Archive | November, 2015

President Zero

23 Nov

With the recent attacks on France and Mali and people talking about memorizing lines from the Quran before going abroad, it is time for Americans to take another look at our current President.

For years, conservatives have believed that his policies are not good for the country or the world economy, but very few have outwardly considered the possibility that he is not working for our benefit. No person of reputation has dared raise the specter of actual disloyalty.

We were always aware of the lingering doubts associated with his attendance at the Trinity United Church of Christ and his apparently close relationship with the seditious Reverend Jeremiah Wright. We always winced at the video of him failing to cover his heart at the national anthem while other candidates faithfully and instinctually covered theirs. It always seemed like there were things about his past and his books that did not sync well with the concept of a patriotic American working for the benefit of the United States. However, there were no decisive observations on which to base our uneasiness. It was all circumstantial.

1

When the case of George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin came up, and he seemed to put a wedge between justice and public perception by declaring that “if [he] had a son he’d look like Trayvon,” everyone in the nation was taken aback. Wait a minute, isn’t he supposed to be the president of all of us? Why does he seem to be taking sides in this instance? However, that still was not decisive. After all, if the President did have a son, he would very likely be the same color as Trayvon Martin. But wasn’t that kind of obvious and sort of the wrong thing to say? Why draw our attention to his own blackness when the issue at stake was trust and justice? Whatever happened to the notion of a “colorblind” society?

However, there have been other instances that are not so easily dismissed. Why does it seem like he is tying the hands of the Pentagon when it comes to ISIS and Syria? If his approach is best, why is ISIS spreading across the world like a cancer? Why does he seem to be in such a hurry to bring people here that have proven to be a danger to the west?

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Maybe the President really is concerned for the welfare of people fleeing the Middle East. However, if that is the case, why was he not more urgent to protect them when he could have made a real difference? Maybe he really does think it would be cowardly to not bring the refugees here. However, if that is the case, how much braver would it have been to ensure that Neda’s death was not in vain?

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Maybe the President simply does not want to entangle us in a war that would put the sons and daughters of Americans in harm’s way. However, if that is the case, why did the White House leak information that resulted in the slaughter of Seal Team Six? Why is the President not concerned with improving the care of veterans?

Republicans have been loath to raise doubts about Obama’s loyalty to the United States. The reasons for this are many fold. First of all, they cannot imagine a person who would go to the trouble of ascending the ranks to the Presidency of the United States who does not at least wish to protect his own legacy. Second, they cannot afford the political fallout of being labeled crackpots. Most importantly, they simply do not want to consider the idea. After all, if they conclude that the President is not working for our side, what then?

Democrats are trapped. If they pursue the idea that Obama is not working for our benefit, they will jeopardize their party and their own prospects for the foreseeable future. Better just to keep an eye on him and wait him out.

But let us consider this from the other side…the side of a prospective leader with ulterior motives. If you actually planned to become President with the intention of bringing about the destruction of the United States, how would you go about it?

A scheme like this would take decades to plan and execute. There would be only a minuscule chance that you would ever be in a position to implement it or that circumstances would be exactly right for it to succeed. You would have to count on the media to gloss over questionable elements of your pre-planning past. If you ever wrote a telltale paper, belonged to a subversive organization, or had a questionable mentor, you would have to hope these things will be obscured or ignored. Such a plan would require uncommon patience and perseverance and relentless pushing. Only a handful of famous personalities have exhibited the fortitude to carry it out. Only a person sufficiently narcissistic to imagine themselves one day becoming the leader of the free world would have the audacity.

First, you would have to work your way up the political ladder. This would require that you align yourself with accepted institutions like the Christian Church and get experience working in communities. You would want to develop your speech writing and delivering skills. Anyone who has analyzed American society realizes how much Americans are influenced by presentation. You would never want to be in a position where your actual governing abilities and agenda could be called into question. A good job for a future covert President would be as a representative or senator. While in office, you would want to avoid adopting any positions or voting on any bills that could cloud your prospects. You would want to be something of a “ghost” senator. Of course, you would conspicuously avoid any personal scandals.

Once you were President, your plan would be multi-pronged. You would cultivate external insurgents while simultaneously weakening the local economy and cultivating internal strife. To provide future cover, you would establish a reputation of over-stepping your authority while claiming that you are completely within your bounds. In doing so, you would exploit the naturally slow progress of the legal system.

Here is what you would not do. You would not pass laws that clearly and directly damage the economy. Such laws would simply be overturned and you would quickly be driven from office. You would not do anything like launch nuclear missiles or initiate a world war. There are undoubtedly safeguards in place to prevent these from being done if there is not at least a credible threat. Besides, if you attempted something like this and failed, your tenure would be over. More importantly, if you succeeded, you might ruin the economy and ecology of the world for generations. No one pursuing a new power structure would be interested in this. Most importantly, if you initiated something like a world war, you might start something that the United States would take it upon itself to win, thus accomplishing the exact opposite of your objective.

Here is what you would do. To begin to corrode the economy, you would pass gradually unfolding laws like a giant universal healthcare program that create dependency on the laws themselves so that they are unlikely to be overturned while driving up insurance and drug costs and increasing the national debt. There is a well established precedent for this kind of law.

You would signal potential insurgents by traveling the world and deliberately showing weakness…a sort of world apology tour. When the time is right, you would whisper to the Russians (America’s number one geopolitical foe) that when you are reelected you can make more concessions so that they will know when it is time to advance. (Imagine the confusion of Dmitry Medvedev upon hearing such a revelation directly from the President of the United States. Imagine the dark progress of Medvedev’s gradual comprehension.) If you are ever caught whispering to the enemy, you will have to deny it and pretend it means nothing. To cultivate foreign insurgents while also antagonizing them, you would adopt a semi-anti-war policy. You would withdraw ground troops from critical areas and refuse to redeploy them but step up mostly impotent airstrikes. You might chose a Secretary of State who is beholden to you politically and will say or do anything to make you appear beneficial to the Republic.

You would do everything in your power to ensure that you are reelected to a second term. To this end, you would weaponize government institutions like the IRS. You would attempt to increase your voting base by emboldening illegal immigrants and covertly granting them voting rights by challenging any legislation requiring voter identification. You would have an attorney general who refuses to prosecute voter fraud.

Once reelected and relatively safe from domestic challenge, you would concentrate on dividing Americans along racial and religious lines and encourage minorities in small towns and students at universities to begin radical and irrational protests to destabilize society. To ensure their success and the success of later insurgents, you would tie the hands of the police.

Finally, you would import the insurgents you cultivated with your world apology tour and your semi-anti-war stance. To accomplish this, you would exploit your established practice of overstepping your authority. You would have to coerce the defense department into covering up military intelligence. If anyone suspected the truth, you would ridicule and belittle them.

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That is how it would manifest to the perpetrator.

Of course, there would be telltale signs detectable to the public. A person who could commit to such a course would come across as single-minded and rigidly idealistic. They would seem petulant and dismissive when questioned. They would be detached, aloof and impenetrable. They would profess openness while practicing pathological secrecy. They would occasionally betray an attitude of being persecuted and exhibit outbursts of irrational resentment.

Is any of this actually as it appears?

Some would say that you know a tree by the fruit it bears. However, in the words of the recent Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, what difference does it make? If the United States falls and American society is replaced by something else or a lot of something elses, the most noticeable thing to Americans will be that the good times have ceased to roll. The only thing that will be clearly understood by historians will be the point in history when the end began…a point in history that may properly be called President Zero.

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Falling Leaves

1 Nov

Yesterday, during a discussion-based class I team-teach every Saturday, I was not getting any questions from students. I walked out the door and stood on the fourth-story balcony of the building I was in and looked out at the world around me. The balcony overlooks the roof of an adjoining building with all its vents and skylights. There are trees between and around the buildings that are starting to turn brown as we enter the fall season.

The wind was blowing hard and leaves were falling. As I watched some of them fall to the ground, I immediately realized how pretty they are.

However, upon further reflection, I realized how sad they are. These leaves blossomed in the spring, grew, absorbed sunlight, and were a part of the community of leaves that made up the leaves of the tree. They were alive and vital. But fall came, they turned brown, and they were now falling to the ground. I anthropomorphized these leaves, and imagined that they were aware of their surroundings and the passage of time. I imagined how they must feel as the excitement of life gradually turned to the realization that they would inevitably turn brown and die.
Leaves

I was reminded, as I have been reminded many times before, that all the beauty in nature also has a dark side. Tweeting birds are desperately looking for a mate. Blossoming leaves are the beginning of a cycle that must inevitably end in death. The trees they hang from are in a desperate battle for resources against every other life form. We are surrounded by beauty that represents a harsh reality.

This observation could have made me sad. It had an easy opening. I recently learned that my sister has cancer that is probably incurable. My 90 year-old mother, who has only a few years left, was depressed over my sister’s condition. A girl in our class had just confessed to me that her grandmother, who she was very close to, had died and that it was making it hard for her to concentrate. I had just been kicked off of a forum that I sort of enjoyed, although it was a doomed affair. It was cold, windy, wet and dark outside. I was definitely in the right mindset to be down. But I went in another direction.

I realized that my anthropomorphization of the leaves was, after all, just an illusion. Leaves are more like the skin cells of an animal that it sheds when their usefulness has expired. They are not aware of their surroundings or the passage of time. They are not really part of a community. I realized that everything we see around us can be interpreted in myriad ways…including our own lives.

Still, life can be sad. Whenever I see someone walking a puppy down the street, I imagine what life must be like for it. Everything is new. The world is old, but it is all unexplored. What is that over there? Who are those people? What are those things? What new game can we play? Of course, puppies do not have words for these things, but their thinking is evident from the way they bounce down the street wagging their tales and seeming to smile. Yet, puppies grow old and eventually die. They live for only 10 to 20 years, depending on their size and breed. I wonder how much living a dog is able to squeeze into that roughly decade and a half of life?
Puppy

Life is neither inherently beautiful, nor a sad cycle of life and death. These are all illusions that we print onto it like we print words and images onto a piece of paper. Life may actually have a meaning, but we have no idea what it is. As someone who believes in God (most of the time) I have an easier time believing that life is inherently meaningful, but I never fool myself into thinking I have it all figured out.

I had just given some very good and hard-earned advice to the girl who had told me about her grandmother’s death. I had told her that there was no solution to what had happened, but that there would eventually be acceptance; that no religious idea or philosophical rationalization in the world would make it OK; but that she would notice one day that she was thinking of her grandmother more as history than as a lost friend; and that when that day came she would be able to accept her death. One must appreciate that I do not go around advising people about death. She asked me and I told her what I thought. I pointed out that, as far as her school work was concerned, all she had to do was get through it. I assured her that I would help in any way possible to lighten her burden.

But that is advice for me and all of us. I do not understand life or death. I do not know what they mean. I do not have a solution. But the thing is, I do not have to have a solution. None of us do. We can try to explain life, but we are not obligated to get it right.

When bad things happen, we find ourselves looking much harder for solutions. However, we seldom move closer to the truth. More often than not, we invent useless or even harmful rationalizations. I imagine that much religious dogma has been invented in that way. However, there is something I have learned through the course of living. When Christians describe the phenomenon, they say, “When God closes a door, he also opens a window.” What I have observed is that when one thing ends it is usually accompanied by the start of something else. Years ago, when I was more or less fired from a job, I was suddenly needed at another better job. A friend and colleague of mine, the person who I team-teach with on Saturdays, frequently observes how she was sad at losing her condominium when she did, but that it put her in a position to make a killer deal on a better one. The transition does not always happen like that, but it happens so often that it is difficult to dismiss as mere coincidence.

I am a little sad now but, possibly for the first time in my life, I am not fooled. I know that something new is coming along. I do not know what it is. I do not even know that it is positive. Maybe it will be the Technological Singularity that many of us have speculated about. Maybe it will be a terrible war. Maybe it will be something extremely personal like finding new love or even stumbling onto that long sought after item that never seems to turn up on eBay. Maybe I will get some incredible inspiration that leads me to an explanation of consciousness or the nature of matter. Maybe I will just have a long period of relative personal silence that leads me to some subtle but transformative insight. It is out there. I can feel it coming.

And so, another Sunday goes by. Another leaf falls. The Seahawks will play another game. They will finish another season. My sister may live or she may die. My mother may last for another day or another decade. A terrible war may start tomorrow. The Singularity may come tonight. Today, November 1, 2015, I got it right. Today, I saw life for what it is. I will get my work done, and I will get on to the next day.