Thursday, September 30, 2010

American Exceptionalism Debunked

There exists among many on the neoconservative right the idea that America, and its citizens, are unique among all other nations and peoples of the world. And while it's easy to trace this idea back to the concept of Manifest Destiny, American exceptionalism today, in the wake of two failed and illegal wars, scandals over torture of detainees, eavesdropping without warrant, targeted assassination of American citizens without due process, just reeks like the worst of imperialism, colonialism, and fascism.

In his remarkable 1835/1840 book Democracy in America, French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville reveals much that he admires about the new United States of America. But he is somewhat sarcastic about the idea that Americans "are not very remote from believing themselves to be a distinct species of mankind." In other words, while we think we're all that, it is this believing our own bullshit that are actually a threat to our country. Written 180 years ago, and he's got the Bush/Cheney years and the Palin/O'Donnell/Fox News mindset down.

Well, Andrew Sullivan fisks neocon asshole Dinesh D'Souza over his Forbes article called "How Obama Thinks." It's a great read, but the money quote is here:

For what the new right has come to assert as empirical fact is that Americans are actually a distinct species of mankind, that America has a divine blessing not bestowed on any other countries, that its inherent specialness means that if Americans torture, for example, it is somehow not torture; that if Americans invade a country, it is never an invasion but always a liberation; that if Americans occupy a foreign country for a decade, it is not an occupation; and so on.

This kind of nationalism is dangerous. It is not patriotism. It is not pride in the exceptional history and constitution of the US, which Obama has expressed and, in many ways, exemplifies. It is a kind of national idolatry in order to justify anything America does, and to demonize anyone, like Tocqueville and Obama and any educated person, who sees the imperfection and flaws of America, as well its immense and enduring and specific virtues.

Beck is Bad, But Hannity...

In a Dish post describing a New York Times Magazine article profiling Glenn Beck, Sullivan comes up with this scathing swipe at Beck's propagandist cohort, Sean Hannity:
Compared with Sean Hannity, for example, Beck seems to me to be a relative innocent. Hannity is a cynical liar and cool propagandist. You can trust nothing he says and although I find it hard to diagnose the motives behind Beck's enthusiasms (money? fame? emotional instability? misplaced patriotism?), he is, compared with Hannity, a model of genuineness. He did, for example, criticize Republican spending and debt under Bush. I remember, because he invited me on his show when it was on CNN before the 2006 mid-terms and we agreed on a lot. Hannity never criticized the GOP for its spending and borrowing, while immediately turning on a dime as soon as Obama was elected. Shameless does not even begin to describe the man's public character.
My emphasis. Andrew goes on to excoriate Bill O'Reilly and then call him out:
Beck is in many ways a clown. But my own sense of him is that he is, at times, a genuine clown, not entirely fake. (I know many disagree, and I cannot judge the man's soul from a distance, but that's my hunch.) O'Reilly, meanwhile, is a propagandist - not as bad as Hannity - but dishonest and wrong. And his claim to balance, by having on the hapless, clueless, intellectually vapid Dee-Dee Myers as a rebuttal, is absurd. Mr O'Reilly, I know Fox has long had a blanket ban on having me on as a guest, but here's a challenge: allow me to debate this Talking Points Memo with you, and reveal what a completely half-baked piece of nonsense it was.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Palin Model

As Andrew Sullivan has exhaustively covered the odd, pernicious, and myriad lies of Sarah Palin during and since her campaign for the vice presidency of the United States, it appears that real journalism is making a comeback during the mid-terms.

Greg Sargent, a blogger at the Washington Post, reports that Christine O'Donnell *, the GOP candidate for US Senate in Delaware, may have falsified, or at best stretched the truth of, her educational background. Further amplification at HuffPost.

* It is very distasteful for me to post anything about this mote, this gasoline slick on the surface of a puddle, this future contestant on Leno's Jay-walking segment. While I have no illusions that my blog getting millions of page views every month (that, my dear readers, depends a lot on how much you spread my writings around), for anyone to elevate the status of Christine O'Donnell to someone who actually matters carries with it a risk that, in the end, we might actually make her matter.

The Constitution as Sacred Text?

Be careful, writes political scientist Michael Klarman, excerpted by Andrew Sullivan. There are lots of examples of Constitutional interpretation going against what we would day consider equality.

Yes, you say, but that's all in the past. Considering that for much of its history, the Constitution has been used to uphold exclusion, racism, homophobia, and subjugation of women, and considering that the framers' ideas of church/state separation and/or the role of women or blacks in society were radically different from our own, I'd say that it would be better not to revere the document above our own ability as a society to evolve in our thinking. Leaning on that text has been done on both sides of those arguments, as history has proven.

Displays of Actual Journalism

A reader writes in response to my previous post:
Problem is the Dems could likely lose that district (25% chance according to History for many people connotes heavy lifting, while comparative religions would rate as some kind of porn for these bumpkins. You know, I found out the oldest part of the Bible is Judges 5.1-31, a song to Deborah the only female judge or ruler of note of the ancient Jews. That she was a prophet, probably a witch, and consulted an oracle, or was one herself, should give some of those good ol' fundamentalists in the Carolinas some pause for thought--if any are capable of that process--the very genesis of "their" book is goddess-based, shamaness-directed, as well as oracular.
Actually, if you ask a modern "Christian" if they're troubled with the pagan origins of their sacred text, they will blissfully proclaim that the New Testament did away with all of that. With biblical literalism, replacement of the old text means that nasty things in Deuteronomy like stoning adulterers and keeping slaves can be safely ignored and used as teaching to show how much of an improvement the new text is over the old one.

While exceptions certainly exist, on matters of faith, reason, logic, and knowledge hold no sway over the average Christian.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

False Analogy

Stanley Fish, writing Monday in the New York Times, thinks that progressives and even mainstream Republicans are going about defeating the Tea Partiers all wrong:
[T]he Republican party now sees where its future lies, and it will cozy up to the new kids on the block (as it has already done in the case of O’Donnell) and ride their coattails to a victory even larger than the one they have been looking forward to.

And the Democrats will be helping them by saying scathing and dismissive things about the Tea Party and its candidates.
Using the mythological figure of Antaeus, who achieved victory after victory even though his opponents routinely threw him to the ground (he gained strength that way because his mother was Gaia, the goddess of the earth), as a parallel, Fish suggests that the Tea Party gains its strength from the ridicule heaped upon it by self-appointed elites, because it loves pissing off the establishment.

Fish's solution:

[T]ake a cue from Hercules, who figured out the source of Antaeus’s strength and defeated him by embracing him in a bear hug, lifting him up high, and preventing him from touching the ground. Don’t sling mud down in the dust where your opponents thrive. Instead, engage them as if you thought that the concerns they express (if not their forms of expression) are worthy of serious consideration, as indeed they are. Lift them up to the level of reasons and evidence and see how they fare in the rarified air of rational debate where they just might suffer the fate of Antaeus.

It’s at least worth a try, because the way things are going we may soon be looking at Senator O’Donnell, Governor Paladino and, down the road a bit, President Palin.

While I agree that anti-establishment movements like the Tea Party thrive when they see that they're pissing off the establishment, engaging this collection of wingnuts in "rational debate" and lifting them "up to the level of reasons and evidence" just won't work. It's impossible to reason with the unreasonable. It'd be like trying to reason with a five-year old with ADHD (and believe me, I have first hand experience with this). Hercules didn't simply keep Antaeus from touching the ground. He enclosed him in a bear hug, a Herculean bear hug that he would never escape from. The Tea Party, by way of their irrationality and schizophrenia, is like a greased pig, and applying an intellectual bear hug is going to result in their slipping into another wingnut argument like birtherism or accusations of socialism/Nazism/Stalinism/Marxism. In other words, so long as the Tea Party clings to the irrational, there is nothing in what they argue that is "worthy of serious consideration."

The better example of how to handle them is found in the way in which President Obama has deftly dismissed them without insulting them, but without engaging them either. Like a bee buzzing about, it is best ignored unless it gets too close, and then it's perfectly easy to gently wave them off. However, there is always the risk of a sting, and if the price to be paid is that a nitwit like Christine O'Donnell gets elected to the Senate or that Carl Paladino gets elected governor of New Yrok, well, the voters there are going to be paying a far bigger price in how they are to be represented. Nothing exposes a lack of seriousness more than high elected office. Sarah Palin, the former half-term governor turned reality show subject, is a perfect example of that.

Yes, American Voters are Stupid

A new CNN poll indicates that Americans are completely disconnected from reality when it comes to their opinions about fiscal responsibility.

Exhibit A: 41% of Americans believe that the Republicans in Congress are responsible for our economic problems, while only 35% blame Democrats in Congress.

Exhibit B: 47% of Americans believe that the economic policies of Republicans in Congress are more likely to improve economic conditions, while only 41% believe that Democrats will do a better job.

So, we are to conclude that average Americans are willing to endure national economic hardship, lose jobs, homes, retirement savings, etc., as long as the richest 1% of Americans get to pay lower taxes, as long as they can lose their health insurance when they get sick or lose their jobs (or not qualify to get insurance because of pre-existing condition), as long as they can continue to pass on massive debts to their kids and grandkids. Just so we're clear: the ONLY plan the Republicans have is to make the Bush tax cuts permanent, which will add massively to an already massive debt; repeal health care reform and replace it with something that will do almost nothing to contain costs or protect the most vulnerable Americans; privatize Social Security and put trillions of Americans' retirement dollars at risk in a market managed by their biggest campaign donors; increase defense spending and expand the surveillance state, without one iota of revenue increase; and gear up for war with Iran, with the same off-budget supplementals that Bush used to finance Iraq and Afghanistan.

We're fucking idiots.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Built-in Eavesdropping Capability

The NYT reports that the executive branch wants Congress to require that services like Blackberry, Skype, and Facebook to have built-in capability that allows the federal government to monitor and any all type of activity at any time when served with a wiretap order.

Uh, yeah right.

So, as China continues to open up their society to capitalism, we go the other way towards totalitarianism.

Well, if we don't do this, some argue, the terrorists can communicate online without our being able to intercept their communications. Just exactly when does this creeping monster of the surveillance state begin to moderate its usurpation of our freedoms? Y'know I think the terrorists have nothing on our own government in making us afraid to say what we want to say.

Like Bringing a Knife to a Gunfight

Daniel Larison makes a case for Romney to be the Republican nominee in 2012. Telling quote:
The latest version of Romney is the one who fiercely denounces health care legislation and urges its repeal. A substantial percentage of Republican primary voters in 2008 overlooked his complete lack of credibility on a range of issues on which he pretended to be the true conservative candidate, and without McCain in the race sucking up the support of all the moderate primary voters Romney will probably gain their support as well.

Romney now rails against the very health care package he championed while governor of Massachusetts. Voters overlooked his "complete lack of credibility." And Romney is poised to snatch up McCain's sloppy seconds.

Larison can't be serious here. If he is, though, this is a campaign I'd very much like to see. Obama's steely reserve would run circles around Romney as he constantly tries to craft his message to be as populist as possible without looking like a joke. Like Jerry Cooney against Muhammad Ali, like the Generals against the Globetrotters. Like a knife against a cocked pistol.

Yet one more indication that the so-called Conservative party is neither conservative nor anything resembling a party. Discuss...

Totally Unserious

The recent Republican foray into the Theater of the Absurd, The "Pledge to America," is a 45-page comic book of a position paper that could probably have been whittled down to a couple of paragraphs on the back of a postcard. It is so lacking in substance that John Boehner, sitting across from a Fox News opinion journalist like Chris Wallace, would not and could not come up with one intelligent thing to say about it. Here's a link to a piece of the interview, only 1:28 long. Partial transcript below:

BOEHNER: Chris, we make it clear in [that booklet] that we're gonna lay out a plan to work toward a balanced budget and to deal with the entitlement crisis. This is time for us as Americans to have an adult conversation with each other about the serious challenges our country faces. And we can't have that serious conversation until we lay out the size of the problem. Now, once Americans understand how big the problem is, then we can begin to talk about potential solutions. But I am committed to having that adult conversation with the American people because it is important for the future of our kids and grandkids...

WALLACE: But forgive me, sir, isn't the right time to have the adult conversation now, before the election, when you have this document? Why not make a single proposal to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid?

BOEHNER: Chris, this is what happens here in Washington. Now when you start down that path, you invite all kinds of problems. I know. I've been there. I think that we need to do this in a more systematic way and have this conversation first. Let's not get to the potential solutions. Let's make sure Americans understand how big the problem is. Then we can begin to talk about possible solutions. And then work ourselves into those solutions that are doable.

Did you get that? Did you see how little Boehner actually said about what ideas the GOP has? That's because they have no ideas, nothing new that didn't get us into the problems we are now having. Because what domestic policy Obama has implemented since taking office -- creating a comprehensive healthcare reform package that actually is paid for, investing in American businesses like GM and the banks that may actually make money for the government, cutting taxes for the middle class, and creating a bank-paid bailout fund so future bank failures will not fall to taxpayers -- has incorporated a lot of what Republicans wanted. It's just that now they can't take credit for it. So, with this birdcage-liner of a document, Republicans are now trying to redefine the problem as something Obama created instead of sharing responsibility. It is the worst in American politics, and it's not exclusively Republican. It's just that now it's infused with racism, birtherism, xenophobia, Christianism, and Posse Comitatus-ism that it's now become a full-fledged boiling pot of bat-shit fucking crazy. (There, now I've dropped my f-bomb of the day.)

Until the Republicans own their mistakes, which will never happen; until they put forth some actual concrete solutions to deal with the debt, the deficit, and taxes, that includes examining the sacred cows of Social Security, defense, and Medicare (Part D in particular); until they become real Americans and work together with the party in power when they're in the minority (or with the party in the minority when they're in power); we will see more of this pseudo-serious circus acting.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

News Flash! Journalist Acts Like Journalist, Asks Tough Questions

Anderson Cooper interviews a Republican Congressional Candidate from NC-2, Renee Ellmers, about her campaign ad, which clearly conflates Muslims and terrorists. She's so flustered by the constant questioning that she accuses Cooper of being anti-religious.

What relevant opinion this nurse who decided to run for Congress in North Carolina has about the Park51 Center is beyond me. But she shows off how ignorant she is when Cooper challenges her about her statement in the ad that everywhere Muslims conquered, they built a "victory mosque." Cooper states that everywhere Catholics (and Ellmers says she's a Catholic) went and conquered, they eradicated the dominant religion and erected a church; so how is that any different from conquering Muslims building a victory mosque? Her farcical idea that any warfare waged by anyone of Muslim descent is terrorism should turn the stomach of any American who actually believes in religious freedom.

Incidentally, it's amazing to me that such displays of actual journalism are so rare that they deserve to be spotlighted. Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan for featuring it on The Daily Dish.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Dancing La-Coke-aracha

The Los Angeles Times reports that Coca Cola bottled in Mexico is catching on in the States. Why? Well, Mexi-Coke uses ordinary cane sugar for sweetener instead of the evil, ubiquitous High Fructose Corn Syrup, which has been used for years in Ameri-Coke.

The Coca Cola company maintains that there is no discernible difference in taste between cane sugar and HFCS. But I've had both Cokes, as there is a Mexican food restaurant near my office that offers the glass-bottled Mexi-Coke, and I definitely can taste how much cleaner, sharper, and smoother it tastes over Ameri-Coke.

"You just hate anything American, dude! Well, I say American Coke, Budweiser, Ford Trucks, McDonalds, and NASCAR all the way!"

Uh, yeah. ¡Viva Coke!

Fair and Balanced (For Real)

Since I posted the Fiorina ad, I neglected to note that Boxer has an ad out that's pretty ugly too. Here it is:

The way the edits in this ad that suggest that Fiorina took delicious pride in cutting thousands of jobs at HP to ship them overseas looks like there might be further context that sends a different message. I haven't sought out the full interview Fiorina did, but both sides do this sick shit to each other. And they wonder why voters are angry and disillusioned. No one tells the fucking truth anymore.

Quote for the Day

Given the gravity of the debt crisis, [A Pledge to America] is the most fiscally irresponsible document ever offered by the GOP. It is to the far right of Reagan, who raised taxes and eventually cut defense, and helped reform social security to ensure its longterm viability. It is an act of vandalism against the fiscal balance of the US, and in this global economic climate, a recipe for a double-dip recession and default. It is the opposite of responsible conservatism. Andrew Sullivan, recognizing that the GOP is "bullshitting you on fiscal responsibility."

The Republican Party, as it stands now, is unrecognizable, even to itself.

CA-SEN Race Heating Up

As Hewlett Packard's former, failed CEO, Carly Fiorina, realizes she's running behind incumbent Barbara Boxer, she has started releasing negative ads. Here's her first one -- a bit mild on the negative, admittedly, but still condescending.

The latest poll numbers are in: Boxer 46.7%, Fiorina 44.7%. Statistically, a dead heat, but good to see that Boxer's going into the serious election season with a lead of as much as 8% with the margins.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Yes, Virginia, It Really Is 2010

Just so the Muslims in New York City don't feel alone, comes this Los Angeles Times story from September 11 that highlights the actions a Connecticut town has taken to prevent the building of an orthodox Jewish synagogue, house for the rabbi, and indoor swimming pool for the synagogue's popular summer camp in an historic district. Money quote from one town's historic district commissioners:
Another commission member, according to Chabad's complaint, said of the group's plans to use facing stone from Israel, "Stone from Israel? We'll have to get the whole town out for this one."

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Portrait of an Ignoramus

Not surprisingly, he's from the same state as that other ignoramus, Sarah Palin, and he's running for Senate. Apparently, lack of any workable knowledge of the U.S. Constitution by Alaskan politicians who seek federal office is a pandemic of epic proportions.

From an interview on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace, Joe Miller struggles to explain how he'd help the 44 million Americans living in poverty:

WALLACE: Mr. Miller, if I may, I'm not sure you answered my question. Why are unemployment benefits unconstitutional? In the time of a tough economy, recession, and now kind of a jobless recovery, what are you going to do for the 44 million people who are living in poverty?

MILLER: I think what you need to look at is the context. We had an extension of unemployment benefits several weeks ago, which is beyond what we had in the past in this country. What we have in this country is an entitlement mentality. Entitlement, not just as individual but even at the state level. If all goes wrong, it's the federal government's role to get in there and provide for the general welfare and provide for solvency; particularly, of states and the auto companies, and the banks. Everything else that fails, the government should be involved in bailing out. The Constitution provides enumerated powers. I guess my challenge is to anybody that asks, show me the enumerated power. And then look at the 10th amendment that says if it's not done in the Constitution, it's a power that belongs to the state and the people. And I think we as a people need to stop being disingenuous about what the Constitution provides for. It does not provide for this all-encompassing power that we've seen exercised for last several decades. It's what got us in the bankrupt position.

My emphasis.

Uh, Joe, here's the preamble to the Constitution:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

See, Joe? It's the federal government's job to make sure everyone in general is taken care of. And those who can't make need help. That validates the Social Security Act (which included unemployment benefits), which was upheld as constitutional by the US Supreme Court.


Portrait of an Extremist

Speaking to the "Values Voters Summit," Newt Gingrich wants to make Shariah Law -- Islamic Law -- illegal in the United States. Not that I think any system of laws other than the Constitutional is applicable in our courts, but to want to make it official is extremist in the extreme.

Newt's turning into the Tom Tancredo of the so-called "intellectual" wing of the wingnut house. There go his chances of winning the Republican nomination.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Friday, September 17, 2010

"Justice Should Be Swift"

An anti-death penalty writer suggests:

here’s a proposal for anyone who supports capital punishment. The condemned should be shot in the head. No means of killing a human being is faster, and thus suffering is minimized. And the death penalty is not about vengeance, right? It’s about justice. Justice should be swift. The swiftest and least painful path to death is being shot in the head.
Like this, right?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

"It is Cowardice."

So says Catholic blogger Mark Shea:

It's easy as pie to generalize to millions of people the crimes of a few. We Catholics have had it done to us. And we can have it done to us again. So we should be bloody cautious about insane schemes to do it to 18 million fellow citizens.

The grotesque excuse "But the the first amendment is dead, and Islam killed it. There is no 'freedom of speech' or 'freedom of religion' with the threat of Muslim violence hanging over your head" is rubbish. Cancelling the rights of 307 million people because you are, by your own admission, afraid is neither patriotism, nor courage, nor Christian fortitude. It is cowardice. And it is extra-special cowardice when you are ready to cancel your most precious national heritage because you are afraid of a speck.

Bravo. I have been calling this cowardice "stupidity" since I started blogging, and it is monumentally stupid. But that's just the adjective. Cowardice is the noun. There are less than 10,000 people worldwide who are members of al Qaeda, according to Get Religion. That's 10,000 out of 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. These 10,000 people have, by and large, scared the shit out of over 300 million Americans to the point where we're actively restricting our own rights to speech, religion, the press, and assembly in order to root out possible sympathizers to those 10,000 because, well, 19 such people were capable of killing over 3,000 of us using box cutters to hijack four planes. We are willing to torture, maim, kill, and otherwise victimize 18 million Muslim Americans as like-minded in every respect to those 19 and their 9,981 cohorts around the world.

"Oh," you retort, "but how many millions more are not active al Qaeda members but who sympathize, support, and cheer them on from the sidelines? Shouldn't it be worth it to do all of these things to all Muslims to find out who the bad ones are?" Well, why don't we just intern them, OK? Like we did to Japanese Americans, whom we just assumed were sypathetic to Japan and hated America. Has it ever occurred to the right wing nuthouse that Muslims might hate Americans because we would really like to do these hateful things? Bubbling just under the surface of one of the major American political parties is the outright rejection of one whole group of people, religious bigotry, and white supremacy. Remember, the most significant bloc comprising this party are southern Christian whites, and we all know that many in the South still have a problem relinquishing the flag of the slavery-loving Confederacy, 145 years after losing in the Civil War.

But, instead of calling this what it is -- cowardice -- the media treat it like it's a rational debate. Please tell me -- what's rational about cowardice? No, we hear about the "insenstivity" of Muslims who want to build a mosque "at" or "on" Ground Zero. Nice try, but most of us see through that.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Fundamental Reason Why News Media Suck Ass

Because a cable TV talk show comedian has more of a platform to speak the truth than all news anchors do.

I can't remember the last time I took the time to watch a network news program. They are so worried about appearing biased in any way that they go the other way and create wildly false equivalencies to seem fair. In fact, I've turned off most news except NPR, and even that grates on me at times.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Quotes for the Day

"When the people find that they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic." - Ben Franklin

"A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world's greatest civilizations has been about 200 years. These nations have progressed through this sequence: From bondage to spiritual faith; From spiritual faith to great courage; From liberty to abundance; From abundance to selfishness; From selfishness to apathy; From apathy to dependence; From dependence back into bondage." - Alexander Fraser Tytler, 1770, (aged 23).

I believe we are witnessing the most dangerous threat to our democratic republic in our country's history. Some will say that it is because of Obama's leftist economic policies (or their blaming of Obama for what was George W. Bush's policy of a nationalization of major U.S. corporations like Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, General Motors, and AIG). Some will say it is because of the GOP's wholehearted embrace of a socially conservative but morally and politically bigoted ideology (that is, Christianism). But I think it is neither one nor the other.

This decay of what made America great -- the embrace of capitalism, the essential acknowledgment that all people are equal, a fierce commitment to freedom of speech, the press, religion, etc. -- has been nearly destroyed by an almost insatiable thirst for the money/power combination. This combination is best obtained by essentially looting the U.S. Treasury, which bestows hefty subsidies to further the economic and political interests of the nation.

We Americans are no longer willing to hear that we must pay for the services that we receive from the government -- including healthcare, warfare, and retirement benefits. We all want something for nothing. A perfect example is California, where voters who gutted property taxes in 1978 still want the same level of education, transportation, and other services we had before then.

Ultimate responsibility for the current state of our government rests with us, the voters. We chose these people whose idea of governing is siphoning as much off the government tank as possible, as directed by their largest campaign contributors.

The 20th century, it is widely agreed, was the American century. We are losing our grip on the next. The 21st will eventually belong to China.

For the first time in a long time, I fear for my sons' futures.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Plus ca Change...

HuffPost has the dirt on an ex-CIA agent, who was accused of holding a drill to the head of a suspected terrorist while torturing in the name of Freedom under the Bush/Cheney regime, is now a contractor in the intelligence field.

So Obama not only fails to prosecute war criminals, he rewards them. This is the Peter Principle gone tragically haywire.

Monday, September 6, 2010

A Gut Punch

I got an email from a reader today calling my attention to Frank Rich's column in last Sunday's NYT. I hadn't read it until after the email; I confess to becoming fairly disillusioned with the Times of late. I don't know exactly why, but between Maureen Dowd and her particular brand of snark, to Paul Krugman, a Nobel Laureate who I believe is simply wanting to go to far with fiscal reform (not to mention the fact that the Times did not use the word "torture" when it was entirely appropriate to do so, showing cowardice and capitulation to the Cheney/Rumsfeld propaganda machine), I find the opinion page more than a bit distasteful. On top of that, Rich, himself a fantastic writer/thinker, has gone over the top more than once.

But Rich has struck a chord this time in his piece, called "Freedom's Just Another Word." The fatalism in that title echoes the weariness I have been feeling lately in navigating the cesspool of 2010 politics. On one side, there is the obviously reality-challenged Republican Party, a group of people so out of contact with anything except the most remedial forms of citizenship imaginable that the very mention of a word like "teacher" brings rolled eyes of disdain (as if there was NOTHING of value in the profession that helps to turn kids into thinking adults). On the other side, there is the bloated, complete impotence of the party that was handed the reins of power in a landslide nearly two years ago, a party whose leadership has capitulated utterly to the arrogant, nihilistic, and unhinged rantings of the principal voices on the other side (including Sarah Palin, the one person whose very candidacy was nearly single-handedly responsible for their own victory). A party whose Senate leader stands a good chance of losing to one of the most farcical, mentally retarded individuals I've ever seen, a person who runs away from and refuses to take a single reporter's question at a press conference she herself convenes.

In his conclusion, Rich calls us all to account as President Obama announces the "end of combat" in Iraq:
And yet here we are, slouching toward yet another 9/11 anniversary, still waiting for a correction, with even our president, an eloquent Iraq war opponent, slipping into denial.
While Rich's piece gave me pause, it was two of the comments I read following his piece -- one of which was forwarded to me by my reader -- that truly stopped me cold. The first was one from "Joe," a 35-year-old man who went from Republican in 2001 to Democrat in 2002 to someone who is not even sure he wants to be American anymore. Money quote:
We no longer live in a functioning democracy. That is not the grim pronouncement of a dour hippie (not that there's anything wrong with that). That is a sober account of the state of America today, spelled out by a skilled guy with a future and a solid moral foundation, someone that should be encouraged by some credible accountable leadership to stay and help make this country better. Rahm Emanuel dropping F-bombs to liberals and the UAW, Larry Summers running economic policy and Harry Reid grabbing his ankles for the GOP: not change I can believe in. And no more dear to me is a country where multitudes descend on DC to listen to a Weimar Republic beer hall speech at the Lincoln Memorial, listen to a fork-tongued Jabba the Hut seething chaos over public airwaves on a daily basis, or vote for a lobotmized governor in Arizona or openly racist senator in Kentucky. Where a "liberal" president convenes secret meetings to dismantle the last shred of fairness in American society, Social Security.
See, I can hear the voices of the cynics: "If he thinks he can find a better life somewhere else, he can get the hell out; we don't need him." But the real truth is, we need Joe, and we need him desperately. It's not America -- or at least the America I knew and love -- unless guys like Joe feel that his voice is heard, that his opinions matter, that he is needed. The real tragedy in Joe's comment is that he tells real truth when he writes, "there are places are far more congruent with my secular moral values, with highly regulated free markets, robust public services, democratic freedoms and a sense of shared sacrifice." One of my closest friends, also a reader of this blog, is currently an ex-pat living and working in China; when I recently had a visit with him, it was pretty clear that his self-imposed departure from America might well be permanent. He would be the second such close friend who has permanently left the country, for work and family. But their voices are needed here.

And while I find another Joe's voice excruciatingly painful to hear -- that of Joe the Plumber -- I also believe his is needed, if only to illustrate how dangerous citizenship can be when it is exercised absent any use of one's gray matter.

The other comment I read was from someone who identified himself as "OIFVet75." This guy was a soldier in the Iraq War, who describes his experience thusly:
I've heard the screams of agony from my fellow soldiers as they died before me in Iraq. I've held held their eviscerated organs in my hands and had the obscene smell of their burned flesh permanently etched into my brain.
Even I can appreciate that every veteran of every war has that "I was there, man!" way of separating himself from those who did not serve, but I defer to his perspective when he puts it this way:
The net result for the wars is a ponzi scheme with human flesh as the substrate and power, ego, and glory at the top. As a perfect example of this, look at the commander at Walter Reed. It's 2010, and he STILL doesn't have a combat patch! The COMMANDER of our wounded warriors has never once been within a 500 mile radius of a gunshot or IED blast!!

COIN doesn't stand for counter-insurgency, it stands for career obsessed incestuous narcissists. I've sat in ivy league halls and in think-tanks circles where these COIN strategy discussions happen. And not one, NOT ONE person in these discussion has ever known the trauma of tactical operations "outside the wire".
For Obama to pronounce that combat has ended was a dog-and-pony show, a necessary whitewashing of the history to be written so that we can turn the page and move forward. Nuts.

I sat driving with the family the other day and mentioned to my wife how disappointed I have been in Obama. A man who has no doubt accomplished much in his first 18 months, but all of it mediocre, politically compromised, and all but useless to anyone but the wealthy lobbyists who crafted legislation to avoid accountability for the eight disastrous Bush years. And the man who campaigned on the promise of changing our politics in Washington had enabled all of this by engaging in the very politics he said was so wrong. Or, on the other hand, was he talking about polarization being wrong? Or are they both wrong? In any event, by reaching across the aisle to shake hands with those whose free hands are stabbing him in the back, he has disemboweled his own office and may have cost America the very brilliant ideas that propelled him into the White House. Over-promised, under-delivered. The default state of affairs in government.

I believe that Republicans will regain the House and possibly the Senate, and it won't be because Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid failed at their jobs. They weren't empowered by the president to wage battle. One thing Bush understood, albeit too simplistically, was that a wartime president needs to be at war. And fiery campaign speeches delivered in his shirtsleeves in only part of it; he needs to be in front of the camera more often, eschewing the drab rhetoric of the modern politician for the uplifting rhetoric of a statesman. He needs to read more Churchill, listen to Roosevelt, and study Kennedy and Truman, and avoid any attempt to emulate Johnson or Clinton. What Obama needed to do, contrary to what I probably wrote many months ago, was to kick Republican ass, to expose their previous leadership as war criminals, and successfully own a legitimate pair of progressive balls.

Until the president gathers his troops and starts actually to fight both the right and the left, America will be on the wrong track.