Thursday, August 24, 2006

Reprehensible Free Speech on Myspace

A dubious petition is circulating around Myspace.com, an increasingly popular online community. Members of Myspace are up in arms about a new social group titled "F--- the Troops" and their goal is to get it banned. It goes without saying that "F--- the Troops" is reprehensible, misguided, and incredibly juvenile. The people trying to get it banned, however, are equally reprehensible because they are trying to violate the free speech of other individuals.

Noam Chomsky, a famed linguist and internationally recognized critic of U.S. foreign policy, once captured the substance of this petition's disregard for the right of free speech:

"If you believe in freedom of speech, you believe in freedom of speech for views you don't like. Goebbels was in favor of freedom of speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you're in favor of freedom of speech, that means you're in favor of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise."

This quote illuminates the spirit of free speech. We must consider all speech, except for libelously untrue statements against private individuals, to be free. A lot of speech is undesirable, but who decides what is or is not acceptable? Who has the right to make these decisions? The Founding Fathers were equally concerned about these questions and that is why they enshrined free speech in the very first amendment of the Constitution.

But the Founding Fathers could not anticipate a disturbing new development in our society that makes the enemies of free speech on Myspace and elsewhere so dangerous. The First Amendment only guarantees protection from government interference on free speech, not from interference by private individuals. Take make matters worse, American courts consider corporations to be private individuals and this definition allows them to deny real citizens of their right to free speech.

Just as parents can bar their children from speaking curse words, a corporation like Myspace can censor its members. This problem is compounded by the fact that media ownership is being continuously consolidated into the hands of only a few corporations like News Corp, the multi-billion dollar empire that owns Myspace, FOX News, and a myriad of other news outlets.

Sure, the government can't take away your freedom of speech, but a few very powerful individuals controlling the media can.

This should not be construed as alarmist rhetoric. People have been fired from private corporations for their political opinions and the oppression does not stop with McCarthy. Just one example is a woman named Lynne Gobbell who was fired from her Alabama job in 2004 because she had a bumper sticker in support of John Kerry on her car. She attempted to sue for discrimination, but the courts upheld that corporations have the right to censor their employees in such a way.

Anyone who truly believes in free speech should be appalled.

Gobbell's firing may have been legal under U.S. law, but that doesn't make it right. Those who believe in free speech don't fire individuals for their political preferences, nor do they attempt to ban undesirable groups from internet service providers. Americans better grasp this concept soon or else the ever-growing influence of corporations could ensure that the First Amendment becomes as irrelevant as the "F-- the Troops" group was (before it started getting all of this attention).

Kevin R. Watkins is a political writer dedicated to advancing a left-wing perspective of international and domestic issues. Visit his weekly "Left Side" column at www.blogspot.kevinrwatkins.com

Distribution is greatly encouraged.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Joey Lieberman, King of the Wild Fallacies

The misery was appalling. Over 19,000 men, women, and children were removed from their homes at gun point and forced to march 1,200 miles to an unknown land. Many died, but all suffered.

Known as the "trail of tears," this horrific injustice was inflicted by the United States government after being championed by Andrew Jackson and the Democratic Party.

But one congressman dared to defy the wishes of his party's establishment. Congressman David Crockett of Tennessee vehemently resisted the Indian Removal Act of 1830 and committed political suicide in the process. "Several of my colleagues got around me, and told me how well they loved me, and that I was ruining myself," recalled Congressman Crockett in his autobiography. "I told them it was a wicked, unjust measure, and that I should go against it, let the cost to myself be what it might."

That cost was the loss of his seat in Congress shortly after he voted against the removal of Indians from their native lands.

Over 170 years later, another Democratic member of Congress is taking a moral stand against his party's establishment. Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut is standing by his vote for the invasion of Iraq despite the fact that most Democrats now accept reality and oppose the war. Like Crockett, Lieberman is paying the price -- he recently lost in the Democratic primaries to anti-war candidate Ned Lamont.

This defeat, however, is where the similarities between Lieberman and Crockett end.

Crockett took a moral stand against one of the greatest mistakes ever committed by the American government. Lieberman, on the other hand, is taking a moral stand in favor of another grave mistake committed by the American government -- a mistake which is costing the lives of countless Americans and Iraqis.

The disaster resulting from Lieberman's "moral stand" may be the reason why he hasn't accepted defeat as gracefully as Congressman Crockett. Whereas Davy saw his defeat as a badge of honor and retired gracefully from politics with the knowledge that he would be proven correct by history, Lieberman can't be certain of the wisdom of his moral stand.

American soldiers are dying in Iraq's wild frontier and there is no end in sight. Lieberman can't "cut and run" like Crockett because the very nature of his "moral stand" is in opposition to withdraw. How could Lieberman retreat from certain defeat after asking thousands of Americans to hold the line against equally hopeless circumstances? History does not look kindly upon hypocrisy. But then again, history does not look kindly upon losers either.

Crockett left for Texas after his loss in Congress and met his fate at the Alamo, making him a prime candidate for immortality via the Walt Disney media empire. Lieberman is also heading towards an untimely demise, but his Alamo may become the Democratic Party if he continues to run as an independent. With his candidacy, the Republicans stand a good chance of taking his seat and may, as a result, retain control of the Senate. But that's OK for Lieberman -- his ego is more important than his party and his political ambitions are more important than the well-being of American soldiers and Iraqi citizens.


Kevin R. Watkins is a political writer dedicated to advancing a left-wing perspective of international and domestic issues. Visit his weekly "Left Side" column at www.kevinrwatkins.blogspot.com

Distribution is greatly encouraged.

Friday, August 11, 2006

The Pitfalls of Light Saber Diplomacy

"I have no interest in diplomacy for the sake of returning Lebanon and Israel to the status quo ante," states U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at a recent press conference about Israel's invasion of Lebanon. "What we're seeing here, in a sense, is the growing -- the birth pangs of a new Middle East."

In other words, Israel's wholesale destruction of Lebanon's civilian infrastructure is somehow just the afterbirth of peace and democracy in the region.

Condoleezza is crazy.

The logic behind her quote is reminiscent of something Darth Vader once said. After knocking Luke Skywalker to the ground in Cloud City, Vader pleaded with Luke to join the dark side, proclaiming, "With our combined strength, we can end this destructive conflict and bring order to the galaxy."

Condoleezza bears little resemblance to Vader, but her foreign policy utilizes logic better left to the dark side. Peace is possible in the Middle East just as it was possible in the galaxy, but it doesn't take a Star Wars nerd to figure out that it can't be imposed at the end of a light saber -- err -- laser-guided bomb. Peace cannot be created with violence and, if it could, the resulting number of civilian casualties would be unacceptable.

Fortunately, there's a new hope for peace and democracy in the region, but it doesn't emanate from the militaries of the U.S., Israel, Hezbollah or Iran.

Dozens of nonviolent movements for democracy are rising up in the Middle East:

-- A nonviolent rebellion in Lebanon, referred to as the "Cedar Revolution" in the West, succeeded in sweeping Syrian troops out of country and ousting pro-Syrian Prime Minister Omar Karami last summer. A new and more democratic government came to power, but Israel allowed only one year for this upstart democracy to eradicate Hezbollah, a 24-year-old guerilla movement. Unfortunately, Israel's ongoing temper tantrum is putting this young democracy at risk of suffering a crib death.

-- A movement in Iran known as the "third force" is not yet as organized as their counterparts in Lebanon, but their numbers are growing fast. Composed mostly of students born after the 1979 Islamic revolution, the third force has organized massive demonstrations for democracy since the 1990s and recently made global headlines after the death of one of its leaders. Former student Akbar Mohammadi died of a hunger strike in prison last week, but even though his martyrdom escaped the attention of most American media, it will likely inspire Iran's growing ranks of youth -- 26% of its population is under the age of 14.

Individuals such as Mohammadi, the third force, and participants in the Cedar Revolution constitute millions of would-be Skywalkers in the Middle East. Armed with an understanding that a "new Middle East" can only be created with nonviolent uprisings from below, these brave dissidents need the U.S. to act more like Yoda and less like Vader. Condoleezza must insist that Israel halt its destruction of Lebanon's fledgling democracy, rethink our (mis)adventure in Iraq and offer sincere support to millions in the Middle East who dream of toppling the emperors who dominate their countries. This is the only way to achieve peace in the Middle East because not even a Death Star can impose it from the outside.

Kevin R. Watkins is a political writer dedicated to advancing a left-wing perspective of international and domestic issues. Visit his weekly "Left Side" column at www.myspace.com/theleftsidecolumn

Distribution is greatly encouraged.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Bill O'Reilly's Most Benevolent Teachers

Bill O'Reilly has a good point -- kind of.

"The terrorists can do pretty much anything without the world condemning them," notes O'Reilly on a recent show. "The truth is that hatred, not compassion for civilians, is driving these hypocritical demonstrations [against Israel's invasion of Lebanon]."

This is partially true. Recent protests against Israel's invasion of Lebanon are far more numerous than protests against Islamic extremists, but it's not because "selective outrage is being used to advance the cause of Islamic fascism."

That's just silly.

True, there's a loud minority of anti-Jewish sentiment within some demonstrations, but the imbalance is caused by other factors:

-- Nothing is gained by protesting against Islamic extremists. Demonstrations are usually organized to either change the opinions of others or to change government policy. Protesters in Europe and other Western countries don't have to change the opinions of their fellow citizens concerning the topic of terrorism and their governments have already spent billions of dollars chasing Islamic extremists from Afghanistan to Iraq. There's nothing for protesters to demand except for a change in tactics, which brings us to the next point.

-- Many demonstrators are protesting against the U.S. and Israel specifically because they are concerned about Islamic extremism. Most humans have something connected to their spinal chord and realize that the invasion of Iraq has caused more terrorism than it prevented. Many protesters are rightfully dismayed to see tactics that failed in Iraq being applied in Lebanon.

-- Countries such as the U.S. and Israel are rightfully held to higher standards than Islamic extremists. The U.S. was the first country to entrench human rights in a constitution, Israel exemplifies civilization's victory over fascism, and the world watches more American movies than Roger Ebert. Thus, people are appalled when our self-professed "shining city on a hill" and our Israeli allies bomb civilians, crucify prisoners and engage in other sordid acts of nefarious behavior. Atrocities are expected from Islamic extremists; not from "the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world."

-- Speaking of freedom, the U.S. and Israel endure a disproportionate share of protests precisely because of their democratic traditions. It is unlikely that a violent cult dwelling in Afghan caves will be moved by global demonstrations against their behavior. Representative democracies, however, are more likely to be swayed by mass demonstrations against their policies.

Brainless idiots like O'Reilly should view the imbalance of protests against U.S. and Israeli policy as constructive criticism, not hatred. A chapter of the Tao Te Ching illustrates why:

"A great nation is like a great man:
When he makes a mistake, he realizes it.
Having realized it, he admits it.
Having admitted it, he corrects it.
He considers those who point out his faults
as his most benevolent teachers.
He thinks of his enemy
as the shadow that he himself casts."

The Chinese philosopher Laozi wrote these words over 2600 years ago and they remain pertinent. The U.S. and Israel must defeat Islamic extremism, but victory requires the assistance of the world's citizens. This support will come only when these great nations begin acting the way great nations act.

Kevin R. Watkins is a political writer dedicated to advancing a left-wing perspective of international and domestic issues. Visit his weekly "Left Side" column at www.kevinrwatkins.blogspot.com Distribution is greatly encouraged.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Man in the Mirror

President Bush was recently caught on tape at a G8 summit in Russia stating, "The irony is what [the United Nations] need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this s--- and it's over."

Bush's stated plan for peace in the Middle East is, however, hypocritical and ironic. Syria and Iran's support for Hezbollah is unacceptable, but the great musician Michael Jackson unintentionally highlighted the hypocrisy of Bush's statement in his "Man in the Mirror" song:

"If you wanna make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and then make a change."

Jackson may have to heed his own advice, but his understanding of world affairs is better than his ability to return to his past greatness. The reflection in our government's mirror is stained because, not unlike Syria and Iran, the U.S. continues to provide funding to groups just as hideous as Hezbollah.

The Saudi government, a tyrannical monarchy described by the 9/11 Commission as a "problematic ally in combating Islamic extremism," is kept in power as a result of our government's support. The U.S. sold over $22 billion worth of military equipment to the Saudis between 1997 and 2004 and gave similar aid to other Arab monarchies.

The Guardian reported in January, 1999 that the United States aided groups in Afghanistan that went on to found the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Over $500 million worth of aid went to their predecessors during the 1980s, allowing over 12,500 terrorists to be trained in camps built by the CIA.

Oops.

Countless examples of such hypocrisy could turn this column into a laundry list of human rights faux pas, but couldn't these miscues be written off as mistakes committed in the past? Hasn't our government learned its lesson? Indeed, Bush admitted in a November, 2003 speech to the National Endowment for Democracy that "sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe because in the long run stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty."

Unfortunately, Bush's words are once again out-of-sync with his actions.

In March, 2005 he authorized the sale of twenty-four F-16 fighter planes to Pakistani President Musharraf's military, apparently forgetting that Musharraf blasted his way to power six years earlier in a bloody coup and now controls a small arsenal of nuclear weapons.

Arms sales like this and our government's continued romance with oil-rich monarchs in the Middle East ensure that stability will continue to be purchased at the expense of liberty.

Terrorism must be defeated, but a "do as I say, not as I do" foreign policy won't create stability anymore than it will create liberty. President Bush and his successors must start looking at the man in the mirror, discontinue their support of democracy's enemies and start supporting the myriad of democratic movements that are now growing in the Middle East. Continued reliance on the region's despots not only lessens our credibility with Syria and Iran, but also puts weapons into the hands of people whose concern for American security compares to Michael Jackson's concern for the safety of children in his bedroom.