Saturday, November 28, 2009

No, torture and war are still not okay

This is a quick, sloppy response to something I've seen floating around the internet for years, but which my cousin just posted to Facebook, prompting me to feel as though a response was necessary while I work on another post with lots of good stuff in it. As this was a quickie, I left out links and sources, but if you want them, just ask.

Are we fighting a war on terror or aren't we? Was it or was it not started by Islamic people who brought it to our shores on September 11, 2001 and have continually threatened to do so since?

The very notion of fighting a military "war on terror" and somehow bombing and torturing the world free of terrorism shows, right of the bat, a complete lack of serious thought or knowledge of the issues surrounding the terrorism that we are supposed to be fighting. And, well, it wasn't started then, actually. The events of September 11, 2001 are merely a culmination of a long history of events that preceded it, including a long history of American military intervention as well as injustices perceived from the United States unequivocal support for Israel in its policies toward Palestine and Lebanon among others. It started long before Sept. 11, 2001 and the notion that it did shows a disturbing lack of historical knowledge for anyone who even wants to speak about such things.

Were people from all over the world, not brutally murdered that day, in downtown Manhattan, across the Potomac from the capitol of the USA and in a field in Pennsylvania ?

Yes they were. Is the proper response to murder not to round up and prosecute those who perpetrated it through widespread policing action? Rather than a global law enforcement effort however, the United States, Canada, and all our NATO allies have been bombing the hell out of a defenseless country, and propping up a government that is no better for the Afghan people than the Taliban was. (And, ironically, increasing popular rural support for the Taliban as an occupation resistance movement.)

Did nearly three thousand men, women and children die a horrible, burning or crushing death that day, or didn't they?

Again, yes they did. How many innocent men, women and children have been killed by NATO action in Afghanistan? Are their lives somehow worth less than those of the lives lost on Sept. 11? Estimates are around 7500 so far. Are we even yet? Killing does not justify more killing. It becomes an endless cycle. They attack, we attack, they attack again in retaliation. It will never result in an end to terrorism or violence of any sort.

And I'm supposed to care that a few Taliban were claiming to be tortured by a justice system of the nation they come from and are fighting against in a brutal insurgency?

The Taliban are a regional political force with little to no involvement in 9/11. They just want to control the AfPak region, more or less. That aside, torture has been shown to be problematic on three fronts: There are many who have been tortured who have nothing to do with terrorism. They were detained and shipped off without evidence or charge for years and years. Innocent people. Assuming that the people captured and subsequently tortured by NATO forces are automatically terrorists again shows a considerable lack of knowledge of how things are actually going. If they really were all terrorists

Which brings me to the second point: Doing this simply inspires more hatred and terrorism. A lot of noise was made about "terrorist recidivism after detainees were released, but there was no evidence they were involved in terror in the first place. As such, it is reasonable to assume it was their mistreatment which led them to becoming involved with terrorist activity. In addition to that, this enhances the view that America/the West is unjust and conducting a war on an entire culture, resulting in others to take up the cause of terrorism as well.

Thirdly, from a strictly strategic point of view, information obtained through torture is rarely, if ever, accurate or useful. As such, it serves no legitimate military/strategic purpose, even if the person captured is a known terrorist.

Oh, also, it's a war crime. That might be worth mentioning too. You know, those principles that were agreed upon by basically the entire world at the end of World War 2? Yeah, they still hold sway, and torture is a direct violation. (And really, do we WANT to lower ourselves to their level in stating that "Well they did horrible stuff to us!")

I'll start caring when Osama bin Laden turns himself in and repents for incinerating all those innocent people on 9/11.

Fun fact: The Taliban government actually offered to hand over bin Laden to a third country if the bombing of Afghanistan was halted and evidence of bin Laden’s involvement in the September 11 attacks was given. This offer was rejected by President Bush because, as he stated in response, "There's no need to discuss innocence or guilt. We know he's guilty."

I'll care about the Koran when the fanatics in the Middle East start caring about the Holy Bible, the mere belief of which is a crime punishable by beheading in Afghanistan.

The idea that the Taliban represents mainstream Islamic belief shows a severe understanding of not only Islam but basic common sense: There are a billion and a half Muslims in the world. Most of them have no desire to decapitate Christians or anyone else for that matter. In fact, the anti-Islam sentiment that blames all of the Muslim religion for all the world's problems is no better than the anti-Semitism that blamed the Jews for all the world's problems.

I'll care when these thugs tell the world they are sorry for hacking off Nick Berg's head while Berg screamed through his gurgling slashed throat.

Another horrible crime that should be handled with an international policing response rather than bombing the hell out of more Afghan villages and then torturing whoever is captured even when there is no actual evidence against them.

I'll care when the cowardly so-called 'insurgents' in Afghanistan come out and fight like men instead of disrespecting their own religion by hiding in mosques and behind women and children.

Afghanistan has a long and rich history of fighting off occupying forces (the Soviets, the British, etc.). This notion that they must be fighting unfairly to have been able to withstand the onslaught of NATO forces is quite ill informed at best. (And almost reeks of an attempt to justify or at least shift blame for the death of innocents that might have been pushed into the way by insurgent forces.

I'll care when the mindless zealots who blow themselves up in search of nirvana care about the innocent children within range of their suicide bombs.

Refer to my response to #4 about the issues relating to torture. In the meantime, it's also important to understand why these bombings take place. They indeed believe that martyrdom is a great honour for them, but we have to figure out what is it about their situation that makes them feel as though martyrdom and indiscriminate killing is necessary. Until we understand WHY we will never be able to successfully combat the problem. Understanding is not justifying, I should add. As a point of example, taking painkillers for a chronic pain you don't know the source of will not solve the problem, and will likely allow the source of the pain to become worse. As simplistic an analogy as that seems, it is more or less the way we should approach all problems. Treat the cause, not just the symptoms.

I'll care when the Canadian media stops pretending that their freedom of speech on stories is more important than the lives of the soldiers on the ground or their families waiting at home to hear about them when something happens.

Isn't freedom of speech one of those freedoms that soldiers are allegedly fighting for? I mean, that's what I have gathered, troops are always, no matter the nature of the conflict, fighting for our freedoms. And the freedom of the press to cover all aspects of a story, even, yes, the war in Afghanistan, is a necessity to a truly free and democratic society. Never mind that this a completely false dichotomy and freedom of speech in Canada has little bearing on the survival of troops. (In fact a proper discussion might result in ensuring their survival by bringing them home.)

In the meantime, when I hear a story about a CANADIAN soldier roughing up an Insurgent terrorist to obtain information, know this:

I don't care.

Well, again, what if the person they are "roughing up" (if you consider things like slicing a detainee's genitals with a scalpel to be "roughing up") is not in fact a terrorist? (As many of them show no evidence of being.) Do you care then? What if the roles were reversed and they took innocents with no evidence, held them for years without charge and tortured them. You would be appalled. And, I reiterate, the information actually gained through torture is rarely useful or accurate.

When I see a wounded terrorist get shot in the head when he is told not to move because he might be booby-trapped, you can take it to the bank:

I don't care.

Again, is there significant evidence to suggest this hypothetical person is a terrorist and might be strapped with explosives? Again, what if the roles were reversed? Would you care then? And ultimately, as I said above, we need to understand that if this person WAS in fact strapped with explosives, that he probably would not be if he was not trying to fight off an occupying force in his country. The mere presence of an occupying force is historically consistent in resulting in insurgent violence using tactics that are quite crude when there is no real military they can avail of to fight the occupier.

When I hear that a prisoner, who was issued a Koran and a prayer mat, and fed 'special' food that is paid for by my tax dollars, is complaining that his holy book is being 'mishandled,' you can absolutely believe in your heart of hearts:

I don't care.

Once again (I feel like a broken record here) the detainees held are more often than not being held without charge or evidence. They are, as far as we know, victims of circumstance and undeserving of any mistreatment. Once again, I have to wonder what the reaction would be if the roles were reversed. (And really, I don't have to use my imagination to know.) On top of that, don't think that having "special" food and religious texts in any way shape or form makes a military prison Club Med.

And oh, by the way, I've noticed that sometimes it's spelled 'Koran' and other times 'Quran.' Well, Jimmy Crack Corn you guessed it,

I don't care!

Both are legitimate spellings. No issue here.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Obama and American exceptionalism

Criticizing Barack Obama at this point almost seems like progressive suicide in a way. I hang out on an American liberal/Democratic message board, and the adoration for that man--which is understandable considering the 8 years of the Bush administration--is incredible. The problem though is that he really isn't this ultimate progressive that he's made out to be. The euphoria of being rid of Bush and having a person who isn't a complete moron and isn't backed by a vice president who is pure evil can, and seems to, create a fog that masks some of the very legitimate criticisms that one can make. Just because he isn't as bad as Bush, that doesn't mean he deserves a free pass.

Obama made a visit to Ottawa recently and drew a crowd. It wasn't the type of crowd you would expect for an American president though. (And I don't just mean Bush here.) Rather than malcontents who deplore American foreign policy, it was almost like Obama had a cheerleading squad. This is something that really bothers me, because it exemplifies this blindness to reality I'm talking about. I can understand being excited about Obama after the eight years of Bush. I really can. But no political leader should have a cheerleading squad at home, let alone a foreign country. Maybe it's my anarchist tendencies, but that really worries me. It makes me worried that the people are going to be far too willing to accept any Obama policy fort he mere fact that he's smarter than Bush. He is more progressive than Bush. He is a charismatic leader. This, to me, is exactly why we need to be MORE critical of Obama. (And I am writing this from notes in a notebook featuring a "Yes we did!" sticker on the front cover.)

There are several policies of Obama's that really need a critical assessment, so rather than posting them all at once, I am going to do this across several posts, breaking them down by topic. These are going to be a little more verbose and serious than my previous posts, because it is an issue worthy of serious discussion, not ridicule, the way the right wing criticisms are.

Criticism No. 1 / American exceptionalism
By most popular accounts, George W. Bush is one of the worst presidents (if not THE worst) in American history. He is a worldwide icon of American arrogance and general stupidity. That isn't even really controversial at this point. The Republican party has even distanced themselves from Bush. What people don't seem to realize, or at least acknowledge, is that Bush's neoconservative policies, as egregious and extreme as they were, are simply extension of the Wilsonian idealism--the belief that the United States is the divine moral compass of the world--that has permeated every presidential administration since, well, Wilson. As far as this notion goes, Obama is no exception.

The biggest symbol of this, to me, comes from his inaugural address. "We will not apologize for our way of life." There are two obvious ways to take this.

The first is that America's freedom is why people hate them. Basically, he is trying to echo the man people are celebrating him for being so different from. (There was no shortage of similar rhetoric in his inaugural address really.) That particular notion is asinine enough that I really don't think I need to get into it.

The other interpretation is that, as per the Wilsoninan ideal, it is the United States' divine right to spread itself around the world. This, of course, has caused endless amounts of suffering from South America to Southeast Asia. The United States has hundreds of military bases throughout the world, securing its ability to maintain a military influence no matter where they need to. Of course this keeps its relations with many world leaders (sayyyy, Iran) quite hostile, which provides and excuse to keep pumping money into the military industrial complex and diverting money from other important spending projects, but I digress. American hegemony has also sought to impose the type of market globalization (even before the neoconservatism of the Bush years) that has resulted in massive global inequality, which leads to very prime conditions for the breeding of terrorists. On top of that, the United States has a longstanding history of backing brutal dictators (Nicaragua, Chile, pre-Castro Cuba, Somalia, Indonesia, etc.) who happen to be fine with the Americans having their way with their people and resources.

In short, there is a lot about the American way of life in this respect that should be apologized for. Massive inequality, terrorism (both state sponsored on the American side and radical uprisings on the side of those the U.S. has created those conditions for), extensive human rights abuses (which I'll make note of an upcoming post), and even extensive environmental degradation (which I will also discuss in an upcoming post.)

Obama's grandiose declaration that there is nothing for the American's to apologize for (along with his plans for Iraq and Afghanistan, which will be my next topic) is a pretty clear declaration that while the Bush doctrine is no longer the leading ideology in Washington, Wilsonian idealism and American exceptionalism still hold exalted status as guiding ideologies.

Friday, February 6, 2009

A critique of Obama's critics

Originally I had intended to write a critique of Barack Obama, (which I still have every intention of doing, because frankly it needs to be done,) but before I can do that, I feel as though I need to take a look at some of the idiotic right wing talking points that you can't seem to escape in these glorious days of CHANGE. If you listened to the right wing blowhards on Fox News and AM talk radio, you'd think the Americans had elected Joseph Stalin sometimes. He's going to let terrorists run loose and they'll kill us all! He's going to abolish capitalism and throw is all in gulags! Won't somebody PLEASE think of the children?!

First, he signed an executive order to shut down that luxury terrorist resort at Guantanamo Bay. HOLY SHIT! The terrorists will be walking among us, maybe even picking up your sister at the local dive bar and slipping Muslim conversion pills into her drink. WE ARE FUCKED. That's right, not just the United States is fucked, WE ARE ALL FUCKED.

Except not really.

The big talking point right now, most recently spewed from beak of the now former Vice President Dick "The Penguin" Cheney, is that 61 of the people released from Guantanamo by the Bush administration have "back into the business of being terrorists." There are a couple of ways to look at this. The first thing to keep in mind is that these people, like most of the detainees at Guantanamo, were never charged with anything. Years in custody, and never charged with anything. The evidence against them was scant at best. It stands to reason, then, that some of these people might not actually have been terrorists. We don't know, and anyone saying they were has no way to prove it. So if they are terrorists now, we should probably ask "Why?" Well, when you lock someone up with no real legitimate proof that they should be locked up in the first place, then you just hold them and don't bother to really do anything (you know, like put them on trial) except maybe torture a couple of them once in a while, you're probably going to piss some people off. Shocking, right? On the other hand, assuming they actually were terrorists to begin with, and they're released, "Who's responsible?" the caped crusader's nemesis inquires? (Psst, Dick...that would be you and your former boss.)

But then when you look at it from another angle, the whole "61 terrorists" claim is...what do you call--BULLSHIT. At least according to the Seton Hall Law School's research on Guantanamo detainees. In fact, when the author of the research was on The Rachel Maddow Show, he said "Their numbers have changed from 20 to 12 to seven to more than five to two to a couple to a few--25, 29, 12 to 24. Every time, the number has been different. In fact, every time they give a number, they don't identify a date, a place, a time, a name or an incident to support their claim." In addition to that, Media Matters noted that "according to the Pentagon, the 61-detainee figure includes 43 former prisoners who are suspected of, but have not been confirmed as, having 'return[ed] to the fight.'"

Quoth the great Stephen Colbert, reality has a well-known liberal bias. Incidentally, bullshit seems to have somewhat of a conservative bias. Weird.

The other idiotic right wing talking point that has carried over from the presidential campaigns and seems to be amplifying is "ZOMG! OBAMA IS A SOCIALIST!!1!"

John McCain was saying it, Sarah Palin was saying it, Joe Lieberman was saying it, Joe the Plumber was saying it. Of course, my first reaction to all this was "I wish!" The problem here though, as I mentioned in my first post on this blog, is that these people have no idea what socialism is. I saw a clip on YouTube of Glenn "The Stupidest Person on Television" Beck talking about the "road to socialism!"

(How the hell does this guy even have his own show? Seriously. And a fanbase? Does the American public really like reactionary bullshit that much? But I digress.)

Let me set the record straight on this one: Barack Obama is not a socialist. Sorry Glenn, NOT A SOCIALIST. Nor is the United States anywhere remotely close to becoming a socialist country. "The government is moving to nationalize banks" Beck shudders. He laments the "move toward universal healthcare" and the employee free choice act, and postulates that this parallels, I shit you not, the rise of socialist fascist states. Yeah, you heard me, socialist fascist states. Would someone please buy this dipshit an Intro to Political Theory textbook?

Obama has called for a $500,000 salary cap on executives of companies that have used funds from the bailout. I personally opposed the bailout for a few reasons, but if you're going to socialize the risk and failure that have skullfucked the American (and world) economies, let's have these guys make some concessions. Why? Because if the taxpayers are paying for this stuff, theoretically, the taxpayers should have a say in how this stuff is run. If the taxpayers aren't getting any kind of actual return for their investment, why should the executives who are in part responsible for this situation in the first place be allowed to reap the benefits. $500,000 is still TEN TIMES your average middle class income. Clearly, this is the end of capitalism as we know it.

Now, I think Beck's healthcare comment speaks for itself. It's hilarious (and by hilarious I mean really sad) how terrified conservatives seem to be of the idea that the government might somehow be involved in it. Clearly their current private, for-profit system is working wonderfully. No one has any problem getting the help they need because the market loves you. Costs are so much lower than in countries with universal health care because the market loves you. Insurance companies aren't fucking people over constantly because the market loves you. Yay capitalism! He whines about it considering children to be "Up to 30."

The union card check comment might need a little explanation. He's talking about the Employee Free Choice act, which basically gets rid of the secret ballot when voting to unionize a workplace and things of the sort in favour of a card check for each employee. The purpose of this is to provide transparency that would prevent companies from tampering with union votes. That is the basic premise. A little simplified, but you get the idea. Ironically, as much as I support unions, they are one of the key factors in preventing a more widespread support of socialism. If unions can get workers a better deal, socialism might not be quite so necessary in the eyes of the workers. The same thing goes for government social programs, in fact. The New Deal was more or less a compromise to shut down widespread socialist sentiment resulting from the Great Depression. Nevertheless, unions are evil and so is government spending (read: the stimulus bill) because these neo-McCarthyist morons insist that the market is the only true solution to any of our problems.

The absolute best part of that Glenn Beck clip however, is this part that comes near the end: Without even a hint of irony, Beck proclaims, "Our very country is at stake when people use emergencies to quickly shove programs down our throats without any discussion. But why would I expect otherwise? After all, isn't global warming--they all say 'Oh the discussion is over, you flat-earther, you Holocaust denier.'"

Okay, two levels of genius to this one. The global warming comment is pretty hilarious because frankly, he's a moron. The discussion IS more or less over and there is an overwhelming scientific consensus that not only is global warming real, but yes, it is our (humanity's) fault. Accept it. That's a discussion for another post, however.

My favourite part of of the comment is how he decries the use of emergencies to cram programs down our throats. Ironically, he's actually right about that one in a certain context. Emergencies HAVE been used to crap all kinds of incredibly unpopular policies down the throats of a population. He is absolutely right. It was done in Chile in 1973 when the United States backed a coup to overthrow Salvador Allende and prop up the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, one of the worst socialis--oh wait...Pinochet was put in place to enforce strict free market capitalist rule. Then there was Argentina, Russia, China, Iraq, the United States after 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. This has been the modus operandi for neoliberalism for a long, long time. (Praise Milton Friedman!) In addition to that Intro to Political Theory book, can someone also get Beck a copy of this?

"When did socialism become a happy thing for us?" Beck squeals. In the first post I made on this blog, I referenced Howard Zinn's conceptions of anarchism and socialism, and I want to go back to that:
I see socialism, which is another term that I would accept comfortably, as meaning not the police state of the Soviet Union. After all, the word socialism has been commandeered by too many people who, in my opinion, are not socialists but totalitarians. To me, socialism means a society that is egalitarian and in which the economy is geared to human needs instead of business profits.
(Source: Z Magazine)

The military has free insurance. I was once in the military. I got pneumonia, which is easier to get in the military. I got pneumonia. I didn’t have to fool around with deciding what health plan I’m in and what—you know. No, I was totally taken care of. I didn’t have to think about money. Just—you know, there are a million members of the armed forces who have that. But when you ask that the government do this for everybody else, they cry, 'That’s socialism!' Well, if that’s socialism, it must mean socialism is good."
(Source: Democracy Now!)
So no, Barack Obama isn't destroying the national security that was created by Bush and Cheney, and no, Barack Obama is not leading the United States down a road to socialism. If he actually WAS a socialist, that, despite the shrill objections of Glenn Beck and every other asinine right wing blowhard who has a microphone or camera in front of them, that would not be a bad thing.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

On Gaza Appendix B: Occupation 101

To keep you satiated while I work on my next post.

Friday, January 16, 2009

On Gaza Appendix

Some great information (videos, articles, what have you) on the Gaza/Palestine/Israel situation:

The Real News Network: Who and what is Hamas?
Guardian: UN levels war crimes warning at Israel
The Huffington Post: Understanding the Gaza Catastrophe
VBS.TV: Palestine vs. Israel - Against the Wall (Par 1 of 6) - A look at the situation in the West Bank.
Znet: Israel must lose - An open letter signed by a litany of academics.
Znet: Gaza Q&A

Petitions to sign:
Amnesty International: Civilians must be protected in Gaza and Israel
Campaign for Peace and Democracy: No blank check for Isael!

Be sure to check out the links in the post itself, also.