaining it in English. It also has something to do with a nearby military airport which Germany lets other countries use for military missions. And the soldiers are all from the “1st Panzerdivision” whatever that means. I tried to research the event but somehow the English-language media neglected to cover it.

So as the military brass and corporate big-wigs are having their lovely party in the Congress building, German lefties gather outside to yell at them and let them know how evil they are. That’s really all there is to it. The message is basically, “You say the military is good? Well, we say it’s bad! Take that!”

To be fair, you could be sure that some of the people who are responsible for the fact that German soldiers are still in Afghanistan would be attending the event. So at least a part of the message—the “Get out of Afghanistan” part—was a bit more specific than the overall “War is bad” message.

Back to the story. Typically, the tram stops right in front of the Congress-Zentrum but Oliver and I were surprised to find that the particular tram we needed wasn’t running at that time. Either they were afraid the protesters might block the tracks or they just wanted to make it as difficult as possible for protesters to get there—most of the protesters naturally assumed that the latter was the explanation.

So it was a bit of a walk from the nearest tram stop to the protest grounds, and all along the way there were scattered bits of colored paper with slogans like, “Es gibt nichts hier zu feirn” (There’s nothing to celebrate here). The one that really caught my eye was “Soldaten sind mörder” which means “Soldiers are murderers”. I told Oliver that you could never get away with saying that in America. You can protest the war all you like, but if you say anything bad about the soldiers you have crossed a sacred line.

Naturally, the streets were swarming with Polizei. We passed several dozen police officers, about a third of them mounted, before finally spotting the actual protest. When we arrived there was a small group of people—less than a hundred—walking down the street behind a van equipped with loudspeakers from which someone was shouting incoherent babble (even if my German was perfect I wouldn’t have been able to understand it) with horrible metal-music playing in the background. The whole group was completely surrounded by police, who were obviously prepared for a protest ten times the size. They were marching so close that you could almost believe they were participating in the demonstration themselves—apparently the Polizei are anti-military too!

In my solid black T-shirt and khaki pants, I was probably the most well-dressed person there. At least my long hair and beard made me fit in with the crowd, which I don’t otherwise need to describe because if you just picture what a crowd of young German protesters looks like you’re right on the mark. These people were living stereotypes.

There was one guy walking a little ahead of us with messy hair and tattered clothes, sporting a vest with a slogan sewed on to the back: “Ich trinke, Ich stinke, Ich bin der böse Linke.” You can probably guess what it means: “I drink, I stink, I am the evil Left.” All I could think was: You’re not helping, guy. I get it—you are exactly what mainstream Germans think you are (you’re jobless, you never bathe, you buy beer with taxpayer money) and you don’t care. But seriously, that message helps no one. It only reinforces the majority of Germans’ perception of young liberals as lazy drunken scumbags who should therefore not be taken seriously.

After a few minutes of marching, Oliver and I both had to piss and we knew Lena was back at the main protest grounds anyway so we split from the marchers and walked towards the Eilenriede—the city forest—which is right across from the Congress building. We took care of some business there and got back to the road just as the protesters were returning to the main grounds.

We had to cross the street to get to the main grounds—the field right outside the Congress building—and while there were no cars coming Oliver and I waited until the light was green because a crowd of five Polizei were standing right there and we didn’t want to give them any excuses.

Lena was there with a few of her friends and I went up and shook everyone’s hand. There was an older lady with gray hair, a thirty-something guy with red eyes, and a thirty-something woman named Anka whom I recognized from Lena’s costume party last year when I went dressed as Jesus and got completely trashed. Anka is quite beautiful and I found myself admiring her frequently throughout the evening, but I confirmed with Oliver that she does (of course) have a boyfriend.

I learned a bit more of the background of the protest from Lena and also learned that this was not just one group that organized the protest but actually several different lefty organizations that were protesting at the same time and trying to coordinate their efforts as they went. One of the groups was about to take a megaphone-van for a spin around the block, and half the crowd would be going with them while the other half—Anka included—stayed behind.

So we marched a little further and I tried to listen to what the woman on the megaphone in the van was saying. Her voice was much clearer but there were too many distractions for me to give the necessary amount of attention it would have taken for me to understand the German. She was definitely talking about Hindenberg a lot for some reason—I knew about the zeppelin but apparently the guy was a real piece of shit as well—and Lena told me that he was from around here or something. I guess this was the anti-Hindenberg part of the demonstration. Yeah, fuck him and his blimp.

At one point the crowd suddenly erupted with noise. They were shouting at someone walking by, and I tried to peer over the crowd to see who they were shouting at. It was some guy in a soldier’s uniform walking back from the zoo (also near the Congress-building) with his family. They were shouting “Mörder! Mörder!” at him. Wow, I thought. If a crowd of anti-war protesters in America were ever caught on tape shouting “Murderer!” at a soldier and his family, it would be broadcast on Fox News 24/7. The soldier, of course, just smiled and continued on his merry way.

This actually happened several more times during the walk, even with occasional chants breaking out. “Blud! Blud! Blud an deine Hande! Blud! Blud! Blud an deine Hande!” which I’m sure I don’t need to translate.

At one point the Polizei came and stopped a girl a few feet away from me who was carrying a sand-filled hospital glove with red paint on it. They opened it up to see if it was some kind of bomb or maybe filled with anthrax or something, but it was just a clever little piece of symbolism. They kindly gave it back to the girl who was acting like her rights had just been terribly violated.

You might be getting the impression at this point that I was feeling a bit of contempt for the protesters, but that’s not totally accurate. I certainly thought a few of them were not helping the cause (like Herr Trinke Stinke) but I always admire people who get out and make their voices heard. I even confess that I have a slight bit of admiration for the people who go to Tea Party rallies—they may be dead wrong on all the issues and possibly a little racist, but at least they’re doing something. At least they’re making their voices heard in a far more visible way than signing online petitions or blogging.

The irony of this particular protest, however, is just how invisible it was. The Congress-Zentrum is not in a very high-density area of the city. The immediate surroundings are quiet residential neighborhoods, the city zoo, and a giant forest. The Polizei had us bottled in nice and tight, so our message wasn’t really reaching anyone other than the poor citizens who happened to live in that area and maybe some elephants at the zoo.

So we got back to the Congress building as the woman in the van finished her speech and tossed on some Rage Against the Machine. Now that’s protest music. If all we did was stand on the lawn and blast Rage all evening I would have been more than happy.

For the next half hour or so we stood on the lawn and shouted at people as they arrived at the Congress building for their La Luna celebration. It wasn’t hard to tell who the bad guys were—they were all dressed in suits and escorting their wives in fancy dresses. They all got hollered at and called murderers as they walked by. Most of them smiled and laughed.

At this point I have to offer another confession and say that my mind was a bit more focused on all the attractive females around than on the politics of it. Man, there were a lot of good-looking lefty chicks. Is a protest a good place to meet women? Could be. But whenever I spotted someone that I felt the urge to make sweet love to, I thought of the million and a half steps I’d have to take to get to that point, beginning with the most difficult step of all: introducing myself and hoping they speak English. No, the ocean between me and these women was far too vast to try and swim.

One of the good-looking women was going around with an egg-carton passing out what looked like eggs but which I believe were actually filled with paint. I thought, “Oh good, now it’s going to get interesting” but I was mistaken. A few people threw eggs at an effigy of a German soldier they’d erected on the field, but nobody egged any of the military-elites or their wives.

Finally the big van parked on the lawn from which someone had been shouting at the Congress building all afternoon picked up its gear and got moving. We were now going to take the protest away from the Congress building and towards an area where there might be some people. We formed up behind the van and noticed that the crowd had now grown to somewhere between two and three hundred. That didn’t seem too shabby but they were a bit disappointed because they’d been expecting to break a thousand. Certainly the Polizei were over-prepared. The ratio of protesters to police was almost 1:1.

One of the police divisions had strange markings on the backs of their jackets and I turned to ask if anyone knew what they meant. Anka, the beautiful thirtysomething, actually answered me in English but only to say she didn’t know. How wonderful of her to go through the trouble of trying to find the English words. I think I might be falling in love. But what to say next? I guess I can ask her how many protests she’s been to before and start a conversation that way…oh she just walked away and is talking to someone else now. Too late. (That’s when I went to Oliver and confirmed that she was, in fact, taken).

We continued marching down the street and shouting “Mörder!” at everyone in a suit who passed by. It felt like we were just this mob of people walking around looking for people to yell at. If you were in a suit, you were targeted. Doesn’t matter what you do for a living or even if you had nothing to do with La Luna…Suit = Murderer.

A bit of a ruckus erupted behind us a few minutes into the march, as a shouting match broke out between two of the protesters. One of them seemed like he was about to get violent, and seven police officers came to drag him away from the rest of the crowd. The older lady that Lena knew said in German I understood perfectly: “Seven police to one protester! Wouldn’t it be a dream if we had seven teachers to one student?”

When we reached a big intersection half the crowd seemed to want to go straight but the mounted police quickly moved their horses in to block the way. Some protesters starting running towards them, apparently thinking that the fun was about to begin. But instead of violence there was just a big shouting match and in the end the group took a right-turn and went the direction we were apparently allowed to go.

At that point, Lena and Oliver had to leave because they needed to be back in Celle by 9 p.m. and it was 8:00 now. I said goodbye to all the people I’d “met” including the lovely Anka, and the three of us broke ranks and headed back towards the Congress building where Lena’s car was parked.

Along the way she found a discarded sign and figured she’d take it back with her because the placard could be painted over and used for future protests. If it weren’t for the sign, nobody would have been able to know we’d been a part of the protest group, but the sign changed the whole dynamic. The police kept their eyes on us, and as we approached the Congress building and passed within inches of some of these suit-clad politicians, soldiers, and businessmen with their fancily-dressed wives (murderers, all of them) we got plenty of dirty looks. I found I had the urge to start yelling “Blud an deine Hande!” at them, but the police could have cracked my skull within fifteen seconds.

There were a lot more ‘murderers’ arriving now but the protest had moved on to the city so they were spared the bombardment of insults. I said that a much more effective tactic would have been to just slash all their tires, as oddly enough the police didn’t seem to have anyone monitoring the parking lot. I didn’t know any of those people but their fancy suits and dresses seeped under my skin somehow and I just felt this strong loathing towards them. These are the power-elites I’m always railing against. They may be second-rate power elites but they still profit from bloodshed. The fact that they were there to celebrate their ill-gotten success was a tad infuriating.

Hence the protest, which all in all I’d say was a good thing. Yeah, there were a lot of idiots there and it might have contributed to reinforcing negative stereotypes of left-wing activists, but just the very existence of left-wing activists is a good thing. Thanks to their visibility, the political spectrum in Germany is much farther to the left than in America where it seems that the only protesters are the Tea Party crowds on the right. Because Germany does have a radical, left-wing fringe, it provides breathing room for the more moderate liberals to take more liberal positions. “Yes, I think certain aspects of socialism are beneficial to a civilized society, but that doesn’t mean I want to hand over complete control of everything to the state like some of my liberal friends do.” In America, if you so much as suggest that it might be a good idea for the government to maybe provide health insurance for just a few citizens, you’re a radical socialist communist Maoist.

Without frequent, visible left-wing protests, the media narrative is that all of the political energy is on the right. The American left has retreated from the streets to the blogosphere and we’re suffering the consequences for it. Politicians tend to be reactionary types, and right now they’re only reacting to the Tea Party because the left isn’t making its message heard.

So to my fellow American lefties I say: Germans were protesting the war in Afghanistan yesterday. What have you been doing?

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.

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.