Gloom and Doom in the Senate

Grumpy2Grumpy: Ya know, Mouse, I’m actually not exactly grumpy today. Now that the post-election fog has lifted and I can get a clear picture of what the next two years are going to look like, my grumpiness has been replaced by unmitigated terror. The havoc that the Teapublicans could cause on every aspect of American society and economy has me ready to crawl under a rock until sanity is restored. The reality is that if we all did that then the insanity would continue and only get worse.

Mouse: I’d crawl under a rock too but they’re kinda uncomfortable and don’t provide near enough protection from the elements and cats, snakes, owls, and, well… you get the idea.

Grumpy: I don’t think we have time in this discussion for touching on all the areas of dread, so I’ll bring up a few on the Senate side of things as they relate to defense and “homeland security” (I really do hate that phrase but I guess we are stuck with it).

Mouse:Homeland security” reminds me of the Bush Jr. years. That’s yet another thought to curdle the milk on your breakfast cereal.

Grumpy: The Senate Armed Services Committee will now be chaired by John McCain. That fact alone sends me into spasms. On the plus side though, Sen. McCain has made noises about going after cost overruns. Don’t get too hopeful, however. He has made no mention of going after programs and projects that even the military doesn’t want. Another sobering example of his “leadership” is that he wants to modify the Teapublican darling of sequestration but only so far as he thinks it takes too much away from our military budget. I suppose his “pay-for” will be to cut more programs for the poor and middle class.

Mouse: McCain is proof that the people of Arizona have really poor taste in Senators. But don’t look at me, I voted for the other guy. At least we can be thankful that McCain wasn’t elected President, and he can’t declare war on anyone as a committee chairman.

Grumpy: Oh, Lord, the thought of McCain as President just sent a shiver up my spine. The man with such good judgement he would have put Palin a heartbeat away from the nuclear button? Can’t you just hear Palin’s screechy voice as she runs through the White House yelling, “John? Johhhnnnnn? You can’t hide John, I want that nucular football, John, ‘cuz I’s kin see Poootin from me house.” Yikes!

But enough about Teapublican terror fantasies that will never come true, back to reality which is scary enough.

If your looking for answers or openness on matters relating to the CIA or NSA, you’re in for a big disappointment. The Senate Intelligence Committee will now be chaired by Sen. Richard Burr (said to be the CIA’s favorite Senator). Here is what the Senator recently said about the killing of bin Laden and the use of “enhanced interrogation” (torture) in getting him:

“The information that eventually led us to this compound was the direct result of enhanced interrogations; one can conclude if we had not used enhanced interrogations, we would not have come to yesterday’s action.”

Even the CIA admitted that the torture — sorry, “enhanced interrogation” didn’t work. How “intelligent” is it to keep repeating easily proven lies?

Mouse: Yet another effort by a Republican to rewrite history.

Grumpy: Just these two committees in the Senate have the power to disrupt our military and procurement, increase an already oversized military budget, let the intelligence agencies run around or crash through what little Senate oversight is left, and pass more of the costly burdens of our nation’s adventurism to those least able to pay for it. Continue reading Gloom and Doom in the Senate

We Know Tar Sands, But Why Don't We Know Biomass?

DDThe US Congress perseverates. Its new leaders, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, have it bad. John McCain holds its longest recognized precondition. It is incurable and resists every treatment. Perseveration is a state of thought and speech, a mindset on a loop that repeats and repeats and prolongs an action long after the stimulus that prompted it has ceased. Think Keystone XL. Think Keystone. A political mutation from the perseveration of Obamacare.

Perseveration is a dangerous condition. It is a frequent condition that infects terrorist leadership who carry it to inhuman extremes. At home, perseveration often occurs as a host/carrier relationship between politicians and the media. Media is highly susceptible to its effects and has created recent epidemics and panics that stem from the main condition. Fears of Ebola’s spread to US soil is one such recent incident. The grand jury verdict in Ferguson is now another.

Congressional Republicans are single-minded and love to perseverate. About the XL, they ring memes: “thousands of jobs,” thousands of jobs,” “thousand of jobs;” the loud repetition masking that the pipeline has many dirty little flaws—beginning with the misleading jobs claim. Perseverating Republicans have a wild XL jobs math that includes school crossing guards anywhere near trucks with XL equipment, the counter and register workers at the doughnut shops where the truck drivers have coffee, and the supermarket worker who sells the bread for their sandwiches and the banker who receives their mortgage.

Here’s a more accurate picture: As we know, XL pipeline construction jobs will be less than the number on any NJ-NY highrise, less than those involved in building the new Tappan Zee Bridge.

The XL requires infrastructure (mainly grading, bed prep including stone and rock beds, drainage, installing braces), but is easy construction (mainly bolting and welding); these jobs will turn over swiftly as it builds out. The main impact will be in transportation and heavy equipment jobs (engaged hauling pipe sections, parts and instruments; then in lifting and positioning sections for installation, transferring and moving equipment and parts along the pipeline). Total new jobs: less than 500! New jobs lasting for more than six months: 150. Permanent jobs added to the economy: 50. Mainly for pipeline monitors, reading instruments and driving along to visually inspect the pipeline for damage and leaks.

The impact on refineries? The Texas Gulf refineries aren’t empty or idle. And no one proposes building new capacity. Net result: Jobs will remain constant; output will increase. China benefits. No tanker leaves Houston or Port Arthur empty.

The Washington Post says the economy adds the numbers of jobs provided by the XL every 10 minutes and nine seconds. Exactly the time it takes Republicans to perseverate about their lie of thousands.

The danger of perseveration is not only its exaggerated realities, but it how it pushes out new ideas and solutions and keeps them away from public attention.

Biomass is perhaps the most important green energy technology no one has heard of and for which Congress has not taken up a banner of support.

At its most basic, biomass is producing energy from organic matter; burning wood in a stove or fireplace, for example. At its most advanced, biomass energy is sustainable and an efficient recycler of bio products considered waste and left abandoned by lumber and agricultural industries. It is one of the most scalable of green technologies, and breakthroughs are happening swiftly, improving the process and dropping the costs of production and transmission.

biomass_graphic

Beaver Wood Energy, a Vermont company, reclaims forest waste from logging operations. Within a 50-mile circumference of its facilities site, 2.6 million tons of logs are harvested annually, leaving behind nearly a million tons of waste, mainly in the form of tree tops and branches stripped from the stem trucks to be used as timber in construction and craft. Continue reading We Know Tar Sands, But Why Don’t We Know Biomass?

A Time To Act

DDThe next Republican step will be to force President Obama to use the veto in a way that tanks Hillary Clinton’s chances of winning the Presidency. The GOP-led Senate will not be interested in passing any useful legislation. The Senate will function only as a political wedge, driving bills that the President will veto, but that will also be loaded with riders affixed to the GOP agenda.

With the McConnell Senate, President Obama will be consistently faced with the lesser of two evils, between which there won’t be a dime’s worth of difference. The Senate will turn his vetoes into a political wedge, often pointing to the issues from both sides, to create a circle of confusion.

Remember, the House rarely sent up a clean bill, whether on the debt or a continuing resolution—which is what led to the government shutdown in 2013—surprisingly never mentioned by Democratic candidates, who gave the GOP a free pass on one of the worst of its legislative disasters domestically and internationally, damaging US standing in every world capital. Expect no less from Democrats, nor any more from Republicans with their win in the Senate.

It seems throughout the election Democrats were thinking about offices; Republicans were thinking about power. Republicans used the very shadows they created (a do-nothing Congress, Obama!) and pretended to oppose it by feigning substance, taking even tougher stands on waste, debt, red tape and intrusion—all of which they created in the shadows, all of which had been reduced in the light. But no one among the Democrats attached this darkness to Republican names.

Only dark money was attached. Russ Choma, at NoOpenSecrets.org (part of the Center for Responsive Politics) writes:

The real story of the election’s campaign finance chapter was not which side had more resources, but that such a large chunk of the cost was paid for by a small group of ultra-wealthy donors using outside groups to bury voters with an avalanche of spending.”

OpenSecrets further noted:

Spending by outside groups fall in three categories: independent expenditureselectioneering communications and communication costs. The 2004 election marked a watershed moment in the use of independent expenditure to sway voters, with most of the new spending coming from the national party committees. The 2010 election marks the rise of a new political committee, dubbed “super PACs,” and officially known as “independent-expenditure only committees,” which can raise unlimited sums from corporations, unions and other groups, as well as wealthy individuals.

The center issued this chart that looks at combined totals: Continue reading A Time to Act

Consequences

freehandWell. With last week’s little unpleasantness out of the way, it’s at least a small relief that the cable news networks have mothballed their portentous horn-laden stings and seizure-inducing election-themed graphics. Until shortly before the first ’16 primary, anyway.

It’s less comforting that their energies now shift to helping Republicans craft their Grand Obstructionist Lame Duck narrative for the last half of the last term of Barack Obama, one where the “deeply unpopular” President, still diligently portrayed as a disengaged and feckless weakling, will nonetheless also be vilified as a stubborn, unreasoning bulwark against the bold (though coincidentally asinine) policy ideas of Republicans, through his preternatural command of a microphone and a veto pen.

Unless Republicans impeach him, of course, in which case… well, who the hell knows? Personally, I’d be delighted if the President were to veto everything the new Republican majorities stink up the inbox of the Resolute Desk with, and publicly call them all out as mendacious shitweasels in his next SOTU before daring them to start impeachment proceedings. Alas, that’s not going to happen.

As is his wont, the President will pick his battles with a seeming overabundance of caution, especially early on as the parties begin to square off in Congress. And that very well might entail his signature on some misshapen, though – one hopes – not monstrous legislation. In a landscape this ugly, there’s no reason to believe this is going to be anyone’s finest hour, and whatever compromising there is, I’m sadly sure most of it will be done by Democrats.

Magnitudes worse, though, is the effect of more Republicans in state legislatures and governors’ mansions. The appalling consequences of this sort of thing were vivid in the wake of Republican state-level gains in 2010, and they’re going to get a whole lot worse come January. Progressive or even moderate victories in the Obama Era have been muted, blunted or outright denied to citizens of red states via Republicans in charge there, with the ready assistance of ALEC, Koch money, and a “free press” soundly asleep at its post. Continue reading Consequences

Stormy Monday, 10/13/14

StormyMondayLiberian nurses and physician’s assistants intend to go on strike Monday over insufficient hazard pay, an action that could deal a terrible setback to the country’s efforts to get on top of the Ebola epidemic. During a weekend tour of treatment facilities in Monrovia, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf personally appealed to health care workers to stay on the job.

Now that a Texas health care worker, despite wearing protective gear, has tested positive for Ebola after “extensive contact” with victim Thomas Duncan before his death last Wednesday, the mainstream media can really get to work fanning the doomsday hysteria with even less regard for scientific accuracy or pesky fact-based caveats such as CDC Director Tom Frieden’s insistence that the new case resulted from “a breach in protocol.”

And if End Times Ebolamania doesn’t gain traction with the audience, at least the media has ISILW (Islamic State in, Like, Wherever) to fall back on. Sunday’s announcement by Defense Department officials that Turkey will make bases available to US and coalition forces conducting air strikes against Islamic State forces is sure to set off another wave of talking heads eager to explain how this move is a complete vindication of the President’s surefooted IS policy, or how it’s sad confirmation of a flailing, rudderless White House.

John McCain, meanwhile, is getting increasingly shrill in his calls for ground troops to be deployed against IS. Scoff if you must, but after destroying five planes himself, the Senator is at least something of an expert on aircraft vulnerability.

You’ll be happy (or maybe not) to hear that Dr. Brian Monahan, attending physician of Congress, posted a reassuring eight-minute video on an internal website last week, explaining special protocols developed to ensure that even in the event of a catastrophic epidemic affecting huge numbers of Americans, Congress will be able, disease-free, to continue doing not much of anything. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 10/13/14

Congressional candidate Mike Bost believes fracking is safe but environmentalists want people to die

WillinoisIllinois Republican Congressional candidate Mike Bost (IL-12) has some unusual beliefs about environmentalists and fracking. In a recent radio interview, Bost said about environmentalists:

“…if it was up to them, people should die and everything else should exist. Now, I know because I was in the negotiations with them.”

Bost was referring to his role negotiating the law that will open Illinois to fracking. Several groups based in Chicago, including Faith-in-Place, NRDC, and the Environmental Law & Policy Center participated in negotiations and supported the law over the objection of environmentalists in areas that will be most impacted.

Now, I wasn’t present for negotiations but I’ve never heard staff for any of those groups suggest anything remotely similar to the opinion that people should die and everything else should exist. In fact, most climate change and anti-fracking activists are involved to save human life.

Many of us noticed that fracking made North Dakota the deadliest state to work in.

We’re bothered that fracking operations use chemicals known to cause cancer respiratory problems, birth defects and other health impacts.

We know the massive increase in trucks transporting dangerous chemicals is yet another unavoidable deadly hazard, especially since toxic spills shutting down I-57 in southern Illinois is already a regular story.

Since fracking contributes to climate change we’re also working to reduce climate disasters like extreme flooding in southern Illinois.

But Mike Bost is excited about fracking because it will bring tax revenue and jobs. He’s willing to sacrifice human life for the sake of transient temp jobs that will mostly go to out-of-state workers for the profit of out-of-state companies. And he has the balls to accuse environmentalists of not caring about human life? Continue reading Congressional candidate Mike Bost believes fracking is safe but environmentalists want people to die

Congressman Shimkus gets backlash to deceptive fracking comments

WillinoisIllinois’ most embarrassing Congressman, John Shimkus, faced an outraged backlash for pro-fracking statements he made on Facebook. He’s already well known as a climate change denier and conspiracy theorist on the fringe of the energy debate. Although there’s a long tradition of coal mining in his district, fracking is very controversial.

Shimkus has a steady stream of constituents who regularly respond to his misleading and foolish Facebook posts. But several posts supporting fracking attracted unusually strong pushback.

The first recent post linked a radio interview in which Shimkus says fracking, “isn’t really new. Its been around since the ’40s.” This is a common talking point industry propagandists use to confuse people.
Some forms of vertical fracking have been around for decades. Recent debates and regulation are focused on horizontal, high-powered fracking, which people in the industry know was developed in the ’90s. Shimkus then says with no irony that “it’s difficult to separate what’s fact from fiction these days.” That’s especially true when someone’s Congressman is lying to them.
Shimkus then posted a picture of a fracking operation with the comment, “Looking forward to seeing this in Southern Illinois” that generated 85 mostly brutal responses from downstate residents.
  • Great idea! Let’s frack away our future! Goodbye geological stability. Hey…we’re going to need more lawyers, doctors, and environmental remediation services in the area to deal with all of the negative impacts of fracking. What a short sighted plan.
  • Southern Illinois has beauty beyond compare. Crystal clear water to drink. Clean air to breath. Why in the world do you think God would want you to do any more to this area than has already been done by strip mining and underground mining? Piling shale on the ground making our highways nasty. Please rethink this highway of thinking. You’ve been there for us in the past, please think of our future.
  • Proof we have the best congressman money can buy.
  • I’m not looking forward to such ruin of our region. Ban fracking. Put your support behind wind, solar and energy efficient design please, Otherwise, you do not have my vote.
  • Can we put one next to your house?
  • Yeah, because that well is so much more beautiful than Shawnee National Forest and the surrounding land. Idiot.
  • They are fracking in Central Illinois bypassing the Regulatory Act by staying under the volume that would cause them to wait for the rules to be finalized and by using fluids other than water to frack. See what they can get away with in this state! The Regulatory Act is going to be useless against these companies.
  • In 2012 the State of Texas reported $1.5 billion in revenues from all fracking activities. That same year the Texas Department of Transportation determined that fracking truck traffic was causing $4 billion in roadway damages statewide annually. http://www.FrackingRoadDamage.com
  • You support this you will condemn us all .It is your obligation to get the facts. Remember John we live on two fault lines.
  • “this” should be NOwhere near Southern Illinois. Trashing the land, air and using precious water to frack the earth? Oh also fracking near New Madrid fault….are you so out of touch you don’t see that?
  • So, will the first “test” sites be in YOUR backyard, contamination affecting YOUR family? Most folks boosting southern Illinois look forward to seeing forests, rock formations, lakes, and… Wineries… This picture does none of those justice. It also makes me want to move for the sake of my baby boy!!!!!!!
  • You are totally wrong about this issue; Illinois is one of the most beautiful states in the union with some of the best water anywhere. Now you want to ruin it? What the hell is wrong with you? We intend to fight this fight to the end!
  • You can’t restore ruined buildings from earthquakes, and you can’t restore polluted water once it has made people sick. You are gambling with people’s lives, to make a few dollars for a few people, most of whom don’t need it. Shame on you.
  • Fracking destroys. Fracking destroys wildlife. Fracking destroys tourism. Fracking destroys drinking water. Whoever is for Fracking has no empathy for our planet.
  • You are either incredibly stupid, incredibly uncaring, or a combination of both if you look forward to seeing this in Southern Illinois. Do you also look forward to the earthquakes that will devastate Southern Illinois? Do you look forward to the land and water being destroyed? What is WRONG with you politicians? Is that almighty dollar that you’re getting from all of these people destroying our planet going to be worth it when you also don’t have decent air to breathe, water to drink, or constituents to vote for you? I hope all politicians supporting fracking are ousted from office as soon as possible. Fracking in Southern Illinois is a terrible, terrible thing and the fact that you don’t know this makes me sick.
  • With all due respect, Congressman: ABSOLUTELY NOT! No way are the people of southern Illinois prepared for the noise, traffic, and pollution this will create. Take fracking to Chicago!
  • NO! This is *not* a sight I want to see in Southern Illinois, now or EVER! We live on two active faults. I have friends in many areas that have allowed fracking. They have constant earthquakes. No job, no income, is worth endangering millions of lives. Please re-think this.
  • why weren’t we considered for the Tesla Plant, you have any idea what 6500 decent jobs would mean to this district, well are you trying to bring long term development here? oh and talk to folks in Ohio about fracking jobs, transients living in hotels and apartments leaving on Friday, lots of work for restaurants, bars and gas stations and when the crews move on so do those crappy jobs…

I could copy dozens more.

Shimkus got cute with his response and posted a graphic of outdated and out of context quotes from former and current Obama administration officials. Then another of academics who have worked for the industry claiming there has been no water contamination from fracking.

I added my own comment this time that got 14 likes.

243 cases of drinking well water contaminated in Pennsylvania. Does it bother anyone else to have their Congressman lie to them?
http://triblive.com/mobile/6696428-96/wells-released-gas

Plenty of others chimed in with more stories, studies, and facts to correct Shimkus’ attempt to mislead his constituents. Continue reading Congressman Shimkus gets backlash to deceptive fracking comments

In the Fight Against ISIL, Going Beyond Either/Or

DDA big part of the American legacy is to reduce things to a simple either/or. It creates the illusion of being willing to make tough choices, of moving forward with decisive shows of strength while leaving piddling details unexamined.

Often this preferred way turns out be a stumbling block; America trips over details and consequences patience would have allowed the nation to foresee. Barack Obama’s mighty effort to restore the nation to the security and values of patience has been met at every turn with resistance that insists on immediate either/ors. But his patience is not incompetence, as America is soon to find out in the fight against ISIL.

Rush in, says John McCain. Despite being the Senate’s senior war hawk, his state’s Republican Party voted last January to censure their senior Senator for a voting record insufficiently conservative. Send troops, “think of an American city in flames,” Lindsey Graham cries. The terrorists have already occupied space in his mind.

But the criticisms of the President continue, this time from sources who attended a recent off-the-record press meeting and a White House invitational dinner. At both, the President reportedly said he would not rush to war. He would be deliberate. “I do not make apologies for being careful in these areas, even if it doesn’t make for good theater,” sources quote him as saying.

But the Wall Street Journal used these sources to speculate about his motivation rather than applaud the President’s principles. Richard N. Haass, an invitee (a former Bush official and president of the Council of Foreign Relations), said the President has been “forced to react to events here.” Haass goes on in the Wall Street Journal article:

“… attention to nuance is a double-edged attribute. “This is someone who, more than most in the political world, is comfortable in the gray rather than the black and white,” he said. “So many other people in the political world do operate in the black and white and are more quote-unquote decisive, and that’s a mixed blessing. He clearly falls on the side of those who are slow or reluctant to decide because deciding often forces you into a more one-sided position than you’re comfortable with.”

In this scene from Apotheosis of the US Capitol, armored Freedom, sword raised and cape flying, with a helmet and shield reminiscent of those on the Statue of Freedom, tramples Tyranny and Kingly Power; she is assisted by a fierce eagle carrying arrows and a thunderbolt.

In this scene from Apotheosis of the US Capitol, armored Freedom, sword raised and cape flying, with a helmet and shield reminiscent of those on the Statue of Freedom, tramples Tyranny and Kingly Power; she is assisted by a fierce eagle carrying arrows and a thunderbolt.

Haass is wrong. Patience provides you with a better perception; it prevents the errors that come from a rash rush to judgment. But Haass has assumed his conclusion and made it fit the circumstance. He has reduced the President’s incredible strength to wait without wasting resources into a waste of time. He deliberately denies that patience is an investment of time, rewarded by its unique benefits of resolve and understanding—a special quality of the President’s keen insight, tied to his clarity and force of intellect. For some, the President is always on the wrong side of their either/or. Likewise, the either/or of “boots or no boots” (to use US combat troops in Iran and Syria or no) is distorting the military argument and misleading strategy by failing to focus on choices outside the forced choices that neocons like Haass embrace and take comfort with in their sleep. The purpose of forced choices is to create limits. They do not enhance freedom; they tighten restrictions. They ignore options.

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden meet with members of the National Security Council in the Situation Room of the White House, Sept. 10, 2014.

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden meet with members of the National Security Council in the Situation Room of the White House, Sept. 10, 2014.

We see how the forced choices of either/or set limits on the domestic front. Voting rights, women’s rights, fracking, education standards, taxes, healthcare, immigration are all discussed without nuances—which prevents using the overlooked details to find a path that is reinforced and refined by answering its objections and working in its strengths; instead, Haass and his ilk double down on win or lose and participate in the giddy exercise of shutting down the government or the repetitive stupidity of voting 54 times to repeal a healthcare bill without a chance of success and with no alternative. Continue reading In the Fight Against ISIL, Going Beyond Either/Or

Who Is Our Neighbor?

DDThe story of the Jericho Road is well-known to many; a man traveling down the dangerous 17-mile old world passage that climbs between Jericho and Jerusalem; it is winding, steep, remote. Historically known as the Bloody Pass; in the one biblical story from the Gospels, a man is jumped by a gang of marauders and falls injured, unable to help himself. Several men of supposed good will—including a priest—pass him without offering aid. They see him and ignore him. Who knows why? One thing is clear: the victim is not their neighbor.

Not only in the sense of a person who is not of their community or one whose identity is unknown, but also in the sense of ethical action—a willingness to offer a hand to someone in need in times when danger threatens even good intent.

The ethical will which fails or is abandoned has a political and social side. Ethical choices have powerful consequences that quickly grow complicated and cover a broad range of actions. Immediate reflection shows the idea of the neighbor is at the center of our domestic politics. And the idea of the neighbor and ethical action is a paired “who and what” that underscores the immigration crisis that carried tens of thousands of children to our borders, our school lunch programs and the fight against obesity, the school-prison pipeline (middle school children in handcuffs taken out of school), our support for affordable healthcare (ethical actions of costs, coverage and value) and violence against women (perpetrator and societal victim blaming). The answer to “who” identifies the persons and communities, the victims we are ethically tasked to love and help, to take risks ourselves in order to render aid, to challenge the inherent dangers by our actions. As our national resolve weakens or gives in to hate and fear, the list of  ”who” grows short.

The Jericho Road.

The Jericho Road

Who we see as our neighbor positions us on the political spectrum. It often determines the laws we support and social action we engage in (California communities illegally stopping government buses of immigrants from entering government facilities weren’t met with militarized policing as has been seen in protests elsewhere). Who we see as our neighbor often shapes the attitudes that are the milieu of society and define the bottom line of survival. It determines who we look up to and down on, the level of anger and respect we have for individuals and institutions. It separates us into friends and enemies.

So on the verge of US military engagement, as the world is rife with hot spots, as US domestic officials’ and pundits’ sound bites call, without clear specifics, for Presidential impeachment for high crimes (an echo that also engulfs Hillary Clinton’s unannounced run for President!), who is our neighbor? Is the President right to patiently, stubbornly push Iraq to create an inclusive government (making neighbors of distrustful clans) before increasing military aid to resist ISIL? ISIL, the well armed and financed jihadist extremists who control oil production facilities, and at one point held Iraq’s major dam, and whose fighters are only a short drive from Baghdad? Do the beheadings of two Americans change the equation? What should the good neighbor do?

Surprisingly, President Obama foresaw these choices. He wrote about them in the The Audacity of Hope, pointing out the many advantages of coalition building as a pillar of foreign policy and as an answer to global threats (among the advantages: improved skill sets in intelligence gathering, analysis, tactics, strategy, execution, weaponry, sanctions, coordinated isolation, diplomatic dialogue).

President Barack Obama walks to the Oval Office after returning to the White House following a trip to Nashua, N.H., Feb. 2, 2010.

President Barack Obama walks to the Oval Office after returning to the White House following a trip to Nashua, NH, Feb. 2, 2010

His Nobel Prize acceptance speech later identified the looming threat of intra-national violence (violence within states by non-state insurgencies and movements operating across borders) and the heightened risks to civilians. He foresaw the dramatically increased demand for refugee services. He is well acquainted with how the mass movement of people escaping violence places destabilizing pressure on regional governments and local communities not engaged in conflict.

Right now, more than 50 million people are displaced and living in refugee camps, according to the UNHCR (the Office of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; created in December 1950, the worldwide agency coordinating refugee assistance; it won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1954). President Obama knew the effect disruptions have on generations of children who would be denied education and families denied income. He understood how violence set back peace and prosperity by indirect means felt and experienced by refugees and by their host countries,who are often ill-equipped and under-resourced to receive those fleeing violence. In the President’s world view, our neighbors were any global citizens of good will who sought a concord with the American Promise—prosperity and peace in mutual association.

In all of his writings and speeches about how we help our neighbors, the President has argued for minimum military force over maximum force. He was aware of the paradox of maximum force: in the long run, it often expands the threat it is intended to crush. Continue reading Who Is Our Neighbor?

Eat Your Lunch and Don't Hold Your Breath

DDAn old Revolutionary War tale begins with a meeting between a British officer and the legendary Swamp Fox, the American officer Francis Marion. As an act of hospitality, Oscar, Marion’s manservant, prepared a dinner of sweet potatoes baked in the campfire’s hot coals.

A painting depicting the dinner hangs in the Congressional gallery in the US Capitol. It’s meaning and importance is found in the report the British officer took back to his general staff. “We cannot defeat the colonials,” he concluded. When asked why, he replied, “Men willing to fight for freedom on suppers of sweet potatoes will not be defeated.”

Marion’s men were living on roots, drinking water, and “all for liberty.” This example of the exceptionalism of the American Promise—the willingness to sacrifice and show the courtesies of humanity even to enemies engaged in bitter war is never raised by originalists who put priority on budgets over values. John Blake White’s painting of the American heroic spirit is forgotten and today unknown.

The painting is a powerful reminder of three things. One, Marion’s manservant was an adult, Oscar; rarely did historic portraits show children except in family portraits. Two, this simple sharing of meager provisions led to the perception of greatness and put fear and doubt into an American enemy with a superior force. Three, the budget has never been the guidebook to politics, but wars are made and fought for wealth.

Before the era of public relations and short-form spin by analysts out of power who are not scholars, but ideologues, cultural events provided the meanings for trends and predictions of success. Modern media removes culture and replaces it with a scrubbed, filtered view of reason and half-truths in which meaning is misplaced. The immigration crisis is a heroic, three-nation pilgrimage of children. How different from Marion’s time! This exodus of children has nothing to do with border protections. It has two push-pull factors; the first, the daily violence, deaths and threats, beatings and rapes the children are witnessing against their friends and families pushes them to leave to survive, to protect their lives.

But what pulls them to America are not the beds and hot meals many Republicans in Congress insistently emphasize over and over—instead it is a belief in themselves and a belief in opportunity—the idea that America has kept faith with the promise it fought for in its founding—that it offers liberty and justice for all. The repeated insinuations that children have walked thousands of miles for America’s table scraps is ugly and demeaning. It belittles democracy. It rips away its hope. It says America’s beacon is only a light of limited material welfare, offered as sandwiches and sleeping mats.

C-SPAN broadcast a July 29th House hearing organized by the House Progressive Caucus and chaired by Arizona House member Raul Grijalva, attended by Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and others, in which three immigrant children spoke and answered questions, giving Congress and the American people their first opportunity to hear their experiences and reasons in their own voices.

Among the speakers were a 10-year-old and a 15-year-old. The 15-year-old came with her younger sister five years ago and has learned nuanced English She has a beaming, abiding love for America. She wants to be a doctor. The 10-year-old recently arrived, speaks confidently in flat Spanish and is finding her center.

But the welcome mat has loud voices of opposition. And the Republican Congress is taking the opportunity to create a crisis you can believe in. They emphasize the law, not justice. Turn them back, they say. More, they speak of political mistrust as a reason to do nothing.

Public Television’s Frontline recently showed clips of Iranian Sunni leaders during the Bush administration counting out thousands of dollars in support of “democracy,” but the new Republicans have lost their compassionate humanism and would deny children the fair play of due process. And a recent study shows 90% of children with attorneys show up for their hearings, with a 60% average overall.

This reduction of life to a balance sheet, with a thousand cited reasons to keep the poor and the foreign and low-wage workers away from prosperity and opportunity as defense spending and farm subsidies increase and huge tax breaks are in place for major industries like oil is not what Oscar, a black slave, had in mind when he stirred the coals of a colonial American campfire; nor is it the dream that lit up the faces of children who never once mentioned the nice meals and warm beds of America in their testimony before Congress.

Instead, they told of violence against their families, seeing the adults in a household killed because they didn’t have “rent,” an extorted payment demanded by gangs from powerless citizens. They spoke of dreams. How they felt secure in America. They spoke of how they were hungry for education.

But some in Congress think only of bread and costs.

This latest migration of children to our borders is a cultural event that points to the plight and treatment of children around the globe. Go back to October 9, 2012 when Malala Yousafzai was shot, with some of her friends and classmates, for denying an order by the Taliban for girls not to attend school. Her incident can be used to mark a shift to children as the intentional targets of terrorist and state violence, as deliberate targets of drug gangs and human traffickers, as main players in the violence tied to politics and greed and balance sheets.

Since then, we have seen the bodies of Syrian children, wrapped in shrouds, dead from chemical attacks carried out by their own political leadership. We have seen 300 or more girls from northeastern Nigeria disappear into the forest after being kidnapped from schools, and others beaten and raped. We have seen children at the beach and at schools, and playing in the street killed by rocket fire aimed a residential neighborhoods in Gaza.

A lot of style points are being racked up in the reporting and debates about the rocket attacks in Israel and Gaza as both sides overlook the fundamentals to see who can build the tallest house of cards. Continue reading Eat Your Lunch and Don’t Hold Your Breath