Thursday, June 27, 2013

A Most Curious Inversion

You have no doubt at some time heard someone say, “I’d rather be right than President,” or “I’d sooner die than give in,” or some such claim, indicating they are persons of principle and will not compromise their beliefs for any reason whatsoever.
Republicans seem to have inverted this to suggest they would rather be “wrong” than be President (or succeed in some way). I suppose there may be a few of the most rabid dogmatic Tea Partiers, perhaps a few other screwballs somewhere in the world, who might actually believe that what they have been doing is “right,” but surely some Republicans, perhaps even a majority, must know that what they are doing is clearly “wrong.” Can they, for example, truly believe that shutting down Planned Parenthood, thus putting millions of women’s lives in danger, is the right thing to do? Similarly, can they actually believe that it is either necessary or desirable to take food out of the mouths of children by taking away their meager food stamps? How about forcing women to undergo unnecessary vaginal probes, or forcing them to carry the fetuses of rapists to term? Do they believe that voting against background checks that are supported by 90% of the public is the right thing to do? Ignore for the moment the facts that they are also opposed to a minimum wage, unions, increased taxes on the obscenely wealthy and corporations making record profits, environmental protections, global warming, and etc., and wonder if, most importantly of all, they think it is right to effectively shut down the government, all of the people’s business, for several years, in spite of the urgency of it all, simply to prevent a Black President from achieving any success?
Many, if not most Republicans, must know that what they have been doing to the President and the nation is wrong, but they have doggedly, even obsessively, been doing these wrong things for years. They simply have to know that attacking women and women’s rights over and over again is not only morally wrong but politically wrong as well. And they certainly know that blocking immigration reform will hurt them as well, but that is what they are trying to do. Not only that, they are attacking the most basic tenet of our (presumed democracy), the right to vote. This is, in the terms we have been taught to believe, clearly wrong. The fact they are doing it for political reasons does not make it right.
When they continue to allow the most moronic among them to speak for them, Backmann, Gohmert, Perry, King, Inhofe, Palin, and others, and do not disclaim their basically insane rants and claims, they again are doing wrong. When you consider the more despicable hate merchants that speak for the party, like Beck, Limbaugh, Hannity, Coulter, and they do not disclaim them, whether out of fear or not, they are constantly sinking further and further into the depths of Rovian slime and disgracing themselves even more, and I have not even mentioned the Evangelical wing of the Goofy Old Party, like Robertson, Huckabee, Warren, Colson, and such. And do not forget their current champion and pretender to the role of Joe McCarthy, the dishonorable Darrell Issa, who has not only lost all credibility, proven himself to be an outrageous liar by making assertions that lack any basis in fact whatsoever, and continues his irresponsible behavior with no regard whatsoever for truth and justice.  
As they must know their behavior will keep them from the next Presidency, and may even ultimately destroy their party entirely, I conclude they must believe they would rather be wrong than win, a most curious inversion indeed. They cannot all be so completely out of touch with reality, but if the sane ones among them remain silent, as they have for so long, they are just as much a part of the same revolting circus that now tries to pretend to be a serious political party.

"Who knows what goes on in the minds of baboons?”
My neighbor, quoting an unknown logger.

My neighbor, quoting an unknown logger.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Dead Party Walking

What used to be the Republican political party is, for all intents and purposes, now dead, but still walking (crawling is perhaps more accurate). The main reason, in general, for its demise has to do with the fact that it is opposed to anything and everything that might in any way improve the lot of U.S. citizens. This manifests itself in their opposition to unions, the minimum wage, food stamps, unemployment insurance, health care, Social Security, taxes on the wealthy, promoting jobs, and on and on. There are, however, two things in particular going on at the moment that are inevitably going to destroy the Greedy Old Party.
The first of these is their virtually pathological obsession with rape and abortion and attempting to do away with Roe vs Wade. You all know about one Republican’s claim that the female body has a way of shutting down the possible results, and another one’s claim that if a baby results from a rape it must have been God’s will, and still another’s belief that pregnancy rarely result from rape, and others. Now we have a claim so far-fetched as to stun one into complete stupefaction, namely, the male fetus masturbates! This was claimed by a Republican gynecologist and used to explain why the fetus feels pain (if it pleasures itself it must also be able to experience pain). As proof of this claim he explains that you can see the fetus with its hands near its genitals. I wonder where this learned doctor thinks it might otherwise hold its hands and arms while in the fetal position in the womb? Perhaps with its hands clasped behind its neck like swinging in a hammock, or maybe holding its arms extended as if describing a fish that got away might also be a possibility. And what of a female fetus, does it rest comfortably with its hands demurely clasped behind its back? Along with these bizarre notions are also the apparent beliefs that women lie about being raped, that men are in a better position than women to know how women should treat their bodies and health, and they should be made to bear a child to term no matter what. I suppose that while holding such misguided and false beliefs does not prove they are crazy, they certainly certify them as unbelievably stupid.
The second thing that will surely lead to the Republican demise has to do with their opposition to immigration. At least some of them seem to be aware that they cannot possible win elections in the future without the Hispanic vote that went overwhelmingly for President Obama. In spite of this they have done everything possible to delay and defeat any serious immigration proposal. Even if a decent immigration policy emerges after all this it will still be obvious Republicans did not want immigrants and only agreed to them as a matter of political expediency, hardly a position likely to appeal to many immigrants.
So, having lost the Hispanic vote, along with the votes of a majority of women (and not having the Black or other minority votes as well), the Republican Party that exists at the moment creeps on zombie-like into bringing about its own oblivion, truly a dead party walking. Stupid, crazy or both, take your pick.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Terrorist Mumbo-Jumbo

Just who and why and where are terrorists? This is a concept that makes no sense to me. One person’s terrorist is another person’s hero. Terrorists exist only by definition and who is a terrorist depends upon who is doing the defining. Hezbollah and Hamas are defined as terrorists by the United States and Israel but are not considered terrorists by Russia, China, and Arab states. Israeli settlers are terrorists by almost any definition of terrorists as they attack Palestinians, kill them, destroy their homes and villages, destroy their orchards, and obviously attempt to drive them away (if not into extinction). Israel itself clearly employed terrorism in the early years of its existence (and probably still does depending upon your point of view).
If a Muslim were to blow up a building in the U.S. it would surely be defined as an act of terrorism, whereas if an American citizen blows up a building it is not so considered. Iran is constantly referred to as supporting terrorism but you rarely see them accused of any acts of terrorism apart from supporting Hamas and Hezbollah who are terrorists only in the eyes of the U.S. and Israel. If a Muslim were to enter a primary school and, using an assault rifle, kill twenty or more children and adults it would surely be considered a terrorist act, but if the same thing is done by a non-Muslim American citizen it would not be similarly considered (only the act of a deranged person or someone out for revenge or etc.).
Although there is no legal definition of terrorism in criminal law it is usually considered an act of terror, using fear and violence, as a means of coercion, especially if it targets civilians rather than combatants. So how are we to consider drone strikes if not acts of terror? They certainly kill civilians and are intended to create fear (or at least do create fear even if not intended to do so). If gangsters run a protection racket using fear and coercion it is not considered an act of terror. And what about George Washington, the “father of our country,” who was one of the wealthiest men in America, having accumulated his wealth by ordering the destruction of entire Indian villages, including their crops, and stealing their land?
It is obvious that terrorism is a term with essentially no meaning, or meaning only in the eyes of those who want to label something terrorism. Sit was that Bush/Cheney could order an all-out “war on terrorism” that would allow them to do whatever they wanted to whomever they wanted whenever they wanted and however they wanted. Carte blanche to murder, torture, steal, rape and pillage, whatever. It has been said somewhere or other that when Bush/Cheney lied us into the “war” on Iraq, Bush at least (if not Cheney also) were not aware there were both Sunnis and Shiites. This raises the interesting question, does anyone in the U.S. even care if there are both forms of religion? I think not.
So if no one cares about this religious distinction why are we involved in supporting the Syrian rebels who are apparently Sunnis attacking the Shiite regime of Assad? In fact I think we don’t care about their religious views, except insofar as they have to do with Iran. Iran is a predominantly Shiite culture as opposed to the predominantly Sunni Arabs who do not want Iran to gain any power or influence in that part of the world (and, of course Iranians are also not Arabs). I suspect that the U.S. and Israel wouldn’t care what religious group was involved as long as they were opposed to Iran. Hezbollah, fighting against the rebels to protect Assad are apparently not considered terrorists at the moment (I guess), but if they were attacking Israel they would certainly be considered terrorists. So it is that Hamas and Hezbollah are terrorists but the U.S. and Israel are not even though they all engage in terror, fear, killing civilians, and what-have-you. Iran is a terrorist state but Israel and the U.S. are not. Similarly, Afghans who fought against the Russians were patriots and heroes, when they fight against the U.S. they are terrorists. It’s all mumbo-jumbo to make us believe that black is white, white is good but black is not, we are loyal patriots, they are cowardly terrorists, good is what we do, bad is what they do, up is down and down is up, and it is all simply a matter of good versus evil, nothing in between, no shades of gray, after all, God is on our side, and our God is superior to all other gods. Sigh!
 “Well, I never heard it before, but it sounds uncommon nonsense.”
Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Right and Wrong

I sometimes wonder what happened to the ideas, or concepts, or beliefs, or whatever you want to label them, of “right” and “wrong.” I guess they have become considered just old-fashioned and/or irrelevant these days. Certainly they no longer have any meaning for our elected officials, our “leaders.”
I am not concerned here with the basic philosophical question of whether there are absolute rights and wrongs, merely with issues that would seem to be pretty obviously right and wrong, relatively speaking. Perhaps the best example at the moment has to do with gun control. It would seem to me clear that with some 90% of the public in favor of background checks, along with just basic thoughts on the issue that background checks are the right thing to do. I know that just because a majority is in favor of something it does not mean that is necessarily right. But in this case, with such a huge majority in favor, and just plain common sense, along with statistics that illustrate the problem clearly, it would appear that passing background checks would be the right thing to do. But what is of most interest to me is that right and wrong have nothing to do with what is happening on this important matter. Those individuals who are voting against background checks are not voting because they think it is a matter of right or wrong. They are voting solely on the basis of whether or not their vote will matter with respect to their next election. Right and wrong has absolutely nothing to do with it. Similarly, it is not obvious that those who are voting for such checks are doing so because they think it is right to do so or also voting for political reasons. I would assume that many of them think it is the right thing to do but it may also be the expedient thing to do for their future careers.
And so it is, it seems, for most of the votes being cast either for or against whatever the issue may be. I doubt that most of our officials give much thought to whether or not they are doing the right thing. They are obviously more concerned with voting the way their contributors want them to vote. If that happens to coincide with what is right so much the better, but what is right has little or nothing to do with how they actually vote.

I believe, naively I guess, there was a time when our elected officials actually had the best interests of the citizens in mind, and they voted for what they believed was the right thing with that aim in mind. That is, there was the idea, if you were elected to public office, you were to serve the public, or at least your constituency and vote for what was in their best interest. This does seem at the moment to be a particularly old-fashioned, even stupid idea, for if you wish to stay in office nowadays you vote the way you are subtly or no so subtly instructed to vote, public interest has little or nothing to do with it. This is clearly what is happening with respect to background checks, and there is little doubt the same thing is true of votes on health care, unions, minimum wages, food stamps, and most other issues of importance to ordinary people. Votes are blatantly bought in what has become basically a system of bribery where those with money can arrange for the votes they want. Right and wrong have nothing to do with it. Notions of right and wrong have gone the way of the Passenger Pigeon, “ 23 skidoo,” corsets, modesty, virginity, and etiquette, to say nothing of the English language. It’s the American way!


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Keeping Secrets

All this talk about secrecy and how terrible it is that Whistleblowers exist and occasionally tell the truth about what our government is doing, what to believe. Frankly, I cannot get very worked up over this, not only because it has been going on for a long time, and also because apparently Congress has been briefed on it many times (apparently without paying much attention), but, more importantly, it strikes me as ridiculous. If I heard it correctly, almost 5 million individuals have some form of security clearance and 1.4 million have top secret clearance. I gather that about one quarter of these clearances are held by private companies. It seems to me that if that many people have such privileges when it comes to secrets, and if some have them without the same loyalty oaths, we probably don’t really have any secrets. I mean, seriously, how can you believe something is secret if 1.4 million people are in on it? My experience leads me to believe people are not very good at keeping secrets. If 1.4 million know about it, it can’t really be a secret, can it? I am amazed there have not been more whistleblowers, and I doubt that President Obama’s so-called crackdown on them is going to make much of a difference. How can one argue that the Obama administration is the most secretive in history when approximately 6.4 million people know the secrets? I know that not all the people with clearances know all the secrets, certainly they are not supposed to, but apparently Snowden knew much more than he should have and no doubt others do too. Thus the secrecy situation strikes me as fundamentally absurd, as does the entirety of what now passes for the government of the United States.

As usual in such cases, there seems to be two different views of Mr. Snowden, as also in the case of Bradley Manning, either they are treasonous individuals out to destroy their country or they are heroes for what they have done. I guess neither side believes it should be necessary to conduct an objective investigation into what they have done as either they are already pronounced guilty of treason or awarded sainthood without any further ado. Personally, I don’t believe that either of them meant to harm our country, and I suspect both of them honestly believed they had a moral duty to speak out about what they believed was wrongdoing. But both cases involve the problem of distinguishing motive from function. That is, even if their motives were noble and just, the function (result, in this instance) of what they did was potentially very harmful (the road to hell is paved with good intentions sort of thing). So how do you decide what to make of such individuals and situations? Should they be punished for the results of their actions or praised for their good intentions? I know of cases where good intentions seem to win, as in the case of missionaries, for example. I have seen at first-hand examples of how missionaries with the best of intentions created almost irreparable damage to those they were attempting to help, and certainly there are myriad other examples of when “The best intentions of mice and men often go astray.”

Unfortunately, in both of these cases, no objective judgments will prevail. There seems little doubt (to me at least) that Bradley Manning will not get a fair trial as no less that the President himself has already declared him guilty. Similarly, as some in position of power and influence have already declared Snowden guilty of treason, there is no reason to suppose he will fare any better (if and when they catch him). Ironically, as they will both be punished in the here and now, they will probably both go down in history as martyrs to the causes of freedom, decency, and justice.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

"Being" While Black

We have all heard by now the problem of “driving while Black,” and in places like New York City there is an obvious problem of even “walking while Black.” Surely there is a problem with “standing on street corners while Black,” and no doubt there are in some circumstances and places with even “eating while Black,” “drinking while Black,” and of course there is the obvious question of being President while Black. There is, it seems to me, an even more fundamental problem with being Black, the existential problem of even “being” while Black. Depending upon where you are, and with whom, you may not even exist at all if Black. Ralph Ellison’s book, Invisible Man, speaks wonderfully to this point.

As a simple example here is one from my childhood. In the small mining town where I grew up it was said “The sun will never set on a n……. (Black person) in this town. This was partly I think just because of ordinary prejudice against Black people, but it also had special circumstances in our town because once when the miners were striking a group of Black soldiers were brought in as strike breakers and there were some problems as a result. But it was common knowledge that Blacks were persona non grata. But curiously enough there was a Black man and his wife who lived in our little town, and while he was not all that dark he was Black enough that he could not pass for white. Not only did he live there, eking out a living mostly by janitorial work, he and his wife were expert bridge players (this was at the time when contract bridge was a rage). They played bridge with at least some white families and their skills were appreciated.  Thus even though they existed in the flesh they did not exist in the beliefs of the townspeople, their actual “being” was more or less denied.

Similarly, in the small town where I now live you would not necessarily be aware of Black people even though there are two or three Black families living here. North Idaho is widely perceived as a hotbed of White Supremecy and has a well-known reputation for that. Yet a few Blacks live here and you virtually never hear of racial incidents or problems. In the local ethos it is as if they do not exist.

Interestingly, the existential position of Blacks has not been the same in other countries. It is well known that Blacks were welcome, perhaps even more than welcome, in France, and many of them flocked to that country for just that reason. They not only lived there, their very “existence,” their “being” was not contested and many of them became quite famous and successful. Similarly, there is an interesting book recently published called The Black Russian that traces the life of an 18 year-old Black man from the deep South who wanders the world working in restaurants, learns the business, and becomes a very wealthy restaurateur and businessman in Russia. He became so successful and wealthy he was forced to leave during the 1917 revolution. He fled to Turkey with almost nothing and then repeated his success there until eventually driven out by Ataturk who wanted to cleanse his country of all foreigners. It is clear that in Russia, France, Turkey and elsewhere in Europe he did not encounter the prejudice that he did in the U.S. His very “being” was not denied or ignored, he was accepted as just another person.

There was, in seems, no concept of “race” or racial inequality until well into the fifteenth century, when the colonial period began. In the ancient world, where Blacks and Whites co-existed, they were all accepted merely as persons (living beings that existed in nature). But during the colonial period racial inferiority was used as a justification for the otherwise unbelievable brutality that was used to exploit the “savages” for ivory, gold and silver, rubber, cotton, oil, land, and whatever else so-called “civilized” society wanted (and didn’t want to fairly pay for).   

It seems this denial of “being” extends to President Obama. He is not treated with the respect due to the office as most or all other Presidents have been, he is sometimes referred to as merely “Obama,” he is described as a socialist, communist, Kenyan, fascist, Muslim, even as the anti-Christ, anything but what he is, a Black President of the United States. These are all, it seems to me, attempts to deny his “being,” to pretend he is not really President, is a fake, and whatever. Why race and racial prejudice is so prevalent and persistent in the U.S. and not in so many other countries is an interesting question. If I were fifty years younger I might consider it. Anyway, think what you will, President Obama actually and truly exists, he has “being,” as it were.

The hatred you're carrying is a live coal in your heart - far more damaging to yourself than to them.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Point of no Return?

I should think that in view of the current ridiculous and wasteful machinations of Republicans they may have finally reached the point of no return. That is, their talk of somehow changing into a different and viable political party is, I fear, just that, talk. I can see no way for them to overcome the incredible damage they have done to our country by their obsessive hatred of President Obama and their persistent obstructionism. It has become obvious by now to virtually everyone, except perhaps the complete nitwits that comprise their base, they have nothing to offer, no program, no agenda, no ideas beyond simply refusing to co-operate with Obama and the Democrats, and opposing anything and everything he has tried to do to improve things. In my view their behavior for the past few years has bordered on treason. The only way Republicans could possibly renew their party is if the entire current leadership, and most or all of the members, could be voted out of office and replaced with all new and more intelligent and responsible individuals. Not only that, they would also have to make massive changes in their philosophy and other core beliefs. As this is not at all likely to happen I think they will be, for all intents and purposes, finished as a political party after the 2014 elections – or at least they certainly should be.

The Republican Party was at one time respectable and acted as a responsible party should have. At no time in the past did they ever simply refuse to participate in governing, whether they were in power or in the minority.  Although the rot may well have begun earlier, probably under Saint Ronnie, and certainly grew during the Clinton era, I think it became more obvious and much more serious during the George Bush/Dick Cheney administration. When it became obvious during the Clinton Presidency the Republicans could not win at the ballot box they began to turn to desperate measures. Their attack on Clinton was unprecedented in its savagery, dishonesty, and hypocrisy. Clinton survived but the die was cast. With Karl Rove leading the way everything went downhill from there. Honesty and fair play were abandoned in favor of slime and unprincipled attacks on whoever opposed them. Lying and hypocrisy became their standard operating procedure. The concept of “Roviation” was born and in many cases it worked. With the help of the corporate media they managed to destroy Howard Dean, John Kerry, John McCain, and others that displeased them. No tactic was too sleazy or dishonest, innuendo and slander became an integral part of their plan to grab and hold power, according to Rove, forever. In short, they morphed from a viable, respectable political party into a criminal conspiracy, what I called the “Brafia.” Brafia was a na├»ve mistake as I assumed it was merely part of the Bush/Cheney era, not considering it would remain the basic characteristic of Republicans in general.

And so now we have this bizarre collection of religious nut-cases, ultra-conservatives, warmongers, and hyper-capitalistic neo-cons, who never saw a potentially profitable war they didn’t like, are basically opposed to government, and are so basically incapable of governing they do not even pretend to have a platform for that eventuality. As they are morally, intellectually, and politically bankrupt they can do nothing but obstruct, obstruct, and obstruct. Thus the vital needs of the country are ignored while they manufacture scandals out of thin air and waste our time and money. They are not bright enough to realize their tactics have now been exposed, and also not capable of changing their hateful, racist, sexist, greedy, unconscionable, and self-destructive behavior. If they are not voted out of office en masse, god help us, for we will have proved we cannot help ourselves. Republicans have gone too far, for them there is no turning back. If there is ever to be a new Republican party (unlikely) it will certainly not resemble this miserable excuse for one we see now.

Karl Popper

Monday, June 03, 2013

Whatever Happened to the Tea and Skittles?

The wheels of justice turn so slowly in our country I had almost forgotten about the Martin/Zimmerman affair. As Zimmerman is about to go to trial, in spite of asking for a delay, the whole sordid episode has now re-entered my increasingly dim mind.

I confess I would not be able to serve on a jury in this matter as I basically (however unfairly and prematurely) suspect that Zimmerman is guilty. This is mainly because I find it unlikely that a 17 year-old boy, being followed by a larger unknown (and not Black) man, would have turned on him and attacked him. Martin apparently had a drink of iced Tea and some Skittles (I guess this is a form of candy) and was returning to his father’s home from a 7-11 store. On the phone with his girl friend he apparently reported he was being followed and did not know why. When Zimmerman was asked whether he was following Martin he said he was, and was told he did not have to do that. Apparently, according to Zimmerman’s account, he was returning to his car when Martin approached him from behind and attacked him.

So what happened to the tea and skittles? Did Trayvon Martin set them down somewhere and then attack Zimmerman? Did he just casually throw them away and attack? Were they ever found? Did anyone pay any attention to this? Were they found near the attack site? Were they found on the clothes of either of the participants? Did Martin attack Zimmerman with tea and skittles, and if so, how? Zimmerman’s account makes no sense to me. His defense is the questionable Florida “Stand your ground law.” If Zimmerman was indeed walking back to his car how was he “standing his ground?” If he was the aggressor how was that standing his ground? Remember, Zimmerman was armed with a semi-automatic pistol and was apparently much larger than Martin. It makes far more sense to me to believe that Zimmerman was the aggressor, confronted Martin, and then a fight ensued. Why would a boy attack a larger man, who may have been armed, unless he was himself being attacked in some way?

Zimmerman was armed although as a neighborhood watchman he was not apparently supposed to be (he did have a permit to carry, however). He was a volunteer watchman who went armed and deliberately looking for some kind of trouble. Martin was an unarmed teen-ager on his way from a 7-11 store. I suspect that if Zimmerman was attacked by Martin it was Martin that was “standing his ground.” Anyway, what do I know about it? The accounts given vary depending upon who gave them and when they were given. They are somewhat inconsistent. Although I believe Zimmerman’s scenario makes no sense, I also believe he is certainly entitled to a fair trial – but so is Trayvon Martin who isn’t even being charged. Of course people have always been entitled to self-defense, the Florida law was/is unnecessary and has led to nothing but big trouble, a green light for killing (especially young Black males).

It appears that Daryl Issa is also armed (with power) and out looking for trouble. While Holder and President Obama may be guilty of something-or-other they are not guilty of whatever it is that suits Issa’s fancy at the moment. He said he would hold a hearing every week and he seems to be living up to that ridiculous pledge. What a creep! Wouldn’t it be nice if the Republicans would actually participate in governing and give up trying to make scandals out of ordinary acts of everyday public life. Of course mistakes are often made, and of course things sometimes go wrong. In the Republican case mistakes seem to be always made and imaginary wrongs are their stock-in-trade. If they cannot be voted out of office in 2014, especially in the House, I fear things will just get worse and worse. No government can withstand constant obstructionism forever.