A Philosopher's Blog

Truth, Loyalty & Trump

Posted in Ethics, Law, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on May 12, 2017
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While the first hundred (or so) days of a president’s reign is something of an arbitrary mark, Trump seems to have ignited more controversy and firestorms than most presidents. Since Lincoln’s election lead to the Civil War, he still leads here—but Trump is, perhaps, just getting warmed up.

The most recent incident in the Trump reign is the firing of FBI Director James Comey. The narrative of why Comey was fired has served as yet another paradigm example of the nature of the Trump reign. The initial reason given was that Comey was fired for how he handled the Clinton email scandal. This story would convince only the most deluded—Trump and his fellows had praised Comey for his role in crashing Hillary’s chance of being elected. Trump’s minions also deployed to assert that Comey was fired because he had lost the confidence of the people at the FBI. This, like most assertions originating from the Trump regime, seems to be untrue. Trump himself seems to have presented what might be a real reason for Comey being fired: “When I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.’ ” These claims are contrary to the reasons advanced by his minions; the claim that he decided to “just do it” is contrary to the earlier narrative that Trump had acted on the advice of others.

There is also reason to believe that Comey’s refusal to pledge personal loyalty to Trump at a dinner. Public officials, at least in the ideal, pledge their loyalty to the Constitution and not to specific individuals. Comey did promise to always be honest, apparently leading Trump to ask him to pledge “honest loyalty” which could be something that just emerged from Trump’s mouth rather than an actual thing. Trump seems rather worried that Comey might have recorded conversations with him; at least Trump is threatening Comey about such hypothetical tapes on Twitter.

When writing about the Trump reign, I feel as if I am writing about a fictional universe—what happens in Trump space seems to be stuff of bad alternative reality fiction. However, it is quite real—and thus needs to be addressed.

Starting on the surface, the Comey episode provides (more) objective evidence that the Trump regime engages in the untrue. As noted above, Trump’s minions presented one narrative about the firing that was quickly contradicted by Trump. Since all these claims cannot be true, a plausible explanation is that either Trump’s minions were lying or Trump was. Alternatively, those involved might have believed what they were saying. In this case, they would not be lying—although at least some of them would have said untrue things. This is because a lie requires that the liar be aware that what they are asserting is not true; merely being in error about the facts is not sufficient to make a person a liar.

Digging a bit deeper, Trump’s request for a pledge of loyalty seems to reveal his view of how the government should work—loyalty should be to Trump rather than to the Constitution. This is consistent with how Trump operates in the business world and the value he places on loyalty is well known.

While loyalty is generally a virtue, the United States professes to be a country that follows the rule of law and that places the constitution on the metaphorical throne. That is, public officials pledge their loyalty (as public officials) to the constitution and not to the person who happens to be president. This principle of loyalty to the constitution is critical to the rule of law in the United States. If Trump did, in fact, expect Comey to pledge loyalty to him, Trump was attacking a basic foundation of American democracy and our core political philosophy.

This is not to say that officials should lack all personal loyalty; just that their loyalty as public officials should be first and foremost to the Constitution. It could be argued that Trump was merely asking for an acceptable level of professional loyalty or that he was asking Comey to pledge his loyalty to the Constitution. While not impossible, it seems unlikely that Trump would ask for either of those things.

Comey’s unwillingness to pledge loyalty to Trump points to another likely reason for his firing. Trump presumably hoped that a loyal Comey would drop the investigation into Russian involvement with the Trump campaign. It seems likely that when it became clear that Comey was not going to let the matter go away, Trump fired him. The Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov engaged in a bit of wit about the Comey firing, asking reporters if Comey was fired and then responding with “You’re kidding, you’re kidding,” when the answer was given.

While some have claimed that Trump has created a constitutional crisis, this is clearly not the case. As others have pointed out, Trump has the authority to fire the director of the FBI for any reason or no reason. As such, Trump has not exceeded his constitutional powers in this matter. At the very least, the firing created “bad optics” and certainly created the impression that Trump fired Comey because Trump has something to hide. Since the Republican controlled congress seems to be generally unconcerned with the matter, Trump might be able to ride out the current storm and get an FBI director confirmed who will pledge loyalty to him and do to the investigation what Putin allegedly does to his political opponents. However, there are some Republicans who are concerned about the matter and they might be willing to work with Democrats and keep the investigation alive. It might turn out that Trump is innocent of all wrongdoing and that his angry blundering about was just that—angry blundering about rather than an effort to conceal the truth. Only a proper investigation will reveal the answer; unless the Russians decide to spill the vodka.

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Syria & Russia

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on October 5, 2015

Apparently following the lead set by Hollywood, Putin is remaking the classic cold war series. After getting things started in Ukraine, he has switched to that zone of endless conflict that is the Middle East. While Russia has long supported the Assad, Putin has sent Russian military forces to shore up the crumbled regime. Russian jets have already hit targets in Syria and Russia has tried to tell the United States to stay out of its way. The US has declined to abandon its operations, but has agreed to discuss steps to “de-conflict” the operations. That is, to coordinate with the Russians to avoid dogfights between American and Russian combat aircraft.

The conflict in Syria has been largely to Russia’s advantage in that the refugees fleeing to Europe have caused conflict among the European nations that threatens to damage or even destroy the union. The influx of refugees has also strengthened the right wing nationalist parties in Europe. These parties are often seen as being on reasonably good terms with Putin and any advances they make are a plus for him.

Given the value of keeping up the flood of refugees into Europe, it might be wondered why Putin is finally intervening. The easy and obvious answer is that he believes he has something to gain by this intervention. This does seem to be true—Putin does stand to gain.

First, Syria is Russia’s only real foothold in the Middle East. Syria is a Russian ally and plays host to a Russian naval base in Tartus. Having Syria collapse completely would cost Russia an ally and make maintaining a military presence very difficult.

Second, Russia has its own substantial Moslem population and is worried about terrorism. It is currently estimated that around 2,000 Russians are fighting for ISIS in the Middle East and Putin is no doubt concerned that they might return to cause trouble in Russia. Put bluntly, he can simply kill them in the Middle East and solve that problem.

Third, by acting on the world stage Putin hopes to create the impression that Russia is a major player again. The cynical might regard this as Putin engaging in “look at me! Look at me!” behavior, but even the cynical must acknowledge that it is working—the United States and other nations now have to deal with Russia and that gets Putin into the media spotlight.

Fourth, Russian adventures in Syria pull the eye of the media cyclops away from Ukraine and to Syria, thus providing Russia a media shadow in which to operate.

Fifth, Russia gets to boost its reputation by looking tough relative to the United States. It has been claimed that Russia’s initial attacks did not hit ISIS but targeted anti-Assad forces that are backed by the United States. Putin is confident that the United States will not shoot down Russian planes to protect the pitifully few US backed rebels. This allows Putin to poke the US in the eye with no risk—it would, after all, be stupid for the US to get into war with Russia over a handful of rebels.

While Russia sees the potential for gain via this intervention, there is the blindingly obvious fact that things always go wrong in the Middle East. Pundits are already making the obvious reference to the last Russian adventure in the region—the meat grinder that was the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. While Putin has emphasized that Russia will be engaged only in an air campaign, interventions often escalate and both the United States and Russia have shown a willingness to jump into quagmires. Should Syria turn out to be a quagmire, this will be bad for Russia. Cynically, it could be good for the United States in geopolitical terms. It would, as always, be horrible for the people who live in the quagmire.

A second possible problem for Russia is that its intervention in the region will make it into a Junior Satan or even a Co-Satan to the original Great Satan (that is, the United States). Russia could find itself subject to increased attention from foreign terrorists and also domestic unrest from its own Moslem population. This, clearly, would not be a plus for Russia.

A third possible problem is that the intervention could go badly and damage Russian prestige. For example, Russian pilots might be captured and executed by ISIS. As another example, the Russian bases of operation might be overrun and captured, which would be a blow to the reputation of Russia.

A fourth problem is that backing Assad might have a negative impact on Russia’s relation with other countries. However, the countries that are likely to be upset by this are countries that already have poor relations with Russia.

While analogical reasoning is inductive and thus subject to the usual practical problem of induction (namely that the premises of an inductive argument can all be true and the reasoning strong, yet the conclusion can be false), the history of the Middle East has shown that such interventions always end badly. As such, it seems reasonable to expect that Russia’s intervention will slide into disaster. That said, perhaps Putin can pull it off and make history.

 

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Russian Imperialism

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on March 5, 2014
Political map of Ukraine, highlighting Crimean...

Political map of Ukraine, highlighting Crimean Oblast (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Back in 2008 I did a post claiming that Russia was still a threat and that our obsession with the war on terror would distract us from our more significant foe, namely the Russians. Now that Russian troops have entered Crimea and are poised to roll through Ukraine, it seems that by chance or understanding got things right. As a followup to that old post, I’ll say a bit about the current situation.

First, there is the fact that the invasion of Ukraine was easily foreseeable. Everyone knows the old tale about the scorpion and the fox: a fox and a scorpion are at the bank of a river and the scorpion asks the fox to carry him across. The fox is reluctant to do this since he is worried the scorpion will sting him midstream. The scorpion assures the fox he will do no such thing-after all, he would drown if the fox dies. Swayed by this reasoning, the fox swims out with the scorpion on his back. The scorpion stings him and they both die-the scorpion’s dying words being that it is his nature to do this. While nations are not ruled by instinct, nations do have definite general characters forged by their history. In the case of the Russians, it has become their nature to want a buffer between themselves and the West (thanks to folks like Napoleon and Hitler). As such, predicting that the Russians will try to control the countries around them is like predicting that the French will drink wine or that Americans will eat junk food. For the Russians, control seems best achieved by the use of military force-hence the invasion of Ukraine was eminently predictable. It is, as the scorpion would say, a matter of nature.

Second, there is the obvious fact that the West will not do anything militarily in the Ukraine. While the United States could probably push the Russians out of Ukraine if it came down to a conventional war, the Russians are still well-armed with nuclear weapons. While we would risk nuclear war to defend key allies like Britain and Germany, we almost certainly will not do so to defend Ukraine. As such, the Russians really only need to worry about two main things. The first is that Ukraine will fight them. While Russia can take Ukraine, Russia would probably not enjoy a protracted struggle in the region-especially with the possibility of an ongoing insurgency. The second is that the rest of the world will take economic action against Russia and do enough damage to her economy to make the invasion turn out to be a bad idea.

Third, Russia obviously wants to get back into the “grand game” of being a major power-perhaps Putin has dreams of restoring the Russian Empire and being a super-power once more. While some folks are claiming that Putin has already lost in Ukraine, it is unwise to make such a prediction. As noted above, a primary Russian goal is to have a stable buffer between Moscow and the West. Russia has never deviated from the strategy and almost certainly will not for the foreseeable future.

Fourth, critics of Obama and the United States have been taking the stock line that it was Obama’s weakness that allowed Putin to roll forces into the Ukraine and that if only Obama had been more bad-ass, Putin would have just stayed put in Russia. While this story has some appeal, the United States has historically avoided doing anything bad-ass towards Russia. Back in the Soviet days, we mostly just fenced via proxies and got bogged down in Vietnam. When the Soviets rolled tanks in to crush internal dissent in the Soviet Union, we did nothing. As such, Obama has been following a business as usual policy. Given that the Russians have nuclear weapons, this is not a bad idea.

Fifth, while Putin knows he can push hard under his nuclear umbrella, he surely knows that he cannot push too far. After all, just as we could push Putin to a nuclear strike, he could push us to the same thing. If Putin meets with success in Ukraine, he will most likely continue to expand. The main question is not whether the West will stop him or not but whether or not the Russians can afford this level of military operations and occupations. After all, we broke them by forcing them to slag their economy in a cold war against us. We then stupidly melted our economy  a bit with two wars and, but we can take the heat better than the Russians. Russia only now feels confident enough to push hard against the West. But, it remains to be seen if they can take the heat and if so, for how long. It is a new world and it is worth noting that the old ways might not work as they did.

Sixth, thanks to our fixation on the war on terror and with the political manipulations that resulted in billions of public dollars being dumped into the coffers of the well connected, we are not well-equipped to face up to the Russians while also dealing with the rest of the world. Our massive domestic and ally spying machine will be rather useless against them (which is not surprising, since it is also mostly useless against terrorists). Fortunately, our defense contractors have seen to it (for their own reasons) that we do still have a strong conventional force. But, we are not as well prepared as we could be. More importantly, we have been piddling away with the war on terror and making sure that billionaires become more wealthy when we should have been doing some real politics of the sort that Putin has been trying to do. Only better. I do, of course, approve of his view of shirts. Like him, I know that we must fight the cruel tyranny of the shirt.

Seventh, we should not forget about China while we are now fixating on the Russians.

Eighth, welcome back old foe. We’ve kind of missed you.

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Syria & Team America

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on August 30, 2013
Syria

Syria (Photo credit: ewixx)

As I write this, the United States and our allies are contemplating military action against Syria. While the Syrian government has been busy killing its people for quite some time, it is now claimed that it has crossed the red line by using chemical weapons. Thus, there is apparently a need for a military response.

The United Kingdom, which has often been the Tonto to America’s Lone Ranger, has expressed reluctance to leap into battle. Even the American congress, which rushed to authorize our attack on Iraq, has expressed opposition to Obama taking executive military action. As others have said, memories of the “slam dunk” that led up to the Iraq war are playing a significant role in these responses. Interestingly, the leadership United Kingdom seems mainly concerned with how quickly the attacks will begin as opposed to being concerned about attacking Syria. In the United States congress’s main worry seems to be that the President will rush ahead on his own and deny them what they see as their right to get us into war.

Despite the fact that the people of the United States and the United Kingdom seem opposed to attacking Syria, it seems likely that there will be an attack soon. One obvious reason is that Obama played the red line game (which, on the face of it, said to Syria that they could keep killing as long as they did not use weapons of mass destruction). If he fails to make good on his red line talk, the United States will lose credibility. From a moral standpoint, it could be claimed that the United States and the West have already lost some moral credibility by their ineffectual condemnation of the slaughter in Syria.

Assuming that we will be attacking Syria, there is the obvious question of what we should be endeavoring to accomplish and what plan we have for what will follow the attack. Iraq and Afghanistan stand as examples of what happens when we go to war without properly considering the matter and setting clear, attainable and worthwhile objectives.

One approach is a limited, punitive strike. That is, to attack Syrian targets in order to punish the government for its alleged use of chemical weapons. In this case, the obvious questions are whether or not the Syria government actually used chemical weapons and whether or not such a punishment strike would achieve its goal(s). The goal might be simple punishment: they use chemical weapons, then we blow some things up to pay them back for their misdeed. Or the goal might be deterrence via punishment: they use chemical weapons, we blow some things up. And we will keep doing it until they stop.

Morally, the Syrian government has certainly earned punishment and it would be a good thing to deter them from engaging in more killing—or to even deter them from killing with chemical weapons. However, there is the question of whether or not our attacks will be just punishment or adequate deterrence.  If the goal is deterrence, then there is the question of how long we will engage in deterrence attack and what sort of escalation we should engage in should the initial attack fail to deter.

Another approach is to strike in support of the opposition. That is, to attack Syrian targets with the primary goal of improving the opposition’s relative position. This could, of course, also be a punishment attack as well. In this case, the questions would be whether or not such intervention would be effective and whether or not the results would be desirable for the United States.

One obvious concern about the conflict in Syria is that it is not an oppressive government against plucky, freedom-loving rebels. If that was the case, then the matter would be rather easier.  Rather, it is a battle between an oppressive government and a bewildering array of opposition groups (including an Al Qaeda franchise). There are also outside forces involved, such as Iran, Russia and China.

Because of the fragmentary and problematic nature of the opposition, it is important to consider the consequences of attacking in support of the opposition (or, more accurately, the oppositions). While the Syrian government is a morally bad government and an enemy of America, it has imposed order on the state and is, obviously enough, not the worst option. If, for example, the Syrian government were to topple and the area fell into almost complete chaos, that would be worse than the current situation. Even worse for the United States and most other people would be a takeover of the state by radical forces and extremists.

It is also rather important to take into account the possible and likely reactions of the other powers that are involved in the conflict. Iran, China and Russia have a significant stake in the matter and they might actually react to an American attack. Russia, for example, is sending warships to the area. While Russia or Iran most likely would not engage American forces in the region to defend Syria, this is not an impossibility. For example, the conflict could escalate from an accident.

Unfortunately, I do not have a great deal of confidence in any of the leaders involved in this matter. After all, there are rather different skill sets involved in being a politician who wins office and being able to make effective policy and military decisions. That is, playing the political game is rather different than war. That said, I do hope that wise decisions are made. But, no matter what, many more people are going to be killed—it is mainly a question of how many and with what weapons.

 

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Wordify

Posted in Business, Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on January 6, 2011
Indra K. Nooyi, Chairman and Chief Executive O...
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Philosophers are often accused of saying odd things and reveling in the absurd. As Cicero said, “There is no opinion so absurd that some philosopher will not express it.” However, we are getting rather stiff competition from the corporations.

Most recently, Pepsico entered the competition with the following assertion: “We see the emerging opportunity to ‘snackify’ beverages and ‘drinkify’ snacks as the next frontier in food and beverage convenience.”

When I first learned of this plan, I assumed it was some sort of comedic parody mocking Pepsico. However, reality proves to be more comedic than comedy.

Not wishing to be unduly negative, I did consider the potential aspects of this blending between two once distinct states of food. Perhaps this would be more like the creation of the Peanut Butter Cup: two great tastes that go great together as they jack up your blood sugar. After all, I am pro-snack and also a firm supporter of beverages.

Then I thought about it a bit more.

As a longtime gamer and fantasy/sci-fi buff, I know that mixing species pretty much always creates some sort of monster. While some of these are fairly benign (satyrs and Pegasus) others are suitable only for killing and looting (manticores, minotaurs, and chimera). I suspect that a snackified beverage would be the sort of thing that would burble and meep in the deep bowels of a dark dungeon, waiting to digest the unwary. I’d be inclined to classify such a thing as an ooze. Drinkified snacks would probably be similar, but no doubt more pissed off.

Reflecting on this, I realized people would think I was being nerdtastic. As always, my care meter registered a zero in regards to this concern.

On more serious reflection, I realized two things.

First, such talk is just corporate-speak. What it seems to be talking about is stuff that already exists, but is not referred to in such ludicrous phrases. For example, a milkshake is something you can eat and also drink. It is not snackified or drinkified. It is a milkshake. As another example, you can drink pudding or yogurt if you really want to do it that way. As a general rule, if you can suck it up in a cohesive mass through a straw, you are drinking that stuff. I’ll stick with a spoon, though.  As a runner, I would be remiss not to mention Gu. Oh yeah, I should also mention soup and stew-the original drinkified snacks or snackified drinks.

Second, saying such things probably makes language curl up in a ball and cry. People who say such things should add not doing that anymore to their list of New Year’s resolutions. Seriously.

in closing, I can think of many ways the terms can be misused in humorous (or just crude ways). For example, people might consider saying “snackify me/it” in place of “bite me” or “suck it.” I plan on saying “I snackified my snacks” as often as possible.

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Russian Spies

Posted in Ethics, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on July 2, 2010
Spy vs. Spy (video game)
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Nations are never really friends. As such, even though the (First?) Cold War is over, I was not surprised when the Russian spy story broke. We, no doubt, have numerous spies in Russia.  That is what nations do and it is part of the games that countries play. Of course, arresting spies is also part of the game as well.

While spying is all part of the game, I have often wondered about the ethics of spying. On the face of it, this sort of spying seems unethical in that it involves across the board deceit and deception. The spies were interacting with normal people and there is, of course, an expectation that people do not engage in such deceit in personal relationships.

Of course, there seems to be an easy enough moral “out” here-an analogy to war. In normal life, killing people is generally considered wrong. But, the moral magic of war seems to transform such killing so that it is at least morally acceptable. The basis for this “magic” seems to be the state: actions taken at the behest of the state typically enjoy special moral status. In the case of this sort of spying, the state transforms the immoral act of deceit into a morally acceptable act.

One might wonder how this “magic” works. After all, if I engage in deceit for my own gain, then that would be generally wrong. If I organized a group and we used deceit for our advantage, then that would also seem to be wrong. Merely adding more and more people until my gang becomes a nation hardly seems to change things in a morally significant way.

Perhaps it is not a matter of numbers, but a matter of utility. So, while deceit is generally wrong, the need for a nation to be secure morally justifies it sending spies. This would, one might argue, be morally on par with lying to a person who might decide to attack you so that you might keep an eye on what she is doing. Since we might act in ways contrary to the interests of Russia, they would have the moral right to spy on us. We, in turn, would have the right to deal with those spies.

Of course, anyone who wanted to deceive to gain an advantage would seem to be able to appeal to this sort of justification. This seems to be a problem. Unless, of course, the notion of ethics is abandoned here and nations are to be considered beyond good and evil. This would invite the obvious question of why nations would be exempt from ethics.

A nation that was doing good could avail itself of a utilitarian defense of spying: while such deceit is generally seen as wrong, such deceit for the greater good would be acceptable. The challenge is, obviously enough, supporting such a claim.

From a practical standpoints, nations (or rather the people who claim to be the state) will do as they wish.

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Nuclear Policy

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on April 12, 2010
WMD world map
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While some folks have expressed fear, anger and dismay towards the new nuclear policy (or at least their straw man versions), I am not worried.

While the policy does mark what appears to be a significant change, it actually appears to have little practical impact on how we would actually wage war.

The policy is that we will not use nuclear weapons on non-nuclear countries. Unless, of course, they are in violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (that means, for example, we can still nuke Iran) or they use biological weapons against us. This is, of course, the approach taken by the United States in the post WWII world. After all, we did not use nuclear weapons in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan or Iraq. Even more importantly, all the major potential threats to the United States (Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran) are still legitimate targets for nuclear weapons. The countries that are excluded by this policy are hardly major threats to the United States.

Obviously, this policy does not actually change the nuclear weapons so that they can only be used in such situations. Should the United States face a truly dire situation that could only be resolved by nuclear weapons being employed  in a way that violates this policy, then the weapons would certainly be used. While Obama is cast as a weakling socialist, he would not allow the United States to be destroyed just so he could stick with this policy.

Of course, it might be argued that this is a meaningful political change. After all, it seems to have outraged many folks on the right. While much of their alleged outrage is probably mere political posturing, they certainly do seem to think that it is worth attacking. While this does not prove that this is really a meaningful policy change, it does suggest that this might be the case.

Also, it does seem to reflect a change in language and creates the appearance that we are further leashing our nuclear beast. And, as is often said, appearance is (seen as) reality in politics.

As I see it, the change is primarily rhetorical. This is, I think, a smart move. Obama can use the policy to improve how America is seen by the world and score political points without actually reducing America’s security. However, he does run the risk that the Republicans will also use this to score political points, even if they have to attack a straw man version of the policy.

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Ah, Republicans.

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on April 9, 2010
Clipped version of Gingrich and Lott.jpg, a fi...

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Obama recently changed the United States’ nuclear policy and also signed a weapons treaty with Russia.

The gist of the policy change is that the US will not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear powers (with some exceptions). Interestingly, Newt Gingrich and Sean Hannity claimed that under the new policy, the United States cannot respond with nuclear weapons to a massive biological weapon attack. However, this claim shows that these two men are either ignorant of the real policy or simply lying. This is because the policy makes an explicit statement that the United States retains the option of using nuclear weapons in such cases.

If Newt and Hannity are ignorant, then they were acting irresponsibly. After all, they have an obligation to determine the facts before making such claims. This is true of anyone, but as influential public figures (and being on a news program) they have an even greater obligation to get their facts right before making such claims. Naturally, people can miss facts even when acting in good conscience. However, finding out the facts about this policy is a rather easy matter and hence it is reasonable to expect these men to have taken the minuscule effort it would have taken to learn the truth.

If Newt and Hannity knew the truth, but simply lied in order to take shots at Obama and perhaps scare Americans, then they acted in an immoral manner. This, of course, assumes that lying is wrong.  However, if one takes the view that lying for political gain is acceptable, then this would be just fine. However, this would mean that the Democrats would be entitled to operate by the same principle as would the “liberal” media.

On a related note, I also happened to catch a clip of Sarah Palin criticizing this policy. She used an analogy to kids fighting on a school yard and there being one kid who says he will not hit back if attacked. Once again, Obama is not saying that we will not hit back. To make a more appropriate analogy, it is like kids fighting on the schoolyard and the biggest, toughest kid says that he will not use his baseball bat on kids who don’t have them. But, if someone hurls a rock at him, he will use the bat. Or if some kids have boards they want to make into bats, he can use the bat on them.

While I am all in favor of hitting people back, this means that I would be a rather bad Christian. After all, Jesus says:

You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth. ‘But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

Palin and many Republicans like to claim that they are Christians, so it was interesting to hear her blatantly rejecting what Jesus said.

Naturally, it can be argued that the bible is rather inconsistent and that a Christian does not have to follow that “turn the other cheek” thing. After all, the bible is full of passages justifying and allowing killing. Of course, this same sort of “pick and chose” should be extended to others as well, on the pain of inconsistency. So, for example, folks who want to ignore what the bible allegedly says about same sex marriage should feel as free to ignore that as Palin and other Republicans feel free to ignore other parts of the bible.

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A More Amenable Russia

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on July 6, 2009

Our one time Cold War super enemy, Russia, is now more amenable. While Russia did get a bid more chummy after the fall of the Berlin wall, they showed signs recently of wanting to get back into the super power game. However, the latest change is that Russia seems to want to be our friend once again.

One possible reason for this the the Obama charm offensive. Obama has said that he wants to reset the relations with the Russians and he has been showing the world that he really wants to make friends. The Russians might sincerely want to be part of this circle of friends or they might have decided that this would be an excellent opportunity to take advantage of  America’s new friendliness. That is, perhaps they are cleverly exploiting what some might see as a naive approach to foreign policy.

Another possible reason is that the Russian economy is hurting. They are facing a double threat. First, the world ecomomy is doing poorly in general. Secondly, oil prices have dropped and Russia gets much of its export money from oil. Interestingly, Russia’s beligerence seems directly proportional to its wealth. While the US is hurting is well, the end of the Cold War and recent economic events make it clear that the US economy is stronger and more resilient that the Russian economy. Of course, all economies have a breaking point-something we should be well aware of.

Playing nice with Russia is actually advantageous to us. We have to deal with Iran, Iraq, North Korea, China, Afghanistan, numerous terrorists groups and other problems. Having Russia not being a problem would be a significant help. Having Russia on our side from time to time would be even better.

While the US and Russia are often at odds, we do have many common interests. Neither the US nor Russia want North Korea starting up a war. Neither country wants Iran to get out of hand. Both countries would like Afghanistan to be stable (although I’m sure the Russians would like to see us bleed a bit more-they certainly remember who helped make them bleed badly there in the 1980s). As such, it makes good sense to play well with Russia. Of course, once the price of oil goes back up and their economy is better, they might decide they want to have a try at the Cold War revival games once more.

While Obama’s trip to Moscow is getting news coverage, it is losing out to Michael Jackson. Of course, that is the way of the news media-it has to give people what they want to see rather than what is truly significant.

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Will Russia Help McCain?

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on August 21, 2008

While Obama has been leading McCain in recent polls, his lead has been slipping away (or perhaps not-polling is not an exact science). Obama might be able to keep or even expand his lead by picking the right VP candidate. He recently announced that he had decided, but seems to be milking the news cycle by not saying who he has selected.

Meanwhile, McCain is looking for a way to close the gap. McCain enjoys a commanding lead in one important area: voter perception of each candidate’s ability to deal with Russia. McCain’s military experience gives him a clear advantage here.

It is natural to wonder why McCain is not so well regarded when the subject changes to Iraq. This is because the Iraq war is not particularly popular and Obama has been able to tap into that. Many Americans regard the Iraq War as something that we need to get out of and McCain has made it clear that he is willing to keep America there as long as it takes. In this case, Obama’s lack of military credentials does not hurt him-he wants to end the war rather than fight it.

In the case of Russia, we are not yet embroilled in an active war and many Americans still remember the Cold War. As such, McCain’s fighting spirit is no doubt looked on as a positive asset.

In order to counter this, Obama needs to keep the focus on domestic issues (linking Bush and McCain works well here) and the Iraq War. Obama also needs to improve his appearance in regards to his ability to deal with Russia. Perhaps his VP choice will help him in this regard.

For McCain, the more active Russia becomes, the better it is for his election chances. If voters see a cool war starting up, McCain might be able to ride the Bear into the White House. If Russia eases up, then McCain will lose this advantage over Obama.

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