Feb 20 2009

What Was Bush Thinking?

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Bush sits just behind Obama as he swears in, clapping politely, an inscrutable look on his face. Does he worry  that pulling out of Iraq will damage American superiority? Does he feel sad for the loss of oil company-tax credits? Maybe he’s shaking his head because he knows he was doing God’s work.

What was Bush thinking during eight years of presidency?

Why did he start two wars that could not be won? Why did he cut of all funding for stem cell research, sex education, and environmental research?  To me, he always seemed out of touch with reality, blatantly ignoring signals that things were badly wrong: impending environmental catastrophe, declining educational standards at home and the highest rates of incarceration in the world, and over one million casualties in Iraq. But everyone is sane in their own head. What was the utopia he thought to create?

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Jan 26 2009

Social Network of US Counterinsurgency Policy Authors

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Who is writing the major policies of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and what is the Obama administration likely to do? There have been many analyses and news reports of individual policies and events, but it’s hard to wade into this flood of information, and besides, how would I know who to listen to? In an effort to get some perspective on at least one major aspect of American military strategy, I decided to plot out all the authors of (public) counterinsurgency policy over the last decade, and the relationships between them, as evidenced by co-authorship of articles and papers.

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Oct 03 2008

Don’t Wink At Me, Ever

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This was the slogan on a protest sign as Sarah Palin arrived to a fund-rasier this morning, a reference to her sly gesture last night during the debate. Someone didn’t like it that the popular kid was still popular. Neither did the all-Obama crowd watching at the Temple club last night in San Francisco’s SOMA district. Sitting on the floor, wearing earplugs to dampen CNN’s booming voice and the louder roar of the crowd, I felt like I was cheering in all the wrong places. While everyone else was screaming blood for victory, I was admiring my enemy

Let me tell you about the Democrats’ superior economic policy. Let me offer you a history lesson about sparring Muslim sects. Let’s talk about the ideal character of a judicial nominee. No– wait. I apologize. I’m sorry. You don’t talk that way on a date. I’m a geek, an academic, a weirdo elitist intellectual. I’m attending a talk on green energy policy tonight; I sit at the front of classrooms and try to learn foreign languages, just like my man Obama. We sit at the same lonely table at the cafeteria. I bet he hides his despair at the idiots around him better than I ever did.

Biden tried to make sense. He radiated competence and experience. He talked to his peers. The voters are not his peers. They never studied law, they’ve never left the country. Palin said “soccer mom” and the Temple crowd booed. This crowd of young, educated, liberal, relatively affluenct West-Coast voters — my peers — they raged at the cheap shots. Me, I nodded in silent assent. Good move, Sarah. She’s the annoying and pretty girl who answers all the questions right in Soc. class. You know she’ll go far.

“John McCain is the man we need to leave…I mean lead,” she said, and the rest of the class erupted into hoots, throwing spitwads. Are we in this just to make ourselves feel better?

Because this was not a debate, this was sales. This was not aimed at those who take public policy seriously. This was aimed at the 25 year-old girl who works in retail all day before collapsing into her couch to watch American Idol with her boyfriend. This was for the working stiff who’s just too tired to peruse the dismal headlines at the end of the day, and goes straight to the sports section. Palin winked at the housewife whose husband works for the pharaceutical industry. I’ve been calling voters, and I know: we in San Francisco are the geeks. We’re the outcasts. What we think of the debates is irrelevant.

All it’s going to take for the Republicans to win the election is one good cheap shot on October 30th. Obama’s lead is deadly slim, when you actually read the error bars, and impossible though it may seem, something like a fifth of voters still haven’t made up their minds. This is why I don’t care to encourage Obama; I want to know my adversaries. I want to celebrate the honest talent of that girl with the perky smile who you just know is going to end up doing public relations — welcoming attractive and connected people to all the best parties — while the rest of us well-intentioned technocrats work the grey cubicles for one more generation.

[ if you'd like to talk to real voters yourself, please join me in phone banking this Sunday. ]

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Sep 15 2008

Campaigning for Myself

If I was an anarchist skate punk I’d tell you that the whole system is so fucked it doesn’t matter who gets in. Or I could be a Berkeley vegetarian and see loving animals as the road to peace – as in actual world peace. Or I’d say that repealing the drug war will save us, or green energy, preschool programs, fair trade, mothers against drunk driving, online privacy, and a crosswalk on 4th street. To which my response is, screw all that. I’ve seen too much for causes. You permaculture freaks can bite me.

I’ve seen the world and I’ve lost religion. I know that no single victory will save us. Also: no one ever does anything for completely selfless reasons, and it’s a mistake to think that they should. This is the only standard I think I can actually live up to, and it’s more honest anyway: saving the world is just too easy a way to feel good about yourself, to feel different and special, or to forget the girl who dumped you.

Nonetheless, I spent four hours yesterday afternoon calling voters for Barack Obama. I did not expect to feel good about it. I do not even really expect that it will make a difference. But it seems a bloodless sort of way to support the world I want to live in. Also – and this is the real reason – I was damn curious. About myself, mostly.

I’ve seen better and worse governments, and while they all seem sort of fucked, some are far more fucked than others. In the United States, no one is getting shot for their politics, and that’s not nothing. Not every country is like this. That is civilization, my friend. That and clean water. So it’s easy for me to believe that the system isn’t completely screwed. My toilet flushes. Seems like a minor thing, until you don’t have it and people start dying of cholera. True story.

I don’t need people to believe. I don’t believe myself. I just want a president who at least talks about sustainable energy and universal health care. I don’t give a shit that the guy’s charismatic, other than the fact that it’s an asset in his game. I just want to live in a certain world, and I think that Obama will bring us closer to it. Fun fact: while Obama’s domestic support is around 50%, something like 80% of world citizens want him to be president. Curious, isn’t it?

So I stepped into the system and made those calls, because I wonder just how far within the status quo it’s worth working. And I wonder how I’ll feel about participating in utterly mainstream politics, the CNN circus. I called voters in Nevada and tried to convince them to vote for Barack Obama, and I did it mostly because I wanted to see how I felt about myself at the end of the day.

This made me somewhat reckless on the phone. And that made me real, because I could say whatever the hell I wanted. I’m still working out what that is.

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