Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Let's See Some ID

President Barack Obama discusses his plan for ...Image via WikipediaI wrote a piece back during the first month of President Obama's term that laid out the four things that I wanted him to accomplish. I was under no allusion that the administration was paying attention to my blog, but I figured it was worth the effort at the time. Of the four issues I mentioned, only one (health care) has been addressed in any significant way. Just as a refresher to all those who weren't followers of this blog at the time, the other three issues were Afghanistan, education and restoration of the Constitutional rights that were taken away under the previous administration.

I understand that logistics have gotten in the way of any significant change in Afghanistan, so I'm willing to give the President a pass on that one. I still don't believe that we have a real exit strategy or that our troops are doing any good, but I understand the difficulty in removing an army that is propping up a puppet regime.  However, the fact that education hasn't even gotten so much as a passing mention does not make me particularly happy. And the rolling back of rights that are guaranteed under the Constitution, well let's just say that this administration has apparently decided that it likes being able to eavesdrop on our conversations, detain us without due process and ship us off to other countries for "questioning" if it feels it's necessary. This is from the same President who said during his inauguration speech that the choice between safety and our ideals is a false one. Apparently he changed his mind. 

All that being said, I am totally on board with the President's mission of changing the tone of Washington. He has tried time and time again to reach out to the opposition. He has made so many concessions that some of his supporters have doubted his conviction to progressive ideals. I never have (okay, I may have wavered a bit during the health care debate). Despite all of the in fighting and political horse trading that has gone on during this administration, I always felt that the President was at least speaking truthfully or as truthfully as he could, to the American people. This week, however, I believe that he has crossed the line. In speaking about the continued NATO action in Libya, he said that US would always intervene when it saw the leader of a country harming it's own citizens (I'm paraphrasing here, but that was the general sentiment). I know, he knows and the American people know that is a crock of shit. There are multiple regimes that we support (particularly those with oil), who do great harm to their own citizens and we don't so much as bat an eye in protest. In fact we support those countries with our dollars and our weapons. We did the same for Qaddafi only a few short months ago, until he apparently turned into the worst person in the world. 

This is by no means a renunciation of my support for this President or his administration. I am very satisfied with the many things that he has been able to accomplish in the face of historic opposition. He has survived unsubstantiated attacks against his family, his citizenship, his academic record, his patriotism, his religious beliefs, etc. to forge a very impressive record of accomplishments. I stand by him and stand ready to support him in the next election. What I am saying is that I'm disappointed. Not by the lack of action on my pet issues, but that this President who I hold in such high regard, would speak to us, would speak to me as if I were a child with no understanding of the world. 

I always thought that President Obama did us the courtesy of speaking to us as if we were adults. I appreciated that after having to listen to the jingoistic patriotism that was spewed out at us by the previous administration. It didn't always come across as exciting or sound bite worthy, but it was the truth (or as much truth as could be shared). We all know that we are not the world's morality police. We can't afford to be and frankly we are no position to foist our views of morality on anyone. But when we decide to target a particular leader for removal based on strategic considerations, I would appreciate it if the President would show us the courtesy of being upfront about it. We have no moral basis for intervening in Libya. There was no genocide going on. What we did was get in the middle of civil war because it served the strategic goals of us and our allies. I know politicians think that we are pretty stupid (and given our willingness to be convinced of almost anything I can understand why). However, part of the change message that I bought into was that we were now going to be treated like adults. Stupid adults maybe, but adults nonetheless. Up until now I thought the President was doing a pretty good job of that. I can only hope that this is just a misstep and not a sign of things to come.
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Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Human Condition

"Can't we all just get along?" Those famous words were uttered by Rodney King during the height of the LA riots. And the answer to that is, of course, no. We are not designed to live in peaceful coexistence. From the time we are able to reason, we look for ways to separate ourselves from others. We, individually, or in a group start labeling those around us. We start looking for ways to make ourselves feel superior as soon as we become self aware. 

Often the question is asked, how did the holocaust happen? The answer is as easy and as predictable as every time it has happened since then. The pattern goes something like this, our innate feeling of superiority leads to a feeling of entitlement which leads to frustration which leads to resentment which leads finally to anger. Once we reach the point of anger all that we need is a target to focus that anger. It has happened time and time again. Whether it was the Armenians or the Jews or the Japanese or the Chinese or the Blacks or the Tutsi or the Mayans or the Muslims or any other group that has faced genocide in human history. It happens time and time again. It leads one to the inescapable conclusion that we, as a race of beings, are born with the ability to commit the most haneous of crimes against each other.  

The only question to how far we are willing to go is how much the "target" has been dehumanized or devalued. In the case of the victims of genocide, the target has been so devalued that they are no longer viewed as worthy of the same right to life as the perpetrators. The victims are viewed as "monkeys" or "innately evil" or "sub human" or "dirty" or something less than <.I would ask those on the left whether they feel "superior" to those on the right? Do you think that you are better because you care more about the preservation of our planet? Or because of your more tolerant attitude toward people who are different? Or because you are against war? Those on the right may feel superior because of their religious beliefs, or because of their greater sense of patriotism or because the color of their skin. Are you superior to your neighbor because you have a higher IQ than they do?  Are you superior to your neighbor because you have more money than they do? Are you superior because your kids go to better schools? Are you superior because you shop at better department stores than do? The fact is that doesn't matter what the reason is, we are always looking for a reason.

Our ability for cruelty, hatred and disdain toward our fellow human beings is seemingly limitless. Our current political discourse is just an example of our seemingly congenital need to feel superior to someone or some group. Those on the right see Godless, unpatriotic hippies on the other side and they feel superior to them. Those on the left see racist, hypocritical rednecks on the other side they feel superior to them. It is just a continuation of our need to subjugate someone to make us feel better about ourselves. The thing is that there are lots of shared views on both sides of the debate. I'm fairly sure that at church on Sunday, there are representatives from both sides of the isle. I'm pretty sure that both sides pray to the same God. I'm fairly sure that both sides have their fair share of patriots, rednecks and hippies. There are Gays, Blacks, Jews, Asians, Mexicans, etc, who vote Republican at every turn. And there are Whites from Georgia, Arkansas, Tennessee, West Virginia, etc, who are dedicated Democrats. 

As Abraham Lincoln once said, there is much more that unites us than separates us. But as we use terms that devalue others based on something as insignificant as political views, we are fulfilling a basic tenant of the human condition. Does it matter what we issue we use to separate ourselves? Does it matter whether we open a boiled egg from the big end or small end? Not really. We will find what makes us different and someone will always be there to exploit our need to feel superior. Whether for political gain or monetary gain or a power grab, those looking to gain something will always be able to manipulate some portion of the masses to go along with them as long as they appeal to one of our most basic needs. The Human Condition allows us to commit the most horrible of acts without a second thought. I guess we can be grateful that our current political discourse has not yet devolved to the point of an armed conflict. Yet we are only a few short steps from taking up arms under the guise of protecting ourselves against an as yet unnamed enemy. If history has shown us anything, it is that every society (regardless of how supposedly enlightened it may be) is cable of turning against itself. That is the Human Condition.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

No Choice. Again.

We’re reading it everywhere aren’t we?

President Obama’s formerly shifting political fortune, born aloft by an improving if not stabilizing economy (the numbers are largely horseshit, just look at how many of your own friends are still out of work, the point is things aren’t getting worse which is a huge accomplishment) has now gone stratospheric with the assassination of Osama Bin Laden. No Republican is eager to run against this Black President now, whereas just weeks ago, buffoons like Donald Trump were emboldened to ridicule, insult and even run against the first Democrat to hold the highest office in the land since William Jefferson Clinton. (Trump is not a Republican by the way, let’s get serious. Even I think too much of the party of Lincoln to honor Trump’s attention hungry brand of opportunism as some sort of platform.)
The thinking amongst Republicans and analysts attempting to foresee the near future is that the President is now, suddenly invulnerable to the kinds of groundless criticism and arbitrary policy opposition that the GOP has been breathlessly supplying since 2008. President Obama’s important, historic operational victory against Al Qaeda, has had many Right wing strategists wondering aloud: what can take the place of the facile catchy nonsense that people like Michelle Baachman were serving up every day? I agree. It’s hard to keep pushing tired bullshit like “the President’s a Kenyan,” or “The President’s a Muslim” when he brings the most wanted man on Earth back in a body bag (-You can complain about him dumping the body in the ocean and not showing you pictures, I guess.)

The Republicans have always more or less claimed that they owned the homogeneous Caucasian voting blocs (in the South, in the MidWest etc.,) foreign policy, defense, war and in general –patriotism, as issues/strongholds of their own. They have shown the raw power of repetition in the political imagination by repeating it over and over again and getting large swathes of the electorate to buy it. So what do they do now that the President of the United States is African American (disproving the old Nixonian era premise that Democrats only supported civil rights to get votes?) What do they do now that the President might be leading the most bank-friendly (which pisses me off ) administration in history? What do they do now that the President has shown himself willing to do (an violent incursion into Pakistan without Pakistani sanction or knowledge apparently) what his Republican predecessor could not?

The Republican panic amongst formerly bold-talking candidates like Pawlenty, Romney and others seems to be the realization that they cannot take a political opponent like the President to task on the resolution of issues or enacting of policies so similar to their own -if not in letter, then in consequence. Healthcare Reform might have been a nice wedge issue to resurrect in 2012, but it’s the law of the land now (as little as it actually is and actually does,) and nobody is excited to argue for the repeal of legislation that outlaws quasi-criminal consumer fraud like rescission that literally kills Americans when Insurance companies decide it’s cheaper to let a citizen die (you know, those real “death panels” that are called accounting departments at HMOs.) Romney in particular won’t have a credible thing to say in opposition of Healthcare Reform, -his strategists could tell him to accuse President Obama and Nancy Pelosi of copying his idea and success… but where does that get Romney in the larger GOP picture? The Right has opposed the very process of Health Care Reform. Expanding healthcare coverage has never come up as a goal during a Republican administration, only on the agendas of certain Republican Governors.

There are other troubling issues about this President that will never be raised (at least not by his opposition) such as the fact that he hasn’t overturned any of the expansions in Presidential powers the Republicans (in office) insist are still necessary (I’ll be writing more about this on July 4th) and that render the whole of the Constitution, optional at best for a sitting President. This is, for all the legitimate and all the disingenuous criticism levied against this administration, the absolute worst thing the Obama administration has done: Every day that secret laws and powers stay on the books, or the provisos allowing for secrecy sit unaddressed, the Republic exists in name only.
I stupidly expected a Republican, or at least a Libertarian to lead the charge on this issue. Naive, I know. Even the American Left has refused to point out the irony behind our current state of affairs: The President needs a warrant to search my house, but he has the power to have me, an American citizen assassinated, legally, without anyone knowing. It’s true, look it up.

Damn Dick Cheney and his servile asshole shadow government. Damn John Yoo and his sycophantic devotion to the presidency: The next time he wants to overcompensate for his ethnicity, I hope he has the decency to leave the rule of law out of it. Damn President Obama for not overturning these secret monarchial instruments immediately. (…More on July 4th)

…Back to the President’s apparent rising fortune due to his assassination of Osama Bin Laden: The trouble with this sort of thinking by Republican strategists and candidates is that Democrats rarely seem to be able to win on wars or foreign policy alone (unless you’re FDR in which case you were able to leverage the war against unemployment to a positive degree,) regardless of their actual record, just as Republicans never see to be able to capitalize on sound fiscal policy in practice: Case in point, Ross Perot or not, at some point, somebody, some journalist or pundit is going to have to concede that President George Herbert Walker Bush raised taxes, -something anathemic to a lifelong, big business Republican and he thereby lost his reelection bid. Bush 41 raised taxes because it was necessary, and he knew it was political suicide when he did it. Republicans should be proud of that. It’s never acknowledged, but the economic recovery (in some sectors not all) and subsequent record setting expansion (in some sectors not all) under the Clinton administration was due in some large part to Bush 41 essentially capitulating to reality, and most importantly, putting the country’s future ahead of his own political fortunes.

-and here’s a revelation. I voted for the man in 1988. I, a poor kid from the South Bronx, registered to vote by ACORN… Me, a far Left Liberal, Progressive from a Democratic household, whose mother was a Kennedy and Civil Rights-era immigrant voted for a Republican.
It was a throwaway term I remembered from sixth grade, a silly but catchy two word aphorism I remembered from a class report I had to write for school on the Republican candidates in the 1980 primaries. “Voodoo Economics.”
With that, I knew that later catchphrases like “Read my lips, no new taxes!” were just campaign talk. There was an intellect there, in the mind of that ex CIA head, that former ambassador, and former WWII pilot that let me understand Bush was not a reductivist like Reagan, but also that he was not Michael Dukakis. Dukakis, who for all his ideological strengths and commonality with me, just did not convince me that he had the managerial capacity to get the country through the next four years, a horrible time post Reaganomics for youth, -my remaining time in college and what would be my first two years out of school.
I didn’t see the Gulf War coming, but even in this; he chose the stability of a living known threat in Saddam Hussein, to the upheaval and interminable conflict and bloodshed the U.S. is ironically embroiled in now thanks to the policies of his son’s administration. Bush 41 fought a war for oil and called it a war for Kuwati freedom, -I’ll never forgive him for that lie and the bombing campaign, -neither will the Iraqi people.
But Republicans will never forgive him for raising taxes.
Democrats, and many close friends on the Left have always expressed shock and even disgust when I tell them that I voted for the elder Bush, citing Panama, citing Iraq. When I point out President Bill Clinton’s unrestricted use of our armed forces, and his bombing of Iraq they look at me as if I took some cheap shot at them: -All I’m shooting down is a misperception that still persists along party lines, sometimes furthered by the parties themselves. Democratic Presidents may run as sober advocates of peace and diplomacy, but they are no less likely to set our formidable military loose on foreign countries.
It was a Democratic President that dropped the atomic bomb, -twice.
Bush 41 exerted an intellect barely masked by the shucksy/folksy pretensions recommended by his PR men. The man was a nerd, and I respected him for that. I always side with the smartest guy in the room who makes his point with facts, -not the guy who says he’s the smartest guy. All we can hope for after election day, is that a President makes policy decisions that put the nation first with our collective futures and wellbeing in mind.

Better dead than Red” may as well be a rallying cry among Democrats and the sane in America today. It’s what things have come to. You can thank the activity around Sarah Palin for a lot of it. She was a calculated and cynical choice for a VP candidate that frankly endangered the nation, I don’t care how nice, feisty, down-to-earth anyone thinks she is. As many people as she energizes, she appears to motivate far many more to ridicule and stand against her, and by extension the GOP. She is the latest avatar of an anti-intellectualism on the Right that is disgusting to Americans like me: It’s a gambit I want to see disappear from American politics. Nobody should be proud of their ignorance or simplicity if they are running for any office, and none of us, on the Right or the Left should stand for it.
Many of us on the Left have been reduced to not so much as consider the “opposition.” There shouldn’t be an opposition ultimately. We shouldn’t be able to make up our minds so far in advance, with so little thought or examination of the candidates. The bottom line is Democrats should have to work for my votes too. They shouldn’t be able to count on their opposition being so uniformly outside the center that I have to vote for whatever alternative presents itself, and I tell you that in the case of a Sarah Palin, I’d make sure I was there bright and early to vote for another candidate.

Certainly there are issues that are deal breakers for many citizens, but the Right has become so recklessly puritanical that they will at times attack their own, robbing us of potentially strong legislators and leaders. There are no moderates left, no dissenters, at least none that are welcome in the GOP. When you consider the irresponsible and issueless campaigning strategies like the “Swift Boat” promotion, the GOP encounters opposition from voters like me even after they “win” an election.

A Republican figured out how to make healthcare reform actually work in his state, another managed, (for a time) to get blanket medical coverage for children in hers. Why don’t they and their concerns, and more importantly their abilities have an open home in their own party?

The country is not as divided as special interests and the elites (--The real elites, not some chatterbox who drives a Prius or a Hummer and reads The New Yorker or the Economist, I’m talking about really Rich people) would have us believe.

You and I are not so far apart that a label or party brand should stop us from voting for the same candidate. We want to live, and find happiness and be safe. There’s so much more to running this country than politicians would have us believe. No party should be so far from the center of our hearts and minds; so ideologically doctrinaire that it cannot create policy that serves nothing other than pronouncements and supports nothing but internecine party divisions.

I’m not a contrarian, not where it’s important anyway. I am a Liberal, I am a Progressive, and I vote Democrat most of the time out of a dearth of choice. –Why isn’t there someone other than Lincoln Chaffee or Christine Todd Whitman in the red column who could get my vote today?
It’s ridiculous.

When I write long screeds like this, I like to remember Jack Kemp. I doubt he and I could have agreed on much, -except jobs and civil rights. He may have gotten my vote in the ’88 if I had been able to vote in a Republican primary, (another stupid wrinkle in our system.) When he ran with Dole in ‘96, I wondered openly how they could have gotten that year’s ticket “upside down.”

Maybe for once, it shouldn’t be about winning arguments in America, but really presenting the people with ideas instead of emotions and targets. After all, you can win an argument and be absolutely, fundamentally wrong. We’ve all done it. People who are married do it all the time: Make the issue in question emotional, or about something else altogether and you can shut another person down and walk away leaving nothing resolved except the echo of your own voice drowning out the facts.
While we’re trying to win arguments with each other, the clock is running down, our problems are getting worse and nothing is getting done.
I’m asking everyone in this country to wonder aloud and with their neighbors and the people on the street, and out on the road, “What good is a two party system, when there isn’t any real choice to make?”
Picking your party as a first resort or a last resort is not a decision.
That’s not choosing.
That’s going along with the herd.

We’re not donkeys. We’re not elephants.
We’re Americans.
We’re human beings.


Monday, May 02, 2011

Buried at Sea.

Knowing that you were about to be taken out of this world must have been real tough, as Navy SEALs closed in on your mansion Mr. Bin Laden. The fear you felt must have been unimaginably terrible and for that I have no sympathy, only a kind of grim glee. I long ago reserved my tears for the human beings who jumped to their deaths on September 11th, -martyred as unwilling participants in your attempts at global symbolism. You saw great value in killing people on their way to work around the world.

You had marshalled your considerable wealth to kill as many people as you could around the world to make a point to governments you formerly collaborated with for the last twenty five years. You killed people working at embassies.

Now, you're dead.

The world will not be thrust back into the 15th century, or whatever it is you were trying to bring about with your sad, repressive brand of religious fundamentalism.

The United States Armed Forces, in its great wisdom, denied you the moral high ground of having your body desecrated, and instead condescended to your own traditions.

Your chapter is closed.