Things and Stuff

15 04 2012

No apologies or excuses. I’ve been busy, and had to put my ranting and raving on hold for a bit. Assuming there’s still anyone out there interested in what I have to say, I’ll get right into it.

POLITICAL SHIFT

It’s weird. I used to be considered fairly conservative as recently as six years ago. As far as I can tell, my political views haven’t changed a jot, but I find myself increasingly accused of being a democrat. Maybe the fact that I’m fiscally conservative but socially liberal has something to do with it. Once upon a time, I identified more with republicans than democrats- especially in matters of the size and power of government vs the individual and fiscal policy. Oddly enough, my personal politics is still the same as it used to be, but republicans have drifted far from these original points of agreement. The past decade or so has shown that conservatives are no better at fiscal matters than liberals- and may even be worse, depending on your standard of measurement. Having lost this advantage over their foes, the republicans have been forced to stress the only things which really distinguish them from democrats- social policy.

This is not a winning strategy for republicans. In their zeal to demonstrate their socially conservative chops by espousing ever-more extremist positions, republicans are driving ordinary conservatives out of the fold, creating a huge number of conservative voters who are horrified at what has happened to their party. Contrary to the current republican positions (based upon the staggering number of pig-ignorant legislation coming from republican-dominated state legislatures and various extremist groups extracting pledges of ideological purity from national candidates), most people in the US really don’t give a rat’s ass what two consenting adults do in the privacy of their homes and think the government should stay out of everyone’s business- including the lady parts republicans suddenly seem to find so icky. I’m kind of in the same boat. Like the comedian said, “I can’t be a democrat because I like to keep and spend the money I make, but I can’t be a republican because I like to spend it on drugs and whores.”

The end result of this shift to the extreme right by the nominally conservative republicans is likely to be an electoral bloodbath this coming November. I really dislike single-party rule. History shows that such states tend to become very nasty, very quickly. I rather like it when neither side has a massive majority, for the same reason. Our government functions (to the extent it does function) by compromise, and compromise is hard to come by when one party or the other has an overwhelming vote advantage. So, republicans, if you want to avoid going the way the Whig party did, please come back from your extended sojourn into whackjob-land. The vast majority of the voting public will be waiting for you near the center, and I’ll be with them.

RESPONSIBILITY

I own several firearms. I’m licensed by the state where I reside to carry a firearm, and I often do. Carrying a firearm is a serious responsibility. By carrying a firearm, you are taking upon yourself the power to take a life. If you carry a firearm and are not willing to kill should it become necessary, you are essentially delivering a weapon to whomever is willing to take it from you. This is not acting responsibly. Likewise, the person who carries a firearm who goes out of his or her way to find an excuse to use it is not behaving responsibly. Your primary policy of self-defense should be a lifelong commitment to avoidance, deterrence, and de-escalation.

As a (hopefully) responsible gun owner, I am disgusted by the shooting of an unarmed young man by a self-appointed neighborhood watch volunteer in Florida a few weeks ago. The shooter’s actions did not involve avoidance, deterrence, or de-escalation, and a young man is unjustly dead. My personal opinion is that the shooter is guilty of murder, but I’m not sure it will be possible to convict him due to the poorly written laws in Florida regarding the use of lethal force. There are no winners in this incident, but there are lots of losers. Every single person or organization trying to make political hay out of the death of an unarmed young man has lost whatever vestiges of humanity they may have once had.

SYRIA

Bashar al Assad is proving to be less ruthless than his father in dealing with internal dissent. That said, his government’s actions have been overwhelmingly vicious over the past year since the so-called “Arab Spring” uprisings came to Syria. Where Hafez al Assad obliterated the city of Hama, sonny boy has only managed to butcher a few thousand people in the city. Bashar al Assad’s military is beginning to fracture as well, with entire units deserting or joining the uprising.

Syria’s government is not in a particularly good position. The whole world is watching, and Syria has several powerful neighbors who are distinctly unhappy with the slaughter in Syrian cities. Turkey is the big player in the immediate area, and the Turks are easily capable of crushing Syria militarily if provoked. The only thing preventing Syria from being completely isolated is the increasingly tepid support from Russia and China. I suspect Russia is supporting Syria out of a vague paternal feeling for a former client state, but even Russian and Chinese tolerance is growing strained by the continuing bloodshed. I hope Russia and China decide to exert some real pressure on Syria to find a less apocalyptic solution to their internal problem than the current policy of killing everyone in the general vicinity of anyone expressing mild disapproval of the Syrian government. Otherwise, Syria would likely end up a bloodier version of Libya.

Current status: Tired

Current music: Tango to Evora by Loreena McKennitt





Arrogance

22 08 2011

The sacrifices of the last six months are finally coming to fruition for the anti-government forces in Libya. Using a fairly clever maneuver, the rebels surged into Tripoli from the sea and the west, and joined with their fellow anti-government fighters already within the city. Savage fighting ensued as the poorly-disciplined rebels closed with the better trained and better equipped government forces in Tripoli. Many of Qaddafi’s troops have either surrendered or merely slipped away into the city, but the “Brother Leader” still has a significant cadre of troops armed with heavy weapons throughout the city, and combat in urban areas is the most unpredictable and bloody form an already-unpredictable and bloody enterprise can take.

The National Transitional Council (NTC) in Benghazi have been cautioning their people that the war is not yet over, and the NTC leadership seems to be aware of the fact that digging Qaddafi out of his fortresses in Tripoli will most likely be a matter of weeks, but the people in the NTC-held regions are rejoicing anyway. After a long series of lightning attacks followed by undignified routs, the people of Libya are eager to get down to the business of re-building their country- which will probably be much harder than wresting it away from their despot has been.

Amid all the celebrations- in Libya and elsewhere- a truly ugly dialogue has sprung up in the US. Instead of celebrating the courage, dedication, and sacrifices by the people of Libya, a large number of people in this country have been jockeying for position to take “credit” for a victory which does not yet exist. This shameful activity can be easily found on the bread-and-circuses crap which pretends to be the mainstream media in the US, but is most evident in online forums and chat rooms. People from both sides of the American political divide are eagerly claiming this not-yet-existent victory for their favorite political party. To all of these arrogant shitbags, I have only one thing to say:

“THIS ISN’T ABOUT YOU!”

The people of Libya have stood up to be counted and pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to overthrow a tyrant. Far too many Libyans have died in their attempt to make Libya free, and many more will doubtless make the ultimate sacrifice before they achieve this noble goal. At the start of the uprising, those who demonstrated against Qaddafi literally risked their lives to speak out, but they did so anyway- by the thousands. Even Qaddafi turning anti-aircraft guns on the protesters in the streets of Benghazi and Tripoli didn’t stop the people of Libya from speaking out against him. The sort of courage and dedication the people of Libya demonstrated in the face of torture and death deserves better than a bunch of lard-assed Americans claiming that the “victory” was the result of any particular political philosophy on another continent. While Libyans were dying in the streets, Americans were getting distracted by such ephemera as the football strike/lockout. Unless you travelled to Libya and put your one-and-only tender skin in harms’ way, all of you democratic and republican partisan hacks need to shut the fuck up.

Not quite as loathsome, but still repellent, are the talking heads on some “news” channels whose only interest in the Libyan uprising are what it will do to the price of oil. Here’s a clue chit for those creatures- what is happening in Libya is more important than oil. It’s more important than the state of the Dow. It’s more important than any quarterly earnings statement ever written. The Libyan uprising is a truly popular rebellion against a ruthless dictator, just as were the earlier uprisings against Arab strongmen in Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen. The political repercussions of this “Arab Spring” are already being felt throughout the lands of Islam, where other rulers are growing worried about their previously-quiescent people. Despots like Assad in Syria, the ruthless Imams in Tehran, and the House of Saud are finally forced to face up to the fact that keeping their people poor and ignorant no longer works in an era where any teenager with a smart phone can outwit government censors with impunity.

There are those in the US and Europe who are wary of this “Arab Spring”, fearful that the newly self-liberated lands will become havens for Islamic extremism. Too fucking bad. The people in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, and Libya have chosen to write their own futures, and this is as it should be. Their countries. Their rules. Their decisions. In lieu of poking our noses into the internal affairs of other nations, why can’t we- as a culture- just try to deal with each country on its own terms? If the people of Tunisia want to elect an Islamist government, that is their choice. If the NTC in Libya abruptly decides they don’t want to sell oil to kaffir anymore, too bad. It’s their oil. If the Yemenis decide to grow closer with China or Iran, that’s their business. If we in the west want to do business with the new governments across North Africa and the Middle East, we need to accept that we must do so on their terms. Trying to manipulate or dictate policy to these new nations will be merely repeating the mistakes of the past. Let’s try learning from those mistakes.

For a change.

Current status: Disgusted

Current music: Time of Your Life by Green Day





Folly Writ Large

13 06 2011

I sometimes despair at the pathetic attention span so often demonstrated by my fellow Americans.

In the past few weeks, a great many important things have been happening all over the world. The government of Syria has been using increasingly brutal means of crushing dissent, lest Bashar al Assad go the way of ben Ali and Mubarak. In doing so, Assad has brought his people ever closer to the precipice of open revolt. Open revolt is already underway in Yemen, where a rebel attack on a mosque seriously injured Yemen’s embattled president. Also in Yemen, the not-very-covert US campaign to attack anything remotely resembling Al Qaeda with air strikes and drone attacks has been accelerated, in an attempt to do as much damage to Al Qaeda in Yemen before what’s left of the government there collapses. NATO is increasing the number and frequency of air strikes in Libya, trying to kill Muammar Ghaddafi without technically trying to kill him. The government of Russia is steadily returning to the old Soviet ways, even ordering several hundred leather trenchcoats reminiscent of the old NKVD uniforms. North Korean shipping has been intercepted trying to transport arms to Burma/Myanmar in violation of a couple of different UN resolutions. Mexico is sliding farther into anarchy near the US border, with drug cartels making war on the government through assassination and open conflict- some of which is spilling across the border into the US.

Here at home, various police agencies have been alienating the citizens they supposedly serve through violent raids on non-violent suspects. Even such agencies as the Department of Education have SWAT units to carry out such assaults on private citizens. Police officers all over the country assault, rape, beat, maim, and kill US citizens without significant consequences beyond a few days suspension with pay, for the most part. Every single report commissioned by the government on the status of the “war on drugs” has repeatedly demonstrated that our decades-long attempt to recreate Prohibition has had exactly the same results as the original Prohibition: a supremely profitable environment for organized crime, millions of Americans thrown into prisons for ridiculous reasons, widespread violations of civil and Constitutional rights, and hundreds of billions of dollars poured down a rat hole for no measurable gain. Drugs are more readily available, cheaper, and are of a higher quality than before the “war on drugs” got kicked off by Tricky Dick Nixon in a vain attempt to distract the public from the unpopular real war in Vietnam. Despite this abject failure, there is no end in sight to the war on drugs. The FBI has been given wider powers to spy on American citizens for any reason at all without the bother of opening a formal investigation- effectively putting the US and Russia on equal moral footing as the Hoover-era Feebs were but pale reflections of the NKVD.

These things have all largely gone unnoticed by most Americans because their attention was elsewhere. What could possibly have so thoroughly distracted the public’s miniscule attention span? A US Congressman sent pictures of his schlong to a woman not his wife. Horror of horrors! That’s just … just … utterly and completely fucking lame.

What the fuck is wrong with you people? Are you all so fat, dumb, and happy that you are willing to allow our Republic to drift slowly into authoritarianism so long as there’s something salacious on TV? Millions of Americans shed their blood over the past two hundred years or so to secure freedom for their descendants, but those descendants are too busy watching the antics of various attention whores to notice as that freedom is slowly and inexorably stolen by their own elected representatives. Our elected officials- from both parties- are gradually taking away all of our cherished liberties in their blind pursuit of money and power for themselves and their cronies, and you can’t be bothered to pay attention because American Idol is on? If the Founders were alive today, they’d die again from shame at what apathetic, easily distracted simpletons their countrymen have become.

The liberties of our country, the freedoms of our civil Constitution are worth defending at all hazards; it is our duty to defend them against all attacks. We have received them as a fair inheritance from our worthy ancestors. They purchased them for us with toil and danger and expense of treasure and blood. It will bring a mark of everlasting infamy on the present generation– enlightened as it is– if we should suffer them to be wrested from us by violence without a struggle, or to be cheated out of them by the artifices of designing men.Samuel Adams

The greatest defense our country has against government tyranny is a well-informed and educated electorate. That defense has been weakened over the past fifty or so years by generations of Americans who care more for their rights than their responsibilities as citizens. Less than half of those eligible to vote do so in any given election. Because of this, our political processes have been hijacked by a vocal minority who regularly vote. In an election with a larger voter turnout, the fanatics on either side would be marginalized by the vastly larger number of moderates from both political parties. With a smaller voter turnout, the votes of that vocal minority of utter whackjobs have a far larger proportional influence than their demographic statistics ordinarily deserve. With lunatics and madmen at either end of the political spectrum  exerting ever-greater influence on our political leaders, our national political discourse has become increasingly polarized to moronic extremes. That fanaticism in politics disgusts and repels more and more moderates, leaving the loonies at either extreme increasingly in charge of the asylum. And so the vicious cycle continues unabated.

Bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote. – George Jean Nathan

What can you do about it? VOTE, you lazy bastards! Vote in every election. Find a moderate in your local area and elect him or her to whichever position is up for election. If there aren’t any moderates on the ballot, find one and start a write-in campaign. Do this often enough at the local level and it will become easier to do at the state and federal level, too. The best way to drive the shrill fundamentalists out of the political process is to vote down their extremist agenda at every turn. Vote against every incumbent. Those in office are growing fat at our expense- kick the bastards out.

People often say that, in a democracy, decisions are made by a majority of the people.  Of course, that is not true.  Decisions are made by a majority of those who make themselves heard and who vote – a very different thing.Walter H. Judd

We, the People, are supposed to be running this country. That only works if we, the People, get off our ever-fattening behinds and do our duty as citizens. There’s more to citizenship than your rights and paying taxes- you also have a responsibility to serve your country by voting in elections and taking a turn as a juror. We seem to have forgotten that our rights are balanced by responsibilities. Out of sheer laziness, too many Americans have allowed the government to take over far too many of those responsibilities. Thus, we have also granted our government the responsibility to take care of our rights, and governments are demonstrably unwilling to do so if it conflicts with the pursuit of power and wealth.

Those who seek absolute power, even though they seek it to do what they regard as good, are simply demanding the right to enforce their own version of heaven on earth. And let me remind you, they are the very ones who always create the most hellish tyrannies. Absolute power does corrupt, and those who seek it must be suspect and must be opposed.Barry Goldwater

And so, our Republic dies the death of a thousand cuts. Not with a bang, nor with a whimper, but with the self-satisfied sighs of millions of indolent citizens who cannot be bothered to pay attention as their elected representatives sell their future for short-term gains.

The most important political office is that of the private citizen. – Louis Brandeis

Current status: Pissed off

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