Of Chickenhawks and Diplomats–War and Peace

File under “who do you trust?”

The usual suspects– Dick Cheney, Tom Cotton (author of the arguably treasonous letter to Iran sent earlier this year), Ted Cruz, Bibi Netanyahu and various Right-wing and media personalities– are attacking the nuclear agreement with Iran.

I have listened to their arguments, and they boil down to “get a better deal” (without any specifics about what “better” might look like) and “Any deal, no matter how good, legitimizes an evil regime, so we should never negotiate with Iran.”

When pressed to say what they would propose in lieu of the agreement, some opponents argue for the status quo, that is, continuing to enforce sanctions. In the real world, of course, this is not an option, since in order to work, sanctions require agreement and enforcement by the international community. That would be the same community with which we negotiated this agreement–the members of which have made clear they would react negatively to efforts to sabotage it.

What most opponents don’t say, but clearly mean, is– in the (in)famous words sung by John McCain– “bomb bomb bomb Iran.”

Because making war in the Middle East worked so well the last time.

If those opposed to this agreement are less than persuasive, what about those who have voiced support?

According to media reports, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, National Security Advisors Brent Scowcroft, Sandy Berger and Zbigniew Brzezinski, retired Admirals William Fallon and James Stavridis, and recent Senate Committee Chairmen Dick Lugar, Carl Levin, and Nancy Kassebaum, as well as Ambassadors Tom Pickering and Ryan Crocker have joined a bipartisan group of more than 50 retired military officials, U.S. foreign policy leaders, ambassadors, and leading national security experts in applauding the achievement reached after 18 months of complex negotiations.

Let’s see….Dick Cheney? or Dick Lugar?

I know who I trust.

Trivializing Evil

Godwin’s law is a term that originated on Usenet, in what we now think of as the dawn of the Internet age. Godwin’s Law posits that as an online argument grows longer and more heated, it becomes increasingly likely that somebody will invoke Adolf Hitler or the Nazis.

When that happens, the guilty person is seen to have effectively forfeited both the argument and the right to be taken seriously.

Mike Huckabee is certainly not the only elected official to have employed this odious hyperbole, but he is a serial offender; he has previously compared both legal abortion and the national debt to the Holocaust. Most recently, he has said that the Iranian nuclear agreement negotiated by the U.S. and six other nations would deliver the Israelis to “the doors of the ovens.”

(Of course, Huckabee is particularly concerned about Israel, because his belief in “end times” theology requires the prior gathering of all Jews in the Holy Land, where we are to be given a choice between accepting Jesus and burning in eternal hellfire. In other words, if anyone is going to incinerate the Jews, it had better be the Christian Zionists.)

We live in a time when language has been so debased that genuine communication is increasingly difficult. Labels substitute for descriptions; words that used to have content are hurled as epithets. But Godwin’s Law identifies an especially pernicious example of this phenomenon, because the easy and thoughtless accusations of “Nazi-like” attitudes and behaviors trivializes evil and blurs critical moral distinctions.

Comparing “Obamacare” to the Holocaust (as several Republican elected officials have done), or suggesting that IRS agents are “like the gestapo” (Maine’s Governor), or claiming that the effort to regulate for-profit colleges is like the Holocaust (GOP Rep. Virginia Foxx)  is more than ludicrous, more than offensive. It is a sign of moral obtuseness so pronounced as to mark the person uttering it as someone unfit for public office.

Or, for that matter, for polite society.

 

 

The Need for Certainty–Content Optional

A couple of years ago, I ran into a casual friend I hadn’t seen in many years–since college days, in fact.  Back then, in the early 1960s, he’d been a black sheep in his decidedly apolitical family, joining a young socialist group and participating in various protests. I was taken aback to discover that he has remained equally ideological, but is now somewhere to the Right of the Tea Party. Or Genghis Khan.

This sort of switch from far left to far right and/or vice-versa is actually not all that rare.

Libertarians often point out that the political spectrum should not be conceived as linear, going from left to right, but as a circle: at the top, where the left and right meet, are the authoritarians. (They may have different agendas that they want government to impose on the rest of us, but they’re both in favor of having government make the rest of us behave as they think we should…)

There are, of course, people who are authoritarian because they are passionate about a consistent political agenda, and absolutely convinced that it should be imposed because it represents Truth, Justice and the American Way. But there also are people like this old college friend who rather clearly have a need for bright lines and easy certainties–people who find the ambiguities of modern reality intolerable. Much like religious fundamentalists who switch from the literalism of religion A to that of religion B, they are people for whom having a dogma is ultimately more important than the content of that dogma.

The rest of us are left to muddle through contending prescriptions for what ails our body politic, uncomfortably aware that recognizing “it depends,” “I’m not sure” and “it’s more complicated than it seems” lack the appeal of rousing calls to arms.

As another friend of mine says, True Believers are often warriors, but you will search in vain for the armies of the Marching Moderates.

Actually, that may explain Congress….

When We Feed the Wolf….

In the aftermath of (yet another) movie theater shooting, my friend Chris Douglas posted a thoughtful warning–one we should take seriously but won’t, if history is any guide.

“Accounts from acquaintances, law enforcement officials and court records portrayed Mr. Houser, 59, of Phenix City, Ala., who also took his own life, as a man with a diffuse collection of troubles and grievances — personal, political and social — who had a particular anger for women, liberals, the government and a changing world.”

By the way, our political currents have a lot of people like this swimming in them…Angry and just shy of mentally unstable, if not already there, their emotions and incomplete thoughts are easily whipped up by calculating politicians. It’s what McCain was referring to when he said Trump was whipping up the crazies. It isn’t a minor phenomenon; it’s a major one. It destroyed Germany and produced war in Europe, and genocides all over.

The fellow could be dismissed as an isolated nut job… or viewed as a glimpse of what lies beneath the surface… ISIS is an eruption of such people, given free reign to do their worst when all else has failed in the Middle East… when societies fail to deliver the goods, other forces are there to take over. Let’s not fool ourselves that we are different from the rest of humanity.

One of the “goods” that governments are supposed to deliver is a fair economic system that provides citizens with a genuine chance to improve their conditions– a truly level playing field.

As Chris points out, one of the dangers of extreme inequality is social unrest. Most people can live with an economy that rewards some jobs and some workers more than others, but when the prevailing order is seen as rigged and grossly unfair, when the magnitude of reward is clearly disproportionate to the value of the social contribution, tolerance for disparities disappears. Grievances grow. People already on the edge go over it.

There’s a parable I’ve always loved, attributed to various Native American tribes:

One evening, an elderly Cherokee brave told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said “my son, the battle is between two ‘wolves’ inside us all. One is evil. The other is good.

When the grandson then asked his grandfather:”which wolf wins?..,” the grandfather replied, “the one that you feed.”

We need to think long and hard about what our policies are feeding.

Indiana’s Children

Sunday sermon.

According to the Indianapolis Star, the improving state economy touted by Gov. Mike Pence at campaign stops “has yet to trickle down to the 345,000 Hoosier children, or more than 1 in 5, living in poverty.”

In a recent editorial, the Anderson Herald Bulletin urged lawmakers to deal with the reality of Indiana’s working poor.

The Herald Bulletin has reported extensively this year on a group labeled Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed (ALICE) in a study released in 2014 by the Indiana Association of United Ways.

About 23 percent of Indiana’s population and about 28 percent of people living in Madison County belong to the ALICE group. While they earn too much income to qualify for most forms of welfare, they earn too little to afford necessities, pay monthly bills and save enough money to handle unexpected expenses such as illnesses and car repairs. Hoosiers who belong to this group find themselves in a spiral of debt toward poverty.

Many belonging to the ALICE group have children and find that paying for child care while they work is often a money-losing proposition. In Indiana, the Child Care Development Fund provides subsidies to help financially insecure families pay for child care.

It’s a great program, but it has a major flaw. A slight rise in income level can cause a family to lose eligibility, providing a disincentive to work hard and earn a raise. If CCDF subsidies were set up on a sliding scale, hard work would be rewarded.

Tweaking the CCDF program with a sliding scale is something we should do. And we should provide adequate resources for the Department of Children’s Services. But important as individual programs may be,  the inconvenient truth is that the welfare of Hoosier children is inextricably connected to the welfare of the families that are raising them.

When wage levels are too low to allow those families to provide decent housing, adequate nutrition and reliable child-care, children suffer. Recent research also suggests that the higher stress levels common to low-wage households take a particular toll on the children in those families, who arrive at school unready to learn,  and who have poorer health prospects and lower life expectancies.

A policy agenda focused upon keeping Indiana a low-wage state not only fails to create the promised jobs–it hurts children.

Politicians uniformly insist that they care about children, but aside from efforts to ensure that every conception ends in the birth of a child, I haven’t seen much evidence for that concern.