Monday, May 19, 2014

Barack Obama is Breaking Bad

By Dustin Axe

Barack Obama and Walter White have a lot in common. This may be surprising to anyone not paying attention to U.S. foreign policy and it certainly is not apparent to casual observers of Breaking Bad.  One is the commander-in-chief of America’s national security apparatus, and the other is a character in perhaps the greatest television drama ever.  How can the President of the United States of America have something in common with a fictional character from a television show?  A close look reveals many similarities. 

                                                 Ethical Compass
In the first episode of Breaking Bad we meet Walter White, an over educated underappreciated 50 year old high school chemistry teacher.  He has a son with cerebral palsy, a nagging wife who is pregnant with an unexpected child, and he works at a car wash to make ends meet.  His unsatisfying life gets worse when he is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and given a couple years to live. He decides to take matters into his own hands by making and selling meth to secure his family’s financial future.  He turns to a life of crime to ensure his family is taken care of when he is gone.

His ethical compass throughout the series is consequentialism, originally made popular by philosophers Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill.  Consequentialism evaluates morality by the consequences actions produce.  Actions that produce good consequences and pleasure are considered good, while actions that produce bad consequences and pain are considered bad.  It can be summed up with the iconic saying, "the ends justify the means", meaning if a goal is important enough, the method of achieving it does not matter.  According to this moral calculus, Walt determines making and selling meth is justified because it will generate wealth and happiness for his family well into the future.

In the third episode, Walt’s moral calculus is apparent when he and Jesse imprison a shady drug dealer, Krazy 8, in the basement of Jesse’s home.  Walt creates a list of reasons to kill him and a list of reasons to spare his life.  The reasons for letting him live include, post-traumatic stress, the sanctity of life, and because murder is wrong.  The sole reason for killing him centers on the fact that Krazy 8 could harm Skyler and the kids.  Walt simply weighs in possible consequences of letting him go or killing him.  He spends several days deliberating what to do, and in the end the scale is tipped in favor of releasing Krazy 8.  Walt eventually kills him out of self-defense, but what is important is that he actually takes the time to consider all the possible consequences to his actions. 

The fundamental basis of U.S. foreign policy is also consequentialism.  Presidents base their decisions on outcomes actions may or not produce.  For example, if a suspected terrorist is living in Yemen and intelligence reports suggest he is creating a bomb to kill Americans, President Obama might consider using a predator drone to locate and kill him with a missile.  We can imagine Obama’s decision making process is similar to Walter White’s.  Instead of making a list of pros and cons in Jesse’s basement, Obama is in the White House writing down all the possible outcomes to launching a drone attack: (1) the drone is unmanned, so there is no risk to American lives, (2) collateral damage is minimal, because very few innocent people will die, (3) the entire operation will be carried out in secrete, so few people will learn about it, and (4) the suspected terrorist will most likely be killed.  By all accounts Obama thinks his decision to use a drone is justified because the outcomes are positive, the ends justifies the means.

                                                   Human Rights
On the surface, their decision making process appears reasonable and morally permissible. If action X results in Y, and Y is a desirable outcome, then X is justified. Walter believes a life of crime and all the terrible acts he does, including murder and poisoning a child, are justified to protect his family, and Obama believes targeted-killings are justified to protect America. 

However, there are those who find this line of reasoning wrong.  Consequences actions produce are extremely important, but they should not be the only consideration when determining a course of action.  If action X results in Y, but X is immoral, then Y is not justified.  Simply put, the end does not justify the means. One could argue an act is moral, not because of some intended outcome, but because the act itself is simply the right thing to do. The 18th century philosopher, Immanuel Kant, believed an act has moral worth, not because of the utility of its consequences, but because it was done for the right reason.  In other words, moral worth lies in motive and intention, not the outcome. 

According to Kant, “Morality concerns not the matter of the action, or its intended result, but its form and the principal of which it is itself a result.” In other words, we should rise above self-interest and do something because it is the correct thing to do, not because of some other outcome.  Helping an old lady cross the street is the right thing to do, not because of personal gain or recognition, but because we are motivated to do something good.  This ethical compass is more virtuous than consequentialism; however, it is much harder to obey.

Consequentialism also leaves human rights vulnerable, because it treats people as a mean to an end.  Kant says people are the “end”.  Each person is worthy of dignity and rights in and of himself; each person has a right to not be murdered, raped, tortured, or enslaved, even if there is a good reason for doing it.  Immoral acts should not be the means to anything.  Obama’s drone attacks should not be a means to achieve some other objective, because killing unidentified people is wrong despite the possibilities that suspected terrorists may be killed.  And Walt’s decision to send Jesse to kill Gale is unjust despite the possibility it might help his family in the end.  Even if there were a good reason for doing it, it is still wrong to murder someone.

                                                   Misdeeds and Misfortune
Further criticism of their ethical reasoning involves the larger social impact their actions have on the world around them.  For Walt it involves selling methamphetamines in his community.  He could claim selling drugs is morally permissible since people choose to take drugs because they receive pleasure from them.  Not only is he helping to secure his family’s future by making money, he is also making people happy by selling them a product they want. 

He believes his actions are justified and if anything goes wrong he alone will pay the penalties: “I have made choices. . . I alone should suffer the consequences of those choices, no one else.”  It is selfish for him to say this.  He is not the only one suffering from his decisions.  Thousands of people will be affected by his blue meth.  When you take into account all the crime, gang violence, murder, broken families, addiction, drug overdose, divorce, incarceration, prostitution, and everything else associated with drugs, the net sum of happiness is negative.  Granted, this would not be the case if drugs were legal, but as it is now, drugs do more harm to society than good.  Walt’s moral calculus is wrong. 

Even though selling drugs creates a considerable amount of wealth for Walt, it is in fact directly harming his family because drugs create a world not worth living in. Selling drugs does not maximize utility for the common good, so he is indirectly manifesting undesired consequences.  Most of Breaking Bad is about Walt and Jesse handling unintended outcomes and managing things that go wrong.    

There are unintended consequences from U.S. foreign policy, as well.  It is called blowback.  Men and women in the national security apparatus find quick solutions for the moment, such as assassinating leaders, overthrowing governments, and inciting revolutions, and in the process they recklessly disregard cultures, traditions, religions, and governments of other countries involved, ultimately creating even bigger and more global consequences for the future. 

History is full of examples, but none is more relevant than the blowback created when the United States funneled money and weapons to Osama bin Laden and Mujahedeen fighters in Afghanistan in 1979. It was a successful attempt to bait the Soviet into a Vietnam War-like quagmire, but it was shortsighted to future consequences, which was evident when it was determined that Osama bin Laden was behind the 9/11 attacks. 

Just as there was blowback in 2001, there will certainly be long term consequences to America’s actions today.  Where there were once a few jihadists with ideological reasons for wanting to destroy America, there are now many more people with a legitimate “score to settle”, because their friends and relatives have been killed or because their villages and homes have been raided or bombed.  It has already happened as a result of our attack on Libya. New revelations regarding the targeted attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi reveals it was carried out in retaliation to covert night raids being conducted by the Joint Special Operation Command.

Blowback is not a shocking revelation to our national leaders.  In fact, this is exactly what many of them want.  It ensures America will be in a state of perpetual war, which it has been since 1917, which is by design.  Empires are predicated on continuous war, and empire builders always look for enemies, either real or imagined.  Whether the Soviet Union, North Korea, Iran, Saddam, Al Qaeda, Syria, or Russia, there must be an enemy or one will be created.  This means there will be no shortage of reasons to go to war, and it guarantees defense contractors and corporations can loot the U.S. treasury with lucrative no-bid contracts.

Certainly presidents have an interest in ensuring there is no blowback, but only in the short-term when it concerns reelection. Unelected officials in the CIA and Pentagon, on the other hand, care little about it.  Their whole reason for existence is war, and blowback gives them a reason to live. The indiscriminate killing of innocent people, or so-called collateral damage, is no concern to them, unless of course it interferes with some military objective.  They simply do not care about blowback.

                                                    Dirty Clothes and Dirty Wars
Walter White and Barack Obama are both compulsive liars who work in secrecy.  Walter has a nice job as a high school chemistry teacher, and he regularly hosts cook outs for his family, which he loves more than anything.  He is a seemingly happy man living the American Dream, but his diagnosis changes everything.  He is forced into a situation that he feels requires drastic action.  He and Jesse Pinkman, a former student, spend season 1 sneaking into the dessert to manufacture meth in their RV, and in season 2 and 3 they manufacture even more in an underground laundry facility for dirty clothes. Walt takes on the alias Heisenberg and works in the shadows as the best meth cook the world has ever known.  His recipe creates 99.1% chemically pure crystal meth, much better than anyone else can make.  He spends a large amount of time concealing his actions from his family, including his brother-in-law, who works for the DEA. At one point, Walt and Jesse conduct a clandestine operation to steal a large drum of methylamine from a warehouse, allowing them to produce large quantities of meth.

He begins to lie and cheat more and more as the show unfolds.  In one episode, Walt tells his family he is going to visit his mother.  He gets dropped off at the airport, only to be immediately picked up by Jesse so they can cook crystal meth all weekend.  In a later episode, Skyler helps him devise a plan to mislead everyone into thinking he has a gambling problem, which explains his strange behavior, as well as their new source of money.  It completely works and Walt is given sympathy from the rest of the family.  These are just a few examples of Walt lying, cheating, and concealing his actions, effectively living a double life.  

The Obama administration is shrouded in secrecy, as well.  Foreign policy under the Bush Administration was predicated on preemptive war and occupation, which was done in plain sight for everyone to see.  This approach was enormously unpopular and entirely unsuccessful, which helped lead to the election of Obama, who promised to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Immediately after being elected, as promised, he started withdrawing troops, giving the appearance the so-called War on Terror was coming to an end, but behind closed doors he was actually expanding it.  Where Bush used outright war and occupation, Obama has used secrecy and covert operations to not only continue the War on Terror but to expand it.

Obama’s secret war involves black ops, night raids, kidnappings, drone attacks, torture, and assassination of suspected terrorists.  It involves CIA drone attacks, special forces, and a branch of the army that answers directly to the White House, called the Joint Special Operation Command.  What Obama claims is a cleaner war on terror is one that is actually dirty and dangerous.  It is happening in places such as Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan, all places that go beyond the stated battlefield. Target-killings of suspected terrorists, whose identities are not even clear, and love affairs with the government of Yemen and warlords in Somalia are shrouded in secrecy and rarely exposed.

To maintain his secrecy, Obama has waged a war on journalists and whistleblowers.  An unprecedented amount of documents have been classified and denied to journalists which otherwise should be available under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act.  Meanwhile, high ranking officials in the White House and Pentagon selectively disclose classified documents that paint a favorable impression of national security and effectively control public opinion.  In addition, progressive journalists, such as Jeremy Scahill and Glenn Greenwald, are regularly detained in airports and their computers are searched, preventing them from doing their job.

It has been worse for whistleblowers. Obama has charged more people with espionage under the Espionage Act of 1917 than all other Presidents combined.  Chelsea Manning (formerly Bradley) was sentenced to 35 years in prison after releasing classified documents to the public.  Edward Snowden is living in exile in Russia, and Julian Assange has been held up in an Ecuadorian embassy in London since 2012. Whistleblowers play an instrumental role in helping people learn what major media outlets are not telling them, and Obama is doing everything possible to silence them. 

In 2009, Obama wrote, “My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government.”  Yet the past six years have seen just the opposite.  There has been little oversight from Congress and virtually no transparency with the public whatsoever. Transparency is an essential part of democracy; citizens must be aware of facts, so they can make informed decisions and hold representatives accountable for their actions.  This administration has done everything possible to prevent this.

                                                      Change You Can Believe In
We see their decision making process mirror each other as their journeys progress. Each one starts slow and well calculated when making decisions regarding ethical issues, but as time goes on they lose their sense of morality in the face of achieving their end.  They each commit more and more immoral acts to achieve what they think is protecting their family or protecting America.  Both Walter and Obama take on a dark, villainous side, and they make reckless decisions that ultimately hurt everyone involved.

Fresh of the campaign trail we can imagine Obama’s decision making process was slow and well calculated, just as Walter’s was in the basement.  He is a Harvard educated liberal Democrat who probably did not make decisions without listening to his advisers closely, considering possible consequences, and eventually suffering through cognitive dissonance.  However, as time went on, his decision making process probably became faster and more instinctive, especially as decisions had to be made quicker and quicker.  As a result, potentially difficult decisions, such as using drones to kill suspected terrorist, are made with little deliberation.  Targeted-killings are now a central component of U.S. foreign policy.  Obama acts as the judge, jury, and executioner when he orders drones to kill terrorists, whose identities are unclear.  Innocent people are definitely being killed.

On December 12, 2013, for example, faulty intelligence reports mistook a wedding party in a remote part of Yemen as a terrorist group.  U.S. drones fired missiles at it, killing a dozen people.  It is unclear whether the CIA, the Pentagon, or the White House ordered the attack, but the President should ultimately be held accountable.  This is an example of Obama becoming less concerned about the morality of his decisions. 

Likewise, as Breaking Bad unfolds, we see Walt’s decision making process become faster and more instinctive.  In one situation he has the opportunity to save Jane from chocking on her own vomit. Only now there is no time to make a list of pros and cons. The cost benefit analysis is done in a matter of seconds, and Walt determines he will be better off if she dies.  He balances the positive and negative outcomes with each other quickly and determines what to do.  Again and again he is faced with similar situations.

It is clear that both men lie and recklessly carry out immoral acts to achieve an end, but what exactly are they trying to accomplish?  What is their end game?  America’s end game is seemingly complex, but it is actually rather simple.   America’s agenda is one of empire building and global domination.  It is based on the protection of the agents of profit and capitalism, which include banks, monopolies, finance capital, and multinational corporations.  The American Empire has a defense budget of over $700 billion a year, which accounts for approximately 43% of global military spending.  The rhetoric for the justification of empire usually centers on “national interest” and “keeping America safe”, which are code words for “capitalism” and “profit”.  Whether overt or covert, the mission is to make the word safe for the Fortune 500 in a way that ensures no rival superpower can emerge, particularly China or Russia.

We are told again and again that Walt’s ultimate motive is to ensure his family is taken care of after his death, which is true, but not entirely. He had plenty of opportunities to retire from the drug trade, but again and again he did not quit.  Near the end of season 2, Walt learns his cancer is in remission, so he decides to retire.  Skyler suggests he take more time off from work, which leads him to start a bizarre construction project on the utility closet floor.  He takes a trip to the hardware store and sees two guys purchasing supplies for cooking meth.  “Do it in piecemeal”, he advises them as they load everything into one cart. “Different items, different stores,” he says as they scurry away.  Walt purchases his own items, thinks it over, and suddenly changes his mind.  He finds them in the parking lot and says, "Stay out of my territory!"  He says this in the creepy, squinted-eye expression we are all too familiar with.  The thought of someone else making and selling meth in his territory was too painful for him.  He did not want to retire; he wanted back in the game, and before long he was cooking again.

From the very beginning it is obvious Walt is great at making meth, but terrible at making money. As the show progresses he becomes good at making money, but terrible at making money he can spend. He creates such a large sum of money that Skyler has to store it in a storage facility, but it doesn’t really matter.  His motive is only partially about money and securing his families future; it was mostly about empire building. He personally destroyed Gus’ drug empire, and the Mexican cartel was no match for him either.  He even takes his empire internationally by selling meth in the Czech Republic. 

In the final season, he and Jesse are in Walt’s living room having a drink when Walt says, “You asked me if I was in the meth business or the money business.  Neither. I'm in the empire business.” This is a clear indication that Walt does not care about money or meth, but rather what he can do with it and how many people he can sell it to.  Granted in the last episode, he returns to Albuquerque to destroy his empire.  He poisons Lydia, rescues Jesse, and guns down the neo-Nazis in charge of its last remnants.  However, just before he destroyed everything, he met with Skyler in her new home to confess that he loved being the kingpin of a massive empire.  We can imagine Obama having the same conversation with Michelle.  

                                                         We Are All Breaking Bad
Barack Obama and Walter White are complex people who employ similar strategies to achieve their end. For Obama it involves the expansion of covert wars all over North Africa and the Middle East, and for Walt it involves cooking meth, crushing his competitors, and securing his family’s future.  They use consequentialism as their ethical guide, which overlooks the morality of actions and ignores human rights.  They also disregard outcomes that affect the greater good, which creates larger consequences for the future. 

Yet despite all the lying, killing, and cheating, we want both Walter’s family and America to be safe.  We all have families and we all live in America, so how can we want anything less than they do?  Deep down inside in places we don’t talk about, we want them to succeed.  We know their acts are immoral, but we see their objectives as just causes, and we want them to accomplish them even though we may oppose the methods they enact to achieve them.  We stand aside and secretly applaud them by taking an active role of ignorance and complacency to their actions. This makes us complicit in their crimes.  For this, we are all breaking bad.  

Friday, July 26, 2013

Letter to Purdue Exponent

It was revealed last week that in 2010, while Governor of Indiana, Mitch Daniels requested Howard Zinn’s book, “A People’s History of the United States,” be removed from all Indiana k-12 public schools.  In a series of email exchanges, Daniels described Zinn’s book as an “anti-factual piece of misinformation that misstates American history on every page.”  Having graduated from Purdue in 2003 with a degree in Social Studies education, I find this utterly atrocious. I have not been more embarrassed for Purdue in my life.

Mitch Daniels' comments are a clear example of someone in power seeking to keep themself in power by only presenting their version of history.  K-12 history books are about presidents, generals, and rich individuals. This version of history ignores the vast majority of people who have ever lived and it leaves students feeling small and powerless.  If students are taught that only the rich and powerful are capable of making a difference in the world they will be less likely to question those in power or to participate in democracy.

Howard Zinn’s “People’s History of the United States” offers a different approach to history.  It is written through the eyes of ordinary people, such as workers, slaves, Native Americans, women, immigrants, and civil rights activists.  It is about ordinary people doing extraordinary things to change the course of history.  This version of history is empowering to students, which is exactly what the likes of Mitch Daniels wish to ban.  Howard Zinn is truly the greatest historian of the 20th century.  Students and teachers will continue to read and study his work well into the future, and Mitch Daniels can do nothing about it. 

Sunday, March 27, 2011

War in Libya

By Dustin Axe

On March 19th, 2011, the United States government initiated air strikes against the nation of Libya. Military installations have been targeted in an effort to support rebel forces who are attempting to overthrow the current regime headed by Muammar Gaddafi. The rebels have gained control of the eastern part of the country, but Gaddafi promises a “long, drawn-out war” against them, even if they receive aid from the United States and its NATO allies.

President Obama claims the purpose of this war (let’s call it what it is) is to prevent a humanitarian crisis in the north African nation. He says Gaddafi will use military force against the rebels, therefore intervention is needed to prevent a civil war and the massacring of innocent people. The logic is that by killing a small number of people a large number of people will be saved.

There is no evidence to suggest the President is acting to prevent a humanitarian crisis. Africa is full of brutal dictators who butcher citizens and rule with an iron fist, yet the United States does nothing. Anti-government protesters in the streets of Syria are being fired on by regime loyalists, but nothing is done. Why should we believe Libya is any different?

In fact, there is no evidence in all of history to suggest any President of the United States has went to war for humanitarian reasons. During WWII, for example, railroads that led to Auschwitz, where hundreds of thousands of people were exterminated, were not bombed because of other military priorities (empire building) came first.

I am not alone in my questioning of this war. Support for military intervention in Libya is extremely low among Americans, because we've grown tired of endless wars and the siphoning of resources away from human needs, such as healthcare and education. Even members of Congress are suspicious of war in Libya.

Many members of Congress are speaking out, however, they are not asking tough questions. They are not questioning the morality of the situation, but rather the legality. They say the President has no authority to wage war without a vote of approval from them. They say this as if a vote by them is all that’s needed to justify a war. A debate should include, not only the question of legality, but also the morality.

They should be wondering who the rebels are or if they’ll be equally barbarous as Gaddafi. The LA Times reports that rebel forces are going door to door rounding up regime loyalists, torturing them, and imprisoning them in the same prisons once used my Gaddafi. Are these really people worth supporting?

Had this question been asked of Osama bin Laden and his thugs, who the American government supported during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan 30 years ago, the events on 9/11 may not have happened and there would be less violence in Afghanistan today. Perhaps, the government should learn from its mistakes of seeking short term solutions to conflicts, while ignoring the possibility of more severe consequences in the future. One shouldn’t be surprised if one day we are at war with Gaddafi’s successors.

Obama is wrong if he believes this will be a quick and easy war that no one notices. Even if a tyranny is toppled and violence ends, the victory will be short lived. The belief that violence is a solution in this situation will only fuels future conflicts. Violence breeds violence, and what seems to be peace will be a continuation of the very nature that starts war in the first place.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Change We Can Believe In

By Dustin Axe

As I write this, oil is gushing into the Gulf of Mexico 5,000 feet below the surface of the water. For over 10 weeks oil has been polluting the ocean at a rate of 2.5 million gallons per day. Every attempt to contain the oil has failed and a possible long-term solution will not be finished until August. I cannot begin to express how outraged I am over this. It not only illustrates how inefficient and corrupt the United States government is, but it also shows what happens when corporations are allowed free reign with no regulations. Yet, despite the actions of the government and BP, which are no doubt absolutely horrible, true blame lies with you and me.

Barack Obama was elected president with perhaps the best tagline in campaign history, “Change We Can Believe In.” It gave the impression that corrupt and inefficient government (among other things) was a thing of the past. Actions before and after Hurricane Katrina showed just how inefficient the government is and how little it cares for everyday citizens. Obama promised us something different. Gone were the days where government only cared for the interests of the Fortune 500, and here to stay is a new era of peace and prosperity that begins with the working class. While I do not condemn him for offering the notion that change is both needed and possible, the idea that it will come from a president or government agency is nonsense.

Here we are, a year and a half after his inauguration, and the government’s inability to take control of the situation in the Gulf shows just how much things haven’t changed. It would seem the government has the responsibility to use every available resource to stop the leak and protect the shoreline. Surely there is something in the Constitution about protecting the borders of the United States. As of a few weeks ago, the government has officially spent one trillion dollars on wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to “keep America safe”, but the government won’t do anything to protect our borders from an immediate environmental catastrophe. This is sickening.

I am also completely appalled by the actions of British Petroleum, but I’m not surprised. What multinational corporation cares for anything other than profit? While I have no doubt its scientists and engineers are doing their best to stop the leak, the arrogance of senior executives illustrates how the company operates as a whole. From the very beginning there has been no effort to acknowledge the severity of the spill. BP has issued false statements and underestimated the amount of oil gushing into the ocean. It clearly has financial interests in underestimating everything.

Obama recently announced that BP is responsible for paying $20 billion to cleanup the shoreline and to compensate people who have lost businesses. I believe BP should be held accountable for its negligence, but I don’t believe all the blame rests solely with them. Each and every one of us should take responsibility; after all, we all use oil.

Perhaps we all should take personal responsibility for all energy related disasters, and if we want them to change we should evaluate our lives and reconsider choices we make on a daily basis. Gandhi said, “You should be the change you want to see in the world.” Until we make an effort to change our habits by consuming less energy and start promoting renewable energy sources we only have ourselves to blame for this spill, not BP.

The same goes for war in Afghanistan. It is officially the longest war in American history and there is no end in sight. The President, under the advice of Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a Bush appointee, is sending tens of thousands of more soldiers to the region and expanding an ever increasing covert war in Pakistan. War in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan is eerily similar to Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. This is hardly change the President promised, but real change won’t come until enough individuals make a conscience decision to make it happen. If we don’t change our personal lives we only have ourselves to blame and we must accept all consequences, including war.

Michael Jackson famously sang that change starts with the “man in the mirror.” If you want change you can believe in, you must be that change. It’s up to you and me to start taking personal responsibility for the world we live in by standing up and saying enough is enough. It’s up to regular people to refuse to participate. Governments lose their legitimacy without obedient citizens, soldiers and taxes, and corporations cannot survive without workers and consumers.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Obama, Peace is Now

By Dustin Axe

By now it is common knowledge that Barack Obama has won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. Critics are looking for tangible results worthy of this prestigious award. They point out that he has merely delivered speeches and set forth changes to policies established by the Bush Administration, but that there have been no tangible results to date. Asking why he won is a valid question, especially when the President himself questions it, “To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who've been honored by this prize.” I will attempt to argue the contrary. I will argue that Barack Obama is definitely a valid recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, and I will explain that we are living in one of the most peaceful times in history.

I am in no way suggesting that Obama is somehow responsible for world peace. After all, he has had national and global attention for only a couple of years. Even though he rightfully established a time line for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, he has elevated fighting in Afghanistan in order to bring “peace and stability” to the region. Even the morning he won the Nobel Peace Prize, he met with military advisers to discuss the possibility of deploying 40,000 more troops to the region. This will only fuel terrorism and instability in an already unstable country. The philosophy that invading a country will create peace, the so-called Bush Doctrine, is ludicrous. There is a protest sign that reads, “Bombing for peace is like fucking for virginity.”

However, if one has a problem with Obama winning they actually have issue, not with Obama, but with the Prize itself. As it is defined, it is awarded to a person or organization that is in the process of resolving a conflict or creating peace. It is a symbolic award given to someone who ushers inspiration and creates momentum for a set of just causes. Martin Luther King, for example, won in 1964 for advancing equality. In no way was this goal reached in 1964, nor is it accomplished in 2009, but he definitely created momentum for a just cause. Similarly, climate change was not reversed in 2007 when Al Gore brought to light the reality of global warming, but he too created momentum for change.

Obama had taken on many challenges that definitely have not been met, but they are in the process of being resolved. He is establishing a time line for the withdrawal from Iraq, reversing policy regarding climate change, ending torture, and closing Guantanamo Bay. He has also ushered inspiration and changed the hearts and minds of millions of people. The rekindling of international diplomacy has redefined America’s place in the world and changed the attitude people have towards the United States. These are tangible results that are important during a War on Terror where hatred fuels terrorism. Likewise, he has given hope to millions of people in the United States and around the world that the past eight years are finally over; that hatemongering and terror brought to millions of people from the Bush Administration is coming to an end.

Barack Obama, without a doubt, deserves this "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.” What is more peaceful than fostering diplomacy and inspiring millions of individual people to make the world a better place? Critics are quick to point out that he has merely delivered speeches, but they forget that Martin Luther King’s accomplishments came from speeches and rhetoric alone, and Al Gore merely delivered presentations. Both of these men, however, are valid recipients, and so is Obama. What more does he have to do? After all, this is the 21st century. Even with George Bush’s War of Terror, the 21st century, put into historical context, is already one of the most peaceful times in recent history.

The Bush Administration’s decision to invade a country that did not threaten America has already cost more than a half million people their lives and millions more have developed deep seeded hatred for the United States, which will only fuel more war. But the reality is war and violent crimes have declined in the past two decades. There is merely a perception that we live in dangerous times, because information technology creates the feeling that somehow each day we are closer to danger and the end is near. We are constantly inundated with information technology that gives us a distorted impression that somehow the world is much more dangerous and violent than it really is. Our daily lives are flooded with headlines from the internet, radio and 24 hour news television. Every international conflict around the world is reported in doomsday fashion, and we hear reports and see images of every storm, child abduction, and shooting from around the nation as if somehow these are the only things taking place.

I am in no way dismissing tragedies in Rwanda, Darfur, North Korea, Tibet, or Saddam’s Iraq as less then horrible. But conflicts around the world today, taken together, do not compare with histories of the past. The events on 9/11 and conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan in the 21st century pale in comparison to Germany’s desire for world domination, the Holocaust, Soviet expansionism, nuclear armament, Stalinism, and Maoism of the 20th century. The American Civil War alone made the 19th century more bloody than anything we experience today. Two percent of the American population was killed, which would well exceed 5 million people today.

Throughout most of history societies in the Middle East, Europe, and Asia had an elite warrior class, whose trade was his or her ability to fight. When called upon, a knight or samurai, for example, would have to appear with his soldiers fully armed to defend a lord or vassal state. Likewise, every peasant or serf at one point in his life would have to rise in defense of home and hearth. Many soldiers today, on the other hand, choose to fight, not because they have to, but because they want a jump start in life. Millions of people seek more education and training opportunities by joining the armed forces. They see it as a stepping stone to a better life, not an actual way of life. This, of course, does not include millions of people in war zones who do not have the luxury of choice, such as child-soldiers in Africa. But in general, the warrior class in many societies has been replaced by a middle class that is almost entirely peaceful. Even the middle class base of the conservative party in the United States, despite their drum beating and war chanting, is peaceful. They cheer lead war from the sideline, but they do not fully believe it is worth fighting, otherwise they would join the army.

I once wrote, “We have made no moral progress towards eliminating war. Yet, war has made insurmountable progress towards eliminating us.” After spending the better part of my adult life reading and studying war and its affects on everyday people, especially the poor, I find I must reconsider this statement. Humans have not only made progress towards eliminating totalitarianism, theocracy, and slavery, but there has also been a conscious effort to eliminate war.

Why? I honestly do not have an answer at this time. It may be a positive outcome of two world wars in the 20th century. After World War I Woodrow Wilson was awarded the Nobel Peace Price for his efforts in creating a governing body, the League of Nations, designed to prevent war. Wilson was stonewalled by politicians in his own country, so the United States did not join the League, but global efforts were still being made to eliminate war. (This is very similar to stonewalling Obama’s is experiencing with ending torture, closing Guantanamo Bay, etc.) The Second World War was by far the deadliest war in history. Over 100 million soldiers worldwide were mobilized to fight on nearly every continent. Cities were firebombed, million of people were systematically cremated, and atomic bombs were dropped. In all, 60 million people lost their lives in what is known as a ‘total war’, one that completely blurs the distinction between civilian and military life. Following the war, millions of people called for the eradication of war, either through governing bodies, such as the United Nations, or through just plain international consensus.

Perhaps efforts to end war is not due to the effect of two world wars, but rather nuclear armament and high-tech weaponry developed during the Cold War. Perhaps the stockpiling of large arsenals in the last half of the twentieth century and the threat of nuclear proliferation in our time has made war far too dangerous, in terms of weapons and technology, to be treated like it has been throughout all of history. Regardless the reason, there has definitely been a shift in consciousness to end war.

Unfortunately, neo-conservatives and everyday Americans seem to be slow in recognizing this trend. For 30 years, starting with the Regan Administration, neo-conservatives have threatened world peace by recklessly disregarding cultures, traditions, religions, and governments by invading other countries. And too many everyday Americans are easily fooled into thinking these wars are justified. This is party because of the overall lack of understanding of history, particularly of WWII. The greatest consequence of that war is that it gave Americans the perception that somehow war is justifiable and profitable. Most other countries that experienced war firsthand in the 20th century see it as something that should be questioned and opposed. But even in America, war is questioned more and more. The longer Americans experience the new War on Terror, the longer they see it for what it is--bullshit. As Bob Dylan suggests, “times they are a-changin.” Merely 30 percent of Americans continue to support the current occupation of Iraq.

Yes, armed conflict will continue forever and millions of people will perish in war, many of which will be preventable. Nation states will continue to draft and conscript soldiers to create standing armies. Obedient citizens will continue to be misled into supporting war, and private armies and terrorists will continue to kill for personal gain. But more and more people will join millions of regular people who look at war critically. They will ask what we can learn from it and how we can prevent it. They will engage in nonviolent civil disobedience, such as marches, tax refusal, and active refusal to take up arms, and parents will discourage their children from joining an army. The Military Industrial Complex cannot exist without consent or soldiers.

Without soldiers the common defense would be determined by individuals, not corporations or governments. If a nation was threatened by an enemy that directly threatened its citizens it would have no problem fielding an army. Citizens would rally together, train, fight and defend their home. Instead, governments lie to their citizens to gain support for wars that benefit a small number of people and corporations. Of course war existed before the state, but today’s governments are responsible for war by letting special interests of select individuals influence decision making. A truly democratic nation that held its officials accountable for their actions and one that only carried out the will of the majority of the people would not fight in unnecessary wars.

This is why we must oppose government at all costs. But we cannot forget that war is ultimately fought by individuals who make a choice to do so. Individuals have a responsibility to disobey and oppose governments who wage unjust wars. It is up to individuals to not only refuse to participate in war, but to also treat their neighbor with respect and to help those who are less fortunate. Mohandas Gandhi said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” In other words, it is up to us to create a peaceful world. Obama recognizes this when he graciously accepted the Nobel Peace Prize by saying it is a "call to action” to create peace that does not belong to just him and his Administration; that the responsibility of creating peace does not belong to presidents or governments. It is up to individuals everywhere to make a conscious decision that war and violence is wrong.

Peace is now.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Long Live the King

By Dustin Axe

Michael Jackson is truly one of the most remarkable people to have ever lived. His life was one of flamboyant clothing and hair, bizarre behavior, mystery and controversy, and above all entertainment. His cinematic music videos, jaw dropping dance moves, and unmatched singing makes him superior to all. He really is the King of Pop. Michael Jackson is without a doubt the world’s number one entertainer of all time. Not only is he the best musician of all time, but he’s pretty good at making us laugh. He's the butt of every joke imaginable, and one can’t help from laughing when he adopted a chimpanzee or when he appeared in court dressed in pajamas. To be sure, Michael Jackson’s death came as shock to many people who have been entertained by him for decades.

I remember using a VHS to record and watch the Martin Bashir interviewed of Michael in 2003. When it was over I danced around my room and got lost in his music like I always do. I remember thinking how disturbed he was and how horrible absolute fame and wealth must be. Michael told stories about his childhood and he tried to give us insight to who he really was. He seemed to be a genuine person who lived a tragic, yet magnificent life. It’s hard to understand it.

To really understand someone you must overlook outward appearance and behavior, and instead focus on underline emotions. Michael was abused by his father and denied a childhood. He spent 90 percent of his life as an international superstar. Imagine having no childhood and being a prisoner in your own home. Imagine always being in the limelight and your appearance constantly ridiculed by your father. I’m sure this would create emotional problems for any of us. Now imagine having absolute wealth that allowed you to purchase anything you wanted. The theater, zoo, amusement park, statues, prescription drugs, and continuous cosmetic surgery are nothing more then Michael seeking earthly solutions to underline emotional insecurities.

In a world of materialism, science and money enables any of us to find these “solutions.” Do we not all alter our own appearance in one way or another and take prescription drugs that make us happy? How many of us go to tanning beds, dye our hair, and purchase things that supposedly enrich our lives. All Michael did was do it bigger and better then anyone, something he did in every aspect of his life. He may seem bizarre, but in a way, we are all Michael Jackson.

I have always been a Michael Jackson fan, and I have always defended his bizarre behavior and criminal accusations. He was a self proclaimed Peter Pan who loved binging around children partly because he was denied a childhood, and partly because children didn't ask for money or tell him what to do. We’ll never know for sure if he ever cross the line with those boys, but we do know he tried to help disadvantaged and sick children. This is evident though his music and charity work, and in a sense he was a role model for these children. How many performing artists do illegal drugs, carry guns, and abuse spouses? Michael never did any of this, so let us remember him, not for his faults, but for his intentions.

Michael Jackson’s death is an event people will remember. As I am writing this there are millions of fans waking up all around the world who are hearing for the first time that he is dead. He is one of the most well known people to have ever lived, and people are already comparing his death to Princess Diana's. When I saw an internet headline that read “Michael Jackson goes into cardiac arrest” I immediately thought nothing of it. This is coming from a guy who wears a germ mask, walks under an umbrella no matter what the weather is like, and who sleeps in hyperbaric oxygen chamber. I thought this was Michael being Michael. Unfortunately, he passed way today, June 25, 2009, from cardiac arrest. He was 50 years young. I am absolutely shocked.

The world lost an icon today. I remember growing up watching Michael Jackson videos in the 1980's, and I remember his 1993 Super Bowl halftime show as if it were yesterday. His music career dwindled in the 1990's, because of a personal life full of lawsuits, trials, plastic surgery, divorce, and scandals. I always paid attention to his trials and I kept up on tabloids. I laughed and shook my head at his antics, but I always remained a fan. In 2001, I remember waiting for months for his newest album, Invincible, and hours before it was due out I was dancing to “Billy Jean” and “Smooth Criminal” in my dorm room. I went to Wal-Mart in West Lafayette that night and I had it in my hands at midnight. I had to get employees to open the boxes. I wasn’t alone.

As a good friend of mine, Mark McCormick, put it, Michael Jackson makes music come to life. This is so true. Personally, I have no musical talent at all. I can't sing, dance, or play an instrument, but I always find myself lost in his music, singing and dancing, wishing I had talent like him. I attempt to do the worse moonwalk you’ve ever seen, but it’s fun as hell!

His death comes a few days before a scheduled tour in July 2009. Lets be clear here, this wasn’t a comeback tour. It’s important to remember that MJ has never left. His music has always been here and it always will. There are millions of people all over the world who absolutely love his music and millions more will discover it after his death. He is the most influential and successful entertainer of all time. Michael Jackson will NEVER die.

Rest in peace.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The War on Terror

By Dustin Axe

President Obama has repeatedly regarded Afghanistan as the top priority of his foreign policy agenda. As a consequence, there has been an escalation of fighting in the region and increase concerns about advances by the Taliban into Pakistan, as well as untold civilian deaths. On May 6, 2009, over 100 innocent people, including children, were destroyed by U.S. war plans. Total deaths could reach 200. If so, that would make this single act of terror the most deadliest since the start of the campaign to topple the Taliban in 2001. By shamelessly killing innocent people, the United States has brought nothing but more terror to a country wrecked by war for over 30 years. Author Noam Chomsky wrote, "There is no flag big enough to hide the shame of killing innocent people ."

In his book, The Audacity of Hope, President Obama writes, “I wonder, sometimes whether men and women in fact are capable of learning from history--whether we progress from one stage to the next in an upward course or whether we just ride the cycles of boom and bust, war and peace, ascent and decline." He wrote this just before he expanded the war in Afghanistan, where the armies of Alexander the Great, the British Empire, and the Soviet Union threw in the towel. I agree with the President; Americans are ignorant of history, and so is he.

Just what is the “The War on Terror?” The U.S. spends billions of dollars on high-tech weaponry and it sends soldiers all over the globe to wreck havoc on the world in order to defend itself against loosely organized bands of terrorist. According to FOXNEWS footage, these terrorists train on monkey bars and practice leapfrog, a child’s game. The Bush Administration claimed these individuals hate freedom and democracy. Yet, these terrorists appear to be targeting military and economic symbols of U.S. hegemony around the world--the World Trade Center, embassies in Africa, the U.S.S. Cole, and basically anything associated with the Pentagon, including the Pentagon itself. This should be a clear message that these so-called terrorists do not hate freedom or democracy, rather they hate U.S. global occupation.

Millions of people, not just Islamic fundamentalists, but good-willed people all over the world, dislike America, largely because of our military influence. We are the most militaristic country, above and beyond everyone. Of the 121 nations evaluated for the Global Peace Index in 2007, America is ranked 96, between Yemen and Iran. The United States has 700 military installations throughout the world and over 310,000 military personnel stationed in 120 countries. How did it come to this?

For the last half of the 20th century the Military Industrial Complex was justified by a cold war with the Soviet Union. This included nuclear armament and endangering the world with nuclear proliferation--the U.S. has enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world five times. It also included building bases and stationing troops in satellite nations around the world and fighting wars in Korea and South East Asia.

But a brief review of the history of our new “War on Terror” reminds us that much of our problems in the Middle East are a direct result of twenty-five years of failed foreign policy, dating back to the Reagan Administration. Reagan's cabinet gave billions of dollars in aid and military support to Saddam Hussein when Iraq was actively using chemical weapons against its own people; armed and trained Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan; funded and trained terrorists in Central America; and ended the Iran-Contra scandal by secretly selling weapons to Iran.

The Reagan administration triple the national deficit in only eight years party due to the $2.5 trillion spent on the military, which is more than all the money spent on the military since the end of World War II. Some pundits and historians claims this helped win the Cold War. Though, many believe it was more Soviet reforms then anything. Either way, the Cold War ended and millions of people gained freedom. However, the way it was done has given us our problems today. Not only did the Reagan administration break the law, but it provided arms and created alliances with terrorist networks and brutal dictators all over the world.

Unfortunately, the same men who served under Reagan for eight years, also served under George Bush I, and they serve George Bush II. Rumsfeld, Rice, Powell, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rove, etc. all played major rules. These men and women are opportunists with no moral convictions. They find quick military solutions for the moment, and in the process they recklessly disregard cultures, traditions, religions, and governments of other countries involved, ultimately creating even bigger and more global consequences for the future. Twenty-five years of failed foreign policy has given us new problems involving the same names today: Saddam Hussein, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Osama bin Laden.

U.N. sanctions in the 1990's, implemented by the United States, deprived innocent people of medicine, water, electricity, and basic necessities for life. This cost hundreds of thousands of innocent people their lives in the 1990's under the Clinton administration. The current occupation of Iraq has killed more then a half million people.

Currently, the War on Terror further warrants a massive military budget and global military occupation. America spends well over $400 billion a year just to maintain the military during peace time. Add another $500 billion or more for the War on Terror. For 2008, President Bush requested between $600-$700 billion, including money for wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Adjusted for inflation, these current wars have cost more than every war in American history with the exception of World War II.

The War on Terror is based on preemptive war on countries with abundant resources that have little to nothing to do with Islamic fundamentalism. In order to justify war in Iraq the Bush Administration lied to the American people leading up to the war's beginning in March 2003. He repeatedly said there were WMD's in Iraq and a direct link between Saddam and 9/11. Finally, in June 2009 former Vice President Dick Cheney admitted to these were lies by saying, "I do not believe and have never seen any evidence to confirm that [Hussein] was involved in 9/11. We had that reporting for a while, [but] eventually it turned out not to be true."

If the United States was engaged in a “just war” with clear objectives and enemies that were directly threatening its citizens it would have no problem fielding an army pumped up on nationalism. But, instead, these wars are unjust and based on lies, so President Bush had to lie to the American people, as well hire private military companies, such as Xe, formerly known as Blackwater Worldwide, to maintain occupation.

In short, the War on Terror has been completely fabricated. It is nothing more then propaganda justifying an interventionist foreign policy all around the world, used by corporations to increase profit and to protect international finance capital. The words, “War on Terror”, are nothing more than propaganda used by leaders to justify an endless war that benefits corporations. Throughout all of history when pharaohs, kings, emperors, caesars, and presidents speak about “national security” and protecting “our interests” they are really talking about protecting the economic interests of the rich. The interests of Haliburton and ExxonMobil are not the same as the interest of average Americans. Michael Moore was right when, during his 2003 Oscar acceptance speech, he said, “We live in a time where we have a man sending us to war for fictitious reasons.”

Further analysis of the War on Terror reveals that most acts of terror are carried out by domestic terrorists. Ironically, they are often by right-wing, Christian fundamentalists, such as the Ku Klux Klan, which has been terrorizing, lynching, murdering, and intimidating blacks, Jews, and immigrants for over a hundred years. Not only did the government not protect victims of violence from the KKK, but it actually participated in state sponsored racism and violence. Unfortunately, a black president, a poor economy, and continuous non-white immigration has led to more and more domestic acts of terror. In the first half of 2009 a prominent abortion doctor was assassinated in Kansas and a neo-Nazi, white supremacist stormed into the Holocaust Memorial Museum with a rifle and opened fired on guards. These terrorists, along with the likes of Timothy Mcveigh, are from the radical Right, but be sure, the Left has produced domestic terrorists, as well. Ted Kozinski, the Weather Underground, and the Earth Liberation Front are only a few. The point is most acts of terror, both past and present, have been carried out, not by Islamic fundamentalists, but by Americans.

If America chose to work on things humanely and bilaterally, we would be in a position to rule the world--peacefully. If America was a kind "global citizen,” by waging peace on the world, we would no longer be feared and hated; we would be loved and respected. America would have a peaceful say in everything countries do, and we could lead a “community of power” against tyranny and hate. And if Americans chose to rule justly and democratically within our own borders by treating all our citizens with respect we would have less problems here at home. Instead of wasting a 1 trillion dollars in Iraq while levees break in New Orleans, steam pipes break in New York, and bridges collapse in Minneapolis we should insure that all Americans have affordable housing, retirement plans, health insurance, adequate schools, and unemployment relief. This is real national security in a time of economic hardship.