North Korea

I keep hearing people and US officials claim that the threat of a North Korean nuclear strike potentially “incinerating” a US city is the reason we must consider a preventive strike. Let’s talk about this using facts.

The North Korean government is led by Kim Jong Un.

The American government is led by Donald Trump.

The North Korean nuclear arsenal is estimated at about 13-30 warheads with a payload of 10-30 kilotons each.

The American nuclear arsenal is more complicated to explain, so here are some quick facts from Brookings to serve as an overview:

– The largest nuclear weapon type currently in the U.S. stockpile, the B83, has a yield of 1.2 megatons (1,200 kilotons)

– America has 7 types of nuclear weapon in its arsenal: W76 and W88 warheads for submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs); W78 and W87 warheads for intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs); W80 warheads for the air-launched cruise missile (ALCM); and B61 (multiple variants) and B83 gravity bombs. Under the “3+2” plan, it is proposed over time to reduce the warhead types to three warheads for ballistic missiles, one gravity bomb (B61) and one warhead for ACLMs.

– Known as the “Davy Crockett,” the W54 weapon, a small nuclear warhead with a weight of 51 pounds fired by a recoilless gun mounted on a jeep, has the shortest range, 1.42 miles of any nuclear shell.

– America has officially lost and not recovered 11 nuclear weapons

– Under most scenarios, Donald Trump, the president of America, could have an ICBM carrying a nuclear payload in the air in 12 minutes.

– America has 14 Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines. Typically, at any one time two of these submarines are in long-term overhaul, meaning that 12 are normally operationally available. Four other submarines of the Ohio-class have been converted to carry conventionally-armed cruise missiles in place of SLBMs.

– Each Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine has 24 launch tubes. Under the New START Treaty, four tubes on each submarine will be converted so that they are incapable of launching an SLBM and thus will not be counted against the treaty’s limit of 800 deployed and non-deployed ICBM and SLBM launchers plus deployed and non-deployed nuclear-capable bombers. The U.S. Navy plans that the Ohio-class submarine’s replacement will have 16 launch tubes.

– America conducted 28 “deterrence patrols” with its Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines in 2012, ten by submarines based at King’s Bay, Georgia and 18 by submarines based at Bangor, Washington. The patrols last on average 70 days.

– America maintains 94 nuclear-capable heavy bombers maintained by the United States. This includes B-2 and B-52 bombers.

– America has an estimated 200 B61 nuclear gravity bombs deployed forward at bases in Europe for possible use by U.S. and NATO-allied air forces

– Five states are home to Minuteman III missile launch sites (Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota and Wyoming).

– America currently has 450 deployed Minuteman III ICBMs maintained by the United States. Under the New START Treaty, the U.S. Air Force plans to reduce the number of deployed Minuteman III ICBMs to 400-to-420.7

– The largest ballistic missile warhead currently in the U.S. stockpile, the W88 carried by the Trident II SLBM (submarine launched ballistic missile), is 455 kilotons.

– America has 778 total deployed ICBMs, SLBMs and nuclear-capable bombers as of March 1, 2014 (the New START limit is 700).[9]

– At the peak of the Cold War, America had 950 nuclear weapons deployed in South Korea.

– America conducted 1,030 nuclear tests before they were banned in 1992.

– America has 1,800-1,850 estimated warheads on deployed U.S. ICBMs and SLBMs. This also includes the number of nuclear bombs and air-launched cruise missiles at bases for deployed U.S. nuclear-capable bombers once the United States reaches the New START limit of 1,550 deployed warheads. The difference reflects the fact that, while New START counts all warheads on deployed ICBMs and SLBMs, it only attributes each deployed nuclear-capable bomber as one warhead, when the bombers can carry many more.

– America has around 2,700 nuclear weapons that have been retired from the stockpile and are awaiting dismantlement. There is a significant backlog in dismantling weapons.

– America had a total of 3,200 non-strategic nuclear weapons deployed forward in the Pacific region—Okinawa, South Korea, Guam, the Philippines and Taiwan—at their peak in 1967. The number began to decline after 1967, falling to 1,200 by 1977. The last forward-deployed nuclear weapons in the Pacific region were withdrawn in 1991.

– America has an estimated 4.650 total nuclear weapons—strategic and non-strategic, deployed and non-deployed—in the U.S. nuclear stockpile as of January 2014 (does not count an additional 2,700 retired weapons that await dismantlement).

– America had an estimated 7,304 non-strategic nuclear weapons deployed forward in Europe at their peak in 1971.

– America had an estimated 31,255 nuclear weapons in its nuclear stockpile at its peak in 1967.
From other sources:

– America has an extensive missile defense system comprised of (according to open source, unclassified intelligence) ground-based interceptor missiles, the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System, Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, Airborne systems, and Shorter-range anti-ballistic missiles. These systems have questionable reliability, but have seen successful tests.

If North Korea were to launch an ICBM with multiple targets, we need only look to America’s bombing own of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the only nuclear weapons ever used, to understand the impact this might have on our population.

The 12-18 kiloton blast had a radius of about 1 mile, with resulting fires across 4.4 square miles, according to a report from the U.S Nuclear Defense Agency. In 1942, Hiroshima was around 350 square miles and had a population of around 420,000, making the population density roughly 1,200 humans per square mile. The deaths from the blast were somewhere between 70,000 and 130,000 human lives. Similarly, Nagasaki had a population of 240,000, with a density of roughly 154 humans/mi². However, between 40,000-80,000 humans were killed by America by the 18-23 kiloton Nagasaki bomb. This means that when making any calculation we can’t simply take the population density into consideration, but have to also consider the swollen population of a city during business hours. For example Manhattan, where I live, has an area of 22.82 square miles and a population of over 1.6 million, making the population density roughly 71,000 humans/mi². However, during an average workday the population swells to nearly 4 million, increasing the population density to around 175,000 humans/mi². (Note: these are all very rough estimates and I am not an expert in nuclear weaponry. Additional calculations for wind speed, weather, and radiation seepage would be needed to fully realize the number of casualties.)

With this in mind, and acknowledging New York City has the highest population density in the United States, North Korea’s maximum casualty expectation for a single nuclear detonation of 30 kilotons (I’m assuming a radius of 2 miles with 16mi² of fires), if centered in the densest part of our densest city during peak hours would be around 2-3 million, or around .9% of the total U.S population.

It is not merely highly unlikely that North Korea will ever strike the United States, it is highly improbable their capabilities, both in distance and precision, will allow them to reach our most densely populated city, leaving them with sub-optimal options if numbers of casualties is their goal. Their most likely targets, due to the increased limitations the distance to the east coast entails, would be Anchorage, Seattle, Los Angeles, or San Francisco. Each of these cities has a significantly reduced population density compared to their east coast counterparts. This is not to say that a North Korean attack wouldn’t be intensely traumatic for the American people, but rather that North Korea in no way poses an existential threat requiring an unprecedented and illegal preventive strike.

The same cannot be said for the level of threat America poses to North Korea, or the entire world for that matter. The American arsenal, controlled by the president of the United States, Donald Trump, is capable of bringing about what is called a “nuclear winter”, a doomsday scenario that would see most life on Earth wiped out. While it is understandable and admirable the United States believes the world is better off if fewer nations have nuclear weapons, it is of little consolation when it retains 4,650 nuclear devices with up to 1.2 megaton payloads, 40 times stronger than North Korea’s strongest weapon.

With these facts in mind, it seems absurd for the president of the United States, Donald Trump, to claim the right and necessity of a preventive strike. A hegemonic militaristic nation with thousands more nuclear weapons many times more powerful than North Korea’s is claiming it feels threatened because theoretically North Korea could use its weapons against one of its cities. This is not reasonable foreign policy for a nation that spends more on its military than its nearest seven competitors combined. Combined.

It becomes even less reasonable when we consider the 150,000 American expats and roughly 28,500 US service members currently stationed in North Korea. If the claim is that the loss of American life is unacceptable (which implies the loss of non-American lives is more acceptable, a morality I personally find reprehensible), having people die “over there”, as Lindsay Graham has stated Donald Trump told him, does not mean American lives will be spared. In fact the loss of so many American lives would most likely lead to further military engagement with North Korea, resulting in an even greater loss of American lives (though admittedly these lives belong to members of the United States military, which I remain unconvinced the American government considers worth preserving).

Having participated in the multiple war games the United States conducts each year in South Korea in which it practices invading North Korea and overthrowing its regime, I can safely say I understand why North Korea might feel threatened and why they are currently attempting to demonstrate to the world that any attack would result in devastating consequences for their neighbors.

My unit when I was stationed at Camp Casey, South Korea for two years (2011-2013) was 210 Fires Brigade. Our stated mission was (and remains) “On order, 210th Field Artillery Brigade provides fires in support of Air Combat Command and Ground Combat Command’s counter fire fight. On order, transitions to offensive operation.” The common joke among my fellow Soldiers of the brigade was that we were simply a speed bump for North Korea’s million man army. However, from this vantage point, I was able to understand the full scope of the artillery batteries we were supposed to counter-fire if combat were to kick off. In fact, a year or so before I arrived in Korea the brigade was very nearly called on to provide this type of retaliatory fire during the yeonpyeong island incident of 2010. Fortunately, the situation did not escalate and the relatively stable peace was maintained. Regardless, the array of artillery batteries lined up in North Korea targeting Seoul are frankly terrifying, as they are well protected and prepared to launch at a moment’s notice, devastating a city of 24 million people.

Though usually not as serious as the yeonpyeongdo or the ROKS Cheonan incidents, tensions between North and South Korea have remained high throughout the decades-long armistice, often exacerbated by the presence of the US military. At any time since first acquiring nuclear weapons (2005-2006ish), North Korea could have used these weapons to attack their southern neighbor, with whom they are still technically at war. They have not done so, even at times of extremely high tension. It’s not in the interest of the North Korean government nor would any resulting scenario end in their favor. Therefore it is my conclusion that these nuclear weapons are simply bargaining chips the hermit kingdom uses to maintain their tenuous place in the global order.

With this established, my question is: why are is the United States rocking the boat?

While the armistice is not ideal and the North Korean government has repeatedly brutalized its own people (though South Korea, the United States, China, Russia, and every other country involved have brutalized their own people as well at various points throughout history, so it’s hard to take any sort of sanctimonious hand wringing about that point seriously), right now we have peace and stability. There is a path out of this scenario that maintains that peace and stability, but in the interest of whatever their goal is the government of the United States is pushing the boundaries of that peace. If something happens, it is not because of the actions of North Korea, or South Korea, or Russia, or China, which are all relatively predictable constants. Rather it would be because of the actions of the United States, which makes up the unpredictable variable in this equation thanks to its tumultuous and money-soaked democracy, which was on full display with the election of Donald Trump.

It is important to note that an individual entity, whether human or government, only has control over its own actions. The actions of others are outside our control, but can be influenced by deliberate behavior meant to assure, induce, coerce, or fool. The question I hope the United States is constantly asking itself is, “Are the actions of our nation contributing to or detracting from global peace and stability.” At the moment I’m afraid the Unites States is in the latter category, which, as Newton informs us, will have consequences proportional to the size of our dominating influence.

(As this is not an official paper I did not do a very good job of citing my sources. If anyone is interested in where I got this information I am extremely happy to take the time to share that with you. If no one cares I appreciate it because I’m lazy and like to get away with the least amount of work necessary to get my point across so I can go back to watching tv, playing video games, talking to friends, listening to music, or whatever else helps distract me from the soul-crushing possibilities this potential conflict might bring about.)

Fear of Muslims

12391411_10106867914950305_434552525704000528_n If you are afraid of Muslims you are not just a coward, you are a stupid coward.

I spent nearly every day during this past year of my life in Afghanistan talking to Muslims about and assisting Muslims with their own fight against terrorist and political organizations senselessly slaughtering their friends, families, and neighbors. The Muslims I spoke with were armed and some had family ties to Daesh or the Taliban or at least a decent reason to want to kill me. There were reasons for increased caution and extra security measures, certainly, but to spend each day, in a war-zone mind you, living in fear of Muslims was absolutely not an option. I wasn’t afraid because I was brave, rather it was simply because I wasn’t stupid. There will always be risks, and you do your best to mitigate those risks, but to accomplish your mission you must identify your goal and take actions that reflect that goal, and not let yourself be driven by your fear of what might happen if X or if Y or if Z. In the same way, the roots of Daesh lie in the disenfranchisement and economic exploitation of a large segment of the Arab population after years of imperialists looting the culture and economies followed by post-imperial dictators leading these hollowed out and crudely cobbled together nations propped up by the west as long as they were economically compliant. And of course, specifically, our invasion of Iraq and policy choices over the last 13 years. Defeating this organization and the slew of like minded groups that will inevitably spawn from their ideas will take many years of repairing relations, cultural integration and compromise from both ends, internal economic development, and political stability and self determination. If we decide some radical clash of civilizations is the only way, rather than committing to the policies previously mentioned, which will, make no mistake, see terrorist acts taking a limited number of innocent lives in the years to follow, we are sentencing ourselves to eternal global war and millions upon millions of future tragedies. Being afraid of Muslims because of some lunatic right-wing fantasy about global Christian holy war and the end of days with an epic clash of civilizations is playing into the hands of the American version of Daesh as well as the Muslim version. They are two sides of the same coin and they want to control you through paranoia and fear. Fear that the “other”, be it Christian, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, or Muslim, is only waiting for their opportunity to stab you in the back if you open the door to them.

So once again, if you are afraid of the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world because of Daesh and their goals, then not only are you a coward, you are a stupid coward. We are at war with radicalization of all stripes and thinking there will not be casualties in the future is naive. However, cowardly appeasement of the enemy’s goals such as abusing Muslims and treating the entire population like members or potential members of Daesh means you are actively working against the interest and security of this nation.

Response to Pulse murders

The hypocrisy and cognitive dissonance surrounding the gun violence in our country has reached a fever pitch this weekend. In the same 24-hour period, in the same city, two incidents of extreme gun violence occurred. The first was committed by a 27-year-old male of European descent who shot a 22-year-old female singer in the head before he turned his gun on himself. This was premeditated as he drove two hours from his home to a city where she was signing autographs specifically to kill her. The second was a 29-year-old male of Afghan descent who entered a nightclub and killed or injured over 100 people. This was also premeditated, as he was apparently upset when he saw two men kissing in front of his wife and child the day prior. What is the difference then? According to many commentators and media outlets, one man was motivated by his religion, and the other man was motivated by…something else, we’re still figuring it out apparently.

This interpretation of gun violence, that a shooter’s motivation is based on a coherent religious or ideological thought, is a bald lie we tell ourselves every time there is an incident. Yes, the nightclub shooter used Islam and even ISIS as an excuse to give his brain permission to commit this act and cast himself as a hero in the celestial struggle between Islam and the evils of the West, but focusing on this as an act of “Islamist Terrorism” is a gross absurdity. It excuses our own thinking and lets us believe if only we stamp out this one brand of radical thought we can be safer.

For some context, in the same time frame there were 43 other incidents in America involving guns, resulting in 28 deaths and 31 injuries. This is in a single 24-hour period. So far in 2016 there have been 23,158 incidents involving guns resulting in 5,931 deaths and 12,144 injuries. Of these, 134 were mass shootings (four or more shot and/or killed in a single event, at the same general time and location not including the shooter).

To focus on gun violence only when really big events happen or the motivation behind the violence (racism, homophobia, terrorism, ISIS, etc) makes for an interesting narrative fails to explain the core of a violence that is deeply rooted in our society. Rather than look at these extemporaneous “motivations”, we must understand this core if we are ever truly to reduce the amount of violence we see from guns in America.

From 2002-2012 88% of homicides (of all types, not just guns, but I am extrapolating that this number holds as roughly the same when looking at gun-only homicides) were committed by men. For mass shootings over 98% of perpetrators are male. So if we look at gun violence in America in terms of constants and variables, a certain pattern emerges, particularly in mass shootings. Guns are a means to enhance one person’s physical power over another, whether to inflict death, injury, or simply the threat of death or injury, well beyond their personal strength or physical capacity. By interpreting and focusing on this function of guns, the use of guns by males is then understood as the assertion of their power or dominance (in this case the power of life or death) in a situation they would normally be unable to assert themselves with a balance of power so extremely skewed in their favor.

In an instant a man transforms from a position where their power had been stripped from them into a man who is now more powerful by far than anyone in his immediate vicinity. So if you are a man who had your “power” stripped by a celebrity woman (or any woman) who “thought she was better than you” or didn’t realize you were her one true love or rejected your hundreds of very nice emails or called security on you when you were just trying to see her at her house or apartment you spent a lot of time tracking down, you can take that power back in an instant. Or if you are a man who had your power stripped from you when you were walking down the street of Miami and saw two men kissing in front of your wife and child, emasculating you when you were unable to do anything because you live in a society where this thing you disagree with is accepted, you can take back your masculinity and power by shooting homosexuals who are part of the group who stole it from you. Really, if you are any man who needs to express their dominance for any reason, maybe someone cuts you off in traffic, or they didn’t show you the proper respect when they walked by you, or maybe even its not a specific reason, you’ve just felt powerless for a while and need to feel powerful for once, a gun is always available to you because we live in America.

The manner of the excuse to justify violence (racism, homophobia, religion, morality, etc) is immaterial. Men will always find an excuse and even revel in putting their violence in a larger context (inciting a race war, continuing the cosmic battle between Islam and the West, fighting the American government’s “jackboot thugs” to prevent them from taking over…the America(?), stopping the reptilians from taking over humanity, etc). We must understand that the cause of violence in America is the male quest to retake their power.

And this, the root of American gun violence, is why we must reform our gun laws. Now for whatever reason we have all agreed as a nation that our founding fathers were the most intelligent people who ever lived and would be really good at making laws in 2016 even without having any knowledge of how the world worked in 2016. We also all agree, for some reason, that that they obviously had assault rifles and hand guns in mind when they wrote the 2nd Amendment, so making guns entirely illegal seems to be off the table. Additionally, people still say they feel safer when they have a gun around even because there are all these “bad guys with guns” running around out there (and apparently it wouldn’t be better to arrest them before they shoot someone…?) who are just waiting for you to lose your right to bear arms before invading your home or attacking you on the street. With that being said, I think I have an idea that might satisfy all party’s needs while still reducing gun violence.

Make guns legal, but only for women. Make it literally illegal for a man, who is not in law enforcement, to even touch a gun. And if a woman wants to own a gun, make sure she has to go through extensive training and yearly recertifications so that she knows how to use that sucker like a pro. This means that when a bad guy with a gun comes around, you, the nervous man of the house, can always rely on your female partner to competently protect you. If you’re single and scared, find a woman you can be friends with and rely on to quickly come to your aid should you need it. This would have the added benefit of perhaps also reducing the gender disparity in domestic violence/sexual assaults rates in America.

This, however, is a short term solution. The long term solution is to reform masculinity itself. Unfortunately this is a global, generational issue seen in males in nearly every culture and nation. The current definition of masculinity is toxic to our society and must adapt to modern civilization. Perhaps it served when we lived in sparse tribes who were constantly warring and defending what little they had, but it no longer has a place in our modern culture. It is a vestigial behavior currently responsible for the deaths of millions of people around the globe every year based on nothing more than feelings of hurt pride or the desire to assert of personal power. Changing the way men think about themselves is essential if we want to reduce violence. However, this is admittedly difficult to legislate and requires an overall societal sea change, one I truly hope we are pursuing as a society.

So that’s my idea to help reduce gun violence anyways, what’s yours?

The most important thing to keep in mind is that in the next 24 hours another 50 people will have their lives ripped apart by gun violence. And then in the next 24 hours after that. And then after that. And after that. Indefinitely, every month, every year. If we do not do something, anything, anything at all about gun violence in America, we should stop pretending we care when this happens and just understand it’s a price we are willing to pay for loving guns more than we love human beings.

Statistics retrieved from: http://www.gunviolencearchive.org/

Yanis Varoufakis lets us know

From back in April, but here’s a brilliant interview with economist and former (however briefly) Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis on some of the overarching trends affecting Europe today, what Brexit means (good foresight on Boris Johnson here), why anyone on the left who supported or is celebrating Brexit is missing the forest for the trees, insight into the destructive austerity measures imposed by Brussels and the IMF on Greece through the bailout packages, and hope for the left in both Europe and America.

European problems are American problems are global problems. If you don’t care about these issues you don’t care about your neighbor, your family, or yourself. We on the left always have to be more informed than those on the right because our currency is in measured deliberation, aspirational pragmatism, and incremental realism rather than the fearful, hateful, and delusional solutions of the forces we oppose.

Humanity is on the edge of a cliff with the environment, inequality in the global economy and how it relates to our democracies, and international and domestic relations between the West and Islam. This is not said to instill fear, but rather to stress the importance of educating ourselves, mobilizing, organizing, and working to change our world. There are practical, common sense solutions to these problems we can work to implement, but only if we work together, both online and offline, as a movement. For Americans on the left, Bernie Sanders is not the end, but rather a potential beginning to our mass movement to change the way our country works. Right now, however, it is only potential. We cannot let this chance pass us by after we’ve seen how many of us believe the future should not be based in the fear-mongering of the Donald Trumps of the world, but rather on a vision of equality and human dignity we tirelessly strive towards.

I don’t want to get too wonky, but I’ve always been a big fan of John Rawls’s “veil of ignorance” (in a nutshell it’s a thought experiment where you have to create a society where you don’t know your place and therefore could end up as anyone anywhere. The theory is the society’s creator is more likely to base the structure of their society on equality rather than class-interest as they are motivated to create a world where no matter who they end up as (they are randomly placed or “born” after they create the society), their lot isn’t too bad) and I like to think these ideas still have relevance in a world where the political discussion has been reduced to trading insulting tweets back and forth. It’s easy to lose sight of these core principles and how complicated it is to decide what is right when our rhetoric is based on how clever a barb we can craft in 160 characters or less. It is our job to not only demand a higher level of discourse, but to engage and create that discourse ourselves with people we both agree and disagree with.

In one of my very, very favorite political treatise, The Pedagogy of the Oppressed, about one of my very, very favorite political ideas, the breaking of the oppressor/oppressed cycle of violence through education (among other things), Paulo Freire discusses the importance of this constant learning and dialogue, “For apart from inquiry, apart from the praxis, individuals cannot be truly human. Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other.” By teaching one another, sharing ideas and thoughts through a synthesis of thesis and antithesis, we are filling-in our inherently incomplete natures; helping one another realize the fullness of our humanity. Meet fear and hate with a bulwark of knowledge, always. This sounds idealistic, but to patiently and resolutely inform is one of the best ways to impact the world around you. It can be dangerous for the educator, it can be deadly, but it can also be effective. Find an audience who disagrees with you then learn from them, learn what you can teach them, learn how you can teach them, and help them paint the edges of their self.

It’s true that the burden to educate falls inordinately on certain races, genders, or classes, and it’s unfair, deeply, deeply unfair. Recognizing this unfairness, it’s understandable that exhaustion can set in when one must survive daily assaults on the mind and body other demographics can barely (or can’t possibly) fathom, and the idea of educating those involved in direct or tacit assaults seems beyond the pale. This is why those who consider themselves allies from less-oppressed demographics must first help influence and structure a society that empowers more-oppressed demographics and frees them to teach us and others the essential lessons and knowledge they have to share. If we do not speak out loud and often as a conduit and vessel to amplify the voice of our exhausted and assaulted brothers and sisters, we are failing in our role as allies. We should be working ourselves out of business by shaping a world where our more-oppressed compatriots no longer need our help to amplify their demands because they are fully represented in our collective politics, culture, and society by members of their own group; an equal place at the table where we can equally share ideas and thoughts to help ourselves and our civilization grow and prosper. It is through cultural uniformity that we create fear and weakness in a society, and it is through diversity that we nurture knowledge and strength, but only if we, the left, those who believe in creating a better world, commit to true integration and dialogue.

We do have power, we can change things, and there is still hope. Let’s get to work in the best way you know how. If you’re curious on how you can be most effective, please ask and open a dialogue. I will help in the best way I can.

Threat Overview

I want to take a moment away from post-election coverage to look at some of the other big picture issues impacting the world right now. Specifically I’d like to discuss six aspects of human society in 2016 currently impacting global trends. They are:

1. Nationalism
2. Terrorism
3. Democracy
4. 24-hour corporate owned news and social media
5. Economic inequality
6. Climate change

The interplay between nationalism and terrorism is at the heart of today’s global politics. They are so common they have transitioned from variables to constants in any reasonable equation predicting how the world will look in ten years. There WILL be more terrorist attacks and there WILL be nationalists scapegoating demographics they feel are culpable for those attacks. One follows the other in a toxic ouroboros of hatred, fear, and violence that serves both sides quite well, leaving everyone in between with an unpleasant choice: supporting the cesspool of culture and thought in closest proximity to their identity, or attempting to navigate an ever-shrinking and besieged middle ground that calls for humanity to ignore its natural instinct for revenge.

This is where democracy enters the equation. The type of terrorism we are discussing has never sought to defeat its adversary’s overwhelmingly powerful military forces. That is simply not possible. The existential threat this terrorism poses to the world is found in the impact its attacks have on the delicate electorate of a democratic society. Though I am a committed egalitarian and do truly believe in democratic principles, it must be said that the greatest weakness in any democracy is that everyone gets to vote. While this can be a strength in a diverse, well-educated, equal, stable nation, terrorist and nationalist forces exploit this weakness in order to advance their own agendas and enhance their power in nations with electorates susceptible to their tactics.

Though these three factors have coexisted in the past, the addition of the 24-hour news cycle and the proliferation and ubiquity of social media as a source of information has fundamentally changed the magnitude of the impact these forces have on the electorate of a democracy. As readership dwindled and the majority of the population of many democracies came to expect free news either online or from television, the bottom-line for independent news organizations collapsed. The fact that hard, impartial news gains far fewer eyes and attention (which translates to clicks and dollars) than sensationalism, bombastic opinions, and puff, is not lost on the corporations that snapped up and conglomerated large parts of the journalism sector. With agendas in place and an unstable budget to protect, citizens of many democracies have been exposed to the constant drumbeat of what amounts to common propaganda in search of the greatest number of eyes (read: clicks). One of the most powerful drivers of clicks is the ability to evoke an emotional response in your reader, listener, or viewer; and one of the easiest ways to do this is through fear. The use of fear, particularly in the face of this brand of terrorism, is one of the defining features of today’s media culture. Through this fear, nationalists and their supporters around the world have established a banner to rally around: “You should be afraid. You need protection. We will protect you.”

This alone, however, is not enough to explain the incredible rise of nationalism on both the right and left. There have always been xenophobes sowing fear of the other in response to real or perceived threats, and the modern 24-hour news cycle and social media outlets may have boosted their megaphones, but this is not the single determining factor in their ascent. Here is where the age of massive global economic inequality comes into play. While the topic is expansive, suffice it to say that inequality within the global economy has increased to an incredible degree. I’ve written previously on the extent and structure of this increase, but I encourage you to explore the issue for yourself as it is one of the defining features of our time. The use of tax-loopholes, esoteric financial investment products, international tricks like corporate inversions, race-to-the-bottom tactics, and the use of tax shelters like art and real estate, all legal and even promoted by the governing bodies of democratic nations, has seen the consolidation of extreme wealth into smaller and smaller portions of our society. With this consolidation of risk and the subsequent crises it has caused and will cause again (2008 being the clearest example), the electorate of these democratic nations, who have time and again voted against their own economic interest due to the propaganda of fear and misinformation produced by a media controlled by these same self-interested corporations, has reached a breaking point in its anger. This anger, however, is not aimed in a specific direction, as the sources of information the electorate relies upon either do not wish or are mandated not to point the finger at their own corporate owners who use these very same methods. Therefore the energy and anger is repurposed by opportunists interested in creating the narrative of an ominous “other” and directed outward towards this supposed source of their woe. Rather than result in a call for greater equity in the global economy, the hardship and suffering created by economic inequality in a democratic electorate becomes more fuel for the cycle of violence between nationalists and terrorists.

Finally, with the world already facing the bleak prospect of an inevitable rise of nationalism as electorates respond to these inputs, we have already crossed a point of no return for climate change. Climate change will serve to exacerbate these issues in an already tense world as weather patterns become more extreme and ocean levels rise. This will create millions of refugees in need of resettlement. As we have already witnessed through the Syrian refugee crisis, even a world not yet replete with nationalist forces in power is incapable of accommodating such a massive scale of human movement, thus creating fertile ground for terrorist organizations in need of new recruits. By ignoring these humanitarian crises, wealthier parts of the world promote resentment within suffering populations, which in turn creates individuals susceptible to the siren call of the radical. If their life is full of stark suffering in need of immediate relief and all the nations of the world close their doors, the refugee is at the mercy of the few organizations willing to take people in, regardless of their politics.

I say this not to predict doom and gloom, but rather to encourage my fellow voters to understand what is happening in the world, and what is at stake. Politics neither starts nor ends with presidential elections, regardless of who wins. Politics is not something we do once every four years and then forget. Politics is ongoing, every single minute of every single day. We, as voters, must understand this and educate and participate accordingly. There are still quality sources of information in the world, and ways to circumvent the constant hum of fear and corporate shilling present in nearly all major media outlets. The best defense is knowledge, action, awareness, and the ability to educate others. We are standing on a precipice now, not just in America but the entire human race. Nationalism is on the march across the globe with nothing standing between it and the destruction it seeks but electorates capable of nominating Donald Trump, voting for Brexit, rejecting the FARC peace deal, voting for fascists in Austria, Germany, France, and other EU nations, installing Duterte in the Philippines, removing article 9 from the Japanese constitution, demanding war with Pakistan from India’s Modi, et cetera et cetera and on and on. The point is we have a lot of work to do, and not much time to do it.

American corruption

Great article from Sarah Chayes on corruption in the US. The linked video of Alex Pareene on CNBC talking about the corruption of JP Morgan, which is then disdainfully rejected by the HxC capitalist apologists at CNBC, is fascinating to watch from a variety of perspectives.

First, thinking about it from the point of view of a Trump voter and how the nameless entrenched elites (Clinton in particular) must be held accountable, but with an odd qualifier that rich people are exempt due their “brilliant” ability to acquire more wealth. When wealth = virtue, this sort of cognitive dissonance is understandable. So would the working class Trump voters sneer alongside the CNBC hosts when they snidely declare using the word “corruption” is hyperbolic when describing…corruption? Some would, I’m assuming, but not all. To reach these voters, we need to decouple the ideas of wealth, hard work, and virtue. There are a few routes we can take here, but demonstrating blatant corruption from banks, a point I think left-wing liberals and Trump voters can come together on, is a good place to start. While doing this, we have to be careful to not directly attack the idea of “the American Dream.” It’s all some people are clinging too and they will defend it to the death, or their own financial ruin. Rather we can phrase it in terms of elites and corruption between politicians and bankers (sorry, Sen Schumer, you’re getting thrown under the bus here) and how the system is getting rigged against the little guy (because it is). Left-wing liberals and conservatives can agree on this issue, it just takes some finagling to get there.

Second, thinking about it from the point of view of a Sanders/Stein voter, it is simply another demonstration than anyone with money or power is corrupt. Possibly true, depends on the definition of corruption, as discussed in the article. In a civil society, nearly everything revolves around legal definitions. When we contract the legal definition of corruption down to such a meaningless level, as we have, all a moneyed interest needs is the right type and number of lawyers, and they are fairly well-protected from nearly anything. The cost of court is prohibitive enough to keep unmoneyed interests from challenging anything other than their most deeply vested issues. This itself could be considered a type of corruption, though one that simply exists due to the modern monopolistic necessity of the lawyer-industrial complex. The ability to tie-down, or threaten to tie-down, something in court for years is intensely anti-egalitarian and undermines the rule of law. And it touches on all aspects of life, from easements to intellectual property to regulations. This is another area where left-leaning liberals and conservatives can come together, I believe. No one likes lawyers running things and trampling over the common people’s rights. Unfortunately on issues like Standing Rock we are phrasing the problem less in terms of corrupt corporations abusing the rule of law and more in identity politics/moral terms, which is a losing argument with potential conservative allies. These could be uniting issues, but I believe because of phrasing and focus on our side and right-wing propaganda on the other, it simply becomes another area we clash. Is it a coincidence it enables the status-quo when our groups are in conflict? It’s probably just the most self-interested course of action for elites.

Finally, the Clinton voters/supporters. I honestly don’t know where a Clinton supporter (by this I mean the hawkish neoliberal-Larry Summers/Washington Consensus type) would stand on this issue other than say it’s not ideal, but it’s the best we can do in our current democracy. So, capitalist apologist apologists. The problem is, to really fix the problem, a goodly number of establishment Democratic politicians would need to go, and this is unacceptable (to Clintonites) seeing as they still have a pretty tight hold on the reigns (see: Pelosi). So, as we saw in this election, Clinton types are stuck between a rock and a hard place. They can’t condemn either political or economic corruption as a good chunk of their team is involved in either the practices themselves or culpable in the creation of the laws legalizing corruption in some way or another. Instead of making that tough first leap and cleaning up the party, Dems seem to be doubling down on their demographic game and just waiting out the US white population as that population’s numbers dwindle as a proportion of the electorate. Whether this is a long-term winning strategy is debatable as I don’t think Trump is going to end up being as objectionable to many Latinos as people predict (despite his rhetoric). In the near term, however, I think the state of the House, Senate (2018 in particular), State legislatures, Governorship’s, and Presidency speaks for itself. The GOP may be just as corrupt or even more so than the Dems, but at least they are the party of, “destroy the government because it’s corrupt.” So either the Dems take a page from their left-leaning colleagues and recognize the need to clean house, or we have to wait for the GOP to truly implode when it (I think) inevitably overplays its hand and does something that objectively and blatantly harms the little guy at the expense of moneyed interests. I prefer proactive approaches.

The liberal language problem

As I’m a fairly voracious consumer of news from all sources (including sites like Brietbart and Daily Kos. Yes I know, but I think it’s important to know what people I disagree with are going to say and why (and even empathize with them! (Also, yes I know))), I’ve noticed a very distinct and rather alarming trend on both the right and the left.

The right, for all its race baiting and sexism and classism (not from everyone and everywhere on the right, mind you, but I can say, fairly objectively, from significant portions) does an excellent job strategizing and packaging its language to be palatable to people who aren’t virulently racist or sexist or classist (if your gut reaction is to argue with me on this point aka “all Trump voters are racists and sexists,” I’m talking directly to you with this post), but aren’t active combatants in the identity politics crusade either. Frank Luntz (whose book “Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear” would be useful, if painful, reading for many liberal strategists/organizers) and people like him have been instrumental on this front, transforming right wing rhetoric into snappy phrases and sound bites like “job creators,” and “death tax,” and “hardworking taxpayers.” By coding their right wing language in acceptable-sounding verbiage, the GOP is able to a) package their material in voter-friendly dressing and b) soften the resistance to their more extreme ideas by making them sound less extreme. Saying, “We want to empower job creators,” is way more acceptable to most voters than, “We want to give capitalists more power.”

The left, on the other hand, has gone the other direction on the language issue, particularly in the realm of identity politics. For many liberals, language is now a tool to prove ideological purity, as in if you don’t use the right nouns and pronouns and verbs and adjectives in the exact right order when talking about the exact right thing, you could very easily be called a racist or sexist or ableist or ageist or speciesist or classist or homophobic or transphobic or or or etc etc etc. My argument isn’t to police anger (an important phrase), erase lived experiences (another important phrase), or do anything else to tell people they’re wrong in what they’re feeling (which has replaced research and evidence in many arguments). I’m aware I’m a cisgendered white male who has duly checked his privilege, and I promise I’m not pointing out these things to make fun of the concepts or deny their importance (though saying all this does feel like going through an elaborate ritual before anyone will listen to anything I’ll say, more style and checking the block on key words and phrases than actual meaning or substance). I believe they are important and should be discussed and debated. However, when it comes to building coalitions and winning elections, using this esoteric language, which is itself ripped from the pages of important, peer-reviewed academic articles discussing the construction of identities and used out of context in pop-culture and a toxic and bullying call-out culture on social media, is detrimental to our efforts.

For example, if I want to talk to someone I don’t know about what sort of movies they like, I’m probably not immediately going to start talking about the use of shot and reverse shot in Citizen Kane or the meaning of the different lighting methods Bergman used in Seventh Seal and how they reinforce his themes of existential dread…or whatever. I’m probably going to start by asking them what sort of movies they like and tailor my language and subjects to their responses. The same goes for political rhetoric. People are going to commit “microaggressions” during conversations in which you’re trying to educate them or discuss politics. That’s a fact not because they’re overtly racist or sexist or all the other –ists (usually), but rather because the concept of a “microaggression” isn’t particularly well disseminated or explained throughout our electorate (and also sometimes the term “microaggression” gets expanded to mean “anything that makes me uncomfortable or I disagree with”…which is itself a whole other subject) Beginning the education process on where you’re coming from and you’re lived experiences and you’re perspective can’t start way down the road after your own long journey of experiences and reading and learning for someone with little prior education or exposure to the subject; it has to start at the point where you can find commonality.

This isn’t what’s happening. Instead, liberals are insisting on using a very strict structured language system with shame and penalties for making a mistake, regardless of the circumstances or background of the person who makes those mistakes. Rather than tailoring terms, understanding, or empathizing with their audience, liberals are demanding everyone they engage with already have substantial knowledge of these concepts, and then even go so far as to claim that a lack of knowledge inherently implies prejudice. It’s rather revealing when someone going to an Ivy League school, or really any school, looks out on America’s roiling, underemployed, and vulnerable rust belt electorate and tells someone to, “Check their privilege.” White privilege is absolutely a thing and must be discussed, but so is access privilege, networking privilege, economic privilege, booksmarts privilege, and opportunity privilege. Discussing privilege and oppression isn’t about a competitive ranking system and who goes where in some cosmic list; it’s about being able to empathize with other people and understanding how certain systems, constructs, or cultural norms in our society are negatively impacting them. It seems many liberals have lost sight of this idea in their pursuit of the oppression Olympics.

By using language as a) a bludgeon to proclaim moral superiority or outrage, b) the “final word” in discussions where the assumption is that if anyone disagrees even slightly, they are morally impure and must be shamed into submission, and c) an elitist academic taunt when speaking to someone with plenty of other skills and smarts, just not in that particular academic field, liberals are ceding the wide and deep American middle-ground to conservatives who will happily gobble-up those voters with their tailored rhetoric and faux empathy.

The strategy of hoping the other side will say something offensive or forget to use their coded language so that voters will see the right wing in the same way liberals see them is not proactive; it’s passive and dependent on an opponent’s mistakes. Self-righteous anger wielded through the scythe of identity politics feels like, and might be, the morally correct path to take when an enemy is defined as “too heinous to reason with”. However, by applying this broad stroke to such a wide swath of our electorate, rather than the smaller percentage that would better reflect reality, we alienate potential allies, a term I would like to redefine as “someone who generally agrees with us,” rather than its current form of “someone who says exactly what we want them to say.”