Man Up, Mr. Obama

Mr President, everybody is talking about your address to West Point graduates. Republicans and other neoconservatives are upset because you showed an insufficient degree of blood lust. Anti-interventionists like myself are upset because you persist in keeping America in its role of global policeman. I’m aware that you Democrats seem to have a psychological need to prove you’re as “tough” or more so than the Republicans. But why? Let me humbly offer a suggestion. You can be much tougher by doing a 180 degree turn and, in the manner of statesmen from George Washington to Robert Taft to Ron Paul, renounce foreign entanglements completely.

This is, after all, one of the main reasons the American people elected you in 2008, because we were already weary of George W Bush’s constant war-making and intrusions on our civil liberties. Not only that, but you promised us “one of the most transparent administrations ever.”

Here are my top 10 suggestions:

1. End all US military operations in the Islamic world, including support of rebels in Syria and the deployment of “advisers” in Afghanistan, thus removing a major motivation for terrorism.

2. Announce an end to the use of weaponized drones, with a pledge to never again to deploy them absent a Congressional declaration of war.

3. Issue sweeping restrictions on NSA spying, as required by the Bill of Rights.

4. Close Guantanamo – not just the prison, but the entire naval base, and hand it back to Cuba, as part of an unconditional normalization of relations with that country. Release all prisoners against whom the US has no evidence, which, according to terrorism experts, would be all but a handful.

5. Announce your intention to veto any extension of the USA PATRIOT Act or the NDAA.

6. Normalize relations with Iran, and end sanctions immediately in return for thorough and frequent inspections of nuclear facilities.

7. Issue executive pardons for Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, and James Risen. Terminate any ongoing prosecutions of government whistle blowers.

8. End all US aid to and special bilateral agreements with the apartheid regime in Israel. Prohibit all US arms sales until illegal settlers are removed from Palestinian land. Alternatively, all Arabs, including those in the occupied territories and refugees living abroad, should be granted full rights and equal status with Jewish citizens.

9. Abandon the “Pivot to Asia.” Support negotiations between China and its neighbors to fairly divide claims to the Senkaku Islands and mineral rights in the South China sea.

10. End all sanctions against Russia and invite them to talks between the Kiev government and rebels in Donetsk and other Russian speaking areas. Support the notion of Ukraine as a neutral, decentralized buffer state with good relations with both Russia and the EU. Recognize the annexation of Crimea as consistent with Russia’s historic claims to the region.

Contrary to the assertions of the corporate-owned media, all of these actions would have substantial public support, some of them overwhelming majorities. I assure you that if you take even one of these actions, everyone, including Republicans, will have to admit you have the cojones. Furthermore, the United States would no longer be seen as the bully of the world, but would once again be “the shining light on the hill.”

Should We Thank The Veterans?

It’s Memorial Day in America, and once again the media bombards us with endless sermons, saying we should “thank a veteran” for “fighting for our freedom.” It’s one of those reflexive statement that becomes almost meaningless by repetition. Personally, I find it offensive. To “thank a veteran for their service” is an implicit endorsement of the US military interventions in which they participated. With the possible exception of World War II (which ended nearly 70 years ago), none of those wars, conflicts, or police actions had anything to do with our freedom.

Consider this country’s many undeclared, unconstitutional conflicts since VJ Day: Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and others. These have either been stalemated (Korea), lost (Vietnam), or have ushered in regimes worse than their predecessors. For example, our Afghan “allies,” just like the evil Taliban, oppress women and execute their citizens for non-crimes such as homosexuality, adultery and apostasy. Unlike the Taliban, they take bribes from opium growers and tolerate child sex trafficking. Despite all these dismal failures, we Americans have not lost our freedoms, except for those we foolishly surrendered to our own government in the name of “fighting terrorism.” Thus the rationale for our indebtedness, that we somehow owe our liberties to our former service-members, is based on a falsehood.

I don’t say this to condemn our military men and women, whether they are veterans or active duty. In the days of Korea and Vietnam, most were drafted, “serving” under duress. Nowadays all are volunteers, yet I believe that the vast majority join with good intentions. They’ve been indoctrinated with our culture’s unquestioning adulation of the military, and misinformed by the corporate media’s one-sided support for every overseas adventure. They do not join to kill foreigners who have done us no harm, nor to overthrow those inconvenient regimes that obstruct the will of avaricious American corporations. Neither are they at fault for the serial failures of US foreign policy. It is this country’s leadership, both civilian and military, that chooses these pointless conflicts with their poorly defined goals. Our military brass, with a few honorable exceptions such as Admiral William Fallon*, seem to have one overriding strategy: to advance their careers and increase funding for their branches. The well-being of our nation is an afterthought.

For the men and women of the military, we can appreciate their good intentions without condoning their actions in support of US foreign policy. Certainly we should help those who have been damaged and abandoned for by heartless government they served. Definitely we should wish those on active duty a safe return from wherever they’ve been deployed. The best way to “support the troops” would be to immediately end all US interventions and bring every last one of them home. As for our veterans, there is one thing I would like to thank them for – the fact that they are no longer a part of the military machine.

* In 2007, in defiance of pressure from neoconservatives in the Bush Administration, Fallon declared that an attack on Iran “will not happen on my watch.” In 2008, he was forced into resigning. He’s another veteran I’d like to thank.


“Fun” with Phones

Being an engineer, you might expect me to be an early adopter of technology. No thanks; I get plenty of that at work. I’ve had a cell phone for quite some time, but it was only last year that I finally got a smart phone. I chose Samsung, because it runs Android, which is Linux-based. Since it’s built on open-source software (unlike Apple’s over-priced proprietary gadgets) I expected an Android phone to be easy to upgrade. I was wrong.

Though I love the idea of DIY projects, I’m normally too lazy to be a do-it-yourselfer. Except for adding contacts, I left my Samsung pretty much unchanged. Then I bought a Bluetooth keyboard. My goal was to use the phone for social media, and since I’m a touch typist who hates on-screen keyboards, it seemed like a good idea. Then I discovered that Bluetooth keyboard support was broken on my Exhibit II model phone – and Samsung had no plans to provide software upgrades for that model, ever. If I wanted a newer OS, I was on my own.

If you think that upgrading a phone is a daunting process with a serious risk of damage, you’re right. I was undeterred. Android software is open-source, and there’s an army of volunteers who rebuild the new versions for older hardware. In the time since I got my Samsung, the current OS version (all of which are named for desserts, alphabetically) had gone from Gingerbread all the way to Kitkat. In the end, Kitkat refused to install, and I had to be content with the previous version, Jellybean. Finally, the Bluetooth keyboard worked! It only cost me about 10 hours of experimentation and frustration.

Finding and downloading the updated OS files was the easy part. The website was an invaluable resource. The site’s forums have instructions for unlocking and updating Android phones of all types. Unfortunately, many of the online “how to” guides suffer from what I call the “hometown cookbook” syndrome. Having cooked all their lives, contributors sometimes omit crucial details from their recipes, such as measurements, cooking times, and definitions of terms. The same applies to phone hobbyists. The instructions might say, “First install the Clockworkmod Recovery utility,” but not say how to do this, or which of the many versions to use. Not only did I have to track down the missing details, but I was led down the wrong path several times by obsolete or irrelevant explanations.

Eventually I got it all figured out. It was late and I was very tired, but my phone was finally ready, and I was eager to proceed. I booted it into recovery mode and started the Kitkat installation without first backing up my old system. Big mistake – it aborted with a mysterious error, and the phone no longer functioned. Now it was do or die. I have no land line, so I had to get it fixed, or shell out $300 for a new one. When I finally got a Jellybean version of the “Cyanogenmod” software installed and working, I promptly installed the wrong version of Google’s phone apps. This broke my on-screen keyboard, and once again I hadn’t backed it up. Contrary to on-line wisdom, that critical feature stayed broken even after I reinstalled the correct version of Google Apps. Good thing I had that Bluetooth keyboard; I used it to download a new screen keyboard app off the Play Store. Mission accomplished!

If you, too, are crazy enough to attempt upgrading your own phone, I strongly recommend the following (a) before doing anything, read several versions of the instructions, enough to get all the details, and (b) though it may be time-consuming, backup, backup, backup.