Neocons Gonna Neocon

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Neocon William Kristol, writing on the pages of USA Today writes that “We were right to invade Iraq in 2003 to remove Saddam Hussein […]Even with the absence of caches of weapons of mass destruction…”

It’s quite clear that not only has Kristol not learned the lessons of Iraq but also is willing to rewrite the history in such a way to exonerate the Bush administration from its failings.

When President Obama took office, Iraq was calm, al-Qaeda was weakened and ISIS did not exist. Iran, meanwhile, was under pressure from abroad (due to sanctions) and at home (due to popular discontent, manifested by the Green uprising in the summer of 2009).

The Obama administration threw it all away. It failed to support the dissidents in Iran in 2009, mishandled the Iraqi elections in 2010, removed all U.S. troops from Iraq at the end of 2011, and allowed the Syrian civil war to spiral out of control from 2011 on.

Oh yeah I forgot, things were going great in Iraq until Barack Hussein Obama took office. If only the U.S. got more involved in the Iraqi elections (whatever that means) and “supported” dissidents in Iran (whatever that means) and kept U.S. troops in a bit longer (say another 100 years or so?) why today we might well be witnessing Jeffersonian democracy or a Madisonian republic in the Middle East! And the whole bit about WMD not being found in Iraq? Details. Who cares!

The USA Today editorial on the Iraq question has a bit more of a honest assessment directly challenging the Neocon narrative:

Nearly 4,500 Americans died, tens of thousands more were wounded, and $2 trillion was squandered in a war to destroy weapons of mass destruction that were never found.

And though the war disposed of a bloody dictator, Saddam Hussein, it ushered in something worse, at least for the United States: A sectarian civil war that killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and gave birth to Islamist terrorism, now under the banner of the Islamic State.

The more legitimate Afghanistan War was orphaned, turning it into a quagmire, and allies were alienated.

Today, Iraq is splintered and reeling. With the capture this week of the key Sunni city of Ramadi, ISIL is firmly in control of one chunk, and Iran — the war’s big winner — has great sway over another.

Okay, fair enough. But, but Obama set a premature timetable for retreat from Iraq before the mission could be accomplished…

Obama’s policies have indeed made things worse. But in arguing that he should have kept troops in Iraq longer, his critics skip over the inconvenient fact that he pulled out on a schedule negotiated by Bush. And, of course, had Bush not launched the war in the first place, there would have been no such mistakes to make.

There’s just no getting around those fundamental facts. The Neocon experiments have failed.

But what can you do? Neocons are gonna Neocon.

Conservative Blogger Advocates Religious Oppression in America

first-amendmentNot much shocks me anymore but once in a while, I run across something that is so idiotic I wonder if there some sort of serious glitch in the matrix. It wasn’t but a few weeks ago that conservatives were standing up for private business owners’ right to discriminate against gay people on religious grounds. The rights of individuals to practice their religion as they see fit trumps nearly all else according to Christian conservatives.

What I’m about to share with you next may well make your head explode (it might be a good idea to get some duct tape to prevent your brains from splattering all over the place).

Ready?

Conservative blogger writing for Western Journalism Steven Crowder is praising China for “banning” Islam within its borders. Not only is he praising China, Crowder also believes the same policies should be enacted here in the U.S.

So what is China doing? It’s declaring an all-out war to make sure Islam doesn’t take over and never gains the strength to attack them. So let me simplify it:

– Female head-coverings are banned. Period.

– Men are discouraged from growing long beards (often poorly grown ones, might I add).

– Even Islamic restaurants are forced to sell cigarettes and drinks. And …

– They must display them prominently. Any business owner who does not follow this order…will lose their business. Gone.

[…]

In other words: China learns. Unlike our inept government, it realizes, ‘Hey, Islam wants destroy us.’ It realizes that Islam is political in nature, not just religious. Don’t get me wrong: communism is terrible, but it’s also what absolves China from the shackling burdens of political correctness. They’d rather survive than be politically correct.

Full disclosure: I have not checked out for myself if China is actually implementing these policies. It wouldn’t surprise me but whether or not China is oppressing Muslims is beside the point. What concerns me is the idea that there are certain Americans who would cheer these kind of policies here (provided that it doesn’t apply to their faith, of course). I never thought I would see the day when conservatives would praise China for religious oppression.

To Mr. Crowder’s point about our “inept government” in how Muslims are being allowed to freely exercise their religion. In most cases, I would not argue against the notion that our government is inept but this isn’t the case this time. You see, Mr. Crowder, here in America we have something China does not. It’s called the First amendment. What part of “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” do you not understand? And no, the First amendment does not just apply to Christians but everyone.

As bothersome as this is that someone would write such inane garbage on a conservative* website, it’s even more concerning that there are so many people agreeing with him in the comments section. These people are a much greater threat to our liberties than a minority of American Muslims ever could be.

Charles Goyette to (Hopefully) Produce Ron Paul Documentary

empirelies

Charles Goyette has launched a Kickstarter funding page in an effort to make the definitive Ron Paul documentary entitled: Truth is Treason in the Empire of Lies. Goyette explains that this documentary won’t be a biography per se:

EMPIRE OF LIES is not a biography. It will not spend time describing Ron Paul’s time at Duke medical school or about his years as an Air Force flight surgeon.

But it will tell the story of a man who fearlessly fought the destructive policies of his time:

-The needless and bankrupting wars of empire…
-The trampling of our Fourth Amendment rights by the snooping of the national surveillance state…
-The destruction of our monetary system by the Federal Reserve …
-The corruption of our economy by crony capitalism…
-And there is a special place in our story to capture Ron’s encounters with the state’s lapdog press.

For those of you who are not familiar with Charles Goyette, let me fill you in on a few things. When I was living in Phoenix, AZ he was one of the first local talk show hosts I listened to. He would have been considered a conservative host at the time but he didn’t pull any punches when it came to the “red team.” Leading up to the Iraq War, he was the lonely conservative voice in the talk radio wilderness opposed from the very beginning. His unwavering stance cost him his job at Clear Channel but he insists that to this day he has no regrets. I can say with great confidence that with Charles Goyette producing this documentary it will be a quality product.

I believe it’s important to tell the Ron Paul story. As more and more Republicans try to call themselves “Ron Paul Republicans,” this could be a documentary that can help us define what exactly that means long after the man himself has left the scene. There’s no doubt his brand will be watered down for political expediency [cough] Rand [cough] but at there was the one man who stood firm against the empire of lies.

A Thought Experiment: Fraternity Initiation Gone Horribly Wrong

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I would like to conduct a little thought experiment.

It seems that quite a few people have very strong opinions about the Freddie Gray case in Baltimore. Some of you see this as a race issue, others as a police issue (cops either almost always have halos or devil horns), and a few see this as the human tragedy it truly is. Some believe that there simply isn’t enough proof to bring charges against the six police officers. They are being railroaded and overcharged some say (I would like to point out that overcharging non-cops and railroading non-cops in the justice system is an everyday occurrence). I would like to remove these variables and see if we come up with a different conclusion if we change the actors.

Let’s say that instead of six cops putting Freddie Gray in a paddy wagon its six fraternity brothers (of any race you wish, but let’s say they are all of the same race…use your imagination) from the (fill in the blank) chapter doing an initiation. At this point in the story, our analogue for Freddie Gray is a pledge who wants to join this fraternity. Let’s call him Jim.

Are you with me so far?

Now that we know who the actors are let’s continue…

Several of the fraternity brothers find Jim and start the initiation process. They put Jim in hand cuffs and call the rest of the fraternity brothers who eventually pull up in a van. As they begin to put Jim in the van, he begins to panic.

“I can’t breathe, I need my inhaler!” Jim says.

The fraternity brothers ignore Jim’s concerns and proceed to put him in the back of the van.
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Jim sits on a bench with both his hands and feet cuffed but not restrained in a seat belt. The van peels out down the road. Jim is bouncing around the van. Whatever else happened inside the van remains unclear. Did the fraternity brothers get a little too rough with him? What caused Jim’s neck injury? Was his injuries sustained just from bouncing around with his hands and feet bound?

We don’t know for sure.

The driver stops the van and checks in on Jim. Clearly, Jim appears to be hurt but the driver offers no medical attention, shrugs, and returns to the driver’s seat.

After driving a few more blocks, the van stops to pick up a second fraternity pledge. Jim, no longer really “into” being a pledge says at least twice that he needs to be taken to a hospital or at the very least, dropped off. Jim is having difficulty breathing. The driver again ignores Jim’s pleas and obvious medical needs.

What happens next remains controversial. Some news outlets say the other pledge witness Jim trying to injure himself! A day or two later, the person claiming to be the other pledge says that he was being misquoted and said that Jim did not try to injure himself. Even more news stories claimed that the original story was true and the second story was false.Dr. David Samadi writing an article for The New York Daily News writes that an injury of that type being self-inflicted is “highly unlikely.”

After driving around a bit more the van stops again. Jim is on the floor and unresponsive but the frat brothers again decide not to take him to a hospital or offer any kind of assistance. Still bound at his hands and feet and still not secured in a seat belt, the van makes its way to the frat house.
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When the van finally stops at the frat house, the driver notices that Jim isn’t breathing. The frat brothers finally come to terms with just how dire the situation is and dial 911.

Jim is transported to the hospital via ambulance. About a week later, Jim dies of injuries to his spine.

In the autopsy report, the cause of death is ruled a homicide.

In the weeks that followed Jim’s death, there were all sorts of rumors about his character. He had been arrested several times – mostly drug offenses. Stories on social media also claimed that Jim had sustained the spine injuries in a car accident prior to the fraternity initiation and had a surgery to repair the damage (this story turned out to be false but many people still believe it to be true). Furthermore, the toxicology report revealed that Jim had heroin and marijuana in his system.

Now that these variables are a little different, is there anyone out there who is going to tell me that in such a scenario these six frat brothers would not receive at least some of the following charges?

-Manslaughter by vehicle (gross negligence on the part of the driver – 10 years)

-Manslaughter by vehicle (criminal negligence on the part of the driver – 3 years)

-False imprisonment (the remaining five frat brothers – 1 count each)

-Manslaughter (1 count for each frat brother)

Based on these findings by the DA, would you say these frat brothers are being over charged? Should they be charged at all? Jim was alive and well before the frat brothers picked him up. Now he is dead. Something happened while he was under the control of the frat brothers.

And what about Jim’s arrest record? (Note: arrests are not the same as convictions) What about the toxicology report showing heroin and marijuana in his system? Assuming this is true, does this somehow absolve the frat brothers of any wrong doing, at least partially? If so how?

Final question: is your conclusion to the above scenario similar to the real life Freddie Gray case? If not, why not?

As to other ancillary comments about the protests, riots, or other cases…post those elsewhere as they are not relevant to this discussion.

Free Speech Aside, Why We Must Defend Those Who Draw Muhammad

Callimachi free speech aside

Free speech aside, why would anyone do something as provocative as hosting a ‘Muhammad drawing contest’?”

New York Times reporter Rukmini Callimachi asked that question on Twitter at 8:08 p.m. on May 3, within hours of gunmen opening fire at a “draw Muhammad” event in Garland, Texas.

It is tempting to answer Callimachi’s question dismissively. Speech needs no why. Freedom of expression is its own raison d’être.

That is in fact what I believe.

I am a freedom fetishist.

But perhaps we have strayed so far from our classically liberal tradition, become so complacent inside the bounds of our own civility, that we must deign again to explain the why of it.

Free speech aside, why depict Jesus Christ floating in urine? Why paint the Virgin Mary splattered by dung and surrounded by hovering vaginas? Why fake an interview wherein Jerry Falwell confesses to losing his virginity with his mother? Why produce the musical The Book of Mormon?

Free speech aside, why does anyone, ever, do or say or think or draw or write anything profane or blasphemous or provocative or controversial or impolite or mean-spirited or harsh or unkind?

Do only certain answers to that question justify the exercise of such freedom? Insulting to Christianity 15-0505

I sit as I write this in a crowded coffee shop. The tables are small and closely spaced. There are men seated at the two tables on either side of me. All three of us have matching disposable cups of overpriced coffee sitting precariously on the edges of our small tables crowded beside our silver laptops.

There is no way for me to turn my laptop to prevent them both from seeing the screen. After reading the Wikipedia entries for the artwork I mentioned above, I peruse galleries of Charlie Hebdo covers looking for examples of images targeting Christian and Judaic ideas.

Ideas. Not people.

CircumcisionI wonder to myself, what do these men sitting so closely beside me think of these images? By now, they have surely glanced over and seen them on my screen. What meaning have they ascribed to them, to my perusing of them here inside the narrow confines of this crowded coffee shop?

I find my mind flowing back through the years to another table in another time. It is more than a decade and a half ago. The table is bigger, square instead of round. In a lunch deli, not a coffee shop, and not at all crowded. I am having lunch with a friend. It is before the days of smartphones. We are reading different sections of a shared newspaper.

An article captures my attention. I summarize it aloud for my friend. A couple struggling with fertility sought help from a fertility clinic. Ultimately the wife was implanted with embryos that were successfully fertilized using her eggs and donor sperm. A baby was born.

Only there had been a mix-up with the donor sperm used by the clinic. The baby does not have the right look to her parents’ way of thinking.

Her skin is too dark. Her hair is too kinky.

The parents are suing. The article closes with a quote in which they insist they are not racist.

“Right. We aren’t racist,” I mimic, sarcastically. “We just don’t want this baby. For entirely nonracist reasons.”

My friend snickers. We both get it. We are young and smug and sure of ourselves, signaling our mutual membership in the best of all possible tribes. We start riffing off each other, back and forth, mimicking all the things we imagine people blissfully unaware of their own contrivances say in such circumstances.

We’re not racist. We just don’t think the races should mix.

We’re not racist. This is about the children.

We’re not racist. We have black friends.

A man at a corner table looks up from behind his own newspaper and frowns at us.

Jerk. I immediately assign him to one of those other, less desirable tribes. One whose members remain fatuously assured of their enlightened values right up until the moment they are handed that baby. The swaddled bundle of Other that forces them to confront the things they had until that point been able to deny existed inside their own minds.

Or—

Wait.

Wait!

Does he think we are the—?

Did he misunderstand? We were only…

What? I struggled to think of the right words to describe what we were doing.

Making fun.

Mocking.

Satirizing.

I am fifteen years away from knowing what Charlie Hebdo is.

Poe’s Law is not yet a thing.

All of sudden I see how the view might look from his table. I am no longer sure which of us belongs in which tribe. Which of us is blinded by our own contrivances.

It is not always obvious.

It is not always possible to find a single objective truth in satire, in mockery, in fiction, in art. It is not always easy to define the line between the thing mocked and the mockery itself. Between racism and the illustration of racism. Between targeting ideas and targeting people. To avoid the place where laughter collides with conscience. To know if we are punching up or down.

To avoid the inherent limitations of the views from our own tables.

But it is in those moments when self-doubt obliterates contrivance that paradigms shift. It is in the moments when we finally sense the chinks in our own armor of righteousness that we fully appreciate the limitations of our perspectives. It is where we straddle those lines that cannot be drawn that real debate occurs and social change is worked.

There is inherent value in the speech that drives us to the place where the curtain is pulled back.

And that is why.

As Caleb Crain, author of Necessary Errors, writes on his Steam Thing blog:

It’s possible, of course, to see the antiracist message of one of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons as no more than a cover for an underhanded relishing of the racist imagery deployed in it. Parody usually does participate to some extent in the energy of what it parodies; that is one of the risks it runs. Humor is not pure. It speaks to us through our flaws, as well as speaking to us about them—envies and hates, as well as greeds and lusts—and it can’t exist without the license to work with dark materials.

Last year at the University of Iowa, a visiting professor created a sculpture of a Ku Klux Klansman papered with articles about racial tension and violence over the last 100 years. Some people complained that it was racist, and the sculpture was removed. Its creator, Serhat Tanyolacar, intended the sculpture to confront the comfortable assumption that our racial frictions are all safely in the past.

Can one of these interpretations be pronounced objectively correct to the exclusion of the other? They are like conjoined twins—one good, one evil—and you cannot kill one without killing the other.

And that is why.

If the message cannot always be nailed down, neither can the direction of the punch, though that was a criteria for meritorious satire recently advocated by cartoonist Gary Trudeau. An LGBT couple denied photography, floral or catering services will undoubtedly perceive the balance of power differently than the Christian business owner bankrupted for expressing religious values that amount in others’ eyes to politically incorrect discrimination.

Which side controls the narrative about campus “rape culture?”

Does Paul Nungesser have more or less power than Emma Sulkowicz?

Are the targets of Charlie Hebdo’s satirical barbs victims, as Trudeau suggests, or are they oppressors, as Ayaan Hirsi Ali and others might argue?

[T]o portray an institution that mocks any religion’s sacred cows as villainously “punching down” ignores that religious institutions are very much part of the power structure and have been throughout history.

When you’re challenging the gods, and those who claim to speak for the gods, you are always punching up.

Can we say with certainty that Charlie Hebdo’s (alleged) punching down in France does not help people like Raif Badawi punch up in Saudi Arabia?

Like shifting sands, our perceptions of the balance of power change from setting to setting, issue to issue, moment to moment, always influenced by the view from our table. If we refrain from swinging except in the clear cut cases, satire is sidelined precisely at those moments when we stand on the brink, when social upheavals make the scores too close to call.

And that is why.

But it is not all.

Circumscribing speech based on the sensibilities of out-groups marginalizes and infantilizes the members of those groups. It treats them as children who must be shielded from the harsh confrontations that members of other, more superior groups might be expected to handle. As David Frum noted in responding to Trudeau:

It’s almost as if he thinks of underdogs as literal dogs. If a dog bites a person who touches its dinner, we don’t blame the dog. The dog can’t help itself. The person should have known better.

In this manner, Trudeau and his cohorts would return fierce debate to the exclusive province of those—white, male and Judeo-Christian—who by dint of their power and privilege can be expected to handle such heady and taxing matters responsibly.

Out-groups are not comprised of children. Nor are they homogenous. Among their many victims, extremists who call themselves Muslims kill moderates who also call themselves Muslims. Is Charlie Hebdo punching down against the latter—or punching up on their behalf?

People of good faith can reach different answers.

And that is why.

Finally, and here is the crux of it, we cannot make the world safe for the people who would punch up unless we find it our hearts to defend those who will use the same freedom to punch down.

I used to differentiate between government censorship and private consequences for unpopular speech. It was the wrong distinction. The meaningful difference is between non-forceful responses to speech—firing, boycotting, bankrupting, and shunning, all of which are fair game—versus forceful responses, which never, ever are.

It is not functionally different whether the thugs suppressing expression are the official ones we call “government” or a renegade band of religious zealots. If we give in to the latter on the theory that they are somehow exempted from the resistance we would put up against the former, the zealots simply become a shadow government of censors.

We are no less unfree.

Bosch Fawstin's  winning entry in the Garland, Texas "Draw Muhammad" contest.

Bosch Fawstin’s winning entry in the Garland, Texas “Draw Muhammad” contest.

If we want freedom to exist for the Raif Badawis of the world, we must defend its exercise by the Pam Gellars.

The peaceful way to do that, to render violence counterproductive to its own ends, is by mirroring the speech that would be suppressed. Even when it is offensive. Even when it is blasphemous. Even when it is rude, childish, stupid, unpopular, pointless or unnecessarily provocative.

Even when we don’t agree. Especially then.

And that is why.

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