Thought of the Day: America First

I get the whole America First thing. Especially for politicians, because we elect them (or, in some cases, the Electoral College elects them, despite the actual vote of the people) to represent us, and our needs.

But my loyalty, first and foremost, is to the human race. I may have been born in America, but I was also born on Earth, which makes me just as much a citizen of the world. And while I appreciate the need to take care of and support my fellow countrymen here in the United States, my ultimate loyalty is to my greater community, that of humanity.

To better understand the America First mindset, let’s take a moment to follow the logic of placing the interests of your country above the interests of mankind. Why do people believe in putting the interests of America before those of the rest of the world? Because they feel like they have more in common with their fellow countrymen than they do with people from afar, which is only natural.

However, by that logic, shouldn’t they then be putting the interests of their state or province above the interests of the nation as a whole, because they have even more in common with them than they do with people in other states? In fact, we have already seen this to some degree, with the Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act (though they are quickly learning the folly of their own thinking).

Of course, the logical progression would then dictate that they should put the interests of their local city or town above the interests of their state. After all, these are their neighbors, their local community, people with whom they are likely to have the most in common, people they may know and care about.

Fundamentally, what this line of thinking comes down to is putting their own personal interests above everyone else’s. For America Firsters, their home – like their nation – must come first, so they put their interests above even their neighbors’ interests. Ultimately, America First is nothing more than “Me First.” Which is why it’s no surprise that Trump is the posterchild for this sort of selfish thinking, bolstered by a base of people who use false patriotism to mask their self-serving worldview.

These people claim to care about America, but they really only care about themselves…their own little version of what they think America should be. You see it time and time again. They refuse to make a small sacrifice even if it will benefit the greater good, whether helping fellow Americans or everyone around the world.

Climate change is a great example. America is a leader in energy consumption, waste production, and pollution emissions. Yet we also have the means to significantly reduce all of those things but cannot achieve a consensus to do so. Why? Because our nation is filled with people (enough to put Trump in the White House) who are too lazy or too selfish to use less energy, eat less red meat, recycle, etc. despite the fact that such small steps, when done collectively, can have a massive impact – creating a safer, healthier, and wealthier world for everyone’s children, including their own.

And what really galls me is that so many of these America First types call themselves Christians. Would Jesus build walls to protect his disciples while the rest of humanity struggles and suffers outside? No, he was more of an Earth First sort of guy, quite famously putting the interests of all mankind ahead of his own personal interests. Perhaps we should all try to be a little more like him.

Personally, even though I am an atheist, I am an Earth First sort of guy, just like Jesus. And, again, I have never understood why more people, especially those who call themselves Christians, don’t follow his Earth First example. According to your holy scriptures, he died for our sins (not just the sins of Nazarenes, Galileans, or Judeans – but everyone’s sins). And yet, again, you won’t even separate your recyclables? You won’t reduce your carbon footprint, conserve energy, minimize pollution, make the world a better place for your children…and the rest of mankind? For those of us blessed with the opportunity to live in America, these are fairly small sacrifices to make compared to what Jesus would do for you.

And, yes, I understand the whole concept of the nation state, and it certainly made more sense when the world seemed a little smaller. But as I have noted in an earlier post, so many of today’s problems are problems that we all face together, as a species, regardless of our artificial borders and barriers.

For example, there’s the aforementioned challenge of climate change. Oh, wait, you America Firsters are pretending that global warming doesn’t exist because the politicians you support have their pockets stuffed with petroleum-soaked cash from Big Oil lobbyists. OK, fair enough. But the money you think you are saving by not addressing this challenge is a mere drop in the gradually warming ocean compared to what you are going to end up (and already are) spending to combat the growing impacts of climate change, such as the melting of the polar ice, rising sea levels, intensifying storms, failing crops, etc. (not to mention the money you are leaving on the table by not investing in becoming the global leader in green technology, which would surely have enriched the American economy for decades to come).

There’s also the energy crisis, with the eventual exhaustion of fossil fuels, all of which contribute to global warming – and many of which are produced by nations that use the profits to support terrorism. Oh, I forgot, those special interest groups own your politicians, so you have to conveniently look the other way…again. Keep driving that smoke-belching, gas-guzzling Mercedes G-class while your neighbor’s kids are shipped off to defend someone else’s oil fields.

What about social and economic inequities, as the population of have-nots exponentially outgrows the haves, who happen to be getting exponentially richer? You may be able to ignore that for now, but the walls you build today won’t be able to protect your children.

What about overpopulation, which is set to make food security and access to clean water two of the greatest challenges of this century? Again, you can’t build walls high enough to escape those consequences.

And what about health concerns, whether we are talking about plagues that don’t respect borders or simply the need for new antibiotics? Yeah, now you are getting a little worried, aren’t you?

Finally, your favorite…terrorism. If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that this is a global threat that isolationist policies cannot prevent, right?

These, of course, are precisely the kinds of challenges the United Nations is working to address. And whether or not you choose to acknowledge all or any of them because they don’t jive with your political or religious beliefs doesn’t make them any less of a threat.

Like it or not, the one thing we all have in common – everyone on the planet – is that we are all citizens of the world. So, rather than just focusing on what’s best for America (and be honest, we’re really talking about what’s best for ourselves), we should also be focusing on what’s best for mankind. Because, with challenges like these, we’re all in this together. If we don’t tackle these global problems together, there won’t be any borders to defend – or anyone left to defend them.

 

Lies of the Right

obamamuzI was told by right-wing Christian Americans that Barack Obama was a Muslim who was going to hand our nation over to the terrorists. Well, it’s been 2,913 days and so far nothing even remotely like that. He has failed to declare his allegiance to Allah and he’s been busy killing more Muslim terrorists than any American president in history. So he must be waiting for the last minute, right? Because all those idiots can’t be wrong, can they? It should be an exciting week!

Drone Strikes & Terror Attacks: Debating Collateral Damage

iSkyI went to see the movie Eye in the Sky the day before the terrorist attacks in Brussels. I’m not giving away anything you won’t see in the trailer, but the film focuses on the moral dilemma of whether it’s acceptable to jeopardize the life of one civilian (via a drone strike) to save the lives of dozens of other innocents (via suicide bombers).

I’ve never had a problem with our drone attacks. And the savagery in Belgium only solidified my beliefs. I would risk the lives of a few to save the lives of many, especially if it would eliminate the long-term threat posed by terrorist leaders.

But what prompted me to write this piece is a fact that is frequently overlooked in this debate about collateral damage, whether in a film such as this or in the discussion of attacks like those in Belgium. And that is that there is a distinct difference between terrorists and nations like the United States. Terrorists deliberately target civilians whereas we do our best to avoid killing them.

Sure, there are some notable, and extremely significant exceptions to that rule. Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Dresden come to mind. Though one could argue that those atrocities were necessary to hasten the end of World War II, the costliest war in human history.

World War II killed as many as 85 million people, with approximately 50 million of those casualties being civilians. And any discussions of those three unprecedented aerial bombardments should take into consideration that the recipients, Japan and Germany, not only started the war but were also responsible for the vast majority of those civilian fatalities. Most are familiar with the horrors of the Holocaust conducted by Germany, but Japan brutally butchered almost as many innocents in its reign of terror.

The thinking – right or wrong – was that the fire-bombing of Dresden and the nuclear destruction of both Hiroshima and Nagasaki would help put an end to the war, thereby putting an end to the staggering loss of life – both for soldiers and civilians. Whether or not these tactics were successful, or even necessary, remains a matter of debate.

PattackFor the most part, though, the United States does its best to avoid civilian casualties. Our opponents in this new global war – Al Qaeda, ISIS, and their ilk – purposefully target civilians. They live to kill the innocent. It’s what they do. And it’s all they do. Whereas our soldiers will face an inquiry and the possibility of some very harsh penalties even for accidentally harming civilians, our enemy will celebrate such shameless acts and treat the perpetrators as heroes.

So, no, I don’t have a problem with drone strikes. Yes, they occasionally cost innocent lives, and that is absolutely regrettable. But we do our best to avoid that, even when our enemies surround themselves with civilians, operating out of schools and hospitals in densely packed residential neighborhoods.

It’s a price we have to pay, and a price that the civilians of countries who harbor these terrorists have to literally pay – occasionally even with their own flesh and blood. It’s regrettable and tragic and necessary. Because these people, our enemies, our setting off bombs in crowded airports and subways, killing people who never did them any harm. That’s not collateral damage; that’s murder. And it’s got to stop.

Terrorism Knows No Religion

RLDMany Republican presidential hopefuls have branded Islam as the religion of terrorists. Some, such as Donald Trump, have gone as far as suggesting we should register all Muslims in America, like they did to Japanese-Americans during World War II. Ever the ugly idiot, Trump even called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States, apparently unaware of the little thing we call the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

I was curious to see how these ill-informed and shamelessly intolerant politicians, and those who share such beliefs about Islam and Muslims, would react to the recent shooting in Colorado Springs. Of course, it was followed by an even more horrific shooting rampage by a California couple who claimed to be Muslims, acting on their own twisted interpretations of Islamic doctrine. But the shooter in Colorado Springs, Robert Lewis Dear, claimed to be a Christian and was apparently acting on his own twisted interpretations of Christian doctrine.

So we’ve had two mass shootings by people who profess a certain faith but follow their own twisted interpretations of that faith – interpretations not widely recognized by the true adherents of their faith. Both are cases of violence in the name of religious extremism and religious intolerance. Yet the acts committed by those claiming to be Muslims are widely recognized as terrorism while the similar actions of someone claiming to be a Christian are viewed more as an unfortunate incident by a mentally unstable individual.

Other Christian terrorists have used bombs, arson, fake anthrax, and assassination as tools in their jihad against law-abiding citizens choosing to exercise their rights and freedoms. Mainstream Christians rightfully denounce such acts, noting that they do not represent their faith. In such instances, including the recent shooting in Colorado, we all recognize that these are people who are using religion as an excuse for their own intolerance and hatred. Yet when someone commits such horrific acts in the name of Islam, based on their own warped interpretation of that religion, they are said to be evil, haters of freedom, and their entire religion is often condemned for the actions of a few. The difference in the reactions to these two tragedies, particularly by the Republican presidential candidates, illustrates this bias unmistakably.

But there seem to be far more acts of terror being committed in the false name of Islam, so there must be something about that religion, right? Well, maybe if you were born yesterday. Anyone who knows their history will recognize that this wasn’t always the case. For example, a litany of unspeakable horrors we’re committed in the false name of Christianity during the Inquisition. But I believe the recent rise in Islamic extremism is being driven by two factors.

First and foremost, many nations in which Islam is the dominant religion have been ruled by corrupt regimes, often either put in power or supported by Western nations like Britain, France, and the United States. That has resulted in generations who feel disenfranchised and cheated by their own leaders and they, in turn, blame the nations that have put or helped keep these beasts in power.

We’re talking about uneducated, impoverished individuals with an axe – real or imagined – to grind, much like Robert Lewis Dear. We’re also talking about the alienated outcasts and, quite often, those who consider themselves victims of some grievance – again, real or imagined. And, of course, there are those who simply want to be somebody, striving for global infamy in a brazen act of terrorism instead of the now somewhat lesser infamy (and often much harder to justify to oneself) of killing a celebrity or politician.

This is compounded by some very manipulative people who also feel they have an axe to grind, and know how to use things like religion to get these other unfortunate fools to do their bidding. And they have been able to greatly expand their reach thanks to the Internet and 24/7 news cycle. Think of Osama bin Laden, the maniacs in charge of ISIL, and even the evil bastards who doctored videos of Planned Parenthood staffers to make them look like monsters and then fed these brazen falsehoods to the conservative Christian propaganda machine.

As you see, it takes all kinds. And in this culture of victimization, there are no shortage of candidates who might decided to commit an act of terror to right what they perceive as wrongs. For them, religion – that ultimate authority that has the power to both justify and absolve – is an ideal form justification. And that goes for any religion, including both Islam and Christianity.

The Bible, like the Quran, is open to interpretation. Some people say you can eat shellfish. Others claim that doing so is an abomination. So when will we recognize that those who commit heinous acts based on their misguided interpretations of the Quran are no different from those who commit similar acts based on their misguided interpretations of the Bible? And when will we finally admit that terrorism is not the product of a religion but rather of people who use religion as an excuse for anger and evil?

Thought of the Day: Anthrax

biotRemember when it was considered bad form to open your mail in public – in the mail room, in the hallway, in the elevator, etc. – because of anthrax? We never got to the bottom of that, did we? All this talk about fighting the War on Terror, with trillions of dollars spent on some of the silliest things, and yet we’ve never addressed one of the most serious chemical weapons attacks on American soil.

Conquering Hate: What The Demise Of The KKK Can Teach Us About Combating Islamic Fundamentalism

klansvillePBSRecently I watched Klansville USA, a documentary about the rise of the Klu Klux Klan in North Carolina during the 1960s. It was both fascinating and disturbing to learn that the KKK’s attraction for poor white Southerners was similar to the appeal of today’s Islamic fundamentalism.

Like the Klan, Islamic fundamentalists target the poor and disenfranchised, the people who don’t feel they have a voice let alone a seat at the table. And their sales pitch is nearly identical: 1) you are not to blame for your situation in life; 2) someone else is; 3) that someone must be punished if you ever want to advance; and 4) only we can help you do that.

Of course that’s an enticing appeal for the poor and disenfranchised, as everyone wants to think they’ve been dealt a raw deal through no fault of their own. It’s easier to claim a conspiracy than it is to accept an unpleasant truth: life is difficult, and not everyone succeeds.

Ironically, the real reason a lot of these followers find themselves in such an unsatisfactory place in life often has more to do with the manipulations of those who lead or at least fund these hate groups, whether that be white Southern businessman and politicians or wealthy Muslim businessmen and politicians. These manipulators seek to control the masses in an effort to maintain their elevated situation, the status quo. And they typically do so by denying education and opportunities to the poor masses while placing the blame on someone else – and using that blame to keep the poor masses preoccupied, so they’ll be compliant and not ask questions.

KKKfagThe Klan Plan
The leaders of the Klan, for example, rallied poor white Southerners against blacks and other minorities, blaming these third parties for their economic struggles and overall disenfranchisement. This unrest, and the violence and intimidation it bred, not only kept blacks and other minorities in check, preventing them from advancing, but it also kept poor whites occupied so they wouldn’t question the politicians and businessmen who had orchestrated the society that had been consistently letting them down in the first place. An added perk was that the leaders of the KKK also pocketed a sizable sum of cash from these poor folks, thanks to things like membership dues and merchandise sales.

What made this especially appealing for many is that the Klan’s doctrine was served up with large portions of patriotism and religion. As history continues to teach us, there’s no limit to what you can get people to believe – and do – when you convince them that it is for God and Country.

ISILfagA Global Variation
Islamic fundamentalists work in a similar fashion, though their variations are designed to work across borders. Like the Klan, the leaders of these Islamic fundamentalist movements are often relatively well-off compared to their followers. Many of them are also better educated and tend to have already enjoyed the “trappings” of Western civilization. In fact, some of them turned to fundamentalism only after they failed to succeed in their attempts to pursue a more Westernized life.

In addition, the governments of the host nations where these groups operate tend to be shamelessly autocratic, giving the people no rationale for their continued suffering and oppression. Wisely, though, the leaders of these extremist groups temper their authoritarian rule – often far more brutal and oppressive – by preoccupying the masses with fears of a common enemy: Western civilization. They position the West as the reason for all their suffering. And they then use the violence and hatred this breeds to combat Western influence, ensuring that the governments of their host nations remain weak and isolated, which ensures that they continue to have a safe haven to operate in. The most violent acts also serve to provoke Western powers, leading to retaliation that reinforces the extremists’ argument and boosts recruitment.

Like the Klan, this is all packaged in religion and patriotism – so the poor and disenfranchised Muslims being fed this propaganda aren’t going to question any of it, just as Klan followers didn’t. These disenfranchised and often uneducated Muslims become radicalized by the religious and patriotic fervor. They are convinced that the West and its secular puppet regimes are to blame for all of the problems in their world, so they expend all their energy fighting against that assumed enemy. If you can somehow overlook the inherent evil in this scheme, it’s really a neat trick to keep the masses oppressed by pitting them against the forces best suited to encourage the kind of reforms that could eventually help free and empower them.

NazifagNazi Roots
It’s also interesting to note that this is similar to the way the Nazi’s rose to power in Germany in the wake of World War I. They told the nation’s poor and disenfranchised that they were not to blame for their situation, suffering the economic and emotional ravages of losing an especially horrific war. They identified a number of scapegoats (like both the Klan and Islamic fundamentalists, they selected specific religious faiths, political beliefs, and ethnicities that were either easy targets or might offer resistance to their eventual rule) and rallied the masses to blame them for their troubles.

The Nazi’s also fueled their followers’ fanaticism with an equally twisted blend of religion and patriotism. It’s yet another example of how this powerful combination can be used to mask hateful and violent intent, which is necessary because even the uneducated might think twice about an openly evil doctrine if they weren’t convinced that it was for God and Country.

StetsKennLessons To Learn
So how do we counter terror organizations that use religion to manipulate the minds of the poor, uneducated, and disenfranchised? According to the Klansville USA documentary, the downfall of the KKK was largely the result of both its leaders being exposed as frauds as well as their followers finding a more fruitful agenda. And a second documentary, How Superman Defeated The KKK, provided some insight into how this actually happened.

The Klan achieved a strong resurgence in America during the 1960s, with its members holding many leadership positions in politics and businesses throughout the South. But a brave man by the name of Stetson Kennedy was able to infiltrate the organization and discover its darkest secrets.

Unfortunately the local criminal justice systems, many of which had been infiltrated by the Klan, were not willing to take action on what Kennedy had discovered, just as most of the nations that harbor Islamic fundamentalist organizations turn a blind eye to their activities. So Kennedy sought a different avenue for exposing and discrediting the Klan.

SoupormanSuperman To The Rescue
Kennedy contacted the creators of the Superman comic, which had become widely popular during World War II. Since that war had ended, Superman needed a new foe to battle. And the creators of the comic – which had also become a popular radio program – welcomed the opportunity to take on the unbridled bigotry of groups like the KKK.

In a ground-breaking series, Superman battled domestic forces of hate, taking on the Klan and ridiculing them in the process. The series exposed the greed and corruption of Klan leaders, which certainly didn’t sit well with their poor Southern followers. This coincided with some federal prosecutions in which Klan executives took the Fifth Amendment, refusing to testify. That didn’t sit well with the Klan followers either, because most of them supported Senator Joseph McCarthy’s ugly and unjust witchhunt against Communists, in which many of the accused had also plead the Fifth and refused to testify.

But discrediting the Klan’s leaders and exposing their hypocrisy was only part of the strategy. The real turning point was when, through the efforts of things like the Superman series, the doctrine of the Klan was exposed as being in opposition to the American ideal of freedom and justice for all. The Klan had always relied on a sense of patriotism to validate its mission, but that was taken away when soldiers returned from World War II having witnessed firsthand the horrific effects of such hatred and intolerance.

New Preoccupations
The Klan lost much of its religious support and credibility as well. With teh organization’s darkest secrets being exposed, it became harder for Christian religious leaders and their followers to continue to embrace and back the hate group. Sadly, though, many of these Christian fundamentalists have since moved on to preach hatred and even violence against other minority groups, practices which are unfortunately still alive and well today.

Another factor in the Klan’s demise was the gradual swing to the right in the Republican party. This increasingly conservative political force contributed to the downfall of the Klan by offering poor white Southerners a more legitimate voice at the table. Just as they realized the Klan had failed to speak for them, these former followers found that some of the new voices in conservative American politics would champion many of the causes that concerned them – though often without the open hatred and bigotry that had kept the Klan largely out of the mainstream.

Hope Against Hate
Perhaps in these lessons we can find some solutions to combat the growing popularity of terror groups like Al Qaeda, AQAP, Boko Haram, FARC, Hamas, Hezbollah, ISIL, and the Muslim Brotherhood. True, the KKK and its ideology of hatred are far from dead. But the Klan is now largely an impotent, fringe force here in America.

And surely all peace-loving peoples would welcome a similar tempering of the violent extremism we are seeing from today’s Islamic fundamentalists. If we can find a way to expose the fallacy of their teachings and discredit their hypocritical leaders while simultaneously offering their followers a more rewarding agenda and a more effective forum for their concerns, then we might be able to emasculate these hate groups around the world – just as we were able to clip the Klu Klux Klan here in the US.