Want to secede? Are you really sure about that?

Viva la revolutionSomehow secession seems to be all the rage of late. I don’t get it.

Don’t get me wrong. I can understand not liking it when your candidate doesn’t win. I can understand not liking it when a candidate you really dislike (for whatever reason, however serious or silly) wins instead. But secession? Really?

Forget for a moment that those calling for secession seem incredibly likely to be of the same subset of America that called anyone who questioned President Bush, a wartime president, unpatriotic. Like it or not, President Obama is a wartime president. I’m sure they’ve connected the dots for the sake of consistency and fairness.

Forget for a moment how pro-democracy would-be secessionists appear to be…as long as their teams wins, however marginally.

Forget all that. That road only leads to unfortunate characterizations and divisiveness. The same kind of divisiveness that has 80,000 Texans and others from around the country clamoring for secession. Besides, it was a Founding Father that said we need the occasional revolution, right?

I’m sure the appeal of it must be amazing to someone who thinks it’s a good idea. Since I’m not one of them, I fail to see it. Off the top of my head, here’s a few little problems with secession that I don’t think the secession enthusiasts have thoroughly considered. Maybe I’m mistaken.

Let’s assume these angry Americans succeed. Well, succeed in convincing a sufficient percentage of their state populations that secession is a good idea, that is. I know, I know, we’re entering the realm of fantasy here, but bear with me. Let’s assume the issue makes it to the statehouse (or statehouses, plural). Let’s assume state legislatures make the big vote. Let’s assume the governor (or governors) support it. Let’s make believe…

What will a seceding state’s first order of business be? Have the secessionists thought that far ahead? I’m assuming, for the sake of brevity, that some kind of new constitutional convention for each state will be in order, some manner of establishing home rule. These things take a little time to hammer out. I should hope that while they consider the matter of a new constitution, assuming that’s the road they take, they’ll consider how to structure their new government in a way that won’t fail them like democracy did. That, in itself, would be well worth watching.

I should hope they would take into consideration what kind of military force they would build. An all-volunteer standing army? A military with ranks supported by a draft? Who will be the commander in chief? The generals, admirals, and other high-ranking officers? I’m sure that a state seriously considering secession must have a dream team in mind, replete with diplomats and even an intelligence agency or three.

So, if we’ve made it this far, there’s a constitutional convention, comprising delegates (selected how, exactly?) debating how best to raise the military force necessary to defend their new interests. Maybe they settle on volunteer vs. draft and do drum up a dream team to lead them. Where will they be based? What will they wear? How will they be provisioned? How armed? How trained?

How funded?

Oh, funding. Maybe, like our Founding Fathers, Founding Fathers (rebels or freedom fighters, you decide) will pony up their personal wealth. Enjoy speculating about which wealthy capitalists will do that. Surely they’ll have plenty of US funds to draw on, right? Unfrozen US funds? No? Oh, there is that, isn’t there? Good thing there’s gold bugs with tons and tons of bullion just waiting to start their own gold-backed currency by way of an unregulated state banking establishment who will be willing to fund the war on credit.

War? Now hold on a blessed second. Who said anything about war? People want to peacefully secede, right? Or not. Either way, consider this. Up to the day before secession, the Union counted among its national assets assets within the borders of the seceding state. Upon secession, the Union will just be nice and let the seceding state take those resources, right? Certainly, the Drone Strike President won’t even contemplate using force, covert or otherwise, to secure those assets!

And speaking of assets, let’s consider those for a moment. Our lucky secessionist will hail from a territory that has abundant agricultural resources, including fresh water that won’t require complicated treaty arrangements for it to not be dammed up before it gets there. They’ll have ample mineral resources. Ample energy resources. A sufficient manufacturing base ready to be tooled up, first for war, then for reconstruction after they prevail. I should hope so. Otherwise the seceding territory will have to have those items imported. Maybe the Union will kindly export food, raw materials, and manufactured goods to the new Free Territory, even during hostilities. If not, maybe a US ally will. Clearly there won’t be any sanctions, right? After all, the US doesn’t have a history of imposing crippling sanctions anywhere, does it?

Luckily, there are other nations in the world beside US allies. Maybe Venuzuela will come to the rescue with oil. Maybe China will gladly invest in Territorial natural resources, as they do in developing nations, to fund this little holiday from the US. Nevermind that they will fully expect a monopoly over those resources and have a history of bringing in their own personnel. Maybe Iran will share its alleged developing nuclear arms technology. Or maybe Kim Jong-un will supply a nuke or three, if only for giggles.

Assume all these conditions and their prerequisites are met. I’m sure I’ve forgotten most of the things a seceding state needs to do in order to become a successful nation. After all, I haven’t really put much thought into it. Exporters are beating the door down to provide the budding new Free Territory with goods and services that it can’t produce itself. They’ll have no trouble getting those resources to the Territory, right? I mean, it’s got coastline that won’t be blockaded, or New Freedomstan will have a navy capable of taking out any one of the US fleets? No? Good thing there’s air transport. Certainly the US won’t establish a no-fly zone that would prevent such deliveries. No? *whew* That leaves roads for the fortunate land-locked New Freedomstan. Good thing the roads into and out of the territory won’t be shut down from the other side!

So. There we have it. By the same miracle that endows the Ryan plan with budgetary sense, New Freedomstan has seceded, successfully, established itself as a nation, prevailed through superior force, and can now engage freely in the world marketplace because there aren’t any sanctions. The UN will welcome New Freedomstan with open arms, not that NF really cares. To hell with the UN! Who needs a seat at the table while the rest of the world negotiates everything?

Congratulations, New Freedomstan. You will have arrived on the world scene and can get down to brass tacks once all of your funding isn’t directed to just getting your feet on the ground. You can establish an educational system sufficient to your national goals. Or not. You can establish a health care system that will meet the needs of your population. Or not. You can build your infrastructure to satisfy your every need. There will be peace across the land. Only the right religions will be part of the social fabric (which specific denominations remains to be seen). Men will stop raping because only virtuous women will be part of New Freedomstan. There will be no more out-of-wedlock births. Abortions just won’t be needed, so why even bother outlawing them? Divorce will be against law because of the sanctity of marriage. And all of this will be supported entirely by goodwill because, after all, there won’t be any taxes. No taxes, no need to worry about who has to pay, and how much. Your free market will be unfettered. Monopolies will develop and naturally return to their altruistic ways.

That just leaves getting rid of all those pesky minorities and immigrants. Decisions, decisions. Pogroms? Genocide? Forced sterilization? Slavery?

Congratulations and good luck on your promising future. Your best days are ahead! When you get a passport, I would encourage you to visit our humble nation. We’ve got a lot to offer the adventurous tourist.

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Image credit:  Clip art courtesy of openclipart.org.

The most important lesson we should all learn from the 2012 election

“You idiot! Get back in there at once and sell, sell!”

As we set about the process of compiling and canonizing the 2012 election post-mortem, one thing we keep hearing over and over is how utterly stunned the Romney camp was at their loss. Republicans across the board apparently expected victory – the conservative punditry seemed certain of it – and now we’re hearing that Romney himself was “shellshocked” by the result.

Mitt Romney went into Election Night expecting a victory and was “shellshocked” when he finally realized he had lost, CBS News reported.

Despite early signs of a stronger-than-expected turnout for President Obama, it wasn’t until the crucial state of Ohio was called for the president that Romney began to face the likelihood of defeat.

Even then, he and his team had trouble processing the news, senior advisers told CBS News.

“We went into the evening confident we had a good path to victory,” one adviser said. “I don’t think there was one person who saw this coming.”

Well, Nate Silver saw it coming. His projections called the final outcome almost down to the precinct, and it’s not like he doesn’t have a track record.

Silver’s final 2008 presidential election forecast accurately predicted the winner of 49 of the 50 states as well as the District of Columbia (missing only the prediction for Indiana). As his model predicted, the races in Missouri and North Carolina were particularly close. He also correctly predicted the winners of every U.S. Senate race.

It wasn’t just Silver. Almost all the polls showed Obama with at least a slight lead in the battleground states, and if we can believe CNN’s election night insiders, Mitt’s own tracking showed him five points adrift in Ohio as late as Sunday (which explains why he set up camp there when many expected him to focus his energies elsewhere).

In other words, all the data, all the nonpartisan analysis, all the evidence, made clear that Romney’s chances were slim. It’s understandable that he and his people would be disappointed, and mightily so. But surprised? How does that happen?

In a nutshell, the GOP blindsided themselves. The reason should be obvious to anyone who has paid any attention at all to American politics in recent years: an overabundance of blind faith. I don’t mean this in a religious sense (although the political and socio-scientific manifestations of the phenomenon issue from strong religious antecedents). Instead, I’m referring to the broad, swelling inability (or unwillingness) to distinguish between belief and knowledge.

As noted, nearly all the polls showed Romney in trouble. Most broke out their results in ways that clearly suggested why he was in trouble. The rational response to such information is to take it onboard, adapt and adjust. But that’s not what the GOP did. Instead, they dismissed the data that didn’t align with their beliefs. They went so far as to “unskew” the polls because they were clearly biased in favor of Mr. Obama. How do we know they were biased? Because they favored Mr. Obama. UnskewedPolls.com performed some ideological/mathematical hijinks and produced “corrected” polls that demonstrated how Mr. Romney was actually leading. By a lot.

The resulting projected electoral map was positively Reaganesque.

You might argue that the rational response isn’t to adapt and adjust if there is actually reason to believe that all the polls are, in fact, skewed. This objection is fair, so long as your reasons for doing so are driven by factual concerns instead of ideological ones. I think it’s more than clear, by now, that GOP faith in a Romney win was driven by belief instead of knowledge isn’t it?

The upshot is what we saw Tuesday night and in the days following: shock, dismay, confusion. Romney and his people (here I’ll include the GOP’s media relations arm, FOX News) didn’t see the obvious coming and some were melting down as reality began to assert its ugly presence in ways that even Megyn Kelly couldn’t ignore. Sure, Karl Rove had an excuse for going all Randolph Duke on the set. He’d just spent $600M of rich folks’ money and had a pack of nabs to show for it, an outcome with dire implications for his future career prospects. Of course he was losing it – he was seeing his political life pass before his eyes as the Ohio totals ticked in. Again, though, this was a live, nationally televised case study in self-delusion: it isn’t true because sweet Jesus it just can’t be.

I keep using these terms “knowledge” and “belief.” I suspect that many people across the country might initially grapple with the difference (in fact, I know this to be the case). So let me define these terms, at least operationally, for the benefit of those who don’t understand the distinction.

  • Knowledge is a process whereby conclusions derive from information and reasoning.
  • Belief is a process whereby preconceptions govern the pursuit of information.

In other words, with knowledge, you learn all you can in as rigorous and intellectually honest a fashion as possible, then you figure out what it means. With belief, the conclusions are given from the outset and data is selected and discarded according to whether or not it supports the point you’re trying to make.

Accepting facts that run counter to what we believe, and what we want to believe, and even what we desperately need to believe, can be hard. I understand the difficulty as well as anyone. I personally now believe pretty much the opposite of nearly every important thing I believed as a young man, and I have frequently noted how many times my beliefs changed because I was proven wrong by the very smart people with whom I insisted on surrounding myself. I’ve always been a fan of the famous John Maynard Keynes quote: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”

As hard as it is to investigate contrary information and opinions, though, it’s imperative that we do so. With gusto. The Republican Party had all the evidence there before them throughout the entire campaign. There is precious little that we know now that we didn’t know a month ago. Their decision to pretend it was all skewed led to what? They lost the White House (in a race that was surely theirs for the taking). They lost ground in the Senate. Thanks to gerrymandering they still control the House, but their candidates nationwide received fewer votes than their Democratic opponents. Gay marriage initiatives passed in a couple of states. Gays and lesbians were elected to Congress.

All because the Republican Party privileged belief over knowledge.

Plenty of debate is already under way within the Republican Party as to what the results means and what might be done about it. Some conservative analysts are paying heed to the knowledge they have gained. Others, not so much.

And over at UnskewedPolls, well, see for yourself:

*sigh*

The GOP 2012 experience holds important lessons for us all as we move forward. The world in which we live, the nation in which we live, the neighborhoods and communities and cities in which we live are what they are, not what we wish them to be. For instance:

  • Some among us might wish that we lived in a uniformly white, Christian, heterosexual, nuclear family culture. We don’t. Whatever policies we seek to implement are doomed to failure unless we acknowledge our new multicultural reality.
  • Some of us believe that there is no such thing as climate disruption. There are Nate Silvers and Karl Roves in the natural science world, too. Our future and the future of generations not yet born depend on whether we’re smart enough to know to which of them we need to listen.
  • Many of us believe that cutting taxes on our wealthiest citizens creates opportunity and shared prosperity for everyone. All data on the subject shows this to be pure ideology – the precise opposite is true and the refusal to pay attention to the basic facts of economic history have grave implications for us all.
  • Dollar for dollar, the US pays three times more for health care than any other industrialized nation and by any measure we generate significantly worse outcomes. You might believe that only those who can pay outrageous prices deserve to be healthy, but the actual number of people who agree with you is diminishing rapidly.
  • The president was born in Hawai’i. If you insist that all proof is forged (it has to be, because it doesn’t conform with your beliefs), you will find that you’re damaging the credibility of other positions you hold. Also, people won’t sit next to you on the bus.
  • We are not a theocracy. A growing majority of voters are rejecting candidates whose views on how America should be governed more resemble the 1st century than the 21st. The coalition includes every facet of the electorate, but is especially pronounced among segments that are increasing in numbers.

The things are not beliefs, they are facts supported by every scrap of credible evidence that we have. The existence of facts doesn’t automatically suggest what the best policies might look like, but the refusal to acknowledge them assures disaster.

All of us – Republican, Democrat, Independent, Libertarian, Green and none of the above – would do well to learn from the GOP’s hard 2012 lesson.

Attacks on first responders transform criminality of drone strikes to sadism

The term “double tapping” fails to do justice to a military tactic that’s arguably sociopathic.

Remember the “dead bastards” — as in “look at those” — video, which was the first of the Bradley Manning stash released by WikiLeaks? It depicted an April 2010 Apache helicopter strike that killed a dozen Iraqi civilians, including two Reuters employees. Its impact was fourfold because it featured:

1. an attack on civilians
2. an attack on journalists
3. callous pilots, and the icing on the outrage cake …
4. a second round of missiles launched at those who arrived in a van to assist at the scene.

Those of us on the left who came of age during the Vietnam War, as well as the period when CIA meddling in foreign affairs to deadly effect was at its peak, may have thought we’d lost our capacity to be shocked at what the United States has shown itself capable. But attacking those coming to the assistance of the injured, which the military calls “double tapping” and doesn’t even attempt to hide, caught me off-guard with its cold-blooded cruelty. It’s not only used in helicopter attacks, but in drone strikes as well.

A February article by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) provides more insight into this insidious practice. TBIJ also served as a key source for the landmark report Living Under Drones released in September by the Stanford International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic and the Global Justice Clinic at NYU School of Law. The TBIJ article reads:

A three month investigation including eye witness reports has found evidence that at least 50 civilians were killed in follow-up strikes when they had gone to help victims.

Attempting to prove its legality is a non-starter.

… Naz Modirzadeh, Associate Director of the Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research (HPCR) at Harvard University, said killing people at a rescue site may have no legal justification. ‘Not to mince words here, if it is not in a situation of armed conflict, unless it falls into the very narrow area of imminent threat then it is an extra-judicial execution’, she said. ‘We don’t even need to get to the nuance of who’s who, and are people there for rescue or not. Because each death is illegal. Each death is a murder in that case.’

It’s hard enough to digest the information that the nation in which one lives and to which one pays taxes attacks those rushing to the aid of the injured. But it gets worse.

More than 20 civilians have also been attacked in deliberate strikes on funerals and mourners.

One scheme was positively diabolical.

On June 23 2009 the CIA killed Khwaz Wali Mehsud, a mid-ranking Pakistan Taliban commander. They planned to use his body as bait to hook a larger fish – Baitullah Mehsud, then the notorious leader of the Pakistan Taliban.

‘A plan was quickly hatched to strike Baitullah Mehsud when he attended the man’s funeral,’ according to Washington Post national security correspondent Joby Warrick, in his … book The Triple Agent. ‘True, the commander… happened to be very much alive as the plan took shape. But he would not be for long.’

The CIA duly killed Khwaz Wali Mehsud in a drone strike that killed at least five others.

You can see that Langley remains as much of a conceptual charnel house as ever.

Up to 5,000 people attended Khwaz Wali Mehsud’s funeral that afternoon, including not only Taliban fighters but many civilians.  US drones struck again, killing up to 83 people. As many as 45 were civilians, among them reportedly ten children and four tribal leaders. Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud escaped unharmed, dying six weeks later along with his wife in a fresh CIA attack.

None of this, of course, is new. If not by the United States, medics have long been attacked in war. Today, Israel has targeted Palestinian medics and the Syrian army has targeted resistance medics. Meanwhile, Bahrain persecutes medical personnel who have assisted the injured opposition.

But, in the case of the United States, drone attacks are intended, in part, to act as an alternative to — and method of fending off — a declaration of war on another country. Yet, with its barbaric tactics, the drone program not only apes the tactics of war, but draws the opposition into believing all-out war is what both sides are fighting.

Cross-posted from the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.

Telling History vs. Making Art: An upcoming series at S&R

Introduction to a series

As part of my doctoral work, I recently did some work that focused on Civil War literature. I use “literature” in a broad sense to cover fiction, nonfiction, and film.

My interest in the topic stems from my work as a historian for Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park. Visitors come to the battlefields for many reasons—frequently because they’ve read a book or watched a movie. Therefore, such texts serve an important function in inspiring visitors to actually visit. However, those texts also serve to influence the way those visitors understand history. Seldom do visitors make the distinction between “history” and “art”–and fewer things seem to aggravate some of my colleagues more!  Continue reading