Tag Archives: Liberals

Nation Is In Decline Because of Morons

8 Aug

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The Buffalo News gets letters. Every single sentence of this letter, written by a James Costa of Elma, Erie County, New York, USA, is a symphony of stupidity.

Mr. Costa is a retired teacher living in Elma, who once enjoyed hitchhiking, accepting handouts from hardworking Americans while he and his friend hoboed it across the country. He also used to troll the Topix Forum using colorful pen names such as “MILFMan”, and “Brillo Pad Headwhere he enjoyed tearing into librulz. (His posts are deleted, but you can see many of them in others’ blockquotes.) But the person who posted as “Brillo Pad Head” also has fond memories of teaching – in the public school system – and the joy he got from that calling. Weird dichotomy.

Here is the letter from this leech retired hypocrite public pension-receiving teacher:

To fulfill its promise of social and economic justice, liberalism must transfer power from the people to government.

What is the government? What is the government but us – people? We live in a representative democracy, where we are given the franchise to elect people to do what they believe to be in our best interests. If the people do not think the politician is doing this, they are free to elect someone else. The power is the people’s. Always. We just don’t wield it as often as we might.

By selling the concept of redistribution of wealth as “fairness,” social programs are created and expanded to capture new classes of dependents.

Well, any system that taxes people to pay for public things is redistributing wealth. Which is to say, every functioning state taxes people to pay for public things. Social programs? Assuming the retiree here is a Medicare and Social Security recipient, he is directly benefitting from our social safety net. Not only that, but as a retiree from the public school system in New York, he receives a public pension that is completely free from state income taxation. You can’t sit there on top of a pile of public cash and whine about redistributive policies.

Under the pretext of ensuring “clean” air and water, government further enhances its power by destroying industries through crushing environmental regulations, thus swelling unemployment and welfare rolls.

Got that? Potable water and breathable air are no longer goals for which we should aim. It is not the right of the individual to breathe clean air or drink clean water that is paramount – it is the right of “industries” to ruin the air and poison the water that is of primary importance in this person’s addled mind.

Its “man-made” global warming claim is a ploy to boost taxes on all energy.

I think that’s a swipe at “cap and trade” – a conservative-invented, market-based system of reducing emissions and pollution which the conservatives abandoned when Obama decided he thought it was a good idea, too.

When Obamacare is fully implemented, costs will skyrocket, services will be rationed, quality care will nosedive and meddling bureaucrats will gain unprecedented control of our lives.

Says the guy receiving free or massively discounted, taxpayer-provided single-payer public socialized medicine.

Recently the formerly great city of Detroit has declared bankruptcy. This tragedy is a microcosm of a national trend.

Hm. Not really.

Having intentionally created these proliferating economic time bombs, heroic liberalism will magically appear deus ex machina to save the country with loads of fiat money and new regulations.

Someone intentionally created a 60 year decline in the city of Detroit, whereby its population plummeted, abandoning it to move to the suburbs? Also, Mr. Costa seems to be a fan of the gold standard, which we abandoned two generations ago.

For decades liberals have been laying the foundation for a socialist America: They’ve demonized religion, polluted the airwaves, corrupted childhood innocence, sabotaged education and aborted millions of babies.

Polluting the airwaves is bad, but polluting the air is good. I don’t know how liberals have “demonized religion” or “corrupted childhood innocence” or “sabotaged education”, and I’m pretty sure people of all political persuasions have aborted all those babies. I’m guessing this guy has a problem with Hollywood, and maybe some other things perhaps reflected by his “Brillo Pad Head” pseudonym used in other fora.

They’ve weakened and demoralized the military with mixed genders.

Where is the evidence of that? What does he mean “mixed genders”? Women in the military? Gays in the military?

They (with complicit Republicans) have opened our borders to illegal aliens, further burdening our economy.

Immigrants – documented and undocumented – are not as massive a drain on the economy as people suspect.

They’ve promoted class envy and fomented racial hatred.

Says “Brillo Pad Head”.

They’ve smothered free speech with PC, and targeted the Second Amendment.

PC is political correctness – the notion that, e.g., if you say or write something that’s racist, you should be humiliated and criticized for it. PC is the notion that you should be accountable and responsible for what you write – for instance, Mr. Costa enjoyed referring to autistic kids as “retards” in the Topix exchange linked-to, above.

Welcome to the Utopia of “fundamental change.”

James Costa

Elma

You should immediately return your next Social Security check to the government, reject your next pension payment, pay the state taxes on what you’ve already received (that tax benefit is a direct subsidy from the taxpayers of New York), and forevermore pay every medical bill in cash and never submit to Medicare again.

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.

Liberal Heroes

14 Dec

I find particular delight in noting that Liberals who pride themselves on their free thought, smarts and cynicism can find themselves hood-winked like any other yokel. Let’s examine two such Liberal heroes, one who’s duping is over (for now), and the other who’s duping continues.

No politician in the last generation has been more things to more people than Barack Obama. His platform and campaign were a mirror to the country: pacifists saw a war-ender, progressives saw a single health payer, liberals saw a tax raiser, corporate interests saw a moderate, and moderates saw safety and reasonableness. Perhaps only the corporate interests are happy now.

President Obama started with a mandate and momentum, and used it almost immediately to get the Stimulus Plan he wanted (now too small for most Liberals and Progressives). Soon after, he took several trips abroad, apologizing for American hegemonistic policy promoting American interests. He bowed to the King of Saudi Arabia and the Emperor of Japan. He endured a tongue lashing from minor Chinese functionaries at a climate change summit. Republicans howled in public, but cheered in private. They had just learned an important lesson: President Obama is a push over. He really is all bark and no bite, all rhetoric and no governance, all talk and no brass pants. He goes down easy like Sunday morning.

Negotiations with the White House were never the same. In fact, they haven’t been negotiations for a while. Republicans demand and the White House acquiesces. Obama’s emperor clothes were finally fully revealed to his base in the latest tax cut plan. Liberals and progressives, suspicious after a moderate healthcare reform, are in full revolt over the Bush Tax Cut extensions. Suddenly, they sound like Republicans of a year ago, lamenting Obama’s testicular ineptitude, and noticing the subtle visuals, like trotting out former President Clinton to sell your tax plan . . . at the podium with the Presidential Seal. The schadenfruede is delicious.

"Can I be in charge for a while?"

The pragmatist in me notes that the heavy Office of the President moderates all men. The cynic in me notes that any President will be more beholden to the corporate interests that funded his campaign than any room full of plucky $100 donors. Obama begins campaigning for re-election January 1st. Expect a lot of rhetoric about “Finishing the Change We Started.” What substance is there? Will the ruse resume?

More alike than you think.

Our second duper is the Sarah Palin of the Left, Julian Assange. The parallels are striking, as the two orbit each other like comic book caricature yins and yangs. History couldn’t provide two better stereotypical symbols. Each represents a true believer cause for their constituency: evangelical tax cuts and transparency of American misdeeds. Each promises the same dream: a forging (or return) of America to some purer state. Each is a folk hero speaking truth to power that the other side “doesn’t want to hear.” Each superficially personifies and embodies the cause célèbre in a way appealing to their base: Palin is a Hockey Mom with one son in the Army and another with Downs that she chose to keep, Assange is vaguely European, in a haughty, intellectually superior sort of way. Each’s strength (Palin’s okey-dokey Every-Womanness and Assange’s smarts) embodies their side’s culture and are priority attributes for their followers, while turning off the opposition. Similarly, each’s personal shortcomings (Palin’s intellect and Assange’s sexual mores) are acceptable or forgivable because they are serving a higher purpose, while anathema to their critics. Each is fundamentally hypocritical (Palin’s teenage mom daughter and Beverly Hillbilly approach to fortune, Assange’s secrecy in the name of transparency and playing self-promoting editor while preaching freedom of information), but their followers don’t seem to care. Each whips up a frenzied furor envied by more staid and less successful politicians.

Oh, and each is full of shit. 

Assange’s fall from grace is a matter of when, not if. The only question is whether he similarly disappoints on his way down, or remains duping his adherents until the end.

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.

The New Political Spectrum

12 Nov

The evolving political landscape is a constant source of chirping in the chattering classes. Lately, the focus has been on the teabagging of the Republican party, the rise of Sarah Palin, and the soon-to-be permanent minority status of the fringish GOP. What’s ignored in this analysis is not only how quickly political fortunes change (remember the talk of Dems as the permanent minority party when Bush won in 2004 and brought Congressional seats along on his coattails – in two sets of irony from ’04, here is sage Joe Trippi extolling the Grassroots to save Democrats, and Pelosi pushing for a Minority Party Bill of Rights), but also, more importantly, how divergent the movements (thanks Ethan) are from the parties.

For the last forty years, the political spectrum has been pretty stagnant.

Spectrum 1980

With the turbulent Sixties over and Baby Boomers more eager to snort coke and make money than dance in the streets, American politics settled in for a long blah. Dixiecrats, McGovern and Goldwater no longer tickled the mainstream fancy, Vietnam dwindled to a bloody whimper, and the country chose a stodgy pile of Republican Presidents and Democratic Congresses. Watergate, the winning of the Cold War, the first Gulf War, impeachment, and 9/11 did little to upset this apple cart. The Republican take over of Congress in 1994 was the exception that proved the rule that the American people wanted divided, centrist, boring government. In this period both Democrats and Republicans decided they liked high deficits, high spending, expanding government, and an ever-cushy ride.

Break to 2008. Cushy government increasingly looks like incompetent government. We can’t win our wars, we can’t clean up hurricanes, and we can’t get a job. People are back in the street, first to elect an inspirational black man President, and then to protest everything that man does for the next year. Here is our spectrum in 2009.

Spectrum 2009

The fundamental mistake currently made by commentators is equating the anger of the Right with the Republican party. The recent NY-23 race should be proof of that. Republicans wish they spoke for the right, but they increasingly do not, as Conservatives take a more independent track. In seeking to purge the Republicans of all RINO’s, they are actually forming a separate organization.

Current party affiliation statistics are a constant moving target, but here’s a bunch. A rough average says one third of the electorate is Democratic, twenty percent are Republican, and over 40% are Independent. Other analysis has shown that Americans call themselves 40% Conservative, 30ish% moderate, and 20% Liberal. We live in a center-right nation, but its not a Republican nation. Its an increasingly angry right-wing nation.

I had the realization recently that the teabagging fringe may still be fringe, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need to be denounced constantly. I still don’t think they make up a huge percentage of the electorate. But a general unsettled right-wing movement does.

The Dems, in the 2008 election, did a good job expanding their reach. They put much-maligned conservative Blue Dogs in traditionally Republican seats, and turned Red states Blue for Obama. They got the big tent they always wanted, and are now discovering the governing perils of that tent. Meanwhile, their Netroots, to their left, grouse that their liberal agenda isn’t getting passed, and what good is a majority if there is no discipline. Its a legitimate question (and one reason I’m still a pragmatic if disgruntled Republican).

The Republicans in 2008 lost ground in the center, and are losing ground on the right to the fringe. Who does John Boehner speak for now? He speaks for the Republican wing of the Republican party. Its a sliver of what it once was. In another source of irony, the only “Republicans” left may be the RINO’s – Olympia Snow is certainly more Republican than Rush Limbaugh.

Which leaves us with the largest part of the electorate. There are certainly wacko teabaggers, Limbaugh ditto-heads and Palinites in this group. There are also scared-of-change Southern conservatives, who are more bothered by a black President taking away their healthcare than they thought they’d be. There is also the strong-dollar Ron Paul crowd, deficit hawks, and foreign policy hawks, all disgusted with the free-spending, non-war-managing Bush administration that just left office. But the largest group may be simply disgruntled independents, who wanted Change but aren’t sure what they got. The economy is still bad, the healthcare is a mess, and the wars are still going on a year later. They aren’t Republicans, but they are increasingly willing to vote for “the other guy.” Statistically, in 2010, that means voting against Democrats.

What’s the point of all this? The political spectrum is more complicated that it used to be. The Dem and Republican labels are increasingly inaccurate. And when you’re complaining about teabaggers, don’t confuse them with the Republican party.

The Fatal Flaw

11 Aug

The Fatal Flaw of Republicans is our lack of ideas. A law to make new Presidents show their birth certificate doesn’t count. It didn’t always used to be this way. The Congressional take over of 1994 was about the Contract with America; real ideas sold and delivered to the public. More on this in a moment.

The Fatal Flaw of Democrats is their inability to govern. And announcing new “transparency” rules you aren’t even following doesn’t count. Democrats “control” the White House and halls of Congress by a margin not seen since Jimmy Carter’s administration 30 years ago. If Bush ever had that kind of margin, we’d have privatized Social Security and permanent tax cuts too. Democrats have been whining for eight years about their inability to address healthcare, climate change, and education reform. Now that they have filibuster proof majorities, and can pass anything they want, what do we have? An aloof President full of grand visions but no grand idea on how to make legislation. A House majority leader who would rather make petty partisan digs than actual policy. A Senate Majority Leader who fails in his most basic job: getting 60 votes for the President’s policies. Blue Dog Democrats obstructing their own party’s agenda far more effectively than Republicans. A stalled cap and trade system and a forgotten plan to close Gitmo. And a liberal elite chattering class who has now proven they would rather complain than do the hard work of “Change”. It took 200 days for liberals to turn on Obama, and declare him not left enough. You won! Its time to put up or shut up. If your ideas are so much better, just pass your bills. But you can no longer complain that a Republican Congress or President are in your way. This echo chamber is so used to only complaining, they still blame everyone but themselves for their inability to govern.

With the Dem’s in disarray, now would be a good time for some Republican ideas. Unfortunately, we are still short in this department, and are spending our time in the political wilderness not regrouping, but turning crazy. Cobbling together enough fringe groups to get 20% of the electorate is not a plan. Yelling that Dem’s are destroying our country with their nothing of a healthcare bill is not a plan. We need some ideas.

So here are some (I can’t seem to embed the video – sorry), from Rep Issa (R-CA) and Rep Kingston (R-GA) on Bill Maher this week. This is the debate we should be having on healthcare (minus the play for laughs cheap shots from Bill).