Food for Despots

178px-_Be_Smart_Act_Dumb__-_NARA_-_514912Despots thrive on ignorance. After watching US foreign policy for the past 10 or so years, it is not too far-fetched to say that people get the government they deserve. We have learned this lesson time and time again. First we thought we would be greeted as liberators in Iraq. Then we moved from anti-terrorism to nation building in Afghanistan. Then we cheered on the Arab Spring in Egypt and Libya. In all cases we have discovered that the country post-despot is far more dysfunctional than the country under the despot.  This may sound callous bordering on bigotry but some countries are so full of ignorant people, incapable of self-government that they need a strong-arm to keep things in order. I believe the jury is out on whether the world is better off without Hussein, Mubarek and Gaddafi. Anyone paying the slightest bit of attention knows that Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai is a bad joke. And now what are we doing? We are seriously contemplating a contribution to the demise of Syria’s Assad with zero knowledge of what will follow his departure.

Is the lesson this teaches us here at home limited to foreign policy? No it isn’t. A smart electorate can become a dumb electorate. Dumb people get leaders who end up not acting in their best interests. Dumb people end up losing their freedom. I argue we are becoming a dumb people and I say this in a totally bipartisan way.

In the past week I have watched several exchanges on television that left me very unnerved. Bill Moyers interviewed Glenn Greenwald a journalist who has written about the Obama administration’s crackdown on whistle blowers. The government tactics range from intimidation to criminal prosecution. According to Greenwald, more whistle blowers have been harassed by this administration than any other administration combined. Recent developments suggest that those offering evidence on the Benghazi terrorist attack of 9/11/12 that was contrary to the government account were being shut down. I have spent some time on this blog and in the comments section defending Obama and Hillary Clinton on the Benghazi affair but when a mainstream show like “Face the Nation” this morning reports that the administration knowingly lied or distorted the facts about Benghazi how can there be any more defense? In fact, we risked endangering our relationship with the new President of Libya by essentially calling him a liar when he said the attack on the embassy was planned.

Then a few nights later a PBS “Frontline” report talked about America post-9/11 and painted a picture of a government shrouded in secrecy doing things in “America’s best interest” without their permission. This policy was passed on to the Obama administration and expanded by him. Billions of our e-mails are read every day by folks employed in Homeland Security.

Later in the week HBO’s Bill Maher interviewed Jeremy Scahill, a reporter whose eyes burn with anger when he recounts how we brazenly killed the 16 year old son of Anwar al-Awlaki simply for being the son of a terrorist instigator. Press Secretary at the time, Robert Gibbs, reportedly said this is what happens when your Dad does bad things. Scahill seems to be alone while most liberals turn a blind eye to a liberal administration flushing liberal ideals down the toilet.  Scahill went on to discuss the near indiscriminate killing of Afghan civilians by our special ops forces. As Scahill puts it, if someone steals your goat, you can report them to the Americans as a suspected terrorist and our special ops team will storm their house and kill everyone in it.

Later on that same broadcast an argument broke out, so brief that if you blinked you missed it. Lawrence O’Donnell, MSNBC uber-liberal, flew off the handle when conservative guest Pete Hegseth launched the old 2nd Amendment defense of an electorate needing to protect itself from government tyranny. O’Donnell said what I have been saying for years … and very recently in the comments section of this very blog, namely that the time for us to be worried about government tyranny is long past. Our well oiled democracy has built-in safeguards that ensure government tyranny would never happen. Along with that is the ironic and contradictory side argument that all of our US militias would never be a match against a government armed with drones and nukes — that same government that would never resort to tyranny. Essentially “they would never be tyrants but if they were you’d be no match for them.”

Well, I’m no longer so sure O’Donnell is right. We saw a militarization in Boston a few weeks ago that should give us all pause. When asked if America would ever drone strike its own people, Attorney General Eric Holder’s initial response was a hypothetical yes. He only backed off after an old-fashioned filibuster by Senator Rand Paul focused attention on it. Combine this with the other stories I watched this week, and we no longer have the liberal ideal of America that I vote for every four years.

But beyond all that, we have a conservative populace with a sizable number of folks who still don’t believe Barack Obama was born in America and a liberal populace too ignorant to understand that universal background checks (which I support) would have done nothing to prevent the tragedy of Sandy Hook. We are, as a nation, getting dumber and dumber. If we don’t turn this around, we will wake up one morning and not recognize the America in which we live. Our ignorance will be the food that one day nourishes a true despot.

Respectfully,
Rutherford

Poster from National Archives

 

Libya and Lesbians

I thought I’d end the week with a couple of brief observations.

Libya

A little over a month ago we were treated to Mitt Romney’s ill-timed condemnation of the Obama administration for their handling of the Cairo and Benghazi uprisings, the latter of which resulted in the murder of our Ambassador Chris Stevens. Romney’s political posturing in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy received bipartisan criticism and rightfully so.  In the weeks following, various conflicting reports flowed from Washington concerning what actually happened in Benghazi, Libya. By the time this week got underway, conservatives even had me angry at the administration. I wondered why UN Ambassador Susan Rice “lied” on the Sunday political talk shows saying that the Libyan attack was prompted by an offensive YouTube video when by then it was clear we were dealing with a premeditated terrorist attack.

I’m actually surprised at myself for not seeing the Republican hand wringing over Benghazi for what it was, pure and simple election year posturing, exploiting a tragedy for political gain. What woke me up? Namely a couple of New York Times articles that make it clear the situation on the ground in Libya was far more subtle than we were previously being led to believe.

To Libyans who witnessed the assault and know the attackers, there is little doubt what occurred: a well-known group of local Islamist militants struck the United States Mission without any warning or protest, and they did it in retaliation for the video. That is what the fighters said at the time, speaking emotionally of their anger at the video without mentioning Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden or the terrorist strikes of 11 years earlier. And it is an explanation that tracks with their history as members of a local militant group determined to protect Libya from Western influence. – Election-Year Stakes Overshadow Nuances of Libya Investigation

The facts appear to point to an attack that was planned in advance, but not far in advance. There was no peaceful protest that grew out of control or was hijacked by extremists but the extremists did claim that the YouTube video motivated them. As is often the case, the truth is a muddy mix of facts that those with an agenda cherry pick from. And it must be acknowledged that the Administration, not wanting to emphasize a connection to established terrorist groups, cherry picked the YouTube video motivation. But they did not outright lie in doing so. Republicans, licking their lips that al Qaeda might indeed have flexed its muscles again, have stretched the truth:

Is it fair to link the Benghazi attack to Al Qaeda?

Only very indirectly. Ayman al-Zawahri, the leader of Al Qaeda, had called on Libyans to avenge the killing of a Libyan-born Qaeda leader, and American intelligence officials have said they intercepted boastful phone calls after the assault from the attackers to members of the Qaeda affiliate in North Africa, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. – Clearing the Record About Benghazi

As usual, folks have rushed to judgment on Libya. I say let a proper investigation run its course and don’t concern yourself with coming up with an answer by November 6 in the hope of influencing an election.

Lesbians (and folks with other preferences)

I’ll be honest. I support LGBT rights but it doesn’t get my heart pumping as much as some other issues do. So I was surprised to be emotionally moved by a video put out by the Obama campaign featuring Jane Lynch, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Billie Jean King, George Takei, Wanda Sykes, Zachary Quinto, and Chaz Bono. They described the pain of growing up different and the validation they felt due to several pro-LGBT developments under the Obama administration. Among other things, the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the President’s endorsement of gay marriage gave the LGBT community a huge sense of progress.

Now I will be the first to admit that Obama’s saying he was alright with gay marriage was a clear election year pander. Sometimes a pander can move the ball forward. More importantly, the video got me thinking about Mitt Romney. Not since the days of George Wallace have we had a party platform and a candidate so intent on denying people’s rights.

I agree with the celebrities in the video that the Obama administration has taken several important steps in making this a more inclusive society. We cannot allow a Romney administration to take us backwards.

Respectfully,
Rutherford

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Kansas, Mexico and Points Beyond

I could write about how Mitt Romney just revealed that the elderly, the military, the poor and disabled consider themselves victims and don’t want to take care of their own lives but I had a few other random thoughts I wanted to cover. This will be brief.

Kansas

An idiot in Kansas files a petition to have Barack Obama kept off the ballot in November on the grounds he was not born in the United States. Birther nutjob and Kansas Secretary of State, Kris Kobach considers the petition along with the rest of the all-Republican Objections Committee. Of course the fact that Kobach is a self-described “adviser” to Mitt Romney didn’t seem to make him think he should recuse himself from this judgment on Obama. Apparently enough people contacted the original petitioner and called him a moron that he withdrew his petition. Kobach, not wanting to appear the Birther-wuss said more investigation was warranted. Then Monday he finally agreed to have Obama placed on the November ballot. Of course, one of the folks demanding that this birth issue be thoroughly examined was “California lawyer and dentist” Orly Taitz, a lunatic I thought had finally faded from the scene.

There was a time in this country when no decent person would have made such outrageous claims about a sitting President for fear of being roundly rebuked. But then as Bill Clinton reminded Ted Kennedy back in 2008, there was a time in this country when Barack Obama would be doing nothing more than getting Kris Kobach a cup of coffee.

Mexico

I guess I’m ashamed to admit it but the one area in which I identified a bit with conservatives was their attitude toward “illegal aliens”. As someone who has been income-challenged for the past few years, I bought hook, line and sinker the notion that Mexicans were stealing jobs from deserving Americans. Even when I recognized that for the most part they were doing jobs most Americans didn’t want to do, I still resented it.

Watching the Democratic National Convention a few weeks ago gave me a bit of an epiphany. I already agreed that Obama was right to extent flexibility to children of undocumented workers who came here by no choice of their own. But the DNC gave me a new perspective on the parents. For the most part, these “illegals” represent the promise of the American Dream. They are no different from the scores of immigrants who have come to our shores over the past 200+ years. They come here to escape a life of certain poverty. They come here because they believe they will find opportunities not available south of the border. What makes them different is that instead of an ocean, there is only an invisible line in the soil separating them from their dream.

I don’t believe we should have open borders. I know it is not feasible to simply let every Tom, Dick and Harry enter the United States at will.  But the DNC made it clear to me that we need a compassionate immigration policy. Undocumented workers don’t come here to hurt us. They come here to help themselves.

Points Beyond

The Muslim Meltdown

Once again an insult to the Muslim prophet Mohammad is propagated and once again a small contingent of angry Muslims go wild. This time the rage is accelerated by newly elected unstable central governments (Cairo) and opportunistic terrorists (Benghazi, Libya). It was humorously suggested on Comedy Central this week that perhaps Islam’s big problem is immaturity. While at first blush this might seem absurd, Islam is a good 600 years younger than Christianity. Christianity’s record for civil behavior was not peachy keen even within the past 300 years (e.g. Salem Witch Trials). Perhaps a Muslim reformation sometime in the future is not outside the realm of possibility? I believe the only way to get rid of radical Islam is from within.

Israel v Iran

That Israel possesses nuclear weapons is the worst kept secret in foreign affairs. So, as a foreign policy neophyte, I ask my more knowledgeable readers why can’t the Iran/Israel standoff be resolved this way:

Iran simply says to Israel, “We will stop developing nuclear capability when you demonstrate that you have disarmed your nuclear weapons.” Seems simple enough to me. What am I missing?

Respectfully,
Rutherford

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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