Thursday, December 18, 2014

U.S. formalizes the obsolescence of the Cold War by establishing diplomatic relationships with Cuba

President Obama has re-established diplomatic relations with Cuba after extensive negotiations with them.  Makes sense to me.  

During the Cold War, Cuba was an advance thrust of Soviet Communism into American sphere of influence, and they were quite dangerous, as the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1963 demonstrated.  The USSR planted nuclear missiles on Cuban territory aimed at the U.S.  Kennedy stared down Kruschev and had the missiles removed, and apparently Castro was furious, indeed his hatred of the U.S. was so extreme that he wanted to fire the missiles he had already in Cuba into the U.S. while he had the chance.  Fortunately, Kruschev wasn't that stupid.
But, with the collapse of the Soviet Empire, Cuba has become a harmless and pathetic impoverished speck next to the U.S.  They are certainly no threat to the U.S. now that communism has died in the rest of the world. 

The notion that the best way to end a dictatorship is economic embargoes that only punish and weaken the populace has had a fifty plus year record of futility.  Indeed, the only way dictator police states lose power is by a growing power of the people, and that includes economic prosperity and growth for the common folks.  Economic sanctions can actually harm the power of the populace much more than it harms the tyrants in charge of the populace.  Eventually, they see their interests being thwarted by despotism and overthrow, peacefully or violently, can occur.  

So, I say good for Obama.  Church bells rang out in Havana as Obama and Raoul Castro made their simultaneous announcements of the return of diplomatic relationships. 

Also good for the Pope for his assistance in getting this done.  

Time to move on to the actual realities of today and stop fighting a Cold War that we won fifteen years ago.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Our enemies act without conscience - we must not

Do the ends justify the means?  Count me on the side that says no.  I side with John McCain and George Washington on this one.

Senator Diane Feinstein released the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA interrogation methods.  Too many of the techniques are straightforward torture: waterboarding, rectal feeding, extreme sleep deprivation, freezing, etc. 

Some of my conservative friends may say who cares?  We are dealing with depraved terrorists and we need to stop them and what we have to do is not fit for viewing by women and children but it is something that men do because they have to and thank goodness for hard men who can stomach doing such things as it makes us all safer.  

Indeed, I was one of them immediately after 9/11/2001 - who were al Qaeda? where were they? did they have nukes? chemical weapons? Just find out, soon, now!  

Some of my liberal friends, and some conservatives too by the way, think that we have been lied to in both the extent and the effectiveness of the “interrogation techniques’ and that indeed we tortured and got not very much in the way of good intelligence.

John McCain said it very clearly by saying that our torture was not unknown to the Arab world, just to the American people:

"...that doesn’t mean we will be telling the world something it will be shocked to learn. The entire world already knows that we water-boarded prisoners. It knows we subjected prisoners to various other types of degrading treatment. It knows we used black sites, secret prisons. Those practices haven’t been a secret for a decade.”

What is the result of torture?  Doesn’t it just give the terrorists a great recruiting tool? Doesn't it just produce more terrorists with more really good reasons to hate and kill, and torture?

The torture was more understandable in the beginning because our intelligence agencies had failed so totally, they new nothing, they used everything to find out what they could.  But...  Time passed.  And they ended up knowing more and more, and they didn't have to be desperate anymore.  But torture had become Standard Operating Procedure.  

That's the trouble with the idea that the ends justify the means, the ends go away but the means become Standard Operating Procedure.

Actually, another American who was quite experienced in the terrible arts of war had an opinion on that matter, George Washington.  

After a battle, Washington’s troops were going to force German Hessian mercenaries fighting on the side of the British through the brutal treatment of the gauntlet (multiple beatings by the victorious soldiers).  He stopped them and told them this:

 “Treat them with humanity, and let them have no reason to complain of our copying the brutal example of the British Army in their treatment of our unfortunate brethren who have fallen into their hands,’ he wrote. In all respects the prisoners were to be treated no worse than American soldiers; and in some respects, better. Through this approach, Washington sought to shame his British adversaries, and to demonstrate the moral superiority of the American cause.”

Apparently, his humanity toward his prisoners paid off as many of the Hessians switched sides, fought against the British, and stayed in America after it was all over. 

If we torture our prisoners all we do is say America is no longer an exceptional nation, no longer are we a Shining Light on a Hill, we are just another nation in a long line of nations with no real moral, ethical, ideological, or exalted purpose or meaning. We are just like others, indeed, we are just like our enemies whom we are fighting under a pretense that our enemies are bad and we are better.

I will close with John McCain again, as I can’t say it any more simply and powerfully:

"Our enemies act without conscience. We must not"

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Another football suicide because of brain injury

Another suicide in football due to brain injury.  Kosta Karageorge of Ohio State committed suicide texting that “… these concussions have got my head all fucked up.”  He joins an ever growing list of football suicides as a result of brain injuries.
The culprit is CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy):
“Should CTE be found, Karageorge will join Andre Waters, Ray Easterling, Dave Duerson, Terry Long, Junior Seau, Paul Oliver, Shane Dronett, and Jovan Belcherin an ever-growing list of athletes with CTE who took their own lives and were wracked by memory loss, disorientation, cognitive issues, mood and personality changes, and crushing depression.
And yes, this is the point where we mention that even the NFL admits that nearly three in 10 former players will develop some form of debilitating brain injury in their lifetimes as a result of playing football.”

That’s worth repeating – the NFL itself admits that nearly 3 in 10 players will develop some form of debilitating brain injury in their lifetimes as a result of playing football.

So, why is it enjoyable to watch people inflict brain injuries on each other?  On the rare occasion when I glance at a TV with a game on I wonder which 30 percent of the players will end up with brain disease?  Which will commit suicide?  

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Ferguson - a tale of two truths

I believe there are two truths that are at odds in Ferguson, resulting in unfortunate violence and injustice.

The first truth is reflected in the Grand Jury decision not to indict the officer who shot and killed Michael Brown.  In this truth, we are a nation of laws, the Grand Jury spent a lot of time, listened to about 60 eye witnesses, was presented the forensic evidence, listened to extensive testimony by the officer involved, and concluded that there was insufficient evidence to cause this to go to trial.  That is, when everything was heard and evaluated, it was believed that the officer acted in self-defense.  I think it is good to remember that almost all big news events have big mistakes in the initial reporting, especially in today’s 24 hour news cycles where TV and social media feel the need to jump in with instant opinions. So a lot of what was initially thought to be fact was probably discredited upon examination of the Grand Jury.

The second truth is reflected in the outrage of the black community in Ferguson, Oakland, and other black communities across the country.  In this truth, inner city blacks and browns live in a police state.  I believe this is because of our unfortunate and deeply failed War on Drugs.  The inner cities have been turned into armed camps of warring factions - drug gangs on one side and the police force on the other.  In the cross fire is a trapped by poverty populace, ever at risk from criminals on one side, and the suspicions, surveillance, and mistakes of the police on the other side.

In the first truth, the officer reacted as he was trained and protected his life.  Justice was done.

In the second truth, a man was killed for an act of petty theft, and injustice was done.

I don’t have wonderful solutions to this.  I note that the black community sees racism and oppression at play every day, in ways that I am blind to.  I note that the police see crime and danger to society and themselves every day in ways I am blind to.

I guess my question to my liberal and black friends would be this – if you had been on this Grand Jury, with an open mind, for three months, seeing all the facts, witness statements, forensic evidence, and had sort out fact from fiction, wouldn’t you have most likely come to the same conclusion that this Grand Jury came to? Might they not have simply been making judgments based upon the evidence rather than demonstrating some kind of racist animus?

And I guess my question to my conservative and white friends would be this – if you were black or brown and lived in an inner black or brown city, might not you think you were living in a police state where an over-militarized police force could kill unarmed boys and men with impunity?  And wouldn’t you want to burn things down yourself in response?

My hope is that our nation can grow as a result of this terrible incident, and that the police can find better ways to interact positively with inner cities, and that inner city citizens can find better ways to interact with the police – that both sides can find partnership with each other rather than both sides feeling that they are living in a war zone.  I don’t have an answer about what to do about the disastrous War on Drugs, but it is pretty clear that the consequences are terrible for people trapped in the middle of that war.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Good substance, bad precedent

If I understand it correctly, in order to qualify for Obama’s offer not to deport illegal immigrants (for two years while he is still in office) they would have to voluntarily turn themselves in to Immigration and Customs and apply for status.  Why would they do that?  What one president can grant by executive mandate another can certainly take away, and in the process of taking it away that next  president would have all the info needed to deport all of those who signed up for Obama’s deal.

Sounds like a very big risk to me.  The only way illegals would rationally become visible should be to get a change in legal status, i.e. a path to citizenship, which this Obama offer does not present, if I understand correctly.  That requires Congress to pass a law which does that, and apparently Obama’s very public executive action has guaranteed that Congress will not be able to negotiate a deal out of fierce Republican reaction to what they see as an abuse of Presidential authority.  Of course, the chances of the Republicans every successfully negotiating a deal on immigration has always been pretty close to zero, so…

So, Obama’s big immigration move, designed to be compassionate to immigrants, could actually put them at much greater risk than they already are in.  Of course, it would be a very big incentive for the Hispanic community to vote Democratic in the next presidential election, to keep a Ted Cruz type anti-immigrant Republican from rounding up all those who exposed themselves, but does this mean that Obama’s compassion is really little more than a way to use these people to elect the next president? 

Speaking of political motives, is Obama putting out bait to draw the Obama-haters into a stupid attempt to impeach him in hopes that it would so damage the Republican brand that the Democrats will ascend in 2016? 

Not sure I would recommend anyone signing up and exposing themselves for a two year exemption from deportation that could be overturned by the next president - then, adios amigo.

By the way, if Obama can do this on what he considers to be a very important thing, which he cannot get Congress to act on, doesn’t that open the door for a Republican president doing the same thing on abortion, or on access to abortion clinics, or open carry gun laws, or school prayer, or privatization of public schools, or whatever? 

I think the chances of a Republican president in 2016 are very low (it take more than white men to elect a president), but I’m still not sure I like this action by this president. 

I agree with the substance of what he is doing but I think it needs to be the Congress that makes immigration law.  This looks like a bad precedent to me.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The twisted image of manhood of the NFL

Nearly everyone loves football, it's the American way, it's so ingrained in our culture that it is hard to  imagine the United States without weekend football to get excited about.  Except, for me, I don't enjoy watching it anymore, for a number of reasons, and the latest headline to point out one of them is about the DEA pulling a surprise inspection on some traveling teams this weekend looking for illegal administration of drugs to the players.

These raids are in response to a class action lawsuit from 1300 former NFL players, including Chicago Bears superstar, Jim McMahon.  He played 14 years in the NFL and received thousands of pills to put them out on the field hurt:

"The DEA’s investigative interest in the NFL is partly based on the agency’s conviction that lackadaisical prescribing practices creates addicts. McMahon, who played from 1982 to 1996, said in the lawsuit that he received “hundreds, if not thousands” of injections and pills from NFL doctors and trainers, including Percocet, Toradol, Novocaine, amphetamines, sleeping pills and muscle relaxers. He said he became so hooked on pain meds that at one point he took 100 Percocets a month."

Of course this is no surprise to anyone. In 1997 there was a movie "On Any Given Sunday" with Al Pacino and Jamie Foxx that showed blatant abuse of the players by pumping them full of pain killers and pushing them out on the field.  Jamie Williams, former tight end of the S.F. 49ers was a consultant.

So, I used to say so what? it's a violent game, all the players are there by choice, they can become very wealthy, they are stars, they take their risks, it's a free country.  But...

I stopped watching after the Joe Montana/Jerry Rice years.  In part because of the influence of the other kinds of drugs that were obviously distorting the game by distorting the players - steroids, human growth hormones, and whatever other magic pills that made people bigger, faster, less human and more uber-human.  I remember the Jim Brown, Gale Sayers, Dick Butkus days where linemen were 250 pounds, but they became 300 and now 325 pounds.  It's like watching factory assembled robots play against each other rather than highly trained superb athletes.  The game became too distorted for me to enjoy the way I used to.

Then, I became aware that brain damage was in integral part of the game, not just the knockout concussions, but every block, tackle, bounce off the turf produces sub-concussions - many times every game - and that produced permanent brain damage that alters personalities, destroys mental functions, and leads often to early death.  What fun is there in watching that?  To me, not much fun at all.

And how voluntary is it?  

"In the Post survey, nine in 10 former players said they played hurt during their careers, and more than two in three said they felt they had no choice."

The teams force the players to become bigger and stronger (drugs needed), and to play hurt (drugs needed).  Who forces the teams? Isn't it the fans?  

Which brings my to a more troubling aspect of football for me.  I stopped being a fan quite a while ago, so I'm not hypnotized by it.  And what I see is a strange idea of what it is to be a Real Man - one who crushes opposition, a dominator, one who intimidates and terrifies others, one who is impervious to pain, impervious to any feeling at all, one who thinks all that counts is winning, one who thinks the ends justify the means, one who has stopped being a human being with feelings, doubts, questions, choices, one who stops being a human, one who stops being a ... man.  It's kind of a young adolescent boy's guess at what it is to become the man that he fantasizes becoming, an unrealistic projection beyond human achievement.

Maybe all of these characteristics are needed in actual war on actual battlefields.  Maybe one has to cut off all feeling and turn oneself into a terrifying crusher of foes in real war.  But football actually is not war, it is actually a game, and one shouldn't have to stop being human, at least to some degree, in order to play a game, I don't care how much money or fame is at stake.

I am in a lifelong inquiry to uncover what it really means to be a man, and I think that there is more to being a man than being a warrior - being tough and scary.  How about qualities like courage (not just physical courage but moral courage), nobility, gallantry, service, humility, character, honesty, responsibility, and most of all HONOR?  How about the ancient masculine virtues of chivalry?  Aren't these better measures of manhood than domination, violence, and intimidation?

My ultimate vision is that fathers will stop allowing their sons to become football players because it will be obvious that if even Hall of Famers like Mike Webster and Junior Seau die young and in mental and emotional agony due to their diseased brains, it can and may happen to their sons as well.  

And, who knows, maybe the American sports fans will lose some of their taste for violence.

Personally, I'm a big fan of golf.  Love it, nobody gets brain damage.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Veterans' Day - 100 years later

11/11/1918 - Armistice Day and the end of World War I, the "war to end all wars."  It started 100 years ago.  

It was horrible beyond imagining:  16 million dead, 20 million wounded.  There had never been such slaughter.  As logical as it was at the time that such inhumanity would shock the world into a state of mind that such a thing would never happen again, it happened again, only more so.

It spawned World War II, it went beyond the imagination again:  over 60 million deaths.  And the world war continued as well into the Cold War between the United States and NATO against Russia's USSR.  

The Cold War had proxy wars between the capitalist democracies and the communists, but the slaughters never approached WWI and WWII.  Thank goodness, and perhaps thank the most horrible weapon every devised, the nuclear bomb, for really making total war something unthinkable.

And now we have the religious wars of the Muslim faiths that the United States and the rest of the world are trying to protect itself from and stay out of as best as possible.  

So, to me, Veterans' Day, which started out as Armistice Day when I was a boy, is certainly a time to honor those who have fought under the United States flag for the last hundred years, and beyond.  

But more to the point for me, it is about honoring their sacrifices by honoring the dreams that were in their hearts, and I can't believe that their hearts had any longing more profound than the longing for the end of war, for peace.

So, for me, Veterans' Day is a day of hoping for and envisioning peace.  Actual peace amongst the multitude of religions, ideologies, tribes, and peoples.  As a troubled man once said, "Can we all get along?"

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Will Republicans govern?

So, the Republicans have swept the House and Senate in yesterday’s elections.  I guess congratulations are in order for my conservative friends, and condolences to my liberal friends. 

My deepest hope is that the Republicans show up as mature adults committed to running the government rather than dismantling it.  My next deepest hope is that they don’t waste the world’s time with show trials about Benghazi, the IRS, or whatever in an attempt to impeach the President. 

Unfortunately, I don't have a lot of hope for positive governance from the party that has Ted Cruz waiting in the wings like Godzilla ready to go on a rampage to control it as part of his campaign to become president. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Bigotry today

I suppose we have always been cursed with bigotry.  Bigotry is pre-judging people, prejudice, based upon how they are in a different grouping than we are.  There is racial bigotry, of course, and although it is still with us, it is definitely less than it was 50 years ago, I know because I was there 50 years ago.

But, there is a newly very powerful bigotry in America today – political bigotry.  A recent study measured how people’s view of others is tainted.  They found residual racial bigotry, but were surprised to discover that “partyism”, prejudice based upon party identification , to have risen radically over the last 50 years. 

In 1960 about 5% of people said they would be “displeased” if a child were to marry someone of the opposite party.  Today, one third of Democrats and one half of Republicans would be displeased if a child married a member of the opposite party.  Kind of shocking.

It reflects the terrible partisan divides in the country today, and it reflects how the Congress cannot find compromises when it comes to running the country.  It reflects a fundamental problem in the country, good old fashioned bigotry, the refusal to see those unlike yourself to be respectable human beings.

This is especially sad to me because in my many years on the planet I have been both a left wing and right wing true believer, and I was wrong both times, and I was a good person both times.  Wrong because the world of the true believer is one that knows all the answers to all the problems, just apply the orthodox ideology to all situations and oppose anyone who doesn’t agree, and viola… life is simple, it’s the good people against the bad people.  But, of course, that is nonsense.

It’s really about tribalism.  Wanting to belong to the right tribe.  Racism is obvious, our tribe against your tribe.  Partyism is the same thing, our tribe against your tribe.

It is certainly no accident that more right wingers are bigoted than left wingers – right wingers are under the spell of hate radio and hate news.  All day every day they are bombarded with the evils of liberalism.  They are propagandized into a level of distrust that reaches into paranoia.  It is a very toxic environment that we live in today, and we are seeing the fruits of that toxicity in dysfunctional government.

Sad indeed.  My hope is for passionate and moderate voices in both parties, but especially in the Republican Party, to emerge.  It is not happening in this election, but it has a chance to emerge in 2016.  Shoot, Carter ran on a post partisan platform, as did W (a uniter not a divider) , and did Obama (we aren’t a red nation or a blue nation but we are one nation). 

The moderation pitch appeals to us, elects presidents, but the war drums in the right wing media pound away, dividing, dividing.

To paraphrase a great man… I have a dream:  that we live in a nation where people are judged by the content of their character, not the …political tribe they belong to.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Fear mongering

I find the elections to be pretty depressing.  We are in full campaign mode and the country is being forced into artificial panics as part of campaign strategies.

The chances of getting Ebola for the general population about the same as getting hit by a meteor, but the Republicans have escalated the fear in this country to ridiculous proportions as a way to attack a Democratic president and get out the vote. 

And the media escalates the fear, of course, because the more afraid we all are of dying, the more we will breathlessly watch the latest minutes of fear mongering on TV, radio, magazines, newspapers, etc.  Depressing to me.

Islamist extremists know that the best way to gain credibility amongst bloody minded jihadists is to compete amongst themselves to be the most brutal jihadists.  Plus, their strategy is to bait the U.S. into invading Muslim countries.  That’s what bin Laden did, and it’s what ISIL is doing.  It makes them seem important, and does wonders for recruitment into their religious wars.  I’m sure we have to respond to some degree, but the knee jerk Republican critique of anything the administration does is not helpful.  I’m old enough to remember when the political rule in the country was that politics stopped at the border, meaning the country had one voice, as much as was humanly possible, when it came to overseas military issues.  Wanting to drag the country into the civil and religious wars in the Middle East seems to be a very bad idea to me.  But, it’s election time so attack, attack, attack.

I will be glad when this election is over, but, oh yes, there is another election “right around the corner” so, fear monger, fear monger, fear monger...raise campaign contributions, get out the vote, demonize the opposition, keep the country in a continual state of agitation…depressing.

I think I may just ignore the media, even more than I have recently, until the election is over. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Good strategy, but...?

President Obama gave a good speech last night about going after ISIL.  I am glad he refused to call them the Islamic State, because I agree with him that they are not representing Islam.  

I think there are four strands within ISIL: psychopaths who seek brutality for its own debased pleasure, young men without a future who are drawn by the allure of a purpose and a community, true believer religious fanatics who see themselves carrying out the will of God by claiming the world for Islam, and cynical and disaffected Sunnis who are joining this Sunni extremist group as a way to fight back against the Shiite tyrannies of Iraq's Maliki and Syria's Assad.  Fortunately Maliki is out of power, so this group may be able to be lured away from ISIL going forward.

So, ISIL is barbarous and needs to be stopped.  But, I repeat what I have been writing about for some time, this is a civil and religious war within Islam, it is their war.  We need to defend ourselves against future attacks on our country and against the West.  But if we become the big military force, air power and boots on the ground, against ISIL all that will happen is that ISIL will have lured the US into fighting them and creating massive flooding of Islamist Jihadis joining with ISIL to fight against a foreign power trying to stop the spread of Islam.  A direct US invasion to fight ISIL would become a massive recruitment of Muslims to fight against the West.

Instead, Obama is trying to do a tricky thing: support others in the region to fight against ISIL.  Try to help a reformed Iraqi government (we hope) to defend Iraq against the Sunni extremists of ISIL.  Try to help the more moderate Sunni fighters in Syria to fight against the ISIL fanatics in Syria.  Training, supplies, air support, intelligence, diplomacy, economic and political support - the many levers of power that the US superpower has at its fingers.  Oddly enough, our mighty military becomes ineffective if used directly because it only helps the bloody Islamic opposition rally to their cause.

So, strategically and tactically, I think Obama is making some good choices, ones that I have been hoping for.  

What I wrote of earlier is that there is no Voice that the world can rally around and be led by in this effort.  What I mean by that might be explained by comparing our fight against terrorism to our fight against Communism.

Communism had a clear vision:  the government was to overthrow exploitive and greedy capitalists and empower the people who would become free of the exploitation and become the naturally giving and sharing people that was their fundamental natures once they were no longer under the thrall of the false consciousness of exploitive capitalism.  It was understood around the world what this vision and Voice of Communism was.  The voice was Marx and Lenin, followed by communist leaders like Castro and Mao, etc.

American democratic capitalism had a clear vision as well: capitalism was a natural expression of free peoples in search of better lives for themselves and it created a vibrant and growing economy that raised the standard of living and the quality of life for the vast majority of people, raising far more people out of poverty than any centrally controlled government ever could, and this system by its very nature fostered personal freedom which demanded and created political freedom of a democratic and prosperous society.  The voice was Teddy Roosevelt, JFK, Reagan, and a slew of business leaders, etc.  It was understood around the world what the vision and Voice of Democratic Capitalism was.

In today's ideological struggle for the ear of the world, the vision and voice of Islamist extremist is pretty clear: western society is an immoral cesspool of licentiousness and greed and betrayal, which puts riches, corporeal pleasures,  and greed above all else, and has lost any connection to God, spirituality, and cleanliness of mind and body.  It is being voiced by Islamic leaders around the world and is being responded to by young, angry, lonely, and desperate men with revenge in their hearts.  It is a vision and voice understood around the Islamic world.

So, what is the ideology and voice of the West? of the Muslims who want to be part of the modern world?  Bush said it was about freedom.  But, that was just kind of repeating the old Cold War vision and trying to apply it to the Islamic religious war against the West and western influence in Islamic lands.  

Obama said something about freedom and dignity, and those are good, but what is the story? the vision? the clarion call against the Islamist dream?  It is fine to point out how the Islamist vision is false and it is just being used as an excuse for brutality and revenge.  And that is being voiced very well by Obama and the rest of the West.   But it is not a countering dream that can call away the young Islamists into a dream of joining the modern world that exists in peace with the Muslim world.

I don't have a clear vision to state right now myself that opposes the Islamist view of the West as deeply corrupt, debauched, and spiritually vacant.  What is needed is a vision that exalts the human spirit, a sense of purpose beyond momentary satisfactions, and a spiritual connection with the world and its people, and to connect that to building a prosperous and abundant life for yourself, your loved ones, and the people of the world.  

Obama had one of the most compelling political voices in American history when he successfully ran for president in 2008, but once elected his voice collapsed and most of what he said since then has had little real effect.  He lost his Voice.  But, if he could find the inspiration, vision, and creativity in creating a clear and inspiring modern vision to offset the fundamentalist Islamist allure, he could provide what is missing, what is needed beyond good strategic choices, a dream of a world coming together against a false spiritual vision of fanatical, bloody Islamism, a world of healthy, prosperous, free, giving, caring, men and women of all stripes creating an abundant and loving world.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Has America lost its voice?

Obama's decision to postpone military action in Syria against the Islamic State might not be a terrible idea, but it seems to be a product of indecision and lack of vision rather than an expression of international leadership. If he has a world view that he is intending to implement, he needs to be able to clearly and inspiringly give voice to his vision and strategy rather than just be the pawn of his own advisors' internal battles and inability to come to a consensus. Is that what leadership is, to wait until everyone agrees and then do what they recommend?

And what of Putin's invasion of Ukraine?  Obama says that Putin shouldn't do such nasty things, but is he really voicing a clear and powerfully led western opposition to Putin? Some people attack just because there is no one there to stop them. Looks like that describes Putin. Where is the leadership in the pushback?  I understand that Obama is coordinating sanctions, but it all seems to be behind the scenes, on the quiet, some rhetoric but without a sense of command.

I am noticing that for this coming off-year election there doesn't seem to be a leader of the Democratic Party. No Democratic politicians are asking the president to come campaign with them. This is not unusual because presidents are often unpopular enough that they are not seen as a valuable campaign asset during off-year elections. But this year it seems like nobody is speaks for the Democratic Party in this election, and the country doesn't seem to have a real voice on the world stage either. 

It's the same for the Republicans, of course, there is no national spokesman that the Republicans rally around, but that is the normal state of the party that doesn't hold the Whitehouse. Unless there is an unusually charismatic and articulate opposing party spokesperson various wannabes offer different paths and visions and there is no real center to the opposition. 

So, there seems to be a vacuum in the world, and that vacuum is being filled by an opportunistically warlike Russian Putin, and by the fanatically savage Islamic State. Europe is almost completely missing on the world stage, in part I think because of their decision after the ravages of WWI and WWII to almost totally disarm. They were able to focus on social issues and leave defense to their muscular and willing military ally, America. But now America is much less willing to be the western world's military, and is trying to find a more subtle role.  And at least for the interim it seems like America is just backing away and taking as small a role as possible. 

I am all for an American leadership that is not overly reliant on military interventions. It would just be a little reassuring to me, and perhaps to a muddled world, if America would have a clearer voice with a firmer sense of leadership in a comprehensive, worldwide, collaborative approach. 

The world needs a powerful voice to lead it in its grappling with the savage aggressions happening today, to lead it in ways that give the opposition to the barbarity a vision, method, and purpose - a vision that is much more than just troops on the ground.

I think it would help calm the world down a bit.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Dealing with today's Nazis

The Islamic State (I.S.I.S/I.S.I.L) has to be dealt with.  The worst way to deal with it, it seems to me, is to try to find someone in the West to blame for its emergence.  Conservatives want to blame Obama, liberals want to blame W.  But, it's the extremist jihadists who are Islamic State.  No one forced them to saw off the heads of those they despise.  No one forced them to wage a religious war in the Middle East and declare an Islamist caliphate.  They are who they are because of who they are, not because someone else is to blame for who they are.

Roger Cohen did a good job of summarizing the mistakes of the U.S.:

"The list of American errors is long: Bush’s ill-conceived and bungled war in Iraq; a failure to deal with the fact that two allies, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, have been major sources and funders of violent Sunni extremism; an inability to seize opportunity in Egypt, home to nearly a quarter of the world’s Arabs, and so demonstrate that Arab societies can evolve out of the radicalizing confrontation of dictatorship and Islamism; a prolonged spate of dithering over the Syrian war during which Obama declared three years ago that “the time has come for President Assad to step aside” without having any plan to achieve that; a lack of resolve in Syria that saw Obama set a red line on the use of chemical weapons only to back away from military force when chemical weapons were used; an inability to see that no one loves an Arab vacuum like jihadi extremists, and a bloody vacuum was precisely what Obama allowed Syria to become; and inattention, until it was too late, to festering sectarian conflict in a broken Iraqi society left to its fate by a complete American withdrawal."

So what?  It is the religious fanatics who are acting fanatically.  They are simply taking advantage of a situation where they think that there centuries long grandiose dreams can be made real, world domination for their religion and for themselves to be Great Rulers of the world.  Ego coupled with pious rhetoric.

I believe Richard Cohen makes a key point as well when he says that any attempt to explain who else is to blame is a way of making their savagery and evil acceptable.  They are no more acceptable in today's world than the Nazi's were acceptable in the 20th century.  His summary:

"The Islamic State, in whose name Foley was beheaded, murders with abandon. It seems to love death the way the fascists once did. It is Sunni, so it massacres Shiites. It is radical Sunni, so it eliminates apostates. It is Muslim, so it kills Yazidis, a minority with a religion of its own, and takes as plunder their women as concubines. Men are shot in graves of their own making.
The Nazis are back — differently dressed, speaking a different language and murdering ostensibly for different reasons but actually for the same: intolerance, hatred, excitement and just because they can."
So, what do we do with today's Nazis? I really hate the idea of getting the U.S. involved in the Religious and Civil Wars of the Middle East, but we have to apply U.S. power to the region.  I hope Obama, and Europe, use as much financial, diplomatic, economic, military training and weapons for the least radical Muslims on the ground, maybe some air power support, intelligence support, selected special forces missions, etc etc.  And I hope we don't put ground troops into that briar patch.  
But I don't see how we can remain aloof and removed as we watch this al Qaeda offshoot, more vicious, better organized, better funded jihadist savages continue to rampage.  We are definitely on their target list.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Maliki steps down in Iraq

The good news is that Maliki has resigned as Prime Minister of Iraq. I believe the biggest culprit in the emergence of the Islamic State has been Maliki and his backers - Iran. He ruled as a tyrant who was becoming a Shiite version of the previous Sunni tyrant, Saddam Hussein. He suppressed and tyrannized the Sunnis in Iraq, and joined with the Iranians in sending Shiite jihadists into Syria.

The result was a Sunni revolt in both Syria and Iraq. Unfortunately, that Sunni revolt grew into I.S.I.S. which later named itself the Islamic State. 

Now, the Islamic State has to be stopped, both for the sake of a livable Middle East and for the sake of safety in the West and the United States.  Fortunately, a lot of the Arab world agrees that they must be stopped and, if I understand it correctly, they are against them. 

The U.S. is slowly and reluctantly using force against them, but Obama's hope all along seems to have been that Iraq would oust Maliki and move to win over the more moderate Sunnis to join in the opposition to the Islamic State.  My most desired outcome is that this is what happens, and that with U.S. assistance (and little if any American boots on the ground), Iraq can pull together more moderate Shia and Sunni forces to strengthen Iraq and drive out the Islamic State. 

I want the Muslim world to reject and renounce the Islamic State. Perhaps Maliki's resignation is a step in that direction. 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The "Muddle East"explodes

The Islamic State, formerly known as I.S.I.L., is truly terrifying and dangerous. They are so bad that what is happening in Israel and Ukraine pale by comparison. These men are religious fanatics in the worst possible sense. They literally are killing people for not being Muslims. And to say that they are killing them is to understate their treatment of their victims. 


First, we can look to the man in charge of Iraq, Maliki. He was chosen by Bush and supported by Obama as the one Shiite who could reach out to Shia, Sunni, and Kurds alike and govern over a more or less unified Iraq. Instead, he became a Shiite dictator aligned with the Shiite Iran, suppressing and terrorizing the Sunnis.  Not surprisingly, the Sunnis are rising up against this oppression. 

Second, we can look at Maliki again, and the force behind him, Iran. They sent radical Islamist Shia into Syria and the outcome was an even larger Sunnu uprising, the battle hardened al Qaeda offshoot Islamic State of the Levant, I.S.I.L, declared itself the new caliphate to fight in Syria and, oh by the way, take over northern Iraq. 

We now have a legitimate threat of genocidal slaughter of a small religious group in Iraq, the Yazidi, and an assault on the Kurds, who have been our allies in Iraq since our invasion. 

So what?  Why do we care?

Certainly there are very legitimate humanitarian reasons to stop the Islamic State. But, perhaps more to the point, our national interests are at stake. Islamic State is in the process of taking over vast oil fields and thus becoming enormously wealthy.  And with that wealth their abilities to attach the West and America multiply exponentially. We tried to walk away from the religious Middle Eastern wars, but it looks like we can't. Imagine Osama bin Laden in charge of billions of dollars and millions of Islamist fanatics, and that is the potential future of the Islamic State.  Except the Islamic state is so extreme that even al Qaeda can't stand them. 

So, air strikes against the Islamic State on the march in order to protect the Yazidis seems necessary to me. I don't know how we stop these zealots with drones and aircraft. I think the key to it is probably in Iran and Saudi Arabia, which I think are the centers of the Shia and Sunni movements. 

Which takes us back to the start of it all, in the modern age at least, the Ayatollah Khomeini Islamist revolution in Iran. If some key Shia and Sunni religious leaders could reach out to each other and call off the dogs, things might settle down and the "Muddle East" might become less of a nightmarish muddle and be able to move toward civilization and peace. 

This is the resolution that I envision and pray for.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Syrian atrocities revealed

I have wanted the U.S. to stay out of the Religious and Civil wars in the Middle East because I have thought that all we would do was add American blood to the conflicts and we would have no way of resolving them. 

But, more and more I am appalled by the atrocities happening in the Middle East.  A defector from the Syrian military police has brought with him 55,000 photos of 11,000 corpses from Syria.  They are apparently horrendous atrocities.  The pictures were taken at the direction of the Syrian government which wanted to make sure that its orders to carry out the torture, starvation, and killing of its population were being carried out, including elderly, women, and children.  Just appalling.

Michael Gerson points out what is perhaps the worst part of it all, that the Assad and the Syrian government are keeping such meticulous records, including photos of the corpses and bureaucratic numbers identifying reports of these barbaric killings, because they are confident that they will win.  The Nazis kept meticulous records as well, assuming they were to be victorious.  They are not afraid of losing this war and being brought to trial for war crimes. 

Obama is facing some pretty tough criticism for his lack of action in Syria.  Nobody wanted or wants American blood to be added to this nightmare in the Middle East. But backing, what we can identify to the best of our ability, the responsible opposition was needed long ago, and is just now being done, as I understand it.  Too late?

The problem is not just a moral one, although the morality of standing by while mass atrocities are being carried out could be an act of immorality in itself, but rather it eventually turns into a national security issue as well.  If the slaughters in the Middle East are allowed to expand by the U.S. and the West, it is not hard to imagine that slaughters in the U.S. and the West are coming. 

So, I am torn as to what the U.S. should do.  I hate the idea of sticking our toe back into the insanity in the Middle East, but it is hard to avoid thinking that we need to get rid of Assad, and stop ISIS as well.  The nightmares are just growing.  To what degree are they accelerated by U.S. passivity?

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Losing sympathy for Israelis

I am losing my sympathy for the Israelis.  It's not just the slaughter of innocents in their recent attack on Gaza (latest count is about 800 dead Arabs and about 32 dead Jews).  I have finally opened myself to the points being made by the Palestinians in this ongoing struggle.

I think who you sympathize with is a function of where you focus your attention. 

If you focus on terrorist activity of Hamas, then you sympathize with the Israelis who have rockets being launched at them.  Of course, Israel's Iron Dome seems to render them pretty ineffective, with very few actual casualties.  But, nonetheless, we in America can imagine rockets coming at us and can agree that it is right to stop the terrorists launching them.  So we see the Palestinians as filled with hate for the Jews and dedicated to killing them and driving Israel "into the sea."

But, a funny thing happens if you shift your focus from the terrorist Hamas, and focus instead on the Palestinians themselves.  An Israeli Jew and son of a famous Israeli general who established the State of Israel, Miko Peled, focuses on the treatment of the Palestinians at the hands of the True Believer Zionists in charge of the Israeli government.  It is not a pretty sight, at all.  He make a very persuasive case that the Zionists, led by Netenyahu, see no place for Arabs in Israel, see no place for Palestine at all, and have been dedicated to pushing all Palestinians out of Israel since its founding in 1948.They do this by making life as miserable as possible for Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank.  

John Judis of the New Republic makes the same claim making such points as:  Israel is essentially a colonial power occupying, ruling, and terrorizing the Palestinians; Israel builds settlements aggressively in the occupied territories taking more and more land from the Palestinians; Israeli settlers attack Palestinians with no real restraint from the Israeli government; Palestinians may not travel abroad without Israeli permission - what?; there are hundreds of roadblocks that hinder the movement of the Palestinians, but none for Jews; water supplies are cut off to Palestinians - wow!; Israel has cut back fishing rights for Gaza from 6 miles to 3 miles, severely reducing its fishing economy; I presume the list goes on and on.

It is certainly true that Hamas deliberately provokes Israel to commit barbarous atrocities as a response to Hamas's terrorism, so shame on Hamas.  But, you know, shame on Israel too.  

What to do?  Beliefs complicate it a lot.

First, right wing Israelis and right wing Americans both see the issue in a particular way, that is, it is a problem that can only be solved militarily - attack, defend, kill, punish, be Manly Men and show everyone Who's the Boss.  But, that has proven over and over to me that it does not provide a long term solution in many cases, and I don't see that as a way to do anything in Israel except create more and more misery, resistance, hatred, and terrorism in response the Israeli (backed by America) military killing and tyrannical rule.

Second, American politicians have all pretty well conceded that they cannot get elected if they don't show nearly full support for whatever the Israeli government wants to do.  What happens in Israel is not all that important to America or to American politicians, so rather than risk their careers they just go along with the flow and support Israeli tactics and strategies.  Even if those tactics and strategies fail over and over and over again.  In a sense, who in America really cares?

Third, there are about as many Jews in America as there are in Israel, and American policy is strongly influenced, and perhaps dictated, by American Jews.  And the political arm of the Jews in America seems to be pretty solidly fierce Zionists dedicated to the safety of Israel and see that as only possible by punishing the Palestinians.

Fourth, I can certainly understand that 70 years ago the world felt a terrible guilt about the Holocaust of the Jews in WWII, and wanted to give the Jews a homeland so they would have a place to be safe.  But, I think time has proven that they can only be safe if they make room for a safe and prosperous Palestine, fully empowered and prosperous side by side in the land that has been disputed for so long.  I know the common argument is that the Palestinians will not allow that and are dedicated to the destruction of Israel, but I no longer believe that.  I am starting to conclude that the attacks on Israel are a function of the Colonial and brutal rule of the brutal Zionists in charge of the Israeli government.

Fifth, the only real solution is for both sides to let go of the hatreds and cherished and nurtured grievances of the past and look only to now and to the future.  I am very hopeful that if the Israeli government shed the fierce Zionists who see their only means of survival as driving all Palestinians from Israel, and was run by a new brand of Israeli, like Miko Peled, who would treat the Palestinians with the same laws and ethos that it treats Jewish citizens, then the misery and thus the grievances of the Palestinians would fade away.

And then, people would not be mistreated and oppressed and would be able, and I think willing, to live in peace with each other.

It's all a question of who you focus on - the Israelis being attacked by the terrorists of Hamas, or the Palestinians being oppressed by the Zionists in charge of Israel.  

How about changing facts on the ground and have the Palestinians living in a state that gives them the same rights and treatment as it gives the Jews?

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Tea Party, Communists, and Utopianism

The Tea Party drove me out of the Republican Party some time ago.  They convinced me that they were right that I was a RINO (Republican in Name Only).  I have always been socially liberal, and for quite a while I was an economy and defense conservative.  But, W’s war and the financial collapse of 2008 made me rethink my politics and change my mind. The absolutism of the Tea Party sealed the deal.

I stopped believing in W’s war when I decided that we were creating more terrorists than we were killing, and that we were setting off a region wide Islamic civil and religious war that could consume the world.  I reluctantly conclude that the democratization of the Middle East by attacking it has been a big failure.

I stopped believing in Reaganomics when I had to admit that the lack of regulation, the cutting of taxes on the wealthy, the "Freeing of the Markets" by gutting the effectiveness of the government ended up gutting the prosperity of the middle class rather than unleashing a prosperity for all.  We need a new Teddy Roosevelt to restore the power of the government to crush the Oligarchs and free the markets back to competitiveness.

I believe it is no accident that one of the Tea Party’s guiding lights is Ayn Rand.  When I was 20 I read “The Fountainhead” and was totally captured by her image of a Truly "Masculine Man", Howard Roark – flawlessly self-sufficient, hard, tough, a real "manly man".  But, time passed and I grew up and that ridiculous caricature of manliness, a kind of comic book version of manhood, fell away, and I found that being a man was not about being chiseled out of stone, or being heartless, or denying any needs for other people. 

Fortunately, we are very human, flawed, and interconnected.   Indeed, the whole Survival of the Fittest notion needs to be replaced by the understanding of Survival of the Collaborative, that’s the way it is with wolves, bees, redwood forests, all of nature actually. 

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the high tech age that we live in, where all of the exponential advances come on the shoulders of last week’s exponential advances, and progress is made by collaborative teams rather than Lone Rangers riding in with Silver Bullets.  The idea of a future created by the hyper-masculine men dreamed up by Ayn Rand that so excites the imaginations of adolescent boys (of all ages) is best replaced by an idea of the future of synergistic collaborations of all the talents in the country and the world, men and women, young and old, all races, collaborative growth and change.

Back to Ayn Rand: she fled communism and started up her ideology of hyper-individualism.  But, temperamentally, she never really stopped being a communist.  That is, just as communism is based on an utopian view of a humanity that is unrealistically altruistic and caring, Ayn Rand’s hyper-individualism is based upon an utopian view of humanity that is unrealistically self-sufficient and independent.

Utopians become radicals who want to tear it all down so that their utopian notions of an ideal society populated by their utopian notions of ideal people can flourish.  Of course, the tearing down part is easy, makes the revolutionaries feel really important and powerful - they bravely would rather die than give in to compromise.  But the utopias never happen, they are always dystopias instead, and then we all have to live in the nightmares that they created. 

Communism is one failed nightmare, Tea Party’s super masculine individualism and fierce independence would be another.  But I expect that the Tea Party will destroy itself before it destroys the rest of us.  We can hope.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Now that the Supreme Court has given Corporations the status of personhood with religious beliefs, what next?

Now that the Supreme Court has given Corporations the status of personhood with religious beliefs, what next?

The Religious Right Wing of the Republican Party is very happy with the five justices that decided on the Hobby Lobby case.  They see it as a victory for religious freedom because the owners of Hobby Lobby are devout Christians who see some forms of birth control as actually being forms of abortion and thus a violation of the owners’ conscience. 

The odd part of the ruling, as I understand it, is that it grants personhood to the corporation itself, because the ruling says that the Hobby Lobby corporation cannot be forced to offer insurance coverage for birth control methods that violate its religious beliefs.  It’s not that the corporation can’t be forced to offer birth control methods that violate the beliefs of the owners, but rather the corporation can’t be forced to offer birth control methods that violate the CORPORATION’S religious beliefs. 

The Supreme Court gave the status of personhood to Corporations and endowed the newly “personhooded Corporations” with the power of having religious beliefs that cannot be violated.

This is a very big mistake, it seems to me.  When the five conservative justices made a ruling in accord with their own Christian religious beliefs, they did so in a manner that could have pretty bad future consequences.  I know they tried to limit this ruling to “only” contraception, but it’s the camel’s nose under the tent, it seems to me.

Christians are not the only religion in the United States.  There are Jews, Mormons, Native American religions, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Christian Scientists, etc. etc.

Will Christian Scientist corporations eventually be able to deny any medical insurance because they don’t believe in medicine?  Will Jewish corporations eventually be able to insist on circumcision or keeping holy the Sabbath?  Will Muslim corporations be able to enforce Sharia law within their corporations – stoning adulterous women? Cutting off hands of thieves?  Genital mutilation of women?  Extreme examples, but it makes a point of the nonsense of granting personhood to corporations and honoring that “corporation’s religious belief.”

The whole idea of empowering corporations with personhood that includes having religious beliefs and giving that corporation the right to act on those religious beliefs seems to me to be a terrible step into a very unknown direction.  The law of unintended consequences can become pretty destructive. 

It is time for a big change in the Supreme Court.  These foolish men are hurting this country.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Supreme Court FIVE decides to force us all to obey their personal religions

It seems to me that all the sanctions and punishments by the Religious Right Wing around the area of sex are against women (and gay men too of course, who are seen as kind of like women).  The Religious Right Wing wants to prevent women from having abortions, and, oh yes, prevent them from using birth control, or, more to the point, prevent them from having sex (except in the case of marriage, but even then no abortions or even unapproved birth control methods are permitted, I guess).  Wow.  

Do you think that we will see the Religious Right Wing decide to sanction and "punish" men for this same sex that "bad" women are having?  (I think it does take two to "tango")  Let's see, how could they do that?  They can't force the men to be pregnant, maybe forcing men to marry the women they impregnate with no chance of divorce until the child has been raised to adulthood?  You know, paying the piper for the dance, so to speak?

I think we'll never see the male sex partner gone after the way the female sex partner is being gone after by these righteous folks.

So, for some reason, the Religious Right Wing thinks it is OK to force women to be pregnant and give birth against their will.  

Bible thump, bible infinitum.  I really do wish they would stick to trying to get people to join their religions rather than trying to force all of the nation to obey their religions.

Monday, June 16, 2014

ISIS pushes the religious war into a new stage

With I.S.I.S., the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, boldly and brutally conquering parts of northern Iraq, liberals are blaming Bush and conservatives are blaming Obama for the collapse of the Iraqi government.  Both are right, and both are wrong, as far as I can tell.

It is right to blame Bush because it was he who destroyed the Sunni Baath party as part of his invasion of Iraq. It was he who put the Shiite Maliki into the power to rule Iraq (who turned out to be an avid leader in the tyranny and oppression of the Sunnis). It was he who deluded himself into believing that a pluralistic democracy was possible in Iraq even when all the voting was along sectarian, religious lines.

It is right to blame Obama because it was he who supported Maliki and who deluded himself into believing that a pluralistic democracy was possible in Iraq - even if U.S. forces were gone.  It was he who pretended that it was OK for the U.S. to withdraw, and thus satisfy the war weary American voting public that this stupid war had come to an end.  It was he who failed to support the "moderate" forces fighting Assad in Syria, thus allowing the al Qaeda forces who had been driven from Iraq to regroup to fight in Syria, become stronger and reform themselves as I.S.I.S. and come back into Iraq to threaten Baghdad.

It is wrong to blame either Bush or Obama because the one who actually lost Iraq is Maliki, who decided to turn Iraq into a puppet state run by Shiite Iran, and to wage a "sectarian" war against the Sunnis in both Iraq and Syria.  

It is wrong to blame either Bush or Obama because people keep calling what is going on in Iraq a sectarian war, but it seems to me it is a full blown religious war, and as best I can tell religious wars are outside the scope of negotiation and compromise because both sides are doing the "Will of God" by slaughtering each other.  

So, if the U.S. is to try to negotiate a diplomatic solution, who is going to compromise?  who is going to share power?  who is going to create a state that allows both Shia and Sunni to rule together?

Or, if the U.S. is to send in planes or drones, who are they supposed to kill?  The Sunni blood thirsty jihadists or the Shiite blood thirsty jihadists?

And, if we don't use diplomatic or military tools to keep the I.S.I.S. nutcases from exploding the Middle East into a multiple nation wide slaughter, don't we put ourselves and the West in mortal danger of future 9/11 attacks?  

Maybe the old "balance of power" theory of the Cold War is the best hope - where neither side is so powerful that they can wipe out the other, so each side has no choice but to come to negotiated settlements.  When Bush and Obama empowered Maliki in their own ways, the Shiites became too powerful and just went for their centuries old lust for revenge and tyranny.  Not a good idea.

I don't understand why Iraq doesn't just split into three parts, Kurds in the north, Shiites in the south, and Sunnis in the middle.  Or maybe the middle is where the nutcases go to kill each other.