Saturday, January 29, 2011

Made in the USA

The Middle East is unraveling. Tunisians forced out their dictator. People in Yemen are protesting. Now the Egyptians are expressing their frustration and anger at the Mubarak regime. It's inspiring to see people out in the streets and forcing change their governments won't give them. Yet it can present a lot of problems for the US of A.
If the demonstrators  succeed, they may not want to be our friend. We have given Mubarak billions to support his army—oh and incidentally a little also to improve the lot of the Egyptians. And some of the support we give him goes to keeping up his security apparatus to put down grumbling among his own people.
I have long hated this realpolitik our government practices (from Wikipedia—realpolitik is a theory of politics that focuses on considerations of power, not ideals, morals, or principles.) It led us to support brutal dictatorships in Guatemala, El Salvador, and other countries in the Americas; it led us into the Vietnam war, and it has caused people around the world to hate us, because we help their oppressors stay in power. I understand that at some points we have to think that way, but that political attitude has been used far too indiscriminately.
Fighting Communism used to be our excuse; these days it's fighting terrorism. Such a great way to fight terrorism—support a strongman who is denying freedom to his own people, and creating a breeding ground for more terrorism.
Rachel Maddow had an interview with the amazing Richard Engel, chief foreign correspondent for NBC news. He'd been out in the streets covering the demonstrations. He said that many Egyptians believe that it is the blanket support of the US which enables dictators like Mubarak to ignore the needs of their own people and stay in power. He said protests are not anti-American (he was able to go around without any threat to himself) but—at one point he held up a tear gas canister that had been fired at the demonstrators. There are many all over the street. He held it up and read what was printed on it—Made in the USA, in Jamestown, PA.  He said a protester had picked it up and showed it to him, saying "This is the democracy America is bringing us."

It's got to be one of the most powerful instances of reporting I've ever seen.

I hope somebody in our government is paying attention to this kind of thing.
Hey, I have an idea. Let's stamp "Made in Iran" on them instead.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Where is the center?

I have had occasion to be really annoyed lately by the media because they so often spoke of someone as trying to "reclaim the center" and I saw the supposed center as being so far right of what I thought a center should be.

I have spoken before of a time when Republicans were a viable alternative party. Back in the days of Eisenhower and Everett Dirksen. Eisenhower promoted the right of people to form unions, he defended social security, and called those who would curtail these things as "stupid." And he warned against the military-industrial complex.
I always liked Ike.
Of course in 1956 I was only 11 years old.
It's only in later life that I begin to appreciate him.
For today's Republicans, Ike is a dangerous socialist. Shows you how far we have fallen.

Anyway, I started listening to Obama's State of the Union speech on my way home from town that night, and the first ten minutes seemed like a lot of boiler-plate—this isn't a criticism, it's just how these things always get started, and often finish—so when I stopped to get gas I turned off the radio and put in an Amanda Palmer CD for the rest of the ride home.
I shouldn't have. But I get antsy when the President, whoever he is, starts bringing "two brothers with a factory," "a housewife in Topeka or somewhere," etc. into his speech, I start feeling manipulated. I know the speech is designed to produce a particular effect in me and I resist that. Doesn't matter if it is a Republican or a Democrat who is speaking.
I feel the same way about a lot of movies.
I did hear him say government subsidies to oil companies should be ended. And that caused me to say "Whoa, did he just say that?" Then I go to Rachel Maddow's show and hear her and Frank Rich talk about Obama going back to something like a true center, not a center defined by the radical right. These two are close to my political position ( a little to the right actually—I'm someone who made up an "Anarchy is good for you" bumper sticker for my car when I was in college, tho I've moderated a little bit since then) and I have to pay attention at least to what they say, even if I may not agree totally with what they say.

So it seems that some, at least, think that Obama's speech is more than boilerplate. Apparently the Republicans thought so too. They had an official response by Congressman Paul Ryan, and an unofficial one by Congressperson Michelle Bachman, the space cadet representative to Congress.

Paul Ryan is the person who wants to get rid of Medicare and give those who are on it now coupons to help them find private insurance. You have a preexisting condition and maybe won't live another ten years? Too effing bad. Take your coupon and shove it. So would say the unregulated insurance companies.
Yup, Paul Ryan is right up there trying to do the best for the ordinary American. Not.
I'd feel better if so many Republicans hadn't been elected with the help of big corporate purses. To whom do they really owe their allegiance?

I have heard too much from Republicans, and Paul Ryan, about how the unemployed are being spoiled by the government's help, how social security is a "hammock" not a safety net. These people in my mind are un-American, despotic, ready to oppress the many for the benefit of the few.
They are really straining any impulse I have to bi-partisanship.
Hell, it's not the job of a curmudgeon to be bi-partisan.
Then there is Michelle Bachman. She is a piece of work. Ms. Bachman is either  a manipulative politician misleading her supporters for her continued advancement, or she is a totally deluded individual striving for power and recognition. I'm voting for deluded. Listen to her rants—if you have time to waste—and make up your own mind.

This curmudgeon will be anti-partisan, and if anyone (of the last two of you who still read my fulminations) objects, that's the breaks.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Death and the Maiden—2nd Movement (and i get a little religious on you—too bad)

 I've been off my rant lately, too much actual work and actual living to deal with, so I'll get a couple of posts up in short order. First:
I listened to Obama's memorial speech for those killed in the Tucson massacre. He spoke effectively, lovingly, and in the way I remember from his run for the presidency. And in my mind it resonates with the celebration of Martin Luther King we had this month.
MLK was a big influence in my life as he provided yet another resource for my decision to become a conscientious objector to war. He was the first preacher I heard who spoke of actually listening to Jesus' words and applying them, really applying them to this life. And he was a reinforcement to an innate belief I had that everyone is important, is equal in the sight of God (whatever s/he is). I'm not sure how it happened that I was sympathetic to the civil rights cause— I related deeply to the oppressed in all the reading I did as a child, and I know my mother had a lot to do with my feeling that everyone is equal even tho I know she feared hiring a black person to work at our business. You wanna talk about mixed messages? Anyway, I turned out the way I am, for what ever reason.
I was disposed to feel for those who were suffering. I hated the idea that some people were demonized, excluded, thought less than human. I primarily got this thru literature (future dictators take note!) but the fact that my family also faced discrimination in the "Old World," as well as in this "new" world, also informed my development.
I'm not taking credit for this. It is just the way I was. And I had naught to do with it.
But it had all to do with the nurturing and developing of my life.

What I am leading up to is my distress about the demonizing of each other that is going on —in the news, and in internet postings. I know how insulting and snarky one can be in the mostly anonymous universe of the web. Check out some of my earlier posts—I'm not innocent. And I know in my heart that that expression of my worst feelings is counter-productive (unless your goal is to get into a fight.)
Okay. I like to mix it up once in a while, but I quickly get bored. Often I let someone on one of my forums get the last word because I realize that responding would only lead to another response and a further waste of my time. One of the benefits of getting older is realizing that some fights are not worth fighting because fighting would just pollute and obscure the message. And that one's words and ideas will still make a difference to someone somewhere, without needing to be the last word.

Believing this is a matter of trust, is a matter of believing in God's grace and the work of the holy spirit.
I could capitalize "Holy Spirit" but I won't. because the holy spirit is an uncapitalized, unacknowledged, often unhonored, wild, free-ranging, and equal-opportunity instigator. The holy spirit is your union-organizer, your concerned citizen against waste, your protector of the environment, your opposition to the validation of  the rich just because they have riches, your opposition to the use of money to corrupt democracy—the holy spirit is there to support all the things which elevate humanity instead of reducing it to an accounting of profit and loss. For me, the holy spirit is the most important manifestation of divinity.
You can argue about Jesus, who he was, if his life meant anything, if he even existed, and you can argue about God, who or what or if s/he is— but if there is anything besides our own lives which speaks optimistically to existence and whether or not we really have any, and any beyond what we know, it is is the idea of a holy spirit which encompasses us all and motivates our lives.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Death and the Maiden

  It's a sad, sad thing that happened in Tucson. Shocking and terrible and tragic. At this point, one can only hope that Congresswoman Gifford survives with her mind intact. And one can only feel sympathy for those who lost loved ones.
  A period of quiet and reflection should follow something like this.
  But the blame game is already in full swing. We seem to not be able to wait til after the funerals.
  Everyone angrily says we should tone down the nasty rhetoric from all sides.
It's all the angry talk.
It's all the personal hateful talk.
It's the fault of Sarah Palin.
It's the fault of the tea party.
It's the fault of the Democrats.
I'm sure someone somewhere is blaming Obama.
  Walt Kelly's Pogo once said "We have met the enemy and it is us."
Oh how true.
  I don't think blame can be laid at any one person's door—even tho I so would like to.
  There are a lot of things to consider here. I believe that definitely the kind of personal attacks going on in the last couple years created a climate where bad things are more likely to happen. If you want to point fingers at someone, Sharron Angle's comment about "second amendment solutions" seems more inflammatory to me than the ill-advised and tasteless cross-hairs on Palin's website. But both are part of a viciously negative milieu which has been part of our lives since Obama was elected.
  The people showing up at political rallies and congressional meetings with 'Obama as Hitler' posters are part of this. I condemn it, but I know that some of us on the left of center side were as insulting and dismissive of George Bush. I remember with some embarrassment the posters and things we said about Lyndon Johnson during the Vietnam War. None of us, today and back then, offered anything to rational political discourse.
   It is so easy to fall into the trap of demonizing those we disagree with—especially if they have more power than we do. (I think that someone could do a good social studies paper on that power difference as a factor in violent action and speech.) (Probably someone already has. If either of my readers know of such a thing, please direct me.)
  Your curmudgeon is part of all this, in his own small way. I recall that I have more than once referred to Senator Mitch McConnell as a liar. It is true that I believe that he is. But it would have been better had I written about the things he said and then the facts he had misrepresented and let others draw a conclusion. It's so easy to let anger and frustration get the better of one, especially when one doesn't feel like one can make a difference in the face of political and monetary power.
  The social milieu—it didn't pull the trigger, but it made the trigger easier to pull. Being in the vitriolic political atmosphere we have been in is like walking into a room full of people smoking pot. You may not smoke yourself, but you will get high. And if everyone around you is complaining and angry, it will affect you too. And affect the mentally disturbed even more.
  Anger has it's place, and should be acknowledged and utilised. And it should be utilised as a spur to one's own action and resolve to change things, not as a reason to berate people and poison the atmosphere. Or to kill.
  This computer I am on is a contributor to all this. The ability to anonymously post any kind of statement in a blog or comment box at a news article has added to the noxious atmosphere. It's one thing to spout off at the bar or at your bowling league practice. If you get too vitriolic someone will call you on it or people will just start avoiding you. You will have a response up close and personal to your speech or actions. It's another thing to spout off on line. No one knows who you are, and anyone who responds either is met with derision if they try to be reasonable or met with hostility if they respond in kind. It's easy to ignore the criticism of unknown strangers, harder to ignore the criticism of your bowling partner.
  And then there is the availability of guns. I don't object to people owning guns if they want to. Some hunt, some skeet shoot, some are afraid of being robbed or killed. And some want to kill. I don't believe that it is possible to forbid every mental defective or malefactor from getting a weapon. The man who shot Congresswoman Gifford is a case in point.
  I do believe there are things that we can do to make sure that the damage done by the evil or insane is lessened. Maybe not allowing large clips of ammunition would be a start. What if the shooter last Saturday only had six bullets in his gun? Wouldn't have stopped the attack,but might have made a difference to someone. Maybe to a nine-year old girl.
  I'm not advocating one particular action, or taking a position here. I do think that those who are rabidly opposed to any kind of restriction on weapon ownership should start looking at possible sensible ways to alleviate a situation where weapons can be so easily attained. And not attack those who oppose them as people who want to make it easier for the government to crush us. Those who oppose weaponry might want to step back and listen to those on the other side, acknowledge their reasons and/or fears, and not attack them as paranoids afraid of their own country and government, or malcontents ready to overthrow the government.
  We have a lot to do folks. we're all upset now because of the shooting in Tucson, as we should be, but there are killings going on in all our cities, gang related, insanity related, poverty related, domestic violence related.
And we should be as upset at all of them. Every life is important, and the lost life of a teen-ager in the inner city to violence is as important as the lost life of a congresswoman or President in God's eyes.
  As humans, we tend to hold the life of a congressperson or President more important than others—at least we think it more noteworthy. But it is only the ability to wield power which makes the difference in those lives, and what is power? It is more fleeting than life itself. And it leads so often to the loss of life, especially among the innocent.