Obama’s Lousy Political Advisors

This post is not about moral agonizing over Syria. It is not about the soul-searching I believe President Obama or his advisors did before deciding to support a limited armed strike against Syria’s dictator, Bashar Assad. It is simply an observation about the political advising the president gets. And I can’t help but conclude he got some pretty lousy advice on this one. Continue reading


Rewriting History and the Republican Presidential Campaign

When I teach history (or heck, when I think about it), I tend to (try to) see the relevance in today’s world. Apparently, other folks do this as well. Each quarter, when I ask students why they decided to take a history course, a majority of them say something about history being “useful” in explaining the world. There have been many times when I’m staggered by the insightful connections they make in class. Presidential candidates attempt this all the time. Too bad for all of us, they usually do so very poorly. And not unoften (that one’s for you, Grant), the stakes can hardly be higher.

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‘Vaginas’ is spelled wrong

http://www.owningpink.com/blogs/owning-pink/sperm-trumps-vagina-wtf<–I just had a really intense response to a homework assignment about this article and Devin suggested that I share it.

It will take me a few days or weeks to get over learning that my vagina can fall out (#5). Regardless, I can’t help but think that this example of a “crazy thing about the vagina” is a wonderfully vivid metaphor for what Lissa Rankin is trying to do with her spreading awareness about the vagina and the discourse about vaginas– let’s stop hiding them! (Google Chrome is telling me that ‘vaginas’ is spelled wrong. I think this might also be symbolic of the fact that in our society the vagina is a personal and hidden thing between a female’s legs. If the discourse about the vagina were more public we could probably all get our vaginas together and have wonderful discussions…and Google Chrome might then accept the vernacular instead of only the pompous Latin medical term ‘vaginae’. There is no squiggly red line under ‘penises’.)  Continue reading

The most disappointing president

Just thought I’d pass along this note from interfluidity, one of my favorite bloggers:

I no longer trust my own government to be the provider of a civilized society. No government is perfect or without corruptions. But in 2007, I thought I lived in a remarkably well-governed nation that had gone off-kilter under a small and mean administration. In 2011, I view my government as the sharp edge of an entrenched kleptocracy, engaged in ever more expansive schemes of surveillance and arrogating powers of ever less restrained brutality. At a visceral level, I dislike President Obama more than I have disliked any politician in my lifetime, not because he is objectively worse than most of the others — he is not — but because he disproved my hypothesis that we are a country with basically good institutions brought low by poor quality leadership. Whenever I hear the President speak and am impressed by the quality of his intellect, by his instinct towards diplomacy and finding common ground and rising above petty struggles, I despair more deeply. Not just because a leader of high quality failed to restore passably clean and beneficient government. It is worse than that. The kleptocracy has harnassed this man’s most admirable qualities and made them a powerful weapon for its own ends. He has rebranded as “moderate”, “adult”, “reasonable”, practices such as unaccountable assassination lists and Orwellian nonhostilities. He has demostrated that the way grown-ups get things done in Washington is by continually paying off thieves in suits. Perhaps it is unfair to blame Barack Obama for all this. Maybe he has done the very best a person could do under our present institutions. But then it is not unfair to detest the institutions, to wish to see them clipped, contained, or starved.

In a roundabout way, it leads to a kinship (that he leads the post with) between seemingly far-flung communities: there are both left- and right-wing types who think we need to take substantial steps back from the ominously powerful State that we currently have. Of course, I disagree strongly with the content of many of those proposals, but I can’t fault them for thinking that our government does terrible things. Sometimes, it does.

American Imperialism, post 1

"Unmanned" predator drone

Whether dubbed the American Empire, the American Imperial State, American Imperialism, the informal empire, or whether one refuses to call it any of these, the United States today holds a vast amount of power and sway in economic and militaristic terms. As of 2004, the US mans 735 military bases in 130 countries while possessing half of the world’s armaments. Or, if you prefer, in the words of Paul Kennedy:

Nothing has ever existed like this disparity of power; nothing. I have returned to all of the comparative defence spending and military personnel statistics over the past 500 years that I compiled in The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, and no other nation comes close. The Pax Britannica was run on the cheap. . . . Charlemange’s empire was merely western European in its reach. The Roman empire stretched farther afield, but there was another great empire in Persia, and a larger one in China. There is, therefore, no comparison.

Add to this the increasing reach inside and out of the US of the insidiously named predator drones and the contrast is made even starker. How then does one discuss, label, and track this contradiction, the American empire? And how does it fit into a larger history and memory of the US?

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For Freedom! (…to get oil)

New British documents just uncovered prove that oil really was a central motivator for the war in Iraq (even though that many already thought this is well-illustrated). As Paul Bignell reports over at The Independent,  “Plans to exploit Iraq’s oil reserves were discussed by government ministers and the world’s largest oil companies the year before Britain took a leading role in invading Iraq, government documents show.” The documents also shed light on the machinations going on inside the US. While the drumbeat to war was hammered on the one hand by economic motivations (oil), the other was certainly beaten by the trend of US conservatives to recast “rogue dictators” as (one of) the new central enemies of America. Continue reading

“The Decline of Democracies”

In an attempt to not be labeled an alarmist, I wish to posit a juxtaposition: might there be a corollary to the famous concept of “The Decline of Civilizations” entitled “The Decline of Democracies”? Let’s face it: modern democracy hasn’t been around too long, and so cannot be said to have yet passed the test of time (in a meaningful, 500 year-old civilization-historical sense). Three events have sprung to mind just recently bringing this idea to mind in an urgent manner. I’m not saying the three are equally important and perhaps they’re not significant at all (but I suspect they are). I’m sure all three are resultant from many things, but most especially the “War on Terror.”

In sum, these are some initial thoughts on some immediate events that have eroded US democracy, and I’m curious as to 1) what you all think about them specifically (they each deserve their own treatment of course, but we’ll start with this) and 2) if they could be translated into a wider theory of “The Decline of Democracies”? Continue reading