Tea Party wants to control the message; Society ahead of the high court on gay marriage…

March 26, 2013

On the local scene in my neck of the woods the Tea Party is trying to control the news. Our local U.S. congressman was holding what was billed as a town hall meeting, but members of the Tea Party kicked out the reporter from the local newspaper. And I thought the Tea Party supported the Constitution. But I guess they never heard of freedom of the press. They only want positive coverage.

Now if this were truly a private meeting with a group I could see restricting attendance. But like I said it was billed as a town hall meeting.

Some members reportedly said they wanted to be free to say what they wanted and would not be if the whole thing was public. Yes, hard to get your politician to give you special favors when everyone is listening.

On the national level I keep reading about how the automatic spending cuts are doing away with various services and programs the public likes.

The only positive to come out of all of this is that people might finally realize that you cannot have it all and there has to be choices — by people I mean both politicians and the electorate at large.

What is given can be taken away but it can all be given back again (within financial limits and the willingness to accept taxes). It’s really up to everyone to make up their minds. Of course not everyone will agree, but that is why we have elections and that is why sometimes opposite sides compromise, somehow hoping that they get the better end of the bargain.

And the Supreme Court is listening to arguments over same-sex marriage today. But maybe society at large is ahead of the court on that one. Even the Republican Party is beginning to see reality with some of it’s own children turning out to be homosexual (or gay and some call it). If God created everyone, then he created homosexuals too. We all just have to live with the reality of nature. In saying that I in no way believe nor would I ever believe that it is right to promote homosexuality. And I think that some public school texts may do that under the guise of just informing children about various lifestyles. There is a fine line.

And I will leave it at that today…

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War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothin’…

March 19, 2013

UPDATE:

Taking a line out of a 1960s song, we might ask ourselves: “War, what is it food for?” and answer our own question, “absolutely nothin’ “.

When I first drafted this post I was not even thinking specifically that the tenth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq was March 19 (and the tenth anniversary day is almost over now as I write this update).

And on the tenth anniversary, so as to make a point, several bombings in Iraq killed at least 65 people. The violence there, tribe against tribe, religious sect against religious sect, continues, and these days the strife-torn nation is closer to our (the U.S.) arch-enemy Iran.

It is pretty well accepted that the stated reason for going into Iraq in 2003, that is that Saddam Hussein had so-called “weapons of mass destruction” or WMDs, was bogus. Even the supporters admit that he did not have a stockpile after all. Sorry, after the loss of thousands of lives and billions of dollars spent, just a little intelligence goof (or just a lie). And the term WMD itself was misleading and not precise. It was just meant to imply that he was stockpiling everything from nerve gas to atom bombs.

Had this been the case, and we knew where they were, then why didn’t we go after them specifically? And if we did not know where they were, how did we know they had them or why did we think they had them?

Now we are getting reports that chemical weapons have been used in Syria in the insurrection there. This may well be true, but I hope it is not something that gives an excuse to war hawks to send troops in. I say let the Syrians fight it out amongst themselves. Or send in the French.

I don’t take the possibility that outlaw regimes or madmen might have or get so-called WMDs or nuclear weapons lightly. Right now Iran and North Korea appear to be threats. We need to have a plan to make sure that we abolish the threats, not the nations necessarily. That is purely for our own defense.

But have we learned anything since Vietnam?

The public soon forgets. The public is apathetic. The politicians are also or they use things like the threat of WMDs from Iraq as a pretext for supporting certain foreign policies that help defense contractors and secure oil. They have not done a good job of securing oil. We gained no special hold on Iraqi oil, despite the promise we would by the war hawks who wanted us to have dominance in the region.

The decision makers in our Vietnam fiasco were operating under the premise that it would be like World War II (except much smaller and much quicker), that we would apply overwhelming force and win.

But Vietnam was a different kind of war. It was North Vietnam invading South Vietnam and a civil insurrection within South Vietnam at the same time and we got ourselves into the middle of it and found it not to be so easy after all and we were afraid to fight to win and afraid to leave and be called losers. We did not fight to win (and there may have been no way to win) and we did eventually leave as losers. (It was not the fault of our military but the politicians if anyone).

Iraq turned out to be more of a mess with total civil war breaking out when we got rid of the dictator and we were caught in the middle of it. We eventually left after being told we were not welcome anymore by the new government.

I like to blame all of this on our leaders, on the politicians. But does not the general public who is so apathetic on all of this have some responsibility?

The original post follows:

The United States needed Middle East oil so bad that eventually we gave the president unlimited power to wage a true world war, that is war all over the world, no matter what nation, against terrorists with some at least loose connection with a far-flung and hard-to-track organization usually referred to as Al Qaeda.

Besides the two more or less conventional ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the president was and is authorized to order drone strikes, strikes by small stealthy unmanned aircraft, against anyone virtually anywhere in the world. Of course the drone attacks don’t just kill the target person but people around the target person, to include totally innocent people, to include women and children. But all’s fair in war (not necessarily moral though).

The virtually unlimited powers were handed over to then president George W. Bush but are retained today by president Barack Obama.

Congress handed the president the powers as a result of the 9/11 attacks more than a decade ago now. The U.S. had just been attacked, not by a nation, but by this somewhat amorphous entity called Al Qaeda. Because its leader and many of its followers were being harbored by the Taliban who controlled Afghanistan at the time, we invaded that nation.

That seemed to make sense.

But Bush was being advised by the neo-conservatives who had a think tank study that called for the U.S. gaining hegemony over the Middle East because of its strategic importance what with all of its oil. The paper in fact suggested we needed another Pearl Harbor to jolt the public out of its apathy and malaise. Conveniently (in one sense of it) 9/11, a modern-day Pearl Harbor, came along and killed about the same number of people as Pearl Harbor. In round numbers, about 3,000 deaths in both incidents.

So rather quickly we were not only at war with Afghanistan and its Taliban government who gave comfort to Al Qaeda but we invaded Iraq which had no to little direct connection with Al Qaeda but was in the Middle East and did have oil and a leader who was sympathetic to anti-American causes and who did support terrorists who struck Israel, sending the parents of suicide bombers money as a reward.

Bush was able to get a congressional authorization to fight terror in the form of a resolution called the “Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists”. It would be a war not against another nation or nations but a method or concept.

But make no mistake about it, all of this was about oil.

Now after a decade we have spent a trillion dollars or more and heavily indebted ourselves, so much so that we are having to or think we must cut needed programs and services for the public. And thousands of lives have been lost and thousands more negatively affected by injuries received in the Middle East wars.

And we have compromised our civil liberties and values. We have inflicted torture on American soil, kidnapped people and sent them to places in other countries for torture and have even killed American citizens (no trial or anything) for being said to be connected somehow to terrorists or being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

There’s even a question as to whether a drone strike could be authorized on American soil. The U.S. Attorney General has reportedly left the door open on that question.

Troublesome is the fact that local law enforcement departments have expressed interests in drones. It seems as if George Orwell’s 1984 becomes a reality.

Meanwhile, some are saying now that we are or nearly are “energy independent”, what with new oil and gas exploration and fracking (never mind environmental concerns).

We are in fact an energy exporter I read.

If we are to be an energy leader after being so dependent on Mid East oil it is probably because of price. When the price of energy got high enough it became economically viable to resume energy exploration in our own nation.

We did not need to go to war in the Middle East. And we don’t need to fight the whole world.

We of course must defend ourselves.

In the 9/11 scenario our intelligence agencies let us down for failing to heed their own information and to cooperate among themselves.

But it could have happened anyway even if everyone was doing everything right. We should have gone after the actual culprits and left it at that instead of opening the door to the dreams of neoconservative empire builders, who never shed their own blood.

(Interesting how so many of them had Vietnam deferments or otherwise skipped combat when they had their chance. Dick Cheney comes to mind.)

And we need to protect our civil liberties.

There was a saying during the Cold War among some: “Better Red than dead”. But I never bought into that. I don’t want to give up my civil liberties in the name of national security or personal security.

As for the competition for energy and the search for practical sources and means of energy and energy production: the marketplace, often augmented by government research, pretty well decides that.

—————

“War” (1969 song written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong)


Automatic spending cuts provide cover but they should not be a substitute for judgment …

March 9, 2013

While I am not necessarily in favor of automatic spending cuts or the sequester, as its being called, they seem to be the only way to get the government to spend less money.

But just because the cuts are automatic does not mean that there cannot be some judgment in making specific cuts.

But to make a point, the administration has cut off White House tours.

That’s just like at the state level when the first thing they do is close the parks.

(Ironically, in California the closing of parks or the threatened closures were bogus because the parks department was hiding millions of surplus dollars in its budget.)

To punish the people or to show how much the revenue is needed they hit the general public where it hurts.

I just heard someone say on a news program that the airport that serves Disneyland in Florida is being shut down, or may shut down, due to federal budget cuts. And I also read that small airports all over the country are in danger of losing their federal subsidies. Now I don’t know how important that airport near Disneyland in Florida is but it likely handles a lot more passengers and airplanes than ones in small villages across the nation that are also government subsidized. There has to be a priority somewhere.

With the military: we’re certainly not going to cut off the supply of ammunition to troops in war zones I would hope. And if there is a weapons program that we vitally need for our national defense I would hope it would get some type of priority. But maybe we can cut some of the taxpayer-paid perks at the officers’ club first.

Unemployment insurance, food stamps, home heating oil programs, and all types of needed services are in danger, and to make a point, government agencies will likely cut in such a way that the public will feel the quickest and most intense pain.

Automatic spending cuts provide cover for members of both houses of congress who don’t have to explain to their lobbyist benefactors (along with other constituents) why some of the largesse is being taken away.

Hey, whatever works, but that is not an excuse for lack of judgment or failing to set reasonable priorities.


Of the late Hugo Chávez: what did still another demagogue accomplish?

March 7, 2013

I’m not really qualified to comment on the now Late Hugo Chavez (but that won’t stop me), who served as dictator of Venezuela. He came and went and I only caught news of his antics from time to time and paid little to no attention.

I think it’s safe to say he was a demagogue.

He appealed to the poor and often ignorant masses, even though he himself lived in luxury. He was a poor boy who reached the highest rung on the ladder, via the military. Interestingly enough, he managed to get into politics after a failed coup attempt in which he took part and served some prison time for. He may or may have not done some good things for people in Venezuela but I am not aware that he did anything to change the state of affairs in which wealthy elites run the show and most everyone else is kept ignorant and poor.

In Argentina the late Juan Perón created a political movement designed to appeal to everyone, the rich and the poor and the middle class, and most of all designed to keep him in power.

In Cuba, a rich man’s son, Fidel Castro, led a socialist revolution that was supposed to uplift the masses. But mostly it just uplifted Castro and his buddies and the Cuban Communist Party members. I think they did reportedly do a fairly decent job in providing health care, at least that is what I have heard.

Mexico is just corrupt. Always has been, and seems like will be for some time to come. The payoff and dependence on the patrón seems to be ingrained in the Mexican culture. The ongoing drug war feeds off the notion that the only way to riches is through crime and corruption.

As long as the masses can be stirred by class warfare, democracy and a raise in the standard of living for all is hard to achieve. Dictators will play off the prejudices and fears of the people and reap the benefits of what society produces for them.

Chávez is being played up as hero I notice in much of the Latin American press and elsewhere. Being anti-U.S. is often good politics south of the border.

But why do so many come north then?

P.s.

Probably things will change for the better in Latin America, and in fact have in many ways. But the problem or the difference may be that the U.S.’s  history is of people coming here for equal opportunity and the notion there is no class system. In Latin America generations have been raised in a class society made up of predominantly two classes, the rich and the poor (very little middle class, although it has made some strides in places). The rich do everything they can to maintain the status quo. The poor learn how to operate in a society of favors and bribes and protection offered by paternal figures, who in turn demand support from those to whom they offer protection. In the past, I think, the U.S. took a wrong-headed approach in supporting dictators down south because at least they were anti-communist. In the process, a lot of bad will was created in what was seen as Yankee imperialism. It might have been better to let it play out. Communism falls on its own. It just does not work.


Entering the 21st Century finally with a new Kindle Fire…

March 3, 2013

I feel as though I have finally entered the 21st Century. I just bought a Kindle Fire e-reader/tablet.

Almost took it back, I got so frustrated. But a young sales gal — actually not the sales person who sold me the Kindle, but not important here — told me if you’ve never used the touch screen on a tablet there is a “learning curve”. I think that prompted me to try harder to show I can handle it.

Cut to the chase here: by now (it took a few days) I am satisfied with it and actually quite excited. I just started really. I have not even bought an e-book yet, but I borrowed one and started reading it. Now this book does not seem to have a lot of big, unfamiliar words, but I love the instant dictionary feature where you can just press on the word and get a definition.

Now I have books and newspapers and magazines and videos at my fingertips. I guess I have more too — I don’t really know all the features. I’m not the kind of buyer who shops around all that much on most things. I hate to shop. But when I get into the mood to get something or if I really have to have it I just go get it and don’t fool around with salespeople who cannot or will not answer my questions. Actually I’m an easy mark for a sales person who even acts like her or she knows the product and can sell it.

I’ve come a long way. I began my career (or so-called career) in newspapering in 1973. I pounded out my daily stories on an old manual Royal typewriter. I made a lot of pencil corrections and did a lot of cutting and pasting with the copy paper. And I had a dictionary handy and madly looked up words I was not sure about. And all of this had to be read by an editor and then went to a typesetter and then back to a proof reader and then was pasted onto a page, and had I begun but a few years earlier it would have had to have been set in metal type. I recall going to a newspaper office where my dad worked and seeing all that.

In 1978 I took a job with another newspaper and we had video display terminals hooked into giant computers that were in a separate room and manned by a technician.

And then I went backwards and took a job with a newspaper that was still using typewriters. What was I thinking?

And at the last newspaper I worked at before leaving that trade and becoming a long haul truck driver we had the old main fame computers but some of the young people were beginning to use PCs.

This tablet I have reminds me of what my beginning journalism teacher told us back in 1972 . He said that newspapers as we knew them at the time would become extinct and would probably be replaced by some kind of thin board like thing about the shape of a newspaper that would be electronic. And that is what we have now, except smaller and much more sophisticated than many of us might have imagined and it has not only made the conventional newspaper all but extinct but it has made vast changes all across the various media.

Many things about the new technology are great and some are not. And I miss the old way to some extent. But like a friend of mine told me, you have to embrace the new technology or you will be lost.

I’m trying.

P.s.

My primary interest in all of this is information over entertainment, although the latter is great too.

But with the e-reader and the access to the internet, I now have little excuse to not be practically instantly up to date on all matter of things — time permitting.

 

P.s. P.s.

I’ll try to keep you posted from time to time on my progress and may even pose questions when I get stuck. I notice that most of these things do not come with printed instructions and one must use trial and error and get info off the internet (there are some limited tutorials embedded in the device, but they seem to leave open a lot of questions). My sister says most of it is “intuitive” — if only it was for me. Well the more you use the stuff the more it does become intuitive it seems.

P.s. P.s. P.s.

If the power goes out we’re all in trouble. But the old methods required power somewhere too. I remember seeing the pressman push an electrical switch to start the printing press.


The time for the voting rights act and affirmative action may have run out…

March 2, 2013

Seems like to me it is time for affirmative action and special enforcement in the voting rights act to end. I am not convinced that the idea of discriminating against the formerly favored class in order to make up for the wrongful discrimination of the formerly unfavored class was ever right to begin with, but that is history, or should be.

In college in a constitutional law class I suggested in a paper that the remedy, or at least a possible remedy in some cases, for unfair discrimination in hiring would be to put the names of equally qualified candidates, irrespective of race of course, into a hat or a lottery and to pick them out at random. The liberal woman professor was dubious, to say the least, of that.

And maybe Justice Antonin Scalia was right to question the continued need for the Voting Rights act of 1965 and its special control over election procedures in several states.

The conservatives on the high court have indicated skepticism over both the special oversight in the voting rights act and affirmative action policies too in the 1960s civil rights legislation.

The only special procedures needed, and they should not be special, is to allow citizens to vote, regardless of race, color, or creed. If a person is turned down for voting there has to be a reason. I know some states do not allow ex-felons to vote and others do. And while knowledge of the issues and the political process would be nice, we cannot require that, if for no other reason than the test and standards applied would be subjective and would almost certainly be weighted in favor of some political persuasion. Sadly, even literacy cannot be required. In order to have a free society everyone must be able to vote.

(Of course literacy tests were used in the South to bar blacks from voting. The old story is that one test actually asked how many bubbles in a bar of soap, and I don‘t know what the correct answer was for that.)

I’m not up on the provisions of the voting rights act. It may be that it is needed to give the federal Justice Department authority to monitor and look out for unfair and discriminatory activities in the registration of voters. But this should apply for the equal protection of all voters everywhere, and not just the historically discriminated class. While we may well still have discrimination we will never move beyond racial discrimination if we keep making special rules for one class as if they could not take care of themselves (that is discrimination in and of itself that actually hurts that class).

It might be nice if Justice Scalia was somewhat more diplomatic and less insulting. He talked of the dangers of perpetuating “racial entitlements”, meaning, one must suppose, that black people are getting favored treatment (as the result of past discrimination). But how do you say enough is enough, let’s move beyond the 60s?


Budget sequester is a game of chicken some on both sides relish…

March 1, 2013

Blogger’s note: Well here I had thought I had such a great literary analogy about chicken and “Rebel Without a Cause” and thought I was so clever and I subsequently run across other such allusions, including one from Chicago newspaper columnist Clarence Page. I swear I had not read them, but I still almost feel as if I am guilty of plagiarism. But no matter, I still mean what I say. I guess it is harder to be original than I thought.

—————

My guess is that the dreaded federal budget sequester will not be as bad as predicted and even if it is it is nothing that cannot be undone, as far as I can see it.

At last word before writing this, it was set to go into effect sometime Friday or today, March 1, 2013, the date on this post, and the day most would get a glimpse of what I have to say (in my time zone it is still Thursday as I write).

I’m still using the lame excuse that I have been too busy with my real job to really keep up on the news. But I have heard the headlines.

And really nothing has changed.

It’s the liberals and/or progressives vs. the ultra-conservatives and/or tea partiers locked in a battle, a game of chicken, if you will, to see who jumps out of the car before it goes over the cliff (kind of like James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause”). The cooler heads on both sides of the legislative aisle are caught in the middle.

(James Dean’s character jumped and the other guy was the hero, but the dead hero, as he went over the cliff and onto the rocks of the ocean shore below.)

Some say that if the sequester comes and nothing happens the Republicans win.

And some are betting things will get so bad, such as flight delays due to, say a lack of air traffic controllers, the public will be so outraged that it will demand higher taxes to pay for necessary services.

I also understand that some expert observers say nothing noticeable will happen in the short run but it will get progressively (not in the political sense) worse.

Now certainly I don’t want to sound like a conservative (I am middle of the road), but the electorate needs to feel the pain to be able to decide what to keep and what to cut and to pressure the lawmakers accordingly.

People are so contradictory about their attitudes, such as keep big government out of my life and do away with entitlements but don’t touch by Social Security of Medicare (take it away from someone else less deserving).

I’m not going to go much further with this, except to say I still think we need legislators who are answerable more to the voters than the lobbying interests of big business and various causes. How we get there, I don’t know.

And really, isn’t productivity that spurs the economy the answer? When the economy is strong people still hate taxes but seem to be able to live with them.

And gosh I sound like a conservative, but the welfare state or the welfare mindset, the entitlement mindset, has weakened us. It is a drain on our productivity. Europe tried the welfare state and it for the most part is not working out so well.

(We do need a strong social safety net, though.)

I think the Scandinavians have a little better time with heavy socialism because they are hard working by nature and accepting of social responsibility — not sure about this.

I say let’s have at it and see what happens. I think both sides relish the thought of it, hoping the strategy will work in their respective favors.

P.s.

I had been puzzled by the word “sequester”. Heretofore I had primarily heard it in connection with locking juries away from the public (as in you can’t go home until you decide the case). I was going to say I now understand because I looked up the word in the dictionary. Well I did and I kind of see it, but not as much as I thought I did at first glance. I’m sure there are sources on the web that explain. And yes I just called up a few. It just has to do with the term sequester or sequestration used in the legal sense when impounding money (or property). It was first used in the budget context back in 1985. You can look it up if you didn’t already know.