The Unserious American

There once was a man who decided it was time to marry.  There were three women he was interested in, and decided to give them a test to see how they would handle the potential family’s finances.  Being a man of means, he gave each $10,000 to do with as she pleased.  The first woman invested the money, knowing that life was uncertain and one must plan for the future.  The second invested $5000, but spent the other half on presents for herself and her friends, knowing that life was uncertain and one should save for the future but also enjoy the days we have here.  The third woman blew all $10,000 on herself and gifts and parties and travel, knowing life was uncertain and one should revel in every minute.
So which woman did the man ask to marry him?

The one with big breasts.

In other words, it’s difficult to make a rational argument to someone’s whose behavior, in love or politics, is dominated and determined by the brain stem.

Americans are unserious…frivolous to a dangerous extreme.  To make matters worse, we lack the sense of humor which would reflect this absurdity and perhaps mitigate its effects.  Recent events have demonstrated a fundamental limitation of our form of self-governance.  An effective democratic republic presupposes an electorate that is engaged, informed, and knowledgeable—not enraged, deluded, and ignorant.  Anyone looking to the United States as a societal or governmental model to emulate would keep on walking.  This past 6 weeks has given more fodder to our adversaries and competitors—as if the past four years was not gift enough.  The most powerful man on the Earth engages in sedition, riles a mob for insurrection, attempts an autoglope—but the co-conspirators in Congress derail the appropriate consequence.  (The courts, Federal and State, may get their chance yet.)  All this has come about because a large segment of the electorate is led by the brain stem.

We have to remember that today’s self-styled conservative has been fed a steady diet of lies about Democrats for many years.  There are the old lies:  Democrats want to take away your guns; think women get pregnant for the purpose of getting an abortion; will destroy the economy to become like Venezuela, want to ban religious observance.  There are newer lies:  Democrats want to defund the police; they win only through cheating or rigged elections; they want open borders without restrictions.  Each of these arguments has been made to me personally.  None of these charges are true, but these simple lies are designed to hide real issues the Republicans don’t wish to confront rationally, so they deflect emotionally. 

Unlike previous decades, today’s GOP doesn’t have a competing vision of how to tackle our ills and challenges.  In fact, they often deny many of the problems we face are even problems—from climate change, to systemic racism, to rampant gun violence, to even Covid.  Supposed fiscal issues such as the federal debt and annual deficit are of concern to them—but only when the Democrats are in charge.  They’ve continually misled their voters into believing the Dems themselves are the ills and challenges which need to be conquered—that lawlessness and socialism and, heaven forbid, “cancel culture” will follow in the Dem’s wake.  As many others have noted though, lawlessness and socialism and “cancellation” are fine with the Republicans, as long as it’s white collar crime and government handouts to the wealthy and Tucker Carlson doing the cancelling.  Frighteningly, there is even Republican forbearance towards a fringe wing of the GOP that accuses Democrats of harboring satanistic pedophiles (tripling down on the emotional brain stem argument!).  Defeating Dems has become the Repubs entire raison d’etre…there is no governing philosophy.  Therein lies a major reason Republicans are so bad at the actual process of governing, but so good at using government for graft.

It is apparent the average voter has little idea what government does, how it operates, what it is responsible for—especially at the national/federal level.  This is what allows the Republican con to be so effective.  They can blame the Dems or the allied Deep State for societal ills which government has little or no control over.  Individuals have challenges in their own lives and don’t necessarily have the time or inclination to be attuned to policy details —and in their defense often depend on their Representatives in government to handle National issues.  But the electorate certainly should be aware enough to sense a con job, to smell a rat.  For those of us who recognize the con, shock and disappointment arises because so many are willfully ignorant of, inured to, or receive some lizard brain jolt of pleasure to actively participate in the con…even when it objectively is against their interests.  Since on some level they believe government can’t or won’t help, or is inept or corrupt, “owning the libs” is the opiate that delivers.  When polled on particular issues on which Democrats often run, majorities of voters often agree with the Democratic position—but still are reluctant to vote Democratic.  Why?  Why agree on issues, but reject those who are trying to implement them?  Because the Republicans respond with, and repeat ad nauseam, the emotional lies rather than address the policy issues.

Read the joke again.  The one with big breasts…

All too often Dems allow themselves to be defined by their opponents in an emotional, negative way.  Take these particular recent issues:

Abortion Rights:
     Democrats—ensure abortion remains safe, legal, and accessible.  Immoral to return to the days when poor women were charged with a crime or lost their lives due to an unsafe procedure, and women of means would travel to somewhere to get a legal abortion with no other consequence.
     Republicans—Democrats want to kill babies.

Police Reform:
     Democrats—Ensure police forces are properly trained and vetted, follow proper procedure, and are accountable for their actions.
     Republicans—Democrats want to disband the police and leave you defenseless…so be sure you have a gun and lots of ammo.

Gun Rights:
     Democrats—Ensure we have sensible gun laws which maintain a person’s right to firearms for hunting and defense, yet limit the destructive power one person could wield.  Ensure we keep firearms out of the hands of felons and those deemed mentally unsound.
     Republicans—Democrats want to take away your guns.

And so on…
Emotion rules over reason.  It is important, but obviously not imperative, to have the facts and rational thought on one’s side of a policy debate.  But until that day when Americans start to consider policy choices in a serious manner, and Republicans offer actual policy prescriptions for the challenges we face, the Democrats would be wise to couch their arguments with some attention towards stimulation of the brain stem.  One can’t reason with a spoiled child.

The one with big breasts…

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Sins of the Father, Success of the Father

Sons of Ham, doomed to slavery.  Are transgressions to be inherited?  Is retribution to be taken on offspring?  Or not?

The criminal element—irredeemable, destined by nature, and thus society has no option but to separate, imprison, transport…thus the founding of Australasia as a criminal holding place was justified and successful.  Or not?

Pogroms through the ages…the Jews had Jesus killed, and thus sealed their fate as scapegoats for the rest of mankind, for eternity?  Or not?

We’ve come far from the days of slavery here in the US.  Our slaveholder forefathers owned, sold, beat our fellow man, whose progeny are now citizens with us.  We owe them for what our ancestors did to their ancestors.  Or not?

The poor will be with us always.  There’s no use in attempting to mitigate their suffering…it’s ordained.  Or not?

Karma is destiny.  What comes around goes around.  Comeuppance is justice—we all get what we deserve.  Or not?

Most of us today in this enlightened age, and our founding philosophy, would agree that the individual is paramount and central to our society.  That each of us, individually, have the power, the responsibility, the duty to make what we can of our lives unencumbered by whatever sins or transgressions may have been previously committed by family or tribe, in which we had no part.  That we, individually, through our own effort, expertise, training should reap the rewards or suffer the failures of our endeavors.  That if we fail, there’s opportunity to try again…that all avenues are not immediately closed to us.

If the sins of the father don’t, and should not, fall to the sons—why so the successes?  In this supposed meritocratic society where an individual’s worth is judged by his deeds and not lineage, why would the offspring of the successful be hampered and hindered from exercising their own effort, from creating their own successes, from experiencing their own failures?  Certainly one would and should want keep one’s family and progeny safe from the ravages of physical poverty, but what of the pitfalls of unearned wealth?  Are there no lessons to be learned from personal struggle, from trying and failing?

The millennial generation today is criticized today for being sheltered from the “real world” by their helicopter parents.  Always praised as special and smart, loaded down with participation ribbons and trophies, shielded from defeat and worry, driven to and from school…at least among the upper and middle class.  But this is not a new phenomenon…it’s been the hallmark of monarchies and empires throughout the ages.  At least in the past, in privileged youth there was instilled as sense of noblesse oblige and duty to country.  Today, that sense of responsibility to the greater society has weakened and rare among the extreme wealthy.

If it weren’t for the assist and shielding from failure by Fredrick Christ Trump, would the Donald be President?  Or would he be doing what other ambitious, callous, unread, narcissistic, willfully ignorant men are doing today?

The Sin of the Successful Father begat the Success of the Son.  Perhaps it would be best to not hamper our offspring so…let merit and ability shine from whichever quarter of society.






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The Founders’ Distrust


The Founding Fathers, Hallowed be Their Names, were a distrustful lot.

They did not trust Executive Power (something about having a King that wouldn’t listen to them!)…so first created a government without an executive at all.  That experiment did not turn out so well—the Congress created by the Articles of Confederation was similar to today’s Congress…often gridlocked.  Their second attempt at the formation of self-governance did create the Presidency, but his powers were circumscribed.  (Imagine their surprise at the relative power today between the Presidency and the Congress.)

They did not trust a Standing Army…and so forbid one.  Any federal army raised had its existence limited to the length of a Congressional term, that of two years.  (Sounded good on paper, but the modern world and military/industrial complex has made that desire somewhat mute.  Imagine their shock at today’s budget in which half goes to Defense.)

They did not trust the military…so ensured that it was subject to civil authority.

They made the Presidency the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, but did not trust his use thereof…so made their use in war dependent upon the concurrence of the Congress.  (Imagine their dismay that the military is now deployed in undeclared conflicts with regularity.  Such would have been an anathema to them as well.)

They did not trust the Executive with the Treasury or Revenue…so arranged that the People’s House of Representatives had to initiate any Bill of Taxation or Spending.

They did not trust religious sects and their propensity to seek preeminence and State sponsorship…so they separated religious observance from governance.

They did not trust the States…so they created a body of representatives elected directly by the people.

They did not trust the masses…so often limited suffrage to free white property owners with a “stake” in the system.  Universal suffrage was a long time in coming….

They did not trust the people…so they created a body in which the State legislators would pick the representatives to ensure the several sovereign States would hold sway.

They really did not trust the people, so they created the Electoral College to select the President.

They did not trust the Legislature…so they created a Court to oversee enacted laws.

They did not trust government itself…so created a Bill of Rights to limit the reach of Government.  The rights were drawn and based on similar Bills that each of the colonies, now States, had developed.

They did not trust factions and were fearful of insurrections…so gave the Federal Government the authority to call out the armed citizen militias (since there was no Standing Army)—which were to remain officered and trained by the individual States.

The Founders had the specific intent to limit the reach and power of the individual, the State, the Congress, the Presidency, and the Courts in relationship to each other.  They not only limited the power of each entity, they attempted to limit ways power could be abused.

Given all the safeguards they attempted to install in the new Constitution, is it really plausible that the Founders would comport with the assertion that in a civilized society, it would be right and proper for any untrained, unregulated, un-officered, undisciplined, unsupervised, untethered individual be allowed to have the power and capability to murder scores within minutes?  There are obviously those who believe members of society should be armed to the teeth against each other—but that position should be argued on its own merits (if there are any).  Don’t bring the Founders into it…they were not so trusting.

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Bring Back My GOP

The Rise of the New Know-Nothings

Who would have thought we’d long for Nixon and his cronies.  He may have been a crook, but he was sober and intelligent, accepted factual argument, was fiscally responsible, had a progressive side, did not refute basic science, and did not claim to carry the mantel of God.  Nixon’s electoral success was in the implementation of the Southern Strategy which peeled off the entrenched anti-Lincoln elements of the Democratic Party who had been marginalized by the pro-civil rights/anti-war/environmentalist thrust of the Dems in the late ‘60s.  But what he cynically used as a ploy to bring the Wallace/Thurmond Democrats into the Republican Party has morphed into an uncontrollable frenzy of anti-intellect.

It started slowly, but this drifting from reality has been a growing element of the Republican argument since the 80s.  Reagan, to his credit, was successful in simplifying how we pay for government and making the tax rates more equitable—but to our lasting detriment, he severed the link between the government we buy and the government we are delivered.  This intellectual and fiscal divorce created the funding predicament that has driven much debate since…all due to the dubious and unsupported assertions of trickle-down and supply-side economics.  One would think the results of the economic experiment of that decade would be obvious to all—that one can borrow to mimic prosperity for a while, but not indefinitely.  However, contrary to all the recent evidence, the GOP still takes it as a central tenet that tax cuts for the most prosperous pay for themselves, and all benefit.  True, the holders of these beliefs rightly assert that the “rich” already pay the most in federal taxes—but fail to state the obvious follow-up that this is so due to the fact that the “rich” have most all the money.  It’s tough for the less well-off to pay a greater share of the federal take—one can only squeeze a turnip so much.

Witnessing a turn-around in the economy in the 90s, and most especially the Federal fiscal situation transitioning from deficit to surplus, the GOP turned to GOD and GUNs for other arguments.  One began to hear the tale that the United States was explicitly a Christian Nation, rather than a secular Nation of predominately Christians of a multitude of sects.  One began to hear that the Government was out to get your guns rather than “well-regulate” their use and ownership, as required by the Bill of Rights.  Both these notions, of course, would have been news to our Founding Fathers and the drafters of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.  But I should not say “of course” in the previous sentence—that phrase would only make sense if we as a whole knew our history rather than a stylized mythology mimicking our history.  But the GOP has been playing a long game.  What may have started in several places as the take over the local school boards in objection to the teaching of sex education became an effort to cleanse our history class of any negative aspects, reject science that does not comport with one’s take on the Bible; in other words reject academic rigor.  (Granted, there are many aspects to the deficiencies of schools throughout the country, but rejecting factual teaching and promoting myth is predominately an aspect of a wing of the GOP.)  Whatever the cause, we’ve created an electorate that is woefully ignorant of science, our history, civics, and even recent events.  And President Clinton’s dalliances played straight into the hands of the moralists then controlling much of the opposition, denying the Presidency to the majority vote-getter.

The electorate knows “when something is wrong”, and wants answers.

And there is always “something wrong”.  Into this abyss strides talk radio and Fox News.  There was certainly a need for a news outlet that highlighted more conservative views.  Fox could have played an important service to the public debate and discourse—but unfortunately their agenda was somewhat different.  As for talk radio, the three biggest names; Rush, Hannity, and Beck, college dropouts all, had a very simple goal.  Peddling snake oil to the ignorant has always been profitable, and these three, and others, have profited immensely.  Not everyone wants or should have to follow politics and economics and foreign affairs to a great degree—people have lives–ignorance of the details of policy is no shame.  But they should expect that their governmental representatives, their news outlets, their opinion leaders should be straight with them and not peddle fantasy.  And the biggest fantasy in the lifetime of all of us was the conflating of the tragedy of 9/11 with the lie of WMD and the threat of Hussein and Iraq.  That single farce and fantasy has had multiple military, economic, and foreign policy repercussions with which we are still dealing.  Granted, there were many spineless Democrats that went along with the fantasy—but mostly because they were on the wrong side of the question in the first Gulf War—an effort which certainly was justified.

So we’ve come to a point where a large minority of the electorate has fallen under the spell of GOP Presidential Candidates which in saner times would have never seen the light of day.  But these candidates, individually and collectively, have counted on the priming of the anti-intellectual, factually challenged pump that the GOP establishment has been operating and taking advantage of for the past few decades.  How else to explain the “birther” phenomenon, the climate change denial, the 2nd Amendment absolutism, the insistence on teaching “Intelligent Design” as an alternative to biological evolution, the categorization of citizens by creed and religion, the elevation of Christianity as the State Religion, the shear level of fear that is promulgated during what is the safest time in all the world for all humanity?  Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt, great thinkers both, would be aghast at the level of discourse and learning.

Bring back the Party of Eisenhower, of Nixon, of Ford, of William F. Buckley, of even Goldwater—your Party and your Country need you.



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The Confederation is Dead… Long Live the Confederation!

Has anyone else wondered from whence comes the depth of disdain, misapprehension, and distrust that is evident in today’s political milieu?

It is well granted that in our experiment in self-governance these past 225 years since rejection of the Articles of Confederation and ratification of the Constitution, political adversaries have often demonstrated personal and professional enmity. Any casual reading of our history is replete with examples that make today’s rhetoric seem rather mild—Limbaugh and Levin are paragons of civility compared to the partisans of the Federalists and Republicans of the 1790s (though, 18th Century politicos were generally more erudite and articulate than radio blowhards of today). From Hamilton and Burr, to Adams and Jefferson, to Calhoun and Jackson, to the strife of the Civil War, there has always been strong—bordering on, and even crossing over to violent—opinions and positions within our political sphere. But other than during the Civil War, the players did for the most part work out their differences through the avenues available in Congress and the Courts. (Though there can be made a strong argument for reinstatement of the duel to streamline the process!) For all their personal and professional differences, and in spite of their strong and contrary opinions, our Founders knew they were setting up a process through which numerous voices could be heard, a variety of avenues compared, compromises achieved to confront any and all challenges of their day, and future days. But today, rather than seek any solution to the challenges before us, our politicians and pundits seem more intent and content to follow in the footsteps of the Monkey Wrench Gang and just gum up the works for the opposition. (Granted, draining the oil from and putting sugar in the gas tank of machinery—physical or political–can give one a perverse, naughty pleasure. Perhaps a new Party, the Schadenfreudes, could come into their own. At least then there would be one honest Party.)

But why? To muse a bit, it seems that we are in the midst of another of our recurrent tribal phases. The politically inclined of us are all either Hatfields or McCoys, Redskin or Cowboy fans, Yanks or Rebs, Cavs or the Hated Heels; where allegiance to and adherence with the dictates of the group is the standard upon which individuals are judged. However, what’s fine and expected in sports is counterproductive–though also to be expected–in politics, even if politics is known as a blood sport. Those members who fail sufficiently to support and defend the group are met with more derision and distain by the ‘true believers’ than adversaries or non-members. Take for example the ascendant wing of the Republican Party’s characterization of RINOs (unfortunately a dying breed), or of some liberals’ reference to conservative Blacks as Uncle Toms. For all the talk of rugged individualism and dislike of group politics, especially in GOP circles, obeisance to the tribe has become the touchstone by which individuals are measured—not the strength or validity of their argument, or contribution to a greater good. Groupthink lives! For instance, how else to explain the almost universal rejection of the laws of physics and biology as accurate explanations of our world, as manifested through climate change and evolution, by otherwise educated and intelligent Republicans aspiring for leadership—and the same for too many in both Sects when it comes to vaccination and ‘cancer causing’ power lines. Apparently, the lack of a modicum of understanding of science or the physical world is no barrier to office. Such a lack—or else a hypocritical embracing of such ignorance–must be required to appease the group. In other words, the tribe trumps reason.

In fact, the corollary to this attitude is that for one tribe to succeed, the other must fail—or even more cynically, one’s failure is the other’s success. In this world, there is no such thing as a win-win situation. Thus is birthed the necessity to keep all members of the tribe, or faction, in line. Certainly, tribal cohesion can be a good, and necessary, aspect…in primitive society. It’s just an extension of being one’s brothers (and cousins) keeper.

However, the United States came into existence as an idea—not as an outgrowth of racial or ethnic homogeneity. Indeed, America is—if not unique, then certainly unusual—in that anyone can become an American. Our communal allegiances are supposedly sworn to the national ideals embedded in our founding documents as Americans—rather than blood and faction. One could never become a ‘true’ French or Russian or Nigerian as an immigrant just by going through political process for citizenship in those, or most any other country.

From our beginnings the Founders knew of the probability, if not certainty, of factions arising—whether based on region, issue, class/wealth. But the system they set up for themselves and heirs, as free white English speakers, assumed a certain willingness to allow the process to work through and achieve an outcome, however flawed that outcome may be, knowing there was the inherent ability to revisit and remedy policies that proved ineffectual. Indeed, the major motivation to deep-six the Articles of Confederation was the inability of the former colonies, now States, to achieve any degree of concurrence on any issue—not to mention the lack of any mechanism to compel the States to comply with any dictates to which theoretically the Confederation Assembly might agree. Hamilton, et al, knew and were embarrassed that the young United States was becoming a laughing stock to the Great and Lesser Powers of the World due to the new nation’s unwieldy form of government and lack of a single ‘voice’ to speak for the Country. The stasis that permeated the political process under the Articles germinated the Constitution. In other words, political inaction and stalemate were precisely the sins that our Founders were determined to thwart.

The writers of the Constitution were certainly wise enough to create a system that was not just a tyranny of the majority or faction by ensuring the minority had certain rights and obligations as well, and allowing that the Houses of Congress were able to write their particular rules of operation. As an untried system of government, there was no sense in attempting to get too far into the minutia of process…and if they had it is doubtful agreement would have ever been reached. But they did envision a legislative process that would achieve consensus and legislate—however ugly the process may be. Though the use of such devices as keeping bills stuck in Committee, adding poison pills to legislation, delaying review of Presidential nominations for unrelated matters, refusing to bring a bill to the floor for a vote, overwhelming a bill with non-pertinent amendments, or filibustering (or rather threat there-of; Senators don’t have the gumption to actually filibuster anymore, apparently) all have pedigree, degree does make a difference. Rarely, if ever, have they all been consistently abused to keep the wheels of government from functioning—ensuring that the only “progress” made is lurching from unavoidable crises to unwarranted threats. The other result of this legislative/Congressional effective abdication of responsibility is to strengthen the Presidency—for no President would or should sit idly by while Congress fails to act on national issues. And the failure to act is a direct result of members’ failure to compromise or reach accommodation through the legislative process.

Knowing men were full of passion, and factions intransigent, and States jealous of their prerogatives, our Founders tried to create a system that would still function to govern for the good of all. They knew it was not enough for the Country to depend on “men of goodwill” to legislate for the nation’s benefit—a workable process was a necessity. Their first attempt failed miserably. The second attempt, our Constitution, has proved its worth–but any system can be abused. The tribes have taken over.

Fans of the Articles of Confederation would and should be proud.

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America Exceptionalism (Orwell was Right)

It’s been an interesting month among the brethren and talking heads and Facebook commentators—all over a Senate report.  (Oh glory, if we were only so concerned about all business conducted in the hallowed halls of Congress).  The obligatory paeans to our Founding Fathers–and the system of government and accountability to the people they bequeathed to us—followed by an effortless segue into the divine right, nay, infallibility of Vice Presidents, if they are named Dick Cheney.  The head spins.

Much is spoken of American Exceptionalism.  How could the world not know—or the Democrats for that matter—that USA USA USA is Number One?  Granted, once our Exceptionalism did mean that we were a nation of laws, of laws written by common consent, of plain laws enforced fairly.  Once, it did mean that birth status was not the major determinant of success; that good schools and good jobs at livable wages were available for those willing to exert the effort.   Once it did mean that the rich and powerful could not write their own rules and could not evade accountability for their actions.  Yes, American Exceptionalism was all of these things, even if imperfectly applied or enacted.  But mostly it was the adherence to an ideal that the individual matters; that all men had inherent rights—rights that were not awarded by, but rather protected by, the State.  My my, remember those days?!

A quick look back–our Exceptionalism manifested itself most dramatically after the Second World War in which the United States emerged as the preeminent Power on Earth.  Rather than consolidate our position in Empire, as so many dominant Powers have done throughout history, we directed our efforts to rebuilding a world devastated by war.  Cities rose from the ashes. But just as necessary world social, financial, and legal order had to be reestablished as well—the result being the UN, Bretton Woods, GATT, World Bank, IMF, and updated Geneva Conventions.  We made this happen, we agreed to all of it, even though such arrangements between and among nations had the potential to restrict our freedom of action.  Exceptional indeed, that a supreme power would allow others to restrict the exercise of that power—that we would accept, willingly, limits to our reach and influence—all for the greater good of the world order and to allow other nations and peoples to flourish.  We knew it was not a zero-sum game we were playing, and that rather than expending the resources and efforts to direct a far-flung empire, it was easier and more beneficial to agree to some guidelines to behavior with which we all could live.  In the history of world politics, an amazing, and truly exceptional state of affairs and behavior for a Nation.

What happened?  If one reads and listens to so much of the commentary over the last month, it seems the argument has become that because the assault on 9/11 was so dastardly, we are within our rights to react in kind and throw out the rules of conflict—rules we were instrumental in devising.  Because of the shock to our collective system on 9/11, anything goes.  (The weary tone often taken by these proponents is that this change in behavior was natural—anyone or any country would have reacted the same to such an insult.  Well, so much for our vaunted Exceptionalism if we are just like everyone else.)

Which brings us back to the Senate report and the use of torture.  Rather, more like the tortured use of words and logic that has come to be all too common.  The physical abuse detailed was a direct consequence of the Orwellian use of words.  Either captured members of al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other associated groups and offshoots are prisoners of war and subject to a certain standard of care as outlined in the Geneva Conventions—or they are criminal elements who are then subject to criminal law to be fairly tried and then fairly shot (or not).  Unwilling to consider the guilty parties (and the unlucky few captured by mistake) as POWs or criminals, we by fiat created a third category of prisoner not covered by law or convention—and then treated them as trash as a direct consequence since we don’t recognize their status as belonging in one of the other two categories.

President Bush stated the United States does not and did not torture…yet it’s come to pass that we did engage in behavior we had previously called torture—and had prosecuted others in the past for such behaviors.  Whether we tortured for information, or tortured for pleasure, is not a distinction the United States would have accepted as mitigation in any other conflict.  If any other country had chained a prisoner to the wall and allowed him to die of hypothermia, we’d be the first to call for a human rights inquiry (as long as it wasn’t to which a country we had “renditioned” the sorry soul).  That the man was mistakenly captured, it turns out, did not make a difference.  It certainly didn’t to the Vice President— to him that a few innocents died while in our custody is a small price to pay…but pay for what?  Recall, the Vice President, and others in the previous administration, are the same leaders who tried to paint the abuses at Abu Ghraib as the work of rogue actors.  This is almost plausible as an excuse, as all wars, and all prisons and penitentiary facilities and their minders, have seen and engaged in their share of abuses.  But this time, this behavior—previously frowned upon—was officially sanctioned.

Orwell was prescient, in this as in most things.  The torture done to language attempts to obfuscate the same behavior we inflicted on others.  Can there be no doubt as to the true meaning of ‘enhance interrogation’?  (For that matter, does anyone really not know to what ‘collateral damage’ refers?  To what ‘rectal hydration’ is?)  How can it be for an administration to say ‘a thing is so’, and that be the final word?  Saying it even thrice does not make it so.  Since when does a practice we have condemned, that we have court-martialed our own and imprisoned our adversaries for conducting, have labeled torture in other venues and times, suddenly become an accepted practice and strongly and vocally supported by elected leadership?  American Exceptionalism should not mean we follow the rules and laws and treaties, except the ones we ignore.  The Geneva Conventions prohibit torture of captives…and is the law of the land.  If we ignore, or use verbal gymnastics to deny, such proscriptions, how can we expect them to be followed by others?

Not only oppressed and dispossessed individuals, but many educated and successful persons throughout the world want to come to come to the United States for the Exceptional Ideals we embody in our founding documents; for our Exceptional Absence of a ruling class; for our Exceptional Openness as a people; for our Exceptional Mobility economically, socially, and habitually; for our Exceptional Abilities to innovate–not because we carve out Exceptions for ourselves.

As Orwell would say, this is “double plus un-good”.

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Be Afraid…Be Very Afraid

Be afraid of your neighbor…get the Glock…keep the loaded weapon in the house…the intruder might not be the neighbor’s drunk teenager.

Be afraid of passersby…have the weapon handy…get the concealed weapons permit…shoot first…the old man at the door might not have Alzeimer’s…the guy in the other car might also have a weapon.

Be afraid of the neighborhood…don’t let your kids out of sight…no more outside play…keep them on their IPads and TVs…the police might arrest you for child endangerment if your young ones are outside alone…no more exploring the woods or canyons or crawling on the monkey bars…something bad might happen…be afraid.

Continue reading

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A Modest Request

     It is a most curious state of affairs when our representatives all assert to know what “the American People” believe, or want, and yet they demonstrate little ownership for the origin of their own beliefs. Daily we hear President O’bama, Senator Graham, Representative Cantor, et al, tell us that everyone knows which policies the American public supports and which they do not. They expound upon a reading of tea leaves to divine what they consider the obvious state of mind of the electorate, and are showily flabbergasted at any—be they colleagues, journalists, or the individuals of the public itself—who would deign to disagree with their divinations.

     May it be suggested, humbly, that the American public is of no mind at all, and is collectively clueless as to what it might want at any one time. Recall, this is a public that substantial percentages have, at various times, believed the following; that we have a foreign-born President, that Gaia is a special deity which will protect the Earth, that Fred Flintstone actually did have a pet dinosaur, that we are called to be both steward and exploiter of the natural world by the same god, that corporations are persons, and that plants and animals have souls, that climate change is a hoax, that the Holocaust is a hoax, that our government had something to do with 9/11. Go figure—we live in a populace who often forgoes allowing history or science or basic logic to inform, bind, or determine beliefs. And yet our elected representatives look to us for guidance and claim our wishes are known to them? No wonder President O’bama and Speaker Boehner arrive at opposing visions. But do they truly look to us for guidance, or are they merely massaging our vanity and ego? Let us all hope they are insincere in their flattery and are only playing to the limited knowledge and perspectives of their respective bases.    

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Freeloading Dollars

     One would hope that the strength of one’s convictions would be the motivation behind policy prescriptions and proscriptions. Alas, even the most casual observer of our political scene can discern that ‘convictions’ in the political arena are transitory, if not altogether illusory—as has always been the case. Overt and abject adherence to supposed principles that do nothing to advance the common cause of effective governance has driven this nation into a well of irresponsibility–and just as notably made us the sad laughing-stock of our foreign friends, adversaries, and competitors. Who is there on this Earth that can take us seriously? We remain powerful, certainly, but without any certitude of purpose or direction—which makes us a danger to ourselves and the world order. The fickle principles and mutable convictions of the intransigent members of Congress have led us to this dilemma, and they can lead us back. The trick is in defining what a principle actually is, and make it stick. (But then the charge of hypocrisy can be, and often should be leveled at our legislators—who all too often then only ignore the charge. Chameleons all!) Continue reading

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In the Libertarian Universe, in which the individual is sovereign, agreements and contracts are made between and among purported equals. These interactions of mutual interest benefit both the individuals involved, and thus in the aggregate all of society. In the simplest cases, such agreements play upon the coin of trust and self-interest. If a party to an agreement were not up uphold and abide by his obligations, the invisible hand of the market in trust would intercede and inhibit the wrong doer from being able to conclude future arrangements with knowing interlocutors, and thus greatly hinder his efforts to improve his station in life. But as business and contracts become more intricate and complicated, can we expect our intrepid and hardy individual to police all the interactions he has with others? People being people, and business being business, there is the constant temptation to seek advantage between the lines of an agreement, or to stretch the ethical boundaries of one. Is it then philosophically acceptable in this world of Liberty to outsource the effort of monitoring and enforcing adherence to the rules? Continue reading

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