Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Barack Obama: Two Time Nobelist?


You'll no doubt recall the hue and cry when Barack Obama was awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize for his stand on nuclear non-proliferation and his attempts to engage the Muslim world. Both the right and left in this country had great sport at this -- and here I'll agree -- premature awarding of a prize to a man with few signal accomplishments in foreign policy, apart from being "not Bush".

Six years later and I think it's time to give him the Prize for real this time. Think about this past year: for a man who started his administration hoping to hit singles and doubles in foreign policy (consumed as he had to be by the domestic economic crisis), he's kind of knocked a couple out of the park, provoking admiration from aboard and from mainstream Americans, and consternation from the idiot fringe that will sit on perches and poop all day, parroting "Obama bad, BRAWK!"

In general, his foreign policy across six years has been pragmatic rather than bold: he's taken a backseat in Syria and Libya despite being the single largest presence in either conflict. Of course, this makes the Ex-Parrots all squawk that he's done nothing, despite the fact that America has, if not the largest, certainly a large military and diplomatic presence in both of those conflicts.

He hasn't quite confronted Putin in Ukraine, a potential European Union and NATO member, to be sure, but then Russia has its own internal mess that prevents Putin from being as aggressive as he probably believes he can be. It's hard to invade a neighboring nation when your own people are having a hard time buying bread because you've banned food imports (shades of the Soviet!) Obama really hasn't had to take much action against Putin. You know the old saying: when your enemy is drowning, don't throw him a life saver.

This also served to silence his squawkers....er, critics domestically, as well, all of whom marveled at the magnificence of Putin's strong aggressive display. The traitors. The same traitors who decided to cast their lot with Netanyahu over their own President, only to have it blow up in their faces as Americans decided, "You know? Enough is enough, guys."

The other intractable problem remains ISIS (and their sworn ally, Boko Haram), but here too, Obama has been working quietly in sync with allies in the region. It's a muddle, to be sure, so bad that Jon Stewart has remarked that the United States is actually fighting the United States, but it's better than our boots on the ground and gives political cover to the local nations to solve the problems that were ultimately imposed by western nations on their own terms.

Which brings me to Iran, of course.  Here, Obama has taken bold action, action that scares the living daylights out of his conured critics, so much so that they attempted to undermine any agreement with Iran (and five other nations, I want to quickly add) only to have that, too, explode in their faces like a trick cigar.

A nuclear non-proliferation treaty with a nation that is far smaller than Russia, a treaty backed by Russia and China, one that can now be implemented to if not prevent, delay development of nuclear energy by Iran until we have had a chance to incorporate them into the world at large. Think it can't be done?

Is Iran any worse than Germany or Japan of the 1940s? Yet there we have two thriving members of the global community, trusted allies and partners.

And finally, there's Cuba. A sixty year old Cold War ended with the last regime standing. While de facto this freeze out ended after the Elian Gonzalez fiasco (and I say "fiasco" with respect to the Cuban-American mafia that forced politicians to genuflect to their whims in order to deliver Florida's electorate), it took an additional twenty years and a new generation of Cuban Americans to say "We'd really like to visit our relatives now." It was inevitable. Obama did the pragmatic yet bold thing, and he did it the right way.

Going forward, we see John Kerry making overtures to the what can only laughingly be called "government" of Somalia. I anticipate next on the agenda will be the conflict in Mali (rebel forces there have aligned with Islamist extremists) and perhaps forcing Mugabe out of Zimbabwe, or at least holding his feet closer to the fire.

Obama will not be able to single-handedly in eight years create peace in the world, but the overall arc of his efforts has been towards that goal, reducing violent extremism in the world while creating economic opportunity in places it did not exist before. For instance, his advances in Africa and in South Asia will help make shipping lanes in the Indian Ocean a little safer from piracy when pirates no longer have chaotic ports to seek safe harbor in.

Despite the daily news reports, he's been generally successful in that goal: remember, when he took office, all those extremists had two honey pots to fly to, Iraq and Afghanistan, and the terrible tolls in those nations never really entered our consciousness because we became inured to the numbers and the stories and they all blurred together. Today, the death tolls from extremists worldwide (with the exception of Syria) are down and trending down.

This 2009 Nobel Prize, possibly not his last one, may have been the most prescient pick for the Nobel committee ever.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

The Future Has A Price

NASA, the space agency that has developed such technological wonders as Velcro, braces, Dippin' Dots, and is close to forcing man kind to answering some deeply philosophical questions, is at the mercy of blatant political partisanship and a poor understanding of science.  

The agency's budget for Earth science and research is being reallocated (read: cut) for space flight technologies to the tune of 40%. The National Science Foundation's funding for Earth Sciences will also be slashed dramatically, and will no longer receive any funding for social sciences.

While it may sound obvious for the agency to conduct spaceflight missions, part of NASA's Vision includes "Conduct[ing] airborne remote sensing and science missions." In other words, NASA is responsible for studying Earth, which is in space. This recent budgetary issue appears to stem from the GOP's near-unanimous refusal to accept climate change as real and happening.

This literal denial of climate change can be seen most recently in Florida, where administration officials were ostensibly banned from even uttering the phrase.

For another example, the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith wrote an op-ed titled "The Climate-Change Religion." In the piece, Smith rails against Obama for making climate change so scary and claiming that it's even real. The title is especially weird because I thought Republicans were respectful of deeply held religious beliefs, going as far as passing bills to allow people to discriminate against others who do not adhere to those beliefs. But this time it's different because Mr. Lamar (nor his donors) does not share those beliefs, and so he disregards them; despite the fact that there is an ever-increasing amount of data telling us that climate change is real and human activity plays a part. But, then again, these are peer-reviewed science papers, not the Bible or campaign checks, so point taken, I guess.

In the op-ed, Mr. Lamar makes some rather dubious claims about the threat, or lack of, from climate change including, that, over the last 15 years, the warming of the planet has stopped. Data shows that it have slowed, thanks to efforts by governments to curb emissions. He also claimed that climate change does not cause more severe storms, which is wrong. Climate change has been linked to stronger hurricanes and longer droughts, for instance.

It should be noted that Mr. Lamar, like many Republicans, is not a scientist. He was a lawyer before getting elected to the House in 1986. It is strange that he would ignore the advice of the world's scientists at the peril of the country and the world for petty politics. Would you ignore your lawyer's law advice?

What is especially confusing is Mr. Lamar's introduction of the STEM Education Act of 2014 of which he, admirably, says "we have to capture and hold the desire of our nation's youth to study science and engineering so they will want to pursue these careers. A health and viable STEM workforce, literate in all STEM subjects including computer science, is critical to American industries. We must work to ensure that students continue to go into these fields so that their ideas can lead to a more innovative and prosperous America."

Except, of course, if the work of those future scientists hurt some of his donors.

It appears that instead of selling out the planet, Mr. Lamar and his colleagues should start investing in it. Otherwise, some day, it may never be cold enough to enjoy some Dippin' Dots. 

Friday, May 01, 2015

Mike Huckabee vows to fight the modern world

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee took time away from selling snake oil to old people to pre-announce his annoucement to run for president. Or his book isn't doing too well.

In a two-minute video, Pastor Mike previews the themes of his candidacy and almost immediately mentions the Clintons. Granted, Huckabee never actually beat Bill Clinton. Huckabee assumed the governorship after Gov. Jim Guy Tucker resigned but that's not the point. Who's going to remember way back to 1996?

Be damned sure that Huckabee will mention religion a lot. Most recently he said the the Supreme Court cannot "overrule God" on gay marriage. Too bad your religion does not trump the rights of others, Pastor.

But that's not the weirdest thing he has said. He has also recently complained that "we are rapidly moving toward the criminalization of Christianity," which, is odd because he's running for president. If Christianity was soon to be outlawed, one would think he'd be in Jesus Jail instead of on national TV all the time. In reality, he's just upset that some Christians can't openly hate on gays without being called bigots.

He has gone further off the deep end, telling potential military recruits to wait to join up until after Obama leaves office. Why? You guessed it, because of the Obama Administration's perceived hostility to the Christian faith. What those two have to do with one another is an excellent question.

Down the rabbit hole we fall.

As a regular contestant on the horrific Family Research Council's Washington Watch program, Huckabee recently claimed that gays won't rest until "there are no more churches." What the actual hell? It's more likely the other way around.

If anything, Huckabee has all the super-right-wing rhetoric down pat: gay marriage is like the ISIS threat; if someone breaks into his home, he calls 911 to tell them where to pick up the body; contraception is tryanny; America is going down the tubes and we should pray for fire from heaven; etc. (I think that last one is a liberals-cause-volcanos reference).

It appears that the world is passing Huckabee by, and I hope flipping him the bird as it passes.

As one 5-star reviewer of Huckabee's book (#62, 954 Amazon Sales rank) says: "Easy read for an older guy like me. Makes a lot of sense about the sad state of our country, not the USA I grew up in!"

Thank God for that.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Ted Cruz and the Race to the Bottom of the Barrel

As he runs for president, Senator Ted Cruz is still in the news, even though he will never be president. After the kerfuffle surrounding him and some prominent gay hoteliers, he's back on the stump reminding folks that Barack Obama is black and it is the president's words that are causing cops to kill other black people.

As Politico reports, Cruz, speaking at an event hosted by the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, insists that it is not systemic poverty or militarized police forces or unfair drug laws that are inflaming racial divides, but rather the Obama Administration's rhetoric.

"...[Mr Obama has] made decisions that I think have inflamed racial tensions that have divided us rather than bringing us together.”

Similar to his campaign platform, Mr Cruz doesn't give many specifics. He mentions one quote made in 2012 by Vice President Joe Biden, who said that the GOP is trying to put people back in chains. Damning stuff.

He also, for some reason, links the Sandy Hook shooting tragedy to racial and societal divides. Gun are too unfairly treated in this country, I assume.

President Obama, in his inflaming way, recently called police violence a "crisis" and condemned the neglect of the poor. How incendiary! The poor are neglected and unfairly treated by police and the judicial system?! I never. For his part, Mr Obama seemed frustrated that people are more concerned with broken windows than broken necks. A reasonable, sober response, in this blogger's cheeto-stained opinion.

Is this the "incendiary" language Mr Cruz speaks of? Or is he just pandering. Nah, couldn't be: “I think Republicans are and should be the party of the 47 percent," Mr Cruz said with a straight face.

In true Cruz fashion, when pressed to discuss something about his own platform, namely Obamacare and immigration reform, he dodged and weaved like the true pandering asshole he is, saying only: “What you’re hearing me say is, my message is going to be consistent.”

That message being what, exactly?

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Update

It's been a busy winter/spring around Chez212. I've been pursuing multiple career options -- photography, writing and acting -- all while managing a rookie softball team. To boot, I've decided I'm bored and want a job again, so I've been searching for that, too.

I had a dream in the early morning today that I'd like to share:

I was walking with a group of people in some ravine or valley. We needed to climb up to a plateau to get to where we needed to get. We had two choices: walk up the built-in stairway into the cliffside, or climb a fairly treacherous rock face about four or five hundred feet high.

We had already been on the plateau earlier before descending into the valley (there may have been a festival up there. That bit of the dream is really fuzzy.) We wanted to return.

I couldn't see my companions but perhaps six of us were walking.

Anyway, I started to climb the rock. It was a very smooth surface, like granite that time, water and wind had scrubbed smooth. Some footholds and handholds, enough to make the climb doable without lines or harnesses.

Now, I have a terrible fear of heights.

No, let me rephrase that: I have a terrible fear of falling from heights. But unusually for me, I climbed and kept climbing, even after I looked down and swallowed my fear hard.

I reached the top. Almost. I was literally a hand-hold away. I could reach out and grab a pinnacle, but the pinnacle crumbled in my grip. I reached for a hand-hold of granite, and the granite shuddered and fell away. I could almost grip the top, the plateau, my goal, but every time I tried, it fell away.

I slinked back down. As I began to make for the stairs, this being of slime and goop started to climb. He -- because I'm assuming -- climbed the same route I did, but faster and with more confidence.

When he reached the top, he didn't grab hold of anything, he leaped from the pinnacle to the cliff face and hoisted himself up. I woke.

Did you ever have a dream where, when you woke up, even though it was a metaphor and even though the imagery was completely irrelevant to your life, you knew exactly what it meant?

That was this dream. I get my message.