Saturday, March 16, 2013

Arab Spring Aftermath; Bombings in Baghdad; Drones; Rand Paul; Kenya

On Friday morning, I had time to sit down and peruse the New York Times cover-to-cover before heading down to Berkeley High.  The paper is cautious in its coverage, hardly the socialist mouthpiece Republicans would have us believe, but is the most thorough paper in the U.S., and a number of stories caught my attention.

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One story dealt with the police response to protests marking the second anniversary of the failed democratic revolution in Bahrain.  In case you don’t remember, pro-democracy activists were stymied (very violently) when the authoritarian government—a staunch ally of the U.S.—called in the armed forces of Saudi Arabia—another authoritarian ally of the U.S.—to put down protesters.  Perhaps events like this might begin to explain how the U.S. becomes the rightful object of such loathing around the world.  We arm dictatorships like Bahrain and Saudi Arabia at the same time that we profess our love for democracy.

If I lived in Bahrain, I would certainly hate the United States.

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And then there were the bombings in Baghdad, the place that we supposedly left safe and democratic after launching a massive, destructive invasion and occupation, which together killed hundreds of thousands of people.  These bombings killed upwards of 20 people, and have become regular occurrences in Iraq since the U.S. waged its aggressive war on that country, supposedly in the name of “democracy”.  We’ve conveniently forgotten about this war, and shamefully pretend that we did Iraq a good turn, allowing us to ignore the lessons associated with armed intervention abroad.

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Then there was the story about the Iranian fighter plane that began shadowing a U.S. surveillance drone (supposedly in international airspace) until it was chased away by the drone’s two fighter plane escorts.  The morality of drone warfare aside, one of the arguments made by its bloodthirsty proponents is how cheap drones are.  But I think that price-tag must rise considerably if each of them has to be escorted by a couple of military aircraft!

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And then, on a separate front, there is the increasing attention being granted Senator Rand Paul as a potential standard-bearer for a hypothetically-resurgent GOP.  Paul has been launching a series of searing critiques on the GOP, pretending that he has something new and revelatory to offer.  At CPAC he announced that the GOP must “embrace liberty in both the economic and the personal sphere”.  If some of Paul’s ideas sound novel, it’s because we haven’t heard them since they were rightfully buried in the nineteenth century.

The approach to social and economic policy that the Senator from Kentucky pretends is “new” is actually no different from the views espoused by Gilded Age plutocrats in the nineteenth century, who found in the “free market” and “individual responsibility” some useful platitudes for disguising economic plunder, capitalist accumulation, and a rigorously-uneven playing field in the language of “liberty”.  When people fail, in Paul’s world, it is because they made bad market choices, not because the system was rigged to allow other people to exploit their weakness.  In Paul’s world, inequality is okay, because it reflects the inscrutable but unassailable wisdom of some divine invisible hand which knows which people are worthy of reward (it’s entirely coincidental that they’re all in the top tax brackets and have given loads of money to those who write the laws to rig the economy in their favour).

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Finally, for any who have been following the election in Kenya, there was an impassioned op-ed from Ngugi wa Thiong’o, the country’s foremost literary figure (now in exile, based at UC Irvine).  Ngugi (I’m ashamed to admit that I never worked up the courage to go to his office when I was an undergraduate on campus) drew a strong link between the president-elect, Uhuru Kenyatta, and Kenya’s former brutal dictator, Daniel arap Moi, at whose feet, Ngugi contends, Uhuru learnt his dark trade. 

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