Archive for the 'House Red: Politics & Current Affairs' Category

Donald Trump and the F Word

charisma : personal magic of leadership arousing special popular loyalty or enthusiasm for a public figure (as a political leader)

charismatic 1 : of, relating to, or constituting charisma 2 : having, exhibiting, or based on charisma

Let me see, said the blind man.

Among the candidates for the Republican nomination for the presidency is a charismatic leader with a substantial, albeit still a minority, following who taps into fears that the country has lost its way, betrayed by vaguely defined elites of wealth and privilege and the usual suspects among politicians, Washington bureaucrats, the media, and intellectuals. He presents himself as a strong leader, a winner, very rich, very smart, possessed of great management skills he will bring to bear to restore the homeland to a lost greatness. One presumes that he can make the trains run on time. Demonization of an alien and illegitimate “other” whose presence subverts and undermines the nation is central to his platform and appeal. Opponents are characterized as weak, dumb, losers.

Does this scenario ring any bells?

Et tu, Chuck?

Will Senate Dems put the dagger in BHO’s back on the Iran deal? Manu Raju and Burgess Everett reported yesterday in Politico that Charles Schumer is leaning in that direction, and he is not the only member of his party set to cave to the Israel lobby. (Growing signs Schumer will oppose Iran deal).

Raju and Everett write, “The bigger question many have now is this: How hard will he push against it?” No, the bigger question is this: Will feckless Democrats be complicit in an Israeli veto on American foreign policy?

Schumer’s pal John McCain is chortling, ““Boy, I’m glad I’m not Chuck Schumer, I’ll tell ya. He’s got the toughest vote of his career coming.” Ah, McCain.

thoughts and ruminations

Ah, recovery…I am pleasantly surprised by how quickly and easily I got my running mileage back up to an acceptable level after the five-week layoff while my wardrobe included a cast on the fractured wrist. The cast came off on Friday, 27 March. I ran the next morning.

Saturday I capped off a 30-mile week with a run just shy of 13 miles, building on two preceding 25-mile weeks. My pace remains glacial, even by my standards. That is okay. Getting the base back is the priority as I ready myself to begin marathon training in three weeks.

* * * * *

Maybe the running would not mean so much if I had a life. I say this somewhat tongue in cheek, but only somewhat. Those who come to this space regularly will note that I have not done so of late. It is not that I no longer go to my desk. Far from it. The files are littered with fitful starts, abandoned essays, images and fragments that might have coalesced into poem but did not, all dross and detritus, as I find myself adrift in the desolate gray of Beckett territory, nothing to say, no words with which to say it.

* * * * *

Conscience forbids turning blind eye and deaf ear to injustice and wrongs we humans inflict upon one another almost routinely. Conscience compels obligations of citizenship and engagement in the public arena, if nothing else that we take a stance, always with the terrible awareness that any act is apt to amount to little more than gesture, symbolic, futile, empty. Perhaps ’tis well to bear in mind Wordsworth’s lines in “Tintern Abbey” about “that best portion of a good man’s life / His little, nameless, unremembered, acts / Of kindness and of love.”

For too long I have eased my conscience with regular donations to organizations such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Doctors without Borders, and Union of Concerned Scientists, supplemented by occasional participation in letter-writing campaigns. A week ago I thought of going downtown for the May Day march. I shied away because I knew that among those marching in good faith for a righteous cause would be a critical mass of self-styled anarchists in balaclavas and bandana masks, playacting at revolution, out to precipitate the confrontation with police that indeed occurred. Maybe this is all the more reason for those who think as I do to take part and be counted. Something to bear in mind going forward.

* * * * *

These days paranoia run amok scarcely counts as news. Even so, Texas managed to distinguish itself with the furor over a routine military exercise that a fair number of citizens believe is cover for a military takeover of the state where guns will be confiscated and dissidents will be imprisoned in abandoned Walmart stores. Governor Greg Abbott showed himself to be a fitting successor to Rick Perry, who as Molly Ivins observed, has really good hair, when he issued an order for the Texas State Guard to monitor the operation, from which he backed off a tad after even some Republicans chastised him for pandering to the crazies. The Secretary of Defense hardly distinguished himself with his denial of a charge that does not merit comment.

It takes no great expertise in the field of history to note that the federal government has already taken over Texas on several occasions, first seizing it from Mexico, and again after ill-fated secession from the union. As Texas has not yet tried secession again, a federal takeover would seem to be redundant.

* * * * *

The to-do over use of the term “thug” by Barack Obama and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, among others, to describe those in Baltimore who burned, looted, pillaged, and rampaged was something of an annoying sideshow to events of greater import. I am tempted to say that I can accept just about any derisory term to express condemnation of acts that went beyond the pale of acceptable conduct regardless of provocation or underlying issues. Thug, jerk, knucklehead, Republican, take your pick.

A moment’s reflection gives rise to second thoughts. Emotionally charged words are ill-advised fodder for superficial distractions. The usual suspects among the crowd of law-and-order fetishists gleefully took up the epithet to tar protesters generally. That was and is despicable. I suspect that among the rioters, along with hotheads out for confrontation, eager to stick it to the police, or the man, or whoever it is they thought they were sticking it to, could be found a fair number of ordinary people caught up in the dynamic of the mob, doing things they would not be doing under less extraordinary circumstances. We can understand this without condoning it.

The president got it right. Congressman Elijah Cummings got it right. Former Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis and Baltimore native Carmelo Anthony got it right. Destroying the community is not acceptable; it does nothing to bring about redress for legitimate grievance or remedy systemic social, economic, and political injustice and failure. Wanton, mindless destruction brings only harm and suffering to innocent people.

There is no manual with step-by-step instructions to wipe away disparities in wealth, education, and opportunity, to provide decent-paying, entry-level jobs for men and women without education, training, or in some cases discipline, to provide role models for children from families that are broken, in many cases children whose parents are not be bad people, just all too human.

There are heartwarming stories of children with exceptional parents, altogether heroic mothers and fathers who rise above the most difficult of  circumstances to give their daughters and sons a shot at a better life. Not everyone is exceptional. Children who grow up without the guidance from parents, teachers, and community that some of us were fortunate to know will not have that experience to draw on when they themselves become parents. A terrible cycle will be perpetuated.

“If we have learned nothing else from the twentieth century, we should at least have grasped that the more perfect the answer, the more terrifying its consequences. Imperfect improvements upon unsatisfactory circumstances are the best that we can hope for, and probably all we should seek.” —Tony Judt

Postscript

The Texas takeover is like Obamacare death panels, or Sharia law coming to a court near you, or fluoride in the water supply. It doesn’t matter if the particular charge is proven to be completely false. Just getting the larger idea (don’t trust Obama’s feds, they want to un-cling you from your guns and religion) into the mainstream media is a victory. It validates the paranoia. (Leslie Savan, Who’s Really Laughing About the Invasion of Texas? The Nation, 8 May 2015)

 

After Charlie Hebdo: Marching for Tolerance and Coexistence

The week’s events in Paris cannot go unremarked, not even when one has little to offer beyond what has been related elsewhere. There is a sense of obligation to take some kind of stand, knowing that it may be largely symbolic and ineffectual. We feel outrage, frustration, numbed shock that these horrific things could happen, though horrific things happen all the time. The same week saw, by way of a small sampling, the Boko Haram rampage in northern Nigeria, a suicide bombing of a Lebanese café, the bombing of a building that houses offices of the NAACP in Colorado Springs, a Saudi blogger flogged for “insulting Islam,” and a wave of anti-Muslim “reprisal” attacks in France (This map shows every attack on French Muslims since Charlie Hebdo, Vox, 10 January 2015), along with sadly routine carnage in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

More than a few commentators were as much at pains to distance themselves from the content of Charlie Hebdo’s satire as they were to denounce the attacks. With this I have some sympathy. The handful of Hebdo cartoons I viewed are not to my taste. They tend to be ham-fisted, sophomoric, and not particularly clever. To give the cartoonists their due, the objects of their satire are figures and thinking that tend to be dogmatic, intolerant, and not particularly thoughtful. Charlie Hebdo attacks objectionable speech with other speech, satire and ridicule, not with censorship, and not with violence.

It is not often that I agree with David Brooks. On this I am with him.

When I think back home, I think of how we think about tolerance. And the point I try to make that everyone was saying, I am — Je suis Charlie, or I am with Charlie Hebdo. But if Charlie Hebdo, the magazine, newspaper tried to open up on any college campus in this country, they would be shut down in 30 seconds. They would run afoul of every political correctness, every hate speech code, because they are offensive in some ways.

And so my point for this country is that if we are going to tolerate offensive talk, or if we’re going to expect, frankly Islamist radicals to tolerate offensive talk, then we have to tolerate offensive talk. And we have to invite people to speak at our campuses who are offensive some of the time. And we have to widen our latitude in that area. (PBS Newshour, 9 January 2015)

It is easy to be for free speech that expresses ideas with which we are in agreement or when we have no strong feeling one way or another. Not so much when we find speech offensive or hurtful. Most of us acknowledge that there are always limits. Values are not always compatible. Those of us who see values as principles, habits, ways of thought, and norms that have evolved within the culture may struggle to find common ground with those for whom fundamental values are immutable laws, whether handed down by an omnipotent deity or derived in some other fashion.

The usual suspects in Europe and the U.S. may be counted on to shamelessly exploit the attacks for their own ends, which in Europe go beyond being anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant to include opposition to the European Union. There are genuine issues and problems in relation to immigration, multiculturalism, conflicting values, tolerance, and assimilation. Pat Lang, speaking in reference to Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s call for Islam to reform itself, points out that Shia and Sunni Islam have quite different traditions in this regard.

Of course you [al-Sisi] are Shia and the notion of gradual adaptation to a changing world through accumulated fatwas from the senior scholars of the hawza is embedded in your version of the faith.

From the point of view of al-Sisi the largest problem is with the much larger Sunni Islamic presence because of the rigidity of the process of non-adaptation to a changing world that has been deeply characteristic of Sunni Islam for a millennium and more. The presence within the Sunni “community” of factions that hold extreme salafist opinions and who are willing to put them into action by force of arms has become a problem for the whole world. (Col. W. Patrick Lang, retired senior officer of U.S. Military Intelligence and U.S. Army Special Forces, ‘In need of a religious revolution’ Toronto Sun, Sic Semper Tyrannis, 10 January 2015)

These issues will not be addressed by xenophobic fearmongering about plots to impose Sharia law in Western countries or the calumny that moderate Muslims fail to renounce terror.

“These men are criminals, barbarians, satans. For me, they are not Muslims,” the imam of the Paris suburb of Drancy [Hassen Chalghoumi], said, addressing the media. “Their hatred, their barbarism, has nothing to do with Islam. We are all French, we are all humans. We must live in respect, tolerance and solidarity.” (Jon Henley, Muslims fear backlash after Charlie Hebdo deaths as Islamic sites attacked, The Guardian, 8 January 2015)

“The fact is that both governments of Muslim-majority countries and the chief religious institutions have been engaged in a vigorous war on religious extremism for some time” (Juan Cole, Yes, they’re Condemning the Paris Attacks: The Muslims’ War on Terror, Informed Comment, 9 January 2015):

Egypt’s president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi spoke to an audience of clerics at the Department of Religious Endowments a few days ago. He made waves by denouncing terrorism among Muslims, and said it wasn’t right for the rest of the world to be afraid of 1.5 billion Muslims. He pointedly insisted that the al-Azhar clerics do something about this stain on the honor of Islam, implying that they were not effectively combating extremist ideas. He called for a new sort of “religious discourse” and a “new revolution” to combat extremism.

Islam does not have a monopoly on intolerance and violence. Few if any religions have not seen the blood of innocents shed in their name. Israel’s hands are not clean. America’s hands are not clean. I am in agreement with Col. Lang:

Many people here at SST [Sic Semper Tyrannis] are still horrified at the level of destruction wrought upon Iraq, Pakistan, etc. by the United States. As I have written before “you ain’t seen nuttin yet.” The US was distracted by the false dogma of COIN in these wars, a doctrine easily accepted as a panacea by the ignorant. This doctrine sought an accom[m]odation with local populations through “good works” but carried out in the context of a largely unadaptive world view on the part of the populations involved.

Most Americans, while willing to give such efforts a “try,” really prefer overwhelming brute force and the complete destr[u]ction of enemies. The air campaigns of ann[i]hilation that we waged against Germany and Japan were not a fluke. We never really applied that level of force in the recent wars. The possibilities available are virtually unlimited.

We can be heartened Saturday’s rally in Dresden.

“We won’t permit that hate will divide us”, Dresden’s mayor Helma Orosz said in front of the 18th-century Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady). (Around 35,000 Germans rally in Dresden against racism and xenophobia, Reuters, 10 January 2015)

We can be heartened too by those in France who responded to the attack on Charlie Hebdo not with xenophobia and hatred but with a renewed call for liberty, equality, and fraternity. “Samia Ghali, mayor of one of Marseille’s districts, told the BBC that people there were marching for tolerance and co-existence. Marseille is the city with the largest Muslim population in France.” (France attacks: Million-strong unity rally in Paris, BBC, 11 January 2015.

This is where we stand.

9 moving tributes to Charlie Hebdo from Arabic-language cartoonists, Vox, 11 January 2015.

postscript

My brother was Muslim and he was killed by people who pretend to be Muslims. They are terrorists, that’s it. As for my brother’s death, it was a waste. — Malek Merabet, brother of slain French police office Ahmed Merabet. Malek Merabet’s brief eulogy for his brother concluded with these words:

Devastated by this barbaric act, we associate ourselves with the pain of the families of the victims.

I address myself now to all the racists, Islamophobes, and anti-Semites:

One must not confuse extremists with Muslims. Madness has neither color nor religion. I want to make another point: stop painting everybody with the same brush, stop burning mosques or synagogues. You are attacking people. It won’t bring back our dead, and it won’t appease our families. (Ahmed Merabet’s eulogy is the most important thing you’ll read on Charlie Hebdo, Vox, 11 January 2015)

 

Investigate and Bring to Justice Those Responsible for Torture of Terrorism Suspects

I urge you to join The Editorial Board of the The New York Times, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Human Rights Watch in calling on President Obama to investigate and bring to justice those responsible for the torture of terrorism suspects, including former Vice President Dick Cheney; Mr. Cheney’s chief of staff, David Addington; the former C.I.A. director George Tenet; and John Yoo and Jay Bybee, the Office of Legal Counsel lawyers who drafted what became known as the torture memos.

Contact the White House

Prosecute Torturers and Their Bosses, The Editorial Board, The New York Times, 21 December 2014

What can we be for if we do not stand against these barbaric acts?

What can we be for if we do not stand against these barbaric acts?

Anyone who has been paying attention knows that the U.S. tortured people after 9/11. In this respect the findings of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence come as no surprise. The degree of brutality revealed by the report, however, goes beyond what might have been imagined even by some of us who feel ourselves without illusion about U.S. actions of the past thirteen years.

Attempts to neuter the debate by employment of the euphemism “enhanced interrogation techniques” and its bureaucratic acronym “EITs” are nothing short of vile. Colonel W. Patrick Lang, retired senior officer of U.S. Military Intelligence and U.S. Army Special Forces, writes in Sic Semper Tyrannis about being subjected to waterboarding and other techniques in the 1960s during a training exercise whose purpose was to teach special operations forces how to resist and endure torture. I quote at length while recommending the entire post. It is compelling reading.

…at the end of the course, we were all seized and put in a “practise” PW camp where we were held naked for days without shelter during the monsoon, subjected to many of the “techniques” described in the senate report and then at the end, waterboarded. I am here to tell you that anyone who thinks waterboarding is not torture has not been waterboarded. I thought then and think now that the psychologists and air force people who ran the camp were dangerous sadists. (As I thought, SERE was the start point, 10 December 2014. )

Proponents of the CIA program want to turn the discussion from moral and ethical considerations to pragmatic issues of effectiveness. They are particularly fond of the “ticking time bomb” scenario to defend, and indeed endorse, interrogation by any means deemed necessary, without limitation. Many who can speak more authoritatively on the subject than I, including Colonel Lang, do not buy the effectiveness argument. As for the “ticking time bomb,” CIA personnel tortured detainees over extended periods of time without garnering any useful information or, apparently, wondering if perhaps that time bomb must be ticking pretty damn slowly.

One CIA interrogator at COBALT reported that “‘literally, a detainee could go for days or weeks without anyone looking at him’, and that his team found one detainee who ‘as far as we could determine’, had been chained to a wall in a standing position for 17 days’.” (Rushe, McCaskill, et al., The Guardian, 11 December 2014)

The “ticking time bomb” justification was for the most part a hollow rationale for acts that even the program’s defenders agree are abhorrent—with the qualification “for the most part” perhaps giving more benefit of the doubt than is warranted.

In closing I turn again to Colonel Lang, and again take the liberty to quote at length:

The CIA and its Corps of Tormentors disgraced and soiled the United States as did the US Army at Abu Ghraib. Insufficient punishment was meted out to the senior army culprits at Abu Ghraib, but now there is a chance to make an example of the monstrous fools who motivated, directed and executed this renewal of the Inquisition. It should be mentioned that Cheney and Rumsfeld played a direct role in encouraging US Army intelligence to torture prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

The Obama Justice Department should reverse its stated position and re-open investigations that may lead to the indictment of Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rodriguez, and all those who participated in this criminal violation of US and international law. For the president and Holder to fail to do this would make them be in violation of their oaths of office. (The US must purge itself,11 December 2014.

References

Colonel W. Patrick Lang, As I thought, SERE was the start point, Sic Semper Tyrannis, 10 December 2014.

Colonel W. Patrick Lang, The US must purge itself, Sic Semper Tyrannis, 11 December 2014.

Dominic Rushe, Ewen MacAskill, Ian Cobain , Alan Yuhas and Oliver Laughland, Rectal rehydration and waterboarding: the CIA torture report’s grisliest findings, The Guardian, 11 December 2014.

Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program, published in The Guardian, 9 December 2014. [memo from the editorial desk: I have only skimmed the introductory pages thus far.]

Kaveh Waddell, The Long, Brutal Interrogation of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, The National Journal, 9 December 2014.

 

Ferguson: where do we go from here?

The decision of the St. Louis county grand jury and the reaction to it were predictable and disheartening. The prosecutor presumed that the police officer did nothing wrong. The mob presumed guilt and demanded vengeance.

Ezra Klein and Josh Marshall make the case concisely and well that Darren Wilson’s story is not believable. Klein and Marshall are both careful to acknowledge that it is possible that events unfolded exactly as Wilson says they did. As Klein puts it, Wilson’s account

…is unbelievable.

I mean that in the literal sense of the term: ‘difficult or impossible to believe.’ But I want to be clear here. I’m not saying Wilson is lying. I’m not saying his testimony is false. I am saying that the events, as he describes them, are simply bizarre. His story is difficult to believe.

“Prosecution” is a misnomer in this case. The prosecutor was not seeking an indictment. His role, as  he saw it, was not to examine a police officer’s account that put credulity to the test but to discredit the testimony of witnesses who painted a different picture of events.

PBS put together a nice chart comparing key details of Wilson’s account with witness statements. Witnesses are all over the place on every detail. The only conclusions to be drawn are that none of us know what happened the day Michael Brown was killed and that the grand jury proceeding was woefully inadequate.

Racial inequity, prejudice, and mistrust, disparity in income and education, gun culture, and the Israelification of American police departments make for a dismal mix that all but guarantees bad outcomes. Willingness to accept violence as a response to injustice is also part of the problem. It is not enough to say that we condemn violence but understand when people when people who are justifiably aggrieved vandalize and loot their own neighborhoods, toss molotov cocktails, and burn police cars. People who think as I do cannot waffle on this point. Those who vandalize, loot, and burn do not stand with us. They do not stand with Michael Brown and other victims. They stand only for a perpetuation of the cycle of violence. The same goes for those who do not question police violence. They do not stand with honorable officers who put themselves at risk trying to do the right thing.

What is to be done? I could not bring myself to join the demonstrations in Portland, though I do not for an instant doubt that there were many honorable individuals doing what they felt that they could to stand and be counted. There is a place for public protest and demonstration. We need it to be more than a passing ad hoc response to the injustice of the day or an occasion for self-styled anarchists to don their balaclavas and Guy Fawkes masks and run amok.

“The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” Perhaps Martin Luther King was right, but if so, that arc bends slowly, in painfully small increments. How do we move beyond slogans such as “no justice no peace,” from one side, and “I am Darren Wilson,” from the other, toward a civil and civic society that more in the best of times remains a formidable work in progress and in the worst of times seems little more than wishful thinking?

references

Ben Casselman, It’s Incredibly Rare For A Grand Jury To Do What Ferguson’s Just Did, FiveThirtyEight, 24 November 2014

Ezra Klein, Officer Darren Wilson’s story is unbelievable. Literally., Vox, 25 November 2014

Josh Marshall, Making Sense of Darren Wilson’s Story, Talking Points Memo, 26 November 2014

Laura Santhanam and Vanessa Dennis, What do the newly released witness statements tell us about the Michael Brown shooting?, PBS Newshour, 25 November 2014

Allison Silver, Ferguson questions swirl: If it’s about finding facts, why no trial?, Reuters, 25 November 2014

For the Record

I have nothing profound or particularly insightful to offer on Tuesday’s election. What follows is by way of taking a modest stand for the record, nothing more. The outcome was predictable. The surprises were not of the pleasant variety, for instance, the margin by which Michelle Nunn went down in Georgia. She had by accounts I read run a good campaign. It may not have been unreasonable to harbor some slim hope for wins by Nunn and by Kay Hagan in North Carolina. They were better candidates and ran better campaigns than some of the dolts the Dems ran out (think Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky, Bruce Braley in Iowa), damning with faint praise, as they say. And après le déluge? The prudent course is to keep one’s papers in order and passport current.

The people have spoken. Alas. ‘Tis a sobering endeavor to contemplate the damage likely to be done by the blockheads who make up a majority of both houses of Congress and their comrades who occupy the governor’s mansion in twenty-nine states, control twenty-seven state legislatures, own the whole shooting works—governorship and both branches of legislature— in twenty-three states, and constitute a significant portion of the federal judiciary. Yikes.

The next majority leader of the Senate spoke of “an obligation to work together on issues where we can agree,” by which he means issues where Barack Obama will sign off on the Republican program. His words and deeds of the past six years justify no other interpretation. Meantime, John Boehner warns Obama that executive action on immigration will “poison the well.” This from a man who for the past four years has made his lamentable mark leading from behind a rambunctious caucus of libertarian fantasists, laissez-faire zealots, crypto-fascists, closet racists—some of them not all that closeted, religious zealots, blowhards, and general dingbats, who have so thoroughly befouled that well it would scarcely register another dose of poison.

The legislative agenda on climate change and environmental protection will be set by people for whom ignorance is a virtue and intransigence a badge of honor. They blithely defend the status quo, and indeed push to up the ante, on the grounds that they are not scientists, so what do they know. Conservatives fond of wringing their hands and bemoaning the burden of government debt being handed down to future generations do not blink an eye at bequeathing to their grandchildren a world far less hospitable to human life than the world we knew as children.

There will be moves to lower taxes on the wealthy in the guise of tax reform. Many Americans will go for it. The increased deficit that comes with the tax cuts will in turn be used as a rationale to trash programs that benefit the least fortunate among us and cripple the government’s capacity to provide for the general welfare and common good.

A cabal of centrists pushes the line that the voters want the two parties to work together. Work together on what? Take the Affordable Care Act. Democrats and Republicans alike are unhappy with the ACA. Generally speaking, people who vote for Republicans think it goes too far; those who vote Democrat think it does not go far enough. Republicans see health care as just another item in the marketplace, like cars and iPhones. They wish to emphasize the role of the private sector, with minimal government involvement. Democrats and others view health care as something qualitatively different from commodities and other services people routinely purchase. We think that at the least there should be a robust public option, and better yet a single-payer public health system.

Those who voted for Republicans tend to want the two parties to work together to drastically reduce the role of government, lower taxes, dismantle regulation on business and the environment, encourage development and use of fossil fuels, and so on. Those who voted Democrat, and many who abdicated on Tuesday by not voting, tend to want the parties to work together to to invest in education and infrastructure, support the development of alternative energy sources, enact and enforce regulation on the environment and the financial sector. There is not an abundance of common ground.

The editors of National Review warn the Republicans that governing is a trap that will only benefit the Democrats in the 2016 presidential election:

Already a conventional wisdom about what Republicans should do next has congealed.  Supposedly it is up to Republicans to “prove they can govern” even though they do not have the White House. Senator Jeff Flake (R., Ariz.) told NPR listeners that Republicans could do this by moving on trade-promotion authority, the immigration bill the Senate passed in 2013, and corporate tax reform.

With all due respect to the senator and like-minded Republicans, this course of action makes no sense as a political strategy.

From the other side, Katrina vanden Heuvel argues that

[t]he Obama administration should act right away to use its executive powers to take steps to deal with long-ignored issues that need to be dealt with for the good of the nation.

This cannot be done quietly. To change the media narrative, issues acted upon will have to be controversial enough to dominate the news. President Obama should embrace good progressive public policy while expecting—indeed, hoping for—a massive outcry from the wing-nut section of the GOP.

What will Barack Obama do? Can he possibly believe that Republicans in Congress will ask anything of him but capitulation? Will he have it in him to stand firm against every pernicious initiative the Republicans throw at him? Or will he cave? “Time will tell just who has fell / And who’s been left behind.”

references

Bob Dylan, Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine)

Editors, National Review, The Governing Trap, 5 November 2014

David Lawder and Richard Cowan, Boehner touts bills to repeal Obamacare, build Keystone, Reuters,  6 November 2014

Jeff Mason, Roberta Rampton, Obama, Republicans sound conciliatory note but battles loom, Reuters, 6 November 2014

Katrinia vanden Heuval, The Democrats Lost Big Tonight. Why Obama Should Double Down, The Nation, 4 November 2014

 

IS/ISIL/ISIS: The Khmer Rouge come to mind, among others…

The Khmer Rouge came to mind when the horrific acts of Islamic State (IS)/Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)/Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) first drew our attention. In 1975, not all that long ago, the Khmer Rouge evacuated the entire population of Phnom Penh, more than 2.5 million people, to camps in the countryside after capturing the Cambodian capital.

It’s impossible to tally the total number dead with any precision, but it is generally assumed that the Khmer Rouge killed between one million and two million people during their reign. Thousands more died of malnutrition or disease, and the upper classes of Cambodian society were all but wiped out. The killing continued unabated until Vietnamese troops, tired of border skirmishes with the Khmer Rouge, invaded in 1979 and sent the Khmer Rouge back to the jungles. (Fletcher, A Brief History Of The Khmer Rouge)

The beheadings of a few Westerners that have galvanized public and political opinion in this country, awful as they are for individuals and families involved, amount to a minor item in the IS portfolio. An Amnesty International report describes the Islamic State’s “systematic targeting of minorities in northern Iraq” as “[e]thnic cleansing on historic scale.” Thousands of refugees have fled their homes in the face of massacres, abductions, and other persecution, their number including Kurds, Christians, Shiites, and other Muslims whose practice of their religion is insufficiently pure.

IS public relations videos portray gruesome celebration of brutal and heinous acts that almost defy comprehension until we recognize that we have seen them before. This is far from the first time people have done ungodly things to one another, and on a grand scale, in the name of religion or some utopian ideal. Perhaps there is a religion somewhere that does not have buckets of blood on its hands, whatever its professed tenets. It is easier to find examples of behavior we all wish was behind us. The inquisition. Europe’s wars of religion. Israel in Gaza. Hindu violence against Muslims and Christians, not to mention domestic violence against women. Buddhism in Japan during World War II, exposed for the West in 1997 by Brian Daizen Victoria in Zen at War, a book that

… sent shock waves through Zen circles. Even those previously aware that the Japanese Buddhist establishment had supported the nation’s militarist and imperialist policies before and during World War II were surprised to learn how thoroughly Zen leaders and institutions had colluded in the war effort. (Foster and Snyder, The Fog of World War II: Setting the Record Straight on D.T. Suzuki)

There is a sense of moral obligation that one not stand idly by and watch the parade of atrocities without making an effort to put a stop to it. There is an impulse to do something, maybe almost anything. Who among us is inclined to say it is wrong to intervene in the face of what we now witness in Syria and Iraq? The utter vileness and awful scale of acts that lie beyond any conceivable  justification make it all the more difficult to stand up to the hysteria that has much of Washington and the punditocracy in its grip.

We do well to ask, before we act, what in the world might the US do that is even marginally more likely to have an outcome for good than for ill. Barack Obama is anything but an eager warrior, for which we should be grateful. Nonetheless he bends under tremendous pressure from within his administration and outside. Samantha Power and Susan Rice, no less than John McCain and Lindsey Graham, learned nothing from the ill-advised invasion and hamhanded occupation of Iraq, which contributed mightily to the conditions under which IS came about. Obama’s reluctance and Chuck Hagel’s presence on the national security team are not much by way of reassurance, but that is what we have. The administration throws stuff at the wall hoping something will stick. Find some so-called friendly group to arm. Lob a few bombs. Call out the drones. None of it inspires confidence.

Meantime, the Senator from South Carolina screeches like a peacock with his tail feathers in a vise. He and McCain, with not a doubt in their military minds, would have American boots on the ground in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, who knows where else, for ten, twenty, thirty years. We will need more boots if they have their way.

There are people with experience and expertise in these matters who are critical of the conventional wisdom. Juan Cole, Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan, and W. Patrick Lang, retired senior officer of U.S. Military Intelligence and U.S. Army Special Forces, are two to whom I turn regularly, not to be taken as to gospel, but for fresh and informed perspective. Lang offers this view:

No western policy or strategy will be able to stop this process [development of a new state, the Sunni Islamic Caliphate, over which there appear to be many contenders for control, not just IS] because the idea has reached maturity within the mental genes of too many young Sunnis to be derailed. Western policy should be fashioned to treat the problem as a problem of balances of power between the competing regional powers and to reap whatever advantages that can be obtained by playing the competitors against each other, while staying out of the heart of the conflict as much as possible.

As I see it, the only policy that may be viewed 25 years hence as a wise and successful one will be a policy where the west stands back and lets the Islamic players slug it out among themselves. If the West continues its current R2P [responsibility to protect] policies, when we look back from 2040 (if the human race survives that long) the current western policy will be seen simply as stupid and suicidal.

Somehow, the language of the western meme covering this thing needs to be modified to permit US to step back and watch the upcoming gory show without wading in too deep into the sucking quicksand. (Lang, Should Br’er Bear be takin a tear in the bri’rpatch wit Br’er Rabbit? – Origin)

Colonel Lang’s assessment is a good antidote to the cocksure proponents of American intervention, from the neocon cabal that called the shots during the Bush-Cheney era to Powers-Rice and McCain-Graham, bedfellows whatever their differences in semantics and style.

References

Govind Acharya, Fear and Injustice Continues 10 Years After Gujarat Riots, Amnesty International Human Rights Now Blog, 1 March 2012.

Amnesty International, Gruesome evidence of ethnic cleansing in northern Iraq as Islamic State moves to wipe out minorities, 1 September 2014

BBC, Syria Iraq: The Islamic State militant group, 2 August 2014

Juan Cole, The Arab Political Crisis: It isn’t a Matter of Civilization and it isn’t Unique, Informed Comment, 21 September 2014

Dan Fletcher, “A Brief History Of The Khmer Rouge,” Time, 17 February 2009

W. Patrick Lang, Should Br’er Bear be takin a tear in the bri’rpatch wit Br’er Rabbit? – Origin, Sic Semper Tyrannis, 15 September 2014

Human Rights Watch, India: Stop Hindu-Christian Violence in Orissa, 30 December 2007

Allan M. Jallon, Meditating On War And Guilt, Zen Says It’s Sorry, The New York Times, 11 January 2003

Simon Maloy, America’s most terrified senator: Lindsey Graham’s never-ending doomsday visions, Salon, 15 September 2014

Hisham Melhem, The Barbarians Within Our Gates: Arab civilization has collapsed. It won’t recover in my lifetime, POLITICO Magazine, 18 September 2014

Robert Whymant, From the archive, 11 December 1979: Deposed Pol Pot gives interview in the jungleilThe Guardian, 11 December 2013

Around the Web as August and Summer Draw to a Close

The troubles in Ferguson made the militarization of American police forces a headline topic. Max Blumenthal was writing about the subject in 2011.

In October [2011], the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department turned parts of the campus of the University of California in Berkeley into an urban battlefield. The occasion was Urban Shield 2011, an annual SWAT team exposition organized to promote “mutual response,” collaboration and competition between heavily militarized police strike forces representing law enforcement departments across the United States and foreign nations….

Training alongside the American police departments at Urban Shield was the Yamam, an Israeli Border Police unit that claims to specialize in “counter-terror” operations but is better known for its extra-judicial assassinations of Palestinian militant leaders and long record of repression and abuses in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. (Max Blumenthal, From Occupation to “Occupy”: The Israelification of American Domestic Security, Al Akhbar, 2 December 2011)

From the website of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA):

JINSA’s Law Enforcement Exchange Program [LEEP] has supported the American law enforcement community with this important program since 2002. To date more than 100 law enforcement officials on the federal, state, and local levels have traveled to Israel with the program. Additionally, 11,000 Americans from the law enforcement community have attended nationwide LEEP conferences held in U.S. cities across the country. (Top Law Enforcement Officials Return from Israel, 4 August 2011)

In the popular mind and press atheism tends to be equated with a crude scientism, positivism, or materialism, a view to which contemporary neo-atheist writers have contributed. Frank Bruni’s review of Sam Harris’s new book presents a coherently argued counterpoint.

Which comes first, the faith or the feeling of transcendence? Is the former really a rococo attempt to explain and romanticize the latter, rather than a bridge to it? Mightn’t religion be piggybacking on the pre-existing condition of spirituality, a lexicon grafted onto it, a narrative constructed to explain states of consciousness that have nothing to do with any covenant or creed? (Frank Bruni, Between Godliness and Godlessness, The New York Times, 30 August 2014)

Colonel W. Patrick Lang is a retired senior officer of U.S. Military Intelligence and U.S. Army Special Forces. The colonel pulls no punches about his low regard for President Obama’s foreign policy team or for the president’s neocon critics.

“Lordy, Lordy,” as the “Old Lady from South Carolina might say.” (copyright pending) “It gives one the vaypuhs. What to do? What to do? That nasty, tricky Assad man, and his Rooshun friends… Why wasn’t Assad gone three yeahs ago? (Colonel Patrick Lang, A – C minus for the Children’s Crusade this week, Sic Semper Tyrannis, 26 August 2014)

Alexander Hamilton’s advocacy for a strong and active central government runs distinctly afoul of the temper of our time, while his rival Thomas Jefferson remains the darling of libertarians, Tea Partiers, and not a few progressives. Christian Parenti makes a case for Hamilton.

In the American political imagination, Jefferson is rural, idealistic, and democratic, while [Alexander] Hamilton is urban, pessimistic, and authoritarian. So, too, on the US left, where Jefferson gets the better billing….

Hamilton was alone among the “founding fathers” in understanding that the world was witnessing two revolutions simultaneously. One was the political transformation, embodied in the rise of republican government. The other was the economic rise of modern capitalism, with its globalizing networks of production, trade, and finance. (Christian Parenti, Reading Hamilton from the Left, Jacobin, 26 August 2014)

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is a clever marketing gimmick that went viral. I find this kind of thing annoying and manipulative even when utilized by organizations I support, such as  when Amnesty International sends a sheet of return address labels along with a donation pitch. More to the point is the matter of our  reliance on nonprofits to fund the public good.

When I saw my first ALS Ice Bucket video, I got the same knot in my stomach as when public school teacher friends post classroom supply fundraisers on GoFundMe.org. Why must professionals beg for our sympathy and attention in order to properly fund their work? (Kate Redburn, The Master’s Pools, Jacobin, 25 August 2014)

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