Don’t blame a video for foreign policy shortcomings

Widespread anti-US protests have broken out all across the muslim world, with fatal consequences in Libya. Check out this Google Maps page to see how wide the protests are. If you believe the press reports, a video on youtube is the reason. That in turn has brought out bizarre responses from all over the political spectrum. Some are claiming this just proves that we need to increase our presence in the War on Terror. Others are lambasting the video makers and treating them as if they are the ones that killed the ambassador in Libya.

All of that is missing the underlying reality. If the US were seen as a benevolent, freedom loving, peaceful nation, a video on youtube would have little effect. That video is a rallying point for a sentiment that keeps growing across the muslim world, it isn’t the cause of the sentiment. It isn’t as though this hatred has come out of nowhere, that everything was fine until that video was made. Yes, protesting and killing people over a shoddy youtube video is stupid but that is the point. The video was simply the match that started the fire. The conditions have been ripe for a conflagration for a while.

The violence should be a wakeup call. Our war on terror has not made us a lot of friends. Nor has our current and former support of terrible rulers been forgotten. It’s rare that people from all political stripes misjudge an event like this. Our ever expanding war on what amounts to Afghan, Pakistani, Yemeni, and Somali rednecks keeps upping the anger. Between our now 11 year(!) war in Afghanistan and our ever increasing drone strikes in the hinterlands of distant countries, outrage is easy to come by.

There was a time when Americans were upset by war enough to take to the streets. The Yemenis I knew took comfort in knowing that a lot of Americans didn’t like what the government was doing. Now nobody seems to care over here. What used to be considered evil is now tolerated. Why? 

We crossed a line a long time ago between “defending the US” and killing people that don’t like us. I never once worried about being an American in Yemen, I would now. Not only has the US government gone on a killing spree, there is no longer any hint of Americans caring. I wasn’t surprised at the violence and and protesting, only that it has taken this long to happen.

Citizens United paranoia

Just saw that the Democrats have put overturning the Citizens United ruling, by constitutional amendment if necessary, into their party plank. I’m sure that’s going to rouse a lot of support among the Democrat rank and file. I hope that enthusiasm is due to not thinking things through carefully instead of knowing and supporting the results of that position. 

It’s important to remember what the Citizens United group did and why it got them in trouble. That organization made a video that was critical of Hillary Clinton and released it fairly close to an election. It wasn’t an ad, it was a 90 minute “documentary” available on video on demand cable channels. I’m sure that it was as unbiased as any Michael Moore documentary (eye roll) but the veracity of the critique isn’t what got them in trouble, it was the timing. The laws at the time had an exclusion zone around elections when it came to political speech by groups.

So keep that in mind, a group was stopped from distributing a film because it was critical of a politician near an election. Doesn’t that strike you as… unAmerican? I mean, we usually associate illegal critiques of politicians with places like China, the middle east, Mymmar, etc. Speaking out against politicians is pretty much what the 1st amendment is about.

“But corporations aren’t people!” I still don’t know what that phrase is trying to argue. Corporations are made up of people and in the case of advocacy groups, they are made up of people that want to share a viewpoint. Is there really a good reason they shouldn’t be heard? Is there a good way for ideas to get out into the mainstream press without people forming into groups? Should we only hear messages from the political parties? Should single issue groups really be marginalized?

But let’s say you’re OK with that. The important thing is that we keep corporations from spending money on political advocacy. I’m going to skip the “why” question and ask if that applies to all corporations. If a constitutional amendment passes, how do we distinguish the New York Times corporation from any other? What would stop a group like Citizens United from claiming to be “the press?” Would these rules apply to the DNC and RNC? The other question is do we try to stop corporations from political advocacy in general or just from advocating candidates? Is there a difference? Groups (and they are mostly corporations) do political advocacy all the time. Is there a practical difference between saying “Vote for a candidate that supports unions” vs. “The AFLCIO endorses Obama because he supports unions”? At what point would we tell groups like the ACLU, NAACP, Teamsters, NEA, that they can’t advocate for candidates? Do we really want that? The bottom line is that any law or amendment that tries to address these questions will most likely be too broad and limit too much speech. If it isn’t it will be too easily circumvented.

The big thing to remember is that whenever a right is infringed upon, it is always the smaller, more vulnerable group that is at the most risk. Laws that restrict political speech will always disproportionally affect minority opinions, opinions from more vulnerable populations. Yes, powerful groups will use it for their own agendas, but we have to keep open the possibility for all groups to have their say. If you worry about the powerful swamping the little guy with their messages, think about how much worse it would be if the little guy isn’t allowed to speak at all. If you want groups like the ACLU, NAACP, or any other advocacy groups to have a voice in elections, you should be happy with the Citizens United decision.

"He saved the American auto industry"

I keep hearing about how Obama saved the US auto industry and I don’t understand why this is going unchallenged. FIrst off, by “US auto industry” they must not mean Ford, and it does include a majority foreign owned company. And by “saved” they mean that GM and Chrysler were prevented from going through the regular bankruptcy process. This companies were never in danger of disappearing altogether. How many airlines have gone through bankruptcy? Answer: all of them save Southwest. There isn’t any reason to think that GM would have gone away. What happened instead was that the Obama administration jumped in and did things their way. What happened? Bondholders like pensions, mutual funds (which are common 401k investments) hedge funds, and any other retail investor got 5 cents on the dollar despite the fact that they should have been first in line for compensation. The government ended up getting around 87 cents on the dollar and the UAW got about 76 cents on the dollar.

This was a pure political play. Right now the government is sitting on 10 billion dollars of GM stock and is currently sitting on a stock loss of about 16 billion. That’s a cool $26 billion all in order to secure UAW, and by extension unions in general, votes. That’s just at GM. Any job can be saved if you through enough money at it. It would have been far cheaper to simply mail a check to the people that lost their jobs via regular bankruptcy hearings and much more equitable.

Funnily enough, I don’t like the fact that taxpayers are out 26 billion and Obama spinning it as a success. The fact that it is trumpeted as a reason to vote for him makes my head spin.