Category: World politics
As usual, Florida is still undecided, a mess. According to NPR, though, it is leaning heavily toward Obama, despite the shenanigans of the state GOP in suppressing the vote.
I didn’t watch last night. Couldn’t. We went to bed early.
But then Donna got up around midnight and woke me by a whoop of joy that I briefly mistook for anguish.
To my small surprise and relief, Obama won.
I will not miss the constant electioneering, the radio ads, the tv spots, the slick mailers. I will not miss keeping still in mixed groups about my politics (something I am not good at, but this election cycle it feels more like holy war than an election). I will not miss wincing every time some politician opens his or her mouth and nonsense spills out. (This is, of course, normal, but during presidential years it feels much, much worse.) I will not miss…
Anyway, the election came out partially the way I expected, in those moments when I felt calm enough to think rationally. Rationality seemed in short supply this year and mine was sorely tasked. So now, I sit here sorting through my reactions, trying to come up with something cogent to say.
I am disappointed the House is still Republican, but it seems a number of the Tea Party robots from 2010 lost their seats, so maybe the temperature in chambers will drop a degree or two and some business may get done.
Gary Johnson, running as a Libertarian, pulled 350,000 votes as of nine last night. Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, got around 100,000. (Randall Terry received 8700 votes, a fact that both reassures me and gives me shivers—there are people who will actually vote for him?)
Combined, the independent candidates made virtually no difference nationally. Which is a shame, really. I’ve read both Stein’s and Johnson’s platforms and both of them are willing to address the problems in the system. Johnson is the least realistic of the two and I like a lot of the Green Party platform.
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A few months ago at Truthdig, Chris Hedges had this to say about Canada:
What happened to Canada? It used to be the country we would flee to if life in the United States became unpalatable. No nuclear weapons. No huge military-industrial complex. Universal health care. Funding for the arts. A good record on the environment.
But that was the old Canada. I was in Montreal on Friday and Saturday and saw the familiar and disturbing tentacles of the security and surveillance state. Canada has withdrawn from the Kyoto Accords so it can dig up the Alberta tar sands in an orgy of environmental degradation. It carried out the largest mass arrests of demonstrators in Canadian history at 2010’s G-8 and G-20 meetings, rounding up more than 1,000 people. It sends undercover police into indigenous communities and activist groups and is handing out stiff prison terms to dissenters. And Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper is a diminished version of George W. Bush. He champions the rabid right wing in Israel, bows to the whims of global financiers and is a Christian fundamentalist.
How is it that Americans are so incredibly ignorant of many of these atrocities? How is it, for example, that most people do now know that in 1954 the United States overthrew the democratically elected government of Iran to install a Shah?
The following video should be required viewing for any American who barks that we ought to invade Iran or, worse yet, “nuke Iran” (I’ve heard both of these on the street). This is insanity from a nation that claims to love liberties and spout pro-life rhetoric.
The problem: Girls can’t get to school. Solution: Buy them bicycles.
Three years ago the state’s new chief minister Nitish Kumar adopted a “gender agenda” and set about redressing his state’s endemic gender imbalances in an attempt to boost development in one of India’s most backward states. His vision was to bring a sense of independence and purpose to his state’s young women, and the flagship initiative of this agenda is the Mukhyamantri Balika Cycle Yojna, a project that gives schoolgirls 2,000 rupees (about £25) to purchase a bicycle.
The project’s results so far have been extremely promising: in those three years in Bihar alone, 871,000 schoolgirls have taken to the saddle as a result of the scheme. The number of girls dropping out of school has fallen and the number of girls enrolling has risen from 160,000 in 2006-2007 to 490,000 now.
When someone from another country does something impressive, Americans are well-trained to be threatened. We are teaming with ressentiment. Here’s an example from the July 18, 2011 edition of Time Magazine. Notice the photo on the right. It is an image of a brand new extremely long bridge, the longest sea bridge in the entire world. It is more than 26 miles long. It’s extremely impressive. It is something that reminds me that the Chinese people have excelled in many ways.
But notice the text under the photo. Especially notice the line: “The Jiaozhou Bay Bridge is yet another Chinese nose thumbing.”
Where does this writer get the idea that the Chinese have built the world’s longest bridge to make the United States look bad? I hear this attitude all the time, exemplified by statements like this: “America is the world’s greatest country.” Despite the fact, of course, that there is much room for improvement in modern day United States.
Many of these comments I hear uttered by Americans are aimed at the Chinese; for many Americans, anything impressive done by Chinese people is a threat to America. More disturbing, I fear that this ressentiment of outsiders builds into paranoia about outsiders and fuels the “need” for exhorbitant and irresponsible warmongering by the United States. I remember that in the months prior to 9/11, there was intense building hostility aimed at the Chinese. Then we got distracted by the Middle East. It seems that Americans intensely need an enemy, and that if they don’t actually have one, they invent one. That is a destructive technique most of our politicians use to maintain power and obeisance of the governed.
I’d recommend that Americans, especially those involved with the American media industry, work harder to keep their ressentiment in check. Time should have reacted to this amazing bridge by saying something like: “That’s amazing engineering and construction! Well done, Chinese people.” I’m afraid, though, that this attitude of being happy for the successes of others has become thoroughly un-American.
I didn’t write anything for yesterday’s commemoration. Many others, most far better suited to memorializing the day, said a great deal. My paltry mutterings would add little to what is, really, a personal day for most of us. Like all the big anniversary events, the “where were you when” aspect makes it personal and maybe that’s the most important part, I don’t know.
Instead it occurred to me to say something about the element of the disaster that puzzles most of us, even while most of us exhibit the very trait that disturbs us deeply in this context. One of the most common questions asked at the time and still today is in the top 10 is: how could those men do that?
Meaning, of course, how could they abandon what we consider personal conscience and common humanity to perpetrate horrible destruction at the cost of their own lives.
The simple answer is also the most complex: they were following a leader.
I’m going to string together what may seem unrelated observations now to make a larger point and I will try to corral it all together by the end to bring it to that point.
Firstly, with regards to the military, there are clear-cut lines of obligation set forth, the chief one being a soldier’s oath to defend the constitution. There is a code of conduct consistent with that and we have seen many instances where an officer has elected to disobey orders he or she deems illegal or immoral. There is a tradition of assuming that not only does a soldier have a right to act upon conscience, but that there is an institutional duty to back that right up. The purpose of making the oath one to the constitution (rather than to, say, the president or even to congress) first is to take the personal loyalty issue out of the equation.
To underline this a bit more, a bit of history. The German army prior to WWII was similarly obligated to the state. German soldiers gave an oath to protect Germany and obey its laws. Hitler changed that, making it an oath to him, personally, the Fuhrer. (He left in place a rule explicitly obligating the German soldier to disobey illegal or immoral orders.)
Unfortunately, human nature is not so geared that people find it particularly easy to dedicate themselves to an abstract without there also being a person representing it. (We see this often in small ways, especially politically, when someone who has been advocating what is on its own a good idea suddenly comes under a cloud of suspicion. Not only do people remove their support of that person but the idea is tainted as well. People have difficulty separating out the idea from the person. The reverse is less common, that a bad idea taints a popular leader.) Dedicating yourself to supporting the constitution sounds simple in a civics class, but in real life people tend to follow people. (Consider the case of Ollie North, whose dedication to Reagan trumped his legal responsibility to uphold the constitution and its legally binding requirement that he obey congress.)
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If you’ve lived in or spent any significant time in another country, you might have had to answer questions about why your country was doing certain things on the world stage. And if you took time to think of who was asking and how things appeared from their perspectives, your answer might be different than if you spent your life wearing parochial blinders.
I was in Korea when we invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. I couldn’t answer the questions like, “Why is the U.S. doing that?” or the more common one, “Why are Bush and Cheney doing that?” And these from a country that enjoys (not universally) a U.S. presence and strong relationship with the U.S. I couldn’t answer not just because I was in the military for part of the time I was there, but also that I tried to understand how things looked from outside the U.S. I was, after all, a guest in their country.
Sam Richards, in this TED Talk titled “A Radical Experiment in Empathy” illustrates a message that I think that every single American needs to hear, whether xenophobic or not. I’ve lived all over the U.S. and I am continually saddened, if no longer surprised at how Americans view the world. “Speak English!” “But you’re in our country.” “Speak English anyway.” I am also saddened that I know many people that will not understand this video, which is all the more disappointing because despite my other challenges regarding the nature of humans though their arts, I do.
The message is simple: Step out of your tiny world and understand the larger world differently.
It should open some eyes. I really hope it does.
Recent activity in Libya reminds me of the following from Real Time with Bill Maher, Episode 147, premiering on March 27, 2009:
New Rule: Forget about bringing the troops home from Iraq. We need to get the troops home from World War II. Can anybody tell me why, in 2009, we still have more than 50,000 troops in Germany and 30,000 in Japan?
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How did this country get stuck with an empire? Now, I’m not saying we’re Rome. Rome had good infrastructure. But, we are an empire, and I think the reason is because once America lands in a country, there is no exit strategy. We’re like cellulite, herpes and Irish relatives. We are not going anywhere! “We love you long time!”