politics

About Reagan

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Ronald Reagan is without a doubt a conservative icon who, as President, had many victories but one victory currently relevant does most emphatically not belong to Reagan, even though it’s often attributed to him.  Once again the United States finds itself negotiating with Iran.  Americans are considering whether the negotiations have accomplished their stated goal: To keep Iran from building a bomb.  The question is, is the deal a good one?  Could we have gotten a better deal?  Could Reagan have gotten a better deal?  “Reagan didn’t need a deal” is the slogan running through Conservative circles.  The implication being that Reagan achieved release of the hostages in 1980 through sheer force of personality.  Surely any rational person knows what a farce that is.  But let’s go through the events anyway.

Most people are familiar with the first part.  The secular leader of Iran, the Shah, supported by the US and very friendly to western powers, was overthrown in a religious coup.  The Embassy was stormed and 52 American were taken hostage for over a year.  They were released the day Reagan was sworn in.

In one respect Conservatives are correct.  Reagan did not need a deal.  Because Carter had already signed one.  It’s called the Algiers Accord.  It’s a simple document.  We promise to stay out of their business. We release 7.9 Billion dollars of Iranian assets and sanctions.  They also get some immunity in civil courts.  In return, they deposited one billion dollars in an escrow account as part of arbitration agreement to compensate Americans for assets lost in the revolution. Iranians would receive assets held by the US belonging to the Shaw and Iran would honor their international debts and obligations.  Oh, and the hostages would come home.  Because the Iranians refused to negotiate with the US without an Algerian intermediary (it wasn’t called the Algerian Accords for nothing), and the numerous linguistic barriers the negotiations took a great deal of time.  It also took a lengthy amount of time to physically transfer some of the assets (such as 50 tonnes of gold).  Additionally, Iran was in a war with Iraq which also complicated safe transportation.

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In the end it was Carter who secured the release of hostages through a reasonable and complex deal.  It was also Carter who was generous and statesman enough to allow Reagan to make the announcement and implicitly claim credit.  The next time Reagan would negotiate with Iran he would sell our enemy weapons and transfer the funds to murderous death squads against the explicit orders of congress.  This was not a success.  If there was any justice in the world, the Iran-Contra scandal should have brought down the Reagan administration.  Beside Carter, Only Obama has successfully negotiated with the Iran.  He’s created a medium term impediment to Iranians acquiring a nuclear weapon.  In theory the Iranians say they don’t want a nuclear weapon, they only want nuclear power.  Which is fine.  It’s very healthy on the part of the Iranians to wish to diversify their economy.  However, there’s no reason we should trust them.  So these negotiations are necessary.  I won’t go into the finer points of the treaty in this blog.

The point is that the near mythological status that Reagan holds has corrupted the history of our dealings with Iran and have created entirely unreasonable expectations. Without respect, even for an enemy, and compromise, negotiations mean nothing.  It’s time to understand a deep history of the world instead of knee-jerk short-term politicized reactions.

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A Liberal Guide to Free Speech pt 2

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It’s not my intention to infuriate Liberals, particularly since it’s a group I sympathize with most strongly.  Yet it is an imperfect group, and there are issues that need to be addressed.  In a way the Liberal movement has been a victim of its own success, particularly in its approach to dialogue.  The issue is complex because there’s a lot to be legitimately offended about. Disappointingly, without easy obvious targets the Liberal movement has fractured and largely turned on itself. Yet there are still so many battles to fight.

I think one of the reasons for this is the issue of Privilege.  Privilege is a very real, very serious issue.  Please believe me when I say I’m not questioning its existence, presence or its power over people’s lives.  Privilege absolutely needs to be confronted.  However, more times than not, confrontations over Privilege often do little more than scuttle any hope of meaningful dialogue.  To be honest, I’m not even sure if meaningful dialogue is an actual goal from the Liberal wing of modern politics. Liberals, from this centrist’s perspective, are quite happy to chat about the evil’s of the oppressor, and ecstatic to protest conservative demagoguery, but caught between the right-wing menace and the liberal echo chamber is everyone else that is being actively excluded.  I would consider this one of the primary causes for why the Liberal movement has stalled in the last few years.

Nor am I being hyperbolic.  Many many times I have heard from my liberal friends that other voices are not welcome.  They aren’t interested in “educating” people who have questions.  Men, white people, straight people Christians, etc are frequently told quite literally to shut up.  The consequence of this behavior is that if you are a member of a Privileged class, there is absolutely no way for you to have a dialogue except with other Privileged people.  This is extremely unhealthy.  I understand why minority groups feel the need to do this.  How they want a space where they feel their voices won’t be marginalized by “outsiders” and so forth, but by excluding those who wish to be a part of your struggle you have drastically and unnecessarily weakened your movement.  The outright hostility minorities hold for their friends is incredible and unfortunate.

It also goes hand in hand with considerable outrage.  The anger from the left has created a very punitive atmosphere that trickles down to personal interactions.  Innocuous comments flare up and escalate.  Internecine squabbles over terminology and nomenclature shatter productive relationships. Overzealous protective impulses alienate support networks.  And a shocking lack of humor.

The truly annoying fact is that liberal and minority groups aren’t completely wrong.  Jokes and humor have been used to degrade and shame for far too long.  How many office perverts have tried to get out of a sexual harassment suit by saying “I was only joking”?   Derogatory terms such as “retard” or “midget” obviously deserve considered condemnation.  However, if you’re spending all your time making sure everyone has the latest list of what you can and cannot say to people you will only exasperate anyone who isn’t you and you will fight with anyone who has a slightly different list.  Any dialogue is going to be shut down and liberals will run a campaign that comes frighteningly close to censorship.

Micro-aggressions are another frustrating path where no one wants to microaggress, and I fully acknowledge the cumulative damage that microaggressions can have.  But there’s no mechanism to constructively deal with them either, and that isn’t fair.  I have an example. As a white male, people ask about my ancestors all the time.  My geographic lineages, my history going back generations.  This is not an unusual conversation for me, but having this exact same conversation with someone that is part of a minority is frustratingly delicate.  I have no idea how to have this conversation with someone without callously tripping over a sensitive issue.  So… I avoid the conversation.  But, pretty soon if you avoid enough conversations your isolating yourself from minorities and you get yelled at for that too.  You can’t talk to people, and you can’t not talk to people.  There has to be away to repair and address the cumulative impact of micro-aggressions without having to magically know what is and isn’t offensive.

Finally, mansplaining.  I’m sorry feminists, but this word has to go.  If, for no other reason, that it’s just a terrible portmanteau.  More importantly, it’s one of the most needlessly effective methods for shutting down a conversation.  Let me illustrate.  A man makes a comment.  The feminist, quick to anger, tells man how his comment was offensive.  The man, genuinely confused, says, I don’t think I’m being understood, allow me to clarify my statement.  Feminist says: now your mansplaining.  There is no other comment the man can make that won’t contribute to this perceived mansplaining, so understood or not, conversation is over.  In fact, I’m well aware of the fact that this entire paragraph or the entire blog could be tried, convicted, and executed as just one more ignorant man mansplaining things.  Since the Privileged are not given that benefit of the doubt for different possible interpretations for any given statement and they are actively excluded from minority spaces, all too often conversations turn into frustrating exercises in bridge burning.

There are meaningful battles that need fighting, but the unending, hypercritical, perpetually angry, constant exclusion and intentional lack of dialogue in liberal ranks needs to end.  Liberals must be willing to incorporate new ideas, perspective, and language if they want to craft a successful agenda and their allies are crucial to that endeavor.  The constant internal bickering needs to be set aside.  It’s time to embrace imperfect allies.  Remember, embracing imperfection is something your allies must do as well.

The chief business of America….

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The chief business of the American People is Business.  They are profoundly concerned with buying, selling, investing and prospering in the world.  —  Calvin Coolidge 1925

Well?  Is it true or isn’t it?  America created history’s greatest mercantile empire.  We believe in Capitalism so much its nearly a self-destructive religion.  But in light of recent events, one wonders if that’s really what we believe in at all.  Particularly Republicans.  The hue and cry in the name of Capitalism, the flocking to shrines to Reagan and Ayn Rand those patron saints of Capitalism, would all give one false hope that Republicans have anything at all to do with the philosophy.  Yet, time and again, they act against it.  One wonders if they do not understand, or if they do not believe.

If they believe in the power of capitalism to reshape a society to bring prosperity, then why do they resist using capitalism in just that capacity?  All around the world in our bloody history, we have fought wars, embargoed nations, in order to bend them to our will.  Why?  If our ideals are so powerful will they not naturally dominate those other cultures?  More importantly, why do you care?  Cuba has an autocratic brutal dictatorship.  So?  It’s not our problem.  What can we do about it?  We can invade overthrow the government and institute a puppet state, because that’s worked really well for us.  We could embargo the Cubans because after 53 years they’re sure to crack any day.  We could throw a giant hissy fit which will get Republicans re-elected but it serves no one’s interest.  For political and social conditions to change in Cuba, it’ll have to be Cubans who will do it.  The US can do nothing in this regard.

So, let’s use the one thing we’re really good at.  Making money.  Maybe normalizing relations and opening trade between our two countries will bring about modernization and moderation.  Maybe it won’t but at the end of the day you have to have a fundamental respect for the choices people make.  You could argue that socialism and communism is doomed to failure.  Again I ask, So?  Again, not our problem.  Ideally you’d want other countries to be as prosperous as socialism will let them to be, because a prosperous country is a better trading partner.  It doesn’t matter if their socialist.  A complete non sequitur.  If it works for them, great! if it doesn’t, we’ll be there with IMF loans, fiscal policy reforms, and foreign investments to help get them back on track.

I believe in Capitalism.  I truly do.  I see communist countries adopting capitalist reforms and trying to modernize.  And it works.  Growth and prosperity have transformed places like Vietnam and China and the transformation is on going.  Even if it is a slow painful process.  That’s fine with me.  I’m not in a place to dictate to another country what the pace of their progress should be.  But this cold war era mentality was toxic.  It was toxic for 50 years.  That’s why they called it a war.

The business of America is business.  We shall not fight useless battles toward unprofitable ends.  Normalize relations with everyone who will talk to us. Remember, consent of the governed is not a right given to a people, they already have it.  It’s natural law.  We are not to govern them, and their own tyrants do so at their peril. Let’s put our faith in the power of ideas, and the resolution of the people to govern themselves.

What do you want? #Ferguson & #Garner

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Rev. Al Sharpton Holds News Conference At National Action Network's Office

What do you want?  Seriously.  It’s the season for requesting and obtaining miracles I think it’s far past the time for a list of demands.

No?

The trouble with populist movements is that while the outrage is genuine, concrete objectives are typically lacking.  There’s been a lot of populist outrage in recent years, very little of it successful.  Let’s see your goals be grand, or small.  I don’t care if you want something as simple as the right to sit where you like on a bus or as something as complicated as an end to world hunger, but you need a list.

#blacklivesmatter #handsupdontshoot

No one cares.  They don’t.  The people who genuinely believe this will not be moved by your hashtag, and the people who don’t believe it simply respond with #alllivesmatter See? they’ve got a catchy hastag too. So at the moment it sounds like your trying to make the world feel sorry for you.  Ooookay.  It worked.  Success! Now what?  I don’t think sympathy is going to prevent the next police attack.  If you don’t know what it is you want, go home.  You can scream, shout, weep, march, carry signs demanding justice but justice is ephemeral.  It’s abstract.  There is no justice in this world, but if you have thoughts on reforming the court systems the country would like to hear them.  But I don’t hear a proposal.  I hear the same firebrand speeches from the same firebrand “leaders” that we’ve heard for 30 years.  If black leaders had an ounce of integrity they’d resign from whatever posts they currently possess because they’re lying to you.  The speeches and marches and rabble rousing have more to do with creating a cult of personality than effective positive changes for black and other minority communities.  In short, they don’t know what they’re doing either.

It’s been pointed out to me that true black leaders tend to get assassinated.  Let me ask you a question.  Who is the CEO of ALEC?  If you shot him, would it matter all that much?  The Heritage Foundation? The CATO Group?  If you’ve never heard of these organizations or don’t know what they do, congratulations, you’ve let conservative white America win without credible opposition.  It’s easy to blame problems on conspiracy and racism.  It’s much harder to blame failings of your own leadership.  To know that if your leaders weren’t completely useless, incompetent and more than a little crazy you might make tangible improvements in government.

But it’s not just minorities.  Remember the Occupy movement.  Same deal.  Huge groundswell of populist sentiment.  Really fantastic news coverage, great use of social media.  Got zilch for their efforts.  Why? They didn’t ask for anything!  What the occupiers wanted was a vague collection of campaign finance reform and something about wealth inequality.  They got nothing.  If everyone who had come out to march had donated $10 to a credible lobbying firm that had the expertise to write legislation and guided through congress they could have achieved something.  They didn’t.

After Sandy Hook and other school shootings there was a massive outpouring of community sorrow and rage and what happened?  gun control was rolled back in a dozen states and soundly defeated on the national level?  Why? because the NRA is the only lobbying firm active.  Because congress and state legislatures know that the NRA will deliver not only the money but the votes of millions of crazy gun nuts.

If black, liberal, and other minority groups want to accomplish anything they’re going to have draft a list of legislative demands and then turn out en mass to vote on them.  You managed to turn people out to rally for your useless marches are you saying you can’t get people out to vote on something that will actually make a difference?

Reverse Racism

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One of the most difficult things about discussing race in America is, like most things, a certain ambiguity of language. Race, for example, has no biological basis. To divide people based on genetic lineage is absurd and legal strictures based on this division become hopelessly convoluted before they breakdown altogether. Rather, race is a group with a certain social, cultural, historical, and economic commonality. It’s as much a choice for the individual as it is an imposition by larger societal forces. It no surprise then any discussion is going to complicated. Which is fine, so long as the discussion remains complicated and nuanced. It’s tempting to simplify, but reductive reasoning is one of the most significant problems in this discussion. In fact, it’s this tendency to narrow the collective experience of people that is, in many ways, so devastating and dehumanizing.

Racism at the moment has two working definitions. One definition of racism is a narrow form of bigotry. Which is to say, it is racist to discriminate against an individual or groups because of their race. This might manifest as hateful words and actions, criminal activity targeting a group, denying people products, services, access to goods, neighborhoods, etc.

There is a second and perhaps more important definition of racism. It an economic, social, and political system designed to benefit one group above that of another. The starkest example of this kind of racism was apartheid in South Africa but it is endemic at every level in every country, even this one, perhaps especially this one.

One of the great frustrations of minorities trying to tackle racism and discrimination in America, is the charge of Reverse Racism. You hear this often, especially in regard to programs or institutions designed to rectify centuries of abuse, neglect, and discrimination. For example, some schools and scholarship programs exist to help black people obtain a high quality education. Since these programs do not help white people get an education, one might say this is “Reverse Racism”, which is, of course, ridiculous. These kinds of programs exist to merely ameliorate the inequality endemic in the educational system as it exists today. So no. There’s no such thing as a “Black racist” because they can not benefit from a system that marginalizes them regardless of how successful that person might be. Oprah and President Obama are outliers and do not demonstrate the absence of discrimination or inequality.

Even if you go by the simpler definition that “racism” is merely a subset of bigoted behavior or attitude, what prejudice majority groups experience (individually or collectively) in their lives is trivial compared to what a person of color might experience. Which is not to suggest that we should condone prejudicial behavior from anyone, only that as a white person I can bear this “burden” of tolerance. (I use the word “burden” ironically, obviously)

However, in so much as reverse racism does not exist, minorities want it to.  Whatever shape or form their demands for equality may take, it will require shifting time, energy, attention, and resources from the groups which currently possess them.  It may be justified in the grand scheme of things.  It may be moral and ethical and idealistic, but minorities and liberals must do much better than “in the name of social justice”.  As we talk to those who have the money and the resources, what incentives are there for this shifting of emphasis?  Why is it in the interest of white male America to do more than merely placate everyone else just enough to avoid civil disruption?

Whether Reverse Racism exists or not is completely beside the point (and yes I realize how ridiculous that sounds). Liberals are going to have to find a way to address the subject seriously or the movement will stutter and stall…. basically like it’s been doing the last 30 years.  Surely this can not be that difficult?

Something interesting about #Ferguson

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To bring lasting change requires data. Protest all you want, give speeches on the National Mall, craft memorials, write memoirs. None of that will bring change. One of the consistent failures of social justice advocates is their reliance on mid-century strategies to bring about lasting change. What was effective in the 50s and 60s? The big marches, the famous speeches and protests. Rallying around a hero and a cause changed the course of this nation but we are beyond the age of heroes. Welcome to the soundbite era. The meme generation. I was impressed with the variety of ways social justice advocates tried to get attention. They protested of course, blocked roads, gave interviews, symbolically raised hands. Classic. My personal favorite were the “die-ins”.

If I sound dismissive please believe me I’m not. It’s an important cause and I was genuinely moved by the events. I just don’t think it has a prayer of having any kind of affect.

The most interesting thing about Ferguson was this. We have no idea how many people are killed each year by police and law enforcement. None. The FBI and assorted groups of journalists have some interesting and widely disparate guesstimates but that is the best they can offer. Isn’t they remarkable? I find it shocking that in an age of so much information we don’t know this one basic fact. I suppose it’s easy to not to keep track of information you don’t want to have.

The other thing we found out is that with incredibly rare exceptions, police are never indicted for killing. Never. Literally there is a 99% acquittal according to politifact for police officers.

On those two facts alone can much policy be built. Take the following snippet as an example:

There’s data out there about police departments who have been required by the courts or have otherwise implemented copcams. These programs have been successful enough that the Obama administration is making moves to have these cameras installed more generally. We’ll see what, if anything, comes from it. Simple. End of story.

This is the take home message. the data generated from a few low key pilot programs was powerful enough to have created a concrete policy objective that is being implemented now. This tiny amount of data is vastly more powerful that all the social networked flash mobs making momentary headlines. This is true power. Not massed protests.

Let’s suppose Darren Wilson was indicted. Let’s suppose he was even found guilty and sent to prison. So what? You got your sacrificial lamb and you brought him to the slaughter. Then what? Nothing. That’s end game. That is the completion of your quest. And by the end of it , you will have achieved nothing of note. Certainly nothing to prevent the next Michael Brown. The punishment of Darren Wilson, while certainly just, is a useless for affecting change. Arguably, having lost the indictment might even further the goals of social advocates by deepening the injustice of it all.

What will bring change? Fix or create the data gathering process. Mandate that all police offices must report officer involved shootings and killings to the FBI. Fund deescalation training programs and track their progress. Shine a light on all the missed opportunities for data gathering.

Your only other option is to wallow in self-pity. Publicly for as long as the cameras will allow, and privately thereafter.

White and confused #Ferguson

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Days after the failed indictment of Darren Wilson I see many of my white friends are still confused on this issue. One can only assume that they are not listening.  The message is clear.  It’s unambiguous, and simple enough to be tweeted. Let’s start with the first thing protesters chanted over and over again.

#handsupdontshoot  What is confusing about this message?  An unarmed teen was shot by a police while surrendering.  If you can’t understand the tremendous grief and loss that this should provoke, then I weep for your lost humanity. True, accounts differ and if there was any justice in the world there should, at the barest minimum, have been a trial.  But there wasn’t one.  At the end of the day not only was there no justice (not even for Darren Wilson if he deserved it) but Michael Brown didn’t even get a voice.  It was silenced.  What happened to him was dragged through the media and social media and insane pundits, but not the courtroom.  What we saw was the every member of the police, investigators, medical professionals, and even the courtroom and prosecutors close ranks around Wilson and they treated this case with shocking callousness.  A kid died and they left his body in the streets for 4 1/2 hours.  There has been a miscarriage of justice and people are angry about it.  And folks have the gall to wonder why people are upset.

#Blacklivesmatter  Maybe you’re the kind of racist who doesn’t believe this.  Perhaps you’re the kind that “Doesn’t see race at all”.  Maybe you’re the kind of racist who genuinely believes this but are still wondering why black communities are so outraged.  What should be painfully obvious is that minority community feels that they’re lives don’t matter to the rest of our society.  That millions of people genuinely believe that they matter less because of what they look like.  So much so that they can be killed with impunity.  They’ve seen innocent people gunned down with shocking regularity simply because they were black.  Like the gentleman wandering around a toy store with a toy gun who was shot on sight by police. Or a 12 year old kid with a toy gun that was shot on sight, or a teenager out to get some candy at a convenience store that was hunted down and killed.  The stories go on and on.  Most never make it to the press.  These people are merely mourned in obscurity as the violence continues.  Never mind that white people wander around stores with real guns all the time, or the blatantly unconstitutional stop and frisk policies of major metropolitan police departments that have frisked more minorities than actually live in the city.  Or the fact that Darren Wilson had absolutely no reason to stop Michael Brown at all.  There was no probable cause here.  At the time Wilson didn’t know about the robbery.  He had absolutely no business going anywhere near another pedestrian.  Brown, assuming he said the things he allegedly said, was perfectly within his rights to do so.  Yet this is a frightfully common experience for people of color.  Black lives DO matter, but black people are tired of being treated as if they don’t.  I would assume that would have been obvious.

White people protest, black people riot  -“where they live”.  –even animals don’t foul their own lairs and these crazy thugs destroy their own town. —  As far as coded language goes that goes near the top of the list.  Yeah when people protest, they’re angry, they want justice.  When they riot, they’re angry beyond mere protesting.  But it’s not the inhabitants of Ferguson that are doing the looting and it certainly isn’t just people of color.  The violence, as is very often the case in poor communities, is being imported from outside.   Even if it wasn’t, to characterize the entire movement or an entire community as dangerous and violent is the height of racism.  Yes there are a few bad actors and they need to be arrested, but the vast majority of protesters are doing so peacefully.  There’s an incredible double standard that my white friends may or may not be aware of.  Feel free to google, “White people riot”.  Perhaps we should say, “White people white over sports games and black people riot over injustice”  But let’s not say anything.  This isn’t our crises.  Let’s simply stand with our friends and neighbors against the evils of this world.

Some kid in….  More coded language.  –No one really cares about white people, or that people of color don’t care about white people.   What this is, is reverse racism because white people are better than black people because when our children get killed needlessly we don’t throw a national hissy fit —  Are you seriously this dimwitted? Yes when some white kid gets killed by the cops, on a personal level it’s every bit the tragedy of Micheal Brown.  The parents grieve just the same, the friends and community are just as affected.  However, this isn’t about a single incident.  We’re talking about a system that discriminates against minorities.  We’re talking about the widespread violence against them that the white community is terribly ignorant about.   We’re talking about the fact that I can mouth off to the cops and my black friends will get shot for it.  Yes I’m saddened by the tragedies that befall other people, including white people but how self-involved to you have to be for this to make sense to you or be about you?  Do you really need to pick this moment to feel superior to a class of hurting people?

If you genuinely wish to understand the events in Furgeson or Florida or all over this country, simply listen to the people screaming at the top of their lungs.