Can I Use The "Following Orders" Excuse, Too?

It's an understandable desire for the American people to put the Bush Administration behind us, along with all the dark shadows of his regime. The eight years we made it through were marred with scandal and questionable ethics, and weren't the kind of thing you find celebrated in history books. However, in President Obama's assertion that doing just that is the thing to do in order to move forward, he is letting people, literally, get away with murder. Included in those dark shadows we are putting behind us is an ever growing stack of evidence that torture, in some cases causing death, was used against detainees in the War on Terror.

As I'm sure you know, President Obama has already taken steps to put an end to the questionable practices that have come under fire. Guantanamo Bay, where torture knowingly took place, is being closed, and along with it, the numerous overseas CIA prisons used to duck out of international law. You know, like that pesky Geneva Convention. He has spoken out and assured the American people torture would not be used under his administration. Well, that's wonderful. It really is. We need to make sure these things don't happen in the future. But when Obama also claims going after those people who have committed these acts of violence is counterproductive, he's sorely mistaken.

It's easy to look at the situation and try to make it less than it was. They were "supposed terrorists." We needed "intelligence." America is, after all, the great spreader of Democracy and Freedom, and not the dreaded abusers of power. Well, sorry, but we apparently became just that while interrogating these "enemy combatants." By ambiguously pressuring soldiers to obtain intelligence from those brought into prisons such as Bagram, Abu Ghraib, and Gitmo, and then giving them few (if any) directions in regards to how to do this, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, and President Bush are directly responsible for the violence that took place in all three prisons, as well as others. Of course, they act surprised these things -- the photos of prisoners being sexually humiliated in Abu Ghraib, the numerous homicide deaths of detainees, the videos of men driven to their breaking point, pounding their heads against the wall -- but how can they not know what the shackles on the ceiling are used for? How do they not know their soldiers are, as in the case of one detainee, "pulpifying" their legs using knee kicks?

The detainee referred to above was picked up by Afghan militia in Yabuki. His name was Dilawar and he was a taxi driver. If you've seen the film Taxi to the Dark Side, you know this story. After being hired by three men in a nearby town, he was taken in with them as the "get away driver" after a bombing. Dilawar had nothing to do with the bombing; he had picked the men up afterwards on the street when they said they were going to Yabuki. He was taken to Bagram prison, where he died a week later. The cause of death was ruled homicide -- blunt force trauma. Soldiers who dealt with -- or rather, beat -- Dilawar have since admitted use of force was unnecessary. After days of sleep deprivation, the detainee was hallucinating and hysterical, calling out for his parents late into the night. The soldiers used the knee kicks -- digging into the upper thigh with one's knee, which is supposedly non-fatal -- to silence him, or, in some cases, to hear him scream out, "Allah!" The same soldiers have also said they didn't think he was guilty of anything from the very beginning. And yet, Dilawar was killed.

So, where's the justice in that? What about the other 37 homicides caused by this same kind of violence? If that's not torture, I don't know what is. War on Terror (a term which will not be used in the Obama administration, according to Secretary Clinton) aside, there comes a time when you need to look at it for what it is. People beating people to death. People humiliating people. People playing on the fears and cultural values to demean people. Much like these things were unacceptable during World War II, they are unacceptable in this supposed War on Terror. The claims that people were "just following orders" is ridiculous. Let the courts decide who was "just following orders," and who was just giving those orders.

The issue of torture is not a partisan battle. Or, at least, it shouldn't be. It's a moral issue, a human issue. A matter of people not accused of anything but, in many cases and like Dilawar, being in the wrong place at the wrong time. To use one of those precious Nazi references thrown around lately, Hitler himself never gave explicit orders to kill any Jews. He just said to take care of the problem. Rumsfeld never said to "torture" anyone, he just said to get the information. Well, as information slowly leaks to the American people, I can only hope more of us become as outraged as we should be that these things were carried out in our name. And let's hope we do carry out the promises of leading the world morally, not just militarily, under Obama. So let's all take step one together. Let's bring the people responsible, at the highest levels, to justice.


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The Red Elephant in the Room

If you haven't yet, go see Che. It's in limited release right now in it's full four and a half hour format, and I highly recommend seeing it now if possible. Even if you don't like Che Guevara, it's a great movie. But this blog isn't just about Che. It's about Socialism.

After seeing the movie, I felt completely re-dedicated to Socialism. Since high school, I've been a Socialist. It's been one of those things you say half apologetically, knowing the tirade that's coming about how hard people work and who wants to just give handouts left and right? After a while, it's easier to just avoid the argument at all. But recently there has been a surge in Socialism's popularity. It's all over the place, from the attempted rescue of our floundering economy to our own president openingly calling for a redistribution of wealth. I'm not saying anyone is throwing around the "S" word with a light heart; it's still a red smear for most of the population. But it is in the public dialogue, which is pretty awesome if you ask me.

There is a quote that goes something like, "I believe in Socialism because I believe in humanity." That sums up why I'm drawn to Socialism pretty well. It's not a matter of anger or hatred for the upper classes of society, but just a belief that we all deserve an equal chance. A real equal chance, by the way, not the supposed equal chance we all have just by being born in the USA. Socialism, to me, is a matter of loving people enough to want what's best for them. It's the ability to care for people in an unselfish way, and to have a compassion for the human condition. You have to be able to put yourself into the mix as no better than anyone else, and no more deserving than anyone else. It's about rising above competition to work together.

A lot of people think of Socialism as welfare, handing out checks to the unemployed. But when I think of welfare, I don't think of it as just handing out money, but of putting people into jobs. RFK had a plan that would do just that -- set up a welfare program that would place people in jobs where they were needed rather than just give hand outs. It makes a lot of sense; those willing to work are rewarded. I mean, how many people are there who are working two, three jobs and still can't make ends meet? And that's somehow fair, despite these people working hard their whole lives? If you have ever, and I hope you get the chance, worked a minimum wage job and tried to save money, then you'll see how hard life can be. Sure, you can survive, but when it comes to getting ahead, it's nearly impossible. That, to me, just isn't fair.

But I'm not a naive, wide eyed dreamer. I know that Socialism probably won't take seed here in the United States, and I'm okay with that. I'm happy with President Obama, and know he'll work to make things better for everyone. But that doesn't mean I don't still consider myself a Socialist, and try to apply the concepts myself. Just by helping others, and generally having compassion for other's suffering, I feel like people could make a big difference. It's not just about getting policy changed, but about changing the way people relate to society. Everyday interaction is what's going to really affect people.


I Feel Lost

Alright, look. I became politically aware during the 2000 election. Yes, that battle royale between Bush and Gore was what lit my little political flame. I was 11 years old, and read my parents' Newsweeks and watched CNN religiously. I even made collages to hang in my windows. I wasn't the coolest kid in Junior High, okay? Of course, this interest blossomed into full blown obsession after 9/11. While the rest of the world was rallying behind Cowboy Bush, I was once again researching and reading, and even made a collage or two. During high school, politics was my main hobby. I read the Communist Manifesto when I was sixteen, making me the beloved Socialist I am today (please don't stone me to death.)

But that whole time, I had someone to rail against. I had the Bush administration. I was driven by the desire to make things better, to change foreign policy, and to open the eyes of my peers to the lies the country was being fed. Again, I wasn't the coolest kid. I was angry. I was very, very angry. Change was needed. It had to come.

And then it did. With Obama, our country is (hopefully) going to turn a new leaf. And that is wonderful. It's necessary, and it's great, and while I'm not trying to be unrealistic, I really think things are going to get better. So here's the problem: I'm happy.

I know. It's awful. I have no sense of condescension when I think about who is running the country. No sense of being able to do it better myself. I'm not bitter, or disillusioned, or anything like that. I'm hopeful, happy, and proud of my own country. This has never happened before, and I honestly don't know how to feel about it. I suddenly have faith in who is running the show, and even feel protective of him. It's . . . it's. . . shocking.

In time, I will learn how to deal with my new found patriotism. I'll come to terms with the fact that I don't want to flee the country and actually agree with the president. But until then, I'm stuck in this uncomfortable state of contentment, and will have to find something else to target my resentment on. At least I'll always have Bill O'Reilly. . .


Early in the Morning

Let's all breath a sigh of relief. Election Day is almost upon us. Yes, this is an historic election, and yes, whatever happens will have major consequences, good or bad, for our country. But what this obscenely long election has done, more than anything else, is drag American down a dark rabbit hole that in a matter of days we will have to crawl out of. The childish quarrelling has pushed the limits of ridiculous behavior, and it doesn't loom well for America.

Let's get one thing straight from the get-go. This is not politics. This is petty tabloid fodder dressed up as news. Barack Obama is a terrorist? Sarah Palin as vice president? John McCain is a maverick? When will someone just name Bat Boy as their advisor so this thing can come full circle? Circulating doctored photos of Sarah Palin in a bikini is, I will admit, amusing. But what does it have to do with the presidency? It doesn't mean anything in the big picture, and does nothing in the way of the issues. This election season has been nothing but a constant haze of rumors, lies, and blatent avoidance.

Maybe what we have all forgotten is that, while our leaders bicquer, the world is still burning around us. Things don't stop because we are picking a new president. Children are still dying, governments are changing, wars are being waged. And where are we? Glued to CNN like kids watching a fight on the playground at recess. Nothing is being solved. No progress is being made by watching John McCain crack jokes every five seconds with that, let's face it, creepy laugh of his. Take, for example, Joe the effing Plumber. That man is completely insignifcant compared to the thousands of Iraqis who have been killed or displaced, and yet somehow he ends up with more airtime than they ever will. Please, share with me how that works exactly?

Sometimes I get worried that America has forgotten what our leaders are really for. We have come to accept that all politicians are greedy, untrustworthy opportunists serving their own agenda. Vote for the lesser of two evils, right? Rule of thumb. But it doesn't have to be that way. We have fallen into a cycle where those with the most money, not the most capacity to lead, are elected. But it doesn't have to be like that. It is okay to demand more from politicians. It would take looking at more than just, oh, I don't know, 30 second TV spots between re-runs of Friends, but it can be done. The sad fact is that more Americans are too disillusioned with the current situation to even pay enough attention to the current candidates, let alone actually pay attention to what those out of the spotlight are saying.

I'm not saying vote third party. I am so vehemently against that, I can't even put it into words. Voting third party is just self indulgent, because like it or not, we are a two party system. The only way to clean up politics is for a change in the way we think. We need to value more than just whoever is the flashiest option, or the one who looks most like us. Listening to the issues is what we have to do. Look at the situation for real, not just, "Oh, well, I'm a conservative, so I'd best vote for a Republican." That is what is keeping party politics in play. This is why few people hold all the cards in the system, and why we as a country can't move forward. When are we going to grow tired of pandering politicians willing to tell us what we want to hear? And when will politicians respect us enough to tell us the truth?


The World's Greatest

In the past few weeks, there has been a lot of talk about America falling from it's current place of ultimate power in the world. The current financial crisis coupled with America's ever-decreasing prestige worldwide has led many to believe the end of the American Era is upon us, and I can't disagree. The rising power of developing nations around the world cannot be ignored, and neither can our own relative stagnation. We, as a nation, have to face the future without our current "USA #1" attitude. We have to begin cooperating, not just coercing.

We are an isolated nation. We don't have the constant influx of ideas and people from bordering nations the way the European Union does. It's easy to forget the world is small when you are oceans away from the rest of it. But technology has broken down the remaining barriers between countries, and turned boundaries into just meaningless lines on paper. This doesn't just open the tourism market to a million more camera-toting-fannypack-wearing families, but also has opened us to an unprecedented opportunity for cooperation. The only way we can more forward is by cooperation, even with our enemies. In this new, small world where communication takes place instantly and ideas are coming from every corner of the globe, there is no room for nationalism.

And so we must establish a new patriotism. Not dedication to one's country, but to people in general. A dedication to making life better for everyone, because now more than ever, our similarities shine through. Despite the many differences in the world, we are after the same things fundamentally. As JFK said, "For in the final analysis, our most basic common link, is that we all inhabit this small planet, we all breathe the same air, we all cherish our children's futures, and we are all mortal."

Helping people can and should be the basis of policy. But before it can manifest in government, mankind has to accept the fact that working together for the common good isn't just a crackpot idea founded in Marxism. It's, really, all that matters. Yeah, we have ourselves all worked up about car insurance and cellphones and all those other society imposed matters of importance, but when everything is said and done, they don't matter. Centuries from now, no one is going to care if you had comprehensive auto insurance. Putting an end of suffering will matter. Who won Dancing with the Stars won't matter. Saving children from starvation will matter. And the only way this can be accomplished is by working with the world, not swooping in like Superman to right the wrongs of society singlehandedly.

Americans need to realize not everything is a competition. Pitting ourselves against the world by using the "us-against-them" rhetoric of the War on Terror is counterproductive, and only further isolates us in our selfish nationalism. It's okay to reach out to those who don't share our ideology, or our way of life, or our values. It's okay to say, "You have something we don't." If our politicians are celebrated for reaching "across the aisle" and working together, why can't that be applied on a global level? Until we do so, we'll continue losing important ground.


Something Vague

I'm not going to lie -- it took me multiple days to watch Thursday night's presidential debate. Literally, days. I started watching it live, but . . . but . . . it was too painful. I couldn't possibly sit through the whole thing without breaking the window behind the couch, so I recorded it. And slowly, meticulously, I watched it all. It hurt a little.

I had high hopes for this debate, which was really my own stupid fault. I forgot, briefly, that all excitement has been drained from politics, leaving just shells of personalities careful to tread on the correct side of party lines. And that's what this debate was, a debate alone party lines. If you like Obama, you no doubt liked what he said. If you liked McCain, you probably laughed at all his stupid little jokes. The graph type thing on CNN, gadging the audience's response, never moved that much, besides the initial changes when either candidate came on screen. I kept waiting for a drastic reaction, when those lines when haywire and flew way up or way down, the way they tended to during the 2004 debates. It never happened.

And ya know why it never happened? Because nothing drastic was said. There was no major breakthrough, or breakdown, or anything. It was strictly petty, "He said he'd do such and such a thing," sprinkled with random self congratulations for things done way back in the day. I'm totally with Obama, but does it really matter that he's been against the Iraq war since day one? No. We are there now. We have to deal with the realities of this war in 2008, not what should or shouldn't have been done.

I was really hoping for major breakthroughs on this debate in particular, because it was the Foreign Policy debate. Awesome, right? Wrong. It wasn't even a little enlightening at all. Even the question I was dying to hear, "What will you do about Iran," was dull. Why did McCain feel the need to say about a million times that Obama wants talks without preconditions? Did he think that maybe if he repeated it one more time, we'd think to ourselves, "Why yes! Putting demands on leaders before we grace them with our presence is really the only way to conduct business!" I wanted so badly for Obama to wipe that smirk off McCain's face, but no. It never happened.

After I finished watching the debate, I didn't feel any kind of rush of pride for my candidate. I didn't feel like painting my face blue and knocking on every Republican's door, chanting "O-bam-a!" No one won, because no one stepped out of their little box to actually speak to the American people about real issues. Now what am I looking forward to? Easy -- that vice presidential debate on Thursday, if for no other reason than to see Palin actually be asked direct questions, assuming the moderator is allowed to ask anything relevent.
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