Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Lighter Side...

(Ed. Note: I'm not making this up...)

On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, speaking in Turkey, urged the Turkish government to quickly wrap up its recently begun military operations in Northern Iraq and move to open diplomatic channels in an effort to resolve the conflict between the neighboring countries.

Gates, who in 2006 succeeded Donald Rumsfeld as the military's highest ranking civilian, will meet on Thursday with Turkish leaders to discuss the escalating crisis between Turkey and Kurdish rebels operating out of Iraq's northernmost province of Kurdistan. At Wednesday's press conference, Gates began to lay out the United States' expectations for Turkey's future actions.

"It's very important that the Turks make this operation as short as possible and then leave, and to be mindful of Iraqi sovereignty," Gates told reporters, going on to add "I measure quick in terms of days, a week or two, something like that. Not months."

The Defense Secretary also added "There certainly is a place for security operations but these also need to be accompanied by economic and political initiatives...," and set a stern warning for Turkey by concluding "Military activity alone will not solve this terrorist problem for Turkey."

Eyewitness reports, including photographic evidence, conclude that Gates was able to maintain a straight face throughout the press conference, not once even cracking a smile.

Herein lies the quintessential example of the arrogance and indifference that embodies the Bush administration. It seems that at no point during the preparation of these remarks, did any staffer, advisor, or even Gates himself stop to think "Maybe we should avoid the topic of timetables, that's kind of a sticky topic in this neck of the woods," or "Does it somehow seem strange that I am advocating diplomacy between two parties between whom there is a longstanding history of physical violence, and all the while the nation I am here to represent is currently engaged in an illegal, unjust and immoral war that was initiated, in part, by the side stepping any form of diplomacy whatsoever?" Of course, if these questions were raised, they were quickly cast aside, in much the same manner as has been any shred of reason or decency in this administration.

In the Bush administration, it seems, there is no questioning yourself, there is no fact checking, there is no apathy. These traits are instead replaced by blind ambition, with the accent on 'blind."

What is most unfortunate about this latest series of events, is that one almost gets the feeling that the United States is looking forward to plying the tactics of its unique brand of diplomacy upon Turkey. Sadly, though, it seems the only preparation that goes into these diplomatic ventures, like the meeting scheduled to occur on Thursday between Secretary Gates and his Turkish counterparts, consists of an American diplomat standing in front of a mirror, practicing their best "Did I stutter?"

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Hung Up

Last week, Attorney General Michael Mukasey and National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell sent a strongly worded letter to Congress, condemning the Senate for allowing the Protect America Act to expire, which effectively ended the legal practice of domestic spying - at least for the time being. For those who are not aware, the Protect America Act is the Bush administration's program that allows the Federal Government to eavesdrop on the telephone and email conversations of American citizens without a warrant. Read that sentence again.

For roughly twelve months, the Federal Government, with the cooperation of major telecommunication companies, has been listening to you. Your phone conversations, your emails, your text messages, virtually every communication you have made with the assistance of an electronic device has, potentially, been intercepted and reviewed by our government. This is all being carried out under the premise of providing "national security." This has all been necessitated, proponents of the Act argue, by the "increased post 9/11 threat level." Furthermore, this practice must be continued, the same proponents state, to provide for our continued safety against further acts of aggression.

The main sticking point that prevented Congress from allowing this bill to be extended was verbiage that granted retroactive immunity to the telecommunications firms who corroborated with the government to carry out these previously illegal wiretaps. Senate Democrats wish to strike such clauses from the bill, and allow for lawsuits brought by affected individuals against said firms to proceed. Reading between the lines, this would illustrate an acknowledgement on the part of Democrats that these practices are entirely illegal. Why else would they be willing to set precedent allowing for suits to be brought against some of the nation's largest and most profitable companies? More importantly, though, why don't these elected leaders strike down this bill for what it truly is: an illegal and unconstitutional act perpetrated by the Federal Government against the peoples that it governs?

In 1859, John Stuart Mills wrote:

As soon as any part of a person's conduct affects prejudicially the interests of others, society has jurisdiction over it, and the question whether the general welfare will or will not be promoted by interfering with it, becomes open to discussion. But there is no room for entertaining any such question when a person's conduct affects the interests of no persons besides himself, or needs not affect them unless they like (all the persons concerned being of full age, and the ordinary amount of understanding). In all such cases there should be perfect freedom, legal and social, to do the action and stand the consequences.
Mills is absolutely correct in his implied definition of a plausible, tangible and practicable line that separates and distinguishes the rights of society, in the present case defined as the government, from the rights and freedoms of the citizens that said government holds jurisdiction over. By blocking the passage of this bill, the Democrats, albeit unwittingly, acknowledged one of the fundamental elements that defines our society: the freedom of We, the People "to be secure in [our] persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

In effect then, the Protect America Act does one of two things (if not both simultaneously): It either abolishes the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America, or it defines the very act of communication as a probable cause, deserving the attention and scrutiny of the persons and bodies that constitute our government. This act strikes at the very core of freedom; the very existence of such a law denigrates the society upon which it is enforced. Our Senate Democrats therefore must be applauded for blocking this bill, if only by default.

It seems that the line that separates freedom from repression has become blurred in the eyes of some within our government. Let us all hope that the fog perceived by this misguided few does not set upon us all, for this is the blinding, strangling fog of absolutism, of authoritarianism, of despotism.

It is a strange case of irony that dictates that these are the imminent threats that come from within.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The New American Philanthropy

"The real philanthropists in our society are the people who work for less than they can actually live on, because they are giving of their time and their energy and their talents all of the time...they're giving to you."

-Barbara Ehrenreich, from the 2005
Lewis Lapham film The American Ruling Class

The Merriam Webster dictionary defines philanthropy as: "goodwill to fellow men; especially: active effort to promote human welfare; a philanthropic act or gift; an organization distributing or supported by philanthropic funds." American society generally tends to conceptualize these acts as those being carried out by individuals or organizations of ample means for the benefit of those who's means are more modest, if not meager. When watching public television, for instance, viewers are reminded that these programs are being provided for, in part, by the generous contributions of the well endowed for the betterment of the society at large. The same is very often the case when one visits a museum, a library, or a homeless shelter. Apart from serving their primary roles, these edifices serve also as monuments to the charity of a select few; the often invisible benefactors whose generosity is preserved as permanent testimony towards their legacies.
There is, however, a much more prevalent and much less lauded form of philanthropy taking place in America every day. As Barbra Ehrenreich points out, those of meager means give charitably of themselves every single day. This theory is both relevant and tangible, in that the current economic climate of the United States points to a historic concentration of wealth at the very upper echelons of society, coinciding with record amounts of charitable giving taking place. All of this sounds like it debunks Ehernreichs assertion of who the true philanthropists are, but the numbers deserve a closer look: large scale philanthropy is being dominated by the very few of the very few. Most notably, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates have combined to set the new high watermark for charitable giving. While Gates and Buffett are certainly not to be criticized (and should, of course, be highly commended), their unprecedented generosity has most definitely skewered philanthropic statistics.
In 2006, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation had an endowment of $34.6 billion. According to, to maintain its status as a charitable foundation, it must donate at least 5% of its assets each year. Considering the tax advantages to be gained by allotting such a large amount of wealth towards philanthropic means, the Foundation is mutually beneficial. This begs the question: What of Ehrenreich's "real philanthropists"? What advantages are afforded them in this current economic environment, where the gap between rich and poor grows at an ever increasing rate?
In his 2007 book, The Conscience of a Liberal, Paul Krugman makes an argument for the return to a New Deal - era Federal Government. Among the basis of his argument are the need for universal health coverage, and more topically, the need to eliminate the enormous disparities between the rich and the poor. Krugman argues, effectively, that the Bush tax cuts severely undermine the integrity of our society by propagating such disparities through encoding them into our laws. Krugman, and many others, argue not only for a repeal of Bush's tax cuts, but a renewed emphasis on the increased taxation of the super wealthy. Such tax codes were prevalent during the New Deal era of the 1930s and 1940s, and carried through to the prosperous years of the post World War II economic boom.
While certainly effective, measures such as these, as well as most others designed to more evenly distribute wealth among the population, focus solely on the wealthy. Is there a way, perhaps, to come at this issue from both ends of the spectrum? Perhaps by framing the task within this new parameter of philanthropy, the concentration of wealth can begin to move down the demographic scale and become more in line with the make up of the country’s population.
Proponents of the Bush tax cuts, and similar programs with duplicitously marketed agendas, point to broad scale tax relief, and the fact that "everyone" benefits from these measures. Taking the country's recent economic performance into account, one wonders how much longer such proponents will be able to say so with a straight face. Perhaps a movement in the opposite direction is needed. Perhaps Americans can recognize who it is among them that truly give. Maybe some Americans will recognize that federal assistance programs are not enough to help those that are truly in need, that the definition of poverty, both ideologically and mathematically, is sorely outdated.
Too long have the poor in this society gone unheralded and unaccounted for. Too long have the actions on their behalf been unsuccessful. Too long has the true value of an individual been hidden behind the dollar sign. In the past, it has taken truly tragic events to help society to define who its heroes truly are, yet this definition is incomplete. Society must act now so that the task does not fall to further tragedies to complete this definition.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Collapse of Our Wave Position

It is a popularly held notion, both in the United States and throughout the rest of the world, that Americans, most notably American leaders, set themselves apart from the other inhabitants of Earth. This concept is most notable when it comes to the foreign policy of the United States, especially in regards to recent history. The U.S. has plainly stated and, in turn, demonstrated that it adheres to a set of principles which dictate that the common laws and standards applicable to all other nations of the Earth do not necessarily apply to itself. The United States sets itself apart from, or above all of the basic laws that govern the collected societies with which it interacts. The nation does so merely by suggesting such a rift exists.

The most commonly cited cause for this variance has been the combination of the events of September 11th and the ensuing War on Terror. It is the held position of the United States that since being so attacked, all necessary steps must taken to maintain the nation's security and to preserve its sanctity. This implied sanctity, as such, is bolstered by the assertion that by acting for the good of the nation, the United States acts toward the good of mankind. While the prophecy of determining who is with one and who is against one can be self fulfilling, in the case of the U.S. there is the implied added dimension of absolute righteousness, a prophecy that is conveniently self sufficient.

The United States poses itself as the standard bearer of humanity's highest ideals: equality, justice and freedom. It appoints itself as the international defender and arbiter of these ideals. America portrays itself, through word and deed, as the keystone of decency without which civilization oftlinewould descend into a netherworld of totalitarianism, Godlessness and terror. By doing so, America becomes the Leviathan written about by Thomas Hobbes in his book of the same name. Leviathan is the name Hobbes gives to the ultimate nation state, that which defends mankind from the descent into chaos. The methodology utilized by this fictional superpower is that of unquestioned and unchallenged rule. By appointing itself as lone sovereign, Leviathan as a nation was free to enforce its perception of justice on both its own people, and the rest of the world, without a need to ponder the legitimacy of its opponent's actions. Hobbes’ assertion was that in order to effectively govern its subjects, be they national or foreign, the Leviathan state must not be subject to the same laws as it enforces.

There is another, much smaller, and much less apparent set of parameters within which such a chasm exists. This is the rift observed in the scientific realm between classical mechanics and quantum mechanics. In essence, classical mechanics state that all objects are separate entities, bound to their own existence, governed by laws applicable to their own current situations of placement and motion. Examples of such laws are Newton's Laws of Motion and Newton's Laws of Universal Gravitation. By theory, these principles assert that objects and their actions are controllable and predictable. In contrast are the laws of quantum mechanics, which assert that all objects move and behave in relativity to each other and furthermore, that all objects are interconnected. The rift between these two theories is a matter, mostly, of size. Classical mechanics apply to larger, conceivable objects, while quantum mechanics apply mostly at an atomic level. The invisible, arbitrary, and as yet undefined threshold where these two realms meet is referred to as The Collapse of the Wave Function.

The analogy can be made, then, that the United States operates its foreign policy in a manner consistent with the laws of classical mechanics: it presupposes that the actions it takes within and against the rest of the world will have direct, predictable and conclusive results. This theory frees the nation to pursue its goals unabated, so long as there is no physical, or financial, impediment the nation cannot overcome. There is, however, a major flaw with practice of this theory. While the United States sets out to apply itself to a "classical" world, the world, in fact, operates on a "quantum" scale.

A main tenet of both the reasoning behind the aggressive posturing of the United States on the world's stage, and of quantum physics, is the existence of the unified field. The unified field theory is the practical application of interconnectivity to the physical world. This applies to quantum physics most famously through the theory of relativity, and applies to U.S. foreign policy as one of the strongest arguments for the need a "War on Terror." It is the openness and increased entanglement of our societies, America argues, that necessitates the heavy handed actions of a single, sovereign world power. This, fundamentally, is a paradox. Because the world is indeed open and interconnected, a ruling nation must act within the construct of the quantum spectrum. By removing itself from these laws, the U.S. is hopeless in its efforts to exert meaningful change upon them.

More effective would be an acceptance on the part of the U.S., of its place within the unified field that is modern society. It has been a failure to grasp the construct of this "brave new world" that has led America to repeated failed experiments in authoritarianism. The suspension of human rights, torture, domestic spying, et al point to the U.S. acting as a sort of mad scientist, refusing to recognize the failure of its experiments. What's worse, in the case of the United States, is that the more numerous and egregious these failures become, the more akin to the nation becomes to the very enemy it seeks to combat.

Quantum theory does allow for certain objects to carry more relevance, weight, or, in essence, importance than others within the unified field. In seeking to become such an object, the United States should consider the ideals with which it will seek to distinguish itself from the collected entanglements constituting the rest of the planet.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Brokering a Failure

With Super Tuesday now come and gone, neither Hillary Clinton nor Barack Obama has been able to establish themself as a clear cut favorite to gain the Democratic Party's nomination in the race for the White House. August 25th, now roughly 6 months away, looms ever larger for the two campaigns, as this is the date the Democratic Party descends upon Denver for its National Convention. If the current trend of accumulating delegates holds through the primary season, neither candidate will have garnered the 2,025 pledged delegates needed to secure the nomination. If this occurs, for the first time since 1952 the Party will be faced with the prospect of holding a brokered convention.

For a party that was beaten and bullied for the better part of this decade, the Democrats have been as of yet unable to circle their wagons and devise a strategy to unify the electorate, and to tilt the leanings of the nation back toward the left. Though they regained control of Congress in 2006, their return to power has been marked by ineffectiveness, negative approval ratings, and a sort of cat and mouse game played by trying to distance themselves from an unpopular president, at the same time they dart between verbal cannonballs launched by those on the ever vociferous right. From this political poker match have emerged Clinton and Obama, the two front runners so keen to play to the middle ground that they, for all intents and purposes, should be running as independents. Unable to gain an advantage over one another, they seem almost to be the different side of the same coin.

To their combined credit, Clinton and Obama have run relatively clean campaigns. There has been the occasional jab and counter punch, but even these instances seem to be centered more around periphery issues than on the candidates themselves. What happens though, when the summer comes, and the two candidates remain in a virtual dead heat when arriving in Denver for a final showdown? The imminent prospect of a brokered convention will bring not only increased political horse trading, but also increased negative campaigning and Democratic infighting. This may not be, however, the most damaging element to come from a convention as such. The real danger to the Democrats would come from producing a candidate too moderate for the Party's own good.

The Republican race, once thought to be headed down a similar road, is beginning to shape up as John McCain's race to lose. Even though he is wildy unpopular among those who lean to the far right, McCain has garnered enough centrist support to do well in the primaries and caucuses, mostly on the strength of support from the independent or undeclared voter. The question is whether a Democratic candidate would be able to challenge McCain in a campaign that took place largely in the center of the political spectrum. Add to this that McCain will most likely run alongside a much more right-leaning vice presidential nominee, to shore up support from conservatives, and the picture is potentially very bleak for the Democrats.

The key to any presidential race is to gain the votes that reside in the "grey area" - the independents, the left leaning Republicans, and conservative Democrats, all of whom come together to make up the holy grail of any campaign strategy worth it's salt. All of these votes, however, are meaningless if a candidate does not first secure the support of its base. Democrats, with the inherent vulnerabilities evident in some of their key demographic areas of support - the young and the poor, specifically, must be especially congnisant of this fact. By leaning too far to the right, an event sure to be made all the more likely by a National Convention convened under the duress that comes with appointing a candidate, the Democrats just may abandon their base in a failed bid to broaden it.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

The Politics of Change

Lately it seems that on a platform, or ideals, basis it's not a bad comparison to link presidential candidate Barack Obama and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick. Patrick was elected in 2006 espousing grassroots change and sweeping government reform. Obama is running on many of the same ideals. One noticeable distinction between the two is that a gaping partisan rift is notably absent in the Massachusetts legislature, meaning Patrick serves within a body politic that looks much different than the one Obama may be elected to lead. Yet public opinion holds that, so far, Patrick has been largely ineffective at living up to his campaign promises, even with an overwhelming political majority as his base.

Considering this, there may not be too much to distinguish Obama from the 2006 class of Democrats that swept into a majority in Congress, yet who have themseves been largely ineffective in combating President Bush and his core suppoters. It's interesting to consider where Massachusetts would be if Patrick were working with a state legislature that more closely resembled that which sits in Washington. One must also not forget the possibility that we may end up with a Democratic president and Republican led Congress next January.

It's easy to hear too much of the ABB (Anything But Bush) rhetoric from Obama, reminiscent of the ABC (Anything But Clinton) platform we heard from Republicans in 2000. A platform as such is most often unproductive when given authority, unless, like Bush, it decides to completely rewrite or ignore the rulebook. It's unlikely that moderate or even liberal Democrats are looking for their own version of an executive wrecking ball, but rather seek a leader to restore moral and political order to our federal government. This is not to say that Hillary Clinton does not also conjure the specter of George Bush as an ethereal campaign adversary, but in doing so she has shown to be more effective at challenging Bush's policies, not his ideals.

When one examines the aftermath of electing an executive who has run on a strictly contrarian platform, most often seen is a damaging effect to the party of the elected. Jimmy Carter splintered the Democratic Party to the point of having his incumbency seriously challenged by a fellow Democrat (Edward Kennedy). Even the current president Bush has divided his party into factions that piece together the core conservative ideals of the Republican party with various moderate stances, all done in a reactionary stance to the neo conservative backlash occurring within the party. September 11, the run up to the Iraq war, and John Kerry's failed 2004 presidential bid served the same effect within the Democratic Party in that this chain of events served to separate many Democratic leaders from the long held ideals of the party and its constituents. This is so much so that it is still a hobbled party that gained Congressional control in 2006, and a divided party that seeks the White House today.

Those who wish to see Obama's platform of change and reform elected to office in November should consider these past events, and be careful what they wish for.