Disastrous war

John Chilcot produced his report on the British government’s decision to go to war in and against Iraq. The conclusion couldn’t have been clearer: there was absolutely no legitimate reason to attack and invade Iraq. Moreover, the consequences of the fateful action were entirely foreseeable.

Writing for the London Review of Books, Philippe Sands summarizes the report’s contents and offers a running commentary. Sands:

Chilcot portrayed the Iraq War as a total failure of government. Two hundred British troops had been killed and many more were injured; 150,000 Iraqis had been killed ‘and probably many more – most of them civilians’; and more than a million people had been displaced. Lives were ruined; Islamic State has emerged in the aftermath, and Britain has been diminished.

Tony Blair, then prime minister, pledged his support for “whatever” George W. Bush decided. And “the decider” had made up his mind not long after 9/11 to go after Saddam Hussein, despite no evidence that Hussein had anything to do with the attacks of that day. During the interim between the decision and launching the war, Bush and Blair busied themselves with justifying their action.

Sands suggests that Blair’s complicity may have its own personal consequences.

Later that afternoon a defiant Tony Blair took to the airwaves. Chilcot had spoken for 25 minutes; Blair spoke for nearly two hours. Not for him the apology of his deputy, John Prescott, who wrote in the Sunday Mirror that, in view of the report, he now believed the war was ‘catastrophic’ and ‘illegal’. Blair instead defended himself, saying he’d take ‘the same decision’ again. This unhappy intervention will not do him any favours. It makes it more likely he will be pursued, perhaps for contempt of Parliament, or by civil claims, or claims of misfeasance in public office. He might even face worse, a possibility raised in the resignation letter tendered in 2003 by the Foreign Office legal adviser Elizabeth Wilmshurst, whose position has been vindicated by the inquiry:

I regret that I cannot agree that it is lawful to use force without a second Security Council resolution … I cannot in conscience go along with advice within the Office or to the public or Parliament – which asserts the legitimacy of military action without such a resolution, particularly since an unlawful use of force on such a scale amounts to the crime of aggression; nor can I agree with such action in circumstances which are so detrimental to the international order and the rule of law.

LEV could save us all

I’ve been watching some of the national parties’ respective conventions. In case you have missed them, conventions involve a lot of speeches and imagery. The purpose of each party’s convention is to rally the faithful and create a contrast with the opposition, as if the latter were necessary. This is done through words and symbols, mostly videos and signs sported by the assembled delegates.

Also, in case you haven’t noticed, there is a huge difference between the presidential candidates, pun intended. I, for one, believe that a Trump presidency would be a disaster in so many ways, not the least of which in defining who or what this country is all about. His election would demonstrate that America is essentially a political and cultural cesspool, even should the electoral votes be close. We are, after all, a country determined by majority rule, as followers of Supreme Court decisions know all too well.

I proudly confess to being a Bernie Sanders supporter. His views, in particular his judgments on economic inequality, ring truer than those of his primary opponent. I felt the Bern, and will continue to do so.

However, and this is most important in the political calculus, I cannot and will not vote for a third-party candidate nor write in Sanders’s name on my November ballot.

My argument is a simple one. Given our electoral system, with winner-take-all elections and the presidential structure itself, casting a vote for someone or some party sure to lose at the polls does indeed constitute a wasted choice. But it’s much worse.

If enough people vote for a third-party candidate, say the Green Party’s Jill Stein, and the numbers represent the margin of victory for Donald Trump, then they will have delivered the worst possible outcome, if we assume further that Clinton would have been the second preference to Stein.

In other words, lesser evil voting (LEV), is morally compelled for those who give a damn about what happens to the environment, women’s rights, international relations, and economic security—to name a few issues.

I admit to being pleasantly surprised to read Noam Chomsky’s essay on lesser evil voting. I commend the entire piece, which is not all that long. I quote his conclusion:

…by dismissing a “lesser evil” electoral logic and thereby increasing the potential for Clinton’s defeat the left will undermine what should be at the core of what it claims to be attempting to achieve.


Predictable commentaries from the center-left, such as one finds on Digby’s website, emphasize Donald Trump’s craziness, his whacko, off-the-charts rants that lend credence to the opinion that the man is unfit to be “leader of the free world.” He is your mad uncle that you’d prefer remain indoors, disengaged from real people for fear of embarrassing the entire family. Even Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg could not hold her tongue, denouncing Mr. Marmalade, comments she now regrets having made. Most of us, I would hope, shudder at the prospect of Trump’s actually taking the oath of office next January.

Yet, and this is “huge,” as outrageous and awful a man that he is, Mr. Trump has pulled even with Ms. Clinton is recent political polls. It seems that half the electorate prefers a blowhard to a woman who, despite her superior credentials for office, turns their stomaches.

I am hardly qualified to explain this phenomenon, this evident parity between two starkly different candidates. But one thing is clear: people decide elections, and far too many like what they hear from the Crazy One. And that’s a problem, as Edgar Martinez would say.

Those who routinely dismiss or mock or skewer Mr. Trump must have that aching feeling that he just might prevail in November. That should bother the sane among us, not just because Trump is so ill-equipped to govern, but more to the point: America is home to a vast swath of disaffected loonies.

Speaking of Digby, I re-quote this from her website:

A questioner at Paul Ryan’s CNN infomercial last night: I cannot and will not support Donald Trump, and it concerns me when the Republican leadership is supporting somebody who is openly racist and has said Islamophobic statements, wants to shut down our borders. Can you tell me, how can you morally justify your support for this kind of candidate, somebody who could be very destructive for our nation.

Paul Ryan: Well first of all that basically means that you’re going to help elect Hillary Clinton. And I don’t think Hillary Clinton is going to support any of the things that you stand for if you are a Republican.

And what do Republicans stand for? In case you haven’t noticed, they stand for Trump.

The decent among us, who may be a minority these days, have one big challenge: render Republicans an “endangered species.”

Surplus males

As I walk the streets of downtown Everett, Wash., I invariably encounter single males standing about or trudging along the sidewalks, often with all their worldly possessions packed into bags or carts. Such a waste, I think. So many men with nothing to do.

The situation is not unique to Everett, of course. In every city the sorry scene I describe is replicated. On occasion the media report that local governments are trying this or that remedy to combat rising homelessness, which affects women as well as men. But the picture does not change; it may be worsening.

Nor is the problem reserved to America. Europe also has its share of idle masses, though on a much lesser scale than here. Moreover, those unable or unwilling to find work have a far more generous social safety net to soften the impacts of chronic unemployment.

Still, the following chart indicates the troubling trend among several nation-states:

Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 11.04.33 AM

The figure shows us the percentage of working-age males to participate in the workforce. The green diamond shapes tell us the rate in 1990; the blue columns represent the numbers in 2014.

The United States has the third lowest participation percentage, while Italy appears to have suffered the largest decline over the period. Only Germany has improved their situation.

Some suggest, including Harvard’s Larry Summers, that we are in the midst of a “secular stagnation,” marked by low economic output and persistent un- and underemployment. The capitalist system, which has indeed yielded better lives for millions, has nevertheless failed to provide the basic necessities to millions more. Thomas Piketty, author of Capital in the 21st Century, agrees, adding that return on capital investment is and will continue to be greater than GDP growth.

Politics reflects, sooner or later, economic and social conditions. Trump, Brexit, and the rise of far-right parties in Europe may be only the beginning of what may be a wholesale unraveling of the established neoliberal order. Polarization reigns. Unity can only be a distant hope.

Discouraged, am I.


UPDATE: 7/11/2016

I neglected to provide the source for the above graphic. Here ’tis.