Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

 In June 2013 an intelligence assessment that determined that Bashar al-Assad’s regime had used chemical weapons against rebel forces prompted US President Barack Obama to provide direct military aid to Syrian rebels (Reuters, 14 June 2013).

By August 2014 Syrian rebels had themselves become a palpable threat to American interests. Following US airstrikes in Iraq targeting the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), ISIL forces in Syria beheaded an American journalist, James Foley. One week later another American, Peter Theo Curtis, was freed by Nusra Front militants in Syria (Associated Press, 24 August 2014).

It should be pointed out that the groups receiving US aid are not the ones responsible for these two kidnappings. In fact, ransom from hostages is a major source of funding for these Islamist militias. Nevertheless, this sequence of events illustrates a frequent theme in American foreign policy. US intervention in a conflict facilitates a shift in power, but the new power structure is as great or greater a threat to American security.

There are once again calls for US military action in Syria. Perhaps the Obama Administration will authorize attacks on ISIL within Syria. Hopefully, they will not be foolish enough to direct airstrikes against the Syrian regime. If the US were to attack Assad directly, we might expect the same outcome as in Iraq. A brutal dictator is driven from power, a brief “democracy” is established, and then the country fragments into opposing factions because the dictator is no longer there to keep militias in check.

Literature Cited

Associated Press, 24 August 2014. US says American held in Syria has been freed.

Reuters, 14 June 2013. US accuses Syria President Bashar al-Assad on chemical weapons, plans military aid to rebels. Reuters, accessed on 14 June 2013 at


The Arab Spring of 2011 swept Hosni Mubarak from power in Egypt. The military took control of the country until elections could be held and a constitution ratified.

 On 15 April 2013, the Cairo Criminal Court ruled in favor of Mubarak’s appeal of charges for killing protesters in January 2011 (Nouran, 27 April 2013). He obtained a release order because he had been detained for longer than the legal duration of two years for preventive custody. However, he continued to be held on charges of financial corruption, having amassed a fortune exceeding the capabilities of his legitimate earnings.

Mohamed Morsi was inaugurated as president on 30 June 2012 in what was widely regarded as Egypt’s first democratic election. One year later, millions of protesters demanded Morsi’s resignation(Kingsley, 30 June 2013).On 3 July 2013 the army removed him from power (Fleishman and Hassieb, 3 July 2013).

 Morsi’s removal was followed by counterprotests and violence, as Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood party clashed with his opponents and the police and army (Michael et al., 5 July 2013; Tait, 5 July 2013).On 8 July 2013, over 50 pro-Morsi protesters were killed, as were 3 members of security forces (Solovieva, 9 July 2013).

There has been much debate, inside and outside Egypt, on whether Morsi’s ouster should be considered a coup or a revolution (e.g.; Farwell and Arakelian, 16 July 2013). Clearly it was both. The Obama Administration in the USA has avoided calling it a coup, because using that term would make it illegal to continue to provide military aid to Egypt’s army (Democracy Now!, 16 July 2013).

 The primary strategic interest that western powers have in Egyptian politics is the preservation of Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel (Farwell and Arakelian, 16 July 2013). Because most of the USA’s aid for Egypt goes directly to the military (Democracy Now!, 16 July 2013), the military will continue to be able to operate independently from civilian government and will continue to be the true seat of power.Any election can be followed by a coup, with or without popular support. Democracy in Egypt will not be possible with this degree of foreign intervention.

Literature Cited

 Democracy Now! 16 July 2013. “The jailers should be jailed”: Sharif Abdel Kouddous on the embrace of Egypt’s military post-Morsi. Democracy Now!, accessed 16 July 2013.

 El-Behairy, Nouran. 27 April 2013. Court accepts Mubarak’s appeal, Daily News Egypt,, accessed 28 April 2013.

 Farwell, James; and Darby Arakelian. 16 July 2013. Mohamed Morsi Coup: Ditching Morsi was a choice, not a coup. Policymic,, accessed 16 July 2013.

 Fleishman, Jeffrey; and Ingy Hassieb. 3 July 2013. Egyptian army ousts President Mohamed Morsi, Los Angeles Times,,0,5033651.story, accessed 4 July 2013.

 Kingsley, Patrick. 30 June 2013. Protesters across Egypt call for Mohamed Morsi to go. The Guardian,, accessed 1 July 2013.

 Michael, Maggie; Sarah El Deeb; and Lee Keath. 5 July 2013. Clashes erupt in major pushback by Egypt Islamists, Associated Press, accessed on 5 July 2013 at

Solovieva, Daria. 9 July 2013. How Mohammed Morsi’s ouster in Egypt may help radicalize Islamists. International Business Times,, accessed 9 July 2013.

Tait, Robert. 5 July 2013. Egypt crisis: Mohamed Morsi supporters shot dead as they march on military barracks, The Telegraph,, accessed 7 July 2013.


US President Barack Obama asked for an intelligence assessment to determine whether there is solid evidence that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has used chemical weapons against rebel forces. The resulting assessment concluded that Assad has used chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin. We may hope that this assessment is more reliable than the forged evidence used to justify the invasion of Iraq. In any case, on the basis of this report the Obama Administration intends to provide arms to the rebels and perhaps establish a no-fly zone. Given that Russia has been supplying arms to the Assad regime, this would appear to reopen the Cold War.

Newtown families are lobbying Congress to pass effective gun-control legislation (Democracy Now!, 10 April 2013). Senator Inhofe had the nerve to say, “I think it’s so unfair of the administration to hurt these families, to make them think this has something to do with them, when, in fact, it doesn’t.” And I suppose it has nothing to do with the 6-year-old who was shot and killed by a 4-year-old yesterday. Or the “random” attacks and targeted assassinations we read about or that touch our lives more closely. It has nothing to do with my cat getting shot while accompanying my wife and 2-year-old son to the park, nothing to do with the dancing friend we lost last year to gang violence.

There may not be an easy solution to violence, but seeking a solution has everything to do with its victims.

Democracy Now!, 10 April 2013, Headlines,

In just a few days, barring a last-minute deal, we in the States will be plunged into the horrors of sequestration. Er..uh..what exactly is sequestration? Is it worse than a blizzard? Well, I don’t know, but I reckon it’s something along the lines of what they call “austerity” on the other side of the Atlantic. “Austerity”, roughly translated into the language of US politics, means “spending cuts”. There may be some tightening of interest rates and whatnot thrown in, but basically austerity means spending cuts.

Hollande, France’s new “leftist” leader, complains that austerity measures inhibit economic growth and calls on the European Union to loosen its grip on Greece’s economy.

Standard & Poor’s just downgraded the UK’s credit rating because the British economy isn’t growing (actually, it’s contracting) and austerity measures are still being implemented. The Labour Party blames the austerity measures for stifling economic growth.

On this side of the pond, the US economy also contracted in the last quarter. The Republicans complain that rampant spending is stifling growth. How can that be? Well, it’s actually tax increases that they’re worried about. But a larger budget increases the pressure to raise taxes, so the Republicans want spending cuts.

Once again we’re working under the assumption that perpetual growth is possible, desirable, and necessary. Instead, we should be planning for ecological sustainability and economic stability. We need to live within our means–reduce our footprint and balance the budget.

This morning I opened yesterday’s paper and was surprised to see sample ballots! Surprised because I didn’t know there was election tomorrow and also surprised because I have never seen sample ballots in the Shawnee News-Star before.

Saves me the trouble of scanning them and putting them online.

I was not able to locate the sample ballots on the News-Star’s website, so if you don’t have a print subscription you’ll need to walk downtown to your public library to see them. While you’re downtown, stop in the County Building and ask why the Pottawatomie County Election Board doesn’t have a website.

Probably because the voters won’t give them money for it.

One of the questions on tomorrow’s ballot does ask voters to fund information technology upgrades–the County wants to raise tariffs for improvements in the 911 emergency response system. Also, there are school board elections and several school districts have bond issues on the ballot.

If you’re not sure what school district you’re in, the city has a map here.

So don’t forgot to vote tomorrow, and, more importantly, figure out what or who it is that you’re voting for or against before you get to the polls!

I use Gmail for my main email account, but I usually use Firefox browser with the Mozilla Adblock Plus plugin to avoid seeing ads. Today I thought I’d try out Google’s Chrome browser to see how well it integrates with the Gnome Desktop’s “Online Accounts” feature. That feature hasn’t really worked well for me, because I’ve never figured out how to unlock the desktop keyring. I know the password, but it doesn’t prompt me for the keyring password when I need to open it.

Anyway, while going through my email I opened this action alert from the Union of Concerned Scientists and was amused to see the targeted ad Google put above the message. It seems to reinforce the point UCS is making!Screenshotfrom2013-02-06_12:36:38

Shawnee’s homeless population has suffered a couple of setbacks in the last few months. First, the Shawnee Public Library has started making loiterers leave the library property. Second, the Shawnee City Commission voted not to rezone the Shawnee Rescue Mission’s property on Louisa to permit an overnight shelter. Third, the City Commission voted not to approve a rezoning request to allow a soup kitchen on Main Street. Fourth, the city personnel have been trying to discourage the homeless from visiting city parks.

The change in practice at the Shawnee Public Library came about because other members of the public at the library complained about homeless members of the public at the library. Some patrons report feeling intimidated by the presence of homeless individuals. Since homeless people are members of the public, they are allowed to use library resources (such as books and computers). However, anyone sitting on the bench outside the library is now asked to leave.

So what is the purpose of the bench? Libraries in Oklahoma City have in fact removed benches, and the library in Shawnee has removed some of the more comfortable furniture inside. These changes only cause us to become more destitute as a society. A public library is more than a collection of books; it is a public space. I say the bench is a library resource.

The Shawnee Rescue Mission will have a day shelter, but not this winter. They had asked for the rezoning so they could also establish an overnight shelter. Many members of the community have voiced support for the shelter, but some with businesses nearby have opposed it. Notably, Commissioner Harrod’s daughter said that an overnight shelter would hurt their business. Others complained that a homeless shelter might house criminals. It was Commissioner Harrod who introduced the motion to deny the rezoning.

But denying the rezoning for a homeless shelter will not make the homeless go away. Indeed, they are by definition homeless, so they have no place to go. We can try to move them from one place to another, but avoiding the problem doesn’t solve it.

Some community members expressed concern over allowing a soup kitchen on Main Street, complaining that it would hamper efforts to revitalize downtown. Someone wants to serve food in the center of your village and you’re worried that’s going to lower your standard of living?

The City of Shawnee is no longer allowing churches to reserve park shelters to feed the hungry. Rumor has it the churches don’t bother reserving the shelters, so this policy change has not hampered their efforts.

Where’s Occupy Shawnee? Where’s Food not Bombs? Where’s the ACLU? Where’s Habitat for Humanity?

I know it took me a while, but I finally published the election ballots for 6 November in my precinct in Shawnee, Oklahoma. There’s more going on than just the presidential race (don’t even bother with that), so point your browser to and read all those state questions! You’ll have to zoom in.

In their first debate, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney discussed domestic issues. They concentrated almost exclusively on what we call “economy”. Obama blamed the Bush administration for breaking the economy; Romney blamed the Obama administration for not fixing it. Unfortunately, they both continue with the questionable assumption that it is possible or desirable to continue indefinitely to grow the economy.

The big crash that happened at the end of the Bush administration resulted from overvalued assets. Assets are overvalued precisely because economists and investors fail to question the assumption of perpetual growth. In fact, there are limits to growth. The natural resource base we depend on is largely finite. Yes, there are renewable resources, but the expansion of these industries will also bring social and ecological problems. Meanwhile, we are heavily dependent on technologies that undermine our future prosperity.

As we burn our finite reserves of fossil fuels we spin off many tangential challenges. One of the most daunting is climate change. The two years of drought we’ve seen in North America will raise food prices globally. Other goods and services will follow suit.

It’s a pity that Jill Stein wasn’t invited to the debate!