Obama

Wut

So in my last post, I began with an extended quotation from Osama Bin Laden, and then neglected to point out why I had chosen to do so, on the 13th anniversary of 9/11. I’m going to address that, first.

That quote was taken from a transcript of a speech given to Al Jazeera in 2004. I would hazard to guess that many have already forgotten this, but there was a time when Osama Bin Laden was considered Pure Evil. Pure Evil to the extent where unironically fantasizing about his death on the presumption of inherent justice was pretty much a means of acceptable, national, self-gratification.

The man Bin Laden reveales himself to be in the statement was far more complex than a Saturday morning cartoon villain. He is cunning, even prescient, and though the strategy of his statement was certainly self-serving, there were also hard, essential truths to be found in his words. But America was not shown that man. We were not encouraged to understand who he was, or how he was made, or why he fought. We were simply told that Osama Bin Laden is evil, so he must be killed.

Aspersion of that caliber ideally necessitates a presentation of compelling proof. The 9/11 attacks were horrific, but even Bin Laden admits that they were. However, Bin Laden portrays the attacks as retaliatory for oppression perpetrated by the United States in the Middle East. Specifically, he accuses the United States of aiding Israel in the 1982 Lebanon war, in which 5,000-8,000 civilian non-Jews were killed both by Israeli forces, and the ensuing unrest unleashed by Israeli intervention.

This of course is at best a misunderstanding of the situation, and at worst a deliberate lie, as the U.S.’s role in the Lebanese war was relatively minor. However, its financial and military assistance to Israel is, of course, well-known. If the implication is that US support for Israel engenders the latter’s bold and reckless behavior in the Middle East, which has unarguably caused the death and displacement of many non-Israeli civilians, that implication is more or less correct.

In other words, Bin Laden’s argument is essentially this: Allied lives are threatened by a foreign power, and in retaliation, we will attack at the source of the nation that threatens us. There will be unavoidable civilian deaths and that is regrettable, but necessary, in order to hasten the results we desire, and when the adversary refuses to commit to any sort of military integrity.

I find that argument abhorrent, and most probably would, knowing its source in this particular instance. However, it is a similar argument echoed by US presidents and Israel itself.

It is also the same argument that underpins the bombings of Germany (300,000-600,000 civilians killed) and Japan (330,000-500,000 civilians killed), as well as much of Vietnam (50,000-180,000 civilians killed), Cambodia, and Laos, not to mention Iraq (100,000 plus civilian deaths, though not all from bombing). There is a fundamental hypocrisy at play here, where provoking attrition warfare against the United States is “evil,” but engaging in a war of attrition in the Middle East and elsewhere can be “noble” and “necessary.”

Of course, Bin Laden himself benefited from the sort of US military aid that Israel has enjoyed for decades, so he is, himself, also a hypocrite. Yet even the narrative of Bin Laden alongside the Mujahideen fighting Soviets in Afghanistan, supported enthusiastically by the Carter and Reagan administrations, is absent from the national narrative on the factors leading to 9/11.

To many now, that lazy explanation of the 9/11 attacks as a mere “act of evil” is as good as historical accuracy. Thirteen years after 9/11, America does not understand who the enemy behind 9/11 was.

Between the government and most media outlets, there has been little to no effort to faithfully characterize and analyze America’s enemies and why they fight. Undoubtedly there is more to their motivations than “being evil,” and to reduce any organization to those two words is a disservice not only to the people being mobilized to fight, but to the victims created by the engines of war once they are running at full steam. “Fundamentalist” and “extremist” are not sober rallying cries for war. Sure, extremism embodies zealousness to the point of what most would call “evil,” yet zealousness itself is not an engine upon which any serious threat can move when modern militaries scour space with satellites while straddling the globe… right?

Looking upon the build up (again) to what increasingly looks like Desert Storm III, I have a hard time dredging up the energy to feel as incensed and angry as seems appropriate. The painful lesson of “Operation Iraqi Freedom” is still stained into the national fabric of America, and the degree to which the road to war against ISIS parallels that of previous historical blunders is positively stupefying. How can the entire country not recoil from this immediately? Haven’t we been through this before? Doesn’t anyone remember how we got here? How can so many people accept such insanity with straight faces?

ISIS, like Bin Laden and Al Queda, is not well understood, and certainly no effort has been made to comprehensively explain the group, its roots, or its motivations to the American people.

Let’s take a look at ISIS, again. The strategy of letting ISIS burn itself out and bolstering Iran in order to combat it have been echoed by others since my first post on the matter, but it’s clear the Obama administration has other, more traditional designs. The sorts of designs that have been tried before, with no evidence of success.

I originally intended to describe ISIS’s origins as a rebellion against the oppressive regime in Syria, grown out of Al Queda in Syria like an unwanted, mutant limb and armed by the United States against what was perceived as a common enemy in Bashar al-Assad. Oh yeah, remember Assad? The evil dictator alleged to use chemical weapons on his own people, the one Obama (surprisingly) asked permission from congress to attack last year?

Oh, how the tables have turned.

I don’t know what the point is in even bothering to wrap my head around this anymore. It’s so ridiculous I almost don’t want to make sense of it all, at the risk of becoming crazy through the attempt alone.

Yet, I must. I’m going to try to get this straight.

The United States intervenes in the Middle East, arming militants against a rival regime in Afghanistan. Those militants go on to radicalize as they fragment into an extremist group that would later be known as Al Queda. Al Queda begins trying to attack the US and its allies in retaliation for US intervention in the Middle East. The US eventually responds by intervening in the Middle East, while it simultaneously arms militants fighting a rival regime who would later exploit the conditions of US intervention whilst radicalizing into an extremist group that would later be known as ISIS. ISIS begins trying to attack the US and its allies. And now, the president of the United States is proposing to re-intervene while arming more “friendly” militants in the hopes that this will be the act of intervention that somehow reverses everything that came before it.

Nope. Still seems as insane as before. The only appropriate question that remains in light of the inanity on display is, “Wut?”

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To Raise the Minimum Wage, or to Not Raise the Minimum Wage: A False Choice

Fast food workers around the country went on strike thursday, protesting less-than-living salaries and employment conditions while demanding a $15 minimum wage as the national dialogue shifts once again to the prospect of what to do about the topic. It is hard to argue that current minimum wage laws serve the purpose of guaranteeing employees a first-world standard of living while working basic hours, as many today scrounge for the funds to feed themselves and their families while holding down multiple jobs, sometimes between two parents. As the insular monied elite continue to condense in proportion while the middle class stagnates and the poverty line rises, it’s clear that out of all persistent efforts to keep the country’s citizens prosperous, the minimum wage is, at the very least, severely failing in its job.

Many will argue that the minimum wage needs to be renewed and updated responsibly in order for it to have a positive effect. The problem is, even when that is the case, raising the minimum wage can have a negative impact on overall employment. Specifically, it results in a net loss of jobs. How many jobs? No one knows for sure how much a $15 minimum wage would affect employment, but the Congressional Budget Office estimates about 500,000 (at most 1 million) jobs lost. That may not seem like very many when wage increases affect millions of workers, but I’ll get back to that in a moment.

In addition to slightly lowering employment, a higher minimum wage results in altered employer behavior, especially in smaller businesses. Intent on maintaining profit levels, companies respond to higher employee overhead by cutting costs and raising prices elsewhere. Employees are made to work harder while their hours are cut. The price of food goes up; the price of shipping goes up, increasing the price of goods. All of this translates to… a higher cost of living.

The degree of increase in cost of living is hard to determine, but it’s certainly a reality. What is produced as a result of a minimum wage raise is this self-defeating loop: wages increase, cost of living increases as inflation increases, the higher wages buy less, soon they can no longer afford the cost of living, which raises when and if wages are raised again. Keep in mind that minimum wage is hardly enough to really meet the standard of living, so the system results in a constant game of catch-up, where millions of people will barely be making ends meet until the day they die: it’s not hyperbole to use the term “wage slavery.” The act of increasing the minimum wage cannot be enacted in isolation, and affects the entire structure of every business which complies. It’s naive to assume that giving a blanket raise to 20-30% of the country (including not only minimum-wage earners, but those within range of minimum wage also likely subject to wage increases) will not cause an economic reaction.

Now, let’s get back to those jobs. 500,000, even a million, may seem miniscule. Let’s spread a million lost jobs out over the course of a year, so just over 80,000 a month. At its best, the country has managed to create just under 500,000 jobs a month, and at its worst just over 200,000. Accounting for that loss, the average range decreases from 120,000 to 390,000. That might not seem significant, but consider that since the financial crisis, the country lost around 11 million jobs, and is still struggling to recover from that loss. The country’s ability to return to pre-2008 levels of job creation depends upon keeping the creation rate high. With a high rate, we could return to those levels as soon as next year. With a low rate, we may not until nearly 2020.

Think now of the millions of people who have lost their jobs, are struggling to find work, and depend upon that job creation rate in order to attain a civil standard of living; it’s the same struggle made by those working at minimum wage today.

A democracy should not sacrifice the few for the sake of the many, let alone the some for the sake of the others. Hopefully I don’t need to expand on my last article to explain why slavery is bad for exploiting minorities (and incidentally, guess which ethnic groups are most likely to get the proportionally shortest end of the stick in all of this).

And yet, you know what? Barring any other solutions, we need a higher minimum wage immediately. Even $10 an hour is not a proper living wage, and the fact that America calls itself a first world country by forcing so many people to make do on so little while working so hard is nauseating.

The minimum wage is a band-aid measure, at best first-aid, but even if it is meager and inadequate, that doesn’t mean you should simply let an open wound fester. The less financial security more people have, the more that risk falling into poverty, a rut that is very hard to get out of, and one which benefits very few people indeed.

So once minimum wage is given first-aid, then what? I and others would suggest something radical: abolish it.

I’m talking about basic income.

While only small case studies have been done, BI has incredible potential. If everyone who would otherwise be subjected to poverty is given a stipend which annually adjusts to the cost of living, poverty might just disappear overnight. Remember how higher wages result in a higher cost of living? If companies set their own wages (although competitively, in a market where work must truly be incentivized) they would cut their overhead enormously, generating much higher profits while permitting lower prices on their goods.

Because employers benefit so much from what is essentially a government subsidy to offset their overhead, it’s only fair that they pay progressive taxes towards what is essentially a security fund for workers who, without that stipend, would otherwise amount to serfs. They would also benefit indirectly from the annual net increase of American GDP due to the reduction or elimination of poverty to the tune of as much as $500 billion a year.

I’m not the first one to come up with, let alone argue for, this idea. In limited practice, the cons have proven to be few and the pros to be many. Instead of using the opportunity of a national dialogue to regurgitate a tired and painfully incompetent means of ensuring prosperity for all Americans, perhaps we should try shifting it to something else.

Something that might, just possibly… not suck.

The Handover Was a Secret, Illegal Obama Operation to Release A US Soldier Who Should be Shot for Desertion

And it’s arguably one of the most progressive decisions the president has ever made

Of course, no one has yet officially confirmed whether the above is absolutely true: that is, that Bowe Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban because he deserted his post, and the deal struck by the Obama administration for his release violated the law. But even if it is true, it doesn’t matter. In fact, it’s even more encouraging.

After nearly a century of proud exceptionalism, the presidential administrations of the twenty-first century have firmly rejected the custom of holding American liberty above the freedom of all others. This equalization is hardly egalitarian in spirit, instead a denigration of US citizens’ rights nearly to those enjoyed by national enemies. Mere suspicion of terrorism, let alone any act of real criminality, has been justification enough for extrajudicial execution of Americans which the president doesn’t even try to deny. From the NSA to the NDAA, the loss of basic freedom is increasingly seen as collateral damage, a necessary sacrifice made for the sake of international security.

That the hostility of this attitude no longer includes Americans on the government’s side in the Bushian “Us vs. them” mode of national security has, in addition to a growing pile of revelations provided by Edward Snowden, allowed for Orwellian comparisons that seem less and less hyperbolic. Yet, despite this vigorous backpedaling from the US’s own Bill of Rights, the objective reality seems to be this: The Obama administration deemed it a fair move to release five dangerous, confirmed terrorists in return for the health and safety of one of its own citizens. It weighed the individual rights of one American’s life against the security risk of five terrorists and tipped the scale in favor of Bergdahl.

It goes without saying that there are political reasons for this move. The reclamation of US POWs is traditionally considered a significant final page in the closing chapter of foreign wars with unpopular outcomes. The prisoner transfer allows for a bit of closure in the Middle East as the Obama administration attempts to draw down what are now thoroughly unpopular wars which have raged for over a decade. It’s a necessary step to maintain campaign promises made one and a half terms ago.

The matter goes beyond mere political implications, however. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is championing this move before congress as vehemently as NSA director Keith Alexander defended illegal wiretapping. However, instead of arguing supreme license for the sake of executive power to enforce national security, he argues for the sake of an ordinary American’s life, and not one who, say, oversaw the Benghazi affair, or created a website for Obamacare. The Obama administration is defending its choice, whether legal or not, to reinstate the liberty of powerless American, whether they are guilty or not. This is a profound step forward after years of practically running away from the assurance of liberty.

Let’s pause this optimistic train of thought, before we get carried away. Let’s presume for a moment that Obama’s critics are correct,and say that the administration violated congressional authority in order to rescue an American soldier who attempted to desert in the face of the very enemy that captured him.

First of all, in regard to legality, there are two things to be taken into account: the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. Bush and Cheney’s entire campaign to marginalize civil liberties, a crusade Obama voraciously continued, rested upon a nefariously generous interpretation of the spirit of the law in order to subvert its letter. However, this interpretation was made to strip away individual rights considered sacrosanct since the inception of the country on a scale that was never before possible. While Obama has used this vague, pseudo-illegal rationale to enforce everything from Prism to Obamacare, never before has he outright violated the law for the sake of an American’s individual human rights. The entire purpose of laws are, arguably, to protect and defend life. It cannot be proven that the five terrorists released will pose a significant and direct threat to the United States, to the degree that they will result in the death of an American. However, it is certain that Bergdahl is safer, and considerably more empowered to live, be free, and pursue happiness than he was as a prisoner of the Taliban.

Second, what if Bergdhal did desert? What if he, in a way, brought his unfortunate circumstances upon himself while committing a capital offense (according to military justice) in the process? This is Obama’s truly encouraging deviation. Even if the outcome is the same as that of him being executed by the Taliban, Bergdhal’s release is a recognition and affirmation of the superiority of American justice, even under a military court, over any extrajudicial punishment. If Bergdhal is to suffer any consequences for his actions, Obama’s choice implies a significant affirmation. Bergdhal is entitled to the presumption that he is innocent until proven guilty, and is not to be deemed otherwise until after a legal process has been carried out, one designed explicitly to not only protect society from individuals, but also to protect individuals from society.

Could this be viewed as a full reversal after a slew of authoritarian policies made since 9/11? Hardly: real threats to civil rights continue to exist, and it will take significant reform before the looming specter of an Orwellian future can reside safely in the realm of pure fiction again. Regardless, a step in the right direction is a step in the right direction. Whether this is indicative of real progress in Obama’s declared shift away from abusing drone strikes and civil rights remains to be seen.