New American Tribalism and the Rise of Trump

It would generally be unfair to say that a Donald Trump presidency will be the end of the world barely a couple of weeks into his administration. Traditionally we would reserve this hyperbole until after the first hundred days. And to rush for the hills before he’s had the opportunity to showcase his presidential side, separate from his campaign persona, would not only reduce our credibility, but it would also make most of us look naively partisan, or worse, Donald Trump.

But if we are to move past the animosity in today’s America, a country deeply divided in mostly everything including what the definition of truth is, and begin the “peace talks” that will hopefully lead to a reunification of the country—an outlandish sentence that would fit better in a Korean or Israeli-Palestinian context—we must, first of all, be sincere about the source of the rift. This is a noble endeavor, necessary for world stability. But it’s a process that will be slow and painful. And one that will most likely worsen our situation before improving it.

The absurdity of this past year’s presidential campaign has left many wondering if everything we know about the world is wrong. After all, it wasn’t long ago that the narrative of experts like Nate Silver and institutions like the New York Times prepared us for a monumental win that would never come.

To the awe of pollsters, scientists, journalists, behavioral experts, politicians, and three million more people than those who voted for Trump, he not only managed to walk away with the grand prize, but Republicans took every piece of the government with them. The result was a humiliating defeat that banished every Democrat from the local-party level up into the cold, with their tail between their legs and licking their wounds. An outcome we’d all been assured was next to impossible. Instead of hopeful, that depressing narrative we remember would come to serve as a cautionary tale for the future.

So was Trump’s upset-win a failure of statistical math or an over-dependence on “predictive” polls? Was it a big “fuck you” from an estranged lower-middle class; or was it a highly organized ruse to exploit the weaknesses in our political system?

It’s painfully obvious now from our obstinacy to consider unlikely outcomes that we can’t discount any possibility, no matter how improbable. Thus, if Trump truly is some sort of Machiavellian savant who concocted an airtight plan to disestablish the establishment, then it’d be more than fair to say that he succeeded magnanimously not only in fooling the opposition, but even many of his supporters as well.

However, with the benefit of hindsight in mind, it seems that the “Trump Phenomenon” offers a much simpler and much more sinister explanation. One that is grounded in years’ worth of evidence about who Donald Trump is, about changing social attitudes, and about deep political divisions that are wider now than ever before. This analysis is not meant as a standalone post-mortem. It’s written as a supplement to everything we already know: the Democrats’ failure with the lower-middle class population, Russian intrusion, political corruption, etc.

Whether you’re skeptical to Trump’s abilities in either direction, it’s the past few weeks, and specifically the past few days, that tells us the most about what this presidency will be like. It’s in these few days that his moderate-supporters are now realizing what his opponents are being reasserted about, that Trump has no dimension other than the one he displayed on the trail.

Starting with his cabinet picks—which seem more like a concerted effort to undermine the very institutions they are appointed to serve—to his infantile Twitter rants, to his micro-management of every battle no matter how insignificant, to the petty, incessant lies, the choices the president has recently made point to a trend that is much more likely to continue. Aside from the few campaign promises he’s managed to enact into legislation through executive orders (the most of any incoming president on the same time period), there’s a more obscure aspect to his presidency that is worrying, specifically his disregard for expert opinion, his obsessive preoccupation with his popularity, and his readiness to spar with whomever disagrees with him in the slightest degree.

In a bizarre turn of events, Trump has even managed to briefly alienate the same intelligence community that he’ll have to rely on to expand the powers that his predecessor established, which more than likely he will. Admittedly to see two traditionally reciprocal institutions so publicly at odds is worrisome to say the least. It seems clear now that the strong-arming of Trump by the 17 different intelligent agencies and governmental departments involved in the Russian-hacking investigation, was meant as a message that Trump continually failed to grasp or resisted to do, which was simply to read between the lines and roll with the punches to put the whole thing to rest. In the end, in order to maintain his baseline support, he caved.

The aim of investigations, headed by the same institutions that failed to protect American autonomy in the first place, were not meant to change anything, and until now have been only slightly revelatory. Of course, it’s not the job of the intelligence agencies to change public policy. But it’s the nature of the investigations that do reveal a lot. First, by being primarily a product of public outcry, not of internal inquiry. And second, by exposing Trump’s demagoguery.

Now, ten days into his administration—predictably the most unpopular in record time—he continues to defy the logic of presidential governance by appointing White House Chief-Strategist Stephen Bannon to head the National Security Council, a post usually reserved for high military roles, such as the Chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff. Whereas before any intention to reorganize this cabinet-level department was widely criticized, this time the voices of opposition are silent. However, as reviled as Bannon is by nearly everyone who knows him, he does share the same qualifications to chair the NSC as Donald Trump does to the presidency.

These moves fly over the heads of the fiscally responsible Christian Republicans who just approved a wall that would cost anywhere from $15-25b, and who are more than content to deny entry to visa-holding travelers from Muslim majority countries, excluding Muslim countries Trump has business ties to. After all, he did just win them all three branches of government.

But what does this say about the American public who voted for an”unconventional guy”? It matters to know for two important reasons. One, because unconventional is not necessarily a good thing. Especially in a job, like the presidency, where predictable conventionality is mostly always an asset not a liability. And two because these conclusions say even more about Trump’s base than they do about him.

We can guess as to how the establishment will react. However, for his most ardent supporters, which compose a little less than half the country, the ends, necessarily, justify the means. The irony is lost in some of them when they are confronted by the reality of his style, much in keeping with the opposition and establishment they abhor, which seems, as always, diametrically opposed to people’s attitudes.

A scary-enough prospect considering that in order to pass a lie as truth, truth has to mean absolutely nothing.

This behavior doesn’t grow out of nowhere. It is directly the byproduct of manufactured convictions, the same which have been employed by religious extremists for thousands of years. Unfortunately, in this climate we currently live in, where untruths are allowed to fester and grow like bacteria in the petri dish of ideological bubbles, no one wins. And although one side bears most of the fault, both camps are guilty of this behavior.

Comedian and political commentator Bill Maher has said as much in his show Real Time, noting that Liberals like himself had done the country a disservice by yelling wolf one-too-many times in accusing Republicans and Conservatives of being the harbingers of doom. Equally, Republican and Conservative commentators like Glenn Beck have accused Democrats and Liberals of the same. Now, in light of the potential danger that Donald Trump signifies for the democratic process, both commentators have expressed regret about the role they’ve played and agree that in the end it is the American people who will, once again, suffer the most. But they come too little too late. The American people are through listening.

The end-result is that the country has become desensitized at a very critical moment. Years of mistreating the truth has caused tribal polarity among those who ascribe their allegiance to a group or party, rather than country; and, it has caused people to be much more cynical, more fundamentalist, more unprincipled, and less inclined to search for the truth. This means that seasonal societal clashes that a healthy nation needs to advance progress, are not happening due to the safe-spaces that both sides have created for themselves. Bubbles of animosity that are already bursting with disastrous consequences. In short, we’re fighting each other and disengaging from reality at the same time.

This is by no means a new phenomenon. Ideological conflicts have always occupied a space where strong claims exist, which politicians have always been willing to exploit. The difference between today and say, 1930s Germany (a time many compare to today) is that the abundance of information has made it much harder for anyone to excuse their ignorance on lack of resources. But with new solutions come new problems. The main factor being that sifting through the mud to find the gold-nugget of truth is now proving to be more time-consuming than ever due to misinformation. Add in the eternal unwillingness of people to engage in conversation or even agree on the basic rules of public discourse and it makes the situation worse. Conversations of unanimity depend largely on a compromise to define truth in a post-truth world. The good news is that post-truth can easily be eradicated if we are willing to. The bad news is that we can’t even agree on this compromise.

Unfortunately tribal polarity is not the only side-effect of vilifying the opposition. Acclimation to hate rhetoric is an even more corrosive adverse effect.

As of November 2016, 77% of Americans were convinced that the country was divided. Comically enough, respondents in that same poll were just about evenly split on whether Trump would be a uniting or dividing force.

So most people agree that America is in terrible conflict. But in trying to analyze the situation most people can’t seem to agree where the problem is. Most Democrats agree that the problem starts from the top-down, with our politicians and financial institutions being too powerful and oligarchic. Most Republicans think it’s from the bottom-up with people not being willing to accept personal responsibility and by blaming their problems on others. But as Americans, people seem to be incapable of accepting uncomfortable truths when they see them, or unwilling to compromise their views when they don’t serve their interests. When confronted, most people retract to what they know instead of inspecting the claim. And really who could blame them when it has become increasingly difficult to stay objectively informed.

This doesn’t mean there are no reputable sources to follow, only that they’re hard to find. It’s only logical to assume that in the absence of a trustworthy solution people will resort back to what their familiar with, their tribes.

Donald Trump found a behavioral loophole in our social construct and benefited from it. His opportunistic nature to seize on weaknesses, which has made him a very successful businessman, has also given him the tools to create a narrative right out of a mediocre political thriller. Whether he believes it’s in his own interests or the country’s, his imaginative, although simple, mind devised all the plot-elements necessary to make it work. He created an antagonist and a conflict, and then he alone provided the hero and the solution. Sadly, it is the very real weakness of an antiquated system that provided the twist, and people abandoned by the system bought into this narrative wholesale.

It is an absolute truism that Trump lost the popular vote by nearly three million votes. Yet now he claims, without any factual basis, that he lost it because of staggering voter fraud. As embarrassed as we are to have to watch his tantrums on national TV, there’s no doubt that the king believes his case wholeheartedly. And who are we to contradict him?

From the actions taken during his first days in office, it is obvious that the president is more than willing to use his powers against those who swim against the tide of the official line. The imposed gag-orders on all federal agencies even remotely opposed to the president’s philosophy, especially on environmental matters, and the convenient “alternative facts” provided by the administration point to that direction.

Yet even still, no one seriously wants Trump to fail in the general sense just to spite him or his supporters. What the country also doesn’t want is for Trump to succeed in abandoning reasonable governance for the benefit of the doubt—or the ruling party’s interests. Nonetheless, this is the direction we’re headed.

Paradoxically enough, the virulently obstructionist actions of this new administration are now motivating Republicans, the party of small government, to exert more government control, while forcing Democrats to fight to reduce its size. An ideological flip that hasn’t happened since the early 20th century.

In the end it’s up to the people to be cognizant of the fact that representatives are a product of their communities. And we, and we alone, are responsible of forming our own criteria by analyzing opposing and supporting points of view. This makes the very important point that to resist the power of the president is not un-American. It’s perhaps the most American thing there is.

To pre-emptively trash Trump based on nothing but personal convictions is both wrong and irresponsible. To resist him based on established behavior is wise and necessary. It’s possible that this falling plane will stabilize as time goes by. But based on what we’re witnessing today, we wouldn’t be wrong to predict a recurring pattern, one in which Trump creates monsters out of kittens to frighten the children who will in turn hand him all the power he needs, just as we did with Bush. Whatever the future holds, the answers  will never be found in the comfort of tribalism. As a society, Americans would benefit from using distress as a scaffold toward rationality and political centrism.

So to say that Trump is the worst thing that can happen will undoubtedly turn away people who might just be willing to have an honest conversation. But seeing the alternative to a rational presidency, we would be remiss not to be at least a little worried for the future. A future that while we may be inaccurate to classify as dystopian, it’s also now a bit less utopian than what we’d been working for.

Many, including myself, still hold out hope that Trump will find wisdom behind the same desk where Abe Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt sat. His supporters already see him as one of the greats, though obviously with a different set of problems. His opponents, however, remember that the presidency has also produced the likes of Harry Truman and Richard Nixon. Two of the most flawed and unpopular presidents in American history who were not only socially closer to their constituents than Trump is to his, but also much more learned in political theory than Trump is.

Whatever our destiny may be, it’s in everyone’s interest to heed the wise words of author and inspirational speaker Denis Waitley, “Expect the best, plan for the worst, and prepare to be surprised”.

American Choices

Noam Chomsky once wrote that the United States is a one-party political system called “The Business Party” divided by two factions which we call the Democrats and the Republicans. This Business Party is called so because despite the wide ideological divides concerning many social, political, economic, and philosophical issues, both factions essentially cater to interests that finance them to secure special favors which often times work against the collective benefit. These special interests place profit in the highest of pedestals, far above any other material thing including and especially the environment and, not controversially, life itself.

Although the fringes are easy to identify, it is the conventional that we should be worried about. Not because they make bad choices difficult to see, but because they make them easy to pick. These choices stand before us in the form of our two current contenders for the presidency, the most unpopular in decades.

A few days ago 80 million Americans tuned in to watch the first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Although Clinton currently holds a small lead over her Republican rival, the country seems to overwhelmingly disapprove of both by historical margins. But despite American bewilderment as to how we have to come to be in this situation, and the public’s reluctance to elect what they believe is “the better of two evils,” there is a very logical narrative that explains just how we ended up in this debacle.

Unfortunately to say that it’s the work of ‘power’ is too broad an explanation to properly cover the specific complexities that make this system what it is. So to try to understand these choices, I will try to narrow this diagnosis into five main points of contention.

At first it might be difficult to see how this ties to our candidates. But what you must realize is that to understand the background and the motivations behind the systems that cultures these choices, and the systems that benefits from it is to understand the candidates themselves, where they came from, and what they represent. And what they represent is more than the parties they are part of and the people they claim to fight for. The reality is that they are working parts in a dysfunctional system that no one can fix because no one truly understands.

Capitalism and Democracy: A Marriage of Convenience

A good place to start is by defining Capitalism as it pertains to our way of life politically, socially, and economically. Since Capitalism currently controls how we live, perhaps it’s a good idea to properly know what it is and what it does.

Capitalism is a term best defined by comparing it to current competing economic systems, and more importantly against the best elements of itself. Placed in a political context however, it’s easier to see the many ways, and the few important ones, in which the system has influenced, in this case negatively, the politics of a nation.

I am well aware of how socially expensive it can be to talk critically about Capitalism in the United States, especially considering the near-religious fervor it still carries from the days of the Cold War, a time when it was absolutely imperative to defeat Communism, a system just as exalted by the other half of the world. Therefore, to start a conversation about the failings of Capitalism in the context of American politics I ask that you do two things: know that there is a difference between Capitalism and Democracy, and that you suspend your biases and prejudices to allow for a more open and rational conversation.

Having said all that, let it be known that I’m neither a Communist nor a Capitalist. I espouse certain Socialist principles only within the parameters of a free society, such as the one that, admittedly, Capitalism and the Constitutional Democracy in which we live have formed. But I also recognize that Capitalism, like everything else, operated unchecked and without any sort of regulation will eventually turn from a deliverance of tyranny into a tyranny itself by means of economic slavery.

Capitalism is a system of economy that places the means of production in private hands rather than the state. The vast differences between Capitalism and Communism are many and obvious. The main one being that Communism, although logical in theory is impossible in practice. If properly defined, Communism could only work if society willingly agrees to become a united global community in all its aspects. Any other form of Communism that is not its true form will inevitably cause it to become overly restrictive to the point of infringing on personal rights and freedoms. We saw it with Communist Russia in its 70-year failed experiment and we see it now with Communist China where Capitalism in the country has become the de facto economic system while remaining politically Communist.

Although it sounds like Capitalism should be a threat to the state because of its purchasing power, it’s in fact a threat to society itself. Instead of rivaling state power, Capitalism is rather a marriage of convenience between markets and the state. In this union everyone  who can afford to play wins, provided that markets are allowed to operate freely with minimal state intrusion. While everyone else loses.

But given that both Capitalism and Democracy share the ethos of political and economic freedom, to draw a line between the two is a much harder thing to do. The problem is not semantics. It is rather the innate talent of Capitalism to take advantage of the human condition that humans will seek freedom where there is restriction, even if there is a structured system already built in place. The talent here is that it sells economic freedom with the caveat that social freedom should not infringe on markets. This makes “freedom” an expensive proposition–hence the “freedom is not free” apothegm–to the very people who can’t afford it. It’s no surprise to see then than even in Capitalist utopias there have been a variety of labor movements against corporate power and state intervention that have ended up imposing regulations on both corporate power and the state.

Business and Ethics: Incompatible Partners

When I use the phrase “freedom is not free,” my intention is not to conjure images of soldiers fighting off enemy troops in foreign soil to protect our rights. Rather I speak of developing nations whose politics are not fertile enough to accept Capitalism such as we’ve adopted it in the industrialized world, but whom, through coercion, are forced to accept the system to align themselves with the Western-style Democracy. Historically–meaning during the Cold War–this pressure was applied in two forms, militarily and/or economically. But the same meaning can be applied in our own land where citizens have been conditioned to believe that the alternative to Capitalism, whatever that may be, is worse. Ironically the effect is more pronounced in some of the most impoverished communities in the country where local economies are not just lacking, but in some places nonexistent. The pressure in these communities is applied a bit differently though, in the form of politics. But I’ll come back to this.

Due to the nature of free enterprise, profit is the justification for the evils of Capitalism, be it environmental destruction, economic disparity or classism, and even gross disregard for human rights.

In the case of the physical state of the world, the environment is on the brink of collapse. Unfortunately there are very few in positions of power that will touch on the issue head on. As for the rest, this conversation is put in the backburner or not even discussed at all in fear of losing profit and corporate support. In the U.S. is what we refer to as a “football issue,” or an issue that gets passed back and forth without any significant advantage. Despite the fact that there is an overwhelming amount of evidence to support the fact that the Earth is warming faster now mostly as a result of human-made causes, this is one of the most controversial subjects to discuss in a legislative capacity. Both Republicans and Democrats, mainly Republicans but also Democrats in a lesser degree, are fiercely adamant to enact legislation to curb greenhouse gases, regulate the fracking and fossil fuels industries, and support alternative-fuel initiatives.

I make a slight distinction between the parties here because Republicans are the main beneficiaries of fossil-fuel money and climate-denying industries and individuals. Their Conservatism, which is aligned with absolutist free-trade philosophies has created a party that is not concerned at all with environmental issues.

If the U.S. is behind most of the industrialized world in the race to slow down global warming is only because fossil fuel industries spend billions yearly in well-crafted strategies to lobby Congress to roll back regulations, while simultaneously preventing alternative-fuel industries from ever developing.

The gist is that dividends will be paid to workers, stockholders, and the local and national economies, in payment of social and environmental deterioration. And in many cases even economic, which is counterproductive to the whole ideal. Basically short-term profit is the end-game.

It’d be fair at this point to note that Capitalism does promote competition and progress. But in the erosion of an equally free society protected by a political system such as a strong Constitutional Democracy, this fair competition will eventually erode into economic feudalism.

Although Democracy encourages change and the adoption of the best principles of economic and social security with the precondition that all members of its society be able to practice their rights freely, in some Democratic countries Democracy itself gets in the way of Capitalism when it is restricted to act naturally. That’s what makes Capitalism, in all its glory, so depressing to accept. In a comical twist of fate, generational ideologies will allow markets, free enterprise, and profit to affect the very freedoms that protect those ideologies to the point that they are limited. And again, it is the ardently loyal who will be the most affected.

In a few words, Democracy is not synonymous with Capitalism. In fact it is in the best interest of Democracy to restrict Capitalism in order to survive in the long run.

I am obviously generalizing and condensing a lot of complexities that go into forming a viable society out of chaos, especially with the fusion of two revolutionary governing and economic systems that sparingly existed in one form or another throughout history, e.g. Democracy and Capitalism.

But strictly speaking  in the context of the second half of the 19th century and all of the 20th century, after regulations were imposed by Roosevelt and subsequent presidents, Capitalism in the 1970s and 80s was given a gift in the form of economic and political deregulationThe erosion of the latter then caused the erosion of the former. A barrier that clearly cataloged and separated political contributions made by corporations was torn down and allowed public servants, who would otherwise be entirely accountable to their constituents, to be accountable only to their financiers.

This obviously added pressure and had an adverse effect on communities, large and small, but mostly on the most impoverished communities I spoke about earlier, by applying a combination of predatory economics, local political forces through vested interests, religious alliances, campaigns of fear, and other political maneuvers.

For example, in the poorest areas in the nation, mainly in the Southern part of the United States (colloquially known as the “Bible Belt”) local Republican policies have decimated the region economically. And yet, despite the damage that the fusion of powerful religious interests that aligned with the party in the 90s and unhealthy free-market and Conservative ideologies astoundingly, the South continues to elect Republican candidates to public office.

Although Democratic-held states tend to fare better socially, Democratically-run cities do see a mixed view of income inequality. Nevertheless, very powerful interests that sell to both parties continue to influence policy at every level of government. At the moment we can see it in president Obama’s push to pass the newest trade agreement, the TPP, which if adopted by all twelve signatories, would give unprecedented power to global corporations. The fact that both presidential candidates, as unpopular as they are, consider the TPP to be a very imperfect form of legislation can tell us that this isn’t just politics, it’s a reflection of the public’s fears.

Adding insult to injury, not only have wealthy donors and individuals been allowed to tip the scales with their contributions, but their industries have been bulking up with the ranks of politicians who act on capacity of mediators between them and Congress, consultants, or executives. Even worse still are the appointments of industrialists and executives as department-heads to regulate the very industries they are part of and lobby for.

One could make the argument that as a free society people can be allowed to serve on public office if they so choose to, if they have the capacity to, and if they are elected democratically. Furthermore, as experts in their industries they add specific inside knowledge. But as it turns out, departmental appointments are not elected by the people and in many cases they present concerning conflicts of interest. And although they are perfectly legal, the guidelines to abide by are not enforced and even less revised.

Over the last four decades the rate of the “revolving-door” phenomenon that exists between corporations and politics has also increased exponentially. The problem is so prevalent that it almost seems as if politicians are being manufactured right out of the conveyor belts of this system to work interchangeably for state and industry, and not specifically in that order. This is where the marriage between Capitalism and Democracy is made. It is this union and the lucrative investments in politics that assure a permanent and endless supply of candidates for hire. Those who toe the line are often rewarded handsomely, while idealists are usually scrapped and replaced.

Keep in mind that as Capitalism grows so does its power to overtake Democracy. When it happens, rule-free enterprise ensures that financial interests water-down regulation and eventually these enterprises begin to grow out of the government’s control. A prime example are the many American companies which have been incentivized by the government to evolve from local enterprises into little nations of their own. Today, with the help of governments, these conglomerates are now edging closer to become autonomous states with economies and rules completely independent of the places in which they operate, mainly through free-trade agreements and tax maneuvers. No borders exist for these pseudo-countries. They exist solely in the virtual space where their money is collected, and coincidentally, wherever their executive boards happen to meet.

These pseudo-nations, with some having economies large enough to compete with actual nations, are still bound to U.S. supremacy through legal and financial obligations, which are then eased by the various personal relationships kept with government representatives. Representatives that rely on corporations and industries to fund their campaigns and political parties.

In the past, regulatory restrictions used to [legally] prevent industries from funding political campaigns by injecting more than the allowed funds. Used to. Today, by allowing corporations to attain personhood and be considered single entities, they can weight in on political matters through their virtually unlimited contributions which have been redefined by the Supreme Court as a form of speech. By this rationale if money is a form of speech, then corporations have the loudest voices.

But personhood doesn’t exactly mean what you think it means in the case of corporations. Because these organisms are composed of tens of thousands of individuals that think differently from each other and share different responsibilities and ideologies, and whose only common trait might be to work as an organism, it’s sometimes difficult to determine individual culpability. Thus, the culture that is built on immoral behavior cannot be equally culpable or financially liable as single individuals might be, and the cycle continues. In the case of high financial crimes where heads of industries have ties to government officials, corporate heads rarely pay their dues or even so much as get their day in court. This is the point where the scales of justice get tipped in power’s favor.

Deregulation makes it easier for corporate investments to be made into politics, and for politicians to deliver on those investments ahead of everything else. This colluding will inevitably result in a conglomerate of power that in all cases will protect its own interests in whatever way they see fit, even at the expense of Democracy itself.

The 2008 financial meltdown is evidence that powerful interests who are allowed to operate as they naturally would in the wide latitudes of Capitalism often go unpunished and continually cause a great deal of harm. In this case when the very system they bet against collapsed nearly bankrupting the entire world economy, and leaving a trail of damage hundreds billions of dollars wide and decades long. Eventually the money provided by Congress through TARP (Trouble Asset Relief Program) was mostly eventually paid back. But not before corporations made off with a profit and high executives gave themselves multi-million dollar bonuses–you know, for their hard work. However, the way things transpired opened up an old precedent that if it’s “too big to fail” it’s also too big to be regulated. And of course there’s also the moral aspect to consider.

The aftermath of the crisis left everyone content, except homeowners and investors of course. And up to this day huge investment corporations continue to gamble away the people’s money in the huge casino that is the world economy with chips provided by the federal government.

This is true of any industry that is too big to be contained. Recently, medical insurance behemoth Aetna threatened the DOJ (Department of Justice) that it would pull out of the ACA, colloquially known as Obamacare, if their merger with healthcare giant Humana was not approved by Congress, a deal that if approved would violate old anti-trust laws designed to break up monopolies. Meanwhile we are still waiting on deliberation.

But Big Pharma is not the only industry that has the power to undermine the government should a collaboration fail, especially one that favors profit over the public interest . This goes for any industry ranging from energy (oil, coal, nuclear, even solar and wind) to information (media, news, satellites, Internet entities) to manufacturing of any kind (weapons, infrastructure, vehicles), banking, and curiously also, religion.

Although the public shares interests in many of these industries it seems that from public-opinion polls and attitudes mapped out over several decades, policy definitely does not match public attitudes.

Of course if we consider the government as an entity struggling for its own survival, it’s entirely logical to assume that as an entity it will protect its interests. But the fact of the matter is that the government is an entity composed of public power. Power shared by the many not the few and privileged. I agree that it’s not the government’s job to advance progress, but it should definitely not be its job to actively impede it.

As I explained before, in the U.S. power is exercised through political pressures. Abroad, a combination of shared interests and diplomacy is used. However, military force is never off the table. A quick Google search on the United Fruit Company will give you a glimpse of how colonialism established a firm bellicose-Capitalist American system in the world at the start of the industrial revolution. It is this trend that developed early when the U.S. was a nascent nation and that continues on to today in some form or another. Slavery, for example, is to this day the great stain in the history of the United States. For even as the American Revolution was raging on in defense of human liberty, our forefathers never got around to discussing the worth of a human being until nearly a century later. The same could be said about the Native American holocaust and the mass deportation of American Indians out of their own lands. And yet, from an economic point of view, without these two events the American economy would not be what it is today. So we are, in one way or another, still reaping the benefits of two of the greatest tragedies in human history.

Of course, from a moral point of view there is nothing beneficial about these two terrible events. Quite the opposite. But it demonstrates from historical accounts, just how power if presented with a dilemma where economic and moral pressures are at odds, it will always choose to resolve the former first.

In the near-past and in the the present, our national shame manifests itself in our interests abroad. In recent history in the shameful alliances throughout the world which suspend Democracy and overlook severe human-rights abuses in favor of national security or profits. In South America and the Caribbean for example, Democratically elected governments were forcibly replaced with brutal dictatorships and Banana Republics with the help of the United States to attain some political, economic, or ideological goal. More of the first two than the last.

These actions decimated entire regions ecologically and economically and displaced millions. In addition it created a deep-seeded anti-American hatred that worked counter to what the United States believed Democracy was, and what it was trying to achieve. Not to mention that the effects of these early interventions are still being felt today in the mass migrations of South Americans, specifically Guatemalans, who have fled their home countries as a result of bloody civil wars in some part perpetuated by American interventionism.

Today this support continues in countries like Saudi Arabia, a nation that is as close as any brutal tyranny can become. Our alliance with the Saudis could not be any more confusing. The official position is that the Saudis provide valuable intelligence to secure the stabilization of the region, which coincidentally was partly destabilized by anti-American, pro-Wahhabi propaganda that is much closer to ISIS than to Democracy. We then purchase billions of dollars worth of oil from the very country who is, in some capacity or other, pushing radical Islamist propaganda and sponsoring world-wide terrorism with our money. Propaganda that fueled terror that culminated in tragedies like 9/11 and which we then fight by invading  and destabilizing the region even further.

To this day, Saudi Arabia continues to be one of the major human-rights violators, and we continue to do business with them.

Of course, in recent history these global pressures can be, and are, explained in some relatable context or other: defense against Communism, regional stabilization, business, etc. As they say, the ends always justify the means.

Education vs. Information: Roots of the Problem

There is little that disenfranchised foreign populations can do against American-style Capitalist hegemony, especially in collusion with their own governments. But in the United States the population still has enough stakes in the Democratic process to hold their government responsible for its failures. That we don’t–or at least that we don’t in large numbers–is a failure of magnifying proportions. I’ll explain why.

The failure starts at several points in the socioeconomic ladder. Disenfranchised and dismayed voters will not commit because they don’t believe in the political and economic process that has eroded the middle class over the decades. Ironically, politicians turn to those who do vote and favor them, which causes those already disenfranchised to become even more so. By way of restrictive voting laws, gerrymandering, and resource allocation, local governments can concentrate power and maintain numbers. While the demand for political participation exists, supply is low or impeded.

But the problem is actually worse than it seems, because most poverty occurs where there is a history of suppression and current limited education. Mistrust brews into hatred for one’s own government, even when economic situations are favorable. In turn, the government, along with other powerful agents, see these areas as economically ineffective and as a result become areas that can be easily dismissed. The issue is that when something is not adding to the pie it’s considered worthless or low priority. While underlying problems like education and the allocation of resources gets lost. As these areas grow, power then becomes concentrated into smaller and smaller circles and a destabilization of justice, accountability, and economy ensues.

It’s not difficult then to turn people against each other. In fact, the old strategy of divide and conquer functions much more efficiently when there’s a scarcity of education than by using violence. Not only does it effectively segregates and subdivides communities and races for generations, but it turns them into surrogates. All without the need to spill blood.

The result is where we are headed as a nation. A modern feudal kleptocracy where the choices and opportunities of the powerless are reduced and where the need for education in all areas of a person’s life become more pronounced. This lack of education among the population is without a doubt the root of the problem.

Although power is the staple of every government however, these American choices cannot entirely be blamed on them or even on the rich.

At a time when political education is a responsibility left more up to individuals rather than news sources, which have become increasingly partisan, people, and specifically the newer generations, now have a great burden to carry, that of searching and making sense of information for themselves. A task that requires an immense amount skepticism and judgement good enough to separate noise from content.

The fact that in this highly competitive world, where the space for information is limited and expensive, even noble pursuits like journalism are starting to become liabilities instead of assets for the consumer, and the opposite for those that own them. Whereas in the past the news were seemingly less biased and more objective, today journalistic integrity can now serve a purpose–profit for the company, a spin for the government. Of course this was always true of the latter. However, it seems that in recent years this old façade has been cynically abandoned depending on who happens to be in power.

It is a sad reality that, in the United States at least, all major news come from privately owned corporations. Corporations that not only compete against each other, but also with information that travels literally at the speed of light. And occasionally against truth itself.

It seems now that independent journalism is set to become the only objective source of unadulterated news for future generations.

The mismanagement of objective news, and the allocation, or rather trickling down, of resources toward education is a major concern in the United States–more than in most industrialized nations. Education in some parts of the country is lacking at best, almost nonexistent at worse. Of course, you can guess which communities are less adept to handle these issues, and which are privileged enough to enjoy the benefits of the best kind of education. This is a problem that affects neither Republicans nor Democrats nor Independents, Conservatives or Liberals or Libertarians, black or white. By virtue of high-quality education communities can be lifted out of poverty, as they reemerge so does the country as a whole.

Today the opposite is true. Educators in the U.S. earn less than in most other industrialized nations. In places like the Bible Belt the problem with education is in the inability for local governments to adopt secular curriculums, especially in the “hard sciences”. In prestigious, mostly Liberal universities, the problem lies in PC (political correctness) culture, which is also a case for concern.  And in the suburbs of major cities, where poverty is rampant, it is in the lack of basic resources such as transportation, school lunches, school supplies, libraries, or even teachers.

As a result of these compounding problems, people have become terribly misinformed about their responsibilities as citizens and that of their government, misinformation that they pass on to their children, mostly those in poor communities, who then grow up ignorant and further disenfranchised.

Political Parties: Divided Loyalty

Taking these factors into consideration we begin to plot a narrative. Suddenly, the names we’ll see on the November ballots are hardly surprising. In part, they are the failure of the American voter to resist the whims of the political machine, which includes loyalty to party rather than nation. But they are also the result of inefficient policy, party bickering, and mistrust in the power of elected officials and outright corruption based on, again, party loyalty. That whole money and politics marriage thing.

It doesn’t take much to alienate the voter as I’ve already said, but parties still rely on votes and a core membership that aligns with their ideologies to survive. However, if voters are able to see past their divisions, it is inevitable that policies that had never aligned with their own views will be questioned.

This stagnation of progress and sincerity in a changing world has begun a mutiny in the ranks of the two main political parties. As a result, both parties have been  forced to adopt and favor outsiders over their rank and file in the form of Bernie Sanders for the Democratic ticket and Donald Trump for the Republican. Under the current system this is a sign of deficient politics. As a whole however, this is more in line with the apparatus of an efficient government. But taking the point the further, this realization of the American voter and its subsequent repercussions, meaning the changing attitudes towards more open candidates, is dialogue between two groups: those in power and those that are not.

Naturally, populist cand  idates will emerge out of this shift. This sends a strong message that since established parties do not carry favorably with the common people, outside parties must be included in mainstream politics. At the moment this is of little consequence to the entities that have built and perfected entire mechanisms to exclude the voter and outside third-parties. Surprisingly, these methodically established systems have met little resistance or have gone entirely unchallenged.

Third-party candidates, treated as a little more than tie-breakers, serve no other purpose in the political arena other than swing votes one way or the other. Or at least that’s how they are seen by mainstream politics and by the majority of people. Most often they are not taken seriously enough to believe they can even come close to winning a presidential election even though their policy alternatives often seriously challenge the views of regular candidates.

Under the current system a third-party candidate has little chance of influencing any national election except to pull a mainstream candidate into the party’s or the people’s ideoleological orbit. Or alternatively to aid the opposition by running a parallel campaign to the party they align with the most.

The parties have been aware of this problem for a long time. Thus, they have mutually deviced ways to legally bar third-party candidates from ever participating in this process, which for many of them is the only way to make themselves and their policies known. One of those is to directly influence the information that is disseminated, literally in the news media. The other is a joint decision between the Democratic and Republican parties to raise a debate embargo to outsiders. The way they do this is by formally requesting that the candidates poll a certain percentage before being invited to a debate. But because third-party candidates have limited means to make themselves known, this is rarely the case.

Bleak as it seems,  the only way to change the game is to change the rules, which can only happen by popular demand.

The Revolutionaries of the new American nation had contrasting views on political parties. Some thought they were inevitable in a free political system, others believed that they would eventually become cause for strife. But everyone agreed that no one’s rights should be infringed upon by the government or the parties themselves. Today’s situation is a sign that old dilemmas die hard. These divisions that are becoming so entrenched into the American psyche are rapidly deteriorating the unity of the nation. We can only hope that the situation that will eventually come to a head will get resolved peacefully rather than not.

Constitutional Requirements vs Political Aptitude: At a Crossroad

As the time comes to choose a new president, there is yet another failure on our part that is more urgent and troubling, that of electing a qualified candidate.

As if the task is not made difficult enough by the issues I mentioned before, it is compounded by the lenient requirements laid out in the Constitution that grants virtually anyone the power to serve the office, provided they are elected democratically.

These outdated requirements complicate the situation further for their leniency rather than their restrictions. They are as follows:

1. Candidate must be at least 30 years of age.
2. Be a resident of the U.S. for at least 14 years.
3. Be a natural-born citizen.

There is a logic to this leniency however that the Founding Fathers purposefully allowed when the Constitution was being formulated. They envisioned the new American nation ruled by a government the exact opposite of a monarchy, where just about anyone, provided they had the qualifications, could be elected president. Unfortunately, a current uncompromising complacency to follow a 300-year old document to the letter is deeply concerning for its implications, some of which, in the most extreme scenarios, could end up suspending Democracy for future generations.

The founding fathers were well aware of this problem. Thomas Jefferson was an early proponent for Constitutional revisions. More specifically, he argued that every generation, or roughly every 19 years, the Constitution should be updated for the very logical reason that things change with time, and as a result ancient laws applied to modern times would only hold back progress. Later, these revisions were abandoned in place of the amendment process, which has been used with success and failure throughout our history.

However, considering the choices we have today, if we were to follow Jefferson’s advice, Constitutional amendments to extend the requirements for the presidency would significantly increase the quality of candidates we elect. By explicitly requiring a minimum time of public service and/or verifiable social, political, military, economic, and diplomatic knowledge, at the very least it would leave less of an opportunity for unqualified candidates to make a mockery of the election process; or worse, to allow an unprepared candidate to hold arguably the most powerful office in the world.

As the country has evolved, so has its influence in the world. The role that our country plays in geopolitics is reason enough for the office to demand strict qualifications for any candidate who would fill the seat. The fact that it doesn’t leaves the power to decide the presidency not up to the voters as it should be, but to another obscure system that is now largely useless and ineffective–the Electoral College–but which the founding fathers believed could save the country from, as Alexander Hamilton put it, “the tyranny of the [majority].”

The Constitution of the United States is a near-perfect document unlike any other seen before. It is direct and concise and as least infringing as the framers could make it. However, the framers weren’t naive in their illusions that the presidency would always be occupied by morally incorruptible men. They understood that just as the requirements to occupy the seat were lax, there had to be a system in place to disallow tyrants, even those chosen by the majority, to trade the seat for the throne.

In the early days of the republic, this protective layer between Democracy and bureaucracy was added to quell populists uprisings that might do away with the rights of the minority. The job of the Electoral College was to aid the Constitution to elect candidates who not only met the proper requirements, but who also possessed the constitution and common sense to lead the nation fairly.

Nowadays however the institution is mostly useless. With the advent of high-tech polling methods, and the inability of the Electoral College to look past party lines, it is no longer necessary to have an arbitrary body to weigh in the elections. Most times the commission will vote along with public opinion rather than against it precisely because the EC is there to represent the people. But it is also composed of party loyalists, rather than independent arbitrators. One of the rare instances when the Electoral College did not vote for the most popular candidate was in the 2000 election, when George W. Bush Jr. defeated Al Gore, by a decidedly small margin. And although it has been agreed that Al Gore won the popular vote, we know which of the candidates history favored.

As is explained in this brief article by, the point of the EC is to vote past party loyalty to protect the interests of the nation not that of the state. Today, a country divided presses even harder the question of how we should elect candidates for the presidency. The Electoral College exists to prevent a “tyranny of the majority.” But if the majority is the tyranny, then how best to prevent it?

It seems more apparent now than ever that popularity, not education, plays a more decisive factor in determining a candidate’s political worth. In the majority of cases this popularity is fueled by political contributions that finance “recognition campaigns” that make the candidate known. It is only a negligible percentage of populist candidates that build grassroots campaigns by appealing to the public with sensible policies and public contributions. It’s even rarer for these candidates to receive country-wide public recognition, which hinders the chances of more progressive bipartisan politicians to ever rise in the ranks.

Of course, there are more considerations and unwritten rules that account for a candidate’s competency before being elected to the presidency. But when a population is overwhelmingly under-educated about their role as citizens, the role of their government in relation to them, the social contract to be decent citizens, and the actions, secret or open, that the state contrives, then no amount of preparation will help any leader steer that country in the right direction. This is precisely the kind of tyranny of the majority that Alexander Hamilton wrote about.

There is little however, that any fail-safe system can do against this type of tyranny. Only an overhaul of the educational system to instruct all manners of people can bring about a significant change in any society. This is the reason why there is nothing more threatening to the supremacy of power like an educated population. Our collective national weakness is that we have been convinced that as a society we cannot take care of ourselves and that we require adult supervision from people who know what is better for our future, when in fact this cannot be further from the truth.

But opening our eyes is not merely enough. We must embrace education in its totality to arrive at the best conclusion, and to make the right decisions, and not descend into the pitfalls of past tyrannies.

American Choices: Voting for A Practical Future

If we are to improve the mechanism of the government, we as a coutry must take a very careful look at the ideologies that support these mechanisms and change our way of thinking. Citizens must force elected officials to self-impose regulatory restrictions to limit outside influence. That is to roll-back unlimited campaign contributions and repeal Citizens United. We must forcibly detach by means of civilian regulation the heads of the three branches of government from their party-held positions: the president from his party, the president of Congress and senior leaders from their respective parties, and the Supreme Court justices from their loyalty to their parties.

Capitalism must be held accountable for the irascible focus on its expansion. Production should be limited to a manageable level that the planet itself can sustain. By understanding that material goods cannot ever replace immaterial goods such as knowledge and collaboration, we can limit our consumption. Consumption that also cannot replace the limited amount of resources the planet can provide for us. If we fail in this task, the generations that directly follow us will see themselves regressing to very difficult and dark times.

This is not a plea to change our socioeconomic structure. We must learn to do this without resorting to philosophically and morally corrupt ideas that we do not understand. Democracy has proven to be the best type of government for all citizens. It now falls on us to find an economic system that strikes a balance between a stable government and society, and the environment, so that we don’t bankrupt one or the other.

As a global society, we must advance by adaptation. As a country, we must catch up to the rest of the industrialized world–a term that should change to “technologically advanced world” to signal an evolutionary leap as a global group–in terms of social welfare. By this, I mean that if we have the means, it is our responsibility to raise the means of living for its poorest, most disenfranchised citizens. Not merely because it’s morally correct, but because it will, in time, raise the living standard of the country as a whole and make it a freer, better society.

Ultimately, these choices are ours to make as a free society. If we are to change our way of life for the better, we must first change our political system. By involving ourselves more. By self-educating. By making an honest attempt at understanding the greater social forces that only seem out of our control, but which are intrinsically connected to our reality. There is no need to resort to violent revolution or to wait until that time comes. These are choices that we can make today. But only if we possess the will to do so.




Extra Research:

Sut Jhally “Advertising and the End of the World”

School Me: America’s War On and For Education Pt. 1

The year is 2015 and America is fighting a war that has nothing to do with WMDs, drug-lords, or crazy religious fundamentalists in some remote country. Nope. The war is at home and we’re fighting it for and against ourselves to win and lose even though we’re doing everything we can to lose it (to win it) while fighting to win it (to lose it). Confusing isn’t it?

Just like any war, the battles we’re fighting each and every day leave collateral damage behind, only this time the victims are not enemy combatants, or traitors, but our children. Our what? Yup, kids. But even more importantly what our children represent- the future.

If this sounds drab, dark and slightly apocalyptic, is because it kind of is. I might be a bit melodramatic, that at least is true, but that’s only for effect. But we can at least agree on one thing, that the education system in America is failing from the bottom up and soon this war that our politicians, our corporations, our religious institutions, ourselves and each other are fighting will set us on a path that eventually will lead us to one of many eventual demises.

So, sit back and relax, and let’s explore how the war on education is rotting the core of what America is. A war that is unnecessary and easily winnable, but a war that we seem determined to keep fighting for better and for worse.


First Steps


Think for a moment about how you raise your children, or if you don’t have any children just daydream for a second about how you would raise kids if you had any. It’s a scary thought, I agree. After all, going to any Chuck-E-Cheese anywhere in America will make you think twice about having kids if you don’t have them, or make you re-think your choices if you do. And although making kids is probably the most fun you will ever have, raising them is no picnic- at least not a sunny one. Each stage of raising a child has a different level of difficulty that no one expects. Life is uncaring as to your early baby-planning or your college fund, and it’s something that not even the wealthiest parents in the world can prepare for. Remember that having money doesn’t exactly mean that they will turn out to be the best people in the world- in fact, sometimes it’s quite the opposite. It’s then that the old adage fits perfectly: No one is ever truly prepared for kids. That’s just one of those inescapable universal truths that every parent learns one way or another.

But think about how you were raised. You turned out fine, right? Kinda? Don’t feel too bad if you still live with your parents, or if you’ve been to juvie, or at 30 you don’t have a stable job, or haven’t gone to college yet or blah blah blah. All you have to do is turn on the news and you’ll immediately feel better and realize that “kinda” maybe isn’t all that bad. Agreed, it’s a half-assed way to live life, but in context, “kinda” is just the space between good and bad and nothing else. You are at the center of the balance and only you have the power to tip it one way or the other.

But what got you there? Sure, a lot of people talk about genes and outside influence. But if you pay close attention, you will notice that while DNA plays a huge role in who you are, for the most part, what you do is closely related to how you were raised. And this is where we start.

You’ve probably heard the saying “education begins at home.” People don’t just say it for nothing, the path to education begins from the moment you come out of the womb and continues throughout those first fragile formative years. By the time formal education begins (meaning school), kids are already walking and talking, and like it or not they have also adopted some of their parents’ ways of thinking including basic forms of thinking and prejudice. And you can’t really blame the way they are- at least not during the first few years of school- on their schoolmates, seeing as how they spend most of their time behind school walls, because the behavior had to have come from somewhere in the first place. So being totally frank, if your kid is an asshole in school it’s mostly not his/her fault. Then again, it’s not mostly your fault either- although you did raise them. No excuses to be had here Biebs.

But that really is an interesting question to ask, whose fault is it for children’s bad behavior? Is it the parents’ fault; is it the schools’ fault? Is it no one’s fault (genetics)? Environmental? Chemicals in the food? Media content? Someone has to bear that responsibility, but who? In my non-expert opinion I believe the problem to be an unequal combination of all of these factors with two being the main culprits- the parents and the education system. “Why me?!” I can hear parents and teachers yelling in unison. Well, again, child-rearing begins at home. It’s simple, if your kid watches Jersey Shore and acts like the douchebags in it, it’s only because you allowed them to. If your kid curses it’s not her fault, she probably doesn’t even know what it means. If your kid punches some other kid, it will inevitably be part of his genes to be prone to anger, but it’s learned behavior that dictates how he will behave in the future given the appropriate instruction and/or punishment. In other words, morality is instilled at home. Technical instruction is given at school.

Consider this, conventional wisdom- and science- tells us that the perfect age to have kids is in your 20s. Too young (20s-) might mean an unstable financial situation and too old (30s+) could mean more of a burden on your body.  Of course there are more things to consider than just a good job and a good uterus, but for the most part you’d want both to be in good condition. But the thing that no one really thinks about is that no matter at what age you get pregnant, the thought of becoming a first-time parent can be a daunting and scary thing to prepare for. It’s only logical that you would need help with that responsibility, not only from other parents but also from experts in child-rearing and education. After all, you want to give your child the best possible start.

This 2008 report by, details how 95% of funds going towards education are allocated only for formal education, which means that what the state spends on education is only relevant until after children have already been acclimated to their parents’ way of thinking. Forget sponges,  during those formative years children’s brains are more like powerful (and fragile) machines that react to nurturing just as much as they do to nature-ing. In fact, there’s research to suggest that due to neural interactions, a child learns much faster than you do.

What this is all saying is that between the age of 0 and 5, a child’s brain develops faster and stronger than it will ever do in that child’s life; during those years the information it acquires is essential for his/her psychological development and it is crucial in establishing a well cemented base for future learning. And yet- at least in the U.S.- less than 5% of the educational resources are going towards this age-group. Why?

I’m not sure exactly (or maybe I’m too incompetent to find out why- thanks school!) but it seems that those in charge of the money do not consider this to be a priority even though amounting research suggests that more money should be put to good use in this area. It appears the government trusts YOU too much with your own child not to offer much help.

In my opinion, more resources should be allocated to implement government-subsidized child-rearing classes that continually evolve with new research, to help young parents and/or first-time parents raise their children better until they start school. I’m sure there is something like that already, but is it enough? It’ll take a whole generation to find out.

Of course, education has changed in the classroom. If we read into that history and compare educational methods, say, from 100 years ago, then even the poorest of nations has a lot more information to impart in the classroom than they did before- and hopefully better methods also. That they don’t want to or don’t care to is another matter. That also varies by country, by region and even by school.


Resources: Substance and Style


But education is dependent on more than one factor, not only on what we know. For example, children who live in poor nations, in conflict-ridden areas, and girls more than boys are much more at risk of missing out on the kind of education that children are afforded elsewhere. This is something we know, but still not enough resources are available to help with children’s educations besides a few charitable organizations and UN programs. Food availability, distance,  parent’s marital and social status, social conflict, etc. These are all factors, among many more, that can greatly affect the chances of a child going to school.

But what about here in America? Surely we don’t run into issues like those. Do we?

If you’re naive enough to think so, you are dead wrong. Recent studies show that the link between poverty and children’s educational development is strong stateside. And with poverty come a whole slew of other problems: family instability, domestic violence in some cases, and behavioral problems.

For example the Bible Belt, which is the Southernmost area of the United States, is the poorest clump of states in the nation. Not coincidentally it is also where students K-12 are the least educated. This interesting report by the Huffington Post finds the connection between what each state spends on education and children’s education ranking by state, among other criteria.

But lack of money is not the whole problem. Ironically, having it and not using it properly can be just as detrimental.

Look around you. Most people now have more than three devices to use to watch their favorite shows, download music, read stuff on the internet, watch cat videos, blog, vlog, etc. Just now I’m sitting at my desk watching Netflix on an iPad. My laptop is sitting right in front of me, my phone is in my pocket, my TV five feet away from me, and my roommate’s TV ten feet away. Each and every one of these devices capable of doing all of those things I mentioned and more. So in a fifteen feet radius I have more computing power at my disposal than all of the computers in the world combined during the 60s. You see where I’m going with this?

Somehow we haven’t realized that the future so many sci-fi writers wrote about in past decades is now! We are not making use of the technology that we have at our fingertips precisely for the most noble purpose there is: the advancement of education. Or at least, we’re not doing it enough. Any parent should walk into a classroom and see their tax-dollars at work (or at least a bigger chunk of it) in the form of a personalized computer for their kids. We have enough resources to provide every child in America with an iPad to use and to learn from.

Schools should prioritize what they teach our kids. Cursive writing is not a priority, computer science is. For the sake of our future generations, it is imperative that we get rid or minimize non-essential subjects and replace them with advanced sciences and skills that they will need in the future.

This very day, most countries are sitting on endless mines of information and we simply do not use the tools at our disposal to get to the treasure. Like the likable character Roman on the film Ocean’s 13 once said, we are “…analogue players in a digital world.” The children in our classrooms are still using notepads and pencils when they should be using iPads and stylus pens. And even poor nations have these capabilities, if they spent more on education that is.

The internet came at a time of vast technological advancement and that advancement doesn’t seem to be slowing down but rather speeding up. Not only has technology caught up with the power of the internet itself, but it’s now helping it grow faster and stronger. That’s something to exploit to the maximum.

The perfect analogy to use here is a dam. We are like fish, living in a little puddle of information while water trickles down from a wall. On the other side of the wall is a vast lake that we just can’t get to. I suppose I don’t have to tell you that what any of this represents.

This knowledge that I talk about is universally beneficial. But is knowledge even enough? With the amount of information that we now have at our disposal, it is more than just an excuse not to impart it correctly. We have come far from when used the abacus to make simple calculations, now we use calculators. Perhaps it’s time we upgrade, and not just what new technology we have available, but also in our right to use it. Teachers should encourage children to use the technology at hand to acquire as much information as possible; but we as parents also need to learn Information in bulk is not necessarily education. Another problem I see today with the way schooling (institutionally and at home) is done is that we are too preoccupied teaching children what to think, and not necessarily how to think.


Making the Grades: The Evolution of Teaching Methods
Image source:




Considering that the United States is still a technological, military, and economic superpower it’s only logical that we should also reign as an educational giant as well. And yet, in terms of primary and secondary education we’re not in even in the top 10 in two of the most important areas!- science and math. By now it’s probably been drilled into your head from several different sources how education in America is lagging behind other countries in K-12 education, especially in the mentioned disciplines.

This research by, with data from PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment), shows that improvement in areas like math and science for American students has been a slow one, and we still shadow many countries, including most industrialized nations.

The average scores indicate that for all 15-year-olds from various nationalities who participated since the triennial survey was last taken in 2012, the United States scored in 27th place in mathematics, just above Sweden and Hungary but lower than any of the major industrialized nations in the world with Singapore taking the top spot. As far as science goes Americans fared a little better in 20th place, scoring well ahead of Italy, Norway, and Russia.

It’s encouraging to know that we are doing better than we did a couple of decades ago, but let’s not pat each other’s backs just yet, we’re not that well off. If we take into account our massive budget, we should be spending much more on education that we give ourselves credit for. There is no excuse why these scores shouldn’t be much higher.

The 2014 federal budget  provided $71 billion in funds to the Department of Education, or 4.6% of national spending. Yeah this is a huge number, but it’s nothing compared to the gigantic $526 billion allocated to the Department of Defense.  That’s seven times more than what the DoE gets! You would think that those 71 billion dollars would put us ahead of little Singapore in something as small as math and science education, a country with a relatively small GDP of $298 billion compared to America’s $16 trillion, but somehow something just doesn’t fit. Of course, Singapore doesn’t have nearly as many enemies as the U.S. and their budget doesn’t allow for much international expenditures as our does, but… come on! 71 billion dollars! If Singapore can subsidize its entire education system and pay its teachers better than we do ours, then surely we can move some money around and give the DoE a couple more billion dollars and do the same or something similar here. It would not only make sense, it’s the right thing to do.

This is a noble competition in which every country should strive to take the top spot. Education is nothing to compete over, except when we’re doing it against ignorance and the countries that can afford to do so are helping themselves by coming to the aid of those at the bottom and helping them rise.


Put To the Test


We talked about outdated technology. Now let’s talk about outdated methods. In the post-internet era, we are still teaching children with the same methodology that schools used from before even the fall of the Soviet Union, despite psychiatry, psychology and neuroimaging making new important discoveries every year, including child rearing and child behavior. And unfortunately one of those areas in which we don’t seem to be advancing but rather regressing, is standardized testing.

Children today in the United States get tested on as if they were all about to colonize Mars! You might be thinking “what’s the big deal? So they get a few tests here and there.” But they don’t just get a few tests here and there. While testing is an important part of learning, just like everything else, in excess is counterproductive. Kids today get tested on English, Math, Science, Physical Education, History (one of the few subjects that actually evolves merely for its content, or rather by its content). They get tested two, three, five, sometimes even ten times per trimester. They get federal testing, state testing, school testing and on top of that, they get regular periodic tests. Dozens of hours are spent on just testing these kids; and you as a parent are left thinking, “What the hell are they teaching them that they have to test them so much?” Mars huh?

Many parents- perhaps even you yourself- are now wondering if we are overtesting kids. A lot of them are wondering if all this testing is actually leading us somewhere or if we’re just walking to the edge of a cliff. And many are starting to push back.

Well, it didn’t take long for the issue to become political. Now Congress is also starting to ask the same questions parents around the nation are asking- “Is there a benefit?

To get to the root of the problem we have to observe our own kids. When they get ready to take a test, are they doing everything they can to learn the information and use it on the test, or are they doing everything they can to pass the test no matter how they do it? And if it’s the former, is the information even being retained?

Where I’m going with this is that if school is supposed to be beneficial in the sense that it’s meant to be a knowledge machine, why are we throwing nuts and bolts into it thinking it’s helping when it’s just breaking everything inside?

But don’t be too quick to blame teachers. Many of them also think that testing- or rather administering tests the wrong way- is bad for our students; psychologists have taken careful notice of what goes on when we overtest and have arrived at the same conclusion- when it comes to testing, or more importantly, to learning, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it.


Homework? So 1900s


“Oh no, don’t mess with the homework dude! That’s my off time.” Some parents are undoubtedly thinking this. Kudos to you if you actually help out your kid with her homework, or with that science project that we all know will turn out to be a papier-mâché volcano.

Well while it will help you bond better with your kids, making them bury their noses in a notebook for three or four hours a day will not necessarily do anything.

Just like exercising the muscles, working out the mind also has a resistance limit after which there is no beneficial gain to keep pushing. Well, it turns out that contrary to what you may believe (possibly arrogantly about yourself), humans have a rather short attention span of just minutes. For adults it happens to be between 15 and 20 minutes while children have much shorter attention spans.

What does this tell you about homework? Yes, you might be walking by their rooms and they’ll be pretending to read the book. Hell, they might even actually be trying. But I- and more importantly, psychologists- assure you that while their eyes are scanning the words, their brains are flying far far away.

Like over-testing, spending too much time doing homework seems to have a negligible result in standardized testing, and in more cases than not, it directly hurts the chances of a better score. This study from researcher Jose Muñiz from the university of Oviedo in Spain says as much- while effort, parent aid, and [daily] frequency of homework helps a lot, spending more than two hours a day on homework doesn’t.

The alternative is much simpler- school should make learning much more accessible by allowing students free expression and help mold the young mind into something desirable to pursue. While parents need to devote the time to fine-tune that learning at home, and not necessarily doing homework.

Let’s not kid ourselves (pun not intended), homework will not go away anytime soon- although it should. However, the way in which homework is done can have a great impact in how well your kid advances not in class, but in understanding. Psychologists and sociologists have concluded that the manner in which you as a parent help your kid with homework makes more of a difference than you taking direct control. This just plays into the whole idea that kids need to be allowed free rein and explore imaginatively, rather than being dictated to and limited.


Invisible Roadblocks


If you thought I wasn’t going to mention religion in this one, you are dead wrong.

Already too many states in the United States (guess which ones) teach creationism along with evolutionary biology by local political mandate, despite the 2005 landmark Supreme Court case Kitzmiller v. Dover, where the court ruled against the teaching of creationism, or the word-savvy intelligent design, in public schools.

In the first link provided (in the hook “too many states”) you will find an interactive map of all the states that have, in some form, a creationist curriculum that openly challenge evolution science as something more of a fable and not completely testable. The fucking irony.

As if it wasn’t enough to have kids recite a Pledge of Allegiance (something bordering on creepy and Big Brother-y), and one created in part to sell flags, Eisenhower added the word “god” to counter the godless Communist threat back in 1954. As if being godless was actually what inspired Stalin to kill 100 million of his countrymen… or as if adding the word “god” to the pledge actually helped.

The point is that since the pledge and even before it, schools still have the nerve to question hundreds of years of data without base. These people are more than eager to teach their absolutely unverified and untestable version of the “truth” to all children alike, without regard or consideration for children’s backgrounds, something which puts everyone behind. And on top of that, the children of secular parents are being punished for something which they have little control over.

If you know this blog then you must know that my feelings towards religion are ones of suspicion and contempt. I, along with millions of others, feel that religion is in its most intrusive,  most harmful, and most illogical form when it is taught in the classroom.

Personally, I see no useful purpose for religion in today’s world, not even- and especially- as a moral yardstick. Contrary to popular belief, science can now explain morality thoroughly without the need of superstitious rituals. Yet, a lot of people don’t see it that way. They hold on to the old beliefs and what’s worse, the religious are playing the last card they have to play, children. Because they are innocent and thus impressionable, it is easier to manipulate a child to believe in abnormal things.

I would be understating the issue if I said that religion has absolutely no place in public schools, not just legally but also in terms of relevant information. And before we get into a theological debate, you should note that I said religion, meaning all religions. What is especially troublesome about an imposition of religious rituals or religious teaching in school is that you can’t possibly accommodate the thousands of religions that exist in the world in a place that intends to make use of the most down-to-Earth (pun intended), verifiable, and impartial information there is. Which is why science is there to save the day.

While religious fundamentalists argue about whether the Earth is 6,000 years old or 10,000 years old based on nothing else than Bible interpretation, the core of science has gone out and researched endlessly and compiled all known data into verifiable textbooks that kids now use in the classroom. It is unfair, not to mention arrogant, for religious parents and teachers to force distorted views of the world as they see it to kids who will very much grow up believing this stuff. What they fail to realize is that everything has a connection to something else. For example, teaching a kid that the Earth is younger than some known tree species we know might not make much of a difference if the child grows up to be a musician or an actor. But if that kid wants to become a biologist, or anything science-related actually, he or she will be the laughing-stock of academia a la Waterboy. 

I’m not saying that you don’t have the right to believe in whatever you want to believe, just not in a public taxpayer-funded school. The Constitution of the United States expressly prohibits the teaching of religion in places funded on the taxpayer’s dime, so in the interest of fairness, or at the very least for the sake of your child’s future, keep the Bible at home or at church where they belong, not in the classroom.


Okay, Einstein, what’s the best thing to do?


“The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.” – Albert Einstein

The concept of school is an ancient one. For thousands of years people have been teaching each other what they know about the world. It hasn’t always worked the way it should, but it has worked- case in point, we know a lot about a lot today. So it would only make sense that school should be an institution where knowledge is born and not merely cascaded down. However, it seems that’s actually the way it is. The institution has come to a point where individuality is repressed in favor of mass instruction. Something especially apparent in testing- which we mentioned before.

Do you remember that part on Forest Gump where Sally Fields’s character tells young Forest that he’s the same as everyone else, but then when the principal tells her that her son is different she comes back with, “Well, everyone’s different…” Of course it sounds way funnier in the movie, but it’s true, we’re all different and we’re all the same in different contexts obviously. Yet, school seems to want to make us all the same. At least in the way that we learn.

Like I mentioned before, now we know with proof what we’ve always known subconsciously, that kids learn at different rates and with different techniques. Some kids learn best by reading, others by looking at pictures, others are better at math than they are at history. The point is to instill in students a sense of comfort. To play their strengths and work their weaknesses, but what tests do is assume that every student is the same. Again, benchmarking is important because there definitely needs to be a basic average level that every student needs to be in every subject, but it seems that we’re only stopping there. Where’s the individuality? Where’s the push for greater knowledge?

You might infer from what’s being said that exclusion will lead to kids becoming territorial- even more so- but what we’re trying to achieve is just the opposite- inclusion. And inclusion is key. Due to many factors, some kids will learn faster than others. That’s just one of those things not even a teacher can control. However, taking into account those earlier things I mentioned about psychology, psychiatry, and technology, surely we can devise ways to measure kids’ performances without having to burden them with endless homework assignments, stressful rounds of testing, and outdated teaching techniques that don’t do much more than make kids loathe school, and as a consequence possibly even learning. They have enough to worry about in the recess yard to make them worry about what goes on inside the classroom.




Let me conclude by saying that I am no education professional, medical professional, or an expert in any of the fields mentioned here, so do read this with a grain of salt. I merely offer my personal opinion on an issue that I consider to be one of the most important ones in our time, but more importantly for the future.

Of course there are many more things that can affect child behavior and learning capabilities: nutrition, bullying, outside influence, etc. I will probably touch on these subjects later on in other blogposts. But for now I just wanted to go a bit more in-depth about how education is not being given absolute priority in our country and elsewhere in the world.

The question to you is, do we really want to stress our kids out? School is undoubtedly necessary for our children, it’s not only a right of passage, it will prepare them at least in an academic level for the things they will need to know in the future. In the courtyard they will get a taste of what’s to come in life in terms of social connections; while the classroom is supposed to make them wonder about the bigger things. Children are supposed to go in to school with a hunger for learning, not to be afraid to do so. We need to demand, as well as help forge the better way to make the former happen and avoid the latter. Is stressing them out more important, or teaching them? Is showing them more important, or letting them discover? Is it more important to tell them which problem to solve or teaching them how to solve it? Are we hoping to build robots, or thinkers? Do we want them to come out of high school reading about the future or writing it? It all starts with learning. But learning is also a process. I guess the most important question of all is: are we doing it right?


fascinating book



In part two I’ll be talking about college and the roadblocks students encounter while trying to continue their education at the next level in America and abroad, the consequences of these limitations, and what we can all do to help each other and ourselves.

And please leave a comment, a question, or curse me out if you want to if I missed something you believe is important or if any of my information is wrong. I welcome all feedback! And if you’re a teacher or a parent, I don’t mean to step on any toes, I welcome your thoughts as well.



Interesting Reads:

Old Hot Tensions or New Cold War: How World War 3 With Russia Will (Probably) Never Happen

Every now and then my dad and I engage in lively, and sometimes fierce, debate regarding the state of affairs in the world. We discuss our ideas and points of view as if by talking about it we could somehow dissolve the animosity that seems to be so commonplace nowadays. My father not only very knowledgeable but also one of the most interesting people I know, makes those little conversations quite fun and challenging. Most often than not we agree on many things, but every now and then there are inevitable crossroads where neither will make it easy for the other to get his point across. Just as he does, I too try to inform myself about what’s happening in the world when it comes to politics and things of that nature and just like him I am happy to learn new things that I didn’t know before. Some of these talks will stretch on for hours and even continue on in other phone conversations and unfortunately sometimes we will not concede to each other’s points no matter what the other person says. But when we do, we both agree that the other had the better argument.

One of those highly polarizing subjects that we often touch on is U.S.-Russia relations where I will usually side with the U.S. in mostly every aspect and where he always sides with Russia. It comes as no surprise to either one when during the natural course of a phone call the subject will “casually” come up with one or the other asking, “Hey, did you hear about what’s going on in ____?” And that’s when we both know it’s game on.

While the conversations might seem redundant at times, the news (and the growing divide between countries) will always provide new material for us to toss back and forth. My father’s view is usually that America’s “imperialism” and meddling is growing out of control and will eventually start a war that we will not be able to contain- among other things. In calm contrast, mine is that while the U.S. has committed barbaric acts of violence and does meddle in world affairs to a degree, that in many cases Russia is no better, at in most cases is worse. I typically refrain from using the phrase “the better of two evils” because I have such a loathing for it, but I wouldn’t be completely wrong in saying it.

During our exchanges we will both accuse each other of blind allegiance and of only considering information from biased sources; as if a third party was completely impartial and objective- something which is becoming increasingly difficult to find. Among the other charges, he will usually accuse me of either blowing up the subject out of proportion and I of him undermining it, or vice-versa. He will usually say that China and Korea are still Russia’s allies and that in the inevitable war that is to come they will side with the Russians. I, on the other hand, will usually concede the point that while China is still Russia’s biggest ally, before a war breaks out they will do everything earthly possible to avoid one. But our biggest disagreement lies in the assumption that a war between the U.S. and Russia (which is starting to look more and more like the old Soviet state it once was) is not only near but inevitable.

While these debates are lighthearted and many “facts” will be tossed around in the heat of the moment, at times I am left thinking of the very real possibility that it might actually happen. I analyze as many factual things as my limited knowledge permits me and I come to conclusions. Of course I am not 100% sure of my prognosis, and should a war ever break out between the U.S. and Russia, I’ll be the first to apologize provided I’m not ash by that time- not that it would matter any.

But while a war with Russia seems unlikely, it’s worth going into detail about why that is. And more importantly, why the peculiar behavior from Russia’s side if they don’t intend to start a war with the West. China, which would also be a serious contender in a war and a country that has been racking up its military over these past several decades, is even less likely to enter into a war with the U.S., although tensions still run high in that front too. This is not to say that a third world war still couldn’t happen. But I believe our priorities need to match our reality. Before the conflict in Ukraine, there was a considerably higher possibility to enter into a direct armed conflict with North Korea, Iran, Pakistan and even Saudi Arabia than there was with Russia. Things change quickly, I know, and although none of these countries possess anywhere near the military power that China and Russia have, some of them do enjoy their support which complicates things a bit. However, I have come up with five reasons of why I believe that a direct war with Russia is nothing more than a dangerous dick-measuring contest between two countries with a historical tendency to fuck with each other.


1. The Semblance of Democracy


I heard somewhere that even the semblance of democracy is important because that means that a country is ready to embrace it, even if it’s in its most basic form. I really wish I could remember where I heard or read that particular quote because I’m sure the person who said it probably had something else interesting to say, so again I apologize. But it is true that the semblance of democracy is the first step towards a stable community run by the desires of those governed and not who govern.

In the most recent survey by, an organization which measures the index of transparency in countries around the world reported that Russia currently occupies number 136 out of 175 countries in the index of corruption. That’s really bad considering that only 175 countries were surveyed. The United States comes in at 17, Germany at number 12, France at 26, with Ukraine being the most corrupt country in Europe with a rating of 142.  At this, there is still a fundamental disparity between the styles of government between the West and the East, something that no doubt causes waves in geopolitics. It almost seems as if shifting from the reigns of a Communist vanguard, Putin has found in a democratic Russia the room he needed to implement his desired policies with little or no opposition. Whether his aim is to defy the west and reposition Russia to a top place in world politics or to completely turn back to Soviet-style politics is speculation, but there is no doubt that his defiance put us at a very uncomfortable position, that of knowing what we’ve always known, that we’re not the only players around.

I could go into detail about Putin’s puppet government, but in this section we’re just trying to see why even the semblance of democracy in an obviously not-so-democratic nation can help thwart a war between the East and the West.

It makes you wonder what would happen if Putin blatantly announced that Russia would be going back to Communism. Surely a lot of partnerships would collapse, economically, militarily, politically, and even its closest-trading partners in that side of the world would start to get nervous at the prospect, China for one. Having that kind regressive sentiment still carries a lot of stigma. The question then is not how many partners is Russia willing to lose to go head-to-head with the West in a war, but rather who of the partners it’s loosing. There’s no doubt that Putin would be applauded by leftist nations all over the world. The man is already popular with Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro and Bolivia’s Evo Morales, but now he’s also warming up to other South American nations that have historically or currently politically have gripes with the United States. Could these nations, plus some Asian and African nations, garner enough support for another Cold War siding with Russia? There is no coincidence here, most of these nations, including some factions in Mexico that were quickly disbanded due to Mexico’s proximity to the U.S., were openly Marxist Socialist or otherwise Communist and sided with the Soviet Union during the Cold War. But could we go as far as saying that a new Cold War would begin? This is an interesting but fearful answer to contemplate.

My honest answer is I don’t know, but I also believe that it would be highly unlikely seeing how the prosperity of this country, and this one and this other one, not to mention Russia’s economy– countries where the Soviet Union had a strong grip- has dramatically improved since the fall of the Berlin Wall. It is highly unlikely that any of those now-sovereign independent states, many of which now enjoy the protection of NATO, would ever support a regression. Let’s go so far as to say that only Russia becomes openly Communist again without invading countries or meddling in the affairs of other nations, it’s possible even its closest allies like China- which whom Russia enjoys a privileged position- would be wary of doing business with them due to the complexity of Communism in politics in today’s world.

This is good for the rest of the world, because even if Russia doesn’t truly belong in the circles that the West has created for itself, it belongs to that trading partnership and is welcome to receive its benefits. A war with Russia will never start as long as it enjoys the strong concessions provided by democracy, or by Brittish-American-style Capitalism. Does that mean that trying to improve its influential position, especially in the case of Ukraine, will not lead it to start a war? No, it doesn’t mean that, but again, Soviet-style imperialism is hard to hide nowadays.


2. Economics: China’s Growing Influence


Today, Russia and China enjoy a cozy relationship that was almost non-existent in the last years of Communism in Russia during the Sino-Soviet split. However, it seems that through calculated partnerships and strategic alliances, China’s sphere of influence has spread to cover now much of Asia and even the Latin American world as well. Here in the United States the insatiable craze for  Chinese trade that we have- which is also starting to wear thin- has allowed our country as well as theirs to prosper through mutual agreements and indeed also disagreements.

At the beginning of last century and during the start of the Cold War, Russian-style Communism was the perfect blend of social, political and economic elements to create the perfect alternative to the capitalistic democracy of the United States and similar sociopolitical systems of Europe. But as the years and leaders came and went and that romantic spirit of revolution waned, an almost antagonistic sentiment began to settle not just within the Politburo but also in the population of the Soviet Union itself. It was then that China took the torch and became the new model to follow. Chairman Mao Zedong and his “Cultural Revolution“, which was a brutal revival of the Chinese revolutionary sentiment that rebranded Communism and begun a new era of industrialism in the Eastern world. China quickly changed from being just a satellite state for the Soviet Union to becoming a top player in its own right.

Of course we know now that China is not the Communist nation that a young- or even an old- Mao aspired to build, but that in essence it is sort of like a hermit crab, a Capitalist hermit crab wearing a Communist shell. During the massive economic expansion that China went through in the 70s and 80s by opening up more to the West (something that Russia missed out on for obvious reasons), the Chinese grew their economy exponentially by more than 20% in some cases, quickly turning the country into a military and economic power.

USA and China.

Obvious disparities between the U.S. and China still exist, many based on culture differences, historical events, current alliances, economic models and, indeed, show of force; but overall, the business partnership that has allowed China to quickly become the second largest economy in the world after the U.S. while keeping the stability of the region fairly calm, has allowed both countries (China and us) to assert a major influence in that side of the world. This complex business partnership that begun some decades ago allowed a somewhat disenfranchised Asia to gravitate more towards China’s sphere of influence rather than Russia’s. And while the Western world seemed, for the most part, united against Eastern Communism, the East began to appear fractured as many Communist factions started to implement their own versions of the socio-economic and political system. In a word, China became somewhat of a good friend to the U.S., which was of course what the United States wanted and needed.

By the 1980s it was becoming more and more apparent that the partnership between China and the West would give the U.S. an important foothold in the East. Today, although tensions grow and diminish in Asia, China is still a good mediator between Western powers and hostile states such as North Korea and at times even between Russia and the United States. Even though the American dollar still dominates world markets, something that China’s powerful economy is working hard to change, with trillions of dollars at stake, it seems both countries would rather trade money than bullets. It’s also important to note that the massive purchase of American debt by China binds them in a strange way to us- if we can only hope they don’t ask for all their money all at once. There are problems that arise from this sort of mildly dangerous trade, one of those being that China might see the rift between U.S.-Russia relations as an opportunity for economic supremacy in a vie of military conquest towards eradicating the West. This is a real possibility, but until now it hasn’t had significant gravity to warrant hostile action on our part.

But to be honest, it is hard to imagine which side China would take if a war between the U.S. and Russia were to break out, after all China has been Russia’s trading partner for much longer than it has been America’s and what’s more, they share a border. We should also consider the recent developments in geopolitical events mainly the island disputes between China and Japan, of which the U.S. is a staunch ally. But I believe that if tensions start becoming unmanageable, China will use every resource available to resolve whatever differences diplomatically rather than militarily.


3. Isolationism


Think of the world as it is today. With the invention, or rather commercialization, of the internet, the world is now more connected than it has ever been before. I wouldn’t be surprised if a study produced results pointing out that the world is a little bit more peaceful, in part, to this collective thing that humanity has invented for itself. Today the power to speak to any human being on the planet (or even outside of it) in real time can be handled by any six year old with a mobile device and connection to the internet. The planet is quickly and willingly becoming more connected in mostly every aspect and the old policies of self-isolationism can no longer protect countries from the influence of the outside world. Take for example self-isolated countries such as Cuba and North Korea. These countries probably have the natural resources to survive independently of any other nation, unfortunately for them they only posses these resources and none other. In times of distress they can only depend on their own ingenuity to resolve their own problems and when those natural resources they depend on diminish, they have no outside help.

This wouldn’t be so bad of course if the leadership guiding these nations was disinterested in power and wealth. Unfortunately that’s not the case and as a result, their populations suffer immensely, in most cases lacking even basic human resources. It’s evident then that in this modern age we live in, isolationism for any country, whether self-imposed or as punishment by the conglomerate of nations that surround it (speaking in a political context), is in effect the kiss of death. In fact, no country in the world can now survive without the help of another. At this moment, Cuba is aided by many nations around the world and with the policy change under President Obama, the old embargo is expected to be fully lifted and a new partnership will begin between Cuba and the United States. But even North Korea, also known as the “Hermit Kingdom” for its aggressive self-imposed isolation, enjoys a military and economic alliance from one of its biggest sponsors- China.

Berlin Wall Credit: "Berlinermauer" by Noir at the German language Wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

Berlin Wall
Credit: “Berlinermauer” by Noir at the German language Wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

During the years of the Cold War when no trade agreements were allowed between Western countries (mostly Capitalist) and Eastern countries (mostly Communist), even isolated Russia traded with its satellite states and other neutral countries. There are many here in the United States that call for the self-isolation of our country and to stop meddling in other nations’ affairs. While I partially agree with the second part, I don’t think the first is a realistic goal at all.

According to our Republican politicians, and Conservatives throughout, Putin has made all the right moves in this political chess game being played at the global level. But as near-history has proven, Obama’s bloodless policy has not only worked better than military action, but it has repaired the somewhat damaged relationship between the U.S. and Germany over allegations that the N.S.A. had tapped German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone. This is a very good thing since Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande are some of our closer allies in that side of the world, and the people who are willing to stick our their necks so close to the Middle East and to Russia for us.

This strengthening relationship with the Europeans means that we are united against Putin’s shenanigans where it pertains to Ukraine and Georgia. It almost seems like deja vu what’s happening in Ukraine after the events of 2008 when Russia invaded another sovereign country in its backyard, Georgia. But the NATO alliance of which the U.S. and several European countries are members of, will not allow another invasion to go unresolved. But rather than fighting the Russians with conventional wars in their own turf (of which even a united Europe is incapable of doing), instead they turn to economics as way of fighting the Russians.

Last year, the meeting of the G7, formerly the G8, rejected to be held in Russia as a protest for the blatant act of invasion on Ukraine. And just a month ago Angela Merkel said with confidence that if Russia continues on this path with Ukraine, it will not be invited to the next G7 summit hosted by the German chancellor.  Take into account that the G8, now the G7, is not your typical college club. The G7 is a group of the seven most powerful nations in the world in terms of economy, military, and influence, and being shunned by the group can not only cost a country a lot of money, but also influence. When all G7 countries forcibly removed Russia from membership, that act sent a message that they will not tolerate one of their industrialized partners to behave like bullies.

With an already shrinking economy, the combination of sanctions imposed on Russia by Europe and the U.S. and the low price of oil will further drive down their economy, and with no way for foreign investors to take a stake in Russian goods, the Russians are quickly being isolated from the world stage. There’s only so much a country can do by itself. Even the very charitable IMF (International Monetary Fund) could not rescue Russian banks from the economic crisis of last year. These effects are being felt by the Russian people who, while at first supported the campaign in Crimea, now support instead a balance in Russian economics, and more importantly a drop in food prices.

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, Russia has retreated into a capitalism-style economy that is self supporting. But this strategy is not free. There is already an ongoing effort that’s gaining momentum to curb Russia’s energy supplies on Eastern Europe. The natural gas demands are to be supplanted by American natural gas reserves as a counter-measure to Russia’s Gazprom, the company that supplies Ukraine at steep prices that the current government is unable to pay up front.

By reading this you might think that it is a dangerous thing to bully Russia into isolation, but an isolated Russia, although still powerful and influential, is less likely to start a war with the United States- and NATO for that matter- without first having the support of more powerful allies. Agreed, economics alone perhaps will not stop Russia from starting a war, but it certainly does help. Hopefully, Russia will choose to go the diplomatic route instead of going to blows with the world.


4. Global Terrorism


After the Cold War ended, conventional wars quickly become obsolete in light that there were very few worthy contenders to fight with. Even the American military campaigns of Iraq and Afghanistan were little more than invasions. While one could make the case that these military campaigns were nothing more than an oil-grab or legitimate defensible invasions to depose a dictator, is up for individual debate. What we can be sure of is that global terrorism has changed the way the world conducts military operations, and the renewed involvement of intelligence services is reminiscent to the age of espionage during the Cold War.

Aided by one side or another (the Mujaheddin in Afghanistan to fight the Russians, or the North Vietnamese to fight the Americans), these groups, some of which are now players in today’s conflicts, mainly in the Middle East, now wage a different type of war against the West; this is not a war of allegiances or for territory, it is a war of ideas- holy war. Jihad, or holy war, against the “West”- a term not indicative of a region of the globe but an umbrella word to cover all of the oppressors of the Middle East and basically anyone who is an infidel, or an enemy of Islam- is indiscriminate of anyone. Even Muslims fall prey to the brutal tactics now in full effect by terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda and ISIS. And unlike the conventional enemies of before, up until a couple of years ago the enemy was invisible.

If we remember Russian imperialism during the Cold War, there is no way we can dismiss the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in the 80s. Could it be that the freedom fighters of yesterday (or the terrorists of today) realized that Soviet Russia was just America’s counterpart in the East? Perhaps. What we know for sure is that in this fight no one is safe, least of all civilians.

A few weeks ago, Haruna Yukawa and Kenji Goto, a pair of Japanese journalists were captured by the Islamic State (a.k.a. ISIS, ISIL) and were executed after the group failed to collect a hefty ransom that in all probability they knew they wouldn’t get. Now, Japan is considering amending their constitution, which expressly forbids Japan from building an offensive military, to aid in the “war against terror.” In similar situations other civilians of different nationalities have also been captured by the terrorist group and executed violently.

It is, to a certain degree, understandable why IS would have a deep hatred for the U.S., but to vow the destruction of Japan is something that falls a bit off the realm of reason. Not only is Japan a peaceful nation, but it doesn’t even have an offensive military. This just comes to show that the irrationality of these terrorist factions, not just Islamic but all terrorist factions around the world, is causing the world to unite against them. The effectiveness of these groups is rooted in three things: one is that they are totally and completely devoted to their beliefs and they are incredibly organized to carry them out; the second reason of why they are effective at what they do is that they take advantage of the goodwill of democratic nations and their tolerance; and the third thing is that they take advantage of the disagreements between these nations.

Russia must be united in this goal to eradicate global terrorism so that conventional wars with serious adversaries can resume. I obviously joke in that last part. But what is true is that it is easier to divide and conquer than to conquer. Of this I am obviously speaking of the visible divide that exists between industrialized nations such as the U.S. and Russia which makes it easier for these other players to take advantage of the situation and benefit from it for their own purposes. A divided world is exactly what they want.

The political games played for the supremacy of the region could be an indication as to what sort of plans one country or another has for that region of the world. I speak of the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan, the arming of Syria and the support to Iraq by Russia, the thousand alliances that are made and broken in the region and the million of details that go with them. Let’s not forget that although the Middle East is a patch of desert in the middle of nowhere, it’s also a gold mine with  seemingly inexhaustible oil reserves that the world wants a part of. Again, nothing in this life is free. With that oil comes something even more polluting, a slew of complications that are born out of the interests of all these different groups vying for what little natural resources this tiny part of the world has.

These tensions arising from warnings between the two powers exacerbate the dire situation that we find ourselves in. Where Russia doesn’t belong, perhaps the U.S. doesn’t belong either. But in protecting the interests of the United States (I will not say “protecting democracy or the free peoples or the Middle East” or any other such nonsense), it is unlikely that the U.S. will leave the region alone anytime soon. Let’s not make the mistake of thinking that just because U.S. boots are on the ground close to Russia that the Russians will just walk away. It’s not gonna happen. But is that enough to spark a war between the two countries? I am very skeptical that it will. Russia, like the United States, will protect its interests wherever it sees fit, interests that everyday are threatened more and more with the looming shadow of the Islamic State. If Russia vows to drive away these terrorists, you can be sure that its actions will also turn it into a target for ISIS, just like anyone else.

Although the situation that we find ourselves in is infinitely more complex than it was during the Cold War, I believe that through cooperation the enemy can be defeated. I do not forget that Russian authorities warned the F.B.I. about Tamerlan Tsarnaev (one of the Boston Marathon bombers) before he entered the U.S.- and the United States and its allies shouldn’t forget either. Admittedly, we dropped the ball on that one and civilians were murdered. But the cooperation was there.

If there’s anything that we should be thankful for now is that ISIS has grown to be big enough to spot. However, as big and mighty as the U.S. military is, if we want to deal effectively with global terrorism we will need all the help we can get. That’s a little hard to do when you are fighting wars all over with the people having the same problem as you. Not only must we appear united against terrorism but we must actually be united.


5. Common Sense: The Worst Is Over


Back in the 60s, the Cuban Missile Crisis brought the U.S. and Russia to the brink of destruction. The world watched nail-bitingly as President Kennedy and Soviet Premier Khrushchev faced off in the highest tensions the world had seen since the Iron Curtain came down over Europe.

Before the United States unveiled humanity’s deadliest weapon by dropping it on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and thus evaporating more than 200,000 people, the world was a bit more ballsy, going in and out of conflicts without much care for the people that fought them. But when the mushroom cloud rose high in the sky, it was obvious that this new weapon was a game changer in many ways. The Russians feared that the delicate balance of power had shifted dramatically and they worked arduously to produce an atom bomb of their own to counter the threat that they faced from the West.

By the time the Cuban Missile Crisis came around nearly 20 years after the invention of the atom bomb, both the United States and the U.S.S.R. were siting on a pile of about 20,000 nuclear and hydrogen bombs (an even more powerful weapon) and ICBMs*. [1] Although more than 18,000 of those were owned by the U.S., the other 2,000 that Soviet Russia owned was still a large enough stockpile to pulverize everything on the planet.

Fortunately for mankind none of those nukes were ever launched. It was then that humanity realized that the huge boulder hanging over their heads was held by nothing more than a thin thread with two men holding the scissors. During these early years of the Cold War, there was a very serious probability that by the end of the decade the world would be in ashes. Even after the Cuban Missile Crisis, the proliferation of nuclear weapons continued to massive levels peaking at 62,000 nuclear weapons, enough to destroy the entire planet many times over.

The scary thing is that while the C.M.C. was probably the closest we ever came to annihilation, it was not the only close call. There are at least five others, not one but two of them involving serious computer malfunctions that nearly caused us to bomb the shit out of each other, situations only averted by the good reasoning of soldiers from both sides that no doubt did not wish their two countries go to war. This mutual sentiment of coexistence surely contributed to the dismantling of nuclear weapons and the beginning of cooperation between the two countries with programs like SALT, after a tired and scared world counted the days until one leader or the other decided to end countless lives and kill every living thing at the push of a button.

To many it might seem like an ironic and dark twist of fate that during the Cold War the world was probably due to the very delicate balance of power protected by nuclear deterrence from both sides. However, this illusion of balance was maintained solely through fear. The M.A.D. (Mutually Assured Destruction) protocol dictated as much, and both countries were well aware of the kind of mayhem that they would be causing should a real war between them would ever happen. Although proxy wars of more conventional fare were fought and many people did die, at the very least we can say that the world did not disappear in the blink of an eye.

Even before the end of the Cold War, both the Americans and the Soviets began making progress to reduce the amount of W.M.D.s each possessed and continued working together well after it. One of the strongest indications that peace between the two countries will remain, at least at the non-nuclear level, is that we’ve been through it before and both nations know of each other’s capabilities to wage a war with the capacity to destroy everything and everyone on the planet.

Today many protocols and organizations exist solely to avoid the doomsday clock from ever reaching midnight. For fear that the 20,000 nuclear weapons that the U.S. and Russia still have might spark a nuclear war that most likely will drag most other countries in, these organizations and even the leaderships of our countries, I believe will work to eliminate every option before going to blows with each other.


The Importance of ‘Probably’


Although the Ruso-Ukrainian situation is severely hindering any effort for Russia to regain its seat as part of the G8, and exacerbating a terrible situation that is starting to turn our worst nightmares into realities, I believe there is still hope that a war can be averted.

This past Sunday a ceasefire devised by Germany’s Merkel and France’s Hollande and agreed upon by Russia’s Putin and Ukraine’s Poroshenko began between the Russian separatists and the Ukrainian military. Until now the truce has held sporadically, and some fighting still continues, some say at the behest of Putin who doesn’t seem to be all that serious about keeping the truce. Where the West is concerned, most of Ukraine would rather belong to the European union rather than form part of the Russian bloc that seems to be resurging. The Russians are well aware of this, but fearing that Ukraine will join NATO, Putin seems to be utterly prepared to hold the country at ransom to prevent that from ever happening. Crimea and now other parts of Ukraine under the control of the separatists are that leverage.

ukraine russia and europe


This all sounds very grave, but it seems that neither side is 100% ready to officially christen the follow-up to the first Cold War by starting a proxy war. If my dad were to tell me that he believes that another Cold War already broke out, to a certain degree I would feel inclined to agree with him, all the symptoms are there after all. But just as the United States feels that arming Kiev, secretly or openly, is the first step to a war, Russia also knows the consequences of arming the rebels. And each knows that what both are doing is just pushing that clock closer and closer to midnight.

While I base my opinion on what I observe, my entire argument also rests on something that is completely beyond my control, on the hope that both countries maintain some sort of civility and clear headedness through every step that as nations of power have to forcibly and inevitably engage in to resolve this.

To bet against this is stupid to the point of irrationality. People need to remember just how incredibly frail is this relative peace we have today, and how much we have to work to improve it. You must make the effort to see the reasons I’ve listed as the only barriers against global war and be alarmed at the fact that these things are what’s keeping the world “safe”, as if we had nothing else to base peace on but threats. It’s shameful that it is a sad reality to consider the new normal. Again.

Reality proves that there are those who are more right than others, but the United States as well as Russia need to engage in honest, purposeful diplomatic conversation to avert another major political and military disaster a mere 15 years into this new century.

Hopefully, the next time I talk with my dad, this reality I speak of will not be so grim.  Hopefully the talk will remain hypothetical and nothing else. Hopefully neither one will ever have to find out which side would win because make no mistake, no one will win, least of all the people who have little or no say in their country’s policy. Hopefully “probably” is enough to stop the world from tearing itself apart. Hopefully.




[1] “Historical Nuclear Weapons Stockpiles and Nuclear Tests By Country.” Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. Last modified 8 January 2015, at 11:26. Accessed 18 February, 2015.




*Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles allows for a cross-continent payload delivery, which is a missile with several warheads that has the capacity to reach targets across the world.

**G7- The group of seven allied economic powers which include the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, the United States, Canada, and Japan.

*** North Korea’s official name is DPRK or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.


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