Moral authority

After nearly a decade of war with Afghanistan it may be time to take a step back and ask a couple of questions. The most important of which is "what are we hoping to accomplish?".

On the surface of things invading Afghanistan may have seemed like an inevitable response to the 9/11 attacks. Nevermind that the might of the Soviet empire never managed to gain control over the country during its more than a decade long foray into asymmetrical warfare: it was important for politicians to be seen as doing something. So even though the fight was not a winnable one, participation in it was expected.

But 10 years in, why are we not accomplishing much? Why is the situation still not under control?

Part of the reason is that we no longer have moral auhority.

The previous administration defined a new low with regard to government integrity and specifically a new low with regard to the integrity of individuals holding various posts within the government. The president, the vice president, the secretary of defense, he secretary of justice and an assortment of other secretaries and advisors demonstrated beyond any doubt that the US government is not beholden to law - international or national. We had a spectacular demonstration of how it is possible to hijack a democracy and abuse power to further private agenda. Be they motivated by profit, by personal agenda or religious zeal.

Wars were started on false premises and outright lies, the government made sure that certain private parties were able to profit handsomely from preferred treatment as part of the war effort. But worse yet: the US shed any and all principles that would otherwise have stood in the way of such gross indecency and abuse: the US is now on record as a supporter of rendition, torture and imprisonment without due process. Anything "rogue states" have been accused of in the past, the US is now in favor of. Criminal acts that in relatively recent history lead to harsh sentences, including capital punishment, are now deemed acceptable actions.

Add to that the installment of the likes of Hamid Karzai as the president of Afghanistan. An unprincipled, shady, weak-willed puppet of the US - though it could be argued that he is not even an effective tool in that respect since he appears prone to not keeping in line with the script that he has been given.

But the big problem rests with President Obama.

By not making any credible effort to address the transgressions of the previous administration, history has already started to solidify and Obama has cast himself in the role of Bush apologist. The war crimes perpetrated by the Bush administration will never be prosecuted. Of course, this means that Obama is, for all practical purposes, as morally bankrupt as the people who committed these war crimes.

Engaging in warfare against an opponent that has no infrastructure and does not depend on infrastructure cannot be won by traditional means. It can only be won by moral superiority. The US does not have moral superiority.

The "war on terror" is little more than a tool for radicalized religious zealots and war profiteers to further their agenda. As long as the Obama administration is unwilling to bring war criminals to justice and insists on wasting time on putting on a show, from perpetuating unwinnable wars to terrorizing its own population, the "war on terror" can only act as an amplifier for the agendas of the terrorists within and outside the US. Within and outside government.

I hope that Obama will yet do the right thing. Now that his chances of a second term has been significantly reduced, I hope that he will spend his remaining time in office to put things right. To put aside petty politics and to rebuild the foundations of the democracy. Because until the US rehabilitates its shattered moral principles, it will not be in any position to affect lasting positive change for itself or the world.

Obama to serve one term only

Of course I don't know that Obama will serve only one term. Nobody knows that for sure now (with the possible exception of Nate Silver), but I can't help but feel that the rudder has come off Obama's presidency. Just as the United States really needed its president to make the trip up to Capitol Hill and straigthen out the House, he did the opposite: he buckled and now appears weak and unprincipled. The dire situation that has developed over the past weeks is rather extraordinary - and extraordinary measures to address this would have been appropriate.

The republicans clearly do not care about the people they represent. The republicans clearly do not represent fiscal responsibility. The republicans represent the top percent or so - the wealthy, the financially independent, those for whom the financial crisis was merely a temporary setback, not even noticeably affecting their life.

Allowing the tax cuts for the rich expire would not have hurt the rich in any way that would even be noticable to them. Moreover, we need not theorize about any trickle-down effects: we know for a fact that there is no such thing as a trickle-down effect. In fact: we know with absolute certainty that it has the opposite effect. It has been tried before and the data is in. We count this as scientific fact.

This can mean only two things: either the representatives are exceptionally incompetent or they simply do not care about 99% of the population.

With the middle class gone, the "American Dream" is dead.

Some economists have come up with a good metric for illustrating financial viability, or lack thereof: how many people can come up with $2000 if they are given 30 days to pony up the money. By saving, borrowing, selling possessions etc. Less than 50% of the United States population are capable of coming up with $2000 in 30 days. This means that over 50% of the population is one small misfortune away from insolvency and financial ruin at any given time.

And for the people in question, not even the tax cut can make up $2000 over a whole year, let alone 30 days.

It is sad that Obama and the democrats are so easily manipulated by the republicans. By extending the tax cuts for another 2 years there is now a big hole in the budget. A big hole in the budget that has to be filled by increasing the United States dependency on foreign countries. Countries like China and middle-eastern oil nations. These are the countries whose good will the US will now become more dependent upon.

Those tax cuts will not go away either. They will expire around the time of the next presidential election at which point they will be part of the presidential debate. And by now we know the score: the uneducated masses will reach for their $1500 in tax cuts, vote for whomever promises to get it for them, and sink the country into more debt.

You can't really do anything with $1500. If you slip and break something it won't even cover a significant part of your hospital bill.

It is even sadder that unemployment benefits for the victims of the financial crisis have only been extended for about 13 months. Though not all of them. These benefits only cover those that have been unemployed for less than 100 weeks. For those who have been unemployed for longer there is nothing. Nada. Zero.

The Obama administration has caved. It has caved to the republicans, it is actively rewarding those who were already doing fine and those who created the financial crisis -- while it has done little or nothing for those, due to no fault of their own, fell victim to the financial crisis.

Shame on you, Obama. Shame on you, Biden. Shame on you Pelosi. People were counting on you and you let them down.

But most of all: shame on the american voter who is demonstrably too stupid to take care of him- or herself. Shame on the american voter for not putting country first and for being too uneducated, too easy to lead, too eager to get distracted by straw-men to make sure the nation's affairs are put in order. Shame on the american voter for steering the country towards insolvency and absolute dependence on nations that represent values opposite of those values you like to think you represent.

As for the republicans in the House, I don't think they are capable of feeling shame for wanting to sacrifice the independence and future of the nation at the cost of enriching the top 1% wealthiest which they represent; and only the top 1%.

Wikileaks and history

The press has been abuzz with stories about Julian Assange for the past months. Lately some prominent politicians and pundits have called for the assassination of Assange as well as death sentences for those who supply him with information.

I can't help but think how badly things have gotten out of hand and the terrible, terrible hipocrisy of the west. When I grew up I was told how evil Soviet Russia, China and places like Cuba were. Places where there was no free speech, where people were jailed without proper legal proceedings, where the state had no respect for human rights, where torture was acceptable, wars were fought for the wrong reasons and the population was kept ignorant of what was going on.

This is us now. We censor, we torture, we jail people without trial, and we start wars for reasons that turn out to be lies. We even allow weak and paralyzed leaders to let extremists dictate how the population is terrorized. At airports and by having their private lives invaded. Sometimes by mean-spirited unskilled labor. Our "inalienable rights" are not so inalienable after all.

Though one should be careful to draw parallels to Germany in the 1930s and 1940s, but I think it is necessary. The holocaust was allowed to happen largely because it was kept a secret to most of the population. There were no images circulating from the camps. There was no official acknowledgement from the authorities that millions of people were being systematically murdered.

Admitting the existence and nature of the camps would, of course, made it hard for the nazi regime to secure the needed support. Secrecy and the ignorance of the population was key.

Had the horrors of the holocaust been known to the population of germany, and outside, it is doubtful if it would have been allowed to proceed. But it wasn't known and millions of people did get killed in ways that are too horrible to contemplate. Millions of people were killed in a country that was considered one of the most advanced and civilized countries of its time.

The holocaust scares us because it showed us what we are capable of. It shows us when government is allowed to operate behind a veil of secrecy. When the checks and balances do not work.

Many of the things that Wikileaks have published are historically important documents. It is important to document war crimes. It is important to document that our politicians are misleading us. It is important to document whom and what we are supporting. What we are letting our leaders do in our name.

And it is important that we know about these things now. While we can still do something about it.

The transgressions, lies and atrocities would probably come to light at some later point in history. When it is too late to do anything about them. We can visit the holocaust museums at Auschwitz -- but it won't bring back the people who were tortured and exterminated there. The world eventually learning about the camps saved exactly nobody.

What would history have looked at if there was a Wikileaks in the 30s and 40s? What would history have looked at if we knew then.

Indeed, what Assange is doing is unpleasant for diplomats and world leaders. But a bit of embarrasment and the possible prosecution of war criminals and inept politicians is a small price to pay to ensure that history won't look back on 2010 with the same sort of regret we look back at dark times in our recent history.

And as for putting people at risk: no credible evidence has been presented for this. And there is a precedent for this already. Scooter Libby outed a CIA operative; while serving in the administration -- yet his punishment for this act of treason was a mere slap on the wrist. Why should someone who isn't even part of the government be held to any higher standard?

And since Obama, and the US, have demonstrated that the US does not prosecute its war criminals, prevention and dissemination of knowledge is critical. There will be no trials. There will be no upholding of the laws. There will be no justice. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld will never be held to the standards that the US has held other war criminals to in the past. The precedent set is that the US president and his staff are free to commit war crimes without fear of prosecution. This is worse than a mere totalitarian regime operating in some hot and humid part of the world: this is us. This is what we are. And we are foregoing the moral high ground of expecting anything more from others.

We must know. We must not repeat history. We must hold our leaders to higher standards.