Monday, May 28, 2012

Why vote for Obama? Let me count the whys – 4

David Seaton's News Links

Why vote for Obama? 
Why indeed.
Cutting to the chase: it is important that, barring incompetence passing that of his twice-elected predecessor, which is certainly not his case, the first African-American president in the history of the United States should not be defeated in his bid for a second term by someone who once led a gang to torment a homosexual. The United States doesn't need that stain added to its already spotted history.
During the Democratic primaries in 2008 presidential I thought it frivolous that an inexperienced freshman senator should offer himself for something as transcendental as being the first African-American president in the history of the United States. The idea of the first African-American president failing and thus probably becoming the last African-American president was simply too bitter to bear.  It seemed to me that only a figure of proven leadership qualities, vast experience and who was universally admired, such as Colin Powell, should take that historic burden on his shoulders.
But just as he spoiled almost everything else he touched, George W. Bush spoiled Colin Powell too. 
So Barack Obama is the first man of color to govern one of the world's most racist countries and after four years leading the United States during what may be the most difficult period since the Second World War, I think it is fair to say that to replace him now with someone of such dubious merit as Mitt Romney, would be simply tragic. DS

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Why vote for Obama? Let me count the whys – 3

David Seaton's News Links
Military sShare of US Budgetmilitary-cost-pie
Mr. Obama concluded in his first year that the Bush-era dream of remaking Afghanistan was a fantasy, and that the far greater threat to the United States was an unstable, nuclear-armed Pakistan. So he narrowed the goals in Afghanistan, and narrowed them again, until he could make the case that America had achieved limited objectives in a war that was, in any traditional sense, unwinnable. (...) Out of the experience emerged Mr. Obama’s “light footprint” strategy, in which the United States strikes from a distance but does not engage in years-long, enervating occupations. .(...) Faced with an economic crisis at home and a fiscal crisis that Mr. Obama knew would eventually require deep limits on Pentagon spending, he was also shocked, they said, by what the war’s cost would be if the generals’ counterinsurgency plan were left on autopilot — $1 trillion over 10 years.  New York Times
His steep learning curve, basically, is "why" number three. The president seems to have quickly learned an important lesson that other presidents have taken much longer to learn or have never learned at all, that is: the Pentagon has the knack of spending endless money, while achieving little or no results, over unlimited time. In fact that process: (endless x little or no x unlimited) would seem to be the object of their existence.
Over the decades since the end of the Second World War, much of American policy has evolved into "killing people and blowing things up", which is essentially the job description of the armed forces and America has the largest, most powerful, armed forces in the history of the world. Many careers have flourished, uncountable dollars have changed hands, hundreds of thousands of people have died and millions have been displaced in a chain of military disasters.  The United States famously spends more on its military than the next seventeen nations combined: if it could cut that down to say, more than the next five combined, then perhaps, while also raising taxes on the one percenters, the US economy, its infrastructure, its public schools and its safety net could be restored to health.
Obama is the first president to fully realize that most of this mayhem could be executed just as well, (with less casualties on either side, and much more cost-effectively), simply by using toy airplanes instead of thousands of over fed soldiers at the end of infinitely complex, wasteful, frightfully expensive and vulnerable supply lines.
Is all this blowing things up and killing people, even with toy airplanes necessary? The unpleasant truth is that "yes" it is. Why?
In its desire to micromanage the universe the USA has made many enemies over the decades, but the last batch they have made are the first to have ever hit the American "homeland" (sinisterly Teutonic term) and it turns out that although the USA packs the world's hardest punch, its jaw is made of glass.
No sooner did Al Qaeda manage to kill 3000 Americans in territorial USA, than the citizens of the United States were willing to lock the Bill of Rights in a drawer and misplace the key... nothing could be more cost effective than to make the Americans scrap their centuries old, "inalienable rights" using only 19 young Arabs carrying box cutters. The asymmetry between the cost and its effect means that it will be attempted again and again. Sooner or later one of these attempts is bound to succeed, it is just a matter of time
The reality is that any successful, new attack on US soil will spark a fresh wave of hysteria, which would probably destroy the presidency of whoever happened to be in the White House when it occurred. The steps the president has taken to keep another 9/11 from happening on his watch have probably taken more bloom off his rose than anything else. However that is the reality, politicians deal in reality and Obama is a politician.
The Financial Times compares Obama to Facebook's IPO:
Mr Obama’s frothy initial valuation offers parallels. Having marketed himself as the man who would transcend Washington’s cynical ways, Mr Obama’s brand was quickly tarnished. It was one thing to promise and fail to close Guant√°namo Bay. It was quite another to produce a new rationale for indefinite detention without trial.
Without defusing the Middle East and with it the world of Islam, it is certain that American civil liberties will continue to be degraded, with this or any other administration.
As Al Qaeda draws much of its support and recruiting from America's tacit connivance with Israel's continuing oppression of the Palestinian people, no plan to end the threat of Al Qaeda to the USA can have any hope of success without solving the Palestinian question. Although it may not be enough, giving the Palestinians a state of their own, thus defining Israel's borders permanently, would do more to "drain the swamp" than having the Pentagon endlessly trying to re-engineer ancient cultures into American suburbs.
Solving the Palestinian question would require putting considerable pressure on the Israeli government. It is fair to doubt whether any US administration would have the chops to do that. Would Obama? I really don't know.  What I do know is that Mitt Romney is a close friend of Bibi Netanyahu and would consult him before doing anything in the Middle East...   So far, I hear nothing from the Republicans but attacking Iran, increasing military spending, cutting entitlements, supporting the Israeli right √† outrance and lowering taxes for the wealthy.
So retuning to my leitmotiv of this "count the whys" series, I have no trouble at all imagining a better president than Barack Obama, but I cannot imagine that Mitt Romney, who is the only candidate with any chance of replacing him, would be that president. DS

Friday, May 18, 2012

Why vote for Obama? Let me count the whys – 2

Why vote for Obama?
Obama must be doing something right

David Seaton's News Links
Look, American politics is like Woody Allen’s restaurant, you know the one with, “such bad food and such small portions”. The best you can realistically hope for as President of the United States is a kinder, gentler, mafia don. That is more or less what we have got.
Despite kowtowing to Wall Street, Netanyahu and the NRA and using drones to kill innocent children, Barack Obama makes the Tea Party people and assorted rednecks froth at the mouth; Commentary Magazine loathes him; Sheldon Adelson, the Koch brothers and other assorted rogue billionaires are spending millions upon millions to remove him from power...  somehow all of these folks are lacking gratitude and you might wonder why they attack Barack Obama so savagely… why is this?  This is going to be the dirtiest campaign in history… Obama must be doing something right. Every time I open the Drudge Report my desire to see Obama stay in the White House grows. It's “tribal” I guess.
He is a war criminal?
Every US president in my lifetime (and I go back all the way to Truman, who dropped the atom bomb on helpless civilians) have been war criminals. So it’s safe to say that nobody that the starry eyed former Obamite would deign to vote for is ever going to inhabit the White House.
However, either Obama or Romney is going to live there in 2013, and frankly, with all his defects I think Obama is a better choice than Mitt. Back in 2008 Obama was an unknown quantity, we only had his own highly embroidered story to go on. But after four years in the White House, I think we know Obama pretty well and he is a vast improvement on his predecessor. Mitt Romney on the other hand has been in public life for a long time, but the more we see of him, the less we seem to know and frankly, I have no desire to know him any better. Compared to Bush junior, at least Obama speaks well and doesn’t look stupid. He has left Iraq and although he hasn’t ended Afghanistan, he as yet has not started any new wars of his own.
I am not trying to sell Obama now as any messiah.  Four years ago I was afraid he was a fraud, which at that time in a sense he was, now he has proven to be a reasonably competent president, during a very, very difficult period… Obama designed himself to harmlessly drain off the progressive energy that Bush created. But… anybody that really believed he would be anything different was naive. I took tremendous shit for pointing this out in 2008. The alternative today is Mitt Romney, who seems to me a caricature of himself.
You wont vote for Obama?
Enjoy Romney. I was not fooled by Obama in 2008 and I’m not fooled now, but John McCain is Abraham Lincoln compared to Mitt Romney, even Sarah Palin has a certain goofy consistency compared to Mitt.
Yeah, character counts, these turkeys have the atom bomb, open carry. I am not an Obama loyalist I wasn’t before and I’m not one now. He is however, no less than the President of the United States and I think with all his defects that he is vastly superior to Romney, who is the only realistic alternative.
You can vote for whomsoever you want to, but it’s either going to be Obama or Romney that fills the next vacancy on the Supreme Court… Chew on that for a while.   Again I repeat: there is going to be an election and either a Democrat or a Republican is going to win it. I think the Democrats would want to change the Supreme Court ruling, because without superpacs they have a distinct demographic advantage that the Republicans don’t have.  I think it is important that nobody influenced by the Tea Party get to choose any new Supremes for at least 16 years. Campaign financing and the “personhood” of corporations are the whole ballgame.
Anybody that thinks you can reform the US system from the top down, without several billion dollars to spend is (fill in adjective of choice). The only way it can be done is like MLK did it back then. Thousands upon thousands of totally committed people demonstrating, sitting in, writing talking, going to jail, getting their heads busted… The Civil Rights movement changed America radically: nobody who didn’t know America before it came along could ever know how much it changed America. The way to influence mainstream politics from the grassroots has been developed, no need to reinvent the wheel. That is the model, that’s how it’s done.  Study it and like the fella said, “Go ye and do likewise”.
It is not the same for a Martin Luther King to be pressuring an LBJ than to imagine him pressuring Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush... or president Romney.
It seems to me that the people who were starry eyed about Obama in 2008 and consider him some sort of antichrist today were dumb coming and are now dumb going.
The White House is an ugly place, where ugly things happen, but there still are important differences. The Republican Party is now in the hands of genuine fascists and should be kept out.
Really, there are no "fine points" in this election. The choices are not attractive. You can vote for Obama, who is a jive-ass, bullshit artist, but intelligent, prudent and lucid. Or you can vote for Romney, who is a joke without a punchline. Or you can vote for somebody who isn't going to win even one state or you can take your ballot and put it on a nail next to the toilet. That is all there is on the menu.
The bottom line is that one of the two men is going to be president and any democrat is going to be more beholding to the unions and to minorities than any Republican… and so it is, hold one’s nose and vote Democrat like my grandparents and my parents did. Tribal. DS

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Why vote for Obama? Let me count the whys - 1

High School Confidential
The Child is  Father to the Man
"To this day it troubles me. What a senseless, stupid, idiotic thing to do."
-- Thomas Buford, who witnessed a Romney-led attack on a gay teenager

"It was vicious."
-- Philip Maxwell, another witness

"It was horrible. It's something I have thought about a lot since then."
-- John Lauber, the student who was attacked

"You know, I don't, I don't remember that particular incident."
-- Mitt Romney                                                             (Hat to Doonesbury)
Think about it: so soon after the reign of George W. Bush, do we and the world really need another rich-asshole-bully in the White House? DS

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Crisis: where are we headed?

David Seaton's News Links
Onward and Upward
Onward and Upward

I think almost all of us, progressive and otherwise, are conscious that we live in a strange and special era. "The best of times and the worst of times"... yada yada; not "evil" like the 1930s, but strange, dysfunctional, unstable, unpredictable and of a sinister syncopation.
How could we define it?
I would define this time we live in as "the end of the post-Cold-War", the end of one thing, without the new thing being yet apparent..
To understand this concept it helps to be rather old. I was 45 when the Berlin Wall went down in 1989 and the Cold War began when I was four years old. If you are in your twenties or early thirties it would be almost impossible for you really understand or even imagine how the Cold War structured our world and our lives, how all pervasive it was and how much intellectual capital it used up on both sides of the Iron Curtain. How its cold, dead, vapors infuse the way we still see the world. We are still in the process of clearing our heads and dear old reality is coming to our aid.
In the Cold War, ideology became an industry on both sides, a factory system as powerful and layered as the automobile industry, turning out the ideological marketing that goes by the loaded name of propaganda.
Thousands upon thousands, several generations, of the most talented and intellectually gifted communicators gained prestige, comfortable livings, scholarships, tenure and an infinity of perks in this decades long struggle to see who could tell the best and most convincing story. Actual thinking was of course as poorly rewarded as it always had been.
This wall to wall propaganda did have some very positive effects. Certainly the Berlin Wall would not have come down without it and I would submit that on the other hand, without the ubiquitous presence of Soviet propaganda the American Civil Rights Movement would never have succeeded. Jim Crow was America's Achilles heel in the battle for hearts and minds in the third world. The good and the great of the United States saw that eliminating "colored only" drinking fountains and letting a few more people vote, was a small price to pay to maintain access to the ever growing amount of the world's raw materials and strategic areas that were falling into the hands of dark skinned peoples. So the endless advertising campaign did have its positive side. The problem for us was not that people in the soviet block believed our propaganda, the problem for us is that we believed our propaganda. By 1990 those on the eastern side of the wall knew that their propaganda was all bullshit, however, we are just beginning to realize that our propaganda was all bullshit too.
Unfettered, capitalism would spread its powerful wings and fly, so our story went, which of course capitalism certainly did... and now it seems to have bashed its brains out like a light-blinded bird crashing into a glass door. 
So now we having discovered that just as "real existent socialism" didn't work, neither does "real existent capitalism".
So now, having discovered that the last 64 years or so were mostly a mirage, what comes next?
I would submit that becoming fully human is our most urgent task.
Here are a couple of texts that my intuition tells me point out the path to follow:
To expect morality in the market is to commit a category error. Capitalist values are antithetical to Christian ones. (How the loudest Christians in our public life can also be the most bellicose proponents of an unbridled free market is a matter for their own consciences.) Capitalist values are also antithetical to democratic ones. Like Christian ethics, the principles of republican government require us to consider the interests of others. Capitalism, which entails the single-minded pursuit of profit, would have us believe that it’s every man for himself.  William Deresiewicz - New York Times

Humans, comprising the genus Homo, appeared between 1.5 and 2.5 million years ago, a time that roughly coincides with the start of the Pleistocene 1.8 million years ago. Because the Pleistocene ended a mere 12,000 years ago, most human adaptations either newly evolved during the Pleistocene, or were maintained by stabilizing selection during the Pleistocene./ Evolutionary psychology therefore proposes that the majority of human psychological mechanisms are adapted to reproductive problems frequently encountered in Pleistocene environments. In broad terms, these problems include those of growth, development, differentiation, maintenance, mating, parenting, and social relationships. (...) Our ancestors lived in smaller groups, had more cohesive cultures, and had more stable and rich contexts for identity and meaning. (...) Since hunter-gatherer societies are egalitarian, the ancestral population may have been egalitarian as well.(...) Since an organism's adaptations were suited to its ancestral environment, a new and different environment can create a mismatch. (...) One example is the fact that although about 10,000 people are killed with guns in the US annually, whereas spiders and snakes kill only a handful, people nonetheless learn to fear spiders and snakes about as easily as they do a pointed gun, and more easily than an unpointed gun, rabbits or flowers. A potential explanation is that spiders and snakes were a threat to human ancestors throughout the Pleistocene, whereas guns (and rabbits and flowers) were not. There is thus a mismatch between our evolved fear-learning psychology and the modern environment  Evolutionary Psychology - Wikipedia

Evolutionary psychology is one of the most exciting fields today because it gives scientific weight to the idea of humanity's social, cooperative, empathetic "species nature". Really we can see that most of today's problems are not dependent on some "miraculous" scientific breakthrough or more economic growth, but rather on taking full cognizance and internalizing that species nature of ours and acting in consequence. Some of the examples of our failure to do this jump out at us from the media daily and are grotesque to the point of caricature.
As an example: millions of Americans are suffering from obesity to a degree that may eventually collapse our health system, while other millions of equally human beings are suffering severe malnutrition all over the third world. Hundreds of such examples have become mere cliches, they are so self evident. Assume a breakthrough in cancer research took place, what percentage of the world's population would have access to it? Knowing that there is more than enough food, shelter and medicine for all, why are there starving, homeless and untreated humans walking the earth?
And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother's keeper? Genesis 4:9
That is the crux of the problem. Answering Cain's question honestly; answering "who is this all for?", that  is the central challenge of our times. DS

Monday, May 07, 2012

Is American individualism a myth?

David Seaton's News Links
Lone cowboy
American icon: the lone cowboy
Here’s what Generation Y doesn’t want: formal living rooms, soaker bathtubs, dependence on a car.(...) They want to walk everywhere. Surveys show that 13% carpool to work, while 7% walk, (...) A whopping 88% want to be in an urban setting(...) Places to congregate are more important than a big apartment(...) Common space has migrated to “club rooms,”(...) where Gen-Y residents can host meals and hang out before heading to a common movie-screening room or rooftop swimming pool that they share with the building’s other tenants. The Great Recession and its effects on young people’s wages will affect how much home they can buy or rent for years to come.“Not too many college grads can afford a lot of space in the city,” he said. “Think lots of amenities with little tiny units—and a lot of them to keep (fees) down. …The things these places are doing is constantly coordinating activities. The residents get to know each other and it makes for a much livelier and friendlier environment.” Wall Street Journal
When reading this article in the Wall Street Journal -- a publication that would be hard to accuse of collectivist tendencies -- what was described reminded me very much of my girlfriend's "Young Red Guards" kibbutz where I spent weekends when I lived in Israel many years ago.
A typical kibbutz of the period, it was a group of highly educated people, living in tiny individual dwellings, sharing first class, one could say even luxurious, common facilities and operating a prosperous collective business, which financed this high standard of living. Not a whiff of Woodstock, hard work and a good life.
I wonder how long it will be before the GenYs, instead of paying rent to a landlord, form urban collectives so that they can raise their future children in this "lively and friendly" environment of small individual dwellings and first class common facilities. Following the kibbutz model, that would mean common kindergartens and play spaces, common health plans and even running a collective business, again in the kibbutz model.
The kibbutz is not the only example of a non-state collective and perhaps not the most successful one. That honor might fall to the Mondragon Corporation, in Spain's Basque country, which was founded by a Catholic priest. Worker owned and run, this multinational has 83,859 members and revenues of over €14,000,000,000.
So none of all of this is radically new, except finding mainstream young Americans drifting into a collective lifestyle, losing interest in owning and driving cars for hours everyday and in mowing lawns... All of this seems to have little or no ideological underpinning at all, simply a natural and practical response to a permanently changed economic environment. A cultural sea change. DS

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Steve Jobs: the metaphor

David Seaton's News Links
Steve Jobs
There is virtually no debate about the best treatment. “It has long been held that surgery can lead to very long-term survival,” says Kim. (...) Despite the expert consensus on the value of surgery, Jobs did not elect it right away. He reportedly spent nine months on “alternative therapies,” including what Fortune called “a special diet.”  Daily Beast
It occurs to me that Steve Jobs is not only the most admired American of his generation, he is also a perfect metaphor to describe the era we live in.
He is universally acknowledged to be the undisputed master of our epoch's dominating and defining skill, which is turning science into money. 
The creator of some of history's most seductive tools and toys.
Jobs was a visionary in this area, shrewd, obsessive with detail and a master of integrated systems, strategy and communication. 
The lord of all he surveyed.
But as we can see from text quoted above, he was also a fool, sensu strictu
This combination of technical and commercial perfection combined with a lack of elementary common sense is what makes him the perfect metaphor for America today... with the rest of the world tagging along. DS