Protest votes count too

In an age of loud dissent where polemicists, activists, and many others like to proclaim, “enough’s enough,” the irony of much of these strident demands for change is that they are driven by the expectation that in fact, nothing will change.

After 9/11, George Bush insulated himself from protesters by having them/us penned inside “free-speech zones” — the message was: shout as much as you want, but the government will ignore you.

Even though this was perceived as an affront to People Power and an insult to the democratic spirit, at the same time it was a patronizing accommodation that dovetailed with the fact that a great deal of dissent has as its goal nothing more than speaking out. It’s a cathartic exercise in which sending a message matters more than where it’s going, whether it will be delivered, or to what effect.

There’s no doubt that last Thursday, a lot of votes were cast in Britain by people who believed that once they dropped their ballot paper in the ballot box, they’d made their point. Indeed, some made doubly sure by making their point in pen. They didn’t actually believe that every vote counts because they were convinced they were taking a symbolic stand against a rigged system and pushing hard against an unmovable establishment.

Quite forgivably, people whose daily experience tells them they have virtually no power have a hard time shedding that notion as they cast a vote.

Emily Tierney describes what happens when you discover that protest votes count too:

That evening, I headed to a friend’s house to watch the result. We’d all voted Leave as a protest. We stocked up on jam, scones and tea, and ironically decked out the room with Union Jack bunting.

As the first results came in from Sunderland, we all cheered. We were winning, we were right. People had had enough.

Then as more results came in, the reality started to bite. Northern Ireland, Gibraltar, Scotland and London had decided they wanted to remain. This wasn’t funny any more, the Union was at stake, and the economic powerhouse of our country thought it was a terrible idea.

At around 4am, the BBC declared it a win for Leave. Panic set in.

The slightly more sensible Vote Leave campaigners disappeared from the TV screens, awaiting David Cameron’s official speech. For about three hours, we were left with re-runs of Farage making that moronic victory speech about no bullets being fired, despite a Labour MP being tragically killed the week before. I started to feel sick.

The pound went in to freefall. The FTSE dropped. David Cameron resigned, and he’s set to be replaced by a far more right-wing alternative. Donald Trump arrived in the UK to declare this a “great victory”.

What have we done? If I could take my vote back now, I would. I’m ashamed of myself, and I want my country back.

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Brexit and the anti-Western-establishment armchair revolutionaries

What does one need to understand about the EU or the implication’s of the UK’s withdrawal if this can be characterized as a hammer blow to the Western establishment. The power of Western elites is crumbling — what’s not to celebrate?

In such a spirit, Glenn Greenwald (who while on billionaire Pierre Omidyar’s payroll is, I assume, comfortably insulated from the crisis rocking Brazil right now) writes:

Revolts against corrupt elite institutions can usher in reform and progress, but they can also create a space for the ugliest tribal impulses: xenophobia, authoritarianism, racism, fascism. One sees all of that, both good and bad, manifesting in the anti-establishment movements throughout the U.S., Europe, and the UK: including Brexit. All of this can be invigorating, or promising, or destabilizing, or dangerous: most likely a combination of all that.

The solution is not to subserviently cling to corrupt elite institutions out of fear of the alternatives. It is, instead, to help bury those institutions and their elite mavens and then fight for superior replacements. [My emphasis]

Corrupt elites always try to persuade people to continue to submit to their dominance in exchange for protection from forces that are even worse. That’s their game. But at some point, they themselves, and their prevailing order, become so destructive, so deceitful, so toxic, that their victims are willing to gamble that the alternatives will not be worse, or at least, they decide to embrace the satisfaction of spitting in the faces of those who have displayed nothing but contempt and condescension for them.

One of the many problems with this perspective that the old order must be destroyed before a “superior replacement” can be created, is that the champions of such destruction tend to be, in significant ways, privileged themselves.

To have sympathy with the legitimacy of popular grievances yet willing to overlook the disastrous consequences of the chosen solutions to those grievances is like having a complacent attitude towards alcoholism or other forms of self-destructive behavior simply because you understand what took someone down that path.

It’s a strange kind of sympathy that feels one source of pain while discounting another.

At the same time, it’s ironic that the cheerleaders of the destruction of the Western establishment — proponents of their own vision of regime change — have mostly had such short-lived sympathy for popular uprisings in the Middle East.

At this point, there’s surely good reason to jettison all the slogans about revolutionary change and start thinking more seriously about the mechanics of change. It’s always easier to talk about where you want to go, than figure out exactly how to get there. Who wants to get mired in boring details when they can instead indulge in fantasies about burying institutions?

If an overwhelming majority of British voters had opted for Brexit then it would be impossible to argue against the will of the people. But the vote was divided almost exactly in half — evidence I would suggest that support for the EU runs much deeper than might be expected if this is nothing more than an instrument serving the interests of the corrupt Western elite. Indeed, the narrative that casts this as primarily a struggle between elites and the disadvantaged, glosses over the fact that support for Brexit came from older people, while younger Britons have grown up with fewer reasons to regard Europe and the EU as other.

This is a generational betrayal and an ominous turning point in history.

If there’s one class of people who have reason to be pleased about Brexit, it is the lawyers who will henceforth be employed helping untangle a decade’s worth of legal disputes.

Those who imagine that since the UK has now made its choice, withdrawal from the EU can be expedited and happen as swiftly as the remaining EU members hope, here’s piece of history that puts this issue in perspective.

In 1982, Greenland held a referendum which resulted in its choice to leave the EEC (precursor of the EU which then had ten members). Negotiations for its withdrawal took over two years to complete. Greenland looks big on a world map but it has a population of just 55,000.

So, two years of negotiations between on one side a European Community a third of its current size and on the other a state which is basically a fishing town on the edge of an ice-sheet. And keep in mind that Greenland (as part of Denmark) had been part of the community for less than a decade and had not played a central role in shaping Europe’s institutions.

As much as the EU can be cast as some external, overbearing bureaucratic entity, it is an entity in which the UK has spent the last four decades as one of its leading members. Many of the laws from which Brexiters imagine they are soon to be unshackled are laws that Britain helped draft, wanted in place, and served British interests.

This will be like so many other divorces where so many things once shared, now have to be replaced. The absurdity of the fantasy about liberation from red tape is that the UK has now brought on its own head the worst imaginable bureaucratic nightmare.

Finally, on a personal note, even though I have lived in the United States for almost thirty years and am a U.S. citizen, I am also a British citizen, the country of my birth where I grew up. I’m surprised my how often I hear Americans refer to “British subjects” as though we remain under the control of a monarch, but I assure you “citizen” is the term in our passports.

Until I moved to America, I never referred to myself as “British” — a phrase loaded with so much ugly historical baggage; an identity which among members of my generation conjures up images of Alf Garnett and small-minded rightwing bigots who cling to memories of empire and who like to wave the Union Jack.

I liked instead the idea of being European, not as distinct from non-European but as distinct from an identity defined and limited by an island’s shoreline.

For the same reason, I like Barry Cunliffe’s topographical description of Europe as “the westerly excrescence of the continent of Asia.”

The basic point is that I think it’s good for all people to feel that they are part of something larger — that we don’t confine ourselves by boundaries but have an interest in what lies beyond them.

This is what makes Brexit so depressing, because aside from the economic repercussions, it represents a psychological process of withdrawal in which everyone will be diminished.

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Britain’s voyage to a destination unknown led by a captain unfound

The EU Consumer Rights Directive — one among a plethora of rights that millions of British voters blithely threw away on Thursday — affords European citizens the right to change their minds after the rather unmomentous action of, for instance, buying some Tupperware. The assumption is that consumers deserve protection from deceptive sales practices. In transactions that involve false promises, the buyer has a right to determine she made a mistake and get her money back.

Why should British voters not now have some analogous way of rectifying a choice that some — perhaps many — now view as having been made in error?

“I was very disappointed about the results [of the EU referendum]. Even though I voted to leave, this morning I woke up and the reality did actually hit me. But if I had the opportunity to vote again, it would be to stay,” a British voter humbly admitted when interviewed at Manchester Airport on Friday.

How many other voters share her “buyer’s remorse”?

And how many people voted Leave as a symbolic protest, confident that as pollsters, bookkeepers, the financial markets, and the media told them, Remain would win? In other words, how many votes were cast for Leave on the assumption it wouldn’t happen?

Never mind. Britain has spoken. What has been done can’t now be undone — at least that’s the consensus voiced by the political establishment. Indeed, some European leaders were quick to reinforce that conclusion by declaring, “leave means leave.”

But is there really no way to reverse Brexit?

Is the notion of a reversal an affront to democracy? Would it dangerously compound the existing instability? Or might it instead reflect a basic human understanding that people individually and collectively on occasions make terrible mistakes and that mistakes can often be rectified.

What inviolable political principle is it that says 65 million people need to suffer the consequences of the ill-considered choices of a minority?

The promise offered by Leave was for “independence,” “sovereignty,” and “taking our country back.” It sounded wonderfully straightforward. The reality of complex, messy, and protracted withdrawal negotiations will reveal, however, that the destination towards which Britain is now headed is actually unknown.

The ballot paper looked simple: Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?

But after the voting had finished, the top two questions being asked on Google in the UK were, “What does it mean to leave the EU?” and “What is the EU?

While making its recommendations on the exact wording of the referendum last September, Britain’s Electoral Commission noted:

Referendum campaigners have a key role to play in informing people what the issues are in a referendum. The campaigns are the main source for highlighting to potential voters the implications of each potential outcome, encouraging people to vote and influencing how they vote. [My emphasis]

Yet as a BBC report in April pointed out:

Just about everything in the EU referendum debate is contestable, as soon as one side produces a “fact”, the other side challenges it with a contradictory “fact”.

At the end of the 16-page leaflet the British government circulated around the UK in April, it said:

This is your decision. The Government will implement what you decide.

Following David Cameron’s decision to step down as prime minister and before the process of EU withdrawal begins, the British people are boarding a ship taking them to a destination unknown led by a captain who has yet to be found.

The European Council says:

We now expect the United Kingdom government to give effect to this decision of the British people as soon as possible, however painful that process may be.

At the same time, it underlines the fact that the:

United Kingdom remains a member of the European Union, with all the rights and obligations that derive from this. According to the Treaties which the United Kingdom has ratified, EU law continues to apply to the full to and in the United Kingdom until it is no longer a Member.

The process doesn’t begin until Britain’s prime minister invokes Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union and who that prime minister is, given that we know it won’t be David Cameron, is a choice that should in fact be determined neither by Conservative Members of Parliament, nor the Conservative Party Conference.

It’s time for a general election.

Whoever then ends up as Britain’s next prime minister will, by the electorate, have explicitly been assigned the task of taking the UK out of the EU.

If it turns out, however, that British voters, through the parliamentary system, end up placing in office another prime minister who unequivocally favors continued membership of the UK in the EU, then it seems perfectly reasonable to conclude that Britain will have spoken once again but this time exercised its right to say, we made a mistake.

Divorce papers once served, don’t have to be signed. They can be torn up.

Whether through a general election or by an undemocratic process, Boris Johnson is likely to become Britain’s next prime minister.

But before that happens, the British public should be in little doubt that by leading Brexit, Johnson was simply trying to hoodwink his way into Downing Street.

This is what fellow Conservative MP and government minister, Anna Soubry, now says:

You look at all the newspaper columns he’s ever written — he’s never said, “I’m for Out.” And he positively told people — people like Nicholas Soames — “I’m no Outer.” And when I confronted Boris with all of this, all he will ever say to me is, “It’ll be alright, it’ll all be alright.” And you know what I think? I think he didn’t think that they would win. That’s why it was going to be alright. But for his own interests, wanting to be Prime Minister, he went for Leave, because it would serve him.

 

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How dangerous is a gunless gunman?

“Why isn’t the assassination attempt on Donald Trump bigger news?,” asks Callum Borchers at the Washington Post.

The No. 1 trending question related to Donald Trump on Google right now is “Who tried to shoot Trump?” Which means a lot of people don’t know the answer. Which is probably because the assassination attempt on the presumptive Republican presidential nominee hasn’t been covered as a major news story.

The reason so many people wanted to know who tried to shoot Trump was because it was widely reported that a man did indeed try to shoot Trump.

The thing is, the young man in question — Michael Steven Sandford — didn’t actually try to shoot Trump.

By his own testimony, he certainly wanted to shoot Trump, but there’s a significant difference between wanting and trying.

For Sandford to try and shoot Trump he would have needed to possess a loaded gun — but he didn’t have one. What he actually tried to do was grab a police officer’s gun.

I know next to nothing about police training, but I’m confident that one of the basics in firearms use is on the need to retain control of ones own weapon. The officer in question seems to have passed that test.

The larger question here is not about the identity of the hapless would-be assassin but instead it is this: Why is it that Donald Trump and fellow gun rights supporters aren’t willing to demonstrate their confidence in the principles they claim they believe in, by speaking out in gun-permissive venues?

In other words, why wasn’t Sandford entitled to bring a gun to the rally?

The argument the gun lobby keeps on making is that people like Sandford, even if armed, would pose less threat if everyone else was also armed.

So why doesn’t Trump dispense with his Secret Service detail (which requires no one other than law enforcement officials can carry guns) and allow attendees to bring their own guns to his rallies? Of course, each would be required to produce a gun permit as they carry their handguns or assault rifles into the venue.

The more guns there are, the safer Trump should feel, right? Or maybe not…

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Watch out for the terrorism ‘experts’

Whenever an act of violence gets widely described as an act of terrorism, the one thing we can be confident about while facts remain hard to come by is that there will be no shortage of “expert” opinion — a lot of it resting on very dubious foundations.

Consider, for instance, this assessment by Robert Pape, the director of the University of Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism.

One month after the December 2015 San Bernardino attacks that murdered 14, killers Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik appeared in the pages of [the ISIS magazine] Dabiq. It is almost certain that [Orlando shooter, Omar] Mateen will appear in the next issue.

It may also emerge that Mateen watched ISIS videos that seek to recruit Westerners, an area in which their propagandists have excelled. If so, he was a perfect fit for the profile of previous ISIS recruits.

A male in his late 20s, with a connection to the Middle East, but who is not necessarily a traditionally devout Muslim, Mateen ticked many of the boxes that ISIS looks for. Reports from former co-workers and family members paint the picture of an individual who became increasingly withdrawn and radicalized, but maintained an outsized ego and liked to snap selfies. In other words, prime recruitment material.

ISIS offered Mateen a step-by-step blueprint for terror, from target selection to tactics, and told him that if he followed their instructions he would be a hero.

This guidance has been laid out by ISIS in online communications. “Hit everyone and everything,” wrote ISIS in a March 2015 magazine article, a commandment that the group’s operatives have followed in choosing soft targets like nightclubs, sports stadiums, and airplane terminals in Paris, Brussels, and now Orlando.

This timing as well may be no accident. ISIS posted an audio clip in late May asking its followers to schedule attacks for the holy month of Ramadan, which started on the evening of June 5. The content of the message is especially relevant in the case of Orlando.

In one chilling passage, the speaker states, “The smallest action you do in their heartland is better and more enduring to us than what you would if you were with us. If one of you hoped to reach the Islamic State, we wish we were in your place to punish the Crusaders day and night.”

Orlando brings up a new specter of fear for Americans. Instead of trained ISIS operatives slipping into our country to form sleeper cells, we must now confront the reality that “lone wolf” attackers are far from alone when we consider the world of training and online inspiration at their fingertips.

Mateen’s appearance in the next issue of Dabiq is not “almost certain” — on the contrary, it seems increasingly unlikely.


If Mateen had ever ventured to Raqqa, he would have risked meeting his own grisly end by getting thrown off a rooftop.

As for the features that distinguished this young man as “prime recruitment material” for ISIS, if those include a liking to take selfies, the pool of potential so-called lone wolves ready to kill for ISIS must now span every corner of the globe.

The ISIS directive to “hit everyone and everything,” certainly leaves a lot of latitude when it comes to the choices made by any individual killer. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t underestimate the capacity of ISIS recruits to engage in some elementary strategic thinking.

After Larossi Abballa murdered an off-duty police officer and his female companion in France this week, the killer took to Facebook to present his goals:

Mr. Abballa’s Facebook post from Monday night made clear that he wanted to terrify and destroy those he deemed “unbelievers,” people he had come to hate. He also wanted to encourage other lone wolves to do the same.

“It’s super simple,” he said, looking into the camera. “It’s enough to wait for them in front of their offices; don’t give them any respite. Know this, whether you are a policeman or a journalist, you will never feel calm again. One will wait for you in front of your homes. This is what you have earned.”

Boasting that he had “just killed a policeman and I just killed his wife,” he called on fellow believers to give priority to killing “police, prison guards, journalists.” He specifically named several writers and journalists, adding rappers to the list because, he said, they “are the allies of Satan.”

Although a gay nightclub in Orlando fits the indiscriminate directive of “everyone and everything,” it wasn’t an obvious target for someone wanting to strike fear across a nation.

Abballa clearly wanted an isolated murder to be treated as a threat to the state. Mateen’s motives, however, remain far from clear. Indeed, an attack on the LGBT community would be an ill-conceived way of attacking America, given that there are so many conservative Americans who are homophobic.

It has been reported that the gunman took his wife at least once to the location of the nightclub for “reconnaissance,” and yet regulars there say he had visited the club repeatedly for several years — so why the need for reconnaissance? If he didn’t want his wife to be aware of his prior connection, this may have been an exercise designed to obscure his familiarity with his target and mislead his wife about his motives.

The specter of lone wolf attacks in America is certainly a fear that ISIS wants to promote, but terrorism experts and the media need to avoid amplifying that fear without due cause. The evidence, so far, indicates that those who plot alone are the exception rather than the rule.

[A] Reuters review of the approximately 90 Islamic State court cases brought by the Department of Justice since 2014 found that three-quarters of those charged were alleged to be part of a group of anywhere from two to more than 10 co-conspirators who met in person to discuss their plans.

Even in those cases that did not involve in-person meetings, defendants were almost always in contact with other sympathizers, whether via text message, email or networking websites, according to court documents. Fewer than 10 cases involved someone accused of acting entirely alone.

The extent of Mateen’s radicalization remains unclear, but anyone who professed to have ties to ISIS, al Qaeda, and Hezbollah at a time when these groups are at war against each other, seems less like a committed jihadist than someone who was clumsily constructing a fake identity.

Lastly, for those who remain fixated on images of scary Middle Eastern guys, it’s worth being reminded that Omar Mateen was in so many regards an ordinary American — as can be seen in this video clip which apparently shows him when he was working as a G4S security guard around 2012.

 

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Why it’s premature to call Omar Mateen a terrorist

Each time an atrocity takes place in which innocent people become targets of indiscriminate violence, there is a rush to brand the violence as terrorism.

This has little to do with any widely accepted definition of the term and much more to do with a need to voice outrage and mobilize a forceful response.

If on one side everyone’s shouting “terrorism!” while others are voicing doubt, the doubters instantly get cast as being soft on terrorism.

From what we know at this time, I’m inclined to believe that the massacre in Orlando was a mass-murder/suicide disguised to look like a terrorist attack.

It has already been widely reported that Mateen’s father, Seddique Mir Mateen, said his son got “very angry” two months ago when he saw two men kissing in Miami. This was presented as evidence of the gunman’s existing and strong homophobia.

There are now indications that the foundation of Mateen’s homophobia may have been extreme ambivalence around his own homosexuality.

The Associated Press reports:

The ex-wife of the shooter at a gay Florida nightclub says the man enjoyed nightlife, but she’s not sure if he had any homosexual tendencies.

Sitora Yusufiy spoke to CNN on Tuesday from Denver.

She says: “When we had gotten married, he confessed to me about his past … that he very much enjoyed going to clubs and the nightlife, and there was a lot of pictures of him. … I feel like it’s a side of him or a part of him that he lived, but probably didn’t want everybody to know about.”

Regulars at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando including Ty Smith, say that Mateen had been seen there on numerous occasions over an extended period.

Smith told the Orlando Sentinel that he saw Mateen inside at least a dozen times.

“We didn’t really talk to him a lot, but I remember him saying things about his dad at times,” Smith said. “He told us he had a wife and child.”

When asked about those sightings, Orlando Police Chief John Mina said he had no information.

Another Pulse regular, Kevin West, told the Los Angeles Times that Mateen messaged him on and off for a year using a gay chat app.

Fox News reports:

Smith’s husband, Chris Callen, told the Canadian Press that Mateen had been to Pulse regularly for “at least three years.”

Jim Van Horn, 71, told the Associated Press he was a frequent patron at Pulse and said another “regular” there was Mateen.

“He was trying to pick up people. Men,” Van Horn said late Monday outside the Parliament House, another gay club.

If the sight of gay men kissing provoked so much rage in Mateen, why would he have been a regular at a gay nightclub for several years, using Jack’d, a gay dating app, and trying to pick up men?

The indications suggest that what Mateen hated most was being gay. No doubt, the fact that he had been raised a Muslim, would have made his own conflicted feelings that much more intense and difficult to resolve.

To go on a rampage at the conclusion of which the gunman could reasonably expect to be killed, may have been conceived as a murderous effort to purge himself of his own feelings. And if he felt such a deep need to bury his own homosexuality, it would make sense to conjure the impression that this was an act of terrorism — and one that would predictably be applauded by ISIS.

But we don’t know — at this point, much of the above remains conjecture.

Nevertheless, since this is at least a plausible explanation for what happened in Orlando on Sunday, it’s worth looking at Donald Trump’s reaction to the massacre and considering the wildly inappropriate actions he would probably have taken had he been the president at this time.

In the name of a forceful response to terrorism, Trump would be rounding up Muslims and shutting down airports. He would (and is) fueling national Islamophobic hysteria. And all in the name of fighting terrorism.

In other words, at a time when wise leaders would be promoting gun control and encouraging similarly troubled young men to embrace their own sexuality rather than turn to violence, Trump would be creating a national security crisis.

Which is exactly why terrorism is a word that should be used with extreme caution.

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Orlando, gun violence, and American identity

Since 9/11, nearly half a million Americans have died as a result of gun violence inside the United States. That’s more than the number of Americans killed during World War II, the most deadly war in history.

Suppose that during the same period, from 2001-2016, this number of deaths could be attributed to terrorism. Were that the case, democratic governance in the U.S. would have been suspended. We would now be living under martial law.

The fact that gun violence is not generally regarded as an issue vastly more perilous than terrorism, has nothing to do with an objective assessment of each threat. It is simply because the ability for Americans to kill themselves and each other with legally obtained weapons is widely accepted as a feature of American culture. It’s an American thing. It’s the homicidal/suicidal shadow of freedom.

Many of those Americans who are desperate to defend the right of each citizen to arm themselves, now want to characterize the mass shooting in Orlando as not being an American thing and the easiest way of doing that is to undermine the American identity of the gunman.

In news reports, journalists with what I assume are good intentions, are referring to Omar Mateen as “American-born” and a “U.S. citizen.” Both are accurate labels and yet they obscure the fact that Mateen was just as much an American as Donald Trump.

Who gets referred to simply as an American and who does not, illustrates the fact that in common discourse here, it’s generally assumed that there are three categories of name.

Someone who is white and has a vaguely English-sounding name — like Donald Trump, Sarah Palin, Tom Hanks, or Bernie Sanders — gets called an American and no distinctions of heritage need be specified.

Then there are those Americans with Spanish names — like Gonzalo Curiel, Alberto Gonzales, Eva Longoria, or Sonia Sotomayor — who tend to fall in the nebulous might-be-American category.

And then there are Americans with “foreign” names like Omar Mateen.

Anyone with a name that signals Muslim or Middle Eastern, is commonly regarded as foreign until proved otherwise. And even if it turns out the individual was born in America and has never lived in any other country, they are still likely to be viewed in some unstated sense as somehow not quite fully American. These are the Americans who get asked where they come from after having already explained that the come from Florida, Texas, California, or wherever in America they happened to be born.

As much as this country professes to uphold a system of non-discrimination, the core category of membership has yet to shed racial and ancestral connotations. It’s ironic that a country that came into existence by breaking away from English rule and which took a Spanish name, should still retain such strong cultural ties to England.

Nevertheless, to understand what Mateen did, it’s necessary to acknowledge that he was no less American than Donald Trump or any other American who might currently be using the Orlando shootings to fuel Islamophobia and xenophobia.

Mateen’s dream was to become a law enforcement officer. He pictured himself as a cop in the NYPD.

In post 9/11 America, how much more American can someone aspire to become than to serve as a police officer in New York City?

Even so, while recognizing that American identity is not linguistically or ethnically determined, we also have to divest it of its mythological accretions: the notions that Americans are blessed in some way.

Americans aren’t special. They have no unique virtues and a multitude of commonplace failings.

What we are learning from those who knew Mateen was that, his dreams of the NYPD notwithstanding, he was a disaster in the making.

Former co-worker, Daniel Gilroy, a former police officer who worked with Mateen as a private security guard, found Mateen’s habitual and out-of-control rage so threatening, he ended up quitting his job. Gilroy now says: “I saw this coming.”

“I feel responsibility — there was no shock. I feel responsible. I felt like, because I was a coward, 50 people are dead. That’s the way I feel.”

American-born Donald Trump, with no foundation to make such an assertion, also claims prescience about the shootings.


Of course he’s not referring to a ban on the purchase of assault rifles — he’s alluding to his promised ban on Muslims.

He has yet to amplify what it would mean to “ban” American Muslims. Is he calling for all Muslims to be rounded up and put inside concentration camps?

The only predictable effect of Trump’s statements on this issue is that they will fuel hatred.

Hatred is contagious and can be found among the religious and non-religious in every nation.

As much as many people might pray for the creation of a more loving, less violent country, we will inevitably continue living in an America that harbors countless hateful individuals.

And yet as much as hate can harm others, hate alone cannot result in a massacre.

Without access to instruments of deadly violence, Omar Mateen’s hatred could certainly be hurtful but it was very unlikely to result in anyone’s death.

How many more mass shootings are to come is simply a question of how willing America remains as a facilitator of mass violence. Most likely, it takes a president to say resolutely, enough is enough — and follow through in action — but such a president has yet to take office.

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The kinds of surveillance people want

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If you use a credit card, your daily activities are under continuous surveillance. Information gathered from each transaction is monitored and analysed, not by the NSA, but by the financial companies themselves.

Most cardholders who are aware of this are grateful for the fact. It means that if or when you get a phone call or text message from the company telling you they’ve noticed suspicious activity on your account, the chances are that the warning is warranted and some fraud can get snipped in the bud.

Suppose your online activity was being monitored in an analogous way — not to spot fraud but instead to spot symptoms of undiagnosed disease — would you welcome this kind of surveillance?

Right now, this is a hypothetical question, but it probably won’t be long before automated health-tracking systems emerge. Perhaps health insurance companies will offer a discount to individuals who opt-in for the service.

The hyperbole surrounding the issue of surveillance usually looks at it through the lens of the intelligence agencies and political oppression, but what may in the long run be much more significant, socially, is the kind of benign surveillance that caters to our needs — that makes life easier by anticipating our needs.

Needs easily met create an expanding field of things we take for granted, but with that comes a diminishing state of awareness. For some people, the fewer their cares, the more creative they become, but more often it seems like ease fuels a hunger for stimulation and distraction.

The surveillance state we are moving into is not one where we are at much risk of getting whisked away by the secret police, but rather it is one in which we are likely to submerge deeper and deeper into the oblivion of convenience.

The New York Times reports: Microsoft scientists have demonstrated that by analyzing large samples of search engine queries they may in some cases be able to identify internet users who are suffering from pancreatic cancer, even before they have received a diagnosis of the disease.

The scientists said they hoped their work could lead to early detection of cancer. Their study was published on Tuesday in The Journal of Oncology Practice by Dr. Eric Horvitz and Dr. Ryen White, the Microsoft researchers, and John Paparrizos, a Columbia University graduate student.

“We asked ourselves, ‘If we heard the whispers of people online, would it provide strong evidence or a clue that something’s going on?’” Dr. Horvitz said.

The researchers focused on searches conducted on Bing, Microsoft’s search engine, that indicated someone had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. From there, they worked backward, looking for earlier queries that could have shown that the Bing user was experiencing symptoms before the diagnosis. Those early searches, they believe, can be warning flags. [Continue reading…]

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With Trump’s racism out in the open, how does he ‘come around’?

To say that Donald Trump has become an embarrassment to Republicans is an understatement. Yet with Trump’s racism now on open display when it comes to his criteria for suspecting judicial bias, the Republican establishment has yet to truly disown him.

For instance, Trump supporter, Newt Gingrich, says Trump’s remarks about American-born District Judge Gonzalo Curiel were “inexcusable.”

The implication being made by most of these critics is that using skills which have thus far not been evident, Trump might somehow be able to maneuver his way out of this situation. What’s he going to say that can undo what he’s done?

He’s already used all those gambits about how much he loves Mexicans and Muslims, but with his racism so far out in the open, the question isn’t about how he can make amends; it’s about the racism that permeates the Republican Party.

Disavowals of racism coming from individuals who are nevertheless willing to see their party led by a racist, make it all the more evident that it is the GOP’s long-standing toleration of thinly veiled racism that provided one of the central driving forces behind the Trump campaign.

What Trump has done is made it virtually impossible for anyone to plausibly pretend that he is not a racist. And as much as Trump imagines he’s cast aside the shackles of political correctness, the appearance of racism in contemporary America is indeed inexcusable. There’s no way to complete the sentence: Trump’s a racist, but…

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The camaraderie of outrage

Harambe

“The killing of a gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo in order to save a child who fell in its enclosure has sparked nationwide outrage,” reports CBS News.

I share the outrage.

I happen to be among those who believe that the incarceration of wild animals for the entertainment of sightseers, cannot be justified. It does little to elevate the consciousness of the people and even less the well-being of the captives. The protection of endangered species requires first and foremost the protection of endangered habitats.

Upon seeing the news of the gorilla’s death, like many others, I also thought that if a four-year boy could even get into a situation like this, there had to be negligence on the part of parents, bystanders, and/or the zoo operators. Likewise, the decision to shoot and kill the 17-year-old gorilla, Harambe (a Swahili name which means, “all pull together”) seemed very questionable.

Among the outraged voices showing up on Facebook, the most venomous attacks have been directed at Michelle Gregg, the boy’s mother.

Jan Dadaista Subert:

The crappy mother should have gotten shot instead, not the poor innocent gorilla!

Andrew Weprin:

Michelle Gregg says, “God protected my child until the authorities were able to get to him.” No, Harambe protected your child after you & God failed to stop him from climbing into the enclosure! And innocent Harambe ended up dead for his efforts, shot with a bullet that would have been better spent on you, for failing to look after your own child and being the cause of all this!

The creator of a Facebook page, Justice For Harambe (which has already received over 60,000 likes), propagated the claim that Gregg was planning to sue to zoo, and yet when asked to support this claim with some evidence simply said: “Educated guess.” The page’s stated objective is: “We wish to see charges brought against those responsible!!”

The outrage directed at Gregg has prompted a smaller wave of outrage coming from those who underline the fact that even when under the supervision of the most attentive of parents, small children do have a talent for slipping out of sight.

Meanwhile, the United Nations refugee agency announced on Sunday that at least 700 people are believed to have drowned in the Mediterranean this week as tens of thousands of refugees continue to seek safety in Europe.

The latest chapter in the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II has prompted very little outrage on this side of the Atlantic.

For observers of social media in the U.S., it’s hard to avoid concluding that the life of a gorilla is commonly regarded here as being more precious than the lives of countless human beings.

Although to some extent it’s heartening that this much concern is being shown about the premature death of a gorilla, it’s disturbing that over the last year and longer there has been such widespread indifference shown towards millions of people in desperate need.

Is there really such a compassion deficit in America, or does this reveal more about the psychology of rage?

My guess is that among those now seeking justice for Harambe, prior to this weekend many had not paid a great deal of interest in the welfare of western lowland gorillas.

The guiding emotions here were outrage at what seemed like the unnecessary loss of an innocent life, and a certain sympathy with fellow primates which all children feel and most adults have learned to sublimate.

The great apes fascinate us because on some level we recognize them as kin. We don’t just look at them; we see them with reflective awareness looking at us.

Yet why would a sense of kinship be able to extend outside our own species while falling short among other members of the human race?

What is at play here seems to have less to do with who or what we identify with than it does with the pathways that facilitate our connections.

It turns out that in the age of social media, outrage has become such a potent force because it allows strangers to bond.

Teddy Wayne writes:

A 2013 study, from Beihang University in Beijing, of Weibo, a Twitter-like site, found that anger is the emotion that spreads the most easily over social media. Joy came in a distant second. The main difference, said Ryan Martin, a psychology professor at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay, who studies anger, is that although we tend to share the happiness only of people we are close to, we are willing to join in the rage of strangers. As the study suggests, outrage is lavishly rewarded on social media, whether through supportive comments, retweets or Facebook likes. People prone to Internet outrage are looking for validation, Professor Martin said. “They want to hear that others share it,” he said, “because they feel they’re vindicated and a little less lonely and isolated in their belief.”

Harambe’s death pulled strangers together in their shared anger. The sad and stern face of a silverback resonated across a population which, struggling to find common ground through things we can affirm, finds it much more easily in our discontent.

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Countering American anti-intellectualism involves more than challenging ignorance

The Washington Post reports on President Obama’s commencement address at Rutgers University on Sunday: The president throughout his speech decried a strain of anti-intellectualism in American politics that he said rejects science, reason and debate. “These are things you want in people making policy,” Obama said to laughter. “That might seem obvious.”

At one point, clearly referring to Trump and congressional Republicans who have decried efforts to combat global warming, Obama warned that “in politics and in life, ignorance is not a virtue.”

“It’s not cool to not know what you are talking about,” he said. “That’s not keeping it real or telling it like it is. That’s not challenging political correctness. That’s just not knowing what you are talking about.”

Throughout the year, Obama has turned again and again in speeches to the obligations that come with citizenship and the need for a more reasoned and respectful political debate at a moment when the country’s politics have never seemed more vulgar and poisonous. [Continue reading…]

Given Obama’s youthful audience, it’s hardly surprising that he would appeal to their desire to be cool, but that itself strikes me as being part of the problem.

Intellectual development hinges less on knowing what you are talking about, than it requires the cultivation of curiosity.

It’s got more to do with asking the right questions, than knowing the right answers.

To be cool, on the other hand, suggests never being caught by surprise — as though to be surprised (which means to encounter the unexpected) must be a bad thing.

But no one can become so seasoned in life that they actually never encounter anything new. On the contrary, where the sense of surprise has been lost, nothing more is being learned. The process of digesting new information and new perceptions that modify ones understanding of the world, has atrophied. Thought, once malleable, has become fixed.

Those who claim they’ve seen it all before, have more likely just stopped looking.

The rancor in political debate which Obama criticizes, is itself not simply representative of a fractious political environment. It isn’t just that discourse is lacking in civility; it’s a reflection of the fears that inhibit creative political thinking.

When politics is strictly factionalized, orthodoxies rule. No one wants to challenge the conventional wisdom inside the camp to which they are aligned. Politics is then simply a power struggle between competing camps.

The intransigence we project onto our opponents is mirrored by the inflexibility on our side.

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The fallacy that the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended World War II

Hiroshima: the original Ground Zero

Hiroshima: the original Ground Zero


Whenever questions are raised about the moral justification for destroying Hiroshima and Nagasaki with atomic bombs in 1945, it’s generally assumed that President Truman’s decision to use these weapons was instrumental in ending World War II.

Given the staggering loss of life the war had already brought by that time, it’s hard to avoid imagining that almost any means possible — including the use of nuclear weapons — might have been justifiable if this would result in hastening the end of the war.

Hiroshima was bombed on August 6, 1945. Japan’s surrender was announced by Emperor Hirohito on August 15. For this reason, many Americans think that apologizing for the destruction of these two Japanese cities would make no more sense than wishing that the war had dragged on for longer with even more lives lost.

But in Five Myths about Nuclear Weapons published in 2013, Ward Wilson argues that it was Stalin’s decision to invade Japan — not the use of the bomb — that led to the Japanese surrender.

Wilson points out that while the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki are typically viewed as extraordinary in the level of destruction they caused, during the U.S. air campaign at that time there was less reason than we imagine to draw a sharp distinction between conventional and nuclear bombing.

In the summer of 1945, the U.S. Army Air Force carried out one of the most intense campaigns of city destruction in the history of the world. Sixty-eight cities in Japan were attacked and all of them were either partially or completely destroyed. An estimated 1.7 million people were made homeless, 300,000 were killed, and 750,000 were wounded. Sixty-six of these raids were carried out with conventional bombs, two with atomic bombs. The destruction caused by conventional attacks was huge. Night after night, all summer long, cities would go up in smoke. In the midst of this cascade of destruction, it would not be surprising if this or that individual attack failed to make much of an impression — even if it was carried out with a remarkable new type of weapon.

Japan’s decision to surrender probably had less to do with the effect of nuclear weapons, than with Stalin’s decision to invade. Wilson writes:

The Japanese were in a relatively difficult strategic situation. They were nearing the end of a war they were losing. Conditions were bad. The Army, however, was still strong and well-supplied. Nearly 4 million men were under arms and 1.2 million of those were guarding Japan’s home islands.

Even the most hardline leaders in Japan’s government knew that the war could not go on. The question was not whether to continue, but how to bring the war to a close under the best terms possible. The Allies (the United States, Great Britain, and others — the Soviet Union, remember, was still neutral) were demanding “unconditional surrender.” Japan’s leaders hoped that they might be able to figure out a way to avoid war crimes trials, keep their form of government, and keep some of the territories they’d conquered: Korea, Vietnam, Burma, parts of Malaysia and Indonesia, a large portion of eastern China, and numerous islands in the Pacific.

They had two plans for getting better surrender terms; they had, in other words, two strategic options. The first was diplomatic. Japan had signed a five-year neutrality pact with the Soviets in April of 1941, which would expire in 1946. A group consisting mostly of civilian leaders and led by Foreign Minister Togo Shigenori hoped that Stalin might be convinced to mediate a settlement between the United States and its allies on the one hand, and Japan on the other. Even though this plan was a long shot, it reflected sound strategic thinking. After all, it would be in the Soviet Union’s interest to make sure that the terms of the settlement were not too favorable to the United States: any increase in U.S. influence and power in Asia would mean a decrease in Russian power and influence.

The second plan was military, and most of its proponents, led by the Army Minister Anami Korechika, were military men. They hoped to use Imperial Army ground troops to inflict high casualties on U.S. forces when they invaded. If they succeeded, they felt, they might be able to get the United States to offer better terms. This strategy was also a long shot. The United States seemed deeply committed to unconditional surrender. But since there was, in fact, concern in U.S. military circles that the casualties in an invasion would be prohibitive, the Japanese high command’s strategy was not entirely off the mark.

One way to gauge whether it was the bombing of Hiroshima or the invasion and declaration of war by the Soviet Union that caused Japan’s surrender is to compare the way in which these two events affected the strategic situation. After Hiroshima was bombed on August 8, both options were still alive. It would still have been possible to ask Stalin to mediate (and Takagi’s diary entries from August 8 show that at least some of Japan’s leaders were still thinking about the effort to get Stalin involved). It would also still have been possible to try to fight one last decisive battle and inflict heavy casualties. The destruction of Hiroshima had done nothing to reduce the preparedness of the troops dug in on the beaches of Japan’s home islands. There was now one fewer city behind them, but they were still dug in, they still had ammunition, and their military strength had not been diminished in any important way. Bombing Hiroshima did not foreclose either of Japan’s strategic options.

The impact of the Soviet declaration of war and invasion of Manchuria and Sakhalin Island was quite different, however. Once the Soviet Union had declared war, Stalin could no longer act as a mediator — he was now a belligerent. So the diplomatic option was wiped out by the Soviet move. The effect on the military situation was equally dramatic. Most of Japan’s best troops had been shifted to the southern part of the home islands. Japan’s military had correctly guessed that the likely first target of an American invasion would be the southernmost island of Kyushu. The once proud Kwangtung army in Manchuria, for example, was a shell of its former self because its best units had been shifted away to defend Japan itself. When the Russians invaded Manchuria, they sliced through what had once been an elite army and many Russian units only stopped when they ran out of gas. The Soviet 16th Army — 100,000 strong — launched an invasion of the southern half of Sakhalin Island. Their orders were to mop up Japanese resistance there, and then — within 10 to 14 days — be prepared to invade Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan’s home islands. The Japanese force tasked with defending Hokkaido, the 5th Area Army, was under strength at two divisions and two brigades, and was in fortified positions on the east side of the island. The Soviet plan of attack called for an invasion of Hokkaido from the west.

It didn’t take a military genius to see that, while it might be possible to fight a decisive battle against one great power invading from one direction, it would not be possible to fight off two great powers attacking from two different directions. The Soviet invasion invalidated the military’s decisive battle strategy, just as it invalidated the diplomatic strategy. At a single stroke, all of Japan’s options evaporated. The Soviet invasion was strategically decisive — it foreclosed both of Japan’s options — while the bombing of Hiroshima (which foreclosed neither) was not.

In this case, even if the nuclear attacks hastened the end of the war, it may have only been by a matter of a few days or weeks. The assumption that some greater good had been served is much harder to sustain.

At the same time, having already chosen to use these weapons twice and chosen to use them to wipe out civilian populations, the United States was thereafter in a much harder position to assert moral authority in saying that nuclear weapons must never be used again.

When Barack Obama visits Hiroshima later this month, he will make no apology for the destruction of this city. He will again call for global nuclear disarmament, but his appeal won’t carry much weight, given his decision to spend $348 billion on upgrading the U.S. nuclear arsenal over the next decade.

To many observers, Obama’s nuclear aspirations do more than highlight his nuclear hypocrisy:

That declaration rings hollow to critics who believe Obama’s plan to overhaul and upgrade the U.S. nuclear arsenal is sparking a dangerous new arms race with China and Russia. The modernization program, including purchases of new bombers and ballistic missile submarines, could cost as much as $1 trillion over the next 30 years, said Lisbeth Gronlund, co-director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Global Security Program.

“The plan to rebuild and refurbish every weapon that we have basically sort of throws the gauntlet down, and Russia and China feel like they have to match it,” Gronlund said in an interview. “He has said really great things but his actions have not really been consistent with his words.”

As the Daily Beast reports, the “post-Cold War nuclear holiday is over” — a new nuclear arms race has already begun.

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The pendulum of American power

Having been exercised with the imperial hubris of the neoconservatives, American power thereby overextended was inevitably going to swing in the opposite direction. What was not inevitable was that an administration when forced to deal with current events would cling so persistently to the past.

Through the frequent use of a number of catch phrases — “we need to look forward,” his promise “to end the mindset that got us into war,” and so forth — Barack Obama presented his administration as one that would unshackle the U.S. from the misadventures of his predecessor.

Nevertheless, Ben Rhodes, Obama’s closest adviser helping him craft this message, has a mindset in 2016 that shows no signs of having evolved in any significant way since he was on the 2008 campaign trail. As one of the lead authors of the 2006 Iraq Study Group report, Rhodes became and remains fixated on his notion of Iraq.

In a New York Times magazine profile of Rhodes, David Samuels writes:

What has interested me most about watching him and his cohort in the White House over the past seven years, I tell him, is the evolution of their ability to get comfortable with tragedy. I am thinking specifically about Syria, I add, where more than 450,000 people have been slaughtered.

“Yeah, I admit very much to that reality,” he says. “There’s a numbing element to Syria in particular. But I will tell you this,” he continues. “I profoundly do not believe that the United States could make things better in Syria by being there. And we have an evidentiary record of what happens when we’re there — nearly a decade in Iraq.”

Iraq is his one-word answer to any and all criticism. I was against the Iraq war from the beginning, I tell Rhodes, so I understand why he perpetually returns to it. I also understand why Obama pulled the plug on America’s engagement with the Middle East, I say, but it was also true as a result that more people are dying there on his watch than died during the Bush presidency, even if very few of them are Americans. What I don’t understand is why, if America is getting out of the Middle East, we are apparently spending so much time and energy trying to strong-arm Syrian rebels into surrendering to the dictator who murdered their families, or why it is so important for Iran to maintain its supply lines to Hezbollah. He mutters something about John Kerry, and then goes off the record, to suggest, in effect, that the world of the Sunni Arabs that the American establishment built has collapsed. The buck stops with the establishment, not with Obama, who was left to clean up their mess.

In this regard — “their ability to get comfortable with tragedy” — Rhodes and Obama mirror mainstream America which views the mess in the Middle East as being beyond America’s power to repair.

The fact that the U.S. bears a major portion of the blame in precipitating the region’s unraveling, is perversely presented as the reason the U.S. should now limit its involvement.

What, it’s reasonable to ask, does Iraq actually represent from this vantage point?

Wasted American lives? Wasted U.S. dollars? The destructive effect of American imperial power?

Is Iraq just a prism through which Americans look at America?

Is Iraq merely America’s shadow, or is there room for Iraqis anywhere in this picture?

What Samuel’s describes as this administration’s willingness to accept tragedy can also be seen as the required measure of indifference that makes it possible to look the other way.

The desire to make things better in Syria and Iraq is not contingent solely on an assessment of U.S. capabilities; it is more importantly a reflection of the degree to which Syrian and Iraqi lives matter to Americans.

The evidentiary record clearly shows that the scale of this tragedy all too accurately reflects the breadth of American indifference.

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The spark of life and a burst of zinc fluorescence

For some religious believers, the idea that human life has a divine origin includes the notion that the biological event of conception has a divine component: the moment at which a soul enters a developing embryo.

It is now being claimed that this belief is supported by scientific evidence.

Citing a recently published study appearing in Scientific Reports, Catholic Online says:

Researchers discovered the moment a human soul enters an egg, which gives pro-life groups an even greater edge in the battle between embryonic life and death. The precise moment is celebrated with a zap of energy released around the newly fertilized egg.

Teresa Woodruff, one of the study’s senior authors and professor in obstetrics and gynecology at the university, delivered a press release in which she stated, “to see the zinc radiate out in a burst from each human egg was breathtaking.”

It’s easy to understand why images showing a burst of light as an egg is fertilized, might appear to provide scientific validation of religious belief.

But attaching religious significance to these findings requires ignoring a key detail in what has been reported.

If the zinc spark that’s been observed — a burst of zinc fluorescence that occurs as millions of zinc atoms get dumped out of the egg — actually bore a relationship with the arrival of a soul enabling the emergence of life, then no such sparks would have been photographed. Why? Because the experiment involved staging a facsimile of fertilization using a sperm enzyme, not live sperm.

Either the experimenters fooled God into placing souls into unfertilized eggs, or these “sparks of life” can be understood as chemical events — though no less wondrous to behold.

Moreover, for those who insist these zinc sparks are triggered by souls, they might need to make some theological revisions to accommodate the evidence that mice apparently possess souls too.

To understand the science in more detail, watch this:

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Peace and the politics of outrage

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“Any religion worth talking about is essentially political and any politics worth talking about has some vision of transcendence and of the mystery of human life,” said the Jesuit priest, antiwar activist and poet, Daniel Berrigan, at the time of the trial of the Plowshares Eight in 1981. Berrigan died on Saturday at the age of 94.

In 2006, noting that the “short fuse of the American left is typical of the highs and lows of American emotional life,” Berrigan said: “It is very rare to sustain a movement in recognizable form without a spiritual base.”

This absence of a spiritual base, expressed through commonly held values, can be seen as one of the defining characteristics of the politics of dissent in the post 9/11 era.

The commonalities around which shifting forms of unity have emerged and dissolved have invariably come in the form of shared outrage and hatred.

We decide who we stand with by flagging what we stand against:

  • American Empire
  • Western Imperialism
  • Zionism
  • Capitalism
  • Neoliberalism
  • Militarism
  • Corporate power
  • Globalization
  • National security state
  • Mass surveillance
  • Mass incarceration
  • Police brutality
  • Racism
  • Xenophobia
  • Islamophobia
  • Homophobia
  • Sexism

But the affirmative common ground gets far less clearly defined if articulated at all.

Where humanitarianism and internationalism once prevailed, anti-interventionism has become one of the most frequently voiced principles.

Opposition to America imposing its values on the world, has come to mean the plight of people who lives and basic rights are in peril can often be ignored.

It seems we have less responsibility to make this a better world than to merely claim we have done it little harm.

It is as though the measure of a life well lived be that it is of no consequence as we each swear to a political Hippocratic oath.

Indeed there are those who now view the concept of human rights as so tainted that it functions as nothing more than a justification for war.

Out of this emerges for some a libertarian insularity where the least harm each of us might do is to mind our own business, and for others an isolationist social-justice realism which says, take care of the folks at home instead of trying to fix the world.

In a political context where it’s much safer to assume an adversarial posture and stand up against our nameable enemies, what’s much harder is to move beyond divisions and to focus instead on the greatest deficits in our world: a lack of love and kindness and the absence of a widely embraced vision of a better future.

It’s much easier to unify around what we stand against.

Bring love and kindness into the equation and most of the boundaries we use to define our political identities become less secure; our opponents cannot so easily be made other.

Consider, for instance, the issue of Palestine.

If viewed through a dispassionate political lens, we can talk about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in terms of self-determination, social justice, and anti-colonialism and yet as a human concern, empathizing with Palestinians being bombed in Gaza by Israelis is surely no different than responding with empathy to atrocities being carried out in Aleppo.

For those on the ground, the outcome of the bombing is no different and yet the fact that the former provokes global outcries while the later is met largely with global indifference speaks to something that few observers will dare state: their hatred for the perpetrators of the violence is more deeply rooted than they sympathy for the victims.

* * *

To recognize the political and social influence of Daniel Berrigan did not require that you shared his pacifism or his religious beliefs and yet his striking integrity derived from the fact that he was a living expression of religion and politics made indivisible.

In 2006, as Berrigan turned 85, he was interviewed by Chris Hedges for The Nation:

All empires, Berrigan cautions, rise and fall. It is the religious and moral values of compassion, simplicity and justice that endure and alone demand fealty. The current decline of American power is part of the cycle of human existence, although he says ruefully, “the tragedy across the globe is that we are pulling down so many others. We are not falling gracefully. Many, many people are paying with their lives for this.”

“The fall of the towers [on 9/11] was symbolic as well as actual,” he adds. “We are bringing ourselves down by a willful blindness that is astonishing.”

Berrigan argues that those who seek a just society, who seek to defy war and violence, who decry the assault of globalization and degradation of the environment, who care about the plight of the poor, should stop worrying about the practical, short-term effects of their resistance.

“The good is to be done because it is good, not because it goes somewhere,” he says. “I believe if it is done in that spirit it will go somewhere, but I don’t know where. I don’t think the Bible grants us to know where goodness goes, what direction, what force. I have never been seriously interested in the outcome. I was interested in trying to do it humanly and carefully and nonviolently and let it go.”

“We have not lost everything because we lost today,” he adds.

A resistance movement, Berrigan says, cannot survive without the spiritual core pounded into him by [Thomas] Merton. He is sustained, he said, by the Eucharist, his faith and his religious community.

“The reason we are celebrating forty years of Catonsville and we are still at it, those of us who are still living — the reason people went through all this and came out on their feet — was due to a spiritual discipline that went on for months before these actions took place,” he says. “We went into situations in court and in prison and in the underground that could easily have destroyed us and that did destroy others who did not have our preparation.”

During an interview in 1981, Berrigan was asked how he came to the “deep waters” — the spiritual perspective — that enabled his activism.

It’s a question of coming from somewhere, having some tradition available to you — some symbols, some worship, some common life… coming from somewhere better than America, because I don’t think America is anywhere to come from.

In a world where it has become so easy to denounce America and point to the extensive harm this nation has done as its imperial power ungracefully unwinds, the politics of outrage nevertheless evokes little sense of somewhere better than America.

The collapse of empire is nothing to celebrate if we lack a vision of something better to take its place.

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