Home » Foreign Relations
Category Archives: Foreign Relations
First, a history lesson because context is everything…
In October of 1962, nearly 54 years ago, President John F. Kennedy squared off against Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev in what would become known as the Cuban Missile Crisis. This political and military standoff over the installation of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba, just 90 miles from the United States, prompted almost everyone around the nation to conclude that the world was on the brink of nuclear war and the end of civilization as we know it was imminent.
In his now famous televised address to the nation on October 22, 1962, President Kennedy revealed the presence of the missiles in Cuba to the American people and announced his decision to enforce a naval blockade to prevent any further buildup of such weapons there. He also made it clear that the United States was prepared to take whatever action was necessary to compel the Soviet Union to remove this doomsday threat to our country. In his address, President Kennedy said:
“…Aggressive conduct, if allowed to go unchecked and unchallenged, ultimately leads to war. This nation is opposed to war. We are also true to our word. Our unswerving objective, therefore, must be to prevent the use of these missiles against this or any other country, and to secure their withdrawal or elimination from the Western Hemisphere….It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union.”
In the waning days of the standoff, US Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara said of October 27, 1962, “I thought it was the last Saturday I would ever see”.
Whether it was because of strong American diplomatic efforts and military resolve, Divine Providence or just sheer unadulterated luck, cooler heads ultimately prevailed. Khrushchev agreed to remove the missiles if the United States would pledge that there would never be an attempt to invade Cuba, along with a further agreement from Kennedy to remove US nuclear missiles in Turkey that were aimed at the USSR. As a result of clear thinking and sound judgment, you and I get to sit here and read this today. It is no exaggeration to state that had there been even the slightest alteration in the events of those Thirteen Days, if anyone on either side made just one wrong move, our planet would have quickly been reduced to a lifeless, radioactive rock. Those days in 1962 were as real as it gets.
This is the crux of the discussion now taking place about Donald Trump and nuclear weapons. When we walk into the voting booth in November, we must consider his temperament and judgment, or the lack thereof, and the near limitless ability that we have granted our Commander-in-Chief with regard to the decision to use the most powerful weapons ever constructed. Each American President has been obliged in some way to deal with provocations from hostile nations. Countless decisions are made in the White House with regard to foreign policy and military action, but since the end of the Second World War, all those decisions are tempered by the knowledge that we now live in a world where we can wipe each other out completely in a matter of minutes. The decision to use the Atomic Bomb against Japan was said to have tormented President Harry S. Truman until the day he died. And the weapons that exist today in our nuclear arsenal far outweigh the destructive power that was first unleashed at Hiroshima. The “Little Boy” Bomb dropped there on August 6, 1945 had a blast equivalent to 18 kilotons of TNT and we’ve all seen footage of the destruction that device was capable of. Now consider that the most common type of warhead in the US nuclear arsenal has a yield of 1.2 megatons of TNT.
Now imagine Donald Trump, who is so unbelievably thin-skinned he is that is easily goaded into apoplexy when simply asked about why he hasn’t released his tax returns, having control of about 4,500 such warheads.
There are numerous threats that face our nation today. Between large-scale aggression from nations such as Russia, China and North Korea to a seemingly endless parade of unconventional threats from terrorist factions, the next Commander-in-Chief will have many tools to work with. Diplomatic and economic pressure, intelligence gathering and cyber warfare, covert special operations and yes, large-scale conventional troop deployments are all options the President has. But as one who remembers a time when the Berlin Wall was still very much standing, the threat of global annihilation is still very palpable to me. It should make everyone shake with terror a when we consider a man who can barely keep his hands off of Twitter when he’s angry having direct access to the Football, which is the briefcase that gives the President the ability order a nuclear strike from anywhere.
We cannot allow any candidate from any party to the nation’s highest office to cavalierly treat the nuclear option as simply one of many that can be employed to deal with whatever threat might come our way. Economic sanctions and special operations should not be considered as reasonable a choice as a nuclear strike. You can’t nuke terrorism out of existence as much as you might want to. Smaller nations attempting to get nuclear capability of their own or just saber-rattling cannot be casually blasted off the map just because they piss us off.
And you most certainly cannot use the threat of nuclear destruction as leverage for negotiation, to make you “unpredictable” or to extract the behavior you want or political concessions from a nation because they fear you might make them glow in the dark for the next 25,000 years. There is a term for that. It’s called nuclear terrorism. Is that what you want in the White House?
In her speech at the Democratic National Convention, Hillary Clinton said:
“Donald Trump can’t even handle the rough-and-tumble of a presidential campaign. He loses his cool at the slightest provocation. When he’s gotten a tough question from a reporter, when he’s challenged in a debate, when he sees a protestor at a rally…imagine, if you dare, imagine — imagine him in the Oval Office facing a real crisis. A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons. I can’t put it any better than Jackie Kennedy did after the Cuban Missile Crisis. She said that what worried President Kennedy during that very dangerous time was that a war might be started – not by big men with self-control and restraint, but by little men – the ones moved by fear and pride.”
There is perhaps no better definition of the Little Man moved by Fear and Pride than Donald Trump.
A President must accept the responsibility of having such awesome power at their command with grim seriousness and profound reverence. Does Donald Trump have grim seriousness or profound reverence about anything save his own fragile ego? Can any of us imagine this ego, this hypermasculine Id amplified by the ability to completely level a whole a continent on a whim? Contrary to popular belief, there really are no checks against a President if he chooses to order a nuclear attack. There’s nobody to act as a counterbalance. If he wants a missile to be fired, it will be fired. A person must be absolutely f***ing crazy if they believe someone like Donald Trump would act with anything resembling restraint if given power that our forbears once believed was reserved for God.
It’s not an easy thing to be able to literally blow up the world and nobody should make light of it. President Truman understood all of this. He made the choice to use the Ultimate Weapon to end the most terrible conflict the world had ever witnessed and even then he only used it against two cities. But the consequences were so profound that we debate his use of it to this very day and continually struggle to limit the presence of this destructive force on our world. President Kennedy was without a doubt confronted with far worse. He stared down the greatest fear our species has ever faced. In 1962, humanity faced extinction by our own hand. He knew that the penalty of miscalculation or arrogance would be planetary suicide. Kennedy understood that nuclear aggression could not be left unchallenged. But he also understood what a nuclear exchange would mean for the people of the United States and…well, everyone else on the planet. He made difficult decisions and each carefully calculated move was fraught with risk. The consequence of failure with any decision regarding the use of nuclear weapons could mean total, complete and absolute destruction of our world.
We have done this dance as nation already. Let’s not do it again.
An old colleague and I were having breakfast this morning when he looked up at the news (I can’t remember which network …MSNBC, I think) and noticed a split screen of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. He lamented long about how terrible both candidates are in this election and I guess we just have to choose the lesser of the two evils or, as he put it, “…put on a blindfold and just pick. It doesn’t really make any difference.”
And that’s when I went off.
I am really sick and tired of people saying both candidates are equally horrible choices, how much America thoroughly hates both of them to the core, that there’s not a single positive trait in either one of them and wow, if only we had voted for that guy behind the deli counter or the neighbor’s cat, America would be WAY better off.
Fuck you. Fuck the deli guy and fuck your neighbor’s cat.
There are only 2 candidates who stand any mathematical chance of prevailing in this year’s election and one of them is, in fact, eminently qualified to become the 45th President of the United States, perhaps more so than any of the other 44 previous office holders. She (that’s right…SHE) has been dedicated to public service in one capacity or another since 1971. Her accomplishments are tremendous. To name a few (edited from the list once provided by Daily Kos for space):
- First ever student commencement speaker at Wellesley College.
- Distinguished graduate of Yale Law School.
- Editorial board of the Yale Review of Law and Social Action.
- Co-founded Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families.
- Former civil litigation attorney.
- Staff attorney for Children’s Defense Fund.
- Faculty member in the School of Law at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.
- Former Director of the Arkansas Legal Aid Clinic.
- First female chair of the Legal Services Corporation.
- First female partner at Rose Law Firm, the oldest and one of the largest law firms in Arkansas.
- Twice named by The National Law Journal as one of the 100 Most Influential Lawyers in America.
- Former First Lady of Arkansas.
- Arkansas Woman of the Year in 1983.
- Chair of the American Bar Association’s Commission on Women in the Profession.
- Created Arkansas’s Home Instruction Program for Preschool Youth.
- Instrumental in passage of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.
- First Lady of the United States.
- Promoted nationwide immunization against childhood illnesses.
- Successfully sought to increase research funding for prostate cancer and childhood asthma at the National Institutes of Health.
- Worked to investigate reports of an illness that affected veterans of the Gulf War (now recognized as Gulf War Syndrome).
- Helped create the Office on Violence Against Women at the Department of Justice.
- Initiated and shepherded the Adoption and Safe Families Act.
- First FLOTUS in US History to hold a postgraduate degree.
- Helped create Vital Voices, an international initiative to promote the participation of women in the political processes of their countries.
- Two-term New York Senator and the first ex-FLOTUS in US History to be elected to the United States Senate.
- Served on five Senate committees: Budget (2001–2002), Armed Services (2003–2009), Environment and Public Works (2001–2009), Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (2001–2009) and the Special Committee on Aging.
- Member of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe.
- Leading role in investigating the health issues faced by 9/11 first responders.
- Worked with Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York on securing $21.4 billion in funding for the World Trade Center redevelopment.
- Former United States Secretary of State.
- Brokered a ceasefire deal between Israel and Hamas in 2012.
Go ahead and try to show what the other candidate has done in the public interest during his whole worthless life.
You can’t and why?
The other candidate who is supposedly “equally bad” is a real estate developer and television personality who was born into a family whose wealth has been estimated to exceed $300 million and makes racism, sexism, misogyny, nihilism and ultra-nationalism the pillars of his candidacy. So far he has called for:
- Building a wall across the southern border that Mexico is supposedly going to pay for.
- The deportation, by force if necessary, of 11 million undocumented immigrants (and stop saying “illegal”, you jackass).
- Banning and deporting all members of a religious faith that total over 1 billion adherents worldwide, even if they are American citizens, because “everybody knows” they’re just a bunch of murdering terrorists.
- Lists among his associates known white supremacists and eugenicists.
- Speaks admiringly of ruthless foreign despots and encourages espionage against the United States by hostile governments.
- Ruminates about not defending our NATO allies against Russian invasion.
- States openly and freely that using nuclear weapons should always be an option simply to make him more “unpredictable”. That’s not a strategy. That’s insanity.
Did I mention his blithe refusal to offer concrete policy proposals on how any of this neo-Nazi wish list could possibly be achieved? And all the while still finding the time to be rude, nasty, loud, mean, cruel, hateful and boorish.
And it’s still August.
But they’re supposedly “equally awful” and “everybody hates them both”. Yes, you can’t vote for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump because, you know…emails. And Benghazi. And Foundations. And Wall Street. And secret assassinations. And pantsuits. And, and, and.
OK, listen up. Nobody cares about emails that show Bono wanted State Department assistance to stream his music from the International Space Station. You should thank Almighty God and Jedi Jebus he failed. So far all we have seen is a public official in extraordinary circumstances who should have known better demonstrate “extreme carelessness” to which I believe she has owned up to sufficiently and which, by the way, no wrongdoing was ever uncovered even after a year-long investigation by the FBI for the love of God. We all know that trustworthiness is important in a President. But if absolutely no slack is given at all, and I mean none, if this is how we treat people who make public service their life and profession, then you will always get “crooks” as politicians because who in their right mind would want the job? It’s like being a firefighter. When there’s a fire everybody runs out. You run in. It’s a maniac’s job but it has to be done so let’s have the best do it and not get wrapped up in what amounts to paperwork. That’s all this really is. Paperwork. You would rather stay at home or vote for someone George Orwell or Edgar Allan Poe couldn’t have dreamed up over emails? Then you’re even dumber than you look.
Furthermore, I want to know why everyone has their knickers in a twist over the tragic deaths of 4 State Department personnel in Benghazi in 2012 when nobody raised a peep about, count ‘em, 241 armed and ready US servicemen who were blown to bits by a suicide bomber in Beirut in 1983? Well? WHY NOT? We all know why but I won’t denigrate the deaths of brave people serving their country in the diplomatic corps and the military while performing what is often a filthy and difficult job. But other people love to bring it up as often as possible as a political weapon. They want you to believe she is some kind of cold and diabolical monster without any concern for the lives of people who often must work in really dangerous places in the name of peace and diplomacy. That is also a load of steaming horseshit and if you spread it around then you ought to be ashamed to show your face in public. So please stop. Now.
I know, I know. Damn it all! Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just forget all of that pesky accomplishment stuff of hers and remember that what really matters is the thrill of waiting for indictments which makes for great television? That way we could finally “lock her up” and enough with these stupid women who think they can run a country. Well, enough out of YOU, you moron. This isn’t the lesser of two evils. This is a choice between one great and qualified candidate for the nation’s highest office who you really should be excited about and a dolt with a bad toupee who if you were honest with yourself you wouldn’t trust to manage a Dairy Queen much less the Oval Office.
And by the way, don’t give me any of your crap about Bernie, Martin, Ted, John, Marco, Jeb, Chris, Rand, Carly, Ben, Lindsey or any of the others because they aren’t running anymore. And I certainly don’t want to hear some fantastic load of tripe about Gary or Jill because they can’t win either and that’s simply the way it is. Deal with it. Those two are just like all of the other hundreds of people legitimately on the ballot to become President in November who are never going to get within spitting distance of the White House. Ever heard of Rod Silva? Me neither, but he’s running for President on the Nutrition Party ticket. Don’t believe me? Look him up. Here’s the bottom line: only two people can win and it’s not going to be anyone on this Rogue’s Gallery of wannabes…or the guy behind the deli counter or your neighbor’s cat so wake up.
We have a great opportunity here, people. We also have the potential for real catastrophe and that’s not being hyperbolic. You know damn good and well which is which.
Don’t be stupid.
There has been a surge in outbreaks of violence at Donald Trump rallies over the last few months; violence that in no small measure are being encouraged by the candidate himself. It has even been suggested that such incidents are being wholesale underwritten by the Trump campaign, up to and including now famous offers to cover his supporters’ legal fees if they are arrested and charged with assault. What these displays have done that is positive, however, if anything truly positive can come from a riot, is to provoke a wide national discussion about civility, or the lack of it, in the current presidential election cycle. But while Trump is pilloried in the national media for his supporters’ epileptic outbursts of rage, another type of violence has been going on for months unchecked and virtually unreported.
The crusade to elect Bernie Sanders the 45th President of the United States, and it is a crusade, has generated its own ranks of angry supporters engaging in vitriol which has often devolved into downright hate and abuse. It is not the streets or in his opponent’s campaign rallies that these zealots wander, but on the pages of Facebook, Twitter feeds and blog articles written on the premise that any attempt to stop Bernie Sanders is a useless, ill-fated, stupid and futile gesture. Hillary Clinton is a monster. This can be easily demonstrated even to the meanest observer by the fact that she gave paid speeches (that’s right…speeches) before Wall Street executives. She and her husband have a foundation. A foundation! Surely there can be no greater disqualifier to the nation’s highest office than being associated with a foundation. But there is. Worst of all, her campaign has money, lots of it, and it comes from just the worst sort of people. Nobody is quite sure who entirely, but the mere existence of a PAC to Sanders is damning enough.
These and other exhortations that in their totality sound eerily like passages from Quotations of Chairman Mao have made the Sanders campaign into a virtual caricature of itself. People have come to expect wide-eyed throngs at rallies for the candidate. What has been unexpected, the upset in Michigan and run of low delegate contests in the West notwithstanding is that Sanders is rapidly losing any hope of securing the nomination. National perceptions of Bernie Sanders, which translates into votes and the resultant delegate math, may at this stage have left his campaign hopelessly crippled, or more to the point mortally wounded. Like the ill-fated emperor in Julius Caesar, those who are the most steadfast and loyal, those who are closest to him, may be the very ones that wielded the daggers.
Back in July, I wrote a brief observation that garnered little attention which stated using no offensive terminology that I was just not feeling the Bernie Sanders mojo and I wasn’t. I’m still not and that is the fine point of it. To be a Bernie Sanders supporter is to be all about political revolution. It’s not about fixing or reforming Washington politics or ending the crippling gridlock that has plagued Congress for years. It’s not about compromise or bipartisanship. It’s about blowing up the system completely. It’s about approaching every issue that confronts this nation, from the environment to taxes, Middle East policy to guns, healthcare to energy, as a simple matter of income inequality. You aren’t even a Bernie Sanders supporter. You’re a believer. It is a movement that claims to be an honest, sincere and legitimate effort by Sanders to upend the system in Washington. But by the same token, every political candidate in every election, regardless of party or ideology, says that Washington is broken, corrupt beyond repair and needs to be ripped out like a moldy, old rug. So…you want to be President? Well, strange line of work you want to be going into, then.
I should like to state unequivocally that I wrote this long before his campaign and its accompanying hashtag became a national sensation on social media to propel the self-described democratic socialist to national prominence. It was clear at least to this observer that the entire Sanders campaign appeared to be little more than a figment of MSNBC’s fevered imagination. The classic, liberal Democratic candidate, with a curious and somewhat uncomfortable appeal almost exclusively to progressive, college educated white voters under 40, lay firmly in the fact that he wasn’t even a Democrat. Bernie Sanders had only become a Democrat in 2015, being an independent and a member of the old Liberty Union party prior to that. The move looked cynical. It appeared quite clear to almost everyone at the time that running as a Democrat was the only way he logically compete for the Presidency. How quickly we forget.
Of course, no discussion of Sanders’ quixotic campaign would be complete without noting the endless hashtag advocacy mentioned earlier that has become a hemorrhoid on the rear end of political discourse on social media. It is unbelievably irritating and nothing seems to relieve the “Berning Sensation” to coin an overused phrase. Virtually anything can be said, regardless of how outlandish or offensive, if one simply follows the statement with #FeelTheBern. It’s like Catholic indulgences in the Middle Ages. There is no sin that cannot be expunged with just a simple hashtag expressing the love and support you feel for your beloved candidate. You could put a picture of your child holding her new puppy or a statement wishing someone a speedy recovery after an appendectomy and invariably some moron would come along to post “F*** YOU! #FeelTheBern”.
A friend of mine recently described Bernie Sanders online media enthusiasts as “smug, entitled, clueless, and overall annoying”. Another friend showed me a screen print from a so-called “liberal chat room” demonstrating how she was subjected to interminable abuse from male Sanders supporters incensed at Clinton’s interruptions of the Revolutionary Leader at a televised debate, something permissible to him but never to the unrighteous. Even on her own Facebook page, my friend found herself on the receiving end of needless haranguing after posting an article from the blog Blue Nation Review that had the heretical temerity to question Sanders’ integrity. Any argument that was brought up to defend the author’s viewpoints or, heaven forbid, show any support for Hillary Clinton, was met with a barrage of insults and name-calling more suited to an elementary playground. One especially passive-aggressive Sanders supporter went so far as to dismiss any statement favoring Clinton as illogical and made only because my friend had “an emotional investment” in Clinton. Only by divorcing herself from emotions could she make a rational argument, which naturally would bring her around to Sanders. It was like listening to Spock with no Dr. McCoy to even him out.
On November 7, 2012 Rachel Maddow said: “…In this country, we have a two-party system in government. And the idea is supposed to be that the two sides both come up with ways to confront and fix the real problems facing our country. They both propose possible solutions to our real problems. And we debate between those possible solutions. And by the process of debate, we pick the best idea. That competition between good ideas from both sides about real problems in the real country should result in our country having better choices, better options, than if only one side is really working on the hard stuff.” This is the problem so many Sanders supporters fail to comprehend. There is one small obstruction to the glorious revolution that will reshape the future of America: the Republican Party. Like it or not, there is a firmly entrenched, well-funded and frankly rather numerous party that stands in solid opposition to everything both Democratic candidates want and stand for. For her part, Hillary Clinton, as unpopular as the notion may be with the progressive activist wing of her party, is keenly aware of that fact. Bernie Sanders, however, seems only keenly aware of Hillary Clinton.
This past January, in an installment of “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell”, MSNBC asked for representatives to appear from both campaigns to discuss foreign policy. The Clinton campaign sent Christopher Hill, a lifelong diplomat who served as deputy Secretary of State, former US Ambassador to Iraq, Korea and Poland and is currently dean of the Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. The Sanders campaign sent…nobody. Thom Hartmann, a progressive radio commentator, volunteered to offer his thoughts as a supporter. Does anybody see the problem here? Again, this is a cult of personality. The Bernie Sanders message is about domestic oligarchy and doesn’t concern itself with the intricacies, nuances and sheer complexity of American foreign policy. It’s just about War and Peace broadly. Occasionally it may drift to his opponent’s vote on the Iraq War in 2002 if he’s in a particularly feisty mood. But that’s really it. Fundamentally, the Sanders view on foreign policy is the same as his take on domestic issues: Are the rich or corporations involved? Then it’s not important.
Regardless of whether one believes in the ideas of his campaign or not, the question of judging Sanders as a candidate on the merits has become a dangerous game if one wants to tackle it online. There is genuine violence that occurs every day in the relative physical safety of social media. It is violence directed against Hillary Clinton and anyone who supports her that has been generated by many backers of Bernie Sanders. Although obviously not all Sanders supporters are like this, online cooler heads are very much in the minority. Primarily driven by young, college educated white men, the so-called “Berniebros” or “Berniebots” do not allow for the possibility of eventual party unity and that it a concern that must be discussed immediately, before Donald Trump locks up the Republican nomination. These fanatical Sanders supporters, who are legion on social media, are so caught up with the cult of personality that is his campaign (or crusade, or revolution, depending on your perspective), that they cannot conceive of an America that does not include a President Sanders after the election. The “Bernie or Bust” crowd from within the Sanders movement, sworn to vote for him or nobody, has enormous pitfalls inherent within it. As Bill Maher noted, “They’re revolting against the plutocracy. No, actually you’ll be helping elect a plutocrat who’s revolting.” It is, to use Trump’s own words, “a mess…a disaster” just waiting to happen.
The bile from these “Berniebots” is often directed straight at women and people of color. One begins to wonder if the Sanders campaign feels such people support Clinton because they are women or people of color and therefore are corporate trolls like she is who must be eradicated. There are strong racial overtones in this rhetoric that cannot be ignored. Statements such as “We are now moving out of the Deep South and into states more favorable to us” do not subtly imply that “us” are generally white and that is no way to build a coalition for victory in November. The “Berniebots” are approaching the election with all the enthusiasm and poor judgment of a fraternity keger and are beginning to rival Trump’s campaign for rancor. It is time for such people to be called out for what they are: mindless diehards who in their zeal may hand the White House to the GOP if their attacks continue to divide the Democrats. It is the Last Stand of White Male Privilege and it is coming from the left. Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy died trying to stave off this kind of division almost 50 years ago. It’s very disheartening to think that perhaps they were spared in not being able to see the great progressive movement come off the rails like this.
Say what you will, but Hillary Clinton supporters do not even come close to this kind of anger. Any objective observer can go on Facebook and Twitter and see whose supporters are the loudest and most petulant. Remember that she has a campaign. Bernie Sanders has a movement, perhaps even a cult by the Oxford definition standard. Certainly he has a revolution and thus believers and followers. Any opponents to the cause are thus being inordinately harassed, harangued and abused in an attempt to purge heretics from the pure faith and it needs to stop. Bernie Sanders is a good, decent and thoughtful man who wants only the best for his country. He needs to tell the more fanatical elements of his movement to back off, relax and remember who the enemy really is.
Hint: it’s NOT Hillary Clinton. It’s a loudmouth carnival barker with a bad toupee who will be very, very dangerous if allowed to reach the White House.
I didn’t watch the GOP Debate, which again are not debates but essentially WWF matches with suits and ties, and also apparently a form of self abuse I do not wish to indulge in. I would rather swallow glass. Instead, I found much better fare in the MSNBC College Tour Special with Bernie Sanders. It’s amazing how soothing it is to hear a reasonable person speak reasonably about the issues. I did, discover, however, one critical aspect of the junior senator from Vermont’s platform that in one fashion or another will probably doom him in a general election; one that until tonight has been largely glossed over by the mainstream media.
The role of the President as Commander-in-Chief is clearly one that if Sanders could work his will would be divorced entirely from the job as Chief Executive. He has very few substantive stances on foreign policy issues other than he voted against the Iraq War. That fact will carry him only so far against any GOP nominee, as I think Americans in general want to feel safe and be confident that there is no nation or group they cannot demolish on the world stage, anywhere at any time, militarily.
Sanders was clearly extremely uncomfortable with Chris Matthews’ line of questioning and awkwardly pivoted from the discussion about being Commander-in-Chief to what he stated is unequivocally far more important. You guessed it: Wall Street. Campaign finance reform. Millionaires and billionaires.
Sooner or later, Sanders must realize that either Hillary Clinton or the Republicans are going to press him about what he is going to do as President if he is brought to the situation room because America is under attack. Terrorists are not going to care about his vote against the AUMF or the Patriot Act 15 years ago. His campaign and their supporters must come to grips with the reality that Sanders will be pressed about this hard and mercilessly. Matthews went easy on him. Clinton will be vicious. The Republican nominee will be savage. The voters? Cruel, relentless and totally unforgiving.
Let’s not even ponder what will be going through the minds of the ones carrying out an attack.
The following is from a letter sent to the alumnae/i of Vassar College and to the parents of the students currently attending the college from President Catherine Bond Hill prior to a discussion to address “…current issues and tensions within our community related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” This writer is taking no sides in the current debate (yet), but feels that all sides require an airing out, since constructive engagement is clearly the only thing lacking at this juncture. As such, in the words of Shakespeare, “Judge when you hear”:
Vassar has as an abiding principle of “going to the source.” As you likely know, it comes from history professor Lucy Maynard Salmon, who at the turn of the 20th century encouraged her Vassar students to use primary sources to do their research. With so much being written in the media and on social media about these issues at Vassar, much of it without the benefit of primary sources at the college, we want to provide our alums and parents the opportunity to hear what is really happening on campus.
I would suggest that the op-ed about Vassar earlier this week in the Wall Street Journal fell far short of the principle of going to the source. It would have been useful for the authors to come to campus to find out for themselves what is actually going on before writing the piece. I have extended an invitation to them both to come to campus next week to meet with students, faculty, and members of the administration during our annual All College Days.
If they accept, they will see a vital community, grappling with some of the toughest issues of our time. Activist students, supporting a variety of issues, are not necessarily committed to dialogue. And, encouraging balanced programing and opportunities for discussion has been difficult. But, we are making some progress.
Earlier this week, Bassem Eid, a Palestinian human rights activist and political analyst, spoke out against the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement to a supportive audience. Late last month our Jewish Studies program sponsored a lecture by anthropologist Aomar Boum, who discussed his research at the United States Holocaust Museum detailing a partnership between North African Jews and Muslims to fight racism and anti-Semitism.
In late January, with support from my office, the elected leaders of our student government, the Vassar Student Association, along with members from a variety of student groups with differing views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, attended a training provided by the National Coalition Building Institute on addressing difficult issues. These kinds of events make us hopeful for even more productive and respectful exchanges.
This is not to say that we do not face difficult issues, we absolutely do. And, this includes incidents of anti-Semitism. Such incidents are in violation of our college regulations and policies and we do not tolerate them. We denounce them. A recent e-mail I sent to the community denounced anonymous anti-Semitic comments on the social media platform Yik Yak, and our Dean of the College emailed students this week, urging them to treat each other with the respect that is called for by, and is central to, our code of conduct as a community. I have called on our students to think about the impact of their actions on others in our community. I also have asked our community to call out actions that offend and harm others.
The recent speaker to campus who has attracted so much attention has also spoken at Harvard, Cornell, the University of Pennsylvania, and Wellesley to name only a few institutions both in the United States and abroad. As academic institutions, we must be committed to academic freedom and free speech. Just as I objected to the call for the American Studies Association boycott of Israeli academic institutions, I will defend the faculty’s right to bring speakers of their choice to campus. I also will let the faculty who invited the recent lecturer speak for themselves.
Along with many others in the Vassar community, I am dissatisfied with the range of perspectives being presented on campus regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and we are working to fill this gap. While many people on campus work hard to do this, the megaphone effect of those who think they know what is going on but really don’t, damages those efforts. As I have said before, Vassar deserves, and demands, better.
The real tragedy here, of course, is that Vassar College needed to have this conversation at all. But it is foolish to assume that in the great halls of academia where freedom of thought, inquiry and opinion reign that prejudice does not exist. It does. It always has and it always will. Perhaps some important perspective will be found in the days and weeks to come and perhaps not. One thing is certain. A great institution of higher learning has some explaining to do. Such explanations, however, will do little if people of good will are unwilling to listen. This is essential as listening is the foundation of understanding. It is necessary as understanding leads to healing.
We must remember, however, that bigotry, hatred and anti-Semitism are intolerable in a civilized society. As such, if there is a cancer in this place which so many of us love, it must be cut out, as surely as if were afflicting our own bodies. But a biopsy must nevertheless be done to determine how extensive the problem is. Is it a powerful malignancy comprised of many or the benign idiocy of a few? This we will determine. Some have suggested the patient is already too far gone; that we should now turn our backs and focus our efforts on those still worth saving.
I defy this notion.
Until Vassar College is dead and relegated to history, I, for one, will not allow those who seek to rip us apart because of our religious beliefs, who want wholesale bigotry to define this community, who have already decided that it is an irretrievable cesspool of prejudice or want only their side to be heard and no one else’s any semblance of victory of comfort.
We are Vassar. We are many and we are strong. Do not fuck with us.
Consider the following mass shooting scenarios: 1.) The Overland Park Jewish Community Center in Kansas, 2.) The Planned Parenthood Clinic in Colorado, 3.) The Emmanuel AME Church in South Carolina, 4.) The Inland Community Center in California and 5.)The Umpqua Community College in Oregon. In each of the 5 cases, multiple shots were fired with multiple fatalities. The identity of each shooter was not immediately known but authorities quickly made a determination and in some cases the perpetrator was captured and their backgrounds well established shortly afterward. The motive was not immediately clear in any of the cases but seemed obvious to most observers, especially to those who opine on television for a living.
Now let’s look a little closer. We will refer to the shooters as a singular “gunman” for argument’s sake and each shooting to be an “incident” or “engagement”.
A gunman at any Jewish center, regardless of ethnic background or religion, is going to be assumed to have anti-Semitic views. If the gunman is white, those views will be presumed to be neo-Nazi. The same is true with the incident at a Planned Parenthood. Any gunman will be presumed to have strong anti-abortion rights views and probably an evangelical or other Pentecostal Christian; possibly Roman Catholic. A white gunman opened fire at a predominately black church in the South. The logical conclusion is the motive is neo-Confederate, white-supremacist in nature. The incident at the Inland Community Center is presumed to be international terrorism because the gunman is Middle-Eastern in heritage and had made a trip to Saudi Arabia. The gunman in Oregon is reported to have had anti-religious or anti-government views in general but was also reported to have had long-term mental health issues. This makes it the only case where the justice system actually seemed to have a mass shooter with no discernible political, religious or ethnic axe to grind. Perhaps this was the only one of the 5 incidents listed above whom observers on the right quickly classify the perpetrator as “mentally ill”.
Setting aside incidents that are obviously criminal, such as a bank robbery or a narcotics related firefight, most Americans feel the inclination to see any mass shooting as “terrorism”. The FBI defines “mass shooting” as one where 4 or more people have been shot in one incident. Terrorism by definition is the use of violence to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, and as such, try and effect changes in government policy. This presents us with an unsettling dilemma. Which, if any, of the incidents noted above, are “terrorism”, “hate crimes” or just “crime”? The answer is obvious. Who do you perceive the gunman to be? Your own ideology and worldview will shape how you view such incidents. You will be certain you know what really happened long before any hard facts arrive, long before the press conferences stop and the cable news talking heads fall silent.
Again, consider your perceptions if the following occurred:
What if the Overland Park Center incident was committed by an anti-religious gunman?
What if a Middle-Eastern man had engaged the Planned Parenthood in Colorado?
What if the gunman at the Emmanuel AME Church was black?
What if the Inland Community Center had been engaged by one gunman? Or multiple gunmen but all white?
What if the Community College in Oregon gunman had been devoutly and fervently religious but Jewish?
Suddenly, the line between what we define as “crime” and “terrorism” becomes blurred. Who is a completely sane yet dedicated fanatic and who is just “mentally ill” changes, does it not? What we want to see in huge red print on our online news feed or used as material for our particular political candidate is generally shaped not by facts, but by perceptions, which may turn out to be false and often do. We as Americans often like to say that someone is innocent until proven otherwise in a court of law. But we all know that is never the case in mass shootings. Definitions of who the gunman (or gunmen) are will always advance our pre-determined agenda. Events will be perceived in a way that suits our purposes for television and social media and will tend to prop up what we already know is going on.
Even if we actually have no idea.
There is a tendency on the part of many people to assume that any and all brave, selfless and heroic actions conducted by American servicemembers while on leave in the civilian world, both here and abroad, must be done by members of the US Marine Corps. The bravery and courage of Marine Corps personnel has garnered such fame over time that even local media on the scene of such events simply come to the immediate assumption that any Americans involved who are in the armed forces and conduct themselves with heroism and courage are Marines.
Indeed, there were few news outlets in the US that did not report that 2 members of the USMC were responsible for neutralizing a gunman who began opening fire aboard a Thalys high speed train en route from Amsterdam to Paris yesterday. The gunman, as of this writing, is reported to be a Moroccan national familiar to Spanish authorities and with possible connections to terrorist elements. The gunman was armed with a Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifle, a knife, a pistol and several clips of ammunition. The two American servicemen subdued the gunman, one of them sustaining serious injuries in the attack, and disarmed him. Due to their quick thinking and fast action, nobody was killed and what surely would have been a massacre was foiled.
But they weren’t Marines. The American servicemen were members of the US Air Force and US Army National Guard.
In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris earlier this year and other similar attacks, we are reminded that even a train in Western Europe, tragically like so many other places in the world we assume are safe, can in an instant become the scene of death and carnage. This writer, for one, is grateful that there are people, ordinary people, civilian and military, who in their everyday lives face a terrifying circumstance and step up to the challenge to stop violence and hatred. There is a word for such people. The ones we should emulate and make us all wonder how we would react in a similar crisis. Would you or I face a man armed with an assault weapon and without hesitation engage him before lives were lost and a nation once again grieves? There is a word for such people and it has been much overused. The word is hero.
Let the record show that the two American servicemembers involved who averted what would almost certainly have been a horrifying bloodbath were Airman First Class Spencer Stone, US Air Force, 65th Air Base Group and Spec. Alek Skarlatos, US Army, 41st Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Oregon National Guard.
The United States is not going to boycott the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Neither is any other participating country for that matter. Russia’s new hard-line anti-LGBT laws, unconditional support of the Assad regime in Syria nor the granting of asylum for Edward Snowden will slow down, let alone halt, the games in Sochi.
This brings up an important question: How did poor Vancouver get dragged into this? The Canadians don’t want it back there. The Vancouver Sun doesn’t even have the attempt by some to relocate the Games there as a main story on the front page today. The online version of the paper, however, does have a report several headlines above the Change.org’s petition story that reads: “Miami Beach teen caught spraying graffiti dies after shock from police Taser”. This is the level of excitement that British Columbians have when considering the prospect of hosting their 2nd Olympic Games in 4 years.
When you do find the report, it does quote Vancouver City Councilman Geoff Meggs as saying a 7 month lead time to get Vancouver ready as an Olympic Plan B is “not like putting fresh sheets on the guest bed.” The story continues: “I can understand the intention, but practically I don’t see how it could happen,” he said Wednesday, noting Vancouver had seven years to plan the 2010 Games. “I think lots of people in Vancouver would love to have the Games again, but it’s a question of who would pay for it and how it could possibly be done, and I don’t think we know the answer to either of those questions,” he said. Clearly It would seem in some quarters that if American celebrities want Russia to be put on notice that their government is doing unfair, cruel and inhumane things to innocent people (which it has been doing since the days of the czars), then maybe those same celebrities better starting writing some big checks to the City of Vancouver. Fast.
Many people, especially activists on the left, are under the delusion the Olympics are about competition, athletic spirit and national pride. They’re not. They’re about money. Lindsey Vonn made $2.5 million after the 2010 Winter Games. Apolo Ohno made $1.5 million, Bode Miller made $1.3 million and all three of these individuals are still earning huge sums years after the flame was extinguished over Vancouver. Truly these are the lives that will be in tatters if they can’t participate in Sochi next February. Make no mistake, the decision of whether to boycott the Olympic Games is absolutely not about salvaging the egos of athletes who have “trained their whole lives for this moment”. Neither Moscow nor Washington nor any other government honestly gives a damn about the training amateur athletes do in order to excel in their sport at Olympic levels. If by some bizarre twist of fate the games are boycotted or cancelled, I’m quite certain the thrill of having the chance, just the chance, to compete in world championships, endorse breakfast cereals and pose in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue will make these young people quite content.
Nobody despises the actions of the Kremlin lately more than I do. Russia’s record on human rights has been abysmal for generations and Vladimir Putin shows no sign of wanting to buck the trend. So if anyone wants the Winter Games in 2014 moved out of Russia, don’t listen to people like Stephen Fry, George Takei or disgruntled NSA and State Department officials who are still fuming over the fact that they couldn’t get Snowden in handcuffs. Also, enough with the whole 1936 Berlin Olympics comparison either. Jacques Rogge and his bunch at the IOC aren’t buying what the media is selling so let’s drop that one, shall we? Petitions to the White House will be completely and utterly useless. The U.S. Government will do what it feels is in the best interest of the country and wondering whether or not to participate in a Russian Olympics isn’t high on the list. You want to send petitions? Send them to the boards of directors of Nike, McDonald’s, GE, Coca-Cola, Reebok, Omega, Dow Chemicals, P&G, Samsung, British Petroleum, Rolex, Verizon, Gatorade and Adidas. If anyone has a say on the who, what, where, when, why, and how of the Olympic Games, they do…
“There was supposed to be an Earth-shattering Ka-boom!”
The lament of Marvin the Martian as his attempt to blow up the Earth is foiled by the accidental astrorabbit Bugs Bunny stealing the Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator is a witty reminder of something that is, shall we say, less apocalyptic than an alien destroying the world to clear his view of Venus. It is nevertheless curiously and somewhat disturbingly also the story of something of immense power stolen by the most unlikely of protagonists with the ability, ostensibly anyway, to blow up the world. There have lately been some important questions that have gone completely missing from the collective American political consciousness:
Where is Edward Snowden? What happened to his reported treasure trove of U.S. government secrets that was supposed to have caused so much hand wringing in the halls of power from Washington to Warsaw to Wellington? More importantly, where is this great national discussion that we were supposed to be having about government surveillance and the questions regarding individual privacy versus public safety?
Since the Zimmerman verdict, the birth of Royal Baby, and the continuing scandals of Anthony Weiner (aka The Man Who Would Be Mayor), we have completely lost sight of Mr. Snowden, now holed up for a month inside the international transit zone of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport. We can only assume that he still has possession of his four laptop computers containing not only specific information about NSA surveillance of American citizens and foreign governments but also reportedly a “blueprint” outlining NSA infrastructure and operations. But that’s only an assumption.
We can also assume that there have been no great efforts on the part of any of the countries that have offered him asylum to actually get him out of Russia. Little news or commentary has come from the governments in Bolivia, Nicaragua or Venezuela regarding their desire to give succor to Mr. Snowden. Nor has there been any confirmation that he will be allowed to emigrate to Russia, as has been widely reported. Vladimir Putin’s stated requirements that if Mr. Snowden wished to remain in Russia that he no longer release any more classified information that might damage the United States or its intelligence networks may prove too stringent for him to abide by, leaving Mr. Snowden still marooned at Sheremetyevo. But that’s also only an assumption.
Save for the occasional brief statement by an intelligence official, there has been strangely little in the news at all lately about the man who once had the attention of the world riveted to his every move. Ironically, another domestic issue of great importance has taken the place of the discussions we as a nation were supposed to have about the implications of Snowden’s revelations and eclipsed once again our view of what’s going on inside Fort Meade. In the wake of George Zimmerman’s acquittal for the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, race relations and gun violence in America have once again rushed to capture center stage. I do not wish to imply even for a moment that this is not a debate we should be having. Indeed, this is an issue that we as a nation must tackle head on. But I think something important to America got lost in the din of angry voices, somewhere between Sanford, Washington, New York, London and Moscow.
It has been said that the American news media, particularly on the left, missed a golden opportunity to initiate a truly vigorous debate about the NSA and its activities at home and abroad. Instead, they dropped the ball with an obsession to cover the man and not the message. Mr. Snowden’s flight across the world became our dirty little national pastime. It was a soap opera better than any on daytime television ever could hope to be. The somewhat ridiculous and banal national polling of the “hero or traitor” question also clouded what Mr. Snowden was trying to achieve. We focused on the person of Edward Snowden and his endless search for a place to hang his hat and failed to stop and think about what our intelligence services are up to in our own backyards. I should think that would qualify as a major intelligence scoop all by itself.
It may be too late. We as Americans have the attention span of a school of halibut and get distracted so easily by the agony and the ecstasy that hits our headlines every morning. We may not even care if he ever gets asylum, or is captured by U.S. authorities or just simply disappears one day from our memory. Tragic death occurs and protesters fill the streets. A baby is born and we can all share in a little joy, pomp and circumstance. Tomorrow will have new things to worry and wonder at. In the meantime, a young man stays trapped inside an airport terminal far from home. However carefully calculated or misguided his original intentions may have been, I for one have no doubt he was trying to change the world for the better. Who mourns for Marvin with his view of Venus still obstructed by that annoying planet filling his telescope?