Tag Archives: George W. Bush

The Washington Circus

With only one short day left before the US would have crashed into its first-ever default, Congress and the White House have finally settled on a deal on the debt ceiling.

But while the “clear and present” danger of imminent default is out of the way (for now at least), the federal government’s antics surrounding the normally simple process of raising the debt ceiling have scarred the political system this country stands on.

Anyone who’s followed the deliberations in the US Capitol over the debt ceiling has probably not been overly impressed with their elected officials in the past few weeks. As members of Congress, the president, the Tea Party, and leaders from both sides have gone at one another tooth and nail over the debt ceiling issue facing America.

And finally, a deal has emerged between John Boehner and Harry Reid, the de facto leaders of the GOP and Democrats in Congress (respectively), a deal that the president is willing to sign. But this deal is still far from law. An ongoing debate in Washington still threatens to derail it, as members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have objections. The deal has unsavory aspects to both conservatives and progressives: it cuts less spending than the former would like, and has almost none of the tax increases the latter was angling for. This means there’s still a decent chance this deal won’t go through.

But either way, this debate has already done serious damage to the federal government of the United States, and to the people of the country. Besides costing US taxpayers some $1.7 billion, this legislative monkey business has done real damage to the reputation of America’s lawmakers. Weeks of bickering and failed talks fulfill the stereotype that Congress is a lumbering legislative lump of inefficacy (alliteration always strengthens an argument, right?). Recent polls have shown that as many as 80% of Americans are dissatisfied with the actions of their representatives in DC.

So who’s to blame? Who is the ringleader in this circus?

Us.

One (and “one” includes myself) could certainly make a case that the Tea Party movement in the GOP ranks is largely responsible for the crap Congress has been trudging through. If it weren’t for their posturing and political machinations, the raising of the debt ceiling would have been perfectly normal. Like it always has been (the debt ceiling was raised 7 times during George W. Bush’s presidency). Tea Party members of the fractured Republican “coalition” in the House have made ridiculous pledges that pay no attention the real state of the country or its economy. In fact, some Tea Partiers have made it clear they would be willing to run the country into default, just to prove that “it wouldn’t be so bad.”

But as much as I would like to blame the Tea Party for everything happening in Washington, the truth of the matter is ultimately that the ringleaders of this circus were put into place… by us. Back in November of last year, the US people showed their impatience with Democratic leaders by electing a flood of GOP Congressmen and -women. These men and women, many affiliated with the Tea Party, promised to cut spending and “big government” if elected, which is exactly what they’re trying to do (albeit in a highly illogical fashion). Who voted them into office? The American people. And while most of us certainly would’ve liked to see a more mature electorate running our country’s finances, those who put the monkeys in this circus (So to speak. Maybe.) in the first place have to share some of the blame.

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Seeking the Spiritual: The Century of Common People (Part 1)

I watched a fantastic documentary tonight, for the third time. It’s called FLOW (standing for For Love of Water). The documentary discusses the privatization and pollution of the world’s water, and highlights the growing problem of water shortage, and what we must do to prevent it. I wrote a brief post about this a few months ago, and it’s certainly something I’ll explore more in the future.

But what really caught my attention this time around was a very short quote, from an elderly Indian Gandhian. The venerable man said, shortly and simply, “Twenty-first century is the century of common people.” Now, I apologize if this doesn’t strike you in the same way as it struck me, but this really made me start thinking.

A little interjection here: As far as I can tell, the phrase “century of the common people” is based on a speech given by Henry A. Wallace, FDR’s vice-president, in 1943 on the goal of the Allies in the Second World War. In the speech (which you can find here), Wallace says that the 20th century can and must be the century of the common man, not the century of America. I assume that this is what the Gandhian based his idea for the 21st century on.

I tend to think of the future in pretty optimistic terms, and I think that the world is generally getting better, albeit slowly. But a number of events over the past few years have really called my view into question. As I’ve grown up in the US, I’ve seen a terrible economic crash, horrific terrorist attacks, natural disasters compounded by human error, a plethora of wars, arguably one of the worst presidents this nation has ever had, and a whole host of other terrible things. So it’s been hard over the past few years to convince myself that things are getting better on the whole.

But! There are still many things that make me think positively about the future! And this is one of them.

Now, I can’t claim to know exactly what the gentleman in this film was referring to when he said “the century of common people.” But I can certainly tell you how I interpreted it! This phrase has helped give form to an idea I’ve been having for quite some time now, about the ways in which the world is improving, and that idea is this: Even though there is still great suffering and division in the world today, people are becoming much more willing and able to understand each other, help each other, and grow closer to each other, even with oceans of water, difference, or disagreement between them.

I see much greater understanding between people of different faiths, cultures, beliefs (political, philosophical, religious, or otherwise), and lifestyles looking past their differences in an effort to understand each other more, and this is what the Century of Common People looks like. We’re moving into a time when we can live with and even love the differences in other people, and regard them in a deep and loving way, no matter how dissimilar we may be.

I’ve decided to break up this post into multiple parts, as it’s already becoming fairly lengthy and will keep growing. Check back soon for the sequel!

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After the Bombs

Rebels inspect a pro-Qaddafi military truck after its bombing. (Photo credit: New York Times)

Five weeks after the Arab protests spread to Libya, the United States has found itself tangled in yet another Middle Eastern conflict. The question on everyone’s mind is, will this be a Gulf War or Iraq 2.0? In other words, where will we be after the bombs stop falling?

I think it’s safe to say Obama’s situation now is quite different from George Bush’s back in 2003. On a military level, Obama has been keeping his distance by not involving ground forces, choosing to instead use missiles and airstrikes. Obama’s military plan at this point seems to be to hammer Qaddafi’s forces as hard as possible without touching down on Libyan soil.

The UN’s decision to hold back the tide of Qaddafi’s advances on the rebels was intended to do two things. First, it was meant to stop further humanitarian crisis in the form of military massacres by Qaddafi’s forces. Second, the declaration was a way of legitimizing the rebellion’s government and the movement that put it in place.

And yet, as with every military intervention, this answer to the rebels’ prayers opens an entire book of new questions, particularly for the United States and Barack Obama. The president has faced harsh criticism from the left and the right for what many feel was an impulsive dive into yet another Middle Eastern crap chute. Some have even gone so far as to say that Obama’s presidency is “Bush’s third term.”

Now, although I’m a fan of the man, President Obama has made some hefty mistakes in handling the crisis in Libya. His first foible, which has compounded into the criticism he now faces, was his hesitancy in taking the Libyan humanitarian crisis as seriously as he should have. Now, I realize that I don’t stand a chance of pretending to understand all of the complex minutia and details that factor into a decision like the one he made, and how difficult it must have been, considering all the pressures on the administration about this issue. But it seems to me that the president should’ve given more initial credence to the idea of military intervention in Libya. If the idea had been on the American table earlier, there would have been more time to have serious internal discussions about it (which would hopefully resolve Congress’s beef) before launching in after a chat with Nicolas Sarkozy.

Following from this mistake was the lack of clarity on the future of the situation in Libya. While I don’t think that this is likely to become another Iraq War, US military involvement always brings up questions. The most prominent one, as I suggested in the title of this post, is what’s next? Many, including prominent members of Congress and thinkers on both sides of the aisle, have pointed out that Obama doesn’t seem to have much of an endgame in Libya. Bombs will fall for a few more days (hopefully that’s all), and Qaddafi’s forces have been and will continue to be whittled down.

But what happens after that? Now that the international community has intervened (which, even after all my hemming and hawing, I think was a good thing), how involved should it be? US administration officials have made it pretty clear that they expect the burden of this coalition to fall of the shoulders of everyone, if not mainly Britain and France. And hopefully, other nations, particularly the Arab League, will prevent this attack on Qaddafi from taking on the aspect of another assault on a Muslim country. But there’s a bigger problem than America’s Arab street cred.

The coalition’s goal in striking against Qaddafi has been to protect the civilians and rebels of Libya from the senseless violence Qaddafi would love to inflict on them. But how far can a no-fly zone and bombs take the rebellion? There’s a whole host of possible situations that could rise after the dust settles in Libya. The country might fracture into two under the pressures of enemy governments in east and west. If not removed, a vengeful Qaddafi might revert to his past terrorism, lashing out against Europe, America, and his own people. The opposition is still nascent (at best), and it remains a relatively untested force.

There are many things still up in the air where Libya is concerned, and I’ll continue to write about the situation as it develops. But for now, we can only hope that things come to the swift conclusion that the coalition is hoping for. And so, in the spirit of this post, I’ll end with the biggest question of all: What’s next for Libya?

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The Unparalleled Power of Patriotism (Part 2)

Perhaps this is truer than people are willing to recognize?

This post is a continuation of an earlier one, “The Unparalleled Power of Patriotism (Part 1).” Read it first!

Looking at patriotism in this way, it’s easy to see how things can get carried away. The sense that the loss of an American life is more devastating than the loss of an Iraqi’s or any other person’s life instills Americans with a dangerous sense of superiority, of an almost racist nature.

Not only can this give Americans too much of a “proud to be an American” sense, it inherently devalues any who aren’t American!

Nationalism can take many forms, but I would say that any amount of patriotic zealotry is too much. I recently saw some of this on a blog I had the misfortune of coming across, called “Patriotic Mom.” The mom, whose name is Pamela Reece, gushes in a post about her patriotism, and how central it is to “being American.” One of the comments on the post, by one Josh Ondich, reads as follows: “Patriotism can be used as good like the National Anthem or the pledge, but has been used by dictators like Adolf Hitler and Joesph Stalin to invade countries and impose mass genocide against millions of people. using patriotism for war is using it for terror. -Peace”

Now, I thought this was a perfectly valid and fairly unbiased point. The guy was simply pointing out an observation he had made. This was Pamela’s response:

Josh,
Using patriotism for war? Perhaps you have forgotten about 9/11!! Remember? When war was declared on the U.S.? We are defending America and fighting the global war on terror. Patriotism is standing by America…recite the words of the National Anthem and remember 9/11. Do this and you will understand.

United we stand!

Now, maybe I’m just blind or stupid, but it seems like this response is exactly what Josh Ondich is warning of. Besides that, Pamela Reece’s “comeback” argument illustrates perfectly the kind of fanatical, almost mindless patriotism that many Americans use to justify all kinds of evil. The line, “Patriotism is standing by America… recite the words of the National Anthem and remember 9/11. Do this and you will understand,” is particularly appalling. To me, the advice to recite our National Anthem and remember 9/11 is reminiscent of Soviet-style nationalism or the advice some Christians give: “Just pray to Jesus and you’ll understand the truth!” It shows a terrifying immaturity of thought and a dangerous unwillingness to listen to any kind of disagreement, insisting that a “good American” doesn’t ask questions and doesn’t need answers.

Perhaps more infuriating though, is a “tribute” on the left side of the page, a slideshow with images of 9/11 and the bombing of the USS Cole, which then transitions to the words “Never Forget Who Did It,” which is followed by pictures of Middle Eastern men. This victim mentality was used by George Bush to embroil the US in two devastating wars, and is still the opinion of many conservatives (particularly evangelical Christians) in the United States.

As Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.” I can think of few things that are more blinding than such an insistence on national superiority. Patriotism is good when it’s used to express valid pride in country and culture. But it, perhaps more than any other sentiment, can become poisonous extremely quickly. As soon as patriotism is turned into a justification or reasoning for war, torture, or other such crimes against humanity, it can become nationalist, McCarthyistic fervor, which is no better than the religious fanaticism American patriotism is so often turned against.

 

 

 

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The Unparalleled Power of Patriotism (Part 1)

How far can patriotism go before it becomes dangerous nationalism?

Ever since the idea of a nation emerged not more than a few hundred years ago, nationality has become an integral part of who we as humans consider ourselves to be. When we come across someone with an unfamiliar accent or language, our first question for them is often “Where are you from?” The first words we typically use to associate someone with a group of people are those that tell which country they come from, rather than those that reinforce their humanity. Our nationality has become one of the most prominent features of our identity.

The point I’m trying to make is that nationality has become a very important part of who people consider themselves to be. The word usually used to describe pride in one’s country, culture, or national heritage is patriotism.

Patriotism has always been popular in America, especially as the country was still nascent during the rise of nineteenth-century nationalism. Back at its founding, America was, as many like to say, a “melting pot” of a broad spectrum of people with varying beliefs and ideals. Unlike other, older nations, America was a nation that was deliberately created by its inhabitants, rather than slowly coalescing into gradually more central power, as most European nations did.

But what America, and indeed all nations, can suffer from is over-patriotism, sometimes called nationalism. When someone says “nationalist,” the image that tends to spring to most peoples’ minds is an extreme one of Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia, where nationalist rhetoric was used to justify horrific violence, racism, and purges. But there’s also a particular brand of home-grown nationalism, a slowly swelling sense of patriotism that subtly (or sometimes bluntly) asserts that “we’re just better than them.”

Though I was only 9 years old when they actually occurred, I’ve seen how the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 have had a profound impact on the way many Americans view the United States and other countries. After the horror of that day, a stunned silence fell over the United States, and a sense of unity and solidarity prevailed in the country. The thought at the time was, “You’ve tried to destroy us and failed, and instead of falling apart, America has only become stronger and more unified by the evil you brought on us.”

It was out of this sense of unity that an almost fanatical nationalism began to rise. After enduring and recovering from such a heinous attack, Americans’ sense of patriotism rose sharply, as songs like “God Bless the USA” came strongly back into vogue and politicians at all levels began employing forceful rhetoric about national unity and strength as a nation. Now, please don’t get me wrong with this; I think that the unity and solidarity that Americans felt in the aftermath of 9/11 was incredible, and helped bring hope and restoration to the loved ones of those who died. But it also conjured up a dangerous “us versus them” mindset that allowed President Bush to declare a more-or-less unilateral “War on Terror,” a war that has not only cost thousands of lives and billions of dollars, but has also tragically heightened anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States.

Of course, nationalism can be seen in myriad other places and situations as well. In talking to some American friends and acquaintances, I’ve seen a tragic sense of national superiority in what they say. For example, American citizens are quick to mourn the more than 4,000 deaths incurred by US Armed Forces in Iraq. I won’t deny the tragedy of this bloodshed, but far fewer Americans show such outrage at the more than 100,000 civilian deaths that have so far come about in the conflict. Many Americans I know seem to feel that they’re simply worth more than others.

I’m going to break this article up into two parts, as I’ve realized it’s getting much longer than I had originally thought! Expect the next post soon!

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