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.

Reputation theory and war

Many, if not most, of the wars fought and being fought have their basis in “credibility.” If the U.S. fails to take action against a putative aggressor, then the U.S. ceases to have credibility. And it seems that credibility trumps all other rationales for military intervention.

But upholding one’s “reputation” as a credible corrector of international mayhem turns out to be a false doctrine. Vox‘s Max Fisher reports.

If you have experienced even a few minutes of cable news coverage or handful of newspaper op-eds on American foreign policy, there is a word you will have encountered over and over again: credibility.

The United States, according to this theory, has to follow through on every threat and confront every adversary in order to maintain America’s global credibility. If it fails to stand up to challengers in one place, then they will rise up everywhere, and America will see its global standing, and thus its power in the world, crumble.

But there is a problem with this theory of credibility: It does not appear to be real. Political scientists have investigated this theory over and over, and have repeatedly disproven it.

Repeating failure

First Saddam Hussein. Then Gaddafi. Now Assad. Regarding each of these Middle Eastern leaders, U.S. presidents have argued that they must go. After Hussein was ousted then lynched, Iraq descended into chaos. In the wake of Gaddafi’s ouster, Libya divided into fractious disharmony. Now President Obama insists that Syria’s Assad be gone as a condition for any negotiated settlements.

Russia’s Putin, however, counters that eliminating Assad will lead to even greater regional instability. So, Russia has acted to sustain Assad’s regime, however detestable its policies.

Seymour M. Hersh, writing (paywall) for the London Review of Books, suggests that people within the U.S. government, including the military, object to Obama’s position and, in effect, support Putin’s view. Indeed, U.S. military operatives are assisting Assad with intelligence and indirect arms. Hersh writes:

In July 2013, the Joint Chiefs found a more direct way of demonstrating to Assad how serious they were about helping him. By then the CIA-sponsored secret flow of arms from Libya to the Syrian opposition, via Turkey, had been underway for more than a year (it started sometime after Gaddafi’s death on 20 October 2011). The operation was largely run out of a covert CIA annex in Benghazi, with State Department acquiescence. On 11 September 2012 the US ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, was killed during an anti-American demonstration that led to the burning down of the US consulate in Benghazi; reporters for the Washington Postfound copies of the ambassador’s schedule in the building’s ruins. It showed that on 10 September Stevens had met with the chief of the CIA’s annex operation. The next day, shortly before he died, he met a representative from Al-Marfa Shipping and Maritime Services, a Tripoli-based company which, the JCS adviser said, was known by the Joint Staff to be handling the weapons shipments.

But, Obama refuses to budge. He insists on Assad’s departure and resists cooperating with Putin.

Hersh quotes Tulsi Gabbard, Democratic representative from Hawaii, who served with the U.S. Army National Guard in the Middle East:

‘The things that are being said about Assad right now,’ Gabbard responded, ‘are the same that were said about Gaddafi, they are the same things that were said about Saddam Hussein by those who were advocating for the US to … overthrow those regimes … If it happens here in Syria … we will end up in a situation with far greater suffering, with far greater persecution of religious minorities and Christians in Syria, and our enemy will be far stronger.’

How does it feel?

Amidst the bellicosity and vengefulness of Republican presidential candidates in their shared resolve to eradicate “radical Islam,” we learn that roughly nine our of every 10 people killed by U.S.-launched drone strikes in Afghanistan, and perhaps a similar number elsewhere, are civilians. Among the dead are children.

Imagine that you are a grieving Afghan parent of a dead child. Neither you nor any member of your family was involved in hostilities. You just wanted to be left alone to live under precarious circumstances. But you are also angry that an errant missile struck your child and perhaps dozens of others.

In America, the Administration regrets the “inadvertent” casualties, suggesting that the deaths were “collateral damage” as part of the U.S. effort to prosecute its “war on terror,” an otherwise noble and necessary cause.

You, the Afghan parent, find no solace whatsoever in such words, deeming them feeble excuses. Besides, it is obvious to you that your life and the lives of your family simply don’t matter.

In America, Islamic “radicals” mow down innocents celebrating the holidays. We Americans are outraged. Some of us condemn Islam itself. Others would ban all Muslim immigrants. A few would obliterate entire Islamic countries, converting “collateral” into “intentional” damage.

Implicit in such reactions is the belief that America can kill innocents abroad but that no one should be allowed to kill Americans at home. We count. They don’t. Asymmetry.

Such is empire.

War is good for business

One of my favorite TV series was Rubicon, a short-lived venture into the secret shenanigans of national intelligence and security. It focused on the fictional American Policy Institute, a non-governmental entity that ostensibly served the interests of “the United States of America,” as some of the key persona often stated.

As it happens in the program, API principally serves a cabal of well-connected rich white men, one of whom runs API. Their twin task is to manufacture crises to financially exploit, while making sure that their actions and even existence remain undetectable. Ensuring the latter compels its own members to commit suicide should they endanger the group’s objectives or anonymity. The signal to self-destruct comes via a four-leaf clover, perhaps inserted between the pages of the morning newspaper by one of their own.

During one of their regular hush-hush meetings, the group discusses an ongoing situation in Africa. The API director reports that the institute is keeping things “fluid,” suggesting controlled conflict, an exploitable opportunity.

I have no way of knowing if there are real-life analogues to API. However, even former general Eisenhower acknowledged a “military-industrial complex” determined to enrich mostly white men through ever-increasing defense spending. Clearly there are corporations that benefit from war. It does not seem far fetched to imagine one or more API-like organizations working to foment trouble abroad, the kind of trouble leading to lots of weapons and death.

If we look at U.S. military spending over time, we see that it has steadily risen over the decades (from NIPA tables).

Defense spending 1920 to 2015

We quickly notice the blip that was WWII. But then comes the Cold War and the Eisenhower years. Fear reigned, with communists suspected of hiding under beds. The Vietnam War, launched under clearly false pretenses, kept the dollars flowing to Boeing, et al. Then came Reagan. Look at the steep escalation in defense spending. Clinton reduced the largesse before 9/11. G.W. Bush went crazy, as the graph demonstrates. Obama reversed the trend. Yet, total spending still exceeds $700 billion per annum, with conflicts all over the globe, the military-industrial complex’s wet dream.

To those who cry that America is weak because it cut defense spending or failed to spend even more, why haven’t all those trillions of dollars made the world safer? Oh, wait. That’s not the goal. Peace is for paupers.

Where’s my billionaire?

If I gave a college commencement address, I’d like to believe it would follow the lines of Tom Engelhardt’s imagined speech before a “campus of [his] mind.” Of course, no one would invite me to do so, and I’d probably be escorted off the stage or platform before I reached paragraph two.

Among the many sobering remarks of Engelhardt’s virtual address:

Being on the sidelines, it turns out, is an expensive affair.  The question is: What are you going to do so that you aren’t there, and in debt, forever?

Of course, there’s a simple answer to this question.  Think of it as the [Marco] Rubio Solution.  You could each try to find your own billionaire.  But given the numbers involved and what you don’t have to offer in return, that seems an unlikely option.