Sunday, June 30, 2013

Fighting For Freedom Right Here

As America readies for its 237th Independence Day I am struck by a bumper sticker I saw this weekend “My Dad Is Fighting For Our Freedom”.  Perhaps influenced by President Eisenhower’s January 17, 1961 farewell to the nation, the famous Military Industrial Complex warning, I have always been wary of the nation’s excessive militarism.

“This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every statehouse, every office of the federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist.”

In fact, my wariness has been mixed with my inherent skepticism to form a concoction of concern and cynicism.  I never bought the Bush Administration’s “We’re fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them here.”  I simply did not believe the Iraq invasion and subsequent rebuilding had anything to do with protecting our freedom.  I am neither a pacifist nor an isolationist, our participation and leadership in World War II and the Korean Peninsula were just and necessary.  But somewhere along the line we lost our way.  Over the last half century, our interventions in sovereign states and the use of our military have been less about freedom and more about global interests.  We backed corrupt regimes in Vietnam, Iran, Nicaragua, and elsewher; none of which posed threats to our freedom.  We should not abdicate moral responsibility to promote individual rights and oppose oppression, but this should not be wrapped in the American flag and spun as fighting for our freedom. 

Perhaps the bumper sticker was not about a soldier fighting overseas.  Perhaps, the bumper sticker referred to a civil rights lawyer, a government whistleblower, or an investigative journalist?  I would argue that Ted Olson and David Boies are freedom fighters for arguing the case against California’s Proposition 8 and based on last week’s success at the Supreme Court, these men should be lauded for their victory.  Ordinary citizens who exhibit extraordinary mettle in fighting against illegal search and seizure, efforts to stifle free speech, and voter suppression certainly qualify as freedom fighters.  If freedom is defined by our bill of rights, civil rights, and our natural rights, shouldn’t those who defend these tenets  be considered freedom fighters on par with those from our greatest generation that fought on faraway places like Guadalcanal or tiny villages in France? 

On this 4th of July, as we celebrate our independence with cook outs, fireworks, parades, and ubiquitous flags, I will celebrate thinking of Lucretia Mott, Margaret Sanger, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Martin Luther King, the ACLU, Louis Brandeis, Hugo Black, Robert Ingersoll, and other great Americans that have fought against those that would deny rights to all Americans.  And while it is noble to want to want to export liberty and freedom to the rest of the world, the domestic fight must continue without wavering.   And I am not talking about government suggested national guidelines Sarah Palin.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Clearing the Mental Inbox

1.       We’re supposed to believe conservative Texans are really pro-life when 1.2million children do not have health insurance, 20% of the population lives below the poverty line, and 500 people have been executed by the state.

2.       Going to college is a privilege but that doesn’t mean it should be limited to the privileged.  Ten years from now, a four year education may cost as much as $700,000.  That’s insane.

3.       Prejudice is the reason of fools.”  -- Voltaire

4.       Worst money ever spent: The RNC’s $10million rebranding initiative.  Opposition to LGBT rights and immigration reform, and now it’s all going up in smoke.  So much for expanding the tent.

5.       According to religious right leaders like Ralph Reed and Tony Perkins, same sex marriage will lead to the breakdown of society.  That must come as a shock to the citizens of Canada, Belgium, Netherlands, Norway, Iceland, and other developed free nations that have legalized same sex marriage.

6.       No one ever calls a judge an activist when his side wins?

7.       I am little stunned that this “Border Surge” of 18,000 additional agents isn’t being as criticized by libertarians to the same level as Prism.

8.       I guess building 700 miles of border fence is considered infrastructure investment by Republican Senators.

9.       I do not think it is coincidence that international perception of American arrogance increased with the new Christian controlled Republican party.

10.   "We establish no religion in this country. We command no worship. We mandate no belief, nor will we ever. Church and state are and must remain separate.” – Ronald Reagan

11.   CNN is bringing back Crossfire with Newt Gingrich, S.E. Cupp, Stephanie Cutter, and Van Jones.  Clearly Zucker is aiming for News Entertainment and not actual news.  Click.

12.   Boston Bruins’ Patrice Bergeron played Game Six of the Stanley Cup with a cracked rib and a puncture lung.  That is toughness!

13.   We should always respect another's faith, but that doesn't mean it should become public policy.

14.   Did you see the story of the boss being held hostage by his people? No, not the guy in China, I'm talking about John Boehner.

15.   So I guess the CEO of Chick-fil-A is eating a little crow

16.   511 Iraqi citizens killed so far  JUST in June.  Still think the surge was successful?

17.   The ‘Red Wedding’ episode of Game of Thrones will we the most shocking episode of any TV show this year.  I expect GoT will take the prize again in 2014.

18.   You can’t claim to be the party of Lincoln while denying natural rights and blocking civil rights.

19.   "But the Republicans have become a party of Torquemadas, forcing representatives to sign pledges never to raise taxes, to dump the chairman of the Federal Reserve and to embrace an ever more Southern-fried approach to social policy." -- The Economist

20.   I guess it never dawned on the conservative members of the Supreme Court that the reason why voter suppression and civil rights violations have been held in check WAS the Voting Rights Act.  Thanks for removing the teeth from the law.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Syria: This will end badly

What happens when you take a region with little history of self-rule, numerous tribal alliances over nationalism, sectarian strife including murder, an abundance of the world’s most sought after commodity, regional power players, autocratic rule, and global powers playing a chess game?  The Middle East of course.

The Arab Spring started with a Tunisian street vendor’s self-immolation in December 2010 and we have seen  the fall of autocrats in Libya, Yemen, and Egypt.  Additionally, monarchies in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Jordan have had to deal with popular uprisings via security forces and populist bribes.  The latest chapter is unfolding in Syria and it is turning out to be a free-for-all where nearly a hundred thousand civilians have been killed and millions displaced.  Local actors, sovereign states, terror groups, and the global powers are all vying for a solution, control, and a favorable outcome.

When considering all of the possible outcomes, it is difficult to see how the situation can end well.  It is why the criticism of President Obama is misplaced; no one can articulate a realistic end.  We are instructed to develop SMART (Specific Measurable Actionable Realistic Timely) goals when putting plans together and I remain unconvinced that those calling for increased American involvement have thought this through.  Arming rebels, establishing a no-fly zone, leaving F-16’s in Jordan, etc. are all tactics, not goals and certainly not strategies.  If the goal is replace Assad by the end of the 2013, that fits the criteria (one could argue about how realistic it is), my question is then what?  Tactics support goals and goals support strategy.  What is the strategy?

It will be messy. Syria is not Egypt.  When Mubarak, was overthrown, a legal system, albeit a flawed corrupt one, was in place as were many of the necessary government functions and institutions.  It is also quite homogenous where 91% of the population is ethnic Egyptian and 90% of the population is Sunni, and most importantly it is an ancient nation and people dating back thousands of years.  The Sunni majority has ruled without any viable threat except from militant Sunni Islamists which had been silenced by the autocratic Mubarak.  In contrast there is Syria, a nation that has existed only since 1946 and for its 1st 25 years it was marked a series of coups and coup attempts followed by 40+ years of Ba’athist Assad family rule.  And while it has a Sunni majority, there is still a significant Shia and Christian minority, where the minority Alawites (a Shia offshoot), has held power.  Additionally, Syria also has a significant Druze and Kurdish ethnic minorities.  That adds up to a sectarian and tribal alliances over national alliances and a history of dictators stunting the development of democratic institutions.

So while Egypt has been able to move towards relative stability post-Mubarak, Syria will be a cauldron that will make Libya look like smooth peaceful post-dictator transition.  How far are the Russians willing to go in backing their man Assad and his policies?  Will they really walk away from their last USSR-era post in Tartus?  Will Iran and its proxy Hezbollah continue to support Assad and the Shia minority?  What about the Sunni nations such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia that are arming Sunni rebels affiliated with al-Qaeda, and of course the western darling secular rebels?  Did I mention the Druze, Christians, and Kurds?

The U.S. has a less than stellar track record when it comes to Middle and Near Eastern intervention. The best of intentions will can still result in unintended consequences, so while many claim President Obama is dithering, I prefer to describe his performance as calculating.  He understands this will end badly, and by badly I mean it is likely that the highest probability is Assad will be forced out and years of civil war will ensue on a scale wider and deadlier than Lebanon between the 70’s – 90’s.  Without any government structure, independent courts, or local governance, there can be no peaceful transition.  The post-Assad era will be brutal and deadly and will create economic hardships on nearby Turkey, Iraq, and Jordan.

But intervention is in our best interests many say.  Really?  If the Shias control, Iran maintains its sphere of influence.  If the Sunni extremists remain intact and continue to fight, al-Qaeda remains influential. Our only hope is somehow a coalition of pro-western liberal rebel factions can win the war and the peace.  Sounds like our similar pipe dreams about the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan.  Sadly, the media is propping this group of rebels as freedom fighters, when they are likely cut from the same cloth as the murderous, kidnapping, drug lord Northern Alliance.  Perhaps we should ask what would the Chinese do?  Because while we would be getting embroiled in another regional conflict, our Pacific rivals will be positioned to benefit economically.  Meanwhile the United Nations and the Arab League ineffectiveness does not offer hope for a peaceful solution and smooth transition.

Americans tend to believe that elections after the overthrow of a dictator represent democracy.  Hardly.  Our own democracy nearly didn’t survive and our issues were almost exclusively political, to think we can do the same for these people is na├»ve and arrogant. 

No good options, a deteriorating condition, and nothing but dismal prospects.  Damned either way.  I say we sit this one out militarily while continuing to provide humanitarian aid to the innocent civilians.    

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Liberty or Security...It's not that simple

Are you troubled by the Prism and NSA news?  How do you feel about what Edward Snowden?  Has government become the omnipresent Orwellian “Big Brother”?  Was Benjamin Franklin right when he said “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”?  Would you chose the blue pill or the red pill?

Whether it is the very recent news of the Snowden leak, the use of drones, political intimidation, extreme rendition, or enhanced interrogation,  the American public needs to come to grips with its identity.  These are potent issues that require serious dialogue and debate, and should neither be flippantly nor frivolously relegated to 140 character tweets. 

Each person will have to make up his own mind, but do not hold your breath for the truth, as history has told us when it comes to governmental controversy, truth is not singular.  But I would be remiss to leave you without the questions I have and what I question:

·         Remember when the Bush administration used its torturous circular logic when it claimed we don’t torture because torture is illegal?  I tend to be fairly cynical and skeptical when similar arguments are used by corporate or government officials. 

·         The above notwithstanding, who determines legality? A secret court?  Perhaps, as the ACLU has signaled, the question ultimately comes to constitutionality. 

·         While many Americans want to give President Obama the benefit of the doubt, and most democrats will stand by him (of course we know how democrats would react to the Prism disclosure under a Republican president) I also remember that we have a history of government overreach in the form of the Alien & Sedition Acts, the Espionage Act, the Palmer Raids, Japanese internment.  Yes, sometimes even under the best intentions, unintended consequences are unavoidable.

·         We live in a Republic, not a Democracy.  We elect representatives to create and enforce laws and the judicial branch to interpret said laws.  We do not have mob rule, but it is up to the electorate to act and sadly when only 41% of eligible voters turnout for a mid-term election, the majority of Americans forfeit their right to criticize.

·         I question the media and the sensationalism.  The NSA does not listen to everyone’s phone calls and it doesn’t read everybody’s emails.  Snowden talked in ‘coulds’ not ‘does’, heck a technician at the phone company or an internet service provider could do the same.  Court orders to capture metadata are not new, that being said collecting all metadata for later use has crossed a new line in Fourth Amendment protections.

I am not ready to bow to Colonel Jessep, but I can imagine debates in Washington on security versus liberty, I simply want the debates to be less secretive.  I also believe legal challenges to these ‘security requests’ and other government programs in the name of defense and security should not be kept from the public.


Saturday, June 8, 2013

Why I Oppose the GOP

1)      It believes that markets and industry can regulate themselves.
2)      It claims to be pro-market, when it is actually pro-business.
3)      It hasn’t had an original idea since the Dwight Eisenhower administration.
4)      Resistance to change is embedded in its DNA.
5)      It believes a nation’s strength is measured by its arsenal.
6)      It is unable to show vulnerability.
7)      Its zero sum game plan is dangerous and harmful to America.
8)      It cannot understand the value or importance of the ACLU.
9)      It has coopted political conservatism into a reactionary social movement.
10)   It opposes deficit reduction when out of power, and lives by it when in power.
11)   Its roots are too deep in the religious right.
12)   Its childlike “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” approach to foreign policy is inept
13)   It thinks in terms of political winning not national interests.
14)   It cannot accept the changing demographics of America
15)   Its ‘with us or against us’ is for the school yard not diplomacy.
16)   It cannot let go of the failed concept of ‘trickle down economics’
17)   It cannot believe that gas and oil can coexist with alternative energy.
18)   It believes the 1% grows the economy
19)   It doesn’t respect sovereignty

20)   It treats intellectuals with disdain while promoting mediocrity