Category Archives: Foreign policy

Eyes Wide Shut

Trump’s most recent executive order (EO) regarding entry to the US of aliens and refugees from seven Middle Eastern countries has sparked a level of public outrage we have not seen since, well, a week ago during the “Women’s March”. At least this time the protestors have a legitimate reason to complain. This heavy-handed approach to preventing terrorist attacks in the US by barring entry of potential terrorists rests on the ill-advised principle that it is better that a thousand innocents be punished lest one guilty party go free. Some have argued that the choice of countries barred is illogical since there have been no known terrorists attacks in the US from citizens of those countries while citizens of Saudi Arabia who were involved in 9/11 are not on the list. But I would go one further: it doesn’t matter which country you put on the list, this process will be wholly ineffective. Actual terrorists trying to get in would not take the lengthy 2-year route of refugee status or try to travel commercial air where they would be quickly identified. They would find any number of other clandestine means to enter. The radicalized, but as of yet inactive, terrorist will easily pass. Lying is quite effective since we have no way to read minds or predict future events. Indeed, this EO would have not prevented the three most recent terrorist attacks in this country (Boston, Orlando, San Bernardino).

Now for the part people don’t want to hear. This action of Trump is what the state does every day: harms innocent people. For every supposed “beneficial” state action that you can point to as being “good” there are a multitude of unseen victims, sometimes unintended, sometimes intended. In that regard I’m glad Trump implemented this EO. It has finally awakened my friends on the left from their 8-year slumber. They are once again outraged when the state victimizes the individual on the altar of the nation or society. But, this reawakening will only have lasting effects if they can see and admit to themselves that what Trump is doing is a difference in degree, not kind, when compared to the actions of Obama in this arena. The US has always had policies that restricted travel of certain individuals. Sometimes when those policies were enforced innocent people were unfairly barred from entry. And sometimes those policies would arbitrarily change on a dime. Indeed just a week before he left office Obama ended a long-standing policy that would have permitted Cuban refugee (and many more just like him) Alexander Gutierrez Garcia entry into the US. Many were literally mere steps away from crossing the US-Mexico border when the order came down, crushing their dreams of freedom. So you see, a Democrat can also unfairly impose arbitrary rules that harm innocent individuals with hopes of living in the land of the free and the home of the brave. To my liberal friends, please try to remember that in 4-8 years when “your guy” (or gal) is back in office. I’ll be waiting.

Never Forget

“We will never forget.” This sentiment is nearly universally applied in remembrance of the September 11 anniversary. But what does it mean? Since most do not personally know someone who perished, it is doubtful it is intended to memorialize a particular individual. Rather, it is intended as a warning to those that attacked us, “I will never forget how you hurt us; you will pay for what you have done.” It is a passive-aggressive remembrance. But when a bee stings someone perhaps it is more fruitful to try understanding why they got stung than to wage war against the hive. Yes, the bee stung me and that rightfully makes me angry, but, perhaps my buddy should not have thrown that rock at the hive five minutes earlier. Maybe, just maybe, that had something to do with it. Sometimes we pay the price for the misdeeds of others. It is not fair. It is not right. We can’t change the past. But we can change the future by learning from the past.

Instead of being led by the nose, we need to start asking the questions we’re not supposed to ask. If the 9-11 assailants did what they did because they hate us for our freedom, then why have there not been attacks on every “free” western democracy for the past two hundred years? For some reason the history books seem to be silent on jihad-style attacks in the 1920’s or 1870’s. I wonder why. It is odd that the “modern” notion of Islamic extremist only developed post 1950’s. Let’s not forget that the US and UK governments played a hand in the 1953 Iranian coup d’état that saw the democratically elected Mosaddegh ousted in favor of a puppet dictator (the Shah). Let’s not forget that the Middle East was arbitrarily carved up by European powers in the wake of World War I and II. Let’s not forget Israel was created in 1948 by the UN by forcible removal of people from their homes. There is no single cause to this mess, but, that is the nature of an abusive relationship. A multitude of transgressions, large and small, will after many years culminate in a response. An abused spouse may long endure abuse until finally one day they strike back, violently. Such events do not occur in a vacuum.

To be clear, this is not “blaming America,” unless you subscribe to the fallacy that America is its government. Consider: my neighbor repeatedly tosses his dog’s poop over his fence into another neighborhood despite their protestations to cease such behavior. Then one day those neighbors toss a grenade back which also results in my house being damaged. I’m going to darn well blame them both! My neighbor’s actions precipitated this response. Stating that my neighbor played a hand in those events does not mean I’m disloyal to my neighborhood and blaming my neighborhood. A member of the group is not the group itself. Repeat after me: blaming our government is not blaming America. That is the lesson we should never forget: the actions of those we elect have consequences.

Entangling Alliances

The recent downing of a Russian military jet by Turkey should serve as a reminder of the sage advice of Thomas Jefferson during his inaugural address, “Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations-entangling alliances with none.” It is that last bit – “entangling alliances with none” that is most apropos. Turkey is a member of NATO, as is the US and virtually all other Western European countries. For anyone mindful of the deadly domino effect that plunged Europe into World War I (the assassination of a single man), this recent series of events should be a wake up call to de-escalate this situation as quickly as possible.

Fortunately, so far it seems Russia has shown an incredible level of restraint; one can only imagine the outpouring of jingoistic bellicosity had a US jet be downed by a close Russian ally. This may be simply that Russia is formulating a strategically crippling blow to Turkey or that it plans to milk this event diplomatically for all it is worth considering that Russian presently occupies the catbird seat of moral authority. The Russian jet was shot down and its pilots assassinated mid-air after entering Turkish airspace for a mere 17 seconds. Although Turkey insists the plane was warned for approximately 10 minutes to veer away lest it enter Turkish airspace, the standard course of action is to fire warning shots or to “escort” the plane back to the border. Yes, if Russia violated the airspace Turkey had a right to respond – proportionately. Mere flight is not in and of itself provocative enough to warrant instantaneous death, particularly when geographically it is the equivalent of flying over Key West and claiming a gross violation of the airspace of the US mainland. What Turkey did is akin to shooting the neighbor’s dog because it urinated on the edge of your lawn.

The magnitude of the overreaction by Turkey suggests something more is going on here. As it turns out this trivial border violation was but a pretext for Turkey to do what it has long wanted to do: directly provide military support for the Turkmen rebels in northern Syria who are fighting against Assad. The “airspace” violation merely provided cover to tactically engage with Russia without fully committing itself to an all out war with Russia over Syria. In other words, this was a sucker punch against a stronger opponent. Sometimes that tactic makes your opponent angry, but sometimes it stuns them into retreat. The outcome remains to be seen here.

So why attack that particular plane? It was on a well-known route that would end in it bombing regions of Syria where Turkmen reside. Russia has been bombing not only ISIS forces but also all those that oppose Assad, and this includes the Turkmen rebels fighting with the Free Syrian Army in the north. Sure enough, after the plane was shot down those Turkmen rebels shot and killed both airmen and destroyed a Russian rescue helicopter – with U.S.-made and supplied TOW rockets no less. The Turkmen (as one could have guessed) are ethnically Turkish but who happen to live on the wrong side of the arbitrarily drawn borders following the western led partitioning of the former Ottoman empire after World War I. Those arbitrary borders resulted in the Turkmen being inside what is today known as Syria. Turkey has long had an interest in aiding their ethnic siblings. Assad is no saint and has long suppressed the Turkmen minority (through attempts to Arabicize them, land seizures, and the banning of Turkish language). So to be sure there is plenty of blame to go around; there are no “good guys” in this Syrian conflict – not even the US, who in an attempt to undermine Assad (in furtherance of aiding our ally Turkey) gave arms to “Syrian rebels” who eventually morphed into ISIS and now threaten the stability of the entire region.

So in other words, our “entangling alliance” with Turkey, a moderate Islamic ally no doubt, resulted in the US directly playing a role in the creation of the most radical Islamic regime this world has even seen: ISIS. If the US is not careful, our entangling alliance with NATO and the requirement we come to the aid of NATO members who come under attack (i.e. Russian attacking Turkey in retaliation) may very well plunge us into World War III with a nuclear capable rival. Be afraid, be very afraid.

The Rise of Radicalism

In my prior article I made the argument that the real reason the terrorists target the US and other Western countries is not because they “hate us for our freedom” but rather that they hate us for interfering in their lives. The US and other Western nations (such as France) have a long and sordid history of interfering in the internal affairs of other countries, be it either operative-fomented coup d’états or outright military actions. There is a willfully selective blindness in the west that allows us to only see where we are but not how we arrived. But, my point is not to rehash my prior thesis but to respond to one of the stronger objections to it. It has been pointed out that this sort of argument ignores the fact that radical Islam truly wants all non-believers to die, that it is akin to Nazism and must be wiped out – those making that argument are correct, but not in the way they presume. Yes, indeed there are some adherents of Islam that believe these sorts of things. They are called radicals. Within any group of humans that subscribes to some ideological concept there are those who lie on the fringe and have their own unique interpretation of the group’s ideas. These ideas, by virtue of being “fringe,” are in the minority; the rest of the group quietly ignores such types lest mere acknowledgement of their ideas imply tacit acceptance.

For example, there are fringe groups who use the Bible as justification for their belief that the earth is flat, that “kinds” should be separated and thus racism is a “Godly” viewpoint, or that firebombing abortion clinics and murdering the abortionists is legitimate. Now of course all of us in the majority disagree with these viewpoints and claim their interpretation is obviously faulty, but nevertheless they still make the claim. So maybe, just maybe, radical Islamists fall into the same category of distorted interpretation. I imagine for every cherry picked outrageous phrase from the Koran one can find an equally outrageous cherry picked line from the Bible. Are we to honestly believe that ALL of Islam 100% agrees on the violent and hateful interpretations of such cherry picked lines? Christianity alone is proof of man’s inability to agree on anything. For something that is supposed to be the absolute word of God (the Bible) there sure are an awful lot of denominations with differing viewpoints on various aspects of scripture. Yet somehow we are supposed to believe that there is absolute solidarity among Muslims with regards to their scriptural interpretation.

The truth of the matter is that yes there are indeed radical Islamists that do believe we should all die, but it is the ignorant and ham-fisted actions of the west in the Middle East (primarily since the end of World War II) that have given their crazy viewpoint more credence and expanded their sphere of influence among fellow Muslims. When the radicals preach that the non-believers are devils who will come to kill them and destroy their way of life and then an endless onslaught of non-believers comes in and does exactly as they predicted year after year that tends to strengthen, not weaken, the position of those making the prediction. So the more any country occupies, bombs, and overthrows ruling regimes in Muslim countries the more they play right into the narrative the radicals are selling. This bolsters their authority and makes it that much easier for them to win more recruits and adherents. More bombs feed the flame of radicalism, they do not extinguish it.

Think of it like this: the majority of people view white supremacists as radicals, but now imagine what would happen if there were a massive and organized movement wherein all non-whites started killing white people en masse. Do you not believe this would have more and more people listening to what these white supremacists had to say? The longer such attacks continued the more and more people would turn to their ideas and do whatever they said in order to protect themselves. Then, one day they would no longer be a “radical” group but instead would represent the mainstream. This is what nearly 70 years of open and clandestine interference in the Middle east has wrought: turning the followers of a small and obscure sect of Islam into a growing force that will someday soon become the dominant authority. Apropos the Hitler reference: the only reason we had to fight Hitler is because the American government (by virtue of Wilson’s desire to plunge us into WWI) had a hand in creating the onerous Treaty of Versailles that primed Germans to welcome his radical rhetoric and ensured his rise to mainstream power.

If a drug company invented both a disease and the drug to cure it there would be outrage, yet when the state creates our enemies that only it can now slay we welcome it with open arms and applause.

Games without Frontiers

As the horrific events unfolded last Friday in Paris before a world stage, we, the audience, sat in stunned silence as waves of helplessness washed over us. If only we could protect those in harms way and end the madness. This sense of helpless resignation caused me to reflect on a line from Peter Gabriel’s song “Games with Frontiers” – ‘In games without frontiers, war without tears.’ Indeed this would seem contradictory, as this was a time for tears; however, for those in control of the game, there are no tears. This ‘war on terror’ is a boundless chess match in which the ‘leaders’ on all sides are utterly lacking in remorse when a few of us pawns get knocked over. They may wear their heart on their sleeve when addressing the masses, but when the cameras are off the mask of empathy is stripped away. Were this not true they would endeavor to engage in peaceful dialogues or simply withdraw rather than doubling down on the violence (which as I write this France has already done). As each side lobs their bombs at each other, we pawns become haplessly caught in the crossfire (the 9/11 attacks, Malaysia Air 17, Pan Am 103, Iran Air 655, Bali bombings, Russian Metrojet 9268, London bombings, countless others, and now, Paris). When will it end? If our ‘leaders’ have their way, never. All leaders have an agenda. Agendas require power to execute. Leaders derive their power from others willingly giving it to them. So like the con artist, they use deception to trick their target into willingly giving them what they want. When we feel unsafe we turn to those who claim they will restore what we desire. Problem is, those who promise that are the ones who precipitated the events that we now fear. But like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football, we fall for it every time.

This pattern of misdirection to reinforce one’s power position is not unique to the West. All conflict involves two parties fighting over some real or imagined initial injury. But human pride is such that neither side will ever back down. You attack me, I attack you, ad infinitum. At some point all conflicts distill down to the point that no one even remembers what started the conflict, only that they must strike back to get back for the prior strike upon them. This is where we are today. Feuds going back dozens, hundreds, or thousands of years drive just about every conflict in the world today. The leaders justify continued attacks by dehumanizing the opponent and his motivations into an absurd caricature that allows us all to feel justified in mass murder. Both sides do it, but the irony is we laugh at the ludicrousness of others being angry at the US because they think we are the “devil” but take with deadly seriousness being told we are attacked because we are free. To see the lie in that statement all we need to do is witness the words and deeds of these so called haters of freedom. Osama bin Laden put that one to rest over 10 years ago when he stated “If Bush says we hate freedom, let him tell us why we didn’t attack Sweden”. Then even more usefully he tells us how we can end their motivation to attack us, “the best way to avoid another Manhattan is to not threaten the security of Muslim nations, such as Palestine and Lebanon”.

If we truly wish to “do something” to prevent future attacks then please channel some of the energy you used in changing your Facebook profile to demonstrate solidarity with France into the more useful endeavor of supporting leaders that promise to withdraw our military and political presence from foreign soils where we have no business. If we withdraw from and ignore those who hate us we defuse the ability of their leaders to demonstrate how “bad” we are to their would be fighters. Few want to fight an enemy that has done nothing to them in ten years. Let’s start that clock now.

Consider how angry and upset we are over these attacks in Paris and then reflect on the fact that similar attacks occur on an almost monthly basis by drone and yet we hear nothing about it. Innocents murdered in cold blood and yet from the media all we hear are crickets. Those affected are just as upset as we are now and such actions only serve to keep the feud alive.

If a drone destroyed your child’s school or a mall where your loved ones were shopping (or even a hospital) would you not feel a sense of overwhelming rage and a desire to “get back” at whoever sent that drone? I am not suggesting such actions motivated by revenge are justified, but rather simply pointing out that this desire for revenge is a natural, primal human response. So given this knowledge, why do we keep throwing rocks at the hornet’s nest if we know the hornets will without fail sting us?

Tiger by the Tail

With the ongoing debate about the “Iran Deal” and whether or not it is “good” or “bad” no one has thought to ask why should there be a “deal” at all. Think about it – wherefrom does the United States, or any other country, assert the right to dictate to other nations what they may or may not do within their own borders? Do you think our government or citizenry would stand for one second if say France, Brazil, and Argentina got together and told the US government it must immediately cease all production of nuclear weapons and dispose of those that it had? The idea is laughable and yet that is exactly what our government, in league with other countries, is dictating to the Iranian government. Now make no mistake, I’m no apologist for the Iranian government. All governments are so bad the only way to rank them is from least bad to worst. But, if we are to accept the narrative of the statists, namely that the people’s of each country have the right to elect their own government (and yes, Iran is a republic with elections) and be ruled by them without external influence, then certainly the hubris of demanding that the people of Iran beg for permission to behave as other countries is evidence of rank hypocrisy.

Nobody asks why are trying to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon. To answer that we must ask why do we think they would behave any differently than other bomb-holding nations. The simplistic answer is, “they hate us” or “they hate Israel”. But why? People don’t just start hating other people for no reason whatsoever. Some might say it is their religion that drives them to hate us. But if so, then it seems quite odd none of these feeling manifested themselves prior to 1953. What’s so special about that year? Well it is the year the UK and US governments orchestrated a coup of the democratically elected Prime Minster of Iran, Mosaddegh, and the installation of our puppet dictator the Shah. Perhaps living 25 years under the Shahs’ brutal regime tended to foster a bit of resentment among the populace. Perhaps US aid to our good friend Saddam Hussein and Iraq in its war against Iran in the 1980’s made them somewhat skeptical of the neutrality of the US. That’s not to say that if Iran did acquire a bomb and used it that it would be justified, but it would at least be understandable in the same sense we can understand why a battered wife, after enduring years of abuse, would buy a gun and kill her husband. As our fictional friend Commander William Adama once said, “Sooner or later, the day comes when you can’t hide from the things that you’ve done anymore.”

Like a parent who abused their children when they were young and helpless, there comes a day when those children grow up ready to strike back. This deal is an attempt to forestall that inevitable day of reckoning a bit longer. We have been propagandized to fear that day will be marked with a mushroom cloud. But the ruling class knows that won’t happen, they are far more concerned that if Iran acquires nuclear capability then their power and influence will be reduced and they will have no choice but to treat Iran as an equal (or at least no longer meddle with them). North Korea has a far more evil government than Iran and yet we hear nothing in regards to “regime change”. It couldn’t be because North Korea has a nuclear weapon could it? Just as a gun on the hip commanded respect in the old west, so today does a nuke in ones arsenal grant one the right to be left alone. The idea that Iran would nuke Israel is laughable. Israel has its own nukes and would instantly respond in kind. But even more so, the geography of it makes no sense. It would be like New Jersey nuking Long Island and expecting Delaware, Rhode Island and Connecticut to not get upset by having a nuke dropped in their backyard.

Iran is like a mistreated tiger that we have firmly grasped by the tail. We know if we let go we may very well get bit, or worse. But that cannot go on forever. Someday we must let go. Perhaps if we do so voluntarily by lifting all sanctions and extending a hand of respect and friendship we can show we are serious about making amends for the past misdeeds of our government. That will not only pave the path toward real peace but will disarm the arguments of those in the Iranian government who, like our own chicken hawk Neocons, are saber rattling, using our bellicose behavior as proof of their need to strike against us. Remember, the Japanese didn’t just wake up one day and decide to bomb Pearl Harbor; the US had a years long Naval blockade – economic sanctions – on Japan. Actions have consequences. Some say to have peace you must prepare for war, but sometimes preparing for war sends the signal that there can be no peace.

Restore Our Freedom

This Memorial Day weekend we are once again drowning in a sea of reminders of what this holiday is truly about; honoring those servicemen and women who have sacrificed their lives in pursuit of protecting our “freedom”. Memorial Day has become the secular state’s equivalent of Easter in the de facto state religion: the Church of the State. In this new religion we worship icons (the flag), we beatify the saints (former presidents) but above all we worship those in the military who involuntarily (the draft) or voluntarily sacrificed their lives upon the altar of the state. They, like Jesus through his death, gave us a gift – in this case it is the gift of “freedom” rather than salvation. Unfortunately the myth of that gift is a lie. This lie allows the political class to maintain their hold on power by simultaneously convincing the noble to serve and the gullible to vote.

Now don’t get me wrong, those who have given their lives are indeed worthy of remembrance and respect. It is the rare individual who will sacrifice not for just his own kin, but for strangers he has never met. Such men and women are true heroes. What I am addressing is the monstrous lie our own government deploys every time they send these brave souls into harms way. To those in government, the citizenry is but mere fodder, to be disposed of with as much regard as one has for Kleenex when blowing one’s nose. Ever since the draft ended (and we stopped forcing young men to kill others at gunpoint) a false narrative has been spun in order to convince those of noble hearts that they are participating in something grand, something larger than themselves, that they are securing “freedom” for their fellow man.

Although superficially plausible (the military protects our freedom) ask yourself, when is the last time this country engaged militarily with anybody that was actually threatening to encroach upon our “freedom” as it were? Was North Vietnam preparing to invade Florida? Was Saddam Hussein ready to roll into Delaware? Yes, I see you there in the back of the class with your hand up going “ooh, ooh, ooh” just busting to remind us all of Hitler or Pearl Harbor. Surely those are example wherein our military protected our “freedom”. Pearl Harbor falls into the same category as 9/11; situations where the passive-aggressive interference of the US (e.g. economic sanctions against Japan, US troops in the middle east) were the direct and proximate cause of these supposed “first strikes” that were in fact counterattacks. That is not “blaming America” to recognize this fact – but it is indeed blaming our politicians who provoked these events. Their recklessness resulted in events that caused us to sacrifice so many needlessly. But seriously, does anyone think Germany or Japan could have invaded and taken over the entire continental United States? Please.

Every military situation this country has been involved in owes its genesis to some initial act by our own government. Even the rise of Hitler is directly traceable to US involvement in World War I (thank you Woodrow Wilson!) insofar as our strong hand during armistice negotiations table made the onerous treaty of Versailles possible. This lopsided treaty punished Germany so harshly it set the stage for Hitler’s rise; absent that treaty Hitler would have remained a bitter nobody.

If we truly wish to honor those troops that have given their lives, we too must fight. We must fight to elect those that promise to pull our military back to our shores and end our ceaseless meddling in the internal affairs of other countries. The biggest threat to our freedom is not from some foreign invader but rather from our own government. We are fast on our way to becoming a 100% permission based society. Consider what freedoms we have already lost and then consider the irony of thanking veterans for protecting these dwindling “freedom”: we must ask for permission from government to get a job, take a drug, start a business, pay an employee, sell alcohol, cut hair, sell any product, teach our children, by a gun, carry a gun, buy health insurance, board a plane, leave the country, enter the country, get married, or leave belongings to loved ones when we die. Likewise no permission is needed from us if the state wishes to enter our homes, cars or persons, guns drawn, looking for “something”. “Papers please!” cannot be too far behind.

So I say to the troops, if you really want to protect my freedom, don’t do it rolling around in a Humvee in some dessert somewhere. Do it by getting yourself elected and being part of the turning of the tide on government trespasses against our freedoms.

The Interview

Last week Sony Entertainment (Columbia Pictures) bowed to pressure from a cyber-terrorist group known as the GOP (Guardians of Peace) and announced that the comedy “The Interview,” which depicts the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, would not be released to theaters or online. The primary impetus behind this decision appears to be the threat of “9-11” style attacks on any theater that might dare show it. Being unsure of the credibility of the threat it would appear Sony decided to err on the side of caution and thus retracted the film from its anticipated Christmas release.

That decision was met with near universal indignation by basically the whole world. Many found it outrageous that a small group of people (believed to be North Korean government) could dictate to others what they may or may not see. Even President Obama weighed in on the decision, stating that he thought Sony had “made a mistake.”

Ok, so to summarize the events thus far: group of people A is using the threat of violence in order to influence the behavior of group of people B so that group of people C may not experience something that group A does not approve of. When abstracted this way does this pattern now seem more familiar? Yes, government. The only thing different about this situation is that people who are themselves usually in group A (governments and those that support their actions) now find themselves in group C. Not so much fun when someone else is doing the threatening, is it? As Americans, with our long tradition of (mostly) respecting freedom of expression, we are particularly outraged to be denied our basic human right to bear witness to fart jokes. In public we pretend that film banning doesn’t occur here, but privately we must admit that it does. Films have been banned in the US at various governmental levels for varying lengths of time (see: Monty Python’s the Life of Brian, The Last Temptation of Christ, The Tin Drum, The Profit, and Hillary: The Movie).  Most recently the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered Google to remove “The Innocence of Muslims” video from their website. America is hardly free of the stain of participating in group threats of violence to prevent others from witnessing particular media.

But yes, we should be upset that anyone would try to use the threat of violence or intimidation in order to influence what we may or may not watch. However, if one wishes to shed all remnants of hypocrisy, then one must also acknowledge that government, all governments, use this exact same method (threat of violence) in order to ensure that the will of some arbitrary group of people living in spot A is imposed upon some other arbitrary group of people living in spot B. Sometimes these threats seek to enforce a ban on a film and sometimes they seek to enforce other arbitrary edicts masquerading as “law”. The ends matter not; it is the means that are illegitimate. If one is rightfully offended that North Korea might seek to use threats of violence to alter ones behavior, then one should likewise take equal offence when anyone, anywhere, at anytime, seeks to alter the peaceful behavior of another with violence or intimidation irrespective of what honorific they endow themselves with.

Fortunately this story has a happy ending. A few days later Sony reversed their decision and announced that “The Interview” would appear both online and in theaters, albeit in a limited fashion. Considering how hard someone tried to make sure I couldn’t watch it, well, naturally now I had no choice but to go out of my way to watch it! Was it worth it? Well, as they say, there’s no accounting for taste, but, I did enjoy it. As long as one is exposed to puerile humor in small, intermittent doses (like capsaicin) it can be amusing. This film was not meant to be a political satire. There is no stinging tongue-in-cheek critique of North Korea (although unexpectedly the Kim Jong-un character zinged his American interviewer with the fact that per capita the US has more people in prison than North Korea (thank you drug war)). There is just some good old-fashioned escapist daydream-as-a-plot in which the main character kills the bad guy, saves the country from nuclear annihilation, and becomes the hero he always believed himself to be.

If I had a hammer…

This past week President Obama did a stunning impression of Ron Paul as he outlined a change in US policy toward Cuba. This new, friendlier stance is one Dr. Paul has advocated for years. Nice to see Mr. Obama finally coming around to Ron’s ideas. Perhaps next week Obama will announce an audit of the Federal Reserve! Although I don’t agree with the president about very much, he deserves to be commended for making a move that runs counter to the status quo. Introducing this new policy, Mr. Obama pointed out all the same facts that Dr. Paul brought up in the 2012 debates; primarily that after 50 years the embargo has been an abject failure in its goal of bringing about the downfall of the Castro regime. On its face the policy makes little sense given that the US has strong diplomatic ties and allows trade with other autocratic Communist regimes (China, Vietnam, Venezuela, etc.).

Yes, Castro is a monster, a cruel tyrant that has directly or indirectly, murdered, tortured and stolen from countless thousands of fellow Cubans. In a very real sense the Castro regime is running an island-size plantation; Cubans are in many respects slaves to their government. So it is understandable why Cubans living in the US would be opposed to trade with Cuba. Doing so is tantamount to buying cotton from a slave plantation. So in theory, cutting off trade seems like a moral and pragmatic idea. It is neither. The empirical evidence of the last 50 years shows us its failure at undermining the Castro regime (if anything it has supported the regime, as the embargo was used as the scapegoat for the failures of the communist system). And although trade restraint might be a moral decision if made by the individual, when the option to make that choice is forced upon us by our government, the morality of this course is drained away. It is OUR right to choose whether or not we will trade or associate with someone, not governments.

This change in policy has more to do with how the governments of each country interact with each other and little to do with what the citizens of those countries are permitted to do. For Cubans, all the same government restrictions on basic economic and social freedoms will remain in place. For Americans there will be an ever so slight loosening of the collar that holds back truly free and unrestricted trade. The hypocrisy of this policy, even in its slightly more liberal state, is laughable. It seeks to punish a tyrannical state that subjugates its citizens by subjugating the rights of citizens in this country. The citizens of both countries are but mere pawns in the game of their masters.

While President Obama is heading in the right direction now, it is a tepid first step at best. If Obama is serious about making a true change, he must pressure Congress to repeal the Helms-Burton Act (1996)  (this act makes it impossible for the President to unilaterally repeal the embargo – thank you President Clinton!). Once repealed, Mr. Obama could finally end the embargo once and for all.

Although ending the embargo would certainly benefit the Castro regime, the benefits to the Cuban people would overwhelm any short-lived financial windfall to the government. They cannot levy a tax on information. Through tourism and business there would be a cross-pollination of knowledge that would fuel the fire of change. Once lit, that fire spreads rapidly, nor is it easily quenched. For example, it is has been proposed that the TV show “Dallas” played a pivotal role in cracking part of the Iron Curtain. Back in the late 1980’s “Dallas” was shown on Romanian state television because the state thought it would engender distaste for the decadence of the west. But it backfired. Once exposed to the possibility of wealth, the people wanted that same opportunity for themselves (income equality sucks when everyone is poor). The lies of state propaganda are the dam that holds back the truth. It takes much effort to build and maintain, but once a crack develops nothing will stop the truth from breaking free and spreading. If only our government will allow it, the American people could be the hammers that crack the Castro’s dam of lies.

Look at the flowers…

The release this past week of the Senate’s “Study of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program” has exposed the dark underbelly of intelligence gathering to the bright daylight of public opinion. This is a good thing (the exposure, not the torture). The release of this information and subsequent national soul-searching reflects the somewhat schizophrenic nature of the American soul (insofar as a country can have such a thing). We, as a nation, are able to strike out and destroy anything that might be harmful while simultaneously being filled with remorse for doing so. “Look at the flowers… look at the flowers” (Walking Dead reference).

So while it is heartening to see the justifiable outrage of those who have learned of the sadistic crimes committed in the name of their “safety”, it is equally discouraging to witness a vigorously jingoistic defense of these crimes. The most common defense offered is a plausibly reasonable one: it produced actionable intelligence that saved lives. You know, the greater good and all. Unfortunately for that narrative, according to the published report, that is not the case. At best the torture only confirmed information that had already been acquired elsewhere using non-torture means.  At worst, people were tortured to prove a negative. That is, the CIA didn’t think the detainees knew anything of value, but they tortured them anyway just to make sure. Let me repeat that so the enormity of that evil sinks in. They tortured people they thought were innocent and of no intelligence value.

The more reprehensible torture defense is the “I just don’t care” defense. This is most succinctly portrayed in a burgeoning Internet meme depicting a person falling from the World Trade Center with the text overlaid “This is why I don’t give a damn how we gathered information from terrorists.” Yes, 9/11 was an awful, horrific, tragic event, but it is a complete non sequitur to conclude that anything done in the name of preventing something similar or finding those responsible is justifiable. For example, the US could nuke every country on the face of the earth except ours – that would definitely prevent another 9/11 and kill the perpetrators – but that doesn’t make such an action “ok”. So if we rightly repudiate the notion of killing billions of innocents to punish the guilty, we should also repudiate the killing (or torture) of even one innocent. It’s not worth it. Why? Well ask yourself how you would feel about that proposition if you were the one innocent person. Not so gung ho now.

Did the CIA likely have some really bad people in custody? Yes. But they also (based on the report data) had a lot of totally innocent people as well. The reason we don’t (or shouldn’t) engage in torture is the same reason we have an innocent until proven guilty court system; it is not out of concern for the guilty, but rather concern for the innocent. This protects you and me from being thrown in prison or tortured on the mere word or hunch of somebody; “so you say Jane’s a witch (terrorist) do you? Well that’s all the information I need, let’s go kill her.”

Should the suspected terrorists have a trial? Yes, every last one in custody. Otherwise how can anyone know if they are actually terrorists? If there is proof, then there should be no problem getting a conviction. But, if you subscribe to the notion that we won’t always have concrete proof, that sometimes we just have to go on conjecture, hearsay, or hunches, then here’s hoping you never end up in a prison of a like-minded country.