It’s Okay To Assassinate the Families of Suspected Terrorists, Just Don’t Waterboard Them First

From June, 2012.  It’s interesting for me to re-read this in post-2016 Democratic primary world. 

June 4, 2012:

What do we do with Obama’s drone war?

From the New York Times:

Mr. Obama is the liberal law professor who campaigned against the Iraq war and torture, and then insisted on approving every new name on an expanding “kill list,” poring over terrorist suspects’ biographies on what one official calls the macabre “baseball cards” of an unconventional war. When a rare opportunity for a drone strike at a top terrorist arises — but his family is with him — it is the president who has reserved to himself the final moral calculation.

“He is determined that he will make these decisions about how far and wide these operations will go,” said Thomas E. Donilon, his national security adviser. “His view is that he’s responsible for the position of the United States in the world.” He added, “He’s determined to keep the tether pretty short.”

If you thought for one hot second that the NYT piece is calling Obama out for the covert drone war or his decision that he is fit to decide when to kill the families of suspected terrorists, Charles Krauthammer is here to tell you:

The article could have been titled “Barack Obama: Drone Warrior.” Great detail on how Obama personally runs the assassination campaign. On-the-record quotes from the highest officials. This was no leak. This was a White House press release.Why? To portray Obama as tough guy. And why now? Because in crisis after recent crisis, Obama has looked particularly weak: standing helplessly by as thousands are massacred in Syria; being played by Iran in nuclear negotiations, now reeling with the collapse of the latest round in Baghdad; being treated with contempt by Vladimir Putin, who blocks any action on Syria or Iran and adds personal insult by standing up Obama at the latter’s G-8 and NATO summits.

The Obama camp thought that any political problem with foreign policy would be cured by the Osama bin Laden operation. But the administration’s attempt to politically exploit the raid’s one-year anniversary backfired, earning ridicule and condemnation for its crude appropriation of the heroic acts of others.

Who gets to live and die in Yemen?  Don’t worry, world, it’s in the hands of Barack Obama, Decider.

Barack Obama, The Decider.  Did you ever think it would come to this?

Since the president is comfortable likening these decisions to game-play, let’s play a game of our own, shall we?  A political and ethical Mad Libs of sorts.  Take every “Obama” out of these pieces and replace it with “George W. Bush.”   Makes you want to vomit, right?  Barack Obama better fly from your gullet just as fast.  Jeremy Scahill doesn’t mince words.

Mad Libs.  Hey, see what I did there?  Obama’s a mad liberal, and you know this because he’s a tough drone warrior now.  He’s the concierge at Guantanamo Bay.  But shouldn’t other liberals be mad that the Peace Prize President is doing these things?  No, Timmy, you’re thinking of progressives.

If only ending these campaigns were as easy as electing Mitt Romney.  But does anyone think Romney wouldn’t do the same thing?  Now listen, liberals, don’t go saying “well, Obama is doing it less that Romney, and he’s keeping us safe, so it’s um, er, okay.”

This is what happens when establishment incumbents face no challenges from within their own party or purported ideology.  Oh, for a credible challenge to Obama from a progressive.  Oh for an Obama 2008 to run against Obama 2012.

Muhlenberg is one of America’s Hottest Colleges

As an Ursinus alum, I’m bummed my alma mater didn’t make this list.  But Muhlenberg College ranks right up there with Boston College, Boston University, NYU, USC, Georgetown, Yale and other marquee-brand schools on a new list of America’s hottest colleges.  That’s hottest as in “the place to be.”

I’ve been saying for years that Allentown is “the place to be,” and it’s precisely that now more than ever.

(BTW, as a Yale alum, take that, Harvard.)

How Bad is Our Drug Problem?

Have you seen this report last month from the CDC?  Has anyone?

This 28-year study, which began in 1980, purports to show that death by poisoning is the leading cause of death from injury in the United States, and that 90 percent of these fatal poisonings are caused by drugs (both legal and illicit).  Opioid analgesics were involved in 40 percent of drug poising deaths in 2008. 2008 also marked the first year that more Americans died from poisoning than car crashes.

Is it just me, or are these staggeringly high numbers?  This isn’t a post about the usefulness or futility of that batch of policies and military actions known collectively as The War on Drugs.  But it might be a post about the glibness with which some so easily dismiss the notion of a drug problem in the US.

Paul Krugman and Leonard Cohen on Depression and Depression

Paul Krugman Mellencamp has finally uttered the words.  We’re in a Depression.  His Sunday NYT piece, “Depression and Democracy,” is here.

Elsewhere, Leonard Cohen has shared about Depression and Depression:

LC: Well, you know, there’s depression and depression. What I mean by depression in my own case is that depression isn’t just the blues. It’s not just like I have a hangover in the weekend… the girl didn’t show up or something like that, it isn’t that. It’s not really depression, it’s a kind of mental violence which stops you from functioning properly from one moment to the next. You lose something somewhere and suddenly you’re gripped by a kind of angst of the heart and of the spirit…

– Leonard Cohen, French interview (trans. Nick Halliwell)

It’s hard to be hopeful about the world economic situation.  But Cohen’s kind of depression — God, he’s right on, isn’t he, about there being different kinds? — the kind of mental violence, the kind that stops you from functioning properly from one moment to the next, the kind that grips you and won’t be shaken off without time and effort and help…maybe you see yourself in that.  Unwanted thoughts, irrational compulsions, excessive guilt.

For years, I looked to Cohen’s quote and thought, well, shit, this is the condition of artist. I found out later that it’s also the condition of millions of people who, in addition to being sensitive, winsome, and artistic, also happen to not produce enough serotonin on their own.  For many, such is the biology of general anxiety, OCD, and other depressions.  If that’s you, please know there is help.  If you don’t know if that’s you, please see a trusted physician and find out.  A friend of mine said it best: “no one should have to suffer because of their biochemistry.”  We’d never suggest a diabetic go without insulin.  We’d never expect a diabetic without the right help to function in healthy ways, let alone thrive.  Any physician worth her salt will tell you  it’s the same with the way our brains process the presence or death of chemicals our bodies are making as best they can.  Beloved, God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.  A righteous mind.

Deconstructing Biden

Vice President Joe Biden L'68
"I thought the OCP referred to the maximum number of children allowed per sweatshop/workcamp. My bad!"

“The fact that one can no longer discern when reforming entitlements was easy and when it was difficult and whether or not the super committee is more likely to make things better or worse is a measure of just how awesomely dysfunctional our system has become. Fortunately, we have an easier-to-grapple-with “Biden gaffe” to distract us!”  (Jason Linkins today on Huffington).

The gaffe in question is, on one level, Biden’s “understanding” and “not second-guessing” China’s forced one-child per family law (also known as the exact opposite of freedom). But as Linkins points out, the whole thing goes far deeper and is much sadder.

How Broken Are Our Politics? Will Gen X Save The World?

Dwight D. Eisenhower, President of the United ...
Knew something about this.

A good friend engaged me about this via email this week.  I think it’s just about beyond question that our national political structures are utterly, fundamentally broken at the macro level.  A broad survey leaves little to the imagination: special interests, Big Whatever…in too many ways our politicians are not our own and are accountable first to their fundraisers and donors.  There are exceptions.  There are micro-level organizations of integrity, there are good candidates and great public servants.  But the system itself exists for itself in perpetuity.  Don’t believe me?  Try running for Super Congress.

Are our politics broken beyond repair, or can they be fixed according to the rules they’re governed by now?

How anxious are you?  If you’re between 18 and 100, are tech-savvy and engaged, your answer should be very.  If you’re between 30 and, say, 45 (the Upper Cusack Limit), you might also consider the total refusal of anyone to move a sane agenda forward as an unprecedented opportunity to lead.

Babyboomers, heel-graspers that they’ve been, have been uncannily quiet in all of this at the national level.  Sure, they’ve been the public face of so much chicanery since the Clinton Administration, but they’re not seizing any real opportunities to create something new or leave us with much. Barack Obama, young Boomer that he is, out to be the virile head of some great movement.  Alas, there is nothing.  If I’m being fair, and I do want to be fair, Obama has lead on a few key policy issues, but the wither, blister, burn, and peel of support from the progressive base is not news.  It happened for reasons.

We, the USA Network demographic, don’t trust national Republicans or Democrats.  We love the idea of hope and change and progressive causes but we don’t believe in attendant hype or machines. We like the idea of populist movements but have seen them be hijacked by agendas that couldn’t be further from our ideals.

We are displeased.  What to do? (If you’re picturing Billy Zane as an evil tycoon who doesn’t give a shit, good. We’re being taunted, everyday, by people who will never want for anything, people we’ve put in power, many of whom are apathetic at best toward our well-being or future.)

One impulse is to turn local, and I believe that localism, rightly channeled in all of its healthy forms, will go a long way toward changing our communities in radically sustainable ways.  But that won’t happen without you, Generation X.  You who are parents, you who are holding down jobs, paying bills, paying taxes, you great middle class getting screwed.  I’m asking you to do more.  I know, I know.  The good news is that in places like Allentown, PA, and, I imagine, its analogs everywhere, there are indeed many Boomers doing great things and looking for help.  Your vested interest is your children’s future.  Determined as you are to make damned sure the world they inherit is better than the shit-storm left you, you don’t really have much of a choice.  If you’re not already, please get connected.  Please make a difference.  Please build communities.

But we haven’t forgotten about you, Great National Mess. You are Das Nichtige, the unchosen nothing, the aggregate mass of political sin, of omission, of shirking, of all that is wrong with our government, our economy, our budget, our laws. You are our misplaced priorities. Your time is over, we cannot sustain you, but your enablers have said that you’re too big to fail, too big to move.

But you’re not.  We know your coordinates. You thrive at the intersection of political parties and the military industrial complex.  George Washington and Dwight Eisenhower, two Citizen-Generals, warned us of you, but we were too busy moving west, killing Indians, too busy moving west, building suburbs, to listen.  We’re listening now.  We won’t support your national campaigns or your friends in Big Anything.  We don’t want Monsanto or Super Congress.  We don’t want your labels, your symbols, your platforms.  We want clean water, clean air, and safe food. We want safety nets and renewable energy.  Sustainability is our ideology, our children are our constituents, and our political leaders will answer to us.

And who will they be if not us?

Is This War Preemptive? Is Libya Sovereign? Do Words Mean Things?

I think this is a fantastic assessment of President Obama’s basis of preemption in Libya.  It calls everyone out on the carpet and ends with this:

And for those Democrats who are either cheering on or grimly supporting the president’s actions…there’s a reason why the biggest fans of last night’s speech were hawks like William Kristol: If you didn’t like Iraq, you really won’t like Iran. And when that day comes, please don’t debase yourselves by crying crocodile tears over the Constitution, or pretending for even one second you are anti-war.

My only real point of contention with writer Matt Welch comes from this graph, in which he makes an important mistake:

Set aside the administration’s ever-elastic definition of “interests,” and instead grok this: The Democratic foreign policy best and brightest have admittedly adopted as their causus belli for dropping bombs on a sovereign country the same test that former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart used for pornography: They know it when they see it. As for the rest of us taxpaying, war-weary plebes, we’ll receive an “update” from the president now and then to let us know where his own eyes have taken him next.

I agree that the president’s definition of “interests” is ever-elastic. I like that Welch used the word grok. I admire the Stewart analogy, although for some reason I thought O.W.Holmes owned the quote.  The last sentence would be funny if it wasn’t so sad.

But the Gaddafi regime is not sovereign. When you murder you own people, you lose whatever tenuous grasp on those straws you ever managed to muster.  The Libyan people are sovereign.  Their idea of Libya is sovereign.  The reigning government is not.  But what does it mean to say that a people are sovereign if they’re not also free? If protests are met with bullets? If that popular sovereignty cannot be expressed. The truth is that we don’t know what set of priorities the sovereign people of Libya would choose for themselves if given the chance (apart from deposing Gaddafi).  That doesn’t mean they don’t deserve the rights of self-determination. They deserve it and they deserve the support of free peoples.  But I continue to question the degree to which the Obama doctrine really supports the people of Libya. Yes, preventing a massacre of a civilians provisionally registers as a just casus belli, but Welch is right: people who based their opposition to Iraq on the previously unprecedented doctrine of preemption who don’t see the Libyan engagement as a preemptive war are kidding themselves.  This is a war, and it is a preemptive one.  I am wont to say that the disagreeable means justify the ends of preventing a civilian massacre, even as I’m wont to say that no one except committed pacifists would now oppose preemption in Iraq if WMDs addressed to the US had ever been found there.

Good God, what a mess.  And now there are reports coming from a Vatican official that US NATO bombs have killed 40 Libyan civilians.  Remember that line in the president’s speech about the Libyan civilians coming to the aid the American rescue team that came for the pilots of the grounded F-15?  For the first time ever, I have started to believe that Barack Obama has bigger brass ones than Bill Clinton, because guess what?  Our guys mistakenly shot six of those helpful, peaceful, friends. One was a kid.  No one died, but the boy might lose his leg.  Is this the acceptable collateral damage of “kinetic military involvement,” or is this the basic stupidity behind all wars and behind all acts of aggression?

Getting back to my original point:  Libya, the nation, is sovereign and is without a legitimate government.  That vacuum is dangerous, provisional, and fraught with hardship.  But it doesn’t cede Libyan sovereignty to NATO, the West, the US, or Barack Obama.  We’ve seen that play out here before.  It doesn’t end well.  As commenter SingleMaltMonkey said here on a recent post, none of this ends until we stop selling arms, until we get serious about dialog. Until we don’t brazenly assert our right to stop humanitarian crises when they’re happening in countries who’s fate is somehow fundamentally aligned with our “interests and values.” (Ed. note: the following sentence is added to clarify SMS’s position and what I’m adding to it as per our discussion in the comments below). To that, I’d add: until we stop saying we’re justified in intervening to protect civilians because our national interests and values are also at stake.  I mean, what the hell does that even mean?  It’s in our interest to stop humanitarian crisis everywhere, isn’t it, because that’s what people with souls want to do.  But when we say “yes, we can get kinetic on this one because, oh happy day, we can justify intervention by some vague appeal to natural law and universal rights and happy unicorns, and, um, also our (bwa ha ha ha) interests,” we sound like the opportunistic douches the most extreme haters say we are.   I guess that’s why John McCain and others are saying that regime change has to be our ultimate military priority like it was with Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam Hussein. I guess that’s why attacking military installations, sending the CIA, and hoping that the regime in Tripoli just says uncle strikes so many as the worst combination of a bunch of ways forward.

To recap:

  • This is a preemptive war.
  • War probably doesn’t really help the net good of Libya or the planet.
  • But Libya’s already in a war, and civilians should be protected by powers that can protect them.
  • By attacking his own people, Gadaffi has formerly ceded power. That power sits in a vacuum, and that’s cause for bot concern and hope. And that makes everyone uncomfortable.
  • This power does not belong to the US or any outside force.  It belongs to the Libyan people.  But ff the Libyan people are left unprotected, they might be massacred, even those who don’t pick up any arms to fight Gadaffi.
  • We feel like we should do something, but we can’t call it war or preemption because those are things George Bush does.  We are not George Bush.
  • So we call war “kinetic military action” and we say that the massacre of civilians is always bad, but it’s only bad enough to stop when our other interests are also at stake.
  • We sound like assholes.
  • We kill and maim civilians.
  • This all gets very ugly.

Does the humanitarian crisis end if Gadaffi isn’t deposed?  Does deposing Gadaffi ourselves line up with our humanitarian military mission?  Is a humanitarian military mission a contradiction in terms?  Does deposing Gadaffi ourselves ice the so-called Arab Spring?

Oh, and in case you missed it: this preemptive war just accidentally killed 13 rebels.