Good Night and Good Luck

To the kind friends who’ve taken the time to visit my site…

I’ve decided to discontinue this blog for now. Sorry, but I haven’t been putting much effort into writing posts since I returned from Europe. You’ve probably noticed that lately it’s just been the occasional update on the presidential race, which is not what I want this blog to be.

My initial intention was for immediate family members to read a few posts, and then maybe start up a bit of discussion on world affairs. But that has not happened; they just don’t seem to be interested.

So I’m not going to be making new posts anymore, but of course you can always read the old ones. And if something comes up that you’d care to discuss, don’t hesitate to send me an email. My inbox has been feeling quite lonely these days.

Thanks to all you loyal readers that have made me want to continue posting. (You know who you are.) But it’s time to get back to that big stack of library books that has my name on it…

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Democratic “Debate”

Well, the CNN Democratic debate last night was nothing special, mostly repetition of all the things we have heard ten times over in the past few months.  The only new issue was Clinton’s recent charge of plagiarism.

Hillary decided to go sentimental in her closing remarks, mentioning that she was honored to be there with Barack Obama.

Her sentimentality did help her just before the New Hampshire primary.  Still, in the midst of accusing her opponent of plagiarism, it’s odd that Hillary’s remarks bear a striking resemblance to those of her husband.

Doublespeak & Political Framing

In George Orwell’s 1984, we read of a totalitarian state where the government monitors all aspects of the citizens’ lives. The world of Big Brother introduces the reader to an entirely new vocabulary, including:

  • Doublethink – the power to hold two completely contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accept both of them.
  • Newspeak – a propagandistic language designed to diminish the range of thought; all words describing ‘unorthodox’ political ideas have been removed to limit the range of ideas that can be expressed.

A modern word has been formed combining their meanings:

  • Doublespeak – deliberately evasive language that says one thing but means another, usually the opposite.

This evasive language is often used by our politicians to expand power or avoid responsibility. Joseph Goebbels knew the power of doublespeak very well, as propaganda minister for the Nazis. A few terms he came up with were:

  • concentration camp = labor/death camp (joycamp in Newspeak)
  • protective custody = imprisonment without due process of law
  • Verschärfte Vernehmung = German for ‘enhanced interrogation’ techniques (for which some were found guilty of war crimes and sentenced to death)..sound familiar?

I would like to highlight some of the new vocabulary commonly used by ourselves and by our leaders in the present day.

  • War on Terror – implies a ‘good vs. evil’ mentality that our imperialism is fighting for freedom while ‘terrorists’ are fighting against freedom
  • War in Iraq – in reality an unprovoked, illegal invasion and military occupation, not a war
  • patriotism – unquestioning loyalty to the administration’s interests
  • freedom fighter – terrorist supporting America’s interests
  • terrorist – political rebel working against America’s interests
  • ally – client state
  • terrorist insurgency – seemingly everyone we kill is reported a ‘terrorist’ or an ‘insurgent’, which implies there is no Iraqi resistance; in reality about a million Iraqi civilians have been killed.
  • Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Just Cause, Operation Enduring Freedom, A War to Liberate the Iraqi people, and the like – political slogans for military operations
  • Support the Troops – approve of war no matter what; in reality, it should be to keep our troops safe
  • freedom – supposed to be “what we’re fighting for” yet Bush has enacted programs curbing freedoms
  • the Patriot Act – legislation responsible for trimming the Bill of Rights and limiting our civil liberties
  • unlawful enemy combatant – term used to deny prisoners the writ of habeus corpus
  • advanced interrogation techniques = torture
  • extraordinary rendition – deportation of prisoners by one country to another not burdened by following international laws, for the purpose of torture (“The USA does not torture” = we take them to Syria for that)
  • national security letter (NSL) – document used to bypass judicial warrant for search and seizures
  • self-injurious behavior incidents – Pentagon’s phrase for suicide attempts by prisoners
  • material witness – someone jailed without probable cause
  • security alert level – arbitrary system of colored code designed to scare the general population
  • stop-loss program (back door draft) – changed voluntary service to involuntary service after 9/11 to prevent soldiers from leaving
  • national security – term used to justify countless actions
  • security directives – secret laws made by unelected officials that we are not allowed to see
  • US Department of Defense – up until 1949 it was called the Department of War
  • regime change – forceful change of government by a foreign power
  • manifest destiny = imperialism
  • No Child Left Behind – school program of standardized tests that under-funds districts that need it most
  • down-sizing – massive employment termination
  • privatization – transfer of former public sector services to management by private firms
  • pacify someone – subdue him by force
  • propaganda – information from an opposing viewpoint
  • embedded journalists – reporters invited to war that live with the military, usually restricted in what they can report and who they can talk to
  • spin – an effort to portray events in a light favorable to the presenter
  • fair & balanced – Fox New’s slogan when it is nothing of the sort
  • truthiness – knowing things intuitively “from the gut” without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts (thank you Stephen Colbert)

We truly live in a world of Orwellian doublespeak as our perception of reality is framed by choice of words. Perform an experiment by listening to Bush talk about the war; see how many times he mentions the words freedom, peace, democracy, and terror. Bush uses the word ‘freedom’ to draw the most significant distinction from the word ‘terror’. He thus frames the fight against al Qaeda as a ‘struggle between freedom and terror’, a battle of ‘good against evil’.

These methods dramatically oversimplify the complicated arena of world politics; in fact, they are potentially dangerous in arousing jingoist sentiments and emotions. His “you’re either with us or against us” mentality blindly creates enemies where we haven’t any.

Politicians excel in the art of doublespeak, so try to call it out when you see it. If you’d like a test case, watch any of the presidential debates.

In Orwell’s world, it was the Ministry of Truth that concerned itself with lies, the Ministry of Peace with war, the Ministry of Plenty with starvation, and the Ministry of Love with torture. The motto of their country was: “War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength.”

And down is the new up.

(For a good, readable article on Political Framing, please click here.)

Invasion of Iraq

The supposed ‘war on terror‘ took a severe misstep with the US invasion of Iraq.

The groundwork for the preemptive invasion of Iraq was laid out by the National Security Strategy of 2002, which refined the concept of preventive war to say that the United States reserves the right to attack any country with the “intent and ability” to develop weapons of mass destruction, which essentially means any nation our leaders deem fit.

Subsequently, all of Bush’s initial reasons for invading Iraq were proven false: Saddam has weapons of mass destruction, he’s an imminent threat to US security, Saddam provided al Qaeda with weapons and training, and insinuations that Saddam was somehow behind the attacks of 9-11. With these reasons failing, Washington then shifted its stance to promoting the president’s ‘vision’ of spreading democracy throughout the Middle East.

So we are meant to believe that the United States has no interest in controlling the second-largest oil reserves in the world, which would give us leverage over Asian and European economies in the future. Rather, this is a mission in the name of ‘democracy’: to liberate the people of Iraq.

Saddam Hussein was a brutal tyrant; there’s no doubt about that, but Washington’s justifications to attack Iraq are lacking in credibility and timeliness. After all, Saddam was strongly supported by current administration officials and their mentors during the Iran-Iraq war in the eighties, and continually supported through his worst atrocities (the gassing of the Kurds in Halabja, the crushing of a Shi’ite rebellion that may have overthrown Saddam, etc.). The US continued to provide him with arms and funding (over $5 billion on credit between from ’83-90), as well as technology and biological agents that could be adapted to weapons of mass destruction.

In the early nineties, the Gulf War led to a decade of harsh economic sanctions on Iraq, which caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis (mostly children). When asked on national TV about the deaths of half a million Iraqi children, Secretary of State Madeline Albright said, “we think the price is worth it.” These sanctions crippled the Iraqi economy, destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure, increased civilian dependency on their dictator, and eliminated Saddam’s capacity for aggression. This made Iraq one of the weakest countries in the region; Kuwait and Iran did not even regard them as a threat. So you can see that the brutal Saddam was much more dangerous back when he was our friend and ally, rather than when we invaded Iraq in 2003.

Nevertheless, the drumbeat for war ensued; Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell and Rice each played on the fears and emotions of the American people. They warned of stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, uranium from Africa, aluminum tubes, mushroom clouds, yellow cake, mustard gas, al Qaeda ties, etc. Failing to obtain UN support, the invasion proceeded with a ‘coalition of the willing’ (primarily the UK & Australia), in which only four other countries supplied troops.

The war was deeply unpopular with the citizens of all the coalition countries, except within the United States, where the administration’s message resounded to exploit the fears of its citizens. They predicted we would be ‘greeted as liberators‘, that Iraqi oil would pay for the cost of the war, and Rumsfeld doubted it would ‘take 6 months‘. Post-invasion, they assured the public that the insurgency was in its ‘last throes‘, that the violence was just the ‘birth-pangs of a new Middle East‘, and that ‘major combat operations in Iraq have ended‘ in Bush’s famous ‘mission accomplished’ speech.

Contrary to their predictions and assurances, the Iraq occupation has lasted for over four years so far, cost the American people over half a trillion dollars, and caused the deaths of nearly 4,000 American troops (plus over 50,000 wounded). The country has fallen into sectarian civil war between Iraqi Sunni and Shi’a factions while American troops are left in the middle. About one million Iraqis have died as a result of this fighting; more than 1.7 million people are internally displaced, while two million refugees are living abroad. These results are unquestionably contributing to the destabilization of the Middle East.

Politics of an American Family

I have often found a clash in the political views of my family. Occasionally, there may be a light argument between myself and my parents or sisters, but nothing too drastic. Out of curiosity, I had my each of my family members participate in an online political test to see where their views fall on the political compass.

Standard rhetoric limits the spectrum of political thought to a ‘left’ or ‘right’ ideology. While this may be acceptable in discussing economic issues, real political affiliation is more complicated than the standard left-right line. The political compass test plots the result of political affiliation in both economic and social dimensions.

They closely evaluate the public statements, manifestos, interviews and, most importantly voting records of world leaders to find out where they fall on the compass.  Feel free to take the test yourself (post your results in the ‘comments ‘section below), but for now, here are the current results of my family’s political affiliation (click to enlarge):

Politics of a Family

Based on these results, you can see that most of my family falls within the inner few units of political center. In contrast, I have developed a much more leftist, libertarian viewpoint.

Focus

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is James Patrick Taylor. I grew up outside of Chicago in a town called Naperville, the only boy in a family of six children. I did well enough in school to go off to college in central Illinois. It was there, beginning with the atrocities of 9/11, that I began to take an interest in world affairs.

I graduated with a chemical engineering degree, but a lack of desire to put it to use working for a large corporation, as a few of my friends began to do. Since school, I have done quite a bit of world traveling to broaden my perspective of our place in the world.

I have come to realize that there are good, kind people in every country on this earth. I believe there is an overall desire to do good and to leave this world in better shape for future generations. Sadly, there are also people in this world that fall victim to a desire for money and power. These are the wealthy elites that hold the current grasp of world power.

My specific focus in this blog will be on the United States of America and its participation in world affairs: past, current, and future. As a citizen, I feel that I bear a part of the responsibility for the actions of my government.

I understand it may be difficult to hear the facts of our past and current participation in world affairs; the truth is not always pretty. But it is critical to understand the role we have played in the past in order to accomplish the tasks we face in the future.

Introduction

I am establishing this web log to keep people informed of America’s place in world politics. I know most people work hard just to keep their families fed and secure; most do not have the time or interest to pay attention to world affairs.

Those that do make an effort to stay informed still have to deal with the obstacle of corporate media, which has control over the views expressed to the mainstream audience. My goal is not to overwhelm you with lengthy political rants, but to keep the entries short, informative, and accessible to everyone.