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Posted by on Sep 5, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 5 comments

North Korea Has Nukes: Let’s All Quit Panicking and Deal With It

 

 

THE RISK OF NUCLEAR ANNIHILATION IN THREE ACTS

ACT I:

So, everyone’s freaking out about North Korea having nuclear weapons.  I get that.

North Korea = bad.

Nuclear weapons = bad.

North Korea + nuclear weapons = worse.

North Korea + nuclear weapons + an intercontinental ballistic missile system + a hydrogen bomb = time to panic.

Let me be clear.  I wish there were no nuclear weapons.  I wish there were no international conflicts.  But, there are nuclear weapons and there are international conflicts.  That’s been the case since the United States became the first — and so far only — nation in the history of humanity to drop a nuclear weapon on a civilian population.  Not once, but twice.

_____

ACT II:

Students of world history everywhere foresaw these crossroads of conflict intersecting quite a long time ago and there was little, if anything, anyone could do to stop the inevitable pile up of geopolitical interests.  The wheels of what’s become a perpetual nuclear standoff were set into motion from the instant gunpowder was invented.  Call it — destiny.  So-called “advances in technology” created musket balls, then bullets after that — then bombs, then chemical bombs, then battleships, then bombs on battleships, then rockets, then bombs on rockets, then ballistic missiles, then nukes, then nukes on everything from rockets to airplanes to submarines.  Next up — baby strollers armed with nukes (don’t laugh — terrorists somewhere are probably working on this now).  And, we aren’t even finished with all the “advancing” yet — assuming the whole damned planet doesn’t blow itself up in a giant mushroom cloud of mass extinction.

Yes, a nuclearized North Korea is precisely what happens when absconding recklessly into the mad laboratory of political miscalculation.  Add one-part American global policeman certain to ignite flash points and a pervasive attitude of resentment (800 American military bases in 70 countries), a bitter Korean War still going on seven decades after the last battle was fought, combined with inevitable advances in military technology increasingly accessible to an ultra-paranoid totalitarian state willing to sacrifice every shred of human comfort within its borders for its own despotic survival — and that singular obsession was bound to spawn a successful nuclear weapons program at some point.

Well, that point is now.  As horrific daily life is for the average North Korean, millions likely starving and brainwashed, the only way Kim Jong-un holds onto his power for several decades (remember — “Dear Leader” is relatively infantile age 35) is to prop up the barricades with fiery weapons that no adversary will dare ever want to face.  That means building nukes and demonstrating the willingness to use such deadly instruments if ever seriously threatened by attack.

Hence, Kim Jong-un is behaving exactly as he should, that is, within his twisted distortion of what his nation-state should forever be — a one-man dictatorship.  He would be utterly foolish to scale back any nuclear ambitions now after coming so far, given those advances shall provide his regime not only membership in the coveted country club of players holding a nuclear super driver, but a negotiator that has to be respected if for no other reason than the man with the funny haircut has powers to wipe out his neighbors with one phone call.  It’s reminiscent of the local street thug who yanks a businessman off the street into a back alley and sticks a Glock pistol up to the temple and then blurts out — “So, do you respect me, now?”

Faced with annihilation by giving the wrong answer, what are we to say?

Unfortunately, we can’t take out this street thug, not without pronouncing an instant death sentence upon millions of innocent South Koreans, Japanese, and perhaps Americans who are also within range of the regime’s conventional weapons and nuclear scope.  If we had such powers to secretly rid the world of this menace, extrication by force would have happened quite some time ago.  Recall our nation tried to murder Cuba’s Fidel Casto multiple times and failed miserably.  By comparison, there’s little chance of penetrating an even more formidable line of defense within the psychotic state of North Korea.  Besides, there’s no guarantee that killing Kim Jong-un would even solve the bigger problem of nukes.  His successor might perceive the assassination of the national leader who’s worshiped as a god to be immediate grounds for launching a catastrophic end-all war.  So, let’s dispel the crazy talk of killing North Korea’s leader, at least for now.  That’s probably riskier than launching a military attack.

So, what should we do instead about this “threat?”

How about this:  Nothing.

That’s right.  Do nothing, except play it cool.

Of course, I don’t mean nothing in the sense of abandoning diplomacy.  I don’t mean nothing as in letting down our guard.  A wiser alternative — America’s defensive nuclear capabilities should be strengthened not just because of the looming North Korean threat but also the inevitable acquisition of nuclear capabilities by other rogue nations and perhaps even maniacal terror groups.  A sobering reality is the day will come when wackos somewhere will get nuclear weapons and we damn well better plan for that day.  Perhaps shutting down a few of the 800 military bases spread out in 70 countries could be a solid down payment on strengthening America’s national defense because right now it looks a helluva’ lot more like a national offense.

Quoting rogue journalist Caitlin Johnstone:

“It’s just mind-boggling how they keep selling the same plotline over and over and over again.  A mentally deranged dictator is threatening American safety and abusing his own citizens, and we need to take him out right now before he does any more harm!  People buy into it again and again, like a bunch of kids watching Scooby Doo thinking “This monster’s real for sure this time!”  Then it turns out the ghost was just the creepy old rich guy from scene three and the next episode they’re acting like it never happened.”

_____

ACT III:

The United States has faced identical threats before.  A few times, in fact.  So what, if anything, did we learn from our own history?  Listening both to breaking news and the knee-jerk ramblings our current leaders — apparently nothing whatsoever.

In 1949, the U.S.S.R. successfully tested its first nuclear weapon.  At the time, that closed-off nation was ruled by a cruel despot named Joseph Stalin who had previously murdered millions of his own people in a reign of terror known as The Great Purge.  Many people thought he was crazy.  Across the ocean, when news reached our shores that Stalin had “the bomb,” Americans panicked.  Congress launched investigations.  Sedetionists were imprisoned and executed.  The “Red Scare” led to a terrible scourge known as McCarthyism.

Some 15 years later, Red China successfully tested its first nuclear weapon.  At the time, that isolated nation was ruled by a cruel despot named Mao Tse-Tung who had murdered millions of his own people in a reign of terror.  Many people thought he was crazy, too.  Across the ocean, when news reached our shores that the People’s Republic of China had “the bomb,” Americans panicked.  Over the next ten years, Mao launched the Cultural Revolution, one of the most frightening periods of the 20th Century — all while he had nukes in his pocket

Today, another presumed madman has nukes.  Yet, as harsh as his rule has been for North Koreans, based on all the evidence there’s nothing to suggest that nation has any plans to launch an invasion of its neighbors.  More precisely to the question — who exactly is North Korea going to attack?  Only three possibilities exist:  [1] China — a nuclear superpower and its primary trading partner?  [2] Russia — with nuclear capabilities and nothing really of value within North Korea’s reach?  [3] South Korea — bolstered by a whopping 3.7 million troops (one of the largest armies in the world), plus a dominant presence by American forces backed with nuclear weapons?

What exactly is the threat here beyond the obvious risk of some kind of accident?

Does anyone seriously believe the North Korean leader is suicidal?  I don’t think so.  There’s no evidence of this.

Stalin and Mao — two icons who essentially comprise the ideological Mt. Rushmore of North Korea — weren’t suicidal.  Yes, they were cold.  They were cruel.  They were calculating.  They were also survivors, in part due to their imposition of domestic terror and threats to foreign outsiders.  They never came close to using nuclear weapons.  The same can probably be said of Kim Jong-un.

Of course, President Donald Trump lacks the willingness to try and understand the complexity of this crisis.  He possesses no knowledge of history.  For this and other reasons which are painfully obvious, he could not have handled recent developments in Asia any worse — except for launching a reckless first-strike himself, which he’s actually threatened to do in more than one tweet-crazed instance.  Trump’s dangerous rhetoric has accomplished nothing of value, othering than pushing North Korea into a dangerous corner.  Instead of “backing down,” as he falsely claimed the regime would do, North Korea is going full-steam ahead with their nuclear program.  They’ve even accelerated their testing.  Given Trump’s threats and demeanor at this point boosted by scandal and an imploding administration, North Korea would be crazy not to refine their nuclear capabilities.

Far worse than nukes parked permanently inside North Korea is America’s declining credibility in the world, not only to our enemies, but among friends.  Since North Korea called down President Trump’s tempestuous bluff, the United States now has few cards left to play.  We threaten to unleash “fire and fury” one day.  Then, this past weekend, the president admonishes our most essential ally in this conflict, South Korea, for engaging in diplomatic talks.  Simultaneously, we threaten to suspend all economic ties with China, the world’s second-largest economy and probably the best leverage we have in trying to negotiate with the North Koreans. Given all the double-talk and messy clean-up afterward by his increasingly frustrated subordinates, to describe President Trump’s doctrine on the Korean crisis as “confusing” would be overly generous.  It’s more like — incomprehensible.  It’s the crayon drawing of a 3-year-old.

Here’s a more reasonable alternative.  Stop panicking about North Korea having nuclear weapons.  This day was destined to come.  It’s happened before with eerily similar brutal hard-line regimes, and yet somehow we’re all still here.  And, it will likely happen again in another part of the world in the near future, what with “advances” in technology and all combined with a thriving pipeline of weaponry supplied by unconscionable death merchants seeking profits.

Alas, the only widespread panic that’s entirely justified remains the presence of a stooge occupying the White House right now who’s at the helm of this nation’s great military power, an incoherent hot-tempered narcissist prone to illogical impulse at any time of night or day, an entertainer-in-chief hopelessly lacking any of the critical skills of his cooler and more clever predecessors — from Harry Truman to Richard Nixon to Ronald Reagan.  Even on their very worst days, no one ever thought any previous president might be crazy enough to send the missiles flying.

Indeed — perhaps, it’s time to panic after all, but for entirely different reasons.

 

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Posted by on Aug 10, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 4 comments

Ersatz Experts Spewing Nonsense on North Korea

 

 

Ersatz Experts Spewing Nonsense on North Korea:  

A By-the-Decades Look as to Why the United States Had Few Other Options in Dealing With the World’s Emerging Nuclear Pariah

 

Plenty of ludicrous comments about the North Korean nuclear crisis are floating around social media right now.

They’re being spewed mostly by ersatz experts — petty armchair partisans who have absolutely no clue what they’re talking about.

Some of these crackpot ideas can be dismissed easily and perhaps should even be ignored.  However, given the appalling lack of mainstream knowledge about the unique history of this part of the world, now seems like the perfect occasion to examine things from a broader perspective.  My goal in this article is to try and disprove and then correct this false narrative which I believe undermines any solution to what has become a very dangerous problem.

The most widespread criticism (and naivete) goes as follows:

We should have done something much sooner about North Korea.  

In other words, the United States (with or without its allies) should have taken some decisive measure to deter — if not demolish outright — North Korea’s nuclear capabilities and stymie its intercontinental missile system.  What military action we should have taken precisely, and when exactly, isn’t really clear.  But, we’ll get to these sticky issues a bit later.

President Donald Trump and his legions of imbeciles point an accusatory finger at the previous Administration for the problem.  They claim President Barack Obama (and their favorite punching bag — former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton) didn’t do nearly enough to prevent North Korea from reaching this dangerous apex of military advancement.  Trump’s partisans also accuse other previous presidents, namely George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, of kicking the nuclear tin can down the highway for the next guy to deal with.

At first glance, this complaint might seem to have legitimacy.  However, the claim is demonstrably false and illogical, as I’m about to prove.

Let’s be clear.  The Korean War did not end.  The Korean War even continues to this day.  Sure, the United States (and other UNC forces) stopped fighting way back in July 1953 when a fragile armistice was signed on both sides of what’s now become the DMZ.  However, both North and South Korea are still technically intertwined by hostilities and remain locked in a perpetual state of conflict.  Let’s not project the advantages of our geographic distance away from the conflict (some 6,000 miles) onto a common people divided by politics and ideology who might have to bear the terrible cost of our miscalculations, if things were to spin out of control.

The fragile political and military balance which has existed on the Korean Peninsula for the past 64 years since the last shots were fired is far more complicated today by South Korea’s burgeoning economic success.  This makes them perilously vulnerable to destruction if a war were to break out.  Seoul, which is South Korea’s biggest metropolis, lies exposed only 37 miles from the North Korean border and could probably be wiped out within a half hour if the asinine “fire and fury” ramblings of the President were to come true.

Accordingly, I pose the following questions to those who insist that “we should have done something sooner.

[1]  What precisely should or could have been done to prevent the current crisis?  Please point to the exact year when North Korea should have been invaded by U.S.-led forces with the objective of overthrowing that detestable regime.  Give me WHEN, as in the year.

[2]  Provide details as to how we should have gone about invading North Korea.  Let’s remember, three years of bitter hostilities between 1950-1953 cost nearly 55,000 American lives, and failed to accomplish this objective.  Give me HOW, as in how things would turn out differently the next time.

If you’re drawing a blank, but still want to pin the blame on previous Administrations, then let me provide a historical timeline, by decades.  Allow me to examine some of the alternative options of attack, along with my conclusions:

1950’s — The United States reached the height of its military and economic power and influence during the ’50’s.  Much of the world was either in rebuilding phase after the destruction of World War II, or was in disarray.  However, with so many potential flash points emerging given the spread of communism around the globe (especially in Asia and Latin America), the U.S. could not continue waging the Korean conflict without enormous costs and risks, especially with Red China backing the Northern side with both military support and manpower.  Conclusion:  The U.S. had already tried to unite the two divided Koreas, but failed.

1960’s — As things turned out, the United States did engage in a catastrophic land war in Asia lasting nearly a decade, but it wasn’t in Korea.  It was Vietnam.  That costly war resulted in the loss of 57,000 American lives and ended in defeat.  We found out that the old conventional ways of fighting wars didn’t work as well anymore, particularly in jungles and among cultures we didn’t understand.  Conclusion:  If anyone thought invading North Korea would be easy, just remember what happened in Vietnam.

1970’s — Had the United States foolishly launched an attempt to invade North Korea during the 1970’s, the consequences could have been disastrous.  Detente (the world’s first nuclear arms agreement between the US and USSR) would certainly not have taken place.  Moreover, President Richard Nixon’s opening of diplomatic and trade relations with the People’s Republic of China would clearly not have happened, at least until many years later.  An invasion of North Korea might have brought the world to the brink of World War III, instead of being a period of peaceful transition and successful diplomacy.  Later, the downfall of the Shah of Iran in 1978 would also lead to an entirely new regional conflict for America.  Conclusion:  There’s no way the US would have invaded North Korea after its bitter experience in Vietnam.  

1980’s — The Reagan-Bush years brought an era of tough talk, but turned out to be a relatively peaceful period.  By decade’s end, many once-hostile governments to the West had been overthrown (the USSR and most communist governments of Eastern Europe collapsed by 1990).  There were genuine reasons for optimism that China, too, might undergo a revolution.  Recall Tiananmen Square.  Predictions of communism’s implosion even extended to North Korea.  Given so much of its military and economic support had come directly from the USSR and PRC (both in a state of flux), many experts thought it was just a matter of time before hardliners in North Korea met the same fate of other dictators, such as Romania’s Nicolae Ceausescu, a Kim Il-sung protege who was shot after being overthrown in a mass uprising.  Conclusion:  Once again, there was no compelling reason to invade North Korea at the time, given the events happening throughout the world which were very good for democracy.

1990’s — In the aftermath of communism’s collapse in many countries, it seemed that either one of two things would happen in North Korea:  (1) It would experience its own revolution, or (2) Kim Il-sung, who had been the country’s only premier since its inception in 1948, would finally die and be replaced by a more moderate leader.  “Dear Leader” did indeed die in 1994, and for a time, even though he was replaced by his son Kim Jong-il, it did appear that North Korea might be moving towards reform.  For instance, the North Koreans signed a new disarmament agreement, a first for the regime.  The country also experienced a terrible famine lasting four years that killed over a million citizens, leading many to believe the regime would not be able to stay in power much longer.  Conclusion:  Though North Korea was arguably at its weakest point ever during this decade, it remains hard to justify why an invasion and/or overthrow of the government would have been necessary.

2000’s — America’s vision of the world and its future changed completely on 9/11/01.  In light of the worst attack on the U.S. since Pearl Harbor, the national focus pivoted to the Middle East, not Asia.  Military units were dispatched to Afghanistan, and later to Iraq (under false pretenses that should have been prosecuted).  Those two pointless wars stretched our military capabilities to their limit.  Hence, while it’s easy now to blame the Bush Administration and ask why something wasn’t done about North Korea, perhaps the better question to ask would be what was the whole point of waging two trillion-dollar wars with no end in sight in the Middle East?  In 2002, North Korea pulled out of the non-nuclear proliferation agreement it had previously signed.  Conclusion:  The U.S. already had its hands full with two brutal wars in the Middle East, threats of domestic terrorism, and couldn’t afford another major war in Asia.

2010 — present — President Obama inherited two of the longest-lasting wars in American history as well as the worst economy since the Great Depression.  By 2012, Egypt had been overthrown, Libya fell and exploded into chaos, the Syrian Civil War began, and ISIS was formed.  Iran also ramped up its nuclear ambitions (which were suspended following successful negotiations resulting in the Iran Nuclear Deal — which appears to be working).  Given all the attention on the Middle East and the emerging scourge of global terrorism, just how or where the United States could have possibly come up with the money or manpower to overthrow another nation which up to this point had been contained for six decades is anyone’s guess.  Conclusion:  Simply put, anyone who looks back at the events of the past eight years and still insists the U.S. should have invaded North Korea has to show where was the imminent danger and where the money and manpower would have come from.

Naturally, hindsight is far easier than foresight.  Anyone can boldly claim now what should have been done earlier.  But even if we knew back then what we know today, I’m still perplexed as to when any previous Administration could have opted for a successful military option in dealing with North Korea.  Again, if anyone thinks otherwise — please point to the precise year and exact means of producing regime change.  Propose an alternative.  I’m all ears.

The bottom line is this:  There never was a good time to invade North Korea nor to overthrow any of the three Kim regimes.  The current state of affairs — a North Korea with nukes — was probably even inevitable given so many other international conflicts and priorities, combined with our painfully naive exaggeration of supposed American military superiority.  Any belief that North Korea could be defeated easily is folly, proven by our dismal past failure in Vietnam and the continuing costly military stalemate in Afghanistan which appears to have no end.

 

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Posted by on Jul 28, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 1 comment

John McCain’s Glorious Revenge: Arizona Senator Bitch Slaps Trump

 

 

Late last night in front of the entire country and the whole world, Sen. John McCain bitched-slapped the President of the United States.

He did it with a defiant thumb turned upside down, signifying a vote of “no.”

This glorious act of sweet revenge may have been the senior Arizona senator’s finest hour ever on Capitol Hill, especially after years of waffling all over the political gridlock since he was humiliated as captain of the painfully inept McCain-Palin shipwreck that ended up getting iceberged back in 2008 by Barack Obama.

Indeed, just about everyone outside the Right-wing fringe with a stranglehold over Republican Party politics had given up on the so-called “maverick” politician.  Two decades earlier, Sen. McCain made quite a name for himself for his willingness to compromise on important issues in order to get things done and even worked with members of the opposition party — noble virtues considered heresy inside the poison well of our political culture today.

Sen. McCain’s moderation seemed to be a thing of the distant past.  That was until late last night, at about 1:45 am local time in Washington, during a late-night roll call vote on a spellbinding motion to move a controversial bill forward that might have gutted the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. “Obamacare”).  As the names of senators were called one by one, everyone knew the vote would be razor close.  Even though Republicans control the Senate, they needed just 50 “yes” votes for the bill to pass.  Trump’s Vice President, Mike Pence would have cast the fateful deciding vote.  But the bill fell just ONE VOTE short.

Somewhere along the line, Sen. McCain either came to his good senses or recognized the Trump-led Republican Party for what it’s truly become — a shit show.  He’s come to realize there’s a madman running the American government’s three-ring circus.

We may never fully know the reasoning behind Sen. McCain’s surprising decision to break away from the members of his own party.  Indeed, he did appear to change his mind on this issue.  However, one has good reason to suspect this was a heavy dose of sweet revenge.

Two years ago, then-candidate Donald Trump made what many believed was an appalling political gaffe when he stated:

“[John McCain) is not a war hero.  He was a war hero because he was captured.  I like people who weren’t captured.”  [READ MORE HERE]

From 1967-1973, Captain McCain was locked up Hanoi inside a North Vietnamese prisoner of war camp after being shot down as a Navy pilot.  He endured unfathomable torture dished out by his captors which resulted in lifelong debilitation of the full mobility of his arms.  Meanwhile, within that same time frame, Donald Trump dodged the draft and took FIVE military deferments to avoid service in Vietnam.

You tell me — who’s the hero?

McCain’s “heroism” would make an astonishing encore appearance, this time in a very different act of defiance against an adversary, not foreign but domestic.  The greatest irony of all was this was supposed to be “heroes week” at the message-marketing White House.  Finally, a promise was delivered.

A few days ago, less than two weeks after undergoing emergency brain surgery to remove cancer that’s lodged behind his left eye socket, Sen. McCain made a triumphant return to the Senate floor, the stage of many his previous battles.  However, this battle might have been his greatest victory, both personal and political.

Sen. McCain — so derided by critics for so long both on the Right and Left, so often the victim of his own compromises, so ridiculed for his confusing stance on many important issues — finally stood up and asserted that faint but flickering glow of independence.  He passionately argued for bipartisanship and urged his colleagues to come together.  Then, late last night in that roll call vote, he backed up his words with decisive action.  That’s leadership.

While he spoke to the full chamber watching in silence, one couldn’t help but notice Sen. McCain’s gruesome scar across his forehead.  But that wasn’t the biggest scar in Washington, this morning.  Indeed, a far more ghastly scar was inflicted upon the spiteful, petty, bully of a showman with zero legislative accomplishments in his first 7 months in office who was just schooled about how to really “make deals.”

Making good deals starts with this, Mr. President — treating people right.  This is something the man who took credit for his ghostwritten biography entitled The Art of the Deal” knows nothing about.

Thank you for rising to the occasion, Sen. McCain.  This may have been your finest hour.

 

___________

MORE:  Listen to the audible gasps from the U.S. Senate when Sen. McCain walks into the chamber, asks for the attention of the clerk, and casts his vote:

 

 

 

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Posted by on Jul 27, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 2 comments

Braver than Bigotry: Counterarguments to the Ignorance of Trump’s Transgender Ban

 

 

“After consultation with my Generals and military experts [1], please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow … Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity [2] in the U.S. military.  Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming … victory cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs [3] and disruption that transgender people in the military would entail [4].  Thank you”

— President Donald Trump

 

Question:  What’s braver than bigotry?

Answer:  Any transgendered person who is willing to voluntarily enlist in the United States military, especially in face of so much ignorance and hatred.

Unlike the dirt-dumb, draft-dodging, tweeting-twat tainted with the stain of five cowardly draft deferments, many thousands of transgendered Americans have answered the call to duty and been brave enough to serve our nation.  Listen up, Mr. President — you might learn something.

Instead of choosing to take their rich daddy’s dirty money and spend most of their lives dodging creditors, avoiding taxes, bankrupting bond holders and business associates, scamming poor college students, and preening for television cameras, many fine American citizens who also just so happen to be transgendered opted to join our armed forces.  To me, this takes a special kind of person.  So far, according to the U.S. Department of Defense’s own records, virtually all of these people on active duty and in reserve units have served honorably.  Many transgenders even risked their in combat and were awarded the most prestigious honors we can bestow on the bravest.

Are you listening, you bumbling coward?

However, our bitter half-wit of President with absolutely zero previous military service — with no prior background in any form government — and who lacks any experience whatsoever in foreign affairs — shocked everyone yesterday when he tweet-farted an inexplicable official new military policy certain to disrupt and distract us all once again from things which are important.

The military ban against transgenders wasn’t just wrong in terms of its substance.  The ban was yet another classless, poorly-thought through, politically-motivated smooch to the religious right wing hate machine, one of his few constituencies of continued support.  It seemed to be made with all the contemplation of popping an Alka-Seltzer after a case of indigestion.  The ban even blindsided the highest members of his own cabinet, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and all four branches of the U.S. military.  They all woke up Wednesday morning to a new order from the President, with no sense of guidance nor any detail.  Waking up in America now has been reduced to running to the crib each morning to see what the screaming baby has tweeted out to the world.

As is the case with all things Trumpian, the statement is pockmarked with blatant falsehoods and lies.  See President Trump’s statement above.  Accordingly, I have highlighted four particular segments in bold type:

[1]my Generals and military experts” — Generals and military experts do not belong to you, Mr. President.  Personnel in all branches of the military have served this proud nation long before you.  They will serve once you are long gone — hopefully sooner rather than later.  Moreover, the President clearly did NOT consult with anyone on his staff.  President Trump lied.  See:  US JOINT CHIEFS BLINDSIDED BY US MILITARY BAN

[2]in any capacity” — This was the line that took many by surprise.  Clearly, there are many jobs in the military which transgendered people can do just as well as everyone else.  The “fitness for combat” debate is perhaps worth having and we should let those who know combat have a strong voice in this.  However, most jobs in the military are not combat-related at all.  They are in support.  Many are technical.  Others are in repairs.  These jobs should be open to everyone who’s willing to enlist, so long as that person passes the necessary training requirements.  This includes transgendered people, too.

[3]tremendous military costs” — Here the President is referring to a tiny fraction of enlistees who opt to have transgender surgery while on active duty.  The Pentagon reports this medical cost amounts to about $8.5 million per year, which is about the cost of a couple of tires on a F-22 fighter.  Just to prove the absurdity of this comment from the President, erectile dysfunction pills (such as Viagra) costs the U.S. taxpayer ten-times the amount as transgender surgeries — nearly $90 million annually.  “Tremendous military costs,” my ass.  President Trump is lying.

[4]disruption that transgender people in the military would entail” — Wrong again, Mr. President.  Not just wrong.  But embarrassingly wrong.  Don’t take my word for it.  Listen to the RAND CORPORATION, the most revered, hawkish, pro-military think tank in the history of the United States.  Rand released a comprehensive study on this subject last year.  Their conclusion (in their words) was as follows:  “Policy changes to open more roles to women and to allow gay and lesbian personnel to serve openly in the U.S. military have similarly had no significant effect on unit cohesion, operational effectiveness, or readiness.”

 

Here are a few additional *myths* I’ve come across on social media during the last day or so (with my responses):

MYTH:  Transgenered people are bad for morale and combat-readiness:

Wrong.  Rand Corporation’s study examined all nations where transgendered (as well as gay) people have served, including combat.  “….little or no impact on unit cohesion, operational effectiveness, or readiness.  Commanders noted that the policies had benefits for all service members by creating a more inclusive and diverse force.”

 

MYTH:  Transgenered people don’t make as good a soldier as “straight” enlistees.

False.  There is no evidence in support of this.  Yes, there are some anecdotal experiences of bigots who may not have been entirely comfortable serving alongside people they think are different.  Yet, nearly two years into the policy of inclusion and nearly two decades into a more open policy towards gays, military preparedness has not been impacted whatsoever by their inclusion.  If anything, given some difficulty in recruiting talent and finding people willing to engage in combat, the volunteerism by transgenders (and gays) has been positive.

 

MYTH:  The military is not a place for social experimentation and forced engineering of equality.

Bullshit.  The same sadly pathetic outdated arguments were once used against Blacks serving when the armed forces were fully integrated in 1948.  Later, Blacks ended up serving in disproportionally higher numbers in combat when Vietnam came around, thus negating the “social experimentation” claim.  Later, the same prejudice was used against women enlisting in various jobs.  Then, the same excuse was pulled from the mothballs again when we began allowing gays to serve.  Now, here were are in 2017, and the old putrid stench of bigotry is back rearing its ugly head once again.

 

MYTH:  The military isn’t like civilian life or other government jobs.  Service men and women do not enjoy the same rights.

This is true, in part.  However, we’ve seen over the generations that military service is often a critical gateway to accessing education and training.  This has especially been the case for the poor and lower middle-class who have looked to the military as a springboard to a solid career, a good-paying job, and greater stability later in life.  Those who are able to serve and gain skills are often preferable job candidates.  They enjoy advantages over non-veterans, especially in many technical, medical, and security jobs (vets get preferential hiring treatment in most government positions).  Denying any person access to the military DISCRIMINATES AGAINST THAT PERSON FOR THE REST OF THEIR LIFE.

 

MYTH:  We should listen to the military people alone on this issue.  They know more about this than we do.

Yes, we should listen to the military people.  But we should also listen to others, too.  In the past, a large contingent of the military opposed racial integration, saying it would destroy morale.  They were wrong.

 

MYTH:  The military isn’t the place to take risks, especially with lives on the line.

False.  The military has always been the greatest risktaker in America.  The military rolls experimental aircraft down runways, manned by brave pilots who don’t know if the plane will fly or crash.  The military uses all kinds of experimental weapons, many of which explode accidentally.  The military engages in risks in battle — almost daily.  Risk is a fundamental part of life in the military, for everyone.  Hence, allowing .02 percent of the armed forces to be made up of transgendered personnel seems like a relatively minor risk, especially given that it’s produced no discernible issues, so far.

 

MYTH:  Transgenders are enlisting to get free surgery, at taxpayer expense. 

Numbers vary, but out of 1.3 million service personnel currently in uniform, somewhere between 1,600 and 6,500 are believed to be transgendered.  The actual number of trans-related surgeries performed each year is quite small.  Moreover, the motivation for joining the military varies.  Many enlist in order to get training and education.  Some seek the benefits.  Quite a few simply want to serve their country out of patriotism.  The same motivations which apply to “straights” also apply to transgenders.

 

My position is simple:  I will stand up and fight for equal opportunity for all, including transgender people.  This is NON-NEGOTIATIABE.  It is a basic human right.

In conclusion, I have but one final question for all the bigots and blindly-obedient Trump fluffers out there who think banning transgender people (or anyone else physically and mentally fit to serve) is a good policy:

Why are you so afraid of transgender people?

Here’s a thought:  Perhaps you’re the one who needs mental counseling.

 

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Posted by on Jul 24, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Picture 1, Travel, Uncategorized, What's Left | 1 comment

The Greatest Photograph Ever Taken

 

 

[This is the follow up post to the article “WHAT’S THE GREATEST PHOTOGRAPH EVER TAKEN?” and subsequent discussion HERE which took place on Facebook.]

 

You’re looking at the greatest photograph ever taken.

It’s an astonishing image, spellbinding even, especially given the unforeseen interlude of the snapshot and the tumultuous times unraveling back on earth at the instant that it was taken.  The image is a blaze of contrasts, and for many — an inspiration and a call to action.

This photograph was snapped by William Anders in late 1968.  Anders was one of three astronauts aboard the Apollo 8 space mission.  Remarkably, Anders had no prior experience in photography, and yet his image has been called “the most influential environmental photograph ever taken.”   Not bad for an amateur.  The photo was even something of an accident.  It wasn’t planned.

Later named “Earthrise,” we see the earth in the distance which appears as an oasis of vibrant colors floating in the dark abyss of outer space.  The foreground shows the moon’s surface up close for the very first time, directly beneath the Apollo 8 spacecraft.  Contrast this image with grainy black and white television images transmitted back to earth from the lunar capsule, and the differences are striking.  We take these images for granted now, but at the time they were taken and later splashed around the world in media, we were in awe.

This image was a first in so many ways.  Earthrise was the first photograph to show the earth in its entirety.  While some of earth is concealed by a shadow and we can’t see the other side of the planet, it’s still the first comprehensive photo of all of humanity and the place we call our home.  Still, let that sink in.  Before this instant, we never quite knew what the whole earth looked like.  Previous manned space missions had beamed back many stunning images, but they were taken much closer to the earth’s surface.  Until this mesmerizing moment, we’d never seen ourselves truly as one.  In a sense, it’s the first “group shot” of everyone on earth.

This is us.

The timing of the photo also adds significantly to its power over us.  From space, we see what seems to be a peaceful planet.  But the historical backdrop to this photo was the terrible year that was 1968.  The world was in chaos.  This was the height of the Vietnam War.  The two superpowers were locked in a death-stare of conflicting ideologies, both sides stanchioned by thousands of nuclear warheads.  At the time, the U.S. didn’t even recognize the largest nation on earth, the People’s Republic of China.  Apartheid was the law of the land in South Africa.  Famine and starvation raged across parts of Asia and Africa.  Tensions were brewing in the Middle East, which had just come off a war between Israel and the Arab States in the prior year.  Central and South America were in the midst of their so-called “dirty wars,” as many countries were ruled by brutal military dictatorships.  Revolutionaries were active almost everywhere and had even launched a new tactic particularly loathsome to humanity, called “terrorism.”

The United States was also in crisis.  National Guard units patrolled the streets of many American cities.  There were nightly curfews.  Every major university had mass protests against the Vietnam War.  Race relations exploded into riots and burned many American cities.  There was a generational split on every cultural and political issue — the old didn’t like or trust the young, and the feeling was mutual.  Yes, 1968 was a bad year — Dr. Martin Luther King was gunned down.  A few months later, Robert F. Kennedy was murdered.  Even one of the national political conventions erupted into near anarchy.

Yet, none of these man-made troubles are apparent in this stunningly beautiful groundbreaking image.  This was the portrait of a seemingly very different world that was taken when Anders lifted a Hasselblad camera loaded with 70 mm film and aimed it at the earth.  The audio recording of the conversation between the three astronauts inside the spacecraft reveals just how spontaneous this moment was:

William Anders:  Oh my God! Look at that picture over there!  There’s the Earth coming up.  Wow, is that pretty.

Frank Borman:  Hey, don’t take that, it’s not scheduled. (joking)

William Anders:  (laughs)  You got a color film, Jim?  Hand me that roll of color quick, would you…

Jim Lovell:  Oh man, that’s great!

Here’s another thought:  Given these historical firsts, the ironies of what the year 1968 was like, and the accidental occasion to take such an iconic photograph, also consider the actual date this image was taken.

December 24, 1968.  Christmas Eve.

Some 240,000 miles away, a billion people were about to celebrate the holiest of holidays.  Many of us would later sit down to dinner just hours later with our friends and loved ones (I was 6-years-old at the time).  While many of us enjoyed our Christmas feast, three remarkably brave men were so very far away, locked inside a tiny compartment the size of a Volkswagon, circling the moon.  The mission set the stage for the first moon landing, some seven months later.

Now, take another look at the photo.

I’m often asked why I believe the way I do.  I’m asked what makes me champion the virtues of science and reason, and why I value cooperation over conflict, and why I’m an advocate for human and animal rights, and why I’m an environmentalist, and why I don’t believe in imaginary gods, and why I don’t think national boundaries or borders are a good thing when it comes to being a fully compassionate human, and why I’m convinced we’re all much more interconnected than the wedges of disagreement which divides us.

There is no mine.  There is only ours.

Never has one photograph instilled within us such an important task — to save what we see.

 

Note 1:   The Earthrise photo had been preceded by a previous image taken in 1966 by a robotic space probe.  However, that image was in black-and-white and didn’t generate nearly the impact.

Note 2:  Read more about the marvel of Earthrise here, from the official NASA website.

 

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