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.”

All Hail the Gostak!

Sometimes a story has a moral that sticks with you. One of these was “The Gostak and the Doshes,” written by Miles Breuer and published in Amazing Stories in 1930. I read it in my childhood (no, I’m not that old, it was in a collection of classics) and I’ve never forgotten it. It involved a man who journeyed to an alternate universe in which the nonsense phrase, “The gostak distims the doshes,” was a political slogan. People had such strong opinions about it, both pro and con, that it caused a war. Here is yet another example in which fiction is used to illustrate a fundamental truth.

I think of the Gostak and its well-distimmed doshes (the phrase was actually coined in 1903 by educator Andrew Ingraham as an example of English grammatical structure) every time I read a news story about some irrational lunacy. The latest was when I heard that Paula Deen was fired from the Food Network over rumors that she’d used the infamous N-word many years ago in the South. Never mind that she’s not accused of harming anyone; apparently uttering an offensive word is not forgivable, even after multiple public apologies. Yet when a President tells lies, commits war crimes, and violates the Constitutional rights of the American people, his successor refuses to prosecute him, saying, “Let’s look forward, not back.” In my opinion, this attitude would be more appropriate in Paula Deen’s case.

I’m not just talking about this country’s obsession with political correctness. This has been going on for a long time. When a protester burns the American flag, the conservatives act as if the country itself has been attacked. If a redneck hoists the Confederate flag, the liberals treat him like he’s a member of the KKK with multiple lynchings to his credit.

One of the most idiotic examples of the phenomenon was the controversy that erupted a few years ago when Arizona voters rejected a state-sponsored Martin Luther King holiday. Immediately we were painted as Lester Maddox-type racists, and the NFL decided we couldn’t have the Superbowl. Never mind that there were had been two competing MLK holiday ballot propositions, which split the vote causing neither to win. Eventually the legislature enacted the holiday anyway, but the “racist” stain stuck with our state, despite the fact that the holiday didn’t do a single thing for our black citizens, unless of course they were public employees. It didn’t create jobs, it didn’t improve education, and it didn’t end racial profiling by the police.

The Gostak Effect, as I like to call it, isn’t confined to Americans. In Afghanistan, when there were rumors of the American occupiers desecrating copies of the Koran, the people rioted. An offense against this symbol of the faith was more egregious than actual violations of the Koran’s precepts (for example, the killing of innocent Afghans by the invaders.) China tolerates Taiwan’s de facto independence, but if Taipei ever made an official declaration, Beijing would be across the strait in an instant, the Taiwanese-American alliance be damned. In the Middle East, much of the Israeli-Palestine conflict centers around demands that the Palestinians accept Israel, not just as a legitimate state but as an explicitly Jewish state.

Why do people act this way? My guess is that it’s an inherent intellectual laziness we humans have. It’s a lot easier to react to a shibboleth than actually investigate a person’s character. Also, it’s a handy way for politicians and other “leaders” to instigate mobs to do their bidding – and then deny their malevolent intent when things get out of hand.

I guess there are two morals to this story: (1) people are highly irrational about their symbols, and (2) if somebody tells you that the gostak distims the doshes, you don’t dispute them; you just say, “When? And how many?”