Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Look Around You - WE Are Not Who We Are....

Protip: We're not Winning
I've always slotted more comfortably into the 'lefty/liberal' slot when it comes to political, economic and social ideology. I came by it quite honestly - raised in Northern California with virtually no indoctrination in tribal hatreds - true, very little in the way of diversity, but that's one way to cut down on ingrained bigotry. My mom was a devout Catholic, but never even mentioned it at home, and when I stopped going to church it wasn't seen as a big deal. When I was small my mom warned me that homosexuals might 'try to hurt me', but as I grew up it became increasingly obvious that wasn't true. And my dad taunted me that my long hair made me 'look like a girl', but c'mon, we had mirrors in the house and I most certainly did NOT look like a girl, regardless of the length of my hair.

It was just obvious to me - you lived in a community, you helped the people in your community when they needed it, and they helped you when it came time for that. Why shouldn't a community use it's pooled resources to protect and care for everyone, before ever looking outside? And that was a worldview that scaled well, from neighborhood to city to state to the entire nation. If we were going to ask the people in our community to contribute resources via taxation, those resources should first and foremost go back into caring for the community.

From these simple observations, an entire ideological worldview emerges fully-formed. The answer to any question is always either 1.) does it contribute to the well being of the community or 2.) if it does not, is there any better application of those resources we should consider before committing them to any given initiative?

Most - if not all - of my friends are similarly aligned politically, mostly because conservatives and libertarians find me insufferable, adroit enough in my grasp of political history and economics to be equipped to poke an endless series of holes in their assumptions and fallacies. For that matter, I find anyone who is forced to believe false 'information' and fallacious assumptions in order to hold a clearly untenable worldview to be insufficiently intellectually curious to be tolerated.

But here's the thing. When we talk to each other, and we listen to each other, and we collectively point and laugh at the malicious mean-spirited buffoonery on the other side, we start to believe that EVERYBODY believes the things we do. After all, we talk on Facebook, we read Daily Kos and Kevin Drum and TPM and Vox, we see the ridiculous bile spewing from Fox and Limbaugh, and we just know that America is coming around to seeing things the way we do.

So here's a little reminder - think of it as a PSA, or maybe just a reality check. America is a place where diversity and tolerance are considered toxic, where tribal, racial and sectarian hatreds are taught from birth, where concepts like education and health care are socialism, that most un-American of concepts, where war and violence and incarceration and capital punishment - even torture - are American 'values'. "Liberals" are increasingly hated and feared - the leaders of the far right decry 'secular progressives' as their most dangerous and hated enemy. The stand united against everything America is supposed to be, and they stand under a banner that un-ironically says FREEDOM.

Whether you look at state and local government, abortion, guns, human and civil rights, even at something as uncontroversial as peace, we are not winning. Bernie Sanders has almost a million donors. Setting aside that ALL money in politics is bad, no matter who's money it is, there are 140 million registered voters in the US, and the vast majority of them HATE Bernie Sanders with a passion that even exceeds the hatred we felt for GW Bush. We keep thinking that demographics will eventually turn the US into a place we would recognize, but look around you. How's that working out for us?

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Mischief Is Afoot at Mischief Reef

Chinese Dredging Operations at Subi Reef
Pointless wars, endless military interventions and meaningless saber-rattling are very bad strategies for international relations. The US has been far too willing to engage the world with a military-first strategy - that simply cannot be argued. With 25 years in Iraq and 15 years in Afghanistan, with nothing, not a single positive outcome on offer, it's worthwhile for the American leadership to examine how we deal with foreign challenges and adversaries, and what international leadership really looks like in the 21st century. So given that interpretation, the current American naval 'provocation' in the Spratley Islands would seem to be irresponsible and unnecessary. But maybe not. Let's think this through.

As you probably know, the Chinese have claimed sovereignty over a number of tiny island chains in the South and East China Seas, delineated by the infamous "Nine Dash Line". These rocks and outcrops, mostly uninhabited, stretch from Taiwan down to the Philippines, and are alternately claimed as sovereign territory by Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam, The Philippines and even Brunei. But go back and look at that list of competitors for these lonely rocks. China has nothing close to a peer-competitor in the international contest for the ownership of the South China Sea. So the Chinese rolled out a massive dredging program to build islands where there had been nothing but submerged reefs. On Mischief Reef, on Subi Reef, on Fiery Cross Reef, they turn submerged rocks into islands large enough to support an airstrip and a garrison.

Here's the thing. The Chinese are claiming a 12 nautical mile 'Exclusive Economic Zone' around these man-made islands. Setting aside that 12 mile EEZ doesn't allow the restriction of international navigation, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea addresses this specifically and directly - you get 500 meters around a man-made island. And here's the really fun irony. The Chinese have signed and ratified the UNCLOS, and are making claims that run directly counter to its specifications. Meanwhile, the US, who signed the UNCLOS twenty years ago but has never ratified it, is demanding the power to enforce its provisions.

So there's the background. It's in this environment that the US Navy dispatched the Arleigh Burke class destroyer USS Lassen (DDG-82) to conduct FONOPS (Freedom of Navigation Operations) by sailing intentionally through the 12 mile EEZ claimed by China around Subi Reef. And to be very clear, this is a good thing. China is what we call a 'regional hegemon', the 800 pound gorilla in their neighborhood. Nobody's going to go to war over shipping traffic in the vicinity of man-made islands in the middle of the South China Sea, but China could easily intimidate her smaller, weaker neighbors like Vietnam and the Philippines. But it's very hard to intimidate a Burke class Destroyer, arguably one of the most powerful surface warships in the world.

This isn't about beating our chests or provoking war. This is merely telling a regional bully that we're not going to sit back and let them take control of international waters. This mission wasn't about the US at all, it was intended to show the Chinese that if they make statements like this, we're going to make them eat those words with the whole world watching...