Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Fear itself

When the English Channel tunnel was nearing completion in the early 1990's, a lot of hysterical opposition developed among the British public. One fear in particular was the spread of rabies, a disease that had been eradicated in the UK, but that people were saying could conceivably spread again if rabid French animals now had a point of access through the tunnel. So a lot of elaborate safety measures were constructed just to reassure the fearful British that infected animals would not have an easy time using this new crossing. In time, these fears dissipated, and some of these safety features, like electric anti-rabies fences, have been abandoned.

What was really going on, of course, was a British fear of loss of their protected island status. Britain's physical and psychological separation by water from the European continent, which may have spared the country from invasion during the two World Wars (although it did not protect them from the Norman conquest), gives the British a feeling of security they are understandably reluctant to lose. This feeling of security sometimes manifests itself in irrational fears of contagion from other parts of the world, and a desire not to taint the pristine British countryside with whatever filth might be brought over from Europe and elsewhere.

And now we have an outbreak of Ebola, and in response a hysterical American reaction in some quarters that may emanate from the same psychological sources. Not just a narrow channel separates us from the old world, but the world's two largest oceans. These oceans have never fully protected us from invasion--way back in 1812 the British managed to burn down much of our capital city--but have spared us from a lot of the indignities that people in more contiguous countries have to suffer. As a result, Americans have a low tolerance for foreign invaders of any sort. We prefer to fight only wars of choice. We feel we are entitled to a larger margin of safety that people in other countries might expect, and we take extraordinary measures to keep our population safe.

It's a selective kind of safety we want to maintain, however. We don't seem motivated to do much about the more than 30,000 annually killed by traffic fatalities. Most of us accept that almost the same number are killed annually by guns, whether homicides, suicides or accidents. It doesn't seem to bother us that our risk intolerant nation ranks about 34th in infant mortality rates, lower than Cuba. The flu might be killing thousands of Americans every year, but most of us don't even take the trouble to get a flu shot. These are familiar, American sources of death. They are acceptable.

It's the exotic African sorts of death that are making some of us hysterical. Crashing the stock market, causing all sorts of paranoia, prompting calls for flight restrictions and other safety measures. Perhaps the same sorts of fears that many of the British felt when their island became physically connected to the rest of the world. It's not that I take Ebola lightly. Ebola is a scary disease. For the sake of argument, I'll concede it's probably way worse than rabies (though rabies is also a pretty scary disease). You should try to avoid exposing yourself to either Ebola or rabies. But every rational person who has looked at the facts has concluded that the chances of any significant outbreak of this disease in the US are minimal. And when the current global outbreak eventually subsides, our fears will finally diminish, and we might have to accept the fact that we are, for better or worse, connected to the rest of the world, and that we have to live with some level of risk from both familiar and unfamiliar sources.

Friday, October 10, 2014

San Gabriel Mountains

The White House
Office of the Press Secretary

President Obama Designates San Gabriel Mountains National Monument

Today, President Obama will use his authority under the Antiquities Act to establish 346,177 acres of national forest land in the San Gabriel Mountains in southern California as a national monument, permanently protecting the popular outdoor recreation destination to increase access and outdoor opportunities for the area's residents. This monument designation builds on more than a decade of public support from business, tourism, environmental justice, conservation, academic and cultural preservation communities and on the leadership from members of Congress. For many residents of Los Angeles County -- one of the most disadvantaged counties in the country when it comes to access to parks and open space for minorities and children--the San Gabriel Mountains provide the only available large-scale open space. In addition to permanently protecting this land, the monument designation will create new opportunities for the Forest Service and local communities to work together to increase access and enhance outdoor opportunities.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

When to fight

President Obama's speech to the United Nations this week is worth reading to study the evolution of the president's foreign policy views in response to new and continuing conflicts around the world. With respect to such crises as Russian aggression toward Ukraine, preventing a nuclear Iran, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the president reiterated his belief in finding cooperative, negotiated solutions:
This speaks to a central question of our global age: whether we will solve our problems together, in a spirit of mutual interests and mutual respect, or whether we descend into destructive rivalries of the past. When nations find common ground, not simply based on power, but on principle, then we can make enormous progress. And I stand before you today committed to investing American strength in working with nations to address the problems we face in the 21st century.
But when it comes to the latest threat presented by the surge of ISIL in Syria and Iraq, President Obama took a different tack:
There can be no reasoning – no negotiation – with this brand of evil. The only language understood by killers like this is the language of force. So the United States of America will work with a broad coalition to dismantle this network of death.
So what puts this group beyond the pale? Surely they are still human beings, and many of their followers are motivated by the same concerns as the rest of us. Is there no possibility of accommodating whatever legitimate interests they may have, and involving them in the political process? Not while their murderous actions disqualify them from the benefit of more civilized solutions, is President Obama's answer.

Even though pressing forward with a military solution to this problem, President Obama was still careful to stress that he was not advocating war with Islam.
So we reject any suggestion of a clash of civilizations. Belief in permanent religious war is the misguided refuge of extremists who cannot build or create anything, and therefore peddle only fanaticism and hate. And it is no exaggeration to say that humanity’s future depends on us uniting against those who would divide us along fault lines of tribe or sect; race or religion.
The president took particular care to invite other Arab and Muslim nations to join in condemning the violent and extremist actions of groups like ISIL. The message: Choose sides not based on ethnic or religious identities, but based on whether you are willing to adhere to principles of human rights, self-determination and peaceful resolution of conflict. If you're not willing to adhere to those basic principles, then you must expect the rest of the world to respond with force.

This message is bound to be disconcerting to those who would divide us by ideology or ethnicity or nationality or religion. It rejects the world view that on one side are arrayed the forces of good (white, Christian, capitalist, or whatever other traits one wants to associate with that side) vs. on the other hand the mighty forces of evil (whether fascists, Communists, Muslims, dark, etc.) Instead we should gather together from all regions and ideologies those who respect the ideals of peace and freedom, and together that far larger force will defeat the small and weak enemies of civilization.

Friday, September 19, 2014

It's on us.

Once again, President Obama shows just how unfairly he treats his political opponents, in this instance releasing a public service campaign against sexual assault. Now that the administration has come out strongly against rape, what options does that leave for its adversaries? Seems they will either have to come out in favor of sexual assault, or ignore this issue, or find something to criticize about the video. None of these choices seem very appealing. And since everything the president says is by definition wrong, supporting this campaign is obviously not an option, either.

Next thing you know the administration will come out in favor of apple pie, and that will really prove their dastardly intentions.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

ISIL

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Estonia

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Hope


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Strategy

One thing's for sure. George W. Bush would never say we don't have a strategy yet. Nope, GWB always had a strategy. So what if it was a bad strategy, one that involved unnecessary invasions, thousands of American lives lost, torturing prisoners, and hundreds of billions of dollars in expense. At least it was a strategy. And so what if that strategy had to be revised when other nations would not support us; or if we had to do a 180 degree turn from our strategy when the occupation of Iraq started going really poorly; or if we finally had to fire the Secretary of Defense and others responsible for that terrible strategy; or if we had to admit that we had all the facts wrong that justified that strategy. Hey, in those days at least nobody would ever admit that we didn't have a strategy.

Now we have a more cautious president. One who believes in consulting with allies before embarking on reckless wars. One who is committed to not sending in ground troops unless absolutely necessary. One whose motto around the White House is "Don't do stupid shit." And people are complaining about that? Before they do that they should be required to come out and explain what they would do instead. Because I'm not sure Americans would be ready for a third invasion of Iraq, or for starting a war with Syria, if that's what the critics have in mind.

I for one am pretty happy we have a president courageous enough to acknowledge that we are still developing a strategy, rather than rushing half-cocked into another foreign adventure without any sort of thought-out plan.




And by the way, what's wrong with the tan suit? It's still summer, and the president is just back from vacation and settling into the office routine again. Give the man a break.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Obama video wins an Emmy!

President Obama, who already has two Grammys (and the Nobel Peace Prize) to his credit, picked up an Emmy last night for the Funny or Die video interview he did with Zach Galifianakis earlier this year. Thanks to the Television Academy for recognizing the President's pitch perfect performance, and also recognizing how brilliantly effective this video was. The video not only caused enrollments at healthcare.gov to skyrocket, it also caused the heads of many right wing pundits to explode.



All President Obama needs now is an Oscar and a Tony, and he can join the ranks of EGOT winners.

(Technically, it was the producers of the video who won the Emmy, not President Obama, but still, where would they be without the president?)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Hillary

If I were giving political advice to Hillary Clinton right now (she hasn't asked me), I would tell her to spend her time traveling the country supporting whatever Democratic candidates might want her help campaigning in midterm elections this fall. This would build some good will for her. It would be inclusive. It would be useful. It's so obvious that this is what Hillary Clinton should be doing right now, that she's probably already doing as much of it as she can schedule, and my advice is unnecessary.

So I guess what I would really be telling Hillary Clinton is what she should NOT be doing right now. And that is giving interviews to the Atlantic magazine on foreign policy disagreements with the Obama administration. Because that is divisive. That only helps remind a lot of Democrats why they preferred Obama to Clinton in 2008. And that kind of negative talk only ends up tarnishing the president, and therefore only helps Republican candidates in the midterms. And causes Hillary to have to walk back some of her comments and have to make up with President Obama, and I'm sure that wasn't pleasant for her. So please Hillary, don't do that anymore. Wait until after the midterms, and then you can start your 2016 campaign if you want.

I get that Hillary Clinton probably wants to show that she is her own person, and that she has some disagreements with the Obama administration's foreign policy decisions. Fine, she's entitled to those disagreements. But is it necessary for her to air them right now? There's plenty of time before the 2016 campaign gets going. But even if the 2016 campaign were already upon us, how helpful would that strategy be? In 2000, Al Gore made a point of distinguishing himself from Bill Clinton, and that wasn't particularly helpful to his campaign. Al Gore was not running against Bill Clinton. Assuming that  Hillary Clinton is planning to run for president in 2016, she won't be running against Obama either.

Meanwhile, midterm elections are important. We should have learned that lesson from 2010. This year, control of the Senate is at stake. And these midterm elections are not really about Obama. They're certainly not about Hillary Clinton. They're about the direction we want to take as a country. Let's focus on that, and if you're a Democrat, that means we should all be trying to pull in the same general direction.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Ferguson

Ferguson, MO yesterday:



Ferguson, MO today:


Cheers to Governor Jay Nixon for calling in the state highway patrol to replace the local police force. The new force promptly JOINED the demonstrators, so that everyone can now be marching together.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Missouri