Friday, December 11, 2015

Whatever a Man Sows, That He Will Also Reap

Rick McKee cartoon, (c) 2015 Cagle Cartoons
The Republican Party is in trouble, as is indicated by their current representative vying for the highest office in the land. When trying to find out why they went wrong, however, the most useful tool would be a mirror.

Donald Trump has gone from entertaining sideshow to dangerous demagogue. I'll admit at first that I fell into the attitude that he was a flash in the pan; something that, like summer, would be wrapped up by Labor Day.

Not so. Today, Trump's numbers are as high as ever. The media is tripping over themselves to let him on their shows, just so he can lie over and over again while saying that the media is scum. It's a form of self-flagellation that not only hurts the media, but hurts the entire political atmosphere in America.

The problem is that the American echo chamber, when replayed abroad, is portraying Donald Trump as speaking for the U.S. If every time someone overseas turns the television on and sees Trump bloviating on banning Muslim travel to the U.S., or saying the Paris attacks would have gone differently if the victims had been armed, or that Muslims need to carry special ID, what else are they supposed to think?

In the same way that so many people think that ISIS and Al Qaeda represent Islam, many people abroad are beginning to think that Donald Trump represents America. Neither are true, but the truth gets lost in perception time and time again.

The GOP should not be surprised that the three current leading candidates to represent them in the 2016 election are Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Ben Carson. Three people that, if they boarded a New York subway and went into their stump speech, would have rational people rolling their eyes and wishing for Showtime.

The Republican Party took a hard right when it came to religion and perceived morality in the 1980s with the election of Ronald Reagan and his use of the Religious Right. Barry Goldwater - the epitome of a pre-Reagan conservative - predicted the fall of the GOP 20 years ago, when he warned Republicans about letting the extreme religious portion of their party take over.

They didn't heed that warning, and the result is that decades of sowing that side of the party has reaped them with three national embarrassments as their best candidates. The party's reliance on partisan media, their willingness to court white voters almost exclusively, and their inability to criticize Trump because they think he's a victim has led them to their current position. And they have no one the blame but themselves.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Mass Shootings: The Terrorism We Tolerate

Mass shootings since Sandy Hook (Vox)
The reaction of the United States following the Planned Parenthood shootings - a clear act of terrorism, even if the media is squeamish about labeling a white male a terrorist - seems to be a collective shrug. Sure, Obama has come out with strong words against the act. Planned Parenthood has vowed to carry on its mission with renewed vigor. And progressives across the county have called this tragedy what it is: the expected result of lax gun laws combined with a hot-button issue that has incited violence in the past.

What is missing is the political response that was so quick and furious following the Paris attacks. While the same kind of gun was used in Paris as was used in Colorado Springs, there were no calls on tightening gun applications like there were for refugee applications. In fact, many of the presidential candidates have been silent on the shooting.

But, you may be saying, Colorado Springs was not nearly on the scale as Paris. And you'd be absolutely right when looked at in a vacuum. But if you look at America in 2015, 431 people have perished in mass shootings. This is a problem in the United States, and anyone who says otherwise is lying or delusional.

It won't get better. Not in the short term, at least. The time to act on this would have been after a legally purchased firearm helped Adam Lanza kill 6 adults and 20 first graders in cold blood. Instead, the response was calls to put more guns in school, not less. Legislation to expand gun control failed in the Senate. America's elected representatives see victims like those children at Newtown as collateral damage - a necessary, if unpleasant, sacrifice we need to pay to keep our easy access to powerful guns.

We, as Americans, get the elected officials we deserve. If we continue to elect cowards more interested in scoring political points via scare tactics about one kind of religious extremists, while not only ignoring, but enabling, another kind of religious extremist, I'm not sure why we should expect any different than what we saw at Planned Parenthood on Friday. I'd say that we should expect mass shootings in America to become commonplace, but then I'd be ignoring the fact that they already are.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

America and Refugees: Two Histories

Syrian refugees fleeing their homeland (Daily Mail)
In the days following the atrocious attacks in Paris, American politicians have wasted no time in laying the blame squarely where it does not belong: on the shoulders of the refugees fleeing the same kind of horror we collectively gasped at on Friday.

Many state Republican governors (and one Democrat) pledged not to accept Syrian refugees in their states, citing safety concerns. They feel that because one of the Paris attackers may have posed as a Syrian refugee, that their states will be the next to fall victim to a terrorist attack at the hands of a pseudo-refugee. The cognitive dissonance is especially rich with Governor Charlie Baker from Massachusetts, a state that began as a colony of people fleeing a volatile political environment.

To begin with, the idea that Syrian refugees are just coming over to America without any kind of vetting process is absurd. It typically takes 12-18 months from the time of application to be able to enter the United States. On top of this, less than 1% of refugees worldwide are ever actually resettled to a third country. This small, highly vetted group is not coming to America to commit terrorist acts. They are coming to America and other Western nations to escape the very terrorism these governors and other reactionaries are accusing them of trying to further.

But this all flies in the face of another issue: the main proponents of the Paris attacks were citizens of EU nations. Preventing only Syrians from coming to the United States does not solve for those radicalized in the very nations they seek to destroy. Slandering Syrian refugees in order to score political points by scaring one's electorate does absolutely nothing for national security, and instead further inflames anti-Muslim sentiment which helps drive radicalization.

It does, however, call to mind a disgraceful time in the United States. During WWII, the US State Department tightened immigration policy, fearing that Jews fleeing Hitler and Nazism could be made to act as German agents in the US. In an infamous case, Washington turned away the MS St. Louis, a German ocean liner trying to find a place for over 900 Jewish refugees, forcing it to return to Europe, where over a quarter of the ship's passengers went on to perish in the Holocaust.

But America has proven itself a world leader in this field in the past, with no major issues. From 1975 to 1997, nearly 1.3 million refugees have been resettled in the United States from Indochina following the fall of Saigon. In the first few months alone, 130,000 Vietnamese were resettled from a landscape scarred by a war fought in part by the United States.

We have a choice here, as a nation. We can look back at our WWII policy, which hid behind xenophobia and disallowed Eastern Europe's victims into our borders, sending many to the gas chambers as a result. Or, we can lead the world, much like we did following the Vietnam War, and accept refugees coming from a region we have played a large part in destabilizing. The alternative is not just failing as a nation on a moral level, but serves up those seeking a better life (into which many of us just happened to be born) to groups like ISIS as either victims or recently spurned recruits.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Fighting Terror is More Than Defeating ISIS

A man plays John Lennon's "Imagine" in Paris after the attacks on Friday

The pernicious cancer that is ISIS has done what many thought was only the group's pipe dream: they attacked a Western nation, bringing the carnage and horror they have employed across Iraq, Syria, Egypt and Beirut.

If you turn to Facebook or other social media, you'll see people's profile pictures adorned in the French tricolor, symbolizing solidarity with the wounded nation. An honorable gesture, to be sure, but one that I did not see utilized after the Beirut bombings, or the Sharm el-Sheikh plane crash, or the myriad other atrocities being committed across the Middle East. That's a problem.

Yes, ISIS needs to be destroyed. We need to wipe them out completely. But if we want to avoid these tragedies in the future, we need to stop accepting Middle East instability as the norm. We need to stop catalyzing regime change with no post-change strategy. We need to stop throwing money at and selling arms to repressive regimes in the region. We need to start realizing that an unstable portion of the world is not only a threat to area nations, but to all nations. It is 2015, we are a globalized planet. Globalization doesn't just mean business can reach new international markets more easily, it also means that we are all that much more connected. ISIS and al-Qaeda aren't regional problems - they're now global.

In response to 9/11, Washington declared a war on terrorism, which, on its face, is inane. You cannot declare war on an ideology - you will never, ever win. ISIS is a short-term manifestation of a long-term problem. When Joe Biden declared that the United States is not in the business of nation-building, he was way off the mark. ISAF member nations cannot destroy a nation and then not step up when it is time to rebuild. Post-war infrastructure - economic, political, physical - needs to be part of any military strategy, otherwise you open the door to what we're seeing now.

One thing that will not solve the ISIS problem - and will actually further long-term terrorism - is trying to close Western borders to those fleeing the unimaginable hell that exists in places like Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. If Western nations are not willing to engage in post-war nation-building, then the very least they can do is take displaced civilians in. We as the West have an opportunity here to be known for humanitarianism and compassion instead of as the owners of unmanned aircraft that fire off missiles at any given moment in the Middle East. If we tell these civilians to stay where they are, all we are doing is serving them up to terrorist groups as either victims or recruits. That serves no one's end except the terrorists'.

We can cut down limbs from the tree of terrorism, but if we're not addressing the root causes of the problem - war-torn hellscapes that these kids grow up in, with zero opportunities, be they economic or educational - we're not going to solve it. We cannot deny that we've helped create these environments that allow terrorism to flourish. We did it in Afghanistan in the 80s, we did it with Iraq in the 2000s, we did it with Libya and Syria more recently. If we want to stop ISIS in the short term, we need to destroy them. If we want to minimize terrorism in the long term, we actually need to help to build stable Middle Eastern states.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

South Carolina and Our Twisted Normal

A vigil at the Morris Brown AME Church in Charleston, SC (Time)
In echoes of 1963 Birmingham, a white terrorist entered a church and killed nine people last night in Charleston, South Carolina. As we try to understand acts that are impossible to comprehend, we neglect to see that the attitudes motivating Dylann Roof are not isolated to one sick individual. There is a systemic problem we have refused to address that creates an environment in which someone like Dylann Storm Roof can operate.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

DOJ Not Bringing Civil Rights Charges in Michael Brown Case

Attorney General Eric Holder (Huffington Post)
After no indictment was handed down in Missouri in the case of Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson for killing Michael Brown, many people turned to Washington. A hope existed that Attorney General Eric Holder's comments about his own experience with America's police would help guide the Department of Justice toward bringing civil rights charges against Wilson. This was misguided for many reasons.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

#JeSuisCharlie is About Freedom of Speech, Not Its Content

A collection of "I Am  Charlie" sayings in various languages (CNN)
A few days out from the terror attack at Charlie Hebdo in response to that magazine's satirical cartoons, we've seen the emergence of the Hot Take express based on the social media movement around #JeSuisCharlie. Translated from French, the hashtag means "I Am Charlie" and was posted as a sign of solidarity with both the victims of the attack and freedom of expression.

That didn't seem to sit right with some people. Rather than seeing the movement for what it is - a gesture of support for the right to publish whatever one wants - some saw it as support of the content of Charlie Hebdo. Simply put, that's a shortsighted view of those who came out in support of Charlie Hebdo after their staff was brutally murdered for publishing uncouth cartoons.