Thursday, September 27, 2012

Who I’m Not Voting For

I’m trying to work out who I should vote for in this infernal presidential race.  Your feedback would be greatly appreciated.

I’m striving not to be the petulant 24-year-old self-righteous know-it-all.  I know there is no such thing as a perfect candidate, and I accept the logic of voting for the lesser of two evils.  If one of the major party candidates was likely to move the United States significantly closer to peace and justice, I would swallow my moral objections and vote for that person.
However, I also feel that that logic only works up to a point.  I believe it is possible for a candidate (or the forces/system he represents) to be so evil, so corrupt, that there are no circumstances under which it is ethical to vote for him.  At some point, we have to make a stand on principle.
To use a very, very extreme example: if the Nazis were running against the KKK, it would not be right to say, “Well, the KKK is the lesser evil, so I’m going to be mature and vote for them.” The only moral choice would be to abstain or to vote third party.
Let’s start with our current president.
A list of things I disagree with him on would stretch forever (and not be particularly interesting.) Here are the things that, I think, put him beyond the pale – that make it actually unethical for me, as a Christian, to vote for him.
  • He tried to use raw executive power to force religious institutions to financially support activities they saw as immoral.
  • He has done nothing to reduce the abortion rate.
  • He has done nothing to address America’s looming debt crisis (which, I think, will be a fatal crisis), other than endlessly imply that it could be solved if we just taxed millionaires “a little more.”
  • He has killed hundreds of civilians in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia with drone strikes, while opting to count all military-age males who die in such strikes as “militants” – a policy that General Ratko Mladic is currently on trial for in The Hague.
  • Rather than pushing for peace in Syria, he has placed the United States firmly on one side in Syria’s ethno-religious civil war, supporting a bloc of armed Sunni Islamists in their bid to overthrow the Syrian government and, in all likelihood, cleanse the country of non-Sunni communities.
  • His administration has continued America’s post-World War II habit of lavishing billions of dollars in cash and weapons on governments that engage in horrendous, systematic human rights abuses, laying the groundwork for generations of war, oppression and ethnic cleansing, all for the sake of the U.S.’s momentary geopolitical advantage. (Here I’m thinking of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan, and – sad to say – Israel and South Sudan.)
  • He collaborated with Saudi Arabia to put down a popular uprising in Bahrain against Bahrain’s sectarian dictatorship.
  • Rather than either withdrawing from Afghanistan immediately or fighting through to a semi-successful conclusion, he opted to send tens of thousands of additional American troops into Afghanistan, and then quietly withdraw them without any improvements on the ground.  The only motive I can discern here is political expediency.  Nearly 1,500 Americans and only the Good Lord knows how many Afghans were killed as a result.
Rhetorically, Mitt Romney differs from Obama only on the first three points. In actual practice, I think he would differ only on the birth control mandate.
Why are these two men, who are both – why sugarcoat it? – complicit in mass murder, the only two options?
BECAUSE WE HAVE MADE IT SO.  Because we have given these two parties our votes time and time again.  The only way to make it not-so is to withhold our vote from them – or at least give it to a third party, so we don’t show up in the statistics as lazy bums who don’t care about democracy.
Right now, I’m thinking Green Party.  But I’m open to recommendations.
Besides, if we’re being all practical and stuff, I live in the District of Columbia – not exactly a swing state.
Besides, Obama’s gonna win anyway.

UPDATE: The great Adam M. writes in to say, "In reference to your latest blog post, go to, take their imperfect but helpful quiz, and then tell me if, like me, it leads you to research and consider voting for the Justice Party."

I took the quiz, and it told me to vote for Jill Stein of the Green Party. However, the Justice Party has an intriguing name...more investigation is required.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

People I Met in South Sudan Last Week

David seems to be in his late teens.  He has only one hand; his right arm ends in a clean stump.  When he was much younger, during the war, he tried to pick up an unexploded piece of ordnance.  It went off, and blew off his hand.

He has been living with a pastor whose ministry to war orphans is supported by Christian Solidarity International, the group I work for.  He is very shy, but speaks pretty good English. 

Biwan is a young (maybe 8 years old) survivor of polio, a disease that still occurs in South Sudan.  His legs are crippled, and his older brother, Ayak, carries him around on his back.  On this trip, we are able to give him a hand-powered tricycle, which will allow him to move around on his own.

Marco was freed from slavery four years ago through the efforts of the Sudanese Government's Committee to Eradicate the Abduction of Women and Children (CEAWAC).  My boss, Dr. John Eibner, met him at the time and gave him some food and a survival kit.  He sees us on the street while walking to school in his uniform and greets us.

I can't tell how old Marco is, but he seems far older than his 6th grade classmates.  Marco was often tied down and beaten by his master, especially when he refused to pray like a Muslim.  The right side of his body is partially paralyzed, and he walks with a limp.  He never found his family.  He is infectiously cheerful, and tells us he wants to be a teacher some day.

About five thousand enslaved people were retrieved and sent home by CEAWAC.  The group's head publicly estimated that 35,000 people remained in slavery in North Sudan, before the group was summarily shut down by the government.

Nyibol is 10 years old, and was freed from slavery on this trip.  When she was about three years old, her master tried to separate her from her parents.  They refused and tried to resist.  Her master had them tied up, and cut their throats while she watched.  Her older cousin looked after her after that.  She also came home through CSI's network.

Manoot is about 15 years old, and was freed from slavery on this trip.  He was enslaved with his mother and brother when he was very young.  He remembers seeing the slave raiders slitting the throats of wounded villagers who fell during the attack he was captured in.  His mother tried to escape with him and his brother, but their master's relatives found them and killed her.

Manoot's brother was already liberated by CSI.  Hopefully they will be reunited soon.

Garang is 12 years old, and was freed from slavery on this trip.  When he was about four, his parents – also enslaved – were working in the peanut field.  He cried for his mother to come nurse him.  While she was feeding him, the master came and shouted at her, “Why aren’t you working?” He took a gun and started shooting at her.  She escaped, but a stray bullet hit Garang in the lower leg.  His leg is bowed and disfigured, and he walks with a limp.  Both his parents ran away, and he never saw them again.

Garang does not know his parents’ full names, and does not know their home village in the South.  Finding his family, if he has any, will be nearly impossible.

My boss asks him what he will do now.  He says he doesn’t know, unless we have any ideas.

My boss asks him if he would like to come back to the village where CSI is based and live with one of our South Sudanese staff members.  He will get plenty of food and will be able to go to school.

Our staff member translates the question.  Garang motions at the survival kit at his feet, which has been distributed to all the slavery survivors. It contains a blanket, a mosquito net, a pan for boiling water, farming tools, and other basic necessities. “Will I be able to keep this?” he asks.

We tell him he can, and he hops in the land cruiser with us for the three-hour ride back to our compound.

Deng is in his mid-teens, and was liberated from slavery in April of this year.  When he arrived back in the South, he had huge open wounds on his legs.  His master had beaten him there because he asked to go to school instead of looking after the goats.

After staying with CSI's field physician for a while to have his wounds treated, he went looking for his parents, and eventually found them.  They gave him a big hug, and told him they were happy to see him again.  He also learned that he has a brother and a sister.  They all live together now, and Deng is going to school and attending a Pentecostal church.  "I like praying to God," he says.

While we are in South Sudan, he visits us at the compound nearly every day.  When we pack up our tents to leave, he goes around with a broom, cleaning the mud off of them. (It's the rainy season - I'll complain about it another day.) "Apotapai," I tell him - Dinka for "thank you." He smiles, looks at the ground, and replies, "Yes."