Monday, December 7, 2009

Meanwhile, We're Still at War

Oooh did you hear about Tiger Woods and his bevy of mistresses?

How is this news? Are they actually teaching journalism students in school today that this passes as actual journalism? The mantra used to be "if it bleeds, it leads". No more, apparently.

As a nation we have allowed ourselves to become obsessed with the trivial, the inconsequential, and the meaningless. Celebrity has become the new religion, and the faithful masses partake in the weekly sacraments of Us and People magazines, while blinding themselves to issues that actually affect them.

Healthcare legislation that will potentially affect most Americans (should it actually pass) is currently being bandied about by pompous Senators and Representatives who seem more concerned with representing the interests of Big Insurance than they are in representing us. Our President, just a few short years after taking President Bush to task for his Iraq "surge", has opted to commit 30,000 of our brothers and sisters into the meat grinder of Afghanistan, collectively known as the "graveyard of empires".

And that's what we've become - an empire. Long gone are the days of the American Republic, if in fact it ever existed at all. Our history as a nation is marked by wars and the usurpation of land by indigenous tribes. "I've got the pistols, so I get the pesos", sing the Refreshments in their song "Banditos", and we may as well replace In God We Trust with that little bit of truth. It represents us as a nation better than any religious platitude ever could.

And as is the case with all empires, we become so concerned with the borders of our empire, with "national security" as it is referred to these days, that we are content to ignore the goings-on within the borders. That is, unless is involves awards shows, reality TV, or celebrity shenanigans. It has been argued that we have more people willing to vote for the next American Idol than for the next American President. It is telling that we elevate Sarah Palin to the echelon of Influential Political Voices in America: she is as clueless and seemingly proud of it as her constituency. We are a nation that traded our library cards for Blockbuster cards. We are content to be stupefied by the latest Blu-Ray bread and circus, and less inclined to leave the house to broaden our horizons.

In the times of the Romans, we can mark off the beginning of the end with the advent of "Bread and Circuses". The government supplied free bread to the starving citizenry, and promoted bloody gladiatorial displays. Chariot races and foreign conquests (along with that free carb-heavy diet) kept the mouth-breathers in line while the Caesars and senators partied away around the vomitoriums. And in the end, the barbarians who were long-dismissed as no real threats sacked Rome and slaughtered its inhabitants.

I say it is time for us as Americans to try rousing ourselves from our own carb-heavy stupors, turn off the UFC pay per views, put down the celebrity magazines and look at the empire we live in. I mean, REALLY look at it. How is our healthcare system, compared to other countries'? How is our educational system? Can you name your local representative? When you receive a jury duty summons, are you more concerned with how to get out of it than you are with how to serve your community?

I fear the end is near, gentle pilgrims, and I say that because if there is to be a solution, it will come not from Washington but from us. And that does not fill me with hope.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

War on Christmas!

It's started already.

Defensive Christians all over America have once again begun to pick the rallying cry over the "War on Christmas". For those of you who have blissfully missed this silliness over the last few years, it started in Kentucky this year. Why am I not surprised? But I digress...

The governor there, Steve Beshear, insisted on calling the Christmas tree... a "Christmas tree". Apparently some of the state legislators were caught referring to it as a "holiday tree", which got the loonies in a lather. Last week, the Mississippi-based
American Family Association announced a boycott against the Gap because supposedly it aired a "holiday" commercial and failed to mention "Christmas". They actually did, but far be it from the AFA to let facts and reason get in the way of a good tantrum.

And so it goes. Conservative Christians for years now have lamented the secularization of their holiday. "Jesus is the reason for the season", they would remind us, and pray mercy on those who forget. They've managed to recruit Bill O'Reilly to be their mouthpiece, spewing propaganda from his pulpit at Fox News regarding this atrocity.

Any time a nativity is represented in a town square, you can hear the veritable pin drop as these warriors for Christ wait for some ACLU no-goodnik to start whining about the separation of church and state, and how displaying religious holiday paraphernalia on government land, on the government's dime, is a constitutional violation, blah blah blah. I'd love to see how these same Christian Soldiers would feel, should the government wish to dedicate some tax dollars to sponsoring pilgrimages to Mecca for its Muslim citizenry, or festering Main Street with signs wishing passers-by a happy Ramadan.

They would remind us that America is a Christian nation (it’s not), and that all the founding fathers were Christians (they weren’t), and that our laws are based on the Bible (they aren’t). It is true that Christians far outnumber any other religion’s members in this country. No debating there. It’s true that Christmas, celebrated on December 25th, is generally and traditionally recognized as the birth of Jesus. Again, no contradictions here.

But I thought, as we enter the holiday season (too damned early, if you ask me), we remind ourselves of a few facts:

First off, the reason the early church leaders chose December 25th as the date for Christmas was to coincide with the winter solstice, traditionally revered by Druids and other various pagan groups. They figured out that this was when the days started getting longer, and the sun “returned” to the earth. Druids would decorate trees with candles to celebrate the returning of the light. Feasts were enjoyed. Gifts were given. Thousands of years before there was such a thing as Christianity, these pagan traditions were firmly embedded in the culture. In an effort to capitalize on this festive time, early church leaders started weaving in the story of Jesus’ birth to coincide with this date, and many of the existing traditions were simply re-written to give them a Nativity spin. Now we give gifts like the three Wise Men gave them, etc.

Secondly, there’s no way Jesus could have been born in late December, if the Nativity account in the Bible is to be believed. “Shepherds were watching over their flocks by night” in a field when a bunch of angels showed up, scared the crap out of them, and announced the birth of Jesus. In Bethlehem in Israel, late December is a very cold time of year. Shepherds were not likely to be out in a field at night. More likely in December, they’d have the sheep in a barn somewhere so they didn’t freeze to death. Jesus was born (again, if we are to accept the biblical account as fact) in warmer months, like late spring or summer.

Finally, late December, and the solstice in general, host many different holidays, sponsored by many faiths. We have Hanukkah. We have Kwanzaa (which while not a religious celebration per se, is still separate from Christianity). We have Yule, the modern version of the pagan solstice celebration.

So to assume that “Happy Holidays” is somehow a refusal to acknowledge Christianity is just plain silly. All it assumes is that there are several holidays being celebrated around that time, and person “A” is simply wishing person “B” a nice one, whichever they’re celebrating.

This whole “war on Christmas” is pure bunk. It really isn’t a Christmas tree, when you get right down to it. It’s a Yule tree, and the Christians outright stole it from the Druids. But you don’t hear them complaining. Not because they don’t exist anymore (they do), but because unlike Christians, they’re not that defensive. They accept the existence of other religions, and they are willing to share the season’s goodwill with anyone, regardless of their theology. Would that Christians were so gracious.

These Christian zealots see challenges to the dominance of their religion in every harmless little statement. They pick fights where none exist. No one is seriously trying to eradicate Christianity. But it must be acknowledged that not everyone celebrates Jesus' birthday, and there's no crime there. They are simply embracing our right to not have to be included in it. So they say "Happy Holidays". Where's the harm? There is no underlying sinister footnote. Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas, and pardon the hell out of me for not joining in. Why must clerks say "Merry Christmas"? What, their low-paying jobs are stressful enough without taking time out to appease the fundamentalist right wing under threat of boycotts as well? Why do stores like Target and KMart have to deal with the threat of boycotts just because they acknowledge that not everyone is a Christian? "How dare they wish those jews and pagans a happy holiday? Don't they know that Christmas is the only thing worth mentioning?" Or did I get it wrong, Mr. O'Reilly?

I’m reminded of the Christians’ Bible, Paul’s first letter to the church of Corinth, thirteenth chapter:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.”

I humbly submit that this notion of a war on Christmas is borne of pride, of self-seeking, of an unwillingness to share, of a desire to keep a record of alleged transgressions. Insisting that people say “Merry Christmas”, insisting that store clerks say “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays” reflects selfishness and insecurity. If your god is the one true god and every other religion is an exercise in futility, then it shouldn't ruffle your feathers when you encounter others who believe differently. It’s no threat to you it does not negate your truth, and you do your god a disservice by not being gracious and demonstrating his supposed grace and forgiveness.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Hate, Inc.

This weekend in Phoenix, Arizona there was an anti-immigration protest held, organized by "American Citizens United". I checked their web site, and behind the patriotic lip service is a clear message: we hate Mexicans. One wonders, as the organization is based in Arizona, if you hate Mexicans so much, why are you living in a state that borders Mexico? I mean, it's just unrealistic of you to not expect to see Mexicans, here legally or not, all around you. By my count, there are 34 states that do not border other countries. You can't move to one of them?

That aside, some neo-Nazis showed up at this rally, and a scuffle ensued. Tea-bagging Mexican haters apparently don't wish to include the Nazis in their protests. I mean, hating Mexicans is one thing, but when someone shows up at your rally waving a picture of Hitler, it takes away from their credibility.

It occurred to me watching that, that there's no shortage of anger today in America. Most of it is from white folks, red state patriots who are convinced that our country is circling the drain, and that their opinions aren't being taken into consideration, and they want their country back. Okay, but back from whom? Who "stole" your country? Back when Bush was (failing at) running things, liberals like myself had the same mantra: "what happened to MY America?" In the case of the anti-Bush crowd, we felt our economic and foreign policies had been usurped by small minority, bent on world domination, both militarily and economically, at the expense of the poor and the overall majority. Despite massive disapproval of the war in Iraq, they would not consider changing course. Why should they? They were getting rich off the back and blood of brown people and their oil, much like the settlers in the Old West and plantations owners of the South. And even though we thought we'd evolved beyond such imperialistic domination fixations, our leaders were intent on reverting from being a Republic to an Empire. Thus, Rome fell.

Ever since the 2008 elections, the losers (Republicans and the Right Wing in general) have been scrambling to define themselves. The unspoken understanding was that Republicans were the party of the white Christians in America, the gun owners, the religious, and usually the more affluent. Democrats were the ones who always suggested increasing the federal minimum wage, and Republicans were the ones fighting for the poor business owners who would be forced out of business when they could no longer exploit their workforces for such slave wages. Democrats (synonymous with liberals and progressives for the sake of this piece) are typically the ones to champion the rights of minorities - blacks, women, gays, you name it. Democrats introduce hate crime legislation, Republicans argue that it's unnecessary. (No shit, fellas, no one is lynching white christian straight men, of course you think it's unnecessary.) Democrats argue for gay marriage, Republicans argue that civil unions are the same thing. Of course they're not, but the message is clear - don't rock the boat.

White Christian men have run America from the beginning. All the signers of the Declaration of Independence were white men, most were Christian. Same for the Constitution. And with the exception of Barack Obama, all U.S. Presidents have been white men. Only one was never married. We were a nation for 140 years before we had a woman in Congress. We were a nation for nearly a century before non-whites were allowed to vote, and over a century before women were allowed. So there is a strong tradition in this country of white male leadership, and legislation that primarily benefited white straight Christian men.

It stands to reason that when women and minorities got the right to vote, and started showing up in Congress and the Supreme court, that our rules and laws would undergo a change as well. No longer do our laws only allow for the rights of white straight men to win. Now women have rights, minorities have rights, and the white straight Christian men have to get used to a nation in flux; a nation that isn't all about them anymore.

With the election of a black president, we've put the final piece in place. America is no longer White Man Land, officially. Now, granted, Obama is mixed race - his mother was white, but such distinctions are lost on those afraid of change. He's not white if he's not 100% white.

Which brings me to hate. Let me say first that hate is simply the fear of the unknown. We fear what we don't understand, and we instinctively feel separate from things and people that are different. We are encouraged to fear, which leads to distrust, which evolves into hate. And that hate gets perpetuated through the generations. When I see men calling Nancy Pelosi or Hillary Clinton a bitch, I know what they're really saying is that they resent having a woman in a position of authority over them, or indeed any man. When I hear people saying "I want my country back", I know it's not that they want it back to Republican or conservative rule, they just want a white man in charge. Case in point: when Bill Clinton was president, no one was going around talking about wanting their country back. That's because he was white, he was a man, he was straight, and he was a Christian. The right wing disagreed with his politics, but they didn't claim to have had their country stolen out from under them.

With Obama in the Oval Office, Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, Nancy Pelosi in charge in the House, it's apparent to all straight white men that their reign of power has come to an end. And this has a lot of the Old Guard uneasy: does this mean the end of an era, referred to in hindsight as the Caucasian Men's Period of American Power? Or is this simply a reaction to the anti-Bush sentiment borne of eight years of failed leadership? When will we have another black president? When can we expect a female president? How about a First Couple of mixed race? For that matter, when can we expect a gay or lesbian president? The first overtly non-Christian president? Surely the election of Barack Obama has many of us on the left and right wondering if the mold has truly been shattered, or what's next.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Rules of Engagement - War in the 21st Century

I've heard the Obama Administration accused recently of being soft of national defense. "National Defense" is a euphamism commonly used by the Right to mean American Exceptionalism - the idea that we're better than everyone else and that the rules that apply to other nations (like, not invading each other) do not apply to us.

I'm no fan of suffering, but this idea that we as a nation need to right every wrong on earth is just dumb. First off, who decides which wrongs get righted? When Iraq invading Kuwait, we were the first to step in and say no. When the ethnic cleansing episodes in eastern Europe threatened to wipe out millions, we stepped in, and good thing. But all around the world, people are oppressed while we sit idly by. Is it a question of severity? Is it a question of money? Is it a question of manpower? The point is, we cherry pick the causes we're willing to commit troops to while situations like Darfur fester in the open with little more than lip service from Washington.

The truth is, our insistence on using our military will ultimately be our undoing. We may not have the best education system in the world, but we have some smart people. They're smart enough to know that words can have a more profound and lasting impact than bombs. And yes, this is a plea to consider exhausting all possible diplomatic channels before resorting to war.

Therefore, I am laying out my suggestions for how to conduct ourselves as a nation in the future, in the unfortunate case we need to rattle our sabers:

  • Don't even go to war in the first place. What does war really resolve? Who's better? Who's morally superior? Who's got the right to all that gooey oil? We talk about our troops "over there defending our freedoms", but with all due respect to our brave fighting men and women in uniform, that is a crock. Nothing that would ever happen in Iraq or Afghanistan will ever affect my freedoms. It might affect their freedoms, but let's not get me involved here. Regardless of how it plays out over there, this will always be America, and my rights aren't going anywhere.
  • Exhaust all possible diplomatic and economic options first. Even the most gung-ho military will tell you, war is hell. And before marching into some meat grinder, it should be noted that we have a lot of diplomats in this country who can attempt to reason out solutions with countries before the bullets start flying. Believe me, they don't want us there, no matter how willing they say they are to die for their glorious cause. As for economics, I'm no economist but it seems to me that the United States can still wield a little influence in the form of trade embargoes, humanitarian effort, etc. If we can make it worth their while for a few million dollars to reconsider their positions, it would save billions in war expenses.
  • Define our objectives before we get started. I think that if we're going to go to the trouble and the expense of committing to war, we damn well ought to be able to say why we're doing it. If it's to depose a regime and replace it with a democratically elected government, then fine. We go, overthrow the evil dictator, set up the new boss, stick around long enough to see the new leader take their oaths of office, and get the hell out. None of this nebulous "bring peace and stability to the region" crap. Let's have a checklist.
  • Finally, declare War. When was the last time Congress passed a resolution declaring war? I know we did it in World War II. Korea was called a "police action" and was a United Nations effort. Vietnam, who knows. I mean, we call it "the Vietnam War", but did we ever declare war on Vietnam? And in my lifetime, I can't recall a single military campaign where we had the balls to actually declare war with an act of Congress. It seems to me that if we are going to send our soldiers, our aircraft carriers, or bombers and tanks to some country with the intention of blowing stuff up, then we ought to just make it official and have Congress pass a resolution, have the President sign off, and then go kick some ass.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

National Healthcare, My Two Cents

I'm not a doctor. I don't work in the insurance industry. I have not read the bill. I need to get that established right away, lest you go mistaking me for some expert and try quoting me at the water cooler.

What I do know is that 40-50 million of my fellow citizens are currently without any type of health insurance. What I do know is that without insurance, your chances of adequate medical treatment for injuries or disease is somewhere between slim and none. What I do know is, even when this recession (depression) is long gone, there will be unemployed and part-time employees who do not qualify for their employer's insurance plans.

Much has been made of the recent attempts to get a national health care plan pushed through. Wrangling on both sides has made for good theater, but in the end the only thing that matters is whether something gets done that actually addresses the problem.

In this, I am a pragmatist. I do not expect any bill, should one get signed into law, to be perfect. I do not expect it to address every little problem. I do think that there will always be people without insurance, and this will be their choice. Maybe they don't trust the government, maybe they simply can't afford it, and maybe their religious dogma sees modern medicine as rebelling against God. Who know, and who cares. Remember that the ink on our Constitution wasn't even dry before they concocted ten amendments to it. And it's a good thing for us that they did. We've added dozens of amendments to what was already a pretty good document, and we were right to do so.

Whatever the final version of the healthcare bill includes, you can expect to see amendments proposed to it forever after. As our understanding of the issue broadens, as industries adapt to this new legislation, as the needs of our uninsured shift and morph, so to must our laws.

What I have found interesting during the theater of debate is the people insisting on perpetuating lies in the interest of sinking the legislation. Here's a safe bet: these people (A) already have health insurance and (B) have no trouble affording it. I also suspect the ones protesting the loudest are the least likely to have actually read the damn thing. There's nothing like ignorance to get the blood boiling. Just ask the Klan.

And speaking of Klan, what's with the people carrying swastikas and racist protest signs to the town hall meetings? Do they really think this is furthering the cause? Is this attracting people who would otherwise have been undecided? Look: if you have a problem with something your government is doing, the First Amendment guarantees you two very important freedoms, the freedom of peaceable assembly and the right to petition the government for a redress of your grievances. But these boondoggles at town hall meetings are not "peaceable assembly". And shouting down your elected officials just because you chose to believe whatever lies Fox News is telling does not constitute a petition for the redress of grievances. If you already have insurance, and have no plans to avail yourself of the government option, then you have no grievance. None. Anyone who tells you differently is lying to you, and trying to heat up your blood.

Stay tuned, faithful readers...

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

There's Something About Sarah

Man, I don't know whether to be flipping cartwheels or the middle finger. Sarah Palin is officially a non-entity in the current American political landscape. She holds no office. She is a private citizen. She has no more authority than you or I do.

Where to go from here? I adore this woman. Not because I agreed with anything she said, mind you. But because everything about her typified the current status of the Republican party. She was a train wreck of nearly biblical proportions, a constant source of embarrassment, a living example of the right's attempt to put lipstick on a pig. Or in this case, an elephant.

The truth is, no one in America would have any idea who she is (outside of Alaska) if Hillary Clinton had won the Democratic nomination last fall. When Obama got the nod, women throughout America who were poised to vote Hillary into office were primed for some backlash. The Republicans attempted to cash in on this bloc of disaffected voters by propping a woman, ANY woman, into the spotlight. Enter Sarah Palin.

She was governor of Alaska. Whoop de friggin doo. Look, I get that Alaska is the largest state, at least in terms of square miles. But Alaska is also a frozen wasteland, for the most part. The entire state is home to less than a million people. Los Angeles County has ten times that.

For all her attempts to sounds folksy and straight-shooting, she only succeeded in looking like a rube. I wouldn't want that woman teaching my children how to fingerpaint. She is uneducated (five years at how many colleges to get a four year degree in some irrelevant major), uninformed, and as politicians go, she hasn't got a leg to stand on. The town she mayored, Wasilla, has more meth labs in a ten mile radius than any other place in Alaska. Her "abstinence-only" platform left her a granny before 50, thanks to her daughter's inability to understand how to effectively use a condom. He grasp on fiscal matters shows that she left the town she mayored and the state she governed deeper in debt than it had been before she got there.

This woman is the Rosetta Stone of modern progressive talking points. Between her and the boys on C street, the Republicans seemed doomed. I truly hope they don't mothball Palin. I hope she gets a job as a commentator on Fox News. I just can't get enough of Sarah, and I hope to see her further embarrass herself and her party soon.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Gay Marriage - Let's Skip To The End, Shall We?

So Iowa legalized gay marriage, and the California Supreme Court upheld California's right to deny same-sex couples the right to marry.

Cue the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

It seems, at best, ironic that supposedly forward-thinking California, Land of Fruits and Nuts, would take this colossal step backwards in the pursuits of equality while Iowa, the very embodiment of all things Midwestern, would take such an unexpected step forward. The other way around would have been business as usual in the Old Reality. Now the New Reality is letting us know not to take anything for granted.

But with New York on the verge of voting to legalize same-sex marriage, we now find the ball officially in motion, as state after state emerges from its puritanical trance and awakens to this New Day of Equality. All that's left now is to sit back and watch the dominoes fall one by one.

I don't think we can expect to see all fifty states ratify same-sex marriage anytime soon. As evidenced in California, the wheels of progress can grind very slowly indeed. But just to recap, let's spell out the facts:

  • The argument over gay marriage is not a religious one. This is because marriage licenses are issued by state governments. No religion, no religious facility, and no clergy are needed to legitimize a marriage in the eyes of the law. Every single religion could take a hard line stand against gay marriage, and gay people could still go to their local courthouses and be married by a judge. Therefore, religion is a moot point.
  • Just because one state issues you a marriage license does not guarantee the state you live in will recognize it. If a gay couple, denied their opportunity to wed in California thanks to Prop 8 passing decides to jet off to Des Moines and tie the knot, they may not necessarily have their marriage recognized back home. This is going to be a fun one to watch when it hits the United States Supreme Court (and it will).
  • There will still be (and ought to be) restrictions on who can marry. I'm a big believer in True Love, and I tend to believe that true love conquers all. But let's be reasonable. At the risk of sounding conservative (shudder!) I must stipulate that I don't believe that just anyone should be allowed to marry. Opponents of gay marriage like to paint a picture of an "anything goes" society, where brothers and sisters get hitched, pet owners marry their dogs, and group marriages abound. So for the purposes of these debates, let's be clear: marriage ought to be defined as a union of two consenting adult human beings, unrelated. (Sorry, England.)

In all of the hoopla surrounding this very divisive subject, I have yet to hear one lucid argument as to why two men or two women ought not to get married. I have still not heard how, precisely, society at large would suffer as a result. There are currently 18,000 gay and lesbian married couples in California. With the court’s decision to allow Prop 8 into law, it begs the obvious question: why should couple #18,000 have a right that couple #18,001 should not? It’s one thing to talk about unfair when discerning between the gay couples vs. the straight ones. But with the Court’s decision, we now have some gay couples enjoying a legal and legitimate marriage in the state of California, while another gay couple is summarily denied the same right. This, Gentle Reader, is the textbook definition of unfair. This leaves us to decide whether to annul the 18,000 existing gay marriages, or allow the right to marry to couple #18,001. Given that Prop 8 passed and was upheld in court, I don’t want to assume that this time fair play will win the day.

I must reiterate that the topic has very little to do with me personally. My marriage is lucky enough to be recognized in all fifty states. No decision on the issue of gay marriage will undo that. So why do I care? I care because I don’t want to live in a country that practices what amounts to apartheid against a minority group. I care because even though I’m in the majority today, tomorrow they may decide that people with blue eyes aren’t as good as people with brown eyes. They may decide that left-handed people shouldn’t be allowed to vote, or drive, or have children. They may decide here in California that people from other states have to pay a higher income tax than natives. Sound bizarre? I agree. But it only sounds bizarre because we’ve been conditioned to believe that in this country, all men are created equal. We’ve been told from our earliest schoolings that all people in this country are entitled to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

But in light of the Court’s decision to uphold Prop 8, I am forced to ask: what happened to America? What happened to the land of liberty? When did we decide that certain people aren’t as equal as others? Throughout our history, we as a nation have grown to understand more deeply and thoroughly what it means to live in a free country. When we became a nation, only white male land owners were allowed to vote. In the beginning, we practiced slavery. We ended slavery, gave women the right to vote, created laws to protect workers’ rights, gave the right to vote to anyone over 18. We bled on foreign shores for the freedoms of people we don’t even know. We’ve waged war on behalf of the oppressed in countries most of us couldn’t find on a map. And with the passing of Prop 8, we shame our forefathers. The decision to deny rights to a minority group for no good reason is a slap in the face to all the brave men and women who served this country and bled and died for the cause of freedom. We have betrayed our very foundations. America is supposed to be the Land of Opportunity. It still can be, if we are willing to face this issue bravely, overcome our own personal phobias and recognize, once and for all, that we cannot claim the mantle of liberty while denying it to some.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

It's Torture. How Is This Even a Discussion?

Did the Bush Administration torture people? Of course they did. Even they don't bother denying it. Of course, they call it "enhanced interrogation techniques". Right...

What I want to know is, who cares who knew? I mean, we can figure that out eventually. This is the Information Age, after all, and the days of secrets are pretty much dead. Try being a Congressman and having an affair if you don't believe me. Did Nancy Pelosi know? Yeah, probably. Was she in a position to do anything to stop it? Probably not, other than go to the press. And in Washington, you want to be very careful before you start whistle blowing on your fellow politicians. Odds are if you have some dirt on someone, then someone else probably has some dirt on you. That's my theory: Pelosi knew, and was somehow leveraged into silence. I could be wrong.

But apart from the whole "who knew what and when did they know it" sideshow is the heart of the matter. We have people who ordered torture, and that order filtered down through a succession of lawyers. The wording cleansed in such a way as to make it all nice and legal, and then it was passed to the people who actually had to carry it out. The government employees, the CIA, the military, all got their hands dirty. At any point, someone could have gotten an attack of acute decency. They could have refused to participate, they could have gone to the press, any number of things could have happened to stop the process.

But no one succeeded in stopping it, and it happened. We tortured. Us, the good guys, we tortured people. Against every instinct of decency, against all the logic that suggests information obtained during torture is unreliable at best, against every international treaty we ever signed, we tortured. Whether you call it "enhanced interrogation" or some other abuse of the English language, it matters little to the guy on the receiving end.

And now that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney have left office, it falls on the new administration to decide what to do. First and most obvious, we stop the torturing. Not only is it illegal, it is pointless. We could round up every member of the Taliban and al Qaeda and torture them until the cows come home and it won't bring back the people who died on 9/11. It won't bring back the Twin Towers. It won't guarantee we'll be safe from future attacks. Quite the opposite: if anything, it's more likely to foment hostility towards the United States.

So what to do? I'm sorry; maybe the answer is obvious to me because I'm not in politics. We round up every person involved, from the people who made the decision to torture, through all the buffer levels of people who cleaned up the wording, to the people who actually performed the torturing. We round them all up, regardless of political affiliation, and we charge them with war crimes. We charge them with crimes against humanity. We charge them with violations of the Geneva Convention. If necessary we turn them over to the World Court in The Hague, where politics cease to matter. We try them in the courts. And if we find them guilty, we punish them. We incarcerate them. We have them executed if need be.

This isn't about the war on terror. As I've said before, there IS no war on terror. This is about something much simpler and at the same time much more profound. It is about right and wrong. We cannot strut the world's stage in the guise of "the good guys" without stopping periodically to look around and ask ourselves what the right thing is. We have a choice here, whether to hold those people accountable for embarrassing our nation as they have. We have the opportunity to claim the mantle of "hero" on the world's stage and take a stand for what is right, even if we end up throwing people from both parties under the bus in the process.

And make no mistake, the world is watching. The decisions we make will go a long way towards forming opinions abroad. And if we fail to do the right thing here, if we fail to hold those people accountable, then the next time we are attacked, we dare not ask "why do people hate Americans?" This is why. Because we commit atrocities and then we fail to hold those people to the rule of law. It is simple.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Nutty Irishman Solves Everything! (Part One)

That's right folks, yours truly is going to give you the solutions to all the ills that plague us, and I'm going to do it simply, effectively, and cost-efficiently. Then, I'll tell you why my practical solutions will never see the light of day. Ready?

Problem #1: Illegal Immigration. Conservative types love to spout off at illegal immigrants, and will miss no opportunity to hitch onto whatever is happening in the news and somehow contrive a way to make it the fault of illegal immigrants. The most recent example is this swine flu thing. Apparently, according to the fringe right wing hacks, Mexicans have deliberately and knowingly brought swine flu to the U.S. when they came here illegally. Bad enough they steal all our jobs, now they want to kill us. Not paranoid enough for you? Try this one: allegedly al Qaeda manufactured this latest epidemic of swine flu (in their super-secret chemical labs, hidden deep in the mountainside caves of Afghanistan). Then, instead of using one of a million possible ways to import it directly into the United States, they chose instead to infect Mexicans (with whom they have no quarrel, incidentally), knowing that they would, in turn, sneak into America and infect the lot of us.

Solution #1: Jail Time for Employers, Not Employees: Okay, so if we are going to address illegal immigration in this country, we need to go after the two things we know the immigrants do: work and sleep. Despite what you may have been told, they don't tunnel under our border fences and emerge, only to immediately give birth to babies, collect food stamps and welfare. We know they get jobs, and we know that without jobs available to them, they'd have very little reason to come here. In the drug trade, law enforcement is much more interested in nabbing the dealers than the buyers. We simply apply the same rationale here. So, we pass a law. Any company that is found to have illegal immigrants in their employ, they're the new targets of law enforcement. Any business, from your local restaurant all the way up to Wal-Mart, the owners, presidents, chairmen of the board, get sentenced to 30 days in a federal prison for each illegal immigrant they hire. No fines, no community service – go directly to jail. Imagine seeing the owner of Wal-Mart taken away in shackles, live on CNN. Watch how quickly employers would then start insisting on documentation for their employees.

Solution #2: Jail Time for Landlords Who Rent to Illegals: The second part of the solution has to do with where they stay. In most cases, they live in apartments, and those apartments are being rented out by landlords. So, we get law enforcement to go after the landlords. We make them responsible for who rents their apartments, pure and simple. If an illegal immigrant is found to be residing in an apartment (whether they're on the lease of not), the landlords or owners spend 30 days in federal prison for each illegal found there.

Why it will never happen: My solutions sidestep the notion of fining the companies. Most of the bigger companies keep tons of cash in reserve for such legal issues and would not be deterred by fines. Or if they are fined out of existence (like a restaurant), another similar business would just come along and take its place, likely hiring the same batch of illegal immigrants. No, fines are not the solution. Take some of the seven-figure salaried elites and put them in general population for a few weeks, see if that changes their perspective. But we all know even if such legislation passed, it would be rotted with loopholes that would allow their lawyers to get exceptions in almost every case, making the law moot. Besides, these business owners are known for making contributions to candidates at election time, and money talks. Even if they don't donate to the candidate directly, they can still pump lots of money into both major political parties, pretty much ensuring that whoever gets elected will remember who got them there. If I sound cynical, it’s because I am. I believe that when big business and government get together, the one thing you can count on is the average American getting screwed. Unless you own their stock, most companies will not do anything to acquiesce to your demands. Don’t like Wal-Mart’s policies? Shop somewhere else, it’s a free country. Don’t like the fact that Candidate “A” gets his ass kissed by big business? Okay then, vote for Candidate “B”. But don’t fool yourself for a second into thinking that it makes a difference to Big Business. They have both bases covered.

Of course, I could be wrong.

Next topic? Comment on this blog with your suggestions.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Throw The Bums Out

President Obama has asked for (and received) the resignation of GM's CEO, Rick Wagoner. Of course, the Anti-Anything-Obama crowd has wasted no time crying "Socialism" and lamenting the President's abuse of power. They fear for those poor unfortunate millionaires, and speculate as to who's going to be next.

For myself, I can't imagine why I'd feel too badly about what's happened. There is an axiom in the business world that whoever is paying the bills is the one in charge. "If you want to know who's in charge, follow the money." Think about it this way: if you go to a restaurant and order something, you have the right to request that the kitchen prepare it in a certain way for you. After all, they can assume you'll pay the bill when it comes due, and this entitles you to a little pampering. No ice in your drink? Steak well done? Dressing on the side? These are not foreign concepts to us. However if you found yourself in a line at a soup kitchem where the soup was free, you might think twice about being high maintenance.

The truth is, our government has given billions to the auto industry for decades, and when we ask them to toughen up their emissions for the sake of the environment, they whine like little bitches. When we ask them to improve the gas mileage to help the average American, they whine like little bitches. When we pass legislation giving the cars more stringent safety requirement to protect the passengers, they whine like little bitches. And so it goes. They have forgotten the debt they owe to the government for all the money, all the tax breaks, all the preferential treatment. They act with an overblown sense of entitlement, pay their elite exhorbitant salaries, and whine like little bitches when the UAW members want to make enough money to do such uppity things as own their own homes or send their kids to college.

But now, and for the next four to eight years, there is a President who is calling their tab. We have a President who did not grow up rich. We have a leader who had to go and earn everything he has, and the mindsets of the corporate elite are unknown to him. For someone with a work ethic, the pampered elite do not elicit much sympathy. The worst possible thing that could have happened to Detroit's leaders has come to pass: a leader who understands the concept of paying one's dues and being held accountable.

I hope he fires the lot of them. I hope he appoints Al Gore as auto industry czar, and Michael Moore as assistant. I hope Executive orders fall on Detroit like snowflakes, demanding quality vehicles. I hope the Obama Administration grabs the Big Three by the short and curlies and twists, by God. I wish to see the end of Business As Usual in Detroit. I hope we can say goodbye to the Age of the Oversized Gas Guzzlers.

And I don't really care how much gas costs. Two dollars a gallon, four dollars a gallon, even twenty dollars - it shouldn't matter. What should matter is that we take significant steps to wean ourselves off of this oil addiction that has gripped us for years. What is important is that we pollute less. What is important is that Americans have the option of quality affordable cars that are safe and that last. For years, Detroit has plugged its fingers squarely in its ears and drowned out all the good ideas taken up by foreign car makers. America prides itself on inventing the car (we didn't actually, but you can look it up yourself). We pat ourselves on the back for our innovation and ingenuity, and as soon as someone suggests that American carmakers could be more competitive globally if they made smaller cars, more hybrid and alternative fuel cars, well we just can't shut them up fast enough, can we?

The point: For decades the government has doled out millions and billions to the American auto industry to keep it afloat. When given the options, the suggestions, the requests to innovate they have dragged their heels. In recent years we have seen companies like Honda and Toyota eclipse American companies. Now Fords, GM's and Chryslers are no longer the best-selling, or even the best made care in the world. In order to regain their competitive edge in the global marketplace, these companies will either have to kowtow to the Administration's demands or find another financial teat to suckle. It is fitting that President Obama has called their tab and fired Rick Wagoner. It should serve as a notice to other CEO fat cats: this is the dawning of a new day, and if you're not on board, there is no room for you here. As an American I am proud that this has happened.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

AIG, blah blah blah

Oh so NOW we're upset? Suddenly the media is saturating us with news about how AIG gave nearly $200 million in bonuses to its elite, and now we're filled with righteous rage? Why now? Is it because they took all those billions in stimulus dollars and swore on a stack of Bibles that THIS TIME they'd stop with the bonuses? Are we storming the Bastille here because that stimulus money they're handing out like Monopoly money was essentially our taxpayer dollars? Or, is it because your average American family is facing the prospects of foreclosures on their homes and layoffs at work?

Now? NOW we're upset??


I say it's high time we all got good and pissed off. Sure, this is a lame pretext to go all torches-and-pitchforks: I mean, $200 million? Whoop de friggin do. In the grand scheme of things, this is a DROP in the bucket, people. Even though $200 million is more than most of us will ever see in our lifetime, it still pales in comparison to the big picture. If anything, it just illustrates that we are dealing with people who are completely detached from reality. They think the rules do not apply to them. These are people who wear $1000 suits to work. These people have not brown-bagged a lunch since the third grade. These people have never had to sit at the kitchen table and draw names out of a hat to see which bills got paid. These people exist on an altogether different plane than the rest of us paycheck-to-paycheck riffraff. They do not see the big deal in taking millions in dollars in bonus money in addition to their already lucrative salaries. These people do not see what the big deal is, taking rewards while the companies they control hemorrhage money. These people have no moral misgivings about sending jobs overseas for the tax dodge. Their patriotism is eclipsed by their need for profitability. And whenever we question these practices, they hide behind their imaginary obligation to their investors and stockholders.

Let's also remind ourselves that AIG is an insurance company. Since when do insurance companies do the right thing? Do we really expect them to have a conscience all of a sudden? Think about your own dealings with insurance companies: if they owe you money, how prompt are they to pay you, generally? If anything, they will refuse to pay out, even when the policies state their obligations clearly. Then when they do pay out, they make their customer fill out reams of useless paperwork, all in the hopes that you'll forget to sign somewhere, forget to initial, fold something that isn't supposed to be folded, anything to give them a flimsy pretext to deny your claim, since you didn't do it right. How many people every year have to sue their own insurance companies just to get their fair share? You can bet they keep a cabal of lawyers on tap to steamroller you if you try. Taking on an insurance company is either very brave or very stupid, but most often it just very pointless.

So the insurance company AIG, in order to keep itself solvent, agreed to a laundry list of conditions to get their hands on a government bailout package. They pinky-swore that THIS TIME they'd do the right thing and be responsible with our money. They wouldn't be greedy little pigs anymore. And now they're failing to observe the terms of the deal by using that money (or at least part of it) to pay millions of dollars in bonuses out to their elite. Are we supposed to be shocked here?

Add to all this, the idea that they are somehow "too big to fail", and we have to consider the stockholders in all this. First - too big to fail? I am ALL for testing that theory. Perhaps letting them fail is exactly the cautionary tale the insurance industry needs to get them to realize the gravity of our situation. "Too big to fail", my ass. How about "too pompous and corrupt to exist"? If they fail, they fail. And as to the stocker holders? Well, seeing as how OUR tax dollars went to bail them out, and seeing as how without that bailout they'd be out of business, I'd say that makes the American Taxpayer a stockholder. It's our money they're using to stay afloat, that gives us a say in their future. So as a stockholder vis a vis my tax dollars, I say: screw you, AIG.

Welcome to my world, bitches.

Friday, February 27, 2009

To: Dick Morris, RE: shut the hell up already

You guys remember Dick Morris? This was a Republican politico that Bill Clinton took on as an advisor. Shrewd move on Bubba's part: in 1994 after HillaryCare crashed and burned, Republicans were worried about the Liberals taking over, and the war machine cranked into high gear. Led by Newt Gingrich, the Republicans took over Congress for the first time in decades. This crystalized the concept of checks and balances, and forced Bill Clinton to take on Mr. Morris as an advisor, to coach him in how to work with the Right Wing and still be productive. In 1996, Morris was scandalized for having a toe-sucking fest with a hooker. Clinton "asked him to resign", which in Washington translates into "handed him his hat and told him 'don't let the door hit your ass on the way out'."


Now I think Bill Clinton was a great President, for reasons I have outlined in the past on this blog. I think he was the perfect antedote for the damage inflicted by Reagan and H.W. Bush. That said, the man was a horndog. I mean this guy, despite all the good he did, had a libido that would rival most rock stars. And sadly, a lot of the good he accomplished was since overshadowed by his diddling of an intern. Now with that in mind, when Bill Clinton tells you that you're too much of a sexual freak to work with him, that's bad. It's like being called a tree hugger by Al Gore. I mean, it's extreme. You'd think Clinton, with his mojo, would appreciate a fellow ladies' man, but what Dick Morris was into went beyond the pale, so much so that Clinton publicly had to distance himself. There's stories of how Bill nearly took a swing at him more than once, and in the years since it's easy to understand why.


So now Morris makes a living among other things on Fox News, as a predictably anti-Democratic pundit. He is like their own personal Oscar the Grouch. He pops out of his can from time to time and spews some predictably negative venom twoards whatever Democrat they're discussing. This is a guy with zero training as a journalist, but he has a job on a news channel. Go figure.

My problem with Dick Morris is that he is so transparent. Of course he's anti-Democrat. He was outed as a whoremonger and humiliated when Clinton forced him to resign in disgrace. And rather than be apologetic, rather than seeking some obviously much-needed professional help, rather than showing any contrition whatsoever, he launched himself headlong into a career as an attack dog for whatever Right Wing outlet would cut him a check. He watched CSPAN and reads the papers and then opines on the news from a place of hurt feelings and kneecapped careers. He has made a career for himself by grinding his axe against the collective Left. The most pronounced item on Dick Morris' resume is the Herculian chip on his shoulder.

I'm less surprised at his mental state than I am at Fox's willingness to give him a soapbox. Fox (in vain) tries to promote itself as "fair and balanced", and then hands the microphone to this guy? I assume that to "balance" it out, they should give the microphone next to Noam Chomsky, Sean Penn, or some other "republicans are no damn good" mouthpiece. Just to even things out, you understand.

Morris is one of these guys champing at the bit to see Obama fail. His tiresome columns lament the passing of the torch to this America-hating socialist, and consistently predicts doom and gloom insofar as any of Obama's plans come to fruition. Morris is so single-mindedly dedicated to the notion that no good could ever come from a Democrat, I'm amazed anyone can listen to him and claim to have an open mind. I would find him amusing for his willingness to caricature himself as he does if it weren't for the fact that he seems to mean it, and he seems to think you should feel this way too. His writings are the worst sort of propoganda, aimed at hamstringing support for the President's efforts to repair the economy and the nation. Funny to me, since we just had eight years of Republican "leadership", and suddenly Dick Morris knows what we should do?

The point: Since Dick Morris seems to be teetering on the farthest edges of the right wing, we should all pay close attention to all of his ideas, all of his suggestions, all of his advice, and then immediately proceed to do the exact opposite. His pearls of wisdon read like the Republican Playbook since Bush stole, I mean won the election in 2000. And we see now in 2009 the dire straits our nation finds itself in as the result of these philosophies. It has been suggested that to do the same things over and over and expect different results is the very textbook definition of insanity. So now it is time for us to make a much overdue lurch towards sanity. It is time to abandon all things Republican, both in idea and action. It is time to tell Dick Morris to shut the hell up already.

By the way, we could just as easily substitute the same point for Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, et al.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Time to Catch Up With Current Events!

Greetings, loyal minions! Sorry for yet another absence. It seems like ever since the politicial season of 2008, I've been suffering from Bloggers Burnout. It's not that I'm lacking opinions, or that I no longer wish to share them. I'm just as opinionated and just as much of an attention whore as ever, so let's catch up, shall we?

Michael Phelps: So this bah-zillion time Olympic medal winner was caught taking a bong hit. Well, he's a young man, and young men do dumb things. It's kind of a rule. Not to say that smoking pot is dumb - you can make up your own minds about that. What was stupid was the fact that he let someone take a picture of him doing it.

So now Kellogg's and probably others are pulling their endorsement deals. I think he should seek endorsement deals with Domino's: in my smoking days I probably put some of those delivery guys through college. I can see it now - Phelps goes off camera, we hear the gurgle of a bong hit, see a plume of smoke, and he re-enters the shot with squinty bloodshot eyes and says "God, I could really go for a pizza!" Fade to the Domino's logo, and a voiceover saying "Dominos - pizza of Champions".

All that aside, my biggest complaint with the whole Michael-Phelps-hitting-the-bong thing is the people whining about how he's supposed to be a "role model". Oh please - shut the hell up. Role model? For who? The guy won like 14 Olympic gold medal, shattered records all over the place, and you're disappointed? Talk about a tough crowd. I'm reminded of something George Carlin wrote in "Brain Droppings": "if your kid needs a role model, and you aren't it, you're both f*cked." There's a lot of truth there. If you look to sports stars, even Olympic ones, or religious leaders, or politicians, or any public figure and anoint them with the title of "role model", you are setting yourself up for a fall. Everyone disappoints. Parents, clergy, teachers, friends, they're all human. None can live up to a flawless and consistent ideal. We all have bad days, weak moments, character defects, and if someone is naive enough to hitch their wagon to you, thinking you're going to lead them down the Path, they're going to be let down. To the parents of the young people: why aren't YOU your kids' role models? Why did you abdicate that responsibility to a stranger? Take the lead, and be the role model your kid needs. Otherwise, please please PLEASE shut the hell up.

More to come, I promise.