An Appeal to Americans on Behalf of the Syrian Refugees

An Open Address to My Fellow Americans,

To most of you, I am a stranger. For most of you I will so remain, an insignificant and indistinguishable voice in a chorus that seems to share no key or common score. I am under no illusions that you will be moved by my remarks, or that you will even reach the end of them— abandoning in disagreement or indifference the effort to hear out your countryman. I do not fault you for this, but I would fault myself for not having attempted to capture your attention at all.  

Because strangers though we are, we share a bond of democratic union and the fortune of a great inheritance preserved and perfected by so many before us. Their blood and beneficence binds us in common obligations that transcend party or petty opinion. We are summoned by their sacrifice to the work of crafting an ever more perfect union, a task that calls upon us not only to remember the causes and concerns and driving ideals of those who initiated this fine experiment in liberty but also to renew our understanding of what makes us Americans in our own right. While such exertions are certainly difficult, let us be both humbled and encouraged to ease, that they are a mere fraction of what so many have forfeit in our common defense.

It is in that spirit of republican brotherhood and sisterhood that I implore you to conversation and discourse. A spirit Thomas Jefferson believed was part of the “creed of our political faith,” an “essential principle of our Government” being “the diffusion of information and arraignment of all abuses at the bar of the public reason.”

So, stranger, at last I meet you at that bar of public reason at a time when our nation’s passions are strained by an understandable fear, a manufactured confusion, and a justified anger. It is here I would like to appeal to your better angels on behalf of a people a world away, embroiled in a tragic conflict we helped foment, who are even now desperately seeking refuge from an evil we know all too well. If you should permit me your continued attention, I hope to address every concern, every rejoinder, every critique that those who oppose the refugee resettlement effort commonly announce while putting forward a positive case that accepting these refugees is not only in keeping with our national identity and our national morality, but with our national security as well. 

It is helpful at the outset to understand the scope of the problem. The civil war in Syria began nearly five years ago in March of 2011. To date, 250,000 Syrians have perished. 11 million have been forced from their homes, including 5.6 million children. 4 million Syrians have fled the country seeking refuge. Many have suggested, in ignorance if not in hate, that these individuals are “desert nomads,” and many others have wondered why they do not take up arms in defense of their country. Let us dismiss both these absurdities. First, Syrians are much like us… those in the conflict zone even more so. This conflict is unfolding in the cities and suburbs of Damascus, Homs, Hama, and Aleppo to name a few. The displaced are families whose everyday concerns mirror our own. Their children attend schools, they own shops and have jobs in factories and offices, they shop at supermarkets and dress in western fashion, they have computers and cell phones and television. They are a largely modern people living in a largely modern society that is set in an ancient place. The assault against them should serve as a caution to those who believe their personal firearms are some salve against tyranny. They are bombarded from the sky with rockets filled with sarin gas, with mortars, with barrel bombs dropped by Assad’s air force. Their cities are cut off from food and water to instigate starvation and disease. So while there is an active rebel force of Syrians fighting for their country, it is unreasonable and unrealistic to expect that refugees return to the fight when in all likelihood they would simply be returning to slaughter. 

Those who have fled the conflict have poured primarily into Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq, and other North African states. Nations which bear little responsibility for the conflict and who are variously ill equipped to handle the sudden influx of hundreds of thousands of people with nothing. To put the challenge in perspective, Germany, one of Europe’s strongest states economically, has taken in roughly 45,000 Syrians (1% of the refugees) and is experiencing a small measure of political and economic turmoil as a result. Europe has absorbed, in total, less than 25% of the refugees while the far less stable aforementioned nations have absorbed nearly 75%. This disparity is a threat to our national security for several reasons. When states are overburdened there is increased risk of civil strife, deprivation, ignorance, violence and potentially state-failure. Not only does this create fertile ground for radicalization, but it also risks a cascade effect by which a violent and failing Iraq and Syria precipitate, through a bleeding of refugees, violent and failing sister states on their borders which in turn bleed even more refugees. This necessitates either increased resources to address the humanitarian crisis, military intervention to restore order and capable governance, and/or the isolation of a failed region from the rest of the world (an option that may sound attractive to some, but has devastating consequences as it creates the kinds of safe havens from which we can be attacked and complicates our economic interests in the region). Furthermore it increases the likelihood of an existential threat to Israel, which shares a border with Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt.

Therefore, it is critical to our own national security and economic interests, as well as to the national security interests of our closest Middle Eastern ally, that we do our best to spread the burden of absorbing these refugees evenly.

There are those who argue that nations like Saudi Arabia are not doing their part. They are not wrong. Saudi Arabia absolutely should accept refugees from Syria. However, that they are not doing so is not a justification for thusly avoiding our own fair share of the burden. Such logic would empower a single state to indemnify the irresponsibility of all others.

There are those who argue that our response should come in the form of cash assistance and the formation and support of refugee camps. While this must be part of our response, it is not enough. First, refugee camps still must exist in host countries and remain a strain on their resources. Second, refugee camps are notoriously dangerous settings given how ineffectively they are policed. Third, refugee camps are inefficient distributors of resources (as any self-respecting conservative would agree is true of any centrally planned economy). Fourth, refugee camps are easily infiltrated by desperation, which is too easily assuaged by radicalism, which is bolstered by the group think that can emerge when you are surrounded by the suffering of your countrymen. An orderly process of refugee resettlement into already-stable free-market communities reduces strain on the countries that host the camps, it saves the cost of having to establish new state services like medical care, garbage collection, policing, and it allows individuals access to markets in which they can meet their needs efficiently.

Furthermore, it is important to remember that we are fighting both an immediate and conventional battle on the ground as well as a generational one in the hearts and minds of individuals. We are not merely battling men, but corrupted ideas— and to that battle we cannot bring bombs alone, but must offer the example of our benevolence also. There is an unquantifiable benefit, paid in dividends that will forever be invisible because they exist as people not radicalized, plots never conceived, animosities never given the chance to form or flourish. These benefits are accrued by the profound power of compassion as it multiplies, as refugees share the stories of the kindness and morality of Americans; of the blessings they see visited upon our nation by dint of our uncompromising commitments to liberty, and pluralism, and protection of the weak and wanting. We are engaged in a struggle between mythologies, and so exposing those who might otherwise be convinced that ours is an inferior way of life to the plenty and pleasures of freedom has value. 

Given then that it is in our direct national security and economic interest to prevent cascading state failure, that spreading the burden of refugee resettlement both reduces that risk and is in an of itself a more efficient method of handling the crisis, that it is in keeping with our commitments to our closest allies to prevent further instability in the region, and that we benefit from our own benevolence it seems irrefutable that we should accept refugees. 

Of course, those opposed to resettlement again interject their concern. Their arguments follow a familiar route: There are many ISIS fighters in Syria. ISIS fighters wish us harm. ISIS fighters want to infiltrate the United States to do us harm. ISIS fighters have said they will use the refugee stream to infiltrate Europe, so why not the US? ISIS attacked Paris, and, they believe, a refugee was involved. They claim, erroneously, that the FBI Director has said we cannot vet the Syrians. They argue that we cannot be certain of our screening process especially in the face of the fact that Syria is in collapse. They argue we are safer to simply refuse Syrian refugees. 

There are many reasons why this argument, while emotionally compelling, is false. 

It is undeniable that there are ISIS fighters in Syria and that they wish to do us harm. But the refugee process is the unlikeliest of methods for them to choose to infiltrate the US, if only because it is the path that carries the greatest risk of detection. 

To begin with, the UNCHR has to find you eligible for resettlement and choose you for the pipeline to the United States. This process takes months, and there is but a 1% chance you’ll be cleared and set on a path the US. Already, this seems an imprudent method for terrorists to use. But the process isn’t over. Refugees who are given the opportunity to apply for refugee status must then “be referred to the Resettlement Support Center and pass that extensive background check and in-person interview with the Department of Homeland Security [which includes submitting extensive forms, original documents which are submitted to forensic verification, and biometrics including digital fingerprinting and iris scans], in addition to further security clearance processes from the Consular Lookout and Support System and potentially the Security Advisory Opinion. [Only] if all of these bodies say we’re clear and then we pass the medical screening, are matched with a sponsor agency, and then pass an additional security check to see if anything new has developed” will the refugee be admitted. 

In the face of this process critics make several objections. First, they say, the FBI Director says we can’t vet Syrian refugees. But that is not, in fact, what he said. He said, “if someone has never made a ripple in the pond in a way that would get their identity or interest reflected in our databased we can query until the cows come home and nothing will come up.” 

So in other words: “if they haven’t done anything to bring themselves to the FBI’s attention,there is no reason the FBI would have information about them in our database.” 

Do we expect that we have government files on every Syrian Man, Woman, and Child of woman born? And why do we assume that not being in an FBI database is a reason to be suspicious? One would think the opposite would be the case. And the fact remains that the FBI isn’t the only agency involved in the process… the Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, and the National Counterterrorism Center all have databases they maintain that refugees are checked against, databases that include information from foreign intelligence sources we partner with. 

But detractors persist: Well how can we expect to have good information from a place like Syria given the state of their nation? To answer that question, a comparison is in order. In 2013 alone, the US accepted refugees from Somalia (7k refugees) and Sudan (2k refugees) and Eritrea (1.8k) and Iraq (19.4k) and Iran (2.5k). All of these states are either failed or unstable or home to radical elements, all of them share a high concentration of Islamic extremists. 

We’ve been undertaking this process, accepting refugees from these places, for decades. Out of over 780,000 refugees admitted since 9/11/2001, “exactly three resettled refugees have been arrested for planning terrorist activities—and it is worth noting two were not planning an attack in the United States and the plans of the third were barely credible.” Mathematically speaking that’s a .0003% failure rate. So we’ve got a pretty good track record as far as the refugee process goes in relation to keeping out extremists using the rigorous process we have in place now. 

Critics continue: but .0003% isn’t certain. And they’re right. But if the logic is: only certainty is acceptable, then mustn’t we shut down all international tourism and cancel all employment visas, and all border crossings since we can’t be certain that someone won’t slip through those LESS secure methods of entering the country? 

Which is the other absurd part of critics argument. The truth is, there are simply far easier ways to make ones way into the United States undetected. It’s as if we were considering the actions of a bank robber confronted with a bank with two doors… one heavily guarded, one basically wide open. 

What robber would say “instead of maximizing my chance of getting in, let me go the heavily guarded route where I’m far more likely to get caught!” It simply doesn’t make sense. 

Except! The critics reply, ISIS has said they would use the refugee stream to infiltrate the US. Except they didn’t. The source of this claim is a buzzfeed interview with an ISIS member who was discussing using the refugee stream to infiltrate Europe, not the US. This is a key difference. The refugee settlement system in Europe, to the extent that nations have them, is far less secure than our own by virtue of our geographic separation from the site of the conflict. We have the luxury of a far more robust process that resists the pitfalls of mass migration since there is no way for the refugees to move en masse into our territory. Thus, a strategy that works to infiltrate Europe does not work as a method of infiltrating the US.

At this point the charge that the ‘all’ the refugees are fighting aged men usually appears. But this claim is not only untrue of the mass of displaced persons, it is a disingenuous claim given that the refugees in the pipeline to the US are distinctly composed from the full population of the displaced. When you distinguish between “All refugees” and refugees in the pipeline to the US you find that, since the US has directed the UNHCR to prioritize orphans, children, women, and the elderly: 1/2 of the refugees in the pipeline to the US are children. 1/4 are elderly. The remaining 1/4 are adult women and men. Only 2% are males of ‘combat age.’

Thus we reach a point in the argument where it seems well established that the refugee process is the most onerous possible route for a terrorist to take to infiltrate the US, not only because there are there easier ways to enter that increase the chances of success, but because we have a vetting process with a remarkably successful and proven track record even with regards to unstable and radical states.

But simply eliminating, point by point, the objections of those who would close the door on Syrian refugees is not enough. On a very important level, this is an argument driven by emotion, by a sense of right and wrong. To that end I am reminded of a dense, but wise quote from George Washington that is worth reading carefully:

“I dwell on this prospect with every satisfaction which an ardent love for my country can inspire, since there is no truth more thoroughly established than that there exists in the economy and course of nature an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness; between duty and advantage; between the genuine maxims of an honest and magnanimous policy and the solid rewards of public prosperity and felicity; since we ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained; and since the preservation of the sacred fire of liberty and the destiny of the republican model of government are justly considered, perhaps, as deeply, as finally, staked on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.”

Rationality and caution must play a primary role in our decision making process… but when reason exercised eliminates the basis for opposition, that opposition makes a final appeal to safety. We keep hearing this breathless concern for American lives, from people who have resisted any action on the epidemic of gun death that takes 30,000 American lives every year, who have undermined the agencies and regulations that aim to keep us safe from pollution and poison, whose world-views have fomented the danger to begin with.

This selective care for American’s well being renders their concerns suspect. But even if they are taken at their word, are we not forced to wonder what an American life is worth if we abandon, at the slightest hint of danger, the ideals that make being an American something to be proud of? 

It is not an argument based in rationality, or statistics, or a cold assessment of national interest (though I believe we have the high ground on all those fronts) but from time to time circumstance tests our values, and the strength of our commitment to our highest ideals. 

We ought to be a nation that feels a duty towards our fellow man when he is in peril. 

We ought to be a nation of virtue who follow that eternal rule of right that the strong defend the weak. 

We ought to be a nation that opens our doors rather than one who sends checks and well-wishes to some far off hell to soothe our conscious. 

We ought to be that nation because that is who we’ve claimed to be. 

The indispensable nation. 

The shining city on a hill.

A land of providence and grace… 

…and the home of the brave. 

We’re supposed to be the heroes. 

I still believe we can be. I firmly believe we must be. 

But it is not up to me. It is left instead to our collective judgement as expressed by our leaders. Let us at least endeavor for that judgement to be well considered. Let us at least strive to reach reasonable conclusions that resonate both with our ideals and with our safety. For strangers though we may be, might we not yet be friends?

Advertisements

Reclaiming the ‘Greatest Generation’

There seems to be a habit among the conservative rabble, when confronted with liberal calls for the government to intervene in order to promote social and economic equality, to caricature the liberal as some combination of lazy, entitled, coddled, unmotivated, ungrateful, and dependent. ‘Only a loser who can’t make their own way honestly would need or want the government to intervene,’ the thinking goes. ‘The strong can hack it, the weak appeal for help,’ they mock (seemingly unaware that they themselves don’t ‘hack it’ all that well.)

It is usually at this point that they puff up their chest, look to the sky admiringly, and invoke “the greatest generation.” A group, they recall fondly, that asked for nothing but gave everything. A group, they insist, who knew what it was to succeed by virtue of the sweat of one’s brow and not the aid of a benefactor. 

This selfless ethic, their reasoning goes, is responsible for a kind of economic miracle that produced halcyon days of plenty and peace.

‘Who are you to complain,’ they resolve in that self-satisfied tone of condescension, ‘when they who had so little and asked for even less did so very much?’

The problem of course is this: Demanding that the government intervene on behalf of the people, demanding that it endeavor to provide greater economic and social equality, is not an affront to the greatest generation– It is a lesson we learned from them.

We must remind conservatives that the ‘greatest generation’ they so admire elected to office, four times, a President who invented American-style socialism. That generation sanctified FDR, who guaranteed to the people a minimum wage, to the elderly a retirement, to the veteran a free college education, to the farmer  electricity, to the urban dweller workplace and domicile safety, to the jobless a works program, and to the population as a whole- hope. It was indeed the greatest generation who enabled and supported and benefited from then unprecedented government intervention into the economy for the explicit purpose of supporting the people. 

We must remind conservatives that the ‘greatest generation’ they so admire elected to office, twice, an internationalist who vigorously fought for the establishment of the United Nations. Elected to office, twice, a President whose government invested in one of the largest infrastructure projects since the trans-continental railroad. Elected to office a young idealist and peacemaker who invested in science and technology, who gave us the peace corps, who labored through every international conflict to find paths to peace rather than waste blood and treasure on war, who asked without fear of mockery: What can you do for your country? All of these accomplishments did not come free, they were paid for by taxing, without question or complaint, the highest incomes at levels unheard of today.

We must remind conservatives that the ‘greatest generation’ they so admire was also the generation of the union man. That they were a generation living in an age where “unskilled” labor was considered just as honorable (most likely because of the predominance of white unskilled labor) as any other kind of labor and so demands for decent pay weren’t met with moralizing derision. They lived in an age where the market was far more open to the kinds of businesses now crowded out by mega-corporations, and franchises. They lived in an age where one could be a respected and promotable professional without possessing more than high school diploma they received for free. 

And we must remind conservatives that it was men of the ‘greatest generation’ who constituted the Courts and Congresses that told their fellow citizens that their right to private property and private business did not entitle them to refuse to serve African Americans; who told their fellow citizens that their strongly held views on interracial marriage, or contraception, or abortion — even if shared by the majority — did not overpower the constitutional rights of those who would seek to engage in or use such things; who told their fellow citizens that their rights as parents did not change the fact that their children would have to be taught alongside African American children; who told their fellow citizens that even private economic behavior– a farmer seeking to grow his own wheat– could be punished if, when aggregated, that behavior would hurt the whole economy; who established and expanded and cemented the modern administrative and regulatory state. 

And we should not forget that the parents of the ‘greatest generation’ were themselves one of the most politically demanding generations in modern history. Their mothers were suffragists, their fathers nascent union men. Their parents grew up knowing the socialist party of Eugene Debbs, the violence against organized labor, the likes of Clarence Darrow in the law and Upton Sinclair in the press, the movement to break up monopolies and regulate foods and drugs. They were literally participants in ’the Progressive Era.’ 

Nor can we forget that it is neither millennials nor generation X or Y that squandered the great progress the ‘greatest generation’ built, on the lessons of their parents, using government and unions as equalizers. Instead we must remind conservatives that it was the children of the ‘greatest generation,’ the ‘baby-boomers,’ whose greed, squabbling, aggression, and arrogant illogic brought us to this point. They who were afforded a youth more comfortable than any previous generation in perhaps the whole history of man had been, they whose education came at a price tag covered by a part time summer job, they who treated themselves to financial largesse on borrowed money and drastically reduced taxes… it was they who tore down the Unions that built the middle class, and who taught us to scorn the minimum wage worker and her toils, and who preached the gospel of deregulation, and who erected barriers to professional employment so high you spend your life paying for the education you needed to get the job required to pay off the education you needed to get it. It was they who built a broke America that graduates adults into the world with lifetimes of debt. 

This is what baby-boomers have left us, a half century of rising profits, rising productivity, and rising prices but stagnant wages. A market that all but requires a degree whose cash value (with interest) takes a lifetime of work to pay off. A society indoctrinated with the belief that poverty is a choice, charity an accomplice to complacence, and deprivation a perfectly moral motivational tool. A world organized by money rather than merit, and largely untouched by mercy.

How can one honestly expect such an arrangement to generate growth? To foster a culture of investment and saving? To empower any other mode of existence but dependency and despondence? 

The demands of the modern liberal electorate are not rooted in a desire for sympathy, but for sanity. We simply cannot abide an economy that rewards so few, for doing so little, when so many go without. We simply cannot accept that structural racism and poverty are necessary components of American life or that subjection to discrimination and hatreds and inequalities are rights of passage along a route uncertain, and increasingly unlikely, to lead to prosperity. We must embrace the proven truth that our nation, businesses and all, profit more greatly when our government is oriented towards aiding the people, and when the people themselves are empowered and encouraged to join together in democratic union. 

Let us honor the greatest generation then, by recognizing the lessons they laid down for us so that we too may realize the prosperity they built by embracing the power of government to help create the conditions for greater social and economic equality.

By Joseph Colarusso (@jcolarusso)

Another lie about Hillary debunked. About those ‘arms deals.’

The most frustrating attacks on Hillary are the ones that get slipped into arguments, usually as asides like, “and not to mention those arms deals.”

This is a dangerous kind of attack because they usually go unanswered. They sit there, asking readers to assume there’s something to it, even though there’s not.

So let’s talk about those arms deals. Sanders supporters and right-wing zealots alike paint a picture something like this: Secretary Clinton was at the State department while nations that donated (or which would at some point donate) to the Clinton Global Initiative also received arms deals (which you are to assume are the sole province of the Department of State).

Like a good Glenn Beck tale this BS leaves you with the hair raised on the back of your neck, until you zoom in close do you realize that all the speaking in generalities, and the promises of big connections…helps obscure a fundamentally weak argument that falls apart under scrutiny.

Let’s look at part of this devious bribery scheme up close…

First the most glaring problem: The State Department doesn’t award arms deals without any input. Arms deals are governed by the Foreign Military Sales Act and the Arms Exports Control Act which is implemented by way of Executive Order 11958 which delegates authority to Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense, requiring explicitly that they “shall consult with each other and with the heads of other departments and agencies, including the Secretary of the Treasury, the Director of the United States International Development Cooperation Agency, and the Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, on matters pertaining to their responsibilities.” Finally, the act establishes a Congressional review process to monitor the arms deals.

So had Hillary wanted to ‘reward’ CGI donors … she’d have had to get quite a few other people to sign on to those unjustified increases.

But there’s more to discount this preposterous allegation… Here is a chart of countries that received arms contracts from, among other state departments, the Clinton State Department. It shows the percentage increase (or decrease) of the value of those contracts and the amount they donated to the CGI. Source.*

Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 9.13.02 PM

Bahrain and Jamaica both donated 50 thousand dollars to the CGI. What did they get for that below the desk grease palm? Well Bahrain… got a 187% increase in the value of their arms deal. AHA! SCANDAL! Pay for Play! 

So what lavish gift did Jamaica get for its same donation? Their arms deal, dropped by 39%.

But don’t feel bad for Jamaica, they didn’t get the roughest deal. 

Ireland and Kuwait both donated 5 million dollars! That’s 100x what Bahrain gave, and remember, Bahrain’s arms deal increased 187%…

Well Kuwait’s contract only went up 11%. Ireland? Hillary smacked the potato right out of their leprechaun hands and their arms deal went down 26%. Who got shot for fucking that bribe up? Am I right?

But that’s not where the wacky Clinton-style “bribes get you reductions in your arms contracts” craziness ends. 

Brunei and Canada and Algeria all gave 250 thousand to the CGI. But while economically insignificant Algeria got a 187% shot of steroids into their contract, Canada only got an 18% increase. Brunei… lost 81%. 

When you zoom in, it becomes clear, the value of the donation has no relationship to the routine awarding and re-awarding of global arms contracts that change subject to a nations needs and the global threat landscape. 

These donations either aren’t bribes, or they are and Clinton doesn’t understand how bribes work. 

And if she doesn’t understand how bribes work, she’s immune to bribery.

And while there’s so much more to explore let me just point out that the inevitable reply is: “But there are so many more examples.” 

The reason there are so many other stories is because writers don’t do their homework. They take a superficial connection between two events that, facially, appear related– in these cases routine dollar based state department business– and on the other hand the routine fundraising activities of a global charity built around a man who made a career on his ability to bring people together around common problems. 

All you have to do is link any (of the millions) of official actions of the State Department and a donation to the Clinton foundation, and you write a story roughly titled X donor to Clinton foundation received generous Y from Clinton State department.

(Here is a similar story you’ve probably heard about Uranium, Russia, the State Department and the CGI. Here is that story, similarly debunked.)

But closer inspection of the laws and procedures behind the contracts, the infeasibility and absence of any evidence of the Secretary being informed of the donations, or interfering in any official processes, when you look closer at the actual numbers and how they compare to one another it all falls apart. Nor is there the kind of political reaction you’d expect if there was truly the kind of influence peddling alleged here. The right wing has been able to foment a kind of national crisis to peg Benghazi on Clinton… but they’re giving her a pass on bribery?

Unlikely.

The bottom line is, these scurrilous charges are baseless.

*An earlier version failed to include the source for the numbers, which I originally encountered as a screenshot I viewed on facebook. It was pointed out that MotherJones was the originator of the chart, and had originated the claim, a fact I apologize for having been unaware of and having overlooked.

Hillary Clinton is the Ideal President for our Age

Many have spent much time deriding Hillary supporters and challenging them on the basis for their support. This derision, to me, is ironic given how clear it is that Clinton is singularly qualified to be the President. I support Hillary because I think there is a nebula of qualities she possesses that make her an ideal democrat for this political moment.

We live in a time of remarkably complicated foreign policy challenges, when the United States must approach diplomacy with new vigor but when our enemies (who stone gays and sentence women, at birth, to lives of submission and abuse) must be aware that we are unafraid to use force. In such a time a former Secretary of State with a track record of diplomatic success and a reputation for hawkishness is just what the doctor ordered. She’s a student of men like Richard Holbrooke whose foreign policy philosophy, I think, deserves to be put front and center again. The idea that the United States is a broker of peace willing to use targeted force as a mechanism to secure it.

We live in a time of deep polarization and political gamesmanship, when an American President can expect very few legislative victories built on bi-partisan coalitions, but who must nonetheless seek to find a way in our 24 hour news network environment to forge new opportunities for that bi-partisanship. In such a time I think a Machiavellian political realist willing to wield the power of the executive ruthlessly in pursuit of democratic goals but who has a reputation for a willingness to sign on to compromise conservative solutions is a winning combination. I think a politician who understands that half the battle is won in choosing the battlefield itself, is well suited to the political challenges of the next four and eight years. Keeping Biden off the field, and having the clout to have largely determined the shape of the nomination does not make me question Clinton’s worthiness for the position… it reinforces for me that she’s the best choice.

We live in a time when so many are falling victim to the anger of the frustrated male– be it in the form of police brutalization, or gun violence, or domestic violence, or gang violence. In such a time I think a woman’s perspective and approach is essential. Some believe it should not qualify as a ‘qualification’ that she is a woman, a mother, and a grandmother… but I believe those identities will serve her and our country well.

We live in a time when the democratic party is severely diminished in its power, severely outnumbered, outdistricted, and outspent. In such a time I think we need a democrat willing to play hardball, willing to raise funds from a wide and diverse pool of sources and distribute them to a democratic coalition as diverse as the country it seeks to govern. We need a democrat willing to challenge Republicans directly because we have seen the willingness and ability of the right to smear and slander and shape narratives. We need a President who has spent the better part of three decades on the other side of those efforts who goes into the Oval Office knowing the republicans don’t play nice. A President with no illusions about the lack of honor and honesty in GOP politics who has gone toe to toe them and won– many times.

And of course, there are Hillary’s sterling credentials that stand in their own right. A brilliant graduate of the finest institutions of higher learning, a lawyer devoted to rooting out the corruption of Watergate and later to the welfare of women and children, a member of multiple corporate boards learning how private industry functions, a first lady of a southern state with an active policy portfolio focusing on education and human welfare, an active role in two successful Presidential campaigns and a vocal policy advisor in both, a Senator from one of the most populous, geographically and economically diverse states in our union, a Presidential candidate in her own right whose own opponent selected her to become Secretary of State, a Secretary of State with a proven track record of diplomatic success, a global figure who has been the most admired woman in the world for over a decade, a mother, a grandmother, and a democrat.

I’m ready for Hillary.

The Sailor

I once watched a cloud as it sailed by the moon 

from a dock on the shore of the bay.

 

And I knew very soon that it would be me making a similar way.

Though part of me worried my journey’d be hard,

that the wind wouldn’t be at my back,

I let loose the rope 

and opened the sail 

and ventured out into the black.

I felt the resistance of the water below

as it clawed at the splinters of wood.

And heard the waves whisper

secrets in sounds 

that only the sea understood.

The cloud carried on, off into the night 

and the moonlight beckoned me hither-

oh how my heart longed to lift off the bay so that I could rise up and be with her. 

But wind dying down, 

morn threat’ning to crown, 

my efforts to reach her defeated-

I resolved, every night till we reunite my journey would be repeated.  

And that’s why you find me alone and in longing

passing these long days away.

Waiting to sail in pursuit of my love from this dock on the shore of the bay. 

The Questions Rachel Maddow Should Get Bernie Sanders to Answer

I recently wrote this email to Rachel Maddow at Rachel@msnbc.com

Dear Ms. Maddow (or, more likely, the dedicated staffer reading this),

This is my first email to the show, but the subject I wish to address has to do with the upcoming candidate forum you are moderating. (Congratulations by the way, it’s a well deserved honor.)

I have watched nearly every interview and public event Bernie Sanders has participated in, and as a former community organizer, former teacher, and former public defender I have noticed a conspicuous gap in our understanding of his agenda. But it it could not be more important to his campaign.

The Senator includes in each of his public speeches a disclaimer, he says “I cannot get any of this done unless there is a political revolution, by which I mean millions of people behind me not just on election day, but during my administration.” He has fleshed out this idea minimally, explaining that his agenda will require that Congressman know that if they don’t support his reforms “they’re outta there.” He has alluded to marches on Washington and phone calls to Congresspeople. All of this suggests that the political revolution he envisions is something that requires more active participation, say, than responding positively when contacted by pollsters.

Of course, notwithstanding the structural protections against public opinion that many elected representatives enjoy, to the extent that the legislature can be bent to the public’s will through direct action and engagement, such efforts must be sizable and sustained. To rely on this level of citizen engagement, and to expect that engagement to be sustained over months and years, across multiple districts, in a number and intensity sufficient to truly move Congress in a continuous way is unprecedented… not only as a strategy for governing, but in an of itself.

It strikes me, as a former organizer who has worked for many progressive causes, that even a fraction of this kind of sustained citizen activism has been the holy grail of organizers since the luminaries of the civil rights movement in the 60’s like Rustin and Alinsky were able to build lasting movements with committed and engaged citizens. Today there are hundreds of organizations from Make the Road to the Urban Justice Center to the Catholic Charities among many others that have searched for ways to organize individuals into lasting unions of political activism… most to little avail.

And yet, though it is the sine qua non of his agenda, Senator Sanders has not been pressed to explain in detail:

1) How he conceives of a political revolution practically. (That is, what does he expect its participants will need to do, how frequently, and with what degree of coordination?)

2) Where there is evidence that such a thing is possible in the face of the collapse of the 2008 Obama coalition, in the face of continued voter apathy and disengagement, in the face of massive atrophy of the democrats on the state and local level, and in the face of the democrats most recent embarrassments on November 3.

3) How he proposes to succeed at building such an extensive and committed network, whether it will be centralized or decentralized and details thereabout.

4) How his method or plan differs from that of the many talented organizers and community organizations who have tried and failed to produce sustained citizen driven campaigns.

5) How he plans to maintain this (presumably) voluntary network should it take shape, in the face of dispiriting losses to prevent a collapse of the coalition.

6) Whether he has a plan B for how to govern effectively should the coalition never take shape, or should it take shape and then collapse.

It is my sincere hope that, given the importance Senator Sanders himself places on this idea of a political revolution that must accompany his victory, you will take the time you have with him to inquire as to the above.

Most Sincerely,

Joseph Colarusso

p.s. I hope one day you’re given ‘Meet the Press,’ you’d be a natural at that desk.

The Common Modes of Reasoning Shared by the Sanders Left and the Tea Party Right

A comment on the commonalities of Sanders supporters and the Tea Party offered in response to a version of the ‘Bernie or Bust’ pledge:

“I know Sanders supporters hate being compared to the tea party– but this sort of thing is classic “either we win or we’ve been cheated.”

It’s a logical loop that insulates people from the reality of loss, which permits them to continue in their belief that their power and appeal and numbers are far greater than they truly are. Such reasoning is antithetical to progress since it blinds people to their true position inside the process and thus lends them to incorrect strategy.

Insurgents can be successful against great powers, but not if they behave as great powers themselves. Asymmetrical warfare only works when you’re cognizant of the asymmetry.

Furthermore, the “Bernie or Bust” movement runs parallel to the hostage taking tactics of the tea party, and the common rejoinder that “It’s not our fault if Clinton supporters and the DNC divide the party by not supporting Sanders we can’t be blamed” is almost word for word how conservatives justified the shutdown:

“We warned democrats that if they didn’t repeal Obamacare the government would be shut down, it’s not our fault they didn’t repeal it! They could have avoided this whole thing if they just gave into our demands!”

And I have a hard time believing they’ve ever truly been any different when they so quickly and naturally adopted the same methods of reasoning and argumentation.

The same willingness to adopt monochromatic assessments of all politicians they don’t know much about (which seems to mean, anybody who isn’t Bernie Sanders). [All democrats are corrupt! The establishment is corrupt! Any elected democrat is corrupt if they don’t support the single not-corrupt person in DC, Sanders!!!]

A rejection of evidence-based reasoning in favor of faith-based prognostications (there will be an unprecedented revolution, you’ll see!).

An unwillingness to accept objective reality when it contradicts their desires (those polls are skewed! polls aren’t real anyway).

A rejection of authority on the basis of a belief that authority is coordinated and inherently suspect (what do political analysts know?!).

An uncomfortable tendency towards paranoia (it’s a cabal of CEO’s pulling all the strings and making people love Hillary and hate Bernie!).

A disregard for historical context and relativism manifested in hyperbolic language (it’s the worst we’ve ever had it!).

A belief that they are the arbiters of purity (you’re a ‘neoliberal’ but I’m a true progressive).

A refusal to accept even the most basic structural realities (and therefore practical limitations) of Constitutional government (we don’t need no stinkin’ establishment!)

Seems to me that those kinds of beliefs and patterns of reasoning aren’t just spontaneously adopted after years of resistance. Most of those seem like baked in pathologies.