Blood and Ballots

30 01 2011


I’ve been a bit overwhelmed by the news out of North Africa the past couple of weeks. Tunisians deposed their government using largely massive street protests. The despot ruling the country, Zine el Abidine ben Ali, chose to take the money and run in lieu of using the Tunisian military to crush the protests. Best of all, getting rid of the President-for-Life did not involve foreign invasion- especially by the US.

The US government has been extremely cozy with Tunisia’s dictator for a long time, providing him with international legitimacy in exchange for Tunisia’s strategic position. As a result, the US government was pretty slow to catch on to the fact that Abidine ben Ali was on his last legs, politically. Once this fact became glaringly obvious to everyone on the planet, the Administration was slow to react, and still haven’t come up with a policy for the new reality on the ground in Tunisia.

That brings me to Egypt. The US has been providing Egypt’s President-for-Life, Hosni Mubarak, international legitimacy and billions of dollars in military and economic aid for the last thirty years. In a stereotypical Arab strongman manner, Mubarak completely failed to use this loot to improve the lot of the average Egyptian. Instead, he built up his military and security forces, and made sure a lot of that money went into his pockets and trickled down to a few of his cronies. There’s an old joke that applies, here:

“Mr. President, I’ve noticed that you’re spending billions on the Army, but nothing to alleviate the suffering of the poor.”

“This is so. When the Revolution comes, I want to be ready.”

Based on the scenes from the streets of Cairo and Alexandria, Mubarak lost his bet. Most of Egypt’s troops are conscripts drawn from the very people Mubarak’s government would have them put down. Far too many of them have been seen joining the protesters. Worse (from Mubarak’s point of view), the US government has loudly warned Egypt to avoid using a military bought and paid for by the United States against those protesters.

Other than that, the US government has been characteristically slow to respond to the protests, even as the rest of the world watched in awe. The American response to a (literally) world-changing event can be reduced to the following: “Play nice.” High-order platitudes and vague calls for restraint aren’t going to cut it. US Middle-East policy is being changed on the streets of Egypt by ordinary Egyptians- both the military and the protesters.

Let us take a look at those protesters. Middle-class Egyptians are joining beggars, students, and off-duty military personnel in protesting against Mubarak’s rule. There have been well-documented cases of protesters providing first aid to the security forces who have been injured, and they also joined together to protect the National Museum of Antiquities in Cairo from looters until the Army could arrive to provide security. For those who weren’t following the news from Egypt until the protests started, a large number of Muslim Egyptians did the same thing for Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority when the Copts were attacked by radicals. Muslims formed human chains to protect the Copts from violence in a show of rationalism and tolerance rarely seen anywhere, let alone in what the US refers to as the Middle East. When interviewed by western media outlets, most of those protecting their Coptic neighbors said some variation of the same ideal: “We are all Egyptians. They are our brothers.”

There are a large number of people in this country who could learn from those Egyptian Muslims.

Leaving aside geopolitical strategy (which the US government is historically incapable of managing adeptly in any case), we should be siding with the protesters. Those people marching in the streets of Egypt’s cities want nothing more or less than something we Americans take for granted: a say in running their own country. Mubarak and his cronies have grown rich and completely disconnected from the realities of life in Egypt, and the US government has encouraged him to do so. I, for one, am very tired of my government propping up dictators, despots, and presidents-for-life in the name of global strategy. The people of Egypt deserve the chance to make their own future- whether or not that future meets the approval of the US government.

I say we- as a nation- would be better served by dealing with the people who protected their christian countrymen from violent fellow Muslims than with a self-serving thug who enriches himself at the expense of his people and his country.

Current status: Amazed

Current music: I Write Sins, Not Tragedies by Panic! At the Disco

Jerky Knees

11 01 2011

I love the smell of feel-good, do-nothing legislative pandering. It smells like … fucking stupidity.

In the wake of the massacre in Tucson this past weekend, a republican Congressmoron from New York has proposed new legislation which would make it illegal to carry a firearm within 1,000 feet of any federal government official or judge. I’ll give you all a moment to let that sink in.

All done? Excellent. I wager that a large minority of the people reading this might be nodding their heads in agreement with this idea. A somewhat larger minority are probably scratching their heads and saying, “That probably isn’t Constitutional.” The few remaining readers are probably staring at their monitor screens in shock.

Let me clue those larger groups in on a couple of basic facts regarding this proposed legislation: In the first place, it won’t work. Short of disarming the entire population by force (also impossible under our government as Constituted), there is no way of preventing armed citizens from entering this zone of exclusion. Is the Federal government going to physically search every citizen who gets within 1,000 feet of every government official? What about people who live within 1,000 feet of a official’s home? Do these people suddenly lose their right to keep and bear arms because Joe or Jane Congresscritter down the street just got elected? What about other government officials? Will judges be forbidden from having armed security? Will the President be forced to go without Secret Service protection? If the law does not apply to everyone equally, it probably won’t pass Constitutional challenge in the courts.

Second, assuming a miracle occurred to make this legislation work as intended, it would not have prevented Saturday’s tragedy. You see, anyone who has decided to kill a government official (or anyone else, for that matter) is probably not too worried about the fact that he or she would be breaking the law by doing so. It’s already illegal to commit murder, and the would-be murderer isn’t bothered by breaking that law. Why would one more law stop him/her? Furthermore, having read the “alleged” shooter’s diatribes, I can safely say that he was and is a genuine whackjob (I am not a psychologist, nor do I play one on TV, but nobody with a properly functioning cerebellum could possibly think the shooter was sane). He’s goofier than bug shit, and no laws were going to slow him down or even mildly inconvenience him from committing mass murder. According to the reports I read, the shooter was carrying ninety rounds of ammunition for his pistol. He obviously planned on killing as many people as possible before he went down. Does anyone really think that some words on a piece of paper would have stopped him?

Third, this horseshit legislation is un-Constitutional on its face. Unless Rep. Pete King (the panties-wetting toady behind this legislation) is planning on overturning the Second Amendment and a whole host of Supreme Court rulings based upon it, anyone even mildly perturbed by this proposed law could successfully challenge it in court with almost no legal training whatsoever. The end result of this legislation- whether or not it gets passed- is a great deal of wasted time, energy, and money. This country is just a little short on all three these days, so I am deeply pissed off by Rep. King’s stupid antics- even more than the antics of Congress usually piss me off.

Even more despicable than King’s blatant stupidity is the shameless jockeying by both major parties to take political advantage of the brutal murder of six innocents. This happens when any major news event grabs the nation’s attention, and it’s sickening every time. In lieu of dealing with the actual problems (in this case, the dearth of effective mental health care- and the funding thereof- for people like the shooter), government officials are quick to slap a few Band-Aids™ over the symptoms of the problem in order to crow about how they “took decisive action” to deal with the crisis-du-jour by passing feel-good legislation which accomplishes nothing. They get the appearance of action to lull the public into a false sense of security without having to face up to the really tough decisions.

Hey, Congress! If you really want to do something to prevent another tragedy like Tucson, why not look into the abysmal condition of mental-health services in this country? The last few tragedies like Tucson had plenty of warnings leading up to them, but our mental-health systems couldn’t act on the problems because of: A- lack of reporting, B- lack of statutory authority, C- lack of funding, or D- all of the above. Despite the Tucson shooter’s known or suspected mental issues, he did not get the medical attention he obviously needed. Because he was never identified as having mental problems, there was no legal way of preventing him from buying a gun. Fix that problem without further destroying the public’s civil rights, and you’ll have real accomplishments to replace the empty rhetoric, posturing, and blatant pandering to the lowest common denominator which is what passes for government action these days.

In the meantime, and I mean this with all due respect, Representative Peter King is cordially invited to devour an entire bowl of dicks. The same goes for the rest of the two-legged vermin in Congress who are trying to make political hay on the corpses of six innocents.

Current status: Livid

Current music: I Will Follow You Into the Dark by Death Cab For Cutie