Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Deadwood Culture in America

"The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."
Wayne LaPierre, CEO National Rifle Association

There have been many articles written this week about renewed efforts to control firearms among the people.  Spurred on by public horror of the Sandy Hook elementary being turned into an abattoir by an enraged twenty year old, the U.S. Congress is possibly springing to action in time to lock the barn doors, once again, too late.  Such incompetence is entirely reminiscent of a bad play; we squirm in our proverbial seats until the dreadful last act has been agonizingly concluded.   Will the fiscal cliff be averted?  Will congress pass tax reform?  Will assault weapons be banned or controlled?
Will we survive their ineptitude?

The United States is, in many ways, the victim of its own constitution.  A document written in the 18th century the second amendment of which, ratified in 1791, has been subject to interpretation involving the placement of a comma is just one ludicrous example of its ossification.  That second amendment, writ large in the time when people carried muzzle loaded muskets, is simply an invitation for boneheaded senators and even more dimwitted congressmen to hawk (no pun intended) their hunting skills and present advertisements of them shooting in some forest in order to impress their gun-toting constituents, who fear that "big government" will revoke their license to shoot whatever or whomever they please.  And, of course, the American notion that our freedom will somehow disappear to tyrants should there be some more legislation restricting gun availability,  this logic stemming from a mentality of frontier justice that is no longer relevant.

 In this case, innocent, tender aged schoolgirls and schoolboys whose misfortune is now engraved in the tears of a generation of parents and grandparents, as well as anyone in America whose sensitivity quotient rises above that of a polar bear.  The victims childish images stare out balefully from our televisions in a horrifying reminder that they now inhabit the crypt, the victims of Scalia-like logic who is probably right now murmuring, "get over it," as he did when interviewed about throwing the election of 2000 to George W. Bush.
United States Constitution
Amendment II
"A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

Interpretation of this amendment has been the subject of rigorous debate among constitutional scholars, the United States Supreme Court and others.
Does the amendment mean that the militia shall bear arms or that the people shall bear arms individually?   Do individuals really stand a chance against an army?  Do homicidal lunatics who die in a shootout render sufficient testimony to the folly of such privilege?  It seems that they always die in the end, after a shoot out with the cops or by their own hand, but only after visiting their terror upon innocents.  How then, are we safer, because a madman has access to a Bushmaster military weapon?
Perhaps the debate is no longer relevant, since the second amendment was written at a time when slaves were commonplace, women could not vote, and weapons were far more primitive and could not, by hair trigger, slaughter 30 children and their teachers in a matter of seconds. Adam and Mrs. Lanza's legacy should be not a "prepper"(we have to defend ourselves because our government will not) mentality, but laws that will reduce the incidences of this type of grotesquerie.  These events can never be eliminated completely, but they certainly can be reduced by appropriate legislation and if a troglodyte Supreme Court does not declare that legislation unconstitutional.  Justice Scalia, an avid hunter and Dick Cheney amigo, hunts ducks.  Using an assault weapon designed to kill humans has no place in a modern civil society.

Arguments that the teachers should be armed and that everyone should tote a weapon ring hallow; the converse to that argument being that we are less free to speak because we fear that someone may easily shoot us for expressing our opinion that may not coincide with theirs.
The gun enthusiasts and the prayer in the schools promulgators share the same religious zeal and inhabit the same universe.  How would Jesus feel about killing innocent children with a rapid fire Bushmaster?

Monday, November 19, 2012

Thus fall Petreaus

And it shall come to pass in the end of the year of two thousand and twelve, that a great general shall have offendenth Congressman Eric Cantor for having committed the mortal sin of adultery;
It shall also come to pass that the establishment journalists shall scream and shout with rage against such heinous and lascivious sin.

And that the great general shall have previously manifested a grand, illustrious and admirable career.
That the establishment journalists shall have shown innumerable pictures of the evil sirens who lavished the great general with their favors, as they paraded to and from their automobiles;
And the media shall have basked in its glory of exposing such Satanism.
And the sirens shall have waged an email and publicity battle over the great general and with each the other.

And the lords of CNN, MSNBC, CBS and the other networks shall have abided in the comfort of grand viewership in the post election sinking ratings aftermath of the election for the Lord President, who he himself abideth no evil;
And the political establishment shall have decried the evil the general manifested for his most unsavory, licentious, unwholesome behavior;
And the CIA shall be cleansed of its evil leadership that tolerated flying drones that killeth from on high.

For the great general, leader an agency of spies, criminals and spooks shall not any longer be a paradigm for such sterling personages that followed his countenance;
For he shall not be a leader any longer sayeth the Lord President, who always abideth within the boundaries of his carefully defined and propitious nature lest he betray his trust as Lord President and shall never be casteth as an angry risk-taking black man;
And the Lord President shall accepth the resignation of the great spy leader, instead of rejecting in the national interest the great talented spy leader's honorable resignation.

And the great spy leader shall repent of his sin by being cast into exile;
So that the Lord President may keepeth the fires of the family values hearth burning;
lest he be judged as understanding such adulterous and unbecoming pleasures of the flesh.
And by accepting the great general and spy leader's manly flaws.


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

American "Exceptionalism" in the 21st Century

"For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind..."

Hosea 8:7

Houses on the Jersey shore torn to shreds like matchbooks.  Homes burned to the ground in the Rockaways.  Lower Manhattan flooded, subway tunnels awash, the largest public transport facility on Earth shut down because of weather, millions of people in the nation's most populated corridor still without electricity in late autumn cold, schools with no power, electricity wires strung on poles snagged by falling trees, the list can go on ad nauseum.

Politically expedient deniers of the almost universal scientific opinion about global warming have their work cut out for them.  They are faced with what Andrew Cuomo says, "a once in a generation storm every two years." 

Weather patterns are changing.

Building codes that allowed frame construction almost everywhere on the Atlantic seaboard are suddenly and unequivocally now subject to hasty revision. No justification possibly exists for such malfeasance.   Hurricane Sandy was not, by any stretch of the wildest naysayer's imagination, unforeseeable.  Floodgates have protected the low-lying areas of Europe for many years.
If people insist on living near the frequently violent sea, they should be prepared for its fury.  Global warming is showing the consequences of warmer seas--more violent storms and freakier weather patterns--all to the detriment of our feckless infrastructure, sown by generations of myopic politicians who, in all fairness, clearly did not see what was in store for stricken communities from DC to Massachusetts.

Now the wake up call has come.  In Florida, there are building codes that have arisen since Hurricane Andrew have strengthened, however, FPL still thinks that burying power lines is economically not feasible; a few years ago, they replaced some of the traditional wooden poles in my neighborhood with higher concrete ones.  The trees still overhang the lines anyway.

The early Republican debates were a cacophony of voices denying climate change; Mitt Romney still has nothing to say about it, his perfidious calculative demeanor evident. And frankly, the President has not done enough to awaken the public, which mostly cares now about the economy.  

The tea partiers and fundamentalists are now calculating what a woman should do with her body and if the candidates are sufficiently religious to hasten the erosion of the constitutional wall of separation between church and state,  instead of preparing for national disasters like Hurricane Sandy.

Deniers of man-made climate change include almost the entire Republican Party, and those who think that government serves no useful purpose except starting wars, nurturing the military industrial complex and transforming primitive Islamists into Jeffersonian democrats. 

Florida continues to set a new low bar for election shenanigans.

The State Legislature, in concocting an indecipherable ballot has struck another new level of loathsomeness.  It has composed ballot initiatives, among which is one that is labeled "Religious Freedom."  It is fraudulently conceived and evilly promulgated.  What it really represents is an attempt to interject religion in the educational system by providing state funding to religious schools, voucherized money that could be used instead to improve public education rather than defunding it.  These are the same people who are apostles of the same ilk of creationists in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas who would teach creationism to our children.  We are living a 21st century nightmarish re-run of Inherit the Wind.

The Presidential Campaign grinds to a lowly end.

There was seemingly no end to the negative commercials, the meaningless dialog, the emails during which both parties attempt convincing voters that the other side is going to ruin the country, the economy, the world itself.

The campaigns have been financed by copious amounts of super PAC cash coming from special interest groups airing offensive announcements denouncing each other's candidates, adding to a witch's brew of obfuscation, misinformation and distortion. 
The debates, a glibness and disappointing appearance contest, droned on and on, giving the electorate only a superficial sample of what  qualities a leader really requires.  Nothing in the end was revealed but a continual and seemingly unending parade of talking points. The debates did not tell us who would be a good President or a bad President. Who would shine in a moment of crisis?  Who is a deep thinker? A problem solver?  A person who could break the legislative gridlock? A person with a definite agenda?  None of this was revealed in the debates, even if it were fact.

A two-year, $2.5 billion election cycle  slows down the efficiency of government and places politics above the national interest.  Our Federal system is severely broken.  The negativity of the past two years demeans those who do win and expands the polarized divide.  It diminishes the governing ability of the winner, who inevitably suffers diminution by the misinformation saturating the airwaves.  The election campaigns should last 6 months beginning to end; the Electoral College should be abolished.  There should be public financing of the campaigns and a constitutional amendment shutting down of all the extra money that has distorted the process beyond all recognition.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Mythology in 2012 as a Political Force

"Religion is about turning untested belief into unshakable truth through the power of institutions and the passage of time."
Richard Dawkins
Forty six percent of the American voters believe that religion is the litmus test for political leadership.  Many of them believe that Mary ascended to heaven on a white cloud and that Mohammad ascended to heaven on a winged horse. Ultra-Orthodox Jews pray to God morning, noon and night, and relegate their women to wearing wigs and bandanas.   They seem inhabit in America, a Saudi Arabian, burka-wearing world of subjugation, including the bearing of a child a year. Some believe that if people do not accept Jesus as a savior they are condemned to burn in hell in perpetuity.  They discount the beliefs of others and the Roman Catholic Church has perpetuated the infallibility of church dogma for centuries, and used its dogma as a basis for burning people at the stake, racking heretics, refusing to respect the rights of women and generally promulgating a world view that is irreconcilable with notions of modern science as well as its own dogma by accumulating great wealth, denying basic human sexuality and creating an atmosphere often tolerant of sexual predators.

In addition, religious fundamentalists think that men walked the earth with dinosaurs; the bible is the literal word of God, and that those that do not respect its edicts will not be rewarded with heavenly afterlives. “My ancestor was not a monkey,” said one recent Republican candidate for the Presidency.

There are people who live in my neighborhood who actually believe that mutilating the foreskins of young males is a civilized practice, conducting religious services to celebrate the event.  This practice, now the subject of medical debate, is a throwback to a primitive tribal ritual that binds the male child to its Judaic tribe.  The practice was instituted at a time when men believed the world was flat and that the sun revolved around the earth.  According to the Old Testament, Jacob died 2255 years after the creation of Adam.  Jewish scholars first translated the Torah into Greek in the 3rd Century BCE. They were polytheists, tolerating local gods as well as their own. When monotheism came along, automatically discounting other’s gods, it sowed the seeds of intolerance that continued down through the holocaust, ultimately smiting its originators, the Jews.  

Dating the world as a few thousand years old cannot, through the stretch of the wildest imagination, be reconciled with modern science.

Many of the fanatical Jewish zealots claim that Biblical injunctions prevent them from compromising their settlements with Muslims on the West Bank of the Jordan River.  Muslims also claim that the land was given to them by God.   The outcome of two distinct groups claiming deified backing cannot, by definition, be reconciled.   Religion evolved as an adjunct to tribes being successful against competing tribes, mostly in combat.

The origins of Jews and the Exodus from Egypt have never been confirmed by any scientific, archeological, paleontological or genetic evidence.  To the contrary, geneticists and primate paleontologists are now debating the origins of homo sapiens, and the general consensus is now that humans emerged from Africa some 50-60,000 years ago.  Moreover, a story recently appeared in the New York Times about the debate among scientists and paleoanthropologists as to the origins of Homo sapiens, that modern humans arose in Africa 200,000 years ago and that all archaic species of humans then disappeared, surviving only outside Africa, as did the Neanderthals in Europe.  New worlds of knowledge concerning human existence are emerging almost daily.  Most of this knowledge is coming from fossil evidence, DNA evidence, the decoding of the human genome, and radioactive carbon dating, which incidentally, states the world, is 4-5 billion years old, not 5,000.

What it does not come from is some bronze age tract by which US politicians seem to be bound to hypocritically extol, in the hopes of garnering votes from an ignorant electorate.

Mythology still rules our lives and our politics and it is 2012. 

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Citizens United

Recently, a friend of mine, quite conservative, argued that the Citizens United case decided by the United States Supreme Court has not distorted the political process, but was a reaction to the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law, which was the first serious attempt in ages to restore some sanity to the overwrought process of electing officials of our government.  He argued that full disclosure of the source of financing would be the cure-all for the unlimited right of corporations to spend as much money as they wished to ensure the election of candidates that would be less threatening to their bottom line.  He also unconvincingly argued that labor unions have the same rights as Exxon, for example and the same amount of monies to spend on their candidates.

Perhaps in an earlier time he would be correct in his assumptions.  He referred to a political cartoonist, Thomas Nast, of the 19th century who exposed the Standard Oil trust with his acid pen. These days, however, the scene is quite different.  There are so many talking heads on the networks that any position is overwhelmed by the breadth and penetration of varied points of view, but especially subject to advertising saturation ads, both negative and positive.  The candidates who win are the ones who can raise the most money and feed it into the overwhelming media exposure they can buy.  

The  McCain Feingold Act was designed to address two issues:  The increased role of soft money in campaign financing, by prohibiting national political party committees from raising or spending any funds not subject to federal limits, even for state and local races or issue discussion;
 The proliferation of issue advocacy ads, by defining as “electioneering communications” broadcast ads that name a federal candidate within 30 days of a primary or caucus or 60 days of a general election, and prohibiting any such ad paid for by a corporation (including non-profit issue organizations such as Right to Life or the Environmental Defense Fund) or paid for by an unincorporated entity using any corporate or union general treasury funds. The decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission overturns this provision, but not the ban on foreign corporations or foreign nationals in decisions regarding political spending.

In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Citizens United, ruled that corporations and unions are entitled to the same political speech rights as individuals under the First Amendment. It found no compelling government interest for prohibiting corporations and unions from using their general treasury funds to make election-related independent expenditures. Thus, it struck down a federal law banning this practice and also overruled two of its prior decisions. Additionally, in an 8-1 decision, the Court ruled that the disclaimer and disclosure requirements associated with electioneering communications are constitutional.
These were horrible rulings and serve to do nothing more than further distort our political processes.
Now, “Super Pacs,” ostensibly not connected or coordinating with the candidates are spending untold millions on media commercials to sell the candidates, or even worse, fill the airwaves with negative information, much of it out of context and misleading.            

My friend’s full disclosure caveat holds no water, I am afraid.  

But from a conservative, the 19th century perspective is not surprising.

We live in an increasingly polarized atmosphere, burdened by the disappearance of moderate Republicans who used to be able to work with moderate democrats to accomplish  useful legislation.
Now we cannot even have that.  The Republican party has been hijacked by evangelical and social conservatives, backed by millions of dollars, to convince the electorate to vote against their own interests by using their checkbooks to take stands on gay marriage, abortion, contraception, religion in public places and  creationism  instead of trying to reach an accommodation on education, infrastructure investment, job creation, and expanding the middle class.  

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The United States in Afghanistan 2012

"A nation that forgets its past is doomed to repeat it."  Winston Churchill

Among the follies of our foreign policy is the belief that the United States is serving its national interests by continuing its failing attempts to guarantee a democratic solution in a culture so primitive, so alien to our Western mores that it defies the boundaries of our collective imagination.
Cultures take centuries to change.  Cultures imbued by theocracy take even longer.   Afghanistan is such a place.

One only need compare the history of our own country to realize that the political and cultural forces militating against change are so embedded in the Afghan people that we are faced with a Sisyphean task so overwhelming, so impossible, that our efforts, no matter how noble, are doomed to ignominious failure.

As an historical analogy, the American Civil War ran roughly four years from Ft. Sumter to Appomattox, but actually continued for another 150 years thereafter. Vestiges linger even yet. Those states that seceded from the Union did so not only because they wanted to keep their slaves, but also because they were culturally different from their Northern brethren.  Southern agrarian, slave-holding society bore a religious ethos, based upon inequality of the races, not only upon economic disparity between it and their northern countrymen.  Southerners believed that white men had the God-given right to hold slaves.  The morality of holding slaves was never really open to debate among Southerners.  Holding slaves was the droit de seigneur. The South would fight to the death, and did, to uphold its principles.   Northern culture was an anathema to it, a base, industrial, immoral society inhabited by crude, irreligious, and yes, heathen Yankees devoid of any pretense or genuineness of refinement, a threat to southern paradigms, virtues and ways of life.  Margaret Mitchell wrote about it; we all viewed it in the 1939 classic film of her novel, the name of which does not here need repeating.

Evidence of those deeply held beliefs could not and did not change overnight, despite the posting of Federal troops in Charleston, Atlanta, and New Orleans after open hostilities had ended and after Lee surrendered.  Nor was the imposition by the radical US Congress of black legislatures in the south which lasted only as long as Federal troops remained stationed there to override the deeply held beliefs of the populace.  The sad history of reconstruction, of Jim Crow laws, of lynching, of black post-bellum economic servitude and segregation bears wretched testimony to the excruciatingly slow pace of cultural change.  Yes, the south is different now, but it was not so different in 1960, a hundred years after the Civil War had ended. And this in a country with a Constitution founded on democratic principles authored by the founding fathers of all of America, many of whom were southerners.

Cultural differences in Europe now, for a further example, threaten to destroy the Euro, pitting hard working Germanic culture against profligate Greek culture.  Germans do not wish to pay for Greek irresponsibility, but are forced to do so because the Greeks are their customers.  This problem is almost intractable and Greece may very well be printing Drachmas again, rather than surrender to Germanic austerity.  And this is a problem between culturally different democracies, a minor problem compared to the problems we face with Islamists and the Taliban, religious zealots all.

Space here does not allow a full history lesson, but the British were among the many nations interfering unsuccessfully in Afghan politics, the Brits using a divide and rule strategy between Afghani Pashtuns and Baloch territories.  Later, Afghanistan experimented with reform in the 1920s including the banishing of the burqa and establishing co-educational schools, alienating religious leaders.  All reforms were abandoned in 1929 when a new leader Mohammed Zahir Shah became king in 1933, ruling until 1973.  After that, the United States financed the Mujahadeen religious warriors against the Soviets, who had invaded in 1979.  After the Soviet  defeat, (after killing 1 million Afghans), the Taliban assumed control of the country, ultimately creating an Islamofascist nightmare, women subjugated, religious police, and a culture that precluded the development of any modernity.

Now we delusionally expect that this primitive, Islamist, women-stoning society that executes women for adultery, is to grasp liberty and equality for all?  A society that throws acid on the faces of women who dare to go to school to seek an education?  A society that has a caste of theocrats that superstitiously believes in practices such as honor killings is going to find its Thomas Jefferson in an abbreviated epiphany under beneficent American auspices?

The politicians in Washington are dithering over a decision to abandon that place, a decision that should have been made long ago.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Religion and Politics in America 2012

"Verily, men gave themselves all their good and evil. Verily, they did not take it, they did not find it, nor did it come to them as a voice from heaven. Only man placed values in things to preserve himself--he alone created a meaning for things, a human meaning. Therefore, he calls himself 'man,' which means: the esteemer." 

F. Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Bk.1

Some liberal souls, I understand, have named Rick Santorum as an ideal 13th century president.  The particulars of this appellation are well known to those who have been following the interminable Republican debates, some of which have actually revealed the vacuousness of a few of the candidates, including Rick Perry, the governor of Texas whose gaffe of not remembering which governmental agency he wished to guillotine or how many death row inmates in his state have actually met a similar fate, albeit with a needle instead.  

Then there was Michelle Bachman whose IRS credentials, foster children, and bible-thumping husband presumably rendered her capable of running the world’s most powerful country.

After that we had Ron Paul, a libertarian, who plainly feels that the underclass should have their healthcare needs met by their local churches and charities, and that the US should disengage from the rest of the world.  In some respects he is correct in alluding to the misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan.  However, hegemons do not voluntarily surrender their place in the world and most moderates do not think we should isolate ourselves from a world increasingly globalized based upon a 19th century interpretation of a constitution arguably in need of serious revision.

And then that inimitable paradigm of hypocrisy, Newt Gingrich, a miserable human being, powered by his somewhat hard to ignore intellectual credentials and his use of the words “profoundly,” and “fundamentally,” as well as his colossal arrogance.  He seems to have learned, moreover, very little, from his ethics violations in Congress and his, to use his words, “profound” fall from grace. His conversion to Catholicism and his abandonment of his cancer-ridden wife for Calista, a helmet-headed blond with whom he prays often and who would, no doubt, be a loathsome first lady.  His billionaire supporter Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate, single handedly has prevented Newt’s campaign from plunging over a cliff the size of Mount Rushmore, a place, fortunately, he will never inhabit, although Newt probably believes he should replace George Washington on the prominence. Mr. Adelson apparently has now hedged his bets and is rumored to be giving  money to Mitt Romney, a man who cannot seal the deal even with moderate Republicans, let alone evangelicals who think that Mormonism is a devilish and heretical cult.

Mr. Romney bases his qualifications for the presidency because he was a successful venture capitalist and therefore understands how to run a profitable government (as though the government were a for profit corporation.)  and that he is now a conservative who unsuccessfully denies his fostering a successful (egads! socialist)  health care plan for Massachusetts.  He is sinking fast, however.   We are not sure he will not survive, however, since the Republicans usually pick the next in line.

That brings us back to the possibility of a Santorum nomination, a thought  I suspect, not without some logical basis, that the American Union may be further infused with theocratic ideals, since Santorum has made pronouncements like President Obama is conducting a war against religion.  The White House would be clearly gleeful if that happened, since Mr. Santorum was given the unceremonious boot by blue collar Pennsylvania after his undistinguished time in the United States Senate. Mr. Santorum also denies global warming and believes that he can single handedly cure the economy, but really does not say how.  Dinosaurs really do walk the earth with people---Santorum being living proof discrediting the observations of Charles Darwin.

How the American public can swallow these arguments is stupefying.  Are we back in the 1920s? Why are we even discussing issues like abortion? Birth control? Contraception? Who prays more?  Which church is not inhabited by heretics?  Are we about to have another Scopes monkey trial?  No country in the western world has not left these issues far behind.   But of course, the threat these intellectually challenged candidates envision is that the United States will become more like Europe.   And Europe has uncivilized and heathen institutions like high speed rail, good roads, health care for all its citizens, and a more enlightened populace that does not tolerate such pandering infantilism in its political discourse.