Ferguson grand jury verdict probably not racist, but policing strategies and judicial system are

According to Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson, the altercation that led to him pulling the trigger of his gun and killing Michael Brown last August started when either Brown or his friend said “Fuck what you have to say.”

Let’s be clear: everyone in the United States has the right to say “Fuck you” to a police officer. I’ve done it myself a time or two, and every single time, the police officer has stood there passively and taken it, or returned the conversation to the subject, likely my jay-walking or breaching of a police barrier.

Now at the point at which Brown or his friend “fuck-you’d” Wilson, no one had committed a crime. All these kids had done was walk in the middle of the street instead of on the sidewalk, something I remember doing all the time when I was a teenager in Miami, Florida.

There seemed to be no reason for the interaction to turn into an altercation, just as there seemed to be no reason for the altercation to have turned into the killing. We can only imagine the deeply felt emotions both Wilson and Brown must have had inside them that spurred this deadly incident.

But as no crime was committed and Wilson proved clueless as to how to cool down the situation, he should at the very least have lost his job or been suspended for using poor judgment. Except for one thing—hassling Black youths is a tried-and-tried-again police tactic throughout the United States. Everywhere it seems as if young Black men have targets on their backs when it comes to being stopped in the streets by the local constabulary.

Our indictment should start then not with Wilson, but with the Ferguson police department and the exceedingly racist if widespread idea that hassling young Black men helps to prevent crime.

As to the grand jury, I’m inclined to believe that the members did a proper job of weighing the evidence before them and that they bent over backwards not to reach a knee-jerk decision in favor of Wilson. But even if the grand jury appears to have come to a proper decision given all the evidence, Michael Brown remains a victim of institutional racism. Even if the grand jury had indicted Wilson for manslaughter, Brown would still be dead, still a victim of a system that treats minorities and the poor much more harshly than it treats whites and rich folk.

The protests in the wake of the decision not to indict were thus not about the decision not to pursue a criminal case against Darren Wilson. The uprisings, both those planned and those spontaneous, were about the system that routinely produces police shootings and beatings, virtually always of minorities.

Sadly, since the Michael Brown case there have been incidents of police shooting innocent bystanders in Los Angeles, Cleveland and New York. In the Cleveland case, a child was killed after he pulled out a fake gun. In a New York case, someone late at night in a public housing complex entered a darkened stairwell at the very moment a rookie police officer was walking up the steps. The police officer saw the body—but no gun—and shot. In what looks like a complete whitewash, the New York police department is calling it an “unfortunate accident.” Funny, the panicking rookie still had the presence of mind to shoot to kill. In fact, the ironic but tragic coincidence in all these cases is that the police officers are good enough shots to kill but not good enough shots to hit the leg or arm or in some other way disable the victim. Perhaps police departments should not teach their officers to shoot to kill.

There is of course the possibility that the incidence of police violence is actually low when you take into account the large number of guns on the streets and the crime rate, which by the way has been falling steadily for the past 25 years. For all we know, a hypothetical study might prove that the number of police killing of innocent victims was actually quite low. That still wouldn’t explain the fact that the innocent victims are almost always minorities.

To say that more African-Americans are involved in violent altercations with police because more of them commit crimes is a crude lie based on a misreading of statistics. More whites than Blacks commit crimes, just as more whites than Blacks are on welfare. Even if the percentage of criminals is higher among Blacks than whites (to be expected since there are always more criminals among impoverished groups), there are still more white criminals committing more crimes.

So how come the victims of these police shootings or other acts of violence such as death by chokehold are virtually always African-American? For the same reason that I can say “fuck you” to a cop after crossing the street on the red and my African-American male friends (all professionals and graduates of Ivy League or Ivy League level schools) routinely get stopped by police while driving their late model cars by for absolutely no reason.

It’s called racism. And people of all social, ethnic and racial backgrounds are sick of it. That’s why people protested last night and why they’ll return to the streets next time a police officer mistakenly kills an African-American, be it by gunfire, chokehold or beating.

Should we mourn end of the American holiday of Black Friday or celebrate new holiday of Black Friday Week?

How long is Black Friday? A day? A weekend? A week?

Now that American retailers have freed themselves from the taboo against shopping on Thanksgiving, Black Friday can mean anything one likes. With more and more stores offering discounts and revving up advertising right after Halloween, the holiday shopping season threatens to consume the entire fall, much as the harvest, processing and storage of the crops used to do before the industrial revolution. Instead of sickles, threshers and canning equipment, we wield credit cards and smart phones.

I wonder how traditionalists feel now that Black Friday sales begin the Monday before Thanksgiving and earlier? Do they miss the week-long anticipation of a one-day bacchanalia of shopping bargains and surging crowds? Do they sob in dismay as presales drain the true meaning out of Black Friday—the official kickoff to a month-long potlatch of buying and consumption? Or do they embrace the greater opportunity for celebration, as the de facto number of shopping days swells? Perhaps some even welcome the expansion of Black Friday, as it swallows Thanksgiving and diminishes the imperatives of that competing holiday of an older culture. After all, why should a family meal impede the imperatives of consumer culture?

All facetiousness aside, I find it fascinating to see how different vendors are approaching the start of the holiday shopping season now that the rigidity in start date imposed by the obligations of celebrating Thanksgiving has eroded. I applaud the many national retailers such as Costco, Marshall’s, Barnes & Noble, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom’s and Burlington Coat Factory who are staying closed on Thanksgiving. I wonder if they ran the numbers and realized that keeping the doors closed for Thanksgiving does not cost them any overall sales. I’m sure they have happier employees, and happier employees are usually more productive.

Walmart has opened its doors on Thanksgiving for almost 25 years now. It currently intends to treat Black Friday like an invasion—phasing in different sales events as if they were deploying tank divisions to breach a border at several points. At the chime of midnight on Thanksgiving, Walmart starts a blitzkrieg of sales on its website. While Walmart will have its doors opened all day Thanksgiving, it will offer a round of special sales at 6:00 pm and another at 8:00 pm. Then comes the main event—the traditional 6:00 am Black Friday opening with its own set of special sales.

Walmart, by the way, is far from the only retailer to desecrate Thanksgiving. Macy’s, Kmart, Sears, Penney, Target, Kohl’s and Best Buy are just a few of the many national retailers who think they can make extra bucks by getting a head start on the holiday shopping season.

For my household, Black Friday week started when the mail came today, and we saw the New York magazine holiday gift guide—551 gift suggestions ranging in costs from one penny to $4 million, virtually all of which are completely frivolous and inessential. Some of the more conspicuously useless of the gifts under $50 include “Yoga Joes (G.I. Joes doing Yoga instead of waging war), an evil-eye key chain, a bottle of water from the so-called fountain of youth, Japanese KitKat bars, socks from the tailor who supplies the pope and a banana slicer.

Unlike the traditional magazine gift guide, the New York guide is an interactive tool. All you have to do is download a free app and then scan the image of the products you want to buy by holding “the smartphone steady 4-6” away from the printed page and let your camera focus until you hear a chime,” as a full-page ad in the publications tells us. The third step—since it’s as easy as one, two, three, like everything else in the dreamland called American commerce—is to buy the items from the e-commerce page.

We somehow finagled a year’s free subscription to New York, but some people are actually paying money to get this special issue, which conveniently arrived on the first day of the new American holiday of Black Friday Week.

I must have somehow become an obstinate old codger. I proclaim the virtues of diversity all the time, and yet the diversity in Black Friday celebration that we currently have by the various national churches of commerce such as Walmart, Macy’s and Costco leaves me uneasy. I find it unseemly that in generating Black Friday Week we are naming a week after a day. I also wonder what meaning there can be left in the shared traditions of camping out overnight, pushing together to break through a logjam of people and sending different family members with lists to different departments or stores—all the fun stuff we associate with Black Friday and remember from our childhood—all of it must lose some meaning knowing that you could have picked up the same hand-held computer or hot toy earlier in the week. I should instead marvel at the fact that in the United States, you have so many options for buying meaningless crap—that is provided, you have the money.

LOL or COL (crying out loud).

Bill Cosby will once again be a beloved comedian, but only after his death

Once over the initial shock of learning that Bill Cosby probably raped multiple women in a particularly disgusting manner, my analytical side took over and I began to wonder if it will ever be possible for Bill Cosby to rehabilitate his reputation.

He and his handlers have been trying to address the mounting negative publicity by denying the accusations and stating that Cosby dealt with them decades ago. Cosby’s aggressive protestations aren’t washing with the public, though, mainly because so many women are now announcing their own horror stories—and unfortunately, it’s all the same story: Cosby gives her something to drink and she wakes up with her clothes off or under Cosby’s mount. At this point Cosby is hurting himself by not coming clean, admitting he had (has) a problem, asking for everyone’s forgiveness and going into therapy. Of course, his denials may be keeping him out of jail.

Cosby’s behavior is totally reprehensible, in the category of a Jerry Sandusky, and for the same reason—the victims were helpless and unable to consent. What Cosby did strikes me as extremely bizarre. You would think that a successful comedian and television star could avail himself of any number of willing women of any shape, size, age, education level and color his heart desired. He must have liked having sex with the inert body of a passed out woman, someone totally passive and unresponsive. And he must have liked the trickery involved, the idea that he was getting something over on the woman. Totally sick and pathological!  I am certain I’m not the only one who hopes that there is a way to prosecute Cosby for his repeated rapes.

But I’m not writing this column about Cosby the rapist, but about Cosby the brand.

First and foremost, he will not be able to rehabilitate himself with the public until he does a public “mea culpa” and goes through the motions of rehabilitating himself. In the age of social media and 24/7 news, the story has gotten so big now, that he can’t hope that it will blow over and that things will soon return to normal as far as his career and reputation go. To win back his public, Cosby must take action and that action must be to come clean.

Once “rehabilitated,” I would imagine that some network or production company would take the chance that the public will have gotten over their revulsion and would be willing to see Cosby in a TV special, movie or new show, especially if some of the profit went to a nonprofit organization involved in helping raped or abused women. Some contemporary Chuck Barris might even want to produce a reality show that tracks Cosby as he goes into deep psycho-therapy. It never pays to overestimate the intelligence and good taste of the American public, but I believe that drugging and raping multiple women over years is a particularly heinous set of acts, and I don’t imagine an attempt for a Cosby comeback would succeed. While we have seen the public accept Michael Vick, Bill Clinton and Mark Sanford, what Cosby did was much worse than killing dogs or having an affair. Thus, even if he underwent a picture perfect rehab, he would still be poison with the public for any new work.

But the old stuff—that’s a different story. Once Cosby “rehabilitated” himself through a public apology and therapy, I don’t think most people would have a problem watching old episodes of “I Spy” or “The Cosby Show” or listening to some of his best-selling records again.

If Cosby digs in and never admits his sins, he may die alone under a thunderstorm of rebukes from an angry public, but his past performances will still be around. The initial news of his death will likely spur TV stations to replay the reruns from decades back. After that, I believe the public’s perception of Cosby will soften again, just as it is starting to soften for Joe Paterno. I don’t see rehabilitation in death for Cosby, but rather the reconfiguration of the various parts of his story. The rapes will become a small dark footnote, exactly in the same way as Joe Paterno’s lack of action when he first heard about Jerry Sandusky’s perversions is becoming a small dark footnote to his larger story of football glory.

The public tends to render the lives of past heroes and villains into short symbolic statements, almost like branding statements. The Einstein brand is the absent-minded physicist whose discoveries changed the world. The Babe Ruth brand is the undisciplined but awe-inspiring slugger who loved kids. These quick descriptions conceal a multitude of both sins and good works—we get neither Ruth’s whoring nor his speed on the bases. We miss Einstein’s political stands and his personal life, which was tumultuous at times. None of this detail survives in the public eye.

The one-sentence brand biography of Cosby a decade after he dies will likely be “one of the most popular TV actors who was a trailblazer for Afro-American actors and produced and starred in one of the very best and most important TV shows of the 20th century, but he also had a dark side.”

In other words, the Cosby reputation will probably weather the storm and the owners of the Cosby reruns can rest easy that sooner or later, they will start minting money again.

But Cosby the living man? As the saying goes, he’ll never work in this town again. And if there’s justice in this world, he’ll be doing his next standup routine behind bars.

America digs deeper into Middle Eastern quagmire—a headline that could be written at any time over past 50 years!

One comment on National Public Radio this morning should jolt anyone into an epiphany about the brutal absurdity of the United States foreign policy since at least World War II.

When asked about the attitude of Syrians regarding the prospect of U.S. help to fight ISIS, a Syrian photographer answered that Syrians were either confused or angry. His main point was that it was difficult to understand why America held fire when the regime killed 200,000, but are acting when ISIS has killed two or three thousand.

The crimes of Assad against innocents seem much greater than those of ISIS, even if ISIS does a better job of instilling fear into westerners. But is the horror of five or six beheadings of professionals who willingly put themselves in harm’s way more compelling than the brutal murder of 200,000 people?  When we start asking that question, it sends us sliding down a very slippery slope: Why didn’t we invade China after Tiananmen Square or Russia during its genocide by famine against the Ukrainians in the 1930s?  Why haven’t we invaded North Korea lately? Why aren’t U.S. troops all over Africa? Clearly ending brutal repression has never really been a priority for U.S. foreign policy, except when we can use it to support other ends.

In seeking an explanation of why we are fighting ISIS but not the Baathists (at least not yet), let’s start with a beautiful example of circular reasoning. Some assert that we are more concerned about ISIS than Assad because Assad’s Baathist government is at least recognized and legitimate. Of course how do we then explain going after Saddam Hussein in 2003?  Since the Bush Administration always knew Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction nor ties to Al Qaeda, the most logical answer (if not very logical)—and the one the Bush II Administration finally settled on years later—was that the Iraq war was an exercise in nation-building in a country dominated by an intolerable tyrant. Here the circle closes upon itself as we are left asking what’s the difference between Saddam and Assad?

Of course, there are some compelling cynical answers to the question why we are going after ISIS when we held back from bombing Assad’s military positions, including:

  • Russia, Saudi Arabia and/or Iran don’t want (or until recently didn’t want) Assad taken down, whereas virtually every country dislikes ISIS.
  • We can’t get the approval of our allies to go after the Syrian regime, but they’re happy to go after the beheaders.
  • We can’t afford another big war.
  • The ISIS threat is of a perfect size to test some new weaponry and guarantee steady work for military contractors, whereas a war against Syria could quickly deteriorate into another Iraq or Afghanistan.

Another reason pundits give for going after ISIS is because it has also grabbed land in Iraq and we have a responsibility to assure a stable government in Iraq. The odds that ISIS could have swept into Iraqi territory without there first being 10 years of war are minimal. In a sense we created ISIS, so shouldn’t we be responsible for eradicating it?

That rationale unfortunately assumes that the United States could fix the problem at this point, but can we? We poured trillions of dollars (and sacrificed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives, plus about five thousand of our own soldiers) into toppling Saddam Hussein, waging a civil war and installing an ostensibly democratic government, which soon descended into suppression and cronyism. Do we propose to spend that money again and hope that next time a unified representational government takes hold? Or do we just incise and drain the ISIS abscess and assume that once the beheaders are gone, the Iraqi political situation will suddenly calm down? Fat chance! It’s more likely that another group will arise that will either take territory or commit frequent terrorist acts.

If the United States really wants Iraq to return to stability, it will have to pull completely out and stay out, and then stand on the sidelines and watch a period of often violent jockeying by the various political factions. This transitional period could last months or years and could result in the formation of a stable if fragile democracy, the establishment of a Saddam-like dictatorship or a splintering of the country into three parts (reflecting the ethnic and city-state organization of the territory from ancient times).

If we really want to help the Iraqi and the Syrian people, we will make it as hard as possible for these various factions to procure weaponry. Of course, disarming the various factions in just about any country in conflict might prove counterproductive to what I believe is a central tenet of American foreign policy: to make the world safe for American arms manufacturers.

Obama’s aggressive announcements since the elections: Is he courageous or in the endgame of wimping out?

On the surface, it seems as if progressives should applaud the actions of President Obama in the wake of his devastating repudiation by 36.3% of the electorate. Instead of hiding in his man cave for the next two years, he has set or tried to set national policy in three important areas.

By coming out in favor of net neutrality, announcing a climate change accord with China and broadly overhauling the immigration enforcement system, Obama has in two weeks advanced the progressive agenda as much as he did over the past four years (or since the passage of the Affordable Care Act). He has taken a lot of flak from Republicans on net neutrality and global warming, but it looks as if the GOP is going to hold its fire on immigration, fearing a backlash from Latino voters.

Progressives could easily quibble about each of these presidential initiatives: He doesn’t go far enough when it comes to immigration and global warming (although maybe he went as far as he could and stay within the prerogatives of the executive branch of government). And although he is explicitly supporting net neutrality, he did appoint the current head of the Federal Communications Commission, Thomas Wheeler, who wants to end net neutrality and allow Internet service providers to charge different prices for different levels of upload and download speed, in a sense cordoning off the Internet into “first class” and “third class” sections.

My complaint with the President runs deeper, and I pose it as a question: If Obama had made these forceful executive actions before the election, would it have energized his constituencies and led to a larger turnout of Democratic supporters, thus enabling the Democrats to keep the Senate and make inroads into the GOP’s house majority?

We’ll never know, but a lot of circumstantial evidence supports the contention that the Obama Administration and the Democratic Party made very poor strategic decisions regarding the 2014 election cycle. Exhibit One is the fact that progressive initiatives passed all over the country. Exhibit Two is the post-election consensus that the vote, and lack of voting, was anti-Obama as much as pro the positions that Republicans favor.

All we saw and heard of Obama’s performance in the mass media in the weeks before the election was negative: the ostensibly botched responses to the threat of Ebola and ISIS. The media over-exaggerated both of these threats and tended to cover the Obama Administration response to both in largely negative and unfair terms.

But what else did they have to write about? Certainly announcing his support of net neutrality one week, a new accord on global warming the next, and a new more humane immigration enforcement policy the week after that would have filled the newspapers with articles about Obama acting boldly—and Republicans dumping on him in areas where surveys suggest the public holds the President’s views. At the very least, moving on these issues before the election would have crowded out some of the bad news, since the media has only so much time and space to fill. More importantly, it might have also given many of the people who stayed home from the polls a reason to vote.

We’ll never know if the untaken road would have led to victory, but we do know that the Democratic strategy to have the President hunker down and have candidates distance themselves from the President did not work. Instead of appealing to its base, Democrats chased voters who were likely going to vote Republican no matter what. It’s a strategy that has never worked in the past, and it didn’t work in 2014.

Whom can we blame for the fact that 63.7% of the public didn’t vote, besides the nonvoters themselves!

Who are the 63.7% of the population who didn’t vote in mid-term elections this year? That’s the highest percentage of people to sit on their hands on election day since 1942, when poll taxes and voting restrictions prevented a significant part of our population—all Afro-American—from voting throughout the South and in other parts of the country.

I want to sort out the nonvoters, not demographically, but by the reasons they didn’t vote. The Internet is full of chatter about why people stayed home, in most cases giving undue weight to the one element that proved whatever point they were trying to make. I haven’t seen a survey, but I’m sure that significant numbers of citizens didn’t vote for the reason I’m about to discuss.

Let’s start with the slew of state laws that make it harder to vote because they shorten the voting period, make it harder to register, require more documents to register or require identification to vote. Certainly some part of the difference in the percentage of voters from this election and the mid-term four years ago stems from the fact that it was harder to register and to cast a ballot in many states. But in 2010, an enormous 58.2% of all eligible voters exercised their right to stay home from the polls. If we take a broad axe to this data, we come up with an explanation of why about 5.5% of the eligible voters stayed home: because new voting laws restrained or kept them from voting, a handsome price to pay indeed to try (emphasis on “try”) to prevent a repeat of the less than ten cases of voter fraud that have occurred across the nation over the past 30 years.

But what about the other 58.2% of the eligible who didn’t vote? Why did they stay home? Here are the standard impediments to voting:

  • Was ill: Some number of voters always miss voting because they happen to be ill that day or have long-term illnesses that affect their ability to make voting decisions.
  • Couldn’t get off work: It’s criminal that all employers of all sizes aren’t required to give citizens three hours to vote on election day. Keep in mind, though, that a goodly number of those who couldn’t get time to vote lost options for early voting because of new laws limiting it.
  • Disillusioned by the system: These people figure that it’s a fixed game and they just don’t want to play. It’s very difficult to argue with the disillusioned, especially given the record of the last 35 years in which our elected officials have repeatedly enacted laws and policies that harm 99% of the population but help the super-wealthy and large corporations. On the other hand, this year’s referenda favoring higher minimum wages passed in every municipality given the chance to vote on the issue. To a great extent, then, the disillusioned are perpetuating their own chagrin by not voting.
  • Never votes in nonpresidential years: It’s an enormous group. Over the past two presidential elections, an average of 40.1% of eligible voters stayed home; during the last two off-years, 60.95% of voters stayed home. Using a blunt axe again, that computes to a little over one fifth (20%) of all eligible voters who only vote in presidential years.
  • Have never voted: Say what you will about poverty, a lack of education, language barriers and upbringing, the mass media barrages us with so much information about elections, that it’s very hard not to blame those who have never voted—they are hurting themselves, and they are hurting others. Of course, a conservative of the Platonic or Burkean ilk would say that it hurts the body politic when uneducated or unprepared people vote (which for most of recorded history has meant those without property). I can’t agree with their logic. But when I’m wishing for laws that make it easier to vote and media that cover the real issues, I also wish for an electorate that believed more in civic virtues such as voting (plus serving on jury duty and whistle-blowing).

Those who are disillusioned, only vote for President or have never voted don’t realize how much power they could potentially wield. Here’s why: Most votes are extremely close, and that was certainly the case in 2014. In fact, virtually all newspaper reports, opinion pieces and think-tank whitepapers since the beginning of the republic have labeled as a “landslide” every election in which one candidate receives 53% of the vote. Of course, the news media and their owners have a vested interest in maintaining overall political stability, which is why the bar is set so low for landslides. For most of the ruling elite, having a stable election that produces a consensus is more important than who actually wins; especially nowadays when candidates of both parties feed so luxuriously at the troughs of big and often shadowy donors.

Think of it, though. More eligible voters stayed home this year than the number of voters it would take to declare a landslide in favor of a candidate.

It’s a shameful record.

Yes, blame the Kochs and other right-wingers for bankrolling those who tell the lies they want the country to believe. Blame the news media for trivializing the election. Blame state legislatures for restrictive voting laws. Blame Obama for suddenly being so unlikeable (a new euphemism for Black).

But let’s not forget to blame non-voters.

Our worst fear should be an accommodation between President Obama & Republican legislators

Typically I would take with a grain of salt the consensus analysis of the midterm elections: that the voters repudiated President Obama. But it’s hard to come to any different conclusion when you dig into statewide and local initiatives, which show a landslide for social and economic progressives. From medical marijuana to gun control to higher minimum hourly wages, the left side of the issue won most of the votes.

Thus many people in a sense “split the ticket” by voting with Democrats on particular issues but against the President.

Obama has certainly had a bad year, some of it of his own making. Saying that the Administration had no plan to combat ISIS was a big PR mistake—a Romneyesque (Romneytic?) moment from which he never recovered. He should have just shut up until he had a plan. Not having a plan is how we roll. In the 21st century: not having a plan didn’t stop the United States in Iraq or in Afghanistan. Most Americans don’t realize yet that U.S. foreign and military policy is going to be the same no matter who is president—we’re going to keep having these small wars so we can keep paying the defense contractors. No one who isn’t with that program will ever have a chance to become president, given the current structure of both parties and the election finance laws.

But the head of the Center for Disease Control had no business apologizing because one hospital in Texas screwed up treating an Ebola patient. What did he hope to gain, unless he is a secret Republican who wanted to throw more gas on the editorial flames?  The CDC and all health institutions have been doing a wonderful job keeping Ebola out of the population. The news media keeps us scared, but the government health agencies have kept us healthy. So why apologize?

I’m not saying Obama has been a great president, but he doesn’t deserve the disapprobation he received in the news media and among politicians before the election, and I don’t think he would have gotten it if he were white. Over the years in Pittsburgh I watched several African-Americans do average work in highly visible jobs and get fired after replacing whites who had done average jobs for decades. The most egregious case was the Pittsburgh Board of Education who fired an African-American superintendent for his plan to downsize the schools and then praised his successor—a white—for taking the same plan and implementing it. I have to think that the same standard applies in many if not most regions across the country.

It wasn’t just an insidious kind of racism that swung the mid-term elections to the Republicans: most of the key races were close, and in many states such as Wisconsin there were new laws restricting the right to vote. Even where court decisions had stopped enforcement of these laws, the publicity must have discouraged many citizens from voting.

Let’s also not forget the power of money. Large corporate interests and the Republican Party hammered voters for weeks with anti-Obama nonsense. ISIS and Ebola. Ebola and ISIS. You saw it in rightwing news coverage. You saw it in political ads. You saw it reported as part of the centrist balance of mainstream news media. Ebola and ISIS.

What’s next has been a subject of great speculation in the mainstream news media. Everyone seems to be rooting for a true coming together of the President and the Republicans, but it’s what I fear the most. The President has shown himself ready to capitulate just to get a deal. I could see him go for Social Security reform that cuts benefits, raises the retirement age and allows people to privatize their Social Security investment, while not lifting the cap on the income that’s assessed the Social Security tax. I could also see him agreeing to a deal that lowered corporate taxes and cut more social welfare, education or infrastructure programs.

What’s so odd about this election is that even though it signified a resounding repudiation of President Obama, Democrats still received more votes than Republicans nationwide. That bodes well for whoever the Democrats nominate for President in 2016. Of course by that time, the team of Republicans and Obama may have done a lot of damage that it will take the country years from which to recover.

Let’s hope that the Republicans and Obama can’t agree on anything and that gridlock continues—at least until 2016.

Foreign Affairs writers all learn the same thing from recent wars—unfortunately, it’s how to fight future wars

The current issue of Foreign Affairs exemplifies one of the most common of all propaganda devices: selection of possibilities. It’s a simple yet powerful tool for fooling people: you say you’re going to get experts to discuss an issue, but all the experts either agree or agree with some highly nuanced differences. The audience gets the idea that the discussion has covered the waterfront, when it fact it has only analyzed one narrow possibility.

Foreign Affairs is the highfalutin quarterly journal in which political science professors, think tank gurus, government officials and other hired hands of the ruling political elite argue foreign policy strategy. The first part of the current issue focuses on what we as a nation can learn from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as far as military and foreign policy goes. Funny thing is, though, all we learn from the distinguished panel of six foreign policy experts is how to fight wars more effectively or efficiently in the 21st century. The broader questions of whether we should be fighting wars is never asked, because the viewpoint of all the panelists is interventionist, by which I mean they all want to intervene in the affairs of other countries through the use of military force.

Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations starts things off with a statement of befuddled frustration: “If only a nation as powerful and vulnerable as the United States had the option of defining exactly what wars it wages. Reality, alas, seldom cooperates.” To Boot, not being able to define the war means one thing only: being forced to fight non-traditional armies, such as al Qaeda or IS. Boot gives us a number of tips for waging these wars, all learned from the Iraq and Afghanistan fiascos, such as: be prepared to occupy the country after we win; don’t assume the best case scenario; do better strategic thinking; do a better job of managing mercenaries; and train troops for more than just short conventional operations. At no time does Boot question the idea that we will have to fight these wars. He assumes we will and will do so with mercenaries. He just wants us to do a better job of it.

Richard Betts, director of a foreign policy institute at Columbia University, advocates that the United States fights fewer wars but do “more decisively, erring, when combat is necessary, on the side of committing too many forces…” Betts also wants us to stop “fighting in places where victory depends on controlling the politics of chaotic countries” and focus military planning on fighting wars against great powers. Betts says that we are living in an era of permanent war, but evidently wants us to focus our militarism on China and Russia.  It’s not so much that Betts thinks the so-called small wars in Iraq and elsewhere have been worthless but that they have not prepared us for “bigger wars for bigger stakes against bigger powers.” What that means, by the way, are wars in which not thousands but hundreds of thousands of Americans die. By the way, it’s rare when the loser of a war does not descend into the kind of chaos Betts wants us to avoid in our opposition.

Rick Brennan, a political scientist at the private think tank, RAND Corporation, reviews in detail the events that led to and followed the departure of U.S. troops (but not U.S. mercenaries) from Iraq at the end of 2011. His article lists the lessons we should learn from what he sees as the bungling of the exit from Iraq. It was inevitable that such an article would appear from the day that the troops hit the ground in 2003. Chaos, partisanship, terrorism and revolt were going to be the fate of Iraq no matter when we cleared out our troops, be it 2011 or 2121. That’s what happens when a country cobbled together by outside forces loses its strong man. It happened in Yugoslavia. It’s happening in Syria. And the United States made it happen in Iraq. It’s an endgame predictable to anyone in the reality-based community, which unfortunately never included those who started the war. I think it took a lot of guts on Obama’s part to stick to his pledge to get the troops out of Iraq, even though he knew what would likely ensure. He didn’t pass the buck down the road so that the next president—or the one after that—would be left holding the bag when Iraq disintegrated after U.S. forces left.

What is most interesting about Brennan’s article, though, is that he never mentions learning the lesson not to invade. No, his teachable moment from the exit from Iraq only concerns exiting dirty little wars that destabilize countries, thus assuming we’ll be fighting more of them.

An article by Daniel Byman of Georgetown and Jeremy Shapiro of the Brookings Institute next warns us not to overreact to the threat of Islamic extremists living in western countries immigrating to fight for IS. After telling us why the threat is overblown, the good professors propose some changes to make it harder for would-be IS fighters to leave their respective motherlands. It seems like a small-bore article for a special segment dedicated to the big issue of learning from past wars. When we think of the number of innocent civilians killed, injured or displaced in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, the problem of a couple of fanatics making their way into the IS ranks seems trivial.

Finally Peter Tomsen, a former U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan, reviews three books about the bungling by all sides of the Afghanistan war. At the end of the article, Tomsen expresses a fear that, once all U.S. troops vacate Afghanistan, the country will descend into a full-scale civil war. Of course it will, just like Iraq has. That’s what happens when you break something and try to put it together with spit and string. It falls apart as soon as you set it down.

None of these distinguished scholars considers for even one paragraph an alternative to the military imperialism that we have called our foreign policy for decades now. They all take it for granted that we are going to get into wars. They are just trying to make sure that we’re fighting the right wars and that we win them quickly and with a minimum of hassle. No one ever considers that maybe we shouldn’t be fighting any wars. Certainly the last several we have fought have had no strategic value to us—unless we somehow improve our safety and access to raw materials by throwing one of the major oil producers into permanent disarray. These esteemed gentleman all take it for granted that we will need to fight wars to protect our political and economic interests in the future and that these wars—or at least most of them—are just and necessary.

Readers can come away from the pages of Foreign Affairs thinking that they have learned every imaginable lesson they can from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflagrations. But in fact, readers will learn nothing but the ways of military imperialism.