Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Liberal Reading List

Just a list of the political books I'm currently reading:

C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy by Jeff Sharlet

The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power by Jeff Sharlet

American Taliban: How War, Sex, Sin and Power Bind Jihadists and the Radical Right by Markos Moulitsas

The Promise: President Obama, Year One
by Jonathan Alter

Renegade: the Making of a President
by Richard Wolffe

What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception
by Scott McClellan

The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream by Barack Obama

And some books on the horizon I'd like to read:

Entertaining Politics: New Political Television and Civic Culture by Jeffrey P. Jones (one of my communication and mass media professors at Old Dominion University)

When the Press Fails: Political Power and the News Media from Iraq to Katrina by W. Lance Bennett

Entertaining Politics: Satiric Television and Political Engagement by Jeffrey P. Jones

Third World America: How Our Politicians are Abandoning the Middle Class and Betraying the American Dream by Arianna Huffington

Taking on the System: Rules for Radical Change in a Digital Era by Markos Moulitsas

Pitchforks and Torches: The Worst of the Worst, from Beck, Bill and Bush to Palin and Other Posturing Republicans by Keith Olbermann

Conservatives Without Conscience by John W. Dean

A Personal Case for Public Health Insurance

I understand that a lot of people consider the debate over health care in this country over now that reform passed earlier this year and many of the provisions took effect last week. But those who are truly progressive and devote much of their time and energy to activism understand that the fight for progress and fairness is never-ending -- particularly in the face of conservative opposition as hell-bent as today's Republican/Tea Party.

Because of that, I felt it was important to share a few personal stories to accentuate why I'm so strongly in favor of America adopting a public health care system that covers everyone. There are already public coverage systems for the elderly (Medicare), the poor (Medicaid), veterans (the VA) and in some circles, children (S-CHIP) -- but I'm talking for everyone.

Why should the rest of us have to fight the greedy insurance companies who answer to Wall Street before the patients?

That's right, I want Medicare for All. Go on, call me a socialist. You wouldn't be the first.

My grandmother is 76 years old and is on Medicare. Two years ago, she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. A lengthy bout of chemotherapy and radiation got rid of the cancer, but the treatment indirectly led to congestive heart failure. Cue all the medication.

Last month, a colonoscopy revealed a mass in her colon, one that was later found to be cancerous. So she had surgery and spent a week in the hospital, going from intensive care to high-level care to a regular room before she was discharged, cancer-free and possibly avoiding chemo.

During all these ordeals, throughout the past two years of doctor visits and bad diagnoses and good outcomes, how many bills do you think she was sent? None. Not a single one. Two years of cancer and heart problems, and my grandmother hasn't paid a dime.

How many times do you think the doctors have come to her, saying they can't perform a test or give a certain treatment because of the cost and insurance's unwillingness to cover it? Not once. My grandmother has received the best treatment possible in a timely manner, and not once have the doctors or she worried about how much it would cost.

For my grandmother, there's been no cost.

My grandfather, all 77 years of him, served in the Army and fought in Korea -- which means he has access to VA health care. He's been diabetic for the past 16 years, on top of a heart attack and a stroke. My grandfather had triple-bypass surgery several years back. He's been treated at some of the finest hospitals on the East Coast, going to both Georgetown and Johns Hopkins.
How many bills do you think he's seen? None.

How many times does he go without a treatment or checkup because insurance won't pay? Never.

And let's not forget: for the first 23 years of my life, I was covered under TRICARE because my father served in the Air Force. Open-heart surgery when I was 4? Covered. Every subsequent check-up? Covered. Shots for school? Glasses so I could see the chalkboard? Physical so I could try out for the high school baseball team? Covered, covered, covered.

But once I turned 23, I was on my own, thrown to the wolves of private health insurance.

Imagine the peace of mind that comes from knowing you don't have to worry about the cost of treatment. My grandparents have never had to sit in a hospital bed, wondering where the payment was going to come from, or when the call from the insurance company would come, telling them they were no longer cost-effective enough to cover.

All they had to worry about was getting better. The comfort in knowing the best care would be given, with no thought or worry about money, has to be so uplifting. Unfortunately, the vast majority of Americans don't have that luxury -- whether they have insurance or not. What kind of country lets its citizens fall through the cracks like that?

I won't sit here and pretend that Medicare, Medicaid and VA are perfect, but they're a damn sight better than the greedy insurance executives who turn down cancer treatment or cancel policies because they're not making enough millions. Need hip replacement surgery? Sorry, the overlords in Wall Street won't allow it.

Greed might be good, but not when it comes at the expense of someone's health and life. My grandparents don't have to worry about that, and neither did I until I turned 23. Wouldn't it be great if everyone in this country had that peace of mind? The comfort of knowing that no matter what happened, they wouldn't have to worry about a hospital stay costing them their home or their life savings?

Shouldn't that be something this country aspires to? Instead of demonizing public health insurance as socialism or a government takeover, or a goddamn death panel, shouldn't we look at it as a better way to care for our citizens than the current profit-based model?

It makes perfect sense to me, and it makes perfect sense to my grandparents. When will the rest of the country catch up?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Just How Small Are We Talking?

To a man, the GOP loves to talk about everything they do for small businesses. Tax cuts so small businesses can (theoretically) hire more workers, stuff like that.

But what constitutes a small business in the eyes of the GOP?

MSNBC's Keith Olbermann addressed that issue on Wednesday night's edition of Countdown, with a hard-hitting report roughly 11 minutes long. To summarize: a lot of companies you thought were large corporations are actually small businesses when it comes to tax laws.

Hell, Olbermann himself is a small business.

Long and short of it, we're being had. Watch the report, then do your part to make sure as many other people see it as possible. We constantly bitch about how awful journalism is today, and how the mainstream media is ignoring actual facts. Now that we have a mainstream media outlet doing actual investigative reporting that relies on substance instead of partisan bickering, let's not let this go to waste.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Equality Now, Dammit!

What does it say about this country when Lady GaGa has more conviction than nearly half of the United States Senate?

Not to take anything away from the pop megastar, who has been a much fiercer advocate for LGBT rights than President Obama; Lady GaGa's constant pressure on Congress to repeal the discriminatory military policy known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" -- in particular the rally she attended in Maine on Monday -- was designed to lead the Senate to pass the Defense Authorization Bill ... of which the DADT repeal was a part.

But the GOP -- aided by Sens. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) -- filibustered the entire bill on Tuesday (the first time such a thing has happened), solely so the DADT repeal did not have a chance to come up for a vote.

That's right; the pro-war conservatives blocked a defense budget simply to stick it to homosexuals.

I'm usually hesitant to blame President Obama for the fecklessness of Congress -- especially the Senate. Due in large part to the separation of powers as outlined in the U.S. Constitution, there's not much the president can do without legislation passing through Congress -- and no amount of hand-wringing or persuasion would get some of today's Congressmen to vote in the interest of the people. To a large extent, President Obama can't be blamed for that.

But in this instance, it falls at his feet. President Obama has called himself a fierce advocate for LGBT rights -- even as his Justice Department defends the Defense of Marriage Act and continues to throw dedicated men and women out of the military when they're outed.

Not very advocate-y, is it?

The House of Representatives has already passed a repeal of DADT, pending a Pentagon review of the policy that is slated to wrap up by December. The language in the Senate's Defense Authorization Bill would've done the same thing. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have both spoken out in favor of repeal.

The judicial branch has even ruled DADT unconstitutional. So why are we still applying the policy?

There are a few options going forward; the repeal can be brought up for a vote in the Senate again, likely after the midterm elections. Considering the bleak prospects for Democrats come Nov. 2, though, that's not a likely prospect.

President Obama can, and should, sign an executive order immediately ceasing enforcement of the policy, until such a time that Congress passes the repeal. DADT is not a policy drafted by the military; it is a law passed by Congress during the Clinton Administration, and it must ultimately be taken off the books the same way it was enacted.

President Truman signed an executive order in 1948 halting racial discrimination in the military. He didn't wait for a Pentagon review, he didn't take into account how the soldiers on the ground would feel; he did what was right and made sure that full equality applied to all of this country's soldiers.

President Obama needs to do the same. If the Senate won't do the right thing, then the White House must.

Frankly, any soldier so bothered by the prospect of a homosexual soldier that their performance would be affected has no business defending this nation anyway. As Lady GaGa said on Monday, maybe the prejudiced soldier should be sent home instead of the gay soldier. Do we really want to be defended by a bunch of bigots?

No one in this country can claim that we are a nation of equality -- at least, not with a straight face -- when we have such policies as DADT and DOMA on the books. The opposition will always frame this as an issue of morality and religious superiority, when in fact this is a matter of equality and rights for all -- constitutional protections that are the birthright of everyone in this country and are not up for debate or a vote.

Everyone in this country -- gay or straight, Christian or atheist, Democrat or Republican -- has the same rights and privileges, and laws such as DADT fly in the face of the very core of our country. How can we trumpet our land as one of equality when we have such blatantly discriminatory laws on the books? How can we preach equality when we kick out honorable men and women from the military when we find out they're gay? How are we equal when one couple can marry but another cannot?

DOMA and DADT are unconstitutional; plain and simple. The GOP loves to scream about "Big Government," when in reality, these discriminatory policies they champion are the very definition of the "Big Government" they claim to despise.

Lady GaGa and most of the American people get that. Why is it the people who can actually vote this archaic law out of existence don't?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Right-Wing Theme Song?

I'll be out of town next week -- and oddly enough, without internet -- so my last pre-trip blog post will be another music video that I thought pertinent. It's from Serj Tankian's first solo CD Elect the Dead, and the song is called "The Unthinking Majority."

Depending on how you interpret the lyrics, it could be a theme song for the Tea Party. Or an explanation for how George W. Bush won a second term.

A sample of the lyrics:

We don't need your hypocrisy
Execute real democracy
Post-industrial society
The unthinking majority

Controlling tools of your system
Making life more tolerable
Making life more tolerable

I believe that you're wrong
Insinuating they hold the bomb
Clearing the way for the oil brigade
Clearing the way for the oil brigade

Enjoy the song, have fun and be safe, defenders of democracy. I'll be back in a little more than a week; hopefully our country hasn't completely gone to shit by then.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Income Inequality in America has posted a 10-page slideshow of graphs and charts depicting what is referred to as "the Great Divergence" -- a period since the 1970s in which the income disparity between America's middle class and rich has grown.

The Great Divergence came on the heels of what is called the Great Compression -- a time when the difference between incomes for the middle class and richest earners shrank.

The images accompanied an three-part article on written by Timothy Noah titled "The United States of Inequality." Rather than offer my own insights with regards to the numbers -- some of which aren't exactly in my wheelhouse -- I merely post the article and the slideshow in the hopes that you will take the time to read them and draw your own conclusions.

Mini-spoiler alert: the last slide does not look good for Republicans.

Read the full article here. View the slideshow here.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

In Defense of Education

For some reason, television commentator and all-around loon Glenn Beck (who I try like hell to ignore) has begun an assault against colleges and universities. Apparently, he thinks they're "re-education camps," pumping out a veritable smorgasbord of communists and Mao sympathizers.

Not that is particularly new; the right has long held a disdain for education and critical thought. It's only natural, since knowledge and thinking for one's self is the perfect weapon for the ills of modern convservatism.

I'd like to turn your attention to a fantastic blog post in response to Beck's recent attacks, a sterling defense of education and intellectualism. The proudest accomplishment of my life is my graduation from Old Dominion University in 2006; not necessarily because I'm gainfully employed in my field of study, but because of how I grew as a person while I matriculated.

Because of my experiences in college, I will spend the rest of my days looking to further myself intellectually -- both in and out of the classroom. I'd imagine this education is largely responsible for the fact that I've gone from being conservative to quite liberal. And I understand why modern-day conservatives would hate that.

From the post:

What is it that you think goes on in the college classroom? Doubtless many of your audience have no firsthand experience themselves, but you should. You at least wanted to go to college. Didn't last long, from what I hear, but you tried. You even mentioned that you’re sending your son to college as well. Would you actually do that if you believed your own palavering about “reeducation camps?”

Of course not. But that’s not the point, is it? No, the point, to the extent there is one in your yammerings, is to scare your audience, to make them think some fictional phalanx of Marx-quoting philosophy profs are coming for their children. Because a scared populace is one that can be more easily manipulated, one that is more prone to believing the jabbering of a morning zoo radio disc jockey cum political messiah.

Read the full post and follow the blog here. You won't regret it.

"Liberal Media" Just a Myth

Chances are that if you've paid any attention to politics over the last 10 years or so, you've heard someone lament the rise of the "liberal media." This tag, uttered on cable news networks and conservative talk radio, is designed to lead one to believe the mainstream media leans to the political left, giving Democrats an unfair advantage in today's political discourse.

Never mind that conservatives have the backing of large corporations, some of which own media outlets.

The media today is anything but liberal -- a point that was driven home for me yet against Monday evening when I read an Associated Press story about the speech President Obama gave in Wisconsin on Labor Day.

Before I continue, a little Journalism 101, since I studied journalism and mass media in college. Writers are taught that the first four to five paragraphs of a news story should hit home the most important aspects of a story -- editors here are operating under the assumption that readers might not take in the full article, instead skimming over the first few paragraphs to get the gist of the story.

As such, the writer puts the most important information up high, leaving less significant details and some bit of context for later in the article -- if not for later articles.

Now, with that in mind, re-read the AP story in the above link. If you'll notice, the first paragraph mentions the speech, but the next four paragraphs focus on Republican opposition and the slim chances of the proposal passing Congress.

We don't find out the particulars of the president's proposal until the 18th paragraph of the story; so for a story that's supposedly about President Obama's new job-creation proposal, the article fails. More importantly, though, this sort of thing drives the narrative, and by placing the thought of Republican opposition ahead of the specifics of the proposal, the AP is helping drive the narrative away from facts -- thus helping conservatives.

I don't buy that this was a simple oversight; after all, editors are paid quite well to spot such journalistic deficiencies and fix them. Any editor worth a damn would've noticed this article's screwed-up priorities and called upon the writer to fix them. Especially for the Associated Press, an organization that distributes news stories to websites and newspapers all over the world.

You don't get much more mainstream than the AP.

Then again, real journalism is a dying animal these days; facts and true analysis often fall in favor of he-won-she-lost storylines and minutia that ultimately serves no purpose when the proverbial dust settles.

The Park 51 controversy, anyone?

But let's examine this myth of the liberal media more closely, shall we? Consider the following:

-An entire cable station, Fox News, is the de facto propaganda wing for the Republican Party. On top of a bevy of conservative commentators like Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and Sarah Palin, the network's news hours are tinged with conservative rhetoric and there is a relative paucity of liberal ideas. The station doesn't even try to hide its affiliations.

-MSNBC, the supposed liberal opposite of Fox News, employs two prominent conservatives; former Congressman Joe Scarborough, who co-hosts the network's morning show "Morning Joe," and uber-conservative defender of the oppressed white majority Pat Buchanan. I realize MSNBC employs the likes of Rachel Maddow, Keith Olbermann and Ed Schultz, but if it was really Fox's mirror image, would Buchanan really be on the payroll?

-Just about every television station, newspaper and website of note today is owned by a large conglomerate; by definition, corporations are conservative. Considering Viacom owns CBS and GE owns NBC News and the Tribune Company owns countless newspapers throughout the country, do you really think corporate shareholders would stomach their media outlets promoting a liberal agenda -- one that would probably harm their precious bottom line?

-Not that long ago, CNN had Erick Erickson on its payroll. Yes, that Erick Erickson -- he who created the conservative blog RedState and once referred to retired Supreme Court Justice David Souter a "goat-f***ing child molester" and called two U.S. Senators "health care suicide bombers." That's not even counting the time he called President Obama's reception of the Nobel Peace Prize "an affirmative action quota." And CNN gave this guy a job!

-Media narratives on cable news and the Internet no longer focus on the substance of real issues; it seems like every week brings a new controversy that does little more than distract us from the teetering economy, record foreclosures and other important matters. Instead of talking about unemployment, today's media focuses on a proposed community center in downtown Manhattan. Or a disgraced USDA worker whose comments before the NAACP were doctored to make her seem racist. Or a community service organization dedicated to helping low-income Americans being demonized with more misleading video. Or rumors that our democratically-elected president is either foreign or Muslim or both.

-The AP and select other news outlets do in fact debunk GOP myths and conservative talking points -- like the birther conspiracy -- but it's often days or weeks after the fact; by which point, the narrative has already gained enough steam that the debunking has little, if any, effect. There even comes a point where the debunking, no matter how necessary, only calls more attention to the nonsense it's disproving, thus fueling the conservative narrative even further and damaging both our political discourse and the prospects of real change taking effect.

-What determines the value of a news or opinion show on one of the cable news outlets? The credibility of the host and the quality of his or her content? If that were the case, The Rachel Maddow Show would be the highest-rated news show on cable TV. Ratings -- and advertising -- are king, because with ratings and advertising comes revenue ... followed by profits. And considering much of the mainstream media today is corporate-owned (see above), profits trump all else -- even truth. Why bother informing people when fear-mongering and lying makes so much more cash?

Liberal media is a myth; for every Olbermann or Maddow or The Nation, there's five Becks or Limbaughs or Weekly Standard and Christian Science Monitor. For the most part, liberal voices and voices of truth (even within the conservative movement) are ignored or marginalized; it's becoming more difficult these days to discern truth from spin, even if you're not watching Fox or reading the Wall Street Journal.

For further proof, let me provide a transcript. This is from Countdown with Keith Olbermann and it originally aired on MSNBC on Dec. 14, 2009. Olbermann was discussing Beck and O'Reilly's collective frothing over a Law & Order storyline that featured a caricature of today's right-wing media personalities. I quote from Olbermann (editing for childish name-calling -- while entertaining, it doesn't serve the overall point of this blog):

If Mr. Beck disagrees, or Mr. (Jonah) Goldberg disagrees, or Mr. O'Reilly disagrees, or Mr. (Andrew) Breitbart disagrees, and they think they are being crushed under the weight of this vast, left-wing media conspiracy, they can ...

Go on the (Rush) Limbaugh Show, where (Rush) will insist conservatives have no voice in the media; or go on the Sean Hannity Show, where Sean will insist conservatives have no voice in the media; or go on (Fox & Friends), where Brian Kilmeade will insist conservatives have no voice in the media; or go on Mike Huckabee's show, where Mike will insist conservatives have no voice in the media; or go on G. Gordon Liddy's radio show, where G. will insist conservatives have no voice in the media; or go on Michael Medved's show, where Michael will insist conservatives have no voice in the media; or go on Mark Levin's high-pitched radio show, where Mark will insist conservatives have no high-pitched voice in the media; or go on the Neil Boortz Show, where he will insist conservatives have no voice in the media; or go on the Lou Dobbs Show, where Lou will insist conservatives have no voice in the media; or go on the Laura Ingraham radio show, where Laura will insist conservatives have no voice in the media; or go on the Neil Cavuto Show, where Neil will insist conservatives have no voice in the media; or go on the John Stossel show, where John will insist conservatives have no voice in the media; or get David Horowitz to write a column in which David will insist conservatives have no voice in the media; or get Bill Kristol to write a column in which he insists conservatives have no voice in the media; or get (Ann Coulter) to write a column in which (Ann) insists conservatives have no voice in the media; or get Peggy Noonan to write a column, in which Peggy insists conservatives have no voice in the media; or get Jonah Goldberg to write a column in which Jonah insists his mom told him conservatives have no voice in the media; or get John Fund to write a column in which John insists conservatives have no voice in the media; or get Brent Bozell to write a column in which Brent insists conservatives have no voice in the media; or get Cal Thomas to write a column in which Cal will insist conservatives have no voice in the media; or get Charles Krauthammer to write a column in which Charles will insist conservatives have no voice in the media; or get George Will to write a column in which George will insist conservatives have no voice in the media; or get Sarah Palin to post something somebody wrote for her on Facebook in which Sarah's ghostwriter insists conservatives have no voice in the media; or get Matt Drudge to steal somebody else's column in which somebody else will insist conservatives have no voice in the media; or pay Armstrong Williams cash to write a column in which Armstrong insists conservatives have no voice in the media, and then he'll expense it.

Because to conclude where we started, with Dick Wolff and Law & Order. In a right-wing dominated media system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the right-wing media who instigate crime, and the right-wing media who prosecute the imaginary liberal media.

Olbermann outlined 25 examples of prominent conservative voices in the media -- and not all of them populate the Fox News airwaves. Many of them, including Noonan and Will, appear weekly in my newspaper (Daily Press, Newport News, Va., owned by the Tribune Company). There are countless other examples to cite -- Olbermann neglected to mention Michelle Malkin, whose books on the evils of liberalism are readily available at Barnes & Noble and Borders, alongside a lot of the other names mentioned above -- but the point is made.

The media today is nowhere near liberal, no matter what the conservative noise machine tells you.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

A Quick ACORN Retrospective

Remember ACORN? The community organizing group that catered largely to lower-class people and minorities?

At least until some guy dressed up like a pimp, shot and edited some questionable video and Fox News found its latest "scare white people" story, which prompted legislators to scream that ACORN didn't deserve any funding. ACORN shut down back in March.

Among the things ACORN accomplished was helping first-time voters register so they could actually get into the polls to cast their ballots. The organization also championed raising minimum wage and advocated for universal health care, making the organization the darling of liberals and the target of conservatives.

As the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina passed, The Nation magazine dedicated a large chunk of its Sept. 13 issue to an in-depth piece by Rebecca Solnit titled "Reconstructing the Story of the Storm: Hurricane Katrina at Five." But a sidebar to that article written by John Atlas proved particularly interesting.

In "How ACORN Helped Save NOLA," Atlas details some of the actions the group took in the immediate aftermath of the storm. An excerpt:

A week after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans -- while government officials and charities were still discussing how to send aid to the area -- ACORN was already moving into action. ACORN staffers quickly discovered that many displaced African-American homeowners were in danger of losing their homes. Banks were giving their middle-class, mostly white customers ninety days or more to make their payments, but borrowers who had subprime, high-interest loans (like many black homeowners in the Lower Ninth Ward) were given only one month. Three weeks after the storm, ACORN released a report exposing the industry's double standard and demanded meetings with lenders. Along with labor unions and consumer groups, it successfully negotiated plans to prevent foreclosures for dozens of homeowners. This campaign was only one of many victories, large and small, that ACORN achieved by mobilizing Katrina survivors to confront banks, insurance companies and public officials.

So after a terrible natural disaster threatened to tear New Orleans from its very foundation, ACORN did its part to make sure minority homeowners wouldn't face foreclosure because of the storm. All ACORN did was make sure minority homeowners had a voice, pressuring the banks to give them as much of a fighting chance post-Katrina as the white middle class homeowners.

In part because of efforts like this, the right wing sought to bring down ACORN once President Obama took the White House. They succeeded, partly because the right wing has an entire cable channel dedicated to its cause, and because the rest of the media sat on its hands and was reluctant to call the undercover pimp and Fox News out on their lies.

Read Atlas' entire article here.

I was upset when ACORN was forced to shut down this past spring, sensing something horribly wrong with the fact that the conservative noise machine successfully toppled an organization that was working to make life in America more fair and equitable for a segment of the population that was often ignored -- if not demonized.

Reading Atlas' piece in The Nation brought back those feelings, and brought forth a fair amount of rage. How could an organization that fought to help minority homeowners after Hurricane Katrina be trying to bring about the end of America as we knew it? The only thing ACORN is guilty of, to my knowledge, is trying to help people who would otherwise slip through the cracks. Which, in today's loud political climate, is grounds for a full-scale attack from the right wing -- one aided and abetted by the rest of the media, while aghast liberals merely sat back and let the conservatives drive the narrative.

Wake up, people; this is what happens when Fox News and the Tea Party and the conservative movement as a whole is allowed to dictate the national discourse. Well-meaning organizations, who are only trying to help make the American dream more attainable, are demonized to the point where they have to close their doors, leaving those they served -- people the conservatives would ignore -- to fend for themselves.

Today's conservative movement is sickening, but so is the left's inability or unwillingness to fight back. If this continues, we may see more ACORNs go down in the near future.

Anti-War Music Break

In light of the recent end of Operation: Iraqi Freedom, and the ongoing consternation among people of all political stripes regarding the war in Afghanistan, I figured I'd post a couple music videos that go hand-in-hand with the anti-war sentiment that seems to no longer be exclusive to the more liberal arm of the American left.

The first video is of a song from 2005, System of a Down's B.Y.O.B.

Now, Charades, performed by former System of a Down frontman Serj Tankian (whose new album Imperfect Harmonies comes out Sept. 21).

And before anyone asks: yes, I'm a huge fan of both System of a Down and Serj Tankian (as well as Scars on Broadway, a duo formed by System of a Down bandmates Daron Malakian and John Dolmayan). But anti-war themes have long been a staple of the sound in SOAD, Serj and Scars' work.

On top of being really good music, the above songs seem appropriate in today's political climate when it comes to what we think of war. And since metal isn't always condusive for coherent language, lyrics for B.Y.O.B. can be found here, and lyrics for Charades can be found here.


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Musings About Iraq

Aug. 31 is not only my birthday, but this year it also marked the official end of combat operations in Iraq. For all intents and purposes, Operation: Iraqi Freedom is over. With President Obama's Oval Office address Tuesday night, there are 50,000 troops left in Iraq, serving primarily in an advisory capacity, and the national war focus now shifts back to Afghanistan.

But to what end?

You may recall that I now have my doubts with regards to the war in Afghanistan (read about them here), but it wasn't always that way. I supported the war in Afghanistan when it first started, because that was where those who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks were hiding, and we had to take swift and decisive action in light of those atrocities.

But the war in Iraq was different; it just felt wrong from the onset. The Bush Administration tried to tell us that Iraq and al Qaeda were linked. They weren't. The administration then tried to tell us Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. They didn't.

(As an aside: for a truly eye-opening account of the thinking behind the start of the war in Iraq, pick up the book What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception by former Bush press secretary Scott McClellan. Well worth the time, and you can probably find it cheap at most bookstores.)

Once those reasons were (finally) discredited, the Bush Administration decided to make the argument for building Iraq into a democratic nation, one that would repel terrorist organizations and discredit their narrow ideologies. It likely would've just made Iraq a target for future terrorist attacks, like America and other democratic nations have been, but hey -- no one from the last administration ever asked me.

Don't even get me started on justifying the war based on the idea that Saddam Hussein was gaming the United Nations' oil-for-food program ...

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One of the most under-reported problems inherent within the war in Iraq was the fact that the combat mission diverted attention, focus and resources away from the effort in Afghanistan. Until recently, Afghanistan has been largely regarded as the good war -- the war we had to start after al Qaeda killed over 30,000 of our citizens.

Iraq was always a dividing issue, even before the Bush Administration's reasons for starting that war were proven false. Part of the reason we have yet to find Osama bin Laden and truly bring those responsible for 9/11 to justice is because our military resources and attention has been split for the last seven and a half years. Without the diversion in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan might not have just been more successful, it might be over.

Instead, we still have 50,000 troops in Iraq (at least until 2011) and thousands more being pumped into Afghanistan to do ... what? Nation-building, like we've been doing in Iraq? I thought the idea of Afghanistan was to bring down bin Laden. If that's still the case, high-ranking officials now say he's in Pakistan.

Only we can't go to war with Pakistan. Well, not officially, anyway.

President Obama deserves credit for making good on his campaign promise to bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end. He campaigned on the idea that Iraq was a needless war and we were better served focusing on Afghanistan.

Well, he got it half right. Iraq was a needless war. Because of the Bush Administration's decision to invade Iraq, we have roughly 4,400 American soldiers who died fighting a needless war. Because we invaded Iraq, we still have not brought down Osama bin Laden and dealt a death blow to al Qaeda.

Because of our decision to invade Iraq, our economic woes look even worse, billions and billions of dollars we don't have going to defense contracts and weapons for fighting a war we had no business starting -- on top of the billions of dollars we were spending in turning the good war in Afghanistan into a quagmire of confusion and stalemates.

Credit also goes to President George W. Bush, who in the last month of his presidency began arranging for the withdrawal of combat troops. President Bush drafted the Aug. 31, 2010 withdrawal date in conjunction with the Iraqi government; President Obama merely adhered to the proposal.

Still, it was a campaign promise fulfilled. In a political climate highlighted by a boisterous, ill-informed minority party and a liberal base that's largely disappointed with what President Obama has accomplished so far, that's not nothing.

Now, about Afghanistan ...