Tag Archives: conservatives

All Hail Our Armed Corporate Overlords

16 Jan

1. F your gun

A 12 year-old New Mexico boy brought a .20 gauge shotgun to school.  He shot three times, hit two classmates. One is ok, the other was shot in the face and neck, and is in critical condition. 

…the suspected shooter’s family issued a statement Wednesday saying they were heartbroken and that their remorse could not be put into words. They said the two children who were injured have been in their thoughts and prayers.

“We are horribly sad over this tragedy on so many levels,” the family stated. “We are praying that God will be with everyone who has been affected.”

The family added it will cooperate with law enforcement to “piece together how this awful tragedy occurred.”

The gun came from home. Maybe the family could take its prayers and condolences, double-check their homeowner’s insurance, prepare for the lawsuit they so richly deserve, and properly secure their weapons.

As of December 14, 2013, there had been 26 school shootings since the tragedy in Newtown, CT. But we’re told we don’t have a gun problem. Not at all.  Yet for some reason, school shootings are an overwhelmingly American problem

What would you expect their logo to look like?

2. The Freedom to Pollute Shall not be Infringed

Freedom Industries recklessly poisoned the water supply of 300,000 West Virginians last week. Poor oversight, crappy facilities, a laughably inadequate response, environmental carelessness – ignorance, all contributed to a catastrophe that people still don’t quite get. 

Here’s what I get. When you elevate “job creators” above “people”; when you lionize big corporate interests over clean water and people’s health; when you abandon or reject regulation and oversight of industries that pose a continuing imminent threat of mass poisoning, you have ceased to maintain a proper representative democracy. From the Charleston Gazette

While DEP has said it hasn’t inspected the site since 1991, when it was owned by Pennzoil, Kolb and Bauerle said Monday that the agency had looked into a previous odor complaint at the site and another odor complaint in St. Albans related to a company called Diversified Services, which handles shipping of materials for Freedom Industries.

Kolb and Bauerle arrived at the operation shortly after 11 a.m. In the parking lot, they met Kanawha County fire coordinator C.W. Sigman, whose office was also looking into residents’ odor complaints.

The DEP officials went to the office, where Dennis P. Farrell, who identified himself as president of the company, greeted them. They told Farrell about the odors and asked if the facility was having any problems.

“He said as far as he knew this was a busy time of year. They were just handling a lot of trailers,” Kolb said. “As far as he knew, there weren’t any problems.”

The DEP officials asked Kolb to show them around the facility. When they went outside, an employee asked to speak to Farrell. After that conversation, Farrell told the DEP officials there was a problem, and led them to tank 396.

There, the DEP officials said, they found a 400-square-foot pool of chemical that had leaked from the tank into a block containment area. Pressure from the material leaking out of the tank created what DEP officials called an “up-swelling,” or an artesian well, like a fountain of chemical coming up from the pool.

They saw a 4-foot-wide stream of chemicals heading for the containment area’s wall, and disappearing into the joint between the dike’s wall and floor.

Initially, no one saw the chemical pouring into the Elk River. 

This disaster is a direct result of bad right-wing/glibertarian laissez faire environmental and regulatory policies. You know – the notion that “job-killing regulations” are worse than people-poisoning absence of regulations. 

Instead of rounding people up into death camps, FEMA provided water to the nine affected counties pursuant to a declared federal state of emergency. The area where this happened is known as “chemical alley”. When the pointy-headed nerds from the federal Chemical Safety Board and local environmental groups encouraged West Virginia to improve its oversight and regulations in the area, but no one wanted to do it because jobs and freedom

This is the libertarian/conservative dream scenario. Lack of oversight to prevent catastrophe, and inadequate or non-existent health insurance to treat injuries resulting from it. Add “tort reform” to the mix, to prevent or dramatically restrict liability for wrongdoing, and we might as well elect Freedom Industries and its ilk as dictator-for-life. 

The Pre-Obamacare Trainwreck

20 Nov

Obamacare-symbolSome of my friends are conservatives. Shocking, I know. They occasionally post things to social media that are critical of people whom I support, and policies with which I agree. Occasionally, I will argue or even troll, but once in a blue moon, I will try to present a reasonable counterargument that is factual and not particularly argumentative. Rare, but it happens. 

On Tuesday, I saw a post linking to this article. My Facebook friend annotated his post by declaring that “progressives…really do all suck”.  I read the article, which detailed the travails of a single mom trying to buy insurance on the Washington State exchange, and having problems with bad advice and equally bad results. I feel horrible for her and anyone else similarly situated. The new insurance mandate, and the fact that the policies have to maintain a minimum standard of coverage means that some people are paying more, and the subsidy schemes are complicated. 

But it’s the “Affordable” Care Act. Not “inexpensive”, not “cheaper”, not “free” – affordable. But once you argue the semantics, you’ve lost. People’s perception is that everyone’s cost would go down, and whenever this proves not to be the case, it gets blown up into a scandal. 

So, let’s take a step back for a second. The Affordable Care Act – Obamacare – is not what I think is best or perfect for this country, but it’s 1,000x better than the utter trainwreck that preceded it. Here’s what I posted as a comment to my friend’s Facebook indictment of “progressives” in general and Obamacare in particular: 

At some point between 1990 – 2009, the Republican Party decided that universal health care coverage was no longer a societal goal, regardless of how it was to be implemented. When “HillaryCare” was proposed, conservatives pushed as an alternative the model now known as RomneyCare and ObamaCare – a regulated and partially subsidized marketplace of private insurance policies that you are (a) mandated to participate in if you have no employer-based coverage; and (b) meets some minimum standard of what qualifies as “insurance”. 

Now that we have Obamacare, which is a regulated individual marketplace of policies, different in each state, conservatives have not just refused to go along with it, but have actively and passively worked to sabotage it. 

Big laws that do big things aren’t going to be perfect in an imperfect world. Under normal circumstances, we would at least have consensus on “everyone should be insured” as a societal goal. We don’t even have that starting point, so everything else must fail. But even if, hypothetically, Republicans did agree that we should all have decent health coverage, under normal circumstances and in a responsive representative democracy, they would work to help fix problems that arise. This, too, we don’t have. That’s why things that have come up as problematic now have to be amended through regulation and executive rulemaking. 

If the right wanted to present an alternative to Obamacare – which is itself the alternative to HillaryCare – then they should have done so. They never, ever did. All they’ve done is try to block it, then sabotage it when they weren’t done repealing it. Oh, sure they bleat on about “tort reform” and the anti-federalist notion that policies should be one-size-fits-all across the country to enhance “competition”, just like the Telecom act of 1996 enhanced cable TV “competition” and the breakup of Ma Bell enhanced telephone “competition”. Just like the merger of Exxon and Mobil or United and Continental enhanced “competition”. 

In the end, government exists, in part, to fill in the holes that private industry can’t – or won’t – fill. Our private health insurance system in this country is unique in its user-dissatisfaction, physician time-sucking, inefficiency, and waste. It has proven to be almost completely unworkable in contemporary society, and its problems are underscored by the fact that no other country in the world sees fit to implement anything resembling it. 

By the same token, the German, Swiss, French, British, and Canadian models are also imperfect. They do, however, produce better results for far less money – and they do it in a way that satisfies the health care consumer. 

ObamaCare’s lack of situational perfection doesn’t take away from the fact that you no longer face lifetime policy maximums; you can no longer be denied coverage due to a pre-existing condition; insurers can no longer arbitrarily drop you when you get sick and use your coverage; preventive care and immunizations will be free of charge with no co-pay or deductibles; females are treated equally now; myriad consumer protections are put in place to help people appeal adverse insurance decisions. All of these changes are significant – so much so that it’s disgusting that these sorts of things were not implemented before. 

But, you know, glitchy website. 

Yes, I’m disappointed that ObamaCare isn’t perfect. But that disappointment is tempered by my disgust with the pre-ObamaCare status quo. I would much prefer a hybrid NHS single payer system that had public care with private sur-care policies. This will not happen in this country in my lifetime unless it’s proposed by a nominal conservative. In the meantime, have fun pointing out the problems that 1/300,000,000th of the population has with an individual policy under a state-run scheme and not only indict the federal program, but anyone who supports it, as horrible.

WBEN: Against, Really Against, SUPER ZOMG AGAINST, OR ALL OF THE ABOVE?!!? [UPDATE]

20 Jun

I’ll give WBEN a link today, because the septuagenarians who make up its target audience are likely to vote against marriage equality on the idiotic “webpoll” that’s up today.  I’d urge people who support the idea of legalizing committed, loving same-sex unions to blast this poll and make sure fairness and love trump hatred and bigotry.

Just look at the way the poll is worded:

It gives you four – count them four – reasons to vote against same sex marriage. Once on religious grounds, once on “moral” grounds not otherwise counting as religious, once because gay sex is icky, and “all of the above”. For people who truly, deeply believe in – and advocate for – marriage equality, the best they get is “I’m ‘OK’ with gay marriage”.  In other words, even the selection that enables you to voice your support for equal rights is packed with equivocation and wiggle room, implying that you still think it’s icky, you still think it’s immoral, and you still think it offends God and the Church, but you’re “OK” with it.

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Shame on WBEN for such a blatantly nonsensical “poll” which serves merely to further enhance its listenership’s confirmation bias.  I know other stations aren’t busy pitting one local group against others today.

Also, feel free to contact General Manager Tim Wenger and let him know – politely – how awful and hateful this poll is.

BTW, a few updates.

Firstly: Tim Wenger has replied to me, but will not permit me to publish his reply.

Secondly: Tom Bauerle is on air right now discussing this issue and is actually doing a good job explaining why people should support same-sex marriage, and isn’t doing so in a facetious way. Because someone made him aware of this post, he’s now bringing Obama and his opposition to same sex marriage into the “discussion”, which is somewhat beside the point since we’re talking about state legislation, not federal action. I can’t call in to Bauerle’s program because he has specifically forbidden me to contact him in any way because he’s a coward.

Thirdly: There is a link in this post to an act.ly petition. If it isn’t showing up, click here instead to sign it.

Fourthly: WBEN is futzing with the poll results.

Here is what appeared at 10:35am (redacted to show only the poll results & time stamp):

Here is what appeared at 10:36 am (redacted to show only the poll results & time stamp):

Here is what appeared at 10:41 am (redacted to show only the poll results & time stamp):

And here is what shows up at 11:06, indicating perhaps the poll is being shown adequately after I Tweeted that I had proof of tampering:

How the Left Lost Religion

18 Jan

One day a year, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr still dominates the airwaves. Yesterday was his day, and news organizations fill much of the non-prime time with filler of King speeches, interviews and stories. As I drove around yesterday doing my errands, listening to excerpts of King’s addresses on the radio, I was struck once again by his choice of language and tone. Allow me to choose, as representative of much of his oratory, this paragraph from the Presidential Address to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, on what must have been a sweltering August 16th, 1967:

Let us be dissatisfied until every state capitol houses a governor who will do justly, who will love mercy and who will walk humbly with his God. Let us be dissatisfied until from every city hall, justice will roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream. Let us be dissatisfied until that day when the lion and the lamb shall lie down together, and every man will sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid. Let us be dissatisfied. And men will recognize that out of one blood God made all men to dwell upon the face of the earth. Let us be dissatisfied until that day when nobody will shout White Power! — when nobody will shout Black Power!—but everybody will talk about God’s power and human power.

This paragraph has it all. An expectation of civil equality. A plea to move past racial divisions to “human power.” A call to stand firm, and an implication that “dissatisfaction” may take some time. And most notable to me, in direct contradiction with today’s America, constant, eloquent, unapologetic Biblical imagery and religious language. This is the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, after all. Which made me ask: when did the Left loose its faith?

I seek no self-serving whitewashing of history, and I certainly won’t try to turn an ardent pacifist into a supporter of foreign wars (note to the Pentagon: next MLK Day, crow about the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and link it to King’s legacy). The civil rights movement was firmly Liberal, and conservatives were on the wrong side of history. But King’s movement was also a tidal wave of faith with a religious conviction that eventually justice would be done, according to God’s will. It is impossible to escape God in King’s writings and speeches. The Left had no issue with that 40 years ago.

Obviously, much has changed. If I may summarize the current political situation, from a lefty perspective, it would go something like this: smart people are Liberals because they think rationally, and Liberalism is inherently so. Dumb people are conservative and Republican because they are sheeple that believe in God (and guns). Liberals are atheists because believing the earth is 6000 years old is dumb, and Liberals are smart. They have a study to prove it. Smart people don’t need God, they have Humanism and the Flying Spagehtti Monster.

Of all the alignments of ideology with political party in the last forty years, the disappearance of the religious Liberal is one of the least recognized. The Religious Right is famously faithful, conservative, and reliably Republican, in numbers almost as stark as African-Americans are Democratic. In response to this political power, atheists have become more vocal and public, releasing popular books and becoming more fervent, seemingly not only in their nonbelief, but also in their dismissal of the faithful (see: Dumb Sheeple, above).

Yes, most Democratic politicians maintain a faithful public persona. And the African-American civil rights community never left their churches. But increasingly religiousness also cleaves along political boundaries, at least among the leadership, spokespeople, and pundits. Too-Catholic John Kennedy has been replaced by Bill Maher. Liberal Hawks who opposed the Soviet Union because of its godlessness have been replaced with activists equating Muslim and Christian crimes in the spat over the Islamic Cultural Center near the Ground Zero (I’m not trying to argue the merits here, please, only characterize the tone). On issues of prayer in school, the 10 Commandments at courthouses, abortion, etc, the loudest voices could be as easily described as Atheist versus Christian as Left versus Right.

So, I wonder, how do modern Liberals view this icon’s religious faith, now the public preserve of the Right? It is certainly glossed over in polite conversation. Is it an embarrassment? An inconvenience? An allowed imperfection? I am honestly looking forward to the answer in the comments below.

Radical Pragmatism

4 Jan

The turn of the New Year spurs a certain amount of self-reflection, a review of fundamental assumptions and beliefs, perhaps a re-examination of perspectives and intellectual bedrock. Left unanalyzed (or re-analyzed), one may be surprised to accidentally discover that the label they cling to (Democrat, libertarian) and the honest expression of their beliefs have diverged. Additionally, the bloggy nature of new journalism eliminates a fourth wall between writer and reader. I am allowed (or expected) to share, and you often seek, that bedrock as the subtext by which you will judge the rest of my writings. 

That’s a long way of saying I write some articles for you and some for me, like this one, so I steady my own sea legs before undertaking another expedition of writer’s observation in 2011, and because my medium is electrons and not paper, you are welcome to come along on the ride looking over my shoulder. 

Image by Paul Klee at BBQChickenRobot.com

 

While discussing the impact and motivations of Wikileak founder Julian Assange, Chris Smith made the following comment about my detached perspective that the leaks are not ground breaking, the Information Revolution has not begun, diplomacy is not over, and Wikileak/Assange boosters are merely being duped by a self-promoting charlatan: 

I guess that’s why it’s fun to be a raging centrist, you don’t have to take a stand on anything, you just get to argue that everyone else is a radical. 

This evoked greater soul searching than perhaps Chris intended with a social media comment throw-away line. 

A great strength of our country, and a major stabilizer to its government, is the presence of only two political parties. But a natural assumption and lie that this arrangement produces is that on each policy topic of import there are but two perspectives. Further exasperating the divide, on the national stage, and in the national conversation, the elimination of north-eastern Republicans and southern Democrats fully aligned ideology and political party in a less than historical way. Not only are there only two legitimate and plausible policy positions, but they have grown further apart. Failure to chose between them and align makes you uneducated, uninformed, or part of the spineless, unprincipled mushy center. If you cared about Progress, you’d pick a side: its the only way to get anything done in this country. 

A realistic response that is increasingly less true. Not only do independents and unaffiliated voters now outnumber registered Republicans or Democrats, but the liberalization of information and organizing power of the internet has made non-party movements, such as the Tea Party, more influential, for good or for ill. I find the overall trend encouraging, as perhaps it will finally allow for non-party solutions, mirroring my own philosophical movement. 

In the year and a half that I have been writing for WNYMedia as the Reasonable Republican, I find myself having less and less in common with “my” party. It is harder and harder to defend tactically, politically, or ideologically. However, Democrats have made themselves no more endearing in that time either – quite the opposite.  A little voice has until now always whispered to choose a side in the name of Pragmatism. Now Pragmatism’s council is shifting as well. 

Serendipitously enter the story of William James on NPR’s On Point Radio yesterday morning. That I have not prominently used him as a touchstone before, in my policy and political writings, says more about my shortcomings than his eloquence and historic influence. In the nineteenth century, James advocated for (at that time) poorly connoted Pragmatism, a philosophy that he saw as epitomizing plucky, practical America. Free of class and caste and history and religious dominance, the American experiment was uniquely positioned to take advantage of unbiased scientific, measured, empirical solutions. James eschewed Idealism because it was divorced from reality – it made the intention of an action more important than the actual effect. Pragmatism, on the other hand, provided the holistic assessment of the fruits of one’s labor, no matter the source or feeling behind it. Its extreme practicality and novelty gave it an American flair – it could promise a better human future more than any other philosophy because its search for Truth would produce real implemented benefits. In other words, Progress. 

In applying Pragmatism to politics and policy, the rediscovery of a Third Way is hardly new philosophical ground, but it is rhetorical ground rarely tread, and has few modern champions of (popular) note. Most commentators and pundits (and Nobel prize winners?) applaud themselves for their hard ideological lean. In searching for writers who vocally seek a vigorous pragmatic way, one is left with Tom Friedman, who while loud and less than humble is hardly held in the highest esteem. Charismatic intellects of note (or those seeking employment as a columnist) rightly forsake the solitary wilderness and non-categorization of a new way. The best discussion about Wikileaks we could be having now would concern intelligence reform, and examining how much we classify, and where it is shared, rather than simply worshiping and condemning the messenger (a self-reinforcing process). Little of such talk rises to the media surface. 

 

I have written several times in the past that Pragmatism and Conservatism are fine bedfellows due to the latter’s keen eye for reality as it is, not as Liberals or Libertarians wish it was. Liberalism overly drifts into the aspirational (inspirational?), and Libertarianism has become a haven for misanthropes. Unfortunately, political Conservatism lately is more in the business of provoking and then salving fears, rather than applying practical solutions. To admit my own bias, I have been suspicious of government based action, but for pragmatic reasons: the government is historically bad conducting many of its charges. While it uniquely succeeds in tasks involving things (raising armies, massive infrastructure construction, promoting and conducting scientific research) it often fails at tasks involving people (schools, social services, jails). If only executive power could wax and wane based upon performance, and greater responsibility was earned through the effectiveness of actions. Sigh.

Pragmatic good government has two foes: Democrats and Republicans. Democrats are too beholden to public sector unions to institute meaningful reform, and Republicans are too ideologically blind to consider the government the solution to anything. Democrats rightly ask how Republicans should be allowed to reform government (or even be in charge of it) when they hate it so much. Republicans can rightly respond that Democrats love government because it fills their campaign coffers and patronage pits, and they are not any less intellectually bankrupt as to how to make it more effective and efficient.

What new way, then? What passes for pragmatism now is middling bi-partisanship, the centrism of Chris Smith’s comment above, the antithesis of the soul of James’ work. Instead of applying tested and researched solutions, in Washington each side simply gets half of what they want, with no overall plan or method. This year’s tax cut debate in the lame duck session of Congress is the perfect example. The Democrats revel in their intentions of helping the poor, the Republicans in there success of getting their way. That the rich should pay more taxes is a feeling in search of confirmation, not a policy plan based on the merits. That no one’s taxes should be raised is an ideological bias with think-tanks bankrolled to prove it. No coherent policy has been implemented. The country is worse off than before. What should be done?  

I give you Radical Pragmatism. 

Cold hearted and secular Pragmatism, ironically, is left as the only morally justifiable philosophy for solving civic problems. If you wish to reduce the scourge of childhood poverty, for example, and that alone is your aim, you should care little whether government or religious or private organizations do the heavy lifting. Yet Republicans and Democrats, and Liberals and Conservatives, will because of chosen bias sort through only one set of solutions (the best government program, for Liberals), placing the ideological over the practical. The best, most effective solution for reducing child poverty may lie at the far, safe and well populated end of a political spectrum, but I doubt it. It hasn’t been found there yet. But I will wait for the evidence to instruct so. 

Pragmatism, therefore, is Progress, and the term Progressive should be taken back from Liberals, who would only seek one government created version of it. Radical Pragmatism is the creation of a voice to advocate for such Progress, competing in a political-party-produced clamor.

Manning Up to Palin

2 Dec

Well, it’s about time.

Your humble writer has been waiting for a reputable national voice to harmonize with on the subject of Sarah Palin since her fortunate VP election loss. I had begun to fear that no such voice was coming. At least, before it was too late. Two years ago I declared Sarah Palin not the future. Since then it has been more a hope than a substantial prediction. Now, finally, blemishes in the immutable Republican Wall are appearing, and it seems our private political wilderness soul searching may finally turn public.

Image courtesy iMaksim.com

Conservatives have long taken unity as a point of pride. But equally cherished is Seriousness, of which Palin does not have a single bit in her entire body. Outsiders to the Republican movement can be forgiven for seeing a single monolith and criticizing it as such. But the fault lines are now publicly being displayed, and how the fractured Republican base reacts in the next year in the run-up to the next primary will be interesting to watch. Some camps to watch for and take note of:

It was The Bow Tie Crowd that drew me to Conservatism in the first place. These intellects, now mostly deceased, looked at the world with pragmatism as their ideology, and what worked became policy. William Buckley, Irving Kristol, William Safire were the greats – their (at times) adequate successors of George Will, David Brooks, and Charles Krauthammer (those who harrumphed at Krauthammer should read his very well reasoned and prescient recommendation to restructure the tax code around a gas tax – in effect, the Liberal dream consumption tax) will influence what is left of the reasoned, thinking wing of the party. Joe Scarborough’s defense of the “blue bloods” was really a defense of a more reasonable age where principles were held in a loser grip, and compromise was less of a four letter word. David Frum’s firing from the Bow Tie stronghold of the American Enterprise Institute did not bode well for the long term success of thinking conservatives. Perhaps we can reverse this trend. 

In the George W. Bush era, too many bow tie wearers branched off into Neo-conservatism. Irving’s progeny took up residency here some time ago, and Krauthammer dips his wheelchair spoke in regularly. Nostalgia for the Cold War and a “Yes We Can” attitude has been broken, humbled in wars in Central Asia that most Republicans are now questioning. Many outside of Republican circles may not realize that the neo-con movement involved large chunks of voters, not just a circle of Presidential advisors. Huge percentages of the electorate in 2002 and 2004 listed national security as their #1 issue. By 2006, that vote waned, and the movement lost steam, the Iraq Surge as the last full-throated gasp. The only national security issue I see in 2012 is how soon we are leaving Afghanistan, and at what cost. If Korea goes hot, however, please disregard everything I write in this column.

The previous boogeyman of the Left, the godful Evangelical Right, has been quietly disillusioned for some time. Note that Mike Huckabee is not a serious player, and Mitt Romney is a legit candidate. Sarah Palin spends more time burnishing her tax cutting rhetoric than publicly discussing her faith and explaining how she speaks in tongues. It will be better for the country as a whole if what is Caesar’s is left to Caesar, and the evangelicals concentrate on their faith and good works outside of the explicitly political arena.  

Which leaves us with the unhereto unmentioned Tea Party, the comic book-like hero antithesis of the Bow Tie villain. Uninformed, angry, unreasoned, and potent. Now that the grassroots enthusiasm won a (in the grand scheme of things, unimportant) midterm, the party is starting to question the rationality of letting such a force dictate the play for the upcoming grand prize in 2012. And for good reason. The Tea Party, like all emotional and ideologically driven movements, would rather take defeat over an impure victory. It is the great strength of America’s two party system that the establishment party battleships do not feel this way.

Many astute readers at this point are wondering where the vast majority of prominent Republican politicians fit in. Why, no where, of course. Mitch McConnell, John McCain, John Boehner, et al ceased having a camp a long time ago, and are now Corporate Politicians, more similar to their colleagues across the aisle than the constituency movements that organize to elect them. Those few politicians that are still part of a movement (Rand Paul) never rise to sufficient prominence to lead the party generally, though they can influence policy choices. And previous corporate politicians reduce their national chances by veering too far – intellectual heavyweight Newt Gingrich, for example, proponent of healthcare reform, has descended into Tea Party madness.

An intriguing difference between Republicans and Democrats is the opposing models their cultures use to head their movements. Democrats seek an Intellectual. Republicans look for a Leader and Manager. Conservative policy wonks would rather be on a staff or in a think tank than run for office. Democrats want their wonks (Clinton, Obama) on the top of the ticket. When elected, this means Republican Presidents have a deep bench of advisors, department heads, and policy analysts at their disposal. Democrats, not so much. At first blush, in 2000, George Bush was the perfect candidate – an empty vessel who would hire the right people and whose gut was in the right place. His appointees had more clout, credentials, and staying power than his successor, who chose poorly initially, and is seeing an exodus early. The model that has served Republicans well – pick a leader who leans on the intellectuals – is in peril. 

So where does this leave us for 2012? Is the party current capable of choosing Reagan, Bush or Bush again? Republicans are not comfortable with public disagreements and battles. We prefer to find a consensus candidate that balances competing forces – Bow Ties, Neo-cons, Evangelicals and Tea Partiers – behind the scenes. Joe Scarborough has rightly recognized that the danger in 2012 is that Sarah Palin, a vacuous movement true believer, has a shot at blowing that well crafted system out of the water. Will the rational party rally to save itself? We can hope.

The Gitmo Self-Delusion

23 Nov

The recent acquittal of Ahmed Ghailani, now absolved African embassy bomber, on 284 of 285 counts of terrorism and conspiracy charges has caused much consternation among military-commission-promoters and torture-haters. Some of the hand wringing has also undoubtedly come from the Obama Administration itself, privately rethinking their misguided, altruistic plan to conduct civilian trials. Attorney General Eric Holder has called failure “not an option” in the process of trying terrorism suspects, currently held at the still-open Guantanamo Bay detention facility. Acquittal on 99.6% of charges sounds like failure to me. But why hold the trails at all if the outcome must be pre-ordained? We are so busy trying to live up our American ideals of “justice” and “fairness” that we have twisted ourselves into a rhetorical pretzel.

The entire trial process, civilian or military, is a self-imposed and self-created sham – we have painted ourselves into a legal corner and can’t see the way out. A fresh look at the entire counter-terrorism fight is required to see how far off the path we have gone. Gitmo policy, under two administrations, has diverged from objective reality long ago.

It is the fundamental duty of all thinking conservatives to first see the world as it is, with all its warts and inadequacies, not the world as they wish it would be. Liberals and libertarians serve those useful roles, imagining opposing fantasy lands of equality based upon societal largesse or individual grit. Meanwhile, in the pragmatic mud, the conservative is left to deal the actual matters at hand. And in the case of Gitmo, particularly, we need to remove the veil of our self-delusion.

The incarceration of nearly every inmate at Gitmo is an unhappy accident, not the result of deliberate policy. If I am an AK-47 toting, card carrying member of the Taliban or Al Qaeda in Afghanistan or Pakistan or Iraq, and I am the target of American forces, there are one of several fates awaiting me. Gitmo is the least likely, and least desirable.

Most likely, I will be shot dead or blown to pieces by a Mk-82 JDAM or Hellfire missile. No one will read me my rights. No one will charge me with a crime. Based upon my actions, associates, geographic location or suspicions of a nineteen year old kid, my life will be taken by a split second judgment. That’s called war.

If I am somehow captured by American or NATO forces, I will probably be taken into custody and held by Iraqis or Afghans. While in such custody, I may be fed and I may be beaten. I may be charged with a crime and tried, but standards of evidence in such trials are very spotty. Iraqi courts in particular rely very heavily on personal testimony and photographs, as if Photoshop had never been invented. As every American soldier carries a digital camera, a couple pictures at the point of detention, and the testimony of an Iraqi soldier or policeman is all that is required for substantial sentences. Every so often, in both countries, tribal relations pull favors, and large quantities of young men are just released, out the front door of the prison. After months of jailing, I may end up back on the battlefield.

If I am a High Value Target, and I have been captured by the Americans in the last seven years, I am held by them and not the local forces, in jails within the borders of American bases. Such jails are rarely discussed, and are the military’s solution to the Gitmo problem. If the prisoners are never transferred outside of the country, no one seems to care.

But if I am not shot or captured in any of the above scenarios, and was detained in the early days of the war in October or November of 2001, when Afghan jails and courts did not exist, then I was probably flown to Guantanamo Bay. Many of those prisoners did not warrant the special treatment, as is evidenced by the fact that out of 800 some total detainees, only two hundred-ish are leftOf course, 20% of those released have returned to their old ways. No matter – most held in Iraq and Afghanistan and then later released did so as well. 

Most of the 800 original Gitmo detainees were accidents. They were lucky not to get shot, but unlucky enough to be taken prisoner and deemed important. They were never read their rights, because they were captured by soldiers on a battlefield. They were interrogated in pleasant and unpleasant ways because a trial was never considered. Torture need not to have occurred for their confessions to be inadmissible. Evidence was never collected in anticipation of future legal proceedings. The thought of a civilian court is a moral absurdity promulgated later.

Shoehorning these detainees into our civilian courts, pushing to introduce misbegotten confessions and materials with no chain of evidence, reduces the legitimacy of said courts with little gain from the undermining. It is our choice to enter into this charade. A frequent criticism of the Bush Administration is that when the only tool they were willing to use was a hammer (the military), then everything starts to look like a nail. Fair enough. But to take the analogy further, this administration has fallen in love with its own set of tools, regardless of the job. If we use a chisel when a saw is needed, don’t fault the chisel, nor the job that required a saw. The job didn’t get done, but that does not make the job too hard nor the chisel useless. We simply need to pick up the saw and get to work.

The saw that the Obama Administration is avoiding is a pragmatic solution for the Gitmo problem. The detention facility at Guantanamo Bay should last as long as the naval base lasts. Release all detainees but the very worst: the Khalid Sheikh Mohammeds and Ramzi Bin al Shibhs. This should reduce the prisoner count to 50 or less. If the prisoners were picked up by the FBI (like KSM) and due process was followed, then try them. Future high ranking Al Qaeda operatives should be taken in this way, if at all possible, and they should be the only new prisoners at Gitmo. For the existing prisoners, if due process was not followed, and I fault no federal agent or military member for that, then never try them, and hold them until Al Qaeda and the current form of violent Islamist fundamentalism ceases to exist. If this includes KSM, then fine. Don’t put on a show. Don’t apologize. Never release them. We don’t “owe it” to anyone to hold a fake, pre-ordained trial, and it does not reduce our moral standing in the world to hold a prisoner of war until the war is over.

For the current detainees that aren’t the worst of the worst, send them back to the country that they came from. One salient fact lost in most debates about Gitmo is that many countries won’t accept their own citizens. No matter – fly them to a military base in the country they came from (Afghanistan, Iraq), walk them to the front gate and let them out. Only continued self-delusion keeps us from taking this simple step – as noted previously, if they were never shipped to Gitmo in the first place, we would  have happily released them years ago, and no one would know or care (the governments of Iraq and Afghanistan included).

If you are truly concerned about such hardened terrorists (after years of incarceration) taking up their old life again, put a CIA GPS transmitter in their neck and watch where they go. Once they enter a group of other suspected terrorists, kill them, like we do nearly every day in Pakistan with hardly a word of debate.

An Orientation For New Readers

25 Oct

Here at WNYMedia we’ve been getting a lot of new readers, from around the state and throughout the country, because of our breaking coverage of the New York Governor’s race and Carl Paladino. I only joined the team last year, but this news outlet has been around since 2004, and we do a lot more than talk about Carl.

As of this writing, we have over 33,000 articles and 115,000 comments – quite a lot of catching up to do if you are new here. So to help bring new readers up to speed, and save you a lot of reading, I’ve used a special computer program that combs through our extensive database, and distills all of the discussions on this site to a handy seven minute movie. Please excuse the electronic, Sally Silicon voice over – we had a lot of condensing to do. But rest assured, by the end of the video, you will be fully caught up with everything that’s been going on the past couple of years.

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[Update: Upon further review, it became clear from the first few comments that I was too vague in my satire. I didn’t make the video – some random guy on YouTube did it. I think it’s funny because every word spoken in the video has been typed by a WNYMedia commenter at some point in the past. There. The indignation may continue now.]

Lumping and Labeling

19 Aug

If you don’t mind, I’d like to step back for a second and talk about this conversation that we’re having.

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When I was considering moving back to Buffalo almost four years ago, it was articles like this in The Economist that sold me. The faceless British wisdom talked up a new Bio-Med Corridor, a progressive new Governor, and Big Plans for the city – like a casino, Canalside and an ethanol plant. Things look pretty good from the outside looking in.

Along this week comes a similar article, from Treehugger.com, stating that if the world wants to get off of oil, they should move to Buffalo. Maybe not the worldwide audience of the The Economist, but the same basic idea: an outsider, who doesn’t know the culture of Buffalo, looks at a set of objective facts – water, rail, built environment – and concludes that Buffalo is in a good position. It is a perfectly reasonable conclusion. It is also, however, as we all know, wrong.

Which leads me back to the nature of the conversation that we’re having. Look at the last several weeks worth of columns on this site, since it was announced Bass Pro was not coming, on the topics of Canalside, the shootings at CityGrill, and the Islamic cultural center in southern Manhattan (doesn’t quite trip off the tongue like Ground Zero Mosque, does it – will Libs ever learn to frame?).

Very little time was spent on the merits of any policy or idea. Most of the time was spent on, what I like to call, Lumping and Labeling. City vs Suburbs. Obstructionists vs Developers. Liberals vs Communists. It goes something like this: “You want Bass Pro? Well, you’re white, male, and live in the suburbs! You would want a redneck fishing bait shack! You also love Sarah Palin and hate poor people and the city. Sarah Palin sucks. So does Newt Gingrich. You’re an idiot.”

Think I am blowing it out of proportion? In the last two weeks alone several commenters have asked Alan if he has gone insane, had a nervous breakdown, or was simply Barry Goldwater. Chris Smith has been accused of being a right wing shill for the corporate establishment. I have fared better, as a simple racist and bigot. That’s okay, as an admitted conservative, I am a lost cause from the start.

Just as the highest and best use of the Internet is often porn, the highest and best use of this online community seems to be yelling, name calling, and screaming that other’s opinions don’t matter because you are _______________ (white, black, male (never female) , suburban, city-dweller, rich, poor, etc). If you are from any suburb, you live in Spaulding Lake. If you live in the city, you are an elitist hypocrite from the Village (pick one).

I hesitate to ever think the online conversation here mirrors the real world, where people speak to each other face to face, but in this case, I think its not too far off. I hear worse from folks on the radio, and in polite conversation when a member of the “other” group is not present. Because what I am talking about is not trolling. I am proud that we have a minimum of trolling on WNYMedia. There are a number of reasons for this: Chris and Marc patrol for the worst, the author’s vigorously defend their own work, and other commenters self-police through mockery.  So we do not have the ignorant racism of Buffalo News commenters nor the molotov cocktail throws of BRO. No, what we have is informed prejudice.

I am enough of a sociologist to know the value of breakdown people into groups for study or description. I am fond of accusing “Liberals” of certain actions. But to me, that Liberal is no specific person: it is a consolidated and distilled combination of the message from various media outlets and personalities. A mishmash of HuffPo and Daily Kos and Rachel Maddow and Nancy Pelosi. That is very different than throwing your rhetorical opponent, a single individual person, into an opposing group, bludgeoning them with stereotypes and prejudices, and forcing them to defend the worst (and unrelated) positions of any member of that group. Hamas wants the mosque! Al Qaeda doesn’t want it! Worse, so does Sarah Palin! Refudiate!

Chris and I struggled for a name of this phenomenon. I called it Lazy Categorization. Lump me in with a group you already don’t like, and then you don’t have to listen to what I say. You can yell at me about Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin, all of which I ignore (but Liberals seems to listen to continuously). Yelling about Rush is easy. It substitutes for talking about the topic.

Chris calls it Ideological Xenophobia (not to steal his thunder from a future post, I hope). That’s pretty good. It captures another aspect of this phenomenon: the fear of ideas outside of your comfort zone, and complete invalidation of the ideas of any particular “other.” I’ll hand it to you, it is easier to argue when your opponent is wrong before he even opens his mouth because he is a white, male, suburban capitalist. Touche’.

In the end, though, it is also simple Tribalism. Buffalo’s tribalism is far from unique. But it seems to have especially more power here than other places in the country I have lived or worked (which is now most of it). That’s because Buffalo lacks the two major economic engines present in so many vibrant regions: money and anonymity. We focus a lot on the obvious lack of money, but the “smallness” of Buffalo (City of Good Neighbors, and all that) is often seen as a strength. I am beginning to disagree. No metro area of 1.2 million should be this small. There should be more players, on every field – business, politics, activists, non-profits. I should not be able to recognize the same faces at every table. In other cities, projects get done because no one knows each other, or whom to stop. Not everyone has a personal history of strife, slights, politics, and hurt feelings with everyone else, all gnawing off the same bone and fighting for scraps. 

So back to the outsiders flocking to Buffalo because of the oil bust. What will they find? How will they be welcomed? Which tribe are they let in? The biggest tribe of all in Buffalo is the Born and Raised and Never Left Tribe. The newly arrived often don’t know there is a such a tribe until they wonder why they can’t get a job or a place at the table. Buffalonians are open-hearted, friendly, and welcoming, as long as you are only looking for a glass of lemonade or help shoveling out your driveway. More on that in future columns.

To Take or to Give?

12 Jul

George Will’s column today uses the issue of campaign finance reform to strike again at the heart of the division in American politics. This division is an original sin, a fundamental flaw in the Matrix, ensconced at the beginning, and made to play out for the last 230 odd years. The question: does government provide freedoms, or take them?

The current political debate on the size and role of government is merely a smoke screen for this more basic question. Will frequently comments on campaign finance reform because he sees it as a fundamental abridgement of the First Amendment. In this recent article, he even takes the NRA to task for seeking to protect the Second by compromising (for their benefit) on the First. At the heart of his critique is the idea that free speech can never be protected by giving greater control to the government (i.e. publicly funded elections).

Which gets to the heart of the basic liberal/conservative question. Leaving aside any hypocrisy in the current iteration of Congress or the two political parties, the question is whether an individual’s freedoms are protected by the government, or from it. (Author’s Note: In this piece, I will use the term “Freedoms” instead “Rights” to avoid any messy discussions of the difference between the two mucking up the main point.) I am not asking whether such freedoms are inherent, or provided by the Creator. Simply, does government provide the freedoms we hold dear, or do we need to worry that government is lurking to take these already present freedoms away.

The Fourth of July just having passed, one is reminded of the imperative of the Declaration of Independence in the first place. As watchers of HBO’s “John Adams” know, in our education-by-television-event culture, America declared independence from England not to secure greater government protections, but to shield itself from governmental excess. Government took freedom away: freedom to assemble, freedom to speak, freedom to privacy within one’s home. The Declaration of Independence, and later, the Constitution, were meant to protect society from the government by dividing it, weakening it, and allowing the people the means to overthrow it (guns).

Between then and now, ideas about society and government changed. While the two may not quite yet be synonymous, they are growing closer. Government is seen as a tool to implement a collective will of society; a trusted agent of change. As society develops, government is recruited to mandate specific behaviors, or promote the collective welfare, as defined by that society. Government is not separate from the people; it is the personified will of the people. To quote the latest prophet of this idea, “We are the ones we have been waiting for.”

At the heart of this idea is the concept that society must be protected from the individual, not the individual protected from government. Liberals, at their core, believe in the inherent goodness and progressiveness of the collective, but do not trust the will of the individual. Therefore government protects the greater society from the individual evil. Conservatives, on the other hand, trust the individual to make a coherent free choice. They do not trust the conglomerate of those choices (the greater society), nor the tool of the society (government).

Each side has ample evidence for its case. Individuals commit acts of racism, sexism, murder, lynchings, pollution and greed. Therefore, Liberals seek to use government to end such practices, with Voting Rights Acts, gun law restrictions, and greater regulations on oil drilling and investment speculation. On the other hand, the government is constantly taking from the individual: zoning laws restrict how I build my home, taxes take my income,  and the state won’t let me buy guns. I am not trusted to make many personal decisions for myself, including (and recently added), whether I buy a certain product from a private company (health insurance). The government is as onerous now as it was when British soldiers were boarded at my home and I could not speak my mind in the town square.

In sum, Liberals are Optimistic about society and government but Pessimistic about the individual. Conservatives are Optimistic about the individual, but Pessimistic about government and the society at large. I am Pessimistic about all three, which lands me in the middle of largest, and hereto now, unmentioned, portion of the American electorate: the Pragmatic Independent. As society grows more complicated, and people fear for their role in it, expect the Liberal cause to dominate. But look for Conservatives to rise again, if they are able to leave the political woodshed and wilderness behind and make this coherent argument: in an increasingly complicated world, put your trust in yourself, not inept and antiquated systems. You are the One you have been waiting for.