A legacy of death and dying

on a fateful day, in 2007 I quite vividly recall listening to a teacher at my school tell the class of her happiness at the fact that America had chosen, to her mind, the correct president in the person of Barrack Obama and had avoided four more years of the same under a McCain presidency. The four more years of the same she referred to in this was the torturous primacy of George W Bush who in his time did his level best during his time in office to steer his country away from the enlightened vision of its forefathers towards a nation with nothing short of a Stalinist embrace of its citizens and its enemies. I would openly confess that at that point in time I too felt a very similar emotion to my teacher, having always maintained an interest in world affairs I genuinely believed that with Bush gone and Obama in office that what we would see in his presidency would be a refreshingly new approach to politics. How naive I was. Albeit, my country has never been bombed by the US or had US agents destabilise/overthrow my government so it always remained easier for me to accept that the USA could be a force for good than it would be for an Iraqi refugee or Palestinian trapped in the warzones of Gaza, but none the less I was naive in assuming that all it would take to change the destructive imperialist agenda that the USA has followed since the times of Jefferson was one man. This being said, I will openly suggest that I feel that none of us could have predicted how far from the tree this particular apple would fall. Considering the rhetoric of the campaign I feel we have never before seen such a betrayal of principles by any individual who has walked the gilded halls of Washington. In this post I intend to cover the key issues which are often cited for why George Bush’s presidency was maligned by people all over the world and then I aim to compare it to that of Obama and arguably show how little has changed for the better and that actually in many ways things have only gotten worse.

First on the list of George W Bush’s crimes during his time in office would inevitably be his two ill-informed and disastrous invasions of Afghanistan and later Iraq. Two more short-sighted examples of foreign policy I cannot think of unless pushed hard on the topic. To be fair to the planners of these acts, in both cases the invasions in a strictly military sense were a success but then it seems the planning for any eventuality went out the window. Like a football team who scores two early goals in every match they play but then concede fifteen the USA and its allies in both cases found themselves fighting a running battle  against a variety of forces that they were too ill equipped and too ill informed to ever win against. For example in Iraq after the initial invasion had ended and just as the occupation was getting under way, large crowds looted and torched much of the former Baathist government’s ministry buildings and no effort was made to prevent this riotous behaviour. Oh wait, some effort was made – but only to prevent any damage happening to any of the ministry buildings that were related in any way to the production of oil. In allowing this destruction of much of Baghdad’s infrastructure the coalition authorities demonstrated in a quite blatant manner their utter disregard for the safety and livelihood of Iraqi civilians. In coming years who knows how many lives that were lost to a Cholera epidemic in 2007 could have been saved if armed gangs had not been allowed to loot and burn down the health ministries. Ultimately both the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan and the 2003 invasion of Iraq had far more negative outcomes than positive ones for them to ever be recorded in a entirely positive light and it is largely due to GW Bush and his administration that both of these invasions were such catastrophic failures with each invasion focussing on the minutiae of capturing one figurehead individual while neglecting to ensure that the populations of the countries US forces were riding roughshod over were happy with what was being done in their name.

Next on the list of crimes that were committed with oversight by GW Bush was the massive infringement of civil liberties conducted by US intelligience agencies in the name of the War on Terror. As Glenn Greenwald at the guardian says in an article discussing the civil liberties records of US presidents:

Bush seized on the 9/11 attack to usher in radical new surveillance and detention powers in the PATRIOT ACT, spied for years on the communications of US citizens without the warrants required by law, and claimed the power to indefinitely imprison even US citizens without charges in military brigs.

Such a concerted effort to eradicate civil liberties that the founding fathers strove to define and enshrine in the constitution at the time shocked and horrified many commentators and with good reason really. The programme of extraordinary rendition through which people suspected of terrorism were kidnapped and tortured in nations friendly with the US was one of the most flagrant abuses of international norms and law that I can conceive of. The same can be said about the willingness with which the Bush administration accepted the daily abuses of privacy that were abetted by the Patriot Act in the wake of 9/11. Surely the greatest show of strength in the fact of hatred that the US could have demonstrated in the wake of the single worst terrorist attack in history would have been to show that even in possibly the nations lowest moment that the government were still unwilling to violate the principles of personal privacy. But ultimately, the Bush administration danced according to the tune of the terrorists and reacted by demonstrating just how contemptible Western democracies can be in times of crisis putting the lie to their claims of superiority over the theocracies and autocracies of the developing world.

The third charge that would likely also stick were it to be levelled at George W Bush in a court of law would be the use of torture in an attempt to extract confessions and intelligence from those who had already been treated illegally in either being kidnapped and illegally rendered across international borders or as a result of detention on often highly dubious grounds for endless amounts of time. That the victims of torture in Bagram, Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib were already victims of crimes committed by US forces does not however remove the later stain on the US of subjecting these individuals to torture. Such behaviour  and the frequency with which it was committed by the supposed “leaders of the free world” demonstrates how hollow such a title is and how much respect it should actually command in hindsight. To kill an innocent in a war is certainly an objective evil, but there is an argument to be heard that suggests torture is worse as the innocent must then live with the harrowing memory of being made to fear for their physical and mental health for the rest of their lives. And I genuinely feel that this argument holds some weight in light of the fact that often torturers simply extract lies from their victims who in sheer desperation will put their name to anything they are told to in an effort to stop their suffering and this is commonly known. It does take a special time of criminal to authorise such behaviour with the full knowledge that the likely outcomes will be of no use, and Bush certainly fits the mould. The exact same point about it taking a special kind of criminal to commit these crimes, can be raised about Bush’s rolling back of personal liberty and his invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan too.

The reality, however, is that in reality the current president of the USA, Barrack Obama is guilty of two of the exact same crimes his predecesor, Bush, and arguably guilty of a worse third crime than Bush which would on the surface suggest that actually the Nobel Peace Prize winner is worse than Bush. Who would have though it ?

The first crime of launching questionable military interventions is certainly one Obama is guilty of, and much like Bush the end result doesn’t look very promising with the paint (metaphorically speaking) likely to run a little further before setting. The intervention which Obama championed was the lending of NATO air support to the Libyan rebels to help oust Muammar Gadaffi from power. Seemingly caught up by public and political sentiment that something should be done to support at least one nation in the “Arab Spring” uprisings and not wanting to overthrow one of his own Middle Eastern pawns considering the amount of money that has been poured into their pockets over the year, Libya was the unlucky nation to suffer the consequences of America’s attention. Much the same as in the case of the Afghanistan invasion , and almost identically to the Iraq invasion, the end result of intervention was demonstrably not thought out. The result being that a once relatively isolated/isolationist African nation is now a lawless war zone in which Islamist militias have monopolized power and control large swathes of the country and perhaps more alarmingly also hold large stockpiles of arms and munitions which if history repeats itself, as it is wont to do, will end up in the hands of whoever we fight in ten to fifteen years time. Of course, things might turn out just fine in Libya but the conflict has been officially over for more than a year and there is no end in sight of the lawlessness which grips much of the country and the parallels between the state of Afghanistan after its civil war and Libya as things stand is notable. So, on the first charge Bush’s crime will rank in the annals of history as the worst being as he went all out and invaded two countries as opposed to Obama’s one although there are the best part of three and half years left yet for Obama to fuck that one up.

On the second charge of restricting right and civil liberties within the USA itself, Obama, for a candidate who preached at length about open transparent government in his early campaigns and ultimately was carried to the white house on the back of the successes of the Civil Rights movement has a lot to answer for. While the getting involved in military interventions in another countries civil war struck me as a betrayal of all the Obama claimed to stand for during his election campaign, it is his attack on the rights that most people consider inalienable that must surprise most of all. The first demonstrable way in which Obama has betrayed those who voted for him is his failure to close Guantanamo Bay and end the abuses of human rights that have taken place daily there since its inception under Bush. Amongst the crimes that Guantanamo represents are torture and detention without anything like sufficient proof of guilt and often not even credible suspicion. The legacy of that site was one of the biggest blots on the Bush administration legacy and Obama’s inability or unwillingness to close down the facility there will certainly form one of the biggest blots on his presidential story. A further violation of the campaign rhetoric of open government would be the unfolding drama of the NSA’s massive spying operation in which seemingly almost every american has been spied upon and monitored without specific warrants which I won’t comment on much more than this as the depth of this crime is still only partly apparent as things stand. Needless to say that a crime of such scale really is Stalinist in its style and

The third and final charge which I think really is the deal breaker in demonstrating how Obama is measurably worse than Bush is his use of drone warfare both as means of repression both against american citizens in the wrong place at the wrong time and against poor brown people seemingly wherever he can find them. The move away from “boots on the ground” was something that Obama promised and so on that front, if literally no other, credit is due. However at no point in his run up to election did he ever make it clear that his intention was to remove one deadly force only to replace it with another equally deadly force which if possible is even less indiscriminate in its killing of non-combatants. The usage of drones which while not as directly comparable as the infringement of civil liberties and invasions of other countries was worth my raising as an issue for one reason. namely, that since taking office, Obama has already had more people extra-judicially executed with these weapons than were ever tortured under Bush’s orders during his entire presidency. This fact in itself is frightening when you take into account the tremendously positive light in which Obama is portrayed by comparison to the presentation of Bush jr throughout his presidency. However when you consider that Obama is not a full year into his second term yet, then the cogs should really start to whirr with the thought of how many more will likely die in later years. It must also be taken into account that many of the grievances that are often cited by the self same “islamic” terrorists that drones are supposedly utilised against involve grievances with the US army and its practices in the Middle East. While there are many reasons for grievances to be raised against the US armed forces, there are on balance probably several redeeming features which members of the armed forces have, Drones however can surely never have a redeeming feature as they simply kill and so the question must be asked as to simply how long it will be before this chicken comes home to roost and whenever that does happen we can already establish a chain of causation that leads directly to Obama’s trigger finger.


Paper Tiger, Seething Dragon

This post will aim to debunk the hype around President Obama’s much discussed gun controls and how ultimately they do not cut deep enough to help protect US society safe from itself. I will then suggest that even if these policies had been enough to remove the scourge of guns from American streets that the seething behemoth that is the NRA will drag this initiative to its knees before seeing it passed, thus ending another one of Obama’s hollow promises.

I will begin this post by reminding readers of the executive orders that Obama passed and the more sweeping legislature that is dependent on passing through the US Congress in future, the details of which can be found here . It is my central argument that rather than being a change for the better these proposed changes to US law represent needlessly divisive initiatives that aim at being historic rather than being acceptable in a bi-partisan atmosphere. To clarify, in and of themselves I believe the proposals are arguably a step in the right direction, however I do not believe for a moment that anywhere near enough has been done to address the route causes of violence and gun related deaths that is so systemic in the US. Consequently any message from Obama that he is serious about cutting gun crime has to be considered an essentially hollow promise from another paper tiger.

I start my argument briefly by attempting to appease the baying hounds of pro-gun support by saying from my own perspective that I do understand the right of each citizen to bear arms is enshrined in  US law. The manner in which it is written into the law is in the form of the Second Amendment, which states that “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed”. This amendment was passed into law in the 18th century and I agree wholeheartedly that at the time of its ratification there was undoubtedly a need for a well regulated militia to protect the state. Further more this particular amendment is often cited as a necessary right of the American people as a protection against tyranny. While understanding that both of these reasons for the Second Amendments existence were once completely valid I would argue that the passage of time  has meant that they are now superfluous and as a result cannot bring myself to be of the opinion that the right to carry guns is sacrosanct.  I cannot conceive of any of the founding fathers of US democracy arguing that a well armed populace is still a necessity to the effective running of the state given the existence of many branches of the current state which are responsible for the security of the people . Further to this, the argument that gun ownership is an effective defence against tyranny seems to fall down when we see how often the civil liberties of American people have been violated, such as when a decision was made that the murder of american citizens without a fair trial was allowed and that this information could be kept secret . When we compare the ratio of times that the US government or one of its agencies has acted tyrannically with the number of times that armed uprisings have overturned the tyrants who have so infringed on the peoples rights we see the ratio is firmly in favour of the former rather than the latter. It is in light of these facts that I came to fall on the side of those in favour of gun control, however unlike many of my counterparts within this camp I do not believe the attempts by Obama to be anywhere near enough to counter the problems that guns cause in the US and it is from this viewpoint that I wrote this post. While the reader has every right to disagree with my opinion the facts that the US has one of the highest rates of gun related violence in the world speaks for itself and consequently so does the need to address this level of violence speak for itself.

I will now start by studying the key proposals that the Obama is hoping Congress will pass which he revealed earlier this month. Before I do so however, I would like to stop for one moment to discuss the manner in which Caesar unveiled his proposals to the people. Now I am no fool, I accept that as a business politics comes with a lot of baggage and I would agree with many that part of that baggage is showmanship. What we saw here  however goes far beyond the realm of showmanship. This is an outright attempt at emotional blackmail which already begins to make the playing field for these laws a more partisan arena, imagine how quickly all support for abortion would disappear if a particularly radical pro-lifer had demonstrated for the House of Congress the horrors of a botched abortion. Such a cheap trick is below the belt of many of the rest of the world’s worst politicians and this is a great indication of how the proclamations  that followed the unveiling of the figurative holy virgins, were a case of show over substance. Either way I digress. First up of the recommendations Vice President Biden offered Obama to curb gun violence is ” Extend FBI background checks to all gun sales” as according to current data around 40% of sales currently go through with minimal to no background check taking place. This on the surface seems like a highly sensible proposal, but even this is fraught with more pitfalls than such a simple proposal should really allow. As Feilding Cage at the Guardian points out  “Many states require background checks … but a person could become ineligible between the time the state issues the permit or license and the sale of the firearm … some states do not have a formal process of revoking licenses or permits once a person becomes ineligible. Also, transactions between private sellers have fewer regulations and make it possible in some states for a sale to occur without the buyer having to undergo a background check”. In this first proposal that I have picked to look at we can already see the potential for supreme court lawyers to pick the idea apart and more worryingly the ease with which someone determined to game the system could manipulate these loopholes to gain access to firearms. 

The next key proposal is the revision of  “the 1994 federal ban on military-style assault rifles which lapsed in 2004, while at the same time strengthening the prohibition to make sure canny gun manufacturers cannot circumvent it as they did last time round.” Again on the surface an excellent idea as it is often the case that in the high profile cases which can drive the gun control agenda in the US that the weapons that are used are those better suited to the battlefields of the world rather than on the street of a world superpower. However like the first proposal when we look into the real life situation we will see that actually that the wonderfully titled “assault weapons” are as a general rule not the weapon of choice in many of the US’ daily shootings.  No, the illustrious mantle of weapon of choice falls to the humble handgun, a weapon many would argue that is equally capable of “assault”. While you may chant and cheer at the suggested banning of military style machine guns as a great step forward, Any gun control proposals that do not address the dangers the common handgun poses to the average American are fundamentally missing the target, pun viciously intended. When we look at a recent article by Ed Pilkington at the Guardian he tells us that nowhere in Obama’s 2400 word address did he mention the word handgun, which in itself should surprise the reader given that of the on average 33 gun related deaths that take place in the US daily the majority will involve a handgun.

The next two key recommendations are closely intertwined so I will look at these together as I believe they too like those I have already looked at are fundamentally flawed and are indicative of just how empty Obama’s promises to make US streets safer really are. the two measures which will ultimately depend on congressional support are to “Reinstate the federal limit on the number of rounds that can be held in high-capacity magazines, with 10 rounds as the maximum” and further more to “Introduce  the new crime of possessing or transferring armour-piercing bullets to anyone other than military personnel or police”. Where to start here ? Well to begin with, reread the first proposal about banning high-capacity magazines. That’s right, it says “Reinstate”  rather than create, which means that this already has been part of US law and,  for a multitude of possible reasons, has fallen out of favour and lapsed, which surely gives a strong indication of how successful this proposal is likely to be when it comes up in front of congress. The second point, also addressing an ammunition issue is the banning of armour piercing bullet ownership by civilians, once more on the surface an excellent idea which might even see it passed by congress as its difficult to imagine many backing the legality of a type of ammunition specifically designed to kill human beings. While I think that of the key points this is the most likely to be made law I also believe wholeheartedly that this will be easily circumvented by criminals who have connections across that most porous of national borders where drug gangs execute elected officials with guns, guns no less, that were bought in the USA.

After looking at these key recommendations it should be painfully evident to my reader just how I feel about these recommendations and the likely lack of meaningful impact they will have. I have also given much thought as to what I believe would have made for far more substantial attempts at addressing the issue of gun violence in the US, and I’m sure to the eyes of Americans it is relieving to see that none of them ban guns, all are in fact societal changes that the US government could enable that I am adamant would reduce significantly the level of gun violence.

First amongst them would be the decriminalization of drugs and the immediate cessation of the war on drugs in Latin America. I am no advocate for the use of drugs and neither am I someone who blindly believes that their legality would solve every national economies woes but I am a student of a history in a round about way and I know a little about the levels of violence that went hand in hand with alcohol during the times of prohibition. Compared to the current day levels of crime that are related in some manner to the production and sale of alcohol people looking at the figures for the 1920s would be forgiven for thinking that the US was in meltdown at this point in its history. That prohibition was a drastic failure of a policy is of course a well documented history, and modern day politicians would do well to learn the lessons of the relationship between how vigorously prohibition is enforced  and the rewards reaped by the criminals involved which for the reader is wonderfully summed up by Art Carden here. In my opinion the legality of drugs would allow for a significant impetus to leave the drug market which would then exponentially reduce the numbers of violent criminal elements involved in the drugs trade which in theory would further more reduce the level of violent conflicts between members of the drugs trade at every level, from petty street dealer to international drug lord.

The next idea of mine that I believe would significantly reduce gun violence is serious and meaningful attempts to reduce poverty and break the poverty trap. In my mind whenever I picture a shoot-out in the US, my mind defaults to an image not of the Wild West but to that of a gritty inner city. I know that this does not accurately represent the realities of gun violence in the US which is frankly far more widespread, but to deny that the inner city areas of many of the USA’s great metropolis’s aren’t marred by high levels of crime and specifically gun crime is to deny that on times the sky is blue. By offering  people that live in such conditions ways out that break the desperate mindset of poverty rather than perpetuate it, such as the efforts of Cure Violence who have  done sterling work in Chicago, violent crime in these areas can be drastically reduced. And with a drop in the overall levels of violent crime it follows that there would be an overall drop in the levels of gun violence.

Last but not least of my own suggestions for more valid methods of gun control than those offered by Obama is that serious attention needs to be given to the issue of mental health in the USA. On the surface those who have read Obama’s full list of edicts as linked here will no doubt wonder why I am addressing this particular issue when one of the proposals was for increased mental health funding for the victims of school shoot-outs similar to the Sandy Hook killings. However what I am agitating for is a far more widespread attention to mental health throughout US society and greater finances afforded to it. While researching this post I stumbled across the fact, as written up by Ana Marie Cox at the Guardian here, that actually those who are suffering from a mental illness are far more likely to be the victim of gun violence rather than be a perpetrator of it. This is, if there is one thing to be thankful for not a result of rampant discrimination against those who suffer from mental health, but actually because over half of the recorded deaths as a result of guns in the US are suicides and not, as I was expecting to read, homicide. That such a high level of gun suicide exists in one of the world’s leading nations is surely an aberration of what we picture as a thriving nation in peace time. Such high levels of gun assisted suicide exist also in a time during which US states have collectively cut $4 billion from mental healthcare and with overall economic growth still looking poor it is not unrealistic to expect further cuts to healthcare leaving it more and more likely that with the passage of time, more and more fish will slip the net, reaping havoc as they do.

All of Obama’s proposals to my mind are ultimately nothing more than the hollow overtures of a paper tiger towards creating greater safety for US citizens that would systematically treat select symptoms of this blight rather than the aiming to cure the underlying malady. And on top of the words of this paper tiger there’s another colossus abetting this illness that that US suffers from, it’s called the NRA. I won’t waste my time writing in too great a level of detail about them or the readers time that would be spent reading about them. For a snap shot of their willingness to compromise with Obama and reach an agreement that might see the streets of America safer see these two headlines from The Guardian “NRA promises ‘fight of the century’ over Obama’s bold gun control plan” and “NRA’s LaPierre accuses Obama of trying to steal gun owners’ weapons“. What we have here is a group that loves to portray itself as acting purely in the interests of the american people when the reality is that like the Israeli lobby I mentioned in my previous post, it is a corporate special interest lobbying group that has the testes of American democracy in one hand and a mallet in the other. Even if I did believe that Obama sincerely thought his gun controls were enough to protect Americans he is still endangering every last citizen of the USA by lying prostrate for these corporate dragons who long ago hijacked the American democratic process.