Monday, December 20, 2010

Line in the Sand

When I was a kid, my father explained to me about the whole ‘line in the sand.’  But his interpretation was a bit different than most, I suspect.  I don’t know why—maybe it’s because he’s always been an odd duck, following the rhythm of a peculiar drummer only he could hear.  He came up fighting because he thought he had to, and he fought the system, and fought for the system when he went to Vietnam as part of the Marine Corps Force Recon back in the early sixties.

Either way, he didn’t see the line in the sand as something you dared your adversary to step across, but rather a line drawn behind you that you refused to back across.  The point where you would no longer retreat, and hold your ground no matter the cost.

The point, in effect, that defined you as a human being with a moral center and belief in your convictions.  A place that to retreat from would mean sacrificing your self-image and your pride as what you perceive a decent person to be.

Gawd knows, he and I have had our issues.  But not too long ago, he said to me that he respected me because I’ve “always been my own man.”  When he calls me a “rabble rouser,” he says it with a certain note of pride.  He’s a lifetime Democrat, and fairly progressive in thought if not in deed.

Over the past few days I’ve found myself in arguments with people over the Obama administration and it’s apparent surrender to the will of the Republicans and the measured disdain aimed at myself and other self-described “progressives.”  And I find myself wondering whether it’s just a simple matter of where we’ve drawn than line in the sand, where our threshold may lie with regards to the man who is our elected leader—not only of the country, but of the political party we claim.

Thus I have to ask, all who still stand to defend President Obama’s decisions.  And keep in mind that many of us have been taking steps back the whole way, feeling the push of that line against us with each and every one.  The decision not to pursue criminal charges against those who clearly lied us into war.  The decision to retroactively make their warrantless wiretapping legal.  Not ending the wars. Bailing out the banks without insisting on concessions and regulations to prevent this sort of thing from happening in the future.  Saying that the public option was a must-have, and then changing his mind at the last minute just to get some legislation—even bad legislation—passed.  Many of us are wondering at which point the President himself has drawn that line in the sand… at which point will HE refuse to back up any farther?

Each of us has to decide where to stand, and what spells the limits of our tolerance.  A lot of us have apparently decided that he has backed us up too far, and that we can no longer consider him OUR leader because of it.  Not necessarily because there’s something wrong with him, but because we expect a certain standard and cannot abide its lack.  It’s not even that we’re suggesting he’s evil, or even bad.  Just no longer acceptable as our leader.

Our threshold was surely much higher for a Democrat than someone like Bush.  It took almost no time at all for him to spend what little tolerance we had.  But we’ve come to the point that Obama has done so as well.  And that doesn’t make us petulant, or childish.  It makes us people of conviction.  Different convictions than some, perhaps.  But so what?

I ask of you, where do you stand?  Where do YOU draw your line in the sand?  At what point would you decide that your sense of honor, your sense of conviction, has been betrayed by the one you elected to lead you?  Serious question.  At what point would YOU consider the “compromise” too much to bear?

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Who Dares Call it Treason?

I should have been thinking about and composing my current novel in my head today at work, but instead the newest article from Thom Hartmann, an excerpt from his latest book, got under my skin and crawled around like an angry G'ould larva.  (Yes, that's a Stargate reference, for those who are paying attention.  I'm a SF geek... so what?)  Just this fact alone would cause the right to label me as one of the "liberal elite," which, translated from native Asshole into English, would be pronounced "literate."

The fact that Ronald Reagan, proclaiming that it was "not the role of government to subsidize intellectual curiosity," set in motion the chain of events in which now, decades later, a person must choose to mortgage a large chunk of his or her future to a bank or other financial institution in order to pursue a higher education, really, really pisses me off.

I've been worrying at it all night, trying to get my teeth around this truly disturbing notion.  This, the man who is often credited with almost single-handedly bringing down the Soviet Union, is actually also responsible for creating part of the reason the United States is on the verge of falling from its lofty perch as a world power.  Had an enemy state intended to bring down this nation from the inside, they could have hardly planned a better master stroke than to deprive it of its most talented minds by depriving the less advantaged the chance to pursue careers in engineering or the sciences.

In fact, it became increasingly necessary for those who attended university to seek careers that would earn them high incomes, if only to pay back their loans as quickly as possible lest they become, instead, long term serfs of the banking institutions that financed their educations.  Who could afford to become scientists, or teachers, or, indeed, take any job that served the common good, when the simple task of getting married and raising a family became an almost unreachable goal?

This, as we know, wasn't the only trend that Reagan began.  The 80s told us that "greed is good" and that "government is bad" and that you'd better learn to look out for number one because no one else would look out for you.  Then, over the course of the next thirty years, the pursuit of greater profit and profitability led American manufacturing companies to dismantle themselves and ship much of their work overseas, taking advantage of low wages, far fewer regulations, and tax breaks granted to those companies who became "more efficient."

Quite aside from the impact on the environment this had, it destroyed America's manufacturing base--the very thing that had allowed the United States to rise to the challenge of the Axis during WWII--putting all of those civilian factories on a war footing and turning out weapons with which to help defeat the Germans, Italians, and Japanese.

Again, we have to ask--what better way to cripple America than to deprive it of something that it needed to maintain not only its standard of living, but also its ability to fight a potential military enemy?

And then, thanks to a confluence of events, we elect a man who's grossly unqualified to the office of President who then throws us into two foreign wars while simultaneously launching an attack on the treasury by granting massive tax breaks to the wealthy... resulting in a need to borrow the money to conduct these wars and other business of state from the Communist Chinese... at what ultimate cost, one might ask?

For the past several weeks I've been reading discussions about Assange and Wikileaks, and I've refrained from offering an opinion, or even forming one.  I wanted to hear and assimilate all the arguments for and against before making up my mind.  But I have.  Finally.

People are actually calling for this man's death--for telling us the truth.  Yet we've made a multi-billionaire of a man who created a media empire by lying to us.  We allow him and his "news" organization to lie to our fellow Americans, to feed long tons of pure unadulterated bullshit to those who have been deliberately under-educated, deprived of decent jobs by the very policy of paying companies to send those jobs overseas,  and we don't even have the sense to ask him or his minions "What in the hell do you think you're doing?"

I'm not a conspiracy theorist.  Or, rather, let's say I'm more inclined to see the likelihood of hundreds of small conspiracies than one overarching one.  But here we have a political party that, while extolling the strength of this nation, has systematically helped deprive it of its greatest assets--that being an educated populace, a strong manufacturing base, a vibrant middle class, an agile, technologically advanced military, and a press the people could trust.  And it's hard to argue that these policy decisions, carried forward across decades, haven't significantly enhanced the position of other nations ahead of the United States.

It's unquestionable that the policies supported by not only the Republican Party, but also their alleged grass roots cabal known as the "tea party" are specifically designed to continue to weaken the U.S. and strengthen its global competitors.  At best, these are the result of a group of wealthy individuals seeking nothing more than increased wealth and privilege for themselves.  At worst, it's aiding and abetting the dismantling of American power for the advantage of foreign nationals and foreign governments.

In short.  Treason.

One can argue the ideology behind cutting the budgets to the bone, or depriving Americans of good paying jobs and an education for their children, but the simple fact of the matter is that it harms America's long term interests and deprives us of the ability to compete effectively in the global marketplace of goods and ideas.  Unfunded wars of choice have crippled our military, our economy, and our ability to react to other crisis (such as S. Korea), our citizens have been deliberately deprived of educational opportunities in order to further the financial goals of a relative few, and our manufacturing capabilities have been reduced to near zero.

We have been dismantled as a superpower.  And it's hard to imagine this was done by accident.

I hereby submit that Rupert Murdoch, for one, is a traitor, and a wannabe Bond villain.  He pays millions of dollars to unscrupulous media caricatures to pass misinformation to American citizens in a time of war, depriving them of the ability to make informed choices.  He also pays our elected representatives in a different kind of coin to pursue an agenda that is clearly contrary to the future success of this country.  What coin?  Free and continuous political advertising.  And it's of particular interest that many of his current employees are prospective future Presidential candidates.  Coincidence?  I think not.

Who dares call this treason?  I do.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Who put us in this damn handbasket, anyway?

Should the worst happen tomorrow and the Republicans take control of one or both houses of Congress, there will be plenty of blame to go around.  There isn't a single doubt in my mind that we'll be in for the ride of our lives into the absolute depths of political malevolence should this come to pass.  The reasons for this certainty are too numerous to mention, but let's just start by saying I believe that the Presidency of George W. Bush will seem an idyllic dream compared to the chaos and destruction the Republicans will wreak should they get control of Congress.

But I, for one, didn't start this to outline the possible horrors we might have to face.  No, this is a look backwards rather than a look forward.  Any number of people can look forward at this juncture at least as well as I can, and I think this is precisely the time to play "the blame game."

Let me start out by saying this is in no particular order, and the exact nature and level of each target's responsibility for the calamity to come will be explained in more than adequate detail for my purposes.

We'll start with the corporatists and their Republican minions, those who are happily selling America down the river for a bigger piece of what they obviously perceive as an infinitely large pie.  They see the emerging markets and cheap workforces of the third world as an opportunity to cash in on the future, but, in the meantime, are like carrion crows feasting on the dying remains of the very nation they claim to idolize and revere.  They don't give a damn about us, and why should they?  They abandoned faith in the god they claim while still in their mother's womb, turning instead to the love of the great and terrible Mammon.

Which brings us to the media, the slavish lackeys and lapdogs of the corporatists.  Not just the FOX News pundits, but the whole damn media corps.  The American media has long since abandoned any pretense of being a journalistic enterprise--of giving the "facts" and allowing us to decide what they mean.  Not that they're to blame for our collective inability to do so.  They've certainly helped with that bit of damnation, but they're not the instigators.

In this case the finger is aimed at parents, politicians, teachers, and administrators operating under the delusion that learning actually consists of absorbing great amounts of information to vomit them out on command days, weeks, or even years later.  Parents who will do anything to protect their little darlings, teachers for whom the possibility of a little disruption is worth quashing individuality, politicians who see no profit in supporting education, but think that standardized tests are a viable benchmark, and administrators who believe that "zero tolerance" policies are in any way helpful.  This isn't a complete list of the crimes committed against our young in the name of education that isn't, but they're a starting point.

Add to that the anti-science ideologues, who think it's A-OK to tell kids that the Earth is only 6000 years old, and that evolution is the theory that man evolved from monkeys.  To be fair, this is because they themselves never grasped the concepts of natural selection and incremental change, but that's not really an excuse.  These folks can accept the notion that an active deity chose to reveal himself and his "plan" to a bunch of illiterate, desert dwelling savages in one of the most inhospitable regions of the Earth--with the command to "go forth and multiply, and while you're at it, slaughter everyone who won't conform to worshiping the way I tell you."

Religion and science actually could have something in common... but really don't.  The asking of questions.  "How did we get here?  Why are we here?"  Intriguing notions to ponder... but worthless if we already assume we have the answers before we ask.

So our kids are forced to swallow gallons of information they may never need in order to repeat it back, all under the mistaken assumption that this is "learning," when real learning is the ability to take information and use it to reveal larger amounts of information associated with it.  Like the fact that, for example, the first world war was caused by the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria by a Serbian separatist, after which, due to a complex weave of treaties and mutual assistance pacts, most of the world was forced to participate.  And that the groundwork for the second world war was created in part by the truly vicious reparations laid upon Germany by the allies that utterly destroyed them as a working society.  A society in such dire straits that a charismatic madman could find a convenient scapegoat and work the people into a frenzy due to the desire to retain some sense of control over their lives.

For example.

Education and critical thinking are the manipulation of information to create a workable whole, a place from which to make other connections.  History is vital because it explains the world in which we live.  Language is vital because it allow us to communicate with one another in a mutually agreed upon fashion.  Mathematics is necessary because an understanding of the uses of money, and misuses of money, is the key to avoiding being savaged by predatory criminals and those businesses that operate like them.  Science is important because it allows us to grasp the nature of the precipice upon which we--as a species--now stand.

There's a movement now attempting to blame all the failures of education on bad teachers, when they are as much a symptom of the problem as anything remotely resembling its cause.  Remember that most of them are also products of our education system and are working within a structure of assumptions that are, in the end, ultimately erroneous.  The question is not whether the children can repeat back what they've learned, but if they can use it in a real world context.

All too often, our most successful people are those who can rise above the limitations of our educational system, not those who are best served by it.

Which brings us to our tea party friends.  Surveys suggest that they're relatively well educated (keeping in mind what this means) yet exhibit a frightfully limited world-view with regards to the value of government, taxation, political science, and (in many cases) our Constitutional rights.  Parroting their darlings in the media, they decry this administration's policies as "socialist" when they're as timid and tepid an example of liberal social engineering as we've ever seen.  Many past Republicans have gone farther than has the Obama administration.

Yet clearly we're not dealing with critical thinkers here, just people who know enough to be dangerous, but not enough to piece together what's happening.  They blame the government for bailing out the banking institutions and wall street, and yet embrace the very party that makes such constituencies a core part of their political base.

For which I blame the Democrats, at least in part.  They rose to power this time around through the justified anger of the masses after seeing the abuses of the last administration, and the clear crony capitalism that made that regime such a fitful host for our democratic aspirations.  Yet, upon gaining power, they took to the capital as if nothing had changed, as if it was just another cycle of political fortunes coming around.  The Republicans had been given their chance and failed.  So what?

The problem is that once ousting the Republicans, the Democrats climbed right into bed with the very power brokers that had corrupted their opposition.  Aside from a few notable exceptions, the Democrats were all too happy to take money in order to further the ambitions of wall street brokers, bankers, and oil men.  And when it all came crashing down, who did they look to save?  The corrupt and calculating power brokers.  All that righteous populist anger that had swept them into power easily became co-opted by the Republicans who'd set the stage for the collapse in the first place.  And the tea party was born.

I also blame Obama.  Not because he wasn't the progressive leader I didn't believe he was to start with, but because he didn't once turn the skills he exhibited as a campaigner to the work of being the President and the leader of the Democratic Party.  When he sat back and allowed many of the questionable policies of the previous administration to continue, he never bothered to reach out to any of us to explain why he made that choice.  We were left to imagine, and our imaginings weren't good.  He failed as a communicator and as a leader, and invited us to pressure him and his fellow democrats with one side of his mouth, yet condemned us for doing so from the other.

The rank and file democrats didn't help matters either, giving Obama a great deal of cover during his early weeks... "He's playing chess."  No, not really.  I know you wanted to think so, but he was playing another game entirely.  A game called Stroking the Military-Industrial Complex.  We stood by and let him maintain many of the things Bush had begun without even speaking up about it, and attempting to silence those who dared criticize.

But if things go sour tomorrow--now today, actually--the bulk of the blame rests on the self-righteous shoulders of the professionally disenchanted... those who said "Democrats are no different than Republicans" when it's closer to the truth to say "Democrats aren't different enough from Republicans."  Basically, by saying the former, one suggests that voting is pointless.  Saying the latter would suggest that it may be mended by a concerted effort on our own part.  And a portion of the tertiary responsibility goes to those who happily bought into this argument.  "I'm not going to bother.  It's all rigged anyway."  Even if it is--and I'm not saying either way--it doesn't let you off the fucking hook.

And, lastly, we can place a certain amount of blame on those who decry our interest in the whole thing, who make false comparisons between the anti-science, anti-woman, anti-worker, anti-gay, and pro-corporate side and those of us who are trying to fight for a handle on an equitable future.  Those who don't "get" politics, or don't think it matters.  It matters.

You don't like the tone?  Well, maybe if you'd stood up for us while the Republicans ramped up the FOX News scream engine and did every single thing it could to bring us down, we wouldn't be left trying to defend ourselves so valiantly this late in the game.  There's really no comparison, and if you hadn't been so badly betrayed by the aforementioned educational system, you'd know that.

If you don't like the way things are, stand with us and change them.  Fight for public financing of elections and instant runoff elections... if not proportional representations.  Don't like the vitriol?  Do something to change it.  Stand with us.  It's the only way things are ever going to get better.  This is a perfect storm of cultural destruction coming down the pike, America's Katrina.  And it was all of us who didn't bother to fix the levies ahead of time.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Taxation without Compensation

The tea-partiers will tell you that their terminology was based on an acronym "Taxed Enough Already."  But are we?  Taxed enough, I mean?  Oh, I'm not arguing that we should be taxed more than we are, just that we don't get near as much from it as we should.  And the reason?  People like the Tea Party who throw fits when we TRY to get more for what we're paying.  Rather than having our tax money go for things like education and health care, opening them up to all Americans, they'll fight tooth and nail to take out exorbitant loans from massive financial institutions, at whatever interest the market will bear--not to mention risking bankruptcy should they have a major medical issue.

What's not to like?

No, I say the problem is not that we're taxed enough, but that our taxes aren't used to benefit us enough.  Europeans pay more or less the same tax rates--perhaps a little higher in some places--but they get so much more for their money.  Healthcare on the spot?  No debt?  Sign us up.  College tuition as a perk of citizenship?  And why exactly why do we think we're falling behind the rest of the world?  Do we really think the children of the indolent rich are champing at the bit to study science or anything else that might actually help people?  No, as a general rule, they're studying new and improved ways of stealing peoples' money.  Our money.

Add this to things like paid vacations, generous retirements, sick leave, maternity/paternity leave, and a political structure that isn't winner take all, nor driven entirely by the engines of wealth, and you have a far more equitable, democratic system.

Instead of taking lessons from the Europeans, we allow the terminally ignorant to decry anything socially democratic as "socialistic" without explaining, first, what they mean by the term, and, second, what's so terrible about a little socialism anyway?  If it means that the vast majority of people have a decent quality of life at the expense of a very few having a frightfully lavish lifestyle, well, so what?

Fact is we're being ripped off, we Americans.  Big time.  By the greedy rich, the corporate interests, and, yes, by our elected "representatives."  They'll take our money, but we're not really the ones paying their bills.  So they take our money, give our needs lip service, and turn around and service their corporate donors.

And, yeah, the right wing will point out that there are other special interests besides corporations, and they would be right.  None of them, even combined, have the kind of reach and power that corporations have in the United States, the power to throw money around as if it were nothing.  Of course, the unions don't have the ability to cheat their employees out of a couple of dimes worth of raise in order to pass along a hefty donation to the anti-worker, proto-fascist candidate their CEO favors.

Are our unions flawed?  Fuck yeah.  Starting with the fact that when they earned a permanent place at the table--at least in some industries, including civil service--they pretty much forgot about the rest of us.  They no longer chose to help drive industry toward a more democratic agenda for everyone... they took their money and left the rest of us to rot.  When a neighbor confessed to me that he makes 80 dollars an hour, including benefits, I had to stop and wonder... and people ask why there's such a strong backlash against the unions?  We've got enough problems with the whole "I've got mine" crowd.  Unions have become, at least in some minds, a refuge for incompetence, cronyism, and corruption.

The Tea Partiers accuse Obama of having a socialist agenda.  Hah.  If only.  A tepid health insurance reform law and a very necessary agency to regulate the interaction between wall street and consumers does not a socialist agenda make.  Not even close.

I'd settle for a touch of social capitalism, myself... for our workplaces, and the industries which control them, to be more democratic.  I'd like to see companies be about something more than making money... I'd like to see them dedicated to making America a better place to live.  For all of us.

I maintain that government exists to protect the vulnerable from the powerful, and suggest that, right now, it's doing a fucking shitty job of it.  I'm not getting nearly enough for my taxes, and I want that to change.  I'd like to have the chance to elect members of a party that actually reflects my views, not one that reflects some of my views some of the time.  The Republicans don't know how good they got it.  Sure, their elite may also think they're a bunch of dumbasses, but at least they try to hide the way they feel.  Those we elect, and fight hard to elect sometimes, seem to be as happy to use us as a punching bag in public as acknowledge how important we are to their success.

It's the mathematics of enthusiasm.  We're about as enthusiastic about voting for you as you are about delivering the goods.  It may not be taxation without representation, but a lot of us more liberal folks sure find reasons to question that assumption from time to time.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Restoring Sanity (or keeping fear alive).

Let me just start out by stating the obvious.  This isn't a fucking squabble.  We're not school children having a tussle on the playground, or a round of "would you stop touching me" in the back seat of the family car.  We have a group of people who deny science, who deny the right of a woman to control her own body, who deny the right of honest, hard working Americans to legally bind themselves to the people they love.  Who wish to do so in the name of religion, or an equally obtuse ideology like faith in free-market gnomes who will somehow make everything work out right if we all just believe hard enough.  We have folks who swear up and down that our duly elected President is an illegal immigrant, a Kenyan anti-colonialist, a Muslim, and a Socialist.  We have people who believe that their taxes went up when, in fact, they've gone down.  And why?  Because we have a "news" network devoted 24/7/365 to lying to anyone willing to buy what they're selling.

And these false "moderates" that are calling for "an end to the bickering" don't grasp what's going on.  We're not bickering.  We're fighting for all of us against a threat you haven't even clued into yet.  A massive conspiracy of would-be theocrats and fascists who want to use democracy to dismantle democracy.  These are people who see no value in a separation between church and state, and no value in preventing large corporations from spewing toxic contaminants into the air, water, and earth in all directions... as long as it's not in their backyard, we must presume.

If you want to "restore sanity" you have to understand that the high ground isn't on some nebulous island in the center of it all.  You can't say "Oh, let's just find a happy medium."  Because where is the middle position between sane and fuck-all batshit balls-out crazy?

That's not to say there aren't some crazies on the left side of the fence.  There are a few.  But the difference is--we don't take them seriously.  We don't let them RUN things.  Who do you think is calling the shots on the right?  Here's a clue... it's not the Eisenhower Republicans.  No, the group that's wrested control of the Republican Party--with the aid and comfort of the fine folks at FOX "News"--make the Neo-cons of G.W. Bush's administration look like rational adults.

But by all means, keep pretending that we're not up to our collective ass in tea-bag alligators.  In fact, it may be those who don't bother getting involved until "things have gotten out of hand" that are really to blame for the current state of affairs.  You abdicate any responsibility for the political situation for years--maybe decades--thinking that it has nothing to do with you, then turn around and look down on us for being in the trenches and aware of what's going on.

You know what?  Thanks.  Thanks for nothing.  Thanks for leaving us to try to defend your freedom to worship wherever you like--or not at all, if it suits you.  Thanks for just sitting back and allowing us to protect your right to drink clean water, and breathe clean air.  Thanks for not pitching in when we went to bat for safer workplaces, and some kind of income if you somehow lose your job through no fault of your own.  Thanks for being too busy to give a shit about protecting social security, or medicare.  For the right of a woman to control her own body, or a child to get some kind of education rather than being forced to work for a living the minute he learned to tie his own shoes.

You know why?  Because every one of these things were opposed by the conservatives.  Every fucking one of them.  And yet we kept fighting for everyone--even the conservatives who hate us--because we ALL need clean air and water, safe workplaces, a safety net in case of catastrophic circumstances, and the right to go to school and worship or not worship in our own way.  We ALL need the right to have a say in what happens to our bodies.

So, please, go ahead and pretend you've got the high ground.  We'll be out here in the trenches, fighting the good fight.  We'll let you know when we've won.  Because you'll sure as hell know if we lose.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A little foreign action

I've watched two movies this week I've been waiting to see for a while.  One was a sequel of the fast-paced and entertaining "Distract B13," a French action flick featuring a lot of parkour and free running, as well as some very well choreographed fight scenes.  The sequel was B13: Ultimatum, and brought back the pair from the first film--cop and criminal--for some more of the same.  Two fighters against corrupt politicians--apparently thought of as much of a problem there as it is here in the U.S.

Simply put, I loved the film as much as the original.  Having never been to France, I can't say how much reality they've mixed with their fiction, but I imagine it's probably about the same as a U.S. action flick.  If you watch American action movies, or tv crime dramas, you probably get the idea that crazy shit happens every five minutes ago and most of us are lucky to be alive.

Nonetheless, I recommend the movie highly.  At least as good as anything made here, and as fun a buddy movie as I can remember seeing in a long time. 

The second movie is a Thai martial arts flick, starring Jeeja Yanin, the star of the excellent "Chocolate."  Though she seems so far to change her billing with each movie--so far.  In this one she was billed asYanin Vismitananda.

I really wanted to like this movie.  I loved Chocolate.  But there were entirely too many glaring holes in this one.  The premise, that girls were being kidnapped off the streets of Thailand, isn't all that far-fetched.  Sex slavery is a great problem in southeast Asia, and it happens probably more than anyone would like to admit.  But that's not the case in this movie, though they do mention it.  Instead, they're being stolen away for their pheromones, marked by a sniffer as possessing a particular body chemistry that can be as addictive as a drug.  Fine.  It's got a weird SF angle and I can live with that.

But the martial art created for the movie is, in a word, ridiculous.  In Chocolate Yanin was able to show off her considerable Muay Thai skills to great effect, but this film's premise in this regard is just plain stupid.  It's basically what you'd get if you crossed Drunken Monkey (as popularized by several Hong Kong Kung Fu flicks) with break dancing.  Drinking makes you fight better.

Ugh.  There are so many things wrong with this I won't bother getting into them.  But what's even worse is that it seems like half the villains--mostly introduced in the last half an hour or so of the movie--have some knowledge of and/or skill in this allegedly secret martial art.  The people who've been training arduously to free these captured women are soundly beaten by the villains because these unique fighting abilities are, in a word, useless.

I won't recommend not watching it, but only because I think Yanin has the potential to be a worldwide martial arts star.  Her skills are that good.  But I really hope she doesn't hitch her wagon to something as bad as this again.

She's not a bad actress.  Maybe she should learn French and go act in some french action flicks... It's an idea.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

No common ground

No.  As a matter of fact, we can't just get along.

The media likes to pound this drum.  "People are tired of partisanship."  And maybe they are.  But the political divide gets wider and wider by the day.  They decry our beliefs as "socialist" and we decry theirs as "fascism."  And no amount of hand-wringing by the generally uninformed or uninterested is going to make this go away.  We possess completely different world views.  We have completely different road maps to the future.  (Especially since their particular road map leads to a single weekend in 1952 where "men were men and women just shut the fuck up already.)"

Partisanship isn't really the problem, though the media wants us to believe it is.  They like being able to exacerbate the difficulty, and then say "hey, why are you such partisans?"  Maybe it's because we see the world in that handbasket and are trying desperately to get it out.

That's one of the differences between so-called "conservatives" and liberals.  Conservatives look at the world, imagine an idealized past that never was, and say to themselves--and everyone else--that the world is "going to hell in a hand basket."

A liberal, on the other hand, thinks the world started out that way and it's our job to figure out how to get it out.  It seems like every time we get close, some authoritarian asshole shoves it back in and jabs a thumb in our eye.

The right wingers like to use terms like "freedom" and "liberty," but it's clear to anyone willing to pay attention that they don't really mean them the way we liberals would.  In general, it's the "freedom" and "liberty"of those with money and power to use that money and power to get other people to do what they want.  It's never about the freedom of those with no money or power to live without fear of going hungry, or going deep in debt because of a surprise medical condition, or losing their homes because they trusted the wrong bank.  Right Wingers put ideology before people, put artificial institutions before human beings.  It's more important that a business isn't put out than its neighbors be guaranteed they're not spreading poison across the landscape.  Profit before people.  Always.

They use the term "socialist" as if it were a club, swatting down anything they don't agree with like Captain Caveman bringing down a fly.  Well, except for Glenn Beck, who seems to use "socialist" and "Nazi" as if they were interchangeable.  They're not, and everyone but the most rabid right winger knows it.

I almost regret making the attempt to reach out.  In response I had someone tell me he fantasized about kicking my teeth in.  Because nothing says "I'm right" better than threatening violence against those with whom you disagree.  Of course, that's the whole idea behind their "second amendment solution."  Or, as some of us like to refer to it, "fucking treason."

They've got politicians and pundits who think it's okay to dress up in Nazi SS regalia as a "re-enactment."  Except, well, they don't even have the excuse that the civil war buffs have.  If you're dressing up as a Nazi, you're pretending to be a bad guy.  At least one can argue that some (if not most) of the kids in confederate gray were just that--rural kids who didn't know any better.

The Republicans deny the possibility of human-caused climate change (and even if we're not changing the whole damn environment, we're certainly pouring toxic substances into the earth, air, and water.  Hard to believe they don't recommend feeding tuna to children more than once a week because of the mercury levels).  Why is it that we've had to fight them every step of the way to give our children clean drinking water and air that's breathable without mechanical assistance?  Because it might get in the way of profit.

They think their religious beliefs should trump freedom when it comes to the right of gays to enter into marriage contracts with the person of their choosing--even though they have no reason to oppose it other than it offends their religious sensibilities.  They certainly wouldn't want any other religion to dictate to them what they could and couldn't do--why should they have the "special right" to do it to the rest of us?  They equate gay relationships with bestiality, child molestation, and necrophilia, all the while ignoring the great big Catholic elephant in the room.  As long as they oppose gay marriage, stem cell research, and abortion, all the child fucking in the world won't turn the right wingers against their allies in the Church.

They say they're afraid of a "ground zero mosque," and cower in terror at the notion of "Sharia law" being enacted in the United States.  Don't worry, you yahoos--we'd oppose that as stridently as we oppose your attempts to overthrow the natural order with your religious fanaticism.  We'll take our government secular, if you don't mind.  Come to think of it, we'll take it that way whether you mind or not.

So you folks are perfectly welcome to continue believing the Earth is only 6000 years old, that the Bible is literally true, that gays are an abomination (but eating shellfish or wearing polyester isn't), your brand of Christianity is better than any other brand, opposing gay marriage isn't exactly like opposing interracial marriage back in the day, and that there's a secret society of gay European socialist Muslim atheist scientists trying to take over the U.S. and put you in FEMA internment camps (where you secretly believe we should be putting Hispanics), but don't expect us to listen to this drivel without laughing at you.

Seriously--if the premise of your conspiracy theory begins with "there's a vast group of scientists..." you've already lost the battle.

And to all you middle-of-the-road moderates out there?  If you actually think that people who believe this shit are in any way equivalent to those of us who believe science is as much about asking questions as answering them, that we may gain as much from cooperation as from competition, that it's good to regulate how much poison corporations can put in our air, water, and the earth itself, illegal immigrants should be treated like people rather than animals on the wrong side of a fence, we should actually have to prove someone's a terrorist before we lock them away until the end of time, and that drilling in the ocean without suitable safety measures in place is pure stupidity, then you're as fucking daft as they are.  If you don't see that it's unconscionable to take away a safety net for the most vulnerable even as our wealthiest citizens are raking in the money hand over fist... You're not part of the solution... you're a major part of the fucking problem.

One thing's for certain.  The only common ground we can find is in the middle of a swamp, three inches under water, and in the middle of a nest of breeding alligators.  That's not common ground.  That's a killing field.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

An open letter to the Tea Partiers

I might well be flying in the face of conventional wisdom here, trying to reason with people who are generally considered to be unreasonable and irrational.  But it occurs to me that at least some of us are coming from the same place initially, in that we're sick of the status quo and want to see meaningful change that doesn't involve selling us out to multinational corporations and Wall Street.

Am I wrong?

Many of you, like us, are angered by the Wall Street bailout.  They gambled with our money, lost it, then turned around and extorted it back out of our government--out of our taxes--by threatening to take the whole economy down with them.  Infuriating, right?

We're on the same page here, believe me.  Now what I'm asking you to do is to stretch your imagination a little.  Imagine for a minute--just a minute--that there may be an element of truth in the things I'm about to share with you.  Imagine for a moment that the people who you currently get your information from are misinformed or just plain wrong.  I know it's a stretch, but I have faith that you can do it.

Now you've been led to believe that FOX News is the only source of news that isn't slanted to the left.  So you don't trust any other source at all--be it CNN, MSNBC, Routers, AP, the BBC, the New York Times, or anyone else.  So imagine for a second if your only source of information was a channel maintained by the government for just that purpose.  Imagine that you were told not to trust ANY other source of information.  Would you trust it?  So why would you think a  private organization with a clear profit motive would be any more honest?  Why would ANY source of news declare all other sources suspect?  Perhaps because they'd invalidate their bias?  Saying one source--maybe MSNBC--is heavily biased (a recent development, really) might be okay.  But all of them?

Imagine you knew a socialist.  You may, but you may not know it.  Or you may not.  Imagine asking him (or her) if they believe President Obama (or Nancy Pelosi, or Harry Reid) is one of them.  I will guarantee you that your most likely response is a snort of derision.  What you're being told is a "socialist agenda" is seen by those who actually are socialists as nothing of the sort.  Unless you think this is deliberate misdirection, it's pretty clear at this point that someone is embellishing the truth.  The agenda isn't remotely socialist.  It's barely even liberal.

Why do you think this so-called 'enthusiasm gap' exists?  Because many of us on the left feel betrayed by those we have elected to represent us.  You've been there.  You're there right now, as a matter of fact.  You're trying to replace those you don't feel represent you well enough.  That's a perfectly reasonable thing to do.  Except, honestly, you're walking into precisely the same "hope and change" trap we walked into.

How do I mean?  Well, imagine you've picked a couple of choice apples.  You've got them in your hand and you want to take them home.  But the only thing to carry them in is a barrel full of already rotten apples.  Do you think those nice crisp apples will refresh those in the barrel, or do you think the ones in the barrel will infect the shiny new ones?  Congress is like that.  You can send your best and brightest, those with all the idealism in the world, into the fray.  But here's something to remember.  Junior senators have no power.  They don't make policy.  They barely influence it.  So therefore, by the time they rise to the level of being able to do something about the mess, they've become part of it.  Why do you think we're all still fighting the same battles?  Some of them have been going on since the dawn of the Republic.

Ain't that a stinker?

What's worse is that, by replacing our people with your people, you risk handing power back to the same exact people who have betrayed you again and again and again.  Oh, sure, they say they're concerned about the same things you are, but when have they ever done anything to change it?  Did the last Republican Congress--teamed with a Republican President--do anything at all about the issues you consider the most important?  Did they balance the budget, create jobs, eliminate pork, return decision making ability to the states, or did they simply set the stage for the economic collapse we're experiencing now?  No, you can't blame the Democrats.  This mess belongs to all of them.  It's the responsibility of both parties, and neither seems to be able to see its way out of it.

The notion that simply leaving the tax cuts in place will somehow magically heal the wound is ludicrous.  They've been in place, and yet, things aren't getting any better.  The same things that motivate companies to off-shore the best jobs, leaving behind only low-level service jobs--haven't gone away.  And even if one buys into the idea that it's all the regulation and taxation--well, what kind of a working environment do you want, anyway?  Do you want to work in a place where they can put your life and limbs in jeopardy for a little higher profits, where if you are injured, there's no recourse but begging on the street?  That's what would happen without safety regulations and worker's compensation.  The people you'll be putting into power don't believe in limiting what corporations can do.  At all.  You'd have to strip yourselves to the level of Chinese slave labor to make it worthwhile for this organizations to bring those jobs back into the country.  And what will you have gained?

You don't have to accept any of this on faith.  I wouldn't expect you to.  But I implore you to ask yourselves--what if I'm even a little bit right?  What if the people you support don't have your best interests at heart?  What then?

And, by some chance, if you're one of those for whom it's really about the so-called 'culture wars,' who really wish this country to 'return to its Christian roots,' might I ask one question?  Which sect do you follow?  Anyone who's studied the history of Christianity knows it's a long history of breaks and schisms, often followed by bloody warfare.  Let's assume for a second that the religious wrested control of this nation from the secular.  Let's say you actually won this culture war.  How long would it be before your differences began to bleed through and infighting began?  It's easy when you have a common enemy--the atheists, pagans, and secularists.  But, defeated, they'd no longer be an issue.  Then your enemy would be your former ally.  And before you say it wouldn't happen, think again.  That's the way it works.  One group would gain ascendancy--let's say the Baptists--and the Catholics would resent it.  And start working against them.  So the Baptists would have to pass laws limiting the Catholics... and the Mormons, and the Lutherans, and who knows what other sects.  This is why the founding fathers created that (allegedly mythical) wall of separation in the first place.  Because nearly all the original colonies had their own church, and they knew that the most destructive force in Pre-Enlightenment Europe was religious infighting.  So they made it so no sect could gain power over another by keeping government separate from religion.  No sect could command the government, and the government could hold no power over any sect.

The individual beliefs of the founding fathers don't matter.  What matters is the reason why they thought this wall a necessity.  Violate it at your peril.

All I ask is that you consider my words.  I'm not lying to you.  Imagine, for a moment, that you believe that.  What then?  Where do we go from here?

Sunday, October 03, 2010

He said WHAT?

Today I scandalized several of my fellow liberals by calling President Obama a "moral coward."  One went so far in retort to state that I "couldn't possibly understand his position and responsibilities."  Seriously--really?  Because I don't agree with his actions I obviously don't understand.  How convenient a rationalization.

I began by declaring straight out that I considered him a moral coward, referring in part to this article at T/O.  Meet the new boss, same as the old boss (my title, not theirs, btw).  Either way, the notion that this administration is not only following the same failed policies as previous administrations, but hiding them behind judicial gag orders after campaigning on a platform of transparency really chapped my hide.

It's bad enough that they're continuing some of the less than ethical security policies of their predecessors--can you say 'extraordinary rendition?'--but to announce in particular that they weren't going to be pursuing cases against medical marijuana growers, and then doing so behind the public's back while knowing the public doesn't support such actions, is an act of supreme hypocrisy.

This isn't all, of course.  Obama has repeatedly told us that he wants to do the right thing, but it's our job to "hold his feet to the fire" to make sure he does.  And to make sure Congress does.  Okay--first of all, this isn't leadership.  This is an attempt to use us as political cover.  This is suggesting that he's unable to do the right thing unless he's forced to do so by public pressure.  But what's worse is that we're supposed to do this foot holding thing while being sneered at by those he chose to fill his cabinet in direct opposition to the wishes of every single progressive constituent out there.

And it's not as though he or anyone else can claim ignorance.  This administration may be the first one that came into power knowing very well that the people (it is still 'we the people, right?) would be looking over their shoulder and commenting more or less in real time.

What I get out of all of this is "I want to do the right thing, but I'm afraid to..."  And those who seem to feel they have no choice but to carry his water--those who hinged everything on his success, take anything criticizing this side of him as a personal affront.

Speaking well does not make one a good leader.  Coming up with a great catchphrase like "Yes we can" doesn't mean much if we're left asking "Yes we can what?"  Try creating a bipartisan coalition with people who pretty much think you're the antichrist?  Good luck with that.  Negotiating from a position of weakness by taking the best possible option in health care reform off the table before negotiations even begin?  From the beginning I saw a flaw in his strategy--and people would say "oh, he's playing chess... he's two, three, four, ten moves ahead."  Near as I can tell at this point, he's an even shittier chess player than I am.

Then again, I'm not a strategist.  I'm a tactician.  That offers the ability to change directions swiftly, as events unfold.  Strategy is more long term, and tends to be more... conservative.  The Marines of my father's day were taught to improvise on the battlefield, to use the tactics that would do the job, regardless of the strategic choices that came down from on high.  Get the job done.

I think Obama made the same mistake as Clinton did when he stepped into the oval office.  He chose to "look forward rather than back" and therefore left enemies armed and dangerous drawing targets on his back.  The criminals who started unnecessary and quite possibly illegal wars, helped their friends make billions in obscene profits off the suffering and death of our own soldiers--not to mention innocent foreign civilians--, deregulated the banks and energy companies to the point they were more or less policing themselves (badly, I might add), lost billions of dollars through malfeasance and incompetence, conducted questionable (at best) warrantless and unwarranted surveillance of law-abiding American citizens, and committed a multitude of other acts of an ethical, immoral, and at best quasi-legal nature.  Not investigating their crimes left them in place to almost immediately begin a campaign of disinformation and obfuscation aimed at destroying and/or negating every single possible progressive policy change that might come down the pipe.

We're not only still in the middle of the Great Recession (despite the nonsense spouted by economists), but now have almost no chance of enacting the kinds of programs necessary to drag us out of it.  Partially because this administration's ineffectiveness at communicating both the problems and their causes has given the right the freedom to co-opt a surge of populist anger aimed at the people actually responsible for our situation, and instead aim it directly at those with the best chance of getting us out of it.

For the longest time I was willing to give Obama the benefit of the doubt.  I was willing to blame Congress for a great deal of it.  But now I simply can't.  Because the man with the tools and the access to connect with America in a meaningful way, the man who can easily outline not only the difficulties we face, but the potential solutions, cannot, or will not, do so.

We needed a Roosevelt.  We didn't get one.  And we'll all pay the price.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Damn That Government

I think it’s ironic that the same people who want to get government out of the boardroom want to place it squarely in your bedroom.  They just want to shrink it enough to fit in such a confined space.

We don’t need Social Security, Medicare, SSI, public roads, public schools, fire departments, the police, armies for national defense, nor spies and intelligence analysts, nor should we support minimum wage and child labor laws, nor workplace safety regulations, nor consumer protection laws that say kids’ toys shouldn’t burst into flame if light touches them.  Corporations should be able to say anything they want and spend any amount of money to make commercials that use clever psychological tricks to confuse the issues and manipulate peoples’ emotions to produce specifically calculated results.  Why should government insist that restaurants and bars not discriminate against whole groups of people?  Why should anyone expect government to make businesses accessible to the disabled?

Yes, government is the problem.  They’re so bad at taking care of us.

Well, okay.  Certainly true when you add Republicans into the mix.  They’re only interested in one thing—taking care of their rich cronies.  Is it any wonder they continually vote against the interest of the ‘little guy?’  Maybe because they’re all millionaires.  Or hope to be soon.  Nearly every one of them can expect to walk out of government into a cushy private sector job that will more than pay them back for their years of whoring.  Must be nice, eh?

See, humanity tried that laissez faire stuff at the beginning of the industrial revolution.  It resulted in terrible working conditions, massive environmental destruction, and the realization that entities that only care for profit can’t be trusted to act in the public interest without specific guidelines.   Liberalism, which embraced laissez faire in the beginning, slowly adapted its viewpoints due to the evidence.  Conservativism, which fought to maintain feudalism, finally came to realize the advantages of capitalism long after the liberals realized that capitalism wouldn’t work without restrictions.  Conservatives embrace our leavings and claim them for their own.

I find it ironic that someone would quote that definition of insanity while embracing the ideology that embodies it.

In general, one finds that nearly everyone who’s ever actually experienced first-hand the social democracies of Europe vastly prefer it to the “free market” capitalism of the United States.  There may be fewer billionaires, but there are also a lot fewer people who are destitute.  And I can’t see that as a bad thing.  If our current administration has a failing, it’s allowing the clearly deficient ‘logic’ of the right to control the discussion even now.

And that’s the fault of everyone smart enough but too disinclined to follow the conversation to its inevitable conclusion.  The Republicans keep lying because the people keep buying.

And before someone chimes in with the inevitable “they’re all the same,” nonsense, how about you consider this.  When has ANY prominent Republican—or conservative of any stripe—said anything remotely favorable to paganism or any other minority religion?  Hell, you’d be hard pressed to find one that doesn’t think any religion but Christianity should be banned.  People like Sarah Palin and Christine O’Donnell are fighting a religious war.  And we’re the enemy.  But, by all means, any caribou has a right to vote for the Wolf Party.  Just don’t be surprised when they show up at your door with knife and fork in hand and a napkin tucked into their shirt.

Sure, there’s corruption on both sides.  But at least the Democrats don’t despise everything you are.

Okay... and I know there are a few people who will inevitably respond (we don't know what the other person said--how do we know you're being fair?).  I don't have permission to post his words on my blog, but the gist was that "if you don't believe government should try to take care of us--something they're not good at anyway... blah blah blah..."
Paraphrasing, of course.  This is what I'm responding to.  Make of it what you will.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

God may not play dice with the universe, but we might want to start...

I've long said that I think the only long-term hope for human survival is to get off the planet--at least in part.  Not only can our hunger and our current economic system not be sustained on one world for long, but our inevitable waste--both toxic and relatively innocuous, must have a limit.  There must be a point when we refuse to refuse.

I believe space exploration and eventual colonization is our destiny as a species.  Not because some almighty deity declared it, but because we have all the tools to make it happen.  Sure, there are those who are skeptical, who think we should 'take care of things down here first,' or fear 'they'll just take our disease into space,' but I say to them that I, at least, am not so far gone that I thirst for the end of humanity.

I believe that there's something worth saving in us, despite our missteps.  I believe we are a clumsy, inept puppy of a species, just beginning to figure out how to toddle to the threshold leading out of our den and peering into the outer world.  And we are bold puppies, full of mischief and trouble.

I have little patience for those who would throw humanity on the discard pile, be it for religious reasons (hungering for a little Armageddon, are you?) or secular, philosophical reasons.  Despite our foolishness, despite our destructive tendencies toward our environment and our fellow creatures, we have within us the capacity to accomplish wondrous things if given the chance.  Those who feel as though we should turn away from that, slink back into our caves and forget the light we so briefly held within our hand, I have only one thing to say.

We're running out of options.

The debate over our rights and obligations regarding the fallout from our industrialization has waged for centuries, when we first began to venture away from a feudal economy into a capitalistic one.  People once thought even the river Thames was too large to be fouled by industry, but they found out quickly enough that the were wrong.

Now conservatives want to pretend that it's impossible than man's emissions are affecting our entire world, and the notion that it isn't seems so ludicrous that we find it hard to take them seriously.  We are poisoning the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the very Earth in which we grow our food.  And those who are making the most money from it will do nearly anything to keep us from impacting their profitability.

But we all know it's unsustainable.  There's no such thing as infinite growth in a finite system.  Something, somewhere, has to give.  And we can only hope that it's not our ecosystem.

There are those who have embraced the lifestyle of what I might call a neo-luddite, people that would like to reject the modern world and its vagaries.  But in the end the modern world will find you, and the very corporations you wish to ignore will happily shit in your pantry.  Witness what happened to the backwaters of Louisiana, as the oil from the gulf spill seeped slowly into their environs.

No one is safe, and it is not possible to hide from what's happening.  There is no going back, no forcing the genie back into the bottle.  Even assuming you could get every American on board with what you believe must be done, there are several billion people looking to live a Chinese version of the American Dream.  And a government and social structure that doesn't have our inherent checks and balances--regardless of how ineffective they may seem.

Honestly, it may be our only hope is to go forward, to strive with everything in us--our ingenuity, our ambition, our fear of calamity, to seek a solution to the problems we have caused.  Technology has put us here, but it's possible, just possible, that technology might also be the answer.

There are those who might scoff.  But let's remember how long we've been at this, and how many changes we've initiated already.  We stand on the brink of as many as a million world-changing discoveries and inventions, from protein farming to new sources of energy, from super-efficient batteries to nanotechnology.  We may not have the option of pulling back, reining in on our "carbon footprint" and environmental impact.  It may be too late for that.

Our best answer might well be "damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead."  And this is not to say we shouldn't take into consideration possible negative consequences of some decisions... but we have to balance those with what we're likely to face if we do nothing.

Some might be able to argue that we should have exercised restraint, but I'm not sure that was in the cards.  This modern world, for all its problems, has either solved, or is on its way to solving, many of humanity's long-term problems.  Each leap forward carries all of us with it, whether we understand what it means or not.

Our only hope is to get "out there," to find and make use of the resources that we now know are abundant.  Our solar system awaits.  Let's stop fiddle-farting around and put our mind to not only repairing our mistakes, but transcending them.

I don't think we have a choice.

Is it a risk?  Yes, but is it a larger risk than sitting on our hands watching our planet come apart around us?  I don't think so.