"You have a permit?"

(Reblogged from political-cartoons)

Unknown Track

It’s been a while.

This summer has seen wars launched, both political and literal. It has seen missiles and rockets launched, most often at defenseless innocents. It has seen the human rights of women, girls, and unarmed men thrown down while the rights of corporations continued to be elevated above those of humans. It has offered distractions from misery and distractions from reason. That’s two months of a summer much like any other summer. 

In Washington, the Republicans have become so obsessed with the business of reelection that they have convinced themselves that digging their hole a little deeper will somehow lead to an exit on the other side of the Earth. We should try avoid the mistake most of those we like to call "journalists" make, which is trying to apply some sense of earnest belief to congressional Republicans’ actions. There’s only cynicism to see here, folks. Move on. Move on.

With the modern marvel of gerrymandering (see: Florida), Republicans know their majority in the House is secure. That there are no Senate districts to gerrymander is the reason Republicans’ hope of securing the Senate are remote, but they know that, too. The parliamentary foot dragging, the attacks on Obamacare, the lawsuit: these are nothing but distractions. The right wing already got what it wants, an underfunded federal government incapable of enforcing the laws on the books. They aren’t campaigning to pass new laws, they just want to maintain the underfunding they have now so they won’t have be accountable to anyone. 

And it’s working, but for how long? Campaigning on fear works, but only as long as the stakes are low. Yes, we’re likely to see the status quo for another electoral cycle, or five, but underfunding means things will break and at some point the American people will recognize the real threats getting close to them. You wouldn’t want to be a Republican politician when that day comes.

Fear, of course, is the weapon of choice for politicians all over the world. Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine is almost entirely a product of fear-mongering. The idea that ethnically-Ukrainian Ukrainians wanted to seek out and destroy ethnically-Russian Ukrainians is a myth born of centuries of Russian dominance, and abuse, of Ukrainians. There would never be a Rwanda-Hutu-Tutsi-like genocide in Ukraine, but for an ethnic group suffering from a two decade long post-Cold War hangover, Putin’s cure has been a tonic. Russians are powerful again, a people and a nation to be feared and respected, wherever that people and nation may be.

Of course, winding people up and giving them lots of weapons can have consequences, as anyone who lost loved ones on Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 could tell you. Russian news agencies have tried, in vain, to blame the unreasonable Ukrainians for the deaths, but the missile was Russian, where’ve it was fired from. Putin wants to stay in power. Putin wants control over the oil and natural gas pipelines running through eastern Ukraine. Putin wants naval control of the Black Sea. Putin wants glory. In the short term, he’ll get it all; in the long term, he’ll return Russia to the parts of the Cold War nostalgic Russians have chosen not to remember, such as government oppression, economic isolation, and being international pariahs. The 2018 World Cup may remind more than a few of them of the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics, with boycotts and economic humiliation.

Israel doesn’t have to worry about either of those, at least for now. Their economy is small and what they produce wouldn’t make or break an economy the way a collapse of oil and gas would. Their abuse of Palestinians has gone on so long and with such consistency it could passed off as a chronic condition. Too often, it has been. 
That is, to some small degree, the fault of the Palestinians themselves. Frustrated and angry, they have allowed their political leadership to fall into the hands of violent fear-mongers, no better than the fear-mongering leaders of israel but with less money and fewer, smaller weapons. Their bitter war against Israeli oppression has become a lifestyle unto itself. What would happen if tomorrow Israel gave them everything they need? What would they do if Israelis offered to share everything they have, an equal partnership in the future? Odds are, the Palestinian couldn’t know how to handle it, and that just plays into the hands of Israel’s leaders, whose only real goal seems to be holding on to power.

Years from now - decades really - the bill will come due for what Israel just did to Gaza. Two or three generations will have to pass for the stench of it to wash away, and that would only happen if the more powerful partner in this mess stepped up and made peace happen. They won’t. They think we’ll forget. They count on it.
When was the last time we thought about the military junta in Egypt? When was the last time we thought about the girls kidnapped in Nigeria? When was the last time we thought about sweatshops in Bangladesh and cyber-espionage from China? We can’t remember everything. Our social evolution as a species is based on not having to. We externalize it, and we hope, especially when it’s sunny outside and there’s some flirting to be done, that someone else is paying attention on our behalf. Between ice-bucket-challenges and wondering if there ever really was song-of-the-summer this summer, we could almost be forgiven for ignoring what’s going on in Ferguson, Missouri or the Bronx or somewhere even closer.

The killing Michael Brown is still as unsettled as it is unsettling. Like any crisis, it has exposed things long ignored and kept at arm’s length. It’s also a case study on the dangers of applying short-term thinking to long-term problems. An unarmed man shouldn’t die at the hands of the police. It just shouldn’t happen. Ever. Non-violent protesters in what is so often touted as “the freest country on Earth” shouldn’t face police in armored vehicles and military riot gear. That shouldn’t happen. Ever. 

Police culture in the United States is one of fear. Officers are trained to expect the worst. Often enough, they actually face it. Freedom to own weapons means criminals own weapons. Expectation that police will fire their weapons means criminals fire theirs. Expectation that a potential criminal will potentially shoot first leads under-trained, over-armed men and women to shoot first to keep from being killed. We all know what happens next.

It’s this fear of killing and being killed that has law enforcement spending its taxpayer money on military hardware. Everywhere in the country state and local law enforcement agencies see things they can’t control and look for fast, easy solutions. Somebody’s going to make money that way. Selling fear, somebody always does. Again, though, he question is asked: For how long?

Soon enough, the people of Missouri will have had enough. “No more!” they’ll cry. The American people will have had enough of congressional Republican cynicism. They, too, will cry, “No more!” We’ll hear it in Iraq. We’ll hear it in Nigeria. We’ll hear it in Ukraine, in China, in Israel, in Mexico, in Bangladesh, and everywhere else policy is driven by short-term thinking.

Or not. We’ve started so many things that we can’t ever hope to control, so often without regard to where or when they will end. We mark it down, “unknown track”, watch it for a while til the threat passes from us onto someone else, and go on our way.

"No More!" Perhaps if our real journalists cried it out first it might just catch on.

- Daniel Ward

(Reblogged from political-cartoons)

The Pride Of A Nation

It was hardly the kind of thing wars have been fought over. It was an angry, childish attack, an impulsive bite at the shoulder of an opposing player. No penalty was called - the referee was looking the other way - but  the only way the video could have been more clear would be if he had drawn blood. That Uruguayan forward Luis Sanchez did not draw blood from Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini plays no small part in Uruguayans’ desperate defense of their star player.

At first, Sanchez’ defenders blamed the Italians, who flop shamelessly, Chiellini being one of the worst offenders. It’s an understandable defense,  but then there’s that video. Nobody bought it, so they turned to attacking the British tabloid press, who love tearing people down and anything involving biting even more, but, again, there was that video.

Finally, with their simple and not so simple denials flying in the face of a video playing again and again worldwide, Uruguayans turned to the denial of last resort: he is a national hero.

If this seems strange to you, it shouldn’t. This is the World Cup, a sporting event that may well have eclipsed the Olympics in worldwide prestige. This is the star of the Uruguayan team, a global ambassador for the country in a very real sense. Denial was always going to be the response. It must be a lie, because if it isn’t, who are the people of Uruguay? Are they a nation of biters? Of cannibals? Are they a nation to be laughed at? They have their pride, and when it comes to pride, an absurd lie will always be preferable to a humiliating truth.

The thing about pride is that it’s personal. We take our individual humiliations and fears and give them power over us by attaching them to something bigger than ourselves. That gets us in all kinds of trouble, sometimes with far greater consequences than a World Cup match.

One hundred years ago today a man let his pride drive him to commit murder. It was an angry, childish attack. It was impulsive. Few if anyone saw it happen, but there was no doubt he had done it. In fact, he told anyone who would listen.

The man was a Bosnian Serb. The man and wife he killed were the heirs to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, of which Bosnia was a part. To him, they represented an insult to his pride, a target for all of his life’s failures. He had reduced his choices to living with humiliation or seeking the instant gratification of an assassin. To absolve himself of his crime he wrapped himself in a Serbian flag.

And then millions died, killed by weapons and disease, killed by the pride of their own leaders who could not back down from promises made that they knew they should not keep. Pride led nations into war, and pride drove decision-making once they got in.

Today, that murderer is a national hero in Serbia. There are statues of him in Serbian Bosnia. Twenty years ago, when Bosnian Serbs were killing Bosnian Croats and Bosnian Muslims, his bloody example was one they aspired to. He represents national pride to a people who have lived in the shadows of other nations, people who have lived in poverty and who have had to watch other nations rise above them. 

Today, one of those more powerful nations, the United States, is considering whether or not to reenter a war it started in Iraq. That war was sold on national pride, just as reentry is being sold on protecting that first lie. Just as war in the Balkans spread, war in the Middle East now threatens every country on Iraq’s borders. This is where national pride ends.

We don’t have to worry about that with Uruguay. They’re just contending with national embarrassment. For now, Luis Sanchez has been suspended. Suspensions end. His professional team, Liverpool, will probably take him back. He’s only 27, so his national team will surely take him back. In a few years, if people even talk about what he did at all, it will be one of those things where even his most ardent supporters will admit, “Yeah, he did it,” and then change the subject; the ones sickened by it will only shake their heads and do the same.

And we’ll be grateful for it. We should be.

- Daniel Ward